Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “authors”

Author Spotlight: Austen’s Emma Dilemma


Next to Pride and Prejudice,Jane Austen’s Emma seems to be the novel most cinematized. Case in point, another Emma opened to theatres as the covoid shut them down. Just as we got our hopes up for an Austen on screen they were dashed—much like the promise of Frank Churchill arriving for a visit and then not showing up.

Ozge’s World meme
(oh that Frank—tsk)

The basics of Emma are Austen pointing out the class differences in Regency society along with following the exploits of a rich girl’s ennui as we wait for her character arc of improvement. In the mean time, the reader is entertained by a couple of intrigues by way of mistaken romances. The foundation of oh so many stories we see today.

What is problematic for the reader is deciding if Emma is likable as a character. There is no doubt Lizzie Bennet wins the Favored Austen Girl Award, but are we supposed to appreciate Emma as well? It’s doubtful. Even Jane Austen admitted to have created a character that only she would probably like.

Lizzie through the years

The novel starts out leaning towards the idea Emma is a privileged girl with the possibility of becoming or could possibility be a (ready for it?) snob:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

With that introduction, Emma could go either way: beloved of all or too good to believe. Austen indicates that Emma Woodhouse being pleasant, pretty, privileged has one obvious fault:

The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself…

And that’s where it gets interesting when it comes to interpreting Emma for the silver screen.

The faces of Emma through the cinematic lens

Gwyneth Paltrow leads out with her elegant, polished Emma in the 1996 version. This version applies a favored eye towards Emma who is presented as a charming young woman who struggles to emerge on the other side of being accomplished in the art of having “grown up.” The story fairly follows Austen’s novel. Emma is quite likable and the audience appreciates her struggles as she blunders her way through the office of being a beautiful rich daughter of a gentlemen.

Gwyenth Paltrow providing perfection

Also in 1996 is the lesser known version starring Kate Beckinsdale whose Emma is just tad snobbier than Gwenth’s version and her character arc is much less visible. This version seems to focus more on the class differences, with wide shots of servants and the poor which populate Highbury.

Kate Beckinsdale portrays a refined demure heroine

Then there is the leap to 2009 with Romali Garai appearing in a decidedly contemporary version. Although the four part series is quite lush and pretty with its costumes and setting, it lacks Regency decorum. The director’s intent was to create a hybrid Emma by dressing everyone up Regency style, yet acting as if they are in a modern rom-com. This Emma acts more like a teen debutante with her expressive eyes and outward manner, she is all dressed up but forgetting how to behave. She even allows Frank Churchill to rest his head on her lap during the Box Hill picnic. *Shocking*

Romali Garai romps as a Regency girl just wants to have fu-un

There is the Clueless version—a sort of the ‘90’s offering of taking a classic and setting it in high school as in Ten Things I Hate About You or She’s the Man. This is not a Regency Emma and kind of pays tribute to Austen’s Emma, but it’s not the book. Maybe not even the Sparknotes version.

Then there is the 2020 version. This was supposed to be the senior lit class outing as we had just wrapped up our Austen unit. Good thing I didn’t reserve the bus since school went into soft closure while the theatres went into shutter mode. I have been waiting to view this newest entry for ever so long. My anticipation turned into disappointment as the entire movie became too, too much. The colors, clothing, setting is that of Easter candy cloyingly overdone. The tone of the movie is snarky, with Emma coming off as a mean girl. And just when we think she isn’t quite human, she bleeds, quite literally, when faced with being really, truly in love.

Don’t cross Ana Taylor-Joy’s Emma

With all these Emmas to chose from it’s difficult to decide which best represents Austen’s ideal. Paltrow’s poised Regency princess?Beckinsdale’s aloof elite gentlemen’s daughter? Garai’s winsome, youthful rich girl? Taylor-Joy’s prickly fashion plate?

If Austen’s intent was to showcase the time period while gently mocking the societal hierarchy by inserting some well-placed humor, as we watch Emma’s character arc emerge I would say place Paltrow’s Emma with its range of characters, infuse with the gorgeous palette of Garai’s version and insert Beckinsdale’s pointed shots of the struggling lower classes. Not sure about Taylor-Joy’s contribution and I am Clueless about adaptions and where they fit in Austen remakes.

If you are an Austen Emma fan, what are your thoughts towards the Emma dilemma? What is she all about—favored princess, snob, airhead, snark—or somewhere in between?

Reader Round Up: June


Sometimes a novel stands out from the others. It shines out its brilliance so noticeably that it deserves an entire post. Leif Enger’s Virgil Wander is such a read.

