Friday, July 23, 2010

Music Mix Friday...The Beatles "Yellow Submarine"

What British invasion would be complete without the Beatles? My sister the literature scholar comes home on Sunday. What better way to celebrate her return from England than with our own Beatlemania in the form of the Beatles song she hates the most? You would not believe how many people have made cartoon videos of this song. It's out of control.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Queen's Lady - Barbara Kyle

the queen's lady
barbara kyle
c. 1994 (as a dangerous temptation)
525 pages
completed 7/16/2010

read for: year of the historical challenge

*may contain spoilers*

She would remember this forever after as the night she watched two men die, one at peace and one in terror.

After the death and simultaneous excommunication of her father, Honor Larke is taken under the guardianship of a greedy and devious noble and an equally evil priest. Several years later she is rescued by Sir Thomas Moore and brought up as his ward during which time she is noticed by the Queen of England, Catherine of Aragon. Honor begins serving as one of her ladies-in-waiting and soon becomes a trusted confidante and letter carrier. However, after witnessing the burning of two heretics, one of whom was a childhood friend, Honor begins to question the religion she was brought up in and which is so enmeshed in the lives of her two benefactors (the Queen and Sir Thomas). Honor's questioning soon boils over into action as she teams up with two very different men, one rash and reckless and one cool and collected, in order to rid England of intolerance.

The synopsis on the back of this book gave me a very different idea of what this book was going to be. In no way did it mention religion and the tension between Protestants and Catholics and Honor becoming this Scarlet Pimpernel for Protestants character. I went into this expecting a very certain kind of historical fiction, something a little more serious, but what I got instead was a lot more melodramatic and outrageous. Maybe if I'd gone into this expecting it to be more crazy adventure I could have gotten behind it more. As it was, I found a lot of Honor's schemes unbelievable. Not just unbelievable, but unbelievably reckless and stupid. And kind of far-fetched, especially the time she was stuck in the hold of the ship for three days with no food or water and in order to save her, her partner set the boat on fire. It was just too over the top for me.

I also didn't find Honor's religious transformation all that believable. I understand that she was heartbroken by the death of Ralph. Believe me, I was too. If you are a servant boy in your late teens or early twenties and you have an absolute unwavering devotion to your mistress, especially one who is either a child or well into middle/old age, it's pretty much a given that I will fall for you. So yes, Honor's whole world was rocked when Ralph was burned as a heretic. But once she began to argue with Sir Thomas about the justification of his execution she lost me. She began the discussion assuming there had been a mistake and Ralph was innocent of heresy, but as soon as it had been proven to her that there was no mistake, that Ralph was indeed a Protestant, just like that (imagine fingers snapping) she changed her tune to argue that these heretical beliefs were okay to have. And that I couldn't buy. Honor had been described as a learned theologian. Sir Thomas had made sure to have Honor well educated, she corresponded with leading theologians of the time, so Protestant ideas could not have been new to her. To change her beliefs on the merits of Protestantism so suddenly made no sense to me.

As her new ideas on Protestantism made no sense to me, neither did most of the rest of her actions throughout the rest of the book as they all stemmed from this incident. Becoming the savior of the Protestants, Honor who before now was known as the Queen's last, most loyal lady-in-waiting, secretly teams up with Thomas Cromwell to get Anne on the throne, thinking she would lead the country to tolerance. Before, she had almost an infatuation with her guardian Sir Thomas, and now she does everything in her power to destroy him. The book even used Honor to give Cromwell the idea to make everyone swear an oath of succession, the oath that brought Sir Thomas to his death. She just so easily betrayed these people who loved her and gave her everything. I found it amusing that her name was Honor considering she really had none. It was so hard to get behind anything she did. Also amusing that though she seemed to be fighting so hard for tolerance of Protestantism, she seemed to have no tolerance of other people's religious beliefs. This book made sure to show the worst sides of religion, the greed and violence, (Catholic, Lutheran, and Anabaptist mostly) and not much of the good, turning Honor further and further into atheism. Which would have been fine had she not been so sanctimonious about how she had found the answers and that all religion was crap and those who couldn't see that were blind and stupid. I know there are two more books in this series but I don't think I will be reading them.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Movie Mondays

Still going with the 2010 Oscar nominees. Tonight we watched District 9. Well...okay, we watched about 20-25 minutes of it. I was surprised I even made it that far. I really don't do aliens. My mother didn't even make it all 25 minutes, opting instead to "rest her eyes" (read: sleep). Dad probably could have kept going, but he's leaving for Japan tomorrow and they'll probably offer it on the plane and he can watch it there without my probably uninvited commentary.

