Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Book Review: Anna of the Five Towns

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This is a very strange story, by modern standards. Of course, it was first published in 1902, so I should not be using modern standards, but I can't help myself. Anna is the daughter of a miser, living in a small town in England. They live extremely frugally while her father signs and accepts bank notes and interest on her behalf. Anna and her little sister Agnes attend a Wesleyan Sunday School where Anna teaches.

There seems to be some hope of escape for Anna. Firstly, in her coming of age. At twenty-one, she inherits a great deal of money. Rather than taking the money to at least buy some new clothes, Anna turns over her cheque book to her father and continues on as if nothing has changed. Except now her father wants her to chase down her creditors. The other form of hope comes in the person of Henry Mynors. Henry is kind and gentle and seems to admire Anna, for unknown reasons. I thought at one point he was just after her money, but this only seemed to be a bonus for him.

Anna is also embraced by the Sutton family after attending a revival meeting and coming away with mixed feelings. They are everything warm and generous, though they tend to spoil their daughter, Beatrice. Mrs. Sutton is especially lovely and the family invite her and Henry to join them on vacation on the Isle of Man. Here, I began to imagine Jane Fairfax on holiday with the Campbell's in Jane Austen's Emma, but it was nothing so light and fun. Instead, Anna is pensive and worried and Beatrice grows seriously ill.

I liked the book, but the ending was a disappointment. If Bennett wrote the book to be a suspenseful mystery, then his ending was a success. I never saw it coming. However, this did not seem to be written as a mystery and so the ending left me unhinged. What in the world was he trying to say? May have to dig into that one!  

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Writing Holiday: A Visit to Storybrooke

As a writer, I find it's easy to get stuck in a pattern. Writing at the same time of day, in the same place, with tea on hand is often a good way to keep the story going. But sometimes, a break in in the pattern is refreshing, life-giving, and inspirational.

On March 21, I had the opportunity to visit Steveston in Richmond, B.C. It was filming day on Moncton street for Once Upon A Time (OUAT) on Moncton St. I've been watching OUAT since its inception and now my kids are hooked as well. Steveston is a picturesque and interesting place to visit whether you're a Oncer or not. Here are a few recommendations, if you're ever in the area.

Take a walk down Moncton Street

Some of the signs from the show stay up year round, while others are are only in place for filming.

Building used at Storybrooke Library.
Photo S.Adkins

Storybrooke Shoestore and Five and Dime
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Mr. Gold's Pawnshop
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Filming Day

If you want to visit Steveston on an OUAT filming day, check out Richmond Tourism's Facebook Page or Twitter Feed. They post filming dates a few days beforehand. If you plan to watch, be prepared to stand quietly where security staff direct. My kids find this tedious, so we take plenty of breaks between takes to shop, eat, and walk.

 Spoiler alert!  We saw a couple of scenes from future episodes.  What can they mean?

Mr. Gold and a mysterious woman standing in front of an ambulance
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Why is Henry in a neck brace?
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Shopping

Steveston and Richmond boast hundreds of unique shops. After three visits, we've only begun to explore. Tourism Richmond (aka Storybrooke Post Office) has excellent officially licenced OUAT merchandise.  Nikaido (aka Standard Clocks) has delightful tea blends, pretty tea sets, exquisite pens, and fine paper products. The kids enjoy the collection of toys offered at Splash Toy Shop (aka Five & Dime Neighbor's). No visit with children is complete without a visit to the Candy Dish where you can get everything from Taffy to Fudge to OUAT-inspired confections. It's Posh is another great shop filled with unique Canadian-made gifts, OUAT necklaces, and antiques.

It's Posh
Photo S. Adkins
Food and Coffee

We loved eating at Cannery Cafe (aka Granny's Diner). The interior is not the same as in the show, but you can order Emma's favourite - Grilled Cheese!
Granny's Diner
Photo S. Adkins
This time, we tried Dim Sum at East on One. They offer live seafood, fast and friendly service, and affordable prices. We highly recommend the deep fried shrimp dumplings!
East on One
Photo S. Adkins
Steveston Coffee Co. (aka Storybrooke Coffee) offers a Dark Swan Latte and cozy atmosphere while Rocanini Coffee Roasters Cafe provides siphon coffee, a full espresso bar, and kid's hot chocolate.


In case you totally want to nerd out with Jane Austen Connections. . .

In conclusion, I couldn't help wondering if Once Upon a Time has any Jane Austen connections. For an interesting read on secret clues within the show, try the Sharp Elves Society blog here: Theory of Jane Austen Once Upon a Time Connection

The show's spinoff, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, featured an episode where Alice is introduced to Mr. Darcy as a potential suitor. (How did I miss this??)

I figured there must be some crossover between actors on Once and any Jane Austen related film, but the closest I could come up with is Maggie Grace who starred in the Jane Austen Book Club as well as on Lost with many of the other Once actors including Regina (Lana Parrilla), Belle (Emilie de Ravin), and Zelena (Rebecca Mader). If anyone can add to this, please leave a comment!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Book Review: Gathering Blue

I first came across this book when I was teaching at a school in Saskatchewan. I was subbing and it
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was time for quiet reading, so I took up the book lying on the teacher's desk and got lost in Lois Lowry's riveting novel. I later learned that Gathering Blue fits into Lowry's Giver series, but while there are overlapping circumstances and characters, each book can be read and enjoyed on its own.

Gathering Blue begins with the death of Kira's mother, Katrina. Kira sits for four days in the Field of Leaving until her mother's spirit departs. Then she must return to her noisy, crowded village where the small cott she and her mother shared has been burned to the ground to fight the spread of illness. Not only that, but Vandara, a cruel and rough neighbour, demands Kira forfeit her land and leave the village.  Kira was born with a twisted leg, which usually leads to abandonment, but Kira's mother fought for her life. Kira uses her wit to survive a near-stoning and demands Vandara bring her petition before the Council of Guardians.

