‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

salems-lot-new-coverOh, the joys of audio books! This month’s audio theme has been Stephen King, an author I’ve read very little of ashamedly. But what better way to enjoy a King story than through audio and visual mediums! So I listened to the book and then watched the TNT made-for-tv miniseries starring Rob Lowe and I has opinions.

The story is really rather simple and embraces many of King’s common thematic structures. Writer Ben Mears is returning to his brief childhood home, Jerusalem’s Lot, where he had a frightening encounter as a boy. He plans to exorcise his personal demons by researching and writing a new book concerning the family that built and owned the creepy old mansion high upon the hill overlooking the town. On a dare, he entered that house as a child to discover a rather bleak murder-suicide situation and has never mentally recovered, try as he may. Nightmares still haunt him and the house represents All. The. Evil. Things. Upon his return, he discovers that someone has bought the old house and that they might be vampires.

A great little vampire story. Loved getting back to those fierce and bloody creatures that live…unlive?… to maim and kill. No sparkles here, folks, and that’s such a welcome relief. King manages to write superb moments of genuine terror and narrator Ron McLarty does a good job ramping up the thrills. I’m also happy to report that King goes beyond the simplicity of cheap scares and rounds out his story with a decently literary discussion on the secret evils of small towns. Having grown up in such a place, I enjoyed seeing the seedy underbelly of ‘Salem’s Lot instead of the oft idolized vision of picket fences and howdy-dos. Now granted, the in-your-face personification of small down ill-deeds as vampirism can be a bit heavy-handed at times, but the fun factor always dances back in just when you need it!

Some little things bothered me here and there. Too many characters fighting for my limited memory space. A rather odd group of heroes at the end that didn’t seem entirely plausible. Ben and Susan’s ridiculous insta-love. And…well…just the end in general. How did this vampire outbreak manage to stay relatively confined to this one particular town in Maine? I forgive King these slight irks because he was a new-ish author at the time and was still honing his craft. I’m excited to move on and read later works to see how his talent increased. So I recommend ‘Salem’s Lot when you need a good dirty vampire story! It will wash away all the Twilight unpleasantness.

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As for the miniseries, I’m not sure what to say! Such a mixed bag. The special effects were both the worst and best parts. Sometimes they were spot on and genuinely frightened me, but other times they made me giggle uncontrollably. I thought the casting was rather good and the changes to the story didn’t bother me so much – particularly Father Callahan’s ending. However, the acting left a lot to be desired. And it’s not something I blame the actors for, but the script was lacking and the direction as well. A fun little cheese-fest all the same and gets the point across efficiently enough. I love Donald Sutherland in all he does – especially when it involves vampires!

 

 

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Last Stop Before Dirty Thirty!

As most of y’all know, I turned 29 on Sunday and had an absolute blast all weekend long. During all the birthday shenanigans the blog and books got put on the back burner. I’m not sure how I’m going to manage meeting the halfway point of Vanity Fair before this Friday. I’m listening to it on audio as well as reading the print and I’m still eons behind.

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Enough of that! Let’s discuss the birthday shindig, shall we? Friday was my relaxation night. I finished watching The Artist which I thought was cute but lacked that certain something which makes a movie amazing for me. Both leads were about the most attractive people in the world though and the little dog stole my heart. Saturday saw the festivities amp up! I chopped my hair off, picked up a friend from college staying for the weekend, and had a great dinner out at Terra Terroir. It’s this lovely little restaurant/wine bar in my own neighborhood that we’d never been to. The wine was delicious and the food super yummy. Afterwards, I was feeling the need for some James Bond and Daniel Craig so we threw together a little marathon of Casino Royale and Skyfall with martinis – shaken, not stirred! The lovely Jean and John even bought me flowers and an Amazon gift card. Sweet friends, they are.

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Sunday was the main event! We slept in and then had Chinese food at Chef Liu’s. I’m slightly obsessed with their soup dumplings. The rest of the afternoon we drove around looking at open houses and antique stores which was fun. Dinner was for seven at 4th & Swift in Old Fourth Ward and could not have been tastier! I, of course, had the steak cooked to utter perfection, brussel sprouts, mixed greens, and potatoes. We ordered a bottle of wine, shared steak tartare and duck meatballs, and had a blast keeping up with the Oscar dresses! To close the night we headed over to my friend’s house to watch the Oscars and got to bed around 2 am. Best birthday in recent memory! Looking forward to turning 30!

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As for gifts, Jimmy ordered me some fancy chocolates from NYC. I bought myself some nice baking dishes and water carafes from Crate and Barrel. I was one lucky lady!

But now it’s time to dive back into my reading and get some books finished! This week on the blog I hope to discuss Salem’s Lot which I finished up and Vanity Fair (fingers crossed). Have a great week!

 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4672That blasted green light! Gatsby clinging to it for dear life. Reading The Great Gatsby feels so awfully bittersweet. Fitzgerald’s talent as a writer is beyond words in my opinion and he’s quickly climbing the list of my most beloved authors. I’m shocked at how long it took me to reread Gatsby’s story since my introduction as a high school junior. I suppose I feared being disappointed. That somehow the past 11 or so years had jaded me too much to find Jay Gatsby a remarkable character. Thank the literary gods my fears have been put to rest and I can honestly say Fitzgerald’s crowing achievement will always hold a special place on my shelves. With the movie looming on the the not-so-distant horizon, I knew now would be the perfect time to revisit my old friend Nick as he told this short little tale of the slippery American Dream.

