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


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year in Review - 2013

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,


It's time for a look back on the shenanigans of the past year on my blog!  I'm now heading into my third year of blogging, and I'm still really enjoying maintaining the blog and keeping up with other readers!  I think I will decrease the amount of posts next year though - I tried to post at least 6 times a week this year, but next year I'll make it 4.  I'll have only one regular meme - Suspense Sundays and I'll fill the other three posts with book reviews and random posts.  It'll be easier to read more, and I think that's my main goal for the new year because my official Goodreads count for books read this year is 120!  Which is less than what I read last year.  I don't know how that happened - I felt like I was reading more this year!

Like last year, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite reads of 2013 by category:




TOP INDIE READ:  The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta
Uh, this series is life-changing.  At least for me.  Because I found a new author to adore, and also because of this book I got to know a great group of bloggers with impeccable taste.  This is such an incredible read, and I hope everyone who reads this post has or will read it!  If only they would design classier covers - I would totally buy a copy for every room in my house!

TOP MAJOR PUBLISHING HOUSE READ: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I read this book this month, and I immediately knew it would be the year's highlight.  Just so relatable and honest.  With fantastic characters and storytelling.  There will be much more Rainbow Rowell reading for me next year I'm sure!

TOP JANE EYRE DERIVATIVE READ: Death of a Dowager by Joanna Campbell Slan
I didn't do too well with my Jane Eyre challenge this year - I only read 6 books towards my goal of 20.  I blame the fact that it is harder to find Jane Eyre derivative novels now that I've read all the readily available ones.  But of the books I read for the challenge (excluding my re-read of Jane Eyre of course) - Death of a Dowager was far and away the most true to the novel, and the most entertaining.  I think Joanna writes the what-happens-next for Jane so well, and I really hope there will be another book out in this series.

Other highlights


MOST POPULAR BLOG POST:
My post on seeing a live taping of Whose Line Is It Anyways?  A lot of people wanted to know how to get tickets and what going to a live taping is like.  It was a great experience!

FAVORITE POST:
Definitely my post on my trip to England earlier this year - Touring Jane Eyre Country.  I actually wrote most of the post on the plane ride back from England, so everything was still pretty fresh in my mind.  And it was such an amazing trip - I really can't wait to go back again!

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE YEAR:
Two events this year was a true delight for me - going to the Doctor Who Gallifrey One convention in February and meeting up with blogger Paola of A Novel Idea twice!  Once at Sarah J. Maas's book signing and again at the Vegas Valley Book Festival.  Both times I was able to indulge in my inner fangirl and squee (alot) and meeting up with awesome people is always fun!  

Also talking with the fellow Duchesses (more blubbering here) has been the best! I'm so glad to have found such a group of great blogging friends!!  Love you gals!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Jane, le renard, et moi

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Jane, le renard, et moi (Jane, the Fox and Me)
by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

Plot Summary:

Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Her school life is full of whispers and lies — Hélène weighs 216; she smells like BO. Her loving mother is too tired to be any help. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Hélène identifies strongly with Jane’s tribulations, and when she is lost in the pages of this wonderful book, she is able to ignore her tormentors. But when Hélène is humiliated on a class trip in front of her entire grade, she needs more than a fictional character to allow her to see herself as a person deserving of laughter and friendship.

This emotionally honest and visually stunning graphic novel reveals the casual brutality of which children are capable, but also assures readers that redemption can be found through connecting with another, whether the other is a friend, a fictional character or even, amazingly, a fox.

Review:

This is a wonderfully intelligent graphic novel about a bullied young girl who finds solace in Jane's journey in Jane Eyre.  Although it is available in English, I really wanted to brush up my French (which is sadly lacking) so I read this in the original Canadian French (with my handy dictionary).  If the nuances in the story got past me, then it is entirely my fault.  Although it was lovely to read the French text with the expressive artwork to help me understand Hélène's story.

The artwork is definitely a highlight in this story.  Hélène's personal experiences are in gray, simple pencil drawings, while scenes from Jane's life are in color which gives extra meaning when Hélène's life takes on a little color by the end.  Hélène is a very sympathetic character - a bookish introvert with self-worth issues and the teasing and mean comments from kids who used to be her friends are terrible.  The images give a lot of depth to the characters and Hélène's situation with the wonderful addition of comparing her life to Jane Eyre.  The commentary on Jane Eyre was perfect - I loved the comparisons made, and I completely agreed with the elements of the novel that made Jane's story so compelling.  It all works perfectly to advance the story and to make Hélène even more relatable.

This is a very sweet and engaging read, with lovely artwork and characterizations.  I think this is a book I will love to reread again and again to understand the story even better and to appreciate the message in Hélène's journey.

6th book of 20 in the Books of Eyre Reading Challenge


Amazon (English) / (French)

Goodreads
Sunday, December 29, 2013

Suspense Sundays (77) On a Country Road

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  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.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}


"On a Country Road"
Air date: November 16, 1950
Starring Cary Grant
>>Episodes here<<

David and his wife, Dorothy are taking a road trip and because of the terrible traffic, David decides to take a shortcut on a back road.  Even though there is a crazed murderer on the loose according to the radio.   OF COURSE, they run out of gas, and while Dorothy is in a panic that the murderer is nearby, David is practical and wants to go out and find some help but he stays with his wife.  Who soon sees a woman running for their car and is convinced she is the escaped murderer.

