The Penderwicks

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The Penderwicks Series

 by Jeanne Birdsall

April 2016

The Penderwicks!! I will forever be grateful to my brother, who insisted that I read this series. He’s been trying to get me to read them for a little bit, saying that I’d love them . . . and, he was absolutely right! I cannot give enough praise to Birdsall. She is creative and witty from her characters to her story line to her writing style. Whether you are a child or an adult (either gender), you should add these books to your “to read” list. As this post is reviewing all the books, there will be spoilers in the later books if you have not yet read any. As I write this, I have read four out of the five books in the series. Birdsall is currently writing book five (the final book), so I will edit this post once I finish the series. 🙂

Book One – The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

In book one, we meet the four Penderwick sisters: Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. They are traveling with their father, Martin, and dog, Hound, to a cottage where they will spend some of the summer. You find out early on that their mother has died from cancer and they are carrying on the best they can without her. Soon after they arrive at their cottage, which is an old house keeper’s cottage, they meet a young gardener, who cautions them about exploring too much. Soon they discover why. The owner of the adjoining mansion is a cold, unkind woman who is very particular. They attempt to stay out of her way, while simultaneously befriending her son, Jeffery. They form a close bond with him and try to help him with the issues he has with his mother. Each daughter has her own personality that Birdsall effortlessly brings to life. While her story is humorous, it also is tender and heartwarming. You quickly root for her characters and want them to succeed. The ending is quite happy, without being cheesy.

Book Two – The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

Book two picks up where book one left off. It is now late September and the girls are back home and at school. Skye and Jane swap homework projects, which ends up in a hilarious debacle. Rosalind falls in love (spoiler: with Tommy), and Batty is her sweet, little self. The sisters’ aunt, Claire, comes for a visit, bringing a mysterious blue letter for their father. You learn that it is from his wife, asking him to be open to love again after her death. Claire (Martin’s sister) takes it upon herself to make him date and look for love. As you can imagine, this is not the best idea, but in the end, things all work out. Spoilers: he pretends to be dating a Marianne Dashwood (who, is actually a fictional character from Jane Austin’s Sense and Sensibility, his wife’s favorite book). He confesses and in the end actually falls for his next door neighbor, Iantha. She is perfect for them all and even has a young son, Ben. The book ends with them getting married in the Spring!

Book Three – The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

Book three begins in the following summer and finds the Penderwick family all split up for two weeks. Martin and Iantha are on their honeymoon in Europe (with Ben because he’s still so little); Rosalind is in New Jersey with her best friend, Anna; and Skye, Jane, Batty, Hound, Aunt Claire, and Jeffery are headed to a Maine cabin for 3 weeks. Jeffery is now at a Boston boarding school for music (his passion that his mother tried to stifle for years), and is thrilled to spend two weeks with his “extended family,” the Penderwicks. The story mainly follows the crew in Maine. Skye is the new OAP (oldest available Penderwick) and is extremely nervous about being in charge of her sisters. They arrive in Maine with no mishaps, but the two weeks are filled with a few misadventures, including a broken heart (and busted nose) for Jane, and a sprained ankle for Aunt Claire. Spoiler: the biggest surprise is that their friendly neighbor, Alec, turns out to be Jeffery’s long lost father. It is difficult at first for Jeffery to accept, as he thought his father had abandoned him (in fact his mother never told his father he existed), but in the end they become close. The family is reunited at the end of the two weeks, happy, and a little changed for having spent time apart.

Book Four – The Penderwicks In Spring

Book four picks up with the Penderwicks a few years older. Rosalind is a freshman in college, Batty is in fifth grade, and there is a new Penderwick – Lydia. The book mainly focuses on Batty who is dealing with a lot of sadness – Hound has passed away and she believes that it is her fault that their mother died years ago. She deals with these heavy things while discovering that she has a voice and can sing beautifully. The family also deals with the emotions of having Nick away fighting in the army. In a heartfelt ending, Batty accepts that her mother’s death was not her fault, and is able to both accept new dogs into her life and begin a singing career. It is a beautiful book, containing Birdsall’s heartening humor, as well as a deeper side. The blend of lightheartedness with intense emotions is what made me cry throughout the whole book! It was beautiful and had a lovely, fitting ending. I’m blown away by Birdsall’s talent, and I simply cannot wait for the final book (though at the same time, I don’t want the series to be over).

Summing it up: I absolutely recommend this series! The books are fun, clever, and enchanting, but totally be prepared to shed a few tears throughout!

