Sunday Post #3: No, What We Learn Is…

Sunday PostThe latest scuttlebutt is that we might get a blizzard on Tuesday/Wednesday of this week. If so, that means a snow day might be in the forecast. Don’t let anyone tell you teachers don’t love a snow day as much as students. It’s been cold this winter, but we haven’t had too much snow.

This week I reviewed Kathleen Kent’s novel The Wolves of Andover, renamed The Traitor’s Wife when it was released in paperback. I was excited that Kathleen Kent favorited and retweeted the tweet I sent linking to my review. I did really enjoy her book. I can see why she was fascinated by the Carrier family. What a collection of characters.

I started reading Christopher Moore’s novel The Serpent of Venice this week. Oh, I am loving this one. It is absolutely hysterical! Moore’s sense of humor is a good match for me. I guess the best way to describe it would be if Monty Python acted out a mashup of “The Cask of Amontillado,” Othello, and The Merchant of Venice. Here is just a taste of one of the parts that made me laugh out loud:

“Since the time we were first chosen, Lancelot, suffering has been the lot of our people, but still, we must take our lessons from the prophets. And what do we learn from the story of Moses confronting the pharaoh? When Moses did call down the ten plagues upon the Egyptians? What do we learn from this, young Lancelot?”

“As plagues go, frogs are not so bad?” I was raised in a nunnery. I know Testaments Old and New.

“No, what we learn is do not fuck with Moses!”

Okay, so it’s a little sacrilegious.

Another thing I tried out this week is this recipe for chocolate chip cookies that I found via one of my friends who posted this link. I happen to love Pinterest, but I don’t go crazy trying everything I see. However, when the author of that article commented that the cookies were seriously awesome, I thought, well, snowing outside, I have all the ingredients, a perfect day for making cookies. And man, they are seriously good cookies. P. S. I had seen that salad in a jar thing and started putting some of my produce in jars like that. It seriously lasts a lot longer before it goes bad. But yeah, I’m not trying the hair stuff. I am no good with hair. I need a hairstyle I can just brush. However, I might make that mug.

Finally, in other news, I participated in a soap-making challenge for the first time in a long time, and I learned a new swirling technique. I blogged about it here. I thought it might be fun to share the video I made of the process. If you have five minutes, check it out:

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Here’s a picture of the finished soap, if you are interested in that sort of thing:

Sexy Man Soap: Butterfly Swirl TechniqueWhat did you get up to this week?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Review: The Wolves of Andover, aka The Traitor’s Wife, Kathleen Kent

Kathleen Kent’s novel The Wolves of Andover, also known as The Traitor’s Wife, is something of a prequel to The Heretic’s Daughter, a novel told from the viewpoint of Sarah Carrier, daughter of Martha Carrier, who was executed in the Salem Witch Trials. The Wolves of Andover tells the story of the courtship Thomas Carrier and Martha Allen alternating with the story of several conspirators of Charles II bound for America to find and capture the man who cut off the head of Charles I in the English Civil War.

As the story begins, Martha is sent to her cousin Prudence Taylor’s house to serve as Prudence prepares to give birth to her third child. Her husband Daniel is often away on business, but two men, Thomas and John, work for Taylor household in the hopes of earning a piece of Taylor’s land. Whispers surround Thomas Carrier. Some claim that he was the regicide, the man who wielded the very axe that struck King Charles’s head from his shoulders. He is uncommonly tall and possessed of a quiet air of mystery. Martha soon finds herself in love with him. Meanwhile, several men in the employ of spy Tiernan Blood make their way across the Atlantic after a harrowing journey in an attempt to find the Welshman, known as Thomas Morgan, and capture him for execution in London. What they don’t realize is that Oliver Cromwell’s old followers have spies of their own, too.

One of the things I realized reading this book is that I have never really given a lot of thought to the ways in which the English Civil War created America, and (it could be argued) led to the American Revolution. Of course, I knew the early founders of Massachusetts were Puritans, and of course I knew Cromwell was a Puritan, too, but for some reason, perhaps because it’s the story we always tell, I always pictured the Puritans who settled New England as religious dissidents instead of political ones. I don’t think our own history plays up the role the Puritans played in the English Civil War very much, probably because the first group of Puritans to arrive in America came well before the English Civil War began; however, successive waves of Puritans arriving later must surely have included soldiers who fought with Cromwell, even if the greatest wave of Puritan migration occurred before the English Civil War. It certainly stands to reason that these early settlers had quarrels with the monarchy and that they passed their feelings down to their children and children’s children.

