The Wednesday Wars, Gary D. Schmidt

Recommended by: http://melissasbookreviews.com

I really don’t know how to explain this book. I liked it a lot, but anything I could say about it would make it sound like the kind of book that doesn’t appeal to me at all.

Like: A teenage boy learns lessons about life during the period of turmoil and chance in the 1960s.

(Ugh.)

Or: A teenage boy finds the plays of William Shakespeare surprisingly relevant to his life.

(Hm. Did you think of that one all by yourself, Gary D. Schmidt?)

No, but seriously. Both of these things are true, but The Wednesday Wars is excellent. It does a lot of things that have been done before, and I kept thinking, Oh, Jesus, just when I was starting to think this book was original, but then it turned out to be indeed quite unexpected and interesting.  I guess what kept surprising me was that it carried on being genuine even when I thought it couldn’t possibly be.

That’s the best I can explain it. But I quite enjoyed it. I wouldn’t buy it but I would certainly reread, and after a certain number of rereads I might conceivably become fond enough of it to buy it then.

East, by Edith Pattou

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I say definitely yes to this.  If I had read it when I was small, it would have become one of my favorite books and I would have read it over and over again.  As it is, I liked it but I probably wouldn’t buy it.

Basically it’s a retelling of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”, which is not my favorite fairy tale at all because the girl is such a silly brat.  I always think of Fire and Hemlock (ah, Fire and Hemlock), because Polly had a rather scathing view of the girl even though, of course, the girl was Polly.  As it were.  But this is quite good.  The girl Rose goes away with the white bear in exchange for having her sister cured of a sickness, and they hang out in his weird domicile where she has lots of books to read.  I would say that East owes a lot to Robin McKinley’s Beauty, which is why I’m not buying it, because I can just read Beauty, which is superb.

That said, I enjoyed the book a lot.  I suppose the idea of “east-born”, “north-born”, etc., seems a little forced and gimmicky, when you think about it, but when I was reading I didn’t feel that way at all.  I thought it was cool.  Quite nicely fleshed-out relationships also.  And a not-unsympathetic villain, which I support as well.  Good times.

Purple Hibiscus, by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

Recommended by: http://poodlerat.bellonae.com

I totally love this woman’s name. Her book was sad. All about a controlling abusive Catholic Nigerian (what a string of adjectives) father and his wife and two children; the young girl narrates the story. That’s it, really. I wish I had more to say about this book. I enjoyed it a lot, but it was very very sad. And also melancholy. Ms. Adichie is good at evoking a mood. However, this book was very very sad and never will I ever read it again although I enjoyed it. It’s a fast read – I read it during a short break from Forever Amber when we were camping– so don’t avoid it because you fear hours and hours of misery.

Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Heard about in: Die for Love, by Elizabeth Peters

Apparently this book got edited down to one-fifth of its original length, for which I can only say praise God (though it must be thrilling for Forever Amber scholars to get their hands on the original manuscript, if it still exists). I cannot imagine how she could have gotten four times that much again into the silly book. Amber gets married FOUR TIMES over the course of the book and has lots of silly affairs and moans a lot about how her true love Bruce Carlton thinks she’s too trashy for him which is a bit rich I think considering that he’s sleeping around as much as she is and repeatedly shows himself incapable of resisting her trashy charms. However, I would not marry her either because a) I would not want to catch a nasty disease; and b) she is damn annoying and although he keeps assuring her he will never, never, never marry her, she still keeps bursting into tears and smacking him in the face every time the subject comes up.

In case this all sounds like I didn’t enjoy Forever Amber, let me just assure you, that is completely not the case. I read it on Saturday from start to finish, with a short break in between to read Purple Hibiscus (better quality novel but sad) and frequent pauses to update my family on Amber’s latest doings, and it was most absorbing. My family members kept asking me what she was up to if I didn’t let them know with a promptness, and towards the end Indie Sister and I were sitting on one of the couches reading the last few pages over each other’s shoulders (starting with the naked dress, the details of which I was not explaining to Indie Sister with adequate eloquence, and going on until she sails off at the end).

Just to give you an idea of how this book goes, I was explaining to my cousin and my mother how Amber had run away from her tedious rural life with her true love Bruce Carlton and how she had gotten pregnant and married (not to her true love) and dumped in the debtor’s prison and placed under the protection of Black Jack the Highwayman who made her help with his heists and was never very much use at paying off her debts, and my cousin said, “That can’t all have happened! You’re not even a quarter of the way through the book!”

I was, but it did.

Apparently this was written by an American (or Canadian?) lady during World War II, and apparently it got banned in several states and the Catholic Church had some severe things to say about it; and because it is an old and classic and genre-creating historical romance, and because actually it is not badly written (the descriptions of Amber’s clothes are yummy), I feel justified in assuring myself that I am not in fact a trashy-romance-novel-reader, but an Ardent Lover of the Classics.

P.S. My grandmother remembers when this book came out. She didn’t read it because it was too scandalous and she was a good Catholic girl (having embraced the one true faith).