Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Outlander: The YouTube Movie

I just found out about "do-it-yourself" Outlander trailers from Herself (as Diana Gabaldon is known among the Ladies of Lallybroch). I have to say I liked this one - a summary of the first part of Outlander.

I don't know if it will make any sense to you if you haven't read the book, but whoever put it together did a nice job.

I was also impressed with another one that made creative use of Kate Beckinsdale movies and the Braveheart soundtrack. You can find that one here.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

And now for something completely different...

Well, actually this one kind of is. The Blue Castle is an L.M. Montgomery book, but one a lot different from her usual fare. For one, the heroine doesn't start out as a child. Valency is almost 30 - and, as her domineering family keeps reminding her, unmarried.

Then, her doctor tells her she has a year to live - at most. Suddenly, she has an excuse to throw off her drab, dreary existence and start to make every day count.

There's a fascinating, rakish man involved, of course - though he doesn't turn out to be nearly as wicked as he seems at first. Moving into the "Blue Castle" of her dreams, Valency learns to live the life she was meant to (and uncovers a secret or two along the way).

The ending is not going to shock any long-time L.M. Montgomery fans (I saw it coming a mile away), but this book is a testament to living "the road less traveled by". A great story.

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More L.M. Montgomery

I had to get around to listing one of my favorite series of all-time sooner or later.

I have been a fan of the "Anne Girl" since a day when I was about 8 or 9. I caught my mom laughing uproariously over a book and it turned out she was reading Chapter II of Anne of Green Gables - the chapter that introduced the immortal Anne Shirley to the world. Well, knowing that something funny was on the way, I slogged through the very-boring first chapter of Green Gables (no modern editor would have let L.M. Montgomery get away with that) and entered the world of Anne.

Shortly thereafter I was introduced to the CBC/PBS miniseries starring Megan Follows. Between the movie (which ranks right up there with the BBC/A&E version of Pride and Prejudice as one of the best film adaptations ever) and, with the remaining seven "Anne" books, I was hooked for life.

Trust me, if I ever have a daughter someday, she's probably going to wind up being an "Ann with an e".

Countless rereads later, I can honestly say I still enjoy visiting Green Gables (and the House of Dreams and Ingleside). I get something different out of the hijinks of Anne, her best friend Diana and her sworn enemy/later beau Gilbert Blythe every time I read them. The later novels in the series aren't just the children's books they're often shelved as (Anne's House of Dreams and Rilla of Ingleside, especially).

One thing I always did wonder was why I found Book #4 Anne of Windy Poplars and Book #6 Anne of Ingleside too be rather flat compared to the others. I found the answer a few years ago reading a bibliography of L.M. Montgomery's work. Although Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside are chronologically Book #4 and Book #6, L.M. actually published those two last - at the insistence of her publisher and long after she'd run out of fresh ideas for Anne. They're actually comprised mainly of worked-over short stories from her early writing career (which goes a long ways towards explaining why the stories suddenly veer off in the direction of some very minor characters in spots.)

Ever since I've felt justified in recommending people read the "Anne" Books in their original order so they don't get bogged down by the weaker books:

Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Avonlea
Anne of the Island
Anne's House of Dreams
Rainbow Valley
Rilla of Ingleside
Anne of Windy Poplars
Anne of Ingleside

Reading them in this order also makes the final chapter of Anne of Ingleside that more poignant. You'll know what I mean when you get there.

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My Top Three

The results of this little survey are supposed to say something really important about my personality. What, I can't say - other than these are my favorite books, movies, songs etc.

1. Three songs you can — and do — listen to again and again:
1. "Beautiful Day" by U2
2. "Clocks" by Coldplay
3. "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel

2. Three movies you can — and do — watch over and over:
1. Beauty and the Beast - The best Disney film and one of the best musicals ever
2. The Phantom of the Opera - Ditto (except for the Disney part, of course)
3. The Hunt for Red October - It's just a really good movie... and it has Sean Connery. What more do you need?

