J Fiction

All posts in the J Fiction category

Catherine, Called Birdy

Published October 26, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

catherine called Birdy cover

Review of Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Overview from www.goodreads.com: Catherine feels trapped. Her father is determined to marry her off to a rich man–any rich man, no matter how awful.

But by wit, trickery, and luck, Catherine manages to send several would-be husbands packing. Then a shaggy-bearded suitor from the north comes to call–by far the oldest, ugliest, most revolting suitor of them all.

Unfortunately, he is also the richest.

Can a sharp-tongued, high-spirited, clever young maiden with a mind of her own actually lose the battle against an ill-mannered, piglike lord and an unimaginative, greedy toad of a father?

Deus! Not if Catherine has anything to say about it!

My Review:

The story of Catherine, a girl of fourteen who comes from a moderately wealthy family, is told to the reader from the diary she writes in every day. The first entry records the fact that her brother is responsible both for her being able to read and write and for the fact that she is being forced to write her thoughts down. The diary itself takes us through a year of her life.

I got this book out of curiosity after I spied on the website that the library has for those who want to borrow e-books. I never imagined that I would like it so much. I thought of it only as a short book to pass the time until I found another one.

I not only liked it though, I absolutely loved it. I think it has been a while since I read a book that I could honestly say that I loved but this one was great. Not only did I appreciate the author’s attempts to portray the Middle Ages as realistically as possible but I was also surprised by how funny it was. The main character is not type of girl who stays out of trouble and she is not exactly an all-out rebel either but she does get into some scrapes once and while and they are hilarious. Not only that but hearing her thoughts about people and some of the things that she does to show her displeasure with her lot kept made me laugh out loud. And there are very few books that can make me do that.

Here is an example:

“More lady-lessons. It is impossible to do all and be all a lady must be and not tie oneself in a knot…A lady must have six hands! She must not look proud nor yet too humble, least people say she is proud of her humility. She must not talk overmuch yet not be silent, lest people think she does not know how to converse. She must not show anger, nor sulk, nor scold, nor overeat, nor overdrink, nor swear. God’s thumbs! I am going out to the barn to jump, fart, and pick my teeth!”

The main conflict in the story, besides Catherine’s desire to escape being a lady, is her attempt to keep her father from marrying her off to some old weirdo for money. She prefers not to marry at all but if she must marry then she would rather marry someone close to her own age. This is where many of her troubles come from as well as her desire to help others, such as some of the villagers that are under her father’s thumb.

If there is any downside to this story, I can’t see it. I didn’t even find any swear words unless you count Catherine’s own attempts at swearing by saying “God’s thumbs” or “Corpus bones” which just make me laugh. She is one of the most likeable characters I have read about for a long time. I think I will order the e-book version of this so that I can have this one permanently. I think I could read it again and again.

P.S. This will probably be the last time I will be posting on this site. I am moving over to http://myliteraryleanings.blogspot.com for future reviews since there seems to be more interest there and more flexibility.

Monsoon Summer

Published August 17, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

monsoon summer cover

Review of Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins

Overview from www.bn.com: Jasmine “Jazz” Gardner heads off to India during the monsoon season. The family trip is her mother’s doing: Mrs. Gardner wants to volunteer at the orphanage that cared for her when she was young. But going to India isn’t Jazz’s idea of a great summer vacation. She wants no part of her mother’s do-gooder endeavors.

What’s more, Jazz is heartsick. She’s leaving the business she and her best friend, Steve Morales, started—as well as Steve himself. Jazz is crazy in love with the guy. If only he knew!

Only when Jazz reluctantly befriends Danita, a girl who cooks for her family, and who faces a tough dilemma, does Jazz begin to see how she can make a difference—to her own family, to Danita, to the children at the orphanage, even to Steve. As India claims Jazz, the monsoon works its madness and its magic.

My Review:

I finally got a book for free that wasn’t a Barnes & Noble Free Friday book. This one came from a coworker and friend who got it for free at a library event of some kind. (Sorry, I didn’t really pay attention.)

My friend said that she saw this book on a table of free books and thought I would like it. She proved once again that she really understands my tastes because I loved it.

Monsoon Summer is the story of girl, Jazz (Jasmine) Gardner who is half Indian and half American but never feels totally at home in either culture. Though she does well at school, sports and even has her own business on the side, she doesn’t quite feel like she fits in with most of the other girls from her school.

The only person she does feel comfortable with is her best friend since grade school, Steve Morales. At least she used to. Now that she has fallen for him but is afraid to tell him, she’s not quite so comfortable with him either.

