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World War II

REVIEW:  The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson

REVIEW: The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson

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No Matter What Life Throws at Them, the Grace Sisters Always Have Each Other

The four Grace sisters—Liz, Sal, Tilly, and Addie—love their quiet life in the country village of Chevis Green. To some, their insular world might seem dull, but the sisters and their father, Mr. Grace, never seem to run out of conversation, jokes, and pleasant ways to pass the time together. They truly are the happiest of families.

Dear Readers,

I think had I not already been a fan of D.E. Stevenson in general and the Miss Buncle series of books in particular, I might have read this blurb and thought, “Hmm, how dull and uninteresting.” But since I’d already fallen for Stevenson’s gentle tales of country England before and during WWII, I clicked the buy button without a moment’s hesitation.

Set in the bucolic village of Chevis Green and close to Wandlebury, the story picks up not long after “The Two Mrs. Abbotts” though readers new to Stevenson need not worry about starting here. A few characters from previous books appear but their backstories are quickly sketched in and then it’s back to the four young ladies who give this book its title.

The young women are daughters of the local vicar or “Passon” as the villagers call him. Happy in their home and family lives, they’re content as they deal with wartime rations and the wedding of the new Squire who hyphenated his name in order to inherit the Chevis estate while slightly less thrilled with the two young men who wander into their lives courtesy of their father’s absentminded invitations and their dread Aunt Rona who knows everyone and everything and isn’t shy about announcing it.

“The Four Graces” has that happy charm which I fell in love with while first reading about Miss Buncle. Issues arise and are gently dealt with, life flows through the village while standing in line with your ration book or making sure there’s a clean start to the children’s footrace during the annual fete. And swirling through all this are two romances which kept me guessing about who would be paired with whom. When all was said and done, it makes perfect sense who says “I love you” to whom and while one marriage is hurried due to wartime postings, the other serenely takes its time to develop.

I did wonder if perhaps Stevenson had plans for the two unmarried sisters which never came to be written. Unless anyone can tell me differently, I’ll mentally match one with the ankle judge and conjure up some dashing serviceman from London for the other sister.

A fast and funny book, “The Four Graces” is a great finish to a delightful “series” and could stand as a fine introduction to Stevenson’s work. It’s a sweet look at village life which was in the process of changing and probably changed forever after the war. As is usual with her books, it’s filled with both charming and eccentric characters and could serve as a blueprint to navigating village politics. It also goes to show that a cup of tea can fix any problem. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Hearts Rekindled by Patty Smith Hall

REVIEW: Hearts Rekindled by Patty Smith Hall

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“I’m Here to See My Daughter.”

She never thought she’d see John Davenport again. Merrilee Daniels Davenport’s former husband has returned to their small Georgia town after fighting in the Pacific. And now the soldier is bearing a letter from the little girl he didn’t know he had. Merrilee wishes that she and her daughter could lean on John’s able shoulders, but her new assignment as a homeland informant won’t allow it.

Twelve years have only made Merrilee more beautiful in John’s eyes. Back then, he was the proud fool who walked away. Now all he wants is to prove he can be the husband she deserves, and the daddy his daughter needs.

Dear Ms. Smith Hall,

I wanted to read this book for two reasons. One is that I’d read and enjoyed “Hearts in Flight,”the first book in the series about the female aviator. The other is more personal. Back in the height of the depression, I had a relative who was left with two children when her husband up and walked out on them. When I saw that this was the set up of this novel, I wanted to see how the story would play out.

Considering how much I usually dislike the trope, I was surprised to find myself reading along with what is basically one huge Big Mis. Merrilee loves John and he loves her but her daddy stands in the way. When daddy couldn’t get their youthful marriage annulled, he did all he could to grind sand in the Vaseline of their happy life. In the end he succeeded. What struck me as odd is that Merrilee and John took so long to figure out the final result of 2 + 2.

But, still I kept reading because it was nice to see two people at such odds who finally take the time to reason out what might have caused their marriage to end. There are sparks, there is still resentment there but instead of digging in deeper like a Georgia mule, instead the two listen and watch and begin to see that the other might have had reasons for the way things turned out. On their own – well, maybe with the tiniest of pushes from others – they see the good in and begin to forgive the other.

I did like the little touches which add to the feel and realism of the setting and era. Merrilee signals her truck turns not with a blinker but her arm out the window. The heat is not just mentioned but we see John mopping his forehead with a handkerchief even in the early morning. Miss Aurora’s house still has a hand water pump in the kitchen and is lit by lanterns. Black out curtains and making do are the order of the day. Shoe leather is worn out and one of Claire’s dresses is short due to her growth spurt with few options, due to wartime rationing, to replace it.

But I was puzzled about a few things such as …why is there no mention of President Roosevelt’s death, especially since they’re in Georgia and the book continues past when the war ends in Germany. Merrilee and John want to take Claire to Warm Springs so shouldn’t this event – which rocked the rest of the nation – have garnered a mention here? And so much attention was paid to mentioning ration books, short supplies, black marketeering that I wondered how did Marilee get her (second) wedding dress which has a long train? No mention made of how she got it or got fabric since rationing was still on or was it over so quickly after the war which had barely done in Japan by the time of the epilogue?

As well, the whole black marketeering angle of the book got lost and then swept aside with no resolution. Who was it? Or will that be resolved in another book? What about getting Claire the therapy her mother wants her to have? Or teaching her to swim to strengthen her leg muscles? Merrilee seems remarkably unconcerned about whether or not her home, on the verge of being foreclosed on by the bank, actually will be. Again, these things were mentioned and then left dangling in the end.

The book is saturated with references to the characters’ faith and how it sustains them, guides them and lifts them over troubles. I didn’t feel that I was being preached at but do feel that anyone who is not ready for a huge, heaping helping of Protestant religion should think twice before reading it.

One of the subplots is about John’s foster mother, Miss Aurora who has taken in unwanted children for years. Many of these children have what is now called Down’s Syndrome. Though John and Merrilee are both loving and accepting of the children and John actually had a brother with Down’s Syndrome, many in the town (all of whom are negatively portrayed) are not and some words they call the children and attitudes towards them might be triggers for readers.

So my feelings about the book are rather mixed. I enjoyed seeing two basically kind people find their way back to the person they never stopped loving. The period feel was fairly good with a few exceptions that left me with questions. However some plot threads seemed to dangle with no resolution. With all this to consider, I’ll have to give the book an overall C+

~Jayne

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