Showing posts with label Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiction. Show all posts

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Month of Short Stories: Day 2

daThis morning I got to read two lovely short stories that I really enjoyed by two early American female authors.  I had heard of neither-a sad example of the general state of literary equality.  Both were so well written that I am definitely going to do some research on these authors and see what else they wrote.

Caroline M.S. Kirkland

The Schoolmaster's Progress by Caroline M.S. Kirkland

This story is set in the early 1800s in the "New Country" (meaning the West/Midwest of United States) and revolves around the mishaps and romantic entanglements of the new, local schoolmaster.  After finally gaining respect from the community, he begins to fall in love with a young woman who always wins the spelling bees.  When a woman with all kinds of airs and graces (and year-old French fashions, our author notes disdainfully) comes condescendingly to a spelling bee, she sees that it would be easy to trick the schoolmaster.  In a series of tricky ruses, she begins to write him letters, pretending to be the woman he admires, Ellen.  Of course, Ellen finds out about this and the the whole thing literally comes crashing down during the school's reenacting of David and Goliath.  That description of the fake letters falling down on David's head made me laugh out loud.  The two-Ellen and the Schoolmaster-live happily ever after, while the scheming city woman returns to the city.  

I wouldn't call this laugh out loud hilarious-it's better.  Kirkland's humor is the American west version of Austen.  It is nothing but sly, funny jabs and commentary.  The section on the bumbling, incompetent exam writers made me laugh out loud (apparently the ridiculous bureaucracy surrounding exams is older than I thought).

The other thing that impressed me about this story was the universality of it.  I was not alive in the American west in the 1800s, but I could perfectly understand, nay, recognize, those situations.  Yet Kirkland so perfectly wrote about these dramatic events that a reader today can still understand and empathize with the story.  That is a sign of excellent writing.  I also thought it was interesting how group dynamics and the kinds of people described here, the challenges and dramas they face, really haven't changed that much in the past 200 years.  
Eliza Leslie is most well-known as a cookbook writer.

The Watkinson Evening by Eliza Leslie

Another very funny story.  This one is about a snobbish widow and her son and daughter, who go to New York with letters of introduction (an interesting phenomenon I had not read about before) in the hopes of meeting all sorts of distinguished people.  They are first invited by a Mrs. Watkinson, who tells them that they must respond at once.  Of course they respond in the affirmative, feeling that they are very wise to go to so influential and wealthy a lady.  Minutes later, a woman whom they all instinctively like, invites them to her grand ball, full of famous people, including an ex-president.  With regret, they stick with their first invitation and come to the Watkinson's house to find it all dark and the family sitting dully in the cold drawing room.  The evening is disastrous and our main characters leave feeling very sorry for themselves.

This short story is of the type of humor that recounts a series of disastrous events to great effect.  I laughed and laughed (and cringed a bit, too) at the silly protagonists and their even more ridiculous hosts.

Both of these stories were fantastic.  I hope that you can find copies of them somewhere, because they are definitely worth a read.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Month of Short Stories: Day 1

Last night I curled up and got to read the humorous short stories collection I got in yesterday's haul.  I only read two, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading these stories and then analyzing to no end.  So without further ado, here are my reviews of the two short stories I read last night.
From Barnes and Noble website

1.) The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots by George Pope Morris

I had never read anything by George Pope Morris and this was the first story in the book, so I quickly picked it to read.  The story reminded me of a children's fable, with a bit of a moralizing tone.

The editor writes of this story in the introduction, "'The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots', the first story in the present volume, is selected not because Morris was especially prominent in the field of short story or humorous prose but because of this single story's representative character."  I'm not sure I'd say this story is worthy of being in a book of best American humorous short stories.  At best, the story was silly, at worst, flat-out racist and classist.  Monsieur Poopoo (yes, that is his name) spends all his money that the saved from running a toyshop for years on a piece of property.  He attains this property from a swindling man who sells him a piece of property that is now covered in water.  At the end of the story, he stomps home to France, bankrupt because he spent all of his money.  The opening quote says, "Look into those they call unfortunate, And closer view'd, you'll find they are unwise.-Young".

I went back and forth with this story for quite a while.  Should I take this at face value, assuming that we are to laugh at the silly Frenchman (he does have the condescending "little" at the front of his name)? Or is Morris making a commentary about how French people were treated and the myth that all poor people are poor because they are incompetent?  After read and thinking for awhile, I have come to the sad conclusion that we are to take this at face value.  The story, I think, is meant to be a mild and silly story about a stupid Frenchman.  One of the first things that tipped me off to this was the way the Frenchman's broken English was played up.  Part of the reason that this was so difficult for me to analyze was that I don't know the author at all.  Apparently he was best known as a publisher and poet and didn't do much short story writing.  For instance, if this was written by Mark Twain, I would know in an instant that this story was sarcastic commentary.

For any of you who have read this, what did you think of it?

2.) The Angel of the Odd by Edgar Allen Poe

This story was actually really enjoyable.  In the beginning, a pompous, very drunk man sits reading the paper.  He reads of an odd mishap in which a man sucks a needle down his throat and dies.  He scoffs at the idea of mishaps and strangely unlucky events, when, all of a sudden, the Angel of the Odd descends.

Yet again, we come across awful accents and broken English-this time German.  But this time, I really wasn't offended by it.  I'm not sure why.  The Angel of the Odd is very offended that our nameless protagonist really does not believe in odd accidents.  After an argument with this angel in which the angel becomes thoroughly angry, our protagonist is subjected to a semi-lucid night of mishaps, involving having his clothes stolen, being stuck in a hot air balloon that has had the balloon cut off, and falling off of a ladder, to name a few.  At the end of the night, our protagonist acknowledges that odd mishaps and misfortunes really do happen.

This humor reminded me of P.G. Wodehouse in many ways-a strong sense of the ridiculous and silly, humor in the most ludicrous of situations, and a little bit of sarcasm.  So fun to read after the not-so-wonderful previous short story.  I laughed and laughed through this book and definitely want to look for some more of Poe's humorous short stories (apparently he wrote quite a few).  This is a new side of Poe-and one I enjoyed reading!

So that was my short story reading for today.  I'm really excited about this and look forward to hearing from my readers about their short story experiences.  If there are any of you who would be interested in challenging yourselves to read more short stories, feel free to join in!  I'll be reading and reviewing short stories all through the month of June.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Library Haul

(Linking up with The Captive Reader's Library Loot event.)

I got a fantastic haul at the library!  This morning I decided I was going to the library and not leaving until I found at least a few books that I would actually read and enjoy.  After sulking through the fiction section and feeling sorry for myself because I couldn't find anything, I went to the nonfiction section on a whim, namely, the literature section.  And that was where I fell upon short stories and a bunch of other fascinating stuff.

