Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A Word for Wednesday

"'Snow in April is abominable,' said Anne. 
'Like a slap in the face when you expected a kiss.'"

~from Anne of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery~

Monday, March 23, 2020

Let's Bust a Recap : A Little Princess

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett was first published as a book in 1905. However, it is actually an expansion of a serialized short story that was originally titled "Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's" published in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1887 and 1888. After Burnett put together a play from "Sara Crewe", her publishers requested that she expand the story into a novel including "the things and people that had been left out before". 

And aren't we all glad she did? This children's novel has been among educators' favorites since its publication, and it is widely considered to be one of the best children's novels of all time (along with Burnett's other novel The Secret Garden which I haven't gotten to yet). I can't even believe it's taken me this long in life to get to it, especially considering that I've owned and watched the two most popular movie adaptations of it many times. 

And speaking of the movies, naturally I watched them (back-to-back) after finishing the book so I'll be discussing a few key spoilers in this post. Don't say I didn't warn you.

In A Little Princess, we meet clever little Sara Crewe who is being brought to Miss Minchin's boarding school in London by her widowed father. She and her papa are the best of mates, but it was widely believed that the weather in India (where they lived) wasn't good for little girls hence her relocation to the highly recommended school. Her father instructs Miss Minchin to spare no expense in little Sara's upbringing and education and assures her that his pockets are deep enough to cover any and every little thing Sara desires. You'd expect her to be a hopelessly spoiled brat, but Sara is actually the sweetest, kindest, most generous little girl and she befriends and helps all the little outcasts in Miss Minchin's school. 

Through a series of unfortunate events, we learn (at Sara's extravagant birthday party no less) that her father has died and left her completely penniless at which point Miss Minchin takes away all her things, banishes her to the attic, and works her almost to death. Despite her tragic downfall and awful mistreatment, Sara is determined to behave like a little princess and (mostly) manages to keep her sweetness. 

In the end, Crewe's friend and business partner is able to find Sara and restore her wealth to her tenfold. He adopts her, Miss Minchin gets her comeuppance, and it's truly a happily ever after. 

Now let's talk about how the movies held up compared to my actual reading of A Little Princess starting with the 1939 version starring Shirley Temple as Sara. Let me tell you: I am a fan of Shirley Temple. I own no less than 14 of her films on DVD and some of my sweetest memories in life were curling up with my Grandmother to watch Shirley Temple sing and dance. It's hard not to adore her in just about any role, but Sara Crewe she is not. The Little Princess never was one of my favorites from her, and now having read the novel, it's even less so. While they did keep the basic idea of the book (riches to rags back to riches), they drastically changed the ending having Sara be reunited with her father who was wounded in the Boer War, and they added an entire subplot of a teacher's romance with the school's riding master which Sara helps along in any way she can. (And this movie came out during that wonderful time in film where there was often a wacky dream sequence which usually came out of nowhere. I can pinpoint this scene in the film being the reason it's never been my favorite Shirley Temple movie.) The whole thing just comes off pretty ridiculous and honestly, Shirley Temple was a little too old for this role at the time of this film. Kindof a bummer, but there you have it.

In the 1995 version starring Liesel Matthews as Sara, they stuck to this same plot of having Captain Crewe going to war (only it was WWI in this case) and being reunited with Sara in the end in the most dramatic way possible. While I don't appreciate the liberties taken in either movies' cases, there is still something so lovable about the 1995 version. For one thing, it's gorgeous. Beautifully filmed, beautiful score, just an absolute pleasure to watch. For another thing, this movie honed in on Sara's relationships with the other little girls and did a fantastic job of it which was a big part of the story. Her friendships with Becky, Lottie, and Ermengarde were spot on in this adaptation, and Liesel Matthews was a much better Sara Crewe than Shirley Temple was though neither girl fit my mental picture of what Sara Crewe ought to look like. 

