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The Modern Laureate

Janie’s Got an Umbrella

JaneUnlimited_CV_FINAL.inddA completely biased review of Kristin Cashore‘s Jane, Unlimited:

Read this book.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I’m a sucker for a book with literary allusion and homage (in case you couldn’t tell by my raving review of Dotty and the Calendar House Key) and this one was a treat.

On top of being chock-full of direct references and allusion (to both books, and fine art), the book itself was like an allusion to Edith Wharton‘s The House of Mirth (which Cashore references in the story and acknowledges in the Author’s Notes), with each section paying homage to some of my favorite genres.

When I read on the back cover blurb, “One choice leads Jane into a HEIST MYSTERY. Another takes her into a SPY THRILLER. She finds herself in a GOTHIC HORROR STORY, a SPACE OPERA, and an extraordinary FANTASY realm,” I thought okay, how on earth do you pull that off? But let me tell you, Cashore has some serious skills. This novel read like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, without the work of actually having to choose and go back to see the other outcomes.

And to top it all off, the main character, Jane, is a (mostly) self-reliant young woman who (thank goodness) does not automatically fall for any of the obligatory (but not lead) male characters. She is witty, smart, artistic (she makes custom umbrellas, how cool is that?), and she’s not afraid to stand up for herself, or stand out from the crowd.  Jane has all the characteristics I try to encourage in my own daughter.

For those who are interested in the artistic side of the physical book, the dust jacket on this hardcover is gorgeous. I prefer paperback and sometimes those covers aren’t as nice as the hardcover dust jackets; I might have to buy the hardcover now just so it can sparkle in all my #shelfies.

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That’s [Not] All She Wrote

Emma Warner-Reed

Emma Warner-Reed is a lawyer, author, and legal journalist from Yorkshire Dales in the United Kingdom (go ahead and look that up, I’ll wait). In 2015, after writing a number of legal textbooks and legal columns, she published her first novel, Dotty and the Calendar House Key, which went on to win many awards and recognition. After having the opportunity to read Dotty, I reached out and was fortunate enough to arrange to have a few questions answered.

What came first: the lawyer or the writer?
The lawyer came first. In fact, that’s how I got into writing – I was commissioned to write a textbook on law by an academic publisher, and then more followed. I only started writing fiction 2 years ago.
Did you draw from any of your own experiences for the Dotty series?
Yes, I draw upon my own experiences in my writing all the time. Any of my friends from school will recognise the description of Dotty’s school uniform – and the difficulty she has keeping a hat on her head is a problem we both share!
What made Great Expectations such an influence for you in writing Dotty and the Calendar House Key?
Eek – I’m afraid it didn’t! The name Pip is coincidental, although I am a big fan of Dickens and so perhaps I was thinking of Philip Pirrip when I was creating my character, Pip. To my recollection, there is no mention of chimney sweeps in Great Expectations, though – although in Oliver Twist there is a scene in front of the magistrate where the unfortunate Oliver is almost apprenticed to a very unsavoury character called Gamfield, as a climbing boy (a chimney sweep’s apprentice).
Aside from the Dickensian references, the story feels like an homage to so many classic stories. Was that done on purpose or just a wonderful coincidence?
A lot of people reference my writing to children’s classics, which I’m delighted about. But I can’t claim it’s intentional, I’m afraid! It’s just my natural writing style. Again, it’s probably just my classical influences shining through. I love all the old classics and have a bit of fun referencing them in my books, too. Have you worked out which book Dotty is reading in the library in DOTTY and the Calendar House Key? Have a guess!
Lastly, did you write these books for someone, or just for yourself?
That’s an interesting (but sad) story. I came up with the idea for DOTTY after my second son was born, but didn’t sit down to write it until four years later. A friend of mine, who was a real bookworm, lost a child and it led to her having difficulty concentrating, to the point where she hadn’t been able to read a book from cover to cover since it happened. I determined to help her and wrote DOTTY and the Calendar House Key in half-chapter installments, which I sent to her one after another, by email. To date it’s still the only book she’s managed to read from start to finish.

For more about Emma Warner-Reed and her Dotty series, visit www.thedottyseries.com
For my review of the first book in the Dotty series, see The Books That Built Me

The Books That Built Me

Dotty and the Calendar House Key

I don’t know about you, but classic literature is like soul food for my mind. So when I find a new take on a classic I get really excited to see how someone was able to put a fresh face on an old story. But when I start reading a book without any expectations of a retelling but find myself surrounded by all of my favorites it fills my bookish heart with joy.

That is exactly what happened when I read the highly acclaimed Dotty and the Calendar House Key by Emma Warner-Reed. I was given an advanced reader copy as a member of the Hidden Gems ARC Program and wasn’t entirely sure what to expect other than the short blurb provided by Hidden Gems. But as I started reading I was blanketed by the nostalgic memories of stories like The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Mary Poppins, and even a little 101 Dalmatians (the villainous duo Dotty is faced with reminds me of Jasper and Horace, the two oafs parading around as bad guys that inevitably get outsmarted by just about everyone).

