Sunday, January 28, 2007

Quiz Time

Personally, I thought I was more Brianna...

Which woman from the Outlander series are you?

You are Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser. You are resourceful, practical and a strong woman. You're not afraid to stand up for yourself or do whatever is needful for those you love, whatever the risk to yourself. You have a gift for healing and you are a faithful lover.
Take this quiz!

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Here's the other thing, Alex Kingston has never been my idea of Claire Fraser. No, Claire has to be somebody like Julia Ormond:

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

This is another of those stories that was simple enough to enjoy as a fifth-grader - but complex enough in theme for me to enjoy as an adult. It examines Puritan culture through the eyes of a complete outsider.

Kit Tyler was raised in the tropical paradise of Barbados by an indulgent grandfather. When he dies, her only options are marriage to a man she doesn't love or a long trip to the cold shores of Connecticut, where an aunt she has never met immigrated with her family years ago. She chooses the latter - having no idea of the culture-shock she's about to experience.

In stern Connecticut Colony, life is all about clean, sober living and manual labor. A woman who shows up in colorful silks, as Kit does, is viewed as highly suspect. She even knows how to swim! Everyone knows only witches can float in water!

But fortunately, Kit is able to meet some like-minded souls. There's an abused little girl, a ship captain's son - and Hannah, the old Quaker woman who lives as a hermit down by Blackbird Pond. Kit's friendships with them make life bearable, but they make her neighbors distrust her even more... Maybe even enough to think she's casting spells about town.

It's when her life is on the line that she discovers where she truly belongs.

Great book, that still has a lot of relevant things to say.

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Time Enough for Drums by Ann Rinaldi

Before Anya Seton, there was Ann Rinaldi.

Well, that's not exactly true. Anya Seton published her last novel long before my favorite young adult historical author started her career - but I discovered Rinaldi before Seton. When I was in high school, she was one of my favorite authors. I couldn't get enough of her slices of early-American life - especially this one about a young girl surviving the Revolutionary War.

The story is about Jemima Emerson, daughter of a staunch Rebel family in 1770s Trenton. However, loyalties aren't always clear-cut in wartime. Jemima's older sister is married to a British soldier, and her parents employ that sister's old beau - John Reid, a handsome, young British sympathizer - as Jemima's tutor.

Jemima can't stand John. And, with war in the air, she can't understand why her father would hire a Tory in a position of influence over her.

But appearances can be deceiving - her parents know a secret about John that she's about to stumble onto. And that's going to change everything between them.

I've read reviews of this book that don't like the premise of its main romance, but I've never a problem with it. My only real concern is how quickly it zips through the last four years of the War. The epilogue sums up a whole lot of experience into one neat, little package that I would have preferred to have followed in narrative. But I suppose that would have made the book far too long by pre-Harry Potter young adult standards. Anyway, it's a minor quibble about a fine book.

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Another YA Saturday Night

I decided to add some more of my young adult favorites tonight, starting with Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt.

Julie isn't your typical teenager. She's quite literate and serious minded - and comes by it honestly; her father and step-mother are college professors and the maiden aunt who raised her teaches at a one-room schoolhouse in the country. That doesn't mean she doesn't suffer through your normal growing pains, though.

This story takes her from feisty primary schooler to high school senior. We mourn her mother's death with her. feel the loss she feels when the older sister she idolizes marries, and enjoy the playground escapades she gets into with her brother and his friend, Danny Trevort. Along the way, we come to appreciate her strict Aunt Cordelia, as she does, and learn about Cordelia's one, true, failed romance. Julie also has a gallant and alcoholic Uncle Haskell, Cordeilia's brother, who always claims to be writing, but who never seems to finish his opus. We learn to pity him, as Julie does as she matures into the writer she wants to be.

Julie's story comes from an era much slower-moving than ours. Its unfolding takes a while. But it's worth it. The ending is perfect.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jane Eyre

Since Sunday, I've been wondering how long I can stand it before I reread Jane Eyre. I read it once, in high school, and didn't much care for it - despite the glowing recommendation of my mother. She's pretty much a non-reader, but she loves Jane.

