Sunday Salon: Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

The Lee household has had a bumpy week.  With my illness and a few bad days at work for Jimmy, this weekend couldn’t have come at a better time.  Not that we’ve done much besides veg out and watch a ton of movies, but the lack of stress has been totally worthwhile.

Thursday night we rented One for the Money from Redbox and enjoyed the mindless fun of it all.  I’ve read most of the Stephanie Plum books so it was nice to see them come to life.  I did think they underused Lula and Grandma Mazur.  Friday we headed over to the local cinema to check our MIB 3 – my husband is a huge fan of this franchise.  I was prepared for total drek and came away thinking the movie was much better than I had expected.  Josh Brolin was amazing as a young Tommy Lee Jones.  Not entirely sure if it’s worth your hard earned money, but we had gift certificates so that didn’t affect us.

Saturday and Sunday I spent some much needed time reading.  I’m currently really enjoying An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer.  My progress in A Clash of Kings has come to a dead halt at around 200 pages.  Not sure why I’m not enjoying it as much as A Game of Thrones, but apparently I’m not alone in this thinking.

Not sure what we’ll do tomorrow and it doesn’t really matter!  Maybe we’ll grill out, watch a movie, play a board game – something nice and cheap.  I hope everyone else is having a fantastically relaxing holiday!

The Creation of Eve and an Update!

Okay.  So I’ve been missing again and have returned with yet another excuse.  This time I contracted the most intense illness I’ve had in years.  I seriously thought I was patient zero in the new pandemic that would destroy the world.  Thankfully, I’m feeling relatively back to normally which just means I was able to gorge myself on food again tonight.  I’ve lost 5 lbs. in 5 days so the calories were definitely welcome.

Right before the death disease kicked in, I hosted book club on Sunday and we discussed The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen (a local Atlanta author).  Eve tells the story of Sofonisba Anguissola (just call her Sofi), the first world renowned female painter of the Renaissance.  She is “hired” (more like bought) by King Felipe II of Spain (concurrent to Elizabeth’s rule in England during the 16th Century) to become one of his new child bride’s ladies and painting instructor.  Wackiness of the historical fiction variety then ensues.

I always feel like a fraud writing anything remotely critical about historical fiction as it’s not a genre I read often.  Several ladies in the Litwits adore historical fictional and they assured me this novel is of the highest class.  Our discussion was intense, lengthy, entertaining, smart, and stayed on topic the ENTIRE TIME.  For those in book clubs, I know you know how much of a feat that tends to be.  What really works with Cullen’s novel is the intricacies of the plot – the deceptions, gender roles, cattiness, historical fact/fiction, power/war, and so much more.  There are things that happen that aren’t fully left explained – as the reader you are allowed your own interpretation as to whether this particular character actually did this or didn’t do that which leads to great discussion and lots of theories.  Just a ton of fun for any discussion group.

The ladies and I talked for ages about women’s place in society and how their lives were never their own.  But we then had to admit that even men had their roles and places decided for them so no gender was actually free.  We also discussed at length how far medicine and sanitation had come in the past few hundred years.  This is a novel that will make you thankful everyday for your local pharmacy and indoor plumbing.

Of course, this novel isn’t perfect.  Several members had problems with how much Cullen downplayed the Spanish Inquisition.  For such a hugely terrible event, the Inquisition was hardly even mentioned.  Others thought King Felipe II was also portrayed a little lightly.  The novel makes you question whether he’s a good decent man or subtlety cruel when apparently it’s common knowledge he was a douche.  Personally, I hated that the book jacket professed the novel to be about Sofi, when really the story focused on the King, Queen, and the Court – Sofi barely even paints.  Yes, the novel is told from the first person perspective of Sofi through diary like entries, but they focus almost entirely on the Queen.  I wanted more Sofi.

So The Creation of Eve gets the Litwits seal of approval and our highest recommendations for fellow book clubs!  It has a fantastic afterword (might have been my favorite part) where Lynn Cullen goes into detail about what was fiction and what was fact.  She also details out what happened to the characters after her novel ends which was fun to read.  You’ll want to google Sofi’s paintings and other Renaissance art during the reading process – or just visit Italy!

Also, below I’ve posted the trailer for The Great Gatsby being released late this year.  It’s caused quite a stir!  What do you think?

