Sunday, August 30, 2015

Jane Austen

Recently, I read Mansfield Park, which once completed meant I had read all of Jane Austen's novels. I know there are other works I could read, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to, they are all either unfinished or Austen did not submit them for publication.  After reading Carol Shields' short biography of Austen, simply titled, Jane Austen, I'm definitely more curious about the other works. Though one of the things Shields' biography taught me was that Austen was an avid reviser, leaving manuscripts for years, then going back to them and revising, after having already made several revisions previously, before sending them for publication.

I didn't really know a lot about Jane Austen as a person when I read her novels.  I know she died relatively young, just forty.  She was unmarried, though there had been opportunity.  She became a spinster/maiden aunt by the end of her twenties - which is really ridiculous when you think of it now, but that's how things were then.  When I was shopping at a used bookstore, I came across Jane Austen, by Carol Shields.  It was a slim volume and I wondered why.  I also wanted to read more by Carol Shields.  Since I also wanted to know more about Austen, it seemed a perfect find.  Austen in August gave me the perfect time to read it.

Shields' writing is fluid and insightful.  The book is structured around Austen's writing life, as Shields tells us about what was happening in Austen's life while she was creating her various novels.  I like that Shields didn't just record everything chronologically.  I like that the focus of the book was her writing and what affected it, the inspiration behind it, as well as the frequency in which Austen wrote. It's a little sad, her early life, but once she finally had Sense and Sensibility published, she was happier.  The end was sad too.  It's interesting through her letters, accounts of her health, and the way her aunt and cousin died, people guess that Austen died of breast cancer.  At least, that's the theory that Shields ascribes to; there are others.  Austen died too soon, with works left unwritten, unfinished.  I wonder if she would have revised Persuasion* more if she had the time. Shields gives the impression of Austen racing to finish the work before the end. 

Shields includes at the end of the biography, her sources. It is a nice list of further reading. I'd like read what nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote of his aunt. I've also heard that Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen, A Life is quite good. Though the real source of pleasure for me will be Jane Austen's six finished novels.  I've enjoyed all her books and look forward to re-reading them. I very much enjoyed Shields' Jane Austen.  It is an easy read and illuminating volume.

*I just read my old post on Persuasion.  It's so short!  Written in November 2006, I had only been blogging for a few months, before these wordy things I post know ;)  I definitely need to re-read Persuasion.  Also, Sense and Sensibility, which I read before I started blogging.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Undead and Underwater

Undead and Underwater is a collection of three novellas by MaryJanice Davidson.  In it, Davidson has included a crossover story with Queen Betsy and Fred the Mermaid, a grown-up Lara Wyndham, and a character I've never read about before, Hailey Derry.  While I love Queen Betsy and the Undead books, I've been interested in reading something different by Davidson and more about the world of the Wyndham werewolves and Fred the Mermaid.

Super, Girl

Hailey is great (aka It Girl - a name she hates) and has an unusual power. She doesn't wear a cape or have a crafted persona. She just does what's right, what needs to be done.  I love where Hailey works; her office has its own personality. If Davidson ever writes more about Hailey, I feel like she'll need to flush out that company and its CEO a little more. Even with the unanswered questions, I really enjoyed the story.  I felt like we were getting a peak into Hailey's life. I appreciated that Hailey wasn't just a copy of Betsy.  She talked "a mile a minute", but before Linus, she felt like she had no one to talk to.  Unlike Betsy, from the beginning, she puts others first. She has no life except for her Human Resources job and saving people.  She owns her gifts.  She makes excuses at work, but the end is no surprise.  I wish I could know more about Hailey's minions, who love her and want her to be happy.  For a novella, it was good, with just enough mystery that will make readers want more.

Undead and Underwater

Will there be more Betsy and Fred crossover? Because I think I would enjoy that. Betsy has changed the way Fred thinks about the world. With both of these characters, having them change in any way affects how they deal with the problems that come up in their stories. It is Betsy that has kept me reading the Undead series and who influenced me to pick up a trilogy about mermaids. I think Fred is seeing Betsy the way her friends and other strangers don't, maybe because of her unique perspective.

