Monday, March 12, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James.
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 291 pgs.

Guess what Santa Mom and Dad gave me for Christmas?  That's right, the New York Times bestselling book, Death Comes to Pemberley by renowned author PD James.

First, the plot:  A murder occurs on the eve of Lady Anne's ball at Pemberley.  At the heart of the murder:  Lydia, Wickham and Captain Denny. Cue mystery to solve; GO!

Ok, so here's the thing: As I write this blog entry this book sits at #12 on the New York Times Bestseller List.  It was #11 last week.  And has been on the list for the last 13 weeks--since it was released.  And here's my thought.  It was good, but I'm not sure it was that good.  I think it's selling like hotcakes because of its author.  Which isn't a bad thing, but it's not the best piece of JA fanfic to come across one's desk.

It's not that I'm an expert or anything.  Or that I have this extremely amazing memory for P&P, but I was distracted at the beginning of the book.  PD James spends quite a bit of time introducing the characters, plot and their nuances to us.  Her exposition is a lengthy twelve pages long.  And I felt like some of it was, well, wrong.  Obviously, there are things to make up with one's own imagination, and I can't put my finger on it exactly (esp. because I write this entry at least 2 weeks after I finished it.  Please blame work/kids/life.).  And maybe it is something as simple as the voice with which James wrote.  The exposition is written as an omniscient narrator, from the view of Meryton's female residents collective thoughts on the the Bennet daughters marriages. Maybe it just didn't sit quite right with me.  I'm not sure.

Once I was past the introduction and on to the novel, it was more enjoyable and a great little mystery.  Albeit, one that was a bit obvious and for that I was a bit disappointed.  (I guess I like a bit more "Oh my gosh! No Way!" plot to my mysteries.) Nevertheless, I did enjoy it and give it 3 Bonnets--with pretty ribbon.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Downton Abbey

Since the season finale of the second season of Downton Abbey aired here in the U.S.  last night, there's been quite a sigh of "Well, finally!" mixed with "More! More! More!"  around our house and with various friends.  That said, I've been on a nostalgic tour of various online articles about Downton today during my down time (aka afternoon nap time.)

I thought I'd share these here with you, Readers, for your perfect amusement.  It should satisfy your Anglophile needs until season three can be ripped from various sources online.  (Not that I would ever condone such behavior.  Ever. Never.  Ermm.  Well.  Right-o.  Changing the subject please...)

Read some great recaps at  They are sarcastic and witty down to the perfectness of it all.  Ending with Lady Grantham quotables from each episode.  Highly recommended.

For laugh out loud, gaffing at your work desk during lunch or just because you needed a break, something that will make all of your coworkers stare at you as you bust a gut:
Downton Abbey printable paper dolls.  (Thank you, Amy!)

The Abbey That Jumped the Shark by James Fenton (I was led to this from one of Vulture's articles on Downton.  Both are interesting and anything that invokes the jumping of the shark is worth it.  Can you say, "Mysterious bandaged war vet with amnesia?)

Downton Abbey: You are Awful...But I Like You from the Guardian, published in November 2011.  The article calls it "warped genius.  And I agree: Actress Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) is" exempt from all criticism because she is wondrous (fact) and has saved the entire series from near-disaster.

Fabulous pictures of Downton stars On-Screen and Off-Screen.  These pictures make me love costumes, makeup and period dramas even more!

And of course, the official site:
Great exclusives here along with various links to other fun things Downton-ish.  (Like the Guardian's quiz: Which Downton Character are you?)


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Prom and Prejudice

Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg. Scholastic, 2011. 231pgs.

Think Pride and Prejudice at an elitist girls school named Longbourn Academy.  What's the most important thing in their lives?  Not getting married, but going to the prom.

Lizzie is a scholarship student who befriends her roommate Jane.  Jane is excited because Charles Bingley is returning after a semester abroad. At a mixer of students from Longbourn and also Pemberley Academy, Lizzie meets Charles and his friend, Will Darcy.  Mix in the usual Darcy pride, some prejudice of a poor and outcast Lizzie and well, it's pretty much the same P&P we all know and love, but in modern teen time.  Mrs. Gardiner is Lizzie's piano teacher.  Charlotte is another scholarship student and Lizzie's only other friend. Wick is a student who Darcy doesn't get along with and tempts Lizzie with lies about Darcy.

