Sunday, February 19, 2017

"The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder" by Rachel McMillan

This is a cute book.  It's not a deep book, or a daring book, or an intense book, but it is fun and sweet, with bits of excitement and romance woven in.  It's got a lot of things I love:  mystery, historical setting, brave female characters, clean romance.  I like that it's set in Toronto instead of the usual cities of London, New York, or Chicago.  

Above all, I like that the two female detectives are consciously trying to be like Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  I was afraid that it was going to be one of those books where an author tries to cleverly write their own versions of famous characters and instead I just spend a lot of time being annoyed by how much the new people fail to match up to the originals.  That was my biggest qualm about reading this series, which people have been recommending to me for a while now.  People kept saying, "They're a female Holmes and Watson!" and I was like, "We don't need female versions of Holmes and Watson.  Go write original characters, people."  But that's just what McMillan did -- she created two very original characters who happen to be female and happen to wish they were like Holmes and Watson.  I dug it.

I didn't love everything about this book (SPOILERS)-- the romance between Jem and Ray wrapped up too abruptly and neatly for my taste, and (END SPOILERS) some of the dialog didn't always make total sense to me, like chunks of conversations had been removed for some reason.  But overall, it was a fun book, and I'm definitely going to read more in the series.

Particularly Good Bits:

"The past does that.  It lures you back and tricks you into thinking it was better than it was" (p. 180).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for characters being in peril and discussion of dead bodies.  Also, some smooching.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Character Sketch of Anne Elliot from "Persuasion" by Jane Austen



Anne Elliot
by Hamlette

Anne Elliot is an anomaly.  She doesn't fit the pattern of an Austen heroine.  She's not young.  She's part of the nobility.  And her great, sweepingly romantic story is, in some ways, over before the book begins.  We see all of Austen's other heroines fall in love, but not Anne.  Hers is not a story of finding a man to love, but of reclaiming the man that she chose to part from years earlier.



And unlike most of Austen's heroines, Anne spend much of the book without even the hope of eventual happiness.  And she's not even merely unhappy -- Austen would say she is in low spirits; today, we would say she is depressed.  Still!  Eight years after she'd persuaded herself it would be a good idea to give up the man whose heart and mind she understood and loved so well, she is still low.  Which isn't surprising -- she's had nothing to divert her mind, to raise her spirits.  She's been living with a pair of peacocks who have zero interest in a dove like herself.  



Her only friend has been Lady Russell, who is kind and well-meaning, and does value Anne, but who is the very person who punctured Anne's happiness with Wentworth.  While Anne doesn't seem to blame Lady Russell for her meddling, surely being around her all the time must be a constant reminder of her painful past.  Is it any wonder that Anne, by nature quiet and unassuming, is nearly invisible at the beginning of Persuasion?



Words like "quiet" and "shy" get used a lot to describe Anne Elliot.  So do "helpful" and "self-sacrificing."  I prefer to think of her as strong.  It takes a lot of inner strength to do something you don't want to do, and Anne does things she dislikes over and over.  She gives up the man she loves.  She nurses her "sick" sister back to good spirits.  She spends time in the company of Captain Wentworth when she'd rather be anywhere but in his presence.  She moves to Bath, a city she hates.  And she doesn't whine or complain about these things, but does them the way she does everything:  quietly and helpfully.



Anne doesn't complain about moving to Bath even though she hates the idea.  She is devoted to her retiring, uneventful life in the country, but that life of sameness has caused her to be stuck in her sorrow for eight years.  She doesn't want to leave her home, but it's that very change that helps her overcome her depression and regain her cheerfulness.  She finds friends who are interested in her for who she is as a person, not because they were friends with her mother.  She meets a man who wants to be her friend and another who pursues her romantically.  She goes on excursions, rekindles an old friendship, helps nurse a gravely injured person, and discovers that she has something to contribute to the world.  



Instead of thinking of herself as the unimportant second daughter, the person who rejected love, she can reshape her identity in her own eyes.  She can see herself as a helpful friend, a marriageable woman, an intelligent person who responds clearly and competently to adversities and crises.  Through those realizations, her spirits rise, her happiness returns.  And only then does she find love again.



In one very important way, Anne is just like Austen's other heroines:  she gets a second chance at love.  And like the others, she does not hesitate to seize love the second time around.  When she fell in love with Frederick Wentworth as a young woman, she allowed herself to be convinced that he was not worthy of her, and she convinced herself that she was not worthy of him.  When she discovers, as a more mature woman, that not only does she still love him, but he still returns her affections, she entertains no misconceptions about whether or not either of them deserves the other.  No one can persuade her otherwise this time, not even herself.



