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1. Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light

A Ring of Endless Light is a book not as many readers seem to be familiar with, even though the author is so well known for A Wrinkle in Time. We’re trying to help change that! This book is realistic fiction with an element of science fiction, and even if you weren’t able to read along with us this month, we hope that the discussion below encourages you to check it out in the future. As always, there will be some spoilers, however. Wendy: I’ve loved this book since I was a teenager, but it’s been years since I read it. To this day, I still think of “resilient pewter” whenever I see a dolphin! And it’s also why I was veering between marine biology and paleontology for a long time. (Spoiler alert: I went into neither. Alas.) Kim: I had never read it before! A Wrinkle In Time is the only other... Read more »

The post Classic Readalong Discussion: A Ring of Endless Light appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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2. Miss Marjoribanks (1866)

Miss Marjoribanks. Margaret Oliphant. 1866. 512 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Miss Marjoribanks lost her mother when she was only fifteen, and when, to add to the misfortune, she was absent at school, and could not have it in her power to soothe her dear mamma's last moments, as she herself said. Words are sometimes very poor exponents of such an event: but it happens now and then, on the other hand, that a plain intimation expresses too much, and suggests emotion and suffering which, in reality, have but little, if any, existence.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Margaret Oliphant's Miss Marjoribanks. Within a few chapters, I was going Why did NO ONE tell me how absolutely, wonderful this book is?!  Even before I finished it, I  had decided that I would NEED to read more Oliphant in the future. A lot more. (Which book should I seek out next?!)

Lucilla Marjoribanks is the heroine. She's clever and stubborn, more than a little ambitious, and manipulative but well-intentioned. I also want to add that her manners are phenomenal; she's a proper lady. Readers meet plenty of characters: men and women of all ages, both upper and lower class.

So the novel opens with Lucilla learning of her mother's death. She resolves then and there to be a comfort to her father. Her father wants Lucilla to stay in school, and, later go on a tour of Europe. But when Lucilla is nineteen, it is inevitable that she will return home to Carlingford and start being a comfort to her dear father. He's hesitant at first, as is his cook, but within a day--or two at most--she's got them both. They love and adore her. Her reign has begun without a bit of resistance.

Lucilla has plans. Not just for her father and the household (a new makeover for various rooms). But for Carlingford. She wants to make a great society. She'll host her Thursday Evenings, and the town will be changed for the better, for the most part.

As part of her project, Lucilla "rescues" Barbara Lake from the lower class (she's a drawing master's daughter) to sing duets with her on Thursday evenings. Barbara doesn't exactly like "being a project" of Lucilla's. Part of her hates the idea of a rich woman condescending to her and elevating her position--once a week--for entertainment purposes. On the other hand, she does love to sing. And one of the men who attends is quite swoon-worthy, and he flirts with her. So the evening isn't a complete waste.

The book is essentially two stories in one. The first story occurs when she's nineteen and just getting started with her Carlingford project. She's young, beautiful, smart, ambitious. And most everyone is of the opinion that she will soon marry. Despite her protests that she will not marry for at least ten years so that she can be a comfort to her father. A handful of neighbors introduce various young men to her. One of the eligible suitors is Mr. Cavendish. (Cavendish is the one who can't help flirting with Barbara Lake). The other two "eligible" suitors don't seem all that interested in Miss Marjoribanks. (One (a general) falls in love at first sight with Barbara's sister, Rose, who happens to be visiting Lucilla because she's worried about her sister. The other (Archdeacon Beverley) coincidentally is the first-lost-love of one of Lucilla's friends--another project of sorts, her name is Mrs. Mortimer.) The second story occurs when she's twenty-nine. It mainly centers around Miss Marjoribanks schemes to get Mr. Ashburton elected to parliament.

The book is part romance, part comedy, part drama. I LOVED everything about it. I loved the characterization. I loved the narration. I loved the plot. I loved that it wasn't predictable--at least not to me!

Quotes:
There are people who talk of themselves, and think of themselves, as it were, under protest, and with depreciation, not actually able to convince themselves that anybody cares; but Lucilla, for her part, had the calmest and most profound conviction that, when she discussed her own doings and plans and clevernesses, she was bringing forward the subject most interesting to her audience as well as to herself. Such a conviction is never without its fruits. To be sure, there were always one or two independent spirits who revolted; but for the crowd, it soon became impressed with a profound belief in the creed which Miss Marjoribanks supported so firmly.
At other times she had been a visitor; now she had come into her kingdom, and had no desire to be received like a guest.
But it was only in the morning that Lucilla unfolded her standard. She was down to breakfast, ready to pour out the coffee, before the Doctor had left his room. He found her, to his intense amazement, seated at the foot of the table, in the place which he usually occupied himself, before the urn and the coffee-pot. Dr Marjoribanks hesitated for one momentous instant, stricken dumb by this unparalleled audacity; but so great was the effect of his daughter's courage and steadiness, that after that moment of fate he accepted the seat by the side where everything was arranged for him, and to which Lucilla invited him sweetly, though not without a touch of mental perturbation. The moment he had seated himself, the Doctor's eyes were opened to the importance of the step he had taken. "I am afraid I have taken your seat, papa," said Miss Marjoribanks, with ingenuous sweetness. "But then I should have had to move the urn, and all the things, and I thought you would not mind."
The Doctor's formidable housekeeper conducted her young mistress downstairs afterwards, and showed her everything with the meekness of a saint. Lucilla had won a second victory still more exhilarating and satisfactory than the first; for, to be sure, it is no great credit to a woman of nineteen to make a man of any age throw down his arms; but to conquer a woman is a different matter, and Lucilla was thoroughly sensible of the difference. Now, indeed, she could feel with a sense of reality that her foundations were laid.
Lucilla, who was liberal, as genius ought always to be, was perfectly willing that all the young ladies in Carlingford should sing their little songs while she was entertaining her guests; and then at the right moment, when her ruling mind saw it was necessary, would occur the duet—the one duet which would be the great feature of the evening. Thus it will be seen that another quality of the highest order developed itself during Miss Marjoribanks's deliberations; for, to tell the truth, she set a good deal of store by her voice, and had been used to applause, and had tasted the sweetness of individual success.
There is nothing one cannot manage if one only takes the trouble.
"I am always afraid of a cousin, for my part," said Mrs Chiley; "and talking of that, what do you think of Mr Cavendish, Lucilla? He is very nice in himself, and he has a nice property; and some people say he has a very good chance to be member for Carlingford when there is an election. I think that is just what would suit you."
Thus all the world contemplated with excitement the first Thursday which was to open this enchanted chamber to their admiring eyes. "Don't expect any regular invitation," Miss Marjoribanks said. "I hope you will all come, or as many of you as can. Papa has always some men to dinner with him that day, you know, and it is so dreadfully slow for me with a heap of men. That is why I fixed on Thursday. I want you to come every week, so it would be absurd to send an invitation; and remember it is not a party, only an Evening," said Lucilla.
It was when she was in this unhappy humour that her eye fell upon Mr Cavendish, who was in the act of making the appeal to Lucilla which we have already recorded. Barbara had never as yet had a lover, but she had read an unlimited number of novels, which came to nearly the same thing, and she saw at a glance that this was somebody who resembled the indispensable hero. She looked at him with a certain fierce interest, and remembered at that instant how often in books it is the humble heroine, behind backs, whom all the young ladies snub, who wins the hero at the last. And then Miss Marjoribanks, though she sent him away, smiled benignantly upon him. The colour flushed to Barbara's cheeks, and her eyes, which had grown dull and fixed between fright and spite, took sudden expression under her straight brows. An intention, which was not so much an intention as an instinct, suddenly sprang into life within her, and, without knowing, she drew a long breath of eagerness and impotence. He was standing quite near by this time, doing his duty according to Miss Marjoribanks's orders, and flirting with all his might; and Barbara looked at him as a hungry schoolboy might be supposed to look at a tempting apple just out of his reach. How was she to get at this suitor of Lucilla's?
As for poor Barbara, she is only a little shy, but that will soon wear off. I don't see what need she has to talk—or to move either, for that matter. I thought she did very well indeed for a girl who never goes into society. Was it not clever of me to find her out the very first day I was in Carlingford? It has always been so difficult to find a voice that went perfectly with mine."
"I always make it a point never to shock anybody's prejudices," said Miss Marjoribanks. "I should do just the same with them as with other people; all you have to do is to show from the first that you mean to be good friends with everybody. But then I am so lucky: I can always get on with people," said Lucilla, rising to greet the two unfortunates who had come to Colonel Chiley's to spend a merry Christmas, and who did not know what to do with themselves.
It was rather vexatious, to tell the truth; for to see a man so near the point and not even to have the satisfaction of refusing him, is naturally aggravating to a woman.
If there was one thing in the world more than another which contented Lucilla, it was to be appealed to and called upon for active service. It did her heart good to take the management of incapable people, and arrange all their affairs for them, and solve all their difficulties. Such an office was more in her way than all the Archdeacons in the world.

