The Gown. Jennifer Robson. 2018. 371 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: It was dark when Ann left work at a quarter to six, and darker still when she reached home.
Premise/plot: The Gown is a historical novel (mainly) told in three voices. Ann and Miriam are our narrators from the past--1947. Both young women are embroiderers for Norman Hartnell, one of the dress designers used by the royal family. The third narrator, Heather, is the granddaughter of Ann. Her story takes place in 2016. Her grandmother, Nan, has just died and she's left Heather a few mementos. Heather is just beginning to discover that her grandmother kept a LOT of secrets from the family.
My thoughts: I really loved this one. I both loved and hated the alternating narrators. Whatever chapter I was reading, I wanted to continue on with that story, that narrator. I didn't want to have to wait around for it to be her turn again. The good news was that I liked/loved all three narrators. (Though to be honest, I'd have been just fine with The Gown focusing exclusively on Ann and Miriam.)
Miriam and Ann work on Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown and/or train. But this isn't the dream come true that you might imagine it to be. It is tiring, exhausting work, true--it's tedious work no matter whose gown it is. But because of whose gown it is--there is a lot of demand for details coming from the press. Everyone WANTS to know what the gown will look like. And that is another kind of exhausting.
Footsteps in the Dark. Georgette Heyer. 1932/2019. Sourcebooks. 432 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: "And I suppose this is the approach-course," said Charles Malcolm. "Full of natural hazards." His wife, Celia, replied with dignity: "That is the tennis-court.' Charles made a derisive noise. "All it needs," she said, eyeing him, "is a little leveling." "All it needs," said Charles rudely, "is a hay-cutter and a steam-roller. And this is the place you wouldn't sell!"
Premise/plot: Is the house haunted or not--that is the question driving Georgette Heyer's Footsteps in the Dark. Local legend has it that the place is haunted by THE MONK. But is it? Or is there a human element to the mischievous happenings?
This mystery stars four main characters. Charles and Celia Malcolm are the married couple. Celia has a brother, Peter, and a sister, Margaret Fortescue. (There's also an aunt.) They work together to try to solve the mystery. Secret passages, tunnels, doors. Weird/spooky howls. And always, always mysterious footsteps in the dark. The men definitely think there's someone in the community with ulterior motives--someone who wants them to sell the property. But who?
My thoughts: Footsteps in the Dark is not Georgette Heyer's finest mystery novel. It's a bit scattered. It can be hilarious--in a dry, witty way--at times. But for the most part, it isn't quite a page-turner. At least not until the very, very end. The last third of the novel ZOOMS. I ultimately found it worth it--but for those with little patience, I'd recommend her other mystery novels.
Ten Cents A Dance. Christine Fletcher. 2008. Bloomsbury. 356 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: We heard the music even before we got to Union Hall.
Premise/plot: The year is 1941, the place Chicago. Ruby Jacinski hates her job--bottling pig feet. Though just sixteen she is the family's sole source of income. (Her mother can no longer work at the packinghouse, and she's in no condition physically to find a job elsewhere.) What does Ruby love? She loves to DANCE. So when someone--a cute, dashing older boy--mentions that she could get a job as a taxi dancer and potentially make $50 a week...well, she's intrigued.
What does a taxi dancer do? She dances or socializes with the customers. A ticket costs ten cents. It's a ticket a dance/song. Five cents is for the dance hall (Starlight in this case). Five cents is hers to keep. Any tip is hers to keep. The customer is nearly, always right. She's to make herself agreeable--to a certain degree. If she goes too far at the dance hall, she's in danger of losing her job. A customer can clock a girl out early with enough money and take her someplace else--another club, a restaurant, etc. Ruby learns that this is even better than dancing.
She has to look her best to appeal to customers. This costs money, of course, for dresses, stockings, shoes, jewelry, accessories, makeup, perfume. But even with these added costs, she is now able to pay the back rent on their place, pay off their debts with the shops, and keep food--even meat--on the table. But she learns there is a secret cost to pay, one that she never considered: the secrets and lies.
Ruby cannot tell her mother the truth about where she works and how she gets the money. She invents a job--telephone operator--a salary--$18 a week--and coworkers. At first the lies come relatively easy to her, but there comes a point in time where it is much too much to juggle.
And then there's that cute, dashing older boy, the one who told her about the job to begin with. His name is Paulie. And he's got a well-earned bad reputation. Some might even call him a mad dog. He's got plans of his own for Ruby, and though adult readers may see where this 'relationship' is going...Ruby's just naive enough to think differently.