Another Movie: Triangle

If you are at all interested in psychological thrillers with twisty endings that make you think – Watch this movie immediately!  You’ll want to watch it over and over to try and figure out how everything fits together and theories as to what is actually going on.

Triangle is a little indie Australian/British flick that is often promoted as a horror slasher film which is just dead wrong.  There is a little bit of gore, but much tamer than the slew of gorefests that are made these days.  Melissa George does a great job in her role which is important because the movie is told through her POV and we never leave her side.  And if you’re a Liam Hemsworth fan – he’s in the film far more than he was in The Hunger Games, though his character is still pretty devoid of depth.

I really don’t want to get into the plot much since this movie is best viewed cold.  In very slight terms, Melissa George goes sailing with some friends, they get capsized, and then find themselves ‘rescued’ by a cruise liner where things start to go really crazy.

The movie is free for those who have Amazon Prime memberships – not sure if it’s on Netflix streaming or not.  But very, very good stuff!

Hello Monday!

So I’ve been AWOL again from the blog.  The Hubs has begun his intense traveling season at work so we only get to see each other on Saturday and Sunday for the foreseeable future.  Since the weekends are normally my writing days, I’m going to have to figure out a better schedule.  I’m not reading as much either for the same reason.  But I do have some book club reads and TLC book tour reads to tell y’all about soon!  What I have been doing is watching movies and getting into the idea of reinvesting in my movie collection.  The Hubs is a huge movie buff and the collecting and watching is something we really bond over.  It has been put on the back shelf with the craziness of work and real life.  This weekend, however, we watched a ton of films and had an absolute blast.

We hit up Redbox Saturday night and rented Rise of Planet of the Apes.  I was wary coming off the last ‘remake’ in this series and James Franco bothers me.  My worries were for naught because this film was fantastically entertaining, emotionally smart, and a great prequel to the franchise.  Franco does a superb job as an emotionally invested scientist and his relationship with his father, played by John Lithgow, was very well developed.  And Caesar, the Ape lead, was superbly written and created.  The film’s special effects were mostly amazing baring some obviously fake shower steam which made the Hubs and I giggle.  Overall a great story, beautifully shot, and a well-crafted film all around.  Plus, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is back to his old evil ways!

Another thing Rise does well is play homage to the original 1968 Planet of the Apes film.  The original was one of my favorite films to watch when I was home sick as a kid so I’m extremely partial to it.  I think the best viewing experience  of either Rise or the original Planet is to now watch them back-to-back.  So many references and shout-outs tying the two films together – really just delightful.  And the intense shift from humans being the developed, civilized species to the apes replacing us in the future will get you thinking and garner some great discussion/debate.

This Wednesday I’m hosting a movie night for the Litwits and we’ll be viewing the 2005 Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley.  Obviously, I’ve seen the film a million times, but it will be interesting to discuss with others so that recap will be up sometime later in the week.

I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend and a Happy Mother’s Day!

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

I think a lot of people have seen this movie and because it’s so good in that medium have never bothered to read the source material.  Until a couple of weeks ago, I had done neither which was a complete shame.  I have a couple of good friends who, without any reservations, immediately name this novel as their all-time favorite.  And now I know why.

The story takes place in a mental institution (seemingly only for men) and is narrated by Chief Bromden, the apparently deaf and dumb mute patient of Native American heritage (which the book does a great job of making relevant and the movie almost entirely ignores).  A new patient/inmate has just joined the ward – McMurphy –  and an all-out war begins between the men (mostly McMurphy) and the Big Nurse Ratched.

This novel is so smartly written and so much above my intellect level that I don’t see how I can do this story justice.  Chief Bromden is the perfect narrator because no one holds back in front of him.  Everyone is convinced he’s deaf.  So he listens and really hears the truth behind everyone’s motives.  Kesey brilliantly hides the true nature of Chief’s reliability by showing the inner workings of his mental illness – he’s plagued by some really heinous hallucinations.  But eventually, you come to see that his visions of a mechanical organization running the show and keeping the men down, putting them in a fog (literally and metaphorically) is just how he processes the truth he sees in the totalitarian hospital establishment and society at large.  Chief is the most reliable crazy EVER.

