Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Nathanuary 2024 -- Nathaniel Hawthorne Reading Challenge at Belle's Library


Hey friends! It's time to start thinking about our 2024 Reading Challenges and I've got a new one for you this year! If you've been around here long enough, you know my obsession for Nathaniel Hawthorne (if not, see side bar link!) so it's high time he gets his own reading challenge here at Belle's Library, don't you think?

This one is easy --- just read one book or short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the month of January! Come back and tell us about it or leave a link and we'll all be the better for it! For more info, watch my video about the challenge here: BookTube

Link up your blog, Goodreads, announcement video, or however you make your participation known to the world, and I'll add you to a sidebar list to make Hawthorne hopping easy for us all!

Have a great time friends!


Monday, December 11, 2023

Wuthering Heights AND What My 2024 New Year Goal SHOULD Be...

I love making goals for the new year, but wouldn't it be great to make a goal to keep this blog updated? Ha! We'll see... Ever since I started my BookTube channel, I have neglected this poor book blog. I'll try... really, I will...

I've read a LOT lately. I'll just leave one review here and try to stay caught up in the future. Hope everyone is having a great end of year reading time!

I read Wuthering Heights for the billionth time but realized I'd not left a review here since this essay I wrote in 2009.

Here are some really important things to understand about Wuthering Heights: 1--it is one of the most depressing books ever written, 2--most every character is easily hateable, and 3--it is NOT a love story. These elements were likely all written in on purpose and that's ok. If you can grasp these things, you will have a much easier time reading it and might even find yourself coming back to it again... and again... and again...

2023 review: My favorite book of all time. I was definitely in the mood for it this time around and relished every bit. Nothing annoyed me, as it seemed to have in my 2019 review. This is the most depressing book ever written, I think, but it has a happy ending so all is well. (This time I read a different edition --- Catherine I (or is it Emily?!!) on the moors... I'm up to nine different copies in my collection now.

2019 review: I finished this yesterday afternoon---this first time I'd read it in several years. I came away with a different impression on several counts. Firstly, I had a better image in my head of the setting, having visited Yorkshire and the Brontes' Haworth in 2016. I also found that I sympathized more with Heathcliff than I had in the past---probably because I now have grown sons and can imagine a relatable anguish. I was also surprised at how annoying I found the dialogue to be. While I think Emily Bronte was brilliant with language and description, her dialogue often seems trite, childish, and ridiculous. Surely Victorian young people didn't really cry and fall all over one another with multiple kisses at every change of emotion.

I love the cover of this book, even though it's about 100 years too late for the setting. It's only upon this reading that I realized most of it was set in the late Georgian period. That means Heathcliff and Cathy would have been just a few years older than P&P's Lizzie and Darcy.

Wuthering Heights fulfills the following challenges: The Victorian Reading Challenge, The Alphabet Challenge, and The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Emily's Ghost by Denise Giardina -- Book Review


Absolutely Incredible.

Book Description: "Enigmatic, intelligent, and fiercely independent, Emily Brontë refuses to bow to the conventions of her day: she is distrustful of marriage, prefers freedom above all else, and walks alone at night on the moors above the isolated rural village of Haworth. But Emily’s life, along with the rest of the Brontë family, is turned upside down with the arrival of an idealistic clergyman named William Weightman. Weightman champions poor mill workers’ rights, mingles with radical labor agitators, and captivates Haworth—and the Brontës especially—with his energy and charm. An improbable friendship between Weightman and Emily develops into a fiery but unconsummated love affair—and when tragedy strikes, the relationship continues, like the love story at the heart of Wuthering Heights, beyond the grave."

My Review: Eight years ago I visited the parsonage at Haworth. I'd been to the homes of other authors before: Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Byron. But the experience of setting foot at the home of Emily Bronte -- all the Brontes, really -- was something deeply spiritual. I cried. Mournful, regretful tears for someone I didn't know at all, but felt a connection to, regardless.

The story history tells of Emily Bronte is of someone who is wild, vulnerable, and raw. A person I connect with at gut level, but would likely never have even a conversation with in person. It takes a special person to write about the Brontes well, but especially about Emily. This author must feel that same gut connection because the way she presented this image of Emily was beyond phenomenal. She put into words all I've ever seen her to be, and much of what I believe I would be, if I had the freedoms that Emily did.

