Cyropaedia

Have you guys checked out Coursera yet? If not, you definitely should. It’s a website solely devoted to providing quality online college courses from real professors from real colleges for free (you can pay for certificates if you want/need them). I’m on my second class now–a class about historical fiction called “Plagues, Witches, and War.” Sounds super interesting, right?

Because it’s a class on fiction, there’s a pretty substantial reading list, and the class is “Go At Your Own Pace.” Now, the professor told us we don’t have to read everything on the syllabus but…come on, you guys know me well enough to know I’m sure as hell gonna try. Or at least the ones I can get for free on Kindle and Google Books.

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First on the list is Cyropaedia, an ancient book written by a student of Socrates. Composed around 370 BC, it is supposedly the first historical fiction novel–a political romance.

The eight books follow Cyrus the Great of Persia from his early beginnings as a rambunctious teenager until he is old and dying. During his lifetime he builds a magnificent empire in what today is the Middle East. He did this not just by conquering nations, but by also gaining the love and trust of his people and soldiers, and thus made many allies.


Image credit:  http://syria.ewas.us/

I never quite understood the “romance” part of the book, though I’m sure it’s buried in there somewhere. However, this book is very much a war epic. I kept wondering if this was required reading at West Point or during any Officer’s Training, because if not, it should be. The military strategy discussed is probably ancient and outdated for use with our technology now, but the motivational speeches made by Cyrus and his generals are some of the most epic I’ve ever read. I did run out of steam towards the middle because of the battle descriptions, as I tend to do with this sort of thing, but otherwise, the characters are absolutely captivating.

Xenophon is not an author we hear about much (ok, at all) in the literary world today, at least for those of us average folk. Plato, Socrates, Cicero, Homer, sure. Xenophon is never mentioned. But this book was excellent, for what it was. Perhaps not to my usual tastes, but it was captivating from beginning to end.

 

Buy it here!

A Room with a View

After a view distractions from my scheduled TBR, I am back on track. There’s nothing wrong with going off pace, especially for books people are talking about or movies I’m going to see. But, I always feel better when I go back to my list.

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EM Forster was up next with A Room with a View. This is a dramatic Edwardian romance with a love triangle–and a feminist heroine–something I wasn’t expecting for this style of book!

Lucy and her older cousin Charlotte visit Italy and meet George and his father. George becomes enamored with Lucy, but she finds him too immature. When they move onto Rome, she meets another man, Cecil, who is more sophisticated, and they get engaged.

However, the romance with George continues, and eventually she cannot ignore that she loves him more than Cecil. Cecil does not treasure her independence and sees her as more of a trophy to be won.

I have mixed feelings about this one. I wasn’t in love with it–I was easily distracted from the writing, and I didn’t get sucked in as much as I do some books from this period. However, I really like the plot and I did write down several quotes from the book. It’s a good concept, I’m just not not quite sure. May have to give it another go at some point.

 

Fulfills Boxall’s #93

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

Travelling requires easy, light reads. Even if I am already in the middle of something when I leave–I usually pause it for something else while I’m gone. I can never give a difficult book the time and effort it requires while I’m travelling because there are too many distractions–other people, things to do, constant stops and starts. That is why there is a whole genre called “Beach Reads” that are always touted in the summertime. People do not want complicated when on vacation.

Thankfully, I had a couple of these on my Kindle, ready to go. Yesterday’s The Flying Circus was a great travel read, and I had started it in anticipation of my trip north. And when I finished it, I pulled up The Coincidence of Coconut Cake. 

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Modern romances always make great “beach reads.” (And no, I didn’t go to the beach, but I’m going to use that genre title.) They are usually light and fun, have a similar plot pattern, and almost always resolve themselves at the end.

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake was exactly that kind of book. Lou runs a fairly successful French restaurant in Milwaukee, and is thinking about opening a second place with a changing menu. Her fiance, though, is completely unsupportive of her dreams. Always trying to convince him, she shows up early on his birthday with a surprise coconut cake–her grandmother’s famous recipe–only to find his secretary standing in his living room in HER negligee.

Devastated, she tries to go back to work, thinking that will help her keep her mind of it. Unfortunately, she completely screws up order after order, on a night when the Devil Incarnate is reviewing her restaurant. He destroys her.

A while later, she meets a handsome British freelance writer and teaches him all about Milwaukee charm. They fall crazy in love, of course. And, well…you’ll have to read the rest…if you haven’t already figured it out.

