Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Film News: THE WINTER QUEEN by Boris Akunin

Looks like the English language film adaptation of Akunin's first book in the Erast Fandorin series, THE WINTER QUEEN, is moving forward. Read about the casting decisions here. These books, translated from the Russian and featuring the agent/detective Erast Fandorin (one of my favorite character names ever) have always seemed perfect for adaptation to film. They are enormously charming, well written and visually engaging. Only five of the books have so far been translated into English (far as I know) and if you haven't discovered them yet, you're in for a treat, most especially if you love historical mysteries. Since these are set in 19th century Tsarist Russia, there's an added exotic touch. Can't think of any other series set during this era.

There's a bit of confusion about which books are currently available in English since the write-up at the above link states that only five of the Fandorin books have been translated, but listed on Akunin's Fantastic Fiction page are several more titles in English. My library only has four of the Fandorin books in their system. Akunin's Website has only five listed.

At any rate, I've read: THE WINTER QUEEN, THE TURKISH GAMBIT, MURDER ON THE LEVIATHAN (my favorite), and THE DEATH OF ACHILLES, and I recommend them all. These would make for great summer reading at the beach, by the way.

Additional good news, the new Erast Fandorin, THE DIAMOND CHARIOT will be published in September, 2011.

Akunin also writes a second mystery series featuring a nun named Sister Pelagia, but I've yet to read those - though they are on my TBR list.

Top Ten Tuesdays: TOP TEN BOOKS That Should Be In Your Beach Bag This Summer.

Top Ten Tuesday is the Weekly fun meme hosted by the gals at THE BROKE AND THE BOOKISH. Every week it's a new topic. This time out it's TOP TEN BOOKS That Should Be In Your Beach Bag This Summer. Once you finish reading mine (and not a minute before - ha!) head on over to The B&The B and see what books the other meme participants are talking about. Lots of good summer reading just in case there's a space left here and there on your already overflowing TBR list.

It's summer, it's hot, the sun is blinding, you don't want to read anything heavy-duty while you're sprawled on a beach chair ogling the cute guys in their speedos - right? Hey, I remember what it was like, though my ogling days are practically over. (Yeah, right.)

Wait, wait, what was I just saying about 'ogling'? I lost my train of thought...

Okay, back on topic: I've mixed in lots of old favorites with a few new titles. In my view, beach reading is all about fun, mystery and romance - there's not a super serious tome in the bunch:

1) THE BIG OVER EASY by Jasper Fforde
When Humpty Dumpty (Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III) a minor baronet, is murdered, the Nursery Crimes unit is on the case. Follow along with ace detective Jack Spratt and his assistant Mary Mary as they hunt for a killer in a not quite so nice nursery world full of double dealing and just plain bad stuff.

2) THE FOURTH BEAR by Jasper Fforde
Goldilocks a murder victim? Yes, and good riddance. Join Nursery Crimes detective Jack Spratt as once again, he and Mary Mary are on the hunt for a killer who might or might not be of the ursine variety - the three bears admit having seen Goldilocks running from their forest abode, but resist the notion that they killed her.

3) FLUKE by Christopher Moore
Marine biologist Nate Quinn's life's work is to find out why the humpback whale sings - to that end he and his fellow biologists spend a great deal of time out on the water recording and filming. When one day, Nate notices something odd on the fluke of a particular whale, nobody believes him since he appears to be the only one who noticed the message written there in foot high letters: bite me. What happens next shouldn't happen to a rational man.

This is the way I'd want to re-read these three fun books all featuring the clever Inspector Wilkins, all set in the 1930's, the heyday of the screwball mystery. When Lord Burford holds a house party at his Alderley estate, murder usually follows.

5) BET ME by Jennifer Crusie
Miranda Dobbs inexplicably finds romance with Calvin Morrisey, a man who asked her out to dinner to win a bet, a man not looking to fall in love. (Are they ever?) I admit I read this a while ago, but I have hazy memories of laughing quite a bit and enjoying the romantic hi jinks. In fact, you could probably not go wrong with any of Crusies 'meant for beach reading' books. They're usually well written and lots of fun. It's not hard to imagine that Crusie also has lots of fun writing these, and it shows.

This is the sixth in the eight books strong 'Pink Carnation'  series of books and my favorite so far. Though you wouldn't go wrong picking up any of the others, especially THE DECEPTION OF THE EMERALD RING. These are fun books (with gorgeous covers) set partially in the modern day but mostly in the 18th century just after The Scarlet Pimpernel's retirement. Hey somebody had to take up the spying slack. There were still plenty of 'royalists' and nobles to be saved and dastardly plots to be foiled.

7) THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD by Agatha Christie
My absolute favorite Christie book if I simply HAD to choose. Follow the adventures of the hapless but clever, Victoria Jones - recently fired from her secretarial job - as she decides on the spur of the moment (after meeting a dreamboat of a young man in the park) to travel to Baghdad in the pursuit of true love. Unknown to her, the world's attention is also fixed on Baghdad as the destination for a 'peace' conference which will gather the rich and powerful together in one easy to strike location. I've lost count of how many times I've read this book.

8)  WORTH DYING FOR by Lee Child
To my mind, the best of the Jack Reacher books so far (along with 61 HOURS - both published last year. Pick either one or really, any of the previous Reacher books, especially PERSUADER or WITHOUT FAIL.) A thrill a minute as Reacher hands out his own brand of justice when he finds himself annoyed by a villainous family in control of a small Nebraska town in the middle of nowhere.

9) CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters
The first in the Amelia Peabody books featuring an intrepid and very bossy Victorian busybody/would-be  archaeologist and her adventures in (mostly) Egypt. Begin at the beginning if you're not familiar with this wonderful series. My favorites are still the early books primarily because they're the most outrageous. Written in the style of H. Rider Haggard (mostly) as a kind of satirical homage, Peters (who also writes as Barbara Michaels) has a grand time with Amelia and you will too. If you're in a more contemporary mood, then you won't go wrong with Peters' Vicky Bliss books either. My favorites: TROJAN GOLD and NIGHT TRAIN TO MEMPHIS.

10) SMOKIN' SEVENTEEN by Janet Evanovich
I haven't read this (the 17th in the series!) yet (the book hits the stores on June 21st), but I feel no compunction in recommending it. I've read all the other Stephanie Plum books enough to know what's coming down the pike in this latest entry. Laughs galore with New Jersey bounty hunter (?!) Stephanie Plum and her inept crew. Not to mention the two sexy men in her life, Joe Morelli and Ranger. (I pick Ranger.)  If you're not familiar with this series what on earth are you waiting for?

Photo is of Olympic champion Michael Phelps.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: Have a good one!

Hope you're all able to spend the day with family and friends. I'll be at my granddaughter's birthday bash. Her first birthday was actually this past week, but we're celebrating today. BIG doings. I like to think that Julianna is like the Queen of England. She gets two birthdays: a Real Day and an Official Day. And why not?

Hint: This is the theme.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Salon: Paintings By U.S. Soldiers Go On Display for First Time

Painting by Tom Lea

Paintings from the hearts and minds of American soldiers - WWI to the present. Read about this powerful new exhibition at this link.

Many WWII combat artists were also featured in the PBS documentary, THEY DREW FIRE, narrated by Jason Robards, Jr. Read about the film here.

Thomas Hart Benton (1889 - 1975)
Also featured in the documentary THEY DREW FIRE.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Salon: Favorite Paintings by American Impressionist Childe Hassam (1859 - 1935)

It appears we've gone from winter directly into summer with hardly a breath of spring in between. On this overly warm Memorial Day weekend, I thought I'd share some of Childe Hassams' luxurious impressionist flag paintings in memory of those who served their country in the past and those who continue to serve today. We owe them much.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Armchair Book Expo America - Last Day

The home page at Armchair BEA Central has some terrific last day posts, most especially pertinent, I think, for book bloggers who want to make their blogs more effective and maybe reach a wider audience. We all want to be better bloggers - right? I know I certainly do - I have so much to learn! Interesting thoughts, ideas, tips and links. Thanks to the Armchair BEA bloggers for doing such a great job this week. (I wish I could have been more attentive, but reality kept intruding.)

To check it all out, simply use this link.

What on earth?!

Okay, now all the wonderful pix of my followers are missing from the blog. It's not bad enough that I can only enter  AND/OR edit my blog through a back door and that the formatting is occasionally still screwy AND that I can't really sign out - I'm in blog limbo-land far as I'm concerned - AND that there are still blogs I can't comment on, not even as 'anonymous' - but now the 'followers' icon which normally resides on the right hand side of my blog, has disappeared. Evaporated. Gone.

Anyone else having this problem?

What on earth is happening with Google Blogger? It's one annoying damn thing after another. Is this the 'new normal'?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Favorite Film: DIVA (1981) starring Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Frederic Andrei and Richard Bohringer.

Still having to get into my blog through a back door, but at least I'm able to post and respond to comments. Can't complain TOO much. Though I wish Google Blogger would fix whatever it is that continues to ail them.  Still having problems posting on some other blogs...no rhyme or reason.

It feels as it we haven't talked movies in ages - but maybe that's just me. Today it's all about one of my absolute favorite films of all time. If anyone ever says to me: name a favorite movie,  DIVA is the one (along with three or four others) which immediately springs to mind. It is an unforgettable film - a film that dazzled me with it's visual brilliance and wicked story-telling. Far as I'm concerned there's never been anything quite like it.

DIVA is a crime thriller/love story about, among other things, the inchoate power of music. It is peopled with a cast of eccentrics - good guys and bad - set in a down to earth Paris location that still manages to retain its aura of mystery. The film is directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix - a movie-maker to whom extravagant visuals must be life's blood.

The basic story is all about this: A love-lorn postman, an opera diva, two recording tapes, two nasty mob killers, one corrupt policeman, two inept police detectives, two sinister Taiwanese record pirates and one very cool philosopher (owner of the most gorgeous Citroen automobile I've ever seen) who steps in to save the day. (I took the internet movie database's rather spare description and enhanced it.) The movie is a twisting, winding, intricate thriller that is actually three separate skeins woven into one and if you don't pay attention you'll easily miss something important.

DIVA, first and foremost, is obviously the creation of someone who adores the art of film - I don't know much about the director, Jean Jacques Beineix, he doesn't seem to have made many more films, but the visualization, art direction and action sequences in DIVA prove his adoration of the medium. The film is a curious combo of pop art, graphic comic action and film noir done in bright, often flat, comic book colors.

Frederic Andrei (my keyboard doesn't do accents) plays the young, hapless, love-lorn postman, Jules, who not-so-innocently gets tangled up in a web of murder and deceit, not to mention an on-going police investigation of a Parisienne prostitution king-pin. As the film opens, Jules is at an opera recital featuring the famed and very beautiful American soprano, Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez). He is utterly smitten with her and her exquisite voice and has, this night, smuggled in a device to record her aria as he sits in the audience - totally reprehensible and illegal - but understandable.

