Monday, March 18, 2013

Libba Bray

Libba Bray is one of my daughter's favorite authors.  She has written the Gemma Doyle Trilogy, which includes A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing.  I have just finished reading said trilogy.  (Where's the Snap Cup, Kate? I need me some Snaps!)

Sixteen-year-old Gemma Doyle has grown up in India, but when her mother is tragically murdered she is sent to the Spence Academy outside of London to learn how to be a proper English lady. Being a proper lady is not really her cup of tea and neither are her catty and cutting schoolmates, but things get even more difficult for Gemma when she discovers she has magical abilities.  And that she inherited them from her mother who was murdered because of her power.  And now the baddies are after Gemma.  And you thought your high school days were tough!

Now, if you have a daughter in middle school, high school or even college, they will most likely LOVE these books.  Good, evil, magic and forbidden love all make an appearance, and the Victorian era girls boarding school and social mores make the conflicts all the more intriguing.  What I found most interesting were the relationships between Gemma and her friends and the almost total lack of power women were experiencing at this time in England, even those in the upper echelons of society.

       "I think of those ladies in their stiff gowns and forced smiles, drowning their hunger with weak tea, trying hard to make themselves fit into such a narrow world, desperately afraid the blinders will slip and show them what they've chosen to close out.  'Privilege is not always power, is it?' I say."

Let's give a big "Huzzah!" for the choices we have in 2013.  I hope you or your daughters will choose to read this very entertaining series.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train

And now for Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn.  I seem to be on a British book kick.
This is a delightful tale involving the Queen, (QE2), her dresser, (the human one, not where she keeps her drawers. Get it?!), her equerry, (look it up.), a Royal Mews stable girl, a wealthy English/Indian cheese shop clerk, a butler and a lady-in-waiting.  It also involves a train.  And yoga.

Elizabeth is tired and a little bit sad.  She can't quite put her finger on why, but she suspects it has something to do with the terrible events surrounding Diana's death all those years ago.  Why now?  Perhaps because she was always one to "buck up" and "soldier on", forgetting that even queens need someone to talk to, and yoga alone is not cutting it.  She decides she needs to go to a happy place, and her happy place just happens to be the Royal Yacht Britannia, now decommissioned and docked up in Scotland.  But how to get there? She can't just drop all of her Royal Duties, her staff and the public would think she'd gone barmy.  A serendipitous walk down to the stables leads her to a favorite cheese shop and on to the Flying Scotsman, where no one seems to pay much attention to the elderly lady in the Hermes scarf.  Luckily, the stable girl and the cheese boy are watching out for her, but all hell is breaking loose in Buckingham Palace.  Will her devoted staff find her before the press does?  You shall have to read and see.

Filled with quirky characters but serious life lessons, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train is truly an engaging story.  It made me want to drink tea, start yoga, (you'll understand when you read the book.), take a train anywhere or just do something unexpected.  Sometimes a little change is just what one needs to go on.  So, go on now, read it!  You'll be glad you did.  TBC

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Death Comes to Pemberley

Attention, fans of all things Austen!  Do I have a book for you!!  Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James is the continuation of Elizabeth and Darcy's story. Who better to attempt such a grand task then one of England's grandest authors?

Six years after the marriage of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy life is good on on Darcy's beautiful Pemberley Estate.  They have 2 little boys, her beloved sister Jane lives nearby and Elizabeth is looking forward to Pemberley's annual autumn ball.  The only blight on this happy picture is sister Lydia, married to that cad Mr. Wickham, who will NEVER by welcome at Pemberley again.  Until the night before the ball when Lydia's carriage comes tearing up the drive, Lydia screaming to all that will listen, "Wickham's dead!  Denny has shot him! They're up there in the woodland.  Oh God, I know he's dead!" So instead of a ball, Pemberly has a mystery with many questions to be answered.  Why were Lydia and Wickham in Pemberley's woodland?  Who fired the shots heard by Lydia?  Is there a murderer loose on the estate?  Will Elizabeth's mother continue to embarrass her family?  Will Darcy's sister find true love? Many things besides death are yet to be resolved in this sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and P. D. James handles the task brilliantly.

Read Death Comes to Pemberley.  It will transport you back 200 years in time and place, but you will find much that seems familiar.  So enjoy your visit to the early 1800's and be glad that we live in 2013!

The Sherlockian

Sherlock Holmes is EVERYWHERE!  From the original stories to the movies with Robert Downey Jr., the English TV series Sherlock and the American Elementary, Sherlock Holmes is all the rage, and I'm SO glad. If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, then you will love The Sherlockian by Graham Moore.

It is August of 1893 and Arthur Conan Doyle is sick to death of his creation.  His make-believe detective has brought him fame and fortune, but his fans are confusing fact with fiction.  Everyday Doyle receives letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes, asking him to solve all sorts of mysteries.  Even Doyle's mother refers to herself as the mother of Sherlock Holmes! This fictional character has literally taken on a life of his own.  But when the people of London turn to the latest installment of Sherlock in December of 1893 only to find Doyle's killed him off, shock, disbelief and anger all follow.  The people are not happy with Arthur Conan Doyle, but their reactions only serve to justify his actions.  His readers really need to get a life.

Meanwhile, it is January 2010 and Harold White has just been inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars, THE preeminent society for all things Holmes.  This is the happiest moment of his life, until one of the Irregulars is found dead in his hotel room, apparently strangled by his own shoelace.  And Arthur Conan Doyle's mysterious missing diary has again gone missing.  There is a mystery to be solved, and Harold is just the man for the job.

Graham Moore does an excellent job blending fact with fiction in this very entertaining mystery. The reader travels back and forth between 1893 and 2010, falling deeper into the enigma that was both Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, remembering once again that you can never really know anyone, no matter how strong your powers of deduction.  You really must read the Sherlockian!  It is...yes, I'm going to say it...ELEMENTARY!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Under a War-Torn Sky

While trying to help my recently returned-from-college son to organize his old room, I came across  Under a War-Torn Sky by L. M. Elliott.  It was published in 2001 by Hyperion Books for Children and is the story of an American flier shot down in France in 1944. This is why I loved this book:

1. My father, uncle, step-father and father-in-law were all in WWII.

2. We are quickly losing these brave men, but the story in this book will live indefinitely.

3. Many of these soldiers, fliers and sailors were extraordinarily young.  Imagine your 18 year-old going off to fight Hitler.

4. Most of what I know about the French Resistance comes from Hogan's Heroes.  Probably not the best source.

5. Under a War-Torn Sky was based on the first-hand experiences of the author's father, who was shot down over France and rescued by the Resistance.

6. Heroic deeds were performed by regular people, on a regular basis.

7. We need to remember this war so history doesn't repeat itself.

8. Like most books for children, it is not just for children.

Please give Under a War-torn Sky to yourself or your child.  It will be a reminder or an eye-opener.