To be able to tell this story that is so fully what I believe Emily to have been, and so cleanly inserting in the completely evidence-less storyline that features Weightman --- wow. How can it not be true? I found myself wishing for it to be true and mourning that there's not a shred of evidence.

I am also beyond thrilled that this author wasn't sympathetic to Charlotte. All she does and is in this story is just as I've always seen her --- the ultimate "Karen", though I hate when people use that term. What Charlotte does at the very end is more than horrifying; but I almost hope it to be true, just to vindicate me despising her so much.

This book meets the requirements for The Victorian Challenge, The Historical Fiction Challenge, The TBR Challenge, and The Alphabet Soup Challenge

More Books About Books... and What I've Read Lately

It's been a season of mediocrity when it comes to reading, but I've spent quite a lot of time the last couple months reading books about books--so that's redeemable. Here's what I've read lately:

First up is one I really didn't care for: The Vanishing at Castle Moreau by Jaime Jo Wright.

Book Description: "In 1865, orphaned Daisy Francois takes a position as housemaid at a midwestern Wisconsin castle and finds that the reclusive and eccentric Gothic authoress inside hides more than the harrowing tales in her novels. With women disappearing from the area and a legend that seems to parallel these eerie circumstances, Daisy is thrust into a web that may threaten to steal her sanity, if not her life. In the present day, Cleo Clemmons is hired by the grandson of American aristocratic family the Tremblays to help his matriarchal grandmother face her hoarding in the dilapidated Castle Moreau. But when Cleo uncovers more than just the woman's stashes of collectibles, a century-old mystery of disappearance, insanity, and the dust of the old castle's curse threatens to rise again, and this time, leave no one alive to tell its sordid tale. Fan-favorite Jaime Jo Wright draws readers into a seamlessly woven dual-time tale of suspense, mystery, romance, and redemption."

My Review: This book gave me plenty of reasons to DNF it, but I paid full price for it just a week ago and felt guilty for not finishing… so I did.

After reading all the way through to the end, I felt guilty for all the harsh notes I was keeping throughout. This story was on the heart of its author and I know what that's like. Because I care about the story being told, I'm considering bumping my originally planned 2 stars up to 3. The story is important --- its execution was not well done.

My notes at pg 108: I've never read a "Christian" suspense before but this seems kind of silly. Not really feeling the shivers I think I’m supposed to be feeling. Daisy definitely has Catherine Morland beat in the drama department. If Jane were here, she’d give this story a good roasting.

pg. 138-- I love this quote: "It is in the dark corners, in the places we avert our eyes from, where truth lingers."

Pg 262: Lots of repetition of thoughts and emotions but nothing really moving this story forward. Very little has happened—-not much story development. I lost interest a long time ago. Would have abandoned this 20 pages in, but I bought it at full price. Some books you spend the afternoon devouring because they’re fine chocolates and you can’t get enough. Others you force down like liver and onions so mom will finally let you leave the table.

Cleo’s story comes out about 80% of the way in, and her reason for running is so lame that it’s laughable. I was imagining she'd committed some kind of horrific atrocity. I literally threw the book down and ranted to my family about the nonsensical behavior of changing her name and fleeing her family, vowing never to return, over the ridiculous reason given. Part of the problem here is that nothing was done to develop this character to a place where her whole internal struggle finally coming out doesn’t just seem like a crazy drama train.

The last maybe 50 pages were actually interesting, but the author’s attempt to compare Virgie’s mission and Cleo’s mission was very difficult to believe since we knew almost nothing of Cleo’s until the book was almost over. The planning of this story is all out of whack.

But the real thing that has me most frustrated about all of this is that this is a story about escaping abuse, yet the two main men in this story are grossly manipulative yet supposedly irresistible. The women set out to make a decision and the men easily change their minds with affection and phrases like, "Don't leave. You can't leave. I need you." So we have women who are compelled to stay in situations that, while they might turn out for good in the long run, cause them to see red flags in the moment. They try to assert their own autonomy and critical thinking skills, they try to put some distance between themselves and these men as they're trying to sort out what they believe about the situation they're in, but the men are never called out for manipulating their emotions? Sorry to break it to you honey, but you can't write a believable story about getting out of abusive situations, while also making romantic some of the very behaviors that lead to them in the first place.

And dang it, I just can't bring myself to give this three stars after all.

This book meets the following challenges: The Alphabet Soup Challenge, The Historical Fiction Challenge, and The Victorian Reading Challenge

The Men Who Found America by F. W. Hutchinson. This is a history book for children featuring stories of explorers. Published in 1909. Probably not totally accurate, but it's been a fun read with my children and has sparked a few interesting discussions. I most recently read it with 13 year old Liam.

