Scenes from a Book #3

Another of my favourite Christmas scenes in a book…

3 – Little Women // by Louisa May Alcott

Little WomenI love the Christmas sequence that opens Alcott’s masterpiece. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbles Jo. And then on Christmas morning, as they’re about to enjoy their Christmas breakfast, Marmee comes and spoils it all. She suggests they give their breakfast to a poor hungry family!

The girls know their duty, and they agree to the charity. And they end up doing it cheerfully. Later in the day, they go on to giving a performance. And after the performance, there’s a surprise waiting for them them…

The Scene:

It was like Marmee to get up a little treat for them, but anything so fine as this was unheard of since the departed days of plenty. There was ice cream, actually two dishes of it, pink and white, and cake and fruit and distracting French bonbons and, in the middle of the table, four great bouquets of hot house flowers.

It quite took their breath away, and they stared first at the table and then at their mother, who looked as if she enjoyed it immensely.

“Is it fairies?” asked Amy.

“Santa Claus,” said Beth.

“Mother did it.” And Meg smiled her sweetest, in spite of her gray beard and white eyebrows.

“Aunt March had a good fit and sent the supper,” cried Jo, with a sudden inspiration.

“All wrong. Old Mr. Laurence sent it,” replied Mrs. March.

“The Laurence boy’s grandfather! What in the world put such a thing into his head? We don’t know him!” exclaimed Meg.

“Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast party. He is an odd old gentleman, but that pleased him. He knew my father years ago, and he sent me a polite note this afternoon, saying he hoped I would allow him to express his friendly feeling toward my children by sending them a few trifles in honor of the day. I could not refuse, and so you have a little feast at night to make up for the bread-and-milk breakfast.”

Little Women, Chapter 2


What I Love About this Scene

I just love the March sisters. I like how each of their personalities come out in the above passage as they’re trying to figure out WHO gave them the breakfast party.

I also love how they do a really hard thing at the beginning of the book. They give up something they want. This leads to an even better surprise!

And I love how this is an excellent introduction to Laurie!

Re-read: The Penderwicks series

The final book in The Penderwicks series was released just last week. I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to. So, while I wait to get my hands on the book, I decided to do a re-read of the other four books. Here are my thoughts…

**Note: This blog post MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. However, I have tried my best to keep things vague enough so that, in case you haven’t the books, there aren’t horrible secrets revealed.**

Book #1 // The Penderwicks

penderwicks1This is the book that starts it all. It’s highly inspired by Little Women and actually feels like it takes place in the past. (Although, Mr. Penderwick does have a computer, which tells us it is supposed to be happening in our present.)

We begin with the family, lost on their way to Arundel, where they are to spend their summer vacation. We meet Roselind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. (And there’s Mr. Penderwick, a head-in-the-clouds botanist who likes to quote phrases in Latin.) And it isn’t long before we get to meet Jeffrey, son of Mrs. Tiften, the owner of Arundel. Then we have some wonderful adventures, including a stand-off with a bull, missing bunny-rabbits, and a rope ladder that leads to Jeffrey’s bedroom.

One of the things I love about books like this is how it references other books. Like the whole “Penderwick family honor” thing. That’s a reference to the (motherless) Bastable children in E. Nesbit’s The Treasure Seekers who are seeking to restore their own family’s honour. Birdsall does put her own spin on things. I love the Penderwicks’ little rituals and code words. The MOPS (Meeting of Penderwick Sisters), MOOPS (Meeting of Older Penderwick Sisters), and the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) who’s supposed to keep an eye out for Batty.

On this re-read, the one thing I noticed is the vilification of Mrs. Tifton (and it extends to the other books as well!). Even before we meet Mrs. Tifton, she has a bad name… Harry the Tomato Man calls her “snooty as all get-out.” But we know that she loves Jeffrey. In fact, even though she has a hard time listening to Jeffrey, ultimately she does do what is best for him. BUT, for some reason, she is HATED throughout the books.

I mean ALL the books.

