TLC Book Tours: An Unmarked Grave

When we arrived at the next station, I found lines of gassed men waiting for their turn to be seen. Bandages across their eyes helped some of the pain and was a distinctive marker. They had a hand on the shoulder of the man in front of them, stumbling along, tripping if no one warned them of uneven ground, at the mercy of orderlies and sisters who guided them.

We bathed their skin and did what we could for their lungs. The worst cases would die painfully, the less damaged would linger in a misery that was frightful.  An Unmarked Grave, by Charles Todd

One would think being a nursing sister in the trenches of France during WWI would give Bess Crawford enough to worry about. But somehow, this intrepid young woman seems to find herself embroiled in one mysterious and dangerous situation after another. In An Unmarked Grave, the fourth installment in Charles Todd’s excellent series, Bess is herself the target of a killer, on who has killed three others – among them a family friend, and member of Bess’ father’s regiment – and will stop at nothing to carry out his nefarious plan.

Each of the books in this series takes the reader deeper into the history of WWI, and with this one set in 1918, the characters are faced not only with the dangers of battle but the deadly infestation on the Spanish Influenza, which struck down men, women, and children by the score. For this reader, the actual mystery sometimes is secondary to the fascinating picture Todd creates of this period in history.

I also enjoy a series with recurring characters who continue to develop personally as the books go on. In this fourth book, Bess’ relationship with Simon Brandon, her father’s faithful and illustrious batman (the orderly of a British Military officer), begins to develop. When Simon is wounded, Bess acknowledges to herself at least just how important he is to her life as the dawning awareness of her feelings is brought to the fore.

The Bess Crawford mysteries are a worthy collection in the growing literature about WWI. With the popularity of the Downton Abby television series (which is also set during this time period) the interest in this cataclysmic event has grown. These books provide another way of informing readers of this very important period in Western history. I highly recommend them for lovers of historical fiction and mystery.

The mother son writing team of Charles Todd

GIVEAWAY: I have a copy of An Unmarked Grave and A Bitter Truth to giveaway to a Bookstack reader. Leave a comment below for an opportunity. Winner will be chosen at random on July 4, 2012. (US entries only, please.) 

Charles and Caroline Todd are a mother and son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. Caroline has a BA in English Literature and History, and a Masters in International Relations. Charles has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water. Caroline has been married (to the same man) for umpteen years, and Charles is divorced.

Charles and Caroline have a rich storytelling heritage. Both spent many evenings on the porch listening to their fathers and grandfathers reminisce. And a maternal grandmother told marvelous ghost stories. This tradition allows them to write with passion about events before their own time. And an uncle/great uncle who served as a flyer in WWI aroused an early interest in the Great War.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read this book.

The Sunday Salon: In Celebration of the Ordinary

I’m celebrating an ordinary day on this summer Sunday.

Girl in a Hammock, Winslow Homer

With nothing on my calendar this weekend, I’m happily languishing in my leisure like I would a hot bubble bath on a cold winter day. I spent much of yesterday morning on the back porch, finishing Nicole Bernier’s novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. After lunch, with the mercury hovering near 90 degrees, I traded the back porch chair for the living room sofa, where I spent a good part of the afternoon with the latest Bess Crawford mystery, An Unmarked Grave.

I love an ordinary day above all else. Puttering around the house, reading, playing with the dogs, trying a new recipe for dinner  – that’s my idea of a good time. Sounds boring to some, but for me it’s heaven on earth. Simple, ordinary pleasures. I don’t take them for granted, because I don’t always have time to indulge in them or appreciate them.

There has been some recent media coverage in celebration of the ordinary, especially in terms of the expectations we place on our young people. Earlier this week I read an article in Newsweek by David McCullough Jr., whose recent commencement speech to the graduates of Wellsley High School has caused something of a kerfluffle. “You’re not that special,” he told those high school seniors who were all poised to take the world by the tail and shake it.

You see, if everyone is special, than no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another – which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality – we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.

What McCullough was trying to say is that no one of us is more “special” than the next. We each have gifts to offer, and they don’t all have to revolve around the highest SAT scores or the championship trophy. It’s perfectly okay to live an ordinary life, have an ordinary family, raise ordinary children. He’s right when he says that “loving accolades more than genuine achievement” is detrimental to the welfare of our society. Our ultimate achievement lies not in honors or awards – monetary or otherwise – but in fulfilling our own measure of happiness with a spirit of selflessness and empathy.

McCullough’s remarks at that commencement have made him rather famous. I wonder if parents are getting tired of this relentless responsibility they’ve undertaken in recent generations, this unceasing process of making sure their offspring’s “specialness” is rewarded. This demand to insure that children are poised to achieve their ultimate best leads families into all sorts of frantic activities, almost from the time a child is born. It’s not enough now to make sure kids are fed, clothed, healthy and well mannered. Nope,  they also have to be in the 95% percentile in every subject, all while learning soccer, improvisational dance, horseback riding, and Chinese. That’s a huge burden for parents who are embroiled in their own version of the 21st Century Ultimate Achievers Pageant.

Makes me exhausted just thinking about it.

It’s so much nicer to lay back in the summer sun with a good book and a glass of lemonade. I may not get famous doing it, but that’s alright. I’ll just revel in my ordinary old happiness.

That’s plenty special enough for me.

* For Further Reading:

Redefining Success and Celebrating the Unremarkable, New York Times, Business Day, June 29, 2012

The ‘Busy Trap,” by Tim Kreider, an OpEd piece in The New York Times, July 1, 2012

My friend Beth Kephart talks about extricating herself from the busy-ness trap today, too

The Sunday