Wednesday, September 30, 2009

These is My Words - The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine by Nancy Turner

A nice girl should never go anywhere without a loaded gun and a big knife.

Inspired by her own family's memoirs, Nancy Turner has brought to life one of the strongest female characters since Scarlet O'hara in Gone with the Wind. In Sarah Prine, a woman born and raised in the Arizona Territories in the late 1800's, we have an unlikely heroine of the ages, as we follow her teenage years on the harsh pioneer trails, her dedication to improving herself by learning to read and write, her ability to take on extreme challenges, death even, straight on in the face, and eventually while she raises her own family during a time when being on your own really meant just that. A time when you did what you had to to survive, or you died. It was as simple as that.

If the center of this story is Sarah Prine, then the biggest star that revolves around her is Captain Jack Elliott, probably the best male lead character I've ever had the pleasure of reading about. And not because he's perfect. Because he isn't, in fact he's far from it. He loves Sarah, yet remains ever more who he is, and I liked him better for it. Their relationship was engrossing to the point of distraction, it was heart felt, overwhelming, tender beyond words. I shudder even now as my mind returns to it again. It's so good, it lingers long after it's gone, like the hovering scent of a really mouthwatering chocolate chip cookie that you'd eaten hours before.

Turner has said she pictured a younger Sam Elliott as the Captain. Is it really hard to see why? This guy is the quintessential cowboy. And that mustache? Oh my!

This is a really good book. I liked it for a multitude of reasons. I come from pioneer stock on both sides of my family so I could appreciate the honest telling of the sacrifice and hardship that went into the making of the early American West. Turner doesn't sugar coat these experiences in the least here. The diary format took some getting used to, but it was faithful to the time period, and remained that way until the end of the book. No dialogue in quotes here, and for me it made the writing more effective, like a real diary. Like I really was perusing a dusty and yellowed slice of history. Maybe something I'd found hidden in my attic in an old rust-covered trunk.

When asked if she had further reading suggestions, Nancy Turner has said:
The best book is one that ends with an almost audible gasp, an immediate twinge, that "oh, no, it's really over," combined with the hollowness of letting go, and a slightly bitter, envious voice from somewhere that murmurs, "I wish I'd written that!"

Here here, Ms. Turner.
Mission accomplished.
4.5 stars
(Thanks for the quotes Suzette!)

And check out a Book Review Blog Party below -


Monday, September 28, 2009

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange

November 1802

My dearest Jane,

Be not alarmed by this quick correspondence, my new, dearly married sister, I just wanted to keep you well-informed of the going's on of the new Darcy household. I hear Pemberly's beautiful this time of year, but I, of course, have yet to see it! Darcy has drug me off to France and Italy on our "honeymoon tour" and yes I didn't know what that meant either. Apparently it means we get to travel to distant lands and castles and meet strange people with pale skin.

He's quit changed, my Mr. Darcy is, in fact I would say he's been a completely different person from our wedding day on. I hardly know what to make of him, all this brooding and melancholy. And yes, I know he was that way before, but we're married now. It's supposed to be different, isn't it? He leaves me quite unattended in the evenings, until I have no idea what he's about. I find his room empty with nothing but bats lingering outside his windows. Jane, bats! I have no idea what to make of it. Could he be a bat whisperer?

As far as our marriage bed is concerned, he has yet to know me in the traditional sense, instead when he touches me he looks pained and pale, and dark red blood trickles down his mouth in such a way I can hardly control my wanting to thrust the nearest wooden chair leg through his chest. Yet he doesn't yield. I don't know, but I'm sensing that's not a good sign. Perhaps there is a waiting period I know not of. Will you consult with your Bingley on the matter?

Care not though, Jane, I've met a variety of interesting people on our journey. Counts, and princes, and people so longing to woo me and kiss my neck, and I've only been chased by an angry mob with dogs and horses once, so you need not fear for my safety as you know what a fast runner I am in a long flowing dress.

When we shall be returning, I know not, but one of us needs to change and soon or I fear this marriage is doomed from the start. I'd hate to spend eternity with a man such as this. I will come to you as quickly as I can, but who knows Jane, when I return to England I might not be the sister you once loved for so many years. I may be quite changed.

I may be...dead.

Just kidding.
See ya soon sis.
Your beloved Elizabeth (sort of) Darcy
3 stars

Helluva Halloween Challenge and the Everything Austen Challenge

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What to do with fresh basil besides sucking it up your nose it smells so good...

