Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

1938Wow, I did not expect my relationship with this story to grow quite so complicated. I thought I’d open the book, get completely engrossed, berate myself for not reading as a child, and finish in nearly one or two sittings. Did. Not. Happen. As I write this, I still have not finished the beast.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly why Little Women has become my bookish Everest. After chatting with the Litwits this Sunday, I think it might have something to do with not reading as a younger girl. Many said their love of the novel is born out of the nostalgia that comes with Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy’s story. Since time travel isn’t a thing yet, not much I can do in that department.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty. Alcott’s novel is really long – much longer than I had anticipated. Plus, I have the Norton Critical Edition with lots of tiny font which just naturally slows down the process. For me, the pacing was just all over the place. The first half was steady, but dull. The second a roller coaster – slow uphill battles followed by swishing dives as the plot took its twists and turns. The flow bothered me.

Marmee was ultimately another annoyance. Sadly. I felt like her entire role was preachy-ass tool. Never good. As for all the preaching, it’s hard to sit through as an adult woman living in the 21st Century. Many of the morals being taught to the young ladies are antiquated and outdated – all of which can be overlooked if done properly and not nearly so much. But to feel like the purpose of 50% of the novel is to teach girls to be good housewives starts to irritate fairly quickly.

Obviously, Little Women has some fantastic elements as well. The sisters immediately come to mind. They are fantastically drawn characters – able to resemble each other yet be their own individual person. Jo has always been a great favorite for all bookish ladies (I did love the movie as a child!). I imagine that Jo most closely resembles Alcott sense this is the character everyone identifies with the most. And each girl while trying to be so good and please her parents often falls into periods of terribly selfish behavior which was a breath of fresh air.

I also love that Alcott was not afraid to kill Beth or have Jo refuse Laurie’s proposal. Unexpected twists such as these irk many readers, but keep the story fresh and interesting. How boring if everything had happened all happily tied up with a neat little pink bow. Yuck. I’m glad Alcott had some guts.

In reading some of the criticism, I learned that Alcott herself was not a fan of this book calling it “dull”. Ha! I’m on her side. She didn’t even like girls or stories about girls. Bless her. From now on I think I’ll stick to more factual reads on Alcott herself and skip the fiction. She seems like quite a fascinating person and someone I might be able to relate to immensely!

P.S. I promise to finish the novel. I’ve only got 60 pages left, but didn’t feel that the book’s finale would ultimately change my opinion. After all, I already know how the damn thing ends. Feel free to tell me why you love or don’t love Little Women in the comments! I’d love to hear your personal stories.

P.P.S. I finished…bleh.

At the Cinema: Wreck-It Ralph and Bunheads

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On the movie front, I redboxed Wreck-It Ralph Thursday night and had really high hopes. I haven’t ever been a huge fan of animated films as an adult. I’m not sure why that is. I hear rave reviews from others well out of childhood and get such high hopes never to have my expectations met. Jimmy loves animated movies and hates that I never want to see them. But I’m trying to put more of an effort in. The last animated film I saw in a theater was Wall-E which was okay but overly preachy.

I popped Ralph in and the first half of the movie bored me to tears. Not being a gamer (even in childhood I only played maybe 2 or 3 games regularly enough to remember), I just didn’t feel connected to that aspect of the movie. I needed something emotional to connect with and quickly or it was going to wind up a DNF. Thankfully, Ralph met Vanellope just in the nick of time.

Ralph is a game villian with a heart of gold who wants to be the good guy and win medals. Vanellope is a race car driver who can’t compete in her game because she has a glitch. The relationship that develops between Ralph and V is so well done, so sweet and touching that the movie’s first half was quickly forgotten. I loved the second half so fiercely that there might have been a tear shed. Also, Jane Lynch’s character was awesome even if her storyline seemed a bit forced and out of place.

