Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hard at Work

Have you noticed that adults are slaves to babies?  Those babies have the life, never doing a thing for themselves.  Well, Drewbles and I are determined to have independent babies, and so we've put the Speck to work.  No sitting around for this baby!  Here are some of his daily chores: 

He makes the bed:

 He puts my breakfast together:

He empties the dishwasher:

He does the laundry:

(We're still working on the folding part.)

The best part is that he doesn't know about allowances yet so this is all free labor!  Keep it up, little one.  You'll be scrubbing the bathtub with the best of them before you know it!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Icefall (Book Review)

Author: Matthew J. Kirby
Year: 2011
Genre: Coming of age/mystery/historical

Reading Level: Intermediate

Literary Awards:
Agatha Award Nominee for Best Childrens Young Adult (2011), The Judy Lopez Memorial Award for Children's Literature Medalist (2012), Edgar Award for Juvenile

Plot Summary: Solveig, the overlooked second daughter of the king, has been sent to an isolated fortress surrounded by icy mountains and an frozen sea.  Though she was sent there for protection while her father is embroiled in battle, a hidden danger is inside the fortress walls and Solveig must use all her wits to unveil the traitors and protect her family.

Red Flags: Some mild violence, death

My Rating: B+
I liked this book, probably more so than The Clockwork Three.  Solveig was a good, likable character and she had a good story.  Even though she felt very average, it was never "O me, I am so plain so y do da boys like me?", which seems to happen so often.  Likewise there was never a moment like "O, I really AM the bees knees!"  Her realization of her own abilities and worth was very natural and relatable.  

My favorite section was the middle, as things started to go wrong and everyone became trapped in the wintery ice.  It was like a locked room mystery, where the tension builds and everyone knows that SOMEone is bad but no one knows who and no one can get away.  Unfortunately, the resolution of "who" was rather anticlimactic for me and made the mystery a bit flat.  Also I had trouble picturing a lot of the characters--sometimes this happens because I read too fast, I'm not sure if that's the case here--especially Hake and Per.  Also I couldn't pronounce any of the names, haha. 

Overall, I liked the writing (so many hyphenated words!*), and this is one of those rare cases where first person present tense didn't make me crazy.  I liked Solveig and her story in particular, and the setting was different.  I also think this is a book that would appeal to both boy and girl readers--no small feat!  

But I must admit I laughed out loud every time I read "the Thing"...sorry, historical accuracy.

*I mention this in connection with the writing in general--not because I have a particular fondness for hyphenated words.  I am, in fact, pretty neutral about them.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Birthdays and Milestones

A month and one day ago I had a of THOSE birthdays.  You know, the kind where you enter a new decade.  I can't bring myself to type out the number because I am a coward, but I guess I'm not too cowardly to admit that I'm a coward.  That counts for something, right?

Anyway, I loved my last birthday, and have spent the year betwixt dreading this latest birthday.  It's a classic case of "But I can't be THAT old!" mixed with "But I was 18 a few minutes ago!"  Besides the number, I have to admit that my mostly ignored biological clock was ticking a louder than usual, and at one point last August I said to Drewbles that I had passed the point where it would be possible to have a baby before The Birthday.  (Of course, little did I know that the Speck was on his way, with an ETA a mere 8 days after my own birthday.  Clever little Speck, sneaking in so close to the deadline.) 

Even with the Speck on the way I still found plenty of time to fret about my birthday, and before I knew it, Doomsday was upon me.  But, do you know, it is really hard to think about your age (or anything else) when you know you're having a baby in the morning.  And it is really hard to think about your age once you have a baby in your house.  And then when you do think about it, it's like "...oh yeah."  So, I guess it's not such a big deal really.  Still, I'm not going to write it out.  

But enough about me and my age, our CAG is a month old this very day!  He is a delightful little thing and growing all the time (I hope [*is paranoid*]).  He might not do much beyond the necessities of life, but what he does delights and amuses us.  Even at 3 AM!  Such a skilled child.  

Here, have some pictures:

He's so delicate with his hands.

 We keep trying to get a good smiling picture!

Just hanging out in his nightie.

 Just hanging out in his onesie.

 You can never have too many sleeping pictures!

 "Oh dear, oh dear, whatever shall I do?"

I really like this nightie...

I love his little half-moon eyes!  Hah!

He sees all!

(For any curious parties, he likes a binky sometimes.  Other times not at all.)

Happy month birthday, young one!  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Specky Sundries

Our Little Master is almost a month old!  He has changed so much and is now walking and talking and getting ready for kindergarten.  Just kidding, he is actually the same in a lot of ways, just slightly bigger, but that's okay because I like him how he is.  So, what has he been up to lately?  Let's take a look:

He's been learning about snack foods.

