Saturday, November 3, 2012

Snapshot Saturday - The Halloween Edition


My firstborn and middle child...I'm framing this one...you have no idea how long it's been since I've had a picture of these two with their arms around each other and smiles on their faces.  No idea. :p



And, of course, the one for whom Halloween was intended...the little one.  We visited our school's Halloween Treats in the Street for just a bit (seems as if that's too babyish for her now...Who knew?).  Then we came home and Trick or Treated in our neighborhood, dodging cars the entire way :/  I will not ruin the spirit of this post by going off on a rant about how I feel about such ridiculousness.  And, finally we returned home to hand out candy, which I think was actually her favorite part of the night...that is until the crazy clown looking dude showed up at the door.  We're not fans of clowns.  Even Layla voiced her disapproval.  Loudly I might add.
We closed up shop after that :) 

Another Halloween in the books...and on to Thanksgiving!

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce @ At Home with Books

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Elegy for Eddie - TLC Book Review


Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear
HarperCollins, 2012

Format? - hardback
 
Source? Publisher via TLC Book Tours
FTC Disclosure:  I received a complimentary copy of Elegy for Eddie in exchange for a review; however, my opinions are my own and offered without bias.

Cover?  Eddie is the "horse whisperer" of his day and known fondly by all the horse and buggy drivers for his ability to calm a disturbed animal. It is, in fact, a group of these men (costers) who bring Eddie's case to Maisie.  The silhouette is, of course, London, the bridge and river where much of the "action" takes place.  The style of the cover is the same for the rest of the books in this series as well.

Title?  Maisie's mystery to solve within this story is for the sole purpose of providing comfort, solace, a lament (elegy) for the senseless death of childhood friend Eddie...a mentally challenged, gentle man.

Why?  Historical fiction, old England, a "cheeky" heroine with respect for life and family, reinvention of the feminine self...yes, thank-you.

Reminded Of?  to a certain extent the new lifestyle to which Maisie is struggling to adjust is very similar to that of the Crawley's cousin Matthew, the heir to the Crawley fortune and home, on Downton Abbey.  While the Crawleys were born to their positions, their cousin Matthew was not and finds some of the excess troublesome and has a difficult time bending to some of the house customs such as someone helping him dress and all the other pesky rules.

What Now?  Elegy for Eddie is a keeper...even though it took me a while to get into it, by midway I found myself really wanting to spend more time with Maisie Dobbs...get to know her a little better...maybe we'll even get to be friends ;)

Golden Lines

It was Lady Rowan who, in 1912, had discovered the young domestic servant reading in the library in the early hours of the morning.  Recognizing the girls' intellect, Rowan had turned to her friend, the esteemed psychologist and forensic scientist Maurice Blanche, for advice.  So began the relationship - and the opportunities - that formed the woman Maisie would become.

...Eddie wouldn't have felt a thing when the roll of paper fell onto him, given that he was backward.

During her apprenticeship, Maurice Blanche had mentored her to spend time with the dead, if at all possible.  She had learned that in quiet contemplation there is respect for the one who has passed.  Given their task - that of discovering the truth behind an untimely death - such an interlude served as a reminder that a human life had been lost, and with that, there was much grief.

"You did all right for yourself, all things considered, didn't you Miss Dobbs?  You look more like a gentlewoman than a girl from the streets.  I thought it was only Charlie Chaplin who came out of Lambeth and did well for himself."

And at that moment, she yearned to be able to share her confidence with Maurice, just once more.  He would have known exactly what questions to put to her.  Hadn't he always said that the power was in the question itself?  He'd taught her that one must let a question linger in the mind as one might savor wine on the tongue, and he'd cautioned that a rush to answer could diminish all chance of insight.  Indeed, if one continually avoided questions by trying to answer them immediately, such impatience would become a barrier on the path to greater knowledge of oneself.

