Monday, September 18, 2017

A Bundle of Book Reviews

As September evenings cool and we pull another blanket over us during the welcome chilly nights, it's hard to think back to the books I read over the spring and summer and neglected to track! But here are more books I've read--and with very short review as I tried to recall details from so many books read quite quickly.

I hope you'll enjoy my reviews and perhaps pick up a few at the library to read yourself!

The Well of Lost Plots The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday attempts to hide out, awaiting the birth of her baby, while her husband, Landen, remains eradicated by Goliath Corporation since Thursday refused to release one of their bad guys from "The Raven." She finds herself in the Well of Lost Plots, mostly hiding out but also trying to prevent the spread of "UltraWord," a new way of reading books that will basically ruin fiction for all time.

Because of memory-stealer Aornis Hades, sister to Acheron Hades who tried to mastermind the ruin of Jane Eyre, Thursday slowly loses her memories of Landen, but Granny Next, who comes to her hide out in the unpublished book Caversham Heights, tries to help her to remember him.

Another fun Thursday Next adventure, filled with literary inside jokes and much snarkiness.

Something RottenSomething Rotten by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thursday now must deal with Hamlet and other literary characters as she leaves Jurisfiction with two-year-old son Friday and enters the alternative world of Swindon that we come to know in her first adventure, The Eyre Affair. Finally, her husband Landen is returned to her and their son while Thursday fights to stop Yorick Kaine and his Danish-hating compatriots at Goliath from bringing the world to an end. It's another rollicking adventure with snarky and fearless Thursday Next.

To Kill a Mockingbird To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I re-read this book with our youngest for American Lit this spring, and then we watched the film afterward. It's such a brilliant novel--highlighting race relations in the Deep South as a black man is falsely accused of raping a white girl. Eight-year-old Scout's father, Atticus Finch, must defend Tom Robinson from the lies of the Ewell family, despite the fact that everyone in town knows that the Ewell girl is lying. The courtroom drama, the night when young Scout inadvertently shames the white lynch mob into going home, and Boo Radley's protection of Scout and her older brother Jem when they are attacked by Bob Ewell are all memorable scenes from the book as well as the famous film. Definitely an American classic, and perhaps the best American novel ever written.

Mr Bennet's Dutiful Daughter Mr Bennet's Dutiful Daughter by Joana Starnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At Hunsford, Elizabeth is alerted of her father's attack of apoplexy, and Darcy confesses his love and proposes to her in order to protect her from Mr. Collins' vulture-like descent upon Longbourn just before he and the Colonel escort her back to Herefordshire. Before the end of their journey, Elizabeth accepts Mr. Darcy's proposal for the sake of her family. And thus, with her father nearly comatose, Elizabeth and Darcy's love for one another grows.

It's a very sweet story--with a huge "hitch" about 2/3 through it, and it does leave us on the edge of our seats, wondering if their marriage will endure what Darcy views as his bride's betrayal.

A Matter of Chance A Matter of Chance by L.L. Diamond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in the Southern US, this modern Pride and Prejudice story has Lizzy Gardner as a single mom who escaped an abusive marriage, and William Darcy does not make the best of impressions on her. A very interesting modern twist on the Jane Austen novel that also features Jane and Bingley as major characters while Lizzy's family rejects her for leaving from her charming and abusive ex-husband.

A Fair Prospect: Volume I, II & III A Fair Prospect: Volume I, II and III by Cassandra Grafton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A three-volume set of Pride and Prejudice variations in which Darcy, after his disastrous proposal and Elizabeth's rejection, is thrown into her path by Bingley's pursuit of Jane Bennet in London. But a childhood friend of Elizabeth's now seems to be pursuing her, a gentlemen of wealth and good looks, so Darcy has competition this time around.

Earning Darcy's Trust: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Earning Darcy's Trust: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Jennifer Joy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another wonderful and thought-provoking variation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in which Darcy learns to trust and to depend on others, including Elizabeth, in order to protect his family against the wiles of Wickham and Caroline Bingley. A terrific plot with a theme that should make us all consider trusting others rather than trying to handle our problems all alone.

I hope that you'll enjoy reading these reviews (and, I hope, some of the books as well!).


Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Writing Workshop Anniversary

This Tuesday marks ten years of the monthly writers' workshop which meets at our local county library, the social hub of our mountain village. We started meeting on the second Tuesday of the month in September 2007, and within a couple of years, I started a website/blog for our group: MECAC Writer's Workshop. The "MECAC" stands for Mountain Empire Creative Arts Council which was started by Judith Dupree and myself back in 2006 and which soon included the writer's workshop meetings. Due to health issues and changes in our lives, MECAC is now concentrated almost solely on the writer's workshop. And that's fine.