Hawkins has never recorded, never made any records or performance tapes - never heard herself sing on tape. She doesn't believe in it. She is eccentric enough to prefer only the 'live' experiencing of performance and defends this quirk to her agent, her public and anyone else who wishes it were otherwise. Only a real and beloved diva could get away with this sort of thing.

In the audience the night of the Paris recital, sitting near Jules, are two Taiwanese men (made sinister in appearance by their wearing of sunglasses in the darkened audience) who notice what Jules is up to. We immediately surmise that they are interested in the recording and a light bulb goes off in our heads - record pirates! The aria that Hawkins is singing that night is: La Wally from the opera by Catalani written in 1892. It is exquisite. You can see on Jules's face, how transformed he becomes, how drawn in he is by Hawkins' beauty and the sound of her alluring voice. He doesn't notice that two sinister men in sunglasses are watching him intently. After the recital, he goes backstage and chats briefly with the diva, as he leaves, he steals the dress she wore that evening while performing.

The headlines the next day: Who stole the diva's dress?

The following morning, a dazed woman on the run from thugs, is shot down in front of some cops sitting in a cafe; she manages to hide a very incriminating audio tape of her lover - the crime boss who happens to be the chief of police, Jean Saporta (not revealing much, we learn this pretty early in the film). As she staggers and falls she drops the tape inside a postman's sack attached to 'un mobilette' (a scooter). The postman is none other than Jules of the illegal taping of the night before. He finds the tape when he returns from delivering mail, but puts it aside with a shrug as something unimportant, possibly a tape he, himself, had forgotten about.

In the meantime, Jules has picked up the serious attentions of the two Taiwanese who want to get their hands on Jules' taping of Cynthia Hawkins' recital. But more importantly, he has also crossed the radar of two very ugly mob killers who have just killed the woman with the incriminating tape of the chief of police. Notice why you have to pay attention.

One of many visual highlights in the film is the view we first get of Jules' idiosyncratic apartment which is in a building that, obviously, was once a car repair garage. The walls of his flat are covered in huge, graphic paintings of flashy women and even flashier cars. It is the place where Jules keeps his expensive German recording and playing equipment - the only luxury he appears to indulge in. It is where he goes to listen, in solitude, to his recording of Cynthia Hawkins, the elusive diva. While listening he wraps her dress around his neck for comfort. Later, when he picks up a prostitute, he makes her wear the dress. Jules is obviously in danger of falling too deeply into obsession.

The film is about the various obsessions of each character. In truth, the only character who appears to have full control of his own particular obsession is the philosopher, Gorodish (Richard Bohringer) - a kind of lone ranger, music-loving, enigmatic jack of all trades who lives with Alba (Thuy An Luu), a smart-mouthing young Vietnamese woman he picked up in his travels. They live in a huge, mostly empty, loft in which Gorodish indulges his eccentricities and espouses his philosophy of life. Jules meets them by happenstance - a happenstance which later, ends up saving his life. One of the more intriguing and quixotically comic scenes in the film happens when Gorodish, inexplicably wearing snorkeling headgear, explains to Jules, the Zen of buttering 'un baguette' while Alba roller skates around the floor of the loft. Somehow, it all seems perfectly normal.

In the meantime, Jules has managed to meet the diva again and confesses he was the one who made off with her dress. But he is so obviously besotted with her that she forgives him - finding something touching in his devotion. She explains to him that she cannot bear the thought of recording her voice - there is no immediacy, no spontaneity in a recording. They spend the day together in some beautiful vignettes as they walk around Paris - accompanied by a stirring soundtrack - and later return to her suite at the hotel. But she holds him at bay, still cautious. He sleeps on a divan, alone.

Afterward, Jules, overcome with guilt, tries to make things right. But he finds he cannot break free of the web which is closing in around him as he is followed by killers and recording pirates (neither knowing of the others' existence). Jules must fend for himself without knowing who his enemies are or why they're after him, until he listens to the tape he found in his mail satchel.

Little by little, Jules begins to put together the pieces of the puzzle. But he has no one to turn to as the cops can't be trusted and he doesn't want to let any of the sordid details touch the elusively pristine haven he's found with his diva. The dichotomy between the gentle love story and the brutish details of the other is filmed in a way that makes sure we understand Jules' reluctance to allow each to touch the other.

But Jules appears to have lost control of his life. There is a terrific chase sequence when Jules, on a borrowed motorbike, eludes the cops, riding the bike into, onto and out of the Metro. Another harrowing sequence in the film occurs on a night when the killers close in and Jules, stabbed and bleeding, must elude them within the garish confines of an arcade. With no one left to turn to he makes one desperate call to Gorodish, a man he hardly knows, but instinctively trusts.

From this moment on, in my view, the film takes on the tone of fantasy as Gorodish takes on the role of nemesis. (The how and why of this doesn't need explanation - it just is.) This last third of the movie is all about retribution. One of the scenes features the presence of the most beautiful Citroen motorcar you will ever see - a visual joke which you will get just seconds after the car is blown up. Gorodish not only takes care of the corrupt chief of police and the Taiwanese record pirates (who, apparently do not know what they've actually stepped into), but also the two coldly determined hired killers. All this he accomplishes with sleight of hand finesse, style and a pragmatic attention to detail.