I was able to hear Kathleen Kent speak at an English teachers’ conference several years ago, so I know that she descends from the Carrier family, which is partly why the subject matter intrigues her. Though Martha Carrier’s notoriety is more established, as a documented victim of the Salem Witch Trials, Thomas Carrier’s is somewhat more speculative and based more on family and local legends.

The Wolves of AndoverThe violence in the book can be graphic, and I definitely was glad I was reading it instead of watching it, though nothing seemed so gratuitous that it strained credulity. The violence also offered an interesting contrast between the monarchists and the Puritans, who are painted as hardy survivalists, but ultimately peaceable and good people. To be fair, the monarchists presented are probably the worst sort of folks imaginable, but Charles II himself is not depicted in a good light (though I give props to the writer who does manage to make Charles II look like a fairly decent human being).

The stage for Martha Carrier’s later accusation is deftly set as Martha comes across as contentious and headstrong (which is why she’s not married at the book’s beginning). Another spoilery incident I won’t recount adds additional evidence to the pile.

Martha Carrier

I took this picture of Martha Carrier’s memorial on our trip to Salem.

Knowing how Martha Carrier’s story will ultimately end lends sadness to this book, but Thomas Carrier emerges as quite the character, and one of those folks family historians love to weave tales around—a Welshman who changed his name and has mysterious antecedents, who was nearly seven feet tall, who lived to be about 109. He’s a little hard to resist.

Upon its paperback release, the book’s title was changed, hence the two names. Since it appears to be more readily available in paperback form, I have linked to that version of the book. To my knowledge, the title and cover design are the only changes made.

Rating: ★★★★½


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Sunday Post #2: Lazy Reading Week

Sunday PostI did not do a whole lot of reading this week. My students’ semester 1 grades were due, and I was stressed out (which means I probably should have read), so I wound up wasting a lot of time playing games on my iDevices, noodling around the the Internet, and listening to the Runaways (and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts). I am super excited that Joan Jett is being inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (about time!). I have always thought she just oozed cool. I remember watching her music videos when I was a kid—her dark hair and makeup and her black clothes. I didn’t consciously model my teenage look on her, but now that I look back, I can tell I was definitely dressing and making up my face a bit like a tamer version of Joan Jett. I am also excited to see Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Green Day, the Smiths, and Nine Inch Nails being inducted. It makes me feel old, though, because all of these groups were music I listened to in high school, and they shouldn’t be old enough to be inducted. I don’t feel that old. Actually, Green Day came after high school for me. And don’t remind me Nirvana was inducted last year.

In other book news, I will be participating in some TLC Book Tours soon, and these two books arrived in my mail this week.

The Tell-Tale Heart and the Serpent of VeniceI actually have never read Christopher Moore before, but a work colleague has and said he’s funny. I hope I can still follow along in The Serpent of Venice without having read Fool first. I admit I wanted to read it after hearing comparisons to Monty Python and reading that it’s a mashup of Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Who could resist that?

Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal Fool Pocket.

This trio of cunning plotters—the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago—have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of spirits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio’s beautiful daughter, Portia.

But their invitation is, of course, bogus. The wine is drugged. The girl isn’t even in the city limits. Desperate to rid themselves once and for all of the man who has consistently foiled their grand quest for power and wealth, they have lured him to his death. (How can such a small man, be such a huge obstacle?). But this Fool is no fool . . . and he’s got more than a few tricks (and hand gestures) up his sleeve.

As an English teacher who has long taught “The Cask of Amontillado,” I have often wondered, and engaged students in wondering as well, what the thousand injuries of Fortunato were. I hope I remember enough of The Merchant of Venice to follow along.

I thought the premise of The Tell-Tale Heart looked interesting:

After years of excessive drink and sex, Patrick has suffered a massive heart attack. Although he’s only fifty, he’s got just months to live. But a tragic accident involving a teenager and a motorcycle gives the university professor a second chance. He receives the boy’s heart in a transplant, and by this miracle of science, two strangers are forever linked.

