Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Regency Detective

Talks are under way with broadcasters over a TV detective series set in Bath during Jane Austen's time. The Regency Detective has been created by Bath-based scriptwriters David Lassman and Terence James and is billed as showing the darker side of the period. It would be set in the period between 1800 and 1805 when Austen lived in the city. The director, Giles Foster, was responsible for the recent Northanger Abbey mini-series.

What do you think? If done properly, it might be delightful. . .

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sisters Red

While I found the three main characters and the relationship of the sisters convincing and moving, I confess my other reaction is simply supernatural overload. I like YA fantasy as much as the next person but despite appreciating the Red Riding Hood theme of this book I am getting tired of characters that spend a whole book fighting vicious bad guys, only to be confronted (they and I) with a sequel at the end. The angst never ends! In addition, Scarlett's situation seemed so bleak - having saved her sister's life but becoming mutilated in the process - she attracts pity or horror from strangers. Not to impose real life solutions on a fantasy but I couldn't help thinking rather than shunning everyone in Ellison, where they live, Scarlett needed plastic surgery and counseling . . .Overall, I liked it but am not sure I would be first in line for more in the series. You know what they say, so many books on my floor, so little time . . . This one came from the library.

A Long Way to Go (Book Review)

Children abandoned far from home and forced to elude adults who may not have their best interests at heart? Right away this reminded me of Homecoming by Cynthia Voight, which I believe spawned a whole series. I only read the first one, in which Dicey’s mother abandons her four children, and Dicey leads her siblings on foot, first to a relative in Connecticut and finally to their grandmother in Virginia. I thought that book was pretty dark and gloomy but A Long Way to Go is bleaker yet even more compelling. Like the Tillerman children, Ashley (10), Brett (8) and butterfly-like Shane (6) who plans to be a dancer, are abandoned. They are left at a Florida motel where they were staying with their parents. Ashley and Brett are unnerved when they realize their parents haven’t returned from a day out without the children, having left them with a counselor. Shane is mostly annoyed because she had wanted to go swimming before dinner. The children are uncomfortable with the way the hotel staff want to escape from the problem they create and wonder what to do: '”Something must have happened.” They had arrived again at the fateful words.’ Once they overhear the hotel staff talking about juvenile authorities, they decide not to wait around, but instead sneak away from the motel and begin a journey of 600 miles home where they are hopeful their parents will be waiting.

The personalities of the children are what make this book so interesting on many levels. Author Borden Deal makes the children very distinct: Ashley is the oldest, a worrier, bossy, not always able to control her siblings, Brett is brilliant but unnerving to adults because of his many inconvenient questions, and Shane is self-centered and spoiled. Ashley is portrayed as heavy-set and asthmatic, and she also has a weak foot, but as the oldest and the best at interacting with grownups she is the leader of the group. Oddly, Deal named the children in the book after his own real-life children – presumably with their physical descriptions and failings (even more oddly, it appears he had four children – so why leave one out? Perhaps born later with his second wife). And I am quite sure I would never forgive my father for describing my weight in a book, if I had been an overweight child (although days of interminable walking and meager rations work as a miracle diet on Ashley, maybe just as annoying to the real life version).

As they make their way home to Alabama with agonizing slowness, Ashley and Brett learn to consult each other and work as a team, coping with their fear and worries, and even Shane becomes more responsible and loyal. Their progress is slowed down by animals they acquire along the way, somewhat inconveniently, but adding comfort to their lonely trip. Somehow they avoid dangers in their travels – one chapter in particular where they are aided by perverted circus clown is as unnerving as the most gory scene in a serial killer novel – but the real question (which I will not reveal) is what happened to their parents and how parents of such resourceful and appealing children could ever have left them.

Although I used to think I knew every children’s book ever written, I had never encountered this 1965 novel until my friend Lisa told me it was one of her favorites, inspiring me to buy my own copy from Alice Billheimer's magical trove. It was a great read, very hard to put down, and I recommend it. I do wonder if Voight (born 1942 in Boston and a Smith alumna, which I did not know) ever read it and how she would compare it to her own work.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sunnycove

In this 1948 YA novel, Sunnycove, by Amelia Elizabeth Walden, Vicky Lind is a quiet teen from a West Virginia mining town where even the families who own their homes do not have running water. Vicky has something priceless, however, an older brother who recognizes her acting talent and is determined she will get her chance in the real world - the chance he wasn't talented enough to pursue. Gus returned to Pittstown after college to teach, and gave Vicky drama lessons every day. After she graduates from high school, it is Gus who secures her place at Sunnycove Playhouse in Connecticut for the summer where she will have the opportunity to appear in student productions and possibly earn a role with professional actors.
In contrast to the polished young men and women who have come to Sunnycove to hone their skill, Vicky arrives with a small suitcase filled with second hand clothes and no little apprehension. Vicky worries that she is too plain to be an actress, although Gus has told her, “I don’t know what beauty is if it’s not something that’s inside a person, that sort of shines through everything they say or do. A pretty face couldn’t add anything to that kind of beauty. And not having one couldn’t take anything from it.”

Inevitably, there is a beautiful, ambitious girl at Sunnycove who is less talented than Vicky and resents her for it. Donna spoils Vicky’s debut by sending a faux bouquet – of coal, with a cruel note. She also taunts Vicky about her looks. Fortunately, Vicky makes a friend, Peter Bradford, a young man who grew up sailing and teaches Vicky how to swim. On stage, Vicky’s talent and humility earns her opportunities although there are disappointments along the way. Gus is there when she gets her chance at a starring role but it is Peter’s influence that shows Vicky she cannot let her desire to succeed prevent her from being compassionate.

Walden’s characters have endearing human flaws – Vicky lacks self-confidence and she harbors bitterness towards the young woman who laughed at her and stole her part – but Walden also gives them good instincts and ultimately the ability to recognize their potential and to fight to be true to themselves. There is usually a male figure (sometimes annoying and condescending) who keeps the heroine grounded: unusually, in this book, that role is shared by her older brother, Gus, and her boyfriend, Peter. In Sunnycove, Vicky’s development as an actress and person as well as the behind-the-scenes glimpse of summer theatre is enjoyable.