Audiobook Review: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

I’m late to the Pettigrew game.  I can’t say why it took me so long, but I believe that I now might be a happier person because I have recently gobbled up this book.   

I can’t recall the last time I encountered a story that was this delightful.  While it is characterized as a love story, it felt like more.  It was a character study, a stand against small mindedness, and a truce between generations.  Open this charmer and you’ll find yourself smack in the middle of Edgecombe St. Mary’s; a very small village tucked in the English countryside.  Stay for a few moments, and you’ll encounter Major Ernest Pettigrew: retired military man, opinionated chap, and proper gentleman.

The Major, a widower in his late sixties, lives a most respectable and modest life.  A good day may be determined by the quality of his afternoon tea.  He longs to shoot fowl with the local aristocrat.  He wishes for young people to have a sense of duty.  He grumbles over people’s manners (or lack thereof).  He’s wry, witty and very often left incredulous by his surroundings.   By all accounts, he will steal your heart, and I predict, will quickly be among your most endeared literary characters.  He’s certainly now among mine.

While the Major may come across as an intolerant soul, the truth about him shines as he falls for the Pakistani shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali.  The afternoons they spend together are poetic.  Their mutual appreciation of good manners, literature and their quaint village make them an obvious match.  The relationship, however, presents a bit of a quagmire.  While it is clear that the Major and Mrs. Ali are growing to love one another deeply, they must simultaneously navigate through the waters of bigotry.  Village inhabitants, and members of their own families, are just not ready to see the two together. Yet, no one can handle the situation better than the Major and Mrs. Ali.  The even-handed way the couple cope with modern ignorance is inspiring.  Truly, if good manners are employed, wouldn’t everyone get along?

Swirling around this village romance are a host of fascinating characters.  From the Major’s materialistic son to Mrs. Ali’s duty-bound nephew, there is no shortage of people to keep the reader engrossed.  Some of them will elicit anger, some will cause bursts of laughter.  An excellent book offers the reader the opportunity to understand and connect with multiple people.  I promise that Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand does this, and more.

I also promise that when Major Pettigrew’s stand is taken, you will swell with emotion.

I now miss the characters terribly.  I feel like I was among friends for a lovely, long time, but now must move on.  Perhaps I’ll just have to listen to it again one day.

Now it’s time for me to swoon over Peter Altschuler, the extraordinary gent who narrated this audiobook.  If I have one recommendation, it would be to reach for the audio version of this novel.  Mr. Altschuler becomes the Major, and delivers the character’s remarks and observations with searing honesty. At times, his intonation and delivery are downright hysterical.  I believe wholeheartedly that one of the reasons I gave this novel 5 stars was because of Altschuler’s brilliance.

Bravo!  What a performance.

Audiobook Review: City of Women

Absolutely astonishing! Even more extraordinary is the pure listening pleasure offered by this audiobook. I strongly encourage you to listen to this in audio! The City of Women is a fantastic & fabulous story superbly narrated by Suzanne Bertish. She fills this exceptionally well-written story with all the added passion, excitement, suspense and intrigue right up to that final, breathtaking and heartbreaking CD!

The only regret about listening to the audiobook in the car was that so many of those many number of exceptionally poignant or breathtaking words could not be ear-marked to write in here. Gillham’s writing honestly took my breath away many times! However, my sincere thanks once again to Audiobook Jukebox and Penguin Audio for providing a copy of the audiobook, as it was definitely one of the very best I’ve listened to this year! I wouldn’t trade listening to this book for anything! You’ll just have to grab a copy yourself to experience his wonderful writing.

The City of Women centres around Sigrid Schröder, whose husband has gone to the front to fight at the height of WWII and whom must remain in Berlin, now the city of women as over 300,000 men have perished or off fighting Hitler’s war.

Gillham has divinely captured the varied personalities of the women Sigrid lives and interacts with daily, in her job and in her apartment building. From the fiercely disagreeable bitch of a mother-in-law, to the women that dare to speak out against Hitler to the women that then denounce those that have spoken out. All of this in one small building. Sigrid is not quite sure as to where she fits in this new world order- not quite the “good German woman” that her employer or mother-in-law feel she should be, but still not quite the woman silly enough to draw attention to herself for disobeying any of the many rules now governing every aspect of life in Berlin.

This synopsis from Goodreads explains very well the storyline of The City of Women: But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. Her lover is a Jew.

But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets.

A high ranking SS officer and his family move down the hall and Sigrid finds herself pulled into their orbit.  A young woman doing her duty-year is out of excuses before Sigrid can even ask her any questions.  And then there’s the blind man selling pencils on the corner, whose eyes Sigrid can feel following her from behind the darkness of his goggles.

Soon Sigrid is embroiled in a world she knew nothing about, and as her eyes open to the reality around her, the carefully constructed fortress of solitude she has built over the years begins to collapse. She must choose to act on what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two. (Goodreads)

There is one young girl in Sigrid’s building that disappears and keeps odd hours, and basically does everything but what she is employed to do. Sigrid notices that instead of minding the many children, she is coming and going and frustrating her employer with her unexplained absences. Sigrid takes it upon herself to follow Erika one evening and discovers something that will awaken a new identity in Sigrid. She also discovers a heartfelt and strong kinship with Erika, risking much to assist her and keep her alive.

Sigrid immerses herself in this pulse-pounding, life-threatening and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful underground world of extraordinary women that are risking their lives to hide Jews, political dissidents and undesireables. Although the risk is so great, Sigrid fully comes alive and becomes an indispensible and instrumental participant in these clandestine assignments. The intrigue, daring and suspense will keep you glued to this story!

The story of some extraordinary citizens coming to the rescue of Jews during WWII is definitely not a new one, but Gillham has finely brought our attention to these remarkable women that risked so much when they made their choice to do what they felt was right and just. Definitely a 5 star read for me. It’s also up there on the favourites list!

In somewhat related news, I came across this article this morning about the book Soldaten. It contains many transcripts from German POWs detailing their knowledge of the mass killing of Jews. It sounds like a chilling read.

UofW Bookstore Sale Finds

It was announced today that the University of Windsor Bookstore was holding a 30% off sale on all general reading books, including those already marked down. ☺ You know us well, you know that this little deal wasn’t going to be something that was passed up, so of course I ventured over during my lunch hour.

I must admit to one issue I found I struggled with staring down at the tables lined with books though…I’ve hoarded so many now that I found myself second guessing some titles that I thought I should pick up. Don’t I already have this one? Is this in my closet somewhere? Did I grab this one the last time?

At any rate, here are my 5 selected finds! All this for $22. Not too shabby! The most I paid was $7 for the hardcover of The Lady and the Poet.

(now…how do I get these home without being called out on them?)

Book Review: The Age of Hope

Before I launch in to my encouragement for all to go and grab this book, I’ll give you some background story on how it came in to my hands. See, I wasn’t really supposed to be reading this one. I’ve got 2 BookerMarks reads to get through first, and one is “due” by Tuesday.  My e-reader is slowly dying and I have to wait for until “early October” (that’s what they say) until my new Kobo arrives. The plan then was to forgo the frustration of only reading in half hour installments of Bring Up the Bodies for the BookerMarks project and pull the hard copy from the shelves at the library.

Well, we do well earn the Literary Hoarders title, and entering the library perhaps brings even bigger issues for us than entering a bookstore, or opening a bag of potato chips. There is just no way you can grab/eat one and walk away. So while browsing, I see The Age of Hope, by David Bergen perched innocently on the New Reads shelf. This title has also been given to us courtesy of Net Galley, but to repeat the above, my e-reader is totally dying on me. So why not grab the hardcover? Turns out that The Age of Hope has a number of holds on it by library patrons also eager for the read, but if I promise to have it back in 7 days the librarian said she would turn her eyes and ignore the blinking message(s) appearing on her computer screen. 🙂

Now, I’ve also really earned a mental health day from work (very well-earned I tell ya!) and decided to take this Thursday to myself to enjoy some much needed calming and quieting time. You know that plan meant the devotion of an entire day to reading. So with that knowledge, plus knowing I only had a few days for this title, I put Ms. Mantel on the back burner and nestled in to The Age of Hope.

It’s like Bergen (and Hope) knew I had this day coming to me. They whispered in to my ears to make sure I grabbed it and didn’t return it when it was discovered many others wanted it. In further pure perfection, the skies opened up and poured rain with the added wonderful bonus of thunder. Complete Heaven. Pop in a relaxing CD and away we go. Now, I just got the distinct sense that Mr. Bergen wrote that book purposely to be enjoyed on rainy mental health days! The Age of Hope was a fantastic read for this rainy day spent curled up reading. Absolutely perfect.

We follow Hope through the stages of her life, first in “The Age of Innocence“, when Hope meets Roy, abandons her nursing studies to marry and settle in to life of a car dealership owning lifestyle. She always wanted kids anyway right? 4 kids later and Hope finds herself utterly lonely and very unhappy. Bergen wonderfully captures the bored housewife in the waning years of the 50s, with Hope’s days filled with aimlessness, boredom and despair. The next stage is “The Age of Despair“. Hope is increasingly unhappy with her life raising 4 kids and the abject loneliness she experiences daily. She tries to understand and  live life vicarously through her best friend Emily. Emily has left her husband, taken up smoking pot along with many lovers, as we usher in the 60s era. Hope voluntarily checks in to the asylum in Winkler and feels continued dissatisfaction with her family life. Next is Hope’s “Age of Profit“. Roy’s dealership is expanding affording them a wealthy lifestyle. Yet, she is still feeling despair as her children are all coming in to their own and leaving the nest, something which Hope cannot grasp or again experiences unhappiness in how her life is evolving. Coupled with the era of “Me”, Roy loses the dealership to the bank and Hope and Roy are cast out of their community and into a more impoverished lifestyle. Finally, we come to “The Age of Hope“. Roy has passed on (I cried here!) and Hope is becoming content in her solo existence and coming to terms with her family and the realization that she has led a full and fulfilling life.

The Age of Hope is a splendid tale of a Canadian women’s life in rural Manitoba through the 50s generation ending in present time.  There may be times throughout this story mind you, where you become quite frustrated with Hope. She seems to flail about, unable to find herself and her passivity may grate a touch on your nerves. However, I think Bergen has wonderfully encapsulated a woman stuggling to define herself and understand her purpose and meaning of her life  amid the much varied eras from the 1950s to modern day. 

A solid 4-star read for me! It was just the right read at the right time!