I’m fairly certain no one needs a serious synopsis. Jay Gatsby is a self-made man from humble origins who becomes this larger than life personification of the American Dream. Unfortunately, his own ideas of success and happiness are never obtained because the woman he loves – the incredibly vapid Daisy Buchanan – will never be his. No matter how shiny his house, how green his grass, or how deep his pockets.

My favorite writers all tend to have one thing in common – the ability to write something, even the ridiculously mundane, and make me drool while reading it. My heart pitter-patters at long, luscious prose far faster than a deftly plotted masterpiece. And while I can definitely appreciate both, beautiful words will always win. The Great Gatsby is just that – freakin’ beautiful words and full-bodied sentences. This very book and all of Fitzgerald’s other work demonstrates while I’ll never actually write anything myself. I could never even come close to his genius.

I’m swooning all over this blog post! So sorry, y’all. Let’s get back to business. What surprised me this time through was how short the novel is – how succinct. I remember agonizing over this narrative in high school only to fly through it as an adult. The novel suffers not at all from its brevity, but rather benefits from the swift pacing and nearly overnight downfall of this colossal man-giant. The book is one huge symbol and filled with literary technique. Quite literally, literary terminology leaks across the pages. I can understand why this would turn away some readers who prefer a more abstract rendering on existentialism, but I love this no-nonsense approach. It’s definitely a wonderful teaching tool and I easily grasp why The Great Gatsby is read so often in school. It’s also, hands-down, Fitzgerald’s most accessible story and the one I recommend unfamiliar readers begin with.

As far as the characters are concerned, they, admittedly, are mostly detestable. Daisy and Tom especially. But as John Green says in his crash course youtube video (I’ll link it below), the characters don’t have to be likeable to be interesting. What’s fascinating about Daisy is how a man like Gatsby could become so enraptured by her as to ruin his entire life. These people existed and still exist. We read about them in magazines and hold them high on gilded pedestals. Reading The Great Gatsby gives us a lens not just to view the 1920s Long Island elite, but to help us understand hero worship, idolatry, and celebrity which we all fall victim to at some point. Do the things to which we aspire, our own American Dreams, actually have any valuable substance or will we all end up face-down in a pool when our dreams come crashing (pun intended!) down around us?

I’m excited to see the film in May. While the casting has me scratching my head a bit, I do think Leonardo DiCaprio will be a great Gatsby. The vibrant cinematography will add an interesting juxtaposition to the somber realities of the movie’s end. I’ll be there opening night and hope you other bloggers will be as well so we can all share our experiences. The more the merrier, and this is one story that deserves all the attention!

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September Voting!

Hey Litwits! Here’s the list of nominees for September! I decided to go with a graphic novels theme and hope y’all like the selections. I tried to give a pretty good variety of choices – everything from memoir to classic comic book characters. Please feel free to share your opinions in the comments. If you don’t receive the voting link via survey monkey, you may also leave your vote here as well. Just be careful not to vote twice!!!! And as an added bonus, we’ll be reading both the winner and runner-up since graphic novels tend to be far less time consuming!

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

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A deluxe trade paperback edition of one of the most important and critically acclaimed Batman adventures ever, written by Frank Miller, author of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS! In addition to telling the entire dramatic story of Batman’s first year fighting crime, this collection includes reproductions of original pencils, promotional art, script pages, unseen David Mazzucchelli Batman art and more.

American Born Chinese by Gene Yang

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A tour-de-force by rising indy comics star Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

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Combined for the first time here are Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus II – the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler’s Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival – and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

 

February Meetup: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

11250053What a bittersweet Litwits discussion! We’re losing the amazingly fabulous Bianca to the greener grasses of California. She will be dearly missed especially since she’s been with us since the very first discussion EVER. Hard to lose the founding ladies, but we wish her nothing but the best in her Cali adventures!

On Sunday, we gathered to discuss The Snow Child and I could not have been more excited. I totally fell victim to all the hype surrounding this novelized fairy tale and was hard-pressed not to read the whole dang thing months in advance. Jack and Mabel’s story just intrigued me so much. A couple who hasn’t been able to have a child, who went through the pains of a stillbirth, moving to the seemingly barren terrain of frontier Alaska during the 1920s was impressive enough. Throw in the additional story line of a magical little snow child that comes to them in their greatest moment of need and I was hooked. And for me, the story could not have been any better.

But this post is about far more than my own biased opinion! My fellow Litwits did really seem to enjoy the story. A couple were a bit bothered by a somewhat slow, tedious first half and one or two didn’t manage to overcome that particular pitfall. Others pushed through the rather depressing first few chapters only to be rewarded by this quietly magical and very literary fairy tale. Quite simply, I think this might have been our best book discussion in a long while.

