These Is My Words (Nancy Turner)

In a word: Endearing

The exact copy of the book I read has gotten lost, and I can’t even find a pic of it online. So you’ll have to take my word for it that it was UG-LY. When this book was placed into my hands, I did judge that book by its cover, and it did not bode well:

  1. Grammar  in the title: bad
  2. Cover: homely
  3. Author: unknown
  4. Setting: Arizona
  5. Format: Diary

Due to all of the above, I would never have picked up this book except that the person who gave me the book was my mother. She recommended it, and what’s more, she expected me to read it.  I am a dutiful daughter, so I took the plunge, imagining that I’d take one for the team and then return to all of the more interesting titles on my TBR list.

(My mom has great taste in books, so I don’t know why I was so reluctant to trust her.)

(This is a much more attractive copy of the book than the one I read.)

That unpromising cover does give you a true preview in some ways: this is the diary of a young pioneer girl as she moves with her family into the truly wild west of Arizona territory. The unpolished grammar and spelling does take some getting used to, but it improves as the narrator matures. But despite this, and all of my other misgivings, it didn’t take me long to warm up to the characters and the story–I was curious, then invested, then totally engrossed. I finished the book within 24 hours, and I remorselessly neglected my home and family responsibilities until I got to the end.

A plot summary doesn’t do justice to the charm of this book. If you know anything about pioneer life, or if you ever played Oregon Trail, you can make pretty good guesses: snake bites, Indian raids, cattle thieves, natural disasters, etc.– all exciting, but par for the course.

What makes this book exceptional is the scrappy, determined narrator and her leading man, who might have just nudged his way into my Top Ten Literary Crushes list. Oh, Captain Jack: pass me the smelling salts! (No spoilers here, but his line “Mustache!” might be my favorite part in the whole book.)

This is one of those rare, sweet books that you can gobble down in a day but that will stick in your mind for much, much longer.

***

Here are some favorite quotes from the book, thanks to Leslie, who had the good sense to read this with a pencil in her hand:

“Childbirth is not an enemy you can fight or conquer or outrun, it takes you and tears you apart from the inside out and you have to just submit to it. I never understood why a girl would choose to be an old maid, but now I do.”

“Any other man ever comes around me better be carrying a pistol with one more bullet than I’ve got or I’ll have the last word.”

“A friendly silence can speak between two who will walk together a long way.”

“I know all these people are so busy because they love each other and me. We are a noisy crowd of love.”

“Mostly I just raise my children and cook and clean, flirt with Jack and enjoy his company, and read aloud the books he give me for silly holidays he makes up. Like, Oh, here’s a gift for The Third Tuesday in October, didn’t you know that’s a holiday?Well I bought you a book. He is amazing.”

“Well I hope I’m not that cantankerous. No. There’s a difference between strong coffee and bitter medicine.”

Sarah is strong coffee indeed! Her inspiring, endearing tale might be just what you need to wake up your reading life this holiday season.

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Fitzwilliam Darcy: Rock Star (Heather Lynn Rigaud)

When I picked this up from the sale rack at Hastings, I knew it would either be brilliant or terrible. But at 40% off, I was willing to take a chance. I can’t quite tell you why this book ended up in my basket after I panned at least a thousand other Austen tribute novels, other than the hope that this one promised not to take itself too seriously. Either that, or the idea of Darcy in leather pants was just too intriguing to pass up.


Back story: I have hated every other book I’ve read that attempts to play off of Jane’s classic stories, characters, or themes. (Correction: Katherine Reay’s novels are an exception; see our reviews for Lizzy & Jane and Dear Mr. Knightley.) But overall, Austen-inspired novels  seem to exhibit one or more of the following problematic elements:

a) terribly written stories and characters whose only hope of success is by association with Jane the Great
b) blatantly derivative plots disguised as “sequels” or “spinoffs”
c) pretentious authors actually trying to write in Austen style

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star suffered from none of the above. In many ways, it was actually a successful adaptation of my beloved characters and story: original and clever in its modern setting, yet true to the essence of the characters and to the major plot points of Pride and Prejudice.

