Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen
Barnes & Noble Classic, 2005 [Originally published 1817]

I remember watching the Wishbone episode about Northanger Abbey years and years ago, and thinking it was a little weird. This was long before I was bosom buddies with Jane Austen, and as a late elementary/early middle school kid, Northanger Abbey just didn't capture my attention the way Joan of Arc and Ivanhoe did. The lingering sense of 'weirdness' kept me from visiting it once I was older and a confessing fan of Jane. But the ladies of Indie Jane have been telling me I must read it - if for no other reason than to meet Henry Tilney - so I decided to join their NA-Readalong.

Northanger Abbey is Jane's response to the Gothic novels sweeping through society. Catherine Moreland, our naive heroine, loves these novels, and much of her 'education' about society and people have come from them. Growing up in a happy-but-sheltered home, Catherine was unprepared for her 'debut' in society when family friends invite her to join them in Bath. Wholly out of her element, the first person Catherine meets is the too-smart-and-appealing-for-his-own-good Henry Tilney, who quite captures her attention. But soon Catherine makes new friends, who also end up being her brother's friends: Isabella and John Thorpe. The Thorpes are as far removed from the Tilneys as characters can get, and Catherine's attempts to figure everyone and everything out help us see into not only the story, but also society.

For me, the time in Bath was like a giant set-up for when the scene shifted to Northanger Abbey and Catherine's visit with the Tilneys. It was a time to get to know Catherine, and see how her mind works, how she sees the world and interacts with the people around her. It was also a time of wanting to throw a bucket of water on Isabella (she's not bad-bad, but she's the queen of catty divas) and duct tape John Thorpe's mouth not only shut, but also to his right knee. But I didn't really feel like the story was moving very much in Bath. Once we landed in Northanger however, things got going and I really enjoyed Catherine's story. Henry Tilney is a hero worth reading, and I loved how smart alecky he was - and that Eleanor (his sister) would turn around and give him what-for when he got too carried away with himself. Watching Catherine's ideas of romance grow was sweet, and rather realistic, I think.

On the whole, I'm glad I waited to read Northanger Abbey - I don't think I would have appreciated it as much when I was younger; as an ancient mid-twenties reader, I got more enjoyment out of the endeavor. Talking about it with the Indie Janeites every week was fun too!

Book provided by my local library.



Marc Rasmussen
South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 2011

I am a football fan. Some call me a fanatic. And I love learning more about the game. So when I saw this available for review on LibraryThing, I knew I had to try for it. Going into the read, I had never even heard of six-man football. I thought you could only play eleven-man -- the variety I watch avidly every fall weekend. To say Six opened my eyes to a whole new world would be an understatement.

Functioning primarily as a biography of Coach Bill Welsh, Six also offers an in-depth look at life in rural South Dakota 'back in the day' when times were tough, and people were tougher. This was a time when sports meant everything to a town (although prior to Welsh's arrival, the primary sport in Claremont was baseball). Growing up in a similar environment, and working hard to earn - and play - his way through high school and college, Welsh was able to relate to his players on a personal level. He'd been there. He knew what they were going through, and he had a plan. Thanks to the positive influence of his own former coaches and teachers, Welsh understood the importance of investing in students as young men and not just players. This was the underlying theme of his entire coaching career - and it resulted in strong teams, and winning records. Respect and leadership are wonderful partners to enthusiasm on the playing field, and the Honkers had those factors plus talent.

Six is a biography of a man that is also the chronicle of a team. Under Welsh's leadership, the Honkers (Claremont High School's mascot) went on to earn an unprecedented, national record. Football fanatic that I am, I was mesmerized by the numbers put up by the teams who competed during the amazing run from 1947 to1954. The idea of six-man football is as foreign to me as it must have been to the town of Claremont back in the day, but man - what a show! I'm thinking we need to bring six-man football back, it sounds like an amazing spectacle. Back to the book: Rasmussun, whose father was one of Welsh's players, does a great job of explaining the concepts and weaving the story of the football and other athletic teams into the biography of Welsh. Including photos and mementos that he found in family collections, Rasmussen gives visual depth to the story he tells. Perhaps not something most people would just pick up on a whim, it was definitely an informative and enjoyable read from a sportsy-perspective.

