Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Pride and Prejudice!

Happy Anniversary, Pride and Prejudice!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that January 28, 2013 marks the bicentennial of the publication of one of the most beloved novels in the English language. Join the Pride and Prejudice Anniversary Party blog hop hosted by Alyssa Goodnight and Stiletto Storytime.

Dearest Jane, (May I call you that? It doesn't sound right somehow.)
I read your book for the first time at university, where girls are allowed to attend in my day (but for fun, not for class). I had seen bits of the Colin Firth mini-series version on TV and had recently seen Emma Thompson's adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. (Television and the movies are like the theatre, but an image is recorded and played back). When I first read the book, I got caught up in the story, even thought I knew the outcome. (Thank you Nora Ephron for You’ve Got Mail!) I thought Elizabeth only married Mr. Darcy because he was a nice guy who cared about her but she did not really love him. I worried about her future happiness. The more I read the book, the more I discover and I have revised my opinion to see that Elizabeth truly comes to love Darcy.  I became hooked on the beautiful writing style and have been in love ever since! There are so many subtle nuances in the story that the more I read, the more I discover. The book is now one of my favorites. I feel a strong connection to Elizabeth, especially since my father and brother-in-law often sound like Mrs. Bennet! ("Marry for money!")

You, Miss Austen, have become one of my favorite authors. You make me smile and cry and sigh all in one novel. Your themes still stand true even after 200 years. Thank you for sharing your delightful creation with the rest of us.

Yours sincerely,
Queen Pooh Bear

When was the first time you read Pride and Prejudice? What were your impressions? If you haven't read the book, have you read any modern adaptations or seen any of the movies? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter -- Young Adult Classic (1904)
illustrated by Ruth Ives

Freckles, scrawny, redhaired, freckled, orphaned (sound familiar?) and missing a hand longs for a place to belong in this world. He's run away from a cruel apprenticeship to the swamp known as the Limberlost in central Indiana searching for work. McLean, the owner of a lumber company, sees potential in the young man and hires Freckles to guard the Limberlost against would-be thieves and dangerous critters. Freckles soon endears himself to the head teamster Duncan and family, but is unsure of McLean's feelings at first. When he learns of a wager against him, he vows to protect the Limberlost with every breath. Freckles comes to love the Limberlost, especially the birds which he tames. He also falls in love with the Angel, a teenage girl from town who visits the swamp with Bird Woman, a wildlife photographer. Freckles thinks he needs to protect Angel but soon learns she can hold her own. There may even come a time or two when Angel has to protect Freckles when some wicked villains and a terrible accident seem to be the end of Freckles. Unfortunately for Freckles, though he is physically strong and brave, he is still an unknown orphan and therefore, unworthy of a girl like Angel. Angel may have other ideas and so might McLean. I chose this book as my first pick in the pre-1960 Children's Classics Challenge. I've had it for years but never read it. I didn't like to read about boys. This story qualifies more as a young adult novel since Freckles is 20 and Angel is about 16. The story starts off very slowly with absolutely no plot except the internal fears of Freckles, but once the villains and the ladies are introduced, the story picks up and I had a hard time putting it down. The plot is somewhat predictable and follows a lot of the conventions of late-Victorian children's book plots but in many ways it is different. The primary character in the story is the Limberlost. All the flora and fauna in this amazing ecosystem are described in exquisite detail. My heart broke each time they mentioned cutting down the trees for I could not bear to see the habitat of so many rare plants and animals destroyed. There's somewhat of an environmental message in the story. Freckles comes to care for animals dearly and the Limberlost becomes his home, yet he's eager to please McLean and doesn't seem too bothered by the fact that cutting down trees will scare his "chickens" as he calls the wild birds who flock to him. He has no problems shooting an otter just for the fur, either. I doubt that people at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century had ever heard the word ecosystem or really understood extinction or maybe they didn't care. The author seems to care yet she pretty much drops the message in favor of advancing the romantic plot and the mystery of Freckles' past. I cared about Freckles, but I found him a bit too noble to be an appealing hero. I loved Bird Woman and Angel. I love reading about strong women from that time period and I was fascinated by Bird Woman and wanted to know more about her. If you like Anne of Green Gables, Secret Garden and Little Lord Fonterloy, you will probably enjoy this book though it doesn't quite captivate young girls in the same way. It might be a good book to introduce boys to a classic canon of comparable novels. 
A note of the Junior Deluxe Illustrated Classics edition: The illustrations are dreadful. Freckles is depicted as far older and more rugged than he's described in the book and the dull colors do not fully depict the Limberlost as a magical, amazing place.

