Review: The House Between Tides, Sarah Maine

Sarah Maine’s novel The House Between Tides begins with a mystery. Hetty Deveraux (which feels too much like a name only a novel character would have) travels to a remote manse belonging to her ancestors and discovers a body has been found under the floorboards. Hetty soon finds herself untangling a century-old murder as she tries to determine what to do about Muirlan House—tear it down and try to preserve the island’s unique character, as the inhabitants of Muirlan Island think best, or renovate it into a resort hotel as her partner Giles urges her to do. Meanwhile, Hetty becomes curious about her ancestors. The island had once been the inspiration and refuge of her great-grandmother Emily’s brother Theo Blake, a famed painter. Hetty discovers that Theo’s wife deserted him under mysterious circumstances, and she begins to fear she knows whose bones were found underneath the floorboards of Muirlan House. Meanwhile Beatrice Blake, Theo’s wife, tells her story in flashbacks. The the stories of two women, living a century apart, link inextricably with family secrets and a crumbling ancestral home in the space between them.

I have to admit this book was a slow starter for me, even with the discovery of a body under the floorboards. Maine does a great job of creating the atmosphere of Muirlan Island in the Outer Hebrides, a remote and unforgiving landscape that nonetheless lures both Hetty and Beatrice with its fierce beauty. Once the story gets going, however, it’s pretty good. Some aspects of the plot were a little easier to guess than others, and the unraveling of the mysteries that lay buried for so many years made for a satisfying ending. However, I was a good third of the way through the book and contemplating giving up on it before it started to capture my interest. I enjoyed the rest of the book. The parallels between Hetty and Beatrice were interesting, and the family secrets intrigued me enough to persevere through some of the parts that dragged. I have seen some reviewers claim not to have enjoyed the parts set in 2010 with Hetty, but I actually found them more interesting because the discovery of the body as well as Hetty’s conflicted feelings about her partner and his plans for her ancestral home were intriguing to me. I love historical fiction, and at first, I found Beatrice’s story the less interesting of the two. However, as I kept reading, Beatrice grew on me. The book is compared to Daphne Du Maurier’s atmospheric writing, which is a shame because few writers can create a brooding setting like Du Maurier, and anyone suffers by comparison. I think I need to stop having such high expectations of anyone whose work is compared to Du Maurier’s. Still, it was a good read, and the setting was well drawn, if perhaps the characters were not always—I found the minor characters very difficult to keep straight, and the family trees impossible. I also found parts of the story frustrating as I hoped Maine was going somewhere with a thread that was never quite woven in well enough.

Rating: ★★★½☆

I am counting this book toward the following reading challenges:

Beat the BacklistI am counting this book for the Beat the Backlist Challenge. This book has been on my Kindle since last September, but I didn’t start reading it until recently. It was published in 2016, and therefore meets the challenge’s qualification of being released before 2017. I read this on my Kindle, but Goodreads says the paperback version has 400 pages, which is the equivalent of 40 points for Ravenclaw, and posting this review should net 50 more points for a total of 90.

Because about half the book takes place in 1910, I’m also counting it for the Historical Fiction Challenge. In addition, Sarah Maine is a British writer, so this book counts towards the British Books Challenge.

British Books Challenge

Finally, as the book is set in Scotland, part of the UK, it also counts as part of the European Reading Challenge, though this is the only UK book that will count toward the challenge.

European Reading Challenge 2017

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Review: Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

This book has been on my radar since a colleague donated a copy to my classroom library. However, in the last few weeks, it was also chosen as the upper school summer reading selection at my school, so I would have had to read it this summer in any case. I bumped it up in my to-read queue.

Do you ever think that books come into our lives when we really need them? Sometimes I read the perfect book at the time when I absolutely need it, and this book was one of those books for me.

