An August Attempt

So. I’ve done a few short runs here and there. Nothing crazy, but at least I’m back in it somewhat. Spent more time with the books. Speaking of which, here they are:

Fiction:

  • Under the Snow by Kerstin Ekman (EB/print)
  • The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
  • The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (AB)
  • Crazy Jack by Donna Jo Napoli (EB)
  • Power of One by Bryce Courtenay (EB)
  • Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print)
  • Daring to Dream by Nora Roberts (EB)

Nonfiction:

  • A Season in Red: My Great Leap Forward into the New China by Kirsty Needham
  • A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird
  • Eurydice Street by Sofka Zinovieff

Series continuation:

  • Arctic Chill by Arnuldur Indridason (EB/print) – which I forgot to mention when I was plotting the month. It’s the last book of the series -that I’m reading. (There are others.)
  • Big Bad City by Ed McBain

LibraryThing Early Review:

  • Where Eagles Dare Not Perch by Peter Bridgford (EB) – which came after I plotted the month of reading so it wasn’t mentioned before.

 


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).


Briar Rose

Yolen, Jane. Briar Rose. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2002.

Don’t let this book fool you. It may be young adult. It may be a quick read, but the subject matter and the crafty way in which it was written is absolutely brilliant. On her deathbed, Grandma “Gemma” makes youngest granddaughter, Becca, promise to learn the story of Gemma’s past. She claims to be the real Briar Rose. Along with her two older sisters, Becca has heard the fairy tale of Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty all her life. It’s the only bedtime story Gemma would ever tell. Now Becca believes there is some similarities between the princess and her very own grandmother. Could Gemma really be Sleeping Beauty? Keeping the promise she made to her grandmother and with the help of a journalist friend, Becca sets out to uncover the mystery. The clues take her to Poland, specifically Chelmno, Hitler’s extermination camp during the Holocaust. Becca meets Josef Potacki and the pieces fall into place. Woven throughout Becca’s story is Gemma’s bedtime story and Josef’s story of survival. The present and past mesh together to tell a deeply moving tale of courage and love.

Quote that grabbed me, “It was hard not to be sacrificed when the other man was the one in power” (p 173).

My only gripe? The brand name dropping to indicate one of the sister’s wealth. Vuitton. Mercedes. Ferragamo. The sisters themselves factored so little in the story it would have suffice to say the mink coat wearing one was extremely wealthy and couldn’t be bothered with her grandmother’s mystery.

As an aside, There was a part in Briar Rose where I was reminded of Dave Matthews, “A hundred years is forever when you’re just a little kid.” See if you can find that place in the book.

Reason read: this was thrown on the August list because I needed something short to take to Colorado with me, but ended up reading it over the weekend…just before leaving! Read in honor of a Polish Music Festival that takes place in August.

Author fact: I don’t know where to begin with Ms. Yolen. Right away, I could tell she knew my part of the world (the mention of Cabot Street in Holyoke was the first clue but Jessie’s House, School Street, and the Polish Club were dead give aways). But, once I visited her website I was blown away. She has won too many award to mention here. Just visit her site for yourself.

Book trivia: Briar Rose won the Mythopoeic Society Fantasy Award and was nominated for a Nebula in 1993.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 183).


Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Maguire, Gregory. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. Read by Jenny Sterlin. New York: Recorded Books, 2000.

Maguire likes to shake things up. We all know the story of Cinderella: ugly and horrid stepsisters, raging and sinister stepmother, glass slipper, dashing prince, yada, yada, yada. Maguire unhinges these characters, as if from a magic box, and sets them down as completely different entities. I think in order to enjoy Maguire’s adaptation of any fairytale you have to throw out everything you think you know about the villain and start over. He is adamant that every “bad guy” has a reason for his or her unpleasantness. Take the wicked stepmother in Cinderella. In Maguire’s Confessions her husband has been murdered. Fleeing England with her two small daughters she lands penniless in Holland. She has to rely on the kindness of strangers to feed three mouths and she is savvy enough to know her daughter (Iris and Ruth) are too ugly to be married off to wealthy suitors. They are going to need significant dowries if they are going to attract any man at all. She might not be the nicest of mothers, but it is obvious she is trying to look out for her children and herself. Survival of the fittest. In Maguires’ tale, Iris and Cinderella (known as Clara here) are tolerated friends. They even grow to care about one another. Of course there is a prince but the twist here is that he is intrigued by ugly stepsister Iris because she is witty and can carry on a conversation, unlike the throngs of pretty girls his mother has set him up to meet.
Probably the most interesting spin on Maguire’s take on Cinderella is the commerce side of the times. The tulip trade and art world of Holland play prominent roles in the story. Real events surrounding the crash of the tulip trade and actual artists of the region are cleverly portrayed. My favorite part is when Iris takes an interest in painting and takes lessons with the Master. Turns out, she’s not half bad!

Reason read: August is National Fairy Tale month.

Author fact: Maguire has roots in Albany, New York.

Book trivia: Confessions is Maguire’s second book. The illustrations are amazing (print version, of course).

Audio trivia: Jenny Sterlin does a great job with the accents.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fractured Fairy Tales” (p 94).