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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Jane Austen’s First Love: Review and Giveaway

Jane Austen's First Love by Syrie James 2014 x 350In a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1796, Jane Austen wrote, “We went by Bifrons and I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of Him, on whom I once fondly doated.”

Who was this mysterious man? This question intrigued Syrie James, author of Jane Austen’s First Love. For the first time, thanks to Syrie James’s research, Jane Austen fans are treated to a glimpse of Jane Austen as a teenager experiencing all the pangs of first love.

The novel begins with a family trip to Kent. Jane, Cassandra, and their mother are invited to summer festivities in celebration of Jane’s eldest brother Edward Austen’s engagement to Elizabeth Bridges. The Bridges family is also celebrating their daughter Fanny’s engagement to Lewis Cage. On the way to the Bridges home at Goodnestone Park, Jane and Cassandra’s carriage suffers a mishap, and they are rescued by the Bridgeses’ neighbor Edward Taylor, a distant relation of the Bridges family.

Over the course of the festivities at Goodnestone Park, in which Jane convinces her reluctant mother to allow her to participate, Jane grows closer to Edward Taylor. He brings out her adventurous side, and she is captivated by his interesting life. Jane also decides perhaps mounting a theatrical of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be the perfect way to play matchmaker for the Bridges girls.

Edward Taylor comes alive in the pages of this book—is it possible he inspired some of Jane Austen’s most memorable characters? He reminded me a bit more of George Wickham and John Willoughby than Austen heroes such as Fitzwilliam Darcy and George Knightley. He is not nearly as much of a rake as Wickham and Willoughby, but he flouts convention and is a bit on the reckless side.

Jane Austen fans will enjoy the image of her portraying Puck in the theatrical as well as the casual allusions to Austen’s own works. Certainly aspects of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Mansfield Park can be glimpsed in Jane’s experiences at Goodnestone Park.

Syrie James headshot 2012 x 250About the Author

Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is the author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane AustenThe Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, and Dracula, My Love, among other popular novels Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.

Giveaway Details

JAFL Grand Prize x 420Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!

Be sure to check out Syrie James’s guest posts and other reviews in the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Book Tour.

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Top Ten Best/Worst Book to Movie Adaptations

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about book to movie adaptations. Oh, this is a hard one. I will start with the best ones. Links go to the movies’ IMDb profiles.

  1. Brokeback Mountain the movie is even better than Annie Proulx’s short story. Proulx doesn’t develop the characters as much, and Innis and Jack’s wives are just window dressing. The movie gives the story much more depth and heart. I hardly ever say this kind of thing. The book is usually better. Which brings me to #2.
  2. The Princess Bride is another case where I think the movie is better. The book gets a little lost, but the movie stays focused. Plus the acting is just great. Easily one of the most quotable movies of all time.
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great film. Not as good as the book, but really great. Everyone talks about how wonderful Gregory Peck was as Atticus Finch, and he was, but they always forget that Mary Badham was phenomenal as Scout. She was nominated for an Academy Award. She didn’t win. Probably because of her age. She was only ten years old.
  4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was famously reviled by Ken Kesey, who didn’t like it that you couldn’t tell the story through the eyes of the schizophrenic Chief Bromden, but the film turned in some stellar performances by some actors often known more for comedy. Great film.
  5. The Color Purple jiggled some things around, but they got the most important stuff right. I love this film all over again every time I see it.
  6. Sense and Sensibility is gorgeously shot and the acting is awesome. I like everyone in it.
  7. Pride and Prejudice, both the version with Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth and the one with Keira Knightley.
  8. The adaptation of Louis Sachar’s novel Holes was awesome. Pretty much just like the book.
  9. I don’t know if it’s cheating to include plays, but I’m gonna. Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is pretty much the gold standard of Shakespeare in film.
  10. Clueless is a pretty awesome update of Emma. I love that movie.

