Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by L.M. Alcott

This is a book that is neglected and forgotten about all too frequently.  We've all read, or at least read part of, Little Women and maybe and Old Fashioned Girl or Eight Cousins, but most people haven't ever read An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving, unless they know of it from the smarmy, schmaltzy tv movie that was done in the early 2000s.  Just in case you were wondering, that movie has absolutely nothing to do with the book by Alcott except for the title.

This book was also made into a picture book at some point, but this was a short story written by Alcott around the same time that she wrote Hospital Sketches.  In this story, the Bassett family is bustling around, getting ready for a big Thanksgiving feast when a carriage comes up to the gate, bringing word that grandmother is desperately sick.  The mother leaves, putting her 7 young children in charge of cooking the Thanksgiving meal.  There are all kinds of funny upsets and mishaps, including stuffing the turkey with truly nasty herbs (can't remember what they were....catnip, maybe?).

This book was been rather overlooked because it's not very long and it's very easily cute-ified, something that can very easily happen to holiday stories.  I think that Alcott originally wrote this as a children's short story, but I really enjoyed it, just as an Austen fan.  This was really very well written and gently funny.

There really isn't much else to say about this book.  It's got a lovely atmosphere about it and is, really, still very contemporary, as we could all imagine having an adventure like this.  Although can you even imagine leaving your 7 kids, all under the age of 16 at home to make Thanksgiving dinner?  Whew!

If you have any children in your life, go ahead and read this to them.  If you don't, but you're an avid Alcott fan, then go ahead and read this, too.  I think you'll enjoy it.

So there's my Thanksgiving post for the year.  I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving week!   I gathered with lots of extended family for lots and lots of good food.  It was lovely and now I'm ready for a normal week ahead and, hopefully, a few blog posts!


Saturday, November 22, 2014

In Which I Meet Amelia Peabody

Readers, I met Amelia Peabody and I do think that she is the most charming, fascinating, lively, and well-developed mystery heroine I have ever read in my entire life.

I discovered her after a friend very casually mentioned this fabulous mystery series by Elizabeth Peters about a Victorian archaeologist.  It didn't sound fabulous, but I trust this friend with book recommendations, so I checked the first one out and, oh, was I in for a treat!

The Amelia Peabody mysteries are about Amelia Peabody, a middle-aged, strong-willed, stubborn woman who spends her days charging through Egypt and working and learning at excavation sites.  Oh, and there are mysteries that she solves on the side, too.

This first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, starts out with Amelia aboard a train, traveling to Egypt just after the death of her father.  While on it, she meets a waif-like woman named Evelyn Barton, who is fleeing her erstwhile lover and her tyrannical grandfather, who is enraged over the fact that she ran away with the lover in the first place.  Amelia firmly takes Evelyn under her wing and they proceed to Egypt, with a cousin-cum-prospective spouse for Evelyn in tow.  While there, they meet the Radcliffe brothers, who are an excavating team.  Sparks immediately start to fly between Evelyn and Walter, the younger brother, and Amelia and Emerson Radcliffe, the older brother, immediately decide to hate each other.  However, the whole party is thrown together after a walking mummy keeps making repeated, unfriendly visits.

The party knows that it has to be an Englishman, since only a person with Western influence would think to do such a thing and so they set out to find the strange mummy.  There are all kinds of adventures and near-misses and, meanwhile, Amelia and Emerson are growing strangely fond of each other.

This book really has everything-good characters with plenty of witty dialogue, an exciting plot, a smattering of romance, and a thrilling mystery.  I read the book constantly for 2 days and it went with me wherever I went.  This book is also responsible for a pot of soup burned to the point of inedibility.

The relationship between Emerson and Amelia was quite entertaining.  It was very reminiscent of the Darcy/Lizzie romance and countless others like it that have appeared in fiction ever since Pride and Prejudice made its way into the world, but at the same time, it was different enough to not be annoying.  Oh, and, spoiler alert, Amelia and Emerson do get married by the end of the book.  You knew it was coming, so that wasn't a terrible spoiler.