I have always blown off short stories for some strange reason, but I have remedied that now.  Here's my list from this week:

1.) Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird, Compiled by Mary McDonagh Murphy

2.) The Best American Essays from 2011, edited by Edwidge Danticat

3.) The Oxford book of American Short Stories, edited by Joyce Carol Oates

4.) The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories from 2012, edited by Laura Furman

5.) The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, compiled by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland-Just looked fascinating

6.) The Best American Humorous Short Stories, edited by Alexander Jessup

7.) 1491: New Revelations of the Americans Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann-Just a book that looked fascinating.

Whew!  So this month is officially short story month for me.  I'll be posting reviews of some favorite specific short stories, as well as the books that they come from throughout the month of June.  I'm really looking forward to it!


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Reading Stack

I know, I know, my posting has been severely lacking.  Of course, I have all kinds of excellent excuses (don't we all?), but the best is various mouth procedures, namely, a complicated capping.  This, of course, left me quite crabby and in need of some bookish refreshment.  Luckily, before I let for my appointment in the morning, I put out a stack of books that I wanted to read.  The following is my list:

1. Mary Lou: A Story of Divine Corners by Faith Baldwin-A charming, old-smelling book.  According to GoodReads, it's the third in a series and I know absolutely nothing about it.  Google searches keep coming up empty.  You know you're reading an obscure book when the internet is incapable of turning up anything.  So I'm very curious to see what this book ends up being about-and if it's any good.

2. Pat of Silver Bush by L.M. Montgomery-I know this one is going to be a treat!  It's an L.M. Montgomery book I've never read.  So I'm guaranteed that it's going to be good.

3. Four-Party Line by Dorothy Gilman Butters-I got this book from a pile of old books at a church library sale. It's titled, "A Junior Novel", so I think this must be the precursor to YA fiction.  It's about four teenaged girls who get jobs working as operators for a telephone company.  The story covers the four girls' struggles and triumphs as they navigate their life both at work and at home.  I started this book and it is a really fun read.

So that's what's on my book stack!  Tell me, what shall I read first?


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recent Book Duds

As I was reading thorough my archives, I realized that I don't write about the book disappointments very much.  Often, I have nothing more to say then, "Meh.  It was fine."  Or else, "Ugh.  An awful book."  In the case of the latter, there are only so many things you can say about a bad book.  But I was thinking, isn't this kind of like the bloggers who only write about the great things and only post pretty pictures of their lives?  Every book blogger will tell you that she has had her fair share of bad, nay, awful books.  In this post, I'm going to tip you off to a few books that I have read recently and was not a fan of.

1. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel Fattah-This book was sitting on a table at the library and I idly glanced at it and thought it looked good enough to take home.  It's a YA book about a Muslim girl in Australia, dealing with cultural identity and discrimination in an immediately post-9/11 world.  I thought it sounded like a fascinating read.  I think the premise would have been fascinating as adult-level fiction, but, written for YA, it was too annoying.  Our heroine whined far too much, complained about school for probably a combined total of 50 pages, and had a mortifying crush that went on for too long without resolution.  In other words, the book was a stereotypical YA book, with the exception that there was some interesting commentary from the author on race and culture in our world today.  I will say, the book was very funny at parts. Still, not worth reading unless you love YA.

2. The Look of Love by Sarah Jio-Another idly-grabbed-off-the-bookshelf read.  I thought this one had potential.  Sarah Jio is a New York Times bestselling author with a lot of critical acclaim and I've heard good things about her books.  But this one….ooof.  This heroine was far too pathetic and I kept wanting to reach into the book and smack her.  Her sad, lonely, woe-is-me life just irritated me instead of making me feel any kind of sympathy.  That said, the premise of the story-a young woman who has the ability to see love is given the task of identifying the six types of love before the full moon after her 30th birthday; then, of course, falls in love-sounded kind of fun to read.  I'm going to keep pressing on, because, who knows, maybe I will be surprised.  If I end up liking the book, I'll let you know.

3. Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson-Now this was actually a great book.  At least, theoretically, I know that.  For whatever reason, it just didn't click with me.  I'd read a couple of pages, then wander over to a bookshelf or the library book box to see what else I had to read.  That said, I know that this is a good book and, when my mood is right, I'll pick it up again.  Still, I'm counting it as a dud because I can't review it if I haven't made myself read it.

That's not a terribly long list of duds.  But these are all books read (or started) just throughout the month of May.  I do think that I go on cycles of getting heaps of great books and then dry spells where I can't find anything to read.  Discouraging, but the good cycles where I have lots of books do make up for the times when I don't.  Tell me, readers, does this happen to anybody else?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Re-Creations

One of my many projects recently has been fixing up the dining room.  I'm conflicted about what to call this project.  "Renovating" or "remodeling" sounds far too serious and like it should involve load-bearing walls and ripping-back-to-studs.  "Re-decorating" or "re-doing", on the other hand don't sound serious enough. After pondering this as I ripped out the light socket covers, I hit upon a name-Re-Creations.  This is a reference to a lovely book that I read many years ago and am currently re-reading, called Re-Creations.  It was written in the 1920s by the mildly well-known Christian author, Grace Livingston Hill.  Now, normally, I gag and read no further than page 1 with Grace Livingston Hill books.  She is smarmier than any author I've ever met, endlessly preaches, and writes unbelievable characters.  But, if you write as many books as she did (197, according to Good Reads), you have to hit on at least one successful story idea.  And Re-Creations was that lucky book.
The dining room, before any kind of fixing-up.  Note the chandelier and the stencils.


"Paint, white paint, had done a great deal toward making another place of the dreary little house.  The kitchen was spotless white enamel everywhere, and enough old marble slabs had been discovered to cover the kitchen table and the top of the kitchen dresser, and to put up shelves around the sink and under the windows...."-From Re-Creations, Chapter 12

The previous owner of our house was into stencils in a big way.  Squiggles and hearts, pineapples and flowers and every other stencil image you can imagine.  She put them around the living room wainscoting and the bathroom ledges, the dining room ceiling, and the entry-way.  She also adored eccentric lighting and the chandelier in the dining room was, I thought, truly awful.  Unfortunately, it all just became part of the scenery and we never really bothered to mess with it.  However, as I stood in the dining room one beautiful spring day, I realized that I was in the mood to do some house fixing up.  So, I went to the little local hardware store and got this lovely paint color from Benjamin Moore and a snowy white trim color and started painting.  It will be subtle and fresh, and much better than whatever was there before.
This is an awful picture, but it's fitting, because the chandelier is awful.

