Friday, April 25, 2008

recent reads

A friend recommended The House of Scorpion. She read it for a mother/son book group, and said she couldn't put it down. I bought a copy and took it to Mexico to read, but Lidia and Georgie got to it first. Both of them were completely absorbed by it and would only stop reading to eat mangoes.

I finally got to it last week and, yes, it's a page turner. But it's so much more. As you can see, it's heavily medaled; it won the Newberry Honor, Michael L. Printz Honor, and National Book Award. It's difficult to describe this book to make it sound anywhere near as good as it is, so I'm not even sure I should try. You can google to find the summaries and reviews, so I'll skip those this time.

If I had read the book before Lidia and Georgie, it is possible that I would have discouraged Lidia from reading it. But I guess it was ok, because when I told her that, she asked, "But why?" She said that she did think there were some difficult, kind of scary parts, but nothing that freaked her out or gave her nightmares. Lidia is ten. I recommend reading it before you give it to any child younger than fourteen. I had a hard time reading the beginning, when a seven-year old boy is horribly mistreated. However, this may be more disturbing for me, the mother of a seven-year old boy, than it would be for my daughters or other children their age.

A Company of Swans, by Eva Ibbotson, was first published in 1985 as an adult historical romance. It was reprinted in 2007, but now marketed to teens. It is in the teen fiction section of the library, where I'm sure the comparative graphic content of contemporary teen romances makes it about as sexy as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. However, there is some sensuality. There is nothing explicit, but I should warn you that there are choices made by sympathetic characters that are not in keeping with the values of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and possibly people of other Faiths. I only mention this because I don't want people emailing me, "I can't believe you recommended that!" I feel like I have to put a disclaimer out.

Ibbotsen was born in 1925, so this book was published when she was sixty. She had previously written a number of children's books. About her decision to try her hand at adult fiction, she said the following: "After years of writing magazine stories and books for children, I am trying hard to break down the barrier between 'romantic novels' and 'serious novels' which are respectfully reviewed. My aim is to produce books that are light, humorous, even a little erudite, but secure in their happy endings. One could call it an attempt to write, in words, a good Viennese waltz!"

The tone is completely Viennese waltz--light, witty, and slightly self-mocking. This is a tone other writers of historical romance would do well to emulate.

The year is 1912, and Harriet is the lonely child of a pompous, stuffy professor of Cambridge. The professor and his sister thoroughly regiment Harriet's life and have found a suitor for her who will likely perpetuate her dull misery. Harriet has been allowed ballet lessons, and she learns of a company who is sailing to Brazil to perform at the opera house in wealthy Manaus. She is refused permission to go, so she runs away from it all, joins the company, and heads for Brazil.

Right away we find out that Harriet has had a formidable classical education, but it wasn't one of these "Harriet knows Greek and Latin" and then you never hear of it again. There are many classical references throughout the book that add to her credibility as a scholar.

Ibbotsen creates a sumptuous setting and adds wonderful, often hilarious details. I would love to see this made into a BBC miniseries, although I'm not sure who could possibly play Harriet to my satisfaction. I can only imagine her as Audrey Hepburn.


Anonymous said...

DTV leant me the scoripon king book. I really liked it, couldn't put it down, but I have already forgotten the ending! I did think that parts were very scary, but then again, I'm a boob.

Anonymous said...

ok, i meant house of the scorpion not scorpion king, gosh i need to go home.

Mama Ava said...

We are big Ibbotson fans here. Cameron didn't want to start Dial-a-Ghost, he thought it was more for girls and maybe too babyish for him. But I picked it up and laughed and loved it. He did, too, and read "Which Witch", "The Secret of Platform 13", and "Island of the Aunts." I just looked her up on Amazon and was surprised to see how much she has written! I assumed she did only wrote along the fairy-tale/fantasy genre since that's all we have read. I'll have to keep her in mind for Ava.

dtv said...

Yeah, I love that book. I wanna read it again now that you mention it! I also recommend the Looking Glass Wars books. I've only read the first, but the paperback edition has some beautiful pictures in it.

Anonymous said...

Nancy Farmer has a trilogy that I would recommend for older children. The first book is Sea of Trolls, the second is Land of the Silver Apples. I have only read the second in the trilogy. I really enjoyed it but thought that it seemed a little anti Christian.