Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" by E. L. Konigsburg

I loved this book as a kid.  I love this book as an adult.  It's purely delightful, and I'm so glad I revisited it.  I read it aloud to my kids this month -- my 11-yr-old had read it already, but the girls hadn't yet, so it was new to them.  We had such a great time with it -- lots of laughter and excitement.  

Mixed-up Files is about two kids on a crazy adventure of their own making.  Almost-twelve Claudia is tired of being taken for granted.  She's the oldest child, she always gets good grades, and she feels people just expect her to be good and never think she won't be.  She decides to run away from home.  But not just run away from one place -- she also wants to run TO someplace.  Namely the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.  She takes her 9-yr-old brother Jamie along because he's got more money than her other brothers and because he can be depended on to keep a secret.

Claudia and Jamie weren't very close before this.  But as they work together to hide inside the museum for several weeks, they grow to understand and appreciate each other.  Together, they try to unravel a mystery.  Did Michelangelo carve the beautiful statue of an angel that's recently been donated to the museum?  They finally realize that the statue's donor, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, might hold the clues they need, so they seek her out.

I'd totally forgotten that this was entirely narrated by Mrs. Frankweiler!  She made me think of Helen Mirren a lot.  Same sort of no-nonsense aura that Mirren portrays so well.  

My 9-yr-old was especially into this book, as I think she identified with Claudia a lot.  I do too.  All that joy taken in planning and in executing plans -- so me.  Also, the feeling of being taken for granted because you always do what you're expected to do -- I had that a lot, growing up, and I think she does too.  I need to work on making sure she knows I very much appreciate her cheerful compliance and willingness to work hard on things.  Otherwise she might take it into her head to run away to the Smithsonian or something!

Particularly Good Bits:

Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around (p. 151).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  Clean and fun and good.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"The Printed Letter Bookshop" by Katherine Reay

Oh.  My.  Goodness.

I have a new favorite Katherine Reay book, y'all.  No question about it.  I mean, I've liked all her other books, even loved a couple of them, but none of them were as special as The Printed Letter Bookshop.  Not one.

Where to begin?  With the characters, of course.

Madeline's aunt has died and left her a bookstore, a house, an old station wagon, and the chance for a new life.  Madeline is a high-powered lawyer at a prestigious Chicago firm.  She works a million hours a week, hasn't had time to find a new boyfriend after the last one broke up with her, and is convinced she's doing exactly what she should be doing.

Janet works at the bookstore.  She's divorced.  She hasn't been allowed to hold her first grandbaby yet because everyone blames her for the divorce.  She's angry and bitter and kind, which seem like a weird mixture, but that makes her human.  I didn't like Janet much at first because she was so crabby, but by the end, she bloomed into an understandable, healing, hopeful woman.  Hers is possibly the biggest character arc of the three, actually.

Claire also works at the bookstore.  It helps her fill her days when her two teens are at school and her husband is at work.  It keeps her connected to people, and it fulfills her.  She's great at managerial stuff at the shop, but she tends to just keep managing instead of mothering when she goes home.  She feels estranged from her 17-yr-old daughter in particular, but she and her husband aren't close anymore either.  

Three very different women with three very different sets of struggles who gradually learn and grow and mature, with some help and guidance from Madeline's deceased Aunt Maddie.  But not in a weird, creepy way!  I promise.  She left them each a list of books to read, and as they do, they go on journeys of self-discovery and healing.  

The whole book is permeated with the love of stories.  The power of stories.  The way the right story at the right time can lift us, empower us, even change us.  That might actually be my favorite part of this book!  The way it celebrates the power and importance of storytelling.

No, I'm totally kidding.  My favorite part is the characters.  It always is.  Especially Madeline, as she learns to embrace who she is, not who she thinks people want her to be.  The only character I didn't connect with very well was Chris, the groundskeeper friend of Aunt Maddie's who serves as Madeline's love interest.  I liked him, but I never felt drawn to him the way I wanted to be.  That's okay, though, as he's not really a huge part of the book.