Maisie loved this London, as much as it grieved her to see the poverty, the desperate need of people in Lambeth; at the same time, there was a fierce grandeur about the factories, about chimney stacks fired by the hard work of an ordinary, working-class population.  

These were people for whom a cup of tea was balm for the shock of bad news; perhaps a death, an accident, the loss of a job or a roof over one's head.  The more desperate the word that came - from a neighbor, in a letter, from the baliff or the police - the stronger the brew and the sweeter it was to the taste.

There are ways of helping without doing everything - otherwise you take away the opportunity for them to be proud of something they've achieved.

But later, as she slipped down further into the bathtub filled with hot water, soaping her body and feeling the pressure of the day wash from her bones, she wondered - not for the first time in her adult life - who am I?

"I heard Dr. Blanche once telling you not to take it all on your shoulders.  Remember that, Maisie.  Remember. Some things you just can't change - about people or things, or the way of the world.  And some are not yours to change.

"Jesse, I was brought up to mind my manners, so it grieves me to have to tell you to button it until I'm finished."  She pointed to her lips.  "I may be a woman who lives on this side of the water now, but if you think I've forgotten the streets, you can think again."


Summary

A beloved community member, Eddie Pettit, is killed in a fluke factory accident, and suspicions point to foul play.  Maisie vows to Eddie's mother to investigate and bring justice for her son even though the many of the answers are more complicated and have long range and deep reaching consequences than Maisie could have ever imagined.  Along the way, Maisie also navigates her newfound status as a woman of wealth with that of her earned independence as well as her relationship with Viscount James Compton.


What I Liked

The Setting - England - old England to be exact with names of cities, towns, communities, landmarks, estates - I'm unfamiliar with many of these, but I was able to follow a general lay of the land through Winspear's detail.

The history - early history of Hitler, Churchill, political climate of Britain in between WWI and WWII along with ideas of how America might fit into the future of Britain as an ally.

The brief look at the horse and buggy culture at the onset of motor car popularity - I found Eddie's death to be a figurative comparison to the death of the horse as the main mode of transportation.

A British Manor Household - very similar to Downton Abbey in that there is a butler, footmen, housekeepers, gatekeepers, chauffer, etc. all with very specific job descriptions, designed to keep the Comptons comfortable in the manner to which their class is accustomed.  Much fussy etiquette is observed at all times to Maisie's chagrin much of the time.

Maisie's relationship with the townspeople - somehow Maisie is able to move back and forth between social circles with ease as far as how others accept her.  She is not always comfortable fulfilling her "duties" as a society lady but seems to be respected wherever she goes.  While she's certainly not a perfect character and feels the need to question and analyze her ever move, she manages to carry on even the most sensitive and tense conversations without letting her emotions get the best of her.

The portrayal of Eddie as a challenged individual who, contrary to popular belief for much of history, was not just a "thow-away" person...Eddie had many gifts to offer those who took the time to find them.  He lived and was loved by the people of his community and earned his own keep with his mother and teacher's help until a selfish individual took advantage of Eddie's willingness to please others...a lesson for today.

The End - no happy wrap up here...history is complicated and politics even more so...and don't forget relationships :p

Evelyn Butterworth - Bart's girlfriend - In the midst of tragedy, Evelyn puts on her "big girl britches," doesn't wallow in her sorrow, and keeps on moving.  What a gal! :)

Priscilla Partridge - I was a little worried that she was too good to be true, but I'm going to assume that she's exactly the kind of friend that Maisie would want...someone who accepts her for who she is, doesn't try to pretend she's something she's not (even though she has money), and knows when to push and even more importantly, when to back away.

What I Didn't Like

Order - While I don't think Elegy for Eddie has to be read in order with the other Maisie Dobbs books (because I didn't have a problem following the plot of this 9th book of the series), I'm just easily distracted enough to want to know about the people and circumstances from Maisie's past...her mentor Maurice, her previous life as a chambermaid, then nurse and her first love who died from injuries sustained in the war, etc.

