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Showing posts from January, 2011

book review: Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

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The backstory: Birds of a Feather is the second Maisie Dobbs mystery novel, and I'm reading the entire series as part of Book Club Girl's Read-Along. My review of Maisie Dobbs, the first novel in the series, is here.

The basics: Maisie Dobbs is back to solve another case. This case is a bit more serious than the last one: Maisie is hired to find Charlote Waite, the only daughter of a wealthy businessman, who has gone missing.

My thoughts: Birds of a Feather was more of a pure mystery than Maisie Dobbs. The reader is already familiar with Maisie and her history, and Maisie gets to solve a much more difficult (and increasingly frightening) crime. The missing person case is shrouded in mystery and Maisie is cognizant of the fact Charlotte's father came to her rather than the police. Despite the mystery being the focus of this novel, Winspear still manages to enhance Maisie's character as well as let the other minor characters shine.
Part of what makes this mystery so intrig…

Sunday Salon: Screen Actors Guild Awards!

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Well here we are dear readers, another Sunday, and another awards show I'm excited to enjoy with a few glasses of sparkling wine tonight! What sets the Screen Actors Guild apart from other shows? It is the true jury of peers. Actors vote on the best performances by actors. It can be a much bigger honor to receive the accolade's of one peers than to receive kudos from critics, and you'll see some of the more honest and emotional acceptance speeches at the SAG Awards. Plus, like the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards honor the best performances in both television and film.

Here are the nominees (with my picks and predictions; winners are in bold):

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (a.k.a Best Film):
Black Swan
The Fighter - my pick and prediction
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Robert Duvall, Get Low
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech - my pick and pr…

book review: Hamlet by Shakespeare

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The backstory: One of my 2011 reading goals is to read one Shakespeare play each month. I chose Hamlet to start. As Hamlet himself says, "let me not burst in ignorance."

The basics: Hamlet's father, the King of Denmark, dies and his mother immediately remarries his father's brother.

My thoughts: Going in, I thought I was generally familiar with the story of Hamlet and could answer basic trivia questions about its characters. I was amazed at how little of the spirit of the play I knew. I was immediately intrigued by the pace and complexity of the dialogue. It's been quite some time since I've read a play, and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it. It was easy to lose myself in the dialogue without glancing at the characters name, and despite never having seen a stage production of Hamlet, I found myself picturing one in my head.

The play itself was a relatively quick read, but I was glad to have an annotated edition to dig a little deeper into the text, both bef…

dinner and a movie: Made in Dagenham

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The backstory:Made in Dagenham is nominated for three BAFTA Awards: Outstanding British Film of the Year; Best Supporting Actress, Miranda Richardson; and Best Costume Design.

The basics: Made in Dagenham is the story of the striking female machinists at the Ford factory in Dagenham, England in 1968.

My thoughts: I'm a huge fan of films about both women's rights and social justice, and I admit to tearing up during the trailer for this film. Made in Dagenham delivers exactly what it promises: an inspiring story, intelligent laughs, period fashion and accents that are difficult to understand at times. The story of these women is indeed extraordinary, but the film never veered over the top. It was true to its time and honestly portrayed the distinctions between doing what's easy and being an agent of change.

Sally Hawkins is dynamite as the strike's unlikely leader, Rita. I give credit to her and Nigel Cole, the film's director, for honestly portraying her as nervous an…

book review: Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

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The backstory: Fugitive Pieces won the Orange Prize in 1997.

The basics:  My library catalog had a better summary than I could write: "It is the story of World War II as remembered and imagined by one of its survivors: a poet named Jakob Beer, traumatically orphaned as a young child and smuggled out of Poland, first to a Greek island (where he will return as an adult), and later to Toronto. It is the story of how, over his lifetime, Jakob learns the power of language--to destroy, to omit, to obliterate, but also to restore and to conjure, witness and tell--as he comes to understand and experience what was lost to him and of what is possible for him to regain."

My thoughts: Fugitive Pieces is the tale of two reading experiences for me. While I was reading it, I was captivated by the language. It's clear Anne Michaels is a poet: "a place so empty it was not even haunted." (p. 61) I wrote down pages and pages of passages. I would mutter "wow," frequently a…

Waiting on Wednesday: The First Husband by Laura Dave

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Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight an upcoming release we can't wait to read.