Everything I Never Told You is set in late 1970’s Ohio. The Lee family is a Chinese-American family. Their middle child Lydia, the one upon whom the family pins most of their hopes and dreams, is missing. In fact, the family does not know and will not learn for a while that she is actually dead. The novel is the story of what happens to the family in the wake of Lydia’s death as well as the story of all the events leading up to it. Each family member, including Lydia, suffers under the weight of the conversations they never had. At its heart, this book’s strongest message is about the emotional damage caused when people don’t communicate. However, for those who might be reluctant to pick up a book that might seem to be a downer, I’ll share that there is a note of redemption for the family.

I connected strongly with this book because one of the biggest problems I have is that there are a lot of important conversations I have needed to have with people in my life, especially family, that I have not had. I haven’t had these conversations for the same reasons as Lydia and all of the Lee family—fear. I carry the heavy weight of these conversations around inside me just like the Lee family did. I am learning that I need to change this behavior. This book is more than just a cautionary tale about the dangers of not having important conversations, but it was important for me to read at this time in my life for that reason.

We have recently suffered a tragic, sudden, and unexpected loss in our family as well. I don’t feel right laying out in a book review. I don’t know if that diminishes the loss or not. But having recently finished this book, this loss reminds me too that life is precious and fragile, and we are not promised time. We have to live the lives we want to live now and set aside the fears we have about others and what they will think. That includes family. Perhaps especially family. It’s hard, but our lives are worth it.

Rating: ★★★★★
Set in the late 1970’s, nearly 40 years ago now, this book counts toward the Historical Fiction Challenge.

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Review: The Rock and the River, Kekla Magoon

Kekla Magoon’s novel The Rock and the River is the story of Sam, son of a civil rights leader named Roland Childs, who is a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s and a leading voice of the Movement. Sam and his older brother Steven, whom Sam calls “Stick,” find themselves increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress they see. When they are attacked at one of their father’s rallies, they fight back, and Stick winds up in the hospital. Some time later, Sam and his friend Maxie witness the brutal beating and false arrest of one of their friends. Sam finds Black Panther literature in his brother’s things. Though he knows involvement in the Black Panther Party would disappoint his father, Sam finds himself drawn to the group, especially the political education classes, free breakfast program, and the promise of a free clinic. At the same time, he is also attracted to the Black Panther Party’s more militant ideals, especially after the Movement loses Dr. King to an assassin’s bullet, and Sam’s own experiences with police lead him to question whether his father’s way will really bring about change or if there is a another way.

The Rock and the River is an intriguing coming-of-age story. I can’t recall that I’ve ever read any historical fiction, or even memoir/nonfiction about the Black Panther Party (aside from Wikipedia). Most of the focus of the Civil Rights Movement is on nonviolent social protest and leaders like King. Given the attention police violence against the black community has received over the last couple of years, many young adults will find Sam’s story interesting in offering a historical perspective. After a fashion, the Black Panther Party is one of the first #blacklivesmatter organizations. Some of the good they did for their communities is obscured by violence perpetuated by some individuals in the Black Panther Party. As shown in Magoon’s novel, the Panthers did institute free breakfast programs, legal counsel, and clinics in underserved and forgotten communities. Magoon does not flinch from showing the Panthers’ tensions with the police, either. I found the book to be an honest and balanced portrayal of the group (based on my own research). I plan to recommend the book for my students and get a copy for my own classroom library.

Something I have been thinking about a great deal, as it has come up both in my teaching and in my own thinking, is that we need everyone’s stories. All of us have stories. I know for a long time I heard one story about the Black Panther Party, and it wasn’t a very nuanced one. I think I started digging into my own albeit somewhat cursory research around the time I started reading and later watching Aaron McGruder’s comic/TV show, The Boondocks. The strip’s main character, Huey Freeman, is named after Huey P. Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party. This connection prompted me to read a little bit more about Newton and the Black Panthers. Magoon’s book is the first novel I’ve seen about the group, however. I particularly appreciated the novel’s nuanced portrayal of the Black Panthers. It was an intriguing book and told a story that I haven’t seen told before. There is a danger in hearing only one story or one side. People, and by extension groups of people, are rarely all good or all bad or all black or all white. For that reason, I think it’s important that we hear as many stories as we can and make it our business to listen to one another. I’m glad that Magoon told this story.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Set in 1968 Chicago, this book was published in 2009. I purchased it for my Kindle in 2010, but I hadn’t read it until now. Picking it up enabled me to address a book that’s been on my reader library and in my TBR pile for quite some time. A good start for three challenges in the first week and a half of January!

