Saturday, March 31, 2007

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

I finished this book too late at night (especially given that I had to get up the next day early to get ready for the ASCE conference), but it was so good I couldn't put it down.

This book is set in China during the 19th century in the rural Hunan county. It tells the story of a young girl named Lily, who is the daughter of local farmers that rent their land, and her friendship with a girl named Snow Flower, who is the grand daughter of an Imperial Scholar. The story is told by Lily as an eighty-year old woman looking back at her life starting from girl hood until she is an old woman.

The customs of Hunan County in China were interesting to read about. I was more than a bit disturbed by the very realistic description of the foot binding custom. I can't imagine why people would ever put young girls through such torture, and how that could have been beautiful. Maybe that is what future generations will think about plastic surgery today! The book also told about the details of arranged marriages and the customs followed for those.

The center of the story though is the custom of "laotong" or "old same," which is the pairing of young seven year old girls in an emotional match that is supposed to last a lifetime. This pairing is supposed to be even stronger than marriage. Lily and Snow Flower are paired at a young age as their "eight characters" match up. They help each other get ready for marriage and have a strong relationship afterwards. They communicate through the use of nu shu, which is a secret Chinese language for women that men can not read. The fan of the title is a fan that Snow Flower original gave Lily at the start of their friendship that they write the important events of their life on.

Although Lily made me angry at times with her misunderstandings, I loved this book and thought it was excellent. It gave a fascinating portrait of Chinese rural life, but more than that, it gave a fascinating portrait of a friendship. I highly recommend to anyone that likes to read historical fiction or about bonds between women. It would make an excellent book club discussion book.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Robots of Dawn by Issac Asimov

I finished The Robots of Dawn at the beginning of this week, but haven't had a chance to write about it yet! Ben loves Isaac Asimov and I've been slowly trying to work my way through the robot books. Next it will be on to Empire and then the Foundation series, which is really what I want to read! :-)

It took me a long time to read Robots of Dawn. It's a 400 page book, but it took me a good two weeks. The beginning was really dry and hard to get in to. Which is a shame because the last 1/3 of the book was actually exciting and good. Asimov really needed to trim it down or have an editor that could tell him that pages about how Baily wants to invent the word "roboticide" is really boring. Also endless description of Baily using the bathroom and how men don't talk to each other in the bathroom is also boring. I could go on, but I'm sure you've got the idea!!

This novel concerns our heroes Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw in their third mystery together. Daneel is a humanode robot (like Data on Star Trek) and Baley is a detective on earth. Together they travel to the planet Aurora to investigate a case of roboticide. Han Fastolfe, a gifted roboticist, is the only person who has the knowledge to cause the humanoid robot, Jander, to malfunction, but Baley must prove him innocent as the murder and murderer are tied in with a power struggle on the planet for who will be the next interstellar pioneers (earthmen or humanoid robots). Although Baley and Daneel are both billed as the stars of the novel, it's really all about Baley.

One line in the book made me actually put it down and read another before I could start it again.

"Jehoshaphat," he whispered.

"I knew that when I met you again, Elijah, that would be the first word I would hear."

That made me groan at the cheesiness of it all (I'm already annoyed as how often Baley does say Jehoshapat) and I was ready to give it up. I'm glad I finished it though as the last 1/3 or 1/2 was actually good.

Right after the cheesy line, there was a another awkward section that was just strange to me. Gladia came from the previous novel and is from the planet Solaria. On that plant there are a lot of robots and the humans do not touch each other and sex is something they do not talk about. Gladia tells Baley about how his touch on her face in the last book gave her an orgasm and goes on to talk about sex with the murdered robot Jandar. The whole section seemed odd. I couldn't imagine a normal woman having such a conversation, let alone one that was raised against such things.

After this book, I've come to believe that believe that Asimov is a much better short story author than a book author. In his stories he is to the point, but his novels contain a lot of filler. Any one out their an Asimov fan who wants to prove me wrong?

New Oprah Book Club Selection

Oprah's New Book Is Here!

Set against the ashes of a devastated America, The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a powerful story about a father and his young son on a journey of survival. "I really feel passionately about our new book club selection," Oprah says. "It's haunting and inspiring and I promise you you'll be thinking about it long after you finish the final page."

BSG - The Finale

Holy Frack! That was quite some finale with a lot of new things thrown at us. I think it was not quite as good of a finale as Season 1 or Season 2, but it was still good.

Spoilers ahead.

