Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Published: 1817
251 pages
Genres: Classic, Romance
Source: Purchased

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “Gothic parody.” Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.

The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.
5 Stars

Northerner Abbey might be my favorite Jane Austen novel.  One of the main reasons is because Catherine is my new favorite heroine.  She’s a tom boy and she treats her life like it’s a fictional novel.  Catherine is the kind of person that would yell “plot twist!” at an unfortunate event in her life.  I aspire to be this way.  It’s the kind of attitude I try to have when, say, I go to the ER because I’ve been awake and in pain and on Google and have convinced myself that I have appendicitis when all I really have is severe constipation and get sent home from the ER with a laxative.  Again.  See, in a novel that’s freakin’ hilarious.  In real life it sucks paying $200 for a laxative.  Catherine has quite the imagination and I want to be her in every way.

Also, could someone explain to me how Jane Austen can just tell her stories and backgrounds in an info-dumping way but keep my attention completely because she makes it fun and visual and easy to imagine?  Jane Austen has this biting honesty that is delightful to read even though her books are old.  Don’t dismiss Jane Austen.  She writes the truth.  Don’t tell me you’ve never met a person like this:

Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.

– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (p. 7)

And I love, love, love the two ladies who are constantly talking at each other but never have an actual conversation because one talks about her kids and one talks about clothes.  Jane Austen doesn’t really show many of these conversations but I can totally imagine them.  As much as Catherine is living in a fictional novel, her friend Isabella is overdramatic because she’s got the lead role in this play called life.  Isabella is clingy and scheming.  I think Jane Austen didn’t mind scheming but I think she hated it when it was obvious.  Jane Austen is the queen of sarcasm, irony and relatable characters.

Book shaming has been around since the 1800s and Jane Austen is having none of it.  Catherine loves reading novels but is also ashamed that she reads “only novels.”  Jane Austen has this to say about mere novels:

… in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed …

-Jane Austen,  Northanger Abbey (p. 23).

Overall, I loved this novel and if you haven’t read it, fix that immediately.

Content Rating: None. Clean read.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Jane Austen

CassandraAusten-JaneAusten(c.1810)_hires

She was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism and biting social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. Jane Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer.

Visit her grave

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria SempleWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Published: August 14, 2012
330 pages
Genres: Adult Fiction
Source: Library

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she's a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she's a disgrace; to design mavens, she's a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette's intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter's role in an absurd world.
5 Stars

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a literary book that is full of witty, intelligent humor.  The voice of the teenage girl, Bee, who narrates this book is delightful and sarcastic especially about some of the crappy things that happen to her.  I love the humor of the unpopularity of Bee’s dad working at Microsoft where they are “acronym-happy (pg. 123).”  Bee has a sweet personality, too.  She is collecting letters, emails, transcripts, and blog posts in this journal that she is writing about where her mother went.  I ADORE the blog post that Bee puts in the book that is 500 words long and literally all the post says is that it’s going to rain.  Ah to love something that much that you could write 500 words about the smallest detail.

The writing is amazing in this book.  I don’t think there is a single cliche thing said in the entire book.  There’s a scene where people freeze as they stare at an argument.  But does she just say that they froze? No.  She describes them as this:

Nobody had moved.  Some hands were frozen in midair, in the middle of doing a fold.  It looked like a wax museum diorama of an origami presentation.

– Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette pg 275

I love it.  This was an example of the ultimate show not tell with everything from the unique structure of emails, faxes, and letters, to the writing itself.  Where’d You Go, Bernadette was very entertaining and full of personality.

The crazy small community that this story is set in was hilarious and it kind of reminded me of the small town charm and quirkiness of Gilmore Girls.  This book was full of interesting characters.  Literally all of them exaggerate.  We get to see different perspectives and how each character tends to bend the story a little in their favor to make themselves the victim.

I learned so much from the character of Bernadette.  She showed me that creativity is sometimes found within extreme limits.  I admired her ability to use her interpersonal skills to help her thrive in the male dominated professions of architecture.  Remember to embrace your talents – even the weird ones – and use them to do something you love that no one else can do.  I also loved the theme of Bernadette getting lost literally and figuratively in motherhood which I found very relatable.  Even though Bernadette doesn’t say this particular quote, I think it describes motherhood perfectly.

I felt so alone in this world, and so loved at the same time.

– Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette pg. 199

Overall, it was a impeccably written and hilarious story full of fascinating characters that taught me a lot about embracing your talents – even the weird ones.

Content Rating: High, for some strong language – about a dozen or more f-words.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Maria Semple

Maria Semple

Maria Semple's first novel, This One is Mine, was set in Los Angeles, where she also wrote for television shows including Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. She escaped from Los Angeles and lives with her family in Seattle, where her second novel takes place.

Book Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Book Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae CarsonThe Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
Series: Fire and Thorns #2
Published: September 18, 2012
410 pages
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Elisa is a hero.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.

If she's lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.
5 Stars

Spoiler free even if you haven’t read the first book in this series. 

The Crown of Embers reminded me a lot of Indiana Jones.  There was a religious quest, skeletons turning to dust, and hidden artifacts. We get to journey through the ocean this time instead of the desert and it was a lot of fun.  This was a great second novel in a series.

In the last book, we saw Elisa grow as a person who gained confidence in herself.  Elisa continues to grow as a character but this time it’s about finding the power from within herself.  I liked watching her learn that just because she is young, she shouldn’t let people walk all over her or dismiss her.  She has to learn one of the biggest lessons we all learn when we grow up – that we have to decide what is best for our own future instead of letting people decide for us.

She has not always wanted what is best for me. She has always wanted what she thinks is best for me. And she has never hesitated to work around me or anyone else to accomplish it.

– Rae Carson, The Crown of Embers  (Kindle Locations 4037-4039).

Religion continues as a theme in this book.  Elisa is slightly irked when she constantly meets people telling her what “God’s will” is which I found amusing but also very truthful.  Religion is part of the clash of the different cultures in the story.  How do you end a war that’s been going on forever between cultures that don’t understand each other? I thought that was such a relevant question and I enjoyed the exploration of the answer to that and what part ignorance can play.

I have a theory.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler since it’s never answered and it’s left up to your imagination.  Elisa’s people were supposedly brought from a dying world into the world where Crown of Embers is set.  I couldn’t help but think that maybe the dying world referred to was actually our world.  I have one quote to support this theory.  The quote sounds very similar to the bible which is what spawned this theory in the first place.

“I swear my life and service unto you. I swear to protect you and to honor you. I am yours to command in all things. For as long as I live, your people shall be my people, your ways my ways, your God my God.”

-Rae Carson, The Crown of Embers (Kindle Locations 3653-3655)

What do you think? Did you have any theories about this book?

Overall, it was a great adventure novel about a girl who learns to find power within herself that I couldn’t put down.

Content Rating: Medium, for a mildly detailed scene of a girl observing herself naked.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Rae Carson

Rae Carson

I write books about teens who must do brave things. I'm originally from California, but I moved to Ohio to marry my husband, who is the smartest and therefore sexiest man I know. We live in Columbus with my teenaged stepsons, who are awesome. My books tend to contain lots of adventure, a little magic and romance, and smart girls who make (mostly) smart choices. I especially love to write about questions I don't know the answers to.

Book Review: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Book Review: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

Book Review: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett JohnsonHarold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Series: Harold #1
Published: 1955
64 pages
Genres: Childrens
Source: Library

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

"One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight." So begins this gentle story that shows just how far your imagination can take you. Armed only with an oversized purple crayon, young Harold draws himself a landscape full of beauty and excitement. But this is no hare-brained, impulsive flight of fantasy. Cherubic, round-headed Harold conducts his adventure with the utmost prudence, letting his imagination run free, but keeping his wits about him all the while.
5 Stars

I’m trying to read more books from my to-read list and I happened to see Harold and the Purple Crayon at the library.  It was on my to-read list only because it was mentioned on Gilmore Girls.  But my 4 year-old son saw it and wanted to read it with me.  So we read it together and he enjoyed it a lot.  Which of course means we read it about 5 more times.  It is an adorable, creative book with a cute message about imagination and finding home.  My review is probably longer than the book itself, but I really wanted to feature it on my blog because the day after I read this book to my son, I found a huge stack of drawings, all in purple, and they are clearly inspired by the book.  It was touching to me that a book would stick with him that much.  So I decided to share all the drawings he did that I could find.  You’ll notice in a lot of the drawings that there are two people.  The other person is his older brother who he considers his best friend.

Click images to view them larger.