The Jumping-Off Place by Marion Hurd McNeely --Children's Classic (1929)

This 1929 Newbery Honor (runner-up) was my second pick for the challenge. This book follows the story of Becky (17), Dick (15), Phil (10) and Joan (8) Linville as they leave behind their home in Platteville, Wisconsin to homestead out in South Dakota in 1910. Their beloved Uncle Jim squatted the claim last fall, before his untimely death, and the children are determined to live out Uncle Jim's dream for him. Though he laid out detailed instructions for the children, homesteading is far more difficult than any of the Linvilles ever anticipated. First there's a family of ornery, evil squatters living on the Linville land who will stop at nothing to drive the Linvilles out. Then there's drought, blizzards, death and near starvation to contend with. Through it all, the Linvilles are determined to go on even when life seems bleak and miserable. They discover that that prairie is not so isolated as they thought and discover their place in the community. It focuses on the struggle of these four children to get along and do what they need to do to survive and the bond they form with other homesteaders. This new edition published by the South Dakota State Historical Society in 2008 features the original wood cut illustrations, an afterward about the author and a glossary of period words used in the book. I really liked this little book. I ate up everything about pioneers when I was growing up and can't believe I missed this one! Some of the plot elements felt very cliched but actually, this book was published before the Little House series and all the other pioneer novels I read as a kid! The story is infused with local color (quirky homesteaders down on their luck), descriptive settings and well-drawn characters. The descriptions of South Dakota are lovely and detailed enough to feel like you are right there with the Linvilles seeing everything through their eyes. By the end of the book, prairie fever might catch hold of an unsuspecting reader. (Not I, I would have run home right away!) The children were all very realistic and fought like normal siblings. I liked seeing them struggle to get along and mature. The plot is paced nicely to keep the reader interested in learning what happens to the Linvilles. This book is truly a hidden treasure and it's unfortunate the author's life was tragically cut short or I am sure she would have entered the canon of classic children's literature. This is a great book for Little House fans and lovers of pioneer novels from age 8+.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lincoln: A Movie Review

Lincoln: A Movie Review

Last weekend my parents and I went to see Lincoln. I've never read the book the movie is based on but I've read a lot about Lincoln and the Civil War. The movie focuses on the last few months of Lincoln's presidency when he was determined to end the war by passing the Thirteenth Amdendment, which would free the slaves once and for all. Leading the charge for the Amendment is Thaddeus Stevens, a Senator from Pennsylvania who has spent his entire career trying to free the slaves. He's a tough old man, worn down from many difficult years of fighting for social justice. He believes the Declaration of Independence "All men are created equal" should be taken literally, but to publicly declare that could be a career killer and thwart the passage of the amendment. Lincoln's opponents from the South want to discuss peace. Lincoln wants his amendment passed and he'll stop at nothing, even delaying peace, to get it. It isn't an easy task to get Congress to pass the Amendment so Lincoln needs a little help from some rough characters who will pursue the lawmakers, bribe or threaten them until they give in. 

Lincoln is aging rapidly. The Presidency and personal affairs have taken their toll on him. He must deal with the grief of losing his favorite son and the knowledge that his headstrong eldest son wants to march off to fight and possibly be killed. His beloved wife Mary is emotionally fragile and has never gotten over the death of their boy Willie. There's only the youngest son, Tad, an energetic, eager young boy, to brighten Lincoln's days.

This movie isn't for everyone. It's primarily about politics than a biopic of Lincoln's life. Many of the scenes recreate debates in Congress or show the wheeling and dealing of the early lobbyists. Even though audience knows the course of history, it's intense watching the battle, wondering what will happen and waiting for that final vote. While it was interesting to see how Congress operated in the 1860s and see how the Thirteenth Amendment became a law, it's very slow and there's lots (and lots) of talking which makes the movie difficult to understand at times. 

My interests lie in social history so I preferred the scenes in the White House that humanized the Lincolns and made them into flesh and blood people. The set details were incredible and it really seemed as if we were looking at the Executive Mansion and the Capitol in 1865. All of the historic paintings and period furnishings were painstakingly recreated for the film. Some of the scenes were staged from photographs and I liked seeing the well-known image reeneacted by flesh and blood people. I adore that kind of attention to detail. I especially loved Mrs. Lincoln's clothes! She was known for her sense of fashion and design (and running up the National debt with her spending).

Especially riveting was Daniel Day Lewis's portrayal of President Lincoln. Though he is not as tall as Lincoln and the movie magic moments to make him appear so are rather cheesy, he perfectly captured the essence of Lincoln. Having done his research, Daniel Day Lewis speaks with a high, reedy sort of voice that people say Lincoln had. It's a very kind, gentle voice with none of the actor's natural British accent showing through at all. Seeing the movie on the big screen really enhances the emotional connection. The audience can see every wrinkle and gray hair and the dark shadows under Lincoln's eyes and know that this is not a well man but a man troubled by all he has been through and everything that is happening. He's deeply emotional, trying to stay calm during a tempest in a teacup but occasionally loses his cool. All of the emotions are backed up by actions and body language that demonstrate just how difficult Lincoln's life was. 

Sally Field was good as the emotionally fragile Mary Todd Lincoln who alternates between flirtatious and steely Southern belle to a deeply sad woman haunted by past mistakes and what-ifs. The acting was pretty good but I wouldn't say she was stellar. She wasn't in the movie very often. There was a nice chemistry between Lincoln and Mary when they were together. 

