Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kindle Fire & the Death of Kindle 1

It seems ironic that they just announced the Kindle Fire today as my Kindle 1 just came to a spluttering death.  Three years ago I posted a blog post stating that "I Have a New Boyfriend."  That post was to announce my new love for the first generation Kindle.  As all first generation tech toys go, it was expensive, and my wonderful mother gave him to me as a gift.  I loved my kindle and it has weathered many things, such as all the traveling I did back and forth to my mom's place in Hawaii, long soaks in the tub (no, I didn't cover it--risky, I know), being packed in my purse, and even an occasional reading session on the beach.  I can't say I was nice to Kindle 1, but I sure got a lot of use out of it.

Earlier this year it started losing battery power like water running through a sieve and it was all downhill from there.  Here's what started happening:
  • Dark lined screen of death
  • Battery power in less than 10 minutes if I left the Internet connection turned on
  • Pages that took up to 5 seconds to turn  (Gasp!)
  • Burned in letters into the screen from overuse  (Yea, I'm kind of proud of that one.)

I loved my Kindle, but enough was enough.  I finally put it in the same drawer that still holds my flip cell phone from five years ago, my first generation iPod Shuffle, my Blackberry Pearl from two years ago, and any other tech gadgets that I haven't taken to be recycled.  It is the tech gadget graveyard, where all good technology has been made obsolete by something newer, prettier, and more precious.

Back in May I finally succumbed to the incredibly tantalizing pull of the iPad 2.  This was no little purchase, but one that I had been salivating over from the moment it was mentioned.  It was perfect for my trip to Europe, as I could read on it, listen to my iTunes, and catch email from back home.  Why carry the Kindle, an iPod, and a laptop?  The iPad 2 was my godsend.  Now I'm not sure what I'd do without it!  With four different reading apps on it, I can download any ebook sent my way:  Amazon Kindle app, Bluefire Reader, Overdrive, and the iBook. 

As you can see, I'm sold on my iPad 2, but I'll admit that I'm intrigued by the low price and amazing options that seem to come with this new Kindle Fire!  They seem very similar, so far, but we'll see.  I found this article by that compares the three main competitors if you want to check out their specs., "Kindle Fire vs. iPad 2 vs. Nook Color."

My Kindle 1 has died, only three short years into this new e-Reader technology.  Where I once thought I was at the cutting edge of the technology has once again been proven obsolete.  What it really does is show me that I have a serious addiction and need to keep squirreling money away for even newer and cooler tools that are sure to come around the bend!

What do you think of the newest e-Reader on the block?  Any interest?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning

I've been reading Shadowfever for months now and I'm pretty embarrassed to admit that!  I recommended it to my bff and she read them all in about two months.  I recommended them to a lady I work with and she finished them in about six days.  Yea.  I feel like the slowest reader in the world right now.  Trust me when I say that my slow speed with the series wasn't because I didn't enjoy them.  Honest!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "MacKayla Lane was just a child when she and her sister, Alina, were given up for adoption and banished from Ireland forever.  

Twenty years later, Alina is dead and Mac has returned to the country that expelled them to hunt her sister’s murderer. But after discovering that she descends from a bloodline both gifted and cursed, Mac is plunged into a secret history: an ancient conflict between humans and immortals who have lived concealed among us for thousands of years.

What follows is a shocking chain of events with devastating consequences, and now Mac struggles to cope with grief while continuing her mission to acquire and control the Sinsar Dubh—a book of dark, forbidden magic scribed by the mythical Unseelie King, containing the power to create and destroy worlds.

In an epic battle between humans and Fae, the hunter becomes the hunted when the Sinsar Dubh turns on Mac and begins mowing a deadly path through those she loves.

Who can she turn to? Who can she trust? Who is the woman haunting her dreams? More important, who is Mac herself and what is the destiny she glimpses in the black and crimson designs of an ancient tarot card?

From the luxury of the Lord Master’s penthouse to the sordid depths of an Unseelie nightclub, from the erotic bed of her lover to the terrifying bed of the Unseelie King, Mac’s journey will force her to face the truth of her exile, and to make a choice that will either save the world . . . or destroy it."

Review:  What can I say at this point about the final book in the Fever series that hasn't been said and then said again by about one hundred other bloggers and reviewers?  Yes, it's a great series that made me crazy, annoyed, anxious, eager, sad, and a million other emotions all rolled into one.  Book four ended with a cliffhanger that had me screaming inside.  At the time, I was in a hotel in London, with no access to book five, but knew it was sitting at home on my table.  Needless to say, I waited to read it.

