Sunday, July 15, 2012

It's Monday What Are You Reading? Round-Up of My Books & Movies in the Past 3 Weeks

It's been a while since I posted one of these updates -- as always, our lives have been eventful. Several weeks ago, a storm blew through the area, causing some casualties and leaving many people without electricity. We were very fortunate -- we were safe and didn't experience any property damage. However, we were without power for almost four days. This is a minor hardship, of course, in the grand scheme of things, and it's possible to look at a break from electrical power as an adventure. But with temperatures hovering around 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit, and with a $1000 meat share from a local farm sitting in the freezer, we were lacking in the proper pioneer spirit.

On the positive side, since lack of internet service gave me an unplanned hiatus from work, I did get some reading done that week. Most of it by candlelight. Dare I confess that once I caught my hair on fire? Yes, really.

Books Read in the Past Few Weeks: The titles of my favorites are in red.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell -- As I mentioned before, I finished this novel, several weeks ago, while I was out of town for my dad's wedding. I loved it and was excited about reviewing it, but I never got around to it.

My first reaction to the premise of this novel was skeptical -- Jesuits in space? Really? But I quickly got hooked and didn't want to put it down.

In a futuristic world, a young astronomer makes contact with an alien race. They are unable to communicate, but he picks up mysterious, beautiful music. Soon the Jesuits put together a mission to make first contact. The team that lands on this foreign planet includes four Jesuit priests -- including a linguist and a pilot -- plus an astronomer, a physician, her engineer husband, and a computer expert who was once a child prostitute. They combine their skills to survive in an unknown environment, build relationships with the natives, and discover and learn all they can. Despite their high intelligence and good intentions, their lack of knowledge of local cultures leads to a fatal mistake.

Two threads of narrative run through this story. In the first, Emilio Sandoz, one of the Jesuit priests who participated in the mission, has been returned to earth. He appears to be the sole survivor, and despite having been a moral, intelligent, and compassionate priest, he seems to have sunk into cruelty and depravity. No, this isn't a scenario lifted from The Heart of Darkness. There is much more to Emilio's story than meets the eye. The other thread begins in the past, moving forward and revealing what really happened on the ill fated mission.

The story is quite character-driven, rich in clever dialogue and intricate relationships. We become intimately involved with each of the characters. This leads into the real theme of the story: the role of faith -- and the search for God -- in people's lives. Just to be clear, this isn't a "religious book," per se. It is more philosophical. It shows a mixed group of atheists, agnostics, and believers and how they grapple with love, tragedy, the need to connect with other beings, and other challenges that make up our existence. It explores what happens when a person discovers what he believes to be a true connection with God then, when the worst happens, feels betrayed and abandoned. It also raises difficult and thought-provoking ethical questions, particularly about treatment of children in society.

Since I read this novel, I've been wanting to discuss it with somebody. But I haven't found anyone who has read it. Has anyone read The Sparrow? Is anyone interested in blogging about it together?

The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith -- I have read all the books in this series about a Botswanan detective, proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency -- they are like comfort food for me.

In this novel, Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi head to a safari camp to find a guide who was left a large sum of money by a former guest. Mma Makutsi’s fiancé, Phuti Radiphuti, suffers a debilitating accident, and when his aunt moves in to take care of him, she pushes Mma Makutsi away. And a local priest and his wife each approach Mma Ramotswe with suspicions of infidelity.

Save Me by Lisa Scottoline -- This is both a mystery/thriller and a novel about motherhood. Rose's eight-year-old daughter, Melly, has an unusual birthmark on her face which has made her the target of bullying throughout her years in school. In order to keep an eye on the situation, Rose volunteers as a lunch mom. As she tries to intervene with Amanda and her friends, who have been bullying Melly, an explosion ignites the cafeteria.

Melly is hiding in the bathroom in an effort to escape her tormentors. To rescue her, Rose must literally walk through fire. Meanwhile, Amanda is standing right in front of her calling for help. Can she turn her back on Amanda to go straight to Melly's aid?

As she's coping with the fallout from that heart-wrenching decision, Rose discovers that the explosion may have been more than a tragic freak accident. Circumstances prod her to turn amateur sleuth, and in the process, she has to face some demons from her past.

While this isn't among my favorites, I do enjoy mysteries, and I found this to be a page-turner. I think it will appeal to both mystery aficionados and readers of women's fiction.

Movies I've Watched: 

Treacle Jr. -- Sarah (MovieBuff25) wrote, in her review of this movie: "No one does slice-of-life drama and acerbic humor like the Brits, and the curiously named Treacle Jr. showcases this, as well as some damned good acting from the cast, particularly Aidan Gillen (Queer As Folk, Game Of Thrones) as Aidan."

