Leave Me–Gayle Forman

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This story begins with an all-too-real scenario.  Maribeth, in her early 40s, suffers a heart attack and does not realize it is happening.  She is too busy working and taking care of her family.

What happens from there left reality behind, at least for me.  Maribeth does not tell her husband that she is in the emergency room.  He is only summoned when she is rushed in for a stint, which turns into a bypass when an artery is perforated.

More unreality.  Maribeth has twin four-year-olds.  Her husband has asked her adopted mother to stay with them during her recovery, but against Maribeth’s wishes.  Her reasons become clear when her mother leaves the household chores and most of the care for the twins to the recovering Maribeth with a low lifting weight limit.  When her husband starts staying at work late and even her visiting nurse poo-poos her concerns about not having the rest she needs to recover, I nearly quit reading.  The urge to quit reading quadrupled when Maribeth walked out on her family after withdrawing her father’s bequest from her bank account.

Marriage, career, motherhood are demanding.  Small children are demanding.  Twins are demanding.  Writing a novel in which a mother disappears from her life, leaves behind young children without any contact for months, and is not sought by her husband and parents seems like a teenage fantasy.  I’ll run away and then they will be sorry!  I will be able to do whatever I want and no one can tell me what to do!  This may not be surprising from a young adult novelist writing her first novel for adults.  I hope her next novel features an adult woman who behaves more like an adult.

I had said I would write  a review, so I kept reading.  I am a reader who rarely quits a book.  I desperately want to find something salvageable before I close the back cover.

Forma managed to find a way to help me empathize with Maribeth.  She sent her in search of her biological mother, ostensibly to learn her health history.  She put a likable older female character in the mix.

This was not a horrible book.  It was not a great book.  It was a passable book.  If one is in the mood for indulging adolescent escape fantasies, perhaps it is the perfect book.

Finished 5/15/16

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There’s a Dragon in My Backpack!–Tom Nicoll

A guest review from my nine-year-old daughter:

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There’s a Dragon in My Backpack is an exhilarating  book about a boy named Eric who got a dragon from China in a take-out box. It’s about a dragon or a mini dragon named Pan that gets kidnapped by his neighbor, a little boy named Toby. Toby has the  exact  same backpack as Eric. Toby had asked to borrow Pan for show-and-tell. Toby said everything at his school was very competitive.  He thought Pan was an electronic dragon. The next morning when Eric went  to school Toby purposefully changed backpacks–stealing Pan! The next day Eric gets into his backpack for his report due that day and sees no report and no Pan. At lunch he receives lunch detention from his teacher, Miss Biggs.  He sneaks out and borrows a golf cart to drive to Toby’s school to look for Pan.  There he meets a little boy and little girl who agreed to help him as long as they could humiliate Toby, who had been mean to them.  Together they rescue Pan from Toby’s backpack and replace him with the world’s biggest encyclopedia.  When Eric returns to school, Pan distracts Miss Biggs and Eric is able to escape to recess.

This story had a sense of humor along with a tone of seriousness between the funny parts.

My daughter was glued to this story from start to finish.  In a world of distractions, that is high praise, even for an avid reader.  We highly recommend this short and humorous book for second- to third-grade readers–or more advanced readers who enjoy a funny story.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance ecopy.

Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen–Alison Weir

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As a much younger reader, I adored historical fiction.  Particularly historical fiction set in medieval Europe.  As a historian, I have concerns about Alison Weir’s blurring the lines between history and fiction, historiography and creative license.

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by her latest foray into the world of Tudor England, a new series on The Six Tudor Queens.  Weir is a bit late to the HBO-Tudors-fueled party, but her fan base and the perpetual interest in Henry’s wives will fuel sales.

Weir begins with Katherine’s girlhood and goes all the way to her deathbed.  Weir’s Katherine is most interesting in the early years, perhaps because that is when life was going well for her and because this is the period that is least discussed.  Henry’s wooing Katherine, Katherine pining for Henry, Henry and Katherine grieving stillborn or lost infants together are appealing. As the losses continue after Mary’s birth and the relationship begins to sour, the tale becomes all too familiar and, unfortunately, flat and dreary.  Weir imagines Katherine first asking if God is punishing them because she was married to Henry’s brother, then asking it again, and then surprised and upset when Henry takes up the charge.  Weir’s Katherine’s motives are simplistic–dynastic and religious.  Katherine never has a political thought to her own advantage.  Her only concern is for Henry and then the Church.  She holds to those principles even when doing so threatens the life of her daughter.  Weir does not even attempt to explain how Katherine made the shift from fighting for her daughter’s legitimacy to sacrificing her to preserve Henry or how she sacrifices Mary for the Church, but refuses to sanction her nephew, the Emperor, invading England because she would never act against Henry, but invading would potentially force Henry back into the Catholic fold.

The last chapters of this book were as torturous for me as they seemed to be for Katherine.  I longed for her death and yet, when Weir finally let her breathe her last, the writing was so horribly trite that I was embarrassed for Weir and sorry for Katherine’s memory.  Weir claims in her prologue that she wrote Katherine’s story maintaining sixteenth-century priorities, but her Katherine is far behind today’s historiography on queens from this era, which is revealing them to be much more complex than the pink-cheeked maiden, the blushing bride, the proud young mother, and the proud post-menopausal queen of Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen.  

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the advance ecopy.

Finished 5/10/16