Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist - the Facts of Daily Life in 19th-Century England by Daniel Pool

I have been meaning to read What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew for the past 15 years, but it took becoming a part of the online Victorian challenge to finally get it on the top of my reading list.

This non-fiction book is about the interesting rituals of daily life from the very rich to the very poor in 19th century England. It helps to explain many of the rituals in 19th century literature that one might not understand otherwise, such as illnesses that no longer exist or have different names, marriage and courtship rituals, how to address your “betters,” life on the farm, hunting, etc. The last 1/3 of the book includes a handy glossary of terms.

The book also used examples from literature such as Austen and Dickens from the title as well as Eliot, Hardy, Trollope, the Brontes, and Thackery to illustrate terms and rituals and answer questions one might have when reading those novels. For example, well off individuals in Oliver Twist upon leaving London make a point of “sending the plate, which had so excited Fagin’s cupidity, to the banker’s.” People in the 19th century didn’t have stocks and bonds to invest in, but did invest in plate or silverware. This could be a large part of their wealth and had to be guarded.

Overall, I thought the book was a very interesting read. It was light and entertaining and not a dry history. It only gave an overview of items and didn’t go into depth on different details. For depth, one would have to read elsewhere. I really enjoyed how it explained the details of many books I have read in the past. Many items I had previously learned in my British novel class in college or other books, but there was also a lot of new information for me. I checked the book out from the library, but would like to have a copy of my own to refer to during future readings of Victorian and Regency literature.

If you are interested in this and are a lover of Jane Austen or regency era literature, I would also suggest Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye. This book has a more in depth look at the regency era of the 19th century in particular and how it relates to Jane Austen’s novels.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The King's Daughter: A Novel of the First Tudor Queen by Sandra Worth

The King's Daughter by Sandra Worth is a historical fiction novel about the life of Queen Elizabeth of York, the mother of Henry VIII, wife of Henry VII, and daughter of Edward IV. After reading The Lady of Roses also by Sandra Worth, I was eager to read more of her novels. The library didn't have any others, but luckily my husband got me The King's Daughter for Christmas.

Overall the book was an interesting read, but not as good as The Lady of the Roses. I really liked learning more about Elizabeth of York and her life through an intriguing period of English history. I can't imagine living in a world where most of your loved ones were brutality killed or died of disease or some other afflication. Elizabeth tried to lead a good life, but suffered many trying times.

I had problems with the book mainly as there was no central love story as there was in The Lady of the Roses. Elizabeth has a love for a knight, Sir Thomas Stafford that could have been and intriguing story of love lost, but instead the focus switches to a contrived love story between Elizabeth and her Uncle Richard III. EWWW! She is forced to marry Henry VII for the peace of her country. She stands back and lets her mother in law walk all over her and lets Henry VII murder a lot of people in her family for the sake of letting her son Arthur inherit the thrown without other claimants. I just wanted to shake her and say "Do Something!!!"

Some moments that I did enjoy were when Henry and Elizabeth had light hearted moments laughing at their mothers. I wish this would have continued and allowed for a love to develop between the two.

In the end, it was a good read and made me really want to read the Rose of York trilogy to learn more about Richard III as a good guy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Battlestar Galactica is back!

Battlestar Galactica was back from it's long hiatus with the first of the final ten episodes. Ben and I were so excited by it's return that we actually watched it the night it aired (doesn't happen that much for us with the two boys and a DVR). The episode overall gave me more questions than answers - but isn't that one of the great points of the series?


The episode was fantastic as usual. Overall it was a rather gloomy episode. They had been searching for earth for so long, but discovered it had been nuked 2000 years before and was still uninhabital. There were so many plot twists - I hope I remember to talk about them all.

First of all, Ellen as the fifth cylon!! I did not see that one coming. I must admit to being let down by this revelation. Tigh, Tyrol, and Anders were all shocking choices to me and primed to people in positions of power. I expected no less from the fifth. Ellen is dead and not a power player. So I guess, good job at surprising me to the writers. I wonder where this one will take us.

Many revelations on earth. It was once inhabited by humanoid cylons and the final five once lived there. How did they get to the colonies and in the fleet 2000 years later? I want to know. This has all happened before and will happen again. . . I am intrigued!

Starbuck found HER OWN DEAD CARCASS on earth and had a darth vador funeral pyre for herself. Very, very, very strange. Why are there two Starbucks? This with the revelation of the cylons on earth 2000 years ago makes me think that perhaps everyone is a cylon. What are your thoughts? How did a second Starbuck end up in a ship like her own back at the fleet? Who did this? I want to know!

