February 19, 2015

Snowbound with Station Eleven and Jane Austen

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Dystopia, England, Favorite Quotes, Jane Austen, Movie Reviews tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 8:53 pm by catsinboxes

It snowed this week, quite impressively for Louisville, blanketing the city and wreaking havoc on roads, schools, and schedules.

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I didn’t complain when my quiet weekend was extended by one day. (Though I did frown at my nearly-empty carton of eggs.)

As the snow fell outside, I made hot tea and settled down to read Station Eleven. (While the library has over a hundred people on the waiting list for this National Book Award Finalist, I lucked out and was lent a copy by a fellow reader.) Another book-loving friend had described Station Eleven as an absorbing page-turner, and it was a fun.

Resembling Dickens in its cast of characters and twisting story lines, Station Eleven darts back and forth, weaving the tale of a group of people across a number of years who are bound together by one man. Just after the book begins a pandemic sweeps across the world. It was almost eerie, reading about civilization crumbling in Station Eleven‘s world while —outside— the city ground to a halt, immobilized by snow.

I wouldn’t recommend Station Eleven unreservedly, but it is definitely an engaging book.

Another highlight of my quiet week was watching the 1995 BBC version of Persuasion with a fellow British drama lover. I. Love. That. Story.

Persuasion falls into my top three Jane Austen novels. It was my last to discover. . . . I was an early teen at the library and, locating Jane Austen in the fiction section, realized that here was one story of hers that I had not read. That was soon remedied!

Anne Elliot, the last heroine completed by Jane Austen, has depth. (And Amanda Root does a lovely job of displaying this in the movie!)

The movie is a wonderful adaption —my favorite for Persuasion. The casting is great and though I didn’t catch it last time, Harry Potter lovers, did you realize AUNT PETUNIA is Mrs. Croft?! It’s so funny to see her as a good character for a change, and actress Fiona Shaw does a lovely job.

I love the Crofts in both the movie and the book, and I’ve never forgotten Anne’s observations regarding the Crofts as they are out driving in their carriage. Mrs. Croft exclaims:

My dear Admiral, that post! we shall certainly take that post.”

But by coolly giving the reins a better direction herself they happily passed the danger; and by once afterwards judiciously putting out her hand they neither fell into a rut, nor ran foul of a dung-cart; and Anne, with some amusement at their style of driving, which she imagined no bad representation of the general guidance of their affairs, found herself safely deposited by them at the Cottage.

So, that’s part of what I enjoyed during this snowy week. How about you? Please do leave a comment; I love people chiming in!

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January 30, 2013

Books, Books, and More Books -Part 1

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, England, Fiction, Jane Austen, Theology/Christian life at 8:23 pm by catsinboxes

Divided into categories, here is an overview of different books I’ve encountered lately.

Read Aloud

Bill Bergson, Master Detective by Astrid Lindgren

Two weekends ago, I was on the prowl looking for a good read aloud.  I knew what kind of story I wanted, an exciting one with adventure and cliffhangers.  And if that weren’t enough, I really wanted one that would be a new read for me, too.  It was a tall order, and I realized it.  Still, I didn’t give up and went poking hopefully through our children’s books.  After looking at a few books, a paperback caught my eye.  Bill Bergson, Master Detective.  It was a promising title, and it was written by Astrid Lindgren.  I like Astrid Lindgren, so I picked it up.  I opened to the first page.  This was the critical part.  Would it catch my listeners’ interest?  They are wonderful listeners, but they’re well read and have high expectations.  Also, would it meet my criteria?  Yes, I was being picky, but I did feel like just one sort of book.

These were the first few sentences:

Blood!  No doubt about it!  He stared at the red stain through his magnifying glass.  Then he moved his pipe to the other side of his mouth and sighed.  Of course it was blood.  What else can you expect when you cut your thumb?

This book was exactly what I was looking for, and we all enjoyed reading it.  What is the story about?  Why, Bill Bergson of course.

