Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place:The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

I enjoyed this fun story about little Penelope, a 15-year-old orphan who gets her first job as a governess.  This book is written for 8-12 year olds, and I think I would recommend it for the younger half of that.  It felt really short to me, and has kind of a fast ending.  But I think I've just forgotten how books for this age group are. 

Penelope has recently graduated from the "Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females."  The title of the school alone made me determined to love the book.  When Penelope arrives, is hired and then meets the children, she is told that they were raised by wolves and only found a week ago in the woods.  She just takes it all in stride, and goes about what she was hired to do.  The circumstances are almost absurd, and her progress with the children is definetly absurd, but I think it made for a really fun story.  Some moments are completely hilarious in their ridiculousness.

For example, upon realizing that she should teach the children the evils of eavesdropping Penelope thinks to herself,
"I will have the children read Hamlet as soon as it is practical.  There are some useful cautions against eavesdropping to be gleaned from that.  In the meantime, we shall deal with the squirrels."

Another thing I like was how she is constantly remembering little mantras that she learned at school.  Sayings of Agatha Swanburne, such as,

"All books are judged by their cover until they are read."

"No hopeless case is truly without hope."

"A well-organized stocking drawer is the first step toward a well-organized mind."

And I loved how she always thought about what she had been taught. 

"Swanburne girls were encouraged to be confident and bold."  

"Agatha Swanburn would not waste a moment worrying about things that couldn't be helped,"

 or  "She was a Swanburne girl, through and through."

There are some moments that remind me of Anne of Green Gables.  Penelope is picked up from the train station by a quiet older gentleman, and rides in a carriage taking in all of her new surroundings.  The absurdity and kind of deadpan writing reminded me a little of Lemony Snicket.  

The story is told from a third person narrator, who occasionally addresses the reader directly.  It was odd at first, because it speaks to you in present time, referring to the fact that the book is set in the past.  I think it actually works, and is probably helpful for young readers.  Here's one example,

"The truth is that one cannot go through life without being annoyed by other people, and this was just as true in Miss Penelope Lumley's day as it is in our own." 

The ending wraps up one big event, but then drops a couple of clues to lead you into the next book.  I was a little surprised at that, but again I think it's because the audience is intened to be middle grades.  I'm excited to pick up the story where it left off as soon as it comes in at the library!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith

Fair and Tender Ladies is a story about Ivy Rowe.  It begins when she is around 12, and follows her whole life until she's in her 80's I think.  Her story is told entirely through letters she writes, no responses.  And I think it works.  I thought the letters were used cleverly to reveal the characters and the plot.  I do wish dates were included on every letter, but I think they were intentionally left off so you had to discover how much time had passed.

The first few letters are kind of hard to read.  They introduce a bunch of characters, mostly Ivy's family, and are written in her vernacular.  It reminded me a bit of These is My Words, and similarly, her voice becomes easier to follow as you stick with it.

I love that Ivy loves to read, and has memorized poems.  She quotes them naturally as she thinks.  Her are a few quotes to give you a feel for her voice.

"I am going to mary somebody that makes me feel like a poem that's for sartin."

"Little Danny just smiled, he is the cutest thing.  I do not think I will have any children ever as they will brake yor hart."

"Oh Molly, I wish you culd see my dress it is so beutiful! It is green with puff sleeves and a round white coller."  Anne of Green Gables, right?

Ivy lives in the mountains of Virgina, and like other books about living in the Appalachians, she has a hard time.  There is a lot of sadness, hard work, and dying.  She has opportunities to get out, but ultimately chooses caring for her family.  Ivy doesn't always make smart decisions, but I do think she is tries to do what is right.

"She is serious, Silvaney.  She hates Sugar Fork when she thinks of it, and yet I love it, now isn't this odd?  us being from the same family and all.  She hates Sugar Fork and all the old ways.  She will not even talk about it..."

"I have lost my spunk some way.  It is like I was a girl for such a long time, years and years, and then all of a sudden I have got to be an old woman, with no inbetween.  Maybe that has always been the problem with me, a lack of inbetween. 
For all of a sudden when I saw those lights, I said to myself, Ivy, this is your life, this is your real life, and you are living it.  Your life is not going to start later.  This is it, it is now.  It's funny how a person can be so busy living that they forget this is it.  This is my life."
I think this tells a lot about how Ivy feels about herself.  Sometimes I feel this way too.

I can't think of another book that covers so much of one person's life in just 367 pages.  I really liked reading her letters, and I enjoyed the book.  EXCEPT that she makes a decision toward the end, that really taints the rest of the book for me.  It's not just her actions, but the way that she feels like it saved her life.  Like it was a turning point, and not really in the way I think it should have been.

But I still enjoy her wisdom on other topics.  For example,
"I guess you would think that when a woman has a lot of children, then each one means a little less.  It is not so.  Children will swell up your heart.  I know you say you are glad that you and Stoney have not had none of your own, that his have been enough of a headache, but I would bet it is not true, Ethel.  You just talk big, in my opinion.  But you are a soft as a featherbed underneath."

