2016 Reading Challenge

As my ‘To Be Read’ list is in storage until March, I’ve been looking for an easy challenge to start my year and one that, will most likely, have some new additions waiting to join my bookshelves when they arrive at the renovated farm house.  As I finish each category I will review the book here so you can all keep me in check 🙂

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Normal service is being resumed

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Book reviews, articles, poems and other literary shenanigans will be resumed on Wednesday, April 1st (no joke).  I want to thank everyone for being so patient while I’ve been gone, and hope you haven’t missed my rambling reviews too much.

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When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II ~ Molly Guptill Manning

when books went to warISBN ~ 978-0544535022
Publisher ~ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
No. Of Pages ~ 288 pages

 
I found this interesting article on thedailybeast.com and, because it involved books, wanted to share this with you.  I’m definitely going to be hunting this book down as it looks to be well worth the read.

“When the American armed forces prepared for the D-Day assault, the most in demand item was a book.

During World War II, books were one of the few items distributed to the American armed forces that were meant to make life at war bearable. American publishers, wanting to do their bit in the war, designed books that would fit the servicemen’s needs: small volumes in tempting titles that weighed next to nothing. These books were Armed Services Editions (“ASEs”), incredibly tiny paperbacks designed to fit the pocket of a standard issue military uniform. Over 120 million were printed over the course of the war with titles ranging from comics to Shakespeare and everything in between. Lonesome, homesick GIs eagerly grabbed these books and read them everywhere—while waiting in line for chow or a haircut, when pinned down in a foxhole, and while swinging in their hammocks below deck. And they were even carried into the Battle of Normandy.

Under the leadership of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, plans for D-day were in the works for months before the invasion occurred in June 1944. In the final days leading to the boarding of the landing craft that would set out across the English Channel, American soldiers readied themselves. They crammed into their packs dozens of pounds of ammunition, provisions, extra weapons, and other necessities. Although the recommendation was that the men not bring more than forty-four pounds of equipment, it was estimated that some men weighed at least three hundred pounds as they waddled under the weight of their packs. As they waited for an announcement of when the invasion would begin, there was little to do but worry, pray, or read. Silence pervaded. A rosary could be seen in many a hand. According to one man, “Priests were in their heyday. I even saw Jews go and take communion. Everybody [was] scared to death.”

General Eisenhower took an especial interest in the morale of his troops. As he noted in his own memoirs, “morale, given rough equality to other things, is supreme on the battlefield.” Eisenhower was known to read western novels to relax and relieve stress, and the men who would be doing the fighting deserved no less. Anticipating the time it would take to assemble all of the men needed for the mission, and the boredom and anxiety associated with the chore of waiting, General Eisenhower’s staff earmarked over a half-million books to be distributed to the Americans as they waited for the invasion to begin. Among the ASEs that were set aside were Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Joseph Mitchell’s McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, Charles Spalding and Otis Carney’s Love at First Flight, Booth Tarkington’s Penrod, and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Dozens of other titles joined the men on the shore of the English Channel.

Prior to the invasion, the Army’s Special Services Division, which was responsible for serving the morale needs of soldiers, distributed some of the soldiers’ favorite items. Packs of cigarettes were shoved into pockets, candy bars were grabbed by the handful, but of all things, the most sought-after item was the ASEs. As one Special Services officer recalled, palpable tension mounted in the staging areas, and books were the only thing available that “provided sorely needed distraction to a great many men.” When the loading process finally began, many men, realizing how much weight they were carrying, stopped to unburden themselves of unnecessary items near the docking area. The ground was littered with a variety of objects, but among the heaps of discarded inessentials “very few Armed Services Editions were found by the clean-up squads that later went through the areas.” Weighing as little as a couple of ounces each, ASEs were the lightest weapon that the men could bring along.

The Americans who landed at Utah and Omaha Beaches on June 6 had vastly different experiences. The American Fourth Division poured ashore at Utah Beach, meeting very little opposition. In fact, some men were a little let down at how anticlimactic the landing was; they described it as seeming like just another practice invasion. The early waves of troops landing at Omaha Beach, by contrast, faced near-certain death. As soon as the transports lowered their ramps, the exiting men were thrust into the line of fire. German machine-gun spray ripped across the boats, instantly killing the hapless Americans on them. For the first wave of LCIs that reached Omaha Beach, the death rate was nearly 100 percent; no one got off the beach. Later waves of troops faced grievous losses on the shore. Shell-shocked, many men simply froze, unable to move toward safety. Others who forded through the barrage of gunfire and mortar blasts and moved to the shelter of the cliffs at the top of the beach suffered injuries along the way. Unable to go farther, their shattered bodies dropped to the sand and stayed there until medics arrived. Many men who climbed the beach later that day would never forget the sight of gravely wounded soldiers propped up against the base of the cliffs, reading.”

Excerpted from When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning. Copyright © 2014 by Molly Guptill Manning.

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A Passion For Reading

booksI sometimes take it for granted that everyone loves reading (and books) the same way that I do; that they all share the excitement that comes with choosing, smelling (yes, I smell my books) and buying them. The sheer enjoyment of browsing round a bookstore for hours on end; the thrill of starting a new journey into the unknown, and the excitement of knowing that when all duties required for the day are complete, continuing reading. Then there is the mix of joy, sadness and the return to reality that is felt when you close a book for the final time, only to discover that the real world has continued turning whilst you were engrossed.

