Scenes from a Book #2

Here’s another of my favourite Christmas scenes from a book… this one comes from the prairies.

Little House on the Prairie // Laura Ingalls Wilder

little-houseIn this Christmas story, Laura and Mary are worried that with all the rain, Santa Claus won’t be able to get to the little house. But then, on Christmas Eve, who should show up but Mr. Edwards! And he’s brought them Santa’s gifts…

The Scene:

Mr. Edwards came and sat on the floor by their bed, and he answered every question they asked him. They honestly tried not to look at Ma, and they didn’t quite see what she was doing. …

Well, the first thing Santa Claus said was, “Hello, Edwards!” (“Did he know you?” Mary asked, and Laura asked, “How did you know he was really Santa Claus?” Mr. Edwards said that Santa Claus knew everybody. And he had recognized Santa at once by his whiskers. Santa had the longest, thickest, whitest set of whiskers west of the Mississippi.) …

Then Santa Claus said: “I understand you’re living now down along the Verdigris River. Have you ever met up, down yonder, with two little young girls named Mary and Laura?”

“I surely am acquainted with them,” Mr. Edwards replied.

“It rests heavy on my mind,” said Santa Claus. “They are both of them sweet, pretty, good little young things, and I know they are expecting me. I surely do hate to disappoint two good little girls like them. Yet with the water up the way it is, I can’t ever make it across that creek. I can figure no way whatsoever to get to their cabin this year. Edwards,” Santa Claus said, “Would you do me the favor to fetch them their gifts this one time?”

“I’ll do that, and with pleasure,” Mr. Edwards told him. …

And Santa Claus uncinched the pack and looked through it, and he took out the presents for Mary and Laura.

“Oh, what are they?” Laura cried; but Mary asked, “Then what did he do?”

Then he shook hands with Mr. Edwards, and he swung up on his fine bay horse. Santa Claus rode well for a man of his weight and build. And he tucked his long, white whiskers under his bandana. “So long, Edwards,” he said, and he rode away on the Fort Dodge trail, leading his pack-mule and whistling.

Laura and Mary were silent an instant, thinking of that.

Then Ma said, “You may look now, girls.”

Something was shining bright in the top of Laura’s stocking. She squealed and jumped out of bed. So did Mary, but Laura beat her to the fireplace. And the shining thing was a glittering new tin cup.

Mary had one exactly like it.

These new tin cups were their very own. Now they each had a cup to drink out of. Laura jumped up and down and shouted and laughed, but Mary stood still and looked with shining eyes at her own tin cup. …

There never had been such a Christmas.

Little House on the Prairie, Chapter 19

What I Love About this Scene

I love the friendship Mr. Edwards displays for this family. He knows how dangerous it is to cross the river, but he does it anyway… for Laura and Mary. (While “Santa” couldn’t make it across the raging river, Mr. Edward could and did!) And it’s amazing how he makes it into an experience for the girls. A whole story! (I also love how Wilder includes the little questions the girls have when they see a potential plot hole in his story. But Mr. Edwards never missed a beat.)

I also love how Laura and Mary are thrilled with the simple gifts they receive: their tin cups, candy, a little cake made with white sugar, and a penny each! What bounty!

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All Things Jane

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Every so often, I get on a Jane Austen kick.

I’ll go to the library to check out literary critiques of Austen’s works. One of the books currently on my nightstand is called Flirting with Pride and Prejudice (edited by Jennifer Crusie). The book is a compilation of various essays about the most famous of Austen’s books. My favourite essay is entitled “Plenty of Pride and Prejudice to Go Around” by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. In it, she compares Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet with the many incarnations of the Elizabeth in the movies either based upon or inspired by Pride and Prejudice.

Baratz-Logsted questions why the Elizabeth Bennet characters have been deteriorated “into characters who, however lofty their careers, however many modern choices arrayed before them, are charming ditzes at best, babbling and insecure bumblers at worst?”