Book provided by publisher for review.



Brian Selznick
Scholastic, 2011

Oh. Man. I read Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret for a graduate school assignment, and was fascinated by the illustrations. So I knew what I was getting when I picked up Wonderstruck from the library, but I didn't realize just how beautifully the story would be presented.

As with Hugo Cabret, Selznick uses simple black-and-white graphite drawings paired with his written text to create an elaborate and rich story. The drawings are beautifully detailed (favorite 'hidden' detail from Wonderstruck: the Star Wars movie poster in the subway!), and Selznick has a tendency to either start with a close focus and 'zoom out' in subsequent drawings/pages, giving you a broader context and visual, or starting wide and 'zooming in' as he guides your eye to the significant feature(s). Whereas Hugo Cabret used this technique to supplement and enrich the written text, in Wonderstruck the illustrations tell their own separate story.

The text story follows Ben, a partially-deaf boy who feels a bit lost following the death of his mom. After a freak accident leaves him totally deaf, Ben decides to take a chance and follow the few clues he has regarding his mysterious, unknown father. The journey takes him to New York, and a 'conclusion' he never dreamed of.

The illustrated story is set decades before Ben's story, and is about Rose - a deaf girl struggling to find her place in the world, looking for love and acceptance.

The stories intertwine and as the stories become a story, illustrations and text start overlapping and intermingling. The effect is simply beautiful. A surprising, moving story that's a feast for the eyes as well as an enjoyable journey for the mind.

Book provided by my local library.



Lisa T. Bergren
David Cook, 2011

Just as Cascade picked up right where Waterfall left off, so does Torrent pick up the story from the moment Cascade leaves us wondering. Gabi, Lia and Mom have returned to the future - er, present? - and must decide whether they are able to successfully navigate the time portal to save Dad. I'll go on and tell you: they do. And then it's return to Marcello (and Luca), post-haste! Only to discover that more time has passed than expected, but everything's a-okay. The guys are ready to reunite with their ladies, and even to meet the challenge of proving themselves to The Dad.

As their father tries to wrap his mind around everything that's happened - and happening - the girls quickly find themselves swept back into the pace of things in Medieval Tuscany. Including, unfortunately, the never-ending struggle with the Fiorentini. Knowing that things have to end for there to be any hope of peace in Siena, let alone any hope of convincing Dad that they need to stay in Medieval Tuscany, Gabi convinces Marcello to agree to a truce-meeting with the Fiorentini, who want her - the She-Wolf of Siena - in exchange for the release of Fortino. After carefully laying out plans for escape and rescue, Marcello agrees and the meeting happens. Only, things definitely do not go as planned (who didn't see that one coming?), and Gabi finds herself in quite possibly her biggest predicament yet, face-to-face with amazing temptation in the form of handsome, mysterious Lord Greco who offers safety - and more.

Torrent was a wild ride, with fewer 'battles' and military maneuvering than is present in the first two books, but no shortage of drama. Gabi faces some major challenges on a personal level - challenges that will affect not only her life, but the lives of everyone she holds dear, and, possibly, all of Siena. Lord Greco really comes into his own as a character in this novel, and is compelling indeed. He's definitely a hero in his own right, and if not for Marcello, I'd definitely be his fangirl. Gabi has to come to terms with this too, and really dig deep in her heart to figure out what is what. Torrent is very much Gabi's story, but the other characters - especially her parents and Lia - play a central part in making it complete. And man, but there are some swoon-worthy scenes in Torrent! This may be the most involving novel in the series, for me anyway, as I was kept guessing what would happen next, and how. And yes, I'm being intentionally vague about details, because you have really got to experience this for yourself - it's so much more powerful that way.

