Posts Tagged ‘summer’

ana2This time last week I was catching up with childhood pal Scout Finch. This week, it’s Anne Shirley, star of L.M. Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables and its sequels. Only this Anne is 15 year-old Ana Cortez, an East L.A. orphan desperate to avoid being sent to yet another group home. Then her social worker offers her the chance to work on a farm run by a brother and sister.

Hmm. The similarities — and differences — between Montgomery’s book and Andi Teran’s first novel Ana of California (Penguin Books, digital galley) are both obvious and intentional. Teran takes Anne of Green Gables as her inspiration and runs with it, updating the familiar story and characters but also veering in different directions when it suits her. I’m not generally in favor of authors piggybacking on favorite tales and characters, unless they can offer an original take, as with Laurie R. King’s  Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series or Helen Fieldings’ Bridget Jones books. Teran’s Ana may be as talkative and imaginative as Anne, and she has that same ache to belong, but she also emerges as a unique heroine in her own right, a talented artist burdened by a traumatic childhood.

Plunked down on the Garber farm in the tiny town of Hadley in northern California, city girl Ana doesn’t know the differences between blackberry bushes and vegetable plants, herbs and weeds. But she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and she works hard, determined to prove herself to gruff Emmett Garber. His sister Abbie is more sympathetic but also demanding, and Ana’s quick tongue gets her into misunderstandings with some of the farm’s neighbors and customers. She does makes a friend of fellow outsider Rye Moon and also attracts the attention of a rich kid on a neighboring farm. Still, unaware of family secrets, she inadvertently stirs up trouble that could send her back to L.A.

References to drugs, gangs and pop culture keep the story contemporary, but vulnerable Ana’s struggle to find her place in the world is timeless. Ana Cortez and Anne Shirley are kindred spirits, and Ana of California is a pleasing coming-of-age YA crossover.

augustIt’s been ages since I read Elizabeth Antrim’s 1922 novel The Enchanted April and saw the 1991 gem of a movie, but I have fond memories of both. Antrim’s comedy of manners about four Londoners who share a chateau in Italy is witty and wise, and the Mike Newell film glows in a sun-drenched paradise. There’s also a warm glow to Brenda Bowen’s update, Enchanted August: A Novel (Penguin Publishing, digital galley), where a huge “cottage” on a small Maine island subs as the transformative getaway for four disaffected New Yorkers.

Bowen keeps the same characters and names for the most part, although elderly widow Mrs. Fisher has become elderly Beverly Fisher, a gay man mourning the loss of of his longtime partner, a famous songwriter, and his beloved cat Possum. But he’s just as outwardly surly and selfish as the original character — he keeps the only coffeepot for himself in the desirable turret room — and the pleasure at watching him thaw is the same. Lottie and Rose also charm as the aggrieved wives and mothers who blossom in the sun and salt air, and young indie actress Caroline also falls under the spell of Little Lost Island. Lottie unwinds enough to invite her uptight attorney husband and toddler son to visit, and Caroline is text-flirting with a best-selling author who longs to meet her in person. He writes under a pseudonym so Caroline has no idea he is actually Rose’s philandering husband. Even as Rose is contemplating asking him to join her on the island, the house’s tweedy owner arrives in hopes of wooing Rose. So, yes, it’s a Maine midsummer night’s dream, but it’s also a smoothly written beach book. I couldn’t stop smiling.

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How hot is it? My Dad once said it was so hot that he saw the chain on his bicycle slither off into the woods like a snake to try and get cool. I stole that line and used it in a Sentinel column I wrote years ago about weathering the heat by reading about cold, snow and ice.

“It was dusk — winter dusk. Snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills, and icicles hung from the forest trees.”

Brrr. The first lines of childhood favorite, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, always make me shiver. Part of it is Aiken’s evocative writing, but part of it is also anticipation of what lies ahead — two brave cousins, a wicked governess, and wolves howling in the darkness of the snowy English countryside. What fun! I happened to pick up my paperback copy while moving some books this morning and read it straight through. The resulting goosebumps reminded me of other favorite literary chillers.

Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising is a magical kids’ book as Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son, opens his eyes to a mysterious snow-blanketed world, a “Midwinter Day that that had been waiting for him to wake into it since the day he had been born, and he somehow knew, for centuries before that.”

And who can forget the icy evil of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” or the White Witch ruling over Narnia in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass  has snowy vastness and armored polar bears.

Want more adult fare? Mark Helprin’s novel Winter’s Tale is set in a fantastical New York City where a Brooklyn milkhorse realizes he can fly, a 19th-century village is lost both in winter and in time, and a mayoral election is won on a promise to restore snow.

Charles Dickens excels at cold, bleak houses and cities, as well as merry Christmas scenes, as in The Pickwick Papers. The Russians — Pasternak, Tolstoy — are old hands at deep freezes. Martin Cruz Smith’s chilly thrillers include Gorky Park, where blood freezes on the snow, and Polar Star, where a killer tracks his prey across the ice caps of the Bering Sea.

The great blizzard of 1888 howls through “Wickedness,” the lead-off tale in Ron Hansen’s Nebraska. In short vignettes, he chronicles the story’s heroes and fools, from a schoolteacher who shelters her charges in a haystack to a teen who walks across a railroad trestle over the Missouri River. “Every creosote tie was tented in snow that angled down into dark troughs that Addie could fit a leg though. Everything else was night sky and mystery, and the world she knew had disappeared.”

The snow “is general all over Ireland” in James Joyce’s delicate story “The Dead” from Dubliners. “He watches sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight.” The flakes are purely imaginary in Conrad Aiken’s dreamlike tale “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” representing a young boy’s retreat from reality.

This time last year I was cooling off by standing on a glacier in Alberta, Canada and gazing at snowy mountain peaks. Now I’m hibernating from the Florida sun with the AC on high and my book of Robert Frost poems. I will watch the woods fill up with snow. Then I’ll bid farewell to a young orchard. “Good-by and keep cold.”

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