Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Giveaway Winner: The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

Congratulations to:


I drew from Random.org and you're the winner of Lisa Mangum's book The Hourglass Door!  Thanks to everyone who joined in the giveaway!  I will have the book posted within the week.

For those who are looking for a great book for a teen girl, this time-travel book is a great choice!  The second book in the series is already out and the third is on its way.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: Sliding Into Home by Kendra Wilkinson

Can I be honest and say that I'm not 100% sure what compelled me to read this autobiography?  I like interesting stories about people's lives, and I have watched some of the reality shows Kendra has played in, but I really can't say what urged me to push all the other books aside to read this one.  Curiosity?  Yes, I guess that would be it?

Synopsis:  In this honest autobiography, Kendra Wilkinson shares her life from her single-parent upbringing after her father walked out on the family to her time at the Playboy mansion.  Throughout her young life, Kendra has experienced running away, learning disabilities, acting out, sexual activity, and drugs & alcohol all within her teens.  Having gotten into drugs at an early age, Kendra found herself more interested in partying than in going to school or even playing her favorite sport, soccer.  Eventually, Kendra found herself in a relationship, stripping for its easy money, when she was asked to go to the Playboy Mansion to serve drinks at a party for Hef's birthday.  That one event led to her invitation into Hef's life as a girlfriend and "The Girls Next Door," which showed a seemingly staged version of her reality that launched her into the limelight of today.  From her new stardom, Kendra met and married her now husband, Hank Baskett who plays with the NFL.

Review:  This was a pretty fast-paced read as far as autobiographies go.  Once you start reading, it's pretty easy to speed right through to the end.  The style and voice are reminiscent of Kendra, and a pretty easy read.  Kendra's life was really out of control with all of the acting out and drug use.  I couldn't help but feel for her family, who really kept hoping for her to change over and over and over again.  Strangely, it does seem that Playboy slowed her down and helped give her a new focus in her life.

For me, I think that this book grabbed me because I saw the life of a close friend of mine mirrored in the young Kendra.  One of my closest best friends growing up went down very similar paths, choosing to shoplift, drink, and party on a really grand scale.  Eventually, we grew apart, especially after she put me in a really awkward position one afternoon when she stole an expensive bottle of perfume at a department store where we were shopping.  She ended up getting held by mall security and I had to call for a ride home.  Strangely, I don't remember what happened to her in that case, but I do know that we went our separate ways and have not stayed in touch. 

Whether it was the direct correlation I could make between the young Kendra in the pages and my own best friend, or the ways that Kendra has identified as helping her change that grabbed me, the book is easy to get sucked into.  Despite her wild and crazy background, Kendra feels like a genuine person that is easy to like.  It's strange that I felt that way from what little I have read or seen of her!  Having said that, with her new loving marriage and young son, you can't help but sincerely hope for her success in the future.  Regardless, her life has been one crazy ride, and one that I would honestly never want for myself! 

*FTC Disclosure:  This review is based on a library copy of the book.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Blatherings: News & Giveaway Closing

Thanksgiving week was wonderful.  I stayed close to home and had my bff "Doc" here for the past three days.  Although we went to my aunt's house for the actual day, I had cooked up a turkey breast (which was AMAZING after a nice brine) with a bunch of smaller side dishes.  That way we had our own fixings.  I haven't pushed everything aside though, since I've been grading stacks of papers for school.  I'm not quite finished with them all, but I made a really nice dent in them.  Once I get the simple assignments out of the way, I'll have about 50 essays to grade and 90 tests.  Then I'll be finished!  No biggie, right? 

By way of news, I found out the new Masterpiece Classics from the awesome blog site Enchanted Serenity Period Films.  I was excited to learn that they will be re-airing The 39 Steps on March 27, 2011, which I reviewed here in my "A Short Jane Austen Actor Love: The 39 Steps" post.  Besides the visual beauty lent the film by Rupert *sigh* Penry-Jones, I thought it was a fun story to follow. 

Also showing this season on Masterpiece Classics is:
  • "My Boy Jack" with Daniel Radcliffe on January 2, 2011
  • "Downtown Abbey" running every Sunday from January 9th to the 30th
  • "The Unseen Alistair Cooke" on February 6, 2011
  • "Any Human Heart" starring Mathew MacFadyen on February 13, 20, & 27, 20100
  • "The 39 Steps" on March 27, 2011--as mentioned
  • "Upstairs Downstairs" on April 10, 17, & 24, 2011
Each of these showings by PBS Masterpiece Classics should be excellent and I'll be eager to catch a few new ones this time around! 

