Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Review: The Playground

The Playground The Playground by Jane Shemilt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disturbing and more sad than creepy. Or at least, not "horror" creepy, but more "people can be terrible" creepy. But people can also be good. Oh, people.

So: it's about a lot of things. But a mystery. Let's say it's a mystery, a murder mystery, and there are many clues as to what is happening and what is going on.

But it's also a look at the lives and loves of three very different couples, and the hidden and secret lives of children.

So: three couples, one pretty well off where the mother (Eve) has created the type of family and family experience she wanted for herself as a child. Which means that there's a big backyard that is wild and she gives the kids (11, 6, and 2) freedom to go and be themselves. Others would say, Eve isn't careful enough. Isn't watchful enough.

Then there is the dual professional couple, so busy with their professional lives they barely have time for each other but make sure that their daughter Izzy is always the center of their lives.

Lastly is the struggling family: he's a semi famous author, famous enough to impress everyone but not enough to pay the bills. They are kept financially afloat by the wife, but no one acknowledges that; she is also from Zimbabwe, and there's a bunch of stuff to unpack about the relationship that neither quite admits. Their kids are 11 and 9.

They come together because of the kids, and while we know something bad is going to happen, there is much of how "picture perfect" the friendships become: home made meals in that magical backyard of Eve's, the children all getting along, eventually even a joint trip to Greece. Beautiful images.


Images are not the truth.

There are fissures, issues, some of which the reader knows because the story is told from various viewpoints so we can see a forest when all those adults and children and the trees. Let's just say ... their is adult unhappiness and too much drinking and flirting with other people's spouses. There is a belief that children are innocent and so clues are missed about what is and isn't going on with the children.

Do not read this book if dead children is a deal breaker.

By the end: this is disturbing and sad. And you figure out some things before the characters, and others will surprise you. But this is also about surviving and renewal and moving forward for those who are still left.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Review: Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy

Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy by Leslie Brody
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another great biography! I read this story of Louise shortly after I read one of Louisa, and so I thought it a bit interesting to think of the two of them, Louise Fitzhugh and Louisa May Alcott, and how they were similar and so different.

Here's the first thing: so, when I was reading "Marmee and Louisa," I thought of their poverty and how that drove LMA and wondered was it necessary to create the artist?

And then I read about Louise.

This was so fascinating, to read about Louise Fitzhugh. I appreciated that it began with the story of her parents, so this told of a family and a person starting with the jazz age and the ill fated marriage between a rich man and poor women who wanted to dance, and how that shaped their daughter. And then a look at life and growing up well to do in the South, an insider because of money and family, an outsider because of her sexuality and having divorced parents.

And then -- after 20 years in the south -- to New York! And a place where Louise could be herself and not hide her girlfriends and love. And this tells not just about Louise, but about New York City in the 1950s and 1960s.

And about Louise and her art: as an artist, a painter, a writer. And part of the art being Louise herself, as she invented and reinvented herself. And part of that was the stories she told others about herself and her family.

And here is what is interesting, a contrast to LMA. Louise Fitzhugh came from money and was left money, so she was able to pursue her art because of that money. She didn't have to "worry" about money. And yet-- that, too, drove her. Because she wanted to establish herself, do it on her own. Money drove her, like it did LMA, just in different ways. (So to go back to LMA and her awful father, my belief is LMA would have still written just with a less horrible childhood.)

Last bit: I had not realized just how young Louise was when she died. So young; and one wonders, what would have been her next act. What would she have done next. What she would have thought of the world changing, in some ways, catching up with Louise.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Review: Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother

Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother by Eve LaPlante
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My reading on Alcott continues.

My dislike of Bronson grows. Marmee's life sounds like an even bigger nightmare than I thought.

Here is one of my favorite lines that is about Bronson, but also tries to explain the Marmee and Bronson relationship: "[Abigail] tended to idealize Bronson, as he tended to idealize himself."

ANYWAY. Enough about him. This is a great dual biography, of both Abigail May Alcott and her daughter, Louisa May Alcott. It also shows the time and place so well: Boston, in post-Revolutionary years; the New England world that Louisa grew up in; the details of how women make do. The last bit is especially fascinating: how the world tried to limit what women could do, and yet. And yet they did a lot, against so many odds. There is Louisa and her writing, her sister and her art; they also meet others, teachers and doctors and nurses.

And yet: there is so much they cannot do. Marmee does all the work, all the heavy lifting of supporting and feeding her family, but the ways she does that are limited and constrained. I found it especially interesting how many times taking in boarders was a way of earning money, and on my t0-do list once again is to take a look at the way our homes have changed and evolved.

So read this to learn more about Louisa; and how she was raised, and how she was driven to succeed, and how part of that was just to make enough money because of how poor they were. And how she saw how motherhood and career did not really allow for both and so choices were made. One wonders -- what would have been different if the family was not so poor? What would Louisa have achieved? Would Lizzie have died? Would Marmee have lived longer?