John Otterburn - a dangerous man disguised in wealth and his ability to reach many people and wield his power through his ideas via the newspapers he owns and his intolerance for those who question him.  Can you say "Propaganda"?

Bart Soanes - in his mind, a newspaperman with a a duty to shine light on injustice...but at what price?

James Compton - please don't be mad - I just don't know...I'm not sure he knows who he is...he morphs in and out of character - the snobby Viscount expecting Maisie to fall in step to the young man who wants more in his life than following the path of his birth.  I'm holding out my final decision on James until I find out more about him.  I'm just not sure he's right for Maisie (since I'm the expert and all :p)



Overall Recommendation

I'm going to assume that anyone who's followed Maisie thus far would want to continue her journey.  Maisie's story is an easy one...no grimacing violence nor language with focus on a self-made woman during the early twentieth century weathering both highs and lows of life.


Author



Jacqueline Winspear can be found on her website, Facebook, and the Maisie Dobbs blog.


Other Stops on the Tour

Wednesday, October 31st: Cold Read
Thursday, November 1st: Peppermint PhD
Tuesday, November 6th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, November 7th: Teresa’s Reading Corner
Thursday, November 8th: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, November 13th: Book Journey
Thursday, November 15th: I’m Booking It
Monday, November 19th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Tuesday, November 20th: Oh! Paper Pages
Monday, November 26th: 50 Books Project
Wednesday, November 28th: Books, Thoughts, And a Few Adventures
Thursday, November 29th: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lucky Bunny - TLC Book Review


Lucky Bunny by Jill Dawson
Harper Perennial, November 2012

Format? Oversized paperback

Source? Publisher via TLC Book Tours
FTC Disclosure: The publisher sent me a complimentary copy of Lucky Bunny for review; however, all opinions are my own and are offered without bias.

Cover? When I first saw the cover of Lucky Bunny, I almost let its "romanticky" look distract me from what was inside.  I actually passed it up once, and then when I saw it again and read the synopsis, I told myself not to be a snob.  After reading Lucky Bunny, the cover fits...Queenie and Tony, black and white, 50's style. Yep.

Title?  Queenie's dad "Lucky Boy Tommy" gave her a little stuffed bunny the day she was born.  Queenie keeps it with her for a long time but has lifelong analytical questions about whether a person's life is decided by "luck" or what she makes of it.

Why?  It's historical fiction, it's crime, it's London, it's a family drama...it's got my name written on it.

I was reminded of?  Liesel from The Book Thief - Young Queenie is just as smart and just as resourceful as Liesel was.  Queenie doesn't steal books obviously, but she steals just about anything else...she's a survivor.  Queenie is in England while Liesel was in Germany, and we obviously get to know Queenie much longer, throughout her adulthood, than Liesel...but for me, there were some very similar, deep, moving traits of these two memorable female characters for me.

What Now?  Lucky Bunny will be joining my other keepers in the glass shelves of my antique secretary...no Giveaway this time folks.  I also can't wait to get my hands on Jill Dawson's other books.  I LOVED this one! 

Golden Lines

Nan lived one flight down.  She was Dad's muvver, she'd had a great band of boys, and no girls, and all of them "bad as socks" and sure to be "the death of her."  Like lots of women at that time she'd all her teeth removed for no good reason except that she couldn't afford dentists' bills, and if she had any beauty, I think it went that day with the teeth.

Birds hold their breath, watching me.  I'm listening to my own heartbeat.  Bobby is bouncing on one leg, and then sniveling, and the white milk bottle smiles at me, glowing, handsome.  Take me.  I'm yours.  Come on, gel.  You can do it.  Come on.

"Well would you look at that, the gel's a proper bleeding actress, ain't she good at lying?"
I beamed at that: the first - maybe only - compliment she ever paid me.

"It's ten shillings and eight pence for the first one.  How much do we get if we have the girl too?" the lady asks.