How will the war change her future?
My thoughts: This is my third time to read Ten Cents a Dance. I first read it in 2008, and then again in 2014. I really do think this would make an excellent movie. I think the characterization is excellent. It's a compelling read.
Voices from the Underground Railroad. Kay Winters. Illustrated by Larry Day. 2018. 48 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: Tonight's the night.
Premise/plot: Jeb and Mattie are two slaves that have decided to run away. Their stories are told in verse. The perspectives alternate between the two. Occasionally readers hear other voices as well from men and women working on the underground railroad.
My thoughts: I would definitely recommend this picture book for older readers. It is a compelling story told completely in verse. The back matter includes an author's note and extensive bibliography. The illustrations are lovely.
Text: 5 out of 5 Illustrations: 4 out of 5 Total: 9 out of 10
First sentence: Katie Pierce was sure she must be the luckiest girl in the whole Panhandle of Texas. Luckier even than her older sister Melinda who, after five years of waiting, was going to marry Dennis Kennedy in June and go with him to live in Amarillo. Dennis was a real doctor now, driving around the town and the surrounding country, looking after sick folks.
Premise/plot: The Wide Horizon is the middle book in a series. The first book is The Wind Blows Free and the last book is The Good Land. Each Pierce sister has their own novel. Melinda's story was The Wind Blows Free. Caroline's story will be The Good Land. Katie's story is The Wide Horizon.
Katie is the middle sister. Her older sister, Melinda, is literally about to get married when the novel opens. She'll be moving to Amarillo with her husband. This will make Katie the oldest sister still at home. (The twins Bert and Dick are still older. They're seventeen, I believe.) She'll be the one called Miss Pierce. She's soon to go away to school back in East Texas. But life has a way of reshuffling plans. When their grandmother falls and breaks a bone, it is their mother--not Katie--that heads East. Katie will be the woman of the house. The cooking, cleaning, sewing, tending will fall to her. She has watched her mother and Melinda for years--but those chores haven't really been hers. Is she ready to be a woman?
My thoughts: I love, love, love, love, love, love this one. It is a favorite from my childhood. I did not grow up reading The Wind Blows Free or The Good Land. But The Wide Horizon was a book I owned and reread countless times. I loved spending time with Katie both at home and at school. (At home, she's learning to cook and bake. At school, she's given the responsibility of teaching art.) I also love how Melinda's friend, Annie Foster, is sticking around in this second book. Her love story happens in this one!
• What books for this challenge have you read (or reviewed) recently? • What are you currently reading? • Are there any quotes you'd like to share? • Who would you recommend? Anyone you would NOT recommend? • Favorite book you've read so far...
These are the books I've reviewed since last time:
"Captain," says Alan, "I doubt your word is a breakable. Last night ye haggled and arglebargled like an apple wife; and then passed me your word, and gave me your hand to back it; and ye ken very well what was the upshot. Be damned to your word!" says he. (86)
Charles the Second declared a man could stay outdoors more days in the year in the climate of England than in any other. This was very like a king, with a palace at his back and changes of dry clothes. (113)
I have seen wicked men and fools, a great many of both; and I believe they both get paid in the end, but the fools first. (118)
At first I proposed I should give him for a signal the "Bonnie House of Airlie," which was a favorite of mine; but he objected that as the piece was very commonly known, any ploughman might whistle it by accident; and taught me instead a little fragment of a Highland air, which has run in my head from that day to this, and will likely run in my head when I lie dying. (239)
Did You Hear What I Heard? Kay Winters. Illustrated by Patrice Barton. 2018. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: Breakfast is a flurry. Eggs in a hurry. People pop up like the toast.
Premise/plot: Kay Winters has written a collection of school-themed poems. This collection covers the whole school year--beginning to end. You'll find poems appropriate to share with students any time of year.
My thoughts: I liked this one. Poetry collections are interesting to review. Usually you find poems that you love and poems that are more meh. I definitely would say I found poems I enjoyed in this picture book. I didn't love each and every poem. But that's not really to be expected.
Text: 4 out of 5 Illustrations: 4 out of 5 Total: 8 out of 10
I will probably end up cutting and pasting summary bits from other reviews because the plot hasn't changed.
From my 2017 review, Premise/plot: An ex-convict does his best to live life according to his conscience. Will it ever be enough?
