What I Read in September 2016 Part IV. . .
Islands in the Sky by Tanith Lee--Middle Grades Historical Fantasy
Hope is a maid in a grand London home. She's been scolded, abused and forgotten by her employers and the staff. She's been continually told to get her head out of the clouds and stop dreaming. Hope, however, can't help it. Long ago her mother told her stories and taught her to dream. When a mysterious couple come to the house and cause chaos, a lady named Cassandra tells Hope some strange things about imagination and hope. She believes Hope, the little maid, could be someone important. The next day, Cassandra's sister Miranda comes to apologize for the chaos her family caused and leave a gift for Apollo Rivers, the son of the house. When Apollo's new kite from Cassandra gets stuck in a tree, only Hope can climb high enough to get it. She finds herself lifted up and borne away to a strange land with a floating ship in the sky, dwarves, gremlins, genies, winged horses and other magical creatures. At first she's content to enjoy the amazing world of islands in the sky, but she discovers a problem she is expected to solve. How can a little girl solve a big problem? With a little imagination and help from unexpected quarters, of course.
This is a cute fantasy story for independent readers old enough to read a book without pictures, so probably 10-12 and up. The world building is based on Voyage of the Basset so at first I was a little lost and confused. The story isn't quite long enough to delve into the characters and their backstories but it's not necessary to the overall plot. The message is a little heavy handed but I loved the emphasis on believing -"believing is seeing" is the moral of the story. It teaches kids to hang on to their imagination as long as possible and believe anything is possible.
At first I didn't think Apollo should be punished for the way he was brought up. Then, as his story got going, I found it more interesting than Hope's story up to that point and wanted to know what would happen to him. I like his character transformation but the epilogue is probably not accurate for the Victorian era.
I was enchanted by Cassandra and her husband, who add some much needed humor to the beginning of the story. I wanted to know more about them, but can't get my hands on Voyage of the Basset right now. I felt sad for them that they grew up and only have adventures in their dreams. What kind of message does THAT send to kids? Why can't adults get to fairyland too? That was my only real complaint with the book, that and it lacked pictures.
My nieces will LOVE this book as soon as they're old enough for it. I hope they'll read it in a few years and remember the message.
One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens--Memoir
Monica is a 1930s socialite who got kicked out of drama school for refusing to wear the school hat. With nothing to do but go out every night, she's bored and wants something to do. She gets the great idea to become a cook, having taken a class on French cuisine. When she lands her first job as a cook-general, she discovers that taking one class is not the same as being a chef. She chronicles her disastrous escapades over the 18 months she spent as a cook/maid in London and the countryside. She even spent time as a cook in a country house, complete with snooty servants.
This memoir is a hoot. Monica's cooking skills are just so bad! She handles her failures well, using humor to make the situation seem a little less awful than it was. I couldn't put it down until I found out how long she stayed at her job and what happened during that time. I did find it repetitive at times-one spectacular failure after another, but her failures are so funny and charming that I couldn't help but become engrossed in her adventures. She had a few successes as well but those were glossed over, of course, in favor of the failures. This is a must read for anyone who has had an awful job or anyone who has repeatedly cooked for other people. Fans of Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey will also enjoy this look at life downstairs, and enjoy the country house scene.