When finally, Jules is able to return his concert tape to the diva, he first plays it on the loudspeaker system in the hall where she is alone, rehearsing. She hears her own voice on recording for the first time. He takes her in his arms.

A very satisfying ending.

Please watch the trailer of DIVA, here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to get back to commenting on your blog.

Thanks to my techno-brilliant daughter, here's how to fix at least one of the Google Blogger failures some of have been faced with for the past couple of days. Use this link to go to Skye's blog - the easy to follow instructions are right there. Instructions for Fixing Comment Snafu.

Hope this helps.

Unfortunately, I still can't seem to completely sign in or sign out of my blog - I'm in a kind of limbo-land. I have to enter my blog through a back door to do anything. But at least I can comment now.

Wednesday: Quote of the Day

Of all days, the day on which one has not laughed is surely the most wasted.

Chamfort, Maxims et Pensees, 1805.

(Don't have a source for the photo.)

Operation SNAFU: My blog is still on the fritz.

In the last couple of days, Google Blogger has decided not to allow me to post responses to your comments on the blog. Just another in a long line of Google Blogger failures that currently appear to be on-going. I'm wondering too, if any of you are also having problems with your blogs. Wouldn't want to think I was being singled out by the fates that be - HA! This has all been happening within the past month - remember the formatting problems? They're mostly gone, but not completely. I don't know what the heck is going on with G.B., but whatever it is I wish they'd straighten themselves out.

By the way: I also can't post a comment on your blog if it has any but a Blogspot address. Nice - huh? But please don't think I'm not reading and appreciating your blog posts - I am. I haven't disappeared, I'm just - sort of - incommunicado.

I'm hoping that at some point within the next few days all this will straighten itself out. I've tried to make Google Blogger aware of the snafu, but you know how that goes.

So this is my long-winded way of asking for your patience and forbearance. I'm still posting, but that's about it.(And who knows how much longer before that too goes down the tubes.)

Thank you Kathy, Juxtabook, BookBelle, Edward, Anne, Deb and Ryan for your recent comments.
I value your thoughts and I promise to respond as soon as Google Blogger allows it.

Slice of Life: I tried and failed to post comments on your blog. Wanted to commisserate about our  blogging problems but can't even comment as 'anonymous'. Also wanted to post some comments about M. M. Kaye, but they'll just have to wait.

BookBelle: Tried and failed to post on your blog as well. WHEN WILL THIS TORMENT END? I know, I know, I tend to the dramatic. Ha!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Armchair Book Expo America - Day Two

Today's topic: Best of 2011, so far AND New books I'm looking forward to reading this year. (Books must be published in 2011.) Link here to ARMCHAIR BEA where all things BEA are being coordinated - you can read what other ARMCHAIR bloggers are talking and posting about

2011 has been a great year for reading but it seems that most of the books I've read were published in previous years. As some of you know I read a lot of vintage and I've been caught up in The Vintage Reading Challenge hosted by Bev over at MY READER'S BLOCK, so that's been one of my main reading concentrations this year. Another thing is I rarely check to see what year a book I'm reading was published in (unless I have a specific reason), if I'm enjoying the book, that's all I care about. So when I do my end of year Best Of 2011 list, it will, necessarily, include books published in other years.

But I think I can put a little list together of five books actually published in 2011 that I've enjoyed so far this year:

ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING by Jasper Fforde - The latest Thursday Next, literary detective, unclassifiable adventure in an alternate universe where books have a strange life of their own.

FADEAWAY GIRL by Martha Grimes - The latest Emma Graham mystery. Emma is still 12 years old and still poking about in long ago mysteries best left alone.

ONE WAS A SOLDIER by Julia Spencer Fleming - The latest in the Russ Alstyne and Clare Ferguson mysteries set in upstate New York where it always seems to be winter.

TREASON AT LISSON GROVE by Anne Perry - The latest in the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt historical mysteries set in Victorian England. Pitt is a member of Special Branch and Charlotte is his wife who occasionally helps in his investigations.

A RED HERRING WITHOUT MUSTARD by Alan Bradley - The latest in the Flavia de Luce mysteries set in the 1950's English countryside. The books feature Flavia, an 11 year old solver of mysteries and budding chemist whose primary interest is in poisons.

The titles above link to my own reviews of these particular books.
Now for a list of some of the books published either recently or later this year that I am especially looking forward to reading:

PIRATE KING by Laurie R. King (The absolute latest in the Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell series set before or during WWI)

EMBASSYTOWN by China Mieville

THE READING PROMISE: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma - non-fiction

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS: Love, Terror and An American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson - non-fiction

AMONG PENGUINS: A Bird Man in Antartica by Noah Stryker - non-fiction


EXIT THE ACTRESS by Priya Parmar

THE RANGER by Ace Atkins

A MORTAL TERROR by James R. Benn

SMOKIN' SEVENTEEN by Janet Evanovich (Another Stephanie Plum mystery.)

MISERY BAY by Steve Hamilton (An Alex McKnight mystery.)

ESCAPE ARTIST - An Edna Ferber Prequel by Ed Ifkovic

ACCEPTABLE LOSS by Anne Perry (A William Monk mystery.)



THE AFFAIR by Lee Child (A Jack Reacher thriller.)

THE DOG WHO KNEW TOO MUCH by Spencer Quinn (A Chet and Ernie mystery.)