Besides Chief, all of Kesey’s characters really shine and very rarely come off completely insane or as caricatures of mental patients even though it’s quite obvious they are dealing with heavy issues.  They are all so likeable, even when they are repulsive, and you root for them with every turn of the page.  My only beef with having characters that aren’t convincingly sick and a hospital that undermines psychological health is that so many people often write off mental illness as ‘imaginary’, especially during the 50s and 60s.  But Kesey manages to rise above this pitfall because the book is really a depiction and commentary on society at large, not the mental health field.

One of the more controversial and interesting aspects of Cuckoo’s Nest is the gender discussion.  All the male patients are plagued by one thing – a woman in their lives.  Even in the hospital, their number one nemesis is Nurse Ratched – perhaps one of the best female villains of all time.  Lots of readers believe this  story to be extremely anti-feminist, but I don’t agree.  Yes, women are the villains and the men are all seen as castrated lumps under the authority of the all-mighty vagina.  But how many times has this situation been reversed in literature?  How many times have women repressed their sexuality and gone a little bat shit crazy?  Since Shakespeare, at least.  So I read the gender imbalance as a sort of gender balancing device.  I liked that the powerhouses were female and the victims male.  I liked that Kesey explores the ridiculousness of what society deems ‘masculinity’.  I don’t think he’s putting women down; I think he’s forcing the question:  What is gender?

Highly, high recommended read.  Kesey’s writing is gorgeous and filled with some of the best literary quotes I’ve ever had the pleasure to highlight.  Also, extremely readable – almost a page turner.  As for the movie, as great as it is, the book thrashes it to shreds.  I hate how little they use Bromden (his hallucinations are NEVER mentioned)  in the film compared to his huge role in the novel – really my only serious beef.  Jack Nicholson is just a genius (like we didn’t all know that already) and this film really highlights the depth of his acting.  So for those who have somehow missed this story – Go enjoy both mediums, pronto!

The Avengers: A Must See Movie

 

Seriously – Must. See.  I’m not a comic book geek, honest.  Not because I dislike them, but because I would never stop reading once I started.  No room left in my life for new obsessions.  So I depend on film versions to get my superhero fix. And Joss Whedon has done the impossible by making The Avengers one of the best, most entertaining movies I have seen in years.  Not that I expected any less.  I do, after all, own a ‘Whedonist’ t-shirt.

What does this movie get right?  The pacing is perfect.  Sometimes these movies can overstay their welcome, especially when they have running times exceeding 2 hours.  But honestly, I’d have stayed in this world with these characters all night.  I never wanted it to end.  I had fun from beginning to end with no slow spots.

Each superhero (besides maybe Hawkeye, but for good reason) is expertly handled and given equal importance throughout the movie.  I will say that the character development wasn’t the movie’s strong point, but how could it be with so many characters?  Instead, Whedon does a fantastic job at making each hero feel relevant and smart.  We may not get super in depth with their story lines, but we know they are three dimensional characters with complex back stories and motivations.  I’m perfectly fine with leaving those stories for their individual films.  Kudos, as well, to all the actors who did a superb job making their particular characters all very human.

The Hulk steals the show.  Joss Whedon has done what no one before him (in recent memory) has managed to do.  Enhanced by Mark Ruffalo’s amazing performance,  the Hulk is no longer the red-headed stepchild.  Everyone left the theater gushing about the Hulk.  Give this man his own movie, pronto!!

The dialog is just spot on.  And hilarious.  Some think the movie filled with too many quips, but I don’t see the flaw in a laughing, happy audience.  We have Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies for dark and serious.

Joss Whedon writes the best female characters ever.  Loved Black Widow.  ScarJo kicked some serious ass.

And finally, Loki as a villain was awesome sauce.  He’s so petulant and whiny, yet seriously ominous and foreboding.  That takes talent.  And his relationship with brother Thor is endearing, believable, and makes both characters far more complex.  Up until now, I had avoided the Thor movie because I just thought it would be too cheesy.  Ordered it as soon as I got home from the movie Thursday night.  Can’t wait to see more Thor and Loki – plus, no one told me Idris Elba was in the film!!

