Monday, October 29, 2012

"From the Dust Returned" by Ray Bradbury

I've been meaning to read a Ray Bradbury book ever since he died earlier this year, and I finally did.  I quite enjoyed this volume of quiet, spooky stories well-suited to Halloween.  You can read my full review here on the Novel Book Ratings blog.

Particularly Good Bits:

"I have no name," he whispered.  "A thousand fogs have visited my family plot.  A thousand rains have drenched my tombstone.  The chisel marks were erased by mist and water and sun.  My name has vanished with the flowers and the grass and the marble dust." (page 96)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Snow White and the Huntsman" (2012) -- Initial Thoughts

Fortunately, I didn't have a lot of hopes for this movie.  Which means I wasn't terribly disappointed by it, which I would have been if I'd been expecting it to be good.  Um, yeah.  I'm usually the Happy Movie Watcher, right?  I like nearly everything.  And I'm not saying I hated this movie, because I didn't.  I just thought it was terribly flawed.  And I'm reeeeeeeeeeally glad I decided to re-see The Avengers in the theater instead of seeing this, as I would have come out pretty angry with myself if I'd decided the other way around.

So what went wrong with this movie?  A lot of things, though I need to make very clear that Chris Hemsworth is not one of them.  I'll talk more about him in a minute.  A lot more, I'm sure.  But let's start with the plot.  Got your basic Snow White thing at the core, with her daddy, the king, remarrying and then dying.  The new queen, Ravenna (Charlize Theron) imprisons Snow White (Kristen Stewart) then and there, and the little girl grows up into a young woman.  While imprisoned, Snow White somehow learned to swim, ride a horse, and develop the stamina to run up a LOT of stairs while wearing a suit of armor -- how is beyond me.  This plot has logic problems, as you can see.  The story also sort of lurched from one Event to the next, with few smooth transitions and sometimes no seeming reason.  Here is where we go next, don't ask why.  This could be because it has three screenwriters, and it felt a lot like there was one who was a bit Lord of the Rings fan, one who was a big Avatar (2009) fan, and one who loved little '80s fantasy movies like Willow (1988) and LadyHawke (1985) and Legend (1985) and kept wanting to throw references to those in.  And someone involved may be a big fan of hallucinogenic drugs, both as plot points and as inspiration for the look of several of the scenes and locations.

So, you've got this hodge-podge of a plot that doesn't always make sense AND a weird mix of looks for different scenes.  That's mostly what I didn't like about the movie, so let's move on to what I liked okay (or a lot):  the cast/characters.

There are three characters who are Really Important:  Snow White, Ravenna (aka The Evil Queen), and The Huntsman.  I'll save the best for last ;-)  Kristen Stewart plays Snow White, and since I'm not a Twihard, I've never seen her in anything other than a magazine before.  I was pleasantly surprised -- she didn't annoy me!  She didn't interest me much, either, but at least I wasn't annoyed.  Not even by the fact that her main facial expression seems to convey nothing so much as severe intestinal distress.

As you can tell by the armor, there comes a point when Snow White goes to war.  I really appreciated that she didn't turn out to be this magically wonderful warrior chick.  She's not a Shield Maiden of Rohan, after all, she's an orphan who's been locked in a castle tower for at least a decade.  The Huntsman did give her a 30-second lesson on how to stab someone up close, but she doesn't get a training montage where someone explains the finer points of swordplay.  So when she gets into a battle, she kind of just runs away whenever possible, smacks a few people with her shield or sword in a haphazard way, and generally manages about as well as I probably would have.  That was nicely done, I thought.

So anyway, then there's Charlize Theron as Ravenna.  I've seen her in a handful of things, and she strikes me as a pretty talented actress, not to mention a gutsy one.  But here, she does a lot of vamping and glowering and pouting.  And not much else.  She gets some fruitily cool costumes, though.

At one point, she takes what I think is supposed to be a milk bath (showing that she's a terrible person, cuz the people outside are starving).

I'm not sure it's a milk bath, though, because when she comes back out, it looks more like she's been dipped in glue.

Um, yeah.  Weird.

