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REVIEW:  I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

REVIEW: I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta...

“I hope this letter gets to you quickly. We are always waiting, aren’t we? Perhaps the greatest gift this war has given us is the anticipation…”

It’s January 1943 when Rita Vincenzo receives her first letter from Glory Whitehall. Glory is an effervescent young mother, impulsive and free as a bird. Rita is a sensible professor’s wife with a love of gardening and a generous, old soul. Glory comes from New England society; Rita lives in Iowa, trying to make ends meet. They have nothing in common except one powerful bond: the men they love are fighting in a war a world away from home.
Brought together by an unlikely twist of fate, Glory and Rita begin a remarkable correspondence. The friendship forged by their letters allows them to survive the loneliness and uncertainty of waiting on the home front, and gives them the courage to face the battles raging in their very own backyards. Connected across the country by the lifeline of the written word, each woman finds her life profoundly altered by the other’s unwavering support.

Dear Ladies,

This book interested me for a number of reasons. I try and seek out books set during World War II because it’s such a pivotal point in history but few of them show the home front – regardless of which national one that might be. I also enjoy epistolary novels and in addition have recently been watching the phenomenal “The World at War” series. But there’s an even more important reason this book called to me.

I'll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta NyhanI love the feeling of friendship that pervades the story as it mirrors something similar in my own life. I’ve been best friends with a circle of women for over 13 years now. We group email each other every day, all day long. I know things about these women that even their families don’t know. We’ve been there for each other through thick and thin, good times and bad, happy and frightening. When something happens to one of us, the others are usually the first to be told. So I can easily identity with Glory and Rita and the way they get to know and care so deeply about each other without having ever met.

The War is the most important thing in the country and the all out effort that most Americans put into supporting it and Our Boys is obvious. It might seem overly Rah-Rah now to our cynical selves who have Watergate in our backgrounds on top of other things which cause us to question everything the gov’ment tells us, but in that day and age, this wasn’t the case. These people truly felt every thing they were asked to do was helping the war effort and it was their patriotic duty to do it. Telegrams would initiate hysteria, people were suspicious of “spies,” everyone did the best with what they had – whatever that might entail, use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

Rita and Glory don’t exist in a vacuum and the secondary characters flesh out the world in which they live – Glory and Rita’s husbands and son serving overseas, Charlie and Levi who for various reasons didn’t get drafted, Roylene the almost illiterate, downtrodden woman, and Mrs. Kleinschmidt – the suspected German immigrant proving her American bona fides. Together they all give a vivid picture of the people who serve and those waiting for them at home. These are the people volunteering at the USO, tending their Victory gardens, dealing with wartime rationing – some of those recipes actually do sound intriguing, writing letters to GIs, monitoring the blackout curtains – even in Iowa, and worrying that pneumonia could kill children in this era before widely available penicillin.

To be honest the tone of letters did become a tad preachy at times, the advice sought and given almost too pat and perfect in timing. Rita and Glory hardly ever get truly upset with each other in spite of some things each does that annoy and distress the other. They seem almost too willing to forgive and forget after offering a heaping helping of unconditional acceptance. Perhaps this is more in keeping with the mores of the day but some things deserved more “Snap Out of It!” than “Oh, hon, I totally understand.”

One thing I really enjoyed was seeing hints of some of the changes on the horizon for the post war era. Glory wonders how women will go back to kitchen after all the experiences they’ve had in the factories and serving in the military. The Life magazine cover – taken by Elizabeth Bourke White – of the concentration camps signals part of the end of the innocence of the age. That horror and knowledge of the evil men can do will forever cloud their lives now. The men returning home will discover that many of the women they left behind are not who they once knew while the women will learn how the war has altered those who saw its horrors first hand. “I’ll Be Seeing You” offers a little seen glimpse into a time that radically changed a nation and set the stage for the world we know now. It shows women being strong, and weak and human. But most of all being friends. B

~Jayne

 

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REVIEW:  A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

REVIEW: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Paris, 1923
The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather’s savannah manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap.

Amidst the wonders-and dangers-of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for-and what she can no longer live without.

