That's kind of strange, because I don't normally love YA novels aimed at teenage girls, even though I fall squarely in that tar...moreThis book blew me away.
That's kind of strange, because I don't normally love YA novels aimed at teenage girls, even though I fall squarely in that target audience. Of the several I've read, I've liked most of them - The Secret Society of the Pink Crystal Ball springs to mind, or the million interchangeable Sarah Dessens, or Saving Juliet or Enthusiasm. I like these books. I enjoy them. But I don't normally recommend them to anyone; they're private guilty pleasures, the kind of novel you pull out on a sunny day and read with a Snickers bar and some lemonade. I read them, I smile, I put them back on the shelf and move on.
Not this book. It's short, not even 250 pages, but in that short span it made me laugh, cry, cry some more, and eventually look up from the last page beaming, shivering, gulping down strangling tears and wishing I could find Melina Marchetta and hug her.
It's funny, but it's not a funny book. It's wrenching, and it deals with dark situations, but it's not, it's never, depressing. It's uplifting and inspiring, but it's not an "inspirational" book.
It's just about teenagers, and their families, and their friends, and how really tough it is to figure out who you are and who you want to be and where you want to go and how you want to live. But it's not full of obnoxious teenage angst and sweaty parties and beer. It's about being who you want to be, and finding out who that is.
Whoever Melina Marchetta is, wherever she lives, thank god for her. This is the kind of book that makes being a teenager possible.(less)
Starting off, I'd better say I am not an Edith Wharton fan. Like, at all. I'd rather run a mile than read The House of Mirth again. So normally, I wou...moreStarting off, I'd better say I am not an Edith Wharton fan. Like, at all. I'd rather run a mile than read The House of Mirth again. So normally, I would never have picked up this book. "Ugh! Edith Wharton? Probably depressing and miserable...like everything else she wrote."
A very good and much-loved friend of mine, Irene Goldman-Price, is a (wonderful) Wharton scholar, and she compiled, translated (from Edith's AWFUL handwriting), transcribed, annotated, and enhanced Edith's letters to her former governess, Anna Bahlmann. Irene is an excellent writer and an incredible scholar, but her book isn't pedantic or dull. The focus is on the letters, and the brief introductions to each chapter and to every few letters make the letters themselves even more entertaining.
Edith Wharton, however sad her books are, was a great writer. Her letters, especially the cheerful ones, are absolutely delightful. Without Irene, I would never have picked this up, let alone given it five stars, but because a) Irene is an excellent writer and an even more amazing person, b) she obviously knows everything about her topic and c) it's an unparallelled collection of letters, the book deserves all of its accolades.
Deirdre LeFaye's edition of Austen's letters is confusing, especially the notes, and there's a lot of excess nonsense. There is nothing like that here. It's concise, touching, well-written, and intelligent. Thank goodness for Irene Goldman-Price.(less)
The last time I cried at a book was The Once and Future King, and that was when I was alone. This time I was in the middle of a crowd and I cried anyw...moreThe last time I cried at a book was The Once and Future King, and that was when I was alone. This time I was in the middle of a crowd and I cried anyway.
This book and I met in the Strand, where it was on sale half-price, which is pretty much why I bought it. (And it has a connection to Louisa May Alcot...moreThis book and I met in the Strand, where it was on sale half-price, which is pretty much why I bought it. (And it has a connection to Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women." Obviously.) I was doubtful - no one, I thought, could write letters as if they were Jo March's, and no one could invent events as much fun as in the original book. A modern family of sisters to compare with the Marches? I don't think so.
Ha! I was so wrong.
The first two pages convinced me that I had been hideously judgemental, and that this was a book I will cherish forever and probably never forget, even though that is a horrible hackneyed term. It's true, though. One of Jo's letters appears on the very first page, and it sounds so authentically Jo March that I had to blink and rub my eyes a few times to make sure I wasn't dreaming, or something. Jo's letters, interspersed through the book, were worth the price alone - and the plot threads of the modern-day Atwater family were just as good.
