Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ernie Pyle in England

Ernie Pyle in England. Ernie Pyle. 1941. 215 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: A small voice came in the night and said, “Go.” And when I put it up to the boss he leaned back in his chair and said, “Go.” And when I sat alone with my so-called conscience and asked it what to do, it pointed and said, “Go.” So I’m on my way to London.

Premise/plot: Ernie Pyle in England was first published in 1941. It gathers together Ernie Pyle's newspaper columns from his time--three or so months--in England (and Ireland and Scotland). (He was an American journalist.) At the time the book was published, America had NOT yet entered the second world war.

My thoughts: WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS BOOK EXISTED?! Seriously. I've gone all these years of my life not knowing about Ernie Pyle?!?!?! This one was a PERFECT fit for me. I love to read about England. (I do. I really do.) And I love to read about World War II. If you love history, this one may prove quite satisfying. And if you love human-interest stories, then this one will certainly satisfy!!!

I found it fascinating, entertaining, compelling, charming.

A ship carries people out of reality, into illusion. People who go away on ships are going away to better things.
Our bathtub has three faucets, one marked cold, and two marked hot. The point is that one is a little hotter than the other. I don’t know why it’s done this way. All I care about is that one or the other should give off hot water; and they really do — plenty hot. But our radiator does not have the same virtue. It is a centuries old custom not to have heat over here. All radiators are vaguely warm; none is ever hot. They have no effect at all on the room’s temperature. I’ve been cold all over the world. I’ve suffered agonies of cold in Alaska and Peru and Georgia and Maine. But I’ve never been colder than right here in this room. Actually, the temperature isn’t down to freezing. And it’s beautiful outside. Yet the chill eats into you and through you. You put on sweaters until you haven’t any more — and you get no warmer. The result is that Lait and I take turns in the bathtub, I’ll bet we’re the two most thoroughly washed caballeros in Portugal. We take at least four hot baths a day. And during the afternoon, when I’m trying to write, I have to let the hot water run over my hands about every fifteen minutes to limber them up. I’m telling the truth.
My new English friends wanted to know what America thought; and they told queer bomb stories by the dozen. “You’re a welcome sight,” they said. “We’ve all told our bomb stories to each other so many times that nobody listens any more. Now we’ve got a new audience.”
London is no more knocked out than the man who smashes a finger is dead. Daytime life in London today comes very close to being normal.
Some day when peace has returned to this odd world I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges. And standing there, I want to tell somebody who has never seen it how London looked on a certain night in the holiday season of the year 1940. For on that night this old, old city was — even though I must bite my tongue in shame for saying it — the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. It was a night when London was ringed and stabbed with fire. They came just after dark, and somehow you could sense from the quick, bitter firing of the guns that there was to be no monkey business this night.
And Big Ben? Well, he’s still striking the hours. He hasn’t been touched, despite half a dozen German claims that he has been knocked down. Bombs have fallen around Trafalgar Square, yet Nelson still stands atop his great monument, and the immortal British lions, all four of them, still crouch at the base of the statue, untouched.
Londoners pray daily that a German bomb will do something about the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. If you have ever seen it, you know why.
Apparently the national drink in England is a beef extract called Bovril, which is advertised everywhere, like Coca Cola at home. Yesterday I went into a snack bar for some lunch. I asked the waitress just what this Bovril stuff was, and in a cockney accent that would lay you in the aisle she said: “Why sir, it’s beef juice and it’s wonderful for you on cold days like this. It’s expensive, but it’s body-buildin’, sir, it’s very body-buildin’.” So I had a cup. It cost five cents, and you just ought to see my body being built.
If I were making this trip over again I would throw away my shirts and bring three pounds of sugar. 
You can hardly conceive of the determination of the people of England to win this war. They are ready for anything. They are ready to take further rationing cuts. They are ready to eat in groups at communal kitchens. Even the rich would quit their swanky dining rooms without much grumbling. If England loses this war it won’t be because people aren’t willing — and even ahead of the government in their eagerness — to assume a life of all-out sacrifice.
Don’t tell me the British don’t have a sense of humor. I never get tired of walking around reading the signs put up by stores that have had their windows blown out. My favorite one is at a bookstore, the front of which has been blasted clear out. The store is still doing business, and its sign says, “More Open than Usual.”
One of the few things I have found that are cheaper here than at home is a haircut. I paid only thirty cents the other day in the hotel barbershop, and since then I’ve seen haircuts advertised at fifteen cents. I’m going to get a haircut every day from now on — enough to last me for a year or two.
It was amazing and touching the way the Christmas spirit was kept up during the holidays. People banded together and got up Christmas trees, and chipped in to buy gifts all around. I visited more than thirty shelters during the holidays, and there was not a one that was not elaborately decorated.
I probably wouldn’t have slept a wink if it hadn’t been for the bathroom. I discovered it after midnight, when everybody else had gone to bed. The bathroom was about twenty feet square, and it had twin bathtubs! Yes, two big old-fashioned bathtubs sitting side by side with nothing between, just like twin beds. Twin bathtubs had never occurred to me before. But having actually seen them, my astonishment grew into approval. I said to myself, “Why not?” Think what you could do with twin bathtubs. You could give a party. You could invite the Lord Mayor in for tea and a tub. You could have a national slogan, “Two tubs in every bathroom.” The potentialities of twin bathtubs assumed gigantic proportions in my disturbed mind, and I finally fell asleep on the idea, all my fears forgotten.
It is hard for a Scotsman to go five minutes without giving something a funny twist, and it is usually a left-handed twist. All in all, I have found the Scots much more like Americans than the Englishmen are. I feel perfectly at home with them.
Pearl Hyde is head of the Coventry branch of the Women’s Voluntary Services. It was Pearl Hyde who fed and clothed and cheered and really saved the people of Coventry after the blitz. For more than a week she plowed around in the ashes of Coventry, wearing policeman’s pants. She never took off her clothes. She was so black they could hardly tell her from a Negro. Her Women’s Voluntary Services headquarters was bombed out, so she and her women moved across the street. Her own home was blown up, and even today she still sleeps in the police station. Pearl Hyde is a huge woman, tall and massive. Her black hair is cut in a boyish bob. And she has personality that sparkles with power and good nature. She is much better looking than in the film. And she is laughing all the time. She was just ready to dash off somewhere when I went in to see her, but she tarried a few minutes to tell me how good the Americans had been with donations.
It is against the law to leave a car that could be driven away by the Germans. You have to immobilize your car when you leave it, even though you might be walking only fifty feet away to ask a policeman for directions. In daytime, just locking the doors and taking the key counts as immobilization, but at night you have to take out some vital part, such as the distributor.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