Dear Ms. Raybourn,

I’ve read – and enjoyed – most of your Lady Julia Gray mysteries. Your foray into the gothic in The Dead Travel Fast wasn’t as much of a hit with me. Still when I noticed this book at Netgalley, my antennae perked up and I zipped over my request to read it. A book set in the 1920s and in Kenya? Cool and so NOT a Downton Abbey clone. Bring it!

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna RaybournMy initial impression was these people are J Peterman catalog come to life. Both in Paris and in Kenya, the crowd among whom Delilah lives and with whom she was brought up are just the type of people to have perfumes designed just for them and carried in special handcrafted fitted leather train cases. This is the smart, sophisticated set who do live it up, use cigarette holders and dance until dawn in riotous clubs run by androgynous managers. This is the age when people still monogrammed linen and flatware upon which divorce changing names would wreck havoc. And that’s before we even get to Africa and the safaris. Thank goodness for the dukas there where one can stock up on those little necessities like duck confit, goose pate, champagne and whatnot before heading out into the bush. One must be civilized after all.

Kenya is only referred to by that name a few times – usually it’s “Africa” that is said but is this what the white settlers and visitors would have used given the colony’s name? I’m wondering how the race relations aspect of the book will go over. It’s not all “white settlers arrive and teach the natives a thing or two” or worse yet “whites arrive to save the day.” In fact, the political unease is already simmering and the whites are aware that things might not stay quiet for long. In trying to salvage a bad situation, Delilah even makes things worse before she does the “grand gesture” that saves someone – and wrecks his life.

At times Delilah is not an easy heroine to cheer for nor an easy woman to even like much less love. But she is unique and as her mother writes her, if one is going to hell one might as well dance all the way and give people something to remember you by. She’s a true image of a 20s flapper with a Parisian couture wardrobe to die for, a taste for Sobranies, sex and the ability to slug back massive quantities of booze. She is also abrasive if she’s annoyed, hellbent on getting her own way and a damn good shot. I found her fascinating and cheered as she got the better of just about everyone in the story.

Ryder is larger than life as well. Truly a man’s man in a man’s world. He’s suave, fearless, has bedded most of the white women in the colony, has the natives fighting to be porters on his safaris, can also down rivers of alcohol, smokes like a faulty 2 cylinder engine, can track any animal across the savannah and then deliver a horse whipping to cads in full view of the crowds at the Nairobi train station. Yet he can be gentle to Delilah’s poor cousin Dora and is far ahead of his time in terms of conservation.

Delilah and Ryder are of course much alike in that they’ve been badly hurt in love before but in different ways. Delilah might as well have crawled in the grave with her first husband while Ryder learned too late whom his first wife really loved. Both have tried to cover their hurt in similar fashion – by partying and by indulging in a glut of one night stands and – in Delilah’s case – ultimately empty marriages. Though she did be faithful to each husband while married to him. The pain they’ve each suffered cut so deeply that they’ve evolved ways to dull it to a haze of oblivion and show me more by their actions than any protestations that “they’ll never love again.”

As such, it takes a lot for either one to show the cracks in the facade much less let someone into their hearts. They fight almost like it’s foreplay and end up attacking each other as much as it’s having sex. There’s truly nothing pretty about that encounter. So if it’s not nookie that brings them together, what is it? Something I like to see even better and which means more to me about how two people think about each other – in their every day actions. Delilah proves she’s got the grit to not only survive but thrive in Africa. She takes care of what needs doing even if it’s distasteful to her, she has standards below which she won’t sink, she’ll stand up for what is right and heaven help anyone who crosses her. Ryder is loyal to his friends, willing to bend the law when the occasion demands and it’s for a good cause and cheerfully takes advantage of idiots who only want to go out and shoot something. He also comes through in the end with a grand gesture of love – even if Delilah initially has to have it spelled out for her

In the end, neither Delilah nor Ryder is perfect. I foresee fights and smashed liqueur bottles galore as they work out their relationship but they’ve come so far from where they were and have helped each other heal that even with the probable fireworks, I think they’re well suited and headed for a HEA. B

~Jayne

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