Friday, June 12, 2015

Amid household friction, three reviews

It has been a while since I’ve posted, hasn’t it?  In the past few months my ever-changing, kid-centered schedule has evolved yet again, this time into a napless format (so inconvenient!)… True, bedtimes are now earlier, so you’d think I could accomplish something in the evening—but by then I'm drained.  Empty.  Done.  As before, my evenings are about dishes, endlessly rehashing the day, and brainstorming ways to manage our “spirited” four-year-old.  (More on this later...)

Knitting, too.  I’ve only just learned to purl, and I’m ridiculously proud of myself.

In this odd and unanticipated blogging gap, however, I have read a few things that I’d like to highly recommend!  

1.      The Invention of Fire

What it felt like was the invention of time travel: Author Bruce Holsinger, a professor of medieval literature at the University of Virginia, makes 14th-century London seem immediate!  I can't think of another historical novel that integrates so much daily-life detail (e.g. medieval privies) into a page-turning story.  And the characters!  While John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer--yes, that Chaucer-- are honest-to-goodness historical figures, Holsinger does not handle them with  reverence; rather, he fearlessly fleshes them out, presenting them as approachable, fallible people with context in London society.  I enjoyed John Gower's voice immensely, and am in awe of both the research and the creativity behind it. 

A basic sketch of the plot:  As London braces for a French invasion, Gower, a purveyor of secrets, is tasked with stealthily investigating a mass murder that too many people seem anxious to rugsweep.  The weapon?  Handgonnes, a frightening innovation that, by reducing the need for special skill, democratizes the act of killing... 

In regard to the ending, I'll say this:  While I anticipated some small part of it, my jaw did drop at the final revelation!  And subplots-- one in particular-- closed with elegance and restraint. 

Again, this historical thriller is so worthwhile!  Moreover, my interest in the shady yet earnest John Gower has prompted me to seek out this author's previous work of fiction, A Burnable Book, which features the same character.

2.     Madeleine's War   

Set during World War II,  this well-written (and surprisingly romantic) thriller nearly convinced me that I worked for British intelligence, interpreting and contextualizing the elaborately coded messages sent by field agents in occupied France.     

Here’s the premise:  Intelligence officer Matthew Hammond falls in love with Madeleine, a brilliant and unusual young woman whom he’s training for a dangerous covert mission.  At the conclusion of training, she parachutes into France, while, back in London, he’s on the receiving end of her communications—communications that abruptly break off amid D-Day chaos.  What happened to her?  Is there any chance that she might still be alive?

This is the story of Hammond's post-invasion attempts to trace Madeleine, and it packs in plenty of gutwrenching twists as well as terrific atmosphere.  Again, I felt as if I were let in on the secrets and tactics of Allied espionage—which to some extent was true, as author Peter Watson took pains with historical accuracy.  This novel is so very entertaining, and I expect that it was also fun to write!

Increasing frustration brought me to the self-help section and this particular book, which, unlike several others, actually has helped me to deal with my defiant, independent, way-too-smart preschooler!  Its overall approach-- "catching" good behavior in order to employ "descriptive praise"-- demands that I shift my focus from what my child’s doing wrong (opportunity to correct her) to what she’s doing right (opportunity to praise her).  

Don't get me wrong:  I've always praised and thanked both my daughters when I happened to notice a particularly kind, polite, or helpful action.  This book, however, pushes me to look, really look, for those opportunities to praise-- and in the process, helps me to appreciate that, overall, my "difficult" older daughter is a pretty good kid!  And while I sometimes feel silly as I compliment, say, the donning of a single shoe or the cessation of an annoying sound, the additional positive feedback does have her working harder to cooperate with my instructions...  Importantly, too, it improves our relationship and, all in all, gives everyone a more pleasant day than we’d otherwise experience. 

I borrowed this title from the library.  Will I purchase it?  Yes, reason being that I’d like to dip into it as needed for a bit of a mental reset!  While some of the sample dialogue is insufferable (I promise not to slide so far into pop psychology as this), re-reading a few pages might help me to recover a day that's slipping...

On that note, I'd like to wish you-- and fellow parents especially-- a restful weekend!  Thank you for visiting.

Disclosure:  Madeleine's War and The Invention of Fire were gifted to me through Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

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