All in all, this book is a can't miss. It was so sweet, and I loved it. While I did come into it with some preconceived ideas based on my history with the movies, the book still came out much better and I would highly recommend it. If I don't get to The Secret Garden this year, it will definitely go on next year's list. As for the movies, as much as it pains me to say it, skip Shirley Temple but for the love of cinema: watch the '95 version. 

Have you read anything by Frances Hodgson Burnett? If you've read A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, which did you like better? And have you seen the movie adaptations? (Feel free to throw Shirley Temple some love in the comments. My personal favorites are Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Little Miss Broadway, and I feel a Shirley Temple marathon coming on soon with all this quarantining and "social distancing".) 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Let's Bust a Recap : King Lear

Well, it's been several months since I read King Lear, but we're going to scrounge around in the old memory bank and see what we can come up with for a quick recap on what many regard as Shakespeare's supreme achievement. George Bernard Shaw said, "No man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear", and actors since the early 1600s have been willing to sell their kidneys in order to get a role in this iconic tragedy.

We open on an elderly King Lear pitting his daughters against each other in a gladiatorial-type contest for the biggest chunk of his kingdom. He's ready to retire and he'll pass on his daughters' inheritance to them if they love him enough to tell him exactly what he wants to hear. 

Goneril and Regan (the two oldest) are only too happy to wax eloquent on the topic of their love for the old man and are, in turn, granted their share of the inheritance. Cordelia, however, will not be reduced to meaningless flattery. She keeps it short, sweet, and to the point and is rewarded with her father's hot temper and prompt banishment. Lear divides Cordelia's share of the inheritance between her two older sisters and summons Cordelia's two marriage prospects to let them know about her "treachery" while also banishing Kent for calling him out on his outrageously unfair treatment of his one honest daughter. Cordelia's suitors arrive and the Duke of Burgundy splits faster than a banana when he hears the latest family drama. (I mean, really, who can blame the guy?) But the King of France is impressed with Cordelia's conduct (and appalled by Lear's) and says he'll marry her anyway. 

In the meantime, we learn that the Earl of Gloucester has two sons; one legitimate (Edgar) and one bastard (Edmund). As is easily surmised, there's no end of family turmoil there and Edmund is plotting to screw over Edgar in an attempt to set himself up as the heir to their father's estate. 

King Lear has decided to divide his time between Goneril and Regan and let his loving daughters care for him in his old age, but Goneril is over it before the sun even sets. She immediately sets out to completely incapacitate her father who throws a temper tantrum and says she'll be sorry and he's going to her sister's house where he'll get the respect he deserves. 

As if. 

Lear's fool gives him the what-for regarding his stupidity in giving over his kingdom to his two ruthless daughters and predicts that Regan ain't got time for daddy either. (He's not wrong.)

Meanwhile, Kent, the most loyal and righteous subject ever to walk the face of the earth, comes back in disguise to offer his personal service to the king who just banished him and to look out for Lear's interests in this whole convoluted mess. (Seriously, this guy is an actual angel.)

So Kent ends up riding ahead of Lear to bring the message of Lear's impending arrival to his daughter Regan who puts him in stocks for his trouble. When Lear arrives, he's outraged at the treatment of his servant but finds Regan just as dismissive of him as Goneril was (surprise, surprise). He has a royal conniption and rages outside into a storm to rant against his ungrateful daughters. He comes across Edgar disguised as a madman wandering around babbling after being thrown out by his father after Edmund faked an attack of his person by Edgar. Kent manages to find them both and lead them into the nearby shelter of a cave.

Now that Edmund has gotten Edgar banished, he proceeds to set up his father to Regan and Goneril who decide to gouge out Gloucester's eyes. To add insult to injury, Regan ends up telling Gloucester that Edmund betrayed him and sets him out to wander, too. Edgar finds his blinded father who doesn't recognize his voice and begs Edgar to lead him to a cliff he can fling himself off of. Edgar leads him around, has him jump, and then convinces him he miraculously survived a great fall. (Why we go through this whole charade is beyond me, but that's what happens.)

