Monday, December 20, 2010

sigh, for the disney channel movies of my youth

I  watched Avalon High through Netflix last night and while it was enjoyable, it just didn't have the fun creativity of the old Disney Channel original movies. Does anyone even remember those anymore? I don't think the Disney Channel even shows them anymore. Which is sad because they were awesome though missing dance numbers (the one thing that I do kind of like about most of the newer movies)...

From I Was a '90s Kid
Let us start at Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. Now the two sequels, they were just sad to see, but the original Zenon rocked. Kirsten Storms as Zenon Kar, a girl living on a space station in AD 2049 who gets grounded, literally when she is sent to Earth once she breaks one too many rules on the space station. Add in one neurotic aunt, the popular guy (who is a requirement for movies like this), his delusional "girlfriend," and their favorite rocker who is supposed to give his first concert in space just as a major crisis hits the space day. Sigh, I watched it whenever it was on and still to this day dance around like an idiot to Supernova Girl (yes, back in the days of Napster, I downloaded it and have managed to hang onto it this long.)

From Wikipedia
Next is Stepsister from Planet Weird. To this day I quote from my favorite scene in this movie so if I ever turn to you with a scared look in my eyes and say "I fear the wind," just go with it. Stepsister from Planet Weird tells the story of Megan Larson who is thinking this year will finally be her year until Ariel Cola shows up and the whole school suddenly thinks she is the coolest kid around. And to make matters worse, Megan's mother just fell in love with Ariel's dad (Bonus, Ariel's Dad is The Last Starfighter which is awesome). Oh, and the Colas also happen to be aliens...I to this day think Tamara Hope's portrayal of the ethereal and bizarre Ariel is delightful, this generation is missing out on a quirky original movie.

I got this from here, I'm not sure where it is...
Sigh, Erik von Detten, you broke my heart when you played the douchy spotlight seeker in The Princess Diaries. Because, you were first one of the twins in a delightful TV version of Escape to Witch Mountain and then you were Brink, a blader who dreams of the X-Games (or the non-trademarked version of them created for this movie) but almost lost sight of his friends and family in his pursuit of them in the Disney Channel original movie appropriately named Brink! I think I may have just enjoyed this movie because of von Detten because I don't actually remember much of the movie other than bits and pieces....Also, I kind of love that Sam Horrigan pops up in Brink! too after being in Escape to Witch Mountain also. I love when actors keep popping up in the same movies together. I am weird like that.

From Wikipedia
 Last one, and this movie made me want to promptly run off to Hawaii and learn how to surf. Rip Girls was about a girl who learns about her dead mother by learning about her life in Hawaii and how much she loved to surf. Seriously, this movie was like an advertisement for Hawaii. I wanted to move to a delightful bungalow near the beach and try to learn how to surf. Luckily for all of us, I realized that was more a fun daydream than a reality I could handle. Still Rip Girls was a lot of fun, always liked it better than Johnny Tsunami (about a surfer who gets moved to the north and learns how to snowboard). 

Sigh, I feel the need for a marathon of classic Disney Channel original movies. I know I am forgetting some I enjoyed but these are my favorites; original, clever movies about kids facing challenges and coming out on top. But I always liked how these kids had a great hobby or were in a unique situation. They were always people I wanted to be friends with. I miss those movies. Or maybe I've just outgrown what kids like these, now I feel old for admitting to that...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A world without color

One of my all-time favorite authors is Jasper Fforde. His Thursday Next novels rank high on my list of favorite books. So, I was excited when Fforde started a new series, Shades of Grey about a society that couldn't see colors like you and me. Instead, people have colors they can see more than others so society has created a hierarchy around the chromatic scale. Our hero, Edward Russett is a Red who is being sent to the Outer Fringes for a dose of humility. He is days away from his Color being declared and being a full member of society. Upon his arrival, Eddie meets Jane Grey and suddenly the very normal, very safe future he had planned doesn't seem so certain.

A review I read on Goodreads about Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron said that the first pages of a Fforde book are like being plunged into the deep end of a pool. You spend the next 100 pages trying to re-surface. His worlds are complex and fully realized and he doesn't waste time explaining them to a reader. He pays his readers the great compliment of letting them figure what's going on as the story develops. Fforde's books are always an inherent mystery as a reader tries to understand the world in which the story is taking place, then a reader actually gets to the mystery of the story itself. As the first book in a series, Fforde spends a lot of time setting up the series's bigger goals and mysteries. He also lets us get to know Eddie Russett/deMauve and Jane Grey/Brunswick, the heroes of the series. Eddie is one of those fun dystopian characters, the reluctant hero who has a vague idea that everything  might not be what it seems. He has a fatal flaw that usually dooms dystopian heroes, he is curious. He asks questions and it is this trait that eventually wins him the girl of his dreams. Jane is a tough character who spends a great deal of the book threatening to kill Eddie but she's smart, clever and knows there is more to the Collective than meets the eye. The world they live in is full of manipulative people and a government that is ruling by fear of the unknown and together they've resolved to take it down, one color conspiracy at a time.

Fforde never fails to deliver with witty, fast-paced dialogue, a riveting story and a world in which anything can happen. I cannot wait for the next two installments!

Once Upon a Time…

I am alive! I tell you, even when you are thousands of miles from family for December, they keep you busy! I’ve been shopping, wrapping, shipping and generally going a bit nutty with holiday must-dos. However, I am in good shape now and I have a backlog of blog writing to do. So, as Mariah Carey’s nutty Christmas special plays in the background, I will try to get caught up a bit.

First up, a series of fairy tales re-told. Now, if you know me, you know my love of fairy tales. I am the girl who wrote her senior English thesis on Cinderella and loved every minute of that semester reading tale after tale of Cinderella in every form imaginable. My favorite version still remains a short story told from the stepmother’s perspective, a woman who had been evil to protect Cinderella from the men in her life. It fascinated me. One, because one of my main arguments in my thesis was Cinderella’s strength when she was surrounded by a strong group of women and two, because it was just mind blowing. Taking the evil stepmother and making her the one who saves Cinderella in the end?! I was in love and re-imagined fairy tales have been a passion of mine ever since. So you can imagine my excitement when I was told about a series of books called Once Upon a Time that take classic fairy tales and tell them again in new settings with new characters and twists to the old tales.

I’ve read two of the series so far, both written by Cameron Dokey and I am in love. I require little from my fairy tales. One, they need to have a strong heroine that I can relate to and two, that everyone live happily ever after in the end. At least the people who deserve to live happily ever after. My third requirement? That the good and the bad be easy to distinguish. I don’t read a fairy tale wanting to think very hard. I read them to be entertained, to enjoy the lyrical sentences and implausible adventures. Dokey hasn’t failed me yet.

from Goodreads
The first I read was Before Midnight: A Re-telling of “Cinderella” and it was one of the more delightful re-tellings I’ve ever read. And that is saying something people. Dokey’s Cendrillion is strong, resilient and willing to fight for what she wants. Dokey also adds the story of Raoul, a young man who has grown up next to Cendrillion and shared her pain of being abandoned as an infant. On her 16th birthday, Cendrillion makes a wish, that she might have a mother and sisters who will love her. She asks for two sisters, in case one doesn’t like her. Like magic, a stepmother and two stepsisters arrive several days later and the great adventure begins for Cendrillion and Raoul as the story builds towards the climatic night of the Prince’s ball. Reading this book, it was like watching my thesis in action. Cendrillion is raised from birth by Old Marthe, who is a sort of fairy godmother figure for the story, and once her stepmother and stepsisters arrive, these are women who know themselves and are willing to learn who Cendrillion is. And Cendrillion is more comfortable and confident to act during her crisis moments because of the support she has from the women in her life. Dokey did me proud in this version and I enjoyed very minute of it.