I, however, didn't much care for the book, and didn't really care for the movie version I saw once either. Only Jasper Fforde's silly take on it has ever piqued my interest.

However, the new Masterpiece Theatre version has me hooked. I know how it ends - and I still can't wait until the conclusion airs.

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The End of Books? I hope not!

This seems to be a reoccurring theme. Over the last week or so, several of the blogs I follow have had entries on the move away from the printed word. We have "information" now. We don't need "books" anymore.

See here and here to find out what I'm talking about.

Call me an old fart (I'm in my late 20s), but I'm not sure if I'll ever want to read a book off a computer screen. I love sitting in a chair, breathing in the smell of pages. Frankly, I'm sick of doing absolutely everything on my computer. No, I don't want to do my banking or buy my stamps online. I'd go absolutely stir crazy if I couldn't get out of the house sometimes - and going to the bank or the post office often makes a pleasant excuse.

I'm not saying I don't like the convenience of being able to check accounts online, but some things I just want to do in person. I'm a writer. I read blogs. I spend a lot of time in front of my computer already. But I'm not the sort of person who can spend all day there happily. I get more exhausted spending 9 to 5 at a computer screen than I do actually moving around in the world.

This may be one of the reasons that my account at Second Life lasted less than a week before I told them to cancel me. I just could not see myself spending hours at a time in a fantasy world when there's so much to do out here in "First Life"...

... Like read a book.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

An oldie, but goodie

I've been slowly rereading The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch the last week or two and have finally concluded it is one of my favorite books.

It took me forever to come to that decision, though, because this nutty family saga is not an easy book to love at first. The first time I read it, I set it down not knowing what to think of it.

My fascination with all-things John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford first directed me to The Wheel of Fortune a couple of years ago because, while ostensibly it's a family saga about this zany clan of aristocrats called the Godwins living on the Welsh/English border in the early part of the 20th Century, in reality, it's about the 14th Century royal Plantagenets. Every character in the book has some counterpoint in the courts of King Edward III and Richard II:

"Robert Godwin" = Edward, the Black Prince
His wife "Ginerva" = Edward's wife, Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent
His brother "Johnny" = John of Gaunt, while Johnny's beautiful mistress Bronwen = Katherine in disguise
"Kester" is Richard II
"Harry" is Henry IV
And "Hal" is Henry V.

I still marvel when I think about how how well Howatch translated events from one century to another. A concept this crazy should not work this well.

Another thing is, the book doesn't just have one narrator - or even two or three. No fewer than six members of the Godwin clan get a chance to tell a part of the story. And each section builds on the points of view that came before it. You only get to hear the deepest thoughts and motivations of one character at a time, but then you move on to another narrator and get a completely different perspective on the character and events you just followed. It can be a frustrating way of telling a story (how I wanted to know what Bronwen was thinking sometimes! You get to hear from nearly everyone else.) - but it's also fascinating to get a new perspective every few hundred pages or so. You're guaranteed to change your opinion of each Godwin about half a dozen times - sometimes even more than once in a chapter.

As I said before, this book isn't an easy one to love. It especially gets bogged down in "Hal's" section as he tries to play amateur detective and solve a murder mystery from a previous generation. But the more times I read it, the more I get hooked on the characters and their obsessions. It's easy to believe that if we could jump into a time machine to the 14th Century, we'd find Howatch got her psychological "facts" just about right.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Literary speed dating

Now here's an idea.

It does bring up the interesting point of what kind of book I think the man of my dreams would be a fan of... or what kind of tome I'd take to an speed dating event like this, myself. Somehow Katherine seems like a little too heavy-handed for a 15-minute first date. ("In my favorite book a handsome knight falls in love with a beautiful commoner and they wind up more-or-less happily-ever-after. Yes, my life is grounded in reality.")

I think maybe I'd hide behind the literary safety Gilead or The Good Earth: two books I do happen to love, but don't involve princes or fairy tale endings.

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