Thursday, April 30, 2009

Crocodile on the Sandbanks

Book: Crocodile on the Sandbanks
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Like/Don't Like: Liked a lot. I'm dusting off my pith helmet for an expedition.

Lately I've been desperate for fiction. I seem to have read a lot of non-fiction this year, which is highly unusual for me, and while all of them were great, I have just been needing a made up story. One that doesn't require a lot of me. I didn't want any thinking involved. No heavy emotions or moral lessons. I needed a lot of plot and action. Like the A-Team. I was looking for the A-Team of fiction.

When I get in this mood I feel sort of loose at the ends. I find myself sighing a lot and picking up unread books on my shelves and reading the first chapters and tossing them aside because they're just not what I want. I ended up reading a few things that were fine but not what I was looking for.

Well, this book was exactly what I was looking for. It's the first in a long series of popular mystery novels that Hannah recommended to me on a few occasions. I trust Hannah's judgement in books because early on in our friendship we discovered that we both loved The Blue Castle. Now, I don't know anyone who doesn't love that book but I have always recommended it to them first. Hannah was the first person I met who had actually read it without me shoving it her face. This was a good omen (Incidentally, Hannah was also the only other person I knew who had independently read Good Omens and loved it.)

Back to the book - It's about an independently wealth British spinster (at 32 - gasp!) named Amelia Peabody, who travels to Egypt and stumbles upon a mystery at an archaeological dig. She's the type of woman who knows her mind and can convince everyone that she's always right. I think Hannah described her as Mary Poppins meets Indiana Jones, which is exactly right. The book is full of adventure in a strange land and it got me out of my funk.

And, bonus, there are enough books in this series to keep me from wandering around my apartment sighing at books whenever I get in that mood again.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Little Dorrit

Movie (miniseries): Little Dorrit (Masterpiece Theater edition)
Like/Don't Like: Long but worth it. It has Matthew Mcfadyen. And lots and lots of crazy Dickens characters. See...worth it.

You have probably heard me mention that I had this professor who was a Dickens scholar and, at the time of our class, was recovering from (and I am NOT making this up) a near fatal flesh-eating disease that left his body covered in gaping, oozing sores. How very Dickensian, right? I mean, seriously, Dickens would have killed for a plot like that.

You should know that anytime I mention Dickens I'm going to bring that up...because it's just too fantastic to not mention.

On to the review:

I will admit that I was lured in by Matthew Macfadyen. While he isn't my favorite Mr. Darcy, he is certainly swoon-worthy. And it's Masterpiece Classic. I'm required by my status as a Former English Major/80 Year Old Woman to watch all of them. Had I known that it was approximately 118 hours long, I probably would have thought twice, but by the first episode I was hooked and had to go the distance. It's actually 8 hours, over 5 episodes, which is still a huge time commitment. And you can imagine my anticipation of it all working out. I didn't know the story, and there are so many twists and turns and trips to Venice in this one that I wasn't sure that it all would. But it did. It's Dickens. It generally does.

The plot is entirely too complicated to even give you a synopsis but I will tell you that it has all the things you love about Dickens. (You love Dickens, don't you? If you don't you should read A Tale of Two Cities and get back to me with your answer.) Funny names, eccentric characters, debtors prison, really good villains. And, really fine acting. Character actors in England must rejoice when casting calls go out for a Dickens adaptation because there are dozens of roles, all calling for quirky performances.

If you're looking for a more modern tale, would it help to tell you that part of this story revolves around a Ponzi scheme?

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Book: Catalyst
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Like/Don't Like: I liked it all the way up to the end. And then it fizzled.

I pray for good endings. Not necessarily happy endings, although I always prefer them. But just a well written ending. A good ending is all about timing. It should come right when you need it and shouldn't last too long and it shouldn't be rushed and should answer enough of your questions to satisfy you and still leave a few so that you're thinking about it for the rest of the day. When I spend all of this time with the characters and the story there are few things more satisfying to me then a good ending nicely written.

This did not have a good ending. Sure, it was happy-ish, but suddenly it was there and I was left wondering what just happened. Which is a shame, because it was a pretty good book.

I've read a few of Anderson's YA fiction and have really enjoyed them (Fever 1793 and Speak). She does teenage angst really well, even colonial teenage angst in Fever 1793. She nails it here too. Kate Malone is a high school senior, dad's a minister, mother is dead (why are there ALWAYS dead parents in YA fiction?), honor roll student, bound for MIT. Or, at least she's applied to MIT. And you see where this is going. But there's a twist that I didn't expect that shifted the whole story in a really interesting way and it hooked me.

And then suddenly it was done. For like 100 pages Kate is miserable and confused and then in 2 she's fine. The end. The ending came in a hurry and with little explanation and it made me feel a little cheated.

I should probably be a little more forgiving of this because the book really was good. But I wanted more. And not "Wow, this was so great, I wish it wouldn't end," but "Really? Did some pages fall out?"