Keeping with the Oscar theme, I have a lifetime goal of watching all the films that have ever been nominated for one of the BIG SIX awards (best picture, lead and supporting actor,/actress and director), preferably in chronological order from the beginning of the Oscars to the present. Well, I say all but I left out the first two years or so since I have a hard time making it through a silent movie. And there are a lot from the early 30s that are hard to find and I'm not going to go out of my way to look for them (which is probably good...when I talk to my Dad about this project he tells me I need a hobby). I kind of started this project a few years ago and so far I watched 6 (you're super impressed, right?). And by I've watched 6, I mean a STARTED watching six. I've only finished watching 3. Today's movie Arrowsmith, based on the novel by Sinclair Lewis, was one of the ones I finished. And I have to say I liked it. Arrowsmith is a man with potential to become a great medical researcher, but puts his dream on hold when he falls in love and decides to get married. After several years as a country physician, he is given another chance to follow his dream as a medical researcher. After creating a serum that could possibly destroy any bacteria, he is sent to the West Indies to combat a breakout of bubonic plague, but while there he is met with ethical dilemmas. Should he treat his patients and conduct his experiments in the name of science or humanity? I think the novel it's based on takes a much more critical look at the medical profession of the time, looking for quick results and breakthroughs and publicity, but the movie only touches on that a little. There's also a lot more to Arrowsmith's character I believe. But still, I found the movie to be enjoyable. And it's significant in that it's the first American movie to feature a black character with a college degree and who wasn't characterized as a 1930s stereotypical African American (no tap dancing, poor speaking skills, etc).

Earlier in the week, continuing with the sports movie theme of last weeks A League of Their Own, Dad and I watched Pride of the Yankees. I have a hard time thinking of this movie without thinking of that Friends episode where Phoebe is watching movies she never realized were sad. "Pride of the Yankees? I thought yea, Yankee pride and then BAM! Lou Gehrig's disease." And then Richard's response, "They guy was Lou Gehrig. Didn't you kind of see that coming?" Classic. Anyway...I know this is supposed to be a classic tearjerker sports movie, but to be totally honest, it never really felt all that moving. Lou Gehrig kind of came off as a goober, even though he made a great good-bye speech. Too often conversation in movies from this time period comes across as a little unnatural, so it's hard to really get an emotional connection with anyone. I did really like Papa Gehrig. My biggest reaction to the movie was thinking the bracelet he gave his wife for their fourth anniversary, made up of medals he'd won throughout the years was kind of heinous. And then I felt bad when I realized the bracelet they used in the movie was the actual one he gave his wife and is now in the baseball hall of fame.

Knowing me to be a secret lover of all things 80s (I am an 80s baby after all), my sister the librarian brought Footloose home from the library the other day. Somehow this was a movie I had yet to see. I know, all of you are thinking JUMP BACK. But it's true. Somehow Footloose had evaded me. The situation now rectified, I'm pretty sure it's my new favorite movie. Sure it's a little far fetched and a little dated and a little campy, but sometime that is what makes a really excellent movie. And did you know it almost starred Rob Lowe instead of Kevin Bacon? Yeah, had that actually happened I'm pretty sure I would have seen this movie long ago.

And the last movie from the past week, The Greatest. It was a little independent movie from last year about an 18 year old girl who shows up at the home of two grieving parents 3 months pregnant from the one
night she spent with their son. The night he died. It's funny...had I read this synopsis for a book as opposed to a movie there's absolutely no way I would have read it. I don't do grief books. Too often I find them melodramatic and saccharine and a bit cliche. Not to say that all books dealing with grief should be characterized that way, but for me they don't connect and so I tend to stay away from them. That being said, movies that deal with grief I can often get behind. I don't know what it is about the different mediums. Maybe the fact that I can see their pain and despair in the tiny movements of their faces and in their unsaid words instead of the sometimes overwrought descriptions of those emotions. I really liked this movie. Though dealing with a very sad topic, there was also a lot of humor. I don't like movies to be too depressing. There needs to be a bit of a bright spot, and Rose, the pregnant girl was just that. I'm beginning to think I'd watch just about anything Carey Mulligan was in. The stoner little brother was fun, too. I always like the stoner kids in movies, I don't know why (though if I think about it, perhaps the stoner high school boyfriend has something to do with that...). Anyway, good movie. Sad, but hopeful. Maybe my dad's right. Maybe I do need a hobby...