In Undead and Underwater, Betsy and Fred accidentally come together because they were asked to help the same person. At first Fred can't stand Betsy, which is understandable for anyone who's read any of the Undead books, but she sees the way that Betsy is willing to help Madeline, a human and someone she doesn't know. Fred reluctantly gets to know Betsy. You can feel a lot of different things towards the reluctant vampire Queen, she's ditzy but likable, self-centered but fierce. Betsy is often perfectly put together, but in a flash, she can also be covered with someone else's blood. Fred knows that Betsy is someone she never wants to piss off and never wants to lose track of. Those final lines of the Undead and Underwater novella make me think that Fred and Betsy will come together again. There are Undead novels I have yet to read and one or two more yet to be published and I am excited to see what Davidson has in store for them.


I really enjoyed Incomer it might be my favorite of the three stories. Incomer is about Lara the daughter of Michael Wyndham and new Pack leader. The story takes place in near the future, when Lara assumes leadership of the Pack. Incomer is about her first day, her first challenge and becoming an adult. I loved her brother, Sean and I loved Jack. It was nice to know what happened to Derik and Sara after Derik's Bane. I appreciate that there wasn't the typical werewolf fight to the death.  Laura, after taking on her father's mantle, is also continuing Michael's new tradition of excepting change. When Lara addresses the challenge in an unusual way, the result is unexpected.  I appreciate the unexpected, especially when using familiar stories, like werewolf fight to the death or challenge for leadership.

I also really liked Davidson's vision of technology in the future.  It's only about 20 years, but foldable iPads sound awesome, though even if our homes get wired to the Cloud, I think some of the young folk will know what iPhones are, because their parents had one. I loved the glimpses of future Queen Betsy and future Fred.  They're the same, but older. They might give Lara a hard time, but they are loyal and seem to have genuine concern for her well-being.  Betsy seems to be at home, still with Sinclair, living life, trying not to turn evil.  Fred is in the Caspian Sea, the seat of power for the Undersea Folk, with kids. How did she end up in the Caspian Sea when she loved Boston?  I think more than Betsy, I have questions about Fred.

I enjoyed getting to be in the Pack and experiencing it through their perspective.  There have only been two Wyndam Werewolves novels, the rest have been short stories, most of which I don't think I've read.  Neither of the novels took place in Cape Cod, where the Wyndhams live.  What is it like there, what has Michael Wyndham had to deal with? What were his children like as teenagers?  How did humans fit into their world?  What was the fallout after Queen Betsy's visit?  Incomer gave me some of that, some of what I've been wanting to read.  But I'd like more.

In the end...

It was a great threesome of novellas.  I enjoyed each story, each character accepting their positions of power, their responsibilities.  It has reminded me how much I enjoy Davidson's writing and I look forward to the next book of hers I pluck off the shelf.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

First Sentences

I recently changed the entire first page of my work-in-progress and that got me thinking of first sentences. The first one that popped into my head was from Pride and Prejudice, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." While I enjoyed Jane Austen's most famous work, part of the reason I thought of this quote was because that line gets a lot of air play. Then I wondered, what were the first sentences of some of my favourite books...

The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child. – The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. – David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. – The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. – The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches. – Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo

There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. – Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rusdie

The day I died started out bad and got worse in a hurry. – Undead and Unwed, MaryJanice Davidson

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. – The Gunslinger, Stephen King

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. – Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. – Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

A few years ago it dawned on me that everybody past a certain age – regardless of how they look on the outside – pretty much constantly dreams of being able to escape from their lives. - The Gum Thief, Douglas Coupland

My mother thinks I'm dead. - Legend, Marie Lu

All this happened, more of less. - Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Across genres and eras, the first sentence of a novel is important. It can captures a reader's interest or make them roll their eyes in annoyance. I've learned that not all first lines hold mystery, sometimes it takes the first paragraph or first page. I have a lot of respect though, for writers that can take you away, pull you in, grab and never let go, with that first sentence.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Spin Number is.... 5!

I looked up 5 on my list and it's MacBeth. Why did I put that on my classics list? Because I was an English major, who took a class on Shakespeare, and never read MacBeth. I've never even seen it. I thought, it's one of Shakespeare's most well-known plays, I aught to read it. Looks like that time is now.  So, on October 23rd, look out for my thoughts on MacBeth

Now, do I read it from the giant complete works that I have or do I download and ebook?

First Books In A Series

I think I might make fall First Books Season. I look at my shelves, as I so often do, and I see all these books that are "the first", the first in a series. Often I see the second and third books for sale and I wonder, should I buy the next book? I haven't read the first book yet, what if I don't like it? I don't want to waste my money on buying more books in a series if I don't like the first book. When the books are on for a discount, that makes them so much more tempting.  I know I'm two steps from being a total book hoarder, but I'm resisting those steps.  I'm trying to make smarter choices with my limited space. So, I need to read these first books.  I need to decide if these series are for me.  I need to know which books to spend my money on.

Some firsts I might read this fall:

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor
Enclave, by Ann Aguirre
Bloodsucking Fiends, by Christopher Moore
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
The Diviners, by Libba Bray
A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness
Of Poseidon, by Anna Banks
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
Omens, by Kelley Armstrong
Partials, by Dan Wells

I think I'll stop here.  I could go on, but it's not like I could even read these 10 in 3 months unless I took some time from my job and family life (I could stop sleeping).  Which one should I start with? They all sound so good!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Mansfield Park

I am just going to assume that people have read Mansfield Park or seen one of the movies....

I am finally finished Mansfield Park. I shouldn't say "finally" like it is a bad thing. I enjoyed Mansfield Park, it just took me longer to read than other books. I was eager for the ending, because I have come to know Jane Austen and I knew in this story, it would be the unrequited love fulfilled. Though, I was eager for the ending, I loved the beginning and middle too. I found it all very interesting. How could one sister have 10 children, another have only 4 and the third have none? (I know how someone could have no children, it was more the 10 to 4 thing.) It sparked an interesting discussion with my husband. Fanny Price's mother had more children than she knew what to do with. Her sister, Lady Bertram, married much more advantageously, and offered to take one of the children. Mrs. Price assumed it would be their oldest boy, William, but instead the sister asked for the oldest girl, Fanny. Mrs. Price, who favours the boys over the girls, was surprised, but sent her off; one less mouth to feed. I think it was kind what Sir Thomas did for his wife's relations. Fanny and William are much better off for having such an uncle, who showed them this kindness, as the Bertrams did help William also. It is Mrs. Norris, the childless sister, who drove me crazy, as I think she was supposed to do. She was so awful to Fanny and I'm glad Sir Thomas finally saw her true colours.

I was really hoping for a little more build up to Fanny and Edmund. I've read the other five main Austen novels and there is always some kind of movement, moments, before we get the final couple. Not with Fanny and Edmund. Instead, it felt as though the Crawfords would get paired, as so much of the novel was spent on those relationships. Thinking back on it, maybe Austen was making sure that we knew how unsuitable these relationships would be. For a minute, I thought Fanny would soften towards Crawford, just enough so that his betrayal would hurt her more, but nope. She was a rigid heroine. I liked her though. I feel like Fanny had a real sense of who was around her and how they all really felt towards her and each other.

I hated Mary Crawford. She was so insipid. She played at friendship. I feel like I've known people like her, who don't make a choice exactly, yet spin things in their favour, but it is something in them that has thoroughly skewed their judgment and they just don't see that they are wrong. I felt a little bad for the Bertram sisters, too much ruled by emotion and not enough by rational though. Crawford was a cad, he was Wickham and Willoughby, but worse. He was an awful "flirt", though I do think he had genuine affection for Fanny. Crawford lacked patience. If he had waited, he (and his sister) might have ended up with the people they desired. I still wish that everyone, especially Edmund could have, could have seen what Fanny saw.

I know Mansfield Park is Austen's least popular and regarded as her most difficult novel (probably why it's the least popular.) It definitely lacked some of the romance and lovable, relateable characters that fill her other books, but the story, the view of English society, was fantastic.  I know I was hesitant to read Mansfield Park and it certainly took me a little while to finish it, but it was fantastic and definitely a book I will re-read one day.  

Yay for Austen in August!! - Check out Austen in August at Roof Beam Reader

Friday, August 21, 2015

Classic Spin #10 (What??)