He's getting poked, even without a Facebook account.
 He's been working on his Emperor Palpatine costume for Halloween.

 (He's going to start zapping me with Force lightning while cackling "Change this diaper faster!")

He has been following in his cousin's footsteps by making friends with The Caterpillar.
Bonus comparative cousin picture:

He's been enjoying his fishy blanket from Grandma (and rolling halfway to get closer to the fish faces).

He's been reaching...for his dreamssssss!

He's been giving his Pops some love.

He's been wearing nighties.  I'm obsessed with putting him in nighties because there is nothing cuter for a baby to wear.  Nothinggggggg.

He's been smiling a lot.  I tried to get a picture of it...this was as close as I got...but it happens!

He has been amusing us every day with his expressions, noises and mannerisms. 

Some other points of interest:
  • As of his appointment a week ago, he is over 9 pounds and has added an inch and a half.  He's still fitting in most of his newborn clothes, but they're getting small, length-wise.  
  • He sleeps pretty well at night and usually has a good four hour block in the wee hours.  
  • His current hobbies are looking at things, kicking, escaping from blankets and stretching out like a plank.  Also grabbing my hair.
Some other other points of interest:
  • Freezer meals are awesome!  We have one left, and so far they have all turned out great.  I highly recommend them, whether or not a baby is imminent. 
  • I feel really good.  Recovery has been surprisingly easy, which is nice.  I think the surgery last year was a good preview for a c-section--the main difference being that they removed a baby instead of a fibroid (also less robots involved).
  • I'm excited to get back to running in a few weeks.  Also, Pilates is a lot easier with a baby on the outside.
  • Overall, life is the same in a lot of ways--we just have another little person sharing it with us.  Drew goes running, I water the plants.  I've never missed a day of showering or making the bed.  We watch TV and pay bills and go on walks and read.  We just do other stuff now too, like watch TV while holding a baby.  (Of course it helps that Drewbles works from home)
So, that is how life is going these days.  Hurray for the baby, hurray for summer, hurray for summer babies!

Now I need to go look at him because it's been a while.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Book Review)

Author: Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney
Year: 2007
Genre: Novel

Reading Level: Young Adult

Literary Awards: 
National Book Award for Young People's Literature (2007), School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2007), American Indian Library Association Award, South Carolina Book Award Nominee for Young Adult Book Award (2010), Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award Nominee (2008) Florida Teens Read Nominee (2009), American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Young Adult Book (2008), Horn Book Fanfare (2007), ALA's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2008), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction and Poetry (2008), Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2011), James Cook Book Award Nominee (2009)

Plot Summary: Fourteen-year-old Junior's life on the Spokane Indian Reservation seems doomed to stagnation and monotony.  Determined to create a new and better future for himself, Junior leaves the poor reservation school for the all-white high school in town.  His decision is just the beginning of a year of changes in Junior's life and the lives of his family.

Red Flags: Language, adult themes, sexual content

My Rating: B+
This book was more mature than I expected it to be (side note: why are my expectations so far off lately?)--I thought, judging by the kind of amusing title, that it would be more of a light-hearted romp.  And while it DID have its funny elements, a lot of the story is pretty heavy.  People die, bad things happen and there are all kinds of life lessons going around.  It had a good blend of humor and drama that felt genuine--like a real person having a hard time but still trying to see the lighter side.  Junior's resilience felt true and I liked that aspect of his personality.  A lot of his other aspects I did not really care for, and often I thought he was a gross teenage boy.  I did also like that he loved and was loved by his family--that is always refreshing in a YA book.  And I will readily give Sherman Alexie credit for handling a lot of tough topics and keeping the sense of hope intact.  This book could have easily been terribly depressing.

In all honesty, I could have done without the illustrations.  This is just personal preference (I can totally see the appeal for a lot of readers), but they always took me out of the story a bit.  Sometimes the narrative did the same thing, in that in one sentence things are funny and in the next something awful has happened.  I didn't love the writing style, which is another preference thing.  It's straight forward and easy to read, but it kind of annoyed me off and on.

Overall, it was a compelling story and the characters were different and vivid, even though I didn't always like them.  It's always interesting to read about people who have such different lives from your own, and I appreciate this book for that.  I didn't love it, and I forgot it more easily that I expected, but I am glad to have read it at last.

Friday, June 14, 2013

By the Brontë Book

(Previously on By the Book: Austen, Dickens, Hardy)

I've never met a Brontë book I didn't like, and there are a lot of adaptations to pick from too.  Some are excellent, some are okay and there are some really crummy ones as well.  Diversity!  Like Pride and Prejudice, there seems to be new versions of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre every few years, and I will readily watch them all.  But don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Anne.

