The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier

The Last RunawayTracy Chevalier’s latest book, The Last Runaway, is a bit of a departure from her other work. I have read several of Chevalier’s books, and I can’t think of one that isn’t set in Europe. The Last Runaway is the story of Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman who decides to accompany her sister Grace across the Atlantic to America. Grace plans to marry a man who emigrated to Ohio and used to be a member of the Bridport Friends’ Meeting where the Brights worship. Honor has been jilted by her fiancé, Samuel, who throws her over and leaves the Society of Friends in order to marry outside the religious order. The voyage is terrible for Honor, who suffers from the worst bout of seasickness you’ve ever seen this side of Outlander‘s Jamie Fraser. Honor realizes that she is stuck in America because she can’t imagine being able to endure a crossing back to England. After disembarking, Honor and Grace travel to Ohio by stagecoach, but Grace contracts yellow fever and dies on the voyage. Now all alone in America, Honor must find her own way. Her sister’s fiancé, Adam Cox, takes her in for a time, but his brother has recently died, and he is living with his brother’s widow, Abigail. Before long, the Quakers frown at their unorthodox living arrangement. Adam marries Abigail, and Honor rushes into a marriage with Jack Haymaker, whose stern mother Judith is a Quaker elder who does not approve of Honor.

One of the most interesting threads in the book dealt with quilting. Honor is a quilter. Her adjustment to America is hard, and she especially does not like Americans’ ways of quilting. Her skill with a needle earns her the friendship and hospitality of Belle Mills, a milliner in Wellington. However, it also draws the unwelcome attention of Donovan, Belle’s brother and the local slave catcher. Honor quickly finds herself caught up in the American debate over slavery. Just as the Fugitive Slave Act is passed, Honor finds herself helping slaves cross to Canada as a part of the Underground Railroad. While her in-laws disapprove of slavery, they are also unwilling to allow lawbreaking in their family, and Honor has some difficult decisions to make.

I am a fan of Tracy Chevalier’s books. I especially liked Remarkable Creatures and The Virgin Blue, which was one of the first books I reviewed for this blog. I was interested in reading this book because some of my own immigrant ancestors were Quakers. I imagine they came to America to worship more freely, but they were quite different from the Quakers of Ohio. Within several generations, at least in my own line of the family, they had abandoned their faith for various other Protestant denominations, but my 7th great-grandmother Elizabeth Clark Anthony was the mother of fifteen children and after her husband’s death, she became a Quaker missionary who made four trips between Virginia and Georgia on horseback and lived to be 103 years old.

Perhaps because I was hoping to see a glimpse of what my own ancestors’ lives were like, I really wanted to like this book. I was underwhelmed, however. I found Honor hard to like. She seemed to feel quite sorry for herself a lot of the time, and while it’s true that she was living in difficult circumstances, she created a lot of them. Her attraction to Donovan was inexplicable. I thought Chevalier did everything she could to make him odious, and it was impossible for this reader to understand Honor’s feelings for him. Honor’s disdain for the American way of doing just about everything was trying as well. I understand she was a fish out of water, but for a Quaker, she was terribly judgmental. Almost every chapter closed with a letter from Honor to her family or friends. I found the transition from third person to first jarring in some cases, though I wished more of the story had been told in first person. Though I didn’t like Honor much, I found her voice in the letters to ring true.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Historical Tapestry Thursday Threads

Thursday Threads: Where Are You Reading?

Historical Tapestry Thursday ThreadsWhere in historical fiction are you reading?

This week, I’m reading Tracy Chevalier’s new book The Last Runaway, set in 1850 Oberlin, Ohio. I’ve only read a few chapters, but so far I know the main characters live in a Quaker community and will likely be involved in the abolitionist movement. I also know that quilting (an art form I have always admired) will have a role in the story, as Chevalier has already established the protagonist, Honor Bright, as a talented quilter.

I love Tracy Chevalier, and I am interested to see what she does with this one. Her other books are mostly set in England and France, and this book seems like a bit of a departure for her. Some of my own ancestors were Quakers who emigrated to Virginia from England via Barbados, though they were quite different from the Quakers who lived in the North. I am still hoping to learn something about their values and way of life from this book.

