Holiday break

MerryChristmasBlog

I will be taking a break until the new year to spend time with family and friends, and to work on some new content for the blog. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and will see you back here on January 3rd!

Movie adaptations

This past weekend while at the movies I saw a trailer for an upcoming version of Jane Eyre.

It looks amazing, full of love, spooky stuff and excellent period costumes.  It reminds me of one of my favorite movies, which also happens to be an adaptation of a classic.

While my first introduction to the stories of Jane Austen came courtesy of Clueless with Alicia Silverstone (and pre-superstar Paul Rudd), the Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet version of Sense and Sensibility is the movie that sold me on her work.  To this day, I hold a special place in my heart for that book above all of Austen’s others.

The movie is beautifully crafted thanks to direction by Ang Lee – the patient yet tense builds in each scene, awkward pauses and loaded subtext expressed throughout.  The rigid etiquette permeates the entire movie so that when we see Marianne careening about in carriages and exploding at Willoughby at the ball, we cringe.  Yet we also ache for her at the patent unfairness of it all, the way she and Elinor are stifled and silenced by their circumstances.  It is a beautiful and powerful film, just like the book.

Inspired by the Jane Eyre trailer, I downloaded a free copy of the book from Project Gutenberg.  I think I may look around for a reading challenge to read more classics.  It occurred to me that I haven’t read that many of the traditional classic books, and I would like to.  If I can’t find an existing challenge, I may just have to host it myself!

What are some of your favorite movie adaptations of books?  Besides Jane Eyre, there are Harry Potter 7.2 and Breaking Dawn to look forward to (or dread, depending on your opinion) next year.  What book movies are you excited to see in 2011?

Apollo’s Angels

First things first. I’m still in the process of learning my way around Blogger, so you may see a few things change over the next week or so. I don’t think Blogger is as intuitive or streamlined as WordPress, but already I’m super happy with the ease of adding HTML and widgets. I didn’t want to spend the money to self-host my WordPress site, and if I’m being honest, I was jealous of the GFC following. I felt like I was getting left behind. Now that I’ve joined the party, I’m feeling relieved.

That said, I’m exhausted after staying up waaaay too late last night trying to figure out how to point my domain to a new DNS host and then route traffic to this blog and not the old one. I think I’ve got it set now, and I tried to pass a message along to the few subscribers I knew about (and had) to try and ease the transition. I definitely wanted to get the new blog going ASAP so it would be less of a hassle for the fewest number of people. Phew! I think we got there.

Anyway, on to books. Today I was very excited to receive this well reviewed nonfiction work:

This book, written by a former ballerina and historian, discusses the history of ballet from the time of Louis XIV to the present. It also happened to make the New York Times’ Ten Best list for 2010. 
I’m a sucker for good nonfiction, and this one has earned such high praise that it is kind of hard to ignore. As a former ballet student, I love that I have a full history of ballet in one book. It covers all of the major techniques (French, Italian, Russian, Danish) and includes an epilogue where the author, Jennifer Homans, declares ballet a dying art. 
If that proves to be true, it will be a major cultural loss. Dance is unique in its expression through movement and form. It creates pictures with the human body, put to some of the most beautiful music ever written. It teaches interpretation of music in a completely kinetic way, something that I am still grateful to have learned. Had I been blessed with more flexibility and joint stability, I would be dancing even today. 
I know this will be the kind of book I pick up from time to time and read a few chapters from before putting it back on the shelf. I need to digest it piece by piece instead of trying to rush my way through. Although it’s neither YA nor fiction, I wanted to share my excitement of getting this book in the mail today. I’m a proud mama to this little baby.

New look!

After careful consideration, I have decided to switch my blog host from WordPress to Blogger. If you had a subscription through the old site it may not work correctly. I hope you’ll sign up on the new platform and continue following. Thanks!

Why I Love YA

Yesterday was the first time I had been to a bookstore in ages.  Considering that most of what I’m reading for this blog these days is YA fiction, that’s the section I headed for first. My sister and husband followed my lead, but quickly became embarrassed.  They were uncomfortable being in the young adult section and scurried off to more adult topics.

Granted, neither of them are big fiction readers anyway, but I was surprised that they would feel so self-conscious. What is there to be embarrassed about? Why is it weird to prefer fiction written for young people?

I hate the stigma that comes with reading certain types of literature. If you like fantasy or sci-fi, you’re a nerd. If you read mainstream thrillers or mysteries, you’re not a “real” reader. If you read literary fiction you’re a smartypants. In this case, I think the feeling was that if we were in the young adult section, that must mean we are immature or creepy or stupid for wanting to read material aimed at younger audiences.  Yet both of my family members wouldn’t care if they were caught reading Harry Potter in public.