"The dining room had gradually become a place of rest and refreshment for the eyes as well as the palate.  Soft green was the prevailing color of furniture and floor, with an old grass rug scrubbed back to almost its original color....The curtains were white with a green border of stenciling.  The dingy old paper had been scraped from the walls, which had been painted with many coats of white; and a gay green border had been stenciled at the ceiling."-Re-Creations, Chapter 12

In the story of Re-Creations, Cornelia is a young college girl, whose family calls her home urgently because their family is falling apart.  Her mother is in the hospital, father is close to a breakdown, and the children are generally going to rack and ruin.  So Cornelia steps in to the dingy little apartment in the bad part of the city that her parents purchased and moved into without telling her (without telling her?? This part was unbelievable, to me) and begins to put the house to rights.  Since she was studying interior decorating at school, one of her first jobs is to redecorate the house, the proceedings of which are described in lovely detail.
After mudding and a coat of primer.

 "Cornelia awoke with a great zeal for work upon her....The set [bedroom set] in her mother's rom was a cheap one; and that she would paint gray with decorations of little pink buds and trailing vines.  The set in her own room should be ivory-white with sepia shadows....Cheap felt-paper of pale gray or pearl or cream for the bedrooms, and corn-color for the living room...And Carey's room should be painted white, walls and ceiling and all.  She would set him at it as soon as he finished the fireplace, and then she would stencil little birds... around the top of the walls for a border, in the same blue as the curtains...and an unbleached muslin bedspread and pillow roll also stenciled in blue."-Re-Creations Chapter 10

Cornelia, like our previous owner, adored stencils.  And, if I had 1920s stencils around the wall (and bluebirds...can you think of a more charming stencil?  1920s eggshell blue bluebirds), I probably wouldn't have been as hung-ho to prime over them as I was over some hideous 1980s stencils.  Oh, and the trim color currently in the dining room?  This bizarre brown with a lot of yellow and green in it.  Not mustard per se, but definitely headed in that direction.
The window and painted-shut door.  I'm not looking forward to all the prying
taping I'm going to have to do.


I'm in the mudding/priming stage right now.  Yesterday was day one and I spent all afternoon mudding over the drywall piece that had been added to move a door and over the cracks that have developed in the plaster of our old farmhouse.  I've added a heavy coat of primer and today I plan to add more, as well as sand and probably re-apply more mud.  So far, the process is gloriously fun and I'm looking forward to having a pretty dining room.

I love this final quote from Re-Creations:

"The first evening it was all complete the family just sat down and enjoyed themselves in it, talking over each achievement of cushion of curtain or wall as a great connoisseur might have looked over his newly acquired collection and gloated over each specimen with delight."-Re-Creations, Chapter 12.

Reading Re-Creations makes me want to get to work on the dining roomwith an even greater zeal.  I well know that feeling of satisfaction after the completion of a home re-creations spurt and I can't wait to have that with this dining room.  When it's all painted, I'll be sure to post pictures!  Oh, and, if you can get your hands on a copy, read Re-Creations.  It's a lovely book.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

And here it is!  The Don Quixote post!  In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have written as much about reading it as I did, because I probably set all you readers up for a good analytical post, when I definitely don't have that in me.  Still, here is a post about my thoughts on Don Quixote.

So, Don Quixote.  I'll admit that I had my doubts.  It was long and I wasn't in the mood for a tome when I started it, but it's one of those classics that I really wanted to approach again for Classics Club-a wonderful motivator for this kind of thing.

Most people know the basic plot of Don Quixote.  However, here it is.  Don Quixote is divided into two parts-the first one being tales of his escapades and stories of the people around him.  The second is, well, I didn't love it.  I'll say more later.  Don Quixote is a fairly wealthy man living in La Mancha.  He adores exciting adventure stories full of chivalrous deeds.  And this, according to our narrator, is his downfall.  The books, or so we are told, turn his brain to mush so that he sees everything as part of his fantastic stories.  So, he proceeds to try to live his life as much like a chivalrous knight-errant.  He helps all the poor and needy, tries to win his love (a woman he barely knows), and perform brave deeds.  He takes along his trusty steed (a frail horse) and his side-kick (Sancho).

This part of the book was so fun-adventures and thrills, dangerous quests.  And, through it all, I began to see his world as Don Quixote did.  This is the part of the book that includes the famous windmill story.  For the first 1/8 of the book, I laughed at Don Quixote, with his silly adventures and his delusions.  I identified with Sancho, although at times I wondered why he didn't just leave Don Quixote. And then, something clicked.  I realized why Don Quixote was doing what he was doing.  I started to see a method to his madness.

By the second part of the book, things start to change.  Sancho is now tricking and lying to Don Quixote (for reasons that confused me for awhile, but that became clear later) and there are a slimy Duke and Duchess in on it.  They have convinced Don Quixote that his love has been put under an enchantment and that only he can perform all kinds of deeds to save her.  And so they cruelly send him on task after ludicrous task, which he performs tirelessly.

His imagined events become more and more insane, but, strangely enough, that actually made me empathize with him even more.  His imagination is a reaction to the world in which he is living.

This is where I grew sick of the book and went from smiling complacently to close to outrage.  The tormenting, the joy that all the people around him were getting out of tormenting him sickened me.  The brutal behavior displayed by so many people made me ache for Don Quixote and, all at once, I realized something.

Now, I know that this is not a new statement and that plenty of people have made this observation before.  But, I still was so struck by it. Don Quixote is the one in the right.  In the first part of the book, we are the complacent villagers watching his insanity, wondering why he can't just settle down and do things like everybody else.  By the end of the book, we are supposed to have realized that Don Quixote  is demonstrating the need for, and lack of, chivalry.  His willingness to do anything to help people, however deluded those actions may be, is admirable.  And we, the readers, are supposed to empathize with that.  Cervantes is making the observation that, in his culture, chivalry was being lost.

In the final chapters, Don Quixote is alone, exhausted, and sick.  It is in these final moments that he realizes that chivalry is dead, that his efforts have been in vain.  And then, he dies, leaving the reader to be brought back to reality by the narrator.

While this book often gets labeled as comic, I definitely didn't see it that way.  Well, maybe for the first section, but after that, I was left feeling melancholic and slightly wrenched by Don Quixote's life events and his last moments.

And that, I think is the sign of a wonderful writer.  I have almost no knowledge of 1600s Spain. And yet, Don Quixote speaks to our human condition-our desire for chivalry and bravery, though none of us would say that we particularly are longing for those things.  Cervantes's use of words and poetry and imagery brought goosebumps to my arms multiple times.

The translation I had was fantastic and I think that made a huge difference.  If you're interested in getting a copy of Don Quixote, I highly recommend the one translated by Edith Grossman.  She did what all good translators do-kept her voice in the background and Cervantes's in the front, simply giving the reader the impression of an enhanced view of the original author.  And then she had all kinds of fascinating notes at the end, which I really appreciated.

Do, please go read this book, if you're in the mood for a long classic.  It was worth all those days spent slogging through chapter and after chapter.  Now, on to Frankenstein!


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TBR Tag

(Lory just joined in the TBR tag and invited her readers to join in as well)
I thought this would be an excellent tag, seeing as my TBR pile is always overflowing (A TBR pile is, for the non-book-bloggers, a To Be Read pile).  So here goes!

