Archive for January, 2011

I have a confession to make.  I have a feeling that a lot of you are going to judge me on it.

::whisper:: I don’t really think I like Outlander.

I know, I KNOW.  I thought I would love it.  Everyone and their mother has been raving about the Outlander series.  And coming off the high that was the Hunger Games trilogy, I jumped right into another series…and I haven’t finished a book since.  It’s been nearly a week and a half without a book review.  I’m seriously slacking.

To be fair, a lot has been going on in the past week.  We’ve had several snowstorms, I’ve been busting my hump at work to try and keep up and cram five days’ worth of work into four or three (on a bad week), David and I have been trying to spend more “quality time” together…oh, who am I kidding?  Might as well be honest.

Outlander, I am Just Not That Into You.


What makes it worse is that I feel like I have to finish it.  But I wonder if it might be better for all parties involved (me and Outlander, that is) to just take a short break while I…see some other books I’ve been meaning to get into.  I have a Kindle stocked with other books, and a bookshelf full of paperbacks just waiting for me to crack into them.  And life is really too short to force yourself into reading.  I don’t know about you, but when I’m not into a book, nothing can make me finish it.  I just have to wait until I’m ready for it.

That being said, I’ve finally caved and gone back to my girl-crush, British historian Alison Weir.  I have read Alison’s Tudor biographies to death (I’ve completely mutilated one copy of The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and I’m on my second copy now), but I haven’t delved too deeply into her medieval Europe (with the exception of her biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine).  My latest foray?

Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, Duchess of Lancaster.  Katherine Swynford was the daughter of a noble, who married a lowly knight and became the governess to the children of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and the son of King Edward III of England.  When John’s beloved wife, Blanche of Lancaster, died at a tragically early age, John remarried…but began an open affair with his children’s governess, Katherine!  Later, when his second wife passed away, John married his most scandalous mistress, and with Katherine, fathered the children who would become the ancestors of that most famous of English royal families, the Tudors!

It was difficult getting into at first — unlike her Tudor histories, Weir has very few primary sources from which to glean her story from, and focuses not on Katherine, but on the political arena in which she grew up.  At times I feel more like I’m reading a biography of John of Gaunt, or Queen Phillippa of Hainault (John of Gaunt’s mother) than of Katherine Swynford!  Still, it’s been a great way for me to learn more about medieval English history and piece together the lineage of the Tudors (of whom I am quite obsessed, if you hadn’t noticed).  My interest was definitely piqued after reading The Traitor’s Wife earlier this year — Edward III plays a crucial part in this book — and after weeks of picking up Katherine’s biography and putting it down, I believe I’m far enough into it to safely say I am no longer just casually reading this.  I think it’s time to put Outlander in time out for now, and just read according to my hearts’ desire!

On the knitting front: I have another finished object (FO) to show you, but my camera is dead and I can’t find the charger!  Considering we’re having an ice storm starting tonight, I’m probably have plenty of time to look for it over the next 48 hours or so…


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Warning: This post will contain spoilers from both the film and the novel by Dan Brown.  

This week, there’s been a lot of buzz about Lionsgate finally publicizing the release date for the upcoming “Hunger Games” film.  I’ve read different reactions, predictably: some people are really excited for the films, some are apprehensive, and some are downright irritated that once again, Hollywood is predicted to completely destroy the real story and alter it to better suit the big screen.  The last tends to be a relatively normal reaction for lovers of literature, those people who will go see films based off of their beloved books, and then turn around and disgustedly rehash the removed or altered details, swearing that the Hollywood machine has “ruined” the story.

There are some occasions where film and literature can exist harmoniously.  And there are some film versions of books that are just…travesties.

Last night was David’s regularly-scheduled Thursday EMT class.  I was alone in the apartment, knitting and bored, so I decided to Netflix a film that I had had an interest in seeing, but David did not: Angels & Demons.  Please note right here that I am not, nor do I claim to be, a film editor, and that everything I write hereon in is my personal opinion, completely biased from having read the book first.