Lulu Atwater, the middle Atwater sister, finds a packet of her great-grandmother's (great-great? rats, can't remember) letters in the attic of her parents' house in London, and as she goes through a crisis of having no idea what to do with her life she reads the letters. Her other two sisters, Emma, the older, and Sophie, the younger, have their own plots, which are just as engrossing, and I was surprised to find myself on the edge of my seat, drumming my fingers anxiously on the table, when the plot takes a turn for the worse and one of our sisters ends up in a possibly fatal situation. (No more spoilers, promise.)
The three sisters really caught me up in their troubles and I cheered for them all the way. Emma, who is just a bit too perfect - calm, controlled, steady, easily pleased, rarely angry, blah blah blah - showed some signs of character flaws after the first few chapters, thank heaven, and I really liked her after the Josephine shoe drama. Lulu is a very attractive character even if she didn't have quite enough gumption and didn't seem to know what on earth she was doing with herself; but she's still a great character, because she recovers by the end, and Sophie, who is irresponsible, carefree, and extremely beautiful, was lots of fun. All the peripheral characters interested me, too - Charlie, Jamie, Tom, Fee, David, okay, I'm not going to list all the peripheral characters, there are too many.
Most books I dash off in a day, but I made myself savor this one for two or three, wanting to stay in the Atwaters' world for a bit longer. It's a lovely place to visit. The ending was satisfying and it was character-driven enough that I definitely, definitely got my money's worth. (Especially since it was half-price.)
So, after this wonderful, light, cheerful book, my world has gone very rosy-colored. It's lovely.
**spoiler alert** This is probably one of the most disturbing books I have ever read, but it's also one of the most poignant. The book intertwines two...more**spoiler alert** This is probably one of the most disturbing books I have ever read, but it's also one of the most poignant. The book intertwines two stories: that of Sarah Starzynski, a ten-year-old girl imprisoned in the Vel' d'Hiv' by the French police in 1942 for being Jewish, and Julia Jarmond, a forty-five-year-old journalist and mother with a failing marriage and a very late pregnancy.
For the first half of the book, the two stories alternate chapters (and fonts), forming two separate, cohesive narratives. From the beginning, I was more interested in Sarah's story than Julia's, and nothing happened to change this as the book went on. Sarah was imprisoned in a velodrome by the French police, acting on orders from the Nazis, then deported to a camp with unspeakable sanitary conditions and cruelty and separated from her parents. Her family had been rounded up in the middle of the night, and to save her four-year-old brother, she locked him in a hidden cupboard in their apartment, thinking they would soon come back to rescue him. But they didn't come back. The family is torn apart, and in the end only Sarah survives the horror of the Holocaust.
Sixty years later, Julia is given an article to write on the Vel' d'Hiv' roundups. About half of her part of the novel is devoted to the roundups; the rest is how she no longer loves her husband after he insists she must abort her child since he doesn't want to be an "old dad" (i.e., he's having a midlife crisis). Sarah's immensely moving story is diluted by Julia's soap-opera narrative; Sarah is brave, strong, weary, and older than her age; Julia is self-absorbed, whiny, and prone to irritating and melodramatic bursts of feeling. She often puts people in very uncomfortable situations so that she can have her limelight. She complains continuously about her husband but doesn't actually bother to listen to what he's trying to tell her. And she cries for about a third of the novel.
Because of Julia's inability to compare with Sarah's shocking and moving story, I can't give this book more than four stars. Sarah lived through one of the most awful episodes in the history of life; Julia got a divorce. The two narratives jar with each other. After Sarah's narration leaves off, I was hard-pressed to stay awake through Julia's whinings. Once she began her serious quest to find Sarah Starzynski, I woke up a bit, but as soon as she reverted to her sobs and complaints, I turned the page.
