Archive for the ‘read in 2010’ Category

Rather than take a break from blogging while on maternity leave, my good friend Serena decided to host Celebrating Indie & Small Press Month on Savvy Verse & Wit.  (She’s a Super Mom already!)

Of course, I was more than happy to take part!  Check out my guest review of a brilliant poetry collection, Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser, which also is my first book for Serena’s Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge.

I didn’t know what to read for my guest review, so Serena pulled a few poetry books off her shelves and told me to choose.  I was drawn to Kooser’s book right away, but I must admit I was a bit intimidated when I realized it was a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Well, Serena says I must be fearless about reading poetry, so I gave it my best shot.  I hope you’ll hop over to Serena’s blog to read my guest review!

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I managed to read 116 books in 2010, slightly less than the 126 that I read in 2009, but quality is more important than quantity.  I wanted to spotlight just 10 of these books as the best I read in 2010, but I ended up with 13 and just couldn’t figure out which ones to cut.  In no particular order, here are my favorites of the books I read last year:

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

(from my review)  “Life in the bush is hell, and Marlantes engages readers’ senses to drive the point home. We can smell the unwashed bodies and the rotting uniforms. We can see the oozing sores all over their bodies. We feel the fear and the tension as they hump through the jungle not sure whether the enemy is waiting for them up ahead. We feel their anger when the high-ranking officers withhold supplies when they fail to reach a checkpoint on time because they haven’t eaten or drank in days. We hear the sounds of the bullets and grenades, and we feel their sorrow when they lose one of their own. Marlantes’ writing is that good, so brilliant, in fact, that I wished the nearly 600 page book was longer.”

Persuasion by Jane Austen

(from my review)  “As in her other novels, Austen focuses on social class and marriage, but she does it with humor and compassion for her characters.  It’s hard to put into words how much I love everything about this book.  Austen’s writing in Persuasion felt more emotional and heartfelt to me than in her other novels, and I grew so attached to the characters that I finished the book in just a couple of days.  Mary and Sir Walter were so ridiculous that I laughed out loud, and my heart went out to Anne, who despite having no value to her family, was the only one with any real worth.  I loved her even though she was not as witty or strong-willed as Elizabeth Bennet.”

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

(from my review)  “I loved The Lotus Eaters for the way in which Soli covers various aspects of a complicated war, touching upon the politics behind the war, the questions many had about why the United States became involved, and the mental breakdown of the soldiers in a sweltering hellhole where they had to worry about snipers and mines with every step they took.  Soli’s characters became real to me; I grew attached to them and loved them for and despite their fears, their desire to get ahead, their confusion about love and relationships in a time of war, their questions about the importance of their jobs, and their desire to live amongst the people rather than the 5-star Americanized hotels.  The Lotus Eaters is beautifully written and hard to put down.  It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year and likely will make my list of all-time favorites.”

The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison

(from my review)  “It’s hard to believe The Gin Closet is Leslie Jamison’s first novel.  From the very first page, I fell in love with Jamison’s beautiful, metaphorical prose.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book written in this style, and Jamison reminded me why it’s my favorite.  Her writing is descriptive without being overly so, and despite the raw, harsh words, she creates brilliant images that bring all the pain to life and make you really feel for her characters.”

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

(from my review)  “As a novel of the Vietnam War, I expected The Things They Carried to be brutal and gruesome and heartbreaking.  I’ve read many war novels, and they all have stayed with me in some way.  But after I finished this book — in my opinion, a literary masterpiece — I carried with me a great sadness and will for a long time carry the stories of these men (whether fact or fiction) in my heart.”

Heidegger’s Glasses by Thaisa Frank

(from my review)  “I’m always looking for something new in a World War II novel, and Frank offers the originality I’ve been seeking in Heidegger’s Glasses.  Frank does a brilliant job setting the pace and giving only so much information about the characters at one time, creating tension and compelling me to rapidly turn the pages to find out what happens next.  I hope readers will not dismiss Heidegger’s Glasses because there’s a bit of philosophy in it, as Frank writes the philosophical aspect in a way that is easily grasped.”

Therefore Choose by Keith Oatley

(from my review)  “Therefore Choose is a novel that sneaks up on you.  There are a lot of philosophical discussions about the meeting of minds, literature, and war, and they say a lot about the characters.  But it’s a quiet novel, with the tension building slowly until the end, when Oatley hits you hard in the gut.”

