Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dickens Masterpiece Spring 2012 Preview

As we wrap up our month long celebration of Charles Dickens, we still have much to look forward to in 2012, the bicentennial year of Dickens’ birth.  Masterpiece is bringing out two new adaptations of Dickens’ work, Great Expectations on April 1st and 8th and The Mystery of Edwin Drood on April 15th.  I’ve really enjoyed the Masterpiece Dickens over the past few years, especially Bleak House and Little Dorrit. Let’s take a quick look at these new adaptations . . .
Great Expectations
The description of the mini-series on Masterpiece’s website is as follows:

“An orphan boy meets an escaped convict, a crazed rich woman, a bewitching girl, and grows up to have great expectations of wealth from a mysterious patron, on Great Expectations, Charles Dickens' remarkable tale of rags to riches to self-knowledge, starring Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, Bleak House), David Suchet (Hercule Poirot), Ray Winstone, and Douglas Booth.
Anderson appears as one of Dickens' most haunting creations: Miss Havisham, a bride-to-be who was jilted at the altar years before. Newcomer Booth stars as Pip, the promising young man who is snared in Miss Havisham's lair.

Great Expectations airs during the bicentennial of Dickens' birth and marks the fifteenth Masterpiece adaptation of the great novelist's works."

Watch Great Expectations Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.
Whenever I think of Great Expectations in cinema, I think of the rather sad modern day adaptation in the 1990’s starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow.  Luckily, from the preview on Masterpiece’s website (above) , it looks like this adaptation will be much more faithful to the novel.  What do you think of the preview?  I am officially intrigued although I think the music doesn’t really go with the preview at all and I think that Gillian Anderson makes a much younger and much more beautiful Miss Havisham than I ever envisioned while reading the novel.  She was an excellent Lady Dedlock in Bleak House and I am intrigued to see what new depths she brings to Miss Havisham.
Great Expectation already premiered on BBC in Great Britain in December.  I’ve read some of the reviews, and it appears that it was a critical success.  The only negative point I kept reading was that Douglas Booth, the actor who plays a grown up Pip, is too beautiful to be Pip.  Pip in the novel is always pining after Estelle and the reviewers think this this version, it should be the other way around.  I don’t have a problem having a handsome hero to gaze at . . . what about you?  I am excited to see this new version!
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
The Mystery of Edwin Drood was Charles Dickens’ last unfinished novel, with only half being completed before his death.  I haven’t read it or ever watched a version of it so it will be all new to me.  Unfortunately Masterpiece does not have a summary or preview up of this movie yet.  It did air on BBC in Great Britain in January with an original ending written by Gwyneth Hughes (see a great interview here about her writing process ).  I did find a preview trailer from the BBC on YouTube. ).
What are your thoughts?  I thought the trailer was very exciting and can’t wait to watch it.  Dickens knows how to go dark, but this looks like Dickens was going in a much darker direction in his last novel. Opium addiction, murder, mystery, and love – it all sounds like a very intriguing story.
Reviews call it a “thriller (and a) story of human passions and fatal weaknesses,” “not to be missed,” and “thrilling!”  It sounds like another must see Masterpiece movie and I can’t wait to watch it. 
I will post full reviews after watching both of these adaptations in April.  Which one are you more excited to see?  What are your thoughts?  What Dickens novel do you think deserves a new adaptation?

Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

Dreaming of Mr. Darcy is the perfect novel to escape into.  I’ve been very stressed lately with teaching a class, taking a class, work, kids, etc., but this novel helped me to forget my worries each night before bed and take delight in the story. 

Kay Ashton is addicted to Jane Austen.  After she inherits a bit of money, she moves to Lyme (one of the locations in Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion) and buys a bed and breakfast.  Before she even has time to open, the stars of a new production of Persuasion knock on her door looking for rooms after their hotel is flooded.  Kay is more than a little excited to have the sexy actor Oli Wade Owen, aka Captain Wentworth, staying at her B&B.  The screenwriter and producer of Persuasion, Adam Craig, is a quiet guy who has harbored a crush on Kay since she moved to town.  Adam is the perfect man for Kay, but with Oli blinding her, she thinks that Adam is in love with Gemma (Anne Elliot in the Persuasion movie).  Will true love conquer all?

