Friday, May 31, 2013

May 2013 Book Reports

1. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Hyer

This would be the perfect bonnet movie.  Sophy Stanton-Lacy has been raised by her very wealthy, very eccentric father all over the world.  She is adventurous, a great horse-woman, clever, and conniving.  When Sophy's father has to spend a summer in Brazil, he leaves Sophy in the care of his sister, Lady Rivenhall.  Sophy is 20 years old, so she doesn't need a babysitter so much, but Lady Rivenhall agrees to keep her to be a companion to one of her daughters, Cecilia.  Lord Rivenhall has squandered away his fortune and his son, Charles, inherited a bunch of money and took care of his father's debt.  Now Charles is in charge (of our days and our nights) of the household and he's engaged to a terrible woman named Eugenia.  Got all that? :) 

Sophy gets to the bottom of every situation going on in the Rivenhall household right away.  She is patient enough to "help" everyone see how to disentangle themselves.  Her young cousin Hubert with his gambling debts, Cecelia and her poet fiance who is not-her-true-love-but-she-thinks-he-is-in-the-beginning, Charles and his awful fiance.  There are plenty of cracking conversations and satisfying revelations.  It was especially fun to see how Sophy revealed Eugenia's true character to Charles a little at a time.  One of my favorite things was all the talk about Sophy driving her own high perch phaeton in Hyde Park.  Scandal!  I had to look it up.  She was supposedly so good with horses that she could handle it and that was rare for a woman.  Really there was only one scene where I was rolling my eyes.  The author went a teensy bit too far with Sophy's adventurous and confident nature.  (There is a Jewish moneylender and a gun involved.  Heads up on the racism in that scene, as well.)

Now this book would be a good beach/vacation read.  Have I finally figured that out?  I would read Georgette Hyer again (apparently she's written a lot of books).  Her style is fun.  I'm starting to fancy myself a book match maker.  I think my sister-in-law, Claire, would like this one. :)

2.  Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

I ordered this book on my Kindle (instant gratification!) after reading one sentence from an excerpt:

"This is why there is no difference between a four-year-old eating a taco and throwing a taco on the floor."

Since that is one of the many truths I've found since 2006 when I became a parent, I decided I wanted to see what other truths Mr. Gaffigan had found. :)   I think Jim Gaffigan has gotten funnier the longer he has been a dad.  I enjoyed his comedy before, but it was mostly about lazy, single guy experiences.  I related to almost all of his stories about parenthood.  Gaffigan and his wife, Jeannie, live in a two-bedroom, walk up apartment in New York City with their five young children.  (Like, seven years old and younger.)  His tales of taking all the kids on the subway sent shivers down my spine.  Parenthood is something that is impossible to describe to anyone who isn't "in" it.

"When I didn't have kids, I didn't get it, and I shouldn't have.  I had never fought in the Vietnam War and had dinner in Paris on the same day.  I had no context to understand the casualties or the romance a parent feels on the same day."

I laughed a lot reading this book.  It was nice to read about a guy who is madly in love with (and in awe of) his wife.  Gaffigan also clearly loves being a father even when it is The Most Difficult Job EVER, as it can be sometimes.

"Also, toddler judgment is horrible. They don't have any.  Put a twelve-month-old on a bed, and they will immediately try and crawl off headfirst like a lemming on a mindless migration mission."

"If children equal noise, then having five kids is like living on a construction site.  Noise from our children is a constant at our house.  Silence is startling to me at this point.  Once, a moment of silence actually woke me up: 'What's that?  Is a tsunami about to hit?'"

That's fun.  I'm laughing again reading all the things I highlighted.  I can't find the one toward the end where Gaffigan says that each one of his kids has made him a better man.  I loved that!  If you let it, I do think parenting can make you amazing.  (This would be a great Father's Day gift!  If only I hadn't pretty much read the whole thing to Brian already.)

 3.  Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple
Another Persephone book and another Dorothy Whipple.  I recognized a lot of similar themes with Greenbanks and They Were Sisters.  The woman at the heart of Greenbanks (the name of the house the main character lives in) is Louisa Ashton.  She is married to wealthy and philandering Robert Ashton and they have five grown children. One daughter, Letty, lives close to Greenbanks with her meddling husband, Ambrose, and their three sons and one daughter, Rachel.  The other four children (Jim, Rose, Laura and Charles) come in and out, but because Letty lives close and Rachel is Louisa's only (and beloved) granddaughter we see them more.

This is domestic fiction, so the story is very character-driven.  There are some pretty juicy events, but Whipple's observations are so precise and her writing so twinkling (I chose that word because she kind of has a twinkling humor in the way her characters speak), that I would have enjoyed reading Greenbanks even if nothing much happened.  I will admit that I probably enjoyed They Were Sisters more because it was a whole new genre to me, but I still loved Greenbanks.  The relationship between Louisa and her granddaughter Rachel is superbly written.  Once again, Whipple captured the little girl Rachel in just the right way.  As she gets older, it's easy to root for Rachel to succeed.  When her father, Ambrose, sends his wife, Letty, to Rachel's school to un-enroll her for her final year of high school, a wonderful teacher tells Letty something profound:

"'However,' went on Miss Cope, 'marriage or no marriage, children or no children, life - the real life - is lived in the spirit, and I hold that the right education helps the spirit to maintain its own life, makes it independent of material prosperity or adversity.  That is the ideal we strive for.  To enrich the spirit, to enrich the personality.'"

Wise!  So wise.  It reminded me of being asked why I wanted to get a college degree if I was just going to stay home and be a mother.  What if I hadn't kept going to school while we were waiting and trying to figure out how to start our family?!  Ten years of sitting around?!  Shudder.  I'm confident that I am a better wife, mother, and person with my education.  In so many ways.

I can't write much more about Greenbanks without giving away plot points, but I will say that Whipple's writing needs to be read and appreciated by more people.  Come borrow my copy if you have to. :)


Jill said...

Another great round-up Nicole. And if you don't mind, I think I will borrow your copy of "Greenbanks." Who knows, there might be chocolate with it when it's returned. :-)

Karen said...

Ahhhh Georgette Heyer. A lady at work gave a couple of her books. I think you might like Frederica. I found it took a while to get used to the style of writing but it was a great read.

Allison and Noah Riley said...

Bless your HEART for the Father's Day gift idea. I think Dad is Fat just secured its place among Noah's gifts (er... it is the only gift...?). The NYC walk up woes may hit too close to home, especially right now when Noah is doing all the (literal) heavy lifting up to floor five.