 

Content Rating: None. Clean read.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Crockett Johnson

Crockett Johnson

Crockett Johnson (1906-1975) was the writer and/or illustrator of over 20 books for children, including his beloved classic HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON (Harper, 1955), as well as seven subsequent adventures starring Harold, and THE CARROT SEED, written by his wife, Ruth Krauss (Harper, 1945). He was also the creator of "Barnaby," one of the most popular comic-strips of the Twentieth Century. (A Barnaby selection appears in LITTLE LIT: STRANGE STORIES FOR STRANGE KIDS, Harper, 2001.)

Mr. Johnson received his art training at New York University and Cooper Union, and in his later years exhibited a series of geometric paintings, which were well-received by both the mathematical and artistic communities.

Audiobook Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Audiobook Review: Quiet by Susan CainQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Published: January 24, 2012
Narrator: Kathe Mazur
Audiobook Length: 10 hrs and 39 mins
Genres: Audiobook, Non-fiction, Self Help
Source: Library

 
The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

Perhaps most inspiring, she introduces us to successful introverts--from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Finally, she offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a "pretend extrovert."

This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.
5 Stars

Quiet changed how I view introverts and made me realize how many biases there are against them.  Our society values people who are outgoing and people who are shy are considered to have some sort of flaw even though that is their natural personality.  I had never thought about or even realized how our society values a very “narrow range of personality styles. (pg. 3)”  As an introverted person, I didn’t think I would have any biases against people who are labeled as shy.  Was I wrong.  Many shy people are encouraged to be social and change which gives them a feeling that something is wrong with them instead of them just having a different personality.

Introversion— along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness— is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are.

-Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (p. 4)

My favorite thing about this book was how it showed that introverts have strengths just by being who they naturally are.  An example she used was Rosa Parks who was “shy and courageous (pg. 2).”  Susan Cain points out that the Civil Rights movement wouldn’t have gotten started if Rosa Parks had been an outgoing and loud person.  It succeeded because she was a quiet, well respected person and the fact that she stood up for herself gained more attention because it was easier for people to realize the huge injustice of it since she was acting against her personality.

Here are a few of the strengths that an introverted person naturally has:

  • Function well without sleep (pg. 3)
  • Good at negotiating because their mild-mannered disposition allows them to take strong/aggressive positions and be accepted more easily (pg. 8)
  • Think before they speak or act (pg. 8, 168)
  • Prepare more for speeches and negotiations (pg. 8)
  • Asks lots of questions and listens intently to answers that leads to strong negotiation skills (pg. 8)
  • Work slowly and deliberately (pg. 11)
  • Ability to focus intently on one task and high abilities of concentration (pg. 11)
  • Relatively immune to the temptation of wealth or fame (pg. 11)
  • Able to delay gratification (pg. 163)
  • Don’t give up easily (pg. 168)
  • Leadership style that wins people over (pg. 197)
  • Work independently which can lead to innovation (pg. 74)

I loved hearing the definition of an introverted person that wasn’t framed in a negative way compared to an extroverted person.  An introverted person enjoys less stimulation which is why they tend to like things like reading.  They recharge by being alone while extroverted people recharge by socializing.  All introverted people are not necessarily shy.  I really liked Susan’s illustration of how shyness and introversion were two different things.

Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.

– Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (p. 12)

There’s a quiz in the book to see which end of the spectrum of introversion/extroversion you fall on.  She states several times that no one is completely extroverted or introverted.  I did get 15/20 on the test which means I fall heavily on the introverted side.  So this book felt very relevant to me.  But even if you don’t feel like an introverted person, this book has so much value because it’s pretty much guaranteed that you know or are related to someone introverted and it can help you understand and relate to them.

One epiphany I had about myself was learning that some introverted people are sensitive.  There’s a study in the book about babies who had personality assessments when they were babies and again when they had grown up.  They found the babies who were sensitive, who cried at loud noises and bad smells more easily turned out to be mellow, introverted adults.  The babies who were easy going and didn’t react much to new things grew up to be more outgoing.  It seems like it should be the other way around, but it makes sense.  If an introverted baby is overwhelmed by stimulation, they choose to be around less stimulation as they become adults.  I immediately called my mom when I read this study because I will never live down the stories of being the baby who was scared of the orange rug every time I sat on it, the lamp from just looking at it, and my aunt’s braces when she smiled.  And when Susan Cain is talking about sensitivity she is using the psychological term.