But this is a book that deserves a recommendation. It's heart-wrenching, shocking, and searing. All the cliches are true. It is a book that I will never forget. (less)
I'll start by saying that I wish Desiree was my best friend, I'm intensely glad Napoleon is dead and buried long ago, and I would marry Jean-Baptiste...moreI'll start by saying that I wish Desiree was my best friend, I'm intensely glad Napoleon is dead and buried long ago, and I would marry Jean-Baptiste in a heartbeat. Annemarie Selinko's characters are so well-formed and rounded that I really feel like I know them - Desiree especially. She's compelling, appealing, funny, clever, brave, and all-around wonderful.
I don't know how much of this book is accurate - there's a brief author's note at the end saying that Selinko changed around some of history for the novel, because it is, after all, a novel - but I'm willing to believe in all of it. Desiree captured me from the very first page; I had to force myself to read slowly, not rush through the book, savor it. I cheered for her, cried for her, laughed with her, cringed with her. She is definitely one of my very favorite heroines.
The Napoleonic Wars were complicated and dangerous, but I knew very little about them. Now I know considerably more; but I don't feel that I've been bombarded with politics, or that political intricacies have been forced down my throat. For Desiree, the politics of her time were here, now, personal. So they were personal for me, too, at least for a short time.
Antonia Fraser's brilliant biography takes its readers on a sweeping journey through the French Revolution and the years leading up to it. The book de...moreAntonia Fraser's brilliant biography takes its readers on a sweeping journey through the French Revolution and the years leading up to it. The book debunks myths and presents scandals such as the affair of the necklace clearly and succintly, presenting only the facts with few surmises offered - the ones she does offer are clearly backed up by the facts. In this remarkable book, Marie Antoinette emerges as a brave, intelligent, amazing woman, flawed, but not as drastically as her enemies insisted.
From the time Maria Antonia is born in Austria to when Marie Antoinette is beheaded in front of a mob, this book held my attention and me captured. People (and there are a LOT of people, occasionally to the point of confusion) are presented concisely in ways that nevertheless outline their characters to perfection. Maria Teresa, to whom I don't think I'd ever given half a thought, is now the object of searing dislike - which is one of the more negative opinions I formed during the reading of this book. Her letters to Antoinette were harsh, cruel, vindictive, tyrannical - if my mother was anything like that, I'd run away. Through Fraser's measured prose, Maria Teresa is given an outline to which Fraser herself contributes next to nothing besides what M.T. did and what she said, leaving her readers to form their own opinions.
Despite my negative opinion of Antoinette's mother, my opinion of Antoinette herself is much more positive. Before this book, I'd seen her as an extravagant spendthrift, throwing money around with no thought for the French economy or for France's citizens. I was obviously very wrong. Antoinette was extravagant, and she did spend in excess, but that was the result of loneliness and unhappiness - an unconsummated marriage, cruel letters from her mother bemoaning her lack of children, a court watching her do everything - put on her rouge, wash her hands. She may have been very extravagant, but she was also intelligent, brave, and compassionate; she refused to drive carriages over peasants' fields because she knew that it would harm the crops. This picture is one completely at odds with the callous, ignorant "Let them eat cake" or modern mythology. Antoinette can never be justified entirely, but she does not deserve the simplistic vilification most often poured on her head.
The thing that bothered me most about this book was Fraser's insistence that Antoinette and the Swedish count, Axel Fersen, were in a romantic (and carnal) relationship. Though the entire rest of this book is based on careful research and solid facts, Fraser insists that they DID have an affair, and despite lack of any real evidence, Fraser continually tells the reader that they must have had an affair, must have slept together, must have been very clever at concealing it, must have, must have, must have. I for one am quite skeptical that Antoinette and Fersen ever did have an affair - it's not an assumption borne out by the facts. Fraser basically guesses based on a series of possibly unconnected things and an offhand comment of a courtier. She admits that there is a lack of concrete evidence to support this affair, though she also says that in one of Fersen's notebooks detailing the letters he sent "Josephine" must mean the Queen, though there was a maid by the same name also mixed up in the notebook. But she still insists that Fersen and Antoinette had an affair and even that they spent one more night together before their last parting - and this is very annoying.
