Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (Book Review)

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: goth-lit, psych-thriller, literature-with-a-capital-l, mystery, noir, classic, best-opening-sentence, brit-lit, creepy-horror-stuff, reading-challenge

I’ve been slowly cleaning up a Reading Challenge from…2017?…I’ve been not-great about that sort of thing lately, but I’d compiled a pretty good to-read list and my lack of focus is no reason to deprive myself of a good book. Because I am too lazy and unmotivated to look, I can’t recall what category this book was in. Probably a book with someone’s name as the title.

And this book is precisely why I do reading challenges – to step out of my comfort zone/rut/box and discover new things. I loved this book, despite wanting to slap the meek-as-milk heroine for roughly the first half. To du Maurier’s discredit, when published it was billed as a gothic romance while there is so much more. Oh, there’s atmospheric romance-gone-awry in there, but also: Psych thriller. Edgy. Goose-bump-y. Ethereal. Noir. One twist I saw coming, but a couple more I didn’t.

Bump up your Literature-With-a-Capital-L cred and check this one out. Now I’m going to watch the movie which I never have because, duh, I thought it was a romance.

Step outside your comfort zone with me on Goodreads

Reach, Grasp, Etc. (Jane Doe Six Sentence Stories)

“You left the goals section blank,” the peppy young recruiter says, handing Jane’s intake form back.

“I want a job.”

“But this isn’t just any old job placement office, honey; if we don’t know your goals then we can’t help you reach them, so we need to build your dream, find the career with your name on it, develop an education plan and set you up with productive life skills, get you set to take all the steps you need on your own road to success and fulfillment just waiting for you!”

Jane sighs. “I’m fifty and staring down the barrel of fifty-one, I don’t have a college degree, I’m arthritic and post-menopausal, I’ve lost everything including my retirement and I don’t even have a permanent home, that’s how over I’m starting over, and I’m exhausted, please understand that, and frankly a paycheck next week is a lot more inviting to me than some gauzy daydream career at the end of a road I can’t afford and just might die on, don’t you think, honey?”

MichaelGaida goal
Photo: MichaelGaida/Pixabay

Every week, Denise Farley at Girlie on the Edge hosts the Six Sentence Stories flash fiction blog hop. The rules are simple and few: 1. Write a story. 2. Exactly six sentences. 3. Use the prompt word. That’s it. Come join us! It’s fun! This week’s prompt was REACH.

The Lost Girls of Paris (Book Review and Anachronism Rant)

The Lost Girls of Paris

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Tl;dr: dnf-ing at 30%.

First, I would think a book about female wireless operators and saboteurs helping the French resistance in WW2 would slam-dunk the Bechdel Test. And technically it does pass; the female characters do have conversations with each other about things other than men. But the letter of the law and the spirit of the law do not always agree. I can spot a hate-meet insta-love setup at 300 paces, and spotting two of them is painful. This reads like romance disguised as historical fiction. Not a Bechdel winner.

Second, I hate anachronisms. I’m no historian, so if I can spot them, they’re fairly egregious. Like, I seriously doubt anyone was watching a televised newscast on a TV hanging over the counter in a diner in 1946. But what’s really pissing me off are the nylons.

This conversation is from Marie’s training to be undercover in occupied France in 1944 and getting dragged about doing things the French way so as not to give herself away as English:

“And these stockings…” The colonel held up the pair she’d worn when she’d arrived the night before.

Marie was puzzled. The stockings were French, with the straight seam up the back. What could possibly be wrong with that? “Those are French!” she cried, unable to restrain herself.

“Were French,” the colonel corrected with disdain. “No one can get this type in France anymore, or nylons at all for that matter. The girls are painting their legs now with iodine.”

No. Just NO. Nylon stockings, soon dubbed “nylons,” were invented by an American and first produced in the U.S. in 1940. They were immediately and immensely popular, but they had seams up the back. Seamless stockings were rare anywhere even by the late 40’s and didn’t become popular until the late 50’s or so (confirmed by my mom and a friend’s mom, aged 81 and 88 respectively). When the U.S. entered WW2 in 1941, it diverted its nylon production to the war effort just as Japan did with its silk, resulting in a widespread and severe stocking shortage for women. During the war, women everywhere faked nylons/stockings by shaving and painting their legs with various substances, and many went further by drawing on “seams” with eyebrow pencils. The Great Google tells me that the British did have some nylons they used as recruitment enticement for the WRENS, but even if they were made of much-less-desirable cotton (and therefore not really “nylons”), they still would have had seams.

And after all that? Marie is later escorted to the plane that will drop her into occupied France wearing…her nylons. But I guess the nylons aren’t much of a risk since she’s the most birdbrained, blabbermouthed undercover saboteur/wireless operator imaginable.

Another character in a different timeline also has nylons that have apparently been torn in a one-night-stand with the chance-met best friend of her dead husband. I doubt she would have had a pair of nylons even in February 1946, given that only a month prior nylon stockings were still so scarce they were actually rioted over, and even if she’d taken a day off of work to participate in those riots and get a pair, they were precious enough that she would not have wasted them on a workday.

