Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Mating Season

The Jeeves and Wooster series is such a delight to listen to that I find myself spacing out the books in an attempt to make the series last as long as possible.  But already I know that I will be returning to these books again and again.  Admittedly, you need to be in the right sort of mood for the books, as they are light and silly, bordering on the ridiculous, but they are also intelligent and, despite the formula, often full of surprises that end up tickling me to no end.

In this installment of the series (which, for practical purposes, I'm defining as the novels, although there are a number of short stories out there as well, which I'll move on to once I'm finished with the novels), our hero Bertie find himself in a bit of a pickle.  He has been invited to spend some time in the country at a place called Deverill Hall, as has his friend Gussie Fink-Nottle (who is engaged to the niece of the family).  When Gussie is arrested and can't show up at Deverill Hall, Bertie must act quickly.  He is afraid that if Gussie's engagement to Madeline Bassett falls through, Madeline will expect Bertie to marry her, as she is convinced he is suffering from unrequited love of her.  Bertie would, of course, do so, because he is a gentleman, but he is prepared to do everything in his power to avoid such a situation.  Therefore, he shows up at Deverill Hall posing as Gussie, and Gussie later shows up posing as Bertie, and Bertie's friend Catsmeat poses as Bertie's valet, leaving Jeeves to pose as the faux Bertie's man. 

This is a brilliant and hysterical farce, one of my favorites so far.  I was also interested to learn that there was some bad feeling between Wodehouse and A. A. Milne at the time this book was written, which explains the snide comments Bertie makes about Milne's writing when he is expected, in his guise as Gussie, to recite some of Milne's poetry in front of an audience.  Bertie comments:  "A fellow who comes on a platform and starts reciting about Christopher Robin going hoppity-hoppity-hop (or alternatively saying his prayers) does not do so from sheer wantonness but because he is a helpless victim of circumstances beyond his control."

I have recently started watching the television series for the first time, the one with Hugh Laurie,  and my ten- and twelve-year-old daughters are loving it!  I was initially taken aback by how young Jeeves is, but I've gotten past that and am enjoying the show nearly as much as the books.

Books in the Jeeves and Wooster series:
1. Thank You, Jeeves
2. Right Ho, Jeeves
3. The Code of the Woosters
4. Jeeves in the Morning (also Joy in the Morning)
5. Mating Season
6. Return of Jeeves
7. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit
8. How Right You Are, Jeeves
9. Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
10. Jeeves and the Tie That Binds
11. Cat-Nappers

The Mating Season (#5 in the Jeeves and Wooster novels series) by P. G. Wodehouse; narrated by Frederick Davidson (Blackstone Audiobooks, 2005; originally published in 1949)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Beejum Book

Teak is a 7-year-old girl who lives an unusual life, traveling with her parents from one country to another, mostly in Europe, during the period between the two World Wars.  Teak is a sensitive, imaginative child, and her parents ignore her much of the time, but at least she has Nanny as a constant from one move to the next.  When Nanny leaves to take care of a sick relative, Teak feels even more alone - but luckily she has discovered the country of Beejumstan.  She travels there on a train once she's fallen asleep, and she meets all sorts of fantastical creatures, from talking rabbits and witches to intellectual owls and dragons made from pots and pans.  Her trips to Beejumstan teach her lessons about herself, friends and family, the many difficulties and challenges of growing up, and the joy of creativity and the imagination.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book.  It is a difficult one to categorize, really.  Teak is seven years old as the book opens, and while she is older by the end of the book, most of the book is about her experiences as a seven-year-old.  But the book is clearly geared towards older children, and typically kids aren't too fond of reading about children who are younger than they are.  There isn't much of an overarching plot here, aside from the emotional development or coming of age of Teak.  The book is episodic, and there are elements touched upon that were very interesting but never returned to or explained.