 

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Review: The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

Elizabeth Kostova’s 2005 novel The Historian was my first read of 2016. I actually started it some time in November, but I set it aside and just dipped in and out until this last week, when I read the bulk of the novel.

The Historian is the story of Vlad the Impaler, sometimes known as Dracula, and the historians interested in tracing his existence and locating his final “resting” place. The unnamed narrator of the story becomes embroiled in the search for Dracula through her father, Paul, who disappears mysteriously. She embarks on a quest to find him, and through some epistolary and framing elements, she gradually learns the story of her own parents’ quest for Dracula, taken up when her father tried to find his missing mentor and dissertation advisor, Bartholomew Rossi.

The novel has been compared somewhat unfairly to The Da Vinci Code because it has elements of scholarship and elements of a literary thriller, but I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison. It is better written, and the characters are somewhat more developed than Dan Brown’s characters; however, there is still the sense that most of the characters are almost sort of like action figures the author is moving around instead of really well-drawn characters. Intriguingly, it is the minor characters, such as Rossi, Helen’s mother and aunt, and the Professor in Instanbul, Turgut Bora, who emerge as more interesting and fully formed than any of the protagonists. I question whether the framing device was really necessary. I don’t think the structure of the plot needed to be quite so complicated because it didn’t really do a whole lot to further the plot. All of the stories within stories were not confusing or hard to follow so much as they seemed unnecessary. Still, even with these criticisms, I would say I enjoyed the book and found it to be a sufficiently creepy vampire story, and not just a vampire story, but also a story of the Cold War and the complicated issues scholars might have dealt with in trying to conduct research behind the Iron Curtain. I have read criticism that the climax in this book is not really a good payoff, and I would agree with that criticism. On top of that, I think the reader leaves the book a bit confused (or perhaps that’s just me), especially as to why the author chose to end the book in the way she did.

I’m a little confused about how to rate this book because while I enjoyed it, it’s not without some serious flaws, and some people might not enjoy the book at all because of those flaws, but ultimately, for what it is and what it does do, I went with four stars. Your mileage may vary.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Set mostly during the 1950’s and 1970’s in many locations in Europe. Some exploration of medieval Romania and Turkey in the characters’ research.

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Review: Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly, narrated by Emily Janice Card and Emma Bering

I believe I’ve just finished reading my last book of 2015, and it was a re-read of one of my favorites, Jennifer Donnelly’s novel Revolution. This time, I listened to the audio book. I have this book in hardcover, Kindle, and audio book, but I hadn’t listened to it until this week. It was even better on a re-read than it was the first time I read it.

Since I reviewed the book last time I read it, this time, I really want to mention a couple of things that struck me. First, this book is tightly written. It all works. I picked up on so many things I missed on a first reading. The sections of Dante’s poetry correspond well to Andi’s descent into darkness and her literal descent into hell in the catacombs, where she is, naturally, accompanied by Virgil. I was so swept away with the plot the first time I read that I missed some of the artistry of the writing. Equally impressive is Donnelly’s research. She fictionalizes some details. Andi’s thesis focus, the composer Amadé Mahlerbeau, is fictional, as are her Nobel-prize winning father and his historian friend G. However, they all have their basis in historical or contemporary figures who do similar work. Another thing I noticed about Donnelly’s writing is that she allows the reader to be creative and connect the dots. She doesn’t knock you over the head with the connections. She wants you to do the work. She wants you to do some digging and find out what she has learned.

