quizPicture round: movies by Richard Attenborough

… the worst ever. I only got 2 right (TWO!). And I call myself a booklover…

  1. Who was the feminist author of “The Women’s Room”, “The War Against Women”, “Women’s History of the World” and “From Eve to Dawn”? [Answer: Marilyn French]
  2. How many days did it take Phileas Fogg to get around the world? [79]
  3. What was the title of A. A. Milne’s second collection of stories about Winnie The Pooh? [The House at Pooh’s Corner]
  4. In which novel by Tolstoy does Konstantine Levin appear? [Anna Karenina]
  5. What is the name of the omniponent head of state in 1984 by George Orwell? [Big Brother]
  6. In which Charles Dickens novel does the character Alfred Jingle appear? [The Pickwick Papers]
  7. What did George Eliot described as “Snowy, Flowy, Blowy, Showery, Flowery, Bowery, Hoppy, Croppy, Droppy, Breezy, Sneezy, Freezy? [The months]
  8. To which literary figure was Anne Hathaway married to? [William Shakespeare]
  9. From which former province of Spain did Cervantes’ Dom Quixote come from? [La Mancha]
  10. Which well-known children’s story was written by Swiss author Johann Weiss? [Swiss Family Robinson]

How many would you’ve gotten right?

brontessmCredit: Hark! A Vagrant

I have a dysfunctional relationship with the Brontës. I often find myself rolling my eyes at all the DRAMA! in their stories, which I usually go out of my way to avoid in other books. I rebel against Charlotte’s negative portrayal of my beloved Brussels and her snide remarks about Jane Austen. I cringe at Emily’s glorification of an abusive hero. I go a bit easier on Anne because I have a soft spot for her – she has her sanctimonious moments, but I’m anxiously waiting for the day when the world realizes she’s the true ground-breaking feminist in the family.

The truth is: I can’t get enough of them and can’t think of a more interesting family (maybe the Mitfords come close?). It’s almost like I’m also a Brontë sister, always bickering but loving them all the same, vigorously defending them from outside attacks.

I’m also a proud member of the Brontë Society, and its Brussels Bronte Group  branch (post about our weekend in London). I’ve read many books about the family and since Charlotte’s birthday is coming up, I’ve decided to start celebrating earlier with a list of my favorites. Have you read any of them?

51Hre4BoOvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Brontës by Juliet Barker
(Previous reviews: Part I; Part II)

This is on my top-3 favorite biographies of all time. It’s huge, but it reads like a 300-page Sarah Addison Allen novel. It starts with Patrick Brontë’s youth and arrival in England and goes right through to the family’s growing popularity after everyone’s been long dead.

Juliet Barker’s approach is that a reliable biography of each Brontë cannot be done in isolation, since their lives were too connected and they constantly inspired each other’s work. She’s also in the business of myth-busting.

x

41QR7VCP9HL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Brontë Myth by Lucasta Miller

Like Start Trek, each new generation creates a new zeitgeist version of the Brontës. Miller examines the way these perceptions change over time by taking a comprehensive a look at all body of work produced about the family.

The impact of Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë was especially interesting to read, as well as the ripple effect of the cinema adaptations of their works and lives.

x

x

414kKQAFasL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell

This was the book that started the Brontë myth and crystallized it for many years. Gaskell was a friend of Charlotte Brontë and, for better or worst, it shows. Even if you know little about Charlotte, it’s obvious this is a very romanticized and sanitized version of her life. Gaskell was very keen to keep up Charlotte’s domestic-goddess image – fascinating stuff to read from a 21st century perspective.

I’ve had really geeky conversations with other Brontë aficionados on the best order to read the first three books on this list. The Brontës was the last to be written and it’s a great intro to the family. It talks about how both The Myth and The Life fit the narrative. The Myth describes in detail how The Life impacts how we perceive the Brontës even today. It’s really interesting to read The Life after The Brontës and The Myth, but it would probably be a very different experience if read first.