DEE! I did not see her suicide coming. It was quite shocking. What is the significance of the jacks and locket on earth and amongst her personal possessions? Was is just sadness about the futility of it all, or did she realize she herself had lived on earth once before?

Overall, I thought it was a fantastic episode and can't wait to watch the final 9. Although I can't stand the thought that it will be over for good!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Laura's Top 12 Reads of 2008

I'm finally getting around to posting my top reads of 2008. Why 12? Well, I went through the list of books I read in 2008 and wrote down the books I thought were the best. And it happened to be 12. For complete reviews of these books, look back through my blog.

One note is that these are the best of books I read this year, but they didn't have to be published in 2008, just when I read them. I didn't count books that I was reading over again such as To Kill a Mockingbird, as it is obvious that they are among my favorites. In no particular order besides when I read them through the year . . . my top 12 reads:

1. Atonement by Ian McEwan I still find myself thinking about this novel. It was fascinating in its portrayel of perceptions, love, nursing during WWII, and the battle of Dunkirk.

2. The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier A riveting narrative of a 16th century French farm girl with a harrowing secret. The modern day portion of the story was forgettable, but I loved the historical section.

3. Slave by Mende Nazer & Damien Lewis. Horrifying account of modern day slavery. it was eye opening.

4. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Fantastic account of one book's unlikely journey through history.

5. The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks. One of the most romantic books I have ever read. And it happens to be about a middle aged couple.

6. Push Not the River by James Conroyd Martin. A historical fiction novel based on a diary set in Poland. The Polish history really added to the story. It was very interesting.

7. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. I still want to know why Mortenson wasn't used to help in the war on Afghanistan. His work on building schools in Afghanistan for girls is inspiring.

8. The Twilight Series and The Host by Stephenie Meyer. As Ben says, teenage girls and Laura love the Twilight Series. Edward Cullen is one of the sexiest heros I have ever read about. The Host was an exciting new science fiction book that I really enjoyed. I can't wait for new reads by Ms. Meyer.

9. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. I loved the northern Wisconsin setting and the tale of the boy and his dog. Was not so wild about the ending.

10. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. I loved this book despite my inital misgivings. It even has made me think about Bush in a whole new light. The last section was disappointing.

11. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows. This tale about the occupation of Guernsey by the Nazis was at times heart warming, while at other times terrifying. This in turn made it quite powerful.

12. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. This novel about the brutals of war was not the easiest to read, but gave me much to think about.

Lost in Austen

I had read a lot of bad reviews of "Lost in Austen" on one of my favorite blogs, Austenblog. But since I am obsessed with all things Austen, I DVR'd the four episodes of Lost in Austen when I saw they were being played on the Ovation channel this week. This is the first time I even realized such a channel existed.

I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the program. Being trapped in the house due to bitter cold temperatures and sick boys, I watched the four episodes over the past few days. Kile didn't even complain, but seemed to find it a welcome time to play with tractors and looked up once in awhile when he saw a horse.

The basic premise is that Amanda Price enters her bathroom one day to discover Elizabeth Bennett. Elizabeth stays in the modern world while Amanda enters the portal to the Bennett's home. Once there, Amanda proceeds to mess everything up. Horrors occur such as Jane marrying Mr. Collins. Amanda tries to set things right and lives what most women who have a love for Pride and Prejudice dream of. I had a laugh out loud moment when Amanda has Mr. Darcy come out of a pool of water in his white shirt.

I enjoyed this light hearted romp through Pride and Prejudice. I wouldn't mind if they did a Lost in Austen Emma or Persuasion edition.

Being Catholic Now by Kerry Kennedy

I heard an interesting interview with Kerry Kennedy on NPR this fall and wanted to read her book Being Catholic Now. Unfortunately my library did not have a copy, but Ben gave me a copy for Christmas.

Being Catholic now is composed of essays by prominent Catholics about their faith. It had a wide spectrum of believes from liberal to conservative catholics, to practicing, to "C&E," to those that have completely left the church. It discussed hot topic issues such as the priest abuse scandel, birth control, women and married priests, and social justice.

It was a very interesting read and made me think about my faith and values. It also made me happy for the good the church has done on social issues, horrified at descriptions of child abuse by priests that has caused many people to leave the church, and start in wonder that crosses were burning in the yards of Catholics in the 1980's.

