May 31, 2010

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier: Review

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And the award for weirdest book cover goes to: Jamaica Inn.WTF is going on there? Anyway...

Mary Yellan mother just died and made her promise to find her aunt, her last living relative. Mary hasn't seen her Aunt Patience in ten years since she got married. She finds that Patience has moved to a desolate spot in Cornwall where her husband is the landlord of Jamaica Inn. Mary sets off excited to see her aunt after all these years but when she mentions Jamaica Inn to the locals, they look at her strangely. They behave a lot like the villagers do when Jonathan Harper says he's off to visit his friend Count Dracula. You know that can't be good.

Mary soon figures out why all the stink eye. Her new uncle Joss Merlyn is a brute who's associates are dregs of society. Her aunt is a nervous shell of her former self and clings to Mary. Mary knows she should run but feels it would be heartless to leave her aunt behind. But then Mary stumbles upon the secret of Jamaica Inn, it could get her arrested or worse- killed.

As always, Daphne du Maurier creates a story that ramps up the suspense until the very end. I did spot the bad guy right away though. He might as well have worn a sign that said Mr Obvious. This was written before Rebecca and it's not quite on par with that later work. However, there is some great writing and the story is definitely not boring. The idea of 'the wreckers' is horrific.

I wasn't always happy with the things Mary did. She might have ended the whole drama early on but of course then there would be no story. She was brave and fearless when she had to be and I always admire a heroine for that. I did like how she didn't deny her attraction to Jem but wasn't feather headed about it. Often other characters commented on her ability to 'think like a boy,' meaning she was rational and clear sighted. I guess women are supposed to be flighty and dumb?

So, Jamaica Inn is said to have a Wuthering Heights quality to it. I can't really see it except for it taking place on the moors and Joss Merlyn is Heathcliff-esque. He's described as "a great husk of a man, nearly seven feet high, with a creased black brow and a skin the colour of a gypsy. His thick dark hair fell over his eyes in a fringe and hung about his ears." That's an apt description of Heathcliff. I could totally see Heathcliff with a career as a wrecker when he went away to make his fortune too. He's brutal enough for the job.


While I enjoyed Jamaica Inn for the gothic atmosphere and storyline, I would suggest any reader new to du Maurier to read some of her other works first.

I still recommend it.



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May 30, 2010

Murder Is Easy by Agatha Christie: Review

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Know what's great when reading a mystery? When you smugly think you know who the killer is, in fact you're all "yawn, so predictable," then whomp! you get served and the killer is not who you think it is at all! That was me reading Murder Is Easy* by Agatha Christie.

Luke Fitzgerald is a retired policeman on his way home from the Mayang Straits. While on the train, he meets an old lady with an interesting errand. She's on her way to Scotland Yard to report a murder, well murders, there's been four, in her hometown. Luke has seen this before a lonely old lady letting her imagination run away with her. He has second thoughts when she gets hit by a car before reaching her destination. Not only that, but the person she predicted would die next does.

Luke decides to investigate the town of Wynchwood under the guise of a writer researching for book on country folklore. He stays with the pompous Lord Easterfield and his clever fiance Bridget Conway. Bridget sees through his disguise in an instant and paves the way for his investigation. It's not very hard to get the townspeople to talk. They love to gossip. But how much is fact and who is the killer among them?

I can see why Christie continues to sell mysteries and why her books are made into movies. They certainly are entertaining and easy to read. It was a real pleasure to read Murder Is Easy during a warm weekend when I could sit out on the deck.

The characters are what makes this book. Luke and Bridget have a Elizabeth and Darcy vibe. I enjoyed their clashes. He thinks he knows it all and she just let's him figure it out on his own that he's wrong. She paves the way for him with the other townspeople. It's not hard to get them to talk; they love to gossip. But what are the facts and which one of them is a killer?

Even though the ending did surprise me, I thought it was a bit of a stretch. Still, it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the story.

Recommended.

*Also known as Easy to Kill.