None of the kids like her at all. I wish Jeanne Birdsall had been a little more grey in her depiction. Not that Mrs. Tiften couldn’t be a source of friction. There are some wonderful moments where she obviously gets their names wrong (which shows us that she isn’t really paying attention to the children, even when they correct her). However this ends up as a bit of a plot hole when she greatly insults Roselind regarding Cagney. (From what I’ve been led to believe, I’m surprised Mrs. T even paid enough attention to notice!)

Here’s what I wish… Could Birdsall not have given her redemption in some way? Even if just for Jeffrey’s sake. (At least something to extend to the other books where she isn’t the primary antongist?)

My only other beef with this book (and with the next two books) is Sabrina Starr. I can’t stand Sabrina Starr! Come to think of it, Jane should be my favourite character, since I am drawn to writers (like Jo March). BUT, Jane’s creation of Sabrina Starr irks me. So. Much. And thus, so does Jane. (Sorry, Jane!)

Overall, I love the timeless quality of this book that starts it all. It gave me that feeling of reading Little Women, or Anne of Green Gables, or The Secret Garden or The Treasure Seekers… all books written 100+ years ago! I love the bond between the sisters. Really and truly, I found this book as much as a delight to read as the first time around.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

This book is set on the grounds of Arundel, a beautiful, stately home with wonderful gardens.

On one side of the property, a high stone wall separated the cottage from its neighbors. Along the front and the other side ran a boundary hedge. Skye knew that Mrs. Tifton’s gardens were beyond that hedge. She could walk back up the driveway and through the break in the hedge. Boring, and likely to lead to being caughtit’s hard to hide on a driveway. Or she could crawl through the hedge and emerge in some sheltered garden nook where neither Mrs. Tifton nor anyone else would be likely to see her.

Definitely option two, Skye decided.

The Penderwicks (Chapter 2)


Book #2 // The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

penderwicks2The main story revolves around the Save Daddy Plan. In this book, we get a prologue where we learn that Mrs. Penderwick (who died of cancer shortly after Batty’s birth) has put in place a plan (with the help of Aunt Claire) to get Mr. Penderwick a new wife. This idea horrifies Roselind and she and her sisters go to some length to save their father from their aunt who is trying to get her brother (Mr. P) on some blind dates.

This book takes place at the Penderwicks’ home during the school year. If you’re expecting Jeffrey, he does come into the book, sort of. Instead, we get to know the neighbours across the street: Tommy and Nick Geiger. (They’ll play bigger roles later in the series.)

The plot is all about little deceptions. First we have Roselind and Tommy, who won’t admit their feelings to each other. Then there’s the story of Jane and Skye flipping homework assignments. Jane writes a play for Skye called Sisters and Sacrifice (with Skye as the supposed playwright). But then Skye gets the surprise of her life when her teacher wants present “Skye’s play”, with her in the leading role! Hilarity ensues. Ultimately, this all comes back to Mr. Penderwick’s own little deception.

Which brings me to Marianne.

Yes, when Mr. Penderwick tells the girls about how he is seeing Marianne, I remember guessing right away what was happening here. When Aunt Claire asks Marianne’s last name, he definitely gives it away. (At least to an adult’s eyes.) Although, for some reason Aunt Claire doesn’t get the reference. (And I’m surprised the girls don’t do a search online and figure it out. But, although we do live in a modern world that includes laptops, these girls don’t seem to know about Google…)

Ah, yes. We get a little Parent Trap in this book… (I love The Parent Trap, so this isn’t a problem for me!)

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, Mr. Penderwick is about to go on his second blind date, which has been set up by the girls as part of the Save Daddy Plan. (They are attempting to give him such awful dates that he’ll want to quit dating forever.)

“What did Daddy say in Latin, Skye? Mendax, mendax—?”

Skye was relieved. Latin was easier than feelings. “Mendax, mendax, bracae tuae con—something.”

Conflagrant, I think,” said Rosalind, flipping pages. “I’ll start with mendax. M-e-n-d-e-x. It means liar. Daddy called me a liar!”

“You’d just told him his tie looked great.”