1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
The short answer?  I don't.  But that's not entirely true.  The whole contents of my TBR pile reside in my head.  However, the things that are on my "reading soon" TBR pile are in little piles all over the house.  By the sofa, the stove, on a kitchen window sill, in the summer, on the front porch or the picnic table.

2. Are your TRs mostly print or e-book?
Now this is an interesting topic!  And one that I don't think I have addressed before.  I am not an e-reader.  The few times I've tried, I get annoyed at the lack of physical book presence, the flick of pages, that old book smell.  So My TRs are all print.

3. How do you determine which book from your TBR pile to read?
I wouldn't say that I have any kind of method.  Often the pretty, fresh books get bumped to the top of the pile, meaning that there is quite a collection of sad, neglected books sitting way down at the bottom.

4. A book that's been on your TBR pile the longest?
Okay, let me go dig through the recesses of my brain and try to remember a very old TBR.  Oh!  Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.  It was very enthusiastically recommended to me and I have been meaning and meaning and meaning to read that book and then it just slips from my mind.  This one is so old, I don't even remember when I put it on my TBR list.

5. A book you recently added to your TBR pile?
Well, any of my classics club list would fall under this heading.  But the thing that is the absolute newest is How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman.

6. A TBR on your list strictly because of its beautiful cover?
I don't have anything currently on my TBR list, but about a year back, I read Dragonwyck by Anya Seton.  I got it because it was cheap and the cover, while not beautiful, amused me endlessly.  It was a melodramatic Victorian cover drawn in the 50s.  But the book was truly awful.  A Jane Eyre knockoff so bad it made me laugh.

7. A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?
What?! This category confused me.  I am far too pragmatic to put something that I'm not going to read on my TBR list.

8. An unpublished book on your TBR that you're excited about?
The next Flavia de Luce, obviously!

9. A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you?
Gone with the Wind.  I know, I know.  I haven't read Gone with the Wind.  I don't even want to read this book, but I feel like everybody needs to read Gone with the Wind at least once in their lives.

10. A book on your TBR list that everyone recommends to you?
Hm...probably some kind of famous biography like I am Malala.  Oh!  The Princess Bride!  This could go under the "basically everyone has read but you," heading, too.

11. A book on your TBR that you're dying to read?
Actually, that How to Be a Victorian book!  The only thing keeping me back is all the current reads I have right now.  I will get to it, though!

12. How many books are on your TBR shelf at Goodreads?
Now I'm going to admit something.  Up until about 5 minutes ago, I didn't have Goodreads. I'm not quite sure why.  For some reason I was holding out.  But, inspired by this, I joined and started adding books like crazy.  Currently, there are 25 books on my TBR shelf.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Classics Club Spin #9

I haven't forgotten about Classics Club, I promise.  It's just that I've become entrenched in Don Quixote.  I'm enjoying it, but it is a long process.  Anyway, I decided to add another book to my plate and join the Classics Club Spin last week, completely forgetting to blog about it (we're going to blame flu brain).  So aaanyway, this was the list I made:


1.) Paradise Lost
2.) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
3.) Don Quixote
4.) Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan
5.)  The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper
6.) Something by Emerson…haven't nailed that down yet
7.)  Something by Dickens that I haven't read…
8.) Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
9.) A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstencroft
10.)  Poems by Tennyson
11.)  One of Alcott's earliest writings that
12.) How Like an Angel Came I Down by Bronson Alcott
13.)  Brave New World by Alduous Huxley
14.) The Wind in the Willows (This is going to be my children's classic for the year)
15.)  North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
16.)  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
17.)  Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
18.) Watership Down by Richard Adams
19.) The Frogs by Aristophanes
20.) Lady Susan by Jane Austen


So that's the list!  Number 2 was drawn (thank heavens.  I was praying I wouldn't get Paradise Lost).  So now I am embarking on Frankenstein as well.  I think that it'll be an interesting read.  I'm mostly posting this just to keep me accountable in my classics club challenge.  I'll be checking in May 15th with a post about Frankenstein and, hopefully before that, I'll have finished Don Quixote and written about it as well!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

And here it is!  The long-awaited latest Flavia de Luce mystery.  It was eminently confusing, thrilling, shocking, and very strange.  I loved it.

(I recommend reading this post before you read this if you haven't read these books)

Flavia has been sent from her beloved Buckshaw (the name of her home) in England to the Canadian girls' boarding school that her mother attended.  Feeling rejected and lonely, Flavia sets off with the awful Rainsmiths, members of the school board, to her new school, Miss Bodycote's Female Academy.  However, there may still be hope for Flavia when, on her first night at school, a mummified body wrapped in a Union Jack falls out of the chimney.  Rather than the expected child's response of fear, she pockets some pieces of evidence to examine and sets to work solving the case.  But there's more-along with all of this runs the mystery of three missing girls who are never discussed.  In addition to this, she's making friends, constantly having run-ins with the strict headmistress, and taking private Chemistry lessons from the Chemistry teacher.  And Flavia is determined that she will be the one to solve both mysteries.

Parallel to all of this is an overarching mystery that has been growing throughout this entire series.  Flavia's mother, who died in Himalayas on a mission, was in some sort of secret spy organization, or so we gather, which Flavia is now expected to join.  It is only hinted at and pretty much all we know about it is its name-the Nide.  It begins to be revealed in this book that Miss Bodycote's is a cover for all sorts of work done by the Nide, something that some of the girls and teachers are in on.  Even in this book, things just grow more cloudy and confusing, but this just gives me hope of another book in the series.

Reading through this summary, I am struck by how ridiculous and formulaic these books could be. It's my own opinion that mysteries can veer off in that direction very easily and everything about these books could, if given the chance, scream "unbelievable and cheesy".  But, Alan Bradley never for a second even considers allowing that to happen.  The books are crisp and funny and exciting and, yes, even believable.  Flavia is a gem of a character, brilliantly written, and even made me interested in Chemistry (her specialty).  The supporting characters are no cardboard props, but 3-dimensional characters with interesting stories and unique personalities.  Even the villains aren't formulaic!

In reading people's reviews, I discovered that a lot of people objected to this book on the grounds that it was too confusing and that Flavia didn't end up with a clear ending or even direction.  I will agree with this objectors that this book did feel a bit like just setting the stage for the next book.  However, what I disagree with is the objection that Flavia didn't end up with a clear direction.  She is told that she "passed with flying colors" and, though we don't know what this means yet, we can understand that she clearly accomplished something.

If you've been reading the Flavia series, you really need to get your hands on a copy of this one.  If you haven't read any of them, well, you are in for a big treat, I think.  And if you have read this book, please chime in and let me know what you thought of it!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

This book is winning the "Best Book So Far in 2015" award.  My little library, always just about one step behind the rest of the big book world just got this book, which the rest of the world was talking about back in the early fall.  So forgive me for being just a little bit behind.

