Friday, September 11, 2015

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate (Calpurnia Tate, #2)The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. I liked this even better than Calpurnia Tate #1, which is rare for me with a series. It is funny and poignant and full of real life. A wonderful book for children and adults.

"I dreamed of following in Granddaddy's footsteps and becoming a Scientist. Mother, however, had other plans for me; namely, learning the domestic arts and coming out as a debutante at age eighteen, when it was hoped I'd be presentable enough to snag the eye of a prosperous young man of good family. (This was dubious for many reasons, including the fact that I loathed cooking and sewing, and could not exactly be described as the eye-snagging type.)"
"I thought of the Phoenicians and Egyptians and Vikings, brave men who had steered their ships by the very same star. It was if their hands and hearts and voices reached across the centuries to a girl in Fentress, Texas, who had never seen the sea and probably never would. I felt a part of history and also, truth to tell, a bit sad."

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Friday, September 4, 2015

There Always Are

I was hitting the "Next Blog" link, innocently killing some time this evening, when I happened upon a third grade teacher's blog with daily assignments and summaries of student progress. In the recap of the Language Arts work for the day, I ran across this:

In English today we continued to work on the subject of a sentence. There were lots of mistakes on yesterday's assignment, but there always is.

She may need a refresher course on verb agreement.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen

Fan Phenomena: Jane AustenFan Phenomena: Jane Austen by Gabrielle Malcolm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose to read my review of Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen.

"The fans love the way the clever material appeals to their wit and emotions; they enjoy the engagement with the text and the repetition of that via different means and form. It is the intelligence of Austen’s writing that makes this repeated enjoyment possible. One of the best representations of the fan culture is the sense of society and community that has developed and directly echoes some of the depictions of society in the novels, with the social gatherings, correspondence and knowing-wit within select groups. Fans enjoy the collective engagement and the sharing of the joy and the joke." p. 8 (emphasis mine)

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Spectator No. 573 (Wednesday, 28 July 1714)

"The Truth of the Story is, my new Husband gave me Reason to repent I had not staid for him [Mr. Waitfort]; he had married me for my Money, and I soon found he loved Money to Distraction; there was nothing he would not do to get it, nothing he would not suffer to preserve it; the smallest Expence keep him awake whole Nights, and when he paid a Bill, 'twas with as many Sighs, and after as many Delays, as a Man that endures the Loss of a Limb."

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu writing anonymously as Mrs. President of the Club of Widows. The full text is available at Project Gutenberg. She is writing in response to Joseph Addison's earlier article lampooning a fictional Club of Widows who drive men into early graves by exhausting them, both financially and sexually. Her rebuttal is satire with plenty of laughs as well as real teeth.

Thanks to a free online course Literature of the English Country House presented by the University of Sheffield on FutureLearn, I'm discovering a treasure chest of future reads.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ross Poldark

Ross Poldark (Poldark, #1)Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Head over to Austenprose for my review of Ross Poldark. My review is part of the Ross Poldark Blog Tour. Leave a comment at Austenprose for a chance to win a Poldark-themed prize package!

A few of my favorite quotes:

He felt he would like one more look at the sea, which even now was licking at the rocks behind the house. He had no sentimental notions about the sea; he had no regard for its dangers or its beauties; to him it was a close acquaintance whose every virtue and failing, every smile and tantrum he had come to understand. (p. 10)

It was the mine around which the varying fortunes of the main Poldark family centered. On its vagaries depended not merely the prosperity of Charles Poldark and his family but the subsistence level of some three hundred miners and their families scattered in huts and cottages about the parish. To them the mine was a benevolent Moloch to whom they fed their children at an early age and from whom they took their daily bread. (p. 32)

Instead this room which had seen her grow to maturity would see her dry up and fade. The gilt mirror in the corner would bear its dispassionate testimony (p. 165)

In two years Ross had seen little of his own family and class. What he had overheard in the library on the day of Geoffrey Charles’ christening had filled him with contempt for them… He was not as concerned as they about the return of Maria Fitzherbert from the Continent or the scandal of the queen of France’s necklace. There were families in the district without enough bread and potatoes to keep them alive, and he wanted the families to be given gifts in kind, so that the epidemics of December and January should not have such easy prey. (p. 221)

Yes, it was a "beautiful" sermon, tugging the emotions and conjuring up pictures of greatness and peace. But were they talking about the decent peppery ordinary old man he knew, or had the subject strayed to the story of some saint of the past? Or were there perhaps two men being buried under the same name? (p. 277)

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Friday, July 3, 2015

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st CenturyThe Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book provides reference material as well as conceptual information about writing and word usage. The author's message to purists is "Language is always changing, get used to it." Language has been going to hell for a very long time: “According to the English scholar Richard Lloyd-Jones, some of the clay tablets deciphered from ancient Sumerian include complaints about the deteriorating writing skills of the young.”

