Thursday, September 30, 2010

The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle

I saw this book in a publisher's catalog back in June and have been eagerly awaiting it ever since. The House of Dead Maids is, as it says on the cover, "the chilling prelude to Wuthering Heights". It mixes reality with fiction by having as its two main characters, Tabby Aykroyd, the real-life maid to the Bronte children and Himself, the boy we come to know as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
Tabby is living in an orphanage when she is commissioned to be a maid by a Miss Winters and taken to live at Seldom House. Expecting to be waiting on Miss Winters, she is perplexed when her only occupation becomes keeping the cook company in the kitchen. She's forbidden from doing anything else until she learns she is to be the companion to a child, "the Master", who will arrive any day. When the Master arrives with a Mr. Ketch, she learns that he is not the true master of the house and doesn't even have a name. She refers to him as Himself in her mind and sets about trying to tame the wild gypsy child. In the evenings they are visited by the ghost of a dead girl and Tabby begins to suspect that something is very, very wrong at Seldom House. As time passes Tabby and Himself discover disturbing evidence of a secret ritual that their presence is crucial to completing. 
Dark and gothic, this novel had me turning its delicious pages with satisfaction. I love all things Victorian and gothic and I was not disappointed by this little gem. As an explanation to the history of Heathcliff it was adequate, but as a novel unto itself it was fantastic.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Booker Monday

I decided about a month ago to read all of the Booker Prize winners that we own at the library. I started reading The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell while I was in Springerville, but just haven't been able to finish. So I've decided that every Monday the only thing I'm going to read is my current Booker book. The Siege of Krishnapur was the fifth winner of this prize in 1973.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room is on the short list for the Man Booker Prize which will be announced on October 12. I usually have trouble with the books nominated for the Booker as a lot of the time they seem completely inaccessible, although last year I read and loved two of the nominated books, The Children's Book and The Little Stranger. I can't say I loved Room, but it was definitely worth reading.
Ma was 19 when she was kidnapped and imprisoned by Old Nick. It's seven years later and she is surviving in an 11 x 11 room with her five-year-old son Jack. The novel is told from Jack's unique viewpoint, and we learn of their daily routines and efforts to break up the day and live a fulfilling existence. Jack sleeps in the wardrobe, as Ma doesn't want Old Nick having any interactions with her son. When Ma learns that Old Nick has been laid off she fears that he'll lose his house and will have to dispose of his captives. She proceeds to hatch an escape plan and uses Jack to rescue them. The last 2/3 of the novel depict their struggles living in the world and how they each have to find their own way of coping with their new lives. I loved the character of Jack and was constantly tickled by his observations. His interactions with his well-meaning relatives were painful and frustrating to read about, but his grandma was the key for him in learning to navigate "outside". Ma's struggles mainly take place off-stage, but we share Jack's fears for her and his longing to be reunited. Room is a cleverly written novel about a very serious subject. Readers will find Jack to be a fantastic narrator.

Other Reviews:
Farm Lane Books Blog
Savidge Reads

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen

Woods Runner is a short, yet powerful tale of one boy's race to rescue his parents, who are prisoners of the British during the Revolutionary War. Samuel lives with his parents in the forests of Pennsylvania where they live a peaceful life with several other villagers. Samuel is relied upon by the village to provide meat for them and has become an expert woods runner and hunter. One day while he is out hunting, tragedy strikes; his village is burned down and his parents are taken captive by British soldiers. Hot on their trail, Samuel is determined to save them. Along the way he encounters injury and savagery and unexpectedly becomes the guardian of a little girl named Annie. The tale follows Samuel all the way to New York City, where thousands of prisoners are living in dismal conditions. Interspersed with facts about the Revolutionary War and how people lived during this time period, I found Woods Runner to be fascinating and suspenseful. I would recommend this for fifth grade and up.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I read this novel for my September book club meeting. Set during World War II and the 1980's, it moves back and forth relating the story of Henry, a Chinese boy who lives in Seattle. In 1942, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Henry is a sixth grader who attends a predominately white prep school. Bullied and ostracized by his classmates, he is often mistaken for a Japanese student, until his father makes him wear an "I am Chinese" button on his coat. He works in the school cafeteria during lunch and one day a new student, Keiko, joins him. Keiko is Japanese and Henry is wary of befriending her because of his father's intense hatred for Japan. However, they quickly form a relationship and become fast friends. The novel then tells the story of Keiko's forced imprisonment in an interment camp in Idaho and Henry's desire to maintain their friendship while she is gone. We also learn of Henry's broken relationship with his parents, especially his father, because of his love for Keiko and his refusal to go to China to attend school. A heartbreaking tale of lost love and unfulfilled desires, it does have a somewhat sweet ending. It is truly bittersweet. I enjoyed reading about the experience of immigrants in Seattle during the '40's and I was pleased to realize that it is entirely clean with no swearing or sex.