Monday, March 26, 2012

What's on Your Nightstand: Spring Edition!

My reading drought has at last abated somewhat. I had one loser and three others that were great reads! So, here we go with the reviews!

The World of Downton Abbey--well you know I love IT!! Like the World of Upstairs, Downstairs that I have, it puts the show and it's characters in their historical context. The photos are fabulous and the text is very enjoyable, but much of it I already knew. I cannot honestly say I read this cover-to-cover but I CAN honestly say I'm buying a copy! (You can read my dreams for Season 3 of Downton Abbey here.)
When the Emperor Was Divine puts a very human face on one of the greatest human rights violations in U.S. History--the forced internment (and loss of property) of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast during World War II. This is a small, compelling book--it's story very personal. I was drawn totally into their world and felt ashamed of what was done to these people. I realize we cannot re-write history and that hindsight is always 20/20, but it is still deeply moving even all these years later.

Debs at War tells the stories of various young society women--debutantes of the late 1930s--who, like the sisters in my beloved Downton Abbey, find life irreparably altered by war. Many, like their age-mates Queen Elizabeth II and the late Princess Margaret, were (in today's terms) barely educated. Taught to dance, play the piano, appreciate fine art, sit a horse and speak French, German and/or Italian none were ever destined for anything more than being a society wife and part-time mother to nanny-reared upper-class children. But the war changed all that. Finding hidden reserves of strength and tapping the intelligence left all but dormant by their successions of governesses (or even young ladies boarding schools) many turned their back on the old ways and created new ways of living for themselves. Among those profiled was Lady Anne Spencer, aunt of the late Princess Diana.

I enjoyed DeCourcy's other "deb" book, 1939: The Last Season, as well. It dealt purely with the debs of that year. Neither book is likely to be in your local public library, but both are well worth the price. You can skip her book on Lord Snowdon though. Another enjoyable "deb" book is The Last Curtsey by Fiona MacCarthy which details the very last debutante season ever at the Court of St. James.
The Magic Room tells the story of a small-town Michigan bridal shop, Becker's. It's been in the same family for 70+ years and is still going strong. The store's story is told thru the owners, staff and customers. The women, young and middle aged alike, who come for a wedding dress are treated to a trip to the "Magic Room." As it's name implies the Magic Room is where the bride first REALLY sees herself as a bride in her dream gown. But the book is more than just preparing for a trip down the aisle, it's also about mothers and daughters and about what we, as parents, seek for our daughters.

I found it so sad that the author was almost shocked by one bride and her sisters. From a religious, but not a Duggar-like family, they had each reached the conclusion that intimacy must wait for marriage. He tells their story with respect--not mockery, but it's sad that this is seen as so uncommon. I hope this book will inspire other brides and grooms to make this choice.

Whatever your beliefs, this is a book for just about any woman.

The President and the Assassin is my second presidential assassin book in the last 12 month. (First was Candace Millard's masterful Destiny of the Republic on poor President Garfield and his inept medical team.) For me parts of this book were like a college reunion. I majored in Russian and East European Studies and so found all the talk of various anarchists to be like listening to the Beloved Alma Mater song at a graduation service. McKinnley, best know for his revelation from God to keep the Hawaiian Islands (or was that the Philippines?) is little remembered today except for being one of the four fatally shot presidents. McKinnley's story is interwoven with that of the assassin and have few, if any, dull spots in the telling. I enjoyed the audio version on my daily commute and the time in the car went by quickly with it.
Burnt Mountain was the Book Club pick at one branch of my county's library last month. It sounded interesting and, as I had no other audio book at the moment, I grabbed it! Huge mistake. I knew when one character actually said "faith and begorra" that it was not going to be good. A coincidentally-written-the-night of dying letter didn't help. And, how many folks had cell phones before the Atlanta Olympics? Oh well those were MINOR points. Just how awful this book would become I could never have imagine without the help of halucinogenic pharmaceuticals! When scenes near the end that came dangerously close to pedophilia, I threw the last disc back into the container and didn't bother finishing the last few tracts. This book is just plain awful. Skip it, please. I even stopped to complain at the library--something I've never, ever done!

Need ideas on what to read next? Stop by 5 Minutes for Books to see What's on all the Nightstands this month.


Jen E @ mommablogsalot said...

Very intrigued by Debs at War - sounds like a good one!

dstb said...

If you check out Amazon reviews, you will see you were not alone in your thoughts on Burnt Mountain.

I read When the Emperor was Divine several years ago. I remember the basic idea, but not much more. I do remember that it was not a favorite though. Lots of people seem to love it, so I don't know what my problem was.

The McKinley book looks good. Destiney of the Republic is on my TBR list after reading another by the author called The River of Doubt. Loved that one.

The Magic Room looks good.

I like the new look of your blog. Okay, except for one thing - you no longer show what you are working on reading. Now I have to wait forever to see what you are up to! (I know, this coming from a person who doesn't even have a blog)!

Thanks for the book ideas,

Hopewell said...

RIVER OF DOUBT is FABULOUS! I even picked it for high school geography in the year my son was to be home, but we changed plans.

Sorry about taking down the "what I'm reading"--I was tired of all the clutter. It could reappear though if I change my mind. Glad to know SOMEONE noticed it though!!

Lisa notes... said...

I haven't hooked into the Downton Abbey craze yet, but sounds like I need to! I keep hearing good things about it.

Hopewell said...

Downton is fab! Just get season 1 on dvd and start in!

Nancy@5M4B said...

Debs of War sounds fascinating! I love WWII-era stories, both fiction and non-fiction. I haven't seen Downton Abbey but everyone raves about it!

Hopewell said...

Two words about Downton Abbey: WATCH IT!

Cassandra said...

Wow! You have some really intriguing titles on your list! A good number of them are going on my to-read list. ;)

I haven't read Downton Abbey yet but I have heard fantastic things about it. And it's available to watch on Netflix!

Happy April reading!

bekahcubed said...

All those "debutante" books look interesting. I've never read much about that era--but I might just have to now that you've got me intrigued!

Hopewell said...

Bekah--its a fun topic. Even I learned something and I've read tons on it. Edward VIII, who detested being king and especially loathed the presentation of debs (cattle calls)got bored at one garden party and since it was raining told the poor girls who'd not yet gotten to curtsey to him that they could go and consider themselves presented!! How arrogant is THAT??!!

Cindy said...

It's good to be the king.

Jeanne said...

I now have When the Emperor was Divine on my reading list. Thanks!