Archive for January, 2009

Read Coraline before you see it!

This is exciting!  I know you’ve seen the ads and you’ve been curious, but if you’re on the fence about whether you want to go see Coraline in movie theaters, why don’t you read the book first?

And to make it even easier, HarperCollins is actually presenting the book free online, so you can do just that!

Click to read!

Click to read!

I think I’m going to take advantage of this myself.  Coraline is about a young girl who finds a passage into another house that’s very like her own – only better.  At least, it’s better at first—then the darker side starts to reveal itself.  Coraline is written by Neil Gaiman, who if you didn’t know already from his extensive work, you might have heard of in relation to his last book-turned-movie, Stardust—which I’ve read in its original graphic novel form.  Very different from the movie, but a very interesting read.  Gaiman just won the Newbury Medal for The Graveyard Book, about a boy who’s the only living inhabitant in a graveyard, raised by ghosts, no less!  Gaiman definitely has a fascinating – and somewhat twisted – mind, but his stuff is more than worth a look.

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The pen behind it

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Since “Inspiration” is (or should) the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?

I admit, I have a heart for the expansive.  Minimalist literature certainly has its place, but that place tends to not be on my bookshelf—or if it is, not on my nightstand for easy reaching.  “Expansive” can mean any number of things, though, from depth of character to richness of language, to bigness of emotion, to a whole new world.

This is why I’m so drawn to young adult and fantasy, because young adult novels are full of big, overwhelming feelings, and fantasy always has something new and mystical and wonderful about it that makes me feel as if I’m in an altogether other place.

This is also what draws me to classics, though, because there is a richness in language in the classics, along with this feeling that you get when you read them, when you know that when this was being written, it was new, it was fresh.  Someone actually wrote these words.  Once upon a time, Jane Austen and William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens and whoever else you will, actually sat down and pulled these words out of the air and set them down on paper, and there they have lasted for centuries.

That’s what my reading is inspired by.  The people who write it.

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Form and face

I don’t really tend to think of myself as having a ‘type’ when it comes to men.  Sure I say tall, dark and handsome, but anything is tall next to my five feet.  Besides, blondes aren’t bad all the time, and it’s a matter of fact that I have a lifelong crush on redheads.

Still… there are some basic figures that stick in my head, and I don’t even fully realize it.

Take, for example, Eric Dane:

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Mr. Dane is quite possibly the prettiest male speciman on television at the moment.  Ever since we first saw McSteamy on Grey’s, though, he reminded me of someone, and I just couldn’t figure out who.  And no, I don’t mean the other Dr. Mark Sloan, though I have always wondered if Shonda named him after the Dick Van Dyke character.

There was just something in those chiseled features, that sparkle in his eye—oh, the sparkle in his eye—his overall slim but very well taken care of physique.  It all reminded me very much of someone, but I could never put my finger on a name.newmarj1

Until tonight.  I happened to come across Turner Classic Movies‘ presentation of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers tonight, which was one of my absolute favorite films to watch as a kid, and not long after I settled in to watch—there he was.  Benjamin Pontipee.

Benjamin was the second oldest of the Pontipee brothers (of course, if you recall the alphabetic names) and here he is with the breathtakingly beautiful Julie Newmar.  Benjamin about ties with Russ Tamblyn’s Gideon as my favorite, so far as the younger brothers go—Howard Keel, of course, is in a category unto himself.

In reality, he was Jeff Richards, apparently a baseball player before his short-lived acting career.  I’ve never seen him as anything other than Benjamin Pontipee, but he and Julie Newmar certainly made an impression on me so far as physical beauty go.  Eric Dane might not quite look like him, but they have a very similar physique, and way of holding themselves, not to mention that quirk of a smile, and again, something in the eyes.

In any case, I’ve solved the puzzle for myself.  I can’t begin to describe how much I enjoyed watching that old musical.  Back when they hired people who could sing to sing, and people who could dance, to dance.  And what dancing!  The musical is coming back nowadays, albeit a little slowly, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the kind of choreography they used to have.  And that’s okay.  But I’ll never regret having seen the way musicals used to be.

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Technical difficulties and an unveiling

The wireless adapter on my PC threw a hissy fit yesterday morning, and after a long battle with trying to get the software to re-install/recognize the device which involved more computer tech-y stuff than I’ve done in all my months since graduating college… well, it still doesn’t work.  I think it must be the adapter itself.  It has a lifetime warranty, if what I read on the website is right, so hopefully that’ll be easy to deal with.  But if I’m offline the next few days, that’s why.  That was just the beginning of a very long day yesterday.

Meanwhile!  I haven’t made much noise about it yet, but I’ve started updating Wren & Marnie’s Guide to World Domination.  This is an ongoing epistolary free read I’ll be working on, about Wren Sterling and Marnie Jacoby, two friends trying to hold themselves—and their friendship—together, now that they’re in their first year of separate colleges.  I’ll be updating on Mondays and Wednesdays as best as I can.

We’re just in the starting phase right now, but I’m looking forward to this.  These are two great, quirky characters that I’m excited to be working with.

