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When I signed up to write about my favorite banned book over at @thmafi’s blog I was stumped. Which one to choose!?! There are simply so many! The obvious choice was the HARRY POTTER series, which as we know, I heart, and which tops both the list of best selling books for the past decade and the ALA’s list of most challenged books. But that’s too obvious. Basically, if people have not figured out yet that it is not a Satanic diatribe, well, God help them *roll eyes*

Of course, there are (sadly) many other fabulous books to write about. In its 50th year of publication, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is  a good example. It is often chosen as a classic Must-Read, and it has faced challenges since the beginning. But so have  a lot of others that I have enjoyed over the years: Gatsby, Catcher, Color Purple, GWTW, Rebecca,  Huck Finn (Twain’s response to Denver’s ban of his book is as amusing as most of his work 🙂 ) and yes, Winnie-the Pooh.

Meanwhile, there are the books that make one say “WTH” ? the Dictionary!?! Captain Underpants? What about Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (which I personally have avoided reading over and over and over for the past year…parents know what I’m sayin’) but which serves as an example of the ignorance that surrounds book banning. It was banned in Texas because the school board did not A.) Do their freaking research B.) Bother to read the book and C.) Think that it is possible for 2 men to have the same name, i.e. “Bill Martin”. Funnily enough, the author of this and dozens of other picture books is a Junior, so obviously there is more than one.

I often wonder if people who challenge books actually read them first. Or if they just want to promote their own agenda. Or if they really care about Freedom of Speech. There was a local news story about a woman who was challenging a book on a school’s Recommended Summer Reading List. NOT required, not even (most likely) expected. Just suggestions of books to choose from if a parent should decide to take their child to a library over the summer. Her beef was the junior picture book version of AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH by You-Know-Who. Now, I get that some people still think science and climate change are not real. Whatev. But I still think she just wanted to get on TV and try to push her (completely unsubstantiated) opinion.  If it is not required reading, then do not read it. Duh. Rant over.

So, I narrowed it down to Books I Have Read and Books Under Challenge Now. Yes, there have been a lot of books challenged and banned in the past. Some of them are on the list every year and are familiar to many readers. I am more concerned with the newer books that are being challenged and banned. Most of these are Young Adult books that are challenged for sexual references.

I think that to most young readers (and let’s face it–they are the citizens whose intellectual rights are challenged the most) books are an important source and outlet for information. I admit, I read books that my parents would not have approved. I also read books that they did approve and bought for me. I generally liked most of them. But part of growing, learning and becoming a functioning adult is  practicing critical thinking and developing your own mind. I would not want to keep my children from having all available resources or from pursuing their own happiness.

Young adults are going to learn about sex one way or another. If parents have not learned how to discuss it with them, if teachers are not able to teach non-abstinence facts, then teens will still learn about It. I would prefer the new-found knowledge be from a book, rather than from television or the Web. And I would rather their learning be done critically, showing all facets and points of view as most books do, especially books published as Kid Lit, instead of physically through clumsy trial-and-error which may lead to STDs, teen pregnancy and/or hours of crying into one’s pillow. (Or worse! Teen suicide is a bigger problem in this land than teen sex. There. I said it!) Also, as a writer who can only hope that one day she makes it to a Banned Books list, I want kids to read and I know that they are far more likely to read a book they are interested in, rather than an assigned book chosen by an adult. Personally, I think it is amazing and awesome that there are SOOO many books being published in the children and young adult market. End of the Book, pshaw!

So, I pondered it, read lists, looked on my own highly controversial bookshelves and I went to the best place to learn about books: The Library. One of the most beautiful facts of our country’s freedoms: we get free books. I spend a lot of time at the library and have a good dialogue with my librarians. The conversation we had about banned books (as she set up their display) was heartening. I learned that only one book has been challenged (in her knowledge) in our  400-year old, smallish, right-leaning county: AND TANGO MAKES THREE. {Follow the link for a post about that children’s picture book from the fabulous Booklady’s Blog.} The saddest thing about that challenge is it is NON-fiction. People want to ban facts. Grrr…

Finally, I opened the library’s print-out of this year’s Banned Books Week campaign and saw THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie listed first. And I learned that it was banned, removed by a school board in Missouri this year and previously in Oregon among other challenges. I read this book, primarily because it was a National Book Award winner and one of the top recommended books for teen boys. I like sharing books with my son, ever since he was in utero. I read it, laughed, cried, laughed A LOT more and even learned a little (granted, I had some previous knowledge of the subject matter). Then I gave it to him and said “You have to read this” which was not an order, but as he knew, just a great suggestion.