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (Chapter 9)


Book #3 // The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

penderwicks3In this book, Skye is the OAP… the Oldest Available Penderwick. In fact, I can almost see Birdsall saying to herself… Hmm, how do we get Skye to go crazy in this book? Well, let’s make her the OAP. Let’s get rid of the parents (and baby Ben). Let’s take Roselind out of the picture (by sending her to New Jersey). We’ll have to put an adult in (Aunt Claire), but we’ll take her out as soon as we can (with a badly sprained ankle). Let’s get rid of Skye’s special list of instructions (on how to take care of Batty). And bam! Skye’s in a perfect storm for a meltdown.

Like the first book, this is another vacation book. But the absence of Roselind does make things a little more chaotic. One of the funniest parts comes at the beginning before they even leave. Roselind is giving instructions about taking care of Batty. “Rule Five: Batty wears this [life preserver] whenever she’s near the ocean.” Skye points out that since they’re staying on the coast, Batty will ALWAYS be near the ocean. “Then she will always wear it,” insists Roselind. AND the younger Penderwicks (including Batty) completely accept this!

Skye is my favourite Penderwick, so I really did like this book. I loved seeing her stretched to her limit and how she manages to survive her OAP-hood.

By the way, Jeffrey’s back in this book! We see a beautiful mentorship begin between him and Batty as they discover that Batty is actually musical. I love how nobody (in the Penderwick family) believes this musicality is even possible since nobody else in the family has the talent for music. But Jeffrey and Batty have a surprise up their sleeve.

And, come to think of it, so does Birdsall, with regards to the neighbour, Alex. (Although, again, I remember guessing fairly early on, even on my first re-through, what was going to happen.)

Fortunately, this is the final time Sabrina Starr comes into the books. (Unless she makes an appearance in the final book, which I have yet to read.) I still can’t stand Sabrina Starr!

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, Jane is trying to write her first book about romance. But, she realizes that she has no experience with romance. So, she comes up with a Love Survey…

“Do you believe in love at first sight?” she asked out loud.

“Jane, what are you talking about?” It was Skye again, but this time she was only a few feet away. Jane had caught up without noticing.

“She wants to know if we believe in love at first sight,” said Jeffrey.

“More love,” said Skye, now hitting Jane with the paper towels. “As the OAP, I demand you don’t mention love for the whole rest of the day.”

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette (Chapter 5)


Book #4 // The Penderwicks in Spring

penderwicks4 Fast forward several years. When I first read this book, it took me awhile to realize that quite a few years had passed since the events of the previous book. (The one set at Point Mouette.)

In fact, in this book, the three oldest Penderwicks are hardly in it. I mean, they are, but they are not the protagonists. Actually, Skye (my favourite!) has the role of sort-of antagonist in this book. :/

Instead, Batty is the now “oldest” along with brother Ben, and little sister, Lydia. She starts a dog-walking business to help pay for singing lessons. Except the singing lessons are a secret, one she’s not even ready to share with Ben!

Batty and Ben have a nice relationship going. Batty is excitedly awaiting her birthday, but her older sisters make life difficult. Roselind brings home some crazy boyfriend from college. Skye is angry with Jeffrey and won’t let him come visit, much to Batty’s disappointment. And then Batty overhears something that throws her into turmoil.

One of the stars of this book is the neighbour, Nick Geiger. He’s home, on leave from the Army. He’s sports-crazy, but surprisingly he has a wonderful bond with Batty (who has NO interest in sports, whatsoever!) And, to tell you the truth, I think his character has developed much more than Tommy. Or even Jeffrey, at this point!

(Hooray! Sabrina Starr is gone!)

A Favourite Quote from the Book

This is a conversation between Batty and Ben, two of the “younger” Penderwicks (not including 2-year-old Lydia).

But Batty was already blocking the door again, wedging a chair under the doorknob. Then she turned down the music so that they could better hear each other. “I’m glad you’re here. I’m calling a MOYPS.”

“Another one? we just had one.”

… “MOYPS come to

“What about Lydia? She should be here if it’s a meeting of the younger Penderwicks.”

“This is really just for you. We’ll call it a MOBAB, Meeting of Batty and Ben, okay? Please?”

The Penderwicks in Spring (Chapter 18)


Book #5 // The Penderwicks at Last

penderwicks5And this brings me to the final book… which I haven’t read yet.

