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A quick update from our neck of the woods:
Our final working pc is on its last legs, making very angry noises as I type. Please bear with me if posting is infrequent for the next weeks or so- we’re working on getting a new one, but it may be a couple of weeks before we’re back in business. *sob*
Some of you are amazing at posting on phones, and I wish I could count that among my skills. Know that I haaaaate being cut off from my online friends and am thinking of you constantly. Also I don’t think that I could quit Twitter and Instagram without a twelve-step program.
Cross your fingers that the Computer Fairy visits us very soon!
(The new job is going very well, btw. The timing of my departure couldn’t have been better, and I’m feeling like I’ve got my feet under me in my new role. I’m even adjusting to the earlier hours and longer commute. *gasp!*
In our time without a computer, we’re going to devote some of our time to continued nesting in the casa- the upcoming three day weekend is going to be fabulous for hopefully getting a couple of rooms painted. There’s something so refreshing about making a literal mark on your home and seeing it creep its way toward the vision you have for it.
Yeah, ask me about that again in a few days after we’re done painting and have aching arms and necks. I’m sure I’ll be all sunshine and butterflies then as well.
Also!! I am still delighting in my renewed association with the local library. We stopped on Saturday and I escaped with a treasure trove of FIVE books… I’m hoping that I’m not in need of another book-related intervention. Stay tuned for my review of “Seraphina”… [*gives computer deities the stink-eye*]Actually, don’t stay tuned. Read it NOW. You will NOT be disappointed.)
(End segue that was longer than the actual post *facepalm*.)
Plot Summary (From Amazon): Barry Laverty, M.B., can barely find the village of Ballybucklebo on a map when he first sets out to seek gainful employment there, but already he knows that there is nowhere he would rather live than in the emerald hills and dales of Northern Ireland. The proud owner of a spanking-new medical degree and little else in the way of worldly possessions, Barry jumps at the chance to secure a position as an assistant in a small rural practice.
At least until he meets Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly.
The older physician, whose motto is to never let the patients get the upper hand, has his own way of doing things. At first, Barry can’t decide if the pugnacious O’Reilly is the biggest charlatan he has ever met, or the best teacher he could ever hope for….
Soundtrack: “Learn Me Right” ~ Birdy & Mumford and Sons (from the “Brave” soundtrack)
Best Enjoyed With: A cup of tea and some soda bread (Or a dram of Jamesons!)
I have a confession to make, friends. See, I used to have a very intimate relationship with my local library. I worked there one summer in college, and I frequented its cool dim interior to keep myself supplied with escapist novels while working the production line at our local chocolate factory. Nothing made down-time go faster than the twisted tales of Stephen King or a steamy bodice ripper.
And then? Once I started working after college and had less limitations on my funds? I dropped the library. Its hours weren’t always convenient, and the instant gratification of buying what I wanted when I wanted it was too alluring.
I am so ashamed.
My point? About two weeks ago, Army Boy and I started planning for our trip to New Hampshire, and we knew we needed something for the ride. Army Boy is not a wonderful car traveler, to say the least. Plagued with car sickness if he tries to do, well, anything, he gets rather impatient during lengthy road trips. I thought that an audiobook or two just might be the solution to our problem, and we decided it was time to renew our prehistoric library cards.
I had forgotten just how amazingly fun the library is! I could walk in… and pick up a book I wanted to read, and they’d just GIVE IT TO ME. FOR FREE. This could escalate my book-hoarding tendencies to a whole new level, you realize. Amazon is probably going to come to my house wondering why I’m not buying all the things lately.
I’d been wanting to start reading this series by Patrick Taylor, and imagine my delight when they had a copy in stock. I’ve had the worst case of wanderlust lately, and thought that reading about Ireland may help to quiet the urge to obsessively plan hypothetical overseas trips. (It didn’t, much.)
From the book description, I got the idea that these books would be similar to James Herriot and I wasn’t far off. Yes, the plots are a little predictable and the characters occasionally twee, but that’s really what I was hoping for. I wanted a sweet, comfortable story that would allow me to mentally travel abroad and experience the quirks of being a country doctor in the 1960s.
Taylor has created a story populated with notable characters who linger with you after the tale is over. Dr Fingal O’Reilly is a well-meaning bear of a man who has mastered the art of treating country practice after years in a small town. Seeing Barry Laverty taken down a peg during the course of the book is entertaining, and he also learns lessons about not holding himself to impossibly high standards. Their housekeeper Mrs. Kincaid (or “Kinky” as she’s known for most of the book) is always ready with a story or a treat, and even the animal inhabitants of the house have their own personalities.
The villagers, their ailments and their sometimes unconventional treatments are just as interesting as the rural setting. It’s jarring to be taken back to a time and place where a woman had to wait a week for the results of a pregnancy test, and St John’s Wort tea was the preferred treatment for depression (or “feeling a bit off” as the patient describes it.).
This was a simple, enjoyable read and I’ll definitely continue with the next book in the series.
Four out of Five Rocking Ducks.
Plot Summary (from Amazon):
In the court of King Henry VIII, nothing is free–
and love comes at the highest price of all.
When Kitty Tylney’s best friend, Catherine Howard, worms her way into King Henry VIII’s heart and brings Kitty to court, she’s thrust into a world filled with fabulous gowns, sparkling jewels, and elegant parties. No longer stuck in Cat’s shadow, Kitty’s now caught between two men–the object of her affection and the object of her desire. But court is also full of secrets, lies, and sordid affairs, and as Kitty witnesses Cat’s meteoric rise and fall as queen, she must figure out how to keep being a good friend when the price of telling the truth could literally be her head.
Soundtrack: “Secret” by The Pierces
“Because two can keep a secret when one of them is dead…”
After finishing A Storm of Swords, reading Gilt was the literary equivalent of taking a bite of chocolate mousse- rich and light, and a wonderful treat. The story takes a closer look at the life and untimely death of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, as told through the eyes of her supposed childhood confidante Kitty Tylney.
Catherine Howard was, in essence, Henry’s midlife crisis wife. He had divorced his first wife for Anne Boleyn, only to turn around and execute her for treason. His third wife (and some argue the love of his life) Jane Seymour died shortly after giving birth to his heir, and his attempt at a fourth marriage with Anne of Cleves was a disaster. In his fifties and starting to face his own mortality, Henry sought to reclaim some of the sparkle of his youth, and how better to do so than to marry a woman less than half his age? (Uh, knock knock… I can think of a LOT of ways, bud.)
In this book, Cat is portrayed as always being the star of the show. From the “Queen of Misrule” at the Dowager Duchess’s house to the eventual Queen of England, all of Cat’s life was spent, well, thinking of Cat. She was the Blair Waldorf of Tudor England, and if she wanted to sit on the Met steps with you or bring you to court, you considered yourself lucky to escape the tedium of servitude in the country. She has never been portrayed terribly sympathetically, and Katherine Longshore does little to change that fact. She gives us a Cat who is self-obsessed, selfish, and not above trying anything to advance her own status. All of life is a game, and throughout the book we see Cat “practicing” her scenes, from the perfect curtsy to get her
boobs noticed at court, to the most effective way to place her head on the block for her execution.
(Should I have thrown a “spoiler alert” there?? It’s history… there’s not much I can do to keep that little tidbit from you.)
We are treated to a far more delicious character in Kitty Tylney, Cat’s best friend and frequent partner-in-crime. Of less prominent social status, Kitty considers herself lucky to be one of the ladies chosen to be in Cat’s inner circle. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize exactly how thorny her life is about to become once she’s entrusted with all of the Queen’s secrets. She starts the book as a bit of a wallflower, but her evolution to a woman strong enough to stand up to the Queen and some smarmy courtiers is a pleasure to observe.
In addition to our main characters, Ms Longshore populates her novel with some other great historical figures- Archbishop Cranmer, the devious Duke of Norfolk, and Thomas Culpepper are among some of the notable ones. A great scene between Kitty and Culpepper colors the tone of their relationship throughout the novel, and gives a striking example of the darker side of court life. There is a pseudo-love triangle, though it is used more to examine the difference between genuine affection and the dance of courtly “love.” The knowledge of the inevitable ending lends a bit of knife-edged tension to the whole tale- the reader is just waiting to see what will lead to the Queen’s eventual undoing.
I think that this is a well-written version of tale of the ill-fated queen, and I hope that the fact that it’s Young Adult will grab the attention and imagination of a new population who may not yet have been exposed to historical fiction.
Four out of Five Emerald Brooches.
Plot Summary (From Amazon) : Diana: Her True Story was originally published in 1992 under the guise of a quasi-authorized biography, with mostly unnamed courtiers and royalty as the accredited sources. It instantly became a sizzling, international bestseller that lanced the boil of Windsor family dysfunction, triggering a chain of events that led to Charles and Diana’s divorce. After her tragic death in 1997, Morton revealed that Diana had not only been the main source for the book, but had also edited his original drafts for accuracy. In return for this gold mine of information, Diana wanted complete anonymity for fear of retaliation from the queen–a fear that seems reasonably justified after reading the icy, inhuman portrayal of Her Majesty.
Beyond the racy and irregular royals, Diana: Her True Story gives a full account of the princess’s rocky childhood, her bouts with bulimia, the rejection she felt by Charles and the royal family, and her tenacious ability to overcome adversity.
Let’s skip the soundtrack on this one, shall we? It feels a little too light-hearted for the subject matter.
After watching the 2010 mini-series “The Queen,” I was intrigued to read the scandalous book that brought so much angst to the royal family by its very publication. At the time, this biography drew the curtain back on what Diana’s life was really like among the Windsors, and the immense sense of isolation she felt. Initially published as a collection of stories from anonymous sources, Andrew Morton later revealed that a great deal of the text came directly from the Princess herself.
I can see how the book would have been a total scandal at the time, from shattering the image of the “People’s Princess” by revealing a woman at war with her own demons, to portraying the monarchy as cold and out of touch. It’s particularly poignant now, from what we are shown of the relationship that Prince William and Kate cultivated over a number of years, to view the seeming contrast between William’s marriage and his mother’s.
The book portrays Prince Charles horribly, as an emotionally stunted creature who missed his chance with his true love Camilla Parker-Bowles, and settled for Diana to quiet the demands for an heir. He even informs Diana that should “this marriage business” not work out, he would return to his bachelor ways. He made no secret throughout their marriage of his continued closeness to Camilla, even wearing cufflinks from her on his honeymoon with Diana. His disappointment upon the birth of Prince Harry (instead of his wished-for daughter) was the emotional nail in the coffin of his marriage to Diana, and their relationship never recovered.
Diana is depicted as unspeakably lonely and trapped within the royal system, feeling that she could trust very few and that every aspect of her life was on display. She battled depression and bulimia (which was emphasized far too many times throughout the book), while struggling to find her own sense of purpose. She received very little positive reinforcement from the royal family on her own successful public image, and frequently had to deal with Charles’ jealousy about her popularity. (PS- Did I mention the bulimia?)
All in all, this was a very somber read, but it was clear how much joy William and Harry brought their mother. She in turn exposed them to experiences not typically given to the royal family, including bringing them on her many charity visits. Her influence is visible in the open way they interact with the public today.
Although I enjoyed the subject matter, I wasn’t overly fond of Morton’s writing style, which tended to lean a little too much toward name-dropping and was extremely dry. I’m currently reading “Elizabeth The Queen,” and the difference between the authors’ styles is extremely evident. I can’t seem to get enough of Sally Bedell Smith’s charming anecdotes about HRH.
Three out of Five Scandalous Phone Calls.
Of course, that wasn’t the original purpose of our vacation, but it proved to be an interesting bonus.
Army Boy and I travelled to Long Island over Easter weekend to “celebrate” our six-month anniversary as a married couple. I know, it seems a little excessive, but I felt the need to make up to him a bit that he was hampered by my hobbling during our visit to Ireland. When a Groupon for Oheka Castle came up before Christmas, I quickly jumped on it.
Side note: Yes, I’d recommend using Groupon Getaways if you can travel within the time window assigned to each deal. Oheka was wonderful to work with, and it was a great opportunity we might not have a: been aware of, or b: been able to afford otherwise.
I know, it seems like we have a bit of a fascination with castles. Honestly, can you blame us?
As we did in Ireland, I picked out a few potential activities within a short driving distance of the hotel, and figured that we’d play it by ear when we arrived. This seems to work really well for us. Rather than committing to a full “day trip,” we can take in the sights and still be back and ready to relax without too much additional travel. It allowed us to keep things really low-key, which made the weekend seem more indulgent.
With a bathroom like this, how can it be anything but?
We took a tour of the castle and its grounds on Easter Sunday, which was a gloriously gorgeous day. It was intriguing to learn more about the original owner of the castle, Otto Kahn (ie the inspiration for “Mr Moneybags” from Monopoly). The gardens were perfectly landscaped, and Huntington harbor was just visible from our vantage point. I HAD to ask our tour-guide about the castle’s claims of being haunted, and she verified that they’d had a paranormal research team come in and do an investigation. Considering my recent preoccupation with “Ghost Hunters: International” on Netflix, it was a fun coincidence.
The rest of the day was spent walking through Huntington, which was a charming little town close by. There weren’t too many shops open due to the holiday, but we hit the highlights- an amazing indie bookstore and CRUMBS cupcakes. Because DUH. We then proceeded to enjoy an Easter meal of the best sushi we’d ever had. I have to give Huntington props for food- there were TONS of restaurants, with three choices for sushi alone.
We arrived home after a drive that was somehow TWO HOURS longer than the trip up, to some exciting packages in the mail. First was my copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, which I oh-so-generously agreed to review for
my own smutty curiosity The Readers Café.
Secondly was CJHannas’s recently finished manuscript. I volunteered to read it, and was completely flattered when he offered me a copy. I admit, I was a bit intimidated (what if his writing was faaaaaarrrrr too smart for me?!), but quickly got into his writing style and have been tearing through it over the past few days. It’s been a blast to be part of the writing process in this way.
Finally, I’m appealing to any of the other book lovers who may visit this blog: Do YOU want to join a book review site with some fun, smart, and snarky people that love books as much as you do? The Readers Café is looking for some more reviewers, and we’d love for you to join us! You read what you can, at your pace, and post a review when you’re done. It’s an absolute breeze, and we’re having a blast so far. We all have different tastes, so no genre will go unnoticed! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know you’re interested!
Last night, we couldn’t watch the first episode of Game of Thrones, season two. Typically, that would have me in a Cersei-level bitchfunk*, but I happened to stumble across a Twitter chat with Deborah Harkness, the author of “A Discovery of Witches.”
So then this happened:
She was extremely gracious, witty, and incredibly smart. I think it’s only a matter of time until we’re getting together for tea and to gossip about that crazy Henry VIII.
THIS is why I *heart* the internet. What a fun time to be a reader.
*For the uninitiated, that’s a little above poisoning someone, but below having sex with your brother.
Plot Summary (From Amazon): Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Soundtrack: “Keep Breathing”- Ingrid Michaelson
Some of the very best books that I’ve ever read are the ones which have moved me to tears. I count them among my favorites, and take them out ever so often to lovingly revisit the characters that have become like dear friends. With a subject matter like this, there was no question that “The Fault in Our Stars” was going to be moving story. Even as I saw the positive reviews pouring out across the web, I had very little concept of just how moving.
Last night, as I was reading, the tears started approximately halfway through the book. And they just. didn’t. stop.
I finished this novel with a lump in my throat, and ache in my heart and a smile on my face. Really, what else can you ask of a great story? Even today, attempting to write a review, I feel internally scraped raw somehow. As if, after bearing witness to the lives of these fictional young people, I grieve with and for them.
I was initially tentative as I started to read, this being my first book by John Green, and was worried by the fact that Hazel and Augustus are dry, witty, and oh-so-adult. “I don’t know if this is for me,” the little voice in the back of my head. “I was hoping for so much more from this story than ‘Juno’ + cancer.” Then suddenly? It didn’t bother me. Of course these young people had a wisdom beyond their years. How else could they possibly be? They were grappling with the thought of immortality while other teenagers were concerned with sports, shopping, and dating.
John Green looks unflinchingly at Cancer with a capital C- from the physical pain and mental state of an ill person to the impact that it has on those who know and love them. Hazel compares herself at one point to a grenade- everyone is just waiting for her to explode, leaving shards of herself behind imbedded in the hearts of those who knew her. She wants to be known as MORE than “that girl with cancer,” or “a fighter,” but someone who had a real impact. It is in this aspect that she and Augustus find common ground, and begin a tentative relationship. Tentative, that is, on Hazel’s part, because she doesn’t want him to be another of the people affected when she passes.
It seems fitting to me somehow that I should have finished this book right after Joel Stein’s New York Times piece “Adults Should Read Adult Books”. While I understand the point that he’s trying to make (As adults, we have few opportunities to continue enriching ourselves and books are one of our few chances to do so…which now that I think about it, I don’t entirely agree with either. I’m constantly trying new things, whether it’s a new hobby, a new recipe, pushing myself to learn a particularly tricky rhythm in a choral piece- all of those things offer growth opportunities as well.), I feel that there are certain pieces of literature that transcend age barriers. THIS is one of those books. It’s by no means a dumbed-down book- from the author’s language to the characters’ understanding of literary concepts, to the inevitable reaction that it evokes in the reader.
It takes a great deal for me to add a book to my “treasured” shelf, and “The Fault in our Stars” now occupies a place there. If you read nothing else this spring, make sure that you pick up this gorgeous novel.