The main reasons cited for banning TATDOAPTI are language, substance use, and sexual situations. I admit, I was keenly aware of giving my son a book that discussed masturbation, but I had a feeling he already knew about that. But sex, drugs and rock n’ roll aside, this book depicts a reality that many teens in this country experience daily. At the same time, it also depicts one that many people are not aware of or do not understand. I wanted my brilliant son to appreciate his education and just how good he’s got it.

The main character experiences obstacles, discouragement, and a whole lot of stress in order to pursue his education. Since birth, he had physical challenges, which required brain surgery. He is awkward and ridiculed and also brilliant and hilarious. His story is about making the most of what you can in your life no matter what problems you face. He actually walks miles to get to a school that can give him a better education. Alexie throws light on the difference between reservation schools and US public schools. He also details a bright boy’s struggle to find his place in two societies, neither of which fully accepts him. A student speaking out in support of the book said at the Stockton County, MO school board meeting

This book in a nutshell is my hope. It’s not about giving up. It’s about not letting people tell you you’re not worth it.

and she was completely ignored. The vote was 7-0 to ban it. I pray that does not cause her to lose hope. She and her peers need to know that their experiences and feelings matter, too. When young people are constantly told that their opinions and beliefs do not count, they begin to believe it.

Junior, the MC and narrator of “Absolutely True Diary” , is one of those teens and his story is worth reading. Yes, teens cuss, are exposed to substances, and think about sex too much. But they also try to find their talents, develop their abilities and dream of their futures. Why would we want to censor that?

Obama book I have to admit I was happy to get an opportunity to participate in a blog tour through MotherTalk for the New York Times‘ Young Reader’s Edition of Obama: The Historic Journey. This book is definitely going to be a staple in libraries across the country, but it is also a great addition to home libraries. All of my kids were surprisingly interested in it, though they mostly wanted to see the pictures of the President when he was a baby [always a fascinating image for kids]. They are all here, the snapshots of a young unknown collected together, some of which have become familiar after being shown during the campaign. Though there is a bit more text than the preschoolers are used to listening to, it is an easy to follow mini-bio and narrative of his life, career and campaign written by NYT managing editor Jill Abramson.  My middle-schooler also browsed the pictures more than anything, but I would not be surprised if he turns to this book as a reference in the future. Above all, it is a collection of photographs taken by NYT staff of Obama’s rise to the public eye, from before the campaign all the way up to the Inauguration, many of which are stunning and inspiring. The layouts include highlighted quotations and a few charts. Some of the controverisal topics are discussed, including his absent father and his “father figure” Rev. J. Wright, but the facts are told simply and, I think, offer parents a chance to discuss such topics with children if curiosity arises. There is also an “Adult edition” available which includes texts of some of the Times’ columns and editorials focused on President Barack Obama’s journey. Personally, the junior edition is enough for me, because a lot of the info is old news at this point, and because it skips a lot of the politics and gets to the heart of the story: an American boy, with odds stacked against him, worked hard and dreamed big [with all that audacity] and achieved great things with support from his family and country.

I’m excited to be included on the Bookworm Carnival hosted by Jessica at bluestockings.com. She posted my lit-flicks-150x150last entry for the Lit Flick challenge on Inkheart. I almost didn’t make it because of my chronic procrastination problem, which you might think I would have worked on more by now. I hadn’t checked her blog for awhile out of guilt because I still have 3 posts to do by Feb 28! Of course, I did start late, but that’s only one excuse 😉 So, with no further babble, let me present #3…and expect 2 more in the next week!

miss-pettigrew
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Persephone Classics
) by Winifred Watson

I picked this one up at the library upon the recommendation of my blogger friend Dy, at Dy’s Mind’s Eye, way back in December. I actually started and stopped and renewed and paid late fees, but once I got back into it, it really was a fun, quick read. The plot actually follows the protagonist’s life-changing adventures for one day, and the chapters are in time intervals.

