Sunday, March 22, 2020

"Together at the Table" by Hillary Manton Lodge

I got this from the library not knowing that it was book three in a trilogy.  Oooooooops.  In my defense, the library barcodes and such had totally covered up all but the numeral 3 on the back cover, and that's the only place the cover mentioned it was part of a series, so I thought it was a stand-alone like Jane of Austin

But it was totally okay -- I figured out what was going on with no trouble at all.  Lodge is too good a writer to let new readers who stumble into the series midway be confused. 

And y'all... she is a very good writer indeed.  Within a few pages, I wanted to be friends with restaurateur Juliette D'Alisa, hang out at the Two Blue Doors restaurant she runs with her brother, go on genealogy-tracing adventures with her to Chicago and Europe. 

Juliette goes through a lot of relationship upheaval in this book.  Proposals.  Breakups.  Make-ups.  But none of it was... overwrought.  Or rushed.  Or sappy.  It all unfolded in a way that felt very believable to me.  The central romance was refreshingly realistic.  And there's a wedding in the middle of the book, not at the end, which was awesome!  Also, Juliette has two men in her life in a romantic sense, and neither of them is a jerk.  Or a creep.  Or a "bad boy."  They're both nice guys.  I can't remember the last time I ran into that.  Even in Jane Austen one guy ends up being secretly skanky or an opportunistic fortune hunter or whatever.  Lodge sidesteps all the love-triangle tropes so beautifully, and I applaud her.

All during her relationship changes, Juliette is also dealing with a lot of changes at the restaurant, plus she's trying to solve a mystery about her grandmother's experiences during World War II in France.  You know I also love things that involve WWII, so I really enjoyed that aspect of the story.  It's the one part where I really felt like having read the first two books would have been nice, but not to the point where I wanted to put this down and go find the earlier books and read those before finishing this one. 

Eventually, Juliette's grandmother's own words, via letter, fill in a lot of gaps and answer a lot of questions.  We learn her own story of love lost and love found.  Her story doesn't mirror Juliette's too neatly, and yet they are both stories of "lost love and second helpings" as the title puts it.

Also, Juliette's family is awesome.  She and her sisters are my people.  Their conversations are so much like things my brother and I say, dropping stuff like the Kobayashi Maru in very naturally, and just... can I please hang out with them?

I'm going to have to read the first two books now.  Our library is offering curb-side pick-up for materials to minimize contact, and I think the kids and I are going to have to try that this week.  If I end up loving those two as much as I loved this one, I'll have no choice but to buy the whole set so I can have it on my shelf and hug them as much as I want.  And reread them.

(Mine from my Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

I didn't answer.  I couldn't.  There were only questions in my head where answers used to be (p. 58).

Was that what it meant to be a grownup?  To finally realize that your parents weren't invincible, but that they had challenges and struggles of their own? (p. 80).

So often I feel worry is a heavy, wet, wool blanket we wear about our shoulders (p. 255).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some discussions of sexual matters in dialog, some frank and some veiled, all tasteful and the sorts of things adult sisters would really say to each other, or wives to their husbands.  There are no descriptive sex scenes, and I would consider this a clean book, but some might not.  There is no cussing or scenes of violence, though the WWII parts involve some dangerous situations.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

"The Great Divorce" by C. S. Lewis

My latest book for my quest to read lots of C. S. Lewis this year was... very unusual.  Kind of a long pondering on the nature of heaven versus hell, but written as a fable-like story.  It reminded me a little of things like Pilgrim's Progress, but without the heavy-handed and repetitive obviousness.

While I tend not to be a big fan of stories with a lot of symbolism or allegory to them, I did actually enjoy this story -- maybe because it was fast-paced?  It didn't bog down in details, and Lewis didn't belabor the allegories, but trusted the reader to figure out what he was trying to say or point out.

Basically, it's about an unnamed (IIRC) narrator who doesn't realize he's living in Hell until he gets on a tour bus to visit Heaven.  He discovers that even though God has invited everyone to live in Heaven, most people are too hung up on their reason, their preconceived ideas, their desires, or their appetites to want to stay there.  

Because this was all presented as a dream, I'm not going to be too critical of Lewis' theology here -- it's more like an exploration of fantastic what-ifs than either a religious book or a work of plain fiction.  I do think that not mentioning Jesus or the Bible may have been a missed opportunity, but again... it's like a religious fable, so I will not fault it for not being factual there.