Lila is one of those books that leaves you blinking, as though emerging from a trance.  Set in Iowa during the 1930s, Lila is the story of a young woman, abandoned as a baby and then, later, stolen by a woman who was working with a band of migrant workers.  She spends all of her growing up years enduring hard working conditions, a frightening case of being abandoned by her caretaker and the group of migrant workers, then being rescued again.  After the caretaker dies, Lila is left to take care of herself.

One day, caught in a rainstorm in the little town of Gilead, Iowa, Lila steps into a church, little noticing that a church service in in motion.  Lila and the old preacher's eyes meet and, though Lila doesn't say it, they are immediately attracted.  For the next 60 pages or so, Lila plays a will she stay-won't she stay game with the preacher.  She slowly falls in love with him, beginning with planting and tending his garden.  But Lila, damaged as she is, is convinced that nobody could ever love her, that everybody is going to up and leave any minute.  Finally, Lila becomes Lila Ames and goes to live with "that old preacher", as she refers to him throughout the entire book.

This book is a prequel to Gilead, written maybe 10 years ago.  I started it and never finished it, so now I am determined to go read it.  While Gilead is the preacher telling his life story to his son, Lila is set much, much earlier.  I think I might have gotten more out of Lila, had I finished Gilead.

I'll admit that it took me a while to get into the book.  It's written in a fashion quite unlike anything I've read.  There is a present and many pasts, all told in Lila's voice.  So, for example, the book starts with Lila being rescued, then jumps to her, pregnant, sitting on the porch and waiting for her husband to get home from church, then jumps to an experience with the migrant workers when she was about eight.  This makes for very confusing reading at first, but, just like an accent in a movie, after a time you stop noticing it.  The other unconventional thing about this book was that there were no chapters.  This made an already wonderful book even harder to stop reading.  Where was I supposed to stop?  I couldn't end right at that exciting part!  And so I devoured this book very quickly.

The other thing about this book is that it is written solely and completely through Lila's point of view.  There is no telling what the Reverend is thinking, if the neighbors are really looking down their noses, and if Lila really is the terrible person she thinks she is.  All we see is Lila's shame and self-deprecation, only Lila's narrow view of herself and the world.  This makes for a fascinating reading experience and a new, fresh way to approach characters.

The themes throughout the book are very interesting.  One is the intense loneliness that both Lila and John Ames feel.  John Ames, from losing his first wife and baby in childbirth and Lila from her isolated life and the way that she feels that nobody respects her.  The other emotion that seems to dominate Lila's inner thoughts is shame-complete shame at having lived such a rackety life, full of bad experiences and bad decisions; shame that she, as she sees it, will never be as smart as the Reverend.  The other theme that appears over and over is Christianity and the conflict between traditional Christian views and Lila's life experience.

Robinson, herself, is a devout Calvinist who has written quite a few books on topics of Christianity and, in particular, John Calvin's teachings.  She definitely provides a unique view of how Christianity is good at-and falls very short of-addressing deep poverty.  John Ames is not just a preacher; he also is a philosopher.  That's really what brings Lila and John together.  After she steals a Bible from church and begins reading starting, of all places, with Lamentations, they start to discuss her questions about being a Christian, life after death, and more philosophical questions.

Lila and John Ames have a very interesting relationship.  He is 65 and she, though we never know her exact age, must be somewhere in her 30s.  And yet, they appear to have a marriage of equals.  I honestly still can't figure out why.  John is very educated, respected in the town, financially secure, and much, much older.  But there wasn't this creepy element of robbing the cradle that is so often in books about relationships like this.  I think that Lila's complete, blunt honesty is part of the reason that their marriage works.  Lila is so frank, so willing to point out John's own flaws that I think they can be viewed as equal.

Lila has a hard time learning to trust-both other people and herself.  She constantly tells herself that she is getting on the next train, even after she becomes pregnant.  She worries that John will decide that she is an embarrassment to him and send her off.  And she can't even begin to trust God.  But it is through some of the strangest parts of her Bible reading (Job, for instance) that she begins to have clarity, to realize that people love her and that she can begin to rest.

There were so many times where my heart just about broke, reading Lila's story.  First, when she is sitting on the steps of her family's house, crying because she has been locked outside again.  Then when she is left behind a second time.  But the worst?  Lila is sitting listening to a conversation between John Ames and his friend, a fellow minster.  The friend begins to talk about "lost souls in China" and, with a start, Lila realizes that all of her friends, her makeshift family, are "lost souls", the people who will never get into heaven, according to traditional Christianity.  She realizes with a start that she will never get to see her makeshift mother.  She tells John Ames this and, in his explanation, you can read Robinson's own conflict.  He tells her that, though the view of saving lost souls and hell are the traditional teachings of the church, he cannot reconcile this concept of hell with that of his understanding of the vast love and forgiveness of God.

It's interesting-I tend not to read either deeply spiritual books or books involving as much heartache and drama as Lila contained. And yet, this book has to be one of my favorites now.  Robinson's genius writing, combined with some truly believable and lovable characters has created a masterpiece that I hope will make it onto lists of must-read classics 100 years from now.

Dear readers, if you made it to the end of this (long winded) post, then please, please, please go read this book and tell me what you think.  Even if this book doesn't sound like your genre of choice, the beauty and pure genius of this book is enough to make you love it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Rose Garden

This story begins when we bought our farm.  While the majority of the place was a bit dilapidated and run-down, there was one little bright spot-and that was the rose garden.  The previous owner had filled the little plot chock-full with all kinds of beautiful, highly scented roses.  Now, I am not a rose person by any means and I find them kind of fussy, but I did appreciate that beautiful little corner.  Well, several winters later, the roses were sulky and a couple had died.  The cause?  Ash from the wood stove being dumped in the garden (by certain parties who are going to remain nameless *ahem*).
The embarrassingly rackety, early spring condition of the flowerbed, pre-pruning.

See, the problem with ashes is that they're very alkaline on the pH scale.  And roses like very acidic soil.  So the poor dears were in very alkaline soil and they obviously were objecting.
After some tidying up and pruning the roses

While walking past the poor dejected dears a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly had a wild hair to fix that sad little garden.  It started with pH tests, phosphorus tests, potash tests, nitrate tests, and about a thousand more.  After realizing that that patch of soil was devoid of absolutely everything except for potash which, surprise, surprise, is derived from wood ashes, I got to work.  I dumped and dumped all kinds of manure-mainly sheep and horse because they're very acidic.  I got Miracid and about 10 other products.  Then, I heavily pruned all the rose bushes that were still alive.  And, ta da!  the bed looks much better.  Now, of course, this is a work in progress and it's going to take awhile to get the soil back to the way it was.  I still have a couple of tricks up my sleeve-dumping cheap, steeped coffee, fish heads for a nutrient blast, chicken manure (which is supposed to be the most acidic).