Our group has hosted Dr. Dean Nelson, founder of the journalism department at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU), several times for Saturday workshops. We've also hosted poetry readings, readings by local and not-so-local writers, and even Write-Ins as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).We've also often attended the annual Writer's Symposium by the Sea at PLNU as a group.

2017 Writer's Symposium by the Sea line-up of speakers

But most of all, we've shared our writing with each other. We bring the next poem, the next chapter, the next editorial, the next blog post, the next reflective essay, and we distribute copies and then read our work aloud, receiving encouragement and constructive feedback. Occasionally we tackle a writing prompt together, sharing the results and commenting on the good and the "needs help" areas.

And often we celebrate publication by the members of our group, whether a poem or an editorial is published in the Valley Views or the Alpine Sun (our town's monthly publication of news & events, or the newspaper of the next-largest town on the way "down the hill" into San Diego, respectively), or an article or poem printed in a periodical, or a book self-published on Amazon, or a book published by a publishing company. It's all happened within our group over the last ten years.

Our group is ever-changing, but usually we end up with six to eight writers showing up on the second Tuesday of the month. I think our record is thirteen writers. Some of our group are published authors, and some are just now trying out their writing wings, and all are welcome. I've been with the group the longest, so by default I've become the leader, with Judith, a poet who most recently published Sky Mesa Journal with Wipf and Stock Publishers, starting to come a year or two after the group began. Teresa, a poet from Campo, has been coming for at least seven or eight years, and Dianne, who started writing memoirs and has recently embarked on a mystery novel, has been attending for at least six years. Others are a bit newer, including Elaine who moved to our mountain communities from the East Coast, and Linda who lives atop Mount Laguna and has published a series of time-travel romances. And the oral tradition remains strong with Elwood and his wife Pearl who drive up the mountain from Alpine. Mary, a new writer, also comes up from Alpine. Teresa and Mary often have their therapy dogs with them, and Lancelot and Pup Pup curl up at our feet, content to listen to stories, too.

At a Write-In at the Pine Valley Library, November 2015. From left to right: Mary, Sermsee, Linda, Judith, Dianne 

Over a year ago we lost a dear member, Betty from Mount Laguna who wrote songs and memoirs, to cancer. But we keep an eye on her rocking chair, knowing that she's ever with us in spirit. And longtime member Maureen moved from Descanso to Oklahoma after the publication of her first book, but the "gang's all here" when she can attend our meetings when she visits San Diego once or twice a year. Others come and go, but these writerly souls are the beating heart of the monthly Writer's Workshop.

I've shared poems and parts of my fan fiction novels and stories with this beloved group, but lately I usually come empty-handed, with too much grading and teaching on my plate to give me time to write regularly, if at all. Even writing in my journal is a rare opportunity. I don't want to lose the joy of writing, the freedom that comes when nib scrolls its path across the page, when words pop into mind and are committed to paper. Writing is a joyous thing, a cleansing thing, a hallowed and holy thing. 

And everyone can do it, from telling a story aloud to publishing a book and everything in between. It's a joy that I pray we can--and I pray we will--expend our hearts and time in accomplishing.

One of my writing students at our homeschool co-op Class Days wrote something in an essay that I immediately jotted into my quotation journal  (I've collected hundreds of quotations on writing in my journals and via Pinterest). Deceptively simple, this seemingly simple sentence says it all. Lydia wrote:

"Words convey far more weight than we often acknowledge." 

And while I added one of my favorite Poe quotes on writing to my Quotation of the Week in the sidebar of this blog, these words spoken by Robert De Niro at the 2014 Academy Awards give us the flip side of writing:

"The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that's on a good day." 

And Anne Lamott, my favorite writer who writes about writing, wrote:

"If you can't find an hour to write, even Jesus can't help you."       

So when our little group of writers gather on Tuesday evening, I'll share the joy of this tenth anniversary of the Writer's Workshop, and together we'll freewrite to a prompt, listen to each other read our work aloud, offer our two cents' worth of feedback, and, most of all, we'll celebrate the joy of writing!

Writing with you,

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Reviews of Classics, Historical, and Modern Fiction

As the heat up here in the mountains finally begins to wane for a few days, here are some more reviews, starting with a classic that B and I read together as part of his American Lit last spring, along with a few other historical and modern fiction novels. Let me know what you think if you've read some of these...or would like to!