While those memories brought back waves of my childhood, what really got this English Major giddy (excuse me, this English degree holder [insert happy dance here]), were the Dickensian allusions. The first, which it turns out was not intentional, comes as Dotty is introduced to a chimney sweep named Pip. In this case, Pip is short for Peregrine, but he says “it’s too much of a mouthful for most people,” just as Pip in Great Expectations has a difficult time saying his own name. In my subsequent interview with Warner-Reed, she admitted that she had not been conscious of that, but intentionally brought in the chimney sweeps as a reference to climbing boys (chimney sweep apprentices) in Oliver Twist.

Aside from the memories and allusions, the part that really had me hooked on this book from the beginning were the plot twists. Just when I though I had it figured out, Warner-Reed flipped the whole thing around and had me audibly gasping throughout the story. But even the parts that did happen as I predicted had me excited as I was able to celebrate my victories with a little “a-ha, I knew it!” I guess you could say I was enjoying my Watson-esque role as the reading sidekick.

This book may be geared toward a middle grade audience, but I recommend it without hesitation for anyone, especially those in need of adventure and nostalgia. Lucky for me this is only the first in a series of books about Dotty, and I can’t wait to continue my reading adventure.

Calling Doctor Faustus

In this project I took a section of Christopher Marlowe’s play, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus (adapted from Keefer’s A version), and retold it with a modern twist. In this tale Faustus is the same person he was in the original, but the setting he’s placed in is our own modern world. This leads to some humorous encounters with Faustus struggling to adapt to this new world he’s found himself in.

Faustus was intrigued by the promise of power and influence Valdes and Cornelius offered him with this strange device they called a “phone”. All the world’s secrets at your fingertips? The ability to create whatever you could dream of and transport it to anywhere across the globe in an instant? The allure of power was maddening for Faustus, he decided he must have it no matter what. Continue reading “Calling Doctor Faustus”

Snow in San Diego?

img_5202img_5205For this project, I decided to adapt a text into a sculptural piece of art. The text I chose to work with is the poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost. I love this poem so naturally it was the first text I thought of to work with. The imagery that has always stuck with me is the magic of snow falling Continue reading “Snow in San Diego?”

You, Shakespeare, and Ryan North: The Literary Love Triangle You Never Knew You Wanted

romeo and/or juliet
Ryan North gives Shakespeare a run for his money in his second chooseable-path adventure, Romeo and/or Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is a story that may never cease to be retold. Shakespeare himself lifted it from existing verse, knowing full well that it was a soppy, shameless, chick-flick of a tale. It’s in this thieving and forthright tradition that Ryan North charms us again with his second choose-your-own-adventure Shakespeare re-telling, Romeo and/or Juliet.

Continue reading “You, Shakespeare, and Ryan North: The Literary Love Triangle You Never Knew You Wanted”

YOLO with Shakespeare

 

It comes as no surprise that we here at The Modern Laureate are lovers and in many ways, pupils of the literary king himself- William Shakespeare. So when an opportunity comes to 12015-macbeth-killingit-normalreview any of his works, whether they
be the original or one cloaked in the guise of modernity, several of our editors, including myself, leap at the chance. And leap I did, like a little tadpole in a splendiferous pond of betrayal, deceit and most of all, the smiley face. This emoticon that serves to mask a representation of a real human being behind it, one that may be true to form or far from it, both ironically and perfectly encapsulates much of the theme in
Macbeth #killingit. Continue reading “YOLO with Shakespeare”

Retracing the Vampire Legend

vampire_final_poster

The myth and folklore of vampires is one that has been around for quite some time. I stumbled upon a film that spun a new twist into the vampire drama that still fascinates us today and was delighted that I did. Therapy for a Vampire unites a classical figure in the world of psychology- Sigmund Freud– with undead beings as popular as ever both in the film and novel industry. Vampires however, were not always the charming and irresistible gentry that we so know and adore today. Continue reading “Retracing the Vampire Legend”

Interview With Nick Sparks-Life Coach

 

as-you-areOver the course of reading many books I’ve learned that if I want something, I need to put it out there into the universe. Through this method I was put into contact with Nick Sparks- a phenomenal life coach. His book, As You Areencapsulates a philosophy that is really about becoming in tune with ourselves so that life can be what we’ve always dreamed it should. Through a series of methods he’s developed, Nick teaches his readers how to bring their best selves forth. The gift and the reason why this book is a positive contribution to the growth and well-being of us all is that we learn: our best selves is who we truly are. It’s not something to put on, but something to
uncover. Continue reading “Interview With Nick Sparks-Life Coach”

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