Monday, January 28, 2013

"Pies and Prejudice" by Heather Vogel Frederick

Since today is the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice, I figure it's the perfect time to review this book, which I finished on Friday and then never managed to write about over the weekend.

Pies and Prejudice is the fourth book in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, which, as you might guess, is a bunch of mothers and daughters who are all friends and have formed a book club.  I have never read one of these books before, and at first, it took me a while to get into the swing of it, possibly because I'm no longer a fifteen-year-old girl.  There are four girls in the club, and they take turns narrating, chapter by chapter.  The book covers basically an entire school year and mirrors much of Pride and Prejudice as far as the various girls' budding romantic relationships go.  This book is not only told in first person, but also present tense.  If you're not a fan of present tense as a rule, don't let that deter you from reading this -- I was about four chapters in before I realized it was in use. 

When Emma and her family move to England for a year, they swap houses with a British family with two sons.  The other girls start a pie-baking company to raise money to bring Emma home for spring break.  The book club as a whole read Pride and Prejudice.  And the girls go through various problems in their own lives, making good and bad decisions, dealing with requited and unrequited attractions, figuring out what they want to be when they grow up.  By the end of the book, I was friends with all four, and I definitely intend to read the other books in this series (especially since the latest one involves Jane Eyre).

Not only was this book engaging, well-written, and thought-provoking, it was squeaky clean!  It's sad how rare really clean young adult books are, isn't it?  But there was nary a curse word here, no one engaged in any boy-girl activities more serious than a bit of kissing, and the children have good relationships with their parents!  Not only that, but there was mention of church-going, and a Bible passage got quoted at one point.  Not an overtly Christian book, but not anti-Christian either.  I may end up having to buy these to read with my own daughters one day!

This is my first entry into the "Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge" over on

"Pride and Prejudice" Bicentenary Challenge

I am participating in the "Pride and Prejudice" Bicentenary Challenge as set forth here on  I am aiming for the the Neophyte range (1-4 selections), though we shall see what I manage.  I intend to read:

1.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
2.  Pies and Prejudice by Heather Vogel Frederick
3.  The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough

I also intend to watch at least one movie version, probably the 2005.

I may manage more than this, but we shall see.

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Care of Wooden Floors" by Will Wiles

I did not like this book, even though it made me laugh.  And I almost always like books that make me laugh, so this is something of a rarity.

I liked it at first, for its quirky descriptions and for the protagonist's tendency to get himself into ever-escalating scrapes, the sort that happen to me.  You know, set the cup too close to the edge, it falls and splashes something sticky all over the clean floor, and then someone (for me, a child, for him, a cat) walks in it and tracks the stickiness everywhere.  Mishaps, really.  My life is flooded with them.

The protagonist, who remains nameless, flies to an unnamed Eastern European country to house-sit his friend Oskar's apartment and cats for a couple weeks.  Oskar is a fastidious composer whose apartment contains magnificent wooden floors.  He leaves little notes all over the apartment to help his friend care for the floors, the cats, the pristine piano, and so on.

Things do not go well.  At all.

Now, I'm going to spoil the ending with my criticism here, so if you think you want to read this book and don't want to know how it ends, close this and come back when you're done.

You've been duly warned.

Okay, so why didn't I like this book?  It's not because of the fair amount of cursing or the scene where the protagonist unwittingly winds up at a low-class strip joint.  It's not because a cat and a person die.  (I did warn you about the spoilage.)  It's because at the very end, the protagonist is handed a get-out-of-jail-free card.  He faces zero consequences for his actions, his mishaps, his cover-up of another person's death.  He just gets to hop on a plane back to England, supposedly having learned to value his own messy life after trying to inhabit a spotless one.

That being said, the writing was superb, and I did stay riveted to every last squirm-inducing detail of the hapless protagonist's travails.

Particularly Good Bits:

Furniture is like that.  Used and enjoyed as intended, it absorbs that experience and exudes it back into the atmosphere, but if simply bought for effect and left to languish in a corner, it vibrates with melancholy. 

The mixing of bookshelves in a relationship is a gesture of vast, almost foolhardy, mutual trust, and Oskar wasn't able to live on the same continent as his wife, let alone jumble up the contents of his library with hers.

How was the concert?  I have been asked this before by people, on the rare occasions that I have attended concerts, and I have never known what to say.  Normally, I would just reply: 'Oh, very good.'  By this I mean:  'There were no obvious mistakes.  No notes were missed in such a clunkingly apparent fashion that I was able to detect the error.  No one forgot how to play their instrument halfway through.  No one ran amok in the audience.  Nothing caught fire.  Music played and I was so bored that my hair was bored.'

If This was a Movie it Would be Rated: R for language and sexual situations.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"Random Harvest" by James Hilton

I picked this book up at a library book sale a while ago because I had rather liked the movie by the same name, though it has been years since I saw it.  Finally felt like reading it, and it sucked me in so much, I think I finished it in 4 days, which is pretty remarkable, since lately it's taking me almost two weeks to finish most novels.

It concerns Charles Ranier, a member of Parliament and leader in the London business world during the 1930s.  He was wounded in the trenches of WWI, and lost his memory.  When he regained it, the war was long over, and he could remember nothing that had happened from the time he got wounded until he woke up on a park bench in the rain.  The novel weaves together both parts of his past, finally presenting a unified whole by the end.  

There's a delightful twist on the last page that is about all I remembered from the movie.  I raced through the last few pages to see if it would end the same, and was sooooooooo relieved to find it did.

Greer Garson and Ronald Colman in the 1942 movie

Particularly Good Bits:

"...if there is one thing more mentally upsetting to a family than death, it must be (on account of its rarity) resurrection."

"The war was over... but now what?  The dead were still dead; no miracle of human signature could restore limbs and sight and sanity; the grinding hardships of those four years could not be wiped out by a headline."

If This was a Movie it Would be Rated:  PG for a little bad language.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"The Abracadabra Kid" by Sid Fleischman

I can't remember which Sid Fleischman book I read first.  I think it was probably By the Great Horn Spoon.  But it might have been Humbug or Jingo Django.  Or even The Whipping Boy, which I didn't actually realize was written by the same guy until I started reading this book.  I associated his name with the off-kilter humor of his children's books set in the west, like the first two I mentioned.  A few months ago, I stumbled across, which features a page of tips for writers drawn from his autobiography, aka this book.

I knew at once that I wanted to read that autobiography, but my library didn't have it, so I put it on my Christmas list and, lucky me, my mom got it for me!  Of the five books I got for Christmas, this is the one I chose to read first, and I'm so glad I did, as it's loads of fun.  

Fleischman begins with his childhood, particularly his love of doing magic tricks.  He had quite some success as a magician, and the first book he ever published, Between Cocktails, was a collection of simple tricks for amazing your friends.  While detailing his youthful exploits, he points on what events, people, and places would later inspire some of his books.  He infuses his narrative with humor and snappy descriptions, as anyone familiar with his novels might expect.

I think the biggest surprise I got while reading this is that Sid Fleischman wrote a novel named Blood Alley, which he then turned into a screenplay at the behest of none other than my beloved John Wayne -- Wayne starred in the movie version, along with Lauren Bacall.  I actually have Blood Alley (1955) as part of a collection of John Wayne films, but I haven't seen it yet -- I plan to watch it very soon.  

If you're a fan of his novels, or are looking for a good book about what it's like to be a writer, you can't go wrong here!