Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart

I admit that this book caught my eye solely due to the cover. I saw the long red dress and the delicate looking woman wearing it- then I saw the title. Mr. Darcy? The snooty-turned-kinda-okay hottie in Jane Austen's most famous novel? Okay, I'm intrigued. Show me more.

Typically when I book captures my eye I flip it over, read the back and if that interests me I'll glance at the first page of the book (sometimes, I skip to the very last and read the last sentence of the book as well). The back of the book interested me enough so I bought it, brought it home, and it has sat on my bookshelf for the past month.

It wasn't until I found myself dealing with a very stressful week and no book to read that I grabbed ahold of it. I have a slew of books I've bought and haven't read yet but I wanted something that was relatively short but looked like it would be enjoyable and leaving me entertained rather then mulling over the events of my own life. But I was worried that my impulse buy was simply that- an impulse- and that I was about to dive into a book that would bore and annoy me.

I began to read it none the less and didn't know if I was interested in the book until about four chapters in. By that point, I was finding that I couldn't put it down. I would sit on my couch with the cat warming my feet reading page after page. Suddenly that struggle to get twenty pages in was easy and I was through the first hundred.

Claire (the main character and voice to the story) is the type of character that you don't automatically love. In fact, I didn't love her at all. I, more or less, tolerated her. My problem with Claire is that she is a) whiney b) paranoid c) overly apologetic. While she was very worried about a lot of the people around her I found her to be somewhat self obsessed.

But that can be ignored once you dive into the complexity of the story. Here is Claire who is all woe-is-me and suddenly she realizes that the world does not actually revolve around her. (Here's the thing, I don't even think Claire realizes she thinks that way). She arrives in Oxford for a Jane Austen seminar which she has very little interest in and fumbles her way into the possession of some of Jane Austen's original pieces of work. Like any normal person she is at first convinced that this has to be a fake. She questions the judgement of the person who provides the manuscript and it isn't until nearly the halfway point of the novel that she truly begins to believe in the manuscript.

The author, Beth Pattillo, creates a version of Pride and Prejudice that is incredibly interesting and if it were true- if an original copy of Pride and Prejudice exists and is much different from the form we know today, I wonder if the story is much different like Pattillo makes it to be in her novel.

I also enjoyed that Pattillo put little facts about Oxford into the novel. Such as mentioning that Claire wasn't used to the time difference or that the sun was up so much later into the day then she was used to in America. (Example: Where I live the sun sets at 8-8:30 in the summer while in England it sets about an hour [maybe two?] later then that)

While Claire seems to be slowly getting immersed in this world of secret societies and manuscripts she seems to slip away from reality. Despite all of her worrying and concern for the well being of others she seems to slip up a lot. Her boyfriend, Neil, is barely mentioned through the first half of the book then comes on strong halfway through. Personally, I feel that she should have included him more from the start of the book rather then throw him at you midway.

I can point out the issues with this book- hell, I've already begun to do just that. But despite my prejudice (ha!) against the main character and the different issues I did enjoy the book. It took me away from my present day problems and I was entertained by the problems of a fictional woman (misery loves company, perhaps?). I did find myself eager to find out what happened to the characters and manuscript and therefore kept reading- and I didn't begrudge this continuation of my reading. I enjoyed it. 

I don't believe this is a literary classic. I don't even believe this is something that is worthy of being a best seller. But I do feel that it's a good book to grab hold to for a quick fix of boredom, loneliness, or worries. Then again, maybe it's just a good read for someone who is also self obsessed about her own problems at the moment (that would be me!). It's nice to know that you're not the only one who gets a little overwhelmed every now and then. And what is better then that- Claire overcomes her woes. She straightens up and gets on with life. It's a little inspiring. A spark of light that says 'don't worry, you can do it too.'

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Sugar Queen

Much like Sarah Addison Allen's debut novel The Sugar Queen is located in North Carolina and has a sprinkle of magic through it's pages. Unlike Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen takes place in the winter months filled with cold air and snow. I wasn't entirely sure I was going to enjoy The Sugar Queen because I love Garden Spells so much. When you enjoy a book to it's fullest, it's hard to create love for another book. Sometimes it's hard to share those feelings. But I was satisfied with the story once I closed the book and I'm intending on reading Sarah Addison Allen's newest book in the future.