For even the aid of Miss Marjoribanks was as nothing against dead selfishness and folly, the two most invincible forces in the world.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. A Blast from the Past: Big Little Books®...

Growing up, I remember having a good chunk of my bookshelf filled with Big Little Books®. Titles like Black Beauty, The Last of the Mohicans, Ivanhoe, Robin Hood and other classics entertained me throughout the late 60s and well into the 70s. They were the coolest books that snuggled nicely into the palm of my hand, and gave me such pleasure as a child. I literally lost myself in those books. Swimming with these nostalgic thoughts and feelings got me wondering how these fascinating and unique books started out. So…I did a little digging.

During the 1930s, as movies, radio, pulps, and comic strips developed, the Big Little Books® appeared on the scene. The product was small, stubby, thick, and inexpensive. The books drew much source material from motion pictures, radio, and comic strips and successfully competed with pulp magazines and comic books until the end of the decade. They served to promote films and radio programs and were produced in such quantities that they could be sold for a dime.

In 1932 the seemingly paradoxical term Big Little Book® was given to certain books published by the Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. The term promised the buyer a great amount of reading material and pleasure (BIG) within a small and compact (LITTLE) book. These Whitman books set the standards for similar books, and Whitman's copyrighted description has become popularized in a generic way to umbrella similar books.










The first BLB, The Adventures of Dick Tracy, came off the presses just before Christmas in 1932. It
preceded the first true comic book by a year, and the subsequent BLB production spanned more than a half century. Within the span, there are historical patterns which clearly define three major periods of publication.

The Golden Age (1932 to mid-1938) is a description reserved for the most interesting, influential, and memorable production of the books. These were the true Big Little Books®. During this period, the effects of the depression were still being felt, and numerous publishers besides Whitman produced inexpensive BLB-type reading materials of great variety. In mid-1938 the two major companies, Whitman and Saalfield, made major changes in their trademarks (Whitman's Big Little Books® became Better Little Books® and Saalfield's Little Big Books® became Jumbo Books®).

The Silver Age (mid-1938 to 1949) produced a less innovative set of books. Their production was influenced by the growing comic book market and paper shortages during WWII. The number of competitive companies diminished. Only Whitman maintained a continuous output of books through the war years. It used the "flip-it" feature extensively to attract buyers, and as these years went by, the books gradually contained fewer and fewer pages. In 1949, the last Better Little Book®, Little Orphan Annie and the Ancient Treasure of Am (288 pages) was published.

The Modern Age (1950 to the present) is characterized by more than 40 years of sporadic and short-
lived attempts to revive the books in different forms and with different content: New Better Little Books® (1949-50); BLB TV Series® (1958); the hard cover 2000-Series (1967-68); the soft cover 5700-Series (1973-present). During this period, Whitman became subsumed under the auspices of the Western Publishing Company.


So if you’re wandering through a garage sale or flea market and happen to spot a Big Little Book® in a pile of dog-earred novels, do yourself a favor and buy it. It just may be the start of a beautiful relationship between a child you know, and the written word.

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4. Celebrate the Brothers Grimm

Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version

By Philip Pullman

 

A picture book author friend of mine put me on to this title. I’m pretty excited to share it with all of you parents, grands and just about any one that reads to children.

Just a thumbnail sketch of who the author is might read that Mr. Pullman’s previous “Dark Materials” is a three book trilogy.

The first book was made into a movie in 2007 called “The Golden Compass”with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Did not do so wonderfully well at the box office here, and, in an article I read as I was writing this piece, indicated the less than stellar box office performance was due in part to a reaction from some people’s concerns that it might be anti-Christian in tone or promote atheism to children. That said, here is his book on fairy tales that is great.

Did you know that we celebrated recently the 200th anniversary, of the first volume publishing of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s book called “Children’s and Household Tales?” That event provided the impetus for this book, in fact.

Our imaginations have reveled in these tales for two hundred years. And here, Mr. Pullman takes 50 of his favorites and retells them. One of its highlights are the “Commentaries” he includes at the end of each tale. These are small gems that provide a window into the tales’ sources, their various forms over the years and why their appeal has lasted. Have my own ideas on that topic, too. Fairy tales are not just entertaining. They allow children to confront unconscious fears they cannot name, but only imagine.

Witness the story of “Hansel and Gretel.” Here the fear might be called abandonment or a loss of one’s parents. The tales are both entertaining AND therapeutic in a way!

Mr. Hoffman has included the popular favorites such as “Cinderella”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Rumpelstiltskin”and “Rapunzel.”

But, I was excited to see some of the lesser known titles that I remember were included in a book with golden imprinting on the front and a red binding that my mom gave us. I still have it and it too had some of the lesser known tales Mr. Hoffman includes here: “Jorinda and Joringel” “The Shoes that Were Danced to Pieces”, and “Bearskin.”

The American poet, James Merrill is quoted in the introduction to this book. He discusses two characteristics of the fairy tale: the “serene anonymous voice”that relates the narrative and the collection of stock characters that inhabit the tales.

Perhaps you might try a bit of an experiment with your young readers. I am planning to do the same with my story time 3-5 year olds. Ask them to “imagine” the story! Ask them to picture the setting, characters and action in their minds. Perhaps start off with the shorter tales and move on from there.

I’m convinced young ones need small, continual doses of this kind of reading. Their world is literal and very visual. The technology that floods their days, while admittedly amazing, and a continuing part of the world they will grow up in, may not allow the time or leisure to build the imaginative mind nor their attention span.

This book, I believe, is a way for your child to build BOTH.

And there is an extra bonus here. You, too can be re-enchanted as you read some favorites from your own childhood and discover some new ones from the brothers Grimm.

Do you remember the phrase “spinning a yarn” that refers to telling a story? Well, what miller’s daughter, do you remember, spun straw into gold and was backed into a bargain by a tiny man with a silly name?

Did you know that having a mate that could spin was a much prized skill set in a wife in days gone by? And, if she could spin AND produce gold, so much the better. So, the king in “Rumpelstiltskin”  must have thought he was receiving a very worthy prize by marrying the miller’s daughter, no? Bet HE couldn’t spin worth a dime! Found these pieces of info in the “Commentaries” following each tale.

