Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice

Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief JusticeBelle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice by Paula Byrne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where the film based on Dido Elizabeth Belle's life takes certain, ahem, liberties with her story, Paula Byrne's book is firmly planted in historical fact and therefore thin on material about Dido. However, the book does an excellent job of bringing to life Georgian England and the struggle to abolish the slave trade. Byrne's research is excellently done and she breathes fresh air into the people and the events. I thought the chapter detailing the boycott of sugar and rum by ordinary English middle-class housewives in protest of the horrific conditions on the Caribbean plantations was well done. This is the best kind of history: factual and highly readable.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

In Her Own Hand

In Her Own Hand series boxed setIn Her Own Hand series boxed set by Jane Austen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To read my review of "In Her Own Hand: Volume the First, Volume the Second, Volume the Third" please head over to Austenprose. This boxed set of three hardcover volumes is beautifully designed and presented: the jewel in the crown of a Janeite’s book collection.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas is Coming

The goose is getting fat. Probably because it ate too many cinnamon rolls.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Bad Patient

At Home with Jane Austen

At Home with Jane AustenAt Home with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of At Home with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson. This gorgeous coffee table book should be at the top of the wishlist for many Austen fans.

Though Jane changed her residence many times, family and home remained the emotional center of her life. She expressed her love of home in her work, creating heroes and heroines who also cherish the idea of home, even when, like Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, they are uprooted and must learn to love a new one: “When [Fanny] had been coming to Portsmouth, she had loved to call it her home, had been fond of saying that she was going home; the word had been very dear to her; and so it still was, but it must be applied to Mansfield. That was now the home. Portsmouth was Portsmouth; Mansfield was home.”

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Map or the Journey?

I read this in a review of the film "Wild" on Salon.com this morning. I thought it was right on.

On a broader level, there’s nothing wrong with the personal search for transcendence and reinvention; it’s one of humanity’s more admirable tendencies. There’s certainly nothing wrong with writing about one’s own quest, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing an account that connects with millions of other people and gets you paid. But the problem with all self-help or inspirational literature, beginning with the doctrines handed down to Moses on the mountain (and probably quite a bit before that) is always the same: People want to take it literally, and we have a tendency to mistake the map for the journey.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jane Austen's First Love

As part of the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour, I’m pleased to share my review of Syrie James’ latest Austen-inspired novel.

Before I ever read a page of Jane Austen’s First Love, I was predisposed to enjoy it. I had the pleasure of visiting Jane Austen’s England last year as part of an Ingenious Travel tour with Syrie James and Laurel Ann Nattress. Our small group spent eight days visiting places Austen lived, visited, or mentioned in her novels. I remember Syrie soaking up all the locations and noting details wherever we went, but especially at Steventon, Godmersham Park, and Goodnestone Park. When Syrie’s latest book was released, I was anxious to revisit the places I had seen and discover the world that she had created.

Jane Austen’s First Love begins with Jane and Cassandra in Bath on a “cold morning in late November.” Cassandra is re-reading old letters, prompting Jane to ask, “My letters? Why do you keep those old things? Re-reading them can hardly prove to make lively entertainment of a morning.” Cassandra begs to differ, and within the first pages we have one of James’ signature touches of ironic humor. One of the letters mentions a man on whom Jane says she “once fondly doated” and this phrase triggers memories of the summer of 1791, when Jane met and fell in love with Edward Taylor.

Throughout the narrative, James weaves her research on Austen’s life with a realistic story of an intelligent and lively young woman eager to experience the adventure of an extended trip away from home. Visiting her newly engaged brother and the family of his fiancĂ©e Miss Elizabeth Bridges at Goodnestone Park in Kent, Jane is thrilled that she will be allowed to participate in the festivities celebrating the engagement. Her mother has even consented to allow her to attend her first ball, although she is not “out.” But when Jane meets the Bridges’ handsome neighbor Edward Taylor, the prospect of a month in his company causes even greater excitement. Taylor, the wealthy heir to a nearby estate, has just returned from the Continent and is a close friend of the Bridges. He is clever, well-read, and daring. To the fifteen-year-old Jane he seems to be the perfect leading man to star in her personal romantic adventure.

Edward Taylor has ambitions to leave the comfortable life he will inherit in favor of a military career and encourages Jane to strive for greater achievements in her writing. She discusses literature and history with him and playfully muses, “It makes me wonder just how brief a ‘History of England’ can be, before it loses any meaning entirely!” Observing several of the Bridges sisters bickering and complaining about their beaux, she pens The Three Sisters and shares it with Cassandra and Edward Taylor. These are just two of the many literary allusions that serve as whimsical “Easter eggs” for Austen fans as they follow Jane’s adventures in Kent. I found myself hunting for favorite scenes from Austen’s Juvenalia and published novels as the story unfolded.

