Information, Answers & Reviews

Shakespeare - Compressed, twisted and bedazzled

ISBN: 
1569386242

Laurence Olivier's Hamlet runs 157 minutes. The Franco Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet clocks in at around 138 min. The Reduced Shakespeare Company's Complete Works of William Shakespeare - Abridged reduces these two plays and all of the rest of the Shakespeare plays in total down to a mere 90 minutes and they don't miss a single play. Read more »

Jane Has Her Say

ISBN: 
9780307958341

I love this new age of biography where not only famous people’s lives are examined but also everyman’s or in this case everywoman’s. Of course, Jane Franklin’s life would have faded into history were it not for her very famous older brother. But this compelling biography gives a very interesting account of the life of an ordinary, rather poor Boston woman during the time period of the Thirteen Colonies.

Jane grew up in a big family and Ben was six years her senior, and he taught her to read. They corresponded their whole lives, and were for many years the last two left from their nuclear family. Many of Jane’s letters have been lost, but can be somewhat reconstructed from her brother’s responses to them. Like her brother, she was very opinionated and thought of Benjamin as her “second self.”

At age fifteen, she married a saddler named Mecom, and for the next twenty plus years, she was either pregnant or nursing children. She had twelve children and all but one died before she did. Most, unfortunately, died as adults which was less common at that time. Her husband was not a good provider and eventually went crazy. So Jane and her children boiled and sold soap from home.

Her letters to her brother and his gifts of books, many of which he had printed himself, gave her an intellectual life that she otherwise would not have had.  They shared many secrets from the rest of the family, some of them jokes. Read more »

Emma Approved and Other Jane Austen Inspirations

Pride and PrejudiceLast year I blogged about the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which was a really wonderful and Emmy winning video series that told the modern day story of Lizzie Bennet and her sisters based on the original characters from Pride and Prejudice.

Fans of that series now have something new to watch! Emma Approved is a video series from the same producers and again is a modern day retelling of a classic Austen work. I was able to get caught up on the first five episodes today during lunch. They might be harder to get into because Emma Woodhouse isn’t initially as likeable of a character as Elizabeth Bennet, but having read the book (both for school and leisure!) I am feeling confident that she will grow on me with time. It isn’t too late to get caught up with either story, no matter if you are an Austen super fan or just a casual admirer. Read more »

Award Nominatons and Literary Fiction

LowlandsIf we were to believe the media, summer reading is a time for light beachy reads. Thrillers, romance and other guilty pleasures seem to fall in this category. I fall strictly into the camp that you can read anything you want at any time, but one thing we can agree on? It isn’t summer anymore! So maybe it is the perfect time for a literary read. Literary fiction is often denser, more lyrical and the characters spend less time doing things and more time reflecting or reacting to things. They can be beautiful to read, have complex issues, but also sometimes dark and sad. Warning: literary fiction books often have open or ambigious endings! You will be in for a surprise if you normally read romance or mysteries.

Literary fiction fans often refer to awards lists – and two of my go-to lists have recently announced their nominees. The Man Booker prize is awarded to British authors and those from the Commonwealth of Nations. Their recently announced short list is very diverse – four of the six are women and are from the far reaches of Zimbabwe, New Zealand, India, and Canada. The entire list: Read more »

Teachers

ISBN: 
027616084170

Today we are faced with a rising tide of legislation designed for one purpose, to test the learning of our children in schools and the efficacy of our teachers in teaching them. We often think of this as something new. Teachers, a comedy made in the early 80's, features a school under attack. It has teachers who care about their students, some who don't care about their students and almost every other type in between including those who are just trying to stay alive. The students are not really any better. Some want to learn, some don't and some are also just trying to stay alive. The school is also under attack from the outside. It seems that they are being sued for giving a diploma to a student that is functionally illiterate. Read more »

A Year of Loss

ISBN: 
9781400069439

Paul Harding’s second novel after his Pulitzer-prize winning Tinkers is heartbreak of a novel.  One Sunday in the lovely New England village of Enon, Charlie Crosby takes a solitary walk at a bird sanctuary. He had invited his 13 year-old daughter Kate but she chose to go swimming instead with her girlfriend.  That afternoon while she is biking home from the lake, a distracted mother runs over her.  Charlie’s life changes forever.

The first casualty of Kate’s death is Charlie’s marriage to Susan.  Apparently, Kate had been the glue holding their union together, and when he is so overcome with grief that he can do nothing but lie on the couch and cry, his wife first begs for his help then gets angry.

Then in an intense moment of grief, wanting to feel real physical pain, he pounds the stairway wall and breaks his wrist. Susan takes him to the emergency room but a few days later leaves for her parent’s house in Minnesota.

The novel is essentially focused on two characters, the village of Enon—it’s presence is almost human and palpable--and Charlie, who has long studied the village’s history.  Charlie, who starts to abuse prescription drugs and alcohol, wanders the village mostly under cover of night.  Read more »

Mud

ISBN: 
031398172888

There are times when everything in life seems just as clear as... mud. That’s doubly true if you happen to spend lots of time scrounging the Mississippi River, which is exactly what the characters in the latest from Jeff Nichols (director of 2011’s shamefully overlooked Take Shelter) do to get by. Centering on Ellis and Neckbone, two early-teens swamp rats who befriend a fugitive hiding out near their fishing spot, Read more »

The Garden of Evening Mists

ISBN: 
9781602861800

This beautiful historical novel is set in an exotic place, rural Malaya, after World War II before it became the country of Malaysia. It’s also one of the rare novels that is centered on a Japanese garden.

The narrator, Teoh Jun Ling, a woman of Straits Chinese heritage, has just retired from her career judging war criminal cases. Previous to that, she was a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. In fact, she was the only person to survive; after being tortured there, she developed a great hatred for all things Japanese. Yet her dear sister, Yun Hong, who died at camp, always had a passion for Japanese gardens after she had visited the island nation as a child.

Yun Ling returns to the highlands to see old friends and also to visit the tea plantation of Yugiri where an ex-Japanese, Aritomo, has long worked a spectacular garden.  Although she is repulsed at asking a favor from someone Japanese, she requests that Aritomo build a Japanese garden in her sister’s memory.

He adamantly refuses. But then a few days later suggests an alternative. If she is willing to serve as his apprentice, he will teach her how to create her own. Read more »

If You Liked Doctor Who

Doctor Who In November a show which is perhaps the longest running television series in the history of Television celebrates 50 years. The show is BBC One's time traveling adventure Doctor Who. "Who" is more of a question than a name. Launched 1963 with William Hartnell as "The Doctor" a Time Lord from Galafrey who travels in time and space in a ship known as The T.A.R.D.I.S; a ship inexplicably larger on the inside than the outside and which looks exactly like a 1960's British police call box. Read more »

Playaways: Listen on Your Car Stereo With This Simple Trick!

PlayawayPlayaways are great—an entire audiobook on a gadget the size of a business card!—but they’re typically used with headphones. Don’t worry--using an inexpensive cable, you can connect Playaways to your car stereo for enjoying audiobooks on the road.

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