11.07.2015

Book Review: The Fall by Albert Camus

I finished up The Fall by Albert Camus late last night, and so I just thought I'd do a quickie review of it while it's still fresh in my mind.  I ran off some of my major thoughts on Goodreads as soon as I finished it, and I'll expound on those thoughts here.


I picked this book up from a used book shop earlier this year, mostly because I was buying as many classics as I could, and also because I wanted to read Camus.  I knew Camus has a different set of beliefs than I do, and as I am a huge proponent of reading/learning about worldviews different/contrary to my own, I picked it up.

The school of thought Albert Camus is known for is called absurdism, and it is the belief that any attempt to determine the inherent meanings of anything, including human existence, are absurd because the qualities of information available to the human mind, and relationships within reality makes any certainty about such impossible.  It is a relativist theory, in which everything is relative and there are no absolutes.  The definition of absurdism, however, is self-refuting because it itself is an attempt to determine the inherent meanings of things – that nothing has any meaning.  Which, in effect, makes absurdism's claim absurd.  The theory explains itself away.

I researched Camus's beliefs before going into this book, and they were fairly apparent throughout.  There are lots of examples of relativism in this book.

Besides knowing the author's worldview going into this book, I didn't know much about it.  That said, it was different than what I expected.  It was quite a bit more philosophical/analytical than I was expecting, and it was kind of mind-blowy towards the end, in a way I'm not sure is good or bad yet.  Camus's critique of Christianity is that it is out-dated, a fairy tale, etc.  He never backs this claim up, but it is there.  In regard to his critiques of Christianity, I do want to note that I did feel challenged in some areas (this is what he thinks of Christians – is this what I look like, etc.).  Hint: that's the point of the whole book.  He does critique Religion more generally, and I agree with his criticisms.  (Religion here being separate from Christianity).  He criticizes Religious people for doing good as a way to justify themselves and to put God in their debt, if you will, so that He'll HAVE to bless them, etc.  Obviously, I disagree with him when he says that faith is dead, but I do agree with him when he criticizes Religious people for using their good deeds as a sort of power play.

Moving on, I found the writing pretty unremarkable.  It's dry and spare, witty at times and darkly ironic.  His writing style definitely matches the tone of his subject.  This book is written in an interesting narrative style.  The main character (the only character) Clamence, is in a conversation with a man he met in a bar (the reader) for the entirety of the book, and the expectation is that you, the reader, project yourself into the character he speaks to.  I found this style rather unnerving and startling at times and it kept me engaged for the most part.

Speaking of the main character, I found him despicable.  He's an ex-pat French lawyer living in Amsterdam and in order to justify his judgment of others, he gets to know them and confesses his faults, tells his life story.  He quite literally removes the beam from his own eye so that he can pick out the grains of sand in the eye of his acquaintances.  He calls himself the Judge-Penitentiary and compares himself to God, the Judge.  The irony and hypocrisy of his actions are so apparent and he is vain and self-righteous.  He made me really angry at times.  This book also prompts the reader to self-analyze, which is what Clamence intended.  It's dark and implicating, and forces the reader to look at his own motives.

I did happen to read, after I began this book, that it's actually the most advanced/abstract of Camus's three major novels (this always happens to me) and that it's best to start with the others and work your way up.  Despite that, I didn't think this book was inaccessible or an impossible place to start.  I will definitely read Camus's other books because I found his way of writing/thinking really interesting and also because I love analyzing books like this.

Those are my thoughts on The Fall by Albert Camus!  I really enjoyed doing this more laid back style of review, so hopefully I can spit out a few more of these this month.  Thanks for reading!

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.  You can check out that review here.

10.22.2015

Thoughts on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

If you have been a reader of this space for any amount of time, you will certainly know of my endless love of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  A lot of that love stems from nostalgia and the fact that I see so much of myself in the character of Jo, and the other girls at times.  I wax all poetic and nostalgic in my full review, which is here if you so desire.

Recently, I've heard some criticism floating around about Little Women, and I thought I'd talk about that.  Now, I am not writing this in response to that criticism necessarily – everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and I'm not going to try and say they're wrong or anything (though I will defend Little Women forever), but I just wanted to share my thoughts regarding the criticism.


The criticism is, basically, that Little Women is too perfect, too idyllic a picture of a family.  In other words, it's not reality.  And because a loving family, where the parents love each other, where the children love each other and their parents, and where God is present and glorified is not realistic, the book is disliked/considered only a children's book/criticized.  I've also heard people say that it's too sickly sweet, that the morals and the idea of being "a good girl" are old-fashioned and outdated.  Also, that this is a book only meant for children.

Personally, I think that really simplifies the book - I think it's got a bigger heart than all of that, and I also disagree with the idea that it's not realistic as a bit rubbish.  These girls and their mother are separated from their father/husband while he is involved with the Civil War which is taking place, one of the sisters dies later in the book after a prolonged illness, and the family is poor.  Perhaps what the criticism means when they denounce it as unrealistic is that the way in which the family faces their trials and struggles is unrealistic.

Now, I have a problem when things are criticized for being "too perfect" or idealistic.  I'm sorry, but I was under the assumption that we wanted families to be strong, marriages to be healthy, relationships to thrive, and family members to love each other and bind together when the going gets tough.  I think we have a problem when we begin to get rid of ideals and level the playing field so that everything is just "realistic" and there is no striving for anything better than what already is.  If we only have examples of families and relationships and marriages that are realistic, then how will anything ever get better?  How will society ever progress?  And here's a little hint: strong marriages and strong families strengthen society.

One of my favorite things C.S. Lewis ever said about children's literature was his insistence that dark, evil, terrible circumstances and characters be a part of children's books, because they must be aware that in the world they live, there are villains and terrible things, and they need to read stories about those things and read about heroes who destroy villains and chase away the darkness.  I love that, and I think that is terribly important in children's books.

That doesn't mean, however, (and I don't think Lewis meant it either) that ALL children's lit should only be about the darker side of the world.  Yeah, kids should read books that tell about the evil in the world, but it's also imperative that they read books about goodness and purity and stories that tell how things should be.  Children need to know about the evil so they are prepared for it, but they have to know that there is something better than all of that, too.  They have to see the beauty of family, of relationships, of the redemption of love and how love conquers hate.  They have to see the shining knights who pursue the villains, the good men who protect the weak, the fathers who care for their families, the women who are brave and strong, the mothers who weather the storms, the kings who are noble and honorable, and the people who care for others before themselves.

That's why books like Little Women are important.  They show children how families should work, how fathers should protect, how mothers should love.  They need to see high standards, they need a picture of how things should be.  Because if they don't know that, if they can't ever see the good things, it won't matter if they know all about the bad.  They won't have anything else to turn to.

Something else C.S. Lewis said regarding children's books has to do with morals.  A lot of the criticism for Little Women has to do with the amount of morals in the book, the supposedly old-fashioned preachiness of the family's faith.  C.S. Lewis says (and I paraphrase) that children's books should not have any sort of moral that the author himself does not strive for or does not apply to himself.  Otherwise, it won't be believable.  He says, "We must write for children out of those elements in our own imagination which we share with children: differing from out child readers not by any less, or less serious, interest in the things we handle, but by the fact that we have other interests with children would not share with us."  I know for a fact that Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women around her own sisters, and Jo specifically around herself, and she shared Jo's persistent struggle with her temper.  Therefore, Alcott's writing about that came from her personal experience, and that adds so much more heart to Jo's struggle than if the author pulled it out of the air.

