Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Middle Grade Classics: A Little Princess

This is the cover from the first edition in 1905

Title: A Little Princess
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Publisher: Warne Published in 1905, expanded from the serialized novel, Sarah Crewe, published in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1888.
I read the

When the wealthy Captain Crewe brings his little daughter Sarah back from India to go to school in London, she is the prize boarder at Miss Minchin's boarding school. But when he dies and leaves her penniless, Miss Minchin turns Sarah into an unpaid drudge for the school. Sarah's resolve to always be a "princess" in spirit is sorely tested before everything resolves itself into a happy ending.

I won't pretend this is the first time I've read this book. For all it's dated and follows a stereotypical pattern (unbelievably good child keeps shining through tribulation and is given a great reward as a result), I  love the story, and I've read it many times. (Oddly, I don't think I ever read it when I was a child). Maybe I want to believe in happy endings. I love that Sarah uses her imagination to escape her intolerable reality, and that she can spin stories well enough to carry others away with her. The descriptions of the child's suffering of mind and body are moving to the point of pathos, but I have always been able to immerse myself in the story and enjoy it on it's own terms. And that is what is needed to enjoy this, as it is for many children's classics.

The lessons about generosity and selflessness ring a little old-fashioned (or at least heavy-handed, since after all, we might hope that generosity isn't an outdated virtue!), but the lesson about the power of imagination is one that every writer has long since learned.

For fans of orphan stories and hard-luck school stories, as well as those who want to explore the classics of children's literature. The language will feel a bit odd and dated to modern children, but I think that most good readers would have no problem with it. The story will almost certainly appeal primarily to girls, though the lessons aren't bad for boys, either.

Full Disclosure: I long ago purchased A Little Princess, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Further musings: 
I have been watching old DVDs of a 2002 PBS show called Manor House, in which ordinary people are recruited to fill an English manor house as it would have been in 1905. They have everybody, from the lord of the Manor to the scullery maid. And therein lies the problem, because for the most part, 21st Century folks have trouble working as servants, especially in that extremely hierarchical society. The butler has to continually remind them that even the servant's hall isn't a democracy, and they have no "right" to time off, or even to complain.

This made me think about two things. One was Sarah Crewe and how she copes with her sudden shift from, effectively, lady of the manor to scullery maid (and those descriptions of her working 14 and 16 hours a day at a very tender age appear to be simply statement of fact as life was lived then). Now, being a child, she may in one sense adapt more easily than an adult (kids do tend to adapt to a new reality pretty quickly), but of course, her gracious acceptance is also exaggerated to show her noble personality.

The other thing I thought about was my own brief excursion into the servant's life. When I finished my undergraduate studies, I spent a winter working as an au paire in Monaco (!). Now, in some families, the au paire is part of the family. I drew a more wealthy family, where I definitely felt that I was seen as a servant. Shall we simply say that the experience suggests that I would have been one of the less successful "servants" in the Manor House? It's no small thing for a person who has grown up with a firm belief in equality to suddenly find themselves decidedly not equal. And that may be a good thing, outside of historical re-enactments.  As we used to say when I was an undergrad, "Question Authority!"

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mystery Monday: Murder in Real Time

Title: Murder in Real Time
Author: Julie Anne Lindsey
Publisher: Cariona Press, 2014, 228 pages
Source: Review copy provided for blog tour

Publisher's Synopsis:
With the chaos of summer tourists and fall birders out of town, counselor Patience Price is looking forward to the quiet life she remembers. She longs for some peace. And an apple fritter. But the calm is cut short when a reality show sets up camp to film a special about ghosts on her little island. Now fans, reporters and crew have flocked to sleepy Chincoteague. Who knew ghost hunters had an entourage?

When two cast members are killed in a room at the local B&B—a room usually occupied by Patience’s FBI agent boyfriend, Sebastian—she finds herself on the case. Sebastian doesn’t want Patience ruffling any feathers but, as always, she can’t help herself.
Patience promises to let Sebastian handle the investigation—he is FBI, after all—but after a drive-by shooting, her wicked curiosity gets the best of her. And with the TV show forging ahead with filming, the list of suspects (and the line of food trucks) only grows. But has the shooter already flown the coop? And how do you find a killer when you don’t know who the target is?

This book started with a little advantage, being set on Chincoteague Island, a place well known to and beloved by all fans of Marguerite Henry and Misty of Chincoteague. All resemblance to that childhood classic ends at the causeway to the mainland, however. Murder, mayhem and a dash of romance kept me fully occupied with never a pony in sight. Because this is Book 3 in the Patience Price series, there were things that confused me, and a lot of references to the chaos that had gripped the Island since Patience's arrival that made me want to go read the other books. I had a little trouble keeping track of all the characters, probably partly because of that history I didn't know.

The mystery is fairly well put together, though I was a bit put off by the ending. I will also say that Ms. Price pushed some buttons with her interference in police business, and still more with her foolhardy behavior on more than one occasion. Those factors did detract from an engaging story that picked up speed as it went along until flying on to the end. Pacing was excellent; behavior of characters was at times inconsistent or unconvincing. Despite that, I found myself rooting for Patience and her friends, and needing to know how the story came out.