107973The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier

Oh Branwell, golden child, the unfulfilled promise, the most tragic element of a tragic family. This is Branwell’s biography and a great example of du Maurier’s non-fiction skills. From what I’ve gathered, she saw this book as an opportunity to prove herself beyond her “popular literature”.

Confession: I didn’t know this book even existed until I won it in a raffle at the last Brussels Brontë Society Xmas Lunch.

x

x

51RudzNVRzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

The Brontës Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson

A novel for a bit of change. The Brontës Went to Woolworths is about three sisters that share an imaginary world that threatens to become more real than reality. And it actually does, because after a table-turning session, the Brontë sisters come knocking on their door.

It’s such a witty and fun book and unlike The Eyre Affair (don’t get me started on that one, a pet hate of mine), the Brontës act as I’d expect them to. It’s one of those forgotten diamonds that deserve more limelight. How come it’s not a Persephone?

Any other recommendations?

20604350I was a fan of Alan Cumming even before he become a household name with The Good Wife, but this memoir make me respect him even more a person and an artist.

If it was a physical book, it’d be a page turner, but I’m almost sure it’s even better in audio. He narrates this himself and just how good he was didn’t surprise me – I’d already listed him as a favorite narrator after listening to the Leviathan series.

Don’t expect Not My Father’s Son to be lighthearted. It does have its hilarious moments (his ode to Eurovision was perfection), but mostly it’s about growing up with a physically and emotionally abusive father. Half of the book is about his childhood and the other half about him dealing with his past as an adult. This last part of the story is divided between an episode portraying his father’s ability to still disrupt his family and the other follows Cumming’s cathartic participation in the Who Do You Think You Are show. I don’t usually watching it, but by chance caught his episode when it first aired on the BBC and clearly remember how emotional it was (see it here, have the Kleenexes handy).

Some scenes were really hard to hear and made me hug my son extra hard. They weren’t overly dramatized, but the child’s voice was clearly there, all frightened and confused. Not My Father’s Son was really a roller-coaster ride of emotions we take along with Cumming. It’s impossible not to share his joy, amazement, pain, hope. This not only testifies to his writing and narration skills, but also his willingness to be open and genuine.

If Not My Father’s Son was a piece of fiction it would probably end with redemption or vindication. But it’s real life and I must be satisfied with admiration for human courage and our capacity to overcome adversity and make it a strength.

***

Other thoughts: Books in the City, That’s What She Read, Boston Bibliophile, A Musing Reviews, Bookfolery, bookchickdiScuffed Slippers and wormy books (yours?)

Anything I should pay special attention to? Anything I should put on the back-burner?

(1/102/10, 3/10, 4/10)

IMG_5942

La fièvre d’Urbicande (Les Cités obscures, 2) by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters

Les Cités obscures or Cities of the Fantastic is one of my favorite comics series. I’ve spoken about them before and I’m looking forward to the day they’ll finally explode in the Anglo-Saxon literary world.

Each City in this universe has a distinct architectural style that influences and is influenced by its political structure, life-style and even in the way people dress. Urbicand is a city of massive structures that evokes the Futurist architects popular in the early 20th century. Buildings are huge and the few inhabitants seem insignificant is comparison.

urbicande 2

We follow Eugen Robick, a urbatect (architect who designs entire cities) who is obsessively pursuing permission from Urbicande’s austere government to build a bridge. Without it, there’s an unbalance in the symmetry of his ambitious plans for the city.

Off-scene, some friends sent Robick a small, mysterious black cube built from an unknown material. Shortly after, he notices the cube is slowing multiplying and expanding. It continues to do so over the next months, passing through everything without damaging it and expanding to a point where it becomes a network that facilitates communication between different areas of Urbincande, areas that until that point had been mostly isolated.

Picture1

In the style of many Franco-Belgian comics, La fièvre d’Urbicande is a surrealist story with lots of food for thought. I especially appreciated the way architecture/aesthetics and politics mix and reflect each other. There is something inhuman about Urbicand, a city seemingly not designed with the human scale in mind. It reminded me of the plans by Nazi architect Albert Speer.

