It is truly glorious this morning, with the sun shining, the birds singing, and the breeze blowing, an ideal spring morning, perfect weather for a Mother’s Day celebration.
It may be a coincidence that I am reading a book about mothers for my Friends’ book group, which meets tomorrow night. Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper is a lengthy novel that weaves together three accounts from different time periods in the lives of one family. It begins in 1961, as sixteen-year-old Laurel hides out in the treehouse while her family has bundled off to have a picnic to celebrate her brother’s second birthday. She is bored by life at their English farmhouse and is anxious to find excitement, drama and romance. Knowing that she will be leaving soon, she is suddenly struck by pangs of guilt, and just as she decides to join the others, she witnesses a shocking crime that will haunt her for the next fifty years and call into question everything she has ever thought she knew about her family. In 2011, as she returns to her family home for her mother’s 90th birthday, Laurel finally decides to unravel the mystery of that fateful day, and digs deep into the past to discover clues that will help in her search for the truth. Her search leads her back to 1941, to the London Blitz, where her mother made choices that would alter the course of her life. I’m 300 pages into this nearly 500 page book, and so far it is exactly as I expected Morton’s books would be - lengthy, detailed family sagas of hidden pasts and shocking secrets. I’m finding it overly detailed and repetitive, with plenty of padding. I think the story itself is good - it just takes so long to get to any plot development that it is sometimes frustrating. I am, however, at the point now where the plot has taken an unexpected and interesting turn, so I’m going to try to finish the book today, as I suspect that there will be a surprising plot twist at the end and I'd like to be able to participate in that part of the discussion tomorrow. I wonder what my other book club members will have to say about it - I’ll give you a summary of our discussion next week.
I also have two audiobooks to tell you about. The first is a short novel by Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Corner, a heartwarming tale of one woman’s search for a her own happy-ever-after. Nina Redmond is a librarian who, after being downsized when her library branch is closed, decides that all she really wants to do in life is to find the perfect book for every reader. She buys a van, moves to a sleepy village in the Scottish Highlands, and opens a mobile bookshop. She faces challenges and reaps rewards along the way, but will she be able to keep her dream alive and finally find true happiness? This lighthearted romantic comedy is so different from my normal reading selections that I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it. The narrator, Lucy Price-Lewis, perfectly captured the spirit of the story, effortlessly sweeping me along on Nina’s adventures. I had to suspend my sense of disbelief more than once, but all in all, it was a satisfying fairytale of a book with a lovable heroine, a gorgeous setting, and enough quirky characters to keep any reader smiling and chuckling to the very last page.
The other audiobook I finished listening to is a tale of a very different sort. The premise of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is one that most people are familiar with, if not from reading the book then probably from seeing the movie. In case you are not familiar with the story, this novel is set in WWII and is told from the point of view of nine-year-old Bruno, who comes home from school one day to find one of the maids in his room packing his belongings. He is outraged by this, but discovers that his family is moving from their large house in Berlin to a new house near a camp called “Out-With”, the result of a visit from “the Fury”, during which his father was promoted to Commandant. From his new bedroom window, he can see the camp on the other side of the fence, and is curious about the people there, who all wear matching striped pajamas and striped cloth caps. Having no friends to play with, and unable to get along with his twelve-year-old sister Greta, “the Hopeless Case”, one day he goes off exploring along the fence that separates him from the camp. After about an hour of walking, he notices a dot in the distance, which becomes a blob, which becomes a shape, which becomes a boy, and he meets Schmul, a nine-year-old boy living in the camp who miraculously shares the same birthday. Thus a friendship blossoms, but one that Bruno senses he must keep secret from the rest of his family. Over the course of a year, Bruno and Schmul share stories and form a strong bond, but when suddenly their friendship is facing an unexpected end, Bruno devises a plan for one last adventure, a plan that will lead to tragic consequences. This moving fictional account of one boy’s encounter with the evils of war was an unexpectedly riveting listening experience for me. The narrator, Michael Maloney, did an amazing job of capturing the naive voice of Bruno and bringing to life his experiences, innocence, inner struggles, and staunch refusal to acknowledge the true nature of the camp and the fate of those who were imprisoned there, despite his persistent sense of foreboding. If you haven’t read this book, I would recommend that you head down to your local library and pick up a copy - I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down until you reach the final, heartwrenching conclusion. It would also be a great selection for any book club. It is important to note that this book is, according to the author, a fable, and is in no way intended to be taken as a historical account of any real events that took place during the Holocaust.
On that cheerful note, I will close today’s post and get outside to enjoy the lovely day. Happy Mother’s Day!
Bye for now…