This quirky British movie focuses on Tom, a depressed, confused man who silently abandons his wife and baby. After he is attacked by a gang of thugs in a park, he seeks medical help. At the clinic Aidan, a gregarious and somewhat simple young man, meets Tom and latches onto his laconic new acquaintance with a stream of cheery, incessant chatter.

Aidan has had a painful life, and he survives on odd jobs and is dominated by his beautiful but cruel girlfriend, Linda. However, he always seems joyful, and he tries to see the best in others. He has also found something he loves. So while Tom is definitely the more "adult" of the two, in some ways, Aidan is more grounded. The two men form a friendship of sorts and help each other survive in difficult circumstances.

This is definitely not a plot-driven movie; it is more of a character study. I loved the natural quality of the film. I felt I was watching real people going through the plodding, confused and often awkward rhythms of life. And while we didn't get much of the characters' back story -- many of the most important parts of the story are left unsaid -- somehow it is enough to draw us in and make us care about them. According to MovieBuff25: "Treacle Jr. intrigues and challenges, doing what British films do best."

Tangled -- I've watched this several times with my eight-year-old daughter. This was my third viewing of the movie but the first time I've actually paid attention. Parents may "get" what I'm saying here. :-) This animated movie has lovely graphics, and it puts an entertaining new spin on Rapunzel with an energetic, spunky heroine.


Drive -- This movie has been widely discussed in the blogiverse, and I'm not sure I have anything to add. The protagonist (Ryan Gosling), simply called "Driver," is a mechanic and stunt driver. He also moonlights as the guy who drives the getaway car after a heist. There are plenty of interesting shots of Driver traversing the streets of the city, car chases, and some graphic violence.

However, this isn't an action movie. The core of the movie is Driver's love for his neighbor, Irene, and her young son. Irene finds herself unintentionally linked to the underworld, and Driver steps in to protect them.

Throughout the movie, we hardly learn anything about Driver, yet he is one of the most unforgettable film characters I've ever seen. Alex Winthrow at And So it Begins ... stated it beautifully in his review. He wrote: "He moves slowly, speaks purposefully, and always appears to be three moves ahead.  He’s a calculating bruiser of a man.  The kind of guy who says very little, but is constantly speaking volumes."

Driver's romance with Irene is understated. Few words are ever said, and there is no physical intimacy. Yet it manages to be more powerful than most other movie romances I've seen. And it goes without saying that, as a love story, it knocks Twilight on its ass. 

One of the creators of this film said the challenge was -- loosely paraphrased -- "to create something as close to a silent film as possible." I wouldn't have expected to enjoy this spare, understated style of storytelling as much as I did. Usually I prefer a more overt approach: more back story, more character development, and more dialogue. Yet there was something perfect about this movie, as if to add any more would have diminished it somehow.

A Dangerous Method -- (link to my review here) As a history and psychology buff, this film was right up my alley. It explores the famously intellectually productive and difficult relationship between psychotherapy pioneers Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. It offers plenty of interesting historical details along with terrific acting from the three leads: Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Kiera Knightley. The presentation of psychological ideas was intriguing though extremely sketchy. 

This movie also introduced me to Sabina Spielrein, whom I'd never heard of. She was a patient and disciple of Jung and an important psychoanalytic thinker in her own right. She developed ideas which are often credited to Freud and others. She may also have been Jung's lover, and this movie took that premise and ran with it.

A survivor of what we now call child abuse, Sabina came to Jung's clinic, at the age of 18, to be treated for "hysteria." I did a bit of research after watching the movie. According to one writer, many of the symptoms of her "neurosis" would now be recognized as normal responses to severe, prolonged trauma.

Curiously, Sabina has been ignored by psychologists and historians. She was an early pioneer of child psychology and -- interestingly -- an advocate of breastfeeding. She did research on children’s speech, as part of her work on child development, and she discussed the importance of suckling at the mother’s breast.

The Conspirator -- This was an interesting account of some of the events following the U.S. Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln. It focuses on Mary Surratt, owner of a boarding house frequented by John Wilkes Booth. This movie is largely a courtroom drama, and while I thought some of the dialogue was overblown for effect -- why can't film makers present a powerful story and trust viewers to pay attention and "get it" without noisy pontificating? -- it was interesting and powerful. It also shows just how far the United States government would go to execute an innocent person.

The Conspirator might be a great springboard for discussion for homeschooling or unschooling families. (*wink*)

This movie also showcases an impressive cast, including James McAvoy as Mary Surratt's lawyer, Tom Wilkinson, and Kevin Kline. Stephen Root also gave a great performance in a small role as a tavern owner who was his "own best customer."

The Changeling -- George C. Scott starred in this well-paced ghost story with a clever, interesting twist.


Season 4 of The Big Bang Theory 

Some Favorite Quotes:

Sheldon: I am aware of the way humans usually reproduce, which is messy, unsanitary and -- based on living next to you for three years -- involves loud and unnecessary appeals to a deity.
Penny: Oh, God.
Sheldon: Yes, exactly.