CHELSEA MANSION by Barry Maitland

GHOST HERO by S.J. Rozan ( A Bill Smith and Lydia Chin mystery)

COLD VENGEANCE by Lincoln Child and Robert Preston (A Pendergast mystery)

A TRICK OF THE LIGHT by Louise Penny (An Inspector Gamache mystery)

THE GREATER JOURNEY Americans in Paris by David McCullough - non-fiction

The above titles were culled from lists of 2011 books. Of course, I'll still be reading and re-reading vintage, assorted recommendations from friends, books published in other years, etc. That's the reading life. Thank goodness.

Indie Lit Awards Update

The Indie Lit Awards were initiated last year by Wallace at her blog, UNPUTDOWNABLES. She (and a cast of thousands - well, not really, but there are many book bloggers involved) will be doling out the award to favorite books published in the current year - books chosen by bloggers and readers. That means us! I thought it was a great idea when I first heard about it and I still think so. Bloggers and readers will nominate their favorite book in several categories beginning in September, then the books will be voted on by certain bloggers. Please check this link to Wallace's blog to get all the details. I'm always sketchy when it comes to details. You'll also be able to see what books won last year as well.

It's about time bloggers started handing out literary awards. Everyone else does.

Painting by Joseph Seymour Guy.

Top Ten Tuesdays: Top Ten Book to Movie Adaptations + 2

The original topic for today's TOP TEN TUESDAY list was: TOP TEN BOOKS I HAVE LIED ABOUT. But, truth be told, I just couldn't come up with anything.
I don't really lie about what I read. Maybe in school once upon a time, I might have bragged or said I read something when I hadn't, but if so, I simply don't remember. I mean, I went to school when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Nowadays (how's that for an old fashioned word?), I'm not all that anxious to let the world know I still read Harlequin Romances once in a while, but that's about it. I'm pretty much out there when it comes to my likes and dislikes. I think I'll pick one of the previous topics from the Top Ten Tuesday files and write about that since I do like making lists and Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the gals at THE BROKE AND THE BOOKISH is a fun way to go about it. Besides, I wouldn't want to skip a Tuesday

How about TOP TEN BOOK TO MOVIE ADAPTATIONS - I've been meaning to make up this kind of list for awhile now, so along the lines of killing two birds with one stone, here's my list for today, as usual, in no particular order of preference and I will only list books and films I've actually read and seen. (While the LORD OF THE RINGS films were judged to be excellent adaptations, I've never read the books, so they're not included on my list. Same thing goes for my favorite thriller films, The Bourne Trilogy - never read the books.)

1) JURASSIC PARK by Michael Crichton
The book was fabulous, my first attempt to read a Crichton book, mainly because the subject matter appealed to me so much. The 1993 film by Steven Spielberg was just as good, though it took a few liberties with the plot. (In the book a major character dies - in the film, he doesn't. Also the DNA explanation was better in the book, not as simplistic as in the film.)  But, jeez, the dinosaurs in the film were all mind-bogglingly amazing. It was one of those films that just takes you aback when you first saw it, sitting in a darkened theater.

2) THE PELICAN BRIEF by John Grisham
The only Grisham book I've ever read and it was a terrific one. The 1993 film directed by Alan J. Pakula, was just as good, made even more interesting by the unexpected casting of Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts in the leads. Far as I'm concerned, one of the best non-stop action film thrillers.

Though technically, BBM is a short story, it was published in a separate volume and that's how I read it. The 2005 film directed by Ang Lee took several liberties with the original story - it enriched the rather spare plot - but in such a way that it didn't destroy the author's intent. Proulx did say she was happy with the film, most especially with Heath Ledger's brilliant portrayal of the tortured soul who was Ennis Del Mar. In my view, Jake Gyllenhaal was equally brilliant as the doomed rodeo wannabe, Jack Twist. It is a tragic love story filmed in a quietly intense way which only makes the heart-wrenching ending that much more powerful. The film also happens to contain, in my view, two of the greatest love scenes ever filmed. This is such a special movie, a giant heartache of a movie, but one of the best films I've ever seen. Certainly one of the best adaptations.

4) DODSWORTH by Sinclair Lewis
The 1936 adaptation directed by William Wyler, stays pretty true to the original book (which I only read last year) and remains one of my favorite films. Amazingly this is a film that manages to turn Walter Huston into a sexy adult man of a certain age AND makes Mary Astor likable.
The story is of a disintegrating marriage. A marriage destroyed by an importune trip to Europe taken by retired mid-western millionaire Sam Dodsworth (Huston) and his selfish, younger wife of many years, Fran, played by Ruth Chatterton. A terrific and often very moving film.

Not the recently released film which was a travesty (they changed a couple of important plot points in the story) far as I read - didn't see it, didn't want to. But the 1980's PBS series starring Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder and Anthony Andrews as the doomed Sebastian Flyte, which was, in my view, the best television show/series/film ever broadcast.. The show also starred Lawrence Olivier, Clare Bloom and a bevy of other amazingly good British actors and followed the original book rather closely. A wonderful book turned into a brilliant visual feast.

6) THE 39 STEPS by John Buchan
The superb 1935 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring the wonderful Robert Donat and the not-so-wonderful Madeleine Carroll is tops. The book, good as it is, is still rather dry and absent any female and/or emotional entanglements. This is one of those instances where a pretty good spy thriller was turned into an even better film.

In general, the Harry Potter films (those I've seen) have done an excellent job of adapting the weighty behemoths that are most of the Potter books. While I preferred the books - especially the last three volumes which were practically unputdownable - last year's film was very hard to follow. Of the films, the best, so far has been AZKABAN directed by Alfonso Cuaron, I think. On the whole, none of the films have been overly brilliant but none have been stinkers either. An amazing job when you think about it, really.