But then there's The Huntsman.  And while the mere fact that he's played by Chris Hemsworth would probably be enough to make me interested in him, it's like this character was written specifically for (or by) me.  He's sad.  He broods.  He's incredibly talented at the manly arts of brawling, riding a horse, and being dirty.  He definitely needs a hug.

There's a scene where he actually made me cry.  I was just complaining to a friend that I wanted him to do a movie where he got to show off his acting chops a bit more, and to my surprise, this turns out to be such a movie!  In fact, he puts in a performance that convinced me I wouldn't mind seeing this movie again some day.  Especially if I could just fast-forward to his scenes.

So, in the end, not a very good movie.  On the other hand, it has little gore, little bad language, no sex scenes, and that's all too rare these days. So if you don't care about things making sense and like fantasy, you'd probably dig this.

At last!

I got Laurie R. King's new Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery, A Garment of Shadows, from the library this morning!  Started reading as soon as I got in the car, and was very annoyed that we got home so quickly.

I'd write more, but I want to go read :-D

Monday, October 22, 2012

Early Christmas for Me

I got an early Christmas present in the mail this weekend:  two Christmas albums by the Piano Guys musicians, Jon Schmidt and Steven Sharp Nelson.  Because Cowboy doesn't like listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving (he says he's keeping me honest, or some such fiddle-faddle), I only listened to one song from each of them when they arrived, to make sure they're not defective.  You can buy these as CDs or mp3 albums here on their website.

Here's the song I listened to off Steven Sharp Nelson's album, just in case you're in a clandestine Christmas mood too:

"The Carol of the Bells" has been one of my absolute favorite Christmas songs since I was eleven.  It's featured in the McGee & Me movie 'Twas the Fight Before Christmas, which I first saw at my best friend Christy's birthday party, and which is still my favorite McGee & Me movie.  It's originally a Ukrainian song, and I got to sing it in Ukraine with my future in-laws when Cowboy and I spent Christmas there when we were dating :-D

I also got a wristband, which turns out to be a fabulous teething toy!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Steal Like an Artist" by Austin Kleon

This is a quirky, fun, inspiring little book.  I'm going to try to remember to read it whenever my muses are absent, my creative well has run dry, and I'm convinced I'll never write another coherent sentence -- much less an interesting one -- ever again.  It's a very quick read, with more than half of the 150ish pages containing very little text.  You could read it in one sitting, unless you have three small children.  Then it will probably take you a couple days, like it did me.

The subtitle of the book is "10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative," though I have to admit I'd read some of his tips elsewhere.  The main idea is that, like the writer of Ecclesiastes told us so long ago, there is nothing new under the sun.  Everyone is just reworking the same ideas in their own way.  And so Kleon suggests that you do things like make lists of who inspires you, then find ways to combine the ideas they give you into some new projects of your own.

My favorite section is Chapter 3:  Write the Book You Want to Read.  It's very short, but it made me go, "Okay, yeah, I'm going to pay no attention to what's cool in fiction right now, I'm going to write the book I want to read."  Which is a western, because I love westerns, and who cares if they're what people are into right now, they're what I'm into, and I'm the one putting in all the work.  So there :-)

Anyway, you can buy this book for under $10.  If you want to know a bit more about it, go to the author's site here.  I totally recommend this book not just for writers, but for anyone doing creative work who needs a little boost now and then.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Three Charming Blogs

Today I'm going to natter on a bit about three blogs I've been reading for a while now.  They're all written by teens, intriguingly, and all three informative and thought-provoking.  I'm posting about them in the order I started reading them, because they have to go in some sort of order, and as I don't like one better than the other, chronological it is.

Classic Forever is written by Millie, who's now in college, though when I started reading this blog, she was in high school.  This blog is primarily about classic movies and TV shows, and the actors and actresses who star in them.  Millie is also a Bobby Darin fan, which will forever endear her -- and this blog -- to me.  She writes with such enthusiasm and joy that I can't help but want to watch whatever movie or show she's glowing about.