Homemade Garlic Pesto Sauce
4 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry
4 garlic gloves
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except cheese. Process until smooth and well blended. Stir in the cheese if you're eating it right away. If you're going to freeze it for later use, I wait to add the cheese.

Then, like the Italians, eat it with a supreme look on your face! (I try not to moan too loud.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Living Dead in Dallas and Club Dead by Charlaine Harris

Sookie, Sookie, Sookie...what are we going to do with you? Everyone's bossing you around, telling you what to do. How long are you going to take it? And what of you and vampire Bill? Meh...

Pretty Sookie from small-town Louisiana finds herself in all kinds of sticky messes in Living Dead in Dallas. Right off the bat, her good friend from work is found murdered (yes that happens again) and she and Bill (and her mind reading abilities) have been farmed off to Dallas by Bill's boss, Sheriff of Nottingham - ah, I mean Eric, to find a missing vampire kidnapped by an anti-vampire cult. Trouble ensues..

I thought this one was better written than the first, it was quicker and more fast-paced, but I'm discovering Harris likes to wrap up her plot threads in the last page or two of her books. For instance, here Sookie's good friend is murdered in the first few pages, then we don't hear much about that again until the very end of the book. I kept wondering what happened.

And Bill? Sigh...
Like Harris must've been, I'm losing interest. Fast.
Eric on the other hand-
Hmm...(Parts of me are humming. I won't tell you which. Okay, it's my toes - I'm standing on a heat vent.)

In Club Dead, Bill becomes distant and disappears for most of the novel, and in grand Harris tradition you're not going to find out what happened to him until the very end. But did I mention that this one was my favorite so far? Eric thinks he knows what's happened, and he and Sookie leave town again to try and find Bill, even after I tried to will them to stop. Throw in another hot werewolf and you've got, Twilight, no I mean good times at Club Dead!

Sookie really comes into her own in this novel. She's getting stronger, more independent and while getting to the root of her problems, actually tries to solve them - all by herself. A novel concept! You go Sookie!

But now I'm torn. If I hadn't seen the first in the TrueBlood series I know I wouldn't be, but these are two really cute men. Like Sookie I can't seem to be able to decide who I want to be victorious. Eric or Bill. (Or now Alcide even, but I've leaving him out here.)

Which to chose, which to chose...the dark-haired, brooding Civil War veteran Bill Compton, or the blue-eyed, blond Viking, Eric Northman. Is it really that hard of a choice? (And no, Edward Cullen is NOT even in the running here.)


Helluva Halloween Challenge and the Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"It was a dark and stormy night..."

An international literary parody contest, the competition honors the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is childishly simple: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Although best known for "The Last Days of Pompeii" (1834), which has been made into a movie three times, originating the expression "the pen is mightier than the sword," and phrases like "the great unwashed" and "the almighty dollar," Bulwer-Lytton opened his novel Paul Clifford (1830) with the immortal words that the "Peanuts" beagle Snoopy plagiarized for years, "It was a dark and stormy night."

See all the hysterical winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2009 Results here.
My favorite -
Winner: Science Fiction

The golden, starry wonders of the dark universe unfurled before the brave interstellar vessel "Argus" like a black flag of victory with a whole bunch of holes in it as the mysterious mission buoyantly commenced that would one day resolve critical questions about space, time, and the appropriate ratio of nuts to chips in a perfect chocolate chip cookie.

Robert Friedman Skillman, NJ

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

Lula (my favoritely named person) is having a bad day. She witnesses the murder of a barbecue king by some decapitating-happy psychopaths and wants deep-fried chicken with a side of doughnuts but can't find any. Now the killers are looking to put her in a similar headless position.

So what's a girl to do? Recruit her good friend Stephanie Plum of course, and with the super-duper help of Grandma Mazur, enter a national barbecue sauce contest to track down her would be axe murderers. But Stephanie has her own set of problems at the moment. Ranger's got a mole in his security operation and is need of her, ah...expertise. And even worse, no proud Jersey girl looks good in black.

Anyone who has ever read a Stephanie Plum novel knows "Death in the Burg was like pot roast at six o'clock. An unavoidable and perfectly normal part of the fabric of life. You got born, you ate pot roast, and you died."