I am enjoying the book so far. Tracy Chevalier has a talent for evoking other times.

Thursday Threads is a weekly meme from Historical Tapestry.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Historical Novels

Top Ten TuesdayHistorical fiction is my favorite genre, and I’m not sure I could pick an adequate top ten. There are so many great books that fit into this genre. You can find my list below with the following caveats: I simply haven’t had a chance to read a lot of great historical fiction that’s out there yet, so this list is necessarily limited to just those books I have experience with, and also I have decided not to include classics that were set during their own contemporary times but are history now (e.g. [amazon_link id=”0486284735″ target=”_blank” ]Pride and Prejudice[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”1441408223″ target=”_blank” ]Jane Eyre[/amazon_link]). Also, these are in no particular order (aside from the order in which they occurred to me) because I couldn’t begin to rank them. Finally, I selected these particular books out of all the historical fiction I have read and loved because they so perfectly evoke their time settings that they bring the historical eras in which they are set alive (with historical accuracy) and simply couldn’t take place any other time.

  1. [amazon_link id=”034549038X” target=”_blank” ]The Dante Club[/amazon_link] by Matthew Pearl: Not only is this book a solid thriller with fun connections to Dante’s [amazon_link id=”0812967216″ target=”_blank” ]Inferno[/amazon_link] and the Fireside Poets, but it is also a great snapshot into life in Boston right after the Civil War. In terms of period detail and engaging reads, you could do worse than Matthew Pearl for sure.
  2. [amazon_link id=”0780748433″ target=”_blank” ]Catherine, Called Birdy[/amazon_link] by Karen Cushman: This is a middle grades/early YA novel set in 1290 in England. Catherine is the daughter of a knight, and Cushman captures the Middle Ages (particularly, the lives of a family in a small manor house) in exquisite detail.
  3. [amazon_link id=”0152164502″ target=”_blank” ]The Coffin Quilt[/amazon_link] by Ann Rinaldi: The subject of this YA novel is the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. Told from the viewpoint of Fanny McCoy, the novel touches on all the major events of the feud and is simply one of the most well-written YA novels I’ve ever read.
  4. [amazon_link id=”0345521307″ target=”_blank” ]The Paris Wife[/amazon_link] by Paula McLain: This novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage and time in Paris perfectly captures the lives of the American artist expatriates living in France during the 1920’s. It’s a gorgeous novel.
  5. [amazon_link id=”1565125606″ target=”_blank” ]Water for Elephants[/amazon_link] by Sara Gruen: This isn’t just great historical fiction. It really captures an era and a subculture that I’ve not seen captured as well in any other novel. Superb read.
  6. [amazon_link id=”0765356155″ target=”_blank” ]Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell[/amazon_link] by Susanna Clarke: While also classified as fantasy, this novel also explores England during the Napoleonic Wars, including brushes with Mad King George and Lord Byron as well as the Duke of Wellington. The footnotes are a great touch. I loved this novel.
  7. [amazon_link id=”039331507X” target=”_blank” ]Nothing Like the Sun[/amazon_link] by Anthony Burgess: I don’t think I’ve read another historical fiction book about Shakespeare that touches this one. Burgess’s characters speak like Elizabethans, and the events described are both believable and fun homages to Shakespeare’s plays. The premise behind the book is that Shakespeare’s tangled love life majorly influenced all of his work.
  8. [amazon_link id=”B000FC10KC” target=”_blank” ]Ahab’s Wife[/amazon_link] by Sena Jeter Naslund: Oh, how I love Una Spenser. She is my fictional BFF. She is amazing. I need to read this one again. As you might have guessed, this book takes the passage in [amazon_link id=”B003GCTQ7M” target=”_blank” ]Moby Dick[/amazon_link] in which Captain Ahab mentions he has a young wife at home and creates her character and her life (and it’s a fascinating life that, in my opinion, puts that of her husband to shame).
  9. [amazon_link id=”0061577073″ target=”_blank” ]The Poisonwood Bible[/amazon_link] by Barbara Kingsolver: This novel about Christian missionaries in the Belgian Congo right as the country declares its independence from Belgium is a fascinating snapshot into the Congo of the 1960’s as well as the lives of Christian missionaries and also serves as an allegory for America’s own role in colonialism.
  10. [amazon_link id=”0061990477″ target=”_blank” ]The Thorn Birds[/amazon_link] by Colleen McCullough: When I read this novel, I couldn’t put it down. I haven’t read a lot of books set in Australia, but this novel seems to so perfectly capture the times and setting. Meggie is an engaging heroine, and who doesn’t love Father Ralph de Bricassart?

