Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Sequels

One cozy, rainy Sunday afternoon when I lived in Vancouver I was working on my latest, slightly over ambitious craft project.  To pass the time while cutting out little stars on handmade birthday invitations (oh so many stars), I flipped on the TV.  And promptly began my happy dance.  You’ve Got Mail was on!  I settled in to watch, while my wonderful then-husband went out for the afternoon.  When he got back home hours later, I was still watching You’ve Got Mail.  So naturally, he asked, “how is this movie possibly still on?”  To which I had to shamefully (well, not really) admit that TBS was having one of its back to back movie repeats.  And that I was watching it…again.  Add that to the hundred times and counting I’d already seen it.  But that’s what you do when you just plain love a movie.  You love every quote, the whimsical music or the beautiful scenery; the main characters may even like the same books you like (got to love the Pride and Prejudice references in You’ve Got Mail).  So even though you’ve already memorized every precious part, you still want to watch it over and over again. 

Then one day you’re going along with your life and a trailer pops up on TV.  They’re making a sequel!  Huzzah!  Your excitement mounts (well, until you realize you have to wait another six months for it to be released).  In honour of that excitement, I’m dedicating this week’s Top Ten Tuesday to the Top Ten Sequels that most made me giddy in the weeks before their release.  Now, not all are necessarily the most Oscar worthy sequels ever made, but they will make you laugh.  And, of course, warm you up on a rainy, cozy Sunday.

1.      Father of the Bride & Father of the Bride Part II

Starring Steve Martin and the unbelievably lovable Diane Keaton, Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride II rank right up at the top of my family’s MUST WATCH REPEATEDLY list.  Based on the popular 1949 novel by Edward Streeter and the classic 1950s original film, FOTB gives us a glimpse into the serene life of George Banks (Martin); a life thrown into chaos when he reluctantly becomes the father of the bride in the wedding of his only daughter, Annie (Kimberly Williams).  Among the long list of things that endear these films to me is the unconditional love Banks exudes for his children – even when he’s busy losing his shit in the middle of crowded grocery store it’s wonderful to know it all comes from a place of fatherly concern.  And what great father doesn’t go a little nuts when the happiness of his kids is at stake?  As George’s wife Nina, Keaton gives another flawless performance, providing just the right calm to his crazy and giving both films an extra dose of heart, while wedding planner Franck Eggelhoffer (Martin Short) and his barely comprehensible foreign accent provide additional comic relief.  I could go on (obviously), but I think Roger Ebert reviewed it best when he said that FOTB is, simply “just everyday life, warmly observed.”  Well, it certainly warms my heart.

2.      Before Sunrise & Before Sunset

As one of the most graceful and subtle romantic films made in the 1990s, I never would have thought to dream that Before Sunrise would eventually inspire a sequel.  As a relatively unknown film, it just didn’t seem the sort.  But sometimes life sends you very pleasant surprises.  Nine years following its release, its starring actors, Ethan Hawke and Julie Deply, partnered with director Richard Linklater to continue their small labour of love.  After spending a single night together nine years earlier in Vienna, fated lovers Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Deply) come together again, this time in the City of Lights (and this time in the daytime).  In keeping with the original film’s eloquent, dialogue-fueled storyline, we get a refreshingly realistic look of where nine years of adult living can take two people who can’t escape the memory of one another.  Blissfully unadulterated fans of the films, such as myself, will also be happy to know the trio has announced a third installment in the year to come.  So keep on the lookout for trailers people!

3.      Sex and the City & Sex and the City II

There is little need to describe the depth and perfection achieved by the first Sex and the City movie.  If you were elated during its production and waited with bated breath for its release, I find it unlikely you came away from theatres disappointed.  With complex performances by all my favourite SATC regulars, and a few fabulous new faces as well (that’s right, I’m talking about you, Jennifer Hudson), I literally wanted to eat this movie with a spoon and from the moment the credits rolled was ready for seconds.  And although the second course undeniably missed the mark, I still just can’t help myself.  I savour any time spent with Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha, and their gorgeous, over the top couture.  (For fans of the series’ fantastic fashion, tune in to ABC Family on Tuesday nights for Jane by Design, a new show that boasts a cameo by SATC’s famed Costumer Designer, Patricia Field).