Go see it!  Even if you don’t think you’ll like it.  I promise you’ll laugh and leave the theater feeling lighter.  We all need a little pure entertainment once in a while.  Treat yourself.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I’m writing this post a little ‘cold’ and unprepared because I’m unexpectedly going to see The Avengers tonight!  To say I’m excited is a ridiculous understatement.  I’m a Joss Whedon super fangirl.  As far as Perks is concerned, I’ve had a month to soak in the after reading funk and have come out on the side of – not a a huge fan.  And I’m entirely unapologetic about this unpopular opinion. (Spoilers below)

Chbosky’s debut novel presents itself as the universal tale of awkward teenagedom, especially that first year of high school. It was published in 1999 and follows Charlie as he writes letters to a ‘friend’ describing his freshman experiences as the ‘wallflower’.  Going in, I had reservations and expectations.  So many friends have lauded this book for its emotional revelations and ability to capture some truth of adolescence.  People who I trust have explained how the book saved their lives or got them through those turbulent years.  So. Much. Hype.  I avoided it like the plague despite the book being published during my freshman/sophomore years of high school.  I continued to avoid it during college and most of my twenties.

To put my expectations into perspective, I feared I’d feel about Charlie the way I now feel about Esther from The Bell Jar.  Reading The Bell Jar in college felt life altering.  She and I were the same person with the same problems.  I felt so much in common with her that I began to fear I was bat shit crazy and would end up with my own head in an oven (I know I’m mixing up Esther with Sylvia here, pretend it’s for effect).  But upon a reread a couple of years ago – in my late twenties – my perspective had completely changed.  All I wanted to do was shake the shiz out of Esther and yell at her that all this shit won’t matter in 10 years.  What if I was too far removed from high school to relate to Charlie?  What if I had missed my chance?

But my fears were misguided.  I liked Charlie from page one.  I enjoyed his voice, loved the execution of the epistolary storytelling, and found myself in several of his thoughts.  One particular feeling really registered with me even as an adult – the idea that you could be happy and miserable at the same time.  I happily flew through the first 100 pages before I began to get uncomfortable.  Something was off about Charlie – and not just in an awkward 15 year old way.  His emotional responses to things were not normal.  I put the book down and got in bed, ruminating on what could be Charlie’s real problem.  When I awoke, I felt positive that he was autistic and read the rest of the novel under that belief until all is revealed in the end.  And even though he’s not autistic, he is the victim of sexual abuse/molestation which leaves him physically, emotionally, and mentally crippled.  I was enraged.

Not at Charlie or his particular story.  I still adored Charlie and was so happy I had gotten to know him.  Instead, I was mad at all the people who explained how much they related to Charlie’s life and all the marketers who touted this novel as a ‘universal’ teenage story.  Are you kidding me?  What is universal about being sexually molested unless you have actually been molested?  For those kids who have unfortunately experienced this kind of trauma, then yes, this book is ‘universal’ and probably so incredibly cathartic to read.  But for the rest of us who were simply awkward wallflowers in high school, band geeks, sci-fi nerds, etc. – how can we possibly pretend to relate to Charlie?  How disrespectful to the truth of his life and his experiences.

I just got really angry.  I knew kids who had gone through that kind of ordeal early in their life.  Or who were autistic.  And to walk up to them and say – hey, I know just what you’re going through because being a teenager sucks and sometimes I feel so sad I can’t even cry – what a holy fucking mess.

Again, I’m angry at the readers – not the book, not Charlie, and not Stephen Chbosky.

My second and far more minor problem with Perks is the misleading title and idea of what being a ‘wallflower’ is.  Charlie is not a wallflower.  He approaches Sam and her brother to befriend them, he tells Sam he likes her, and he has a handful of friends he spends lots of time with.  How is this being a wallflower?  I don’t even consider myself a true wallflower and I didn’t have the nerve to tell my crush I liked him or randomly befriend strangers all of a sudden at football games.  And just because you aren’t the most popular kid at school or have the biggest social circle doesn’t make you a wallflower either.  I had a handful of awesome friends – we weren’t popular; we weren’t unpopular – and most of my high school experiences were great.

