Crazy Jack

Napoli, Donna Jo. Crazy Jack. New York: Random House, 1999.

Reason read: August is Fairy Tale month.

Everyone knows the traditional English story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack sells the family cow for some worthless beans. Said beans grow into a magical beanstalk that reaches up into the clouds. When Jack climbs the stalk he comes to find the home of an ugly and mean giant. Escaping the giant’s cannibalistic wrath, Jack is able to steal away with a goose that lays golden eggs, a pot of gold, and a magical singing harp.
However, Donna Jo Napoli’s version has more substance in that you meet Jack when he is nine years old and living on a farm with his mother and father. Next door is beautiful Flora and life is perfect. But, Jack’s dad, being a gambler, ends up losing the farm. Literally. In his guilt and shame he commits suicide and Jack goes crazy with grief. Over time Jack’s life is turned upside down. As he grows up, he and his mother become poorer and poorer until finally, they are down to their last cow. To make matters worse, lovely Flora announces her engagement to another (sane) man. True to the original telling, Jack sells the family cow for some seemingly worthless beans that end up growing into a huge beanstalk that reaches the heavens. And like the original story, Jack climbs the beanstalk and discovers that giant and his riches. But, Napoli adds a sex scene and in the end has a powerful message for her readers. Jack may be crazy but he also has a heart. His ending is a happily ever after despite the heartache.

Line I really liked, “I’ll share my bed with whatever dreams come” (p 60).

Author fact: Napoli dedicated Crazy Jack to Barry. I guess he “always stands by his crazy woman.” That made me laugh. She also thanked the librarians at Swathmore College. Napoli sounds like someone with whom I could hang out.

Book trivia: Crazy Jack is so short it can be read in a day, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Take your time with Jack and the Giant. You won’t regret it.

Nancy said: Napoli’s reinterpretations of classic tales are good for teenage girls (More Book Lust, p 94).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fractured Fairy Tales” (p 93).


Jackie By Josie

Preston, Caroline. Jackie By Josie. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Reason read: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born in July; read in honor of her birth month.

Josie Trask is one neurotic woman…but she has a lot of heart. Hired to research the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for a less-than-serious biographer, Josie moves back in her childhood Massachusetts home for the summer in order to be close to her source’s personal history. It’s right after Jackie O’s death and digging up the most private of Jackie’s dirt takes time. This means moving back in with an overbearing and alcoholic mother while contending with a typical three year old son, all on her own. Husband Peter has headed to California for a teaching job, carpooling with college friend, Monica. While Josie is trying to satisfy a constantly demanding employer and worrying about her absent husband, she is convinced her mother is dating a criminal and her husband is having an affair. As Josie digs deeper into Jackie’s life she can’t help but notice the similarities. What lessons can she learn from the life of a former First Lady?

Author fact: While Preston has written a bunch of books, Jackie by Josie is the only one I am readng for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Jackie by Josie is Preston’s first book.

Nancy said: Jackie By Josie was “wonderful reading, each in its own way” (More Book Lust, p 132). She goes on to say some books have more depth than others. I would think Jackie By Josie is one such book.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Just Too Good To Miss” (p 132). I keep wanting to add the word “Period” to it. As an aside, this could also have been listed in Pearl’s Maiden Voyages chapter.


Black Hearts in Battersea

Aiken, Joan. Black Hearts in Battersea. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1964.

Reason: July is Kids Month and Pearl lists this as a book best for kids.

The first thing Ms. Aiken wants you to know about Black Hearts in Battersea is that it takes place in the same time period as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, near the beginning of the nineteenth century. The second thing you should know is that some characters in Wolves are also in Black Hearts. Simon, an orphan who lived in a cave and came to the rescue in Wolves is the main character in Black Hearts. This time Simon is looking for his friend, Dr. Gabriel Field who has mysteriously disappeared after inviting Simon to come study art with him. A mystery ensues when everyone Simon encounters denies even knowing Dr. Field. It is as if the man never existed in Battersea. While waiting for Dr. Field to reappear Simon befriends the Duke of Battersea, gets a job with a blacksmith, and rooms with a suspicious peasant family. It’s a fun tale of adventure, especially after Simon meets bedraggled Dido who gets him in all sorts of trouble.

Author fact: As I mentioned before, Aiken also wrote The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a book I read in September of 2013. Some are calling this a series so I should have read Black Hearts in Battersea in October of 2013. Bummer.

Book trivia: Black Hearts was illustrated by Robin Jacques.

Nancy said: nothing special.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 21). This book, interesting enough, is good for boys and girls.


“Verlie I Say Unto You”

Adams, Alice. “Verlie I Say Unto You.” The Stories of Alice Adams. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Reason read: June is short story month.

My first reaction to “Verlie” is to comment on the blindness of the privileged. Verlie is a maid in Todd family’s home. When news of Verlie’s husband’s death reaches the Todd household no one is sure how to tell Verlie. Their naive expectation of her reaction is one of grief. Never mind the fact Verlie and Horace haven’t seen each other in years. They can’t understand why she smiles at the news. It’s obvious they don’t know their employee even though she has been with them “forever.”

