Sunday, March 06, 2016

Nellie Bly, Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner, Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard and Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

March has come in like a lion in the Pacific Northwest, with rain, wind and stormy weather that is perfect for settling in for a good read. I've read several books, and I'm excited for 7 more that are coming via UPS this week, just like early spring flowers popping up to renew your spirits after a long winter. 
Last year I read a book about Nellie Bly and her journey around the world, and I was impressed by her perseverance and bravery. Now there's a new book coming out about Bly that I would love to read. This is the run down via Brain Pickings:
The Gutsy Girl: A Modern Manifesto for Bravery, Perseverance, and Breaking the Tyranny of Perfection
In 1885, a young woman sent the editor of her hometown newspaper a brilliant response to a letter by a patronizing chauvinist, which the paper had published under the title “What Girls Are Good For.” The woman, known today as Nellie Bly, so impressed the editor that she was hired at the paper and went on to become a trailblazing journalist, circumnavigating the globe in 75 days with only a duffle bag and risking her life to write a seminal exposé of asylum abuse, which forever changed legal protections for the mentally ill. But Bly’s courage says as much about her triumphant character as it does about the tragedies of her culture — she is celebrated as a hero in large part because she defied and transcended the limiting gender norms of the Victorian era, which reserved courageous and adventurous feats for men, while raising women to be diffident, perfect, and perfectly pretty instead.

Writer Caroline Paul, one of the first women on San Francisco’s firefighting force and an experimental plane pilot, believes that not much has changed in the century since — that beneath the surface progress, our culture still nurses girls on “the insidious language of fear” and boys on that of bravery and resilience. She offers an intelligent and imaginative antidote in The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure (public library) — part memoir, part manifesto, part aspirational workbook, aimed at tween girls but speaking to the ageless, ungendered spirit of adventure in all of us, exploring what it means to be brave, to persevere, to break the tyranny of perfection, and to laugh at oneself while setting out to do the seemingly impossible.

Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner is the story of a political family told through the eyes of the matriarch, Sylvie, and her daughters Diana the ER physician and Lizzie, the recovering addict and general screw up youngest child. I've read 4 of Weiner's other novels, and, while I loved "Good in Bed," I haven't really adored any of her other novels, though they were all competently written. Unfortunately, I have to add this to the list of her books that were a disappointment. I couldn't empathize with any of the Woodruff women because they were all such horrible people.  Sylvie is basically a slave to her senator husband Richard, who can't do anything for himself as a result. Of course, he's also a creep who has an affair with a much younger woman, though he claims to love his wife who has been so devoted to him for over 30 years. Sylvie is very tightly wound and still in love with her husband, so she flees the furor over his affair by going to their country home on the shore in Connecticut. 
Soon to follow is Diana, who, though she's smart enough to be a doctor, isn't smart enough to marry anyone but this dull, repulsive man with no ambition and zero sexuality because she knows he will never leave her...she's such a catch, after all, so beautiful and wealthy and smart, if you don't count her cold heart and obsession with running and controlling every aspect of her young son's life. She inevitably finds a hot young intern to have an affair with, and she snaps to when he comes calling, so they can have illicit sex in locker rooms and nearly everywhere else. It boggles the mind that she doesn't ditch the creepy dull husband and just get on with her life, but she doesn't. So when things blow up with the hot young intern, she returns to Connecticut as well. Then there's Lizzie, who is as stupid as Diana is smart, supposedly. She can't seem to find a career or anything to do with her life until she meets this one nice guy and gets unexpectedly pregnant (apparently she's too incompetent to use birth control). For some reason she has tons of sympathy for her lout of a father, so she helps him regain some semblance of a life and then returns to being a live in nanny/slave to her evil sister. When she interrupts her sister doing some mild bondage with the hot intern, Diana fires Lizzie, who goes running to Connecticut and their cold mumsy, who ignored them in favor of their father while they were growing up. But of course, now mumsy's done a 180 and has become some kind of earth mother who wants a second chance at mothering her daughters who are all grown up but still can't handle their lives. Ugh. Insert eye rolling here. Here's the blurb:
From one of the nation’s most beloved writers, Fly Away Home is an unforgettable story of a mother and two daughters who seek refuge in an old Connecticut beach house.
When Sylvie Serfer met Richard Woodruff in law school, she had wild curls, wide hips, and lots of opinions. Decades later, Sylvie has remade herself as the ideal politician’s wife—her hair dyed and straightened, her hippie-chick wardrobe replaced by tailored knit suits. At fifty-seven, she ruefully acknowledges that her job is staying twenty pounds thinner than she was in her twenties and tending to her husband, the senator.
Lizzie, the Woodruffs’ younger daughter, is at twenty-four a recovering addict, whose mantra HALT (Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?) helps her keep her life under control. Still, trouble always seems to find her. Her older sister, Diana, an emergency room physician, has everything Lizzie failed to achieve—a husband, a young son, the perfect home—and yet she’s trapped in a loveless marriage. With temptation waiting in one of the ER’s exam rooms, she finds herself craving more.
After Richard’s extramarital affair makes headlines, the three women are drawn into the painful glare of the national spotlight. Once the press conference is over, each is forced to reconsider her life, who she is and who she is meant to be.
Written with an irresistible blend of heartbreak and hilarity, Fly Away Home is an unforgettable story of a mother and two daughters who after a lifetime of distance finally learn to find refuge in one another.
I didn't find this book at all irresistible, I found it frustrating, annoying, full of cliches and stereotypes and characters who had no moral compass at all. I also found the ending implausible, because of course Sylvie goes back to her beloved befuddled husband who is so, so sorry that he couldn't keep his dick out of another woman, poor man.  I was just disgusted with the lot of them, so I'd give this book a C, and recommend it to anyone who can tolerate the kind of BS storyline that sets back feminism 50 years. Seriously, Jennifer Weiner should know better.

Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard was a book I found at the Maple Valley Library sale, and was delighted to discover that the author is local (she lives in Enumclaw). Though it is supposed to be YA fiction, I think it would appeal to an even younger crowd, the "tween" girls of today who would enjoy the modern take on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Here's the blurb:
To impress the popular girls on a high school trip to London, klutzy Callie buys real Prada heels. But trying them on, she trips, conks her head, and wakes up in the year 1815!
There Callie meets Emily, who takes her in, mistaking her for a long-lost friend. As she spends time with Emily's family, Callie warms to them,particularly to Emily's cousin Alex, a hottie and a duke, if a tad arrogant.
But can Callie save Emily from a dire engagement, and win Alex's heart, before her time in the past is up? More Cabot than Ibbotson, Prada and Prejudice is a high-concept romantic comedy about finding friendship and love in the past in order to have happiness in the present.
Callie has, at first, no faith in herself, very little self esteem and a dire need to fall in with the popular crowd. Thankfully, a stint in 19th Century England knocks some sense into Callie, who pretends to be an American friend while she attempts to figure out how to get back to her time, 200 years in the future. Callies struggle with the clothing and manners of 19th century women are funny and endearing, and her ability to blend in and adapt to her surroundings is fascinating.  Written in a breezy, light style, this short novel could be read in an afternoon, which is a plus for young teens with a short attention span. I found it especially heartening that Callie returns to her time and is able to be herself without fear and without the need to be like the other girls. There's a fun HEA ending following a slick and swift plot that pulls it all together. A fine first effort that I'd give a B+. 

Kingfisher by Patricia A McKillip, (who is my favorite fantasy author), is a rare book in her canon, since I don't think she's had anything new out for at least 15-20 years. I was delighted to buy a copy when it came out last month, and thrilled that McKillip's lush and mesmerizing prose is still as gorgeous as ever, and her characters just as entrancing. Reading a book by McKillip is like falling head first into a realm of sensory poetry that delights and engages the reader for hours. I always feel like I've walked into the fairy realms and I'm living in a waking, lucid dream that is achingly beautiful. Here's the blurb:
In the new fantasy from the award-winning author of the Riddle-Master Trilogy, a young man comes of age amid family secrets and revelations, and transformative magic.

Hidden away from the world by his mother, the powerful sorceress Heloise Oliver, Pierce has grown up working in her restaurant in Desolation Point. One day, unexpectedly, strangers pass through town on the way to the legendary capital city. “Look for us,” they tell Pierce, “if you come to Severluna. You might find a place for yourself in King Arden’s court.”

Lured by a future far away from the bleak northern coast, Pierce makes his choice. Heloise, bereft and furious, tells her son the truth: about his father, a knight in King Arden’s court; about an older brother he never knew existed; about his father’s destructive love for King Arden’s queen, and Heloise’s decision to raise her younger son alone.

As Pierce journeys to Severluna, his path twists and turns through other lives and mysteries: an inn where ancient rites are celebrated, though no one will speak of them; a legendary local chef whose delicacies leave diners slowly withering from hunger; his mysterious wife, who steals Pierce’s heart; a young woman whose need to escape is even greater than Pierce’s; and finally, in Severluna, King Arden's youngest son, who is urged by strange and lovely forces to sacrifice his father’s kingdom.

Things are changing in that kingdom. Oldmagic is on the rise. The immensely powerful artifact of an ancient god has come to light, and the king is gathering his knights to quest for this profound mystery, which may restore the kingdom to its former glory—or destroy it...

I took my time reading Kingfisher, (an entire week) because I didn't want to miss a single perfect sentence or glorious metaphor. That the old god of the king should clash with the old god of the women mages was something of a surprise, as was the fae restaurant owner who had kept everyone glamored into near starvation for so many years. The cauldron is finally found, and order restored, but I couldn't help but feel that there was more to the story, somehow. Still, a divine read with excellent prose and a magical plot that wove its way to a solid conclusion. I'd give Kingfisher an A, and hope that McKillip doesn't keep us waiting for so long for another of her beautiful books. 

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