Monday, February 28, 2011

Review: Tweet Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick

As many of you know, I teach a Popular Fiction class.  In that class we discuss popular "trends, genres, and styles" of writing.  One of the styles I've discussed with them is the "Epistolary" form, which many classical writers have used, but that has been revamped for our modern day.  Generally, if I were to go on about how Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker utilized this style, many of their eyes would glaze over.  However, when I have brought in contemporary pieces to show them how this looks today, they get it, make the connection, and can appreciate.  For this style lesson, I got my hands on a copy of Tweet Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick to show my students are pretty modern twist on the Epistolary form and have to say that with all that color and the social network connection, I think they got it.  I then picked it up last weekend and read it in about an hour and a half to check it out!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Claire is a #hopelessromantic. Lottie is determined to set up her BFF with Mr. Perfect. Will wants his #secretcrush to finally notice him. Bennett is a man with a plan.Claire can’t believe it when her dream guy starts following her on Twitter. She never thought he noticed her, and suddenly he seems to understand her better than almost anyone. But the Twitterverse can be a confusing place, especially when friends act differently online than they do in person. Things get even more complicated when Claire realizes she’s falling for someone else, the last person she ever would have expected….

Told in an innovative format combining tweets, emails, and blogs, Tweet Heart is a contemporary romantic comedy that will set your heart atwitter."

Review:  Tweet Heart was a pretty quick read and fun to follow.  As a big Twitter user myself, I was familiar with the 140-character commenting and felt comfortable reading short blips from each character.  The one thing that felt strange were the private conversations the characters etched out for themselves?  Unless they were direct messaging, I was unfamiliar with a private tweeting service.  I suppose I'll have to check into that.  Without that private tweeting though, many of the "I like him.  Why isn't he tweeting me back?" would be lost in the shuffle of conversations.

Claire is a nice girl, but all we only really get surface character development.  Will, also a nice boy, is her friend who has a secret crush on her.  We don't really know much about Will either.  In any of the character's cases, their development is lacking, so we get the sense that we're just eavesdropping on someone's conversations.

This was a quick, fun read with very surface-level story and character development going on, but what can you get with a book based on tweets?  Obviously, the reader has to fill in most of the back story and development, so I wouldn't expect full descriptions and narration.  This story really is quick and just about telling a story in a different way.  I would most likely recommend this book to my teen students, as it's a quirky new format that they'll get a kick out of!

I'm curious.  What epistolary-style novels have you read and do you like reading books in that format?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Oscars After Blog

I make no apologies for the fact that I'm a total Oscar fan.  I will, however, apologize if you got caught in my avalanche of tweets @mjmbecky during the Oscar show!  I'll refrain from critiquing the show, as I think those will come out en force this next week.  The show had its interesting moments and montages (how about the musicals for Harry Potter and Eclipse), but it seemed that The King's Speech, Inception, The Fighter, and The Social Network took home the majority of the awards.

Although I'd seen many of the films featured in the show this year,  my favorite was The King's Speech.  As a longtime Colin Firth fan, I have long thought he deserved more recognition for the range of roles he has played.  In fact, if you had a chance to see him on 60 Minutes last Sunday (I linked it here in my Sunday blog post) or on Inside the Actor's Studio, you know that he has played in films ranging from period pieces such as Pride and Prejudice (1995) and A Girl With a Peal Earring to Bridget Jones Diary, Mama Mia!, and The Single Man.  When an actor can continue to film roles across the board and allow us to forget the actor and escape into the role, you know they are a master at their craft.  Kudos and congratulations to Colin Firth for Best Actor and to The King's Speech for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director.

For a nice and easy list of complete winners, check out The Associated Press: "List of 83rd Oscar Winners".

Sunday Blatherings: Library Loot & Oscar Madness

After devouring four books last weekend, I went through a type of drought this week.  In the classes I teach at school and online, they're all reading such different things that I found myself coming home and just wanting to watch TV each night!  My juniors just started reading Les Miserables, my Popular Fiction students just finished Hunger Games, my AP students at school are in the middle of studying poetry, and in my online classes they're studying Canterbury Tales and Hamlet.  As you can see, I feel like I'm all over the board! 

