Review: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

duchess-of-bloomsbury-streetBook: The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (1973)
Author: Helene Hanff
Genre: Adult, Memoir
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: This is the sequel (of sorts) to 84, Charing Cross Road. In this memoir, Helene Hanff finally makes it to London. And it’s here that she becomes the “Duchess of Bloomsbury Street”.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I loved touring London through the eyes of Helene Hanff. The book is in the form of a diary she wrote during her stay (from June to July 1971). She records all her first impressions, and I felt like I was on the tour with her.

2) I enjoyed meeting a whole new cast of characters in this book… all the different people who took Helene around London and over to Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon. This includes Frank’s wife Nora, P.B. (of the succinct notes), Leo and Ena Marks, and so many others.

3) My favourite quote in the book: “I despair of ever getting it through anybody’s head I am not interested in bookshops, I am interested in what’s written in the books. I don’t browse in bookshops, I browse in libraries, where you can take a book home and read it, and if you like it you go to a bookshop and buy it.” (Entry for Friday, July 2) 

My thoughts exactly!

4) I loved the part when she gets the cheque from Reader’s Digest, meaning she can stay a little longer. I think I was celebrating as she much as she did in the book!

5) As she neared the end of her stay (and the end of the book), she exactly captured that feeling of “I only have so much time left”. And the “I don’t want to go home!” feeling. I felt the same way reading this book. I didn’t want it to end. 😦

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Nothing to add here!

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book was really a wonderful read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was so close to giving it 5 stars, but when I compare it to 84, Charing Cross Road, it doesn’t quite have the magic. But it’s close. (If you haven’t read my review for that book, check it out here.)


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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5 Reasons Why I Liked Winnie’s Great War

Here’s a book that I hoped I would like that actually lived up to expectations. While it’s written for the MG crowd, it’s definitely meant for more than just kids.

And yes, I think I’ll give this book 5 Stars!

Here are my 5 reasons why I loved this book…

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

Winnies-great-war#1 – Winnie!

What a delightful bear! She’s so curious and kind. I love how she’s able to speak to all the animals and how the authors relate this to the Great War itself. This could be heavy-handed, but it’s not. It’s just right.

The part of the book that describes her antics at sea is cute! And I especially liked the story when Harry makes a bet. He bets the general that Winnie can find a hidden sock at their training facilities in England. Does Winnie win Harry’s bet? I’m not telling!

#2 – The Illustrations

The illustrations by Sophie Blackall are enchanting. I wish there were more of them! Especially as this is a book I could see reading to kids. They’re all black and white sketches. There are some delightful full-page spreads… Of Winnie at the train station when she first meets Harry; of Winnie and Harry at Stonehenge; of Winnie when she first comes to the zoo.

#3 – The History

I love history. So, I loved all the history in this book. World War I has always fascinated me, so I definitely liked reading about that aspect of it. It’s not heavily about the war since Winnie doesn’t actually experience life in the trenches. (There’s a moment where Harry realizes what that would mean, and so he makes the very hard decision to leave Winnie in the care of the London Zoo.)

There’s also the history of Winnie, herself… and how she came to inspire one of the most famous fictional bears in history! There’s a section at the back of the book that has pictures of Harry and of the diary entry where he notes that he bought Winnie for $20. There’s also a photo of Christopher Robin Milne standing next to the real Winnie at the zoo! Oh, my… they really did let people into the enclosure with a bear!

Note: One of the authors (and the narrator of the story) is Lindsay Mattick who is Harry Colebourne’s great-granddaughter.

#4 – The Inter-Narrations

I really enjoyed when the mom (who’s telling the story to her son) gives us a little taste of what’s true in the story!

These little interjections are set apart in italics. Sometimes Cole (the son) will interrupt his mom’s story to ask about something. I liked how the book was able to deal with some of the tougher issues using this device.

#5 – The Literary Allusions to A.A. Milne’s Classic

Reading this book includes the wonderful experience of finding little Easter eggs that allude to A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh! But I’m glad they’re not over-done. In fact, some people may not even notice them. If you love Pooh Bear, they’re subtle, but they’re there. (And yes, as soon as I finished this book, I just had re-read Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh!)


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? Did you love it as much as me? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow

clockwork-sparrowBook: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow
Author: Katherine Woodfine
Genre: MG, Historical/Mystery
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Sinclair’s, a new department store in London, is approaching its grand opening. But then, the priceless Clockwork Sparrow is stolen. It’s up to Sophie, Lilian, Billy, and Joe to figure just who the villains are and to return the Clockwork Sparrow to its rightful home.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I liked the atmosphere around the opening of the department store: Sinclair’s. I thought the little petty competition between the shop girls was nicely done. This certainly made me like Sophie more. And of course Lil.

2) Which brings me to Sophie and Lil… The two characters are opposites and nicely complement each other. Lil is spontaneous and self-confident. Sophie is more proper and refined.

3) I liked that the mysterious Baron remains mysterious.

4) This book has secret tunnels! Did you get that? Secret. Tunnels. Under London. Ah, who doesn’t like a secret tunnel?

5) The book cover is wonderful. It’s even better in real life. The gold lettering against the blue. The silhouettes are especially fun.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) While I liked the boys (Billy and Joe), I felt it almost too early for them to join the cast. I hardly know the girls and I think the boys might have been better suited to being introduced in later books???

2) The mystery was okay. However, what I don’t understand is why the grown-ups are not looking out for the young people. The Private Detective says at the end that he had a man shadowing Sophie, so… Hmm… Without spoiling the plot, all I can say is I don’t get why they didn’t ACTUALLY protect her.