from Goodreads
A few days later, my next installment of the series arrived. The Storyteller’s Daughter: a Re-telling of “Arabian Nights” was based on a story I had less history with. I tried to read the original tales when I was too young. The “familiar” stories of Aladdin and Ali Baba weren’t quite so familiar in their original versions so I abandoned the book and contented myself with the Dougray Scott Hallmark mini-series (seriously, no one does crazy tortured soul like Dougray in that series – watch it if you don’t believe me!). But the character of Sharhrazad is a delightfully mysterious one. She is like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, charged with taming a beast back to his humanity but she also must rely more on her cleverness because there is a death sentence hanging not only over her, but every woman in the kingdom. Dokey’s characterization of Sharharazad makes her mother a driving influence of who she becomes. She is also blind, which adds an interesting facet to the story. Also, the battle is not against brothers in this story, instead the threat comes from outside the family which I kind of liked more. While the battle between brothers is classic, I enjoyed the family dynamics of this re-telling which helped make the ending a bit more plausible to me. I also liked the addition of Sharharazad’s half sister to the story – her growth as a character was interesting to watch and also impressed me that Dokey could handle the different threads of her story, much more complex than the Cinderella re-telling.

If you can’t tell, I thoroughly enjoyed these books and would recommend the series. It’s written with more of a teen audience in mind but I think anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale will enjoy them.  One down, two more to go! I am hoping to be caught up on my book reviewing by Christmas. Let’s see how I do!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird

I have been feeling direction-less with my reading since completing the Great Bookshelf Challenge of 2010. I kind of went crazy with my ILLs and check-outs at both the University and Public Libraries. The sweet taste of freedom! However, I had no idea where to start. What book out of the 537 books on my to-read list should I start with? That is when my eye caught sight of a book that has been on my to-read list for years and years. Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird. And with it, I found a new project to help direct me as I bumble into the 537 book free-for-all (that I seem to add to daily). I want to work on reading books this coming year that I should have read by now. Books that somehow my high school teachers forgot to make me read and books that my brilliant class planning helped me avoid in college. This will not take over my life like the last challenge but give me a steady stream of good literature amid the myriad Austen-inspired chick lit books and many YA fantasies my list contains (and that I am dying to gorge on but am restraining myself so far).

I had slight guilt for not getting around to reading To Kill A Mockingbird before now. After reading The Heroine's Bookshelf last week and hearing the name "Scout Finch" for the first time, the guilt grew. After completing the book, how on earth have I lived without Scout in my life until now? Scout is clever, funny, and has a way of seeing the world that I envy. If I had found her sooner, I like to think I would have had the guts to clock someone along the way. The scene where she does just that to her own cousin no less seriously made me cheer out loud. While sitting at my desk, at work in the library at lunchtime. It was a great moment. And one of the reasons I love reading so much. It wasn't just Scout's moment; it was mine too.

The book has a charm to it that called to me from the moment I started reading it. Scout's love of reading, her brother Jem's growing legal mind and Dill's obsession with the neighbor no one has ever seen were all traits I could understand still, removed from childhood as far as adulthood has forced me too. However, it was Atticus who I appreciated maybe more now that I would have as a kid. His calm, steady belief in what is right and his belief that his children should be taught that, no matter the cost to himself was inspiring and I can only hope that I can be that kind of a parent someday.

It also struck me reading that this book is timeless. Its issues surrounding race and justice are just as relevant today as when Harper Lee wrote them. It worries me that they are still around, perhaps in an even more vicious form today because they are often more subtle. We are so worried about being "politically correct" often that we miss that these issues are still on the table for my generation and the generations coming after me. To Kill a Mockingbird is a book I wish someone had handed to me in 6th grade, when I was just starting to grow a backbone. Scout would have been an inspiration. It is a book I wish someone had handed to me in the days after 9/11 when the issues would have rang true and yet Scout's belief in herself and her world to learn would have been comforting as well. As it is, a book I read today, Scout is still an inspiration and now I have seen enough to look beyond Scout's way of seeing the world and appreciate the father who taught her to see it that way. An impressive book indeed.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Tangled Review

Image from
I love when a new Disney movie comes out. I watch every trailer, every clip, read every blog. I know more half the backstory of the movie long before I ever see it. I have mentioned on this blog that I wasn't as excited for Tangled as I was for The Princess and the Frog. I think deep down I will always adore hand-drawn animation best. I love its feel, its ambiance. There is something about the opening scene of a well made hand-drawn animated film that makes me feel like I'm eight years old again. There is a softness to hand-drawn animation that computer animation has never been able to quite emulate exactly. Pixar gets close; Tangled may even get a little closer if I'm being honest, but it is still missing that magic I associate with the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast, the drama of the fight scene in The Lion King or even the magic Disney animators recaptured with The Princess and the Frog in the bayou scenes especially.

Now that I have waxed poetic about hand-drawn animation, let's get down to brass tacks. I really didn't love Tangled as much as The Princess and the Frog. I mean, don't get me wrong, it was funny, clever, with excellent storytelling and just beautiful to watch. The color palette for the film alone was delicious. But, and this is what usually makes or breaks a movie for me, I just didn't love Rapunzel. I mean, I did love her but not the way I loved Tiana. I watched The Princess and the Frog and found a character I wanted to be more like, who sang a song I adopted as my theme song for my current mid-20s life, a character who immediately became a friend I needed to have in my life. Rapunzel had to grow on me and she did, by the end of the film, she was like girls I knew back in high school. I've had friends like her: flaky, fun-loving, slightly spastic at times, willing to take risks and see where life takes them. They are friends I adore and yet they exasperate me, tire me out now. It's a stage we should have grown out of. And for that, I have to give major props to the storytellers who created an incredibly realistic 18 year old girl. And because of that, I think Rapunzel made me feel old at first. As she grows throughout the film, I came to like her a lot better and recognize the journey the story was taking the character on. But Tiana still wins in my book. I really do think this has to do with my age and where I am in my life. Rapunzel is the dramatic, exasperating teenager on her first adventure; Tiana has been around longer, realized that life isn't going to be handed to her on a silver platter, that she needs to calm down and get to work.

Which brings me to issue number 2 - in a sense, Tangled and The Princess and the Frog are the same story. The heroine on a journey to learn more bout herself and reach a goal; the hero who has to learn to love someone more than he loves himself; the selfish villain who needs something only the heroine or hero can give him. It's the same story arc, just wrapped in the fabric of a different fairy tale. Now, as someone who has studied fairy tales, and before you all cry fowl, yes, most fairy tales have similar plot arcs but I guess maybe I was just expecting someone more, something new.  Which I will obviously be getting since Disney has said they are moving away from fairy tales for their animated movie plots for now. While I am not exactly happy about that at all, I do need to ask why they thought making two such similar fairy tale movies in a row was a good idea. There are other fairy tale plot arcs. I mean look at the order of the original Disney classics: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi. The next princess movie after Snow White? Cinderella in 1950, 13 years later. All I'm saying is maybe spreading the princess love out more instead of eliminating it all together is a better idea. 

However, moving back to the Tangled discussion. And this last issue might really bring out the pitchforks...I didn't care for the songs. I know right? I am the girl who buys Disney film soundtracks the second she leaves the theater usually and has them memorized about a day later but this one didn't have me running to iTunes nor do I think I will be unless on second watching they grow on me. It wasn't Menken's score; that as always was impeccable. It was the song lyrics themselves that jarred me out of the story a bit. I especially found Rapunzel's "When Will My Life Begin" a bit over the top and really didn't hold a candle to a heroine's anthem like "Almost There." That song disappointed and the rest of the movie had to win me back. While I enjoyed "I See the Light," I still am comparing it to the Golden Age songs and finding it lacking.  That said, the songs did fit into the story well and always moved the story forward or told us more about a character so they served purpose (which was not always the case in The Princess and the Frog I will readily admit).

