50 Timbits. 10 deserving girls. The rest of the class, hoping their friends will take pity on them and give them a free handout. This is the scene that plays out in my classroom on a dreary Thursday afternoon.
As I sit here typing this on my cellphone, timbit-less, students are milling in the hallways preparing to depart for wherever they’ll go after school. But the bell has not rung yet. So I steal moments like these to write.
I’ve tried writing 3 separate blog posts over the course of the 4 weeks I’ve attended school, yet none of them have gone well enough to merit being finished. Today, I’ll try something different.
If I have only a few minutes to spare for a break, I’ll read a book instead of writing. These books are normally ones I haven’t read in a while, or am considering donating, with the intent of determining whether I like them enough to keep. This post compiles the first three I’ve brought to school with me; two of them I ended up enjoying so much that I continued to read long after break was over to see what happened next. Why were they so good exactly? You’re about to find out.
The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History: The Story Of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel:
When war comes knocking at your door, most people think of themselves first. That’s not a bad thing, as few objects and locations have more value than a human life. But putting your own safety ahead of, say, your house’s or town’s, can have devastating effects on what gets left behind. Especially when priceless works of art are at risk. But during World War Two, a group of people decided that protecting Europe’s art culture from Nazi theft and destruction was worth their lives, and worked tirelessly to ensure that no art was left unfound and unprotected. Officially members of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program, history soon came to know them as the Monuments Men.
I never have anything particular in mind when it comes to the Scholastic Book Fair. As long as I come home with at least one new book, a cool pen, pencil, or eraser, and a satisfied feeling in my body, I’m golden. The unexpected is usually far more exciting than the expected, so I will never have a shopping list for the Book Fair. Ever. An example of my philosophy? The Greatest Treasure Hunt In History by Robert M. Edsel. I spotted it out of the corner of my eye on a lonely book stand, and was immediately drawn towards the cover. I know the painting being peeled away- a Vermeer masterpiece called The Astronomer. What did Hitler have to do with it? I wondered. For $10, I eagerly picked it up, curious to find out. (Besides that book, I also ended up buying two other historical fiction books and two Harry Potter pens, so thank you, Scholastic Book Fairs Canada. You’re doing things right!)
Anyways, I read it right away, and found it fascinating. The salt mines filled with stolen paintings and gold, the high-risks situations the Monuments officers found themselves in, the close calls- it reads almost like an Indiana Jones adventure. Yet at the same time, you can see the lasting effects the Monuments Men created with their efforts even now in the 21st century, giving us proof that this tale is more than fiction. Works stolen in the Nazi looting operation by artists such as Monet, Degas, and Renoir have been located and placed back into museums around the world, if not given to the descendants of original owners. These pieces could have been lost to history if it wasn’t for the hard work of the MFAA and their modern counterparts. But even today, sadly not all of the art taken before and during the war from Jewish families and residents of occupied Europe has been located.
But there is hope yet. Just today a Gari Melchers painting called “Winter” was returned to the descendants of the Mosse family after the Arkell Museum discovered that it had been stolen and resold by the Nazis before arriving at the museum. Careful examination of records in other museums internationally may yield similar results, bringing us one step closer to tracking down all of the stolen art and seeing it rightfully returned. There are roughly 100,000 objects still missing, mostly crystal, china, silver, and other everyday items belonging to Jewish families which were probably melted down for scrap. Others include paintings by Michelangelo and Vincent Van Gogh. Regardless of importance or value, all of these items belonged to someone and were taken away forcefully. This act denied people not just of their possessions, but of their art, culture, heritage, and identity. Returning their art is crucial in ensuring that these things are respected and known by both current generations, and the ones to follow.
Finally, if you are like me and find yourself still intrigued and hungry for more information about art history, World War Two, and/or the Monuments Men, take a look at the 2014 movie Monuments Men.(Which I stumbled across during my post-book research.)
Obviously, as a Hollywood movie it doesn’t stick to the facts like a documentary does(although there are several about the Monuments Men online), but instead sacrifices authenticity to introduce the story to a wider audience. However, as director George Clooney said, “80% of the story is still completely true and accurate, and almost all of the scenes happened.”
Yes, the George Clooney directed Monuments Men, and also appears in one of the leading roles. Besides him, a few other minor actors and actresses like Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, and Hugh Bonneville fill out the cast. Unfortunately though, and maybe this is just me, but for time immemorial I will only ever be able to see Hugh Bonneville as Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey. If you’ve ever watched a Daniel Radcliffe or Emma Watson movie, you’ll understand my pain, because when watching Monuments Men I could only see Hugh for his most famous character. So whenever he was onscreen in this movie, I kept thinking, “What are you doing, Lord Grantham? You have an estate to run!” and “Did you have a secret love for art all along that the show never acknowledged?” I appreciated the high level of acting, but a star-studded cast doesn’t always work best when trying to portray a real-life story about a bunch of ordinary people who aren’t rich and famous.