Spin your own straw into gold by reading the pages of this wonderful book to young readers on these rainy spring afternoons and evenings. Transport both of you to a compelling and pretty complete collection of Jacob and Wilhelm’s tales.

Celebrate their storytelling anniversary that’s lasted 200 years and counting….and still continues!

 

 

 

 

 

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5. Way Back Wednesday Essential Classic

Hansel and Gretel

By The Brothers Grimm; Pictures by Eloise Wilkin

A Little Golden Book

 

I venture to guess most, if not all, of the Baby Boomers that are now grandparents, grew up reading these books.

Starting in 1942, they originally sold at the ginormous price of 25 cents! Yes, for one quarter of a dollar, your child could read the likes of “The Pokey Little Puppy”, “Tootle the Train”, “Scuffy the Tugboat”, “The Saggy Baggy Elephant”, “The Shy Little Kitten”, “The Tawney Scrawny Lion”, “The Little Red Caboose”, “Mother Goose”, “Prayers for Children”, “Three Little Children” and a slew of other initially published titles.These small books soon found their way into households, hands and eventually the hearts of young readers everywhere. And they have stood the test of time, with the authors and illustrators whose artistry created them. That is my definition of a classic picture book read and Little Golden Books are classics.

Their lure was not merely their attractive price, but their writers and illustrators were the likes of Garth Williams, illustrator of “The Little House on the Prairie” series, “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little”, Margaret Wise Brown of “Goodnight Moon” fame, Richard Scarry, Trina Schart Hyman, James Marshall, and Alice and Martin Provensen to name but a very few.

These people made artistry and great narrative available to every child that had a quarter. That, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing.

Guess the reason I keep bringing these classic books forward in the Way Back Wednesday segment of The Snuggery is that I firmly believe their artistic value needs to be brought forward again and again so a new generation can see them and hopefully love them as we Boomers did.

I had a first hand experience of the impact they had on one child now grown to be an artist that did covers for Penguin paperback books. Bill had, as a child, a well loved copy of “Scuffy the Tugboat.” It somehow was lost in the passage of time. When he spoke of this book, and its story and art, you could tell it had affected his life, AND maybe even his future profession as artist.

So I made up my mind to find an original of this Little Golden Book. It took a while, but I did it. Wish you could’ve been there when I put the book in his hands. It was really something to see him gently thumb the pages of a book he had treasured as a child and could practically recite as a adult.

Books DO affect young readers for a lifetime.

So, why not perhaps revisit YOUR journey with these wonderful Little Golden Books and launch a new discovery, via your own grandchildren, children or a young reader you know?

Please go and rediscover a Little Golden Book with your little ones. It’s way past time!

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6. Guess How Much I Love You Celebrates 20 Years

This year, Sam McBratney’s timeless, endearing story of Big and Little Nutbrown Hare, Guess How Much I Love You, turns 20!

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7. TURNING PAGES: HARRISON SQUARED by DARYL GREGORY

I guess you know I'm not a "real" old-school Science Fiction person - "real" Science Fiction people can make it through H.P. Lovecraft. I can't. I've tried. It's not his labyrinthine sentence structure and 19th century word choices - I've read a lot... Read the rest of this post

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8. Ayala's Angel (1881)

Ayala's Angel. Anthony Trollope. 1881. 631 pages. [Source: Bought]

I love, love, love reading Anthony Trollope. So is anyone surprised that I loved Ayala's Angel?! Probably not. It's almost a given with me. Still Ayala's Angel came highly recommended to me by my best friend, so that's one of the reasons why it made my 2015 TBR Pile challenge list. This one will also count towards my Victorian Bingo challenge and my Victorian Perpetual Bingo challenge. I'll talk more about the Victorian Bingo challenge later.

Ayala and Lucy are the young heroines of Ayala's Angels. These two are sisters; they are orphans. One aunt and uncle are wealthy. (Sir Thomas Tringle, Lady Tringle). They've agreed to take one of the sisters, Ayala. She is selected by Lady Tringle because she is oh-so-remarkable and oh-so-beautiful. The other aunt and uncle are poor. (Reginald and Margaret Dosett). They've agreed to take the other sister, Lucy. (Lady Tringle insisted on having first choice. In all honesty, Mr. and Mrs. Dosett don't care which girl they get, they don't have a favorite niece.) Readers spend time with both sisters during this adjustment period. I believe readers first spend time with Lucy. Lucy struggles with her new home. She wasn't a big spender or socialite before, but, her new life leaves something to be desired. It's all work, work, work, talk about work and duty. Next readers spend time with Ayala. For better or worse, it's all: Oh, poor me, boys keep falling in love with me! Men falling in love with me at first sight is too big a burden for me to bear! I'm oh-so-miserable! Pity me, please!!! I exaggerate slightly. Still Lady Tringle notices that Ayala is something of a problem. How will she marry off her own daughters with Ayala around?! (Augusta and Gertrude definitely notice that Ayala gets all the attention. Augusta and Gertrude are lesser heroines of the novel. They have their own stories to a certain degree. Particularly Gertrude).  Something must be done!!! Especially when it comes to her notice that her very own son is IN LOVE with Ayala. This simply won't do at all. Ayala must go. Let the girls switch places again. How will Ayala cope with poverty and boredom? How will Lucy cope with society and expectations?

Ayala's Angel is all about courtship and marriage. Young women and men are expected to marry well, to pair off with the approval of all concerned. Love may have little to do with it. Money may have a lot to do with it. Ayala is firm--if she ever marries, it will be the man of her choosing. Or, perhaps, the ANGEL of her choosing. For no mere mortal will do for Ayala. Her fantasy is over-the-top. She knows exactly WHAT she's looking for in a husband.

I've shared a bit about the women in the novel. But what about the men?!

Tom Tringle is in love with his cousin Ayala. He is madly in love with her, persistently making declarations and offers. He wants EVERYONE to know how SERIOUS he is about Ayala, how she is the ONLY ONE he could ever love, ever.

Captain Benjamin Batsby falls in love with Ayala quite quickly. But, unlike dear Tom, he takes Ayala at her word after several rejections. Ayala may be beautiful enough, he supposes, but the only girl in the world she is not!

Colonel Jonathan Stubbs is in love with Ayala. In his favor, perhaps, is the fact that Ayala can stand being in the same room with him. She isn't repulsed by the idea of talking with him, walking with him. But he's not an "angel" so he won't have an easy job getting Ayala to say yes. 

Frank Houston is one of the few men in the novel NOT in love with Ayala! One of the reasons might just be that he is looking to marry a WEALTHY woman, and Ayala is decidedly not. He has a plan to marry Gertrude if and only if he can persuade Sir Thomas Tringle into "blessing" the marriage. Another good reason that he doesn't fall for Ayala is that he's already in love with his cousin, Imogene Docimer.

Isadore Hamel is another young man NOT in love with Ayala. He's Lucy's forever-love. It's easy to respect him because he isn't silly or mercenary.

Septimus Traffick. I couldn't help liking him a little bit. It probably helped that I kept imagining him as being played by Ben Miles! Sir Thomas Tringle and Lady Tringle approve of him for their daughter, Augusta, primarily because he's in parliament. In truth, he's not got money of his own. And he seems to plan to live off the Tringles forever. Not just living off the money he's given his daughter, but, to live with the family.

So most of the book is focused on who will end up together...

I loved this one. I didn't necessarily "love" each and every character. But I enjoyed spending time with these characters. I really did love a few of the characters. (I was cheering for Colonel Stubbs!!!)