Unfortunately, Jane also decides to use her creative skills outside the fictional realm. Observing the guests assembled for the engagement party, she becomes convinced that several are paired incorrectly and decides to play matchmaker. When an amateur theatrical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is undertaken as a rainy day amusement, Jane uses her power as casting director to manipulate the players according to her design. Romantic misunderstandings ensue and the happiness of the celebration is threatened. Jane does finally manage to untangle the mess she helped create, but has to leave Goodnestone without her happily-ever-after.

Syrie James excels in imagining the voice of a young Jane Austen, full of the exuberance and energy of youth. The voice of the mature woman is equally compelling and poignant. I enjoyed the final pages of the novel where in 1804 Austen writes:

"I have, as of yet, formed no other lasting romantic attachments; nor has Cassandra, who swore to never love again after Tom died. If one of my mother’s and father’s hopes in leaving Steventon and removing to Bath was that we should find husbands, they must be very disappointed. Nevertheless, I count myself fortunate, for I enjoy a loving connection with a sister who is the sun of my life, the keeper of my every thought, hope, joy, and sorrow; I have a large and happy family, and enough nieces and nephews to occupy my time and fill my heart."

Looking back on the summer of 1791, Austen is grateful to Edward Taylor and all the other people she met in Kent:

"I learned so much that summer…about the human mind and heart—about what motivates people to marry—about what really matters when two people are falling in love."

Jane Austen’s First Love bridges a number of genres: Austenesque, Historical Fiction, Romance, and Young Adult. It will appeal to Austen fans as well as readers less familiar with her works or biography. And it might inspire a visit to Jane Austen’s England someday.

I received a free copy of Jane Austen’s First Love provided by the publisher, Berkley Trade (Penguin Group) © 2014, in exchange for a review. All reviews expressed are my own opinion.

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie James is giving away five prize packages filled with a selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books. (The grand prize giveaway is pictured at right.) The contest is open to everyone, including international residents.

Visit multiple stops along the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour to increase your chances of winning! The contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014.

To enter the giveaway contest, please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

There is Nothing Like

It is 31F/-1C this evening, prompting me to agree, "Ah! There is nothing like staying home, for real comfort."

Monday, November 17, 2014

Try Something New

The local organic produce CSA that I joined is making sure I don't get into a food rut. Have you ever had celeriac root? Me neither.

But I found a recipe from Jamie Oliver and gave it a try this afternoon.

It turned out pretty well for something that looked a little scary in its natural state.

Smashed Roasted Celeriac. It's like a potato mixed with celery flavor.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Train Your Cat

I sure wish my cat could do this!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tweet from British Museum (@britishmuseum)

British Museum (@britishmuseum)
Cnut the Great died #onthisday in 1035. He conquered England with an army of Vikings.

My son and I have been reading a great deal of British history this year. Vikings and Normans are particular favorites.

Canute (Cnut) did not begin by being a good king. At first he was bad and cruel. But he ended by being very good and wise. In fact he seems to have ruled so well that the English came to love him almost as if he had been an English king.

They loved him, but they flattered him too. He was certainly a great king, for he ruled not only over England, but over Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The nobles thought it pleased Canute to be told of his greatness, so they used often to let him hear them praise them.

One day as they were walking upon the seashore, the nobles began, as usual, to tell Canute how powerful he was.

"All England obeys you," they said.

"And not only England, but Denmark, Norway, and Sweden."

"Should you desire it, you need but command all the nations of the world and they will kneel before you as their king and lord."

"You are king on sea and land. Even the waves obey you."

Now this was foolish talk, and Canute, who was a wise man, did not like it. He thought he would teach these silly nobles a lesson. So he ordered his servants to bring a chair.

When they had brought it, he made them set it on the shore, close to the waves. The servants did as they were told, and Canute sat down, while the nobles stood around him.

Then Canute spoke to the waves. "Go back," he said, "I am your lord and master, and I command you not to flow over my land. Go back, and do not dare to wet my feet."

But the sea, of course, neither heard nor obeyed him. The tide was coming in, and the waves rolled nearer and nearer, until the king's feet and robe were wet.

Then Canute rose, and turning sternly to his nobles, said, "Do you still tell me that I have power over the waves? Oh! foolish men, do you not know that to God alone belongs such power? He alone rules earth and sky and sea, and we and they alike are His subjects, and must obey Him."

The nobles felt how foolish they had been, and did not try again to flatter Canute in such a silly way. From that day, too, Canute never wore his crown, but placed it in the minster at Winchester, as a proof of his humility. From this story we learn that Canute was a Christian, although many of the Danes were still heathen, but no doubt they very soon followed the example of their king, and became Christians too."

