lately in entertainment - april/may 2016
Our Own Country by Jodi Daynard - The American Revolution isn't a period of history I've done much reading about, but I got sucked in to this historical fiction novel. The main character, Eliza Boylston, is the daughter of a wealthy merchant and lives a charmed life in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While it's completely normal to her to visit homes staffed with stableboys, coachmen, footmen, maids, butlers, and cooks - all slaves - Eliza's one real quirk is that she feels most comfortable in the kitchen, and her family's cook Cassie is her one real friend. For Eliza, there has never been any doubt that Cassie and other slaves are human, but she has never had to question their standing in her privileged society. As the Revolution comes close to home, Eliza's parents can no longer pretend that concessions like wearing homespun fabrics instead of imported gowns are mere inconveniences, nor can they ignore their son Jeb's participation in the rebellion when he marries Elizabeth Lee and moves to Braintree, home of John and Abigail Adams and "the despicable Quincys." Eliza takes for granted her family's beautiful home and wealth until personal tragedies devastate her and Cassie, forever turning her against her family's idea of "society." In 1775, the Boylstons have to leave Cambridge to seek refuge with an uncle in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where she falls in love with a slave named John Watkins and makes a choice that will change her family forever. Though the synopsis I read led me to believe Our Own Country would be a romance novel, I would classify it as a bildungsroman - Eliza's coming of age and transition from naïveté to independence. Though the Boylstons are fictional, Daynard obviously conducted intense research to write this novel, and it made me want to learn more about the Adamses, the Quincys, and their pastoral home.
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran - I'm going to try to keep up with Emma Watson's Our Shared Shelf book club picks, and luckily my local library has British journalist and feminist Caitlin Moran's book available in ebook format! As Moran's wry personal essays (with titles like "I Become Furry!" and "I Need a Bra!") make clear, becoming a woman is very confusing and happens, whether we want it to or not, without a manual. Moran's writing is reflective of her working-class British roots (the very first page had me Googling to find out what a Yob was), pop culture literacy, and intelligence. Raised in cramped public housing with five younger siblings by parents who were the only hippies in town, Moran's pubescent milestones were common knowledge. Her focus as a feminist, and the lens through which she presents the instances in her life when being a woman was most perplexing, is not "on the big stuff like pay inequality," but on "all those littler, stupider, more obvious day-to-day problems with being a woman," or, in other words, "All the Patriarchal Bullshit." Her response is to "look it in the eye, squarely, for a minute, and then start laughing at it."
The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima - Finally got around to reading the second book in this series recommended to me by several of my students and I liked it even more than the first because the two main characters' storylines finally came together for good - at a magical school! Is there a better setting for YA literature? As the book begins, former streetlord Han Alister and his best friend Fire Dancer are headed to Oden's Ford, the campus that is home to Mystwerk House. Princess Raisa is masquerading as a cadet at Wein House, the military school, to escape themarriage her mother tried to force on her. Their mutual enemy, wealthy and powerful Micah Bayar, and his twin sister are also bound for Mystwerk House, meaning that Han and Raisa both have to keep their guard up. At Oden's Ford, finally surrounded by people from all walks of life, Raisa learns that she will need to understand much more than politics to be a good queen, and Han finds out that the Bayars aren't the only ones after his secrets. Chima combines effortlessly lovely prose with witty dialogue and action-packed suspense.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a digital ARC of Our Own Country free from the publisher through NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”