My choices for worst adaptations:

  1. As much as I love the Harry Potter movies, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban hits all the wrong notes from the opening when Harry is practicing spells outside of school in a Muggle house, which everyone knows underage wizards can’t do, to the made up toad chorus and talking shrunken head, to the confusing deletion of the Marauders’ subplot that renders the movie incomprehensible unless you have read the book. And everyone looks scruffy the whole movie long. They don’t have to be as well scrubbed as when Chris Columbus directs, and I don’t mind them looking like normal teenagers, but having parts of your shirt untucked, your tie askew, and your hair mussed in every single scene? Nah. I’m blaming the director for this one because I like the others just fine (except for Michael Gambon’s performance, especially in Goblet of Fire—Dumbledore wouldn’t manhandle Harry like that). It’s a shame because it is easily one of the top books in the series.
  2. Just about every version of Wuthering Heights except this one, though to be fair, I haven’t seen the newest one with Kaya Scodelario. Why on earth people can’t get that book straightened out in film form, I do not get. Some versions cut the Hareton and Cathy part altogether. Others delete Lockwood.
  3. The Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore. What were they thinking? We were discussing the scene when Reverend Dimmesdale reveals the scarlet letter carved into his own chest and dies in one of my classes one day, and I re-read it to the class. One of my students said, “Wow, this would make a great movie.” Yeah, you’d think, but no.
  4. This version of Macbeth is pretty heinous, but I do use two scenes from it when I teach the play. They do some neat camera tilt tricks and use mirrors in a clever way in the scene when Banquo’s ghost shows up, and the opening with the three witches dressed like schoolgirls busting up a graveyard is good.
  5. The Rankin/Bass versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King and Ralph Bakshi’s version of The Lord of the Rings. Ugh. I much prefer Peter Jackson’s adaptions despite the changes made. He takes the subject matter seriously.
  6. The Black Cauldron was ruined by Disney. I don’t blame you if you didn’t read Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles if you thought they were like that movie. I remember dragging my mom to see it and being so disappointed.
  7. And by that same token, The Seeker adapted from Susan Cooper’s novel The Dark is Rising is heinous. I keep using that word. But it’s so true in this case. Take this one together with The Black Cauldron and there’s a fair chance kids won’t give these wonderful books steeped in Welsh myth and legend a shot at all.
  8. Their Eyes Were Watching God was pretty bad. Oh, you mean you never even knew it it existed? There is a good reason for that. I love that book. I can’t believe the film is so bad.
  9. Beowulf. Oh. My. Gosh. What the heck was that?
  10. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil should have been good. Kevin Spacey is in it. Clint Eastwood directed it. The Lady Chablis played herself. Instead it’s terrible. Don’t watch it.

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Jane Austen Soap Giveaway

I’m in the midst of re-reading Pride and Prejudice, and I had forgotten how quickly the story moves along. I just reached the part that contains perhaps my favorite lines:

“Come here, child,” cried her father as she appeared. “I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?” Elizabeth replied that it was. “Very well—and this offer of marriage you have refused?”

“I have, Sir.”

“Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?”

“Yes, or I will never see her again.”

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents.—Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

One of the best dad moments in literature, even if later we learn perhaps Mr. Bennet should be a little more watchful of his younger daughters.

In honor of my re-read, and just because they’re all ready to go (at last), I am giving away one bar of each soap in my Jane Austen soap series.

Jane Austen Soap Series

Jane Austen Soap Series

I have created five soaps based on heroines from three Jane Austen novels: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma.

Bennet Sisters

Bennet Sisters

The Bennet sisters, featured in Pride and Prejudice are also available as a set in my Etsy store.

Mrs. Darcy

Mrs. Darcy

Mrs. Darcy is inspired by that delightful creature herself, Elizabeth Bennet. Created with her personality in mind, it contains goat milk (to represent her stubbornness) and rich vegetable oils, including olive oil, coconut oil, palm, oil, sweet almond oil, castor oil, and cocoa butter and is scented with fragrantly floral plumeria.

Sweet Jane

Sweet Jane

Sweet Jane is as nice as her namesake, Jane Bennet. Made with coconut milk, olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter, and castor oil, this soap has a clean, wholesome scent of lemon verbena.

Emma Woodhouse

Emma Woodhouse

Just like Emma herself, her namesake soap unites some of the best blessings of existence: beautiful calendula petals and luxurious silk with rich, moisturizing shea butter, olive oil, and sunflower seed oil and scented with citrusy tart yuzu and sweet orange.

Elinor

Elinor

Elinor’s soap has a fresh, mild, clean scent that evokes herbs and mint and is made with olive oil, sunflower oil, shea butter, and other rich, moisturizing oils.

