Sunday, July 29, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for July 29, 2012: Thoughts on Blogging and My Future as a Blogger.

It has been quiet here for a couple of weeks. I kind of..."unplugged" for a little bit without really intending to. And then, the longer I was gone, the harder it was to sit down at the computer to type out a post that I wasn't that inspired to write. I do think some of my inspiration has come back for writing, but my reading has been almost at a standstill.

I know it's normal to go through phases as a blogger (and as a person) in regards to what catches your interest and what drives you forward. For almost three years, I have been propelled forward by my online identity. In many ways, my online persona was more important than who I was in real life with the people around me. There have been many times in the last three years where I would simply escape online because I felt comfortable here.

Recently? I haven't felt that way. I have felt awkward and stumbling when I try to compose my thoughts. I feel like an awkward elephant when I try and hold conversations. So, I stopped writing. I stopped obsessively checking twitter on my phone every ten minutes. I stopped reading my Google Reader. I actually stopped coming online to do anything blog related, but instead focused on keeping up with family on Facebook through my phone. That's it.

In many ways, it feels freeing to be away from a computer. There were days when I didn't even come on the computer at all (I will admit to doing things on my phone). I think I have finally found a bit of comfort in things beyond an online identity. I think I am finally okay with who I am outside of this blog.

It has been very easy to let this project consume me when I had nothing else going on. In fact, I convinced myself that as long as I was blogging, I had a purpose. This is probably why I stopped being so active, why I stopped trying to be overly social. I would spend hours reading, visiting blogs, and writing content in hopes it would "fix" me. And while I certainly owe a lot to my online life...there is a lot going on in my personal life that I can also be grateful for.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Matt recently got a new job. I also landed a teaching position for the fall. In a matter of a couple of weeks, we went from two mid-twenty somethings with "so-so" jobs and barely making ends meet, to being two mid-twenty somethings with real jobs and a purpose. Our lives have changed and our circumstances have changed. All the anger and negativity towards our situation, the economy, etc has reversed. It has left me feeling...stunned.

I am still adjusting to the fact that I am no longer a 27 year-old with two college degrees and no job. I'm a grown-up now. I still cannot wrap my head around the change. And where the blog used to be my focus and my drive, I am now even more focused and driven on being the best teacher I can be. Example: School starts after Labor Day. I have spent HOURS the last couple of days outlining chapters from the World History textbook so I can start prepping power points and lessons. I have contacted other teachers in the school for pacing tips, etc. School is at least 4-5 weeks away. That is how focused I am.

I'm not saying that this change is a bad thing. Like so many other things, my hyper-focus will eventually fade. After all, this is something I do a lot. I find something to consume me until I realize that I can relax (because really, I know that I will create good lessons and I don't have to have everything planned before school starts, you know?).

But I do think some changes are coming to the blog and who I am online. I obviously haven't been online nearly as much recently, and while it was odd at first, I liked being away. I like feeling like I didn't have obligations.

I have also been thinking over the parameters of my reading and the initial goal for the blog. I was supposed to read 250 classics from a list, right? And I am only at 150 or so. Maybe a couple months ago I would have freaked out about that, but now I'm not. Originally I wanted to be done in three years, but that mark is coming up on September 1. Will I read 100 classics by then? No way. So do I think I'll finish in one year? Two years? I have no idea. And...I don't really care.

At this point, I think I have realized that it isn't about reading a list of books and then feeling accomplished when I cross them off. In the last 3 or 4 months, I have read what has grabbed me, whether it be a classic, fantasy novel, or something completely random. It doesn't matter anymore. I still prefer classics over anything else, but is it really going to hurt me to stretch out those last 100 books into 2 more years? 5? even 10? No. What matters is that I have changed as a reader because of my hyper-focus for the last three years.

I don't need to be like that anymore.

So what does that mean? I don't know. I still like blogging. I missed writing while I was "unplugged" and was amazed at how hard it was to get back into with only a small break. But I don't know what blogging will look like in the future. I'm sure it will slacken with school (because it always does), and I think there will still be a few more personal posts. But I don't know what the books will be.

I think...just a little bit of everything.

It is all so up in the air right now that I can't even form it into something coherent to share with you all. I think, just letting you all know that I am uncertain is enough for now. And acknowledging that it is okay to let go of super crazy restrictions you make on yourself. I have felt so confined by my own rules that this bit of freedom has shown me more about myself, if that makes sense.

In any case, that's all I have to say this week.

*I marked my Google Reader as "all read" earlier this week. Please let me know if there is a post I really need to see!*

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte.

 “Reading is my favourite occupation, when I have leisure for it and books to read.” 

Anne Bronte was the only Bronte I hadn't met yet. Neither of her books made it onto my 250 project list, but I made sure to include them both on my Classics Club List. And since Agnes Grey was both short and by the last Bronte sister, I wanted to make sure that I got to it during the Victorian event.

I am so glad I did.

My experiences with both Emily and Charlotte have been wonderful. I met Emily first when I read Wuthering Heights. And while I didn't really love the characters, I admired the story and Emily. I've also read both Jane Eyre and Villette by Charlotte. Both of those blew me away and definitely overshadowed my reading experience with Emily. So, it was time for Anne to speak to me. And speak to me she did.

I should first say that while I wasn't completely blown away by Agnes Grey, I did love it. It was her first novel, and it seemed a bit rough around the edges...almost as if she wasn't sure what she was going to write about and say when she began. The book opens with telling the reader a bit about Agnes' life. Her family isn't super well off, and while she doesn't have to, she decides to find work as a governess. The first family she works for has a bunch of little hellions, and the parents aren't much better. She eventually finds a second situation that seems to be a little better, but not perfect. I really loved the descriptions of her struggles with her students. Some bits made me chuckle because guess what, I go through the same thing when I'm teaching!

“I had been seasoned by adversity, and tutored by experience, and I longed to redeem my lost honour in the eyes of those whose opinion was more than that of all the world to me.”

But, the book shifts gears about midway through when Agnes is in her second placement. A love interest emerges, and while he isn't necessarily all the book focuses on from that point forward, the change made the novel feel a bit disjointed.

The novel begins to focus a bit on one of Agnes' students-Rosalie-and her quest to find a proper husband. In some ways, I felt that the novel took a bit of a shallow turn here. Where I was interested in Agnes' almost invisible role as the governess to spoiled and rotten children (I really did love her observations of the children and her own reactions to their actions), I felt that her observations of Rosalie's situation were...well...judgemental.

Let me explain. As a governess, Agnes would have been almost invisible to the wealthy members of the family. As long as she did her job properly, she would lead a lonely life among the children of the family-her charges. Those observations, like those that took place in the beginning of the book, were fascinating on their own. But once Agnes' observations became intertwined with Rosalie, I began to lose a bit of interest.