All the best, Abbey

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Opening Belle

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Opening Belle

by Maureen Sherry

March 2016

Opening Belle was another Skimm suggestion, and a fascinating book, particularly because I knew nothing about investment banking and Wall Street. Isabelle is a successful investment banker on Wall Street, in addition to being a wife and mother. She has the “perfect” life, or does she? Family life is difficult because of her long hours and because her husband does little to help out. Work life is stressful because of the work itself and the incredibly misogynistic work environment. The book follows Isabelle’s balancing act of work and home life. She struggles to keep her position at work and maintain her success while fending off men who either grope her or belittle her. She also struggles to keep her marriage alive and be there for her children. While all of this is going on, Isabelle must come face to face with her ex-fiance and learn how to move on. Spoiler: in the end, Isabelle leaves her husband because he has been cheating on her, but after time, they are able to become good friends, with the potential of something more because they confront their own personal issues and grow as individuals. Isabelle’s company dissolves after corruption comes to light and she happily leaves and starts her own company with other strong, like-minded women.

I think one of the things I really liked about this book is the fact that Isabelle grows so much. She changes from someone successful, but naive, to a confident, independent person. I found the content interesting and insightful, and her story line was captivating. I think Sherry is a delightful author!

Summing it up: I would recommend this interesting, delightful book for anyone who is looking for a strong heroine and a captivating plot!

All the best, Abbey

Ahabs Wife or, The Star-Gazer

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Ahab’s Wife or, The Star-Gazer

by Sena Jeter Naslund

April 2016

I originally checked out Ahab’s Wife as a hardcover book . . . it weighted 2.8 lbs!! Ugh. I seriously could not get into it. Because I was reading this book for my book club, someone else had checked out a paperback and (as she was almost finished) sweetly swapped with me. That enabled me to actually pick up the 668 page book and finish it. 😉 It was not an easy read, and I do not understand the hype. Naslund’s style of writing, while engaging to the point of enticing me to finish, was flowery and long-winded. Her descriptions went on and on about the wind, sky, and water, but then became vague when describing her character’s meaning and at points their circumstances. It was a lopsided read to me. On top of a difficult style, the content was sad, gruesome, and a little hopeless. From spiritual abuse, to cannibalism, to a bleak view of marriage, Naslund’s themes run dark and somber. On finishing the book, I was left feeling empty, even though there was a “happy ending.” Because of this, I ended up skimming a good half of the book. I was disappointed. I am curious to why other people love it though . . .I’d love to hear your thoughts either way!

A few spoilers, but they’re worth reading before you commit to picking up this book. The story is based off a line from Moby-Dick about Captain Ahab’s wife. Naslund crafted a whole story and world for his wife, Una. Beginning with her childhood of spiritual abuse from her father (causing her to reject religion and God), Una leaves her home to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousin at a lighthouse. In her adolescence she disguises herself as a boy and becomes a cabin boy on a whaling ship. Her adventures there end gruesomely as a cannibal before being rescued. She later becomes the wife of Ahab and has his son. In the end, Ahab dies and Una is able to live her life independently and writes this novel. That leaves out an enormous amount of details, including characters, sub plots and sub, sub plots, but it’s the basic gist. I will say, there are moments of hope and happiness, but they are few and far between.

Summing it up: I do not recommend Ahab’s Wife. It was depressing and difficult to push through to the end.

All the best, Abbey

Harriet Wolfs Seventh Book of Wonders

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Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders

by Julianna Baggott

March 2016

Back in March, I read Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders for my book club. I’m not going to lie . . . I did not like this book. The story follows one family through four generations. It is filled with heartbreak, abandonment, loneliness, and only the very slightest bit of hope at the end (if you look for it). There are four narrators, which makes the flow a little confusing until you get the hang of it. The first is Harriet who is a writer and has a mysterious 7th book that she hid before she died – and many people are looking for it. She was raised in a home after her mother thought she had died in childbirth. Later, when the truth comes out, she returns to live with her parents until her mother dies and then her father once again turns her out. Her parents are the first generation and do not narrate, but the theme of abandonment starts with them. Harriet falls in love with Eppitt Clapp and has his daughter. However, through heartbreaking circumstances, Eppitt never meets his daughter and he and Harriett are separated for life. Eleanor is Harriet’s daughter and the second narrator. She herself is left alone when her husband leaves her and her two daughters for another woman. Her two daughters also narrate the story. The first is Ruth, who becomes rebellious and runs away, marrying and divorcing twice. The second is Tilton, who is sheltered by Eleanor her entire life, believing she has many allergies/illnesses. The general plot is the story of the women figuring out their lives: where they came from and where they are going. Everything, including most of the answers they are looking for, are in Harriet’s seventh book. Spoiler: Tilton finds the book in the end and you assume they read it and start repairing their lives and finding happiness.

Summing it up: I definitely did not enjoy this book. It was too disjointed with the four voices, too sad, and, frankly, it was weird. It did engage my curiosity enough that I finished it, but overall I did not enjoy it.

