Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre Edited by Tracy Chevalier

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite all-time novels.  Equally intriguing to me is the life of Charlotte Bronte and her sisters, Emily, and Anne.  When I was given the opportunity to review this collection of stories inspired by one of the most famous lines from Jane Eyre – I quickly took it!  I am also nearing the end of listening to the audiobook version of Jane Eyre which fit perfectly with also reviewing this collection.

I am a big fan of short stories.  This collection contains twenty-one short stories that are all supposed to take their inspiration from the line Reader, I married him.   The stories ranged wide in topics, settings, and time periods and I enjoyed that.  I did wonder how some of the stories were supposed to be inspired by the “Reader, I married him” line.

I’ll admit that many of my favorite stories in this collection actually contained the characters from Jane Eyre.  Summaries of my favorite stories are below:

Foreword by Tracy Chevalier
Chevalier’s forward gives a great overview of Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte and just how game changing the quote, “Reader, I married him” was when Jane Eyre is originally published.  She also describes how the authors used this quote as inspiration for their short story.  She also includes my favorite Jane Eyre quote,
“I am no bird; no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”

Luxury Hour by Sarah Hall
A tired new mother has one luxury hour a day where she takes a swim at a neighborhood pool.  While there one day she meets a former lover and has a moment where she thinks of herself as the single, carefree woman she was before marriage, childbirth, and breastfeeding.  I thought this was a great story that really captures the downtimes that I think all mother’s experience.

A great quote, “She could barely look at him; the past was restoring itself too viscerally.  Since the baby she had felt nothing, no desire, not even sorrow that this part of her life had vanished, perhaps for good.”

Grace Poole Her Testimony by Helen Dunmore
I loved this story which added another element to the story of Jane Eyre.  Told from Grace Poole’s perspective, she is sure that Jane Eyre has gotten the true story wrong.  Grace Poole guards the former Mrs. Rochester upstairs, but she was once a beautiful girl herself that captured the fancy of Mr. Rochester.  I loved the twist at the end of this story.

To Hold by Joanna Briscoe
Talk about twisted endings, this one beats all others in this collection.  A beautiful young girl is dressed and educated by her parents to capture the attention of the nearby rich land owner Tay-Mosby.  She does not appear to and instead marries “the lad who worked for his parents’ motor garage.”  Life then moves in mysterious ways and she moves through different husbands to a truth that was not known at the beginning of the story.  I can’t say more without ruining the tale!

It’s a Man’s Life, Ladies by Jane Gardam
I loved this story of a grandchild trying to determine what makes their grandmother tick.  The grandmother, Gertrude, had been married to a captain who loved the sea, and she spent most of her life on land with her children and sisters.  The captain died not leaving her much to live on at his death.  Her grandchild tries to puzzle out why she married her grandfather and she says, “O, I was lucky, you know, to get anyone.  I was what they called ‘an old bride’ of twenty-six.  Of course I married him.  Everyone needs to keep something private from their families.”

Reader, I Married Him by Susan Hill
A great short story told by Wallis Simpson’s perspective on her marriage to King Edward VIII.  I loved this quote, “But there was truth among the lies.  They said I was ambitious, hard and ruthless and would stop at nothing to get what I wanted.  They did not know what that was of course.  How could they?”

The Mirror by Francine Prose
Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester are married, but their marriage is troubled. She believes in the mad wife in the attic and he does not.  Couples therapy ensues.

The China from Buenos Aires by Patricia Park
Teresa has moved to New York City from Argentina.  With her parents originally from Korea living in Argentina, and Teresa growing up in Argentina, she feels she doesn’t fit in with either Chinese or Hispanics in NYC.  She runs into a boy she never looked twice at at home, Juan, and they strike up a friendship.  When her father’s health and finances take a turn for the worse, Teresa has choices to make about life and her relationship with Juan.  My favorite quote, “The sooner you stop caring so much, the sooner you can start to live.”

Reader, She Married Me by Salley Vickers
The ending told from Edward Rochester’s point of view.  He is sure that Jane is writing their story and leaving out his version of events, which includes a very sad back story on his marriage to Bertha and the reason for her madness.    “I have heard since that childbirth can send a woman mad but at the time I was on my own in a foreign country with no one to consult.”

Dorset Gap by Tracy Chevalier
Dorset Gap is a cute story of a couple hiking and finding a log to sign.  Ed thinks of a creative quote to add.

The Mash-up by Linda Grant
A wedding does not go as planned.  “Better for a wedding to go a little wrong; better, even for it to be a disaster, for it foreshadows all of the times that are to come.  Marriage is not a romantic fantasy, its hard work.”

The Self-Seeding Sycamore by Lionel Shriver
I’m not sure how this story fits into the theme, but I loved it.  A recent widow has problem with her neighbor’s self-seeding sycamore which sends many seedlings to wreck her garden.  Her solution gets things out of hand and teaches her that first impressions are not always accurate.

