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It’s 70 in December?

December 3, 2012

The weather today is freaking me out.  It’s 70 degrees on December 2 and as pleasant as that is, it’s WRONG!  It’s supposed to be cold and blustery and Christmas-y.  I am not supposed to be overly warm in my long sleeved shirt.  It’s just strange.  Speaking of weather phenomena, I am finally getting around to reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  The Nothing but Reading Challenges book club on Goodreads started it today, so I’m giving it a whirl.  I don’t have a reason for not reading it earlier.  I’ve just never picked it up.  I’ve just finished the first chapter.  I’m interested, but not captivated so far, which is a fair place to be 18 pages in.

twins#74.  The Templeton Twins Have an Idea by Ellis Weiner, Illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
The Templeton Twins are somewhat unusual.  Their father is a genius inventor and college professor.  Their mother has, alas, passed away.  Their dog is still an unrealized hope in their little, child-genius hearts.  They also have a very intrusive narrator.  (Yes, you are!  You know you are!  Look, do you want to write this blog Mr. Smarty-pants Narrator?  No?  You’re sure?  Well then.)  Sorry about that.  That guy just can’t butt out.
As I was saying, the Templeton twins are geniuses.  Their father is a genius inventor.  He has created a personal flight device, which will revolutionize individual travel.  Unfortunately, someone else would like to claim that device and in order to do so has kidnapped the twins!  Can their skill at planning and creating unique devices help get them out of the kidnapper’s basement?

Some reviews have thought that the narrator was overly intrusive and the story was slow to start.  I, personally, found him deeply entertaining.  The illustrations are fantastic.  The obvious comparison with this book is to Lemony Snicket and his authorial presence in the Series of Unfortunate Events.  And, I can see that, but I don’t really agree.  It’s like saying everything with magic in it is another Harry Potter.  And yes, I’ve used the Harry Potter analogy myself.  But, it’s often a little lazy.  Although, the narrator did send us a really entertaining letter.  He called me a “Valued and Important Bookseller.”  That made me happy.  And I would very much like to recommend this book.  You should read it.  I don’t want to talk too much more about the story since it would be hard not to spoil something.

chocolat#75.  Chocolat by Joanne Harris
I read Chocolat for my book club.  I had seen the movie and I thought it would be a pleasant, uncomplicated read.  I was foolish.
The story of Chocolat in the film takes place in a small French village in the 1950’s.  Vienne, a wandering chocolatier settles with her daughter Anouk, and immediately finds herself butting heads with the Comte de Reynaud, the mayor and chief moral authority.  Vienne’s allies are Armande, an old woman who is estranged from her family; Josephine Muscat, who copes with her abusive marriage by indulging in a little kleptomania; and Roux, an Irish river rat who drifts into town with a fleet of houseboats.  Ranged against her are the Comte, his secretary Madame Clairmont, and Father Henri, a young priest who has recently been transferred to the parish and is completely under the Comte’s thumb.  There is tension, there is danger, but there is also charm and laughter.  Vienne’s origin is shrouded in romance.  Her father met her mother on an expedition to the jungles of the Amazon.  She came back to France with him, but her people always answered the call of the wind and so one day she and the baby were gone; headed somewhere that needed them more.  And so Vienne’s own life goes.  The wind sweeps her hither and yon, to the places her particular magic is needed.

Now, forget about all that.
The story of the book is very different.  First, the time period is the late 1980’s or mid 1990’s.  There is no Father Henri or Comte de Reynaud.  Father Franics is the parish priest and has been for years.  He hates Vienne, in a way that is entirely absent from the film.  Madame Clairmont is not a widow, she is a smug, self satisfied wife; a pillar of the community, first in line for communion, and first to pass around gossip.  Armande is a little bit of a witch herself, but she and Vienne aren’t quite so much like mother and daughter.  Roux is still handsome and winning, but there’s less of a fairy tale romance.  The bones of the story are still the same, but everything is harder.  There’s less whimsey in the book, which may make it better, but ended up making me sad.  I love the movie.  I watch it probably once or twice a year.  But I don’t know that I’ll read the book again.  I’m glad I read it, but once was probably enough.

I rarely say that  a movie is better than its source book.  Sense & Sensibility is one of the others that I’ll say that about.  I love Jane Austen in general, but I’ve tried to read Sense & Sensibility  three times.  My problem with it is that there is neither dialog nor description in 90% of the book.  Things happen.  Ms. Austen tells me so.  But she doesn’t show me how, or where they happen.  I know, for example, that Fanny talks John down from giving his step-mother and half sisters a reasonable yearly allowance to no money at all and a present of game from time to time.   But I don’t actually get that conversation.  I get Ms. Austen telling me about the conversation.  Much less fun.

To return to the book at hand though, I did like Chocolat enough to want to know about the next part of the story.  So, I skipped over the second book in the series and jumped straight into:

peaches#76.  Peaches for Father Francis  by Joanne Harris
Years after the events of Chocolat Vienne and her daughters return to Lansquenet.  Armande wrote a letter that was to be sent to Vienne eight years after her death.  In it, Armande tells Vienne that Lansquenet needs her.  Father Francis needs her.  Vienne resists going, but decides to see what has happened in the time she’s been gone.  A new community has sprung up in the years Vienne has been away.  Comprised mostly of Tunisian and middle eastern immigrants, the new Muslim community has an uneasy relationship with the tradition bound French villagers.  A mysterious woman who observes strict purdah starts a school for girls in Vienne’s old shop.  When the school is burned everyone blames Father Francis.  His awkward efforts to reconcile with the immigrant community only make him seem more guilty.
The Diocese sends another priest to ‘assist’ him.  Father Henri has radical new ideas; electric guitar instead of the organ during services, power point presentations mixed into the sermons, padded plastic chairs to replace the narrow wooden pews.  Naturally, Father Francis hates him, and in his hate alienates most of his congregation.  Vienne has a difficult task ahead of her if she is going to keep Lasquenet from erupting into violence and hate.

Much like Chocolat I’m glad I read this, but it was much darker than my usual fare.  Although the story ends well for the participants, it is not triumphant.  There is no final vanquishing of evil.  It’s like a meal where you are perfectly well fed, but there is no desert.  Perhaps it’s more realistic (although that seems an odd word to describe a book based in magical realism), but it is not as unequivocally satisfying for me.


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