Saturday, September 08, 2018

Homecoming (The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair by Amy Makechnie)

Best opening sentences that I have read in a long time: "I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me. It was just like her, too -- always leaving a bad first impression." Best ratings on Goodreads that I've ever seen, especially for a Young Adult, make that Juvenile book at my library. First, on ratings, I only saw one person who gave it one star and the reviewer hated the characters and found the book difficult to read but found one character to be "aDORable". My guess is the reviewer was a young person with possible reading challenges? However, kudos to her, if that is the case, because she is reading and reviewing on Goodreads. Many of the reviewers were adults. This I know because they felt the need to explain that they enjoy reading YA or J literature. I'm with them. A good story is a good story, whether it is a picture book or a juvenile/young adult book or Plato...okay, so maybe not Plato.

This book begs for comparison to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. (See my review here.) The protagonist of Bradley's book, Flavia de Luce, has a vocabulary beyond her years. I enjoyed that, but Makechnie's book does not have the elements that annoyed me in Bradley's book. Her protagonist, Guinevere St. Clair -- Gwyn, does have a mother...okay, so she isn't quite a normal mother because of brain damage, but she is there. And, Gwyn has a sister that she actually likes and does not try to poison (see the relationship between Flavia and her two sisters). She even has a father who is not cold and distant -- preoccupied, yes, with trying to find the cure for his wife. There's even a Nana (grandmother) who is normal; she can be both kind and cranky. All this normalcy may appear boring; however, Gaysie Cutter of the opening sentence is eccentric enough to balance out our cast of characters. The character that annoyed me the most is the mom. I know it's sad for me to say that. I kept thinking that the mom, who can't remember anything after her thirteenth year acts more like a five-year-old, but maybe her memory is stuck at 13 and the brain damage caused her emotions to be more like a child in primary or elementary school. I want to know what happens with Mrs. Vienna St. Clair.

What Flavia and Gwyn have in common is their sleuthing. Whereas Flavia is precocious and often knows more than the adults, Gwyn's vocabulary and missteps seem to fit her age. Still, dead bodies pop up, literally pop up, and mysteries abound, or perhaps, one mystery and lots of secrets. The story begs for a sequel. I probably will go back and read another Flavia de Luce book (such good vocabulary), but I really hope Makechnie will write the next Guinevere St. Clair book. Other characters who made brief appearances in this first book must have a storyline, and Gwyn's dad has to keep up his search into the brain (while Flavia's forte is poison, Gwyn educates us in matters of the brain).

Since I write one piece for review and blog (which includes personal connections to the book), I'll segue into the blog portion with two of my favorite quotes from The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair to close out the review portion. (As for why the title of "Homecoming", it involves a plot spoiler so you'll just have to read the book to find out why.)

"I sniffed, wrinkled my nose at the old smell, and looked around, wondering if death stank. Ms. Myrtle's chair sat alone in the corner, and I felt a wave of wistfulness for the tales of my parents, and even of Gaysie, sorry I hadn't asked for more stories and information, sorry I would never get the chance. And even though she was a frightful woman, I suddenly missed that she wouldn't be watching us grow up or sticking her head out the door to tell me to 'hush up!'" (216).

"To Guinevere St. Clair. This is what I know of friendship: Hold on to the people you love. Know what they feel like, smell like, and act like, so that when they're not there to hold on to, you remember. G.C." (232).

Plus, there's a reference to and adventure because of Huck Finn. Yeah, way to win a teacher's heart.


Family life: I've got to go with those last two quotes. How often I hear many people say, and I've said it often myself: I wish I had listened better and asked for more tales.

Spiritual transformation: Listening to people has shown up in this section before (and worth practicing again and again and again), but I'm going to go with the practice of learning more and more about our bodies which includes our brains. The research that is coming out about our brains is fascinating and very spiritually transforming!

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Austening (The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn)

Yes, I did use that proper name as a verb. I was not the first. Given the number of Austen fan clubs, reimagining of her stories, and productions based on those same stories (and let's not forget the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, UK), "Austening" is something to do.

Desperately searching for something light to read this summer, I happened upon this book on the NEW shelf at the library. It turns out that there was a bit of science fiction involved, but that was fine with me, even if it was time travel which is quite the fad. Author Flynn does have a bit of a twist at the end when it comes to time travel. Because that element was thought-provoking, I won't include any plot spoilers here but will bring it up in one or both of the lower two sections of my blog.

The story itself:

Light, summer beach read, even if you are in the mountains snowed in: Check. This will work.

As good as Austen: Nah. Characterization so-so. But, see up above. Still worth checking out of library.