4.      My Girl & My Girl 2

My Girl was released in 1991.  I was seven years old and it was, for me, the examination of life and death that I imagine Lean on Me was for my brothers in the 80s.  In small town Pennsylvania in 1972, Vada Margaret Sultenfuss, a quirky and uniquely mature little girl, lives with her distant, undertaker father (Dan Aykroyd).  As charming and funny as this movie is, My Girl radiates a depth that could have easily been minimized and turned to fluff by a sequel.  But the 1992 follow-up did not disappoint as our heroine (because truly that is what Vada is to me) journeys to California to explore the life of her radiant mother, who died shortly after childbirth.  As well as unveiling how magical her mother was and how much she meant in the peculiar lives she touched, Vada discovers the bittersweet disenchantment of growing up and going home.  And, of course, meets a boy.

5.      How to Train Your Dragon & How to Train Your Dragon II

How to Train Your Dragon is probably the most out of place selection on my list because, well, its sequel has actually yet to be released.  It earned its position as number five, however, as a result of my incredibly eager anticipation of its sequel, which I sadly have to wait until June 20, 2014 to see!  The only upside to this long delay is that Finn will finally be old enough to attend movies with Mom and Dad, so yay for that.  Based on a series of young adult novels by British author Cressida Cowell, HTTYD tells the story of Berk, a seaside Viking village plagued by ruthless dragons, and its smallest and most awkward occupant, Hiccup (Jay Baruschel), who somehow manages to befriend the cutest dragon ever put to paper, Toothless.  In my opinion it is the most adorable and accessible animated film for children, while still managing to appeal to the sarcastic sensibilities of us grown-ups (that’s right, I’m counting myself as a grown-up now).  Since HTTYD is designed to be a part of a trilogy, we can only hope Dreamworks doesn’t disappoint in round two!

6.      Bridget Jones’s Diary & Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Since this is technically a book based blog and I have been lucky enough to attend a fair few book club meetings with our lovely Atlanta Lady Litwits, I know for a fact that our audience is very familiar with the brilliant novel Bridget Jones’s Diary by author Helen Fielding.  In making the transition from page to screen, BJD was fortunate enough to have lost none of its original charm.  In fact, we simply gain the opportunity to put a hilarious visual to the often unrefined escapades of London girl Bridget Jones and her search for the perfect man, career, and, well, panties.  And although Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason didn’t have quite the perfection of the original, it did include a slap fight between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, which, if you ask me, was worth the price of admission alone.  The extra silver lining: look out for Bridget Jones’s Baby, appearing in theatres in 2013!

7.      Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants & Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2

Another fitting edition to our little book blog, the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants also began as a series of young adult novels.  The actresses chosen to bring to life the four effervescent young woman of SOTTP, could not have been better selected and will no doubt each earn a place of their own on the great list of Hollywood’s most promising up and comers (if Hollywood can get its act together).  America Ferrera, Alexis Bledel, Blake Lively, and Amber Tamblyn play friends from birth Carmen, Lena, Bridget, and Tibby, all very special and all very different.  For the first time in their lives, the foursome find themselves facing a summer apart.  But when they unearth a vintage pair of “magical” jeans that miraculously fit each and every one of them, from the beautifully curvaceous Carmen to the long and lean Bridget, they sudden have a gateway to keep them united across time and distance.

8.      Sleepless in Seattle & You’ve Got Mail

Okay, okay, okay.  You’ve Got Mail is not technically a sequel to the modern classic Sleepless in Seattle.  It does, however, follow a similar storyline (with a modern, updated twist), and was undeniably a carryover of director Nora Ephron’s ongoing professional love story with romantic leads Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.  In Sleepless in Seattle, the charming, but oh so 90s, frumpy Annie (Ryan) finds herself falling for single father Sam (Hanks) when she hears him on a phone-in radio show talking about the loss of his wife.  Five years (and much technological advancement later), Hanks and Ryan find love again in You’ve Got Mail as chat room pen pals Kathleen and Joe, blissfully unaware of each other’s true identities as rivals in the business of selling books.  Now, you can go on ahead and blame my youthfulness, but I actually saw the “sequel” before the original and it has found a place of indelible permanence on my list of favourite movies of all time (as I’m sure you caught on in the intro to this article).  I love everything about this movie.  I love getting to watch New York City move through Summer and Fall into Winter and lush, green Spring.  I love the slightly kitschy musical medley that my high school drama troupe ended up featuring in one of our shows.  I love the butterfly in the subway on his way to Bloomingdales (to buy a hat, of course).  And I love the books, all the books!  Charming.  That’s the only way to describe it…so see it, if you haven’t, and be charmed.