Back in the kingdom, Goneril and Regan have both decided they have to have Edmund which, I guess, is okay for Regan since she's recently been widowed, but Goneril is still married to Albany who has finally grown a spine (earlier in the play she basically told him he was cute but dumb and to stay out of her way) and denounced his disgusting wife. Goneril writes a letter to Edmund basically telling him to off her husband so they can be together but Regan is not having one bit of that; she's obviously the better match for Edmund since she's actually available.

Out in the wild, Kent leads the embarrassed and half-mad Lear to Cordelia and the French army where Cordelia manages to calm her father (seeing as she's the only one of his daughters who actually does love him).

Regan realizes that if she's going to get Edmund to pick her over Goneril, she better send someone to kill Gloucester to cover all her bases. Edgar defends his father and kills the assassin who also happens to be the messenger carrying Goneril's letter to Edmund (the one where she's conspiring with him to kill her husband).

Regan convinces her brother-in-law Albany to join forces with her to stand against the French army being led by Cordelia and Lear, and Albany agrees on the condition that Lear and Cordelia are not to be harmed in the conflict. Meanwhile, Edmund is plotting the deaths of Albany, Lear, and Cordelia while trying to figure out what to do about Goneril and Regan seeing as he's made promises to both of them.

Somewhere in here Edgar shows up and hands over Goneril's treacherous letter to her husband Albany. (Like I said, it's been months since I read this one. The details of this are foggy.)

The battle ensues, the British (Goneril, Regan, & Co.) are victorious over the French (Cordelia & Lear) and Edmund issues an order in Goneril's and Regan's names to execute Cordelia and Lear.

The British leaders gather for their post-war meeting and Regan declares she will marry Edmund. Too late though because Goneril was a step ahead and had already poisoned her sister to get her out of the way. (Lord help the sister who comes between her and her man, right?) Albany exposes Edmund as a traitor and demands a trial by combat while Regan goes offstage to die. Edgar shows up in head to toe armor and challenges Edmund to a duel. No one knows who he is but he manages to fatally wound Edmund who finally grows a conscience and confesses to ordering the deaths of Lear and Cordelia. Goneril perceives that things are probably not going to go well for her and runs away to kill herself. Albany sends men to countermand Edmund's death warrant; again too late. Lear shows up carrying Cordelia's corpse in his arms after having killed the executioner to survive.

Albany urges Lear to take back his throne, but after everything he's been through, he dies (just like Gloucester who we found out from Edgar died from the shock when Edgar revealed himself to his father).

So basically, Albany, Edgar, and Kent are left standing and Kent promptly throws up the deuces and leaves the country. He served his king and he is done. So Albany and Edgar are left in charge of the country and just kindof sadly march off.

The end.

In sum: King Lear sets his three daughters on a course to their untimely ends and then dies himself from the pain of it all. Woof. Talk about a tragedy. This was, by far, the most depressing thing I've read by Shakespeare yet, though I will say that this play contained the best bit of name-calling I've ever read and Kent is possibly my favorite Shakespearean character ever. This is definitely not one you should skip. I'd say King Lear is a must-read for lit-lovers everywhere.

Now that I've caught up on my Shakespearean recaps, Cymbeline is on deck for my 2020 reading. I've heard that some critics consider this one a comedy even though it's listed as a tragedy so hopefully it won't be such a downer like King Lear.

Have you read King Lear or any of its famous retellings? 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Let's Bust a Recap : All's Well that Ends Well

All's well that ends well? What a joke. In this lesser-known comedy by Shakespeare, we meet two of his most unlikeable characters to date: Bertram and Helena. 

If you're new around here, let me begin by saying that in most of my recaps, I try my best to be careful not to give away any major plot points or spoilers—even though I'm usually talking about classic literature that's been around for ages. But when it comes to Shakespeare, I give you my unfiltered take on the whole play. If you're on your own quest to read the entire works of Shakespeare (which is one of my personal goals in life) and you've made it this far with little knowledge of what his plays are actually about (which I've managed to do) and want to keep it that way (you have my full support): steer clear.