Laura Dave is one of my absolute favorite authors. I was a huge fan of London is the Best City in America (my review), which is one of my all-time favorite book titles, and The Divorce Party (my review). When I discovered her books in 2008, I read them both in the same month and have been eager for her next novel ever since. Finally, The First Husband has both a cover and a release date (May 12, 2011). Here's how the publisher describes The First Husband in their catalog:
Annie Adams is days away from her thirty-second birthday and thinks she has finally found happiness. She visits the world's most interesting places for her syndicated travel column and she's happily cohabitating with her movie director boyfriend Nick in Los Angeles. But when Nick comes home from a meeting with his therapist (aka "futures counselor") and announces that he'…

book review: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

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The backstory:The History of Love was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2002. Nicole Krauss is also one of The New Yorker's20 Under 40.

The basics: Told in alternating narratives, The History of Love is the tale of two people: Leo, a Polish refugee living in New York who longs for his lost love, Alma and the lost novel he wrote about her, The History of Love; and another Alma, this one a teenager who was named after the Alma in the novel who is on a quest to find her namesake.

My thoughts: When I read Great House (my review) last fall and was underwhelmed with the story, many trusted friends told me I should read The History of Love because it had the same great writing with a much better story. Granted, my expectations were high because I utterly adored Krauss's writing in Great House, but I didn't love The History of Love either.

There were some beautiful passages:
There were other refugees around him experiencing the same fears and helplessness, but Litvinoff didn't…

movie review: True Grit

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The backstory: True Grit is nominated for two Screen Actors Guild Awards: Best  Supporting Actress, Hailee Steinfeld, and Best Actor, Jeff Bridges.

The basics: Based on the novel by Charles Portis, True Grit, is not a remake of the John Wayne version of the film. It is a new adaptation and true to the gritty roots of westerns. Young Mattie Ross ventures to the big city to claim her father's body and vows to get vengeance from the man who murdered him.

My thoughts: I used to freely admit I didn't like westerns. I thought they were outdated and sexist. After seeing True Grit, I'm woman enough to admit it: I like westerns. True Grit is a delightful mix of modern and classic. Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation. Yes, she is just as bad-ass as she appears in the ads, but the true beauty of her performance are the times she shows her fear and vulnerability. She is fourteen, and she looks fourteen, she mostly doesn't act fourteen. Her courage is admirable, as well as somewhat reck…

Sunday Salon: New York State Writers Institute

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Confession: When I was offered a job to stay in Albany this semester, I was thrilled for many reasons, both personally and professionally. As a book nerd, however, there was one reason I was most excited to stay in Albany was to have another semester of New York State Writers Institute Visiting Writers events to attend. Then, they actually announced the slate of writers coming to Albany this spring: Julie Orringer, Karen Russell, Gary Shteyngart, Susan Choi and Maureen Dowd. Seriously.


Thursday, February 10, 2011: Julie Orringer and Karen Russell
I've been intending to read Julie Orringer's debut novel (she had a collection of short stories, How to Breathe Underwater, published in 2004) since it was published last May. I even pre-ordered it on my Kindle. Karen Russell's debut novel, Swamplandia! is one of the most anticipated releases of spring (she also has a short story collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves). She's also one of The New Yorker's…

graphic novel review: French Milk by Lucy Knisley

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The basics: French Milk is the story of the month Lucy and her mother spent in Paris celebrating their 22nd and 50th birthdays, respectively. Lucy is an aspiring cartoonist, and she publishes her diary, which is essentially a graphic memoir.

My thoughts: I knew French Milk was a memoir when I started reading it, but I didn't realize it was in diary form. Perhaps some changes were made between its original writing and its subsequent publication, but there is a beautiful, raw honesty present that makes me think it is authentic. In many ways, Lucy is a typical 22-year-old. She misses her boyfriend. She gets homesick. She gets her period and gets really cranky. It's not an idyllic portrait of a vacation, and I love it even more for that. Knisley doesn't sugarcoat the parts of travel that are unfortunate.

Part of my enjoyment of this book is incredibly personal. I spent a month in 2004 (the year Lucy and her mother went to Paris) in France, Italy and Greece. It was one of the mo…