This one is no different in that regard. Let's check the rest of my list of Stephanie Plum requirements to see if Finger Lickin' Fifteen passed the acid test of sexy absurdity:

-Car explodes or burns up, or get squished by a dump truck. Check
-Ranger calls Stephanie "Babe". Check ++
-Rex changes his address. Again. Check
-Morelli has the best buns in all of Jersey. Check super ++
-Lula and Grandma Mazur reek havoc at a funeral. Lid lifted? Check
-Morelli and Stephanie are fighting. Again, and again. Sheesh. Check
-The Buick makes an appearance. Check
-Joyce Barnhardt wants to do Morelli. Check
-Stephanie moves into Ranger's apartment, but nothing actually comes of it. You know what I mean ladies...Check
-Lula's hungry. I'm talking super hungry!!Check +++
-Ranger wears black shirts, black pants, black hats, black socks, pink underwear. No, wait, that's not right...Check

And then there were some new (spoiler) developments that I found not the least bit Plumish. There's a lot of farting and other forms of bowel discontentment. Good grief! Is this what one of my favorite series has evolved into?? Farts for laughs? And another thing, the flirting is sub-par, I would even say non-existent between Ranger, Morelli, and Stephanie. N-O-T-H-I-N-G happens. If Evanovich thinks I'm reading these for only the fart jokes then she's got another thing comin' Burg girl!

So, overall then, I was disappointed with this one, and probably with where the series is headed in general. Time for Stephanie to move on with her life. Introduce a new love interest, get her married, something. Anything, but this. Until then, I'll stick with books 1-10, by far the best in this tried and true tale of a curly-haired, blue-eyed babe from the Burg.

And since the barbecue sauce was a main character of sorts, I was hoping she'd include a recipe at the end (but then I remembered the super rich Janet doesn't cook), so I decided to add my own version here. Feel free to - like in the book: explode it, smash it, crash it, and cover the ceiling with it. It'd probably taste better that way.

Barbecue Beans -
6 strips of bacon, cooked
2-3 cans Pork n' Beans
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tablespoon dried onion
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Heat in oven until bubbling.
Eat on toast, with a hot dog, in a bread bowl or all by its little self.
2 stars

Monday, September 21, 2009

When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris

I wish I was rich. I kept thinking that over and over while I was perusing David Sedaris’s new book with the initial intensity of a child who had found a bag of old Valentine candy, knowing I’d try it no matter how old and sticky they looked. I couldn’t help not thinking it. Other than an occasional essay in the New Yorker, you know on my frequent business trips when I fly around the world…I’ve not read much Sedaris, but I’ve heard great praise for his work, so I wanted to try out his new collection of essays.

Don’t get me wrong here. Most were hysterical. He has a gift of making the mundane, the ludicrous and the little issues that hide in corners of our everyday relationships, bone-ticklingly funny. Almost every essay discusses his boyfriend Hugh in some way. Keeping up with Hugh who walks way faster than he does, putting up with the 200 year-old skeleton Hugh wants to hang in their bedroom, you know, typical relationship stuff, although I try to keep my skeletons in my closet, not hanging over my bed.


When he’s not discussing Hugh, he writes about early Sedaris family life, his parents art collection growing up, his parents cork-lined paneling, how he and his siblings survived the white trash babysitter. Interspersed in little increments throughout we hear about his multiple homes in France, his many travels by plane, his many book readings, and in conclusion, how he spent 20K on three months in Japan while trying to quit smoking. I’ll admit by that point I was tired of it, almost bored. David Sedaris, the person, seemed a little to full of David Sedaris, the writer.

The clincher might have been his bio on the last page: David Sedaris half-dozen books have been printed in 25 languages, including Estonian, Greek, and Bahasa. What? Bahasa? I guess that means he's not just famous, but really super world famous. Or maybe he's just being funny. That's the thing I'm figuring out about this man. You can never tell for sure.

But, I hear his earlier stuff is great, so maybe he’s reached a point in his career where he tries to provide his own fodder and now it feels forced? Unnatural maybe? I’m not really qualified to make that assumption, but I do know I will try his earlier stuff as I hear Naked and Holidays on Ice are some of his best, most sincere early work.

Who knows, maybe back then he only lived in one house and traveled by horse-drawn buggy. Well, I can dream can't I?
3 stars

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James

“Would you love me?” asked Jane Eyre at one point in her famous novel. “I am poor and little and plain.”