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

(from my review)  “Shanghai Girls runs the gamut of emotions.  Pearl and May’s story is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.  It is a story of survival, moving forward when you have nothing and recognizing the importance of family, loyalty, duty, and honor.  Lisa See’s writing is brilliant, detailed, and beautiful, and she touches upon cultural issues — particularly with regard to gender and class — the harshness of the immigrant life, sibling rivalry, and racism and discrimination in the United States during and after World War II, among other things.  Pearl’s first person, present tense viewpoint puts readers in the midst of the action; we can hear the bombs falling on Shanghai, we can feel the sisters’ fear as they enter a country completely foreign to them, and we can feel their frustration as they struggle with being “worthless” women according to Chinese culture.”

A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper

(from my review)  “Going back and forth between the pilots and some of the soldiers on the ground, several particularly intense scenes involve a handful of troops hunkered down, unable to move, and under intense fire from the Viet Cong.  Various circumstances — being shot at, the weather, the time of day — made the Catkillers’ job difficult, but despite the pressure and with the help of the men in their backseats, they saved many lives.  Hooper puts you right in the plane, and my heart pounding, I rushed through the pages to see how the missions turned out.  I don’t know how these young men — many barely out of high school — could deal with such pressure day in and day out, but they did their jobs well and with heart.”

Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

(from my review)  “Set in the 1960s, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt touches upon such weighty topics as mental illness, racism, and the definition of family. Sprinkle in some humor, and you have the perfect recipe for a book that will make you laugh, tear up, and learn something about not letting past hurts stop you from living a full life.”

Come Sunday by Isla Morley

(from my review)  “Abbe is a hard character to like, but we really see only her frustration with being recognized just as a wife and mother and then her understandably heavy grief. I may not agree with the way she treated people, especially her husband, but I respect that everyone grieves differently and I cannot imagine, nor do I want to, the pain that accompanies the loss of a child. It’s hard to judge the extent of one’s grief when we haven’t walked in their shoes.”

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

(from my review)  “It’s hard to believe that How to Be an American Housewife is Dilloway’s first novel. Her tender treatment of the characters and their problems appealed to me and kept the book from getting too heavy. Although somewhat predictable and neatly tied up in the end, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the story from the very beginning. I can’t get enough of books about World War II, mother-daughter relationships, Japanese culture, and the immigrant experience, and Dilloway does a brilliant job combining all of these themes into a single novel.”

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

(from my review)  “The Unit doesn’t have any graphic scenes or outright violence, but it’s freaky and even downright scary at times. Many people are scared of aging, and Holmqvist has created a world to be feared. The scariest thing about the book is the fact that people didn’t go to the unit kicking and screaming. Even though it wouldn’t have done much good, I would’ve fought; I’m dead either way, but where there’s the possibility of escape, there’s some hope. Beyond the matter of aging and survival, Holmqvist raises several issues for discussion, including how much control the government should have over our bodies and whether having a career and being a parent truly define us.”

My Read in 2010 List (with links to reviews)

1. Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken
2. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
3. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters **DNF**
4. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
5. The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
6. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
7. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World by Abigail Reynolds
8. The Darcys & the Bingleys by Marsha Altman
9. Crazy Aunt Purl’s Home Is Where the Wine Is by Laurie Perry
10. The Plight of the Darcy Brothers by Marsha Altman
11. Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape by Marsha Altman
12. Night in Werewolf Woods by R.L. Stine
13. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
14. Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware
15. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
16. Playing Basketball With the Viet Cong by Kevin Bowen
17. Almost Home by Pam Jenoff
18. The Birthing House by Christopher Ransom
19. Survivors: True Stories of Children in the Holocaust by Allan Zullo and Mara Bovsun
20. The Bubble by Brian D. McClure, illustrated by Buddy Plumlee
21. Sanditon by Jane Austen
22. Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show by Frank Delaney
23. Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff
24. A Deadly Paradise by Grace Brophy
25. Penguin Luck by Kay Mupetson
26. The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison
27. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
28. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
29. Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart by Beth Patillo
30. Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa
31. Song of Napalm by Bruce Weigl
32. Your Ten Favorite Words by Reb Livingston
33. My Enemy’s Cradle by Sara Young
34. Becoming Alice by Alice Rene
35. College in a Nutskull by Anders Henriksson
36. Eva’s Cousin by Sibylle Knauss
37. Get Lucky by Katherine Center
38. Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran
39. Bundle of Trouble by Diana Orgain
40. Skinny Is Overrated by Danielle Milano, MD
41. On Folly Beach by Karen White
42. Letter to My Daughter by George Bishop
43. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
44. Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell
45. Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
46. Sense and Sensibility (Marvel #1) by Nancy Butler, illustrated by Sonny Liew
47. Pariah by Bob Fingerman
48. The Last Leaf by Stuart Lutz
49. Hitler’s Canary by Sandy Toksvig
50. Heart of Lies by M.L. Malcolm
51. A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper
52. The Famous Nini by Mary Nethery, illustrated by John Manders
53. Broken Birds by Jeannette Katzir
54. The Visibles by Sara Shepard
55. Glorious by Bernice L. McFadden
56. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
57. Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
58. Miracle in Sumatra by Jeanne McNaney, illustrated by David Cochard
59. Fool by Christopher Moore
60. The 9th Judgment by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
61. The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri
62. Paco’s Story by Larry Heinemann
63. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
64. How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway
65. Holly’s Inbox: Scandal in the City by Holly Denham
66. Free to a Good Home by Eve Marie Mont
67. Room One by Andrew Clements
68. Trust by Kate Veitch
69. A Hidden Affair by Pam Jenoff
70. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
71. The Year of Goodbyes by Debbie Levy
72. The Kulak’s Daughter by Gabriele Goldstone
73. Come Sunday by Isla Morley
74. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
75. To Conquer Mr. Darcy by Abigail Reynolds
76. With Friends Like These by Sally Koslow
77. Mr. Darcy’s Little Sister by C. Allyn Pierson
78. Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
79. Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman by Francesca Simon, illustrated by Tony Ross
80. Darcy’s Voyage by Kara Louise
81. Ghost Hunt: Chilling Tales of the Unknown by Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson with Cameron Dokey (chapter sampler)
82. Art & Max by David Wiesner
83. Leo the Snow Leopard by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff
84. Persuasion by Jane Austen
85. Radiance by Alyson Noël
86. Hiroshima in the Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
87. Captain Wentworth’s Diary by Amanda Grange
88. Anne Elliot, A New Beginning by Mary Simonsen
89. Mr. Darcy’s Obsession by Abigail Reynolds
90. Take a Chance on Me by Jill Mansell
91. Purple Jesus by Ron Cooper
92. Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford
93. Dragonart Evolution by J “NeonDragon” Peffer
94. Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace
95. Betsy Was a Junior by Maud Hart Lovelace
96. Betsy and Joe by Maud Hart Lovelace
97. Heidegger’s Glasses by Thaisa Frank
98. How to Raise a Dinosaur by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Pablo Bernasconi
99. Therefore Choose by Keith Oatley
100. Falling Home by Karen White
101. The Fall of Saigon: The End of the Vietnam War by Michael V. Uschan
102. The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman
103. Lady Susan by Jane Austen
104. Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller
105. The Watsons by Jane Austen
106. Fatal Light by Richard Currey
107. Winona’s Pony Cart by Maud Hart Lovelace
108. Carney’s House Party by Maud Hart Lovelace
109. Maps and Shadows by Krysia Jopek
110. Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell
111. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
112. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
113. The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates
114. Love and Freindship by Jane Austen
115. Shooting the Moon by Frances O’Roark Dowell
116. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read my reviews in 2010. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts with me in this new year.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The rest of the day Mellas raged inwardly against the colonel.  This gave him energy to keep moving, keep checking on the platoon, keep the kids moving.  But just below the grim tranquility he had learned to display, he cursed with boiling intensity the ambitious men who used him and his troops to further their careers.  He cursed the air wing for not trying to get any choppers in through the clouds.  He cursed the diplomats arguing about round and square tables.  He cursed the South Vietnamese making money off the black market.  He cursed the people back home gorging themselves in front of their televisions.  Then he cursed God.  Then there was no one else to blame and he cursed himself for thinking God would give a shit.

(from Matterhorn, page 212)

If you only read one book in the new year, it should be Matterhorn.  It’s fitting that I spent the last morning of 2010 finishing what is, hands down, the best book I’ve read this year.  It took Karl Marlantes, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran and a Marine, 30 years to complete this book, and his attention to detail and perseverance have certainly paid off.  His first-hand knowledge of Vietnam and the Marines shines through.

Matterhorn is set in 1969 and centers on Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas as he learns the ropes as a platoon leader in Bravo Company.  Mellas has an Ivy League education and is very ambitious.  He overthinks every decision, wanting both to impress his superiors and earn the respect of his men.  He makes it quite obvious that he wouldn’t mind being company commander at some point.  When the book opens, Bravo Company is on the fictional hill Matterhorn building a fire-support base.  An operation in Cam Lo that serves mainly as a public relations stunt in which the U.S. troops team up with the South Vietnamese army forces the evacuation of Matterhorn, and Mellas gets his first taste of war.

