Review: My Lady Jane

22840421Book: My Lady Jane
Author: Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Young King Edward, son of Henry VIII, is dying and he is persuaded to set his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor. Which means, she must be married off to ensure a male heir (to make sure the crown doesn’t go to Edward’s sister, Mary). But this isn’t your typical historic fiction. It’s more like the story of Lady Jane Grey set in an alternate universe… with people who can shape-shift into animal form… and where death is largely exaggerated.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I normally do not like it when authors fiddle with history. That said, the narrators of this book (and yes, there are three of them!) definitely took people like me into consideration. They prepped me very nicely in the Prologue. Changing some of the names in the story also helped me make this adjustment. So, I read the story like I would read a fantasy or fairy tale. Yes, it’s still Lady Jane Grey’s story, but… not quite. And I was okay with that! 🙂

2) Okay, so this is a “What If” book. [*SPOILER] As in, what if King Edward the VI didn’t really die at the age of 15? What if Lady Jane Grey didn’t really have her head chopped off after being queen for 9 days? [END SPOILER] What if…? What if…? This is what gives us the alternate universe. And I found that quite intriguing, actually.

3) I really liked the character of Bess, Edward’s sister. She’s a smart and capable character. You can see the beginnings of what would become Queen Elizabeth I. [*SPOILER] Kudos to the authors for how they brought her to the throne at the end of the book. Without much head-rolling! [END SPOILER]

4) The love story between Jane and G was done well. I guessed about the alternate night-day thing pretty early on, and how this would naturally keep them apart. [*SPOILER] With him being a horse during the day (when she’s human) and her a ferret during the night (when he’s human). [END SPOILER] But I also thought this brought a nice romantic tension to the story.

5) The Shakespeare connection had the potential for me-not-liking-this. But I actually did like it! Of course, early on I recognized G’s efforts at poetry as belonging to the yet-unborn bard. (The only thing I didn’t like was how the narrators actually had to explain this later in the book… Just in case we didn’t get it??? I wish they’d have left that one alone!)

6) I liked trying to fit my knowledge of the true historical events with the book events… Especially seeing how the authors “fractured” these events into what, in essence, becomes a fractured fairy tale. (Note: After reading the book, I went to youtube for some refresher history lessons about the real Lady Jane Grey!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I felt the second wedding was unnecessary. At least describing it in full detail. :/

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love history and I love the story of Lady Jane Grey. Fortunately, I love a good sense of humour and fractured fairy tales. So, I guess this book fits quite well with all those categories!

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How Much Tea Do You Drink?

20170527ma_1327I’m a bit of a tea fanatic. I drink tea pretty much all day long.

Pot after pot. Mug after mug. Summer or Winter.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m drawn to books that feature tea. And one of my favourite series that does this so wonderfully is Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

I love this series.

So, when I recently read a review of one of his books by somebody who hated it (they gave it one star), my reaction was: Wait! How can you hate Mma Ramotswe? Turns out this person was expecting a mystery novel. Okay, I get it now. Really, these books aren’t really about the mystery, even though Mma Ramotswe is a detective! (In fact, I find it funny that the books are sometimes marketed that way.)

No, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is really about Life. And people. The series delights in highlighting the quirks of people. Every single character has their own little special foibles, including our protagonist: Mma Ramotswe.

Like Mma Ramotswe’s obsession with tea. (In particular, redbush tea.)

“Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe – the only lady private detective in Botswana – brewed redbush tea. And three mugs – one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client.
~ The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

And every one of McCall Smith’s books has some sort of tea in them.

In fact, these books are chock full of tea!

In an interview, he was asked about this. Here’s his response: “Naturally, when I came to write my Botswana novels… tea played a part in the narrative… Some assume that the tea-drinking has some symbolic meaning; in fact, it is merely a novelist’s device for ensuring a break in between other scenes. I suppose, if pressed, I might come up with an explanation in terms of its calming effect; it is no doubt true that tea-drinking is a calming thing to read about, but that is not necessarily why I write about it. One can always do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

And do you know how many cups of tea Mma Ramotswe drinks in just one day?

Well, we find out in a delectable passage from a later book in the series: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

“We spend quite a lot on tea,” mused Mma Makutsi. “If you add it up, Mma. You have… how many cups of tea do you have, Mma Ramotswe? Ten? Twelve?”

“I haven’t counted, Mma Makutsi. And you yourself―”

Then our two favourite tea-drinkers start to make some calculations. Counting each cup from the time they wake in the morning…

She paused. “How many does that make, Mma?

“I think that makes eight,” said Mma Makutsi. “Call it ten.”

“Ten cups,” said Mma Ramotswe thoughtfully. “And we haven’t counted the evening tea. That must be added. So maybe fourteen cups of tea in all.”

In my opinion, it’s these passages about tea and such that make McCall Smith’s work so delightful to read. These tea-breaks are the times when Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi get around to philosophizing about life. As so often happens, the two women come to different points of view. (Mma Makutsi has some very strong opinions.) But Mma Ramotswe always knows how to solve these tricky situations.

“That’s not true,” said Mma Ramotswe. “But let us not argue, Mma, because I believe it’s time for tea and the more time you spend arguing, the less tea you can drink.”
~ Precious and Grace

And finally, two more of my favourite Tea Quotes from the books:

“The telling of a story, like virtually everything in this life, was always made all the easier by a cup of tea.”
The Miracle at Speedy Motors

“It was time for tea as it so often was.”
~ The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

Now I think it’s time for a cup of tea…

P.S. To answer the question in the title of this post, I think I probably drink about 7-10 mugs of tea a day. (Yes, despite the existence of my pretty teacups, I tend to drink out of mugs for everyday.) So… not quite as many as Mma Ramotswe. I don’t know if anybody drinks more tea than Mma Ramotswe.