The other real stand out was young Gulliver McGrath as Tad Lincoln. He provided some of the comic relief in the story. He was cute and charming without being overly precocious. His dialogue sounded natural and his acting was very natural too. I could easily believe he was a young boy experiencing something he didn't understand, wanting attention badly to be a grown up and part of it but still a child wanting attention from his dad and a loving son, helping his father through difficult times.

I really only had one major problem with the film. The movie doesn't mention that Lincoln was only interested in freeing the slaves to keep the country together. He was pretty much as bigoted as any other man of his time. He detested slavery but didn't really know what to do with slaves once they were free. At one point in his career, he thought about shipping them off somewhere. The movie has a narrow focus, which is fine, but I think that should have been mentioned.

My other quibble with the movie is that Elizabeth Keckly was a dressmaker with her own business. She wasn't a lady's maid, she didn't live at the White House. She did serve as a surrogate Mammy for Mary Lincoln at times when Mary found herself in need of comfort.

My parents didn't like the ending and found it a bit confusing but otherwise enjoyed the movie. I felt it was important but could have come a bit sooner and then ended the movie that way.

Overall, I liked it and I'm glad I saw it. Would I vote for it as Best Picture at the Oscars? I'm not sure, not having seen many of the other movies nominated. I would definitely vote for Daniel Day Lewis though. (Sorry Hugh, I still love you!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Unexpected Miss Bennet by Patrice Sarath -- Austenesque

This sequel to Pride and Prejudice is all about Mary, the awkward middle Bennet daughter. She's bookish and uncomfortable in social situations. Now her two eldest sisters are happily wed and Lydia ... well, the less said about her the better, Mary begins to wonder what will happen to her. She discovers that her old comforting Fordyce's Sermons is no longer the balm to her soul it once was. It even seems as if Fordyce didn't know young women at all! Mary's whole world is shaken by her new found revelations. Jane and Lizzy hatch a scheme to "do something" about Mary. While Kitty enjoys London with the Bingleys, Mary is sent to Pemberley to stay with the Darcys. She discovers unexpected friendships, hardships and joys as she comes of age and discovers that she is the unexpected Bennet. This story is a wonderful continuation/spin-off of Pride and Prejudice. It focuses primarily on Mary with a little bit about the other characters. I liked the focus on Mary who is the forgotten sister. I can relate to her shyness and bookishness. While I can't relate to her sermonizing and her reasons behind it or some of the decisions she makes, I can empathize with her. She's entirely likeable and sympathetic. She's not a drama queen middle child but a quiet one, lost in the middle. She's not a girl anymore and she faces and uncertain future and is determined to meet it on her own terms. Her suitor is very unexpected as well. I liked him a lot. The romance is very quiet and not really very present. It's closer to a meeting of the minds, as Georgette Heyer would call it, but not. Those looking for grand sweeping passion and heat, look elsewhere. Mary remains true to herself. That is what I loved most about this novel, that the characters were all true to Jane Austen's creations. Each one, except Mary, acted as they had at the finale of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins is especially spot-on obnoxious! There is one exception, whose personality turns out to be a welcome surprise and an unexpected friend for Mary. There are a few minor bumps in the story but I enjoyed the story so much I forgot that some things were mentioned once or twice and never again. This is Mary's coming-of-age story and she grows and changes as a result of her experiences and reflections on them. Another wonderful thing about this novel is that it captures the tone of Jane Austen's writing while not copying it exactly or writing from an 1813 dictionary. The novel reads more like a young adult book than a classic Jane Austen novel but I liked the style. The writing flows smoothly and is easy to read. Janeites from teens on up will enjoy this wonderful story. I hope to read more from this author in the future. I would like to see Kitty, Georgiana and Anne's stories told.

Midsummer Moon by Joy Reed -- Regency Romance

Miss Jane Reynolds is spending the summer in the country with her Aunt Cordelia and  cousin Cynthia while her Aunt Daphne with whom she usually lives in Bath, tours the battlefields in Europe with Aunt Cordelia's husband. When they learn that an eccentric elderly neighbor died and left her estate and fortune to her nephew, Sir George Overton, one of the most eligible bachelors in London, Aunt Cordelia and Cynthia, who is just Out, get the matchmaking bug. When headstrong Cynthia persuades Jane to visit Sir George's estate grounds before he arrives, Jane has misgivings but goes along with the plan. Then, during a moment of madness, somewhat disheveled, they come face to face with Sir George himself. Embarrassed, Jane is sure Sir George, a notable dandy will have a disgust of her, but instead she finds a man with a sense of humor similar to her own. Rather than sell the estate right away, Sir George seems inclined to stay on for the summer and one of his reasons seems to be Jane. Jane thinks a pink of the ton such as Sir George could never be interested in a plain, shy spinster such as herself. There's nothing more on his mind than idle amusement. He must be more interested in the lusty widow chasing after him, but if so, then why does he pay so much attention to Jane?  As the midsummer moon approaches and Jane's family hosts a masquerade ball, she soon learns how lovely plain Jane can be. This is a lovely, sweet story. The characters and plot are largely original which is very refreshing. Sir George is neither a rake nor a Corinthian. He's not even an Alpha hero. He's known as a Dandy and rattle but his sense of humor shows him to be well-read and intelligent, traits that will endear him to any romantic reader. Jane is an original heroine is well. She can be shy and tongue-tied at time, something I can relate to very well. The relationship between the heroine and hero develops really nicely. They get to know each other and really connect. There's no major chemistry or fireworks but there is a lovely friendship based on mutual interests that develops into more, which I absolutely loved. There are lots of chuckle out loud moments, especially during a dinner party. The detailed descriptions the Priory and gardens are amazing. I felt like I was walking along with the characters. My only complaint is that the story goes on too long. The big misunderstanding happens late in the story and feels out of place at that point. It's obvious what happened and Jane's reaction was so out of character that that part of the novel felt forced. Newcomers to the genre who love the fashions of the period will find this novel a good place to start. Long-time fans of the genre will love this well-written, intelligent, sweet story. It's not quite one for the keeper shelf, but definitely one of the better Zebra Regencies.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pre-1960 Children's Classics Challenge

