What Jayne is reading and watching Spring 2020
The Right Sort of Man: A Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery by Allison Montclair
In a London slowly recovering from World War II, two very different women join forces to launch a business venture in the heart of Mayfair—The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. Miss Iris Sparks, quick-witted and impulsive, and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge, practical and widowed with a young son, are determined to achieve some independence and do some good in a rapidly changing world.
But their promising start is threatened when their newest client is found murdered and the man arrested for the crime is the prospective husband they matched her with. While the police are convinced they have their man, Miss Sparks and Mrs. Bainbridge are not. To clear his name—and to rescue their fledgling operation’s reputation—Sparks and Bainbridge decide to investigate on their own. Little do they know that this will put their very lives at risk.
My thanks to Janine for mentioning this one which I missed when it was first released. In post WWII London, two women who have been affected by the war differently put their matchmaking skills to use and form a matchmaking service. When their most recent effort winds up with one client murdered and another charged with said murder, they realize they must clear his name and save the reputation of their firm. Iris Sparks has events in her past that she can’t speak of due to the wartime secrets act. Gwen Bainbridge lost her beloved husband to a mortar round at Monte Cassino and her grief drove her to a sanatorium during which time her aristocratic in-laws made a legal bid for her son. Things haunt both women but they must work and strategize to save a man they believe to be innocent – all in the face of a disbelieving Scotland Yard and a criminal gang with their own fish to fry.
The book feels believable with lovely touches that add to the authenticity. The clues are revealed bit by bit but left until later to all be strung together. I mused about the eventual killer (along with one or two other characters) but it wasn’t until our ladies figured it out that I realized who it was. Still it’s the kind of mystery I enjoy – one which I don’t solve immediately but also one that doesn’t rely on things not mentioned until the very end when exposition is brought into play to spell out things the reader is never told. I zipped through the book in no time and am eagerly waiting for the sequel. B
War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam by Tad Bartimus
For the first time, nine women who made journalism history talk candidly about their professional and deeply personal experiences as young reporters who lived, worked, and loved surrounded by war. Their stories span a decade of America’s involvement in Vietnam, from the earliest days of the conflict until the last U.S. helicopters left Saigon in 1975.
They were gutsy risk-takers who saw firsthand what most Americans knew only from their morning newspapers or the evening news. Many had very particular reasons for going to Vietnam—some had to fight and plead to go—but others ended up there by accident. What happened to them was remarkable and important by any standard. Their lives became exciting beyond anything they had ever imagined, and the experience never left them. It was dangerous—one was wounded, and one was captured by the North Vietnamese—but the challenges they faced were uniquely rewarding.
This is a book that I got my hands on over a year ago. I started reading it then but had to reluctantly put it aside to read books I had asked to review and felt I had made a commitment to. Time slipped by. Finally I had a chance to finish it. The nine women talk about how they ended up in Vietnam – some after talking their way there through standard news agencies though a few managed via more unconventional routes. They discuss the boredom and terror of covering troops in combat, the daily routine of life in Saigon, their friends, their coworkers, and their lovers. The ins and outs of getting combat fatigues, what you needed to take with you to the boonies, and how to drive on Highway 1 (head for the pot holes as the North Vietnamese had noticed how well Americans took care of their vehicles and would mine the areas beside the potholes) were detailed. The beauty of the country and the people affected all of them. The battles they had to fight in order to do their jobs weren’t just against men who didn’t think they could do them but with men who worried about them getting hurt. It was the defining event of their lives for some of them though many went on to cover other wars and conflicts. Their recollections are funny, bizarre, scary, and heartbreaking. B
The Ghost Ships of Archangel by William Geroux
An extraordinary story of survival and alliance during World War II: the icy journey of four Allied ships crossing the Arctic to deliver much needed supplies to the Soviet war effort.
On the fourth of July, 1942, four Allied ships traversing the Arctic separated from their decimated convoy to head further north into the ice field of the North Pole, seeking safety from Nazi bombers and U-boats in the perilous white maze of ice floes, growlers, and giant bergs. Despite the risks, they had a better chance of survival than the rest of Convoy PQ-17, a fleet of thirty-five cargo ships carrying $1 billion worth of war supplies to the Soviet port of Archangel—the limited help Roosevelt and Churchill extended to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to maintain their fragile alliance, even as they avoided joining the fight in Europe while the Eastern Front raged.
