Monday, January 31, 2011

Penelope finally gets her say

From Goodreads
My senior year of high school, I took a class on Greek Mythology. I loved it and it introduced me to The Odyssey, my favorite of Homer's ballads. The Illiad has a bit too much war for my tastes - Odysseus always entertained me on his adventures. Although I had to think he could have hurried home a little faster and dallied with the goddesses along his route a little less. But, since it was ancient Greece, I always gave him a little more leeway than usual.

Penelope has always been a fascinating character to me. I knew we weren't getting the whole story. A woman that clever and brave deserved more than a faithful wife tribute and suspicion heaped on her by history. So I was excited when I discovered Margaret Atwood's fairly recent The Penelopiad, The Odyssey told from the point of view of Penelope. I was not disappointed.

Atwood's Penelope is finally telling her story from the underworld after centuries of time to reflect on her life and legacy. Her tone is cynical and resigned. She understands the world she lived in but resents it more now it seems. She paints a picture of a husband she could never trust, of a home that was foreign and unwelcoming to the young bride and of ten years of waiting for her husband to return after the war, during which the suitors torment her, her son turns against her and she unwittingly allows the deaths of her twelve most trusted maids.

I particularly liked Atwood's use of the maids killed by Telemachus and Odysseus as a Greek Chorus throughout the story. It is clear these maids haunt Penelope in the underworld but they also haunt the story, as a sort of Greek chorus/vaudeville act. I laughed at the chapter during which the Maids are filming the 'court case" of Odysseus and when he is found not guilty, they invoke blood rites, sending the modern-day judge into confusion. These are women who were doomed from birth because of their status in the palace and later because of the aid they give secretly to Penelope in thwarting the suitors. As the story closes, they have still yet to receive their justice.  

Can I also just say I love that there is a chapter entitled "Helen Ruins My Life"? Helen has never been my favorite character from the myths - she was clearly a selfish, stuck-on-herself kind of woman if she was willing to incite a second war based on her beauty. Penelope also has never loved her cousin, the woman she would always be compared to and found wanting. She reminds the reader that Odysseus had first fought for Helen's hand but had failed and, only through trickery, could he gain Penelope, a woman who would forever then wonder if her husband thought only of Helen when he looked at her, his wife. Helen was completely unlikable in this re-telling; it was delicious.

While this is more cynical than I would re-tell it as (I always kind of adored Telemachus and the fact that he comes off badly in this book is sort of heartbreaking), it is at all times interesting and thought-provoking. It reminds me of how male-focused the original was and by giving the story to the female character who was closest to it, how very different the story could be.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Of Mice and Men...

From Goodreads
Let's just say John Steinbeck and I have never gotten along all that well. I first watched The Grapes of Wrath for my film class in 12th grade (might have been's starting to blur already). While I knew Henry Fonda was impressive, the movie itself just left me kind of "eh." It wasn't a subject matter I was all the interested in and the hero was less than endearing. So why, a couple of summers later, I decided to read The Grapes of Wrath is beyond me. This was back before I'd learned it was OK to walk away from a book if I just wasn't clicking with it. So I fought, struggled and screamed my way through The Grapes of Wrath and I'm not sure I can tell you all that much about it. I think I remember the movie better which should tell you something right there. So, as you can see, Steinbeck and I have a rocky history. So much so I have avoided Of Mice and Men ever since.

Which was a shame because someone, somewhere along the way, should have told me how cool it was technically speaking. As I started reading, I immediately understood what I was seeing, he was setting a scene, taking painstaking care to make sure I saw the scene itself before he introduced me to a single character. It was a play in novel form. I was fascinated. George and Lennie enter stage left and the action begins. It is by far the easiest novel I have ever read to visualize in my mind, how one could take the novel itself and create a stage set, hire actors and the words were already there in their mouths from the text of the novel. I was entranced.

The story itself is simple; the complexity being put into the format of the novel easily eclipses it. Yet, I know, in the hands of the right actors, Lennie would break my heart, George would bring tears to my eyes and I would want to throttle Curley myself on their behalf. It was, pun intended, a novel experience. I have never much cared for reading plays. I found it hard to visualize how one might stage a certain act or how a scene might play out in front of my eyes. I had no such problem with Of Mice and Men because of the unique combination of genres. Where a play might leave me with less detail, the novel fills in the blanks. Where I might wonder about how an actor would react, Steinbeck has given you just enough information to understand the environment these players move in, enough to make you understand why George has to pull the trigger in the end.