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May 29, 2010

Chris vs Martha: Rhubarb Crumb Cake

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It's rhubarb season! That incredibly sour weird fruit. I finally got a batch at the Farmers' Market. The only thing is what to do with it? Pie? Too much work. Jam? Ditto. I would go through the effort but my husband is not a huge fan of rhubarb. In fact, when I said I was making this crumb cake he asked if I had to add the rhubarb. Um, that's sort of the whole idea of why I'm making it, dear.

So anyway, this Rhubarb Crumb Cake is from our friend Martha. And if you're like my husband, you can substitute half rhubarb for strawberries. Sounds yummy too.

When I made this, I found a disproportionate streusel to cake ratio. I mean it was a lot of steusel. I'll cut back next time.

Rhubarb season is short. I'll be picking up more of it and making this cake again. Or maybe cupcakes. Mmmm...cupcakes.


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May 28, 2010

Branding: Not Just for Cattle

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Hello there! On Fridays I usually post a round-up of bookish links but today instead I posting a little about blog marketing for Armchair BEA. Today is the Book Blogger Convention in New York and I bet those folks have a lot to talk about.

So I'm going to tell you all I know about branding in terms of blog marketing. (This should take 5 mins since I'm no expert!) A lot of the professional bloggers out there talk about branding. It can be pretty complicated but it doesn't have to be. In fact, I think a lot of branding comes about naturally without you even realizing it.

For example, I named this blog book-a-rama. The first thing I did was set up an email account just for the blog with Chrisbookarama in the address. I started signing in comments: Chrisbookarama. My Twitter, Goodreads, and LibraryThing accounts are Chrisbookarama. Pretty soon if you saw Chrisbookarama out there chances were good it was me. Blamo! I got a brand.

I never set out to do it. I didn't say to myself, "I must have a brand!" I just figured it would be the easiest way to set myself apart from the other bloggers out there. I was saying, "I'm Chris and my blog is book-a-rama." Plus Chrisbookarama is hardly ever taken as a sign in name.

So what I'm telling you is: be consistent. It's the easiest way to get people to recognize you online.


Okay, now I'm really nervous about this next thing and debated posting it 100 times but here goes anyway. I might end up deleting it later! I filmed a little video of me discussing what panel I'd like to see at BBC and why. I promise there is no dancing to Single Ladies involved (the internet heaves a sigh of relief!).

video
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May 27, 2010

Book Tourist in New York

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Start spreading the news! I'm leaving...not today. I'd really like to be a part of it: New York! NewYork! But that's not going to happen in real life. If I was there though, I would head right for these two places. Since I'm a bookish girl, I think you can guess what they are: The Strand and the New York Public Library.

Have a look at The Strand. It's what I imagine heaven would be like.



Then there's the New York Public Library. I'd have to have a picture taken with those lions. I don't think the Ghostbusters are there everyday though. (That was my favorite movie when I was a kid.)



So where would you go if you were in New York?

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May 26, 2010

The Sea Captain's Wife by Beth Powning: Review

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Azuba is a captain's wife and lives without her husband for long periods of time on the coast of New Brunswick. She's all alone when she loses their second child. This is sad of course but Azuba spends most of her time moping about how she expected to sail the world with her husband when she got married.

When Nathaniel returns, he finds Azuba mired in scandal. It's much ado about nothing but this is the 1860's so it's a Big Deal. Since she's "disgraced herself," he takes her with him on his next voyage. Azuba gets her wish but is not too happy about the way it was granted. She mopes some more and Nathaniel acts like a bossy jerk. They glare at each other and there are many awkward silences. At this point I wondered if I was ever going to warm up to Azuba.

But then, there is peril on the high seas. Storms, starvation, and piracy, fairly realistic stuff (no krakens). They also manage to have good times exploring the world. Azuba finally picks herself up and acts like a grown-up. That's when I gobbled The Sea Captain's Wife up.

What I liked about The Sea Captain's Wife by Beth Powning was that it wasn't just a story about sailing around the world. It has a lot of heart. Azuba and Nathaniel married each other for the same reasons they wanted to change after the wedding. They don't know or understand one another until they are thrown together. By the end, I wondered how things would have turned out for them if they hadn't had that shared experience.

