Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett



The Secret Garden is the story of Mary Lennox, a young girl whose parents died of cholera in India, leaving her in the care of her uncle Archibald Craven, a man she has never met or heard of. She arrives at Misselthwaite Manor an unattractive, unappealing, spoiled little girl who had never even dressed herself in her 10 years of life. Mary is left in the care of Mr. Craven’s housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock and her housekeeper, Martha. Mrs. Medlock informs Mary that the manor is full of rooms with locked doors that she cannot explore. Martha pushes Mary to explore the grounds outside, emphasizing that Mary needs fresh air and sun. Spring is coming and the moor outside of the manor is more appealing to Mary than she ever imagined. The story of a garden not touched for years has grasped Mary’s attention and she begins searching for the key to what can become her secret garden.
                 “Mistress Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells and marigolds all in a row.” Whenever I think of the film adaptation of this novel that is the first thing that pops in my mind. The Secret Garden is another jewel from Burnett that just captures the spirit of youth. I loved this novel and the transformation that happens between the two main characters, Mary and Colin, the cousin she discovers. Both are products of an unloved and unhappy home. They are spoiled, rude, mean and unapologetic. It isn’t until they can change their way of thinking about themselves and life that they can change how they feel about themselves and other people. It’s so simple and yet, they didn’t realize they had the power to change their way of thinking until their circumstances changed. The changes were subtle and amazing.     

                I feel like Burnett wrote the foundation for The Secret when she penned The Secret Garden. The idea of thought being as “powerful as electric batteries- as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison” is something that is at the root of Byrne’s inspirational book. The principle seems so obvious and yet it is like magic. You think happy thoughts, speak happy thoughts, believe in happy thoughts, and those things that make you happy will come to be! I loved this book and I hate that it took me so long to get to it. It is a fast, fascinating, captivating read that I definitely recommend and give 5 out of 5 stars.  

Monday, May 25, 2015

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder by R.J. Palacio



                There is something about this novel that really sits with me. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Wonder. I had heard great things about this novel and how moving it was so of course I was hoping this would be a great story. I personally didn’t feel disappointed at all. Wonder is a novel about a young boy named August Pullman who was born with a facial disfigurement that caused him to have over twenty surgeries in his young life. He has been homeschooled his entire life and his mom thinks now is the time for him to go to an actual school. He’ll be starting the 5th grade in the fall at Beecher Prep Middle School. Over the course of about a year, readers observe the different obstacles that August has to face simply because he was born differently.
                August was such a great character. He was funny, witty and very self-aware. In his position I would guess you would have to be. If every day you left your house and people stared, pointed or ran from your appearance then you have to be aware of how you appear to others. I felt for August. I wanted to know August. I didn’t pity him because he was stronger than people could imagine. I did however feel bad because let’s face it, children can be assholes and the way many of the characters treated August was disgusting. Palacio did an amazing job with developing August. From the moment I started reading Wonder I knew I would love it.
                I found the change in narratives to be a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting the narrative to change to different characters involved with August and it really enhanced the all-around story.  For the first 87 pages you don’t really know what August looks like because he won’t describe himself. It isn’t until his sister describes him in page 88 that you really understand why he stands out. It isn’t until over a hundred pages in that you even know what caused August’s appearance. It added a mysterious element to the story. You take bits and pieces of what you are told to make a composite until everything unfolds. Another reason I loved the narrative changes were because I loved reading what motivated the other characters to behave the way they did towards August. How does the neglected sister feel about having a brother was such a disfigurement? How does August’s friends really feel about him? What are people’s first thoughts when seeing August? How do the parents at Beecher Prep feel about August?

                If Wonder has a fault it’s that it is slightly unbelievable. Or maybe I am just an extreme pessimist and that some people never change despite how much you want them to. I won’t reveal anything more because I don’t want to spoil anything. I really enjoyed this novel. This is a novel that I want children to read because I feel that some children are completely unaware of how their actions affect other people. This novel exposed the actions of young children and how those actions can be defining of their character in both an extremely positive and negative way. It exposed bullying and parental entitlement which is something I wasn’t expecting but am very glad was explored. I give this novel 4.5 out of 5 stars. It made me think. It will make children think and it will touch you on an emotional level. This is something I can definitely recommend to anyone. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Diana: Story of a Princess by Tim Clayton and Phil Craig