My last step was to order some new, old fashioned roses for the garden.  I picked four, all highly scented in a variety of colors, plus climbers that I'm going to plant to climb up the side of the little summer kitchen attached to the house.  The plants came yesterday and, oh, it looks so refreshing seeing that little bit of ground coming back.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Thatched Roof by Beverley Nichols

Beverley Nichols is an author much beloved by both my grandmother and my mother.  Many times over the years, I have been discussing books with them and they stop to gush a little over how witty and sharp and generally great Beverley Nichols is.  I would always smile and nod, but, for whatever reason, never followed through and read something.  The other day, I finally borrowed a Thatched Roof and commenced reading.

I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed the book.  I love to read about people's decorating and gardening adventures and so Nichols's books really are right up my alley.  The gist of this gardening/home improvement autobiography is this: In the 1920s, Nichols buys a completely run-down little cottage with great potential and makes it over, with plenty of advice and opinions from the quirky locals.  In addition to this, it has a lovely garden, which he also fixes up, written about in another book.

There is, of course, much drama involving the whole house being turned into a "ye olde" cottage, filled with fake Tudor pillows and fake Tudor walls, and, well, fake Tudor everything.  I laughed out loud so many times at Nichols's wrath.  There are adventures and problems galore and the descriptions of the house make it sound perfectly lovely once Nichols finishes it.

Another thing that completely impressed me in reading this book was how Nichols made the house really come alive.  I could imagine every room of the house, every color scheme, every bookshelf, every open window.  Often home decorating writers have a hard time trying to describe their project.  In an era before beautiful home improvement books full of more shiny, artistic photographs than text, a book had to rely on the writer's skill as opposed to the crutch of photographs, a refreshing change.

Now, there were some lovely, lovely illustrations done by Rex Whistler did bring the personality of both the house and the book to life.  I appreciated how the illustrations were an aid to the writing, yet did not take the place of the writing.  I've included a sample illustration below:
Credit: Found off of Pinterest.  Not very credible, I know, I know...
The book is also laugh-out-loud hilarious at many parts.  All of the adventures were just plain hilarious, from the trials Nichols underwent, getting a housekeeper, to the descriptions of the nosy neighbors, judging him on the previous owner's choice of lawn statuary.

That said, Nichols got on my nerves by the end of the book.  He strikes me as a waspish little man, never pleased with anything and constantly critical of everybody around him, as well as being a completely priss about his house.  This is funny for awhile, but I couldn't read that indefinitely.  Oh and his blatant dislike for every. single. female who crosses his path?  Also quite annoying.

So those are my thoughts on A Thatched Roof.  Would I read something else by Nichols?  Maybe.  I loved, loved, loved this book, but I think, at least for me, his writing can only be taken in very small doses.  Maybe in a year, when I'm feeling inspired about gardening next March, I'll pull out another of his books about his beautiful garden and have another go.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Little Women Read Along Chapters 9 and 10

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

Chapter 9-Meg Goes to Vanity Fair

Poor, poor Meg.  This is the chapter where all her vanity comes crashing down.  Meg is invited to spend a fortnight devoted to shopping and parties and dances and dressing with a wealthy friend of a friend.  What fun the Marches have, packing up dresses and ribbons and what little elegant clothes they have.  But when Meg gets there, she realizes that all is not as perfect as it seems.  All the girls (and their mother) are intent on pairing Meg with Laurie.  And when Laurie sends flowers, the following conversation occurs, "Mrs. M. has laid her plans, I dare say, and will play her cards well, early as it is.  The girl evidently doesn't think of it yet," said Mrs. Moffat.  "She told that fib about her mamma, as if she did know, and colored up when the flowers came, quite prettily..."  The fortnight ends with a party in which Meg agrees to wear an immodest dress and then proceeds to drink and flounce about and generally create a spectacle, quite shocking Laurie, who has attended the party.  Like many of the previous chapters, this one ends with a lovely sermon from Marmee.
Meg, 'fessing to Marmee-Credit: Project Gutenberg

Thoughts:

  • Here we see a very firm lesson on the dangers of vanity, as seen by L.M. Alcott, and Meg learns some very hard lessons.  She desperately wants to fit in with the elegant crowd, but can't for the life of her, seem to get rid of that little niggling conscience in the back of everything.  And, when she finally gives in to being "rigged up" and tries to enjoy herself, she sees that such pastimes can be very unpleasant.  Again, poor Meg.
  • I actually appreciated Mrs. March's lecture in this chapter.  Preachy?  Oh, yes.  But I still think that some of the things that she said in that little lecture are applicable to young women today.  The message of "better to be a happy old maid than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands," may sound archaic, but I still think that it's a message that might be valuable for many.
Questions:
Did you enjoy (enjoy is the wrong word...find interesting/valuable?) Marmee's lecture?  Do you agree?
Do you think you have some of Meg's fault?

Chapter 10-The P.C. and the P.O.

After many chapters of learning lessons and preaching, we finally come to an enjoyable chapter, full of fun and entertaining pursuits.  The Marches have a newsletter called the Pickwick Papers, based off of Dickens's book (which, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is in my reading stack).  I always laugh and laugh reading the copy of the paper included in the chapter.  And then, much to Meg and Amy's shock, it is revealed that Laurie wants to join their society.  Of course, he is admitted and more fun begins, starting with the installation of a mail box, set between the two houses.
Jo, leading the Pickwick Club-Credit: Project Gutenberg

Thoughts:
  • I had a similar paper when I was young and, in retrospect, I think it was inspired by the Marches, though I never really thought of it.  I love the work and joy they put into that paper and I think that this chapter paints such a lovely, clear picture of the March family and their happy, cozy little world.
  • I love this quote at the end of the chapter about the post office box.  "The P.O. was a capital little institution, and flourished wonderfully, for nearly as many queer things passed through it as through the real office.  Tragedies and cravats, poetry and pickles, garden seeds and long letters, music and gingerbread, rubbers, invitations, scoldings, and puppies.  The old gentleman liked the fun, and amused himself by sending odd bundles, mysterious messages, and funny telegrams; and his gardener, who was smitten with Hannah's charms, actually sent a love-letter to Jo's care.  How they laughed when the secret came out, never dreaming how many love-letters that little post-office would hold in the years to come!"  (Hint. Hint. Foreshadowing left and right.)
  • Reading this chapter has bumped The Pickwick Papers right up to the top of the list, so once I finish my latest book-a very funny book by Beverley Nichols that will get a review on Monday, Pickwick Papers will definitely be my next endeavor, thanks to the Marches.
Questions:
Have you read the Pickwick Papers?  If so, did you like it?  I think it looks much more promising than the other oft-mentioned book in Little Women-Pilgrim's Progress.
Did you ever have a paper you wrote?  What about a secret post office?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Little Women Read Along Chapters 7 and 8

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

Hello, dear readers!  I'm back with another long, Little Women-filled post.  I am having so much fun in this read along!  

