Review of Everyone Brave Is Forgiven

Everyone Brave is ForgivenEveryone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

I’ve never read a Chris Cleave novel before. I’ve been missing something good if the rest are like his latest, Everyone Brave Is Forgiven. The main character, Mary North, says her only talent is conversation, but what an outstanding talent that is.
In 1939, Mary leaves finishing school within hours of Britain’s declaration of war and volunteers with the War Office. Her assignment makes sense — teaching elementary students — and provides a new perspective on the evacuation of London’s children (or not) and on the replacement of men who went to the front. Her first lover is not allowed to join the military because his civil job is considered essential while his best friend becomes an officer posted to the worst spots in the first two years of the war. At home, the Blitz torments Mary while her upper-class parents seem immune in their suburban location.
One couldn’t ask for more drama in a World War II setting. The dialogue is flawless and constantly entertaining.  My favorite line (though not from the dialogue that I’ve been raving about above):

When set against the great corruption of the war, his own small rot seemed, if not excusable, then at least unexceptional.

I highly recommend this book, which I purchased at Barefoot Cowgirl Books in Flagstaff, AZ.

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Review of Jane Smiley’s Private Lives

Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The beginning promises a more exciting ending than the book delivers, but that’s life, isn’t it? At least, that’s Smiley’s take on life. In this book, Smiley presents an excellent and, I think, realistic character study of a woman in early 20th Century America. I don’t think the husband is as believable, but his purpose is as a foil to Margaret.

Margaret thinks a lot and talks little. Even when we know she’s engaged in conversation, Smiley often presents it in summary form without actual dialogue. Usually, that makes for a less intriguing book; that’s probably the case here. Yet, the form may be representative of Smiley’s take on the era when women were to be decorative rather than talkative. In that case, the appropriate description would be “literary.”

While, as said above, I think the character study is excellent, I don’t agree that Margaret is representative of women of her era. Indeed, there are plenty of lesser female characters in this novel who prove women can be outspoken and establish lives of their own. Margaret simply failed to do so. Is this innate or due to childhood trauma? That’s left to the reader to conclude.

The fact that it took me a month to read this book should lower my rating, but it could be that I had a busy August. Overall, I found the book pleasant to read and enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the Bay area and costumes of the times.

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More Summer Reading: Review of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where is the ten-star rating option? This is an excellent book. True to historical context (as far as I can tell) and presents a beautiful family story that could have been set elsewhere but fits very dramatically in WW II France. I recommend this to lovers of historical fiction and also to thriller readers.

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Review of The Summer Before The War

I’ve been vacationing a bit this summer and doing more reading than writing. So, here’s another book review:

The Summer Before the War: A NovelThe Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven’t read Helen Simonson’s first novel, “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” but will add it to my list after having read “The Summer Before the War.” The book begins with a quotation from Henry James, which seems so fitting because all the action involves careful strolling about drawing rooms and gardens, at least in the beginning. The setting is incredibly important to the book: The stifling world of the early 20th Century, most fittingly represented by women bound in corsets. But these women, at least the main characters, are fighting to get out. By the end of the Great War, they have at least been relieved of the corsets. The war shatters the setting of the Summer Before the War forever. Beautifully written with characters you’ll love – I did anyway.

This book is classified as historical fiction.  For those not familiar with the period, there is much to learn about women’s history and the status of gay lives. (I won’t mention lesbians, bisexuals, or transgendered lives because they were beyond imagination.)

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Review of Diamant’s The Boston Girl

The Boston GirlThe Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Truly excellent novel reflecting the period and the struggles of people in immigrant societies of Boston in the early 20th Century.

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What is the origin of the word ‘OK’?

ok.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpgWhat is the origin of the word “OK”?

I was less concerned with the origin of the word than with determining when it came into common usage in the United States.  I certainly grew up using the word (though my recollection is that it was considered slang and that one should use something more formal, like “I agree” or “Alright”). But my novel is set in the generation before I was born. Were they going around saying “ok?”

Turns out, they were. The word originated before 1850, probably in the U.S. So,  my characters acting from 1914-1950 were free to say “ok” as much as they wanted.