Because I read a ton of historical fiction, I need to include some honorable mentions:

  • [amazon_link id=”0547550294″ target=”_blank” ]The Witch of Blackbird Pond[/amazon_link] by Elizabeth George Speare: This YA novel is set in Colonial Massachusetts and is a great vehicle for middle schoolers (or even their older siblings and parents) to learn about that time period in history. I can’t think of too many books that do as good a job with this era.
  • [amazon_link id=”0312378025″ target=”_blank” ]The Tea Rose[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly: This book is a fun read, but has a few lapses in terms of credibility (at least for this reader). Set in Whitechapel as Jack the Ripper ravages London, this novel is the story of Fiona, daughter of one of the Ripper’s victims, who makes her way to New York and builds a tea empire from scratch.
  • [amazon_link id=”B001NLKT2E” target=”_blank” ]The Commoner[/amazon_link] by John Burnham Schwartz: This story of a commoner’s marriage into the Japanese imperial family makes for a great read, too, though Schwartz takes some liberties to make his character’s ending happier than that of the real model for his heroine.
  • [amazon_link id=”0060515139″ target=”_blank” ]A Plague of Doves[/amazon_link] by Louise Erdrich: Some of this novel is contemporary, which is one reason I didn’t include it above, but it is one of the finest novels I’ve read and concerns the repercussions of a murder and hate crime that sent ripples through a community for generations.
  • [amazon_link id=”B003WUYROK” target=”_blank” ]The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane[/amazon_link] by Katherine Howe: Also partly set in contemporary times, this novel concerns Connie Goodwin’s attempts to learn more about her ancestors’ grimoire and secret powers.
  • [amazon_link id=”0399157913″ target=”_blank” ]The Help[/amazon_link] by Kathryn Stockett: While this book certainly evoked Mississippi of the 1960’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, it did not seem as realistic to me as some of the books I included in my top ten.
  • [amazon_link id=”0307588661″ target=”_blank” ]Madame Tussaud[/amazon_link] by Michelle Moran: This novel, set during the French Revolution, was an excellent read and shone a spotlight on a historical figure who hasn’t perhaps received as much attention as she was due.
  • [amazon_link id=”0143034901″ target=”_blank” ]The Shadow of the Wind[/amazon_link] by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: Barcelona’s book world during the 1930’s and 1940’s, though to me, the plot did not have to be set during era or in that place.
  • [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb: Again, because this novel is set partly in contemporary times, I excluded it from the list above, but the historical fiction parts were my favorite. This novel is the story of how a song learned on the crossing from Scotland to America in the eighteenth century was passed down in a family and survived to the present day.
  • [amazon_link id=”039306915X” target=”_blank” ]Emily’s Ghost[/amazon_link] by Denise Giardina: The story of Emily Brontë and one of the better historical fiction novels about the Brontë family.
  • Pretty much anything by Jude Morgan. Love him. And Syrie James. And Tracy Chevalier. I mean, this was really a hard topic for me to narrow down.

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Sunday Salon: The Shelf Awareness Interview

Still Life with Plato

No, Shelf Awareness isn’t interviewing me, but I love to read their author interviews, and they always ask the same questions (at least in my limited observation). They’re fun questions, too. So should Shelf Awareness ever want to interview me, they can simply copy and paste.