The Magic of Half Magic

20171007ma_5029The magic of Edward Eager’s Half Magic isn’t always the actual magic in the book. Yes, there’s a charm that grants wishes (or, to be more accurate, half-wishes!). What’s really magical about the book, is Eager’s way of putting things. Usually, it’s some little aside. Something quick.

And then there is this delightful passage. It happens when the four children (Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha) first meet Mr. Smith, a new grown-up that has entered their lives…

The four children generally divided all grown ups into four classes. There were the ones like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Grace and Mrs. Hudson whofrankly, and cruel as it might be to say itjust weren’t good with children at all. There was nothing to do about these, the four children felt, except be as polite as possible and hope they would go away soon.

Then there were the ones like Miss Mamie King, whowhen they were with childrenalways seemed to want to pretend they were children, too. This was no doubt kindly meant, but often ended with the four children’s feeling embarrassed for them.

Somewhat better were the opposite ones who went around treating children as though the children were as grown-up as they were themselves. This was flattering, but sometimes a strain to live up to. Many of the four children’s school teachers fell into this class.

Last and best and rarest of all were the ones who seemed to feel that children were children and grown ups were grown ups and that was that, and yet at the same time there wasn’t any reason why they couldn’t get along perfectly well and naturally together, and even occasionally communicate, without changing that fact.

Mr. Smith turned out to one of these.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager (Chapter 6)

This is why I love to read (and re-read) books by Edward Eager! It’s the magic of his words. 🙂

Old Enough to Read Fairy Tales

20170623ma_1916When I go to the library, I am immediately drawn to the children’s section. Why? Because I love books written for kids.

Not so much picture books. Not those early chapter books. No, give me books written for the Middle Grade reader. What used to be called Children’s Literature. (And by extension, I’ll also include many Young Adult books in this category.)

But the thing is, I’m not a kid anymore. In fact, I haven’t been a kid for quite awhile.

When I was a teen, I quickly grew out of these books. There was a time (probably when I was in high school, but maybe even earlier??) when I didn’t want to read such books anymore. Or if I did want to re-read the occasional book from my childhood (Anne of Green Gables?), I certainly wouldn’t admit it in public. Yep! I was “too old” for kids’ books.

And this reminds me of the dedication C.S. Lewis included in his book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

“My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,
C. S. Lewis”

Now I’ve reached the age when I am “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Recently, I was trying to figure out exactly when this happened. I’m thinking it started to come about while I was in university. Of course, I took all the literature courses I could get my hands on. I studied plenty of Shakespeare and Dickens, Austen and Edgeworth, Trollope and Harding, just to name a few.

And then, in my fourth year, I signed up for a course on Children’s Literature. This course included some of my childhood favourites, but it also introduced me to children’s books I had never read before. I read books by authors I didn’t even know existed!

And reading these kids’ books for the first time, I found that I actually enjoyed them. I mean, I really enjoyed reading these stories! These stories meant for kids.

But that’s was the just the start of a realization that a good children’s book has special magic in it. A special ingredient. Basically, it needs to be enjoyable on different levels. The book has to be of interest to the child, naturally. But it also will contain truth and humour and characterizations that will pique the interest of the adult.

That’s the secret ingredient.

Slowly, but surely, I began to re-read more of my old favourites, realizing that many of these books were as good as when I first read them as a kid. (Although, I will admit that other books didn’t stand this test of time. Or they didn’t contain that extra, secret ingredient.)

About ten years after taking that university course, it hit me that I actually preferred children’s books to reading most adult books. Maybe it is the fairy-tale element found in many children’s books. Not that the stories have to be fairy tales. Children’s books are so hopeful. Yes, the characters in these stories have struggles, but the point of the story is to overcome those struggles and take us to the happy ending. (I do like a happy ending. While I don’t need an ending to be saccharine, I also don’t want to read a book that ends in a depressingly sad way.)

I still have my old childhood favourites, but I also have my favourite “new” authors. Whether they are long-dead authors I’ve discovered only recently, or authors living and writing for today’s market.

It makes me sad to hear people dismiss children’s books because they’re written “for kids”. Young people especially do this, but so do many adults.

I comfort myself with this thought: One day, hopefully, these people will come upon their own realization that they are now “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

A Beginning After the End

20170530ma_1382“People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.” – Steven Spielberg

I recently came across this quote and thought, do I agree with this? Is it true? Is it not? Is it partly true?

The more I think about it, the more I do think that it’s true. The end of a good story is never really the end of the story, is it? Even “And they lived happily ever after” implies that something does happen after the book is closed for the final time.

The same goes for the Epilogue. It will summarize what happens next, but still it doesn’t actually finish the story. Unless, maybe if the main character dies.

But even if the main character dies, the rest of the story world continues. Other characters still live on.

Just as in real life.

And the stories that touch us the most have to have some part of real life in them. That’s why I think we’re drawn to such stories. Now this is not true for every story or book. I’ve read my fair share of books where the characters and plots are, at best, just “okay”. Others could be better described as dull and lifeless (and perhaps even trying too hard, but not succeeding). These stories, we’re probably glad to see the end of.

But for good books… For the stories that stick with us… These are the stories where the end of the book is really just another beginning.

It’s a beginning that comes after The End.