Which makes me think of a comment made by one of my friends regarding Bridget Jones Diary a few years ago. It’s no great secret that Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary was inspired by Pride and Prejudice. My friend pointed out that Bridget is in fact NOT really an Elizabeth Bennet. She argued that the book is really the story of Mr. Darcy and Lydia Bennet. And I think she has a point. Bridget Jones really does have more in common with Lydia. She’s just masquerading around behind the mask of the Elizabeth Bennet character.

But back to the book on my night stand (which is now on my lap since I had to look up that quote above). The book isn’t just essays. It also has some pieces of… what to call it?… fan fiction, I guess. Fictionalized mini-stories based on various characters from the book.

And for some reason, these type of stories always make me cringe. It feels wrong to me somehow. Here’s another person trying to take Jane Austen’s place and write Georgiana’s story. Or tell what happened to Elizabeth after she married Darcy.

The one account I did manage to read (it wasn’t long—about five pages) was “The Secret Life of Mary”. Boy, was it convoluted. I mean, a love story between Mary and some Irish footman named Rory who works for Sir William Lucas?! Where Mary becomes famous for writing Austen-esque sketches of her family?! Um…

It’s stories like these that make me NOT want to read Austen-inspired rip-offs works. It makes me want to shout, “People, please leave the Jane Austen characters in the capable hands of Jane Austen!”

Yes, it’s bad Jane-Austen-inspired-stories that make me shy to read the good ones. And there ARE ones out there that aren’t bad. But to find the good ones… That is the problem. It means wading through so many disappointments. (At least for me.)

Here’s a list of books I liked/didn’t like. And some I thought were okay, but nothing to get too excited about…

Books I Liked

Austenland and Midnight in Austenland // by Shannon Hale
A Walk with Jane Austen // by Lori Smith (this is more of a memoir)
Bridget Jones Diary // by Helen Fielding (although, it’s been quite a while since I read this book; and I haven’t read the sequels because they didn’t really interest me)

Books I Thought Were Okay

Emma // by Alexander McCall Smith
Sense and Sensibility // by Joanna Trollope
Pemberley // by Emma Tennant
Prom and Prejudice // by Elizabeth Eulberg

Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits // by Mary Jane Hathaway

Books I Did NOT Like

Eligible // by Curtis Sittenfeld (DNF)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies // by Seth Grahame-Smith (DNF)
Confession of a Jane Austen Addict // by Laurie Viera Rigler (Not crazy about the time-travelling thing)
Longbourne // by Jo Baker (DNF)
Jane and the Man of the Cloth // by Stephanie Barron (Jane Austen solving mysteries? That was just weird.)

So… Sometimes I think I’m better off to just re-read the originals. And hey! Pride and Prejudice (or Emma, or Persuasion, et al) do very well on multiple re-reads.

Because Jane Austen was the master!

What about you? Do you like to read books inspired by Jane Austen’s world? Have you read any good ones that you’d recommend?

Scenes from a Book #1

This is a new feature at my blog that I’m calling Scenes from a Book. It’s where I get to discuss some of my favourite scenes in books… And since it’s December, I’m going with a Christmas theme.

In honour of this inaugural post, I’m picking a scene from one of my favourite books of all time. 🙂

Anne of Green Gables // by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green GablesThis is scene where Matthew insists on puffed sleeves

So, in this part of the book, Miss Stacy has decided to get up a concert to take place on Christmas night. Of course, Anne is to take part and she’s extremely excited. Matthew decides it’s high time to give Anne what’s she’s always dreamed about: puffed sleeves. Except, being so shy, he has a little trouble making this dream come true. (Pretty much because Marilla thinks puffed sleeves are not necessary.)

The setting is Lawson’s store. Normally, Matthew patronizes Blair’s… but he chooses Lawson’s because he’s afraid that Mr. Blair’s two daughters will be there to wait on him. How was he to know that Lawson had hired a lady clerk?!

The Scene:

“What can I do for you this evening, Mr. Cuthbert?” Miss Lucilla Harris inquired, briskly and ingratiatingly, tapping the counter with both hands.