Thankfully, I have a lot of books I'm interested in escaping into on my own time.  I'm still in the middle of reading twelve different books.  Yes, I'm a little crazy, but for some reason I tend to bounce around when I read.  Once something gets far enough into the story or grabs me, then I push the others aside to finish the book.  This weekend, I hope to finish Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning.  I'd heard so much buzz online about the latest release, Shadowfever, that I thought I'd give the series a try. 

Today, however, I dropped into the library and just wandered around a bit.  I haven't done that in so long!  There is something so relaxing about looking through shelves and shelves of books.  Usually, I put books on hold and then run in, check them out, and run out again, managing my entire library account online.  It was nice to have a moment to spare to take a look around.  In fact, I ended up picking up a stack of cookbooks, since all these snowstorms put me in the mood for some nice home cooked meals.  Here's what I picked up:

Art Smith was Oprah Winfrey's chef and also appeared on Top Chef Masters 1.  His food had a lot of heart and won over the judges for quite awhile.  I'm eager to flip through and try out some of the recipes in this cookbook, since I was raised on good "home" cooking like he features in his cookbook.

Considering we have a fresh layer of snow on the ground today, nothing sounds better than a hearty bowl of soup.  I actually happen to really love soup and think that it makes for a great meal that I can divvy up for lunches throughout the week.  This is a small cookbook, but the pictures and variations make it pretty appealing.  In fact, I'm going to take a look at this one to possibly purchase it for my own collection.

I'm starting to see a trend here!  Could I be in a "home cooking" mindset right now?  This particular cookbook by country singer Trisha Yearwood is actually the second that she has put out.  I was given her first cookbook for Christmas last year and really love it.  This second cookbook seems to have a much larger dessert section, which is fine with me!  I'm also trying to decide if I should get her second cookbook to go with the first one.  Decisions.  Decisions.

Now I can take a look and whip up something great for the Oscars!  I usually have people over to watch the Oscars, but this year it didn't work out that way.   I'm okay throwing my own Oscar soiree though.  I can put on my pj's and watch all the red carpet madness, thankful that I'm not in a constricting dress (although I love seeing what they're wearing).  My hope is that Colin Firth wins a much-deserved Oscar for King's Speech!

What are you reading this weekend, and will you be watching the Oscars? 

*Library Loot is a meme hosted by Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and Claire from The Captive Reader.  Join us, and share what you've picked up from one of our many great libraries!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Utah Book Bloggers Winter Social

It's that time again for anyone in our area to get together for our Book Blogger bash!  The time is ticking down quickly, but it's always an exciting time to gather with other bloggers, authors, and publishing industry folks.  If you can make it, please join us.  The information is all below, along with the RSVP address.

Here is the basic information:

  • WHEN:  Saturday, March 5th at 6pm
  • WHERE: Golden Corral @ 655 East 7200 South in Midvale
  • WHO:  Book bloggers, authors, booksellers, etc.
  • WHAT:  The cost is $9.88 per person, plus drinks and tip. 
  • HOW:  There's not much to the how bit, except to come with a paperback book, ready to swap, chat, and have a great time. 
***Please RSVP to utahbookbloggers(at)gmail(dot)com so that we know who can make it that night.  Also, please don't hesitate to get in touch of any one of us for more information.  Other than our blogs, we can also be reached on Twitter at: @mawbooks, @SueySays, and @mjmbecky (that's me).

Other places to check in:  Utah Book Bloggers Group, Utah Bloggers RSS Feeds, or Utah Book Community Twitter.

We hope you can come and look forward to chatting and socializing again!  It's always great fun to see the wizard behind the curtains, meaning that we're happy to get to meet the amazing writers of blogs and books alike.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Film Review: Lady Jane (1986)

Thank goodness for the occasional three-day weekend to save my sanity!  Over the weekend, I watched a couple of period films and thought I'd pass along one of them.

I recently was recommended the film Lady Jane through Netflix.  The film was about Lady Jane Grey, who was asked to step forward and take the throne of England during the tumult of the Reformation that occurred after Henry VIII's death, and sickness of his son Edward.  Along the way, she is forced into marriage with Guilford Dudley, the son of one of the king's ministers.