Chapter 7-Amy's Valley of Humiliation

The chapter starts out with Amy asking Meg to lend her a little money to pay for the latest school fad-pickled limes.  Meg, being the doting big sister, agrees, little knowing all the trouble this simple gesture is about to start.  The foreshadowing of what is to come begins as Amy's friends start to cluster around her, knowing that she has a big package of limes.  We also know that Mr. Davis is in a heinous mood and has firmly outlawed all sharing of limes in school.  You can guess what happens next-Amy gets tattled on and is humiliated in front of her whole class.  The chapter ends with Mrs. March writing a firm letter to Mr. Davis and pulling Amy out of school for good.
Image Credit: Project Gutenberg's free online edition of Little Women

Thoughts:
  • I admit to having a very hard time sympathizing with Amy in this chapter.  While I had several unjust teachers whom I very strongly disliked, for some reason, Amy's plight with Mr. Davis does not stir me at all.  I have never sympathized with Amy's whiney, youngest-child, princess-like behavior and I especially don't in this chapter.  
  • This quote always makes me smile a little, "Just before school closed, Jo appeared, wearing a grim expression, as she stalked up to the desk, and delivered a letter from her mother; then collected Amy's property, and departed, carefully scraping the mud off her boots on the door-mat, as if she shook the dust of the place off her feet."  Dear Jo.  Even thought she and Amy have had their tiffs, she has true sisterly loyalty in Amy's time of need
Questions:
Do you sympathize with Amy in this chapter?
Have you ever had a Mr. Davis-esque teacher?

Chapter 8-Jo Meets Apollyon

Ooooh, this chapter.  The one that makes me ache and cringe and wish I didn't have to read it.  Meg and Jo are leaving for a play which Laurie invited them to, when Amy comes up and demands that they take her with them.  Jo is rather rude and says that Laurie wouldn't want Amy tagging along.  Enraged, Amy calls, "You'll be sorry for this, Jo March!"  And Jo is sorry, for when she returns home, she discovers that the little book that she had written just for father, and only had one nice copy of, was burnt by Amy.  She is, justifiably, horrified and angry and "shakes Amy until her teeth chattered."  Poor, poor Jo.  But then it gets worse.  Jo and Laurie go ice skating and Amy tags along.  She begs Jo to wait for her, but Jo, who is still very angry, ignores her and doesn't bother to let her know that the ice is rotten in the middle.  Amy falls in, Laurie and Jo rescue her, and the chapter closes with a sisterly kiss and a sermon from Marmee.  
Image Credit: Same as above

Thoughts:
  • Can you tell that I definitely side with Jo in this chapter?  What on earth possessed Amy to do such a thing?  And I think that Amy's temper is a lot worse than Jo's.  It just so happened that the time that Jo displayed her fault, it was nearly fatal and the time Amy displayed hers, she got lucky.  Had Amy's temper appeared in other circumstances,  I think the results would have been much worse.  So then why does Jo get the motherly, 2-page lecture with nothing for Amy?  Now, I understand that everybody was terrified and didn't have the heart to scold Amy after she nearly drowned, but she was just asking for a long lecture before the events surrounding the skating event happened.
  • Now, this is not to say that I don't think Jo has a fault in need of correcting!  No, indeed!  I just think that Amy would have benefitted from having a little more of a scolding and Jo would had benefitted from a little more sympathy.  In fact, I wonder if Jo would have been a little quicker to forgive and forget, had she felt that Amy had been called out for her temper and Jo's loss acknowledged.  I think some if it is the time period.  Jo's writing was seen as a cute project rather than something bigger. 
  • All that said, people are more important than the greatest piece of writing and Jo did deserve that sermon at the end.  
Questions:
Do you sympathize with Amy or Jo more in this chapter?
Have you ever lost something that you worked on for a long time and forgot to have a back up of?

And thus closes two of my least favorite chapters in Little Women.  I'll be back tomorrow with some thoughts on chapters 9 and 10 and then I'll be caught up!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Little Women Read Along-Chapters 4, 5, and 6

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

Chapter 4-Burdens

Oh, this chapter!  You can just feel the whole mood of the book dropping from the high of Christmas excitement to the low of everyday work.  Meg has to work with some very spoiled children who make her wish for pretty things more than ever.  Jo has to go to her grumpy Aunt March's to be her assistant.  Beth must return to her daily housework and her shabby piano.  And Amy must go back to her school filled with richer girls and a mean teacher.  After a very trying day, they are refreshed as they all gather around Marmee as she comforts and inspires them with stories and just a wee bit of preaching.

Thoughts:
  • Alcott's preaching thinly veiled in the form of Marmee really doesn't bother me.  I know that it gets on some people's nerves (and I'm not very far into the book…perhaps I will dislike it later on).  In fact, there are plenty of times where I think that Alcott has very valuable things to say, even for today's readers.
  • "Meg was Amy's confidant and monitor, and by some strange attraction of opposites, Jo was gentle Beth's.  To Jo alone did the shy children tell her thoughts; and over her big, harum-scarum sister, Beth unconsciously exercised more influence than any one in the family."  I love this quote.  Especially because I have seen this phenomenon so many times in real life.  
  • And the quote that made me laugh the most in this post?  "'My only comfort', she said to Meg, with tears in her eyes, 'is that Mother doesn't take tucks in my dresses whenever I'm naughty, as Maria Parks' mother does.  My dear, it's really dreadful; for sometimes she is so bad, her frock is up to her knees, and she can't come to school.  When I think of this degerredation, I feel that I can bear even my flat nose and purple gown, with yellow sky-rockets on it.'"
Questions:
Whose burden do you think is the greatest to bear of the four sisters?  I must say that I really do pity Meg, but what do you think?

What did you think of Marmee/Alcott's preaching in this chapter?  Do you think it detracted from the story, or was it a useful addition?


Chapter 5-Being Neighborly

I dearly love this chapter.  We finally get a good look at Laurie and there is a nice little adventure in the middle of the chapter.  The story starts with Jo setting off on an adventure to try to talk to "The Laurence boy".  She succeeds and even gains entrance to the elegant house.  After a long, cozy chat with Laurie, who is recovering from a cold, she retires to the a lovely library, while Laurie has a doctor's appointment.  There, to her shock, she meets the stern, foreboding Mr. Laurence, Laurie's grandfather who Jo is just a little afraid of.  However, she makes a good impression on Laurie's grandfather, who likes her at once, and she stays to tea.  All in all, this has to be one of the happiest chapters in the book.