“Have you any—any—any—well now, say any garden rakes?” stammered Matthew.

Miss Harris looked somewhat surprised, as well she might, to hear a man inquiring for garden rakes in the middle of December.

“I believe we have one or two left over,” she said, “but they’re upstairs in the lumber room. I’ll go and see.”

During her absence Matthew collected his scattered senses for another effort.

When Miss Harris returned with the rake and and cheerfully inquired: “Anything else tonight, Mr. Cuthbert?” Matthew took his courage in both hands and replied: “Well now, since you suggest it, I might as well—take—that is—look at—buy some—some hayseed.” …

“We only keep hayseed in the spring,” she explained loftily. “We’ve none on hand just now.”

“Oh, certainly—certainly—just as you say,” stammered unhappy Matthew … “Well now—if it isn’t too much trouble—I might as well—that is—I’d like to look at—at—some sugar.”

“White or brown?” queried Miss Harris patiently.

“Oh—well now—brown,” said Matthew feebly.

Anne of Green Gables, Chapter 25

What I Love About this Scene

I love how Matthew comes up with this ingenious plan and then it backfires on him. Poor shy Matthew’s attempts at telling this woman that he wants to buy a dress. And he can’t quite bring himself to do it. He buys a rake, tries to buy seed, purchases some brown sugar. But NO DRESS! And I like that Miss Harris is clueless about the whole thing. Poor Matthew.

**Spoiler for those who haven’t read the book. He doesn’t get the dress from Lawson’s. But he does get the dress. Matthew ends up going to Mrs. Lynde, and that wonderful lady makes sure that Anne gets the dress of her dreams for Christmas!

Books About the First World War

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Did you know?

This year marks 100 years after the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918. Wow! Has it really been that long ago?

I came across two books about World War I this year. I didn’t seek them out on purpose. But then somebody mentioned the anniversary was coming up. I started to think of all the World War I books I’ve read or studied. To be honest, there aren’t that many. I’m not even sure I’ve read All Quiet on the Western Front, which is probably one of the most famous books about World War I. I know I’ve seen the movie, and it’s been part of any discussion I’ve had when it comes to literature about the Great War.

So, here are some books that I’ve read this year…


The Button War // by Avi

button-warMG, Historical Fiction (2018)

This book deals with some very troubling aspects of war. It centers around a group of boys who are collecting buttons from the various soldiers coming through their village in Poland. Whoever finds the BEST button will be king! (One of the boys reminded me of Jack in Lord of the Flies. The main character was more of a Ralph character.)

The book is very interesting on the historical side of things, and I would recommend this to anybody who wants to read something something a little different about World War I. While it’s written for kids, it’s definitely meant for a more mature reader as it deals with death. Yes, there’s a lot of death in this book. [4 stars]

You can read my full review here.


Silent in an Evil Time: The Brave War of Edith Cavell // by Jack Batten

silent-in-an-evil-timeChildren’s Non-Fiction / Biography (2007)

Going into this book, all I really knew was Cavell’s famous quote: “Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness to anyone.” That, and I knew she was a nurse. (Oh, and I also knew about how her story ends, but I won’t spoil this if you don’t know her story.)

First, let me say that when I was a child, I had a hyper-fascination with Florence Nightingale. This is the Florence Nightingale of Belgium (even though, like Nightingale, she’s actually British) and of the First World War. And then, she’s also a spy!

Yet, such an unassuming spy who hide British and French soldiers from the German invaders. Again, this book is also for more mature readers. [4 stars]


Winnie’s Great War // by Lindsay Mattick & Josh Greenhut

Winnies-great-warMG,  Historical Fiction (2018)

This book doesn’t have too much of what it was like in the trenches during the war. Rather, it focuses on Winnie, the black bear who became the mascot of the Canadian cavalry regiment as they trained for trench warfare. Since she doesn’t actually head over to France, we get to follow her to her new home at the London Zoo. And of course, we get to meet the famous Christopher Robin who calls his own bear after her: Winnie-the-Pooh. I loved this book!! [5 stars]

Full review coming soon!


tortoise-and-soldierThe Tortoise and the Soldier // by Michael Foreman

MG, Historical Fiction (2016)

This was an interesting book. It’s about an young, aspiring newspaper reporter who comes into contact with a World War I veteran named Henry and his pet tortoise, Ali Pasha. Every Sunday, Trevor gets more of Henry’s story… About how he joined the British Navy and eventually rescued the tortoise during a battle.