If a teen picks this up and has never read the original, I doubt that they'd get all of the name similarities or the plot resemblance.  But alll in all, a very cute version of Pride and Prejudice for the teenage crowd.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dancing With Mr. Darcy

Dancing With Mr. Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House. Edited by Sarah Waters Harper, 2010. 245 pgs.

This collection of stories represent the finalists in the Jane Austen Short Story Competition held by Chawton House Library.

While I enjoyed this collection, I found it not as quick of a read as the previous two collections of short stories blogged about earlier (Jane Austen Made Me Do It and Pemberley Variations).  I found a lot of the stories hard to get through and I can't quite pinpoint why.  To that end, I am annoyed at myself.  But try as I might, I simply can only think that so many of the stories were rather lackluster.  The winning entry in the contest--"Jane Austen Over the Styx" by Victoria Owens--
was by far the best one and was the gold star among them. Jane Austen finds herself in the "infernal regions" and must answer to the "court of the dead."  There she finds many of her characters quite upset with her, saying that she willfully portrayed them as "a snob, a scold or a harpy."  The sentence:  Her books will live on, but letters written to her brother Frank are to burned upon his death and thus, no one else will delight in their "wisdom and shrewdness." Again, a great twist to what really happened to Jane's letters.  Again, a bit feeling like Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.  But nevertheless, too cruel a fate indeed.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tug of War

Today is officially the last day of my maternity leave with child numero dos.  I've had the following emotions today:  
Bleck:  Getting out of bed at what time?  
Delight:  That little boy really likes to giggle! 
Wonder:  Another onesie?  Really?  Kid, you do like to spit up.  
OH CRAP:  (Probably said something else, but I'll be polite.) What am I going to book talk 1st hour on Monday morning?  Guess we know who will be doing homework this weekend.  
Frustration: Kid, will you nap so Mama can blog?  
Sadness: Really, I have to go to work and leave him with daycare and he'll never be this small again and that baby smell will soon disappear and ohhhhhh....

Last week I discovered Mommy blogger Glennon Melton from the Huffington Post.  Her post from earlier this week was called "Friendly Fire" and was about the never ending debate of whether or not women should work outside the home.  She'd heard a radio program earlier in the week that had women debating the issue.  Of course, all of the callers, she noted, were women from one side of the issue or the other. 

She says that if you are a working mom you are racked with Mommy Guilt that goes something like this:  "YOU KNOW, THE ONLY WAY YOU'RE GOING TO BE A GOOD MOTHER AND WIFE IS IF YOU QUIT YOUR JOB AND STAY HOME."  And if you are a stay-at home mom you are racked with the Mommy Guilt that goes something like this: "YOU KNOW, MAYBE YOU'D BE A BETTER MOTHER AND WOMAN IF YOU COULD JUST GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND WORK."

She relates these thoughts to a scene in the movie "Liar, Liar" where Jim Carey's characters is in the bathroom and is busy throwing himself against walls and punching himself.  When there is a knock on the door he says, ""I WAS KICKIN' MY ASS! DO YA MIND?" And Melton replies:  "I understand the act of kicking one's own ass. I do it all the time."

Yep.  Let me just say, we are so good at that, us women.  That kickin' our own asses thing when it comes to our jobs as moms.   Melton's post really hit home this week.  Child numero dos went to daycare for the first time.  We did a quick trial day--to let daycare get used to him, for him to get used to daycare, and most importantly: for me to get used to not being around him 99% of the day (and because I needed a good day of errands and back to work shopping).  I cried half of the day.  Blubbering at home.  Holding it in at Caribou.  Sobbing to music in the car.  Trying to contain the continued blubbering on errands.  Seriously.  Seriously? Yep, I spent most of the day mentally kicking my own ass. 