What movies have you been watching this week?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Prayer for the City - Buzz Bissinger

a prayer for the city
buzz bissinger
c. 1998
379 pages
completed 7/16/2010

read for: hstaa303 (modern american civilization)

*may contain spoilers*

Success followed success and as he persuaded more and more people with the spontaneous symphony of his hands and the infectious rhythm of his voice to see a place he saw, it became easier to believe that there was something wondrous about him, regardless of the patches of hair sprouting from his head like a failed English garden, not to mention the balled-up blue suits that looked as if they had been burrowed away in gym bags.

During the early '90s, Buzz Bissinger enjoyed almost unfettered access to the Ed Rendell, mayor of Philadelphia. The information he gathered was used to novelize the first five years of Rendell's term in office attempting to rebuild a city that was falling apart. A Prayer for the City tells a story of race relations, unemployment, murder, but also one of hope and hard work. Littered with characters who worked within Rendell's administration such as his chief of staff David Cohen, as well as people just trying to survive in the city, such as Linda Morris, Fifi Mazzccua, Mike McGovern, and Jim Mangan, we are offered insight into the unimaginable struggles to keep America's cities afloat.

I was supposed to read this for my America History class this past quarter. And I did. Or at least I read about half of it by the time the final came around. But that was fine. I had read enough to participate in the discussions and write about it on final if I had to. Most books like this assigned for a particular class I would have abandoned as soon as I turned in that bluebook, but there was something that kept pulling me back to pick it up and read a little bit more. The people discussed were compelling and the draw of the city itself and wanting to see it get better forced me to continue. So here I am, a month after the quarter ended, finally finished with the book.

A Prayer for the City is non fiction but it's written almost as a novel. There's conversation and character development and a somewhat moving plot. We not only see the struggles of the city from the government's point of view, but also just from the people. We watch Mike McGovern make the decision to give up his life as a Philadelphia district attorney and take his family to the outskirts of the city and take up criminal defense. We see Jim Mangan soldier on during cut backs at the ship yard until the yard is closed entirely. And we see Fifi Mazzccua raise her children and grandchildren in a poor area of the city, some of whom fall into violence and jail time, but some who don't. It was easy to feel a connection the these people and a hope for them to succeed. Ed Rendell became mayor to one of the most struggling cities in America, but despite a lot of set backs and failures, there was progress.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Broken Paradise - Cecilia Samartin

broken paradise
cecilia samartin
c. 2007
340 pages
completed 7/11/2010

read for: tbr challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Dear Alicia, I'm told this letter may not get to you as the communists will cut it to shreds, but when I saw the picture of us together at Varadero beach I knew I had to write it anyway.

Alicia and Nora are more than cousins, they are best friends. Together, they spend an idyllic childhood in Paradise on the beaches of Cuba, with little more than laughter, love, and family around them. As children they don't always understand the politics their parents are discussing, wanting Cuba to rid itself of its President Batista and hold free elections. Alicia father Carlos is especially vocal in his opposition to President Batista and is instrumental in his eventual downfall. But Batista's downfall does not bring about the changes the people of Cuba were hoping for. Instead, with the rise of Fidel Castro and the Communist Party, the country begins to fall into poverty and Nora and Alicia's lives are changed forever. Nora's family emigrates to the United States to escape Cuba's ruin, but Alicia's family stays behind determined to stay true to Cuba. Though they stay connected by exchanging letters, both Nora and Alicia have a very different path to travel.

I think there might have been something a little off in the time line of this novel. Or if not that there was some simplification in the politics and the succession of Cuban presidents. With almost no knowledge of Cuban politics, from reading this book I took from it that immediately after President Batista's downfall Castro became President. But from the little bit of research I've been doing it seems that was not the case and that, while Castro was a leader among the rebellion that took down Batista, he didn't become President of Cuba until seventeen years later. So the time line of things seems to somewhat simplified or condensed.

