Archive | February, 2011

New Challenge: Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge

27 Feb

Gilmore Girls is my guilty pleasure. During high school and college, I spent countless hours watching (and re-watching) the show. The writers of Gilmore Girls packed the show with allusions to literature, pop culture, and music. “Catching” these allusions was a bit like finding Easter eggs. What made the show even more enjoyable was the fact that my sister enjoyed it as well – we had many Gilmore Girls marathons. Although it’s been quite some time since I watched the series, I find myself quoting the show regularly. I might have a problem. 🙂

I just discovered a reading challenge based on Gilmore Girls. The website contains a list of books – both fiction and non-fiction – that are referenced in the show. My goal is to reach the Emily level by reading 5 books from the list. This reading challenge can overlap with the “Books I Should Have Read in School, But Didn’t” Challenge.

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Persuasion

21 Feb

I love Jane Austen.

I know, I know. An addiction to Jane Austen seems to be an obligatory female trait, akin to a love for chocolate and chick flicks. For this reason, I have been hesitant to admit my true affection for the authoress – I don’t want my admiration to be deemed cliche. After reading Persuasion, however, I have fallen in love with Jane Austen’s writing all over again. I am smitten.

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliott, the daughter of a self-absorbed baronet, Sir Walter Elliott. After years of living beyond his means, Sir Walter must “let” his Kellynch Park dwelling and take up new residence in Bath. Sir Walter’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, has inherited her father’s vanity and sense of entitlement. His youngest daughter, Mary, is an annoying hypochondriac. Anne, on the other hand, stands in marked contrast to her sisters. Sensible and kind, Anne bears none of the pride usually accompanying the Elliott name. She is now 27 years old and unmarried, a fact that implies inevitable spinsterhood. Yet Anne has been in love once before. Nearly eight years before Persuasion begins, Anne is engaged to Frederick Wentworth. The affection between the two young people is mutual, and their prospective union seems to promise happiness. That is, until Lady Russell – Anne’s confidante – persuades her to call off the engagement, citing Wentworth’s inability to produce an income equal to the needs of a Baronet’s daughter. Years later, Anne still pines after Wentworth. When she and her family leave Kellynch Park, Anne meets Wentworth once again. Will their love be given another chance? Or has Frederick’s affection already been won by another woman?

*Sigh.* I am enchanted by the characters in Jane Austen’s novels. Anne Elliott … Elizabeth Bennett … Marianne Dashwood … Austen’s heroines are life-like and lovable. The vivid description with which Austen describes her characters and their relationships suggests that she was a close observer of human behavior. I recently commented to my husband that if I could have lunch with any author, I would choose Jane Austen. The wit and candor present in her fiction would make her conversation most enjoyable. My husband thinks Austen and I would get along well together. What a lovely compliment!

Should Be Reading Prompt: WWW Wednesdays

17 Feb

In Michigan, the mid-winter months are rough! We can go several days without seeing the sun. At about this point each year, I get sick of the snow – the slow morning commutes, bundling up in winter gear, shoveling the driveway – and find myself living for the promise of spring. This winter has been especially difficult as the blizzards buried us in snow about three weeks ago. I am officially diagnosing myself with cabin fever. If the weather were more cooperative, time spent in the great outdoors would be the perfect remedy. But since good ol’ Mother Nature lacks all maternal instinct from November through March, I’ve been spending the cold nights reading instead.

The Should Be Reading blog poses the questions, “What are you currently reading? What did you recently finish reading? What do you think you will read next?” At the moment, I am reading Persuasion by Jane Austen. I have always been enchanted by Jane Austen’s work. Her wit and candor are endearing, as are her unforgettable characters. Her female characters have become almost like friends. I would love to be adopted into the Bennett family just so I could call Jane and Elizabeth my sisters (although I’m quite alright without claiming the other Bennett women as relations). And her male characters are equally as memorable – I mean, what Austen-fan hasn’t (at least momentarily) wanted to marry Fitzwilliam Darcy?! I am thoroughly enjoying Persuasion and plan to write more when I have finished the novel.

I recently finished reading Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly and wrote about it in my previous post.

When I finish Persuasion, I plan to read Juliet by Anne Fortier. Recently, I’ve become intrigued by literary spin-offs. (I’m always stunned by how many Jane Austen spin-offs exist! But that’s a topic for another post …) In the past, my theory has been that no spin-off could be as good as the original. The problem with my theory? I’ve never actually read a spin-off… ever. Juliet sounds very intriguing. According to reviews, Fortier’s novel centers on a modern woman who discovers that her elderly aunt, Giulietta Tolemei, is a descendant of a royal Sienese family thought to have inspired the story of Romeo and Juliet. The novel traces this young woman’s quest to discover the truth about her aunt’s heritage. The reviews have been favorable, and the plot sounds promising. So I’ve decided to give up my no spin-offs rule and give Juliet a try. (The timing is perfect since I am just beginning my Romeo and Juliet unit with my students.)

Revolution

7 Feb

In her novel Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly weaves together the lives of two young women living in very different time periods – Andi Alpers, a modern-day teenager who relies upon anti-depressants to escape the pain of her reality, and Alexandrine Paradis, a heroic young woman in the midst of the French Revolution.