I loved the way this dystopian novel feels like it could be set in the past.  Rather than focusing on amazing technologies that replace humans, Lowry imagines a reversion to a hunting and gathering existence.  Kira and the other characters described in this novel are simple, yet fully developed.  I also adored the detail Lowry used to describe Kira's special gift in sewing, weaving and dying fabric.  Lowry writes a satisfying ending which ties the novel to The Giver, Messenger and Son.

I reread this book with the intent on studying Lowry's use of language and description, but was soon too wrapped up in the story. I think this is an incredible feat, especially when I already knew the ending. Twice this week, reviewers of my writing said I write for in a Young Adult style. At first, this was disheartening.  Then, I remembered Gathering Blue and decided writing for young adults is an honour.  Books I read at this time of life are the ones I remember most and had the most impact on the rest of my life. I highly recommend Gathering Blue to any reader, Young Adult or otherwise.  

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Book Review: Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger is a fast-paced literary mystery filled with suspense and
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universal themes.  The story is told from thirteen-year-old Frank Drum's, point of view.  Krueger cleverly uses Frank's inherent ability to eavesdrop in order to reveal clues and secrets along the way.  Frank, his younger brother Jake, older sister Ariel, father and mother are beautifully crafted, empathetic characters.  I enjoyed the fact that they are a likeable pastor's family.  There are very few good pastor's to be found in literature.

It was good to read a page-turner again.  I fully embrace my preference for plot-driven stories, although this book also has well-rounded characters and original descriptions.  I was surprised that I solved the mystery well before the book revealed the truth.  This is a rarity for me.  I'm often so swept up in story that I'm easy to trick.  Fortunately, the story is bigger than the mystery and I was still intrigued by themes of grace, life and death.

I have purposely not revealed the heart of the mystery in my review.  I don't want to give it away.  My one complaint about this book is that the ending moves too quickly.  Grief and anger are too soon overcome after death.  It was a bit too easy, even if miracles are involved.



Monday, 6 March 2017

Book Review: Jane and the Man of the Cloth

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This is the second book in the Jane Austen Mystery Series by Stephanie Barron.  I'm afraid I've read them out of order,
but I think each book gives enough information to stand alone.  Once again, Barron does an excellent job of fitting the book into what we know of Austen's actual past.  Barron uses footnotes to point out where her imagined story fits into historical fact.  I greatly enjoy this mixture of fact and fiction.

Jane and the Man of the Cloth is set in historical Lyme and the mystery begins with the overturning of a carriage on the road between Bath and Lyme.  Jane's sister Cassandra is badly injured and they are forced to stay the night at a stranger's house at High Down Grange.  His manners are rough and barely civil, but Jane, Cassandra and their parents survive the night and make their way to Wings Cottage in Lyme.  Shortly afterwards, Jane wakes to find a man dead, hanging from a gibbet along the Cobb.  Jane's natural inquisitiveness plunges her back into her role as amateur detective.

I enjoyed the story, the setting and the characters.  It wasn't a quick read, but one that was worthwhile.  I always imagine it must be a delight to write these imaginative tales.  I agree with Stephanie Barron that Austen would have made a fine sleuth.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Book Review: The Genesee Diary

“People expect too much from speaking, too little from silence. . .” p. 134

I first heard of Henry Nouwen via quotations in our church in Alberta.  His thoughts and skill with
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words drew me to read more.

I took my time with this book, as I think is fitting.  It takes time to let these lessons and ideas find purchase in your heart and mind.  I highly recommend it for spiritual guidance.  It would be ideal reading for the Lenten season.

Here are a few quotations which especially spoke to me.  (I realize now a lot of them have to do with writing):

“After a day without any writing. . . I often have a feeling of mental constipation and go to bed with the sense that I did not do what I should have done that day.” p. 121

“My idea of love proves to be exclusive. . . possessive. . . and manipulative.” p. 84

“Someone might read what I wrote and discover something there that I myself did not see, but which might be just as valid as my original thought.  It seems important to allow this to happen.”  (Not sure where this came from)

“John Eudes showed me how much my compulsive behavior could be seen as part of a way of being in which everything is experienced in terms of an “ought”.  I ought to be here, I ought to think such and such, etc.  This way of being has many levels and touches many aspects of the personality.  But when I am able to start seeing some of its symptoms from a certain distance and recognize them as symptoms of the “ought” compulsion, then I can slowly go all the way down to its roots and choose another way of relating to the world.
“As John Eudes pointed out, the “ought modality” is closely tied up with the identity struggle.  As long as I am constantly concerned about what I “ought” to say, think, do, or feel, I am still the victim of my surroundings and am not liberated.  I am compelled to act in certain ways to live up to my self-created image. But when I can accept my identity from God and allow him to be the center of my life, I am liberated from compulsion and can move without restraints.” p. 202-203


Saturday, 18 February 2017

Whale Watching: For Jenny

"I am quite convinced that, with very few exceptions, the sea-air always does good."  From Austen, Persuasion Vol. 1 Ch. XII

Sometimes I get a bit squeamish about writing a blog.  Even though I enjoyed a lot of what this Ted Talk had to say, it made me feel like a blog is the lowest form of communication .

I am inspired to keep writing by a few faithful readers, especially my sister.  I shouldn't be surprised as she was the inspiration behind my first published book Expectations.  So, to say thanks, here's a little video I thought she would enjoy from Monday, Feb. 13.  (If you look hard enough, you can see the whales.)  Happy weekend!

Love,

Sam

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