Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love Me Like You Do

Happy Valentines Day!!  It's time for another batch of some of my favorite literary couples.  I've been doing this for several years now and it is honestly one of my favorite posts to do.  Here are this year's picks!

Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It is one of the greatest tragic romances in all of literature.  It is something we all hoped would be, but would never happen.  It is the green light, forever just out of our reach.  In so many ways, the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy embodies everything that was beautiful and sad about the Roaring 20s.

“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.” 

Rudolf Rassendyll and Princess Flavia in The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

The struggle between love and duty is as old as anything, and we see it played out here again in Anthony Hope's famous swashbuckler.  Though Rassendyll and the Princess love each other intensely, they never lose sight of how their own desires could harm so many others.  It is both heartbreaking and inspiring to watch them selflessly let each other go.

 “There are moments when I dare not think of it, but there are others when I rise in spirit to where she ever dwells; then I can thank God that I love the noblest lady in the world, the most gracious and beautiful, and that there was nothing in my love that made her fall short in her high duty.”

George Emerson and Lucy Honeychurch in A Room With a View by E. M. Forster

For a good girl like Lucy Honeychurch, George Emerson was not the kind of man to be in love with.  His and his father's brash and radical ways upset everything about her proper English upbringing.  But one moment in a meadow outside of Florence changes everything and Lucy is forced to deal with some overwhelming feelings.

“It isn't possible to love and part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.”

George Knightley and Emma Woodhouse in Emma by Jane Austen

It is always worth including an Austen pair on a "Best Couples" list.  It takes Emma FOREVER to realize that George Knightley is the perfect man, but she eventually figures it out.  After lots of missteps along the way, Emma is able to recognize true love and gives her heart to the one man who knows how to handle it.

“I cannot make speeches, Emma...If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."  

Who are your favorite literary couples?  Share with us below!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Masterpiece Theatre: Death Comes to Pemberly

Last fall, the good folks at Masterpiece Theatre treated us to a trip back to the enduringly popular world of Jane Austen.  But rather than another retelling of one of her stories, we instead enter the crazy and fun world of Austen fanfiction.  Death Comes to Pemberly was written by the late and beloved English crime writer P. D. James in 2011 and has been generally well received by Austen fans the world over.  Set six years after the end of Pride and Prejudice, the story reintroduces us to some of literature's favorite characters and imagines what life after happily ever after may have been for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Last year, BBC One adapted the story as a television mini-series starring Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Rhys, Jenna Coleman, and Matthew Goode.

I was interested (but not overly excited) in this adaptation, though I had never read the book.  I love Pride and Prejudice as much as anyone and will always welcome a chance to explore that story further.  So lets start with that aspect of the adaptation...the story.  Plot wise, this adaptation seems to connect fairly seamlessly with the original work.  The Darcys are happily married and living at Pemberly.  They have a young son, Gerogianna lives with them, and things seem to be going swimmingly.  Until, that is, a man is murdered on the estate and the prime suspect turns out to be the Darcy's brother in-law and everyone's favorite Austen baddie, George Wickham.  Now, Darcy must help the man he likes least in the world to prove his innocence (if he can) and discover the truth of what happened in Pemberly Woods.

The story is ok, nothing mind blowing.  The mystery itself was pretty basic, and I had figured out what happened pretty early on.  For me, the characters themselves were more interesting, especially the relationship between Lizzy and Darcy.  At first, I loved the idea of where the story seemed to be taking them.  As tensions increase, doubts about their own relationship creep in with Darcy wondering if Lizzy married him for his money and Lizzy wondering if Darcy secretly despises her for her family connections.  These are real, grown up problems that you know would have to come up at some point in their marriage.  But rather than allowing them to really hash these questions out and reestablish trust in each other, the story kind of lets it fizzle and they simply settle everything with some make up sex.  Personally, I would have loved to see them really get to the bottom of those doubts.

Some characters were pretty close to what you would imagine them, while others didn't seem to really jive with the Austen originals.  Anna Maxwell Martin played Lizzy as a much more somber person.  She seemed to lack the wit and vivacity that we all love in the character.  Matthew Rhys was passable as Darcy, though he didn't really inspire any passions in your heart (unless you are like me and love him simply for the sake of Rhys himself).  I was probably most confused over Col. Fitzwilliam.  The dude seemed so nice and laid back in the original novel, but here he is grumpy and self centered.  Seriously, who put his undies in a wad?  I do have to give props to Jenna Coleman and Matthew Goode who both turned in excellent performances as Lydia and George Wickham.  They were every bit as insufferable as one could hope and honestly brought the most life to their characters.

If you are looking for a story that is going to equal the magnificence of Austen's, you won't find it here.  If, however, you are ok with spending a few hours enjoying a decently acted film based around familiar and favorite characters, then you may be satisfied.  It wasn't something that I fell head over heels for, but I enjoyed myself while I watched.    

Thursday, January 15, 2015


“It felt very good to have him walking beside her. Good like rest and quiet, like something you could live without but you needed anyway. That you had to learn how to miss, and then you'd never stop missing it.”

It isn't often that contemporary literature touches my soul, but Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead" novels (Gilead and Home) have certainly done that.  When I heard that another novel set in the small Iowa town was to be released last October, I knew immediately that I would have to read it.  Not only does it take us back to a world of simple beauty and intense faith, it also provides us with the history of a woman who has lingered on the edge the story and only hinted at her true depth of character.

The Plot:

This is the story of Lila, the wife of Reverand John Ames whose story is told in Gilead.  As a young child, she was taken away from a neglectful home by a drifter named Doll.  Raised on the road, in constant search of work, shelter, and food, Lila's childhood and youth was rough and broken yet there were many good/happy memories as well.

After Lila becomes and adult and she and Doll are separated, she finds herself in even darker circumstances.  Hell bent on escaping it, Lila leaves St. Louis and eventually finds herself on the outskirts of the small Iowa town of Gilead.  It is there that she meets Rev. Ames, who seems to offer her a chance at peace, safety, and love.  But trust has never been a luxury that Lila could afford, and not a day goes by that she doesn't have to choose between staying in the quiet town or searching for freedom out on the road.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

Ever since I read Gilead, I have been dying to know more about Lila.  She played an interesting role in both of Robinson's novels whether it was her quiet devotion to Rev. Ames or the sympathy she seemed to have with Jack Boughton.  I think Robinson satisfied every longing I had with this one.

I have always delighted in how Robinson portrays the beauty of grace and the Christian faith.  As with the other two novels, we get to see grace played out in the life of one of the characters, but in a completely different way.  Rev. Ames is the man who has been secure in his faith for a long time, Jack Boughton is the man who is running from the faith of his father, and Lila discovers grace for the first time and slowly learns to embrace it.  She is someone who has never been offered true rest, quiet, and safety.  Rev. Ames offers it to her, demanding no explanations, no guarantees, and no apologies.  I think it is a beautiful picture of the life that Christ offers us.  He gives us love and grace regardless of our past.

But though Robinson portrays the beauty of God's grace, she doesn't ignore the difficulties we can have with reconciling our faith with our lives.  Though her childhood was by no means easy, it is obvious that Lila has a deep affection for the people she knew in her youth.  As she learns more about Rev. Ames' faith, she learns that her friends may not have been "saved" and this is something she can't bear to think about.  Trying to balance what we believe with what we actually experience in life is quite possibly the hardest part of being a Christian.  Robinson does a wonderful job of showing us that we can allow ourselves to question our faith.  To not shy away from the hard questions but to ask them and wrestle with them.

As always, Robinson's prose is simply stunning.  I will say that the format of this book took some getting used too.  Rather than being a letter or novel by an educated person, it is the disjointed thoughts and feelings of a woman who has not received as much education.  Time skips around and events don't really follow each other like normal.  But it makes sense for the character and becomes easier to follow as you go along.

This is certainly a fitting addition to the "Gilead" series.  Though I think I will always love and identify with Gilead the most, the raw beauty of this one touched me and dealt with a lot of my own thoughts and struggles from the past couple of years.  Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.      

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Happy Birthday To:

Hugh Lofting
January 14, 1886

"That's what you ought to do. Be an animal–doctor. Give the silly people up—if they haven't brains enough to see you're the best doctor in the world."