I'm a total sucker for these dramas surrounding royalty.  Besides, this particular film stars Helena Bonham Carter as Lady Jane, who needs no introduction!  Helena is a fantastic actress, and according to my students, she's "hot" as Bellatrix LeStrange in the Harry Potter series.  (Yes, that one makes me laugh.)  Playing her husband Guilford, on arrangement of her family, is Cary Elwes.  If you're not familiar with him, no fear.  I didn't know him by name, but will admit that I instantly knew him as Westley in Princess Bride.  (Who didn't have a thing for Westley and his "As you wish"-silent-brooding hot guy act? As a young teen when that film first came out, I can honestly say that Westley was an early heart throb!)  In Lady Jane, he plays the ultimate love interest to this spirited, soon-to-be monarch. 

The relationship between Lady Jane and Guilford is funny and has a very 80's feel to it's development.  There is appropriate tension and conflict between them, but it is offset by the type of filming that involved what felt like dream sequences that had me giggling a little at their silliness.  Just as a warning, there is some female nudity, but is all done in those dream sequence moments and is not long.  Overall though, I thought it was worth my time and was an interesting story.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: Things I Know About Love by Kate Le Vann

Let's be honest, there are books you see circling the web continuously and wonder if you should try.  I remember seeing Things I Know About Love on multiple book blogs and started to brush them off after 10+ times.  Somehow though, that cute cover kind of grabbed me (yes, I was that shallow in my choice) and I decided to give it a try.  Boy am I glad that I did!

Synopsis:  Livia Stowe has had a tough couple of years.  Besides a string of teen boyfriends over the years, Livia has also battled cancer.  In this short novel, Livia allows us entrance into just what she knows about love from a series of journal/blog posts as she travels to America to visit her college-age brother for a vacation.  While there, Livia catches up with a fellow Brit who she met as a teen, and who just might have the real key to her heart.

Review:  Although I've seen some serious mixed reviews on this novel, I have to say that it really grabbed me and shook me up a bit.  In short, it made me cry, and I was okay about it.  Livia was a sweet character, filled with vulnerabilities and a kind of guilelessness that didn't have me skeptically doubting her goodness, but rather had me wanting to have someone shelter her.  The experiences that Livia has had as a teen with boyfriends of various kinds feel very familiar and real, from the boy who wanted to kiss and tell, to the boy who stole her heart but couldn't follow through when she needed him the most.  Every heart break and tale of vulnerability had me heartbroken!

For an honest, personal moment, I have to acknowledge that some of the themes of love and loss really spoke to me. I'm not always about butterflies and rainbows, so the balanced happiness and sorrow of this novel felt very real and open.  The ending is very bittersweet, and one that I felt gives the reader a real chance to think about love for themselves.  I can definitely recommend this book to my students and friends, as it is a great, thought-provoking read.   Don't be deceived by the cute, "chick lit" type cover.  This is not a light read. It might not end exactly how you think it's going to, but it was beautiful and one that I can't help thinking about days after I finished reading.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Three-Day Weekends

It seems that when I disappear for a few days, I can blame a busy work schedule and grading stacks of papers.  For once, I have to say that work hasn't been keeping me from writing; in all truth, the reading has kept me away!  Maybe because work has been so stressful over the past several weeks, I just hadn't had real down time to read, but I sure made up for it this weekend!  Every spare second I wasn't working on my taxes, cleaning house, or running errands, I was reading, and it was GLORIOUS.  Over the weekend I read four novels, which might not seem like a lot to some, but it was for me!  Having pushed everything aside for reading, I know I'll have a lot of writing to do. 

Also, as the weekend comes to a close, I'm reminded that the Oscars are in a week.  I like to make a big deal out of Oscar night, often having a nice dinner party or group of people over to watch them, but won't be doing that this year.  Strangely, I'm all right with not making a big deal out of it, but will definitely be watching.  My hopes are mainly for The King's Speech, and if you missed it, check out the following link to see the wonderful Colin Firth on 60 Minutes this weekend.

I hope that whatever you were doing this weekend, that it was a good one!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci

From time to time, I like a good "foodie" book.  There is this comfort factor that goes along with reading about someone who not only makes lovely food, but has TIME to make lovely food.  I like to cook on the weekends and often put up food for the week, but rarely cook more than simple throw-it-together meals midweek, or grab something on my way home.  Listen, I think I've given up on trying to keep salad fixings from going bad.  When you're single and cooking for one, salad goes bad too fast.  I've decided that I'll splurge on the weekly Cafe Zupas salad rather than keep throwing out the stuff I bought at the store!  Having said that, I ran across Giulia Melucci's book, I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "In the early '90s, Giulia Melucci moved out of the Brooklyn home where she was raised full of romantic hopes and her mother’s excellent Italian cooking. She dreamed of finding the perfect guy, but fresh ingredients were scarce. After nearly twenty years of New York City dating she had nothing more than a slew of broken relationships under her belt. Well, that and a heap of delicious recipes, which she shares along with stories of her doomed amorous adventures.

