#41 ~ The Monsters of Templeton

October 16, 2007 at 12:49 am | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Barnes & Noble, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Exercise, First Look Book Club, Free, Gothic Fiction, LIfe, Margaret Mitchell, My Life with Books, Parenting Dilemmas, Pre-Release Sneak Peak, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, The Monsters of Templeton | 13 Comments
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The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

There is something spectacular about a book whose first line lures you into its spell like a siphon and never lets you go. In my 36 years of reading, there has only been two books whose first lines I’ve memorized and cannot forget:

“Call me Ishmael.” ~ Moby Dick (who hasn’t had that beaten into their skulls with an ice pick?)

Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” ~ Gone with the Wind

With that line, I fell in love with Scarlett and couldn’t wait to find out just what it was about her that had men panting like exercised puppies. There was no way I could not read the book after just that first sentence – and I never thought to. With the noted exception of Moby Dick, I’ve found that a compelling first sentence isn’t a fluke. It’s a sign of a gifted author and a book worthy of reading.

The fact of the matter is that most books I’ve read and even those I’ve enjoyed immensely begin forgettably. This is the 41st book I’ve read this year and prior to picking up this book, not a single first sentence has struck me this year – and I’ve read some great novels. So, when I read, re-read, and then could not stop thinking about:

“The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.”

I knew that this would be a book I would love. I finished this book as satisfied as I was with the first sentence. This is a novel that I will keep forever and re-read several times.

The Monsters of Templeton is the story of Willie Sunshine Upton, a young graduate student who unexpectedly returns to her ancestral home “steeped in disgrace” just as her home town is overcome with media upon the discovery of an as-of-yet undiscovered mammalian creature. The existence – or actually previous existence – of the monster gives this novel a Gothic feel. This along with the mystery of Willie’s famous family prove to work together well.

Willie returned to her mother, Vi, in hopes of finding a safe place to lick her wounds before facing the responsibilities and consequences of the choices she’d recently made. Vi, a single mother and former hippy, refuses to let her daughter settle, even if it is into shame. As a result of her recent radical religious conversion, Vi feels the need to come clean to Willie. She tells her that she is not the product of an orgy-istic time in San Francisco. In fact, Willie’s father is alive and well in Templeton. He never knew of her existence. When Willie asks who he is, Vi refuses to tell her. She provides only a single clue: he, just like Willie and Vi, is related to Marmaduke Temple, the father of Templeton. It was as if Vi through down the gauntlet. Willie, no matter how down her current circumstances have made her, cannot sit still having this mystery hanging around her. Her archaeological dig through her family’s past proves to be an enchanting and humorous adventure.

I don’t want to give away many details in this review. I enjoyed uncovering things along the way with Willie. I will say (that just about everything else recently in my life) that there was a strong connection for me between Vi and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Both characters hold an important truth that could very easily be given to the young woman in need: Willie needs to know who her father is and Dorothy needs to know how to get back to Kansas. If this information was simply handed over, what would have happened? Neither Willie nor Dorothy would never grasped or appreciated the importance of family in their souls. In that way, what both characters needed was the discovery as much as the truth. Given that Glinda is traditionally played by the same actress as Auntie Em, it seems that teaching a child to learn for herself is the mark of the best mother/mother figure.

The Monsters of Templeton is mainly narrated by Willie, but there are also sections narrated by The Running Buds, Templeton’s jogging protectors, and several of Willie’s ancestors. I found myself drawn into the genealogical research myself. The pictures, portraits, and family trees along the way also made me feel included. Just as with Special Topics in Calamity Physics, they enhance the experience and do not feel out of place.

One of the best things about reading this book was the humor. There were several times I found myself chuckling out loud while I was reading. I don’t do that very often. It was this humor that endeared the book and its characters to me. Perhaps it was because I am of a similar age to Willie’s character that I found the sarcasm and smack talk genuine. It is such a pleasure to read a book that is both interesting and fun.