I have to give Ron Howard credit.  I didn’t think he could screw up much more than he did when he made The Da Vinci Code into a film.  I was wrong.  The film version of Angels&Demons is barely even a shadow of the novel.  Similar characters (although they have completely different names and personalities), same location…entirely different story.

Second disclaimer: I don’t think that Angels&Demons is a top-quality novel.  I think it’s a fun novel, especially if you get the illustrated version so you don’t have to sit in front of the internet looking up every piece of art that Brown describes.  I enjoyed it more than Da Vinci Code, because I thought the story line (especially the climax — more about that later) was amazing.  I wasn’t expecting Howard to keep to the letter of Dan Brown’s work.  I was expecting some changes.  I was mildly surprised that Howard removed such vital characters as CERN’s director, crippled atheist Maximilian Kohler, and the scientist whose death sparks the whole charade is merely Vittoria Vetra’s partner, not her father, the scientist/priest Leonardo Vetra.  I was disturbed when the Hassassin was downgraded to a nameless and motive-less Guy Pearce-doppleganger.  I was stunned when the final kidnapped preferiti, Cardinal Baggia, was saved, instead of fatally drowning.  I could overlook all of that though.

What I can’t, and won’t overlook, is Ron Howard ripping out the crux of the story, in the character of the Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca (renamed Patrick McKenna in the film so he could be played by a dreamy Ewan McGregor, because who doesn’t like a flick involving a handsome priest?)

At the heart of the story (in both film and book) is the war between science and faith.  The pope, a progressive who is pro-science, is dead, later discovered to be murdered.  The preferiti are kidnapped and assassinated, one by one — “sacrifices on the altar of science,” as the Hassassin states.  In the book he is in league with the mysterious man who hired him, a man code-named Janus, who claims to be a member of the Illuminati, bent on destroying the Catholic Church.  At the end of both book and film, the hero, Robert Langdon, discovers that it is the Camerlengo who rigged it all, who is Janus, and who hired the Hassassin, not to destroy the Church, but to revitalize it, and pin the aggression on men of science — his spree of death beginning with the discovery that the pope, his mentor, fathered a child, destroying his faith in the elderly leaders of the church.

The climax of the book comes when the Pope’s confidante, an elderly cardinal, reveals before the Camerlengo, Langdon, and the College of Cardinals that the pope did father a son…through in-vitro fertilization, not through natural conception, because he wanted to remain faithful to his vow of chastity.  The son who was the product of that conception was none other than the Camerlengo himself.  Such possibility for filmmaking drama!

With such changes made, and the crux of the story irreparably altered, the viewer (especially the viewer who is familiar with the book) is left wondering why?  Why, Ron Howard?  Why would you change that?  Why would you turn the tortured character of the Camerlengo into nothing more than a crazed fundamentalist bent on becoming Pope?  Why would you carve the entire climax out of this film? 

Needless to say, I’m glad I never went and saw this when it was in theatres, and that I waited to watch it on Instant Queue on Netflix.  I won’t be watching it again.  Shame on you, Ron Howard, for turning what was at least an interesting and enjoyable read into merely a shadow of its former self.

When is Hollywood going to stop tearing our literature apart?

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Sorry for my lack of update.  Too much snow + too many long books I’m trying to attempt at once + 1 broken camera does not = great blog fodder.  So since it’s Thursday, and the snow is currently up to my knees outside (and that’s in the non-drifting areas), I’ll post some currents.

Currently Feeling…pretty damn tired!  I woke up this morning to the huge amount of snow we had outside, and would have liked nothing better than to crawl back under the nice warm blankets into bed (which today was occupied by my husband, since he’s off work, the lucky dog).  Instead, I showered, dressed, and went outside…to face the insane mounds of snow, mostly covering my car.  It took me, David (after I unfortunately had to wake him up to help), and our nice downstairs neighbor to dig out the car and get me on my way.  Got all the way into work…and realized that I was completely SOL.  We weren’t plowed out.  But I had to get to work…so I drove home, got David to drive me in, and waded through the snow to my office.  And here I am.