Once again Victoria Connelly has written a novel that is a love letter for all Jane Austen lovers.  Besides being a wonderful romantic story, it has many nuisances and references that Janeites will pick up as they read the book.  Persuasion is tied with Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel so I loved a novel that keyed into my favorite book so much. 
One of my favorite lines in the novel was, “It’s hard to think of the Regency period as being anything but perfect, isn’t it?  I don’t think it was perfect, but it was pretty damn close.  Apart from the mortality rate and lack of medicine and the hygiene issues.” This pretty much sums up my thoughts on the Regency period as well.
Dreaming of Mr. Darcy is a modern day Austen inspired novel that will be sure to encourage you to fall in love with the characters, Lyme, and Austen.  It is a wonderful novel.
Book Source:  Review Copy from Sourcebooks.  Thank-you!

Barefoot by Elin Hilderbrand

Barefoot was the February selection for my FLICKS Book and Movie Club.  Sadly Penelope was teething the night of the meeting and Ben and the boys were off to wrestling practice so I had to miss this month.  Barefoot is the second Elin Hilderbrand novel I’ve read.  I listened to and really enjoyed Silver Girl this past fall.

Barefoot is about three women with a vast array of problems who are vacationing on Nantucket Island.  Vicki has just discovered she has lung cancer and is going to go through chemotherapy while staying at the tiny cottage she inherited from her aunt on Nantucket.  Her sister Brenda is along to help out with Vicki’s two children, but is also running away from a mess.  A respected new professor, Brenda had it made until she had a ruinous affair with a handsome student and wrecked a prized painting at her college in the aftermath.  Now jobless and under investigation, Brenda needs to determine what course she needs to take for her future.  Vicki also invites her friend Melanie for the summer.  Melanie has just discovered her husband has been cheating on her, and that she is finally pregnant after endless rounds of invitro fertilization.  Unsure of what to do, Melanie leaves her husband without telling him about the pregnancy.
Having all of this drama together in one tiny cabin ensure that the summer will be anything, but boring.  To help with the kids, Brenda hires a babysitter, a young college student named Josh.  Josh noticed the woman when they first arrived at the island and is sure that they are destined to change his life.

I thought the story of Barefoot was interesting, but I didn’t like how the story was framed from Josh’s point of view.   It made the story feel odd and disjointed at times.  SPOILER ALERT:  I especially did not like Josh and Melanie’s affair.  I know Melanie’s husband cheated on her, but sleeping with your significantly younger babysitter while you are pregnant just gave me an “icky” feeling while reading those parts of the book.  SPOILER END  I did like Vicki’s storyline and her realistic struggle with cancer.  Somehow the power of her story was lessoned by the frivolity of the other plot lines.
Overall, Barefoot was a highly readable chick lit novel, but not as good as Hilderbrandt’s newer novel, Silver Girl.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Silas Marner by George Eliot (audiobook)

Title: Silas Marner

Author: George Eliot
Read by: Nadia May
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Length: 6 CDs (unabridged)
Source: Wisconsin Public Library Consortium from the Kewaunee Public Library Website (Digital Download in Overdrive Media Console)

I’m sorry I’m a bit behind on reviews. With my job, teaching a class at the local technical college this semester, taking a class at the local technical college this semester, and three kids – life has been more than a little hectic lately. I’m hoping to catch up soon with the reviews by perhaps having them a bit briefer. Now on to Silas Marner. .

I’ve always heard Silas Marner described as a drab read, a lesser work of George Eliot that is forced upon school children because it is George Eliot’s shortest novel. I am happy to report that Silas Marner is neither drab nor a lesser work of Eliot. I found it to be an engaging, ultimately heartwarming and moral story about the true price of gold and human relations. It was a story that in many ways I found to be very relevant to today’s society. As Jane Austen did before her, Eliot writes about human characteristics that transcend time.

As the story starts, Silas Marner is a happy man with a good job as a weaver, a productive member of his church, a great best friend, and a fiancée. Things suddenly take a turn for the worst when Marner’s best friend frames him for a crime he didn’t commit, and also steals his fiancée. Bitter against his fellow church goers and town, Silas Marner moves away to a place where he is not known and where his weaving is prized. Making a good living, Marner values his gold and puts it above all human relations. Things soon change when his gold is stolen and a young child shows up on his door step shortly thereafter. He raises young Eppie as his own, until her real father shows up when Eppie is a teenager and wants to take her back. Will Eppie stay with Silas Marner or go to the father that abandoned her as a child?