On Monday I start work again.  And it's going to stink.  But then I'll be in the swing of things after a few days and dare I admit it now?  I'll like it. I'll like getting out of the house, dressed and presentable.  I'll like talking books with teenagers.  I'll get really frustrated with them, but it's pretty enjoyable. And then it will happen. I will eventually start kicking my own ass again.  For liking what I do and for spending time with other people's kiddos each day and not my own.  

And so after reading the "Friendly Fire" blog entry, I have to keep reminding myself.  I have the best of both worlds.  I get to be both a working mom for 9 months and then a stay-at-home mom in the summer.  I get it when the working mom screams, "QUIT YOUR JOB AND STAY HOME."  I get it when you need to take a day off (albeit sick or otherwise) and run errands to stay sane or to chaperone your kids this or that.  And I get it when stay-at-home moms screams, "I NEED TO GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!"  I get it when you need to tell your hubby that he's watching the kids so you can get a cup of coffee and read for a whole solitary hour with no interruptions.  I so get both sides of mommyland. And it's a hard choice to figure out which one is right for me or for you. I just wish, for either side, I didn't end up kickin' my own ass so much--that there wasn't such a tug of war pulling at my heartstrings.   

Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart.  Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress.  Ballantine Books, 2011. 445 pgs.

First, I would like to point out that every time I sit down at the computer to write a blog entry these days, a certain infant starts to cry.  Nay, scream.  Screams a lot.  And I am not kidding--every single time I open up Blogger.  Without fail.  No wonder my blog entries feel disjointed and I can hardly find a place to begin writing.

Second, a sincere thank you to Laurel Ann Nattress at Austenprose and her publisher, Balllantine Books.  Laurel Ann sent a request out for folks to review her book in late summer, early fall.  I replied with a, "Sure thing, I'd be honored."  I needed to finish another book or two before I picked this one up, and then it was all I could do just to waddle into work during the month of October.  And then there was the fact that every time I picked up this book to read, I read about one paragraph and had to put it down due to fussy baby or neglected three year old.  Le sigh.  Life has simply not  been conducive to reading in my world lately.  Nevertheless, I persevered.  It just took me 2 months.  And what's sad is that is the only book I read in that time.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It contains 22 delightful Jane Austen inspired original stories from noted authors Stephanie Barron, Lauren Willig, Diana Birchall and Laurie Viera Rigler to name a few.  It also holds the winning entry in the Jane Austen Made Me Do It contest that was hosted by
Some of the stories are continuations of Jane Austen's original works, some are variations of her novels, some are modern day twists to them and some simply invoke the spirit of Jane Austen.

I could review each and every story, but that's not my style.  Here's a quick lowdown on my favorites and why they are my favorites in this collection.

  • "Jane Austen's Nightmare" by Syrie James:  Jane has a nightmare that she is walking the streets of Bath and appearing before her are her beloved characters from her various novels.  And many of them are not happy.  Not happy indeed!  Marianne thinks herself "ridiculous and pathetic."  Elinor and Fanny too "perfect."  You get the idea.  I like this whole characters coming to life bit.  I like that they are a bit ticked off at Dear Jane.  I like that Emma gives Jane a quick warning that the others are looking for her. I like that they speak of "that other book."  (P&P?)  Ultimately, Jane wakes up and is quite inspired to write another novel, but this time with characters not quite perfect etc.
  • "Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss" by Jo Beverley:  Widow Elinor Carsholt lives in the village of Chawton in Ivy Cottage that is tucked into a corner of Sir Nicholas Danver's estate.  Elinor and her family still have two weeks left of mourning for the late Mr. Carsholt.  Elinor wonders if Sir Nicholas has eyes for her oldest daughter, Amy.  But Sir Nicholas has eyes for the widow. I like that it was a simple story about a widow who thinks she has no chance at finding love again.  I liked that the characters met Jane & Cassandra and exchanged a brief but telling encounter regarding mistletoe.
  • "The Love Letter" by Brenna Aubrey (Winner of the JAMMDI Short Story Contest):  Dr. Mark Hinton opens an envelope addressed in his handwriting.  Its contents:  a fragment from some unidentified book.  Rather than study for his medical boards, he discovers the book and gets caught up in a love story of his own.  I loved this story.  It was a beautiful, modern twist on Persuasion. Sigh...
  • "Intolerable Stupidity" by Laurie Viera Rigler:  Meet two lawyers and their clients:  The defendants: Fritz Williams & numerous defendants or authors of "so-called literary works" and the prosecution, Tawny Wolfson & Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Darcy.  The court:  The Court of Intolerable Stupidity with Judge Lady Catherine De Burgh.  I loved the vision of Darcy transforming before the court into various modes as others see him, albeit continually drenched with water.  (Think: P&P '95 and the diving into the pond scene.)  Both "Intolerable Stupidity" and "Jane Austen's Nightmarre" remind me of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.  Quite funny and delightful.
I really enjoy this collection of short stories and am only disappointed that it took me so long to get to it and read it.  And as such, let me also acknowledge that all views in this post are that of my own and that I was not paid to write a complimentary review.  It really was a delightful read.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Pemberley Medley