While the book was interesting, it could have used better editing. It was obvious that the essays were written based on questions asked (numerous paragraphs started "If I were Pope for an hour", but the questions were not listed. Sometimes people rambled (Dan Akroyd) and it would have served better to have a brief to the point essay. Also some people chosen (Dan Akroyd) seemed to serve no purpose. I liked the essays of people that were of opposing views - it was interesting. The people that were "kind of" Catholic like Ackroyd were just boring.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beloved Enemy: The Passions of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Ellen Jones

I read The Fatal Crown by Ellen Jones back when I was fourteen. I remember considering it a rather racy, but fabulously interesting historical fiction novel about a period of English history that I didn't know much about, the battle between Stephen and Maude for the English crown after the death of Henry I. I always meant to read Jones second novel continuing the story through Maude's dauther-in-law, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Now sixteen years later, I have finally read it!

Beloved Enemy, like The Fatal Crown, is a rather racy, but intriguing historical fiction novel. This novel tells the story of the fascinating powerful woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine from girlhood through her marriage to Henry II and the birth of their first few children. The novel switches perspective between Eleanor, Henry II, Thomas Becket, and BelleBelle. BelleBelle is a whore whom becomes the mistress of Henry II and mother of his child.

While I thought the early life of Eleanor was quite fascinating, I was even more intrigued by the story of BelleBelle. The sad downtrodden conditions she was forced to live in and survive were terrible. I was cheering when Henry swooped in and saved her, but sad when things did not quite turn out as I would have liked. Overall BelleBelle and Eleanor were both unique, stronge women who were able to make the best out of circumstances to survive. Eleanor was a unique medieval woman of power that is still remembered to this day.
My only complaint about this book is the fact that is talks about a sequel at the end (which I'm assuming would talk about Eleanor's captive years, Becket's murder, her sons' coming of age), but I can't find it anywhere. As this book was published 14 or so years ago, what gives? Does anyone have any information out there about a sequel? I really want to read it!! Or else, what other books about Eleanor do you recommend?

The Duchess

Warning - spoilers ahead in this review!

The Duchess is a period movie staring Keira Knightly as Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. Georgiana is a Spencer who marries the most eligible bachelor in England, William, the Duke of Devonshire. As the new Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana becomes a trend setter and the most popular woman in England. For all of her wealth and popularity, Georgiana finds that her husband is "the one man in England not in love with his wife." She befriends Lady Charlotte, only to have her husband cheat on her with Charlotte in her own home. Georgiana tries to find true love with Charles Grey, but is unable to break free from her marriage and strange living situation with William and Charlotte.

Overall, I thought the movie was mediocre. It did have one heart wrenching moment when Geogiana is forced to give up her love child. It also had some good points on how inequality among sexes as William is allowed to have a live in mistress, but Georgiana is not allowed to have her passion to the side. Overall it was inconsistent (Georgiana can't leave her husband because she doesn't want to abandon her children yet she can abandon her love child. What??) and mearly brushed the surface of Georgiana's life without going into details. It would have been a better movie if it would have really shown the interesting things Georgiana did in her political life and really played up the love between her and Charles. I found myself not really caring about the characters.

I think if you are really interested in the subject, skip the movie and instead read the book, Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. It is a fantastic book and really gives you the depth about Georgiana that is missing from the movie.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I selected Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte for my Mom's Club bookclub pick of January. I am pretty sure that the other members of my book club are ready to kill me at this point. They are not as big of fans of Victorian Literature as I am. We'll see what they have to say at our meeting next week.

I selected Wuthering Heights after is was referenced extensively in Stephenie Meyer's Eclipse. It has been a good ten years or so since I've read Wuthering Heights so I decided it was time to refresh my memory of it. It seemed like a great time to read the book. It was also mentioned in the Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society and has been remade into a two-part Masterpiece Theatre mini-series that will be aired later this month. PBS is giving away a copy of the book as well as Tess of the Dubervilles (also a great classic) if you are interested - I've signed up!

If you have never read or heard of Wuthering Heights, it is a complex tale involving love and vengence in two families through two generations. The Earnshaws and Lintons are the two greatest families in a lonely neighborhood in Yorkshire. Mr. Earnshaw has two children, Hindley and Catherine. One day on returning from Liverpool, he brings home a young boy who he adopts and names Heathcliff after another son who had died. Hindley and Catherine are upset at first, but Catherine soon becomes great friends with him. Hindley dispises him after he takes his place in his father's heart. Heathcliff knows how to work Mr. Earnshaw to his advantage, which works great . . . until Mr. Earnshaw dies. Hindley returns home with a wife and casts Heathcliff out of the house to work in the stable. Hindley's wife dies while giving birth to a son, Hareton, and Hindley sinks into alcoholism and depression.

