I didn’t participate in Top Ten Tuesday this week because I just returned from my long awaited beach vacation. It was lovely. We went to the same beach I’ve been going to since I was a tyke, and I just didn’t want to leave. It feels like home. And it’s on the beach. A more perfect combination probably doesn’t exist.
While at the beach I read Oprhan Trainby Christina Baker Kline. I really enjoyed it. It was partly set in 2011 and presented as the story of a 17-year-old girl named Molly, and partly set in the 1920s-40s and told by Vivian. Is there a technical name for those books that flux between now and then? There must be by now, but I don’t know it. Please tell me if you do. Molly has been in foster care since she was a little girl, going from family to family and never finding a family to love or to love her. She is rough around the edges, but understandably so. She meets Vivian because her boyfriend sets up a community service project for her in hopes of keeping her around instead of seeing her sent to a new family or somewhere worse. Vivian is in her 90s, and their project together is to clean out her attic.
I feel like I shouldn’t give too many plot details because I think Kline has put together a book that gives just enough away of the story in each part to maintain a comfortable level of suspense and comprehension for the reader. Knowing too much about the plot of a book before you read it takes away half the fun of reading. So I’ll just tell you that this is a good read which will also inform you of some actual history. I had never heard of the orphan trains that took children from New York City to the Midwest. I was fascinated by the story of these children, and saddened by the story of a current day foster child, too. While reading this book, when I saw my own mom wipe the sand off my children’s faces at the beach or saw my husband jump with them in the waves, I thought, “How many children, just like those children on the orphan train, never experience a simple, caring gesture of a loving parent or grandparent? How many two-year-olds never have someone brush the hair out of their eyes and pat them on the back or help them blow their noses?” It is something to think about.
If you decide to read Orphan Train or if you have already read it, please share your thoughts! I always love to find out what other reads think of the books I review.
I also started reading at the beach Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, because so many people mentioned it in their Top Ten Tuesday list last week. Most of them paired it with The Great Gatsby and said they really liked it, so I thought I’d give it a shot. So far, it’s not much like Gatsby but it’s pretty good in its own right. A full review will appear here by the end of the week (I hope).
I just finished Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. This is one of those books I grabbed when browsing at the library on the off chance that it was any good. In high school, I read a good number of detective novels by Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, but I haven’t read many good ones since. I get bored with the private detective routine: a solitary and brilliant but quirky person devotes his or her life to figuring out what no one else can, and always succeeds, but also always comes into grave danger and escapes by the skin of his/her teeth.
There are some detective novels, though, that manage to rise above the ordinary and become something more. One such books is the first book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The characters in that book are so original. But in general, I am not a fan of the detective novel.
Maisie Dobbs was more than a detective novel, though. Here’s the summary from goodreads.com.
“Maisie Dobbs, junior housemaid, is found reading in the library, assigned tutor Maurice Blanche who trains her in psychological investigative techniques and prepares her for Cambridge. After spending World War I nursing in France, she sets up as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.”
The structure of the novel is interesting because it begins with Maisie opening her own detective office and stumbling on some intriguing facts and coincidences, then jumps backwards to Maisie’s history of how she went from household servant to private investigator, and then goes back to where the story began to follow the original case as it unfolds.
Maisie Dobbs is a fun, not-too-gruesome, detective novel that also manages to make the history of the first World War become more real. It’s not a pretty history. I learned something about how much it changed those who participated in it. Maisie’s character is a little cut and dry, but it is a good starting point for a series. She is a very ladylike character, which I appreciate. I don’t know that I’ll read any of the other books in the series (10 books in all), but I’d recommend the first one if you like detective novels or historical fiction. This book is an even mix of both.
It’s no secret that I love the public libraries in our area. Several times a week, I fight the urge to turn into the library entrance instead of drive the remaining 500 feet down the road to the grocery store. Sometimes, I do make a spur of the moment library trip. Because I’m young and spontaneous like that. Livin’ on the edge, you know. When I text “I’m not an addict, it’s cool…” to my husband, he knows I’m making a library detour.
