Tag Archives: WWII

Review: Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

5th November 2012

Via Goodreads

*I received this from the publisher Harper Perennial in exchange for an honest review.

From the back cover:

Early April 1933. To the costermongers of Covent Garden – sellers of fruits and vegetables on the London streets – Eddie Pettit was a gentle soul with a near-magical gift for working with horses. So who would want to kill him…and why?

Maisie remembers Eddie from life with her own costermonger father. The thought that someone may have purposefully harmed Eddie disturbs her deeply, and she takes on the case, heading into the factory of a press mogul, determined to find the truth while bridging the gap between the monied and the struggling working class.

As Maisie has recently come into money, this case hits at a particularly awkward time. As her dearest friend Priscilla points out, Maisie seems to feel guilty about the money, spending quite a lot on others in an effort to smooth over her discomfort but inadvertently causing discomfort for others. Her relationship with James Compton is also complicated by the money. Once James would pop over to her flat, but now that he occupies the family home in London, surrounded by servants, Maisie feels the responsibility and expectations that come along with a partnership with a titled man.

Eddie’s case both takes her away from those expectations and highlights them. Her investigation gives her some much-needed time away from James, but as Maisie investigates and discovers the death of another man connected with Eddie, it is apparent that Eddie was involved in something he didn’t understand, something Maisie doesn’t fully understand. And in her own adjustment to life after the war, life without the man she loved, and life without her mentor, she has been blinded to the potential for another war. The more she learns, the more she realizes she will have to reconsider her idea of justice.

In many ways, Elegy for Eddie is a transition, and for that reason, many are critical of this ninth book in the series. In fact, I was hesitant to read it, as my inclination is to want to see Maisie happy with James and settling into her new life. But that isn’t altogether realistic. One of the reasons I love Maisie is that she’s a thinker. Does she overthink things? Often. But her intentions are good, and she genuinely desires to figure out what she wants from life. Much of what has happened in her life has been dictated by need or by others’ good intentions, and watching her awareness of this and her desire to live a sincere, meaningful life kept me up much of the night after I finished reading. Regardless of her mistakes, she lives and works with intention. Her pain on discovering the nearness of war was heartbreaking and showed her vulnerability, and I instantly saw how it changed her.

Fans of mystery may not particularly like this novel, as there isn’t much of one. Instead, this is Winspear’s opportunity to highlight Maisie’s growth – however painful and uncomfortable as it is – and I am eager to see how she, James, and Priscilla move forward in the next book.

Check out other reviews, or add this to your shelf on Goodreads.

P.S. Check out my review of The Woman Who Died A Lot to see if you won the giveaway!

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

3rd July 2012

*Received this book from Random House. Published by Spiegel & Grau.

“War…next to love, has most captured the world’s imagination.” -Eric Partridge, 1914

In 1941, Babe, Millie, and Grace send their men off to war, trying to maintain brave facades, wanting to display confidence to a world who has lost its confidence in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Grace’s husband, a reporter, leaves his wife, young daughter, and devoted father for the front. Millie’s new husband  (and former playboy) writes her enthusiastic letters, full of bravado and swagger. Babe sees Claude off to training, no ring on her finger, only to receive a letter telling her he can’t leave without having her as his wife. But this is war, and not everyone comes home, and those who do are far different men from the ones who waved goodbye.

Next to Love tells the story you never see in World War II-era movies. In those films, couples kiss and confetti falls. There are joyful reunions. There are unhappy tears, of course, but they are quickly dried up. You never see the shell-shocked WWII vet, sitting and staring off into space, reliving the war or the man who hits the floor when a fire alarm sounds. You don’t hear the stories of devastated widows, the ones who shut down and those who hide the grief. Feldman hands you these women’s grief and asks why not.

It’s also a story of female friendship in the days before Sex and the City, when women keep their private lives private even from their best friends, unable to speak their minds fully. Their anger and hurt and frustration is tucked away, and they have internal monologues, berating themselves, trying to be better, trying not to be their mothers, trying to be the happy faces of people who weren’t at war. Then there are the women whose husbands are back but not whole. Women who are nurses and bedfellows but no longer wives and lovers.

Then there are the men – men so unused to niceties and everyday life – who are expected to snap to and fall back in line, going back to work and trying to be the husbands and fathers they’re expected to be. The women whose jobs are suddenly taken from them, who had a sense of duty and purpose are now handed cookbooks with recipes that take hours to produce.  At one point, Babe, one of the main characters, stands outside the Western Union where she worked during the war, holding her breath as government-sanctioned news came in:

She has no desire to go back to those days. Only a crazy woman would want to go back to a life of constant fear, aching longing, and unbearable loneliness. Only a fool would want to go back to that office reeking of death and grief. But it was her own front line in the war, and for three years she womaned it with a singleness of purpose. That is what she misses. Being useful. Having a cause….She has become a war lover.

And by the point in the book where she utters her confession, you understand. These women didn’t love the war, but they loved the moment in time where they were proud of their country, scared and nervous and lonely as they were, they sent their men off with pride. But the reality of loss and the pain of an altogether different loneliness strikes each of them in heartbreaking ways.

Next to Love is an unapologetically realistic look at life after war, and it’s lovingly and beautifully done. I didn’t love these people, but I also haven’t been to war and haven’t experienced the lives they have. They’re bitter and unhappy and unhappy that they’re bitter, yet I felt I had a slightly better understanding of the post-war generation after reading this book than perhaps anything I’ve read to date.

Buy this from Barnes & Noble or for your Nook, or order it from Indiebound.

You also have until midnight tonight to win this book and others by commenting on my BEA post.

Jack 1939 by Francine Mathews

2nd July 2012

*Lydia with Riverhead Books sent me this novel in exchange for an honest review.

In 1939, Jack Kennedy is 22, in poor health, and trying to convince his doctors to release him so he can travel through Europe working on his Harvard senior thesis. Yes, war is on the horizon, but Jack is the son of an ambassador and likely to die before he reaches 30 anyway. In the meantime, the United States has no intelligence service, and someone is funneling Nazi money into the United States to prevent President Roosevelt from winning the 1940 election. Using the convenience of Jack’s trip and his status, Roosevelt recruits him as his personal spy, asking Jack to keep an eye on the situation.

My biggest complaint about this book? I so wanted it to be true. Even though there’s a big old tab telling me that Jack 1939 is “A NOVEL,” somehow my brain thought: JACK KENNEDY WAS A SPY. Until I realized it wasn’t true. So yeah, JFK as a spy, cavorting around Europe with women, dodging bullets and a brutish killer? Yes, please.

John F. Kennedy actually was in Europe in 1939, researching for his senior thesis, which would be published in 1940 under the title Why England Slept. He was also extremely ill as a young man, spending extensive amounts of time in medical facilities, his family all elsewhere. These are aspects of the legendary John F. Kennedy I did not know, and this novel is definitely one that you’ll pull out ye olde encyclopedia or ye new iPhone and Google to your heart’s content.

Preorder this book now for your Nook or from Indiebound. Comes out July 5.