But also read to learn more about how people lived then -- a slice of life that is more than cold statistics.

Back to Bronson: I guess he gets some credit for what he was progressive about. BUT. In reading this, I thought the true progressive was Abigail's brother, Samuel Joseph May, and I have to say -- he is someone who is truly interesting, and did more and created more than Bronson.

Bronson was all talk. But I'll say this -- it does show that what he had charisma, and charm. Two factors that don't make one a great person, but does explain why just so many people liked him. Including, apparently, younger women.

He was just the worst.

I hope Marmee had happiness, despite him.

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Thursday, April 08, 2021

Review: Little Women

Little Women Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to say I don't remember when I first read Little Women.

I remember not being sure of their ages, and that both Meg and Jo had to be old because they had jobs. I remember not getting references to things like the Pickwick Papers, but it didn't matter. I remember how real the relationship between the sisters was -- fights, making up, squabbles. I couldn't understand how they could both be poor and have a servant.

And since then, I've seen the various movies and TV series, and so now my memories are jumbled with those images.

So, of course, a reread was in order!

The first section -- the original stand alone -- was great. We are told their ages, I just didn't remember. And I liked the structure, just over a year in the lives of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

And how great that Alcott shows 4 unique characters from the very first sentence each one speaks.

I also loved how imperfect they each are; and how they each have dreams and hopes. And that self-sufficiency is important; and work is good. And that emotions are OK.

And Jo's anger! And her mother admitting anger! But now my first "but." But. Anger is a tricky thing; that Jo's anger and stubbornness, however justified, resulted in Amy getting hurt. Marmee offers help, but of the "how to conquer it" school, and unfortunately, it's also tied into her husband. For the record, my dislike of Bronson Alcott has influenced my feelings towards Mr. March.

Quick aside: yes, Bronson was wonderful in many ways, and progressive, and an intellect. He also did not do enough to support his family, or to keep them well and fed.

Anyway. That Marmee's advice gets into "your father is perfect and without faults so he helped me fight my own" was quite the "ugh" moment.

On to part two: this one covered so many years, that it was a bit jarring and harder to follow how time passed, especially after how tightly constructed the first was. And this was also the one that veered the most from the Alcott's own story.

The good: Jo and Amy both continuing their art, each in their own way, and Jo and her publishing.
Meg's misadventures of keeping house. The interactions between everyone; how realistic the family continues to be.

The not so good, to me; in both books, the veering into lectures got a bit much. The age differences between Meg and John, and then Jo and Bhaer. That Bhaer is so much like Mr. March, in that he is there to "teach" Jo. There is some of that with Meg and John, but at least there John is show to have faults and it's more mutual change.

I also want to eventually read one of the annotated versions of this, because the details that made sense at the time but raise questions now --- Some, like the casual mention of a rat at Orchard House. Others I can kind of guess at, like pins and collars.

Overall? Still holds up, and recommended if you haven't read it before.

I remember Little Men being one of my favorites, so that will be read soon.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Review: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A different type of biography -- a biography of a book, Little Women.

This had a quote that really stuck with me: "Our culture prefers girls to stay small, young, and full of potential." I thought of how true it is; and how often I see young girls cheered in the media, then condemned as the move from full of potential to making a choice.


So, of course, there is a short biography of Louisa May Alcott; and her writing; and the publication history of the book. All we "know", that the four girls are Louisa and her sisters. But the fiction is also pointed out: the setting is not when these girls were actually teens, and the family is more stable than the Alcotts, and what happens to the March girls doesn't mirror what happens to the Alcott daughters.

The publication history gets into editions, including how the original was basically a year in the life of the teenaged March sisters; the sequel spanned several years, bringing them into adulthood and marriage and motherhood.

This also dives deep into the adaptations as plays, in radio, on TV, on film. I want to watch them all, now, comparing them -- because it is so fascinating to see how the era when a film is made influences how the book is adapted, what is highlighted, what is omitted, what is added (and how often what is added dives into Alcott's own life.)

Yes, this is for Alcott fans. But, it's also a look at how art is created, and why; and how a story is interpreted and reinterpreted over and over.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

I've updated the About section, as well as the sections that list my publications and presentations. They were so out of date!

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Review: Long Bright River

Long Bright River Long Bright River by Liz Moore
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quite an interesting mystery!

Set in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, and one of the things I most enjoyed about this books was the setting of Kensington, the neighborhood and the people.

Next was the unreliable narrator, Mickey, and the truths she's not quite willing to share with the reader.

And Mickey: complicated and messy. Her life and family is complicated but what strikes me the most, what gets me the most, is she tries. And tries. And tries. Just as those around her try. But often fail, because we are human, and, also, because addiction.

Oh, plot? OK, plot. Mickey is a police officer; her sister is an addict and prostitute. Someone is killing women, killing prostitutes, and Mickey's sister has disappeared. No one seems to care, because they are poor and addicts and hookers.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Review: Daring and the Duke

Daring and the Duke Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

ARGH. I hate to say this, but this book didn't do it for me.