I just realized that it's been weeks since I posted anything.  What?! Life has just been busy, I guess.  I mentioned on my other blog, which I also have been posting to infrequently, that you think you're going to have all this free time in summer, but nope.  The kids are home, but they need occupation. We have swimming and gymnastics and playdates. Everyone is having a barbecue.  Everyone wants to enjoy the hot weather (except me).  My work life has been pretty busy to, so not a lot of sneaking away to post on the blog.  That's one of the reasons I love the Classics Club Spin, it's inspiring me to carve out a few minutes and post my list.  I'm so excited to find out what I'll be reading.  For the last few spins, I've been using because I enjoy the randomness of it... and there's a lot less thought.  The list is:

1. Sherlock Holmes #1: A Study In Scarlett, by Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Under The Knife, by H.G. Wells
3. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
4. From the Earth to the Moon, by Jules Verne
5. Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
6. The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe
7. Tales of Angria, by Charlotte Brontë
8. Three Series, Complete, by Emily Dickinson
9. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
10. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
11. The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
12. The Weapons Shop, by A.E. van Vogt
13. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter
14. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
15. Queen Mab/The Daemon of the World, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
16. The Big and The Little, by Isaac Asimov
17. The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton
18. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
19. Medea, by Euripides
20. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery

(Please don't be 10)

I'm really hoping for 14.  One of the poetry or genre classics would be fun too.  Also 20, it's been decades since I read it.  Maybe it was 7th or 8th grade... maybe earlier.  I should check the publication year on the edition I have.  

Also, I can't believe this is the 10th Classics Club Spin!  I haven't participated in all, but I have in most.  I love the Spin, more than anything else, it really motivates me to keep plugging away at my list.  Thanks, Classics Club!

Saturday, August 08, 2015

The Maze Runner

This will be vaguely spoilery, but I think a lot of people by now have seen The Maze Runner....

Let's experiment on people! Is that a thing with dystopian movies (novels)? I really enjoyed The Maze Runner. It was better than expected, which is always good. I like the way that Thomas, the main character, was introduced into the Maze. Of course, he immediately made friends but also had his detractors. And of course, one of those friends happened to be the most innocent looking of all the boys in the Maze. Immediately I felt that something was going to happen to this kid (Chuck). My hubby looked at me and said, "awe poor Rue." I told him to shut up. There were other aspects of the movie that reminded me of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner also reminded me of Divergent. The Maze Runner was published two years before Divergent, though, so I feel like it's a bit of a backwards comparison.

I haven't read The Maze Runner novels, but now I want to. I don't need to read every book that's being turned into a movie, right?

I kind of loved how shocked all the boys were to see a girl. Some of them have been in the Maze for over three years. That means seeing only boys for a long time. Not that it looked like these boys needed a girl (or even an adult), but just having one around or more than one, would have made for a different and more diverse three years. Though I suppose the introduction of a girl at the end was representative of the change that the community of boys was about to go through.

One thing I didn't like was that The Maze Runner does not feel finished. At least at the end of other first movies in a series, the film is complete, it is a story in itself. The Maze is over and it does look like the survivors are possibly going to a better place, but that is only from their point of view. We all know as viewers that there are more trials for them in the future. I wonder and kind of suspect that the book ends in a similar way. I don't know if I would have liked that in a book. I like my books and movies, specifically the first and last in the series, to feel like they're done. I think the helicopter bit was fine, it's the part with the doctor that changed it for me. 

I'm glad I finally watched The Maze Runner and I'll be looking out for The Scorch Trials.

Thursday, August 06, 2015


I thought I did not want to read anymore vampire books. I did, however, want to read something by Meg Cabot, who I kept hearing all kinds of wonderful things about.  I see her books everywhere, but for some reason, had never read one.  Then there was that sad thing that happened to a local bookstore.  I found one of her books there and I had to have it.  I knew it was a vampire book when I bought it.  Just look at the cover, there's a stake on it. Insatiable is a vampire book that makes fun of other vampire books though. The main character, Meena, hates vampires in fiction.  She makes fun of the girls that get all swoony, but guess what happens to her? Also, Meena...Meena Harper! Has anyone read Dracula or seen the movie?  Mina Harker is the name of the leading lady in Bram Stoker's classic. Her husband is John Harker.... Insatiable also has a Jon Harper.  Meena's brother. When I realized this, I had a tiny "eww" moment.  But I got over it. Insatiable has a few of the vampire "conventions", but the book is so entertaining

Meena, oh Meena.  She's not just an ordinary girl, or even a girl.  She's a twenty-something woman with a career.  She can also predict people's deaths. Meena had me reading the book, the way that she behaved like a twenty-something, the way she accepted her gift, that she tried, but didn't want people to think she was crazy.  Meena, especially in the end, did not do what was expected.  Lucien, the prince of darkness, he was kind of typical, but when he is perceived by Meena, it makes him different.  I appreciated a lot of the characters.  Alaric did have an annoying side though.  I liked that he wasn't a talker, he was all about business, but he was also very narrow-minded. He learned something and changed. The Señor Sticky thing though, seemed a little out of place for a guy who liked the finer things.

