Posts Tagged ‘1930s’

City of Saints by Andrew Hunt

July 30, 2013

bookcover.phpCity of Saints, written by Andrew Hunt, is a captivating mystery set in 1930 in Salt Lake City. In 2011 this detective story won the Tony Hillerman Prize which is awarded each year to a first-time author for the best mystery set in the southwest U.S. This novel is worthy of the accolades it has received. It is rich in atmosphere and historical detail. The mystery within a mystery is provocative and is made even more interesting because it is based on a true unsolved murder case.

Art Oveson, a young, insecure Mormon deputy, and Roscoe Lund, his coarse, non-religious partner, make an unlikely team to stand up to the local law enforcement hierarchies as they search for the barbarous killer of a beautiful socialite, Helen Pfalzgraf. The body count rises at every turn as the killer eludes discovery. Can the killer be brought to justice in this Utah valley known for faith and family unity? Or will the terrors that lie under winter’s cover of snow and secrets forever escape detection?

I enjoyed reading this mystery novel and was intrigued by the conclusions of the real life and fictional cases. There are some appalling mental images of a corpse and a little gritty language, but Art Oveson’s story carried me along with such heart and conviction that I could not put the book down. I hope that you will be intrigued by City of Saints.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

February 8, 2013

Pearl and May Chin are two of the “Beautiful Girls” of Shanghai in the 1930s. They live the life of the fortunate upper class, going from party to party in the evenings.  They are recognized by many because they have posed for calendars, so their beautiful faces are everywhere in Shanghai.  One day their world comes crashing down when they find out that their father has gambled away his fortune.  To get out of debt he has sold them as wives to Chinese men who live in America.  

Lisa See tells the journey of Pearl and May to America and their lives after they arrive in Shanghai Girls.  The journey is long and difficult due to the Japanese invasion of China. The girls lose their mother during this journey and arrive in California alone and devastated.  There they meet their future husbands who are not at all what they expected.  Pearl and May manage to build a life in California despite all that has happened to them.

Dreams of Joy continues the story but focuses on Pearl’s daughter, Joy.  Joy’s childhood in southern California was very different from what her mother experienced in Shanghai. When tragedy strikes the family, she reacts badly and her rebellion takes a drastic and potentially fatal turn.  Joy is convinced that the Communist Revolution in China is a wonderful new experiment and she runs away to China without telling anyone.  Pearl soon follows to try and bring her back. 

Many people were upset at the ending of Shanghai Girls because it really left you hanging.  Happily, the story is now finished so everyone is able to read the whole saga without interruption.  I really enjoyed both books, but was particularly moved by Dreams of Joy.  Joy’s experiences in China during the 1950s were fascinating, although dreadful. I had heard some about the “Great Leap Forward” of the communist government, but I had no idea of the extent of suffering in China at that time.  The book gave me glimpse into a culture I knew little about. 

Find and reserve this book in our catalog. 

Greatest Hits: Jim the Boy by Tony Earley

July 2, 2012

This week we’re featuring some of our “greatest hits” – the most popular Book-a-Day blog posts since we started this almost three years ago. Today’s is Jim the Boy by Tony Earley, reviewed by Brandy H.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the “coming of age” theme in literature.  As readers we get to experience the thrill of a character doing something for the first time, often in a different time and place.  Jim Glass Jr. is one of those characters.  Tony Earley’s debut novel takes us back to rural North Carolina during the Great Depression. This is a period in American History that has always intrigued and haunted me. Back in college, as part of my museum studies class, I put together an exhibit of “New Deal” photographs. Those images strongly shaped my historical memory and to this day I often associate the 1930′s with dusty landscapes and hardscrabble children sitting in ramshackle houses.

Jim the Boy tells a different, gentler, story of that time, one in which families lived and worked together and happiness was often found in the small things. I found myself having a bit of nostalgia for a simpler time in America.  The central character Jim lives with his widowed mother and three bachelor uncles on a farm in rural Aliceville, North Carolina. It’s 1934 and times are tough, but the family gets by with hard work and much love.  Jim experiences all the basics of growing up – his first baseball mitt, his first best friend, and his first encounter with a bully. But he also starts to ask some important questions, like what kind of person was his dead father? Who are the boys from the mountain and why are they so different from the town boys? And finally, what is going on in the world outside his small town? As Jim slowly learns the answers to these questions his uncles are there, right by his side, to guide him and teach him right from wrong.  One could say that this is a book about nothing … except what it’s like being human.  But honestly– there are some major themes, such as the role of family relationships and the fact that change is necessary.