Marlantes does a great job introducing numerous characters from the different platoons and squads of Bravo Company.  Some we love, some we hate, but we grieve with and for them as the days go on and they move their way through the jungle.  At times, the men face more danger from the climate, the leeches, the jungle rot, the immersion foot, and the lack of food and water than the North Vietnamese.  Many times the weather keeps the helicopters from dropping off food and other supplies, removing the wounded and dead, or taking the men back to base camp.

Life in the bush is hell, and Marlantes engages readers’ senses to drive the point home.  We can smell the unwashed bodies and the rotting uniforms.  We can see the oozing sores all over their bodies.  We feel the fear and the tension as they hump through the jungle not sure whether the enemy is waiting for them up ahead.  We feel their anger when the high-ranking officers withhold supplies when they fail to reach a checkpoint on time because they haven’t eaten or drank in days.  We hear the sounds of the bullets and grenades, and we feel their sorrow when they lose one of their own.  Marlantes’ writing is that good, so brilliant, in fact, that I wished the nearly 600 page book was longer.

But Matterhorn is about more than the battles and the hardships of war.  Marlantes uses the novel to highlight racial tensions among the soldiers and the politics of the war.  One alcoholic colonel makes one bad decision after another as he seeks to become a general, and Bravo Company pays the price.  The number of confirmed kills is inflated, and when the number of dead U.S. soldiers exceeds that of the enemy, the loss is downplayed.  As Mellas sees, hears, and experiences all this, his outlook of the war and the Marines is changed.

Matterhorn drives home the point that many of the soldiers were teenagers, and the lieutenants tasked with making life-or-death decisions were not much older.  This is emphasized through their poor decisions — signing up for another tour to have 30 days R&R with a bar girl, for instance — and how they walk through the jungle with Kool-Aid stains on their lips.  Many times throughout the course of the book, the men question why they are there and what they are being forced to do.

Marlantes’ writing flows so easily, and even though there is an extensive glossary at the back of the book, he defines certain military terms in the narrative without bogging the story down.  Obviously, Matterhorn isn’t a happy book, and most of the time it is devoid of hope, but there’s also humor here and there.  There’s harsh language and graphic violence, but that’s to be expected.  It’s not a book for those with weak stomachs.  At times it was almost too hard to continue reading, and even though I expected that some of the characters I’d grown to love would die, I wasn’t prepared.  At one point my heart literally hurt, that’s how involved I was in this book.

Matterhorn is a book that comes alive, that feels authentic, that takes readers on an intense journey.  After I turned the last page, I wanted to bawl like a baby, and then I wanted to start reading it all over again.  This is the best novel of the Vietnam War that I’ve read so far, and it’s definitely earned a special place on my shelf and my list of all-time favorites.

**Serena and I hosted a read-a-long for Matterhorn to coincide with the challenge.  We held a discussion every Friday during the month of December.  If you’re interested, check out week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4.**

Disclosure: I received a copy of Matterhorn as a gift from a friend. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Finally I made myself slip the first negative into the enlarger.  What emerged on the paper was a picture of a GI in a wheelchair, his right leg amputated at the knee and wrapped in a white bandage.  He looked so much like TJ, I gasped and took a step backward.  I had to force myself to look again and see for sure that it wasn’t my brother in the wheelchair, that it was someone I’d never seen before in my life.

I decided to print the rest of the pictures later.

(from Shooting the Moon, page 99)

Frances O’Roark Dowell’s Shooting the Moon is a Vietnam War novel with a focus on the homefront.  The daughter of an Army colonel, 12-year-old Jamie Dexter is enthusiastic and even excited about the war.  She and her older brother, TJ, played soldiers as little kids and moved around a lot for their father’s military career.  When TJ turns 18 and decides to become an Army medic instead of going to college, Jamie supports his decision and even insists she would go to Vietnam herself if she could.  And she just doesn’t understand why the colonel doesn’t want him to go.

TJ sends “boring” letters to his parents, but he sends Jamie undeveloped rolls of film with instructions for her to develop the film and send him the contact sheets.  The Dexters are stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, and Jamie’s job in the rec center gives her access to a dark room.  With the help of Sgt. Byrd, a Vietnam vet, Jamie develops TJ’s film and learns that she is good at making his pictures come to life.

TJ has long had an interest in taking pictures of the moon, and he continues this in Vietnam.  But he also takes pictures of wounded soldiers, and it’s these pictures that cause Jamie to think differently about the war.  When her good friend and gin rummy partner, Private Hollister, tells her that he may be shipped off to fight, Jamie feels helpless.