Miss Guinivere Pettigrew is an average woman who has little pleasure in life, working unsuccessfully as a governess and choosing to watch other people enjoy life in high-society and on film. In one day, she makes a series of choices that completely change her life. Though a lot of the plot centers on parties and romance, there really are underlying themes about women’s roles, society’s mores, and joie de vivre. It is the kind of book that can actually inspire one to look at life a little differently. The simplistic view is that life can be fun, but not if you live it according to other people’s expectations. We should make our own choices and enjoy it. Though it is from another era, the story is timeless.

First of all, I love finding new-to-me books  by unsung writers from literary history. A lot of women writers especially, winifred_watsonlike Winifred Watson, from past generations have been forgotten or ignored, though some groups and companies like Persephone Books are remedying that by reissuing books and reintroducing them to the world. They republished this book in 2000, two years before the author passed away. I hope she got some sense of closure in her life, rather than being completely forgotten [for fellow writers this may give us added hope too! It’s never too late to be discovered!] Reading the biography included in the new edition was an extra bonus, to learn about Ms. Watson. She wrote a few books, and did enjoy recognition in her lifetime, but completely stopped writing after becoming a mother…[!]…Knowing how hard it is to juggle mommyhood with work/house/life and add writing to the mix, I can only imagine how Ms. Watson came to such a decision. She is quoted as saying “You cannot write when you are never alone.” How well I know the feeling. She also had tragedies from WWII to contend with and I am sure that there was some sense of duty to family and country, rather than writing  novels… all the more reason to be glad for the reissue.

That being said, I am almost glad that she did not live to see the film, though it is beneficial in promoting the book and, on its own, is a very fun film. So, that sounds confusing. Let me clarify: The film Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, directed by Bharat Nalluri and starring Oscar-winner Frances McDormand (Fargo) as Miss Pettigrew, is based on the novel, but not true to it. It is really its own entity, and for most viewers who don’t read the book, it will delight as a charming story about living life and finding love. There are great Thirties costumes, music {Amy Adams co-stars as Delysia LaFosse, Miss P’s new BFF and a nightclub singer} and yes, a happy, romantic ending.

However (gripe, gripe), they changed the story; even though the book was practically begging to be a screenplay, apparently it had to be adjusted for modern audiences. So, Dy saw the film first, loved it and ran to get the book. I read it first and probably ruined my own viewing pleasure, because then I found myself ripping it apart at the loose plot-seams. Maybe I would have felt differently if I had watched the film first, but I am a firm believer that the book is always better and I cannot help my critical self. It just drives me nuts when the perfectly good plot gets realigned so much. And it just seems to happen more often than not. Maybe next time I should wait to read the book after seeing a film.

I don’t want to spoil the story, but I will state that the most annoying change, to me, is that of the character of Miss Edythe DuBarry. In the book, she is a friend and an ally. She is a delightfully crass, independent businesswoman. She rocks. In the film, she is manipulative, kind of tacky, and well, a bitch. I love the actress who plays her {Shirley Henderson, who is awesome in everything, but will always be Moaning Myrtle to me}, and she does a fine job presenting the role written for her, but I cannot help but wonder if she read the book and noticed the discrepancy too, because she doesn’t look too happy about it. The other thing I kept noticing while watching the film was that the screenplay puts a lot more emphasis on the looming war with Germany than Ms. Watson did at all. Of course, she was writing while events were unfolding and the references do help set the time and setting better, but still, I think Hollywood and associates have an obsession with war and like to add it in as a theme even where it does not need to be. The story of a woman discovering herself in a tumultuous era and breaking out of a mundane shell of propriety and boredom really is a good enough story without war and pain. At least to me it is.

FYI: The Carnival also comes with a meme, which I think I answered above :)…and I pass on to you below… so the debate is on-TAG!

The Carnival Meme

To help spread the word about this edition of the carnival, answer the following question on your own blog: Do you prefer to read the book first or see the movie first?

Upcoming Editions of the Carnival

Edition 24 hosted by: Tracy at Book Room Reviews
Deadline for submission: February 27, 2009
Theme: Young Adult Literature
To submit a post, email: bookroomreviews at hotmail dot com

Edition 25 hosted by: Jennifer at Quiverfull Family
Deadline for submission: March 13, 2009
Theme: Parenting (fiction or non-fiction)
To submit a post, email: jennifer at quiverfullfamily dot com

Edition 26 hosted by: 1MoreChapter
Deadline for submission: March 27, 2009
Theme: Book Awards
To submit a post, email: 3m.michelle at gmail dot com