Then the bomb drops. She and her family are going to India for the summer. This is the last thing she wants since it will mean leaving Steve and the business they have set up.

But Jazz is not selfish. She knows it has always been her mother’s dream to go back to the land of her birth and Jazz would never let on that she would rather stay home in Berkeley and keep the other girls from her school from trying to take Steve away from her.

Like many others who travel to India, she discovers a whole new world of people and situations, many of them that break her heart. She wants to make a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate and give them the same opportunities she has had but is afraid of making another big mistake. Along the way she must learn to let go and realize that she has a lot more to offer than she thought possible.

I liked this story for a lot of reasons but I am sure that one of the things that I liked about the story was that Jazz goes to the same city that I went to when I visited India. I recognized a lot of my own trip in hers. Of course I was older but I don’t see how anyone with a heart could not feel for people who welcome foreigners into their homes and their hearts with such a generous spirit as I felt when I was there. Their lives were mostly worse than mine yet rarely was I greeted by any of my hosts without a big smile.

The poverty is heart-breaking. That was the worst part. So what better place for Jazz to initiate one of her own “giving opportunities” that her mom is always encouraging her to do than in India?

I also liked how the story showed how much girls and even grown women undervalue is ourselves. Never is this more evident than in a place like India. We can learn, like Jazz does, that the most important thing we can give to another human being is to give of ourselves. We can make a difference.

The Road to Chianti

Published February 2, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

the road to chianti coverReview of The Road to Chianti by Kelly Hughes Roberts

Overview from www.bn.com: Set in Italy in the year 1977, The Road to Chianti follows two young orphans as they struggle to find a place to call home.

When their parents are killed in a devastating accident on the eve of the Epiphany, nine-year-old Alessandra DeSantis and her older brother, Salvatore, are left alone. With no one to care for them, the children soon end up in a run-down orphanage far from their home in Chianti. Still emotionally scarred from losing their parents, they now face an even greater challenge-the cruel Agostina, who works Alessandra and Salvatore to the point of exhaustion.

Deciding they must escape, Alessandra and Salvatore flee in the night and unknowingly embark on a harrowing adventure across the Italian countryside. With Agostina’s goons hot on their trail, Alessandra and Salvatore vow to do whatever it takes to survive, and above all else, find their way home to Chianti. But one nagging question always hangs over them-what will they find when they finally get home?

My Review:

This week’s book is not an easy one to review. I heard about it from someone I know who thought I might find it interesting and I did. I looked forward to reading it for a while after I bought it but decided to finish reading some library books that I had checked out before they had returned them. Those were the bulk of my reviews for the past few weeks.

The overview said that the story is set in Italy in the year 1977 however I found little evidence of that time period in the story unless you factor in the absence of electronic gadgets into the equation. That was not necessarily a negative for me since I am not a huge fan of that time period but it did bring up some other problems.

The main thing I noticed was that the author mentions several different occasions where the runaway children pay for things with Euros. In 1977 Euros wouldn’t have existed yet. I went to Italy back in the nineties just before the Euros became the only acceptable currency and I paid for most of my things with the Lira, as did most of the people who I saw. Most of the merchants were accepting Euros at the same time as Liras but this practice had only recently started.

Another problem I noticed was that the point of view seemed to change abruptly. I have a feeling though that most of this might be due to publishing errors rather than the author’s so I tried to ignore it.

That being said, the story itself was a good one. Though I am not sure, I have a feeling that the target audience is children as the narrator speaks in a child-like tone. However, I think that adults would enjoy this one as well. The characters are sympathetic and the story is entertaining. The author manages to take a heart-breaking accident in the lives of two children and turn it into something beautiful.

I think it might have worked a little better if Alessandra were the only narrator in the story as the prologue begins with her looking back. I am not sure why Salvatore’s point of view is sometimes injected into her musings but it might have worked better if something had divided the Salvatore sections from the Alessandra sections distinctly and if the prologue had been dropped.

I still really like this story. I liked the details about Italy and in particular, life in Tuscany. And as I said earlier, it really was a beautiful and heart-warming tale. The glossary in the back would also be helpful I think for readers who don’t speak Italian though I didn’t need it.

Contains: mild violence

Anne of Green Gables

Published August 14, 2011 by myliteraryleanings

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Overview from www.bn.com: As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever…but will the Cuthberts send her back to the orphanage? Anne knows she’s not what they expected-a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she’ll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anybody else, the Cuthberts agree; she is special-a girl with an enormous imagination. This orphan girl dreams of the day when she can call herself Anne of Green Gables.