Dad  loves me best though for my best skill: keeping mum, he says.  Keeping my lips sealed.  I can do that.  He's so tall and so swingy, he can "show out" as he walks along, with all the ladies looking at him, and he has something new: a limp, and as he limps by, the ladies cock their heads at him like little birds, their hands on their hips and smiling so, so sweetly, and kindly.  He's like something royal, like a prince or a soldier as he limps quickly through the station, touching his hat here and there to people.  The dog's bollocks, Mum would say.  Or a dream.

I loved the way his hands smelled of the coffee grounds from the cafe', or faintly of oil from his car, and how this combination was good, was masculine and sexy, when it came from Tony.  But the thing that only occurred to me later was this.  Stella.  She wanted him first and went for him, and Tony chose me.

When I really examined a lady (we never said "woman" in those days) who'd been wealthy for generations, I doomily concluded that her difference from me was indeed deep, and hard to fake.  bones and flesh grown from good food, not just in one lifetime, but over generations.  The jaw, the size of the ears.  And most of all the profound  certainty of where the next meal, the next hot bath, was coming from.

Once, at the Approved School, I remember Sister Grey saying to Sister Catherine, after looking at the files for a new admission and sighing theatrically, "How come all these street girls claim to have been abused by their fathers or uncles?  I ask you - how statistically likely is that?" Based on my experience running the club, based on the Approved School, based on Ruth and Stella and everyone I knew at the time, I'd say: very.

When we were rolling, working girls were picked up all the time by police, fined thirty shillings, and back on the streets the next morning.  The fine was part of the job, you know, a kind of tax.

These are my best skills - all the things the Green Bottles taught me and more.  Balls of steel, Gloria used to say.  And eyes in the back of my head.

That's the easy bit, the robbery.  The waiting, the getting away with it, that's something else.

Probably Mum had hoped that pleading criminal insanity would mean a lighter sentence than prison, that going to a hospital would have been easier.  She hadn't reckoned on secure hospitals, and drugs, and her own hopelessness, or the "indefinite sentence" idea, the fact that for you to get out, someone has to be interested, someone high up has to care, has to plead your case before the Medical Superintendent.  People - women - were locked up in places like that forever, for less than Moll did.

As long as you stay, you're convinced you can manage him, appease him, control him, match him, keep him sweet in some way.  Leave, or try to, and his threats become real.

It's like no one could actually imagine a bunch of working-class criminals, most of them knowing each other from poor bits of London or their time inside, actually planning it together, carrying off something that cheeky, "the crime of the century" they called it, without a posh bloke to boss them around.

People love to believe they're so much better than they are.  People who have never been tested, they're so quick to judge.  What do they really know about themselves?

Summary

Queenie Dove grows up in a criminal family in the East End slums of London.  Stealing, "nicking" or "hoisting" is what she knows.  She's praised for her skills while being sent away for her crimes is inevitable and even considered an expected part of life from time to time.  There is no question of right or wrong, just doing what you can to survive in an unforgiving environment.  Queenie is a survivor.  Childhood, adolescence, and into her adult years, including becoming a mother herself, Queenie, an incredibly intelligent, cunning, brave young woman finds her way in a world so harsh that few truly make it to the good life. 


What I Liked

Song lyrics - all throughout Lucky Bunny, Queenie's story is complimented by song lyrics from first children's rhymes and then popular tunes from the radio during Queenie's lifetime.

Dialect and vocabulary - gel (Cockney slang for girl...not the stuff you put in your hair), nicked, hoisting, cozzers, "leg it," Old Bill, shop walkers, borstal boys, rolling...not just the dialogue, but the entire story, told by Queenie is written this way...with Queenie from time to time explaining analytically what "modern day" psychologists would label particular patterns of her life, especially during her times "inside."  I never felt left out though; I never felt confused; there is enough detail in Lucky Bunny that you can follow the patterns as well as hear the words being said.  I found myself many times repeating phrases out loud...just to hear myself (like the goob that I am) talking like Queenie in my best Cockney Southern accent :p

Moll Flanders - Queenie's mother's name is Molly...Moll for short, but Queenie knows the story of Moll Flanders and compares her life to the professional "con" who also never reveals her real name.