So where do I count Ayala's Angel for the Victorian Bingo?!
  • male author
  • Anthony Trollope
  • book that you wish had been adapted into a movie
  • book published in the 1880s
  • book over 400 pages long
  • book with a name as the title
  • book set in England

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. All Signs Point to Atlantis

When I tell people I've spent the last three years working on a book about Atlantis, they usually have two questions. The first almost always goes unspoken: Are you nuts? (I don't think so, but perhaps I'd be the last to know.) The follow-up question — which almost always does get asked — is where [...]

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10. Case of the Stuttering Bishop

The Case of the Stuttering Bishop. (Perry Mason #9) Erle Stanley Gardner. 1936. 189 pages. [Source: Bought]

I love watching Perry Mason. I do. It's one of my favorite shows. Do I love reading about Perry Mason as much as watching Perry Mason? Maybe not quite as much. But I certainly enjoy it. I find them easy and satisfying. The Case of the Stuttering Bishop is one of the better ones I've read. It was adapted for the show's second season--which explains why it felt so very familiar while I was reading it.

The book opens with a bishop going to Perry Mason for advice. What Perry and Della find most disturbing about this visit is the fact that this bishop from Australia stutters. His stuttering leads them to believe that he may not be who he claims to be, that the whole case he's presented them with may be filled with lies. Curious they are, no doubt, which is why they get Paul Drake on the case.

Clues come out with each chapter, the story unfolds bit by bit. Perry Mason, Della, and Paul work together to try to find out the real story, to determine who is lying and who is telling the truth. I won't go into any of the details or specifics here. Details in reviews spoil mysteries often.

If you enjoy watching Perry Mason, chances are you'll enjoy reading this one.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Revisiting The Warden

The Warden. Anthony Trollope. 1855. Oxford World's Classics. 294 pages. [Source: Bought]

I make no secret of the fact that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Anthony Trollope. The Warden is the first in his Barchester series. And, I believe, it was the first Trollope novel I read. I first read and reviewed it in the spring of 2009.

I loved rereading it. I loved going back and visiting with these characters particularly the character of Mr. Harding. As much as I enjoy the other characters, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Mr. Harding. He's such a dear old soul.

Reasons you should read The Warden
  • As one of Trollope's shorter novels, it's a great introduction to his work.
  • It is the first book in a series, his Barchester series, which is FANTASTIC.
  • It is all about the characters and relationships between characters. Sure, there's a plot, but, it's not an action-packed plot. It's all about ethics. Is it right or is it wrong for Mr. Harding to receive the salary he does?! 
  • The writing is delightful. 
 What is it about?!

It's about one man, Mr. Harding, and his family: two daughters, one married, the other quite single. It's also about Harding's neighborhood and circle of friends. It's about the necessity of having a good reputation and a clean conscience.

Eleanor is the apple of her daddy's eye. Susan is married to an Archdeacon (Grantley). Because of his eldest daughters good fortune in marriage, Mr. Harding, has been named warden of Hiram's Hospital (alms house). The 'enemy' of Mr. Harding (and the suitor of Eleanor) is a young man named John Bold. When we are first introduced to these characters, we are learning that Bold is encouraging a law suit against Mr. Harding. He feels that Mr. Harding is in violation of the will. (Way, way, way back when (several centuries past), a man left his (quite wealthy) estate to the church. The church followed the will for the most part, but as times changed, they changed the way they carried it out. They were following it through in spirit in a way: still seeking to take care of twelve poor men (bedesman) but over time the salary of the warden increased.) Bold has stirred up the twelve bedesmen into signing a petition demanding justice, demanding more money, demanding 'fairer' distribution of funds.

The book presents this case through multiple perspectives: through two Grantleys (father and son), a few lawyers, Mr. Harding and Mr. Bold, of course, and through a handful of the twelve men involved that would profit from the change. There is one man whose voice seems louder than all the rest. And that voice comes from the newspaper, the Jupiter, one journalist writes harsh, condemning words directed at Mr. Harding--he assumes much having never met Harding personally. These words weigh heavy on the heart and soul of Mr. Harding. (And they don't sit easy on Mr. Bold either.)

Can Mr. Harding get his reputation back? What is the right thing to do? Is he in violation of the will? Is the church? What is his moral responsibility in caring for these twelve poor-and-retired men? What is his responsibility to the community?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Hard Times (1854)

Hard Times. Charles Dickens. 1854/1992. Everyman's Library. 336 pages.  [Source: Library]

'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!'

Did I like Hard Times? Did I love Hard Times? I'm not sure which--like or love--at the moment. I can only say that I was surprised that I found this book to be so quick and entertaining. I'm used to spending weeks with Dickens, not a day. Yes, I sped through this one. Not because I had to, but, because I wanted to. I found it easy to follow, but, I'm finding it difficult to summarize.

Readers meet Mr. Gradgrind and two of his children whom he's bringing up on facts: Louisa and Tom. On the surface perhaps, the book is about how this philosophical upbringing works out for them as adults. Or how it doesn't, as the case may be. Louisa marries one of her father's closest associates, Josiah Bounderby, who is several decades (at least) older. Tom goes to work at Bounderby's bank. If you've read Dickens before, you know to expect plenty of characters and side stories. This is also the case in Hard Times. Readers also meet: Sissy Jupe, Mr. Sleary, Stephen Blackpool, Rachael, Mrs. Sparsit, Bitzer, James Harthouse, and Mrs. Pegler. There were characters that I really liked, and there were characters that I really didn't like at all!

I liked this one very much. I liked the writing style. I liked the pacing. I liked the characterization. I liked the dialogue. I'm so glad I've made a friend of Dickens! This definitely was not the case when I was in high school and struggling with Great Expectations!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Rachel Ray (1863)

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope. 1863. 403 pages. [Source: Bought]
There are women who cannot grow alone as standard trees;—for whom the support and warmth of some wall, some paling, some post, is absolutely necessary;—who, in their growth, will bend and incline themselves towards some such prop for their life, creeping with their tendrils along the ground till they reach it when the circumstances of life have brought no such prop within their natural and immediate reach. Of most women it may be said that it would be well for them that they should marry,—as indeed of most men also, seeing that man and wife will each lend the other strength, and yet in lending lose none; but to the women of whom I now speak some kind of marriage is quite indispensable, and by them some kind of marriage is always made, though the union is often unnatural. A woman in want of a wall against which to nail herself will swear conjugal obedience sometimes to her cook, sometimes to her grandchild, sometimes to her lawyer. Any standing corner, post, or stump, strong enough to bear her weight will suffice; but to some standing corner, post, or stump, she will find her way and attach herself, and there will she be married.
Mrs. Ray is one of the "weak" women described in the opening chapter. She is a widow with two grown (or nearly grown) daughters. Mrs. Prime (Dorothea) is a widow herself. She tends to take her opinions--in this case, religious or moral opinions--to the extreme. She is severe and critical. (Honestly, I hated her.) Miss Rachel Ray is the other daughter. She is the joy of her mother's life, really. While the daughter is off doing her duty, Rachel and her mother enjoy life's little luxuries and actually relax a bit with each other, relieved to have Dorothea out of the way even if it's just for an hour or two. When the novel opens, Mrs. Prime is on the attack--or close to it. She has ammunition to use against her sister. Her sister was SEEN talking to a man, talking to a man--a stranger--in the churchyard, and at sunset. Mrs. Prime doesn't need to be persuaded to think the worst, to think that Rachel is now somehow a fallen woman. Mrs. Ray (the mother), however, is both weak and loyal. Being weak, she will listen to Mrs. Prime going on and on about how wrong and scandalous it is for Rachel to walk and talk with a young man. Being loyal, she will believe the best about Rachel and hold out hope that there is a way to reconcile things nicely for everyone. Mrs. Ray will talk to Rachel, and, more importantly she will listen to Rachel. (Mrs. Prime LOVES to talk, but rarely listens or takes the time to understand and consider what the other person is saying.)