This book meets the following challenges: The Alphabet Soup Challenge and the Children's Book Challenge.

The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay (Heaven help us!!)

Book Description: Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious measures to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy's secret ruins her relationship with her boss and her boyfriend James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt, and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James's wealthy grandmother Helen hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy's predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen's wisdom, as Helen confronts the ghosts of her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters' beloved heroines, who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of change.

Now Lucy must go back into her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that's been waiting for her all along.

My Review: I read this on the heels of the author's more recent book, The Printed Letter Bookshop. The quality of writing in her newer book is so much improved that I feel like I'm reading a completely different author. Honestly; that, and the fact that I'll read anything about England/Brontes/booksellers, kept me reading this really badly written book.

Apart from just a really convoluted jumbled mess of a storyline, and an author-created secretly schizophrenic main character, I found it really annoying that she mentions so many classics but doesn’t seem to know much about them. (It's not “Tenet”, but Tennant of Wildfell Hall; or that Tess of the d’Urbervilles is by Thomas Hardy; or that she’d have a rough time finding a “small squished copy” of Wives and Daughters since it’s over 700 pages long…) and her editors don’t know this either? Ascetic instead of aesthetic? Come on…

The dramatic (and really immature and whiny for Lucy) dialogue between her and James at lunch toward the end doesn’t work. Too much alluding to feelings and accusations that aren't explained. We need to get inside their heads more... or we could just turn the story into High School Musical and be done with it.

Meh. I'll probably read more from her but I'm not holding my breath on liking it...

This book meets The Alphabet Soup Challenge

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley (1917)

Book Description: "Parnassus on Wheels is the story of a marvelous man, small in stature, wiry as a cat, yet Olympic in personality. Roger Mifflin is part pixie, part sage, part noble savage, and all God's creature. With his traveling book wagon, named Parnassus, he moves through the New England countryside of 1915 on an itinerant mission of enlightenment. Mifflin's delight in books and authors (if not publishers) is infectious. With his singular philosophy and bright eyes, he comes to represent the heart and soul of the book world.

In addition, Parnassus on Wheels is a roaring good adventure yarn, spiced with fiery roadside brawls, the most groaning boards in the history of Yankee cookery, heroic escapes from death, and a rare love story. In the course of his adventures Roger Mifflin shows how he makes bookselling one of the world's highest callings, one dispelling ignorance and causing constant delight and instruction. Mifflin is indeed the father of Bookselling's royal family.

When Parnassus on Wheels originally appeared, the Boston Evening Transcript said of it: "To read Parnassus on Wheels is to be glad there are books in the world. It is graceful in style, light in substance, merry in its attitude toward life, and entertaining in every aspect of its plot and insight into character."

My Review: I loved this fantastically fun and witty adventure! Great read!

This book meets The Historical Fiction Challenge

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley (1919)

Book Description: "Aubrey Gilbert stops by the Haunted Bookshop hoping to sell his services as an advertising copywriter. He fails to accomplish his goal, but learns that Titania Chapman, the lovely daughter of his most important client, is a store assistant there. Aubrey returns to visit Titania and experiences a series of unusual events: He is attacked on his way home from the store, an obscure book mysteriously disappears and reappears, and two strange characters are seen skulking in a nearby alleyway. Aubrey initially suspects the bookstore’s gregarious owner, Roger Mifflin, of scheming to kidnap Titania, but the plot he eventually uncovers is far more complex and sinister than he could have ever imagined. A charming ode to the art of bookselling wrapped inside a thrilling suspense story, The Haunted Bookshop is a must-read for bibliophiles and mystery lovers alike."

My Review: I didn't like this one nearly as much as Parnassus, but I think a big part of that was because I had expectations of it being different than it was. Parnassus was so sweet and quaint and self-reflective. This is a different kind of story entirely, and I think it just took me awhile to realize that. I think I'll try it again in the future when I've not just finished reading its prequel and might find I like it better. Normally I'd give 2 stars to something I disliked so much, but this was very well-written so I'll add a star for that!

