Thursday, December 30, 2010

So ready. So, so ready.


Our vacation is so close I can almost taste it. So close, yet so far away... a whole 8 days. One long weekend, and 5 workdays. I'm not sure I can wait. I am so looking forward to getting out of town for a bit. We haven't been on a vacation in forever. Our 2008 trip to Florida was so depressing and stressful that it hardly qualifies as a vacation -- I mean, it had its moments, but we were broke and worried about money the entire time, and both stressed about our jobs, and rushing everything about the trip because we didn't have a lot of vacation time left. It was more frustrating than fun, in a lot of ways. And before that, the last trip we went on was to Ontario in 2007. Which was fun, but could have been funner (yes, I realize that is not an actual word).

So I am ready. So, so ready. We've got a nice mid-price hotel on Disney property, and a meal plan so we'll be able to go to lots of yummy Disney restaurants and visit lots of characters. And obviously we've got a day planned at Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal -- like I'd go all the way to Orlando and miss that! The AccuWeather 15-day extended forecast is predicting temps in the 70s and low 80s for Orlando the week we're at Disney World, so we should be blessed with nice weather. And of course we get to spend a few days with Evil Rob's mom in Tallahassee.

Is it too soon to start packing? I mean, what would it hurt?? I could at least get organized with the stuff I won't have to wash between now and next week.

I'm too excited to sleep.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Weird Christmas, and other random stuff

This has been kind of a weird Christmas. For me, anyway.

Those of you who know me probably also know that I'm a bit of a Disney fan. Or maybe you don't. But you will for sure know I'm a Harry Potter fan. And as it happens, we're leaving in about two weeks for a trip to Florida, in which we will spend 8 days and nights at Disney World, and one day visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal's Islands of Adventure. And so naturally I am extraordinarily excited about this trip. Rob and I also agreed back in August that the trip would be our Christmas gift -- no stocking stuffers, no video games, no books, no stuff. And I thought that would be so difficult to endure, because me?? I love getting presents.

But it turns out that I was fine! I survived! I wasn't even a little bit sad not to have anything to open yesterday morning -- we just watched The Pook open his stuff, and then we headed out to the Waffle House for our traditional post-gift opening breakfast. Of course, it helped that my mom bought us all a bunch of presents, but still -- I'd have been fine either way. So I will take this as a sign of maturity on my part.

And also as a sign that I am now a grown up and can just go buy whatever I want, whenever I want it, and don't really need very many presents.

But yeah, so it was weird, because I am so excited to go on this vacation -- our first real vacation in years (the depressing trip of 2008 doesn't count, because we were broke and I was stressed about my job the entire time, rightfully so since I was let go just a few weeks later), by the way -- that I wasn't even all that excited about Christmas! And now I have already made myself a little countdown chart to hang on my desk at work... 9 more work days! 12 days total!

In other news, The Pook has turned into a teenager overnight. Yeah, he's still 9, but he acts like my best friend's 15-year-old daughter. Haaaaaaate. I'm not really sure how to cope with it. I've threatened to ground him 19 times in the last 48 hours. He's only escaped actual grounding because I keep leaving loopholes in my threats, like "One more outburst out of you today and you're grounded for a week." So then the next day, he has another outburst, because I only covered the day before with my threat. It's all very tricky, and I can only hope that we'll cover it all now, and when he is an actual teenager, he'll be really nice, like all the teenage boys he does karate with.

And at least he has role models.

A month ago, I never would have said this, but honestly, I am just over football for this year. Watching NFL Red Zone today was excruciatingly boring. I guess it's because I don't really have a team to care about any longer. I didn't realize how much I've come to hate the Broncos until I sat here actively rooting against them this afternoon, and then took offense when they won. It's the obsession with Tim Tebow. It disgusts me. Even people who should know better are obsessed with this guy. It creeps me out. I think he might be the antichrist.

I had this whole lengthy rant planned on this very subject, but I've decided that enough gets written and said about that "sanctimonious little prick" (my husband's quote) that I'm not going to devote any more space to it. Even if it's just here on my blog that only 10 people read.

I suspect that my excitement over my trip might be affecting my ability to enjoy the remainder of the regular season. Because I am excited for the BCS Championship game, which will be played the night we get to Disney World. I am looking forward to seeing Cam Newton work his magic against the ever so annoying Oregon Ducks.

Working on a handful of different books right now: Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, about a World War II pilot who crash landed in the Pacific and was eventually captured by the Japanese and spent three years in a prison camp; Neil Gabler's Walt Disney biography that I've been working my way through for several weeks now -- it's good, but just really, really long; a book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which my sister the artist recommended to me as a useful read about how we artists self-sabotage, and what we can do to avoid that trap; The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan, a continuation of his Heroes of Olympus series (Percy Jackson and all that) -- I pilfered this from The Pook's gift pile yesterday and truth be told, it's a bit plodding; and finally, A Novel Bookstore by French author Laurence Cosse -- a literary thriller in the most literal sense.

I'm having some issues with characterization of my protagonist in the novel I began writing for National Novel Writing Month, but otherwise, that's going well. I'm loving the process. Loving it a lot. It makes me feel whole again to be writing.

So yeah. A little random, and maybe a little boring. But whaddya do.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A little epiphany for my Tuesday morning...

So I was just sitting here eating some crackers and tuna salad for breakfast, attached work-related emails to files, when I opened up an email from NaNoWriMo asking me to take their Participant Survey. And at the end of the survey was an opportunity to enter a drawing for a place in an online revision workshop, which of course I entered. And a link took me to the website of the organisation that offers the workshop, and I was thinking maybe I'd register for it in the event I don't win a place in the drawing (because let's face it, I never win anything, other than Evil Rob's undying love and affection, which I guess is way better than winning stuff like scrapbooking supplies or online classes). But then I balked at the cost.

And then I thought about it some more. And first I compared it to the cost of a scrapbooking retreat. Which I never balk at. Ever. Someone could be all, "500 bucks" and I'd be all, "Sign me up!" Because I love scrapbooking, and love scrapbooking retreats even more. And usually go on two per year.

But writing... writing is supposed to be this solitary struggle, right? I mean, I used to take a lot of workshops, but got into a rut with what I was working on in those workshops, and decided a few years back that it was time to just get it done and forget about workshopping -- well, we can all see how that worked out, since I've never actually finished my first novel. I dug myself into a giant rut and allowed life to get in the way of my dream of being a published writer. And then almost forgot about that dream altogether.

And so I realized that it was ridiculous of me to not want to spend money on a writing workshop, but I think nothing of spending money on scrapbooking classes and retreats all year long. Writing is what I want to do, what I've always done, who I am. Scrapbooking is my hobby.

In the end, not all that earth-shattering. But to me, maybe it is a little bit world changing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I almost forgot: I'm a WRITER.

Check that shit out -- right there on the left side of this post. That's a NaNoWriMo Winner! badge. Wanna know how I got that? I wrote a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That was it -- all I had to do. It didn't have to be good, it didn't have to contribute to the national conversation, it didn't even have to be spelled correctly or use good grammar (although you can rest assured my novel does both those things, and does them well). It just had to be 50,000 words or more.

I committed to NaNoWriMo somewhere during the last week of October, when another blogger I like to read was talking about how she was going to do it, and used the word "again." I thought to myself, I'm being left behind. Left behind by people who don't even really write fiction. And so I figured I'd look into it, maybe give it a try this year. The main rule, other than the 50,000 words, is that you have to work on something new, not something you've already started. I'd had the germ of a potential chick lit masterpiece (um, right!) working its way around my brain for a few weeks leading up to this, so I figured I'd go ahead and commit that to paper. Or computer. Or whatever. Upon hitting the forums for the challenge, I took some advice from folks who have completed it in the past and decided to make an outline. Something I've never done in the past when working on fiction.

I got off to a really slow start. The entire first week of November was really busy for one reason or another, and I wasn't able to sit down in the evenings and start writing. In fact, I don't think I even started until maybe the 10th. So already, I was way behind. Apparently you want to average around 1,667 words per day. But once I get going, that kind of word count comes easily. It was just getting to the final tally that would be an issue. And once I did get started, I immediately started to feel it -- the feeling of obsession that's always come to me when writing fiction. I was suddenly distracted all the time, thinking about my characters, thinking about their wants and needs and hopes and dreams and motivations.

And that was the biggest road block, eventually: I've always written organically. My characters do what they want to do, or what they're going to do, whether I've gone into it thinking that they would do A, B, or C. And then I explore that, and let them go on their way, and see where it takes the story. It can be slow and arduous, but it's the way that works for me. And to force myself to use the outline and push forward the word count was nearly counter-intuitive for me. I wanted to go back and flesh things out; I wanted to revise as the characters matured; I wanted to add entire scenes. But I didn't. I stuck to my outline. And ultimately, I reached 50,767 words.

I reached it with a whimper, not a bang, around 5 o'clock this evening. I was starting to lose steam, as was the story. It has its good moments, but it has more bad and cheesy moments. If the purpose wasn't the word count, I'd have scrapped 60% of it and revised already.