I've also decided to join a holiday reading challenge.  Yes, me.  Honestly, I've been so bad about keeping up with challenges that I really didn't join many after the year got started, but I think I found one I can tackle!  "The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge 2010" is being hosted by The True Book Addict & The Christmas Spirit Blog.  It started on Friday, November 26th and runs until January 6th.  You can read as little as one book on up.  For more information or to sign up, visit their site today!

One last thing.  Don't forget to join in on my awesome giveaway for The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum.  The giveaway ends tonight, November 28th by midnight!

What about you?  How was your holiday week and weekend?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reading Thoughts: Electra, Oedipus, & Antigone by Sophocles

With the rush into the holiday season this year, I found myself wanting something philosophical to read; I felt like I needed a pen in hand to get the most out of my reading.  As with every year around October I teach the play Oedipus to my juniors.  The language is thick with irony, metaphor, and foreshadowing, and yet the mystery in the play keeps my students eagerly engaged.  It's actually a lot of fun to read together as a class. 

Because of this in-class reading, I really wanted to try out some of Sophocles other plays.  There is so much one can learn from these earliest plays that have survived over time to be read today.  I'm sure too that my own obsession with Greece and visit to one of the amphitheaters at Epidaurus that Sophocles was said to have performed his plays helped in this fascination!  Here are a couple of pictures of Epidaurus.  Ignore my silly pose.  I couldn't help sitting in these hand-carved seats near the front of the amphitheater.  Amazing.  Simply amazing!

How does one really "review" a playwright who has successfully captures our attention and recognition for thousands of years?  Obviously, I'm not going to attempt to rate his work, as I think he's brilliant no matter how you look at it!  My reviews can be nothing but glowing, so I'd rather take a moment to share what these plays are about, basically, and share a few amazing quotes that have been translated from them.

Electra:  The basic premise of this play is that Electra's father has been killed by his mother in revenge for killing her sister as a sacrifice.  Since that time, her mother has remarried and her only brother has left the city.  Both brother and sister separately plan the revenge, proclaiming the evil nature of their mother for her part in the murder. 

Thoughts and Quotes:  This play seems an interesting comparison to Shakespeare's Hamlet in the revenge department.  Both main characters have lost their fathers, both mothers have remarried, and both children feel ultimately betrayed by their mother.  Interestingly, Electra fed the famous theory by Sigmund Freud, coupled with is Oedipal Theory, or children desiring their opposite sex parent.  These theories have since been proven a bit extreme, but the ideas behind them  are also explained.   One of the quotes that grabbed me was,
"Do not got too far in hatred with those you hate,
Nor be forgetful of him.
Time has power to heal all wounds."
I can't say that I knew that this particular adage came from Sophocles, but it seems that the translated message is that "time heals all wounds" and not to act too rashly.

Oedipus:  What's to say about this famous play that hasn't been said in a million cultural references and jokes?  In this most famous of all plays written by Sophocles, Oedipus is made king of Thebes after solving the Sphinx's riddle who was holding the city captive.  Thebes had recently lost their king to murder, and Oedipus was running from his home in Corinth after a prophecy was stated that he would kill his father to be with his mother.  As the play begins, Oedipus learns that the city is under a blight or plague because the city is harboring the murderer of the king and must be found.  From this intriguing beginning, the mystery unfolds into a most tragic ending!

Thoughts and Quotes:  I don't wish to give away everything that happens in the play, but will say that it is quite memorable.  Since I started teaching this play, I've noticed cultural references in too many shows to even list.  (If you're interested, there is a really funny reference in Desperate Housewives, Season 5 Episode 2.)  Some of my favorite quotes include:
"To spurn a loyal friend, that is no better
Than to destroy the life to which we cling."
This quote was said by Oedipus's good friend and brother-in-law Creon, who he has accused of setting him up as the murderer of the former king.  This is a great quote and one that I have my students explore.  I have them consider how throwing away one's friends could be like destroying one's own life.  Interesting thought.  Adding to this idea is a piece of advice handed down by the chorus:
"Look upon that last day always,
Count no mortal happy till he has passed
the final limit of his life secure from pain."
I really like the idea of this quote, no matter how pessimistic it might be.  The realism of this idea, that we should never consider ourselves outside the parameters of pain until we have passed through this life.  In other words, no man can ensure that he will be free of pain and should not be so arrogant as to think so.