This book meets the following challenges: The Alphabet Soup Challenge and The Historical Fiction Challenge


Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay -- Book Review


Book Description: "One of Madeline Cullen’s happiest childhood memories is of working with her Aunt Maddie in the quaint and cozy Printed Letter Bookshop. But by the time Madeline inherits the shop nearly twenty years later, family troubles and her own bitter losses have hardened Madeline’s heart toward her once-treasured aunt—and the now struggling bookshop left in her care. While Madeline intends to sell the shop as quickly as possible, the Printed Letter’s two employees have other ideas. When Madeline’s professional life falls apart, and a handsome gardener upends all her preconceived notions, she questions her plans and her heart. Has she been too quick to dismiss her aunt’s beloved shop? And even if she has, the women’s best combined efforts may be too little, too late."

My Review: This was a difficult story for me. Reading it over the course of 24 hours, I had to walk away a couple times as it was really stressful. This was NOT a good Shabbat read — I had a lot of anxiety today. Haha! The three women in the story have their own issues to work out, but one in particular hit too close to home. One woman has an affair which wrecks her husband, alienates her children, and destroys her marriage. She has her own redemption story, and I’m thankful for that, but having my own mother do the same thing when I was a child— well, let’s just say it was very difficult to have sympathy for this character or to rejoice in her growth. All the attempts to make me feel compassion for this woman… My thoughts went to: “but has she apologized to her daughter?” “This is what she deserves for leaving.“ “Your choices have consequences." “How dare you feel jealousy when he tries to move on when you’re the one who left him?” All thoughts I’ve thought and words I’ve said to my own mother over the years. (We have a great relationship now, by the grace of God). 

 This line from pg. 157 sums up the epitome of the thinking that gets dissatisfied women to the place of having an affair: ”Seth shone whenever I came near, and the adoration made me glow too. … When did feeling that glow, chasing that adoration, become more than loving that man?” Water your own grass, ladies. Then it will be green on your side too. 

 This book is about taking responsibility for our actions and trusting God’s plan for refinement. It’s a great story — I just had to get far enough in to see it. I did struggle early on because I felt there were way too many characters to keep straight so early. At about 20 pages in, I went back and started over so I could get everyone straight. It was also difficult because there was a lot of alluding to peoples’ issues but it took a long time to get to any backstory for context. I liked this book better the more I got into it, but it’s definitely not something I could have put down and come back to. Way too much going on with too many similar characters. 

This book fulfills the Alphabet Soup Challenge

Sunday, July 23, 2023

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout -- Book Review


Book Description: "Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn't spoken for many years, comes to see her. Her unexpected visit forces Lucy to confront the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of her life: her impoverished childhood in Amgash, Illinois, her escape to New York and her desire to become a writer, her faltering marriage, her love for her two daughters.

Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable. In My Name Is Lucy Barton, one of America's finest writers shows how a simple hospital visit illuminates the most tender relationship of all-the one between mother and daughter."

I can't say that I liked this book, but I'm glad I read it. In fact, I find that every 12-18 months, I sort of put myself in that position--- to read something totally out of my genre and comfort zone. Maybe I do this to help me be more relatable to lifestyles very different from my own? What usually happens, though, is what happened this time. I find that the stuff in my life that I've stuffed is the stuff that causes me to relate all too well. This is the kind of story that inspires self reflection of the most difficult kind. It forces you to face the stuff you swear you've forgiven.

At first I saw this as a book of weird, stream of consciousness sort of remembrances. I feel like I should know these people? On one hand, it’s all stories of the past—-yet there is zero backstory. I came to learn that the story is the backstory. 

Regardless of the stated fact that the Mom in this story loves her daughter, she is emotionally stunted and extremely selfish and she refuses to heal from the obvious generational trauma that is going on there. The toxic thing about all this is that it makes a daughter want to bend over backwards to please her. I understand this completely. This desperation for the one who has rejected you to just prove they love you. Why is that? Have I carried the trauma of my experiences with my parents into my own healthy and happy relationships with my children? Do I try to make up for my hurt when I carry way too much mommy guilt when I'm not able to entertain or please them?

The author describes the sculpture of Ugolino and His Sons. The sons are gathered around their starving father saying, "You can eat us alive --- just please don't be sad, Daddy!" That’s what it’s like. To give up all that is precious in an effort to try to be number one to someone whose number one is themselves. I’m glad I stopped doing that. My relationships with my parents have survived into my mother's older age and my father's death --- but it is because of the boundaries I was wise to construct.

The story also made me think about my recent revelation that relationships between parents and children really are two-way streets. I had to have my own children grow into adults (and have a couple very strong-headed children) to realize this. One of the biggest revelations of my life was the understanding that my actions had hurt my father and it was too late to directly ask his forgiveness.

