Ever since I was little I’ve loved Julie Andrews movies. Now, I’m not old enough to have known her in her prime. I’ve not seen My Fair Lady or Camelot, or even listened to their Broadway soundtracks. But I have seen Mary Poppins, one of my favorite Disney movies; and The Sound of Music remains my second favorite musical movie ever (Chicago‘s music is way too good for me not to love it the most). When I found out that Julie Andrews wrote a biography I had to have it. I was curious about her life since I’ve only ever thought of her as an actor and not really a person. It’s written in parts, Home is her early life and through Broadway, so no Poppins or Sound of Music.
I read a few short reviews on Goodreads from others who had read her book. One said something about thinking they were going to read about a little girl from a well-to-do English family getting a crack at stardom. Up until right before opening the book, I don’t really recall what I was expecting. Maybe not well-to-do because Julie Andrews’ humor is too dry for that. But I was not expecting to read about a young girl who grew up impoverished and from a broken home. She talks about living near London during the Blitz; having to go into bunkers and tube stations for safety. She talks about moving to the country and having to take care of her two brothers when her mother and step-father were too drunk to be of any use. There is a surprising moment when Julie’s mother introduces her to a man that she later informs her is her real father. Julie is thrown for a loop and heartbroken because she had lived nearly eighteen years thinking that the man she loved above anyone else was her father. It was an emotional scene to read.
My favorite thing to read was the fact that Julie and Carol Burnett are good friends. Oh what I wouldn’t give to get to be a fly on the wall for that friendship. There must have been some laughs between the two of them. Julie Andrews’ life has been a tough one, but you would never know it from the strong woman she has become. Homework is the continuation of her story and I will continue to see the world through Julie’s eyes.
I’ve discovered that alternate fairy tales are kinda my thing. I read and reviewed Lost Boy by Christina Henry, an alternate tale of Peter Pan and Captain Hook. I am in love with the story of Wicked by Gregory Maguire, the alternate Oz story and also hit Broadway musical. Now Hiddensee is my latest find. This book is also by Gregory Maguire and it is an alternate tale of a holiday favorite. I think the title is a little misleading though, because technically the book is not about the nutcracker, but about his creator Dirk Drosselmeier.
We follow Drosselmeier as a young boy who lives in a dark forest near Bavaria. He lives with an elderly couple that he is aware are not his parents. He suffers a near-death experience which opens his eyes to the magical qualities of the forest around him. We follow him through the Bavarian countryside as he works for several families and befriends the children. Finally as a man he is a close family friend of the Stahlbaum family and is very close with Felix Stahlbaum and his two sons whom he makes toys for. Drosselmeier eventually becomes the godfather of Felix’s grandchildren Fritz and Klara. Klara is a frail, fanciful child whom Drosselmeier learns is very ill and her symptoms make themselves known when she starts speaking nonsense about a Mouse King coming to carry her away.
I enjoyed the other little bits of fairy tales that made their way into this book. At the beginning, Dirk hears a story about a brother and sister that venture into the woods and meet an old witch who tries to kill them. Near the end, he asks himself where the little elves come from that help hobbled shoemakers. There is even a cameo by one of the Grimm brothers looking for stories to record. It’s also nice having a background to Drosselmmeier’s story now. Before, he was always the mysterious godfather with an eye patch that no one could pin a life on. Some may argue that now his mysterious character is ruined for the ballet, but I think it helped him. It definitely helped Klara’s character. Giving Klara and illness as an explanation to her fantastic story was, I think, genius of Maguire. Godfather Drosselmeier gives Klara the legendary nutcracker in order to protect her from the Mouse King that she is hallucinating, but it goes to show that he understands the children when their parents scold them for their flights of fancy. It brings out Drosselmeier’s inner child, which we see in the book he never gets to embrace. I believe he also sees himself as the brave nutcracker soldier trying to rescue Klara from a terrible fate.
I highly recommend this book for those of you that like alternate fairy tales. It deviates from the ballet a little, but that is the point. Take a journey with Herr Drosselmeier as he learns to navigate life and love.
Alexandra is fresh off of a plane in Sofia, Bulgaria when she runs into a family struggling to get into a taxi. She offers her help and comes away with an unexpected adventure in the form of a piece of luggage she accidentally took from them. Inside that mystery bag is an urn with the ashes of a deceased musician named Stoyan Lazarov. To return the urn, Alexandra enlists the help of her own taxi driver and several of the deceased man’s family. She learns of his troubled past and his passion for playing the violin, and when she finally finds the family to which the urn belongs, she is in for a twist of fate.
I’ll tell you… Kostova sure knows how to tell a story. Her characters are so well-developed throughout the entire book. And there are a lot of them. That’s what I think impressed me most about this book. With so many characters introduced, usually we don’t get to wrap everything up, but Kostova managed to leave me satisfied with everyone’s story. Every character, even the ones who die, are summed up by the end. The other impressive element in Kostova’s writing is her detail in describing the landscape in which the story is taking place. Never have I felt the urge to visit Bulgaria until I read this book. Her descriptions of Sofia and the small villages that surround it are incredible. But the description of the mountains is what got me. What I wouldn’t give to visit those mountains.
The only criticizing I have to do for this book is the ending. I also read Kostova’s “The Historian” and, if I recall correctly, I had the same complaint. The ending was too quick. Kostova does such a good job at weaving the story and creating twists and turns that it seems she ends everything quite abruptly. While everyone’s story is summed up in the end, it is summed up very quickly and I feel like she could have made it somewhat more detailed in the end.
Regardless of the quick ending I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope I get to read more by Elizabeth Kostova. I am interested in learning more about Eastern Europe from her stories.