Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cranford: Book and Movie Reviews

For the Elizabeth Gaskell Mini-Challenge hosted by Becky, I decided to read Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell and watch the BBC series of the same name.  Both brought me so much enjoyment and satisfaction that I needed at the time--another reminder of why reading is so essential to my well-being!

Cranford, the Novel 

Cranford is one of those "You had me at hello" books.  I remember reading the first page at my daughter's karate class, and trying to suppress a gleeful chuckle so as not to embarrass myself:
"In the first place, Cranford is in posession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women.  If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment ... In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford.  What could they do if they were here?"

So, obviously, this is a book mostly about older, single women in the town of Cranford, after all "'A man ... is so in the way in the house."  But encounters with men do occur, and there are some young-uns popping in here and there (including the somewhat enigmatic narrator).  Not particularly plot driven, Cranford is more a collection of humorous and heartwarming sketches with delightful details of life in an English country town in the mid-1800's.   Each paragraph was a new joy for me to read.  I especially appreciated this description of  the bachelor Mr. Holbrook's sitting room:
"The rest of the pretty sitting room ... was filled with books.  They lay on the ground, they covered the walls, they strewed the table.  He was evidently half ashamed and half proud of his extravagance in this respect."
I can relate!  Also of relevance to my life is a chapter that begins with a discussion that "everyone has his own individual small economies"--their own special thing they are OCD about not wasting.  For the Cranford community, this could be paper, candles, even string.  For me--Ziploc bags.  I am a baggie-washer.

But personal tidbits aside, Cranford is about really about life, love, death, and the inevitability of change.  And a cat that eats valuable lace.  Which brings me to . . .

Cranford, the Movie
This is a must-see Brit Lit Chick Flick!!!   I don't even know what else I can say.  Perhaps just a heads-up that it is not only based on Cranford, but two other novellas by Gaskell.  The stories intertwine, which leads to some obvious changes in the original story, but it all works out wonderfully.

 George Eliot Laments
As lengthy as this post already is, it seems like a good place to express my sadness at not being able to complete the George Eliot Mini-Challenge also hosted by Becky by the June 1 ending date.  I had planned on reading the two of Eliot's major novels that I haven't read yet:  Romola, and Felix Holt.  I did, however, acquire copies of each--one used from Amazon, and one for just a dollar at a discount book store.  Score!  I will read them soon, and mostly likely gush about the genius of Eliot.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Author:  Ingrid Law
Published: 2008
Length: 342 pages
Acquired:  Local library
Award:  Newbery Honor
Author Website
Personal Enjoyment Factor:  4/5

Mississippi Beaumont (Mibs for short) is about to turn 13, the critical age when members of the Beaumont clan discover what extraordinary power, or "Savvy" they have.  One of her brothers causes hurricanes.  Another brother can generate electricity.  And her mom, well, she's just perfect.  At everything.

But before Mibs gets to blow out the 13 candles on her perfect birthday cake, her father is in a serious accident along the highway near the city where he works.  She hopes that when her Savvy surfaces, it will be a power that will help her save her father's life.  After series of detours and challenges along the way in an old pink bus with her brothers and the preacher's kids in tow, Mibs finally gets to her Poppa to figure out what she can do to help.

I totally enjoyed Law's style of storytelling.  The alliterative/rhyming wordplay was fun and  it fit the quirkiness of the characters.  While the idea of growing into superpowers and struggling to control them is not necessarily an original idea, she twists the concept in a fresh way with a message of resilience that is valuable for kids and adults alike.  Some of the abilities of the characters were delightfully creative, and the love they all have for one another is a theme that never gets old (for me, anyway).

I'm a crybaby and it takes little for me to lose it (Blindside (the movie) = 1 box tissue), so at the end of the book my youngest daughter and I were tag-teaming it during the places I couldn't get the words out because I was blubbering. I'm looking forward to the companion novel, Scumble, out in August of this year.

Additional thoughts from the "kidlings":
Eleven-year-old (a reluctant reviewer--this was all I could get out of her even though I offered a generous handful of pebbles for her rewards jar):  "The book Savvy was very interesting and original.  It was an exciting book and made me want to keep listening.  Once you hear one thing you want to hear the next.  My favorite character is Mibs' little brother Samson because of how shy he is and it's funny.  Savvy is a wonderful book."

Eight-year-old (who included spoilers so I had to edit):  "I liked the story Savvy.  It was a little sad at the beginning. But at the end [spoiler excluded :-)] If you have the chance, read the story Savvy."  I couldn't have said it better myself!


Monday, May 24, 2010

Weekly Geeks: A Character Comparison

What character do I resemble or relate to the most? 

 Dorothea from Middlemarch

It's probably been about 14 years since I've read Middlemarch, but I remember really identifying with Dorothea--her idealism in the beginning, frustration at wanting to do more than her circumstances would allow, and the things she would analyze in her head.  I'm hoping to reread it for Nymeth's readalong, and see how much I've changed, if at all.

Which character is the opposite of me?

The first thing that came to mind was any of the female characters in the Uglies series.

These girls have guts!! I'm a total wimp.

What character do I wish I could be?

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle

With four kids, I need her wisdom and creative problem-solving talent.  And I wouldn't mind living in her cool house!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Watsons Go to Birminghan--1963 (Audio Book)

Title: The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 (Audio)
Author:  Christopher Paul Curtis
Narrator:  Levar Burton
Published:  1995
Length:  4 hours and 47 minutes
Acquired:  Local library
Awards:  Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor
Author Website
Personal Enjoyment Factor:  4.5/5

Ten-year old Kenny, with a lazy eye and a talent for reading, tell us the story of his family, the "Weird Watsons", and their life in freezing Flint, Michigan.  His humorous tale focuses primarily on his older brother Byron who just can't seem to stay out of trouble.  When there seems no other hope for Byron other than sending him to live with his Grandma in Birmingham, Alabama, the whole family takes a road trip south, where they will encounter first hand the violence of that time and place.

The best testament I can give of the greatness of this book is that I was listening to it in the car, which I normally can't do--my mind usually wanders, so I mainly stick to house-cleaning audio-book experiences.  But I was completely engaged in the story from beginning to end.  I laughed, I cried, I loved the characters and hurt when they were hurting, and rejoiced when they found little joys in life.  Curtis is one of those authors that can blend humor with tragedy in a beautiful and novel way, and I love it! The audio version is read by LeVar Burton (Reading Rainbow guy!!) and he does a superb job.  

I've read Bud, Not Buddy (Newbery winner, I believe) by Curtis, and remember really liking it, but I read it pre-blog days, and my memory is hazy.  All that comes to mind is oatmeal and brown sugar, and I'm not really sure why.  It's sad that sometimes those silly things are all I remember about a good book.  But at least I know I can enjoy it all over again someday as if I had never read it before.  Elijah of Buxton is next of my Curtis TBR list, sitting right on my library book shelf and awaiting the 48 Hour Book Challenge coming up in early June.  

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Fill-Ins

It's been a while since I've participated in Friday Fill-ins, and, well, I was just in the mood today:

1.The "Shrek shadow"  never fails to make me smile.  What's the Shrek Shadow?  When we're driving in the van and the sun is right behind us, it casts a shadow on the road that's shaped like Shrek.  Hey, it's the simple things in life.
2. I'm looking forward to U2 Concert. Aaaaaaaaaaaaah!
3. My daughter finally getting out of the shower is what I'm listening to right now.
4. Potato salad must have double the hard-boiled eggs in it! 
5. Homemade pizza  with peppers, onions, and olives (for breakfast) was the best thing I ate today.
6. Today is/was a day that I'm hoping to read or watch Cranford.  I thought yesterday would be that day, but 15 minutes was all reality would allow.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to Thai food and choir concert at oldest daugther's school (unless she invites a friend to take my place), tomorrow my plans include  Walkathon for Baby Daylon  and Sunday, I want to read!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Influence

Are your book choices influenced by friends and family? Do their recommendations carry weight for you? Or do you choose your books solely by what you want to read?

Wow!  I can't specifically think of the last time a friend or family member recommended a book to me (other than Goodreads and blogging friends).  I think they don't want to be enablers for my addiction.  Either that, or I just have a bad memory.  I do, however, get recommendations on television shows, which I don't watch enough of.  I'm pretty lost in this area, so I appreciate the help.  (Favorite recommended show:  Lie to Me.  Next ones to try:  Big Bang Theory, Castle)

If someone does mention a book they loved, I almost always want to read it, but sometimes it gets lost in the "To Be Read"  pit.  I do love to be able to get into a discussion about a novel, which is why I love book clubs.  That's usually when I read something I would have never picked out on my own, so in a way, that's influence from others.   Otherwise, I basically read what I want, when I want.  But maybe not as much as I want!

On the flip side, I hate making recommendations to others.  It's even too much pressure for me to pick one out for a book club.  My turn for one of my groups is coming up, and I chose The Help.  I can't go wrong with that, right?

Join in here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

48 Hour Book Challenge

Before deciding whether or not to participate in this event hosted by MotherReader, I asked my family at dinner what they thought, and they gave me the thumbs up. I just wondered how many lengthy readathon activities they could tolerate in a year, but evidently they think it's pretty cool. It probably helps that I buy extra treats and am too busy reading to nag about chores. If it bothers my husband, he doesn't show it. I'm pretty lucky!  I've got a few activities that weekend to go to, but I will try to read as much as I can in between.  I suppose I need to be twice as organized as I would need to be for the 24 Hour Readathon. 
You can see details about the challenge here. The main idea is to pick any 48-hour period on the weekend of June 4-6 and read like crazy. She asks that books be fifth grade level and up, and adult books are okay. But I'm ready to forget that I am an adult, and dive into some great children's and YA books. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Paradise Lost: Books 1-3

This month Rebecca at Rebecca Reads is celebrating the works of John Milton with a reading of Paradise Lost and any other supplementary materials of interest.  I'm pretty much a newbie to Milton, so my thoughts will likely be pretty basic. Pretend I'm in middle school.  I am highlighting each book with a different color pencil, after all.  Juvenile, but gratifying.  I'm looking forward to getting insights from more experienced readers which always makes my reading more satisfying.  Here are some questions Rebecca has asked to get the ball rolling:

1. Have you read Paradise Lost before? If so, what are your impressions on the reread? If you haven’t, what are your first impressions?
As I mentioned previously, this is my first time reading Paradise Lost all the way through.  I believe that we read selections in high school, and as I have been reading passages sound very familiar to me, but I'm not sure if that is from school, or from allusions in other literary works. 

2. Epic proportions: Have you read other epics (like Homer or Virgil)? How does this compare so far?
I have read both the Odyssey and the Iliad, but not the Aeneid (thank goodness for spell check--I always forget how to spell that!).  It's hard to compare because the translation of the Iliad (Fagles) seems to be more intent on getting the story across with spare language rather than anything flowery, whereas I think one of Milton's main goals was to express his thoughts in the most beautiful language he could create.  In glancing through a few other translations of Homer's epics, I felt like the translators were also aiming for more of a lofty feel more similar to Milton's work. 
I already feel a couple of gaping holes in my reading of epic poetry: Virgil and Dante stand out the most as works I would like to study.

3. What do we learn about Milton from his first-person comments on the story he’s telling? Do you like his asides?
I was very moved by Milton's direct reference to his blindness in the beginning of Book III.  I read through this part a few times because it was so beautifully written and I love what he's trying to say about his lack of sight becoming a strength to him rather than a weakness.   After describing the darkness and the things he is cut off from, he petitions a heavenly light to illuminate him in a  more powerful way:

So much the rather thou, celestial light,
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate; there plant eyes; all mist from thence 
Purge and disperse; that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight. (lines 51-55)

4. The characters: Satan is the main character for most of the first three books. What do we learn about him? Is he appealing as the main character? Is he heroic? What do you think of Milton’s portrayal of the other devils in hell?
Satan is definitely the star of this first part, stealing the stage quite effectively.  I don't see him as heroic, although maybe I should look up the definition in a literary sense.  I'm not finding him appealing so much as annoying.  The stubbornness and pride rankle me a bit.  God has cast him out into this fiery pit, and still he refuses to admit God's omnipotence!  It's kind of a blindness, not seeing his own weaknesses, now that I think about it, that maybe can be compared/ contrasted with Milton's own blindness.  I'll think about that more when I don't have a headache.

5. The setting(s): So far, we see a lot of hell, and not as much heaven. What is your impression of Milton’s portrayal of the two locales?
Sad to say, hell does sound a bit more exciting!  Painful but vivid.   
On a somewhat related subject, I was disappointed in the angel Uriel for not seeing through Satan's disguise.  I felt like one of my team mates let the other guy score!  Come on heavenly host, we've got to rally!  But then again, it does say "For neither man nor angel can discern/Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks/Invisible, except to God alone"(Book III, 682-684).  So I shouldn't be so judgmental.  But while it's true that "goodness thinks no ill/ Where no ill seems,"  I must confess that I do want the angels to be smart as well as good.

6. Will you continue reading?
I will continue to read, although my time frame may extend into June.  Luckily, Rebecca has made this low-key and I don't feel too much pressure like I would if I this was assigned reading and I had to be concerned about a grade.  It's nice to do it just for fun.  Although studying anything in-depth in a class sounds pretty exciting.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Title:  Leviathan
Author:  Scott Westerfeld
Published:  2009
Pages:  464
Acquired:  Local library
Personal Enjoyment Factor:  3.5/5
Author's Blog:  Westerblog

Just as parts of this unique story were a labor for me to swallow, I'm having a hard time figuring out how to spit them out again into some sort of a coherent summary. An attempt:  Imagine that you've been cramming late into the night for a test on World War I while mindlessly inhaling Cheetos and Coke, and then you fall into a fitful sleep in which you dream that the Allies are flying through the air in a giant whale sending out bats that poop out metal spikes, and the Central Powers are marching around in AT-AT Walkers from The Empire Strikes Back (and yes I am proud to say I had to look up the name of these Star Wars machines). You wake up a little disoriented, but then you go and ace the test.  It's a testament to Westerfeld's writing that somehow it all works out into an entertaining and meaningful story. 
I'm a fan of the Uglies series by Westerfeld,  with my eyes practically dancing across the words to turn the pages faster and faster, but in Leviathan, with a brand-new lexicon to learn and imaginative machines to figure out, it took me a while to pick up the pace.  As encouragement to keep going as I processed everything, I met characters that I genuinely liked and cared about, and illustrations by Keith Thompson that are utterly captivating.  (The pictures even drew the attention of a few kids in the Peter Pan line at Disneyland who were desperately trying to get a better glimpse.)  Eventually, frantic page turning ensued, and I was engaged in a rollicking ride to the finish which was . . . a cliffhanger.  See you in October, 2010, Behemoth!