Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend – Katarina Bivald

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction

I am one of those readers who loves books about books, preferably books about books I’ve read and not just those that I should have done, so I was overjoyed to receive a copy of this book from Random House UK Vintage Publishing following reading a wonderful review of this book by Lady Fancifull.

Amy Harris and Sara Lindqvist have exchanged letters for over two years, a habit that started with their shared love of books, some of which are included for our pleasure, and following redundancy from her job in a book store in Sweden, Amy decides that Sara should visit her in Broken Wheel, Iowa.

The story starts with Sara sat waiting in the nearby town of Hope, for Amy to pick her up. While she waits she sits and reads Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl, until eventually a local resident takes pity on her and arranges for her to be taken to Broken Wheel. Once there she receives the news that she’s arrived on the day of Amy’s funeral. The welcoming residents assure her that Amy would have wanted her to stay anyway and so she does.

Sara is a shy young woman who has never had a boyfriend and prefers books to people, she’s never travelled but she puts on her big girl pants and sets about getting to know the residents, those people so fondly described in Amy’s letters. Broken Wheel however is another matter, it is a town which has lost its heart, many of the shops are boarded up and while the residents are friendly and welcoming, it is clear that Amy was at the centre of the town and the wisdom and the support she lent to her neighbours. Sara isn’t quite sure what to do with herself so despite realising that this town isn’t populated by readers, she decides to open a book store with Amy’s books.

Along the way we get to meet the small town folk with their various foibles and along with them many sub-plots where we get to sympathise and hope for the best of ‘happy-ever-after’ outcomes for them all as fortunately all the truly undesirable characters have upped sticks and moved to more affluent areas, although a few difficult ones remain to keep things interesting.

Amy always seemed to know precisely what people wanted to hear. Caroline knew only what they should hear, and the two were very rarely the same thing.

This is a sweet story which had it not been for the inclusion of the books may have ended up on the wrong side of twee for my tastes. Sara decides to shelve the books in an original manner so that those entering the shop could find what they wanted starting with SEX, VIOLENCE AND WEAPONS some shelves got sub-headings such as reliable authors, those that can be depended on to produce good books time after time:

Reliable authors: Dick Francis, Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer. Strictly speaking, Dan Brown also belonged here, she thought. He was so reliable that you got the exact same story every time. A kind, older mentor! Surely he won’t turn out to be the villain?

But the inclusion of a wide variety of books and some fun characters with more than a hint of similarity with the epistolary books of 84 Charing Cross Road and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society that also have the common theme of books, although The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend isn’t entirely written in letters.

There is an awful lot to enjoy here and even though Sara seemed born of a different time and the ending thoroughly, yet beautifully expected this would make the perfect lighter read for any booklover. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend is going to be published on 18 June 2015.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction

This is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read for some time, the focus being the German Occupation of Guernsey. Living in Jersey which was also occupied this is a familiar subject as the history of this time surrounds me with the bunkers and fortifications left behind as well as the German Underground Hospital which has now been rebranded as the War Tunnels.

The beginning of the book strongly reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road by Hannah Hanff, not only is this an epistolary but one of the earliest letters from Dawsey Adams, Guernsey to Juliet Ashton, the chief correspondent, mentions not only a book that belonged to her but a request for a book, there being no book shops left in Guernsey in 1946.
Juliet responds “I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” What a delightful idea. Juliet is a novelist, her witty war-time column has been collated into a book and she is doing a tour of the UK to promote it. She corresponds to her publisher, also a friend, as well as a close friend in Scotland and then prompted by Dawsey’s mention of The Literary and Potato Peel Pie society she begins to probe at the stories, and the flood-gates open as the Islander’s oblige.


German Army Band in the High street

German Army Band in the High Street courtesy BBC Guernsey

Juliet gets to know the inhabitants, even those who disapprove of the project, the nasty minded Christian who is determined to tell the author all about the society member’s failings, but as more stories are told Juliet realises that she wants to visit the island of Guernsey and see her pen-pals in real life. The genius of this book is the perfect mix of horrific stories, those people who were deported, those who lived in fear along with the lack of food, but these are balanced out by some tender moments, with memories of bravery and humour and compassion, not least at the society’s meetings. There were some letters that took my breath away despite being familiar with the nature of the events that occurred.


Guernsey – The Telegraph

But this isn’t just a book about the island the letters also tell us about Juliet, her burgeoning relationship with a publisher, her friendship with her own publisher and friend Mark Stephens and his sister Sophie, living in Scotland with two young children. This mix of her private life with fancy dinners and hotels with the correspondence with the islanders who are rebuilding their lives following the departure of the Germans further highlights the horror of wartime.

I can’t recommend this enough, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to pack so much into a bunch of letters but the author has constructed this so well, reporting items back to her friends as well as corresponding directly to the Islanders giving a light and chatty overtone to the darker moments.

I believe this book is being made into a film although rumour has it that it is being shot in Cornwall rather than Guernsey and I’m keen to see how the construct will alter to enable the audience to fall in love with the lightness of touch which makes this such an enjoyable read.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

84 Charing Cross Road & The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street – Helene Hanff

Non-Fiction  5*'s

I first heard about this book many months ago on the Blog:Musings From A Bookmammal and sold on the fact that this was an epistolary novel written by a booklover.

A delightful book, 84 Charing Cross Road is a book entirely made up of letters detailing the correspondence that spanned twenty years between Helene Hanff and the booksellers Messers Marks & Co.

Starting in 1949 Helene from New York, wrote to the booksellers requesting a list of books, having found their details in a newspaper and Frank Doel responds with his finds three weeks later. As the correspondence deepens Helene Hanff’s humour and kindness shine through and soon other members of staff and their families are also writing and receiving their own personal responses. Booklovers will enjoy tracking the non-fiction titles Helene demands with varying levels of urgency.

It has to be said not a great deal happens in this very slim tome but Helene Hanff manages to give the reader a little slice of social history, especially detailing the ongoing rationing in the early 1950’s. The writing style is what carries his book along.

In The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street the reader gets to hear all the details of her long-awaited trip to London which followed the publication of 84 Charing Cross Road. A delightful addition where the author is courted by both those she corresponded with and her newer fans. Written in the form of a journal of her stay her humour is even more pronounced.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this one and I’d like to thank Bookmammal for the recommendation.