An affectionate alcoholic, a classic New York City commitment-phobe, a hipster aged well past his sell date, and not one but two novelists with Peter Pan complexes no matter what their fatal flaw, Giulia has cooked for them. She suffers each disappointment with resolute cheer (after a good cry) and a bowl of pasta (recipe included), and has lived to tell the tale so that other women may find a better recipe for love or at least go to bed with something good to eat.

You will laugh along with Giulia as she manages to find the lighter side of each disappointment as you swoon over her irresistible culinary creations. Mix one part humor, a dash of sarcasm, and lots of heart then devour this story of a woman looking everywhere for love . . . and finding it on the stove."

Review:  With a witty way of telling a life story and a book full of great recipes, Melucci's story was not only fun to read, but also yummy to devour! Yes, this is very much a single gals journey through relationships and good food, mainly at the same time.  Not one of the men that she dated ever seemed to complain about the fact that she could cook.  Really, what human being would ever complain about a really good cook? With her Italian heritage and her appreciation for good products, the meals she created didn't just please her men, but will easily please her readers as well.

One recipe I jumped on was her angel hair with asparagus.  With a quick saute in olive oil and garlic, the asparagus takes only minutes to cook.  Toss in a bit of angel hair, and top with Parmesan, and what could be better?  What's not to love?  Other recipes in the book included a variety of pasta dishes, breakfast foods, and roasted meats.  Intermingled with Melucci's stories of the men she dated, loved, and lost, you come to believe there will be a giant epiphany at the end of the book, but it's not there, and that feels all right.  In a surprising sense, there isn't really a great arrival point in the book, but more a series of experiences that came into her life.  On the whole, this was a great "journey" story, filled with great food, recipes, and characters who all work together to create an engaging recipe for a book.  Now, if only I could find the energy to cook like she does!

Check out this fun YouTube video with the author where she describes her own book:

Monday, February 14, 2011

How Do I Love Thee?

Here I am looking at Valentine's Day and seeing how differently we all approach love.  Love is not an easily described emotion and can range from the sweetest friendship to the most passionate love affair.  Love can point to love for self, but is best expressed in love for others on a day like today. 

Realizing that Valentine's is usually a day for candy and flowers to reign supreme in the high school I teach at, I prepared to teach sonnets.  Here's a quick reminder about sonnets:
  • Sonnets are 14 lines of poetry
  • Written in iambic pentameter (stressed syllable followed by an unstressed)  
  • There are two main types of sonnets, the Italian (or the Petrarchan) and the Shakespearean (or English).  
  • Sonnets tend to be about themes like love, religion, or politics. 
Together, we read Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous "How Do I Love Thee?"--Sonnet 43, addressing things like tone, literary devices, etc.  We then followed it with Shakespeare's beautiful Sonnet 116 that has been immortalized in the 1995 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. In searching out the clip on YouTube, I also ran across a beautiful montage that has been adapted from this same sonnet.  Both are beautiful and now have me thinking more about types of love.  While most expressions of love seem to be aimed at "romance," I do think that both of these sonnets speak about lovely ideals that make love lasting, to endure the challenges life bears.

The first clip is the scene from Sense and Sensibility, and the second is that lovely montage that includes Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and North and South.  Enjoy!

This was actually a very nice Valentine's Day.  How was your day?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Gone With the Wind? Love.  Westerns.  Love (for the most part).  All things Pride and Prejudice.  REALLY love.  Somehow, Jack Caldwell's novel Pemberley Ranch managed to capture all three of these elements in the pages of one book for a great, fun read!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Bennet family has just moved from Ohio to the town of Rosings, Texas, set on creating a fresh start. But their daughter Beth still prefers the familiarity of Ohio to the plains of Texas-that is, until she encounters Will Darcy, the reclusive owner of Pemberley Ranch. Will and Beth are instantly smitten, but pride, prejudice, and a gang of villains determined to take over Rosings threaten to keep them apart. This fresh idea in the world of Jane Austen retellings brings together the world of Pride and Prejudice with the struggles of the antebellum South."