Sheldon: She was girl who was my friend, and now she is a girl who is not my friend.
Penny: That has to be the worst country music song ever.

Raj: Ooh, Leonard is going all alpha nerd on Sheldon's ass!

Amy (to Penny): Thanks to you, I just made a rhesus monkey cry like a disgraced TV evangelist.

Howard: I'm saying believe in magic, you muggle!

Penny: Give my friend his stuff back.
Tod Zarnecki: I don't know what you're talking about.
Penny: Well then good news! Today's the day a girl's finally going to touch you in your little special place. *Kicks him in the groin*

Sheldon: Why hast thou forsaken me, O deity whose existence I doubt?

Reading Now:

The Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I was excited to stumble upon this new novel by the author of Let the Right One In, which was adapted into the Swedish film Let the Right One In and the American remake Let Me In, and Handling the Undead. This man is a spectacular author. He writes beautifully, with such skillful character development that even though we know horrible things will happen to these characters, we can't help being drawn into the story and caring about them, and we can't look away. He reminds me a bit of Stephen King at his best. More later on this novel.

Still On My Bedside Table: 

Blackout by Connie Willis

from Goodreads: Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.

Have you read any of the books or seen any of the movies on this list? If so, what did you think? 

If we particularly enjoyed some of the same books or films, what would you recommend I read or watch next?


  1. I gave The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell as a gift to my dad, and he enjoyed it as a fan of sci-fi ficion. All I know is there is a sequel...

    Good thing you didn't burn all your hair off! I think I too would get a lot more reading done with a power cut ( :

    Treacle Jr. looks pretty funny from the trailer,I like British comedy, thanks for the suggestion! If quirky comedies are your thing, I'd recommend Buffalo '66 (1998), my review is here:

    1. Thanks for the recommendation -- I'll definitely come over to your blog and check it out. :-) And yes, I'm glad I didn't burn all my hair off. I don't think I could pull off the Sinead O'Connor look.

  2. I just started reading Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. Pretty great so far, you should check it out.

  3. Replies
    1. I thought so too. My kids especially liked the horse who behaved like a dog.

  4. One of my childhood friends worked on the lighting effects in Tangled.

    My favorite read last week was Sweet Revenge (audio) by Diane Mott Davidson. Please come see what else I'm reading.

    1. That is very cool ... I find the movie industry fascinating. I was reading Diane Mott Davidson's series -- about Goldy Schultz -- for a while. I was really enjoying them.

  5. I loved The Double Comfort Safari Club when I read it, I love the series but it sucks that I have to wait for the new book to come out whenever.
    I hope you enjoy your books!
    Check out what I'm reading this week!

    -Kimberly @ Turning The Pages

    1. It is hard to wait for the new book in a series. :)

  6. Blackout is one of the books I would really like to get to in the near future. I'm re-reading Gatsby this week. Enjoy your books and movies!

    1. The Great Gatsby is a terrific novel -- I haven't read it since college. I may re-read it before the new movie adaptation comes out.

  7. I know exactly what you mean.. watching a movie a handful of times but not paying attention. That's how I am with pretty much anything the girls watch, heh. I liked Tangled, too.

    1. Sometimes kiddie movie time is the only time you get to "power down." :-)

  8. The Conspirator was an EXCELLENT movie. I was blown away and it was so interesting learning about that specific case. I didn't know much about it and it put such a personal spin on things. Tragic, truly tragic.

    The Brunette Librarian Blog

    1. I agree -- it was fascinating, and it really did explore the case on a personal level. And it was a horrible tragedy.

  9. Save Me looks real cute. I have been wanting to read it but it seems to stay on my tbr...

    1. I know what you mean about novels staying on your TBR list. :-)

  10. I have The Sparrow and have been meaning to read it for years - but something about the religious sci-fi premise has kept me from doing so. Very encouraging to hear that it's more philosophical in nature.

    1. If you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it -- I'd love to read your review.

  11. I love Big Bang Theory! The forsaken quote is from the episode where Sheldon's been robbed in World of Warcraft right?

    I disliked A Dangerous Method, for such an interesting subject it was a really boring movie. I loved Drive, definetly cult classic in the making.

    1. I think you're right. I think "why hast thou forsaken me" is from the episode where Sheldon's WoW account was hacked and his stuff was stolen. I love his reason for calling the police over his hacked video game account: "The FBI hung up on me." :-)

  12. Seeing as this is not just a movie blog, did you know that Drive is actually based off a book? And has a sequel?

    I really want to read them but I can't find them or the time.

    Great site, by the way, love the idea behind it.


Hello, and thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts -- reader comments make this blogging gig worthwhile. :-) Due to excessive spam, we are now moderating all comments. Like that dude in the Monty Python skit, we just Don't ... Like ... Spam. I will try to post and respond to your comments as quickly as possibly.