Though Patrick’s body accepts his new heart, his old life seems to reject him. Bored by the things that once enticed him, he begins to look for meaning in his experience. Discovering that his donor was a local boy named Drew Beamish, he becomes intensely curious about Drew’s life and the influences that shaped him—from the eighteenth-century ancestor involved in a labor riot to the bleak beauty of the Cambridgeshire countryside in which he was raised. Patrick longs to know the story of this heart that is now his own.

It’s not my usual fare, but the aspect of the blurb that piqued my curiosity was Patrick’s quest to learn more about the boy and even his family history.

In addition to these two books, here is the shortlist of books I want to read next:

 
 

 I have actually had The Lotus Eaters for a while—I seem to recall receiving it from PaperBackSwap. I heard about All the Bright Places from Shelf Awareness. I heard about We Were Liars at a recent English teachers’ conference. I was actually able to hear E. Lockhart and David Levithan speak at that conference (Jacqueline Woodson, too!). Men Explain Things To Me may have been another Shelf Awareness find, but I can’t recall. I do clearly remember reading a review or a blurb or something. I was raised in a different time, and I’ve only recently realized some of the ways in which my voice has been silenced. I know that sounds pretty crazy to some people, but conditioning and simply being used to things really affects awareness. And acceptance, too, I think.

Before I dive into all of these books, however, I need to finish The Traitor’s Wife aka The Wolves of Andover. I’m about halfway done with that one.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Sunday Post #1: Resolutions

Sunday PostI’m very excited to have found a new-to-me book meme in the Sunday Post.

I discovered the that house that may have inspired Mr. Darcy’s estate is for sale, and I was curious, so I did a quick Google search, and I thought I must have seen that house in a Jane Austen movie, but IMDb doesn’t list the house as a shooting location for any of them. However, two of my favorite books, which I didn’t know had been adapted for film, did appear as shooting locations: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and The Thirteenth Tale. What gives? Why are we not hearing about these movies/series in the US? Anyone know? If nothing else, the success of shows like Downton Abbey and Doctor Who must have proven we have fairly sizable appetite for British television over here in the States. I haven’t heard a thing about either production. A quick Amazon search reveals you can purchase the The Thirteenth Tale as a DVD import, but it’s pricey and most likely won’t work with US DVD players. I really want to see it. It looks like maybe Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell will be on BBC America some time this year.

This week, I started reading Kathleen Kent’s second novel, The Wolves of Andover, which appears to have been reissued and retitled The Traitor’s Wife. Kathleen Kent’s website doesn’t explain the change in title. I had the opportunity to meet Kathleen Kent at an English teachers’ conference some years ago, which is when I originally purchased this book—actually, now that I’m thinking, I can’t remember if I did purchase it or if it was provided for free. In any case, I would had purchased it even if I hadn’t gone to conference and met Kent because I enjoyed her first novel, The Heretic’s Daughter. I suppose the change in title was meant to echo the title of that first novel, as both are about the Carrier family in Massachusetts. The first novel is mainly the story of Thomas and Martha Carrier’s daughter, Sarah. Martha Carrier was one the accused in the Salem Witch Trials, and her children were made to testify against her. The Wolves of Andover or The Traitor’s Wife is the story of how Thomas and Martha Carrier met and married. Here’s the trailer:

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I have had the book for a long time. I was able to get it signed, and it’s dated, so you can see how long it was on my shelf before I picked it up:

The Wolves of AndoverKind of ridiculous, given I really do and did want to read it. I have had sort of a mediocre couple of reading years in 2013 and 2014, so I’m hoping 2015 will be better. So far, so good. I was able to complete three books and reviews during the first week of January:

I especially loved the first and third, which are new favorites.

I made a resolution, of sorts, to do more with this blog. I do review all the books I read, but aside from that, there isn’t as much discussion of books and reading as I would like, so I hope that participating in a few weekly memes and sharing news, questions, and other reflections might help me. Every year, it seems, I rediscover some time in December, when I’m on winter break (which can’t be a coincidence), how much I love writing on this blog. Then I get busy, and I don’t read as much as I want to, and weeks go by with no updates. It doesn’t have be all about reviews, and I often say that we make time for the things we value. If I truly value blogging here, I should make the time for it. I also need to give myself permission to make it whatever I like. It’s a reading blog, yes, but it’s also my blog, and if I want to write about other things, that should be okay. I second guess myself about writing on other topics a lot, however.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.

