Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Waterfall Wednesdays: Chapters 24-28

Questions by Irresistible Reads
1. After Gabi is injured, the doctor gives her a tonic.  Gabi questions the doctor several times what is in it but he refuses to tell.  Would have you taken the tonic in Gabi situation?

I tend to think no. This is one of those basic things your mom teaches you as soon as you can understand language. Always look before you cross the street. Don't get into cars with strangers. Don't ingest strange substances given to you by creepy Medieval men. 

2.  Before the games Gabi asks Lia to let Lord Forabosch win in the archery event as people especially Lord Forabosch are becoming suspicious of them.  But during the games Lord Forabosch upsets Lia trying to throw her off her game. So Lia decides to win.  Do you think she did the right thing by not letting Lord Forabosch bully her or do you think she took an unnecessary risk?

She probably took an unnecessary risk. But she did show her strength--at archery and her backbone--when she refused to be cowed. I like that about her. I think I might like her more than Gabi. Sometimes I think Gabi needs to think through the ramifications of her decisions in a Medieval world more. Lia is a little meeker, but more thoughtful about her actions. So even if it was unnecessary, it was a fun "girl power" moment for Lia!

 3.  When Gabi is dying and she and Lia decide to return to the tombs so they can get the cure at home but they have to tell Marcello the truth.  Even though Marcello thinks that it is madness that they are from the future he believes in Gabi because he loves her.  Do you think this is believable?  What would you have done if you were Marcello?

I love Marcello's words when they separate at the tomb. Something like, "Come back to me, because I will be waiting." What devotion! He doesn't even know when or if she can/will come back... yet he's basically giving her his entire future. I think Gabi has proved enough that she's from another time and he has enough evidence to believe her. They seem to be a superstitious people back then, so they are probably more willing to believe in the unbelievable. 

4. In the end Gabi and Lia return home.  Do you think Gabi will return to Marcello? Would you go back?

Yes, she'll return to him! There wouldn't be two subsequent books if she didn't. And I don't think Cascade and Torrent consist of her pining away for Marcello in 2011. I don't think I'd return. It's hard for me to imagine being so head-over-heels for someone after two weeks that I'd drastically alter my entire world for them. I wouldn't have done that for my husband after two weeks of dating, so I doubt I'd do that for a Medieval guy, no matter how hunky he was. And I would miss my family too much!... and indoor plumbing, deodorant, electricity, antibiotics, air-conditioning...

5.  Looking back at Waterfall what was your favourite moment? 
Everyone will say the kisses. Woooo, can LTB write a great kissing scene! I kinda wanna go find my hubby right now for a good kiss. :) But, I'm gonna go with Luca as my favorite moment, even though he's a man, not a moment. He makes me laugh... and I um, love him. He's as hunky as Marcello and funny, to boot! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Robber Bridegroom

There's something comforting about the cadence of fairy tales... the rhythm and repetition give you advanced warning of the story's direction and remind me of the beloved stories of my childhood. The Robber Bridgegroom is a modern American interpretation of the Grimm Brothers tale. Before I read Welty's version, I printed out a copy of the original (well, not original, because I don't read German, but you know) and it was extremely grotesque, as one can only expect from the grim Brothers Grimm. The story featured cannibalism and the mutilation of young maidens, but luckily Welty left out most of the blood and guts in her telling.

Set along the Old Natchez Trace trail in Mississippi, TRB is a cross between a fairy tale and an American tall-tale. Many of the old staples we come to expect from a fairy tale were included, but some with a twist:
  • a beautiful lonely blonde maiden who sits by her window at night and sings about finding her true love (but who lies with more frequency and creativity than Huck Finn)
  • her evil, ugly, jealous stepmother
  • talking animals
  • mystical jewelry
  • a dashing hero who is not exactly who he seems to be
Fair Rosamond, the lonely blonde, goes everyday at the request of her evil stepmom to gather the herbs that grow at the edge of the woods. One day, she is set upon by a bandit with a berry-stained face! This is his clever disguise and works just as well as Clark Kent's glasses. This just made me giggle. Who knew the identity-concealing properties of blueberries? Of course, lots of hijinks ensue, with a Southern twist, before Rosamond and the berry-stained bandit can find true love in each others' arms. 
I will definitely read more Welty. Here's a good quote:
New Orleans was the most marvelous city in the Spanish country or anywhere else on the river. Beauty and vice and every delight possible to the soul and body stood hospitably, and usually together, in every doorway and beneath every palmetto by day and lighted torch by night. A shutter opened, and a flower bloomed.  
 Grade: 3.75/5

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Celebrating the Freedom to Read

I read banned books! 
These are some of the banned books that I plucked from my shelves.

