Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

I just finished reading Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier yesterday afternoon. I found myself unable to stop reading it until the conclusion. I thought it was an excellent novel.

Thirteen Moons tells the story of one Will Cooper. The novel starts with Will as an old man looking back over his life beginning with being sold into indentured servitude at an Indian Trading Post in the frontier of North Carolina. Will strikes up a relationship with the Indian Chief Bear, and eventually becomes his adopted son. Over his colorful life he becomes a successful mercantile owner, white Indian Chief, a lawyer, and a senator.

I think the two greatest points of the book were the description of the Trail of Tears and Will's lifelong love for Claire Featherstone. Will and Bear try everything to keep a piece of their homeland and not have to move West. The story really put a face on the Trail of Tears for me with it's description of the ruthless pursuit of the Indians who would not pick up stacks and move away from the only home they had every known. I was very disturbed.

I liked the love story between Claire and Will, but I was disappointed in it's conclusion . . . I won't say more and ruin it for those who want to read it! I did like how Claire was Will's one true love, passion, and muse throughout his life.

Thirteen Moons is not a quick and easy read. Like Cold Mountain before it, it is a novel to be read and savored at a more leisurely pace. The description in the novel is unparalled, especially the food. I could envision myself on Will Cooper's travels, especially eating one of his delectable campfire meals. If you would like a great American novel that describes one man's journey through the events that shaped our country, Thirteen Moons is for you!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Miami Vice

Now that Ben and I are parents, we sadly don't go to the movie theatre any more. We used to go to the movies all of the time, but those days are gone. There is no Blockbuster Video in Kewaunee, but there is a library. You can check movies out for free at the library, which is great if you are cheap like me. The only problem is that you have to be on a long waiting list for new movies, and then they may all come at once!

We watched Miami Vice over the weekend and it was an okay movie. I think I had very high expectations because I knew it was another Michael Mann film and I loved the movie Collateral. This move never reaches the height of being a great movie like Collateral, but it is still very entertaining. I don't remember much from the original series as I was a youngster back in the 80's. Mostly I remember pastel suits and the theme song.

This movie is not pastel - it is mostly a dark cop movie about a sting operation to thwart drug runners. Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) and Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) are undercover cops in Miami transporting drug loads into Florida to try to identify and take down a giant crime ring that is responsible for three murders.

I thought Jamie Foxx was excellent as always - I just wish there would have been more focus on his story in the movie. The movie seemed to focus more on Sonny Crockett's affair with the girlfriend of the top drug guy. That is really where I think the movie veared into only being okay. Colin Farrell and Gong Li (Isabella) did not have believable chemistry. Some onscreen couples have it and others don't . . . and they definitely didn't. It also didn't help that Colin Farrell was sporting a very un-sexy handle bar mustache with a dot of hair under his lip. With so much of the movie hinging on their affair and it not quite working, it made the movie not quite as good.

Otherwise the action and Ricardo Tubbs story line were pretty good. I would watch it again if it were on TV, but I wouldn't buy it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Battlestar Galactica

I've seen the look before . . . glazed eyes and a look away, a brief nod, and then a change of subject. This is the usual reaction when someone asks me what my favorite show is and I respond with an enthusiastic "Battlestar Galactica!!!" I can tell from their response that they are thinking "NERD!"

Battlestar Galactica is more than a geek fest - it is quite simply, the best show on television. With fantastic writing, directing, and acting, the show covers today's current troubled times better than any other show I've seen. It is because of it being science fiction - they are able to cover topics that other shows on network television would not be able to touch with a ten foot pole.

For those who don't know, Battlestar Galactica tells the story of a "rag tag" fleet of human survivors fleeing the destruction of their twelve planets or colonies of Kobel by the Cylons. Cylons are robots that were created by the humans at some point in the past, rebelled, and after a war were at a truce with the humans. Unbeknowst to the humans, they evolved during this truce and twelve of the models are now in humanoid form (five of the models are unknown to use at this point). The humans are fleeing from the Cylons and trying to find the thirteenth colony, the "mythical" planet of earth.

Battlestar Galactica is not a "typical" science fiction show, if indeed there is a typical. It does not center on an "alien of the week" plot. It is a character driven show that as Ben says is typified by "shades of grey." If you are looking to say the humans are all good, and the cylons are all bad, you won't find it on this version of Battlestar Galactica. The humans have their many points of evil or troubled times; prisoner torture scandels, rigged elections, suicide bombers, etc., while many of the cylons are sympathetic characters; one has married a human and has a baby; another is trying to find god and the meaning of the life; another was a victim of torture, etc. The show is also a serial with a running plot line. This makes it a bit harder to get involved with, but it is worth the effort!

Ben and I love it, and one great thing about it is it's consistancy at remaining a great show. While other shows that have been on for the same length of time (Lost, Desperate Housewives) have faltered in their storytelling, Battlestar has remained a powerhouse in riviting tales and relevancy to today's world.

As for those skeptics who refuse to watch the show, I had almost the same reaction myself when first learning about Battlestar coming back as a miniseries. Ben kept trying to get me to watch it, and I kept putting it off. Memories of the 1970's cheesy show (I did like it as a kid) did not have me too enthused about a new version. Once I watched the mini-series - I was hooked and really excited about the new series on the sci-fi station that it spawned.

There are two kinds of skeptics I run into. One won't give the show a chance purely based on the title and the fact that it's science fiction. Throw down your snobbery I say! You will never grow in this life if you base everything on what you "think" it's going to be about without actually watching something and forming your own opinion. The second kind of skeptic, that includes my own father, is the skeptic who is a science fiction fan, but loved the 1970's version and can not deal with the fact that certain changes have been made for the new version. "Starbuck is a woman!" they cry. Get over it!! This is a whole new show are really quite good. If you love the 1970's version, there is no reason why you can't love this as its own new separate show.