While it was not my favorite book, the English major in me had a major geek-out while reading this stunning novel/play. Perhaps Mr. Steinbeck and I should be back on speaking terms at least.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My friend went to ALA Midwinter and all I got...

...were three delightful ARCs and a Mickey bag! Does Julie know me well or what? While I was busy drooling over the lists of ARCs and activities people were enjoying in sunny San Diego, Julie mailed me a small care package with three books she hoped I'd enjoy. Did I ever! I am borrowing liberally from my Goodreads reviews of these books but I wanted to to share here as well. Stick with me here, this could be awhile.PS, Julie is starting up her own blog soon! Here is the link so go check it out!

From Goodreads
Dark Mirror is one of those delightfully frustrated books that refuses to be categorized. Is it fantasy? Historical fiction? Romance? Adventure? All of the above? In this case, all of the above is the easiest way to go. Lady Victoria Mansfield is exiled from her family when it is discovered she is a mage (AKA she can do magic. In this case, she can "float" which resembles flying. How cool is that?!). At Lackland, the school nobles send their mageling children for the "cure," Tory learns that her magic just might not be a curse but a tool given to her to help save Britain for invading forces, both in her time and beyond. Tory is spunky and likable; she both loathes the fact that she has magic, since it makes her an outcast in society, and is curious about the powers she is discovering. She is definitely a character you root for through out the book. The book also has strong supporting characters that allow a reader to learn more about Tory and add to her adventures. The required love story is sweet but predictable. I was more interested in the ideas of magic the book was building on throughout the story.Putney has obviously put a lot of thought into how magic would work especially in a group setting.

One jarring note for me is the time travel element. When it first happens, I was bewildered by the author's decision to include it. It had seemed to me she had a strong story and conflicts already, there was no need to add time traveling into the mix but it turned out that was where her story was always going. In that case, I would have wanted her to get to it faster. The first time travel moment seemed rushed and odd to me; it was just an awkward transition I feel. Still, have to love a novel which manages to take place both in the Regency and during World War II. 

From Goodreads
My next read was Haunting Violet. Setting aside the highly inappropriate cover (what is that girl wearing? Whatever it is, it is not period correct I feel), I think this was my favorite of the three.  Violet Willoughby doesn't believe in ghosts. She's sat through one two many of her mothers fake séances to believe in the spirits. But, on a trip to great country house where her mother is trying to pull off her greatest con, ghosts all of the sudden start appearing to Violet. One ghost in particular is quite insistent that Violet help her catch her murderer before he has a chance to kill her sister. Violet reluctantly starts to investigate the death along with her eager friend and childhood partner in crime but the closer she gets to the killer, the more Violet's life is in danger as well.

I adored Violet! Smart, independent, realistic with just a touch of whimsy and romance thanks to her love of novels. She wants out of her mother's business but in the late 1800s, the only way to escape is marriage, something Violet is unsure about. I also loved that Violet is so honest in an inherently dishonest situation which makes for great conflict between her and her mother. The story is well-paced and fascinating. I have never been much for the Spiritualist craze of the lat 1800s but its atmosphere made for a great setting in this book. In particular, the juxtaposition of the fake readings with the real ghosts was very well done.

Also, bonus besides an awesome heroine and great story? A handsome and charming Irish pickpocket. Enough said.

From Goodreads
Lastly, a biography of the one and only Jane, Jane Austen: A Life Revealed. Though I am about 10 years or so older than the real audience for this bio, I still enjoyed it for its simplicity. Jane is a sticky figure to get a handle on (seriously Cassandra, you had to burn her letters...sigh) but I felt Reef did an excellent job of giving the reader the information we have and using the novels Jane wrote to show how she grew and learned throughout her lifetime. I particularly enjoyed the use of pictures and illustrations in this book. It gave Jane's life the past and present context she needs for a reader to understand how her influence has only seemed to grow over the years instead of wane. 

I recommend all three reads obviously. Thanks to Julie for thinking of me while she was on the West Coast!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Happy Friday

Sigh, I am often thwarted by the blog gods. I wanted to share just the audio file of my own personal theme song with you all but I had to resort to a YouTube video for lack of an alternative. Next goal, to learn how to stream a song so I can share here!

This song has been a personal theme song since I first saw it in the theater back in 2009. It seems I am always just one step away from being where I want to be. I am told this is the fun that is your professional career in your 20s so I am trying to handle it with as much grace as I can manage. But it isn't easy. It's hard and I am working as best I can to keep reaching for my next goals.