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As for the smaller screen, I recently started watching Bunheads. I always meant to watch this Gilmore Girls throwback, but not having cable I had to rely on a streaming service to offer it up for free. Obviously, as a GG fan from inception, Bunheads hits many of the right chords. The dialogue is sassy and fast, Michelle is a likable, flawed protagonist, the small town vibe and quirky characters reign supreme, and I adore seeing old friends again. Daddy Huntzberger cracks me up as a surfer dude.

While I don’t think Bunheads is nearly as brilliant as GG, there’s still plenty to love and plenty of room for growth. I’ll be watching as long as the show runs and can’t wait to see more guest appearances from GG alumni.

March Meetup: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

16299So I read and reviewed ATTWN last year and was excited for the Litwits to discuss this novel because I sort of expected it to be a hit! And it was. I don’t think a single member was too disappointed. That’s a huge win when you have a very diversified group of literary ladies.

Christie’s page-turning plot was no doubt a leading cause. We talked in depth of how intricately her narrative was plotted – what with all the characters and their layered pasts. Christie also takes great care in how she divulges all the twists and turns (of which there are many) to her readers – never letting them in on a secret too early. For this reason, her killer is next to impossible to suss out. In today’s far too often cookie-cutter mystery, Christie’s shocking reveals really set her among history’s elite whodunnit novelists.

We had fun delving into each character’s gritty back story and their particular reason for being selected among the doomed party. Whether or not they were actually to blame, how they lived with their culpability, and ultimately how crazy they had to have been. The psychological aspects of Christie’s story are so deliciously wrought with morality questions that it’s easy to understand why many readers and high schools across the nation deem her genre novels literary classics.

I think the only bit anyone didn’t agree on was the ending. Some loved Christie’s unveiling of the murderer through the novel’s last chapter – a letter from the actual killer. Others wished they had been left never knowing who was responsible. I was actually genuinely surprised at how many Litwits would have been satisfied without the killer’s identity being revealed!

So we Litwits highly recommend this or any other Christie novel for book clubs or individuals across the globe. We have some Christie aficionados among us who recommend The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Body in the Library. Happy Reading!

Ten by Gretchen McNeil

11958033Ten was a specifically chosen read this week because the Litwits are meeting this Sunday to discuss Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Gretchen McNeil’s novel is a YA retelling of Christie’s classic. Since I’ve read ATTWN in the past year, I decided to give Ten a go instead of rereading.

The most basic plot description of both books is rather simple – 10 people meet at a house on an isolated island and start to die one-by-one.

McNeil’s version mostly won me over for nostalgia reasons. I could not help but feel this retelling oozed a little bit of R.L. Stine one moment and a whole lot of Christopher Pike the next (he even blurbed the book!). I cannot tell y’all how many books by those two authors I inhaled as a young reader. They were better than candy. And current YA tends to lack so thoroughly in good old-fashioned fast paced horror that I just sat back and let this book happen to me.

As the teens are slowly and bloodily killed off, you won’t find anything literary or even fresh. This story has been told time and time again with all the red herrings and gimmicks barely doing their job. I knew who the killer was before the book was halfway over, but it didn’t really matter. I liked the suspenseful moments and the psychological torment these young people were facing and how they reacted to their situation.

The dialogue is filled with teen speak which many readers have bemoaned, but really, what else should we expect? These are teenagers after all and slang is fairly normal among even the most mature. Hell, I still use slang all the time and so do y’all! So I won’t fault it too much. I did have slight issues with who was using the slang. Certain times a phrase just didn’t sit well with a male character versus as female character – but those gender slants are my own issue.

And the ending? Cheestastic and the only real disappointment – especially compared to Christie’s.

I’m not going to recommend running straight out and reading this YA horror novel. I’m not even going to recommend it to those readers who read and adored ATTWN. But if you enjoyed Stine and Pike at some point in your life, this little gem will take you back to those days in the best of ways. And if you’re young and have never experienced YA horror – give this one a shot. Yes, there’s some gore. Yes, there’s some foul language and sexual situations, but nothing too graphic! It’s just enough to tantalize the younger crowd without going overboard.