What did I like about the book (beside wanting something light to read): the historical and biographical parts of Austen's life are woven fairly seamlessly in, and I enjoyed learning about those parts of her life. Also, this commentary from the protagonist is a good response to people who find Austen's characters petty and annoying (yes, people who dislike reading Austen do exist):

"What I love about Jane Austen has never been the marriage plot; the quest for a husband in her novels struck me, even when I was younger and more susceptible, as a MacGuffin [for my non-English speaking friends -- an element used to move the plot, perhaps even develop the characters, but not explained], or at least a metaphor. I have always suspected this is how she meant her books to be read. Many people from my world find it strange, even tragic, that the author of such emotionally satisfying love stories apparently never found love herself, but I don't.

"For one thing, she was a genius: burning with the desire to create undying works of art, not a cozy home for a husband and children. For another, she wrote the world she knew, and what she felt would appeal to readers. The marriage plot is interesting mostly for how it illuminates the hearts of her characters, what they learn about themselves on the way to the altar. She concerns herself with bigger questions: how to distinguish good people from plausible fakes; what a moral life demands of us; the problem of how to be an intelligent woman in a world that had no real use for them" (113, italics mine as is the explanation of a MacGuffin).

Caveats: Requisite sex scene in the latter half of the book. I don't think it was necessary. Frankly, if publishers or authors think they have to have a sex scene in the book, I will just write here that Harlequin Romances are a lot cheaper (particularly when you can get them even cheaper at yard sales and thrift stores) with all the sex you want.

I mentioned a different take on the ending of a time traveling novel so, be aware, the rest of this blog post includes information about the ending.
💕💕💕 If you're any type of introspective person, you're going to look back on the past and have at least one or two regrets. Most time traveling novels focus on how important it is not to change the past and the characters in this book follow that same protocol until you get to the end and Flynn switches it up.

They find out that changing the past is good. Time travel is still sci-fi so we don't have to consider this possibility in actuality; however, it makes for a great discussion. Would I go back and change the past, knowing that I would be a different person, hopefully for the better, right? Which elements of our lives are what make us to be the people we like being and which elements make us into the people we dislike or even hate in our lives? While thinking these thoughts, another book has come into my life by Amy Morin, but that review has yet to be written.

---A spiritual practice...hmmm, good question. God inhabits past, present, and future, yet the I AM is outside of time. Would the Creator go back and change the past? It's an intriguing question. Some of my friends will pray (as I do also) for a prayer request even if the event, say a surgery, already happened and we are just now seeing the prayer request because God is outside of time and, as all-knowing God, knew we would be praying. I wonder if a good practice would be to talk with God about the past, present, and future, but particularly in talking about the past sins, not always with a shame-faced, hopeless, "consequences are consequences" attitude, but with a forgiven, hope-filled, "You are God of the past" attitude.  

Monday, September 03, 2018

Fighting (Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard)

The library discussion group chose this book for me. At the beginning of the book, I did think about how I could get out of reading it while still leading the discussion. For example, starting off with this question: "Say I did not finish reading this book, what would you say to convince me to either finish it or put it on the DFR (don't finish reading) shelf?"

Friends, family, and readers of this blog know that my bookshelf is not heavily loaded with historical non-fiction. Still, I did finish the book, and ratings from three to five stars on Goodreads are valid.

Let's tackle first why I was tempted to leave the book unfinished. Churchill simply is not a likable fellow. Even his contemporaries thought so. Maybe you have to have his type of mindset to become the leader of a nation but his arrogance is overwhelming more times than it is not. Then, his culture's mindset of empire is foreign and horrifying to my own worldview. One reader critic rants (his word) that the book is an unquestioned acceptance of Churchill's picture of the story. To have included at least a few "Churchill later claimed" phrases might not have hurt the telling of the story.

Yet, it is the telling of the story by an author gifted at doing so which makes the book worth finishing. Millard has gained a reputation for taking historical narrative and turning it into writing worthy of the best fiction. So many of the Goodreads reviews perfectly explain reading this story: "enormously interesting, but also terribly dismaying" "[everyone] behaves badly" "stupid war characterized by hubris". Another reader wrote that if one does not know anything about the Boer Way (I'm raising my hand), Millard does a great job of providing background information, seamlessly, I will add.

It's easy to put the book down and easy to pick it back up and continue reading. If you love historical non-fiction, or history, it also will be easy to appreciate this book and this author. One reader asks Millard to please write up all of history -- so much better than reading a textbook! That might be a little difficult since Millard, thus far, has taken five years per book to do all the research.

In the end, I found the book fascinating...or perhaps I need to say that I find history fascinating even with all of its horrors. Gandhi and his team of stretcher-bearers are mentioned. I vote for Gandhi's non-violent story to be next on Millard's list of history books to write.

I'm short on time and way behind on blogging my book reviews so I'm skipping my usual last two sections today.