Oh dear, my three issues seem a bit much. It was not that I didn't love Tangled or that I won't buy it the week it comes out on Blu-Ray. I will and I will thoroughly enjoy watching it and laughing at the excellent writing again. And it is, without a doubt, another step in the right direction for Walt Disney Animation Studios. It just didn't thrill me the way The Princess and the Frog did which means audiences everywhere will adore it a lot more than that film probably (I'm not usually that well in-tune with what audiences will like). I think there was just something in The Princess and the Frog that spoke to me, caught me at the right time in the right place that Tangled just didn't get close to and this is why we have favorite movies and songs. I will always say Belle is my favorite princess but she was also the princess of my childhood. Tiana is the princess of my 20s. I think Rapunzel just came a little too late for me to connect with and that is just fine. Please go and see if she's your princess. You won't be disappointed along the way.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Heroine's Bookshelf

Image from Goodreads
I found Erin Blakemore's blog and was reading it for several weeks before it sunk in that she was getting ready for a book to be published. And not just any book. A book that basically made my heart sing when I learned its title, The Heroine's Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was going to buy it when it was released and then stumbled across a giveaway on Goodreads for it. So I waited. And I won! It's the first Goodreads win I literally grinned from ear to ear about. This was a book that would allow me to revisit my favorite fictional heroines and their creators as well as introduce me to ones I haven't quite gotten around to reading yet.

The more I read Blakemore's personal examination of the characters she considered heroic, the more I realized we should be best friends. Though she doesn't always pick obvious ones, or she chooses ones to highlight I might have let pass, I realize that the experience of woman reading is not so unique as people may think. We come to our books as if they are friends, there to help us laugh when we are down, to help us cry when we need to be reminded that it is not just us that reality can sometimes hate, and always there to remind us that we are not alone. This book reminded me of all the things I loved about being an English major. The small seminar classes where we debated our love for Charlotte versus Anne versus Emily, our hatred of Dora Copperfield and about how Peyton Place was more than just a scandalous piece of literature but meant to make a point about the role of women and the options open to them at the time. I have always been drawn to the women in my books and if I cannot relate, I often find them lacking in some way. Blackmore reminded me that sometimes I don't need to relate, I simply need to be able to learn from their experiences and appreciate what they, the characters, and they, their creators, need me to see in their narratives.

That said, I'm not sure I will ever be one to love Scarlett O'Hara but reading the series of circumstances that led Margaret Mitchell to write her at least made me appreciate her more than I ever have before. I was already in love with the ideas of Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Shirley and Mary Lennox but listening to the stories of their authors made me see even further into these characters and what they reflected, or not, of the women who wrote them and sent them out into the world for girls like me to find. Jane Austen wrote Lizzie stifled by her society and resigned to her spinster state. Lucy Maud Montgomery gave birth to the sunny and optimistic Anne Shirley in the midst of a harrowing depression and Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote the redeemed Mary Lennox at the end of a writing career that had fizzled as her marriages had. Blakemore does make the point I have often felt when I learned the stories of the authors who penned the fictional characters I idolized. We are disappointed to find their lives do not match the imaginary ones they give us as readers but always we appreciate them more for what they overcame to give us, the future generations, fictional heroines to return to in our happiest, and darkest, hours. 

Another thing I adored about this book was remembering who I was when I first read about these women. An awkward 6th grader when Anne Shirley arrived in my life, a more cynical 9th grader when I finally read The Secret Garden and realized how much Mary Lennox just needed a hug. An ancient 11th grader when Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy entered my literary world. It would be even longer before someone finally introduced me to Jane Eyre or Jo March. However, I feel like I found these characters, and the women who wrote them, exactly when I was meant to. And they have helped me and I have returned to them as I've kept working and fighting my way through school, work, family issues and just life in general.

One thing I also found comforting was Blakemore's idea of re-reading. That these stories are something we should returned to whenever we need them. She even gives suggestions. Read Pride and Prejudice "as an antidote to deathly seriousness" and read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn "when you have to make do with $5 until your next paycheck." The books on my shelves have always been old friends. The oldest, my Anne books, look like they have survived wars and indeed they have. Anne got me through middle school and junior high. The books from college I re-read and laugh at my marginal notes. Reading Jane Eyre isn't just comforting; it's a conversation with my 20 year old self who commented and underlined throughout the entire book.

As you can probably tell, I loved The Heroine's Bookshelf. It celebrated all the best things about reading and reminded me of the great things women are capable of accomplishing, both in this world and in the fictional world. If you have any women readers in the family, I highly recommend this as a gift for under the tree this Christmas.

Full disclosure: I did win my copy of Heroine's Bookshelf from Goodreads.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why I Cheated a Little Bit

from Bookshelf Porn
OK, my reading goal for the year is officially complete. Please, hold your applause though. I will admit to you. I cheated. Not a lot. But a little. You see I had three books left, two of which were part of a series, and I didn't read them very well.

One thing I have been working on, along with reading all these books I've been holding onto for years, is learning to walk away when a book and I just aren't meshing.Why waste my time? I have books I'd rather be reading and it's not the end of the world if I don't finish a book I don't like.

Which is why I "finished" the last three books on my shelf so quickly. I didn't actually finish them. In fact, one I didn't even open. Before you cry foul, hear me out.

I first started with volume 1 of The Oz Chronicles. Both volumes had been given to me for Christmas years ago and on my shelf they have sat, lovely green volumes that I kept lugging from one place to another. I made it through the third Oz story in the first volume and I had to stop. The stories are lively, entertaining and...about ten pages in, extremely annoying. I could see how children would adore them though. If I had kids around six or seven, these would be go-to bedtime stories. But I don't. And I won't for awhile so I think it's time to send volumes 1 and 2 off to better owners.

My last book (for this challenge - I am not counting two books that got added recently and besides, I will read both easily before the end of the year because I have been dying to read them for months) was The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie. I made it exactly 20 pages into this book before I decided I wasn't interested. If I were more of a puzzle person, I think I would have been in love. The book came with sheets of clues that a reader could lay out and try to decipher. Yeah, not me. While I enjoy the Da Vinci Code et. al. I would not be the person they called to help them figure that stuff out. And this book definitely seemed to need to me more on the ball than I was prepared to be for it.

So ends my reading challenge. I did fizzle out there in the end, it's true but I feel like I learned a lot about myself and my reading habits. Plus, I learned a lot about my book buying habits as well. I need to learn to be more discerning, more critical about what I allow into my book collection. I am a big re-reader. But, if I'm not re-reading a book at least once in a while, why is that book still on my shelf? I used to keep books on my shelf because I thought they made me look smart or sophisticated or I thought certain books should be on the shelves of a former English major. Not so. I am displaying my Brontë novels proudly next to the entire Harry Potter series and have let the copy of Atlas Shrugged go to a more compatible home than mine. I've learned I need to be able to let a book go, even if I haven't finished it and just realize we weren't meant to be. And I think I am doing that more. See Exhibits A, B and C above.

Now onto the good stuff! The Heroine's Bookshelf first and then, one of my all time faves, Ms. Willig has a Christmas-themed story!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My current obsession with Sherlock Holmes

I have always loved a good mystery. However, lately my obsession with a certain English detective (or at least stories surrounding a Sherlock-like hero) has gone a bit off the deep end. I will be the first to admit it. Two weekends ago, I watched three different versions of Sherlock stories,  I also watched hours of a TV show with a Sherlock wannabe like it was my job (in fact, it felt like work was getting in the way of my TV watching).