Currently Reading…Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  I decided to read a snippet of it on Kindle, and see if I liked it.  I liked it enough to pay for the full download (this is only the second Kindle book I’ve paid for, usually I go for the free ones).  Unfortunately, with work, snow, and everything else being what it is, I haven’t had too much time for reading, and I’m only at 11% (according to the Kindle).  It’s a historical fiction novel about a former World War II nurse, Englishwoman Claire Randall, who on a second honeymoon to Scotland with her husband when she is mysteriously thrown back in time two hundred years and finds herself an “outlander” in the midst of a Scottish/English war.  I really think I will get into it….when I get a chance to read it.

Currently Knitting…the Bella Baby Bonnet (Ravelry link) from The Knitter’s Book of Wool by Clara Parkes.  I like this book; it was a gift from my brother-in-law last Christmas.  It’s a good background of the wool industry and an introduction into working with fibers other than merino.  After finishing Saroyan (still unblocked, pictures forthcoming), I still had a rather large amount of Socks That Rock Heavyweight left over, in the “Rose Quartz” colorway.  Definitely enough to make a cute little pink bonnet for whenever a baby girl decides to make an appearance in this family.  It’s largely quick, easy work; I started the bonnet two days ago while David was at his EMT class, and I’m at the short rows now.  If David has class tonight (which is anyone’s guess), I’ll probably be able to make some more headway on it.  I need to pick up some pins so I can block Saroyan…hopefully I’ll get to that this weekend and my first lace project(!) will be ready for its big unveiling!

Currently Thinking…that it is so quiet here (except for the sound of plows going outside), and I really, really want to go back home and change out of my wet clothes, snuggle down with some knitting and Outlander…and really relax.  At least the weekend is coming soon.

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I haven’t “had” to read a fiction book in forever.  I was going to say, since undergrad, but there was one semester of graduate school where I took a course in Romantic literature, and let me tell you…I loathe Romantic literature.  The archetype of the idle rich, Byronic hero?  Please, just stick a knife in my temple and let me end it all now.

Anyway, it’s been forever since I was made to read a fiction book, from cover to cover, that I didn’t want to read in the first place.  Which in a way is a relief, as it means I won’t have to read anything like Lord of the Flies again.  But it also puts the burden of expanding my horizons upon me.  Which really meant that, until this year, when I joined the Nest Book Club, I wasn’t going to be reading anything new, without really being prodded.

It really makes me appreciate those high school teachers who assigned books I had no interest in reading…and made me read them.  And makes me appreciate those books that I didn’t want to read, and ended up loving.

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan.  This piecework of short stories about a quartet of Chinese immigrant ladies living in San Francisco and their struggles to raise their daughters with a proper mix of American lifestyle and Chinese heritage is really a gem.  I had to read one of the short stories in it — “Two Kinds”, about the teenager Jing-Mei and her mother’s futile attempts to turn her into a child prodigy — and promptly took the whole book out of the library.  I’ve read it several times in the last twelve years of my life.