The first half of the book zoomed by with a million twists and turns.  One minute you think that Mac is one thing and then find out she might be another.  That was the most crazy AND annoying thing about this entire storyline for me.  Although I really do have to give Moning props for a story that manages to engage her readers in a storyline that feels nearly impossible to predict, I felt at times like I had whiplash.  Mac is a great character, with a lot of pizazz and vulnerability, strength and normality to her.  From book one on you really do care about what happens to her and want to know if she can avenge her sister, find out who she really is, and save the world.  Yea, that's a pretty tall order.

Overall, I really got caught up in this series and enjoyed how different it was from every other paranormal story I've read.  Moning really seems to be this master crafter of the extended metaphor and simile.  Her comparisons sometimes outnumber the direct answers she gives in the book, which had me trying to unravel who or what she was talking about at times.  The series and book five are definitely for adults, with adult themes.  This isn't a tame version of a paranormal novel, yet is very driven by Mac's story.  In the end, all is resolved, but my one piece of advice would be to keep it moving.  If you get tuckered out by all the "reveals" that then get revealed to be something else, just hang in there and read faster.  The story is engaging and fast paced, but you have to stick with it.

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

Check out additional news about the series, "Dreamworks Hoping to Make 'Fever' Franchise their own Harry Potter."  It looks like the series just might be headed to the big screen.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Late Night Sunday Blatherings

Here I am, staring down the end of the weekend, wondering about the week to come.  Is work keeping me keyed up?  Well, only partially.  We had parent teacher conferences this last week, which are always a bit exhausting.  In some ways though, I felt like the parents that came out were there to express such encouragement and appreciation that I went home feeling really bolstered.  I can't even begin to say how much strength that gave me as a teacher.  That next day, I felt like I had that little boost of energy to make my lessons even better! 

With a couple of really late night and early morning meetings, I ended up with little time to really read.  That always makes me a little sad, but it's all about timing!  Instead, some of my pent up emotion this weekend has to do with all that is going on outside of work.  This last week was the anniversary of my father's death, and I'm facing down a big birthday.  That means that between 9/11, my dad's passing, and my own aging process, it has left me feeling a little off.  I'm mature enough to recognize that it's all normal and okay, so I'm just looking at it for what it is--another step in life.  Having said that, I found myself cleaning my house from top to bottom (who does that?!?) and then going shopping.  Yep.  My house is clean and I'm a little bit poorer!  Oh, and of all the weird things, I found myself wanting to rewatch the Royal Wedding.  It made me feel a little better, so who am I to judge my own wacky way of dealing with something?  Too funny--and weird!

 Speaking of being "poor," I picked up my tickets to Costa Rica this last week.  My best friend's parents live there and her one and only break for this year is going to coincide with my own fall break.  Since that's the situation, I'm going to head off to Costa Rica.  It hasn't hit me yet that I'm even going, but I know it will soon, since the trip is only three weeks away. The plane tickets were a little pricey, but it will be worth it to get to go spend a little time with my friend and her parents.  The fun location will really just be the sugar on top!  (Is it weird that I'm excited about a couple of plane rides so that I can get some good reading done?)

Well, I debated posting a peek behind the curtain this week, but I figure it's all the stuff that makes the person behind the blog real.  Right? Here's to a great week ahead, with a lot of reading and reviews to come!

How was your weekend and what are you looking forward to?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson-bestselling author of The Mother Tongue and Made in America-decided to return to the United States. ("I had recently read," Bryson writes, "that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another,so it was clear that my people needed me.") But before departing, he set out on a grand farewell tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.

Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes from a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie's Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. The result is an uproarious social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain, from the satiric pen of an unapologetic Anglophile."

Review:  If you're like I am, it can be awfully fun to read a good travel book that coordinates with somewhere you've visited or would like to visit.  Having read Bill Bryson's book In a Sunburned Country and laughed endlessly at his anecdotes, I knew I had to read this travel book about the British Isles.  I'm jealous that he had the chance to live there for so long and to get a feel for the local context behind how they view themselves.  A lot of times, a travel writer can only suppose how the locals view themselves or get inside their heads so that we see their world view.  In this case, I really did feel like Bryson was able to explain how Brits view the world and even why.  For instance, living in such a small "island" locale, things are only gauged by what's local.  What would feel like a little jaunt down to the southern end of my own state, to them feels like a real journey.  That just happens to be their frame of reference.

One thing you readily pick up on in Bryson's work is his disdain for sterile locations that have no thought for their beauty.  If buildings and lots are built over historically significant locations, and even more horrendously out of concrete, you get that he's not happy.  Having visited England, but simply traveled a bit, I 100% understand his thoughts on "civilization" and how we put towns together.  The well thought out buildings, cathedrals, hedgerows, and historical landmarks make a place and give it the charm we yearn for.  Enough said.

Bryson has exhaustively backed up his information about the cities and towns he visited with some of the history that went along with it.  In some cases, I had been where he discussed, so I was much more interested.  In others, I had never even heard of them, so I was less interested.  And in a final few more, I've wanted to go visit, so I paid a bit of extra attention.  In short, there is a lot of information that can take his books from a "fun read" to a bit of a travelogue. 