George Eliot created a wonderful cast of characters in Silas Marner. Silas is the main character, but his neighbor lady Dolly Winthrop, is a wonderful lady who helps him raise Eppie. Squire Cass and his family are also fleshed out and discussed in great detail as their lives often intersect with Marner’s. I enjoyed listening to all of their lives. Nadia May was a great narrator. This was also the first book I listened to on my phone from the library. I love the system, but wish that there were more copies of digital audiobooks available to check out!

The most fascinating part of the book for me was how George Elliot captured timeless qualities in human interactions and life. My favorite example of this is how a bunch of old guys are together talking about how the youth of today are lazy and nothing like when they were young lads. How often have I heard this talk throughout my life about how the youth of whatever day are terrible compared with older generations.

Another example of this is problems with drugs. We hear about drugs in the news often and it seems like a problem just of today, but in Silas Marner, Eppie’s mother has a drug addiction that leads her to take one last fix that ultimately kills her and leaves her child an orphan in the snow. The drug of choice may have changed over time, but the deadly effects of them haven’t. As I continue to explore Victorian literature this year, I’ve noticed that drugs play a prominent role in many famous novels of that time. Any thoughts? I’ll continue my thoughts on this as I review other works.

Overall, Silas Marner is a moving, intriguing story, with characters and situations that are timeless.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion by Robert Morgan

Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion by Robert Morgan is a fascinating biography of many of the known and unknown giants that helped to make the westward migration of Americans possible. This book provides brief biographies of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, David Crockett, Sam Houston, James K. Polk, Winfield Scott, Kit Carson, Nicholas Trist, and John Quincy Adams. The biographies focused on how each of these men helped the western expansion. Morgan stressed though that he believed that the expansion was really through the hard work and determination of the massive amount of pioneers that headed west and were an unstoppable force.

What was interesting in this book was that Morgan also looked at Mexican sources to explain many of the events including the battle at the Alamo. It was fascinating. So much of history has been whitewashed when you first learn about it in grade school. It is always intriguing to me to read books that delve more into the meat of what occurred, and it isn’t usually as black and white as you learn when you are young.

There were a few quotes that I enjoyed in this book, one was as follows: “Jefferson had a precise and detailed sense of geography. Had he not been so busy with all of his other interests and obligations, one might imagine him as an important mapmaker, with his passion for accurate representation, his draftsmanship and devotion to the study of land.” I’m currently teaching a drafting class at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and I think its inspiring that even among all of the other things Jefferson was he was a great map maker.

Andrew Jackson is a complex man. “As Robert Remini says, ‘Jackson seemed to gain interior strength by his many misfortunes. He was one of those extraordinary men who flourish with adversity. . . A strong, obstinate streak surged within him whenever his situation seemed hopeless.’” It’s great to be a person that flourishes with adversity instead of just getting beaten down by life. Jackson’s stubborn streak made me realize that I probably would not have liked him as a person or have voted for him for president. He really seemed to like to fight in duals over any other thing. He didn’t value human life that much, which is concerning in a commander in chief.

Along those lines, I was also dismayed that Jackson had Native American allies that helped him to win his decisive battle at Horseshoe Bend, but then he turned on his allies and forced them from their homelands. “Chief Junaluska, who fought at Horseshoe Bend, later said that had he known Jackson would drive the Cherokees from their beloved Smoky Mountains, he would have killed the general himself at the Bend.”

Whenever people complain about the illegal immigration problem in the United States, I’m going to pull out this quote. We Americans were once the illegal immigrants to Mexico. “There were already more than twenty thousand English-speaking immigrants in the province (Texas). Fearing rebellion, the Mexican government had stopped legal immigration into Texas. This served only to keep the most desirable immigrants away. Outlaws, con men, deadbeats, and adventurers continued to arrive from the east and slip across the border.”

And then we poured over the borders so much that Texas eventually became ours. “The real reason Texas could be, would be, and was annexed was that so many Americans had already gone there, and more were on the way.”