The novel opens up to a very unhappy Josey Cirrini. Living a life that she truly does not want anything to do with, always trying to make your mother happy (which appears impossible), she's given up all forms of a normal life. But when she discovers a local woman named Della Lee hiding in her closet her life becomes anything but normal.

Suddenly, Josey's life is warping into something completely new and unknown to her. With Della Lee's advice and love (no matter how strange it is) Josey takes a stand for her life and quickly learns there is more to the world than driving her mother to luncheons. Such changes include making her first close friend and experiencing first time events many teenagers have already beat her at.

Although her life might not be perfect, it quickly becomes something which she had always wanted- she just never knew how much that need was. I enjoyed the characters and I'm noticing a similarity between the two Allen books I've read: Magical women, handsome loving men, and one particular man whose abusive and better off dead.

These are wonderful books to read when you're life is hectic or too busy to concentrate on anything too time consuming. It's something that you could take your time with or finish reading in a day. But the feeling is always the same when the last page arrives: you're left happy and content with all that you've read and you want a little more.

The Sugar Queen was wonderful although it doesn't budge my opinion that Garden Spells is one of my favorite books. While Garden Spells is a great beach read I like to think that The Sugar Queen is perfect for a snowy winter day. Go check either of them out!


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Better Together

Let us picture a young man. He's returned home to the outskirts of Philadelphia, he's fallen in love all over again with his High School sweet heart and he's finally found an end to his writers block. The woman is divorced from a cruel hearted idiot and left to raise her infant son entirely on her own. These two people have a love that returns with a snap of a finger and now the young man is not only living a life that is all of his dreams but has a small child to look after.

A series of unfortunate events occurs and suddenly this man is a single father. A father to a child that isn't even his. A father who hasn't a single clue what he's doing and has to muddle his way through the first steps of parenthood.

But this isn't a 'ha, that poor guy knows nothing about what he's doing' type of story. It's much more serious then that and plunges in to the fact that there are fathers out there who are the main figure in raising their children. This story follows this man as he grieves, grows, and finds love in unexpected places. At times funny, other times serious, it's a read which will leave you thinking of the book long before you finished it's last pages. I know, at the very least, that's how I felt when I put the book down (and this is impressive because it's rare that I read books with a male main character and am left wanting more).

If you're interested in this book, it's not available. No bookstore or online place will carry it. Sorry boys and girls but this is only a manuscript at the moment written by my coworker Ray R. If you have any questions about the novel or would like to speak to him yourself please feel free to email me at and I will provide you with answers.

Have a good weekend everyone. =)

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Sometimes I feel that being a book nerd or an English major makes people have automatic expectations for you. I've been on both ends of the spectrum- it took four years for me to attain the title of "English Major" and now "Holder of BA in English". Before that I was just a book worm.

And for both you run into this typical expectance for you to 1) know all books that exist and 2) like specific genres and/or authors. It seems that these expectations are pressed upon me more ever since I claimed the major of English. People will gasp at me when I would state that I didn't particularly like Russian literature. They'd look at me oddly when I'd admit that I never have read a Stephen King novel.

One of the expectations is for you to absolutely adore both Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. While I enjoy the plot-lines of Austen's books and definitely look at her as if she were on a pedestal- I find it hard for me to get through her books. It's just incredibly hard for me to sit through it. But I like her stories, I like the ideas behind them, I respect her, it's just the actual sitting down and reading of the books that I find to be tough. But with the Bronte sisters I really like the story lines and I find myself to be a little more capable of reading through the books.

With that, let me introduce to you the youngest of the Bronte sisters- Anne- and her novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I truly enjoyed this book in that it seemed the most realistic out of all the Bronte sisters novels and also the novel that seems capable of claiming a common topic through the centuries.

Helen comes into the novel as a mysterious woman and befriends Gilbert. He is at first weary of her but the reader will know he has feelings for long before he himself realizes it. She's curious, a supposive widow with a young son, but keeps entirely to herself which leads to many rumors that run amuck. It isn't until Helen bequeaths to Gilbert her cherished journal that light is shed on her mysterious past.

