I've moved bookishwhimsy.com to tumblr! This blog is now an archive of my past posts.


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: Mr. Fox

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Mr. Fox
by Helen Oyeyemi

Plot Summary:

Fairytale romances end with a wedding. The fairytales that don't get more complicated. In this book, celebrated writer Mr. Fox can't stop himself from killing off the heroines of his novels, and neither can his wife, Daphne. It's not until Mary, his muse, comes to life and transforms him from author into subject that his story begins to unfold differently. Meanwhile, Daphne becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair, and finds her way into Mary and Mr. Fox's game. And so Mr. Fox is offered a choice: Will it be a life with the girl of his dreams, or a life with an all-too-real woman who delights him more than he cares to admit?

Review:

With a book like this, it is difficult to say whether I liked it or not.  Stories that are allegorical, with meanings and subtext hidden under layers of words are admirable I feel, because I do appreciate that there is a deeper meaning, but unfortunately I don't always quite know what that meaning is.  This book does push you to think about the original fairy tale "Mr. Fox", and the interplay between male and female relationships, especially how it is told in stories.  The book is a series of vignettes, with the main plot interrupted by a variety of tales that are told alternately from a male and a female point of view.  Each vignette seems to elucidate some aspect of Mr. Fox's (the author) strange relationship with his muse, Mary Foxe.  And only later in the novel is the wife, Daphne, given a true voice, which felt a little odd, as I wished I had known her better from the beginning.  But then again, I can see how it mirrors the original tale, because only after Daphne knows Mr. Fox's secret can she interact in the story.

As a story, I think this book will appeal to a specific kind of reader, who likes a challenge and who is not as interested in plot and characters but ideas.  And good writing, as the author definitely writes lyrical and powerful prose - her writing is something to be savored.  As a reworking and commentary on the fairy tale "Mr. Fox," the author seems to have looked at many different angles on the tale, but ultimately I'm not sure what the message is, or what the attitude towards the original tale might be.  It's a very readable book however, if you enjoy the different scenarios the author drops you into and the thought-provoking nature of the stories.  Personally these kinds of books don't appeal to me in general, but once in a while it is nice to try something different!

Part of the Project Fairy Tale Reading Challenge
Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Awesome Adaptations (27) - Guest for Breakfast

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

Awesome Adaptations is a weekly bookish meme, hosted at Alisa Selene’s books blog, Picturemereading.  Anyone can play along! Each week there is a new category of adaptation to blog about. Any format (television series, film, web series, etc.) is acceptable as long as it is based in some form on a book. If you’re playing along on your own blog, just mention Picturemereading in your post and include the banner above. Let them know which film you’d pick and why it is an awesome adaptation worth watching. Oh, and don’t forget to share the link to your own post in the comments for that week’s challenge so that everyone can read your thoughts!

An Awesome Adaptation of a Short Story
Title: Guest for Breakfast (from Alfred Hitchcock Presents)
Adapted from: Guest for Breakfast by C.B. Gilford

Alfred Hitchcock Presents was a half-hour anthology series from the fifties that presented suspenseful, dark stories.  I think it is most well known for the fact that Alfred Hitchcock introduced each episode, and for how he would step into his silhouette.  They show the old episodes on those hard to find digital stations that only show old TV shows.  It's great, you should check it out!

This episode is my favorite of the series!  I think it's so brilliant!  It's a darkly humorous, tense character driven story that centers around a married couple who are pretty fed up with each other.  They constantly bicker and make snide remarks.  The husband especially, played by Scott McKay, has a wonderful sarcastic wit.  And then a man knocks on their door and pulls a gun on them.  He's just killed his wife and her lover and is running from the cops.  And he doesn't mind killing one of the couple, and taking the other as hostage, but instead of fighting for their lives, they do their best to convince the murderer to kill the other one.  In such a horrible situation, the way the husband and wife desperately try to convince their captor that they are more valuable to him is both funny and dreadful, and I think the way this episode walks the line between the two is awe-inspiring.

The reason that I like it so much though, has more to do with how it ends, because the resolution is as dramatic and satisfying as a story with so much tension should be.  I think the main actors were fantastic in their roles and pulled off the subtext in their characters histories so well.  It's so well acted, and packs a punch emotionally.  It's absolutely an awesome adaptation!

So now that I've tried so hard not to spoil the story for you, you can watch it on Hulu!
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: Smoke and Mirrors

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Smoke and Mirrors
by Neil Gaiman

Plot Summary:

In the deft hands of Neil Gaiman, magic is no mere illusion ... and anything is possible. In this, Gaiman's first book of short stories, his imagination and supreme artistry transform a mundane world into a place of terrible wonders -- a place where an old woman can purchase the Holy Grail at a thrift store, where assassins advertise their services in the Yellow Pages under "Pest Control," and where a frightened young boy must barter for his life with a mean-spirited troll living beneath a bridge by the railroad tracks. Explore a new reality -- obscured by smoke and darkness, yet brilliantly tangible -- in this extraordinary collection of short works by a master prestidigitator. It will dazzle your senses, touch your heart, and haunt your dreams.

Review:

Oh Neil Gaiman.  The way you wield words is extraordinary.  These short tales only prove to emphasize Neil's craftsmanship of words, with the way he gives detail and nuance to characters and settings in only a few sentences.  The short tales starts off with a magical, whimsical vibe and as the novel progresses, they get darker and grittier.  I have to say that I enjoyed the first half more, but that is personal preference, as I do enjoy Gaiman's work more when it is lighter and more entrancing.  A lot of his work seems to explore the darker side of human nature, and I enjoy more positivity in what I read.  However, all the stories in this book are excellent and extremely varied.

There are short poems and prose pieces interspersed with the longer short fictions and many are thought provoking and present unique outlooks on very mundane occurrences.  I felt like each piece was almost a puzzle to decipher because it was very hard to see where Neil was taking the story and what the moral or piece of wisdom would be in the end.  The story "Changes" in particular resonated with me - perhaps because I am in the Science field - but the way Neil takes a new scientific discovery - a cure for cancer - and makes it a parable for the pitfalls of advanced technology was genius.  In another favorite tale: "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale", the story becomes a pure farce, albeit with that macabre touch, that shows how easily human weakness can be exploited.  It's all very entertaining, and it is fun to pick up and read a couple stories here and there when you have the time.

I read this book for Project Fairy Tale and Neil Gaiman's "The White Road" is based on my particular fairy tale "Mr. Fox." Gaiman's story emphasizes the imminent danger of the original fairy tale, by starting with a different tale about a woman who went mad when she found out her lover wanted to kill her.  The writing is concise and lyrical, which only seemed to heighten the eeriness of the story.  And the story is told through "Mr. Fox's" eyes, which makes the twist at the end very interesting, as well as justifying completely the beginning tale.  It's a very thought-provoking piece, and gave me chills, it so beautifully turned the original fairy tale on it's head.

I can't highly recommend this book enough.  Though there were stories in it that did not resonate with me, I feel pretty confident that most people will come across one or two stories (or more!) that they absolutely adore as I did.  I may be a little biased because I have so much admiration for Neil Gaiman's skill, but this book is a perfectly magical way to transport your mind into new worlds and ideas.

Part of Project Fairy Tale Reading challenge

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: Morrigan

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,

Morrigan
by Laura DeLuca

Plot Summary:

Shuffled from place to place in the foster system, Morrigan doesn't know the meaning of home. Plus, she is different. She has power over fire, the ability to move objects with her mind, and glimpse into the future. Just when she believes her life can’t get any stranger, she discovers her true identity.

Filtiarn, a knight with a dark past and a surprising secret, has been tasked with guiding the heir of Tír na NÓg through countless perils to be returned to her family. Once Morrigan has been reunited with her mother and grandmother, their triad can save the forgotten land of magic from being devoured by an ancient evil.

Note:

I've previously read and reviewed Laura DeLuca's Phantom and loved the story and the characters!  I was very interested in seeing how the author writes for YA fantasy.

Review:

The story starts off with a first person prologue that kind of made me sad because the story then switches to third person, and I was initially impressed by reading the story in Morrigan's voice.   I think the story might have been more effective in first person.  However, the story is very well-written, and I think the author made Morrigan's story very relatable and compelling.  It's a classic quest story with witches, magic, and a werewolf. And it pulls on different mythologies and lore.  Although the story has unique aspects, for the most part, I felt that the fantasy is pretty average and predictable.  But the story is a fast-paced read and the world-building is believable.  It is very interesting to read how the author juxtaposes Morrigan's more modern sensibilities with the old world manners and attitudes of Tír na NÓg.  And I felt like Morrigan dealt with the differences in a believable way.

The romance between Morrigan and Tiarn is of the insta-variety and much less believable because we are just told that they are soulmates.  I would have liked more to the romance than instant attraction.  But aside from that, the romance is very sweet and the two are great characters that you are happy to see together.  This story is readable and engaging with a spunky heroine and a sweet, shallow romance.  And although the story is pretty much standalone, it ends on a note that easily sets it up for more in the series.

a review copy was provided in connection with Young Adult Novel Reader Blog Tours

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Suspense Sundays (35)

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
"Now let's see... Suspect... Suspectant... Suspend... Ah here we are, Suspense.  The condition of mental uncertainty usually accompanied by apprehension or anxiety.  Fear of something that is about to occur, as 'Do not keep me any longer in SUSPENSE.'"

Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962, claiming to be "radio's outstanding theater of thrills."  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  I love the old-fashion story-telling and I thought it would be fun to give a short review of an episode every Sunday.  



"Christmas for Carol"
Air date: December 21, 1951
Starring Dennis Day and Elliott Lewis
The episode begins with a rather nice sounding man named Paul, having just pulled off a house burglary with a rough sounding fellow and wanting to leave.  The other fellow, Rocky, doesn't want to leave just yet because the owners might have more money.  Paul is starting to regret his choice to rob this house and we hear what happened backstory style.  Paul's wife is pregnant and will need special care, but Paul doesn't make enough money, so when a man withdraws his life savings from his bank account, Paul decides to rob him.  He gets Rocky to help him because he's a criminal and knows how to manage these things.  Then Paul has a change of heart.

I wanted to listen to a Suspense episode, and I only had this Christmas story on my iPhone, so this one is a bit out of season, but still very enjoyable.  Suspense doesn't often have feel good stories - the endings are usually happy, but the story is so dark that it's hard to see the whole episode as positive.  This story sets up likable characters and a very sympathetic predicament. And wraps up what could be a bad ending nicely with a very neat twist.  And then Dennis Day (who was a singer I believe) sings a bit of "The First Noel".

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Books to Music: Into the Woods

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
How do you say to your child in the night 
Nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white? 
How do you say it will all be all right 
When you know that it might not be true? 
What do you do?

Stephen Sondheim is a musical theatre genius.  The things he can do with music and lyrics utterly shames the talents of ordinary people.  These are true facts.  Unfortunately I don't like all his shows.  It's just so story and character focused, and the music always complements that.  And if the story doesn't appeal to me, the music loses it's lustre. To me only in the whole wide world, I'm sure.  But you guys, this is not the case with this musical.  I adore this show, it brings joy to my story and music loving soul and the adapting, reworking and weaving of the different fairy tales is sheer perfection.  There are repeating themes and layers of meaning from the plot and lyrics that extend clear through to the repeating motifs in the melodies.  And if that isn't enough, this musical is hilarious!  Seriously, Stephen Sondheim is not human.

The first act is the happily ever after, and interweaves the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack (of Beanstalk fame).  The second act is about the consequences.  And things aren't so happy.  To be honest, there are so many layers to this musical, it is difficult to break it down in this short insignificant post of mine.  Sondheim's music almost always supports the words - it's not often he has a conventional melodic song in his shows - but it totally works for his shows.  And so to really enjoy his musicals you must know and appreciate the story.  They are very much intertwined.  I can't say much more than if there is an opportunity to see this show live, you must see it.  I can almost guarantee that if you like fairy tales, you will enjoy this musical!  Listening to the soundtrack is entertaining, but seeing the whole picture makes everything come together perfectly.

Song Spotlight: "Your Fault"
There are some amazing songs in the musical obviously, but I've always been a little obsessed by this very short song in the second act that leads into "Last Midnight".  It's five characters having an argument.  Singing!  Five characters!  And the music builds to a  fast and frantic pace; I'm just amazed at the amount of practice it must take to be able to sing the lines, with the right emphasis and with the right timing.  Everybody is pointing fingers at everyone else for the bad things that have happened, and the music is a whirling melody, just fueling everyone's anger and unreasonable accusations.  And then when it slows down for "Last Midnight",  the frenzy of the song is that much more emphasized.

And I just want to mention my favorite bit in this song - just this one moment, when Jack points his finger at Little Red because she dared him so it's her fault, and then everyone gets on board and says 'so it's your fault!'  Little Red's line is "Wait a minute."  But when it's done right - with just that touch of 'WTF! Are you guys freaking serious?' attitude behind it - I love it!  It just kills me, it's so funny!
Friday, February 22, 2013

Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Rediscovered Railway and Other Stories

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Sherlock Holmes: The Rediscovered Railway and Other Stories
by John Taylor

Plot Summary:

Four more thrilling Sherlock Holmes adventures from John Taylor, the creator of The Unopened Casebook of Sherlock Holmes , inspired by the original stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Includes An Inscrutable Masquerade ; The Conundrum of Coach 13 ; The Trinity Vicarage Larceny ; and The 10:59 Assassin.



Review:

Some new Sherlock Holmes stories read by Benedict Cumberbatch?  Yes, please.  Honestly that is the only reason I picked up this audiobook, but I'm glad that I did because not only did I really enjoy Benedict's reading (wonderfully varied and distinct and his Sherlock is appropriately different from his modern TV version), I really enjoyed these stories.

"An Inscrutable Masquerade" was my favorite actually, Watson is kept largely in the dark, as Holmes works on the case, and I found Watson's repressed exasperation yet general good will to honor Holmes' difficult requests so endearing and a perfect representation of his character.  The mystery itself was not too difficult to unravel, but the crafting of the story was very entertaining.

"The Conundrum of Coach 13" was a bit drawn out, probably because I think it is easy to guess how the crime was engineered.  The 'who' was not as easy to figure out, and it was a fun twist. And nice to hear Benedict do an American accent!

"The Trinity Vicarage Larceny" was the weakest story in my opinion.  More of a character driven mystery in a small town village.  It was only okay for me.

"The 10:59 Assassin" was a good end to this set of stories because the nature of the mystery was so convoluted and full of red herrings.  Definitely this was a more mind twisty mystery, with a very memorable set-up.

Of course these stories don't match the original in cleverness, but it does a believable job of capturing the characters and creating some very interesting mysteries.  It's an enjoyable listen and worth it if you are a fan of Holmes or Benedict.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Excerpt: Aversion

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Aversion (The Mentalist Series #1)
by Kenechi Udogu

Thank you Kenechi for sharing this excerpt from your novel with my blog!  

Plot Summary:

For Gemma Green’s first time, things should have been straightforward. Find your subject, hold their gaze and push a thought into their head to save them from future disaster – Aversion complete. A pretty simple process given that the subject was to have no recollection of the experience. But Russ Tanner doesn’t seem to want to forget. In fact the more she tries to avoid him, the more he pushes to get to know her. Gemma knows she has a problem but is she facing the side effects of a failed Aversion or has the school’s tennis champ really fallen for her?

Book Excerpt:


I took a deep breath and walked over to Russ’s window, lowering my head to the same level as his face. Despite my common sense, I could see what half the girls in my year went on about when I overheard them going on about how cute he was. He had an appealing mix of his mother’s Persian features and his father’s athletic build. His dark eyes were wide and expressed his confusion, yet he said nothing. Funny how I had never noticed his eyes before; right then it felt like they were trying to bore holes through me. At least he was cautious enough not to wind down the window. But the glass only protected him physically. I didn’t need to touch him for this to work. All I needed was eye contact and I had it.

Hello Russ. You will start to forget every word I say even as I speak. You will also forget that I was here tonight. There’s no need to panic, going to the party is not an option. Do what you have to do to get out of it. Whatever happens tonight, do not get into this car again.

That should do it, I thought as I saw his pupils dilate ever so slightly and flash a pale blue shade before clearing up again. But then I remembered something else that I had thought about earlier on that afternoon after I had felt the jolt and realised that I’d have to see him again that night.

Oh and stop that filthy habit of smoking with Dean and those idiots at break. Seriously, tennis pro with tar coated lungs? I stepped away from the car and walked back to where Dad was waiting behind the car. It was time to see if it had worked, if I had finally crossed the threshold between exceptionally perceptive human and Averter. At first nothing happened as Russ remained in the car with his head bent low.

“I blew it, didn’t I?” I said with a sigh.

“Patience. You’ve just attempted to alter his psyche, give it a moment.”

Almost on cue, the car door flew open and Russ got out. He didn’t turn back to acknowledge us. Instead he walked into the house and shut the door. Lights went on inside as he found his way round the house and Dad motioned for us to return to our waiting area. We had to make sure that he wasn’t going to convince himself that the party was still a good place to be at. Dad said that sometimes it didn’t matter what we tried to achieve, strong will power had been known to be the cause of failed Aversion attempts, especially when the subject was young and feisty. But the front door remained shut and after about an hour, Dad indicated that it was time to go.

That was it. My first Aversion. It was that easy. I was finally going to receive my Orb, a vessel that helped channel the emotions of our assignees to us from a great distance. Receiving it would truly mark my graduation into the big leagues.

I was certain things had gone smoothly until the next day at school when I walked past Russ in the cafeteria. I usually kept my head down when there were a lot of people around but I couldn’t help sneaking a peek at him. I was still slightly fascinated by the fact that I had altered his mind and he was supposed to have no recollection of it. He was sitting with his usual group of noisy friends, probably the same ones who would have died last night if it hadn’t been for my little stunt, so I expected him to be engrossed in whatever they were saying. But when I looked up, he was staring at me. Not just a quick glance like I was attempting, but outright staring. I was so shocked by this that I looked away really quickly. Something didn’t feel right. I thought I had detected a flicker of recognition in his eyes. But it couldn’t be. He had no reason to stare at me. It could only mean one thing.

I ate my lunch as hurriedly as I could, left the cafeteria and headed for the girls’ toilets where I locked myself in a cubicle and tried not to hyperventilate. Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe he hadn’t even been looking at me. I suppressed the urge to ring Dad and tell him that I might have botched the Aversion. What could I have done wrong? He hadn’t gone to the party so that part had clearly worked. Maybe I hadn’t been strong enough when I told him not to remember anything about me being there. That could be why he thought he recognised me.

I couldn’t hide in there for long, I had classes to attend and our school toilets didn’t smell good enough to hang about in for more than a few minutes. When I emerged from the cubicle, I caught sight of my reflection in the large mirror above the washbasins and gasped. I looked like someone had smacked me across the face and was coming back to finish the job off. I wasn’t usually superficial enough to notice what I looked like so for me to say that I looked bad, I really did look awful.

“Gemma?”

I had left the toilets and was walking to my next class when the sound of my name hit me in the gut. Please let this not be happening, I prayed silently as I turned round to face my addresser.

Sure enough it was Russ standing behind me, frowning like he had done last night and still looking incredibly cute. I had never let myself consider what the boys in my school looked like and yet for the second time in less than twenty four hours, I was struck by Russ’s large dark eyes. Urgh, what was wrong with me? Think cocoa allergy, I scolded myself.

Even worse than that was the thought that I had definitely messed up my first Aversion. I had to have. Russ Tanner had never spoken to me before today and suddenly, there he was, calling my name right in front of everyone. Damn it. That probably meant that I was not going to receive my Orb today.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Awesome Adaptations (26) - The Brave Little Tailor

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

Awesome Adaptations is a weekly bookish meme, hosted at Alisa Selene’s books blog, Picturemereading.  Anyone can play along! Each week there is a new category of adaptation to blog about. Any format (television series, film, web series, etc.) is acceptable as long as it is based in some form on a book. If you’re playing along on your own blog, just mention Picturemereading in your post and include the banner above. Let them know which film you’d pick and why it is an awesome adaptation worth watching. Oh, and don’t forget to share the link to your own post in the comments for that week’s challenge so that everyone can read your thoughts!

An Awesomely (Jacob and Wilhelm) Grimm Adaptation
Title: The Brave Little Tailor
Adapted from: The Brave Little Tailor by the Grimm Brothers

The original fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers is very different from the Disney animated short.  Obviously Disney had to work it's magic.  While Grimm's Tailor is wonderfully clever and brave, he also comes off as arrogant and entitled at times.  It's an odd balance, because although he definitely earns the rewards he gains through his daring, he is pretty full of himself.  That whole dynamic is done away with in the Disney version.  Mickey is always likable, and his accomplishment of "seven with one blow" is blown out of proportion due to other people's misunderstandings.  His presentation at court is probably one of the most memorable scenes as Princess Minnie is quickly enamored by Mickey.  It's a way again, for Mickey to go on this quest to kill the giant without showing arrogance, as Minnie's presence clearly scrambles his mind.

From then on, similarities to the Grimm fairy tale ends, as Mickey's successful encounter with the giant is less calculating and more pure luck.  I love the animation of these scenes - the artists did a wonderful job highlighting the large scale of the giant by having him downing pumpkins, using a thatch roof as a cigar, and houses as chairs.  The cartoon is much more fun and sillier than the Grimm tale, and with a much more satisfying 'happily ever after'.  Although I like the light-hearted approach of the cartoon more than the original fairy tale, I still have to give credit for the original Tailor's very clever methods in beating people who seem to be more powerful, and better qualified than him.


By the way, I just found out that I've been nominated for the Best Noob Blogger  at Parajunkee's Book Blogger Twitter Con awards!  Thank you so much to whoever nominated me!  I really appreciate that!  And though it is truly (and I really mean it, cause this is totally unexpected) an honor to just be nominated, vote for me I guess?  :) Voting starts March 1st.  Totally going to check out all the nominated blogs now!
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gallifrey One - the most awesome Doctor Who convention evah!

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
From L to R Sylvester McCoy, Mark Strickson, Daphne Ashbrook, Michael Jayston, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Peter Purves
Last weekend, I went to the 24th Gallifrey One convention in LA and had such a fantastic time.  I didn't get to bring anyone with me (I got the ticket last minute through a transfer - they sold out earlier!) so even though I was a loner for some of the time, I didn't mind as I got to meet up with my favorite actor who played the Valeyard, Michael Jayston, and he was so lovely to meet up with me for a meal before and after his panels and interviews every day.  Really, the highlight of the convention was talking to him and hearing all his fabulous stories and insightful thoughts.  And his silliness.  I've been a huge fan of his work for several years, have been lucky enough to maintain a correspondence with him because of the fan site I run for him, and this weekend has only cemented my impression of his genuine kindness, charm and modesty.  He was just the absolute best, and much more welcoming to me than I deserve!  However I did see many of the actors and writers from the Whovian world mingle with the fans and I'm sure that all of these people are just as genuine and kind to all the convention goers.  And definitely from my interactions with them, they are very wonderful.  I'm not sure how it is at other conventions, but going to the lobby area to see Ian McNeice sitting at a table with an iPad, then turning around to see Sylvester McCoy walking with his jaunty cane or passing Freema Aygeman as she goes to the restroom - it's all pretty amazing.  And the fans are just as amazing - I loved seeing all the cosplay outfits!  There were some pretty kick-ass Weeping Angels, an amazing Clockwork woman, and people in spacesuits and Ood faces.  And life-sized Daleks and K-9 roaming the halls!

I went to a few panels - mostly the main ones, and probably the one that blew me away the most was the Q&A session with Mark Sheppard.  (Although I did miss Sylvester McCoy's interview where he went into the audience to take questions - so awesome!)  Usually the interviews are moderated - with someone to ask questions and then field questions from the audience, but Mark came up solo, and totally commanded the audience with a wonderfully down-to-earth wit and a genuine connection with the audience.  He's been in some amazingly popular shows, and I was surprised by how much he seemed to enjoy just talking to people and engaging with fans.  He's a big fanboy himself, so he understands.  There was one girl who got up to ask a question and was super nervous - and Mark made her stop and told her not to be scared, he's just a guy with a really cool job.  Which definitely wouldn't help my nerves, but it seemed to help her (and she was really brave to get up in front of that audience anyways!).  I really regret not getting his autograph or a picture, but he seems to love doing the convention, so I hope to catch him next time.  And I definitely found a new favorite actor!

I mostly saw Classic!Who stars and the handful of New!Who - Freema and Mark and the deliciously evil Madame Kovarian, Frances Barber.  But for the Community fans, I also saw the panel for the new web series of Inspector Spacetime (although not called that for legal purposes) so the "Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time."  (Yes, it's really called that)  It's headed by the original Inspector from Community who regenerated (with the same face) and has a new associate (aww, no Constable Reggie), and I was completely amazed by how much I loved it!  The show is so funny and has all these cool nods to Doctor Who! (The associate is named Piper Tate :D) I highly recommend watching the first part - the quality is top notch as well!  The "optic pocketknife" is probably going to be for sale some day soon, so I can't wait for that!




It was a very tiring weekend in some ways, but worth it for the time I spent with my favorite actor, and the amazing energy of the best kind of people in the world - the Whovians.  I got to talk to a few people, collect a few ribbons (it's a con thing) and see actors as just the regular people they are. If most regular people had adoring fans.  The vibe of Gallifrey One is very low-key, it's a volunteer run event, intentionally kept on a small scale, and very focused on giving fans an opportunity to engage with the actors easily.  It's such an exciting event, and I loved indulging my Whovian nerd for three whole days!

Next year has Colin Baker (the 6th Doctor) and Katy Manning as some of the main guests confirmed at the moment.  They did mention that David Tennant was asked for this year, and although he considered it, he had to turn it down because of a work conflict.  So.... next year?


Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: A Tale Dark and Grimm

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
A Tale Dark and Grimm
by Adam Gidwitz

Plot Summary:

In this mischievous and utterly original debut, Hansel and Gretel walk out of their own story and into eight other classic Grimm-inspired tales. As readers follow the siblings through a forest brimming with menacing foes, they learn the true story behind (and beyond) the bread crumbs, edible houses, and outwitted witches.

Fairy tales have never been more irreverent or subversive as Hansel and Gretel learn to take charge of their destinies and become the clever architects of their own happily ever after.

Review:

This novel uses different Grimm fairy tales and recreates them to tell a new version of Hansel and Gretel's story.  The author also frames the story in his own version of a dark fairy tale that I found very inventive.   The darker, macabre nature of Grimm's stories are maintained and emphasized by the asides of the narrator who comments or supplies warnings to the reader.  The changes and updates made by the author are very clever and entertaining while also commenting on the resilience of children and the gulf between a child's understanding and a parent's understanding. (And the meaning of the word "understanding")  It's a clever way to explore thought-provoking themes and it adds much depth to a book aimed for a middle grade audience.

The way the story is framed - with comic asides and hints dropped by the narrator - at first seems a little too gimmicky, but I quickly found I enjoyed the narrator's interruptions and the way it created tension and expectations in the unfolding of each story.  And although the narrator never feels like an integral part of the story, he/she does give perspective on the ultimate moral of the tale.

Clever, wryly humorous and very entertaining, I think these tales can appeal to old and young readers because it enhances the magic of fairy tales while also adding depth and real emotion.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Suspense Sundays (34)

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
"Now let's see... Suspect... Suspectant... Suspend... Ah here we are, Suspense.  The condition of mental uncertainty usually accompanied by apprehension or anxiety.  Fear of something that is about to occur, as 'Do not keep me any longer in SUSPENSE.'"

Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962, claiming to be "radio's outstanding theater of thrills."  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  I love the old-fashion story-telling and I thought it would be fun to give a short review of an episode every Sunday.  



"Two Sharp Knives"
Air date: December 22, 1942
Starring Stuart Erwin
While small town police chief, Anderson, and his deputy Wally, watch the train come in, they notice a man get off who is wanted in Philadelphia for murder.  They take him in, though he protests his innocence, and lock him up for the night.  In the morning the man is found dead, having hung himself with his belt.  Anderson later finds that the man is not wanted by the police at all, but has been looking for his missing wife.

Another intriguing story from the Suspense team! This one takes a few twists, especially as certain characters turn up and you wonder why someone would want to frame the man for murder.  It's a surprise reveal in the end who is behind everything.  This story definitely goes the least likely suspect route.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Books to Music: Cyrano "Thither Thother Thide of the..."

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Indecency is a very correlative terminalogical brusteration of the whole concept of contracept.
Depending on the mode of varitriculation between subject and object.
Subject and upject.
Oh that's ridiculous really.

Another look at one song, this is the comic nonsense song from the 1973 musical adaptation of Cyrano. I heard that one of the reasons Christopher Plummer accepted the role of Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music was because he wanted to practice singing in musicals - especially so he could play this part.  Of course in The Sound of Music, his singing didn't make the soundtrack, but here you get to hear his real voice.  And it's really pretty good!

"Thither, Thother, Thide of the...." takes place when Cyrano is trying to distract De Guiche while Roxana and Christian marry.  He interrupts De Guiche and acts like a madman while he talks about... something on the other side of the moon. Except he can't really get all his words out, and he constantly interrupts himself.  The lyrics of this song are pretty genius, given how hard it must be to write nonsense that sounds meaningful and conversational.  And Christopher Plummer pulls off the conversational part brilliantly, because there is such conviction and purpose in his delivery.  The song captures Cyrano's command of language because it seems more difficult to engineer such nonsensical but convincing claptrap on the spot.

 The pace of this song intrigues me as well - how it starts and stops - which means seeing it live must be the best way to experience it so one can understand the acting choices made.  I can just imagine how fun this must be to perform - swaggering about with bravado on the stage.  The whole song is just one manic run of words and crashing brass and whimsical wind instruments that disorient and confuse.  I also love how the people Cyrano are talking to laugh like they are just trying to humor him. I can imagine their confused nervous glances at each other, while they smile and nod placatingly at Cyrano.  I think this song is a big departure from the music on the rest of the album, which made it stand out for me.

Unfortunately youtube has failed me, in not having this song available to listen, so check out the clips on Amazon if you would like to hear more!
Friday, February 15, 2013

The Classics Spin! (My list)

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
The Classics Club is having a fun event for participants, where we post twenty of our fifty books, number them, and then on Monday, the 18th, they will post a number and we have to try and read the corresponding book by April 1st.  I'm already a little behind my goal of reading one Classic every month, so this is a great opportunity to get me to pick up another one soon!

The Club suggests some categories for my picks so here they are:

Five I can't wait to read:
1. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
A book I've heard a lot about, and there are some possible Jane Eyre connections, so I'm definitely interested.
2. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A classic children's story I should have read long ago!  And then I can compare it to the musical!
3. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
This is rather a recent interest of mine because of a podcast I like to listen to.  And I saw a really good movie recently where H.G. Wells chases Jack the Ripper into 1970s San Francisco.
4. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
I've heard alot about the British adaptation of this sci-fi book and how good it is, so I want to read the original before I watch it.
5. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
It's been recommended to me more than once!

Five I'm hesitant/dreading to read:
6. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Love the miniseries, but it is a very long book!
7. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
I love the musical, but again it's a novel of daunting length!
8. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Not sure if I will really like this story, but I am curious about it.
9. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
I tried reading this once and was a little bored. I really want to push through and get to the good parts though!
10. Paradise Lost by John Milton
I think I will enjoy this, but I'm not overly fond of reading story length poems.

Five I'm neutral about:
11. Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
12. The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo
13. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
14. Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (the spin number was 14!)
15. Atonement by Ian McEwan
No comments on these really, just books that I wouldn't pick to read first thing.

Five Blogger's Choice (Jane Austen!)
Austen has the most books on my list, so I should get started!
16. Emma
17. Mansfield Park
18. Persuasion
19. Sense and Sensibility
20. The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (not enough Jane on my list apparently)

And just for funnsies, I'm going to "predict" the number the Classics Club will pick by using the random number generator on my phone.  ...And the number is 20!  So if I'm wrong, I'll challenge myself more by also trying to read "The Italian" by April 1st.

I'm at the Gallifrey One Doctor Who convention all this weekend, so I won't be checking in on people's blogs and commenting til next week, but I have my posts scheduled, and hopefully will be updating on twitter!  That is if cellular network can take the load over there!  Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: My Favorite Bride

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My Favorite Bride
by Christina Dodd

Plot Summary:

When Miss Samantha Prendregast arrives at Devil's Fell to take charge of six rebellious girls, the vibrant, outspoken governess is not quite prepared to deal with the tall, dark and dashing master of the grand estate. The children she can manage with intelligence, guile . . . and a little bribery. Their widowed father, Colonel William Gregory, is not so easily charmed -- and far too easy to fall in love with, which she dares not do.

William always cherished the orderliness of his life, until this captivating troublemaker began flouting his authority and distracting him with her witty defiance and breathtaking beauty. Despite the fact that they clash at every meeting, William finds himself inexplicably drawn to Samantha's fire. And now he's even contemplating marriage, which would be sweet madness indeed.

But before he can successfully woo her, William must discover what it is that Samantha is hiding from him. But the secret the lady is preciously guarding is far too shocking and dangerous to ever reveal .

Review:

I picked this book up because it was inspired by The Sound of Music and I found it a really fun read.  This is part of a series of romance novels with Governesses, and having not read the others, I was charmed by the romance which, if I had read the previous books, I might have found this formulaic, but I would think Samantha's sassiness and sharp tongue is an unique aspect to this book.  Samantha's verbal sparring with Colonel Gregory is very entertaining as is Samantha's methods to tame the Gregory children.  She is not as sweet as Maria from The Sound of Music, for sure!  There is a subplot involving spies and Colonel Gregory's real heartbreak concerning the death of his first wife, which was nice and all, but of course I just wanted to read more about the romance and the tension-filled looks!  The subplot did give Samantha a chance to prove herself to the Colonel and created her character arc, and maybe is a nod to the Nazi aspect of SOM?  It was good but more interesting to read the scenes between Samantha and the Colonel.

The steamy romance scenes definitely build on the charged tension between the leads, and though I'm not a big reader of those sorts of things, I can see why the author included them, though it seemed over the top. There was a part near the end that really towed the line between consensual and non-consensual and that made me cringe  a little, but the author pulled the scene back towards consensual eventually.  Getting back to the Sound of Music aspect - I really loved the tiny nods to the musical that inspired the story - I'm thinking the title is a play on "My Favorite Things", the children sing, and there is even one part where a character wonders if she was wicked in her childhood.  That really made me smile.  Overall I really enjoyed the development of Colonel Gregory and Samantha's interest in each other and the way Samantha won over the children.  And the children's hand in bringing the Colonel and Samantha together in the end!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Awesome Adaptations (25) - Lost in Austen

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

Awesome Adaptations is a weekly bookish meme, hosted at Alisa Selene’s books blog, Picturemereading.  Anyone can play along! Each week there is a new category of adaptation to blog about. Any format (television series, film, web series, etc.) is acceptable as long as it is based in some form on a book. If you’re playing along on your own blog, just mention Picturemereading in your post and include the banner above. Let them know which film you’d pick and why it is an awesome adaptation worth watching. Oh, and don’t forget to share the link to your own post in the comments for that week’s challenge so that everyone can read your thoughts!

An Awesome Adaptation WITH CORSETS!
Title: Lost in Austen
Adapted from: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

If you haven't seen this miniseries (why!??) then you should know that the premise is a modern woman finding a portal to the world of Pride and Prejudice and effectively trading places with Elizabeth Bennett in the story.   Her presence disrupts the plot, and because she knows how the story must go, she keeps trying to put it back on track but it keeps derailing.  This is such an amazing show - it's so funny and clever and a beautiful tribute to Pride and Prejudice.

Because Amanda, the modern day heroine, changes the plot so much, there are different sides of the well known characters that are revealed and some surprising twists and turns to the plot.  Happy Mr. Bingley becomes morose and bitter, Mr. Wickham is not the villain he's always made out to be, and horror of horrors, Jane marries Mr. Collins!  It's so fun to have a faithful adaptation that can also take extraordinary liberties with the original story, explore the meta- impact of the source material on our culture, and even reference other visual adaptations of the novel!  There are just so many levels that this story functions on, that I sometimes find it more engaging than other Pride and Prejudice adaptations because I find it more relatable as a fangirl and an Anglophile.  And this version is definitely more hilarious.