I like YA fiction because it tends to place protagonists in situations where they must grow, mature, or evolve in some way. That, to me, is compelling fiction. I have a strong sense of nostalgia for my late teen years – experiencing first loves, learning hard life lessons, discovering my own sense of morality.  So much of how I define myself was learned during that time span, and reliving it or experiencing different paths from new perspectives allows me to reflect on my own journey.

There’s nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to our reading choices. The reason YA fiction has a bajillion book blogs written by older readers is because we love it. We are passionate about reading and writing stories for young people. YA stories grip us, tug at our heart strings, and allow us to continue learning about ourselves. They move us and inspire us and sweep us into their worlds.

The stories I read in the YA section of the bookstore are powerful and magical. I’m happy and proud to be seen supporting those authors. My sister and my husband just don’t know what they’re missing.

What do you like best about the genres you read? Do you ever feel embarrassed about reading them?

Review: Unearthly by Cynthia Hand




Book: Unearthly

Author: Cynthia Hand
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: January 4, 2011
Source: NetGalley ARC

Synopsis: (from GoodreadsIn the beginning, there’s a boy standing in the trees. . .

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she’s part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what it is, though, isn’t easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place–and out of place, at the same time. Because there’s another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara’s less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she’d have to make–between honesty and deciet, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

First impressions: Clara is immediately likable.  I loved her from the start.  Her voice is easygoing, unpretentious, funny and believable.  The first few pages really set up the strong relationship with her mother and her insecurities with her purpose, which kept me reading.

Lasting impressions: I was slightly annoyed that the book so obviously leads into a sequel.  I love cliffhangers, but only with established series where I am totally invested in continuing to read.  Here, it feels like a gimmick to get me to buy the next book, which based on this story, I probably won’t do.

Negative impressions: Yet another love triangle.  Yet another female protagonist who underestimates her own beauty.  I don’t usually mind familiar tropes, but here I felt there wasn’t much new being offered.  I also felt there wasn’t enough urgency for Clara to discover her purpose.  The summer she spends with Tucker was captivating, but it seemed like a detour from the main story that didn’t slide seamlessly into the action.

Overall impressions: I think there’s a good book hidden in here somewhere.  Sort of like with comedians who don’t quite nail the right joke, I think Hand has good material that didn’t quite get executed to its fullest potential.  Clara is such a great MC that I really wanted to love the book, but in the end, I just kind of liked it.  Something about Christian irritated me, and by the time the relationship with Tucker started to develop, I didn’t really care about either of them anymore.  I just wanted her to get around to doing something.

I think there were one or two superfluous characters that distracted from the plot more than they added to it.  I didn’t feel Wendy or Jeffrey added much to the action or character development.  They may be Chekhov’s guns.  Perhaps they add something more to the sequel, due out in 2012.  Personally, I feel that all characters should either advance the MC or advance the story, and if they do neither then why spend time with them?

Overall, the story was interesting and I loved Clara.  Despite a few issues I had with suspending my disbelief when it came to the angel concept, I found the book engaging.  In the end, I think this turned out to be a nice debut and a good book, although with some tighter editing I think it could have been great.

Rating: 3/5 stars


Anachronistic tendencies

All of this talk about steampunk around here lately got me thinking about my fascination with history.  It’s one of my favorite subjects to study and read about.  I’m unable to resist pondering the lives of people in other times.  What was it like to wear their clothes?  Use their bathrooms?  Eat their food?  Clean their houses?  Show me a passage that describes daily life in another time and I will read it voraciously.

I love historical fiction for that reason.  Books like the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon that are so impeccably researched are my kind of thing.  Gabaldon is so great at building up the world around her characters so you feel you are roughing it in 18th century Scotland and America right along side them.

That rich world building laced with history is part of what makes steampunk so appealing to me.  Yet the fantasy lover in me can also get on board with the anachronism of the futuristic gadgetry.  Combining the two sort of creates the perfect existence – the advantages of technology and the formal etiquette of days gone by.

I certainly have my moments when I wish I could be living in another time.  Who is the comedian who joked that nobody ever pictures themselves as a serf or a slave?  It was a really funny bit I remember watching where they talked about how when we think of reincarnation and being in another time it’s always as a queen or lord or some other high-ranking society member, despite the odds being against that situation.  Quite funny, and I’m as guilty of it as the next person.

If I could live in any other time, it would be 17th century France.  I have some serious love for the Sun King, Louis XIV.  Seeing Versailles was a high point of my honeymoon. Imagining the palace filled with servants and courtiers, looking through windows as thousands of others had done for centuries…chills.  Nothing makes me swoon more.

What time and place do you fantasize about the most?  What era do you envy?

Follow Friday (1)

Hopefully I’m not driving everyone crazy with the memes this week.  Tomorrow I’m posting about life in other times and coming Monday is my review of Unearthly by Cynthia Hand.

For now, it’s Follow Friday!  Hosted by the always amazing Parajunkee’s View, this is a chance to meet new blogger friends and grow our networks.

This week’s question is “What did you study in college, or are currently studying and did it lead to your current 9 to 5 or are you doing something totally different?”

Well, I graduated college with a BFA in Theatre Arts.  I most definitely am not doing anything with that in my current job.  In fact, ever since I graduated, I’ve been working in the legal field, even though I don’t want to be a lawyer.  Go figure.  I’m currently in grad school finishing my MS in Public Service Management.  I’m hoping to find a job in grant writing or something similar where I can use my writing and research skills.

I realize WordPress complicates things because it doesn’t allow the GFC widget.  I would love it if my visitors would follow me on Twitter and add me to their RSS feeds instead! There are several RSS links through Feedburner on my sidebar.  And I love comments!

Check out this week’s featured blogger, Rabid Reads.  She’s got a great blog about urban fantasy and paranormal romance, and a fun new look designed by Parajunkee.  And don’t forget to check out the other Follow Friday participants!

Weekly Geeks (1): Guilty Pleasures

Weekly Geeks hosts blog entries around a common theme that differs every week.  This week’s theme is guilty pleasures.  Specifically:

  • The Books that you Love but are Embarrassed to be Seen Reading
  • Tell us WHY you love them
  • And (just for fun) tell us your favorite guilty snack that goes perfectly with all that guilty reading

My biggest embarrassment comes from books with giant cats on or in them.  Actually, it doesn’t even have to be cats.  Any animal will do.

For instance, I love the Mrs. Murphy mysteries by Rita Mae Brown.  I also happen to love her fox hunting series.  Both have pictures of animals on the covers and illustrations inside.  Nothing makes me feel like a bigger dork than reading on the train to work and having the ten people in my immediate vicinity staring at pictures of cutesy cats and dogs and horses all over the pages I’m reading.

Inevitably, those are the times that I’m sitting next to someone reading a very dog-eared and worn copy of something highbrow.

I do love them, though.  I love my kitty and horsey mysteries.  They’re like brain candy. They require little focus and take hardly any time to finish. They have familiar characters that I don’t have to spend time getting to know.  It’s like coming home.

As for snacks, by far my guiltiest pleasure is an order of Texas Cheese Fries from Outback Steakhouse.  They have about a million calories but are so cheesysaltybaconyyumyum that I have a hard time resisting their siren song.

Dammit.  Now I’m hungry.

Steampunk and Shakespeare

I admit that until recently, if you had asked me what “steampunk” was I probably couldn’t have answered you.  After a teeny bit of online exposure and research…well, I’m still not entirely certain.  I know that it usually takes place in Victorian London and involves futuristic technology and gadgetry.  That’s where my knowledge pool runs dry.

According to Wikipedia, steampunk is “a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s.[1] Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely usedâ??usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britainâ??that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne or real technologies like the computer but developed earlier in an alternate history.”

It’s a fascinating genre that seems to be (dare I say it?) gathering steam. My curiosity reached a tipping point when I saw a trending topic on Twitter for #steampunkshakespeare.  Quoi? I thought to myself.  I clicked this link and discovered that some steampunk writers are putting together a little submission request/contest for Shakespearean plays or sonnets that have been reworked as steampunk tales.

The idea is to create thoughtful new interpretations of Shakespeare’s universal stories through the steampunk genre.  It is not intended to be a mash-up or just Shakespeare with some airships thrown in.  The rules are basically:

1) Write 10,000 words or less on a scene, act, aspect of the story, or sonnet that turns Shakespeare into steampunk;
2) Make it recognizable and true to the original source material;
3) Use Shakespearean language if possible;
4) Keep violence and sexual situations within Shakespearean limits; and
5) Make the steampunk more than just “window dressing.”

The deadlines for submissions is May 30th.  Considering my deep love for Shakespeare, I’m thinking about taking a stab at this project, even if it doesn’t end in a submission.  It could be a fun exercise.

The glorious thing about Shakespeare is that his plays are so universal.  They can be transported in time or place and still tell a story that touches the heart.  His words still resonate with us today, and I’m always humbled by that fact.  In college, I was blessed to play a number of Shakespearean roles.  Some of the productions were more traditional, but some were experimental, like the gender-reversed Hamlet or the 1920s set A Comedy of Errors. You can play around with Shakespeare so much and yet still tell a powerful story, which is why this project is so great.

To rectify my steampunk knowledge deficiency, I’m declaring entry in another reading challenge.  Bookish Ardour is hosting a “Get Steampunked!” challenge, and to start I’m going to declare my participation at Geared/Level 1 and read 5 steampunk books next year.  That number may increase.  I already have a list of books I’d like to read, which I’ll include below.  Click the button to get more info on the challenge, and a number of others that BA is hosting.

Get Steampunked!

My reading list (so far):

1. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
2. Soulless by Gail Carriger
3. Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
4. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
5. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

What do you think of steampunk novels?  Any other suggestions for books I should be reading in addition to or instead of those on my list?