Review: Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

keeping the castle

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Althea has grown up in a castle built by her great-grandfather who was much more about appearances than about functionality.  Now the castle is falling apart and repairs are too expensive for Althea and her mother to bear.  Her stepsisters could give them some of their money, or at least pay to cover their own costs, but instead they live in the castle too, for free.  There is eventual hope when Althea’s small brother grows up and can take charge, but she has to figure out how to get them to survive to that point.  All of her hopes lie in finding a wealthy young man to marry.  However, she lives in Lesser Hoo in Yorkshire, which makes eligible men unlikely and those who have ventured near have been turned off by her sharp tongue.  So when a young, handsome Baron moves in nearby, Althea is ready.  She’ll have to figure out how to pull together outfits that are fashionable but infinitely cheap, how to keep her mouth in check, and how to outmaneuver her stepsisters too.  This delight of a romantic book pays homage to Austen yet is entirely fresh and funny.

Kindl captured my attention immediately with the wry tone of her heroine.  Althea is what makes this book really work.  She is intelligent, slightly modern, resilient, and ultimately logical.  The romantic part of the book also works well, though lovers of Austen will immediately recognize the man who is her real match.

The setting is also a very compelling one with the castle itself playing a major role in the development of the story.  Just the frantic search for enough sturdy chairs to seat visitors and the desperate rummaging for food for them adds so much to the story.  This is not a family of genteel poverty, but one that is on the threshold of ruin.  That added to the need to keep the front in place while participating in a whirlwind of activities make for a book that is vibrant, romantic and great fun to read.

Perfectly timed for the fans of Downton Abbey, this book is the ideal combination of historical fiction and humor, making it a delight of a confection.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

Review: Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine

forgive me i meant to do it

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Based on William Carlos Williams’s “This Is Just to Say” poem, these poems borrow the form and the apology but build upon it with a wild array of situations.  In each poem, an apology is offered, but all of them are done conditionally and many are completely insincere.  There is an apology for eating all of the ice cream and replacing it with anchovies.  There is an apology for turning a bully into a fly and having a swatter ready to go.  Then there are many apologies based on fairy tales or songs that children will enjoy seeing from a new and inventive perspective.  This is a book to pick up and read out of order, unless of course you stumble upon one of the apologies the author has included that might make you reconsider that approach! 

I’m always on the look out for funny poems to share with children, since I’ve found that Prelutsky and Silverstein make a great ice breaker when talking with groups.  Even the jaded upper elementary class can be caught off guard by a charmer of a poem, especially one that elicits guffaws and merriment.  I can see these very short poems being shared in groupings as part of a class visit.  Perhaps interspersed with information about the library and its offerings.

The entire work is very funny, though some of the poems work better than others.  The illustrations hearken to Silverstein’s work with the ink drawings done without additional color.  They have a wonderful frenetic energy to them and also a delight at the situations. 

This will be a welcome addition in elementary classrooms that are working with poetry.  It also makes for a great giggly bedtime read.  Appropriate for ages 7-10. 

Reviewed from library copy.