So, for your Friday enjoyment and maybe, a little inspiration, here is "Almost There" from The Princess and the Frog.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Original Madwoman in the Attic

Unlike Austen, who I always had a passing curiosity about, I never much thought about the Brontës. I vaguely knew of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights but I couldn't have even told you there was a third sister, let alone a drunken brother in the mix. That all changed senior year of undergrad. They offered two senior seminars that fall (required to graduate): One on the Brontës and one on memory or something like that. Obviously, the Brontës were going to win. Plus, bonus, my favorite professor was teaching it. It remains one of my favorite classes of all time. I discovered Anne Brontë, realized Emily Brontë was a lovable nineteenth century nutcase and that Charlotte was rather, well, unlikable. Branwell was just entertaining in my mind. Three of the strongest women in history depending on their brother to save them all? Sad and ironic that the three of them made it further as Ellis, Currer and Acton Bell than their brother was ever sober enough to dream of.

From Goodreads
Anne is still my favorite and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a delight to re-read whenever I need a reality check. Anne, unlike her sisters, seemed to understand the messiness of life and was able to portray it without creepy ghosts, unhealthy love triangles, and women locked in attics. That said, most people don't know about Anne, the youngest of the siblings to make it to adulthood. They know of Emily and her Heathcliff and her experiments into poetry that were considered shocking for her time. And, of course, they know of Charlotte, who wrote one of the most beloved literary heroines of all time.

I still enjoy re-reading Jane Eyre; my marginal notes from class may entertain me as much as the actual story when I pull out my Norton. Jane is always practical and cautious, except when she falls for the guy who is already married. Rochester remains stubborn and whimsical; a man who can still joke and yet is terrifying when thwarted. And then there is Bertha, his mad wife locked in the attic who is nearly the ruin of them all.

Jean Rhys turned her eye to Bertha's story in Wide Sargasso Sea. She introduces us to Antoinette, a young girl who is neither white nor black in an island world where to be neither is a sin. Her mother slowly goes mad after the death of her brother and Antoinette comes of age in a convent until her marriage is arranged by her stepbrother to a young Rochester who needs to marry for money. These two strangers journey to a childhood retreat of Antoinette's and slowly realize they have both been deceived into marriage.  Following a disaster, Rochester returns home and hires Grace Poole to watch over his mad wife, now called Bertha, in the attic at Thornfield Hall.

I, if you haven't caught on, love a story which takes the villain and examines how they came to be perceived as such. Antoinette is complicated and confused. Her life has been one long chain of pain and anger. Her mother rejects her, her stepfather ignores her until she is of use to him, her aunt tries to help but then turns away when Antoinette refuses to help herself. It reads as a tragedy, two young people, Antoinette and Rochester, put together by outside forces and destined to destroy each other in the end. Neither comes off well in Rhys' version. Antoinette is frustrating and whiny; she seems to speak, think and act in riddles. I did not trust her but at the same time, realized the constrictions of the world she lived within. Saying no to Rochester was not actually a valid choice for her at all.

Rochester, on the other hand, comes across even more imperious and impulsive than in Jane Eyre. He seems to find the tropical world he finds himself in interesting and yet frightening at the same time. He has much the same reaction to his new wife actually. He finds her exotic and irresistible but he does not like or trust her. In the end, Rochester, of course, wins. He reaches his breaking point and flees to England long enough to drop his wife off before taking off to the Continent. Rhys gives us one last glimpse of Antoinette in exile, locked in an attic unable to believe she is in England, thinking they've taken a wrong turn. She is clearly out of her mind and yet she makes more sense in this part than others. We learn what happened with Sandi, the man she loved, about her voyage to England, and about her life at Thornfield where she wanders the halls once Grace drinks herself to sleep. 

I kept waiting for my feminist bone to kick in and enrage me on Antoinette's behalf. I mean, Rochester locks her in an attic people! It always concerned me when Jane didn't seem worried about that fact so much. At the same time, Antoinette is unlikable, she is manipulative and cagey. I trust Rochester's word over hers. Perhaps it just shows how ingrained the male right is in our cultural psyche. I was sorry for Antoinette but not enough to change my mind about the character in general. She wasn't made into a hero like Elphaba in Wicked or Iris in Confessions of a Ugly Stepsister (hmm, seeing a Gregory Maguire pattern here but moving on), she is still a villain but a villain placed into the context of the villains who made her as she was.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nothing like an inspiring sports tale...