-from The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Friday, January 2, 2015

Back to the Classics 2015

I had a great time participating in the Back to the Classics challenge in 2014 hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.  It was a great way to knock a lot of books off my TBR list.  I also love the sens of community it brings and getting to read the reviews of other bloggers.  I'm signing up for the 2015 challenge, though I will not be reading book from every category like last year.  My goal is to read nine classics (published before 1965), and below are the books I have selected:

20th Century Classic - A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (1924)
19th Century Classic - Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1876)
Classic by a Woman Author - The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
Classic in Translation - Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (1957)
A Very Long Classic Novel - Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens (800+ pages, 1839)
Classic Novella My Antonia by Willa Cather (230 pages, 1918)
Classic with a Person's Name in the Title - Therese Raquin by Emile Zola (1867)
Classic Nonfiction - A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway (1964)
Classic Children's Book - At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald (1871)

If you are interested in taking part in this challenge, head on over to Books and Chocolate to sign up.  It's a great way to add some classics to your diet!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Welcome 2015

I say it ever year, but I can't believe we are entering a brand new year.  It seems like only yesterday I was making plans for what to read in 2014.  I had an excellent year in reading, though I'm afraid my posting over the last few months may not reflect it.  I read 26 books in all and completed 2 challenges (Back to the Classics 2014 and the 2014 Shakespeare Reading Challenge).  Here is a ranking of my favorite reads for 2014:

Honorable Mention: Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.  This is a story that touches you to your core.  Tess Durbeyfield is probably the most real character in all of the stories I read this year.  She is sad, beautiful, strong, vulnerable, and brave.  She is a victim of her times and yet in the end she manages to rise above it all.  This isn't a story that will leave you smiling, but it also won't leave you the same.

#5: Night by Elie Wiesel.  This is another story that will change you.  Wiesel's account of his family's experience in the Holocaust is painful, horrifying, and raw.  Watching these people be systematically stripped of their humanity is difficult, but it is necessary.  The ultimate tragedy would be for us to turn away from theses victims' stories and to forget what atrocities the human race is capable of.

#4: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.  This was my second Agatha Christie novel and there is no disputing that she is one of the best (if not the best) crime writer ever.  While the stories happen in the most peaceful and idyllic of settings, they are filled with a suspense that is almost palpable.  This particular story is fast paced and intriguing, and the ending (though a little convenient) is one you won't see coming.

#3: The Black Count by Tom Reiss.  This story of Alexandre Dumas' father and the inspiration for characters like the Count of Monte Cristo was spectacular.  I was hooked from the very beginning and I learned so much.  It covers not only the story of General Dumas' life, but also slavery and race relations in 18th century France as well as one of the best overall accounts of the French Revolution that I have ever read.  It's a shame that it took so long for this story to be told.

#2: Richard III by William Shakespeare.  Of all of the Shakespeare plays that I have read, this one stands out as my overall favorite.  It has a gripping story, immortal lines, and one of literature's best non-heroes.  Richard is one of the most intriguing characters I have ever come across and you can certainly see his influence in our own modern storytelling.  If you don't read any other Shakespeare history play, make it this one.

#1: Lila by Marilynne Robinson.  Of all of the modern writers that I have read, none has touched me quite like Marilynne Robinson.  This is the third book in her Gilead series and it was everything that I hoped it would be.  We get a look at the past of the series' most intriguing character, and we see how love and grace given freely can change a person's life forever.

Yes, 2014 was a terrific year in my reading life and I am so excited for what I'm going to read in 2015.  Here is a look at what I have planned for the first part of this year:

- Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
- A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway
- Howard's End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
- Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
- The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell
- Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
- A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
- Stardust by Neil Gaiman
- The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

What was your favorite read of 2014?  What big plans do you have for 2015?  Share with us.  And happy New Year!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Back to the Classics 2014: Round-Up

2014 is drawing to a close and it is time to start looking back over the books I read this year.  The bulk of my reading consisted of classics chosen specifically for the Back to the Classics 2014 challenge hosted by Karen at Books & Chocolate.  I completed all of the categories!  Here is what I read:

Required Categories

20th Century Classic - Joy in the Morning by P. G. Wodehouse
19th Century Classic - Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Classic by a Woman Author - Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
Classic in Translation - Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
Classic About Way - Night by Elie Wiesel
Classic by an Author Who Is New to Me - The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Optional Categories

American Classic - Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Classic Mystery, Suspense, or Thriller - And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Historical Fiction Classic - Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott
Classic Adapted to a Movie or TV Series - The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
Movie Review of Film Based on Book in Category #4 - Enchanted April

This was a fantastic challenge and it certainly helped knock a lot of classics off my TBR list!  I don't know if I will read a book in every category again, but I certainly plan on participating in 2015.  Thanks, Karen for hosting!