Five Star–most def

Halfway through the book Virgil , out titular hero, and Rune, think Gandalf with kites, are drinking a Nordic spirit, apparently possessing the kick similar to sake, and Rune makes the philosophic observance “…that just because a thing was poetry didn’t mean it never happened in the actual world, or that it couldn’t happen still.”

This is what is so noteworthy about Virgil Wander as a novel. It is not exactly real-world in scope, neither is it magical realism, but neither is it so unbelievable as to be dismissable. The naysayer critics argued that Enger’s engaging tale is stretching unbelief a bit too much. Like Rune noted, just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

It seems storytellers, the ones like Garrison Keillor who come from Minnesota are the ones who take the ordinary and lean it somewhat so that you have to tip your head to get it all in focus. Or at least I do. I took it with a grain of salt when Keillor spun his hometown stories of seemingly average citizens and transformed their lives and situations into above average. Enger does the same with his own Minnesota tale. He takes a small town on the banks of the Lake Superior and tips its inhabitants a bit sideways and creates intriguing situations out of the mundane. For instance, a sturdy sturgeon that is repudiated to be the cause of death for one fisherman takes on menacing qualities akin to Moby Dick. That homey festival that every small town hosts, the one with corn dogs, a parade, face painting, and a band? Enger turns into an event celebrating the hard luck days of the town, complete with children dressing up as frogs to replicate the day it indeed rained frogs upon the fair town. There may or may not be a bomb threat involved. There is even a raven who becomes mildly domesticated of his own volition.

If the novel sounds odd in highlighting aspects that caught my eye. Well, it is odd. Odd wonderful. Oddly captivating. Odd how I couldn’t stop reading it, being irritated when I had to stop periodically to eat or sleep.

I vastly relished Enger’s debut novel Peace Like a River, and so did the nation. It only took eighteen or so years for his third novel to appear (haven’t caught up to his second one yet), but it sure was worth the wait.

Looking for amusing, Keillor-style storytelling, winsome characters, unforgettable setting, and a couple of mysteries to sweeten the plot? Then I hope you locate a copy of Virgil Wander.

Let me know if you found a copy or if you have read it. Let’s dialog this five star find.

Debut Redeux


With libraries and bookstores barely on the open side, you may not have had the opportunity to properly meet my debut picture book, Someday We Will.

written by Pam Webb
illustrated by Wendy Leach

The book’s focus is building the anticipation of grandparents and grandchildren sharing activities when they visit together.

Swimming is a favorite activity

The idea for the book developed from my own anticipation list, for all the “someday” activities I would one day share with my own granddaughter.

There are so many fun activities to share together!
Reading books together builds lovely memories

Reading books together is a favorite activity. Going to the library and selecting titles, suggesting favorite authors, or discovering new reads creates shared moments of lasting value.

Waiting, waiting for that special day to be together again

Being separated from loved ones is difficult, yet keeping that hope of being together again someday is important. That hope and anticipation of one day sharing good times together again is like keeping a bit of sunshine in our hearts on cloudy days.

Memories are sunshine for cloudy days

Although the book’s target audience is for grandparents and grandchildren, holding on to that “Someday” applies to anyone who anticipates being together with a loved one.

Thanks for stopping by!

If you are looking for a book that expresses how you look forward to being with someone, especially if you are a grandparent, I hope you will look up Someday We Will.

BOOK DETAILS
TITLE: Someday We Will
AUTHOR:
Pam Webb
ILLUSTRATOR:
Wendy Leach
PUBLISHER:
Beaming Books, 2020
TOPICS: family, visits, multi-generational, anticipation
AGES:
K-3
FICTION: Hardcover

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Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Beaming Books
Video Link

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Reader Roundup: May


Books kept me sane during May.

Between creating and maintaining distance learning lessons that “needed to have value, but not overwhelm students,” while preparing juniors and seniors for their AP exams, I escaped into reading as means of escaping being chained to my laptop screen.

Fortunately, my local library opened up curbside service, allowing patrons to order up books from the website catalog and we would then schedule a pick up appointment. A definite sanity saver. I was beginning to wonder if I would have to raid my hubs’ technical reference books and hunting guides for reading material.