Now, let's get down to it. 

At the beginning of All's Well that Ends Well, we meet Bertram, his mother and her orphaned ward Helena at the funeral of Bertram's dad. After a cheerful conversation about his father's demise and the King's similar illness, Bertram is off to take his dad's place in the ailing King's court. We then discover that Helena's got it bad for Bertram but is extremely aware that he would never even think about swiping right on her Tinder page.

What's a girl to do? 

She takes herself off to the King's court right behind Bertram to offer up her healing services to the King in exchange for her choice of a husband from all the men in the King's domain. She's so confident she can heal the King that she pledges her own life if he fails to get better. (Can you smell the desperation?) The King finally figures, hey, it's worth a shot; I've already got a foot in the grave anyway and takes her up on her offer. 

The King is healed! (And can I get a bottle of this mystery potion of Helena's for my medicine cabinet?)

Obviously, Helena picks Bertram to be her husband. He then proceeds to publicly denigrate her and says he would rather eat worms than ever marry her low-born behind. To her face, y'all. 

The King tells Bertram to pony up and marry her or he will make his life miserable so Bertram changes his tune real quick. And Helena takes him. 

As soon as the wedding is over, Bertram sends Helena packing back to his mom's house and tells her the day he consummates their marriage will be a cold one in Hell and she can consider him her husband when she's pregnant with his child which will be a hot never as far as he's concerned then takes off to Italy to party it up and sleep with any pretty young thing that catches his eye.

Mama Bertram did not raise her son to be the pus that feeds on pond scum and promptly disowns him, claiming Helena as her daughter and declaring her son could only wish for a woman as good as Helena. (Because we ladies gotta stick together, ya dig? Although if I was Ma B, I would have told Helena to pull it together and scrape up some self-respect.)

Helena's not done with Bertram though. The heart wants what it wants, I guess. She claws her own way to Italy and finds Bertram's latest obsession, a sweet virgin named Diana who is smart enough to see through Bertram's crap and hasn't given him the time of day. Helena convinces Diana to trick Bertram into giving her his family heirloom ring in exchange for her promise to meet up with him for a little midnight hanky-panky. (At which point in the play, I started to get some serious Tamar and Judah vibes.) Bertram falls for Diana's schtick hook, line, and sinker, and they trade rings. Bertram finally gets his little fantasy rendezvous with Diana (or so he thinks) and leaves her in the dust but continues to wear her ring as a little souvenir of his favorite Italian conquest. 

Insert: there's a whole side story going on about Bertram's loser friend Parolles but I don't even deem it worth mentioning so there's that. 

In the meantime, Helena's been busy faking her own death and has everyone back in France mourning her loss. Bertram returns home thinking he's free of the ball and chain so what can the King do to him, right? In fact, why not try to go ahead and set up an advantageous marriage with a Lord's daughter? The King recognizes Helena's ring on Bertram's finger and wants to know what in the blazes is going on, but Bertram feeds him a line of garbage and manages to convince him to set him up with a respectable woman.

Diana shows up to out Bertram's despicable philandering (at which point his advantageous marriage arrangement is done for), and he in turn calls her a common whore (real classy). She sets the scene perfectly so that the King, Mama Bertram, and the entire court of France have no doubt that if she produces the Bertram family heirloom ring, she's telling the truth and Bertram will be exposed for the ridiculous, womanizing liar we all know he is.

BOMBSHELL: Helena shows up pregnant with the heirloom ring and announces that she fulfilled Bertram's challenge to be his baby mama so now he has to be her husband for realz. (In case you somehow missed it, she and Diana pulled the old switcheroo on Bertram in the nighttime.)

So Bertram swears his love to Helena and all's well that ends well. 

Really? Problematic at best. I mean, Helena's about the worst female protagonist I've ever heard of. You can do better, sweetie. 