My first Sherlock Holmes was a Young Sherlock Holmes. A movie made in 1985 starring Nicholas Rowe and Alan Cox as the mystery-solving duo of Holmes and Watson. I was pleasantly surprised by this film. First, that it was written by Chris Columbus and second, that it was as entertaining as it was. Sherlock Holmes tends be an insufferable character (which apparently only makes me like him more) but Rowe's idea of a young Sherlock is someone who is still vulnerable and still learning about his talents. But he is of course still always right and never willing to explain himself to those around him.

After Young Sherlock Holmes, I watched Sherlock on PBS. And promptly feel in love with a 21st century version of the character. Benedict Cumberbatch adds a technological aspect to the famous detective of Baker Street. This is a Sherlock who texts, reads people by their cell phones and is still young enough to make mistakes. Martin Freeman as his Watson is inspired, a war veteran from Afghanistan, this Watson is smart enough to keep with with Holmes but also isn't afraid to stick up for himself against Holmes' erratic behaviors and expectations. I fell in love with the show during its first episode and while the second one wasn't as strong as the first episode, I have high hopes for the last episode playing this evening.

While I have not be able to find a copy of Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock Holmes around here (and I can't seem to find it to rent around here either), I have been enjoying Psych immensely. Shawn Spencer is a hyper-aware observer, trained by his father to notice the littlest details, but the police start to think he is too good at catching the bad guys so to save his skin, he convinces them he's a psychic. Chaos ensures from there and he and his best friend Gus solve cases. I may have watched already into the third season two weeks into watching the show. Netflix is a single girl's best friend. Again, whoever came up with the idea of instant streaming should be sainted or something.

So, mysteries have been ruling my viewing schedule lately. I just finished Castle, season  2 as well so I am all caught on on the fabulousness that is Richard Castle and Kate Beckett. Next up in my Netflix queue through the mail is Chuck, season 3 - more fun mysteries! I cannot wait.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Today's Pretty

This was passed along to me by a friend a few days ago and I wanted to share it quickly here. I am currently in love with it. You know how sometimes you just find an image and a quote that work so well together that you want to hang it on every wall of your apartment? This is currently mine.

Decided to live my life like a foreign film

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Poetry and I (or is it Me?)

Poetry has never really been my thing. I've tried goodness knows. So many of my favorite literary heroines have adored it; Anne Shirley being the one who comes to mind first. I tried to read Tennyson in 6th grade because of her. It did not go well... But every once in awhile I try again to figure out what is so great about poetry. My latest attempt came to me at the book sale for the library this past summer. I found two old copies of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Courtship of Miles Standish and Other Poems and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems. I knew the titles and figured, I should read these! They've sat on my shelf until this past week when they came up first on the queue for my reading project. One good thing about poetry, once I sit down to read it, it doesn't take too long for me to get through it.

I started with Longfellow. I knew he was an American poet, one of the Boston Brahmins (thank you Matthew Pearl) but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Oh, I knew he'd written "The Song of Hiawatha" too (thank you Disney!). So I went into these poems not knowing much. I must say I enjoyed "The Courtship of Miles Standish" though the title doesn't exactly make sense. Standish never goes to court Priscilla, instead he sent his best friend John Alden to court for him. 25 years of romantic comedies told me before I got three stanzas in how well that was going to work. Still, I liked the story itself. Longfellow kind of lost me when Standish goes off to fight the Native Americans. A war story girl I have never been. The other poems included in the collection were interesting though nothing caught my fancy. I read through them and promptly forgot them. Clearly, a lover of poetry I am not meant to be.

Next came Coleridge. A man I knew even less about than Longfellow. Once the introduction to the version I had explained a bit about his relationship with Wordsworth and the Lake School I had a somewhat better idea of where he fit. A lover of Austen I am and thankfully Marianne in Sense and Sensibility was in love with Cowper (even though that may or may not have been her downfall, I've never quite decided). So once I had that in my mind, his poetry wasn't surprising. It fell right into how I expected him to sound and act. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" was interesting and slightly creepy at times, the premise is fascinating if nothing else. The Mariner must wander the world in search of people to tell his tale to in order to give penance for murdering the innocent sea bird. Of course, I also enjoyed the lines I recognized from other stories and movies over the years. My favorite was "Water, water, everywhere, /Nor any drop to drink. (lines 121-122)" I could just hear Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka in the Fizzy Lifting Room when I found that line.

I will say I enjoyed "Christabel" thoroughly and wished Coleridge had finished it. I like a story, even in my poetry, and Christabel's story was shaping up to be a wondrous tale of good and evil, with the damsel being saved by her belief in her dead mother's protection. In that it reminded me of medieval tales and the original versions of Cinderella where there is no fairy godmother. Instead it is Cinderella's mother who provides her with the means to attend the ball. In fact, it was shaping up to be an interesting take on Cinderella even though that wasn't the intent of the writer. What I could have done with that in my senior thesis! An unconscious re-telling of the Cinderella myth. It's fun to think about anyway (the perils of being an English major never really leave you just so everyone knows).

With that, another shelf is completely read! Woohoo! I might make my end of the year deadline at this rate though I have some long reads coming up. And some ILLs from the library to read by November 13th. Those will have to be tackled first!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Looking Backward

Now that my mysterious illness has taken a hike, I was able to finish Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. I've always had a soft spot for dystopian novels. They are the equivalent to me of horror novels. Never been much for blood but give me an evil government to thwart and I am riveted by the story. There is something about them that is just fascinating. You root for the underdogs, the ones who know in their bones that there is something wrong. Or they terrify you when those underdogs fold. Seriously. The ending of 1984 freaks me out to this day.

What I haven't read too many of is the utopian novels. The stories where human have miraculously figured out how to solve all of humanity's problems. One, they are often less interesting. After all, no conflict would exist in an utopian society and where is the story without conflict? Two, we don't seem to write them very much, especially these days. Dystopians are more fun (See: the latest love for Hunger Games, an awesome dystopian trilogy. I recommend); the evil government, the crazy rules and regulations, the fly by the seat of the pants escapes and near misses. Great storytelling if handled right. However, Dystopians and Utopians have a problem. They tend to be long-winded, in love with themselves and in general, way too heavy on the explanations on how everything works. For the dystopian example, I read Atlas Shrugged this year. It had been on my shelves for years after I fell in love with Ayn Rand's Anthem in ninth grade. I finally got around to reading it this summer and realized it wasn't only the length of the book that had intimidated me. Rand is long winded, preachy and boring. The famous speech of John Galt is over 100 pages long. I lost interest after six. Not to mention, Rand and I had a philosophical disagreement halfway through the novel and aren't really on speaking terms anymore. Though my yearly read of Anthem is coming up, perhaps we'll make up in time for me to go in search of the word "I" again.

I am afraid my latest read, and utopian novel, came across the same issues, though thankfully discusses them in 800 pages less than Atlas Shrugged. Bellamy's Looking Backward was a sensation when it was first published in 1889. The novel follows Julian West's adventure in the year 2000 when he awakes after a 113 year old trance. The majority of the novel is spent in long discussions about how everything works at the end of the 20th century. There is one central government, one central employer. Poverty, disease and inequality have been vanquished and everyone is now equal and provided for by the government. I had to laugh when I read after the fact that Bellamy had put in a love story to make the novel more readable. He wasn't joking. The cute but predictable love story was about the only time I wasn't skimming the novel. The long, drawn out explanations about how employment, education, production and distribution worked as well as the long treatise on property ownership were just, well, boring. Impressive in how well though out they were by a late 19th century author, but nothing resembling the 21st century we now know. I think I will stick to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and their ideas of the future. At least theirs were more fun and included men still acting like men. I think this bothers me most about Bellamy's vision. It is strictly socialist for the most part. His logic, while believable, consistently disregards man's nature for selfishness (reason number one socialism doesn't work though it sounds great on paper). He tries to reason that part of our nature away. At least with the corrupted states of dystopias, man's nature is still well intact and acknowledged, even if it's not supposed to exist.