The Green Bottles, Gloria, Stella - the stereotypical idea of women thieves and/or prostitutes leads us to believe that they were all cut-throats and/or out for themselves or from traditional "gangster" movies, always dressed up to please their fella.  They don't really play a "part" in the crimes, probably due to the "birds are bad luck" belief.  However, within the culture of women thieves in the early 1900's in London, Dawson presents them as more of a family than lone wolves.  The cons, robberies, shoplifting, and even prostitution are just a part of their lives.  Crime is what they know; it's survival of the fittest; there's no guilt, and many times, it's even a game.  The Green Bottles take Queenie in after her mother is sent away.  They don't purposely teach her how to steal...they teach her how to stay alive...in the only way they know.  There's a serious support system here.

Tony in the beginning - unlike my initial jump to conclusions based on the cover photo, this isn't a "love story."  Tony is one part of Queenie's life...definitely an important part...but Queenie never thinks of their relationship as lifelong...because nothing is.  I think I wished for him to be her Knight in Shining Armour, but Queenie didn't really want to be saved from anything; she wanted to save herself, which makes their relationship that much more powerful.

The history - East End London 1930's-1960's, WWII, bombings in London, billeting of children during the war from the cities to rural areas in the hopes that they would be safe from bombings, East End slum culture, tube shelters, ARP officers...silence after the Bethnal Green tube station tragedy, kennel boys at the Greyhound races, Green Bottles, London gangs, Approved Schools, good time girls, Young Offenders place, underground clubs, Summer 1963 and the Profumo Scandal, The Great Train Robbery (Glasgow-to-London postal train), birth control, abortion, and birth,  prostitution, etc.  I could go on and on here...Lucky Bunny is packed with history and sociology.


What I Didn't Like

Tony at the end - no spoilers here, but Queenie does prepare us when she tells Stella, "Nothin's for keeps...especially not a fella."

Nothing else to see here folks; move along.

Overall Recommendation

Fans of Historical fiction, tough yet flawed heroines, alternate definitions of love and family, women's histories, etc. will love this book.  Just like I did. 


The Author


Visit Jill Dawson on her website.

Other Stops on the Tour


Tuesday, October 30th: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, November 1st: Unabridged Chick
Monday, November 5th: A Reader of Fictions
Tuesday, November 6th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, November 7th: A Library of My Own
Thursday, November 9th: Walking With Nora
Monday, November 12th: The House of the Seven Tails
Tuesday, November 13th: West Metro Mommy
Wednesday, November 14th: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Thursday, November 15th: Jenny Loves to Read
Friday, November 16th: Creating Comfort

Monday, October 29, 2012

TLC Book Review - Lola's Secret and Giveaway!



Lola's Secret by Monica McInerney
Ballantine Books, 2012

Format? Over-sized paperback

Source?  Publisher via TLC Book Tours
FTC Disclosure: Although I was provided a complimentary copy of Lola's Secret, the opinions and review below are based on my own opinions and are given without bias.

Why? Monica McInerney has been described as "the Maeve Binchy of Australia."  Lola is from Ireland but has lived in Australia most of her adult life.  I love Ireland, have always been intrigued by Australia, and I made a commitment to read Binchy's after reading so much about her after her recent death.  Lola's Secret is a family story as well, told from the viewpoint of the great-grandmother Lola.   I had very high hopes for this book.

Title? Lola drafted the Christmas guest questions before she sent them off...Lola's Secret was the name of the file in which those questions were saved. 