Alicia and Nora's stories took completely different turns, but I felt that both were compelling. I did have a little trouble relating to Nora once she and her family escaped to California. I've never lived anywhere other than the US. I have lived in really different regions of the US, but my sister has always said I'm like a sponge and I'll almost immediately pick up the accent and regional dialects without even realizing it. I know you can't really compare moving to a new state to moving to a whole new country, but I don't think I would have held onto Cuba in quite the same way Nora did. It was so easy for Marta to embrace her new country, but it took Nora a long time. I think maybe it wasn't Cuba itself that Nora was clinging to, but Alicia. Because she couldn't let Alicia go, she couldn't let Cuba go. 

The culture clash between Nora and Jeremy I thought was very well done. Most of the time it was very subtle. As Nora learned English and tried to enmesh herself within American society, Jeremy was trying to learn Spanish and about Latino culture before being deployed with the Peace Corps. I think I got a little annoyed with him once he and Nora were reunited and began rekindling their relationship. He seemed to think that since he'd been to Peru with the Peace Corps he now understood what made Nora who she was. I felt he kind of steam rolled her a little when he pushed her to ignore the feelings of her parents and return to Cuba to visit Alicia. I agree that it was good she went back to Alicia, but I thought Jeremy's pushing was unfeeling of Nora's relationship with her parents and even her relationship with Cuba itself. I was not Jeremy's biggest fan.

While I was interested to see the different lives Alicia and Nora would live after each being forced down opposite forks in the road, I think I enjoyed the first third of the novel the best, and not just because that was the time when everything was happy. The descriptions of life in Cuba did seem like paradise, the beautiful beaches, the food, the family. This section was beautifully written and really transported the reader right to Cuba. It was interesting to me how life in Cuba before the revolution seemed so idyllic, yet there were still big social issues that were demonstrated in the beginning of the novel, specifically racism. While Beba and Lola were treated well and love by Nora's family, by being black women they were still of a different social status. Not everything in life before the revolution was perfect.


It's Tuesday, where are you?

The Queen's Lady
London, England 1527

Monday, July 12, 2010

Movie Mondays

My family and I have been watching all the movies that were nominated for Best Picture during this last Oscars. It's been a little slow going, but we're getting close to the end. Only three more to go. So far there haven't been too many we thought were really Oscar worthy. There were some we liked okay, but out of the seven we've watched only Up and Inglourious Basterds have really stood out as excellent. Tonight we watched A Serious Man. I have found that Cohen Brothers' movies can really be hit or miss for me. I thought Burn After Reading was pretty funny, but I fell asleep during Fargo (though I think I need to give that one another try). I loved O Brother Where Art Thou? and hated The Big Lebowski. As for this one, I'm not sure. There were definitely elements that I found funny...particularly the thirteen year old son, stoned at his Bar Mitzvah, and the Korean student trying to simultaneously bribe and blackmail his professor. But more often, instead of laughing I was wincing...wincing as the main character's wife and her new boyfriend talked to him in their totally different but equally horrifying ways or wincing every time his brother was onscreen draining his neck cyst (which is as gross as it sounds). I can appreciate the comparison to the book of Job from the Bible, but I think perhaps I needed a character who was a bit more compelling. Larry was a schlubby dude before his life went to pot and he was an equally schlubby dude at the end.

In better movie news, we watched A League of Their Own a few days ago, and I'm pretty sure this is one of my favorite movies. For some reason, I love sports movies. I don't really know why. I'm the most un-athletic person ever (unless we're comparing me to my sister the librarian or my sister the literature scholar in which case I'm only mildly un-athletic). But
give me a good sports movie and I am happy. Let's be for real, give me a mediocre sports movie (um...The Cutting Edge anyone?) and I am happy. A League of Their Own is far from mediocre. The characters are great, the acting is excellent (Tom Hanks at his comedic best), and the story is compelling. Plus there's an exciting bit of history to boot, which makes me happy. The story and the characters are a fictionalized account of the start up of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. When you're in school and you learn about War World II and the involvement of women in the workplace on the home front, most of what you talk about is Rosie the Riveter and the women who went to work in the factories. While that was an extremely important contribution to both World War II and the feminist movement (my Granny worked in a factory), it's also interesting and worthwhile to look at the other ways women were called on to support the war effort, ways such as playing pro baseball. Things like that sometimes tend to get overlooked. What movies have you been watching this week?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Who's ready to party it up Russian style?