However, there were some interesting and underlying things that caught my attention once I shut the book. First, the Bronte sisters worked as governesses, so obviously some of the material was probably inspired by Anne's own experiences. She wanted to show the life of a governess in this time period to those who were unfamiliar with the lonely and unrecognized side of taking on that kind of employment. I am sure that the experiences poor Agnes had as a governess would have meant something different to men and women reading this novel back in the 19th century.

But I was also struck by the difference in lifestyle between Agnes and Rosalie-arguably the two main female characters. Agnes made it a point to tell her readers that she lived in a reasonably well off family (I would say a middle-class family. She never really wanted for anything and her family always supported her) and that Rosalie came from money. So, here are two women with slightly different circumstances...but such a difference in choice.

Agnes was allowed to choose to go and find work on her own. She wanted to help support her family, so she found work as a governess and pursued it. She was allowed to do almost as she pleased in her spare time-spend time with the poor, read, write letters, etc. On the other hand, Rosalie was raised more by a governess than her own mother. She was instructed from the beginning to be a flirt and to find a place with a well to do man. Her life was consumed by finding a husband whereas Agnes was allowed to be herself.

It was an interesting comparison and one that really struck me only when I finished the novel. In many ways, I think that Agnes' story was a way for Anne to acknowledge that her own life was something more than many others could hope for. If you really think about it, the Brontes were an incredibly interesting family. The three sisters were allowed a lot of freedom and choice in what they wished to do-something that probably wasn't all that common.

In the end, I really did love Agnes Grey. Do I think it would have been better to have a novel focused on the plight of a governess and a separate one to point out the comparison between classes? Absolutely. But this was still fabulous and gave me a lot of food for thought once I finished it. It also made me eager to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which I am hoping to get to later this fall.

“I still preserve those relics of past sufferings and experience, like pillars of witness set up in travelling through the valve of life, to mark particular occurrences. The footsteps are obliterated now; the face of the country may be changed; but the pillar is still there, to remind me how all things were when it was reared.”

After finishing this one and writing a post about the Brontes last week, I was stuck thinking for awhile about which Bronte sister I am most like, now that I have "met" them all. I think I would like to be Charlotte. She was adventurous, romantic, and took chances. After all, she traveled to Belgium, and was resolute in getting the novels she and her sisters wrote published. She was also strong after losing her siblings and carried on. But I'm not really like that. Anne was the youngest and from her writing, she seemed incredibly passionate about social issues and exploring the nature of human relationships. She also ventured out on her own a bit and worked as a governess as well.

But Emily...she was a quietly passionate and stormy one. She was more of a homebody (she refused to go to London to prove her identity to her publisher) and seemed to be a bit more...dreamy. I think that if there was a Bronte I am the most would have to be Emily.

Who do you think you would be most like? Or do you disagree with my observations on the sisters?

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Warden Giveaway (A Victorian Celebration).

Were you all aware that we have less than a week left in July? I feel as though time as flown by!

I have not been the best blogger the last week or two (more on that some other time), but I am still blown away by the number of you still taking on Victorian titles. I finally finished Nicholas Nickleby this week, which made me do a dance all over my apartment. And yes, my husband made fun of me.

I also started Barchester Towers, but have only made it to page 30 or so. I am enjoying it a lot more than the last time I attempted to read it. I think its because I read The Warden back in June, so all of it is clicking into place.

Speaking of The Warden, that's the title I am giving away today. Here is a little synopsis taken from

"The book centers on the character of Mr. Harding, a clergyman of great personal integrity, whose charitable income far exceeds the purpose for which it was intended. Young John Bold turns his reforming zeal to exposing what he considers to be an abuse of privilege, despite being in love with Mr. Harding's daughter Eleanor. The novel was highly topical as a case regarding the misapplication of church funds was the scandalous subject of contemporary debate. But Trollope uses this specific case to explore and illuminate the universal complexities of human motivation and social morality."

If you want my thoughts on Trollope's book, you can also read my post right here. I quite enjoyed the book, and Trollope's trolloping nature. :)

So, up for grabs this week is a new Penguin English Library Edition of Anthony Trollope's The Warden. I have the same edition (why yes, I ordered two when I ordered mine), and I am happy to tell you that the lovely folks at Penguin are publishing the entire Chronicles of Barsetshire in the collection. That way, if you are a crazy book collecting maniac like myself, you can have a matching set (Because who doesn't love a matching set of books??). 

Anyway, to enter, read the following and comment below: 
  • This giveaway will be open to any residents of the U.S. or Canada
  • You MUST be a participant of A Victorian Celebration to enter.
  • You MUST be 13 years or older
  • You do not have to follow me or subscribe to qualify
  • You MUST leave me your e-mail so that I contact you if you win
  • The winner will have 48 hours to respond or I will pick a new winner.
  • To enter, comment on this post and answer the following question: What has been your favorite part of A Victorian Celebration?
  • The giveaway will be open until 11:59 PM on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 EST.
Good luck!!

(Just to let you know, when I wrap up the event next week, there will be a few more winners announced. Be on the lookout for that).

Friday, July 20, 2012

Author Focus: The Bronte Sisters and Giveaway (A Victorian Celebration).

This week's author focus is a 3 for 1 deal on the Bronte sisters. If you are interested  in any of the other posts I've written on other Victorian authors, they are linked here:
I'm excited to talk a little bit about the Brontes! I had never picked up a Bronte novel until my project, but with each new title, I am more and more in awe of the three sisters.

I should say up front that I am no expert on the sisters or their lives, but there are a number of biographies on them if you're interested in learning more. Think of this post as a very broad overview into their lives!

The Bronte family consisted of their parents, Patrick and Maria, as well as their two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, and their brother Branwell. Their mother and two older sisters all died when the girls were young, leaving the three sisters with their brother and father.

The Bronte Sisters.

Charlotte, the oldest of the trio, was born in 1816. As a child, she was sent away to school at the Cowan Bridge School, which later inspired Lowood School in Jane Eyre. It was there that her two older sisters contracted tuberculosis and passed away in 1825. After her removal from the school, she served as a teacher to Branwell, Emily, and Anne. Emily was born in 1818 and was also enrolled at the Cowan Bridge School. Like Charlotte, she was pulled from the school and sent home when disease spread in the school. The second youngest, she was under the care and instruction of Charlotte and her Aunt Elizabeth for the remainder of her schooling. Anne was the youngest of the Brontes. Born in 1820, she was too young to be sent away to school like her older sisters, so she was already at home when the girls returned and her eldest sisters passed away.

At home, the four remaining Bronte siblings had to entertain themselves as best they could. They created literary worlds where they could escape from the everyday and explore their own interpretations of literature. They even created their own mythical land and began to write stories centered on Branwell's toy soldiers and their own imaginings of events in their heads.

In 1831, Charlotte was sent away to school at Miss Wooler's school. She seemed to thrive in the environment, and when the opportunity arose, she took on work teaching. Emily also accompanied her for a time, but came back home after three months. Anne took her place.