If you have never seen the show before, I heartily recommend that you give it a chance and check it out this Sunday on the Scifi station (10/9 central). If you don't have cable, you can download episodes to watch at or for purchase at itunes.

Also of interest, Time Magazine named Battlestar Galactica the best show of 2005. The article and link are below.,8599,1141640,00.html

"Most of you probably think this entry has got to be a joke. The rest of you have actually watched the show. Adapted from a cheesy '70s Star Wars clone of the same name, Galactica (returning in January) is a ripping sci-fi allegory of the war on terror, complete with religious fundamentalists (here, genocidal robots called Cylons), sleeper cells, civil-liberties crackdowns and even a prisoner-torture scandal. The basic-cable budget sometimes shows in the production, but the writing and performances are first-class, especially Edward James Olmos as the noble but authoritarian commander in charge of saving the last remnants of humanity. Laugh if you want, but this story of enemies within is dead serious, and seriously good."

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

I read this book at the beginning of January and enjoyed it. I LOVE historical fiction (if you can't already tell) and this novel is set during the reign of King Henry VIII. I find this time period in English history to be fascinating and love to read about it and watch any movies, documentaries, mini-series, etc. that come my way - much to Ben's dismay!

This novel is told from three different prespectives; by Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry; by Katherine Howard the fifth wife of Henry (and cousin to Anne Boleyn); and by Lady Jane Rochford the wife of executed George Bolyen, Anne Bolyen's brother. I liked the three prespectives - especially since they are three tales that are not as well known as those of Anne Bolyen, Jane Seymour, and Catherine of Aragon. This novel is a good continuation of the story told in The Other Bolyen Girl, but it is also its own stand alone novel.

I liked how the novel told the story of Anne being a strong woman in her own right. You always hear about how she "disgusted" Henry and he had to try to find a way to divorce her, but I can definitely believe in the novel's point of view that she had to be a smart and crafty woman to be able to survive during that time. Otherwise - it would have been off with her head like so many other of Henry's wives.

Unfortunately, one of those wives was Katherine Howard. The novel does a good job of showing Katherine as a silly teenager - as that's what she was! She was only fifteen when a much older Henry married her. The novel puts a modern sensibility to her so it is easy to understand her and imagine her in today's terms. At first she annoyed me for being so silly, but by the end I was crying at her execution. I'm assuming everyone knows their history and that she was executed - so hopefully I'm not ruining it for anyone! She was a young and silly girl and it just amazed me that someone could have the power to end her life for the sake of their vanity.

Jane Rochford's story was interesting too. The novel did a great job of fleshing out a one-dimensional minor character from The Other Bolyen Girl. It was nice to get her side of things as I've always wondered what kind of a woman she could be after the things she did (I won't give that away!).

Overall this book really gave me a sense of how scary it would have been to live in England during Henry VIII's time. As they say - absolute power corrupts absolutely. And one of the most powerless people during that time were women. It was also interesting to me how one man could do so much to change religion - and not because he was trying to change it in a good way. It disgusted me reading about the abbys, convents, etc. that were destroyed to further enrich the King.

I would rate this book as one of Philippa Gregory's best. I enjoyed it more than The Other Boleyn Girl, The Constant Princess, and The Virgin's Lover. I would rate it the same as The Queen's Fool, which to date, I have thought of as Ms. Gregory's best novel (probably because I found it so interesting reading about the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people during this time period - disturbing!).

Let me know what you think about Ms. Gregory's novels!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

This is my December book pick - I LOVED this novel. It is mystery, Gothic romance in the style of Jane Eyre or Rebecca. If you enjoyed those novels, I highly recommend The Thirteenth Tale.

The Thirteenth Tale is the story of a young woman named Margaret Lea who is an avid reader and works in an antique book store with her father. She also publishes obscure biographys on the side, one of which is read by Britian's greatest living author, the mysterious Vida Winter. A sickly Vida contacts Margaret and hires to write her biography before she dies. Margaret travels to Vida's reclusive estate in Yorkshire . . . and the stage is set for a gothic mystery as Vida recounts her life.

I liked the descriptive story and the fact that it was a real page turner. I was super busy with work when I read this book - and it was a nice break that took me away! Let me know if you liked this book too - I think I turned off my Kewaunee book club when I mentioned the words, "gothic romance in the style of Jane Eyre and Rebecca."

Speaking of Jane Eyre, if you are a fan, Part II of the new miniseries is being aired on PBS this Sunday!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Georgette Heyer

I have heard about Georgette Heyer for years and just happened to find her books at the local Kewaunee library. Georgette Heyer wrote novels primarily in the 1940's and 1950's and is known for her rich historical research and detail.

In the past few weeks I have read Sylvester and Arabella and enjoyed both novels extremely. They are both romance stories set in the regency era - the same era that Jane Austen's novels take place in. Both novels were a light hearted romance without the gratuituos sex that is found in so many romance novels of the past thirty years or so. They were a nice, relaxing read. They reminded me of a Jane Austen type romance, but the language style was more twentieth century.

If you love Jane Austen or historical fiction in general and are looking for a good book - I highly recommend Sylvester and Arabella.

The Beginning . . .

I love to read - and to watch movies and TV when I have a chance. I'm always looking for reviews from other people about books they've read or movies they've watched for new ideas on what to read/watch myself. I started thinking yesterday, why don't I ever post my own reviews for others to read? So now I'm starting my own blog. We'll see if anyone ever reads this . . . and even if not, at least it will be a chance to write about something not engineering or baby related.