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Archive for the ‘book reviews’ Category

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Not many books fustrated me more than The Story of Avis by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.

But the fusration doesn’t lie in the writing, but in the story: in its reality and heartbreaking sublimation of self.  Avis is an artist, a talented artist who never wants to marry and who only wants to paint for the rest of her life. When she falls in love, mainly from the promises that she will continue to be an artist and not a sterotypical household wife, we join Avis through the journey of her marriage, and not the journey of her carrer.

Phelps is challenging. Her word structure and lanuage requires full attention and her motifs–birds are everywhere–are heavy-handed. But the book is brillant. I would rank it with both Aurora Leigh and Jane Eyre and that’s saying something from me.

Buy the Book here. Preview is on googleBOOKS here.

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My first week as a senior in college just flew by and one of the first things I have actually retained from this insane week of pages and pages of reading and lectures and notes was what inspired me to start this blogging-group of “rantings”. For my English senior seminar we started with Florence Nightingale’s Cassandra a piece, highly influential in both feminist and literary circles, but virtually unknown outside of them. Besides my rather naive assumption Nightingale was only and nurse (and one of those sweet ones as well) I knew little about her.

Cassandra was never published in Nightingale’s own lifetime, but her thought-provoking ideas about her own era are astonishing. Astonishing because of just what she expresses in the Polemic. While reading her demands for social revision, I couldn’t help but think of Elizabeth Gaskell, whose novel North and South was published in 1885: only 3 years after Nightingale wrote Cassandra.

My goal is merely this: one, READ both of these fabulous works by brilliant women writers; and two, perhaps the cry of women’s vocation is more complex than we have known. (more…)

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For fear of starting a trend of only putting up youtube videos, I figured I could tie in news about the latest  expansion of Austen franchise, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and some of my initial comments about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. (Don’t worry, to see the video just click “continue reading”)

pride-zombies Despite my general grumbling about how fan fiction is considered foolish, but people keep making money off it as long as Darcy and Elizabeth are in it, I was excited about P&P&Z. I thought it would be something different, something funny, at least a refreshingly different take on one of my favorite books. And on many levels it is. Quirk prompts,

What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers-and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead.

(more…)

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Now that my junior year is officially over and summer’s here, I finally can stop neglecting this wonderful little place. I’m hoping to have weekly updates every Sunday (and I’m SO instituting footnotes).~ And this Sunday, although I’m sure ranting about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (can you tell I watched the scifi channel last night?) would make anyone jump for joy, I’ve got a little book review for you.

Before I left the wilds of New Hampshire, I bought Sunshine by Robin McKinley.< I will preface this with a few words, and really the only ones I will say, about Twilight and the pop-novel.* I’ve always been a fan of vampires, well the story of Dracula really. And Interview with a Vampire was always that movie I was glued to as a child, but didn’t fully appreciate until now. And when I first picked up Sunshine it seemed right down my ally. Of course this dark and creepy, guilty pleasure ally has flooded with the florescent luminescence of the Twilight Series.

It’s amazing how quickly reader’s forget, especially “fair weather readers” that not every book they pick up after Twilight has been inspired by Twilight.^ In fact, I’ve been handed 3 books in the last two weeks, one a six book series, and told, “if you liked Twilight, you’ll like these.” No, I say to them today. In reading two of the recommended books, I think that’s the last connection I would make. And actually, if you look at their publication date, many predate or came out at the same time as Twilight. Around 2003-5 there was this beautiful synergy of Neo-neo-Gothic Literature and Twilight just happened to be the standout performance.+

Sunshine has those same markers: is in the Neo-neo-Gothic style, has vampires who are like Dracula, but not, and is a first-person narrative about a girl who rejects and doesn’t understand her own strength and potential; but making that connection between the two certainly has already crossed your mind hasn’t it? It did mine when I went to buy it. But Sunshine predates Twilight by two years and is driven by very different narrative focuses and goals.

*Spoiler Alert*

The October 2008 release cover

The October 2008 release cover

Sunshine by Robin McKinley, other than being in first person, isn’t very much like Twilight at all.# Rae Seddon, or Sunshine lives to feed people. She says it’s in her blood; however there is more to her blood and heritage than she cares to remember. But upon saving a vampire, Sunshine must come to terms with who she is and that she will most likely die because of it. The back of the book told me even less than I just told you above. And really, I trusted Neil Gaiman’s praise of the book. If one of my favorite authors says it’s “Pretty Much Perfect” I think I can take the time to pick it up and read it. That, and the cover is just gorgeous.

If you like Robin McKinley, then this book is for you. It has all her markers: a stunning central image, unique characters, and that Beauty and the Best twist in a world just left of our own, no wonder Gaiman loved it. Sunshine is a self-proclaimed coward, and although hearing her reiterate this nonstop through the book gets annoying, there are enough interesting events going on around her to get over it.

What you can tell is that the book was going to be something else. Part one is beautiful. The images and actions of her capture and hostaging is just fantastic, and how she saves her fellow victim, the vampire she’s supposed to be food for, is remarkable. I would have been content for it to have been a short story that ended there. And but for a few, fleeting, moments through the rest of the book, that type of wondered isn’t regained.

For much of the book Sunshine it waiting and we’re waiting with her: waiting for something to happen, waiting for her vampire cohort to show back up, waiting for any kind of emotion that doesn’t lead her to scrubbing the evil off her or burning her clothes. The final confrontation looms ahead like something McKinley herself doesn’t want to write and although her final battle is interesting, this reader thought the ending of part one more mysterious than the final ending. I hate open endings. Really, I do. I feel like there were too many plot points left untied, too many “random” questions and facts highlighted that didn’t concluded – but this is McKinley’s style.

The book, even in a world a little left of ours, has some interesting things to say about humanity’s obsession with self-protection, self-preservation, and fear. All dark things – werewolves and pixes included – are called Others, as though there are only other “people” in a society of people. How much is humanity in comparison, starkly questioned.

McKinley’s vampires don’t look human, don’t sound human, burst into flames in sunlight and their laugh cuts through your bones. Sunshine wastes no breath in telling you they are the most revolting, horrible, deadly things to ever come across, except for Con who, like something ugly you see so often it almost turns beautiful, is as close to a good vampire as you can get.

The story is interesting, the first part is just beautiful, and, even though he’s not there often, you’ll fall for Con just a little in the whole knight-in-rusty-armor kind of way. If you’re looking for something to read this summer, I’d pick up Sunshine. It’s a breath of fresh air for the whole vampire genre.

~Thanks robinmckinleysblog.com for the idea!

< Not to, AT ALL, be confused with this. I…can’t…look away….AH!

*The Twilight fandom and novels are so contentious with readers and critics alike that I’d rather stay out of the discussion. I will say though, I have read all the books – before the movie, when the series was still a best kept secret – and enjoyed them.

^I don’t mean “fair weather” in any derogatory fashion, please understand.

+Same happened with Religious Thrillers. ie, Angels and Demons and The daVinci Code.

# If anything, the feel of the novel is more akin to The Host by Stephanie Meyer and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. What is an interesting comparison to Twilight is Sunshine’s vampire, Constantine (fantastic name isn’t it?), going vegetarian to save her with clean blood.

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