On your nightstand now:

I actually have a stack of books against the wall more than a pile on the nightstand. In my stack are [amazon_link id=”0451169522″ target=”_blank” ]Misery[/amazon_link] by Stephen King, a few Sharyn McCrumbs I want to get to, [amazon_link id=”0711231893″ target=”_blank” ]Tea with Jane Austen[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”B001P3OLEM” target=”_blank” ]Burning Bright[/amazon_link] by Tracy Chevalier, [amazon_link id=”0060791586″ target=”_blank” ]The Widow’s War[/amazon_link] by Sally Gunning, [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link] by Alan Brennert, [amazon_link id=”0679781587″ target=”_blank” ]Memoirs of a Geisha[/amazon_link] by Arthur Golden, and [amazon_link id=”0152053107″ target=”_blank” ]A Northern Light[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly, among other books I dip into occasionally.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was in the third grade, it was [amazon_link id=”0142408808″ target=”_blank” ]Superfudge[/amazon_link] by Judy Blume because Mrs. Elliott read it to us, and it was impossible to check out of the library for months afterward. I also loved [amazon_link id=”0807508527″ target=”_blank” ]The Boxcar Children[/amazon_link] by Gertrude Chandler Warner. When I was a little older, [amazon_link id=”0385739893″ target=”_blank” ]Tiger Eyes[/amazon_link] by Judy Blume.

Your top five authors:

  1. J. K. Rowling: Her books are pure, imaginative escapism, and I am grateful for all the time I’ve spent at Hogwarts.
  2. Jane Austen: She is my literary comfort food. I can always turn to her for a good read.
  3. William Shakespeare: Unqualified genius and master of the English language.
  4. F. Scott Fitzgerald: Beautiful turns of phrase and poetic writing. I admit his place here rests on one book—[amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link].
  5. Barbara Kingsolver: I so enjoyed [amazon_link id=”0061577073″ target=”_blank” ]The Poisonwood Bible[/amazon_link], and [amazon_link id=”0061765228″ target=”_blank” ]The Bean Trees[/amazon_link] is one of the few books I’ve read in one sitting.

I should note that list fluctuates, but it’s true for today.

Book you’ve faked reading:

[amazon_link id=”1461120292″ target=”_blank” ]The Red Badge of Courage[/amazon_link] by Stephen Crane. I’ve still never finished it. I read the Cliff’s Notes for a test in American Realism and Naturalism in college, and I earned a B on it. If I’d read it, I could probably have earned an A, but that’s the way it is.

Book you’re an evangelist for:

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I think everyone should read it, even if they don’t think they’re interested in Africa. What Kingsolver did with that book amazes me, and it’s the kind of writing I aspire to.

Book you’ve bought for the cover:

I’ve talked about this before, but I bought Alice Hoffman’s [amazon_link id=”0345455932″ target=”_blank” ]Blackbird House[/amazon_link] because I liked the cover, and it didn’t pay off. However, [amazon_link id=”0743298039″ target=”_blank” ]The Thirteenth Tale[/amazon_link] by Diane Setterfield and [amazon_link id=”B003WUYROK” target=”_blank” ]The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane[/amazon_link] by Katherine Howe, both of which I bought for their covers, paid off beautifully.

Book that changed your life:

This is a hard one, but I’m going with Harper Lee’s [amazon_link id=”0061743526″ target=”_blank” ]To Kill a Mockingbird[/amazon_link]. I never get tired of that book. It helped me look at my own beliefs and made me question what I would do if I were Atticus. Would I have the guts to do the right thing in the face of so much prejudice and opposition in the town, especially knowing I was licked before I began? The reason that Atticus is such a hero is that he did all this and so few people would.

Favorite line from a book:

The last page of The Great Gatsby is beautiful:

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run raster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I never tired of The Great Gatsby, and that page contains so much gorgeous writing.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Oh, surely the [amazon_link id=”0545162076″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link] series. The wonder and waiting for the plot to unfold was one of the best reading experiences of my life.

The Sunday Salon

photo credit: chefranden

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Friday Finds

Friday Finds—October 14, 2011

Friday FindsI found a few interesting looking books this week. Also, I have been listening to lots of great new-to-me music on Spotify. I am quickly becoming a huge Spotify fan.

First the nonfiction:

[amazon_image id=”0674048563″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”0804841764″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]A Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”160606083X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Books: A Living History[/amazon_image]

I think the approach the Keats book is taking is an interesting one. I don’t recall much being published about Keats’s brother who emigrated to America. I don’t know what it is, but when the weather cools, I just become sort of obsessed with tea, and there are several tea-related books on my to-read list. Doesn’t that book about the history of books look good?