From AOL
I am not the most athletic person you'll ever meet. I always enjoyed gym class because it was time with my friends. We had fun with archery, cross-country skiing and a game we called off-the-wall ball. I didn't need to be athletic, I just had to be willing to play and to laugh at myself. And that is one talent I have always been proud of. In fact, my favorite award from all of my years at school is from 7th grade home economics, Most Likely to Laugh at Herself. It's a talent that has served me well.

That doesn't mean I don't love and appreciate athletic talent when I see it. I grew up watching football, basketball and hockey. Tennis was always on in the summer; bowling, the one sport I did participate in outside of dance, something I didn't mind having on in the background as I did my math homework on a Saturday afternoon. The Olympics are major events that I look forward to all year. I come from Syracuse, New York. Winters were spent climbing the hill to the Dome for an SU basketball game, or heading to the War Memorial to see the AHL hockey team, the Syracuse Crunch. My cousins played soccer, basketball and baseball; my sister rode horses competitively. I have a healthy appreciate for sports and the talent they require.

I also love a good story, if you hadn't figured that out. Which means I am prime for adoring any sports movie that crosses my path. Like any good American, I love watching the underdogs win the day, a person raise themselves up over adversity and get to prove to themselves, and the world, just how good they are.

Luckily, Hollywood loves these stories too and for my part, I haven't come across one yet I haven't enjoyed: Remember the Titans, Glory Road, Miracle, Seabiscuit, Cool Runnings, Secretariat, The Blind Side. I love them all.

What brings this on is I finally saw The Blind Side this past weekend. I enjoyed every minute of the inspiring tale of a talented athlete who just needed someone to believe in him. Sandra Bullock was delightful as the tough as nails woman who pushes everyone around her to be better. She definitely impressed me and deserved that Oscar she earned for the role. I especially loved the real-life photos of Michael Oher included in the credits. As much as I enjoy the drama and fun of the fictional account, I always love learning what happened after Hollywood is done with the story. It reminds me after a good movie that what I just saw, some version of it actually happened! Real people lived the story and proved to themselves and the world that they could do it. Sports is a great illustration of triumph over adversity. An athlete faces very real and concrete obstacles: defenders, bad breaks, their own bodies, families or location. It is the ultimate metaphor for life. Very cool.

So, have you watched your inspirational sports story for today? If not, may I suggest The Blind Side?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Perhaps I am not as much of a Janeite as I thought

From Madison Public Library
I came late to Jane Austen. One of my best friends in high school gifted me The Collected Works of Jane Austen but it was still a year before I cracked it open. I think I hesitated because I had tried years before to read Sense and Sensibility and had been confused. Jane's biting wit and social commentary was a bit above my head at that point. So, the second time I tried to read Austen, I went with her best-known work, Pride and Prejudice. I was not disappointed. Not only did I fall in love with the spirited and sassy Lizzie and her brooding yet secretly thoughtful love Mr. Darcy, I fell in love with witty and biting tone of Miss Austen. Her grasp of her society and the world she had to navigate to this day never fails to impress me...and make me want to smack upside the head anyone who thinks Jane was simply a romance writer.

It wasn't until Bath, my semester abroad when I took a class on Jane Austen, that I finally fell head over hills with Jane's work. I lived in a city she lived in, walked the streets she did, visited Chawton and saw the very room and table where she composed all the books I fell in love with that semester. While Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel (and her most romantic, seriously Captain Wentworth, SWOON), I have always had a soft spot of Pride and Prejudice, my first Austen novel. And first Austen movie. And first Austen fan-fiction novel. As you can see, I am almost a Janeite.

I say almost because Shannon Hale's Austenland just illustrated where I draw the line. Austenland introduces us to Jane Hayes, a woman who has idolized Mr. Darcy to the detriment of any men she meets in real life. When her great aunt notices this, she calls Jane out on living in a fantasy and to prove her point, leaves Jane a month stay at a fancy "Austenland" resort in England in her will. So, Jane goes back to 1816 and finds her own Mr. Knightley and Mr. Wickham cum Frank Churchill. Jane is a fun character to watch grow throughout the novel and watching her struggle with reality versus the fantasy she finds herself in was entertaining and also enlightening. One thing I definitely learned was there is no way I would ever go on a vacation like this. A literary tour of England where I visit lots of country manors? Yes, sign me up (why I think I adored Me and Mr. Darcy, I basically wanted to go on that vacation of hers) but making me wear 1816 clothing, keep to their timetable and give up my cell phone? I think that is going too far for even me. I am a thoroughly 21st century girl when it comes to things like that.

