Austenland

Ok.  I’ll admit it up front.  I’m drawn to anything Jane Austen like a butterfly to a flower or cookies to milk or pen to paper.  I was browsing through the library looking for a good book to read and my eyes zeroed in on Austenland by Shannon Hale.   It was almost like a flashing sign you see in Vegas.  blink.  blink.  blink.   Austenland.  Austenland.  Jane Austen.   What – is – this??  Of course, this little gem came home with me and I couldn’t wait to settle in for a good read.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

It was a relatively short book, less than 200 pages.  So I whipped through it in a day.  Well… if I’m being totally honest, it took me two days….because I read it twice.  I didn’t want to leave Austenland and I wanted to reread it when I knew the ending.

Jane Hayes is a 30 something, single woman with a long list of ex-boyfriends.  With each break-up, she fantasizes more about the Jane Austen men like Mr. Darcy, Mr. Ferrars, Captain Wentworth, Mr. Knightley, but mostly Mr. Darcy.  No one measures up to Mr. Darcy.  She unexpectedly receives an all-expense paid, three week trip to an English resort, which caters to Austen-crazed women.  Should she go?  Is she crazy?  Will she meet her Mr. Darcy?  She decides to go and is immersed in the early 1800’s Jane Austen era with dress, manners, speech, etiquette and challenges.  What’s real and who’s acting?  Does she find Mr. Darcy?  You have to read the book to find out.  Zing.

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The Host

The Host by Stephanie Meyer is a book that hooked me right away.  Yes, the same Stephanie Meyer who wrote the Twilight series.  Have you ever read a story with a love quadrangle?  This was my first.  And so the story begins…

Earth has been invaded by alien “souls” who take over the human mind, while the body remains the same.  The soul knows the human’s memories, talents, thoughts and continues to live a peaceful human existence as if the original person is still present.

The “seekers” continue to look for more human hosts for their species survival.  Melanie Stryder, her brother, Jamie and her boyfriend, Jared are three people still free from the alien souls and constantly on the run.  Until one day, Melanie is trapped by “seekers” and instead of being caught, she kills herself thinking this will prevent the aliens from inhabiting her body and learning the whereabouts of Jamie and Jared.

Unfortunately, the “healers” have miraculous medical knowledge and Melanie’s body is saved.  A soul called Wanderer is implanted into Melanie Stryder’s brain to take over her body and delve into her memories to ferret out any remaining human resistance.  Except Melanie REFUSES to leave her brain and an internal battle begins.  Melanie floods Wanderer with memories of her love for Jamie and Jared and soon these memories feel real and true to Wanderer.  Wanderer becomes confused with conflicting emotions and goals.  Soon a “seeker” pushes Wanderer and Melanie to stand on the same side of the battle line to save the humans or at least Jamie and Jared.  And that’s the basic premise for the book with a lot more I haven’t mentioned like the fourth person in the love quadrangle.  You’ll have to read the book.

While searching to see if Stephanie Meyer is working on a new book I discovered that The Host has been made into a movie, which is to be released at the end of March 2013.  It’s always best to read the book first, at least that’s what I think and so does my niece, Sissy.  Happy reading and then happy movie going.

Cinder

I just finished reading Cinder by Marissa Meyer. It’s the first book in the four-part Lunar Chronicles. Cinder somewhat mirrors the story of Cinderella (Who would’ve guessed that?), with a few twists. Cinder is a cyborg and a darn good mechanic.  Yes, she’s good with power tools instead of singing songs while sweeping a broom.  The evil stepmother is real but not as evil as the lunar Queen, and Prince Kai from New Beijing feels pressure to marry. Those are the main characters and the story begins.  Once upon a time…

It was an entertaining, quick read and I did like it. I figured out a plot twist fairly early on in the book, but that didn’t take away from the story.  I thought it was an imaginative book based on a classic fairy tale.  I would be comfortable with my fourth grader reading this book.  She’s an avid reader, too.  I wonder if Big Sis M would like it and if it would match up to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.

The second book is called Scarlet and will be released in February. The story continues with Cinder trying to ??? (I don’t want to give away the ending of book 1). (Read this next sentence with an announcer’s voice)  And now entering from stage left… Little Red Riding Hood, another classic fairy tale character.  I’ve put Scarlet on hold at the library already.  And now I’m waiting.  Waiting.  Waiting.  I’m curious to see how the second fairy tale is re-imagined.

A Discovery of Witches

I just finished A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

It’s the first book in a trilogy series about a 21st century historian of alchemy named Diana Bishop, who also happens to be a witch.  Although she has never practiced witchcraft.  While doing research at the Oxford Library, Diana calls a book Ashmole 782 from the stacks and immediately knows there is something special, something wrong, something important about this manuscript.  Frightened and not wishing to use witchcraft to learn more, she sends it back to the stacks.