A Separate Peace A Separate Peace by John Knowles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Somehow I had missed reading this book in high school, but our youngest and I read it together the spring as part of his American Literature program for his junior year. It was better than I thought it would be. The microcosm of an all-boys school during the Second World War is intriguing, especially since these boys knew that they would soon be soldiers themselves. This book is about loyalty and friendship more than anything else, and it's definitely an intriguing book, one that leaves a sour taste in one's mouth (along with most 20th century American "classics").

Mr. Darcy's Bargain: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary Mr. Darcy's Bargain: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary by Regina Jeffers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A variation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy's Bargain starts with Elizabeth and Mr. Gardiner on Darcy's London doorstep about ten months after her rejection at Hunsford. They request his help in trapping George Wickham who has apparently tricked Mr. Bennet and the good people of Meryton with a "get-rich-quick" investment scheme. The stress upon suspecting that Wickham is not on the "up-and-up" has caused Mr. Bennet to have a heart attack.

Darcy agrees to assist with entrapping Wickham . . .in exchange for Elizabeth's acquiescence to a renewal of his proposal. With her father ill and the citizens of Meryton, including her own family, facing ruin, Elizabeth agrees to Darcy's bargain.

But the scheme is far more detailed and deep than anyone suspected. Will Darcy find solid evidence of Wickham's trickery, and if he does not, will Elizabeth uphold her part of the bargain?

A complex and highly entertaining Austen variation. Regina Jeffers never fails to please!

Snowbound at Hartfield: A Sweet Tea Novella; Pride and Prejudice sequel Snowbound at Hartfield: A Sweet Tea Novella; Pride and Prejudice sequel by Maria Grace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very interesting mash-up of Austen characters end up at Hartfield (the Woodhouse home in Emma) during a snowstorm, including Darcy, Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy, Mr. Bennet, and Colonel Fitzwilliam of Pride and Prejudice fame, plus Sir William Elliot and Miss Elizabeth Elliot of Austen's Persuasion. Mr. Knightley invites them to stay through the storm at the home of his wife (Mrs. Emma Knightley) and her father, and other characters from Emma wander in and out at will.

But romance is brewing while the snow continues to fall. This impromptu house party definitely has some surprises in store for the neighbors of Hartfield as well as the guests who remain, warm and cozy, by the fire as the storm blusters and blows, both outside and inside as well.

I had the pleasure of proofreading this novel for author Maria Grace, and it's extremely interesting to see beloved characters from several Austen novels trapped together in a single dwelling for an extended time, especially as an unlikely pairing begin a romance.... ;)

The Eyre Affair The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was fun to go back to this series and re-read it. The literary inside jokes and plain FUN--plus the unfolding of the mysteries Thursday Next experiences as a Literatec--make for such an enjoyable read!! From the WillSpeak machines on various corners in Thursday's hometown of Swindon to gatherings to act out Richard III in the same manner as we used to dress up to portray the various characters at midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Fforde shows us an alternate universe in which books rules the day...and the Goliath Corporation owns everything else. Thursday gets involved in trying to save Jane Eyre when the original draft of the novel is stolen by a madman who holds its characters hostage. This first book in the Thursday Next series is even more wonderful the second time through...or is it the third time??

Lost in a Good Book Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is nothing quite like being introduced to Jurisfiction (the policing force within fiction) by Miss Havisham and being trained to deal with everything from Goliath Corporation to the eradication of one's own husband (while being pregnant with his child). But Thursday Next always seems to solve the mystery, and she does so again...even in the Well of Lost Plots where books are written. Things get particularly hairy when a fictional character runs for Prime Minister, and everything in Jurisfiction, as well as in the real world (the Outland, as fiction calls it) goes catawampus.

This is the second of the Thursday Next series by author Jasper Fforde, and although not quite as humorous as the first in the series, The Eyre Affair, there are enough literary puns and allusions to amuse along with an exciting plot and, of course, Pickwick, Thursday's loyal dodo.

Rain and Retribution Rain and Retribution by L.L. Diamond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Elizabeth flees a forced marriage to Mr. Collins with the assistance of the Hills, trying to get to London to the Gardiners'. But in the pouring rain, her conveyance breaks down, and Mr. Darcy comes to the rescue. When they stop at an inn, Elizabeth becomes ill from exposure to the weather and thus is compromised, and Mr. Darcy offers marriage...which Elizabeth accepts after learning more about him. Once the several days of rain abate and Elizabeth is able to travel, they marry quickly at Darcy House...and then the romancing begins as Elizabeth must face that she has married a good man, one whom she doesn't understand in the least....

* * * * *

As we continue with our last year of home education and as I teach two concurrent Brave Writer online courses (Groovy Grammar and the Shakespeare Family Workshop), a few minutes spent reading can renew the mind and lift the spirits. 

Happy reading!


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