Those are just some of my thoughts on the criticism that's floating around about Little Women.  Again, I'm not trying to convince anyone or discredit their opinions, but it just concerns me when ideals like family and marriage are not given any credit because "it's just not realistic".  Personally, I think Little Women is more than just a children's story, and it's still my favorite book.  Thanks for reading! xo, Ella

10.19.2015

My Autumn TBR

I know that fall is now about half over, which makes me sad, but I wanted to share the books I hope to read this season (let's just note that I've started none of these so far.  Oops.)


The first book I have on my list (and the one I'm starting next) is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  Donna Tartt is one of those authors I have heard a ton about, but have never read, and I'm excited to pick this one up.  I got it earlier this year, and I saved it for this season, because it just seems like a fall read to me.  It is a huge book – 750 pages – but hopefully it won't drag and I'll be able to finish it before next year.  I am equal parts excited and nervous for this – partly because I rarely read contemporaries – but I'm gonna give it a go.

The next book is one that's frequently at the top of African-American literature lists – Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.  Now, earlier this year I read Beloved by Toni Morrison, also an African-American novel, and I didn't love it – Morrison's writing style is different and a little hard to engage with, in my opinion.  Of course, after I read it, I heard someone say that Hurston's novel was a better place to start than Morrison, so I'm just doing it backward, I guess.  Anyway, this is a pretty short Southern love story(?) I'm thinking, and I'm looking forward to it.

Next up is a classic – supposedly the precursor to the modern mystery novel – and it is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.  I got this one earlier this year and set it aside for this season, because that just seemed right, and I am pumped to read this.  I am a huge fan of mysteries, as you know, and so I am excited for this.  It's got all the things I love about mysteries: a locked room, red herrings, and the lot.  It's a pretty chunky book, but I'm really stoked.

The next book I have on my list is here for a really dumb reason.  It's called The Fall by Albert Camus.  I know, I'm sorry.  How corny can you get?  I picked this book up secondhand this year, and I just thought I'd try to read it this season.  Albert Camus is a French Nobel Prize winning author and philosopher who contributed to the rise of a philosophy known as absurdism.  I don't know a whole lot about him, but I know that he has some different beliefs/views, and as I am a proponent of reading/learning about ideas and people who disagree with my worldview to know what they believe and therefore how to respond, I'm interested in this, but not really excited for it, except that I'm curious as to Camus's belief system (or the lack thereof).  In any case, I know this will be fascinating.

And the final one I have on my list is Hard Times by Charles Dickens.  I've had this one for a while, and it's been on my list to read for several months in a row, so I don't know if I'll get to it this season or not.  If there are any books on this list I could see myself not reading, it will be this one.  Oh well.  I need to get inspired to read Charles Dickens, I guess.

And those are the books I absolutely really need to read this season (or what's left of it).  There are a couple nonfiction books I also want to get to, and I need to finish reading War & Peace, but these are my top priority.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

10.12.2015

What I Read This Summer

As promised, I am back to share/talk about the books I read this summer (mostly in July).  I pretty much took the entire month of August off from reading – though I started quite a few books – because I was pretty drained after Summit.  But, turns out, I read a ton of stuff in July, so let's get into it.
I didn't read too many books this summer that I absolutely adored (like last year), but there are a couple, and I'll just do a quick run-down on my thoughts on all of these.

The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood: This is book two in "The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place" series, a middle-grade series centered around three rambunctious children with mysterious origins and their stalwart young governess.  I thought this book was fun and my sister (11) enjoys this series, but for me it was pretty forgettable and just wasn't anything special.  I don't think I'll probably finish the series, but I would totally recommend it for the middle-grade age children.  The series is a perfectly good middle-grade series, but I just didn't love it.  3 out of 5 stars

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I reread this book this summer for probably the 5th or 6th time.  Little Women is just my most favorite book of all time.  I like to say that it's up in my "Book Canon" where it is untouchable and will forever be my most-loved book.  This reread, especially, I absolutely loved.  I basically started crying halfway through and didn't stop until the end, just because THE FEELS.  I think that because all the characters in Little Women have always been such a big part of my childhood, I feel more deeply connected to them each time I read it, and so I can more and more empathize with their situations, and this time, just ALL THE FEELINGS.  And for the record, I cried at the sad parts, the happy parts, and everything in between.  I have no explanation other than I was probably a little tired, too.  But, seriously, I freaking love. this. book.  There is no star rating that would adequately communicate my endless affection for it.  Okay, I'm done.

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket: This is book one in Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" middle-grade series, which has been majorly hyped everywhere and so I gave in and read it.  I was hoping to really like this series, but I was all like, "Um... I don't get it.  Bad stuff (like, awful stuff) happens to kids and it ends on a depressing note, and...?"  So, yeah, I didn't like it.  I mean, child marriage, are you kidding me?  Who wants to read/enjoys this stuff?  And thus, I am not continuing with the series.  2 out of 5 stars

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood:  At last, I read a book by the illustrious Margaret Atwood.  The Penelopiad is a retelling of The Odyssey from Penelope's (Odysseus's wife) perspective, with some treacherous maids and poetry thrown in for good measure.  I'm still not totally sure what I think of this.  I didn't dislike it, but I didn't particularly enjoy it either.  Atwood paints a really bad picture of Odysseus in this book (which she can do, I mean, maybe he was a jerk) and I didn't really enjoy that.  Also, there's just some weird stuff that goes down, and weird people, and the whole subplot with the maids threw me off, so while I didn't hate it, it wasn't something I liked a whole lot either.  I did enjoy a different perspective on The Odyssey and I'll probably pick up some more Atwood in the future, as her writing style is really unique.

Third Girl by Agatha Christie: Last year, I got a couple Agatha Christie novels from my library's used book sale, and the first one, "A Death on the Nile," I really enjoyed.  I still enjoyed this one, but not as much.  I don't remember the plot too well (there are 3 girls... surprise!), and I didn't particularly like the plot or the other characters, but it is a Hercule Poirot mystery, and I always enjoy him.  It's the first Christie I haven't totally enjoyed, but it wasn't bad either, and I'm not saying you won't like it!  I just didn't love it as much as the others I've read by her.  3 out of 5 stars

Between You & Me by Mary Norris: This is a supposed book about language by the editor of The New Yorker magazine, Mary Norris.  The problem for me was that this didn't seem like a book on language as much as it seemed like a book about Norris's personal experience with language and where it has taken her.  When a book is blurbed as being comparable to Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots, & Leaves, then it had better be comparable, because that book is my favorite book on grammar of all time.  And Between You & Me was nothing like Truss's book.  First of all, Norris's book is far more memoir than it is a book about grammar/language.  Not that I didn't find that interesting – her time at The New Yorker was super interesting to me and I really enjoyed those parts, but it had nothing to do with grammar and writing and such.  Second, she is no grammar Nazi.  She's one of those people who thinks grammar and standards of writing should evolve, that personal pronouns should be fluid and ignored grammar rules should well, er, continue being ignored.  I much prefer Lynne Truss's Nazism, thank you very much.  Anyway, I didn't hate this book, but I would have enjoyed it more if it had not been compared to Eats, Shoots, & Leaves.  They're nothing alike.  3 out of 5 stars