But if the purpose wasn't the word count, I wouldn't have started it at all. I certainly wouldn't have pursued it till I reached 50,000 words. So what it was really about was reminding me of something I'd all but forgotten: I'm a writer. A writer. I've always been a writer. And I'd lost sight of that for the last few years. Busy with work, and taking care of my family, and all the distractions that cable television provides, I haven't written more than about 4 pages in the last five years. But now, I've written about 140 in the last three weeks alone. About 60 just this weekend.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to make a habit of writing 60 pages in one weekend... unless I'm actually getting paid for it.

But I do want to get back to the habit of writing fiction all the time. Because it's what I love to do.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Stuff I'm Thankful for Right Now

This was going to be one of my generic "stuff I love this week" posts but then I realized it was Thanksgiving... Anyway, in no particular order:

1). My 15-year-old Vancouver Roots sweatshirt, which is quite literally falling apart at the seams but is still enough to keep me warm now that the temperatures have dipped below freezing.

2). That crazy giant bunch of cilantro I picked up at Sunflower yesterday morning. I've never smelled something so lovely. I wish someone would bottle that so I could diffuse it in my scent diffuser.

3). And Sunflower Market, which keeps us from going broke on almost a weekly basis.

4). My son, The Pook. He is caught somewhere between "little boy" and "tween," and although his attitude is often one of suckitude, he is always funny and mostly sweet. I love seeing him work so hard at karate, and still hold out hope that this will eventually spill over into school work as well...

5). My husband, Evil Rob. He is the best and the sweetest.

6). Disney's XD channel, which is full of kid shows and cartoons that are actually funny (or awesome, in the case of The Avengers: The Earth's Mightiest Heroes), so neither Rob nor I wish to stab out an eye while The Pook watches his shows.

7). Speaking of Disney, I'm totally thankful that we have already paid our January Disney World trip in advance. We're talking paid in full, people!!! This is so out of character for us, but here's hoping it's something that will be in character going forward.

8). NaNoWriMo. Or National Novel Writing Month for those of you who don't know. This is where you try to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. I've tried for the first time this year, and while I'm not sure at this point that I'll hit 50,000, I do know I've already written more this month than I have in the last 5 years combined. And have rediscovered my love of writing and making up stories, no matter how stupid they are.

9). GLEE. Please. I'm not gonna leave Glee out. It seems odd that a musical show has replaced Lost as my "best show evarrrrr" show, but there you go. And any episode that features Kurt as the main storyline is just icing on the cake.

10). Nicki Minaj's rap in Kanye's "Monster." This is seriously the best 1 minute and 20 seconds of a song I've heard in years. It's a master class in everything rap is supposed to be -- sort of over the top and insane, and she rhymes "Sri Lanka" and "Willy Wonka." It's outstanding. (If anyone is ever tempted to listen to a song based on my recommendation, I am going to warn you that this particular one contains f-bombs galore. Kanye seems a little irritated these days. I dunno why.)

11). Bruno Mars. Especially "Just the Way You Are." You may heard this one on GLEE this week. The original is even better. The song at the wedding in this week's GLEE is also by Bruno Mars, and is also awesome in its original form.

12). Kleenex. Was there ever a better invention than Kleenex? Especially this time of year.

13). I'm also continually thankful to have a job, and a good job at that.

14). My family.

15). My friends.

16). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I. I love movies based on books that are actually outstanding pieces of film making, and this one fits the bill. Some have complained that the "wandering lost" scenes go on far too long (a similar complaint was uttered frequently about the book, by people who missed the point), but to Rob and I both, those were the best parts of the movie. I don't have to have stuff blowing up every ten minutes and special effects or whatever -- I need some emotion. And those wide desolate shots capture perfectly what's happening with Harry (and Hermione and Ron) at that time. Also, the scene where Harry and Hermione dance to Nick Cave's "O Little Children" was a really nice touch. Totally awkward and dorky, and perfect. I cried at least 10 times the first time I saw it but got that down to a mere 5 the second time.

17). My kindle, as always. I've got 4 books going right now. It's so much easier to do that with a kindle. Way less clutter. Don't get me wrong -- I still love actual books. Books are awesome. But my kindle allows me to keep reading after my carpal tunnel syndrome wants me to stop.

All right, I gotta go -- I've got cranberry salsa to make, sweet potatoes to chop, and brussels sprouts to bake. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

What I've Read This Month...

No More Dying Then, Ruth Rendell This is an Inspector Wexford mystery, sort of -- I mean, he's there, involved in the investigation, but the main focus seemed to be on one of his associates. It's always interesting to go back to the 1960s and earlier in mystery novels and see how the pages just drip with male chauvinism, even from female writers. Sadly, it was too distracting in this book for me to actually say I enjoyed it. And the resolution of the mystery was one of those ludicrous ones where it has absolutely nothing to do with any of the clues that were dropped or the suspects that were interviewed. That's one rule I like followed in my mysteries -- I don't want the ending to come out of left field. So a little off. But the writing was good. You may also remember this as being the "Booger Book" noted in my last entry. Good times!

Loose Lips, Claire Berlinski This one I picked up quite by accident as I was browsing the aisles looking for something else -- well, actually, the second book by this author was displayed with its cover out, and it looked pretty so I picked it up (I judge books by their covers all the time), and it sounded like fun when I read the jacket copy, and then I noticed this one sitting near it and figured I might as well read them both. So glad I did! This was a fun sort of "chick lit" book about a young woman who applies to the CIA sometime in the late 1990s and spends about a year in spy-training camp. She falls in love with a guy we're not meant to trust from the get go, and in the end, she doesn't quite make the cut. But it's a really fun read. Highly recommend this one.

Lion Eyes, Claire Berlinski This is basically kind of a sequel to Loose Lips. A metafiction sequel. If one can do metafiction in smart girl's chick lit. A fictional version of Claire Berlinski is living in Paris, struggling with writers' block following the success of her first novel (Loose Lips). She gets a random email from a man living in Iran one night, asking where he can purchase a copy of her book. She sends him a pdf file of it, and they strike up a correspondence, eventually falling for one another. Claire takes a trip to Istanbul to escape from her writers' block and falls in with an American couple; the wife turns out to be a CIA agent and wants Claire to convince the man she's been corresponding with to spy in Iran on behalf of the United States. I won't spoil the ending, although I kind of wish it had gone differently -- let's just say I'm a sucker for a happy, neat ending. The real Claire Berlinski isn't, though -- she's more a fan of allowing her strong female characters to be enough for themselves, just as they are. They don't need a man. Which is actually fantastic and made me love these two books all the more.

Last Night At Chateau Marmont, Lauren Weisberger I was all set to not like this book a whole lot, and I do have my problems with it, but all in all, I'm really glad I grabbed it off the New Releases tables at the library on my way to the check out desk. I'm just going to say that I hated The Devil Wears Prada (the book -- liked the movie well enough, though), and refused to even entertain the notion of reading Chasing Harry Winston. But this one sounded like a lot of fun because it involved rock stars. Sort of. Our heroine has been married several years to her husband, a musician with a local following; he is catapulted to stardom following an appearance on Jay Leno, and trouble for their marriage follows. They are both such decent, kind human beings that you find yourself rooting for them from the get go, and I will confess that at one point I did have to skip to the last few pages to make sure I was going to get the ending I hoped for. The things I had issues with: the cliche best friend, who wasn't even a very interesting character or sympathetic best friend; the failure to resolve a problem the main character has because of some very bad behavior on her brother's girlfriend's part; and some awkwardness in creating realistic dialogue. Otherwise, it was a really enjoyable read.

Blindman's Bluff, Faye Kellerman This is the latest of Faye Kellerman's Pete Decker detective novels, and it's an entertaining enough installment. I was sad not to see much of Pete and Rina's kids, but the plot was intriguing -- ripped loosely from the headlines as always. I am getting to the point of concern, though, with the casual racism in Ms. Kellerman's work against California's Latino population (all her novels take place in the Los Angeles area). I'm not sure if it's a misguided attempt at portraying the casual racism of some of the peripheral characters, or a poorly written attempt to do the same. Unfortunately, it just comes off as racism in the narrative. If this trend continues in her next book, I'll have to stop reading her stuff.
I've also been reading a bunch of free essays available from Amazon for kindle -- mostly literary criticism, but also some by Bruce Springsteen reflecting on the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, one of my all-time favorite albums. And I'm still making my way through Neil Gabler's Walt Disney, a biography of gargantuan proportions (I believe the print version is around 1000 pages, so I'm really glad to be reading this one on my kindle). It's an excellent work, but it's very detailed and gets a touch dry at times. The chapter on the making of Snow White was weirdly gripping, though. Hopefully I'll have some more time to really sit down with it this weekend, and then I can move on to something else... "something else" being Life, by KEEEEEEEF... er, Keith Richards. I cannot WAIT to read that book!!
Um, not in the same way I cannot wait for the new Harry Potter movie, though. That would just be crazy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fun With Library Books

So The Pook and I went to the library last weekend, and I checked out about 9 books of my own to read.