This episode is a study in paranoia and hysteria.  And unfortunately women are pretty prone to it in this episode!  I mean it's pretty scary to be isolated with a murderer on the loose, but panicking won't help!  Still, this is such a great episode for suspense, because it's so unclear whether the woman that happens upon them is the murderer or not.  Also it helps that Cary Grant stars in this episode and brings his charm as the beleaguered husband.  This is one of the classic episodes of Suspense, and a great one to listen to!


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Star Trek - some thoughts from a newbie fan

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Well, it's happened.  Somewhere between watching the recent film versions (thanks Paola!) and deciding to catch a random episode of the original series that's airing on the public TV station, I've decided I really like Star Trek!  And I never imagined I would get into the show.  It's early days yet - I haven't even finished the first season on Netflix (I just recently switched to streaming for Netflix btw - good times) but each episode is so addicting!  And curse you Netflix for adding a plot synopsis to the next episode which forces me to click play!  (Curses in a good way?)

I know there are a lot of Trekkies out there who can really do justice to what this show is all about, so for now, I wanted to talk about why I'm starting to like the show so much.  And if anyone is on the fence about watching it, maybe this post will help!

The first thing I wasn't expecting from this show was how polished it is for the time it was made.  Some of the special effects aren't great, but on the other hand there are some special effects that really look good!  And the show doesn't feel as cheesy as I thought it might be - in fact the characters really pull off the story lines and make me believe in this world.  From the first few episodes, the crew of the Enterprise already have such great rapport, and I'm riveted by the times when we get to see how the crew lives - like their rec room and their private rooms.  Because it seems like it would be a lot of fun to live on the Enterprise.  Except, of course, when the ship is heading into mortal danger every other episode.

I also find it interesting how internal these first few episodes of the series are - there are a lot of dangers that affect the mind and while it is a little redundant, I still find things trying to take over your mind fascinating.  It also makes for some great suspense when people they think they can trust are definitely not trustworthy.  The stories are really solid as well as the acting and special effects and I am really impressed by how thought-provoking and emotionally involving this show can be.  There's a part of me that compares this show to Classic Doctor Who and while I'm watching Star Trek, sometimes I think of what the Doctor would do in a similar situation.  For instance there was an episode (the first one that aired - "The Man Trap") where the creature is the very last of it's kind.  That creature didn't fare so well in Star Trek, and I feel like the Doctor would have had more sympathy with it and would have given it more of a chance to change it's path.  Obviously the basic philosophy is different in the Star Trek world, but it does make sense given these are humans, and humans have their weaknesses.  I don't know if I'll be a rabid fan of Star Trek like I am with Doctor Who, but I definitely plan to watch more and give it a shot!
Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
 
Cheers!!

Happy Holidays to everyone!  I'm going to be spending time with family today, probably watching Catching Fire again in theaters and rounding that off with the Doctor Who Christmas special, so I hope your day will be as full of fun and merry as mine! (Except for the Doctor Who Christmas special.  I'm sure it will be devastating.)

Do you guys find you take a lot of pictures on your phone?  Just random things, that look nice, but you know you will never really look at it again?  I find I do that.  And I think it's kinda a bad habit.  Especially when I need to make space on my phone, and I'm going through all these photos and wondering why I ever took them.  So to make me feel less like the photos are useless - here are some iPhone pics I took recently with a Christmas-y feel. :)

Cute Mickey figure for sale at the local bookstore!
Can't even get a steady shot of this lovely tree at the Ahmanson Theatre
There was a double rainbow the other day at work - right outside my window!

The little Christmas tree we have set up at work!  And lovely restaurant menus on the wall because food is always important.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Awesome Adaptations (70) The Sound of Music Live

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
This meme celebrates an awesome adaptation related to a weekly category. Any format of adaptation (television series, film, web series, etc.) is acceptable as long as it is based in some form on a book. Awesome Adaptations was created by Alisa Selene at PictureMeReading.

An Awesomely Festive Adaptation
Title: The Sound of Music Live
Adapted from: The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria Augusta Trapp

I'm not sure why The Sound of Music is shown so much around the holidays.  There's no mention of Christmas in it, but it does suit the feeling of the holiday with it's joy and the depiction of a loving family, so I wanted to talk about the live musical that was shown earlier this month for the last official Awesome Adaptations post.

This was definitely not a perfect rendition of the musical.  Carrie Underwood is a great singer, but very flat as an actress and it seemed such a shame that the producers didn't cast someone who could really have carried this generally wonderful production.  Stephen Moyer as the Captain was overall pretty good I think, but there were times when his severe face was a little too much.  But.  There were tons of talent in this production and the way they brought the story to life was well worth the slight issues I had with casting.  Of course all the Broadway vets were amazing, and the casting for the children was really awesome.  I think Kurt and Brigitta stood out for me - it's so interesting to watch these kids really inhabit the role.