Hamlet by William Shakespeare: I had this brilliant plan to read like, four Shakespearean plays in July, but... I ended up only reading one.  Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Hamlet!  It had a dark humor that I really enjoyed, and the character of Hamlet was really fascinating.  I even came to enjoy Shakespeare's English.  I used the Barnes & Noble edition of this play, which was super helpful and explained all the language as it went along.  I highly recommend that edition.  I will definitely continue to read Shakespeare; Rome & Juliet is on my list next.  4 out of 5 stars

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling: I arrived pretty late to this book.  I thought it sounded fun, though, and the more I was learning about Mindy Kaling and hearing about her, the more I wanted to read her first memoir-ish book.  I listened to the audiobook, which Mindy narrates, and it was perfection.  She is so funny, self-deprecating, and just someone I want to be best friends with.  I love her.  This book is some memoir, some career, all funny, and a ton of fun.  4 out of 5 stars

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes: I picked this book up because I thought it would be a good summer read and also because I saw it recommended as an alternative to The Nightingale, which was a big historical fiction book this past year.  Also, I've always heard good things about Jojo Moyes, so I decided to give it a whirl while I was at the lake for a few days this summer.  This book is a split narrative between a woman set in France during WWII and a young woman in contemporary Britain.  These two women's stories are brought together around a painting.  There's some historical romance, not a whole lot of actual history, and quite a bit of Paris.  Now, I liked some things about this book.  For instance, I really loved the love story bits about Sophie (the French girl) and her husband Edouard set in Paris before the war.  Paris intrigues me, and so I enjoyed that part a lot.  I always enjoy split narratives as well, so I did like that aspect of this book, but unfortunately, the things I liked about this book were very outweighed by the things I didn't like.  I don't read a lot of romance (ie: any), but even I noticed so many annoying romance-y cliches that drove me crazy.  There was plenty of insta-love and angst, especially between Liv (contemporary British girl) and her husband and subsequent love interest.  Like, ugh.  She was the worst character.  She was whiny and selfish and utterly annoying.  She had this strange and unlikely obsession with a piece of art that she was willing to go to court and lose a fortune over, and I was so thoroughly annoyed with her the entire book that it set me off completely.  I did like the story line set in WWII, though, and those characters.  But the contemporary parts I totally disliked.  If you like historical romance/split narratives/annoying female characters, then this book might be for you, but it certainly wasn't for me.  2.5 out of 5 stars

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown: This book.  By far my favorite (new) thing I read this summer.  It was so great.  It's a novel about a pirate captain, Mad Hannah Mabbot, who captures gourmet chef, Owen Wedgewood, and forces him to cook her a fantastic meal on her ship every Sunday in order to stay alive as she gallivants across the ocean.  He is a pious, conservative man who has faithfully served his previous master for many years before being captured (his transformation is so awesome).  She is a ruthless pirate with a heart of gold underneath her tough exterior and fiery red hair.  Her crew is made up of a group of misfits, from the fearsome Mr. Apples, who knits, to a couple martial arts masters pledged to their captain.  She is in search of the notorious Brass Fox, a fellow marauder whose real identity remains hidden for much of the story.  Cinnamon and Gunpowder is an epic, swashbuckling adventure, a surprising love story, and an exotic foodie's diary.  And it was awesome.  This book totally surprised me by how much I loved it.  Mad Hannah is an absolutely brilliant character, and she is just the greatest pirate ever.  Pirates intrigue me, for some reason, and this book checked all my boxes.  The writing is just beautiful, the characters are full-bodied and so well-developed, the love story is understated and just right, and all the food bits were just. so. good.  I read this stretched out on a boat at the lake this summer, and I highly recommend you save this one for your next vacation, or wait until next summer.  I love, love, love, love this book, and you should totally read it.  5 out of 5 stars

Defying ISIS by Johnnie Moore: Switching gears from the ridiculous to the very real, Defying ISIS is a nonfiction book all about the killing machine that is ISIS now ravaging the Middle East and stretching out across the globe.  It is a very real, in-depth look at the havoc ISIS is wreaking both among Christians and Muslims, and how it's goal is to wipe out Christianity, not only in the Middle East, but in your own backyard.  Moore offers first-hand experiences of the terror ISIS has inflicted upon the people they target, horrifying stories of brutality and suffering, and unflinching details about what's behind the terrorist organization.  But he also looks at the incredible faith of the Christians, their hope, and what we can do for a situation that seems so far removed from our own.  If you want to know the real, gritty facts of the slaughter in the Middle East (and even if you don't) and need a wake-up call, read this book.  It is important.  4 out of 5 stars

And those are all the books I read this summer!  In my next post, I want to talk about where I am with all my reading challenges for this year, and talk about any changes I've made.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

10.07.2015

What I Did This Summer!

Whew!  It's been a while!  I never intended to take a break from the blog this summer, but that's what happened and so I'm here today to talk about what went down while I was away.

My last post was around the fourth of July, and later that month, we went to the lake for several days, and then we took a family trip to Boston.  It was fantastic.  We spent about 4 days in Boston and around that area, we drove to Plymouth one day, and up the coast another day in search of a beach.  We had a super awesome time – Boston is a pretty great city.  Anyway, I thought I'd share some pictures I took while we were there, including book stores (of course) and the rad Boston library (where I died and went to heaven).  I mean.  Oh, and we consumed a ridiculous amount of seafood and it was magical.
And then, a day after we got back from Boston, I hopped on a plane and flew out to Colorado Springs for a student conference/camp called Summit.  I was there for 2 weeks, and had over 60 hours of lecture on everything from worldview to apologetics, to how to defend your beliefs and why you believe what you believe, and it was easily the best two weeks of my year (the last 5 years?) (my life?).  It was so incredible.  Not only were the lectures and speakers phenomenal, I met so many awesome people and made so many new friends and learned so much about myself and about God.  It was a life-changing experience, and one I won't ever forget.  I might decide to do a post where I just write a whole bunch about the entire thing and put my thoughts down, but if you're interested in learning more about my experience or more detail about what it is, I'd be happy to talk about it.

Anyway, I thought I'd share some pictures from that trip as well.  Yes, today I am over-sharing and I don't care.
So, yeah, that was my summer!  It was crazy and awesome and scary and stretching and I loved it.  God is big and real, y'all.

This semester, I'm taking a college class and working quite a bit, so I don't know how much writing I'll actually be able to do in this space, but I definitely want to blog again!  I'll be talking about all the books I read this summer real soon, and I want to start doing more posts that are more topic-based, as I have thoughts on stuff, and I want to be able to throw them out there somewhere.  And anyway, this blog is called "This Girl Writes," so this just makes sense.

That's it for me today; hopefully I will be back next week to talk about some books!  xo, Ella

7.03.2015

Book Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Hello, and Happy Friday!  I am super pumped about the holiday weekend, mostly because fireworks are on my list of favorite things and I just like summer holidays.   Anyway, I am here today to talk about a book I actually read in May, and am finally getting around to reviewing.  I picked up North and South because I've heard it praised highly and because the BBC adaptation is just my favorite period drama ever.  While I can't say that I prefer the book over the show, I did enjoy it, despite some minor issues.  But let's get to the review.


