Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What I Read in October Part VI

What I Read in October Part VI . . .

A Cathedral Courtship and Penelope's English Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin -- Historical Romance

Miss Katherine Schyler is traveling with her Aunt Celia to visit the Cathedral towns of England in 1900. Aunt Celia is so focused, she won't even allow Kitty to have a Season. She doesn't even notice when Kitty encounters a handsome angel of mercy at Winchester. Jack Copley is in England to sketch the cathedrals and when he sees Kitty, his concentration is shattered. It's love at first sight, but first he must win over Aunt Celia. Will she ever look at anything other than a cathedral long enough to realize he wants to court her niece?

This is a very simple short story. The heroine is very young, innocent and a little silly. The characters don't have any depth and the story progresses quickly. It's only 50 pages long so there isn't much plot. The writing is nice but nothing spectacular.

The rest of the book contains Penelope's English Experiences. I own Vol. I so I will be reviewing that separately when I finish it.

Bless Me, UltimaBless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya -- Historical Fiction

Tony Marez/Antonio Marez Y Luna is six years old; the son of the seas (marez) and the moon (luna). His mother's family is tied to the land while his father comes from a line of vaqueros (cowboys). His father dreams of moving to California when Antonio's brothers return from the war; Antonio's mother wants to stay put and dreams of her youngest son becoming a priest to lead her people. Tony isn't sure what he wants but he feels he must obey his mother's devout Catholic Faith. Then Ultima, a cuarandera (healer) moves in with the Marez family bringing with her strange healing potions. Antonio feels drawn to her, but when the community starts buzzing about her being a witch, particularly one old man who seeks to destroy her, Antonio's beliefs are challenged. He believes in Ultima but he also believes in God and the Virgin. Is this part of growing up? The losing of innocence his mother despairs? This book blends traditional New Mexican Indian folk beliefs and Catholicism to show how one boy comes of age in the 1940s.

The writing in this book is beautiful, especially the dream sequences and the passages involving mysticism. I thought some of the message was heavy handed, especially towards the end. There's a lot of Spanish phrases that aren't defined. I know enough Spanish to understand the basics but I suspect a lot of the phrases are vulgar slang they don't teach us in school! I wish there was a glossary to refer to. There's also some vulgar English language and as the book progresses, a lot of violence. The children in this novel are very precocious and talk about adult things. Even Antonio worries a lot about adult problems. The central question is whether one has to believe either in Ultima's shaman medicine or in Senora Marez's God. This is a hot button issue right now and though the story takes place in the 1940s, it sounds very contemporary. I think people who grew up with old school Catholic parents and grandparents can probably relate to Tony. My family isn't that devout but I know a lot of the older people around here are.

The only character I really liked was Ultima and she is more a presence in the novel than a main character. The only other characters I remotely liked were Samuel and Frances.I found myself wanting to defend her and learn from her as well. She's an amazing, strong woman. Antonio is very young and worries a lot. He also tries to fit in with the other punk kids from the town but he's different. I felt sympathetic to him but wasn't overly fond of him. He's too precocious for 6-8 years old. Antonio's brothers are losers. I understand war is traumatic and wanting to forget and wanting to get away from the small town where one grew up but they don't seem to have any ambition or any sort of redeeming qualities, much like their father though he at least has a dream. Senora Marez relies too much on her Faith and her own family importance. I don't see why Senor Marez married her. She seems to have destroyed him.

This book is undoubtedly on many high school and college reading lists. If you like books like that and want to read it on your own, it will at least make you think. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea.

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