These books were first written in the 1970s by Elizabeth Peters and I am amazed at how historically accurate they were.  I think that 70s and 80s writing has a bit of a reputation as being sadly anachronistic, but there was nothing anachronistic about this writing.  It was perfectly done and very historically accurate.

I really, really loved this book and think that, if you are any kind of a reader, you will like this.  It was well-written and funny and exciting (oh, so exciting), and a million other adjectives, and I think that this series is something that pretty much anybody should at least read one of.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley Miniseries

Readers, I just fell in love with a Jane Austen Knock-off (spin-off, whatever you want to call it) miniseries.  I know, just go ahead and take away my Jane-Austen-reverer-book-blogger license.  Go ahead.  It was Sunday evening and I was dying of one of those absolutely disgusting chest colds that leaves you gasping for breath and weakly sipping hot tea.  I was absolutely done with reading a book that I was making no progress on and the dog was yapping out the window.  I decided to start the fairly new Death Comes to Pemberley Miniseries.  I was suspicious.  I've heard lots of people who were tepid at best about P.D. James's classic mystery, but I was desperate for some distraction and it had good actors, so Death Comes to Pemberley it was.

Now, to be fair to this series, I'm not sure how different it was from the book (and I've remedied that and have it on hold from the library), but because of the not-great reviews of the book, I was absolutely stunned by how well-done the movie was.  The characters seemed like they had developed, but not in a forced way.  I was especially impressed by Mrs. Bennet.  She was her usual attention-grabbing obnoxious self without being over-done (a tragedy done to Mrs. Bennet many times over in both knock-off books and films).  My favorite characters were, really, Darcy and Lizzie.  Their relationship seemed to have grown from this romantic thing that has been swooned over for ages into a grown-up, married couple with kids relationship that I found quite charming.  But they really were still Darcy and Lizzie.

Here's a brief synopsis of this 3-part series:  The Darcys are planning a ball for the neighborhood when, suddenly, a hysterical Lydia Bennet arrives shrieking that shots were heard in the woods after Wickham and Denny ran into the woods.  Darcy starts a search and they discover Wickham with a dead Denny crying in distress.   Following are tense court scenes, cute shots of the Darcy's son, Fitzwilliam, who is perpetually getting into trouble, scenes below-stairs among the horrified servants, and up-stairs scenes between the Darcys, Georgiana, who is justifiably upset by seeing Wickham again, and the whole Bennet family, who turns up at a rather inopportune moment.

I have to say, if you haven't read the book, then the multitude of references will go completely over your head.  This is not a movie for somebody who hasn't read and seen Pride and Prejudice 5,000 times.

But anyway, it was a good miniseries and I watched all 3 hours in one go.  It was pretty fabulous, although exhausting.  The one thing that did throw me off was the actors.  I have this weird combination of faces for all of the P&;P characters that's a mix of the Colin Firth P&P, the Keira Knightley P&P, and my own imagined faces from the book.  For the first episode, I was driven completely nuts by these new faces, but my episode 2, they seemed completely normal, nay, made more sense in this setting than my odd mish-mash of faces.

I hope the book won't turn out to be a dud.  I do have my doubts, but I'm awaiting it with bated breath.  I'm also curious how my perception of it will change because of having seen this series.  But, even if you absolutely loathed the book, please check out the miniseries.  I love it.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

November, in a Poem

I dearly love November and it's accompanying coziness.  I think it's the grim, coldness contrasted with the warmth and light and books and people that I love so much.  I have been reading and reading in the evenings, but not bothering to write about what I'm reading, so this afternoon I'm spending working on posts that will come out soon. In the meantime, here's a poem for you.
November Moonlight by John Atkinson Grimshaw, thanks to Paintings, Art, Pictures

November by Elizabeth Coatsworth

November comes,
And November goes
With the last red berries
And the first white snows,

With night coming early
And dawn coming late,
And ice int eh bucket
And frost by the gate.