So who is the young man? Well, he's Luke Rowan. He's due to inherit a brewery, or at least half a brewery. At the time the novel opens, he's staying with the Tappits. Rachel is acquainted with the daughters of the family. Through these young women, she's introduced to Luke. Good news: Luke really takes a liking to Rachel. Bad news: The Tappits see Luke's interest in Rachel, and turn on them both. Plus, Mrs. Tappit and Mr. Tappit both are slanderers in their own way. As silly as it may seem,  soon the whole community is forced to take sides and have an opinion about Luke Rowan. It's also election time. It gets plenty messy. To sum it up: Luke proposes to Rachel. She says yes. He leaves town after a big falling out with the Tappits. Everyone takes sides. Everyone starts talking. Will he come back? Is he gone for good? Would it be a good thing for everyone if that was the last of him? Is he worthy of Rachel? Is she worthy of him? Was their attachment sincere? Should she consider herself actually engaged? Or was he using her?

Further complicating matters, Mrs. Ray insists that Rachel should NOT correspond with him, and that she should tell him that she releases him from their engagement. Why should Rachel end things because of hearsay? Mr. Comfort heard something from somebody who heard it from somebody else, etc. And Mr. Comfort passes along "good advice" to Mrs. Ray. What's an obedient girl to do?!

Luke wants two things from life: to brew GOOD beer, to make a success of his brewery, and to marry Rachel and live happily ever after...

I liked Rachel Ray. I did. I can't say that I like or respect all the characters. Mrs. Prime is very annoying, for example!!! I hated how judgmental she was, how cruel and selfish. Not to mention proud. I thought it was sad that Mrs. Ray was so dependent on others, how she relied so much upon Mrs. Prime and Mr. Comfort. She loved, loved, loved Rachel. But she was always more concerned with what do other people say is right?! I loved Mrs. Butler Cornbury (Patty Comfort). Her husband was in the election for parliament. She escorts Rachel to a party/dance. She "sides" with Luke and Rachel. She was just a great "minor" character. I almost wish we'd had more of her and less of Mrs. Prime and Mr. Prong.

Is Rachel Ray my new favorite by Anthony Trollope? Probably not. I think Belton Estate is a better fit for me. But I am glad I read it!!! I rarely--if ever--regret spending time with Trollope!!!

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Way Back Wednesday Essential Classic

Chanticleer and the Fox

By Barbara Cooney

 

“Flattery looks like friendship, just like a wolf looks like a dog.” Remember that line please, for it provides a perfect introduction via this anonymous quote, to another essential classic in our Way Back Wednesday essential canon of picture book not to be missed classics.

Flattery is at the heart of Barbara Cooney’s Caldecott Award winning adaptation of “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, taken from Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”

Winning the award in 1959, the picture book tells the story of Chanticleer, a beautifully crowing, but proud cock and his nemesis, a wily, but ultimately outfoxed fox. Chanticleer, and his mate Partlet, are a lovey dovey duo, living on the farm of a poor, but hardworking widow with two young daughters.

Chanticleer has a very prophetic dream that his mate pooh poohs. He dreams of a

 

….beast like a hound which tried to grab my body and would have killed me. His color was between yellow and red, and his tail and both ears were tipped with black different from the rest of the fur

 

Hmmm. Now what sort of description does THAT fit, eh Partlet? But instead of comforting her partner, she calls him a coward and says, “Do not fear dreams.” Dear Partlet, tell that to Caesar, when his wife, Calpurnia (great name), warned him not to go to the Senate on the Ides of March. And we all know how THAT dream ended.

But this tale is not so much about dreams, but how flattery can get both Chanticleer and the fox in a spot where both use flattery to get what they want. Fortunately, for Chanticleer, they each want different things.

Barbara Cooney won a second Caldecott in 1980 for “Ox-Cart Man” and, who can ever forget the Lupine Lady, “Miss Rumphius?”

In “Chanticleer and the Fox”, Ms. Cooney elegantly employs a combination of color and black and white in her drawings to emphasize the intensity of the action, or a splash of color to set off more pastoral scenes.

Her descriptive passages and narrative draw young readers in, and her use of vocabulary is first rate.

I applaud picture books such as “Chanticleer and the Fox.” They are excellent both in storytelling, art and they believe their audiences to be up to the challenge of this type of book and never water things down too much.

May I say that they, in a way, “flatter” the reader in a good way? They believe young readers are up for it. And they are; if we, as adults, believe it too!  

 

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15. But Jo March Wasn't Hunting Werewolves

I am a big fan of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I thought the literary mash-up of Austen and zombies worked "very well in the context of the original Pride and Prejudice story because in Austen World the hunt for a husband is life and death, much like encounters with zombies." In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Bennet daughters had pledged to fight zombies until they were "dead, lame, or married." Marriage is pretty much the end for the Bennets in whatever universe they're part of. And the book is funny.

I didn't run out to read other classic/horror mash-ups because I thought it was a situation that would get old fast. Little Women and Werewolves by Louisa May Alcott and Porter Grand jumped out at me at a library book sale, though, and now I have, indeed, read it. The situation isn't old in this book. It just doesn't work the way it did with Pride and Prejudice.

Little Women and Werewolves follows the original book very closely, but with werewolves slipped in. Instead of fighting the werewolves, the way the Bennets fight zombies, the Marches are far more passive, being merely sympathetic to the werewolves' plight, seeing as they have to live in hiding or they'll be hunted down by members of the bullyish Brigade. The March girls have learned from their minister father to be tolerant of werewolves.

But here's the thing: The werewolves are cold-blooded killers. When the moon is full, they kill and eat innocents. They feel no remorse. The Marches have no problem with this. They are not horrified. That doesn't seem to make sense logically in the context of this story about these sensitive, gentle, spiritual people. I wondered if some of the gory scenes were supposed to be funny, but if so, I totally missed the humor.

Little Women wasn't my favorite Alcott book when I was young. (I am a Little Men fan.) As I was reading Little Women and Werewolves, I started wondering what the original book's attraction is. There isn't a lot of story here. Even with werewolves. I may try to reread bits and pieces of it to compare them to the werewolf version.



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16. Brave New World (1932)

Brave New World. Aldous Huxley. 1932. 268 pages. [Source: Bought]

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. 

Did I love Brave New World? Not exactly. Am I glad I read it? Yes. Brave New World is a classic dystopian novel. The first half of the book seems more focused on world-building, on providing the reader with all the little details that make this future world so horrific. Not much happens but world-building. Readers meet a character or two, sure, but mostly description and information. The second half of the book, in my opinion, is where the characters become more developed. The basic premise: children are no longer born. No more mothers and fathers. No parenting. Children are "hatched." Sometimes several thousand at a time--all identical, I believe. Conditioning begins early in an artificial womb of sorts. Every single little thing is planned and accounted for. Nothing really left to chance. The conditioning continues through childhood. Even at night. Different classes are conditioned differently, of course.

In the second half, Bernard and Lenina go on vacation together to a reservation in New Mexico. They'll get a chance to see savages first hand. They meet two savages that interest them very much. For one is a woman who grew up civilized. (Her name is Linda). She was on vacation when something happened--she became separated from the group and was left behind. She's gone native--forced to go native. She's even had to--shudder--become a mother and raise her own child. His name is John. Though, for most of the book he is simply Savage. They tell their story to Lenina and Bernard. Bernard seeks permission to bring the two back with him. All four head back to civilization--back to London. But how well will John cope with civilization?