9.      Princess Diaries & Princess Diaries II: Royal Engagement

The Princes Diaries II and its predecessor are the first of two deeply guilty pleasures claiming spots on my list.  As well as being fun and silly (classic Disney, perfect for being re-run on ABC Family), these films marked the entry of Anne Hathaway into film making, where the powers that be thankfully discovered how talented an actress she truly is.  Hathaway stars as the clumsy Mia Thermopolis, hapless enough without the newfound discovery that she is, in fact, secretly the princess of a small European country called Genovia and the only heir to the Genovian throne.  Adding substance to these sweet films is the always royal grace of Julie Andrews who plays Mia’s long-lost grandmother Queen Clarisse Renaldi.

10.   Cheaper by the Dozen & Cheaper by the Dozen 2

Guilty pleasure number two comes with a confession.  I actually do not love the original Cheaper by the Dozen.  But take the crazy family of fourteen, fronted by Bonnie Hunt and Steve Martin as Mom and Dad Baker, on the road and into the woods for lake house fun, and I’m back on board.  Sometimes I ask myself why I like it so much.  Usually, the answer is something in the neighborhood of “I don’t know but Eugene Levy sure is a funny jackass.”  Either way, CBTD makes a good, wholesome treat when you get nostalgic for summer vacations with the family. 

Brooke’s Note:  Thanks so much to Victoria for kidnapping this week’s Top Ten List and morphing it into a fun movies post – always fabulous to add a little variety (spice of life and all).  TTT is hosted by the lovely people at The Broke and the Bookish, so go check out their regularly scheduled postings!

So Long, January!

I went on a reading binge this month.  A reading binge is akin to an eating or drinking binge just without the all-consuming guilt.  In total, I’ve started and finished 18 titles which is about twice as many as normal.  Many factors coincided for this small feat to happen including a husband working 80 hour weeks, still no luck on the personal job front, and a slight bout of depression directly related to the whole no job thing.  All that negativity aside, I’ve had a blast reading!

So what did I accomplish?

2 titles from the TIME’s 100 Best list – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Crying of Lot 49 which brings my grand total to 23 TIME selections read.  Only 77 more to go!  Next month I’m tackling Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

8 books from my TBR mountain that have lived there far too long!

1 Shakespearean play – Macbeth

1 re-read – Fahrenheit 451 

And many other titles I read just for the complete enjoyment of their company.  Success!

January’s High Points:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

January’s Low Point:

The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith

 

 

 

I’m excited to dive into February’s reads!  This month is home to my birthday (and everyone deserves a month long celebration, right?) so I’ve spent some fun hours planning and plotting what to read.  I’m definitely going to be reading some novels about relationships, love, and marriage to honor V-Day – in fact, I’ve finished one and can’t wait to tell you about it.  I’ll also be re-reading Emma by Jane Austen and tackling Faulkner’s A Light in August.

What will you be reading in February?

April Voting!

Hey Litwits – it’s that time again!  This month Jennifer chose our four novels.  See her explanations below and check your emails for the voting link.  For any new members who don’t receive the link, feel free to vote for your favorite in the comments and then send me your email address so that I can add it to our voting list.  Also, voting will end on Sunday!

For the month of April, I chose four books that I have read before, loved, and haven’t had the opportunity to discuss. April is when I’ll be buried in schoolwork, so this provides me an opportunity to have already read the book, and share some of my favorites with others! There’s kind of a theme of realism/memoir, which I have recently realized is my favorite genre.

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky / This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.

Why I chose this book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of my all-time favorite books. Chbosky does a fantastic job of portraying the point of view of an introvert, something of which I can relate with.

2. Scar Tissue, by Anthony Kiedis / Whether he’s recollecting the influence of the beautiful, strong women who have been his muses, or retracing a journey that has included appearances as diverse as a performance before half a million people at Woodstock or an audience of one at the humble compound of the exiled Dalai Lama, Kiedis shares a compelling story about the price of success and excess. Scar Tissue is a story of dedication and debauchery, of intrigue and integrity, of recklessness and redemption — a story that could only have come out of the world of rock.

Why I chose this book: I LOVE IT! Kiedis’ life was a wild rollercoaster ride, going from drugs in the slums, recording albums in hawaii, and back and forth. The book reads very easily and Kiedis really draws the reader in.

3. The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls / What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

Why I chose this book: Walls story is so astounding. When I read the book description, I didn’t think much of it, but after I found the book on sale I figured I would give it a shot. I was drawn in by the third page and finished by the end of that night. Walls is an excellent storyteller and has a lot to share.

4. Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s, by John Elder Robison. Ever since he was young, John Robison longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, in them)—had earned him the label “social deviant.” It was not until he was forty that he was diagnosed with a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome. That understanding transformed the way he saw himself—and the world. A born storyteller, Robison has written a moving, darkly funny memoir about a life that has taken him from developing exploding guitars for KISS to building a family of his own. It’s a strange, sly, indelible account—sometimes alien yet always deeply human.

Why I chose this book: While the book does read a lot like how an Aspergian would think (which can be a little hard to follow!), I really loved having that insight to a point-of-view that I do not experience. Robison’s life is quite interesting of a read, but what I really got from the book was a better perspective about people in general.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

I must admit that when I purchased Let the Great World Spin it was due in large part to the hype that still surrounds this book a few years after it won the National Book Award in 2009.  So very many readers have determined this novel to be a literary masterpiece; readers I respect and trust.  So why did I not love my time spent with the story?

In 1974, funambulist Philippe Petit tightrope walked between the North and South Tower of the recently constructed World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan.  His act was brash, brave, illicit, and captivating.  Down below, hundreds, if not thousands, of New Yorkers watched in awe, connected in their amazement of the events taking place high above.  Against this backdrop, McCann takes a handful of these voyeurs, gives us their past, present and future, and weaves their lives in-between, around and, ultimately, together.

Normally, character driven stories, tales of New York City, and books in response to 9/11 hold me captive.  Colum McCann’s tale is wonderfully drawn and beautifully imaged, but something about his writing felt a bit too overwrought.  The potent simplicity of the characters and their connections sometimes seemed to take second place to trivial ponderings and meanderings that I never could find a purpose for other than this man has major talent.

At the same time, McCann had moments of absolute storytelling genius especially in regards to his theme of how the past and future can affect our present.  My favorite scene was when the disillusioned artist couple leaves their by-gone era paintings in the rain and how surprised they are at the subsequent art born out of the effects of present day forces.  This realization after the car wreck serves as a poignant way to send them along their future paths – well done, Mr. McCann.

See how I haven’t managed to really come up with a strong reason why I didn’t love the novel beyond that he writes too beautifully too often?

Let me try again.  If I were on a helicopter looking down at the novel’s full landscape (or perhaps with our daring French acrobat poised on that tightrope), this novel would have been fabulous and would have lived up to all the hype.  As a nuanced, deeply emotive response to 9/11, Let the Great World Spin works superbly.  The idea that these towers will be connecting the lives of New Yorkers and Americans forever is moving and I appreciate that McCann is able to create this tribute without actually mentioning the 2001 events a single time.

Upon a closer viewing, down among the citizens where the novel breathes, something goes wrong for me.  Maybe the characters are too flat and never rise above the role they initially play.  Maybe some of their stories ring false at times or disingenuous.  Some of their eventual paths, namely Lara and Ciaran’s, I detested.  And Tillie – how could Tillie’s story end like that?  She had so much more potential to be a positive force on the world and McCann just abandoned her – forgot her as quickly as found her, choosing to remember instead a rich woman married to a judge.

Despite my lackluster reaction to this novel, I would like to try something else from McCann’s backlist because he’s definitely a talented writer and maybe he’s written something I’ll fall in love with  – something I can review and praise to make up for this let down.  We shall see!

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I really don’t read many biography/memoir type novels.  Most often I prefer getting lost in a fictional story than reading about some stranger’s life and opinions – no matter how famous they are.  When I saw that Tina Fey had written her own version of these types of books, I decided to give it a read – or rather, listen.  So I downloaded Bossypants from Audible.com a couple of weeks ago and spent a few evenings getting through the audio book.

Most of you, I’m sure, are familiar with Tina Fey.  She’s a comedic writer, improv artist, and actress.  She toured with Second City in Chicago, wrote and acted on Saturday Night Live, and has had her biggest success with her show 30 Rock which has won one million awards.

If you want to truly experience Bossypants, I highly recommend the audio version as read by Tina Fey.  Comedy is so often about delivery and intonation that hearing her read her own words the way she meant them to be read is invaluable – totally the icing on the cake.  Plus, she includes a pdf with all the pictorial evidence she included in the book, so you won’t miss anything!

