Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson

Tea with Jane Austen is a great resource for those who want to know the fine details of having tea during Jane Austen's time.

From Goodreads: Who would not want to sit down with Jane Austen and join her in a cup of tea? This book shares the secrets of one of her favourite rituals. Each chapter includes a description of how tea was taken at a particular place or time of day, along with history, recipes, excerpts from Austen's novels and letters and illustrations from the time.

This book contains six chapters: Tea in the morning, Tea and Shopping, Tea away from Home, Tea and Health, Tea in the Evening, and Making the Perfect Cup. It was exceedingly informative. Here are some things I want to remember.

The servants never made the tea. It was so expensive that it was kept under lock and key. Usually one of the ladies of the house kept the key, and when it was tea time the water would be brought and then the lady would make the actual tea. Jane Austen was the keeper of tea in her family. Tea was served with breakfast, which in the country was around 9:00 am. It usually consisted of tea and some sort of toast or muffins, although in large houses it would contain all sorts of ham, eggs, etc. Some people drank chocolate or coffee instead of tea, but because tea was so expensive it was seen as the refined thing to drink.

From the book: Breakfast in the Austen household was usually eaten at nine o'clock, but Jane frequently rose early and accomplished a great deal beforehand. She often practiced her music on the pianoforte, or wrote letters at her small, wooden writing desk. Whenever Jane and Cassandra were separated, they wrote to each other constantly. Jane wrote many of her letters before breakfast, a fact she often mentioned in the letter itself: 'Here I am before breakfast writing to you, having got up between six and seven.' "

People in the city ate breakfast as late as noon because of the late hours of the evening.

In the evening the family met for dinner, then assembled later in the drawing room to take tea and spend the evening entertaining one another. Tea was the excuse for the gathering.... By the regency period the modish were dining at six o'clock, seven o'clock, and later.  Tea was not served in the middle of the day in the Regency period. It was only served at breakfast and then later in the evening. All hours before dinner were called "morning", between dinner and tea was "afternoon", and "evening" started after tea. The afternoon tea is a Victorian invention.

Matters were more casual when the family dined alone or with close friends. The men might still linger over their wine..., but they seemed just as likely to join the women for an activity. In nice weather, walking was a favorite pastime. Sometimes they even walked between dinner and tea. After tea, cards and other games were played, even when there was no company. Charades were a favorite with the Austen family. They also read aloud to each other, often reading from novels, which some families spurned.

If a family was entertaining, they might invite some guests to dinner and tea, and others only to tea. Or they might invite guests they had run into that day and it would be just for tea. The Austens, who were far from rich, seem to have fulfilled a good many of their social obligations with invitations to tea. Tea parties offered a less expensive way of entertaining friends than having them to dinner.... Refreshments served with tea were generally light--bread, toast, muffins, buns, or perhaps cake.

When dinner was early, around three o'clock, supper was served later. But as dinner moved later and later, supper went from a full meal to some food on the sideboard.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Movie Review: View from the Top with Gwyneth Paltrow

If you haven't seen it, you should watch View from the Top for the music and for Mike Myers's eye. Other than that, I didn't love this show. But we'll discuss that in a minute. First, I'm going to fill in the beat sheet!

1. Opening Image: Donna as a little girl at a birthday party making a wish to get out of her small town.
2. Theme Stated: You can be whatever you want to be.
3. Set-up: Everyone tells Donna that she is a small-town girl who belongs in a small town.
4. Catalyst: Her boyfriend dumps her and tells her that she is a small town girl and belongs in her town.
5. Debate: Donna freaks out on her first plane ride and doesn't think she can be a stewardess. Then she grows into her position as the stewardess of a small airline. She also meets Ted.
6. Break into Two: Road trip to San Diego to apply for a position with Royalty Airlines.
7. B story: Sally
8. Fun and Games: Training to become a Royalty Airlines stewardess.
9. Midpoint: Donna fails the test and is sent to Express instead of international.
10. Bad Guys Close In: She re-meets Ted and their relationship advances. Plus she gets a route with business class so her life isn't as terrible as it was.
11. All is Lost: She finds out her friend switched tests with her and she gets her international flight route. But, she breaks up with Ted to get it.
12. Dark Night of the Soul: Donna has everything she dreamed of but she is miserable.
13. Break into three: This is out of place, according to Blake Snyder, but it is when she gets her position on an international flight.
14. Finale: Donna meets Sally who says she shouldn't have left Ted. Donna flies to his parents' house, where he'll be for Christmas, and explains everything to his deaf grandma. Ted overhears and everything works out.
15. Final Image: Donna has become a pilot so she can fly international and still stay in Cleveland with Ted.