Brave New World is both strange and thought-provoking. Also depressing. The world-building was nicely done, I believe, but I would probably need to reread it a time or two to "catch" everything and fully appreciate it. There is plenty to 'shock' that's for sure. Some scenes are just disturbing--and are meant to be disturbing or disorienting at the very least.

I did like the second half more than the first half. It's not that the second half was less disturbing--it wasn't--but the fact that the focus was more on the characters. I can't say that I "liked" or "loved" any of the characters. I pitied John the most because he felt so out of place on the reservation and so out of place in civilization. John wasn't the only memorable character either.

I can see how Brave New World inspired other writers through the decades. Anyone who reads modern dystopian novels--there are so many I could list--should consider reading this one.

Quotes:
"I don't understand anything," she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. "Nothing. Least of all," she continued in another tone, "why you don't take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You'd forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you'd be so jolly. So jolly," she repeated and smiled..."
The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Classic Readalong Discussion: Tuck Everlasting

Welcome to The Midnight Garden discussion of Tuck Everlasting, which is posted to coincide with the 40th Anniversary Blog Tour. This book has been a special favorite of mine since one of my best friends pressed it into my hands in 5th grade. At the tender age of 10 fiction suddenly posed me with the question: “What if you could live forever?” There is such  a unique relationship with stories you loved specifically as a child. I’m so glad I read this at the age of 11 when the magic of the book couldn’t escape me. But we certainly hope to hear all of manner of opinions about this book! We’re also so excited to be giving away a beautiful hardcover of the special anniversary edition, which includes a foreward by Gregory Maguire. Did you know that this book has never been out of print in all that time? Let’s discuss why... Read more »

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18. L.M Montgomery Short Stories 1905-1906

Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories: 1905-1906. Dodo Press. 260 pages. [Source: Bought]

There are thirty-one short stories in this L.M. Montgomery collection. There are some great stories within this collection. There are some not-so-great stories within this collection. The quality definitely varies story to story. But if you already love L.M. Montgomery, it's well worth reading. If you're never read her, however, this may not be the best introduction. True, you'd probably find something to like, to enjoy, maybe even love. But would it persuade you to seek out EVERYTHING she's ever written because she's oh-so-amazing?! Probably not. It's good to keep in mind that these short stories were published several years before her novels. (Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908).

There are two stories that are tied for being my favorite-favorite in this collection: "Aunt Susanna's Birthday Celebration" and "The Understanding of Sister Sara." Both stories are about lovers' quarrels being resolved with a little outside help.

Previous short story collections I've reviewed:
  1. L.M. Montgomery Short Stories, 1896-1901. L.M. Montgomery. 142 pages.
  2. Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories, 1902-1903. L.M. Montgomery. 216 pages.
  3. L.M. Montgomery Short Stories, 1904. L.M. Montgomery. Dodo Press. 144 pages.
These stories are included in Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories: 1905-1906
  • A Correspondence and a Climax
  • An Adventure On Island Rock
  • At Five O'Clock in the Morning
  • Aunt Susanna's Birthday Celebration
  • Bertie's New Year
  • Between the Hill and the Valley
  • Clorinda's Gifts
  • Cyrilla's Inspiration
  • Dorinda's Desperate Deed
  • Her Own People
  • Ida's New Year Cake
  • In the Old Valley
  • Jane Lavinia
  • Mackereling Out in the Gulf
  • Millicent's Double
  • The Blue North Room
  • The Christmas Surprise at Enderly Road
  • The Dissipation of Miss Ponsonby
  • The Falsoms' Christmas Dinner
  • The Fraser Scholarship
  • The Girl at the Gate
  • The Light on the Big Dipper
  • The Prodigal Brother
  • The Redemption of John Churchill
  • The Schoolmaster's Letters
  • The Understanding of Sister Sara
  • The Unforgotten One
  • The Wooing of Bessy
  • Their Girl Josie
  • When Jack and Jill Took a Hand 
If you're looking for a good short story to perhaps read on its own, I'd recommend:
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Lark Rise to Candleford (1943)

Lark Rise to Candleford. Flora Thompson. 1943. 537 pages. [Source: Bought]

Did I enjoy reading Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford? Yes. Did I enjoy all three books equally? Probably not. Did I enjoy any one book as much as I loved the TV adaptation? Probably not. Lark Rise to Candleford is an omnibus edition of a trilogy: Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green.

The first book in the series is Lark Rise. What I liked about Lark Rise was the fact that it had a cozy yet realistic feel to it. The chapters capture what life was like in a specific time and place, a particular part of the country in the 1880s. Rural vignettes. The book is rich in detail and description. Nothing happens but description. A sampling of chapter titles: "A Hamlet Childhood," "Men Afield," "At the 'Wagon and Horses'," "Callers," "Country Playtime," "School," "May Day," "To Church on Sunday."

The second book in the series is Over to Candleford. This book is definitely more personal in nature. For the most part, it focuses on one young girl, Laura. Readers see Laura at home, at school, at play, at church, visiting cousins, aunts, and uncles, etc. It is still rich in description and detail. Even though it is a more personal look at life in the country in the 1880s and 90s, it is still heavier on the descriptions than the action. This isn't a book that focuses on stories and storytelling. The book ends with a young Laura--perhaps twelve or thirteen--getting an apprentice job in Candleford Green with the postmistress Miss Dorcas Lane.

The third book in the series is Candleford Green. The book opens with Laura leaving home. She's excited and timid. The book will see her established in this new life. She'll be meeting new people, living in a new place, experiencing new things, growing up into a young woman. I was disappointed with this book. I haven't decided if I'm disappointed because it lacks characterization and plot in general OR if I'm disappointed because it lacks the characterization and plot that the television adaptation brought to it. The book's strength is in description and vignettes. The book's weakness is that there are not really any connecting stories or plot sequences. People are mentioned by name, perhaps, but in a very superficial just a few paragraphs way. The characters lack depth. A sentence or two here and there does not make good characterization. If the heroine, Laura, was fully developed and the chapters worked as a personal narrative capturing her experiences, thoughts, and struggles, then I think it might have worked better for me. But there was no person to connect to, no connecting-story to follow. It was just one description after another. There were passages I enjoyed reading. Laura does like to read! But nothing about it that made me LOVE it. I liked it well enough.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Reread #52 Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte. 1847.  300 pages. [Source: Own]

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

Can a plain, orphan governess find true love and a happily ever after? Yes, if she's willing to speak her own mind, stay true to herself, and fight for the one she loves. Jane's journey to her happily ever after certainly wasn't easy or typical. 

I have many, many posts about Jane Eyre. But surprisingly, only two book reviews! I first reviewed it--for the blog--in September 2008. My second review is from December 2011. In 2012, I reviewed ten film adaptations of Jane Eyre. Each film got its own review, but I then wrote up a post analyzing them all.

It had been a few years since I'd last read Jane Eyre. After watching it so many times, I needed to take a break. But I knew that I would want to include the book in my year of rereading. It is just wonderful to revisit Jane Eyre again and again and again.

Do you love Jane Eyre too? Do you have a favorite scene? a least favorite scene? What is your favorite adaptation? What scenes do you find essential in an adaptation?