That said, Austenland is one of the better Austen-inspired novels I've read put in the modern day. The characters are engaging and the plot believable enough for me to buy the ending. I do have better luck with the modern takes on Austen that some of the continuations of her novels. See, basically a Janeite and proud of it people! But seriously, at least read Persuasion for me. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Where was Theodosia When I was a Kid?

Fair warning, this will most likely be long. I am trying to cover four books after all.

From Shelf Elf
I had a very active imagination as a child, though looking back I played the strangest games. I fell in love with Samantha, the American Girl doll, and her books meant I spent more than my fair share of time pretending to be a young Victorian who befriends the servants and runs off for adventures on the streets of New York City. I also loved to play at being an immigrant coming to America. Going through my room, packing up a small suitcase with the few possessions I could bring to the New World...I said I had an active imagination. Later I graduated to pretending I'd been sent off to boarding school but that is neither here nor there (I may have been wishing to escape my little sister who wanted to play dolls. Dolls?! Pfff, I'd read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by then, I was too busy pretending to be a sailor on the high seas by then to play dolls.)

Clearly, I had an odd sense of play but having read all four Theodosia books, I so would have added pretending to understand Egyptian magic and raiding tombs in the name of secret brotherhoods to my repertoire. Of course, seeing Indiana Jones movies from a young age meant at some point I pretended to be an explorer for lost antiquities. I usually was his daughter and I had to go rescue him from evil Nazis who'd stolen a pyramid or something (Historical fiction may have captured my childhood attention but that doesn't mean facts had any place in my fantasies). But Theodosia would have rocked my world. Imagine, a young girl who can do Egyptian magic, who has a museum full of artifacts for her playground and who is continually having to save the world because of it? My mind would have been blown. It was like Samantha meets London meets Indiana Jones and The Mummy. It is blowing my adult mind; I am not sure 12 year old Krystal could have handled it.

There are four Theodosia Throckmorton (I adore the Brits and their names, don't you?) adventures. The fourth is slated for release in April of this year and I was lucky enough to be able to read it and review it already. It pays to be on the outskirts of the library/book review world. But let us start at the beginning and do quick summaries/reviews for each book.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos introduces you to Theodosia and her world in this adventure which orientates a reader in the world of Theodosia. This is 1908 London and Theodosia's parents run the Museum of Legends and Antiquities. They however have no idea their daughter is continually removing curses from objects in their museum. Theo has a talent for Egyptian magic. She can feel and see curses and along with her cat, Isis, she helps corral the curses her parents keep bringing into the museum. Included their latest discovery, the Heart of Egypt, an artifact protected by a curse so awful, Theodosia has to find a way to get it back to Egypt before it brings about the fall of the British Empire! To make matters worse, a secret society, the Serpents of Chaos would like nothing better than to make sure Theodosia fails on her missions. With the help of her younger brother Henry, a streetwise pickpocket Sticky Will and a secret brotherhood of her own, Theodosia can hopefully get the Heart of Egypt back to where it belongs in time. Theo is the kind of heroine I love: Bold, brilliant but also practical and realistic. She is able to use her resources and get her work done, even when that work is masterminding a major theft on the docks on London or stowing way on a ship bound for Egypt. I also loved Theo's take on the adults that surround her. She loves her parents and wishes she could help them but is annoyingly aware that they see her as simply an eleven year old child, not an equal in their work.

In Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris, Theo is assigned cataloging in the "catacombs," the basement of her father's museum. While down there, she comes across two very special artifacts. Suddenly, the mummies of London keep showing up in her museum and her father is the main suspect. The Serpents of Chaos are back too and want the artifacts Theo has discovered in order to cause havoc throughout London. As always, Theo must thwart the group while keeping her parents in the dark and avoid the parade of governesses her grandmother keeps trying to saddle her with. Usually a second book in a series drags for me but not this time. The action continues to be fast-paced and well-written. LaFevers seems to know just how much ancient history a reader can take before becoming bored with her plot.

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus begins when Sticky Will takes Theo to a magic show starring the mysterious Awi Bubu and suddenly Theo is off on her next adventure. Still trying to finish up cataloging the catacombs, her brother Henry stumbles across an artifact that alchemists have been looking for for centuries and now she has to try to protect her brother and make sure the artifact doesn't end up in the wrong hands. Theodosia is a hard character  to keep consistent. She is both a wise character and still an 11-year-old girl. I loved the introduction of yet another secret organization to the books and especially Henry's reappearance. The sibling relationship adds a welcome element to the story and yet another ally for Theo to count on as she continues to protect her family from ancient Egyptian curses.
From Goodreads

