Fixed Navigation Bar

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Book Club Pick: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

Astonish Me is a fascinating story about the intense world of ballet and a young ballerina in NYC. Joan Joyce, who is a good but not great dancer, will probably never be good enough to leave the corps de ballet. While dancing in Paris, Joan falls madly in love with a young Russian dancer Arslan Rusakov (probably modeled after Mikhail Baryshnikov) who she eventually helps defect to the United States. As his fame grows, he quickly loses interest in Joan (who is not 'good enough'), and she realizes she is never going to be a prima ballerina. She decides to leave New York and marries an old friend, moves to California, raises a son and teaches ballet to a new generation of young hopefuls. It's no surprise when her son Harry develops into a promising ballet dancer himself, a real protégé and brings Joan back into her old world of ballet and inevitably back to Arslan and her old friend Elaine. Set in New York, Paris and California, this is a story of ballet but also of relationships, family and truth.





Very well written, and with a cast of interesting characters, Astonish Me shows the many facets of professional ballet--the nature of talent, the idea of perfection, the decisions dancers must make and the inexplicable hold ballet holds over them throughout their lives.



-Ellen Bottiny, Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Summer of 1914

Editor's Note:  This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, one of the most brutal and bloody battles of WWI. More than a million combatants were injured or killed during the offensive, which lasted for more than four months. While it seems hard to imagine now, most people in 1914 thought that war, if it came at all, would be over by Christmas.

In the lovely summer of 1914, hardly anyone in Britain is thinking of war. The citizens of the small East Sussex town of Rye certainly aren’t paying much attention to troubles in the far-off Balkans. Free-spirited Agatha Kent has shaken up the town by proposing that a young woman, Beatrice Nash, take on the role of Latin master in the village schoolhouse. When Agatha’s chief rival in Rye forwards a less-qualified but undeniably male candidate, Agatha’s two nephews gleefully rise to the occasion. Straightforward Hugh and the more light-hearted Daniel quickly put into play a playful prank to support their aunt and help Beatrice win her position. Helen Simonson deliciously mines the snobberies, rivalries and gossip that occupy Rye’s inhabitants for comic effect in The Summer Before the War

Simonson’s novel delves into both light-hearted and deeper issues of the time, in particular the chafing restrictions of class and convention. Hugh, a medical student, wishes to convince the frivolous daughter of his mentor to marry, while Daniel longs to live a literary life in Paris. Beatrice, who holds rather unorthodox opinions, must behave circumspectly to keep her teaching position and remain financially independent. The citizens of Rye find themselves tutting over the living arrangements of a pair of suffragettes and the prospects of a poor Gypsy youth they fear is being educated beyond his station.

The advent of the war at first deepens the absurdities of the various small-town conflicts, as the ladies vie to outdo the patriotism of a neighboring town. The tone of the novel shifts, however, as Rye's inhabitants experience their first losses and begin to understand the true impact of the war. This shift is what gives Simonson’s novel its heft – the snobberies and conventionalities of peacetime have grave consequences during wartime. Simonson’s characters and plot may be predictable at times – but her elegant writing underscores the tragic injustices of prejudice and intolerance.

-Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

If You Like...Jane Austen



It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s life and writing continues to have a strong influence on the world today. This summer, we’ve had the June release of Love and Friendship, a movie based on Austen’s Lady Susan, the annual Jane Austen Film Festival put on by Dumbarton Oaks in June and July and a new exhibit examining the celebrity of William Shakespeare and Jane Austen beginning this month at the Folger Shakespeare Library. And that’s not even touching on the many adaptations of Austen’s works (a couple of which were mentioned in an About Books blog post last month) that have been and will be published. It would be very easy to find books for Austen lovers among those adaptations, but this If You Like… post focuses more on authors writing in a similar style or Regency setting. Check one or two out on your next trip to your nearest FCPL branch!