The 1995 mini-series starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is simply perfection. The entire cast is wonderful - not a dud in the bunch. The production follows the book very closely with maybe just a tweak or two here and there - not so you'd notice it though. I loved it. I can't think of anyone who could surpass Colin Firth as Darcy or, for that matter, Jennifer Ehle as Miss Elizabeth Bennett.

The 1974 film directed by Sidney Lumet.Though I am not overly fond of Albert Finney's portrayal of Hercule Poirot - he's too hard edged (and rather unlikable) for me - this is still, I think, the best adaptation of a Christie book simply because they allowed the story to develop as Christie actually wrote it. The claustrophobic setting - inside a train - is photographed beautifully and the acting is better than good. I found the sound-track lackluster and cloying but you can't have everything.

10) CAPTAIN BLOOD by Rafael Sabatini
The 1935 film directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland is just as terrific as the book by Sabatini which I read recently. Wonderful book. Wonderful film. If you love pirate daring-do and swashbuckling adventure plus a good love story, this is the book and the film for you.

11) COLD COMFORT FARM by Stella Gibbons
The 1995 film directed by John Schlesinger and starring Kate Beckinsale, Eileen Atkins and Rufus Sewell. I admit that I am prejudiced, this is one of my very favorite films of all time based on one of my very favorite books of all time. So how could it miss? It didn't. Funny. Wicked. Endearing and ultimately a film that makes you feel good.

12) THE THIN MAN by Dashiell Hammett
The 1935 film directed by W.S. Van Dyke and starring the incomparable William Powell and Myrna Loy. The book is not as full of fun and good times as the film, but it's a detective classic nonetheless. I think I probably like the film a bit more. Well, really: Powell and Loy - who wouldn't love them?

Please remember that until further notice I can't respond to comments left on my posts. Google Blogger has shut down that function on my blog. Nobody knows why, but hopefully I'll get full use of the blog back soon.

Please Note: Google Blogger appears to be on the the rampage again.

It's allowing me to post (obviously) BUT NOT TO RESPOND TO COMMENTS. (Who knows what other indignity tomorrow may bring?) When I try to respond to your comments, I am kicked off my blog. So please bear with me. I value each and every blog visitor and follower and I feel terrible that Google has chosen this week especially - the week of Armchair BEA - to stage another meltdown. I wonder if any of you are having any of these same problems? You know how misery loves company.

As soon as Google decides to behave, I'll be back to responding as promptly as I can. Until then I'll just have to keep smiling through. Ha!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday Book Review: THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Okay, I admit it, I only read this because a close friend urged me to do so. I'd bought the book a couple of months ago and it was languishing here for awhile, waiting patiently for me to make up my mind. All the HUNGER GAMES hype has been on the periphery of my vision for awhile - I couldn't really avoid it, what with the film going into production and all. This is, after all, far as I know, the King, Queen and Dowager Duchess of Dystopian Fantasy books. Hard not to notice.

So I picked it up and read it and here's what I think.

Good News first - what I liked about THE HUNGER GAMES:

The first half of the book, up until the moment when the contestants (tributes, as they're called in the book) enter the arena - was pretty good. I got a good idea who these characters were - Katniss Everdeen (love that name), the plucky protagonist whose first person narration develops in the present tense (a tense I dislike) so I'm assuming we're perched on her shoulders as the events unfold.

I like that the lead character is a pragmatic young woman with a variety of strengths and that her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark, does not undervalue her for being a 'girl'. It isn't hard to believe Katniss might come out the winner in the end (well, you more or less suspect that going in). Before the Games begin though, there's lots to explain and it's all done briskly and well. At first I didn't get the point of the thing, but after awhile I understood the reasoning - although I am still NOT 100 percent convinced of the rationale for the games. Not a lot of logic going on here. I'll comment more on this in a few moments.

Another good thing: there's very little teenage angst and hand wringing for most of the book - hooray for Suzanne Collins for keeping control over this. Her characters are just young people too busy staying alive to bother about much else. I do like the smart way she allows the plot to simply unfold in an everyday, matter-of-fact manner. The build-up to the games is very, VERY well done. I could hardly put the book down. The interim between Katniss volunteering to take the place of her younger sister in the arena and the games themselves is smartly done. (A male and female pair must represent each district so Katniss will be going to the games with a male whom she must, presumably, kill in the end - or- he, her.) I loved the way the tributes were cossetted and buffed and spoiled until the moment they must all fight each other to the death for the entertainment of the known world of Panem - a 'nation' built on the rubble of North America. There was a satirical vibe going on that I enjoyed. Collins' 'take' on reality tv and the emptiness of fame is woven throughout the book. And I did like the 'strategizing' that went on as each tribute sought to get even the slimmest edge over another even before the actual games began.

This is 'reality' tv - a bizarro twist on American Idol, if you like - carried to a very dark nth degree as young people (from the ages of 12 to, I think, 18) from each of the twelve districts surrounding the rich City of Panem are forced to fight to their deaths (only one can stand victorious at the end) on national television.