I look forward to discussing Ten with the ladies this weekend. Hopefully, I’ll be able to convince someone else to give this a shot. And I’m convinced more than ever that I need to find some Christopher Pike novels and settle in for a nice, lovely visit with ghosts of my childhood past.

At the Cinema: Breaking Dawn Part II

The_Twilight_Saga_Breaking_Dawn_Part_2_posterI finally got around to getting Breaking Dawn Part II from Redbox Thursday night and giving it a little look-see. It was the perfect movie after a long work day and horrendous commute. Plus, Jimmy was in Raleigh so I wouldn’t be forcing anything Twilight related upon him. He is super thankful for this thoughtfulness of mine, I assure you.

My relationship with the Twilight saga is a mixed bag. Love/Hate with more hate than love – both in movie and book form. Most of the movies, in my opinion, have been almost completely un-watchable. With that being said, Breaking Dawn Part II was most definitely the best in the series.

I know so many readers loathed the fourth book in this series, but I enjoyed it. Don’t quiz me on anything that happened since I remember next to nothing about my reading experience. What worked for me in the fourth book is vampire Bella. What didn’t work for me throughout most of the series was human Bella. I hated human Bella. The weakest, most absurd female character I might have ever come across in literature. Vampire Bella finally grew a pair and stood up for herself.

That reasoning plays a large part in why Part II was my favorite of the five films. She’s just so much more likable dead – errr, undead. Sorry to all you Bella apologists out there (totally not sorry).

What else does BD Part II get right? The kooky vampires that Carlisle and family gather to witness for them. Loved seeing this strange family reunion. Particularly loved seeing Lee Pace. I think if the writers of Pushing Daisies had just made Pace a vampire in the series the show might have been saved.

The epic battle at the end was also well played. All the be-headings, oh my! Loved it. Finally a sense of urgency, fear, and action in this droll film franchise. And the twist was fun. It made sense.

Now, this wouldn’t be a Twilight film without some glaring problems. The CGI is still hit and miss. I’m sorry but after millions upon millions of dollars made, you cannot convince me there wasn’t a way to make wolf-shifting far more realistic looking. Shame on you, Twilight. Jacob still can’t act, the dialogue still has cringe-worthy moments, and that Nessy/Jacob story line is still creeptastic.

Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? The music is awesome. I’ve always thought the soundtrack to these films were superb, especially for the younger audiences these movies are supposed to attract. Something else on the pro side? There will (fingers-crossed) never be anymore K-Stew Twilight movies ever again. You’re welcome, internets.

Tinkers by Paul Harding

4957350Tinkers has been on my TBR shelf for quite some time. It’s a small tomb that can easily get lost amid the myriad hardback giants. What it lacks in size, however, it makes up for in emotional depth. In spades. Harding’s novel won the Pulitzer Prize back in 2010 and for very good reason.

George Crosby is an 80-year-old man dying. He’s propped up in a rented hospital bed in his living room surrounded by all his family holding vigil while he slowly slips closer to death. His mind is afire, though. Memories are flooding this quiet process taking the reader back to his childhood growing up in New England. His relationship with his father is particularly highlighted and the events that led up to his father’s abandonment of the family. These coherent images weave in and out with random flashes of nature, clocks, and even the occasional bird’s nest building.

Oh, Tinkers. Your long, winding sentences and vivid imagery had me before I had even turned to page two. Harding’s writing impressed me so thoroughly that I’m now willing to read anything and everything he may ever write. A specific images remains with me – almost haunting me – of George’s daughter trying to get water into her very dehydrated father who is struggling with one of the most basic needs of the living. Then to learn that she spent the next two years watering the flowers on his grave to the point of drowning them each and every day gutted me. I’ll hold on to this image of grief for a long, long time.