Antigone:  As the follow-up play to Oedipus, the play centers on the shamed children of Oedipus.  Antigone is seeking out an honorable burial for her brother.  Throughout the play she argues with her uncle and new king Creon for the respect she feels her brother deserves.

Thoughts and Quotes:  After reading both Oedipus and Antigone, I can't help but admire Antigone for her bravery in the face of adversity.  Nothing that she has faced has been caused by her own actions, but she faces them nonetheless.  Some of my favorite quotes include:
"This is the law: that in Man's
Life every success brings with it some disaster."
Yes, a pretty pessimistic sort of view of life, but one that seems realistic and filled with a sense of bold acceptance.  Maybe as a nice adage and piece of advice to follow this up, is the next quote:
"I would say that he does best who has
Most understanding; second best, the man
Who profits from the wisdom of another."
Yet another great piece of advice passed along by Sophocles, and in this case, in the power of listening to wise counsel.

The roles of tragedy, the gods, and of loyalty fill the pages in the plays written by Sophocles.  Amazing to me is the fact that they have survived throughout generations of readers and viewers.  How these philosophies shape us today is an interesting thing to consider, which is probably why I find myself drawn to Sophocles.

As mentioned earlier in my post, have you seen cultural references to these plays or have a favorite quote of your own? 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all of my American friends, I want to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving today!  Although I'm thankful for many things, today I'm just happy for the chance to take a time out and gear up for this wonderful holiday season.

Yesterday I made a traditional carrot pudding that my grandma always used to  make.  It takes three to five hours to steam, so it's a real treat for our family. If you're interested, here's the recipe:

Carrot Pudding

1 c. shredded potato (fresh, not frozen)
1 c. shredded carrot
1 c.  shredded apple
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. melted butter
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. raisins

 Mix potato with the baking soda to help prevent browning while you shred and prepare the remaining ingredients.  Into potatoes, mix carrot, apple, brown sugar, butter, and spices.  Toss raisins in the flour and put the flour and raisins into the wet mix & fold in.  Healthy version:  I like to replace 1/4 c. of the flour with wheat bran and then add 3 tbsp. of flax meal.   You can't taste it and it adds a nice healthy touch!

Steam the pudding in a double broiler (make sure to put water in the bottom and to check it often because the water runs out and needs to be refilled) for anywhere from three to five hours.  The longer the better actually.  You want the final pudding to be a dark brown and a little firm.  We like to serve the pudding warm with a little warmed up cream that has had vanilla pods steeped in.  Also, my grandma would make a caramel sauce to pour over it.  I was always a cream girl though.  Enjoy!  It makes a great breakfast treat.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Darcy Christmas: "Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol" by Carolyn Eberhart

The day I came home from surgery, I had a wonderful, early Christmas package waiting for me that contained A Darcy Christmas.  This book is a compilation of three Christmas stories by different Austen writers.  I love the escape that comes with all things Austen and this book has a wonderful, feel good Christmas backdrop for its stories.

Although there are three stories in the book, I wanted to share a little bit about the first story in the novel, "Mr. Darcy's Christmas Story" by Carolyn Eberhart.  It doesn't seem that Eberhart has published anything prior to her story included in the novel (according to the bio in the book or online), so I was interested to get a taste of her writing.

Synopsis:  It's not Ebenezer Scrooge.  It's Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy fresh off his refusal of marriage by Ms. Elizabeth Bennett, marriage of Lydia and Wickham, and marriage of his good friend Bingley to Elizabeth's other sister Jane.  Unlike the original novel, Darcy never did return after Bingley's proposal to Jane, to do likewise with Elizabeth. Instead, he sulked and returned home to be sullen and depressed.  Heading into Christmas, Darcy experiences the classic "A Christmas Carol" story, replete with his ghost of Christmas past, present, and future.  Each ghost shows him the result of his pride and fear, showing him how he's hurt and worried those around him, and how life will turn out if he doesn't swallow his pride (backed by a big dose of fear).  When the three ghosts leave him behind to take charge of his own life, he presses forward with the understanding of how life could be if he made no action today.

Review:  As similar to the original Dickens tale as it can be, this mashup delivers a beautiful twist to the famous Christmas tale that is so familiar.  Rather than Ebenezer, we see Darcy haunted by his past, present, and future, each haunted by what pride and fear can do to a person's life.  Although this is a smart retelling of "A Christmas Carol," I found myself bewitched by the themes of personal growth that remained in tact.  Yes it was about Darcy conquering his own personal demons to propose to Elizabeth again, thus bringing about happiness for both of them, but that familiar message of seizing the day and creating your own happiness by looking outside of yourself still shined through.

