Book Review: The Starlite Drive-in by Marjorie Reynolds

The Starlite Drive-in by Marjorie Reynolds
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Genre: contemporary / historical fiction (1950s)
I got this book: for review from the publishers, William Morrow Books (HarperCollins)
First Published: 1997 (Paperback edition December 2011)
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 324
Rating: 5/5

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The Starlite Drive-in: What it is about

In the 1990s, the grounds of the old Starlite Drive-in cinema are being dug up in order to build houses. Some human bones are found, and Callie Anne Benton, a woman in her forties who lived in the area when she was a child, thinks she know who they belong to.

The findings bring her back to her childhood. When she was 12 years old, she was living at the Starlite Drive-in cinema, where her father was the projectionist and caretaker. Her mother suffered from agoraphobia and never left the house.

When her father is injured after a fall, a younger man, Charlie Memphis, is hired to help out. Both she and her mother take a liking to him. In fact, Callie Anne dreams of marrying him. But he is wooing her mother, who is being badly treated and taken for granted by her moody husband.

Callie Anne’s life is in turmoil when things come to a head.

The Starlite Drive-in: What I thought

5 stars (out of 5) This is a beautiful account of rural USA in the 1950s. The Formica tables are in place and the soda fountains not far away. Poor Callie Anne is living an isolated life in the summer that Charlie Memphis appears. School’s out and Callie Anne sees her school mates only when they come to see a movie in her father’s drive-in cinema, but they are not real friends of her.

The relationship of Callie Anne’s parents is difficult and this is noticeable for Callie Anne too. She doesn’t like the way her father treats her mother, but there is nothing she can do about it. She hopes to escape with Charlie, but when this doesn’t happen, she dreams of leaving with him and her mother.

I loved this window into the 1950s with its drive-in cinema, the quiet life, the father as head of the household who had to be obeyed, and also, Callie Anne’s first broken heart AND her first love.

The book is written solely from the perspective of Callie Anne, so that some things remain unclear until they are revealed at the end. It’s great fiction that will appeal especially to women.

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Book Review: The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis Ridley

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret by Glynis RidleyGenre: non fiction, history
I got this book: for review from the publishers, Broadway Paperbacks (Crown Publishing Group)
First Published: 2010 (Paperback edition December 2011)
I read this in: English, the original language
Number of pages: 304
Rating: 5/5

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The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: What it is About

This well-researched biography is about a French woman, Jeanne Baret, who in 1767 dressed as a man to navigate around the world on a ship that had 300 men and no (other) women aboard.

The story starts with the background of Jeanne, a rural (peasant) woman with a good knowledge of the medicinal use of plants. She is hired to teach Philibert Commerson, a botanist of some standing, everything she knows about herbs and plants.

She begins a relationship with him and later accompanies him around the world, when he is given an appointment to gather plants from everywhere, especially those that are commercially useful. She dresses as a man, as the assistant of Commerson, because women are not allowed on ships.

Although the crew is suspicious of Baret, when looking for plants on the islands and mainlands they come across, she works harder than many men would be able to.

Later, she’s found out and there are some contradictory stories on what exactly happens. The book also describes Baret and Commerson’s further life after they finish their travels.

The Discovery of Jeanne Baret: What I thought

5 stars (out of 5) This book is well-written and researched, to the extend that I almost felt I was watching a documentary with original filmed material. There are detailed descriptions of life as a poor worker in rural France, life as a rich man, what women could and could not do, Paris in the 1760s, travelling for months at a time on a ship with 300 others, encountering natives, and much more.

The information is based on log books, contemporary biographies by people who were present on board, as well as other contemporary writings from which the circumstances, behaviour and considerations of Baret and Commerson were deduced.

Because of this, some of it reads as (and is!) historical fiction.  I read this book a chapter at a time (about 25 pages each) which was a nice amount of time to be immersed in French/naval life of the 18th Century.

I you have an interest in history, botany, or shipping history, you will love this book! There is of course a good amount of discussion about why Jeanne dressed as a man, the rumours aboard that she might not be a man after all, and the later discovery that the rumours were right, as well as some conjecture of what may have happen after the discovery.

I enjoyed reading this book a lot, I learned many new things about the topics mentioned above. Although the writer has obviously done a thorough investigation in many of the topics, including the consultation of original (French) materials, the book is very readable for the average interested reader.

Extras: This was my first book for the Transcending Gender Reading Challenge.

Transcending Gender 2012 Reading Challenge A-Z Books Challenge

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