Anne Brontë:
The Tennant of Wildfell Hall: This is the only book of Anne's that I've read and the plot is, well, certainly not a cheery one.  But like with her sisters' novels, things turn out okay after all the terrible things happen.  Anyway, the miniseries from 1996 is appropriately dark and, funnily enough, features more than one actor from OTHER recent Brontë adaptations. 

Cast cross overs: Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald, Pam Ferris, James Purefoy 
HP bonus: Pam Ferris

Emily Brontë: 
Wuthering Heights: Oh, how I love this book.  It's so bleak and full of overwrought emotions and terrible people.  But it also has some decent characters as well and a satisfying ending--elements that are sometimes cut completely out of some adaptations.  And really, WHAT is the point of doing only the first half of the book and leaving off all the nice things?  Anyway.  There are OODLES of movies to choose from and most of them are lame.  HAH.  Just kidding, sort of. 

The earliest version is from 1939 with Laurence Olivier.  Confession: I made it ten minutes into this one and then turned my nose up at it.  I should probably go back and finish it sometime.  

There's another black and white version from 1967 with Ian McShane.  It is awful.  Just awful.  Bad acting, bad wigs, no music, constant wind and Ian McShane throws away the best lines too.  While it does do the whole book, the same actress plays both Catherines and that never works for me.  Skip it!

Timothy Dalton pops up in a version from 1970 and it is also not very good.  Any version that stops at the end of the first generation gets a thumbs down from me.

The 1992 theatrical adaptation with Ralph Fiennes is one of the better ones.  I think Ralph Fiennes is the best part, and again, I don't like that Juliette Binoche plays both Catherines.  Still, it's a good shorter version that spans the whole novel.

The 1998 Masterpiece is my favorite by far!  It is basically perfect.  Okay, I may be biased since it's the first one I saw (and was my first exposure to the story), but I just love it and have watched it SO many times.  The cast is spot on, the moors are desolate and it's all perfectly depressing dreary.  I wish it were a little longer, just so it could include a bit more, but as it is, it's the best.  (Plus it has my favorite movie kiss of all!)

If you can believe it, MTV made a modernized version in 2003.  I actually remember it being not as bad as I expected, but even so...

Masterpiece made yet another version in 2009, and it is fine--I mean, it tells the whole story and it's pretty and what have you.  My main issue is that I don't care for the cast--Catherine is too delicately pretty, younger Catherine is a whiner and, while I like Tom Hardy in some things, I don't buy him as Heathcliff. 

The latest version, from 2011, is another theatrical one, and is probably the worst of all.  Aside from some serious content issues, they chopped the story off halfway and made some really perplexing artistic decisions.  For instance, why age-up the Heathcliff and Cathy actors but not Hindley?  This one came off as hollow and passionless, despite the added, ahem, passion.

1939 cast cross over: Laurence Olivier
1970 cast cross over: Timothy Dalton
1992 cast cross over: Jeremy Northam, Jonathan Firth
HP Bonus: Ralph Fiennes

1998 cast cross over: Matthew MacFadyen, Crispin Bonham Carter
2009 cast cross over: Tom Hardy, Burn Gorman


Charlotte Brontë:
Jane Eyre: Who doesn't love Jane Eyre?  Again, lots of awful things happen but it all turns out well in the end.  Those Brontës certainly loved their drama (I bet they would have loved Thomas Hardy).  Like with Wuthering Heights, there are a number of Jane Eyre options and several are even good!

I grew up watching the 1983 version with Timothy Dalton, and honestly, aside from the soap opera effect, it holds up surprisingly well.  Pretty much any fondness I have for Timothy Dalton stems from this.  

The 1996 theatrical version is pretty good, though it's kind of forgettable for me.  I say this because I've seen it several times but I still can't remember much about it.  I don't think William Hurt was born to play Mr. Rochester, but he gets by.  Also, Elle Macpherson?  Zuh?

A&E made a version in 1997.  Um, I made it fifteen minutes in.  Sorry, Ciaran Hinds.

2006 brought a new Masterpiece version, and it is my favorite.  Toby Stephens is probably a bit too young for the part, but he's very likable, in a grumpy Mr. Rochester kind of way.  Also I think Ruth Wilson is fantastic and the best Jane by far.  I think it's easy for Jane to come off as bland, but in this she's got some (well-mannered) fire in her.