And then there’s Sam.  When Charlie admits to liking her, she explains that he must not feel that away about her and that she doesn’t return his feelings.  And God Bless the boy, he respects what she says and remains her friend – doing his best to support her and her boyfriend.  When said boyfriend is revealed to be a total cheating douche, Sam has the nerve to berate Charlie for not immediately rushing in and claiming Sam as his own.  God forbid he just give her some space.  I mean, she has already told him she doesn’t like him.  And then to say he lacks the ability to take action and that if he likes her he should just ignore what she said and take her as his own anyway.  EXCUSE ME?  What lesson does this teach teenage boys?  Girls are stupid, don’t know what they want, never mean what they say, don’t want to be respected – and this is the kicker – No. Means. Yes.  Chbosky, what were you thinking?  Maybe we’re just supposed to chalk it up to teenage stupidity and lack of life experiences.  Sam and Charlie obviously still have much to learn.  But for a book that seems to be so validating to its young audience, I just think this path might have frightening affects on a teenage psyche that hasn’t reached full maturity yet.

Has anyone else read this and think I’m way over-thinking things?  I absolutely could be.  Did I entirely miss the point?  Please let me know.  Perks was my bookclub’s April selection, but our discussion won’t take place until the end of May so I’d love your thoughts.  I firgured I’d cool down the longer I was separated from the novel, but that hasn’t happened.  I don’t know why, but this book has affected me more than any other this year.  And garnered the longest post known to man.  Kudos if you made it all the way through!

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

I have been so ridiculously busy.  So busy, in fact, that I’ve had to cancel numerous engagements.  One of which was the bookclub’s April discussion this past Sunday.  My husband’s family has taken over my life!  We’ve also had a ton of home repairs done since our two year warranty expired in April, gone to see Les Mis, attended obligatory birthday/engagement celebrations, and many other events.  And I don’t see the madness ending any time soon.  In between the non-stop busy, I’ve found time to cram in the entire series of Lost (this means I don’t sleep).  Unfortunately, reading has taken a back seat.

I did finish A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin a couple of weeks ago.  By now, I assume everyone has read the book, seen the HBO series, or knows enough about the story to skip introductions and proper reviews.  Instead, I’d rather just keep to the high and low points.  Let’s discuss, shall we?

Martin’s first installment in his A Song of Fire and Ice saga is epically long.  I have the large hardback edition and it has almost 700 pages of story.  That kind of length can be daunting to even the best of readers.  Then to imagine the multiple follow-up books in the series that are just as long, if not longer, is terrifying.  And not all of those pages are entirely worthwhile or exciting.  The first 400 pages or so were a bit slow – drowning in the tedium of world-building and creating a sufficient back story for the myriad characters.  But once the world was fleshed out, the pacing really picked up and I could not put the sucker down.

As for the world-building, while it might make things tedious momentarily, it is totally worth it in the end.  Westeros absolutely comes alive.  You can see the castles, the terrain, and the people in such detail without even trying.  Martin has made imagining his creation effortless and stunning.  I felt the cold of the north and fear beyond the wall.  A map of the land was included on the front pages and end pages of my edition, but I found it wasn’t necessary.  That takes vision and talent.

Two things really pleased me within GoT.  First, I became obsessed with the questions of moral ambiguity.  Nowhere does Martin leave his characters or readers with a simple choice.  Nothing is black and white – the characters who refuse to adapt, evolve, or alter their thinking/actions never have happy endings.  Sometimes even the honorable decision ends up not so honorable.  The characters are just as richly complex.  Barring a couple of exceptions, the evil people all have reasons for being that way or some level of good buried deep inside and vice versa.  To be honest, one of the characters I liked least was Eddard Stark and he’s the most upstanding, noble guy in the book.  He frustrated me to no end.

The second aspect of GoT that I relished was how deeply rooted in a humanistic world this high fantasy novel is grounded.  There are mystical creatures, magical happenings, and eventually, DRAGONS, but those things (at least in Book 1) take a back seat to the human stories that Martin is telling.  At the heart of GoT is a mystery – a whodunit.  All the fantastical elements have a place and purpose – never ending up feeling indulgent or gratuitous.  That’s why the fan base is so huge and diverse.

I could rave on and on.  I loved how important the young characters come to be, how no one is safe, and Jon Snow (my favorite character!).  I’m just amazed at how much I’ve come to care for these fictional people and their lives.  After finishing GoT, I immediately bought A Clash of Kings and have made my way through 200 pages (then got sidetracked by Lost).  I also inhaled the HBO series which I thought was brilliantly done.  With all that said and done, I highly recommend GoT, especially if you think you don’t like high fantasy.  This book will change your mind!!