I really do enjoy Bryson's writing style and have grown to trust his knowledge about the places he writes.  I appreciate that he digs in and talks about the infrastructure, a bit about the food he ate (only from time to time), and the people he encountered.  Even if I haven't been where he is talking about, I feel like I'm tagging along.  For this travel buff, that's always a very good thing!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library e-book version of the book.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Footloose (2011)

Can I admit that I'm not sure how I feel about the updated version of Footloose that comes out next month?  Why, you ask?  Well, I was raised on the original.  It was one of the first soundtracks I ever owned.  I had a HUGE crush on Kevin Bacon when I was a teen.  And, to top it off, the movie was filmed near where I live and work.  Remember the mill where Wren worked and where they held the dance?  Well, they filmed it at the Lehi Roller Mills, which I drive by every morning on my way to work.  The school I teach at is basically on the same lot as the mill, but we're behind where the mill sits.  (The mill still runs and has some amazing products at their "Lehi Roller Mills" site that they sell.  All of their flour and mixes are amazing!  We give them as gifts all the time, and I stop in to pick flour up for daily use.)

Here's the original release, in case you haven't seen it in a long time:

Anyway, I'm feeling a lot of mixed feelings about the newest release.  Here's that release.  What do you think?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Avalon High by Meg Cabot

What's not to love about Meg Cabot.  Yes, she's one of my favorite authors for the range of books she writes and for the total entertainment factor I get out of her stories.  My students are always shocked to hear I read for pleasure (why is that?) and especially young adult fiction, so I guess I need to step up the books I take to class to share with them!  Maybe I can now take in my most recent read, Avalon High.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "To newcomer Ellie, Avalon High seems like a typical American high school, complete with jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, and even the obligatory senior class president, quarterback, and all-around good guy. But it doesn't take Ellie long to suspect that something weird is going on beneath the glossy surface of this tranquil hall of learning. As she pieces together the meaning of this unfolding drama, she begins to recognize some haunting Arthurian echoes, causing her to worry that she has become just a pawn in mythic history."

Review:  It's so easy to love the tone and style of Meg Cabot's writing.  Her stand alone books, like Avalon High, are every bit as accessible and fun to read as her longer-running series.  In this case, the main character Ellie really carries the story and helps you access what's going on.  In fact, you grow to like her pretty early on in the story and want to find out what will happen to her and the other classmates.

One thing that I think is kind of interesting with this story is the intermingling of King Arthur and Camelot into this tale.  Although there are moments where this back story is explained, I wondered if the real tie in mattered much to those who are unfamiliar?  For me, it was really fun to tie it back to the original tale.  Also, Cabot uses a reference to "The Lady of Shallot" throughout the entire book.  Whether you love the poem by itself or remember it being quoted by Anne of Anne of Green Gables, it is an amazing poem that is filled with that heroic love of days gone by.  All of these references make it a bit more fun to consider if you're a knowledgeable reader.  Do you have to get all of that?  Well, you can still enjoy this fun story, but it makes it a lot better when you get all the references.

One thing that I did notice though, that beyond the literary and historical references this story felt like it was meant for a younger audience than some of her teen novels.  I enjoyed the story, but mainly kept moving along because of my own background with the references.  This wasn't my own personal favorite out of her books, but I think it has a nice main character, a fun twist on the normal teen drama, and a little romance to round it out.  This was definitely a fun story that is different from some of what you might have read before, with plenty of Cabot's delightful style.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Blatherings & Weekend Cooking!

Where did another week go?  Now I'm wondering my weekend went as well!  Here are some of the things going on in my world.

Work:  I've joined our district's book club again this year.  I didn't advertise it this year, mainly because I was too busy and knew that the number of teachers participating had increased.  Regardless of the audience, it's great to see people get together to read and talk about books!  Our first one was Paranormalcy by Kiersten White.  I'll own up to the fact that I didn't get it finished in time, since I was neck deep in the books I've been teaching for class and the review copies I promised to read and review.  I'm going to finish it though and am pretty interested in the story so far.  Talk about an interesting twist to the story.  I kind of feel like I'm reading a book version of Saturday morning cartoons.  Yea, I'll have to explain that one, but I will say that it's a fun read so far.

My popular fiction students have recently set up their own  blogs.  I love seeing their creativity and the way they put together their posts.  The focus of the course is on reading, but you really need that element of writing to bring it together.  Blogs are just a fun way of doing that!  They are also about half way through The Hunger Games.  I'm not sure if I'll still teach it once the movie comes out, so this might be the last year for that one.