But usually, the kids and I just go once every week or two. I’ll send Isaac (2) and Ella (4) to gather all the books that are due that week (yes, we always forget one or two) and then we take a couple of hours out of our day to choose new books, play in the kids’ area, grab a few carefully selected videos (Little Einsteins are our favorites!) and try to make it through the check out line without knocking over any book displays, or worse, elderly patrons. Because even though I love the library and my kids love it, too, and have been in library behavior training their entire lives, we don’t quite have it down. Isaac doesn’t always stay next to me. Sometimes he talks too loud. Sometimes he runs before he remembers to walk. Sometimes Ella crosses her arms and glares when I won’t let her get the video she wants most. Sometimes they just want to play on those really tall stools by the science fiction shelves. “Isaac, ” I hiss too loudly, “get. down.” And then I start to feel guilty and self conscious. The check out librarians must hate us. Those elderly gentlemen who are always sitting next to the paperbacks reading political thrillers must hate us. The reference librarian….the tutor trying not to pull her hair out over middle school math…the guy writing a surefire bestseller next to the window on his laptop…they must really hate us.
But then, I remember: the library is for everyone.
Really, it is.
And when I stop caring so much about what other people must be thinking of me and my children and actually keep my head up, I realize that pretty much everyone is smiling at us. Smiling! Our favorite circulation librarians know that Ella loves Fancy Nancy and Isaac loves dragons and knights, and they complement the kids on their good taste. (They also know I’m good for a few dollars in late fees each month). The reference librarian smiles at us as we walk by her desk to those comfy, colorful arm chairs in the Young Adult section that my kids willingly sit still in while I get a book (please note: we go to the library before school gets out; I wouldn’t dare enter the teen lair otherwise). The guy with the laptop writing whatever he’s been writing for the last two years…he’s not smiling. But he’s not looking up, either, so maybe we’re not bothering him too much. The elderly gentlemen want to give the kids peppermints (no candy in the library!) and ask “can I take them home with me?” Hmm. No. But it’s really nice of you to ask.
I’m sure there are people who wish I wouldn’t bring my preschoolers to the library, or at least wish I wouldn’t let them out of the children section. The biggest library in our city keeps the children’s section in the basement…that kind of offends me. Because the more I take Ella and Isaac to the library, the more they learn about what I expect of them and how to meet those expectations.
All children have different personalities and I’m sure in certain situations the battle isn’t worth the effort. I understand that. I don’t take my kids shopping for other kids’ birthday parties if I can help it. I know they could learn valuable lessons about giving instead of getting, though I haven’t been brave enough to confront that lesson in Target. But maybe I should. Children need to practice the life skills we want them to have. That applies to so many areas of parenting little ones. It’s easier said than done, and much easier at home than in public. Still, what I am learning is that I don’t need to be bound by the fear that my kids won’t behave. It’s high time for them to learn how to behave. And besides that, pretty much everyone has children in their lives, or did at one time. They’re probably not going to flip out when my child breaks the very large container of yogurt while trying to put it on the conveyor belt in the check out line at Aldi. That means I don’t need to flip out either.
Yesterday, when we walked into the doors of the library, Ella and Isaac picked out a book each, sat down at a table, and looked at the pictures while I walked over to the circulation desk to drop off our returns (the kids were in my sight the whole time, just so you know). When I got back to the table and sat down with the kids, an elderly lady approached us. She looked a little bit scowly, but what she said made my day. She gestured to the children and said, “They come in, they pick out a book, they sit down and read. They know just what to do. They amaze me!” I was tempted to say, “Thank you, but if you watch them for a few minutes, your opinion of them might change.” But I didn’t. I just said, “Thank you.” Why belittle the hard work we have all been putting in to behaving in public? The kids are learning and so am I. It’s not always perfect, but it’s worth the trouble to teach them how to behave in the places we want to go, whether that be the library, the restaurants without playgrounds, or big sister’s ballet recital. Deciding to throw fear of tantrums to the wind and go where we want to go has been a freeing and surprisingly pleasant experience, for the most part.
So take your kids to the library. Or wherever it is you want to go (within reason). And I’ll smile at you if you smile at me. It may not be a peaceful trip the first time, or even the tenth time, but the more we choose to train our children in what we want them to know, the better off we’ll all be.
Tuesday is fast becoming my favorite day! I’m participating in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, for the second time this blog’s history. I’m loving the fun lists the bloggers from The Broke and the Bookish inspire each week. After you check out my list, be sure to go check out others’ lists as well, especially since this week is a dual theme. Book bloggers can choose between making a list of contemporary books that would be great paired with classics, or making a list of books that should be required reading in schools. I’m a little out of touch with school required reading and I adore classic literature, so I’m doing the first topic.
I probably wouldn’t choose the contemporary book over the classic in any of these pairings, but some of them come close. Especially the first one!