Title: North and South

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell

Publisher/Price: Penguin Classics / $8.40 here

Type: Fiction

Genre: Classic, Romance

Number of pages: 560

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Overview: When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the North of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South Gaskell skilfully fused individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.  (via Amazon)

My thoughts: First I want to say that two things kind of surprised me about the book.  I will probably do some comparing book and show in this review, as a disclaimer.  I liked Mr. Thornton's character in the book slightly more than in the show.  I don't know why, but perhaps it is because the book fleshed him out a little more.  In the show, you never see anything from his perspective or spend time in his head, whereas the book spends time on both sides of the main characters' perspective.  So I enjoyed that quite a bit.  However, I didn't absolutely love Margaret's character like I was hoping to.  On the back of the book it says something like she is one of the most original characters in this kind of literature, which made me want to like her a lot, but I have to say, I loved how she was portrayed in the show much more than in the book.  There were times when I really enjoyed her character, and then other times when I thought she was overly emotional and fragile.  Margaret was portrayed as a very strong character in the show, and while I had hoped the same would be true of her in the book, she often seemed unrelated to her character in the show.  In the story, however, Margaret is the strongest character in the Hale family, which came through even stronger in the book.  And of course, I realize that the book came first and thus the show deviated from the book, but I guess I just enjoyed the show more.  

One other thing that disappointed me about the book was the ending.  I absolutely love the ending of the BBC show, and the one in the book fell slightly flat for me, just because I was envisioning that awesome scene at the train station.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the ending, mostly because it reminded me of the one in the show.  Also, that kiss at the end of the show has to be the best one in TV history. Absolutely.

One thing I did enjoy more about the book than the show was the portion in the beginning that was set in the Hale's first home in the South.  I enjoyed getting a peek into the life they always talked about with such fondness throughout the story.  Also, Margaret's mother was so annoying.  I never liked her character in the show at all, but I disliked her even more in the book.  She actually disliked both of their homes: Helston and Milton, and I got so sick of her complaints.  Ugh.  

Let's talk about the writing for a minute.  I liked the writing style, but not as much as I love the style of Jane Austen.  Sometimes, the sentences became slightly hard to follow, but I really enjoy the Victorian/Regency era writing, and so I still enjoyed it. 

Also, despite being over 500 pages long, this book was a fairly quick read for me.  I didn't have to force-read it, it was easy to get through, and I think the anticipation of the ending I knew was coming kept me reading.  I would encourage you to pick this up if you want to get into classics but are intimidated by the length of some of them.  This one is substantial, but a fast read.

Overall, this book was slightly disappointing when compared to the show, which I absolutely adore, but I still enjoyed it, simply because it allowed me to replay it in my head.  I didn't dislike it, but I didn't totally love it either, and I could see myself rereading it in the future.  I would recommend the book if you enjoyed the show, and if you love the book, I would highly recommend that you watch the show, especially if you wish Margaret Hale was a stronger character.  

And those are my thoughts on North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell!  I would recommend it to any fan of classics or lover of the BBC adaptation.  Not my favorite book ever, but also not a book I dislike.  Thanks so much for reading!  xo, Ella

7.01.2015

July 2015 TBR

I have a ridiculously ambitious TBR for July, so I'm probably not going to get to all of the books I plan to talk about today, but we shall see.  If you saw my post a few weeks ago, you will know that I am planning to read a few Shakespeare plays this month.  I have no idea how those will go – they may take me forever, or go pretty fast.  Anyway, let's get this started or we'll be here all day.
First up, let's talk about the books I'm currently reading.  I just read the first book in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, The Mysterious Howling, which I briefly talked about in my wrap-up post for June at the beginning of this week.  I am now on to the second book in the series, which I picked up at the same time as the first, and I'm currently about 60 pages into this one.  I think I'll probably take a break after this book, unless it ends up being amazing.  Really enjoyable series so far, but it's not like my favorite thing ever.

The second book I'm currently re-reading is Little Women.  I haven't mentioned it on here yet, but I am participating in a summer book bingo this year, which is basically a thing where you have a bingo card and each square is a prompt for a book you need to read.  It is hosted by the people behind the Books on the Nightstand Podcast, and you can find out more here and download your bingo card here.  For example a few of the prompts on mine are: "Longer than 500 pages," "Cozy Mystery," "Sci-Fi," "Was Turned into a Movie/Show," "St in Europe," "YA Novel," "Found in Used Bookstore, " etc.  One of my prompts was to read a book I loved as a child.  Now I wouldn't say I am completely out of my childhood yet, though I am closer to adulthood than my childhood, but the obvious choice for this one was Little Women.  This is a book I love more everytime I read it, so I think it's more accurately a book I loved like, forever.  I am about 60 pages into it, and it's just so freaking good.  I love it so much and I am just feeling all the feels and nostalgia.   

And of course, I am still plugging away at War & Peace, which I will be reading for the rest of the year, so I decided to drop the book cover from my monthly TBR posts.  Anyway, still loving it. 

Also, this month, as previously mentioned, I will be reading four Shakespearean plays: Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, and Much Ado About Nothing.  I am hoping to enjoy these quite a bit and also hoping that they don't take me all month to read.  

Next up, for the book bingo again, I am supposed to read a love story or romance, and because I enjoyed the last Jane Austen I read (Persuasion), I picked up Sense & Sensibility.  I'm looking forward to it a lot.  

If you remember my book haul from a couple months ago, this book will look familiar.  Probably due to the nature of it (a romance) and the bright cover, I decided to save it for the summer.  And hopefully I'll be able to read it stretched out at the lake.  

I also want to try and get to Hard Times this month.  I have a light case of Charles Dickens intimidation, and as this one is pretty short, I'm gonna have a go at it.  This one is fairly low on my priority list, but hopefully I'll get around to reading it. 
I also have some books from the library I'd like to get to this month.  The first one is The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.  I really like the Odyssey and The Illiad, so I'm pretty excited about this.  If I enjoy it, I'll pick up more Atwood in the future. 

And then, I have a book about grammar, which, you should know by now, is like my favorite thing to read about.  Inside the cover, there was a blurb that compared this book to Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynne Truss (my favorite book on grammar EVER), and I needed no further motivation.  I am so so so looking forward to this.  

Finally, Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown.  I have heard several people mention this book now: Rebecca Schinsky and Liberty Hardy on the "All the Books!" podcast and Rincey from RinceyReads on YouTube.  All of them gave it high recommendations, and it's about a (female!) pirate captain and a kidnapped chef and what could possibly sound better?  Besides, I don't often read stuff purely for fun, and this will totally be that.  Besides, I kind of have a thing for pirate stories.  Pirates intrigue me.  
Lastly, I want to get to a couple nonfiction books this month.  In August, I am going to Colorado for two weeks for a student worldview/leadership conference/camp thing, and I know a lot of current-event stuff will be discussed, so I'd kind of like to get caught up with my reading to be prepared for all that.  I am already planning the books I want to take on the flight, too, because of course, that's what you do.  I've had these books for a while, and they are high on my priority list for this month. 

And those are all the books!  It's a way ambitious list, but hopefully I can knock out a big chunk of it.  I have so many reviews to catch up on from May/June, so watch out for a review coming later this week.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

6.30.2015

What I Read // June 2015

Hello!  I don't quite understand how it is the end of June, but regardless, I am here today to talk about the books I read in June.  I don't plan on talking in-depth about these books in these types of posts, but I'll say what I thought, share my rating if I don't plan to do a full review, and let you know if I plan to do a complete review in the future.  So without further ado, let's get to the books.
The first book I read in June was A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.  I picked it up after hearing another of Hosseini's books highly recommended.  I plan to talk about it in more detail when I speak about the books I got from the library in June, so watch out for that.  But for now, I'll just say that I loved it and immediately bought another book by Khaled Hosseini.  