3) Things were a little too neatly tied up at the end of the book. Like the location of the clockwork sparrow and how it is discovered. Really? (Is the Baron that careless?)

4) The word “bomb” felt out of place in this book world. I would have preferred the word “explosives” instead of “bomb”. It’s supposed to be prior to World War I. I don’t know how much the word “bomb” would have been on the tongues of the people in this world. It felt wrong.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked the story. I loved the setting in the department store. I’m being a little picky here, but there were just a few things that took me out of the story. There are two more sequels. I’m not rushing out to get them, but I will probably give them a go and see where the next mystery leads us.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Don’t you just love that book cover? (The cover looks even better in person!) I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

5 Reasons Why I Liked A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens always amazes me. I’ve been meaning to read this book for some 20 years. Maybe longer. Why did I wait this long? I ask you…

Five stars. Yes, there’s a reason why this book is so famous. And after (finally) reading, I’m in complete agreement. It was wonderful. And without further adieu, I’ll give my 5 reasons why I loved this book…

A Tale of Two Cities // by Charles Dickens

#1 – The Purple Prose

tale-of-two-citesI don’t always like purple prose. But Charles Dickens is the master. And yes, there’s a lot of purple prose in this book. Just look at the opening lines… possibly the most famous lines Dickens ever wrote (although A Christmas Carol might give this one a run for its money)… These lines are absolutely beautiful.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

(Book the First, Chapter 1)

What’s amazing about those lines is that they actually mean something to the story. Sure, it’s purple prose, but it demonstrates the dual-nature, the good and the bad, of the French Revolution. Dickens’ point is that the peasants needed relief from the tyranny of the aristocrats… But the bloody results made this the worst of the times.

But, that’s not our only example. This book is chock-full. Here’s a less familiar quote, but it’s equally just as poignant:

He had never seen the instrument that was to terminate his life. How high it was from the ground, how many steps it had, where he would be stood, how he would be touched, whether the touching hands would be dyed red, which way his face would be turned, whether he would be the first, or might be the last: these and many similar questions, in nowise directed by his will, obtruded themselves over and over again, countless times…

The hours went on as he walked to and fro, and the clocks struck the numbers he would never hear again. Nine gone for ever, ten gone for ever, eleven gone for ever, twelve coming on to pass away.

(Book the Third, Chapter 13)

If you love words, you’re in for a treat.

#2 – The Characters

I loved old Mr. Lorry (that man of business!). And the Doctor. And Lucie and Darnay. And Sydney Carton. Okay, Sydney was my favourite from early on in the book… in spite of the fact that he drinks too much!

And then we have an assortment of true Dickensian characters. You know the ones. The caricatures… the larger-than-life creatures that inhabit every novel by Charles Dickens. There’s the old codger, Jerry Cruncher (who made me furious with how he treated his wife!)… And Miss Pross (who plays a role in the story I didn’t anticipate)… And the three Jacques (who inhabitant of the wine shop in Paris)…

Which bring me to the antagonists of the book: M. and Mme. Defarge. What complex feelings they stirred within me. One minute, I was hating them, and another minute, feeling pity for their long-suffering. (I have hope for M. Defarge at the end of the book, although his fate after the last chapter is untold.)

And most of all… I loved seeing how all the characters come together at the end. It never ceases to impress me how Dickens manages it all.

#3 – The Themes and Symbols

Reading this book brought me back to my course of study at university: Literature! We studied other works by Dickens (Great Expectations and David Copperfield), but not this one. What I love about writers like Dickens is that there is so much to be digested in terms of themes and the symbolism he works into his novels.

The symbolism of twos. Two cities. Two heroes. Even Miss Pross and Mr. Cruncher make an interesting two-some!

The symbolism of feet and shoes. Lucie hears phantom footsteps. Doctor Manette, in time of great distress, sets to work making shoes. The fact that time ever marches forward, marking out our path in life. (I feel an essay coming on!)

Then there’s the images of wine and blood that permeate the story. After all, it IS the French Revolution.

But best of all, I loved the theme of resurrection that runs through the book. The story starts with Doctor Manette being “recalled to life”. And the theme keeps popping up. Even in the macabre grave-robbing scene involving Mr. Cruncher. And finally to Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. (Note: I did a blog post earlier this year about the theme of resurrection in books. Here’s one more book to add to that list!)

#4 – The History

This book was a historical novel even in Dickens’ day. And boy, does it bring to life the reality of the French Revolution like no other. The chapters devoted to the Storming of the Bastille, the frenzied state of Paris, the blood-soaked paving stones gives us a vivid picture of the Reign of Terror. It’s not like reading the history books. (Maybe it’s all that purple prose!)

And yet, it feels so real. It doesn’t feel like a historical novel. At least not like the historical novels written today. (Sometimes, those books just feel like they’re historical novels.)

And finally, let’s just say that reading this book makes me very glad I am not living in Paris at the time of the French Revolution. Or as Dickens would say: “The new era… the Republic of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death…” (Book the Third, Chapter 4)

#5 – The Ending

This is a wonderful story of sacrifice. If you haven’t read the book, I won’t give spoilers. But if you have, you will know what I mean. As I was reading, it reminded me of the movie, Casablanca. I love that movie because of the sacrifice at the end of the story.

Back to A Tale of Two Cities. I did guess (partly) what would happen by the story’s end, although, there were various possibilities. The suspense was well-played. Which brings me to my next comparison: The Scarlet Pimpernel. Perhaps this is just a French Revolution thing going on here, but trying to get our characters out of the city of Paris (with their heads intact) is a harrowing read.

I also love the glimpse into the future that we get at the very end.


YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? Did you love it as much as me? Let me know in the comments!