--Our Island Story by H.E. Marshall, (c) 2010 Seven Treasures Publications, originally published in 1920 by Frederick A. Stokes Company

It seems to me that from this story we learn that Cnut disliked sycophants. Perhaps he took his crown off his head so that his nobles would tone it down when they were around him.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Jane Austen Rules

The Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern LoveThe Jane Austen Rules: A Classic Guide to Modern Love by Sinead Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of The Jane Austen Rules by Sinead Murphy. This slim send-up of The Rules (and dating guides in general) blends "light-hearted charm with reflections on the serious business of love and life."

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tweet from Downton Abbey (@DowntonAbbey)

Downton Abbey (@DowntonAbbey)
Although the Crawleys may have a varied life at home and socially, for the servants, their day is almost the same every day! #Downton

I had a rather different experience of this a few weeks ago. 

Fired up an episode of Downton Abbey. The Crawleys were in the sitting room, having tea. Mary being bitchy, Edith looking pinched, Branson making a brave face of it. Then, the action switched downstairs and as soon as Mrs Patmore started talking I realized it was an episode I'd already seen. The people downstairs are actually accomplishing something everyday, whereas the Crawleys are usually just entertaining themselves, so their lives run together in a long, velvety blur.

Now, I sound like Miss Bunting don't I?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Merry Hall

Merry HallMerry Hall by Beverley Nichols
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A disclaimer by the author:

"This book -- as you may by now have gathered -- is not really a book at all; it is only a long walk round a garden, in winter and summer, in rain and in sunshine; and if it bores you to walk round gardens you will long ago have chucked it aside. So neither of us need worry."

If you want anything much to happen in a book, this may not be for you. It's also not very technical as to the plantings and methods of gardening employed at Merry Hall. But it is quite entertaining, chatty, and at times, bitingly funny. The author has an affinity for cats, so he can't be all bad. I'm planning to read his "Cats' A.B.C." on the strength of this:

“Let us be honest: most of us rather like our cats to have a streak of wickedness. I should not feel quite easy in the company of any cat that walked around the house with a saintly expression.”

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jane Austen's Worthing

Jane Austen's Worthing: The Real SanditionJane Austen's Worthing: The Real Sandition by Antony Edmonds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Jane Austen's Worthing by Antony Edmonds. Besides the wealth of historical information about the town, the book contains one of best euphemisms for death that I've run across. James Shearsmith, writing of the death of James Ogle:

"Upon the death of Mr. Ogle [Warwick House] became the property of his brother James Ogle, Esq. a gentleman held in much estimation for his politeness and urbanity, but who did not long enjoy it, having recently been destined to share the lot incidental to our mortal nature."

In addition to our lovely Jane, there are documented guest appearances in Worthing by the "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" Lord Byron and the slightly less dangerous poet Percy Shelley. Much later in the century Oscar Wilde also visited Worthing, but that's another story for another day.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jane Austen: Seascapes and Landscapes, Day 3

On Day 3, we woke up bright and early for our drive to Oxford only to find that the key to the hired coach had snapped off in the ignition switch. At last, a chance for us to act out some Ugly American dramas on our helpless and extremely apologetic tour guides. But, alas, the spirit of the calm and levelheaded heroines from Austen's novels (perhaps Elinor Dashwood mixed with Jane Bennet and Anne Elliot?) prevailed in our party and we filed back to the hotel dining room and drank tea until a replacement coach arrived.

This greatly delayed our morning and resulted in us having to take a very quick walking tour of Oxford that included St. John's College, where Jane's father and two of her brothers studied, as well as the famous Bodleian Library.

We grabbed a lunch on the run and headed south to Steventon for the rest of the afternoon. We visited St. Nicholas Church where Jane Austen's father was rector from 1761-1805.

The church steeple was added to the Norman tower after Austen's time.

Inside the church we viewed a copy of the famous marriage register that 12-year-old Jane Austen mischievously filled in with names of imaginary husbands.

Outside an ancient yew has stood for hundreds of years.

This visit to Jane Austen's beloved Steventon ended our day with smiles.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Jane Austen: Seascapes and Landscapes, Day 2

A year ago today, we visited Godmersham Park and Goodnestone Park. It was drizzling most of the day, but we still enjoyed the gardens. We hiked across the wet grass, up a hill to visit a Grecian-inspired folly, and meandered through fruit and flower gardens. If we hadn't been wearing contemporary clothes, our dresses would have rivaled Lizzy Bennet's for lack of fastidiousness. Thankfully, there were no Bingley sisters to censure us!

Jane's brother Edward Austen Knight inherited Godmersham Park from his adoptive parents, Thomas and Catherine Knight, and lived there from 1797. Jane visited frequently and some believe that Godmersham may have been the inspiration for Mansfield Park.

Are we looking suitably impressed?

The Knight Family coat of arms carved in stone.

The espaliered fruit trees were beautiful.