For example, when the narrator describes Teak's relationship with Nanny, there is much hinted at beneath the surface:  "Teak had no idea that Nanny might be lonely too, or that she might ever be tired or have a headache or wish that she could wear a red dress with flowers on it.  Nor did Teak realize that she was the apple of Nanny's eye, that Nanny secretly loved her to pieces though she felt she had no right to.  To Teak, Nanny was just there."  Those words made me look forward to a greater understanding developing between the two characters as their relationship progressed, but that never happened.  Nanny exits and never comes back, and that's that.  There were many such interesting things mentioned but left unexplored in the course of the novel, which made it read a bit like a memoir - things happen in life, later we might understand them better, but life goes on.  That's fine for a memoir, but for a novel, I find it unsatisfying.

My main problem with the book is that it touches on some issues that are personal peeves of mine.  When I was a child, I couldn't stand it when books had a fantasy world that turned out to be all in the character's head.  I hated that because I had my own fantasy world in my head already, but I wanted to get to Narnia, Oz, Middle-earth or any other magical land for real.  So when a fantastical world in a novel turned out to be a dream, or a fantasy, it really annoyed me.  What good was that?  I felt betrayed and tricked, and it bugged me to no end - particularly if it wasn't made clear from the beginning that the magical parts were just a dream.  In this book the fantasy world sequences were so full of long, intricate description of things that were never touched on in future visits that I found myself skimming over them after a while.  It is unusual for me to prefer the real-world part of a book that includes a fantasy world, but in this one the realistic parts were far more compelling to me.  Young readers would probably feel differently, though.

The other thing that annoys me is when characters have names that are patently fake - it just undermines my suspension of disbelief and shines a big spotlight on the fact that the story is just a construct meant to convey an idea or a lesson.  Ick. So when the characters of Beejumstan are named Figg Newton, Rudintruda, Sir Lovalot, Asibov Sobelow, and Idy Fix, it jolts me from the story. 

As a child I particularly disliked this convention of naming characters for their personal attributes because it just felt, well, patronizing.  As though the author expected me to be too young or inexperienced to figure out what was going on.  I want real characters, not two-dimensional ones, and if there is a lesson to be had, I don't want it written in neon lights.  I want it to sink gently into my unconscious reader's mind to be pondered at my leisure.  The lessons that Teak learns are clear responses to events that happen in the real world, but occasionally it seemed that her behavior came from out of the blue, simply in order to provide a lesson for her to learn in Bejumstan.

The language used in the book is complex, with a vocabulary that readers Teak's age might have some difficulty with, but it is combined with rather babyish terms for things ("tucky tix" for tickets, etc.), that I know would have annoyed me when I was a child.  As I write this I can't help but laugh at what a picky reader I was - and apparently still am!

You might think I didn't enjoy this book, after reading all my griping about the little things that bugged me, but you'd be wrong.  The author, who is a Jungian scholar, conveys a whole lot of very complicated ideas in a way that is surprisingly accessible to young readers, particularly as the ideas are central to the events of Teak's life.  There are certain readers who are sure to adore this book, particularly quiet children who enjoy spending time in the worlds of their own imaginations.  This book would make a great read-aloud for children who aren't ready to read it on their own yet, or for parent/child book clubs, because there are so many fascinating ideas to be discussed, and it would be an interesting way for adults and kids to share their feelings on subjects that aren't typically touched on in books - or in general conversation, for that matter.

The Beejum Book by Alice O. Howell (Bell Pond Books, 2002)

Have you reviewed this book on your blog?  Let me know - I'd love to include a link to your review!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Enchanted Ivy

Lily Carter has always dreamed of going to Princeton University, just like her grandfather and father before her.  So she's excited when her grandfather takes her to visit, along with her mother - and even more excited when it turns out she can take the super secret Legacy test while she's there.  If she passes the test, she's in!  No college application, SAT scores, or essays necessary. 

She does find it a little odd that all her test consists of is the somewhat obscure request that she find the "ivy key."  She has no idea what she's looking for, but she's pretty sure her grandfather wouldn't set up a test that's impossible for her to pass.  Lily sets out on her hunt for the ivy key with optimism and enthusiasm.  But one strange thing happens after another.  First of all, the gargoyles speak to her - and while she's pretty sure that they must be animatronic, they seem so real.  Then a creature that could only exist in nightmares attacks her, and she begins to realize that there are some fascinating, if terrifying secrets lurking beneath the lovely surface of the Princeton University campus.