This is where a modern day addiction comes into play- but it's one of the worlds oldest vices. Helen's husband was an alcoholic- a detail that is straight from Anne Bronte's own life because her own brother was one- and as the journal progresses through time her husband becomes more addicted to the drink, more cruel, and more abusive.

At times the evil ways of this man are so extreme that I, as the reader, stared with amazement and then devoured more of the written words with hope that something horrible happens to him. Through it all, there was so much negativity and upset. That is quite possibly the worst part of the book: Helen's life is a miserable one and you have to buckle on through it to make it to the end.

I really enjoyed this book as I've previously mentioned. I find it to be the most normal of the Bronte books (no crazy men digging up graves or nutty women trying to set people online) and sadly, many people can understand the concept of alcoholism because it's so common an occurrence. It took me a long time to read, but that simply was because I was absentminded (this happens at the end/beginning of seasons- I find it hard to concentrate on anything). Go pick up this novel, it's not as popular as Anne's sisters, but I think it's a fantastic read.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Garden Spells

Many people have compared this debute novel by Sarah Addison Allen to another book- Practical Magic. I can see the similarities: Two sisters with a bit of family related magic and their mother died when they were young. But here is the thing: The movie Practical Magic (in my honest opinion) is so much better than the book it's based on! The book and movie are nothing alike. And again, in my opinion, if Garden Spells is anything like Practical Magic it would be similar to the movie - not the book. But enough of the comparison, this book is great and it is a must read. Let's chat about why it's so wonderful:

Allen weaves this wonderfully descriptive small town life where you begin to feel that you personally know all of the residents. Her descriptive language brings to life the most central location of the book: The Waverly's magical garden. No matter the season that you read this book you'll be able to visualize the colorful flowers and even catch their scent. Her characters are also incredibly strong which is at times rare for new writers.

This story of two North Carolina sisters brings to you the subject of family and finding where you belong in the places where you are least likely to find yourself. It tells of letting go of who you are and embarrassing other opportunities. There is always the chance that you'll be much happier that way.

I found this book the summer after I had graduated from college. I was interested in enjoyable reads that didn't leave me scratching my head too much. For the first two months after my graduation I felt completely burned out, which is apparently a common occurrence for college graduates. I was searching for something entertaining, easy, and enjoyable and this book fit that mold. I discovered that at times I'm more like the character Claire and at other times the sister Sydney. I certainly grew a passion for gardening due to the detailed descriptions of gardening life. It's summery feel leaves you feeling awake and full of energy but it's hard to part from the book for long. It's a quick read but I guarantee you'll want to reread the book again.

Whether or not it is similar to Practical Magic, there should be more happy and bright books such as Garden Spells on the market. Enough with the depressing books taking new views on the problems of the world. We all need a little brightness and magic in our lives. If you're searching for that taste, turn to Garden Spells, I doubt you'll be disappointed and only left wanting more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

April is National Poetry Month!

In 1996 the Academy of American Poets declared April to be the National Month for Poetry! I adore poetry and without it, I don't know where I would be today! My first publications were of my poems and although I don't write poetry very often I do enjoy it when I take the time to place pen to paper.

So in this lovely month of April, if you have to suffer any showers to bring your May flowers, sit indoors and open a lovely book of poetry!

With that... a few of my own favorite poems/pieces by famous poets:

The Lady of Shallot- Lord Alfred Tennyson

I adore the Waterhouse painting of this lovely lady and the ballad is filled with all of the necessary things I need. Confession: There is a group of people who love Waterhouse paintings. You can submit information about yourself with a list of photos and the members get to chose what painting most suits you, I was depicted as the Lady of Shallot =)

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening- Robert Frost
I feel that this poem depicts much of my childhood winters in a lovely type of setting.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci- John Keats
Another Pre-Raphaelite depiction which I adore. Fairies, knights, all magical and beautiful.

Part One: Life CXXXVI- Emily Dickinson
Google it, it's short and I adore the first quatrain

Bareback Pantoum- Cecilia Woloch
This poem changed my poetry-life. I had never known of the style 'pantoum' prior to reading this poem and I fell in absolute love with it. It's now the style I wrote most of my poetry in. Please, search for this poem and read it- it's beautiful and lovely in a haunting and dangerous kind of way. Without this poem, without Cecilia Woloch writing it, I don't believe I would have ever known the style existed.