I adore this show so much, I really wish there were more adaptations of novels that takes this approach to the story - something tongue-in-cheek and intelligent while also being faithful to the characters.  Of course, they would also have to pull off perfectly casting the characters and finding another great device to rework the material like fiction portals!  As that is probably unlikely to happen, I'll continue to watch Lost in Austen as my ideal post-modern adaptation.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review: Someone Else's Fairytale

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Someone Else's Fairytale
by Emily Mah Tippetts

Plot Summary:

Jason Vanderholt, Hollywood's hottest actor, falls head over heels for everygirl, Chloe Winters, who hasn't gotten around to watching most of his movies. She becomes the woman every other woman in America is dying to be, but it just isn't her fairytale.



Review:

The premise of this story definitely drew me to read it, because I am a bit of a fangirl, and this sounds like my fairytale!  But the way the author spun the story was unexpected and I think true to her vision of the message she was trying to get across.  But it was difficult for me to appreciate the point of the story, probably mostly because I found it hard to identify with Chloe.  With the cover and the plot, it seemed like this story would be a very fun, romantic chick-lit story, but it has a serious subplot that affected the tone, and made it an unexpected blend of romance and drama.  

The first half of the book, which dealt with Chloe and Jason's growing "friendship" seemed full of awkward conversations and inexplicable attraction.  I was a bit surprised by how quickly Jason seemed to fall in love and a little annoyed by how Chloe refused to acknowledge it.  The second half was a bit better, mostly because I am a sucker for romance, and even if I was unsure how Chloe and Jason could be so sure of their feelings so quickly, I enjoyed reading about their relationship.  The drama aspect that deals with Chloe's past was a way to explain Chloe's behavior about Jason and his attentions, but by the time I fully understood what the author was trying to say, I found it was too hard to connect with Chloe as a character.  She's very tough, and not used to giving into her feelings.

Jason's family and Chloe's friends were a great supporting cast, and Jason's niece Kyra, was a sweet foil to Chloe.  Although I wish that aspect of Kyra's hero worship was better set-up because it seemed to come out of nowhere.  I think this is a nice, quick read, that is really more engaging in the second half, but sets up some great characters.  Don't go into it expecting straight up chick-lit though!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: The Robber Bridegroom

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The Robber Bridegroom
by Eudora Welty

Plot Summary

Legendary figures of Mississippi's past - flatboatman Mike Fink and the dreaded Harp brothers - mingle with characters from Eudora Welty's own imagination in an exuberant fantasy set along the Natchez Trace. Berry-stained bandit of the woods Jamie Lockhart steals Rosamond, the beautiful daughter of pioneer planter Clement Musgrove, to set in motion this frontier fairy tale.

 "For all her wild, rich fancy, Welty writes prose that is as disciplined as it is beautiful" (New Yorker)

Review:

I have to admit - I enjoyed this novel more than I thought I would!  It's a slim volume, with very easy to read prose, witty asides and interesting turns of phrases.  It reads like a fairy tale, tall tale and parable all rolled up in one.  The plot this story follows is very fanciful, full of mis-communications, unlikely coincidences, and meaningful imagery.  While the story is inspired by The Robber Bridegroom, I feel there are also influences of the Greek myth Psyche and Eros and Beauty and the Beast.  Which adds a lot of dimensions to the original fairy tales.  There are many references to stories and characters I did not pick up on - Mike Fink and the Harp brothers are mentioned in the plot summary - but probably more frontier legends and stories that I am not familiar with. In this case, this story seemed rich with lore, and I thought it very interesting how the author wove all these elements together.

The story moves quickly, and in very unconventional ways.  The things that happen are sometimes nonsensical, but very in the tradition of fairy tales.  I thought it was a lovely, well-written, unusual story with very broad characterizations and an interesting twist on The Robber Bridegroom fairy tale.  It takes a fairly dark tale, and makes it brighter and more hopeful.

part of the Project Fairy Tale reading challenge

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Suspense Sundays (33)

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
"Now let's see... Suspect... Suspectant... Suspend... Ah here we are, Suspense.  The condition of mental uncertainty usually accompanied by apprehension or anxiety.  Fear of something that is about to occur, as 'Do not keep me any longer in SUSPENSE.'"

Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962, claiming to be "radio's outstanding theater of thrills."  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  I love the old-fashion story-telling and I thought it would be fun to give a short review of an episode every Sunday.  



"The Black Curtain"
Air date: December 2, 1943
Starring Cary Grant
A man slips on an icy sidewalk and awakens on the street with no memory of his last three years.  Frank Townsend's only clue is his hat and cigar case with initials D. N.  He is chased by another man with a gun, and starts to put the pieces of his past together.  It leads him to a girl, named Ruth, who loves him, but begs him to leave because he's wanted for murder.

Cary Grant! Worth the listen for that alone.  It's nice that this is a great story as well.  The conundrum of  trying to solve the mystery of your past, coupled with a pretty horrible crime on your hands makes the story very compelling.  And there is the moment in the end when the listener knows who the murderer is, but Frank still hadn't figured it out, and the suspense of that moment was delicious!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Books to Music: Phantom: The American Musical Sensation

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Look within this heart of mine, Christine. 
The very constant soul and music, of Christine.
Behind this mortal mask, this terror of a face conceals, 
the gesture and the grace of you, Christine.

A musical based on The Phantom of the Opera - no not that one.  There is a fundamental difference between the approach of this version (Maury Yeston/Arthur Kopit), compared to the Andrew Lloyd Webber version.  And I tried my best not to think of ALW when I was listening to this.  But can I just say the jaunty Overture is vastly disappointing compared to the stirringly dramatic ALW version.  Okay, I'm done now.

First things first, this is quite a good cast recording.  Surprisingly so, considering how memorable the ALW... oh wait, wasn't going to think of that version.  It's more remnisicent of the traditional musical sound (like Rodgers and Hammerstein) with perhaps a more realistic attempt to sound like a Parisian opera house.  At least there is more French and French accents in this recording.  This musical also has touches of lightness and humor in the music and lyrics which sounds a little odd to me - it seems thematically inconsistent for the source material.  The story takes liberties with the original novel, so that there is more of a focus on the characters and their stories.  Carlotta gets her own character song, and the Phantom is reunited with his father.  Weird.  The ending is still tragic, but done differently from the book and I'm not sure what Christine's real feelings are supposed to be for the Phantom.  At least I hope she did make the decision that she did not want to marry him in the show.  This musical is uneven, but overall quite lovely.

Song Spotlight: You Are Music
This is a great example of what I feel are the strengths and weaknesses in this musical - the beginning has the Phantom preparing Christine for her audition and some bland Do-Re-Mi/singing instructional verses are interrupted by the Phantom and Christine's (inner monologue?) of rather gorgeous music hinting at their fascination with each other.  In the beginning, I'm shaking my head at the lyrics, and then suddenly completely on board for the "you are music" parts.  It's so pretty, and touching when it is reprised in the end for Christine to mourn the Phantom's death.  By the way, at least that is consistent with the book - he does die in the end.
Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: The Crock of Gold

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The Crock of Gold
by James Stephens

Plot Summary:

Meehawl MacMurrachu's old skinny cat kills a robin redbreast on the roof one day, forging the first link in a long, peculiar chain of events. For the robin redbreast is the particular bird of the Leprecauns of Gort na Gloca Mora, and the Leprecauns retaliate by stealing Meehawl MacMurrachu's wife's washing-board, and Meehawl asks the Philosopher who lives in the center of the pine wood called Coilla Doraca for advice in locating the washboard...and the chain leads on and on, up to Angus Og himself and to the country of the gods. Unique and inimitable, this is one of the great tales of our century.

Review:

An intriguing blend of Irish folklore, philosophy and poetic thoughts, this novel was a very interesting read.  On the one hand, I was very taken by it's atmosphere and the straightforward whimsy of the characters and their issues.  I am not very familiar with Irish folklore and I wonder if that would have helped me  appreciate this story better, as I did find it a little too leisurely in pace, and sometimes the characters seemed unsympathetically ridiculous.  Although the writing is beautiful it is very specific in it's lyrical power, and I was not always as appreciative of the digressions at the expense of plot, even when I recognized that this was a very artistic decision.  I picked up this story to read because I read once that it was Gene Kelly's favorite book, and because of that I was very interested in finishing the novel.  It is definitely unique, and if you have any interest in Irish folklore, I think this will be a great read for you.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Community is back!

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Just taking a moment to squee over the return of one of my favorite shows on TV tonight!  I started watching the first season of Community because I love The Soup and Joel McHale, and the pilot episode was okay, but then the show just transformed into something completely other.  It's hard to describe the awesome meta-ness and socially referential intelligence of the show!  It makes each episode a little present I can't wait to unwrap because each episode is such a surprise.

I was listening to the Nerdist podcast interview with Yvette Nicole Brown the other day (which just made me love her all the more, she just seems like such a kind person!) and Chris Hardwick mentioned how he thought Community was more nerdy than Big Bang Theory.  And I haven't watched BBT, but I do feel like Commnunity shows a different side to nerdiness -  the unconventional, more modern version that is in pretty much everyone to a certain extent.  Cause I don't know about you, but "I guess I just like liking things."  And liking things to an obsessive amount is nerdy.  Community celebrates so many different things and ideas that appeal to a wide variety of people and does it in a way that makes each episode fresh and interesting because it doesn't stick to one format or any set of rules.  It plays around with genres and themes, and shows how all these things can come together  through the idiosyncratic personalities of the characters. It's truly a community of these disparate people coming together and being bound in friendship and mutual respect, and isn't that all of us?  We are all a community of human beings.  The meta-ness of this show is kind of crazy.

Season Four starts tonight, and I wanted to help promote the heck out of it for new fans who have yet to see it, and for old fans who might not have realized it's back. (If your new, totally start with the first season though!)  Even with the creator and head writer of the show, Dan Harmon, let go (a shame!), I still hope this show will continue to grow and build on his previous work.  And having seen the trailer online for the season, I love some of the things they are doing.  Right directions are being headed towards.  And tonight is going to be an homage to the Hunger Games! (The Hunger Deans!)

And a question for any fans reading this post - what is your favorite episode?
Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Awesome Adaptations (24) - Cat Ballou

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

Awesome Adaptations is a weekly bookish meme, hosted at Alisa Selene’s books blog, Picturemereading.  Anyone can play along! Each week there is a new category of adaptation to blog about. Any format (television series, film, web series, etc.) is acceptable as long as it is based in some form on a book. If you’re playing along on your own blog, just mention Picturemereading in your post and include the banner above. Let them know which film you’d pick and why it is an awesome adaptation worth watching. Oh, and don’t forget to share the link to your own post in the comments for that week’s challenge so that everyone can read your thoughts!

An Awesome Adaptation of an American Story
Title: Cat Ballou
Adapted from: The Ballad of Cat Ballou by Roy Chanslor

When I think of a genre that is uniquely American, I think of the Western, and Cat Ballou is my favorite Western film.  It's a film that is very much altered from the source material in terms of tone.  While the book is a gritty tale that is very recognizably a straight Western, the film can only be defined as a Western comedy musical.  The musical part comes in because there are two Greek chorus-type balladeers (one of whom is Nat King Cole!) who narrate the story of Cat as she transforms from mild-mannered school marm to vengeful outlaw.   I have to say I think it's a SHAME the soundtrack has no official release, because I love the music in this film!

The aspects of this film that I feel embody the American spirit come down to the themes of independence, rebellion, and justice. Cat Ballou is fighting back the big business interests of the Wolf City Development who hired a gunman to kill her father because he wouldn't sell his land to make way for a railroad.  She's fighting against some pretty important people, and the darker elements of the plot is kept intact, even with the lighter comedy relief of her ragtag band of outlaws, and her tenuous romance with Clay.  In the middle of the film, there's a beautifully touching song that Nat King Cole sings just after Cat loses her father with the lyrics "There are tear drops in her heart, but they can't make her cry."  The whole scene is pure artistry - from the framing, the lighting and the perfect lyrics.  The film really has it all - adventure, hijinks, emotion, romance, gunfights, and comedy.  And don't even get me started on the scene where Kid Shellen's transforms from drunk, ineffectual gunman to super slick deadly killer - it's a role that's brilliantly played by Lee Marvin and that won him an Oscar, and it's just one of the very memorable scenes from this film.

There is so much in this film to appeal - it's a great story, with great characters and acting.  It's charming and touching and absolutely entertaining.  And it's a great to watch an underdog conquer!
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: English Fairy Tales

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
English Fairy Tales
by Joseph Jacobs

Plot Summary:

This book contains over forty of the best-loved fairy stories, beautifully illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

Favourites such as Jack the Giant-killer, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington, The Three Little Pigs and The Babes in the Wood are all here among many others, but stories from different traditions also make their appearance, including The Three Bears and Little Red Hiding Hood.


Review:

It's difficult to give a review for fairy tales, especially when it is a book of the stories in their original form.  How can I critique it?  They are timeless and awesome. So in my "review", I'm more comparing how this book meets my expectations based on what I have read from the more well known fairy tale compilers like the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson.  Some of these English fairy tales are very familiar, but they are not always quite how I know them.

The first impression I had was that this book is more varied in terms of 'fairy tales'.  There are a lot of folk tales, and silly children's stories that don't have any moral or resolution really ("Master of all Masters springs to mind, as a short tale that seems to have the point of reciting silly words).  There is also a fixation on the name Jack for a lot of these characters.  I just thought that was interesting.  I wonder if they are all the same person.  There is also references to King Arthur and his court which I found very fascinating because some of these tales seem grounded in realistic detail.  They mention Kings who reigned and real locations in England as having seen the events in the story.  It makes the tales a little less fantastical, even when there are giants roaming the English countryside.

Probably the tale that most surprised me was the story of Dick Whittington which now I realize I confused with the French "Puss in Boots" fairy tale.  Dick Whittington's story is much less magical, and more about being lucky enough to have a very industrious cat who likes to hunt mice.  The story that is my focus for Project Fairy Tale - "Mr. Fox", kind of stood out to me for its implied romance, gruesomeness, and the confrontation by the heroine. There are not too many stories in this book that are the same ilk. And lastly a story that I was surprised to see included was "The Golden Arm" which I was always more familiar with as a ghost story.  But now I know it is definitely a very old one.

With the more realistic settings, sometimes whimsical nature of a few tales, and the English slang that is used at times, this book of fairy tales is rather different from what I'm used to.  I find it very interesting to read the original of familiar tales and see how things have changed.  For instance "The Story of the Three Bears" is more familiar to readers as "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."  In the original story there is no Goldilocks - rather the intruder is a very disagreeable old woman.  This book is definitely worth a read, for something different than the usual stories and perhaps to find some new favorite fairy tales.


By the way,  I read a very interesting variation in this book on the classic "and they lived happily ever after"
"they all lived happy and died happy, and never drank out of a dry cappy."
Dry cappy?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Project Fairy Tale: Mr. Fox

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
"Like the old tale, my lord: "it is not so, nor `t was not so; but, indeed, God forbid it should be so."

This fairy tale, collected by Joseph Jacobs, is probably the one mentioned in Shakepeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" (as quoted above) and is a variant of the Grimm Brothers' "The Robber Bridegroom."  What do these two tales have in common?
  1. An engaged female visits the home of her betrothed
  2. She is warned away by signs/birds
  3. She hides herself in fear when her betrothed comes home
  4. She sees her betrothed chop a finger off a dead woman to get a ring
  5. The ring/finger lands in her lap
  6. She takes it home and tells her story as a dream the next day
  7. She produces the ring/finger triumphantly as proof of her tale
  8. Everybody dies (Well, just the bad guy(s))
Where "Mr. Fox" differs is really in the agency of the heroine.  In the fairy tale Lady Mary initiates the visit to Mr. Fox's house, uninvited and even in the very beginning, she is the one who has chosen to accept his suit.  In "The Robber Bridegroom", the father accepts the bridegroom's suit for his daughter.  The maiden (she is unnamed) is invited to visit his house (which makes it a little odd that he would invite his robber friends to his house the same day).  The maiden is helped by an old woman who tells her that she will die if she is seen.  In Mr. Fox, Lady Mary much more dramatically sees the bodies of women in a room (à la Bluebeard) and then hides when she sees Mr. Fox dragging in a woman.  In a way "Mr. Fox" is made a simpler tale because Lady Mary is the one who initiates all the action.  She is more empowered, while the maiden of the Grimm tale is helped along by the old woman.  I'm not sure why there is this difference in the stories - I think it might be an interesting insight into the two different cultures of the time, or at least the evolving views on women through time, but I'm only hypothesizing! Lest I give the story too much credit though, I should note that in the end, it is the male relatives who avenge Lady Mary.

"Mr. Fox" has a nice blend of romance, danger, horror and justice, with a strong, fearless heroine.  The writing is concise and lyrical, with the repeated warnings more memorable I think than the version in "The Robber Bridegroom."  It's a dark tale that warns of the danger to young women who trust too much in superficial charm and manners.  Tomorrow I'll review "English Fairy Tales" by Joseph Jacobs.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Suspense Sundays (32)

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
"Now let's see... Suspect... Suspectant... Suspend... Ah here we are, Suspense.  The condition of mental uncertainty usually accompanied by apprehension or anxiety.  Fear of something that is about to occur, as 'Do not keep me any longer in SUSPENSE.'"

Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962, claiming to be "radio's outstanding theater of thrills."  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  I love the old-fashion story-telling and I thought it would be fun to give a short review of an episode every Sunday.  



"Marry for Murder"
Air date: September 9, 1943
Starring Lillian Gish and Ray Collins
Philip, a lawyer, is our narrator as he speaks of a lady he met at a dinner party, Lettie, who is very beautiful and charming but a little too fluttery and nervy for his taste.  So the pressure is off him to become romantically involved when she marries a man named Mark.  Philip becomes concerned as suspicious things start happening.  First the couple write wills in each others favor, then Mark buys some rat poison and Lettie comes down with a little arsenic poisoning.  Almost too late does Philip figure out what is going on.

Every Suspense episode has a twist and this one I found easy to guess given that you don't have many options.  But it is still a well-told atmospheric episode (they love their sinister fog horns in this one) and Lillian Gish especially, as Lettie, is fantastic.  There is a monologue near the end that is absolutely typical of radio at the time and very entertaining because of it.  This is a fun one to listen to, and enjoy the slow building of ... suspense.
Saturday, February 2, 2013

Books to Music: The Little Mermaid "If Only"

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
I wanted to focus on one song from the musical for today's post, since I already kinda talked about the Disney movie before, but I'm sure I'll come back to the stage musical again for a full review because I love it so.

The song "If Only" is from the second act and is a newly written song for the show.  It features a quartet of singers - Ariel, Prince Eric, Sebastian and King Triton - who all sing about what they wish for.  It takes place after the end of Ariel's second day, just after "Kiss the Girl" so things aren't looking up for her.  It begins with Ariel (yes, she's lost her voice, but the audience can still "hear" her) :

Ariel
If only you would notice how I ache behind my smile,
I guess you never will, I guess it doesn't show
But if I never find a way to tell you so....
Oh! What I would give if only you could know

Ariel's palpable longing for Eric is beautifully backed by the wistful melody as she imagines what could happen "if only."  Although the original fairy tale has the little mermaid wanting two things - to be human as well as marry the Prince - this song only highlights Ariel's love, and I'm such a sucker for romance.  I find Ariel's verses in this song so haunting and plaintive and full of yearning.  It takes that same feeling from "Part of Your World" and makes it a personal need for love and acceptance.

Prince Eric
How come when she looks at me
It seems like time stops moving
Almost like the way it did that day upon the shore

The Prince in the original fairy tale and the Disney movie is a little marginalized.  He's hardly in one, and doesn't get to do much until the end in the other.  This musical develops the character, gives him more songs, adds more to Eric's relationship to Ariel, and makes him unequivocally choose her without knowing she was the one who saved him.  That is the biggest and best character change in my opinion!   (In the movie, I don't think this is really shown unambiguously)  In this song, he is just beginning to realize how much he is drawn to Ariel, even while obsessed with "that voice."

Sebastian
And if I only could,
I'd tell you what I do,
I'd simply wave me claw
And make your dreams come true

Oh Sebastian! I find his character so touching in this story.  Despite his crusty exterior he has such a warm, generous heart and his part in this song is to sing about how much he would do for Ariel to be happy.  He's just as wistful and so sympathetic to Ariel, it kind of makes me teary because it's so lovely for her to have a such a true friend like that.

King Triton
I'll try to understand,
I'll keep my temper low,
I should have started listening to you long ago

King Triton sings of his despair at losing his daughter, which is another reason this song makes me teary.  His verse is short in the song, but to the point and pretty heartbreaking when you empathize with the character.  I've always loved that King Triton is so forbidding and commanding in the show, but he loves his daughters so much and is willing to give up everything for them.  And then this song is reprised later between King Triton and Ariel and, surprise! it's just as melancholy and sweet when it's about Triton letting his daughter grow up.

Yup, this song is a tear fest, and the way all four voices weave together in the end (so perfectly!), just brings all the emotions to a poignant climax which then fades away as the characters have to face their reality.  I think this song does so much in illuminating character and purpose while also reminding everyone what's at stake.  And with it also being a beautifully melodic song, it's definitely one of my favorite songs from any musical, and I hope that if you have a listen you'll enjoy it as well!  Ariel is played by Sierra Boggess, Prince Eric by Sean Palmer, Sebastian by Tituss Burgess, and King Triton by Norm Lewis.  Their voices are so spectacular.

This is an unofficial video from the Denver run (pre-Broadway) so there are some lyric changes - the Bway lyrics are better!  (If Only I could get a better video of this!)  Thanks for making it through this rather long edition of "Books to Music"! :)