I always enjoy a novel like this though, to spend time wondering "what if?" and to rehash the great dystopian novels and how much they freaked me out as a kid. I mean, to a book lover, can you imagine what Fahrenheit 451 did?!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Another novel in which food is prominent

Sorry I have been MIA again. A friend came up from Denver to see me and I didn't have time to plan entries ahead of time. But I suppose that would defeat my purposes here anyway. I like writing my entries right after I finish reading. With movies and TV shows, I like to let them percolate for a bit before I write on them but books require immediate attention.

A few weeks ago now, I wrote about a book on food. That one gave me issues with its format and its less than complete story. Today's book on food, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, gives me issues for another reason. The story follows a girl named Rose who discovers at age nine that she can taste what people are feeling when they make food. It's a talent that tortures her for the rest of her life, or at least until age 22 when the book ends. The cast of characters includes her withdrawn, mysterious brother, a loving but adulterous mother and a disconnected father along with a childhood crush who is the only person who believes her when she tells him of her talent. The book follows Rose and her family as they undergo her brother's increasingly frequent disappearances.

So again, we have a very open-ended ending. We know I don't like those. Contemporary authors seem to love them though. I haven't figured out why yet. I like to know what happens in the end, not this vague, random ending where anything could happen the day after the book concludes. I have real life for that uncertainy; I don't like it in my books.

The character of Rose gave me some issues as well. I wanted to like her; I can't imagine having the burden of knowing what the cook feels every time she ate anything. It bothered me early on that she never tried to cook for herself. I thought maybe her talent wouldn't extend to herself but it does and it is only when Rose is finally brave enough to learn to cook and face her own emotions, does she start to deal with her gift. My problem was it took her forever to come to that conclusion. Rose was not an uplifting character, or even easy to relate to as a reader. She is distant even to the reader, just as she is with her family in trying to hide from them. In that, I enjoyed the writing of Bender. Though the nine year old Rose does not sound or feel like a nine year old, you forgive that in terms of the novel's premise. A nine year old who can taste her mother's despair and longing like a physical ache just by taking a bite of the cake she baked could not remain a happy-go-lucky kid for long.

So, like I said, I followed Bender when it came to Rose's character. It is the people around her that bugged me. Her brother, her mother, her father, George, her brother's friend and childhood crush. The were in Rose's life constantly but didn't seem to pay attention to her at all. They jump in and out of her narrative in a sense. leaving a reader wondering how different the narrative would be if her mother had believed Rose the time she tried to tell her mother or if her brother had just spent five minutes taking his little sister seriously like George had. The book was uncomfortable to read in a sense; it left me feeling angry and frustrated on Rose's behalf but also angry and frustrated at her. It's a novel where you wish the characters would just talk to each other for a minute and maybe then they'd get somewhere. I find this often in modern novels with families. In order to show dysfunction, a writer makes them all strangers under the same roof with only a last name in common. It seems so easy to do and a tired narrative device. Not too mention, why do so many contemporary novels have unhappy families? Is everyone really this miserable? Maybe I've just read too many fairy tales in my life.

Overall, I'm not sure where I stand with this book. It given to me by a coworker at the library because she wanted to know what I would think of it, she was on the fence about it herself. It will be interesting to discuss it further with her and see what I say. I will return to my quest to read the unread on my own shelves now. Not sure what's up next but I'll let you know

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I am alive!

Hello again!

I have survived the month of September. After a symposium, parental visit and professional conference, I have time again to call my own.

I'm going to start slowly. I finished Kate Mosse's Sepulchre and was less annoyed by it than my earlier reading of Labyrinth but I am still having issues with Mosse's character decisions. I feel her characters are inconsistent. Leonie, the heroine of the past time line and Meredith, the heroine of the present time line, are both portrayed as both strong and weak, brilliant and hopelessly dense. It gets frustrating to a reader after a while. In fact, I again had the urge to hurl the book across the room several times during my reading.

That said, her locations continue to draw me in. This story of two women take place in 1891 France and present day France, starting in Paris and ending in the south of France, connecting it her first book of the trilogy. This story had more action and I was more intrigued by the use tarot for this story line. However, the issues I had with her characters again made me like it less than I wanted too.

I was thinking today that most of my reviews of books so far have been negative. I do like books mostly. It's just as I work my way through the books on my shelves, I am realizing there is a reason I haven't read them until now. Buying them seemed such a good idea at the time...sigh.

I should have time to write this week before an old high school friend comes for a visit. All my fall TV shows have started up too (Glee! Castle! Chuck!) and I'm joining a choir on campus as well. I'll be more busy daily than I was when I started writing this summer so I'll be updating less frequently. My goal is at least three times a week. Let's see if I can keep it up!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Couple of Things

There will not be much blogging this next week or so. Tomorrow, I have a work event that goes all hours for the next three days then Sunday I need to do a massive clean of my apartment and car because my parents are coming to visit for a week. So I will be super busy though hopefully collecting blog ideas to share when I get back.

For now, enjoy the full-length trailer of Tangled, Walt Disney Animation's next film release. I am not as excited for this one as I was for The Princess and the Frog but still, it looks like a continuation in the right direction for my favorite company.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Labyrinths, Carcassonne and Another Chapter of the Grail

The search for the Holy Grail is considered the ultimate quest. Recent literature has imagined the Grail into every form and hiding place it could think of. Kate Mosse’s idea behind the Grail was unique, surprisingly so, though I feel she failed to deliver on the promise of her story. However, it was not for this latest chapter in Grail mythology I bought a copy of Labyrinth back in 2005. Though I may argue I’ve lugged it around until now without reading it because of that Grail connotation connected with this story.

This book first caught my eye across a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, a booklover’s heaven. It was during my semester abroad in England and the bibliophile in me had been trying to avoid buying a slew of books I would somehow need to get home. However, Hay-on-Wye beat me. It was too much to resist and I left that little haven with more books bought in a day than any other time in my life. I remember vividly the moment I caught sight of this book though. It has a gorgeous cover (as you can see) but that wasn’t all that drew me. "Labyrinth" in and of itself was a word that drew me. I was introduced to the magic and mysticism behind the labyrinth mythology in 11th grade French class. Madame had chosen the labyrinth of Chartres for our project that year at the foreign language festival. We all stood around in our purple T-shirts and massive labyrinth reproduction and recited out story faithfully. I wish I had my school materials here with me. I know in my plastic bins at home in the basement I have the entire spiel among my French materials. I had done some reading beyond class for the idea of labyrinth and found it fascinating as a substitute for the holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the devoted in their own cathedrals.

This book also had another magic word associated with it. Just within its cover flap, the word Carcassonne screamed out to me and that was it, this book was coming home with me. I visited Carcassonne on my 12th grade trip to France with Madame. I fell in love with the walled city the moment I saw it, across the fields of dormant grape vines in the early April sunshine. Walking its streets, the history of the place has never left me. I remember its narrow streets, houses so close that two people could reach across and touch hands across the road. It was like stepping back in time for a moment and it has remained the highlight of my trip since then. This book, set in both medieval and modern day Carcassonne was one I needed to read.

So, it was odd that it took me 5 years from the moment I bought this book to the moment I read it. But, the idea that it was another book about the Grail put me off. I found other books to read, other things to do but the imagery of the book and its premise has meant I’ve never been able to let this book go. So, once I started my quest to read every book on my shelves, it was only a matter of time before I had to tackle this book.