It’s a complex book, unapologetically intellectual, and really rewarding to read.

L’archiviste (Cities of the Fantastic spin-off) by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters

The Archivist is almost like a coffee-table book. There’s a story, but it’s clearly meant to be eye candy.

Isidore Louis is an archivist that is given the task of debunking the myth of the Cités obscures. Each page includes one of the visual materials he’s unearthed and with each page we also see him slowly becoming convinced of the Cities’ existence.

There are also a wonderful connections with Jorge Luis Borges. Because of spoilers I can’t say much about the main one, but the story is very similar to Borges’ Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

I want to cover a wall just with posters from L’archiviste.

archiviste2

archivist

Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery by Wiebe & Upchurch

Even if I’d been immune to all the rave, Rat Queens would still have had me at this synopsis: “Who are the Rat Queens? A pack of booze-guzzling, death-dealing battle maidens-for-hire, and they’re in the business of killing all gods’ creatures for profit.

The plot is not ground-breaking and doesn’t deviate from the typical story about a group of coarse, bad-ass, bad-mouth, swashbuckling, bordering-on-mad mercenaries. Actually, I suspect the whole thing is a spoof of role-playing games that’s not taking itself too seriously.

Unlike unlike plot, character development is taken seriously and in this volume we’re already presented with interesting backstories that made me want to know more. Just the fact the mercenaries are all women (and such a diverse group is so many aspects!) gives Rat Queens extraordinary freshness. It’s impossible not to have a favourite but right I’m still divided between Dee and Violet.

rat queens

Chew, Vol. 2: International Flavor by John Layman, Rob Guillory

Another outrageous plot and I loved every minute of it. Not much more to say.

FEB100354_3

21853633The most amazing thing about SAA is she has a formula, but I cannot get enough of it. What dark magic is this?! They’re the closer thing I have to a guilty reading pleasure.

First Frost is a return to the Waverly family we first meet in Allen’s most popular book, Garden Spells. All the women in the family have a gift and their house and garden literally have a life of their own. This subtle use of magical realism is a trade mark of Allen’s wonderful books, as well as an irresistible Southern charm.

First Frost starts about 10 years after Garden Spells and we find Claire has put aside her catering business and is now a full-time producer of hard-candy. Sydney’s magical hair salon is thriving, and Evanelle is still giving people just what they’ll eventually need. The main character thought, is Sydney’s daughter Bay, who has the gift of knowing where things belong (which we learn can also be a curse!). There’s also a side-story about a stranger that walks into town without the best of intentions.

Reasons why it’s a solid 4-star: Bay is great. She’s a misfit, but a confident one, proud of her heritage. I also really liked the theme of “what makes a family” that pops up at different moments (Sydney and Violet’s baby, Evanelle and Fred, the Waverleys and their husbands, the question of wether you’re a true Waverley if you’re not gifted).

Reasons why it’s not a 5-star: I could have done with more Bay and less mysterious stranger and the book should be longer!

Comment about a spoiler [so far the Waverley had relatively domestic gifts. But now Claire’s daughter can see and communicate with dead people? That feels a bit beyond the cozy feeling of Allen’s stories.]

Are you a fan of Saran Addison Allen? What’s your favorite? I’m split between Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen.

***

Other thoughts: Lessa’s Book Critiques, The Bluestocking Society, Annette’s Book Spot, Stacy’s Books, Capricious Reader, Booke’d Out, Workaday Reads, The Eclectic Reader, Always With a Book, Ex Libris (yours?)

BRRead for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge:
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure.

Atticus force

Read for nomadreader’s Read-along. Didn’t do much “along”, but at least managed the reading part!

I first read To Kill a Mockingbird almost 10 years ago, on pre-blogging times. I remember turning to my then boyfriend and say “This is a perfect book.” I was completely awed by it.

I know there’s not a lot I can say that hasn’t been said a thousand times before, so just some quick thoughts for posterity:

This time around it didn’t feel as flawless, but I found new depths. It especially struck me how the idea of empathy (or perhaps of empathy as a way to critical thinking?) is so omnipresent.

The book starts with Atticus telling Scout “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view (…) until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” and ends with Scout really internalizing this idea, as she looks out on Maycomb from Boo Radley’s house:

“Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”

And in between those two moments hard lessons need to be learned (so hard that many adults in Scout’s life never get there) and beliefs challenged. Atticus demands this empathy from his kids and Lee demands it from us for every single character, from Dill and his mysterious life in Mobile to Mayella’s pretty flowers, from Dolphus Raymond’s Coca-Cola to Maycomb in general, that apparently throws Atticus under the bus. It’s brilliant how we’re brought along Scout’s journey and at the same time are challenged ourselves. For instance, I was ready to completely dislike Miss Caroline and nasty Mrs. Dubose, no clemency.

Growing up is hard, and race and class are some of the hardest things to deal with. I continue to be awed by the way Lee shows us Scout’s mind opening up and struggle against both the status quo and any challenges to it. Reminds me of the time when I began to travel and read more widely and started questioning the glorious Portuguese history I’d learned since early childhood.

Favorite characters the first time around: Atticus and Calpurnia. Favorite characters now: Calpurnia and Miss Maudie. Miss Maudie is amazing and I hope to see a lot more of her on the upcoming Go Set a Watchman.

The first two of the six books I’m reviewing for Armchair Audies’ Mystery category.

20613611Malice (Kyoichiro Kaga #4) by Keigo Higashino, narrated by Jeff Woodman 

The best thing about Malice is the way it moves away from the classic mystery novel timeline. The audiobook is about 7 hours-long and the mystery was solve less than 2 hours in. The rest of the story is all about the motive and peeling layers of backstories until the whole truth is uncovered. Malice is not about whodummit, but why. The pace is gentle, with no major action, but there were a couple of creepy scenes, made creepier by the narrator (good thing!).

It’s the fourth in the Keigo Higashino series, but the first to be published in English, so I suspect that’s why Detective Kaga does’t get as much character development as I’d like. A shame. I got really curious about him.

About the narration, I felt Jeff Woodman’s strength (sample) is to be able to make each character unique. I’ve still to decide if this always is a good thing, because it can work like book covers with faces: it plants images in your mind instead of letting you create them. For instance, Detective Kaga sounded meticulous, rational, introverted and Nonoguchi sounded old and frail. These were things I got more from their voices than what they were saying. Woodman also faltered a bit on the Japanese names, especially at the beginning.

I’m sorry to report that Malice still wasn’t the first Japanese book I’ve read with an interesting female character. I don’t want to generalize because I haven’t read Japanese literature that much, but this is starting to bug me: I need RECOMMENDATIONS! Help me break the spell!

51SYGEOC6xL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Hounded (Andy Carpenter #12) by David Rosenfelt, narrated by Grover Gardner

Hounded’s is about policeman Pete Stanton being accused of murder and asking lawyer Andy Carpenter to defend him – clearly I should be more impressed by this, because these two have History, but I’m starting at the series’ 12th book…

But to be honest, I don’t think this was the reason why I didn’t enjoy Hounded. The plot was completely over the top: Mafia, FBI, a contracted assassin, euthanasia pills for dogs gone missing, a new dead person in every chapter (or so it felt), a tech wiz that can find out anything (such a plot cop-out), a lovable orphan boy happily going to sport events a few days after his father is murdered in their home, a lawyer that conducts the worst witness interviews I’ve ever read about,…

BUT! I really liked the narration :) For some reason, Grover Gardner’s voice reminded me of Sheriff Amos in Murder, She Wrote. Haven’t seen an episode in ages, but Gardner immediately brought Cabot Cove to mind, in a sort of genial, look-at-us-happily-solving-murders-among-friends kind of way. Listen to the sample to see what I mean. He brought to life a book I’d have dropped after a couple of chapters. My only tiny quibble was his struggle with Latino accents.

It was a hit & miss month:

Picture1

Preacher, Volume 1: Gone to Texas by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon

Still not exactly sure how I feel about Preacher. I’ve the notion it’s very clever and deep, but ended up feeling I didn’t quite get it. Maybe because I’m not religious and the point is to ruffle believers’ feathers? Maybe because, in a story so full of layers and questions about Good and Evil, the villains are 100% bad, no grey areas?

Glad I’ve read it, but will file it under “Good, but not for me”.

Ms. Marvel, #1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona 

Hurrah for books that live up to the hype! Both the story and art felt so refreshing, and unlike Preacher, it was written just for me. Most reviews focus on the fact that Kamala is the first Muslim super hero, but for me the innovation is that’s not the most important thing. Ms. Marvel is still a classic story of a superhero’s origins, where the superhero just happens to be a girl, and a person of colour and a Muslim. Like Peter Parker before her, Kamala also struggles with her costume and the “with great power…” thing, she’s still trying to figure out who she is. The book is good because it has characters that are genuinely interesting, writing that’s full of smart humor, a gripping plot gripping and attractive artwork.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore

Oh Alan Moore, you’re losing me. With every new League book I’m trying to regain the magic of the first two, without success. Were they also this trippy, full of naked women for no apparent reason, and I just didn’t notice?!

Saga Vol. 2 and Vol.3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The series just keeps getting better and better. I’m loving every new character, from Gwendolyn to Upsher and Doff, as well as all the backstories (Alana’s love for that book!). I could have done without the implausible black-whole baby in Vol. 2, the “He’s the man I love!” line in Vol. 3, and still not convinced about the opposite of war thing, but hey, who’s counting?

Picture2

longbourn-cover-1Longbourn is a behind-the-scenes look at Pride and Prejudice. As Baker explains, “when a meal is served in P&P, it has been prepared in Longbourn.

I’ve read a lot of Austen spins-offs and vowed never again many times, but I’m glad I kept at it, because this was probably the most rewarding of them, with maybe the exception of Bridget Jones.

Who knew that after all the hidden diaries, explicit retellings, male points of view and modern adaptations, it would be the story of Longbourn’s servants that would push all the right buttons?

Several readers compared it to Downton Abbey and Upstairs/Downstairs, but I don’t think they compare in realism. In Longbourn, it’s almost as if Baker was responding to all those criticisms about how Austen is only concern with the superficial and the lighthearted, what Charlotte Brontë described as “a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flower”. No poverty, no war, no messiness.

Austen avoided the less than pleasant side of day-to-day life? Baker gives us a hyper-realistic description of what the weekly washing day would look like for Longbourn’s maids. The cold sores, menstrual napkins and sweat stains. There’s also childbirth, dirty diapers and a Mrs Bennet just a little too dependent on laudanum.

Baker also imagines Bingley’s fortune comes from the sugar trade and there are vivid descriptions of the slavery and human traffic associated with it.

Austen never tackles the darker side of war? Baker follows the Bennett’s footman through the Napoleonic War in Portugal and Spain. There’s starvation, mutilation, lashings and desertion.

We even get a glimpse at Elizabeth’s life at Pemberley after her happy-ending, where she’s “being what she was required to be.”

Described like this it sounds like it’s a dark and heavy book, but it really isn’t. It’s definitely a candid look at life in the Regency Era, but it’s also a love story and about female friendship, dreams, ambitions and making your own way.

Highly recommended to all Austen fans.

***

Other thoughts: Eve’s Alexandria, That’s What She Reads, bookshelves of doom, Vulpes Libris, a book a week, Literate Housewife, Leeswammes’s Blog, Beth Fish Reads, Quirky Bookworm, an adventure in reading, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castle, RA for All, Lizzy’s Literary Life, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Dear Author (yours?)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 271 other followers