Nicholas Trist is the most important man you have never heard of. He married Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughter, Virginia, and was mentored by Jefferson himself, Madison, and Jackson. During James K. Polk’s presidency, he was mentored by Polk’s Secretary of State, James Buchanan. Polk and Buchanan sent Trist on a secret mission to fail in securing peace with Mexico, during the American war with Mexico. The general of that war, Winfield Scott, and Trist did not get along well at first and I loved how they wrote very long and scornful letters to each other, but once they met face to face, they discovered that they liked each other. Without much support from the Polk administration, Trist negotiated with Mexico over the southern boundaries of what is now Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona and also the price for this new American real estate. After all of his hard work, Polk did not even reimburse Trist and he lived out a life of obscurity and poverty with his family. When he became an old man in his seventies, the U.S. government finally awarded him his back-pay for his work in Mexico.

This book provided much interesting discussion at my Kewaunee Library book club meeting last month. Lions of the West is a very interesting look at how the American West was won and I learned a great deal from it. I will agree with one of my book club members though that stated that she was annoyed by some of the repetition in the book. Morgan was trying to link all of the historical figures in the book together, which caused for repetition of some detail. Overall though, if you would like to read a captivating book and learn more about American history, I highly recommend Lions of the West.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson

I noticed A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson on an email sent to me by Bookpage for children’s books. I thought reading and reviewing this book would be another great way to celebrate Charles Dickens and his 200th birthday this month.

A Boy Called Dickens is a children’s picture book detailing the life of young Charles Dickens. Dickens has a hard life with his father going to Debtor’s prison while he was a boy. He was then forced to work in a shoe blacking factory in order to make money to support his family, who were also living in jail with his father. The worst thing to Dickens is the fact that he is unable to read his beloved books and attend school. He makes the most of his adversity and uses his imagination to create wonderful stories.

My boys loved A Boy Called Dickens. In fact NPR mentioned Dickens on the radio Wednesday and Kile (just turned six) piped up and said, “Dickens’ family was in jail and he worked in a factory. He grew up and wrote lots of books.” I was amazed and glad that he was retaining what we had read. He did pick the book to read each night last week so it must have intrigued him.

The boys really loved the artwork by John Hendrix, which goes perfectly with the story. Daniel is sure that one of the story creations of Dickens is a pirate from his hat and I went with it. They really like the beginning where the story asks where young Dickens is. They like to look at the picture and find him. They feel sad for him that he can’t go to school, but also think it is very cool that he is able to write his own stories and grows up to become a famous author. In other words, the boys found the story interesting, relatable, and educational. Or maybe I found it educational, and they just happened to learn from it! I liked how the tale ends happily and the note about Dickens’ life at the end.

As a child I LOVED biographies of famous people and learning about history. This love has served me well as I still remember a lot of my basic history as gleaned from those books. I am excited to find a great historical fiction author to share with my children. Deborah Hopkinson has written quite a few children’s historical fiction books. I need to find them to read to my children.

Overall, A Boy Called Dickens is a children’s historical fiction picture book that is sure to delight both children and adults.

This is my fifth item in the Victorian Challenge 2012.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dickens in Brief, a Biography from Gina Dalfonzo of Dickensblog

Today is Charles Dickens 200th birthday.  To join in the celebration, we have a wonderful guest blog about Charles Dickens today from Gina Dalfonzo, the editor of Dickensblog.

 In 1824, a 12-year-old boy was taken from school and sent to work in a blacking warehouse to help support his impoverished family.

Most people who know anything about Charles Dickens know that fact. It’s taught to students almost as soon as they’re taught his name. What we sometimes forget that during his lifetime, almost no one knew it. Dickens could never think of that time without feelings of grief and shame—feelings so strong that he is said to have told nobody but his good friend John Forster.

It wasn’t just the menial labor, the frequent hunger, the social stigma, or the time spent away from his family, though all of those did affect him. Worse than all of them were the breaking off his education, the fear that he would never be able to resume it, and the dismay that no one in his family seemed to realize what this meant to him.

In an autobiographical fragment that was published only after his death, Dickens wrote, “The deep remembrance of the sense I had of being utterly neglected and hopeless; of the shame I felt in my position; of the misery it was to my young heart to believe that, day by day, what I had learned, and thought, and delighted in, and raised my fancy and my emulation up by, was passing away from me, never to be brought back any more; cannot be written.” When he was finally able to leave the warehouse, his mother argued that he should keep working. His father overruled her, but Dickens wrote, “I never afterwards forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back.”

The scars of that time were with him for the rest of his life. They could not hold him back from becoming a brilliant and successful writer. They could not even turn him into a figure of gloom and doom; as Forster wrote, “He never . . . lost his precious gift of animal spirits, or his native capacity for humorous enjoyment.” But the deep sense of betrayal and bitterness haunted him, manifesting itself in his later relationships and his work.