I devoured Torrent, just as I did Waterfall and Cascade, and the story developed into all that I wanted it to become and more. My only regret is that there are no more adventures for me to explore - no more Gabi and Marcello, Lia and Luca, no more Lord Greco. Here's hoping that things work out and Lisa is able to continue writing River of Time adventures!

Book provided by my personal library.


The Single Girl's To-Do List

The Single Girl's To-Do List
Lindsey Kelk
Harper, 2011

Rachel has just been unceremoniously - and a bit dramatically - dumped, leaving her shell-shocked and entirely at a loss re: who she is and how she relates to the world. Thankfully, she has two amazing friends, Emelie and Matthew, who know just how to be single and are more than ready to guide her through the 'initiation process.' Their solution: with the assistance of way too much alcohol, create a To-Do list for Rachel, who is borderline obsessed with making lists and checking things off. Turns out, the Single Girl's To-Do list is just what Rachel - and Emelie and Matthew - need to rediscover themselves, and what is really important in life.

This was a fun read, a quick read - both in terms of actual reading time and the chronology of the story. Roughly ten days pass during the bulk of the novel, with the ending picking up a month after. Definitely a fast-paced story, but one that reflects and captures the mania of adjusting to new singleness and re-finding one's self. I loved watching Rachel work through her 'issues' - figuring out why she had been who she was, and how she could become who she wanted to be. I cheered as she realized she did not have to settle, but could chase after whatever dream captured her heart. Emelie and Matthew are colorful sidekicks in this adventure, and each goes through the journey with Rachel - discovering truths about themselves they'd forgotten along the way. Don't worry though: this is true, glorious British chick lit, with hijinks to spare. I chuckled and smiled my way through the To-Do List, and contemplated making one of my own.

Book provided by my personal library.


Giveaway Winner!

It's October 12th, which means one super-exciting thing: I get to announce the winner of the Cheshire Cheese Cat giveaway!

Since I used the super-nifty Rafflecopter giveaway system, the winner is announced on that widget. But I won't make you go back to that post, I'll tell you here!

So now, without further ado - but with much smiling applause - allow me to congratulate ....

Entry 16: Stephanie M!

Stephanie has already been emailed and has 48 hours to claim her prize. If she does not, then I'll have to draw another winner.

For those who didn't win, there's still a chance! Swing by and check out The Cheshire Cheese Cat Challenge hosted by Peachtree Publishers - but hurry, it ends Friday evening!

Crafting with Cat Hair

Crafting with Cat Hair
Kaori Tsutaya (translated by Amy Hirschman)
Quirk Books, 2011

In a world where craft books abound, and people are making things out of anything and everything, this book still came as a delightful surprise. When I saw the title, I laughed out loud and knew it had to be explored. Crafting with Cat Hair is bright, colorful, entertaining, and has some really neat crafting ideas. All of which use, you guessed it: cat hair provided by your own purring felines. Tsutaya has very carefully outlined the appropriate ways to collect and store the fur without injuring your cats (or you!), and even the less-crafty will quickly realize they can do this!

There are several projects in the book, designed to familiarize crafters with the ideas and techniques behind the process, so they can continue to experiment and create cat hair crafts as their imagination and skill allow. Each project is broken down by tools and materials needed (including the cat hair), then well-photographed instructions lead crafters through the steps to finished product. While the techniques used are not necessarily 'common' (I'm a crafter, from a family of crafters, but have never even heard of a felting needle before), they are explained clearly, and between the written instructions and the photographs, the 'foreignness' is not overwhelming. After reading through the projects in Crafting with Cat Hair (my personal favorite being the finger puppet shown on the cover), I'm now more than ready to begin doing a little crafting of my own! I just need to convince my cats to cooperate and collect a stockpile of soft fluffy cat hair - and I may use the fur my bunny sheds also, for experimenting.

I'd definitely recommend this as a gift for cat lovers, especially if they happen to also be crafty. Likewise, crafters up for a new challenge will enjoy the endeavor, I believe. Additionally, it's just a "fun to flip through" book with pictures of very cute cats.

Book provided by publisher for review.