Review:  Can I just say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and call it good?  There are books that you just have too much fun reading, and that's it!  Honestly though, I think I wasn't expecting to be charmed by a western sort of retelling of Pride and Prejudice, regardless of how much I love the book.  Funny thing was, I really was charmed.  Elizabeth, as Beth Bennet, was saucy and able to stand up for herself.  Mr. Darcy, or Will in this case, found Beth's sauciness unabashedly charming.  Other minor characters from P&P are also present in the novel, along with a few from Austen's other novels.  In fact, I laughed whenever the author threw in these alternate characters from novels such as Emma, because you wouldn't notice if you weren't a true fan of Austen's works. Captain Wentworth actually seemed more dastardly than he did in P&P, as he had been a cruel taskmaster during the Civil War who had abused Rebel soldiers that were imprisoned.  He also had his thumb on every double-crossing land deal around in our Rosings, Texas.  In short, had he grown a little waxy moustache that he could have twisted the ends of while he spoke, I wouldn't have been surprised!

The story was fun to follow and just different enough to keep you on your toes.  Had it been more exact in the way it kept to the original tale, it might have been boring, but I didn't think this was boring at all.    There are a couple of "swimming hole" scenes that would leave a reader from Austen's day scandalized and blushing, but they seem a little funny under these hot Texas, western conditions.  Yes, the novel still showed restraint, but threw in a lot more western-brand scandal and language.  I thoroughly enjoyed Pemberley Ranch, and was so thankful to Jack Caldwell for entertaining me enough to drag me away from the stacks of essays I was laboring through at the time!  I'm just sad now that I didn't take Sourcebooks up on this great offer to read this one sooner, since it turned out to be a great time.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Upcoming Book Release: Final Book in the Children of the Earth Series

Back in November of this last year, it was announced to the public that Jean Auel would be publishing the final book in her Children of the Earth Series, The Land of Painted Caves.  This last book has been long anticipated, as many of her novels have taken over a decade to publish.  Honestly, I didn't think we would ever get this last novel.  (Who could ever tackle this series and finish it as a ghost writer?)  The story is mainly about  a beautiful young woman who was raised by a group of Neanderthals, who later goes in search of "others" like herself.  Through her story, we trace the movements of human activity across Europe and how cultures and practices came to be.  In short, Auel's novels are an intriguing idea of what it might have been like for earth's earliest people.

Filled with archaeological information about land, animals, and people who lived over 25,000 years ago, we get to see a time that I can't say many other authors have tackled.  Although there is a lot of great information in her novels (enough so that Auel was awarded four honorary degrees), each book is driven by a solid storyline, with characters that stick with you and feel like people you know.  For reserved readers, I would point out that there is a good deal of graphic content, which although is understandable for a time and culture outside our own (limited in inhibitions), is often very detailed.  This is my simple disclaimer and warning to some of my readers.

Introduced to me by a co-worker back in the early 90's, I have often thought about these characters and what happened to them.  Currently, I'm re-reading them and am still intrigued by the culture of prehistoric peoples.  Listen, I know I wouldn't survive if I'd lived then, but I love the information about survival and the tools they learned to make that made for easier living.  If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a unique and intriguing series to read.  Coming in at 700+ pages per book, these take a real commitment to read, but so worth it!

The Land of the Painted Caves comes out on March 29, 2011.

I know I'm not alone in my fascination with Jean Auel's work.  If you've read this series, what are your thoughts? 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer

Nobel Prize winning authors can be intimidating; their novels are often loaded with weighty issues and problems that are nowhere near tackled in the space of a story.  In fact, I'm coming to learn that some novels pose questions without answers and simply ask that we consider.  From whatever place in a writer that asks questions, South African author Nadine Gordimer tapped into that space in her novel The Pickup.