Marianne's Passion

Marianne’s Passion

This wild swirl of black raspberry vanilla evokes Marianne Dashwood’s passionate nature. Made with olive oil, cocoa butter, silk and other rich, moisturizing oils, this soap is a treat for your skin.

What do you have to do to win this prize package? Simply leave a comment with your favorite quote from Pride and Prejudice and explain why it’s your favorite. A winner will be chosen at random on Friday, February 22, 2013. You can earn an extra entry if you like New England Handmade Artisan Soaps on Facebook and share the giveaway. Simply locate the giveaway on my Facebook page and share it on your Facebook timeline.

Good luck! And remember that if you don’t win, you can still order this fantastic collection from my Etsy store.

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Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters Ever

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday asks who the most frustrating characters in literature are. I know I’ve wanted to shake all of these people at some point.

  1. Father Ralph de Briccasart from The Thorn Birds. He could have been really happy with Meggie, but his ambition to rise in the Church was more important than anything else.
  2. Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. I think Stradlater said it best when he said, “Shut up, Holden.”
  3. Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights. Oh, come on. Horrible, manipulative snot. Plays on the affections of both men who love her and drove one to vengeful madness.
  4. Willa Alden from The Wild Rose. Quit being a jerk and accept that Seamus loves you. He doesn’t care about your leg.
  5. Romeo from Romeo and Juliet. Can you dial back the impetuosity? You are ruining everyone’s lives.
  6. Pip from Great Expectations. Estella does not deserve you. Quit obsessing over her. She’s horrible.
  7. Lady Bertram from Mansfield Park. Did she get off her butt once in that novel? Because I can’t remember that she did.
  8. Lia in Wintergirls. EAT.
  9. Achilles in The Iliad. Get out of the #$%&@ tent and go fight. Hector thinks Paris is a tool, but he still stands up for his country. Hector deserves more credit. If he had been Greek instead of Trojan, he’d have had it.
  10. Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. As Starbuck says, “To be enraged with a dumb brute that acted out of blind instinct is blasphemous.” Unfortunately, Ahab doesn’t listen to him, and everyone on the ship, excepting Ishmael, of course, is killed.

Honorable mentions go to Sir Walter Eliot of Persuasion, who values all the wrong things in life; Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, who sticks with an abusive (albeit hot, especially as played by Marlon Brando) guy who rapes her sister (for crying out loud!); Ennis Del Mar of “Brokeback Mountain,” who can’t let go of his self-hatred and allow himself to be happy with Jack Twist; Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby, who is just awful; Guinevere and Lancelot in all their iterations because they just ruin everything; Tom Sawyer in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for being an ass and playing around with a man’s life for sport; Hamlet from Hamlet, who dithers for most of the play and then kills some of the wrong people; and finally, the doctor from The Boxcar Children—why on earth did he not call DFCS when he found out those kids were living in a boxcar? That’s nuts!

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Sweet Jane

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, I am creating soaps based on some of the major characters in the book. I made my first batch yesterday. It is called “Sweet Jane” after Miss Jane Bennet. Here is a peek:

Sweet Jane

It is difficult to tell in the image, but it is a swirl of uncolored soap and lemon yellow soap scented with lemon verbena. I think Jane Bennet would smell like lemon verbena. It’s a lovely, clean scent. The soap is loaded with good things for your skin, like olive oil, sweet almond oil, and cocoa butter. It has rich coconut milk in it, too. It really is a lovely soap. The picture doesn’t quite do it justice.

The soap will reach its full cure on January 29, but it will be available for pre-order in my Etsy store in a couple of weeks. I will also be making Mrs. Darcy, a swirl of purple and white plumeria-scented goat milk soap as soon as my supplies arrive.

If you are interested in keeping up with my soaping, I have a blog and Facebook page.

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The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge Jane Austen’s beloved novel Pride and Prejudice turns 200 in January. I already had plans to begin re-reading the novel on the 200th anniversary of its publication, January 28, 2013. I should have known Austenprose would have a massive celebration, just as they did for Sense and Sensibility. Even though I promised myself I’d limit challenges this year, I decided I couldn’t pass this one up.

