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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Read & Movies Watched in December
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blythe025
Books:
1. The Red Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang
2. The Pleasure Seekers, by Tishani Doshi
3. Morning in the Burned House (poetry), by Margaret Atwood
4. Talking Back to Poems: A Working Guide for the Aspiring Poet, by Daniel Alderson
5. Forces of Imagination: Writing on Writing, by Barbara Guest
6. Behind the Mountains, by Edwidge Danticat
7. Island Beneath the Sea (audio book), by Isabel Allende
8. The Good Neighbors: Kind, by Holly Black
9. Post Meridian (poetry), by Mary Rueffle
10. Flight of Shadows, by Sigmund Brouwer
11. Flirting with Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece, edited by Jennifer Crusie
12. Damsel Under Stress, by Shanna Swendson
13. Yarrow, by Charles De Lint
14. The Penelopeia, by Jane Rawlings
15. Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti, by Frances Temple
16. Breath, Eyes, Memory (audio book), by Edwidge Danticat


1. The Red Fairy Book, by Andrew Lang
A classic collection of fairy tales and folklore from various parts of Europe, including such well known tales as "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and "Rapunzel", as well as many, many more that are not nearly so well known.

Several well known authors, including Neil Gaiman, have cited this book as a source of inspiration. So, I had to read it as see what it was all about. And certainly, several of the tales were rather incredible. I loved the tone and slightly altered telling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," for example, and it was fun to read all the tales that I'd never heard of before.

The sheer size of the book almost works against it however, and I wouldn't recommend reading it from beginning to end, unless you want the tropes of the fairy tale hammered into your head. Reading it straight through, as I did, took on a level of redundancy. There are variations in every tale, of course, but the actions are often the same. Hero/heroin must face three test, is helped by magical being and ends up marrying a prince/princess. There are many other tropes. Hero is told not to do something, he does and is told he will never see his bride again, until he makes up for it. Pretty daughter is good and kind receives rewards, ugly daughter is lazy so is punished, but when pretty daughter marries the king, ugly daughter tricks her and tries to take her place. Etc.

I love fairy tales enough to work my way through it, and this really is an excellent and thorough collection, but it would have been better to read it in bits one tale when ever the mood took me, rather than ploughing straight through.


2. The Pleasure Seekers, by Tishani Doshi
When Babo leaves Madras, India to study in London, he finds only loneliness and cold, that is until he meets Sian. When he meets her, he immediately falls in love with a ba-da-boom boom boom of his heart. Though his strict Jain parents are horrified by his new love, they are willing to make a compromise. If Babo and Sian wish to marry, they must live with his parents in Madras for two years -- after which point, they can live where they please.

So, Sian leaves Britain's shores and flies to India, where she learns how to properly wear a sari, how to behave as a good India wife should, and how to temper the isolation and loneliness of living in a new country. Babo and Sian are an island unto themselves and their love is passionate and forgiving.

But this story is not just about Babo and Sian. It is about the nature of family (both in Madras and Wales), and how each individual member stands both rooted in its foundations and as a solitary pillar in the world. Each family member, from the great grandmother (who accepts the purity of Babo's love for Sian without question) to Babo's brother (who is somewhat lost in his position as second son), is opened like a fruit, with their soul, ripe with love and loneliness barred for the reader to see.

Tishani Doshi's prose is like crystal, clear and deeply resonate. This novel, evocative, sweetly painful, and compassionate, is one of my favorites of the year.


3. Morning in the Burned House (poetry), by Margaret Atwood

My second read of Atwood's lovely collection of poetry ingrained them even more into my imagination. Her poetry creates a mythology of the everyday and brings a feel of reality to mythological tales, often speaking from the point of view of a previously silent woman. This is a beautiful collection, which I will be adding to my personal book shelf as soon as I can.


4. Talking Back to Poems: A Working Guide for the Aspiring Poet, by Daniel Alderson
Discussed elsewhere.


5. Forces of Imagination: Writing on Writing, by Barbara Guest
This fascinating collection of essays by poet Barbara Guest looks at nature of art and poetry and discusses the idea of imagination in a poets life and work. Her style essays are often poetry in and of themselves, delving into strong form and powerful language to convey her ideas. This is a book that should really be read multiple times and discussed among a group, as her thoughts are open to multiple interpretations.


