Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April Update on March Reading

I didn't get my summary post written by the end of March, but here it is a few days late. Colds, fevers, and allergies put a damper on our read-alouds last month, but we almost finished Adam of the Road, so I'm counting it anyway. Illness, however, made my own reading more productive, and I finished more than usual.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith - This was recommended to me several years ago as a coming of age novel akin to Angela's Ashes, which was not one of my favorite memoirs, so I wasn't quite sure how I would like it. Francie Nolan, however, is a much more sympathetic character than Frank McCourt - what's not to love about a young girl who loves to read and write! (Not surprisingly, my book club realized that we tend to gravitate toward these types of books!) In spite of the severe poverty and hardships of turn-of the-20th-century Brooklyn, I found this a hopeful book.

Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith - I was intrigued by the autobiographical nature of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and wanted to read more of the author's fictional retelling of  a young couple's first year of marriage, struggling with relationships and finances after being transplanted from Brooklyn to a Midwestern college town (I live in one of those!). The situation is somewhat parallel to Betty Smith's own life, but as with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, she said she wrote it as it might have been, not as exactly as it was. There's a touch of feminism, but overall a fairly traditional view of marriage and family and a very realistic portrayal of adjusting to married life.

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander - Carrie at Reading to Know posted a review of this book a year ago, and it's been on my mental to-be-read list ever since. Though I knew very little about the particulars of the Tsar's family's assassination, it was fairly easy to jump into the story of the last few weeks of their life - a fascinating, riveting, and tragic period of history, to be sure. This was a carefully researched, well-written, expertly crafted, and completely plausible novel - historical fiction at its best! The modern staging and unexpected twists make this a historical story that you won't be able to put down!

My Family for the War by Anne C. Voorhoeve - I don't recall where I read a review of this recently released translation of a German novel, but the premise intrigued me and I quickly requested my library to purchase a copy. Did you know about the Kindertransports that, over the course of 9 months prior to England entering the war, evacuated approximately 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland and placed them with foster families in England? I had not heard of this before, but it is certainly another amazing facet of the many stories of survival and generosity that can be found in World War II history. This coming-of-age story is heavy on emotion and introspection as it traces the experiences of a Jewish (by race) Protestant (by religion) girl named Franziska, who reluctantly leaves her parents in Germany only to find a greater love and stronger sense of family with an Orthodox Jewish family in London. Franziska transitions to Frances rather quickly, and wrestles with the differences between her parents' faith and the rituals of Judaism. The resulting synthesis of the two comes a bit too easily, I thought, and is entirely driven by emotions, not beliefs or convictions. For that reason, I found the spiritual/religious element to be very superficial, but the experience of living through the war in England is well-told through the eyes of a child/teenager.

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray - If all Newberry Award winners are as good as this one and The Door in the Wall, I think we should make a project of reading all of them. At least the list is readily available here. This is a delightful story about a lost boy, a minstrel's son in 13th century England who was separated from his father as they searched for his stolen dog. An eleven-year-old roaming the roads of Medieval England might seem rather tragic, but a minstrel's home is the road and Adam makes the best of his circumstances even when he is delayed time and again in finding his father and beloved dog Nick. Adam meets a wide cross-section of medieval society in his travels and has plenty of adventures along the way, giving the reader a fun and interesting introduction to Medieval life. My children looked forward to reading this and would have gladly sat through several chapters if only my voice would last that long.

Edited to add: Sometime at the end of February or beginning of March, I also read The Uncommon Reader: A Novella, but I found it disappointing and have no further comments.