I'm also fascinated with the life of a captain's wife. Azuba has a very small space in which to live on board with a five year old. Just thinking about it makes me feel that I'd hop over the rails from claustrophobia. Even at sea women have very little freedom. I remember seeing a captain's wife diary at the bookstore. I must get it and compare fact to fiction.

I ended up enjoying The Sea Captain's Wife despite the slow start. At the end I was rooting for Azuba. However there was a scene that was an equivalent to a cop show's "I have 2 days to retirement" where you know something awful is about to happen. I also found that the Epilogue didn't do anything for me. I wanted a few questions answered and that didn't happen. It could have been incorporated into the last chapter.

I recommend The Sea Captain's Wife to anyone who wants adventure with a realistic portrayal of a couple navigating not just the oceans but their own fragile relationship.

Highly recommended.

For more information on The Sea Captain's Wife see Beth Powning's website.

Thanks to Random House for the review copy.

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May 25, 2010

Armchair BEA: I See Dead People

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The biggest difference between real BEA (Book Expo America) and Armchair BEA is that Armchair BEA is pretend. And if you are going to pretend, you might as well go all out.

One of the suggested topics for today was "dream panel." Who would I like to see on a fantasy panel of authors and publishers? Since a lot of my reading involves people who have been dead a long time and this is all pretend, let's imagine a panel of Jane Austen, Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) and Charlotte Bronte (though I doubt Charlotte would be comfortable being stared at by so many people).



The topic for their panel would be: "An Improper Career: Women Writing the the 19th Century."
The highlights of the panels would be:
  • Choosing a proper male alias.
  • Getting published: Which is more effective: letters or male relatives' help?
  • Found out! When people discover you aren't a boy.
  • Marriage. Yay or Nay?
  • Fan fiction: Good publicity or 21st century rip-offs?
And just for fun let's throw in a 19th century male publisher and have him explain himself to the ladies.

I'd pay good money to see that!

Check out more of Armchair BEA and see what other bloggers are writing about.


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May 24, 2010

Young Victoria for Victoria Day

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I thought it was fitting to review the film Young Victoria on this Victoria Day. We celebrate that holiday here in Canada. It's known as May 2-4 (beer comes in a "2-4", that is 2 dozen cases) around here.


Alrighty. Young Victoria stars Emily Blunt as, well, young Victoria. She's supposedly 18ish in the movie. The movie focuses on the first years of her reign and her romance with Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). It also stars my favorite Paul Bettany as Lord Melbourne. I thought this was a good one to watch sans husband since it looked quite girly. And it was.

Victoria is lonely and bullied by her Mom and 'advisor' Sir John Conroy played by Mark Strong. (He also played Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes. He knows how to play the baddy well.) Victoria is pretty miserable but sticks to her guns. She will be Queen and have her own way. And then she does. In the meantime, Albert comes a courtin' but finds he's getting blocked by Lord Melbourne. Will he win her hand?

Spoiler alert, he does and they have 9 kids together. The End.

I enjoyed Young Victoria though I had a hard time thinking of The Queen as young and so in love. Those Victorians were so uptight, right? Albert was so cool next to all her bluster. I loved him, especially during their "fight" scene. I thought that was so funny. I wasn't so in love with Emily Blunt but that's okay.

The costumes and the scenery were amazing. It's worth watching just for that. And Paul Bettany.

Recommended.

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May 23, 2010

Lazy Sunday Thoughts on Book Keeping

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What do you do with all those books? (♪ Early in the morning. ♪♫)

Yes, I realize that much of my storage problems are my own fault. I do not have to go to the bookstore or the used bookstore downtown. I could easily avoid it if I really wanted to. And I could say no to review requests from publishers, but they make it so hard. I am weak.

I have been saying no more and more but I still have all the books I stockpiled over the last 3 years or so. Some of them are ones I bought, others given to me by publishers. Here's the question: What in the heck do you do with them once you read them?

