Friday, April 4, 2014

March 2014 Book Reports

Last month was a busy and travel-filled one for my Dad. And I gave him another book to read (The Trees by Conrad Richter), so he may not have had time to read our selection for this month. Whatever the case, I have no report from him this time. The book is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. I'm a few pages away from finishing it myself, so we'll save it for the April report.

1. Dawn's Early Light by Elswyth Thane 

This book showed up in the Recommendations section of my Goodreads account. Elswyth Thane wrote a series of books, all based in Williamsburg, Virginia. Each book takes place during a critical moment in American history. I always like to start at the beginning, so I looked around for a copy of Dawn's Early Light, which takes place during the Revolutionary War. It's out of print. Of course it's out of print. That only made me want to find it and read it even more! I'll bet they have these books somewhere in Williamsburg, Virginia. 

The story begins with an Englishman named Julian Day arriving in Williamsburg during the summer of 1774. He is greeted by St. John Sprague, who becomes his bff. Julian's father traveled with him, but died at sea. Nineteen year old Julian is on his own for the first time and in a foreign, but not foreign, country. Juicy! Julian does not approve of the talk he hears at the Raleigh, a local pub. Sprague and the respected men in town like Thomas Jefferson and Colonel George Washington and Patrick Henry are practically endorsing treason! They should fall in line with their fellow countrymen and accept that they are part of the British empire. :) And yet, Julian can't help but respect these men and especially St. John. They're friendly, open, courageous. Just misguided.

That first night, Julian meets a young girl, Tabitha "Tibby." When I say young, I mean 10 years old. I could tell from the get-go that this would be a love story and I was grossed out. In the beginning, Julian thinks of Tibby as a daughter. Julian is a school teacher and he speaks several languages. He teaches Tibby and helps her get into the local finishing school even though she is low-born. (Tibby would rather go to the real school like her twin brother, but them's the breaks in the 1770s, kid.)

The Declaration of Independence happens, St. John goes to war assisting Colonel Washington and Julian is left in Williamsburg to watch over St. John's sister, Dorothea, and his Aunt Anabel, as well as Tibby. (Julian is BLIND to the fact that Dorothea loves him and that Tibby is also in love with him. It's maddening and super cliche until we realize that it wasn't a cliche when Ms. Thane was writing it in the 1930s.) After almost four years of war with St. John coming and going with news, Julian realizes that he is American, and he wants to go to war to help them win. 

"Not children playing with fire in Arcadia now, he realized. Not irresponsible rebels who liked the sound of their own stirring phrases. Not two or three sullen cities defying from a safe distance a just and well-intentioned king.  This was a new nation, a virile, lion-hearted chip of the old block, determined, as Englishmen always are, not to be browbeaten - much less browbeaten by a rank outsider of limited intelligence and mid-European ideas of government.  This was a fight Englishmen had fought before and would doubtless have to fight again - a fight to preserve personal liberty and constitutional government from the encroachment of tyranny.  As an Englishmen, he belonged in this fight himself, on the side of the men who demanded the things England itself stood for, no matter who sat on the throne."

The war sections were fantastic. This book is thoroughly researched. I marveled at the research many many times. One of the characters makes a short remark about the "new" flag (rather than the snakes and arrows one) and how elegant it was, how no other country had anything like it. Later on the day I read that I was driving in an area where there are a lot of American flags and I got choked up. Every time I read a book about the time period of the Revolutionary War I cannot believe it worked. The United States of America happened! Dawn's Early Light made me think of this period in our country in a new way (I've only read it from the leaders' point of view before). Nicely done.

2. The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

This is a chapter book first published in 1941. The four Melendy children live in New York City with their father, their mother is deceased. They have a tough housekeeper, "Cuffy." The children are smart and curious, each with their own talents and interests. One boring afternoon Randy (short for Miranda and also to confuse me every single time I read her name) suggests that instead of taking their $.50 weekly allowance, which is basically good for nothing, they should pool their money every week and let one person have an adventure. The youngest brother gets $.10 a week, but he wants to be in on it too. With $1.60 they can paint the town red! 

Randy goes first and checks out a museum in the city by herself. Rush (the oldest brother) goes to the opera and finds a dog on his way home. Mona gets her hair cut at the beauty parlor and she also gets a manicure that shakes everyone to their core (RED FINGERNAILS!! THE SHAME!!). When the youngest, Oliver, finally gets his turn (he has to wait until everyone else has gone twice, I think) he decides to go into the city by himself to see the circus at Madison Square Garden. Oliver is six years old. Let that sink in.

For historical fiction sake, this was pretty great. We so don't do it this way. Can you imagine letting your 10 year-old daughter go into New York City alone?! And the whole red fingernails thing. Mona even wails to Cuffy that she feels "so cheap." Wow. Different now, eh? It wasn't my favorite book I've read with Bridget, but it was fun and different.

1 comment:

Michele said...

You absolutely need to read the rest of Elswyth Thane's Williamsburg novels. The series and characters just get better and better, I promise you!