Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

I’m running an encore review today as I have a family event all day today. I have several new reviews I want to post and a Mega Blitz post coming up for R & R Book Tours, but for today I hope you enjoy reading about this one.

Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Author: Jacqueline Kelly

Calpurnia, known as Callie Vee to her 6 brothers, is not one of those quiet, homemaking type of girls. She likes being outdoors, studying nature. The hot summer of 1899 marked a big change in her life. That was the year that she made friends with her Granddaddy and became a naturalist.

But Calpurnia’s mother is not giving up her only daughter without a fight. She’s forced into piano lessons, needlework lessons, cooking lessons, and knitting lessons. Knitting isn’t so bad, at least when it’s a wet and rainy day, but they all make her feel completely inadequate. Is she doomed to be nothing but a wife and mother? And what’s the rush? She’s only 11!

This story was set in the dawning of a new era, with the coming of the first telephone – and first FEMALE telephone operator, the first automobile, and yet the ties to the past, with Granddaddy and his stories of service in the Civil War. Then the excitement of New Year’s Eve, and a new century!

When I started reading this one, it made me think back to my own summers in Texas, with the heat reaching over 100 for days in a row, when we would turn our bathtub into a little swimming pool, and the heat would turn everything into a dead brown landscape, make my nosebleed, and then bake the blood right onto the sidewalk. At least we could occasionally escape to my Grandma’s air conditioned living room. But Calpurnia has no escape except her private swimming hole.

I loved this book. I was a little disappointed by the end, which is why I took off half a star. I hope this is the first in a series; otherwise, Calpurnia is just sort of hanging at the end of the story. While I am very happy being a wife and mother, I understand her feeling of being trapped into a narrow role she has no way to fight. It’s a choice between her mother’s way, or some unknown way, and Calpurnia really has no idea what else is out there for her. I have to hope that the coming years will reveal some new possibilities to her and give her the strength to choose her own life. 4.5 stars

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Review: A Lady in the Smoke

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Review: A Lady in the Smoke

Author: Karen Odden

Format: audiobook

Setting: 1874 England

Themes: love, family, medicine, addiction, revenge, politics, law

Lady Elizabeth Fraser and her mother are returning home after a miserable London Season only to be involved in a train wreck. Elizabeth has a minor concussion and her mother’s ankle is sprained, but she can’t manage anything without Elizabeth’s help. Only handsome Dr. Wilcox is able to provide the care her mother needs. Elizabeth is drawn to the young man, but such a match would never be permitted by Society. Elizabeth knows this, but her heart refuses to listen. She’s drawn into Dr. Wilcox’s life, his crusade for safer railway conditions, and the bitter struggle against his powerful enemies.

I found this one while browsing the titles my library had available for online audiobooks, and I have to say I was hooked. I love a good historical mystery and this one was very promising. Victorian setting, star-crossed lovers, class struggles, and a new author, it was lots of fun. Definitely recommended.

 

Book Club: Life With Father

father_sonMy book club’s pick for April was the old book, Life With Father by Clarence Day, Jr. We had our meeting last night and we all had a great time.

The book is written as a memoir by the oldest son, who recalls growing up with an autocratic serious father in New York City in the 1880s. At first, I couldn’t stand Clare, as the dad was called. He was strict, grouchy, authoritarian and humorless. But as I got into the book, I began to pick up on the humor of a man who despite knowing exactly how the world ought to be run, finds that people around him never quite go along with his plans. The humor of the situation began to grow on me and I wound up enjoying the book.

One of the best parts of the book was the setting. I loved reading about the ice delivery, about dining at Delmonico’s, about installing the newfangled telephone. Eventually I decided that dads haven’t changed much in the last 120 years after all.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Working class look at Elizabeth Bennett

This book has been getting a lot of buzz, and it’s not hard to see why. Jane Austen is still hot, and thanks to Downton Abbey, readers are curious about the split between how the upper crust and the working class. We’re already familiar about the world of Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy. The book is still super popular, with film versions, graphic novels, and so many spinoffs it’s impossible to keep track. You may be wondering if we really need one more.

Yes.

You see, most of the other versions still revolve around Elizabeth and Darcy – new takes on their romance, throwing a zombie or vampire in there, adding some sex, looking at what happens after the wedding, making them spies, and on and on. But what about the other characters in the story? What about some characters that aren’t really even named as characters, but still contribute to the story? Like, say, the servants?

The main characters of the original book are still here, but only at the fringes. In English major terms, this is a Marxist look at Pride & Prejudice.  The real story revolves around the household staff:  Mr. and Mrs. Hill, Sara the housemaid, little Polly the kitchen maid, and the new footman, James.  The arrival of James, who clearly has a secret, has upset the household routine. In fact, everyone in the story has a secret, from Mrs. Hill’s past, to Mr. Hill’s romantic persuasion, to the handsome coachman visiting at the Bingley’s estate.

The book starts off with Sara up to her elbows in laundry, scrubbing the dirt once more out of Miss Elizabeth’s petticoats. And that’s just for starters. Someone has to make all those cups of tea the girls keep requesting, arrange those dinners for the neighbors, support Mrs. Bennett’s failing nerves. Someone has to clean up for Mr. Collin’s visit. And while the ladies of the house may be solely concerned with flirting and finding husbands, the rest of the world is dealing with the war against Napoleon, labor unrest, getting in the harvest, slaughtering livestock for the winter ham, starching the laundry, and so on and on.

This book is not for everyone. If you want your Pride & Prejudice to stay just the way the author wrote it, nice and clean and happily ever after, then you really won’t enjoy this book. The characters are not politely repressed gentlefolk – they fight, they swear, they have sex. James has flashbacks to the war. None of this is graphic, but it’s certainly a change from the well-mannered Jane Austen. But if you like learning about how all members of society live, not just the wealthy, then I strongly recommend this book. I listened to it on audio, and the reader did such a good job with the drawing room accents of Miss Elizabeth and the lower class speech of little Polly. I would definitely put this on  your Audible wishlist. 4.5 stars