Monday, August 23, 2010
The novel is written as a diary by Mary Dodd who was committed to an insane asylum by her parents because she had two children out of wedlock. When she is given the chance to leave the asylum and start a new life as a bride to a "savage", she jumps at the opportunity. The women who also took the government up on their offer include an impoverished Southern belle, two Irish criminals, a prude, a freed slave and many more. None of them know what to expect from their new lives and many are terrified when they meet their betrothed. Yet, being wed to a "savage" is not the hardest thing these women will have to overcome.
First of all, the reviews for this book are harshly divided. People either absolutely loved it and would include it on their list of books they would take to a deserted island. While others wish it could be part of a book burning party. However, I have to say that I am somewhere in between. This is far from a favorite for me and I would have to say that I am a bit leery about recommending it to my friends because I think they would find the characters to be shallow, the plot to be insipid, and the overall message to be muddled. Still, that's no reason to get out your lighter fluid. The way I would describe this novel is a western for women filled with the adventure of a John Wayne movie and just about equal in character development.
With such a diverse cast of characters I thought I would find one that was intriguing. But alas...they were nothing but cliches and offensive ones at that. I wasn't as repulsed by the characters as some other reviewers but I didn't find them in any way enlightening. I think that it would make a great book club book (and it has) because people are so divided and feel passionately about it.
Lastly, what made me actually dislike the book had nothing to do with the novel itself but all to do with the author. After reading the novel, I looked at some of the reviews on Amazon.com and found that almost every review that gave Fergus 1 star was subject to aggressive comments by Fergus himself. Though I believe authors should be allowed to defend their work, I also think that discourse and negative reviews do not deter readers but instead inspire people to read a novel that could create such reactions (cough cough...Twilight...). Unfortunately, Fergus has muddied the waters with his own comments. This has only further alienated readers who didn't like his novel and I am almost certain that they will never read another one of his novels and might even bad-mouth him to others.
Christopher Plummer plays Leo Tolstoy who is at the end of his life and at odds with himself, the ideologies that he created, his family, and followers. Helen Mirren pulls out an exceptional performance as Tolstoy's wife, former muse, confidante, and eventual nemesis. However, this movie is not just about the dissolution of a marriage (though that is certainly an excellent piece). It's also about Tolstoy's legacy and those who will fight tooth and nail to preserve it even if it means casting aside his wife. James McAvoy is called in to be a secretary to Tolstoy. Yet it soon becomes clear that he was actually hired to be a spy for Tolstoy's aid who is trying to change the writer's will so that Tolstoy's wife will receive none of the royalties to her husband's own works. As it becomes clear that Tolstoy is in his last days, those around him scramble to secure their needs before the great artist is laid to rest.
It was only when the credits finally rolled that I realized I hadn't breathed in over two hours. Each scene was magnificent in every possible way from the acting to the cinematography. The script was so tight that I don't think I could find a single loose end to complain about. Mirren's portrayal of Tolstoy's jilted wife was filled with such complexity that I found myself in total awe of her performance. McAvoy's character development was to be believed! His ability to go from a naive writer who worshiped the master Tolstoy to a realistic and forgiving man who acknowledged his heroes faults and successes was brilliantly nuanced. Of course the film would have been quite different had Plummer not made such a remarkable performance. He allowed the contradictions within Tolstoy's character to truly show without making him appear insincere or fickle. Truly an excellent film and one that I hope will last for years to come!
The film follows Kate and Steve Jones as they move into a new town with "their children" Jen and Mick. The family assimilates easily into the upper class neighborhood and they instantly make friends. Well, perhaps friends is to strong a word for Kate, Steve, Jen, and Mick are not a real family. It is quickly revealed to the viewer that they are in fact a "unit" or "cell" that moves into a neighborhood to hawk luxury merchandise to their "friends" (or rather the people around them). Jen and Mick play the part of the popular high school students who everyone wants to be like while their "parents" play the couple that everyone loves and admires. Together the unit's sales skyrocket until things take a more sinister turn and their wheeling and dealing finally catches up with them.
I thought that the acting was wonderful. There were times that the script seemed a bit fluffy but overall the film was very affective. I found the concept enthralling and though I think that were some ways to make the film better it still held my attention and exposed how keeping up with the Joneses is detrimental to all involved. Certainly worth a viewing!
Monday, August 16, 2010
The book starts with Bryson getting the idea that he should walk the Appalachian Trail as a way to reacquaint himself with his homeland. For twenty years, he had lived with his wife and four children in England. In 1995, they all moved back to the states and settled in New Hampshire (Bryson and his family have since moved BACK to the UK). Always an avid lover of nature but never much of a hiker, Bryson decides he'll hike from the southern most spot on the AT (Appalachian Trail) to Mount Katahdin in Maine. As is usual with Bryson, he reads all about the subject and focuses a great deal on bear stories, deaths out on the trail, and the sordid history of the trail itself. He spends copious amounts of money on his gear and plans out an extremely optimistic hiking schedule. As the date gets closer, he worries about doing the journey on his own until his old childhood friend from Des Moines, Iowa calls and asks if he can come along. The two were hiking buddies years before and the experience had almost ruined their friendship, however, Bryson jumps at the thought of having company. Bryson chronicles their hiking and adds in chapters on the history of the trail, the history of the National Parks Service, even the history of some of the towns that they stop in. He really does a thorough job and in until 300 pages, it flies by!