Starbuck is back!!! In the very last scene, Apollo goes to check out a bogey and it is Starbuck. She tells him that it is really her and she's been to earth and it back to lead them there. Then while "Along the Watchtower" plays in the background, the it all zooms through galaxy and space to show earth. It really makes me wonder where they are going to take it next year. It make me nervous though - what kind of earth are they going to find?

Another plot development that could be taken as good or bad is that four of the final five cylons have been shown and they are shocking! It was Chief Tyrol, Sam Anders, Colonel Tigh, and some lady that is the president's assistant. The red shirt president's assistant and Sam I could see and had guessed at a few episodes ago. I really didn't want Chief to be! And Colonel Tigh baffles me as he has a back history - Adama has known him for 40 years. How can he be a Cylon? I am really confused!! I keep reading in interviews that these cylons will be different then anything we've known before so I really want to see where this all leading. And there are so many good stories that can lead off of this. Colonel Tigh murdered his wife Ellen for colloborating with the Cylons and now he finds out he is one!!! Chief's wife Callie is a avid Cyclon hater and I guess that makes their son another hybrid. With Starbuck back, how are things going to work out with her and Cylon Sam? And who is the fifth Cylon? Is is the President? Is it Starbuck? Someone else?? What are your thoughts?

The trial of Gaius Balter also ended with a not guilty vote. I liked the trial, but did not like how Lee was up on the witness stand spouting off on his ideals. That should have been in the closing statements.

It was quite the packed finale. My greatest disappointment is that Battlestar is not coming back until January 2008. What were they thinking??? :-( I can't wait until it's back!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Barbie in the Twelve Dancing Princesses

Jenn got me this movie for my birthday because the Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my favorite fairy tales. It was a pretty good animated movie with a spunky heroine, evil villianess, and a cute hero. Most of the original fairy tale was still in the movie, except for the twelve dancing princes that the princesses were supposed to be dancing the night away with. It's not so exciting when they dance with statues that look like statues:-)

Kile said the only thing a boy liked about the movie was the kitty cat, evil monkey, and parrot. He was stop and watch whenever they were on the screen. :-)

It's a good movie for little girls or for the little girl in all of us:-)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Prestige

Ben and I watched The Prestige last night. I liked it, but Ben is still thinking about it. It is a movie that makes you keep wondering about different plot elements.

The movie is about two rival magicians, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman). They start off as friends and fellow magician's assistants to an old magician. Unfortunately something goes very wrong with the main trick of the old magician and the two friends become rivals.

The movie is a multi-layered flashback that is very interesting. Most of the story is both magicians trying to get back at one another and Angier trying to learn how Borden does his top trick "The Transporting Man." I figured out one "mystery" of the story early on, but I still enjoyed it.

A sci-fi element of the story is added in the third act. I can't describe it or it will give the movie away! I thought it was an interesting, but disturbing addition. I'd like to talk to others who have seen the movie to think what they thought of it. I liked it - but I like disturbing twists to movies!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers

Ben and I watched Flags of Our Fathers on my birthday. I thought it was an excellent movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

The movie told the tail of the men who raised the iconic flag on Iwo Jima. It is based on a novel by James Bradley who was telling the tale of his father John "Doc" Bradley who was a navy medic and one of the men who raised the flag.

It was a complex movie. It told the tale of the invasion of Iwo Jima under brutal conditions. The island had been bombed to heck "without as much as a blade of grass" remaining on the surface. The Japanese had built a complex system of underground fortifications and were not going to live easily. The American soilders were delivered to the beach and had to fight there way foot by foot through the island. I can't imagine having to live through such horrifying conditions.

The flag raising was almost anti-climatic, especially when you learn that the iconic picture was taken of the "replacement flag" that went up so a politician could have the real flag. No one was really paying attention when this flag went up. The picture becomes a war-time symbol of hope to the American people and the three surviving flag raisers (John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes) are shipped home to lead much needed war time bond drives. The men are conflicted about their role on Iwo Jima and how they aren't really heroes, just heroes constructed by the media. I was especially rivated by Ira Hayes tale and disturbed by the racist treatment he received as a Native American.

I was a bit confused through the movie though trying to keep up with who all of the different characters were that they were talking about. It would have been nice to give a bit more background on the flag raisers.

Overall it was an excellent film though and I can't wait to see Letters from Iwo Jima when it comes out on DVD!

Master of Swords by Angela Knight

Jenn passed this book on to me and I thought I needed a quick reading interlude. I'm reading one of Ben's Isaac Asimov books right now and it was annoying me so I had to put it away for a bit!

