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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My Top Ten Books To Read . . . or Re-Read over the Holidays!

    Through all of the hustle and bustle of the Holiday season, the one thing that everyone craves is "Me Time". When the sliver of free time finally reveals itself in all of its glory, my favorite thing to do is use it up to the last drop reading a good book. Below I have compiled a list of my top ten all-time favorite reads. Many that made the list could be old friends of yours, too. Reading for the first time, or re-reading for the hundredth, any and all of these treasures could quite possibly be the best gift you give yourself this Holiday season. As always, these can be found at your local library. So, find a cozy spot, brew a tasty, piping hot pot of your favorite beverage, snuggle up under a warm blanket, and escape the craziness of the season with one of these fantastic gems! You won't be disappointed!

      10) The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy- by Douglas Adams

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker's Guide ("A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have") and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox--the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod's girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.


 9) The Alchemist- by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

 
 8) Pride and Prejudice- by Jane Austen
When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited, while he struggles to remain indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.



7) Great Expectations- by Charles Dickens
In what may be Dickens's best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of "great expectations." In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride


 
6) The Hobbit- by J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum



 
5) The Complete Sherlock Holmes- by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This book contains all the investigations and adventures of the world's most popular detective. Follow the illustrious career of this quintessential British hero from his university days to his final case. His efforts to uncover the truth take him all over the world and into conflict with all manner of devious criminals.






4) Hills Like White Elephants- by Ernest Hemmingway
A man and his girlfriend wait for a train to Madrid at station in rural Spain, the almost casual nature of their conversation evading the true emotional depth of what’s happening between the two of them. “Hills Like White Elephants” is considered to be among Ernest Hemingway’s best short fiction, showcasing the author’s powerful ability to strip writing down to its bare bones and allow the reader’s imagination to fill in the subtext.






3) The Bell Jar- by Sylvia Plath
This novel is Sylvia Plath's shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity. Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.



 
2) On the Road- by Jack Kerouac
On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac's years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, "a side burned hero of the snowy West." As "Sal Paradise" and "Dean Moriarty," the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac's love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance. Kerouac's classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be "Beat" and has inspired every generation since its initial publication.




1) Rappaccini’s Daughter- by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror story, "Rappaccini’s Daughter" is an inspired tale of creation and control. Giovanni Guasconti, a student at the University of Padua, is enchanted to discover a nearby garden of the most exquisite beauty. In it abides a young woman, perhaps the most beautiful Giovanni has ever seen; yet as he looks out from an upstairs window, he soon learns that the garden--and the matchless Beatrice--are not the work of Mother Nature but rather the result of a monstrous abomination of creativity.

(All Summaries were taken from GoodReads)


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Big Help For Writers!!!

It’s that time of year where college students and high school students alike are scrambling to complete written assignments that are due before the winter break. Well, in light of this, I have compiled a listing of various invaluable resources, with short descriptions, that are intended to make this process a little less daunting. Who knows. . . You may even find that you LIKE to write! I honestly don’t know what I would have done without some of these tools. I hope you all find these helpful and insightful, and best of luck on the remainder of your semester! As always, if you find you are having trouble and can’t find answers elsewhere, feel free to email me at jstoltey@oplin.org, and I would be happy to answer your question or direct you to someone who can!

·         Purdue Online Writing Lab-- https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/1/
Contained within this site are your basic grammar rules and writing tips. This easy to use website helps even the most grammatically defunct writer achieve great success…best of all it’s Free!!

·         Capitol Community College Foundation-- http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/
The Guide to Grammar and Writing is sponsored by the Capital Community College Foundation, a nonprofit 501 c-3 organization that supports scholarships, faculty development, and curriculum innovation. This online guide provides tutorials and digital handouts designed to teach basic skills for writing various types of essays.
·         LEO: Literacy Education Online-- http://leo.stcloudstate.edu/
Developed by St. Cloud State University, this site breaks down various common issues people have when writing research papers, and allows the user to hone in on one specific topic instead of making them sift through tons of concepts before getting to the heart of their problem. 
·         NSCU Libraries-- http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/citationbuilder/
North Carolina State University offers this free online tool to assist in creating APA and MLA source citations online. While you must still provide the information, it does place said information in the correct place for the bibliographical citation.
·         The Chicago Manual of Style-- http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html
One of my personal favsmore than likely because my favorite professor in college required this style to be used.  Now, I actually find this to be the easiest method to use and understand. At any rate, this is a priceless resource to anyone unfamiliar with Chicago Style citations. 
·         Kate L. Turabian’s Manual for Writers Online-- http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/turabian/turabian_citationguide.html
Within this website, writers will find a wealth of knowledge take straight from Kate Turbain’s 8th edition Manual for writers. Commonly known as Turabian Style Citation, this site is a great source for understanding how to cite sources in this style.
·         Paper Rater-- http://www.paperrater.com/