Not everyone does read though, and they can come up with some pretty creative excuses to explain away the reason they don’t.  They could be too tired after a long day or, and this seems to be the most often used one, they don’t have enough time; if you have time to tend your Facebook farm or cook in your Facebook kitchen, you have the time to read even it’s only one chapter. I often wonder if it’s because they never had someone to nurture their love for reading, and encourage them to explore the written word for themselves outside of a school setting.

This led me to think more about how people can encourage a love of reading, and I strongly feel it is something that can begin at home and from a very early age.  I always read with my own children, and then my Grandson, I’ve shared books with them since they were babies in fact, and we read a lot even if they didn’t understand the words they were getting a feel for books, and the seed of becoming a reader was being planted. Unfortunately this love of books died a little as my children grew, but with the advent of audio books and e-readers, it is making a return to their lives.  We even swap books, and ask each other for suggestions, so I’m taking this as a good sign

As a reader, our love of books can be a terrific way to encourage others, and as an Author your work can open up new avenues for readers to travel down that may otherwise not have existed for them. No one can be forced to read, but openly showing your enthusiasm for reading can be infectious. Consider many people pick up books because of word of mouth, or read something because it was bought as a gift for them something that is a tradition in our house at Christmas.  Sometimes sharing a book you’ve loved with a friend or a stranger you meet in the library or bookstore could open them up to a new genre. It could even ignite their passion for reading.

I’m terrible when it comes to sharing about books, if I see someone with a book I’ve read and enjoyed, whether I know them or not, I share my thoughts on it.  Sometimes they say it’s not for them, other times they will clutch it to them, and thank me for my help.  So in this increasing digital age we live in, where it seems easier to sit in front of the TV or computer than it is to actually pick up a book, how do you encourage a passion for reading in others?

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“You should date a girl who reads.” ~ Rosemarie Urquico

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“Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second-hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.” ~ Rosemarie Urquico

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Review: The Cheesemaker’s House ~ Jane Cable

Cheesemaker's HouseInspired by a framed will found in her dream Yorkshire house, which had been built at the request of the village cheesemaker in 1726, Jane Cable discovered the historical aspect of her novel. Set near Northallerton in North Yorkshire, The Cheesemaker’s House is a page-turner that will have readers hooked instantly.

The novel follows the life of Alice Hart, who escapes to the North Yorkshire countryside to recover after her husband runs off with his secretary. Battling with loneliness but trying to make the best of her new start, she soon meets her neighbours, including handsome builder Richard Wainwright and kind café owner Owen Maltby. As Alice employs Richard to start renovating the barn next to her house, all is not what it seems. Why does she start seeing Owen when he clearly isn’t there? Where – or when – does the strange crying come from? And if Owen is the village ‘charmer’, what exactly does that mean?

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This is a debut novel for this Author and, in my opinion, signifies the beginning of a long and illustrious career as a writer with this gentle and mysterious ghost story.

The main protagonist in this book is a recently divorced woman, and the Author does a great job of instilling a feeling of loss and sadness into this character whilst at the same time injecting her with a sense of moving on.  Rather than bring in this character’s back story all at once, in an effort to get it over and done with, the Author gradually introduces all her flaws and insecurities over a period of time; this serves to draw the reader in and, even though they may not be in the same position as the character, they can easily connect with her and put themselves in her place.  This serves to make her have a real aura around her, as if she is someone we know personally.  The other characters in this novel are also well written, and once again, there is no cluttering up of the storyline with information that has no relation to the plot.  Being from Yorkshire myself, I could identify with a lot of the traits the Author places on her characters, and also could actually put some faces of people I know to them, this ability created by the Author  just made this book even more enjoyable for me.  All the characters in this book are shrouded with mysteries of one kind or another and the Author feeds titbits to the reader throughout its pages, to aid them in uncovering them.

The Author writes with a style that hooks the reader from the first page, making them want to keep reading until the end, and the initial mystery laid out before the reader is one that is not easily solved; another great way to keep you hooked until the end.  Despite the mild aspects of romance in the book, I actually enjoyed it.  I didn’t find the Author wrote too much of this side of the main protagonists new life, sticking mainly to the ghost story aspect of the plot.  Where I did feel, however, that the book tended to get bogged down was with the minutiae of village life; there are only so many times you can read about onions as big as your head, and the cut-throat world of the village fete before you never want to tend attend one again.  Other than that though, the Authors description of village life in Yorkshire was spot on, and I thoroughly enjoyed her giving some of the characters in the book the local dialect, which came easily to my mind as I read causing no difficulties.  Other readers not familiar with the dialect may find it hard to decipher, as I do when reading novels containing the southern US dialect.  I particularly enjoyed the historical aspect of this novel, and how pulling on her research into her own home, the Author was able to add realism to her work.

I would highly recommend this novel to lovers of the suspense and crime genres, but if you are totally into romantic fiction you may be disappointed in this read.  Thankfully it was not a major part of this book, and as such means I will be looking for more from this Author if she keeps writing in this way.

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