The novelty of watching a live performance of a stage show in the comfort of your own home is the best part of this production existing.  The Sound of Music has such a wonderful, uplifting story that it is a treat to see these actors going through the story and the emotions without filter - it feels real even though the set and the lighting (and the acting!) can be a little unrealistic.  And it is interesting to see how the actors did deal with the slight hiccups that occurred in the production - now forever and endearingly preserved on film.  This is an adaptation that will be great to experience now and again for the wonderful story and singing, and the joy of seeing it all live.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review: The Thief

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
The Thief (The Queen's Thief #1)
by Megan Whalen Turner

Plot Summary:

The most powerful advisor to the King of Sounis is the magus. He's not a wizard, he's a scholar, an aging solider, not a thief. When he needs something stolen, he pulls a young thief from the King's prison to do the job for him.

Gen is a thief and proud of it. When his bragging lands him behind bars he has one chance to win his freedom-- journey to a neighboring kingdom with the magus, find a legendary stone called Hamiathes's Gift and steal it.

The magus has plans for his King and his country. Gen has plans of his own.

Review:

It is so difficult to review this book because it is an excellent read, but to really delve into why it is excellent might detract from the experience for new readers!  And I really think it helped going into this story with little expectations.  It does take a bit of time for the story to pick up, but I did find the author's descriptions of the world and of the lives of these people so vivid as to be completely fascinating, and I enjoyed all the details.

I think this story has a perfect blend of character development, plot and world building.  All three support each other so well to tell the story.  Just when it is necessary to know more about a character, the information is dropped in - as well as the information concerning the beliefs and politics of the world, and the purpose of the story.  The plot does seem aimless at times in the beginning, but I enjoyed how everything was made clear as things that were hinted or briefly mentioned in the beginning became important.  The story builds very well as we get to know more about the characters and their motivations.

Gen is such a fun character - wry, unrepentant, and very cocksure - he narrates the book and keeps the flow of the story entertaining with his observations of his fellow travelers.  Everybody it seems has secrets in this book, and it really felt like I was there on this journey of discovery with these characters as I continued to read.  The writing, the characters and the world building - with it's influences of Greek mythology - all felt real and striking.  I think when it comes to a book of this kind of fantasy, there is an expectation of real emotional poignancy.  And there were a couple emotional moments in this book that could have been very affecting, but the plot moved too quickly to dwell on it.  That made this story lighter fantasy fare - which is nice to read sometimes because it is just pure entertainment.

This is a fantastic adventure tale with some surprising twists and great characters.  And I've heard that the second book "The Queen of Attolia" is much better, so I'm really looking forward to finding out why!


Amazon 

Goodreads

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Suspense Sundays (76) Too Little to Live On

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  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.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}


"To Little to Live On"
Air date: December 26, 1947
Starring Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard
>>Episodes here<<

Dave and Myra look after their difficult invalid Uncle because of the rich inheritance he'll leave them once he pops off, but when they find out that the Uncle is expecting a visit from his lawyer they start to panic that he will change his will, and not let them know.  And Dave has a terrible idea to hurry up and move his Uncle closer to God before that happens.

I know I say 'this was a good episode' quite a bit for Suspense, but this was a REALLY good episode.  Mostly because I thought I knew what was going to happen.  I thought they would kill their Uncle and in some ironic twist they would find out they needed him alive to get the money and that he was never planning to change his will.  Nope on all of that.  What actually happens is far more clever - especially on the Uncle's side - but there is that tragic ironic twist - actually two of them - which I have come to expect from these episodes of Suspense.  So I definitely recommend giving this a listen!



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: Champion

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Champion (Legend #3)
by Marie Lu

Plot Summary:

He is a Legend.

She is a Prodigy.

Who will be Champion?

June and Day have sacrificed so much for the people of the Republic—and each other—and now their country is on the brink of a new existence. June is back in the good graces of the Republic, working within the government’s elite circles as Princeps-Elect, while Day has been assigned a high-level military position.

But neither could have predicted the circumstances that will reunite them: just when a peace treaty is imminent, a plague outbreak causes panic in the Colonies, and war threatens the Republic’s border cities. This new strain of plague is deadlier than ever, and June is the only one who knows the key to her country’s defense. But saving the lives of thousands will mean asking the one she loves to give up everything.

With heart-pounding action and suspense, Marie Lu’s bestselling trilogy draws to a stunning conclusion.

Review:

Because this is the last book in the trilogy there were a lot of things happening in the plot.  The pace of the story was wonderful and kept me completely engaged as all the issues that were raised in the second book were reaching resolution.  With June in the Republic's government, and with Day's cliffhanger issue from Prodigy, things started to get so bleak in this book that I thought for sure there was no way it could end happily!  Whether or not it did, I won't say, but I think the author crafted a very intricate ending that was pretty much perfect.

With June and Day - they have such a difficult relationship that I was glad to finally get some closure on their feelings for each other.  It's important that the author didn't make things too easy because their past histories are so complex, and I loved that they had to work to find a way to get past that.  And even with a war brewing, it still felt important that Day and June get together.  I think it's a great achievement that Marie Lu wrote a story that has a very realistic world on the brink of social and political change, but keeps the story centered on these characters and their lives.  It keeps the drama human, which is great for me because I don't really enjoy politics-heavy stories.

Throughout the series, the author has been gradually revealing what has happened to the world beyond the former United States, and in Champion, we get to see something of how the rest of the world functions and also of Antarctica which has become a major power.  Their way of life is very different from the Colonies and the Republic, and I loved the ideas behind it.  I thought it was so clever, and very astute.  I wouldn't even mind if it was a real thing too!  But obviously I don't want to give anything away, so you have to read the book!

The ending was very satisfying in it's own way, but there were times when things moved very fast and seemed a little contrived.  Not in a way that diminished my enjoyment though, but just took me out of the world a bit sometimes.  But the ending of June and Day's story was very poignant and I did tear up a little when I finally reached the last few pages.  This series was a great read, and Champion was a very intense and fitting end.


Amazon

Goodreads
Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Awesome Adaptations (69) Mulan

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
This meme celebrates an awesome adaptation related to a weekly category. Any format of adaptation (television series, film, web series, etc.) is acceptable as long as it is based in some form on a book. Awesome Adaptations was created by Alisa Selene at PictureMeReading.

An Awesome Adaptation based on Folklore
Title: Mulan
Adapted from: The Ballad of Mulan

I just recently saw the Disney film version of Mulan so I'm so glad I can include it one of the last Awesome Adaptations on my blog!  It's so fun and entertaining, which I of course expected.  Disney emphasizes that Mulan is not a conventional woman for the time period in China which adds humor as well as more depth to Mulan's character.  The original keeps the story simple - Mulan just does what needs to be done, and it doesn't touch on how she felt about it.  She also kept up the charade for far longer than Disney's Mulan was able to - and there's probably a great story in that!

Of course Disney made this legend their own, with a romance and comic relief in Mushu.  And in creating some vivid villains in the evil looking Huns.  I find it funny how the Huns are characterized in this - they are so blatantly wicked but territorial conquest was sort of popular at that time, and for many times after that so it's kind of unfair to them.  I know it's just a movie.

What I like so much about this adaptation is the way Mulan's growth is emphasized - even the romance is not the focus and in the end we just get Mulan and Shang open to getting to know each other.  And Mulan is such a wonderful role model because she's intelligent and brave in the way that she is scared, but acts despite her fear.  I love that message in this film with her character and it doesn't hurt that Disney made her story so appealing by fleshing out the secondary characters and showcasing the Chinese culture in the secondary story with Mushu.  There's great attention to detail and care for the story and why did it take me so long to watch it!?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Derren Brown - The Great Art Robbery

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

Alert! Alert!  Yet another chance for me to fangirl Derren Brown has arrived!  His latest special aired last week, and I was absolutely overjoyed to watch it.  After his previous special, Apocalypse - which had tons of effects, took a lot of work and planning and was amazing - he is making a return to something simpler yet still mind-boggling.  In The Great Art Robbery, he bets an art collector that he will steal a painting from under his nose - and he will give him the time/day it will be stolen as well as a picture of the person who will steal it.  And, without telling the art collector, Derren uses a group of people, other people normally overlook - in England they refer to them as old age pensioners, or OAP or just pensioners: people over 65 years old.  So fun times right?  Right.

This is basically a heist with an uplifting message about the journey into your twilight years, and while the first half has some great examples of employing misdirection and taking advantage of people's expectations, it is really the comments on how Derren's project is impacting the lives of these four pensioners he's chosen that makes the first half so memorable.
Derren shows us how to lift the watch off someone's wrist!
As he says in the show:
“One day, hopefully, each of us will be elderly. By then we will have learnt things about life and ourselves, about what’s important, and what we really want; things we might be decades away from knowing now. We might like our future selves to be respected and treated with the dignity they deserve and doing that might be one of the clearest celebrations of humanity we know.”

So true, and so well put - it's truly heartwarming to see these pensioners enjoying being "a bit naughty" (I mean he makes them graffiti a wall!), not being a stereotype, and giving some honest thoughts on what it's like to grow older.   I like to think I treat everyone with the same respect no matter their age or anything else, but I think a little reminder of how important respect is all the time can't go amiss.  And Derren does such a great job with his specials in giving entertainment while also revealing so much about humanity.  Of the wonder of the human mind and the wonder of life, and why we should appreciate that for itself.

Anyways, the second half of the special is all nail-biting suspense because with the month long training he's given his gang, we see if they can pull it off, with Derren watching.  I don't want to give anything away (I actually made the mistake of looking at the tumblr tag for the special and seeing just ONE WORD which gave a lot away) but there are THREE twists in the end which means that not only was Derren pulling one over on the art collector, he was pulling one over on the viewing audience (THREE TIMES)  It's so fun!  And so clever!  This is perfect entertainment - thought-provoking, funny, intelligent and positive.  And I always love when he messes with preconceived notions!

One last thing I'm fascinated with is the advertisements they made for this special - which featured this picture of Derren's face made up to look like a painting.  It's so cool! (Although it does make him look a bit creepy!)   And I thought the making of this picture video was pretty interesting to watch (which I put below)--



Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Fangirl

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Fangirl
by Rainbow Rowell

Plot Summary:

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Review:

A few up front thoughts.  I freaking couldn't put this book down, the characters are amazing, their journey is amazing and I loved the romance.  And I loved the way the author gets how being a fan feels.  And just everything about this book makes me happy and gleeful and smiley.  It's a wonderful book!

This is my first Rainbow Rowell book, and I completely fell in love with her writing which is so expressive and distinct that it made all her characters and setting jump out of the page - it all felt so real and relatable.  I think that's it really, everything about this book is relatable for me.  (Except for the perfect man part, but more on that later.)  And that is why this book was so hard to put down, because I was so invested in these character's lives.  There's not a lot of showy action but emotional dilemmas and issues that each character had to conquer in their own way.  For a book that might seem to have a light-hearted premise, this book is anything but.  It definitely has it's light and happy moments, but the very real drama in Cath's family grounds the story and gives it this wonderful dignity.

Cath as a nerd, fangirl and  fanfiction writer, made the best representative of nerd culture I think.  A little awkward and shy, but so full of enthusiasm and love for these stories and characters.  It's interesting how the legitimacy of fanfiction is also debated in Cath's interactions with her professor.  I can see both sides, and I'm glad that being such a fan helped Cath develop in the long run (with the help of her friends too!).

The romance is one of the other outstanding parts of this book.  Cath's relationship with her sister stemmed from how alike they are, but with Cath's romance (and friendship) it was nice to see people who are not alike, but fit well together.  Especially with the way Cath's guy is so encouraging and just nice.  This nice guy will never finish last - he's so adorkable.  The romance also develops slowly, with some hiccups along the way which was the best, and they didn't rush into declaring their undying love for each other in the usual unconvincing way of many YA novels.  I really adored the couple in this book!

This is a remarkably astute, coming of age novel that focuses on those idiosyncrasies of a modern fan and nerd, and I have such appreciation for the depth and sophistication in which these characters are drawn.  This story is so touching, humorous and absorbing and I hope to pick up more of the author's books soon!


Amazon

Goodreads
Sunday, December 15, 2013

Suspense Sundays (75) Always Room at the Top

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  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.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}


"Always Room at the Top"
Air date: February 20, 1947
Starring Anne Baxter
>>Episodes here<<


Helen is determined to become the new art director of the William J Farrell agency and just after she gets turned down for a job in the company, the current art director falls to her death.  An accident.  But Helen doesn't let the opportunity pass, and immediate applies for the newly vacant position and gets it.  She is great at the job and her boss is falling in love with her, but mementos and reminders of the previous art director keeps getting into Helen's office.  And it seems like her boss and the old art director were a couple...

This episode does a great job of obscuring what's really happening.  Who's guilty, why is there a mystery around the girl who fell to her death, and why do her things keep popping up in Helen's office?  I couldn't quite figure this one out, so I think this was a success.  Helen is an interesting character too, because she's so driven and determined to do whatever it takes.  It's the thing that's her undoing in the end though which is sort of sad because I thought she should have succeeded.  

Friday, December 13, 2013

Peter and the Starcatcher - the play

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

I just saw this play at the Ahmanson Theatre here in L.A. earlier this week, and wanted to share my experience!  I first heard about it from watching the Tony Awards last year (they did got a few great awards!) and I was curious about this prequel to Peter Pan.  I don't usually go to plays, I much prefer musicals, and I felt a little bit sad this wasn't a musical because there is one musical number in the show at the top of the second act, and it was so good!  They seemed to pick actors who have fantastic voices.  Such a shame.

But I did have issues with the first half of the play.  There are 12 people in the cast portraying a number of different characters and even scene props which was really ingenious.  But it could be confusing sometimes - not so much when they are playing different characters, but when they are props and I wasn't sure what their function was.  The set design and the way they suggested their surroundings with a minimal amount of props was really clever though, and I enjoyed seeing how everything came together.  The other issues I had with the first half was because I was just a little bored with the story.  Maybe I was just tired, but the story didn't grab me until the second half when they went to an island that would become Neverland.  There is a lot going on in the first half too - with two ships, two different sets of pirates, and an entirely new fantastical element with the starcatchers.  It's interesting that Peter isn't really the star of the show until the second half - and that it is mostly Molly, the Starcatcher - who is the leader and the mother to three precursor Lost Boys.  Although it is nice that Molly is the one who helps Peter reach his potential, I didn't really connect with either Molly or Peter during the course of the show sadly.  I think it's mainly because I didn't like where their characters ended up in the end.

The best part of the show though - and the main reason to see it! - is Black Stache.  The precursor Captain Hook.  Who's manic and foppish and such a great psychotic villain!  It must be such a fun role to play because you get to be completely over the top and you get an awesome mustache!  And in the scene towards the end where Black Stache reacts to something terrible that happens and we get five minutes of "Oh my God" in different tones, languages and memes (ermahgerd) it was the show stopper and people where I was sitting were snorting, they were laughing so hard.  It was made even funnier because all the actors on stage were just deadpan silent (although I feel like an actor or two cracked a bit).  Seriously, best thing I've seen on stage in a while!  Such a wonderful comedy moment!

The text of the play is very fun to listen too - clever, wordy and full of puns - it goes by a little too fast sometimes, but I enjoyed it, and all the self-referential humor, breaking the third wall, and the anachronistic jokes.  I did feel satisfied with the whole experience of the show, even though I wasn't too impressed by the first act so if you see it coming near you, definitely watch it!  And thank me later after you fall in love with Black Stache!
Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Awesome Adaptations (68) Jeeves and Wooster

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
This meme celebrates an awesome adaptation related to a weekly category. Any format of adaptation (television series, film, web series, etc.) is acceptable as long as it is based in some form on a book. Awesome Adaptations was created by Alisa Selene at PictureMeReading.

An Awesomely Humorous Adaptation
Title: Jeeves and Wooster
Adapted from: Jeeves and Wooster books by P.G. Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse!! One of my favorite authors - I love his Jeeves and Wooster stories soooo much!  They are delightful - light and refreshing, like ice cream for the mind.  The turns of phrases, the setting, the characters, and the dear scrapes the main characters get themselves into make for fun reads, and the atmosphere of the books are so particular that it is wonderful when an adaptation can get it right.  And this TV series from the Nineties got it completely right.

Each episode of the series usually adapted two stories, and wove them together beautifully.  The misadventures of Wooster's friends and the ingenious ways Jeeves gets them out of trouble made every episode entertaining.  One of the highlights of the series of course were the stars.  Hugh Laurie was just so perfect as bumbling, well-meaning Bertie Wooster, and it was wonderful how Stephen Fry made Jeeves - who is almost inhuman in the way he exercises his intellect - delightfully fatherly and supportive (except when Bertie didn't do what he wanted). This show is really an intellectual pleasure because while we have slapstick and farcical situations, there are also gorgeous word plays and interesting personality archetypes.

Even though I adore the actors so much, I think the real draw for me is the atmosphere of this world.  It's a simpler, happy view of England in the thirties - where nothing bad really happens, and friends and family are important to Bertie.  This is a show that I love to watch for it's comedy and it's sense of joy in life and it is a true delight!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Review: Doctor Who: Nothing O'Clock

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Doctor Who: Nothing O'Clock
(Doctor Who 50th Anniversary E-shorts #11)
by Neil Gaiman

Plot Summary:

Thousands of years ago, Time Lords built a Prison for the Kin. They made it utterly impregnable and unreachable. As long as Time Lords existed, the Kin would be trapped forever and the universe would be safe. They had planned for everything… everything, that is, other than the Time War and the fall of Gallifrey. Now the Kin are free again and there’s only one Time Lord left in the universe who can stop them!

Review:

This short story starts off with Neil Gaiman's signature ominous introduction - that's spare in words, but packs a lot of emotion.  The villains of the piece - the Kin - are conceptually complex and I love the idea that all of the them are one.  I think for such a short story this was a really engaging Doctor Who adventure that brought all of the characters to life.  I really loved how menacing the Kin are - especially when they go around in friendly masks!  And how such an innocuous question can become so frightening.

The ideas behind how the Kin operates are a little confusing at first - you really need to think about it I think, but they are kind of a genius alien being, and I really hope they make it onto the show someday!  I loved how Neil Gaiman captured the Doctor and Amy's voices as well, and how he made the life of a little girl very important.

This is actually the first e-short I've read from the 50th Anniversary series, and if they are of this same quality, I know I will enjoy them all!


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Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: Keeping the Castle

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Keeping the Castle
by Patrice Kindl

Plot Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Althea bears a heavy burden on her slender shoulders.  She must support her widowed mother, young brother, and two stepsisters who plead poverty - and she must maintain Crawley Castle, a tumbledown folly designed and built by her great-grandfather.  Althea, in short, must marry well.  But there are few wealthy suitors - or suitors of any kind - in their small Yorkshire town.  Then Lord Boring comes to stay with his aunt and uncle, and Althea immediately starts a clever, stealthy campaign to become Lady Boring.  There's only one problem; his cousin and business manager, Mr. Fredericks, keeps getting in the way.  And as it turns out, he has his own set of plans...

Review:

This is such a fun, frothy, and charming read!  The main character is sometimes too honest so her observations of the other characters are amusing and cuts to the truth - generally though, because there is humor in how she sometimes doesn't get things right.  The story is a simple one - with misunderstandings and disagreeable relatives creating most of the drama.  The fun is in seeing how Althea uses her wits to get out of the situations she finds herself in.

While I enjoyed reading this book thoroughly, I wouldn't say it is anything innovative.  It's a lovely romance with familiar character archetypes for the Regency era - spiteful sisters, a loving mother,  the different breeds of prospective suitors - a very agreeable, good looking gentleman, an older, slightly repellent man, and a nicer older man.  And then there's Mr. Fredericks.  He's a different sort of Regency hero - as he's bookish, interested in science and figuring out things, and doesn't have very good manners.  His clashes with Althea are cute and endearing, even if he started off as a little too rude in the beginning.  There's some wonderful commentary in this book on the place of a woman and what is expected of her versus what a man expects from a bride.  There's also a great comparison between Althea and her beauty and her dear, plain friend Miss Vincy with the heart of gold.  I think the commentary on the situations the characters are in is more interesting than some of the characters themselves, and that gives this story more depth.

The romance is a little different from romances of this period, but I didn't quite like the resolution.  It was very sweet but a little too anemic for me - and not romantic enough.  I suppose it fit with the characters and made sense but I felt a little let down by it.  Overall though, this is really a charming story, and fun to reread for all the entertaining scenes and characterizations.


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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Suspense Sundays (74) Shooting Star

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  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.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}


"Shooting Star"
Air date: November 25, 1954
Starring Virginia Christine
>>Episodes here<<

Gay Lansing, a typecasted song and dance girl has just discovered her contract is not going to be renewed by the studio and in an audacious move she gets a gun and forces her agent to set up a new contract.  The agent foolishly says he can just cancel it later, but Gay informs him he won't get that chance as she's going to kill him.  She just has to wait for the right moment to make sure she gets away with it.

Of course it's sad that Gay is in this position - supposedly washed-up - but she's overreacting a little in this!  There are moments when people walk in to where the agent lives, and while he's tied up in the back, Gay assumes different characters to explain her why she's there - highlighting her acting abilities and why she shouldn't be let go which was rather ingenious and also kind of the point.  The twist in this story should be obvious - unfortunately the second ironic twist isn't but it kind of makes sense when you think of what Gay put that agent through.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Sound of Music - Live TV Cast Recording

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Tonight on NBC is the live TV broadcast of the musical The Sound of Music (one of my very favorite musicals ever) and I'm sure to be glued to my TV tonight, taking it all in!  Fortunately they released the cast recording on Tuesday so I have spent the past two days listening to this recording pretty much non-stop.  I'll have my thoughts on the actual show soon I'm sure, but for now I wanted to talk about the cast recording.

When I first went to download the music, I made sure "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" downloaded first, because I heard a snippet of Audra McDonald singing it, and I was completely bowled over by the clarity and beauty of her voice in this song!  This song usually has a very operatic sound, and to just have the beginning in a subdued straight tone that builds to the vibrato is so beautiful to me. The emotion and fervor intensifies noticeably to it's climatic and hopeful ending and I think it gives more layers to the song.  It's just so gorgeous and Audra McDonald more than does justice to it.  I absolutely love her and it was a great move to cast her in this role!

So this production is based on the original Broadway musical, not the wonderful film, and there are some songs in this that maybe people who are just familiar with the film might not have heard.  Like one of my top favorite songs from this musical - "How Can Love Survive" which is sung by the Baroness and Max.  It's sort of a comic relief song where they bemoan the fact that you rarely have love stories featuring rich couples - memorable romances need obstacles.  First of all, true, and second it's such a fun and buoyant song - I absolutely adore it.  With such wonderful singers cast, I'm glad they included this song in this production.  The other non-film song for the Baroness and Max and Captain Von Trapp is "No Way to Stop It" - is also fun I guess, but I've never really cared for it.  I wonder if seeing it in the live show will make me like it more, but for now I don't like the message of it - basically give up and be selfish.

The one word that comes to mind when I think of Carrie Underwood's voice as Maria is strident.  Which is fine.  Maria has a strong personality and it makes sense that her voice reflects that.  For the romantic number "Something Good" (which also happens to be my favorite song from the musical) I would have liked a little more softness and lilting, especially to match Stephen Moyer's softer tenor, but in the other songs it is perfect.  Stephen Moyer doesn't have the strongest voice but he has a very nice sound and I especially loved him in "The Sound of Music Reprise" and "Edelweiss".

This is a great recording of the musical overall, and it made me even more eager to see the show live tonight. It's great to hear the stuff that didn't make it into the film and also to hear some of the really fantastic people they gathered together for this production!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Awesome Adaptations (67) Once Upon a Time

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
This meme celebrates an awesome adaptation related to a weekly category. Any format of adaptation (television series, film, web series, etc.) is acceptable as long as it is based in some form on a book. Awesome Adaptations was created by Alisa Selene at PictureMeReading.

An Awesome Adaptation featuring Hidden Identity
Title: Once Upon a Time
Adapted from: various Fairy Tales

For this post, I'm focusing on the first season of Once Upon a Time which was really pretty much perfect.  The way they weaved the past and present storylines together was just genius!  As was the way each episode unveiled more of a different fairy tale character.

In the first season, each resident of Storybrooke in modern Maine lives a pretty nice life, but only the mayor, Regina, and the pawn shop owner, Mr. Gold, remember their real past - as people from a magical land.  Regina, the Evil Queen, cast a curse to send everyone to a place without magic - here - in an effort to destroy Snow White and Prince Charming's happily ever after.  Which it did for a time.  With each episode, we learned more about what happened to each fairy tale character and very cleverly their backstory also mirrored what was happening to them in Storybrooke.  I think the best part of this series is in how the fairy tales we are all so familiar with is reinvented - with almost all the female characters much more empowered than they are in the stories.  And good and evil is never black and white.  The villains are painted sympathetically sometimes, and it's interesting to see how seemingly innocuous decisions can have such lasting consequences.

Much of the suspense in the first season came from whether or not Snow White and Prince Charming (or Mary Margaret and David) would get together and if their long lost child - Emma - would believe what her son is trying to tell her and find out if she really can break the curse over Storybrooke's inhabitants.  While we have that journey, the lives of the characters in their fairy tale land is just as compelling because we get to see what experiences shaped the characters and their potential.  There are so many layers to the story in Once Upon a Time, and I love how thoughtful and innovative this first season was.  I'm still enjoying the show, but I really think the first season was the best because the structure of the storytelling was flawless and cohesive, and it was so much fun seeing these characters in such a fresh and new light.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Review: Brightly Woven

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Brightly Woven
by Alexandra Bracken

Plot Summary:

The day the rains came was like any other, blistering air coating the canyon in a heavy stillness....

