Book Chat

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book chat

Guests on Earth

I think we’ve all had the experience of beginning a book, thinking we’ll love it, and then … not. Such, sadly, was the case with Guests on Earth. I picked up this historical fiction set at Asheville’s Highland mental hospital in the ’30s, based largely on the reviews saying that Zelda Fitzgerald, who’d spent time at Highland, was a character.

The book began well. The writing is good. I got to know Evalina, a girl who ends up at Highland although she probably wasn’t mentally ill at all. She’d just been through a lot in life. She was even a pianist, an accompanist, which I related to as well: I’d rather listen to others. I do not wish to have the spotlight focused upon me; I really do prefer to be the accompanist.

But then. More and more (and more and more) guests kept appearing at the hospital. Many seemed to only be mentioned a few times. Often, I’d begin a new chapter and read a few character names, and while they were vaguely familiar, I couldn’t remember anything about them. This went on and on for a few hundred pages, and I’m  unsure why the author did this — especially since only a few of the main characters were “real life” people. When she wrote, I glimpsed familiar faces … but not many, and not for long … or anybody I really knew, she could have been describing her own book.

As for Zelda Fitzgerald, you won’t learn much about her here, as she’s a very peripheral character. I kind of felt cheated that the author even used her as billing for the book. I was also surprised when, after so many pages devoted to a whole bevy of minor characters, the truly big event at the climax of the book takes up only about 10 pages and leaves many loose threads.

Good potential, but falls short.


A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice was recommended to me by a friend. When I first picked up the book from the library, I was struck by the cheesy ’70s-looking cover! It took me back to the “Thorn Birds” or something 🙂 Anyway, in this book the story is told by Noel (an older guy who is an attorney dealing with the heroine) — a bit of an odd point of view, but moving along … Jean, the heroine, is in Malaya during WWII when unfortunate circumstances lead to her being captured, along with many other women, children, and men, by the Japanese. They send the men to prison camps, but not knowing what to do with the women and children, they tell them … to march to the next town. They do this, and then — no one knows what to do with them there. This continues and continues, with about half of the group dying, until finally after months a town agrees to let the remaining group stay until war’s end and work in the rice paddies (all this, incidentally, is based on history, although it happened in Sumatra rather than Malaya).

Jean meets Joe Harman, a hunky Australian guy. Romance ensues, and a bunch of other stuff, but eventually they end up married in Australia, with Jean putting Hillary Clinton and other modern-day female try-hards to shame with her spunk: she begins a business, an ice cream shop, and a pool in the isolated town — and late in the book, from her hospital bed where she just gave birth, she goes on with plans for a grocery store. This lady has got it goin’ on! Joe kind of cracked me up — he said “oh my word” about twice each page (is that an Australian thing?), and I also got my fill of “bonza” and “crook” as an adjective.

Good story overall, although I far preferred the first part to the last.



The World of the Trapp Family: The Life Story of the Legendary Family Who Inspired "The Sound of Music"

You’ve probably picked up, from the name of my blog, that I’m a “Sound of Music” fan. So I was excited when my sister gave me  The World of the Trapp Family: The Life Story of the Legendary Family Who Inspired “The Sound of Music” as a birthday gift. This is the story of the “real” (as opposed to the movie) Von Trapp family. There are tons of pictures, too. Some things I learned —

  • the real family did have 7 children, and then Maria and the Captain had 3 more after they got married. The names of the kids in the movie are not the names of the real-life kids, though.
  • the movie timeline is far different from reality — Maria and the Captain married in 1927, 11 years prior to their coming to America (and no, they didn’t escape over the mountains as the movie shows)
  • the entire family disliked the way the Captain was depicted in the movie — stern and aristocratic. In real life, he was far more gentle and kind. One daughter said, “Wow! Is this my life? It was much different from what I remember living.” Another daughter didn’t see the movie at all, preferring to keep her memories as she remembered them.
  • the family was highly talented in many areas. Of course they were musical — at one point in America being Columbia Concerts’ most popular attraction, giving over 100 concerts per year. Various of them were also talented at various skills and crafts — making items to sell, building buildings on their land in Vermont, heading overseas to do long-term mission work, you name it. They were not an idle bunch, for sure!

The family’s faith really came through, which I liked. Maria said, “The most important thing in life is to find out what the will of God is, and then go and do it.”

Really interesting book for the Sound of Music fan!


12 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. Great reviews! Thanks for your thoughts… I appreciated the fact that you were willing to review a book you did not particularly care for, that’s always tough, but I’mm glad you were willing to be honest.

    (Amy) I have read “The Von Trapp Family Singers” and really enjoyed it.

    Noticed a lot of differences between it and the movie, like you were saying, though.

  2. I LOVED a Town Like Alice. I do really want to read the Von Trap book. I looked at the Zelda book and read a different Zelda novel instead. It seems every writer is now a character in historical fiction–some great, some just “ok.” Wouldn’t it be fun in 100 years to have your “story” retold?

  3. Have you ever read “Maria,” Maria von Trapp’s autobiography? It is enlightening. Thanks for the reviews!

  4. I actually had to ditch a book this month myself. I’d heard such good things about “The Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell, but I just couldn’t get into it. By page 100, I let it go.

    Isn’t it amazing how covers do influence us? I feel the same way when I see a “cheesy” cover. 🙂 But as they say…don’t judge a book, etc.

  5. The von Trapp books sounds really interesting. I think I’d heard the name of A Town Like Alice but had no idea what it was about.

  6. Bummer that Guests on Earth didn’t turn out as good as hoped. There have been a few large-cast books that I’ve enjoyed – but they’re ones with distinct characters that I can tell apart (and figure out where they fit into the storyline).

    The Von Trapp book does sound interesting.

  7. I think I’d enjoy the Von Trapp family book. The others, not so much …

  8. I just went to visit my friend Alice who turns one year older tomorrow. She is an amazing woman! Presently she’s reading All the Light We Cannot See. She’s really enjoying it. I thought you might like reading it. I greatly admire your love for reading.

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