The heroism of Londoners as they took shelter during nightly bombing raids and carried out their business in as close an approximation to usual as possible during the day quickly become legendary. Two recent novels — The Postmistress and Blackout — give readers a sense of how it might have been to live through the London Blitz, while Americans were divided on what to do.
Given a big publicity boost by Katherine Stockett, author of The Help, The Postmistress by Sarah Blake will be popular with the same readers, but has the added bonus for us of a Massachusetts connection. Confident and strong, Iris James is the postmaster (not postmistress) in the fictitious Cape Cod town of Franklin in 1940, where Emma Fitch has just moved to join her husband, a young doctor. Country after country is falling to the Germans, President Roosevelt is promising Americans their boys are “not going to be sent into any foreign wars,” and plucky radio correspondent Frankie Bard is bucking male chauvinism in broadcasting, reporting heartrending stories of the Blitz that bring the war home to American listeners.
If you’re an audiobook reader, try The Postmistress on audio, narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. (The only problem with an otherwise excellent audio version is that the characters with broad Boston accents sounded more like Mainers to me.) Like The Help, The Postmistress is a good story, grounded in American history, with strong female characters, and many poignant moments.
Read The New York Times review of The Postmistress here.
Blackout, the new book by science fiction author Connie Willis, is also about the London Blitz and other historical turning points in England during World War II.
Set in the same time-travel universe as The Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout’s storyline is continued in All Clear, which isn’t coming out until fall. (!) Readers will have to wait to find out what happens to the time-traveling young historians in Blackout, whose cautiously laid plans for safe travel in and out of London and surrounding areas during crucial periods in World War II history have gotten them in to observe the casual heroism of ordinary Brits, but aren’t working to get them — ordinary historians now in crisis themselves — back to their own time.
Read The Washington Post review of Blackout here.
Check availability of Blackout in the OCLN catalog here.
If Greek gods are pop culture now, can an Ancient Egypt fad be far behind? Here are three reading suggestions to suit different readers or different moods.
The one that got me started was The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, in which time-traveling tourist and Samuel Taylor Coleridge expert Professor Brendan Doyle visits England in the poetic heyday of Lord Byron, Coleridge, and William Ashbless and interrupts the plans of the ancient Egyptian sorcerer who has traveled there at the same time. An L.A. Times blogger wrote last fall about Tim Powers’ 1997 book On Stranger Tides being the basis for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie starring Johnny Depp. The Anubis Gates is a literary romp replete with magic, science fiction, and a touch of ancient Egyptian legend.
A River in the Sky, a new Amelia Peabody mystery (#18) by Elizabeth Peters was released yesterday. I was curious, so I downloaded the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank, and listened to the audio version. Narrator Susan O’Malley perfectly embodies the bossy but kind-hearted bluestocking Amelia Peabody with ideas about archeology, ancient Egypt, and the rights of women. A fun romantic comedy with a mystery and archeological tidbits thrown in.
The Lost Army of Cambyses by Paul Sussman, a journalist and field archeologist, is an action-packed adventure with the most actual archeological information about ancient Egypt of the three. Like an Indiana Jones movie without the wacky, tongue-in-cheek stuff, it has professors, government officials, Egyptian and German villians, an Egyptian archeologist turned policeman, a handsome young archeologist, and a stubborn young woman — all in pursuit of a murderer and/or the greatest archeological discovery in Egyptian history. It’s bound to become a movie!
Check for The Anubis Gates in the Old Colony Library Network catalog here. Put a hold on A River in the Sky in the OCLN catalog here. Click here to request The Lost Army of Cambyses from the OCLN catalog.
Audiobook Listeners — Log into the library catalog ASAP and request Anansi Boysby Neil Gaiman (pronounced GAY-mun). It is performed to pitch-perfect perfection by Lenny Henry, an English comedian and actor.
In Anansi Boys, dull Fat Charlie Nancy is engaged to be married and has a boring office job in London. When his estranged father dies, strange things start happening. Fat Charlie’s charismatic brother Spider shows up unexpectedly with his odd, inexplicable powers of suggestion and creation. For Fat Charlie, his brother’s arrival is like an entrance to another world — one that includes creatures out of African folklore and ghosts.
According to the library’s Biography Resource Database, audiobook reader Lenny Henry won the 2003 British Comedy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award, among many others. His male and female voices are all immediately distinguishable from each other and complement Gaiman’s dry wit and writing style. On a side note, he recently appeared as a shrunken head in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Preview the audiobook at HarperCollins here.