Pinker provides plenty of details about the nuts and bolts of sentence structure and larger "arcs of coherence" that help readers decode the meaning an author intends.

My favorite concept from this book is the "zombie noun" a nickname coined by Helen Sword for an unnecessary nominalization that hides the agent of action. "The proliferation of nominalizations in a discursive formation may be an indication of a tendency toward pomposity and abstraction." That translates in plain English to "Writers who overload their sentences with nouns derived from verbs and adjectives tend to sound pompous and abstract."

Since he is exposed to a great deal of academic writing, he explores how knowing a great deal about a subject can make an author the worst possible person to write about it. “The better you know something, the less you remember about how hard it was to learn. The curse of knowledge is the single best explanation I know of why good people write bad prose.”

I also enjoyed his ironic sense of humor. “Unfortunately for cosmic justice, many gifted writers are scoundrels, and many inept ones are the salt of the earth.”

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Nature Journal

The hardest part is diving into that pristine white page. Phew! That's over. And even if my day lilies resemble a Star Trek tribble more than a botanical specimen, I enjoyed myself!

Fridays This Summer: Nature Journal

Nature Journal: A Guided Journal for Illustrating and Recording Your Observations of the Natural WorldNature Journal: A Guided Journal for Illustrating and Recording Your Observations of the Natural World by Clare Walker Leslie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This (mostly) blank journal has examples and prompts by the author to get you started in your own journal. Nice to have these samples in the journal, so you don't have to take another book along with you when you head outdoors. That being said, the other books by Clare Walker Leslie are 5-star wonders, if you are interested in learning more.

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I'm hoping that we can get out for walks on our local trail at least once a week this summer. We have our new journals to fill with our finds. Last week dd slipped and fell in the mud. Today it was ds. Next week should be my turn. Maybe I'll smear some of the mud in my journal if that happens. As dd said, "Getting dirty is part of being outdoors."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Monday, June 8, 2015


SeabirdSeabird by Holling Clancy Holling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The descriptions of whaling disturbed my daughter so much we didn't finish this book when she did AO2. This year my son was fine with it. Overall, an interesting history of early ships and commerce. My son was most impressed that the main character Ezra lived over 100 years! He must have been a tough old salt.

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Wildflower Posy

Willoughby stopped by this morning with some lovely blooms. Yes, Jane is holding the wrong book, but he forgave her.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Feather To Fly With

A Feather To Fly WithA Feather To Fly With by Joyce Harmon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very few Regency romances can evoke Georgette Heyer these days as well as Joyce Harmon's "A Feather to Fly With." The heroine finds herself without said "feather" or funds and determines to swindle her way to financial success. She has no interest in marrying a fortune when she can get one by her wits, so she's a mystery to the members of the ton.

The reversal of typical romance roles with a savvy heroine and a somewhat clueless hero (at least socially clueless) was a nice twist. Arthur Ramsey, Duke of Winton, is worse than a rake (in terms of Beau Monde regency society); he is a scholar! He needs to find a wife, but hasn't a clue, so his friend Justin Amesbury helps him navigate the intricacies of a London season. This proves a challenging proposition, as Winton has been buried in his scientific studies and knows little of fashionable life. At one point, Justin suggests that Arthur send a book as a gift to a London beauty he is pursuing. Arthur's choice of reading material is "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy" by Isaac Newton! Ultimately, the lady accepts the duke's proposal, much to Amesbury's chagrin: he realizes that he's in love with her. Is it too late?

Cleo Cooper is in London to effect a reversal of fortune for her family. Living overseas with her brother and her artist father, the family was swindled by an Englishman calling himself the Baron Marcuse. After their father's death, Cleo (named after Cleopatra) and her brother Han (Hannibal) return to London, hoping to find Marcuse, but he has disappeared. Nearly penniless, they make a plan to win a fortune by placing bets in Town on Newmarket horse races. Their insider information comes via Han's carrier pigeons. Han and Cleo dress as gypsies to attend the races, then send off the names of the winners to their accomplices in London. At one of the races, Arthur recognizes Cleo in disguise, having met her in Town after her aunt presents her to society. While the duke is shocked at her criminal activity, he admires her sharp mind and love of scientific inquiry. Meanwhile, Amesbury is certain that Cleo is a fortune hunter after Winton's money. There are loads of misunderstandings to be sorted out here, with plenty of amusing scenes along the way.

Readers of Heyer will enjoy the twists and turns that ensue as much as the secondary characters that add humor and depth to the romantic narrative. A particular favorite is the General, an amnesiac soldier that Cleo and Han rescued from a Spanish battlefield, near death. He becomes their servant and helps them through some scrapes.