The high-level politics that put Convoy PQ-17 in the path of the Nazis were far from the minds of the diverse crews aboard their ships. U.S. Navy Ensign Howard Carraway, aboard the SS Troubadour, was a farm boy from South Carolina and one of the many Americans for whom the convoy was to be a first taste of war; aboard the SS Ironclad, Ensign William Carter of the U.S. Navy Reserve had passed up a chance at Harvard Business School to join the Navy Armed Guard; from the Royal Navy Reserve, Lt. Leo Gradwell was given command of the HMT Ayrshire, a fishing trawler that had been converted into an antisubmarine vessel. All the while, The Ghost Ships of Archangel turns its focus on Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, playing diplomatic games that put their ships in peril.
The twenty-four-hour Arctic daylight in midsummer gave no respite from bombers, and the Germans wielded the terrifying battleship Tirpitz, nicknamed The Big Bad Wolf. Icebergs were as dangerous as Nazis. As a newly forged alliance was close to dissolving and the remnants of Convoy PQ-17 tried to slip through the Arctic in one piece, the fate of the world hung in the balance.
I will admit to getting this book without any knowledge of the subject beyond the fact that the US and UK supplied the Soviet Union with desperately needed supplies during the war and based solely on my recognition of the fact that the author also wrote The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler’s U-boats, another book about the unsung merchant mariners in World War II (which I also want to read). Thinking this would be a heroic, feel-good story I began it expecting a story about people bravely pulling together to pull off a miracle.
Well, that’s not exactly what happened. Instead there are tensions among crew members and between the mariners and the Naval officers. There are ships that clearly ought to have been turned into scrap but instead where pressed into service to carry vital war materials to Soviet Russia. There was also high level political maneuvering as Roosevelt and Churchill sought to keep “Uncle Joe” on the side of the Allies and bolster the Soviets’ fight against a German army that was hitting them hard and pushing them to the brink.
The seasoned British realized that no matter how brave and enthusiastic their new American allies were, the Yanks were also woefully unprepared for what lay ahead on the most dangerous of the routes by which the Allies tried to funnel supplies to their Soviet counterparts. And that was before First Sea Lord Sir Dudley Pound made the decision, based on the inadequate information on hand, to withdraw the Naval ships guarding the convey and scatter the merchant ships.
Geroux uses a wealth of first hand accounts and data to tell of the men and ships left to race across the freezing sea to the far northern Soviet ports, dodging German U-boats, bombers, and spotter planes. A few made it but many – as evidenced by the multitude of desperate SOS calls heard by the Ghost Ships – never had a chance. As grim as the trip was, many of the mariners and Naval officers found life in Murmansk and Archangel a harrowing glimpse of the horrors the Soviets people endured during the war both against the Germans and their own leader. The book is well written and not a dry, dusty account. It opened my eyes to a part of the war that I’d heard about but not seen discussed before. B
The Toaster Oven Mocks Me: Living with Synesthesia by Steve Margolis
Does your toaster oven make you feel shamefully inadequate with his lofty ideals and Jeffersonian views of the world?
Is the letter Q the wrong shade of yellow?
Are you frequently bothered by abstract images and geometric shapes falling from the sky?
If so, this book can help.
The Toaster Oven Mocks Me is a humorous memoir that chronicles Steve’s discovery, concealment, and eventual acceptance of synesthesia; a peculiar condition where one sense is stimulated, and two senses respond.
It’s like a “buy one, get one free” for your senses!
But wait, there’s more!
Join Steve on his journey and experience the world as he does:
Every letter and every number that you see, taking on its own distinct color.
Visualizing dates in history and actually seeing a floating, holographic timeline just inches from your nose.
And best of all, sensing personality from inanimate objects!
But that’s not all!
Watch as our charismatic hero conceals his condition for decades using misdirection, clever tactics, and a sense of humor that only a mother could love.
Order now and we’ll throw in a mental breakdown at no extra charge!
You read that right!
You’ll witness the inevitable outcome of hiding one’s individuality for over four decades; and you’ll occupy a front row seat as Steve finally figures out that uniqueness is something to be celebrated.
Now how much would you pay?
That’s a brain condition and a mental collapse, for one low price!
Amazon servers are standing by!