Pre-1960 Children's Classics Challenge

Kimberly at Turning the Pages is hosting a challenge right up my alley. Children's classics are my favorites and I should have no trouble at all rereading my childhood favorites. I love to visit use and rare bookshops searching for pre-1910 children's books.

Read the rules at Turning the Pages!

My list:

Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter 
The Jumping-Off Place by Marian Hurd McNeely


Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter 
Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen


Along Came a Dog by Meindert DeJong

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Blue Willow by Doris Gates
The Silver Pencil by Alice Daglish
Fog Magic by Julia Sauer
The Melendy Family by Elizabeth Enright

Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink


Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Dear Enemy by Jean Webster


What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen -- Austenesque/ Historical Fiction

After war was declared in 1941, Maggie Joyce left her small coal mining town in eastern Pennsylvania hoping never to return. Since the end of the war she has been working for the Army Exchange Service first in Germany and now in London. Her time in London is probably almost up, so when her friend Pamela, a Derbyshire native, reveals that she grew up near an estate, Montclair, that is rumored to be the home of the real life model for Mr. Darcy, Maggie jumps at the chance to visit Montclair, the setting of her favorite book, and learn more about the history of the Laceys. Her search introduces her to the Crowells, a local family who know more than anyone about the real story behind the novel. Beth Crowell shares with Maggie the story of Elizabeth Garrison and William Lacey through their letters and journal entries. Maggie is fascinated by the story and quickly becomes an honorary member of the Crowell family. That comes with complications as their handsome son Michael is home on leave and very flirtatious. Maggie is uncomfortable and reluctant to respond to Michael's flirting. Soon she meets an American flier, Rob McAllister : handsome, charming and commitment shy. As the lives of the characters intersect, Maggie learns how war can leave invisible scars on people. She must decide where her future lies and hope for the best. Maggie deserves a happily ever after though and she may decide, like Elizabeth, to seize the chance even if happiness seems impractical. This is a very lengthy novel, clocking in at over 400 pages. I confess I didn't read every word because most of the novel is not actually a novel but a history lesson. The author did an amazing job researching the Georgian era to post-World War II England. I applaud her for that, but I didn't like the way she told the story. Large chunks of the book include monologues on the wars and backstories of the contemporary characters. There isn't a lot of actual storytelling in this novel and I really didn't like the way the little bit of fiction was fit in. You think you know the story of Pride and Prejudice, but there are some major differences between the "real life"Garrison/Lacey romance and the story as told by Jane Austen, so Maggie and the reader, are left wondering whether the real people actually were the models for the novel. The truth is eventually revealed. As if the stories within a story, isn't complicated enough, Maggie has her own romantic dilemma to solve. The subplots are incredibly hard to follow as they skip around in time and involve an extraordinary amount of people. It would have been nice to have a family tree and a list of characters because I kept forgetting who the characters were. Because the story is told in a disconnected way, I had a hard time getting into it and feeling anything for the characters. I was mainly interested the the story behind Pride and Prejudice and didn't care about the rest. It was mostly unnecessary. A lot of the history is not needed because it doesn't move the story along. If I wanted a history, I would have picked up a textbook or non-fiction tome. I did start to feel for Maggie in the last third of the book, once her love story became the focus. I could identify with wanting to move away from a small town and wanted her to succeed and be happy. I could also somewhat relate to the religious and ethnic prejudices. The twists and turns of her love triangle are a but surprising. More time is spent with one love interest over the other and drags the story out way too much. I was surprised by some of the events in her story but not surprised at who she chose in the end. For me, the romance wasn't very satisfying because the conclusion comes rather suddenly. Then, there's more plot that just made me want to give up on the book. I decided to push on and finish even though it was very late. I also disliked the number of mistakes in the character names. It was confusing enough to think of the characters from Pride and Prejudice as real people and to have the author confuse them and use the wrong name made it more difficult. For those who want to know: there are some love scenes but only one is depicted a bit too much. This review is nearly as long as the book, so I would recommend parts of the book but would not advise reading every word. Skip most of the first half, read only about the Garrisons and Laceys, skip ahead to the last third and ignore the rest. Janeites will enjoy the story behind the story, Downton Abbey fans will love the World War I romance and history buffs will eat up every single detail of the history in this story.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James -- Austenesque Historical Fiction