Okay, now to the Bad News - What I didn't like about THE HUNGER GAMES:

While I like the title of the book, it's catchy and makes for a powerful visual image in the imagination, I'm not sure why the characters in this book actually call the games, the HUNGER games. It isn't as if everyone who participates is hungry.(Though we are made aware that in the district Katniss comes from, people do occasionally starve to death.) There is an explanation, but it doesn't much work for me. The government does dole out insufficient amounts of grain and oil to the citizens of the different districts but some of the kids involved in the games show up looking mighty fine, so obviously the hunger appellation doesn't apply to all. Well, maybe Suzanne Collins was going for a double meaning of 'hunger' - bodily hunger AND hunger to succeed, to kill, to win, to be set for life within the rules of this abomination of a 'game'. Okay, I say with a shrug.

Another thing I didn't like:
Once the story moves into the arena I admit I lost interest. It's all set within a kind of rigged forested area with trees and rocks and running water - even with birds and animals, rabbits and the like - but that's about it. There's a HUGE golden cornucopia filled with food and other necessities for the tributes who can hack their way to the thing and grab what's there, but not much of that is actually described (which was probably a good thing). As one by one the tributes are slaughtered, their names and pictures are flashed overhead in the night sky for the edification of the Panem audience and the remainiing kids left in the arena. Hidden cameras pick up the action as it progresses.

Here is where Katniss's native intelligence and strengths are show-cased, but after awhile, this part of the book really does slow down to a trickle and I did skim a bit until I got to an ending which was not unexpected. But then, after a colossal bluff involving Katniss and Peeta and the calling of that bluff by the overseers of the games, the actual ending is contrived and flat and downright annoying - to the point that I don't think I'll be reading the next book in the trilogy.


Now really, in the end, after all Katniss and Peeta have been through, after they've proven their intelligence, their bravado, their guile, their strength AND their valor - the author has them suddenly revert to being insecure teenagers (where they EVER that insecure to begin with?), unsure of their feelings for each other. This was so NOT in character, so NOT what I was expecting, so NOT in keeping with their actions in the arena. In the end they turn into two angst-filled teens who could have been having a conversation in a high school hallway.

Now, I realize why this had to happen. It had to happen so that in the next book there will be more will they or won't they? established - and the boy back home whom Katniss occasionally thinks of can be brought into play. I get it. But surely there must have been a different way to handle it.

All I can is: What a letdown. And by the way, not only is it a letdown, but it is a disappointing bore of a letdown. I don't like being manipulated this blatantly.

Oh and a word about a periphary character Haymitch Abernathy - to be played in the film by Woody Harrelson (though what he'll make of this part I can't imagine). This is a guy who is supposed to be the only winner of the games ever from Katniss's district. He is supposed to help the current tributes with their strategies and lining up 'sponsors' to supply Katniss and Peeta with the occasional 'perk' while in the fighting arena. Okay. But he just never becomes a real character. He is a caricature of a drunken sot who vomits all over the place (no fun to read about) yet somehow pulls himself into shape during the build-up to the games though he is given very little to do - outside of vomiting and falling down, I mean. We're led to believe that without his help Katniss and Peeta stand little chance, but he really does not come alive as a viable character at all.

So when Katniss refers to how much Abernathy dislikes her, I'm saying to myself - huh? When did this happen? He doesn't like anyone, he's a sot. Though why he should be a sot is anyone's guess. I'd venture to say that having killed several people in the arena once upon a time (as one must suppose)  might turn anyone with sensibilities into a sot - but really, this should have been developed a bit so we'd feel something for the character other than repulsion or even, just plain boredom.

The ugly truth: I have a feeling that this trilogy (trilogies are obviously very hot right now) was written with another aim in mind than the telling of a good story. (Well, yeah, Yvette, writers write for money. I know that. But there still has to be an inchoate reason for the telling of any given story.) That even parts of the book work well is a tribute to Suzanne Collin's talent. But there's just a blatant and relentless attitude apparent in the development of the two main characters and their plight - an attitude that reminds me of someone writing for a 'how to write a thrilling YA adventure and get it published' class. Know what I mean? There's no organic necessity to spin this yarn. Or at least that's the impression I got. (And I understand that many, many other readers will disagree with me.)

The whole idea behind the Hunger Games makes little sense if you want to break it down into parts. The reasoning behind the creation of this world is faulty. That's what doesn't work for me. That's why the book, ultimately didn't work for me.

Book Expo America Week! Day One.

But for those of us - bookbloggers extraordinaire - who can't attend the ACTUAL Book Expo America at the Javits Center in NYC this week, we have the next best thing: Armchair Book Expo! This week BEA is the place for book people to meet and greet, but if you can't attend in actual person, then thanks to the gals at Armchair BEA, we can hang out at a virtual convention - from the comfort of our own armchairs. Check out the website link to see what cool things the gals at Armchair BEA have in store for us this week. Books rule!

Each day this week there will be different fun things going on. Book discussions. Questions to ponder. News to absorb. Giveaways. Etc, etc, etc.

Today's exercise is to introduce ourselves (as if you didn't already know enough about me already) by responding to the following question:

Who are you and how do you Armchair?

My name is Yvette and I am a woman of a certain age. (Better than saying I'm an old biddy.) I am a proud mother and grandmother. (My beautiful granddaughter has her first birthday today!) I am an illustrator currently taking a break from the working life for various and sundry reasons. But I am gearing up towards possibly opening an etsy shop sometime next year. I am bilingual - English and Spanish, but I only read and write in English and I admit my Spanish is getting more and more rickety with age. I was lucky enough to grow up in NYC in the 50's when Manhattan was nothing but a huge playground. 