Why I didn't like it:
There were some really funny parts. But the main grabber of the show should have been the romance between Donna and Ted. However, although the love was more evident on Ted's side, I didn't feel connected to the relationship. It didn't HAVE to succeed for me to be happy. Ted and Donna being together was just a nice thing. And I think this is where the show failed. It didn't show Ted and Donna being soul-mates to the point where my heart broke when they were no longer together. If this had been better done, I think the entire show would have been more convincing.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Review: Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

I am feeling very satisfied with the book Dark Triumph. In fact, I liked it so much I finished it through the first part of family firework night (much to my husbands consternation). And, since this is a library book instead of my own book, I could not mark all the things I loved about it. However, here are a few thoughts.

From Goodreads: When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge - but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.
But her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for...

If we break this book out into a three act structure, we find that:
the inciting event is a message from the convent to free the prisoner,
the first plot point is Sybella setting out to free him,
the midpoint is when she reaches Rennes,
and the third plot point is Sybella being commanded to return to her father's presence.

I love Sybella's character arc in this book. In the beginning she believes she is scum, that many of the horrors forced upon her have been of her own making, and that death would be better than the life she leads. She is blindly following what she believes are orders from Mortain (god of death) although she is beginning to doubt his existence. We, as readers, are quickly shown otherwise as the book opens with two 'save the cat' moments: she keeps the duchess from getting captured and she saves the life of a young girl and her sister.
Then, in the first half of the second act, she begins to fall in love for the first time in her life. She also decides that once her current errand is accomplished, she will no longer obey Mortain or the Convent (who trained her). She will do what she wants once her task is accomplished.
In the second half of the second act she receives reassurances that Mortain is real and that he loves her, although she does not believe these assurances. She also admits to her strong need to feel approval from Beast but tries to avoid him because she fears that he thinks very ill of her.
In the third act Beast declares his love for her and she for him. But, and I think this is why I like the book so much, she discovers that Mortain is real and that he does love her as a daughter. She becomes changed from this knowledge and, instead of being filled with the need for revenge, becomes filled with love.
It is such a beautiful transformation, full of reassurance and validation. The love story is good (I knew what would happen from the moment she got her orders to free Beast but I still enjoyed having it unfold), but the real meat to this book is the character arc.

Other thoughts
This trilogy is written in the first person present tense. I love the first person, but not so much the present tense.
The books are about Brittany. It makes for a fascinating backstory.
There are so many good lines in here that I want to remember that I will probably buy the book and re-read it with a pen. Then I may come amend this post with lots of good lines.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: Nearly A Lady by Alissa Johnson

I just finished Alissa Johnson's Nearly a Lady. It was a very humorous and sweet romance. It is not, unfortunately, a clean romance.  
From Goodreads: Lord Gideon Haverston wanted to right his family's wrongs. So when he promises young Winnefred Blythe the money that his stepmother had cheated her out of over the years, he expects to be greeted as a hero. But the situation is much more complicated than Gideon had expected-and the task of taming the untrusting Winnefred much more alluring.

So, here are my thoughts as an aspiring writer.

First, there is a prologue. I believe it is unnecessary, as the information contained in it could have been relayed in other parts of the book. However, it is from a certain POV that is not found in the rest of the book and tries to establish the importance of a woman named Rose.

