Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Shouting Into the Void

 In the thirteen and a half years that have passed since I began this blog (good gracious!), much has changed about the internet. Its fads fade to make way for new ones, and things that were once extremely common have gone the way of VHS tapes. One of which, I think, are blogs. Typical, 2010s blogs, like this one. I dropped off writing much some eight years ago, too busy with college and boys (well, one boy, my friend-->boyfriend-->fiancĂ©-->husband) to write much, too preoccupied writing essays and love letters, planning weddings, and finding out that self-sufficient adults have to figure out what to prepare and eat every. single. day, all on their own-- and then clean up afterward. It's a lot!

Anyway, I digress. My reason for posting is to ask a question. Can anyone hear me? Is anybody out there? Have I lost all my followers to Twitter and Instagram and YouTube, Medium and Reddit and Substack, and whatever else fans and literary enthusiasts use to communicate with other fans and literary enthusiasts these days?

Does anyone read blogs anymore? 

I haven't run out of things to talk about, and recently I've been feeling nostalgic about this form of writing. I haven't become any less of a Janeite, even if I've become a little less loud about it. 

So if you're out there, and may be interested in this blog still, do let me know. You never know what will happen. 

And if, as I suspect, blogs have pretty much died--well, I guess it never hurts to shout out into the void.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Book Review: Among the Innocent by Mary Alford


The main five things I look for in a novel are likable and authentic characters, engaging dialogue, a tolerable plot, and a smooth narrative. Today I’ll be reviewing Among the Innocent by Mary Alford, and I’ll examine each of these points in their order of importance.

Plot synopsis from Baker Publishing Group:

“When Leah Miller's entire Amish family was murdered ten years ago, the person believed responsible took his own life. Since then, Leah has left the Amish and joined the police force. Now, after an Amish woman is found murdered with the same MO, it becomes clear that the wrong man may have been blamed for her family's deaths.

As Leah and the new police chief, Dalton Cooper, work long hours struggling to fit the pieces together in order to catch the killer, they can't help but grow closer. When secrets from both of their pasts begin to surface, an unexpected connection between them is revealed. But this is only the beginning.

What will it mean for Leah--and Dalton--when the full truth comes to light?”

One. Are the characters likable? 

I liked the main characters in Among the Innocent. They weren’t the most interesting and developed characters ever, but I was rooting for them and they weren’t idiots. Well, Leah’s constant theme of “no, you should totally let me be involved in this even though I’m absolutely in extreme danger, and this is just making it easier for the killer, but see, I want to” did get a bit old, I’ll admit. 

Overall: Yes.

Two. Are the characters authentic?  (Are they realistic? Can you empathize with them?)

Plot is #4 on my list for a reason… it can be as compelling as you want, but if the characters are one-dimensional, the whole book is going to fall flat. As far as the authenticity of Leah and Dalton, I felt that it was middling. As usual for a woman author who jumps back-and-forth between the perspective of male and female main characters, the girl did seem more real. The driving force of her past made a lot of sense; Dalton’s didn’t as much. There is a reveal mid-book that makes you understand it a bit more, but my thoughts on that are better saved for the plot analysis. 

I did think the romance between the two main characters seemed a little contrived. Is this the only person of the opposite gender that they’ve met who is nice, honest, and seems to have a good heart?  Respect for another human being doesn’t generally create chemistry or attraction unless a person is out looking to fall in love, which was not the case with either of these characters. I can see that their backgrounds would make them identify with each other, but again, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they should fall for each other. I did, however, appreciate the lack of ogling the girl’s beauty or swooning over the guy’s muscles. 

One of the perspectives, interspersed here and there, was that of the villain. I understood why that was in there for the plot’s sake, but it did feel a little odd. We aren’t meant to understand or sympathize with the villain– he’s just plain messed-up– and having his perspective sometimes felt forced and awkward.

Overall: Sort of.

Three. Is the dialogue realistic and engaging?

I really love dialogue-driven books. It’s no wonder that Pride and Prejudice is my favorite Jane Austen novel–it’s the only one that begins with a conversation rather than a lengthy narrative. The dialogue in this book was, I would say, middling. There was nothing that particularly annoyed me, but nothing that particularly amazed me, either.

Overall: Sort of.

Four. Is it a good plot?

The plot was the main reason why I chose this book. While I used to be an avid reader of Beverly Lewis, at some point I grew tired of Amish fiction. This synopsis caught my eye, though. A murder mystery set in Amish country? Sure, I’ll bite. 

I will concede that this book was quite the page-turner, which I very much enjoyed. I did end up predicting a number of the plot points that were supposed to be a big reveal– whether this means it was predictable or I’m just really good at figuring stuff out, I’ll leave you to surmise. 