One thought about the cover and style of this book: at first glance it looks like a book for teens from the 1950′s with its retro illustration and the smallish size. Don’t be fooled by the minimalistic quality of this book. The author has the ability to weave a rich and timeless story with few words – it’s so pure it’s like literary honey.  Are you ready for your “warm fuzzy” today?

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

North River by Pete Hamill

May 29, 2012

James Delaney is a struggling physician, practicing on Manhattan’s West Side, in the middle of America’s worst depression. He is a veteran of WWI and has the scars to prove it. He lives in the ethnic boiling pot that made the West Side of Manhattan famous. He is a doctor to all who seek his help, whether they can afford to pay or not. However, he was apparently no help to his wife, Molly, or his daughter, Grace.

They have both left him. Molly, because she was angry with his going off to war and Grace because he never seemed to have time for her. Grace is an artist but has run off to Mexico with someone she met in New York. Even though his world is not what he dreamed of, Delaney is about to have his life become even more complicated. He comes home one night to find a little boy on his stoop with a note attached to his clothing. The boy is Carlos, Grace’s 3 year old son and Grace wants her father to take him in and care for him. It seems Grace is off to Russia to find the husband who has deserted her.

Delaney knows he must care for his grandson and through friends he is able to obtain the services of an Italian woman named Rosa, who will become Carlito’s nanny. Hamill’s story is the story of the Depression Era of the mid-thirties in the heart of New York. And you will meet all the characters one might expect to find in a Damon Runyon tale but Hamill is adept in his own right at carving out his own scenarios and you can feel the living breathing streets of Manhattan.
You will meet the good guys and the bad guys that can effect anyone’s life in this melting pot of the Big Apple, the hoodlums, the police, the homeless and the politicians. All will play a role as Delaney accepts the responsibility of raising his grandson. He has no idea if he will ever see either his wife or his daughter ever again. His new family will consist of Carlos and Rosa and all the characters of the lower West Side of Manhattan in the mid-thirties. Hamill will make you feel like you are right in the middle of this melting pot, that New Yorkers will easily recognize, and non-New Yorkers can easily imagine.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

November 29, 2011

Based on real life events of the Dust Bowl during the 1930’s Depression, this classic American novel was an instant best seller, with about 450,000 copies sold in the first year. It also won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into an Academy Award-winning movie the year after publication. The novel was banned, it was burned, and it was decried and discussed on the radio, in the pulpit, and in the streets. But, above all, it was read. The Nobel Prize committee cited The Grapes of Wrath a “great work” and as one of the committee’s main reasons for granting the prize to Steinbeck in 1962.

In it, we’re introduced to Tom Joad, the eldest son of the family, who has just been released from prison for killing a man in a fight. While walking home he meets traveling preacher Jim Casy, who knew the Joad family years ago. The two men return to the Joad farm and home, only to find it deserted and empty. Tom finds out that the family has moved in with with his Uncle Bill not far off and when he gets there he doesn’t quite get the homecoming he expected. Instead, he discovers that his family has been forced off their Oklahoma farm by the bank and that they are planning on migrating to California – a land with plenty of jobs and plenty of food – or so the handbills proclaim.

The novel then follows the Joads, with their friend Casy, as they make the journey that so many others made across our vast country on the famed mother-road: Route 66. Steinbeck uses a literary technique of alternating chapters to great effect. Some chapters detail the progress and events in the lives of the Joads, while others provide a “slice of life” overview of different aspects of the westward journey that so many Americans made during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. For example, early in the novel one such chapter depicts the practice of buying and selling used cars and trucks from the point of view of what we now think of as a stereotypical used car salesman. He’ll do anything to move the jalopies on his lot, including all sorts of dirty tricks to make broken down and unsafe vehicles appear road-worthy, as well as outright lying to the rubes buying them. Steinbeck’s writing style is also one of main reasons I loved this book – it is rhythmic, and lyrical and has been compared by many to The Bible. There are many Biblical parallels in the plot of the story, too.