The book is sectioned into two halves -- Scotland and London. If it were to follow the three act structure, then we would have:
Inciting Event: Gideon comes.
First Plot Point: Gideon's dreams and Winnefred's attempts to comfort him
Midpoint: Going to London
Third Plot Point: Ball where Gideon feels jealousy for regarding Winnefred's attentions to another man

Character Arcs: The main character arc is with Gideon. On page 40 (13% of the way through the novel) the narrator declares in his POV that: "Gideon had made one promise and one promise only. Never again would he be responsible for the well-being of another person." This is a result of an ill-fated battle at sea where he feels he failed to protect the people in his care. For the first half of the book he tries to stay away from the ladies as much as possible (especially Winnefred). Then, on the way to London (the midpoint), he starts to take care of her. Through the second half of the second act he is doting on her and taking care of her in all sorts of ways with the belief that he can withdraw, that he is only hurting himself, and that he will withdraw his affections in the end. In the third act he realizes that he is in love with Winnefred and, by the climax, that he wants to take care of her because he can no longer live without her.

The other character arc is Winnefred's. She believes that something is wrong with her because she has been cast off so many times. The only person to stay with her is Lilly, and even Lilly wants to live in London. She tentatively begins to believe that Gideon can love her, and during the second half of the second act she debates if he has feelings for her as she is or if he loves the person he thinks she will become. At the climax she realizes that he loves her just the way she is.

Here are some things I found interesting in the writing:

The first 4 scenes open with dialogue.  The first two are a direct reference to life or death ("Move so much as a finger, and I'll blow a hole clean through you." and "Is he dead, then? Did we kill him?") which is a very efficient way to draw the reader immediately into the story.

The opening two chapters presents questions and then answers them rather quickly.
First scene: who holds the gun?
Second scene: the ladies. What are the ladies going to do now that they've knocked him out?
Third scene: Pretend they saved him from ruffians. Why were the ladies living in poverty?
Fourth scene: Characters become developed and we are now invested in the story.
Fifth scene: The ladies are living in poverty because they weren't receiving the 80 pounds per annum they were supposed to. They were only receiving 5 pounds. And the story is off and running and I'm loving it.

I love the few times when this author uses repetition in her paragraphs. Like this: "Oh, yes, everything about the man spoke of an uncommon physical strength. And everything about that had an uncommon effect on her."
or this: "Never before had she met someone capable of making her laugh and dream, wonder and want in the space of an hour, and then make her laugh and dream, wonder and want all over again in the next."

The two main characters are great.
Gideon speaks the tangents he thinks, making him unpredictable and quite hilarious in a witty way. He has a limp from his time as a naval captain.
Winnefred is just as witty. She speaks to her pet goat. She has a few 'save the cat' moments to help us like her (ie, she took in the goat, she teaches a boy in prison to read, etc). She is a country rustic that speaks her mind. We end up loving Lilly because Winnefred loves Lilly, and we end up rooting for Lilly to get with the man she loves because Winnefred wants her to.

Thoughts about the romance
  • Winnefred notices Gideon is handsome in the third scene.
  • Gideon decides Winnefred is beautiful four paragraphs later.
  • A few pages later he starts to do things to see her reaction.
  • Then he catches her in an awkward situation and helps her out. Her body reacts to his touch ("For reasons she couldn't or didn't want to name, the sensation sent pinpricks of heat along her spine.")
  • There are a few more touches, one of which seems out of character for Gideon but leads to a sweet moment.
  • After the first day Winnefred thinks of Gideon as 'endearing' and by the second day Gideon is having quite deep physical thoughts about her.
  • After that it continues to build between them.
  • By page 50 (16% of the way through the book) the narrator openly states, "She was attracted to Lord Gideon Haverston".
  • A week passes in a sentence and we take back up with much deeper feelings of attraction on both sides.
  • They observe each other while the other is unaware of the observation.
Much of the physical attraction is a surprise to each person and out of their control. In the end there is the relationship based on characteristics that adds depth to the attraction, but in the beginning it is all physical and 'surprising' and beyond the control of the character, especially for Gideon.