With that, go check out some poems and btw, catch up on my review for The Best American Poetry of 2009- a great yearly publication (which was the source of my introduction to Cecilia Woloch, actueally!)

Happy National Poetry Month everyone!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Olive Kitteridge

I have to say, I was disappointed with this book. I had expectations that were not met and I was left feeling a little let down.

Olive Kitteridge is a novel of short stories. All of these stories are of different characters who are in big ways or small tied to the woman Olive. I had the impression that I would be left feeling uplifted and even, maybe, have a new love for something in this world. Instead, I was left feeling kind of sad. Was this just me? Maybe. Maybe I just was not in the mood to read something with so many solemn events. Maybe, due to the glorious spring weather, I really just needed to read something that was quick paced and happy.

Olive is tough and rude and full of memories. There is a lot of death, a lot of loneliness, a lot of blame. It takes place in a small town and many people think "Oh, small town life! you know all about each other so how could you feel lonely?" But people can feel lonely no matter how many friends they have... especially in a small town... especially if people have this predestined perception of you. (I should know, all I've ever known has been small towns. Hell, my graduating class was the largest the school ever had- all 79 of us).

The writing is good though, don't get me wrong. Elizabeth Strout writes beautifully. Her descriptions are so clear that you are left without any doubt as to how characters are moving or acting. The details of their surrounding area is painted clearly and she does this all in a very concise manner. She doesn't ramble on for pages just to describe the in-coming tide. She gets straight to the point and makes that point very well.

She also does a fantastic job in making the characters clearly different from one another. However Olive, the lead, falls short to interest me. Maybe if it were a different season (winter) and I wasn't so easily distracted and already having a mind flitting like that of a hummingbird I'd have found this book to be more interesting.

Unfortunately, I failed to see the greatness of the novel. I failed to see how it won a Pulitzer. My apologies to Elizabeth Strout (not like you care, because you have a friggen Pulitzer!) but this book simply did not entertain me and it left me feeling let down.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Here Comes the Sun...

I have a sign above my bedroom door. It has a little sun that is peaking over a board which reads "Here Comes the Sun" (oh Beatles, I love thee). This little sign is my pull through during the winter months. It keeps my head on straight and reminds me that the sun will return and I'll be back into my more comfortable seasons again.

We had a warm front in Pennsylvania a few weeks ago which was gorgeous in every way. And I worked every glorious day that we had. This time around the warm weather arrived yesterday and today I had off. I had full intention of making the best of it. Apologies oh lovely readers and all of the books on my shelf. My mind flitters like a bird when we just get into the warm weather of the year. Once summer is here and we have day after day of beautiful 85 degree weather then I'll probably run out of steam and spend a day or two just reading. But for now... it's just beautiful and new.

So today with my day off I
  1. grocery shopped
  2. bought flowers
  3. gardened
  4. rode my mountain bike through the neighborhood
  5. took said bike to a local state park.
First, I had to figure out a way to get the bike to the state park- which was a 15 minute drive away from my house (no way was I riding my bike to the location). Finally, I figured out a way:
(the blankets are to protect the bike... since obviously it wasn't going to fit in my trunk.)
Once there I rode around through the woods but honestly... I spent more time sitting beside the lake Tuscarora (named after local Indians) just gazing at the water and smelling the fresh air then I spent on my bike. The very fact that I was in a tank top and bike shorts without feeling a chill was wonderful!
I also wanted to go swimming... my zodiac sign is that of a crab, I was born the Fourth of July weekend... obviously swimming is going to be just something I have to do. But, the water was a little cold (that wouldn't have stopped me) and no one else was swimming (I didn't want to be that weirdo who jumped in by myself).
It was all generally very beautiful and it made me happy- extremely happy. Now I sit with aching muscles and a possibly broken car (whoops?) while the windows are open and the warm breeze drifts in. I know it's only April, we shouldn't be having 80 degree weather, but I really do adore it.
PS: I bought a bowtie for my 'tuxedo' cat. He didn't appreciate it much.