Small Things

Vacation Reading


Just home from vacation, and since I got three books that were not picture books read, it can automatically count as a good vacation. I enjoyed all three books, another plus. Here they are, so you can go enjoy them, too.

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently received this as a gift, and since Ms. Konigsburg died this year, I wanted to read it sooner rather than later. I didn’t really discover her books until I was an adult, but I think I like this better than her others that I’ve read.

Like her other books, the protagonist (Margaret Rose Kane) is a precocious child (well, teenager in this case). However, I don’t feel like she’s “Benedict Society smart” like some other Konigsburg characters are. She’s also kind of grouchy, at least when the book starts, and since I seem to be kind of grouchy these days, I felt like she was a kindred spirit. I also pretty immediately fell in love with her Polish immigrant uncles, who had some similar qualities to my own favorite uncles, but with the added bonus of being European.

There’s a fair amount of flashback in the storytelling, but I found it easy to fall into the flashback-then-advance-the-plot rhythm that was set up. Once the main conflict was revealed, I also got into worrying about whether the uncles’ towers would be saved or not.

Both the plot and characters were enjoyable, and even some of the meaner characters get the chance to redeem themselves (and really, kids and teenagers who are mean should get the chance to redeem themselves). The only part I found distracting was that the book was set in the early 1980’s. This turns out to be important to the resolution, but I kept forgetting about it, since many of the descriptions seemed like they could apply to the present day (or because I was born in the 1980’s and am now old enough to forget that it’s not the present day?).

All in all, a fun book–I think older elementary kids (4th-5th graders) through younger teens would enjoy it.

The Joys of Love by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered a Madeleine L’Engle book that I’d never heard of before this spring, so of course I snatched it up. I just got around to reading it on vacation, and it doesn’t disappoint–if you like Madeleine L’Engle’s other YA fiction, which I do.

I marked this as historical, but it’s not really–it’s set in the 40’s, and it was first written in the 40’s. It wasn’t published until recently, after Ms. L’Engle’s death, by her granddaughters, which is why I hadn’t heard of it before.

The story follows Elizabeth, an aspiring actress working as an apprentice on scholarship in a summer theater. The two main conflicts are her trying to follow her professional dreams, despite her guardian aunt’s lack of approval or support, and her romantic entanglement with an older, suaver, but slimier, actor/director. This character, Kurt, is probably the weak link, as is Elizabeth’s falling for him: the problem with all of Madeleine L’Engle’s romantic villains is that, while they may occasionally be sympathetic, the reader can pick them out as slime balls from a mile off.

Luckily, the book is not a tragedy, so all ends well. Some of the best parts are the real friendships Elizabeth forms and getting a picture into both the camaraderie and the problems that make up a small theater company in the 1940s. Also, the note by Ms. L’Engle’s granddaughter at the front indicates that Elizabeth was largely autobiographical, and much of the story does ring true with her nonfiction work Two Part Invention.

I now need to dig up my copy of Certain Women, an adult book written much later, to see if the Elizabeth in The Joys of Love is the same character as the Elizabeth in that book (I am fervently hoping not, but in Madeleine L’Engle’s fictional worlds, you never know).

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second Diana Wynne Jones book–I read the obligatory Howl’s Moving Castle back when it was a big thing, and I never read anything else, despite hearing how good an author Ms. Wynne Jones is.

Well, she is.

It took me awhile to get into this (admittedly longer) fantasy world, which follows the problems of a magical world trying to get rid of a leech and bully from our world–and particularly, the problems of one wizard family who’s father, Derk, is forced to play the “Dark Lord” in the yearly “Pilgrim Parties” that the villain Mr. Chesney brings through.

The plot is complex and the characters many and varied–the comparison on the back of the book that suggests Ms. Wynne Jones to Harry Potter fans is particularly apt when considering the depth of world building involved–so here are just a few of my favorite points:
-The family in question has both human and griffin kids.
-There are carnivorous sheep (not usual, even in the magical world).
-There is romance, but just a dash.
-None of the characters are perfect, but most of them are likable.
-Some of the name borrowing from other fantasy books is hilarious.

As I said, it took me awhile to get into this, so give yourself 3 or 4 chapters before deciding whether you like it or not.

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