BTW: I am also posting this on the companion Lit Flick challenge at Bitchin Film Reviews, the blog run by Jessica’s bro, Blake. The emphasis there is more on film than lit, and he has tons more movie reviews and info for film buffs. And I will have 2 more posts soon! They are already written in my head 🙂

Lit Flick Challenge

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

New Line Cinemas film Directed by Iain Softley

cvr_inkheartI have to admit that I pretty much ignored this trilogy at first. Not completely, because I did buy the first book for my bookworm son when it was on special through his book club, drove him to the library to get #2 [Inkspell] and pre-ordered #3 [Inkdeath] (yes, now we need a copy of #2 at home). He is a great reader, so I knew that the series had to have some good points. I often read YA books, because it is what I like to write and because they appeal to the YA that is still in me somewhere, [and also- some of the world’s great books have been considered children’s/Young Adult literature] but I did not pick this set up until late last year. I confess, I did not check closely enough to see what it was all about and for some reason I thought it was yet another dragon/quest/ fantasy book much like the several dozen my son had previously read. I committed the unpardonable offense of book lovers everywhere. I judged a book by its cover.

Not to say that is necessarily a bad thing all of the time, nor that this was a bad cover. I knew it looked like my son would dig it. I just did not think I needed to add yet another book to my large pile when the story has been done and done again. I mean, I am still trying to get through Brisingr because my son says I just have to. For the record, I like dragon/quest/fantasy books…but this fantasy book has so much more than most in the genre, and there are no dragons in it, [though I do standby “Inkheart” being a cool name for a dragon- if I ever have one to name].

Actually, Inkheart [and its sequels] is a book lover’s fantasy, which is primarily why I feel so ashamed of my conclusionary leap. The author, Cornelia Funke, obviously loves literature [like all good writers do] and she has essentially created a tribute to the books she loves, the passion of readers and the magical world of writing. Real book lovers will relate to the characters’ personalities and quirks. Fantasy lovers will thrill to the idea of fictional creations stepping out of their books and into our world. Think about how many times you wished [whether you were 8 or 38] that you could walk into a magical wardrobe or meet your favorite character, just once. What if they came to meet you?

To summarize: Our tween heroine, Meggie Folchart, discovers that her quirky-yet-boring father is not just an ordinary bookbinder. Rather, he has a rare talent which is the ability to bring what he reads to life. For some, this would be a gift and blessing, but to Mo Folchart it is only a curse. It has brought him misery and danger and taken away one of the joys of parenting-reading to a child. He has raised Meggie alone, and raised her to respect and appreciate books too, without reading aloud to her. Their life is interrupted when a mysterious man named Dustfinger arrives one evening with news that another shady figure, Capricorn, is trying to hunt down Mo, a.k.a. Silvertongue. They both want him to read their book, Inkheart, for different reasons. Mo also wants the book, for his own purposes. He tries to protect Meggie by taking her to her Great-Aunt Elinor’s home, but that only drags them closer to Capricorn’s trap. They are joined in their quest/adventure by other characters including Senor Fenoglio, the author of the book within the book.

Funke is listed as a producer of the film, but not on the screenplay. I can assume she approved all changes, though. Most of them are minor, but there are enough of them to make my 12 yo spend the evening after the film pointing out all discrepancies. He did concede, however that he thinks the movie was somewhat “better”. I do not know about better, because changing unnecessary factors bothers me to no end. But I do think that most of the adjustments in the screenplay do make the film work well and some are kind of cool. I am trying very hard not to give any major points away because the film is in theaters now, and I do recommend it. If you are a hardcore by-the-book fan, be prepared [though hardcore fans probably already saw it], but if you haven’t read it yet, do not be concerned about seeing the film first. You will be able to enjoy both independently.

Brendan Fraser is the unlikely book-binder turned magical hero, and I think he does it well, but it’s a little weird seeing him be so serious. There isn’t as much of the usual charming humor [some may say “goofy”] that he brings to most roles. Frankly, most of the “supporting” cast are actually superior in their acting and awards, but he is the big box-office draw and my favorite on the list [he had me at School Ties]. It’s probably good for him to do some more serious roles and I have to say this role is better than the recent Journey to the Center of the Earth was. The rest of the cast is full of some of Britain’s best actors,  from Oscar-winners Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent, to the young stars Eliza Hope Bennett and Rafi Gavron.