Unlike Reay's last few books, The Printed Letter Bookshop does contain some Christian content.  Her last few have been more like clean mainstream books, and I liked them, but I really couldn't call them Christian fiction.  This one, though, has discussions of Bible passages, a strong theme of forgiveness given and received, and even one character with a brother who is a Catholic priest.  So I'm going to label this one Christian fiction, though I'm disappointed that it doesn't actually mention Jesus once, nor do any of the characters appear to be regular churchgoers.  They're nominally believers who do read parts of the Bible, but that's better than nothing, I guess.

(Mine from Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

There's something comfortable and secure about people who color within the lines (p. 13).

That's what books do, Maddie used to say; they are a conversation, and introduce us to ourselves and to others (p. 127).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for discussions of an extra-marital affair, teens drinking and misbehaving, and a little mild smooching.

Friday, May 17, 2019

"A Room with a View" by E. M. Forster (yet again)

I've read this book twice before.  And I am happy to report that I loved it the third time through as well.  Just a delightful, compact, nuanced little story!

What's really interesting to me is how, when I reread books, I often glom onto a different character to pay attention to.  Different from the last times I read it, I mean.  This time through, I found Mr. Beebe very intriguing.  He's got a lot of wisdom and understanding, but he's also almost childish sometimes.  Like how he's totally bored by Lucy as soon as she's engaged to the right person.  It's an interesting combination.  Also, I love this about him:  "It was one of Mr. Beebe's chief pleasures to provide people with happy memories" (p. 30).  How can I not like such a person?

But, as always, what I love most about this book is how Lucy grows and changes.  She goes from a somewhat spoiled, drifting girl to a woman capable of making her own decisions, even when they're unpopular.  She rises out of her aimless flounderings, finding direction and purpose for her life.  And she doesn't marry one of the most boring, annoying, pushy characters since Jane Austen's Mr. Collins, for which I am always grateful.

And, once again, I chuckled aloud many times over the little absurdities and foibles that Forster points out so amusingly.

And I still really love Freddy.

(From my Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

"It is so difficult -- at least, I find it difficult -- to understand people who speak the truth" (p. 7).

"One doesn't come to Italy for niceness," was the retort; "one comes for life" (p. 14).

"Pull out from the depths those thoughts you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them" (p. 21).

Lucy never knew her desires so clearly as after music (p. 31).

...she was accustomed to have her thoughts confirmed by others or, at all events, contradicted; it was too dreadful not to know whether she was thinking right or wrong (p. 37).

Freddy possessed to a high degree the power of lashing little girls to fury, and in half a minute he had transformed Minnie from a well-mannered child into a howling wilderness (p. 91).

Secrecy has this disadvantage: we lose the sense of proportion; we cannot tell whether our secret is important or not (p. 98).

(I listed many other favorite lines the first and second times I read and reviewed this as well.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a bunch of grown men skinny-dipping in a pond and getting caught.

This is my 33rd book read and reviewed for my second go-'round with the Classics Club.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

"Everything She Didn't Say" by Jane Kirkpatrick

Eva Schon has such good taste in books.  And she's so good at figuring out what I will like.  While I didn't love this as much as the last book she gave me, I still enjoyed it so much, I devoured it in three days.  Though partly that's because my kids finished their school year last week, so now I have more reading (and blogging) time, and I spent a big chunk of Monday reading this while my kids played and played and played.

Anyway.  This is a cool bit of fictionalized biography.  It centers around a real person, Carrie "Dell" Strahorn, who wrote a memoir called Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage in the early 1900s that detailed her life travelling the country with her railroad-promoter husband.  That book is now on my TBR list, as the excerpts included at the end of every chapter in this book were really intriguing.  

What Jane Kirkpatrick does in this book is imagine all the things Strahorn DIDN'T put in her memoir.  She fills in the gaps, as it were, with the not-so-shiny, not-so-happy parts of life.  She takes clues from both Carrie Strahorn's memoir and that of her husband, plus from several biographies, and weaves them together to build a plausible, if fictionalized, portrait of a woman travelling all over North America in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  What her emotions might be, what her spiritual life might be like, what her marriage might have been like inside, and so on.

Now, you know that I love both nonfiction and fiction about pioneers and the Old West.  So I'm basically the exact audience this book is aimed for.  And I definitely enjoyed it.  But I must admit I didn't love it.  Partly that's because Carrie Strahorn was... not exactly someone I could be friends with in real life, I think.  Maybe because she's a lot like me?  Secretive, often putting a bright face on over a bad feeling, and generally taking a very long time to let people in.  

