Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My July Reading ... Part 2

This is part two of my reading in the month of July.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Categories: children's
Diversity: Book by a male author. The eponymous character, Stargirl, definitely falls under the diverse heading but not in any known category. It's in her attitude towards life—so unconventional, so free, so confident in her differentness.
Commentary: Recommended by my daughter. This is a gentle love story of this unconventional girl and a conventional boy. He likes her but is very conscious of his fall from social grace because of his choice. Her gentle strangeness is what brings her to his notice. At first he only marvels at her odd starts and ability to empathize with the disaffected. Gradually, her views are what draws him to her, and of course, the fact that she has declared her obvious interest in him and designated him as cute is clearly flattering to him. The first part of the story establishes her personality; the second half is his story and how he negotiates his relationship with her and society at large. My daughter was right—I loved the story.

Six Cousins at Mistletoe Farm by Enid Blyton
Categories: children's
Commentary: I have read and re-read this book since I was under age 10. When my daughter was born, I scoured Book Depository and Abe Books for all the Enid Blytons I remembered from my childhood. Lucky for me, she has shared my love of these books. What do I love about an Enid Blyton? The innocent halcyon days of childhood when children were children and not sexualized mini-adults. (This is a rant long-time in the making.) These children had rough-n-tumble adventures, laughed a lot, ate a lot, worked hard, and seemed to live life larger than children these days.

Fifteen-year-old twins Jane and Jack and their 11-year-old sister Susan live on a farm in England. They grow up on a busy working farm and have morning and evening chores of feeding the chickens, mucking out the stables, and so on. The news that their father's brother's house went up in smoke, his wife is prostrate with grief at a hospital, and their three children are going to descend onto Mistletoe Farm is met with great dismay. Cyril, Melisande, and Roderick are town people and have grown up with governesses, prep schools, and expensive living. There's an utter disconnect between the two sets of cousins. But rub along they have to. They share bedrooms and bathrooms and schools and chores and in so doing, each child learns something from the others. They change, grow up, and grow together. Out of misfortune comes an opportunity for the betterment of self. Blyton writes such uplifting stories.

This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman
Categories: romance, western
Commentary: Ever since I read the first western by Jo Goodman in Never Love a Lawman (2009), I have loved every western by her. This current book was no exception. Her understated style with deadpan low-key humor, quick repartée, authentic, well-researched details, and great, great characters always make her books engrossing reads for me. Most importantly, she does not employ known melodramatic tropes to inject action into her stories. Her characters generate their own chemistry, their own drama, and are very mature about it all.

She is a bounty hunter. (Yes, really.) He's a lawyer, cattle rancher, and federal marshal. (Yes, really.) They meet in a brothel. She threatens to shoot him. (Yes, really.) Out of such improbable details comes a tender love story. Calico has had a tough upbringing but she's revels in it and is proud of the unconventionality. He's had a traditional upbringing but has a problematic relationship with his religious family. And yet the two are drawn together emotionally when they're brought together to play bodyguards to a daughter-father duo. I liked the suspense aspect of the story as well. It's nuanced and despite small details dribbled here and there, the answer's not obvious. There's no grovel scene, no huge proposal scene...just a quiet acknowledgment of their love and a few chapters later, a quiet acknowledgment of their commitment to marry each other. They had disagreements, but there was no immature bickering. They settled their differences responsibly and respectfully. These were people I could like in real life. While this is not a criteria for liking a book, I do like to see characters behaving like adults.

Charlie All Night by Jennifer Crusie
Categories: romance, contemporary
Commentary: Without a recommendation by Vassiliki and MissBates, I would've missed this charmer. It was cute, it was tender, it was laugh-out-loud funny in places—altogether delightful. Allie is a primetime 6am radio show producer, who has an affair with her star. She gets dumped by him and from her job and is assigned to a 10pm–2am slot with a newbie DJ. Of course, they strike sparks off each other despite both thinking the other is an unlikely bet in the beginning. This is a type of story that I'm very fond of because you can see the two of them falling in love slowly and unknowingly and then committedly. This is what makes for a satisfying romance read for me every time. I want to watch the unfurling of personalities and the blooming of love between them, knowing every step of the way why they're right for each other and that this is forever.

Heaven's Fire by Patricia Ryan
Categories: romance, medieval
Commentary: I loved this book primarily for all the medieval manuscripts details in the construction, writing, and illustrating of them. I was particularly taken by the section on how the illumination was done. Great research well-told.

The central story takes place in Oxford when they are just talking about appointing a chancellor and setting up formal colleges. However, this Oxford of the mid-12th C. is already a place of learning with a well-established office of the Magister Scholarum. Unlike Paris, a more advanced place of learning, the scholar teachers here are not required to be priests. However, higher offices like the chancellor are required to be celibate.

So here we have this ex-priest, celibate scholar of a wealthy noble French family. The heroine is an Anglo-Saxon peasant, more comfortable in English than in Norman French. However, she can read and write, and is well-versed in Latin. Due to tragic circumstances, she arrives in Oxford and manages to earn a living illustrating and illuminating books. Previous circumstances where he saved her from smallpox has bound them together inseparably. Their love story unfolds under the shadow of the Sir Roger, a knight of her village who has always fancied her and has now set a man to find her after she has escaped to Oxford.

An excellent medieval story that conveys the period very well without resorting to known clichés. And it has medieval manuscripts. A decided PLUS!

Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase
Categories: romance, regency
Commentary: A favorite Chase that I've re-read multiple times. A bumbling aristocrat, a younger son of the highly-accomplished, very-powerful Earl of Hargate, is sent to Egypt by an exasperated parent, hoping he'll inflict this excesses on someone else. There he meets a scholarly, naïve bluestocking, who hides her expertise in languages behind her not-very-bright brother. The two set off on an adventure to find her kidnapped brother and a precious papyrus, where she's the brain and he's the brawn. Hijinks ensue and they fall in love.

I had an interesting discussion with author Emma Barry about how to define Rupert's character. He's certainly not a beta or an alpha. Emma said, "I've heard people call Rupert a beta hero, which I don't quite buy. But he's not typically alpha." So I said that that is what made Chase's story "revolutionary when it first came out. A bumbling less-heroic hero who turns out to be perfect for heroine." Then Emily Jane Hubbard asked if he is gamma. My contention was that a gamma's someone who's laidback, quiet, very competent but goes about without causing too much of a ripple. Thus to me, Rupert defies definition because he has some alpha tendencies, some beta tendencies, and some unique to him. Then Emma brought up a completely different definition of gamma: "I think of gamma as subverting institutions. Like Robin Hood." That's a very interesting look at a gamma. I suppose by that definition Dunnett's Lymond's a gamma. But this still leaves Rupert undefinable.


Victoria Janssen said...

Another book full of medieval painting neepery is Passion Blue by Victoria Strauss. In fact, I wanted more neepery and less plot.

Keira Soleore said...

Ooh, this sounds like a great book. I just read up about it and the painterly details should be right up my alley. What was interesting to me is that the age of the 17-year-old would be an adult during the Renaissance but is written like a YA for our modern times. Wonder how the story plays out in that context.

BTW, is Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware?

Victoria Janssen said...

And! When the King Comes Home by Caroline Stevermer - there is pigment mixing. I haven't re-read that one and probably should as I recall it being awesome.

Here's a review: http://www.tor.com/2009/11/05/caroline-stevermers-lemgwhen-the-king-comes-homelemg/

Keira Soleore said...

Ooh, thanks for the rec and review link. This looks right up my alley.