Title Highlights for May:

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

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I will grant that Cormier is a brilliant writer, and his novels are unique in how they challenge readers to lift up the rocks of humanity to study the ugly that lives underneath. I personally cannot tolerate the bullying and senseless cruelty that is the center of the plot, and had to really force myself to finish the book.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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Second read, six years later:
Having devoured the 530 page book in a day the first go round, I have always felt I did it an injustice. I am glad I returned to this sumptuous novel and took the time to savor its brilliance this time. I initially avoided it as I didn’t want to read about WWII during Covoid quarantine, yet I then realized it wasn’t so much a war story as it was a story how the human spirit can endure through tragedy, often continuing with the means to thrive. It is an inspirational story deserving of all its accolades.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

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Creative plot, and more mystery/thriller than detective novel, The Tiger in the Smoke is a quick and mostly satisfying read if one can keep the characters straightened out—a problem when starting out with #14 in a character driven series.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins

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The story vacillates between Mayberry and Parks and Rec with its wholesomeness, off-color humor, quirky characters, and small town politics. Apparently, this is the first in the series. Frankly, I was hoping the novel would live up to its title. The seventh daughter talking with books was the best part of the plot.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr

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Despite its unique and lyrical style, it’s difficult to connect with characters who continually make incredibly unwise choices. No doubt a five star book in its own right, yet this reader still needs to enjoy the story, not just admire the writing.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ I Can’t Remember What I Forgot by Sue Halpern

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For those who like their science delivered in friendly, anecdotal ala Malcolm Gladwell style, then Halpern’s book about the timely topic of memory loss, as in preventing dementia or finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, is a read to consider.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️The Here and Now by Ann Brashares

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Take the trope of outlier girl meeting up with too-good-to-be-true boy (Meg/Calvin from Wrinkle in a Time) and stir in a time traveling plot complete with distracted mother and missing father, and you find yourself on familiar ground in Brashares’ story about the future.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

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Ah, there is nothing like a full-blown, well-written Victorian drama set in a quaint English town. There’s gossipy neighbors, entangled romances, unexpected weddings and funerals, secret undercurrents, plot twists—just the right elements for a BBC historical series. Bronte and Austen seem to be the more remembered lady novelists of that era; however, Gaskell holds her own and should not be overlooked.

May consisted of a grand mix of genres and the variety proved a tonic for my frazzled state of mind. You can find more reviews at my Goodreads website.

UPDATE: The library opened its doors today! Double Woo-Hoo!!

Reader Round Up: April


Recently in an e-mail a student inquired how my coronacation was going. I can’t say I feel like a pandemic stay-at-home has the feel of a vacation. It’s not even a staycation since I am not electing to stay home to lounge out. I am staying home (when masses of people are not) because it’s the wise, safe, and healthy decision for the times upon us. Besides I’m working. My computer and I have a love/hate relationship going at present. I love that I have a reliable laptop, yet I hate how I’m chained to it 6-8 hours a day as I create lesson videos, watch webinars to create lesson plans, answer emails, write emails, log the emails and phone calls I make to students and families, and grade the assignments that trickle in. Then again, that sounds like I’m complaining I have meaningful work, and for that noisome whine, I apologize. I will say I have developed eye twitching from all the constant screen use. Blink more. Thank you. I will do that.

As for reading? I would usually be jumping up and down to have so much “extra” time to read. Having something to read, and having the inclination to read are needed to create a Reader’s Round Up. Honestly, when I do find time to read I end up napping. Maybe I will create a monthly blog post titled “Nap Chat” in which I discuss my best and favorite naps of the month. For now, highlight books read during April:

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ *weighing in at over 600 pages of small print, it kept me occupied for at least a week Wilkie Collins, a contemporary of Charles Dickens, writes in the similar fashion of florid description, and memorable characterization within a complex plot. An intriguing tale filled with twists and turns, A Woman in White is a mystery that provides a grand story of mistaken identities, sleuthing, secrets, and deception. The BBC adaptation is similar to Collins’ novel, yet as they say, the book is the book and the movie the movie.”

Extras by Scott Westerfield ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ *one of the quick grabs off my classroom shelf before everything shut down—it’s a popular series with my students, so why not? The fourth book in the Uglies series is full of action and unique characters. At times the inventions seem contrived, and at other times ingenious. There is some surprising science interjected within the plot which balances out some of the silly fame banter.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens star ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Book hype usually puts me off of reading the title. I read it because it was in a bag of books dropped off to me, and I read it in one day. Somewhat implausible, yet a well told story with courtroom drama that rivals the glory of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lady Susan by Jane Austen ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Lady Susan is not usually counted amongst Austen’s titles. Speculation could be it is so short it’s not a novel but a long short story, at best a novella. Another speculation being Lady Susan is so totally unlike any of Austen novels that it is in a category of its own. Somewhat like that one really peculiar meal that a prestigious chef once made that, well, just wasn’t up to par with the other fine cuisine, so we just won’t mention it. Out of courtesy. Lady Susan is no Lizzie Bennet, not an Emma, and definitely unlike any of the heroines Austen has presented to readers. Lady Susan is an unscrupulous conniver—in fact there is no one worth rooting for in the story. On the other hand, it is Jane Austen—just nod and say it was delicious, but you probably won’t be asking for seconds.