This one seems pretty self explanatory. The point of narration is quite different, but the humor, honesty, and themes are very similar. The Help has more women’s studies themes, but I think it’s still a book that anyone, man or woman, can enjoy and appreciate. Of course, no contemporary book can compare with Harper Lee’s insight and bravery in writing about what was a very current issue.
Pearl S. Buck’s classic The Good Earth is challenging to read, just as any literature about Chinese traditions is for most American women. Though it mainly follows the rise and decline of one man, Wang Lung, and his entire family, it begins on the eve of his wedding to a common, Chinese woman. The impact Wang’s first wife has on his life is of great importance throughout the book. Lisa See’s 2006 book Snow Flower and The Secret Fan gives more details about the Chinese way of life for women. I was educated by them both, though it was an unhappy education.
If you have read the entire Anne of Green Gables series and still want more, Budge Wilson’s prequel, Before Green Gables, is an imaginative and very readable account of Anne’s life before Green Gables. Though Wilson’s style isn’t much like Montgomery’s, she sticks with the facts of the original book very well; I’ve read the series through and through and didn’t find any discrepancies. Yes, it was a little bit of a downer, since Anne’s life was a hard one before she was rescued by Matthew Cuthberth on the platform of a railway station on Prince Edward Island. But there are bright moments and characters and one realizes how Anne could have had a chance to develop her bright, cheerful character despite her circumstances.
Two books about orphans with secret gardens written in a charming and cheerful way = a lovely pair of must read literature for young girls. The Secret Garden was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1911 and Mandy was published in 1971 by Julie Andrews. THE Julie Andrews. She was, no, IS a hero of mine, ever since I couldn’t get enough of The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins from age 2 to 10. Maybe Mandy is already considered a classic and doesn’t really count in this contemporary with classic pairing. Oh well.
What? You haven’t heard of either of these books? Well, I Capture The Castle should be a classic. Written by Dodie Smith, the author of 101 Dalmations, it tells the original tale of Cassandra Mortmain and her eccentric family who are living in a crumbling castle and on the verge of destitution. When two eligible young men move into the nearby manor, the book starts to have some Pride and Prejudice similarities, but those end almost before they begin and what we’re left with is an enchanting, witty book. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is by Eva Rice (daughter of famed lyricist, Tim Rice), and is not a masterpiece like I Capture the Castle, but it is set in the same time period and has a similar feel. It’s a fun read. I’d recommend them both. Oh, and please do not judge the book by the movie based on I Capture the Castle. I didn’t see the movie, but I can tell you by the trailer I watched that it is not very much like the book. Besides books always win over movies. Almost always.
Silas Marner and The Light Between Oceans are both books that center on babes found by adults and adults finding salvation from grief in the babes. Silas Marner is a more tidy and hopeful book, but both are powerful tales that prove love is the most excellent way. I reviewed The Light Between Oceans in a separate post here. While we’re on this theme, another book about a baby found is, aptly titled, Babyby Patricia MacLachlan. I love that book, though it always makes me cry. Oh, I just can’t tell you how much I love that book. If you haven’t read it, put it on top of your To Be Read list. It’s only 100 pages or so, and it’s beautiful.
The classic, Darwinian survival of the fittest in Lord of the Flies was written all over The Hunger Games. Yes, I have to admit, I enjoyed The Hunger Games more. But I have a hard time thinking of one of these books without thinking of the other.
Sarah, Plain and Tall is the story of a strong, mail order bride on the plains. It is one of my favorite books. The Magic of Ordinary Days is a different kind of mail order bride on the plains, in a different era. Still, the decision to wed before love and the strength of the characters makes both these books great companions for grown ups. Please note, I said grown ups. Speaking of adults, if you’re a grown up that hasn’t read Patricia MacLachlan, I strongly recommend that you remedy that situation as soon as possible!
9. Gone With the Wind and The Kitchen House
These books are both set in the Civil War Era, but tell very different stories. Gone With the Wind is a novel that follows the plantation’s mistress and The Kitchen House follows the black slaves that survive the war on the plantation. I didn’t particularly enjoy The Kitchen House, but I know a lot of readers that did and it is a stirring review of what life was probably really like for the slaves on a plantation during this time. Gone With the Wind is far and away a better piece of writing and story telling, though.
10. Fill in the blank!!! I need your help to think of another classic with contemporary pairing. If you think of one, please share. You’ll be featured in my separate post of number 10 in this list. =)