While there is a paid component to this, the free version is more than sufficient. Simply upload your work (or copy and paste), agree to the terms, and click “Get Report”. It’s that simple. Features include grammar and spelling check, plagiarism check, and word choice check to name a few.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

My Notorious Life


Summary:

A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages. Axie’s story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.

In vivid prose, Axie recounts how she is forcibly separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, and how she and her husband parlay the sale of a few bottles of “Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint” into a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women’s reproductive rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over never to trust a man who says “trust me.”

When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official—Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It will take all of Axie’s cunning and power to outwit him in the fight to preserve her freedom and everything she holds dear.

Inspired by the true history of an infamous female physician who was once called “the Wickedest Woman in New York,” My Notorious Life is a mystery, a family saga, a love story, and an exquisitely detailed portrait of nineteenth-century America. Axie Muldoon’s inimitable voice brings the past alive, and her story haunts and enlightens the present
(From Goodreads)

Review:

     I would like to preface this review with this brief description of this piece . . . What a wild ride! From start to finish, Kate Manning takes the readers from the impoverished Irish immigrant neighborhoods of New York City to the Midwest via the infamous orphan trains, then right back to NYC, but this time with an upscale flair.  Needless to say, while reading “My Notorious Life”, I was thoroughly captivated by not only the geographical adventure, but the ever-evolving characters presented in the book.

     The story begins on the dirty and dangerous street of New York circa 1860. Anne “Axie” Muldoon and her two siblings, Dutch and Joe, are the children of poor Irish immigrants. Left to essentially fend for themselves after the death of their father and the debilitating injury sustained by their mother, the siblings are taken in by the Children’s Aid Society and shipped by orphan train to Illinois with the promise of “a place of hot cider and oxtail stew, new boots and green grass all around.”  Quickly, Dutch and Joe are adopted out, but strong-willed, opinionated   Axie has a harder time finding a home and eventually is sent back to New York. Upon her arrival, she finds that her mother has remarried and is pregnant again. Shortly thereafter, her world is bludgeoned by heartbreak after the sudden death of her mother during the birth of the new sibling.

     Alone again, and even more destitute than before, Axie is determined to change her fate, and accepts a job working for a doctor and his wife who specialize in “female maladies”, which included lunar pills and at times, abortions.  As the doctor begins to trust Axie, she is taught the secret and illegal skills of his profession and finds that she is a natural. This chance opportunity springboards her into a career path that will bring her wealth, riches, notoriety both good and bad, heartbreak, jail time, and ultimately closure to her miserable and wretched past.  

     This story is based loosely on the life of Ann Trow -Lohman, who was dubbed the Wickedest Woman in New York by Mr. Comstock, the leader of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and the media who documented her trials and tribulations. I found this fast paced, exciting story was given much authenticity by the use of Irish lingo and jargon, and the depiction of immigrant street life is as close to accurate as can be. I found in Axie an unlikely heroine. Regardless of your feelings about her profession, it is hard not to find her triumph over tragedy endearing. The way with which Axie holds her head high through even the roughest waters is admirable and commendable, and left me with a real veneration for her strength and determination. The twist at the end will  truly catch you off guard, as well as make you appreciate the writing prowess and creativity of the author. With My Notorious Life, Kate Manning has found a niche that has been missing in the fiction world. Most of the stories told from this time period are typically male dominated, but in this piece the female voice is strong and true, and brings a fresh, new perspective to 1860’s New York City.  I give this book 4 stars and hope that she writes a follow up in the very near future.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The King's Curse


Summary:

Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (known as the White Princess) and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, is married off to a steady and kind Lancaster supporter—Sir Richard Pole. For his loyalty, Sir Richard is entrusted with the governorship of Wales, but Margaret’s contented daily life is changed forever with the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple, hiding her own royal connections in service to the Tudors.