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Ditching Shelfari?

Goodreads and ShelfariI am contemplating the idea of ditching Shelfari. I don’t really use it as a social network near as much as I use Goodreads, but it has two features I like:

  • It lets you count re-reads, and you don’t have to delete your previous reading date to do it. You can simply add a new date. Goodreads makes you delete the previous date if you want to count the latest date. Lots of folks re-read. Not sure why a re-reading feature hasn’t been implemented.
  • It has pretty shelves that you can display on your blog if you like or just look at.

I ditched LibraryThing some time back with no qualms. It limits the number of books you can put in your library for free. But Shelfari, I’m just not sure about. The first reason, re-reads, is the main reason I keep using Shelfari. If Goodreads ever implemented re-reads, I’d be all set, and as soon as I saved my re-read data to Goodreads, I’d leave Shelfari in a heartbeat.

Apparently Goodreads is weighing incorporating this feature, but frankly, from what I understand, there has been a lot of thinking and not much movement when it comes to the re-reading feature. A lot of people want it, if the thread I linked is any indication. I even joined the feedback group for the express purpose of adding my opinion to the conversation.

I really wish that Goodreads would just add the re-reading feature. I know it would mean making some database changes. I am growing a little tired of keeping track of books on Shelfari altogether mainly because I just don’t use its features, and I don’t seem to have as many reader friends who use and with whom I connect on that site.

What do you think? Do you use either Goodreads or Shelfari?

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Booking Through Thursday: Weeding

Booking Through ThursdayOh, my, how long has it been since I participated in Booking Through Thursday?

If you can’t tell, I’m attempting to give my blog a little more love this year. Let’s see how long that lasts. While I’m still in the resolution honeymoon period, though, I thought I’d rejoin some of the old memes I used to enjoy. This week’s question:

Do you ever weed out unwanted books from your library? And if so, what do you do with them?

I do indeed weed out books occasionally. Most often, what I do is put them up for grabs on PaperBackSwap. I suppose I could donate them to a used bookstore, but a) I’m not really sure where one is (I know, I’ve only lived here 2½ years, and I should have it figured out, right?), and b) I kind of like the fact that it’s sort of an even trade. With PaperBackSwap, I receive a credit when I send one of my books to someone, and I can use those credits to select a book I want.

The two major problems with PBS are that it’s not always easy to find books you want because books have to be posted by other members, and the waiting lists for popular books are looooong. Obviously, the first issue is a problem with any used bookstore as well. After all, any used bookstore is only going to carry books someone donated because they didn’t want them for some reason. On PBS, the pool is a little larger, so it seems like books can be somewhat easier to find than in a used bookstore. The second problem is just like the library waiting lists. Bestsellers and popular books or books that are in high demand for some reason are always hard to get. On the plus side, that means if you post one because you yourself don’t want it anymore, it’s snatched up right away, and you get a credit. On the minus side, there are books that I’ve had on my wishlist for years at PBS, and I’m not really closer to getting them.

I mostly select books I want at PBS if I’m not sure enough that I’ll like the book, so I am not sure I want to pay full price. I could get some of these books at my library, but not all of them. All in all, PBS is a pretty good deal.

Other books I don’t want in my own library, I donate to my classroom library. I still technically am keeping the book, but placing in that library means if a student really wants to keep it, that’s okay, and if it’s lost or never returned, that’s okay, too. Of course, I also buy books expressly for my classroom library as well.

So what do you do? Do you weed out books?

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Review: Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel

Bring Up the Bodies (Wolf Hall, Book 2)Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies is the second book in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy. This book and its predecessor, Wolf Hall, were awarded the Man Booker Prize—a rare achievement. Wolf Hall is more sweeping—it introduces Thomas Cromwell and traces the beginning of his career with Thomas Wolsey up through Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. Bring Up the Bodies is more condensed. Its narrow focus concerns five months from January to May of 1536.