Buried in the wall at Chawton Manor House lies a trunk full of papers that once belonged to Jane Austen. The papers prove to be a secret memoir, composed by the author in the last decade and a half of her life. The memoir sheds light on a rumored seaside romance hinted at by Cassandra Austen. In the memoir, Jane sets out to show how a spinster writer of romances could draw upon her own feelings and experiences to create memorable characters and plot lines. On holiday to Lyme with her brother Henry, Jane nearly falls off the Cobb and is rescued by a handsome gentleman, Mr. Frederick Ashford, heir to a baronetcy and a grand estate in Derbyshire. Ashford happens to be traveling in company with Henry's old school friend Mr. Churchill and his wife. Cheerful, friendly Mr. Churchill is happy to renew the acquaintance and socialize with the Austens while in Lyme. In Mr. Ashford, Jane finds a true companion of the mind and possibly the only man she could ever love. When Mr. Ashford leaves Lyme suddenly, never to be heard from again, Jane is naturally sad, but her life is filled with preparing to move from Southampton to Chawton. Then, an unexpected meeting with old friends brings Jane into the company of Mr. Ashford once again and she discovers a grand passion. Ashford believes in Jane as a writer and encourages her to take up her pen once again and even aim for publication. The course of true love n'er did run smooth though and Jane's romance with Mr. Ashford is no exception. After several years of loving and losing each other, Jane has a very difficult decision to make. The people she meets on her emotional journey and her feelings towards men shape her novels into the stories we know and love. While I like the idea of Jane Austen having a passionate romance, I really did not like how Syrie James copied the dialogue and situations from the major 6 novels verbatim to claim that "real life" events shaped Jane Austen's writing. I wish that Syrie had come up with her own similar but not identical situations to place her Jane in. The voice does not sound like Jane Austen, except when dialogue is copied from her novels. The romance is sweet but Syrie James's Jane Austen overreacts and turns into a silly teenager and then a bitter woman, thus giving proof to the stereotype of a man-hating spinster. I didn't hate the book, there were some nice moments between Jane and Ashford and Jane and her family, but I just didn't love it. I can see great potential in the story line but the plot just lacked credibility and originality. (The story is told in Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mysteries as well.)  It reads too much like unoriginal fan fiction and I'm not a huge fan of "fan fiction." 

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James -- Austenesque Fiction

While vacationing in Oxford, while her doctor boyfriend attends a conference, Samantha McDonough pops into an old bookshop and purchases an eighteenth century book of poetry. Being a special collections librarian, Samantha knows the book itself is nothing much out of the ordinary for the period, but what she finds inside is a real treasure. Hidden inside the uncut pages of the book is a letter referencing a missing manuscript at an estate in Devonshire called Greenbriar. Sam is convinced the letter is from Jane Austen and is determined to prove it and find the missing manuscript. Her search leads her from Oxford to Devonshire where she encounters Anthony Whitaker, the present owner of Greenbriar, preparing to sell his crumbling family estate. Sam convinces Anthony to search for the missing manuscript. He agrees, thinking it might be fun and if the manuscript is found and authenticated, it might bring him the money he needs. Together they embark on a search and find what appears to be a lost Jane Austen novel.

 The novel, titled The Stanhopes, follows the journey of Rebecca Stanhope, the lovely daughter of a country clergyman who is accused of stealing money from the parish and cast out into the cruel world. Mr. Stanhope's job is given to Philip Clifton, the nephew of the wealthy patron Sir Montague. Philip tries to reassure Rebecca that change can be a good thing, but she resents him for stealing her father's job and for some cruel comments he made about her singing when they were children. Rebecca's journey takes her and her father off to visit her sister in the village of Medford where they encounter a dashing young doctor, Dr. Jack Watkins, the wealthy Mrs. Penelope Harcourt, her spoiled niece Amelia Davenport, the odious Mr. Spangle and a host of other quirky characters. Rebecca's stay in Medford is not long, but long enough for her to discover the pleasantness of a large village and long enough to maybe have lost her heart. She enters Bath society and is befriended by Philip Carmichael's sister and even encounters Philip, who is determined to solve the mystery of the missing money. By the end of the novel, Rebecca discovers some surprising truths about herself and what she wants out of life.

 Back in present day, Sam and Anthony form a connection over their search, but Samantha loves Stephen and has a good steady job back in Los Angeles. Then Sam and Anthony disagree over his plans for the manuscript and it seems like Sam's amazing discovery was all for nothing. Samantha does a lot of soul searching and discovers like Rebecca, change can be a good thing.