I quote that line a lot, but it’s not hard to imagine Charlotte Bronte saying the same thing about herself. She was never considered very attractive, and until Jane Eyre was published and became a huge success, her life didn’t account for much in the world. Words like, harsh and cruel, might be used to describe her life, with complete happiness arriving almost too late for her to truly enjoy it. Would we have had her great novels had her genius not been finely tuned by her grief and despair, if her life had been common and usual? Thankfully, the Bronte’s were far from usual in that sense. Their sorrow was our gain.

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte is a noble concept, for it ventures that Charlotte may have kept a diary of her thoughts; an account of her life, beginning long before Jane Eyre was published, but after her time in Brussels, until her death. We learn of her four marriage proposals, the last of which from a Mr. Arthur Nicholls, a poor curate who worked for her father for 8 years. A man so shy she never knew he was in love with her. Can you imagine if such a diary as this still existed? We are lucky enough to have her biography written by her close friend, Elizabeth Gaskell not long after her death, and we have her poetry and correspondence. It is through the latter that we know how she felt about Jane Austen and her novels:

What sees keenly, speaks softly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through…this Miss Austen ignores…if this is heresy – I can’t help it.
12 april 1850 to William Williams

But a diary, that would be something. James does a good job of including the known facts of the Bronte’s life. She leaves none of the dreaded details out here, and we all know how sad those details were, but at the same time she speculates that there was happiness in that household, as there only could have been between three kindred sisters who loved their wayward brother and their partially blind father.

My only complaints about this book would be that she borrowed lines from the Bronte’s novels, probably using them to mimic styles and patterns of speech familiar with Charlotte and her sisters. (For me, this is a common issue I have with books of this type. It feels like cheating.) Also, the whole Pride and Prejudice feel of the storyline. In the end, knowing her particular thoughts on Austen, I wondered if Charlotte Bronte was rolling over in her grave.

But that aside, my favorite part by far was the inclusion in the Appendix of some of Charlotte’s correspondence, a real treat to read, and some selected poetry by the Bronte sisters. Emily’s especially, were brilliant, passionate, and fascinating. How could anyone doubt she ever wrote one of my all time favorite novels, Wuthering Heights.

Then did I check the tears of useless passion –
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine;
Sternly denied its burning with to hasten,
Down to that tomb already more than mine.

and -

“O mortal! mortal! let them die;
Let time and tears destroy,
That we may overflow the sky
With universal Joy!

“Let grief distract the sufferer’r breast,
And night obscure his way;
They hasten him to endless rest,
And everlasting day.

“To thee the world is like a tomb,
A desert’s lakes shore’
To us, in unimagined bloom,
To brightens more and more!

“And, could we lift the veil, and give
One brief glimpse to thine eye,
Thou wouldst rejoice for those that live,
Because they live to die.”

Reading those words alone made this book worth the reading.
3 stars.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously

By Julie Powell

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously is like a very, very rich dessert.

What, you didn’t think I could review a book about cooking without resorting to a lame food simile, did you?

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously is Julie Powell’s account of her attempt to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. As I said before, it's like a very, very rich dessert a dessert I wouldn’t normally order, but I got it for free1 so I dove in with enthusiasm. And it tasted pretty good.

But even as I ate it, I felt vaguely guilty. Being a supremely rich dessert, it had no nutritional value; it was mainly fluff, really.2 And as I scarfed it down, the richness started to get to me, and each bite got just a little harder to swallow. This didn’t keep me from finishing the dessert, naturally, but when I finally did polish it off, I was left with a mild feeling of queasiness.3, 4

I have the feeling that this was supposed to be a gourmet dessert. You know, the kind they talk about on Top Chef, the kind with complexity and nuances and layers. Whatever. When foodies start talking like that, all I hear is Swedish chef-style “Bork! Bork! Bork!”-ing. Frankly, all those subtle nuances go right over my head (or over my tastebuds).5

All of which is rather ironic, since I just used a simile to describe my impressions of the book. Bah.6

Similes aside, Julie and Julia rests firmly in the category of “guilty pleasures.” Powell’s madcap culinary adventure is often funny, and equally mouth-watering and repellant. (brains, anyone?) It wanders much too often away from the food, which is where the book is at its best, and it's way too long, but it was generally fun to read. It didn’t change my life. I didn’t learn any life lessons. I’m okay with that. Every now and then, a little indulgence is a good thing.