Of Curses and Kisses by Sandyha Menon:
In this modern-day adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Princess Jaya Rao arrives at St. Rosetta’s International Academy with a single goal: to make His Lordship Grey Emerson (another St. R’s student) fall in love with her. Their families have been feuding for generations, but now the Emersons have taken things too far by publicly targeting Jaya’s sister. Believing that Grey is responsible for the deed, Jaya decides that breaking his heart will be the perfect revenge.
Grey is a loner, and he likes it that way. Thanks to a Rao ancestor, Grey has inherited a family curse that spells the end of the Emerson line. Knowing he’ll die on his 18th birthday, he withdraws from other people so no one will miss him when he’s gone. But then Jaya Rao shows up in his life, with a rose-shaped pendant around her neck. As the petals (rubies) start falling out, he knows his fate is truly sealed, but he just can’t seem to stay away from her.
Told from the perspectives of both Jaya and Grey, Of Curses and Kisses chronicles a story of young love, harsh expectations, and a desire to live life according to their own rules. Trust is broken and gained; love is found and fought for. It’s Beauty and the Beast, but in a way you’ve never seen before.
Way back in July or August, I purchased this book from a local book store. Then it sat on my bedroom floor for at least two months, unread. I finally gave it a chance two weeks ago as a book I could read at school, and wow, I am sorry I waited so long to pick it up. The characters at St. Rosetta’s were easy to relate to, even though they’re the children of millionaires and I’m a public school student. Seeing the pressures they faced, the expectations they were supposed to live up to, the idea of wanting just one thing that was wholly theirs- It wasn’t hard to see why they made the decisions they did. If I was in their shoes, I’d probably act the same way.
Secondly, I am a sucker for rom-coms. I know they aren’t reality, but it’s nice to imagine that one day I’ll fall in love the way my favourite characters did. So when Jaya and Grey met for the first time in the library… my fantasies grew from something imaginary to something I could actually kind of see happening to me. Now, because I read this book, I am determined that I will find my soulmate in a library. So if you know that you’re the one for me, find me in a library so my dreams can come true!
Third and finally, I loved the way the book ended. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that seeing the characters take control of their own destinies was the best ending I could have imagined for them. Because of the genius way the plot was set up, and the swoony-yet-realistic love story, I think I prefer this version of Beauty and the Beast over the original!
The Betrothed by Kiera Cass:
Hollis Brite has led a sheltered existence, if being a minor noble in the royal court can be considered sheltered. When King Jameson takes notice of her, she expects to be just another one of his flings, but soon discovers that something deeper lies below the surface. Yet being a prospective queen comes with a lot of pressure that Hollis isn’t sure she can handle. Not to mention the handsome Silas Eastoffe, a new member of the court from a rival country who Hollis seems drawn to no matter how hard she tries to stay away. She’s almost the King’s betrothed. So why is her heart telling her otherwise?
Like with Of Curses And Kisses, this book lay undisturbed in my room for a long time. When I first read it, I found the beginning was a little slow, so I put it aside in favour of reading other books. School provided an opportunity to finish it up and donate it. But after getting maybe 2 chapters further than where I’d left off, I started to like it a whole lot more. Hollis wasn’t a helpless girl in love with a king; she was a strong and independent woman who knew her own mind and capabilities. When Hollis realized she had feelings for Silas Eastoffe, she didn’t pull a DJ in Fuller House and choose herself over the two guys, and then run back to one of them a little while later. No, Hollis assessed the situation carefully, and followed the string in her heart that pulled her towards Silas and away from Jameson, trusting her suspicion that Jameson wasn’t all that he seemed. I love strong female leads who grow into their strength, so I was happy that Hollis became one of them. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed Kiera Cass’ earlier works, but I wouldn’t say I hated it either. I’ll give it a solid 3.8 out of 5 stars.
A note of caution, though, if you ever decide to pick up this book yourself. Without giving away the ending, I’ll let you know that the happily ever after doesn’t last very long. The thing that happens comes out of nowhere, and I felt just as shocked and emotional as Hollis did when I got to that part. Of course, reading the section literally right before I did a sit-up contest for fitness testing might not have been the best decision on my part, but it served as motivation to keep going so I could finish it during lunch. The Betrothed ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, leaving me curious to find out what the next steps of Hollis’ journey will be. But since The Betrothed came out this May, I’ll be waiting a long time for Kiera Cass to publish the sequel.
Life is like a box of timbits; surprises are waiting around every corner and in every box. Some might involve discovering new favourite books which you’d initially thought wouldn’t be all that good in the first place. Others are realizing that you’re stronger than you think in both body and mind. And of course, some involve timbits. I have not gotten my timbits yet. But one way or another, I will. School is cruel for pitting our class against each other like this. With such a reward, though, how can we say no?
There goes the bell. That’s all the time I have to write today- I have to pick up my neighbours and watch them until their mom comes home.
Yes, I’m coming, I’m coming. I just need one more second. And… done! See you later!