           After the sudden death of Prince Arthur, Katherine leaves for London a widow, and fulfills her deathbed promise to her husband by marrying his brother, Henry VIII. Margaret’s world is turned upside down by the surprising summons to court, where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine. But this charmed life of the wealthiest and “holiest” woman in England lasts only until the rise of Anne Boleyn, and the dramatic deterioration of the Tudor court. Margaret has to choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, or to her beloved queen; to the religion she loves or the theology which serves the new masters. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret Pole has to find her own way as she carries the knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors.

Review:

            I have recently finished devouring the greatly anticipated finale to Philippa Gregory’s Cousin’s War Series entitled The King’s Curse, and I must say it was well worth the wait! In this final installment, Gregory brings the reader into the lavish and dangerous court of King Henry VIII as seen through the eyes of Margaret Pole. Margaret is the close cousin of Elizabeth of York, mother of King Henry VIII. She is the daughter of his uncle George, Duke of Clarence, who was killed for speaking treasonously against his own brother, King Richard. With such a strong link to the throne, Margaret is safely married off to a loyal Knight to ensure that she is not a threat to the reign of King Henry VII, a Tudor and sworn enemy of the York dynasty. She lives in utter anonymity until the fateful day when the newly married Prince of Wales is sent to live under her roof.
As the story opens, Arthur, the Prince of Wales and his young Bride, Katherine of Aragon are being looked after by Margaret, who has been appointed their royal guardian during their honeymoon. Events quickly turn tragic, and Prince Arthur falls ill and dies of the Sweat, leaving poor Katherine a young widow. On his deathbed, Arthur commands Katherine to promise that she will deny that they consummated the marriage, leaving her free to marry his younger brother Henry, who is to be the heir to the throne. Katherine, strong willed just as her mother the Spanish militant Queen Isabella I, heads for London to fulfill her promise to her dying love. Once there, the accusations stir up in regard to her claim of a non-consummated marriage to Arthur, prompting Margaret to be summoned for questions by the overly pious grandmother of the king. Margaret keeps her promise to Katherine and Arthur, and never reveals the knowledge of their honeymoon bliss, insisting that Katherine is a still as pure as the driven snow. Margaret is rewarded by being installed as Queen Katherine’s chief Lady-in-Waiting, beginning a fiercely loyal and loving bond between the two women.
Rumors and turmoil begin to fly around the court as the King openly courts, not one, but two young Boleyn girls, leaving many to wonder what type of king would raise a commoner so high. While many at court privately discuss their displeasure, no one dares confront him on the matter for fear of being on the receiving end of his ever increasing temper. Katherine is publicly shamed with the knowledge that her once dotting husband has allowed not only his eyes, but his heart to stray, leaving her devastated and demeaned in the wake of the Boleyn scandal that all but shattered England. Though it threatens to destroy all that she holds dear, Margaret manages to hold firmly to her beliefs, even when confronted with the choice between her fealty to a pompous and irresponsible King and her love and loyalty for Katherine. This determination to do what is right, however, may very well cost her her life.
 If I have not already expressed this fact, I feel I must disclose out of complete transparency that Philippa Gregory is my favorite author of this genre of historical fiction. I particularly like her way of telling the story not from the obvious voice of the royal involved, but often from a bystander, or from the vantage of someone who merely plays a supporting role. She is a master of finding the strength and fortitude of the women who becomes the storyteller. Also, her attention to historical detail and accuracy speaks volumes to her academic prowess in research and writing. I have previously reviewed the series “The White Queen” that covers the material in this, as well as three other books in the Cousin’s War series. (The White Princess, The Red Queen, and The Kingmaker’s Daughter). I highly recommend the series, both book and film, to anyone interested in this time period.
Now, back to this novel. . . In the final installment of the Cousin’s War, Gregory totally outdoes herself, and writes a book that, even as a standalone, is captivating and full of royal intrigue. This is by no means a Chick-lit book. Oh no! Margaret and Katherine are tough, independent women who stand up for what they believe, regardless the cost. This story does not mince words when it comes to violence and death, allowing the reader an intimate and accurate look into the Tudor Era. As told from the perspective of Margaret Pole, a York royal denied her birthright, The King’s Curse takes you from the elegant, over-the-top court of Henry VIII to the gritty, backroom conspiracies that directed the course of British, and quite possibly world history. It was bittersweet to finish this book knowing it was the last in the series, but I feel as though I have been thoroughly entertained and completely educated given her strict adherence to using a fact based timeline of events. I give this book a full 5 stars, and wait with baited breath to see what Philippa Gregory comes up with next!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Obituary Writer