Bill is a keen detective, complete with magnifying glass and (empty) pipe.  His only problem is that he is 13 years old, no one will take his profession seriously, and the small town he lives in is annoyingly free of crime.  Still, Bill manages to have a lot of fun with Eva-Lotta, his next door neighbor, and Anders, his bosom friend.  It looks like their fun might be interrupted when Eva-Lotta’s Uncle Einar comes for a visit.  Uncle Einar is exasperating for one thing, but he also seems mysterious.  And that is when things start happening, and it will take all of Bill Bergson, Master Detective’s wits to get to the bottom of these suspicious events.

Read-Aloud Quality: 5 (out of 5)

Ideal Listeners’ Ages: 7-13 

Emil’s Pranks by Astrid Lindgren  

After the success of Bill Bergson, I was ready to try something else by Astrid Lindgren.  Emil is written for a younger audience and, as the name predicts, the book is devoted to a chronicling of five-year-old Emil’s pranks with every other page including a whimsical and often humorous illustration.  It’s not that Emil is naughty, though he is; it’s just that he is a bit too clever for his own good and his parents don’t know what to do with him.  (Think Calvin and Hobbes Swedish version!)

I like Emil because his naughtiness in this book, and others in the Emil series, isn’t the kind that will rub off onto his listeners.  I think few of them will ever be tempted to paint their siblings blue or hoist them up a flagpole . . . but oh is it funny to listen to Emil’s escapades!

Today, as I was reading aloud with Joshua, the word “mischief” was used.  Jonathan, age 5, looked up from a puzzle he was working on and said with a grin,

“I know what mischief means: it’s what Emil does.”  And that is true, Emil is the definition of mischief!

Read-Aloud Quality: 5 (out of 5)

Ideal Listeners’ Ages: 5 – 12

Biography

Jane Austen by Peter Leithart 

This short biography is an easy read and belongs to a biography series called Christian Encounters.   In it, Peter Leithart does a good job of tracing Jane Austen’s life, work, and faith.  He tries to find her true character between the two extremes that she has been portrayed: sarcastic, cynical feminist or pious Victorian prude.  In doing so, he creates his own picture of Jane and, to differentiate from other portrayals, dubs her “Jenny.”  He doesn’t do it consistently, and I found it slightly annoying.  To my knowledge, Jane was never called Jenny, and it was a hard pill to swallow.  It’s like dubbing Charles Dickens, “Charlie.”  It simply shouldn’t be done!  That gripe aside, Jane Austen is a truly enjoyable read.  One more note for interested readers before I move on. Don’t be like me, and read the whole book wishing you had a family tree BEFORE discovering there is an appendix in the back for the complicated list of brothers, sisters-in-law, cousins, second wives, etc!

Biography Rating 4 (out of 5)

Readability 5 (out of 5)

Fun fact of the day: do you know that Pride and Prejudice turned 200 this week?

Christian Living

Radical Together by David Platt  

After reading Radical, two years ago, I was eager to read Radical Together.  I bought it this past fall, and it has been sitting on my shelf with a list of other to-reads.  Once I started, it was a fast read, only about 130 pages.  It is an interesting follow-up to Radical and in it, David Platt tries to show what it looks like when the church as a body is “radical” together.  He gives many examples, particularly from his own life and ministry.  For some, this might seem rather self-righteous, but Platt makes it very clear that he and his ministry are far from perfect.  Anyone who  knows David Platt, who has heard him speak and read his book, will know that this is a man who has a heart for the gospel.  Reading Radical Together, it is so neat and challenging to see in practical terms what living out “radical” has meant for both individuals and churches.

In this book, Platt is quick to recognize the importance of the local church.  He also is quick to point out that the problem is not that our church programs and agendas are inherently wrong; they can be very good.  The question is, are they the best in the end for displaying God’s glory to the nations?