In walks to the Bodleian Library Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist at Oxford who also happens to be a 1500 year old vampire.  He also wants Ashmole 782 and is intrigued by this witch, Diana Bishop.  That’s when all the fun starts, because daemons, witches, and vampires have been looking for this manuscript for centuries.  And daemons, witches and vampires don’t like each other, but Diana and Matthew become an unlikely team.  So the story begins…

I really enjoyed reading this book.  There were historical references throughout the book, which I didn’t know and liked learning about.  There is drama.  There is romance.  It’s a story of family.  There is the struggle between good and evil.  It’s over 600 pages and I couldn’t put it down.

I’ve already started the second book – Shadow of Night.  Stay tuned.

Downton Abbey – PBS

Has anyone been watching this fabulous series on PBS? It’s a Masterpiece Classic, BBC Production. Downton Abbey is in its second season. I’d been reading about the show and the reviews have been very good, so I was curious. Of course, I love period programs and all things English…the perfect formula for me.

I wanted to see Season 1 before Season 2 started on January 8th, so I zipped over to our library to check out Season 1. And to my great, huge, gigantic (sniff sniff waaahh) disappointment, a ton of other people had also heard good things about Downton Abbey. There was a long hold list for the DVD. Did I say that I was quite disappointed that I had to wait? Well, I was. Then the first week in March I finally received notice that the DVD was available. Yippee!! The next morning I did not pass go, I did not collect $200, I went straight to the library to get my copy. I’ve watched all of Season 1 and I love it. I’m hooked. You gotta watch it, too.

The tv show is set in the early 1900’s, pre World War I, at the country estate called Downton Abbey in Yorkshire, England. The story is about the Earl and Countess Grantham (wealthy American heiress), the aristocratic Crawley family and the servants who also reside at the estate.

Just some teases about the show. Dowager Countess Grantham, aka Granny for you and me, is witty and spunky. The writing for her character is great and she has the best one liners and zingers. She’s a stitch. Cousin Isobel is crafty and gives Granny a run for her money. It’s so funny to see two old ladies go at it, sort of respectfully. There are three daughters and the eldest Mary, must marry for money. Who cares about the other two? Not really, but Mary needs to marry for cash to help the family. Mary loves Matthew. Matthew will inherit a lot. Matthew may not inherit a lot. Mary does not love Matthew. Matthew loves Mary. Mary does love Matthew or does she? To be determined in Season 2, which I haven’t seen yet and I wouldn’t tell you anyway.

Then there’s the staff. Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are proper English servants, who manage the staff. Ms. O’Brien, Lady Cora’s maid, is manipulative and mean. Mr. Thomas the footman is just plain nasty and in cahoots with Ms. O’Brien. Mr. Bates, Lord Grantham’s valet is troubled and likable and I find myself rooting for him to succeed. Succeed at what? You’ll have to watch.

The story telling and characters are terrific. I love that we get to peek at what an English estate may have been like at the turn of the 20th century. The story touches on the social and economic pressures which existed for the aristocrats and also for the staff. Everyone wants a better life and it’s interesting to see how each works to get there. I love this show. And because it’s PBS, there aren’t any commercials – bonus! If you haven’t guessed, I’d recommend you grab your bowl of popcorn and tune in too. I can’t wait to watch Season 2 to see what happens.

Matched

I just finished reading Matched by Allie Condie.  It’s categorized as teen genre.  I really liked The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, which was also a young adult book series, so I thought I’d give Matched a try.

The story is set in the future with strong George Orwell 1984 “big brother is watching” overtones.  In Matched, the Society decides everything…where you live, where you work, if and who you marry, what you eat and drink, when you can socialize, everything.

Cassia has always followed the rules.  There are severe penalties if you don’t.  At 17, Cassia goes to her Match Banquet, where Society decided who is Cassia’s perfect match.  She will marry her match at 21 and she will have children before she is 30 and she will die at 80.  Society decides.  At the Match Banquet usually you don’t know your match.  The face pops onto a screen, you receive a disk of information about your match and then you have a supervised courtship.  This is what Cassia expects, except she knows the face that pops on the screen.  It’s her good friend Xander.  She is elated.  Then another face pops on the screen.  It’s also someone she knows, Ky.  She is told Ky is a mistake.  But Society never makes mistakes.  She is now faced with an impossible choice and a curiosity (which Society doesn’t approve of) to make her choice (which Society doesn’t approve of).

The story premise is interesting and I found it entertaining, but the character development and storyline was light.  It wasn’t like The Hunger Games series, where I was rooting for the characters to win and couldn’t put the books down.  Matched was a very simple read and I could take it or leave it.  Because I read The Hunger Games and the plot is similar, I’d probably leave Matched on the shelf.  Ooohh, I hate to say that about a book.  Books want to be read.  Oh well.