This is a very long book! The story begins and ends in present day with Jane Austen's full length novel in the middle. I liked the mystery plot searching for the missing manuscript and felt it was discovered way too quickly. Having a novel in the middle of the novel felt weird and only occasionally does the story return to Samantha and only for a few brief pages.  The Stanhopes starts off slow and doesn't sound at all like Jane Austen. It's supposed to be a transition in between her juvenilia and her polished published works, which explains the simplistic writing style. It lacks much of Jane Austen's trademark wit and beautiful phrasing. The novel picks up a bit towards the end of the first volumes and gets much better in the second volume. The characters and some of the situations will be instantly recognizable to any Janeite. Samantha recognized prototypes of several famous characters and I identified others. That is the downfall of the story because the characters are so well known, the story becomes predictable. I was interested in the missing money and I think it took too long for someone to investigate what really happened. Then I couldn't put the story down until I found out how Rebecca found her happily ever after. I adore the hero! Move over Mr. Darcy because ladies will like Rebecca's love interest just as much, if not more. My favorite character was Mr. Spangle. He is partly Mr. Collins and partly a new character. I can't believe Jane Austen didn't actually include him in one of her final novels! The other secondary characters seem to come from Cranford, Wives and Daughters, Jane Austen's finished and unfinished novels and any other English country village novel. They were mostly two-dimensional. I also liked Mrs. Harcourt, who I think later becomes a character in Sandition. With a lot more polishing, this really could have been an early draft of a Jane Austen novel.

Finally, when the novel picks up with Samantha and Anthony it rushes through a few months of time. would have made the modern story a little longer and tightened Jane Austen's story, at least summarizing the exposition. The story, written as is, feels juvenile and the writing simplistic. I was very interested in the contemporary story at first, until I discovered that the story was too rushed to be fully developed. Because of the rushed storytelling, I didn't feel a connection to the characters at all. Samantha tells the reader what she's feeling and doesn't let us discover it for ourselves.I liked that Samantha is a special collections librarian. I disliked that she didn't have a MLS but then that was explained in the plot and it made some sense but I know from experience you really can't get a job as a librarian without an MLS (MLIS). It's also clear that the author is not actually a special collections librarian. She knows the job description and how 18th century books were bound, but not so much what they actually feel like, smell like and look like. It would have been a good opportunity to educate the public a bit on identifying the condition of an old book but I suppose it's not necessary to the story. 

I think Jane Austen neophytes will love this novel and the chance to read just one more Jane Austen book. Dedicated Janeites may find the writing trite and the character cliched but I recommend sticking with The Stanhopes until the end. You won't be disappointed. You may skip the framework if you desire.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Sophia's War: A Tale of the Revolution by Avi -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Sophia's family has always lived in New York City, what seems to be the center of life in the American colonies. Her brother taught her to read and they have enjoyed reading and discussing many books together. William caught revolutionary fervor while reading Thomas Paine's Common Sense and passed that feeling on to Sophia. Now, 1776, William has gone to be a soldier and the rest of the Calderwoods have fled New York in the wake of battle. Sophia and her mother return to the city to learn about life under British occupation and discover whether it is safe for her father, a secret rebel, to return. Sophia discovers that British soldiers are hanging spies, are cruel to prisoners and quarter their officers in the home of private citizens without permission. She also discovers that British officers, namely, one Lieutenant John Andre, can be charming, witty and so handsome; enough that twelve-year-old Sophia develops a deep and everlasting crush on Andre. When Sophia discovers the horrible truth about what has happened to her brother and Andre breaks faith with her, she vows vengeance against the British. Four years later she has the opportunity to become a spy in British headquarters. Should she risk her life uncovering secrets? She knows she must for the brave soldiers like her brother, have risked their lives. What she discovers could alter the course of the war and change her country forever. She's determined the rebels will not have died in vain, but who will believe a young girl? Can Sophia stop something from happening before it's too late? This is an interesting look at the events that led up to Benedict Arnold turning coat. By using a young girl to tell the story, Avi makes a history lesson more relateable and interesting for readers. I liked Sophia because she's spunky and brave and not afraid to stand up for what she believes in. She defies the conventions of the time while still accepting that while war creates unusual situations but people still have preconceived ideas about girls. She's willing to play along in order to get what she wants. Avi did a great job getting into the head and describing an adolescent girl. Her emotions and feelings seem true to life. The descriptions of period life are thoroughly detailed. He doesn't shy away from gritty, unpleasant details. The reader is treated to everything but the smells of eighteenth century British prisons. Some of the descriptions may be too difficult for younger readers to handle. The plot moves along fairly quickly. The first half drags a bit, making the book rather long for the 9-12 age category. In the second half of the book I got caught up in Sophia's adventures and couldn't put the book down even though I know what's in the history books. The main problem with this book is Avi's detached writing style. While I enjoyed the story and liked Sophia, I didn't find myself fully immersed in the story the way I did with Ann Rinaldi's Finishing Becca. Sophia was not as engaging a narrator in the second half of the story and stepped out of the plot to write directly to the reader, jarring the flow of the narrative. She also included events which had been told to her which slow down the plot a bit at the end. I think using real people to populate the rest of the novel hindered the plot a bit because there was only so much Avi could do with them. A few more invented characters to interact with Sophia might have made the story a bit more interesting. Overall though, I liked the book and would recommend it to anyone 10+ who wants to learn about American History. 