As the novel begins, Henry has grown tired of Anne Boleyn. She is pregnant, and everything hinges on whether or not she will deliver the long-awaited male heir. Meanwhile, Henry’s first queen Katherine dies, and Henry is grievously wounded in a joust (some historians argue the injuries he incurred in this joust are responsible for Henry’s transformation into a tyrant). Shortly after Henry’s accident, Anne miscarries her child—a son. Five months later, she is dead.

As much as I loved Wolf Hall, and I did, I have to say I enjoyed Bring Up the Bodies even more. Thomas Cromwell emerges as a complex individual. He has been cast in history as a notorious villain, but these books also display his love for his family and his eagerness to become a surrogate father and teacher to several young men in his household. He has a dry wit. But he has a long memory. The scenes in which he interrogates the men accused of adultery with Anne Boleyn are chilling, and no less so because it is clear Cromwell remembers their role in ridiculing Cardinal Wolsey.

The books tread a careful line: Were Anne Boleyn, Harry Norris, George Boleyn, Francis Weston, William Brereton and Mark Smeaton guilty of the crimes for which they were executed? Thomas Cromwell himself is not sure, but they are guilty of other things. Cromwell observes that “He needs guilty men. So he has found men who are guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged” (328). Cromwell has a slow fuse. He never forgets when he is wronged, even slightly, and when the moment comes to strike, he’s as swift as a snake. Or a lawyer.

The book also contains some exquisite sentences. It’s not just good storytelling—this novel in particular reads almost like a play, and you can see all the action on the stage—it’s also just good writing. Perhaps my favorite quote:

He once thought it himself, that he might die with grief: for his wife, his daughters, his sisters, his father and master the cardinal. But pulse, obdurate, keeps its rhythm. You think you cannot keep breathing, but your ribcage has other ideas, rising and falling, emitting sighs. You must thrive in spite of yourself; and so that you may do it, God takes out your heart of flesh, and gives you a heart of stone. (329)

I can hardly wait for the third installment in the series. No matter what you think of Cromwell, you can hardly deny he left a mark on history, and he is perhaps more interesting and complicated than the larger figures of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, at least in Hilary Mantel’s capable hands. Mantel sets a high bar. I’m not sure I’ve read any writer who does historical fiction quite so well. I’m really looking forward to the production of Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies on PBS in April. If you like historical fiction, even if you think you are so over the Tudors already, do yourself a favor and read these books.

Rating: ★★★★★

This book is set largely in London, with the most memorable passages at the Tower of London, located in Middlesex County. I will count this book as my London book for the Reading England Challenge.

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Review: The Lais of Marie de France

When I was in college, I took a course in medieval literature. One of our texts was the Penguin translation of The Lais of Marie de France by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby. I don’t recall that we read all of the lais. I actually don’t remember which ones I did read. I only really recall that I liked them. That’s what twenty years will do, especially when you didn’t keep a reading journal.

I re-read The Lais of Marie de France mainly for the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. I had wanted to re-read the book after visiting one of our AP Literature classes at school and listening to the students engage in fishbowl discussions about the lays. They had some fascinating ideas about the stories. I walked away thinking I had to find my copy of this book and take it off the shelf because I had no memory of my medieval literature professor interpreting and discussing the lays the way these students did.

The Lais of Marie de France is an interesting text because Marie is one of the first woman poets, and according to the book’s introduction, she’s the “first woman of her times to have written successfully in the vernacular” (17). Yet, we don’t know exactly who she was. Scholars speculate that she was known in the court of Henry II, and several candidates have been put forward as Marie. The Lais of Marie de France is a collection of twelve Breton lays, two of which have Arthurian connections—”Lanval,” the story of a knight in Arthur’s court, and “Chevrefoil,” a short lay about Tristan and Iseult (characters sometimes connected with Arthurian legends). Most of the lays concern love, particularly courtly love between a worthy knight and a lady. Rather than discuss each of the lays, I’ll share some thoughts about a couple of my favorites.

“Bisclavret” is about a baron who turns into a werewolf. His wife tricks him into telling her where he hides his clothes when he transforms, and she takes them away. Without his clothes, he is not able to transform back into a man. He comes upon the king, out hunting, and the king realizes that he is not a true wolf and takes him back to his court. Eventually, the baron’s wife and her lover come to the court, and Bisclavret attacks them, after which all is revealed and the wife’s treachery is laid bare. It’s an interesting early werewolf story. Bisclavret is not necessarily dangerous in his wolf form, as most werewolves are usually depicted, though he does attack those whom he feels have wronged him.