I love to read, primarily mysteries, but I'll read anything that's well-written and engages my imagination. I admit I am very opinionated about what I read, but that's who I am. I love to laugh and if we disagree on a book, I'm hoping we can agree to disagree and laugh about it at the same time. Sometimes I feel as if I've read just about everything, especially when it comes to mysteries, but then I find myself being surprised by something new - that's life.

I've been blogging since last July (no matter what google-blogger says) and being, in general, a hapless techno-phobe, I am the most surprised person in the world to find myself with a blog. Who knew the internet could be this much fun?

As much as is humanly possible, I try to post something every day. I blog about books, movies (mostly vintage), art (and design) and really, just about anything else that catches my peripatetic eye. Eclectic is my middle name. (Or so I like to think.)

I love mysteries, thrillers, suspense and once in a while a good spy drama. Occasionally I read romance, science-fiction, fantasy and even so-called 'serious literature'. I've been known to read  steampunk, cyber-punk and the category-defying books of Christopher Moore and Jasper Fforde.  I also read non-fiction, especially history, biography and travel. I am very fond of books set before and/or during WWII. I'm also fond of childrens' picture books and I have a nice little collection.

In general (unless I have a very good reason) I don't read YA (Young Adult) novels, although lately I've read a few I've liked so that may be changing. In general, I avoid books filled with teenage angst. I don't read horror, I don't read 'happy hitman' books. I don't read blood thirsty serial killer books. I dislike over-the-top violence unless the author convinces me that it's necessary and writes it in a way that doesn't make me cringe. I also have little if any interest in vampires, zombies or other variety/combos of  the undead. I'm not crazy about books written from a hundred (I exagerate) multiple viewpoints unless it is very, VERY well done. I don't read e- books unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.

And another thing: I rarely read books written in the present tense.. Don't like it at all. Don't understand why it's suddenly all the rage. Exception to the rule: I've just read THE HUNGER GAMES which is, more or less, written in the first person. (Review coming up later.) But only because a good friend insisted I do so. Sometimes, as you know, you just have to please your friends.

If you check out my blog's left hand sidebar, you'll see a listing of some of my favorite books beginning with my numero uno of all time: Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. After that, it's an eclectic mix.

I am a big fan of the Golden Age of Mysteries - authors like: Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Rex Stout -  and you'll generally find a review of one or two of them mixed in with all the regular stuff I like to post about. Saturday morning, I post A Favorite Painting but I'm always ready to talk artwork and artists and I take any opportunity I can to post vintage mystery book covers simply because I love the graphic look of them. I'm also always ready to dish old movies, especially those from the 40's, 50's and 60's.

Okay, enough about me. What about you? I'm off to get acquainted with the other Armchair BEA bloggers and see what they're up to this week.

Thanks again to the gals at Armchair Book Expo for making all this come together in such a friendly and useful way.

illustration by Edward Gorey. To read about and see more Gorey work, please go here.

Happy Birthday Today to A Darling Little Girl: My Granddaughter!

Stop the presses! It's my granddaughter's birthday today! She is ONE and a more beautiful, more darling, more intelligent, more extraordinary, more perfect child I have never met. Yeah, I'm bragging. That's what a Nana is for. A friend told me that being a grandma is the reward you get for living a long life. I agree. I never thought I'd get all googly-woogly over this whole thing, but it turns out I have a great capacity for googly-woogly-ness. Who knew?

illust. by Golden Age illustrator, Racey Helps.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Salon: This and That...

Actor Edward Hardwicke died this past week at the age of 78.  Many of us will remember him as the most excellent Watson to Jeremy Brett's Holmes in the PBS series of Sherlock Holmes' adventures produced in the 80's. The best encapsulation of Holmes and Watson in memory, far as I'm concerned. (Though I also loved David Burke in the part of Watson as well.)

A gentle actor with wit, grace and charm and, from what I understand, also a very nice man. Hardwicke will be mourned and missed by many. But at least we have the Holmes episodes to remember him by. Hardwicke was such a wonderful foil to Brett's Holmes' histrionics. A perfect partnership.

An aside: I've learned that Hardwicke was the son of 1940's actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke.Though he made many films, I remember Cedric Hardwicke mostly as the villainous coal mine owner in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS  - a terrific thriller.

Along the lines of better late than never:
I finally gave in to peer pressure (!) and read THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins - will report tomorrow. YA books take a certain frame of mind and point of view. Occasionally I have it, but occasionally I don't. I have some good things to say about the book and also some not-so-good. Stay tuned.

Animal Kingdom, winner of the Kentucky Derby did not repeat at The Preakness yesterday, so once again, as in the past umpteen years, we will not have a Triple Crown Winner 2011. Just this week, I watched the film, SECRETARIAT with Diane Lane. It was a good film, just not a great one. But if you want to see the behind-the-scenes story of one of the greatest race horses and Triple Crown winners of all time (his record win at Belmont by 25 lengths, time: 2:24, - has never been equalled and probably never will), I say see the film, it's quite good enough to give you a flavor of what went on during those chauvinistic times. Diane Lane is wonderful as Penny Chenery (Tweedy), Secretariat's plucky owner.

Link here to see Secretariat's truly amazing win at the Belmont Stakes in 1973, putting the finishing touches on the first Triple Crown in - up until then - 25 years. To say it is thrilling still, these many years later, is mere understatement.

Personal note:
I'm plagued with continuing allergy attacks again this week, this time out my left eye is particularly bothersome. So I'm sitting here squinting at the screen jumping up every now and then to squirt eye drops and take an antihistamine and generally feeling miserable. But at least I have the blog to share the misery with. Ha!