fiction, novels

Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion

wentworth's persuasionCaptain Wentworth’s Persuasion: Jane Austen’s Classic Retold through His Eyes, by Regina Jeffers. Published in 2010. Kindle edition.

A few years ago a bibliophile blog friend recommended that I check out this book, but I forgot about it until recently when I had occasion to re-read the post where she made the recommendation. As I was on the lookout for a light summer read, I decided to give it a look.

Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion is exactly as its title describes: a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion from the perspective of the Captain Frederick Wentworth, the man whom Austen’s heroine Ann Elliot eventually weds eight years after they first fell in love and were separated by Anne’s family.

I went into this book with measured, but hopeful expectations. Captain Wentworth is, after all, one of my favorite of Austen’s lead male characters and I was curious to see what this shift of focus from Anne to the captain might look like.

There were parts of the book that were very believable and engaging, though I suspect the best parts were those the author lifted out of Persuasion for the purpose of keeping the stories parallel. The tone, timing, and value systems of the two books simply didn’t line up at other points. As I considered the reasons for that, I concluded that Jeffers simply couldn’t resist imputing postmodern values and sensibilities onto Austen’s characters.

While Jane Austen was certainly sometimes romantic in her delivery, her male characters were rarely as openly rapturous as Jeffers paints them. Austen also had a hearty respect for English social stations and respectability. Her characters did as well, as even her books’ most mismatched pairings were presented as reasonable concessions due to extreme circumstances. The only notable detour that Austen took from this principle was in the case of Lizzy Bennett and Mr. Darcy. It is also the most unrealistic pairings of all Austen’s books, in my opinion.

In this retelling, the author seemed to trounce all over these social status realities by having Frederick and Anne disdain these traditions in a way that Austen never would have had them do. She respected the limitations and boundaries of English society even when they seemed in some way oppressive to her characters.

I was pleasantly surprised that this author refrained from graphic sexuality in the book. Since Anne and Frederick were married, I expected her to take licenses that were unwarranted. She didn’t go quite that far, but the book was still far more sensual than anything Jane Austen would have written. This is not Austen’s book of course, but these are Austen’s characters, and given the author’s clear efforts to make the language somewhat similar -with mixed success- I thought she should have also done the same with regard to the sensuality.

The next fiction book in my queue is in fact, Persuasion. I haven’t read it in a few years and an honest comparison demands that I refresh my memory of it mainly because of the way Wentworth is presented here. He is sentimental, sappy and not a little bit petty. None of these traits are present in our original introduction to Captain Wentworth. Granted, given that this story is told from his perspective and in the aftermath of the deep pain Anne caused him in Persuasion, it possible that I am miffed at having my image of him shattered by Jeffers’ attempt to lay bare the  depth of his love for Anne and extent of his pain at being kept from marrying her and the 8 years they were separated.

The ending chapters were quite bizarre and unnecessary. It was almost as if Jeffers suddenly decided to start writing another book: Frederick the Spy. I am still not quite sure what to make of it. Nevertheless, I wasn’t bored, and it was an easy read. Not high praise, but enough to keep it out my “below average” grading.

3 out of 5 stars.

 

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fiction, iconic characters, joy of reading, novels, Uncategorized

Engrossing Governesses.

Image result for emma movie images
Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma

A few days ago, I got a sudden desire to watch the 1996 Hollywood adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. As I watched it, the trajectory of Mrs. Weston, the titular character’s former governess, had me musing about the governesses I’ve encountered in my literary travels. Specifically, I wondered what would be the modern day equivalent of the young to not so young governess who, whether by stroke of luck, true love, or mercenary social climbing, finds herself the unlikely mistress of a house.

In addition to Mrs. Weston, I was reminded of Jane Eyre, the heroine of one of my favorite books. Despite the rather dismal plight that Jane suffers from one season of life to the next, she still manages to hold her character and convictions in the highest state, and at the end of it all, marries the man she loves and even has a son.