If you’re starting to feel a little too complacent (after all, Radical was two years ago), this book will be the perfect book to get you back on your toes.  I love the passion that David Platt shows toward reaching the unreached.  I also love the way he is so challenging, and yet so clear that God does not need our help.

“God does not involve us in his grand, global purpose because he needs us.  He involves us in his grand, global plan because he loves us.”  (Radical Together, 129.)

Christian Living Rating 5 (out of 5)

Readability 5 (out of 5)

January 4, 2013

A Confession Concerning Emma

Posted in Books, England, Jane Austen tagged at 9:11 am by catsinboxes

When I first discovered Jane Austen, I was twelve.  Emma was, I do believe, the third Jane Austen audiobook which I listened to, and I was not impressed.  Simply put, I did not like Emma.  She was far too annoying; how could anyone like her?  I realized that some people did, my own father included.  So then I began a theory: maybe men tolerate Emma more than women.  And that was that.  I listened, and re-listened to Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.  I read and re-read Persuasion.  I did not touch Emma.  And then, two years ago, Emma came back into my life.  It began with BBC’s new production which is available on Youtube.  While living in Japan, I decided to watch Emma.  And I actually enjoyed it!  So that was that, and at the back of my head, I started to wonder if perhaps I should give Emma another chance.  Time passed, and then -in October- we had a girls’ trip to Louisville, Kentucky.  One of the joys of the trip was high-speed internet.  And, one night, I suggested that we watch Emma.  So we watched it, and everyone was pleased.  Again, I had the inclination -this time stronger- to give Emma another chance.

On the drive back from Louisville, we finished listening to Pride and Prejudice.  I wasn’t ready to be done with Jane Austen, so I made a decision.  I would try Emma, again.  It was duly checked out from the library, and I really enjoyed it!

That said, I will not say that it is my favorite, but it is from one of my favorite authors.  I do believe that age has something to do with it; I’m ready to admire and enjoy it as an amateur connoisseur.  And I feel like I can understand Emma much more now that I am about her age.  Emma’s fault is that she is open in expressing her feelings.  She is too quick to give censure and jump to conjectures.  She is a woman through and through.  And, I find myself wondering, is Emma dislikable simply because she is such a pretty picture of womanhood?  Is it because she wears on her sleeve the faults that so many of her sex indulge in inwardly?  Certainly I am not an Emma, but I do see myself in Emma.  Suddenly, I can understand her irritation with the ‘perfect‘ Jane Fairfax.  In Emma’s lack of carrying through with the best intentions, I can see a picture of my own intentions.  I have been guilty of the same things: making goals but never completing them, yet basking in the praise of being “accomplished” by admiring -and very partial- friends and family.  Suddenly I can see how it happens.  And I can like Emma.  I can like Emma because I realize that I am more like her than I would like.  And I like her even more because of the glimpse Emma affords into Jane Austen’s mind.  There are so many glimpses of society, so many observations on people and character and disposition.  Now that I’ve finished Emma for a second time, I’m more than ready to read it again.  And after all, who doesn’t like Mr. Knightley?

November 20, 2012

Hobbit Holes, Audiobooks, and Not Enough Posting

Posted in Blogging, Books, England, Favorite Quotes, Just Life at 9:54 pm by catsinboxes

For any Hobbit fan, you should head over to Redeemed Reader’s website.  Right now they’re having a great Hobbit read-along.  I’m hoping to chip in at some point, but up till now my blogging has been, well, lacking.  I did have very good intentions.  I even had drafts, but I hit what must be called “blogger’s block.”  The post simply didn’t please me, and I didn’t want to share it.  So, there went that one.  I was out of town when I attempted that, so if you’re kind, you’ll use that as a good excuse.  And since then?  Well, I have gotten back into everyday life, and life along with work has kept me busy.