Theo's latest adventure, Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh, finds Theo in Egypt to return artifacts entrusted to her in England by the brotherhood and Awi Bubu. Of course nothing is ever that simple for Theo. This is by far my favorite book of the series. Theodosia is once again in trouble with more secret societies than you can count and this time, she’s not even in London. She’s come to Luxor to help her mother excavate the annex she found back in The Serpents of Chaos and also to return some artifacts she stumbled upon in the last two books of the series. In fact, a lot of this book is devoted to giving us answers to questions that have been building in the series. I did miss some of the series regulars who are back in London for the story but the new characters (who often contrasted nicely with their London counterparts) were entertaining and added a lot to the story. Normally, open-ended endings such as this book has give me a headache. Would it have killed a writer to give me one more chapter to tie everything nicely up with a bow? But here, I really liked it. One, I am assuming I have more Theodosia to look forward to (right?!) and two, it’s so well in keeping with the tone of the series and also the character of Theodosia, who we see grow up a lot in this installment of the series, that I can't complain too much.

See? Theodosia is one of the best fictional heroines I have come across in a long time and I cannot recommend her story enough. I think adults and kids will enjoy her adventures as she navigates the London and Egyptian worlds of 1908 as well as the Egyptian magic of the ancients.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Now for something different

I realize I am a bit book-heavy on this blog. I haven't even talked about movies in depth in awhile. Mostly because, other than seeing Tron: Legacy while I was home, I haven't seen a new movie in awhile. I've been digging into TV shows. I got Castle for Christmas, Veronica Mars on my Netflix instant watch list and have been watching movies I got for Christmas (Sherlock Holmes, The Sorcerer's Apprentice) which I've actually already seen and love hence why I was gifted them.
But I wanted to take a minute to share a hobby with you all. I collect pins. And not just any pins. Disney pins, specifically the pins that you can find in abundance in the parks and have been able to since the pin trading hook was introduced back during Walt Disney World's Millennium Celebration. Mom and Dad brought my sister and I back identical lanyards with identical pins (sisters - you have to make sure it doesn't look like you are favoring one). The lanyards had a pin for each park: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney-MGM Studios and the Animal Kingdom. Honestly, I thought it was cool but wasn't too into them. Until I went down myself. There were pins for everything! Parks, hotels, rides, characters, movies...the list goes on and on. I was hooked.
But, well, I liked to collect them. The idea was you were supposed to trade them. This baffled me. I bought a pin that I liked, with my money. I wasn't going to trade it! Trading was an odd concept to me anyway. My sticker collection was carefully curated and organized. It was to be looked at, not traded people. Sheesh. My pin collection has developed the same way. I have careful chosen and picked most of the pins I've personally bought. My parents and sister have continued over the years to get pins for me every time they go down to the World, much more often than I get there anymore. Often, I send them looking for a pin pertaining to a certain character or movie. I can hear their curses from here. It seems I very often send them on a wild goose chase...

Don't ask for a favorite. Writing this, I took down each lanyard for pictures (until I realized hanging, I could get better shots)and remembered some hard earned pins and even ones that hark back to a Walt Disney World that no longer exists. One of my first pins is the Earful Tower emblazoned with Disney-MGM Studios.  My Dixie Landings pin was one of the first I ever personally bought; the resort is now called Port Orleans Riverside.

I have a Belle pin that came from Europe; my parents couldn't find one in the States at the time.  I have pins with my favorite characters (Belle, Stitch, Chip and Dale, Tinkerbell, Figment), my favorite rides (Big Thunder Mountain, Mission: Space, Soarin'). I like the quirky ones too. I have a Mickey wearing a Mickey poncho, a pin with Stitch hanging from the chandelier as Beast and Belle glare up at him, and a Mickey emulating Gene Kelly in Singin' In The Rain. I always make a point to pick up the latest conservation one at Animal Kingdom, usually with Jiminy Cricket. Special events are marked with a pin: My one and only times attending Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, taking the Backstage Magic tour, finally going to Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival. I have pins from my favorite countries in Epcot and new movies on their opening days. One pin even has a picture of me from my trip in the fall of 2002, Senior Year with the Mouse as me and my friend called it. I even have the set of pins you had to pre-order Up to get. I may have pre-ordered the movie just for the pins...

Perhaps more than pictures, my pin collection marks my trips to my home away from home these days. It is a unique collection and I always look forward to growing it. But if you're looking for a trade, look somewhere else!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Never too late for some Mistletoe

I've been meaning to write this post since the end of November. However, the month of December seems to be a bit of a blur so I think I can be forgiven for being a bit late in writing this and posting.