Bossypants is by no means a literary masterpiece or the gritty story of some poor lost soul overcoming all the odds to become the most successful person in the world ever.  Instead, Tina’s story is about a young, middle class, ugly duckling, smart, funny girl growing up and going after her dreams of being somebody in the world of comedy.  She shares vignettes from her life that have remained with her and left a lasting impression.  Sometimes these little slices of her life can make the novel feel a bit disjointed or lacking a certain narrative flow – but for Tina Fey, a comedy sketch writer, this style makes total sense.

I found myself smiling a lot and laughing out loud a few times – so it wasn’t quite as funny as I had imagined.  Her fears of being too old to be a mom or not even necessarily wanting another child were great to read as well as the insight into her Sarah Palin impersonations.  You’ll hear her discuss what being a woman amongst men has been like for her and the lessons these experiences have taught her – as well as what it’s like to be a normal, geeky girl in a world of ultra-feminine glamour Hollywood types.

To sum up, Bossypants succeeds as an easy, entertaining listen (very short at 5.5 hours) as long as you don’t expect too much.  A very pleasant way to settle down in the evenings after a stressful day and if you’ve never watched 30 Rock, you’ll probably find yourself Netflixing the first season before the audio book is over (totally did this).  I think reading this book before you’ve watched the show adds to the watching experience as you notice just how much Tina Fey has modeled Liz Lemon after herself (which the tv execs told her to do!).

I’m really enjoying my audio book journey (Bossypants was only my second audio EVER).  Sometimes I still find myself falling asleep to the soothing sounds and cadences of the narrator’s voice, but overall I’m excited to continue exploring.  I’m currently listening to Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare as read by Jennifer Ehle and loving it!

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

My first exposure to Ray Bradbury came some 14 years ago when I was a freshman in high school.  We read The Martian Chronicles and I was smitten, not just by Bradbury himself, but also by the whole idea of science fiction.  Science fiction seemed to be a place where adults were still allowed to use their imaginations.  I’ve since read Fahrenheit 451 (twice!), Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes and have loved each one dearly.

Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of fireman, Guy Montag, who lives in a future where firemen start fires instead of stopping them.  Their job is to burn homes suspected of housing the most dangerous of contraband – books.  When Montag meets a strange young woman, Clarisse, one evening, she sends his world spinning simply by having the audacity to ask questions.  Soon enough, Montag realizes he’s been yearning to ask these same questions and finds himself hunter turned hunted as he races to free himself from the shackles of a world without thought.

I’m not sure what I can possibly say about this literary gem that hasn’t been said much more eloquently by someone else.  What really amazed me this time through the novel was how utterly relevant the story still is 59 years after publication.  Nothing about the premise or execution seems dated.  The futuristic elements are still locked firmly in a future we haven’t realized and fears of censorship, raging wars, and lack of freedom are still quite prevalent.  To top it all off, this ‘classic’ is an extremely accessible novel to read and should pose no hardship to new readers and yet still impact well read literary snobs.  Bradbury is a genius.

During my first reading in high school, I think I focused more on the shameful act of burning books than how our country got to that point in the first place.  During this reading, I was shocked to discover that people stopped reading all on their own far before the government enforced a ban.  How scary is that?  With the closing of Borders and the idea of brick-and-mortar bookstores being close to extinction, Bradbury’s foresight seems downright creepy.  Will we as a nation just eventually shun reading so much that we’ll be happy to see books banned?

I was also really drawn to the description of this dystopian society.  America becomes a world where brainless television reigns (think reality tv).  They have whole rooms where all four walls are huge television screens and they call the actors their ‘relatives’.  Their world moves so fast, technology has become so central, that no one slows down enough to make human connections anymore.  Can you imagine the day we think of Kris Jenner as our own mother or Kim Kardashian as our beloved sister?  It makes me break out into a sweat.  In this future world, suicide is so commonplace that they just send a team of stomach pumpers to siphon the swallowed sleeping pills from your body.  I’d probably be swallowing pills too if my family was The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Joking aside, this novel is scary, grim, and shocking because you will see signs of society already turning towards Bradbury’s ‘fictional’ world.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and get a copy ASAP – it’s a short little story, less that 200 pages, but so unique and important.  My reread took place on the same day everyone was protesting SOPA which felt so freakishly relevant.  I would also beseech you to read Bradbury’s other novels, as they are all amazing in their own way.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Best Couples for the Unromantic Reader

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

So this Tuesday bloggers are letting it all hang out and going freestyle, choosing whatever TTT theme tickles their fancy.  Love it.  I’ve decided to choose 10 power couples that I personally love.  This topic appeals to me because I’m not a fan of obvious romantic stories.  I don’t read books that cram a love story down your throat, no bodice-rippers in sight, and even most chick lit alludes me.  This is not to say I don’t enjoy a beautiful love story because I absolutely do – it’s just that I prefer my love story to be VERY subtle, a slow build, something that percolates right beneath the surface for a long time before bubbling over.  When I sat down to create this list, I had so much fun, but quickly realized I was not able to come up with a list of 10 bookish couples so I’ve chosen 5 couples from books and 5 from television shows.