The last governess turned mistress I thought of was the mercenary Becky Sharp, from the novel Vanity Fair. A beautiful yet vicious social climber who can both blush and cry at will, the only bit of raw emotion we ever get from her is when she realizes her folly in marrying one wealthy man when she actually could have married his even more wealthy (and definitely more powerful) father. She is without question, of a different mold than the governesses mentioned above.

I’m interested in whether or not anyone reading here has a favorite or memorable literary governess I should investigate along my literary journey.

Related- Iconic Characters: Mr. Knightley

*I was torn between watching the PBS adaptation of Emma or the big budget adaptation. The quandary was based on the fact that although I preferred Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance in the title role of the feature film, I preferred Johnnie Lee Miler’s  PBS interpretation of Mr. Knightley light year’s more than the actor who portrayed Knightley in the feature film. I feel strongly about Mr. Knightley, as you may remember from the post linked above. You may not also notice that I never had much use for Mr. Darcy.

 

fiction, Mystery, novels, Uncategorized

Miss Maitland, Private Secretary

Miss Maitland, Private Secretary, by Geraldine Bonner. Kindle edition. A Public Domain book. Originally published in 1919.

Plot synopsis: This is the story of a very affluent New York couple who, beginning with the divorce of their irresponsible daughter, find themselves embroiled in one crisis after another. The hits keep coming, culminating with the abduction of their only and beloved granddaughter, whom they  go to extraordinary lengths to find and bring home unharmed. In the middle of it is their trusted, reserved, private, and beautiful social secretary, the titular character Miss Esther Maitland.

Since the vast majority of the books I read are nonfiction, I was a little restless for something fun to read. Even though I don’t summarily dismiss books due to racy content, I do make a conscious effort to avoid books with gratuitous racy content, and I’ve found that the best way to get a book that is both a great romp and good clean fun is to look for books written during a certain time frame. I stumbled on this Geraldine Bonner classic perusing Amazon, and I am very glad that I did.

This book has it all:  intrigue, mystery, unrequited love, and nearly every manifestation of human nature is on display. In other words, Miss Maitland, Private Secretary is both a great romp and good clean fun.

It was intriguing to me that Miss Maitland both loomed large and hovered in the periphery of the action throughout most of the book. Indeed, the book’s title seemed increasingly strange to me as I read the book. However, as the story unfolded, it became clear that despite the character’s absence from the center of all the action, she was the impetus -whether because envy, malice, justice or love- which drove many of the characters and their actions from the beginning of the story to the end of it.

The best part of the book for me was that in the case of one of the mysteries, I had no idea whodunnit until the very end. That doesn’t happen very often, and alone is worth a recommendation.

If you want a fun, quick summer read, you won’t go wrong with Miss Maitland, Private Secretary by Geraldine Bonner. If you have a Kindle, you can even read it for free.

Grade: B+ for fun factor and good writing.

Content: It’s clean, but it’s not a kid book. There’s divorce, adultery, and peril. The entire book runs from beginning to end with adult themes.

 

 

 

children's books, fiction, homeschool, joys of reading, just for fun, tales from the local library

Picture Book Bonanza!

Our 9-year-old is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. Mother wit is not her strongest suit (we’re working on that), but she was blessed with a hefty bit of cognitive fire power.

I don’t just say that about all of my children. We tend to be very open and honest about gifts, talents, abilities, and how the Giver of all gifts does things the way He does for a reason. There’s a point to this particular line of thought, and it is wholly centered around books.

During our recent trip to the library, the kid surprised me by making a beeline for the picture book section. Since she has read chapter books alongside picture books from the time she was 6 or 7,  I figured she might find picture books less worthy of her time and attention. It turns out that a full school year of reading great literature, even though enjoying it,  gave her a craving for some light-hearted, brightly colored picture books.

