Tag Archives: fiction

Secrets of a Charmed Life – Susan Meissner

Secrets of a Charmed Life

Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner

  • Source: Library – Friend’s of the Library Bookstore
  • Genre: Fiction – Historical, WW2, England,

Growing up in the East End of London during the start of WW2, Emmy Downtree took more responsibilities than a typical 15-year-old. Acting as a mother to her half-sister Julia all the while dreaming of becoming a wedding dress designer. Emmy had just taken on a part-time job at the local wedding dress store when events were speeding up in the war. Children were being evacuated from their homes and being transported to the countryside to live with foster families as the war raged on in London. After receiving a letter from her former employer, Emmy returns to London with Julia in tow. Not knowing that their return would be the day of the infamous blitz. Divided and alone, Emmy must take her own future into her own hands. But who will she be? Emmy Downtree or Isabel Crofton?

* * * * * * * * * * *

I could not put down this book. It was written so beautifully. The rage, resentment and anger Emmy felt towards her mother influenced so many of her decisions. Her love-hate relationship with being Julia’s guardian. Loving and taking her of her much younger sister, all the while wanting to spread her own wings and fly away from the life their mother had provided for them in the East End. During her journey, Emmy learned so much about her own history through accidental meetings and occurrences. The characters felt so real. We never learned in school that children where separated from their families all throughout the war. Children sent to England from other countries, children sent from London the countryside, all hoping to find safer land and shelter from the war above their heads. This is a book about the war, but moreso about one family’s experiences, losses and discoveries as a result of the war.


The Doll People (Ann M. Martin) – Review

The doll peopleThe Doll People by Ann M. Martin & Laura Goodwin
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Age: 9+
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library
Publisher: Hyperion, 2000
ISBN 9780786803613 / 256 pages
Find this book at your local library 

Forty-five years ago, the Doll family lost their beloved Aunt Sarah from their humble dollhouse home. After finding her Aunt Sarah’s journal stashed in the library bookshelves, Annabelle Doll takes it upon herself to venture out of the house and look for her aunt. On one of her explorations, she meets a new set of dolls and befriend Tiffany. With a new friend and a new burst of courage, Annabelle and Tiffany venture into the world of the living humans to look for their missing relative.

There are number of elements in this book that make it fantastic.

1. Illustrations by Brian Selznick. The author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret does a fantastic job bringing the doll families to life in this book. He pencil illustrations are amazing, depicting the smallest flecks of emotion in the doll’s faces.

2. Ann M. Martin. The author of the Babysitter’s Club teams up with author Laura Goodwin to write the first in a trilogy about the Doll family. This book is imaginative, funny and well paced. Annabelle’s family is from the Victorian era, made of porcelain and passed down from generation to generation. Tiffany’s family is new, plastic and perfect for the rough hands of a playful 5-year-old younger sister. The contrast between old and new, traditional v. modern is well examined through the friendship of Annabelle and Tiffany.

3. Living Dolls. Lives in Dollhouses. I LOVE, LOVE this genre in children’s fiction. This book is a perfect for fans of the following:

  • The Indian in the Cupboard series (Lynne Reid Banks)
  • The Castle in the Attic  (Elizabeth Winthrop)
  • Toy Story (the movies)
  • Time Windows (Kathryn Reiss)

The storyline is simple to follow, adventurous and the conversations feel true to the ages of the characters. Parents can enjoy this book and also use it as an opportunity to share stories from their childhood, or pass along toys from their childhood. 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Review

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction

Set in an upscale apartment/condo complex in Paris, Muriel Barbery takes us into the lives of two of the building’s residents. There is Renee; the short, plump and ugly 54-year old concierge. There is Paloma; the quick-witted and too smart for her age 12 year old. As these two women lead secret lives with hidden goals from friends and family, one man moves into the building to change it all.

Okay, I will be the first to admit that my synopsis paragraph is quite lame and doesn’t capture the essence or the actual plot of this book. This is not an easy book to sum up in just a few sentences. This is Barbery’s second novel, and the first to be translated into English from its original French. Each chapter alternates between Renee’s thoughts and Paloma’s journal entries. The novel is filled to the brim with philosophical thought, and commentary on social hierarchy and class status. There is the broad theme of double identities throughout all of the characters, but particularly in Renee and in Paloma, who both hide their intelligence from friends and family. For the first time in a long time, I made sure to read each and every word written in a book. I have a tendency to skim when I get bored with certain scenes or elements in fiction. But for this book, I couldn’t fathom passing over a single word and missing out on a deeper meaning in the actions of the characters.

I felt great sympathy for Renee, whose reasons for hiding her intelligence we learn towards the end of the book. As the concierge, she is considered to be of a lower class than the residents in the building she manages.  She describes herself as:

short, ugly and plump, I have bunions on my feet and, if I am to credit certain early mornings of self-inflicted disgust, the breath of a mammoth.

Paloma, on the other hand, I found to be rather annoying in her woe-is-me attitude about life. But then, what twelve year’s life is not a woe-is-me moment?  She makes no secret of her plan to commit suicide and burn down her family’s apartment on her thirteenth birthday. Most of her chapters/journal entries throughout the book are of Paloma looking for reasons to live, looking for those small and important moments in life, in nature, in art that would give a person a reason to want to stay a day longer.

The lives of both Paloma and Renee are changed when a wealthy Japanese man named Mr. Ozu moves into the building, bridging the lives of the two females and uniting the three of them in a unique relationship.

If it isn’t obvious, I loved this book. It reminded me heavily of traditional French authors such as Balzac and Flaubert. Particularly with the simple, yet brutal look into human nature. I cried like a baby during the ending, and it was quite awkward crying like a baby on a busy and filled train in Europe. For all the philosophers and philosophical thought Barbery shares through Renee, this book is approachable because above it, it is a story about people learning and observing other people.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery (translated by Alison Anderson)
Europa Editions, 2008
ISBN 9781933372600
325 pages
Book 18 of 2011
Find this book at your local library
The elegance of the hedgehog