My AP class is just finishing up work we've been doing with Frankenstein.  Surprisingly, that reread was a pretty great experience for me.  The first time around I really didn't like it, so I was glad to get a new perspective the second time through and to see what my students have thought.  They are still pretty early in the whole "literary analysis" game, but they are doing well to pick out some nice themes, such as the dual nature of man, the dangers of creation, and man as creator.  We'll be finishing up and moving on to Wuthering Heights, which is another book I'm rereading for the SIXTH time.  No, not because I wanted to, but because I was required to by many of my undergraduate professors. This is my first time teaching it though, so I feel like I need to read it as a teacher, so I can pull out the themes and passages that I want to emphasize.  Still, it should be a great companion novel to Frankenstein and give us plenty to discuss.

My regular junior English classes are neck deep in writing.  That means that I'll soon be reading student papers and not my normal stack of books.  No worries.  It's my job, and I get that I need to see what they're writing if I'm going to help them move forward!

Personal:  I'm trying to get tickets to head to Costa Rica in October.  I thought the tickets would be free, with my frequent flyer miles from all of my other trips, but I think things changed a bit with the regions and miles so I'm going to have to pay.  It's all good.  I'm just excited to get this chance, especially since I'll be staying with my best friend at her parent's place there in Costa Rica.  It will be nice to spend time with all of them.  Getting a substitute for the couple of days I'll be gone (the rest is over fall break) won't be fun, but it will be worth it!

Blogging/Reading: I'm reading like crazy now.  My problem is finding the time to then post and comment.  I'm pretty lousy about all of it, but continue to enjoy trying.  That's what matters, right? 

Weekend Cooking:  Finally, I thought I'd share what I baked up today.  It's SO yummy!  I have this cookbook that is from 1970 that was put together for a church group in my small hometown in Idaho.  These recipes are old school, country cooking.  We're talking about a community that could cook and cooked comfort food galore. 

The recipe I'm making is called "Raw Apple Cake" because I needed to use up some older apples I have in the fridge.  Like a good batch of banana bread when your bananas have started to turn, this apple cake recipe is an AMAZING way to use up any apples you have rolling around in your fruit drawer.

The pictures make it look like it's actually not much to look at, but trust me when I say that it's really delicious.  Also, as a side note, this recipe is easily over 60 years old.  I've updated it with a few "options" that make it a little more heart healthy:  toss in 3-4 tbsp of flax meal, use whole wheat flour instead of white, and/or decrease the butter by 1/3 and add in a snack cup of applesauce (you can't replace too much of the butter or it doesn't caramelize right).

Here's the original recipe for "Raw Apple Cake"

1/2 c. shortening
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. soda
3 c. raw, chopped apples
1/2 c. nuts
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream shortening and sugar.  Add eggs and beat until mixture is fluffy and creamy.  Sift together the flour, spices, and soda, adding them in slowly to your wet mixture.  Add vanilla, apples, and nuts.  Mix well and put in 9" by 13" cake pan that has been greased and coated with a dusting of flour.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until it is a carmel colored brown on top and tests done in the middle when you poke it with a toothpick (it should come out clean).

Serve warm with ice cream, milk, half & half (according to the lady who wrote the recipe), or cream.

Just as my own note to this, I like to reheat it when I eat leftovers.  It really is best when it's warm.  Also, I generally store it in the fridge, to keep it from getting too soggy when left out.  Enjoy!

I actually have a bunch of these older recipes I should share.  One of them, an oatmeal cake recipe I have was one that my roommates used to beg me to make.  I'll dig them out too and maybe share them in a post or two later on.

For more weekend cooking, go to Beth Fish Reads.  You'll find all sorts of great food-related posts and recipes!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star by Heather Lynn Rigaud

I keep saying I should share the discussions we've been having in my literature classes, as they are both funny and really great all at the same time.  Admittedly, you have to reread pieces for class so you'll be ready, but I've been doing great with my own reading as well.  Go figure.  I'm doing better at my own reading now that I'm back to work.  Part of that is due to the books I've been reading for blog tours and my book club.  Talk about some fun reading!

On Monday I had a lovely Author Highlight post with Heather Lynn Rigaud author of Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star.  I loved that she took the time to answer some questions I had about how she met the challenge of staying true to the book, yet making it all her own.  Now I can share my review, which I've been eager to share!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Darcy's as hot as he is talented...
Fast music, powerful beats, and wild reputations-on and off stage-have made virtuoso guitarist Fitzwilliam Darcy's band into rock's newest bad boys. But they've lost their latest opening act, and their red-hot summer tour is on the fast track to disaster. Now Darcy and bandmates Charles Bingley and Richard Fitzwilliam are about to meet their match...

But she's about to rock his world...

Enter Elizabeth Bennet, fiercely independent star of girl-band Long Borne Suffering. Elizabeth, her sister Jane, and friend Charlotte Lucas have talent to spare and jump at the opening band slot. Elizabeth is sure she's seen the worst the music industry has to offer. But as the days and nights heat up, it becomes clear that everyone is in for a summer to remember."