A Pemberley Medley by Abigail Reynolds
Interdial Press, 2011.  210 pgs.

Warning: What follows are several blog entries about books of short stories.  It appears that in the last several months that's all my attention span could handle.  So, if short stories are not your thing, tough. :)

First, let it be known that I'm a big Abigail Reynolds fan.  Ms. Reynolds writes great Jane Austen fanfic and she's from my home state, so she's a mid-western woman with great taste.

A Pemberley Medley contains five short Darcy and Elizabeth P&P variation stories.  Really, these stories are like so many of Ms. Reynolds other P&P variations. One little twist in the plot that changes a certain part of chain of events in Darcy and Elizabeth's story. In one, Elizabeth actually heeds Charlotte Lucas Collins' remarks that Darcy has feelings for Elizabeth.  In another, Georgiana tries to find out which Herfordshire woman broke Darcy's heart by attending Mr. Bingley's wedding without Darcy in attendance.  But I will fully admit, the story "The Most Natural Thing: A Novella in 3 Parts" was my favorite simply because it cast Mr. Collins as the villain.  Need I say more?

5 Bonnets just for that lovely plot twist alone!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Kate DiCamillo: Master Storyteller

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press, 2009. 201 pgs.

Confession time:  I have had this book, ahem, a library book, sitting on my shelf since last summer.  I think I may have grabbed it from school as a summer read and didn't get to it then.  I managed to pick it up this winter and devoured it in about a day.  (It's really a one sitting book, but in my world right now, I am lucky to read a simple paragraph in about an hour.  I read, folks, but I read a lot of Mo Willems, Margaret & H.A. Rey and Richard Scarry.  That is my world right now.)

The Magician's Elephant is about a young orphan boy, Peter, who goes to a fortune teller to ask one simple question.  Is his sister still alive?  The answer:  "She lives."  When Peter presses further to find out where she is, the fortune teller gives Peter a cryptic answer, "You must follow the elephant."  And so Peter's quest for his sister begins, and we learn about the mysterious elephant that a magician brought forth instead of a bouquet of lilies.

The genius of Kate DiCamillo never ceases to amaze me. Her prose is so simple and true.  The voice that she writes with speaks to us in a gentle, yet unassuming manner.  I love it!  This book, with its sense of nostalgia, sparkles with love.  'Nuff said.

Regarding another Dicamillo story:  It should be known that my hubby appreciates Kate DiCamillo's writing, too.  We did, after all, read The Tale of Despereaux out loud to one another.  I did, also, drag him to a book event at the U of MN in grad school where Ms. DiCamillo spoke and read aloud the first chapter of Despereaux.  (I cannot recall if this was just before or just after her winning the Newbery Award for Despereaux.)