Author fact: Alice’s mother was also a writer, just not as accomplished as Alice.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).


“Roses, Rhododenron”

Adams, Alice. “Roses, Rhododendron.” The Stories of Alice Adams. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Reason read: June is short story month.

“Roses, Rhododendron” is a short story of the angsty kind. Jane remembers her coming of age childhood; after her father left them for a younger woman, ten year old Jane’s mother packed them up and moved from Boston to the suburbs of North Carolina. Jane remembers everything being different in the south – the houses, the gardens, the people. She looks back at the  impact made by the relationship she had at the time with her eccentric mother, Margot and the new friendship with a girl her age living in the neighborhood, Harriet and Harriet’s mother, Emily. Jane was fascinated with everything in Harriet’s life. It seemed so calm and dignified compared to her own. Mother Margot had a loose, breezy hold on her daughter while allowing a Ouija board to dictate her own life. Meanwhile, Harriet’s parents appeared to be cultured, educated and refined. It was only when Margot disclosed some unsettling gossip that Jane decided they had more in common than she first thought. But, the biggest surprise came when in adulthood Harriet revealed to Jane she impacted her family just as much Harriet had impacted Jane’s.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).


“Xingu”

Wharton, Edith. “Xingu.” New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916.

Reason read: June is short story month.

This is a story of contradictions. Even though this story is less that fifty pages long, it packs a wallop of a punch. Though billed as a satire it is also a humorous and witty commentary on human psychology. Some even think it is a cerebral jab at Henry James after he criticized Wharton’s writing. No matter how “Xingu” is perceived or meant to be perceived, Mrs. Roby is my hero.

In a nutshell, a group of snobbish high society women form a lunch group to gather and discuss didactic topics and one-up each other. In their view, the weakest link is Mrs. Roby, a seemingly not-so-bright woman who doesn’t appear to fit in with them. She asks all the wrong questions and clearly doesn’t know societal protocol. When the group invites an even snobbier author to discuss her latest book, “The Wings of Death,” the event falls apart. Osric Dane is even more dismissive than the snobs in the group. It isn’t until Mrs. Roby one-ups them all by mentioning a xingu philosophy. No one has ever heard of xingu but they all, including author Osric Dane, must pretend they know it well. Only after Mrs. Roby and Ms. Dane leave does the group dare to look up the word xingu and discover they have been duped. Xingu is actually a river in Brazil.

Author fact: something I did not know about Wharton is that she was a designer.

Nancy said: if you have never read Wharton Pearl suggested starting with the novella “Xingu” (p 144).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: The Americans” (p 144).


Main Street

Lewis, Sinclair. Main Street. Floating Press, 2010.

Lewis, Sinclair. Maine Street. Read by Barbara Caruso. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 1996.

Reason read: Minnesota became a state in the month of May.

This is the satirical story of Carol Milford and her desire to transform her new husband’s little town of Gopher Prairie. While Dr. Will Kennicott is the celebrated hometown physician Carol is the new girl; the sophisticated, educated, and stylish “city girl” (having been a librarian in the metropolis of St. Paul, Minnesota). Her hopes and dreams for the little community are often met with bemusement, confusion, and more than a little resentment. From every angle Carol’s energy and enthusiasm to change things make the townspeople nervous resulting in stubborn denial. It isn’t long before, with all of her reform attempts failed, Carol yearns for adventure and big city culture. Even becoming a mother is not enough to contain her. She wants to shake things up and does so by falling in love with a young tailor. While the community tongues wag, Carol grows more emboldened and daring, finally leaving Gopher Prairie.

I have to get this off my chest, first and foremost. I didn’t really care for Carol Kennicott, nee Milford in the beginning. Early on she was a snob through and through. While traveling to Kennicott’s provincial little town she watches people on the train and is disappointed to see they are peasants. Previously, she didn’t believe in American peasants. Now she is witness to poverty and in her dismay she calls the less fortunate, “stuck in the mud” (p 42). She hasn’t even seen her husband’s town but already she is utterly panicked by the thought of living “inescapably” in Gopher Prairie (p 50). It isn’t until she removes herself from the wretched town that she learns what it means to belong somewhere.

Quotes which captivated me: “The rest of the party waited for the miracle of being amused” (p 51), “She felt that she was no long one-half of a marriage but the whole of a human being” (p 447), and “But sometimes he vanished; he was only an opinion (p 511).

Author fact: Lewis was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930.

Book trivia: Because this satire offended small town Alexandria, Minnesota they banned Main Street from their library.

Nancy said: Nancy described the plot and said Main Street “is probably the earliest Minnesota novel” (p 27).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust twice. First, in the chapter called “Big Country: the Literary Midwest (Minnesota)” (p 27) and again, in the chapter called “Libraries and Librarians” (p 139).