Shooting the Moon is a short, middle-grade novel that focuses on Jamie’s evolution from a little girl with lofty ideas about war, having been taught all her life that serving in the military is a duty and an honor, to a girl whose eyes have been opened.  To Jamie, war initially seemed like an adventure.

“You should go, TJ.”  I leaned over and grabbed his wrist, like I’d pull him all the way over there myself if I had to.  “I’d go to Vietnam in a minute if they let me.  Besides, you don’t know when we’ll get another war.”

“Oh, honey,” my mother said.  “You don’t know anything about war.  You’re just a little girl.”

“I’m starting eighth grade in September, which is hardly a little girl, and I read Time magazine,” I argued.  “I know plenty about war.”

“That’s enough, Jamie,” the Colonel said.  But I thought deep down he had to be proud of me, and of TJ, too.  He’d raised us, after all.  He’d raised us to believe in the Army way.  And as far as I was concerned, he’d raised us right.”  (page 21)

Through TJ’s pictures, Jamie learns that war isn’t glamorous or fun.  The wounded and suffering men in TJ’s photos were someone’s son, brother, husband, or father, and they may or may not be coming home.  It wasn’t a game.  Dowell softens the blow by teaching this lesson through Jamie and photos that are far removed from the action, but even though the story lacks the immediacy you’d expect in a story about war, it still packs a punch.

I started reading Shooting the Moon with The Girl (age 10), but she grew bored after a few chapters and decided she wanted to read something else.  The Girl knew from the publisher’s summary that Jamie would receive important rolls of film from her brother, and she felt it took too long to get to the point of the story.  She was more interested in what was in the photos than in Jamie learning how to develop them.

However, given that our country remains at war, Shooting the Moon has an important message for young readers whose ideas and beliefs about war often are very different from the reality.  The characters are not as well developed and the ending not as fleshed out as they would be in a longer novel, but Shooting the Moon provides much food for thought, especially with regard to Jamie’s relationship with the colonel.  Dowell’s novel is about more than war; it’s about love, family, and growing up.  And the message remains relevant today.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Shooting the Moon as a gift from a friend. (Thanks, Kerry!) I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★ (the Minor Works overall)

We waited therefore with the greatest impatience, for the return of Edward in order to impart to him the result of our Deliberations–.  But no Edward appeared–.  In vain did we count the tedious Moments of his Absence–in vain did we weep–in vain even did we sigh–no Edward returned–.  This was too cruel, too unexpected a Blow to our Gentle Sensibility–.  we could not support it–we could only faint–.

(from Love and Freindship in The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works, page 89)

Jane Austen’s Love and Freindship (yes, that’s how she spelled it) is part of the second volume of Austen’s Juvenilia, short works she wrote from 1787 to 1793 mostly to entertain her family.  Subtitled “Deceived in Freindship & Betrayed in Love,” Love and Freindship is a short epistolary novel that showcases Austen’s humor and wit.  From these early writings, we can see Austen working toward the literary masterpieces (in my opinion) that readers continue to love nearly 200 years after her death.

The opening letter of the novel is from Isabel to her friend, Laura.  Isabel figures that since Laura has turned 55, she should be ready to discuss the events of her life.  The rest of the letters are from Laura to Isabel’s daughter, Marianne, and while only one point of view is featured in this novel (and the limited point of view is one of the drawbacks of the epistolary structure), it really works here.  Laura writes to Marianne of her “Misfortunes and Adventures” in life and love to serve as a lesson or guide.  And Laura certainly takes readers on an adventure!

In Love and Freindship, Austen pokes fun at romance novels.  There are quick marriages against the wishes of parents, tragic deaths, thefts, and fainting spells.  Austen goes all out on the melodrama, but it works.  Laura’s antics are not only ridiculous, but also laugh-out-loud funny.  It might have grown tiring had the piece been longer, but it’s only about 30 pages, and it reads very fast.

Laura almost immediately marries Edward after he appears at her family’s home, lost and seeking shelter.  He is the son of a baronet who was supposed to marry someone else, but Edward is determined to always disobey his father.  The newlyweds eventually find themselves in the home of Edward’s friends, Augustus and Sophia, who married against their parents’ wishes, burned through the money Augustus stole from his father, and racked up so many debts that Augustus is imprisoned.  When Edward leaves to see if he can get Augustus out of jail but fails to return, Laura and Sophia, now best friends, must fend for themselves and head to Scotland.

From here on out, numerous things happen that cause the women to faint, and there are a series of odd coincidences.  Austen didn’t take her heroine seriously, and neither should readers.  For Austen fans looking to read some of her lesser-known works, Love and Freindship is the perfect place to start.