My daughter took most of these photos, including this lovely rose. She sighs and says, "I took some awesome pictures!" whenever we look at photos from the trip.

I love to think of Jane taking a quiet walk here.

After our long walk, it was time to head to Goodnestone Park for lunch "in the stables." Well, the stables turned out to no longer be occupied by livestock; they had been converted into a rustic eating area. Lunch was excellent and dessert was no disappointment either.

Edward Austen Knight and his wife Elizabeth, who was the daughter of Sir Brook Bridges, the owner of the Goodnestone estate, spent their early married life in a cottage on the estate here before they moved to Godmersham.

JAFL fans: does this look familiar?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Jane Austen's Country Life

Jane Austen's Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novelsJane Austen's Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels by Deirdre Le Faye

p. 55: Jane is attending Mrs Latournelle's Ladies' Boarding School in Reading with Cassandra where Le Faye suggests it probable she began reading "the wildly incredible" popular novels she later parodied in Northanger Abbey.

Thank you, Mrs Latournelle.

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

30 Years at Ballymaloe

30 Years at Ballymaloe: A Celebration of the World-Renowned Cooking School with Over 100 New Recipes30 Years at Ballymaloe: A Celebration of the World-Renowned Cooking School with Over 100 New Recipes by Darina Allen

I'm only a few pages into this and already inspired to make something yummy, so I recruited my daughter to make the topping and peel peaches for a peach crisp for dessert this evening. I adapted a recipe from another favorite cookbook, "The Can't Cook Book: Recipes for the Absolutely Terrified" by Jessica Seinfeld. And while it may seem that these two authors are worlds apart, they share an emphasis on cooking with fresh, local foods, so chalk one up for my CSA as well!

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Jane Austen and Names

Jane Austen and NamesJane Austen and Names by Maggie Lane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Jane Austen and Names by Maggie Lane. Here is an brief excerpt to whet your appetite, especially if you enjoy the naming game.

“To use a person’s Christian name was a mark of intimacy. Well-bred people with feelings of delicacy towards others did not presume on this intimacy until it was clear that an acquaintance was becoming a real friendship. Most acquaintance, of course, never progressed this far, and people would remain on formal terms for as long as they knew each other.”

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014


KimKim by Rudyard Kipling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly.” The words Elizabeth Bennet spoke to Mr. Darcy reminded me of my struggles to frame this book before I read it.

Rudyard Kipling's novel of The Great Game in British colonial India has been described as "unrepentant colonialism," "an apology for British imperialism," and flat-out racism. Then others cite it as one of the best books they've ever read, calling its depiction of friendship and adventure both beautiful and revealing of the author's "love for India and its people."

Perhaps it is all of these things. It is certainly complex, full of the chaos and serendipity of life. Do imperialists ever grasp these things or is it only for the politically-correct? As Mahbub Ali says to himself at the end of the story, "It must be true...that I am a Sufi [a free-thinker]; for here I sit, drinking in blasphemy unthinkable."

The narrative is at times challenging to follow, but the scenes play out vividly: places, people, food, animals. We are carried along the road with Kim and his companions. As Kim is ignorant of the forces at play at the beginning of the story, so are we. The more he learns, the more we begin to understand. Ultimately, we wonder whether the seemingly naive lama is not right about the nature of life, "A good deed does not die. He aided me in my Search. I aided him in his...Let him be a teacher; let him be a scribe--what matter? He will have attained Freedom at the end. The rest is illusion."

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Galoshes 3:12

Overheard in the backseat of the van this morning, after a trip to the library:

SG: Mom, what are galoshes?
Me: They are rubber rain boots.
SG: OK, thanks.
CK: It's also a book of the Bible!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Daring Adventures in Collage: Week 3

This week's lesson is "Surreal Collage" in Matirose McDonough's "Daring Adventures in Collage" e-course that I'm taking through the Ruzuku.com site.

I've been making collages for more than twenty years, with a considerable gap of no artistic activity from 1999 to 2010. So, that would make it more like ten years, really. I dusted off some of my ancient works and thought I'd share a few. My kids were looking at them this morning and my daughter kept eyeing me with a strange sort of admiration while repeating, "You're weird, Mom," as I explained some of the visual references. In her book a weird mom is better than a boring mom.

This coffee cup crucifix is one of the first collages I made. Sometimes, people ask me what a collage means. I don't like to answer that question. Not knowing is part of the fun.

That being said, I'll give you a hint on this one. I developed a jaded view of "romantic love" somewhere between middle school and college. As a marketing strategy, it appears to be highly effective. Other than that, I'd say it's closer to surreal than real.

And, no, the woman on the left is not me! (I'm pretty sure I'm not the woman on the right either.)

I'll share a few more collages this week. Feel free to leave title suggestions in the comments.