Catherine and Heathcliff travel to Thrushcross Grange one day while playing and watch young Edgar and Isabella Linton playing. They are discovered and chased by dogs. Catherine is hurt and stays at the Grange for weeks while Mrs. Linton to make her into a lady. During this time, Catherine becomes interested in Edgar. When she returns to Wuthering Heights, she tries to keep her friendship up with the Lintons, but it causes great jealousy with Heathcliff. Eventually she tells housekeeper Nelly Dean that she has accepted a proposal of marriage from Edgar as it would be demeaning to marry Heathcliff. She then goes on to say how much she loves Heathcliff, but Heathcliff runs off after only hearing the first part. She eventually marries Edgar and they are happy until Heathcliff returns.

Heathcliff has mysteriously made a fortune and wants to get back at everyone who has done him and ill turn. He manages to buy up all of Hindley's gambling debts and takes over Wuthering Heights. He visits with Catherine and the Lintons at Thrushcross Grange and manages to spread discord in Edgar and Catherine's marriage. He elopes with Isabella as she is Edgar's heir. Catherine basically loses her mind and dies sortly after giving birth to a daughter, Catherine. Hindley dies shortly after Catherine and Heathcliff raises Hareton as a common laborer as he himself was treated after Mr. Earnshaw's death. Isabella runs off from Heathcliff after much abuse and gives birth to a young son named Linton.

Years pass and young Catherine is raised without knowledge of the Heights. One day she runs into Hareton and Wuthering Heights while exploring while her father is in town picking up Linton after Isabella's death. Catherine is offended that Zillah (the new housekeeper at the heights) says that Hareton is her cousin and lets it slip that Linton is coming to stay with her. Heathcliff shows up at the Grange and takes Linton back with him to Wuthering Heights. Over the years Catherine and Linton try to establish a relationship through secret letters and visits by Catherine. Heathcliff tries to force Linton into this in order to get Catherine and Linton to marry and thereby put the Grange under his control. Heathcliff eventually kidnaps Catherine and Nelly Dean while Edgar lies dying and won't let Catherine leave until she marries Linton. Edgar dies with Catherine by his side and Linton dies shortly after willing all of his and Catherine's estates to Heathcliff.

Catherine lives at Wuthering Heights and falls into dispair. She becomes a not nice person in keeping with the people she lives with. She eventually strikes up a relationship with Hareton and teaches him to read (after first making fun of him for not reading and then making fun of his attempts to learn). Heathcliff falls into dispair searching for his Catherine's ghost and feels that his vengence is for naught since Catherine and Hareton echo him and Catherine. Heathcliff dies and Catherine and Hareton get their rightful estates back.

Why do I like this book? The story is dark and most of the characters are extremely unlikeable. Heathcliff is not a dashing romantic hero, in fact, he is more a villian. I feel somewhat sorry for the circumstances that he was raised in and admire his all consuming passion for Catherine, but he is more than slightly unhinged. Catherine the elder is narcassistic and seemed to suffer from mental problems. Yet I find their story of all consuming passion that extends beyond the grave to be fascinating. Even more fascinating to me is the story of the second generation. That Heathcliff could be so diabolical to plot over the years to take down his enemies is riveting. I thought young Catherine was a nicer person than her mother and loved the father daughter relationship between her and Edgar. Edgar still loves Catherine the elder after all of these years, but his love is more tempered and resonable. I feel sorry for him as he wasn't sure what to do with the whole Catherine and Heathcliff situation. Edgar is an unsung hero of the story.

I could go on forever about different aspects of the story and what I think about them. I hope to discuss them next week at book club. What do you think, why has this book remained a classic for over 150 years? What keeps people intrigued? I think unique characters and storyline, what do you think?

Also - what do you think about the various movies? I just rewatched the 1992 version and the 1998 Masterpiece Theatre version. I think the 1992 is much better than the 1939 (sacralige - I know!) because it shows the entire story, not just the first half. It also shows Heathcliff in a much darker light, which is more true to the novel. That said, I still think there has been no movie/TV version of the book that really does it justice. I have high hopes for the new version on masterpiece this month.

In closing, check out this video of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" from the late 1970's. While I like the song, the dancing just makes me laugh.

Stargate - Continuum

Ben and I watched Stargate-Continuum last weekend. Continuum is the second direct-to-DVD movie after the series finale of Stargate SG1 following The Ark of Truth.