From my 2013 review,
Premise/plot: Jean Valjean is an ex-convict who seeks shelter from Bishop Myriel one night. Though he's been treated only with kindness, Valjean in his bitterness (he was sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread), he steals the bishop's silver. When the theft is discovered, the bishop is all compassion telling the officials that there has been a misunderstanding. Valjean did not steal the silver; it was given as a gift. In fact, he's happy to give Valjean his silver candlesticks as well. Valjean is shocked and overwhelmed. The meeting turns out to be quite life-changing.
When readers next meet Valjean, he has a new name and life. Monsieur Madeleine is a successful business man. He has a BIG heart. He's always giving. He's always thinking of others. He's always doing what he can, when he can to make a difference when and where it matters most. One woman he is determined to help is a young, single mother, Fantine. Circumstances have separated Fantine from her child, Cosette, but, Valjean is determined to correct as many wrongs as he can in this situation. He will see to it personally.
Unfortunately, his past catches up with him. He learns that a man has been arrested; "Jean Valjean" has been caught. Of course, Madeleine knows this is nonsense. Can he let another take his place in prison? If he tells the truth then he can no longer help the poor, but if he doesn't tell the truth, how could he live with himself? He does the honorable thing--though it is one of the greatest challenges he's faced so far.
But that means, for the moment, that Cosette is left in unpleasant circumstances...
There comes a time, an opportunity for Valjean to escape. What he does with his freedom--this time he's assumed drowned, I believe--is go and find Cosette. The two become everything to one another. Cosette is the family he's never had, never even knew he needed or wanted... the two end up in Paris.
Almost half of the novel follows the love story between Marius and Cosette. But it isn't only a love story. Marius is a poor man in conflict with his rich grandfather. The two disagree about many things. But their main source of disagreement is politics. At first, Marius is swept up in his father's politics, with a new awareness of who his father was as a soldier, as a man, as a possible hero. But later, Marius begins to think for himself, to contemplate political and philosophical things for himself. He becomes friendly with a political group at this time. But his love of politics dims when he falls in love with Cosette...and she becomes his whole reason for being. For the longest time these two don't even know each other's names! This romance isn't without challenges...
My thoughts: I love, love, love this novel. I do. I love to love it. I love to reread it every other year or so. I've come to know the characters well. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good in that these characters are memorable and worth knowing and mostly loving. Bad in that it's hard for me to watch film adaptations of Les Miserables without cringing. When writers rewrite Hugo's characters, I have little tolerance. I have some tolerance for condensing or leaving bits out altogether. After all, I don't expect a movie to go scene by scene through the novel. Much is introspective after all. One can film a man "thinking" perhaps but not capture on film his thoughts.
True or false, what is said about people often has as much bearing on their lives and especially on their destinies as what they do. (3)
Monsieur Myriel had to endure the fate of every newcomer in a small town, where there are always plenty of mouths blathering and not many brains working. He had to endure it even though he was the bishop, and because he was the bishop. (4)
We are not saying that the portrait of the man we offer here is accurate, we will restrict ourselves to the claim that it is a passing likeness. (9)
The guillotine is the ultimate embodiment of the Law; its name is Retribution. It is not neutral and doesn't allow you to remain neutral either. Whoever sees it quakes in their boots with the most mysterious of terrors. (15)
"My dear mayor," said the bishop, "isn't that the point? I'm not in this world to take care of my life. I'm here to take care of souls." (24)
Never be afraid of thieves and murderers. They represent the dangers without, which are not worth worrying about. Be afraid of ourselves. Prejudices are the real thieves, vices are the murderers. The greatest dangers are within us. Who cares who threatens our heads or our purses! Let's think only of what threatens our souls. (25)
Should the sheep's mange cause the shepherd to recoil? No. (32)
Giving up the ghost is a simple business. You don't need the morning for that. So be it. I'll die by starlight. (33)
Human thought knows no bounds. At its own peril, it analyzes and explores its own dazzlement. (49)
This humble soul was filled with love, that's all. More than likely he inflated his praying into a superhuman longing; but you can't pray too much any more than you can love too much. (49)
He gravitated toward those in pain and those who wished for atonement. The world seemed to him like one massive disease; he could feel fever everywhere; everywhere he heard the rattle and wheeze of suffering in people's chests with his special stethoscope and, without seeking to solve the enigma, he tried to stanch the wound. (49)
Pain everywhere was an occasion for goodness always. Love one another. He declared this to be complete, desired nothing more; it was the sum total of his doctrine. (49)
"You knocked," she asked, "on every door?" "Yes." "Did you knock on that one?" "No." "Knock there." (60)