Charlotte Bronte
During their education and travels, all three of the girls continued to write. There are excerpts of letters from Charlotte to Branwell with more descriptions and narratives to go along with their childhood stories. Before beginning to really focus on writing, both Charlotte and Anne worked as governesses to help out their family (perhaps their inspirations for Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey). Emily seemed to have issues with leaving home, so she stayed with her father while her sisters worked.

It was in 1842 that their Aunt Elizabeth determined to send both Charlotte and Emily to Brussels to study in a boarding school. She felt that this exposure outside of England would do both girls some good, and since both of them showed a high level of intelligence, she was happy to spend the money. Anne stayed back home and continued in her post as a governess. In Brussels, the girls studied under the Hegers. After 6 months, both were offered the opportunity to stay on for free if they also taught some lessons at the school. Both accepted, but returned to England a few months later when their aunt passed away. While their inheritance paid off their debts and would allow them to live comfortably, Charlotte chose to return to Brussels to teach a little longer while Emily chose to stay home.

Charlotte was away for another year before returning home. It's rumored and believed there was some level of affection on her part towards Mr. Heger, which may have encouraged her to come home. However, things were also going downhill at home. Mr. Bronte had been sick and Branwell was also in declining health.

Emily Bronte
It is after Charlotte returned home that the sisters began writing seriously. Charlotte began writing Jane Eyre while sitting beside her ailing father and brother. She also began to take interest in the writings of both of her sisters. Emily had been writing poetry and after being convinced by Charlotte, the three sisters decided to try and get a volume of their poetry published. It eventually was and they published the work under their pen names-Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The volume only sold 3 copies, but it sparked more literary discussions around the dinner table.

In 1847, the Bronte sisters each published a work. Jane Eyre by Charlotte, Wuthering Heights by Emily, and Agnes Grey by Anne were all published under their pen names to varying levels of success. It was after the publication of all three novels that rumors sprouted about Currer, Ellis, and Acton being only one person. To prove their publishers otherwise, Charlotte and Anne traveled to London with letters from their publisher (Emily refused to go and stayed home).

Branwell passed away in September 1848 from tuberculosis, but it was rumored he had a drinking problem. Emily fell ill in September of the same year and passed away in December-from tuberculosis. It is rumored she left behind a manuscript when she passed, with orders for Charlotte to burn it. After the publication of Wuthering Heights, she didn't want any more of her work out to the public (Wuthering Heights was a bit scandalous). Anne had published The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in the same year, but passed away in May 1849. Again, the cause of death was attributed to tuberculosis.

After suffering through the deaths of her three remaining siblings in only 8 months, Charlotte turned back to writing and published Shirley in October 1849. She also moved to London and befriended some of the other literary minds of the era-namely Elizabeth Gaskell and William Makepeace Thackeray. She became close friends with Gaskell, who later wrote a biography of Charlotte after her death.

Anne Bronte
Her third novel, Villette, was published in 1853. In June 1854, she married Arthur Bell Nicholls. She became pregnant shortly after her marriage, but her health declined. She passed away on March 31, 1855 at only 31 years old. Her last novel, The Professor, was published after her death (the novel was actually written around the time of Jane Eyre).

After Charlotte's death, the only surviving member of the Bronte family was their father Patrick. He outlived all of his children and passed away in 1861 at 84 years old. 

I think the Brontes are tragic in many ways. It is shame that such intelligent minds were taken far too soon. I wonder what other things they would have written given the time and opportunity to create more. To date, I have read Jane Eyre, Villette, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey. I have loved all four of the novels I've read so far, but I can't wait to read more. Their complete novels are as follows:

Anne Bronte:
  • Agnes Grey (1847)
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)
 Emily Bronte:
  • Wuthering Heights (1847) 
Charlotte Bronte:
  • Jane Eyre (1847)
  • Shirley (1849)
  • Villette (1853)
  • The Professor (1857)
There is also the collection of their poems that they published together and a fragment of Charlotte's unfinished work, Emma.

For this week's giveaway, I am giving away THREE Bronte titles-one from each sister. I will pull names based on which sister you choose (so if there is only one entry for one sister, that person will automatically win). To enter, read the following and comment below:
  • This giveaway will be open internationally (I will be shipping from The Book Depository, so as long as they ship to you, you can enter)
  • You MUST be a participant of A Victorian Celebration to enter.
  • You MUST be 13 years or older
  • You do not have to follow me or subscribe to qualify
  • You MUST leave me your e-mail so that I contact you if you win
  • The winner will have 48 hours to respond or I will pick a new winner.
  • To enter, comment on this post and answer the following question: Which Bronte sister is your favorite and why? Also, what book would you choose if you won?
  • The giveaway will be open until 11:59 PM on Friday, July 27, 2012 EST.
Good luck and thanks for entering!

*All information came from and Elizabeth Gaskell's The Life of Charlotte Bronte*

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book 147: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (A Victorian Celebration).

“Well, what I mean is that I shouldn't mind being a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband.”

I've come to love and respect Thomas Hardy. There is something so wonderful about his writing that it just draws me in from the first page. Far From the Madding Crowd is no exception. Hardy managed to build yet another story that drew me in and forced me to keep reading into the late hours of the night.

Bathsheba Everdene is a young woman with strong ideas and a sense of purpose about her life (and really, her name is all kinds of awesome). When the story begins, Bathsheba meets the farmer Gabriel Oak. Oak falls in love with her almost immediately and while he lives a humble life, he makes Bathsheba an offer of marriage. After turning him down, she leaves town and Oak suffers from a series of misfortunes (and while I know I shouldn't have, I had to chuckle at the scene with the sheep).

Oak determines to leave in search of work, since he has failed as a farmer on his own land. He journeys to Casterbridge and then to neighboring Weatherbury. It is while on his trip to Weatherbury that he sees a huge fire and pitches in to help. And of course, the land the fire is on belongs to Bathsheba and she is forced to take him in as hired help.

In the time that dear Bathsheba has been away from Oak, she found a home on her uncle's large farm...and then her uncle died so she's in charge! Being a bit of an independent woman, she is determined to run things her way so that she may be successful. But as a woman in charge of a bustling farm with the potential to make a good deal of money, she becomes a bit of a pawn for a couple of men in town. The way that Hardy describes her is simply perfect:

“She was of the stuff of which great men's mothers are made. She was indispensable to high generation, hated at tea parties, feared in shops, and loved at crises.”

First, there is Gabriel, who fervently loves her even though she has no desire to really be with him. As a worker on her farm, he is treated as such. It's obvious that Gabriel still loves her. Throughout the novel, there are scenes where Gabriel is observing Bathsheba and her various forms of scandal. He shows a clear sense of devotion to her. I loved that about his character. It seemed that no matter how badly she screwed up, he was still there to offer advice and save her farm.