This romance novel was very unique - and had many of my favorite story elements. It had Knights of the Round Table, Vampires, Magic, Dragons, and romance. The overall story is that Arthur and the Knights of the round table became immortal vampires after drinking from Merlin's grail. They live in a magical universe and come back to ours to help human kind through a portal. Gawain must mentor Lark (Mortal who becomes immortal at the beginning of this book who is also the great-granddaughter of Tristan) to help defeat a band of evil vampires that are terrorizing Earth.

There is a review at the beginning of the book that pretty much sums it up for me "A powerful romantic suspece and sensuous tale all rolled into one alluring an explosive package. . . twists and turns, fairies, vampires and sex hot enough to burn" Romance Reviews today.

I enjoyed it. If you are looking for a unique romance novel that delves into the fantasy genre - I recommend Master of Swords!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Superman Returns

Ben and I watched Superman Returns over the weekend and both were not too impressed. It was an okay movie - maybe two stars out of four. Our biggest complaint is that the end really seemed to drag on. It seemed to be about half an hour too long! It should have been a two-hour movie, and not a two and a half hour movie. Also overall it didn't really excite us or make us care about the characters.

Also the beginning really annoyed me. I thought the whole launching a space shuttle from the back of a 747 full of passengers seemed highly unrealistic. I tried to suspend my disbelief for a while, but the whole no back-up for the locking mechanism, etc. just annoyed me.

To give you some background, while I like Superman, I am not a fanatic - so don't hate me for my review! :-) I watched the movies as a kid and loved them. I rewatched I and II a year and a half ago when I was down and out with morning sickness and felt reinspired by Superman. I liked the League of Justice cartoons as a kid too. While I've seen Smallville, I don't watch it regularly and I don't read the comics. So I guess I'm just judging the movie on a movie basis and not on they mythology of Superman basis.

Other complaints about the movie were that while Brandon Routh looks the part, he doesn't seem to add the personality to the part like Christopher Reeve did. Ditto to Kate Bosworth - she is not the bright personality that Margot Kiddor was as Lois Lane. I did like Kevin Spacey's Lex Luther. I also liked James Marsden's character, Richard, who is Lois' fiance. Off the bat you want to hate him as he stands between Superman and Lois, but he really added a depth to the story by being a likeable guy that you don't want Lois to leave. It shows that Lois has moved on. I feel kind of sad that James Marsden is always the third wheel (Cyclops in X-men).

The special effects annoyed me. It seemed too computer graphic at times. It seems like directors are moving more and more toward this and I think it looks really fake. Strangely old fashioned special effects on older movies look better!!

The overall plot is that Superman has returned to earth after an abscense of five years (he was off searching for Krypton). When he returns, he learns that Lois is engaged to another man and has a . . . five year old child (who's the daddy?). Lex Luther has been released from prison as Superman wasn't there to testify. He has a new plan to destroy North America and only Superman can stop him!!

I thought the best parts of the movie were with the Lois/Richard/Superman and Superson dynamics although they got old at the end.

I was really looking forward to this as I LOVED Bryan Singer's X-men and X-men II movies (did not like the third after he left). I'm still holding out hope that if he does another Superman movie, it will be better.

Am I being too harsh? Does anyone have a good defense for this movie?

Marie Antoinette

I've been on hiatus from my blog as I wrote a review for Marie Antoinette last week only to have it deleted when I tried to post it. I've been bitter ever since and needed some time to collect myself:-)

I watched Marie Antoinette in pieces last week while folding laundry. It was an okay movie, perhaps 2.5 stars out of 4. I need my own rating system!

The movie told of the story of Marie Antoinette from her engagement to Louis XVI and arrival in France, to her departure from Versaille with the revolutionaries. Overall I felt very sorry for Marie Antoinette. She had NO time for herself as the movie made clear. She had to be dressed by a whole room full of women, eat in front of the masses, give birth in front of everyone . . . etc.! Also her private bedroom life with her husband (or lack of one) was talk for everyone including her mother and brother. I can't imagine my Mom writing me a letter to tell me I need to get a move on in the bedroom department! :-)

Although she was very much in the public eye, she lead a very sheltered existence from the outside world. Even though she played at being a peasant with her chateau, she had no understanding of the trials and tribulations of the common man, which lead in a way to her demise.