Oh, stop with the pretending to have a heart failure. I've always loved the library.

Except... I'm a germ-phobe.

I haven't always been a germ-phobe. Or at least not to the extent that I am now. And let me just say that my levels of germ-phobiness don't even approach those of many other people I know. I will, for example, touch the door handle when leaving a public restroom. Usually. Unless it's visibly foul.

But the library... I hold the library responsible for my germ-phobiness. Yes. I do.

You see, a few years ago I was a single mother constantly struggling to make ends meet. I was not at liberty to drop a hundred bucks a paycheck on new books (we won't talk about how much I was spending on my comic collection at the time). So we went to the library all the time.

And so one night, I'm sitting in my favorite chair at home, sipping a beverage and reading a book -- a Faye Kellerman detective novel. And I smell... something. Something like cigarettes. So I check the window, figuring someone from my apartment building must be out front smoking right near my window. But the window was closed.

So I sniff my own clothing -- I've never smoked a day in my life but maybe I went someplace that day where someone else was smoking and it got into my clothes. You know how that goes.

But still nothing.

And then I realize... It was the book.

The whole damn book.

Not just the cover, but every single page. Permeated by the smell of stale cigarette smoke.

And then I start examining the book more closely. And it's filthy. Filthy. It's filthy, and it stinks.

So I thought I'd just read it faster, and try not to touch it. Rest it on my lap, or on the table, and just use one finger to turn the pages. But soon, I felt like the smell of the book was bleeding into my hands. And every 20 minutes or so I was getting up to go scrub my hands clean. But I was really creeped out by thoughts of germs and bacteria and god knows what else crawling all over me.

I finished the book, and the others I had checked out at the same time.

But from that point forward, I've become this person who won't even touch a book in the library unless it looks relatively new. I inspect the edges of the pages to make sure they are properly colored, not deeply yellowed with age and dirt. If it passes those two tests, I flip through it to make sure there are no mysterious stains inside. And then, if not, I'm willing to add it to my check out pile.

Sadly, there are times when even this level of examination doesn't work, and I come home and get 67 pages into a pretty good read and suddenly, there's what appears to be a booger in one of the margins. Or a mysterious food particle in the crease between pages.

And it grosses me out. I mean, there's no better way to say it. It's gross and nasty and it kind of makes me hate people. I mean, what kind of person wipes a booger into a library book? Or any book for that matter? What kind of person thinks it's okay to eat over a library book, which by its very definition means it's shared with other people?

A gross person, that's what kind.

I don't even lend out my own books, because I see how other people treat books, and I can't have my own books come back to me in that condition... if they come back at all. My own father bends back the spines of his books. Bending back the spine of a book destroys it. Eventually the pages will fall out! And don't even get me started on the people who think that it's a good idea to turn down a corner of a book's page to mark their place. Um, how about trying a bookmark, people??

So of course dirty, smelly library books are going to send me into fits of rage.

But I think I've coped pretty well with this latest batch.

Until, that is, I found something mysterious on page 72 of Ruth Rendell's No More Dying Then. And then I became hyper-aware of how smelly the cover was, and my palms started to itch, and I was sure I was going to come down with pink eye or something equally disgusting if I kept reading.

But I did keep reading, and it was an entertaining book. And you should all be so proud of me for conquering my fear.

Until the next time.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Or Perhaps Not...

I'm never going to finish Freedom.

Honestly, people, I can't even get past the first chapter.

I have tried. Maybe I haven't done my best, but I have tried. I have tried in all different moods, all different places, all different weather (okay, that's not true because we've only had one kind of weather here for the last month: sunny and unseasonably hot), and I cannot find my way into this damn book.

There's nothing to grab onto. Nothing.

I feel like I'm missing something.

I've felt this way before: The Corrections. Cold Mountain. Memoirs of A Geisha. Twilight (although that's just poorly written, so I actually don't feel like I'm missing something so much as attempting to save whatever brain cells are left at this point in my life by giving it a pass). Anything by William Faulkner or Richard Ford. I can probably think of more -- books that I just don't get and can't understand their appeal, that is.

I used to beat myself up about it. But sometime around page 37 of Cold Mountain, I gave myself permission not to do this anymore -- not to force myself to read books just because everyone else was reading them, or because a bunch of people told me they were good. I gave myself permission to read books the way I read them growing up, back before the phrase Required Reading came along and tried to suck all the pleasure out of books (whose idea, by the way, was it that I major in English Lit in college? Because I'm pretty sure it wasn't mine!). I gave myself permission to not finish the book if it still sucked after 20-some-odd pages. And I wasn't going to feel like a failure if I didn't quite get into a critically acclaimed book. Those critics are reading for a paycheck anyway -- they aren't reading solely because it's fun. And you can't tell me that doesn't make a difference.

But still. This time I feel like kind of a failure.

I mean, how hard is it to just make a decision to read a book and then read the damn book???

I've read 71 books since late January. I'm midway through the 72nd. I'm (obviously) not counting Freedom. So clearly committing is not the issue. Doing the work is not the issue.

The fact is, the book doesn't speak to me. Several pages into the first chapter, I'm still confused about which family this book is actually about; nothing has really happened and there's all this backstory about people I don't know or care about. The sentences are well-constructed but they're sterile. There's no feeling. And not surprisingly, that was the same major issue I had with The Corrections. I don't think you can distance yourself this much from your narrative and your characters and still get your readers to give a damn about any of it.

So I quit. I give up. I hope everyone else really enjoys "the book of the century" (pfffft). I will not be enjoying with you.

Instead, I am going to finish this awesome biography of Walt Disney that I've been reading.

Maybe that explains everything...

Monday, September 20, 2010

But First! A review of Bellfield Hall by Anna Dean

Bellfield Hall (Anna Dean) was one of the books I received as a birthday gift from my mother in law; it came highly recommended by AustenBlog. It is a mystery set in the Regency period, intended to appeal to fans of Jane Austen. I had started reading it back in March but then got my Kindle right around the same time, and spent the next several months dissing my pile of actual books. So Bellfield Hall languished till I picked it up again yesterday afternoon (I needed a palette cleanser after reading two ridiculous faerie-related young adult novels in a row) and spent the rest of the day reading it.
Miss Dido Kent (spinster) is visiting her young niece on the occasion of her engagement party when a young woman turns up murdered in the gardens of Bellfield Hall. Dido's inquisitive nature soon has her investigating the murder a la Miss Marple. It quickly becomes obvious that the murder had to have been committed by someone within the house, and a great many secrets held by all present become known to Dido. The mystery is eventually solved and there is an ending satisfactory to most parties involved.
I realize that's not much of a recap -- I fear I would wind up telling half the plot if I got much more involved than that.
The read was definitely an enjoyable one, in the same vein as My Dear Charlotte, which I reviewed a few months ago. I liked our heroine immensely, and the setting was everything I want out of a book that's supposed to make me think about Jane Austen. There were times when the voice stepped a bit out of the boundaries of the historical time period -- the characters made comments now and then that wouldn't have been used at the time. This didn't distract me terribly (I read one review in which the blogger alleges the characters say "stuff" all the time, which I would have noticed, so I'll posit that it was said once and since she didn't like the book anyway, it felt like they said it over and over), especially since the aim of the book was true -- e.g. if you enjoy Jane Austen, historical mysteries, Miss Marple, Agatha Christie, or all of the above, you'll enjoy this book. It's very well-written -- not as lyrical as My Dear Charlotte but not pandering either.
I didn't realize until just this morning that this is actually the second book in an intended series; for some reason I thought this was the first. So of course now I have every intention of reading the first one -- but it's not available in the United States! I hate when that happens. Also it appears the third in the series has also been published in the U.K. Here's hoping it is eventually released here as well.
Honestly? It's not going well with Freedom. I continue to struggle my way through the first chapter, having had promises of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and redemption if I can only stick it out. But thus far, it's just a slog through a swamp of too many words. I can't believe Oprah loves this book so much... then again, this is the same woman who wanted everyone to read William Faulkner a few years back. Personally I think the only time anyone should ever read William Faulkner is as a Lit major in college, under threat of not graduating.
Or maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Stay Tuned...

I'm going to read Jonathan Franzen's new book Freedom. And then I'm going to review it here.

Some pre-emptive disclosure is necessary: I hated The Corrections (it was a long, boring book filled with whiny and unlikable people), and Franzen himself seems like a smug asshole (no one thinks you're hip and cool for turning down Oprah, not even my smug asshole hipster friends, dude, so give it a rest already). So I have to be open about the fact that I am going into reading it with copious amounts of negativity. I am expecting to hate it. But the HYPE! I can't get past it. I really have to read this book that's been called "the novel of the century" and that has caused two of my favorite (female) writers to get all up in arms about gender inequity in the literary world.