I really loved the thoughtful writing, with its beautiful voice and connection to the original tale.  In this case, I don't think that this smart retelling would offend the purists who hate their classics marred with modern romantic sensibilities.  Yes, it was about Darcy getting Elizabeth, but it was more about his own journey to overcoming his fears so he could find eventual happiness.  That theme and the weaving in of the real Ebenezer were smart and fun to read.

If you can get your hands on this book, I have to give "Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol" a high recommendation.  It was an easy, fast read, and one that had me more philosophical about life and the Christmas season ahead of us than anything.  To top it off, it had that fun Austen twist to it that made it really fun to watch unfold.  Honestly, I now hope to hear more from Eberhart down the road!

*FTC Disclosure:  Review is based on an Advanced Review Copy provided by Sourcebooks.  No monies were exchanged in this review process.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Blatherings & Another Library Loot

Last night we got quite a snowstorm that has left me feeling a bit like a homebody.  Thankfully I ran to the library yesterday before the storm rolled in and have quite a haul to read.  Since I'm feeling a little lackluster today, I'll cut to the chase and share my Library Loot, which  is a meme hosted by Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and Claire from The Captive Reader.  Here's what I brought back yesterday to add to my overwhelming TBR pile.

I also received a copy of The Clockwork Three by Matthew Kirby through an ARC tour that I signed up for at our local book blogger get together this summer.  Since then, the book came out on October 1st, but I'm still excited to read the book for myself.  Besides, it's always fun to get a book in the mail, right?

That's haul for the week.  Honestly, I should stop bringing more books in until I get a chance to get through more of them, but I just can't help myself.  If nothing else, they make me happy and eager to keep reading.  How about you?  Do you pick up more and more books, even if you have more than you can handle already?!?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Harry Potter Quandaries: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix #5

As with many of us who are anticipating the first half of the final Harry Potter film, I have been rereading the entire series.  Since I'm teaching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, it has also been a great opportunity to reread all of them.  Honestly, what's not to love?  I might be different from many readers, in that I might be enjoying them more this time around than I did the first time because I'm catching more connections.  With this readin, I'm finally seeing the things that led to the conclusion.  It's exciting and makes me love the books even more!

Several weeks ago I finished reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which was probably my second least favorite after number three.  Okay.  So I'm changing my tune now!  I've always been a Goblet of Fire fan, maybe because after losing my father, I loved when Harry's parents return to help him.  I caught a few things this time around in book five that really reminded me how strongly Rowling is playing on the theme of love and its power, which then helped me connect more.  If Harry ever had a power stronger than Voldemort, it was that he allowed himself to be vulnerable and look silly and weak to others so that he could have love in his life.

For once, I didn't necessarily find things that stumped me.  In fact, I really only had a couple of thoughts that haunted me over and over again.  Here are a few of the things that I've been considering:
  • Although Dumbledore avoids Harry to protect him from what he knows about his final battle that must be with Voldemort, is it possible that Rowling was also showing some of the emotional restraint that was so characteristic in many British classics?  Flurries of emotion, even in American history, have not been connected with strength.  Is Dumbledore's restraint an evidence of a type of quiet strength or is this just another way of playing on the mystery that was unfolding in this fifth installment?
  • My students actually brought this next point up after we reviewed the book.  What was the deal with the archway in the Ministry of Magic?  There were voices whispering from it and Sirius falls through it when he is killed.  Are we to assume this is some sort of portal to the afterlife?  Interestingly enough, later when Harry tracks down Nearly Headless Nick, he learns that the difference between the ghosts and those who have died are a desire to face the afterlife.  I've thought a lot about this and wondered not only about that arch, but about those who would choose not to face what was to come.  I'm sure this is an interesting comment on how we all face life and death, but really just stood out to me in this installment. (There's a whole other question waiting here about the ghosts that roam Hogwarts...)
  • My final thought was actually after watching the film.  Regardless of all the details they left out of the final battle at the Ministry of Magic (sorry, but I don't know if I would have believed a brain with tentacles was attacking Ron), I found the end of the battle when Voldemort seems to enter Harry to be an amazing scene in the film.  For once I actually liked the way the film portrayed it better!  If you watch this YouTube clip (for some reason they won't let you embed this, but it starts around 6:00), you see Harry fight an internal battle with Voldemort where he casts him off by remembering all the love and relationships with others that he has had.  In the book it seems to be his anger over losing Sirius that helps him draw out Voldemort, which is fine, but it was so short and to the point.  The film manages to really play on all that Harry has that Voldemort does not, "You'll never have love or friendship and I feel sorry for you."  For once, I can say I appreciated what the film did to enhance Rowling's themes about love.  Simply amazing.Yep.  I shed tears over it just as I did with the fight scene at the end of book four.

After rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I have a new-found love for this installment that I simply didn't have before.

Now off to see the newest film!  I won't be seeing it until Monday morning with my Popular Fiction class that I'm taking to the theater--unless I can't stand it and run out to see it this weekend.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Giveaway: The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

This last week I had the chance to attend my book club "Teaching Through Literature Discussions" where we read a local author and then get to hear from them.  Last week we met with Lisa Mangum to discuss her novel The Hourglass Door.  Our discussions were really great, since we started off the meeting with a conversation about reading strategies and purpose.  I couldn't help but think about the way my reading has changed since I started blogging!  Although I read books that I'm going to teach with a very different purpose, books that I either know I need to review, need to interview the author, or at least need to read and discuss online are also read with those purposes in mind.  It's interesting to consider how that changes the way we read!

The Q&A with Mangum after our discussion was pretty fascinating, as she discussed the direct relation between her love for the Humanities, Dante's Inferno specifically, and her Young Adult, time-travel love story.  (My review is to come.)  I enjoyed hearing her ideas behind how she developed the time-travel element, comparing it to stepping into a moving river and those who are on the bank are left standing there while the water rushes by.  It was an interesting concept!  She also discussed her own writing habits, which include writing each night from 8 to 10 at night, and how she used index cards to lay out characters, conversations, and stories.  In that way, she could balance out her story more efficiently.  I thought that idea was so comparable to the way I teach expository writing, that I definitely intend on sharing that point with my own students!  (See, sometimes it really is a process or formula!)  It all was just really great and I wish we could have heard a bit more from her.

The Hourglass Door is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Golden Spiral that came out back in May.  The final book in her trilogy will be out in May 2011 and is titled, The Forgotten Locket.  (See Lisa Mangum's website for additional information.)

Because I have two copies of Mangum's first novel, The Hourglass Door, I'm going to give away one copy!  Please enter by filling out the form below.  This is open to the U.S. & Canada only (sorry), and will run until Sunday, Nov. 28 at 11:59 pm.  Good luck, and enter for a great opportunity to read the first in Mangum's trilogy!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Blatherings & Library Loot

How has another week come and gone?  Time seems to keep passing faster and faster and faster.  This past week was a stressful, busy week at work.  My English 11 students just finished Oedipus the King by Sophocles and are going to be working on projects this coming week.  In my AP classes, they have just finished reading Beowulf and will be reading The Canterbury Tales next.  When I'm reading language-dense material with my students, I tend to leave work and not want to read as much on my own time. 

Thankfully, I have a lot of good books I've picked up at the library and received in the mail.  One heavy-duty read I picked up and am eager to flip through is Edith Wharton:  A Biography by Hermione Lee.  I absolutely loved The Age of Innocence the moment I read it and have been a Wharton fan ever since.

I'm also eager to read Half a Life by V.S. Naipaul.  This was an award-winning novel that I've had on my TBR list literally for years.  I'm hoping to get a chance over Thanksgiving to sit down with this one.

Sadly, I had to renew a bunch of books that I still haven't had a chance to get to.  It's always fun to get the new ones though, right?  Well, there's my Library Loot, which  is a meme hosted by Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and Claire from The Captive Reader

I also received a couple of books in the mail this week that I need to review by the first of the year. 

One last jewel I received in the mail on Friday was my new laptop!  Yes, my previous, much-loved laptop that I'd had for about four years started showing serious signs that it had issues.  Rather than fight it, I turned it in to be recycled and picked up a new one.  Because I teach online classes, I really need to have a laptop so that I can access my work when I travel or am away from home.  Thankfully, this new toy will keep me connected!

There's my week and book pick up in a nutshell.  How about you?  What are you reading or enjoying today?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Bronte Sisters Take Popular Culture By Storm... Again

Yes, I'm seriously excited about this one! There is yet another film version of Charlotte Bronte's famous Jane Eyre coming out in 2011 and I, for one, will be anxious to see this newest version.  Surprisingly, it has been over two years ago that I reviewed the newer BBC version of Jane Eyre and really enjoyed it.  However, with a cast that includes such grand actors as Judy Dench, I have high hopes for this film coming out in the spring.