ARC (Advanced Readers Copies) are tricky since these are unfinished books. They also come with a disclaimer about how they are not to be sold. Apparently, there is a market for them on ebay, which I do not understand. They sometimes come without artwork, riddled with mistakes and I've had some fall apart as I read them. Some people are selling them for over a hundred dollars! Why in the world would you pay that kind of money when you could get the real thing for $20? Unless you're buying an ARC of Wuthering Heights, it's just not worth it. So far, I have a pile of ARCs in the closet and I'm scratching my head over them. What should be done with them?

Books that linger unread on my shelf for awhile are read, reviewed and go into one of 2 piles: Keepers and Lenders. The Keepers are ones I'd save from a burning building- right after husband, child and pets. They don't leave the house. The Lenders go off to family and friends. They might return to me within a year or so. Some wander off and disappear, with the lost socks I suspect.

The ones that come back, in various states of use, must go somewhere. It's like the song says, you don't have to go home but you can't stay here. I can't keep them all. So they get hauled to the used bookstore where I get store credit (for more books, you see the problem here). They get new homes on the island or in the hands of bored cruise ship tourists.

But for every book that leaves the house, I'm sure 2 more take it's place. Like I said, I'm weak. I have to stop going to the bookstore. Or start buying more ebooks.

Now that I have my ebook reader, I have another option for review books. Netgalley offers reviewers ebook copies of review books. They take up no space. The only problem is some of the books have a time limit and I can't always read that fast. As ebook readers become more popular, I think more publishers will offer ebooks as an option. Random House Canada has plans to do just that. Yay, for them!


So, do you have a book storage problem too? Do you have a solution?


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May 20, 2010

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka: Review

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The One-Straw Revolution was the only NYRB Classics title available from my library but since I'm on a gardening kick that was okay.

In the 1930's Masanobu Fukuoka was a young scientist working in the field of agriculture when he became ill from pneumonia. While recuperating, he had an epiphany and decided to live a simpler, gentler way of life. He started by leaving his job and getting himself a farm. For thirty years he experimented with his new method of do-nothing or natural farming. Instead of growing rice in water, he planted on dry land. Instead of herbicides, he used clover to control weeds. Instead of pesticides, he encouraged spiders and other creatures to control insects. No compost. No tilling. The key to his success was a keen eye and proper timing.

By the 1970s, people started to take notice. The agricultural community wondered how he was succeeding as a farmer without modern methods. Young people, he refers to them as hippies, flocked to his farm to work and discover his secrets. Even though he was often frustrated with Japan's reliance on American grain and the changing diet of his countrymen, he believed that from one straw a revolution could begin.

I enjoyed the farming and experimental aspect of One-Straw Revolution. I don't know a thing about growing rice but it was interesting to see how he had arrived at growing it the way he did. As a scientist, he had to change his whole mindset from "How about doing this?" to "How about not doing this?" He stresses that do-nothing farming is a lot more work than it sounds.

He also discusses the economics of natural farming and insists that organic food should be cheaper than commercially grown food.
"I still feel that natural food should be sold more cheaply than any other... If a high price is charged for natural food, it means that the merchant is taking excessive profits, they become luxury foods and only rich people are able to afford them."
Isn't that interesting? And yet it costs me twice as much for a pint of organic tomatoes. Go figure. That's one of the complaints about organic food I've heard- that's it's elitist. It doesn't have to be.

However, the philosophical parts of the book weren't for me. I found his thoughts repetitive and often preachy. I guess it was just too much for me to wrap my mind around. Though I'm sure many people would enjoy these parts of the book more than the farming.


Fukuoka died in 2008. I wonder what he would have made of his revolution continuing on without him. You will find the seeds of his philosophy in the organic and local farming movements of today or in the words of Barbara Kingsolver (Animal Vegetable Miracle). His quiet revolution has grown quite a bit from just one straw.

Thoughts on the cover: It seems sort of militant and this is such a gentle book. It really threw me when I first saw it.

Recommended.

Read for the Spotlight Series tour for NYRB Classics. Please see other reviews of NYRB Classics on the blog.