Back to The Hobbit.  It has occupied me for quite some time.  Indeed, it has been one reoccurring theme through the past few weeks.  But really, it goes back much farther.  I believe that I first read The Hobbit when I was between 7 and 8 years old.  I remember listening to BBC’s dramatization of The Hobbit, I believe it was on a trip to New Hampshire.  While slightly confusing (Gandalf begins the narrative with Bilbo chipping in with details), I do remember loving it, especially the music of the dwarves.  Then, at some point, the Recorded Books unabridged production of The Hobbit, narrated by Rob Inglis was acquired.  And since then, The Hobbit has been an audiobook staple.  In our family, audiobooks are also a bedtime staple.  (As I write, the iPod is playing faintly downstairs.)  While it’s not necessary for me, audiobooks at bedtime are my equivalent of chicken soup, pure comfort.  And, of all audiobooks, The Hobbit is a continual favorite.  I remember, at some point in junior high or high school deciding that I wanted to go to sleep to The Hobbit.  There is something, in the midst of all life’s busyness, very comforting about the beginning of The Hobbit.  I love the careful details regarding hobbits in general and one particular hobbit and hobbit hole in particular.  I love the humor: “Bungo, that was Bilbo’s father, built the most luxurious hobbit-hole for her (and partly with her money) that was to be found either under The Hill or over The Hill or across The Water.”  And, as I read the first chapter in conjunction with The Hobbit read-along, I love the capitalization!  It’s a small world indeed when there is simply “The Hill” and “The Water.”  But isn’t it like that in our own little slices of world?  We have “The Woods” and “The Study,” and any number of other very specific words that only those within our family would recognize.  It’s easy to relate to!

Something that I find is helpful when reading The Hobbit, is to realize that it was a bedtime story of sorts.  As such, it seems that Tolkien faced the scrutiny of an audience very close to home:

“Christopher was always much concerned with the consistency of the story and on one occasion … interrupted: ‘Last time, you said Bilbo’s front door was blue, and you said Thorin had a golden tassel on this hood, but you’ve just said that Bilbo’s front door was green, and the tassel on Thorin’s hood was silver’;  at which point Ronald exclaimed ‘Damn the boy!’ and strode across the room to make a note.” (The Tolkien Family Album, Priscilla and John Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1992, p. 58.)

I love that quote, and as an occasional bedtime storyteller, I know how easy it is to forget names let alone details!

My thoughts on The Hobbit could continue to flow, but I would like to go and do some reading before bedtime, so I will bring this post to an end.  There will be more posts in the coming weeks, but I will not vouchsafe what Thanksgiving and Christmas will do to my blogging schedule.  I’m being optimistic though, and hoping for the best!

September 15, 2012

Dead Leaves and Wool Blankets

Posted in Blogging, Books, England, Just Life at 12:14 pm by catsinboxes

If you have followed this blog, one thing you probably have noticed is that my posts are not predictable.  My blog is eclectic, and my posts timing is equally eclectic.  Part of me would love to be an official blogger with a following and daily posts.  The other part of me, the stubborn independent part, realizes that I could quickly become a slave to my own blog.  I have yet to find the perfect balance, but it is safe to say that you can expect weekly posts from me in the coming months, and don’t be surprised if a couple more posts are slipped in each week.  That said, or rather ‘written’, on to my post!

I love fall, to the point that it is probably my favorite season.  I love spring, but I think anyone would welcome spring after having to live through a Wisconsin winter!  Years ago, I read something very interesting in my British literature textbook. There’s actually a neat story behind that textbook.  Well over a decade ago, I bought this book at our local library.  I was probably about eight, I hadn’t traveled to England, but I already loved England.  And, this book was about ‘English Literature.’