It does seem that everywhere we look authors are either discussing, rewriting, or filming versions of the classics we read in school.  Today I teach those classics and am amazed by the foot dragging that goes along with these reading assignments!  You would think that although old, that students would want to be part of the dialogue and to know more about some of these famous works.  Right?  Wrong.  They are pretty hesitant to read classics on their own, and unless the reading "type," even less likely to admit to liking a classic to their classmates unless they feel like they really got it.  Sometimes, this is actually where a well-made film adaptation or modernization can at least help my students to understand what they've read--after they've read it.

The Bronte sisters seem to be entering into our current craze for remakes and adaptations of famous classics.  As one example of the buzz surrounding Jane Eyre, it's hard to miss the new YA novel Jane, by April Lindner, that is all the talk on the web.  Bloggers seem to scrambling to get their hands on this modernization of Bronte's famously tormented governess, now working for a rock star.  I'll admit that I have my own copy on hold at my local library, and I am anxiously waiting to get my hands on it to give it a go.  Jane Austen seems to now have company in the book and movie field, adding to our love of period pieces and classical literature that we love to read and watch.  Maybe my students would enjoy this more?  Yes, I'm sure they would, but they really need to read the original to get the comparison!

To add a little more depth to this conversation, I noticed this past week that Meg Cabot posted on her Twitter page a query about Jane Eyre vs. Wuthering Heights readers/fans.  Supposedly, this was all spurred on by an article in the Guardian titled, "How the Bronte's Divide Humanity."  Considering the title, it is an obvious argument between readers who enjoy the Heathcliff & Cathy drama, versus those who lean more towards the Mr. Rochester and Jane tale.  According to the article, her theory states:
...everyone who's read both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights is passionately devoted to one book but nose-holdingly repelled by the other. If you want to be particularly contentious, you can divide those who satisfy the basic entry criteria into two types – those drawn to demure, bookish Miss Eyre and those for whom the pyrotechnical hanky-panky between Cathy Earnshaw and black-browed Heathcliff is paramount – and call them Librarians and Rock Stars.
As for myself, I suppose I'm a librarian, since I am much more drawn to "demure" Miss Eyre over maniacal Cathy of Wuthering Heights (which I had to read FIVE times as an undergrad English major).  I'll admit to being drawn to the quasi-happy ending of Jane Eyre, while being disturbed by the cruelty between the "lovers" in Wuthering Heights.  I suppose I needed Heathcliff and Cathy though, to shake some of my romantic immaturity away with their cruel jabs at one another!

Regardless of your own leanings, the Bronte's have left a definite impression on readers that continues to spark discussions today.  Spin offs, modernizations, and remakes will likely continue as long as their stories are pertinent and connect to us in some way.   For my own part, I'll definitely be trekking off to see this newest film in the spring, and probably offering my AP students some extra credit for viewing it as well.  (Won't they be happy campers!?!)

What do you think?  Are you a Cathy or a Jane Eyre fan, and will you be going to see this newest version of the film?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Review: Writing Jane Austen by Elizabeth Aston

I pretty much love all things Jane Austen:  originals, remakes, mash ups (for the most part), modernizations, etc.  Several months ago, I saw Writing Jane Austen floating around the blogosphere and had to give it a try.  Reviews seemed to be a bit mixed, so I was interested to find out why.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Jane Austen for the twenty-first century! Mayhem ensues when a struggling young writer is chosen to complete an unfinished manuscript by a certain famous novelist...

Critically acclaimed and award-winning -- but hardly bestselling -- author Georgina Jackson can't get past the first chapter of her second book. When she receives an urgent email from her agent, Georgina is certain it's bad news. Shockingly, she's offered a commission to complete a newly discovered manuscript by a major nineteenth-century author. Skeptical at first about her ability to complete the manuscript, Georgina is horrified to know that the author in question is Jane Austen.

Torn between pushing through or fleeing home to America, Georgina relies on the support of her banker-turned-science student roommate, Henry, and his quirky teenage sister, Maud -- a serious Janeite. With a sudden financial crisis looming, the only way Georgina can get by is to sign the hugely lucrative contract and finish the book. But first she has to admit she's never actually read Jane Austen!"

