June 27, 2014

Mary Poppins was not a particularly nice lady

I hate to spoil your image of Mary Poppins but...well, I'm going to spoil your image of Mary Poppins. The version that P.L. Travers created was very different from the one Disney dreamed up. She was a vain woman who seemed to be more concerned with her own appearance than with how she spoke to the children under her care. I found it almost unsettling how biting and cruel she was toward Jane and Michael (the twins John and Barbara featured in one chapter and were incidental to the rest of the story). However, just as in the movie version the children were in awe of her and loved her very much (her feelings about them were not quite as clear). I do think this is worth a read for anyone who grew up watching the Disney classic especially because it gives new dimensions to Mary Poppins AND details new adventures.

Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet by Bill McKibben details the consequences of dragging our feet on the issue of global warming. Changes are already occurring and as a result our once familiar planet has evolved into something entirely different: Eaarth. Now that this is our new reality, McKibben says that the only course of action is to alter our society to confront it head-on. Environmental studies and sustainability are both topics I find fascinating so I'm sure this is going to be a page turner.

June 24, 2014

It ends with a BANG!

So it's finally finished. The saga of Detective Henry "Hank" Palace has reached its conclusion and it definitely didn't go out with a whimper. If you've been following this series then you know that the last book, World of Trouble, sees our protagonist in the final days before the asteroid hits the planet. There are still unanswered questions: Where is Nico? Where did Nico get that helicopter? Were she and her friends able to find the astronaut who could supposedly stop the asteroid? All of these questions are answered and MORE in the exciting culmination of The Last Policeman series. I can guarantee that if you liked the first two then you will really love this one and there are some crazy surprises that you don't want to miss!

For a while now, I've been wanting to delve into the world that P.L. Travers created with Mary Poppins at its center. Apparently I wasn't the only one with that same idea because I had to wait for months to get the first book in her series on my tablet: Mary Poppins. The story focuses on the children of Mr. & Mrs. Banks and their eccentric (but delightful) new nanny, Mary Poppins. I know already that it's going to be a bit different from the movie because 1. There are 4 children not two. and 2. Mr. Banks is not portrayed any kind of way like the movie version (he's imminently more likely than the mother at least at this point). I expect that I'll find it just as enjoyable (or more likely more so) than the film and I'll update you all just as soon as I've finished it. :-)

June 16, 2014

Hank Palace returns!

Let me start off by saying that I like the fact that P.D. James chose to create this story as if all of Jane Austen's novels existed in the same universe. There were mentions of characters from both Emma and Northanger Abbey which was MIND-BLOWING. Okay, well it was to me at any rate. Also, her writing style was appropriate for the time period which helped win me over with authenticity. However, I don't think I agreed with her interpretation of the characters in this story. The narrative 'voices' just felt off to me. I think the only one she had spot on was Mr. Darcy. (By the way, has anyone else found it humorous that his first name is Fitzwilliam and his cousin is Colonel Fitzwilliam? Do you think they found that confusing if someone called out "Hey Fitzwilliam, check this out!"?) Also, I was expecting the murder mystery aspect to really knock my socks off and it kind of fell flat in my opinion. Maybe I'm too accustomed to Agatha Christie and Rex Stout. :-P If you're a fan of Jane's then this might be an interesting choice for you but if you're not a fan of that genre of literature you'd most likely find this one a little stale.

And now onto the main event: World of Trouble, the final installment in The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben H. Winters. If you've been following along on this blog, you'll know that I read the first two of this trilogy The Last Policeman and Countdown City and really enjoyed them. The books follow a detective by the name of Hank Palace whose world is literally crumbling around him because an asteroid is on a collision course with earth. In this last installment the asteroid is just days away from impact and society has degenerated into fear and paranoia. Most people are in underground bunkers with their stores of food and water. And then there's Hank. Hank is determined to keep doing his duty despite the fact that he no longer has the title of Detective. There's one more crime to solve and he's going to solve it even with death nipping at his heels.