The forest burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mama Makes Up Her Mind

I loved, loved, loved this spunky, funny, classically southern book so much.  I really do love Southern books and this one, a memoir by Bailey White, a self-proclaimed spinster and her opinionated mother's adventures in northern Florida was priceless.

Bailey White came to public attention through NPR some time in the early 2000s.  I had heard her books recommended and widely praised for years and I finally decided that I needed to do something about the fact that I had never read anything by her.

This memoir is just collections of short stories loosely divided into categories.  The stories are funny and well-written and I felt that they were worth every minute of my time that reading them took up.  Bailey White still lives with her mother in the home where she was born.  Since writing this book, she has abandoned her job as an elementary school teacher to work on her writing.  This book is just stories of daily life that manage to be both hilarious and very commonplace at the same time.

I started the book somewhere public (can't remember where) and remember working very hard to keep from laughing out loud every 5 seconds.  You know that awkward sensation of realizing that pretty much everybody's eyes are on you as you sit grinning from ear to ear and chuckling to yourself?  Well, I had that sensation for pretty much the whole book.

The stories are varied-about White's old car that refuses to break down, about Mama, who finds a tick in her pantyhose on the way to a wedding and spends the whole drive there fussing about it, about the taxidermist next door who can't cook, so takes lessons from Mama.  Each of the stories are just a few pages, but this is not one of those books that you are going to read 5 pages of every day until it's finished.  Oh, no.  Be prepared to spend a large portion of your waking hours behind the covers of this book.

I think the best thing about this book is Bailey White's voice.  It is this voice that shines through in each story and it's the thing that draws all the stories together under a common theme.  It takes a lot of skill to develop a good writer's voice and I was impressed by how clear and likable White's was.

My favorite section was the category about White's teaching adventures.  I loved the story about teaching all of her students to read completely based on the story of the titanic.  Bailey White doesn't teach first grade anymore and I am sure that the loss of her presence at that school is felt.  I would have liked to see her in action, because, the way she talks, you can tell that she was truly devoted to her students and her job.

Southern books and southern writing is pretty prolific in the US.  There are always new southern novels and southern memoirs and southern cookbooks and southern...., but this one really does stand out.  I liked that the south was celebrated without being taken advantage or made fun of.  I think that Bailey White did a good job of this in large part because she lives there, she is an insider and, as such, knows all of the faults and gifts of the south.  It kind of drives me crazy when "outsiders" try to write Southern fiction.  It doesn't work and ends up either being condescending or just weirdly awkward.

If you like to laugh out loud and if you like good writing, then I urge you to please go and hunt this book out. I am only sorry that I am just now finding out about this wonderful writer.  I'm off to read Quite a Year for Plums, a work of fiction that Bailey White wrote.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Her Royal Spyness Book 3- Royal Flush

I read something on the definitely light-ish side this weekend-the 3rd in the Her Royal Spyness series.  The Her Royal Spyness series is absolute fluff, but everybody needs some fluffy, no-brain-work-involved reading every once in a while, right?  I read the first two books but, when I went to find them to link, I couldn't find them.  So, all this to say, I am quite positive that I wrote reviews of the first two, but I can't find them anywhere.

I thought that this book was the best of all of them.  It was funny, it didn't have some of that awkward, trying-to-be-royal thing that I encountered in the other two books, and it was well-written, in a fluffy kind of way.

In this book, Lady Georgiana, Georgie for short, has gotten into a bit of a sticky situation.  It is a hot London summer and, with her on-the-sly cleaning business over for the time being, she searches around for a suitable job.  She tries hiring herself out as a theater and dinner companion and puts and ad in the paper and uses rather unfortunate terms.  As the editor of the paper tells her the next morning, "You might as well have just written 'Call Fifi for a good time'".  Mortified at her naive mistake, Georgie allows herself to be shipped home to castle Rannoch, which includes tracking the disreputable Prince of Wales, who is still flirting with the not-yet-divorcee, Mrs. Simpson at the castle down the road, Castle Balmoral.