Thematically, the novel is rich and layered with such things as social pressures, social norms, self-discovery and identity, journeys, and the cyclical nature of life. Ivey’s language is dense in the best way possible, filled with the harshness and the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. You can tell she loves her homeland so very much. Kate talked in detail about how the Alaskan landscape really changes with the mood of the story – darkening and lightening to enhance the novel’s progression and delight the critical reader. A definite reason to reread. You could have an entire discussion on sense of place.

 

As for our snow fairy, Faina, she was such a wonderfully mysterious character and you are never really sure one way or the other what the truth about her existence really is. It’s left very much in the reader’s hand and spawned a lot of lively debate concerning her conclusion. But she isn’t the only marvelously written character! Everyone loved Esther and her whole family. She added a level of comedic relief in the midst of such dire and tragic circumstances. Ivey just seems so well-versed in how to balance intense emotion with the lightness of good friends and laughter.

In short, I highly recommend The Snow Child to all readers, but especially to fellow bookclubs. Let your members know that the story builds slowly, but pays off so much in the ending. And even though at times the narrative is highly predictable, Ivey’s poetic talent makes every word worth reading.

TSS: What I’ve Been Up To…

TSSbadge2This week was a good one! Spent most of my time at work preparing for our big office move. We’re leaving Kennesaw behind for the greener pastures of Marietta. I’m super excited about this because that’s 10 minutes less commuting each way. It also means I’ll have my own work space instead of being cramped into an office with two other people.

Jimmy spent all week in Tampa, but is home now until sometime in March! I don’t mind when he travels a week here, a week there – but three weeks in a row is too much, especially when I’m sick.  Thursday was a fun Valentine’s Day! Jimmy surprised me by having flowers and chocolate delivered to my work (see pictorial evidence below) and then I went to see Silver Linings Playbook with a friend. Just as good the second time around!

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The rest of this post will just be a quick round-up of some of my recent entertainments!

What I’ve Been Watching:

Downton Abbey via network television – Broke my heart into a tiny million pieces and I still don’t feel put back together again.

Young Adult on Netflix – A strange little movie and one that was painful to watch. Felt such third party embarrassment for Charlize Theron’s character. The ending was also weird. Not sure I’d recommend this to anyone.

The Bourne Legacy via RedBox – Enjoyed far more than I expected to! Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne was always so cold and stoic that I never fully felt connected to those films. Jeremy Renner brings a sort of humanity and emotion to the role that I really enjoyed.

Paranormal Activity 4 via RedBox – Creepy as all get-out. More of the same, but still scares the daylights out of me. I’m not sure what I was thinking watching this home alone at night.

Homeland via purchase – I’ve only watched the first 5 episodes of Season One. I’m not sure I’m as enamored as everyone else. Not sure why. The only character that really intrigues me so far is Claire Danes’s.

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Dr. Who via Netflix- What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get into this show? It should be right up my alley but I just find it so tediously silly. I managed to sneak in the second episode of season 2 and it’s still not working for me.

New Girl via network television – Yay Jess and Nick with the most epic TV kiss I’ve seen in ages!

Skyfall via purchase – Bought it, re-watched it, and thought it was better the second time around. A GREAT movie. WATCH IT.

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What I’ve Been Eating:

Minato – Great Japanese restaurant in Smyrna near Cumberland Mall. The owners are friendly. Jimmy even brought his parents to this place so they could meet the owners (wife is from Taiwan). If you’re in the area, check it out!

One Midtown Kitchen – A classic Atlanta restaurant with New American Cuisine. Loved everything I ate from appetizer to dessert. Portion size was perfect and price wasn’t half bad. Will definitely return.

East Pearl Seafood – In Duluth (at least I think that’s Duluth). We ate here for our traditional Chinese New Year meal. We had the prix fixe dinner and everyone was utterly melt-in-your-mouth delicious. If you’ve never been to a proper Chinese restaurant, I beseech you to go immediately. Don’t worry if you can’t read the menu. It will all be good.

JCT Kitchen – Book club just had a lunch here and it was phenomenal. I had some fall-off-the-bone chicken that could not have been cooked any better. Also, the space is gorgeous and I want the designer to decorate my house.

Bocado – Had dinner and drinks here a few weeks ago. Cocktails were lovely and food was delicious. We sat at the bar and had a great time. Order the devil eggs for a tasteful surprise!

The One Sushi+ – A new sushi restaurant near us that serves several traditional Taiwanese dishes in a trendy space. Jimmy and I were skeptical about the dishes so decided to test them out. Not bad. Beef noodle and Taiwanese sausage were very authentic with a slight chef’s twist.

Chef Liu’s – Soup Pork Dumplings. Smack. Yo. Mama. Good.

Serpas – Last night’s dining choice/late V-Day dinner. The food was AMAZING. Service a little slow, but the food more than made up for that. On the pricey side, but if you ditch an entree and dessert – a decent sized and priced meal can be had with appetizers!

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Have a wonderful week ladies and gents! Squeeze in as many Oscar films as you can this week because they are all SO GOOD. And read, of course! I’ll be joining in the Vanity Fair Readalong and starting The Late Bloomer’s Revolution by Amy Cohen.

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What a terribly long post! See y’all next week!