My Review:

Amazingly I had never read this book before.  I had watched the movie before and loved it but I had never read the book.  Finally I decided to look on the www.bn.com website to see if I could get it for free- you all know about my limited budget- and I found one those Google scanned copies of an old copy.  This was just fine with me since I could follow the story for the most part even with the missing or changed words (I think having already seen the movie might have helped in that regard) and the only real downside was that the very last page was entirely missing, so I read it from the library’s copy when I went down there last weekend.

Reading the book made me want to watch the movie again so I placed a hold for the video at the library and finally got it yesterday and watched the whole thing, loving it even more.  Back to the book, it was better than even I expected.  It was fairly similar to the movie which was nice because I understood why it was so beloved and why it made a great movie.  Surprisingly, the book dwelt less on Anne’s past before Green Gables, since Anne herself had been reluctant to discuss it much with Marilla, than the movie did and this made the book seem faster.

First off, although this book has a great plot, the best thing about it is the characters, especially Anne herself.  Anne has the most vivid imagination in the world I think which has helped her get through nearly all of her past difficulties in life.  The thing about her that springs to my mind right now is how she uses her imagination to describe places that seem ordinary to those around her.  When Matthew Cuthbert shows up at the train station to pick up the orphan boy that he and his sister Marilla plan to take in, he is astonished to find Anne there at the train station waiting for him.  Not wanting to leave the child alone he takes her home but is slightly nervous because he is incredibly shy around women.

It seems though that the reticent Matthew and the talkative Anne (“spelled with an e”) are made for each other.  Matthew is smitten almost immediately and lets Anne talk as much as she wants.  I think he is secretly relieved not to have to keep up his end of the conversation.  As an older gentleman, he must have a hard time changing his ways.  Anne is also relieved and defends her talkativeness.

“‘Oh, I’m so glad.  I know you and I are going to get along together fine.  It’s such a relief to talk when one wants and not be told that children should be seen and not heard.  I’ve had that said to me a million times if I have once.  ANd people laugh at me because I use big words.  But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?'” p.17

I feel that I can also relate a lot to Anne because even today I often find, as she explains later, that people laugh at me when I intend to be serious and that has been the case since I was about her age.  I also talk a lot at times though I admit that at her age I was shy like Matthew so I guess I can actually relate to both of them.

Things are not all well in Matthew and Anne’s world however, once Matthew brings Anne to Green Gables, after Anne renames much of Avonlea (the town where the Cuthberts live), and Marilla sees Anne.  She upset about the mistake of getting a girl when she and Matthew asked for a boy.  She agrees to keep Anne for the night and plans to send her back to the orphanage the following day.  When that day comes however, Marilla chickens out when she finds that if she gives up Anne it will not be to the orphanage but to a horrible woman named Mrs. Blewett who merely wants her for a glorified nanny, a position Anne had experienced before and wants no part of, to her many children.

Reluctantly, Marilla takes her back for even beneath her tough exterior, she has a heart and declares that “‘I wouldn’t give a dog I liked to that Blewett woman.'” p.39

As the story progress, Marilla rules Anne- or tries to anyway- but finds herself often succumbing to Anne’s charm as much as Matthew does, though she does her best not to show it.  Privately, she laughs at many of the rude and inappropriate things that Anne says even when they embarrass Marilla.  She agrees with Anne’s opinion of her “friend” Mrs. Lynde and is justly upset with Mrs. Berry, the mother of Anne’s friend, Diana, when she blames Anne for a mistake that Marilla tries to explain was her own.

Of course, Anne does make plenty of genuine mistakes of her own which make Marilla angry.  Underneath it all she loves the little girl, though she admits she’s not very good at showing it.  As time passes, most of those in the community that once hated or disapproved of her grow to love her or at least appreciate her.  She proves herself mostly through her academic prowess and by saving the life of Diana’s sister one winter.  Through her struggle to beat fellow student Gilbert Blythe, she becomes one of the top students on Prince Edward Island, as good as or better than Gilbert in nearly every subject.  She has become, as even the skeptical Mrs. Lynde admits, “‘a credit to your friends, Anne, that’s what, and we’re all proud of you.'” p. 196

Although things do not all end well for Anne, she does the best she can with what she has.  She has suffered some major setbacks, but being determined, we get the sense that she will do alright for herself and those she loves.  She might even find a little romance.  To find out what happens though, I guess I will have to read the next book.