The story follows two women in different times, one, Alaïs in the summer of 1209 when a force of Northern French nobility and Catholic priests came to the Midi to root out the heretics in name, but in truth, it was a bid for land and power; the other, Alice, in modern day France, volunteering on an archeological dig in the foothills of the Pyrenees when she discovers a cave hidden for 800 years. Both are about to begin a journey of a lifetime to protect a secret thousands of years old.

This story lacks the excitement of say, Dan Brown. It is more subtle, more involved with the setting of the story than the story itself. Carcassonne and its surrounding countryside is a character in itself as is the mythology of the Pays d’Oc and its ancient language, what seemed to me a combination of French and Spanish. In that, it is a lyrical read as Mosse gives you a tour of the Midi and its romance. But, because it is not quite a thriller, the story is harder to become invested in a reader. It is also a rather obvious story. You are never in any doubt of who the heroes and villains are, which makes the character’s ignorance of those facts annoying after awhile. Dramatic irony has its place but the pay –off for when the character discovers the fact never materialized in this novel. The characters seem to miss their ‘ah ha’ moments. They figure out the facts but there seems to be no reaction from them. Also, I feel like Mosse had a germ of a great idea for the mythology but honestly, it is underwhelming in its realization. The use of the Bons Chrétiens and their history was clever and interesting but you’re never quite sure how important it actually is to the story itself. In general, Mosse had a rich history to pull from and uses it but I felt there was more potential there than she discovered.

I liked the characters but I did not love them. They live in the moment of the story and there are details I feel like I am missing about them in order to really be invested in their story. I liked the two Alices best and luckily, they are who carry the story. Two strong, smart women who are entrusted with the protection of the Grail? What’s not to like? The mythology of women surrounding the Grail though was unsurprising considering the recent additions to the Grail mythology. But, I liked the use of the two heroines and how the action revolved around them, even as they remained elusive to the rest of the characters and even to the reader. There are still questions I would like answered about the two heroines so now I am left to fill in the blanks.

I feel like my history with this book itself was more interesting than what I had to say about the book itself. It felt incomplete to me. Wrapped up too quickly with lingering questions from me, its reader. However, if only because it gave me an excuse to revisit Carcassonne through its words, I am glad I finally made time to read its pages. My next read is another Kate Mosse book set in the south of France. Also bought on the strength of the promise of Labyrinth. I am hoping it will impress me more.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

You Just Won 22 Million Dollars! What are you going to do now?

Sadly, go to Walt Disney World is not one of your choices in Heather McElhatton's Million Little Mistakes. Since, I had a lot more fun with this book than I expected too. I always loved Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid. Something about being about to read the same book a hundred different ways thrilled the bookworm in me. Last summer, I discovered a Jane Austen choose your own adventure, Lost in Austen, which reminded me of the fun these books could give to the reader. So when I saw Million Little Mistakes up on the Goodreads giveaways page, I thought I'd try for it. And I won!

The premise of the adventure is you just won the lottery. From there, you make your first decision, to keep your job or to quit. Then you are off! I haven't done all the scenarios yet but I'd one quite a few and each seems to get more ridiculous the more outrageous my choices.I think my favorite though was when I became a B-movie film producer for horror movies and died by mechanical crab claw. Like I said, the scenarios are often ridiculous and completely implausible. But entertaining. I had a blast one evening going back and changing my decisions to see where I would end up next. I took a cruise around the world, got fleeced by my family, discovered an ancient treasure, became a vampire...

It's sort of fun to have some control over the story as you read and even when you think you're making the "right" decisions, you find out that maybe being a bit more irresponsible meant you could have kept your fortune. The copy I read gave me an extra challenge as it was an uncorrected ARC so there were no page numbers for the different paths, so I had to fill them in as I went. It was an easy way to keep track of what decisions I had made before so I could follow a new storyline. Also meant I could correct all the typos as I read LOL

Overall, if you're looking for a more interactive reading experience, I would suggest this fun choose your own adventure for adults.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sigh...a kitchen goddess I am not

I love to think I can cook and bake. And really, most of the time, things do turn out just fine. But the moment I say I'll cook or bake something for someone else, something inevitably goes wrong.

Luckily, frosting hides all kinds of problems, like the fact I had to piece the brownie cake back together when it broke in pieces while I was changing it between pans so I could frost it. Let's hope it at least tastes good.

Sigh. I am a thwarted kitchen goddess. 

Update: never mind, frosting just highlights the issues once it settles. The cake looks like there are random caverns in the middle...Bother. Oh well...Happy birthday to my boss...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Where does time go?

I missed yesterday's blog post because I was out "late" at a Dickinson Young Professionals social event, Girls' Night Out. Last night's theme was recipes so I shared a favorite autumn recipe, Sausage and Apple Pie along with the recipes for Mom's Christmas cookies.

Tonight, I am taking a break from Kate Mosse's Labyrinth (only so much medieval France a girl can take in one day and I read it for three hours while waiting for my car to be finished at the dealership earlier) and I am diving into my ARC of Million Little Mistakes that just arrived today. Only my second win on Goodreads giveaways, and I do love a Choose Your Own Adventure book, so I have high hopes for this adult version of one. Will update you tomorrow!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Minor Crisis

I have a fish. It’s the only pet my apartment complex will let you have as far as I can tell. So, when my closest friend in the area came to visit me after I’d just moved to the middle of nowhere last winter, she insisted on buying me a betta fish. And Jumba has kept me company, and someone to talk to so I don’t feel like I’m going completely daffy. However, when I first got him, funds were low and so I bought the cheapest tank I could find at Wal-Mart. It lasted until yesterday.

Yesterday, in the middle of cleaning my apartment when I had things strewn everywhere and music blasting, I noticed a puddle of water surrounding Jumba’s tank. Not too much luckily so I got him out and looked at the problem. There was a small hole in the bottom of the tank for draining water. I thought the cover had simply come loose so I changed everything over, pounded the cover back in place and put Jumba back in his tank. I watched it all night and everything seemed right as rain so I assumed the crisis had passed.

I got up this morning, gave Jumba his breakfast, all was still well. About three hours later I looked over and there was water everywhere, much worse than the day before and Jumba was swimming in about half a tank, maybe less, of water. I may have slightly panicked. I know a fish isn’t much but he’s currently all I’ve got so I rushed to save my poor Betta. Once he was safely secured in a non-leaking home for the moment, I hoped Wal-Mart would be open on the holiday. I’m never sure around here when things will be open or closed especially on a holiday but luckily; the store was open and crowded. I made my way back to the aquarium corner and upgraded Jumba to a new home; it even has a LED light. But since his tank resides next to my lamp, that wasn’t really a new feature for him. The only thing that makes me slightly nervous is the lack of a top of the tank. Luckily, Jumba does not seem to be a fan of Amélie so all is well for the moment.

In the meantime, marvel at Jumba’s new home and I hope you all had a lovely holiday weekend!

Jumba's new home!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What do you do when a book betrays you?

I know I usually post later at night but I am planning a thorough cleaning of my apartment and will collapse into a heap on my couch with for a movie fest later today. Not too mention, I finished this book this morning and need to share.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re reading a book, everything is going along swimmingly, and you know where you stand, where the book belongs. You’re reading along and then the author drops a bomb and changes the game. You don’t know where you stand anymore. What you thought was a harmless fluffy quick read suddenly becomes serious, overwhelming, slightly tragic. You get up, you wander the apartment for a moment trying to convince your brain that it needs to refocus, that it can no longer flit off as you read and enjoy the laugh out loud moments because suddenly, inexplicably, real life has invaded what you thought was a nice, quiet, safe fictional world that would give you the expected, predictable happy ending.

This is what Jane Green’s Bookends did to me. A book that was so firmly set in the chick lit, romantic comedy genre that when it switched suddenly, it blind-sided me. I found Jane Green back high school with Jemima J. Her other books I had to grow into. Somehow, the problems of 30-somethings didn’t matter to my 17-year-old self but as I’ve gotten older, her books have become more relevant.