Readers should note, however, that Powell curses a lot and holds some moral views that really bugged me

Footnotes for the symbolically challenged:

1 I actually won it in a GoodReads drawing!

2 This book is a fun read, but lacks real substance.

3 Powell speaks very frankly about herself and her friends and family, which makes for some juicy reading but left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable, like maybe I have no business knowing this much about people I don’t really know (I call it the “TMI Syndrome,” but I think this is becoming an increasingly rare condition in this day of tell-all blogs and reality TV exhibitionism).

4 Plus Powell is awfully annoying sometimes.

5 I am fairly certain that Powell was trying to write a book with deep meaning, weaving Julia Child and cooking with the events of her own life to make very astute observations about life, but I didn’t feel like taking the time to figure any of that out. For crying out loud, Julie Powell, you’re a self-proclaimed “government drone,” not Shakespeare!

6 Hence the footnotes, to atone for my hyprocisy.

Something else to do with all those tomatoes..

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce -
2 cups (2 large) chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
8 cups (12 medium) coarsely chopped, peeled tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoon oregano leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons basil leaves
1 1/2 teaspoon rosemary leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups water
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
In a 4 quart sauce pan, saute onions and garlic in oil until tender. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Store in refrigerator up to 1 week or freeze for up to 6 months.

I expound on this by stealing from my friend Tanja's recipe:
When I'm actually cooking if for the family and not freezing it for later use, I saute some carrot and celery in butter and add that along with some more tomato paste(if it's too runny) and cream for flavor.
It's outstanding!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Yes, I am supreme queen canner of the universe!

Boy, I've been busy, but hey, aren't they pretty??
Welcome to the tyranny of way too much summer produce. According to a National Gardening Association poll sales of canning jars jumped 28 percent this year. More people are trying out gardening now since WWII, a jump of 7 million this year alone, and now even more are canning!
Oh, jar of glass,
how I love you so.
You give me pickles,
you give me peaches;
Hopefully the one that puckers,
isn't the one that slithers and tickles.

Anybody else putting up produce? Have any creative ideas for filling shelves?

Monday, September 14, 2009

What are you reading Mondays.....

Hey, it's that time of week again, and since not many of you are posting what you've been reading, it's time to spill the beans! (hint, hint) Check out what other pages are turning on J. Kaye's blog too.

I finally scored at the library this week with two I've been waiting in line for for months! Woo-hoo! I'm so excited and am crossing my fingers that they will be excellent.

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange

Of course, he was a vampire! Of course. It makes perfect sense. This one shows some promise and is apparently all the rage right now. I've read her other book, Mr. Darcy's Diary and liked it okay. I'm hoping for lots of blood in this one!

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

I'm a big fan of the Plum novels, but am hoping something new happens in this one like, maybe her car explodes or she can't choose between Morelli or Ranger. You know something new...Will this one be spicy hot sauce or bland bean burrito? We shall see.

I just finished some good ones yet to be reviewed -
The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James
Club Dead by Charlaine Harrie
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James

And yes my tastes are diverse..
So what are you reading?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

"The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human."
Adolf Hitler

Probably the most powerful narrative I've ever read about the Holocaust, the Pulitzer-Prize winning The Complete Maus should be required reading in high school. It should be required reading before entering the Holocaust museum in D.C.

Written and illustrated in graphic novel form, Art Spiegelman has related the history of his Jewish parents and their horrific experiences during WWII with tiny pictures. Pictures and words that impact your very soul.

Told through the eyes of himself, the child of survivors, and his father, Vladek Spiegelman, Maus begins, and is interspersed with, an account of his relationship with his father in Vladek's later years, and then travels back in time, to Poland in the 1930's as his father remembers in great detail what happened to his mother, his brother, and the rest of his family during the war.

I cried.
It was gut-wrenching.
It was horrific.
It was interesting and historical.
When discussing his current relationship with his father, it was even funny.

To look at its cover, you'd have no idea of the epic beneath. A comic book about the Holocaust, who would've thought? The perfect outlet for adults and especially children to learn about one of the most tragic events in world history.

In an age where the term "Nazi" is thrown around like the word "the" nowadays, a book like this brings back the harsh reality of the insurmountable error of using a term that caused such misery and suffering to millions upon millions of people, and not just them, but their descendants.