Disclosure: The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume VI: Minor Works is from my personal library.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

“I never look at it,” said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, “without thinking of the south of France.”

“You have been abroad, then?” said Henry, a little surprized.

“Oh! no, I only mean what I have read about.  It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho.’  But you never read novels, I dare say?”

“Why not?”

“Because they are not clever enough for you–gentlemen read better books.”

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid…”

(from Northanger Abbey, page 99)

Jane Austen sold a manuscript titled “Susan” to a publisher in 1803, but she bought it back in 1813 because it had never been published.  It is uncertain what, if any, changes were made to the manuscript after it was again in Austen’s possession, but her brother, Henry, changed the name to Northanger Abbey when it was published in 1818 after Austen’s death in a volume that also included Persuasion.

Northanger Abbey is the story of 18-year-old Catherine Morland, who we are told from the beginning was never meant to be a heroine.  The novel shows her evolution from a naïve child into a young woman with more mature sensibilities.  The daughter of a clergyman and one of 10 children, Catherine is given the opportunity to spend some time in Bath, accompanying Mr. and Mrs. Allen, a childless couple who own most of Fullerton.  The Allens are wealthy, and Mrs. Allen is a flighty woman obsessed with shopping and clothes.  When in Bath, Catherine is introduced to a clergyman, Mr. Tilney, and his sister, and she feels a connection to them right away.  She also meets Isabella and John Thorpe, the love interest and friend, respectively, of her older brother, James.  Isabella is a self-centered flirt, and John spends much of his time bragging.  Catherine, however, is oblivious to their true nature.

The book is basically divided into two sections, the first covering Catherine’s stay in Bath, where much of her time is spent socializing and reading gothic novels.  While in Bath, Catherine’s friendship with the Tilneys deepens, and her attraction to Henry grows.  In the second half of the book, Catherine is invited by Henry’s father and sister to stay with them for a time in their home, Northanger Abbey.  Here is where Catherine’s fascination with gothic, romantic novels gets the better of her.

Her passion for ancient edifices was next in degree to her passion for Henry Tilney–and castles and abbies made usually the charm of those reveries which his image did not fill.  To see and explore either the ramparts and keep of the one, or the cloisters of the other, had been for many weeks a darling wish, though to be more than the visitor of an hour, had seemed too nearly impossible for desire.  And yet this was to happen.  With all the chances against her of house, hall, place, park, court, and cottage, Northanger turned up an abbey, and she was to be its inhabitant.  Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel, were to be within her daily reach, and she could not entirely subdue the hope of some traditional legends, some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun.  (page 132)

It’s almost as if Catherine imagines herself in a gothic novel, and the night sounds, dark crevices, and secret rooms of Northanger Abbey both intrigue and scare her.  Catherine’s curiosity about Henry’s father, General Tilney, and the death of his mother causes her imagination to run wild, and she makes an assumption that causes Henry to chastise her and help her understand the necessity of a clear line between fact and fiction.

Northanger Abbey is an entertaining novel that makes fun of gothic novels, and I thoroughly enjoyed the bantering between Henry and Catherine — especially their conversation before arriving at Northanger, when he teases her about her expectations that his home will be like those in the books she loves.  Like other Austen novels, Northanger Abbey is about love and misunderstandings, marriage and money, but the latter are not trivial topics as women didn’t have much of a future if they couldn’t marry well.  Austen’s omniscient narrator — one could assume it’s the author — takes an active role in the narrative with such statements as, “I leave it to my reader’s sagacity to determine…” (page 231) and even engages with readers.  Although it doesn’t top Persuasion as my all-time favorite Austen novel, Northanger Abbey is humorous and witty, with romance and drama, and is one of her best.  A must-read for Austen fans, and a novel I imagine I will re-read in the not-so-distant future.

Disclosure: Northanger Abbey is from my personal library.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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It is not easy to be a snow leopard who needs his mother and doesn’t have one.  Likewise, it is not easy to be a human who needs to rescue and care for a wild animal.  But Leo and the people who saved him went to extraordinary measures to help one another.  This is their amazing story.

(from Leo the Snow Leopard)

A goat herder in the Karakoram mountains in Pakistan rescued a baby snow leopard whose mother was nowhere to be found.  Leo was hungry and alone, and this goat herder picked him up and carried him home.  When Leo became too big and too active to handle, the goat herder contacted the World Wildlife Fund, whose veterinarians determined that he was just seven weeks old and severely dehydrated.  Ultimately, the Bronx Zoo was chosen for Leo’s home, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, with help from the U.S. Department of State, took steps to bring Leo to New York.