"You didn't have to tell me who you were. This is not my house, it's the house of Jesus Christ. That door does not ask who enters whether he has a name, but whether he has any pain. You are suffering, you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And don't thank me, don't tell me I'm taking you into my home. No one is at home here except the man who is in need of a refuge. I'm telling you, who are passing through, you are more at home here than I am myself. Everything here is at your disposal. What do I need to know your name for? Besides, before you told me your name, you had one I knew." The man opened his eyes in amazement. "True? You knew what I was called?" "Yes," replied the bishop. "You are called my brother." (66)
"Yes," the bishop said, "you have come from a place of sadness. Listen. There will be more joy in heaven over the tearful face of a repentant sinner than over the white robes of a hundred righteous men. If you come out of such a painful place full of hate and rage against men, you are worthy of pity; if you come out full of goodwill, gentleness, and peace, you are worth more than any of us." (67)
Isn't there, my good madame, something truly evangelical in the sort of delicacy that abstains from sermons, moral lessons, allusions, and isn't the highest form of pity, when a man has a sore spot, not to touch it at all? It seemed to me that this might well have been what my brother was thinking in his heart of hearts. In any case, what I can say is that, if he did have all these ideas, he didn't let on for a moment, not even to me. From start to finish, he was the same as he always is, every night, and he dined with this Jean Valjean the same way and acted just the same as if he were dining with Monsieur Gedeon Le Prevost or with the parish priest. (69)
Can man, created good by God, be made wicked by man? Can the soul be entirely remade by destiny and become bad if that destiny is bad?... Isn't there in every human soul, wasn't there in the soul of Jean Valjean, in particular, an initial spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world, immortal in the next, that good can bring out, prime, ignite, set on fire and cause to blaze splendidly, and that evil can never entirely extinguish? (77)
Release is not the same as liberation. You get out of jail, all right, but you never stop being condemned. (83)
No one could have said what was happening inside him, not even himself. To try to grasp it, we need to imagine the most violent of men in the presence of the most gentle. (87)
"My dear friend," said the bishop, "before you go, here are your candlesticks. Take them." He went to the mantelpiece, swept up the two silver candlesticks, and handed them over to Jean Valjean. The two women watched the bishop without a word, without a movement, without a glance that might upset him. (90)
"Don't forget, don't ever forget, that you promised me to use this silver to make an honest man of yourself...Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you; I am taking it away from black thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I am giving it to God." (90)
He felt indistinctly that the old priest's forgiveness was the greatest assault and the most deadly attack he had ever been rocked by; that if he could resist such clemency his heart would be hardened once and for all; that if he gave in to it, he would have to give up the hate that the actions of other men had filled his heart with for so many years and which he relished; that this time, he had to conquer or be conquered and that the struggle, a colossal and decisive struggle, was now on between his own rottenness and the goodness of that man. (94-5)
He looked at his life and it looked horrible to him; at his soul and it looked revolting. And yet, a new day was dawning and its soft light was settling over his life and over his soul. He felt like he was seeing Satan in the light of paradise. How many hours did he spend crying his heart out? What did he do when he stopped crying? Where did he go? (97)
There are no little facts in the human realm, any more than there are little leaves in the realm of vegetation. The face of the century is made up of the lines of the years. (102)
Poverty and coquetry are two deadly counselors; one upbraids, the other flatters, and the beautiful daughters of the working class have both of them whispering in their ears, each with its own agenda. (103)
She worked in order to live, then, also in order to live, she loved, for the heart has its own hunger. She loved Tholomyes. (104)
The two most important civil servants are the nurse and the schoolteacher. (136)
He always ate alone, with a book open in front of him, reading. He had a small but well-stocked library. He loved books; books are remote but reliable friends. (138)
"My friends remember this: There is no such thing as a weed and no such thing as a bad man. There are only bad cultivators." (139)
The ultimate happiness in life is the conviction that one is loved; loved for oneself--better still, loved in spite of oneself. (141)
Javert was like an eye forever fixed on Monsieur Madeleine. An eye full of suspicion and conjecture. (145)
The following morning, the old man found a thousand franc note on the night table by his bed, with these words written in father Madeleine's hand: "I'm buying your horse and cart." The cart was smashed and the horse was dead. (148)