Some of the choices didn’t make a ton of sense to me, especially waiting until the middle of the story to reveal a certain detail about Dalton’s past. I feel like we could have had more sympathy for the character if we’d known earlier, but as it is, his motives just seemed a little off for most of it. 

While it certainly wasn’t right up there with Agatha Christie, the plot was sufficiently intricate to keep me engaged and not disappoint me at the end, so…

Overall: Yes.

Five. Is the narrative smooth and not distracting? (A.k.a., is it well-written?)

First of all, the book had several typos (misplaced quotation marks, that sort of thing) which made it feel rather unprofessional. Beyond typos, there were bits of the narrative that I had to read several times to correctly put the emphasis on the right part of the sentence and understand it, and that’s not something I normally have to do. As an English BA, I found myself rewording the sentences in my head in a way that would make them much clearer. (Perhaps this criticism should be more directed to the editor and less to the author.) Then, as far as preference goes, Alford seemed very fond of purposely incomplete sentences. Those annoy me. Annoy me a lot. Seem lazy. 

(See, that was my little joke, using incomplete sentences to talk about incomplete sentences. Anyway… moving on.) 

However, I have read much worse. So I’m going to say…

Overall: Sort of.

That brings my rating of the book to a total of 3.5/5, although for Goodreads I will round it to 4/5, because I really did enjoy it.

Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for this review as part of the Revell Reads Blogger Program. I was not required to give a positive review.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

England Photo Dump: Day 2

It's been longer than I meant it to be, but here we are with photos from Day 2 of our England trip. 

Picking up our little Fiat 500 rental!

A lovely little tearoom where we stopped for some late breakfast. Isn't it adorable? These kind of places are all over the place in England!

Some lovely countryside. Pictures through the window of course do not do justice to the wild elation we both felt at seeing the landscapes. I knew England was pretty, of course, but seeing it in person is just so different than seeing it in movies.

As we drove along through Kent headed toward East Sussex, we passed a sign pointing to "Squerryes Court." The name sounded strangely familiar to me. I looked it up quickly, and sure enough, I confirmed that it was the location of Hartfield in my favorite 2009 adaptation of Emma. I had read that it wasn't a place open for tours, but since there was a sign pointing toward it, we turned around in case we could at least catch a glimpse of it.

We pulled into a little parking lot here. "Is this it...?" I was saying, and then realized it was probably the back of the building. We got out and looked through a side gate. I was terribly excited. The gate was unlocked. There were other people parked there. There were no signs saying not to go in.

Cautiously, we opened it and walked into the front garden. There was a gardener working who seemed very unperturbed by our presence, as if random people wander in not infrequently. So we politely and quietly walked round to the front of the house, took some pictures, and skedaddled. 

The view in the back-- also featured in Emma
I loved our brief adventure. It was my first example of how really cool things just pop up and surprise you in England.

Our next stop was Pooh Corner in Hartfield, East Sussex. (Yes, the town is called Hartfield, just like the house in Emma, haha.)

It's a lovely little spot with a tearoom, a gift shop, and a "Pooh-seum."

Look at the adorable Pooh teapot! And the table itself had a map of the Hundred Acre Wood.

Our first scones in England! Clotted cream is the way to go, friends. 
Original artwork by EH Shephard! 
And then to my sudden surprise, I found this sketch of Jane Austen, imagined sitting at a writing desk next to the window at Lyme Regis, also by E.H. Shephard. The illustrator of my favorite childhood stories drawing a picture of the author of my favorite teen and adult stories... worlds collide, indeed! (Never mind that the sketch looks more 1830s than 1810s.)

A realistic reproduction of Winnie the Pooh. :)

Cuteness in the Pooh-seum!

The building itself is said to have been a little store at the time when A.A. Milne lived here, which the Milnes would sometimes visit.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

England Photo Dump: Day 1

Yes, you read correctly. England. In the 11 years since I began this blog, my number one travel dream has been to go to England and see all the Jane Austen stuff in real life. Now, it’s finally happening! It’s every bit as lovely and exciting as I expected, even if, at 27, I am unable to experience it with the exact same exuberance I would have at 17. The addition of years has made it much less scary, though, as does having a husband with whom to do it all. 

These posts are meant to primarily focus on photos and brief explanations of what is going on in them, but there may be the occasional anecdote. This is for posterity and for you dear readers, but also so I can have a handy link to share with family members who don’t all have accounts on the same social media. If you have questions about the trip, please ask them in comments, and perhaps I an do a Q&A post!


April 19th: London

One could say that my husband, like Frank Churchill, went all the way to London to get his hair cut. It would actually be quite true, except, of course, that it was not his only reason for going to London (but then again, it wasn't for Frank Churchill, either). 