Review:  For about the first 50 to 75 pages of the novel, I was completely engaged in "Georgie's" (as she was nicknamed) process for completing an unfinished Jane Austen novel.  There was a lot of academic speak that reminded me so much of college and grad school, that it was fun to meander back into that world again.  However, once Georgie sat down to read all of Jane Austen's work, which she did back to back to back, the story felt a little pained.  In some ways, the magic that she felt in reading all of Austen's work fizzled out when she forced herself to put pen to paper.  I loved hearing about her own reading of the novels, although I found it so strange that she hadn't ever read them and that she managed to stay up night and day to read them all in one sitting.  I seriously wonder if that's even possible?   

Honestly, this book feels more about the sometime painful process of an author, who feels they must connect directly to what they are going to write, than about anything to do with Jane Austen.  While Georgie does travel to Austen locations and reads the novels, this really was a story about the writing and publishing process.  Even the love story in the novel was a brief afterthought to the mental and physical process of writing a novel. 

The novel was engaging in some places, with some more drawn out scenes of pained writing and publishing anguish.  Although I can't say that I wouldn't recommend this story, I would warn that it felt like a book for the reader who is interested in what it might take to read.  Although, even having said that, it scared me away from ever trying my hand at my own novel!  The writing is good, even if the tone is often somewhat sad.  If you're at all curious about writing and publishing, especially novels that are nearing Austen's field, you might try this one out for yourself.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the novel.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Sunday So-So's

This past week was LONG.  I spent a good deal of my last week trying to get up to speed on our new term we just entered, so I could settle in for Term 2.  By the end of the week, things were looking pretty decent though, so I have high hopes for this coming one!

My BFF Doc is in the process of interviewing for medical internships across the country.  I don't understand most of what's going on, nor how this crazy process works or is feasible at all, but I was lucky enough to have her hanging around my place this weekend.  Although she had to work on an assignment on her laptop all day, we sat around in our pj's watching random stuff on DVR, and I worked on crafty things that I honestly hadn't touched in over two years! Below is the afghan I finished crocheting on Saturday.  It's now right on time for the holiday season.

For some reason, the picture isn't so great, but it is a "knobby" (if that's the right word) yarn and stitch that gives it a bit of character.  I was also working on a felt advent calendar, that was just for fun, but I doubt I'll really make much of a dent on that one before Christmas!

As for reading, I definitely have plenty that I'm working through.  This coming week we have our Local Author Book Club through my school district, "Teaching Through Literature Discussions," so I'm actually just starting The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum.  I'll really have to get a move on to get that finished by Thursday.  Later this week, I'll be holding a giveaway on this first book in her series, since I already owned a copy before the book club gave me a second!  Keep your eyes out for that giveaway.

I actually met the author at a book signing at a local Barnes and Nobles event in my area.  Just about every author from this area was there, and I went and purchased way too many books that day and had them signed.  I even took a few pictures with the authors.  I'll be honest, the pictures didn't turn out, so I felt it was a fail on my part and didn't end up posting them. 

On the blogging side of things, I'm excited to join in on two book swaps this year for Christmas!  The first swap I joined was the Broke and Bookish Secret Santa swap (open through 11/17). 

The second swap I joined was the Holiday Swap, which I participated in last year (open through 11/14).  Last year, I posted about the gift I sent in my December 3rd post.  Later, I shared in "Let the Holidays Begin...on Wednesday" what I received.  It was a lot of fun not only to participate, but to see all of the other posts that were shared during the swap.  If you're interested in sharing in the fun, I say join!  You still have a little while to join in, so do it today.

That's it for my weekend.  What have you been up to?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Review: Emma volumes 8, 9, & 10 by Kaoru Mori

Do you ever wonder when or if life will ever slow down enough to catch your breath?  I've been feeling that a bit lately.  I have a lot to be grateful for, but am as busy as I've ever been and wondering how that happened!  Just as a quick piece of health-front news, I met with my surgeon and was told everything is good.  No cancer.  *sigh*  That was a HUGE relief, obviously.  I'm still struggling with laryngitis, but am sounding less and less like the bass singer from the Oakridge Boys. 

Regardless of all that life is handing out right now with health, work, and life, things are good.  Unfortunately, I missed pretty much every author signing or event that came up this past month and was feeling pretty low about it all, but you have to do what you can.  I've still been reading like crazy though and finished up the Emma manga series by Kaoru Mori.  Because volumes and 8 & 9 are so similar, I thought I'd combine them with volume 10 for a quick triple review! Spoilers ahead.