 
Summary:
     On the day John F. Kennedy is inaugurated, Claire, an uncompromising young wife and mother obsessed with the glamour of Jackie O, struggles over the decision of whether to stay in a loveless marriage or follow the man she loves and whose baby she may be carrying. Decades earlier, in 1919, Vivien Lowe, an obituary writer, is searching for her lover who disappeared in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. By telling the stories of the dead, Vivien not only helps others cope with their grief but also begins to understand the devastation of her own terrible loss. The surprising connection between Claire and Vivien will change the life of one of them in unexpected and extraordinary ways. Part literary mystery and part love story, The Obituary Writer examines expectations of marriage and love, the roles of wives and mothers, and the emotions of grief, regret, and hope.

(From Goodreads

Review:
            The construct of an obituary seems fairly straightforward: Name, birthdate, death date, spouse name, surviving family, military history, employment, etc. . . etc. The generic fashion in which an obituary neatly encloses a person’s life into a few short paragraphs leaves many to wonder, who was this person, really and truly?  The span of a life is much more interesting than just the basic vitals and statistics. It has much more depth and character than the company one was employed by, or the fact that they may or may not have had 15 grandchildren. In the novel The Obituary Writer, Ann Hood allows the reader a unique insight into the world of obituary writing, using two very separate and distinct women in differing eras to show that a person cannot be summed up in a singular way. Instead the multi-faceted nature of a human life is much more complex, and deserves to be expressed in such a way as to give a more accurate impression of the deceased beyond the basic, nonspecific ramblings of modern day obituaries. In the end, the connection between the two will allow them both to find that place of release from grief and guilt that they have carried upon their shoulders like weights.
            In 1906, Vivien is the happiest she has ever been. She has a handsome and wealthy lover, David, whose main purpose in life is to shower her in lavish gifts and expressions his undying love for her. However, that was all about to change. Soon after leaving for work, David goes missing in the Great San Francisco Earthquake. Distraught, Vivien searches the city, looking for any trace of him, to no avail. Fast forward 13 years, the reader finds a mournful and still grieving Vivian working as an obituary writer for the local newspaper. Her obituaries have taken on quite the following, and her talent for conveying the life of the person, not just their statistics, has proved rather profitable. Her own grief being masked by the grief of others, Vivien never completely gives up on finding David, who by this point she assumes has amnesia and is living another life. Fate, in the form of a grief-stricken young woman, was about to run her over like a freight car, leaving her to question everything she thought she knew, including her time with David.
            Leap ahead to the tumultuous and rapidly changing 1960’s. Claire is the quintessential housewife and mother trying to emulate the perceived perfection that was the Camelot Kennedy Era. It’s inauguration day, and while all of the other ladies are taking bets as to the color and print of Jackie O’s dress, Claire is having an internal struggle with her conscience. Should she stay in a somewhat loveless marriage, or run away with her lover, who could quite possibly be the father of the child she is carrying? As the events of the day unfold, a tragic event will either shatter her marriage or bring them closer together, but at what cost? Claire’s devotion and loyalty to her husband is tested, leaving her with more questions than answers. While all along, her own betrayal of her wedding vows eats away at her, threatening to drive her mad.
            Throughout the novel, the theme of feeling trapped runs rampant. In the case of Vivien, she feels as though she is trapped in the same spot, running in circles, ever since the Great Quake. For her, the chapter of David is never really closed until she is able to confirm without a doubt that he has passed on. Claire, too, carries the sensation of being trapped. . .trapped in a unhappy marriage, trapped by guilt over her affair, trapped in the cookie cutter mold of the conventional 1960’s domestic goddess. Both ladies are struggling to break free, but find that they are so paralyzed by their own fears of inadequacy and grief that moving past their hurdles in life seems impossible. Impossible, that is, until they find that they share a connection that neither would have imagined. ( I am purposely dancing around the connection, by the way, to encourage you to read the novel to find out what it is!) Ann Hood uses this connection to wrap these essentially individual short stories together, but in my opinion, it came a bit too late. I think had the reader been trusted with a little more information regarding the connection, it would have made this fluid, easy to read novel a lot more deep and meaningful. Other than that minor flaw, I enjoyed this book. It gives a unique perspective on what it truly meant to be a woman in two very differing and tumultuous times in American history. I give this book 3 ½ stars.
           