Before, with rather longer hair than he usually has, because he went without a couple of haircuts in order to afford this one. ;)

This was actually our first appointment in London, and between landing a bit after 10 am and 2 pm when the haircut was scheduled, it was an absolute mad rush to get to our Air BnB, drop off our luggage, get a good enough wifi connection to figure out how to get to where we were going, and get there.

Truefitt & Hill is a very, very old barber shop that is rumored to have served Charles Dickens, among other famous people, and currently cater to the royal family. Caleb was relieved to finally go into a "real" barber shop where he could tell the barber he wanted a classic taper cut, and that they would actually know what that meant.

The interior was quite nice, and they had just a random bookshelf, so I approved.

...And after. Of course, the succeeding days will give you a better idea of the 
"after" look because he'll have styled it then.

Next stop, hat shop. It was important to Caleb to do the haircut and the hat shopping at the beginning of the trip, so he could wear both the rest of the time. It happened that this extremely old and prestigious hat store was just across the street from the barber shop, so we went directly from one to the other. As you can see, both are located on St. James's Street, which is located in Mayfair, the Fancy Shopping District. 

In the shop we met a chap called Paddy who worked there, seemed about our age, and we got on well with. When we left he actually thanked us for being good company whilst we were there. We were quite tickled.

Some famous people have been into the shop to get custom-made hats and signed these little pieces of paper that represent their head shapes. See if you can spot any familiar names!

And here is Caleb with his hat. It was a unanimous favorite-- 
myself, Caleb, and Paddy all thought it suited him the best.

This is just quite a random building in the area. I saw so many cool, old buildings after this, of course, that this picture seems a bit inconsequential -- except that I remember taking it with a sudden overwhelming feeling of "oh my goodness, I'm in London, this is so London, asdfasdghsdklfjlkj."

I mean... when you go to London you just have to pose in a phone booth. That's how it works.

We took a bit of a breather in St. James's Square (not to be confused with St. James's Park, which is much larger). 

Some important person on a horse

In Trafalger Square, I threw a penny into the fountain. An American penny. Hopefully we weren't cursed as a result.

This monument you see was a bit of a quiz for us. We are still not sure what it's all about. It appears to be a heaping of whipped cream topped with a cherry, which has attracted a fly, and some kind of drone/mini helicopter. Your interpretations are welcome.

For dinner, we ate at the "Cafe in the Crypt," which is actually in a crypt (hence the name) under the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. 

I was immensely pleased by their glass-bottled Coke Zero. Here in the U.S. I can only ever find regular Coke in glass bottles.

We knew we would both be pretty tired on our first night in London due to all our missed sleep, and yet we decided, regardless, to book tickets to Les Miserables on West End for that night. The almost-cheapest tickets they had, which would have some of the view blocked. But we both know the musical pretty well so it didn't much matter. It was amazing just to hear it all. However, Caleb did sleep some of the time. It was inevitable. He told me to pinch him once. I did, and he seemed offended.

So, don't get me wrong-- I loved the show. But on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being complete and utter disappointment and 10 being the level of amazement I expected it to be, the reality was more like a 9. I was sort of... "whelmed," being neither over- or under-. It seemed more minimalist than I was expecting, and I didn't love everyone's voices. Valjean was amazing, though. And Eponine did not annoy me, as some of them do. "On My Own" is my very favorite song, thus an annoying Eponine can sour the whole experience. Luckily, she was good. I got chills. (And NOBODY clapped after "A Little Fall of Rain," which is as it should be, unlike in the 10th Anniversary Concert recording. My goodness. Let's have a moment of respectful silence.)

We didn't have Chinatown on the itinerary, and yet we ended up walking straight through it on the way to the theatre. I've never been to a Chinatown before, so it was quite fun. 

The door handles at Sondheim Theatre. I love it.

After the show, we were quite hungry and popped into a Chinese restaurant. Then, on the way to the nearest train station, we spied a shop that was advertising in bright neon letters: "AMERICAN CANDY!" I was amused by this, so we went in. There we found Wonka bars, which I have never seen before. We decided to purchase one. I had gotten cash earlier from an ATM, and was the proud owner of a couple of Jane Austen £10 notes. I spent my first one here. In an attempt at being friendly and interesting, I told the cashier "I'm from America and I've never even found one of these before," to which he said... nothing, presumedly. He was sort of mumbling to himself, completely imperceptible, and almost acting as if I weren't there. I was very confused and uncomfortable. He threw a few coins down on the counter as change, which I took and left. Having not had a chance yet to study British coinage, I assumed that the two larger ones were worth £2 each, but upon review later, they were only £1 coins. I was quite put out at having inadvertently spent around $10 on a stupid candy bar. (I mean, it was good, but not that good.) Lesson learnt: never trust a small-shop London cashier who mumbles to himself and won't make eye contact. 

Would you rather hear the story...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...