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The Westing Game

Book #2 of 2009 – The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I read this book first when I was in elementary school, and then again in middle school, both thanks to school libraries at their various times.  A couple years back I decided I really wanted a copy of my own, and another read through it, but it took me until late last year to actually get it into my hot little hands.

The basic set-up is that sixteen people are gathered together together and told that they are heirs of paper-product mogul Sam Westing.  But not only heirs, they’re also suspects!  One of them has taken Westing’s life, and the one who wins the game, wins the inheritance.

If you’ve never read this book, you really must.  It’s generally labeled as a mystery, but really the story is one big puzzle, reading like a fantastic game of chess complete with fascinating characters and a lot of humor and heart.  It’s a children’s novel, but every bit as entertaining to me now as it was when I first read it at the age of ten.

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Got a favorite character?

From a tip from shinyshiny (thanks Julie!)

Everyone loves a little drawing, right?  Justine at Elevenses has posted a little competition at her blog, and all you have to do to enter is leave a comment with your favorite literary character.

Tell her Lisa (tiemeinbows) sent you!

And if you’re not interested in the knitterly-related prizes, I might be willing to take them. 😉

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Mansfield Park

Book #1 of 2009 – Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

I went into this book expecting not to care for it much.  I’d read half of it before for a college course, but I’d entered the class late and was behind on the reading, so I never finished it, and what I had read had all been done in a very overview kind of way.  All I really gleaned from it was how unhappy Fanny was as a child, and how selflessly she loved Edmund, who may or may not have deserved it.

Now that I’ve finished it “for real,” as it feels, I don’t know how much extra wisdom I can add, but since I’ve already made my case for Henry Crawford, I thought it only fair I let Edmund Bertram have his moment.

As much as I have a soft spot for him (thanks in large to Jonny Lee Miller) I found it hard to believe that the end of the book would convince me that Edmund really loved Fanny in the way she would have liked him to love her, when even through the penultimate chapter he is talking and sighing over the sparkling eyes of Mary Crawford, who he so fully loved, or at the very least believed himself to love.  Anything else could only be settling, right?

But I’m not so sure.  Once his eyes are opened to her true nature, he realizes that he’s been in love with something built out of his own imagination, not Miss Crawford herself, and as much as I was expecting to, I can’t fault him for that.  After all, Edmund has lived a fairly sheltered life, both thanks to his father’s severities and also thanks to his own nature.  His brother Tom, in comparison, who has lived a bit more loosely (to understate it), is never particularly struck with Mary.  Edmund, on the other hand, has very little experience with such worldly women, and he can’t help but be blindsided.  If we take Edmund at his word, and believe that he didn’t really love Mary Crawford as much as the Mary Crawford he imagined, it’s not too much of a stretch for him to then realize the woman who has always stood by him, counseled with him, and done her best to make him happy.

Still, I don’t know that if the Crawfords hadn’t come into their lives, if Edmund and Fanny ever would have found each other, romantically.  It took Mary to make Edmund want to love, and Henry’s attention to make Fanny believe that she could be loved.  If the Crawfords had never broken up the tranquility of Mansfield Park, it might never have changed.  Edmund and Fanny each in their own way are so good that they had to have been taken by force to move them to action, and ultimately to each other.

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Top Reads of 2008

All in all, 2008 wasn’t the most inspiring book-reading year I’ve ever had, busy though it was. These were (in no particular order) my favorite non-rereads, though, and I can’t recommend them highly enough:

Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull

Best book in the Fablehaven series yet, with the worst title, and worst cover. But this series continues to completely satisfy every Children’s fantasy leanings I could have, without it reading too young, which is a huge bonus.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Okay, the woman is insane and I freely grant that. And the first ten chapters of this are still crap. But the rest of it was weirdly addictive, and not in the why-did-I-just-read-that way that Twilight is. If there was a sequel, I’d read it. (Oh let’s be honest here, if there was another Twilight book, I’d probably read that too.)

The Life Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty.

Fun, with a completely wonderfully neurotic main character, and a storyline that kept me guessing right up to the explanation, which is really how it always is. Moriarty is fantastic with handling different POV’s and manipulating the narrative by how accurate or trustworthy their accounts are, which I love.

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Possibly my favorite because I wasn’t expecting it to like it at all, and it turned out to be utterly fantastic. A fantastic homage entirely flipped on its head. I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Somehow I’d only read halfway through this book before, so this read through was very nice in that I was able to pick up on some things that I’d assumed from the films and gotten wrong. I will ever be a fan of Colonel Brandon, even if his and Marianne’s love is a little brushed together at the end.

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Simply Dido

One of my Christmas presents this year was Dido’s latest album, Safe Trip Home, and I was happy to receive it.  Listening to it the last couple of weeks, made me want to write up a little bit of a tribute to her, my love story with Dido, I suppose you could call it.

I have a sort of inborn tendency to resist new music.  Or, not resist it so much as to just put off investing in a full album by an artist I’m unfamiliar with.  It’s Nietzsche’s premise that “one can never hear new music well,” or some variation of it.  Also, for me to listen to a new album, I need an uninterrupted sphere of time, so that I can absorb the sound a bit, and that can be hard for me to come by.  So, naturally, I really could have known Dido a bit longer than I have.

