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Middle-school librarians Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan prove that two heads are better than one when it comes to discussing YA and children's books

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Saturday, November 10, 2012 6:14 pm
Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan

Lynn:  I’ve been seeing great reviews and buzz about one of my favorite author’s new books for months and months but copies were elusive out here in Michigan.  Sometimes when I hear a lot of buzz about a book I’m nervous about being disappointed when I finally get to read it but that was definitely NOT the case with Keeping the Castle (Penguin/Viking 2012).  Kindl’s first book in ten years was a complete delight.  OK – I’m a devoted Jane Austen fan but Kindl’s smart and funny send-off of Pride and Prejudice is a treat for Austen newcomers too with plenty of sly commentary for alert readers.

17-year-old Althea Crawley is beautiful, intelligent and impoverished.  Her widowed mother, little 4-year-old brother Alexander and his inheritance  – the dilapidated Crawley Castle -  depend on Althea’s marriage to a wealthy man, especially as her unpleasant step-sisters sponge off her too despite their own healthy inheritances.  Unfortunately Althea is prone to tactless comments and has just driven off another eligible suitor when the book opens.  She keeps forgetting “how ridiculously sensitive and illogical men are.”  Just as Althea is glumly contemplating looking for an “elderly suitor” a neighbor arrives with exciting news.  The new Lord Boring is arriving to claim his vast holdings next door.  And he is bringing a party of other eligible young men with him.  Happily the new noble man is an extremely handsome young man and soon he is clearly smitten by Althea’s beauty.  The path to a happy ending is anything but smooth though.  One of Althea’s step-sisters sets her cap for Lord Boring, the whole east wing of Crawley Castle collapses in a storm and then there is the incredibly annoying Mr. Fredericks, cousin to Lord Boring, whose father was in vulgar commerce.

The outcome is never a mystery in this charming romp but no one will care – the fun is in the journey.  Witty and extremely funny the story is also an affectionate tribute to Austen and 19th century manners romances.  I especially appreciate Kindl’s portrayal of Althea, who while being a character we modern day types can like still reflects the social expectations of the time.  This is a book I would have read over and over as a teen – and probably will also do an adult!  Enjoy!

Cindy: I can’t wait to start booktalking this with my middle school students. I know several girls who are going to snap it up. Althea’s demeanor is lovely. Despite the reused tea bags and the necessity of netting small fish from the moat to serve unexpected guests and the unwillingness of her step-sisters to share their wealth, she never whines. She does speak her mind, though, which keeps things interesting. Consider this observation of the state of the castle’s painting gallery, much of which has been sold off to keep the castle going:

In fact, most of the paintings left were portraits, as landscapes and still lifes are easier to sell than ancestors.

I adore her mother, too. If Althea has to suffer obnoxious step-sisters, at least she has a supportive mother in her camp–one that wants her to have a marriage of love not just financial security. This is just one of those feel good romances that you can curl up with on a rainy Saturday and sink into. Kindl thought about the movie cast for this book and decided that there are no current stars who would work in the roles. Instead, she cast the movie from portrait miniatures. You can see her choices here.

As much as I liked this book, I missed the magical realism of Kindl’s Owl in Love and (my favorite) A Woman in the Wall. Perhaps the next book?….Or the book after she writes a sequel to this one?

Full disclosure: Lynn read this early in the summer and has been waiting for me to get this read. Copies are plentiful in West Michigan by now. I hope they are in your neck of the woods too!


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