The second suitor on the scene was another farmer by the name of Boldwood. Unlike Oak, he is a successful farmer and is well-respected within their community. He is also swept away by Bathsheba's charms and her wildness. She plays around with him a bit, and even makes a hasty agreement to get married at some point in the future. Boldwood was so enamored with her that he didn't even see that she made the agreement in haste to get rid of him.

Enter the third suitor, Sergeant Troy. Unlike the other two, Troy is powerful and in command of himself. He's a take charge kind of man who flirts with Bathsheba and tells her lies. She is swept away by his charms, disappears, and returns as a married woman.

 “Bathsheba loved Troy in the way that only self-reliant women love when they abandon their self-reliance. When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength she is worse than a weak woman who has never any strength to throw away. One source of her inadequacy is the novelty of the occasion. She has never had practice in making the best of such a condition. Weakness is doubly weak by being new.”

It is after her marriage to Troy that things fall apart in what I think it typical Hardy fashion. Bathsheba learns that Troy was not who she thought he was, Troy is called out for being full of it, and the other two men go crazy trying to protect Bathsheba and her assets as she is now the "property" of Troy.

This was simply fascinating to watch unfold. At first, I wasn't a fan of Bathsheba (except for her name because COME ON). I found her to be a haughty kind of a woman who was just trying to branch out on her own for the sake of causing some level of scandal. However, as the novel wore on, I got what Hardy was trying to show me. Rather than being allowed to be the free spirited individual she truly was, the men in her life found ways to squash that. Troy, in particular, seemed to be an option that she found appealing. By marrying him, she was choosing something risky over something sturdy, like Boldwood. It was only after she was married that she realized the position she was in. As a married woman, all her property, etc also belonged to Troy...who wasn't who he said he was.

That just crushed her spirit. And it left the other men, who probably did truly care for her, on the sidelines watching and waiting.

On many levels, I felt for her by the novel's close. To be a woman of passion and spirit in a society that tells you no? It has to be crushing. And to find a way to rebel, only to have it backfire? Even more so. I think this novel captures a lot of that Victorian mentality...and of some people's current mentality...that women can be pawns in marriages-used to gain land, money, etc. I would not have been able to stand it...and I think I would have had a little of her spunk had I been in her situation (or so I tell myself).

So yes, Far From the Madding Crowd was a great read and a good look at some of the social issues of the era. And, it wasn't quite as tragic as Jude the Obscure if that sort of thing throws you off (don't get me wrong, there were some moments that caught my breath, but nothing like that scene). I can't wait to get to my next Hardy!

“And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you."

About the Silence.

A couple people e-mailed to ask why it has been a little quiet here on the blog in the last week or so. I wanted to assure that everything is fine.

Last week our internet was acting wonky, so I couldn't get online to write posts. And for the last few days, I have been in a stupor of not enough sleep and migraines. My sleep schedule is out of whack since Matt started his new job. He gets home super late (or super early in the morning depending on how you look at it), and it has messed me up.

I have a huge long list sitting by my computer of posts to get up (including Far From the Madding Crowd, Agnes Grey, and some giveaways and author focus posts), but I simply haven't been in a writing mood. Or a reading mood for that matter. I'm hoping I'll snap out of it, but until then, just bear with me. :)

Monday, July 16, 2012

David Copperfield Giveaway (A Victorian Celebration).

*This was supposed to post on Friday, but because of internet issues, did not. The ending date has been adjusted*

Well, we are in the home stretch for the Victorian Celebration folks! With about 2 weeks left in July, I am wondering whether I will ever manage to finish Nicholas Nickleby and Barchester Towers-the two books I REALLY want to get done before the end of the month. Granted, this week has been rather hectic, but I really need to get in some more reading time this week!

Today I am giving away a book that is very close to my heart. I have struggled with Dickens since I was in ninth grade, but I am determined to like him. In February, I read HIS favorite work, David Copperfield, and fell in love with it. Hands down, it is the best book I have read in 2012.

Here is a little synopsis taken from

"David Copperfield is the story of a young man’s adventures on his journey from an unhappy and impoverished childhood to the discovery of his vocation as a successful novelist. Among the gloriously vivid cast of characters he encounters are his tyrannical stepfather, Mr. Murdstone; his formidable aunt, Betsey Trotwood; the eternally humble yet treacherous Uriah Heep; frivolous, enchanting Dora; and the magnificently impecunious Micawber, one of literature’s great comic creations.

In David Copperfield—the novel he described as his “favorite child”—Dickens drew revealingly on his own experiences to create one of his most exuberant and enduringly popular works, filled with tragedy and comedy in equal measure."

It is a FABULOUS book and one that I cannot recommend enough! 

When I ordered some of the new Penguin English Library editions, I immediately added this in my cart for me...and one for you! One lucky winner will win a brand new copy of Dickens' David Copperfield. To enter, read the following and comment below:
  • This giveaway will be open to any residents of the U.S. or Canada
  • You MUST be a participant of A Victorian Celebration to enter.
  • You MUST be 13 years or older
  • You do not have to follow me or subscribe to qualify
  • You MUST leave me your e-mail so that I contact you if you win
  • The winner will have 48 hours to respond or I will pick a new winner.
  • To enter, comment on this post and answer the following question: What are your reading plans for the remainder of A Victorian Celebrations?
  • The giveaway will be open until 11:59 PM on Sunday, July 22, 2012 EST.
Good luck!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for July 15, 2012: On Turning 27 and Really Good News.

Today is my 27th birthday.

There is always something amazing about turning another year older and looking back on the events of the past year. I always wonder whether I am truly wiser and ready to move on to another chapter in my life.

And this year, for the first time in a number of years, I feel really good about what I did in the past year, and where my 27th year is going to take me. I think I grew a lot in the past year in regards to maturity, a sense of self, and a knowledge of what I want to accomplish. And since acknowledging all of those things, I am ready to move forward and put 26 behind me.

I also got some of the best news ever on Thursday, and while I shared it on twitter and facebook, I also want to let all of you know here-I have a teaching position for the fall. :)

I can't tell you how excited I am to have my own classroom and to be able to share with my students everything I am passionate about. I am also blessed in that I will be returning to the school I was just at this spring (I also taught in the same school last school year). I love knowing that I will be returning to a place filled with familiar faces-teachers and students.

I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. That people and places and events happen to us because they are supposed to. That every chance encounter, that every conversation have an intent and purpose that we might not understand at the time. And while I may have doubted that in the past, I can't deny it now, you know what I mean?

All of the discouragement, anger, and sadness in the past brought me to blogging, to creating my project, and to this place as a person. My search for finding myself a life beyond teaching has led to new friends and challenges. So while I may have wanted a job sooner than I got one, I know it was for a reason and a purpose. I'm okay with all that now.

I very much started this project with the intentions of finding some deeper meaning to everything. Instead, I figured out that I already knew a great deal, but I had the capacity to learn more. I could change myself...and I think that has had a lot to do with the good things that have been happening recently.