Late this last summer or early fall, I found that hubby started to read our not quite 3 yr. old Despereaux.  I think that it was on a bookshelf downstairs and one of the two of them saw it while playing downstairs and somehow they started it together.  I was truly amazed that she'd sit still for the story (it does have rather short chapters, though). Kate mesmerized her with delicious soupy storytelling and we read the entire book in the next month or two during bedtime stories!  Even last night, she pointed to it on her bookshelf and said, "We read Despereaux, but we're not going to read it tonight."  I said, "Maybe again in a while (meaning several months or so in my mind)."  She replied, "Yep, I like Despereaux."

Yep kiddo, I liked it too.  Kudos to Kate.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday's Child

Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2008 (org. 1944), 223 pgs.

I am a newbie to the world of Georgette Heyer.  See first blog post about her book The Grand Sophy here.  This summer (I told you, dear readers, I've had a stack of neglected books to blog about!) I picked up another Heyer book to read--Friday's Child.

Quick plot summary: Lord Sheringham (Sherry) has just been denied the hand of Miss Milbourne.  He's upset and vows to marry the next woman he sees.  That woman happens to be Miss Hero Wantage, a childhood friend.  He takes her to London and marries her.  Scrapes and mishaps abound as the two navigate marriage and society together.

And now here's the honest truth.  I'm not sure how I feel about Heyer after reading another one of her novels.  I felt like I was reading the same plot as I did with The Grand Sophy and it left me bored. (Which, by the way, is simply not ok when one is at the lake on summer vacation.)  I had to pick up Friday's Child several times after putting it down for a couple of weeks and try again.  Once I got into it, I enjoyed it but still, the same plot--silly girl heroine, serious or sometimes equally as silly hero, numerous misunderstandings and hijinks, and then end up declaring they love one another.  And there it is.  Same thing.  Both times.

So I ask, is there a Heyer Regency romance that doesn't follow this prescribed plot sequence?  To be fair, isn't this plot repetitiveness the same in so many novels by the same author or similar genres?  (See previous post about dystopian science fiction.)  Could the same be said for Jane Austen? (Insert audible GASP here!  I may have just written blasphemy!)  Just throwing the idea out there.  Isn't that why kids like series books so much?  (Much to this librarian's chagrin at times, but who am I to judge?  In my parents' basement there resides a crate of about 100 Babysitter Club books by Ann M. Martin from my elementary school days.)  I guess what I'm saying is that the jury is still out for me on whether I'll read more Heyer or not.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dystopian Novels = Cold Hard Cash

In the last several years, one of the biggest trends in young adult literature is that of the dystopian novel. (If you're lost the definition is: "a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression,disease, and overcrowding." From When I talk with the students at my middle school, I say something like this, "Think the future and something horrible has happened and the human race is just trying to survive.  Add some teenagers.  Some romance.  Some good adventure or race to survive and that's the gist of the dystopian novel."  Oh, and they tend to be series books.  Or trilogies.  

The Hunger Games (and its subsequent books) is one of the most popular dystopian trilogies from the last several years.  The movie for the 1st book comes out March 23rd. (EEEE! Squeallll!--Yup, it really was that good.  And the author helped write the screenplay and approves, so I'm hopeful for the movie.)

 Another series that my students love is Matched by Ally Condie.  The second book just came out and is called Crossed.  It's on my to read list (I haven't read it because I wasn't sure if I wanted to buy it or just snag it from the library.)

The series I just completed that my students have also been crazed about this school year is The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner.  And it's this series that I want to talk about today.  You know how when you read a book (or in this case a series) and it just leave you sort of annoyed or unsatisfied?  That's my problem with this one and I need some others to read it so we can talk about it.  (Hint, hint dear readers.)   I just finished the last book and it's just got me irritated. 

Here's the low down on the plot:  Teenager Thomas wakes up in what is called The Glade. He has no memories of before he woke up. He is surrounded by other teenage boys.  Only boys.  They live in The Glade and it is surrounded by walls, and in turn a maze.  During the day, the doors to the maze open and certain boys (called Runners) go out and try to figure out a way out of the maze and thus, hopefully, out of The Glade.  At night the doors close.  If you are still in the maze at night, a creature called a Griever appears in the maze and comes after you.  The next day it's lather, rinse, repeat, except that the maze has changed.  The walls have moved.  This is the standard pattern of The Glade and the maze until a teenage girl appears.  Things are about to change. The only thing she remembers is that WICKED is good.

