Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Beach Read Ratings

When I tell people I write beach reads, they sometimes object to the phrase. One reader said, "Oh, no! I think of beach reads as smutty, and your books aren't smutty." While I think smutty books may also be beach reads, it's not a requirement, and I would file them in the sub-category Smutty Beach Reads. Standard, common-garden beach reads are (in my humble opinion) fun, escapist, page-turning books where you don't have to think too hard. No looking up footnotes, no referencing maps, no consulting Tolstoyan lists of Dramatis Personae, no dumb phrases like Dramatis Personae.

Having just spent the last week lying around on a beach, I powered through several books and, while Maui have I now none, what I have I give to you: Five Beach Read Reviews. Each book is rated 1 to 10 based on the following categories:
  • Fun Factor
  • Brain Effort Level (1 = People Magazine; 10 = Dostoevsky)
  • Adventure
  • Romance
  • Un-put-downable-ness

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. This bonbon of a memoir recalls the author's...summer at Tiffany (surprise!) in 1945. Fresh from her sorority in Iowa, she and her best friend manage to land jobs as pages in 5th Avenue's most chichi store where the likes of Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich waltz in. Ms. Hart eats at the Automat, gets glimpses of Sardi's, spills priceless pearls all over an elevator, and gets kissed in Times Square on V-J Day. Wonderful, clean fun. I let my 12YO read it after me. Take that, American Girl books! (Why read historical fiction if the real thing is available?).
    • Fun: 10
    • Brain Effort Level: 3
    • Adventure: 10
    • Romance: 6
    • Un-put-downable-ness: 7
    • Overall Beach-Worthy Rating: A

Lost Kingdom by Julia Flynn Siler. When I saw this on NetGalley, I knew I had to read it. It's exactly what the cover claims, although Siler begins with the very formation of the Hawaiian island chain, touches on Polynesian migration and Captain Cook, and then settles down to business in the time of Kamehameha I in 1810. Very cool to read the history and then see photo postcards of Princess Ka'iulani for sale in Lahaina (even as I type this, my 8YO is upstairs strumming her cheap ukulele). I must say this fascinating book made me sad for native Hawaiians and furious at stupid American sugar barons and the descendents of the first missionaries.
    • Fun: 5
    • Brain Effort Level: 8
    • Adventure: 7
    • Romance: 1
    • Un-put-downable-ness: 4
    • Overall Beach-Worthy Rating: B- (but not a bad book for more serious reading!)

Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freeman. Wonderful, based-on-a-true story book about a turn-of-the-century young Boston woman sent to an uncle in Calgary to recover from pleurisy. There she meets a Canadian Mountie named Mike, marries him, and goes up to the Great North. The Freemans are great writers--their characters come alive with love and humor and wisdom. And I can't tell you how happy I am to come across Native American characters who aren't all buffalo-whispering mystical nature sages. If you enjoy this book and want more about the cruel Great North, you might also love The Man Who Ate His Boots and The Cruelest Miles.
  • Fun: 9 (warning: I cried twice)
  • Brain Effort Level: 3
  • Adventure: 10
  • Romance: 9
  • Un-put-downable-ness: 9
  • Overall Beach-Worthy Rating: A+

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Another British mystery written by a North American, this one with an 11YO precocious protagonist named Flavia de Luce. A neglected third daughter, Flavia spends her time concocting poisons in her chemistry lab (I'm not kidding), fighting with her older sisters, and investigating the murder of a redheaded man in the cucumber patch of family manor Buckshaw. Flavia is plenty of fun if not very believable, the background on stamp-collecting interesting, and the mystery itself pretty light.
  • Fun: 7
  • Brain Effort Level: 5 (for the forays into chemistry)
  • Adventure: 7
  • Romance: N/A (no Ned Nickerson for this pre-pubescent Nancy Drew)
  • Un-put-downable-ness: 6
  • Overall Beach-Worthy Rating: A-

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin. First off, I loved her Alice I Have Been, and, as with that book, Benjamin again takes an iconic, quirky 19th-century woman and fleshes her out. To be honest, I was bummed that the 2'-something Lavinia Warren Bump chose not to have a love life, just a meeting-of-minds with P. T. Barnum and patient condescension for her mini husband "Tom Thumb." All her passion was devoted to her even-tinier sister, named (unironically) Minnie. While Mrs. Tom Thumb lived in an exciting time and met everybody who was anybody, all that couldn't make up for the thrill pervy Lewis Carroll provided Alice, alas.
  • Fun: 7
  • Brain Effort Level: 4
  • Adventure: 6
  • Romance: 1
  • Un-put-downable-ness: 7
  • Overall Beach-Worthy Rating: A-
 And that's it for my week, folks! If you're interested in more reviews, friend me on Goodreads! Meanwhile, it's on to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby for upcoming Literary Night. See you Nov 18?

3 comments:

  1. Is "sweetness" safe for tweens, too?

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  2. My dear Anonymous--I'd say tweens could probably handle it, although Flavia has a fairly intense kidnapping at one point. Just tell him/her that the book is the first in a series, and s/he'll know, just like with Nancy Drew, that no harm will come to the lass.

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  3. Anonymous (aka the one who calls the police on people who leave children in cars) says thanks:)

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