I could understand director Sofia Coppola creating a movie to cast Marie Antoinette trying to live life like a rock star - in the public eye, sheltered exclusive existence, it all makes sense. But yet, the rock music with the 18th century costumes and person just seem jarring to me. And the people talking in modern slang also seemed jarring at times.

The movie was told in in short pieces that were often separated by many years with no narrative thread to link them. You also have no idea what Marie Antoinette is thinking. It would have been nice to have her thoughts - more along the lines of the scene were she bursts into tears in her bedroom after her sister-in-law gives birth. You could see the longing she had for her own child. Many other times, I wasn't sure of her motivation.

The costumes, scenary, and overall cinematography were beautiful. I can see why the costumes won the Oscar!

The movie made me understand Marie Antoinette more as a mother. I wish there would have been more to the movie on what happened after they left Versailles. I know they die, but Marie was supposedly very stronge and brave during captivity. I wanted to change history when I wrote it - flee to Austria I wanted to scream at Louis and Marie. Don't stay at Versailles!! :-)

Overall the movie was interesting and worth watching once. I don't know if I need to see it again.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Shopaholic & Baby by Sophie Kinsella

Laura Hivala introduced me to the Shopaholic series a couple of years ago. I love them! They are fluffy chic lit novels that are very funny (this book made me laugh out loud more than a few times). I started reading them when I was dead to the world with morning sickness when I was pregnant with Kile. They were very entertaining. Now I look forward to every new Sophie Kinsella book with pleasure. My only complaint is that I wish there were more of them!

This book is the fifth book in the Shopaholic series. I would recommend reading the first four novels before you get to this one. Becky Brandon is pregnant with her and Luke's "honeymoon" baby. And with a new baby on the way, it gives Becky plenty of new things to shop for. The great humor in her shopping is how she always finds a way to justify each purchase no matter what. Becky's source of angst in this novel is that she has a new OB doctor that also treats celebrities, but was also Luke's ex-girlfriend. Is her doctor making the moves on Luke now?

Becky may be a bit fluffy with all of her shopping, but she has learned to use her shopping smarts to her advantage. Her job is as a personal shopper in high end stores and she is able to save the day at her new job by knowing just how to make people flock to the store.

The other thing I love about these novels is the greatly developed secondary character's like Becky's parents and her best friend Suze.

If you are looking for a funny, light read, I highly recommend the Shopaholic series. This book was better than the last I thought and was very entertaining and a fast read (I read it on the car ride to Minnesota last Friday).

BSG - Maelstrom

Ben and I are a week behind on BSG so we just watched Maelstrom yesterday. I must say, even though I had read the internet rumors about Starbuck's death, I didn't believe them. To see Starbuck's ship blow up was devistating! Especially after the build-up of her having a "special destiny" to see her just commit suicide seemed very anti-climatic.

I don't think she is dead. At first I thought, maybe she is a cylon. But then I thought, she had a mother and an entire past so that does not seem feasible. My seond thought was that she is a hydrid and that's why her Mom didn't like her. Her Mom was part of the cylon wars, perhaps she was captured and impregnated. But it seems like that would be way too long ago since they are excited about Hera being the first hybrid. My theory last night was that she has gone on to another plane of existance and will return just like Daniel Jackson in Stargate:-)

I read some online chatter and saw a theory that she ejected and was picked up by a Cylon Raider. Check out the link to a picture showing three ships. That seems like a cool theory to me.

Does anyone else have a good theory? I really hope she is not really dead - she's my favorite character on the show!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson is an excellent book. It is a non-fiction book that reads like fiction. It tells two dueling, but interconnected tales. One is about Marconi and his invention of the wireless telegraph, and the other story is about Dr. H. H. Crippen, the "London Cellar Murderer." The murder involved in this novel is the "second most famous in England."

Larson writes with vivid detail about Edwardian England (1900-1910) - one almost believes you are there. Marconi's story involves his trials and tribulations with inventing the wireless and making it work. Especially among skeptical scientists in England who did not like his trial Edison method approach to invention. Marconi's greatest feat was trying to get a wireless signal sent across the Atlantic ocean. It also describes Marconi's personal life - and he did not seem like a very likeable fellow.

Crippen's story gives the background to his life, his tragic first marriage, and his second marriage to the fiery Cora. While Crippen is a meek, likeable fellow, Cora is very demanding and runs all over Crippen. Life continues like this until Crippen meets the woman of his dreams. . .