            

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The White


Summary:

"I was born a white at sea on the way to the New World . . . But I was taken by those whom we called Indians. Nearly speechless for a time, I was beset by terrors." This is the voice of Mary Jemison, who, in 1758, at the age of sixteen, was taken by a Shawnee raiding party from her home near what would become Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In this intimate reimagining of her life story, Mary endures the brutal scalpings of her parents and siblings and is given to two Seneca sisters who treat her as their own--a symbolic replacement for the brother they lost to the white colonists. Renamed Two-Falling-Voices, she gradually becomes integrated into her new family, learning to assist with the hunt and to cultivate corn. She marries a Delaware warrior, raises a family in her adoptive culture, becomes friends with two former slaves, and eventually, remarkably, fulfills her lifelong dream "to own land bordered by sky, as my mother and father had once purchased woods and fields which were dappled with changing light." A testament to the resilience of the human mind and spirit, The White is a cut-crystal narrative of Mary's life among the Seneca, lit by flashes of her own voice and revealing her curious, open heart. From the novel's bloody opening to its arresting conclusion--by her own choice Mary does not return to white society--Deborah Larsen never flinches from the violence and the splendor that marked the settling of the New World.


(From mfpl.org)

Review:

 
There have been a plethora of books written about the young colonial woman, Mary Jemison, who was violently ripped from her family and home near present day Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In The White, Deborah Larsen gives a raw and at times violently graphic account of the events leading up to and after her capture. Mary’s story is a tale so frightening, that one could easily assume that it holds no basis in truth, but that would be a rather large mistake. At the tender age of 16 and terrified beyond belief, Mary must witness the brutal slaying of her family and neighbors, only to be forced to live among the very people who committed these heinous acts. Rendered unable to speak due to the sheer terror of her circumstances, Mary is given to two grieving Seneca tribeswomen who use her as the physical replacement of a brother lost during a skirmish with the white colonists. They give her the name Two-Falling Voices. This seems to represent not only the fallen voice of the brother she is to replace, but also the lost “voice” of Mary herself. Over time, Mary becomes more than accustom to the native ways, marrying a Delaware tribesman, and raising a family within his native culture. Many years later, when given the chance to leave the tribe, Mary makes the unexpected choice to stay; finding her new way of life actually suited her in a more spiritual way than that of the white colonists.

I chose this book by happenstance. I was shelving books one day at the library and came across it quite by mistake. I saw a small, simple book with the bold title “The White” written very plainly along the spine. This immediately piqued my interest. Where was the flashy script writing with the fancy, artistic curlicues that so typically adorn the cover of fiction novels?  I grabbed it from the shelf, and decided to take a peek at it during my lunch break.  Boy was I pleasantly surprised! My initial reaction to the writing was one of admiration. Deborah Larsen wrote this novel with a subtle, yet lyrically expressive voice. Her descriptions of the colors that surround Mary in the natural settings that have become her home are mentally exhilarating.  I could easily visualize Mary and her warrior husband frolicking among the golden fields of corn and amber hues of the autumn leaves. Although at times her descriptiveness was unnecessary to the scene, and seemed like fluff, it was rather attractive fluff and exceptionally enjoyable to read and visualize.
  