I have learned that I have to make things happen for myself. That I have to continue to take on my own self-education. This place has helped me do that.

I want to take a moment to thank ALL OF YOU for supporting me in this long journey towards employment. I have to thank all of you (and Dickens, Shakespeare, Austen, and the rest of the gang) for helping me get to where I am. I feel accomplished...honored...and loved because of the support I have from a phenomenal online community. And as I transition into teaching and a fabulous career, I am going to continue here as best as I can because this has become very much a part of me and my own creation.

Thank you again.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Victorian Novels.

Every week the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish host Top Ten Tuesday, a meme where bloggers count out their top ten in that week's given topic. This week is an open topic, so I decided to do a countdown of my favorite Victorian titles, since we are in the middle of A Victorian Celebration.

Making this list was hard, especially because I decided to rank the books I listed!

Here we go:

10. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte: I just finished this one on Sunday, but I was blown away by this seemingly simple story about a governess. I think the Anne is completely underrated, and I cannot wait to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

9. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: I loved this novel about a man so consumed with his own beauty and image-such a great and moving story! I am hoping that I'll have the opportunity to teach this one in the future, as I think it would be a great novel for high school students!

8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: I can't believe it took me so long to read this one! It was so passionate and so full of fire! And that line that begins with "Reader." Ugh, it gets me!

7. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: This story of Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton has been a favorite since I first read it. I also love the BBC adaptation and watch it fair too often.

6. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: Collins is a writer I had never heard of until I started blogging, and I am so happy you all forced him on me. This mysterious tale had me flipping pages until late at night. It also has one of my favorite heroines of all time!

5. Villette by Charlotte Bronte: While I loved Jane Eyre, I adored Villette. This is a more mature Charlotte and the story about Lucy Snowe is one that had a huge impact on me. I related so much to Lucy and her struggles. This one will always remain a favorite.

4. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy: Of the three Hardys I've read, this is by far my favorite. It is such a desperate and tragic novel, and the reception from Hardy's audience in the Victorian era is why Hardy stopped writing fiction completely. This is a MUST read.

3. Germinal by Emile Zola: Technically Zola was not a part of the Victorian gang over in England, but this novel from the French writer is as powerful. Set in a mining town in rural France, it depicts the harsh realities of life for the miners. It will break your heart.

2. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens: Considering that I call Dickens my arch-nemesis, you might be surprised to see this here. But Dickens and I share a favorite novel of his, and it's this one. This is a very autobiographical novel and it really spoke to me.

1. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot: This is by far my favorite novel by Eliot. I push this one on everyone to read, all the time. I can't even begin to describe how wonderful and moving and passionate this novel us. You MUST read this one!

What are some of your favorite Victorian novels?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Book 146: Middlemarch by George Eliot (Finished-A Victorian Celebration).

“And, of course men know best about everything, except what women know better.”

George Eliot is always such a treat for me to read. She was one of the first classics writers that I discovered on my own, and I have been happily reading and enjoying her books ever since my first read of Silas Marner. It has been a few years since I last picked up Middlemarch, so a lot of the details were very fuzzy (to be fair, it is a very LARGE book).

As I began reading and starting plowing through Eliot's writing, bits and pieces fell back into place and I remembered who I liked and who annoyed me (Celia annoys me like no other. And I'm not sure why). In any case, it still took me a good chunk of time to get through all 900 pages of Victorian-era commentary (it took 2 1/2 weeks!). But when I set the book down, I realized that I enjoyed it more than I did during my first read quite a few years ago.

One of the things I love about Eliot is that you notice pieces on rereads that you didn't notice the first time around. I had completely forgotten the plot with Fred Vincy, so when I stumbled across poor Fred and his adoration for Mary, it broke my heart a bit. I felt for Fred, who fumbled and who could never quite get his head on straight....unless it came to his feelings for Mary. I believe I paid far more attention to their chapters on this read than I had on the one before.

I think Fred's story, and his struggle with finding a purpose within the confines of Victorian society probably rang true for many in the time period. I am sure that many a young man was unruly and unsure of a path to take. Fred, for example, was clearly not a man that should have headed into the church. As he told Mary, he could do the job, but he wouldn't have passion for it. He needed some kind of work to inspire him and make him a better person. I can relate to that so well! Part of the reason I love teaching is that it challenges and inspires me to try new things, to push myself. I saw a lot of myself in Fred and his struggle. And, of course, I was happy with the way his story ended. 

I also had to chuckle quite a bit at Mr. Brooke, who never intends to be funny, but always seems to bring out a smile. His insistence on stepping in when things get a little bit tough is endearing, especially when he reverses what he sets out to do and muddles things up even more than they already were!

I was also quite drawn to Lydgate and his situation as a new man in Middlemarch. I found the passages pertaining to his medical practice interesting in that he really seemed to have new ideas for the folks living in town. The storyline with his courting of young Rosamond and their eventual marriage was one of my favorites in the dozen or so character storylines. It seemed obvious to me from the beginning that they had different ideals and expectations about their marriage and what it would entail. I should admit that I wanted to yell at Lydgate for going into debt for selfish Rosamond and her "appearances." That's something no one should ever do! You don't need the shiny new dishes or the fancy house for appearances Lydgate! :)

But obviously, the main storyline concerning Dorothea Brooke and her marriage to stuffy Mr. Casaubon deserves a bit of attention. Dorothea is one of those female characters that I love in Victorian literature. She has a strong set of ideas and dreams for her own life, and while others may be persuading her to go one way, she is resolute in the direction she wishes to go, even when she realizes it wasn't such a good idea to begin with! In her marriage to Mr. Casaubon, it was obvious that she had lofty ideas about him as a learned man. As a young girl, she was attracted to the visage of intelligence and hoped that he would be welcoming in his knowledge-teach her and inspire her to learn as well. It became pretty obvious he had no such ideas, but saw her as more of a secretary than a wife. I particularly loved this bit of commentary from her...

"But it is very difficult to be learned; it seems as if people were worn out on the way to great thoughts, and can never enjoy them because they are too tired."

When I read that, I had to agree with her, because yes, focusing and exploring areas to become learned is a tiring process. That piece definitely resonated with me as I continue on in my own exploration of literature and the classics. Sometimes I feel like I am rushing through to get to the next title. That I must push onward and forward in an attempt to get to it all. And I am slowly losing the bits of enjoyment from savoring passages that I love, raving about writing, and loving the characters. So thanks, Dorothea, for reminding me.

What I love, however, is that Eliot gives Dorothea a chance to live her life with the early passing of Casaubon. And while Casaubon is a bit of a jerk in his will (you'll have to read it to find out!), Dorothea finally has the means to pursue her own passions as a free woman. The last two parts or so, where she is finally free, were inspiring. I love a Victorian woman with a sense of purpose. I love that she went against the wishes of her male relatives. She was firey and passionate and everything that I love!