Not my favorite from Shakespeare and little wonder this was never really one of his popular plays, but I did find it to be more compelling and a lot more readable than As You Like It. However, I'm still sticking with Much Ado About Nothing or The Taming of the Shrew as my top two Shakespearean comedy recommendations. 

What's your recommendation for my next Shakespearean comedy?

Monday, February 24, 2020

Let's Bust a Recap : The Reckoning

I was a total John Grisham junkie in middle school. I got a box of his first ten books or so from a library sale for about a quarter a piece and devoured them. To this day, I would count Grisham's The Partner among my favorite books. But after reading The King of Torts when it came out in 2003, my interest waned and I haven't really revisited Grisham since. 

My dad has kept up with Grisham though and last year he lent me one of Grisham's newer books The Reckoning and told me it was pretty good. It sat in my reading nook for almost a year before I got to it, but I finally did and here we are.

In the first pages of The Reckoning, set in Clanton, Mississippi in 1946, we are witness to the cold-blooded murder of the small town Methodist minister by war hero and Clanton's favorite son Pete Banning. After carrying out his plan to kill Dexter Bell, Pete's only statement about it—to the sheriff, to his lawyers, to the judge, jury, and even his own family—was: "I have nothing to say." 

In the rest of the novel, Grisham takes us back to Pete's time as an escaped POW turned guerrilla fighter in the Pacific Theater during WWII. As we come to truly respect and admire this character, do we ever find out why he did what he did??

This novel strings you along to the very last pages of the book and leaves you suspended in that ethically murky tension of wanting to root for Pete Banning even though he murdered a seemingly beloved husband and father in cold blood. While I don't think The Reckoning quite measures up to Grisham's earlier work, it was a good book and it left me wanting to go back and read all my old favorites. 

I would recommend The Reckoning with the caveat that if you've never read John Grisham before, you should start with one of his first books and not this one. Your first impression of him should definitely be with A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, or The Client. While I was eager to find out the resolution in The Reckoning, it took me about three weeks to get through, whereas with his early books, I vividly remember being unable to put them down for a second.

Have you read any of John Grisham's novels or anything in the legal thriller genre? What's your favorite of his books? My dad has his even newer book The Guardians which is set in a small Florida town and my interest to read that one has been peaked, but I'm not sure when I'll get to it. I haven't actually finished any of the books on my 2020 book list so I should probably get cracking on that. What are you reading right now?

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Delaware

Oh happy day! With this post, I am officially caught up on my #SeeAll50 scrapbook pages and blog posts! This has been hanging over me since last May and it feels good to get back on top of things. Now I am ready to plan our next trip, although I have no idea where we are headed next for this project. We are going to do a little international traveling this year to meet a new little niece or nephew so we'll probably stick closer to home with whatever states we check off. 

Anyway, let's get down to business. This will probably be the shortest state post to date. Most of Delaware just looked like this for us: 
We literally drove from the very top of the state all the way down to the bottom. (Which takes less than 2 hours if you were wondering.) If you caught my Maryland post last week, you saw that we checked out of our hotel in North East and drove down to Assateague Island. Well, we were driving through Delaware. It was a gorgeous day and we had fun driving through all the small towns and seeing Georgetown and trying to find pretty, colorful leaves (I mean, it was late October and we don't see a lot of fall foliage in the Sunshine State!). But if you go back to our very first #SeeAll50 post, you'll read that just driving through a state is not the point and we don't check off states that we just drove through. So our plan for Delaware was to hit up the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk. 

So after we spent the first half of Saturday (October 19, 2020) exploring Assateague Island and spotting wild ponies, we drove back up into Delaware to get checked into our little motel for the night. We stayed at the Sea Esta II which wasn't anything to write home about, but all we needed was a bed for one night and it did the job. We got showered and changed and headed back out to find the Boardwalk. 
According to my quick research before this trip, this is one of the top spots to visit in Delaware and it was a lot of fun. I imagine it would be even more fun during the summer because there were a few places closed while we were there since it was off-season. However, right in the middle of the Boardwalk, they had a huge pool set up and there was a dog competition going on to see who's dog could jump the farthest into the pool. Everyone was out on the Boardwalk with their furry friends and we saw some dogs jump nearly 20 feet as their masters threw a toy across the pool to fetch. We wished we could have had Major and Colonel with us. It was a blast. 

