Thursday, January 28, 2016

What I Read in April 2015 Part III

What I Read in April 2015 Part III ...

Pickpocket's Tale by Karen Schwabach--Regency RomanceA Pickpocket's Tale

Molly Abraham, a street rat from London, has made her way in the mean streets of 18th century London as a pickpocket. Now she's been ratted out and hauled before the magistrate. Molly is sentenced to an indenture in America until she comes of age. She discovers that some wealthy Jewish men want to rescue her because of her heritage, which she knows nothing about. She's purchased by a New York merchant, Mr. Bell, because he wants to do a mitzvah, a good deed for someone. Molly soon finds herself struggling to understand her new life and new home. She longs to return to London where she knows who she is and how to survive. Does she still have the street smarts to steal something that would pay her passage back? Does she really want to?

This is a very nice period piece set in 1750. I've read other books about young thieves but the Jewish angle makes it a bit different. I'm familiar with Jews in New York more from the late 19th century than in this time period. I learned a bit about Jewish culture and daily life in old New York. I especially liked the geography of New York: trees and farmland in Manhattan - imagine that! My only real complaint is that the characters sound too modern. Aside from Molly, they all speak modern English. Molly's thieves' cant was a bit tough to understand but there is a glossary in the back of the book.

Molly is a tough character to like. She's been on her own for two years and lived in the worst neighborhood in London. She's seen things Mrs. Bell could never even dream of. Molly's background makes her tough and when she arrives in unfamiliar territory, she tries to apply her street smarts and it makes her seem ungrateful and unappealing. Slowly she grows and the reader will come to like her in the end. I admire her resiliency.

Young readers 10+ would probably enjoy this more than adults but the writing style is very good and not preachy or overly simple. It's a good, quick read for someone who wants to learn a little bit about this time and Jewish life in old New York.

The Penderwicks in Spring (The Penderwicks #4)
The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall--Middle Grades Fiction

The Penderwicks are back for another adventure. This book takes place several years after the last. Batty is now almost 11, Ben 8 and there's a new Penderwick - two-year-old Lydia who rules the roost! It's spring in Massachusetts which means lots of things Batty hates: book reports, teenagers swarming the house, memories of Hound who died 6 months ago. Spring also brings the return of Rosalind from college and Skye and Batty's birthdays. Batty is looking forward to having a heart-to-heart chat with Rosy. She's always been able to tell Rosy everything. Before Rosy comes home, Batty discovers a delightful secret about herself and plans to tell the rest of the family on her birthday. Before that can happen, she needs to find a way to earn money. Batty sets up PTW (Penderwick Willing to Work) and finds herself unexpectedly becoming dog walker to an oversized Dauchshund and a funny looking dog named after a plant. She has mixed emotions about her new job. How can she take care of other dogs when she couldn't keep Hound alive? That's one of the things she needs to talk to Rosy about. Just as Skye's birthday rolls around, an unexpected and unwelcome visitor arrives to shake things up. By the time Batty's birthday arrives, she'll feel much older than 11.

Warning! Read this book with tissues handy. Right away in the first chapter I cried. I know exactly how Batty feels about Hound and how much she misses him. Anyone who knows the pain of losing a beloved animal companion will understand Batty. Then the plot turned light and fun until an unexpected reveal in the middle. I cried a lot more before I was done with the book. There are lots of great literary references in this book. Do read Dragonfly Pool. The Penderwicks are all here in all their quirkiness. I love them all and they feel like family. My only minor quibbles were that Lydia's verbal skills are exceptional for a 2 year old, more than my younger niece's, which seems impossible and in Massachusetts teens aren't allowed to drive other kids in the car (I think, unless the law changed again since my cousins learned to drive). I laughed at the descriptions of New England spring. It was so great reading this book at this time of year when the weather goes from sleety winter to summer warm and back again in less than 2 weeks. It made the book feel more realistic.

Batty is an interesting, complicated character. I could relate a lot to her. She's the shy Penderwick in a family of extroverts and she feels emotions deeply. She's pragmatic about her dead mother, for all intents and purposes Iantha is her mother. Yet Batty is curious about the mother she never knew and feels that loss more than she's willing to admit. She's kind and caring, a bookworm (but hates ruining books by doing reports on them) and very sensitive. I cried a lot with her and for her in this book. 

Ben is the other main character in the novel. He's obsessed with rocks (another scientist in the family perhaps?) and wants to make movies with his best friend Rafael. Ben's relationship with the Geiger brothers is very sweet. They're good guys to allow him to obsess over them that way. OK it feeds their egos but it's nice, especially of Nick, to spend that much time with Ben. Ben is sweet and rather uncomplicated. He's stuck in the middle between his older sisters and baby sister and sometimes that gets to be a burden. As far as little brothers go, I really liked him.

Skye and Jane are exactly the same. I felt bad for Skye and for the rest of the family that her relationship with Jeffrey is so complicated. Jane is as boy crazy as ever and always searching out new characters to put in a book. She's the comic relief, along with little Lydia and Ben's friend Raf.

If you love Little Women, Jane Austen's novels, the Ramona series, the Moffats, the All of a Kind Family and other classics from the golden age of children's books, you'll love the Penderwicks too. Start with the first book and read them in order.

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