Review:  Although Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star is an obvious take on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, this book really needs to be considered a book that stands on its own.  Purists would probably never get through the fast-paced, crazy lifestyle of rock stars on the road, which is just where we find our P&P characters.  The pride is definitely there, as would be expected with a big rock star like Darcy is in the novel, who has taken on a young girl group starring Jane, Elizabeth, and Charlotte.  The twist is not lost on this reader!  On the flip side, Elizabeth is not feeling Darcy's snobbery about these young girls that he seems to think are there to "love them and leave them" to take their money and fame.  Elizabeth is there because she's passionate about her music.  Enough said.  However, she can't help but notice that Darcy is pretty hot!

Much of the tension and social misunderstandings are still very present in this remake of the original.  I did really like the character development that still retained a lot of the characters I knew and loved.  Some characters are dropped from the story or hardly exist, such as the Bennet girls' other sisters and even their parents.  Mr. Collins is also a very small part, whereas Richard steps up to play a major character in this modernization.

I really enjoyed this new take.  Although the cover gives it this YA feel, I wouldn't say that this is in any way a young adult novel, with its strong "rock star" lifestyle represented through the drugs, alcohol, sex, and even abuse that played out.  I'm not a prude, but I'll admit to raising an eyebrow at some of the sex scenes in the book, which are decidedly not the norm for Austen's originals.  There is a lot of pheromones flying around in this book!

Although not the norm for Austen novels, this modernization is true to the character stories and pressures of the original.  I love the misunderstandings in the original, and there were just as many if not more tense moments built into Rigaud's story.  My background doesn't touch on the rock and roll world, but it was kind of fun to escape into that type of story.  If you can handle the rock lifestyle, prepare yourself for a spicy, hot read!

Thanks to Sourcebooks and Heather Lynn Rigaud for the chance to read this new release!  Check out Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star, newly released on September 1st.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Book Blogger Get Together & Library Loot

Sadly, I'm not participating in BBAW.  I'm kind of mad at myself for not pulling myself together more to get involved, but I'll admit to avoiding even the very thought of anything that requires me to sign up because of how crazy things are with work and my online job.  I'm sure enjoying all the posts though!  I know I'll be back in that groove soon, so for this year I'm just going to appreciate from the sidelines. 

All right.  It's time for me to make a confession and acknowledge that I'm NOT the camera queen.  Every time I leave an event or get together, I think, "Wait.  Why didn't you take a camera or get any pictures?"  Well, I'm regretting it about now when I want to report back on our Utah Book Blogger Summer Social.  Our numbers were small, but it was a fun time chatting about books, social media, and blogging in general. I met a few new (to me) bloggers, and chatted with others that I knew and had met before.  Thanks to everyone for such a great time!

I have to give a quick shout out and thank you to Allie Condie and Suey at It's All About Books for bringing us copies of her sequel Crossed, which comes out on November 1st.  I managed to win a copy that I'm going to have to read pretty quickly so I can pass it along to MANY of my students who are going to be knocking down my classroom door to borrow it.  Thanks for the books Allie and for bringing them to share, Suey!  Also, thanks again to Suey (from above), Natasha at Maw Books Blog and Emily at Emily's Reading Room for putting this great event together.

On the home front with reading, I managed to make it up to the gym and library (they usually go hand in hand since they are next door to one another) on Monday.  Yes.  It's a modern miracle!  The power went out right at the end of our meetings and we were told to turn everything off.  Since it was time to go anyway, that was the big push to just shut down and head home.  I suffered through a workout and then ran to the library.  Here's what I picked up:

Well, that is only a small dent in the  number of books I have stacked around the house, in my room, on the shelves, and even on the floors.  It's always great though to have plenty of options!

What great finds have you made lately?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Author Highlight & Blog Post: Heather Lynn Rigaud of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star

This week I'll be posting a review of the newest Pride and Prejudice remake, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star.  As part of the review, I had the great opportunity to ask the author a few questions and am excited to have Heather Lynn Rigaud here to share her post with us!

One of the things that I really wanted to know had more to do with the writing process and what she expected out of her audience.  Let's face it.  People can either really love a great remake or feel pretty upset that their sacred original was manipulated.  I happen to love remakes and modernizations (obviously), so having the chance to hear from Heather about how she approached her own retelling with that in mind was really interesting to me.  I hope you enjoy her discussion as much as I have!

Thanks for having me here, Becky. I'm delighted to have a chance to write about my book, Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star. I was asked about my target audience and if I wanted my readers to connect my book back to the original Pride and Prejudice.

Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star was originally written for, and posted on, a Jane Austen Fan Fiction board called the Hyacinth Gardens. It's possible some of your readers remember it. That board was started specifically to be a place where writers could share their work in a safe and supportive atmosphere, where creativity and risk-taking was strongly encouraged. I think it's very telling that several published writers got their start in that incubator.

So, it was pretty clear that I wanted a good connection to Austen's work. I read and re-read Pride and Prejudice as I was planning, plotting and writing, to keep track of where each character was emotionally, as well as the conflicts going on outside their heads. I worked hard to find modern equivalents to the important plot points.

Famous proposal scene from P&P 2005
My goal was to find modern ways to describing the class difference between Darcy and Elizabeth. Much of P&P is all about class- Elizabeth's family is socially inferior to Darcy's and he goes on, at length, about this in his terrible first proposal at Hunsford. These days, it's very hard to find ways of illustrating class differences. But I felt that fame and celebrity was one of those ways.

I tried to make my work something of a variation on a theme. I tried to be creative, while keeping with Austen's themes of class difference, and societal boundaries. Darcy is famous, from a famous family; Elizabeth is talented like Darcy, but hasn't achieved fame, her family is successful, but not famous. Darcy recognizes that Elizabeth's band of 'up and comers' might use his band's fame to improve their situations, and he feels he needs to protect them from her and her friend and sister. Much like how Darcy felt he needed to protect Bingley from Jane in Pride and Prejudice.

So there are the similarities, but it's also very much my story. Readers looking for stiff, formal interactions are going to be disappointed. These are very modern people, living a very high drama lifestyle. While readers will easily be able to spot the Hunsford proposal or the visit to Pemberley, I tried to make these guideposts to be as organic to the story I was telling as possible.

A good example is Jane becoming ill at Netherfield and needing to stay there to recover. This scene is really highlights how much things have changed from the Regency, because being so sick that you're unable to get 3 miles to your home simply makes no sense at all to us. So, looking at the fact that the characters are all performers, I changed the situation to one in which Jane is concussed from a bottle that's thrown at her head while she's onstage. Storywise, it serves my purpose of giving Darcy and Elizabeth a reason to be talking to each other. Austen fans will recognize what it is. And people who haven't read Austen won't realize I'm basing it on something else and wonder what I'm writing about.

I find it's very telling that in my first two blog reviews, one review said "She kept to the original so well" and the other said, "This isn't Austen". I hope that means that I've managed to walk the line between an update of the work and a fantasy based on the work. (I had a similar feeling of success when I posted the Hunsford scene and half my readers were mad at Darcy and the other half was mad at Lizzy.)

Heather Lynn Rigaud
This is much more technical than most of the posts I've written on my blog tour, and I hope your readers don't find it very dull. While I did put a great deal of thought and planning into the story, I also tried to make it fun and exciting. I feel this is the framework that's behind the pretty stuff in the front.

Thank you for giving me a chance to talk about my thought process on writing this story. I'm looking forward to your reader's comments and getting a chance to see what they think.  

(Highlights included by One Literature Nut.)

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Thank you so much to Heather Lynn Rigaud for sharing a bit more about how she came up with her modernization of Pride and Prejudice.  I appreciated learning more about your writing process and will say I didn't find it dull at all!  Without giving away too much from my review, I will say that fans of the original will definitely sense the pacing and emotional tensions of the original, while enjoying this completely original story and characters.   Thanks again Heather!

Fitzwilliam Darcy Rock Star was published on September 1st, so check it out today.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Decade of Memories: 9/11

I said I wouldn't post anything today, but I really felt compelled to at least say that I, like many others, remember.  After what was a pretty shortened but hard week, the memory of 9/11 puts things back into perspective.

Almost ten years prior to 9/11, I stood on top of one of the Twin Towers to take pictures with the high school group I was traveling with.  I can still remember how frighteningly tall they were and how small I felt.

Fast forward another ten years.  I was at my first teaching job in St. Anthony, Idaho and had arrived at work knowing that something bad was happening in New York City and elsewhere.  My newspaper students funneled in, doing nothing more than watching the television that we left on, asking me endless questions that I couldn't answer.  The TV stayed on all day, as my World History class came in next, asking me questions about Islam, Muslims, and terrorists that once again--I couldn't answer.

In the midst of all this, I felt desperation to find my best friend, who lived just south of the Twin Towers and was attending NYU at the time.  I kept calling all morning, but couldn't reach her.  I finally called her mother, who said that Monica had reached a pay phone and called to say she was all right, but had been evacuated out of the area.  It took her a week of living from the backpack she carried out of her apartment that morning, with what little cash she had on her, and the clothes on her back until she could return home to her apartment.

In Washington, D.C. the plane that crashed into the Pentagon killed our family friend's son.  It was all so maddening.