The book is told through diary entries, as well as through Henry telling his story. This is one book about World War I that doesn’t focus on the Western Front!

Bonus points to this book for being about a REAL guy named Henry and his REAL tortoise, Ali Pasha! [3.5 stars]


Rilla of Ingleside // by L.M. Montgomery

Rilla_of_InglesideYA, Coming of Age (1921)

This is one of my favourite novels, period. It’s set on the Canadian homefront during World War I. Part of what makes this book so wonderful is that it was written and published so close to the events of the war! (No historical anachronisms in this book!)

For fans of Anne of Green Gables, this is the story of Anne’s young daughter. She’s only 14 (almost 15!) at the beginning of the war. One by one, she and the ladies of the house watch brothers, sons, and friends go off to war. They’ll be home by Christmas! Of course, the war lasts a whole lot longer than that.

This book focuses on what it’s like to grow up and come of age under the shadow of wartime. Like all those who were on the Canadian homefront, Rilla must rally and find out what she can do help the war effort. This isn’t always easy, especially when she’s happens upon a poor orphaned war-baby… [5 stars!]


YOUR TURN…

Have you read any of these books? Are there other WWI books that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments!

When a Book Disappoints

(I have seriously gone back and forth on whether or not to post this… I don’t like to be negative on my blog. I originally wrote this back in July. And since you’re seeing it, I guess I decided it needed to be posted.)

Oh, where to start?

I really wanted to like this book. I went in with NO expectations, other than my experiences with the other four books. I expected more of the same. (And no, my disappointment has nothing to do with Skye. I will explain later, as that does involve spoilers, and I am determined not to have spoilers at this point in the blog post.)

I kind of feel obligated to review this book since I love the other books in the series. Seriously, if you like The Penderwicks, feel free to NOT read this book. You may save yourself some heartache and headache.

The Penderwicks at Last // by Jeanne Birdsall

Genre: MG, Contemporary

**Warning: There will be SPOILERS for this book below.**

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First, let’s be positive. I love the cover for this book! It’s beautiful. It has fireflies. It has a dog. And it has two girls and a hawk and a moon. (I’m trying to pad the positives here.)

Also, I was looking forward to Lydia as a character, because I figured it had to be Lydia’s book. She’s the fifth Penderwick daughter. It’s the fifth book. And her introduction IS delightful. She dances through life. So, yes, Lydia is fine. And so is the other girl in the book (Alice). I like their friendship. These are all good things.

But, I’m sad to say, that’s where it stops…

Disappointment #1

The books up to this point have all been about a group of four sisters. By this book, all four sisters have grown up, even Batty. They’ve joined the ranks of Mr. Penderwick, and Iantha, and Aunt Claire. They don’t do funny things anymore. (Well, not really. Jane’s still a little zany.) They don’t swap homework. Or hide in the back of Dad’s car with Hound. Or kick soccer balls into forbidden gardens. Or sneak into fields inhabited by bulls. Yes, I missed the four girls!

Disappointment #2

Lydia and Alice are fine as characters, but they don’t quite measure up to those who have gone before. They are not super-interesting. And to top it all, there’s no real conflict between the two. Everybody just assumes they’re going to be friends and then they are. I would love to have seen them as “enemies” for a few chapters that turn into friends. Instead, they seem to just play a lot. I believe this is where Birdsall missed a great opportunity to save this book.