I was really impressed by the portrayal of Dustfinger, the fictional fire-juggler come-to-life played by the very-fine INKHEARTPaul Bettany, as well as the villain, Capricorn, played by Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings fame. One of the ‘conflicts’ of the novel is centered around how the characters that come to life are almost independent from what the reader or even the writer expects them to be. I think this idea is epitomized in film adaptations when characters are not quite what we pictured in our minds. These 2 actors managed to exceed my expectations. In fact, I think they made the characters better on some level. Of course, they had a lot of help from the special effects crew. Some of the movie magic and photography is stunning, but at the same time some of it is overload. The magic in the book is really about the magic of the written word, and the power that books can offer us, and it is a lot simpler than the computer- enhanced images imply. But, it looks good on the big screen, that’s for sure.

danceswithwolvesthumbYes, this is an old one, so most folks who are interested have probably seen the film, though fewer may have read the novel from which it sprang. I have to begin with a “disclaimer” of sorts and tell you that I have always said this would be the perfect film if it were not for the parts when Kevin Costner speaks. If you have seen it, you will understand how that would change the film. I have never really understood his popularity as an actor and generally feel that when I am watching him I am watching Costner reading lines in the same monotone voice, not an actor presenting a character. He apparently liked the book so much he wanted to share it with the world and he did a wonderful job of directing it. I have wondered what it would be like with another, possibly unknown, actor.  But, it is an extraordinary story and the film is beautiful [photography, setting, soundtrack, etc] so I have seen it many times over the years, at least in bits and pieces when TNT replays it [over and over]. The first time I watched was under pressure by a housemate who said I had to [despite my anti-Costner-film stance] and I was literally struck with awe. So, years ago I picked up a copy of Michael Blake’s first novel [paperback published after film with pic of KC on cover] at a thrift or Friends of the Library sale. It has sat on the shelves and moved around for awhile, so the Lit Flick Challenge seemed like a good time to read it already.

To summarize: Civil War Lieutenant John Dunbar of the US Army is stationed to Fort Sedgewick, an outpost on the mid-west Plains, actually around modern Colorado. When he arrives the fort has been abandoned and he is essentially alone in the wilderness. He has supplies, ingenuity and guts and he manages to forge a relationship with a lone wolf and a nomadic band of Comanche. In the space of less than 6 months he relinquishes his American identity and is assimilated into his new tribe, becoming Dances With Wolves.

In reading the novel, I was able to picture most of the scenes in the movie again though it has been a few years since last viewed. Fortunately, the author also wrote the screenplay, so not much plot is altered and many passages, including the monotone narration, are verbatim. Blake did a honorable job in presenting several points of view, from both cultures.  A couple of characters from the tribe got cut out of the screenplay, and most were abbreviated. I wish the film had expanded on the female protagonist Stands With a Fist a bit more, though I do understand time constraints. She was the more interesting character to me, as the American “captive” turned Comanche. I qualify that word because as a young girl who survived a Pawnee attack on her family homestead, the tribe picking her up on the prairie really rescued her, but the term “captive” is used in the novel.  She is more developed in the novel. We also get more insight into the minds of Kicking Bird and Wind in His Hair, the two main male characters from the tribe.

One thing that nagged at me throughout my reading was that I could not quite place where they were. When you view the film you are treated to sweeping views of the Dakotas. The tribe is Sioux and much of the dialogue is in Lakota {one of my best impressions on first view was how authentic the language and dialogue is, far different from earlier versions of native language in most American films- yes, this means captions, but reading is good for you}. The novel is about a Comanche tribe, though, who were located further South and the directions given of the forts, etc place them more in Kansas/Colorado area. So I was a bit confused, because although I am no expert, I was sure I was remembering the Sioux culture in the film. Now, this may be nitpicky and I do not know how actual Lakotas and/or Comanches feel about it [tho I am sure there was a variety of opinion over the film in general], but it seems wrong to me to change such a fundamental element. Some people may not think there is a difference, but there is, especially in historical references. Apparently the switch had something to do with the herd of buffalo available in SD.

That is the biggest discrepancy between the film and novel, though I will be a spoiler and tell you that the ending is differentish too. If you have neither seen nor read Dances With Wolves, do yourself  a favor and read it first then watch the film [which should be viewed by any film buff]. Then you can enjoy the story without having Costner’s voice in your head the whole time like I did.