Two weeks later, I flew out to New York City to visit my best friend, having already had my tickets before 9/11 occurred.  Flying into the city late at night, the plane banked the area of lower Manhattan and ground zero, and I'll never forget the hush that fell over the plane as we looked onto that area, lit by football stadium-size lights.  The rubble was unending.

Each day during my visit, we had to walk past Ground Zero.  My friend asked if I wanted to take a picture, but I couldn't.  The picture is still in my mind.  They all are.

We're ten years beyond that time, but today I needed to take a moment to remember.

I didn't have any plans to address 9/11 today, until I saw Paul Simon's performance of "The Sound of Silence".  The words and music of that song broke open my own silence and tapped into those feelings and thoughts from a decade ago.  If you haven't had a chance to see his performance, I'm including it below.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Utah Book Bloggers Summer Social 2011

Hi!  Just a quick reminder about our Utah Book Bloggers Summer Social coming up this Saturday!

  • WHEN:  Saturday, September 10th at 6pm
  • WHERE:  Vivian Park in Provo Canyon at the small pavilion  (Take 800 North in Orem to Provo Canyon, 5.8 miles up the canyon, park is on the right, pavilion is on the right after turning into the park.)
  • WHO:  Book bloggers, authors, booksellers, etc.
  • WHAT:  Families are invited.  We will be having pulled-pork sandwiches and ask that you bring a potluck item to the bash.
  •  HOW:  Really, there is no how here!  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. (Thanks for all the RSVPs so far!)

We hope you can come and look forward to chatting and socializing again!  We'll see you there.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Review: Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Thank goodness for a really good graphic novel to set me on track again!  I saw this one on the "New Releases" shelf at my local library and gladly snatched it up. 

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn’t kidding about the “Forever” part . . . Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who’s been dead for a century. Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya’s normal life might actually be worse. She’s embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she’s pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend—even a ghost—is just what she needs. Or so she thinks."

Review:  As many graphic novels are prone to be, this was a really fast read, but with lots of interesting depth.  Anya's challenges in coming from an immigrant family are not lost on the reader.  Early on in the story we find Anya tossing out her mother's ethnic food, in favor of what she deems more "normal" and then heading off to school.  Along the way, she falls down a well and meets the ghost of a girl that died from falling down the same well. What seems like a sad little ghost of a previous sweet girl though, might not be all she's led Anya to believe.  

Obviously, Anya is saved from the well, but her little ghost friend is not left behind.  Rather than helping Anya to fit in better, this ghost has not been as forthright about her death as she should have been, leaving Anya with way more on her hands than just her cultural difference.  The story does turn spooky, giving Anya bigger things to worry about than her own ethnic background.  In true graphic novel fashion, this spooky story still has a light-heartedness about it that we know will somehow lead to a happy ending.

I really liked Anya's Ghost and found the story to be one that I fell into pretty quickly.  The pictures are well done and the dialogue propels the action forward.  Besides the action, we still understand the emotions felt by many of the characters.  Anya just wants to feel "normal" like most teens, but with a ghost hanging around, that leads to more abnormal than one might expect!  In the scope of storytelling, graphic novels, and the supernatural, this was a fun and spooky tale that pulled me out of my own little reading slump.  Thanks to the creativity of artists and authors combined, their vision came together in an engaging story that plays with the modern and old, with the dark and the light.  If you're looking for a fun ghost story that still gets marks for being creepy, then this is a nice one to try out.

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Value of a Re-Read: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

In preparation for this year's AP English Literature and Composition class, I assigned the novel Frankenstein for their summer read.  Despite knowing the wealth of information and analysis waiting in this famous novel, I've never been a real fan.  So why assign it, right?  Well, my first reading of the novel had more to do with ME than actually not liking the novel.

Here's my deal.  The first time I read Frankenstein was actually not long after graduating from grad school, just over four years ago.  At the time, I was coming out of a four year relationship that I didn't want to see end, but knew was necessary.  In short, I was bitter, sad, and angry.  So there I was reading Frankenstein, about this monster who keeps getting rejected by any human being he came in contact with, including his creator.  Not only that, but his big resolution was to ask for Victor Frankenstein (his creator) to make him a mate so that he wouldn't be alone?!?  Bah!  Even now, when I put myself in the mindset I was in at the time, I know exactly why I hated that stupid monster and the novel altogether.  The monster was justified in feeling kicked around and derided by everyone he knew, but thinking that a girl monster as a companion would just solve everything made me annoyed to no end!  Yes, I 100% read myself into the story.  Yes, I saw myself as that monster, as continually kicked around by life.  The difference was that I saw the reality of needing to suck it up and move on!  Poor monster.  I was guilty of reading myself into the text way too much.