Fitzwilliam “Will” Darcy is the mysterious front man of rocker group Slurry, a trio comprised of Darcy, his cousin Richard Fitzwilliam, and his college friend Charles Bingley. Desperate for an opening act as they begin their fourth national tour, they book up-and-coming girl band Long Bourne Suffering, made up of the beautiful Bennet sisters and their pal Charlotte Lucas. The relationship between the three single rock stars and the three sexy single ladies is strictly business…until it’s not (which takes about three hot seconds). As the plot progresses, readers encounter lots of familiar characters: the girls’ sleazy agent Bill Collins, the overbearing label owner Catherine DeBourgh, the too-good-to-be-true music video director (and former Slurry member) George Wickham, Darcy’s sweet and sensible little sister Georgie. It all works surprisingly well.

But despite this promising beginning, I do NOT recommend this book.

I wasn’t naive enough to expect that the essential virtue of Jane and Elizabeth (and Charlotte…and Bingley…and DARCY, for that matter) would survive this modernization. Darcy is a rock-and-roll icon, after all, so I wouldn’t have expected him to smolder for four hundred pages before he dared to risk the intimacy of addressing Elizabeth by her first name.

BUT. The sex scenes in this book are so over-the-top and frequent that I had a major crisis of conscience about even finishing the book.  Instead of having the characters articulate their thoughts and resolve emotional conflict through self-reflection and conversation, they immediately fall into bed (or whatever surface might be even closer). At one point, Darcy even admits, “We communicate better through our music…or non-verbally.” News flash, Mr. Rock-and-Roll Star: relationships don’t work that way. And neither do plots; long pornographic scenes are just not a substitute for character development and dialogue.

A serious literary analysis could find plenty of other things to pick apart concerning the plot and characters, but this novel is unapologetically fan fiction, not literature. Some serious editing could have made this story a novel riff on a classic favorite, but as it is, the indulgent sexual scenes weigh down the effect. Sexy-Darcy fans who want to keep their consciences intact will just have to content themselves with watching Colin Firth dive into the lake at Pemberley…again.

 

June Recap

June was a really fun month of reading for me. I started in a little bit of a slump, but once I got going on a couple of these, I just couldn’t stop reading!

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1. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

The first of a long series of books following Maisie Dobbs, a detective/private investigator/boss lady in the 1920’s. She is smart and totally lovable. This first book has a lot of flashbacks to set up Maisie’s back-story, but I hear that doesn’t continue much through the rest of the series. I really enjoyed Maisie and can’t wait to continue with the series!

2. Ready Player One by Earnest Cline

Full post here. Surprisingly enjoyable dystopian YA nerd novel. Ready Player One takes place in dystopian future America and follows an eighteen year old boy who is trying to win a video game contest for the hope of a better life.

3. Still Life by Louise Penny

Louise Penny’s first Chief Inspector Gamache novel. I read a different Louise Penny book that comes later in the series before I realized that it was a series, so I finally got around to starting at the beginning. I loved it. The crazy characters, the quaint small town, the quiet confidence of Gamache–I can’t wait for my library to get me book 2!

4. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

True confession: I did not finish this book. I had it on my kindle from the library, and I didn’t know my time would expire so quickly. I really enjoyed the parts that I did read (I highlighted and took screenshots almost every time I read), but I found it hard to pick it up and read for very long. Someday I would like to come back and finish this book, but I probably won’t right now.

5. The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

Beautiful memoir about Elizabeth Alexander’s husband who passed away suddenly. Alexander is a poet, so her descriptions of her Ficre (her husband) and their life together were really beautiful. Lindsey did a full review of The Light of the World here.

6. Little House on the Prairie, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

These books are just so classic. I read these three in preparation for our trip to visit Laura and Almanzo’s house in Missouri, and I laughed and cried through them.

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All the heart eyes for Laurmanzo

7. The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes

SO FUN. This might be one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year. It takes place in the fashion world of New York City and follows a seasoned editor-in-chief of Glossy Magazine through a transition into the new world of social media. I loved all of the name-dropping of famous designers and the commentary on the bads (and goods) of our instagram-obsessed culture. It was fun, thought-provoking, and just overall very entertaining. Definitely a great summer read.

8. Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay

I really enjoyed this one! It is the story of two sisters (named for the Bennets) who struggle to connect after years of bitterness following their mother’s death. One is a chef, one is a stay-at-home mom battling cancer, but both have some serious emotional baggage to sort through. Even though that sounds heavy, the book is quite lighthearted and full of quotes and conversation about Jane Austen, other classic literature, and food.

9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Marie Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is one of my favorite books. I reread it this month for my book club (I got to choose the book, so of course I picked this on), and it was just as good on my fourth read. The story is told through a series of memos, emails, flyers, and newspaper clippings, so it is really quirky. I LOVE it.

The Girl You Left Behind (JoJoMoyes)

In a word: Feel-good

The Girl You Left Behind

If you follow us on Instagram you may remember that I almost didn’t even finish this one. But I am so glad I did!

The first quarter of the book set up the back story in this enjoyable past/present mystery. The story of two sisters holding down the home front in German-occupied France felt SO reminiscent of The Nightingale that I thought it might be better to try it again later. But as I kept reading, I found myself caught up in the other half of the narrative: the modern-day story of sweet and sad Liv, stumbling into a new love four years after the tragic death of her husband.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Moyes is a good storyteller, and her writing is clear and uncomplicated. For bluffer history nerds like myself, the historical setting was interesting. And while I am in the minority, at least according to Goodreads and Amazon reviews, I also enjoyed the modern-day story, which revolves around the mystery of a painting: a portrait by a lesser-known Impressionist, once hung in a French hotel, taken to France after the war, now in the possession of a British architect who bought it on a sidewalk in Spain.

Now, I said that this book will appeal to history bluffs, not serious scholars, and I kind of think the same is true of semi-literary readers as well. The plot and characters would not hold up under intense scrutiny, and I suspect the historical details would not fare much better. So if you have high standards in either of these areas, you may pooh-pooh this selection. But if you’re able to enjoy a story without asking too many questions, this may be right up your alley.

Many of the issues in the story are serious– World War I in the past and a tragic widow in the present, not to mention morally complex themes like wartime infidelity and post-war reparations. Nevertheless, I’m categorizing this as a beach read– somehow it just doesn’t feel that heavy when it’s all said and done, thanks in part to a very satisfying ending. (A bit too neat? Perhaps. But like I said before, don’t ask too many questions.)

The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah)

 

In a word: Devastating

The Nightingale

I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. But, the setting is France during World War II, so you know it’s not going to be an upbeat beach read. This is the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, each of whom faces her own struggle to survive.

In German occupied France, food is scarce. French police cannot be trusted to protect their own citizens. Men are sent to hopeless battles, and women and children are not safe in their own homes. Neighbors snitch. Politicians capitulate. Friends disappear. The details of this novel are a reminder that war is hell, even when the fighting is far away. And in an environment of fear, corruption, and desperation, human relationships are complicated.

On a most personal level, reading novels like this is always helpful in a shaming kind of way; “experiencing” the suffering of others offers healthy perspective. It helps me realize the smallness of my daily complaints (Can’t lose 5 pounds of baby weight! Grocery store out of 50% less sodium green beans! Ugh, where are my Tic Tacs?). I also am reminded what a bubble of extravagant prosperity I live in, and without which I would probably die. Were scarcity to enter my world in such a way that I depended on my own canning to survive the winter, for example, my family and I would starve. The contrast between Vianne’s life and mine makes me feel humble and grateful.

It’s hard to read stories like this where evil is so stark. Tales of brutality and terror are easier to stomach when they happened long ago; I can write it off as “another time,” perhaps even feel that it’s only to be expected among primitive, uncivilized peoples. But stories of World War I and II are especially stomach-wrenching for me: these are people so much like us, who live in a recognizable world that is suddenly turned upside down. I think this is why novels from this time period are so powerful: against the backdrop of a horrifying moral landscape, stories of hope and human triumph shine even brighter.