Monday, April 23, 2012

CBR4 Review #4 - The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

Sigh.  Again with the ridiculous delays.  Again it's been a few (several?) weeks since I finished this book.  Maybe someday I'll change my terrible ways, but no one hold their breath, okay?

I requested The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise from my library based on idgiepug's glowing review. Oh, how I wanted to love this book.  I'm not sure if my expectations were too high or if it simply paled in comparison after reading a book I adored, but although I did think very highly of it, that I greatly esteemed the book, that I liked the book, I just didn't love it.  And reading it, I felt a bit sad for all the misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and miscommunications between and among the characters.

I did very much enjoy the characters.  They were lovely.  And it was fascinating learning more about the Tower of London.  I absolutely would not want to live there, however.  The damp alone would make me miserable.  And I learned that Beefeaters are not overly fond of that nickname and prefer to be called Yeoman Warders (which is short for Yeoman Warder of her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress Tower of London, and Member of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary), so there's your bit of learning for the day.

The parts of the story involving the London Underground's Lost Property Office were fabulous.  I really hope that's what that office is like in real life.  No one tell me if it's not.  I want to remain blissfully deluded.

As for what I didn't like, I just wanted the characters to talk to each other.  All that lack of communication can be a bit frustrating to witness.  Especially when the characters are so delightful and it seems like their problems could be relatively easily solved if they would just share their bloody thoughts and feelings!

I have noticed that as some time has passed since I first finished reading it, I feel a greater fondness for The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise.  Like I said, perhaps my expectations were simply too high and/or the timing of when I read it was an issue.  I definitely recommend it.  It's a sweet book, with charming characters, and you learn about the Tower of London--and who doesn't like to learn new things?  So, it has many positive aspects to recommend it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

CBR4 Review #3 - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Dear lord, the  delays are getting worse and worse!  I started this review weeks ago!  So now it's been months since I read the book.  Sigh, my learning curve is terrible.  And to make matters worse, I am accruing ridiculous late fees from the library!  Here's what I said when I originally started this review:

I seem to not be learning from past experience. Again, it has been a few weeks since I read this book, so again, my recollections are not as good as they should be. I honestly think I've been mostly holding off on reading my next book until I had this review written, so I'd be more likely to write that review closer to when I finish reading the book. (Yeah, that clearly didn't happen either.)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came to my attention thanks to a recommendation from The Best Books of Cannonball Read III. The title was whimsical enough to stand out for me. I don't know if I even read a blurb about it, or simply decided to read the book based on it being on the list and its eye-catching title.

I loved this book! I read it pretty much straight through in a weekend.  If you are looking for a book that will draw you in from the beginning and hold your attention, I can't recommend this one enough.  The book is written almost entirely in the form of correspondence.  So mostly letters, but telegrams and notes as well.  That approach makes for wonderful story-telling, especially given when this story occurs.  It takes place shortly after World War II, in England and the Channel Island of Guersney, when letters and telegrams were pretty much the only way to correspond with people long distance.

This book really made me want to write letters and read all the time.  There are many aspects about technology and staying in touch with friends--hell, creating friendships with folks you've never met--that are wonderful about living when and where we do, but losing the art of letter writing is one unfortunate result of the speedier forms of communication such as email, Facebook, texting, and, of course, inexpensive long-distance phone calls, that are now ubiquitous.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society does a wonderful job of putting you in England/Geurnsey in the mid-40s.  You get such a clear sense of time and place.  For those of us unfamiliar with the Channel Islands, this book is also an excellent history lesson--especially of the special challenges the islanders faced.  They were invaded by the Germans, who then cut them off from pretty much all connection with England, so they had very little information--except for the propaganda from the Germans--on what was going on outside of their island.

The characters in this book, and there are several, are so endearing.  I wished that not only were they real, but that they were my friends.  The main character is Juliet, an author, who at the start of the book is on a book tour.  She soon receives a letter from a gentleman from the isle of Guernsey, Dawsey (a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society), who has a book that once belonged to her, and is hoping that she might help him get more books by the same author.  Once their correspondence starts, other members of the GL&PPPS start writing Juliet as well.  And that's how you find out about their lives currently and during the war.

If you've been lucky enough to see the movie 84, Charing Cross Road (and the movie was based on the book of the same title, which, now that I think about it, I probably should read), you'll note some similarities: a story told through correspondence, among lovers of books, that starts between two characters, and expands to a larger group.  It also starts shortly after WWII, though The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society takes place during a much shorter period of time.

My only complaint about the book, was the romance aspect, which I felt was unnecessary.  But it's a small complaint and doesn't take away from the overall loveliness of the story.

Writing this review really makes me want to just read the book all over again.  I highly recommend it.

I'll just leave you with this quote, "Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.  How delightful if that were true."