MUSICAL CHAIRS by Amy Poeppel

“To drink coffee on my stoop each morning and gin on the roof at night…” – Will, commenting on what he loves about living in New York City

MUSICAL CHAIRS was an enjoyably quick and entertaining read and my first Amy Poeppel book. It has been sitting on my shelf for a few months now, and honestly – I was a little thrown off by the cute cover. My brain (…feeble as it is…) registered this as a YA book. I was wrong. 

As a musician nerd in high school and college, I enjoyed the perfect music-snobbishness in this book. Musical arts can be so high brow, each of us thinking we’ve rediscovered the most subtle art of listening to and participating in the creation of music. But the arts in New York City? Welllll, you’ve just raised the stakes even higher. Poeppel captured this tone with humor and accuracy.

Bridget and Will are the best of friends. They are two members of a classical musical trio in NYC. Will plays the piano, Bridget the cello and the position of violinist is an oft-revolving seat for newcomers. Taking some time off during the summer, Bridget heads to her family’s country home in Connecticut with hopes of romance and reading and quiet, lazy summer days. Through various happenstances, her two grown children end up moving home to find themselves and her anticipated summer love ends up breaking her heart and never arriving. While Bridget nurses her own dismay, her children bring their love woes to the table, topped off by home repairs and questions of her musical future just as her elderly father (a renowned pianist/composer) announces he’s getting married.  How will the summer play out??

The stories each evolve and intertwine with humor and accident and forgiveness. Secrets revealed. Grace offered. Relationships sway and strengthen.

small spoiler ahead…

As Bridget’s father, Edward, gives the toast at his wedding I resonated with it completely. My father (…also named Edward and a pianist – go figure) remarried after my mother died 11 years ago. He chose another interesting and fascinating woman (lucky him to strike gold twice). They have traveled the world and continue to explore and live interesting and fulfilling lives. 

Edward’s toast included these words:

Bertrand Russell said, “Man needs, for his happiness, not only the enjoyment of this or that, but hope, and enterprise, and change.” Edward discusses the musical score he wrote decades ago called Synchronicity and compared it to the Victorian dances of generations past. “Life is a perfect combination of chance and choreography. Imagine a group of people come together and delight in the act of re-arranging themselves into new configurations. One person turns, leaving a space, upsetting the arrangement, but the other dancers follow suit and they all align themselves anew. For a moment they are all in motion, shifting and crossing over, until a new constellation forms giving way to a moment of equilibrium… before it all begins again.” 

This was such a beautiful example of the totality of our lives. There is balance, then upset, then a new equilibrium settles in. A grand dance. We are in constant movements of reinvention. This can be very reassuring when we are in the middle of the rearrangement parts of our life. It will fall into place again soon once the right people turn and sway into new alignment.

Lord Tennyson reflects: “Death closes all. But something near the end, some work of noble note, may yet be done.”

Certainly an admirable goal in life: A work of noble note.

 

* Thank you, Atria Books, for this advanced reader copy.

 

GHOST by Jason Reynolds

I miss Castle.

I realize this isn’t something I need to hide (anymore.) But you have to understand, I started this secret habit back before it was cool.

I was a full-fledged adult with full-fledged middle school and high school children when Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants first came out. I hid in my bedroom and read every book. I was deeply invested in each character.

Hi. My name is Greta. I love to read memoirs and crime and history and fiction and non-fiction and……YA. Yes, I read young adult novels.

(Once a trend becomes acceptable and popular, it’s hard to break the habit of hiding your secrets!)

The main character in this YA book is Castle Cranshawl (aka: ‘Ghost’.) The narrative is from his own perspective as a middle schooler from a low income home. Sort of by accident, he finds himself learning a new sport: running track. What started as a competition between two students ended with an Olympic coach immediately recognizing Castle’s natural talent as a runner. As a reader, you are instantly on Jamal’s side and cheering for his new passion. If I could sit in the bleachers at one of his events, I would!

GHOST, by Jason Reynolds (a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature), draws you in quickly to Castle’s world while also addressing subjects like social inequality, an abusive parent, bullying, a hard-working mom, mentoring and what it’s like to be a Black kid from public housing learning to trust adults and even harder, his fellow track competitors. Sure – he’s got natural talent as a runner. But will his anger trip him up?

I wholeheartedly recommend this for your young reader. It’s uplifting and told from a first person’s perspective. Great conversation starters for your kids or students.

But I warn you, you’ll miss Castle, too, once the book is through. Lucky for us, however, GHOST is the first in a Track Series of 4 books.

Castle loves sunflower seeds. Readers will love Castle.

THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 

I was in a bad temper and talking ill of folk and she turns around to me and says ‘Thou doesn’t like this one and thou doesn’t like that one. How does thou like thyself?’

Next year, I am determined to read more classics. When I find myself thinking, ‘Have I read this already? I can’t remember.’ Those are the books I want to intermix with my other readings next year. Since I currently have a few classics on my bookshelves and am also participating in @theunreadshelf’s 2020 challenge to read the books we already own, I should be able to tackle some of the classics I have on hand. I’m excited for the people and places I’ll meet along the way!

[sidenote: There are many English and Scottish phrasings in this book. If that makes it more difficult to read, I highly suggest getting an audio recording of this book. It was the perfect way to listen to this classic.]

My initial (modern day) reaction to this book (written in 1911) was that there was some very sketchy parenting going on! Children being forgotten or left to fend for themselves. (If I were a child reading this, however, I’m sure I would think that was super cool!!)

Mary Lennox is a sickly, unwanted 10-year-old that is left orphaned after both her wealthy parents died from cholera. Even before their death, however, her parents didn’t want to interact with her so they left her to be raised by servants who did whatever she asked – leaving her a very spoiled and unlovable child.

Mary is sent to live with her wealthy uncle who is, himself, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. Archibald Craven travels frequently, leaving Mary on her own once again. Living in Yorkshire, England now, Mary wanders the property – initially hating the moor near which her uncle’s grand home was built. In the process of looking at the gardens (and hearing of a secret garden that no one knows how to get into!), she befriends a robin who daringly follows her on her walks and quickly becomes her first friend ever.

Mary’s world begins to drastically change as spring begins to show in the gardens – and especially after the robin leads her to the buried key that unlocks the secret garden.

One of the characters in this book is a weak and ill-tempered hypochondriac little boy named Colin who has overheard adults saying all his life that he was going to die soon. He lies in bed, afraid to walk, afraid to be seen by others, afraid to go outside his room – until he meets Mary and her secret garden. Just as being out in nature made a dramatic difference to Mary, Colin also begins to trust in others and believe in his own future of health.

Amazingly descriptive detail was given to the garden and surrounding English countryside. The temper tantrums and kids-as-bosses added lots of flair in creating the images of the central children of the story. Once these initially spoiled children began thinking about others and how to bring their secret garden back to life, their minds were filled with things other than their own fears and selfish desires. What a beautiful book for a child to read.

Truly, what an important book for an adult to revisit. Are you living your fullest life? Are you being brave when others around you are doubting your strength? Even more difficult, are you being brave when you doubt your own endurance? What treasures are out there, waiting for us to discover if we’d only step outside our self-built boxes and walk into the fresh air of new possibilities.

Give this book a try, friends. You might be searching for A Secret Garden in this stage of your life. A garden you didn’t even know you needed.