The second book I read was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I'm a big fan of speculative literary fiction like Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell, so I was highly looking forward to this one.  While I didn't enjoy it quite as much as those books, I still really liked it and especially thought the book angle was super interesting.  I think it will be one of those books I re-read in the future.  Lots of food for thought regarding what we read and how/why we read, and I am still thinking about it. 

The third book I read was Beloved by Toni Morrison.  This was one of those books that I ended up liking more after I read it.  I plan to talk more about Beloved when I do my library books post.  It was a haunting book, though, and I eventually want to read more Morrison.
The fourth book I read was Wearing God by Lauren F. Winner.  I really enjoyed this book.  It really opened my eyes to all God can mean to us and all that He symbolized to His people through metaphors and things like that.  It was fascinating and surprising, and it changed the way I think about worship.  I plan to do a full review of this book so I will speak more in-depth then.

Then I read Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie.  It was so good to read another book by her, and a mystery for that matter; I haven't been reading mysteries of late, so that was super fun.  I absolutely loved this book and flew through it in one or two sittings.  It was a lot of fun and has lots of twists and turn.  I will also say that it starred my favorite Christie detective, Hercules Poirot, and he was so good, as always.  I think I'll do a full review of this as well, so look out for that next month.  Also, this cover is so awesome and I just purchased this edition, so look out for it in my book haul.

The next book I read was actually a middle grade novel: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, the first book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.  I never read anything from this genre, but it sounded interesting, the cover is awesome, and I felt like reading something easy and fun.  I did enjoy it quite a bit for being something I don't normally pick up, and I've started the second book already.  I will mention this book again in my library books post.
The next book I picked up was actually a re-read for me – To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I read it again so I could be all caught up for Harper Lee's new book releasing in July, and I enjoyed it so much more than I did the first time (and I loved it then).  I just felt all the feelings, and loved Scout's character more than ever and the story just meant a lot more to me for some reason this time around.  I absolutely loved it.  5 out of 5 stars, obviously.  

The final book I read in June was Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson.  I had high hopes for this book, and they sort of fell flat.  It was far more philosophical than I was expecting, and it felt more nonfiction than fiction at times.  I was perhaps not in the mood for it, but yeah, I didn't enjoy it.  I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

I am also a little over 200 pages into War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy, which I began this month.  I definitely need to pick up the pace a little bit, but I am highly enjoying it in the evening with a cup of tea and classical music in the background.  I am looking forward to continuing it!

And those are the books I read in June!  I ended up with a total of 8 which wasn't as good as May, but still not bad.  I got through all but two books on my TBR, and I never planned to get through War & Peace this month anyway.  I also hope to get back into blogging more consistently in July, and I'm excited about that.  Hopefully I can get a post up about all the books I bought in June I the next week or so.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

6.20.2015

Book Review: The Hobbit

Hello!  Yes, I am still here, I've just been focusing on other things beside blogging, and I haven't been reading a ton lately either.  But I thought I needed to review the other books I read last month before it gets too late.  And I love these too much not to talk about them.  

Today I'm talking about The Hobbit.  Now, if you remember, I have said before how much I have needed to read this for the longest time, but had some hesitation because I wasn't a huge fan of the idea of it being a children's book or a treasure hunt.  Despite my misgivings, however, it was awesome and so fun and I'm excited to talk about it today.


Title: The Hobbit

Author: J.R.R Tolkien

Publisher/Price: Harper Collins / $9.56 here (looks like my particular edition is out of print)

Type: Fiction

Genre: Classic, Fantasy

Number of pages: 336

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My thoughts: By now, I have a feeling you know the basic plot of The Hobbit, so I won't bother summarizing it.  If you are a little rusty, go here to brush up a little.  Anyway, I went into this book with low expectations.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy took me a long time to read and honestly, I loved the movies better than the books.  Also, I wasn't sure about this being about a treasure hunt.  I love the "saving the world" theme of LOTR, and I just wasn't interested in reading this.  But.  I was wrong.  This book was fantastic.  It was loads of fun and a pretty awesome adventure.

Part of what allowed me to enjoy this so much was that it felt so different from LOTR.  LOTR is a grand epic tale, a mission that leaves none of the participants the same.  It changed who they were.  The Hobbit changed Bilbo, but he was able to go back home and live relatively the same life.  That said, The Hobbit felt totally different from LOTR.

The Hobbit is ultimately an adventure.  I've read stuff about both this book and LOTR, but even if I hadn't, I would have gotten this out of The Hobbit.  Go on adventures.  Even when it doesn't make any sense at all.  Going on that quest with the dwarves and Gandalf is the best thing that could have happened to Bilbo.  It made him into a different hobbit.  He became less fearful of the world and new things, he became more generous and gained wisdom.  He became a better version of himself.  And that's what adventure does to us.  It changes us.  And that's my favorite thing I took away from this book.  Adventure is good for us.  When I finished reading this, I wanted to go on an adventure.

The difference between The Hobbit and LOTR is primarily in the depth of the adventure.  Frodo's adventure was a mission.  A save-the-world-type-mission.  Bilbo's adventure was truly an adventure.  Yes, both of them changed, but ultimately, Frodo sacrificed a lot more than Bilbo.  But I think the difference is only appropriate for a book written as a children's tale.  Also, I can now testify that it is certainly not a book only for children.  And as C.S. Lewis would say, those are the best types of children's books.

I also want to talk about Peter Jackson's movie trilogy based on the movie.  Now that I've read the book, I feel appropriately qualified to compare the two medium.  Lots of die-hard Hobbit fans disliked the movie (to put it lightly), mostly because Jackson turned it much darker.  I feel like now, having read the book, I would have been happy with either version.  I would have enjoyed the lighter, more children's-book-like version, but I also liked Jackson's version.  Generally, I liked the movies, even though they shifted away from the spirit of Tolkien's Hobbit.  They were awesome, and having watched them before reading the book didn't affect my enjoyment of the book.

And those are my thoughts on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien!  I enjoyed it far more than I was expecting and I totally recommend it to anyone who loves LOTR, or fantasy in general.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

6.11.2015

Shakespeare in July

Okay, so, confession time.  I have only read one Shakespearean play ever.  I read Julius Ceasar a couple years ago for a class, and since then have just never gotten around to picking another one up.  Sad, I know.  Well seeing how pathetic that was, and also wanting to remedy that, I decided to do a thing I've coined #ShakespeareinJuly.  It's kind of a riff on Shakespeare in the park (I am totally clueless on that reference other than Ironman's line in Avengers).  I know, I know, I'm pathetic.  Also, I know this is early, but hey.  Whatever.