Lauren Willig is one of my all-time favorite authors. I stumbled across The Secret History of the Pink Carnation on one of those "Buy 2, Get 1 free" tables in Borders many years back. It is marked as one of the most serendipitous reading moments of my life. Since falling in love with the stories of the Pink Carnation, I tell all and sundry to read Willig if they like a good Regency romance cum spy novel. Think Jane Austen meets James Bond and you'll get a vague idea of what is going on. Hmm, maybe Bond with more of a sense of humor too. Anyhoo, Willig is releasing her seventh Pink Carnation novel this month (see, there was a reason I didn't get to this until now) and I am counting the days. Willig remains the only author I actually pre-order books for. It helps she usually publishes vaguely around my birthday so I just consider it an early birthday present to myself.

However, Willig's latest installments of the Pink Carnation series have not been my favorites, I'll be the first to admit. I feel like the heroines have been lacking something and, gasp!, these books have been more serious than the first books in the series. I was concerned Willig was losing a spark in her writing that I counted on. However, I was still excited when she announced there would be a special Christmas-themed addition to the series and it would include a cameo from Miss Austen herself. Be still my heart. The hero would be the ever bumbling yet endearing Turnip Fitzhugh which gave me pause since he was not exactly my dream hero but Willig had successfully made Lord Vaughn into hero material for The Seduction of the Crimson Rose so I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

To add to my excitement, Willig was going to be in a former haunt of mine, Ann Arbor, and one of my best friends was willing to go and get The Mischief of the Mistletoe signed for me! I have lots of pictures of her signing my book and apparently my friend made sure Willig was informed of my Pink Carnation ambassador status. People, Lauren Willig knew I existed for three minutes. The literary fangirl inside of me is squealing.

So, when I got the book, a very early Christmas gift from my friend, I dove in as quickly as possible. And I was not disappointed. This was by far one of the best books Willig has written in a long time. It has everything I fell in love with in the first three books: a dashing, if often thwarted, hero, a practical yet romantic heroine, hijinxs, misunderstandings and a delightful last scene complete with unrealistic yet totally please-let-that-happen-to-me-someday dialogue. Turnip may just be my favorite hero since Geoff in The Deception of the Emerald Ring which is high praise I assure you. However, what helps this book climb my personal Willig rankings, and I think what puts it firmly at the top, were the laugh-out-loud moments in this book. I kid you not, I was laughing so hard there were tears during the midnight library scene when a "burglar" is thwarted by a bunch of school girls, one of which sits on him to detain him. Add Turnip lurking out the window, a disgruntled school mistress and lots of broken china and I literally could not stop laughing. I am laughing right now just thinking of this scene.

Willig definitely has her genre niche and I realize she is not for everyone. But, if you at all enjoy a good regency romance, you must at least try her once so at least then you know what you are missing!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Third time is not the charm...

Sigh, I am calling it. My first book to defeat me in my 2011 reading challenge. I guess me and Virginia Woolf are just not meant to be.

I first tried to read To The Lighthouse back in high school one summer and was so confused about three pages in, I decided I have plenty of time to return to it. I tried it again one summer during college and made it a little further before deciding maybe I needed to know a little more before I could appreciate what Woolf was trying to do. Sadly, my third time over this past week has not gone any better. I gave it 50 pages, my self-imposed cut-off for books that just aren't taking, and I still couldn't tell you what is happening or what the characters are actually talking about. The English major in me is not taking the defeat well.

However, one thing I learned on my last reading challenge was there are too many books, too little time and I won't like all of them...and that is OK. I am sad about Woolf though. I loved A Room of One's Own. I first read that book the summer after I graduated from college and was upset I'd made it through my Women's Studies minor without any of my professors making me read that essay. It was brilliant and simple; the idea of a woman's independence and ability to make it in the world on her own. To a girl who was looking towards graduate school and really being on her own for the first time, the essay was an inspiration. But it was also an analytical voice, logical and comforting, that spoke throughout the essay. To The Lighthouse was a different creature entirely.

I realize, and can even appreciate, the technical aspects of the novel. The stream of consciousness narrative is unique and intriguing. However, not exactly approachable or even likable. I would lose the train of thought easily and often was confused over what character I was currently hearing from. They are unlikable, at least the first fifty pages, and unapproachable. With Gatsby and crew, you loathe them but you get them. You understand, no matter how the vague the story, the purpose of the story. Woolf gives you no such hint or clue as to where her story is leading, or if it is even leading anywhere.