What I Nominated for Cybils

Audio Book: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
Easy Reader: Moo Bird by David Milgrim
Early Chapter Book: Posy the Puppy (Dr. KittyCat #1) by Jane Clarke
Middle Grade Speculative Fiction: The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels
Board Book: Cityblock by Christopher Franceschelli
Picture Book (Fiction): Miracle Man by John Hendrix
Elementary/MG Graphic Novel: Alamo All-Stars by Nathan Hale
Young Adult: March: Book Three by John Lewis
Middle Grade Fiction: Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban
Middle Grade/YA Nonfiction: Breakthrough by Jim Murphy; Fashion Rebels by Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia (one of these got moved from a different category)
Juvenile Nonfiction: Let Your Voice Be Heart by Anita Silvey
Elementary Nonfiction: Nadia the Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still by Karlin Gray
Poetry: Echo Echo by Marilyn Singer
Young Adult: Savaged Lands by Lana Kortchick
Young Adult Speculative Fiction: The Beauty of Darkness by Mary E. Pearson

2016 Nominations by category:

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Full of Beans

Full of Beans. Jennifer L. Holm. 2016. Random House. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Look here, Mac. I'm gonna give it to you straight: grown-ups lie. Sure, they like to say that kids make things up and that we don't tell the truth. But they're the lying liars.

Premise/plot: Full of Beans is the prequel to Jennifer L. Holm's Turtle in Paradise. Both books are set in Key West, Florida. Full of Beans is set in 1934, and Turtle in Paradise is set in 1935. Bean, a character first introduced in Turtle in Paradise, narrates the book. And WHAT A CHARACTER Holm has given us!!! I wish Bean starred in a dozen books! That is how much I love and adore him.