Granted the century is but 10 years old, and there's plenty of time for something better to come along. However, I maintain that the best book EVER is Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. And that book came out in 2001. And won a Pulitzer Prize! So it stands to reason that my vote for the Novel of the Century is already cast.

But anyway. I'm gonna read this thing. I am. The whole thing.

No, really.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Release the Kraken!!!!!

The Pook and I are sitting here watching the reboot of Clash of the Titans. And let me tell you: it is AWESOME.

Granted, I probably wouldn't be saying that if we'd seen it in the theatre and spent 11 bucks per ticket. But on the small screen here at home on a lazy Sunday morning? Awesome.

What they've done is hire some better actors to breathe life into an uber-cheesey script, bring the special effects a bit more current, and yet still maintain a bit of the cheese-factor that we all so loved in the original.

Pook is so into Greek mythology, and it's really fun to listen to him shout out who all the characters and creatures are before they're actually named.

If only there were some way to transfer that love of Greek mythology into "love of 4th grade."

Book Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

So this is kinda weird: I actually read this book.

Weird, because usually the very fiber of my being cringes away from anything that "everyone is reading," anything with the amount of hype that's surrounded this particular book for what seems like ages.

But then someone told me they didn't like it, which was interesting since it seems like everyone and their dog loves this book. And then I read something about it in an article about the casting of the American version of the movie, something that intrigued me -- I can't remember what. And then they had a free sample available in the Kindle Store, so I read the first two chapters, and while they were not life-changing in any way, shape or form, I did feel compelled to continue.

So this book is a mystery novel about an investigative journalist in some amount of professional disgrace who receives an offer from a wealthy elderly retired CEO of a large family-owned corporation to look into the disappearance (and probable murder) of his niece back in the late 1960s. Along the way, he is assisted by a young woman who is ostensibly a background check expert for a security firm but comes by most of her info by hacking. She has issues. She is the "girl" of the title, covered in several tattoos, including a dragon on her shoulder.

First of all, she is a woman in her 20s, so right off it irked me that the book was called The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The other reason this title irked me is because she's not the main character. She's a sidekick at best. Personally, I don't think a book should be named for its sidekick. How misleading would it be to have called a Sherlock Holmes book The Adventures of Watson? Extremely, that's how.

But getting past the title, I did really enjoy the book. It's a mystery, as I said, and has a lot in common with most of the work I enjoy in the genre (PD James, Jonathan Kellerman, Faye Kellerman, etc.) -- just enough back story for the detective (or in this case, the investigative journalist) to keep him an interesting character; a clear painting of the supporting cast members; intriguing setting (Sweden, a country I really knew nothing about other than its location and some other very basic information until I did some research the other day); and a good mystery compounded by a lack of evidence and the amount of time that's passed since the subject's disappearance (36 years). The book has a lot of lengthy conversation in it, and not quite so much action as one might expect from the average thriller -- towards the last quarter of the book, there's quite a bit of action, but otherwise it's more of an intellectual thriller.

Occasionally it feels as if there are moments that have been kind of lost in the book's translation from Swedish to English. Weird motivations and dialogue that doesn't seem to progress properly from point A to point B to point C -- it just goes straight from A to C. But it wasn't terribly distracting.

I didn't do any background reading on the book and the other two in the series till after I finished, and now I'm a little concerned -- there's a secondary plot line about the girl, where she has some kind of mysterious past which has caused the issues she has now. And I suspect the plan was to spread this plot line throughout the remainder of the series... which was intended to be 10 books. 10! But the author died before completing the 4th, for which there is apparently an outline or some notes or something. Which means... total cliffhanger. I bet.

I'm going to go ahead and read the other two books. I recommend this one if you like the genre. It's no literary masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, and I can't quite wrap my head around what about it has so captivated so many; there is fandom surrounding this book to rival Harry Potter and Twilight (although it's a grown up fandom, so not as screechy and annoying as the TwiHards), and I just don't get it. I would far prefer to see millions of people go all book-groupie on PD James' ass if they're going to get addicted to a mystery series, but I suppose that's just my personal penchant for a good British mystery talking.

Oh, speaking of which -- the author was clearly a fan. He had his main character reading British mystery novels throughout the book. Including something unnamed by Elizabeth George. Inspector Lynley for the win! Which was a nice touch.

And I'm not gonna lie: the whole thing was made easier by the fact that Daniel Craig (swoon) has been cast as the main character in the American version of the movie, and I was thus able to just picture him the entire time I was reading. That was kind of awesome.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Book Review: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Helen Simonson)

I loved this book.

No, really. I can't think of a single bad thing to say about it.

Which is exactly what they said on Literary Transgressions when they reviewed it. So I'm really original, in addition to being a Mary Sue.

So this is the story of a man in his 60s whose wife has passed away; his brother passes away right at the start and forces Major Pettigrew to confront his own mortality, but only in a very quiet, subtle way. He lives in a smallish English town and follows a pretty set routine; but then he befriends the widow of a Pakistani shop owner, which defies both the expectations of others as well as his own. It's one of those books where it seems like nothing much happens, but you're gripped by the lovely writing, and then you get to the climax and it turns out a great many things have happened. Along the way, we see Major Pettigrew deal with his grown son, who isn't quite what the Major expected of his child. And there is a subplot about some valuable antique guns, which are the Major's most cherished possessions... until they aren't any longer.

What I think I enjoyed most is how the author didn't paint any of the characters as dislikable cliches. Everyone is mostly likable, or is forgivable -- even some of the Major's friends who disapprove of his relationship with the widow simply because she's Pakistani, even the self-absorbed son, even the crazy old aunt who stabs someone with knitting needles.

Of course, the book reminded me of everything I love about my favorite British movies and books, and that didn't hurt. I think this was Helen Simonson's first book, and I shall look forward to many, many more.


So it turns out I've read about 55 books already in 2010. 55!! That of course far surpasses my goal of one book a week for the year. I'm a good little reader. Always have been.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

My snark has left the building.

I hate it when I want to be snarky, but I can't find anything to be snarky about. Snarkiness is kind of my stock in trade. I feel like everyone relies on me to be snarky because they think I'm funny, and then I feel bad when I let them down. I mean, it should be easy to find stuff to snark on. But even I have to be inspired.

And the line between cynicism and snarkiness is becoming thinner and thinner. For example, I find that I'm completely cynical now about politics and Lindsay Lohan. I can't say anything funny about either of those subjects. And this worries me, because if I can become cynical about those two sources of formerly endless amusement, can't I become cynical about almost everything?

A depressing thought indeed. I don't ever want people to call me "the cynical one." I want to always be known as "she's so funny."

Come on, Paris Hilton. Do something effed up so I can make fun of you. Something more effed up than partying on some ugly rich dude's yacht and letting people think you're getting paid to do it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: The Help

I had The Help recommended to me by several friends who read it earlier, and it was actually one of the first books I downloaded to my kindle when I first received it. But I didn't read it right away, and then actually kind of forgot I had it (that's the danger of not having an actual physical pile of books to keep track of). So it was a nice little surprise to find it hiding back there on page 10 of my book list. And it was an even nicer surprise that it was such a good read!

In case you've not heard, The Help is a story about two African-American women who work as maids in the home of white families in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, and one young white woman who decides to tell their stories. Each chapter is written from the point of view of one of these three women. Their lives are just on the edges of the civil rights movement, and they are all affected by the Jim Crow laws of the state of Mississippi. I say "all" to include the young white woman, because she too is hindered by these laws -- they hinder her ability to be herself, a decent human being, and prevent her from standing up for what's right. But stand up she does -- by quietly telling the stories of the "colored" women who raise the white children of wealthy families.

There have been some complaints about the (white) writer using African-American dialect for the two black main characters, but I suspect these complainants are those kind of overly politically correct people who are so concerned about being perceived as racist that all they ever do is worry about what color someone's skin is, and therefore circle back around to actually being racist. I thought that the dialect was really well done -- not mocking in any way, but just the right amount, and soothing in its cadence. The differences between the voices of the two maids are subtle, but they are there -- one is more educated so she doesn't write in dialect, but when she's recapping conversation, she'll show herself speaking in dialect; the other had to leave school after 6th grade, and her written communication shows it, as she does write in dialect. However, both women are clearly shown as being of above-average intelligence and strength.

It's hard to say anything bad about this book -- it's not heavy handed with its message; it's well-written but also simply written; I really liked the three main characters, and I really despised the characters I was meant to despise. The rest I mostly felt sorry for. I was pleased to learn that my mother's book club had a discussion about how they all really learned a lot from reading this book -- most of them having grown up far from the American south, and (it must be said) far from very many people of color. They didn't know that this is what it was like before integration and busing, and the banning of Jim Crow laws. It's easy for someone in my age group to by cynical about this book, but if a book can open the eyes of just one person who reads it, I say it's a job well done.

In the end, it's a pretty light read, although there are some really serious topics covered that will give you pause for a while after finishing it. I do highly recommend this one.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It takes a diversionary tactic to know a diversionary tactic.