“Lanval” reminded me a little bit of some of the similar medieval stories about a knight who falls in love with a woman who will be beautiful in his presence at night, but ugly in the day. All his peers will think he is in love with a hag. In fact, “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales is a version of this story. Typically, the woman gives the knight the opportunity to select which way she will remain: beautiful, but not true to him alone, or ugly but faithful. Another version of this story concerns Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. In “Lanval,” Lanval falls in love with a beautiful, otherworldly lady, but he alone is allowed to know about her existence, or she will desert him. When Guinevere sidles over to Lanval one day and tries to convince him to engage in some hanky panky, he resists, saying he cannot betray his king. Guinevere pulls a variation on the “well, then, I bet you’re gay,” and Lanval retorts, “no, I’m not, and the lady I love is fairer than you; heck, even her maids are fairer than you.” And of course he can’t prove it because he wasn’t supposed to talk about her, so she won’t come back. Then, Lanval is put on trial for insulting Guinevere, and finally Lanval’s lady shows up to rescue him and takes him away to Avalon. She’s obviously a fairy or something like. Guinevere comes off terrible no matter which way you look at it.

I enjoyed reading most of the lays, though I didn’t like the last, “Eliduc,” as much as the others. I realize we’re talking about a different time and place, but I felt Eliduc’s wife sort of rolled over for him. I guess spoiler alerts are over for literature written nearly 1,000 years ago, but I’d rather just leave it at that and let you read it if you will. The lays don’t send consistent messages. “Bisclavret” condemns the adulterous relationship of Bisclavret’s wife, while in several of the others, the adulterers are rewarded for their faithful love to one another, particularly if the husband or wife was unreasonable. I would say the exception is “Eliduc,” but perhaps that’s because in that story, it’s the husband who falls in love with another woman, whereas in most of the stories, a wronged wife falls in love with another man. There are also obvious strands of female power that run through the stories. In some cases, women who “overreach” are put in their places, while in others, they are rewarded.

The Lais of Marie de France is an excellent example of medieval literature, and refreshing, too, in being an early example of women’s writing. The stories are charming, and the book is a quick (though not a light) read. This translation is accessible without a lot of interfering notes, too. I like notes sometimes, but most books like this one have way too many, and you never know until you flip to the back and read the note whether it will be a helpful gloss or something far deeper in the weeds than you felt like going. The book also includes a helpful index of proper names and a selected bibliography.

I am also counting this book as my selection for a classic read in translation for the Back to the Classics Challenge. The Lais of Marie de France were originally composed in Anglo-Norman French, and the book includes a selection of the lay “Laüstic” in the original language.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Review: Wonder, R. J. Palacio

WonderI read R. J. Palacio’s novel Wonder with my thirteen-year-old daughter, Maggie. Strictly speaking, both of us might be a little older than the target age-range for this book, but I don’t believe in such nonsense, and it’s a good thing I don’t, or I might have missed out on a true treasure of a book.

Wonder is the story of a ten-year-old boy named August Pullman. He loves Star Wars and his dog, Daisy. He loves his sister Via. He’s worried about starting middle school, just like most kids starting middle school. The difference is that Auggie, as he is called by family and friends, has Treacher Collins Syndrome, a craniofacial deformity about which Auggie says, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse” (3). But Auggie also says, “The only reason I’m not ordinary is no one else sees me that way” (3).

August has been homeschooled due to the many surgeries he has endured as a result of his condition. His parents discuss whether it might be time to send Auggie to school when fifth grade begins. Ultimately, the family decides to send Auggie to Beecher Prep, and Auggie has a difficult year, but in his quiet and ordinary way, he powers through the adversity and manages to earn the admiration of his teachers and his classmates.

Actually, it’s impossible to do this book justice in a review. So, I asked Maggie for some help. I interviewed her after we finished. Before I go on, I should explain she received the new publication of the book that includes “Julian’s Chapter,” which was originally published as an e-book, for Christmas. Palacio had said at one point that Julian didn’t get a chapter initially but she eventually changed her mind for reasons she explains in this interview with Slate. I think it was a good decision.

