Review: Whistling Past the Graveyard

16058610Title: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Author: Susan Crandall

Setting: Mississippi & Tennessee 1963

Themes: family, race, justice, religion, secrets

Starla Claudelle is not looking forward to a summer spend with her strict grandmother, but with her mother up in Nashville trying to be star and her dad working on an oil rig, she’s got no choice. Starla can’t take it anymore and decides to run away and she meets Eula and everything changes.

We read this for book club, and once again, I was the only person who didn’t love the book. Starla is 9 years old, but the author makes her sound like she’s at least 14 years old. Only occasionally does she sound like the child she is. She’s too independent and too smart for her age, but at the same time, she gets into situations that could just be so dangerous – and then they are dangerous!

Then there’s Eula, who takes risks that I just can’t believe a woman in her position would take. I can’t say more without giving away everything in the book, but I just didn’t find it believable. I liked Eula and I liked Starla, but it wasn’t enough for me to really accept the events in the book and that they would happen this way.

The book is really interesting in contrast to Revolution by Deborah Wiles, which I reviewed here. The Wiles book was so much better, maybe because it was told from more than one POV and because the characters were older. This one just touched the surface of the civil rights issues and only seemed less plausible because of it. 3/5 stars, but I will admit that for younger kids I’d rate it higher.

Standalone Sunday: Cakes and Ale

Standalone Sunday is created by Megan at Bookslayer Reads, for all those great books that are NOT a part of a series.

Title: Cakes and Ale

Author: M. Somerset Maughm

Setting: 1930s England, but also full of flashbacks

Themes: writing, class, sex, relationships

Format: ebook

Source: book club

Plot: Sycophantic writer Alroy Kear is delighted to be asked to write a biography of another (much better) recently deceased novelist Edward Driffield. He’s got most of the stuff from his widow, and has prepared a suitably reverent draft. But he’s missing the stuff about Driffield’s first wife, Rosie the barmaid.

Rosie (the barmaid) had a big impact on Driffield’s writing. All his best stuff was written while they were together. But only a few will admit to knowing her, including ANOTHER writer named Ashenden, and he is the POV character for the book. Ashenden, like many others, was in love with Rosie, and he remembers them both from when he was young.

I hope that’s not confusing, but it makes sense when you read it.

Review: This is not a book I ever would have picked up on my own. I like books about writers, but I wouldn’t have even heard of this one if not for book club. The woman who picked it is a fan of Maughm’s, but she hadn’t read this one, so she thought maybe it would be fun. Well, she didn’t love it, but I thought it was very good. Maybe you have to be a writer to really appreciate it, but there are so many sly comments about writing, publishing, readers, about the fans of famous writers, etc, that I found myself smiling as I read.

The biggest theme of the book, besides writing, is really about class. Rosie, as a barmaid, is a definite cut below the widow, who was a nurse. And two classes below Driffield, a gentleman, who was looked on as a definite eccentric for marrying such an “unsuitable” woman. As an American, I didn’t understand that completely, but even in the US, we judge people by their social status and economic status. If a lawyer married a cocktail waitress, his colleagues would talk, no matter what she was like.

Finally, sex and relationships were a big theme in this one. Rosie was pretty amoral – she loved whom she loved, and she didn’t see anything wrong with that. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to bother her husband. I know that open relationships are growing in popularity, but I am pretty darn conservative, and I have trouble believing that there wouldn’t be more consequences to her love life.

I found this a pretty easy read. There were some passages where Maughm gets to talking about writing and the writing world that went on too long, so I skimmed ahead. And there’s one romantic encounter described in more detail than I enjoyed. Otherwise, it was a fun book and I think I’ll check out more by this author. 3.8 stars out of 5.

**A Note here about Own Voices – M. Somerset Maughm was a bisexual, but to me at least, I didn’t pick up on a lot of LGBT themes in this book. The POV character Ashenden is supposed to be based on him, but like I mentioned, he was in love with Rosie and has a brief affair with her. She is his only lover referenced in the book. Maybe it’s because of my straight bias, but I didn’t really pick up on any other undercurrents. It’s possible that Ashenden has romantic or sexual feelings toward Driffield, but I didn’t pick up on it. I think it’s more of a theme in some of his other works.

 

Cover – 1, Story – 0

Emerson sees ghosts. Or something. That would be enough for any average teen to freak out a bit, but she’s also dealing with the death of both parents in a car accident. She’s been away at boarding school, but her scholarship funding ran out and now she’s back home, facing her demons. Not literal demons, unfortunately; that would have been cool. Her brother keeps trying to fix her, get rid of her visions. Medication helped, but she quit taking it. So now he’s called in the latest expert, a guy named Michael who works for a clinic or something called The Hourglass.

Michael is a hottie. And he sees the ghosts too. Turns out they’re not ghosts, they are shadows from the past. I can’t tell you much more without spoiling the plot, but let me say it becomes a lot like X-Men, but not as good. There was a love triangle like Twilight. Apparently that’s required for teen fiction now. And the whole series ends with a lot of unanswered questions, stuff about what the bad guy is really after, and something about saving the world, and something about it reminded me of Harry Potter.

I guess that was part of my trouble. It just struck me as derivative. I also didn’t like Michael, the love interest, at all. He seemed too secretive and too perfect otherwise. Every girl who sees him, and I’m not exaggerating, immediately starts drooling. I guess he’s so hot Emerson didn’t stop to think about the way he treats her like a kid and won’t tell her anything. Hm, it really DOES sound like Twilight.

Like I said, it’s the first book in a planned series, but I won’t be reading more. I wouldn’t have picked up this one either, except it’s for  book club, so I needed to read it. Looks like two duds in a row for book club. This one is not recommended. I hesitated between 2.5 stars and 3, so I split the difference and have it 2.75.

*This is an encore review, repeated here for new readers.*

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.

Book Review: Princesses Behaving Badly

Title: Princesses Behaving Badly

Author: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Setting: worldwide, across history, across time

If you’re thinking Disney has the scoop on princesses, you are so far wrong. Real princesses are fierce, ruthless, vain, spendthrift, ambitious, violent, mystical, proud, and occasionally, mentally ill. Not really all at once, but as a whole, they are about as far from the sweet virginal doll as it’s possible to get.

This is a book club read and it’s going to be  a fun discussion next month. McRobbie sorts the women out by type – heroes, warriors, madwomen, etc. Some of these stories were totally shocking. And some were already familiar to me. I knew quite a bit about Hatshepsut, who started as a princess right enough but wound up as a pharaoh in her own right.

But others were entirely new to me. Princess Olga of Kiev was absolutely dedicated to the cause of revenge. When her husband was murdered, she embarked on a terrific campaign of getting her own back against the country responsible. When she was through, hundreds of men were dead and she was a national hero.

This was an extra treat since the author picked such a wide range of princesses. Instead of the usual choice of white Europeans, she went world wide – African, Asian, all over. She also makes an effort to tell the whole story, not the traditionally accepted Eurocentric story. The book is organized generally by the accepted story first, then the real story after. Some of the stories are quite short, but others are really long.

As far as the “mad” princesses go, it was enlightening to see the way women with mental illness were treated throughout history. Some of them clearly  needed restraint or something, but it was sad to think that so many of them could have been helped with modern treatment. One princess with an eating disorder and a distorted body image seemed especially sad to me.

Some of the stories were a little racy, many were violent, and some were seriously messed up, so I wouldn’t recommend this one for kids, but teens would get a kick out of it. Nothing deep, but a good introduction to the real stories behind this figures. There are also suggestions for further reading.