3. Three dishes you would choose for your last meal:
1. Grilled salmon
2. Wild rice
3. A frozen mocha latte

4. Three most relaxing vacation spots you've ever visited.
1., 2. & 3. "Up North" (It's a Michigan thing)

5. Three books that you consider great reads:
(Like I haven't mentioned this here before)
1. Katherine by Anya Seton
2. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
3. Persuasion by Jane Austen

6. Three shows that you consider the best on television, past and present:
1. All time favorite? I know it makes me a nerd, but I've got to say Star Trek: The Next Generation (and not any of its much-lamer sequels, mind you.)
2. Friends
3. I made the mistake of renting Disc 1, Season 1 of Alias a little over a year ago. I have not been able to pass up a good Rambaldi story since.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

LibraryThing's "Unsuggester"

Here's one of my new favorite ways to waste time: LibraryThing's "Unsuggester".

Just like it sounds, it's the opposite of a "book suggester". It gives you a list of books you probably won't like, by comparing the book title you input to the shelves of LibraryThing users. You don't even have to have an account to use it; it's just for fun.

So far I've learned I probably shouldn't invest in fantasy novels, technology manuals and Christian non-fiction. I probably knew that already - although I do happen to own The Purpose-Driven Life and Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul.

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The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

This is an obvious choice. I already told you I dig Pearl S. Buck, so, of course I'm a fan of her most acclaimed novel.

In case you somehow got through high school without having to read it, The Good Earth is the story of Wang Lung, a peasant farmer in a rural part of China yet-untouched by the modern world. Along with his good wife, O-lan (who he completely fails to appreciate), he survives flood and famine - always striving for something better. But when he gets the life of his dreams, it doesn't make him nearly as happy as he thought it would.

Putting it like that makes the book sound like a sappy, morality play. It's not. Buck shapes her simple prose so beautifully you can actually see the sweat dripping off Wang Lung and O-lan's brows as they work together in the fields. This is another book that won the Pulitzer Prize for a reason.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck

Pearl Buck is on my short list of favorite authors (along with Anya Seton, L.M. Montgomery and Diana Gabaldon). Even a bad novel by her is still pretty good compared to most of the stuff that gets published.

Imperial Woman is based on the true story of the last Empress of China. Tzu Hsi (a contemporary of Queen Victoria)gave up the great love of her life to become one of the most powerful women in the world. It makes for a great and heartbreaking story of triumph and endurance.

I recently read another novel about Tzu Hsi, called Empress Orchid, by Anchee Min which gave me a whole other perspective on her life. It's hard to say whether I still like Imperial Woman best because it's the definitive novel on Tzu Hsi, or because it's simply the one I read first. In any case, both are worth a look.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Since I seem to be on a faith-based theme tonight, I'll stick with it and make my final recommendation of the day The Chosen by Chaim Potok.

I've loved this book since I first read it as a high school sophomore. It's another slow-mover, but one with a lot to say about friendship and the relationship between fathers and sons.

Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders are both Jewish boys growing up in Brooklyn during World War II - but on first appearance, they seem to have nothing else in common. In fact, the first time they meet, during a school-league baseball game, they take such a violent dislike to each other that Danny tries to murder Reuven with a ball aimed at the head. The resulting injury puts Reuven in the hospital, but that's where he learns to appreciate his repentant attacker.

Danny is the son of an ultra-conservative rabbi and is supposed to inherit leadership of the flock someday. Unfortunately for him, he's possessed of a brilliant mind and has different plans for the way he'd like to spend his life.

Sensing that Danny is close to rebelling from his father completely, Reuven's father has secretly been mentoring him for months. Now Mr. Malter tells Reuven that Danny needs a friend like him.

And so, Reuven and Danny forge an unlikely friendship, becoming close as brothers. The Chosen takes the two boys through college graduation and into manhood during the turbulent post-War years, until Danny finally has to make the ultimate decision about his future.

The sequel, The Promise is a good follow-up, but I'd be happy simply reading this one over and over again. It's a beautiful story.

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Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Word to the wise: Not all that much happens in Gilead. It's one of my new favorites, and even I will admit that. However, that doesn't mean it isn't a fantastic novel. It didn't win the Pulitzer Prize for nuthin'.

The premise is thus: The Rev. John Ames, pastor of the Congregationalist Church in Gilead, Iowa, is dying. He is 76, but married late and has a young son.

Fearing his child is too young to remember him as he really is, the Rev. decides he's going to fill a notebook with rembrances and musings that his son can read as an adult and know where he comes from. Gilead is comprised entirely of that series of writings.

So, really the book is a love letter about fathers and sons, mothers and brothers. And what it lacks in plot, it makes up for in mood.

One can tell the Rev. Ames has lived a good, long life; his only fear of dying is what will happen to the loved ones in his life once he is gone. He worries most about his bride - a much-younger woman who has brought him happiness in his old age - and his son, but he also tells stories about his best friend's troubled son and the dynamic he witnessed firsthand between his own father and grandfather.

Normally I find so-called "literary" novels to be pretentious and depressing. Gilead is a refreshingly-honest departure from that kind of book. I could almost imagine the clear Iowan air as I read along.

No, not a lot happens, but the Rev. Ames is able to squeeze a lot about faith and life into these pages anyway.

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Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes

Time for another series of book reviews! (I seem to only do this in fits and starts. I really should promise myself to post more often.)

We'll start off this session with a timely review. Or, at least it will be timely in a week or two.

Two From Galilee isn't quite like your typical Christmas story, though. No Scrooge. No George Bailey running through town yelling "Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter!" Not even one reindeer sighting. Actually, this story doesn't feel very "Christmasy" at all, since it's set in the dry, dusty world of Palestine 2,000 years ago.

The main characters are a young Jewish couple named Mary and Joseph (you can probably see where I'm going with this.) They have been in love with each other since they were children - much to the chagrin of Mary's parents, who think she can do better for herself.

When Mary finally hits a marriageable age, her parents decide it's probably best to marry her off to one of the richest men in town. But Mary fights for Joseph. He may only be a poor carpenter, but he's the man she loves.

It takes half the book for Mary to win the argument. But no sooner than she and Joseph are officially betrothed in a legally-binding ceremony, she gets an angelic visitation and miraculously finds herself in the family way.

Mary may find herself being called "most blessed of all women," but that doesn't mean she doesn't fear the loss of all her hopes and dreams. However, she and Joseph are about to get a lesson both in love of God, and love between a man and woman.

Though this is listed as Christian fiction, it goes easy on the proselytizing, and is one of the best of the genre I've ever read. It's a rich and sensual book about a culture completely foreign to most of us, but at its heart it's the story of a love that has affected the world as we know it for all time.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

NaNoWriMo, Day #1

For some reason, I was thinking I had to write some 6,000 words a day to get to 50,000 in 30 days. (Math on the fly has never been my strong suit.) So, I was satisfied with the 1,889 words I wrote today, but still kind of indifferent as to whether I'd actually push myself to finish Nano this year. I did it once. That should be accomplishment enough, right?

Well, then I recalled that it's only 1,600-something that you have to write a day. And that means that - at the end of Day #1 - I'm ahead of the game.

That makes me feel good - but I think I'll feel guiltier if I don't keep it up, now.

Anyway, I tried throwing my plot (and I'm starting to develop one!) into the Plot-o-Matic and got this:

The Crazy Grad Student Who Thinks She Has Time to Write a Novel
an original concept
by Poohba

Comedy: A struggling artist teams up with a crotchety codger to take on the mafia. In the process they fall in love with four British men on welfare. By the end of the movie they run away from 49 oogly aliens and end up winning the admiration of their 3rd grade teacher, living happily ever after.
Think It's a Wonderful Life meets The Phantom of the Opera.

(I don't think the Plot-o-Matic's pull down menu choice's quite represented where I'm going with this story, but oh well. It sure makes it sound interesting, doesn't it?)

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