Synopsis:  A white South African woman, Julie Summers, one day finds herself in an auto shop to get her car fixed after an unexpected breakdown.  There she meets Abdu, a Muslim Arab man who comes from a world apart from her own privileged upbringing.  The two easily slip into a relationship that is built on common threads of interconnection, ignoring social ideals centered on race.  However, after moving in together and building a casual life without interruptions in Julie's Johannesburg apartment, they find that Adbu's citizenship has been recalled.  Without citizenship, Abdu must return home and Julie decides to return with him.  To his home, Adbu finds that what he easily accepted in Julie in South Africa becomes more difficult once they return home.  Rather than money and status, Abdu has brought home a white wife who knows or understands little of the hardships his family and people go through to survive on the edge of the desert.

Touted as a Romeo and Juliet love story, The Pickup aptly brings together two culturally different people in love.  As with Shakespeare's play, can love be enough to pull two people through a world that asks them to be apart.

Review:  The Pickup was an easily accessible story to fall into.  In little to no time, I found that Julie became a character that I felt familiar and at home with.  Although engaged in a love story with an Arab Muslim man who grew up worlds apart in social standing, Julie somehow easily overlooked the structures put in place to separate them.  Not once did I look at the couple and think, "Wow, this is odd," or "I wonder if Julie or Abdu feel out of place."  In fact, I found Julie's complete lack of tension towards their relationship very interesting.  The author really seemed to create a character that responded to her world the way we have idealized; Julie seemed to be unaffected by the judgments of society.

Although I sometimes thought the quirky non-tension of the first half of the book to be odd, I enjoyed the suspension of conflict for our characters.  There were observations made by Julie that showed that she recognized that Abdu was "different" for her, but not that she ever judged him or herself for those differences.  It wasn't until they moved back to his desert home that an unseen tension crept in.  This time, it seemed to be Abdu judging what they had together, fearing how Julie would face his harsh life and seeing it through her eyes.

Racial and social tensions are present in The Pickup, but not in the explicit ways one would normally expect. There is a subtlety and softness in the stress that builds in the relationship between upper-class Julie and the immigrant Abdu, indicative of a control over language by the author.  It is obvious that the two characters love one another, but not in an outrageous, over-the-top passionate way.  The steady treading forward movement of the novel was delightful and one that was intriguing to explore with our two characters.   Love was present and pressing forward,  challenged as in all relationships, but by different forces.

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

Sunday, February 6, 2011

If You Liked Downton Abbey...

If you find yourself wanting more Edwardian fare since Downton Abbey concluded last Sunday (2nd season is still to come), then you might try out the PBS reality series Manor House.  I know I've mentioned these PBS House series before, but really can't begin to say how much I enjoy them!  While they are not scripted dramas, but rather follow a group of modern day folks who agree to live the culture of the day, they are extremely engaging and full of historical information.

In Manor House we follow the people who play staff and aristocrats at Manderston, a grand Edwardian house located near the Scottish-English border.  While the "downstairs" help slave away seven days a week for upwards of 16 to 18 hours a day, their "upstairs" nouveau-rich aristocratic family learn to deal with the subtleties of standings and titles (not to mention doing absolutely nothing, including putting on their own socks and underwear).

The docu-drama series is highly entertaining and engaging.  There are maids who think they see ghosts, a rotating door of scullery maids who quit after a couple of days, footmen who get drunk and can't wake for work the next morning, a crazy-mad French chef who insists on authenticity, and a little bit of fancy loving going on behind the scenes.  Honestly, this is a highly entertaining series and a great follow-up to Downton Abbey if you are feeling a bit down now that its over!

If you think you might enjoy Manor House, you might check out the following PBS series that are also set in England:

Regency House Party (which also appeared on PBS) for an interesting romp into Regency romance.

The 1900s House for its look at the average urban lifestyle at the turn of the century in London during the Victorian Era.

The 1940s House set in London around the time of WWII with its food rations, bomb raids, and blackout curtains.

Check them out!  They are fantastic and do a great job of mixing the drama of reality television with the history of a great period drama or documentary.   (There are also three set in the United States, if you are interested:  Frontier House, Texas Ranch House, and Colonial House.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Free E-Book Weekend!

This weekend, starting today and ending Sunday, three e-books are being offered for free:

Lydia Bennet's Story by Jane Odiwe

Love at First Flight by Marie Force

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

If you're interested in learning about other great e-book deals as they become available, go to the Sourcebooks web page and enter your name and email address in the upper right hand corner.

Happy reading and HAPPY WEEKEND! 