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May 19, 2010

Wordless: Tulip

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May 17, 2010

Captivated by Piers Dudgeon: Review

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So what is Captivated by Piers Dudgeon about? The full title is Captivated: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland. It's right there in the title- a non-fiction look at Barrie's influence over the du Maurier family.

Kicky

It all starts with Grandpapa du Maurier: George "Kicky". Kicky (that's what they call him) was an art student in Paris who was into hypnotism (oh, and drugs). I mean really into hypnotism. He'd hypnotize anyone (mostly women) including himself. He then moves to London where he marries Emma Wightwick. She's not very impressed with the hypnotism or how he kicks it bohemian style and tells him to act like a gentleman.



He ends up writing 2 novels involving hypnotism, one of which becomes The DaVinci Code of it's day: Trilby. Trilby features a tone deaf artist's model and a hypnotist named Svengali. This book makes him very famous. Even though he promises the wife not to dabble in his occult hobby, he joins a club that includes notables like Henry James, Thomas Hardy and Arthur Conan Doyle- all dabblers themselves. It seems like you couldn't walk down a London street without some author jumping out and trying to hypnotize you.

Barrie and Sylvia

What's this got to do with Barrie, you may ask? That's tricky. Dudgeon suggests that he was fixated on Kicky and his talent with hypnotizing. Barrie comes off as a manipulative creepy weirdo. It's too late for him to attach himself to Kicky (he dies) but he gets the next best thing, his kids Sylvia and Gerald.



Remember Finding Neverland? That charming Johnny Depp movie? It's not so charming. Sylvia (the mom) gets taken in by Barrie. He writes Peter Pan and everyone thinks it's a children's fantasy, but Dudgeon points out the darker undertones. And Peter Pan wasn't named after Sylvia's son, but another character in Kicky's novel: Peter Ibbetson which is all about sex and hypnotism. Creeptastic!

After Sylvia dies, he tricks everyone into thinking she gave him her boys. And no one protests because they are afraid of him. Then there are lots of vague comments about what he was doing with them. Let your mind take you to the worst imaginings but one suggestion is that he was hypnotizing them and making them his puppets.

Gerald and Daphne 


What about Gerald, Daphne's father? Barrie was bankrolling his career as an actor. He even wrote an inappropriate father/daughter scene for Gerald to play that sent Daphne running from her seat crying. There was some messed up stuff going on between the three of them that is vaguely hinted at. Later, Dudgeon suggests, Daphne leaves clues in her stories and novels.

Daphne, having been manipulated by Barrie, becomes manipulative and cynical herself. She thinks of people as 'pegs to hang emotions on' and uses them as fodder for her stories. Her lovers, both male and female, mean very little to her. She comes off as stone cold.


Captivated has a definite agenda. If Dudgeon could have blamed World War I on Barrie, I think he would have. Would the du Maurier's been a happy, mentally stable family without Barrie? Erm, they had problems anyway. I'm not saying Barrie wasn't a weirdo but laying all the du Maurier's issues at his feet is unfair. Dudgeon makes some great leaps when trying to make a point. And I don't buy the whole mind control angle. The narrative is also a bit jumpy. This is an interesting look at the family and I'll never be able to read Daphne's stories without Barrie in them ever again. Still, I'd read this book with a BIG grain of salt.

I am adding Trilby to the TBR list. Sounds like a crazy read!

Picked this one up at the library for the Daphne du Maurier Challenge.


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May 16, 2010

Lazy Sunday Thoughts on the Peeping Kindle

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A couple of week's ago Amazon bragged how they took Kindle users highlighted passages and figured out what ones were highlighted the most (apparently Outliers is #1). Why? Just for kicks. When they published these findings, half the reading world went, "How dare you?!" the other, "Chillax. Have another brownie." I fall into the first half. To me this is just creepiness for the sake of creepiness.

I've been thinking about this since I heard about it and wondering why I feel the way I do. As some of the commenters in this Red Tape article eloquently state, there is a lot of creepier info about us floating around out there. I'm sure my credit card company knows more about me than I do. But somehow the Amazon highlighting issue freaks me out more. Why?