Some of my favorite quotes:
He had been looking two minutes at the fire, and I had been looking the same length of time at him, when, turning suddenly, he caught my gaze fastened on his physiognomy. “You examine me, Miss Eyre,” said he: “do you think me handsome?” I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was aware—“No, sir.” “Ah! By my word! there is something singular about you,” said he: “you have the air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque. What do you mean by it?” “Sir, I was too plain; I beg your pardon. I ought to have replied that it was not easy to give an impromptu answer to a question about appearances; that tastes mostly differ; and that beauty is of little consequence, or something of that sort.” “You ought to have replied no such thing. Beauty of little consequence, indeed! And so, under pretence of softening the previous outrage, of stroking and soothing me into placidity, you stick a sly penknife under my ear! Go on: what fault do you find with me, pray? I suppose I have all my limbs and all my features like any other man?” “Mr. Rochester, allow me to disown my first answer: I intended no pointed repartee: it was only a blunder.” “Just so: I think so: and you shall be answerable for it. Criticise me: does my forehead not please you?” He lifted up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow, and showed a solid enough mass of intellectual organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benevolence should have risen. “Now, ma’am, am I a fool?” “Far from it, sir. You would, perhaps, think me rude if I inquired in return whether you are a philanthropist?”
“You looked very much puzzled, Miss Eyre; and though you are not pretty any more than I am handsome, yet a puzzled air becomes you; besides, it is convenient, for it keeps those searching eyes of yours away from my physiognomy, and busies them with the worsted flowers of the rug; so puzzle on. Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night.” With this announcement he rose from his chair, and stood, leaning his arm on the marble mantelpiece: in that attitude his shape was seen plainly as well as his face; his unusual breadth of chest, disproportionate almost to his length of limb. I am sure most people would have thought him an ugly man; yet there was so much unconscious pride in his port; so much ease in his demeanour; such a look of complete indifference to his own external appearance; so haughty a reliance on the power of other qualities, intrinsic or adventitious, to atone for the lack of mere personal attractiveness, that, in looking at him, one inevitably shared the indifference, and, even in a blind, imperfect sense, put faith in the confidence. “I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night,” he repeated, “and that is why I sent for you: the fire and the chandelier were not sufficient company for me; nor would Pilot have been, for none of these can talk. Adèle is a degree better, but still far below the mark; Mrs. Fairfax ditto; you, I am persuaded, can suit me if you will: you puzzled me the first evening I invited you down here. I have almost forgotten you since: other ideas have driven yours from my head; but to-night I am resolved to be at ease; to dismiss what importunes, and recall what pleases. It would please me now to draw you out—to learn more of you—therefore speak.” Instead of speaking, I smiled; and not a very complacent or submissive smile either. “Speak,” he urged. “What about, sir?” “Whatever you like. I leave both the choice of subject and the manner of treating it entirely to yourself.” Accordingly I sat and said nothing: “If he expects me to talk for the mere sake of talking and showing off, he will find he has addressed himself to the wrong person,” I thought. “You are dumb, Miss Eyre.” I was dumb still. He bent his head a little towards me, and with a single hasty glance seemed to dive into my eyes. “Stubborn?” he said, “and annoyed. Ah! it is consistent. I put my request in an absurd, almost insolent form. Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon. The fact is, once for all, I don’t wish to treat you like an inferior: that is” (correcting himself), “I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years’ difference in age and a century’s advance in experience. This is legitimate, et j’y tiens, as Adèle would say; and it is by virtue of this superiority, and this alone, that I desire you to have the goodness to talk to me a little now, and divert my thoughts, which are galled with dwelling on one point—cankering as a rusty nail.” He had deigned an explanation, almost an apology, and I did not feel insensible to his condescension, and would not seem so. “I am willing to amuse you, if I can, sir—quite willing; but I cannot introduce a topic, because how do I know what will interest you? Ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them.”  
Besides, I know what sort of a mind I have placed in communication with my own: I know it is one not liable to take infection: it is a peculiar mind: it is a unique one. Happily I do not mean to harm it: but, if I did, it would not take harm from me. The more you and I converse, the better; for while I cannot blight you, you may refresh me.”
The ease of his manner freed me from painful restraint: the friendly frankness, as correct as cordial, with which he treated me, drew me to him. I felt at times as if he were my relation rather than my master: yet he was imperious sometimes still; but I did not mind that; I saw it was his way. So happy, so gratified did I become with this new interest added to life, that I ceased to pine after kindred: my thin crescent-destiny seemed to enlarge; the blanks of existence were filled up; my bodily health improved; I gathered flesh and strength. And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes? No, reader: gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering than the brightest fire. Yet I had not forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. He was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to many others. He was moody, too; unaccountably so; I more than once, when sent for to read to him, found him sitting in his library alone, with his head bent on his folded arms; and, when he looked up, a morose, almost a malignant, scowl blackened his features. But I believed that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some cruel cross of fate. I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged. I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled. I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given much to assuage it. Though I had now extinguished my candle and was laid down in bed, I could not sleep for thinking of his look when he paused in the avenue, and told how his destiny had risen up before him, and dared him to be happy at Thornfield. 
I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.
“He is not to them what he is to me,” I thought: “he is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine;—I am sure he is—I feel akin to him—I understand the language of his countenance and movements: though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him. Did I say, a few days since, that I had nothing to do with him but to receive my salary at his hands? Did I forbid myself to think of him in any other light than as a paymaster? Blasphemy against nature! Every good, true, vigorous feeling I have gathers impulsively round him. I know I must conceal my sentiments: I must smother hope; I must remember that he cannot care much for me. For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not mean that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract; I mean only that I have certain tastes and feelings in common with him.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Christmas haul containing 4 classic novels

As I pack away my Christmas tree for another year, I took stock today of my Christmas haul of books. I’m planning on reading more classics in 2015 and was fortunate enough to receive a few beautiful clothbound editions for Christmas. I hope you too were lucky enough to receive a book or two at Christmas time, […]

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22. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora Neale Hurston. 1937. Harper Perennial Modern Classics. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. (1)
I've read Their Eyes Were Watching God a handful of times now. (I first read it in college.) This book by Zora Neale Hurston is just beautiful and compelling. Every time I reread it I'm reminded just how beautiful and how compelling. I never quite forget, mind you. But every time I pick the book up, I'm swept into the story and experience it all over again. (The best kind of book to reread!)

Janie is the heroine of Their Eyes Were Watching God. There is a framework to the story that allows the reader to come full circle with Janie. Readers first see Janie through an outsider perspective, a gossiping group.
So the beginning of this was a woman and she had come back from burying the dead... The people all saw her come because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment. (1)
One from the group is Janie's best friend, Pheoby, she leaves the group after a few pages, and goes to her friend bringing a much welcomed plate of food. Then, together, they talk. Janie tells her friend her story--her whole story--framing things just so, explaining and justifying as need arises. It's honest and emotional.
Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches. (8)
 To keep it short: Janie was raised by her grandmother; when she came of age (16 or so), her grandma arranged a marriage for Janie to an older man; when that marriage failed to bloom in love and happiness, Janie is swept off her feet by a traveler passing by; she leaves her first husband and is married to a second; the two settle in Florida and are influential founders of the black community; after the third husband dies, Janie finally, finally, finally falls in love, but, is Tea Cake the love of her life perfectly perfect?! Of course not! Pheoby knew her when she was married to the second husband, when she was Janie Stark. Now, she's come back to that community without Tea Cake, and everyone wants to know EVERYTHING that has happened in the past two years.

