Book Reviews and Going Down a Rabbit Hole

This month was an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction. The second book took me down a rabbit hole for a while with a book leading to a movie, then to music from decades ago. But, let’s start with my favorite North Carolina author writing in her style of magical realism.

Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen – A lovely tale of lonely people coming together, with Addison’s signature touch of magic. A young woman comes to a hidden away complex to claim her mother’s apartment. When one of the residents dies, the other residents reveal their stories slowly while she works to clean out the apartment, looking for a manuscript supposedly hidden in the hoarded apartment left behind. Add in some ghosts and an invisible pigeon, along with some persistent turquoise birds called Delawisps, and you have another great read from one of my favorite authors. This one has more depth than her previous books, with better character development and a nice mystery to go along with it.

Madly, Deeply, the Diaries of Alan Rickman – I have mixed feelings on this one. The book is a reprint of Alan Rickman’s actual diary entries covering 1993 to 2015. Rickman was a talented graphic artist, and some of his art on the diary pages is seen on the inside cover, and in the photo gallery in the middle of the book. However, most of the entries in the 455 page tome are ones that really say nothing – getting on a plane, taking a taxi, making a phone call, having dinner with a friend, going to a funeral, all in incomplete sentences. The entries around his performances in movies we all love like Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually, and all the Harry Potter movies were sparse. He is highly critical of his own work, and had some scathing criticisms of other movies and plays, but according to the forward by Emma Thompson, he was very gracious and supportive of others in person. He met the love of his life when he was 16, and stayed with her his entire life, but didn’t marry her until 42 years later as he battled cancer for the first time inn 2012. There is only one entry regarding that, a note about finding a ring, and nothing on the actual wedding or his feelings. He notes feeling ill here and there, but never puts down the whole story, and I found out about the first cancer diagnosis on the internet. He notes seeing a fellow actor, director, or friend, and talking to them, but without the context of what was happening at the time, it is confusing and not really understandable. Other reviewers talk about reading his intimate thoughts, but I didn’t think there was anything extraordinary in the diaries, other than his impatience with certain actors and directors at certain times. There are many entries dealing with deaths of his friends, but mostly having to do with who was at the funeral, and his opinion of the services. The appendix contains excerpts from much earlier diaries and contain more thoughts and observations. The afterward written by his wife Rima tells of his final days. Overall, it is wading through short, meaningless-to-the-reader entries to find nuggets of real insight. A warning to those who only do audiobooks, don’t do this one on audio. The large amount of entries, literally pages-worth, you can quickly skim would make the audio version incredibly tedious. I actually finished the book very quickly, as there is not as much to actually read and ponder than the size would lead you to believe.

For example, here is the one page covering the entirety of the scenes of Snape in the final Harry Potter. Seven weeks of filming is condensed into a single page. There is only one entry regarding insight on the final scenes. The entry on March 11 is more concerned with the awful food and lack of a producer on set, rather than his thoughts on the script. The March 12 entry gives the most insight, albeit in a single sentence, however it is overshadowed by the rudeness of someone on the set. The only other entry regarding the final movie is a couple sentences regarding a fight with the director over changing the method of Snape’s death, Rickman insisted on keeping true to the book.

One performance with which Alan Rickman was actually pleased was the movie Bottle Shock. I had not heard of this movie, so I looked it up, then found it in our local library system. We placed a hold, and watched it this past week. Based on a true story, a British man, Steven Spurrier, living in Paris and running a wine shop, decides to do a publicity stunt to shore up his business. He travels to California in 1976 with the idea of purchasing their ‘best’ wines for a blind taste test by the notable critics of the time. He fully expects the French wines to dominate the contest. The blind wine tasting test became known as the Judgement of Paris, and changed the world of wine-making forever. The story is centered on the California wine maker Jim Barrett, owner of Chateau Montelena, and his refusal to participate in what he deems a sham meant to embarrass America, while trying to keep his fledgling winery afloat. The writing and acting are superb, the storyline interesting, and the cast has a number of notable actors. Worth the time. Check with your local library, they may have it to borrow. If you live in NC, you can get it through the statewide library loan program. If you have Peacock, or Prime Video, it may be available there too.