Many introverts are also “highly sensitive,” which sounds poetic, but is actually a technical term in psychology. If you are a sensitive sort, then you’re more apt than the average person to feel pleasantly overwhelmed by Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” or a well-turned phrase or an act of extraordinary kindness. You may be quicker than others to feel sickened by violence and ugliness, and you likely have a very strong conscience.

-Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (p. 14)

It’s as if, like Eleanor Roosevelt, they can’t help but feel what others feel.

-Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (p. 138)

I wasn’t expecting this book to help me think about what I really want to do with my life.  Introverts are more likely to ignore their own preferences for career choices.  The author talks about her career choice as a lawyer and even though she was good at it, she didn’t enjoy or even want to do it.  She listed three steps to finding out what you love to do.

  • First, think back to what you loved to do when you were a child. (pg. 218)
  • Second, pay attention to the work you gravitate to. (pg. 218)
  • Finally, pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You mostly envy those who have what you desire. (pg. 218)

When I went through these steps I realized that I love reading and reviewing books.  Go figure after studying music and then finance in college that I would eventually come back to reading which I have loved doing since elementary school.  Blogging about books has been such a great outlet and way for me to write which I also loved doing.  I had to giggle when I came across this quote because my husband can’t believe some of the things I post on my blog for the world to see sometimes.

Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read…

-Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (p. 63)

If being introverted is so great, why isn’t it valued in our society? There’s an entire chapter that talks about the shift in American culture to over-emphasize the value of extroverted people that led to a devaluing of introverted people.  It was very interesting.  It involves industrial change, work force changes, and even parenting changes.  She compares other cultures to America’s (like China) and shows how their value of extroversion is not as strong or even the opposite and how that affects their culture.  The biggest thing that contributed to extroversion being over-valued has to do with the business world.  Loud, fast talking people are seen as leaders even if it negatively affects others.  Harvard Business School teaches that true leaders have quick and assertive answers which might have led to many of the financial crises since the slow and cautious decision makers were mostly dismissed.  There was a study in the book that questioned whether extroverted people are always the best leaders.  It turns out they are excellent leaders if their employees are very passive, but in a work environment where the employees are more proactive an introverted leader is actually more efficient at utilizing the knowledge and experience of their employees.

You would think that as an introverted person it would be easy to parent an introverted child.  That’s not necessarily true and I enjoyed the parenting tips in the book.  I need to remember that my child is just sensitive to things that are new in general and not to label him as shy or anti-social.

I feel like I know myself a little better after reading Quiet.  I can recognize now when I’m feeling overwhelmed from stimulation and I make it a point to take time to myself to read or spend time on my own.  It’s made me a lot happier.  I also have been standing up for myself more, but in my own way by asking lots of questions and not being afraid to speak my mind just because I’m not a loud person.  It also made me realize the social pressures I had been putting on myself and my kids.  I always felt guilty for not having “enough” play dates and social time.  And by “enough” I mean daily play dates.  I realize now that the pace of a few times a week makes both my and my kids happy.  I don’t feel pressure to have them constantly doing something with other kids anymore.  Most of all it helped me realize that I am not an anti-social person.  Now that I’m aware that going out with lots of friends or to parties will drain me, I make time to wind down afterwards and I no longer turn down social invitations since I understand my personality better.  I feel like for me, this book accomplished what Susan Cain wanted it to.

If there is only one insight you take away from this book, though, I hope it’s a newfound sense of entitlement to be yourself.

-Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (p. 16)

Overall, Quiet shifted my perspective on what it means to be introverted and I learned a lot about myself in the process.  I highly recommend this book.

Content Rating: Mild, for very brief swearing.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Susan Cain

Susan Cain

SUSAN CAIN is the author of the instant New York Times bestseller QUIET: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking, which has been translated into more than 20 languages. Her writing on introversion and shyness has appeared in the The New York Times; The Dallas Morning News; O, The Oprah Magazine; Time.com; and on PsychologyToday.com. Cain has also spoken at Microsoft, Google, the U.S. Treasury, and at TED 2012. Since her TED talk was posted online, it has been viewed almost two million times. She has appeared on national broadcast television and radio including CBS “This Morning,” NPR’s “All Things Considered,” NPR’s “Diane Rehm,” and her work has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, in The Atlantic, Wired, Fast Company, Real Simple, Fortune, Forbes, USA Today, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate.com, and many other publications. She is an honors graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School. She lives in the Hudson River Valley with her husband and two sons.