As usual, the writing was superb. Eliot has a such a way of stringing words together to incite passion, force a laugh, and make me bite my nails in anticipation...

“We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, "Oh, nothing!" Pride helps; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our hurts -- not to hurt others.”

For a book that is, at it's core, a true study of the way relationships and marriage worked in this society, it was inspirational and heart-warming. In each of the couples, I found something that I understood and related to as a married woman in the 21st century. In a way, it kind of amazes me that the same issues they faced we still face today. I think this bit from the "finale" says it better than I can..

"Marriage, which has been the bourne of so many narratives, is still a great beginning, as it was to Adam and Eve, who kept their honeymoon in Eden, but had their first little one among the thorns and thistles of the wilderness. It is still the beginning of the home epic-the gradual conquest or irremediable loss of that complete union which makes the advancing years a climax, and age the harvest of sweet memories in common."

Yes, Eliot is a master, and Middlemarch is definitely a great work. But can I be honest? As much as I loved Middlemarch, it's characters, and the messages it portrays, my heart yearned a little bit for The Mill on the Floss. And while I can see why so many love Middlemarch and see it as Eliot's crowning achievement, I'm happy with saying that I think that title goes to Mill. While they both hold a lot of passion and strength, there is something much more powerful in The Mill on the Floss.

But you should still read this one-to savor the language and the various ways that Eliot explores the many facets of Victorian life. There is so much more to this 900 page chunker than I could hope to write about here!

“If youth is the season of hope, it is often so only in the sense that our elders are hopeful about us; for no age is so apt as youth to think its emotions, partings, and resolves are the last of their kind. Each crisis seems final, simply because it is new. We are told that the oldest inhabitants in Peru do not cease to be agitated by the earthquakes, but they probably see beyond each shock, and reflect that there are plenty more to come.”

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Weekly Wrap-up for July 8, 2012: Lots of Book Loot. :)

Whew, this week has been HOT. Even my cats, like Sparty there on the right, have been pooped out from the heat and the sun. I know you southerners are laughing at me, since most of you are used to the heat, but I like living in the North where I don't feel like I'm melting when I step outside.

I'm sure that if I had a job where I worked inside, it wouldn't have been this bad the last week. But, I'm working at the park and since the park is OUTSIDE, well, I melted. And sweated. It doesn't help that we had to do a lot of manual and physical work in the park this week-cutting trees that fell from the storms, putting up fencing, and slamming metal stakes in the ground. All while the sun blared down. I have a whole new respect for those construction guys on the hot asphalt. We spent 40 minutes putting together a screen for our cricket field on the asphalt and we were SWEATING. Ugh.

Okay, enough about the heat!

I'm currently on day 2 of 4 days off (SCORE), so I have been a cooking, cleaning, exercising, and reading madwoman. :) Since Matt started his new job, I have had to take over pretty much everything here at home (he still takes out the garbage for me) because he's never here! Poor guy has been working 12 hour shifts, with an hour commute each way. I don't mind cleaning, but when I'm working on top of it (and the heat), sometimes I get lazy and say "I can do that tomorrow." Well, tomorrow comes and I have another excuse, etc, etc. So, I did a lot of the things I'd been putting off yesterday-like cleaning out the fridge, scrubbing the floors, and clearing away some clutter. I still have a few things to do today, but it's nice to be sitting here in a clean apartment.

I've also been cooking a little bit. I made a couple of batches of homemade chex mix to munch on and for Matt to take to work (he's diabetic and needs snacks at times to keep his sugar up. It's easier for him to grab something "munchable" to eat as he walks in the plant). I also made some banana bread and a chicken casserole-half that I froze for future use! I also mixed up a turkey sausage/egg bake for breakfast this morning, and it is currently in the oven! :) Look at me, being all domestic!

I also started my new exercise regime yesterday by doing an aerobic video and then going for a walk last night when the temps went back into the double digits. I decided last week to join Weight Watchers, and while I haven't gone to a meeting yet (I'll be heading in later on in the week), I'm trying to get myself geared up. I've had quite enough of being fat and unhappy with my body, so it's time to do something about it!

Alright, this post could go on for days-let's get to the good stuff!

In addition to reading a whole ton over the last week (you'll see reviews of Middlemarch, Far From the Madding Crowd and Agnes Grey this week-all for the Victorian event!), I've also been trying to solve my bookcase dilemma. You see, I've gotten a LOT of new books in the last month or many that I'm almost embarrassed to show you! I do feel like I need to say that one was pre-ordered and a few are part of my birthday gift from Matt (my birthday is next Sunday!). There are quite a few pictures, mainly so I could show you the pretty covers. I do want to mention that some of the pictures are wonky. Blame my poor photography skills and the fact that the camera on my phone may have been damaged when I dropped said phone at the park on Friday and shattered the screen. :)

First up are three YA titles-from left to right:
  • In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith: My review for this one went up on Friday. I had originally downloaded the book to Homer, but I decided I wanted a hard copy to loan out.
  • Stick by Andrew Smith: This is the second book by Smith that I'm reading for Andrew Smith Saturdays. I was worried it wasn't going to show up, but when I checked outside my door at 6:00 yesterday, there is was!
  • Brotherband Chronicles #2: The Invaders by John Flanagan: Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series is one of my FAVORITE series ever, and I loved the first book in this new, parallel series. I pre-ordered this one back in January and I did a happy dance the day is showed up outside our door.

I'm calling this picture my "Randoms." From left to right:
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas: My copy disappeared! When I culled all my books last November, I looked EVERYWHERE for my copy of the book, but it was no where to be found (I did find my abridged version, so I passed it on to my younger sister who is going to write a post for the blog! Yippie!). So, I decided to buy a replacement copy. When I bought it, the bookseller asked me if "I was capable of reading the unabridged version." I slammed down a business card for the blog and told him to educate himself before making assumptions!
  • The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner: This is actually an ARC. I rarely accept them, but I couldn't turn this one down since it is set in Flint and Detroit! I love reading books set in Michigan, so I'm hoping to squeeze this one in this month.
  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson: I actually already read this one for a readalong, but I couldn't help throwing it in for the picture anyway.
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson: I picked this one up on a recent trip to the store, simply because I have been reading a lot of Sanderson for readalongs, and I couldn't resist!
All of the books that follow are books from the new Penguin English Library line. Throughout the rest of this year, they'll be publishing 10 books/month. They're fashioned after the clothbounds in that they have a similar look (designed by the same person), but since they're paperbacks, they're much more affordable (go look on Book Depository-you'd be surprised)! I also like that they picked some obscure titles in addition to more popular titles. You better believe I'm going to collect them all. :)

This picture turned out a weird shade-the books are a lot more vibrant in person!
  • Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy: I actually just finished this one on Friday night. I really enjoyed it!
  • Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy: This is a really slim volume and one that I am anxious to get to at some point. It is on my Classics Club list, as are many of Hardy's novels, so I know I will read it eventually. 