Me: What did you think [after finishing the book]?

Maggie: I think that book might be my favorite book of all time. I’m dead serious.

Me: What was your favorite part?

Maggie: SLIGHTLY SPOILERY ANSWER. YOU WERE WARNED! At the end of August’s last chapter where he received the award and got a standing ovation.

Me: Who were your favorite characters?

Maggie: My favorite characters were August, Via, and Summer. I also liked Miranda. The way August and Via got along is sweet and touching. And Summer, it was nice to find out she was a genuinely nice gal. It was nice that she wasn’t being friends with August because someone forced her or dared her.

Me: What else do you want to share?

Maggie: I was surprised when we read Julian’s chapter because I didn’t expect to feel sympathy or empathy for him after reading the rest of the book. I also really liked how the book was told in different points of views. You get to hear all sides of the story so you know what happened. It’s a creative way to tell a story. I really didn’t like Julian’s mother. I thought she was overprotective and mean about the whole situation and how she handed the whole August situation. She completely overreacted.

Maggie and I loved the book. We highly recommend it to everyone. We had a lot of good conversations that involved some soul searching. I told Maggie about being unkind to a girl when I was in sixth grade because the “cool” kids didn’t like the girl—for no good reason, really. I still feel bad about how I acted, and truthfully, I wasn’t terrible. I just wasn’t my normal self, and I didn’t treat her the way I wanted to treat her. I was unkind because of other kids. This book is probably the best book on the issue of bullying that I’ve ever read, and it’s the only one that includes the bully’s perspective. The end of Julian’s chapter is quite a tearjerker, and the window into the bully’s perspective was interesting. In fact, some people will say it goes a step too far perhaps, but Maggie and I happened to love it. You read it. You’ll see.

I don’t often say this about a book, but this is one I feel like everyone ought to read, whatever their age. When we were trying to figure out if Palacio had written other books so we could read them as well, we discovered Wonder is her first novel. As Maggie said, “That was her first try at a book?!” For what it is worth, we read maybe 20-30 pages at a time when we started, but the night we finished, we read the whole Julian chapter of 80+ pages in a gulp. Maggie has never read a book she couldn’t put down like that. If you have a middle schooler in your life, you should share this book.

Rating: ★★★★★

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2014: Reading Year in Review

reading photo

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Dana has
completed her goal of reading 30 books in 2014!
hide

I was able to complete my reading challenge of reading 30 books this year, but I did lower the number, as the last two years in a row, I had tried and failed to read 52 books. I am giving it another go this coming year. Is 2015 going to be the year I can finally read 52 books? We shall see…

Stats breakdown:

  • Total number of books read: 33
  • Fiction books: 31
  • Nonfiction books: 2
  • YA books: 5
  • Audio books: 10
  • E-books: 3
  • Re-reads: 14

I am most surprised about the large number of re-reads. Many of those were from the Chronicles of Narnia. The first time I read these books, I stalled out somewhere in the middle of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This time I finished them all, and they were also all audio books, which accounts for the unusually high number of audio books as well. I didn’t realize, however, that I was re-reading so many books that I had read before. Only two re-reads happened because I was teaching the books (The God of Small Things and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).

Favorite reads of the year (reviews linked):

Least favorite reads of the year:

Reading Challenge Stats:

  • R. I. P. Challenge: I read one of the four books I challenged myself to read. I am chalking that up to having a new position and becoming accustomed to the resulting increased workload in September and October, which coincide with the challenge months.
  • 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge: Completed with two books extra. I read seven books and challenged myself to read five. I still haven’t seen any word about the 2015 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. Hmm.
  • Foodies Reading Challenge: I didn’t even start this one. I had good intentions of reading some of the foodie nonfiction I have been meaning to get to for some time, but I didn’t do it.
  • Witches and Witchcraft Reading Challenge: I read four of the five books I challenged myself to read.
  • Postal Reading Challenge: A very cool challenge that I never even started.
  • Book Bingo Reading Challenge: I scored BINGO twice, so I am calling that one met. I challenged myself to score BINGO once, which was five books, and I was able to count ten books for this challenge.
  • Where Are You Reading? Challenge: No set number of books, but I mapped each book I read.

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