This is my final contribution to my I Love Austen Week party that I'm hosting on Hamlette's Soliloquy.  Go here for links to all the other fun!



(I first wrote this character sketch for a Persuasion read-along hosted at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine several years ago, where you can still find it. -- Hamlette)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I Love Austen Week Tag


Here are my own answers to this tag!  Don't forget to visit the party's master post here to find links to everyone's posts and join up yourself!

1. Which did you experience first, a Jane Austen book or a movie based on one?

A movie.  I can't remember anymore if I saw Sense and Sensibility (1995) or Emma (1996 -- the Gwyneth Paltrow version) first.  I know I watched S&S with my mom, and Emma with my friends -- but this was back around the time the movies came to VHS, so it's been twenty years, which is why I just can't remember anymore.  But after seeing them both, I started reading the books.

2. What is your favorite Austen book?

Persuasion.  Not even really a contest there, though I also really enjoy Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice.  And Sense and Sensibility.  I want to like Emma more than I do, and I've about given up on trying to like Mansfield Park, but I'll give it a try again some day.  Maybe the third read-through will be the charm for me.


3. Favorite heroine? Why do you like her best?

Anne Elliot.  I probably like her best because she's a lot like me -- loyal, quiet, caring, giving, with a cool head in a crisis and a willingness to forgive.  And I admire her integrity.  But I also love her character arc, that she learns that there's a difference between being agreeable and letting other people run your lives.  By the end of the story, she has learned to trust her own judgement and to stand on her own two feet, and she makes me want to cheer.

4. Favorite hero? Why do you like him best?

Captain Wentworth.  I must admit I like guys who are good at giving orders.  I don't like Wentworth's ability to hold a grudge, but I love that he's stubborn, and that he finally learns to put that stubbornness to good use.  And he has such a beautiful character arc, with so much to learn and overcome.

5. Do you have a favorite film adaptation of Austen's work?

Yup!  The 1996 Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam.  I reviewed it at length here.


6. Have your Austen tastes changed over the years? (Did you start out liking one story best, but now like another better? Did you think she was boring at first, then changed your mind? Etc.)

In some ways, yes.  Although Persuasion has remained my favorite Jane Austen novel since I first read it in my late teens, I originally thought of Austen's novels as entertaining romances, and nothing more.  But when I re-read them in my early thirties, I realized all the things that are going on below the surface of her words.  The way she is pointing out the ridiculousness of human nature, the inconsistencies of societal customs, and always the fact that appearances can be deceiving.  Like the appearance of her stories, which have so much wit and wisdom under the obvious story lines.  Similarly, the appearance of characters -- handsome and charming men are often villainous, quiet and boring men are often heroic.  Shy and unimportant women are often intelligent and strong, and beautiful, rich women are often shallow and petty.  But just when you think you've got Austen figured out, she'll toss you someone beautiful who is nice, someone rich who is kind, or someone ugly who is absolutely awful.  Just to keep you on your toes!

I used to think Austen was just fun, but now I find her fascinating.  She has a depth of feeling and thought that I enjoy connecting with.  I have learned much as a writer from her, especially about how to make the most of sparing descriptions and when to use narrative instead of writing out scene after scene in their entirety.  And many of her books make me laugh aloud with joy, which I love.

7. Do you have any cool Austen-themed things (mugs, t-shirts, etc)? (Feel free to share photos if you want.)

Yes!  I have lots of Austen-related books -- here are some of them:


I also have a Jane Austen journal, a magnet that says "Austenite," the awesome Persuasion shirt from Litographs (a Valentine's Day present from Cowboy a year or two ago), and this cool mug (a gift from Cowboy too, actually):


And I have quite a few movies and soundtracks, and a book of sheet music with themes from a bunch of different adaptations.  Plus a journal, the coloring book I reviewed yesterday, and other little things like that.

8. If you could ask Jane Austen one question, what would you ask her?

What are you trying to say with Mansfield Park?  I never feel like I understand it.

9. Imagine someone is making a new film of any Jane Austen story you choose, and you get to cast the leads. What story do you want filmed, and who would you choose to act in it?

YES!  Can we do this?  I want a perfect adaptation of Persuasion, please.  One that makes the story clear without overexplaining, that has music I enjoy, and that doesn't make me quirk eyebrows at the ending.  And, most importantly, with Louise Brealey as Anne Elliot and Ioan Gruffudd as Captain Frederick Wentworth.


