Monday, March 2, 2015

A Classic Children's Novel

The Independence of Nan by Nina Rhoades
Published, August 1916

"I must just try to make the best of things."

That is 15-year-old orphan Nan Howard's motto when her grandfather dies leaving all his money to her step-grandmother, Mrs. Barnes. Soon after, Nan is shipped off to stay with her Uncle James and Aunt Maud, whom she's never met; they are kind, but they have four children of their own and no real room for Nan in their cramped house. Still, Nan tries to stay cheerful and help out her cousins. "I will try to be just as little trouble as I can." Needing money, Nan becomes a companion to the sad little crippled girl next door whom she teaches to play 'the glad game' (from Eleanor Porter's popular Pollyanna, which was published in 1913). But change is on the horizon for this plucky heroine. There's a mystery to solve, a new adventure to be had, a near-drowning, something sad and something glad.

This novel, with its optimism and its old-fashioned values, is sweetly predictable, but I think that's why I liked it so much. I like that Nan is not only "a brick", but "kind-hearted" and "as true as steel", too. (Although I did roll my eyes when she was described as having a "housewifely soul".) And I like that no matter how many hardships come her way, she perseveres and ultimately triumphs. Her old-fashioned values still ring true with me. Maybe that's why I love so many of these classic children's novels. (And why I can't resist buying them when I find them.) So, here's to Nan Howard and all plucky heroines everywhere!

Happy Reading!

P.S. Not only is The Independence of Nan another book from off my TBR shelf that I've now read, but it also fills a category for me in this year's Back to the Classics Challenge ... a double bookish bonus!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bookish First Impressions

The first line of a book can make you want to read it, or put it right back down. Here are the first lines of some fun reads...see if any make you want to read more:

First line: "I first noticed I was missing on a Thursday."
Title: Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray
(When Clover Hobart unexpectedly becomes invisible, her husband and children don't even notice. No one does. Except the other invisible women she meets. This cleverly written novel is delightfully funny.)

First line: "Sugar Wallace did not believe in love at first sight, but her bees did, and her bees could not even tell red from green."
Title: The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch
(This is a superficial but sweet romance with some great secondary characters.)

First line: "I've buried nearly everyone I love."
Title: Dualed by Elsie Chapman
(In this dystopian world of genetically engineered twins, only one can live past the age of twenty; it's kill or be killed in this very dark YA novel.)

First line: "I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him."
Title: The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
(I know I'm late to the party, but I finally read this fun Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell mystery. It's as good as everyone says it is. I can't wait to read the rest of this series.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Children of the Jacaranda Tree

"Life inside the prison walls was no different from existence beyond. Everyone carried fear, like a chain, carrying it in the streets, under the familiar shadow of the sad, glorious mountains. And in carrying it, they no longer spoke of it. The fear became intangible, unspeakable. And it ruled over them, invisible and omnipotent."

Sahar Delijani's novel is set in Tehran during two time periods: a few years after the revolution that overthrew the Shah, and thirty years later. Like a beautiful tapestry, it weaves together the stories of several different characters. Azar is a political activist who ends up in Evin Prison where she gives birth to a baby girl; but she only gets to nurse her daughter, Neda, for a few months before Neda is taken away from her. Omid is just three-years-old when his parents are arrested and imprisoned; they, too, are political activists. Omid and his sister, Sara, are raised for years by their grandmother and their aunt. Then there's Sheida and Forugh and Dante and Donya, all children of political prisoners, whose lives are shaped by the sorrow and fear of their parents' pasts.

This is the story of two different generations, both yearning and fighting for the same basic freedoms, freedoms denied to them by Iran's ruthless and tyrannical Islamic Regime. It is the story of secrets, hope, resistance, endurance, and defeat. Delijani, who was also born in Tehran's Evin Prison, has written a thoughtful and moving and important novel. One that reveals the truth about Iran's recent and not-so-enlightened past. It's unflinching and honest without being sad and depressing. And the way Delijani writes is simply amazing. If you've ever been interested in Iran's history and it's people, this is a must-read book.

Happy Reading!

Similar read:
     Between Two Worlds by Roxana Saberi

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bookish Thoughts

On Veronica Mars. Veronica is such a great character--smart, sarcastic and unstoppable--almost like a modern-day Nancy Drew. I admit, I really loved the television series and I cheered when the movie came out. But did you know there are books, too? Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas is the first one. Talk about a great mystery! It's witty, fast-paced and fun ... and it has all of my favorite characters from the TV series in it, too. Call me a bookish fan! I am waiting impatiently to get my hands on the next one: Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss and Tell. I hear it's even better than the first.

On language.  I don't mind a little swearing in the books I read, but I recently read a couple of YA novels with a disturbing (and completely unnecessary!) amount. There was so much language, in fact, that if they were made into movies they would both be R-rated. What's up with that? Are writers of teen novels so devoid of imagination and lacking in vocabulary these days that a string of four-letter words is the best they can do? Because that's just sad.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Most Curious Tale...

Title: What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James & Jack the Ripper by Paula Marantz Cohen
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
First Line: Henry James was drunk

My Thoughts: A novel with both Henry James and Jack the Ripper in it...who can resist that? And Henry is not alone. Oscar Wilde and John Singer Sargent both make appearances, as do Henry's siblings, William and Alice. These three amateur detectives work together to try and solve the Whitechapel murders. This novel is an intelligent and well-written mystery. And I like Cohen's witty characterizations of Henry, William and Alice James; she's able to portray their foibles and very real human weaknesses without making them ridiculous. They bicker and nitpick, as all brothers and sisters do, but they're also smart and insightful and very likeable. And the way they go about discovering Jack the Ripper's real identity is unique to say the least. I really enjoyed this novel, from its Victorian setting, to its literary characters, to Cohen's unusual solution to the mystery surrounding Jack the Ripper. Don't you love it when a book exceeds your expectations? This book definitely exceeded mine.

Happy Reading!

Similar read:
     Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

Sunday, February 15, 2015

February's Bookish Art

Maurice Denis - Les Muses, 1893

"Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts
which other men have prepared to help us navigate the
dangerous seas of human life."
--Jesse Lee Bennett

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A bookish gem...

We called him the Professor. And he called my son Root, because, he said, the flat top of his head reminded him of the square root sign.
So begins The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, by far my favorite read of 2015. The Professor was an expert in number theory until a car accident in 1975 causes irreversible brain damage and robs him of his memory. He can remember everything before 1975; but anything after 1975 only sticks in his head for 80 minutes. Then it's gone. Forever. "How exactly does a man live with only eighty minutes of memory?" That's the question this charming novel explores through the eyes of the Professor's new housekeeper and her ten-year-old son.

For the Professor, numbers are the one constant in his life. And it's through numbers, and the way they relate to each other, that he connects with other people. He looks for prime numbers and square roots in the housekeeper's phone number and age; and he is delighted when he finds a pair of 'amicable numbers' in her birth date (220) and the number of his first math prize (284).  He also unconditionally loves her son, spending many happy hours explaining the elegance of numbers to him, from simple baseball stats to esoteric proofs. But every morning, they have to begin from scratch with him because for the Professor, yesterday no longer exists.

This novel is sweet and poignant and I absolutely loved it. In fact, when I was done, I found myself flipping back through it and rereading all my favorite parts. The professor's situation tugged at my heart, and I was glad for every happy moment he shared with the housekeeper and her son, even though I knew in 80 minutes he would only forget again. Who knew such a small book could have such a big impact? It will definitely be at the top of my Favorite Reads of 2015 list come December. (In fact, this bookish gem is one I wouldn't mind owning and reading again and again. It's that good!)

Happy Reading!