A Separate Peace, by John Knowles.  This book is difficult to get into — the first chapter is all descriptive paragraphs, with no dialogue at all — but once you get past that, this book is an absolute tear-jerker.  It’s a tale of two boys attending an expensive preparatory school in the eastern United States, at the dawn of World War II, and a jealous rivalry that sets in motion a tragedy that will change their lives forever.  You can read it dozens of times, and still find something, some symbolism or hidden gem, that you’ll swear you never noticed before.  I remember recommending this book to my younger sister, after I finished it for school, and she ate it up and loved it even more than I did, if that’s possible.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry.  When I read the opening passage of The Hunger Games, I thought immediately of The Giver, the tale of a futuristic world where there are no colors, no memories, and nothing belongs to anyone else.  Where a small 12-year-old boy named Jonas is handpicked to train under the Giver, a citizen of supreme importance who opens Jonas’ eyes to what is right, what is wrong, and what he is truly missing.  I’ve been a fan of Lois Lowry since childhood (if you like The Giver, please do yourself a favor and go out and find Number the Stars, which would be on this list if I hadn’t picked it up for pleasure reading rather than a school assignment), and a hundred years from now, this will be the book she is remembered for.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.  (You knew this was coming, didn’t you?)  Though I know such people exist, in my twenty-seven years I have not yet found one person who read To Kill a Mockingbird and thought it was garbage.  Harper Lee’s “simple love story” as she referred to it, of the Depression-era South as seen through the eyes of an innocent tomboy, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, is moving and completely unforgettable.  Scout’s father, widower and lawyer Atticus Finch, has voluntarily taken up the defense of a black man charged with raping a white woman, and this unheard-of breach in social order sets fire to the little impoverished town of Maycomb, Alabama.  This book was not entirely forced upon me — it was indeed summer reading but I was happy to read it and plowed through it in two days.  This is one of my all-time favorite books, and Atticus Finch is my all-time favorite book hero.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.  The end-all, be-all, of adolescent literature.  There are some people who hate this book (to my surprise, but you know, there are people who love Twilight, much to my shock, and I certainly won’t judge someone on their literary preferences).  There are some people who are obsessed with this book (just check out the reviews on Goodreads, you’ll see a few Mark David Chapmans in there, which is just scary as all hell).  I’d like to think I fall in neither category, but in the much larger “middle” section — the group of people who think this is just a damn good book and are really grateful that their schools ignored the Banned Books List and put this on their syllabus.  Love him or hate him, Holden Caulfield invented jaded adolescence, and he’s never had an equal.

What are some of your favorite books that you were “forced” to read?

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So, here we are.  At the end of a trilogy.  The last book.  The end.

Unfortunately, when it comes to good books and characters we come to love, we all want happy endings.  The problem is, they’re not practical.  Especially when they come at the conclusion of a particularly dark tale, such as The Hunger Games.

By Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen has already been to hell and back.  Now she is forced to bear the weight of an entire nation on her shoulders.  Portrayed in the mass media as “the Mockingjay” — taking the moniker of the only animal to live outside control of the totalitarian government of their society — Katniss finds herself walking a fine line between hero and scapegoat of the people who support her.  The realization that she is now responsible for hundreds of thousands of souls, all pushing her to lead them — as well as for the deaths of many innocents — is a weight almost too heavy for Katniss to bear.  Yet she must fight on, now more than ever, since the one person who believed in her the most is now at the mercy of the cruel tyrants whom she opposes.

Mockingjay is easily the darkest and most heartbreaking of the trilogy.  The author of one of the blogs I follow finished this a few days before I did, and mentioned that she was in tears for most of it.  I didn’t believe that I would be.  Ha.  Pride goeth before a fall.  This volume, especially the final few chapters, is moving and heartbreaking.  And without spoiling anything, I warn you here, as author William Goldman did in The Princess Bride“some of the wrong people die.”  Yet, I’d be remiss if I said that the entire book is dark, with no redemption or light.  There is both, but it comes with a price.

I am so thankful that I finally listened to my cousins Mel and Jen, my aunt Cathi, and oh, everyone else in the literary world, and picked up this series.  I loved it, from start to finish, and I was completely glued to it.  I read three books in three days.  It was excellent.  I highly recommend all three.  Please do go out and try them.

I laugh though, now, because I, like people on my friends list on FB and Goodreads, are left wondering “What to read next?”  Finishing up a series of books is always difficult, even when some things are tied up.  You’ve come to identify with the characters.  You’re left feeling that something’s amiss.  Where do you go from here?

Well, I don’t know about everyone else, but today I pulled out that most famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.  I made it through one of the books like, four years ago, but now I’m determined to finish them all.  I started The Fellowship of the Ring today.  We’ll see where this takes me.

But I really will miss The Hunger Games.  Until I read it again, that is.  🙂

Rating: **** (for Mockingjay), **** 1/2 for the trilogy as a whole)

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Warning: If you are a member of my husband’s family who is expecting a baby this year, and has somehow stumbled upon this, you’d better clear out now.  Last warning!

For those of you still here — I have a question for you all.