This is an excellent contemporary regency, one of the best I've read. This is one of my favorite passages:

"At supper, she considered Winton and concluded that he was the most suitable of all her court of admirers. In addition to the things that impressed society, the title and the wealth, he was also handsome (though his friend Amesbury was handsomer, she had to admit). And he was a genuinely nice man. He was not a rank snob, as many of the nobility could be toward an untitled country squire's daughter. Nor was he arrogant, condescending, indifferent or cruel. He did not drink to excess and according to all reports, he didn't gamble at all. He was entirely ideal. Felicity only wished she understood what he was talking about."

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Literary Wine

According to the etching on my literary wineglass, if you are reading anything by Samuel Richardson, but especially if you are unfortunate enough to be reading Clarissa, you should drink an entire box of wine. Every night. Middlemarch page count: 904. Clarissa page count: 1,494.

The best review of Clarissa I've ever read was in The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch. In a chapter called "On Recommending Books" she writes:
Jenny hates this book with the passion of a thousand flaming suns. "By a third of the way in, I was hoping she would kill herself. Living in a whorehouse without knowing it? She is so stupid she deserves to die. Die, bitch, die!" Thus spake the gentle Southern belle we have seen cry over little frozen birds in the snow.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


EvelinaEvelina by Fanny Burney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars. Yes, the country is better for your health, my dear, but the city beckons… While my favorite Georgian heroine is still Shamela, Evelina is not as annoying as Clarissa and has the good fortune to attract the attention of that paragon of taste and appropriate behavior, Lord Orville, rather than the dastardly Lovelace. Burney's satire is subtle at times and uproarious at others.

…But I'm a sad, weak creature;-don't you think I am, my Lord?"

"O, by no means," answered he, "your Ladyship is merely delicate,-and devil take me if ever I had the least passion for an Amazon."

"I have the honour to be quite of your Lordship's opinion," said Mr. Lovel, looking maliciously at Mrs. Selwyn; "for I have an insuperable aversion to strength, either of body or mind, in a female."

"Faith, and so have I," said Mr. Coverley, "for egad, I'd as soon see a woman chop wood, as hear her chop logic."

"So would every man in his senses," said Lord Merton, "for a woman wants nothing to recommend her but beauty and good-nature; in everything else she is either impertinent or unnatural. For my part, deuce take me if ever I wish to hear a word of sense from a woman as long as I live!"

"It has always been agreed," said Mrs. Selwyn, looking around her with the utmost contempt, "that no man ought to be connected with a woman whose understanding is superior to his own. Now I very much fear, that to accommodate all this good company, according to such a rule, would be utterly impracticable, unless we should choose subjects from Swift's hospital of idiots."

Captain Mirvan's coarse jesting embarrasses Evelina to no end, but makes for some hilarious situations. Spoiler alert: the monkey is the last straw!

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Faro's Daughter

Faro's DaughterFaro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best Georgette Heyer Regencies that I've read. I shied away from it for some time because of the setting in a gaming hell, but it was surprisingly non-sordid. It boasts a hero named Max Ravenscar (if that isn't a soap opera worthy name, I don't know what is) and some funny exchanges between the genteel proprietor of said gambling house, Lady Bellingham, and her niece, including this one:

"Now do listen, Deb! Seven hundred pounds for the bays and a new barouche! Well, I can't think where the money is to come from. It seems a monstrous price."

"We might let the bays go, and hire a pair of job horses," suggested Miss Grantham dubiously.

"I can't and I won't live in Squalor!" declared her aunt tearfully.

Ravenscar attempts to buy off the unsuitable Miss Grantham, mistakenly thinking that she is engaged to his nephew. Deborah Grantham is mightily offended by his arrogance and Heyer hijinks ensue. When Heyer is in top form, her books are the best antidote to gloomy weather, whether it is meteorological or psychological.

I also learned what an E.O. table was: a precursor to the roulette wheel. The E and O stood for Even and Odd. Faro was a card game that originated in France where it was called Pharoah.

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Commonplace Book Redux

I started a Commonplace Book in 2012. Then the fairies must have hidden it. My latest reading inspired me to return to it. There are ideas aplenty to both inspire and ponder in this story of Hannah More.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Happiest Place on Earth

Over at Slashdot there's an article on the measles outbreak at Disneyland. It leaves me thinking that Joanna Rothkopf must have had a bad experience in the Magic Kingdom at some point in her young life.
According to Joanna Rothkopf Disneyland is already a huge petri dish of disease with tired children wiping their snot faces on Goofy and then riding log flumes through mechanized rivers filled with the backwash of thousands of other sweaty, unwashed, weeping toddlers.
Can't you just see everyone at Disneyland wearing hazmat suits with mouse ears, lining up to ride Big Thunder Mountain?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Civil Contract

A Civil ContractA Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, I'm on a Georgette Heyer binge.

