Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “WWII”

Reader Round Up: Good Night Mr. Tom

One book pops up as the June spotlight read: Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian.

Though it was published in 1986, it has an old-fashioned story cadence to it, being almost a Dickens novel in scope.

A captivating read

The story has so many deep issues that it is surprising it is considered a children’s novel. Child abuse and abandonment are two central issues. There is also the painful experiences of children evacuated from London to billet safely out in the country with strangers during WWII. Magorian weaves these and other issues in with her engaging story of matching a young malnourished boy, William, with a flinty widower, Tom.

Tom’s unhurried persistence to helping William settle in hastens the boy to heal both physically and emotionally, and as a result Tom also begins healing of the grief over losing his wife and child forty years earlier.

The joy of childhood, making friends, trying out new experiences, and the deep bond of friendship comes singing through the expressive prose. A thoughtful perspective of how the London evacuees fared as well as those who took them in during the war.
For those who enjoyed Carrie’s War, Goodnight, Mister Tom is recommended.

Battleship and Black and Blue Reviews

Sometimes after a long week of teaching direct objects, nuances of symbolism, and grading ceaseless stacks of papers I need to unwind.  Discovering chocolate is a downfall to dieting, and being a longtime teetotaler,  I have succumbed to the ACTION movie for unwinding on Friday night.  We have a local grocery store that offers new releases for only a buck on the weekends.  Who can resist?

I am prone to choosing action movies with disasters or aliens, and I can’t resist the Navy.  So it was natural I selected Battleship. Expecting major cheese for ninety minutes I found myself rooting and hooting for the entire movie.  Being a movie trivia addict, I Googled up IMDb.  Glancing through the reviews I couldn’t help but wince at the meanness of many of the comments.

This brings me to the subject of Black and Blue Reviews.

These are reviews that involve slicing and dicing of the given subject, be it a book, a movie, restaurant or product.  Having been a reviewer for various journals over the past twelve years I have developed a philosophy: it is much easier to depreciate than it is to create.  We all know how much easier it is to diss and dismiss than it is to praise and raise. And being a published writer I tend to stem the critical ink flow when it comes to someone else’s creative effort because I know the stings of criticism do sting. As Thumper once said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Or least compromise and try to say two things for every bad.

Back to Battleship. Of course it wasn’t going for Academy Award status; it’s intent is action and it delivered.  How could you not like a movie that:

  • features Liam Neeson as a Navy admiral?
  • is filmed in Hawaii?
  • has aliens who wear helmet sunglasses and sport wicked porcupine goatees?
  • debuts Rihanna as a  sailor who holds her own with the big boys?
  • stars Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgård?
  • also has Japanese legendary actor Tadanobu Asano?
  • laughs at itself with borrowed kitsch from Jurassic Park and Transformers?

Instead I found most reviews were negative.  Here’s some samplings:

Of course, in the old B-movie tradition, our response to the alien visit is immediately military. There’s not one word of discussion about the aliens possibly just making a social call. We invite them, they come and we open fire. This despite the fact that they’re remarkably humanoid; when we finally remove the helmet from one alien’s spacesuit, he turns out to look alarmingly like James CarvilleRoger Ebert, Chicago-Sun Times

Alien invasion movies usually work based on three things: strong characters, cool aliens and a good idea. “Battleship” has boring characters, boring aliens and a couple of minor ideas stupid enough to elicit a temporary smile. Jeffrey Anderson, San Francisco Examiner

Those represent the pro-view.  Here are a couple of IMDb user review comments:

A simple way to describe Battleship, is that it’s basically a $200 million naval recruitment video that was made by a schizophrenic 8 year old who likes video games and things going Ka-Boom.

Turning a board game into a big-budget summer blockbuster was always going to be a stretch. But Hasbro the company behind the cinematic juggernaut Transformers series thought they had locked on to a winning formula for their adaptation of their best-selling board-game Battleship…namely ditch Michael Bay for the supremely talented Peter Berg, add aliens and throw shed-loads of money at the screen. And it almost works…

Ouch. What were this people expecting from a summer movie?  Hamlet on Mars? Sheesh…

These people totally missed how the film did something totally remarkable by:

  • having Japanese and American military forces  collaborate at Pearl Harbor, no less
  • featuring real life vets of the USS Missouri, some who had even served in WWII
  • showcasing real life active duty Army Colonel Gregory Gadson., who is the first bilateral amputee to serve as a Garrison Commander to any post in the United States Army. This man is a war hero.
  • honoring the military, particularly those from our past.

Sadly, I didn’t see anyone impressed with these positive attributes.  They were too busy complaining about how a movie could be made based off of a toy.  Oh yeah, it’s much better to make movies inspired off of a Disney ride.  Then it’ll be taken more seriously.

Don’t let the black and blue review sink your enjoyment of Battleship.  Besides, the chicken burrito scene is worth the watching all in itself.