Leo the Snow Leopard: The True Story of an Amazing Rescue by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and their father, Craig Hatkoff, describes the rescue efforts in the steep mountains, where the roads were vulnerable to avalanches and landslides.  There are color photos of Leo from when he is first rescued by the goat herder and when he becomes a resident of the Bronx Zoo.  The Hatkoffs provide some general information about snow leopards, detail Leo’s transition to life in the zoo, and inform readers about the organizations instrumental in his rescue.

The Girl (age 10) and I both loved Leo the Snow Leopard.  It wasn’t hard to fall in love with the adorable Leo and feel great respect for those who helped save him.  I have a hard time reading sad animal stories, and I avoid them like the plague ever since listening to Marley & Me on a car trip a couple of years ago and bawling my eyes out while my husband chuckled.  But I can’t get enough of these hopeful, heart-warming animals stories.  (Another one to check out is Nubs, which The Girl and I reviewed last year.)

Leo the Snow Leopard is a picture book intended for readers ages 4 to 10, but adults will enjoy it, too.  Everything the rescue team endured and Leo’s survival in the harsh mountains make for a fascinating story.  And parents can use the book as an opportunity to discuss the need to protect endangered species, like the snow leopard, whose existence is threatened by poachers, the fact that herders’ animals are grazing on the grass that once was eaten by the wild sheep and goats that serve as the primary source of food for snow leopards, and the herders who kill snow leopards to protect their animals.  Both an educational tool and an uplifting story about the steps taken to protect a helpless animal, Leo the Snow Leopard is highly recommended for animal lovers of all ages.

Disclosure: We received a copy of Leo the Snow Leopard from Scholastic for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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As someone who’s been writing stories, poems, and even books since I learned how to read and write, and as someone who one day would like to be a published novelist, I found The Nighttime Novelist by Joseph Bates to be a very useful resource.  When I saw that the book is subtitled “Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time,” I thought it would come in handy.  (I finished what one might call my first book when I was in junior high, and while I probably still have a copy somewhere, I still cringe when I think about it.  Contrary to what I might have said at the time, it wasn’t really a novel, as it was only about 50 pages long.  Worst of all, it was so cheesy!)

I’ve been working on a novel for several years now, mostly planning out the plot and subplots and developing the characters, and recently I started seriously writing it.  However, with a full-time job, a 3.5-hour round-trip commute, and a 10-year-old daughter, I often don’t get a chance to sit down and write until I really should be getting my beauty sleep for work the next day.

Enter Bates to the rescue with The Nighttime Novelist, which offers mini-lessons that take only a few minutes to complete but have a huge impact on your work.  While I read the book, I highlighted things I thought pertained to my novel-in-progress and took notes throughout.  Although much of the advice I’ve heard before — either in college-level creative writing courses or the many issues of Writer’s Digest I’ve collected over the years — it’s nice to have it all in a single book.  And Bates puts a new spin on these old tips with mini-lessons for writers pressed for time.

The Nighttime Novelist is divided into three parts.  Part 1 is devoted to Beginnings and covers such things as developing ideas and characters, plot planning, fleshing out subplots, choosing a point of view, and writing an attention-grabbing opening scene.  Part 2 focuses on Middles and tackles the use of dialogue to increase tension, the use of backstory to create well-developed characters, and plot pacing, among other things.  Part 3 is all about Endings, of course, and touches upon such things as the completion of the character arc, filling in plot holes, and revising the manuscript.

Bates includes “coffee breaks” after each part, which feature questions to answer about your own book that help you apply what you learned in the previous chapters.  At the end of the book, there are 27 worksheets devoted to everything from character descriptions and tracking subplots to writing the closing scene.

My only complaint about The Nighttime Novelist is that it’s spiral bound like a notebook.  While I like the way it looks, a couple of pages at the beginning ripped even though I turned them as delicately as I could.  But that’s only a minor complaint because the book is filled with useful information.  The Nighttime Novelist has become my writing companion, and I probably will refer to it often as I complete my novel.  Wish me luck!

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Nighttime Novelist from FSB Associates for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

‘I am sorry for her anxieties,’ said Emma, ‘ — but I do not like her plans or her opinions.  I shall be afraid of her.  — She must have too masculine and bold a temper.  — To be so bent on marriage — to pursue a man merely for the sake of situation — is a sort of thing that shocks me; I cannot understand it.  Poverty is a great evil, but to a woman of education and feeling it ought not, it cannot be the greatest.  — I would rather be a teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like.’

