Welcome to the third installment of my Book Report series, where I talk about the books I read last month in pursuit of my yearly goal of 36 books. March was a good time for reading, and I met my quota, despite being swamped with obligations. These books–A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Stage Kiss, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–were worth making time for.
(The following post contains affiliate links, which just means that if you use them to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission (Thanks!), while you pay the same as you would anyway. This consideration does not influence my reviews or recommendations, which are honestly given.)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Modern Classics), by Betty Smith
In Short: coming-of-age, classic, relatable, a study in character and setting
Warnings: some heavy and adult themes mentioned or dealt with obliquely (sex, drunkenness, child-bearing), but nothing explicit; war; death; bullying
Who Should Read: young teens to adults, readers who love the Anne of Green Gables series, readers who like richly written characters and settings
What I Learned: This book is a veritable study in writing richly detailed settings and populating them with vivid, yet realistic, characters.
I realize my warnings make this book sound very somber and dark, but let me assure you it’s not. Yes, it deals with some very serious themes, but this coming-of-age story covers the time from Francie’s early childhood to early adulthood, all while living in Brooklyn after the turn of the century, leading up to WWI, so some serious moments are bound to occur. It’s not quite the lighthearted romp that Anne Shirley’s tale is, but there is plenty of happiness and humor throughout.
Like Anne, Francie is a lonely, serious-minded girl and very bookish. As soon as she learns to read, she vows to read a book every day of her life, beginning with the “A” authors and working her way to “Z.” This fits in well with her mother’s plan to get her an education so she can get out of Brooklyn and have a better life.
I found Francie incredibly relatable, from her passion for reading, to her way of romanticizing the less comfortable aspects of her life, like her family’s poverty. She even takes up writing, and her struggles and highs in that arena struck a chord with me. (Chapters 2 and 39 are an especial delight. I snapped pictures of several passages that moved me, too many to share here.)
The book was written in 1943, but the writing style is very accessible, and the story is engaging. In the introduction, the author makes it clear that this is based heavily on her life. Although she doesn’t specify which particulars are biographical, we know she and Francie had a lot in common, and everything is written in such crisp detail–the settings, the characters, the dialogue–that it all rings perfectly true, to the point that I would believe it if I found out only the names had been changed. Whether true or not, Ms. Smith was a gifted word painter.
As a side note, my copy of this book was an old one and had typing errors scattered throughout. My favorite, though, was this one, where an “a” appears to have fallen off of “and,” rolled over, and come to rest between “around” and “saloon.”
This is one reason I can’t abandon paper books entirely: You just can’t get this kind of fun from an e-reader.
Stage Kiss (Mountain Creek Drive) (Volume 1), by M. F. Lorson
In Short: YA (young adult), romance, nostalgic, series
Warnings: copious grammatical errors
Who Should Read: teens to 30-somethings, people who love the early 2000s, romance readers who like it on the clean side
What I Learned: Things–even books–don’t have to be perfect to be good.
This is by a local author I heard speak at the library here in Hermiston. I jibed with her personality and was thoroughly impressed by her accomplishments: The talk was titled “Three Books and Baby” (props on the movie reference) and was about how she managed to squeeze all that–writing three books and having a baby–into one crazy year. I was especially intrigued by her latest book, Stage Kiss, though, because she mentioned it was young adult romance set in 2002. That happens to be when I graduated from high school, so I was keen to see what kinds of references there would be. I was not disappointed.
The story is about Erin, a junior at a high school in a small town in rural Colorado, and she’s just been dumped for her close friend. She is a popular girl (but not a “mean girl”) who wants to be Homecoming Queen because it’s tradition in her family, but she needs a date to help seal the deal. She is also a theater dork (like yours truly) who, struggle as she might, can’t help having the hots for fellow student and stage manager of the play she’s in, Peter, a character who can make adult-me swoon and who teen-me wouldn’t have had a hope of resisting.
There are enough references to bygone fashions, trends, and foods to be very satisfying for someone my age, but not so many that they felt shoehorned in, or in such a way that the writing relied too heavily on them. The story itself is fun, exciting, and smoothly written. I was caught up in the romance and positively devoured the book.