I thought it was wonderful.    Throughout the years, and through two moves, I held on to the book.  Occasionally, Mom would suggest that I probably didn’t need that book, but each time I would beg and plead and manage to keep it.  I reached high school, and mid-way through high school it came the time to study British literature.  We evaluated many textbooks, and guess which one was unquestionably, hands-down, the best?  My trustworthy old textbook!  It was interesting, it was well-written, it was just what I needed.  And, reading that textbook, I was intrigued by the parallel that it drew between Britain’s climate and its literature.  Somewhere else (and I can’t remember where, it’s bothering me!) I read that fall, with its brisk nights, misty mornings, and sunshine in between is the ideal temperature for optimal creativity due to how the brain works.  Interestingly, Britain sees a lot of that sort of weather, and British literature would indicate that creativity has always thrived in England.  In my opinion, it still does, whether from an unfair climate advantage, or a superior literary heritage, British children’s literature beats American children’s literature any day.

If you can’t tell, I love books in general and British books in particular!  And I love fall, and dead leaves.  After this hot, dry summer I even love rainy days.  As a writer, I would say that this weather is perfect for encouraging creativity.  It’s just the weather for brisk walks, cups of tea, horseback rides, and writing or reading anything (within reason of course, there are of course books that just shouldn’t be read).  And as the nighttime temperature drops into the 40s and upper 30s, it is the perfect weather for sleeping with the window open and a pile of blankets (preferably at least one that is wool) on your bed.  My feet are getting cold at the thought of it, but that’s the challenge!  And there’s nothing like finding the perfect amount of blankets (and socks, they’re a crucial component, too), when the general temperature in your room is borderline frigid.  So much fun!

There are so many other things I could write about, but this post is long enough already.  Besides, it is Saturday, and a perfect fall day is calling me outside.  

April 3, 2012

What a Resource!

Posted in England, Home Front, Just Life, WWII tagged , , at 10:50 pm by catsinboxes

For all you primary source lovers/WWII buffs out there, you should read this from the WW2 People’s War archives.  It’s an account of the ordinary life of one young woman in England during and after World War II.  She worked in a small shop, though she did apply for the Land Army.  It seems that, at 18, she was considered too old to join!  I love the way that she remembers and carefully explains some of the small details of everyday life.  (One prime example is how the currency system worked.)  I hope that you enjoy this resource as much as I did.  And have fun in the archives; I love reading through the different stories.

January 18, 2012

If only . . .

Posted in Bargains, Books, England, Favorite Quotes, Poetry tagged , , , at 10:53 am by catsinboxes

I’m in the midst of reading Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber.  I bought it for a bargain as a Kindle ebook.  (Right now it’s only $3.44!)  I don’t how long it will stay that price, but I thought I would mention it.  As an Anglophile, I love the picture of life at Oxford that Carolyn gives.  As a literary buff, I love the many quotes and literary allusions that she weaves into her memoir.

This isn’t going to be a book review (though one will surely come!), but I want to share one poem that I particularly enjoyed.

“If only the good were clever,

If only the clever were good,

The world would be better than ever

We thought that it possibly could.

But, alas, it is seldom or never

That either behave as they should:

For the good are so harsh to the clever,

The clever so rude to the good.”

~Elizabeth Wordsworth

April 30, 2011

Royal Wedding

Posted in England, Just Life at 2:20 am by catsinboxes

The alarm went off at 3:40 AM this morning, Christian radio blaring some up-beat rock song.  I lay in bed and groggily wondered why on earth I had decided to do this.  Then I crawled out of bed, switched off the alarm, and collapsed on the bed again.  I contemplated going straight back to sleep, but I had been designated the “waker-upper”, and I had work to do.  So, after a few minutes, I regretfully rolled out of bed and set about my work.  Feeling sympathetic for my fellow early-risers, I waited till about 3:55 to rouse them.  (4:00 was the designated time we had agreed upon.)

Now it’s 2:22 PM and I’m nursing a cup of strong coffee.  STRONG coffee.  Was it worth it?  I’d say definitely.  The pomp and circumstance, the formalities, the dresses (not to mention THE dress), the horse guards, royal carriages . . . so much excitement.  I loved watching William and Catherine née Kate.  They looked so happy, so excited.  I hope and pray that they will be blessed with a happy, lasting marriage.