I just read this uber-annoying article in today's Washington Post about how Sarah Palin has taken great exception to the NAACP's recent move to condemn the racism prevalent in the Tea Party movement. She was all, "It's just a diversionary tactic to avoid talking about the real issues." And digging further, the Tea Party is all offended that anyone would accuse them of racism among their ranks and blahdee blahdee blah. Nevermind the fact that the racism is blatantly obvious to anyone with half a brain -- we're all insane, and to accuse them of racism is -- you guessed it -- a diversionary tactic.

First of all, Sarah Palin is a fucking bitch. I can't even begin to tell you how much her mere existence makes my blood boil. In fact, until she turned up on the political scene, I'm not sure I ever really knew the meaning of "makes my blood boil." But now I do. It's anger with a passion so fierce that it literally makes your insides feel like there's heat running through your veins.

So thanks for that, Sarah Palin, you halfwit nimrod.

(Maybe that's redundant, calling someone a halfwit nimrod? Whatever.)

And then as for the Tea Party in general -- these people make me angry because they get so much airtime with their ludicrous scare tactics and lies to the American people. And they are clearly a loosely organized, poorly educated modern day mob. And for the media to pretend that this is some sort of well-organized, mobilized legitimate political force is disturbing way past irresponsible journalism.

But I think what really grates is this notion -- that Palin and the Tea Partiers would have you believe -- that racism is over in America because we somehow managed to elect ourselves a black President.

Uhhh, yeah... dream the fuck on. Dry that one out and you can fertilize the lawn with it.

Maybe it's where I live -- in the middle of the country, not at the edges where politics seem to happen in a weird vacuum. But racism is alive and well and happening every single day, all around us. Having a black President of the United States hasn't changed a damn thing. And if I see it -- me, a white girl from the suburbs -- you can bet your ass that anyone with less than pale skin tones sees it and feels it every single day.

Please don't let these people fool you. Don't fall for their latest con. Racism is sadly alive and well. Don't let Sarah Palin and her ilk trick you into thinking it's not.


Sunday, July 04, 2010

My Dumbledore is better than your Dumbledore

We hardcore Harry Potter fans get into the dumbest raging debates. Most of them center around the movies, although a personal favorite of mine has to be the whole Harry/Hermione "ship." I recall on one forum seeing the words "To me that's the cannon ship!" typed out by one fangirl with such gusto I could practically hear the shrillness of her voice as if she'd actually said it standing right in front of me. And the word "canon" was always misspelled and abused by these people. So my friends and I started a very amusing little fanfic of our own once about pirates on a cannon ship coming to blow up a bunch of annoying fangirls. Or something like that. It was all very snarky and nerdy and fangirly in its own way.

But the biggie that's ongoing is the whole "Who's the better Dumbledore, Richard Harris or Michael Gambon?" A great number of people prefer Richard Harris and actively despise Michael Gambon (who took over the whole after Harris died); I submit that the Harris preferers don't really know Dumbledore. The Dumbledore described in the books is ancient but quite spry up till the 6th book, at which time he's suffered a terminal curse wound; even then, he still manages to maintain his sense of humor -- a sense of humor that was always a bit on the melodramatic and campy side. There's a moment in Prisoner of Azkaban when Dumbledore is described as having "bounded up the staircase." This is how Michael Gambon's Dumbledore behaves in the movie, and I have to say, watching how close to the end of life Richard Harris clearly was while filming the Chamber of Secrets movie, there's no way in hell he was going to be "bounding" anyplace during a third outing as the character. There are times when it feels like he can barely speak the lines in his scenes. I can't fathom him having made it through four more movies after that.

Harris gave us a regal, intimidating and vaguely mysterious Dumbledore. Gambon gives us the twinkle-eyed aging wizard of the books with the sense of humor only eclipsed by that of the Weasley twins. There are a couple of moments when he's downright ditzy or even doddering, just like he's described by his detractors in the books -- the bit in Azkaban when he pats Ron's broken leg absentmindedly while waxing rhapsodic about the wisdom of listening to children springs immediately to mind; this is a moment that the haters hate and the Gambon lovers love. And this is where the debate comes in, because the two actors play Dumbledore two very different ways. There is a camp of people whose view of Dumbledore is the view of Dumbledore Harry has in the first two books, and whose view of Dumbledore didn't change and grow with Harry's as they made their way through subsequent volumes. These are the people who claim Dumbledore is acting out of character in the 5th book, Order of the Phoenix, when he avoids contact with Harry throughout the school year, believing he is acting in Harry's best interest; but these same fans reserve the right to be angry with Harry over his (well-placed) anger at Dumbledore throughout that book.

To me, Harry learns in his journey from year one to year seven that Dumbledore is just as Percy Weasley describes him on Harry's very first night at Hogwarts: "Brilliant. The best. But a bit mad, yes." In the end, Harry accepts Dumbledore just as he is, warts and all, but it takes him a long time to get there, because in the beginning, he sees Dumbledore as a hero, infallible and worship-worthy. He doesn't see him as just a man like everyone else, with foibles and quirks and the ability to make mistakes. Gambon portrays Dumbledore as Harry's Dumbledore at any given moment. By the 6th movie, early on, we hear Harry say to Mrs. Weasley with a shrug when she asks what he's doing at the Burrow unexpectedly, "Dumbledore." Leaving unspoken what we're meant to empathize with -- "Who knows why Dumbledore does anything the way he does it? We're all just along for the ride." And this sets the narrative of the movies up neatly for what's to come in the final films -- Harry's quest to find the Horcruxes combined with his quest to understand, really and truly, Dumbledore.

My biggest problem is that I can't envision Richard Harris playing a vulnerable Dumbledore. I can't imagine him with the catch in his voice in the 6th movie when Gambon as Dumbledore says his final words: "Severus, please." And Harris was so elderly and tired-seeming in the first two films that I've never been able to imagine him visibly aging in front of Harry's eyes from movie one to movie four, when Harry first realizes just how old Dumbledore actually is. And by the same token, I can't picture Harris capable of the crackling, palpable anger Gambon carries off in his battle with Voldemort at the end of the fifth movie.

I think the thing that annoys me the most about the debate though is the whole ability of pro-Harris people to forget that Richard Harris is dead. That left precious few actors capable of fulfilling the role. Legend has it that Gandalf himself (Ian McKellan) turned the role down; since he is the only other actor the pro-Harris brigade ever cites as being able to portray the Dumbledore they envision, I think there comes a point where you just need to get over it and accept and appreciate what you've got. And what we've got is a better, more true Dumbledore. Harry's Dumbledore. JK Rowling's Dumbledore.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Review: My Dear Charlotte by Hazel Holt

Hey kids, do you like the Jane Austen? Then you will like this book. I'm not gonna say "love," although you might... I kind of did.

Hazel Holt is a British mystery writer who wanted to try something different, so she penned this novel in letters, with the assistance of Jane Austen's actual letters (small tidbits here and there). A young woman in Lyme writes to her sister (the Charlotte of the title), who has gone to Bath and London for several months with an aunt and uncle. An old woman in the neighborhood who is not well-liked by anyone passes away, apparently of a heart attack. But a doctor relation is suspicious of her death and believes she may have been murdered. Our letter writer, Elinor, assists the local magistrate in his investigations, and keeps her sister apprised of the goings-on in numerous letters. Her voice is engaging and there is a very satisfactory ending to enjoy. And it's fun to play "spot the Austen" as you read, looking for which bits of Austen's letters show up as bits of Elinor's letters.

I have this thing for books written as a series of letters. Or even emails. Or instant messages. (I'm talking about you, Meg Cabot.) I really like them. Always have. The format brings a reader inside the head of a character almost thoroughly; there are no awkward "She thought..." passages in the midst of action. And it's a fun challenge to see how the writer handles exposition. A less skilled writer might blow it, but Hazel Holt is genius at it in this book. There was only one spot where I felt like there was too much exposition, and it was two sentences near the end of the book, so I can't really hold that up as a fault.

Since this is a new book, the author wasn't bound by the same behavioral strictures as, say, Jane Austen, so she was able to inject a bit more intentional humor while still maintaining a believable early-19th Century voice. There's an ongoing very subtle funny bit about how the family's cooking isn't always quite what they'd want to expose guests to. And I can't help it -- I really love the bits where Elinor talks about her clothes. Clothes she wore, or clothes she's going to make, or what kind of material she has... it's girl-heaven.

I received this book as a birthday gift after adding it to my "list" on the recommendation of AustenBlog. I no longer trust all of their recommendations owing to an unfortunate experience (reading Mr Darcy Ruined My Life), but this one was spot on. I've finally had a chance to begin the other AustenBlog-recommended book in that same pile of birthday books, Bellfield Hall. It's another mystery set in the Regency period by another writer inspired by Jane Austen, so hopefully I'll finish it this weekend and review it soon.

