Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Yellow House

Finished The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey. Set in the early 20th century in Northern Ireland, it's the story of a young girl, Eileen O'Neill, who grows to warrior womanhood amidst local politics and family tragedy. The book begins with her father coming home from the marketplace with tubs of yellow paint, to paint their ancestral family home, once lost and hard won, a warm yellow so that it may be seen from the top of Slieve Gullion, their nearby mountain. Eileen's brother and baby sister join in the painting of the house. This is perhaps the happiest moment in the book, for things soon go very wrong for all involved. There were times when I thought "how much more can Eileen take?", but from a holistic view, there was no tragedy that did not further the story or the development of the characters. This was a raw and exciting novel. I've developed the habit of using the word "feck" from it. Highly recommended for those who enjoy Irish literature. I look forward to reading Falvey's next novel The Linen Queen.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower, 1620

Finished A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, Mayflower, 1620 by Kathryn Lasky. It's the first book in the "Dear America" series. Each book in the series is set during a poignant time in American history. The narrator is a young girl who records her observations of life during this time in her diary. Remember (Mem) Patience Whipple journeys from Holland to American on the Mayflower to start a new life with her family and a number of other Saints and non-Saints. Their intention is to land off the coast of Virginia. Instead they land on Cape Cod at Plymouth.

Mem records the rough seas, boredom and illness on ship, and her longing to disembark once they land. Once the plantation is built she and her family have their own house. The community meets two English speaking Native Americans who introduce them to the local native community and various forms of medicine and food. Mem records the first Thanksgiving feast, but also the loss of her mother and many others to illness. It's a frank account and I actually learned some things I didn't know (or didn't remember) about the time. I hope to read all the books in the series over time.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Great Gatsby

Finished The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for perhaps the 20th time. I had to revisit it just once more before seeing Baz Luhrmann's film adaptation. Every time I absorb Fitzgerald's prose I remember that he was my favorite author when I was in my 20s and a writer myself. This passage where Nick Caraway is describing Daisy is a perfect example why:

"For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened – then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk."

I think perhaps it is the best book ever written.

The Things We Cherished

Finished The Things We Cherished by Pam Jenoff. It's set in 2009, and the early 1900s through the first few years of World War II. The contemporary characters are trying to prove the innocence of their client who has been accused of Nazi war crimes. The flashback portions of the novel involve various people and a handmade, glass domed anniversary clock. The novel is a bit of a mystery. The key to the client's innocence is hidden in this clock. We see the clock travel from the hands of the clockmaker to various owners over time. It reminded me a lot of the 1942 film Tales of Manhattan, where the audience follows the fate of a tail coat, and it's various owners, throughout the story. It was an interesting read.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Adam of the Road

Finished Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray. It won the Newbery Meal in 1943. Set in thirteenth century England it is the story of Adam, whose minstrel father and dog Nick disappear during their travels together. Adam walks from town to town around London in search of these two who he loves best. He has many adventures and in the end is successful in finding them both. While this time period is not my favorite, Gray does a nice job of describing life during medieval England for her readers.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Up From the Blue

Finished Up from the Blue by Susan Henderson. This is the story of Tillie Harris, newly returned to the D.C. area, married, very pregnant and on her own while her husband is away on business. She knows no one and has not unpacked her phone. When what she thinks are labor pains begin six weeks early she knocks on her neighbor's door in a panic, asking to use the phone. With the receiver in her hand she freezes. Who can she call? She calls the one person nearby who she knows. Someone she has not spoken to in years. Her father.

Flashback sixteen years to 1975, the year Tillie turned eight. The year that her family moved from the military base in New Mexico to a posh neighborhood in D.C. The year her mother disappeared. Tillie's father is a rigid, organized man who designs missiles for the military. Tillie's mother is quite the opposite. She is a waifish, will-'o-the wisp of a person with long red hair and a wonderful sense of fun and creativity. Tillie and her mother are like two little girls together, playing much of the day and hiding from the neighbors when they ring the doorbell. Since Tillie does not have any friends, her relationship with her mother is that much more important to her. Her mother has a difficult time keeping up with day-to-day tasks around the house. Soon she begins a decline that has her not leaving her bed for days. Between the move from New Mexico to D.C. she disappears all together. Tillie is stunned and bereft and begins to suspect her father of wrongdoing.

I love stories told from a child's point of view. They highlight the mistakes made by adults so acutely. Parents who keep their children in the dark about major family changes or events, thinking to protect them, do these children a great disservice. Left to rationalize the unexplained they fill the gaps with every frightening or negative scenario their parents hoped to spare them, whether they actually happened or not. This book is a surreal mystery with a poignant backdrop of 70s race relations and school busing issues. It grabbed my attention and held it. I read it quickly and felt deeply for Tillie and her fractured childhood. Highly recommended.