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the 
man who cannot read them. 
                                          ~Mark Twain

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. 
Books are well written or badly written. That is all.
                                         ~Oscar Wilde

The books that the world calls immoral are the books 
that show the world its own shame. 
                                   ~Oscar Wilde

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I finished The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn yesterday and thought that was quite fortuitous timing, since yesterday was the first day of Banned Books Week, and Huck has been one of the most banned/censored books in America.

Huck is commonly banned because of its frequent use of the "N" word. But what would the dissenters ask that Twain call black people in his book? He can't call them African Americans, that's for sure, and issue would probably be taken with anything he called them. It's a part of America's oft-times ugly history and slavery and racism are sad and ugly things. But in the interest of realism and of accurately expressing the era in which the book is set, and the society that Jim and Huck are up against, why should Twain be censored? 

Instead of censoring Huck for the "N" word, why isn't the focus on what I think is the true beauty of the novel? Despite the teachings ingrained in Huck by society, by his elders,  the church, even, that black people are inferior and need--even desire--the guidance and protection of slavery, he makes up his own mind. At the crucial point of the novel, when Huck is faced with the choice to help Jim achieve freedom or leave him to slavery, he makes the right decision. What makes it even more powerful is that, because of what society taught, he thinks he is damning himself for helping Jim:

I was trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll go to hell.'

I think that the hardest thing a person can do--and probably because it's the hardest, it's also the best thing a person can do--is stand up for what is right alone. I love watching Huck come to this conclusion. He grows slowly throughout the novel, until he comes to the place where his heart discerns right and he finds the courage to act on it.

It reminds me of this quotation from 1984:

Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.
Instead of focusing on the use of a racially-offensive term that was widely in use in the setting of the novel, the focus should be on Huck's discernment and his ability to think for himself. And that he finds the courage to do the right thing even against his whole world.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Winter Sea

The Premise:

Carrie McClelland, best-selling novelist, winters at a Scottish cottage to work on her latest project, a novel using her own real-life ancestor, Sophia McClelland, as the heroine. In the writing of it, memories and voices fill Carrie's mind and she soon realizes that it's not her own hand that's guiding her pen... but Sophia's memories, revealing 300-year-old secrets that could impact Carrie's own life.

The Theme:

  "...You couldn't just remember something if you hadn't had it in your memory to begin with. Could you?"

The Winter Sea explores the idea of genetic memory: the possibility of inheriting ancestors' memories. It's an interesting--though silly--concept, but it was presented in a way that mostly minimized the hokeyness of it. Don't mean to offend you mystics out there, but I just don't buy it. 

The Good:

How's this for introducing Carrie's love interest? I gave 5 stars to this swaggering entrance:
... and then the man turned too, and seeing me, retraced his steps. He was a younger man that I'd expected, not much older than myself--mid-thirties, maybe, with dark hair whipped roughly by the wind and a close-trimmed dark beard that made him look a little like a pirate. His walk, too, had a swagger to it, confident.
Rough. Dark. Pirate. Swagger. Confident. Now these are the words I like to see describing a man. And to top it off, he has a Scottish accent! Be still my heart.

The Bad:

The story alternates between two separate but intertwined storylines: Carrie's present-day one and Sophia's story, set in 1708, during the failed attempt to restore the Stewart line to the throne of Great Britain. This is some confusing, intense political and social history. Kearsley loads up Sophia's story with tedious chunks of history; dense dialogues delineated (didn't intend the alliteration here, but that's kinda fun) the conflict, its roots, and the current intrigues and conspiracies for Sophia's--and readers'--sakes. It bogged down the story and wasn't presented very well. 

The Ugly:
OK, Sophia had a secret marriage to John Moray, a hunky pirate in his own right. They married by hand-fasting (which I think is so romantic. Is it too late to also be hand-fasted to my hubby?) and the marriage was kept secret for many important reasons, not the least of which was that Moray was a wanted man. But why did Graham and Carrie keep their relationship secret? That's just stupid. No reason to do that in the 21st century, unless maybe you're a high-schooler.