Even if you have, go read it. This book, just like the title, is super sweet, with a hint of vanilla. It’s pretty hard to put down, once you start it (even if you get carsick and have to stop every chapter to look out the window). I don’t read too many books from the actual romance genre anymore, but this one was completely uncheesy…well…I can’t say that. It WAS set in Wisconsin after all. But it was delightful.

And, I mean, the whole thing was about cheese and burgers and beer and cheese, so…you know I had to love it. Come on. That’s my whole vocabulary right there!

 

NetGalley provided this ARC for unbiased review. Book to be released on July 21st.

Can we remake this movie?

You guys have heard me talk about The Thorn Birds about a million times since I’ve started this blog. Have you gone and read it yet? Because you totally should. It’s my favorite.

The Thorn Birds (1983) Poster

They did make a mini series on ABC back in the 80s of it…but the only person I really recognize on the cast is Christopher Plummer. Maybe the rest of the people were more recognizable back then, but there’s few I know. The acting is pretty terrible, and the costuming….well, it was the 80s.

As for the cinematography, there is a whole lot of soap opera soft focus, and dramatic camera shifting. You know what I mean. It IS a romance novel, but all just very General Hospital.

The hair is gigantic and poufy, the makeup is way overdone. I know I keep saying it….but it’s just…the 80s! The book is set in the Australian Outback and spread over a period of time from 1915 to 1969 and I just feel that there could be a much better job done to show the changes that the family went through. It is a romance, but there was also war, drought, extreme poverty, and the list goes on and on.  This is one of those books, like Gone with the Wind, that really shows a nation’s history…and I don’t feel the series did a very good job of showing that.

I’d love to see this book get redone on screen. It deserves more of a showing than it got.

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind is one of those movies that is so timeless that even though we live in the time of constant remakes, this is one that would be impossible to redo. Almost everyone has seen this movie at least once…ok, most have seen it half a dozen times or more. I know I have. Could you imagine anyone playing Rhett and Scarlett other than Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh? No way. We’d probably end up with Channing Tatum and Megan Fox. Pardon me while I go throw up.

As many times as I’d seen the movie, I’ve never read the book until now. I had found a copy in a used book sale somewhere, calling out to me to finally grab it.

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And folks, I’ve read a lot of books that have been made in to movies, and there are not many that have been done THIS well. About the only thing I don’t remember from the movie is Scarlett having two other kids. Did that happen in the film? Maybe I just need to go watch it again, but the only film baby I remember was Bonnie. And Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh? DEAD ON CASTING. Whoa.

What most people say about this book/movie is this:  “Oh my gosh, BEST LOVE STORY OF ALL TIME!!!”

Yeah, ok, there’s a love story here. Kind of. I see it. But the love story is so far off on timing, that I wouldn’t really call it the best ever. And really, I don’t think that’s what the book is about.

For me, this book is one of the strongest historical fiction novels based during the Civil War and Reconstruction that I have read so far. Mitchell did her homework, and left nothing out. If you are reading it just for the passion, you’re missing so much.

She writes in detail about the politics of the time, the historical figures, how the slaves were treated. There’s a a part in the book where Scarlett is thinking about how the Yankees read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and took that as the bible on slave ownership. They thought that all slave owners whipped and branded the slaves, and how frustrated Scarlett was when she tried to explain otherwise.

(And…for the record…I’m not saying I agree with slavery, but I appreciate Mitchell giving us more points of view into a history that we can no longer see. If that makes sense. I always enjoy learning about the past.)

It’s that sort of thing that fascinated me about Mitchell’s writing. She could have just given us a standard romance novel and women would have been thrilled. But, this book has turned classic because she went so much deeper than that.

Mitchell also appealed to me on a feminist level, and I’m sure a lot of housewives have picked up this book with that same feeling too. Scarlett O’Hara did not conform to societal norms. Life tried to beat her, and she fought back, until she became a strong, hard woman. She had her own business, she was active and intelligent in politics–even going against what her husband and friends believed in. She did things in her life that, while other people found them to be trashy, had to be done to survive. I don’t agree with all of her choices, but I understand why they were made.

This one is going back on my shelf to be read over and over again. I loved it, not for the passion, and “romance.” Because frankly, I found it annoying. Scarlett’s obsession with Ashley frustrated the hell out of me, and Rhett needed a good thrashing sometimes (and if it were Clark Gable…I’d be glad to do it. *ahem*). But there are so many things to learn from this book that get missed in all that nonsense. Reread it. You’ll find it too.