Then, further down the rabbit hole, the movie has a beautiful song in its soundtrack from 50 years ago. We spent a bit of time running down the song list, then looking them up on youtube until we found it, and then did some research on its history. The song is Toulouse Street by the Doobie Brothers, before the time of Michael McDonald as their lead singer. It is in the style of Another Park Another Sunday, and South City Midnight Lady, two songs that made the charts. Toulouse Street is the name of their album released in 1972, and I do not remember this song at all. Written by Patrick Simmons, it has genius scoring, with transitions from minor key to major and back again, multi-layered melodies, and a hauntingly beautiful sound. The studio album version has a flute interlude, very reminiscent of Ray Thomas of Moody Blues. The live version has this interlude on saxophone. Here’s a youtube link if you’d like to hear the live version.

While we are speaking of rabbit holes, did you know that Alan Rickman is the voice of Absolem, the blue caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, and the butterfly in Alice Through the Looking Glass? Bit parts, but still, that voice! I found Looking Glass on TBS a few days ago and recorded it to watch while sewing last week. I also snagged a recording of Robin Hood which stars Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. I have another unknown film starring Rickman called Snow Cake on order at the library now. This is another one where Rickman wasn’t too critical of his own performance.

OK, climbing out of the rabbit hole, let’s get back to the next two books, both in the genre of historical fiction.

The Last Daughter of York by Nicola Cornick – Told in two timelines, this historical fiction novel imagines a different outcome for the murdered nephew of Richard III. The book moves slowly in the present timeline, almost plodding in the protagonist’s attempts to recover her memory of the night her sister died. The timeline in the past, during the 1400s, moves more quickly and is more interesting overall. The mystery ties up neatly at the end. Overall an average book.

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle by Jennifer Ryan – Historic fiction based on a real group of women in Britain who lived through the severe clothing rationing caused by the Second World War. The program of Mend and Make Do was the order of the time to repurpose and resew old clothing into new pieces. Fashion went out of fashion, as utility became the hallmark of women supporting the war. The occasion of an impending wedding brings to light the lost dreams of brides at the time to be married in white. When a woman finds her mother’s moth eaten gown in 1942, she decides to try to repair it so she can wear it. Enter the aunt of a local aristocratic family who has lost her design business in the bombing blitz of London, and the stage is set for an inspiring story amid the horror of war. The writer delivers a vivid account of the time period, the rationing of food and clothing, the constant undercurrent of fear of being attacked from overhead planes, and the horror of the bombing of Coventry. Told from the viewpoint of three of the primary protagonists, all in third person, it is easy to read and goes quickly in spite of its 400-page length. Overall, an excellent read, true to its time period, with a message of hope. Be sure to read the author’s notes at the end about the real wedding dress shortage. Silk was in so much demand for war use that it was illegal to use German parachutes found when German soldiers were caught on English soil. If a German parachute was found, it had to be turned over to the government. But when the war was over, returning GIs brought their parachutes to their sweethearts to make their wedding gowns. Highly recommend.

What are you reading now?

21 thoughts on “Book Reviews and Going Down a Rabbit Hole

  1. I always liked watching Alan Rickman in movies but I doubt I would find the book interesting – a diary like that wouldn’t even be interesting to the person the wrote it!

  2. Michelle middleton

    Try Jennifer Ryan’s Chilburys Ladies Choir. It’s great too. And there’s another WW11 era book of hers as well. I hadn’t realized she had a new one so thanks. It’s now on hold at my library.

  3. Julie

    Oh, Toulouse Street, how I wish the stereo was accessible & I could listen to my old LPs. The Sheriff of Nottingham making his late night dates, didn’t you wish it was with you?! While the diary may not be very interesting to read, it’s interesting to know even a glamorous movie star is living with boredom. Spent yesterday overhauling the sewing closet, ready to pin baste some quilts while I’m waiting to go dancing.

  4. well now I am intrigued about Alan Rickman. He does seem like the self loathing type, I am surprised he wrote a book about nothing. I want to look at his artwork now too.
    Hubbs and I do rabbit holes here too. Thanks for this one
    I do not do reading or audio books. I should but at this time it is mostly tv. We have Roku and Britbox and a host of other apps.

    Audio books seems to be a habit to be developed. I am ready to dip my toes into that. …
    Hubbs and I do watch a lot of history on tv. Britbox is a rabbit hole in itself!!
    Happy Week-end almost over, Carole

  5. Sharon F

    Thanks for the book reviews! I will pass on the Rickman diary, but I’ll be looking for “Other Birds” and “The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle”. I’m currently reading “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a novel somewhat based on the life of the author, who was a fugitive in Australia and escaped to India. A friend recommended it, actually challenged me to read it, at 933 pages long it’s an investment of time. The story is very rich, many twists and turns, and a fascinating look at life in India. It was a slow start though, I had to get about 150 pages into it before it really started to hold my interest.