Some fiction:

[amazon_image id=”0771084188″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Curiosity[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1565126297″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]When She Woke[/amazon_image] [amazon_image id=”1402258585″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Rose Garden[/amazon_image]

[amazon_link id=”0771084188″ target=”_blank” ]Curiosity[/amazon_link] by Joan Thomas is about Mary Anning, who was a hero of mine when I was a girl: I loved fossils. You might also be interested in Tracy Chevalier’s book about Mary Anning, [amazon_link id=”0452296722″ target=”_blank” ]Remarkable Creatures[/amazon_link] (review). I won [amazon_link id=”1565126297″ target=”_blank” ]When She Woke[/amazon_link] by Hillary Jordan from a Goodreads giveaway. It looks intriguing, and I’ve seen some reviews. I think I know what to expect: this one has an agenda. I so enjoyed Susanna Kearsley’s [amazon_link id=”1402241372″ target=”_blank” ]The Winter Sea[/amazon_link] (review), so I’m looking forward to [amazon_link id=”1402258585″ target=”_blank” ]The Rose Garden[/amazon_link].

One more book:

[amazon_image id=”1451616880″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Time In Between: A Novel[/amazon_image]Here is what interested me in María Deuñas’s [amazon_link id=”1451616880″ target=”_blank” ]The Time in Between[/amazon_link]—this review by Book Him Danno on Goodreads:

“I am going to be honest. I said I would read this book because I think I need to read more women authors and more foreign writers, just to get out of my comfort zone. But when I finally got the book in my hands and read the synopsis I was scared because it was hitting a lot of things I tend to avoid. What will I have in common with a pre WWII seamstress as she deals with love and intrigue in Southern Europe. A dressmaker for goodness sake! But being the dutiful guy that I am I took it to work with me to read on break, to at least make a start. That was a mistake, a big mistake, because

BLOODY HELL THIS BOOK ROCKED!!”

I’m sold.

[amazon_image id=”B0038BBA4I” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignright”]Sigh No More[/amazon_image]I want to try to share more music finds on this blog. I try to stay on top of music, but I can be pretty slow sometimes. Spotify is great for helping me discover music because I am not locked into owning a music file I don’t want. A colleague told me a long time ago I needed to check out Mumford & Sons because I’d love them. Finally did. She was right. Not a bad song on [amazon_link id=”B0038BBA4I” target=”_blank” ]Sigh No More[/amazon_link].

So, did you find any good books? Or music?

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WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—August 10, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading Sena Jeter Naslund’s [amazon_link id=”0061579289″ target=”_blank” ]Adam & Eve[/amazon_link] for a TLC Book Tour. I am about halfway through. I have to say that so far, it’s not bad. I wouldn’t have chosen the book if I had not been asked whether or not I wanted to participate in the tour, but I have read a lot of reviews that pan the book, and it’s averaging three stars on Amazon and less than that on Goodreads, so perhaps it spins out somewhere in the second half. I’m keeping an open mind.

I recently finished [amazon_link id=”0451531388″ target=”_blank” ]A Room With a View[/amazon_link] by E.M. Forster (review), which I truly enjoyed. Great read!

I have a large TBR pile, and I plan to pull one of the following books next:

  • [amazon_link id=”0451202503″ target=”_blank” ]The Songcatcher[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb
  • [amazon_link id=”0451197399″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Frankie Silver[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb
  • [amazon_link id=”0679781587″ target=”_blank” ]Memoirs of a Geisha[/amazon_link] by Arthur Golden
  • [amazon_link id=”0152053107″ target=”_blank” ]A Northern Light[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly
  • [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link] by Alan Brennert
  • [amazon_link id=”0060791586″ target=”_blank” ]The Widow’s War[/amazon_link] by Sally Gunning
  • [amazon_link id=”0452289076″ target=”_blank” ]Burning Bright[/amazon_link] by Tracy Chevalier

I’m leaning to the Sharyn McCrumbs just because her ideas about using old Appalachian murder ballads and stories appeals to me. I come from old Appalachian hill folks on my dad’s side, and something about Appalachians has always spoken to me.