Years ago I read an article in Smithsonian magazine about the neurodiverse subject of synesthesia where stimulating one sense meant the subject experienced multiple sensory responses. I’d never heard of this but found it fascinating. Imagine living in a world where letters, whole words, and numbers have individual colors or sound has taste. Each synesthete’s version is unique. Every so often I’d see an article or even a romance book about the condition but I hadn’t read any first hand accounts. Not until this one.
Steve has a wry sense of humor that had me chuckling even as I felt for how desperately he wanted to conceal these things that he felt made him the weird kid in class. Then one wonderful day in college, he read the meaning of synesthesia (a word he discovered by accident from a college poster about an upcoming party) and finally had the answer to his condition. Not that this made his life much easier as he continued to cover up how he experienced the world – even from his wife. Then came the day when suddenly, his synesthesia went silent – which he found was even worse. Now the struggle was relearning how to get along in a new world.
I’ve often wondered how synesthetes experience a world so vibrant and different from mine and now I’ve had a funny, down to earth, and brutally honest glimpse. B+
They were told no because they were women. This is the true story that proved everyone wrong.
In 1989, the very idea of a competitive all-female sailboat crew was nearly inconceivable to the manly world of open-ocean yacht racing. They’d never make it to the start of the Whitbread Round the World Race, much less survive to the finish. They’d never find funding. They didn’t have the strength or skill. They’d die at sea. Did that many professional female sailors even exist?
Tracy Edwards proved them wrong. 26-year-old skipper Edwards, her second-hand racing yacht Maiden, and her seasoned crew not only became the first-ever all-woman challenge to the Whitbread, they proved able competitors in the famously grueling race, besting male crews in their class. By the time they returned to their starting point at Southampton, England after 32,000 miles of global racing, they had shocked, inspired, and transfixed the sailing world and the British nation. Tracy Edwards was awarded the 1990 Yachtsman of the Year Award, the first woman ever to receive the accolade, and was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire.
The obstacles were daunting. Racing requires massive financial support, and corporate sponsors were leery of attaching their names to a novel and potentially disastrous effort led by an untried girl in her twenties. When the yachting press paid attention at all, it was to treat Edwards and her campaign as an amusing curiosity.
The story of Maiden’s upstart, defiant run at the Whitbread Round the World Race has all the elements of an epic adventure tale—50-foot waves, life and death drama, near-mutiny, thrilling victory—grounded in a perceptive group portrait of a team of courageous young women led by the remarkable, complicated Tracy Edwards. They pioneered the sport of long-distance racing for the women who followed and inspired women in all fields to prove themselves the equal of men.
Gripping. Amazing. Fantastic. Inspiring. This documentary is all that and more. Maiden is a film I stumbled upon and put in my Netflix queue because it sounded as if it might be interesting. Once I began watching it, I was glued to my seat. As it finished, I was standing in my den, cheering. And crying, there was a little crying. I can’t recommend this documentary highly enough and I say that as someone who usually can’t stand movies and documentaries that are supposed to “move” me. If I can see the strings that are supposed to tug at my heart or can predict almost to the moment when the soaring music will swell to a crescendo I tend to roll my eyes, curl my lip, huff, and feel irritated at the attempts to manipulate me. This movie does none of that.
Paris, 1761. Louis XV’s kingdom is plagued by conspiracies and murders. Brilliant young police commissioner Nicolas Le Floch works under Monsieur de Sartine, the Royal Lieutenant General of Police. Nicolas le Floch plunges viewers into the mysteries of 18th century Paris, a world teeming with crime, debauchery and theft.
spoken language French
subtitle language English
A few years, I gave a brief report on the episodes of the murder mystery series Nicolas Le Floch that I’d watched so far. Nicolas is the the natural son (meaning bastard son) of a French nobleman who works along with his faithful subordinate Bourdeau to crack cases that could prove – troublesome – to the authorities and the Crown. The series begins in 1761 under the reign of Louis XV and by the time of the last episode (there are 12 in all) Louis XVI has succeeded to the throne and things are heating up in America.
As I said before the production is fantastic with exquisite costumes and scenery. 18th century Parisian life with all its beauty and ugliness comes to life. Each episode is about 90 minutes long and I watched them intensely. I discussed with a friend the fact that Nicolas more often than not ended up in bed with some lovely beauty during each episode and she said this is a common conceit for French male directors. The series begins with Nicolas sword fighting all the time but by the end, he’s engaging in knock down brawls – often with multiple assailants. Poor Nicolas does get beaten up a lot. I haven’t read any of the books so can’t discuss how closely the series sticks to them nor how much is cut. I would imagine quite a bit as, despite the fact that I was watching closely, I often finished an episode muttering, “WTH? How did that happen? Who was that person? What lead Nicolas to that conclusion.”