I also noticed how well Donnelly pulls off the twinning. Maximilien Robespierre and the schizophrenic Maximilien R. Peters, who is responsible for the death of Andi’s brother Truman, work very well in a pair and serve as an interesting symbol of the brutality and stupidity of the world and the cyclical nature of history’s desperate individuals. It’s almost not too hard to believe that Alex might reach across history, 200 years in the future, to save Andi and let her know that just because the world goes on, stupid and brutal, it doesn’t mean that she has to—she can be a positive force for good in the world. She can make people happy. The world can be a scary, crazy place. Particularly today, we see a lot of stories in the news that make us despair and make us want to give up. Perhaps in the end, all we have left to do is to do the good that we can. We don’t have to participate in the world’s brutality and stupidity.

Donnelly said in an interview that “a good story with a compelling character that’s well written should appeal to anybody.” I think that’s why this book is so good. Andi may be a teenager, but the fact that she is a young protagonist doesn’t make her story any less applicable or interesting. This book really makes me want to write, and that’s always the sign of a really good book to me—the ones that make me want to write.

Emily Janice Card narrated most of the book, while Emma Bering narrated Alex’s diary entries. Both narrators were brilliant. Card especially does a brilliant job bringing Andi’s sarcastic and hard edge to life. You can hear the chip on her shoulder. Card happens to be the daughter of Orson Scott Card. I read that she was named for two of my favorite writers (and Orson Scott Card’s, apparently): Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë. I really didn’t want to stop listening to this book. I have to be doing something mindless while I listen to audio books or else I get distracted from the story. When I didn’t have anything mindless to occupy me while listening to this book, I pulled my hardcover off the shelf and read along with the narrators. I need to go back and re-read a few favorite passages.

Last time I read this book, I was craving more books just like it, but I’m afraid there probably aren’t any. It’s brilliant.

Keep scrolling for the book’s playlist. You don’t want to miss it.

Rating: ★★★★★
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

The playlist for this particular book is massive and varied, as Andi is one of those folks who loves music. All kinds. I suspect it needs a bit of revision because there are musical references on just about every page of the book. That’s another thing I love about it. The music.

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Review: Fiercombe Manor, Kate Riordan

Kate Riordan’s novel Fiercombe Manor is the story of Alice Eveleigh, a naive young woman who lives in 1930’s London with her parents. Alice becomes pregnant after having a short affair with a married man. To spare her family shame, Alice’s mother sends her off to Fiercombe Manor in Gloucestershire, where Edith Jelphs, an old friend of Alice’s mother, lives. Alice’s mother tells Mrs. Jelphs that Alice’s husband has tragically been killed in an accident. She plans to collect Alice and the baby and put the baby up for adoption after it’s born (though she does not confide these plans to Mrs. Jelphs).

As Alice settles into Fiercombe Manor, she notices a sort of brooding sadness in the valley, and over time, she comes to learn about the tragic history of the Stanton family, who owns the manor. Alice is particularly transfixed by the story of Elizabeth Stanton, who had been Mrs. Jelphs’s employer when Mrs. Jelphs first came to Fiercombe as a young woman. Elizabeth’s imprint seems palpable in a strange presence Alice feels as well as a diary and a few keepsakes left behind. Alice spends the summer of her confinement wrapping herself into the mystery and wondering if her own fate might be somehow wound up in the tragedy surrounding Fiercombe Manor. She begins to wonder also if the valley isn’t cursed in some way that she will not be able to escape.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The house is a very real character in the book and reminded me not a little of Thornfield Hall or Manderley. Is the house haunted? Can tragedy truly linger around a place? Or is Alice just sensitive and emotional because of pregnancy hormones? She wonders all of these things herself. She also finds herself drawn to the Stanton heir, Tom, who befriends her and shares some of his own tragic secrets with her. Mrs. Jelphs and Ruck are interesting characters as well. Ruck has a little bit of old Joseph, the caretaker of Wuthering Heights, and Mrs. Jelphs might be Jane Eyre‘s Mrs. Fairfax or perhaps Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers. In fact, the novel manages to pay homage to these forbears without ever coming across as derivative.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the book is its exploration of women in the Victorian era. Left with few options and no rights as well as abysmal mental health care, some were forced into rest cures or sent to asylums. I thought of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s brilliant short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” quite a few times as I read. It’s a shameful and shocking part of women’s history.