The symbolism, I admit, feels a tiny bit heavy-handed. The ticking clocks and gears turning seem a bit too obvious for this quiet novel, but I’ll forgive Harding this slight hiccup. I much preferred the subtle seasonal overtones expressed through the natural scenes that Harding paints with this words.

Tinkers is a short novel meant to be slowly absorbed rather than sped through. I didn’t really obey that as I read the 200 pages in 2 days. It’s a book that deserves many re-readings, especially as I grow older and near that eventuality called mortality.

Vanity Fair by William Thackeray – Readalong Wrap-Up!

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So Vanity Fair has come to an end. And getting to that end had some rather painfully boring bits – not going to lie. In fact, there were chapters that convinced me I would never finish the book, chapters that I literally have no recollection of what happened. But that’s okay because much of Thackeray’s story was superfluous fluff that got lost somewhere along the way for me. I definitely think my main issue was the audio. Not that this particular audio was bad, just that an 800+ page Victorian monstrosity should probably be read if I want to catch all the nuances and details. Lesson learned. Also, SPOILERS.

However, the last 200 pages or so were quite entertaining learning how everyone’s story concluded. I’m glad Amelia finally understood that her marvelous George was a devious rascal and that Dobbin truly loved her. I did get the feeling that by the time they married Dobbin’s feelings had rather cooled towards Amelia though. As for dear, darling Becky, we can only assume that she had some major role in Jos’s death as she continued on with her wily ways. The children, little Rawdon and Georgie, appear to have grown up well enough and hopefully their lives in the Vanity Fair will turn out more honest. But judging how ensconced society still is in the conceit of the Vanity Far some 150+ years later, I sort of doubt it.

In addition to finishing the novel, I also viewed the 2004 film starring Reese Witherspoon. I thought the movie was okay. The casting really intrigued me and turned out fairly perfect. I especially loved Jonathan Rhys Meyer as George Osborne. Perfection. Reese Witherspoon was a good choice for Becky, but Julian Fellows and his fellow script writers dropped the ball on her characterization. They did their best to make her a redeemable character – far less of the wicked little social climber that Thackeray created which bothered me. Do we not watch films with wicked women as lead characters or do we just demand that a wicked woman be getting ahead for reasons we can justify? Can’t she just want a title and money for a title and money’s sake?

I compared Becky Sharp to Moll Flanders throughout my entire time with her. I love Moll Flanders something fierce, even the movie adaptations. For this reason, I think my love for Becky Sharp could never surpass a trifle fondness. Without a doubt, a marvelous character and Vanity Fair’s best, but I didn’t embrace her quite as much as Moll.

Do I recommend this book to fellow readers? If you love Victorian literature and can deal with myriad side plots and large families with the same name – YES! Otherwise, good luck! I’m immensely glad I read Thackeray’s supposed masterpiece but have a feeling the details will fade over time. Now that you’ve read my ridiculous blunderings, head over to Melissa’s blog for the official wrap up post! And a huge thank you to Trish and Melissa for hosting!

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The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

10209997I’ve thought long and hard about how to approach this review and if I’m being honest, I’m still rather lost for words. I could write both a glowing review as well as an equally scathing one. I’m going to do my best to split it down the middle, but my anger over the ending is sure to shine through. Bohjalian is one of those authors I want to love so desperately, but something in his novels always holds me back. Well, I’ve only read two so I suppose I’ll keep soldiering on because I inhale his stories quickly even if they don’t satisfy me.

Chip Linton’s career as a commercial pilot comes to a crashing (ahem…) halt one afternoon when his plane hits a flock of geese and his landing ends up the opposite of the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’. Thirty-nine of his passengers die and he begins the long journey through guilt, depression, and PTSD that would plague even the strongest of people. His wife, Emily, decides their family needs a little break from the public eye and off they go with 10-year-old twin girls in tow to rural New Hampshire. They buy a creepy old Victorian mansion and move in only to discover a door in the basement locked tight with 39 (ring a bell?) bolts. There may or may not be ghosts. I love a good haunted house story.