June 12, 2014

Modern views from a time gone by

Below Stairs is a memoir of a woman who entered into domestic service as a kitchen maid at 13 and who saw the injustice of her situation (and indeed of all those in servitude) at a time when conditions were on the peak of changing. At the beginning of the tale, Margaret Powell is at home with her family which is large (typical of the time) and poor (also typical of many families). She must leave home, school, and everything she is familiar with because there is not enough money to keep her. What she discovers at her first place of work in service is that the dichotomy between Them upstairs and the servants below stairs is extremely pronounced despite the whisper of changes on the horizon. As the lowest rung on the service ladder, the kitchen maid (in Margaret's opinion) is treated with the least amount of respect or common decency. The story goes on to describe not only the differences between the classes but also the differences between the sexes. Powell's views are modern and revolutionary for the time period and her wit is absolutely biting. I thought this was a very interesting and entertaining read and I can definitely see how Downton Abbey used this as a reference point (you'll recognize some plot points if you're a fan of the show). I recommend it for anyone who'd like a quick, fun read that's also chock full of history (and cooking!).

Because I have absolutely no restraint when it comes to entering any 'book place' I came back from a visit to the library with Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. I feel like I heard about this book when it originally came out but for whatever reason I'm just now getting around to it after a recommendation showed up in my email. The main characters of this murder mystery are those beloved individuals from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Really that's all you had to say to me and I would have been intrigued. Frankly, any fan of Jane Austen and/or mysteries would be hard pressed to pass up a book with such a titillating blurb.

June 8, 2014

Claustrophobia and paranoia OR why I'm now reading a memoir about a kitchen maid

Room is one of those books that will change the way you view the world. What if you had grown up only knowing one room and believing that all you saw on TV was from another planet? What if you were a five year old boy who believe that you and your mother were the only "real" people? I think the author's choice of using the five year old as a narrator was particularly brilliant as the reader got to see Outside in an entirely different light. Donoghue used real cases to build a fictionalized tale about a woman and her son in an impossibly agonizing situation. At times, I had to stop reading just so that I could catch my breath from the intensity and the descriptive power of her words made me feel like I was trapped (probably didn't help that I read a lot of it on the train). I don't want any of this to put you off reading this book though because I thought it was fantastic (even though it ended rather abruptly for my tastes). In fact, I'll be adding some more of this author's books onto my TRL for the future. :-)

I have to admit that this next one caught my eye when one of my favorite bloggers, Jenny Lawson, who you might remember from my review of her book Let's Pretend This Never Happened. She mentioned that she was going to give Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" by Margaret Powell and it piqued my interest. I find this topic very interesting because I can't imagine living on either side of this divided line. I most certainly wouldn't have been a mistress of a household and I would be a horrendous maid of any kind. What did the "help" really think of their lords and masters? Were they as keen to be of service as they were meant to be by their employers? I suppose that's exactly what I'll be finding out!

June 4, 2014

Take a chance / Don't be shy / Read a book / Please just try!

Today's title was of course inspired by the lovely book I just finished reading entitled The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss. The author, James W. Kemp, is a retired pastor who often used the stories of Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel, in his sermons because he felt (and I have to agree now) that you can equate many of them to biblical principles. For example, in the story On Beyond Zebra!, the narrator insists that there are more than just 26 letters in the alphabet. In fact, there's quite a bit more after one reaches Z (or Zebra). Kemp compares this to characters in the bible such as Abraham that went well beyond Zebra when they were called to do so by God. Abraham was called many times to go the distance but in one instance in particular he showed his true faith in the Lord when he was willing to sacrifice his only son as an offering simply because he was told to do so. Each chapter of Kemp's book begins with a section of the Bible along with a reference from a Seuss book and following this is the reasoning for the comparison. Not only was it very interesting to see how these tied together but I realized that I am unfamiliar with a lot of Seussian (yes, I've made that up but I'm allowed because it's Seuss) literature. I must remedy this ASAP!

Following this delightful romp, Room by Emma Donoghue is a story narrated by a 5 year old who grows up trapped in a room with his mother who has been held there by a man for seven years. The story was apparently inspired by a real life case of a woman who was help captive by her father in their home's basement for 24 years. The book received multiple honors and a film adaptation of the novel is in the works. I have high expectations for this one but something tells me that I won't be disappointed. Review up soon!

And don't forget that summer time is all about BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS!!