Anyway, as the name suggests, I plan to read some Shakespeare in July.  I've decided to set my goal for four plays, but we'll see if I choose to be overzealous and read more than that.  On my list so far are Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, and Macbeth, and I am very open to suggestions for my fourth pick.  I'm really excited about this, and if you, like me, want to read more Shakespeare, you can do it along with me!  If you do, use the hashtag #ShakespeareinJuly and tweet me!  I will be sharing my progress and thoughts on Twitter as I read next month! Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

6.08.2015

Audiobooks I Listened to in May

Last month, I got really into audiobooks.  I've started mowing our gigantic yard again, and when I'm clean out of podcasts to listen to, I turn to books.  And last month, I was into historical fiction apparently.  I haven't read much historical fiction of late, but I listened to a couple books last month and really enjoyed them.  I am here today to talk about those!
The House Girl by Tara Conklin - First up, a book that's been on my TBR for a while, but one I haven't heard a lot about.  This book is a split narrative, switching between Josephine Bell, a slave prior to the Civil War, and Lina, a burgeoning attorney in present day New York City.  Lina has just been assigned to a slavery reparations case, and her mission is to find a lead plaintiff to represent the case.  Eventually, the stories of the two women collide, and as Lina discovers more about Josephine Bell, the mysterious house slave/artist/runaway, her course of her life is altered.  This book was great.  I don't read a lot of slavery fiction (something I am trying to remedy), and this book was the perfect gateway drug.  I really enjoyed both of the main characters: Josephine and Lina, and found their voices equally engaging.  I absolutely love the split narrative trope in historical fiction, and it worked brilliantly here.  At first, I thought Lina was going to end up being annoying, but I warmed to her character and ended up really enjoying her throughout the book.  Josephine's character was fascinating.  She was multifaceted, and just when I felt like I knew her, she changed on me, right up to the (really surprising) end of her story.  I enjoyed most of the characters in this book - I felt like I connected with them and was able to empathize with most of them.  I did have a couple little things I didn't love about this book.  First of all, I found the idea of a reparations case a leeeetle bit unbelievable.  Like, really?  You think a single case, one sue against the U.S. Government is going to right all the wrong done to African American slaves?  And even if it could, the government of today is not guilty for a wrong that occured over 150 years ago.  Also, Lina's relationship with her dad got a little bit long.  The little references and hints to the truth he was keeping from her seemed a little heavy-handed at times, and it almost seemed like the author had to drag that out till the end of the book to make her ending work.  Those are just a couple minor things, and they didn't affect my enjoyment of the story at all, I just thought I'd throw them in.  Overall, I really enjoyed both the story and the characters.  They seemed alive and warm, and I haven't stopped thinking about the book. (Also, the narrator for the audiobook did a nice job).  I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.

The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott - This book reminded me so much of North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  It's basically a story of the mill girls who work in the cotton mills in Lowell.  When they decide they want change in their mill, which isn't the safest place to work, one of the girls, Alice Sparrow, decides to be the group's spokesman.  Alice catches the eye of the mill owner's son, Samuel Fiske, a man who is different from everyone else in his family, and works for the good of the mill workers.  When Alice's best friend dies, her death and suspected murder stirs up controversy against the Fiske family, her budding relationship with Samuel is torn between their loyalties to "their kind" and a chance at true love.  This book was really good as well.  It doesn't compare to North & South, but I really enjoyed it all the same.  I didn't connect with the characters quite as much as I would have liked, but the story was strong and the characters were pretty likeable for the most part.  Lovey Cornell, the girl who is killed, (this is not a spoiler because it happens pretty quick) was my favorite character, because she seemed like she had the strongest personality, so I was pretty bummed when she left the story.  I enjoyed her far more than the main protagonist, Alice Sparrow, basically because Alice never had a really sturdy, consistent personality.  Though this may have been because the narrator voiced her with kind of a weak, timid voice, which was totally opposite to her character.  That was annoying.  Another issue I had with this book was the romance.  I'm totally okay with romance in historical fiction, but this one seemed ever so slightly unbelievable and rather heavy handed at times, and both of those things will turn me away.  So while the romance was sweet, it seemed a little incompatible with the character of Alice Sparrow and ever so slightly unbelievable for its time.  Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a lot, but I didn't love it like I did The House Girl.  I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.

And those are my thoughts on the audiobooks I listened to last month.  Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any audiobook recommendations, I would love to hear them!   xo, Ella

6.04.2015

Mini Book Reviews // May Library Reads

Today I am here to talk about and review the three books I read from the library last month!  Two of these were books I read during the Bout of Books 13 read-a-thon, so I've decided to just review them here and not do a wrap-up of that read-a-thon.

I only really loved one of these, but I'm still glad I read the other two, and I'm excited to talk about them!
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King - This was the book I didn't read as part of the read-a-thon, but the one I really loved, which, by now, is no surprise, as the Mary Russell series is my most favorite mystery series of all time.  The Beekeeper's Apprentice is the first book in the series, and it begins with Russell just meeting Sherlock Holmes for the first time.  From there, it progresses through several of their first small cases, and eventually hits a couple big ones.  I absolutely loved the way this book was written.  I loved reading the back story first, then the short cases, which felt like short stories almost, since they were all mostly unrelated.  I really enjoyed that because it hearkened back to the style of the original Sherlock Holmes.  This book was so much fun.  I loved getting to see the early stages of Russell's relationship with Holmes and her training and apprenticeship.  One of my favorite things about the entire series is how much it humanizes Holmes, and this book was no exception.  You see a lot of Sherlock's father-ness coming coming out in this one, and it was great.  As always, I adored the characters.  It's so much fun seeing Russell as a teenager.  She's moody and snarky, and I think that's why the two of them got along so well.  Also, I would like to say that if you are looking to get into the series, make an effort to start with this book (which I guess is obvious, but I didn't do that).  Overall, this was just a fantastic look at the early relationship between Holmes and Russell, and as always, the characters were brilliant and fun.  I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck - This is my second Steinbeck book, and I have to say that I liked Cannery Row much better.  This one just had a terrible ending.  Ugh.  The Pearl is short - less than a hundred pages, and I enjoyed the writing style, and also the wife of the main character - her name is Juana - but the ending was just really sad and depressing.  I guess the point of this book is to illustrate the awful consequence of human greed, and it did that all right.  I don't really have a lot more to say about it.  I enjoyed the setting and most of the characters - they were all pretty believable - but the ending ruined it for me.  I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr - This book the first short story collection I've read, and while I really like the short story format, these stories were kind of hit or miss for me.  I didn't enjoy Doerr's writing style in this as much as I did in All the Light We Cannot See, for some reason; all the stories seemed really surreal to me, which I don't enjoy, unless that's the point and it's about unreal things.  Most of these stories were just okay, they didn't really make me feel very much.  I found all of them interesting, but unlike with All the Light We Cannot See, I didn't feel much empathy with the characters or connection with the stories.  That said, I really enjoyed two of the stories: "The River Nemunas," and "Afterworld."  I loved those two (especially "The River Nemunas") and I would read those again.  "The River Nemunas" was really moving and I got a legit lump in my throat at the end of that one.  It was beautiful.  Overall, I liked the collection because I loved a couple of the stories in it, but I did not loved the collection as a whole.  If I could have just read "The River Nemunas," I would not have had to read the whole book.  I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars based on the two stories I really enjoyed.

And those are my thoughts on the three books I read from the library last month!  Thanks so much for reading and I will be back soon.  xo, Ella

6.02.2015

June 2015 TBR

I apologize for not getting this up yesterday, on the 1st, but I've just been thinking a lot about how I want organize posting around here, so I wasn't sure what I wanted to do yet.  I think I will still do a post at the beginning of the month like this one, to keep me accountable with my reading, and then I'll do a post at the end of the month where I mention everything I read and link to respective reviews, etc.  I wasn't able to do that in May, obviously, because I ran out of time.  But I think that'll be the plan from here out.  But, let's get to the books!

This month, I have quite an ambitious TBR, compared to last month, just because I read so much last month and I'm all optimistic now about what I'll be able to read.  We shall see how realistic that ends up being.
First up, a book by an author I've heard lots about.  I've already read A Thousand Splendid Suns – as it's only the second of May, that should tell you how much I loved it.  It was beautiful and devastating, and I'm going to read more of Hosseini's stuff, ASAP.