Here’s where things get weird – an entirely different plot runs alongside the creepy house plot. The family’s new hometown is also home to a coven of witches who call themselves herbalists. They take a mighty disturbing interest in the two daughters, Garnet and Hallie. The women force all kinds of yummy vegan dishes on their new neighbors which may or may not be filled with secret potions. Goodness.

The haunted house plot? Had potential to be awesome. The witches? Never had a chance. But the thing is, I bought into it, flaws and all, until the last 20 pages at which point I wanted to drown the book in my bubble bath. Bohjalian knows how to keep me on my toes and the pages flew by. I had to know what was going on and so looked past the wonky characterization of Emily, the many plot holes, and the awkward dual stories that felt too much like separate books. There were moments where I was genuinely freaked out and I loved those moments. However, the finale ruined all my hopes and dreams. The haunted house plot fell apart and the witches took over with a gusto that had me laughing rather than trembling with fear.

And the epilogue? Don’t get me started. I can’t even discuss that part yet without turning red and balling my fists in anger. I’m not a reader who generally prefers a Hollywood happy ending as long as the ending makes sense with the story. But this ending was so far from anything I could imagine as a plausible conclusion that I literally kept rereading sentences to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind.  That epilogue really did happen, unfortunately. Sigh.

Like I said earlier, I’ll keep reading Bohjalian’s novels because at some point he’ll get it right with me, I just know it. I’ve loved 75% of the two I’ve read and have a gripping determination to find 100% success. I’d settle for 90%, though!

Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Prioleau

swoon-coverThe cover is gorgeous, no? And the title sucks you in, yes? Exactly my thoughts when I selected this novel to review for the lovely TLC Book Tours. I love that TLC is bringing my attention to some nonfiction, cultural anthropology works that I always crave reading, but never bite the bullet and pick up on my own.

Swoon does exactly what it says it’s going to and delves into the traits that seem to attract women to what are known as ladies’ men. You know those men, the ones who are constantly swarmed by harems of adoring females. And most of the time you can’t put your finger on what is so mesmerizing about these guys. Some are good looking, sure, but some are absolutely horrid looking. How many movies have we seen where ugly guys get the girls? How does this happen?

Prioleau has done her research! She’s read histories of great Lotharios such as Casanova and met face-to-face with men who are currently making their own histories all over the world! She also doesn’t shy away from modern romance literature and the Hollywood celebrities that women adore so much. The book is separated into small sections discussing one particular trait at a time  such as laughter, charisma, character, and sense-of-self. She breaks down previous stereotypes of the common bad boy womanizer and uncovers that most sought after men actually love and respect women, have wonderful relationships with their mothers and sisters, and that the brain might just be the sexiest organ alive!

The great thing for me while reading this novel was the conversation it garnered between me and my husband. We spent more than one dinner discussing the traits that Prioleau believes makes knees melt. He would alternately get defensive and agreeable. We would bicker and then laugh! He’s been pleading with me to read a book from the opposite perspective to balance out the views – and Prioleau wrote that exact book before this one, so I might need to pick it up soon.

I also enjoyed thinking about whether these traits in men worked for me, personally. And most did! I love a strong personality, a quick mind, and laughter! I’m also not shocked to learn that sex matters big time and that the most successful men always focus on female pleasure first. This makes us sound a little selfish, doesn’t it ladies? But I’m still not surprised.

So much to love here, but not everything was perfect. I did feel that certain sections were a bit repetitive and that the book could have used a tighter editing. But even the repetitive sections used fresh examples and gave new historical facts and interludes to enjoy. I also think this book needs to be tempered with the opposing perspective so that you don’t come away thinking only women are silly little creatures willing to give up husbands and children for the sake of enjoying time spent with some modern day Casanova. And so many women did just that!