Cover? I'm embarrassed to admit that I have no idea of the significance of the cover photo :( If you know, please share.  Dear Jenners, I'm talking to you since I completely missed the smiley face salad ingredients on Sad Desk Salad ;)

What Now?  The publisher has generously offered a copy to one reader (US and Canada), and I'll be giving away my copy as well (International).  Just leave your name, blog name and email address in the comments section and I'll draw a winner in 2 weeks :)


Golden Lines

She touched her granddaughter on the cheek.  "Go darling.  And please cheer up.  Be grateful for what you have.  And try not to hate your sister too much.  Use your energy for something more fun."


That was life for you, she realized.  You could plot and plan and organize as much as
 you liked, but you never knew what was going to come flying out of nowhere and give you a big surprise or a nasty shock. 


"Divorce him, Carrie."
"And he won't even - What did you say?"
"Divorce him.  You've never really been happy with him.  File for divorce, go and live somewhere else with the three kids and hopefully you'll find another husband soon."
"But I love Matthew.  I don't want to divorce him."
"So why have you been sitting here complaining about him for what feels like the last six hours?"


Summary

Lola is the grand matriarch of the Quinlan family who lives and works in the Valley View Motel in Clare Valley in South Australia.  As the holidays approach, Lola's life gets busier and busier.  Between her time at the Thrift Shop and trying to keep the rest of her family from killing each other, Lola has her work cut out for her.  How she juggles it all as well as inevitable life changes are quite something for this spry eighty-four year old woman with a zest for living every day of her life to the fullest.


What I Liked

Lola's honesty - if someone was whining, she told him/her to get over it.

Lola's humor - her snippets and natural one liners kept me reading when nothing else did.


What I Didn't Like

Lola's outrageous clothes - I kept imagining the old comic lady Maxine...and the image just didn't fit for me.

Mrs. Kernaghan - the old busybody - I would have liked it if Lola had smacked her around a time or two.

Geraldine - the daughter-in-law from hell.

Bett and Carrie - Lola's granddaughters (two of the alphabet sisters) possibly the two whiniest characters ever.

The stories of the Christmas guests - about halfway through the book, I truly was worried how McInerney was going to wrap things up with this subplot if she didn't get the guests to the hotel soon.  Because of the way things worked out for each of the guests, I never could figure out how the heck these individuals' stories were so important to Lola's story...so important as to take up so much space in the book.  I may have missed something really important, but I just didn't get it.

There were soooo many stories here that could have been told in depth...yet I never felt any of them moved past the surface...and worse for me was that I never felt these stories connected:
The Baby Squad/Carrie and Bett, the Thrift Store ladies/Luke and Emily/obnoxious Mrs. Kernighan, Lola and Alex, The Christmas guests/Jim and Geraldine/Ellen/Life without Anna, etc.
Yes, they were all a part of Lola's life, but they felt chopped up...almost like Lola short stories all smushed together :(

There's really not a whole lot of Australia or Ireland here...except just the setting and some childhood memories.  Again, no depth for my expectations.

I had to push myself to finish Lola's Secret.  It just didn't work for me.  That doesn't mean it won't work for someone else though.


Overall Recommendation

I think if you've read The Alphabet Sisters, you should probably read this one since the story of Anna, Bett and Carrie begins there.  I may actually go back and read it myself to see if I feel any more connected to these characters. 


The Author



Monica McInerney can be found via her website and Facebook



Other Stops on the Tour

Monday, October 15th:  Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Wednesday, October 17th:  Seaside Book Nook
Thursday, October 18th:  Mom in Love with Fiction
Monday, October 22nd:  BookNAround
Wednesday, October 24th:  Silver & Grace
Thursday, October 25th:  Books in the City
Monday, October 29th:  Peppermint Ph.D.
Tuesday, October 30th:  Reviews from the Heart
Monday, November 5th:  A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, November 6th:  Bookfoolery and Babble
Wednesday, November 7th:  Amused by Books
Thursday, November 8th:  Suko’s Notebook
Monday, November 12th:  Fiction State of Mind
Wednesday, November 14th:  Life in Review
Friday, November 16th:  Books and Movies