Jill at Fizzy Thoughts and Trish at Love Laughter Insanity are hosting the Brothers Karamazov Ceilidh. Slowly but surely we're going to make our way through Dostoyevsky's book. It's divided into sections, each section will have a deadline, and we'll be posting our thoughts along the way. For all the rules and the calendar and signups and everything else, check it out here. It all starts tomorrow (so yes I'm super on top on things) so get ready to party down with the K-Bros.

Music Mix Friday...Kate Nash "Nicest Things"

While my sister the literature scholar is still in England, I figured I'd continue with the British invasion.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Entry Post - BBAW2010 (Historical Fiction)

I know I'm kind of waiting until the end here, but I'm finally registering for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I tend to stay a little on the outskirts of the book blogging community. I have my blogs that I read and I participate in some challenges during the year, but that's about it. I don't really venture too far out. So it feels a little weird nominating myself for an award. Today is my blog's three year anniversary, and with that I've decided to try to become a little more involved in things so here I am, like a little turtle poking my head out. Not sure where the metaphor came from, but let's go with it...

It was pretty easy to choose my niche. While I try not to read too much of the same thing all the time, most of what I read is set in the past. Possibly that has to do with being a history major? So even though there is a good bit that I have read this past year that is NOT historical fiction, the majority is. I took some time choosing my five posts. I don't do much writing on my blog that isn't reviews, so four of my posts are reviews. However, I thought it was important to have at least one post of something a little different, so the fifth post was my entry for the Virtual Advent Calendar this past Christmas involving historical/traditional Christmas music. Not exactly book related (except for a little blip at the end) but fits in nicely with the historical aspect.

Best Historical Fiction Blog
Mistress of the Revolution - Catherine Delors
Niccolo Rising - Dorothy Dunnett
Sir Percy Leads the Band - Baroness Emmuska Orczy
The Other Queen - Philippa Gregory
Virtual Advent - The Christmas Revels

Music Mix Friday...The Waifs "London Still"

Just dropped my sister off at the airport. She is on her way to London for a three week study abroad on feminist literature. We hope she comes home.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

By the end of July...

So apparently June turned into the Month of No Reading. I got through almost nothing. Two books I think. I was doing so well before that, too! I was way caught up on everything I planned to read this year and then June came along and it all went to pot. Luckily I didn't have much planned for July so even playing catchup doesn't seem like much. Maybe I'll be back on track by August.

To Be Read by the End of July
Broken Paradise - Cecilia Samartin
The Queen's Lady - Barbara Kyle
Possession - AS Byatt
Jim the Boy - Tony Early
Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey

To be read...

Flapper - Joshua Zeitz
Legacy - Susan Kay
No Angel - Penny Vinvenzi
The Wrong Blood - Manuel de Lope
Dark Dude - Oscar Hijeulos
The Whole World - Emily Winslow
Red April - Sartiago Rancagliolo
The Outside Boy - Jeanine Cummins
The Blooding of Jack Absolute - CC Humphries
The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton
Heresy - SJ Parris
How Did You Get This Number - Sloane Crosley
Cutting For Stone - Abraham Verghese
The Mistress of Nothing - Kate Pullinger
Among the Bohemians - Virginia Nicholson
Frost in May - Antonia White
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson
Bad Things Happen - Harry Dolan
Tokyo Fiancee - Amelie Nothomb
Manhood for Amateurs - Michael Chabon
For the King - Catherine Delors
Shadow of the Swords - Kamran Pasha
Summer at Tiffany - Marjorie Hart
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici - CW Gortner
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid - Bill Bryson
Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller
The Diary of a Provincial Lady - EM Delafield
The Red House Mystery - AA Milne
Tamar - Mal Peet
Bruno, Chief of Police - Martin Walker
Half Life - Roopa Farooki
Paolo Alto: Stories - James Franco
Child of the Morning - Pauline Gedge
The Crowded Street - Winifred Holtby
The Girls From Ames - Jeffery Zaslow
Postcards From a Dead Girl - Kirk Faber
Eureka Street - Robert McLiam Wilson
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
Island Madness - Tim Binding
Invitation to the Waltz - Rosamund Lehmann
Proust's Overcoat - Lorenza Foschini
The Nobody's Album - Carolyn Parkhurst
By Fire, By Water - Mitchell James Kaplan
The Blue Orchard - Jackson Taylor

44 new books. This is too many. I blame you entirely.