But if that were all there were to Dickens, he would not have been the Dickens we love. Many people have experienced betrayal and bitterness, but few have let those feelings inspire them the way that he did. With the energy and enthusiasm of five men, he championed the poor and needy whom he understood so well. No mere celebrity content to dabble in good works, Dickens spent countless hours raising funds and organizing charitable endeavors, and above all creating the immortal characters—Oliver Twist, Smike, Amy Dorrit, David Copperfield, Jenny Wren, and so many more—whose fictional struggles showed readers a world that many of them had never known existed. Few other writers have done so much to move hearts and change minds. Biographer Simon Callow writes, “Having experienced the lower depths, he never ceased, till the day he died, to commit himself, both in his work and in his life, to trying to right the wrongs inflicted by society, above all, perhaps by giving the dispossessed a voice.”

Forster adds, “They were not his clients whose cause he pleaded with such pathos and humour, and on whose side he got the laughter and tears of all the world, but in some sort his very self.” He fought for them as he wished someone would have fought for the lonely child he had been. He could have let that old anger and sorrow poison his mind and turn him against the rest of humanity, as some of us might have done. Instead, from his wounded heart flowed generosity and compassion that would literally change the world.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of Dickensblog.

Winner of Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

The lucky winner of Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly is Marci of A Joyful Heart and Noise.  Marci was chosen using random.org and has been notified via email.  She has one week to send me her mailing address, otherwise, a new winner will be chosen.

I hope Marci enjoys Dreaming of Mr. Darcy as much as I did - it was a wonderful book!  I'm still running a bit behind on my reviews, but I hope to have one up of this book within the next week.  Stay tuned!

Thank-you to Victoria Connelly for writing such a fabulous book and for the great interview for this blog.  Thank-you to Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this giveaway, and thank-you to all who entered.

As you can see by my right sidebar, I'm currently out of giveaways!  Have no fear, I have a stack of brand new Pengiun audiobooks to giveway.  Stay tuned over the next two weeks to see what they are and for a chance to win!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What the Dickens! - February Link-up for the Victorian Challenge 2012

 February is Dickens month for the Victorian Challenge 2012. You can post any Victorian related item you like this month, but I am going to focus on Charles Dickens and you are allowed to focus with me! We will hopefully have a couple of guest blog posts on the Charles Dickens through the month also to celebrate. Please post your February reviews below in Mr. Linky (and not on the January link-up). If you haven’t signed up for the challenge yet, go to this sign-up link.

January was a great month celebrating the Bronte sisters. I loved reading your reviews that were Bronte related and not Bronte related. We had 31 posts in the month of January, and two guest blogs. One guest blog was a brief biography of the Bronte sisters from Bronteblog and the other was a guest blog from author Syrie James discussing writing about Charlotte Bronte’s love life. They were both great and I thought they enhanced our discussion of the Brontes!

Enough about the Brontes, February is a celebration of Charles Dickens. Dickens is considered the father of Victorian literature. It is appropriate that we celebrate his this month as the world celebrates the 200th anniversary of his birth on February 7th. Charles Dickens had a very interesting life himself as he went from a poor boy working in a blacking factory to a famous author. He worked hard and published 19 completed novels, and one partially completed novel, numerous short stories, non-fiction, and plays. His works are iconic and include A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, etc. They have been adapted more times than one can count into screen, TV, feature film, radio, and audiobook productions. His characters have become part of our culture (Scrooge, Tiny Tim, etc.), and he popularized the term Merry Christmas. He worked tirelessly in his life for social reform and these views often made their ways into this novel. He is an author well worth celebrating.

To celebrate Charles Dickens this month, I am going to read Oliver Twist for the first time, and I’m also going to read Dickens as a fictional character in Drood by Dan Simmons. I’m going to write previews for the new Masterpiece Theatre productions of Great Expectations and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and I will also hopefully watch one old production of a Dickens novel. I really want to listen to an audio version of Great Expectations, but there is only one digital copy in the state of Wisconsin and I’m still a few people back. I’ll probably be listening to it in a few months!

I look forward to reading your reviews this month! Feel free to post how you plan to celebrate Dickens this month.

Please post the name of your blog followed by the item you reviewed. For example, Laura's Reviews (A Tale of Two Cities).