Continuum starts with SG1 and General Jack O'Neil attending an extraction ceremony for Ba'al. Ba'al warns that the may not be the last of the Ba'al system lords (Ba'al cloned himself during the series) and people start disappearing starting with Vala and Tealc. Jack is killed by Ba'al, but Mitchell, Daniel Jackson, and Samantha Carter manage to escape. It turns out that Ba'al time traveled to the 1930's and prevented the Stargate from ever reaching America by destroying the freighter that was carrying the Stargate. The freighter captain happened to be Mitchell's grandpa. Mitchell, Jackson, and Carter find themselves in a world that is vastly different. Eventually Ba'al returns with a gigantic fleet to take over. Will SG-1 be able to save the day?

I enjoyed this movie better than The Ark of Truth. Mostly because I find the Ori storyline used in The Ark of Truth to be more than a bit tired and boring, and I find Ba'al to be more intriguing. I also am a big fan of time travel stories, although you don't want to think too hard about this one with Mitchell still being around although his grandfather was killed in the alternate 1930's. I sincerely hope that they continue to make more Stargate movies.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Santa Claus brought WALL-E to the Gerold family this Christmas. We watched it on Christmas day and we all enjoyed it - Ben, myself, and our almost three year old. I can't say whether 8 month old Danny enjoyed it since he doesn't really watch TV and spent the hour trying to steal big brother's toys.

WALL-E depicts a rather unpleasant future for humanity. Mankind has apparently polluted the earth so much with solid waste that no living thing can grow. "Big 'n Large" corporation sends humanity on a "five-year" space cruise while waste compactors are left to try to clean up the mess. 700 years later, WALL-E is the only one left and humanity has turned into super sized lazy people who can't even walk on their own. WALL-E is still doing his job after 700 years and finds things in the garbage to amuse himself. EVE, a robot sent by the human space ship shows up to look for plant forms. WALL-E falls in love, but will humanity be able to escape the lifestyle that "Big 'n Large" created for them and settle back on earth?

Kile likes spaceships and thought it was great. He was very concerned for WALL-E throughout the movie. I liked the story and thought the artistry of the movie was supurb. I also loved the music from an old musical that WALL-E liked to listen too. I just looked it up and it is "Hello Dolly." It worked perfectly into the movie. I love the Disney/Pixar collarbortion. They make superior films that are not only enjoyable for kids, but are smart pictures that the entire family can enjoy. And making a movie set in space concerning environmental issues is something that I can get excited about!


Penelope is a modern reverse beauty and the beast fairy tale staring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy.

Penelope is born with a pig snot and fulfills a family curse. In order to get rid of the pig nose, Penelope must find the love of one of her own kind. Her controlling mother (Catharine O'Hara) tries to find all sorts of blueblood men to marry her. Penelope wants more to life than to be locked up in the family manor and meeting men who are horrified by her looks. She breaks free one day and learns to live life on her own terms.

If you liked Enchanted, you will enjoy this movie. I thought it was enjoyable, but not great. My major beef with the movie was the Penelope was supposed to look so horrifying that men would jump out of the window to get away from her . . . yet the pig nose on Christina Ricci looked merely cute, not scary. If it is supposed to be a reverse beauty and the beast - make her look like a beast! It seemed a big sexist to me. The male beast in Beauty and Beast is never merely cute.

Glad Tidings by Debbie Macomber

I read Glad Tidings by Debbie Macomber over the Christmas holiday. This novel contained two stories - "There is Something About Christmas" and "Here Comes Trouble!"

"There is Something About Christmas" is the story of reporter Emma Collins. She has a hatred for fruitcake, but has to write several columsn about three different Washington State women who are finalists in a national fruitcake contest. Each woman has a unique story to tell. Unfortunately Emma (who is afraid of flying) has to fly with a hot pilot named Oliver Hamilton to interview each lady. Sparks fly and romance abounds.

"Here Comes Trouble!" is a nice story where Nolan and Maryanne Adams tell their children how they met and got together at Christmas. They were once rival columnists at Seattle papers. Maryanne was a "debutante" out to prove herself and Nolan had some baggage himself. Soon these two rivals get together and can't stay apart.

I enjoyed this book. Both stories were well written nice romantic tales. It's a good book for Christmas.

Emily's Christmas Wish by Sharon Stancavage

I read Emily's Christmas Wish before Christmas. It was a nice regency romance story - and you know how I love those!! As I was reading the book though, I realized that I had read it before when I lived in Milwaukee. I still enjoyed it on a second read!

The basic setting is at an English country Christmas party where Emily of the title is visiting her friend Harriet. Harriet's cousin Nigel is there to retrieve a family heirloom from Emily. His scamp of a brother Roger had pawned the heirloom and Emily's grandfather had purchased it for her for a Christmas gift. Roger also embarrassed and broke Emily's heart years before. Will Nigel get the heirloom back and will Emily get her wish of true love? I think you know the answer!