Next, another book by an author I've heard so much about: Beloved by Toni Morrison.  I don't know if I'm going to pick this one up next, as it sounds really sad and heavy, too, but we'll see.  I'm also not sure if I'll like it, but I really want to get to it.

And then, if you haven't heard (???), Harper Lee is going to release a new book in July, and there's been talk all over the place about rereading To Kill a Mockingbird so you'll be all up to date in time for her new book.  Apparently, it's about Scout when she's older, which I'm psyched about because I absolutely adore Scout's character.  She's the best.  Anyway, I'm hoping to get to this really soon.  Maybe after I get the new edition that will match the cover of the new book. *wink*

Then, I'm feeling in the mood for some dystopian literary fiction, so I'm going to pick up Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  This is a pretty short book, so I'm hopeful it'll be a quick read.

Oh, I am so excited about this next book.  The author of Wearing God, Lauren Winner was interviewed on the Relevant podcast a couple weeks ago, and she was brilliant, so I am stoked about reading this.  It sounds so so good.

And then, no surprise, but I'm hoping to get through, or at least read a good chunk of The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I had this on my TBR last month, as well, and I got through a couple hundred pages, but I really need to finish it.  I really enjoy it, it's just a slow read.
This is the month when I start War & Peace!  I am so incredibly excited to read this (more than I probably should be), and I have super high hopes going into it this time around.  I. Will. Read. It.  But, seriously, I am really excited.

I picked up a couple of novellas from Melville House's Art of the Novella series last month, and this is one of them.  It sounded super interesting, and so I might pick it up this month if I get a chance.

And finally on my TBR for this month, a book I've had for a while since picking it up at a library book sale, Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie starring the irrepressible Hercule Poirot.  I picked this just because I knew it'd be a fast, easy read, and it will also tick off a box in the Books on the Nightstand book bingo I'm doing this summer.  I'm looking forward to it.

And those are the books I hope to get to this month!  I'm really excited about all of them.  Thanks for reading, and I will be back later this week to talk about, well, books, of course!  xo, Ella

6.01.2015

Book Review: Give War and Peace a Chance

I'm here today to bring you my thoughts on the best nonfiction book I read last month: Give War & Peace a Chance.  It was so good, and I'm really excited to talk about it.

At the beginning of this year, I expressed my hearty intention to read Leo Tolstoy's War & Peace within the year.  I started out strong, talking about the section I read each weekend.  And then, it petered out.  I got tired of having to recall what I read and write about it.  Also, it got boring real fast.  But!  My desire to read it has been reinvigorated, and so I ordered a beautiful Penguin Deluxe Classics Edition of War & Peace and this book, which I had heard good things about.  Turns out, neither of those moves was a bad one, as this book was fantastic, and now I cannot wait to start War & Peace (I'm starting over completely from the beginning, as my original edition was abridged).  The new one could tone up your arms – I'm convinced.  #1400pagesletsdothis


Title: Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times

Author: Andrew D. Kaufman

Publisher/Price: Simon & Schuster / $12.59 here

Type: Nonfiction

Genre: Literary Criticism

Number of pages: 304

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Overview: War and Peace is many things. It is a love story, a family saga, a war novel. But at its core it's a novel about human beings attempting to create a meaningful life for themselves in a country torn apart by social change, political divisiveness, and spiritual confusion.

Give War and Peace a Chance takes readers on a journey through War and Peace that reframes their very understanding of what it means to live through troubled times and survive them. Touching on a broad range of topics, from courage to romance, parenting to death, Kaufman demonstrates how Tolstoy's wisdom can help us live fuller, more meaningful lives. The ideal companion to War and Peace, this book will also be enjoyable to those who have never read a word of Tolstoy, making that masterpiece more approachable, relevant, and fun. (Amazon)

My thoughts: This book was so great.  It was SO GREAT.  I loved it so much, and I want to reread it again really soon.  The thing that excited me most about it was the fact that it got me so incredibly enthusiastic about reading War & Peace.  Like, I cannot wait.  And that's coming out of the mouth of the girl who originally put that book down because it was boring.  But this second time reading it, I'm going to take it slow, I'm gonna write all the things and mark up all the margins, and highlight all the awesome quotes, because Give War & Peace a Chance has gotten me so pumped.  It helped me realize and understand why War & Peace is considered one of the greatest novels ever written, and I honestly could not be more excited to jump in.  How many times can I possibly say "excited" in a paragraph?

This book was just so much fun to read.  And I absolutely mean that.  The author was able to write about his subject in an engaging manner that made me not want to put it down.  His writing style made whatever he was talking about seem totally interesting.  This book was insightful and brilliant and anyone who has the slightest interest in reading War & Peace or any of Tolstoy's work needs to read it.

Give War & Peace a Chance is organized topically, with each chapter focusing on a timeless theme that one finds in War & Peace and expounding upon it, using passages and characters from the novel to illustrate each theme.  Those themes are Plans, Imagination, Rupture, Success, Idealism, Happiness, Love, Family, Courage, Death, Perseverance, and Truth.  All of these themes are timeless, meaning they are always pertinent, and people are always asking questions about them and thinking about them.  One of the best things about this book is that the author comes at these questions simply from how they are portrayed in War & Peace.  He doesn't come at War & Peace from a Christian perspective, or any other perspective, for that matter.  I found that really refreshing and the absence of those perspectives added a lot of clarity.

Mostly, this book helped me realize that War & Peace is a sweeping tale about humanity.  It's a book about people and universal truths and experiences that everyone relates to.  It's about themes that are deeply and fundamentally human.  It's a book about life, and death.  Sadness and happiness.  Hope and despair.  Kaufman quotes War & Peace in his books when he writes "Love awoke, and life awoke."  And not only will that end up being one of my favorite quotes – I can tell – I think it also sums up what War & Peace is ultimately about (without having read the book) :P

Just from having read this book about War & Peace, I can see that War & Peace is a book with a heart and a soul and one that will definitely change the way I see the world.  And that's why I can't wait to read it.

I plan to read this book again while I'm reading War & Peace and then at the end.  And I'm sure I will refer back to it countless times throughout.  Another thing I love about this book is the excellent appendices.  The first is a chronology of Leo Tolstoy's life, and the second is a guide to the characters of War & Peace, which I was absolutely thrilled to see.  It has a pronunciation guide (bless you, Andrew Kaufman) and a short description of the character.  And as the author mentions in the book, there are almost 600 characters (what??) in War & Peace, and that character guide is going to be a lifesaver, lemme tell you. 

In conclusion, when a book about a book, or, more accurately, a literary criticism, makes me want to read the book in discussion, like, now, that makes it a firm favorite.  This book was totally that for me.  Seeing how much I loved Give War and Peace a Chance, I have high hopes that I'm going to really love War & Peace.  Despite the page count.  Fingers crossed.  Anyway, I loved this book like crazy, and if you or someone you know has the slightest inkling of an interest in reading War & Peace, this is totally the book for them.  Or, whatever, it's such a good book, everyone should read it.  And then they'll want to read War & Peace.  And then maybe we'd all be better off.  And now I'm going to stop, because it's late and I'm tired and I'm rambling with run-on sentences and getting carried away (wow). 

I hope you liked this review and found it informative and interesting, and I will be back to share the books I hope to read in June.  Wait, how is it already June?  That cannot be happening!