Monday, April 20, 2009

17 Again/High School Musical 3

Movies: 17 Again & High School Musical 3
Like/Don't Like: I didn't want to slit my wrists but an orange jumpsuit is still an orange jumpsuit.

You know how sometimes you're out shopping with your friends and you try something on, let's say an orange jumpsuit, that in your heart you know is a bad idea but your friends are all, "That's so CUTE! You should totally get that! You look so thin in it! I think I saw Tyra Banks wearing it the other day!" And suddenly you go from thinking you look like an Oompa-Loompa in it to thinking you're America's Next Top Short Model so you buy it but when you get home and are going through all your purchases (because you know that when you go out shopping with friends you buy WAY more than you normally would on your own) you wonder how your friends managed to slip you a mickey because that would be the only logical reason for an orange jumpsuit to end up in your shopping bag.

This totally happened this weekend, only the orange jumpsuit was Zac Efron.

And Camille is the one who slipped me a mickey. Because she's the common thread throughout this. She invited me to see 17 Again with her and Allie and Sarah on Friday night and then she and Katie rented High School Musical 3 on Saturday and called me up to come down and watch it with them. What are you trying to do to me Camille?! (I shouldn't really blame Camille. I am certainly not above watching cheesy teen flicks. I'm a very immature 80 year old.)

I'm putting these two movies together because they're essentially the same thing. They both have a lot of Zac Efron casually tossing his shaggy bangs out of his eyes.

17 Again is your typical changing-bodies movie that would have been a real dud if not for this guy. He made the movie. In movies like this the hero's' best friend is always suppose to be hilarious but he was over the top. If you were going to see a movie based strictly on one character this should be it. But be warned, he's the best part of it. The rest is pretty weak.

High School Musical 3 can be summed up in a few words: lots of singing. Knights of Columbus! There were like 183 songs in this movie. I know you're thinking, "Duh, Rachel. It's a musical." But in most musicals you have a breather in between songs. There were no breathers here. It went from one song about school and the end of their youth to another song about the future and the end of their youth to another song about prom and the end of their youth. I saw the first movie a long time ago and I didn't see the second so I have no idea if they had the marathon singing in them too. I just wasn't prepared. And they all sounded the same. Either upbeat big production numbers or swoony teenage love ballads. But there was one song that made me think of Bret's Angry Dance, and that's always a bonus.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

John Adams

Movie: John Adams
Like/Don't Like: Good, despite the weird make-up and heavy pauses.

I have kind of a soft spot in my heart for John Adams. He has always struck me as being short and grumpy. And I can relate to that.

For this reason I've wanted to watch the John Adams mini-series. Plus, I've heard several people rave about it and I can see why. The story, by itself, is incredible. It is broad and covers the highlights of a very fascinating life, starting in 1775, near the beginning of the Revolutionary War to Adams' death in 1826. And in addition to those highlights it focused a lot on the relationships he had - with his wife and children and with the other founding fathers. I particularly loved his friendship with Jefferson. They were friends on opposite ends of the political spectrum who reasoned with each other rather than argued. Politics makes me cringe because usually the discussions are so one-sided they make me want to shout out something controversial just to mix it up, or they're so combative that I want to gather everyone in a hug and feed them cookies to calm them down. It was a relief to see two intelligent people have a respectful and thoughtful discussion on their difference. And I will admit that I openly wept at the end when both of them died on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

I did have a few complaints about it. They aren't in any way major. Most of them are based on artistic choices that, instead of adding realism and depth to the story, just distracted from it. Like the weird camera angles. Anytime there was some kind of discord the cameras would go all wonky. At one point they showed Adams walking through a field of corn and the camera flipped and followed him the rest of the way upside down. Yeah, I get it, his world has turned upside down. Now turn back around before I throw up. It did not help that most of these wonky camera angles were filled with heavy pauses.

A typical scene:

camera tilted to the left
John: (Sigh)(Heavy Pause)
Abigail: (Wide-eyed Stare)(Heavy Pause)
John: I need to go to Philadelphia.
Abigail: (Heavy Pause) But you've just returned.
John: (Sigh)(Slight Stammer)(Heavy Pause) Yes, but the Congress needs me.
camera titled to the right
Abigail: (Wide-eyed stare into the distance)(Heavy Pause) But the children...
John: (Heavy Pause)(Open and Close Mouth Several Times)
Abigail: We will make do (Resolute Wide-eyed Stare)(Heavy Pause)(Cuddle with John)

It wasn't bad, but it got a little old after 7 hours.

One more thing, and this is just pure nit-picking here. But what did they do to David Morse's face? He played George Washington and they put a fake nose on him to make him look more like the General and it was HORRIBLE. It completely sucked the ability to act right out of him. He just stood there with this enormous prosthetic on his face and mumbled a few lines here and there. I suppose one could make the argument that he was just acting stoic, but it looked more like he was trying to figure out a way to breath with his mouth closed.

Alright, that's it. It's pretty long, but it rewards your time with that good feeling of wanting to go out and wave a flag. And coming from someone who is more of "waving a flag in my heart" patriot rather than an actual flag-waving one, that's high pretty high praise.