I understood the response of the emotionally abused Sarah Payne --- "I'm just a writer. That's all." A writer has a gift of communication that is envied by all who lack it. It's a huge thing to be a writer. When we realize that, we soar.

The most heartbreaking part of all of this to me was the narrator's self-reflection about her motherhood after her divorce: "I am the one who left their father, even though at the time I really thought I was just leaving him. But that was foolish thinking, because I left my girls as well, and I left their home." For 32 years, my mother has tried to convince herself, through convincing me, that she didn't leave us kids when she left Dad for the sleazebag. But she did and we both know it. I appreciated the narrator's words. Her acknowledgment is the acknowledgment I’ve yet to hear.

There were several mentions of the Chrysler Building, and it features on the front cover, so I knew there must be some symbolism to it. Having lived most of my life on the west coast and the last 10 years in the South, this meaning was not immediately obvious to me. I looked into it a little and it seems the building is a symbol of New York City's persistent optimism, even in the face of less than optimal circumstances. Perhaps it was used to draw a parallel to Lucy who also seems to be forcedly "happy" in situations a non-traumatized person would see as toxic.

Book fulfills the following challenges: Alphabet Soup Challenge 

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Reading Update and a Book Giveaway!


Hello, I've not blogged here in awhile. Moving on now.

Need to update with the following reads and a general review/giveaway and then I'm off to choose my next book.

Since last update, I've read the following:

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Book Description: "Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people - though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she's invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend - her grandmother Zelda - who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda's past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever."

My Review: This was just a genuinely sweet book. The main character was lovable but also someone you could really respect. (I like how she knew she needed to change but she finished her commitments first. Maturity.) The supporting characters were all lovable, too. The Father was horrid---his scenes made me sick---but there was no raunchy anything and hardly any language.

I can't fully recommend it as it has some unBiblical elements promoted in a positive way, but I got a lot out of it and really appreciate the opportunity to enjoy the story.

(Fulfills Alphabet Soup challenge)

Little Miss Stoneybrook...and Dawn by Ann M. Martin

Cheesy...yet nostalgic.

(Fulfills: Children's Book Challenge , Alphabet Soup challenge)


Since then, I've been reading through all these books by my favorite author:

Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette

Shadow of the Storm by Connilyn Cossette

Wings of the Wind by Connilyn Cossette

A Light on the Hill by Connilyn Cossette

Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette

Until the Mountains Fall by Connilyn Cossette

Like Flames in the Night by Connilyn Cossette

(Fulfills Alphabet Soup challenge , Historical Fiction Challenge)

I've got a giveaway going on now through July 30th. Check that out at the video below:

Sunday, April 16, 2023

A Room of One's Own or 114 Pages of Excuses Concerning Why I Can't Write Today

(The most objective book description I could find online): A Room of One's Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf. First published on 24 October 1929, the essay was based on a series of lectures she delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women's colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers of and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled "Women and Fiction", and hence the essay, are considered non-fiction. The essay is generally seen as a feminist text, and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.

I have so many thoughts and mixed feelings about this essay. While I don't think stream of consciousness is really my thing when it comes to preferred reading; I find myself writing this way often, so I've come to understand a couple things. Firstly, when one is writing in this sort of way, one tends to contradict oneself. Secondly, the reader is required to pay a good amount of attention a good deal of the time---and that can be difficult. 

If Woolf is allowed to write in such an eruption of thoughts, I will feel free to respond in kind. 

Concerning the "Feminism" of this piece: I believe that if today’s feminists read the whole thing, instead of a few snippets in a college anthology, they’d find that Woolf is not necessarily pleading their case here. Her narrator might be a sort of whiny entitled one at times, but I think Woolf's point of view is clear at the end. While she lays out a good case for the difficulties formerly faced by women writers, and points out how there's still work to be done, she also lists quite a few reforms that have been made since long before her audience came of age. She’s not complaining about the lack of opportunity for women so much as she’s upset about the lack of women taking the opportunity.

What constitutes opportunity is a matter of opinion. Some say the opportunity lies in the freedom a childless, single woman has to do what she wants with her time---in this case, writing; while others say opportunity is being taken care of by a doting husband while raising a family. I’ve been blessed with both a doting husband/family and the freedom to do what I want with my time. 