The Verdict:
Ultimately, I think the author has the bones of a great story here, but I wish that she had fleshed it out more. My own personal pet peeve in stories is a lack of character development and lack of development in a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, Kearsley is guilty of both of these pet peeves of mine.
This novel alternately intrigued and then bored me. I couldn't-put-it-down and then couldn't-wait-to-finish it, so I have to give it a middle-of-the-road grade. 

3/5 stars

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Waterfall Wednesdays: Chapters 18-23

Better late than never! I gave in to peer pressure and caught up with Waterfall Wednesdays for this week's questions. I knew the name Lisa Tawn Bergren was familiar and it finally hit me that I read her Northern Lights series when I was about 13 or 14 and read exclusively Christian historical romance until I OD'ed on the genre. But THE ONLY scene I remember from the multitude of books that I read from that time was one from a book by Lisa Tawn Bergren. A wife is soaking in some kind of outdoor spring or tub or something while her husband washes her hair. And that's all. To my 14-year-old self, that struck me as about the most romantic, most wonderful thing ever. And it still sounds pretty good to me at 27! Anyway. Here we go. Waterfall Wednesdays:


Gabi and Lia both face several life and death situations in these chapters, having to pick up weapons in defense of those they love and experiencing first hand the brutality of close combat. If you had the choice between picking up a weapon and standing on the front lines or staying behind to tend to the wounded as necessary, which would you choose?

Definitely tend the wounded. Although can I just say I am happy I don't have to do either? I mean, if it came down to protecting those I love or my own life, I don't think I would hesitate to inflict injury. But I have no false illusions about my prowess with any kind of weapon, so I know that I wouldn't last two seconds against a massive muscular Medieval knight! I'm not squeamish, but I'm not much good with blood and gore, either, (and heaven help me if someone started vomiting!) but I guess if the alternative was bleeding out on a dirt floor, I would do. I guess the only thing I think I could really contribute would be comfort and compassion and helping them sip chicken broth. On second thought, though, I think I could be an archer. Archery has always appealed to me... and you could be far from the conflict with those. And you don't have to overpower anyone. 

Both girls get to wear extraordinary gowns to their victory celebration; what would your dream medieval gown look like?

Okay, well I absolutely adored my wedding dress. It's not very medieval. But I love the full skirt and the fitted, beaded bodice. I loved Lia's dress' description. Since I have blue eyes, too, I think I'd go for something in the blue family. Something inspired by my wedding dress, but in a blue-teal-green color. I loved the sash in the back of my dress. And I love the pick-ups. With long tight sleeves until the end when they would flare out over my wrists.

Gabi has crude stitches put in and must endure both their removal as well as the cauterization of the wound. How is your threshold for pain? Do you think you would have simply gritted your teeth as Gabi does?

I guess I have a pretty high threshold for pain. It was always a big thing in my family to "be tough" and my sister and I were expected only to cry "big girl tears" (as opposed to "little girl tears," which really just means you're being a spoiled brat!) I'm so thankful for these lessons, and I confess that when I see kids throwing tantrums at the grocery store because their mom won't buy them the Doritos they want, I want to go up to the mom, put my hand on her shoulder and say in a disgustingly sweet voice, "I can see that you haven't taught your child the difference between "little kid tears" and "big kid tears." Your life would be so much easier, right about now if you had." 
My worst fear is that someone would consider me a wimp (irrational, I know). I was kicked by a horse in third grade at a friend's house and broke my elbow and I didn't cry. I went to the hospital only after my sister started crying and demanding that we call our mom because my elbow was swollen to three times its normal size. Since I'm out to prove to the world that I'm not a wimp, I would just have gritted my teeth and dealt with it, like Gabi does.

Marcello wants to properly court Gabi after they express mutual feelings of affection, wanting to speak with her mother about his intentions. What do you think is the most romantic aspect of medieval courtship?

I love how the focus is removed from the physical aspect of the relationship, so that the touches, kisses, embraces they do share are so much more powerful. I think it's a matter of respect for the ladies and a deference to the importance of waiting for the proper time for that kind of a physical relationship. People leap into the physical aspect so fast now that I think it warps the whole relationship. I love how when he sees her ANKLES he gives her a "wolfish grin." I've always loved the adjective wolfish. It just gives me shivers. Like he's a predator. But a kind manly one and you're the prey. But not helpless prey. Just willing prey. Anyway... 

Gabi and Lia find themselves with conflicting desires toward the end with Lia wanting to return home and Gabi hoping to stay. Do you think that Gabi is being unfair to Lia for wanting to stay, or is Lia being unfair to Gabi for demanding they go? A little of both?