I never thought I’d read a book where nylons killed it for me, but the devil is in the details, as they say. I suppose I’m glad they aren’t pantyhose.

I could possibly put up with this if the writing was good, but the characters are cardboard, there’s far too much telling vs showing, and the contrivances show up like seams on stockings. Now I just read the part where Marie is thrown into proximity with her hate-meet romantic interest, because even though he’s the leader of the undercover British sabotage efforts in occupied France, he needs her with him (nylons and all) because he doesn’t speak French.

Nope, I’m done. The only reason I’m not throwing the book across the room is that it’s on my Kindle.

Bookshelves: abandoned, anachronisms-abound, historical-fiction, just-no, ww2

Let’s find the good stuff together on Goodreads

The Carried Wife (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Becca reads the “Lifestyles” article about wife-carrying contests in Minnesota, then clicks out with a snort. That’s exactly the kind of thing Richard would have liked, manly and competitive and funny.

She’s walking past the plate glass window when the vastness outside it, the view itself, seems to knock her sideways. Not now, agoraphobia, she thinks, I have to go to work, but it’s too late. The room dips and spins and she drops to her knees.

The laughing wife in the article photo flashes. Yes, she could use a wife-carrier right about now. But Richard’s not coming back.


wife carrying
Courtesy of Charli Mills

I’ve been letting flash fiction languish, but I’m back! Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a carried wife.”

The Donner Party (Twofer Book Review)

Bookshelves: american-history, americana, mother-nature-will-kill-you, non-fiction, man-vs-nature, survival, wild-wild-west

Both of these books are about the doomed Donner-Reed Party of 1846-47, a wagon train of 87 emigrants to California who started through the Sierras too late in the year and with only a meager food supply, were trapped in the mountains by twenty feet of snow, and had to resort to cannibalizing those who had already died of starvation.

Takeaway from both books: Generally speaking, women have more gumption than men. Of those left in the camps at Truckee (now Donner) Lake, men turned their faces to the wall and were ready to die long before the women gave up. “I’m sick, my gravel hurts, I’ve got a bad foot.” Waaaah. And of those who snowshoed out, more women attempted AND made it.

I’m pretty sure calling someone a pussy should be considered a compliment.

The Mothers: A Documentary Novel of the Donner Party

The Mothers: A Documentary Novel of the Donner Party by Vardis Fisher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was assigned reading back when I was in 8th or 9th grade. Clearly, it made an impression as I wanted to read it again, so I scrounged around online and found a used copy. This account of the Donner Party is touted as a “fictionalized biography” and a “novel,” although it sticks very close to the facts as I’ve learned them.

The story is well told as far as it goes, but the arrival of various rescue parties is–to me, anyway–only the beginning of the end. In this book, there’s no ending to the end. We are told of the Breen family (those who had not been taken out by the first relief party) refusing to budge during a snowstorm as they trekked toward Bear Valley with the second relief party, then being left behind and forced to cannibalism. That’s it. I’m left with the mental picture of a bunch of people sitting in the snow, gnawing on a human leg, fade to black. That’s not how it ended for the Breens. No spoilers.

No epilogue, no aftermath. I’m miffed that there is no source material listed. Yes, it was published as a “novel” in 1960, when all the source material may not have been available to the author, but the story was a well-known historical tale and there had to have been some archives he consulted. The writing itself is a bit stilted at times, and perhaps it’s just that the style is dated, but it’s still quite readable.

I do see why it moved me so much when I was a young teenager. It’s a decent read, if you like to immerse yourself in gory stuff like I do.

For a better read on the subject, in my opinion, check out:

The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest DestinyThe Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is more like it. Great stuff. Not only is it a very personal story of members of the Donner-Reed Party, especially considering its academic approach, it is a close and often scathing look at the arrogance of white America and the principle of Manifest Destiny. It’s a recital of facts, to be sure, but it is a suck-you-in story, never dry, never boring. The heroism and the ignobility, the generosity and the greed, the courage and the cowardice, the strengths and weakness of those who found themselves in a horrific struggle for survival, are all here. One of the more fascinating tidbits, to me, was that banished-party-leader-turned-rescuer James Reed was a good friend of Abraham Lincoln, who might well have been a member of the party had he not been married to Mary Todd, who most emphatically did not want to go to California. On such chains of events our destinies sit.

I contacted my son, who is a co-host of the Lax Historical Context podcast, to suggest a villain for him: Lewis Keseberg, no doubt the most–perhaps fairly, perhaps not–vilified member of the Donner-Reed Party, who went on to found Sacramento’s Phoenix Brewery and introduce lager to California before eventually dying a penniless outcast. Nope, kid was five or six steps ahead of me; Donner Party episode already recorded a couple of months ago. He also knew all about the Donner Party Porter I’d happened across, naturally.

Not only is this review a plug for the book, it’s a shameless plug for the podcast. If you like history, you should check it out: Lax Historical Context, wherever you find your podcasts. If you’re interested in the most infamous emigrant story of pioneer America, read this book, wherever you find your books.

Now, in 75-degree weather and with nary a snowflake on the horizon, I’m in the mood for a beer and I’m going to see if I can’t acquire some of that Donner Party Porter.

Join me for a beer over at Goodreads