Bookends follows the lives of Catherine, Simon, Josh and Lucy, 30-something Londoners who are dealing with a rut. Cath and Lucy open a new bookstore café called Bookends, Simon meets the new love of his life and Josh has a big deal going down that starts to strain his and Lucy’s marriage. Enter into all of this Portia, the glamorous friend that Cath, Simon and Josh left behind at university. From the moment Portia walks into Bookends, things are never the same for the group again.

One of my favorite things about Jane Green is her characters are unabashedly British. They drink gallons of tea, munch on Hobnobs and run off to the tube to head to SoHo for a night on the town. In fact, in Bookends, there is even a joke involving Mr. Kipling’s. My heart may have died and gone to heaven. Her books are always like mini getaways to England for me. In Jemima J, when she moves the action to Los Angeles, I feel homesickness for London along with the main character. Luckily, I had no separation anxiety in this book. Instead, seriousness invaded. In Jemima J, the element of the serious is so ridiculous that you laugh with the characters and move on. In Bookends, the element of serious is too serious to laugh off. It changes the entire dynamic of the book.

That said, I enjoyed the book. Green’s characters are always likable because of their flaws and their misguided attempts to make things right they themselves caused to go wrong. It makes me want to keep reading to find out if the character realizes she is being an idiot and then how she goes about fixing it. What I like about Green is there is no magical makeover of the person’s character. There is growth and change but it’s not unbelievable as sometimes changes like that can be. These characters simply evolve slowly and react realistically to the situations they find themselves in. All while looking fabulous in a bookstore I want to frequent on a daily basis.

I didn’t love it though because I could never quite forgive it for changing course from what I expected. Though it didn’t ruin the book for me; in fact, it did add an interesting element to the story but I couldn’t quite pardon the book for throwing me for a loop.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lots of loose ends

So, I am in the middle of watching the second season of Chuck and enjoying crushing on yet another geeky character. I also am in the middle of Jane Green's Bookends. So look for reviews and updates coming soon. Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Friday, September 3, 2010

You broke the ship! You broke the bloody ship!

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I was raised with a healthy dose of science fiction television and movies in my life. I loved my summer marathons of Star Wars with buckets of popcorn and only getting up to change the VHS tape to the next movie. Wow, I just dated myself there. That’s right; I’m old enough to remember VHS tapes. Call me ancient. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation religiously with Dad and had the required crush on Wesley Crusher. Then it was Deep Space Nine and Voyager. I didn’t get as excited about Babylon 5 but I watched enough of it. I was especially excited once I was old enough to go to the theater with Dad, Uncle Mitch and Jeff, my own personal peanut gallery for movies. I used to joke that it was like going to movies with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew. The first one I remember seeing with them was Starship Troopers. Not really a movie a 6th grader should have been going to. All I remember is sitting between Dad and Uncle Mitch and the two of them continuously speaking over my head, "That wasn't in the book..." with furtive looks down at me. Luckily, I emerged fairly unscathed and also became the cool girl who'd seen the movie in class the next week.

So, I’ve also always enjoyed the parodies the genre has inspired. Spaceballs being the notable one I remember from when I was a kid. I was introduced to Mel Brooks probably too young too but I loved all his movies. Not that I got all the jokes in Spaceballs the first time I watched it. After all, Rick Moranis to me was the guy who shrunk his kids. I appreciate it a lot more now that I’m older. I remember the first time I got the gag of the dancing alien. It was like I was finally old enough to be initiated into the cool kids' club. But, Galaxy Quest is the film I remember being old enough when it came out to really enjoy during the first viewing. The movie is ridiculous and yet highly enjoyable. A group of TV actors from a space program are taken to an actual spaceship where aliens believe the TV shows they’ve been watching are “historical documents.” You know only hilarity will ensue.

It has some great one-liners (including the title of this post) that I will pull out from time to time as needed. They never fail to crack me up. For a while, this was a go-to movie for me in the summer. It just fits the breezy, no responsibilities-so-I-can-watch-nonsense moods I get in the summer months when it's too hot to stir from the sofa and a pitcher of iced tea. Naturally then, when I saw this film in the $5 bin as summer was fading away last week, I had to revive the tradition I had let fall away since high school.

Color me crazy but it's not just the fun the movie provides. Because, despite the nutty premise and the fact the film is clearly poking fun at the genre inspiring it, it also creates memorable characters on the adventure of their lifetime. It is entertaining, funny and action-packed with decent special effects and a "plausible" storyline. Kind of like what all those shows that inspired them did at their best. To my mind, that makes it even better than a parody.

We will also mention in closing that before he was Mac or the on-again, off-again boyfriend of Drew Barrymore, and long before I fell in love with him again in Dodgeball or Accepted, Justin Long stole my 8th grade heart as the geeky fan that saves the day in this film. At least I knew how to pick ‘em young ;-)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I got distracted

I had every intention of finally writing up a review of Galaxy Quest this evening but I got sidetracked making brownies and enjoying Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Since we have a long weekend coming up, I'll be sure to finally get around to that review since it's been sitting on my desk for a week now. In the meantime, I'm off to enjoy my brownies (blast you School of Essential Ingredients for sending me on this baking kick, now I have a pan of brownies to either eat myself or give away somehow). I'll check in with you kids tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I Think I Might Be too Nosy...

I just finished The School of Essential Ingredients, a novel written by Erica Bauermeister who is a literature professor living in Seattle. The novel is actually a series of vignettes, each story following one person in a cooking class being taught by Lillian, a person who has always been able to reach people through food….I tried to think of a better way to explain that but I’m striking out. It’s just got a magical premise and we’re going to have to work with it.

Now, I love food. In fact, I will go through a baking phase this weekend because of this book. I even think I may have drooled at one point as they baked crabs in butter and white wine. So, this is not a book to read while hungry. You may end up eating your shirt and it will be nowhere near as tasty as one of Lillian’s meals.

I like to try to cook. And I do not fare well without a recipe. Ask my grandmothers. The second I try to make one of their dishes, it all goes down hill and I call them trying to figure out what I am doing wrong. “Are you sure you don’t know how much oregano you put in?” I ask frantically as I try desperately to make my goulash taste 1/10th as good as my Grammy’s. “Oh, I just put it in until it taste right. More oregano than basil though!” So very helpful right? I’d last about a second in Lillian’s kitchen where there are no recipes, no directions that make sense. At one point her directions involved a list of ingredients and then you were supposed to wrap up the ingredients "like a package". You seem to cook by feeling, by knowing, by adding ingredients because they are, well, essential, and magically whatever you make is a masterpiece, the exact dish you needed to make for that exact moment. Where is that in my kitchen I ask?

But once I finish drooling over the food, I mostly feel gypped by this book. Because of how Bauermeister put the narrative together, we never quite get the whole picture of any one character. Gaping holes in the narrative exist. I feel like I would like this book and these characters more if I just knew what happened to them next. What exactly occurred once Claire has her self-realization, once Chloe walked out of her boyfriend’s apartment, once Ian finally asked Antonia over for dinner? See? The story is missing all the good parts! Bauermeister would give us these tantalizing glimpses into a character’s life and then move onto the next one. Sure, I might get a hint here or there in someone else’s story about what happened but I would not get all the juice. I need closure; I am, not to put to fine a point on it, nosy. I want all the details, the entire story, not these artsy little endings that leave more questions than answers. I have never been a fan of books like that. A reason short stories and me have also never gotten along. OK, my imagination isn’t completely useless, I can think up endings for each character and, because I am me, they will all be happily ever afters. A lifetime of Disney movies has made sure I’ll never be cured of that tendency. But still, would it kill the author to finish the stories she started?