  6. Betsy Pompi

    If you’re into historical fiction, I’m currently reading “The Rose Code” by Kate Quinn. It’s set in 1947 and the wedding Of Elizabeth in England with flashbacks to 1940-1944. It’s about the group of English men and women who worked to break Nazi and Italian codes. It’s long, but informational and a page turner with excellent character development.

  7. I really enjoyed The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle and learned so much from it. I always do learn from historical fiction. I’ll have to put the Sarah Addison Allen book on my library list – I’ve read her books before, but not for a long time. I didn’t know she was from NC! I’m reading The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn, another good historical fiction book.

  8. The 70’s and 80’s had some of the besssst music.
    That might be the single motivating reason I go to the dentist.
    He has xm radio set on the 80’s channel.

  9. Joan G

    Thank you for the book recommendations. I read “Other Birds” a few months ago and truly enjoyed it. Right now I am reading “Bear Town” and “The Promise” for my book club. So far, both are holding my attention.

  10. I adored Alan Rickman and have thought about getting his memoir. Thanks to you, I will not! That book sounds absolutely painful to read. I did add the Ryan book to my library wish list. It sounds really good.

  11. Joan Sheppard

    These look promising – the last books I chose out of the library and barely got home before I wanted to return them! Alan Brickman was so versatile. Some were very dark. Last Daughter and Wedding Dress look very good. Thanks!

  12. I am revisiting an old favorite, “The Good Earth.” I think I read it when I was in high school. I am now 80, so when I say “an old favorite,” I mean OLD. My husband reads to me every night. We have lately read some heavy stuff, so we wanted something light. Right now we are reading a Debbie McComber Christmas story. (sp?).

  13. I always enjoy your reading lists and reviews. Been on a bit of a historical fiction tear the last week. D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose, A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear (a favorite author of mine), and currently Killing the SS by Bill O’Reilly. Last month The Missed Connection by Denise Williams, The Whistler by John Grisham and The Talbot Odyssey by Nelson DeMille, Hiss and Hers by George Collins & MC Beaton. The best of the month was When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton.

  14. Cathie J

    I added a couple of those books to my Goodreads list. I am currently reading “The Mathematician’s Shiva”. I like the writing, but I am just not into any reading lately. I will finish this though.

  15. Sherrill

    WOW!! That’s didn’t sound like the Doobies at all! IMHO, Michael McDonald and that voice was such a huge part of the Doobies–I LOVED them. I’m currently reading Righteous Prey by John Sandford and just finished The Red Book by James Patterson. Had to take my machine in yesterday for a cleaning/tune up/tension issues so no sewing for hopefully only a week or less.

  16. Your reviews are always of interest to me! Glad to hear your opinion on the Alan Rickman diary, I’ll not waste the time. I just finished Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty. I started it when I was really busy, and had trouble following it at first because my reading was so sporadic and it had a bouncing timeline, but the ending!!!!! Worth the read! I’ll say no more.

  17. This is terrific, Carole. Other Birds was already on my list and now the Wedding dress book is as well. I am currently reading the Alan Rickman book but not very far yet. I like what I’ve read so far but agree that sometimes the sketchiness of the entries makes it feel a bit jumpy. Because I’m familiar with a lot of the Brit names, that helps (and the footnotes do, too) but again, I’m not terribly far in — and it’s a big book! I’ve not heard of that film (not that far yet!) so thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to check our library’s Kanopy streaming.

  18. jseccurrtwcnyrrcom

    I am a Doobie fan but had not heard of Toulouse Street. I listened to the song and was mesmerized by the melody and harmonies. Magic.

    My latest read is Lee Miller: A Women’s War by Hilary Roberts. Lots of pictures as Lee is a model/photographer and was a WWII war correspondent. She worked mainly for Vogue and she captures women in many different roles during the war. I am going to put a hold on The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle as I love the idea of historic fiction on a sewing topic.

    When I think of Alan Rickman, I think of Snape in Harry Potter. His voice put shivers down my spine in the Potter movies.

    Thanks for the reviews! You do an excellent job giving us what you enjoyed or not and why.

    Back to quilting!

  19. So interesting about Rickman, and the wedding dress book sounds appealing. Thanks. Mostly I’m reading Christian cowboy romance and historicals. Nothing that challenges me at all, because that’s what I need. Just escapism.

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