Andi Alpers is nearing graduation at a prep school in Brooklyn. She should be working on her thesis paper, a requirement for admission to Ivy League colleges. Andi, however, has decided to not write a thesis. Instead, she spends time playing her guitar, attempting to drown out the pain of her crumbling family. Her younger brother died nearly two years ago; her mother experienced a subsequent emotional breakdown. Unable to face the loss of his son and instability of his wife, Andi’s father focuses on his work as a geneticist. Andi is alone.

When Andi’s parents receive a letter from her school regarding their daughter’s poor academic performance, Mr. Alpers insists that Andi accompany him to Paris where has been hired to match the DNA of a heart believed to belong to Louis-Charles, son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. While he works on his research in Paris, Mr. Alpers hopes his daughter will use the city’s wonderful libraries to research her thesis topic.

For Andi, being stuck in Paris with her estranged father is like a jail sentence. So she strikes a deal. If she is able to write an outline for her thesis and get it approved by her father, Andi will be permitted to leave Paris on the weekend. Her plans change, however, when she discovers a beautiful guitar from the 1700s with mysterious origins. While Andi adores the instrument, she is more interested in what she finds within its case: a painting of Louis-Charles and a diary belonging to Alexandrine Paradis. At first, Andi tries to ignore the diary. After all, she must focus on her thesis outline or she will never be able to leave by the weekend. However, the diary keeps calling her back. What happened to Alexandrine? And what happened to her young charge, Louis-Charles?The diary brings the past to life for Andi. Within its pages, she discovers the brutal history of France during the Revolution; she also discovers a kindred spirit within Alexandrine. Most importantly of all, Andi learns about the transformative powers of hope.

I loved this book! From the first page to the last sentence, I was riveted to Donnelly’s narrative about the French Revolution. Prior to reading Revolution, I knew very little about this time period in France’s history. However, Donnelly skillfully weaves fact into fiction, creating a believable story that has inspired me to learn more about the French Revolution. In fact, before finishing Revolution, I downloaded a book about Marie Antoinette to my Nook. 🙂

I LOVED the theme of this book! As the story begins, we are greeted by a hopeless Andi. Her family is a wreck. She is addicted to anti-depressants. She has no idea what she wants to do when she graduates from high school. To Andi, hope is a four-letter word, the “crystal meth of emotions.”  As the story unfolds, however, Andi finds a purpose. She starts to trust people, to let herself love. Although the world may be brutal and uncaring, Andi learns that she does not have to act in kind. She can let herself hope.

I also really enjoyed the characters in Revolution. Jennifer Donnelly has captured the life of a teenager in a compassionate and realistic manner. Andi, depressed and withdrawn, is the type of teenager most adults would label “no good.” However, Donnelly’s account of the young woman’s personal turmoil makes us sympathetic to her plight. I found myself truly caring for Andi Alpers.

On a side note, I heard about this book via Dana Huff’s website, Much Madness is Divinest Sense. I probably wouldn’t have selected this book on my own, but Dana spoke highly of it so I thought I would give it a try. I love it when a book recommendation leads me to a book I truly enjoy!

Mockingjay

3 Feb

*Sigh.* I just finished Mockingjay. I devoured the Hunger Games trilogy, impatient to discover what would happen to Katniss and Peeta. As I neared the end of Mockingjay, however, I deliberately slowed my pace, unwilling to say goodbye to the characters. It’s only been a day since I finished the book, but I already miss Katniss. Pathetic? Probably. But I have a feeling I’m not the only one …

After discovering the chink in the Capitol’s armor during the 75th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is rescued by rebels and becomes the unwilling symbol of the rebellion. Peeta, her Quarter Quell counterpart, is presumably taken captive by the Capitol. Katniss’s reluctant acceptance of the Mockingjay role hinges upon one important condition: that President Coin will grant immunity to all former Hunger Games victors.

Though she now lives in District 13, Katniss travels throughout the Districts shooting propaganda videos that endorse the rebels’ mission. At first, Katniss fulfills her duties as Mockingjay out of a sense of obligation; however, as she witnesses the unrest in Panem, Katniss realizes that she plays a pivotal role in the resistance. Katniss’s journey brings her to the Capitol itself with the intent of assassinating President Snow. While there, Katniss must make decisions that will affect not only her own future, but the future of Panem.

My thoughts are reeling after finishing this novel! I suspect the Hunger Games will stick with me for quite some time! One of my favorite aspects of the trilogy is the way in which Suzanne Collins navigates difficult moral issues. For example, her characters represent many differing attitudes about war. Gale, for instance, represents those who support war as a means by which to improve social conditions for the oppressed. Peeta, a pacifist, disagrees with Gale’s willingness to use the Capitol’s own violent tactics to bring it down. Despite their differences, Collins demonstrates how Gale and Peeta are both motivated by compassion. In doing so, the author refrains from endorsing her own political beliefs while challenging the reader to consider other opinions about war.

While I loved this novel as much as the others in the trilogy, I was disappointed with how abruptly Mockingjay seemed to end. Due to the exciting plot she created, Suzanne Collins certainly had a lot of loose ends to tie up; however, the ending of Mockingjay was less descriptive than the other two novels. The last couple chapters and the epilogue describe Katniss’s life after the Capitol is successfully overthrown. These chapters seem more like a list – first Katniss does this, then she does that … I would like to see more about how different Katniss’s life is now that the Capitol has fallen. I am, however, very satisfied with how the Katniss-Peeta drama resolved – I was  rooting for Peeta throughout the entire trilogy! 🙂

I suppose I should get back to real life now …