June Movies!

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I recently posted a vlog over on my YouTube channel wrapping up all the movies I saw in the theater during June. Nothing fancy, just a quick rating and a couple of thoughts on each. So click below if you want to know how I felt about the following films:

Man of Steel
World War Z
Before Midnight
Much Ado About Nothing
This is the End

The month’s best film award went to a surprising choice!

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

77203Somehow I forgot to review this novel when I read it nearly three weeks ago. Not sure how it fell through the cracks! I’m glad I waited a long time to read this after it was released to major hype last decade. But with so many gushing reviews of all three of his novels constantly finding their way into my feedly stream, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer.

Writing a synopsis seems fairly pointless. I’m sure most have already read Hosseini’s emotional tale of two boys growing up together in Afghanistan. One is rich, the other his servant, but they live side-by-side almost as brothers until an devastating betrayal occurs setting the rest of the story into motion. That’s really all you need to know before starting.

Amir and Hassan’s friendship is truly the backbone of this story. Their dynamic is so compelling. From different social classes and standing on opposites sites of a religious war, they somehow manage to mean so much to each other. The boys represent the crisis happening in the war torn nation as well as offer hope for a peaceful resolution. When they are divided during their childhood, both emotionally and physcially, the books feels disjointed. In many ways, Amir and Hassan are like doomed soulmates.

Since I’ve been searching for novels set in the Middle East, I was excited to learn more about Afghanistan and Pakistan through The Kite Runner. I spent a good amount of time researching the relationship between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Google mapping these forgein lands, and just plain learning as much as I could to enhance not only my reading but also my understanding of the turbulent situation faced by the people of those countries. I love learning history and culture through narrative.

If you haven’t read Hosseini’s novel, I can honestly say it’s definitely worth picking up. Some of the scenes are devastating. At one point towards the end, I almost couldn’t continue on. So many tragedies and atrocities occur, but there’s always hope and perseverance to keep the pages turning. Amir’s character growth, his friendship with Hassan, the dynamic between him and his father, and his road to redemption are stunning.

So did it live up to the hype? Not entirely – which obviously is not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did, but I can see some cracks in the story – some moments of emotional manipulation that to me were slightly unnecessary. I think Hosseini could have won major writing points with a ‘less is more’ mentality. However, I can’t wait to continue on to his second and third novels. I’m certain his writing can only have gotten better and better.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: June’s Litwit Meetup

imagesI was so excited to read Sloan’s debut novel. I mean, the freakin’ cover glows in the dark. How awesome is that? Gimmicks like that totally sucker me in. I was even more excited to read it along with my bookclub. A good, lighter read for the beginning of summer.

The story combines a quirky bookstore with all the nerdy tech-savvy of Google. Our fearless leader, Clay, has found himself out of a job due to that pesky recession. No one is desiring his programming and web design skills so he finds a job at an eccentric bookshop. Mr. Penumbra’s store is like no other – built extremely tall and awkwardly narrow, only the front shelves actually house books for sale. The multitude of the collection is ‘borrowed’ by odd characters who often come in during the dead of night. What are they up to? Clay is determined to find out.

Did the ladies enjoy? Mostly yes. We agreed the novel is a strong debut with some room for growth. The story starts off interestingly enough – Clay is an extremely likable narrator. Victoria loved how welcoming and friendly Clay’s narration felt. The side characters were great, if at times a little underdeveloped. We all loved what we knew about them and would have loved to know more.

No one felt that the modern technology combined with the old world bookiness detracted from the story at all. We actually loved how Sloan was able to incorporate both worlds and show how they needed each other to survive. What we weren’t too impressed with was the mystery. In theory, the idea is wonderful, but in execution it faltered. The climax wasn’t particularly surprising or intriguing. In fact, the mystery kind of felt like it went no where. But the journey mostly made up for that pitfall.

As a group, I think we would describe Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore as a good read but not a great read. Everyone enthusiastically agreed that we’d read Sloan’s next novel. Hopefully, his next work will better stand on its on as Penumbra felt very derivative at times (many members compared to The Da Vinci Code) and surprisingly fresh at others. A fun beach read we wished had a bit more development and a more shocking conclusion!

Next up for the Litwits: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles!

BONUS!!! Here’s a link provided by Macmillan Audio of a sample of the audiobook: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Audiobook clip!!