In the end, the setting is the star, and if Alice is a little bit stupid at the beginning, we can forgive her, as she manages to redeem herself in the ending, which is both satisfying and not as unrealistic as I thought it would be. I definitely felt for Alice in her desperate situation. Though she has a few more options than Elizabeth Stanton before her, she is still a woman with no money of her own, few marriage prospects, and no family support. She will likely remind many readers of the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Jane Eyre, Rebecca, or The Thirteenth Tale. I must hasten to add that this book is not the equal of those I’ve mentioned, but if you liked any of them and want to escape into a good, creepy yarn, you should enjoy this novel.

Rating: ★★★★★

This was a great final R. I. P. read, though I think I’m going to keep going with the creepy books. It also puts Gloucestershire on the map for the Reading England Challenge and is yet another Historical Fiction Challenge read as well.

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Review: Things Half in Shadow, Alan Finn

Alan Finn’s novel Things Half in Shadow starts with a fun premise: the protagonist, Edward Clark, is a Civil War veteran and reporter who is assigned the task of exposing Philadelphia mediums as frauds. He has a background that no one, least of all his ingenue fiancée, Violet Willoughby, knows about—his true identity is Columbus Holmes, son of the great magician Magellan Holmes, who killed his wife (Columbus’s mother) and is now rotting away in Eastern State Penitentiary. Unfortunately, Edward makes a nemesis out of a fraudulent medium named Lucy Collins, who threatens to expose Edward’s secrets unless he agrees to help her put her biggest competitor out of business. But Edward and Lucy get a little more than they bargained for when they discover Lenora Grimes Pastor is a real medium—and they become implicated in her murder when she dies mysteriously in the middle of a séance.

This book is fun, and it moves at a brisk pace. The characters, particularly Edward Clark and Lucy Collins, are engaging. The historical details ring true (mostly). However, I didn’t find the ending satisfying. It’s probably the case that the author intends to write a sequel, but few of the loose ends are tied up, and the ending felt rushed compared to the pace of the rest of the book. The clues were not carefully laid for the reader to notice. The reader doesn’t want to feel completely blindsided by the events in the last 100 pages of a mystery. I think it’s fine to surprise the reader, but the dots need to connect, and the clues need to be laid. Otherwise, it feels like a cheat. I would have said it was sitting on four stars until the ending. However, most of the reviews I’ve seen rate it higher than I have, so your mileage may vary, and it’s definitely worth checking out. In fact, most of the reviews I saw gave it 4 or 5 stars. In the right hands, I think it would a fun movie. It sure has enough action scenes for a novel set in a time that couldn’t include a car chase (it did include a carriage chase, if you can believe it). I can’t say that it didn’t hold my interest. I was just looking for more out of the ending.

Rating: ★★★½☆


 

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Review: The Shadow of Night, Deborah Harkness, narrated by Jennifer Ikeda

Deborah Harkness’s Shadow of Night is the second in her All Souls Trilogy. In the first book, which I read and reviewed here, witch and historian Diana Bishop calls forth the mysterious manuscript Ashmole 792 from Oxford’s Bodleian Library, arousing the curiosity of many other “creatures,” including vampire Matthew Clairmont.

This book picks up Diana and Matthew’s unlikely love story as they prepare to timewalk to the past in the hopes of recovering the mysterious alchemical manuscript known in their time as Ashmole 782, which Matthew hopes will reveal genetic secrets of creatures and help Matthew discover why creatures are dying out. Using Diana’s power to travel to the past, Matthew and Diana go back to Elizabethan London, where Diana discovers her husband is a member of the legendary School of Night. And that’s not his only secret. Diana discovers she has some massive hidden powers, and she rubs shoulders with just about everyone of note in early 1590’s London and Prague.