(from The Watsons in Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon, page 110)

The Watsons is a fragment of a novel written by Jane Austen in 1804 and is believed to be the only work written by Austen when she lived in Bath.  The introduction to this edition of three of Austen’s minor works speculates on why she didn’t finish it, but in my opinion, The Watsons is similar to Pride and Prejudice in many ways, and her heroine, Emma Watson, has characteristics of her other heroines.

Emma was living away from her family with an aunt who could better provide for her, but when her aunt marries, she is forced to return home to her widowed father and siblings.  The 45-page fragment is mainly an introduction to the characters and covers Emma’s introduction into society through the Edwards family, who are friends of the Watsons.  Some of the characters we meet, in addition to the Edwards family, are Elizabeth Watson, Emma’s older sister; Tom Musgrave, who flirts with all the eligible young women and seems to want to inflate his social status by riding the coattails of Lord Osborne; Mr. Howard, a clergyman who catches Emma’s eye at a ball; and Lord Osborne, who is attracted to Emma.

The Watsons are the poorest family seen in a work by Austen, or at least among her main characters, with Elizabeth caring for their sickly father and handling some domestic tasks.  As such, the need for the four sisters to marry — and for at least one of them to marry well — is a main theme of the book.  But whereas Elizabeth has resigned herself to the fact that the love of her life has married another and she has lowered her standards for marriage as a result, Emma is more romantic and insists she would not marry a man she didn’t love regardless of his fortune.

I really enjoyed The Watsons and was sad to see it end.  It had so much potential, and had it been completed, it could have been a wonderful novel.  While I didn’t get to know her as well as I would have liked, Emma was a delightful character.  I especially loved the scene at the ball where she asks 10-year-old Charles Blake, the nephew of Mr. Howard, to dance after Miss Osborne promised him before the ball that she would dance with him, then decided to dance with someone else.  I would have loved to see Mr. Howard and Lord Osborne compete to win Emma’s heart, and I would have loved to see who would have become the scoundrel of the novel.

While many readers would avoid reading a fragment because of its abrupt ending, The Watsons didn’t leave me entirely unsatisfied.  Austen told her sister, Cassandra, what she’d planned for her characters, and this information is given at the end of the fragment as a conclusion of sorts.  If you’re like me and want to read anything and everything by Austen, then I highly recommend The Watsons.  As can be expected, her wit is interlaced with entertaining characters and social commentary.

Disclosure: The Watsons is from my personal library.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Source: Personal library
Rating: ★★★★★

…our party is enlarged by Mrs. Vernon’s brother, a handsome young man, who promises me some amusement.  There is something about him that rather interests me, a sort of sauciness, of familiarity which I shall teach him to correct.  He is lively and seems clever, and when I have inspired him with greater respect for me than his sister’s kind offices have implanted, he may be an agreeable flirt.

(from Lady Susan in Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon, page 52)

Lady Susan is a very short novel (less than 100 pages) by Jane Austen, considered one of her “minor works.”  It was likely written in 1793 or 1794, but it was not published until after her death.  Lady Susan is an epistolary novel, and it’s the only novel I’ve read by Austen with a horrid “heroine” — but that’s what makes her so interesting.

Lady Susan Vernon is a recent widow who had an affair with a married man, whose wife’s jealousy, along with her efforts to find a husband for her daughter, have prompted her to flee and stay with her brother-in-law and his wife.  Lady Susan is a very selfish person who acts horribly toward her daughter, Frederica, who refuses to marry the man her mother has chosen for her.  In addition to stringing along Manwaring, the man with whom she had the affair, Lady Susan sets her sights on her sister-in-law’s brother, Reginald, much to Mrs. Vernon’s dismay.  While Lady Susan’s close friend, Mrs. Johnson, indulges her despite the fact that her husband wants her to end their relationship, Mrs. Vernon sees Lady Susan for who she is and takes pity on Frederica.

I enjoyed Lady Susan and its overly dramatic characters, but the limitations of the epistolary novel are evident.  There is little character development, and the primary voices in the book are Lady Susan’s and Mrs. Vernon’s, though a few minor characters chime in here and there.  Because the book is written in letters, the conversations and actions are being retold after they happened, and they lose some of their immediacy.

Still, Lady Susan is highly entertaining.  I found it interesting how Austen put a woman in the role of a shameless adulterer, though Lady Susan’s seeking another husband with a fortune is similar to the storylines in her more well-known novels.  However, what’s different and intriguing is that Lady Susan is much older than the men she hopes to attract.  And while I couldn’t like her or have much sympathy for her in the end, she certainly was amusing.  Another must-read for Austen fans!

Disclosure: Lady Susan is from my personal library.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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