Disappointment #3

Let’s talk about Mrs. Tifton. Okay, I will say the one thing I DID like was that Mrs. Tifton actually likes Lydia and that Lydia is not afraid of her. However, I was expecting some cathartic moment where between Mrs. T and the Penderwick girls. All we got was veils. (And I don’t understand their dislike for veils? That was not properly set up.) And a little closure between Mrs. T and Alec would have been nice. I would have loved to have Lydia discover the human being inside this woman, who also happens to be Jeffrey’s mother. I felt there was a lost opportunity to redeem this character. I wanted Mrs. Tifton redeemed! (Or as least as much as she could be redeemed.)

Disappointment #4

The “opening secret” of the book is not really a secret. Apparently the marketing department didn’t get the memo, because the secret isn’t so secret; it’s inside on the jacket flap. And by secret, I mean that Rosalind wants to have her wedding at Arundel. It gets such a build-up in the first chapter that I was expecting a bomb to be dropped. Nope.  If you can’t have secrets that aren’t real secrets, then why bother?

Disappointment #5

There are too many characters in this book. This whole book seemed like a curtain call. We bring out every character that has been in the books before. (Except Harry the Tomato Man. I don’t think he was in the book, was he?) Basically every character gets a moment to take a bow and that’s it.

And there were too many dogs. Way too many dogs. I like the idea of the three-legged dog, but by the time I met him, I didn’t care. I couldn’t tell him from the other dogs in the books. And believe me when I say that none of these dogs were Hound. Although, Birdsall could have done that with Hitch. The problem was that Hitch just got lost in the crowd.

Disappointment #6

The boyfriends/fiancés were duds.

Okay, let’s start with Fiancé #1: Tommy Geiger. So I’ve never been a huge fan of Tommy Geiger. And in fact, I’m okay with the fact that we don’t really get to see him in this book. On the other hand, I have always liked Nick Geiger (because we actually get to know Nick in the books), and I was super sad when he’s thrown away as just another character in this book. (Oh, and he’s already married with a couple of kids.) Result: Tommy’s okay. I’m glad he is marrying Rosalind. But still, Fiancé #1 was a bit of a dud.

Fiancé #2: Some Czec student named Dusek. And yes, that pretty much sums him up. We haven’t ever met him before. We hardly even meet him in this book. And we’re supposed to suddenly feel happy when Skye announces that there’s going to be a double wedding? (Believe me, I just about threw the book in the trash at this point. But it’s a library book, and I would never do that to a library book.)

Now, don’t get me wrong. My dislike has nothing to do with Jeffrey. I went in to this book with the expectation that Skye and Jeffrey would never get together. (I realized this when I did my recent re-read of the series. Everything points to Batty ending up with Jeffrey. Don’t believe me? Read the books. The hints are there.) So, Dusek, that’s not why I don’t like you. I don’t like you because you don’t belong in this book. Seriously. Go back to California and study. I actually would have been happier if Skye had suddenly realized that she was in love with Nick Geiger or even Cagney (assuming that neither were already married off.) Or, leave Skye single at this point. Fiancé #2 was a literary disaster.

Disappointment #7

And then there’s Jeffrey. For some reason he doesn’t recognize Batty when he sees her. What? Isn’t he her mentore? Even this love story doesn’t work.

Maybe there’s just too many love stories going on that have nothing to do with our two main characters: Lydia and Alice. Remember them?

Disappointment #8

What’s with the goats in this book? Or is it sheep? I can’t remember. Actually, goats would have been a good choice as they like to headbutt people. That could have worked into the plot.

And then we had the parts where the girls are reading to the goat. Frankly, this was a little boring.

(Remember in the first book when Skye and Jane have to escape Mrs. Tifton by climbing out a window down a rope ladder? Remember when Jeffrey rescues Batty from the bull? Remember when Batty runs into the woods and gets lost? Where are these events in this book?)

Disappointment #9

I feel that Alice’s brother, Jack, was another missed-opportunity. He wasn’t physically at Arundel so we don’t really get to know him. What we do know is that he has a Canadian cousin and he likes eating pancakes and waffles. Why didn’t Birdsall have Jack and his Canadian cousin at Arundel? Let there be a war between the girls (Lydia and Alice) and boys (Jack and Cousin)! That would have given us some CONFLICT. Or Jack could have been staying with a friend in a nearby town. Which means they could have sneaked over to play tricks on the girls.