Maybe it has to do with the history of books and freedom of thought. Long ago, before the printing press, only the wealthy had access to books. The rest of us poor slugs were mired in our own ignorance and told to like it. Then Johannes Gutenberg (not Steve) made the written word cheap and accessible to the masses. And the world changed.

Revolutions are fueled by books. Authorities would destroy printing presses and jail the owners. If someone had an idea, the best way to share it was to get yourself in print. People ban and burn books for the ideas in them. Even today, certain publishing houses are banned in Iran. No wonder we don't like people reading over our shoulders.

As readers, we think that as long as To Kill a Mockingbird is on the shelf at the local bookstore, all is right with the world. So, when a company like Amazon starts fiddling with books in this way, people get twitchy. It makes us uncomfortable. It's all very innocent, for now anyway, but that still doesn't make readers okay with it. What else can they do? Delete your copy of 1984? Oh wait, that's right, they already did that. If readers are being alarmist, I don't think that's a bad thing. Amazon is the holder of this information and they have a responsibility to use it wisely. Not just because it seems like a cool idea at the time.

The thing is we have to control the technology, not let it control us. I have nothing against e-readers (I have one) and it seems that it will be the way we read in the future. So why not say this is not okay now rather than later?

So, what do you think? Creepy or Cool?



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May 13, 2010

Happy Birthday Daphne du Maurier!

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On May 13, 1907, Daphne du Maurier was born the middle child of Gerald du Maurier and Muriel (Mo) Beaumont.


She became a prolific writer of novels and short stories. She would have been 103 today. When she died in 1989, she left a request that her childhood diaries would not be opened until 50 years after her death. What secrets could be in those diaries? She was as mysterious in death as she was in life.

I've been reading Captivated by Piers Dudgeon about the strange relationship between JM Barrie (Peter Pan) and the du Maurier family. I'll have more on that next week.

This is also the official start of the Daphne du Maurier Challenge. Welcome all participants! You can leave your links to Daphne du Maurier reviews on the review blog. You'll find the link in the sidebar whenever you complete a review. If you haven't signed up but would like to, join in anytime between now and April 19, 2011.


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May 10, 2010

Little Dorrit DVD: Review

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Maybe you remember how I read Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens and didn't like it much? I requested the DVD from the library anyway to see how they compared. This was the 2008 BBC TV serial based on the novel. While I didn't care much for the book, I highly recommend the DVD.

Amy Dorrit is played by Claire Foy and Arthur Clenman by Matthew Macfadyen (Hello Mr Darcy!). All the actors did a spectacular job. The added an emotional dimension I thought was missing from the book. I actually cared what happened to them.

The best characters of course were the villians. Rigaud (Andy Serkis) was over the top crazy. Mrs Merdle (Amanda Redman) was my favorite though. She was icy cold and mean and any scene with her and Fanny Dorrit was entertaining.

What really made this adaptation an improvement was the rearrangement of the chronology of the story by Andrew Davies. It made much more sense. I wasn't confused by what was happening. It's also gorgeous to look at. The costumes and scenery is just beautiful. Although Fanny's over the top outfits are laughable!

For once I'm saying to skip the book and go right to the film.

May 9, 2010

Lazy Sunday Thoughts on Reviews

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Hey all! It's Mother's Day and I hope to have a lazy one but you never can tell. I once spent the day at the ER with my sick kid. Oh and it was snowing too. Hopefully, we won't have any of that this year.

I was lurking around Twitter one night when Marg posted a link to this blog post on online reviews vs traditional reviews. She makes some good points* although I don't care for the idea of bulleted reviews. I've done something similar occasionally but I wouldn't make a habit of it.

What was interesting was a discussion that she linked to, a discussion on the forum of the Book Bloggers' Ning. It was surprising to see that many dedicated readers prefer short reviews. Some of the comments were actually quite harsh about long reviews calling them 'droning' or 'rambling.' I must be a freak because I prefer a long review, especially if I've read the book already. I want to read what others thought of it and if other people noticed the things I did. Long reviews can be done well and still be entertaining. Just look at the romance blog Smart Bitches, one of the most successful book blogs around. Most of their reviews are on the long side.

