Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Reading Lists and Two More Down on TBR

It's officially summer time, and that means those of us who love reading are scanning the Summer reading lists for ideas on juicy tomes to keep us cool on these long, hot days and evenings.

Librarians Internet Access had a link to a blog that has compiled a host of fabulous summer reading lists, literally doing my work for me. He's the links to those lists:

I also want to write about two books I've just finished, "What Would Barbra Do" by Emma Brokes and "The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte" by Laura Jo Rowland. I've also finished two books in a series, Poison Study and Magic Study by Maria V Snyder, both excellent fantasy novels that I thoroughly enjoyed.

What Would Barbra Do is subtitled, "How Musicals Changed My Life" and while that describes some of the essays in this book, it doesn't cover the breadth of the musical review and critical lambastings that musicals get therein.
Brokes is fully in command of her British wit and snark, and lays it on thick with her childhood experiences of musicals (mostly bad, with the exception of Mary Poppins which she idolizes with her friend) her adult obsession with older musicals of previous eras, and her loathing of current musicals by her fellow countryman Andrew Lloyd Weber. I found that last to be somewhat bizarre, considering I've loved Webers musicals and consider them to be the equal of anything Rodgers and Hammerstein put out in the 40s and 50s. Odd, too, that most of the musicals Brokes lionizes are American musicals, like Oklahoma. Caberet, West Side Story, An American in Paris and Guys and Dolls. I understand that these are classics of the genre, true, but I just don't buy that nothing made after these musicals is worth watching. I also find her depiction of both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire as creepy and gross to be mean and unwarranted. Both were consumate professionals who could dance beautifully, act and sing, something that today's stars should take note of, since most of them can't even do one of those properly, let alone all three.
She also doesn't mention several musicals that were popular in the 70s and 80s, like Cyrano, with Christopher Plummer, or Pippin, which was popular in the early 80s when I was in college, and we'd do sing-alongs of all the tunes, or even the worst musical ever made, "Finnigans Rainbow" with an ancient-but-game Fred Astaire. My friend Muff and I would watch the movie version of that show, sing along with the truly awful songs and laugh at the terrible acting and the unintentionally racist plotline.
Still, there are many laugh out loud moments in WWBD, moments when you wish you actually knew Brokes so you could sit and chat over a cup of tea and hear more of her witty asides on the actors and actresses who starred in some of the most popular musicals of all time. She provides delicious background and behind the scenes tidbits on some of those same musicals, making the reader privy to insights on such esoterica as the name of the actress who played the Bird Woman in Mary Poppins.
I'd recommend this book to those who like British humor, wit and charm, as well as commentary on musicals.
The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte was written in the prose style of the Bronte sisters, very overblown and melodramatic, yet the text stands up fine on its own. I found the story of Charlotte Bronte, who rarely left home, as well as her sisters Emily and Ann, to be ridiculously improbable, but fun just the same.
Charlotte gets caught up in a murder mystery by dint of befriending a woman on the train to London. She ends up sleuthing with an early version of James Bond, Mr Slade, with whom she falls in and out and in love with during the course of the book. The Chinese opium trade figures in, as does her hapless, helpless brother Bramwell, who dies, like Emily and Ann, of consumption. During the course of the book, Charlotte is called upon to use all her courage and wit to help Slade catch the criminal who wants to steal Queen Victoria's children and ransom them for an end to the British opium trade through China. Charlotte was by turns a brave and plucky heroine and a terrified, fainting Victorian flower. I found it hard to reconcile the two, as I felt that all three sisters were women of their time, and not at all tough enough to withstand the kind of brutality and manipulation that Charlotte endures during the course of this mystery. I also don't believe that Bramwell could have shown any sort of courage in his final hour, after being the wasted wastrel that he was. I do understand the lure of recreating the famed Brontes with a cast of 21st century resolve and fearlessness, as well as adding romance to their sad lives, but I think it should be made appropriate for the time period, or at least close enough so that the reader doesn't have to suspend disbelief every other paragraph.
Still, this was a fun book to while away an afternoon, and not really anything too heavy for summer time.
I much enjoyed Snyders "Poison Study" series more, as the heroine was put in an impossible situation and lived through it via her brains and strength of character. The intricacies of the romantic sub plot of both Poison Study and Magic Study lead the reader to believe in Yelena as a protagonist with bite. The plots of both novels are swift, sure and clean of holes or inadequacies, and the characters are well drawn and fascinating. I look forward to reading the third book in this series as soon as I can find a cheap used copy or get one from the library, though I am in a long line of people waiting to read the book.

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