All the best, Abbey

The Age of Miracles

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The Age of Miracles

by Karen Thompson Walker

March 2016

The Age if Miracles was my library’s pick for April’s book discussion. This is my third attempt to make it to the discussion, and I actually did this time! The discussion was lively as people had varied opinions about the tone of the book: i.e. Julia lacked emotion and did not have a strong bond to her parents (because they did not seem to really care about what she did, etc.). I felt that Julia was emotionally distant, but I interpreted that to be her personality and perhaps how she coped with her tragic situation. Some children/people are less emotional than others, so I didn’t give it a thought until the discussion. Also, I felt that some parents are more independent and less controlling than others. So, while it was a little sad that Julia was left to herself a lot of the time, I did not question the “realness” because some families are like that. What did you think about the levels of “emotion” from Julia and her parents?

The basic plot (which, by the way, I had no clue about until I started reading) revolves around 11 year old, Julia. She has a lovely life filled with school, soccer, her parents, and her very best friend, Hanna. Then one day, something mysterious happens: the earth’s rotation slows down and no one knows why. The remainder of the book follows Julia as she deals with the reality of longer days and nights (at one point each day and night is 24 hours each and growing). People take two major roads to deal with this conundrum. One group chooses to adapt and stay awake while it is light and sleep while it is dark. The second group chooses to keep to the 24 hour clock and live like “normal,” ignoring whether it’s light or dark outside. (A few spoilers ahead.) The reality is that life is fading, first the birds die, then the whales, then the plants. People become very creative with how to sustain life under these circumstances, from artificial light to greenhouses. Julia looses her best friend, Hanna, but becomes friends with Seth, who has just lost his mother. They do everything together until one day Seth comes down with “the syndrome” and has to leave. The syndrome effects Julia’s mother as well, and is believed to be a result of the slowing rotation, causing people to become really sick. Julia has a very hard time with loosing two friends, her grandfather, and catching her father with the neighbor across the street. Through it all she maintains a even-keeled perspective and lives to grow up. That is where the book leaves off, leaving you to suppose that at some point the earth dies completely.

I found the book fascinating and a very quick read. I really enjoyed it, even though a large portion of it was sad. There were a few uplifting points, like her friendship with Seth, which kept the story lighter and left me with a feeling of “I enjoyed that book.” Overall it kept you reading to find out what happened next.

Summing it up: I would recommend this book, especially if you enjoy “end of the world” scenarios. It was a quick, fascinating read.

All the best, Abbey

Fluent in 3 Months

 

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Fluent in 3 Months

by Benny Lewis

March 2016

Last month I did a decent amount of reading, but I didn’t have time to blog about anything. 😦 So, my next several posts are books from last month. One of the things I’m working on with my husband is learning to speak French. He works with a company in France and I’ve studies the language for years, but never worked aggressively with it to make it “stick.” Now that we can learn together and practice speaking it to each other, I’m adding some fluency books to my list. Fluent in 3 Months is the first one I tried and it definitely gave me a lot to think about when it comes to language learning! Lewis begins his book with “busting” all the myths for why an adult can’t learn a new language fluently. This section was awesome and very encouraging to think, “yes, I can learn a new language even though it hasn’t stuck before.” He has lots of tools for learning any language, and details them in his book, but he also references a variety on online tools, including his website, to help you learn any language. I thought one of his best suggestions was in regards to memorization – using mnemonic devices. This is where you use a story or picture or something personal to you to help you remember words. One example he gave was for the word “gare” which means “train station” in French. In a nut shell, he says, gare reminds him of the cartoon, Garfield. So, he created a story about Garfield running to a train station, puffing and sweating because he was late, and making the train just in time! Lewis explains that the crazier the story, the easier it will be to remember the word. Which is true, because I wrote all of that from memory – I think I’ll always remember what gare means! 😉 It’s more work upfront, but it pays off in the end. Overall, Lewis is fun and captivating, and gives very helpful suggestions.

Summing it up: I definitely recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn another language!

All the best, Abbey

Eleanor and Park

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Eleanor and Park

by Rainbow Rowell

April 2016

I read Eleanor and Park for my MOMS club book club. A few of the other moms have already read it and they said it was a quick, sweet read and they were right. I read it cover to cover on a lazy Saturday (my husband is an angel to let me read so much on a Saturday!). I got completely swept away by Rowell’s story-telling. She has the ability to switch between Eleanor and Park’s point of view in such an easy, believable way. I really enjoyed that style of “hearing” what was going on in both of their heads during the same conversation. It was such a creative way to tell their story. I also enjoyed their love story. Watching them progress from dislike to begrudging friendship to friendship to love was so sweet and endearing and simply captivating. I was very moved by their lives and how difficult and different their families were, especially Eleanor’s. I was touched by Park’s parents and how they accepted Eleanor. And I was so, so sad at the end when they said goodbye, even though it was best for Eleanor. My only complaint was the very, very end. It was too ambiguous for me. I really think that they end up together, but it just drops at the end and leaves you guessing. Has anyone else read this gem of a book? If so, what is your take on the “three words long” postcard from Eleanor? I hope so much it’s, “I love you!”

Summing it up: I absolutely recommend this book! It was a quick, delightful read.

All the best, Abbey