5.30.2015

Book Review: Emma: A Modern Retelling

As promised, I am here to review another book I read in May.  This one was actually on my May TBR, so go me!  Today I am talking about Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith.  I've never read a retelling before, but I was feeling like trying something different, and also, pretty cover.  So of course.  Anyway, this was a fun read and I really enjoyed it!  But, let's get to the review.
 

Title: Emma: A Modern Retelling

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Publisher/Price: Pantheon / $17.74 here

Type: Fiction

Genre: Romance / Classic Retelling

Number of pages: 368

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My thoughts: This book is #3, I believe, in a series called The Austen Project, where good writers publish modern retellings of Austen's major novels.  To me, this seems like a daunting task.  Modernizing Jane Austen's famous works, while keeping her ardent supporters happy?  Close to impossible.  But as you know if you've been around these parts for a while, I am not a super crazy Jane Austen fan.  Up until reading Persuasion, I could take her books or leave them.  So going into this, I wasn't particular about the plot being accurate or the characters being identical to those of Austen's creation.  And I think Alexander McCall was the man for the job.  His writing style goes so perfectly with Austen's story, and that alone would have made me like this book.  His style is accessible, but also sounds exactly like the type of writing Austen herself would have been down for.  I absolutely adored the little tongue-in-cheek references back to the original novel.  For example, when Emma first hears of Harriet Smith, she exclaims that such a name sounds rather old-fashioned.  I loved those little things.

The Emma of McCall Smith's novel is a perfect modern reincarnation of Austen's Emma.  She is bright, witty and snarky, living with her ultra-health-conscious dad as she plans to open an interior design company.  I think the author did Emma justice, swapping horse-drawn carriage for Mini Cooper in such a way even Austen herself would have approved.  And her father is perfect.  Reading about him, I can only imagine how much fun the author had writing Mr. Woodhouse as a modern-day health nut.  He was the perfect character.  I really enjoyed all the characters in this book, especially Emma's governess, Miss Taylor.  I did think, however, like other reviewers, that there could have been more time spent developing Emma and Mr. Knightley's relationship.  That all happened rather quickly, and their lack of interaction left me feeling a little rushed at the end.

The setting of this book was a little unnerving at first.  A good portion of the first couple chapters or so is spent developing the characters, largely Mr. Woodhouse.  The author wrote Mr. Woodhouse as a very old-fashioned character to begin with, and although this retelling is placed in modern-day England, it took me a little while to get it straight in my head that it was in fact, modern day.  The idea of a governess, some mentions of Emma and her sister(s?) wearing dresses, and a couple other things left my brain a little confused while reading it.  Later on, however, I really began to enjoy the juxtaposition between a couple of the more old-fashioned characters and their modern setting.  If you aren't expecting that, though, it can be a little jarring at first.

Another thing I really enjoyed was that the little quirks that made the original Emma so endearing, are totally included in this retelling, even perhaps, magnified a little.  Mr. Woodhouse describes his health-craze in much more detail and he is even more eccentric than in the original.  Emma's painting of Harriet is even more scandalous and her interactions with Mr. Elton end up more serious than in Austen's Emma.  I found that really entertaining at times, and just a lot of fun.

Overall, I really enjoyed this retelling of Emma.  I'm not sure I would recommend it to one of those ardent, enthusiastic, have-read-all-the-books-twenty-times-and-watched-every-adaptation Austen fans, but I would recommend it to anyone who, like me, enjoys the Austen books but who wouldn't take offense if the story/character was altered slightly.  It was just a really fun, fast-paced book that would be an excellent choice for a summer read.

And those are my thoughts on Emma: A Modern Retelling.  I have some more reviews to do of books I read this month, so I will hopefully be back with more of those in the next few days, and also my June TBR.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

5.29.2015

Book Review: A Room With A View

I read this book during the Bout of Books Read-A-Thon that took place a couple weeks ago.  I first heard about it from Ange @ Beyond the Pages on YouTube (she has an awesome channel where she talks about lots of classics) and she highly recommended this one.

I was excited to pick this book up over the read-a-thon because it's pretty short and I knew I'd be able to get through it pretty easily.  I wasn't wrong, and also, I loved it!  It was so fun and quick – just a really awesome lighthearted read.  Let's get into the review.

Title: A Room With A View

Author: E.M. Forster

Publisher/Price: Penguin Classics – $7.09 here  (my edition) / Penguin Books Ltd. – $8.11 here (really pretty edition, too)

Type: Fiction

Genre: Classic / Historical Romance

Number of pages: 256

My rating: 5 1/2 out of 5 stars (favorite!)

My thoughts: Once again, I'll just give a little background on the plot/story before I get into what I thought.  A girl named Lucy travels to Italy to vacation with her aunt.  While there, she meets and is wooed by two men, George Emerson and Cecil Vyse.  She previously knew and had already turned down Cecil twice, but she finally accepts him when he proposes again.  When George hears of the engagement, he professes his love to her.  Lucy agonizes over the decision, but she decides at last to choose the man who is not necessarily the socially acceptable one, but the one who will make her happy – George Emerson.

This book was just a pleasure to read.  I really enjoyed E.M. Forster's writing style – it's accessible and perfect for this story.  I also really enjoyed the setting of this story.  The Italian backdrop reminded me so much of Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, which I absolutely hated (but loves the setting).  A Room With a View was the book I wanted that one to be.  In A Portrait of a Lady, the main heroine, Isabel, started out as a naive, but spirited, ambitious young woman with hopes and dreams and who knows her own mind, much like Lucy.  She also vacations in Italy and is wooed by a man who vies for her heart against her cousin, who truly loves her and has her best interests at heart.  Eventually, she chooses the other man, Gilbert, who ends up being far different than he seemed.  He is cruel and vocally abuses her.  They end up quietly hating each other, but by then, Isabel is so far from the girl she once was, she remains in the marriage and her cousin, who truly loves her, dies.  Yeah, it was a terrible book.  A Room With a View was the book that should have been.  I loved Lucy's spirit and how she knew her mind so well, and knew that she would be happy with Cecil who wouldn't love her as a person and value her personality, but who would set her on a shelf and make her conform to his ideals.  Instead, she chooses the wild, unconventional George Emerson who admires her spirit and independence and who loves her for who she is.  And she makes the right choice.  It was a perfect ending.

I really enjoyed the juxtaposition between the two very different suitors.  Cecil is a perfect gentleman, but he seems too perfect, elegant, and conventional.  He is a bit colorless and stagnant, and basically there was no appeal to him outside of his social status and manners. He was terribly boring and reminded me so much of that awful dude from A Portrait of a Lady, that I was going to be ticked if Lucy ended up with him.  George, on the other hand, seems alive and wild and free.  He loves Lucy and will never try to change her or shut her up.  I loved him from the very beginning, even if he did seem kinda weird.   

Also, I really enjoyed Lucy's character quite a bit.  She shares many of the same (good) characteristics as the heroine from A Portrait of a Lady I mentioned earlier.  She is naive and innocent, but she is passionate and independent and knows her own mind.  I liked her from the beginning and only grew to love her character more.

Overall, this was an awesome, quick classic read!  There was a romance, but also suble hints at bigger stuff, too.  A Room With a View is a fun, lighthearted book that I highly recommend to anyone who loves classics and/or who hated A Portrait of a Lady as much as I did.  

Hopefully I will be back tomorrow with another book review!  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella