Sunday, August 13, 2017

When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin

This book was chosen as the August selection for the Gables Book Club. Unfortunately, the member who was so enthusiastic about it became ill and could not attend. I would love to have had her perspective added to the group discussion. 

From the blurbs and promos about the book came this synopsis of it, "A man with a painful past. A child with a doubtful future. And a shared journey toward healing for both their hearts." That pretty much sums it up. Martin really is a master of foreshadowing and secrets. The reader first encounters Annie on a street corner selling lemonade. One suspects that there is a good reason for this as Martin alludes to her having a scar on her chest. Reese, the main character of the novel has left her a hefty contribution for the lemonade that he enjoys and as he leaves the money blows away and Annie runs into the path of a car as she is chasing it down. Reese is first on the scene of the accident and takes over with an authoritative command of trauma protocol. His background could be medical, EMS work, or a person who has suffered the same as Annie. 

In chapters that alternate between the present and flashback, we slowly learn about Reese and Annie's past. His story centers around his devotion to a childhood sweetheart, Emma, who suffered from heart problems and who had died awaiting a transplant several years earlier. Reese has had a hard time dealing with this tragedy and although the reader is not sure why, but seems to shoulder more than his share of guilt. He lives an almost hermit-like existence save for his relationship with his brother-in-law, Charlie, who is blind. The two work on restoring and building boats on the shore of Lake Burton, Georgia. 

Annie also has had her share of cardiac problems and lives with her aunt Cindy who has raised her since her missionary parents' deaths. She sells lemonade and crickets to help raise money for a heart transplant. For all that she has gone through, she remains upbeat, loving, and sweet girl. She sees the glass half full rather than half empty. Her description of the crickets gives the book its title. 

As the Reese and Annie's lives intertwine, the action builds toward a climatic operating room description of a heart transplant. It is dramatic and educational at the same time. There are some collateral characters, namely Davis, the owner of a Christian bar and "Termite," a soul in need of saving. The theme of the heart being the wellspring of life permeates the novel as well as many biblical quotations. 

The book was a fast read and probably the only one I have ever read that could be classifies as Christian Fiction. In nearly every chapter there is reference to spirituality and religion. I am sure it would find an esteemed place in a church library, but it is not what I would normally seek out to read. The ending, although shrouded in uncertainty, is fairly predictable. If one is drawn to Hallmark Channel movies, this would be a great read. For me, an ok one that was easy to finish and put down.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

I first heard of The Race for Paris when Margaret Atwood mentioned that she was reading it. It was also the perfect book to pick up as we left France and Normandy in July. 

The book is a work of fiction, but with the quotes and references to real-life female journalists and photographers who covered WWII, it reads like a personal account or memoir. After the invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, the allied armies set about to liberate the French countryside towns on their way to the liberation of Paris. 

The novel's three main characters are Jane Tyler, Liv Harper, and Fletcher Roebuck. Jane is a reporter from the Nashville Banner, Liv, a photographer who is married to Charles, editor of The New York Daily Press, and Fletcher who is a credentialed war photographer. The three team up to be the first in Paris to report the ultimate liberation. Although Jane narrates the novel, it is really Liv's book and a tribute to her. 

Female journalists were often under undue regulations as they attempted to cover the war. Liv requested a jeep to go to the front, was denied by a commanding officer, and so convinces Jane to go AWOL from her position at a hospital. They meet up with Fletcher whom they convince to accompany them on their quest. What ensues is a action filled account of their goal of reaching Paris. 

The three not only have to avoid being discovered for fear of being sent back to their homes, but also to avoid the German defenses and bombs. As they journey through the small towns, finding places to sleep and rations to eat, the reader senses a commitment to the cause, but also to each other among the three. The book is a tribute to the courage of those who covered the war, but especially the woman who faced event greater hardships. Witnessing a childbirth in a cave where a group of Jewish people were hiding was so poignant, disturbing, and revealing more than anyone could imagine. I was angered by the fact that the male correspondents were handed virtually everything, but the women were denied so much - to the extent that Liv could not submit her photos with her name. 

There is also a bit of romance that is written into the account. It develops as a triangle between Liv and Fletcher and Jane and added to the angst of the harrowing war scenes. But as the book draws to a conclusion, it seems to be a natural progression.  Liv's husband's conduct disturbed me very much. Encouraging her to take on the job of covering the war, he then seems to undermine her work by starting rumors, having multiple affairs, and underhandedly trying to have MPs arrest her.

In addition to the story that it tells The Race For Paris is a tribute to those women who covered the war. Interspersed in the story are quotes by and references to Ruth Cowan, Margaret Bourke-White, Iris Carpenter, Martha Gellhorn,  Lee Miller, and Dickey Chapelle. Also figuring prominently in the book was Ernie Pyle.

This was a very enlightening book and one where the words on the page conjured pictures in my imagination that I saw from having visited some of the towns referenced. It was a great read as a culmination to our French journey.