  Once you wade through the cream of Larsen’s eloquent and elaborate writing style, Mary’s narrative takes on a life of its own that transcends her contemporary time period. It can be translated into various modern scenarios, which makes her tale endearing and relatable. To the modern day reader, Mary is remarkably strong-willed and free-thinking for a woman of her time. She comes across as a person who is dealt an undeserved hand, and finds a way to make the best of her situation. She shows tolerance and compassion in the face of complete and utter despondency, not only in her dealings with the native people, but also her treatment of the former slaves she befriends. Hers is a true life saga that expresses wholeheartedly the internal fortitude and grit necessary to overcome any obstacle, and shows that even in the direst situations, hope can spring eternal. I give this book three and a half stars. 












Friday, October 10, 2014

Frog Music


Summary:

   Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. 

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice--if he doesn't track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

In thrilling, cinematic style, FROG MUSIC digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue's lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other
(From Goodreads)


Review:
   When I originally read the description of this novel on the New York Times Best Seller list, I was intrigued. I am a sucker for a based on reality, historical crime novel. I immediately added it to my reserve list at the library, and patiently waited for it to come in. Finally, after a month wait, I got the long anticipated email telling me this treasure awaited me behind the circulation desk. I dove head first into this novel as soon as I arrived home, and quite honestly suffered from sleep deprivation the next day because I did not want to put it down. 

   The opening scene, set in an old dusty 1870’s saloon just outside of San Francisco, hooked me quicker than stink bait does a hungry catfish. Yes, I know that might be a slightly unusual way to describe it, but it is the complete truth. The death of a main character in the opening paragraphs seems a bit morose, and quite daring, but Emma Donoghue pulls it off with a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. The raw, gritty way that Donoghue portrays the death of Jenny Bonnet instantly grabs hold of you, and no matter how unfortunate it may be you can’t get away. What starts off as a couple friends, Jenny Bonnet and Blanche Beunon, singing songs from their French homeland while preparing for bed, quickly turns into a violent, confused scene of murder. The way she chronicles Blanche mentally dissecting the situation as it is happening plants the reader right in the room with the two women, allowing you to almost feel the bloody bed and smell the sulfur for yourself.

    So, who killed Jenny Bonnet and why? To answer that question, the story rewinds to approximately two months prior to the fatal night. Blanche, a French burlesque dancer, is the toast of the nightlife scene. Men want to be with her and women want to be her. Her talent to seduce and tease on the stage is second to none, and her “off stage skills” are in high demand. Little did she know that her life would forever be altered by the fateful day that she was nearly run over by the cross dressing frog catcher, Jenny Bonnet. From that point on, whether they liked it or not, their fates would be intertwined. The characters of Jenny and Blanche were such a breath of fresh air. Not once was there a moment of needy whininess. Oh no! Not from these girls. These were strong-willed, no nonsense, Wild West ladies looking to escape the bondage of male domination. Jenny’s way of doing this was by dressing as a man, which allowed her access to places that a proper lady would never venture. Her male disguise also gave her a separation from her secretive past, which ironically is the inspiration for her persona. Blanche, on the other hand, used her sexual power over the men to her own advantage, earning a very sizable living on their concupiscence. 

 For Blanche, however, the stakes were slightly higher. Enter P’tit, her love child with her Bohemian boyfriend, Arthur. Blanche felt that she would not be able to provide a stable home for her child given her lifestyle, so she agrees to allow her Madam to farm him out, if you will, to a family who takes in unwanted children. To her dismay, Blanche comes to find out that this was not the reality of the situation, causing her world to be turned upside down. She quickly discovers that everything she held as evident truths was nothing more than a lie. The tailspin that ensues threatens to bring about momentous changes in the lives of those around her, including the very existence of Jenny Bonnet. 


 At this point, I will discontinue my explanation of events to prevent me from giving away too much. I will, however, add a bit of commentary about the writing prowess of Emma Donoghue. I am an enormous fan of a good storyteller, and Donoghue did not leave me disheartened in the slightest. The action and intrigue in this book are astounding. Her narrative is colorful and filled to the brim with dynamic and vivid depictions of what life was like in San Francisco just before the turn of the century. From the constant fear of contracting smallpox, to the vast chasm that existed between the wealthy and the poor, Pre-1900 San Francisco was the epitome of the Wild West following the Civil War. Emma Donoghue was able to accurately and romantically bring the characters of Frog Music to life in this dusty, and at time earthquake ridden city, while maintaining the integrity of the factual details of the murder of Jenny Bonnet. I confidently give this book 4 stars.