Also, obviously my reading life is lacking in great love stories so please suggest some to me!!

Without further ado:

Brooke’s Top 5 Bookish Couples for the Unromantic Reader:

1.  Hermione Granger/Ron Weasley from Harry Potter – Jo Rowling has several couples I truly adore, but none more so than Hermione and Ron.  I’m a sucker for friends crippled by sexual tension and smart girls getting the guy of their dreams.  Honorable Mentions:  Snape/Lily, Remus/Tonks

2.  Emma and Knightley from Emma – Many readers don’t like Emma, but I adore her.  Far more importantly, Mr. Knightley is my favorite Austen hero (yes, even above Darcy).  Again, friends who become more – I have a type.

3.  Elizabeth and Darcy from Pride and Prejudice – I might like Knightley more, but the preference is negligible.  My second favorite story is enemies falling in love.

4.  Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak from Far From the Madding Crowd – The most honest depiction of a love story ever penned (that I’ve ever read, anyway – and also, my own humble opinion).  Bathsheba is a kick ass heroine and I just noticed that Katniss from The Hunger Games shares her last name – wonder if that was on purpose because it would make so much sense.

5.  Elphaba and Fiyero from Wicked – I relate to Elphaba is so many ways, so this choice is really about my love for her.  Of course, her getting all dirty with Fiyero in the forest was pretty satisfying as well.  Also, you gotta love when brunettes beat blondes.

Dishonorable Mentions:  Katniss/Peeta/Gale, Bella and Edward  (just to clarify, I hate these couples with a fiery passion)

Brooke’s Top 5 Television Couples for the Unromantic Reader:

1.  Mulder and Scully – My first ‘ship.  Yes, I read the fanfiction.  Yes, I wrote the fanfiction.  Yes, I find Gillian Anderson just as attractive as David Duchovny.  Don’t judge me – you know The X-Files (seasons 1-7 only) was awesome.

2.  Veronica and Logan from Veronica Mars – Even my husband rooted for them and he’s the opposite of romantic.  I still believe that Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring are together in real life.  I still feel you judging me.

3.  Luke and Lorelei – Gilmore Girls is the best scripted show of all time.  While Lorelei and Rory’s relationship rightfully took center stage, Luke and Lorelei quietly stole the show.

-Side Note:  As for Rory, I’m a Logan girl.  Do not argue with me on this fact because you will not win.  Logan trumps both Dean and Jess always and forever.

4.  Brian and Justin from Queer as Folk – I probably obsessed over Brian and Justin more than any couple on this list (with the possible exception of Hermione and Ron).  They also prompted me to enter the blogging world way back in 2003/2004 when Livejournal was all the rage.  I also wrote fanfiction.  You can still find it on the interwebs, but under a secret identity that shall remain nameless.

5.  Buffy and Angel – Love between a monster and the woman destined to slay him.  God Bless Joss Whedon for all he has done for television and my life.

Honorable Mentions:  Ross and Rachel, Monica and Chandler, Sam and Dean (bromance), Castle and Beckett, Chuck and Blair, Elena/Stefan/Damon, Chuck and Sarah (pre-wedding), Maria and  Michael, Joey and Pacey, Angela and Jordan, Jim and Pam,  Coach Taylor and Tami, Sydney and Vaughn, Doug and Carol, David and Donna, Zack and Kelly – I’m going to stop here before this list gets out of hand.

And just for some fun, my favorite Veronica Mars scene:

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon

Once upon a time, my husband (very early in our dating life) expressed his desire to join the military.  Two of his best friends were in the Air Force ROTC and they loved it.  I went into a panic attack trying to imagine myself as a military spouse and knew deep down that that life was too much for me.  I’m a worry wart by nature and already had trouble breathing when I knew he was riding long distance on a motorcycle – there’s no way I could handle him being deployed to a war zone 7000 miles away.  Thankfully, he decided to be a CPA instead, but since that moment I’ve always had the utmost respect for the men, women, children, and other loved ones soldiers leave behind.

