Sunday, July 28, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Melendy Family written and illustrated by Elizabeth Enright -- Children's Classic/Historical Fiction

This omnibus edition contains three books about the charming Melendy family: The Saturdays; The Four Story Mistake; Then There Were Five. In The Saturdays we are introduced to the Melendy family. There's an often absent but loving father; a strict but kind housekeeper/cook/nanny, and of course the children: Thirteen-year-old Mona who is going to be an actress; Twelve year old Rush, a piano prodigy who wants to make music AND be an engineer; Randy (Miranda) age 10 1/2, who dances like a fairy and wants to be both an artist and a dancer; Olivier, age 6, thoughtful and determined. Bored with their ordinary lives, the Melendys decide one rainy Saturday afternoon to pool their resources to give each of them a chance of experience a day of doing something they had always dreamed of.  In The Four Story Mistake, the Melendys move to the country. There's a war on and everyone must do
his or her bit to help out. In addition, there's the new house and surroundings to explore, new friends to make and a new school. Then There Were Five concludes the Melendy family saga. You can probably guess what you think is going to happen but you have to read the books to know for sure. The places the children go and people they meet will change their lives forever. I simply adored these stories. I didn't want them to end. I loved the eccentric Melendy family. The children are so real and their adventures are very ordinary yet they seem magical because the children take such delight in them. I felt fully immersed in their world and part of the family. Any kid would love to be a Melendy. Some of their adventures are a bit
far fetched and they're never punished for not behaving quite as they ought. I'm not a parent, so I don't worry about that sort of thing, especially since the Melendys all have a strong conscience that tells them when they're not doing something Cuffy would approve of. They're all thoughtful and caring individuals and they enrich many people's lives, including the reader. Even though the stories were written in the 1940s, they still feel fresh and exciting. There are a few spots that reflect attitudes of the day but nothing major stood out. I can't believe I never read these books as a kid, especially since I liked Thimble Summer a lot. These are books for the keeper shelf if you can find them.

Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio -- Historical Fiction

This book is difficult to summarize. It starts in 1917 while the protagonist May is in court, being sued by her former friend Miss Frank Sawyer, Esq, who claimed the "baronness" cheated her out of millions of dollars. May tells her story in her own words, alternating between the court room. Her father's death shattered her happy childhood. After high school, a fling with a local rich boy resulted in a pregnancy scare so May decided to head out to Chicago to find herself a rich husband. Well, her plans didn't work out quite as she hoped and to save herself from starving, she finds employment at a first class bordello. She quickly gains a taste for expensive clothes and jewelry and continues her plot to find a rich husband. One bad mistake lands the Pinkerton detective Reed Doughtery after her. May's further adventures take her around the world and from wealthy friend to wealthy friend before she ends up in the court room. Is she an innocent girl trying to help her family or is she a hardened swindler? You decide based on her testimony. I found it extremely hard to like May. She continually makes bad decisions. She says she wants to help her mother but she's truly helping herself to the riches she desires. She seems to take after her father. I don't like Frank very much either. She is also a manipulator and a swindler. She's ruthless and will stop and nothing to get what she wants. None of the other characters who flit in and out of May's life are all that appealing either. May puts her trust in the wrong people. The plot plods along with many many lengthy descriptions of where May is going, who she's speaking to and what's happening yet the events of the 1910s where she traveled with Frank are barely touched on! The lawyers keep alluding to events that happened but we never get to see them from May's point-of-view. I wish the beginning and middle were shorter and the end longer. I was surprised by the conclusion but yet not surprised. The author did a considerable amount of historical research and includes period details about fashion, travel, cultural activities and social life but world events take a back seat to the main plot. The book needs some postcards and photographs to really enhance the novel. I didn't love the book but I didn't hate it either. Since I found it difficult to like May, I felt little sympathy for her so the story didn't really resonate with me.

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