We walked all the way down the Boardwalk, ducking into the different funky shops and arcades. We got 2 pounds of fudge (hey! it was BOGO, okay??) from The Candy Kitchen and stopped at Grotto Pizza for some of the yummiest pizza I've ever had. Grotto is an award-winning family-operated business that now has locations in MD, DE, and PA. 

After we had our fill of the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk, we drove back to our little motel and crashed for the night. 

The next morning, we got up bright and early to go find the Mason Dixon marker on the Delaware History Trail.
It's literally in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. And as you can see, it's completely gated off. Because when you don't have very many important things in your teeny tiny state, you really protect the things you have. Honestly, this was the most memorable part of Delaware for us. This little stretch of road had the Mason Dixon marker and the Welcome to Delaware sign and we were high-steppin' it through wet fields in the rain to check out this stone and get a picture with the Delaware sign, laughing our heads off the whole time. Delaware, you were a delight. 
Delaware : done.

14 states down, 36 to go.

Have you ever been to Delaware? It felt so small! I know Rhode Island is even smaller so I can't wait to go there. Where should we go next?

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Maryland

On Thursday, October 17th, Cody and I drove 16 hours straight from Winter Haven, FL to North East, MD. That's right. We stayed in a small town named "North East". They're real original up there in Maryland. We made this trip for the wedding of one of my best friends from college and figured while we were there we would knock out a couple of states for our Bucket List goal to visit all 50 together

After a solid night of sleep in our hotel in North East, we woke up to a beautiful sunny day and made the hour and a half drive back down into Baltimore to explore the Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.
Fort McHenry was the site where Francis Scott Key penned the words to our National Anthem during the War of 1812 after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Royal Navy. We really enjoyed our visit. The grounds of Fort McHenry are beautiful and the exhibits are informative and interesting. We got to see parts of the original crossbeam (which wasn't excavated till the late 1950s) that supported the broad stripes and bright stars through the harrowing night of battle. They actually have original cannonballs that were fired on the fort  by the British which was cool to see, and everyone working and volunteering at the fort was so knowledgeable and friendly. 
~gigantic monument of Orpheus dedicated to Francis Scott Key and the soldiers of the fort~
~sneaking a smooch behind the armory~
After we worked up a hearty appetite hiking all over Fort McHenry, we went down the street to L.P. Steamers for Maryland crab cakes and crab chowder before making the hour and a half drive back up to North East to get ready for the wedding.
Friday night was all about celebrating Karsch (which I will continue to call her even though her name has legally changed) and her groom.
10/18/19
Saturday morning we woke up bright and early, got checked our of our hotel, and drove all the way down to Assateague Island to see some wild ponies.
When I was in grade school, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry was one of my favorite books and I have always wanted to go to Assateague Island to see the wild ponies. After about an hour of hiking around, I wasn't sure we would see any. But then we stumbled upon a couple...then a couple more...then several all grazing together!
Can you spot the two wild ponies behind us?
They were beautiful and didn't seem to mind our presence at all. I felt like I could go right up to one and pet it, but we were given strict instructions by park rangers and in writing to keep a schoolbus length between us and them so I grudgingly followed orders and let them have their space. I didn't get to see a whole herd of them racing down the beach, but I really enjoyed our day on Assateague Island.

That evening, we stayed in Delaware (the other state we checked off on this trip) so I'll be posting about that next week. Have a Happy Valentines Weekend with whoever you love!
Maryland : done.

Have you visited Assateague Island or Fort McHenry? What is a historical site that we cannot miss in our quest to #SeeAll50