Last minute squeaker of an April read
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
A combination of fact and lots of artistic license, yet provides a fascinating insight into Vincent Van Gogh’s tortured brilliance. Theo is real hero.

I should have rolled a wheelbarrow into the library and started emptying shelves. It doesn’t help that my Goodreads counter keeps nudging me that I am behind in my book reading. I know. I know.

Reader Round Up: March


March began in the usual way: school, home, the routine of routine. Then murmurings of a really bad flu flutter into the periphery around the middle of March (ironically teaching “Beware the Ides” with Julius Caesar walking to the forum). Routines are jarred as parents pull students from school and we watch and wonder if our school will also shut down with one week to go before spring week. We did and in two weeks all has changed and routine is a daily challenge.

Where does reading fit into this new normal? Reading used to be my anticipated reward, my stress reliever, my defrag from working with screens. Now, with only a scant handful of books (paper, not electronic, preferred) to last, who knows how long, reading becomes a quandary. Reading helps wile away the hours and keeps my brain from fogging over from too much screen time. Yet, I will clearly run out books on hand sooner than anticipated. Why didn’t I grab more books from the library before it closed?

Highlights of March:

The Rope Walk by Carrie Brown ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ A bit like To Kill a Mockingbird with a tomboy, an odd playmate, a mysterious neighbor and a life lesson.

Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ An old fashioned adventure in the style of Robert Lois Stevenson

In the Jellicoe Road by Marlena Marchetta ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ A YA that combines the ruthlessness found in Lord of the Flies with the mind-warping plot twists of I Am the Cheese.

Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️ One of those mad grabs off the shelf before the library closed and an unexpected joy as the book reveals the early days of Yellowstone Park through the witty and informative epistolary exchanges of a hodge podge of characters pursuing science.

Dandelion Summer by Lisa Wingate ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Imagine Henry Fonda from his role in On Golden Pond and a teenage Queen Latifah, you then would have Norman Alvord and Epiphany Jones, better known as J. Norm and Epie. These two form a symbiotic friendship as they battle their dysfunctional families.

The Least of My Brothers by Harold Bell Wright ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ A classic re-edited by Michael Phillips. Turn of the century story of the difference between being a disciple of Christ and a member of the church, with plenty of drama and characterization and a minimum of preaching making for a thoughtful consideration of what defines a Christian.

Ender’s Shadow by Scott Orson Card ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️ Having read Ender’s Game several years ago I thought it time to read its counterpart. Read it in a couple of days since I was able to dedicate that much time to reading a 400+ page book being on spring break.

A mixture of titles and interests as usual. As my library stash dwindles I will begin getting creative (or desperate) and begin prowling my meager collection which consists of read and reread classics or dipping into my hubs’ technical journals and how to manuals.

Bard Bits: April


Honestly, you don’t look a day over 415, Bill!
1564-1616
April 23

Yup, it’s birthday time for William. He had a much bigger party six years ago when he hit the big 450. All over the world people celebrated the genius of the man from Stratford-Upon-Avon.

How does a person offer birthday congrats to someone who has given so much to the world in terms of literature and themed studies of human nature? Royalties, maybe. Wouldn’t that be a welcome stimulus check in the mailbox? Films, books, plays, mugs, t-shirts, buttons, toys, business names, and so much more are derived from Shakespeare. From what I have researched about his personality, I’m sure he would be amused at the adulation. He would probably discount it towards misshapen apparitions of misguided judgement.

I must offer some sort of tribute to Bill on his birthday. Hmm, how about something acknowledging my appreciation for one of his most amazing works: Hamlet. Yes, Hamlet once again. The Muppets had their say last month, now it is time for Veggie Tales to lend their muse to this timeless play of the troubled Prince of Danes or is that Danish?

https://vimeo.com/247649481?ref=em-share

Maybe you have your own ideas for a birthday tribute. I would surely appreciate hearing how you appreciate Shakespeare. Stop in the comments and have a piece of cake.

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Yes, you can have cake and eatheth, too.

