Thursday, January 28, 2016

What I Read in August 2015 Part V

What I Read in August 2015 Part V...

School For Brides by Patrice Kindl -- Young Adult Historical Fiction/Regency romance

A School for Brides (Keeping the Castle, #2) The young ladies of The Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy have all been sent by their one remaining parent to be "finished" before finding a husband. The parents seem to have forgotten more than their children; they neglected to realize that there are no eligible men in all of Lesser Hoo. (Unless one counts Mr. Goldalming, the local magistrate). When a young gentleman is found collapsed and injured in the bushes, the young ladies are delighted. They are even more delighted when his friends come to visit. The Honorable Jane Crump is the highest born of the eight young ladies, so she should be the first to marry, but she is so painfully shy, she can not bring herself to remove her bonnet. She has nightmares each night and now it seems her nightmares are turning to reality. Miss Pffolliott has a secret she isn't sure she's happy about; Miss Franklin would rather pursue scientific study than find a husband and Miss Asquith worries that no one will marry her because her father is a gin distiller. Meanwhile, Mrs. Fredericks plot to make her niece Miss Mainwaring happy. This story spoils events from Keeping the Castle. At first the author gives her readers a chance to go back and read or reread by withholding the first names of Mrs. Boring and Mrs. Fredericks. Soon though, the reader is clued in and spoilers happen.

I didn't like this book as much as Keeping the Castle. The premise sounded cute but it wasn't quite as satirical as the first. The humor is still present and I enjoyed it, but Keeping the Castle was laugh out loud funny and this was not. There are some darker elements to the story, namely the villain.

I also think the book suffers from too many characters. I had a really hard time remembering which was girl was which. Even after their individual stories started, I still couldn't keep track of which one was the niece of Mrs. and Mr. Fredericks and which was the gin distiller. (I don't even remember him having a sister). It didn't help that they kept calling each other Miss (last name) for most of the story and not all the school girls got an individual plot, but had been mentioned in the beginning. The villain in the story was so completely cruel and sadistic. I didn't really understand why she was so sadistic. One can be proud and greedy without being deliberately evil. She reminded me of a Disney villain. Maybe I identify too strongly with Jane. There's another, more typical Regency novel villain in the story. I saw through them right away though I was a bit surprised by an unexpected twist.

The heroines all have their own stories starting around the middle of the book. I was most interested in Miss Franklin's story. I liked how the author incorporated scientific study of the day and showed that young ladies were doing more than learning how to dance, sing, play the pianoforte and sew. I was impressed she could see as far as the rings of Saturn with a telescope and really blown away by her theory of how to figure out if there's more planets after Uranus. I identified with her spurning the idea of marriage. She's a bit odd though. She's all analytical and not emotional. She tends to immerse herself in something and forget about everything else. I thought and hoped her story would end differently. I also identified with Jane. I sympathized with her shyness and desire to be invisible. I empathized with her as she relived her worst nightmare over and over. I really liked her character development but was disappointed it was mostly all told and not shown. I also liked Miss Pffolliott, though not at first. I deplored her secrecy but I grew to like her once she adopted Wolfie (who is hands down my favorite character).

The gentlemen are also indistinguishable. There's the usual gamut of Regency heroes. There's the not so intelligent sporting gentlemen and the fortune hunters, but these gentlemen all fare much better than in a typical Regency romance. I was pleasantly surprised by Mr. Hadley and Mr. Henry Crabble. Even Mr. Goldalming becomes likeable once the reader gets to know him, despite his poor performance in the opening scene of Keeping the Castle.

The story also gives us some brief glimpses into what is happening with the characters from Keeping the Castle and adds some new minor characters.

The War that Saved My LifeThe War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley --Middle Grades Historical fiction

Ada was born with a club foot. Her mother tells her it was Ada's fault and she needs to hide away in their one-room apartment. Hidden away from the world, Ada relies on her beloved younger brother Jamie to tell her what life is like outside. When Jamie announces the children are to be sent away, Ada decides it's time for her to take a stand and leave with him. She's been working on working all summer, even though it hurts and even though her feet bleed. She knows she needs to get away or she'll die. After a long journey, Ada and Jamie are not chosen by any of the villagers. The iron-faced woman forces a village spinster, Susan, to take in the children. Susan reluctantly agrees though she doesn't like children or know what to do with them and doesn't have the money to take care of children. From Ada and Jamie's point-of-view, Susan is rich and strange. She largely leaves them alone except for meals. Ada befriends Susan's pony, who opens up a whole new world for the girl. Ada tries not to get too comfortable though for she knows those letters Susan has been writing to Mam mean Susan wants to send the children away. Ada knows that it's what she deserves but if she does return to Mam, she'll surely die.

This is one of those books that stays with you long after you finish reading the last page. I never thought the plot of a middle grades historical-fiction novel would be so compelling to keep me up very late at night and reading instead of doing what I was supposed to the next day. At first I was very skeptical that anyone could live in those conditions without a social worker or some philanthropic society finding out. Later, the reader learns Ada's mother tells everyone that Ada is "simple" and I suppose that during the Depression, a lot of poor kids were undernourished and stealing just to eat. However, once the children get to Kent, Susan and the doctor should have gotten help, even though they didn't know the whole story. I don't know what measures were in place to help children in 1939 England. Anyway, the story progresses rather predictably but with some unexpected surprises. I couldn't see how this could end happily. The end is kind of contrived and silly but I liked it.

The reader immediately feels for the characters, especially Ada. She's a little difficult to like at times because she doesn't easily adjust to her new life and she actually believes what her mother tells her. However, she is an immensely sympathetic character. The story is from her point-of-view and I felt intense sympathy for her. I just wanted to yell into the book encouraging words. She's like an urban feral child; grass and trees are new to her, among other things like sheets, baths and even kindness. I kept marveling at all she didn't know. It was just shocking. Her vocabulary was less than a small child's and she was completely illiterate. The reader learns with Ada and adult readers can learn what the world is like through a child's eyes - a frightened, badly abused child. Jamie is harder to like. It's hard to remember he's only 6/7 and nearly as ignorant as Ada. He, too, has a hard time adjusting and his behavior is really bratty, but typical of that age. He just seems a lot older from his speech that his tantrums come as a surprise. I felt for him too, though, as well as Ada.

Susan is a difficult character to like. She's prickly, she doesn't like children and she seems to have depression/Season Affective Disorder. She says she's blue because it's the anniversary of her best friend's (Boston Marriage partner?)  death and she doesn't like fall and winter, but it seems to be more than that. She's not the most qualified to deal with children but she's the right guardian for these particular children. Her personality and Ada's are not that different. They are both shaped by circumstances, but of course Susan's seem a little trivial compared to Ada's. Susan seems to instinctively know how to deal with Ada's meltdowns and is able to keep calm and deal with the children without losing her cool. I really admired her for that. I liked how she had to grow and learn along with the children.

There's not much else I can say without spoiling the plot, but I highly highly recommend this novel for anyone 11+.

If you are sensitive to child neglect and abuse do not read this book.
War related deaths mentioned

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