I will never be accused of being concise. I have written some loooong reviews; I admit it. Has it hurt me as a book blogger? I don't know. I don't have thousands of subscribers and I do get a little sad when my posts receive no comments but I am what I am. And that's okay. Some books just require me to write long reviews. They've crowded my mind for the time it took for me to read them and I need to get my thoughts down. Since there is rarely anyone in real life to listen to me drone on, I turn to the blog. That's why the blog is here in the first place! It's my place to ramble.

The way I look at it is that this blog isn't a billboard for books, it's more like my reading journal. I read what I want and post whatever way I want. If next month I want to remember how I felt about Their Eyes Were Watching God (ridiculously long review) or The Custom of the Country ("Oh my God, so long eyeballs will bleed!" review), I can call it up.  If people don't like that, let me point them gently to last week's post.


So yeah, I'm rambling again. I guess what I'm saying is there is room for every kind of review- long or short and we shouldn't let the preferences of others dictate how we want to do things on our own blogs.

*Notice how I used bold to highlight various points on this post. ;)


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May 8, 2010

Chris vs Martha: Coconut Cake

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Last week was my daughter's First Communion. Since she would be all in white, I decided to make her a coconut cake. I'm all about coordinating!

I used this recipe from Martha Stewart: Coconut Layer Cake. The cake is easy-peasy but I had the brilliant *ahem* idea of buying an actual coconut and make big coconut shavings. The problem with that is figuring out how to open it, get the white part out and make shavings. That's what husbands are for! He did that for me.

I also had some issues with the 7 Minute Frosting. I've made it before when I was a kid so it's not hard but I couldn't get those 'stiff peaks' needed for full effect. Coconut hides many sins. I piled it on there.

Anyway, it was delicious!




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May 6, 2010

Daughters of Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

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The Daughters of Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt is one of those books that you are going to see on a lot of blogs for awhile. And for once I'm going to say "Yay!" because it's sooooo GOOD!

When the book opens Bess Southerns (Mother Demdike) recounts her life as a cunning woman and a blesser. She always had a power hidden within her but it isn't until her familiar spirit Tib finds her that she learns to use it. She helps her neighbours by curing their children and animals. However, when her friends are threatened by a local nobleman, she struggles with the temptation to use her powers to bring them justice. Instead, she shares her skills with someone she believes she can trust. Not a good idea.

Later the point of view shifts to Bess's granddaughter, Alizon Device. Alizon just wants to be a normal teen with friends and maybe the chance at romance but Bess is certain she is about to find her own powers. This frightens Alizon. She refuses to learn the spells from her grandmother and shuts her eyes to her familiar. Unfortunately, her powers are too much for her and she inadvertently hurts someone.

Times have changed since Bess was a girl. The old Catholic religion is illegal and the followers of the new religion are anxious to prove their devotion. When a power hungry member of the gentry gets wind of the accident, he sees the opportunity to advance himself as a witch hunter. Things are about to go badly for Bess and her family.

What I liked about Daughters of Witching Hill was that unlike so many books about witch trials that take the stance that the people accused were innocent, Sharratt assumes they were using magic. The character of Bess Southerns and her family are based on an actual witch trial and Demdike believed she had magical powers. However, people in the village benefited from her knowledge for years and she used her powers to help people.

Was Bess a bad person? She believed herself to be a 'blesser' not a witch. Most of her charms or spells were based on Catholic prayers. Not that this did her any favours in this anti-Catholic time. She was incredibly poor. Wouldn't someone with dark powers make themselves rich? It's the wealthy gentry that use this poor family to gain political power. While we may remark that people don't cry witch anymore, there are always those who use the weaker to advance themselves.

The writing is pretty smooth except for a bit of old timey phrasing here and there that was a bit yoda-ish. The characters were convincing as strong women trying to find their way in a changing world. The ending doesn't come as a big surprise but it doesn't make it any less heart wrenching.

 Highly recommended.

Visit Mary Sharratt's website.

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