Eliot titles!
  • Daniel Deronda by George Eliot: I didn't have a copy of this one (just on Homer), so it was kind of a no-brainer. And after I gave a copy of way and looked more into the story, I knew I had to buy a copy!
  • The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot: This book is FABULOUS. And while I already own a copy...well, I wanted this one. I really love the colors of this cover and I'm excited to read this edition!

  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope: I already read and reviewed this one for the event! It was another Classics Club title, and the first book in the Barsetshire series. I'm really happy that all 6 titles in the series are being published in these editions so they'll match (I told you I am ridiculous).
  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope: This is the second book in the series and the title that is actually on my 250 list. I really like the muted tones on this cover!

 The Unfamiliars-I'm not familiar with either title, but both are on my Classics Club list:
  • Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding: I still haven't read the title by Fielding that is on my 250 list (Tom Jones), but I have heard wonderful things about his writing! I also think this cover is pretty cute!
  • Evelina by Frances Burney: Another title and author I'm unfamiliar with! The fans on this one are also pretty adorable.

Dickens! I am REALLY excited that all of Dickens' novels are being published in this set. You bet I want them all!
  • Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens: I know very little about this title, but since I am going to make it point to read all of his novels, I know I'll get to it sooner rather than later.
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens: The copy I read in February I bought used and was literally falling apart by the time I finished, so I feel not at all guilty about doubling up. :) This has been my favorite title by Dickens (I doubt any other will beat it), and my favorite book of 2012 so far!
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens: There really isn't a particular reason why I selected this one. I've already read it and I own it in its clothbound version. This is the point where you realize that I'm insane in my quest for owning pretty editions. I can't help it.

  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: I lent out my copy last summer to a girl at work and never got it back! I was hoping to squeeze in a reread during the event, but I doubt it. 
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins: I didn't own a physical copy of this one (do have a version on Homer), and since it is on my 250 list, I figured I should snatch it up. I was going to read this one for the event, but I might wait and save it for the fall. 
  • Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon: The more I hear about this one, the more I want to read it. It is also on my Classics Club list, so I know I'll read it soon. :) Also, I just adore the teapots and teacups on the cover.

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: I also own this one in the clothbound version, but I loved this book so much that the idea of carrying around a paperback copy also struck my fancy. I'll also be getting my hands on Villette when it comes out in the fall.
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte: Everyone who has read this one recently has raved about it, so I have been looking for a copy! I also LOVE the cover on this one-probably my favorite of all the titles I have!

 And lastly...
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: This is one of my favorite books, EVER, so it wasn't even a question of if I was going to buy it. :)
  • The Confidence-Man and Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville: Adam has raved about The Confidence-Man so I am excited to read that one! I loved Moby-Dick, so I am hopeful that Melville has more amazing stories in store for me.
There you have it, all my new editions. :) I know it seems insane, and now that I've typed them all out, I feel like a snot for getting so many new lovelies for the shelves. But, there are worse things that I could spend money on and looking at all the new titles on my shelf just reassures me that I will have plenty of good reading ahead of me!

Tell me how your week has been!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Giveaway Winners!

I have a few giveaway winners to announce from the last couple of weeks for things pertaining to A Victorian Celebration.

The first winner is for the copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. The winner is:

The second winner is for the edition of the Dickens Bicentenary Edition. The winner is:

The third winner is for the copy of Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. The winner is:

And, I also have a random winner from the master list. Since I chose between 1 and 50 last time, this winner comes from between 51 and 100. The winner will get to choose a Victorian of their choice that I'll send them from the Book Depository. :) The winner is:

Phew! Thank you everyone for entering! You should see an e-mail in your inbox sometime today (or you can e-mail me first) so that I can get your mailing information to send your book on your way!

Remember-there is at least one giveaway per week. Right now, there is a guest giveaway going on at Kristi's blog and a giveaway for The Moonstone!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Moonstone Giveaway (A Victorian Celebration).

I'm feeling quite a bit better about my progress for the celebration. I FINALLY finished Middlemarch the other night, so now I am flying through some smaller pieces!

I have to tell you that as we enter the second month of the Celebration, I am still blown away by the response. You kids just keep on reading, don't you?

And as long as you continue to read, I'm going to keep giving books away. :) I hope you don't mind!

This week's book is another that I haven't had a chance to read myself, but it is on the reading pile for the event. It is one that if I don't get to during the Celebration, I will definitely make time for it this fall.

Let's hear a little bit about it from, shall we?

"The Moonstone, a yellow diamond looted from an Indian temple and believed to bring bad luck to its owner, is bequeathed to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday. That very night the priceless stone is stolen again and when Sergeant Cuff is brought in to investigate the crime, he soon realizes that no one in Rachel’s household is above suspicion. Hailed by T. S. Eliot as ‘the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels’, The Moonstone is a marvellously taut and intricate tale of mystery, in which facts and memory can prove treacherous and not everyone is as they first appear."

Today's giveaway is for a new Barnes and Noble edition of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone. To enter, read and comment below:
  • This giveaway will be open to any residents of the U.S. or Canada
  • You MUST be a participant of A Victorian Celebration to enter.
  • You MUST be 13 years or older
  • You do not have to follow me or subscribe to qualify
  • You MUST leave me your e-mail so that I contact you if you win
  • The winner will have 48 hours to respond or I will pick a new winner.
  • To enter, comment on this post and answer the following question: If scholars were to find ONE unpublished novel from the Victorian era, who would you want to be the author of it and why?
  • The giveaway will be open until 11:59 PM on Friday, July 13, 2012 EST.
Good luck-and I can't wait to read your answers!

In the Path of Falling Objects by Andrew Smith.

I decided to join a group of bloggers in reading through all of Andrew Smith's novels this summer in preparation for his new novel coming out later in the year. I had never even heard of Smith, but I am game for anything, so I joined up and downloaded the first book to Homer in anticipation.

The first novel was In the Path of Falling Objects, which was originally published in 2009. After reading a bit about the story online, I figured it was a story I would usually gravitate towards-two brothers who have been pretty much abandoned by their family, a road trip, and, of course, a girl.

Little did I know that the book also contained a bit of CRAZY. And that it was well-written. And that I would fall in love with it.

When the book opens, Jonah and his younger brother Simon are walking away from the life they have been living. Their older brother has been away in Vietnam. Their father is in prison. And their mother left them weeks before. After the electricity was turned off, Jonah decided to leave in search of their brother, who may have deserted and come back to the States. All they have with them is a backpack with a few items of clothing, ten dollars, a gun, and a bundle of their brother's letters.

The brothers are soon picked up by Mitch and Lilly, who are also leaving their lives behind. As the brothers drive further and further away with Mitch and Lilly, their relationship is truly tested...and stuff gets crazy.