After readng them to herself, and reading them with her 11-year-old sister, she wasn’t quite read to return them to the library until she’d had the pleasure of my voice reading them to her. I am very glad we took the time to do that, because these were all very enjoyable books:

 

phobe sounds it out

The fun thing about these books is that they were books I would never would have chosen on my own, since none of them meet the standard guidelines I tend to use when picking out children’s books.

The other interesting thing I noted was how often she gravitated towards boks with characters who looked like her. Although only two of the books listed here met that criteria, she looked at quite a few.

The lesson I took away from this excursion was that no matter how “advanced” kids are, they’re still kids, and they like kid things. Such as brightly colored picture books!

children's books, fiction, homeschool, Uncategorized

The Samurai’s Tale

samurai's tale

The Samurai’s Tale, by Erik Christian Haugaard. Originally published in 1984, 256 pages.

This, like many of the books I’ve read over the past several months, is a book I only read becuase it was assigned to one of our children as a literature assignment. It has been a pleasure to read these book in a way that does not describe the books our public schooled middle schoolers were assigned to read. This year has been one filled with books which fully meet the standard of C.S. Lewis’ famous quote about stories worth reading.

The Samurai’s Tale is a novel set in feudal Japan, and begins when our hero Taro, is a four-year-old boy whose powerful samurai father, along with his mother and brothers, are killed by a rival samurai in the fierce struggle for Japanese power. His mother, before her death stripped Taro of his costly, regal clothing, dressed him up as a servant, and concealed him in a box. Her aim of hiding the truth of his lineage in an attempt to spare his life was successful. The warlord, amused by Taro’s mettle as he rushes out to defend his home, takes him under his wing as a servant.  So begins Taro’s long, tumultuous journey as the vassal and liege of the powerful samurai Lord Akiyama.

Reading along as a witness to the tale Erik Haugaard has woven was at times sad, and others harrowing, but was never boring. The realism of the story was refreshing as well as unsettling.  Many wrters would have Taro grow up under Lord Akiyama waiting for the day that he could avenge his family’s death. Haugaard however, offers us a more true to life scenario, one in which Taro’s loyalty to Lord Akiyama increases the longer he is with him and he grows into a faithful young samurai warrior to his liege lord.

The Buddhist religion loomed large throughout the book, and was another angle that offered opportunity to explore and compare belief systems. Haugaard offered an interesting aside concerning different competing sects within the religion which to us sounded eerily familiar to the kinds of schisms and battles which take place in Christianity as well.

Our daughter found that the book moved too slowly for her at times. The overall narrative was interesting to her and several of Taro’s experiences motivated interesting conversations. It was not her favorite of the books read this year, but neither was it her least favorite.

I liked it, but I concede that it would likely have been a less than exciting book for me to read when I was 11 years old. I was impressed with the issues and writing she produced from the reading given the fact that she was less than enamored with the book. The grade being offered however, is based on my review. I’ll add hers as an addendum.

Grade: B+ (the kid gave it a ‘C’)

Content advisory: war and violence.

Age range: 9+ (or 5th grade and up)

 

 

children's books, fiction, homeschool, novels, Uncategorized

A Wrinkle in Time

wrinkle in time

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeliene L’Engle. Originally published in 1962. 228 pages.

While Peter Pan was our 4th grader’s latest literature class assigned book, this was our 6th grader’s most recently assigned literature book. I think I was the only mother in the class who hadn’t read it as a girl, but I’ve read it now and I’m glad I did.

While the dominant motif of this story is quite familiar, Madeliene L’Engle presented it in a fresh way that was sure to appeal to her young readers in 1962. It was a time of domestic and international political tensions paralleled with a transformation of cultural norms and mores aimed specifically at the youth of that era. As I read it I wondered how the younglings of that time viewed it compared to the young readers today. It is a book with timeless themes, like any one still worth reading 56 years after it was originally introduced to the public.

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of the Murry family, whose father has disappeared for the last two years. No one knows exactly where he is or when he will return. His wife, Mrs. Murry, along with their four children: Meg, twins Sandy and Dennys, and the younest and most exceptional Charles Wallace, are an oddity and source of gossip in their community for a variety of reasons.