** Thank you Barnes and Noble for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of this book. Your First Look Book Club is an incredible opportunity. **

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To buy this novel, click here.

#39 ~ The Winthrop Woman

September 23, 2007 at 2:54 am | Posted in Barnes & Noble, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Margaret Mitchell, Reading, Religion | 4 Comments
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The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

I joined the Historical Fiction forum at the end of last month. [I need to write another post on that later – it’s a lot of fun.] They have a book of the month forum for anyone who would like to join. From the beginning of September on, the picture above has been on the Home page. After about 10 days, I took the plunge and bought the book. I’m so glad that I did. The Winthrop Woman is a wonderful fictionalization of the life of one of the New World’s first citizens, Elizabeth Winthrop. To most, she would be best known as Elizabeth Winthrop, niece and then daughter-in-law of John Winthrop.

The Winthrop family is one of the best known Puritan families. John Winthrop served as the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony off an on from the moment he arrived in the New World. Much of his family followed his beliefs. Elizabeth, however, is an exception. From an early age, she is scared of the manner in which her Uncle John rules his household and holds his extended family to account. At a tender age, prior to the death of her mother in childbirth, Elizabeth was caught while staying at her maternal family estate in a grave lie. Her Uncle John punished her per his view of Biblical principles. This event, as envisioned by Seton, became the basis for Elizabeth’s view of God as vindictive and harsh. Elizabeth never follows along the path of faith tread by her family and always distrusts her uncle’s motives.

Elizabeth is a fascinating character. I found her to feel very much like Scarlet O’Hara, a woman who doesn’t set out so much to thumb her nose at society as she does to live her life as she sees fit. In fact, there are parts of Elizabeth’s story that are similar to the early life of Margaret Mitchell. Both Mitchell and Elizabeth grew up in the midst of a family member with very fierce religious/political beliefs. In Mitchell’s case, that person was her mother, Mary. Mary was a suffragist who pushed Mitchell extremely hard to excel in academics, only to have her daughter push back. I will have to reread the early portions of Southern Daughter, the Mitchell biography I’ve read, to see if there is really a likeness between the two women. That should make some interesting research.

In addition to learning more about the Puritans in England and their dreams for the New World. They had dreams of being able to freely practice their faith and to set up a society based upon worshiping God in the manner they believed humans were intended. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, the Massachusetts Bay Colony under Puritan leadership was worse than living in England as a Puritan. John Winthrop and many other leaders became increasingly more hard-lined as the colonies matured. Isn’t that just like human nature? I came away from this book with a much deeper appreciation for the religious freedom I live with every day. Thankfully, whether I go to church or not is my own business. Elizabeth suffered a great many disappointments in her life for this very reason. I have to wonder how relations with the American Indian tribes could have better been handled if the European leaders were more interested in governing their territory than they were in monitoring the day to day lives of those they found ungodly.

If you are a fan of historical fiction or simply interested in reading about one of this country’s strong settlers (who happened to eventually own land in her own right!), you will enjoy this book. In the Author’s note at the beginning of the book, Ms. Seton makes mention of the fact that prior to writing this novel that the modern day Winthrops of her time knew that Elizabeth was someone for whom they should be embarrassed. She was the family’s black sheep. They just weren’t sure why that was the case. I hope that they read Seton’s novel. I hope that they now are proud to be related to such a strong woman. They should. She is a wonderful role model in my eyes.

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A Friendly FYI:

I purchased this book from Barnes & Noble. The next day, while on my lunch break, I read up until page 46 until I realized that the pages were out of order. B&N was great about exchanging it for me. I posted this on the Historical Fiction forum and another person had the same experience. If you decide to purchase this book, I would ensure that the pages are all there and in order before buying it. I was lucky to have bought it at the store. My friend on the forum had bought it on-line. The company refunded her money without incident, but she didn’t feel comfortable buying it again on-line.

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