Let's fast forward four years.  My own heart has had a chance to heal and be thankful for the conclusion of a relationship that wasn't meant to be.  I went back and re-read Frankenstein so that I'd be ready to discuss the themes and plot lines in the story with my students.  This time around, I found myself more sensitive to the monster's anguish and much more frustrated with Victor for being so self absorbed and narcissistic that he couldn't realize his role in all the bad that had happened.  With a little aesthetic distance on my part, the themes came out a bit stronger and I wasn't consumed by emotional conclusions I couldn't escape that first time around.

This led me to question other books that I might have read myself into or even misunderstood at a different time.  For instance, I know that I didn't get all the nuances of The Glass Menagerie when I first read it in high school. That didn't, however, eliminate me from seeing many different themes from the beginning.  I can't say that I would just not read a book or dissuade someone from reading a novel or play because they couldn't directly connect with it, because there is still a lot to get out of them.  Although, on the other hand, I would say that I've learned that you just might have to give novels you've had a strong reaction to a second chance.  In some cases an experience or two, or year or two, can change your entire perspective on a novel and its themes.

Now, where can we get the extra time we need so we can re-read?

What books have you read again and had a different response to the second time around?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday Blatherings, Not Sunday

What a strange, overcast day it is today.  It feels as if the weather got the memo that today is supposed to herald our next season, fall.  Honestly, I haven't had nearly enough summer for my tastes and am quickly learning that I would be happiest if I could have ten months of spring & summer and only two of fall & winter.  That's okay though.  I'll gear up for fall weather and all that the change of seasons bring with them!

My three day weekend has been relatively boring, which was just the way I wanted it.  After working late all last week, I was eager for some down time.  I still have a stack of grading to work my way through before tomorrow, but really I'm doing good.  Since I pretty much continued teaching online classes and had meetings off and on all summer, it wasn't a very bumpy transition back into work again.  What's an 8" stack of grading anyway?  (Ha, ha.)

Okay, enough about work!  Besides grading and sleeping, I spent a good chunk of time reading.  Talk about a luxury.  I can't say for sure why I've been such a slug about it, but I'm eager to get back to reading for pleasure.  On Sunday I must have spent five hours reading some of the books I've been trying to finish or need to review.  Talk about a nice escape!

Here's what I've been reading.  What about you?

One last thing that I wanted to share before I end my literal blatherings for this week.  Starting today is the one year anniversary for the Austen Authors blog site.  Many of the contemporary remakes, retellings, and follow ups to Austen's works are featured on this blog, along with a few other writers who are associated with the publisher Sourcebooks.  It's just a great site to learn about fun new reads and about the authors who write them, so if you get a chance, stop on by to check out all the fun goings on for their anniversary.

Well, that's it for me this week.  I have a stack of grading that I still need to get to, so I better push onward so I can get back to my reading.  For all those here in the U.S. who have had a chance to celebrate Labor Day, I hope it was a great one!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: Marked by P.C. Cast

Thank goodness it's the weekend.  I don't think I made it home before 7pm even one day this week.  That meant I was doing a little around the house, then collapsing into bed so I could get up and go back to school again.  Work is really good though and I have great classes.  It has been a long week though, so I'm happy to have three days off to catch up with grading, reading, and sleeping!

Having said that, I'm thankful for the little bit of reading I did snatch up.  Now it's time to catch up on a few reviews!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "The House of Night series is set in a world very much like our own, except in 16-year-old Zoey Redbird's world, vampyres have always existed.  In this first book in the series, Zoey enters the House of Night, a school where, after having undergone the Change, she will train to become an adult vampire--that is, if she makes it through the Change.  Not all of those who are chosen do.  It's tough to begin a new life, away from her parents and friends, and on top of that, Zoey finds she is no average fledgling.  She has been Marked as special by the vampyre Goddess, Nyx.  But she is not the only fledgling at the House of Night with special powers.  When she discovers that the leader of the Dark Daughters, the school's most elite club, is misusing her Goddess-given gifts, Zoey must look deep within herself for the courage to embrace her destiny--with a little help from her new vampyre friends."

Review:  Marked was a fun boarding school, magical, vampire book that feels familiar because of all the other books you've ever read that uses one of those scenarios.  In this case, Zoey is the special character who enters the House of Night school with her own special talents.  There is the love interest that she likes right off, and a series of friends who are jealous of her and want to see her go down, but the real point is that Zoey has something unique about her that gives her advanced powers.

I have seen Marked floating around for some time and have many students who have read the series.  I finally decided to read it for myself and thought that it was better than I expected.  Although it has a very strong YA feel to it that will make it appeal mainly to teens (as it should), the story is fun and engaging without being too dark.  I liked Zoey's friends and the characters that she interacted with.  The magic and paranormal elements in the story were interesting as well, and didn't feel too far-fetched to really believe they could exist.  Overall, I can see why this series has gotten so much attention.  In the teen vampire genre, this one has its own fun twist that helps it stand out.

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