I have to admit I find both Diana and Matthew pretty grating. People (annoyingly) fall in love with both of them right and left, while they have eyes only for each other. And of course, they have flawless appearances as well. Harkness falls into the trap of making her characters too physically perfect, so she gives them other flaws (that aren’t really flaws). I know they are not supposed to be normal people—they are a witch and vampire—but I still found them both pretty unsympathetic. Even when you’re writing about supernatural creatures, you want your characters to seem believable on some level. On the other hand, as this kind of book goes (think Twilight) this series is entertaining enough. It’s hard to believe even a vampire like Matthew would somehow be to connected to pretty much every major figure in Renaissance London and Prague, too. And I mean, it runs the gamut, from Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, aka the Maharal of Prague, a witch who created the legendary Golem, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, Queen Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and more shadowy types like John Dee and Edward Kelley. One can’t deny that Harkness did her research. One wonders if all of it had to be thrown into the book.

Like I said, though, these books are entertaining enough, and they will definitely appeal to people who are looking for fun books about vampires and witches. Jennifer Ikeda’s reading works well with the story and doesn’t hit any wrong notes.

Rating: ★★★½☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★☆

I can’t count this one for the R. I. P. Challenge, even though I think it would be perfect if you’re doing the challenge and looking for something different to read. I started reading it before the challenge started, however. Given that most of the book is set in the past, I do feel it can definitely count for the Historical Fiction Challenge. Diana and Matthew travel from American to Renaissance London, and then to France and Prague, so it’s hard to figure out exactly where to map it for my settings map, but I’m settling on London, as I’d say the bulk of the action takes place there.

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Re-Reading King Lear: “Read Thou This Challenge”

I have mentioned before that I’m re-reading some books in preparation for teaching them. I have taught King Lear before, but it has been a few years, and a play as complex as Lear demands a re-read before any preparation for teaching it.

At one point, if you had asked me what my favorite Shakespeare play was, I probably would have said King Lear. I can’t say with certainty that my answer is still the same, but it’s because there are so many of his plays that I love. In fact, most often, I say it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I do love teaching Shakespeare. There is so much richness, and if I do agree with Harold Bloom on anything, I think I can at least agree that Shakespeare seemed to understand the spectrum of human nature like no other writer (I am not sure I’d say he invented the human). This play in particular examines the complexity of family in some really fascinating ways. I will be curious to see what sort of a backstory my students imagine for this family. Why would Goneril and Regan cut their father out? What had their childhood been like? Was Cordelia’s different? Ian McKellen says he imagines that perhaps Cordelia is the daughter of Lear’s second, more beloved wife, whom he lost in childbirth, and that when he looks on Cordelia, he sees this beloved wife. I find I like that idea quite a lot.

As I re-read, I decided to listen to a production. The Naxos Audio production is brilliant. A word to the wise: if you listen to this production and follow along, be mindful of the fact that it uses the First Folio text, which differs from some published editions of the play that also incorporate the First Quarto. Lear is played in this audio book by the great Paul Scofield. It was published to commemorate Scofield’s own 80’s birthday (Lear mentions being “four score” in the play). He is brilliant in the role. I actually teared up listening to his reunion with Cordelia in Act IV, and his tears over her death were also hard to take. Lear is hard; he casts away the daughter and servant (Kent) who love him in favor of those who tell him what he wants to hear, and finds out his mistake too late. He’s a hard man to feel empathy for, but Scofield definitely manages the task. Kenneth Branagh plays the Fool and Toby Stephens plays Edmund.

In addition to the Naxos Audio production, I also listened to a Shakespeare Appreciated production that includes commentary. I found the commentary, particularly the historical context, extremely helpful. If you are a student or really want to wring all the understanding out of the play that you can, I would recommend this audio version. I don’t think the dramatization is as good as the Naxos Audio production, but it is still good, and the commentary is especially helpful.

I am waiting on tenterhooks for James Shapiro’s new book The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 to come out (October 6!). Very excited to learn even more about the historical context that produced this play, especially because Shakespeare changed the ending familiar to audiences to a tragic one in which SPOILERS pretty much everyone dies.