Siobhan Fallon is one of those spouses – her husband has been deployed to the Middle East on three occasions and they have most recently been stationed in Jordan as a family.  Her debut novel is a collection of 8 fictional stories centered around families at Fort Hood, Texas dealing with the deployment and subsequent return home of their husbands, fathers, and sons.

You also know when the men are gone.  No more boots stomping above, no more football games slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw down their gloves on cold desert mornings.  Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life.

Fallon is great at creating a very emotional atmosphere.  Within just a few paragraphs of each story you’ll find yourself affected and deeply invested in each story’s outcome.  The unfortunate consequence of your investment is that none of the stories actually has a proper ending – we’re always left rather ambiguously wondering what happens next, which for myself was frustrating.  Once or twice would have been acceptable, but not each story.  Knowing that Fallon has her MFA, I almost wonder if she were taught to do this in her studies because it feels like something an MFA program would teach. But if she did in fact learn this technique in school, then the abrupt endings are done on purpose and have some sort of meaning.  I suppose they could represent how it might feel to have your spouse, a parent, or a child deployed to a far off war suddenly.  The upheaval the family left behind feels and the uncertainty of how things will end.  I could see this being a poignant literary device, but after 8 times it just sort of felt like a gimmick and cheapened the experience.

Conversely, the fact that you want to know what happens, that you are so heavily entrenched in the welfare of each family speaks to Fallon’s writing ability and her talent at capturing the nuances of her particular life experiences.  Each of the stories could be fully fleshed out into amazing full length novels.

I loved that Fallon’s portrayal of the military doesn’t shy away from showing ugly truths and harsh realities.  Obviously, military life is not a cake walk and the physical, mental, and emotional sacrifices that all military families endure need to be better understood and respected by those of us who live on the outside.  Some readers have been angered by Fallon’s treatment, citing a lack of patriotism, like she’s spreading some sort of unseemly gossip.  I see it quite differently.  When you read these stories, they don’t make you scoff at the military – they make you thankful for your freedoms and the men and women who sacrifice so much so that we can live our nice cushy lives.  They’ll make you proud to be an American without playing into war politics and remind you to thank soldiers for their service when you see them in uniform.

I would have enjoyed seeing a family where the wife went to war.  I know that most soldiers are men, but plenty of women serve as well.  Fallon was asked why she didn’t include such a perspective and she claimed she wanted to but that no particular character really came alive for her to write adequately.  One of the most striking stories for me personally involved a soldier not being deployed with his company because his wife had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Seeing how cold the family was treated by others on base because he had ‘dodged’ the deployment was shocking.  They had children who could have been orphaned!  And I defy all readers not to ball like a baby during the final piece, my favorite and a perfect way to end the collection.

You Know When the Men Are Gone (great title, by the way) is a book I’d recommend to anyone wanting a look inside military families – so often war can seem so foreign to us in America because they are fought so far away – this collection makes you face facts and brings the brave men and women closer to home.  And it doesn’t matter if you’re pro-war or anti-war, you just have to be pro-human to enjoy!  Not a perfect first novel, but a promising start for Fallon.  I also recommend checking out her website.  She writes a personal blog and has several great posts on life in the Middle East.  I particularly enjoyed her take on visiting Saudi Arabia as a woman.

Coming up this week are my reviews for Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Bossypants by Tina Fey, and Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Note:  I won You Know When the Men Are Gone through the Goodreads First Reads program.  The book was provided by the publisher, Penguin Group (USA).

 

January Meetup: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Book club Sundays are absolutely my favorite days.  I look forward to the next one as soon as the current discussion ends.  It’s not just because of the books (even though as a huge book nerd they play a large part) – it’s also because we have the best members of any book club in the whole wide world since the dawn of time, Amen.

Today’s meeting was at my house (hence the cleaning post below) and our January selection was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I was nervous because I loved this book more than what some would consider a ‘normal’ amount – what if they didn’t like it?  What if they thought my book love was creepy?  But I decided to just be honest and let my freak flag fly – and yes, I do think some members thought I might have taken things a little too far (especially the newer ladies), but I’m not making any apologies.  Y’all should just be thankful we’ve never read any Harry Potter, trust me.

Speaking of new ladies, we had several first time attendees and I hope y’all felt welcome – we can be a bit overwhelming as a group because we get louder and louder as the evening progresses.  We’re also very opinionated without fear of expressing those opinions.  At the same time, we welcome any and all, love hearing what others think even (and maybe even especially) when it differs from our own, and most of us started out strangers at some point so we know how you feel!