Not really a typical romance, this novel examines how a marriage of convenience grows into a real marriage. Quite ambitious of Georgette Heyer and it works well. A varied cast of characters with funny and annoying eccentricities, a plainly prosaic heroine, and an unexceptional hero. The friction between in-laws rings true. The everyday quality of the "romantic" relationship will not appeal to readers looking for swoons and throbs and smoldering glances.

"After all, life was not made up of moments of exaltation, but of quite ordinary, everyday things. The vision of the shining, inaccessible peaks vanished; Jenny remembered two pieces of news, and told Adam about them. They were not very romantic, but they were really much more important than grand passions or blighted loves: Giles Jonathan had cut his first tooth, and Adam's best cow had given birth to a fine heifer-calf."

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Winter Birds

We put a bird feeder out a few weeks ago, but the birds ignored it until the ground was covered with snow. Suddenly, every chickadee, titmouse, and goldfinch in the neighborhood was out there. We also have house finches, juncos, and towhees.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Devil's Cub

Devil's CubDevil's Cub by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Something about a dreary and frigid January makes me want to indulge in a literary escape. What I wanted was a book that would entertain and be utterly removed from reality, without being insipid. Anyone for Georgette Heyer?

If the plot of Devil's Cub makes you roll your eyes, you are forgiven. It's not the plot but the characters that delight. And what characters!

Mary Challoner:
She had, moreover, grave disadvantages. Those fine eyes of hers had a disconcertingly direct gaze, and very often twinkled in a manner disturbing to male egotism. She had common-sense too, and what man wanted the plainly matter-of-fact, when he could enjoy instead Sophia's delicious folly? Worst of all she had been educated at a very select seminary--Mrs Challoner was sometimes afraid that she was almost a Bluestocking.

Sophia Challoner:
She had a frippery brain, but she could dance very prettily, and knew just how to drive a man to desperation, so that it really did not matter in the least that she was amazingly ignorant, and found the mere writing of a letter the most arduous task.

Leonie, Duchess of Avon:
The Duchess had cast off her cloak, and seated herself by the fire. 'Ah, bah, I do not want your ratafia, me. I will drink a glass of port with you, mon vieux.'

Lord Rupert scratched his head, tilting his wig slightly askew. 'Oh, very well! But it's not what I'd call a lady's drink.'

'Me, I am not a lady,' announced her grace. 'I have been very well educated, and I will drink port.'

Juliana Marling:
Paris had gone to Miss Marling's head, and the attentions of such a known connoisseur as the Vicomte De Valme could not but flatter her. The Vicomte protested that his heart was under her feet. She did not entirely believe this, but a diet of admiration and compliments spoiled her for the criticisms of Mr Comyn.

Frederick Comyn:
If Mr Comyn, later, had seized her in his arms in a gently romantic fashion there would have been an end to the Vicomte's flirtation. But Mr Comyn was deeply hurt, and he did not recognize in these signs a perverted expression of his Juliana's love for him. He was young, and he handled the affair very ill. He was forbearing where he should have been violent, and found fault when he should have made love. Miss Marling determined to teach him a lesson.

Lord Rupert Alastair:
Lord Rupert stopped swinging his eyeglass, and said indignantly: 'Damme, I'd not be married by this fellow if I were you, Vidal. Not that I'm saying you should be married at all, for the thing's preposterous.'

Vidal shrugged. 'What do you suppose I care for his opinion of me so long as he does what I want?'

'Well, I don't know,' said his lordship. 'Things are come to a pretty pass, so they are, when any plaguey parson takes it on himself to preach a damned sermon to your face. Why, in my father's time--you never knew him: devilish bad-tempered man he was--in his time, I say, if the chaplain said aught he didn't like--and from the pulpit, mind you!--he'd throw his snuff-box at him, or anything else he had to hand…Now what's to do?'

Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon:
The gentleman opened his snuff-box, and took a pinch delicately. 'If you succeeded in protecting your virtue, my dear Miss Challoner, I can readily believe--knowing his lordship--that your methods must have been exceedingly drastic. You perceive me positively agog with curiosity.'

'I shot him,' she said bluntly.

The hand that was raising the pinch of snuff to one nostril was checked for a brief moment. 'Accept my compliments,' said the gentleman calmly, and inhaled the snuff.

The Devil's Cub AKA Dominic Alastair, Marquis of Vidal:
My lord said, amongst other things, that he did not propose to burden the doctor with the details of his genealogy. He consigned the doctor and all his works, severally and comprehensively described, to hell, and finished up his epic speech by a pungent and Rabelaisian criticism of the whole race of leeches.

Whereupon the doctor, who had listened rapt to the unfaltering diatribe, said with enthusiasm: 'But it is wonderful! An Englishman to have so great a command of the French tongue! It is what compels the admiration! I shall now bleed you. Madame will have the goodness to hold the basin. The English have such phlegm!'

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