Favorite quotes:
'Dat's you, Alphabet, don't you know yo' ownself?' (9)
Oh to be a pear tree--any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma's house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made. (11)
Janie's first dream was dead, so she became a woman. (25)
Her old thoughts were going to come in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them. (32)
It must have been the way Joe spoke out without giving her a chance to say anything one way or another that took the bloom off of things. (43)
Every morning the world flung itself over and exposed the twon to the sun. (51)
Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further. She had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where the petals used to be. She found that she had a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about. Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never fidn them. She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them. (72)
All next day in the house and store she thought resisting thoughts about Tea Cake. She even ridiculed him in her mind and was a little ashamed of the association. But every hour or two the battle had to be fought all over again. She couldn't make him look just like any other man to her. He looked like the love thoughts of women. He could be a bee to a blossom--a pear tree blossom in the spring. He seemed to be crushing scent out of the world with his footsteps. Crushing aromatic herbs with every step he took. Spices hung about him. He was a glance from God. (106)
The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the other in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God. (160)
No hour is ever eternity, but it has its right to weep. (184)
Have you read Their Eyes Were Watching God? What did you think?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Jezebel's Daughter

Jezebel's Daughter. Wilkie Collins. 1880. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]
In the matter of Jezebel's Daughter, my recollections begin with the deaths of two foreign gentlemen, in two different countries, on the same day of the same year.
They were both men of some importance in their way, and both strangers to each other.
Mr. Ephraim Wagner, merchant (formerly of Frankfort-on-the-Main), died in London on the third day of September, 1828.
Doctor Fontaine—famous in his time for discoveries in experimental chemistry—died at Wurzburg on the third day of September, 1828.
Both the merchant and the doctor left widows. The merchant's widow (an Englishwoman) was childless. The doctor's widow (of a South German family) had a daughter to console her.
At that distant time—I am writing these lines in the year 1878, and looking back through half a century—I was a lad employed in Mr. Wagner's office. Being his wife's nephew, he most kindly received me as a member of his household. What I am now about to relate I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. My memory is to be depended on. Like other old men, I recollect events which happened at the beginning of my career far more clearly than events which happened only two or three years since.
Did I enjoy reading Jezebel's Daughter? Yes!!! I enjoyed it very much! David Glenney, is the nephew of Mrs. Wagner. He is also a clerk in [the family] business. The Wagner family welcomes Fritz Keller, the son of a business partner, into their home. He's been sent away from home because his father doesn't like the woman his son has fallen in love with. Fritz tells David all about his one true love: Minna Fontaine. She's perfect in every way imaginable, at least Fritz thinks so, but, Minna's mother, Madame Fontaine, rubs some people the wrong way. There are some who love and defend her, but, more often than not, most tend to think she's really 'a Jezebel.' Fritz receives a letter from someone sharing good and valid reasons why the mother may be pure evil. Fritz dismisses it, of course, and David doesn't know why it's any of his business when all is said and done! (Soon David will meet Minna and Madame Fontaine and form his own opinions. As will his aunt, Mrs. Wagner).

So. After Mr. Wagner died, he left his wife his business. And she's determined to do a few things. One to employ good and honest women in the business. And. To help rehabilitate a man from bedlam. His name is Jack Straw. And he plays a very big role in the book! Eventually all the characters will come together under one household...and then there's DRAMA and excitement. Jezebel's Daughter could definitely be classified as a sensation novel.

Is Madame Fontaine 'a Jezebel'? Is she evil? Is she a murderess? Is she a schemer? Or has she been falsely accused?

Will Fritz and Minna's romance prove true? Will they be allowed to marry?

Can Jack Straw be rehabilitated and cured of his madness?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Back of the Bus

By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

 

It may seem strange perhaps to post a book on Rosa Parks’ act of defiance on December 1, 1955, to honor Martin Luther King on his national holiday, but as so many other events in history, they are interlinked. When Rosa Parks defied the Montgomery, Alabama city code that required them to not only sit in a separate section of the city buses, but to give up their seats if white passengers boarding, could not find seating in the all white section! Young readers need to be reminded how life was for many of our citizens in the not too distant past. And that is what “Back of the Bus” helps to achieve in telling the Rosa Parks event through the eyes of a fictional black child and his mother seated on the bus that day.

Aaron Reynolds fills his book with small events to portray the small boy as just a child riding the bus with his mom as an everyday event in his life; a day just like any other except it turned out to be a defining moment in history he chances upon. He takes out his bright, shiny marble, a tiger’s eye, and rolls it. As the bus slows, it follows the law of gravity away from him and rolls right into the hand of Rosa Parks who rolls it back with a grin. More passengers get on.

Then it happens. Mr. Blake, the driver growls out, “Y’all gotta move, now.” Some people do get up and move, but the bus is at a dead standstill. Somebody is speaking up. But the words of the bus driver carry to the back of the bus, “I’m gonna call the police, now.”

Whispers fill the halted bus and the boy can see from his perch at the back of the bus that the speaker was Rosa Parks.

 

She doesn’t belong up front like that,

and them folks know it.

But she’s sittin’ right there,

her eyes all fierce like a lightnin’ storm,

like maybe she does belong up there.

And I start thinkin’ maybe she does too.

 

Words may be instructive as we parents know, but I still think example is the strongest teacher. And in Ms. Parks her subsequent arrest and fine because of the violation of Montgomery’s city code was a watershed event.

The boy’s mother placates him with the words, “Tomorrow all this’ll be forgot.” Though his mother says the words, he too takes note of the new “lightning” storm” in her eyes. And instead of feeling afraid, he feels a new strength.

Taking out his tiger’s eye marble from the tightly closed fist, instead he holds it up to the light with a new pride. I love the illustrations that seem a bit out of focus and muted until Rosa Parks takes her stand. The defining lines and shapes seem dim with everything hazy and unclear, including the people on the bus. Mr. Cooper’s artistic technique changes with Ms. Parks’ refusal. Images are sharp and clear. People, including the young boy’s mother are drawn with clear and delineated thoughtful feelings of emotion at what has happened. Art and narrative blend beautifully to display the change that is afoot. 

Where does Martin Luther King’s life intersect with Rosa Parks? Following this event, the Mt. Zion Church of Montgomery spurs the formation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, lead by Martin Luther King. Their initial goal is to effect change starting with the very segregation bus code effecting Ms. Parks. The MIA organizes a very successful boycott of the buses for 382 days with some 40,000 black riders cobbling together alternate means of transportation to get to work. They included walking, carpooling, riding in African-American operated cabs. Martin Luther King’s home was attacked in the ensuing violence the boycott began.

Rosa Parks single act of defiance with the words, “I don’t think I should have to stand up,” was the catalyst for change. Books and the ideas they foster have done the same thing for people with each turn of the page. And for your young readers, “Back of the Bus” may not only provide a look back in history at a single and seminal act of defiance that changed an unjust law, but a model for a way to stand up for something they believe in when the still, small voice in each of us tells us to do so.

   

    

 

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25. Trifles (1916)

Trifles. A Play in One Act. Susan Glaspell. 1916. 20 pages. [Source: Read online]

Who killed John Wright? Was it his wife? If it was, what was her motive? If it wasn't, how could she have possibly slept through her husband's murder? Wouldn't someone entering their bedroom and slipping a rope around his neck and killing have woken her up? It doesn't help that there was no signs of forced entry. Mrs. Wright is in custody when the play opens. A handful of people are at the crime scene: three men and two women. (County Attorney, Sheriff, Mrs. Peters (the sheriff's wife, Mr. Hale (who reported the murder), and Mrs. Hale. The men, of course, are looking for evidence and facts and something to make a story of. The women, on the other hand, are "merely" looking at "trifles." They've come to pick up a few things to take Mrs. Wright. She's asked for her apron, among other things. She's also most concerned about her preserves--with good reason.

At the start of the play, the focus is on the crime. Plenty of facts uncovered by Hale and the Sheriff and the County Attorney. But the women don't follow the men upstairs to the bedroom to the scene of the actual crime. They remain below, and that is where the focus remains. Let the men do the hard work of crime-solving, right?

Much is revealed in Trifles. There is a good reason why the short story adaptation was titled "Jury of Her Peers." 

The play is great--very interesting and quite memorable. I am not going to share the details in my review because this one is best read unspoiled.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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