This is one novel I missed having a class to structure my reading for it. Perhaps with a teacher's guidance and helpful interpretation, I might have made it through. But,  as it is, I must accept that Woolf and I were just not meant to be and I am OK with that, I think. I can't love every book that comes across my list after all. I am not sure what is next for this challenge. I am treating myself to Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol next since that has also been on my list forever and if nothing else, Brown knows how to entertain. I believe I also am giving Georgette Heyer a second chance here soon. She left me underwhelmed on my first meeting with her so I am trying her most famous novel next to see if that goes any better.

From Cinematic Intelligence Agency
Also, I watched the movie Driving Lessons this evening. I recommend it if you are looking for a quirky British comedy/drama. Rupert Grint is delightful as the shy son of an overbearing mother (Laura Linney) and summer assistant to an eccentric retired actress (Julie Waters). It was just what I needed to make me feel cheerful again after the horrible news of today. The tragedy in Arizona sadly reminded me that I live in a country where things like that can still happen. I like to pretend we've evolved beyond using tactics like that to get our point across. Then something like this happens and I am forced to remember we're not quite as enlightened as I like to imagine.  Perhaps it is a reality check we all sadly need from time to time. Here is hoping for a brighter tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Starting a new year with Jay Gatsby

Image from here
I am not sure how I made it out of high school not having read The Great Gatsby. I remember seeing the book in classrooms and carried by friends into other classes. The great thing about being in Honors all through high school was we read and discussed some amazing books. The worst thing was a lot of those classic high school texts never crossed my desk. I thought perhaps being an English major in college might help me go back and pick up texts I should have read by then. However, my marked loathing for any book published after 1920 and my research interests made sure certain books have remained strangers. Hence my reading challenge for the year. Begun with Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird and now continuing on with F. Scott Fitzgerald's tragic tale.

I of course haven't gotten this far without hearing things about The Great Gatsby. I have vague inclinations of the Roaring '20s in all its sordid detail, a main character tragically in love with a woman who could not love him back and, somewhere along the way I picked up, a swimming pool was very important. I was also warned I wouldn't like the characters, a major worry of mine going into Gatsby. Often if I don't like the characters, a book becomes torture.

I can happily report that was not the case with this book. Oh, I loathed Tom Buchanan, held Daisy in utter contempt, and wouldn't trust Gatsby or Nick as far as I could throw them but heavens if I didn't adore them all anyway. There is something to be said about an author who can make you care about the villain. Here, Fitzgerald only gives you villains in one shape or another and he makes them interesting, compelling even while keeping them deliciously vague and remote. I cared about them all but honestly, I couldn't tell you why. You know so little of all of them (except perhaps Gatsby). We don't know why Daisy married Tom, though we can guess. We don't know why Jordan hangs around as she does. And I would kill to know why Nick didn't feel the need to tell everybody everything that he knew (or supposedly knew, like I said, I really didn't trust him as a narrator). We eventually hear two sides of the story, both moderated by Nick,  but lord I would love to hear Daisy's version of that summer, or even Jordan's. Did it hurt Daisy at all to not even cable when Gatsby was finally gone or was she really that shallow, that afraid, that cruel? Sadly, I fear she was all of that and more. The world she moved in required it of her.

Sigh, that world. There is something fascinating about the world described in The Great Gatsby. The language used to describe it is genius; I read the descriptions of Gatsby's parties and would see whirls of color and sparks, the craziness of a camera filming the scene as it moved from one drunken flapper to another, from the gorgeous tents to the illuminated  house and always, Gatsby watching from the sidelines, enjoying the view and yet seemingly unable to enjoy himself. The feel of the book was really quite impressive.

And yes, if I had read this in high school Jay Gatsby very well may have given Sidney Carton a run for his money in my heart for my favorite fictional man. True, Gatsby never made me laugh but there is a childlike quality to him in a sense that I adored. A belief that if he really did work hard enough and believe long enough, all he ever wanted would be granted him. What sort of work that was didn't matter as long as the end result was what he wanted. The character is the portrait of the American Dream gone wrong in a sense and he is a fascinating character. A rogue it's true, but a rogue with a heart of gold...Who I am kidding, even at this old age of mine, I am a little in love with Jay Gatsby but apparently everyone is so I don't feel so bad about that.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A new year...

Now that I am back in the wilds of Dakota, I have a moment to wish every one a happy new year. After traveling all day, I've been relaxing with movies I got over the holidays.

I wish you all a prosperous and happy year ahead of you, full of good books, good movies and good food. Not necessarily in that order.

Good luck 2011!