Lines I love
-Winnefred shoved Lilly inside and slammed the door behind her decisively. "We can, and we will. If I can leave Claire"--and oh, how that thought tore at her heart--"I can bloody well leave him."
"Claire is a goat, Winnedfred."

-Gideon wondered if she'd helped her friend in the stable last night. He certainly hoped so. Being knocked unconscious by two small women was a degree better than being knocked unconscious by just the one.

-"A moment, Winnefred. Do you mind if I call you Winnefred?"
"Excellent." He cut her off for the simple pleasure of watching those golden eyes flash a little in temper.

-Shelves along the far wall displayed dishes, cooking utensils, medicinal supplies, and an array of knickknacks women everywhere--to the bafflement of men everywhere--felt compelled to collect and showcase . . . .

-For a few awful seconds, Winnefred stood, stunned, with her arms above her head and her face hidden in the folds of her skirt. She'd seen a drawing of a turtle once, and had the ridiculous thought that she very much resembled one now.

-Gideon wondered if a few weeks would be several years too short a time to polish the girl up, but he thought it best not to voice that concern.

-That question was greeted with narrowed eyes that held a hint of humor. "A change of subject on your part does not constitute an agreement on mine."

-"Why raw?"
"Why . . . I'm sorry?"
"Why eat my heart raw?" he repeated. "It's such an odd qualifier, as if it were assumed I'd prefer it first be roasted and smothered in a fine plum sauce."
"Plum sauce?" Her mouth fell open, and a bubble of laughter escaped from her throat. "I think you are mad."
"I'm curious. Would the act of cooking really render the deed less barbaric? And what of the rest of dining etiquette? Is anything permissible? Silverware, for example, or napkins? A seat at the table and a glass of port?"
Her amber eyes began to dance with humor, and her lips trembled with suppressed laughter. "I'm going to take my leave now. Good day, Lord Gideon."
"Could there be side dishes and lively conversation?" He lifted his voice as she spun on her heel and walked away from him, Claire shuffling along at her side. "'Pass the rolls, Mrs. Butley, and another helping of Lord Gideon's raw heart. No, no, just use your fingers, dear, he's being punished.'"
He heard her laughter echoing back to him. Unable to look away, he continued to watch her move away from him toward the house....

-"If, upon meeting these men, I decide you would be better off outside the prison--"
"It's a prison. Everyone is better off outside--"

-If she refused, he would turn the carriage around and take them back to Murdoch House. Possibly, he would attempt to lock her in her chambers. Certainly, she would resist. It would all be very ugly.

-Winnefred turned to Gideon as Mr. Clarkson disappeared down the hall. "You frightened him."
"I didn't say a word to the man."
"You didn't need to." She gestured at him with her free hand. "You just stand there, looking . . . foreboding. I'm sure it can be very disconcerting for some."
"Can it?" He frowned a little in thought. "I find that surprisingly rewarding to hear."
She rolled her eyes and pushed her basket at him. "Here. If you cannot be pleasant, you can at least be useful.

-"Connor will do," the man finished for her.
She gave him an annoyed look. "Fine. Connor Willdo."

-"As the petals of an orchid," he crooned poetically and--in her opinion--stupidly. "As a single snowflake in spring."

-She was drooling on Gideon...
"Why didn't you wake me?"
"There was no reason for it."...
"Easy for you to say." His dignity hadn't dribbled slowly out of his mouth for the last few miles.

-"What is a lippet?"
A word she'd made up on the spot, but she wasn't about to admit that. She smiled instead, winked, and walked away.

Lines to remember for writing
-Miss Blythe opened her mouth as if to say something--something unpleasant if her expression was any indication of her thoughts--but closed it again when Miss Ilestone gave one, almost imperceptible, shake of her head.

-Gideon thought this new information through carefully before speaking.