Okay, so Jack does make an appearance. In the hedge with Lydia. This is obviously supposed to be a call-back to the first book, but it happens in the wrong place in the book, to the wrong people in the book. Because we hardly know Jack!

Disappointment #10

The MOPS. When I got to the chapter about the MOPS, I was happy. Finally, something I know about these books. Except, it wasn’t a real MOPS. There was no dire situation that they had to figure out. They’re all adults now. Having a MOPS didn’t make sense. Even the parents know they’re having a MOPS (although they’re not invited). Sorry, the MOPS fell completely flat and had lost all its charm.

Final Thoughts

My rating is 2 Stars (out of 5) – I really wish this review was different. It kind of makes me furious that they would even publish this book. The more I think about this book, the more I shake my head. Why did this thing (yes, thing) get published? How in the world did Jeanne Birdsall’s editor NOT see that this wasn’t a good book? How?!

Your Turn

Have you read this book? Do you agree with me? And if not, let me know what you did like about it. (Yes, I am aware that there are people who are giving this book five stars on Goodreads.)

 

5 Reasons Bookish Things I’m Thankful For

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I’ve been doing posts this past year entitled 5 Reasons Why I Liked {Insert Book Title Here}. But today, I’m expanding this theme a little… By the way, these reasons are not in any particular order, and there are probably so many other things I’m thankful for. These are the ones that come to mind 🙂

#1 – Talking Books

I’m NOT talking about audiobooks here (although I love audiobooks, too!)… What I mean here is talking about books with other readers. Whether in person, or with the bookish community online. I love to find out what you’re reading, because I might want to read it, too! I love to discuss why I like certain books. I even like to discuss reasons I don’t like a particular book. It’s nice to know there are people out there who share my thoughts. And it’s also great to know there are people out there who think differently than me.

#2 – Book Downtime

Books have the ability to take us away to unknown lands. Yes, even in a contemporary read. I always read before bedtime. It’s the time I take to unwind from the stresses of the day. Sometimes a book will force me to read way past my bedtime, but usually I get in just a chapter or two. It’s something that makes me look forward to the end of the day.

This is probably why I’m not crazy about super-depressing books. I don’t mind that in little doses. Do I need Happily Ever After? I love Happily Ever After! But I don’t mind some slight ambiguity or even a touch of pessimism. I just don’t need to read the end of a book and feel the need to end my life. And that brings me to my next point…

#3 – Book Recommendations

This is related to number one, but it’s also slightly different. I love getting book recommendations. I love giving book recommendations. I love going to the bookish community, which includes blogs, Goodreads, Amazon reviews, bookstagram, etc. I like researching which books I want to read next. I look for recommendations by reviewers or bloggers who like books similar to the ones I like.

That way I know to avoid books like Jude the Obscure! (Sorry Mr. Hardy, I just can’t handle you anymore. Although I love your Far From the Madding Crowd. Probably because that was the last hopeful book you wrote.)

#4 – ARCs

And I’m also thankful for Advanced Reader Copies. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s kind of fun to read a book before everybody else. Of course that’s not strictly true, since there are a lot of other ARC readers out there. And I took heed of the warnings not to go crazy with my ARC-requests, so I haven’t really felt the worry of falling behind.

#5 – Libraries!

Ah, my home away from home. I love libraries! I do buy books, but I really can’t afford all the books I’d want to read. And frankly, I don’t have room to store all the book I’d want to read. That’s where the library comes in. I get to read wonderful books for FREE. (And when I get the occasional dud, it’s not a big deal. I just return it, happy that I didn’t actually pay for it.) There’s so much to choose from. There are new books and old books. Fiction and non-fiction. And audiobooks! And yes, even DVDs. Libraries make me happy 🙂


Your Turn

What are some bookish things you’re thankful for? Anything you’d add to this list?