Of course, I just read four more of those damn Inspector Lynley mysteries in the past two weeks. I feel like if I just finish them all, then I can move on to other things. Like the Inspector Wexford mysteries...

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I just had this conversation with an old (guy) friend from high school who recently friended me on Facebook wherein it was clear he had me confused with my older sister. I mean, he and I hung out for two years of high school, did choir and theatre together, had tons of friends in common, and even walked to and from school together on occasion, when he wasn't riding his bike. We were pretty good friends. Not close friends, but we were definitely friends. We definitely talked to each other a lot. But he asked me about my older sister, and I told him where she's at and what she's doing and what she's like these days. And he was really quite shocked to hear what she's like and made a bit of a fuss over that being so unlike her when he knew her. And then he insisted that I was always the quiet one.

The quiet one?? Me??

I don't think so.

But then I thought about it and realized that this is the second time in about two weeks that someone has described me as "quiet." The first time, it was someone who worked in the same office as me, but working for different people than I worked for -- so we weren't coworkers, but we worked together, if that makes sense. And she said "You were always so quiet in that office." And I just laughed and laughed, because none of my coworkers would say I was ever quiet, not even back then.

So that was weird. But even weirder was having this conversation with this old friend and knowing he thought I was my sister, and him asking me all these questions about my sister but really meaning me... it all got very meta in a way.

This seems to be kind of a guy thing. I've had this happen several times getting reacquainted with old friends on Facebook. Women have these weirdly photographic memories of where and when they knew you -- not all women, but in general, they do. Whereas the men... I seriously have one guy friend who didn't even remember that we went to college together in addition to high school... but he used to hang out with me at college allllll the time. It's like they remember your name, and have a vague idea of where they met you, but details... not so much. Whereas I have female friends that I haven't even seen since junior high who can tell me what my favorite shirt was in 8th grade. I have a guy friend from high school -- we were practically inseparable for three years! -- who confused me with one of my best friends and hasn't communicated with me at all ever since I gently corrected him about a year ago. Whereas my former best friend can remember who my all-time favorite drummer is (Larry Mullen Jr. from U2).

It's just... weird.

But maybe it's weirder that more than one person has accused me of being "quiet."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book Review(s): Inspector Lynley Mysteries by Elizabeth George

Here's what I've been doing for the last month:

I got a Kindle, as you may or may not have heard. And I decided that what I wanted to read first on my Kindle were the Inspector Lynley mysteries by Elizabeth George. A bunch of them have been sitting in my wish list for well over a year, following my seeing the BBC versions of some of the books on Masterpiece: Mystery! At last count, I think I've read 6 of the 13 that are available. This is what keeps me off Facebook most nights. Of course there was also The Count of Monte Cristo, but that's a subject for another post.

So I started near the end, with the book that was the last episode of the television series: With No One As Witness. This one had all my favorite things in a mystery novel: lots of dead bodies, a potential threat to the law enforcement officers involved, and a serial killer. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. The bulk of the book deals with a series of murdered young boys; eventually the investigation leads the detectives to a youth center and from there to the killer. It was pretty awesome. I really enjoyed Inspector Lynley as a written character, and Sergeant Havers is awesome. This particular volume made some ill-advised attempts to convey what happens in a police situation room; no one wants to read about people sifting through paperwork and looking shit up on a computer -- those are things for which you want to skip showing and go straight to the telling. And make it brief.

Next I read What Came Before He Shot Her. I was tricked into buying this one by Amazon, which publicizes it on their website as being a Lynley/Havers novel. Well, no. It is a novel about the kid who shot Lynley's wife in the previous book. And it is terrible. Racist, and terrible. It reads like a social services case file on a 12-year-old stuck in a housing project. If this novel had been written about an African-American kid by this white woman writer, the outcry would have been quite loud. As it is, I found this novel offensive and boring -- drugs, sex, and gang violence aren't even remotely entertaining anymore, it turns out. Which is a shame -- if you're going to offend, at least make it interesting. I stopped less than halfway through, as soon as I figured out that Inspector Lynley would not be making an appearance.

And then came Careless In Red. I enjoyed most of it -- the investigation, Inspector Lynley and the way he's mourning the deaths of his wife and unborn child, most of the peripheral characters. But the character that gives the book its title was just stupid and one-dimensional, and I found myself really irritated by her and her supposed effect on several other characters. The whole situation was poorly drawn.

Then I went back to the beginning and read A Great Deliverance, Payment in Blood, Well-Schooled in Murder, A Suitable Vengeance, For the Sake of Elena, and Missing Joseph. I really liked going back to the beginning and meeting the characters for the first time. And honestly? Elizabeth George's writing was better in the earlier books. However, four of her five main characters -- Lynley, Helen Clyde, St. James and his wife Deborah -- really need to get over themselves. No one in real life has the kind of issues they only think they have. There's nothing relatable in any of their faux-drama. They are likeable enough, but they are not relatable. It's like the writer is so enamored of all their virtue, she's made them into these paragons. Presumably they all become more human, like the 5th main character, Sgt. Havers, as the series progresses. Thank god for Sgt. Havers, ever the voice of reason and actual humanity.

But in general, the books are really great reads, and the mysteries are somewhere between a British/PD James type thing and an American-feeling faster paced crime thriller. It was time well spent.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

I am in fact still among the living.

What would it be like to be the sort of person who blogs every day? Or nearly every day. Or even, at this point, once a week? But don't worry -- I have an actual, semi-entertaining entry planned, reviewing a bunch of Inspector Lynley novels. Once I finish reading The Count of Monte Cristo. Which has somehow managed to take over my life the last several days. It's so long! And I just haven't had the kind of time I usually have to really sit down with it and read a ton all in one stretch. It's an awesome book -- I can't believe I've gotten all the way to 40 without ever having read it. But whatever -- I'm nearly finished and thus won't be deficient any longer.

And by the way? Totally different than that cheesey movie with Jim Caviezel -- which, don't get me wrong, I love wholeheartedly and will watch every single time it's on cable even though I actually own the DVD. But it should be called The Count of Monte Cristo, loosely inspired by the awesome novel of the same name. I totally picture the count with Jim Caviezel's face, but everything else in the story is pretty much... different. Yet another example of a book where I'm glad I saw the movie first, because otherwise the movie would have just angered me in all that it left out. And this is a situation where what they did instead didn't really improve upon the narrative -- the filmmakers actually just kind of made up a fan fiction ending and left it at that. Which is fine for fanfic, but not so much for movies. But I guess they just assumed that no one going to movies in 2002 had ever read the book...

Also? I'm really glad I got a Kindle and read this book on it, because the actual book is over 1200 pages long, and I have carpal tunnel syndrome something fierce, in addition to cysts on both wrists. I would have been even more miserable than I already am if I'd tried to hold that book for the 7 evenings it's taken me to read it.

Also? (And this is what I get for ever doing ANYthing on Facebook...) I posted that I was "Currently Reading" this book in my Facebook library thing, and it brought up some user reviews. And this one halfwit was going on and on about how cliched she found all the "revenge stuff." And said that "it just got really old after a while, and it's been done so many times." And I find that hysterical on so many levels, because this is actually the book that wrote the book on revenge fantasies. So if you're reading the first major work of literature to explore in depth a revenge plot, you can't call it cliched. You just can't. You have to actually put the book into context; you have to do a little work. You have to. Because otherwise, people like me will call you a halfwit. And mean it.

So yeah. I'll be back soon with an actual post, and you might even see me on Facebook again this weekend.

Friday, March 19, 2010


I guess I take back what I said about the snow. It's quite crappy out now, and I had to have a friend drive me home from work because I am a wuss when it comes to 4 inches of slush over ice on the road...

I just realized...

that my brief synopsis of District 9 makes it sound like kind of a stupid movie. And it's totally not. So you should definitely see it.

Happy Friday! In my city, everyone was bunkering down last night in the belief that we were about to get hammered by a huge spring snowstorm; I think we were all afraid it was going to be like that one time in 2003 that 4 feet of heavy, wet snow actually shut the whole urban corridor down for three full days. And let me just tell you, this city does not shut down for snow. You are expected to be at work, and be at work on time, even if there's 14 inches of snow on the ground. Once we get past the 18-inch mark, we begin discussions of leaving work early and late starts the next morning and what have you. So it takes a major, major snow event to shut this place down. And that's what the weatherpeople were hyping earlier this week, well into the evening last night -- 10 to 15 inches, probably more, blizzard-like conditions, etc. etc.

Well. Perhaps that happened somewhere, probably two hours north of here. But here, it's just snowy and wet and gray. Life goes on as usual.