I have to say that I learned much more in this book than I ever thought possible. When the historic chapters came up, I often thought about skipping them but found myself just as engrossed as I was in the chapters detailing Katz and Bryson's odd couple-esque hiking trip. Bryson's reflections on the importance and significance of the AT in his life as well as in that of America is extremely well articulated. I have to say that it's the complete package! Bryson's humor always makes me chuckle but this book proves that he can also handle serious matters with great insight and understanding. It's excellent as far as I am concerned and certainly a read that anyone can enjoy (and how often can you say that about a book?!)
Thursday, August 12, 2010
The Runaways tells the story of the girl rock band from the 1970s of the same name. Of course it touches upon the turbulent friendship between Joan Jett and Cherie Currie as well as the relationship between the group and Kim Fowley. Like most movies based on a true story, there isn't much plot to describe. However, the movie raises a lot of issues that are perfect for discussion.
First of all, I must say that this is the best role Kristen Stewart has ever had. I can honestly say that it was wonderful to see her in this movie. I was not as impressed with Dakota Fanning's performance which I found to be stilted at times. Overall I thought that she did a good job, but her connection to the character seemed to go in waves where sometimes she was completely in tune only to lose the spark soon after. Still, Stewart (and Michael Shannon) were more than able to carry the movie when Fanning faltered.
Second, all the reviewers who bashed the movie for not being realistic or not including one scene or another...well, I have to remind you all that this is a movie. It's also under two hours and unlike the film audiences in the 1930s and 1940s, no one is going to sit through a 4 hour epic that includes every guitar chord that they ever played. Also, this is a movie about rock legends not about Joan Larkin and Cherie Currie. I know that this is a tough concept for people to get but Walk the Line is about Johnny Cash the legend not J. R. Cash from Arkansas who listened to a lot of Irish music as a kid. In other news, Bob Dylan is not actually a woman which is how he was portrayed in a section of I'm Not There. The reason being that the movie was depicting the many aspects of Bob Dylan the legend not Robert Zimmerman the Jewish born-again Christian. Therefore, there is no need to compare the fingerprints of Stewart and Jett or Fanning and Currie because they're not going to match! Instead, a viewer might want to focus more on the message of the movie which is really a cry for younger people to listen to the Runaways and respect their work. Also it's a reminder to those who grew up listening to Joan Jett but for whatever reason sold off their cassette tapes at various yard sales, to come back to the artist and her roots.
Third (and my main point), if this movie inspires one person to listen to The Runaways then the film was a success! And don't worry, those whose interest was piqued by the film will go on to read "Neon Angel" and know the hard facts.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
The story begins when Justin realizes that his son is 3 years old and has never met Justin's parents or sisters. With the original support of his wife, Justin goes on a hunt to find his family remembers and reconnect. He hears that his father was in a nursing home but when he contacts the home he finds that his father has since died. However, there is a box of his father's belongings that has yet to be picked up by the family. Justin retrieves the items and brings them to his sister's house where he believes they will make a good conversation starter. Oddly, when he arrives at his sister's house she has no idea who he is and when he states his name she becomes extremely upset and orders him away. Justin then visits his parents' graves to find that there is a third stone next to their two that bears his name! This sends Justin on an epic search for truth that takes him deep into his past to uncover secrets that threaten not only his memories of his past family but also that of his present and future.
This novel did what I wanted it to do: it enveloped me into the story. I was completely engrossed from the first page and had difficulties putting it down. The first half of the story seemed well-written and with great purpose. Yet after the halfway mark things started to get a bit hairy and the prose become stilted as the story took twists and turns that asked the reader to suspend his/her preconceptions. I do not mean that this is a science fiction novel in any way! I just mean to say that Justin's eventual findings are something more akin to an episode of General Hospital or Passions which left me disappointed.
The Frozen Thames tells the story of the 40 times that the river Thames has frozen from the 12th century to the 20th century. The book is very short and compact, numbering only 181 pages some of which are illustrations. However, the stories are extremely vivid and deserve a second or even third reading. Each year has a different story which ranges from two to 6 pages depending. The characters are different in each (though I believe there is one overlap) and vary in age, social class, gender, and even species. I have to state that these passages are not exactly stories but tiny glimpses into certain people's (or animals') lives. A few of the stories have nothing to do with the river besides a brief mention of its freezing and instead focus on the unbearable cold. Some of the most interesting sections are those that tell of the fairs that were thrown on the river.