-One corner of her mouth hitched up.

-Most certainly not from handsome men whose presence made her feel strangely restless, as if she wasn't quite comfortable in her own skin.
It was the oddest sensation, the way her heart had tripped and her skin had prickled.... There had been a pleasant tightening in her belly and an unexpected temptation to shuffle her feet closer until they were standing arm to arm.

-It was, without question, a "you are the dearest, cleverest, most wonderful of men" sort of smile.
Simply put, she beamed at him, and Gideon felt the power of it down to his toes. Her amber eyes lit up, her full lips parted, and her face flushed a lovely shade of peach. She looked, he thought, altogether too tempting.
He cleared his throat, pulled out another box, and very nearly shoved it at her.

-His heart sped of its own accord. It seemed to always do so when he caught sight of her. And he seemed to always be torn between turning his eyes and thoughts away and lingering to watch.

-He shouldn't have touched her again. He knew it even before he'd reached out with his hand. But he'd been unable to stop himself.

-...but it was the kindness of it that made her chest tighten and the air catch in her lungs....

-She shuffled her feet, bit her lip, and told herself....

-He shut the book carefully, placed it on the side table carefully, and spoke so very carefully, he succeeded in unnerving her a little.

-He bent his head a little to catch her eye.

-...she could smell his soap.

-....the muscle still working in his jaw.

-Maybe it was simply that she was wrong. Maybe there were good reasons why people like her father and the Engslys had rejected her in the past. Maybe Gideon's tastes, like theirs, simply did not run to unsophisticated hoydens. Maybe she just wasn't likable. Maybe she wasn't worth the trouble . . .

-Other times she caught him watching her through hooded lids, and every nerve in her body would jump to life.

-...she teased, hoping to change the subject before either her limited education or her embarrassment at her limited education became obvious.

-She felt a cool hand slip under her neck and she swatted at it without thought and with even less force.

-His scowl briefly intensified....

-It was absurd, and it was the trip from Scotland that was to blame. He'd grown used to being able to talk to her anytime he wanted, and feeling the warmth of her pressed against his side, and seeing the details of her face with just the slightest turn of his head. He'd become so accustomed to having her there, right there next to him, that he found he could no longer go the day without needing to see her. Even the space of a few hours made him feel restless and dissatisfied.

-She wanted to leave her little corner of the ballroom so she could go and tell him of the happy realization she'd come to about her visit to London, and how she had bluffed Lilly into dancing, and every detail of everything else that had occurred since they'd spoken last.

-She looked at the ground and put her hands on her hips the way a person did when they were trying to catch their breath.

-Sometimes, hope could wound deeper than a rejection and damage more than just the heart.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Movie Review: Save the Cat with Sandra Bullock's 28 Days

So, in practicing for writing, I've started trying to pick apart movies according to the beats determined by Blake Snyder in his book Save the Cat. Today I watched 28 Days starring Sandra Bullock. And here are the beats of that movie, according to me.

Beating it out:

1. Opening Image - Sandra drunk
2. Theme Stated - "You make it impossible to love you."
3. Set-up - Sandra is drunk at her sister's wedding
4. Catalyst - Sandra enters rehab
5. Debate - Sandra doesn't believe she has a problem
6. Break into Two - Sandra makes the choice of rehab over prison and acknowledges she has a problem
7. B Story - Viggo Mortensen
8. Fun and Games - Sandra gets to know the people in her rehab group
9. Midpoint - Proposal
10. Bad Guys Close In - Temptations, confrontation with sister, refusal to fully accept consequences of addiction
11. All is Lost - Boyfriend fights with friend, roommate dies
12. Dark Night of the Soul - can't talk to counselor, can't talk to sister, can't talk to friend
13. Break into Three - Sister comes and tells her she makes it impossible not to love her
14. Finale - Sandra breaks up with boyfriend/lifts the leg of the horse
15. Final Image - In the floral shop buying a plant and runs into a member of her rehab group

What do you think? Did you come up with different beat points?