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Book Wednesday: The Commitments, by Roddy Doyle

This was Roddy Doyle’s debut novel, published in 1987. It was adapted into a movie, in 1991, and in a West End musical theater show, last summer. It tells the story of a group of young Irishmen-and-women who form a soul band, reach some level of local success, and suddenly crash and burn due to interpersonal conflicts.

I picked up the book for one very, very specific reason: there is a small chance that I might see the musical this summer, and I didn’t want to take the risk of breaking my personal vow to read the book first, whenever I can.

I was pleasantly surprised by the book. In many ways, the writing is similar to my own: on the short side (the copy I had was 176 pages long, with a pretty good sized print) and dialog heavy. The writing is also different to my own, in many ways. There are a lot of quoted song lyrics and onomatopoeic representation of musical instruments, which I don’t do because the idea of breaking copyright laws and getting sued really scare me. There are no chapters, which I’ve never tried, but I might, at some point, because I find it interesting. The dialog is written with a very heavy accent, which I don’t do because reading accents annoys me, and I don’t like inflicting things that annoy me unto other people.

But still, picking up this book, knowing it was a success, adapted to the stage and the screen alike, and noticing similarities with my own writing style, it’s nice. It gives me hope for the future.

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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Wednesday: A new review for the Admirer

It came out Monday, on Steampunk Canada. Check it out!

http://www.steampunkcanada.ca/apps/blog/show/42017981-review-the-admirer

(Yes, it’s a short one today. And yes, maybe it is a little bit cheating to use my own book for Book Wednesday. I don’t care. I’m busy this week. And I’m excited about the review. Review! Woo Hoo!)

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Wednesday: The Jane Austen Handbook, by Margaret Sullivan

Aka, my favorite read of the week. A friend of mind grabbed this book for me at the library, and I might just pick up a copy for myself, because I really, really liked it.

Margaret Sullivan evaluates the complete work of Jane Austen, and mines it for information about the daily of the Georgian country gentry, supplemented by other material. Some of the information sounded more like a satire of Austen then like genuine reconstruction of the world of Austen. (The “how to indicate interest in a gentleman without seeming forward” chapter, especially, was entirely pulled from Pride and Prejudice, outlining the techniques used by Caroline Bingley to attract Fitzwilliam Darcy.) And as I’m not a big fan of satire as a genre, that bugged me a little.

Still, overall, it was a very informative and enjoyable read.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Wednesday: A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy

I had a bit of a challenge finding a book for this Irish week I’ve created for myself. I wanted a book written by an Irish author, and set in Ireland, and one that I could read in a few weeks, keeping in mind that I’m working full time, which left out Ulysses, and that’s was the only Ireland-set, Irish author book I own. Thankfully, I remembered another author, one I used to have on my shelves (I loaned the book out and never saw it again): Maeve Binchy. I went to the library, and thankfully, they had one on the shelves: A Week in Winter.

A Week in Winter is ostensibly the story of a woman who opens an inn in her small Irish town, and of her first week in business. (I’ll let you guess the season.) It’s more a study of various character then a novel; when I think “novel”, I think “single narrative”, and this didn’t have it. Instead, each chapter told the story of one character, starting in their teenage years, if not in their childhood, and going up to a certain point in time, then the next chapter would go a little further in time, until the book ends, at the end of the week. This means that the strength of the story relied entirely on the characters, which are, for the most part, interesting and even likable in some cases. But even the unlikable characters make for a good read, and that takes talent.

The only downside, and I’ll admit it’s a serious point, was the end of the book. The last two chapters, to be precise. Up until that point, it had been made clear that the stories of the characters only loosely connected to each other, but with those last two chapters, it felt like the author was trying to bring everything back into one narrative, and tie it up in a neat little bow. The last chapter especially gave the impression that she was trying to give each character a magic happily ever after, and since the end point of each chapter already ended the character’s journey on a high note, that last chapter was overkill, in my opinion.

I still enjoyed the book, overall, and recommend it to everyone who wants several good examples of how you set up a character and tell its story in one chapter.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Wednesday: Dear Mr Darcy, by Amanda Grange

Jane Austen has only completed six novels, seven if you include Lady Susan, which I guess a lot of people don’t because it’s not often included in the Complete Jane Austen collections, and is more often than not put with the incomplete, Sanditon and The Watsons. And while it may take some time to read all of Austen’s work (I only read Emma last summer, and Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon last December, and I still haven’t read the juvenilia) and the work that is there is very re-readable, most Janeites eventually turn to derivative fiction.

