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?