Eleanor & Park

Moving is catching up with us, so this is going to be a really quick and to the point review before I fall asleep into my computer.

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Eleanor & Park  is YA romance done RIGHT. No weird love triangle…just two teenagers who are crazy about each other for all the right reasons. These are not the popular kids in school–and bond over their weirdness, which I absolutely love. I mean…our wedding motto was “Mutual Weirdness,” I fit right into this character set.
I was crazy about Park’s parents, especially his mom. How adorable was she? And they were such a great pair, too, and so supportive of their boys, and Eleanor when she entered the picture.
Unfortunately…Eleanor was not so lucky when it came to family ties. E&P is not all happiness and rainbows, despite the author’s name (Rainbow Rowell). While being of the YA Romance genre, it is also a tale of domestic abuse and poverty set in the 80s. It’s very tough to get through parts of it without wanting to call CPS or beating down the door yourself. This book will make you sooooo angry, if you have even a shred of humanity.
Rowell did a fantastic job with the characters, the plot, all of it. The chapters are short, and flip back and forth between Eleanor and Park, and give both perspectives repeatedly throughout each chapter. To take from something I’ve seen on Tumblr the past few days…you know shit is gonna go down when Rainbow Rowell starts using short chapters!

Goodbye Chick-lit, Hello Dragons

In the hallway of my childhood home, we had these towering bookshelves that were full to the brim. At least that’s how I remember them…maybe because I spent quite a lot of time, sitting on the floor in front of them, with books scattered on the floor around me, pulled off the shelves. While seated, there was a whole row of Babysitter’s Club, neatly pink and organized. But if I stood up, I could reach all of my mom’s books. And those, my friends, are what I loved most. Those were forbidden fruit. The books I REEEEEEEEEEEAAAAALLY wasn’t old enough for, but read anyway. I don’t really remember any of them, except for Thorn Birds, which I have already told you about, and still love to this day. I do know, that a great many of them were romance novels, because if there’s one thing my mother loves–it’s a love story. I share that trait with her, as do my sisters.

For most of my reading career, smut was my one true love. Especially historical romances. I loved the lords and ladies the most. And it wasn’t even that I needed the sex scenes…that held no interest for me, I mostly skipped over that…mostly. It was the romance that I wanted. I had this dream of being swept off my feet–the Disney Ideal. You know what I’m talking about.

I also loved more modern Chick-Lit. That stuff I could relate to more as I got older, because the women were like me–the same time period, the same worries–to a point anyway.

But then, suddenly, I completely lost interest in them. Maybe it is because I started reading more difficult books, I think that has a lot to do with it. Or maybe it is because I became a lot more cynical and realistic about love and relationships. That’s probably more likely. I’m not going to sail on a pirate ship and meet a dark and dusky sailor…and if I did, he’d be more likely to kill me than love me. HR and Chick-Lit became comical and unrealistic.

That said…I lost faith in that genre about the same time that dragons and magic became believable in my mind. How twisted is that? I think my desire for whimsy makes sense though. When everything in my life was dark and dismal and depressed, I craved the light. When reality was kicking my ass, I wanted a fantasy world full of wizards and adventure. And now that I am out of that darkness, and my life is happy…I no longer need the fake love stories, because I’ve written my own. So why not continue with whimsy and magic?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I will always be a romantic, and I will always ship certain characters. I can’t help it. And when those characters get together in a story…fireworks go off in my head! I just don’t necessarily need that to be the sole premise of the book, or need it to be full of sex and smut. Give me a little substance with the love story. Even Pride & Prejudice has a LITTLE drama. A bit. It’s a classic. Right?

Favorite Guilty Pleasure

I shared this picture a few days early, when I picked it off my bookshelf. There are some books you just CRAVE to read over and over, and this is mine.

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I started reading The Thorn Birds years ago, before I was really old enough to understand everything that was going on. In fact, I remember having to ask my mom to explain some of the more…ahem…romantic parts. I had just pulled it off the shelf because it was thick and ORANGE, so it had probably caught my young eyes as something intriguing.

I can’t tell you what draws me back to this over and over, other than it is so familiar and delicious to me, it is like a big piece of chocolate cake. I know that I rescued this copy from one of my mom’s garage sale piles–when I found she was getting rid of it, I quickly snagged it up, and now it’s mine. The pages are falling out of it–the binding is in utter shreds because I have read it so many times. Every time I read it I tell myself just to go buy a new copy, but somehow, this one goes back on the shelf, and that new copy never appears. And next time I’m ready, the musty, yellow pages welcome me home again.