This book is a triumph to the human spirit and what we are capable of enduring and surviving as a human race. Probably the best book I've read so far this year.
5 stars

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hey! It's official now, we're literary!

I feel warm and tingly all over. BlackSheepBooks gave us an award for our diverse choice in books and hot guys! Woo-hoo! Thanks Black Sheep Books for giving us a nod, and for not "nodding" off while reading our reviews (hence the hot guys - they help)!

The Literary Blogger Award acknowledges bloggers who energize & inspire reading by going the extra mile. I'm not quite sure we fit into that category but are happy to receive it just the same. I wonder if they have a - Tired Moms Looking For An Excuse To Not Atrophy Their Minds By Reading award?

We pass it on to -
Fifty Books Project 2009 - This group of readers is very diverse in their choices, and their reviews are interesting and informative, and not too long. Perfect.
The Georgette Heyer Challenge - I love this blog, probably because I love Georgette Heyer! A great site for filling that historical romance void. I salivate after every review, wanting to head straight to the library!
The Zen Leaf - Amanda works harder than anyone on her blog. She posts something every day, and gives well thought out reviews on a variety of books (almost every day for crying out loud), and to top it off, she even has a nice way of saying she hates a book, until you go away thinking, maybe she secretly liked it! Maybe there's hope! If speed reading had its own award, she'd win that one too.

And now in honor of BlackSheepBooks who I know lives in Europe, we offer a tasty treat look at a select few stud muffins who live on her continent. Or at least closer to it than me.

And the Best Europe hottie is?


Monday, September 7, 2009

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

There’s something about working the land, about farming it, about feeling the earth deep under your fingernails and when mingled with sticky sweat, rubbed permanently into the grooves of your skin, soap never seeming gritty enough to remove it. I’ve seen it happen to people over and over again, my grandparents especially, and they would all probably say the same thing: It’s renewing. It’s satisfying and fulfilling. Working in the dirt, making things grow, it fills a void where none else can fill.

But where something is given, something is also taken away. Ask anybody whose ever tackled gardening. We are tied to the Earth and she is tied to us, like irremovable shackles, each one affected by the moods and actions of the other. In The Good Earth, a novel about life in pre-revolutionary China at the beginning of the 20th century, the farmer Wang-Lung understands this. He feels it in his bones, in his heart, even his very soul. When speaking of his family he says:

“Well, and they must all starve if the plants starve.” It was true that all their lives depended upon the earth.

At its very core, I believe that statement describes one of the main underlying principles of this novel. Just skimming along under the surface of the main characters lives, almost controlling their actions, it seems to make them like puppets in some grand unknown scheme.
We follow the life of the honest farmer Wang-Lung, his long suffering first wife O-Lan who bemoans her lack of beauty and his second wife, the beautiful Lotus, an orphan sold into prostitution, and later his relationships with his children and extended family, but mainly I think this novel explores the complex relationship Wang-Lung develops with his land and the consequences thereof. The consequences of success and failure with it.

Heavy, heavy stuff. It was sometimes difficult to take an honest look back in time, the poor treatment of women especially, toward principles that still lay sway today even, decades later. Are we really that predictable of a race? Are we capable of even tiny change? As a whole the book was thought-provoking and yet like its main characters, simple and true. In the end we are left wondering, do things change “when the poor become too poor and the rich are too rich?” When do the poor become justified if they must steal to survive, as Wang-Lung did at one point in the novel? What about later when his wealth ruins his children, making them greedy and complacent? Is it possible to be too rich?

I don’t know, but after reading this book, I feel not so far away from an answer. But then again, do I really want to know?

Or maybe it's more simple than that. Maybe it's like my good friend Suzette said:
It sucked to be a woman in 19th Century China, or anywhere else for that matter.

Either way, still an excellent read.
4.5 stars

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A thousand apologies...

I beg your humble pardon Miss Suzette for forgetting your birth day, August 31st right?

Let's celebrate late by looking back on this date in history:
- Trinidad and Tobago became independent
- The first news radio broadcast was on this date
In 1967 -
- Gas was 33 cents a gallon (holy @#@$@)
- Minimum wage was $1.40
- Average house price was $3,840
- A new car was $2,750
- Popular tv shows were The Fugitive and The
- Pinky Tuscadero's biggest fan was born

What a year! Happy Birthday girlie!