The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots by Carolyn Meyer -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

This latest entry in the Young Royals series is about Mary, Queen of Scots, who was the only legitimate child of James V of Scotland and granddaughter to Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII of England. From birth, Mary was in danger of kidnapping by the English and her own country was torn by warring factions. At a young age, she was sent to the French court to become engaged to the dauphin. Mary enjoyed her time at the French court once she got used it it. By the time they were married,  Mary had come to care for Francois like a sister. Francois was an immature boy but everyone hoped for an heir when the unthinkable happened: Francois died. Stranded alone in a foreign country without allies, Mary realized she was a pawn in a larger political game. She was determined to chart her own course and return to Scotland to rule. It proved far more difficult than she ever expected to be a female ruler in the 16th century and thus was her downfall. I found this book very difficult to read. It is very long and covers Mary's entire life. I already know the story so I didn't feel compelled to finish the book. I did eventually get through it, but it was slow going. The time frame covered is too vast, especially for a young adult novel. The prose reads like a biography rather than a novel. I just could not enjoy this book due to the style of writing. I liked the first three books in the series but the last few have been rather dull. If you are interested in Mary, Queen of Scots then I recommend the Royal Diaries book Mary Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country, 1553 by Kathryn Lasky or The Queen's Own Fool by Jane Yolen and Robert Harris.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Les Miserables Movie Review

Les Misérables Movie Review

I've seen the stage show 6 times, own almost every soundtrack available (at least in English) so I had low expectations that the movie would meet my high standards. My sister surprised me with passes to the preview before Christmas! It was a wonderful gift and we both agreed the movie was FABULOUS! Casual fans will love it more than die-hards like me but we both loved it. Francophiles will like that they added some history to it and literature majors will be happy that they added some bits from the book. (Now I don't have to explain everything to my dad even though he's seen it at least 4 times plus the 10th anniversary concert). 

Hugh Jackman was incredible as Valjean. He was really intense and emotional and his singing was fabulous. I was concerned he couldn't hit those high notes "246 oh 11111111" "Bring him hoooommme" but he totally pulled it off in his own key. Anne Hathaway was very convincing as Fantine except for her nice Hollywood teeth. I'm not a huge fan of hers but I liked her a lot. Everyone was really good. The weak link was Russell Crowe as Javert. He was stiff and not really a singer. I also didn't like Sascha Barrett Cohen as Thenardier. He had some weird accent I didn't like. Lea Salonga fans will like Eponine. She looks just like a young Lea Salonga and sounds like her too. 

I thought Amanda Seyfried was a sweet Cosette but my sister did not. Marius is cute. He looks so young like he belongs at Hogwarts. His voice is very good. Colm Wilkinson as the bishop has a great cameo. He sings in an old man voice which was a bit weird, being used to his normal voice.

They changed some things around, added some new scenes and a new song that I did not like because none of that flowed. Some of the music is cut and some of the songs are shortened in favor of the new material. A few lyrics were changed to speaking but not many. Enough that my pre-programmed brain picked up on it but not enough that my sister noticed. It's similar to Phantom of the Opera. I prefer the original singing. It's an operetta, sing! They also changed a lot of the lyrics and some of the words. It bugged me because it just didn't flow the way I'm used to.

It looks amazing in the real world except for some obvious CG scenery that is a stark contrast to the London Horse Guards set which looks authentic. I missed the live aspect though. That feeling of wanting to jump up and join the boys on the barricade and the reactions after the songs. My sister said she missed clapping too. 

I went again with my parents who have seen it nearly as many times live as I have. It was better the second time around once I knew what to expect. I didn't feel like throwing my shoe at the screen except for when Russell Crowe murdered "Stars." My parents loved it. They're not as obsessed as I am but my dad is close. 


Running time is 2:40 no intermission. It needs an intermission so everyone can rush off to the bathroom without missing anything.

Rating: 4 stars 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2013 

Historical Tapestry is hosting their annual Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. Read and review any historical fiction book between now and December. Link and comment at Historical Tapestry to enter.

This year I am challenging myself to 
Victorian reader - 5 books

That's 5 unique historical fiction books I haven't read before! I may increase the level if I have more time to read later on this year.

  1.  Good Evening Mrs. Craven: the Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes
  2. Park Lane by Frances Osborne   
  3. Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio
  4. The Moon Was Low by Monica Dickens
  5. Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Austenprose is hosting a Pride and Prejudice challenge. 

Challenge Details

Simply read or watch (or reread, rewatch) Pride and Prejudice or any of the sequels, prequels, spin-offs or other variations. 

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 runs January 1, through December 31, 2013.
Levels of participation: Neophyte: 1 – 4 selections, Disciple: 5 – 8 selections, Aficionada: 9 – 12 selections.
Enrollment: Sign ups are open until July 1, 2013. First, select your level of participation.  Second, copy the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 graphic from Austenprose and include it in your blog post detailing the novels or movies that you commit to reading and watching in 2013. Third, leave a comment linking back to your blog post in the comments of the Austenprose announcement post. If you do not have a blog you can still participate. Just leave your commitment to the challenge in the comments section of the announcement post.

