Friday, May 24, 2013

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde is the fourth book in the Thursday Next series.  After not particularly enjoying the third book, I wasn’t sure what I’d make of this book.  And wow am I glad I didn’t stop with the third book. This one was so much fun to read. 

Now, I admit it may have been as simple as I was in a better place emotionally.  More likely, it is because I love Hamlet and found it amusing to see him engage in the “real” world.  Of course, the world in which Thursday Next lives is not necessarily real, although it is much like our own.  Only it isn’t.  I mean, where else would someone stop playing hockey to play professional croquet because the former is not as violent as the latter? 

It’s that sort of quirkiness that makes these books so very much fun to read.  But you can’t skip the third book because too much happens therein, things that overlap into this fourth book.  A thread that was left dangling is interwoven into this book, and even the too convenient incidents are put into a logical context, if one can apply the word logic to the weirdness of this alternate reality.

Anyway, a fun read.  Perfect for a summer vacation or a bit of escapism.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Paper Made by Kayte Terry

Paper Made: 101 Exceptional Projects to Make Out of Every Day Paper by Kayte Terry is a crafting book that I borrowed from the library because I liked the idea of projects that actually make use of the ordinary things around the house.  And the title is not deceiving.

Using a cardboard box, you can make yourself one of those ubiquitous letters that you see everywhere, ones that can be painted or decorated in papier-mâché or decoupage.  Toilet paper rolls become art supply holders or a garland.   Origami becomes cufflinks and kirigami becomes wall decorations.  Graph paper or playing cards can become a lampshade.  Anything is possible from the obvious to the surprising.

Truly surprising is that both my adult daughter and I found things we liked in this one book and we both agreed that this is a book we need to own.  Each project has a “level” and I tried one of the level 3 projects. It wasn’t as easy as it looked.  Oops.  I’ll have to try a level 1 or 2 and see if I can’t work my way up to the level 3.  I’ll admit, some of the projects are a bit odd.  Where does one find gum wrapper papers anymore?  Not the foil.  That’s easy to find.  But that paper wrapper?  I have a few packs of gum in the house right now and I guess the brand I buy no longer uses them.  Still, I remember making those gum wrapper chains when I was a little girl.  They were fun but I never knew what to do with them once they were made.  Now I know there are all kinds of things one can do with them! 

Definitely a winner. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy

The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy is the biography of the four known children of Henry VII, three of whom would eventually take the throne.  Most people know of the three who ruled:  Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I; the fourth was a son, Henry Fitzroy, who died before the king and was not likely to ever take the throne because he was not legitimate.  The book offers a mostly superficial look at the individual lives of these four children. 

For anyone unfamiliar with the Tudor history, this book is either a blessing, bypassing many details and bringing only the most relevant events on the page.  Guy has a clear theme throughout the book, emphasizing the drive to protect the Tudor dynasty by producing a legitimate and viable heir.  Edward VI was very young when his father died and did not live long enough, after he became king, to marry and produce an heir.  Mary, although married, was unable to conceive and died childless.  Elizabeth refused to marry and with her died the dynasty.  By putting so much emphasis on this one small facet of each of the children’s personalities, the author is reductive in his approach which is how this book can cover such a significant time in England’s history in so few pages.  Elizabeth’s entire reign consumes fewer pages than Edward’s or Mary’s chapters although she reigned four times longer than the two of them combined. 

Because he is sparse in content, I don’t know if a reader utterly unfamiliar with the history of the period would not find some of the names mentioned a bit confusing.  However, by not over indulging in giving a lot of the history and interplay of politics throughout Europe, it may very well be that this book, because of its sharp focus, is the perfect book for a Tudor novice.  It is well researched and short enough to be read in a day or two.

That Guy’s own biases come through in his writing is evident in his easy dismissal of anything said in praise of the children, especially Elizabeth, while completely accepting any criticism made by the contemporaries.  He suggests that tutors praised the children’s intelligence out of personal vanity while not questioning an ambassador’s harsher criticism.  If there are two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in between, the author has clearly chosen sides and is less interested in what may or may not be true.  For me, this was its weakest point.  Biographers often interpret history and are too often guilty of slanting what they say to align with their own beliefs.  I don’t know that I have ever been so aware of a biased approach before but I’ll certainly be reading future biographies more closely after reading this one.

In the end, I liked this book but did not, could not, love it.  I wanted more and am glad there are other books out there about Henry VII’s off-spring to sate that curiosity.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala is a slender memoir by a woman who survived the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka in 2004.  She and her family—her husband, her sons, and her parents—were on vacation, waking up from a Christmas celebration the day before, when they saw the wave coming and tried to escape.  Only she survives and the rest of the book explores the impossibility of her grief while sharing the abbreviated story of the lives of those she lost. 

How does a mother, a wife, a daughter write about these things?  How does a woman write about the death of her husband, both of her sons, her parents?  How does she stay sane in the face of so much loss?  How does she face her survivor’s guilt without falling into self-abuse or without falling apart altogether?

Deraniyagala is able to balance a brutal honesty with self-compassion.  She does not withhold the reality of her anger, resenting a child who survives when she still wonders if her own sons have survived.  She exposes a guilt for not having paused at the door of her parents’ room to warn them of the oncoming wave. 

But the memoir also shares the stories of each of the people and through Deraniyagala’s eyes we come to know her sons so well that it becomes easy to imagine what their lives might have been like had they survived.  You fall in love with her husband and admire her parents for giving her wings to fly.  The back story is told alongside her grief so that the two are never really separate on the page or in the reader’s mind.  Above all else, the author manages to exude a delicate love for each of the people she lost in one impossible moment that I found myself feeling like the world had lost some very precious souls, people who could have made the world lighter and brighter but are now no longer with us. 

To share about the experience of being swept away in the tsunami itself.  To explore her grief in having lost so much.  To put into words the love she had growing up, in her marriage, as a mother.  It is a testament to her that the author has done so in so few pages.   And that she does also manages to write a memoir that leaves the reader feeling light in spite of the weight of her story is too remarkable for words. 

I cannot praise this book enough.   One I will recommend to everyone.  One that I will share with anyone who wants to borrow it.   Breathtaking.  Devastating.  Beautiful.  I wish I could thank Deraniyagala for creating this miraculous memoir in person.

Thank you, Sonali Deraniyagala.  Thank you.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde

The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde is the third book in the Thursday Next series.  I chose to take it with me on my trip because I wanted something light and easy to read, something I could enjoy while escaping the depth of my own emotions.  Which may be why I didn’t especially like this novel.

In this third book of the series, Thursday Next is hiding in a book while being trained by Mrs Havisham to serve in Jurisfiction which is possibly a dangerous thing because other characters are being killed off.  Although Thursday does go in and out of some classic novels—Wuthering Heights and Sense and Sensibility, in particular—but she is hiding in an unpublished novel which may be part of the reason why I wasn’t blown away by this novel.

My favorite part of the book were the footnotes in which the story of Anna Karenina is told through two gossiping women and Thursday Next’s pet dodo Pickwick and her grandmother who visits Thursday to ensure her safety.  But these small elements were not enough and I felt that this novel was weaker than the previous two.  However, I admit that part of my disappointment could just as easily be blamed on my feeling sad about Romanov and not quite so casually amused.  I plan on reading the fourth book and even anticipate enjoying it as much as I did the first two books.
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