Thoughts:

  • There is quite a bit of girl-boy friendships discussions throughout the chapter.  I think it's quite obvious that Alcott knows that she is going to shock and ruffle feathers.  Laurie pays Jo a very nice compliment, which Jo does not even know is a compliment.  Afterwards, when Jo is telling about it, Meg says, "'I never saw such a girl!  You don't know a compliment when you get it, said Meg with an air of a young lady who knew all about the matter.  'I think they are great nonsense, and I'll thank you not to be silly and spoil my fun.  Laurie's a nice boy, and I like, him, and I won't have any sentimental stuff about compliments and such rubbish.  We'll all be good to him, because he hasn't got any mother, and he may come over and see us, mayn't he, Marmee?'"
  • "And, having pulled the boy's hair by way of a caress, Mr. Laurence walked on…"  I think it is very interesting that Alcott took note of this.  I'm quite sure that paternal interaction like this was the norm and I think it's very interesting that Alcott notices, and disapproves, of this.  
  • After reading about blanc mange in this chapter (and then reading the discussion in the comments on this blog), I decided to do some blanc mange research.  I didn't find a good blanc mange recipe, but I did make panna cotta, which is basically the same thing-cream, sugar, gelatin, and then other add-ins.  Basically a custard with gelatin.  And it was very delicious!  I made a grapefruit and vanilla bean panna cotta.
Questions:
Have you ever had blanc mange/something similar?  If so, did you like it?

Chapter 6-Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful
This is the chapter that alternately makes me melancholic knowing that this won't last and happily cooing over Beth and Mr. Laurence's relationship.  Beth discovers that there is a beautiful piano at the Laurence's, but she is far too timid to play it.  Mr. Laurence gets wind of this and comes over to quietly encourage her to come and play the piano, assuring her, through Marmee, who he is ostensibly talking to, that she will not have to cross paths with any people.  So Beth ventures over.  But then it gets sweeter.  Mr. Laurence actually gives Beth his dead little daughter's piano for her very own, a little bit of heartbreaking foreshadowing that only those of us who have read the book 8 million times will notice.  I almost wish I didn't know what was coming.  And the chapter closes with Beth and Mr. Laurence walking home hand in hand after Beth gives him her personal thanks.  *Sniff*  Excuse me while I leave to blow my nose.

Image from: Pinterest

Thoughts:
  • I often fall into the camp of people that think that Beth is terribly one-dimensional and too good for words.  And then I get to this chapter and I can't help but completely understand Beth in this chapter, though my personality has never been like hers.  I think this is the chapter that redeems Beth.  She has a problem, overcomes it, and makes a new friend, all in about ten pages.  What could be better?
  • I am really wishing I had the time to read through Pilgrim's Progress (or that I had the attention span to read through what I remember as being a very, very dry book).  The constant references are just a little bit confusing.  I mean, the references aren't bad enough that this book makes no sense without prior knowledge of PP, but I think it would be helpful.  Maybe some day…
Questions:
Do you think that this chapter makes Beth more understandable and easier to identify with?
Have any of you read Pilgrim's Progress and, if so, what did you think of it?

Whew!  And that closes one of my longest posts!  I'll be back tomorrow with more thoughts about Little Women.  I am enjoying this book so much!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Library Loot 3/11/15

I haven't done a Library Loot post in ages!  This past weekend, however, I went to the library and picked up a substantial stack and now I'm ready to write about my haul.

About Library Loot:

"Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries."


The Plot that Thickened by P.G. Wodehouse-I already reviewed this here and really enjoyed it.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green-I feel I must explain.  This was part of a very long-winded bet with my brother.  I, making amazed noises that people would read The Fault in Our Stars for fun, said that I would never voluntarily read TFIOS because who wants to read a book being wracked by sobs the majority of the time.  My brother got a gleam in his eye and said that if I would read TFIOS, he would, too.  I stretched the bet a little and said that we would each read a John Green book (many of which are heartbreaking).  I haven't heard anything about his book choice, so I don't know how that's going.  I chose Will Grayson, Will Grayson because it's supposed to be actually funny.  John Green is a very skilled and funny writer, so I'm not going to have to brave bad writing, but the genre is not my favorite, so we'll see...


Cotillion by Georgette Heyer- Just a little Regency romance.  Georgette Heyer wrote surprisingly good, historically accurate works of fiction in the 1920s about the 1700s.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens-This is partly inspired by my Little Women read along (the March sisters are big fans of Pickwick) and partly because I've heard it is a fantastic book.

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas-Some nice fiction that looked good...about a group of ladies in Kansas who brave the Depression together.

The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas-More good-looking fiction.

The Train to Estelline by Jane Roberts Wood-A novel about a young woman traveling to Arkansas in the early 1900s to teach.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Plot That Thickens by P.G. Wodehouse

As I was experiencing The Cold That Will Not Quit, I turned to my new stack of library books and knew in an instant what I wanted to read-P.G. Wodehouse.  P.G. Wodehouse can cure any ills, I am convinced, and I'm not quite sure why he has not made it onto my blog.  He is also extremely prolific, so you don't have the problem of feeling like weeping when you find a good author that wrote one book.  According to a page in the front of my book, he had written 80 books by 1973 (he started writing in the 19-teens). Wodehouse wrote the Jeeves and Wooster books, which are probably his greatest claim to fame, but in addition to that, he's written about all sorts of hilariously eccentric characters.

This book centers around a whole host of characters.  There is a secretary, Sandy Miller, in love with her boss-turned-fellow secretary, Monty Bodkin.  Unfortunately, Monty is in love with a beefy hockey player, Gertrude Butterwick, who is putty in the hands of her father who hates Monty and has forced the lazy aristocrat to earn his living for a year.  Added to this confusing puzzle is Monty's employer, the employer's controlling wife, and the employer's even more controlling step-daughter.  There is also a band of thieves disguised as friends and valets trying to steal the employer's wife's necklace.  Whew.

This book is classic Wodehouse.  It has lots of humor and sly pokes at the English upper-class, a cast of very eccentric characters that grow more complicated in their relationships by the minute, just a touch of bad guys (but only the bumbling kind), a little romance, and a problem that will be neatly solved by the end of the book.

This book was written near the end of Wodehouse's career (early 1970s) and, maybe it was just me, but I thought I could read the wistfulness in some of his references to gentlemen's clubs and "the old ways".  However, this book still has all of Wodehouse's charm and frivolity.  He lavishly sprinkles funny, well-rounded characters all through the book, makes word jokes left and right (my favorite kind of joke, by the way), and crafts a very funny, yet somehow also gripping, plot that left me hanging onto the book until the last page.

This book was the perfect thing to get me over the worst of the cold and I'm sure I made a funny sight sitting there wrapped in a quilt and alternately laughing and coughing my lungs up over a book.  I think of Wodehouse as being classic summer reading.  I'm not quite sure why, but I do know that, as soon as I had finished that book, the spring thaw began.  Hooray!

So if you are the kind of person that likes Wodehouse's humor (I would describe it as a combination of just-plain-silly, sarcastic and…well…there needs to be a term for Wodehouse's humor, because it is its own category) and would like a welcome-to-spring (or whatever season you happen to be in at the moment) read, then I really recommend this book.  I enjoyed it immensely.