So what is it about? It's the Great Depression and Bean and his family--the whole community, the whole nation--is in need. Bean does what he can to help his family out while his Dad is off crossing the country looking for any job he can get. But it isn't until the end of the book that Bean's inspiration pays off. Until then, he too is prone to trying anything and everything to bring home what nickels and dimes he can.

Bean has two brothers: Kermit and Buddy. He has a very hard-working mother and a MEANIE of a grandmother.

The book opens with Bean trying to determine if the government's visitor to Key West is good news or bad news....

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I'm not sure the plot is wow-worthy on its own. But. Because it's BEAN I was engaged start to finish. The characters make this novel well worth reading. Even if you don't love, love, love historical fiction.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Friday, October 21, 2016

Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in Paradise. Jennifer L. Holm. 2010. Random House. 177 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Everyone thinks children are sweet as Necco Wafers, but I've lived long enough to know the truth: kids are rotten.

Premise/plot: Turtle, our heroine, is sent to live with her aunt and her cousins in Key West, Florida. The novel is set during 1935. And the Great Depression is one of the reasons why she's sent. Her mother is a housekeeper, and her new employer does not like all. She needs the job so she sends her daughter away to live with her sister. Turtle's arrival is a surprise! She arrives before the letter does. Turtle brings with her one cat, Smokey. Her cousins are Bean, Kermit, and Buddy. The friends she hangs around with? The Diaper Gang.

My thoughts: What did I love most about this one? Practically everything. I loved Turtle's voice. I loved getting to know her. I loved getting inside her head. I also loved the setting and atmosphere of this one. One definitely gets a sense of time and place and culture. I also loved the characterization and the relationships. Seeing Turtle get to know her grandmother was priceless. Not because the grandma was sweet and lovely. But because she was just as fierce as Turtle herself.

I reread this one because I was excited about Full of Beans. I thought that Full of Beans was a sequel. It isn't. It's a prequel. It's set in 1934. It stars Bean and his family and friends. It's a great book. But I still wish I knew what happened next to Turtle. I don't doubt that Turtle will survive and find a way to thrive--that's who she is--but I do wish to spend more time with all of them.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Thursday, October 20, 2016

To Stay Alive

To Stay Alive. Skila Brown. 2016. Candlewick. 304 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It is finished.

Premise/plot: I've got two sets of 'two words' that will either compel you to pick this one up or to avoid it. For better or worse. First: DONNER PARTY. Second: VERSE NOVEL.

Mary Ann Graves is the narrator of this historical verse novel. She was nineteen at the start of the journey in the spring of 1846. This one is divided into seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter. Almost all of the poems involve the traveling west and surviving aspect of the pioneer spirit. The landscape and environment do feature in quite a bit. Especially the SNOW.

What this book is not is Little House On the Prairie. This isn't even THE LONG WINTER. People do have tendencies to group books together. That is why I think it is important that DONNER PARTY leap out at you first before you hear of wagon trains, prairies, pioneers, homesteaders, or going west.

My thoughts: There is a bareness to the poems that oddly enough works for me. The narrator does not wear her heart on her sleeve. She's not overly dramatic and sensitive. She doesn't speak of her dreams and feelings and there is absolutely no gushing. (She's no Ann-with-an-e Shirley.)

When I say the poems avoid gushing, I don't mean they are void of description and detail.
The men think they're/ following a trail, a road/ well marked by wheels/ and feet, like a street,/ pointing you/ in the direction you need/ to go. But I know./ We follow a trail of broken things/ tossed from wagons--family heirlooms/ so heavy with memories/ the oxen couldn't pull--/ quilts, spinning wheels, dishes (too much/ dust to see the pattern), wooden bits,/ once part of something rich,/ portraits of great-grandmothers/ who'll spend eternity in the desert,/ watching beasts pull treasures/ while dirty people trail behind.
Some poems are long, descriptive. Others are very short and bare.
this land/ has eaten/ my feet/ chewed them/ ripped them/ cut them/ they bleed/ into land/ that drinks/ them up/ but it is never full
I am so glad I did not read anything about the Donner party as a child when I was obsessed with Laura Ingalls!!!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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