So, while I enjoyed The School of Essential Ingredients for the most part (if only for the food), it is not one I need to keep on my shelves. I would re-read and then just become annoyed again with the lack of an ending. The busybody in me needs all the details to enjoy the finale.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Was Always One for a Good Cry

A friend recently sent me this blog posting at Blue Rose Girls where they were discussing sob inducers they read when they were kids. The one book they discuss that I remember sobbing over was Where the Red Fern Grows. In fact, Mr. Clark, my fifth grade teacher, let the girls go and read the last chapters out in the hallway to avoid the teasing from the boys. We sat surrounding a box of tissues and worked our way through the heartbreaking ending. My favorite memory of that day? Coming back into the classroom and seeing the guys trying to hide their red eyes and runny noses. Apparently it was a book we all could have cried over together.

Honestly, Where the Red Fern was a fairly typical book for me to cry over though. Put an animal in peril and I will be sobbing about three words in. I am the girl who freaked out over killer whales eating seals (my poor father…explaining the circle of life to a distraught three year old who didn’t get that Shamu had to eat too). The streak has continued. Mom cried me through the end of Shiloh, one of the few books I can remember Mom reading to both my sister and me. My younger sister wasn’t one to sit and listen to stories.

We had a reading program in elementary school called PARP, Parents as Reading Partners, where we had to read so many hours and so many books with our parents to get our rewards. Dad had a rule that he got to choose one of the books I would read. He chose some doozies over the years (I came late to the wonders of science fiction. Have Space Suit, Will Travel was excruciating to try to read in 5th grade). But none quite got to me like Call of the Wild. I think I’ve blocked most of it out if I’m being honest but I remember the first chapter. There is a dogfight. That was it; Dad found me with tears streaming down my face fifteen minutes into the book. I don’t remember him recommended another animal book after that. Apparently he’d finally learned his lesson. (Until about 12 years later when he thought watching Eight Below was a good idea. I think I cried the last 40 minutes of that film. I had a husky growing up; I think this makes these stories even worse for me to try to read.)

Me giving Luk, my husky a bath. Heavens, look at those bangs. This is circa the mid nineties...

But I have to admit I am hard pressed to think of a book that has made me cry that doesn’t involve animals. I am apparently heartless when it comes to human characters in my books. I’ve been thinking about this since I read the aforementioned blog post. I think maybe there were tears when Matthew died in Anne of Green Gables in sixth grade. I was more interested in that series that I devoured that year than Bridge to Terabitha that I was supposed to be reading for class. I know I didn’t cry in that book; I just found that girl annoying. In fact, she was the first character I was sort of actively gunning for. A new phenomenon for me. It wasn’t until I encountered Dora Copperfield many years later that I rooted for a character to mercifully exit the narrative (and heavens did I laugh when I found out Jasper Fforde shared my view of the situation).

OK, I shed some tears in the Harry Potter series, notably the fifth and seventh books where Rowling just decides to blindside you several times. I also shed tears in The Hunger Games but made it through its two sequels without nary a tear in sight. Maybe I just don’t usually read tearjerkers? They aren’t usually my style. I will be the first to admit I enjoy “chick-lit” as much as the next hopeless romantic and there aren’t usually tears to be found in what is essentially a romantic comedy film in book form.

Or maybe I just don’t have the same sympathies when it comes to humans that I do to animals. Actually, I’m pretty sure I don’t. I wonder what that says about me? I will always send money to the ASPCA or the World Wildlife Fund over anyone else. I would rather volunteer at an animal shelter than a homeless one. Maybe I feel safer with animals? Or maybe I am more on a footing I can handle? I am not always the best people person, I’ve worked hard over the years to get over a shyness than makes me want to hunker down with a movie rather than go out to a bar (let me tell you, that was especially not fun to handle in college). But I’ve always been good with animals. Dogs, cats, rodents, and the odd exotic one I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with. I volunteered during a demonstration at The Raptor Project a couple summers ago to feed a bald eagle. It may have been the highlight of my summer that year. Right before they let me have an awesome picture taken with an Eagle Owl. That completed my life.

Well, for whatever reason, the books that make me cry usually have an animal that I want to reach in and save from the clutches of the author. So whatever that may say about me, I leave to the reader’s discretion.

Photo: Scott Thomas, check out his blog! That is a scanned slide that had been stored in our basement for years. I did the best I could with color correction. The archivist in me cringed...

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Perfect Read for the Coming of Fall

It feels like the summer is slowly slipping away here. It’s been gray and rainy all day with that nip in the air that makes me think of October and red-gold leaves covering yards with corn husks and pumpkins appearing on front porches and lampposts. I may not have grown up in New England but Central New York can carry that feeling of spookiness that comes with fall and All Hallows Eve with the best of them (when of course it wasn’t snowing by then. Sadly, I do come from the land where kids’ Halloween costumes are designed to fit over snowsuits…).

I finished The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane this evening and enjoyed every creepy word of it. The story follows a young PhD candidate, Connie Goodwin, as she moves into her grandmother’s abandoned house for the summer and discovers a key in a Bible with one name attached to it: Deliverance Dane. The name takes her an adventure through the archives of Boston and Salem in search of a forgotten woman who died during the Salem Witch Trials and a mysterious book passed down through the women of the family, a family she just might have more of a connection with than she thought. The book alternates between 1991, Connie’s time and flashbacks to the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. The book was written by Katherine Howe, a PhD candidate herself in American and New England Studies and a descendant of two women affected by the Salem Witch Trials, one who survived and one who didn’t.

So, I kind of loved this book but it took me a few chapters to get into the story itself. What did throw me at first was the use of the Puritan dialect in the flashback chapters. I’ve never been a fan of dialect in my books; I feel like it’s the writer making it intentionally difficult for me to get the meaning of the words being spoken by the characters. Also, Howe’s use of the phonetically correct spelling common at the time wasn’t always fun to get through either. But once I got through that barrier, I found myself drawn into the hunt for the physick book. Connie is a resourceful, brilliant young woman who is starting to question everything she believes in the closer she gets to the book. I rooted for her the whole way though I will say I was often a step ahead of her. For someone who is supposed to be going for her PhD, she wasn’t always the best at reading the signs in front of her face, leading me to yell at my book repeatedly to try to help her along. Her mother, Grace, is a great, kooky character who is always going off on auras and her dissertation adviser, puzzling and yet fascinating. Some sixth sense tells the reader it’s a character that must be up to no good and yet you never can quite bring yourself to believe it.

The book also did a great job of evoking New England; I could easily picture the small villages with long memories the characters move through. It was one of the things I loved about visiting New England, the coziness and yet the famous strict "properness" of the area. I think it’s why this book fits so well with fall and the colors and feelings I associated with it, it is an autumnal book, ending on the Autumn Equinox. I hesitate to associate it with All Hallows Eve (I just love the mystery and smoke that those words evoke – so much cooler than Halloween) simply because it is attached to witches, the Trials, Salem etc. but it fits so well. It’s a spooky read, making you question the possible in that great ghost story way.

My one major beef with the book is the portrayal of archivists and librarians. Now, I realize this is an occupational hazard of mine. I am an archivist and I think of myself as a fairly approachable, knowledgeable archivist always willing to help people when they come to me. Apparently, this is not how they do it in New England. Every archivist or librarian in the book is portrayed as old and grouchy, or at least grouchy as she does add a few disinterested students to the library ranks at one point. Writers, please for the love of Pete, stop portraying archivists and librarians like this. I promise we like people. We like helping people. We want to share our collections with people. Honest.

That said, I recommend this novel for a great fall read. Curl up with a hot glass of apple cider and a thick quilt and dive into the story of a witch and her spellbook.