And finally, there was another theatrical release in 2011.  This is another one that did not leave much of an impression on me.  The age difference here was a *bit* too much for me, and while I liked her in Alice in Wonderland, I didn't care for Mia Wasikowska as Jane.  But hey, I never turn down a new Jane Eyre

1983 cast cross over: Timothy Dalton
1996 cast cross overs: Amanda Root, Samuel West, Fiona Shaw (Persuasion reunion!)
HP Bonus: Fiona Shaw
1997 cast cross overs: Gemma Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Samantha Morton
HP Bonus: Ciaran Hinds, Gemma Jones
2006 cast cross overs: Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald, Pam Ferris, Francesca Annis
HP Bonus: Pam Ferris
2011 cast cross over: Sally Hawkins

The moral(s) of this post: 1998 Wuthering Heights.  2006 Jane Eyre.  Avoid Ian McShane at all costs.

Friday, June 07, 2013

By the Hardy Book

(Previously on By the Book: Austen, Dickens)

Thomas Hardy is not quite as universally appreciated as Jane Austen or Charles Dickens.  I think in general people are either hot or cold about his work as it is often on the, well, depressing side.  Personally I enjoy a good piece of tragic tragedy of tragicness so Thomas Hardy and I get along just fine.

Under the Greenwood Tree: Also known as the only cheerful Thomas Hardy novel.  The 2005 Masterpiece adaptation is equally cheerful, though I confess it is also not very memorable in my opinion.  It needs more tragedy! 

Cast cross over: Keeley Hawes

Far from the Madding Crowd: In this case, I think the older version from 1967 is the best version so far.  The 1998 version is all right, but I think it's a little miscast, especially Bathsheba (kind of a problem).  Apparently, there's a new one coming in 2014 so we'll see how that turns out.
1998 cast cross over: Nathaniel Parker, Jonathan Firth 

The Return of the Native: There's only one version from 1994, made by Hallmark of all people companies.  It has some made-for-tv-ness, but it's pretty good all around.  Catherine Zeta-Jones is a good fit for a Hardy woman. 

Cast cross over: Steven Mackintosh

The Mayor of Casterbridge: This is one of my favorites of Hardy's novels and I very much like the 2003 miniseries as well.  The cast is great, especially Ciaran Hinds, and it's very faithful to the book.  Such tragedy!  Alas.

Cast cross over: Ciaran Hinds, Polly Walker, Juliet Aubrey, Jodhi May, David Bradley, James Purefoy
HP Bonus: David Bradley

Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Talk about tragedy!  Poor Tess.  Anyway, this is another of my favorite Hardy books, and there are actually a few adaptations out in the world as well.  There was a movie made by Roman Polanski in 1979 that I find a little dull, though it's a faithful adaptation.  My favorite is the TV version from 1998, which is faithful and also has the best cast out of all of them.  Masterpiece did one in 2008 but I found it underwhelming through and through (though I guess it gets some kind of points for featuring two different Mariuses). 

1998 cast cross over: Justine Waddell, Oliver Milburn

Jude the Obscure: Alas, poor Jude, he has no good film adaptation.  There's a miniseries from 1971 which is, well, exactly what you'd expect from the 70s, plus a surprising amount of nakedness (that Sue just won't be contained!).  There was also a theatrical version made in 1996, but I'm sorry to say it's not very good either (and also features much nakedness).  Not only does it cut all kinds of plot, the cast is distractingly wrong.  Have I already said alas?

So, like I said, Thomas Hardy does not seem to have the same appreciation as Austen or Dickens--at least judging by the quality (and number) of adaptations.  Maybe one day we'll get a good Jude and we will all be weeping in the corner by the end of it.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Goose Girl (Book Review)

Author: Shannon Hale
Year: 2003
Genre: Fairy tale/Fantasy

Reading Level: Young Adult
Series: #1 in the Books of Bayern series (followed by Enna Burning)

Literary Awards: 
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee for Children's Literature (2010), Utah State Book Award, Utah Speculative Fiction Award Winner, Bank Street College of Education Josette Frank Award, ALA Teens' Top Ten (2004)

Plot Summary: Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee may be the Crown Princess of Kildenree, but she's never fulfilled her mother's expectations of what a princess should be.  She's eventually sent to marry a neighboring kingdom's prince, but on the journey there she's betrayed and presumed dead.  To survive she hides as a simple goose girl, but it will take more than a goose girl to prevent a war and save her people.

Red Flags: Some violence

My Rating: A-
I had a lot of expectations for this after hearing so many positive things about it for several years.  It took me a little while to get into it, but it grew on me more as it went on.  I liked the writing in general, though I think sometimes Shannon Hale was trying a little too hard to be creative (and went a little heavy on the similes).  It had genuine emotion and tragedy, plus it made me want to sit in a field.

I think it's a good retelling of the original fairy tale. It was a little slow to start and I think the ending was too drawn out, but I liked it overall.  And...I can't remember any of my other thoughts.  Hmm.

(Also I just have to say that when it comes to goose books, I still prefer Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl--though they aren't really similar enough to compare.)

(Caveat: it's been a number of years since I read Goose Chase.)