Long story short, without trying to spoil too many of the plot points of the trilogy, the maze is run by an organization called WICKED which stands for "World in catastrophe, killzone experiment department."  WICKED hopes that the teens hold the secret to a cure for a disease called The Flare that is killing humans around the world.

Ok, and if I talk about more than that right now, I will completely give away the plot. 

But here's the deal, Mr. Dashner.  I expected more.  I really did.  I expected a little more conclusion.  None of this "It's a trilogy, but it's probably not because my publisher thinks we can push a few more books out of it and make some dough." The Maze Runner leaves you hanging.  That was to be expected.  The Scorch Trials.  Yep, still left you hanging.  Again, to be expected and in a good way.  But seriously?  The Death Cure (what claims to be the conclusion) isn't much of one in my opinion.  Great story but did it really end?  It never really ties things up nice and neat and I'm thoroughly annoyed by that.  Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games trilogy) took a lot of flack for tidying up the plot in the last book of the series, but it's what readers wanted.  But here....sheer annoyance. Someone read it, so we can talk about it ok? 

Epilogue:  After writing this blog post, I found Dashner's website and found that a PREQUEL to the series is out sometime this fall, called The Kill Order.  See!  I knew it!  There is soooo going to be another book in the series besides the prequel.  I smell a fourth book and I smell money.  There's also rumor of a movie deal...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012 Goals

First, before the Jane book blogging can begin, I am going to share my 2012 goals.  Notice how I'm not calling them New Year's Resolutions?  The word goals seems a bit more attainable.  I was listening to the news earlier this week and they said it was good to have set times to meet resolutions or goals, so I even have those this year.  (Hey, at least I didn't write my own personal goals in SMART format, ok.  That would have been a bit overdone for even me...)

1. Lose 15 lbs by the last day of school, June 8th.  I did just have child numero dos and even my fat "I purchased these after the birth of numero uno to go back to work" pants don't fit.  No good.  No good at all.  Must control chocolate habit.  Must drink more water (Dr. Oz claims this is key to losing weight and jump staring one's metabolism.  Did I mention I have been watching a lot of daytime TV?).  Eat more vegetables.  (More Dr. Oz.) Probably should add exercising in there, too.  But I do have 2 young children and will soon be working full time again at a job where I'm on my feet a lot.  Remember, I'm starting with attainable.

2. Finish numero uno child's 1st year scrapbook by end of Winter.  (Spring Starts Tuesday March 20th, I guess that's my day!) She's 3 now, I think it's about time.  And I'm not sure my marriage can take my scrapbooking crap all over our den much longer....

3. Blog.  ONCE A WEEK.  By Friday.  With some connection to Dear Jane.  In each one.  No problem, right?!

4. Learn to make a decent pot of coffee.  It's come to my attention, recently, that I can't do this.  It all tastes like crud.  I should be able to do make a pot of coffee....

Other Thoughts and Ruminations on these goals:
A. I've never owned a scale in my adult life.  Maybe now's the time if I'm serious?
B. There might need to be a chocolate purse in this house.
C. Child numero dos will be lucky to get a scrapbook at all at the rate I'm going.
D. Need to not let blogging pile up.  (Like right now, seeing as I have a large stack of books to write about.)
E. Since I got a new coffee pot for Christmas, I can't blame the coffee pot anymore. Darn it!
F: Jane would probably suggest I make a nice pot of tea instead.  (See, there's the Jane Connection for this entry...weak, yes, but there nevertheless) And I might agree with her right now...

Where The Heck Did She Go?

Where the heck did she go?  No blog posts for a solid three months.  This will not do!

Answer:  Little man born on October 30th, now 2 months old.  We have our feet more firmly planted on the ground, we are sleeping, we have managed to survive The Holidays.  And alas, now that there is time to read and blog again, this Jane Austen Addict is beginning to end her maternity leave and go back to work. Le Sigh.  But before that can happen, there is some serious blogging to be done.