Spring Came on Forever

Spring Came on Forever by Bess Streeter Aldrich

From the book:

This is the story of two midwestern families and the starnge way in which their paths crossed. It begins in Illinois in the year 1866, and end in Nebraska in the present one [1935], severed from all that went before and all that will continue beyond a thing of incompleteness.

Aldrich blends together a portrait of the harshness of prairie pioneer life and that of an unconventional love story.  Amalia Holmsdorfer, a sweet young girl of seventeen, finds herself attracted to twenty-one year Matthias Meier, the young clerk who sold her stern German father the soap-making kettle.  Matthias also finds himself attracted to Amalia and begins secretly courting her–even though she has been pledged in marriage to a man of her father’s choosing.  Amalia and Matthias plan to run away together, yet their plans meet up with the fury of flooded roads and even though Matthias attempts to meet her in Nebraska before she marries, he again meets up with one of nature’s blockades.  Matthias and Amalia miss each other by mere hours and she marries the wrong man.

So goes the begins a love story that will span three and four generations.  Aldrich, writing in the style prevalent of her time, reveals the story in an omniscient narrator fashion.  It’s as if we are sitting in a cozy living room and listening to a tale of long ago.  While the “tell” style of yesteryear may not got over well with the current “show” method of today, I have to admit I became so involved in the plot that by the last chapter I clutched the book and actually cried.  And I am not a crier when it comes to literature.  Movies, on occasion can induce some sniffling, but rarely can a book get me to sob.

The story is mainly about Amalia; her hopes and dreams of romance are forever changed when she is forced to leave with the rest of her family and the other members of her German community to build a new settlement in Nebraska. Though she appears complacent on the outside, she keeps her inner thoughts and desires to herself.  Aldrich captures this wonderfully:

pp. 9 & 10

But thoughts are acrobats, agile and quite often untrustworthy.  So now, with impish disregard of the command, they hopped about quite easily.  They asked Amalia innocently why the nice young man wanted to know where she lived.  They suggested with subtle art the possibility that he would try to find out.  And then when the gruff person at her side questioned their activities they urged her quickly to answer, “Nein.”

My interest in pioneer started long ago with the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. There is a fascination in reading about how people created homes and towns out of the rough lands of prairie and wilderness, and through all this tremendous effort they had their own personal stories.   For the last five years I have labored on a novel about a family who follows the Oregon trail to turn off and make their claim in Idaho.  Historical novels require plenty of research to make the time period, setting, and characters come alive.  Aldrich’s Spring Came on Forever reminded me how moving pioneer stories can be.   I am also encouraged to someday write something that induces tears.

The Magic of Ordinary Days

The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel

Olivia Dunne’s dreams of becoming an archaeologist are irrevocably changed after a brief interlude with a solider shipping out overseas. Her father arranges a marriage with a reputable bachelor farmer and Livvy accepts this arrangement. Leaving her married sisters behind in Denver, Livvy arrives in rural Colorado to become the wife of a man she does not know.

The book explores many topics: grief, betrayal, loneliness, trust, forgiveness, acceptance, and love. Livvy shows the readers her situation and how she adjusts to it in a voice full of angst. She mourns the recent passing of her mother, as well as the changes her mother’s death has brought her father. She stoically accepts the arranged marriage, for her baby needs a name. Ray, her new husband, knows Livvy carries another man’s child, yet he does not judge or resent Livvy for it. He patiently waits for Livvy to love him as he has come to love her.

Within this main plot is Livvy’s friendship with two Japanese-American sisters, Rose and Lorelei, who are residents of a local interment camp. Readers see the affects of WWII on Americans through Livvy’s eyes and through Rose’s and Lorelei’s.

As a reader I relished Creel’s use of imagery. I could feel the isolation Livvy suffered: the expanse of the fields, the lack of neighbors and family to break up the monotony, the need of useful purpose. Found on page 41: A clay-colored tumbleweed wedged between rows of green leaves caught my eye. Thorny, trapped, and out of place, it let me know the insignificance of any one, distinctive thing caught in a place so mapped with sameness. Aunt Eloise and Aunt Pearl had once accused me of hiding out in school. Instead Father had sent me into hiding here, where the openness of land and sky made hiding out about as unlikely as finding clover among the sage.

As a writer I appreciated Creel’s ability to use the first person narrator in such a way that all the characters were given dimension. The narration flowed so effortlessly that I often forgot the story was told from Livvy’s point of view. Another aspect of Creel’s writing is her use of prologue. Not being much of a prologue fan, I find myself inadvertently cringing whenever a book begins with one. Why not just start the story? Why the compunction to have extra exposition? However, Creel’s prologue is perfect; it reads as a visual movie trailer. It sets up the plot, the initial conflicts, the intrigue. It hooked me as a reader.

The Magic of Ordinary Days is far from ordinary. A compliment to Creel is that her book became an inspiration for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, which I had actually watched many years ago. As always, the book is better.

The Magic of Ordinary Days

The Magic of Ordinary Days (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: