Thursday, April 28, 2011

20 Master Plots

20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them) by Ronald B. Tobias

This was an informative book on general plots.  The author listed 20 themes that have been used in literature.  What I liked about this book is that the author gave an overview of basic plot structure, as well as examples from past literature to illustrate his points.  At the end of each Plot chapter, he listed several questions to help the writer make sure they are hitting the main points of that particular type of plot.

While this book is general, it does help someone new to writing get an idea of what to include in their particular type of book.  The author also pointed out that most books have three dramatic phases and what should occur by each phase for the various types of plots.  The author also states that not all books follow these basic plots.  It is a generalization, and he states that from time to time.

I could easily see this as a quick general reference if one wants to try a different plot structure.  Each chapter on a different plot runs about 4 to 7 pages, depending on how detailed he gets and how many referenced novels he uses.

I have to admit that I look at books a little differently now that I have read this.  I would recommend it only to those who have no idea where to start.  This book will not give you complete structure, but it will give you a framework on which to build your story.  It will give you guided questions to help you start on your way, and hopefully get the creative juices flowing!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

All the Queen's Players

All The Queen’s Players by Jane Feather

It was nice returning to the court of Queen Elizabeth, as I had not visited in some time.  Ms. Feather did a wonderful job keeping tone and language as well as did a fabulous job with description of scenes and characters.  This story was very well-written.

I quite enjoyed All the Queen’s Players, a story about Rosamund Walsingham, cousin to Queen Elizabeth’s spy master.  Rosamund is a young girl who is sent to Queen Elizabeth’s court to spy on the courtiers and the Queen’s ladies, and later sent into exile with Mary, Queen of Scots, months before her execution.  Being in the court of Queen Elizabeth, there are plenty of plots and intrigues, mostly focused in this book on the discovery of those who would support ‘Scots Mary’ taking the English throne.

Kit Marlowe focuses largely in this book, and our young heroine has somehow finagled her way into several different play houses, and falls in love with the scene, the actors and how plays are presented.  The only objectionable content was the love affair between Rosamund’s brother, Thomas, and Kit Marlowe.  However, Ms Feather doesn’t dwell too much on this aspect, so it was not a ‘show stopper’ for this reader.

Rosamund has the unique ability to draw from memory and to render people quite well.  Her skills are put to use for Sir Francis Walsingham, in hopes of discovering plots and intrigues of the court.  Rosamund is told not to carry on any liaisons, as Queen Elizabeth liked to direct her ladies-in-waiting.  However, young Rosamund does not heed this advice and falls for young and poor courtier Will Creighton.  Knowledge of a liaison leads to her banishment from Queen Elizabeth’s court and Sir Francis sends her directly to the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, where she is to play her greatest role of entrapping the Scottish queen in authorizing the rebellion against Queen Elizabeth.

The pace of the story was very good.  I found myself stealing away whenever possible to read more...until the story was finished.  One almost felt like she was walking around the gardens or through the crowded hallways or down a London street with the smells and sights of Elizabethan England.  I was quite taken with the main character and enjoyed watching her grow.  The later part of the book did seem a bit rushed, but not so much as to feel cheated when the story ended.  I had wondered how Ms. Feather would end the story; it wasn’t the fairy-tale ending I had hoped for, but it was a good ending.

4 Stars

Friday, April 22, 2011

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine.”  Catherine Morland was a young lady who was influenced by the novels that she had read, particularly The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe.  Where there ghosts in that tower, did the General kill his wife or is she simply locked up in the tower?  Henry Tilney did not discourage these flights of fancy; he actually stoked the fires while approaching his family home.

Having read several other books by Jane Austen, this reader could tell that this was one of the first written by Jane Austen.  She was greatly influenced and ridiculed Anne Radcliffe by poking fun of Gothic romances, as evidenced by her writing style of Northanger Abbey.  It was also apparent that this was one of her first novels as the romance and courtship in this story were not as well drawn as it was in her later novels.  I was left wanting to see more of the feelings from her gentleman.  There was a lot of mockery and harsh words from many of the men in this novel.  John Thorpe with his forceful ways of guilting Catherine in to doing things she did not want to do, or simply by telling others what to do, in spite of the desires of the person.  Henry Tilney with his fidelity in a simple country dance, and how one dances is a sign of how one lives.  General Tilney seemed at one moment all politeness then turned scornful upon hearing half-truths.

There was quite a bit of humour in this story, namely the imaginings of Catherine and how she let them take over her.  This short novel could have been better drawn out to show more of the feelings of Henry Tilney.  Throughout the book, I didn’t think that he cared for Catherine; I actually thought that the General was courting Catherine more than Henry was.  I did enjoy how Jane Austen captured Catherine’s spirit, she acted as any seventeen year old girl would, who had read too many novels.  It was also nice to see how much Jane Austen’s writing improved over the years by having this initial baseline set.  I would highly recommend that this be a first to read to any young lady who wants to start with Jane Austen, as it not only is the first that should be read, but I think that it will speak to younger girls in the character of Catherine, as she is truly captured in her youthful fancies. 

4 Stars

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Camper Van Cookbook

The Camper Van Cookbook by Martin Dorey

I have to admit that I picked this book up for its cover.  Long ago, we owned and repaired a VW camper van, but sold it because we were pregnant with TWINS and there were no safety belts in the vehicle... sometimes we kick ourselves for that move, but it was the right thing to do.  Now, with those same twins going off to college soon, maybe it's time to find another one.

This book is more about the lifestyle than cooking.  With 280 pages, there are only 80 recipes, and most of those fairly simple.  However, this is more than a cookbook, it's about living "Life on 4 Wheels."  It's about getting OUT there and enjoying your weekends in your VW camper van... or just GETTING OUT THERE!  This book is geared a bit towards the UK in that all of the spots and festivals mentioned in the book are found in the UK.  I would love to see one for the West Coast, as the sentiment in this book would be perfect for the Coasts found along California, Oregon and Washington.

The pictures are great and there are numerous tips on how to enjoy life on the weekends.  Making sure that your camper van is always stocked and ready to go, having a 'Go' bag so that when you get off of work, you just have to grab your family and your clothes and GO!  How to forage, what songs to sing around the camp fire, how to be environmentally friendly are just a few of the many items discussed in this book.  As I mentioned earlier, this book makes me want to get a Camper Van and enjoy the weekends!

As mentioned, there are fewer recipes and more tips.  The recipes, for the most part, are fairly simple, but some create luxurious dishes on "2 rings" or a campfire.  The photos for both the recipes and the general photos are very well done.  Though many recipes are not to my tastes (not a big seafood fan), they look well-planned and give this cook some good ideas to try, either in a camper van or at home.

If you are looking for a book to make you wistful for communing with Nature, than this is the one for you.  It's fun, light-hearted, and helps you get out there.  There are even tips of learning how to surf and what to do if you step on a venomous fish barefoot!

4 Stars

Inner French Girl

Entre Nous: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl by Debra Ollivier

3 Stars

This little book that is supposed to help you find your Inner French Girl is more of a very quick recount of what makes the French Girl who she is...the way she takes care of her skin, her innate sensuality, her passion for rich foods while maintaining a perfect figure, being secure with whatever her figure is, and how her house has that certain je ne sais quoi, while never letting her secrets out.  I was left wanting... wanting to be able to incorporate some aspects of a French Girl’s world, and wanting to know MORE on HOW to achieve the various things that French women do.

While it was enlightening to learn what makes up a French woman’s attitude and defined how she lives, the book did little to help me find my inner French Girl.  I was pleased to discover that I do some things as a French woman does (takes time with experiences), and also know that I cannot, nor want to, achieve a different level with l’amour (i.e. being accepting if my husband decided to take a mistress!).
Most of what makes a French woman who she is comes mostly from the culture that has been steeped in hedonism (my word, not the author’s) for centuries.  Mothers teach their daughters about beauty and skin care from infancy, as well as having skin care such a deep engrained part of the society, as so many things that make up the core of a French woman.

The book is broken down into different chapters in which the author describes what she has seen from her French friends, and gives examples of different people she met while living in France for several years with her French husband.  Clothing, Dining, Celebrating are talked about along side of Love, the Heart and the Body.  The current government in France also helps promote the way French women live as they do... long breaks for languorous lunches and being able to have four to five weeks of vacation a year.

A French girl never eats standing up, has a huge meal at the very end of the day, has eaten four course meals since she was four, and always has a few perfect wardrobe pieces that will go with anything else her bureau, as most do not have walk-in closets.  Because of the economy of space in France, Quality is always stressed over Quantity, in clothing as well as food.  Fresh is the key for food, and taking one’s time is always key in everything thing she does. 

“There is clearly something to say about coming from a mythic country, whose major city is a mecca of good taste, high culture, and haute couture.  Like her country the French girl is not striving to become; she just is.  We, on the other hand, like our own country, are still in the process of becoming.  Where French girl seeks culture or knowledge, we seek self-improvement, self-help.  This is our burden and our blessing.  It makes us open to novelty and the unknown, but also unsure of who we are.
“In many ways, the archetypal French girl is a counterpoint to our world.  She’s a sensualist and a libertarian.  She’s a giver, but she doesn’t give herself away.  She’s not a worrier.  Her consciousness is very likely rooted in the historical underpinnings of the world around her, even as she embraces the future, thoroughly modern. (pg 236)

One interesting part of the book is that there are several little boxes with notes on books, people or movies that drive home the point of the various aspects of the French Girl.  Quotes are also found quite frequently sprinkled throughout the book, and sometimes these little tidbits make the point clearer.

I would have liked to have more tips on how to truly find my French Girl, but the book gives examples, and we are supposed to be savvy enough in order to figure out HOW to incorporate these tips into our lives to make us more French.  It was a quick interesting read that pointed out the differences between our two cultures, and that is more what this book seemed to do, point out our differences and leave the reader wanting more.

Borrow a Page from the French Girl’s Book: Leisure.  Take off your watch.  Turn off the computer.  Ditch the cell phone.  Read, ride your bike, stroll, paint, bake bread, be with your kids, grow your garden, luxuriate in the art of doing absolutely nothing.  Observe your own day of rest with religious conviction.  Lounge, loll, unbuckle your belt, go on furlough.” (pg 231)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Journal of Life

How to Make a Journal of Your Life by D. Price

What a neat, little book on journaling.  And not just journaling...but documenting life around you.  First, write about whatever, but more importantly, ADD to the journal, with drawing, photos, snippets and pieces found around you.  There is a small portion on taking good photos, how to sketch with the right side of your brain, and saving those little mementos from life and add them to your journal with a note.  There is even a small piece on making your own journal to fill and how rewarding it is to go through them later to see and read about where you've been and what you've seen and experienced.

Monday, April 4, 2011

By Fire, By Water

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
“Who by Fire and Who By Water” a refrain from the Jewish High Holy Day liturgy; referring to the fate of people in the coming year, as it is written in the Book of Life. A novel that focuses on Luis de Santangel of Spain, who was a financier to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel during the time of the New Inquisition in Spain, Christopher Columbus, the conquering of Granada and the exodus of Jews from Spain. The author points out in his afterward that all of these events happened almost simultaneously in history; thus his desire to write about them, to try to ‘flesh’ out the story.

There was so much history during this time frame but the author seemed to have it merely as a backdrop for his characters. Luis de Santangel was the focus of the story, as he was struggling to stop the New Inquisition which focused on New Christians – those that converted from Judaism to Christianity. Not only was Luis trying to stop Torquemada and his Inquisition, he was also struggling with his inner thoughts and religiosity. His grandparents were Jewish but converted (conversos – converts) to Christianity so that they could have a better life and not be persecuted, though kept their Jewish heritage and passed it on to their children (marranos ‘secretly practicing Jews). Luis thought of himself as a Christian, but also wanted to learn more about his heritage.

The author seemed to spend a lot of time describing what a Jew was, and the various rituals or prayers. It seemed to this reader to be a little overdone. It might not seem that way, however, to someone who knows nothing of the Jewish way of life. Even though the author had pointed out the harmony, at the time period of this story, between the Muslims and the Jews in Granada, little was said of the Muslim faith.

The sub-story of Judith Midgal was also a bit far-fetched in that she became a silversmith and sold directly to the public. Not only that, but she learned to read and write several different languages from another woman in a very short period of time. This part of the story (as many others) seemed unrealistic to me. I wondered at how accurate it was have a female merchant who not only spoke, but wrote several different languages AND spoke to a Muslim man alone...several times...especially during the Mediaeval age.

I also wondered at the significance of the ‘forbidden’ text, and how that played into Queen Isabel’ and Torquemada’s plans against the Jews. I guess being irreligious myself, I did not see the relevance of this document. How did it spur Queen Isabel into expelling the Jews from Spain? Did she feel threatened by the text and what it meant to Christianity? I think that this should have been further discussed.

Even though this was about the Spanish Inquisition, little was truly said about it, and the violent scenes in this story were murders, not torture scenes. For that (not having long, drawn-out torture scenes), I was thankful, though the scene with the major-domo was unnecessary.

This story was well written and quite descriptive. I felt like I was walking through Alhambra along with the characters; however, the dialogue seemed the same for most of the speakers. This reader did not get a sense of the characters through dialogue, but only through actions and descriptions. The passage of time was also not well defined...did a few weeks pass, months or did several years go by; it was uncertain. This novel could have been more drawn out – giving more detail to the story of Sara, for instance; though it was long enough to simply put out the story of Luis and how those four major events in Spanish history happened around him, possibly due because of him. It was fascinating to learn that he was a real person and that the events in the story were based on facts.

I would recommend this story to anyone who would like to learn a little bit more about the Jewish religion, Christopher Columbus and the New (Spanish) Inquisition. It is a tale of inner conflict and religious conflict during a dark period in the world’s history.

3 Stars

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

What a cute, YA read! It made me very happy, however, to no longer be in high school...even in Paris, as it seems that teenagers will be teenagers, wherever they are!

Anna is the daughter of a famous author, who decides that he needs the prestige of sending his daughter to high school in Paris. Luckily for Anna, it's the School of America in Paris (known as SOAP to its' students), so everyone at school speaks English, including the handsome Etienne (who is an American of French and British descent).

Anna hates the idea of being uprooted for her Senior year, especially since she just kissed the handsome Toph from her place of work. Plus, she's terrified of living in a foreign country, even if it is Paris. But, she makes friends and discovers that she can go out on her own and watch movies with French subtitles - to review them for her future career as a film critic.

It's a typical story of Girl meets Boy, Boy has another Girlfriend, Teenagers Suck and can be Petty, Growing Up and Learning to be FRIENDS with people! It was well-written and a quick read. My main problem with this story was that it was mostly written in the present tense... that bugs me in a story!

What's so wonderful about this book is that it is so realistic. The kids have real problems and come up with fairly realistic solutions. Anna is an average girl who shops at Super Target and is completely insecure. You get a good sense of how Anna feels and like her, and hope that she finally stops misunderstanding and gets her 'Point Zero' star wish.

If you are looking for a quick read that's fun and flirty, and will have you either wishing to relive your high school experience, or simply to do it vicariously, then this is the book for you.

3.5 Stars
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