The Sunday Salon: Finally!

TSSbadge2I haven’t posted a Salon in quite sometime – at least not on a Sunday. I’m glad to be back among you Saloners this week! And it was a great week!

Jimmy’s birthday took main priority. So there was lots of movie watching. I’m going to post a June movie madness recap post this Friday to fill you in on all the goodies we’ve seen. We also did a lot of eating (way too much, honestly). Plus, there was the annual poker party on Friday night which was another success if a little low key compared to past parties.

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What has suffered this week is my reading. I was rarely home and super tired when I was. I’ve only managed to finish my audiobook this week and nothing in print.  I’m halfway through The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer and enjoying. Hopefully, I can get it wrapped up shortly and get one more book in before the end of June. Luckily, I have a back log of reviews to write and post. So at least the blog isn’t suffering.

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Can you believe the end of June is upon us? This year is just speeding by. Work is going really well. I finally feel happy at work again. I get my first paycheck Friday! In not so lovely news, I got a jury duty summons in the mail this week for July 9. That’s twice in less than two years. I’m worried because there’s a huge trial happening in July in Dekalb County. I hope I’m not going to be thrown into that bucket.

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I hope everyone’s enjoying their summer (or winter, depending on your hemisphere!). The weather here is alternately amazing and violent. A couple of storms have destroyed houses in my area tossing down hundreds (literally) of huge trees. But the rain has worked wonders for our new plants and the grass is so green!

Sunday’s discussion question:

When hearing the prompt ‘summer read’ which book automatically comes to mind?

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

30852Admittedly, The Woman Warrior is an odd book. It’s also a book that’s rarely spoken about at least in the various bookish worlds I belong to. And that is a shame. The only reason I know about it is that I had a couple of college professors who adored Kingston’s work and taught this novel. All that aside, I can see how some readers might find it difficult to connect with.

TWW resides in the nonfiction/memoir section of the library, but is told through an nontraditional narrative. It’s more anecdotal than linear – very episodic in nature – and Kingston often derails from reality to explore Chinese myths and legends as metaphorical stand-ins for literal truth. At its foundation, TWW explores Kingston’s childhood as a first generation Chinese-Amercian girl growing up in California. She battles reconciling her parents’ culture with that of the people and the country she actually lives in – particularly as a female.

Told in five or so sections instead of traditional chapters, you’ll enjoy some parts far more than others. This book isn’t something you can read lightly and works best in an academic setting as the writing can be dense in theme, symbolism, and metaphor. So I’d advise reading TWW when you’re in the mood to truly absorb the stories being told.

As a feminist work, TWW is terrific. So interesting to see how women are represented in two cultures and the struggles Kingston must face since she has a foot in each of these worlds. You’ll also learn so much about Chinese culture, history, and perception. I’d have loved to read a novel told through her mother’s eyes in comparison. So fascinating.

What I most appreciate about TWW is Kingston’s brutal honesty about herself and others. She doesn’t romanticize her mother, relatives, Americans, China, or even herself. Sometimes her childhood experiences are hard to read and sometimes they’re funny as hell. So the next time you’re in the mood to learn or explore a unique take on feminism, TWW might definitely be for you!

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

213791The Bridge of San Louis Rey is a tiny little novel. My edition is barely 100 pages. To be so short and so acclaimed always wows me. Even though I don’t read a ton of novella/short stories, I’m always extremely impressed at how concise yet poignantly beautiful the best ones are. The Bridge of San Louis Rey is no exception and manages to address some of the most fascinating and existential questions of humanity. Wow, little book. Thornton Wilder, you Sir, were quite the genius.

In 1714, a bridge in Peru collapses sending five people to their deaths. A monk, Brother Juniper, sees this tragedy occur and immediately starts asking questions. Why did this happen? What is the meaning? Why these five individuals? Was if fate? Destiny? Where does God and faith come into play?

Brother Juniper sets out to research the five victims and try to answer the above questions. So most of the novel is just learning about our small, doomed cast of characters and how they came to be on that fateful bridge. We see how they are connected and what kind of people they were. I loved this part. Loved delving into each person and getting a glimpse of their often sad lives. Wilder manages to tell a complete life story in very few words which was pretty much amazing.