The Orphan Exchange by Audrey Niffenegger
This story of experimentation on orphans in WWII England is more than a little creepy.

Overall, Reader I Married Him has a great collection of unique stories with a variety of different characters, ages, settings, and topics.  I don’t think the theme quite unified them, but I did enjoy them, especially the stories that had characters from Jane Eyre included.

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow – Thanks!

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

Title: The Passenger
Author: Lisa Lutz
Read by: Madeleine Maby
Simon & Schuster
Length: 8 hours and 55 minutes
Source: Review Digital Audio from Simon & Schuster – Thanks!

Tanya DuBois decides to cut and run after her husband Frank falls down the steps and accidentally dies.  Running seems odd for an innocent woman, but things are not always what they seem.  Tanya has a past that she doesn’t want the cops to investigate after Frank’s death.  Tanya starts the run for her life and sheds identities like others shed outfits.  When she meets the mysterious “Blue,” her life takes a new turn with people out to get both her and Blue.  What is Tanya’s true identity?  What is she running from?  What is Blue’s agenda?  Will running from an untruth actually make Tanya into what she is running from?

This story was a good suspense story with many twists and turns.  Madeleine Maby was a great narrator of the audiobook.  This novel worked well as an audiobook and was great to listen to both while driving to work and also working around the house.  Tanya changed her identities, looks, mode of living so many times it kept the reader guessing right along.  The book delivers and lets you know the true story by the end with one final twist that I had not guessed.  I can’t get into much more detail without ruining the plot!

Overall, if you are looking for a good suspense novel that will keep you guessing until the end, The Passenger is the perfect book for you!  It’s great in audiobook format!

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Twits, The Minpins, and The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl

Title: The Twits, The Minpins, and The Magic Finger
Author: Roald Dahl
Read by:  Richard Ayoade, Bill Bailey, and Kate Winslet
Publisher: Penguin
Length: Approximately 1 Hour (2 CDs)
Source:  Review Copy from Penguin Thanks!

My ten year old son Kile, my eight year old son Daniel, and I started listening to this collection on the way to Mom and Son Scout camp.  Their five –year old sister Penelope started listening at the end of The Twits when we returned home and now we can’t go anywhere without listening to “a story” by Roald Dahl.  Although Kile is at regular Scout Camp this week and we were told that we cannot listen to any more of Matilda without him.  

The Twits are the most miserable people you have ever met.  They spend their time putting glue on a tree to catch birds for their bird pie and maybe a spare boy or two.  The monkeys they keep caged decide that they are tired of their and the birds’ situations and are set for vengeance.  The kids thought this was hilarious.

The Minpins was by far the favorite story for my kids.  It was a great fantasy story about a boy, Billy, who ventures out into the woods against his mother’s advice and discovers that the beast she had warned him of is all too real and has him cornered in a tree.  While there, he also discovers an entire race of small people living in the trees who ride birds.  Will Billy be able to find his way back home?

A girl has The Magic Finger and turns a family of hunters into the hunted so that they can learn what it is like to be a family of ducks. 

This audio collection is superb with great jaunty music before and after each story and fantastically expressive narrators for all three stories.  It is incredibly engaging for not only the children to listen to, but their mother as well.

Overall, this is a fantastic collection of stories that are full of Roald Dahl’s inventive storytelling and dark humor.  My kids and I loved it and are now continuing on into listening to Matilda.

Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts by Roald Dahl

Title: Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts
Author: Roald Dahl
Read by:  Stephen Mangan, Tamsin Greig, and Miriam Margolyes
Publisher: Penguin
Length: Approximately 1 Hour (1 CD)
Source:  Review Copy from Penguin Thanks!

We listed to Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts by Roald Dahl a year or so ago on a family trip.  I cracked it out again last week and all of the kids loved it again – it was like new.  It’s nice to find something that interests not only my ten year old son Kile, but his eight-year old brother Daniel, and 5-year old sister Penelope.

Revolting Rhymes are basically six fractured fairy tales.  Penelope loved that they were fairy tales, Kile and Daniel loved that they all had a twist, usually a dark comedic twist.  I don’t think Red Riding Hood will ever be the same for them now that they think she is wicked good with a gun and has a love for wolf skin coats.  Kile isn’t one to show emotions, but he laughed out loud several times during this audiobook and him, his friend Zach and brother Daniel brought it up in conversation days later. 

Dirty Beasts are a collection of poems about different animals. These are also darkly humorous and the kids loved guessing what would happen at the end of each poem.  Penelope was just talking about these today when she saw some ants outside and it reminded her of the anteater in one of the tales.

I loved the production of these tales.  The jaunty music before and after each tale or poem was great – I wanted to listen to that on its own! The actors telling the tales were fantastic and put real emotion and sound effects into each tale.

Overall, this was a fabulous audiobook for children and shows Roald Dahl’s dark humor.  There are dark twists in the book though so it may not be appropriate for the very young or those that don’t want to know that Cinderella and the Prince did not end up happily ever after.