This was a sweet fantasy tale about a dogged heroine pursuing her dreams.  I liked the fact that the "good" and "bad" sides weren't simply good vs. evil - it was more complicated than that.  I found the explanation of the gargoyles and the otherworldly side to be a little confusing, though - its particularities suited the purposes of the plot but didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.  I enjoyed the depiction of Lily's relationship with her mother, whose precarious mental state has place Lily in the role of caregiver, and I would have preferred a more closer portrayal of her other relationships as the book proceeded.

My twelve-year-old daughter picked this one out of my book pile and read it first, and she enjoyed it immensely, saying it was one of the best books she's read so far this year. 

Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Storm Born

There is no question that I adore series featuring strong heroines in sticky situations, particularly those of a supernatural nature.  I have quite a few that I'm following these days, a few of which I adore, and others that have grown on me over the course of several books.  I always approach a new series, particularly in this recently booming genre, with a mix of skepticism and hopefulness.  This author has written several series, but for some reason I hadn't read any of them.  This paperback came into my library as a donation, and when I saw that my library system only had a few copies left, and those had been out dozens of times, I promptly added it to my branch's collection.  And then I had to read it fast, because there is a waiting list for it!

The heroine here is Eugenie, a shaman who can cross over into the world of the spirits, as well as into Faerie, and she acts as a sort of enforcer, protecting humans and the human realm.  Her stepfather has trained her, and she's become even more powerful than he, and she is confident that she knows what she's doing and where her life is taking her.

But then things start to change.  For no reason she can ascertain she has suddenly attracted all kinds of unworldly attention, and to complicate matters she has agreed to travel - physically, not in her usual spirit form - into the world of the fey to rescue a kidnapped teenager.  When she is there, she learns some unwelcome truths about herself and her origins that lead her to rethink all things she's ever believed in.

This is a promising beginning to a series, and Eugenie is a likeable character.  The fictional world is interesting, but there wasn't anything that made it particularly stand out when compared to other novels of this genre.  The characters are nicely complex, though, as are Eugenie's relationships with them - particularly as the book progresses.  There is the usual love triangle - do these urban fantasies ever not have a love triangle? - but it is handled well and with a nice dash of humor, and I find myself undecided between the two hotties, which is where, I suppose, I am intended to be.  I did find myself thinking - and this is in no way directed solely at Eugenie, but at the characters in general - that these kick-ass urban fantasy heroines are so often just too unbelievably, well, everything.  Beautiful.  Tough.  Vulnerable.  Powerful.  Intelligent.  Sexy.  Great martial artists.  Expert at wielding all sorts of weapons.  Etc.  I think they come across as more complex and sympathetic characters when they either become tougher or more proficient through the course of several novels (Kitty Norville from Carrie Vaughn's series comes to mind), or when they don't possess all of those characteristics.  Just a thought.

At any rate, this one was fun and interesting with characters that held my attention, and I definitely intend to continue with the second book of this series.

Books in the Dark Swan series:
1. Storm Born
2. Thorn Queen
3. Iron Crowned
4. Shadow Heir

Storm Born (#1 in the Dark Swan series) by Richelle Mead (Zebra Books, 2008)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Disappearing off the face of the planet...


Sorry about the disappearing act!  Life has been SO crazy these days.  It took forever just to get caught up from being away for over two weeks, and now we're in the midst of all the end-of year stuff at my kids' school: concerts, volunteer projects, field trips, etc.  This time of year is crazy at work, too, as my library gears up for the summer reading program extravaganza.  We get to travel to various schools to "booktalk" books - it's kind of like doing teaser trailers of books in the hope of getting them to come into the library and read over the summer.  And then there's the siren call of tennis on my free mornings when the weather's nice.  It's all good; it's all fun - but wow, is it time consuming!

Things seem to be settling down a little now, so I am hoping to get caught up on some book reviews - as well as some long-overdue visits to all my favorite blogs!   I look forward to catching up with you all soon.  Thanks for not giving up on me (she says optimistically).