When I began, I really thought that this story would be about the brothers and their journey to finding their older brother. It was obvious from the beginning that Jonah and Simon had a rough relationship. They pick on each other, fight, and just generally get on each other's nerves. Simon did that annoying little sibling thing-you know, where he would bother Jonah on purpose, just to get him mad? Their relationship reminded me a lot of my own relationship with my older brothers and younger sister when we were kids. We always irritated each other on purpose. There is one point where Simon calls out Jonah on being an insufferable big sibling-always telling him what to do-and that really struck home for me.

The brothers also had some obstacles to overcome. Lilly's character was definitely a turning point for the boys and how they felt towards each other. As a "hot" girl, she came between them and drove a wedge in their relationship. This is something I was unfamiliar with-the idea of siblings fighting over a love interest (mainly because my sister is 6 years younger than me and well, that would have been odd. When I started dating Matt, she was 10). I think this little conflict showed the brothers that they weren't as close as they thought, and that they must work through it.

However, even though the brothers and their relationship was a central part of the novel, there was also the crazy element that Smith through the form of Mitch. I don't really know how to describe Mitch, except that he was a nutjob and offered the brothers a chance to band together. I can't say more than that without giving anything away...

But I really did step away from the novel loving it. I like "issue" novels, as they are sometimes called, because they seem more real to me. I just had a conversation at work yesterday about why I like novels with ambiguous ends, with disturbing themes, or sad endings. I mean, is life ever 100% of the time perfectly happy? No. So when a novel can show real issues in a way that strikes home, I love it. The problems presented here definitely fell in that line of thinking.

My one critique of the novel is this-there wasn't enough character development. Besides Jonah and his older brother (who we "meet" through his letters), I didn't feel at all connected to any of the characters. I didn't really understand Lilly and her situation (or why Jonah and Simon were attracted to her, besides the fact she was "hot"), and I think Mitch was a bit too over the top for me. I missed some of the connection to their lives. But, I still loved the novel...and ordered a hard copy of it to read again.

So if you're looking for a YA novel that's a bit off the beaten path, I would definitely give this one a recommendation! I know I am always looking for new, contemporary authors, and I can't wait to see what else Andrew Smith has in store for me this summer.

Andrew Smith Saturdays is hosted by Roof Beam Reader, Smash Attack Reads, Not Now...I'm Reading, and Lady Reader's Bookshelf. They have discussion posts up every Saturday to participate in (I am a horrible participant and didn't in any for this novel), and have books up for grabs before every readalong starts. The next novel up is Stick, which is currently on it's way to my doorstep, and all discussions will be over on Adam's blog. I hope you'll decide to join us!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Author Focus: Thomas Hardy (A Victorian Celebration).

Welcome to this week's Author Focus post on Thomas Hardy! Considering I am currently in the middle of a Hardy novel (Far From the Madding Crowd), I thought it was fitting to feature him this week. Here are the other authors I have featured so far:
Hardy is quickly becoming an author that I love, so I am excited to share a little more about his life and his work. Like the other authors I am featuring, Hardy was a powerhouse during the Victorian Era, and his name was well-known.

Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, which makes him a later edition to the Victorian Era. He was lucky enough as a boy to be sent to school, but his family didn't have the money to send him off to university. Instead, he found work as an apprentice to learn a trade. Under a fellow by the name of James Hicks, Hardy became an architect. After a couple of years, Hardy moved to London and enrolled in King's College to learn more about architecture and pursue writing on the side.

It was also during these early years that Hardy began to write. His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, was finished in 1867, but failed to find a publisher. He was so frustrated by this, that he actually burned large portions of the novel and only a few pieces remain. After encouragement from a friend (George Meredith-another Victorian), Hardy continued to write and published Desperate Remedies and Under the Greenwood Tree anonymously.

Hardy wasn't a big fan of living in the city. After growing up in the country, Hardy wasn't used to seeing such differences in class and social standing. He eventually decided to leave London and focus more on his writing. He spent a number of years traveling the country to complete architectural work in parishes and rural communities (perhaps this inspired the work of Jude in Jude the Obscure?). It was on one of these missions that Hardy met and fell in love with Emma Lavinia Gifford. The two married in 1874, and Hardy's novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes, was inspired by their own love story. This was also Hardy's first novel that was published under his name.

He continued to write novels throughout the rest of the 19th century. It was after the publication of Jude the Obscure in 1895 that Hardy stopped writing fiction to focus on his poetry-something he felt he was better at writing. When it was published, Jude the Obscure shocked and riled up Hardy's audience. People were outraged at the depictions of sex and the relationships between the main characters. It was nicknamed "Jude the Obscene." This view of Hardy's work really bothered him, which led to that turn to poetry.

In 1912, Emma passed away and it wrecked Thomas. He pulled away and began writing more and more poetry, which is what he truly believed he was best at. He did remarry, in 1914, but his first wife really held his heart. Throughout the rest of his life, Hardy continued to write, but never had the same success as he did as a novelist. He passed away on January 11, 1928. There was a little kerfuffle over where he was to be buried, but a compromise was made. His heart was buried by Emma and his ashes are laid to rest in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.

One of the things that sets Hardy apart from some of the other Victorians is that he bridges a couple of movements in literature. While all of his novels were published within the boundaries of the Victorian era, many of his later novels also speak to the Realism movement. He liked to challenge the ideals of the Victorian era-like the issue of marriage in Jude the Obscure. He was also very protective of his writing, and after the reception of his last two novels-Tess of D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure-he swore off of writing fiction. I really wonder what kinds of novels he would have published in his later life-during the era of World War I, etc. We'll never know.

I am still beginning to explore Hardy's novels. I have read two-The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure- and I am in the middle of my third-Far From the Madding Crowd. I also have Tess of D'Urbervilles and The Return of the Native left on my 250 list. I have come to expect a lot from my Hardy novels-depth, description, and tragedy. But I love the way Hardy explores the dark aspects of Victorian life, and I cannot wait to read more from him (and about him).

If you are interested in picking up a Hardy novel, here is a list in order of publication (Hardy also has a lot of poetry-I own a complete collection, but sometimes his poems are published separately):
  • The Poor Man and the Lady 1867 (most of the novel is lost)
  • Desperate Remedies 1871
  • Under the Greenwood Tree 1872
  • A Pair of Blue Eyes 1873
  • Far From the Madding Crowd 1874
  • The Hand of Ethelberta 1876
  • The Return of the Native 1878
  • The Trumpet-Major 1880
  • A Laodicean 1881
  • Two on a Tower 1882
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge 1886
  • The Woodlanders 1887
  • Wessex Tales (short stories) 1888
  • A Group of Noble Dames (short stories) 1891
  • Tess of D'Urbervilles 1891
  • Life's Little Ironies (short stories) 1894
  • Jude the Obscure 1895
What Hardy novels have you read and loved? Give me some more recommendations! :)