PS: On a search found this info about a sequel being made w/out KC… some people think this is a bad thing.

jane bookJane Austen is so hot these days, it seems unnecessary to even promote any book by, about or linked to her, but I must admit that this fictitious-yet-historical novel stands out from the modern “tributes” inspired by the Godmother of Chick Lit  [if not the novel-as-we-know-it.] Being an admirer, I have enjoyed [most of] the updated film versions and remakes, but not so much the “literature” that has been produced by fans and wannabes. Obviously, I cannot read all the books, so I may have missed it, but as far as I know this is the first one that rewrites Jane’s life. In her voice, no less.

One of the great lamentations among Austen’s fans and scholars is of course, that she never knew love herself. I always wished that she had been paid more, considering how much others have made since from her creations. However, she did get compensation and recognition for her work during her lifetime, which was no small feat for women then, and she definitely opened some lovely shuttered windows for the rest of us. And, of course, I wish her a Mr. Darcy, too. With a healthy annual stipend. [As long as she still got to hang on to her career, natch.]

So, screenwriter Syrie James has taken on an enormous task- channel Austen and bring her back to life- and in The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen she has pretty much done just that. I admit, I was skeptical; after all, Austen’s prose is recognizable as her own and in general, 21st century Americans cannot recreate the vernacular and tone of Regency England. Yet, many attempt it and most fail, whether they know it or not. To adopt a universally acclaimed novelist’s voice in order to tell her own story? Daunting, indeed. For some Austenites, it probably amounts to sacrilege.

Fortunately, James did her homework and manages to present Jane Austen, the character much as Jane Austen, the human might have been. She is not as self-absorbed as some of her own characters; she has the same humor and light cynical-yet-romantic tone that I so identified with in high school. And she is a writer.

Yes, she gets to be a romantic heroine, as well as the slightly unappreciated and completely dependent daughter/sister/female burden on society. The biographical element of this novel goes beyond the typical blurbs which present Ms. A as a spinster-doomed-to-write-romances. We follow her and her kindred spirit/sister Cassandra as they move about British social circles literally looking for their place in life. We are able to comprehend what it really was like for those women [and their fictional counterparts the Misses Bennetts, Emmas, etc] to be stuck with almost nothing in their lives except the potential suitors/marriages and of course gossip, gossip, gossip. We see Jane struggling with the mores and proprieties imposed on her [as I and many modern readers just know they would too]. And yes, we get to watch her fall madly in love with a man who “gets” her and appreciates her even with all her quirks. sigh…

The greatest part of the plot/history, though, for this reader at least, is the story of Jane Austen, author, who struggled with her creativity, desire to write and the gigantic brick walls she had to scale in order to succeed. Syrie James, the 21st century, award-winning screenwriter, wife and mother, knows that the real Jane was not the one-dimensional “authoress” who wiled away her days writing little stories while waiting for true love to come and find her. That Jane would never have been published in her lifetime. This Jane knows the mental strain of writer’s block as well as the overwhelming rush, which I term “writer’s flow,” that can equally strain the brain. She was born into a family of writers and blessed with an uncanny ability to satirize her society without isolating herself from it. She could write; she needed to write, so she did for her own satisfaction, primarily, but ultimately because it was her purpose in life, her contribution to this world. I honestly wept when she started writing again, reworking her original manuscript of Sense and Sensibility, overcoming her own self-doubts and inner critic. And when she finished, she had to face more fears:

My heart pounded with trepidation at the thought. I had devoted my entire heart, soul and mind to this work, and two or three years to its inception. What if it did not sell? What if all my efforts had, as in the past, been in vain?

Talk about a love story. We of course know the ending, but it’s the getting there that Ms. James relates so well for readers who may or may not be familiar with the history of Jane Austen. She introduces us to the real characters of Austen’s life, brothers, mother, various relatives and acquaintances, etc., who inspired the immortal characters of the novels. Aside from a slightly annoying trope involving “editor’s footnotes” James has done a superb job of entwining these characters, as well as the settings of certain scenes, in such a manner that it is hard to separate her version from Jane’s novels. Much of it is recorded biographical  fact, but it is often hard to distinguish where the fictional elements blend in, which is why the love story works too.

And why not? The Jane that I admire had the nerve to choose not to marry someone she could not love, and surely, to love a man she could not marry. Whether or not it happened, James has created the possibility in an intelligent, historical romance novel. I do believe that Jane would approve.

