The Magic of Ordinary Days
Grade : C+

I pulled The Magic of Ordinary Days out of the pile because I was looking for something different. I’ve reviewed a string of mediocre books, and I thought maybe some straight fiction, set in my home state, might be just the thing. Well, it had its moments, and I was entertained enough to keep turning the pages. But in the end, it was just slightly above average.

I couldn’t help but be drawn in by the premise of the book. Set on the American homefront during World War II, The Magic of Ordinary Days chronicles the major changes in the life of Livvy Singleton. Livvy goes from being a college student in Denver to losing her mother, then finding herself pregnant, and married to a farmer in rural Colorado – in that order.

At first it is a little shocking to see Livvy married to a total stranger, because we only learn of the pregnancy after she’s married. When we find out that Livvy’s father is a stern minister and the baby’s father is an anonymous and absent soldier, it makes a little more sense. Livvy marries a shy, honest, hard-working man named Ray Singleton. Ray has lost both parents, and his only brother was killed at Pearl Harbor. He has long been lonely out there on his farm, and he welcomes Livvy with open arms.

That’s not to say that everything goes smoothly, because Livvy and Ray are very different people. Livvy was in the process of getting her MA in history when her mother died. She’s fascinated with Egypt and far-off lands in general. She’s used to living in the city with all its entertainments. Ray, on the other hand, has spent his life on his farm and never had any particular desire to go anywhere else. He comes to love Livvy quickly (long before she returns his affections), but he doesn’t really know what to do with her. They sleep in separate bedrooms, and Ray longs to touch her but is afraid of scaring her off.

Meanwhile, the war rages on, and Livvy ruminates on subjects like the horrible rumors of the holocaust and U.S. internment of Japanese citizens. She befriends two Japanese interns who are helping with Ray’s harvest, and her friendship with them takes some twists and turns – some of which could even get Livvy in trouble.

The ideas in this book sound interesting. Some of them are interesting, but this just isn’t the book it could have been. Integrating history and fiction isn’t as easy as some authors make it look. Creel’s characters are mostly tour guides here, and not the tour guides in a living history museum who dress up and act the part; Livvy comes off as unnatural and pedantic whenever she goes into history mode, and she does it often. At first I thought that Creel assumed her readers were just complete idiots; I couldn’t imagine why she felt we needed to be told what a bed warming pan was for or why she had to explain basic facts about the homefront and war effort.

Then I read the dust jacket and it all started to make sense. Creel’s former novels were all written for the young adult market. I realized after reading that that this book has much in common with the American Girl books, which I’ve read with my daughters. They are pretty good, but they assume that the reader has a very limited knowledge of history, because they are written for children in order to teach them history (each “novel” includes a non-fiction historical chapter at the end). This book is very much in that mode; it explains everything and is utterly lacking in subtlety.

That’s not to say it’s horrible. After I became resigned to the fact that this wasn’t going to be a particularly “deep” read, I found myself enjoying it much of the time. The characterization (at least where Livvy and Ray are concerned) is really quite good. I really felt for Ray, who is practically a saint. He suffers terribly over his unrequited love for Livvy, and you can’t help wishing for Livvy to throw him a kind word or two. On the other hand, I sympathized greatly with Livvy too; I’m a city person myself, and after about two weeks in the country I’d probably be ready for the loony bin.

In the end this isn’t a book I’d particularly recommend, except maybe for preteens. No need to worry about the sex scenes – they are so subtle I’m not even sure if Ray and Livvy even had sex. But adults might want to look elsewhere. There are lots of other books that discuss the same period in history with subtlety and insight.

Reviewed by Blythe Smith

Grade: C+

Book Type: Historical Fiction

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : September 5, 2001

Publication Date: 2002

Review Tags: World War II

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Blythe Smith

I've been at AAR since dinosaurs roamed the Internet. I've been a Reviewer, Reviews Editor, Managing Editor, Publisher, and Blogger. Oh, and Advertising Corodinator. Right now I'm taking a step back to concentrate on kids, new husband, and new job in law...but I'll still keep my toe in the romance waters.
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