While on the train, Georgie is coerced into helping Scotland Yard.  It appears as though somebody is trying to kill off members in line to the throne and Scotland Yard suspects that it is somebody "on the inside".  While there, Georgie comes across the dashing Darcy O'Mara who still seems to be in pursuit of her in the odd moments when he isn't running around the countery.

Of course, the book was no end amusing.  I spent the majority of the last few evenings curled up on the sofa with a huge horse-blanket quilt over my knees, reading Royal Flush.  It was a lovely way to spend those evenings and I even caught myself being thankful for the dratted Daylight Savings.

While these books are definitely fun to read, I wonder if I'll read through the whole series.  The books do have pretty much the same characters doing the same things, with no progression whatsoever, which gets kind of annoying.  And I get the feeling that nothing much is going to change in the future.  Maybe I'll just space the books so that I'm reading one every 6 months, so they don't get on my nerves.

This book was definitely faster paced with more intrigue and dashing here and there.  In the end, there's this section where Georgie is trapped up in an airplane with the murderer…talk about thrilling!  Of course Darcy O'Mara comes to save the day and everything ends alright, but the book is full of these kind of settings and adventures, something that was lacking in the previous two books.  It definitely kept the book from being totally repetitive and dry.

If you're in the mood for a light read with absolutely nothing that's going to make you have to seriously pay attention and if you like a good period mystery, then this is a good book for you.  Overall, I enjoyed it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pride and Prejudice, While Running

I've been running for a few months now, but it's just recently that I have discovered that I can listen to the written word while running.  Happy day!  My first choice was Pride and Prejudice because, why not?  And I figured that if I was going up some steep incline or let my mind wander, it wouldn't matter as much with this book because I've read it so many times.

Every time I listen to an audiobook, I am amazed by the new dimensions that previously explored books take on.  I downloaded a free copy of P&P from Loyal Books (it used to be Books Should Be Free-it's a company that records books that are now free since they are in the public domain).  Luckily, this particular recording was a good one and the narrator's voice didn't annoy me, something that frequently occurs when I listen to audiobooks.

Everybody knows the story of Pride and Prejudice, so there's no way that I need to actually give you a  synopsis here, so I'll just write some of the things I loved about listening, in particular, to P&P.


  • I can be a very a fast reader at times and so being able to catch every word and s  l  o  w down was good for me.  Listening made me realize yet again how brilliant Austen's writing is and that her work is something to be savored and focused on.
  • The dialogue was a huge highlight of listening.  The reader that narrated my recording was very good at switching voices and I had so much fun listening to the pages upon pages of verbal sparring that is so prolific in Austen's writing.  I am always so impressed by how mean those people can be without ever losing their manners.  
  • I completely forgot about running while I was listening and, as such, improved my time immensely.  I've always been a slow-ish runner and it's thanks to Jane Austen that I'm getting up enough speed to run a 5k without driving everybody nuts around me.  
  • I loved the characters more.  For some reason, listening to these characters talk and live, I became more attached to them than I ever have through reading or watching the 4-hour extravaganza of a movie.
  • It made me lengthen my runs.  I was guilty of saying, "Hey, I did 2 miles, what the heck," when I needed to keep going.  Because I was breathlessly (quite literally) eager to hear what was going to happen after Lydia runs away with Wickam (yes, yes, I know what's going to happen, but still…), I did longer runs.
  • Runs became more meditative.  While I was listening, I would slow down a bit to laugh at the squirrel fight going on over my head or turn around to watch a sunset unfolding.  The prettiness around me was perfectly offset by Jane Austen's lovely words.
This is something I really recommend doing, if you run or work out at all.  At first, you're going to be distracted and it's going to be hard to focus if you've never done this before.  But pick a book that you've read a million times and before you know it, you'll be completely engrossed and you'll never go back to book-less exercise.