A nice thing about having to do research like this is that one learns things one doesn’t really need to know. I didn’t need to know the source of the word, just the time it originated. But, it’s interesting to know that the word probably came from “Oll Korrect,” a humorous spelling of “all correct.” Or, maybe it came from Martin Van Buren’s failed campaign for a second presidential term. You see, Van Buren was known as “Old Kinderhook” and his slogan was “Vote for OK.” No wonder he lost.

There’s more. If you want to pursue it, here are the sources which the Google Machine gave me:

What is the origin of the word ‘OK’? – Oxford Dictionaries (US).

How the Word “OK” Was Invented 175 Years Ago

Update: Time to Dream

Perhaps I see the end of the novel in my sights! There is still much to do.

For example, I’ve located a major timeline glitch that needs to be fixed. I’m going to rewrite a handful of chapters to accomplish that. Also, I’ve got to add at least one chapter to fill in a gap in the story that became apparent in my last read. This is all a result of the Anti-Editing process that I’ve been engaged with over the last few weeks.

Meanwhile, I’m allowing myself to look forward to the next steps. I’ve got one committed “Beta-Reader.” I’m about to ask my copy editor what format she’d prefer I use when I turn over the manuscript to her. I want that work done before it goes to Beta-Readers.

And, most whimsically, I’m dreaming up covers. I know this is where I’m going to need some professional help. But for now, what do you think about these images?




Working title:  Never Easy, Never Simple: Stories from My Mother

First Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One of my manuscript, a work in progress:

It was September 25, 1914; nine months to the day since Christmas. Not three months since Archduke Ferdinand had been assassinated in Sarajevo, setting off the Great War. Ma had decided that as much as Ava, 20, knew, having been to Teachers’ College and taught the Otterville School now for a year, Ava needed a lesson in birth. So, Ma had decreed that Ava would stay home when Ma started labor with me. That happened about 3 a.m.

By noon, I was born, the last of Emma and W.H.’s nine children. Eleven if you count the two sisters already dead and buried in the Otterville cemetery by then.  Ma had given off a lot of groaning and sighing, but there had been no screaming from the bedroom until Ava, sweeping herself out into the kitchen, yelled “THIS HAS GOT TO STOP,” scaring the bejesus out of Ken and Jessie. Mide came out and picked up Jessie, saying, “Kenneth, go fetch your father.”

Pa had long since taken the bread out of the oven and gone down to the barn to check that Murray and Faye had indeed milked the cows before school. Belatedly, he fed the chickens – normally Emma’s task to do or supervise. Ken ran to the barn and screeched to a halt at his father’s feet. Looking up, he said, “Baby’s here.” Without a word, Pa strode toward the house. Kenny was curious about me, but after babysitting Jessie in the corner all morning, he decided being outside on this fine fall day was the better choice than immediately satisfying that curiosity.

Because Kenny was not quite five he still had some tight restrictions. He couldn’t go near the pig pen or hog house. He wasn’t to climb on anything in the barn, or even be there really unless he was with someone. Even when there with someone, he wasn’t to go into the horses’ stalls or the cow enclosures, unless specifically invited by a responsible adult (basically, Pa or Murray). Kenny’s range really was limited to the house, the porch, the driveways and the apple orchard. He didn’t care about the chicken house – it made him sneeze. No walking to the creek or down the road toward Otterville unless he was with the older sibs. All that was fine with him, there was plenty to entertain. Today, since he was already inside the barn on a legitimate errand, he took an iron wheel hoop out from the center aisle and rolled it with a stick down the driveway toward the road. He saw Grandma Mide come out to the porch and sit in the rocker with a tall glass of water in her hand.

Mide and Nancy had left Will and Emma alone to get acquainted with me. I’ve wondered whether Emma, lying in her exhaustion after any of the eleven baby deliveries, ever had second thoughts. Whether she wished that she’d just gone away before that first one, especially since Ruth died right away. But, of course, she couldn’t have known that was going to happen. She had clearly stayed for Pa. She loved him deeply, though many of my siblings could never understand why.

© Ann Heitland 2015

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