A little of both. I can see wanting to get home back to my mom, like Lia wants. And I can also see wanting to stay to see how things go with hunky Marcello, too. Hopefully Lia's feelings for Luca will change and she will want to stay in the 1300s for romance, too. I love Luca!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Coming of Age in Mississippi

After the sit-in, all I could think of was how sick Mississippi whites were. They believed so much in the segregated Southern way of life, they would kill to preserve it. I sat there in the NAACP office and thought of how many times they had killed when this way of life was threatened. I knew that the killing had just begun... Before the sit-in, I had always hated the whites in Mississippi. Now I knew it was impossible for me to hate sickness. The whites had a disease, an incurable disease in its final stages. What were our chances against such a disease? 
Martin Luther King, Jr. is the face most commonly associated with the Civil Rights movement. He was an idealist, an optimist, a dreamer, a preacher. He preached a message of hope and faith, not despair. Anne Moody, the author of Coming of Age in Mississippi, is a very different personality from the idealistic Reverend King. In her memoir, she frequently comes across as bitter and angry and pessimistic. Relationally, she's stunted. And she's self-centered, over-confident, and unforgiving. Despite this, I admire her. Not just for her courage and her commitment to an important movement, but because she wasn't afraid to paint herself in an less than flattering light. She presents the facts and makes no apologies. You have to admire a woman who lays bare all the ugliness in her soul for the world to read and judge.

Reading this gritty narrative really emphasized the world of terror in which black Southern Americans lived. By the end of the 1960s, Anne had been jailed four or five times, had made it onto the Klan's hit-list, had been threatened, beaten and terrorized. I was especially intrigued with the beginning of the book, which read like a non-fiction version of The Help. Anne worked long hours for racist white women, one of whom even partially paid her by giving her pails of old milk that she had let the cats drink out of first. 

I didn't realize that Anne was such a prominent part of the movement in Mississippi. She worked right alongside Medgar Evers in Jackson before his murder. This famous picture of a sit-in at the Woolworth's lunch counter is actually Anne and some of her white friends. 

Coming of Age in Mississippi was a fascinating, gritty read. It ended on a decidedly pessimistic, despairing note and I would have loved for it to end in on an uplifting note of hope. But that's me being an idealist. It's important to have a first-person account like this. It's a testimony of what Anne and hundreds of other brave Civil Rights workers went through and fought for in the pursuit of Freedom.

Grade: 3.5/5 stars

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Favorite Star-Crossed Lovers

Two things come to mind when you hear the phrase: star-crossed lovers. OK, well two things, once you get rid of the obvious: ROMEO AND JULIET. I think of this term in two ways:
  • The lovers were never meant to live happily ever after, à la Romeo and Juliet: they will both die tragically or one will die tragically, leaving the other tragically alone, or they are separated tragically by events outside of their control. The evil universe conspires to tragically rend the lovers from each others' arms.
  • Two lovers defy all the odds against them to either live happily ever after... or not. They have different backgrounds, but surmount the obstacles to be together. They are from rival families, they are from different faiths, cultures, or cliques; they are different colors, races, or classes.
I'm not sure whether one definition of these is more accurate than the other, but they co-mingle nicely in my brain. The story is an old one and has appealed to the romantic in the human heart for millennia. From ancient myths to Outlander and Twilight, star-crossed lovers are always in vogue. Being a gushy romantic, myself, these are some of my favorites:

1. Five Sm
ooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn. My mom urged me to read this for about 12 years. But I didn't read it--for whatever fickle reason--until about three years ago. This is yet another example of why moms are always right... because this is one of my all-time favorite books ever. Ever. This is the fictional story of David and Sara, a black boy and a white girl who meet at an Ohio college in the 1960s and fall in love. This isn't for the faint of heart. It's a big long book with weighty issues and goes heavily into historical details of the Civil Rights Movement. To me, it gets a little long on all the dense Civil Rights facts, but they serve to show how truly dangerous David and Sara's star-crossed love is... and it's only dangerous because of the hatred and prejudice of stupid people. This is the ultimate heart-breaking love story.