At the same time, it made me think about marriage, and what a wedding symbolizes.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  A new life, a new beginning.  I don’t mean to downplay the wedding, but for William and Catherine this wasn’t the main theme.  Oh, certainly this marks a new period in their life together, a lot has changed, but there is nothing new in the relationship.  After all, the couple have all ready been living together.

So while I loved watching an event that is part of history, I reflected that there can be so much more to a wedding.  Despite all the beauty, all the excitement, this wedding did not celebrate purity.  Oh, it celebrated “happy ever after” and “true love” and beauty played a main role.  But think, how much more special would it have been, would it be, if more marriages celebrated purity?

May 11, 2010

Jane Austen on Facebook . . .

Posted in England, Favorite Quotes, Jane Austen at 10:18 pm by catsinboxes

Resignation to inevitable evils is the duty of us all…

Actually, Jane wasn’t writing about Facebook.  The context is Mr. Collins reassuring Mrs. Bennet that he REALLY doesn’t mind about Elizabeth Bennet flatly refusing him.

Still, I found this quote just as I was resigning myself to some inevitable evils of Facebook.   Literally, the timing was perfect.  Just goes to show how relevant Jane Austen is to the everyday life of a 21st century American high school senior!

March 7, 2010

The Thirty-Nine Steps

Posted in England, Movie Reviews, Scotland at 2:56 am by catsinboxes

I always love to know what other people think about movies I’m interested in, so now I will return the favor.  (Not that I know that you are interested in The Thirty-Nine Steps, but if the above picture hasn’t piqued your interest, I don’t know what will!)

Rupert Penry-Jones, known to Jane Austen fans for his role as Captain Wentworth in Masterpiece Theater’s adaptation of Persuasion, plays Richard Hannay, an engineer in London, recently returned from South Africa.  Hannay is a bit bored with life until a twist of fate involves him with Scudder, an English spy who claims that he has obtained information of vital importance to the security of Britain.  However, before Scudder can reveal much more, he is murdered and Hannay implicated with the crime.

Left with Scudder’s  mysterious cipher notebook, Hannay finds himself fleeing both police and Scudder’s own assassins, who are determined to obtain the notebook at any cost.  His only hope in proving his innocence is to discover Scudder’s cipher and prove his theory correct.  Hannay’s quest takes him to Scotland, where a young suffragette, Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard), becomes embroiled in his search.  I won’t say any more, for fear of spoiling something.

Rupert Penry-Jones makes an excellent Hannay.  He’s tall and good looking which is always a must, if possible, for any adventure figure excepting Sean Bean, my favorite villain.  I like Penry-Jones much better in this role than as the brooding, petty Captain Wentworth of Masterpiece’s much-too-short and rushed Persuasion.

This is the third adaption of The Thirty-Nine Steps that I have watched, and I believe it is the closest to the book.  While in the book itself, there is no main female character, all three movies add one.  I think Victoria is the most interesting and multi-dimensional female compared to the two other love-interests in the previous movies.  The dialogue between Victoria and Hannay is delightful, a sort of Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy exchange fast-forwarded to 1914.  My only quibble, without giving away anything, is that I find the spin at the end of the movie a little too far-fetched and unrealistic.

The filming and scenery of the Scottish Highlands is excellent, and both Kelsey and I enjoyed the music.  The film is rated PG.  Language is minimal; I caught a couple profanities and at least one “damn.”  There is also mild innuendo, but nothing is implied, unlike Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers.

Overall, if you feel like enjoying a nice British adventure, I would certainly recommend The Thirty-Nine Steps as long as you realize, and don’t mind, the above-mentioned cautions.  If you are interested, it can be watched online through March 30th at:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/steps/watch.html

What I would love to see is Masterpiece Theater continuing the Hannay series with Greenmantle, John Buchan’s sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps . . . maybe they will.  I personally think that Rupert Penry-Jones and Lydia Leonard would make a perfect Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane pair; they’re even the right ages in real life!  But that would be another story altogether . . .

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