What makes this novel so extraordinary, is Humphreys' amazing descriptions and writing style. Her prose are smooth and there is not a single word wasted. The reader can actually feel the frigid air pour off the page. There is no time to feel a connection towards that characters, but that is not her purpose. The reason for her writing is to have the reader form a bond with the freezing of the river and to ice in general. Her author's note states that there may be a time when there is no more naturally produced ice and people will forget what a frozen pond looks like. She has certainly succeeded in her goal because I doubt there is a single reader of this novel who will be able to forget it or the frozen Thames.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
The novel begins with Kathy reminiscing about her time at Hailsham which the reader soon realizes is a boarding school. Kathy brings the reader through her childhood at the school where she met friends, is educated by slightly odd teachers, and prepares for the next stage in her live. As Kathy gets older, she becomes more perceptive of the oddities at Hailsham and begins to question what is really ahead for the school's students. Suddenly, school traditions such as "the sale" (in which students sell their work to each other) takes on a completely different meaning as the students realize the Madame of the school is purchasing their work for her own "Gallery". Eventually, they realize that their lives are predetermined and Hailsham is just schooling them on becoming "carers" and "donors".
In the first chapter, Kathy mentions that she's a carer for those who are donors. It is clear that the donor is a person who donates their organs and their carer is just that, a person who cares for the donor. The narration then seems to follow Kathy's train of thought. I was nervous because this is usually an interesting though confusing narration style. However, her train of thought stays on the logical tracks and moves fairly chronologically. Whatever preconceptions I had of this narrative style, flew out the window as I devoured page after page without looking up for hours. As I was reading, I thought the ideas in the novel were incredible and though I had heard of such a scenario in a book before it still felt fresh and new. Yet, once I finished it and started to think about the great issue in the book it started to seem a bit hackneyed. The writing is beautiful and reminiscent of Margaret Atwood but nothing extraordinary. Once again, I have to wonder why this specific book was included in 1001 while others were kept out. But it's all subjective!
Friday, August 6, 2010
The Kids are All Right features an all star cast of Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, and Mark Ruffalo. Moore and Bening are married with two children when their daughter turns 18 and is convinced by her brother to contact the sperm donor that their parents used. Of course this disrupts the balance of the family, and rifts that none of them knew existed suddenly put the family on the verge of breaking.
Entertainment Weekly was right, this movie is fantastic! Besides the fact that the two parents in the film are women, there is nothing about this movie that is specifically "lesbian". Really, the movie is about families and marriage. Though Ruffalo, the sperm donor, is the catalyst the drama that he causes is not contingent upon that. He could have easily been a step-father, first husband, formally-distant uncle, older boyfriend, etc. and his intrusion on the family would have had the same affect. Similarly, Moore and Beining could have been a heterosexual couple and the message of the movie would have been the same. Basically, I am asking you to take a chance on this movie. It is truly excellent and a far better bet than Cats & Dogs and the Sorcerer's Apprentice (some of the other offerings out this summer).
Monday, August 2, 2010
Celia, April, Sally, and Bree are all thrown into a dorm together their freshman year at Smith. None of them like each other, at first sight. Sally seems stuck up and distant, April is the over-the-top feminist rebel, Celia is slightly judgmental and conventional, and Bree is the epitome of Southern belle (complete with engagement to her childhood sweetheart). Yet, being stuck on a floor together means that they must turn to each other in times of need...and there are times of need! Sally comes to school still mourning over the death of her mother; April finds herself carried away by radical feminists who border on violent; Bree must battle with pleasing her parents or following her heart; and Celia just watches. The reader watches as these girls fall in and out of love, find their calling in life or miss it, and test their friendships with each other.
The novel is predictable but that's not why I kept reading. I flew through this book because I was interested in the choices that these women made. Maybe it's because I am around their age and understand their anxieties over entering the real world, but I think it's more than that. I think that reader older and younger than myself would also enjoy this book because it's about the power of friendship and unconditional love. I could rip apart the banalities that plague the plot and characters or describe how one can guess the ending in the first 50 pages...but I won't. This is a summer read and because of that there should be lowered expectations. This is not the next great American novel but it certainly goes well with some sand and a beach chair.
The reader meets U. S Marshal Teddy Daniels while on a boat to Shutter Island, an island located off of Boston Harbor on which there is a hospital for the criminally insane. Also on the boat, is his partner Charlie Aul both of whom are sent to the island to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando. Solando is a patient who was sent to the hospital because she drown her three children and then sat them around the dinner table until a neighbor discovered the scene. Teddy and Charlie have never met before but they immediately hit it off and become fast friends. Teddy is clearly the serious leader while Charlie is much more happy-go-lucky and pleased to be the follower. As Teddy and Charlie spend a couple of days on the island, Teddy begins to think that nothing is as it seems and that they may possibly never get off the island again. Teddy must also confront his own past and the death of his wife before it is too late.
As with Mystic River, the most enthralling aspect of this story are the relationships between characters. Though there is a good mystery and some great drama, Lehane draws such vivid characters that the reader is completely absorbed. Of course there are chases, codes that must be broken, and blind alleys all of which make you fly through the novel. Yet, the true heart is with the people in the story. I was sad when the novel was over, but felt that it was complete. Now it's time for me to sit down and watch the movie and possibly pick up the new graphic novel!