 Re: Comment attached to book review of “The Reincarnationist” [see  October 8th blog below]

“I got a google alert about this review and wanted to thank you so much. Its one of the most thoughtful ones I’ve recieved and if I could write a review of the book myself, this is much like what I would write. Thank you for everything you do for books!!!”

I am honored by this comment, not only because it is from the author herself [!wow!] who is obviously busy and has more to do than worry about random opinions, but because of the sentiment that li’l ol’ me has done something “for books”. What a compliment. If I can in any way, shape or form contribute to the book world [besides as a voracious consumer] then perhaps this blog project is worth it. I have no misconceptions that my foray into cyber-world is going to net me millions, I do this for my own satisfaction [hence, the tendency to vent on other topics] and, as stated previously, to learn.

Which leads me to share some reflections I have made in recent weeks about this project and about my own writing. It’s not easy for me to share personal thoughts, no matter how much anonymity is involved. I knew when I began a blog that I did not want to start writing about what the kids had for breakfast or how life sux sometimes even while being an amazing experience. I believe that most of us don’t care about the former and already get the latter. I really just needed a “room of my own” so to speak, where I was free to be. I am separated from the literary and academic worlds right now and miss the interaction, so have turned to the Internet [glorious fountain of knowledge and infotainment that it is] as my virtual guidance counselor. Here, I have space to figure out what I am going to do with my life, talent and degree. I am a writer, as far as the definition of the noun. I write. I can write. I am not an author or a critic. They get paid to write. I am a reader. We all are. But more than being able to read, I want to, I love to, I need to read. And I am a bookworm. And by that, others may empathize, I want, love and need books. Which is why my “blogroll” includes cool book sites and why I get riled up about modern book burnings and censorship.

Admittedly, though, I have constant doubts about the validity of my words, as well as the necessity of yet another blog. So, the fact that real people do read this and are affected by my words is encouraging [as well as slightly scary]. I guess I can only hope that I offer some positive energy to the world. I do expect some day to join the ranks of the book creators, but meanwhile I will revel in my position as reader, reviewer and salvager.

So, in a long-winded way, I had to say that I needed that, Ms. Rose. I feel like I just got an “A” with one of those great red-inked comments in the margin, like “Keep up the good work!”

Now, I have a little more motivation to WRITE!

cover_reincarnationist_sm1.jpgcover_reincarnationist_sm.jpgThis is actually the first book by thriller writer MJ Rose that I have read, though she has written a lot of bestsellers with fantastic names like The Venus Fix, and many readers are familiar with her. I am not generally into the “thriller” genre, but I am highly curious about the phenomena known as reincarnation and needed a fictional diversion from books I have been reading for research, etc. I will admit I was skeptical when I began, especially as one review I saw compared this story with The DaVinci Code, but at some point I simply could not put the book down. I devoured it yesterday while my family functioned around me and now I am here to tell you, this is a darn-good story. If you read “D-V Code” and loved it, you should read this and compare the quality of writing. If you read “D-V Code” and could not figure out why the literary world cared, you may appreciate The Reincarnationist simply for the skill Rose displays as a writer. While there are similarities, which need not be revealed, the differences are what makes this novel exciting. This isn’t the retelling of an old legend, it’s entirely her story.

The basic premise is relatively simple, yet full of complexities as all good mysteries are. Protagonist Josh Ryder is a photojournalist who begins having glimpses of his past lives which lead him to a modern mystery/crime. He is battling his own doubts about reincarnation and his sanity, but when modern people start coming forth with similar stories, and others are murdered around him he is forced to face the past. As we know, those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it, eh?

His story has roots in 4th century Rome as well as the nineteenth century NY society. Rose delves into the history of pagan Rome and the Vestal Virgins as well as art, archaeology and reincarnation itself. Most of her story is entirely fictional, but I believe a good story still offers readers something to learn about the real world as Rose has done here. Not all of the characters are that endearing, and there are some obvious devices but the fascinating subject of reincarnation is treated better than in most books. It’s not a fantasy novel; this is not just about time-travel. As some characters point out, there are documented cases and eons of belief behind the topic. The author also treads into the controversial issues within certain world-dominating religions with a slightly lighter hand than some other authors have. Even if you are opposed to the idea, she does present both points of view (even as one of the protagonist’s major internal conflicts) and the research group The Phoenix Foundation is her own creation, so there won’t be any nasty news reports and international scandals. Though that stuff makes for good P.R.

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