Lit Lovers & Corset Laces is written by Ari, a high school student with some astoundingly deep insights into the books she devours.  We share a love of Jane Eyre and Jane Austen, which is how she found my blog and I found hers.  I wish my own book reviews were half so detailed as hers.  She also likes to watch movie versions of classic books and blog about what she thinks they got right, and what she thinks they got oh-so-very wrong.

Austenitis is written by Charity, a home schooled teen who, obviously, is also a Jane Austen afficianado.  She blogs about old and new books and movies, so kind of a mix of the other two blogs.  I've only been reading her blog for a couple months, and at first, I thought she was at least my age, if not older!  Finally got around to reading her bio one day and discovered that, nope, she's actually an articulate young woman.  I love that she does ratings for the books and movies she reviews, and also clues me in to any objectionable content.  Of the three, Charity reminds me most of a slightly younger me :-)

Thank you, Millie, Ari, and Charity, for providing me with so many hours of entertainment and enlightenment!  I look forward to reading many more of your posts for a long time to come.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

"Jane Austen Made Me Do It" edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

A couple months ago, I started reading a blog called AustenProse, written by Laurel Ann Nattress.  As you might imagine from the title, a lot of the posts have to do with Jane Austen, and they're intelligent and informative, not to mention enjoyable, which is why I "followed" it after reading about three posts.  Last month, Ms. Nattress held a series of giveaways for this book, which she edited.  I was quite excited, as I'd already read a review of this book that made me want to read it, but I hadn't managed to get it from the library yet.  So I entered a couple of the giveaway drawings, and I won one!  How could this story end even more perfectly?  My copy (autographed, I might add, by Ms. Nattress) arrived just in time for me take it on our vacation.

I'm so glad it did, because these short stories provided a welcome break from the other two books I had along, a series of literary analyses of famous novels written by women and a history of the U.S. Marshals.  A little Austenian fiction was a treat between doses of the other two books.

Like every anthology of this sort, some of the stories pleased me more than others.  There are purely romantic stories, humorous stories, adventurous stories.  There are additional scenes for Austen's own books.  There are several ghost stories, two epistolary tales, and one dream.  Most of the stories take place either in the present or in Austen's own time, but one takes place in the 1960s.  You can go here for a complete list of the stories and a synopsis of each.  I'll just highlight a few I especially like.

"The Chase" by Carrie Bebris.  Hands-down my favorite story!  It chronicles an actual adventure of Jane Austen's brother, Frank, while he's captaining the H.M.S. Petterel and engaging Napoleon's naval forces.  It made me want to dust off my Patrick O'Brian books and Horatio Hornblower movies.

"When Only a Darcy Will Do" by Beth Patillo.  A university student tries to earn a bit of money leading her own tours of London's Jane Austen sites.  She encounters a man dressed in period clothes and calling himself Mr. Darcy, and her life will never be the same.  If all romance novels were like this story, I would read them.

"What Would Austen Do?" by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway.  A bored fifteen-year-old boy mistakenly signs up to learn how to dance Jane Austen-era dances.  He ends up meeting a girl, reading Austen's novels, and learning how to cope better with high school.  The notes at the end say the authors are considering expanding this into a novel, and I hope they do, because I want to read it.

"Nothing Less Than Fairy-land" by Monica Fairview.  Emma and George Knightley return from their honeymoon and begin moving his things into Hartfield, but Mr. Woodhouse makes it as difficult as you might imagine.  Emma comes up with a suitable and logical solution.  I probably liked this especially well because I finished reading Emma so recently, and because it gives a happy ending to a character I've always felt sorry for.

"Mr. Bennet Meets His Match" by Amanda Grange.  Mr. Bennet reminisces about his youth and why marrying Miss Jane Gardiner seemed like a good idea at the time.  Because I spent a great chunk of Pride and Prejudice wondering why on earth he married her, I found this story the most satisfying of all the new-scene stories.

Just like when I read A Study in Sherlock earlier this year, I'm inspired to seek out the works of several of these new-to-me authors and see how I like their other stories.  And because Stephanie Barron has a story included here ("Jane and the Gentleman Rogue"), I'm eager to read another of her Jane Austen Mysteries too.