And then the end happens. Our dear Brother Juniper publishes his stories and is persecuted for his truths which land somewhere outside of religious doctrine. He’s basically executed, I think – if I read that part right, haha. The last few paragraphs border a teensy bit on the cheesy and saccharine as the story very obviously becomes a moral fable, but I honestly didn’t mind. Tony Blair actually read the last few sentences at the memorial service for British citizens killed in the 9/11 attacks. And I think Wilder’s novel remains truly relevant in the face of even modern tragedies and can offer a sense of solace even if these huge questions don’t always have the most satisfying of answers.

So glad I read this and highly recommend. It’s on TIME‘s list of 100 best novels, and I think it deserves the spot. Only takes a couple of hours to get through but will stay with you much longer!

Mondays with Brooke: A Very Buffy Rewatch

Buffy1bI watched Buffy on and off when it originally aired depending on whether I had the channel it was broadcast on. The show started in Spring 1997 when the Scooby gang were sophomores in high school, and I was finishing up my 7th grade year. So they were three years ahead of me and my heroes. My second watch was in 2007 when I was still in college. A lot has changed in those six years, and my newest rewatch has me filled with new observations.

What hasn’t changed is how much I adore the show. The writing is just phenomenal. The special effects and makeup design are also award worthy, particularly for nineties teenage genre shows. Joss Whedon won my heart with Buffy and rewins it every stinkin’ time I watch the first few seasons. I would join Joss’s cult. Truth.

I’m only currently about a third of the way through season three, but I’m having so many feelings that I wanted to get them out before I forget about them. The reasons I love the show have definitely altered since 2007 in really fascinating ways (at least to me). Traditionally, the first three seasons (mostly two and three) have always been my favorite so I think this is a good time to pause and reflect.

Initially, teenage Brooke loved Buffy best. She was my favorite character because she’s who I wanted to be. She managed to be a normal girl who could also save the world time and time again. Ordinary wrapped in extraordinary. Buffy faces all the normal challenges of adolescence and fails in those challenges as often as she wins. But then she would kick a vamp’s ass and be awesome.

If Buffy was who I wanted to be, Willow was who I was. She was smart, nerdy, shy, and super awkward with boys. Pretty much my own high school years in a nutshell. I felt like I was seeing a version of myself on the screen. Despite the fact that Willow didn’t have super powers, she was still amazingly gifted and managed to help Buffy out loads of times with the skills she did have.

Interestingly, adult Brooke loves Xander best. And I’m not even sure why. His wit, charm, and floundering are all endearing to me as I head out of my twenties. Xander is always the most loyal and perhaps even most moral character. He’s also the most directionless which is how most of my later twenties have felt – at least professionally. He proves that even a normal person without super inspiring ambitions can be happy, healthy, and pivotal to society. My ambitions since graduating college have definitely fallen, and now I just strive to find my own version of happiness and to help those most important to me. Everything else be damned. Xander gives me the courage to continue on this path.

Another observation that smacked me across the face is how Buffy is my Harry Potter. Seriously, so many parallels – chosen one, child saving the world from evil, trusty sidekicks, and really the list goes on and on. I’ve always been so sad that I didn’t really have HP growing up (They were published during Buffy’s time, but I didn’t read them), but now I realize I did! I hope all young people find something or someone so inspirational – it makes all the difference really.

And finally, the epic love that is Buffy and Angel is no longer my OTP. I still love them and think they have epic (although rather instant) love. But Angel (as one of my all tme favorite characters ever – but mostly in his own show) is far more interesting without Buffy making him lovesick. In season two, Angel really came into his own as Angelus. Evil Angel kicked ass. As for Buffy, I don’t really ship her with anyone she met on the show. I prefer to think she kept on kicking ass until someone equally strong and reliable came into the picture. But if that never happened, cool beans – Buffy doesn’t need a man.

So those are my current thoughts. I’m sure I’ll have more as the seasons continue and once I start Angel. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Angel/Cordelia dynamic so I’m looking forward to seeing how I react now. I think rewatching these shows on the cusp of turning thirty is kind of poignant in a very geeky way. Sentences like that make me love my life!

But mostly, thank you Joss Whedon! You helped get me through middle and high school. And you’re continuing to help me succeed into adulthood. Which is why I will see everything you produce even if nothing will ever replace BtVS as my favorite.