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WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—July 27, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading Susanna Kearsley’s [amazon_link id=”1402241372″ target=”_blank” ]The Winter Sea[/amazon_link]. I am close to half way finished with it. Incidentally, there is a really good deal on the [amazon_link id=”B004DCB32K” target=”_blank” ]Kindle version[/amazon_link] of this book right now. I was glad I happened upon that sale price because I had wanted to read this book for a while, but I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get it at its full price (either on Kindle or paperback).

I recently finished reading [amazon_link id=”B000BLNPIW” target=”_blank” ]More Than You Know[/amazon_link] by Beth Gutcheon, which was OK, but did not light my fire (review).

I am not sure what I am going to read next. Last week, I said it would be Tracy Chevalier’s [amazon_link id=”0452289076″ target=”_blank” ]Burning Bright[/amazon_link], but that was before the Kindle book deal I snagged on The Winter Sea. I may still go ahead and read it next, or I may read [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link] by Alan Brennert, [amazon_link id=”0152053107″ target=”_blank” ]A Northern Light[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly,  [amazon_link id=”0060791586″ target=”_blank” ]The Widow’s War[/amazon_link] by Sally Gunning, or [amazon_link id=”0679781587″ target=”_blank” ]Memoirs of a Geisha[/amazon_link] by Arther Golden, all of which I received in the mail this week via PaperBackSwap. Lots of good books to choose from! But do you know what book I’m dying to read? [amazon_link id=”0312558171″ target=”_blank” ]The Ballad of Tom Dooley[/amazon_link] by Sharyn McCrumb. Alas, it doesn’t come out until around the end of August. She had such a smart idea, creating novels out of those old Appalachian murder ballads. (I love murder ballads, by the way. I made a murder ballad playlist on Spotify, which you can listen to if you have Spotify.)

Related posts:

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays—July 20, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading a book my mother passed on to me called [amazon_link id=”B000BLNPIW” target=”_blank” ]More Than You Know[/amazon_link] by Beth Gutcheon. It was published over a decade ago, and I think she found it at a library or paperback book sale. I’m over 1/3 the way in, and it’s really good so far: New England setting (love those), ghosts, and an ax murder that has a familiar Lizzie Borden taint. I hadn’t actually heard of this book or seen it mentioned on book blogs. Let’s bring it back! I’ll save more for my review.

This week, I finished reading [amazon_link id=”055338483X” target=”_blank” ]Garden Spells[/amazon_link] (review) and [amazon_link id=”0553384848″ target=”_blank” ]The Sugar Queen[/amazon_link] (review) by Sarah Addison Allen since my last WWW Wednesdays update. Both of them were very enjoyable, but I liked Garden Spells better. I will probably read the rest of Allen’s books. It’s fun to find a new author you like.

The next book I read will probably be [amazon_link id=”B001P3OLEM” target=”_blank” ]Burning Bright[/amazon_link] by Tracy Chevalier. She’s another author I enjoy, and this is one of only two books of hers that I haven’t read, the other being [amazon_link id=”B000234N76″ target=”_blank” ]Falling Angels[/amazon_link]. Also, how did I not know that Tracy Chevalier was on Twitter? Followed. If I don’t read Burning Bright next, I’m not sure what I’ll read, but I have a huge TBR pile, and I daresay if you are at all interested, you’ll find out what book I pick next soon enough. 😉

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Remarkable Creatures

Remarkable CreaturesWhen I was a little girl, I loved dinosaurs. It might be I don’t remember things correctly, but I don’t remember dinosaurs being all that cool when I was a kid. Mrs. Jones taught us about the Trachodon in first grade, the first day of our unit on dinosaurs. I was hooked. The first “chapter” book I ever read was called Prehistoric Monsters Did the Strangest Things. As an accurate dinosaur book, it probably wasn’t very good, but I was fascinated by it. The book was part of a series on animals. I remember clearly that the chapter about Mary Anning’s discovery was titled “What Mary Found.” She wore a pink dress and a white mob cap over her blond curls. I was entranced by the idea of finding a real fossil, just like Mary Anning. Many years later, I still remember much of what I learned, and while my fascination with dinosaurs waned with time, I couldn’t resist picking up a novel about Mary Anning.