6. Behind the Mountains, by Edwidge Danticat
Celiane lives in the Haitian mountains with her mother and brother while her father works in New York, sending money and recordings of his voice home to his family when he can. After surving a bombing at and being witness to increasing violence in Port-au-Prince surrounding the 2000 elections, Celiene and her family holes up into her aunt's house for safety to afraid to go outside and hoping that her father will be able to send for her soon.

This is not my favorite of Danticat's work. It's good, but I feel that Danticat doesn't work well in the diary format. Also, since I've read several of her books, I feel that she's stuck in this story of a child coming from Haiti to the U.S. I know that she is drawing from her own life with this storyline. However, I also feel that she's already told this story and told it better with Breath, Eyes, Memory, which was much more richly textured.


7. Island Beneath the Sea (audio book), by Isabel Allende
Born a slave on the island of Saint-Domingue, Tete is purchased as a young girl by Toulouse Valmorain's as a gift for his new wife and works as a domestic slave within the household. A series of events binds both Valmorain and Tete together, and carries them from war the war torn Saint-Domingue to Cuba and finally to Louisianna. All the while Tete longs and plots for her freedom, taking and holding on tightly to what joys, hope, and passions she can obtain as a slave.

The scope of this novel is huge, switching back and forth between third person POV and Tete's own POV. Allende is thorough in her history (however accurate), describing in detail the brutal rebellion of slaves on the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue and how the island, later known as Haiti, became the first free black country in the Carribean. From there, she weaves her story briefly through the Cuban landscape, where white refugees are forced to flee, and finally land in Louisianna, where she presents a very different world than that of Saint-Domingue.

Tete has a subdued quality throughout the book. All her life she has had to suppress her own emotions in the face of her own reality, filled with horrors, so it is no surprise that when she tells her tone seems nearly disinterested almost flat. But she is not a woman without passions, which have lain in the quiet depths of her heart. Her battles have been quiet subterfuges and she has had to face her life with simultaneous complacency and secret resistance.

The people who swim around Tete, such as Valmorain and his mad wife or the doctor who often visits to the plantation, are each treated with tenderness and respect. Allende works hard to leave judgment out and to let the reader observe and judge each character on their own terms.


8. The Good Neighbors: Kind, by Holly Black
Finishing up the The Good Neighbors trilogy, Kind makes it all the more clear that our kindly neighborhood fairies are not so good or kind. Now that Rue's city is trapped in the fairy world, things have not calmed down -- her boyfriend is still being eaten alive by water sprites, her father is on the crazy train, and groups of humans and fairies are at war with one another.

While this entire series is very short and could have done with some expansion of plot and characterization, it's still quite good and an enjoyable tale of the fairy world.


9. Post Meridian (poetry), by Mary Rueffle
Discussed elsewhere.


10. Flight of Shadows, by Sigmund Brouwer
Discussed elsewhere.


11. Flirting with Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece, edited by Jennifer Crusie
A collection of essays (and handful of short stories) from chick-lit and modern literary authors assesses the classic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice. It's a fun light-hearted criticism of the book, addressing it from a modern perspective, even going so far as to imagine what it might be like if Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters had to deal with cell phones or if the book was actually a reality TV show. Some of the essays are better than others, but most of them were easy reads with enough I-hadn't-thought-about-it-that-way throughout to hold my interest.


12. Damsel Under Stress, by Shanna Swendson
In book three of the Enchanted, Inc. series Katie Chandler is finally getting what she desires. Owen Phillips, the hottie wizard (and possibly perfect man) at Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc. has asked her out -- except Katie now has to deal with a meddling fairy godmother, their enemies are up to something, and every date they go on goes horribly, horribly wrong.

This book, like the previous two before it, is extremely funny and cute. It's intelligent and fun chick-lit with a likable heroine, who can stand on her own two feet and doesn't want to bother with being a damsel in distress (she'll save herself, if she can, thank you very much). Now that I finished this book, I'm itching to read the fourth. I can't wait to see what happens next to all of the characters, and I hope she gets enough sales to publish the fifth and six books in the series.