Igniting a Discussion on Happiness


In my day job as an AP teacher I have the privilege of introducing students to literary works of merit. I look forward to their insights and perspectives.

Image result for f451 images are you happy

We have just begun Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian tale of government control: Fahrenheit 451. This deceptively easy read contains complicated topics. One discussion topic is happiness. Guy Montag is not a happy fireman, or at least he was one until Clarisse asked him, “Are you happy?”

Image result for f451 images are you happy

So I put it to my students a discussion statement prompted by Clarisse: “Happiness is a choice, not a given.”

A lively discussion developed with a split between total agreement and a few who decided happiness was a complicated issue and they couldn’t come to complete agreement about it.

I then prompted them with this question: “What is the difference between happiness and joy?”

Their conclusions were opposite of my mine.

They said: “Happiness is long lasting, while joy is a temporary emotion.”

Hmm, I’ve always reckoned it to be the opposite. Happiness is a temporary state, dependent on outside circumstances, yet joy lives deep in our being, dwelling in our soul.

Nope. They didn’t buy that. Maybe I did have it wrong. I proceeded in the course of action that all teachers must do when wondering if what they are teaching to their students is baloney. I Googled it.

This is what I found: Joy or Happiness?

What are your thoughts? Is happiness dependent on outside circumstances? Does joy stem from emotional contentment from within?

Interestingly enough Guy Montag, F451’s protagonist, upon realizing he is not happy begins making decisions involving enormous collateral damage. Joy is never mentioned as Guy Montag seeks happiness. Does he find happiness or joy? I will have to reread it and decide if he actually did. And that’s why F451 remains a classic—it keeps asking the reader questions after the last page is turned.

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What are your thoughts about joy vs happiness?

Reader Round Up: February


Oh, Yay—made it to March. January and February are the funky winter months around these parts. Too much snow mixed with occasional icy windy Arctic blasts with a rounding off of a surprising amount of rain. Indoors weather for sure, as I no longer ski having learned to appreciate my extremities staying in one piece, thank you muchly.

February might be the shortest month, but this year is leap year which calls for an extra day of reading. Nice.

To celebrate leap year, February’s Reader Round Up consists of the usual star reviews and links to Goodreads reviews with the added bonus of one sentence teasers.

Image result for on the beach nevil shute book cover

On the Beach by Nevil Shute ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ The rabbits win.

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Tomorrow Is Forever by Gwen Bristol ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Fortunately the book was shorter than the war.

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Howard’s End by E.M. Forster ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Sometimes the movie is actually better than the book.

The Breaking Wave by Nevil Shute ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ In this case, it wasn’t the butler who did it.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️ Some people have a burning desire to read a good book

Reading Round Up: January


January is a complex month: it’s a fave in how it ushers in a new year full of promise, yet it drags in with it the continuance of winter. There is also a remainder of the semester, about two weeks before a week of finals with a scant couple of days into the second semester.

Not that anyone is asking me, but I would like January to be a reset month. Turn the corner, flip the calendar over, and it’s a new year, new month, new semester, new weather. None of this leftover stuff. Until that grand plan gets off the drawing board I will continue to forge on and meet my goal of reading 101 books this year (I’ve met my goal for the last three years with a bonus reading *woo hoo*).

Setting up the Goodreads Reading Challenge is a marvelous way to keep track of my books. Some I remember clearly, some are hazy. Some are “I read that?” I should read as Francis Bacon suggests, which is to savor and digest slowly; however, even he acknowledges some books end up being consumed quickly since they are so tasty, like in that chocolate truffle was so yummy that I consume it in one bite and can’t really remember how it tasted, except it was really, really good. Some books are like that.

Here are the highlights from January. I have added the links should you be prompted to read the review. Reading gets me through the gloom of January’s continuous wintry days.

Mozart’s Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Conan Doyle ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Diary of River Song: Series One by Jenny T. Colman, et al ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The West End Horror: A Posthumous Memoir by John H. Watson, MD by Nicholas Meyer ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Breaking Wave by Nevil Shute ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Goodreads Challenge minder gently admonishes me to stay on track by letting me know how many books I am behind. This sets up a bit of panic as I imagine this growing pile of unread books trailing after me from month to month. I basically have to average eight books a month to hit my goal. Not always easy when there is a riveting PBS Masterpiece series on. We’ve been immersed in Howard’s End with Haley Atwell and Matthew MacFadyen. Of course the series prompts me to go and grab Forster’s book from the library. Maybe there will be a comparison between the book and the film (Emma Thompson) and the PBS series…hmm, is the library got late hours today?

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