The Ups and Downs of Reading Biographies

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Now that it’s September, I feel like it’s time to read a good biography. (I don’t know quite why September does this to me, but it does.)

So, that’s my topic for discussion for today: Biographies. (And I’m secretly hoping for some good recommendations in the comments below.)

I like a whole range of biographies:

  • kings and queens
  • film stars and Hollywood directors
  • scientists and astronauts
  • authors and playwrights
  • people I’ve never even heard of!

What I’m looking for is a good life story, something interesting.

But before you start giving me your recommendations (see my secret hope above), here are my thoughts on biographies in general…

Note about the photo: These encyclopedias are FULL of mini-biographies!

The Upside of Biographies

I love stories and I also love history. And I also love getting a sneak peek at behind the scenes. Biographies blend these things beautifully! I love learning about the struggles… and especially how they overcame those struggles.

And it’s all true! While I love fiction, there’s something about reading true stories. To know this actually happened to a person. This can be encouraging. It can also act as a warning.

In a sense, reading a biography is like a leisurely visit to a museum about that person’s life. (Did I say how much I love museums?)

The Downside of Biographies

The person always dies at the end. That’s it. I always come out of a biography feeling really sad. Like I’ve just been to somebody’s funeral. (Which is not far from the truth if you think about it.)

Now, I’m talking about true biographies here. Not memoirs, or even autobiographies, because those are written (supposedly) by the author, who (by definition of the thing) cannot have died yet. And yes, I do like reading memoirs for this reason alone… that I know the main character will not die in the end.


What about you? Do you read biographies? What draws you to these books? Any good biographies or memoirs you’ve read recently? Let me know in the comments!

I Wanted to Love This Book But…

**Please note that there MAY BE SPOILERS in this blog post. Whether it’s for this book, or for The Secret Garden.**

I wanted to love this book. Really I did.

And I tried. I even managed to finish it, in hopes that I would like it.

return-to-secret-gardenThe book in question? Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb.

Sigh.

I started to write out my typical review: What’s Cool / What’s Not Cool. And I just kept coming up with points for What’s Not Cool.  I’m not sure I had a single point for What’s Cool.

So, I’m writing this post instead.

This is one of those books that couldn’t survive without the original. In fact, that’s why we (the reader) pick it up. To return to a book world we love. In this case, the classic story of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The best thing for me about this book (the Holly Webb sequel) was figuring out the connections. Like who’s Martha? And Dickon? Colin was an easy one to figure out (since he’s obviously the “new” Mr. Craven). And I will admit, I kept reading to find out how/when Mary comes into the story. (So, I guess I have a point for What’s Cool after all!)

Sigh. But then…

The MC (Emmie) is not very likable. Not that this is weird in and of itself. Because Mary Lennox of the original is not very likable either, especially at the opening of the original story. But Mary grows on you. The author tried to do this with Emmie, and it sort of works, but not like it did with Mary. In fact, I felt the comparison between the two girls a little heavy-handed!

And then there’s the problem of identical plot points. A grouchy old gardener? Check. A sympathetic robin? Check. Ghostly cries in the night? You better believe we got those as well! (Can you see my eyes rolling?)

First of all, that last one (the ghostly cries) worked in original book because of the SECRET of Colin Craven. (Mary’s not supposed to know about him.  And she doesn’t—and we don’t either—until she discovers the secret.)

This new book doesn’t have a secret like that. And the revelation? (Can you see my eyes rolling again?)

Mary does come into the story. I had suspicions quite early on about how this would happen. Cue more eye rolls. (I was hoping for something a little more original.)

And guess what! The garden isn’t so secret anymore either. I mean it sort of is, but not really. IMHO, that part of the story was also a bit of a bust.

I could go on, but I won’t.

I don’t know why I even bother with these types of books. (I had a similar experience a few years ago with Before Green Gables, by Budge Wilson. I think I have a headache now.)

So, why do I even read these books? I think it’s because I know these authors must LOVE these stories as much as me. Why else would they want to write sequels or prequels or whatever. They want to bring us back to the characters we love so much. But sadly, it never quite works out that way.