What is this story of Fantine all about? It is about society buying itself a slave. Who from? From destitution. From hunger, from cold, from loneliness, from abandonment, from dire poverty. A painful bargain. A soul for a bit of bread. Destitution makes an offer society gives the nod. The sacred law of Jesus Christ governs our civilization, but it has not yet managed to permeate it. They say slavery has vanished from European civilization. That is wrong. It still exists, but it now preys only on women, and it goes by the name of prostitution. (158)
It is a mistake to imagine that you can exhaust fate or that you ever hit rock bottom--in anything. (158)
There is a spectacle greater than the sea, and that is the sky; there is a spectacle greater than the sky, and that is the human soul. (184)
You can't stop your mind returning to an idea any more than you can stop the sea returning to shore. For the sailor, it is known as the tide; for the person with a guilty conscience, it is known as remorse. God lifts the soul as well as the ocean. (189)
The realities of the soul are no less real for not being visible and tangible. (189)
The first sacred duty is to think of one's neighbor. Let's see, let's have a closer look. Myself excepted, myself eliminated, myself left out of the picture...(193)
Diamonds are found only in the bowels of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of reflection. it seemed to him that having descended into those depths, after groping in the blackness of the shadows for so long, he had finally found one of those diamonds, one of those truths, and that he held it in his hand; and it blinded him to look at it. (194)
Javert was the genuine article. He never allowed a wrinkle to ruffle his duty or his uniform; methodical with crooks, rigid with the buttons of his coat. (242)
Death is entry into the light everlasting. (246)
Hope in a child who has never known anything but despair is a sweet and sublime thing. (345)
Children accept joy and happiness instantly and intimately, being themselves, by nature, all happiness and joy. (362)
When these two souls saw each other, they knew that each was what the other needed and they hugged each other tight. (364)
She called him father, knew him by no other name. (365)
To make atonement is a process in which the whole soul is absorbed. (402)
This book is a tragedy in which infinity plays the lead. Man plays a supporting role. (422)
The Unknown is an ocean. What is conscience? It is the compass of the Unknown. Thought, meditation, prayer. These are great radiant mysteries. Let's respect them. Where do these majestic rays of the soul go? Into the shadows; that is, into the light. (428)
Man lives on affirmation even more than on bread. (429)
We are living in times of terrible confusion. People don't know what they should know and know things they should not. People are crass and ungodly. (446)
The strides of the lame are like the winks of the one-eyed; they don't go straight to the point. (449)
Everyone knows how cats like to stop and dawdle wherever a door is half open. Who has not said to a cat: "Well, come in, then!" There are men who, when faced with an opportunity cracking open in front of them, also have a tendency to waver between two different solutions, at the risk of being crushed by fate's suddenly closing the door again. (453)
Paris has a boy and the forest has a bird; the bird is called a sparrow and the boy is called a ragamuffin imp, a street urchin: le gamin. (477)
He does sometimes have a place to stay, and he loves it, for that is where he finds his mother, but he prefers the street, for that is where he finds his freedom. (478)
Crossing Stones. Helen Frost. 2009. FSG. 184 pages. [Source: Library]
First sentence: You'd better straighten out your mind, Young Lady.
Premise/plot: Crossing Stones is a historical verse novel set during World War I in a small community. Two families are super-super close: the Jorgensens and the Normans. Everyone expects Muriel Jorgensen to one day marry Frank Norman. Ollie Jorgensen is definitely hoping to one day marry Emma Norman. But plans and expectations have little place in a world turned upside down by war.
Frank isn't at home. He's a soldier getting ready to be shipped overseas when the novel opens. Ollie is a few years younger but his mind is filled with the war too. He wants to be a part of it with Frank. Where Frank goes he wants to follow. That's the familiar way of things.
Muriel wants nothing to do with the war and not because she's like Scarlett O'Hara. Muriel is an opinionated young woman not at all convinced of the merits of this war--or any war. She has little interest in becoming a wife and mother. She may follow in the footsteps of her suffragette aunt.
As for Emma...she's got a brother and an almost sweetheart in the war.
My thoughts: I first read Crossing Stones in October 2009. At the time I loved it. Did I love it just as much the second time around? Not really. Oh, I still liked it. I enjoyed spending time with the characters. My favorite characters are by far Emma and Ollie. I need them to get a happily ever after. Or at least a semi-realistic version of that. After all, if these two do marry they'd likely have children just the right age for being drafted into the second world war. And then there's the Depression to consider. There lives wouldn't be challenge-free by any extent. But. I think Ollie and Emma could handle what life gives them and find a way together.
But I didn't like Muriel nearly so much this time around. I found her opinionated voice to be pessimistic and at times unfeeling. Muriel is well on her way to an unconventional life. Perhaps she'll become a 'wild' girl in the big city.
War disrupts lives, changing everything. This is very much an anti-war novel. I don't have a problem with the message in general. It just left me sadder this time around.