But it does have small editing problems. Understandably, when one churns out work this quickly, there are bound to be mistakes, and I tend to be very forgiving, so long as the story holds up. The author herself noted the misspelling of Freddie Prinze, Jr. (as “Freddie Prince”–twice) with much chagrin, so I was prepared for that. (I feel her pain. If I publish something with an error like that, I just know it will haunt me FOR-EV-ER. I still cringe over a mix-up I made on a paper in college, which, if you do the math, you can tell was over a decade ago for me.)
Many of the mistakes are grammatical and chronic. Ninety percent of them, however, are comma-related, and most readers ignore those completely. The remaining ones are word choice, subject-verb agreement, or spelling. Truthfully, while I’m me and can’t help noticing those things, I am not such a stickler that they interfered with my enjoyment. The story was well-told and engaging and completely worth the read. Makes a great beach book that teens and adults can enjoy.
For those of you who wind up liking the book, you should know that it is part of a series called Mountain Creek Drive (the road all the protagonists live on). I was lucky enough to snag a free copy of the second book, Leah’s Song (Mountain Creek Drive Book 2), because I follow the author on Facebook (here), and she had a giveaway. This second one is by a different author, but I am very much looking forward to once again diving into the past and revisiting my adolescence for a brief while. Just wish I had a Fruitopia and cafeteria pizza to go with it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7), by J. K. Rowling
In Short: IT’S HARRY POTTAH, fantasy, adventure, YA
Warnings: much darker than earlier books in the series
Who Should Read: Who shouldn’t? Adults, kids, men, women–everyone can enjoy this.
What I Learned: The last few chapters are perfect for anyone looking to be a wizard–har, har–at writing a ton of action in a short amount of time.
I’ve been reading this series aloud to Ryan (That’s my husband, not my kid, for those of you who only know me here.) for several years now, and we were sad to finish our time with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, after having spent so much time together. These books are iconic for a reason: timeless themes; relatable, vivid characters; exciting plots with all kinds of twists and bends; accessible reading that doesn’t “talk down” to its younger readers.
I missed out on reading the Harry Potter series as a kid, and I saw all the movies before I even opened the first book. I was too busy reading classic lit for most of my teens (and before that Goosebumps, Nancy Drew, and Babysitters’ Club). A shame, too, as I was the perfect age for reading them as they were published. No harm done, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed them as an adult.
True, the middle books have their issues–primarily the fact that is seems no one was willing to give J. K. a cap on her word count. If books were sold by the pound, I can’t imagine what Order of the Phoenix would sell for. I had to take a break from reading it just to give my wrists a break.
This book turned out to be my favorite after the first. They do a lot of revisiting the familiar places and people from earlier books, which is a good way to wrap up a series, like reminiscing over your old treasured things as you pack up your childhood bedroom. We did have to slog through a bit in the middle, when things did not move quite so quickly and were uncomfortably tense, but, boy, do things sure pick up at the end. My reading got faster, my voice got higher, and we read the last few chapters in one night because they were so exciting that we couldn’t sleep anyway. Knowing how it ended did not detract from that, as the story differs just enough from the movies to keep you guessing. Despite splitting this last book into two movies, the directors still left out so much. I mean, Percy?! FRED?! And what about Kreacher and the Hogwarts house elves?!
After we finished it, we treated ourselves to watching–and being outraged at the shortcomings of–the final movie, while stuffing our faces with Harry Potter-themed treats: chocolate frogs (sadly, non-magical), Beanboozled jelly beans (yep, I definitely got vomit and sour milk more than once, and they do taste disgustingly realistic), dragon wings (okay, so they were chicken, but Ryan’s were spicy, so you could say they made him breathe fire), and other piles of junk food bought in the name of celebration and mourning. We didn’t have access to pumpkin juice, but we did buy the ingredients for butterbeer. Only by the time we had eaten the other crap, we couldn’t stomach the thought of dumping liquid sugar on top of it. As it was, all that junk had our cauldrons a-bubbling, if you know what I mean.
All in all, it was a fun way to say goodbye to a series that has become so dear to us, one the likes of which we may not find for some time.