Through every trial and tribulation that the Joads face, we appreciate even more the struggles that millions of Americans endured during the Great Depression. My one small complaint about the book is it’s ending. It seemed to me (and to some members of our book club) to be vague, anti-climactic and abrupt, although some think this was done on purpose by Steinbeck. For me, the book would have had a much stronger end, if the author had just moved Tom’s “I’ll be there” speech to the end of the novel. Henry Fonda made this scene even more memorable in the movie.

Find this classic and quintessentially American novel in our catalog.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

April 12, 2011

Last October I was casting around for a way to celebrate National Sarcasm Month and I came across a list of sarcastic books from Fiction_L, an electronic mailing list for library folk. (Some people claim that sarcasm is a harsh, aggressive form of humor, but they’re all socially-promoted whiners.) To my delight some of my favorite books appeared on it, of which this is one.
It was written in 1932 and set “in the near future”. It opens in Brontean fashion with Flora Poste, a young English upper-class woman recently left penniless by the accidental deaths of her parents. She must choose which of her many relatives she will move in with, having rejected the idea of simply getting a job. She knows herself to be an excellent organizer and craves the opportunity to wade into a morass of difficulties and sort them all out. She chooses the Starkadders, a distant branch of her father’s family, who soon prove that she chosen wisely. They live on and work a decaying Sussex farm called Cold Comfort, with a juicy stockpile of travails. The matriarch fancies herself an invalid because of a traumatic childhood episode in which she “saw something nasty in the woodshed”. The other inhabitants range from frustrated preachers and actors to neurotics and nymphomaniacs. Overlying all this is the mystery of what wrong was done to Flora’s father by one of the Starkadders, an incident referred to but never explained to Flora.
Despite the generations-deep origins of these enmeshed dilemmas, Flora begins seeking out ingenious solutions to square everybody away in happier and healthier circumstances. One wonders how this young woman has the confidence to make such sweeping changes in the lives she touches, but both the family and the farm workers benefit from her ingenuity.
This has been made into a very funny film which has helped me appreciate the book even more. Much of the dialogue happens in a very rural accent which brings the language in the book to life. Come to think of it, the book came in handy for understanding some of the language of the film, so it may be that they complete each other, which is apparently very desirable in romance as well as literature.

Find a copy of this book in our catalog.

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont

August 10, 2010

Several entries down from the more popularly utilized definitions for the word, “pulp,” you will find a passage that defines it as “a magazine or book printed on rough, low-quality paper made of wood pulp or rags, and usually containing sensational and lurid stories, articles, etc.”  These “lurid stories” were cheap entertainment during the 1930s and ’40s.  The general flavor was anything from science fiction to westerns, and detective stories to erotica, (also an occasional octopus story).  The pulps sold for about ten cents apiece and the writers were paid by the word.  The classic pulp era is long gone, but is still romanticized and highly celebrated to this day.

Paul Malmont’s The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril came highly recommended, based solely on my penchant for H.P. Lovecraft as well as my fondness for the pulp era.  Malmont’s debut is a comical tribute to Lovecraft and all of his pulp writer cronies, (men like Walter Gibson, Lester Dent, L. Ron Hubbard, and  Robert Heinlein).  These nerdy writers are the all-star cast in this fictional pulp-romp throughout 1930’s New York, (Lovecraft himself is a small, but important presence in the book).  All of these men, though egomaniacally proud of their character creations like “The Shadow” and “Doc Savage,” generally feel overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated, and for the most part cannot stand one another, (Dent and Gibson in particular).  This all changes though when they find themselves in the throes of a real life pulp scenario that culminates soon after the death of their colleague, Howard Phillips Lovecraft.  One by one, they discover that Lovecraft had knowledge of a ghastly, pre-World War II, government-issue nerve gas.  They are soon faced with American military rogues and power-thirsty Chinese warlords, one of whom in particular has brought his undertakings to NYC’s Chinatown, thus taking things into “Big Trouble in Little China”-territory.  The geeky writers then find themselves in a fight for their lives against Chinese thugs, opium dens, zombified humanoids, and all kinds of pulp coolness.

I’m very thankful for this recommendation and recommend it to anyone with a shameless predilection towards pulp or pulp history.  All of the classic trademarks are there and are exaggerated to a ridiculous level; a ridiculously enjoyable level that is 😉

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

April 21, 2010

To continue my theme of humorous books in honor of National Humor Month, today I’m discussing one of the classics by the estimable Mr. P. G. Wodehouse.  I actually discovered the Jeeves & Wooster stories only rather recently – on a road trip vacation several years ago I grabbed a bargain audio book at the bookstore and was laughing all the way to the beach.  Unfortunately, that was about the best part of that trip as it turned out that the campsite in which I stayed was in a jungle-like environment with huge black & yellow spiders everywhere, not to mention record high temperatures, to boot.  Since then, I’ve read several more of the Jeeves & Wooster books and have enjoyed them all.  While most of these stories do follow the same basic plot line, the unique story details, language and general comedy-of-errors situations make each one a delight to read (or listen to).  The plot of almost all of the Jeeves & Wooster stories is: the superior valet Jeeves helps extricate aristocratic Bertie Wooster from the many undignified situations in which he finds himself thanks to his bumbling escapades and zany adventures.  Many people also know this series from the early 1990’s British television series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.

This particular story is the first of several in the Totleigh Towers saga, and opens with our hero, Bertie Wooster, one of the idle rich in pre-World War II England, recovering from a bachelor party he threw for his friend Gussie Fink-Nottle.  While still suffering the after-effects, he is summoned before his overbearing and demanding Aunt Dahlia, who sends Bertie on an errand to a local antique shop in the hopes of getting a silver cow creamer for a bargain price.  Through the usual confusion and mix-ups, the creamer ends up in the hands of Sir Watkyn of Totleigh Towers instead of dear Aunt Dahlia.  Sir Watkyn also happens to be the father of Bertie’s friend Gussie’s betrothed, Madeline Bassett – and what’s more he suspects Bertie of being a kleptomaniac.  In true Wodehouse style, hilarious hijinks ensue accompanied by rapid fire one liners and plenty of witty dialogue.  By the end trusty Jeeves has had his formidable intellect taxed to the utmost, but he comes through, as per usual, ensuring everything comes out well, and all parties are happy once again – at least until Bertie’s next escapade.  We also learn what the true code of the Woosters is (“Never let a pal down”).  This book is also available in audio, as are some of the other Jeeves & Wooster stories.

If you like the Jeeves & Wooster stories, you may also enjoy The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry.

Find and reserve The Code of the Woosters in our catalog.

Jim the Boy by Tony Earley

March 1, 2010

I’ve always been a huge fan of the “coming of age” theme in literature.  As readers we get to experience the thrill of a character doing something for the first time, often in a different time and place.  Jim Glass Jr. is one of those characters.  Tony Earley’s debut novel takes us back to rural North Carolina during the Great Depression. This is a period in American History that has always intrigued and haunted me. Back in college, as part of my museum studies class, I put together an exhibit of “New Deal” photographs. Those images strongly shaped my historical memory and to this day I often associate the 1930’s with dusty landscapes and hardscrabble children sitting in ramshackle houses.

Jim the Boy tells a different, gentler, story of that time, one in which families lived and worked together and happiness was often found in the small things. I found myself having a bit of nostalgia for a simpler time in America.  The central character Jim lives with his widowed mother and three bachelor uncles on a farm in rural Aliceville, North Carolina. It’s 1934 and times are tough, but the family gets by with hard work and much love.  Jim experiences all the basics of growing up – his first baseball mitt, his first best friend, and his first encounter with a bully. But he also starts to ask some important questions, like what kind of person was his dead father? Who are the boys from the mountain and why are they so different from the town boys? And finally, what is going on in the world outside his small town? As Jim slowly learns the answers to these questions his uncles are there, right by his side, to guide him and teach him right from wrong.  One could say that this is a book about nothing … except what it’s like being human.  But honestly– there are some major themes, such as the role of family relationships and the fact that change is necessary.

One thought about the cover and style of this book: at first glance it looks like a book for teens from the 1950’s with its retro illustration and the smallish size. Don’t be fooled by the minimalistic quality of this book. The author has the ability to weave a rich and timeless story with few words – it’s so pure it’s like literary honey.  Are you ready for your “warm fuzzy” today?

Click here to find this book in our catalog.


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