2. One Day by David Nicholls. Really popular when it was published in the summer of 2010 and recently made into a movie with Anne Hathaway. (Which, BTW, did not do justice to this yummy book.) The story advances only on one day every year (hence the title. Duh.) in the lives of Emma and Dexter, two friends who meet on July 15 at their graduation from university in Scotland. We follow them through bad careers and bad relationships until ultimately their paths lead them back together again. The ending of this book affected me so much that I stayed up half the night, silently crying into my pillow, trying not to disturb Nathan and alternately wanting to wake him and tell him how much I love him. If this doesn't show that I have a problem, I don't know what does. David Nicholls was inspired by the writing of Thomas Hardy, which makes me want to devour everything Hardy ever wrote and also leads to the next book...

3. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Tess is a poor working-class girl in late 19th century England who is blessed/cursed with great beauty. Which, of course, attracts the attention of a villain who sullies Tess' character beyond redemption. When she meets Angel Clare, a good guy who falls in love with her, she is afraid to reveal the secret that may prove the destruction of their love. I've always been a sucker for tragedies and this truly is one. I felt so bad for poor Tess' plight that she was in my mind for days after I finished the novel. The BBC made a beautiful miniseries of this a few years ago with Gemma Arterton, which was written (not-coincidentally) by David Nicholls. (I can't wait to read more Hardy... Far From the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure.)

4. Queen by Alex Haley. Better than Roots, in my humble opinion.

5. The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly. The ultimate good-girl/bad-boy romance. Sid Malone is a London gangster in the late 19th/early 20th century dealing in opium, prostitution, and smuggling. India Selwyn-Jones is a do-gooder, a female pioneer in the medical field, who plans to go into the slums of London and revolutionize the inhabitants with medical care and nutrition. Sid and India are inexplicably drawn to each other and bring out the best in each other. He teaches her to live and love and she makes him long for an honorable life. But can their love survive Sid's enemies, India's cruel fiance, distance, years, heartbreak, and a drowning in the Thames? A delicious, riveting, wonderful, book. One of the best and most emotionally engaging books I've ever read.

6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Falling in love with a married man is definitely an obstacle to your own relationship with him. Jane is a poor governess, alone in the world; Rochester is an older established man of means. Yet they love each other passionately and are only prevented from making their own vows by the eleventh-hour reveal of the woman in the attic: Rochester's crazy wife, Bertha. I have always loved Rochester for his humility, his intelligence and his sense of honor. So he lapsed a little bit when he was about to walk down the aisle with Jane when he was otherwise engaged, but I can forgive him that (as does Jane) based on his later actions. The fire after Jane leaves him would provide a less honorable man with the perfect means to get rid of his crazy wife, freeing him to pursue his true love. But instead, Rochester risks his own life to save Bertha at the cost of his own sight. Bertha dies anyway and Jane comes back to him. Happy-ever-after.
I have for the first time found what I can truly love--I have found you... a fervent, solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wraps my existence about you--and kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I've always gotten a kick out of Mark Twain. His dry sense of humor really works for me. These are some classic Twain quotations that have always tickled my funny bone:

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no
influence on society.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.

I defy anyone to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and not laugh out loud, or at the very least, grin stupidly. If you can, I don't want to be your friend. I've always thought I'd be a good mom to a passel of (no scratch that... I mean one or two) mischievous little boys. And with a few tiny tweaks, Tom Sawyer is pretty much the epitome of perfect American boyhood.

I laughed out loud so much reading this that I had to read passages out loud for Nathan to appreciate, too. But then we were both laughing so hard that I couldn't keep reading. This is my favorite funny passage. Tom is trying to win Becky Thatcher's affection and has succeeded in meeting her for a little lunchtime
tête-à-tête. Here's our little Casanova in action:

Tom was swimming in bliss. He said: "Do you love rats?"

"No! I hate them!"

"Well, I do, too--live ones. But I mean dead ones, to swing round your head with a string."

This romantic mood is ruined when Tom reveals that Becky wasn't his first fiancee... young Tom was previously engaged to Amy Lawrence. Oh, the scandal!

Grade: 4/5 stars. So fun and entertaining.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Club of Two: The Last Letter from Your Lover

Head over to Sara's blog again today for the second installment of Book Club of Two. (But please disregard the bad picture of me from high school...)

In other literary news: Diana Gabaldon announced the title of her long-awaited, much-anticipated 8th novel in the Outlander series.

Written with My Own Heart's Blood

Now I can begin annoying my husband with my poor imitation of a Scottish accent, as I count down the weeks and months until I have this novel in my greedy little paws. (Oh wait, did I say begin? I meant continue to annoy my husband...)