While there are almost as many different kinds of derivative work as there are authors writing them, most of the time they can be grouped in one of three categories; the alternate timeline (the prequels and sequels), the alternate universe (Butterfly Effect stories, modernization, supernatural elements, and so on) or the alternate point of view.

Dear Mr Darcy, however, doesn’t exactly fit in any of those categories. It’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice in epistolary form. It’s extremely clever and well-written and the new characters created by Ms Grange (the original characters need someone to write TO, after all) feel like a natural addition to the story. I only have one real problem with this book: the letter from Mr Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet, the one that takes most of chapter 35 and turns the story on its ear, is missing. How can you write Pride and Prejudice in epistolary form and not include the letter?!

This one glaring omission notwithstanding (and wow, that is actually a word, the English language is weird), it’s one of the best derivative Pride and Prejudice work out there, and I would recommend it to anyone who’s read P&P and wants more.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Wednesday: Blood Relations, by Caroline Frechette

I’ll get that right out of the way: Caroline Fréchette is a friend of mine, and I have read Blood Relations even before it came out, last fall. We are part of the same critique group, and she was working through Blood Relations while I was working through The Admirer.

There is a very strong possibility that I would not have read this book otherwise. It is a very dark read, and it makes no effort to hide it, with its dramatic black and white (and just a touch of blood red) cover illustrations. It has violence, and sex, and drug use, and foul language. What else do you expect from a novel about a 16 years old pyrokinetic mafioso who is forced to fight vampires?

So I might not have picked Blood Relations, if left to my own devices. And I would have missed something. The story has a great pace, and some wonderfully funny moments. The dialogue is brilliant. There is a great cast of characters, where everyone can have a favorite. (Mine is one of the hero’s best friend, of the “caregiver, wise beyond his years” trope that I just can’t resist, especially when it’s done well.)

Blood Relations is the first novel of the series Family By Choice. The second novel of the series, Brothers In Arms, comes out this Saturday, March 8th.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Wednesday: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I know, I know. What a cliché, right? A fan of Jane Austen who favors Pride and Prejudice over all her other novels. One would almost think that is it a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is a favorite of all Janeites. Not only that, but we all wish to be Miss Elizabeth Bennet and marry Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Well, in my case at least, that’s not quite right. It is true that Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Austen novel. I have re-read it many times. And unlike my slightly manic and obsessive re-readings of Emma in January, I’m not trying to pick up clues about a story untold: I’m simply enjoying the narrative and the writing. I have also re-watched my favorite adaptations – the 1995 BBC one starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, starring Ashley Clements and Daniel Vincent Gordh – many times.

But I’m not Elizabeth Bennet, quick-witted and arrogant. I do not wish to marry Mr Darcy, proud and reserved. If anything, I am more like Mr Darcy, and would need an Elizabeth Bennet equivalent. (Or I could be an Elinor Dashwood waiting for my Edward Ferrars, or a Jane Fairfax waiting for my Frank Churchill. The great thing about reading all of Austen is that it’s easier to find an analogy that fits you.)

Speaking of adaptations, I’ve yet to see one that depicts the first meeting of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy in a way that truly reflect the book. To give a bit of context, they are at a dance, Elizabeth is sitting down due to a lack of partner, and Mr. Bingley walks up to his good friend Mr. Darcy, standing nearby, and proposes to introduce them, so that Mr. Darcy can invite her to dance.

“Which do you mean?” and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said: “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.”

Emphasis mine. Now, I could be wrong, but this is how I’m interpreting that scene.

Darcy isn’t an idiot, he knows that Elizabeth is close enough to hear what he says. And he stares at her until she stares back, before he tells Bingley she’s not good enough for him. This isn’t Lizzie hiding somewhere and overhearing his private conversation like in the 2005 movie version. (And oh, don’t even get me started on that version!) This is Darcy going out of his way to insult her; no wonder she won’t believe he’s in love with her!

And it’s part of what I really like about Pride and Prejudice. Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet both begin the story believing that they are better then everybody else, and they both have to change to get their happy ending. That’s pretty rare. Usually, in romantic literature, you have one character who needs to change and evolve and learn, and the other is already perfect, or at least perfect for the character they are matched with. Pride and Prejudice doesn’t follow that pattern, and maybe that is why it has been such a success in the time of Austen, and why it remains such a success to this day.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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