The Road to Pemberley

The Road to Pemberley
Marsha Altman, ed.
Ulysses Press, 2011

When I first learned about The Road to Pemberley there was no way I could turn this one down: an anthology of Pride & Prejudice-inspired short stories. Amazing. In the dozen stories selected for inclusion, there are adventures - and laughs - for all fans of Pride & Prejudice. Even minor characters get to have their day in the spotlight, and the end result is a lovely collection that lets readers further explore that beloved original novel in ways both fascinating and unexpected.

A couple of my favorites:
  • "The Pemberley Ball" -- this is a fun look at what might have happened if Darcy had been less enamored with Elizabeth's spunk. I love it because it features a duel of sorts, and a beautiful ending.
  • "The Potential of Kitty Bennet" -- A beautiful exploration of Kitty as an actual character and not just a shadow for Lydia. Love, intrigue, misadventure and dashing heroes. Yeah, this one's fun.
  • "Father of the Bride" -- Have you ever wondered what Mr. Bennet thought of Lizzy & Darcy? Now you can find out what was going on in his mind.
  • "Pride and Prejudice Abridged" -- I was cracking up laughing reading this one. Wonderfully amusing distillation of the story!

This is definitely an anthology worth adding to your collection of Austenia. Equally enjoyable to read straight through or to pick up and read an individual story when an Austen-fix is needed.

Book provided by publisher for review.



Lisa T Bergren
David Cook, 2011

In case you somehow missed it, I have fallen in love with Lisa Bergren's River of Time series! I got to spend 5 weeks discussing Waterfall with a bunch of other bloggers, and had a blast! There's just one problem: the story is addicting. Have no fear, though! I will happily tease you with the further adventures you will have surfing the River of Time in a post-Waterfall adventure...

Cascade picks up *right* where Waterfall leaves off - something I truly appreciate in a 'sequel.' There's no need to try and figure out what happened in the missing interval, a venture that would be ultra complicated in this case since Gabi and Lia can bounce around history. When the story picks up, they've just successfully returned to their own time - and it's as if no time has passed at all. Yet Gabi's left her heart behind her, and can't return without Lia. After much discussion, and a eureka!-moment to use 'science,' Gabi convinces Lia to use the time tunnel again, this time taking Mom with them. It works.

With all three of the Betarrini ladies in medieval Tuscany, some major adventures can happen. And romance can bloom. Right? Yes, and no. Mom, understandably, experiences some major culture-shock when she realizes that Gabi and Lia had been telling the truth. This is amplified as the story kicks into high gear and she gets to experience first-hand that particular flavor of adventure the girls are apparently used to. That's right: there's more Luca and Marcello goodness, and of course the Fiorentini are up to their old tricks again now that the She-Wolves of Siena have returned. And boy are they up to some tricks! Old enemies return, new ones are met - and is that an actual friend lurking behind enemy lines? Just who is this mysterious - and oh-so-handsome Lord Greco? Only time will tell, and that's something that Gabi and Lia are learning to handle quite deftly.

I loved this as a follow-up and/or continuation of Waterfall. There's drama, there's intrigue, there are suspicious activities and daring feats. There's battle (of course), and romance (duh). The characters are further developed - we get to know them all better, and their relationships with each other are explored further. Lia starts to truly come into her own, adjusting and adapting - even starting to embrace - her place in the medieval world. Luca may be helping with this evolution. Maybe. Of course Marcello is there for Gabi, who finds her heart more and more embroiled in the affairs of this ancient time. Even Mom realizes that there's a place for her in medieval Tuscany - if only...Faced with a massive battle, the Ladies Betarrini must decide if they are to stay or go, and if they go: would it be possible to somehow, some way, save their father's life? Time alone will tell.

Book provided by my personal library.


The Lion's Deceit

The Lion's Deceit
Mpho Otukile & S.B. Bow (Illustrator)
Village Life Books, 2010

I love stories. I especially love traditional stories - my senior thesis for English was on American Tall Tales. Mpho Otukile, a native of Botswana (now living in Canada), has undertaken the challenge of recording the traditional tales she grew up hearing the village elders tell. Pairing these familiar stories with bright, simple illustrations, Otukile is successfully sharing her heritage with new generations.