10. Share up to five favorite Jane Austen quotations!

"There's nothing like staying home for real comfort." -- Emma (It cracks me up that this was said by Mrs. Elton, who absolutely did not mean it.  But I happen to think it's true.)

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -- Northanger Abbey  (This is harsh, yet not entirely inaccurate of my feelings if you leave off the "stupid" part.  I find people who hate books fairly hard to tolerate for long.)

"One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other." -- Emma (I find this to be so true -- like how people who love books can't understand those who don't, and vice versa.  So it goes with pretty much every thing someone enjoys -- someone else thinks it's madness.)

"Wherever you are you should always be contented, but especially at home, because there you must spend the most of your time." -- Northanger Abbey (I heartily agree.)

"I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.


"I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never."  (This is exceedingly long, but I can't bear to quote only part of it.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

"Color Me Jane" Coloring Book by Jacqui Oakley

Happy Valentine's Day! 

Here I am with another review of a coloring book!  To fit with the I Love Austen Week that I'm hosting right now, today I'm sharing Color Me Jane, with artwork by Jacqui Oakley.  This is a small book, only about 6" x 8", but it's got some beautiful artwork and has quickly become one of my favorite coloring books even though I only just got it in January!  The paper really takes color well, and the smaller size makes it easy to color on my lap while watching movies which... I totally did.  I watched both Emma (2009) and Sense and Sensibility (2008) (my first time for both!) while coloring appropriate pictures to match the films, and that was amazingly fun.

I colored this illustration of Emma first.  I like how it matches a scene from the 1996 adaptation in a way, but isn't simply a copy of that moment from the film. 



I had the most fun coloring all those different book spines!  I wanted a nice variety, but to have more blues and greens than anything else just to add some cohesion.  I loved coloring Mr. Knightley's chair too, as I layered it with two or three different colors to lend it some depth.  I love using multiple shades of colored pencil on top of each other to create new or deeper colors.



Next, I tackled this scene from Sense and Sensibility.  It's simpler, but has some cool movement, and I love how deep the room goes. 



There are several illustrations for each of Austen's six novels, and some of them match different movie versions, but others don't (or at least, I don't recognize some of them).  There are also pages of flowers, jewelry, and illustrated quotations.  Here are some I can't wait to color:





This has been another entry for the blogathon part of I Love Austen Week, which I'm hosting on my other blog.  The main post for that is here, with links to all the cool reviews and other posts that people have been contributing.  And do check out the giveaways, fill out the tag, and try your hand at the unscramble and the Quotation Quiz!  


Saturday, February 11, 2017

"The Jane Austen Guide to Life" by Lori Smith


It's I Love Austen Week!  Most of the festivities are over on my other blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy, so please check out all the fun stuff going on over there, like the blog tag and the giveaways.


It is a truth universally acknowledged that people look to famous persons for wisdom and advice.  We ask actors and actresses for their opinions on every subject imaginable.  We want to know what books and movies our political leaders like.  We ask athletes for their tips on how to exercise or eat or face challenges.  Something about their being famous and successful makes us think they must know a lot, maybe could help us with our own problems.

This probably explains why there are so many books available with titles like Jane Austen's Guide to Dating and Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners and The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After.  I haven't read any of those.  However, I *have* read The Jane Austen Guide to Life by Lori Smith, and overall, I quite liked it!  I don't usually enjoy "self-help" books or books that try to give you advice on how to make your life better/easier/happier/more-Pinterest-worthy.  But this book has no floofy advice about cleansing your inner cupboards or letting go of your fixations or whatever.  This book, like Jane Austen herself, is very sensible, helpful, witty, and fun.  I did not expect to like it as well as I did.  I definitely didn't expect to want to keep it!  But I do!  I thought that I would quick read this and then give it away, but nope, gotta keep it.  Happily, I found a second copy at the used book store, which I'm giving away here, among other things, but my own copy shall remain my own.

The book is broken up into chapters that each deal with a subject, such as "living your dreams" and "finding a good man" and "saving and spending."  I really loved that this book delves into what Austen had to say (in fiction and letters) about every aspect of life, not just about love and marriage or becoming a nicer person.  From "finding joy and laughter" to "enduring the hardest things," from "seeking fame and success" to "cherishing family and friends," it has something to apply to just about any life.  And it does so from a gently Christian perspective, which I appreciated too.