Will I try another of these types of books in the future?

Maybe.

Because, at heart, I’m an optimist.

Although, maybe not for awhile.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? Did you love it? Am I being too critical?

What Do You Consider a Historical Novel?

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I love history. I love novels. Put those two together, and you’ve got one of my favourite things: Historical Novels!

But what exactly makes a novel “historical”?

Jane Austen’s books are set in the 1800s, but that doesn’t make them “historical novels”. And yet Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is considered to be a historical novel simply because Dickens was writing about historical events that took place sixty-some years earlier.

But what about more recent history?

Last month, I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. As I was reading, I got the sense that this book wasn’t set in today’s world… a realization that was solidified with the mention that the sitting president was Bill Clinton. Aha, said my brain. It’s the 1990s!

little-fires-everywhere.jpgNow, as it turns out, Clinton’s presidency (or rather the Monica Lewinsky scandal) weaves its way into the book. Not that President Clinton is an actual character in the book—he’s not; nor is Monica—but he’s talked about, primarily by the narrator… for thematic purposes.

Okay, I reasoned… so, this book is a contemporary read. In fact, I’ve noticed that many bloggers categorize it as such. Which means it must have been written in the late 90s or early 2000s, right?

I checked the copyright date.

2017.

Wait a minute. That’s last year! In case, you didn’t already know. 😉

So, is this book considered contemporary fiction? Or is it historical fiction?

Historical fiction is usually defined as a book where the historical setting is important to the plot of the book. It’s easy to categorize a book set in Japan during World War II, or one set in London during the time of Elizabeth I.

I would argue that the historical references of the 1990s in this book are rather important to the plot. (And it isn’t just the stuff about Clinton. It’s also the timing with regards to test-tubes babies and the days when infertility was discussed in hushed whispers; the nature of Mia’s photography and art; the Jerry Springer talk show phenomenon; an era before smart phones existed.)

Your Turn…

My question is this… Does all this make the book historical fiction? The 90s really isn’t that long ago, and I get the sense that many people don’t like to think of the recent past as “historical”.

So, how would you classify it? Do you call it “historical fiction” if it’s history of the recent past? Or do you consider the 1990s (or even the 1980s or 1960s or 70s for that matter) to be too recent to be labelled “historical”? (And if so, where’s the cut off point for you?)

These are genuine questions and I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Don’t Judge a Book…

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We’ve all heard it. Don’t judge a book by its cover. And yet we all do it anyway. We DO judge books by their covers! Whether we think we do or not.

Whenever I hear this phrase, my mind immediately goes to a particular book. Which book?

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame).

bluecastle.jpgI probably first read it when I was about 11 or 12 years old. This was the copy at our local library… (see image to your right.)

It was really and truly the UGLIEST book cover I had ever seen. It was so ugly, I did NOT want to read this book. So what if was by my favourite author!

Ugh! That cover.

But then, somehow, I did bring the book home.

And I did read it.

And… Well…

I loved it.

And you know what? Years later, my friends and I were discussing this book. (We all love this book!) And we discovered that we ALL had the same experience. (Being from the same small town, we all went to the same library.) We all hated the cover of this book! And we all didn’t want to read the book BECAUSE of the ugly, ugly cover. And finally, we all did read the book, in spite of the cover. And we all fell in love with it.

P.S. Now I look at the book cover and think to myself, it’s not quite as ugly as I remember. In fact, it’s bringing back fond memories. Nostalgic memories. I’m finding I rather like this book cover… now.

Do you consider the book cover above to be ugly? Would you pick it up to read? Let me know in the comments!

How about THESE covers? Which one catches your eye? (I really like the simplicity of the first one!)

 

BONUS: Have you read The Blue Castle? If so, feel free to gush about it in the comments!

P.S. The photo at the top of this blog post is my first-edition, hard back copy of The Blue Castle. Which I love! It’s falling apart, but that is partly what gives it its charm. (And there’s a bit of a story of how I got it. But perhaps that’s for a future post…)