As I mentioned in this entry, three very special ladies in my husband’s family (and now, of course, my family) are expecting babies this upcoming spring and summer.  Two of these babies are going to be boys; the sex of the third baby will remain unknown until s/he makes his her or her appearance.  Since they are going to be special babies indeed, and since one of the mother’s has hinted that she’d like a handknit baby article, I’ve been searching online for cute and memorable baby patterns — namely, hats.

One baby is already getting the pumpkin hat I finished earlier this month.  That set the bar.  I could always make rudimentary baby hats, you know, the traditional cast-on, knit-until-it-covers-Baby’s-ears, decrease-and-bind-off sort of hats.  I’ve done it before, they’ve been well-received.  But I want to do something a little different.

Please, tell me if these ideas I’ve found are crazy.  I won’t be hurt.  Please tell me know, before their mothers do (or don’t, and try valiantly to look happy while inwardly wondering what they did to deserve a psychotic cousin-in-law who knits weird baby garments).

Option 1: Dinosaur Hat
This could easily be a girl’s hat as well as a boy’s, but the colors and the dino theme scream “boy” to me.  So this would probably go to a baby of definite boy characteristics.  I think it’s cute and different without being too over-the-top.  Most children go through a dinosaur phase at one point or another in their lives (I did, for awhile, and so did my sister — there was a time when she would drag our old Childcraft book on dinosaurs out, toss it into my lap, and demand that I read her the goriest stories in it every.  single.  day).  If I were to make it, though, I’d make it with a boy in mind — and probably stick to the green and orange color scheme, although I might pick a rustier shade of orange, closer to red (but not so red that people would be reminded of Christmas).  What say you?  Too weird?

Hell, if you think that’s weird, you’ll think I’m completely off my rocker when I present you with my second (and favorite) baby hat idea.

Option 2: The Baby Sushi Roll Hat

I know.  I KNOW.  But how freakin’ adorable is this?  It’s a little roll of sushi!  This I think would be an excellent choice for the baby of unknown sex, since I plan on knitting and sending the hat far in advance of the birth.  Everyone likes sushi, right?  Well, except me and the husband — neither of us are huge fans of the taste of seaweed (in my defense, I have to say that I have never taken a mouthful of sushi and spat it out onto my own plate immediately afterward — classy, dear).

Is it weird to knit a child headgear in the shape of a raw fish delicacy originating in Japan?  Or is it, as I believe it to be, cute?  And if it is cute, and I’m not completely off my rocker here, is it unisex?  Can a girl wear this hat as well as a boy?  Are the colors okay for both?

…Am I a lunatic who is going to spend the rest of her life in this family branded as “that crazy knitting lady who knits weird hats for babies and shouldn’t be allowed near infants anymore?”

Help me out here!  Click on the poll below and let me know your opinion!

What should a crazy knitting lady do?

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The second part of a trilogy is bound to be difficult, for writer, for poet, for filmmaker, and for the audience.  A delicate balance must be achieved.  The creator of the trilogy has to give the audience enough to satisfy their curiosity, but leave enough questions unsolved that the audience has no choice but to continue.

Like many other “second of three” stories that come to mind (J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers, or the film The Empire Strikes Back from the Star Wars Trilogy, Catching Fire is dark.  It has to be.  In the final pages of The Hunger Games (its predecessor), the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, through desperate means, has done something so unexpected and revolutionary, that she has accidentally thrown the inhabitants of her world into a deadly combat, from which there is no escape.  And for her actions, the powers that be decide, she must be punished.

I was not expecting a happy ending.  You really can’t, from a second-of-three.  Catching Fire, like The Hunger Games, leaves you on the edge of your seat, constantly wondering what’s going to happen next to Katniss and the others.  It is a fast-paced story of survival in the face of the impossible.  And yes, it does leave you hanging.  Shortly before dinner last night, I found myself on Instant Messenger, begging my cousin Jennifer to send me the third and final book in the series, Mockingjay.  I started it last night — and since I am home today, with a relapse of my spinal pain — expect a review tomorrow.

Catching Fire is good, but I liked it a little less than The Hunger Games — if only because it does leave so many questions unanswered.  But of course, this is to be expected.

Rating: **** and 1/2

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