There's a letter toward the end that Ivy writes to her daughter Joli, and tells about a visit from her sister and her new husband.  Both Ivy and Ethel are older ladies by now.  Like in their 70's I'd guess.  I don't want to quote the whole thing, but the way she retells their conversation and their interactions, you can tell they are just the same as they were as kids, or in their 20s.  I loved it because it reminds me of getting together with my sisters, or when I see my mom with her's.  How you still feel like giggly girls, even though you have had this lifetime of experience apart.  Do you know what I mean?

I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it, but I didn't LOVE, love it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos

I loved it.  I love her.  I was not disappointed. This is the kind of book that I love from the beginning and thought all day about when I could read it again.  Luckily I had a free night to read into the wee hours, and it was so worth it.
This is the story of Pen (Penelope) who is raising her 5 year old daughter, living with her brother Jamie and still grieving from her father's death.  In college she had two best friends, Cat and Will, with whom she was inseparable.  At some point after graduating, the three split up.  It's been 6 years, and the details of the events leading up to that moment are sprinkled through out the story.  Pen and Will receive a cryptic e-mail from Cat, which leads to them meeting up, and ultimately working through the details of their years spent apart.

What's that?  A story about three close college friends?  Lots of poignant reflections on losing your father?  Longing for people you've lost?  This is a book for me.

At the start Pen reflects, "Since you left there's been a you-shaped space beside me, all the time.  It never goes away."

I also love this perspective on harboring hate. "She could imagine sustaining certain emotions at that pitch for that long--love absolutely, grief probably, guilt maybe--but hatred was exhausting and gave so little back.  Once, after her father died, Pen had tried to keep hatred alive, but it kept losing its firm shape, kept smudging and blurring until it became an immense black, impossible heavy sadness that lived inside her body and made it hard to move, so she had given it up."

Doesn't this remind you of college? "They'd walk out of their apartment door, with their lipstick fresh and their hair and eyes lit by the streetlights, and anything, anything would seem possible to Pen."

There are so many great realizations and conversations I enjoyed reading and thinking about in this book.  There's a moment when Pen realized a guy may not be as big a jerk as he seemed at first, and it is written so well.
"It was simply this: for the first time, she understood that it was possible to form an opinion about a person, an opinion based on solid evidence and a vast quantity of justified self-righteous anger, to even have this opinion reinforced by trusted colleagues, and to be, at least partially, wrong."

The book takes them on a journey, literally and figuratively, to find Cat.  I think the story is interesting and well developed.  But really it's the writing more than the story that I fall in love with when I read Marisa de los Santos.

"'I'm beside myself with happiness,' said Pen. "And gratitude.  And relief.  I just came home from work and saw her sitting there with Augusta, and it took my breath away.  It was like someone fixed my television.'.....
the fact was that he knew immeadiately what Pen meant.  'Colors got brighter,' said Will. 'Edges got sharper.'
'Everything gleamed,' Pen said. 'Like sometimes happens after it rains.'"

Just like her first two books, I felt like the prevailing theme was love.  How love, in all its forms, is what is most important.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bossypants by Tina Fey

If you really like Tina Fey and think she is hilarious, you'll probably really like this book.  I did.  But it wasn't as funny as I hoped it would be.  It's a nice quick read, and had some really great parts.  It confirmed to me that she is smart and original and just super funny!

She does us the f-word, and there are some jokes that I think of as the easy way out, ie. periods, body humor, crude words, dumb responses to rude comments online.  BUT it could, of course, been a lot worse.  I still feel like she goes for the smarter punchline, rather than potty humor.  But just from a few references, it is always shocking to me that real comedic writers think that kind of stuff is funny.

I think my favorite chapter is the one titled, "Sarah, Oprah, and Captain Hook, or How to Succeed by Sort of Looking Like Someone."  It tells about the weekend that she filmed with Oprah for 30 Rock, first parodies Sarah Palin, all while preparing for her daughter's 3rd birthday.  Having watched both 30 Rock and SNL during that time, I found it fascinating!  Really.

It's shouldn't be surprising that she has some really hysterical lines in this book.  I loved that it really carries an easy narrative voice, and you laugh as you go.  I'll share a couple to give you a taste, but I don't want to spoil the whole feel if you want to read it.

"All the windows were covered, and you had to be buzzed in through two different doors.  This place was not kidding around."

"I hope you enjoy it so much that you also buy a copy for your sister-in-law."

 I also loved the chapter where she explains the step-by-step process of a photo shoot. 

"You must not look in that mirror at your doughy legs and flat feet, for today is about dreams and illusions and unfiltered natural daylight is the enemy of dreams."

"When people say, 'You really, really must' do something, it means you don't really have to...When it's true, it doesn't need to be said."

Because I love 30 Rock, I really liked all the behind the scenes stories about how it became a show, and how different episodes came about. 

Also, Tina Fey includes real life pictures from growing up.  Hilarious. 

I love her non-chalant humor, and I enjoyed reading more about her!