Particularly Good Bits:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done" (p. 75).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some bad language sprinkled throughout.

This is my 44th book read and reviewed for my second Classics Club list and my 9th for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.

Friday, March 13, 2020

"Daddy-Long-Legs" by Jean Webster (again)

This is such a perfectly chummy book!  I'm glad that @shapedbystoriesdiane and @ahatforeveryread chose it for this month's #KindredSpiritsNetwork group read on Instagram -- I can't wait to discuss it with everyone there!  It was so delightful to reread it, a perfect pick-me-up in the midst of a fairly hectic month.

Judy Abbott is an orphan with few hopes for the future, but endowed with a sparkling wit and fierce intelligence.  One of the trustees of the orphanage where she grew up offers to anonymously send her to college, with the stipulation that she must write him regularly about her progress.  This book is almost entirely composed of her letters to him -- she calls him Daddy-Long-Legs because all she's seen of him, as far as she knows, is his shadow on the wall, elongated and stretched by the setting sun.  The letters are sprinkled throughout with funny little drawings, one of which got used for the cover of this edition.  (It also contains the sequel, Dear Enemy.

The drawings are funny, but the letters are even funnier -- this is one of those books where I chuckle out loud while reading it.  (And then my family demands to know what's so funny and interrupt my reading, but oh well.)  Judy Abbott's fish-out-of-water perspective on college, the lives of the rich girls around her, and knowledge are purely delightful.  There's also a bit of a love story, not a sappy or sugary one, that I quite like.

Also, all of these letters really feel like actual letters!  I never have to suspend disbelief over this book because none of them get that "nobody would write this scene out in detail like this in a letter" thing going on that some epistolary novels do.  So if you tend to dislike books composed of letters for that reason, don't avoid this one, because it neatly avoids that issue!

Particularly Good Bits:

Speaking of classics, have you ever read "Hamlet"?  If you haven't, do it right off.  It's perfectly corking.  I've been hearing about Shakespeare all my life, but I had no idea he really wrote so well; I always suspected him of going largely on his reputation (p. 62).

You know, Daddy, I think that the most necessary quality for any person to have is imagination.  It makes people able to put themselves in other people's places.  It makes them kind and sympathetic and understanding.  It ought to be cultivated in children (p. 70).

The world is full of happiness, and plenty to go round, if you are only willing to take the kind that comes your way (p. 85).

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

"The Princess Bride" by William Goldman (again)

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned here before that I teach literature and creative writing to some of my homeschooled nieces and nephews for high school.  I teach them over the internet because they live so far away, and I love it.  I'm working on converting our studies together into a format I could share with other parents too, so watch the "Lit and Writing Resources for Homeschoolers" page here on this blog for that to show up this spring.

Anyway!  This year, I'm teaching a nephew who is in tenth grade.  He's good friends with my son, who is in sixth grade, but who reads like a high-schooler as long as the subject matter isn't too intense for him.  So my son has been doing the same lit course with my nephew, which lets them discuss books together instead of it just being me and the nephew, and gives them stuff to talk about when they're together once a year too.  (We started this last year when my nephew asked to read The Lord of the Rings for lit, and my son had been begging to read that too, and they asked if they could read it together, and I said yes, and they had so much fun doing so that they wanted to continue studying together.)

This month, we spent two weeks reading and discussing The Princess Bride by William Goldman.  And my mommy-heart is SO full and happy because my son LOVED IT!  I think he read it four full times in two weeks.  He goes around quoting it now.  He'd seen the movie before -- my brother and I actually took him to see it on the big screen a couple of years ago, one of those TCM + Fathom Events showings.  But he was about 10 when he saw the movie and didn't really get the wonderfulness.  Now he gets it :-D

I don't always reread the books that we're studying together, especially if I've read them within the last few years.  But I hadn't read this since 2013, so I decided I was due for a reread.  And I loved it all over again.  The witty dialog, the sarcasm, the send-up of so many fairy tale and adventure story tropes, the wonderful characters, the delicious authorial asides... it's just a delight for beginning to end.  

(I suppose I should mention that this is a humorous fantasy story about a beautiful girl and a handsome boy who fall in love, are parted by pirates and princes, find each other again, lose each other again, and everything turns out pretty happily in the end.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence, torture, and some bad language.  Also a little extremely veiled suggestive material.  But yes, I let my 12-yr-old read it anyway.