I do have means and a room of my own---this book stirs in me the feeling of obligation to make more use of it for the sake of all the other women who didn’t and don't.

In today's society, I don't think our options are either singleness and freedom or being strapped to a family schedule. There’s a third option: marry a man who values your brain, creativity, and time. Train your children to respect your creative time and, better yet, make some of their own. A large amount of children are not the problem. Mismanaged time, selfish husbands, lousy parenting, these might be the problem. So ladies, choose wisely. When my husband is off work, he occupies the children so I can write or film. He values my mind, ministry, and interests. I value them, too, and I'm not afraid to make my needs known. Women of a century ago may not have had this choice, but the women of today do and using this essay as a rant for today is silly, entitled, and difficult to take seriously.

She alluded to men who go to the office at ten and come home at half past four to do what they want. This is not impossible, ladies. Train your children! Establish a schedule! Take control over your time so you can do this too. Obviously these men “trained” those around them---do the same!

In Woolf’s day it may have been a lack of opportunity, but today it's apathy. But, maybe then too.

Without thinkers like Woolf, both men and women, we wouldn’t have opportunities now. But one must have the desire and see the value to think those thoughts. Some didn’t fight then because they didn’t care. Some don’t utilize opportunities now because they have other opportunities to care about. The more time I spend on eternal things, the less I care about these “scholarly” things that once seemed so important to me. Still, the need for quiet writing time is one I struggle to suppress. The guilt of taking time from my family battles with the guilt of taking time from myself, no matter how well trained anyone is.

In my opinion, writing (or any other creative pursuit) is a privilege to be enjoyed after your work is done. If you are provided for, you probably have children to care for. If you provide for yourself, you must do that work first. Who provided for Virginia Woolf? It sounds like she and her husband worked together on their publishing company and didn’t make a whole lot of money. She might have been "poor" in her own eyes, but the woman literally had her own writing cottage. Please.  

I think if you want to write, you make time to write. No excuses. Woolf mentions Jane Austen several times. Jane Austen had neither 500 pounds a year nor a room of her own to write in. She wrote at a lap desk in her family's sitting room and listened for the creaking door to alert her to hide what she was working on. 

Rather than some kind of amazing bit of, "let's free women" literature, I see this more as, “114 pages of excuses concerning why I can’t write today." A writer writes for herself, regardless of where that piece of writing ends up after she's completed it.

Still, if one wants to make money off it nowadays, there are no excuses. I'm a homeschooling mother of nine and have made good money off my writing when I desired to. I have several friends who are doing the same.

While I'm annoyed with modern young college women who read this and somehow feel they relate with Mary Beton/Seton/Carmichael, I feel like I want to read this once a year to try to be more relatable to women who do not have the opportunities that I and they do.

Favorite quote: “It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.”

This book meets the following challenges: Alphabet Soup Challenge for "R" and The Classics Club.

Monday, January 23, 2023

What I Read Last Week: Dickens and Prince, Beyond the Bright Sea, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, The Last Bookshop in London

It's been a week of reading for me---and not a lot else. Haha! Can't complain...but probably shouldn't brag either. Besides all this reading this week, I've also been going through a chronological Bible study with friends. Too bad the rest of my physique isn't getting the same work out as my eyes...

But on to the books... First up, Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk:
This was a truly beautiful story.

I don't usually read a lot of children's or teen fiction, but lately I've kind of been on a kick. Part of me wants to show myself that not all fiction written for kids lately is demonic indoctrination as I often hear, left and right, from some conservative sources.

Beyond the Bright Sea is simply the story of a confident and wise young girl who is looking for information on her birth parents. Crow was adopted as an infant and, as a young teen, discovers clues about her origins. She begins a search for information, rather than identity, and that's what makes this story so sweet. She already knows who she is and what she finds out further cements her good character, rather than changing it. With a little adventure and a little perilous action thrown in, this is the perfect story for my middle grade kids.

This book meets the following challenges: TBR Challenge, The Children's Book ChallengeThe Alphabet Soup Challenge for the letter "B",  The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, and the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge for "read a new-to-you middle grade book". 

Book Description: "A.J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over -- and see everything anew."

One afternoon last week, I purchased this book, came home and changed into pajamas, went straight to bed, and read the whole thing through without stopping. Wow, three “full star ratings” in a row—am I getting soft?

My initial thoughts of A.J. 10 pages in is that he doesn’t necessarily want to be right in a conversation, just understood. I've discovered this about myself lately and recognize it in him. If he doesn't feel like he will be understood, he doesn't think the relationship is worth the time.