In a footnote about Marie Antoinette's last Communion, Fraser says that Abbe Cholet, a non-juror, gave Antoinette her Communion, though this is pretty improbable. She goes on to say, "However, with this pious story, as with the romantic one of Fersen's last love-making in the Tuileries, one cannot help hoping it was true."
One certainly can! Linking "this pious story" to the rather sordid idea that Fersen and Antoinette slept together on the night of February 13 is ridiculous. I for one can definitely help hoping that the story is true. The affair of Fersen and Antoinette has never quite rung true - there is so little evidence, so much guesswork, that any ideas on the topic can be purely speculation. Fraser seems to forget this, and takes the possibly mythical affair as the gospel truth.
But, in spite of this odd aberrations, this is an excellent description of the life of Marie Antoinette. It's well-researched, well-written, well-presented and well-described. And it completely debunks the ridiculous myth of "Let them eat cake."(less)
I. Have finally. Gotten this. I. Am So. Excited. I. Cannot. Stop. Talking like this. _____________________________________________________
After I finis...moreI. Have finally. Gotten this. I. Am So. Excited. I. Cannot. Stop. Talking like this. _____________________________________________________
After I finished this, I could not stop smiling. I carried the book around under my arm for a while; I pulled it out to grin at the cover; I talked endlessly about how good it was while I cooked dinner. (My distraction probably accounted for how unfortunate the chicken was.) After Austenland, I was sure this one couldn't be half as good, because A. is so, so good.
For the first fifty pages I could feel my stomach filling with dread. It wasn't that funny. I didn't like Charlotte. I didn't like Mr. Mallery. I didn't like Pembrook Park being scary. WHAT WAS HAPPENING???
Then suddenly, it got funny. I started to laugh. Charlotte turned into an awesome heroine. Mr. Mallery...well, let's just say good riddance. I delayed making dinner for almost half an hour so I could finish the last hundred pages.
Despite being even more wildly far-fetched than the original Austenland book, this new one is funny, biting, fast-paced, and sweet. Once I'd finished I spent the next hour grinning and dazed, my head in the world of Charlotte and Eddie and Mallery and Miss Charming. And dinner turned out to be kind of...unfortunate.
Oh what a wonderful read. Despite being somewhat inaccurately shelved in the "Young Readers" section of my bookstore ("Young Readers"? "Young Readers"...moreOh what a wonderful read. Despite being somewhat inaccurately shelved in the "Young Readers" section of my bookstore ("Young Readers"? "Young Readers"!), this is one of the rare children/young adult books that is not only accessible to just about everyone, regardless of age, but is also written so well that it takes away your breath.
Is Shannon Hale just the best writer ever, or what?(less)
This is one of the best books I've read recently, and I really, really enjoyed it. Since there had been so many comparisons to "I Capture the Castle"...moreThis is one of the best books I've read recently, and I really, really enjoyed it. Since there had been so many comparisons to "I Capture the Castle" in the reviews I'd read, I compared it to that incomparable book for about half of this one, but they're completely different beasts and so are only compared to each other to the detriment of both.
It's not like "I Capture the Castle;" it misses the charming eccentricity that Dodie Smith captures so adroitly. It's full of fascinating characters and has 1, 2, 3, or possibly 4 love stories at the center, and if I felt a little anticlimactic at the end, so what? I enjoyed it up till the epilogue and at times I laughed out loud. (I rarely do that while reading.)
This book takes several time-worn cliches and turns them into something fresh and new. It's a light, and bright, and sparkling book in all the best ways. I can't honestly compare it to "Pride and Prejudice" or "I Capture the Castle" but I shouldn't have to! It's a marvelous book in its own right, with no ties to anything else. It's a really fantastic, original book and I am so glad to have finally read it.(less)