Also, I felt like Strahorn's faith was sort of... an afterthought?  Like, kind of injected here and there when there was a moment, but not an integral part of her life?  This is something I struggle SO MUCH with as a writer, because I can't stand preachy books and refuse to write them, but I also don't like books where a person's faith and beliefs aren't intertwined in their lives, either.  Because that's what real life as a Christian is like -- I don't sit around all day thinking about Jesus and reciting hymns, but my faith permeates my daily life in little ways.  Praying before meals.  Teaching hymns to my kids as part of school.  Reading a devotion while I brush my teeth.  Doing family devotions in the evening.  Praying with my kids when I tuck them into bed.  Studying the lesson I'll be teaching to my Sunday school kids.  Searching for just the right Bible passage for a particular scene in a book I'm writing.  Praying little prayers throughout the day when I need patience or wisdom, when I'm grateful for a blessing, when I'm worried about something, when I see an ambulance or firetruck and ask God to bless them and the people they're going to help.  And that's what I didn't get during most of this book.  So... I didn't love it because of that, too.

But you know what?  I don't have to love every book.  Totally okay to just like some.  Right?  Right.  So we'll say this was a sold "liked it" and go with that.  I did enjoy Kirkpatrick's writing style overall, and I'd like to read something else by her sometime.

Particularly Good Bits:  

I missed my hometown.  But then, I often longed for where I'd been and where I wasn't.  It was a lesson of living I hadn't yet learned about, finding the blessings of each moment (p. 22).

What I really longed for was purposeful activity.  A life without a purpose is a story without an ending (p. 66).

True pioneering requires staying through the hard times, not just flourishing through the joy of new beginnings.  It's thriving during the muddle in the middle that marks a strong character (p. 242).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for some danger and hardship, and because it does discuss things like a woman's monthly cycle and a couple's attempts to conceive a child, though both are handled tastefully and somewhat obliquely.

Monday, May 6, 2019

"The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame

I remember reading this when I was probably ten or eleven.  I remember my mom reading it aloud to us, too.  And I remember disliking it.  But I couldn't remember why I disliked it.  And people kept telling me it's cute and cheerful and funny and sweet.  So I bought a gorgeous Barnes & Noble edition to bribe myself to read it aloud to my kids.

Now I know why I didn't like it as a kid.  And it's the same reason I don't like it as an adult.


I can't stand Toad.  He's thoroughly exasperating.  And annoying.  And irksome.  And awful.  He totally ruins this whole book for me.

Ratty?  Such a dear.  Mole?  Wonderful.  Badger?  So adorably grouchy.  If it was only about the three of them, I would reread it with joy on through the years.  But Toad?  Ugh.

And he never gets his comeuppance.  Not really.  Sure, he gets tossed in prison for stealing a car, but he escapes.  And goes home.  And gets his mansion back.  And supposedly he "changes" by the end, but I don't believe it for a minute.  The first time a motorcar comes past, it'll be nothing but "poop-poop" again and he'll be off on another round of being horrible.

Why on earth are the others still friends with him?

My 7-yr-old liked the book, though, so I'm giving my copy to her.  She liked that nothing really terrible happened to anyone, so hey, there's that.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G for gratuitous annoyance.  Also, it's very clean.

This is my 32nd book read and reviewed for my second go-round with the Classics Club and my 7th for this year's Mount TBR Challenge

Saturday, May 4, 2019

2019 INSPY Awards Shortlist

Congratulations to all the authors whose books are on the INSPY shortlist, which was announced yesterday!  You can see that list right here.

This year, I won't be judging the Mystery/Thriller category like I did the last few years.  I'll be judging the YA category!  I'm really excited to read the three books on that shortlist and work with my fellow judges to choose this year's winner.  If you want to see who all the other judges for all the categories are, there's a handy list here.  I'm so thrilled to be a part of this award process for a third year!

For the YA category, I will be reading:  

  • A Worthy Rebel by Jody Hedlund (Northern Lights Press)
  • Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon (Blink)
  • The Edge Over There by Shawn Smucker (Revell)

Can't wait to get started!