Smith does assume that her readers will be female and unmarried, but I think that men and married people will find plenty to interest, amuse, and teach here.  This is a small book, but it does not contain small thoughts.  

Above all, I liked it as much for its insights into Austen's books as for the way it sought to apply her ideas to modern life.

Particularly Good Bits:

Austen makes it clear that the expectations of others are not necessarily the best guiding force for your life (p. 7).

...there's another subtler success story woven into the background of each Austen novel:  that of a woman coming to know herself, being willing to admit some occasionally great failings, and setting them right (p. 21).

Austen wrote comparatively little about passion and sex, but what we hear from her over the space of the two hundred years separating us is largely a voice of caution and restraint -- perhaps unsurprisingly.  We can't draw out any specific dos and don'ts that apply to modern life, but she urges us to use our minds even in this emotion-charged realm and not allow any form of desire to hold supremacy over careful thought (p. 68).

On the road to marriage, Austen's characters love, but they also think -- mainly about their suitor's character and how acceptable or unacceptable his manners and morals are (p. 111).

...she would tell us that embracing life is just that -- that living a joy-filled life alone doesn't mean you are closing yourself off to any possibilities, it simply means that you relish life and its goodness, regardless of marital status, which may or may not change (p. 170).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for some discussions of sexuality that are tasteful, but not something for kids.



This is also my second book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017.

Friday, February 10, 2017

"That Part was True" by Deborah McKinlay

I picked this up at the library because the title intrigued me, the back said it was semi-epistolary, and I felt like reading something set in the modern world, as I've been reading a lot of fantasy and historical fiction lately.  I gobbled this book up in one day, as it was a quick read, albeit not quite what I was expecting.

I expected it to be a sort of cheery story of people becoming friends by exchanging letters about food and books, based on the cover blurbs and the inside of the dust jacket.  And that was basically true -- it was about a novelist named Jack and a reader named Eve who strike up a friendship by writing letters and emails to each other about food, books, and bits of their lives.

But it was not cheery.

In fact, most of the book was downright depressing.  It perfectly suited the sort of grey and deflated mood I had the day I read it, which is probably why I read it so quickly.  On a sunny, warm, joyful day like today, I would probably have groaned and tossed it aside.  Funny how mood dictates my reading sometimes.

Anyway!  Jack is recently divorced and having a mid-life crisis.  Eve is long-ago divorced, and her daughter is getting married, and she's coming to grips with the fact that she has been suffering from panic attacks for years.  And I think what depressed me the most about this book was how hopeless these characters were.  Sure, it ends "happily," but at the same time... what makes us think that these two characters will be any more successful at finding happiness with each other as they were at finding happiness with the other people they were with at earlier times?  There's a sense of aimlessness to their lives that reminded me of how Ecclesiastes tells us that the things of this life are meaningless, just "grasping for the wind."  There is no mention of God in this book, no saving faith in the lives of these characters, and without that, they are hollow, searching, and ultimately empty.  What saddens me is that there are so many real people in this world who are living exactly this way.  Hopeless, confused, empty... and damned.  Not just lacking purpose in this life, but facing an eternity without God, whether they realize it or not.

In the end, this book makes me want to go evangelize.  Spread the good news that God knows exactly what you're going through, he knows that sin is the root of all your problems, and he has a solution for you:  the suffering and death of his son, Jesus, which gives life and hope to all who believe.  Without that faith, everything in this life really is meaningless.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R for sexual content and some language.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"A Flame Shall Spring from the Embers" by Heidi Pekarek

This is a lovely retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story.  It's set in a fantasy realm, but there is minimal magic involved -- only female members of the royal family who are gifted with the ability to foresee future events.  Aside from that, everything is grounded in reality, which makes overcoming obstacles a lot more interesting, in my humble opinion.  I really dislike stories where people can just magic their way out of things.  

Dissension sweeps the land ruled by King Llwellyn.  A group called the Dunorii are convinced they should be ruling instead, and they rise up against the king, who is growing old and has yet to father an heir.  His sister Rhiannon wants to be named his successor, and when the queen gives birth to a daughter, Rhiannon curses the child.  Meanwhile, an heir to the Dunorii royal line grows up in obscurity.  When the time is right, will he be able to rescue the princess, unite both factions, and eventually rule in peace?

Heidi Pekarek and I are friends online and off, and I really enjoy  her writing -- she's got a gift for describing settings that makes me feel as if I was really there.  Since that's something I struggle with in my own writing, it's definitely a trait I admire in her!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some non-gory medieval-style violence.