I LOVE Sarah MacLean. Love, love, love her books. But this one, and this series, just didn't work for me. I was actually hesitant to even post this, because I tend not to write about ones that don't like.

See how often I say "for me," because I know it may work for you? I think it's because the setting here veered too much to an alternate-England; an alternate history, and perhaps what I need to do is to reread this embracing that possibility. I also think it's because part of the alternate history is about the three Bareknuckle Bastards creating a world that, well, fixes poverty. Again, I'm torn: on the one hand, I like that the poverty of the time is addressed. Too many regency/historicals don't talk about class and poverty and just how bad it was for anyone who wasn't rich and connected. But, again, maybe I have to reread with a shift in how I view this and believe this, because I kept thinking -- things aren't changed. This isn't offering a different view, a realistic view, it's as much a fantasy as the Dukes and Ladies, except it's crime lords.

All that said, one thing I really liked was how easy it was to picture everything. Great descriptions; and strange as it may sound, I think if this was a series on Netflix or Hulu, I would like it.

I know. Just a book. I'm overthinking.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Review: For Black Girls Like Me

For Black Girls Like Me For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another flashback, to a book I read a few years back.

This is a heartbreaker.

Keda is eleven. She is moving cross country with her family, starting in a new place, New Mexico, because of her father's job. Keda is African American, the only one in her family, adopted as an infant.
Keda's mother was a musician; she still is, except her father's job took priority in the family and her mother plays less and less.

This is a story of a girl moving to a new place, and having to start again with new friends. A school that calls itself diverse, but the diversity does not include her.

Keda loves her parents; she loves her older sister, the miracle baby born to them.

For Black Girls Like Me explores transracial adoption, and the harms that even well-meaning, loving parents can inflict. Some of them I saw and winced; some of them I didn't realize until Keda pointed it out; and some I saw and Keda didn't make a big deal about because it is her life and she cannot make a big deal out of everything.

It is also Keda moving to a new place and the difficulty of making new friends and finding a place and a voice.

It is also about a mother who is sick and people don't know it. As an adult reader, I quickly picked up on the fact that her mother was exhibiting the highs and lows, the manic actions, of someone with bipolar disorder. Keda, her sister, and her father don't see it; and I imagine that most readers won't. They will discover it as Keda does. And this captures beautifully the heartbreak of being the child when a family member is sick, and feeling responsible, and feeling resentful.

All in all, a wonderful book about many things, and it works beautifully, and I am hopeful for Keda and think that readers will love her as much as I do.

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Review: Maybe He Just Likes You

Maybe He Just Likes You Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit of a flashback; I read this a few years ago.

If anyone was wondering about how to write a book for middle schoolers about consent -- this is it. This book does a terrific job.

It's unsettling. Mila and her friends are in seventh grade and the beginning description shows them as typical seventh graders, some still interested in tag, others beginning to notice each other as more than friends.

Mila begins getting unwanted attention from a group of boys. It's mainly unwanted hugs, a hand brushing against a shoulder, that type of thing. Things she doesn't want; things that maker her uncomfortable; things that escalate. Things that some of her friends don't get ("it's because he likes you, you're just immature not to realize that") and that teachers don't see or understand ("ignore it, and it will stop.")

Mila handles it -- or doesn't handle it -- as best as she can. As an adult reading this? Yes it was upsetting but the resolution was great and I liked where Mila, and her friends, ended. Yes, this is a book where the reader can learn a thing or two (about empathy; about what not to do; about what to d0) but also can just enjoy a good book about a group of friends, and the changes in friendships and dynamics.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2021

2021 Newbery Committee

A big thanks to my fellow 2021 Newbery Committee members!

Chair Dr. Jonda C. McNair, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; 

Sarah Bean Thompson, Springfield-Greene County Library, Springfield, Missouri; 

Elizabeth A. Burns, New Jersey State Library, Talking Book & Braille Center, Trenton, New Jersey;

Timothy D. Capehart, Beavercreek Community Library, Greene County, Ohio; 

Arika J. Dickens, Sunset Elementary School, Bellevue, Washington; 

Joanna K. Fabicon, Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles, California; 

Hyunjin Han, Mandel Public Library, West Palm Beach, Florida; 

Susan Dove Lempke, Niles-Maine District Library, Niles, Illinois; 

Maren C. Ostergard, King County Library System, Issaquah, Washington; 

Dr. Linda M. Pavonetti, Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan; 

David C. Saia, Heim Middle School, Williamsville, New York; 

Jo Phillips Schofield, Stark County District Library, Canton, Ohio; 

Eva Thaler-Sroussi, Wellesley Free Library, Wellesley, Massachusetts; 

Lisa M. Thomas, Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs, Colorado; 

Alicia S.Q. Yao, San Diego Public Library, San Diego, California; 

and Award Administrative Assistant Gretchen Schulz, Schaumburg Township District Library, Schaumburg, Illinois.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy