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Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Sunday Salon

Hello fellow Sunday Saloners. I haven't done a regular meme in such a long time due to busy-ness. But hey, here I am, and I'm going to blather on about books and stuff.

Actually before I get to books I want to talk movies. I just saw the movie Up last night, and I can't say enough good things about it. It was visually stunning, it had extremely well-crafted characters, and it had just the right amount of action, adventure, humor, and fun. The question in my mind as I left the theatre though, was, "Is Up even a kid's movie?" It's certainly marketed as one. However, during the course of the movie, I could hear a young one sitting a few rows behind me asking her mom every so often what was going on in the movie. During a 10-minute sequence at the beginning of the movie, we watch the main character, Carl Fredericksen, meet his wife and life out a full and happy life with her. They exerience the ups and downs of life. Saving money for a dream trip to South America, breaking into the savings to fix a tire. Settling into a house together. Longing for babies. Finding out they can't have any. And finally, Carl, sitting at his wife's bedside as she slips away.

It's a powerful sequence. My husband and I were both very moved by it, and I suspect many adult viewers will connect with that part of the movie as well. But for the majority of the audience, the entire thing would have gone over their heads.

Now, there are plenty of kid friendly scenes throughout the movie. Carl, who is facing life in a retirement home, attaches his house to balloons so he can fly away and visit Paradise Falls, the place he and his wife had longed to see. He ends up with an inadvertant stowaway in the form of a young Wilderness Explorer named Russell, and together they have a number of adventures. The kids in our showing really loved the dogs who could talk because of a translation collar, and the giant bird who follows Russell around. But most of the kids who watch the movie aren't going to grasp what made Carl decide to attach balloons to his house, or why he's so cranky.

It's interesting to me that with each movie, Pixar pushes the limits further and further of what an animated film can be. Their first movies were definitely kid's movies, except that they had enough plot and sophisticated enough themes that parents could enjoy them. But with movies like The Incredibles, where infidelity is a major plotline, and this one, it seems that Pixar is making movies for adults that kids can still enjoy. I will be interested to see what they come up with next.

Last night I also ended up watching I'm Not There, which is really hard to summarize other than saying its about Bob Dylan. Okay I'll try to explain it. Six different actors portray different aspects of Dylan's life and persona. Except that doesn't really capture how trippy and hypnotic the film is. I didn't actually know that much about Bob Dylan before watching the movie, so I just let myself sink into this movie and not try to "understand" it. Afterwards, I had to google Dylan's life and I could see the connections between how different parts of his life were portrayed by the various actors.

Most talked about (and deservedly so) is Cate Blanchett's performance as Dylan. Her appearance, her mannerisms, her rage are completely uncanny. It's almost eerie. Other portrayers of Dylan were Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, and (of all things) Richard Gere.

Having rewatched Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic recently, it was interesting to compare the two. Both Cash and Dylan lived through similar eras, had similar struggles with fame, drugs, and bitter ends to their marriages. But the way each movie went about portraying their lives could not have been more different. Walk the Line is a very conventional movie, while I'm not There is so unusual, someone who didn't know that it was about Bob Dylan might think it was a strange movie with a lot of Dylan music in it.

Now that I've watched both of those movies, I really need to go listen to more of both Dylan and Cash. Maybe while I'm looking at their music on Amazon, I can start finding some new books to read, because I'm about to go to the library and return a big stack of books.

I have been reading. I know I haven't done many book reviews lately, but maybe I'll get to some mini-reviews this week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Seriously... Is it Friday Yet?

I know I just had a three day weekend for Memorial Day, but I. Want. Friday.

It isn't that I have any big plans. I just think that Wednesday should have the decency to skip right over Thursday to Friday. What say you? Should I start a petition?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Books I Done Dropped

I've been awfully fickle lately with my reading choices. I've picked up a few books only to set them aside for one reason or another. All of these three books are from the library so I doubt I will be going back to them (unless I really get into the mood). Although I don't attempt to review books I don't finish, I thought it might be interesting to see which books I just couldn't get into and why. Here, in no particular order are my meh books of the week:

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi. I don't know why I can't get into this one. I liked other of Scalzi's Old Man's War books. My husband had rave recommendations of this one. But I just couldn't get into it.

Away by Amy Bloom. Although I have read a few books I didn't enjoy for my IRL book club, this is the first one I set down with the determination there was no way I was going to finish it. The writing is very beautiful, but I just can't get into the characters. At all. Because of the way the book is written, I feel extremely removed from the inner workings of the characters.

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin. The concept totally sounded like something I'd love. A girl wakes up without any memory of anything past sixth grade and has to rediscover her life. Up to the point I've gotten to though, the characters seemed flat and the plot feels predictable. It doesn't help that this book reminds me a lot of The Adoration of Jenna Fox, a book I enjoyed from start to finish.

What books have you not been able to get into this week?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Apparently there is a dog underneath all that fur

Wanna know a quick way to lose 5 pounds (sorry this only works if you are a tiny, cute ball of fluff AKA Cavalier King Charles Spaniel)?
Apparently all you need is a haircut. Now for the winter months, the long coat is great for things like leaving bits of yourself all of the couch, the carpet, and the bed, but in the summer, a more stream-lined look is called for. Less brambles and stickers to get caught on your coat. Lighter weight for the 90 degree days. Stylish, don't you think?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Tigerheart by Peter David
Reason for Reading: Once Upon a Time
Rating: 5/5

I will say this about Peter David. He has guts to take on a beloved children's story like Peter Pan. I don't know exactly what to call his book in relation to Peter Pan. Although it involves a good deal of the characters from the play/book, they are renamed. Peter Pan becomes The Boy, Wendy becomes Gwenny and so on. And furthermore, it doesn't really retread the events of the play/book, although it certainly echoes them. The main character in this (retelling? homage?) is a boy named Paul Dear, who has grown up with stories of The Boy, who likes to speak to the pixies in Kensington Garden, who sometimes dreams about going away to the Anyplace for adventures of his own.

Anyhow, I'm sure my description is extremely enlightening. Why don't I just get to the part where we talk about why you should read this book?

Okay. First and most importantly, the wholly enchanting style of the book. The omniscient narrator introduces us to characters with a small wink to the fact these are characters we already know and love. He (I feel safe calling him a he) is telling us a story, the type of story that one would tell a child at night just before dreams, and if sometimes the fourth wall is broken for the sake of dramatic effect, so be it. Here is a passage I particularly enjoyed:

Now – let us talk about the Irishman. It should be noted that the Irishman was a witness to all that transpired in Kensington Gardens. We made no mention of him at the time because it was really Paul’s business that was under discussion. The man would have intruded into the tale in a very noisy fashion; and he was disinclined to do so, because ultimately he is a rather polite sort, even if he does claim piratical leanings. So we respected his wishes and kept him out of the proceedings for as long as we reasonably could. But now we must clear our throat; tap on his virtual, if not literal, dressing room door; and bring him to center stage in order to proceed.

The Boy, although not the main character in this retelling, still remains a large presence throughout the book. Instead of coming across as stupid or pompous as he did in the Disney movie, in this book he is irrepressible, charming, and of course, cocky.

"Maybe. Or maybe I'm lying. I am after all, half brother to Coyote, the trickster god." The Boy always made boasts along those lines whenever his veracity was questioned.

The Boy and Paul Dear must eventually go on serious adventures together, but the cause of all their hardships in the first place is The Boy's own cockiness. Which seems fitting.

Should I read it? Only if you like to read really good fiction.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Library: An Unquiet History

Library: An Unquiet History
Reason for Reading: Dewey Decimal Challenge
Rating: 3/5

I don't read nearly as much non-fiction as I should, thus the reason why I decided to sign myself up for the Dewey Decimal Challenge. The goal is to read a book from each of the hundreds. So a book from the 000's, the 100's, etc. This will be a fun challenge to pick out books for. I don't research ahead of time, I just go to the library and wander through the stacks and pick a book that draws my attention.

Thus the reason I arrived at Library. It must have been a daunting task to try and sum up several thousand years of history of libraries, so wisely, the book selects a few interesting examples from each era and doesn't attempt to give a comprehensive history.

This is probably just the fault of the reader, but certain parts of this book really stood out to me, and other parts put me to sleep. I kept expecting to be really interested in the portions about book-burnings in the early 20th century, but I just couldn't get into the facts and numbers without a story to grab onto.

However, learning about the library at Alexandria was fascinating. Of course I knew academically that there weren't printed books back then, put picturing in my mind a library made up of scrolls stacked together, only organized in the vaguest fashion struck my imagination. A person could wander around the library for years and still find little treasures here and there.

Also particularly interesting to me was the final chapter of the book, where the author introduces us to the concept of the geniza, a Jewish tradition where books and paper that had been worn out are pushed through a tiny hole into a storage area, or geniza. All writing was considered sacred because it might contain the name of God, so it had to be buried with care. Battles describes the geniza as the opposite of the library, because it contains all of the writings that weren't important enough to preserve. However, in 1890, when a geniza in Cairo was discovered, it of course shed the sort of light on the Jewish culture that no library can shed, because it revealed the everyday life of the people who lived there. Exercises, journals, notes, lists, lying in piles.

Should I read it? If you like libraries and don't mind a very academic read.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My Fracking Mirror

I have been coveting my mother-in-law's little mirror for a while. It screws into the wall and is on a sort of hinge system where it can pulled pulled away from the wall, so it's really handy for putting on makeup. I had the chance to finally go to IKEA, where she had purchased it from, and pick up one for myself. One of my favorite things about IKEA is the funky Swedish names that they give to all of their products. My IKEA bookshelf isn't just a bookshelf, for example, it's a BILLY bookshelf. Our IKEA coffee table is the BENNO coffee table. And so on.

I am for some reason (it just might be watching too much Battlestar Galactica) I find the name of the mirror absolutely hilarious. It is the FRACK mirror. Now, to their credit, I doubt that the people who named this were aware that it is a swear word in a science fiction show. But STILL.

(Conversations heard around the Kim L household recently:)

Kim L: Sweetie, can you hang my fracking mirror this weekend?

Husband: Of course I can hang your fracking mirror this weekend.

Kim L: Because I really want to start using my fracking mirror as soon as possible.

Husband: Don't worry, I will get to hanging your fracking mirror. I'm going golfing, but I will squeeze out time to hang your fracking mirror.

Kim L: Oh good.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

To Boldly Go Where We've Already Gone Before Except in a Totally Different Way


Star Trek is a phenomenon. Even those of you who don't know a Cardassian from Talaxian can probably identify that guy with the weird eyebrows and the pointy ears as Spock. You can probably imitate William Shatner's... Kirk... like... dialogue... with its... many pauses....

Despite having been birthed long before the era of any significant ability to do special effects, Star Trek is one of the most popular science fiction universes in history. A dedicated Star Trek fan could probably spend every weekend of the rest of their life going to fan conventions, and they'd have trouble running out of aliens or uniforms to dress up in. And there are no shortage of dedicated fans. I recently watched the movie Trekkies and chuckled, along with the host, Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar), at the dentist who welcomes his patients to his Star Trek themed office, complete with costumed receptionists and a transporter pad. Or take Barbara Adams, who attained mild celebrity status for attending jury duty for the Whitewater scandal in her Star Fleet uniform. A woman who takes her role as Commander of her local Star Trek fan club seriously, Ms. Adams does not leave her house without her phaser or communicator, and even her coworkers refer to her by her rank; commander.

Or even take the example of the Star Trek-themed play I saw last Christmas. It was a take on The Christmas Carol, and the entire thing had been written in Klingon. A made-up language. That some people have actually taken the time to learn.

When you think about it, it is pretty incredible the number of fans and their dedication. Because let's be honest here. Star Trek does have it's not-so-shining moments. First of all, almost all of the series (with the exception perhaps of Enterprise) are old enough where the special effects range from down-right crappy to so-so. Then there's the hokey fight scenes, stiff dialogue and questionable science. All of these things fans have endured because they liked the characters and they liked the drama.

Each series has had its up and downs, but the movies have swung even more wildly from brilliant to gag-worthy. I am a huge fan of Star Trek, but I have only once been subjected to the mess that was Star Trek I and Star Trek V. Let us never speak again of the weird space cloud thing. But the Wrath of Khan? Khan ranks up there with some of the greatest movie villains ever invented, with his plastic-y chest and his mind-controlling ear worms. "Khaaaaan!!!!"

And there is of course, the cinematic brilliance that is First Contact. Thoughtful, action-packed, and genuinely scary, it is Trek story-telling at its best. But ever since then, the Star Trek movies have gone downhill. Insurrection tried to be light-hearted and it did entertain fans. Nemesis tried to be dark and it didn't especially please anyone. Then the remaining series, Enterprise was axed, and the King of Science Fiction was dead, or so it seemed.

Okay, maybe only mostly dead. Because now we have the first Star Trek movie in years with the potential to actually revitalize Star Trek and interest non-fans. When J. J. Abrams was picked to revisit the original crew of the Enterprise, he had two choices: bury the movie under the weight of 40 years worth of canon, or toss it all aside and made up completely new rules. Like Kirk's approach to the no-win scenario of the Kobayashi Maru, J. J. Abrams decided to cheat. He simply worked the space-time continuum until he could make the movie he wanted to make, canon be damned.

Despite the whining of fans, disregarding canon is not only a really good idea, but probably the only thing that could have made this movie worth watching. Because the canon was developed in the 1960's with a shoe-string budget, and slavish attention to the details of the original series would mean men wearing lizard suits posing as aliens.

Instead, we get the original series as the original series wished it could have been. Kirk is Kirk. He's a cocky skirt-chaser whose idea of a plan is to go into every fight with guns blazing. And Zachary Quinto disappears into his role as a young, not as emotionally-controlled Spock. Uhura gets a bigger, sassier role than she ever did in the original series as the significant other of a major character and as one of the skirts Kirk is interested in chasing.

For the actors given the task of interpreting iconic roles, enough room was given to give us the accents and the mannerisms without trying to completely carbon copy. Karl Urban gave us the gruff and gentlemanly Dr. McCoy perfectly, Simon Pegg was comic genius as Scotty, and John Cho got to show us Sulu's badass side.

The biggest overhaul in the movie, is of the Enterprise itself. Fans were skeptical when pictures were first posted online of the new Enterprise, but seriously, watch one of the original series episodes and tell me that the bridge didn't need to look a lot cooler. It's still the Enterprise, just a MUCH cooler Enterprise.

Okay, so the look and feel of this movie be too different from Wrath of Khan for some diehard fans, but what worked best about Trek is still here in spades. And even better, you don't have to understand all of the history of Starfleet to appreciate this action flick. Here's hoping they manage to make a sequel to this one that doesn't suck.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lonely Werewolf Girl

Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar
Reason for Reading: Once Upon a Time
Rating: 4/5

Kalix is a daughter of the royal MacRinnalch clan, and one of the most powerful werewolves ever born. But with being the youngest and all, she was a bit overlooked during her childhood, and after attacking and nearly killing her dear old Dad (thane of the clan) and all, she's been exiled from the clan. Practically feral, addicted to laudanum, and pretty much friendless, her life appears to be a short one until she runs into an unassuming London pair of flatmates, Daniel and Moonglow. Moonglow, who can't bear to see another living being in pain, instantly adopts Kalix, who isn't really sure she wants to be adopted.

But this book is about more than Kalix, although she is the titular character. The book is about Kalix's sister Trix, a werewolf clothing designer and her best friend, a Queen of fire elementals, Kalix's mother, the Mistress of the Werewolves, cross-dressing werewolves, vicious werewolves, wanna-be rock-star werewolves, and a war that erupts when Kalix's father finally does kick the bucket and leave the office of Thane empty.

There is a lot of fun to be had in this book. Kalix who is unsociable, rude, and suffers from deep anxiety problems, makes for an interesting lead character, as Moonglow works unflaggingly to try and socialize her into a decent human being. Thrix and her melodramatic best friend, Queen Malavera are a perfect duo, with Malavera going into hysterics about every few chapters or so. And despite all the converging characters and plotlines, this book moved along thanks to enough action and character development. Not many writers could juggle so many characters, and Millar does so relatively well. Until we get towards the end, when he does manage to wrap things up, but without tying up a lot of loose ends. There are some hunters chasing the werewolves, but their motives or methods are never well-explained. The sparks between Daniel and Moonglow, are just sort of dropped.

The book is lengthy, and although it does read fast, it could have used some pruning. Some of the plotlines honestly came to naught, and interesting characters were underdeveloped. When I researched online, it looked like there might be a sequel coming to this book, which I would definitely consider reading. Despite the mishmash of the end, I enjoyed it enough to consider reading more in the series.

Should I read it? If you enjoy urban fantasy, this might be a good one.

science fiction, science fact

I'm going to see the new Star Trek movie sometime soon.

I've been kinda iffy as how enthusiastic I am about it, because I really love the shows and the previews haven't exactly inspired confidence. But the reviews have been pretty good, people I know have seen and liked it, so I'm starting to get a little more revved up.

With Star Trek on the brain, though, I just gotta mention I'm posting from my new cell phone. With the blue tooth thingy,the ability to surf the net, voice commands, email, games, and all the rest of the cool features of a smart phone, it seems more like a prop from a science fiction movie than an every day household item. Plus it is like a fraction of the size of a tricorder. Really the only thing left to do is make them capable of making medical diagnoses ("She's dead, Jim") and we're in the 23rd century.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Reason for Reading: IRL Bookclub, YA Reading Challenge
Rating: 5/5

The Book Thief is not easy to review. It is, at heart, a book about the everyday life of ordinary Germans during World War II. Anyone who has ever read Holocaust literature from the Jewish point of view wonders... why the heck did all the Germans go along with the Nazis? Why didn't more Germans help Jews?

The Book Thief is about Liesel, a young, illiterate German girl who winds up living with a foster family in Munich when her mother can't care for her any longer. She becomes the book thief before she has even learned to read, stealing a book from the grave digger who buries her brother. With the Hubermans, Liesel finds a haven. Hans, a kindly soul, teaches Liesel how to read, and she developes an intense passion for books, even daring to steal one from a Nazi book-burning.

The book follows Liesel and her family as World War II is about to erupt, and it is, above all things, a character study. We follow the lives of Liesel's proud foster mother, Rosa, who shows her affection by swearing at Liesel; Max the Jewish fist fighter that the Hubermans hide in their basement; Rudy, Liesel's best friend who never gives up hope that one of these days he will ask Liesel for a kiss and she will finally say yes; the mayor's wife who lets Liesel read the books from her extensive collection.

Life in the wartime is stressful for everyone. The neighborhood must deal with hunger, poverty, the threat of bombings, and the consequences of not following along with the Nazi way. Although he isn't able to directly fight against the Nazis, Hans Huberman finds ways to resist, from painting over anti-Semetic slurs on a Jewish neighbor's door to feeding a few Jews on their way to a concentration camp, to hiding a Jew in his basement.

Liesel, for her part, becomes a voracious reader, and when she can get away with it, a thief of books and whatever she and Rudy can find to eat. Her afternoons are spent reading with Max, describing to him the weather outside

What sets this book apart from other Holocaust reads is the choice of the narrator. Death, a reluctant collector of souls, tells Liesel's story. He is big fan of lists, strong imagery, and telling us about tramautic events in the story ahead of time. This sounds kind of odd at first. Why keep reading if you already know which characters are going to die and what's going to happen? However, it kind of clicked for me when I noticed that one of the people who blurbed the book (in my edition anyhow) compared it to Slaughterhouse Five. An excellent comparison. In Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim learns that time, and by extension, death, is an illusion. Everything that has ever happened is still happening. So as character after character dies, the only thing that needs to be said is so it goes. They died a moment ago, but two more moments ago, they were alive and will always be alive.

Similarly, this book takes a more distant perspective of death. Death, weary and in need of a vacation, collects souls, and watches the colors of the sky which are different with each death. Everyone will come to him eventually, so the death of various characters is not painful, merely inevitable. And by telling us ahead of time who is going to die, Death makes the passing of characters we have come to love become less painful.

I'm really not describing very well how much Death's voice added to this book and how much I enjoyed it. The story is told to us in a very basic, factual fashion, but then every few pages, Death inserts his own commentary. He tells us what the characters are really thinking, and why various events are significant. Anecdotes about what his job is like. The book often reads like poetry thanks to Death's unique voice.

Should I read it? An unequivocal yes. I usually avoid Holocaust literature like the plague due to the heavy subject, but this book managed to keep me absolutely glued to the pages.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Hubby and I just got back from our "surprise vacay" today! (I planned it, he knew we were going somewhere, but not where). Pfew, we did a lot of stuff in four days. First thing to know is that hubby had no clue where we were going, so he had to pack for the mystery trip on only my vague guidelines.
I was very sneaky and had hubby convinced that we were going somewhere in our hometown of the Twin Cities. At this point, he had finally realized we were heading OUT OF TOWN, and it was looking like we were Wisconsin-bound.
Surprise! We headed to The Grand Geneva, a resort on Lake Geneva. While we were there, we basically did a lot of chilling. Hubby and I got a couple's massage and enjoyed walking around the lake. We had the chance to check out a few local dining spots.
Most importantly, we had some REALLY GOOD ice cream. I am particular about my ice cream, and I can say without hesitation that this was the GOOD STUFF. Mmmmmm... peach ice cream and black cherry ice cream, two of my favs.
There were more surprises, though. On day number three, I asked hubby if he wanted to go to Chicago for the day. This is a special place for us. One of our first trips together was to Chicago, and we have great memories of this excellent Spanish restaurant, Cafe Iberico. We always talk about going back there, but the opportunity hasn't presented itself yet. So we just got up, checked out, and left for Chicago. We had an amazing lunch at Cafe Iberico, but that wasn't the only thing in store for that day...
...One of hubby's fav teams to cheer on is the Cubs. He hails from Madison (we now live in MN) but has never had the chance to actually see the Cubbies play at Wrigley Field. Well... there just happened to be a home game that night, and I had tickets :-). So we got to watch them win 4-2.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hither and Yon

Hubby and I are setting off for destinations unknown today. He knows we are going somewhere, but he has no idea where. (Insert evil muah ha ha laugh here). Puppy is off to romp to his delight at the doggie day care.

What are your weekend plans?