My first introduction to her was that her song “Here With Me” from the album No Angel was the theme song for the TV show Roswell, which I was more than addicted to as a teen.  I loved the song itself, but when my older brother—who worked at the now defunct Sam Goody’s at the time—mentioned he had the advance copy of the CD… I treated it as an “oh that’s nice.”  I was still a song-by-song music listener, and I probably couldn’t have named you full album titles of more than a very small handful of artists.

Dido was in fact one of the first to change that.  I finally took my brother up on the offer of borrowing the CD, and being the emo, romantic-tendency-filled teenager that I was… well, it was love, sure and fast.

(Roswell introduced me to a lot of fantastic music, as it happens.  I’d recommend checking out the DVD’s for that single purpose, except for the fact that by a cruel trick of fate tight-fistedness—named Jason Katims—most of the more exceptional music didn’t make it onto the DVD’s.  Do look it up on Hulu or the like, though!)

Ahem.  Dido’s dare I say soulful, ephemeral voice, matched up with songs that were by turn despondent (“Isobel,” “Honestly OK”), self-satisfied (“I’m No Angel,” “Thank You”) and cleverly caustic (“Hunter,” “Don’t Think of Me”), there was always something in the album that drew me back to it, and I was listening to No Angel Advance a good long while—months, if not a whole year—before I got over that “honeymoon phase” with the album of wanting to hear it again and again and again.  It was, in fact, the very first burned CD I ever had.  My brother made a copy for me, and I was delighted.  I would sit listening to the music, reading the liner notes about how she stole a recorder as a kid and finagled her way into music school, wondered at the number of instruments she could play, figured out (back when it was a sort-of-secret) that her last name must be Armstrong because R. had to be her brother, right?  And tried to understand the half-whispered backtracks to some of the songs.  “When I was a child I used to dream about things… my mother had, a house, a family… and… I used to think that dreams would come true…”

And then… came ” Stan.”  A track that I admit I still haven’t heard all the way through.  Eminem does a little sampling and suddenly, kaboom!  Everyone knows who Dido is.  Or at least, they’ve heard “Thank You” so many times on the radio that it’s gotten nauseating.  Sigh.

It was on the downward slope of all this that Life For Rent came out, and then again we had the radio single, “White Flag,” which was fantastic… but again, overplayed.  It put me off the album as a whole for a while.  Admittedly after I had a mini-obsession over the song myself.  What?  I was still a teenager, and like so many I adopted “White Flag” as an anthem towards an obviously dead relationship.  (A sentiment I’m glad to say is long over.)

My sister bought Life For Rent, though, and so I borrowed it.  I wasn’t very enamored with the first three tracks (“White Flag” which of course I’d heard, “Stoned” and the title song) but then… oh, a jewel.  “Mary’s in India.”  A definite story-song with a delicious twist at the end (sort of a softer, more justifiable version of Rilo Kiley’s “Does He Love You?”).  And there were intermittent other jewels as well, “See You When You’re 40,” a definite “I’m done with you” song, and my favorite, “Sand in My Shoes,” which is the complete opposite.   The final song and the hidden track (which my sister, after owning the album for months, had never heard, amazingly) are wonderful, too.

But for a while Dido became sort of synonymous with “whiny British girl singer,” at least here.  Personally I could never pretend indifference for long, though.  The truth was, she was a gateway drug for me to many, many other interesting types of female artists—Emiliana Torrini, Imogen Heap, Regina Spektor, just to name a few.

And in retrospect, I’m glad that it takes the woman so long to record an album, because now that Safe Trip Home is out, she’s almost fallen off of the popular radar.  I’ve heard “Look No Further” on the radio, but not ad nauseum, really only once or twice, and I’ve seen no big hullabaloo made about the album itself, which wasn’t entirely true about Life For Rent.   Not that I’ve been looking for it, either, but still.

The CD as a whole is still fairly new to me, and I don’t have a formed opinion on every song as yet, but it’s a very easy album to listen.  Not as hard as No Angel, but that’s understandable, considering it’s a decade later in her life.  There’s a melancholy to the album, but it’s not a hopeless or extreme one, and the song “The Day Before the Day,” about her father’s death, is very subtle and all the better for it.  This album feels as if Dido, who I’ve loved in her many forms, has come into her own, as weak and cliché as those words might be.  Nothing here is trying to be pop, or trying to be anything, it’s simply Dido, and it’s very good.

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50 48 books in 2008

Okay, so here’s what I managed to read in 2008. I didn’t quite hit my 50 mark, but I got close!

Bold means it was my first read of that book, * means it was my first read of that author, then a rating of 1-5 + signs.

So there’s my year in review. 48 books by 20 authors, including eight different series or parts of series, with 29 new reads and 19 rereads. My scope was a little small this year, so hopefully that’ll be changed next year, but all in all it was a fairly good reading year for me. Looking forward to what I’ll read in 2009!

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