Meg, the Murry’s teenage daughter, is the central character through whose lens the reader views most of what occurs. Charles Wallace, largely regarded by the townspeople as a dunce due to his self-imposed silence, is exceptionally intelligent and insightful but keeps this knowledge between himself and his family. Until the nearly equally exceptional Calvin O’Keefe joins him and Meg on an adventure to save the world from a darkness which trying to absorb everyone into itself and make the world a place of one consciousness and “unity”, but void of uniqueness.

They get a little help along the way from three immortal beings known only as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. These are three colorful, quirky characters whom only Charles Wallace really understand. You’ll have to read the book for more lest I spoil the plot and the ending.

One of my favorite passages, which captures the heart of the story, is this:

“But a planet can also become dark because of “too strong a desire for security … the greatest evil there is.” Meg resists her father’s analysis. What’s wrong with wanting to be safe? Mr. Murry insists that “lust for security” forces false choices and a panicked search for safety and conformity. This reminded me that my grandmother would get very annoyed when anyone would talk about “the power of love.” Love, she insisted, is not power, which she considered always coercive. To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.”

Grade: A-

Age level: 10+, though as usual, I am open to a different take. These books are a part of a series, and as I read the next two, I hope to review them here.

 

 

 

children's books, fiction, homeschool, iconic characters

Peter Pan

peter pan

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie. Originally published in 1902. 151 pages.

This book was assigned to our fourth grader, who is a very strong reader, but the language and some of the themes have proven to be a bit more advanced than 4th and 5th grade. She is still reading through the book, reading the chapters as assigned by her teacher, but I forged ahead and finished the book. Firstly because I found it thoroughly enjoyable, but also because it will be easier to work through the narrations with our student having familiarized myself with the story.

The interesting thing about this book is that it is far less innocent and far more intense than the Disney-tized version of Peter Pan most of us were exposed to from chidlhood. This one is more violent, with more mature themes. It does contain a mixture of adventure and whimsy missing from the Peter Pan I was famliar with, however.

This quote from Peter, however, is the common thread we are all familiar with, and was one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg.”
The characters were all engaging and entertaining, and even the villains, such as the pirate Smee, confidante and first mate to the fearsome yet ironically cultured Captain Hook, were the types that stick with you long after you close the last page.
Peter, the ultimate bad boy crew leader, was the character you rooted for because you were supposed to, but was not without less than endearing qualities. His Lost Boys were wonderfully innocent and faithful to him, while all of the female characters surrounding Peter were written with a coquettishness that was completely lost on Peter Pan. Nevertheless, Peter seemed to know exactly when and how to exploit the affection his charges and the ladies (Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, and Wendy) felt for him.
At the end of it all is the great and violent showdown between Peter and his Lost Boys and Hook and his pirates. Peter is the ultimate victor, while Wendy, John and Michael wrapped up their adventure, and headed home to their griefstricken parents. Parents who had kept a window open in anticipation of their return one day. J.M. Barrie had an interesting way of expressing what the narrator considered the heartlessness of the three children who flew away on an indefinite adventure, leaving their parents behind to fret:
Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time, and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be rewarded instead of smacked.
I found that quite funny, second only to Wendy’s exasperation with being the mother to the Lost Boys (Peter was their “father”):
Oh dear, I am sure I sometimes think spinsters are to be envied!
She says this several times, and although I heartily disagree with her, it is funny nonetheless.
There is actually plenty to be said about this book, but I recommend that you take the time to read it yourself as it is enjoyable on many levels. It is a perfect example of this quote from C.S. Lewis which I have always loved:
No book is worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally -and often more- worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.
Grade: A
Age range for this book,which is the original, unabridged version I’d put at 12+. I chose that not because of reading ability, but because of the violent content, adult language (nothing overly offensive, but still), and general level of maturity required to appreciate the themes and subtexts of the book.