The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

This book gave me SO. MANY. MIXED. FEELINGS.  On the one hand, it’s about a woman close to my age, who is also a school librarian. And it seemed like a lot of that professional stuff was totally spot on. But then some of it seemed to not make sense to me (Why was she creating literature units? Was she teaching an English class? Why weren’t the English teachers doing that?) It created turmoil in me and made me too introspective about my own career: “She seems so passionate, why am I not passionate? Am I passionate enough about my career?” Ditto all the stuff about being a mom. I don’t think anyone would ever say that I’ve so given myself over to my children’s needs that I need the central story point of the momspringa. So am I a lazy mom? a balanced mom?

As a story itself I loved the fantasy of having a magazine assistant to dress you up and pay for it all. I mean, it really is a fantasy of running away and having it all paid for and managed. And of course that is the great conflict of the story. Is she running away? Or running to? Does she need balance or a break?  I was sometimes in total agreement and other times totally annoyed.

Also, her daughter was just too clever by half. I hate fictional teens like that.

p.s. this book had an erroneous call label on it FIC BYARS.  hee hee. I meant to remark upon it when I returned it, but forgot to.

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The Humans by Matt Haig

This book was great. Although I’m giving it a science-fiction tag because it is about an alien coming to Earth to complete a mission of eradicating recently discovered knowledge and anyone who knows about, it really ends up being a lot of thoughtful observation and pondering of the human existence and humanity.

The one thing I can’t get behind (the aliens would say I just cannot comprehend it) is that entire premise that mathematics is the key to everything, even cell regeneration and mind control. But I don’t need to believe that or understand it.

While it’s not a surprising concept that the alien, once here, discovers a bit of empathy for humans and is touched by music and poetry (how much fun to be an author and get to pick what you want to be the thing that unlocks emotion and empathy in an alien) it is awfully fun to watch that process happen.
I really enjoyed everything about this-from the alien trying to assimilate to the use of Emily Dickinson to the acknowledgement of dogs as hairy deities to the thoughts about how humans use their time and that universal question of whether we are just a violent race. I especially enjoyed when they talked about why they wanted to halt our progress and remarked that all of our technological advances have gone more rapidly than our psychological advances, causing no end of problems.

 

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman

A perfect book to fall into my hands on summer vacation! Set in 1899, plenty of historical detail about society, London Seasons, gentleman’s clubs, calling cards, chaperones, rides in the park, servants, etc.  What was so enjoyable about this was that our heroine is a young widow (her husband was a philanderer) who has plenty of spunk and stands up for herself after the required year of mourning by purchasing her own home in London. Much to the dismay of her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, both of whom rely on her large purse to keep the family estate going. Conveniently, Frances is independently wealthy. And American. That’s right-she’s an American heiress who married a titled British man! Juicy. (If you haven’t read The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, go do so.) This is actually a mystery-poor Frances is being set up all over the place, plus there are some robberies happening at the society homes. She takes on meddling and solving herself, along with the handsome next door neighbor.

I enjoyed this immensely and am THRILLED there is already a sequel available at my library and I love the direction this series is going in.

How Not to Die Alone by Richard Roper

This title sucks you in, doesn’t it? And so did the story. I loved this premise of a man who had inadvertently gotten trapped in a somewhat elaborate ongoing lie. The people he works with-really, the only people he sees- all believe he has a wife and two children. But really he is single, alone, lonely. He does have online friends from a model train forum (I rather liked that their passion for this was shown as yes, a singular passion, but not really made fun of.) Stuck in this rut, things get shaken up when Peggy joins the office and for the first time he sees possibilities of being happy. And I really liked this emphasis throughout the story on the possibility of being happy. The possibility of being loved and loving. The possibility of change.
It’s British, which lent its own charm. And it’s also well written with some gentle humor and terrific lines. I can definitely see comparisons to A Man Called Ove and Eleanor Oliphant.

The War Bride’s Scrapbook by Caroline Preston

Many years ago, when it was a YALSA Alex Award winner, I read The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt and I loved it. Recently I was looking at my stuff on Goodreads and my eye was caught by that bar off to the right where they list other books you might like based on what you’ve read. My eye was caught by the The War Bride’s Scrapbook and imagine my delight when I clicked on it and found out that it was by the Frankie Pratt author! and the same format! A story told in scrapbook form with textual narrative and actual ephemera (photographed.) I was intrigued by the setup of the book-that the war bride purchased an actual war bride scrapbook at the store, designed for war brides to help assemble keepsakes and make the waiting more bearable and end up with these loving mementos.  There’s a lot of implied and stated story here that is fairly sad–Lila never felt cute, didn’t have boyfriends, was plump, and so when she has an impulsive romance and marries Perry before he ships out (meet time to wedding-less than 3 weeks) you can’t help but think it’s because her self esteem is low. To make the story be a story for us there are some things I don’t think anyone would put in a scrapbook (narrative about sex.).
There is no cheerful glossing over of the effect of war on Perry. In fact, there’s always a bit of a gloom hanging over–will they still love each other when he comes back? Will he be changed? etc etc.

I loved the whole setup of this book. I can’t imagine how much time it took to put this together!  More scrapbook novels, please!

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

I really liked this WWII story. Emmy and her bff Bunty (!) and childhood friend William are all making a go of it in London and Doing Their Part during the war, despite nightly bombings. William and Bunty are engaged, Bunty and Emmy are roommates on the top floor of her grandmother’s house, the rest of the family are safely back home in the village. All is so gay and merry, except not really. William works as a firefighters and Emmy volunteers on the night watch, taking calls during bombings and directing the firefighters to the bombed out streets. One night she sees William in action and realizes just how close to death he is nightly. Meanwhile, Emmy believes she has found a wonderful foray into wartime journalism only to be disappointed to find she is typing letters to an agony aunt. Furthermore, Mrs. Bird (who doles out the advice) disapproves strongly of any letters that have a whiff of Unpleasantness about them-this includes matters of infidelity, longing, marriage, the war, pregnancy, etc. Basically, all the letters from women who really need some advice and support she turns away. Emmy desperately wants to help these women and so….she writes back.

I really enjoyed this. As always, reading about living through the London bombings just amazes me. How did people continue to get up and go to work? Go out to a nightclub? Keep on keeping on? but they did. All while tragedy happened right by them, daily. My favorite aspect of course was the magazine and letter writing. Mrs. Bird is such a great Terrible Person, cruelly brushing off people with real problems.

I wish there had been a little more at the end, but it was overall satisfying.

The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan

I loved The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir so when this prepub came into my hands I couldn’t wait to read it. It is also a WWII story featuring some feisty women, and this time also a marvelously mild mannered nervous, fond of routine, landlord, Mr. Norris.  The action starts when Mrs. Braithwaite, a bossy lady with a huge presence who thinks she’s better than everyone, gets booted out of the WVS in her village. Everyone is fed up with her, plus her philandering husband divorced her, so somehow she’s tarnished. Unsure what to do she heads to London to visit her daughter Betty. To say the two aren’t close is an understatement. When she arrives in London she discovers her daughter is missing and sets out to find her, thus setting in motion a whole chain of exciting action and events, because of course–there are spies.

I loved seeing Mrs. Braithwaite and Mr. Norris as unlikely heroes. I adore a stout lady wielding a handbook and dealing with crooks. And, like in Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, there really is more than meets the eye here. It’s not just a jolly “let’s play spies” romp. There is some soul searching, revelations about the past, serious danger, and the ever present truth of the bombings changing people’s lives in an instant.

A solid, entertaining, and ultimately heart warming WWII story.