Rating: ★★★★★

I’m counting this as my book set in Kent for the Reading England Challenge. Much of the action at the end of the play takes place at Dover. I’m counting it for the Historical Fiction Challenge, too, as it is set in ancient Britain, and Shakespeare was writing in Renaissance England. It does imagine a pre-Christian era in Britain. I can’t count it for R. I. P., as I started it before the challenge. It might qualify, though, if you want to read it for that challenge. Gloucester’s eyes being gouged out is the most ghastly thing in Shakespeare, if you ask me.

 

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Sunday Post #31: Challenges Update

Sunday PostTomorrow is our Summer Reading Festival at school. Our upper school’s “all-school” (in quotation marks because the middle school read something different, so it’s not technically all-school) read was Maus I and Maus II by Art Spiegelman, and we are inviting a guest speaker to discuss storytelling in general and the why this story was told in this way in particular. We have workshops planned as well, and I plan to lead one on the art and poetry of the children in the Terezin Ghetto / Concentration Camp. This morning I have been planning presentation of that workshop, which will feature a poetry writing workshop as well as an examination of the art and poetry of the children’s work that is featured in the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from the Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944. It’s astonishing that the children’s work survived the war as a testament to their experiences, especially as almost all of the children who created the poems and art featured in the book later perished in Auschwitz. It will a sobering experience for our students, but it’s also my hope that they will see how art and poetry help us hang on to our humanity, even in the bleakest of times.

In addition to I Never Saw Another Butterfly, this week I also finished my first book for the R. I. P. ChallengeThis House is Haunted by John Boyne (who is perhaps most famous for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). I have picked up both Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn and Fiercombe Manor by Kate Riordan. I haven’t read very far into either one. I seriously need to finish re-reading a few books for school, and I keep hoping time will be more available during my planning periods, but I haven’t had a lot of luck there so far.

At this stage, I wanted to make an accounting of a couple of my reading challenges. First, I am going to up my Historical Fiction Reading Challenge from 10 books to 15, which is the Medieval Level. I have already read 13, so I have passed the threshold for the Renaissance Reader Level, and I believe I will read at least two more historical fiction books before the year is over. Whether I can increase from Medieval Level (15 books) to Ancient History (25) books, I doubt, but should it look like I’m getting close, I suppose I’ll reconsider. The books I’ve read for the challenge so far include:

I am also making a record of the books I’ve read so far for the Reading England Challenge with their corresponding county (this is helping me keep it straight):

I set myself the goal of reading at least 12 different counties. Not sure I’ll meet that goal, but I’m halfway there. I haven’t counted any books set in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK. It is “Reading England” after all. The trouble is, so many of the books set in England are also set in London, and only one book per county, so all those other London books I’ve read don’t count. Which is fine. I suspect that London is a bit like New York in terms of overused settings in England. When I was a kid, I remember feeling distinctly disgruntled by the fact that most of the books I read were set in New York. There are, after all, other places in America where things happen and where kids live (which was what I thought at the time). It makes sense that cities with the greatest population influence book settings. What we need to do as readers, if we want to branch out to other settings, is look for books set in these other places. Assuming I finish it, Fiercombe Manor can be my Gloucestershire book. As for others, I’ll have to do some thinking, I suppose. I could certainly re-read Jane Austen books. She uses more rural settings, including Devonshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Surrey, and Somerset (Bath). It has been a while since I read Jane Austen, too. Thinking about it. Finishing this particular challenge doesn’t look promising, though.

In other news, the new season of Doctor Who is certainly off to a knuckle-biting start, and it will be interesting to see what they do with Clara in her last season. I was able to catch up on last season right before Netflix announced it was available for streaming. Netflix. Why do you do this to me? Anyway, the psychological question posed in the first episode is an intriguing one. If you ran into a genocidal maniac as a scared child on the field of battle, and you knew he was going to grow up to be a genocidal maniac, what would you do?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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