Nicolas is brilliant and yet allowed to be flawed. He starts off as committed to life under royal rule yet by the end, he has joined Bourdeu in his skepticism of French politics and government. Nicolas has seen too much of the disparity between classes, too much poverty, too much despair and inequality. He appears to be headed to America — not out of democratic zeal but rather because he has angered the current Powers That Be once too often.
The series can still be viewed through Amazon Prime – though you must subscribe to a sub-channel. Currently there are clips on youtube but the entire episodes have been taken down. The whole series can be purchased – there are three seasons with a total of 12 episodes. Or you can do what I ended up doing and view them on Hoopla if your local library subscribes to that service. I’d give the production an A and the mystery solving a B-
MAIDEN sounds great, thank you for the recommendation. I’ve worked my way through Star Trek: PICARD and DISCOVERY, so this should be a welcome change.
Maiden is a must-watch.
I was living in England when Tracy Edwards and her crew sailed round the world. Watching this documentary brought back the internal rage I used to feel watching the news, listening to the jeering and the open mockery directed at the “girls”.
Even now, the mere thought of it make my blood boil!
@Claire: The comment one sports writer made at the time – a tinful of tarts – was infuriating. But what really told me how women were viewed in sailing at that time was the fact that not one of them thought the Maiden would even finish the first leg of the race.
@Darlynne: One of the amazing things is the fact that there were two crew members filming the race so there’re no recreated scenes. What you see is what happened.
I second (third?) the recommendation for “Maiden”. It’s fascinating and suspenseful, and the women used courage, smarts, and grit to beat the boys at their own game. I especially liked the contemporary interviews done with the women for the documentary; it was fun to see them 30 years ago and fun to see them today.
@Susan/DC: I loved the part when one of them admits that she discovered she *loved* the boat surfing down the 40-50 foot waves in the second leg.
What an intriguing collection of books and movies, Jayne! Thanks for sharing.
The Toaster Oven Mocks Me sound fascinating. How sad that he felt the need to keep his way of processing the world a secret even from his wife. And then to have the synesthesia go silent. How odd that must have been.
I can’t find Maiden on Netflix. Did you mean Amazon Prime?
I am unable to advise about streaming Maiden ouside my country (not US). I watched (and recorded) the documentary when it was shown on the BBC last year.
If you’re interested, there’s a very good article about Maiden on NPR (https://www.npr.org/2019/06/27/736523914/with-an-all-female-crew-maiden-sailed-around-the-world-and-into-history).
The vindication at their arrival in Southampton is The Best Viewing Ever!
@Janine: Unfortunately, it isn’t on Netflix streaming. I have the DVD mail service and that’s how I watched it.
@Claire: Thanks for that article link, Claire. I listened to the interview as well in which Tracy Edwards talks a bit about how she met King Hussein of Jordan who ended up sponsoring the Maiden, details about getting the film footage during the race, and then what happened after the race.
@Janine: Sorry, didn’t address your comment on “Toaster Oven” – at first he didn’t hide his condition when he was very young but made comments and asked his parents and teachers about seeing colors. When everyone reacted as if they didn’t know what he was talking about, he began to stop mentioning how he experienced the world. I could completely understand why he hid his condition from his fellow students as who wants to be the strange kid and get bullied about it. I was surprised that he never told his wife or IIRC his brother.
The way he describes losing his synesthesia sounds as if the experience was horrible. It was like he had to relearn how to deal with the world – almost like relearning how to walk or talk.
He grew up in the 1970s and I’d like to think that things are easier now but given how kids are still bullied, somehow I doubt childhood with synesthesia is much better.
@Claire: Thank you!
@Jayne: Did his synestheshia ever come back, or did it go away permanently?
I forgot to ask: What grade woiuld you give to Maiden, Jayne?
@Janine: It did come back – to a degree. He thinks that perhaps extreme stress makes it “flicker off” for him.
@Janine: Definitely an A grade. The film footage taken at sea is fantastic and I enjoyed the interviews done now of both the Maiden’s crew as well as a few of the competitors and journalists. The scenes of them sailing back into Southampton are the cherry and ice cream on the luscious cake. That’s when I was blinking back tears.
@Jayne: Thanks that sounds fabulous.