Synopsis:  (Volumes 8 & 9)  These volumes continue off of the story of Victorian house maid and soon to be wife of upper society William.  Both volumes expand on the stories of the family Emma worked for, of William's previous fiance, of William's parents, etc.  Not as obviously connected to the main plot, these two volumes merely add more side information about characters we've met in previous installments of the book.

Synopsis:  (Volume 10)  The final book in the series returns us to William and Emma's sweet relationship as they spend more time together and prepare for their upcoming marriage.  William continues to introduce Emma to his upper-crust society, ignoring any disregard others might have for his housemaid fiance.  As the story concludes, we are welcomed into their marriage and dinner celebration, which round out the story with a fairy-tale happy ending.

Review:  While I wanted wanted to get to the conclusion of the story, I thought the side information about the other characters interesting and an okay diversion.  The final installment, with its wedding and finale to the story was a fun little happy ending.  I do have to say that I thought the reserve between William and Emma still a little strange.  I know that sounds odd for me to say, but some of the scenes (such as in the beginning when they go out riding bikes) to feel more like siblings or acquaintances than a soon to be married couple.  After the drama of the previous installments it might have just seemed like a resistant-free ending?  Overall though, I thought this was a fun diversion from my ordinary reads and will have to give manga another try!

*FTC Disclosure:  The review was based on library copies of the story.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Review: The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig

As mentioned in previous posts, I like audio books.  Have I ever REALLY explained why?  I'll admit it.  I have terrible road rage.  Any swearing that ushers forth from my lips comes from a selfish driver cutting me off at 75+ miles an hour to and from work, the idiot who just has to merge into what is to be one lane at the last possible second, or the certified lunatic who tails you in the hopes that they can drive right up over top of you.  Yes, I hate drivers in my state like no other.  Out of all the places I've lived, Utah has to be the top of my list of most selfish, diabolical drivers on the planet.

To save my sanity and help me forget that I want to shake my fist at every car I meet on the road, I figured out that audio books helped soothe my anguish every time I hop behind the wheel.  Now I make sure to ALWAYS have an audio book waiting, for fear I have a mini stroke while driving.  This past month or so, I have been listening to The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, and since I kept getting lost and had to rewind about a million times, this might have just been a good one to settle me down!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "After 12 years in India, Robert, Duke of Dovedale, returns to his estates in England with a mission in mind-- to infiltrate the infamous Hellfire club to unmask the man who murdered his mentor at the Battle of Assaye. Intent on revenge, Robert never anticipates that an even more difficult challenge awaits him, in the person of one Lady Charlotte Lansdowne.

Throughout her secluded youth, Robert was Lady Charlotte’s favorite knight in shining armor, the focus of all her adolescent daydreams. The intervening years have only served to render him more dashing. But, unbeknownst to Charlotte, Robert has an ulterior motive of his own for returning to England, a motive that has nothing to do with taking up the ducal mantle. As Charlotte returns to London to take up her post as Maid of Honor to Queen Charlotte, echoes from Robert’s past endanger not only their relationship but the very throne itself."

Review:  Let me be up front in saying that I honestly grabbed this audio book, not just because I had already listened to the previous four that came before, but because I was so invested in the "modern-day" story that is embedded in these spy novels.  While the spy stories are being told, we as readers understand that it is through our modern storyteller, Eloise Keller, that we are getting anything at all.  It is her story, and her romance with modern day descendant to the Pink Carnation, Colin Selwick, that I was so involved in this installment.  The two have finally gotten together romantically, but there is still  much that American, Eloise, is uncertain about her dashing new boyfriend.  She finds information about him that might stake him to some spy activity of his own  And, how can this swashbuckler of his own rights be interested in an academic who has her nose in old journals and diaries all the time?

I really enjoyed the more modern side to the story this time around, especially since I found myself lost in the story of Robert and Lady Charlotte so often.  For one, Robert and Charlotte were often at cross purposes and didn't understand where the other was coming from throughout most of the story.  The miscommunication, jealousies, and misdirected frustration was enough to drive me batty.  To top it off, the story included the mad King George, so I was often thinking about history and where that placed things, rather than truly following the story.  My bad, I'll admit, but I was a bit distracted by the real history that went behind the story.

As always, the story was highly entertaining.  That is high praise from a reader, such as myself, who doesn't like mysteries hardly at all.  I like the romantic and historical twists to be found in this series, and find the author's writing style engaging.  Although this particular story lost me at times, and I found myself wanting more out of the modern story, I can still say that the series is great fun and a nice, historical diversion.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review is based on a library copy of the novel.