Diana: Story of a Princess by Tim Clayton and Phil Craig 



                For my birthday in 1997, I had a sleepover in a tent in my backyard. I remember waking up very early in the morning, it was still dark out, going into the house and seeing my mother awake on the couch watching Princess Diana’s funeral. I knew then that she was beautiful, royalty and had died tragically in a car crash. I also knew that she had been married to Prince Charles and had two sons. I remember the purple Beanie Baby that was released in honor of Princess Di. I remember everyone had great things to say about her. I have always been fascinated by her because so many people said they loved or admired her. Diana: Story of a Princess was a very interesting biography. Interesting because it takes into account not only the life of Diana but the way she was portrayed in the media. It answered the questions I had regarding the woman I witnessed my mother crying over.
                So what did I learn about Princess Diana? I learned that she wasn’t born royalty but she became a lady when her father inherited the title of Earl. Her parents divorced when she was young and she spent time in a boarding school. She wasn’t the smartest girl in class and had regular issues with testing. She worked at a kindergarten and as a nanny. She married at 20 years old after dreaming for years about marrying Prince Charles. She was aware that Charles had in some way been involved with Camilla before they were ever married. She felt underappreciated by Charles’ family and as the marriage deteriorated so did her relationship with her in laws. Diana too had an affair while married to Charles. She had been planning to divorce Charles for years before it finally happened.  She also struggled with bulimia before and during the marriage. She seemed to have a love/hate relationship with the media, and was well aware of how to use it to her advantage. Diana was a humanitarian who believed in the power of physically touching and embracing others. She wasn’t perfect but no one is.

                Tim Clayton and Phil Craig took a very practical route in creating this biography. They relayed information in an unbiased way, relaying more than one side to each story allowing the reader to come to their own conclusion. They included the perspective of the media and how a personality like Diana was constantly in front of and scrutinized by the public eye. There are numerous statements throughout by various people in Diana’s life they give this story a great amount of intimacy, making her story more personable and relatable. Clayton and Craig didn’t shy away from the negative aspects of her personality. I wanted to learn about who Diana was and I feel like I have a better understanding of her after reading this biography. What I’ve listed above about her is just a sketch of the information provided in this almost 400 page biography. I would definitely recommend this biography and give it 4 out of 5 stars. 

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Arthur Pyle

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle



                I’m not sure when I first heard of King Arthur. It could have been while watching “The Sword in the Stone” or I might have seen it randomly while watching TV. All I know is that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of King Arthur, his knights, the round table and his Queen Guinevere. I’m surprised that it took me this long to actually read Pyle’s account of King Arthur but I’m glad I waited till now because I’m not sure if the younger version of me would be able to appreciate it. The Story of King Arthur and His Knights is really a collection of stories that focuses not only on King Arthur’s life but the life of many of those in his court. It has a language that is reflective of medieval times and stories that include fairies and acts of chivalry.

                Here’s what Pyle’s stories about King Arthur did: make me want to learn more about the Arthurian Legend. That is a good and a bad thing. It’s good because this novel sparked my interest. I want to learn more about Arthur and his knights. I want to learn about his Queen and Merlin. I am invested in these character. What’s bad is that these stories lacked the detail I was craving. There are so many little stories that never go into enough depth. These stories didn’t even scratch the surface on Lancelot who is a name as familiar to legend as Arthur. I am now on a hunt for more information because I am still intrigued. I give Pyle’s stories 3 out of 5 stars. It is interesting but the language can be annoying and it obviously left me wanting. It’s a classic so I am glad I read it but there has got to be more on such regarding such an amazing legend. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story by Barbara Leaming

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story by Barbara Leaming



                “Do you want to hear?” That was the statement Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy said many times after the assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy, before she would recount the details of the shooting. The details regarding her blood stained clothing, the moment she saw the bullet strike, the feeling of not wanting to leave his side would all be relayed back to the person answering that question as she constantly relived that fateful moment on November 22, 1963. But what is there to know of the woman before she married the man who would be present? In this biography Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story Leaming details the life of Jacqueline Bouvier in the years before she considered being a wife during a time when she rallied against entering into a predictable marriage. Leaming details Jackie’s decision to pursue Jack and the political decisions behind his marrying Jackie. We also learn of how Jackie suffered from what we can now describe as PTSD after Jack’s death and what drove her to marry Aristotle Onassis. This biography was an examination of Jacqueline’s life, how the public perceived her and how she dealt with living after such a horrendous tragedy.
                I’ve always been fascinated by Jackie Kennedy or as I’ve heard many people refer to her as Jackie O. I was excited to finally get my hand on what I assumed would be an amazing biography about a woman who led quite an interesting and well publicized life. I did not expect to read so vividly about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I did not expect to read of Jackie’s depression, thoughts of suicide and bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder. I also didn’t expect to see so blandly all of the harsh criticism she received during what was obviously a time of morning. I don’t know how I would have dealt with recovering from watching my husband being shot and subsequently holding his head and brains in my lap while praying he survives. I could never wrap my head around what life must have been like moving forward without reading a biography that put so much in the forefront the suffering Jackie suffered.

                I’m giving this biography 3.5 out of 5 stars, because I am not sure how I feel about this author’s style. While this is a well-researched novel that takes into account all of the aspects surrounding politics, and society at that time, it is also full of Barbara Leaming’s bias. From the very beginning of this biography I felt like Barbara Leaming had some bias against Jackie that pervaded for me throughout the entire book. It was less evident after John Kennedy’s assassination but still evident. I am realizing that I prefer my biographies to be slated in fact with as little personal opinion as possible and this was not that type of biography. It did leave me fascinated and informed but it also left me wanting to read another biography of Jackie Kennedy Onassis written by a different author.