Damn weatherpeople and their vicious lies.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Movie Reviews: Best Picture Showcase 2010

Me and The Husband spent this past Saturday at day two of AMC Theatres' Best Picture Showcase 2010. Our new tradition for Oscar weekend... does it count as a "tradition" if we've only in fact done it twice? Well, whatever... here are some thoughts on the 5 movies we saw (we'd seen 8 of the 10 nominees for this year's Oscars. We heart movies.):

1). Up. OMG! This movie is amazing. Funny, touching, a little bit tear-jerky, visually awesome. Our only regret was that we didn't get to see it in 3D. The couple in the movie reminded us of... us. So awesome. Can totally see why it was nominated in the Best Picture category in addition to Best Animated Feature, and was thrilled when it won Best Animated Feature. Pixar rules.

2). A Serious Man. I felt really bad for the people sitting beside us because they thought they were about to see A Single Man... totally different movie. So this was the Coen brothers, which automatically means you're about to be taken on a weird ride, and you'll laugh along the way and often be a bit puzzled, but still love the ride. And sure enough, it delivered. It's about a Jewish family in 1960s Ohio who may or may not be cursed owing to the actions of a relative back in the shtetl. It is funny in that special way that only Jewish families can deliver. The ending was rather abrupt (a tornado about to level the town and several main characters, with several plotlines seemingly unresolved), and at first I was like, WTF? But then I thought about it, and realized it was to be expected. Given the curse. Or as per The Husband's point of view, the tornado was a larger symbol of the pointlessness of believing that God actually has any kind of plan for us.

My favorite moment was a youthful rabbi who reminded us of a good friend, who will henceforth be known as Rabbi Dicker. For the rest of all time.

3). The Hurt Locker. Really well done movie about bomb diffusion experts in Iraq in 2004. I'm a fan of brutally realistic war movies, and this one certainly didn't disappoint. Its accolades are well-deserved, and I'm thrilled that Kathryn Bigelow won Best Director. What's funny is that this movie made me realize how jaded I've become about brutally realistic war movies. Someone I know had been talking about how much this movie made her "think," and I didn't really pursue it at the time, because I hadn't seen it yet. But after I did, I felt like something was wrong with me because it really didn't make me think. It was everything I expected it to be, but it didn't keep me awake at night or anything. It only confirmed for me that war is horrible and brutal and perhaps too much for young men who are practically still children to deal with, and that the stress of combat sometimes causes people to do questionable things, and become people they might not have otherwise become. I guess if anything, it just reaffirms my belief that we need to take special care of our service people, both before and after they serve in combat.

4). An Education. Ah, a beautiful British coming of age film starring the oh-so-awesome Carey Mulligan -- Oscar nomination well-deserved for her, by the way. The whole movie is just lovely and lyrical, and I loved every second of it. In the hands of lesser actors and a worse director, it could have been sugarcoated and schlocky, but instead, it's both heartbreaking and hopeful, sad and funny. It's got a happy ending, luckily, but you find yourself thinking, Yikes -- that was a near miss. It's just a gorgeous, lovely movie. And?? The Husband loved it too!

5). District 9. An alien movie that kind of sneaks up on you, it's done as a faux-documentary, which I think really works. I love that this movie got a Best Picture nod, because it could have so easily been overlooked. An allegory about apartheid (and any other method the human race has devised to marginalize large groups of other humans), the premise is that an alien spaceship broke down in the skies over Johannesburg, South Africa 20 years ago, and the alien creatures were rescued, brought down from the ship, and put into a shantytown/craphole just outside the city. They are about to be moved to a new location because the humans hate having them there -- they think of them as vermin, basically. So the man chosen to lead the mission of notifying the aliens they're about to be relocated becomes infected with alien blood and begins turning into one of the aliens. He narrowly escapes becoming a governmental science project, and assists one of the real aliens in escaping and getting the spaceship running again; this alien takes his child and says he's going to go back to his home and bring back help for the rest of the stranded aliens. Since this movie doesn't take place in space or on a spacecraft, but rather on earth as we know it, it really humanizes the situation and gives you more things to ponder than the usual alien movie.

Honestly, in our couple of years of making sure we've seen all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars air, we've come to realize that we don't envy the people that do have to make the choice. It's hard to pick a favorite out of ten really amazing movies. We had also seen Avatar, Up In the Air, and The Blind Side.

Honestly, if I had to choose, I would split my award between Up In the Air and An Education.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Book Review: Rich Again by Anna Maxted

Worst. Book. Ever.

I don't know -- I feel like I've maybe read worse, but can't think of anything off the top of my head. So Rich Again is the latest gem from Anna Maxted, a chick lit writer who I used to love but has let me down immensely before... her book Running In Heels was the one where, 200 pages in, the main character is suddenly anorexic, with no hints leading up to it. As I'm fond of saying, I should have known better. But I was taken in by the cute cover, and by the fact that I was buying a PD James mystery at the time, along with Drood and The Count of Monte Cristo (Unabridged), and knew I was going to need something light to go along with all that. So I gave Anna another chance. And let me assure you, she has failed, and thus her chances are all used up.

The book is about the fabulously wealthy Kent family of England -- the father was disgraced during the Lloyd's debacle of the early 1990s, but the stepmother had the foresight to move all of his hotel empire holdings into her own name several years before, thus ensuring the family held onto most of its fortune. There is a daughter of the father's first marriage named Claudia, and a daughter of the second marriage named Emily. Claudia is supposed to be the character we root for, because she is nice and was treated cruelly by the stepmother and has turned her back on the family to make her own way in the world as a journalist. However? Claudia is totally fucking boring. And that's why no one gives a shit about her.

And then there's Emily, who we see at age 14 on page 1, planning a huge party at her mummy's Hollywood mansion. Emily is a whore, yet still a virgin. She is a disgusting human being. She's smart, but utterly stupid at the same time. I suspect that we're supposed to have some sympathy for her, but since the writer clearly hates her, and writes every single line about her with poison positively dripping from her pen, there's no way we'll ever locate our sympathy. Late in the book, a few years down the road, Emily gets her children taken away from her by Social Services -- the whole thing supposedly engineered by the real villain. But the thing is, she totally deserved to get her kids taken away.

The dad Jack is emotionally unavailable to everyone in his life following the death of his first wife (Claudia's mother). The parts narrated in his voice just make him come off like a whiny douchebag. Like we're going to feel sorry for him. He marries Innocence, but he hates her. He's in Paris getting a hotel ready to open and falls in love with Maria, the housekeeping manager who turns out to be Claudia's birth mother. Yeah, by the way? Claudia's adopted. About 1/3 of the way through the book there's this scene that takes place in Italy somewhere and two people have just gotten married and are all swoony and happy but you're not supposed to know who these two people are. But it's TOTALLY fucking obvious that it's Jack and Maria, and that we'll eventually find out that his marriage to Innocence was never legal or some stupid shit like that.

Meanwhile, Claudia has fallen in love with an older guy at work, who turns out to be her birth father. Luckily her sister Emily figures this out before Claudia gives up her goodies, but the way Claudia goes about breaking things off with the guy is beyond ludicrous: she lets him catch her getting it from behind while bent over a desk from a slimy coworker that everyone hates, Claudia included. Instead of, oh, I don't know, telling her fiance that she's his long lost daughter, she gets all pissy about it and concocts this scenario in her head where he banged her birth mother and abandoned her, never knowing she was even pregnant. Of course we know from Maria that this scenario is far from the truth. But the record is never set straight, not in 734 pages. I hate that kind of shit.

And true to Anna Maxted's new style, I guess, on page 200 we are introduced to the real villain. Out of nowhere, we learn that Claudia's mom and Jack had adopted a baby boy named Nathan to "complete" their family, but Claudia's mom dies before the adoption is finalized and Jack, who has never bonded with the boy at all, turns him back over to family services or whatever. Because apparently in England you can't adopt a child without a mother in the home or some shit, or maybe it was just "back then." It's all very convoluted and contrived so that the author can create a villain with a vendetta against the family; what she failed to realize is that these people are all fucking assholes and "what goes around comes around" and eventually they would have screwed themselves -- she didn't need to add a real villain to get the job done.

So this kid grows up abused by the foster care system and turns into a psychopath who eventually murders his birth mother and then goes off to Hollywood and becomes this big huge Oscar-winning star, and all the while is masterminding the downfall of the entire Kent clan. We're supposed to not be sure when we meet Ethan Summers the movie star whether or not he's also Nathan the crazy psycho. But the writing is so shitty and the plot so thin that of course we know... unless we are a halfwit, I guess.

Eventually he kills Emily and somehow convinces Claudia to marry him even though the whole family hates him because they believe he's responsible for Emily's kids getting injured in his house and subsequently taken away by Social Services and placed in foster care. Sorry, but I just don't see Claudia falling for someone like him and agreeing to marry him. Also? There is a gaping plot hole where we're expected to believe he planned out the entire thing where Emily's kids get placed in foster care, but there's no way he could have possible known that Emily would end up with him and the kids be hanging around. Also, the amount of time he spent with the kids just wouldn't have happened -- he was a case study in despising other children growing up and I just don't think he would've been able to fake it that well. Not even as good an actor as he's supposed to be.