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Film Review: Silencing the Song-An Afghan Fallen Star

Last year I reviewed the film Afghan Star, a documentary that showed the Afghan version of American Idol (or other such competition shows).  The documentary was eye opening, showing the people of Afghanistan in a way I had never considered.  With this singing competition, televised across the country, people there got the opportunity to participate in a democratic process of voting for their favorite performer, someone just like them.

Several of the contestants were women, who really risked their very lives by singing on stage.  One young woman, Setara Husseinzada, braved the scorn of the public and would move to the music as she sang.  In fact, on the night she was voted out, her headscarf slipped from her hair and she continued singing.  Her behavior shocked and angered some in the public, and in her hometown of Herat, the leading clerics openly criticized her for her behavior.

In the follow up documentary, Silencing the Song:  An Afghan Fallen Star, HBO films returned to see how she was faring.  Fearing for her life and now married and pregnant, they follow Setara in Kabul, showing the harassment and fear she faces on a daily basis.

The follow up is essential if you have seen the first documentary, as you can't help but wonder what happened to this brave, brave girl after the competition ended.  Although short, this seeming news-report style film shows the prejudice, fear, and superstition present in Afghanistan, and those who not only oppose that fear, but battle it.

If you get a chance, both documentaries are well worth your time.  Below is a trailer for Silencing the Song:  An Afghan Fallen Star.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Review: The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Have you ever had a book that you put down, for whatever reason, and then picked back up six months or a year later to finish?  The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer was that book for me.  Whether it was the slow movement of the story, the language, or the time element to read it, I have been trying to get back to this book for over a year!  I finally snapped into the action about half way through it though, and recently tore through the ending and can now say I've read my first Georgette Heyer novel. 

Synopsis:  Sophy has arrived at Berkley Square to stay with her father's sister and family while he is away and out of the country.  Because of her unique upbringing across the continent, however, Sophy is difficult for her cousins to understand, not to mention how she'll be received by London society.  There is a free-spirited side to Sophy that  pushes her to be more independent and adventurous than her family, especially her cousin Charles would like.  Feeling like her guardian, newly engaged Charles is constantly on the outlook for Sophy's out-there ways and trying to reign her in.  From fixing up her young cousin (Charles's sister) Cecilia with the poet she loves, regardless of her family's approval, to helping get their younger brother out of a financial fiasco through her own wiles, Sophy seems never to fear reproach and faces society head on.  Sophy is no wilting flower, but always seems to charm them all--maybe even cousin Charles, for all his high brow ways?

Review:  I struggled to get into The Grand Sophy in the beginning, as I didn't naturally connect with Sophy or her cousins.  Like many free-spirited young ladies in novels before and since, Sophy is not only the kind of character you know is going to get into trouble, but who is also going to worm her way into everyone's hearts by showing them a different side of themselves.  In short, it's time to hang on for the ride to see where she was going to take the story.

Although I liked the story with Cecilia, who Sophy coached into feeling okay about choosing who she cared for and loved (It was fun seeing Charles riled up and annoyed at Sophy's meddling ways), I didn't really start to get into the novel until she stepped in to help Charles and Cecilia's younger brother.  He had gotten himself into a precarious situation and built up some debt with a Jewish financier who swindled him out of a bunch of money and some precious family property.  (The bit about the swindler being Jewish had a good deal of Anti-Semitism built in that made me cringe, which really was a reflection more of the time period than anything.)  In the end, Sophy faced down the swindler and bravely saved the family name and finances!  From that point on, Charles sees Sophy less as an annoyance and more as her own person.  I loved watching him change his opinion about Sophy, , as she surprised him with her loyalty and bravery, even if he never stopped being aggravated by her lively behavior.

If you like period pieces, Jane Austen's romances, or high society dramas, then Georgette Heyer seems to fit the bill.  I've seen her name mentioned in British Chick Lit. before, as the main characters drop her name as someone they've read, but I wasn't aware of her work until now.  Honestly, it was a fun read, and although slow to pick up speed in the actual story, the comedy in behavior was there and fun to watch from the beginning.

Many of these Georgette Heyer novels are being republished by Sourcebooks and can be found at most retailers.  The binding is great and the covers really pretty as well.  If you like Regency romance, and a good, clean read, these are the perfect fit!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a copy of the novel provided by Sourcebooks.