Remarkable Creatures is the story of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, women who paved the way for a great deal of scientific discovery in an age when women weren’t even allowed to join the scientific societies that celebrated their discoveries. Mary and Elizabeth come from two very different classes: Mary’s family is poor, working class, while Elizabeth is solidly middle class. Theirs is an unlikely friendship established over their shared fascination with fossils of the remarkable creatures they find on the beach at Lyme Regis. The novel explores their complicated relationship with each other and with the men of science who take credit for their discoveries.

Chevalier brought the setting of Lyme Regis alive, the beaches teeming with fossil ammonites and belemnites. The reader can feel the sea spray and the hard rock holding the fossils fast until they are released by Mary’s skilled hands. Her attention to detail is precise. I could see the layout of Morley Cottage, where the three Philpot sisters lived as well as if I had been there. If you’ve read Girl with a Pearl Earring or Chevalier’s other books, you know she’s a thorough researcher. Chevalier managed to bring these fossil hunters alive for me—they are my kindred spirits. Some of the male characters seem to run together, and I found them hard to distinguish from one another and perhaps not as fully realized, but I think that was most likely Chevalier’s aim.

I am not sure this book qualifies for the Typically British Challenge, as Chevalier is an American living in England and writing about England, but not an English writer herself, so I’ve elected not to count it. I am, however, tagging the post with my Jane Austen tag because the book mentions her and her visit to Lyme Regis as well as Persuasion, which is set there.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Summer Reading

Summer is rapidly approaching. I have one more week of teaching, one more week of finals, and a couple of days of post-planning, after which my teaching responsibilities for 2009-2010 will have ended. Of course, before you tell me how lucky I am to have two months off (it’s not actually three), don’t forget I am actually not paid for that time. Most teachers are paid for ten months, but have their pay divided among twelve. Also, no teacher—let me rephrase that—no good teacher I know really takes that time off. Most of us usually spend that time planning for the next year, doing professional reading, and taking professional development courses or college courses. I’ll be doing all three. However, more time will also mean more time for reading. Here are the books on my radar (subject to change) for summer reading.

The Story of BritainThe Adventure of English: The Biography of a LanguageMedieval Lives

Rebecca Fraser’s The Story of England and Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language are on tap as I plan my British Literature and Composition courses. I have also checked out the DVD companion for Bragg’s book from my school library. Both books should help me plan my courses. Terry Jones’s Medieval Lives should add some dimension to studies of Chaucer next year.

In terms of professional reading, I plan to finish some books I’ve started, specifically:

Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do  About It The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching

Even if I am not teaching 9th grade next year, which is the grade level at which our grammar instruction is focused, I still think a solid foundation in how to teach grammar in a way that will stick and will make a difference in student writing is a good idea. In addition, I would like to try to read this book:

Plagiarism

In this day of easy cut and paste, plagiarism is much easier, and I believe, more tempting than ever before.

Finally, for pleasure reading, I plan to select from the following:

I thoroughly enjoyed Syrie James’s second novel, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, and as a fan of Jane Austen, I look forward to The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. I originally purchased both The Forgotten Garden and The Meaning of Night for potential reading for the last R.I.P. Reading Challenge. My husband is thoroughly enjoying The Meaning of Night, and he highly recommends it.

These first two books will indulge my interest in the Romantic poets. The first book, Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, explores the story of Byron’s own contribution to the famous writing challenge that produced Frankenstein and the first vampire novel. Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets explores the lives of Byron, the Shelleys, and Keats. As a child, I was extremely interested in dinosaurs and paleontology. Of course I want to read Remarkable Creatures, the first novel I know of written about Mary Anning, who discovered the fossil of an ichthyosaur and two plesiosaurs near her home at Lyme Regis.

The Little Stranger comes highly recommended from our art teacher. Emily’s Ghost promises to be an interesting novel about Emily Brontë: most of the novels about the Brontës either focus on Charlotte or broaden the focus on the Brontës in general. The Dream of Perpetual Motion will be my first steampunk novel.

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