The idea behind the challenge is to read or revisit Pride and Prejudice, view the film adaptions, and read the sequels. I haven’t read too many sequels, but I am willing to give it a try. To that end, I plan to participate only at the Neophyte level of 1-4 selections. I will be reading Pride and Prejudice, Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James, Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen Wasylowski, and Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece by Susannah Fullerton. If the spirit moves me, I may do a bit more, but that is what I will commit to  the moment.

I’m very excited about celebrating along with Austenprose this year.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I’m Thankful For

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

This week’s appropriate Top Ten Tuesday concerns authors I’m thankful for.

  1. William Shakespeare: My best moments in the classroom I owe to this writer, who is not only the greatest writer in the English language, but also the most fun to teach. I can return to his plays again and again, and I always get something new out of them. In addition, his sonnets are some of the most glorious poetry in the English language. Don’t believe me? Watch this video: YouTube Preview Image
  2. Jane Austen: She is my homegirl. Really. I love her. I return to her books all the time. I love her characters, her sparkling wit, and her tangled love stories.
  3. J. K. Rowling: Some of my best reading experiences have been with the Harry Potter series. If I could read just one series over and over, and no other books, for the rest of my life, I’d choose the Harry Potter series. I find the Wizarding World to be a rich, imaginative place I never tire of visiting.
  4. Emily Brontë: She gave me my favorite book, even though it was the only book she wrote. I love returning to this book. I always notice something new. I love to hate her characters. I marvel each time I read it at the novel’s beautiful structure. Though I find the characters horrendous, I admit one place I’d love to visit is Wuthering Heights.
  5. J. R. R. Tolkien: My first major foray into fantasy set the bar really high. I am currently listening to The Hobbit in preparation for the movie. I love reading this series, and I love Middle Earth.
  6. Judy Blume: I read her books over and over again as a child. I grew up on her stories, and she has been a huge influence over my reading and writing life.
  7. Jasper Fforde: I have spent many a happy hour giggling through one of his books. He is crack for book and word nerds, and he is utterly charming.
  8. Joseph Campbell: His enduring ideas and understandings about the hero’s journey enabled me to enjoy literature and film in a new way, and I was able to construct a course around his work.
  9. Diana Gabaldon: I love her time travel romance/fantasy/historical fiction/genre-bending stories about Claire and Jamie Fraser. She is so much fun, and such a nice lady, too.
  10. Ernest Hemingway: I love, love, love F. Scott Fitzgerald, but Hemingway has a much larger canon, and I am not done with it yet. I love the way he writes, and I love to read his ideas about writing. I have rarely cried so hard over a book as I did over the end of A Farewell to Arms.

What authors are you thankful for?

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving! I am so thrilled to be celebrating it this year in the state where the first Thanksgiving took place.

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Top Ten Fictional Couples

Top Ten Tuesday adapted from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ceasedesist/4812981497/

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a REWIND topic, so in order to get into the spirit of the season, I elected to write about the Top Ten Fictional Couples, which was a topic originally posted September 28, 2010.

1. Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Naturally. I love the fact that they don’t fall in love at first sight and have to grow to love one another. And their witty barbs! I just love them as a couple.

2. Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. They are so horrible. They deserve each other, and their longing to be together (and Heathcliff’s overly developed sense of vengeance) threatens everyone they know.

3. Romeo and Juliet. OK, despite what I said about liking that Lizzie and Darcy grow to love each other, I admit I’m a sucker for this teenage infatuation. Of course, it’s great fun to teach, also.

4. Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. I like how he has to become worthy of her and that she learns she doesn’t have to settle.

5. Lt. Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley. Ohmygosh I cried at the end of that book.

6. Tristan and Isolde. OK, it was a love potion, but man, that almost makes it worse. They didn’t have any choice but to be desperately in love!

7. Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar. What a sad love story. Talk about star-crossed lovers. Great short story, if you haven’t read it, but I think the movie is better because the characters are more fully developed.

8. Severus Snape and Lily Evans. OK, technically not a couple because it was one-sided, but man, what devotion. Always.

9. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. They kind of deserved each other. I think they eventually found their way back to each other, but perhaps not in the way Alexandra Ripley imagined.

10. Meggie Cleary and Father Ralph de Briccasart. Oh, in another world, they could have been together. Love them!

Who are your favorite literary couples?

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