Reader, I Married Him

readerimarriedhimEdited by Tracy Chevalier
First sentence: “Why is ‘Reader, I married him” one of the most famous lines in literature?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Some of the stories are sweary, including a dozen or so f-bombs spread out over several stories. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

First, a confession: while I’ve read Jane Eyre, I don’t love it. I’m not a huge Bronte fan, though I recognize the literary merit of their books. So, I really didn’t know what to expect from a short story collection that was built around one of the pivotal moments in Jane Eyre.

And, for the most part, I enjoyed this. I liked the ones that spun off completely from the idea of Jane Eyre, except for “The Mirror” which played with the idea that Mr. Rochester was a narcissist, an idea to which I can definitely ascribe. I also liked the parallels to the original in ” The Orphan Exchange.”

Other than that, I liked the ones that played with historical fiction — like “Since I First Saw Your Face” and “Reader, I Married Him.”  Though I think my favorite was “Self-Seeding Sycamore. ” I liked the play between the characters in the story; I think it was the only one where I felt there was actually chemistry between the characters.

So, while this was not a collection I would have picked up on my own (it was a book group book), I did enjoy it.

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

charlieandthechocolatefactoryby Roald Dahl
First sentence: “These two very old people are the father and mother of Mr. Bucket.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s one swear word (which caught me off guard!), but other than that, it’s okay. It’s pretty basic and is in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read this; I’m not entirely sure when the last time I opened this one. Sure, I know the story, but I don’t know when I’ve interacted with the words last.

It’s weird. And kind of mean, if you think about it. Dahl sets up such an extreme: Charlie is beyond dirt poor and the others are so well off comparatively. Are Violet, Veruca, Augustus, and Mike spoiled, really? Or are they spoiled BECAUSE Charlie is their foil? He was such a crank, and that comes through loud and clear. The kids that aren’t Charlie are constantly in need of smacking, and Willy Wonka is downright rude to Mike Teavee often. Maybe he deserves it, and maybe it’s for humorous effect, but I was unsettled by it.

And what is Dahl trying to achieve here? Is he just telling a fantastical, weird story? Or does he have a POINT? (Maybe Mike Teavee’s song is the point:

“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks —
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts.”)

Did I like it? Some of it, sure. I like that Dahl has a Seussian way with language, not letting non-existent words get in his way. But, I’m not sure I really care for this one (and the movies are both quite… weird) very much at all.

My book group discussion was pretty great. I had nine kids, the youngest was 5 (his mother was reading the books aloud to him; she came with as well) and the oldest were a couple of 10 year old boys who were almost too cool at first, but by the end were participating. We had a fun talk about favorite characters and themes and songs and what kind of candy they’d make (ones that looked like broccoli but tasted like candy!). And we designed our own golden tickets as we taste-tested chocolate.

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It was fun! Next up: Matilda.

The Shepherd’s Crown

shepherdscrownby Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “It was born in the darkness of the Circle Sea; at first just a soft floating thing, washed back and forth by tide after tide.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, WintersmithI Shall Wear Midnight
Content: It’s perfectly appropriate for all ages; no swearing, some drinking by hard working adults, though it might be a bit complex, plot-wise for the younger set. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

I didn’t think the Tiffany Aching series needed another book to end the series, but since Sir Terry has passed away, and this came out, this one must be read. I did put it off, mostly because if I didn’t read it, the whole thing can’t end. Right?

It’s spare-er than the other Tiffany Aching books, mostly because Pratchett didn’t have as much time to fiddle with it. Still, it has a story with a decent plot, even if it feels somehow less full. Granny Weatherwax has passed on, making Tiffany  her successor, and so Tiffany is trying to balance being the witch of two steads. And her death created in the elf world: the queen is overthrown and the elves are back in the human world making mischief again. It’s a lot for one young woman to handle.

Thankfully, solutions come her way: Geoffry, the son of some lord or another, is much maligned at home, but he leaves and Tiffany takes him on as a helper. It turns out that he’s a great witch. And Tiffany takes in the elf queen once she gets thrown out, and discovers that sometimes the person you’ve always thought of as awful, may not be.

I loved it. I love Tiffany Aching so much anyway, with her practical witchiness (yes, there is magic, but being a witch in this world is such a practical affair). I loved the gender-bendiness with Geoffrey wanting to be a witch (not a wizard, which is what men Traditionally Do), and how the witches just accepted that. I appreciated that Geoffrey got a bunch of elder men, who were generally considered Useless, to help out with the Final Battle. And I loved the end. So much that I cried.

And while I am sad that there really won’t ever be any more Tiffany Aching books, I’m so very happy that Sir Terry thought up this one for us.

The Clockwork Scarab

by Colleen Gleason
ages: 12+
First sentence: “There are a limited number of excuses for a young, intelligent woman of seventeen to be traversing the fog-shrouded streets of London at midnight.”
Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.

Years ago, I remember when Colleen Gleason came out with the Gardella vampire books. I won the first one, if I remember right, and I remember liking it quite a bit. And so, when I got wind that she was writing a YA books, starring the “niece” of Sherlock Holmes and the half-sister of Braham Stoker, I was excited. And the cover is sooo pretty. I had high hopes.

The basic story is this: There have been a series of disappearances and apparent suicides in late-19th century socialite London. Miss Holmes and Miss Stoker are invited by Miss Irene Adler (I had to remind myself who she was), to help assist in this investigation. There are suspicious circumstances surrounding the deaths/disappearances of the girls, and there’s a mechanical scarab left at every scene. There are, of course, several love interests, including a Lieutenant, a mysterious gentleman who goes by the name of Pix, and (most interesting), a time traveler from the future.

That’s all the plot I got from the handful of pages I read. See, in spite of my high expectations (or perhaps because of them?), I couldn’t make it very far in this one. It just wasn’t clicking for me. Miss Holmes was interesting, but Miss Stoker was… off. And I was put off by the talk of clothes and hair, and the swooning over the boys. Much like Etiquette & Espionage, I felt like Gleason was dumbing herself down, and that wasn’t sitting right with me.

True, it has all the markings of a good YA mystery, but in the end, I bailed.