I was hooked by Insatiable.  I love that it is the name of a soap opera series.  The vampires story-line thing was so funny.  I like that people text in this book too.  I was out all night, better text my brother and my friend.  I just haven't noticed it a lot with stories lately, the use of modern technology beyond email.

I am also hooked on Meg Cabot now.  I've already sought out the sequel to Insatiable, Overbite.  She has written so many books though, I feel like it might be my desire to read all of Stephen King's books, it'll either take forever or never happen.  I'll be keeping her in mind though, whenever I head out to a bookstore.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Man Of Steel

I know I'm a little late to the party, but I finally saw Man of Steel. Strange for a nerd like me, but for whatever reason it just didn't happen when everyone else saw it. I heard about the changes, the controversy, the nonstop destruction, and was worried. I loved the old Superman movies with Christopher Reeve as a kid. I enjoyed the Lois and Clark series as a teen. I know things change and have to adapt as we move forward, but I was concerned that I would be disappointed. Maybe I wasn't disappointed because my expectations were not that high. Is that bad to say? I watched Man of Steel knowing that it was good enough to warrant a sequel and that it would not be like any of the previous Superman movies.

I liked it. I like Henry Cavill. He's handsome and strong and brings his own interpretation to the role. I liked that Clark went out into the world to try and find himself. I found this version of Clark Kent a little more realistic. Clark wasn't some 20-something moving to the big city, he was an adult who had life experiences, was a mature and intelligent person. Lois Lane was very much the person I expected her to be, but what really needed to change? She was always an intelligent, independent, strong-willed woman. 

As soon as it happened though, I can see where the controversy came in. Superman is always been held to an ideal and maybe he did not necessarily live up to that in this movie. Would that be really realistic though? How else would Zod have been defeated? There was no kyptonite, there were no more ships, he was as strong and perhaps more skilled than Superman. He was about to murder a defenseless family, what could Superman have done differently? I think also DC is trying to do what Marvel has done, they are trying to place their heroes in the modern world, isn't that what they did with the first Iron Man movie? These heroes are going to have problems we can relate to and have to deal with consequences. Isn't that what Superman v Batman is going to be about, the consequences of Superman in the world and what he means to everything. 

In the end, I enjoyed Man of Steel.  It didn't ramp up my excitement like the first Avengers movie, though I think it was trying to, but I liked the story.  I liked Clark Kent and his parents, all four of them.  I liked Lois Lane, I liked the Colonel and the General.  I really loved the ending.  I'm looking forward to more from the Man of Steel.

Monday, August 03, 2015


Embroideries was hilarious. I couldn't put down Marjane Satrapi's (second) nonfiction graphic novel (graphic memoir?) about these Iranian women sitting down to have a sex talk. The women were so bold and so honest and their stories were just incredible. I loved the grandmother. I loved how she started the book and how she ended it. I loved finding out what "embroideries" actually means.

I don't often read nonfiction but I was intrigued by Embroideries. I had been wanting to read something by Marjane Satrapi and her nonfiction graphic novel came into my possession. I found the idea of a nonfiction graphic novel fascinating. It meant that Satrapi would be drawing real people from her life. Their stories are also represented through her drawings, her interpretation of what they are telling her.  The art is amazing, intriguing and adds another layer to their tales.

There is so much I could talk about with this book. Iranian women, how they are perceived, what they are really like.  That broken hearts are common no matter the culture, so is using a relationship to escape.  In this conversation, the women are so bold and so open. They talked about everything. Marrying certain men have their advantages, like being able to move to Vienna. Keep your jewels safe. How to fake virginity. What happens after divorce. Embroideries.

I love this book. I've read some great books recently and this one might be the best of them. It was funny, heartwarming, emotional and unique.  I look forward reading more from Satrapi and hope to see the films based on her work too.