Monday, March 25, 2013

Emma by Jane Austen

I'm rereading all of the Jane Austen novels at the moment, it being about 20 years since I last read them all. Watching the occcasional one on a DVD made me feel as though I had read them much more recently!

Emma  by Jane Austen is probably the cleverest of them all in terms of the extent of irony and the characterisation, in my opinion.  Emma is my least favourite 'heroine' of all six novels and I'd imagine that is what Austen intended. Emma is wealthy, young, beautiful and she doesn't need to marry. Although she spends her time matchmaking others, she knows that she can remain a spinster without scorn, she won't end up like the impoverished Miss Bates as she has social position and wealth.  She is the apple of her father's eye and Miss Taylor, now married to Mr Weston seems to view her with favour too. Indeed, the only person who seems to see the true, spoilt, sometime selfish Emma, is Mr Knightley.

There is a cruel humour to it in some ways. Emma tries to matchmake a new friend Harriet Smith with the rector Mr. Elton and persuades her to refuse the marriage offer of Mr Martin, (to Mr Knightley's dismay). When Mr Elton discovers this, he recoils in horror and professes his love for Emma. Snubbed, he reacts angrily and in his turn, he also snubs Harriet at a dance. He departs and returns some months later with a new wife, who is a social snob and she and Emma despise each other.

I think we all know someone who is similar to Miss Bates, not necessarily ridiculed for single status, but someone who talks incessantly perhaps from being nervous.  Reading her garbled speech, a reader can sense the patient understanding of some characters and the irritation of others.  The picnic at Box Hill reveals Emma to be impatient and cruel as she ridicules Miss Bates in front of all her friends and she is held to account for it by Mr Knightley.

Emma also knows that she could have behaved with more kindness and feeling to Miss Bates' niece Jane Fairfax. Frank Knightley behaves improperly towards Emma by pretending he is in love with her although Austen lets him off to some extent as Emma's feelings are not hurt.

The novel ends with 3 happy couples and Emma looking forward to bringing Mr and Mrs Weston's baby daughter to her nephews in the future.

 Emma has plenty in it to make one feel slightly uncomfortable perhaps because we can recognise elements of our own personalities or of those we know, however, Austen's skill with irony, plot and characterisation don't disappoint.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Little House on the Prairie Books by Laura Ingalls

Looking through boxes of books in the attic for a school book sale, I came across all the Laura  Ingalls books I had as a child and reread them all over Christmas. My daughter loves watching the occasional episode of 'Little House on the Prairie' and has started the first book 'Little House on the Big Woods'.

Reading the books as an adult means a much different interpretation than reading as a child. Reading them years ago, I was envious of Laura's adventures as they journeyed across the Wild West. Rereading it now makes me much more respectful of the dangers. Imagine heading off in a wagon into virtually unknown territory with 3 little girls and all you own in the wagon - facing dangers such as wild wolves, hostile Indians and many other perils. Their wants were simple, as a family they wanted to be more or less sustainable and live 'like kings' by killing and eating wild animals. Although things like nails needed to be purchased, they traded items like furs in the early days. Moving back out of Indian country, settling nearer to towns, meant that they became more dependent on suppliers.

Laura clearly had a penchant for storytelling. Telling tales of Pa playing the violin, building claim shanties, being lost in the snow, being chased by wolves, stories of how Mr. Edwards crossed a river to bring them gifts from Santa Claus, when they all got malaria, the personality of Jack their dog, their relationship with other families, the isolation from relations, the hints of Ma's worry when Pa was lost in a blizzard, the relentless cold and survival during the 'long winter', Mary's blindness, Laura's first teaching job and how she realised the importance of a genuine smile, her dislike of Nellie and her romance with  Almanzo.   Yet so much was left out - the death of Frederick (when Laura was young), the birth of  Grace.  Each book picks up in a new area or with a new experience.

What also struck me was how they made so much - such as sewing sheets, sewing all their clothes, making much treasured gifts for each other, using everything from every animal.  The high educational standard was evident too - starting school late yet the difficult words they learnt to spell, the detail in history and geography, the mental arithmetic - has it all been dumbed down in recent years??

Farmer Boy is about Almanzo's boyhood, starting when he was nine and his love for horses and farming was evident throughout. The Wilder family seemed much more affluent than their neighbours and seemed to be well respected. Living in a relatively large house, banking money every year and having the largest stable at the church to shelter their horses in, with the older children going to an academy, they seemed much more wealthy that Almanzo was in later life.  While stories of Laura's childhood recorded the killing of animals for food, Almanzo's childhood seemed to be centred around food - it records what they ate for many meals as well as the hard work involved in using absolutely everything they produced. Creating clothes from the sheep's wool, butter for sale from the milk, jams, preserves, ice.

The stories have such a charm, they are perfect for children to read and I thoroughly enjoyed rereading them too. My set of Laura Ingalls books, as you can see, is extremely tattered and well worn - I was even eyeing up a new set of Little House / Laura Ingalls Wilder Box Set !

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: This Child of Mine by Sinead Moriarty

This Child of Mine by Sinead Moriarty

I don't tend to read that much 'chick lit', pick one up occasionally, and then I'll read a classic or a crime thriller and then back for a quick read novel again. One of my favourite authors of that genre is Sinead Moriarty.

The novel   sails very close to some delicate issues - teenage pregnancy, drunken behaviour, neglect, infertility, infant mortality, abduction and all their repercussions.  The various events of two families combine when Sophie discovers her unusual tendency to see events and emotions in colours is shared by a famous artist, an artist who lost her child in a sailing accident when she was a toddler, yet she is convinced her daughter is alive, not drowned. Could Sophie be her daughter?  Could Sophie's mother be an abductor? Had she been adopted or abducted? Who were Sophie's parents?