Shades of Milk and Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal [FIC KOW]
If the world of Jane Austen met a bit of glamour and magic, the result would surely be this novel by Mary Robinette Kowal. In Shades of Milk and Honey, Jane and Melody Ellsworth are two sisters living in a Regency England where a lady is expected to be accomplished in the art of glamour in addition to her many other accomplishments (see Pride and Prejudice, for the full Darcy-approved list sans glamour). Melody, the beauty, could have her choice of suitors, though less practiced in the art of glamour than her elder sister. But it is Jane’s ever-advancing accomplishment with glamour that proves invaluable when Melody begins to form an attachment to a suitor who may be more interested in her dowry than he is in her. Little does Jane know, it may lead her to true love as well.


The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe [FIC RAD]
Northanger Abbey is well known to have its roots in this novel by Ann Radcliffe, an author whose influence on Jane Austen can be seen in other places as well, including the reading taste of her characters. Both Northanger’s Catherine Morland and Emma’s Harriet Smith extol the virtues of works by Ms. Radcliffe. She is, therefore, an author that fans of Jane Austen would be remiss not to try out. Emily St. Aubert is an orphan with an active imagination, living in the home of her aunt’s new husband, Montoni – a most unpleasant experience. She faces terrors both of her own making and generated through pressures from her aunt and uncle to accept the hand of man she does not love or else find out the harsh realities behind Montoni’s threats.


A Lady of Quality  - Georgette Heyer – [FIC HEY]
Georgette Heyer has written a number of Regency romances with a similar setting and writing style to Jane Austen. Readers who loved Emma and Pride and Prejudice may enjoy Heyer’s A Lady of Quality in particular. Miss Annis Wynchwood has decided never to marry and is on her way to her new living situation in Bath - along with her cousin, Miss Farlow, as her companion - when she comes upon Miss Lucilla Carleton, who is running away from a marriage to which she objects. Moved by the sheltered life this girl has led, Miss Wynchwood agrees to take her in as her guest in Bath and make her introductions to polite society. Enter Miss Carleton’s guardian whose rudeness far surpasses anyone else whom Miss Wynchwood has ever met.

 



Waverley - Sir Walter Scott [FIC SCO]
Scott was another author who had a profound influence on Jane Austen – for his poetry first, then for the few novels which were published in her lifetime. His works are favored by characters in Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion, so if you found yourself identifying with the Dashwood sisters or Anne Eliot, you may give the poetry and novels of Sir Walter Scott a try. Waverley was the earliest novel that Sir Walter Scott wrote. It is a historical novel that tells the story of a young English soldier sent to Scotland during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and is full of political intrigue, romance and adventure.


Keeping the Castle – Patrice Kindl [YFIC KIN]
Keeping the Castle is a light and lively book that follows seventeen year old Miss Althea Crawley in her quest to find a rich husband, much needed to repair her family’s fortunes. This should not be very difficult, considering the immense beauty in Miss Althea’s appearance, and yet her blunt honesty and practicality has driven more than one wealthy suitor away – in a town where she can ill afford to drive any suitor away, men being scarce, whether wealthy or not. So when the promising Lord Boring and his cousin Mr. Fredericks come to town, Althea sets out to settle the matter once and for all, and become Lady Boring… if only Mr. Fredericks – and her stepsister, for that matter – would kindly leave her and Lord Boring to her own devices…


The Secret of Pembrooke Park – Julie Klassen [FIC KLA]
Practical Abigail had hoped she would marry her childhood friend, Gilbert, once he returned from studying abroad - until she learns she may have lost him to her younger, more fashionable sister, who is looking forward to her first season. To make matters worse, months after Gilbert has left, her family faces financial ruin thanks largely to an investment that she encouraged her father to make. Luckily, aid comes from an unexpected quarter when Abigail’s family receives an offer from – very – distant relations to make use of Pembrooke Park, an old family estate that has been otherwise abandoned for years with a mysterious past. Like Catherine Morland, Abigail is determined to uncover its secrets. And may discover love and danger in the process…




Bonus Book!
For any readers who also love to cook out there – check out Maggie Black & Deirdre Le Faye’s Jane Austen Cookbook and try out some recipes re-created from the Austen family cookbook or created as delicious dishes imagined to have been served to your favorite Austen heroine! [641.5942 B 1995]


Have other recommendations for others who love Jane Austen? Don’t forget to leave them, along with any suggestions for future “If You Like…” posts, in the comments!

-Denise Dolan, George Mason Regional Library