29 September 2015

Today's Read & Giveaway: Home Fires by Julie Summers

Home Fires by Julie SummersIf you aren't from the UK, have you ever wondered about the WI? The Women's Institute features prominently in many British books and movies (remember Calendar Girls?), but most Americans don't really understand the significance of the institute for women in the early twentieth century and for the whole country during World War II:

Not every woman in the countryside joined her WI, but for those who did it probably presented the only opportunity for them to socialise outside the home and to learn about life beyond their immediate environs. (p. 1)
Jam. If you ask someone what they think the WI did in wartime they will probably answer 'They made jam'. It is true. They did and they made a lot of it. As we have seen, it is by no means the only contribution members made to the war effort but it is one of the two images that the general public has of the WI. The other being singing 'Jerusalem'. They have had to live with that cosy couplet 'Jam and Jerusalem' for over half a century and it risks ridiculing the enormous amount of valuable work done by the women of rural Britain. (p. 163)
Home Fires by Julie Summers (Penguin Group USA / Penguin Books, 2015)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: England, World War II
  • Circumstances: This is a look at the famous Women's Institute of England and Wales and its multifaceted role in keeping their country cobbled together during some of its darkest days. Based on interviews, archives, and historical documents, this book gives us an intimate view of the WI and of some of the amazing women who worked tirelessly and often thanklessly for their fellow citizens.
  • Genre: nonfiction, women's history, social commentary, culture, WWII.
  • Themes: Sacrifice, camaraderie, small towns, women's issues, life during wartime 
  • Nature of the book: Each chapter covers a different role the WI played during the six years of the war, such as helping evacuees, growing food, supporting the troops, dealing with rations, and bolstering each other. The text is easy to read and is peppered with fascinating (some funny, some sad, many just matter of fact) personal stories and anecdotes. The book also includes some period photographs.
  • Some of the WI's activities: The WI did way more than make jam and knit for the troops, but knit and can they did on a mind-boggling scale. The institute also acted as an arm of the government, organizing collections, placing evacuees, and teaching women how to grow food and butcher small animals. But more than just volunteer for the war effort, the women also organized educational programs to better themselves and social activities to promote friendship and offer emotional support. 
  • Nature of the organization: There are no religious, class, or political restrictions to joining the WI. Thus, and especially during wartime, the WI acted as a leveler, allowing women of all kinds to interact and work together and develop the deepest of friendships. The women were hardworking and self-sacrificing. They also looked to the future by helping their communities modernize and prepare for the postwar years.
  • My thoughts: I haven't finished reading Home Fires, but I'm finding it hard to put down. I'm completely emotionally entangled in the stories of these women who gave so much to others. Many of them were ordinary women just trying to cope as best they could; others became activists for their communities and their countries. Every one of them is a hero.
  • Extra, extra! The book has now been made into a six-part series, airing on PBS Masterpiece, starting Sunday October 4. See the very short ad from PBS for a taste.

The Giveaway

Thanks to Penguin Books, I'm able to offer one of my readers with a USA mailing address a copy of Home Fires by Julie Summers. All you have to do to be entered for a chance to win is to fill out the following form. I'll pick a winner on October 9, using a random number generator. Once the winner has been confirmed and I've passed the mailing information on to the publicist, I'll erase all personal information from my computer. Good Luck!


(Diane) bookchickdi 9/29/15, 7:29 AM  

When I was in France in May I watched two episodes of Home Fires and was enthralled. I'm so happy I get the other four episodes now.

JoAnn 9/29/15, 8:04 AM  

Sounds fascinating! I'll definitely be watching.

Laura Thomas 9/29/15, 8:19 AM  

I'm not familiar with the WI. Sounds fascinating.

Here's mine - http://fuonlyknew.com/2015/09/29/teaser-tuesdays-130-authors-choice-from-the-key-of-amatahns-and-a-giveaway/

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 9/29/15, 8:26 AM  

I like the sound of this one and I liked the intro. I tend to enjoy books about women's roles or women finding opportunities to break out of conventional molds...so this one sounds appealing to me!

bermudaonion 9/29/15, 8:33 AM  

I'm sure my mom would love this - thanks for the giveaway!

Karen White 9/29/15, 9:25 AM  

Oh, I want to watch this series!

Kay 9/29/15, 9:50 AM  

I'm planning on watching this series.

Catherine BookClubLibrarian 9/29/15, 10:10 AM  

I can't wait for this series to begin, as I'm a fan of stories set in England during WWII. My mother was a young girl growing up outside of London at that time, so there's a bit of nostalgia for the stories she told me.

Belle Wong 9/29/15, 10:56 AM  

This looks like a good read, and an interesting series as well.

Sandra Nachlinger 9/29/15, 11:14 AM  

Sounds fascinating. Both the opening and the teaser make me want to know more about the WI.
Thank you for visiting my blog today.

Suzie Quint 9/29/15, 11:18 AM  

A lot of people seem to think non-fiction is dry and boring, but I read a lot of it. Probably more than any other genre. Glad you're enjoying this.

Melinda Ott 9/29/15, 11:50 AM  

I'm definitely going to be putting this show on my DVR!

Sally Whitney 9/29/15, 12:12 PM  

Most of the time not enough attention is paid to the people left at home when loved ones go to war. I'm glad a book has been written about these women who served their country as much as they could in very difficult circumstances.

Laurel-Rain Snow 9/29/15, 12:19 PM  

I love books set in this era....and thanks for sharing the info about the WI. I definitely want to read more. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Running N Reading 9/29/15, 12:32 PM  

What an interesting story, Beth! I love this and I've never heard much about it, even as a student of history (not surprising, since women are rarely exalted in the history books); thanks so much for sharing this one!

Emma Littlefield 9/29/15, 12:51 PM  

I would love to know more about the WI. One for the list.

Alice Audrey 9/29/15, 1:10 PM  

Sound great! I loved Calendar Girls.

Margot 9/29/15, 1:36 PM  

I've been looking forward to the Masterpiece series. I didn't notice that it began with a book. I'd like to read and watch. Thanks for the giveaway.

Tribute Books Mama 9/29/15, 3:26 PM  

Love Masterpiece, have to watch this series.

Hey, I want to read that! 9/29/15, 5:26 PM  

I've been looking forward to this show I didn't realize it was a book first. Funny Jam and Jerusalem was mentioned, one of my favorite British shows is called Jam and Jerusalem (called Clatterford here) staring Dawn French, if you get a chance to see it I recommend it.

Yvonne 9/29/15, 9:15 PM  

Sounds really good.

Monica's Bookish Life 9/29/15, 9:32 PM  

This definitely looks like a book I'd enjoy. And I'm glad to learn about the series. I'll be watching!

Nise' 9/29/15, 9:41 PM  

Definitely will be watching!

Cleo Bannister 9/30/15, 1:37 AM  

Oh what a great idea - my mother belonged to the WI for many years (post war, I hasten to add) but this really was the hub of village life for women who worked in the home particularly!

Elizabeth B 9/30/15, 8:23 AM  

I've been looking forward to the PBS adaptation. I really enjoyed Land Girls, which was a BBC series several years ago.

Lexxie Lin 9/30/15, 1:06 PM  

Home Fires looks really good! How come I haven't heard of this show before? Thanks for sharing, Beht!

Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

Daryl 10/2/15, 9:37 AM  

i cant believe i never heard of WI ...

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