At this time, I am signing up for Neophye 1-4 selections. That may change if I have more time and opportunity for more. I also can not come up with a schedule the way the lovely LaurelAnn at Austenprose did but use this post as an index to check my progress.

My list: 

Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen

The Unexpected Miss Bennet by Patrice Sarath
The Road to Pemberley edited by Marsha Altman
Murder at Longbourn bv Tracy Kiely

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! 

Happy New Year fellow Bluestockings! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. I received some gifts just perfect for book lovers (and bluestockings).

The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore
a picture book for readers of all ages with a beautiful message about the importance of books and story telling. 

Some Louisa May Alcott books: The Louisa May Alcott Cookbook, full of fun recipes for young Louisa May Alcott fans. The Louisa May Alcott Christmas Treasury is a book full of heartwarming holiday stories from Louisa May Alcott. 

This fabulous t-shirt features a quote from Louisa May Alcott's autobiographical novel Work. It describes me perfectly!

Finally, this sweatshirt which describes just how much I love books!
The shirts are from the Signals catalog.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

From Notting Hill With Love . . . Actually by Ali McNamara -- Women's Fiction

 Scarlett O'Brien lives and breathes movies; after all, she was named after one of the most famous movie heroines of all time. Her favorite movies are romances, especially romantic comedies like Notting Hill and Pretty Woman. Her friends and family don't understand Scarlett's obsession. After a big blow up with her less than sympathetic fiance David, Scarlett takes the opportunity to clear her head and prove that movie moments happen every day in real life. She gets a house-sitting gig in posh Notting Hill, what could be more perfect? Things don't get off to a great start when she manages to inadvertently offend her neighbor Sean Bond, a movie hater; but she makes some new friends who are more than willing to help her on her way to making movie moment happen. Sean may hate movies but he offers to help Scarlett search for the mother she never knew. As Sean and Scarlett's friendship develops, they learn that first impressions aren't always what they seem and the course of true love n'er did run smooth. This is one of the best books I've ever read. Like Scarlett, I like the escapism of a good romantic comedy, especially British director Richard Curtis's movies (Notting Hill, Love Actually, Bridget Jones). This book blends the plots of several well-known romantic comedies with a dash of real life to create a whole new romantic comedy. I was torn about how I wanted the story to turn out; I felt like Scarlett needed to get her head out of the clouds but I also really wanted her to have her movie moments. In the end, my heart choose romance over practicality, but I don't think she should have rushed a decision or chosen either or. Scarlett is perky and cheerful, which I normally hate, but she's very kind and caring so I felt for her and wanted her to find happiness. The men in her life are similar, yet different. One seems a bit too good to be true but is the very model of Mark Darcy. Scarlett's friends are off-the-wall funny. The movie moments in the plot are so much fun to pick out and parallel to their famous counterparts. I picked up on some moments that Scarlett took awhile to realize or didn't get at all. This story is the perfect escapist fantasy fluff for romantics at heart and movie buffs. If you love Bridget Jones, you will probably love this book too. It's one for the keeper shelf right alongside your romantic comedy DVDs.


Foul Play at the Fair by Shelley Freydont -- Contemporary Cozy Mystery

Liv Montgomery and her West Highland White Terrier, Whiskey, have recently moved from Manhattan to Celebration Bay, New York, a small town that takes it's name seriously. Liz is the new event coordinator for the town's many festive events. She is glad for an escape from bridezillas and desperate housewives and happy to have a nice, safe, quiet place where her Westie can run and play. During the Harvest By the Bay festival, Liv learns that small towns are not immune to scandal when one of the festival performers ends up dead. When the mayor worries about the scandal and threatens to cancel future events, Liv realizes her job is on the line and wants some answers. As an outsider, she feels people are withholding information from her. With some reluctant help from the grouchy newspaper owner, she dredges up secrets from the past and opens Pandora's Box. It's up to her to fix things so her new home can return to normal. This is a fast paced, engaging mystery. I couldn't put it down and read way too late into the night. I had a few suspects in mind for the murderer but one by one they revealed the reasons why they could not be. I did figure out one piece of the puzzle long before Liv did. The final reveal is a surprise and a bit of a let down and a relief at the same time. Other than that, the mystery is complicated and interesting enough to hold the attention of any reader. The setting is the real star of the novel. The small town, the quirky inhabitants and the amazing festivals are all described in such great detail, I feel like I was there right alongside Liv. The characters all come to life, especially the secondary characters. I liked Liv. She's intelligent, a bit nosy, a bit hot-tempered but willing to admit she made a mistake. She's strong and brave and a capable heroine. I believe there's a love interest in the making. She has great chemistry with a character she loves to hate! I liked that character a lot too for they provided some comic relief. I'd like to know more about them because they aren't what they seem. My favorite character is, of course, Whiskey the Westie. I adore Westies and the description was fairly accurate. I especially loved his good morning conversations with Ted. They reminded me so much of how my terrier would Arrooo at my dad every night when he came home from work. I highly recommend this book as a bit of light reading. I can't wait to see what happens next in Celebration Bay!