But whatever. He kills Emily, helps Claudia get the kids back, convinces her to marry him, and then moves in to kill her and the rest of the family on the wedding night. He has somehow managed to convince his former psychologist to be his personal and murdering assistant, by the way, and they manage to kidnap the kids and tie Claudia up and then the dad and stepmom come to the rescue. Except there's just no way a psychopath like this would've let everyone live as long as he does. Eventually he only kills Jack the dad as stepmother Innocence kills him and the crazy assistant. So Claudia and the children live happily ever after and she marries her old childhood friend Alfie, who she was in love with all along.

Does it sound stupid? Because it is. Better writing could have made it palatable. But I suspect Maxted was trying to write a thriller, and she doesn't have the proper skills -- mood setting, character building for many different types of people, etc. The villain character, for example, comes off like his backstory was copied rote from a sociology case file -- bad foster care, failure to bond, presto! Psycho. Which is both boring and annoying in a book.

I can't believe I spent 5 hours of my life reading this book, but since I did, I guess I can warn the rest of you not to follow suit.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Oh Crap...

My birthday is in 3 days and I haven't given much thought -- okay, ANY thought -- to what my bday resolutions are going to be for this year. And this is the year I have to come up with 40. Damn. I suppose I should also check up on how I did with last year's -- maybe the ones I didn't keep I can just use again.

So I have had Olympics hangover every day for a week, but just as I was beginning to grow a bit weary of the games, there came this weekend, during which no events that interest me were broadcast in the evenings. So I took a break. Sadly I did not take a break from television altogether, and spent the entire day today catching up on DVRed episodes of Big Love, and watching that movie Adam, which Rob got from Netflix because it's about a guy with Asperger's. I joked that they should have just called the movie "Rob" instead of Adam, but Rob functions way better than the man in the movie -- just like the at the end of the movie, Rob has been forced to be on his own and learn how to cope for a long time; he wasn't sheltered the way the man in the movie was. Unfortunately, in general the movie wasn't very well done, so it was kind of disappointing. For about half of it, I felt like I was watching an after school special called You Can Be Friends With the Asperger's Kid!

Anyway, I was going to comment that I now get raging headaches if I watch too much television. I think it's the position of our chair and sofa in relation to the television. I always have to slightly turn my head to see the screen, and it's enough to create a crick in my neck and that turns to a headache if I zone out for the whole day. Sigh. I guess that means I'm going to have to start doing something more productive on my weekends...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I don't know why I'm surprised.

I can't remember the specific Olympic games, but am recalling this morning that NBC really botched their coverage in recent years... wait, it was the 1996 summer games in Atlanta -- there were all kinds of shenanigans going on with true competition timelines and lack of coverage for many events. And so I don't know why I'm surprised that NBC completely screwed up last night's opening ceremonies for half of the United States, but they sure did.

First of all, it wasn't being aired live in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. How do you NOT air it live?? I turned on Olympics coverage at 6:30pm MST, and for two hours, they messed around, interviewing athletes, showing other stuff, nothing terribly interesting, and didn't being the coverage of the actual ceremony until nearly 8:30. At that point, the ceremony had already been going on for an hour and a half in real life, and everyone I know in the Central and Eastern time zones had been enjoying it for that long. A full hour and a half before I got to see the cauldron being lit, everyone I know in those time zones had already seen it, tweeted about it, and gone to bed. Instead of the inane messing about, NBC could have just aired their live feed here too, and messed about after.

Second of all, Bob Costas. I keep thinking that at some point he's going to get his shit together and not make an ass of himself as he commentates on yet another Olympics Opening Ceremony. But oops! He's done it again. There was a huge lack of explanation for what was going on and why; Matt Lauer would ask thought-provoking questions and Bob would just ignore them; no explanation was given of who half the people participating in the ceremony were and why they were there... it was ridiculous. And yet I know the information was out there, because I got it from the Vancouver 2010 website... which I had to do because Bob Costas is a moron. I mean, this is the SAME dude who brought us the "Beef: It's what's for dinner" comment during the SLC 2002 opening ceremony, while Aaron Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man played, so I don't know why I'm surprised, yet here I sit... surprised. At how bad it was.

And of course NBC cut actual parts of the performance out, and aired way too many commercials. Wayyyyyy too many. Which made the performance make less sense to anyone watching at home.

I bet the opening ceremony was totally awesome. I wouldn't know for sure -- I only saw part of it.

Is this what I can expect for the next two weeks -- an hour and a half delay in everything I'm watching from the evening's Olympics coverage? Fantastic.

Thanks for nothing, NBC.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Now we're going to hate on Taylor Swift? Seriously, people?

So last Sunday night at the Grammy Awards, someone sang out of key. And now the whole fucking world is going to spin off its axis! Batten down the hatches...

Look, I am 39 years old, going on 40 in a couple of short weeks. Out of my 40 years, I have seen approximately 26 or 27 Grammy Awards shows. On those shows, there have been an average of 10 live musical performances per show. Of those performances, roughly half suck. So that's 130 sucky performances in the last 26 Grammy Awards shows -- and trust me, I'm being conservative. The main sucking point is usually that the band is playing in a key far different than the lead singer is singing in. In general, it's because the quality of the talent isn't that high. But more often than not, there is an OBVIOUS issue with sound, and the singers clearly can't hear the backing music. Presumably, too, there's a lack of rehearsal time. Some of these people have a lot of other things going on. And sometimes, good bands and good singers just have an off night, on national television.

What's interesting is that, until now, no one ever calls them on it. But now we're going to hate on Taylor Swift. Because she sang poorly during a duet with Stevie Nicks. Who is apparently a perfect goddess who has never sung out of key a day in her life (10 years of cocaine abuse notwithstanding, apparently Stevie Nicks is so magical that she was a perfect performer throughout).

I have news for you, people: Stevie Nicks was ALSO out of key during the very same Grammy Awards performance. Her voice is definitely not what it once was, and she was struggling. Also? The Black Eyed Peas were out of key. And we've seen them in concert, and they were freaking awesome, and totally not out of key. And yet no one is going on about how crappy Fergie is for singing out of key on one night. Also? Green Day. Not quite in tune. But I guess they get a pass because it's totally punk rock to not be in tune.

What disgusts me though is the overall tone of the picking on Taylor Swift. This tone of she's only won all her awards because people felt sorry for her after the whole Kanye West incident.

Um, no. Just because some of you were living under a rock and didn't notice that she had the biggest selling album of 2009, or the biggest video of the year (Single Ladies dances moves notwithstanding), doesn't mean that it didn't happen. Just because you failed to notice doesn't mean that Taylor Swift hasn't connected and touched a nerve with a massive audience. And THAT is how you win awards. Awards don't go to the best technical singer, or the band with the most proficient drummer, or the guitarist with the most amazing and original riffs. Awards go -- and have always gone -- to the people who lead the music industry at any given time. And whether you like it or not, Taylor Swift is currently leading the music industry. It would have been shameful NOT to give her all the awards she's been getting, and trust me -- people would have bitched about that instead.

She's not a powerhouse singer. She isn't a Beyonce or a Jennifer Hudson. Never has been. Her thing is music and lyrics. Her voice is more akin to the pop singer-songwriters, like Ingrid Michaelson or Sara Bareilles (ew) or Norah Jones. Since her thing is country, it is easy to forget this, and to assume, having never heard her sing before, that she's going to come over all Faith Hill or Martina McBride (who, incidentally, has sung out key, in public, on national television, on more than one occasion). But that's not who she is.

When you listen to her songs, if you really know how to listen, you'll hear that the backing vocals are always from bigger voices than hers. Hers is the smaller voice out front. She's never belting out giant notes. She's just sharing her thoughts and strumming her guitar. If anything, she's the victim of the overproduction that characterizes today's mainstream country music.

With the popularity of American Idol, suddenly everyone thinks they know some shit about music and singing and what it's like to do it and what it's supposed to sound like. Even NPR has entered this debate about Taylor Swift. Personally, I think NPR has better things to do with their time, but whatever.

Consider this: She already knows she's not the very best singer in that room. She's 20 years old, and still nervous about how people she admires perceive her. She also suffered the embarrassment of the Kanye incident -- sure, he did a douchebaggy thing but what if he was just saying what a bunch of other people were thinking? And she's singing with a legend, Stevie Nicks, someone who gets a free pass because she's been so admired for so long. And to top it all off, the sound quality onstage isn't great, and she can't hear a damn thing.

You'd sing off key too.

Yes you would.

But in the end, Taylor Swift is a nicer person than probably 80% of the people slagging her off. She has more going for her. She has millions of fans who believe in her. She writes awesome songs. She isn't some mental case wannabe prostitute who's going to have a nervous breakdown in the middle of Sunset Boulevard 8 years from now. She has grace and style, something most people know nothing about (see: aftermath of Kanye incident, where she refused to indulge in name-calling or the vilifying of Kanye). She doesn't really need your approval.

If you don't like her, fine. Get over it.

But for fuck's sake. Don't pretend you actually know anything about music. You'll only hurt yourself.