13. Yarrow, by Charles De Lint
"Cat Midhir had made a reputation as the author of popular fantasy novels. But the secret that her fans didn't know was that her Otherworld was no fantasy. Then one night a thief stole her dreams. Since then, Cat has been unable to enter the Otherworld. Since then, she's been trapped in the everyday. And the Others are coming to find her..." --from the back of the book

Yarrow and De Lint's work in general. His brand of urban fantasy is ... compassionate, I guess, and all too real. It feels like I could at any moment step into that Otherworld. But this is a wonderful story, beautiful and frightening, and if you haven't read any De Lint yet, you really should.


14. The Penelopeia, by Jane Rawlings
Discussed elsewhere.


15. Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti, by Frances Temple
In a time when Haiti in the process of political change, Djo has been brutally attacked and beaten and lies close to death. Jeremie, a young woman from a local convent school, has been assigned to come sit with him and record his tale, so that it will not be lost. As he tells her his story -- how he became one of "Titid's Boys", became a car washer, and was dragged off to the Dominican Republic to cut cane -- an affection and friendship grows between them.

This is the kind of book I would have read in school, serving as kind of educational tool to show what live might have been like for young people in a country torn apart be violence and how they choose to wake up and take a stand in what ways they can. It is a good story with good writing, however, the association I had with school reading took away some of the enjoyment. I kept feeling like I was supposed to learn something from this, as though I might have to write an essay about it later, rather than getting wrapped up and passionate about the storyline. But this probably has more to do with my own bias rather than any flaws in the book.


16. Breath, Eyes, Memory (audio book), by Edwidge Danticat
For years Sophie Cacao has lived with her aunt Atie, while her mother has been away in New York working to send money back to her family in Haiti. To Sophie, her mother is a stranger, and she is heart broken when her mother sends for her and she must leave her Tante Atie and travel to New York. When she arrives there, Sophie learns that there are deep secrets and painful past horrors that her mother has carried with her all the way from Haiti, and it will only be by returning to Haiti that Sophie will be able to begin heal the long history of her family's wounds.

To be honest, the first time I read this I didn't appreciate it as much as I did this second time around. This is one of Danticat's earlier works, and reading it again reminds me why I came to love her writing. In this earlier work, there is a deeper feeling of truth to her writing. He prose is clear and poetic, and she pulls no punches as she lays out before us her characters lives, all their pleasure, all their pain. It's a beautiful book, for all the brutality -- not just from the macoutes, but from each other -- that these women must survive and eventually come to terms with.

*

Movies:
1. Tangled (2010)
2. Tron Legacy (2010)
3. The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009)
4. The Heroic Trio (1993)
5. The Time Machine (1960)


1. Tangled (2010)
A very cute retelling of Rapunzel. Is it a bit two-dimensional, perhaps, but it's also lots of fun. The characters are wonderful, and if I were a kid again I would have been gaga over all that hair.


2. Tron Legacy (2010)
I think Legacy does an excellent job of continuing the storyline from the first movie. Neither the first nor the second are the greatest stories ever told, but even in the first one, it was more about the action and amazing visual effects more than the storyline, but there was enough there to be entertained. Here we have the same kind of thing going on, so it works for me.


3. The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009)
This sequel to the series was just as good as the first. Noomi Rapace, who plays Lizbeth, is really fantastic in her role. She's almost androgynous looking at times, which adds to it, but the main thing is that she can pull off that icy hardness while still being able to make us care about her.


4. The Heroic Trio (1993)
A completely ridiculous move about three women fighters (including Michelle Yeoh), who eventually come together to stop an evil mastermind from kidnapping children for an ancient ritual. I'm sure the English dubbing (not my preferred way of watching) contributed to the silliness of the whole thing.


5. The Time Machine (1960)
I was flipping channels and saw this was on. I mean to just pause for a moment, but ended up watching the entire thing. It's a good version and follows the book pretty closely, though the pretentious attitude of the time traveler when he encountered the Eloians was annoying.

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Sweet. I love lists. I'm ignoring all the reviews because I don't want spoilers. ;) However, the poetry books catch my eye. I love poetry books. For the past several years, I've been reading them more than novels. I also want to watch Tangled and The Girl Who Played with Fire. My books & movies lists are getting longer though... lol

I love reading poetry, too. It's so inspiring to me as a poet.

And I know what you mean. My TBR list is HUGE, a giant mountain of books and movies to someday enjoy. :)

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