One very interesting detail for me is the Crippen is from Coldwater, Michigan. I was stunned to read this on page 29. I had no idea!! I guess I can understand why Coldwater might not be proud to have a famous murderer from it. I enjoyed reading the few pages about Coldwater and Branch County's past. Who knew it was a Methodist and Spritualist haven in the 1800's! There was also a musical about Crippen that played in London in the 1960's that had a song called "Coldwater, Michigan." :-) Larson thanks the Coldwater Library at the end of the book as he did his research on Crippen's early life there. It seemed surreal to me that Erik Larson, an author who I greatly enjoy, was at the Coldwater library, a place I loved to hang out at when I was a youth. It's a small world!

I received this book for Christmas from my brother-in-law, and it was also my book club's selection for this month. I think it will give us plenty to talk about during our meeting next week!

I also read Larson's book The Devil in the White City two years ago. It was also an excellent book and I think it is still my favorite of the two. Mostly because H. H. Holmes was such an evil, almost unbelievable person that I found fascinating to read about and the construction of the Chicago's world fair was so interesting - especially reading it as an engineer.

If you haven't read Erik Larson yet, I highly recommend him. Both books are great, but if you can only read one, I'd read The Devil in the White City.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Robin Hood

There is a new Robin Hood series that is being aired on BBC America on Saturday nights. I LOVE Robin Hood in general - even the Kevin Costner one. I just watched the show yesterday (had recorded it on the DVR) and thought it was pretty entertaining.

Strangely, my favorite person on it is Guy of Gisborne - someone I don't usually like. In this version, he is played by Richard Armitage, who was the hero in the Elizabeth Gaskell North and South series. He's pretty sexy. I found myself rooting for him instead of Robin Hood.

That's not to say that Robin Hood isn't a likeable fellow. I enjoy watching him - especially his interactions with Marian who is quite the fiesty herione.

It's also funny that there veiled references to the Iraq war through their talk about the war in Palestine. Robin Hood is just returning from that Middle Eastern conflict.

If you are looking for something new to watch - check out Robin Hood. The first show was last Saturday so you might be able to catch a repeat before the second show airs this Saturday.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston

I finished reading Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston yesterday. I have also read Winston's novel Good Grief, and I found that Good Grief was much the better novel. So if you only have to pick one Winston novel - go with that!

This book told the story of Ted and Elinor Mackay and their trials and troubles. They got married in their mid-30's and started trying to have kids when Elinor was in her late 30's. They had infertility troubles and could not get pregnant successfully. The infertility troubles led to troubles in their marriage so that at the beginning of the book, (First Page!) Elinor discovers that Ted is having an affair with his young trainer, Gina.

I must admit, I had a hard time getting into this novel and was ready to take it back to the library many times. At the beginning, I found I could care less about Ted and Elinor and their troubles. The novel was clearly written for me to feel sympathy with Ted for having an affair, but I wasn't feeling it. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but it seems to me that you can find ways to improve your marriage beyond having an affair.

Luckily the book got better, especially with the introduction and further development of Gina and her young troubled son Toby. I found myself caught up in it, but yet I was still unhappy with the ambiougous (I can't spell) ending of the book. I still don't understand why Ted is so against adopting a baby, but yet really liked hanging out with Toby, who was not his kid.

I think overall I would give this book maybe a two out of four stars as it had a good middle, but bad beginning and unsatisfactory ending.


Ben and I watched the movie "Flyboys" over the weekend. It was an okay movie. I call it okay as while the WWI aerial battles were awesome, the actual characters were not that exciting or moving. When some of them died, I found that I hadn't invested enough emotionally to actually care. I think it was because most of the characters were one-dimensional archetypes that were not fully developed. It was a good movie to learn about WWI flying aces and to imagine the dangers with what they went through. It's amazing that only ten years after the invention of the airplane, man was using it in combat! I was disturbed that there were no parachutes!!!

This movie tells the story of young Americans that go to France during WWI before America has entered the war to become some of the world's first pilots. It's based on a true story - but I guess not quite true! :-)

I don't think of myself as a racist, but I was annoyed when the movie first started and I saw that they had a black airplane pilot in 1916. I accused the movie of trying to PC the past (something I really hate when movies do - show it as it really was!!) . . . then I looked it up after the movie and there really was a black flying ace in WWI that was an ex-boxer. He was allowed to fly with the French, but when America entered the war and he transfered over to America's military, he was grounded. So I thought that was cool that there really was a black ace, but felt bad that I had thought there couldn't be such a thing at that time in history!!! I guess there could as long as you weren't in America!