The Lion's Deceit is a moral story that makes you think of Aesop's animals. Lion, great King of the  Beasts, is too lazy to do what lions do. So he and Fox cook up a scheme that appears flawless. Of course, as anyone familiar with these stories will guess, there's always some animal who catches on. In this case, it's Jackal who discovers the ruse and tells all the other animals the truth. Poor Lion's brilliant plan backfires, and he's forced deep into the jungle - where he has no choice but to behave like a lion.

I enjoyed the simplicity of the story - it's straightforward and stays true to the form of an oral tradition. The illustrations are brightly colored, but not so elaborate or overpowering as to detract or distract from the text. It's a quick read that would serve as a good starting point for a relaxed family 'teaching moment' about lying, as well as an introduction to the stories of other cultures.

Book provided by author for review.


Blog Tour: The Cheshire Cheese Cat

The Cheshire Cheese Cat
Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright; Barry Moser, Illustrator
Peachtree Publishers, 2011

Oh. My. Goodness. I knew from the cover and blurb that this was going to be a fun read, but I had no idea it'd be so fun - nor so adorable. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to join the Cheshire Cheese Cat blog tour and am super excited to get to share my thoughts with you, as well as offer a copy to one lucky reader and I get to give you a sneak peek at the illustrations awaiting you! Oh yes. This is a great Monday indeed!

Skilley is a cat with a secret. A secret that turns into a secret mission of sorts, when he joins the establishment of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn as resident mouser. You see, Skilley doesn't like mice. He's not really fond of meat at all. Skilley is a cheese-eating cat - and the Cheshire Cheese is notorious for its cheese (of course). So what's a cat to do when he's "hired" as a mouser, but doesn't like mice? Simple: Make a deal with the mice.

Enter Pip, the go-between mouse with a secret (or two?) of his own, and this adventure just got a lot more entertaining. Don't forget to toss into the mix the fact the Cheshire Cheese is a favorite haunt of writers - including Charles Dickens who is struggling to find an opening line for his next work. Oh, and things get even more interesting when Skilley discovers the source of the 'ghosty' noises in the garret and his alley cat nemesis Pinch shows up as a second mouser. This is a tale-of-many-tails that takes several twists and turns before everything comes to light and gets settled.

I'm particular about middle grades novels, but this one is wonderful. The story is engaging on multiple levels, the characters are colorful and memorable, the illustrations are pitch-perfect (not to mention adorable - you can't look at the three I've included in this post and tell me they're not cute!), and the overall design of the book matches the fun, whimsical tone of the text. I love the creative use of typography and design - adds a nice dimension to the story. There's a trace of history that appeals to my inner history geek and gives a sense of authenticity.

Book provided by publisher for review.

For More Fun:
Check out today's other blog tour stop:
From the Mixed Up Files of Jennifer Bertman
And...the totally amazing and interactive Cheshire Cheese Cat site!

Giveaway details:
Fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Rafflecopter will show your whole name you put in, so pick a nickname or etc.  
Giveaway ends at 12:01 EST on October 12th, and winner will be announced that day. Giveaway is only open to US addresses. I'm keeping it simple - but since I'm still learning Rafflecopter, let me know if it won't accept your entries, and I'll still include you in the giveaway! Good luck!


New Books!

Okay, so I've been really bad about doing new book posts on a regular basis. Today, I present to you roughly a month's worth of book-deliveries! Enjoy!


Single Girl's To-Do List via Chick Lit Central
Jane and the Canterbury Tale via The Austenesque Extravaganza
Deeply Devoted via Black 'n Gold Girl's Book Spot
A Walk in the Morning at Rosings Park via Austen Authors
Juliet via publisher

Happy winnings from Katelyn's Blog!
For Review:
Crafting with Car Hair via QuirkBooks
Marching with Aunt Susan via Peachtree
Six via LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Jane Austen Made Me Do It via Laurel Ann of Austenprose