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde

Ok, on to the discussion.  On a whole, everyone enjoyed (some fell madly, deeply in love) The Night Circus.  Of course, there were a couple of members here and there who weren’t as thrilled primarily because this type of story just wasn’t their cup of tea.  Everyone agreed that this novel is a sensory experience – the midnight dinners, the circus sights and smells, the magical attractions hidden inside each tent, even the heat of the fire jumps straight off the page.  Reading this book is an experience – it feels like something new and exciting.  We are convinced it could make a fantastically enchanting visual experience when it finally comes out in theaters – Summit Entertainment has purchased the movie rights and David Heyman (Harry Potter!) has been in negotiations to produce the film.  We just hope the magic and whimsy isn’t lost in translation.

Some loved Marco and Celia; others loved Bailey, Poppet, and Widget.  We discussed whether the book and the competition had a true villain.  Are Hector and Alexander H. really evil or can their actions be excused or at least understood?  Have they lived for so long that they no longer value life or do they just not believe death is the worst thing that can happen to a person?  I think everyone enjoyed Herr Thiessen the clockmaker – for most he was the most beloved character.  We all felt sort of sorry for Isobel, but others were put off by her clinginess – how many people would essentially give up their life and follow a circus around to be with someone they don’t even actually ever see?  I love when a book’s secondary characters steal the show.

The ending left some members wanting – feeling more like a whimper than a bang.  But Kelly thought the quietness of Marco and Celia’s story went perfectly with the subtle ending.  Several ladies loved the Shakespeare allusions – The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, bits of Hamlet are all interwoven.  And we thoroughly questioned Bailey’s decision to join the Circus – fate or free will, what was the true driving factor of his ‘decision’?  And what about that email address on his card?

Side Note:  When you email Bailey you receive the following auto-response:

 

Thank you for your interest in Le Cirque des Rêves!

If you are inquiring as to the itinerary of the circus, we apologize,
but it is against our policy to disclose information about current or
upcoming locations.

Other inquiries will be responded to in as timely a manner as possible.

Cheers,
Erin

 

So if you like magic, illusion, quiet love stories, and a sense of place that is undeniable – go read The Night Circus if you haven’t already.  A little disclaimer: the novel isn’t about a high-action competition between two master magicians – in fact, as Jessica so succinctly pointed out, the competition is really only glorified interior decorating – but it’s the best interior decorating book I’ve ever read!

Second Side Note:  Courtney berated me for not having watched Downton Abbey yet.  SHAME!  I promise to watch (and maybe blog) about my experience with the show once it hits my mailbox.

Next month the Litwits are reading The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach where we finally discover the answer to the age-old question:  Do you really have to love baseball to love a book with baseball in it?

All the Dirt on Book Club Sundays!

In a few hours, many of Atlanta’s finest (Hi Litwits!) will descend upon my abode with their sweet offerings of snacks and desserts.  We’ll cozy up in the living room, eat a little, talk a little, and then give some much deserved love to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I’m both thrilled and excited that the Litwits have continued to meet and get to know one another for over a year and I can’t wait to see everyone this afternoon!  But…

Yes, there’s always a but.

I hate cleaning the house.  Loathe and detest.  Which is why I don’t do it much (besides the bathrooms and kitchen) and then it all piles up until I feel extremely overwhelmed.  Nobody’s fault but my own.  Either my husband or I will decide we just can’t take it anymore and we’ll finally get around to removing the dirt mountains from at least one level of our house.  Most times, these purgings take place on book club Sundays since people are actually going to see into the whale’s belly.

Today, for instance, was the first downstairs vacuuming since we took down Christmas.  You should have seen the piles of Christmas tree needles scattered across the floor.  I’m shocked my dogs haven’t eaten them by now.  Which brings me to another point – dogs.  My dogs have decided in the past couple of years that seasonal shedding requires far too much starting and stopping and have consequently decided to forego the stopping bit.  My house is a 24/7 western flick with all the hair tumbleweeds that blow through.

But now that the house (or really, the downstairs) has that shiny new feeling again, I’m shrouded in a cloud of cleanliness bliss.  This bliss may only last until the first time one of my dogs decides to scratch, but I’ll enjoy it until then.

Side note:  This post was entirely for my own sanity.  I needed to vent.  Now I can get down to the stuff I love about book club – the BOOKS, the camaraderie, and the wine.  See y’all at 4!