Book Review: Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat

I’ve been gradually revisiting L. M. Montgomery’s novels lately, most recently her Pat duology: Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat.  These were two of her later books, published in 1933 and 1935 respectively, and some of the darker strains of her later life are already coming through.  There’s still much that is funny, charming and hopeful, but there are definitely some deeper shadows here than in earlier books.

Pat of Silver Bush follows Pat from childhood to girlhood, up to around age 18.  Mistress Pat ranges over eleven years, bringing Pat to about 30.  Pat is passionately devoted to her home of Silver Bush and her family, vowing that Silver Bush is all she needs and deeply hating any change.  She is joined by two beloved friends, Bets and Jingle.  The most striking character may be Judy, cook, storyteller and mother figure for Pat.  More spoilers to the story below!

All of Montgomery’s heroines have some of her traits, and she mentions in her journals endowing Pat with her deep love of home and hatred of change.  Pat is a bit of an odd heroine, still ecstatic in her joys (as Montgomery’s heroines tend to be) but much more wrung out by life.  Emily has her dark moments, but Pat seems especially tragical.  The books are not so grim that I’d call her tragic, but even with an element of humor in the mix, Pat still seems more pained by life than Montgomery’s usual heroines.  Likely this is because she was written while Montgomery herself was growing more pained by the direction of her own life.

The books are enjoyable on a surface level, with Montgomery’s usual nature rhapsodies, charming depiction of home life and much humor.  Judy is an absolute delight, with her Irish brogue, endless stories and parade of good food.  The last quarter of Mistress Pat veers toward the truly tragic, but most of the two books is still warm and affirming. Continue reading

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Blog Hop: Books for Kids

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Who is your favorite children’s books author and why?

Oh, so many, many, many authors!  I have three large bookcases, and one of them is all my children’s books.  But who comes to mind first?

My favorite picture book author is James Stevenson, especially for his delightful Grandpa and Uncle Wainey books, though not exclusively.  A series of tall tales, they’re over the top and very funny even for an older reader.

My favorite author when I was a kid was Gordon Korman, a simply hilarious writer.  The slot Terry Pratchett fills in my adult life, Korman occupied in my childhood.  His books from the 70s and 80s are best, when he was practically a child himself (my favorite of his series he wrote while in high school!)

And I have so many favorite classic British children’s fantasy authors.

Who are your favorite children’s authors?  I’m always up for a new recommendation!

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Book Review: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

I mentioned recently that the long (loooong) awaited new Tamora Pierce book was finally out.  I got it from my library, and then (because life is busy) spent a couple weeks reading it.  So how did Tempests and Slaughter, Book One of the Numair Chronicles, turn out after all this time?

Well…I should say that very few things could live up to the amount of build-up that came before this book.  It reminds me of the third season of Sherlock.  The answer to the worst cliffhanger I’ve ever seen had so much pressure behind it, I had little hope that the pay-off would actually work.  The fact that it did was, in a meta kind of way, as satisfying as the actual answer.  But I mention this because of its rarity…and this is all a big, long, almost apologetic and avoidant lead-in to saying that, after all these years of waiting, Tempests and Slaughter was, well…okay.  Not a bad book!  But only okay.

The tale focuses on young Arram Draper, who will someday grow up to be the Numair we know from earlier (but chronologically later) Tortall books.  (Some spoilers to follow, but only if you haven’t read the Daine books.)  Arram is a student mage at the great Carthaki University.  He is troubled by the gladiatorial games held in Carthak, and by the acceptance of slavery within the empire, but he loves his classes and excels at them.  He becomes friends with Ozorne, a minor prince of the realm, and Varice, a lively, beautiful girl Arram harbors a crush on.

I’m not sure where to stop this summary, so I guess I’ll just stop here.  The dilemma points to what is in fact the weak point of the story–there’s not much story.  The premise is lovely, but there’s little plot, no driving direction to the book, no strong climax to pull threads together.  It’s somewhat like a Harry Potter book without Voldemort.  After all these years of waiting, this book felt more like a set-up to (the promised) book two, when presumably some hinted conflicts will finally come to the forefront.