I won't give the game away but the search for the truth has many repercussions - for everyone concerned. It's not a gripping read but it is a page turner and perfect if you're looking for a well written, entertaining read in that genre.

You can buy This Child of Mine online from Amazon

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Harry Potter - the best series of books ever read!!

Harry Potter - I read the first Harry Potter book when I was teaching in a secondary school in Andover, England. I think it was out about 2 years at that time and while I enjoyed it, I decided deliberately that I'd wait until I had kids and could read it to them. I wasn't even pregnant at the time!

I bought the Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7) for my son 18 months ago for his 9th birthday and in August I started to read the first one to him and his sister (aged 7). I really wasn't sure whether they'd enjoy them, if we'd read any more than the first one, if they were going to be 'too dark'.

I started the first one in August and we finished the seventh just after Christmas - that was a lot of reading aloud. Reading 2 chapters aloud took about an hour and a half. The children loved it, at times they would almost be dancing around the room in suspense, wondering what words were going to come out my mouth next. I loved them. My husband is a dairy farmer and he would come in around 8:30 and say 'You're not reading Harry Potter again!'

I'd planned to take a break after the third book 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban', having heard the later books became increasingly scary. I remember the night I finished that book, I'd planned to get the children to bed early so I started reading at 6pm, planning to have them in bed for 8pm as I'd a good deal of work to do. They wouldn't let me finish!  I read it while we were having our tea, I read it as they put on their pyjamas and brushed their teeth. My husband was working late and came in at 9:45 as I was reading the last page! I'd hardly any voice left, having read for almost 4 hours. The kids were so wound up it took them ages to go to sleep - suffice to say, it was unputdownable.

They wouldn't hear of taking a break, we had to start the next book the following day and continued to finish all 7. I loved them and would sometimes sneak and read snippets ahead when they were in bed. We also bought the boxset DVD Harry Potter - The Complete 8-Film Collection [Blu-ray] [2011][Region Free] of the 8 Harry Potter movies (oh, I'd have loved to have seen the last one on the big screen) and watched each DVD after reading the book. Even now, if it's a cold and wintry afternoon or the children are home ill from school, they choose one of the Harry Potter films to watch.

Will was 10 last summer and he reread all 7 books in 8 weeks and 6 days!  He fully intends to read them all again this summer and beat his record!  Now, imagine being 10 or 11 and knowing that you can read Harry Potter every night when you go to bed or any wet afternoon - bliss or what?  Both children say that they are going to read Harry Potter to their kids.

Although the writing was scary and dark at times, the children could contain the danger within their own imaginations. Both my kids are fairly squeamish and I know they'd have been terrified of the films if they hadn't read the books first. After all too, the books are always better than the film!  I also liked that the writing of the characters as teenagers was fairly innocent, even old-fashioned in that although boys liked girls and vice versa, all that was mentioned was kissing so it's fine for the younger age group to read.

I couldn't put it down, the children didn't want me to put it down. My son is going to reread it for the third time, I want to reread them too. My husband even got to like it (from hearing me read it occasionally). Harry Potter is a huge hit in this house. I almost wish I'd been a fan when they were being published, I definitely would have queued outside a bookshop at midnight. When I told the children that other kids had had to wait a year or more for the next book rather than starting it straight away, they both said the wait would have been agony.

Enough said - we love Harry Potter and I really can't recommend it enough - buy the Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7) for a 7-10 year old. What my son loves about the box set too is that it is like an heirloom for him now!

Disclosure - the links above are Amazon affiliate links - but I assure you, the review is 100% genuine, if I don't like a book I say it. Every child should read Harry Potter (or even better, every child should have Harry Potter read to them and yes, the adult will love it too)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

I haven''t read  Persuasion: Jane Austen  for many years and having read it again, I was wondering why I'd left it so long!  I'm writing a book review of it so you won't leave it, do read or reread. So many people say that Pride and Prejudice is their favourite but I felt this was just as good.
Better in fact, in many ways, as we all know that Elizabeth Bennet ends up with Mr Darcy as Pride and Prejudice is so well known. Even if people haven't read the book, they'll know of the happy ending from the many film versions.
However, Persuasion has that 'will they, won't they?' feeling to it. Anne Elliott was dissuaded from marrying her true love Frederick Wentworth when she was 19, partly because of her family's snobbery and the fact that his future wealth and position was uncertain. She is very close to a family friend who acts as a surrogate mother and is convinced not to marry. They don't meet again until she is 27 and we, the readers, feel for Fanny as we're told she has lost much of her youthful bloom and good looks. She seems to be bullied by her eldest sister and acts as a sounding board to her moaning married younger sister.
The tables have turned by then, Frederick Wentworth has returned from the Napoleonic wars, wealthy and successful. Due to Anne's foolhardy and vain father who has overspent, the family have to lease their home and move to Bath. As would happen, their house is taken by an Admiral and Mrs Croft, of course, Wentworth is Mrs Croft's brother and hence their paths cross again.
As Anne stays with her sister, she and Wentworth end up meeting many times. Nobody knows of their previous relationship and she is forced to listen to people wondering which lady he will marry, she has to watch him flirt with others. However the tides turn when they are in Lyme and Wentworth's attention is caught when she is admired by a stranger. That stranger turns out to be an estranged relation who is Anne's father's heir and when they meet again in Bath, I found myself wanting to shout 'No' as Anne and William Elliot spend more time together.
As we are privy to Anne's thoughts but not to Wentworth's, we don't know whether he still loves Anne or not, until the final chapters.
Will she or won't they? Persuasion: Jane Austen is a love story filled with excellent characterisation, wit, irony and humour.  Do read or reread it - it has just become my favourite of her six novels again.