This is a cozy mystery that leans on the romance side, with as much of the story about relationships as about crime. I recommend it for those who like books and series where you get deeply involved in the characters' lives, however disfunctional they may at times be. In any case, Patience and her friends do put the "fun" in disfunction, so they are worth the time for a quick romp.

Full Disclosure: I was given an electronic review copy of Murder in Real Time in exchange for my honest review, not for a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

About the Author
Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Friday Flash Fiction: Crow Egg

First, and most important: Jemima Pett has unraveled all the dastardly deeds in our serial mystery, "Half a Clue." If you haven't been following along, the rest of the story is collected here.

Now, for my story. This week's Chuck Wendig challenge was pretty simple. We were supposed to pick three names of types of apples from a list, and use them in some way in our story, as apples or just as weird word combos. Naturally, I read it in a tearing hurry and didn't get it right. Instead, I selected just one and used it as the title of my story. Close enough, since no one is grading us. Are they? Hope I'm not going to get sent to the principal's office again!

Crow Egg

Claire sat under a tree in the middle of the orchard, throwing hard, tiny apples at the tree trunks. The apples were the extras, the ones the trees shed because they couldn’t grow so many on one branch. The small missiles thwapped against the tree-trunks like little bullets.

Claire could throw, as she could do so many things, because of her brother Jim. Jim had mostly taught her to throw by mocking her attempts until she mastered the art. It had taken a lot of watching him play baseball to figure out what she was doing wrong, and still longer to learn to do it the right way, but she’d done it so she could finally hear Jim say, “Good pitch, Sis. You’ve sure gotten over throwing like a girl.” Claire refused to say she was learning to throw “like a boy.” Throwing with power and accuracy was just throwing well, not like a boy.

Ping! She nailed another tree. Splat! That one had been half rotten, and spattered satisfyingly when it hit the gnarled trunk. Claire didn’t feel satisfied.

Claire was sitting in the orchard because Jim was gone. For all her 12 years, he had been there, teasing her, fighting with her, and teaching her how to live. Now he had gone off to fight in the War, and everyone said what a wonderful thing that was. Everyone but Claire.

Well, everyone but Claire and her Dad. He had refused to say a word against Jim’s going, but she knew when he was unhappy by the tight look on his face. That look had come onto his face when Jim announced he was enlisting, and it never left anymore.

To make matters worse, Claire and her father were both realizing that it had been Jim who had raised her, in his own boyish way. Their mother had died of the ’flu when Claire was a baby, but thanks to her brother she’d never missed having a mother. Until now. Now she not only had no one to teach her to be a girl, at an age when she was beginning to realize it might be a good thing to learn, but she had no one to teach her to be a tomboy, either. No one to admire her for hitting every tree she aimed at, and no one to scold her for getting grass stains on her Sunday dress from climbing trees after church. Dad never noticed.

Claire heard her father call from the house, and climbed to her feet. She took her time brushing the dirt and grass from the overalls she wore everywhere but school and church, knowing that the dinner he called her to would be poor, their time together strained. Without Jim, neither of them new how to talk about missing Jim.

She paused beneath the tallest tree in the orchard—the only one that wasn’t an apple tree—and peered up through the branches. Father had never been willing to cut down the huge old pine, and at the very top there was always a crow’s nest. Every year Claire vowed she would climb up and look into it, as Jim had done. She never had done it. Not yet.

When the telegram arrived, only weeks after Jim had gone into the trenches, Claire knew the world had ended. Everyone knew what it meant when you got a telegram, if you had a boy at the Front. She didn’t even stay to see Dad open it, and she didn’t stop to hear the delivery boy’s sympathy. He’d known Jim at school, so he meant it. But he’d said the same words to so many families.

Claire fled to the orchard, to the trees. She stopped beneath the old pine, and began to climb.

Claire didn’t stop until she reached the top, and could see into the crow’s nest. The bird was away, stealing apples or eating worms. She looked at the nest, a mix of old weaving and new, and far larger than seemed necessary for the single egg that lay there. The egg was smaller than she’d expected, to hold all that potential life. Life like the one Jim wouldn’t get to have now.

Suddenly she hated the crow, hated the egg, hated those lives that went on while Jim’s—and hers—ended. She reached out with one hand, clinging to her perch with the other, and snatched up the egg. It was warm, and smooth, and harder than she’d expected to crush. She shifted her fingers and squeezed again, and felt the sharp shards of shell cut her hand, the warm liquid pour through her grip. She dropped it, and saw the tiny, unformed crow she had killed, and began to cry, even as she heard her father’s voice calling her name.

He didn’t sound right. He didn’t sound heartbroken. He sounded elated. Her head spun. “Claire! He’s coming home! He’s wounded, but he’s alive and he’s coming home!”

Uncomprehending, she stared at the bird she had killed, at the agitated crow now circling her head.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered to both, and began the long climb down.


©Rebecca M. Douglass