Just as the rains come after ten long, dry years, a young wizard, Wayland North, appears, to whisk Sydelle Mirabil away from her desert village. North needs an assistant, and Sydelle is eager to see the country - and to join him on his quest to stop the war that surely will destroy her home. But North has secrets - about himself, about why he chose Sydelle, about his real reasons for the journey. What does he want from her? And why does North's sworn enemy seem fascinated by Sydelle himself?

Through a journey that spans a country, magic and hard-won romance are woven together with precision and brilliant design by a first-time novelist.

Review:

I so loved Alexandra Bracken's second novel The Darkest Minds, that I was eager to read her first novel  and her take on young adult fantasy.  This is a standalone tale (finally!) and it has all the elements of a good fantasy story - a wizard, a quest and a journey with romance and magic sprinkled throughout.  The story moves quickly and kept my interest throughout (especially with the mysteriously troubled Wayland North) and I found the story very enjoyable.

As I said before the plot does move quickly, and at times the thought processes of the characters can be a little unclear in my opinion as they made decisions or came to conclusions that did't always feel well explained.  The magic elements and the world-building are just enough to get into the fantasy aspect, but I think the characters are the best part of this story.  Sydelle is fiery and emotional and Wayland masks his worries with a carefree demeanor and it was interesting to read them getting to know and admire each other.  I loved how protective they are of each other and how so many times they tried to make sacrifices for the other but it is barely appreciated.  Their relationship really drives the narrative forward, especially when it comes to certain secrets that made for pretty shocking reveals towards the end.

The twists and turns of the story and the slowly built romance made this a wonderful read for me, and I loved how well the author tied up each character's story.  This is a lovely book with a great pace and sympathetic, likable characters.


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Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: Ashes on the Waves

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Ashes on the Waves
by Mary Lindsey

Plot Summary:

Liam MacGregor is cursed. Haunted by the wails of fantastical Bean Sidhes and labeled a demon by the villagers of Dòchas, Liam has accepted that things will never get better for him—until a wealthy heiress named Annabel Leighton arrives on the island and Liam’s fate is changed forever.

With Anna, Liam finally finds the happiness he has always been denied; but, the violent, mythical Otherworlders, who inhabit the island and the sea around it, have other plans. They make amwager on the couple’s love, testing its strength through a series of cruel obstacles. But the tragedies draw Liam and Anna even closer. Frustrated, the creatures put the couple through one last trial—and this time it’s not only their love that’s in danger of being destroyed.

Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling poem, "Annabel Lee," Mary Lindsey creates a frighteningly beautiful gothic novel that glorifies the power of true love.

Review:

I love the gorgeously melancholic poem "Annabel Lee" that inspires this story and I think the author did a wonderful job capturing that heart-aching love between the two main characters in this book.  That sense that they are meant to be together is the most important aspect, and the hardest to get right in a story like this.  Because their romance has to be more important than life, and it has to come across believably.  With Liam and Anna, I almost immediately felt very invested in their relationship - especially because of how ostracized Liam is in his small village.  And the way that both characters help each other through their own personal demons added depth to the characterizations and to their romance.  I loved all the moments when Liam and Anna made decisions that showed them to be better than they were before.

The author expanded on the poem's straightforward tragic love story by adding in Celtic lore which served to create antagonists to the couple's relationship.  The constant threat these mythological beings pose to Anna and Liam gave the romance in this story a suspenseful edge, because the effects the wager on their love could have on the couple is so potentially devastating.  And there is no release from that tension until almost the last page.  With the suspense from what the Na Fir Gorhm were planning, there's also the mystery behind two deaths associated with Liam and Anna, which worked really well to balance the emotional romance.

Another dimension to this story that I really appreciated was the claustrophobic narrow-mindedness of some of the inhabitants of the isolated village.  It's a penetrating look at how frustrating and damaging blind belief can be.  It also makes all the obstacles the couple has to overcome so much more daunting! The novel brings together two flawed individuals who become better people with each other, and the many oppositions to their happiness made this a very affecting and poignant read.  I am still not sure how happy I am with the ending, but I think it suits the poem's mood very well, and the author did a fantastic job translating the wonderful poem into an intricate, character-driven romance and mystery.


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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Suspense Sundays (73) The Guilty Always Run

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  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.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}


"The Guilty Always Run"
Air date: March 22, 1954
Starring Tyrone Power
>>Episodes here<<

While vacationing at the beach, Jeff gets involved with a pretty girl who follows him around like a puppy dog.  However Jeff is married and his wife has just broken her hip so she's feeling a little insecure.  When the girl turns up dead, Jeff starts making some pretty terrible decisions to make sure the police don't suspect him.

It's pretty clear that Jeff really did not murder the girl, but so it narrows the field of suspects making it easy to guess who did kill her I thought, but the read fun in this story is in Jeff and how oblivious he is.  He think's he's making the best choices but it's so clear it's not.  I think this was a great story of how one mistake and snowball into a bigger and bigger mess and it certainly inspires one to not flirt around if you are married!