Almost 20 pages in, he is bitingly sarcastic with an officer after the death of his wife. What strikes me is that, in the middle of the conversation about his "grand saga", he realizes the officer also has a life outside of the role he's playing at the moment. He says maybe he is, instead, a part of the “grander saga” of the officer's life. Yes! We’ve got to get outside ourselves and see that some of our experiences, good and bad, are not about us but about the growth of others.

43 pages in, I thought: Who is this author? He/she really gets people. (looks to the bio info in the back) Oh, it’s a she. A young she. Very impressive.

The book was a gut check for me in a few ways. Here's one that had me stopping to choke back tears for a minute: "It's the secret fear that we are unlovable that isolates us, but it is only because we are isolated that we think we are unlovable."

Another good quote: “Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.”

If there's any fault in the story line, it's that A.J.'s transition from crochety, difficult person to gentle, soft person seems too instantaneous. There doesn't seem to be a growing stage and no real change after moving to that new stage. However, this would have made for a longer book and I enjoyed the brevity of this one. Still, being the main point of the whole story, it seems surprising that he flips like a switch.

Content warning: strong but scattered profanities; non-descriptive sex scenes

This book meets the following challenges: The Alphabet Soup Challenge for the letter "S", and the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge for "read a book outside your comfort zone". (This book was outside my comfort zone because I normally would have stopped after the above-mentioned content warnings---but I went ahead and finished because I thought there was some good writing underneath.) 

A protagonist in a bookshop who doesn’t love books…that’s new…

When Grace and her friend Viv set out for London, they could never have imagined they were about to live through one of the most devastating experiences in the city's history. Viv works her dream job while Grace is hired in a position that is not necessarily her cup of tea. However, she finds out it's exactly where she needed to be at the time.

I usually avoid stories that take place during war time because I have three sons ages 18-21 and the thought of them all getting drafted up in the near future freaks me right out. This was a difficult story to read in that sense, but it had some pretty amazing parts too and I learned a lot about this time in history. (Downside of my fearful avoidance is that I don't know much about the history of modern wars...)

I felt like the writing fell short more often than not as the author struggled to write natural sentences that people would speak naturally. I don't know how to really describe what I'm getting at but so much of it had that Victorian flowery formality---like Louisa May Alcott (is it for kids? is it for adults?)---that made it hard to really relate to anyone. I think part of it was that it was obviously an American trying to write about a culture she's probably mostly experienced through TV and movies. I would have really loved to have read more about the books Grace was reading and selling---rather than just mentions of the same obvious classics. Like American bookstores, British bookstores are packed with lots of different books from lots of different authors and eras, and classics make up a tiny minority of the offerings. Clunky dialogue clashed with some pretty vivid descriptive writing of scenes and situations to make something I'm glad I read but probably wouldn't read again.

This book meets the following challenges: TBR Challenge,  The Alphabet Soup Challenge for authors for the letter "M",  The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, and the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge for "read a book in which a main character is 60+". 

Someone else's jaded fan-boy description: "Every so often, a pairing comes along that seems completely unlikely--until it's not. Peanut butter and jelly, Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un, ducks and puppies, and now: Dickens and Prince. Equipped with a fan's admiration and his trademark humor and wit, Nick Hornby invites us into his latest obsession: the cosmic link between two unlikely artists, geniuses in their own rights, spanning race, class, and centuries--each of whom electrified their different disciplines and whose legacy resounded far beyond their own time."

I can appreciate the sentiment that the author has for these two artists, but I can't say that he made a special case for unique similarities between the two. Both were prolific, both were poor...and? The author is quick to point out many other artists share these similarities—-so the point of the book is??? The truth is, there’s nothing significantly unique that links these two together that couldn’t be said of zillions of other celebrities that could be inserted into place instead.

I also get annoyed when an author spends too many words quoting the words of others---especially in such a short work. And speaking of words, the comparison between the two artists’ contribution of words falls flat when you ask the question, what did their words actually contribute to society? In short, Dickens’ words sparked permanent social reform, including child labor laws, in both England and the US. Prince gave us the recorded orgasms of his ex-girlfriend.
Not a fan.

This book meets the following challenges: The Alphabet Soup Challenge for the letter "D", and the Brighter Winter Reading Challenge for "read a library book" and "read a book published in 2022". 

That's a wrap---what are you reading?