I don’t know if I’m setting myself up for disappointment… Perhaps. I don’t always like final books in series. So, I’m trying not to think too much about what this book might be about. (I have my suspicions about what she’s going to do.)

The only thing I will say here is that I really like how they designed all the covers for the series. The silhouettes are beautiful. I think perhaps that is partly what helps give the books their old-fashioned feel.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read these books? Which Penderwick is your favourite? Do you hate Sabrina Starr as much as I do? (Or, maybe you love Sabrina Starr!) I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! (And if you’ve already read The Penderwicks at Last, please don’t give me any spoilers!)

It Take Three Strikes

20171112ma_5277Years ago, when I’d crack open a book, I knew I was in it for the long haul. If I committed to reading the book, I would finish it… no matter what. Yes, no matter what.

(I’m guessing this is probably (most likely) due to school. We are assigned a book and we have to read it for class or do a report on it or whatever.)

But now things have changed.

For me, most of my reading is (supposed to be) for pleasure. So, when I crack open a book, and for whatever reason I’m not liking it, I’ve found that it’s okay to give myself the luxury of NOT FINISHING THE BOOK.

Yes, it’s okay to not finish a book.

Really.

Now, this came as a bit of a revelation to me.

By nature, I’m a rule-follower. I always felt this (perhaps unwritten) rule that once you start a book, you need to finish it. But for what purpose? What if the book is poorly written? What if I can’t stand the plot? Or the characters? What if…? What if…?

As I stated above, I’m a rule-follower. So, I created a new rule for me to follow.

What I call”My Three Strike Rule”.

This is how it works. I always start with fresh optimism that this book may become one of my favourite books. (And sometimes it does! Hooray!)

But, sometimes, the book gets strikes. Strikes can range from lousy writing to too much historical inaccuracy to too much profanity. (Aside: If every other sentence features the f-bomb, I’m probably not going to stick around.) Or sometimes I’ll just realize I’m not actually enjoying this read. For any of the above, that’s when I’ll say to myself (and yes, often I say this out loud to myself): “Strike One”.

Now, I am pretty kind when it comes to giving strikes. If it’s a minor thing, I may ignore it at first. When it starts to get on my nerves, but it’s still not THAT big of a deal, I may even give it only a half strike. My hope, always, is that the book will just get better. (And sometimes it does! Yay!)

But sadly, in my experience, once I’ve identified a strike, or even a half-strike, it usually goes downhill from there. Strike Two. Strike Three. DNF.

A few years back, this happened to me with a book that took a modern-day girl into the world of Little Women. Now, I love this kind of book. Except when it messes with the original book too much.

(Note: If you’ve never read Little Women, this next bit contains SPOILERS.)

In this case, this book messed with Amy. Now, to be perfectly honest, Amy has never been my favourite character. And as a kid, I wanted Jo to marry Laurie just as much as anybody. I ranted at Louisa May Alcott for what she did. But, I’ve also come to accept Amy and Laurie as a couple (although I do wish Alcott had left Jo single instead of marrying her off to the Professor). But even though I don’t care for the Professor as  marriage material, I know and accept that Little Women is Little Women. And just as you cannot change history, I believe you cannot change book history.

So, as I was reading this modern take on Little Women, I began to see what the author was doing. She was getting rid of the real, true Amy of the book! Louisa May Alcott’s creation. And then she was arranging for things to be different for Jo and Laurie.

Yes, here’s the point where I gave the story my first strike.

Why was that a strike for me? Because I think the author of this book missed Alcott’s point. Amy didn’t steal Laurie from Jo. Even if Amy never existed, I still think  Jo would not have married Laurie. And while I wish in my heart of hearts that Jo could love Laurie as he loved her, sometimes that just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in real life. (Marriage didn’t happen for Alcott.) And so, it doesn’t always happen in book life.

Did this book get three strikes? Absolutely, yes, it did. Probably about half-way through. I can’t remember the exact point anymore. I do remember peeking at the end of the book to see if I was right about the author’s intent. I was. If I was a book thrower, I would have thrown that book across the room. (I’m not and I didn’t.)

So, I’m glad I did not feel obligated to finish this book in any way.

What about you? Do you have any rule for finishing or not finishing a book?