Arram is a likable character, honorable and genuinely excited by his studies.  I did like reading about a magic-learning character who wants to learn.  So often the trope is for the main character to be largely disengaged from learning (creating opportunities for incidents through mishaps and school stress), perhaps with a friend (hi, Hermione!) who is more scholarly.  Arram has his share of mishaps, usually because his magic is too strong, and I liked his earnest desire to learn. Continue reading

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Blog Hop: How Shall I Retell Thee, Let Me Count the Ways…

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Do you enjoy reading retellings of, or ‘sequels’ to, classic novels? Why or why not?


Oh, now that is a very, VERY tricky question.  Retellings are both my favorite and least favorite books to read.  When they are good, they are very good, and when they are bad, they are maddening.  So let’s parse this out.

Retellings and sequels are not the same thing, to begin with.  Sequels are a harder sell, because they are generally an adding-on rather than a reinvention, and that is much harder to do successfully.

On at least one occasion I opened a “sequel” to a classic novel written by a new author, read a paragraph or two, said, “Nope” and put it back on the shelf.  It is very, very hard to convincingly duplicate a classic author’s style in a way that works for me.  I don’t care what anyone says, there are only 14 Oz books–if it wasn’t by Baum, it doesn’t count.  On the other hand, Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean is an absolute delight of a sequel.  She knew her source intimately and she pulled it off masterfully.  That is hard and rare.

So with regards to sequels, the answer is no, I don’t like them–with an occasional, exceptional exception.

Now, retellings.  Here we’re in my home territory because that’s what I write.  Retellings of classic stories, folklore or fairy tales are easier than retellings of novels.  There may be significant versions of, say, Cinderella, but there are ALSO many, many valid versions that exist in the literary canon.  Since there isn’t one definitive one, the field is open for any writer to bring their own style and their own twist to the story.  I love retellings of fairy tales, and what I love most is seeing all the differences that can be woven out of the same foundational story.

Retellings of novels, where there IS one original source…that’s a challenge.  I live here too, since one of my major works is a retelling (although I sort of like “reinterpretation”) of The Phantom the Opera, which did begin life as one novel by Gaston Leroux.  Phantom is an unusual one, though, in that the last century has seen so many retellings that it’s almost entered a folklore-like state, where I actually love seeing the many different approaches.  It may, in an odd way, help that the Leroux novel is, well, not my favorite.  So I don’t get into a righteous indignation about changes to Leroux’s work.

Which brings me to retellings that don’t work.  When the original is delightful and beloved and wonderful, it then becomes very hard to retell it.  It can be done, and I think there are more successful retellings than successful sequels, but it’s still tough.  It’s easy to stir up my knee-jerk “but that’s not how it IS” reaction.  A successful retelling requires a deft touch and a great respect, knowledge and affection for the original version from the writer.  Prove to me that you know your source material and I will ride along with changes; get it wrong because you don’t actually know?  That’s a hard stop.  And start your book with an explanation about how the original got it wrong and this is the corrected version?  No no no no no!

So the answer to the original question is an emphatic yes.  And an equally emphatic no!  🙂 Where do you stand on retellings or sequels to classic works?

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Book Review: The Story of Mankind

I recently confronted the juggernaut of Newbery Medals, the very first winner from 1922 and a seriously massive piece of nonfiction: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon.  I actually got this out from the library months ago, was decidedly taken aback by how thick it was, and returned it unread for a later day.  This time I bought the audiobook on Audible (14 hours!)–and to my pleasant surprise, found it a quite engaging read.

The Story of Mankind promises to tell the history of the human race, starting from the formation of the Earth (literally), on up through the present day…of 1922, of course, just a few years beyond the Great War.  Along the way we go through the dinosaurs, primeval man, ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Reformation.  It’s not so much the story of mankind as it is the story of European male-kind, but I will say that for a 1922 book, it made some efforts to be broad-minded.

As long as this was, I found it engaging and interesting throughout.  Targeting children, the history is not too dense, for good or ill.  It made it easy to follow and simple to read (er, listen to) but don’t expect too much detail or advanced analysis.  I liked that it made an effort to pull the long centuries of history together into a coherent story, tracing the line from different eras and different countries to show how parts of history normally told separately connect to each other. Continue reading

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