So go read Swoon! If for no other reason than to learn juicy little tidbits about the sexiest of sexy men such as Lord Byron, Jack London, Sam Cooke, and many more!!

I’m thrilled to be able to give away one copy of Swoon to some very lucky reader! Just fill out the form here and I’ll announce a winner Sunday, March 17th! Residents of the US and Canada only, please.

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Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and Norton for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review! You can check out the rest of the tour here!

About the Author:

Betsy-Prioleau-Photo-1-198x300Betsy Prioleau is the author of Circle of Eros (Duke University Press) Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love(Penguin/Viking), and most recently, Swoon:  Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them (W. W. Norton, 2013).  She has a Ph.D. in literature from Duke University, was a tenured associate professor at Manhattan College, and taught cultural history at New York University.  She has written numerous essays on literature, relationships, and sexuality. She lives in New York City.

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At the Cinema: Schindler’s List

tumblr_mbvrq3Bkg91rvp3zlo1_400I really wanted to film my reaction to watching Schindler’s List immediately after watching, but decided y’all really didn’t need to see me do my version of the ugly cry. I’m fairly certain I look worse than Claire Danes when she ugly cries, which is really saying something. However, I do want to take a moment and discuss my emotional response to watching this film for the first time.

When I saw that the 20th Anniversary edition of this movie was being released on Tuesday, I knew I had to order it and add it to my ever-growing collection of purchased films. And I knew this without having ever seen the movie. I’m glad I waited or was just never exposed to Schindler’s List until now. I’m not sure I could have appreciated and had such a visceral response had I viewed as a child or teenager.

Steven Spielberg knows how to direct a movie, how to gut us emotionally and leave us reeling yet filled with hope. As I cried my eyes out at the bittersweet end to Schindler’s story, I couldn’t help but be filled with joy at all the people he had saved and all the generations that had come to be due to his compassion. Schindler is such a flawed protagonist. He begins his journey greedily – out to make money and nothing else. He views the Jewish plight as a means to an end and monetizes their suffering to grow his wealth. But somewhere along the way, the people he is unintentionally saving save him as well.  Through their thanks, kind eyes, and relief to be alive, they show Oskar just how effective one man can be, even when he’s not trying. They show him that one man can overcome the cruelty of the many. They show him that one man can change himself as well as the paths of so many lives. While so many Jews were losing their sense of humanity, Oskar was finding his own and continued throughout the war to diligently return the favor – restoring humanity so wrongfully stolen.

Was that babbling? Did that make sense? I found Schindler so compelling and Liam Neeson did a beautiful job portraying this historical figure. As did Ralph Fiennes playing his perfect foil. As Oskar grows more human, Amon turns more evil – an oddly pure evil without conscience. He even tries to do the decent thing and stop his murdering ways, but simply can’t as it’s not in his nature. The atrocities men, women, and children suffered at his hands were gut-wrenching and nearly impossible to watch. I covered my eyes multiple times. Spielberg and his creative team definitely don’t shy away from depicting these horrors in such a bluntly realistic manner.

Filming the movie in black and white was also a stunning and winning decision. It gives the film a timeless feeling – you literally have no idea whether the movie was shot years ago or just last week. The contrast between the light and dark also resonates heavily and adds a layer of depth to the movie beyond the brilliant script and acting.

Needless to say, I loved the movie and believe there aren’t many movies I’ve ever seen that can hold a candle to it. Not an easy movie to watch, not one you can sit idly on the couch and watch repeatedly, but an important film, a necessary film. If you’ve never watched it, do yourself a favor and find some time. You won’t regret it. And of course, I need to get my hands on the book is was based on!

With two movie posts in a row, it’s time to get back to book blogging! This week is dedicated to that very purpose. You can look forward to such dandies as my reviews of Swoon and The Night Strangers along with my Vanity Fair wrap-up post!