Those plaintive looks. Those noses pressed against the glass. Of course I couldn't hold out against fiction forever. After finishing the highly delectable The Man Cave Cookbook, and a couple of self-published e-books that were so bad they made my teeth ache, I let the novels back in this week.
Surprisingly (?), I preferred the two for the younger set over the novel aimed at adults:
Labor Day - Joyce Maynard. I don't care if it is told from the 13-year-old son's point-of-view, this is still Chick Lit. It was Anne Tyler's Earthly Possessions (minus the quirkiness) meets a Nicholas Sparks novel. Although it was so comfortably readable, I had a little trouble suspending my disbelief. Labor Day is a fantasy of being kidnapped and held hostage at home by an escaped convict who turns out to be an excellent handyman, cook and pastry chef who is also irresistible, well, in every way possible. Since this book is also a movie, visions of Josh Brolin danced (yes, I think he and the boy's mother danced as well) in my head. I felt manipulated, but it's okay.
Rifles for Watie - Harold Keith. A couple of years ago, I read too many Newbery winners in a row and burnt myself out. This winner from the late 1950s, about a 16-year-old Kansas boy who joins the Union army during the Civil War was as good as anything the Shaaras have written. Excellent storytelling and research. Furthermore, Keith covered the war in the west (Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas), which isn't often seen. Even better, it's a fair and balanced look at both sides of the war, and some insight of how the war impacted the Native Americans. If I were a high school English teacher covering American Literature, I'd set The Red Badge of Courage aside and teach Rifles for Watie. My only quibble with the book is the excessive use of dialect but I realize that it was a convention used frequently during the time the book was written. Highly recommended.
Our Only May Amelia - Jennifer L. Holm. I thought this was going to be a sweet little Caddie Woodlawn-ish juvenile novel about a Finnish-American tomboy with seven older brothers growing up on the Washington-Oregon border in 1899, but it's so much more. There's some gritty stuff interspersed with the I-wish-I-could-be-a-boy-and-have-adventures thread that runs through the story. Sometimes, the juxtaposition seems as if it won't work, but Holm's hand is steady. Reading this novel as an adult, I understood completely why May's father insists that she stay away from the nearby logging camp, although 12-year-old May just thinks he's being unreasonable. It reminded me of re-reading The Shores of Silver Lake as an adult and Pa Ingalls giving Laura and Carrie a similar stern lecture about staying away from the railroad workers' camp. He cited the men's use of "rough language" as the main reason to avoid it. Yeah, right. Our Only May Amelia won the Newbery Honor Medal in 2000, and Jennifer L. Holm went on to win 2 more Honors in 2007 and 2011. I'll be looking for more of her work.