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Here's the challenge: commit to reading 50 books and watching 50 movies in the next year! (Find out more...)

The good news is, there are no real rules. We do have a few suggestion though! (Find out more...)

Doing things together is the best isn't it? Come sign up with us and then we can cheer each other on! (Find out more...)

You can win the power of self edification. You can win bragging rights. You can win over your soul mate! Or you could just not win anything. (Find out more...)

Kick the challenge up a notch by picking a themed major and minor for your movies and books. Can we suggest a few? (Find out more...)

The 50/50 Challenge The Rules Signing Up What Do I Win? Major/Minors
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Sculpture by Su Blackwell

We had our first finisher months ago, and we know there must have been so many more. Just on Twitter alone we saw quite a few people announce their successful 50/50 campaigns and each one urged the rest of us slowpokes forward to complete the challenge. Even if you didn't finish, the gift is in the trying right? We'd love to know how you did, so comment away!

Here's some wrap up posts and tweets. We hope you'll join us again in 2013:

Boy Girl Party
Fiddy's [Two] Cents
Maurene Goo
Miranda Childs
Ms Gabbana
Olivia's Papa

Please link below, or tweet us and we'll add you on! Thanks all!

Illustration by Nan Lawson

They said it couldn't be done.
They called us crazy.
In some cases they just called us losers.

Me: "Dad, are you going to join us and do!"
Dad: "NO. Unlike you guys, I have a life!!!!!!"

My started like this - Jon came up with this brilliant idea to read 50 books and watch 50 movies during the year. Inspired, I got the idea that not only would I want to join him (because it sounded like a massive nerdy undertaking, and therefore, just my sort of thing), but perhaps others would too. Looking at our site now, 355 people publicly signed on, with others doing it on the wings.

And here we are, one by one, crossing the finish line.

As you can imagine, my brain is a little bit fried (particularly as I lived the month of December in a state of college finals-style panic). But here's the list! ** denotes favorites.

1) The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie)
2) Knowing Your Value (Mika Brzezinski) **
3) Before I Go to Sleep (SJ Watson)
4) The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (Jennifer E Smith)
5) The Tiger's Wife (Tea Obreht)
6) Yeah, I Said It (Wanda Sykes) **
7) Food Rules (Michael Pollan)
8) Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
9) Before the Mortgage (ed. Christina Amini & Rachel Hutton)
10) Divergent (Veronica Roth)
11) Lions of Little Rock (Kristin Levine) ** (Loved this one. Read my review here)
12) Stories I Only Tell My Friends (Rob Lowe)
13) StoriTelling (Tori Spelling)
14) Uglies (Scott Westerfield)
15) The Little White Care
16) L'Amant (Marguerite Duras)
17) Fifty Shades of Crap Grey
18) The Story Behind the Song
19) Scar Tissue (Anthony Kiedis)
20) Trinity (Leon Uris)
21) Trinity (Leon Uris. 900 pages)
22) But Enough About Me (Jancee Dunn)
23) Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) **
24) I Feel Bad About My Neck (Nora Ephron) **
25) Ten Things We Did (and Probably Shouldn't Have) - (Sarah Mylnowski)
26) The Lover's Dictionary (Devid Levithan)
27) I Remember Nothing (and Other Reflections) - (Nora Ephron)
28) Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk (David Sedaris)
29) The Game (Neil Strauss)
30) The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (Aimee Bender)
31) As Husbands Go (Susan Isaacs)
32) Code Name Verity
33) The Giver (Lois Lowry)
34) Is Everyone Hanging Out WIthout Me? (Mindy Kaling)
35) Where'd You Go, Bernadette? (Maria Semple)
36) More Baths, Less Talking (Nick Hornby)
37) Soulacoaster (R Kelly)
38) The Fault In Our Stars (John Green) **
39) How to Be a Woman (Caitlin Moran) **
40) The Affair (Lee Child)
41) Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys
42) Tiny Beautiful Things (Cheryl Strayed) ** (Obsessed. Read my review here)
43) Seriously, I'm Kidding (Ellen Degeneres)
44) Confessions of a Video Vixen (Karrine Steffans)
45) Maus (Art Spiegelman)
46) Not Dead & Not For Sale (Scott Weiland)
47) Cool, Calm and Contentious (Merrill Markoe)
48) In the Bag (Kate Klise)
49) Smut (Alan Bennett)
50) For the Love of Letters (Samara O'Shea)

You Are a Miserable Excuse for a Hero (Bob Powers)/ Choose Your Own Adventure for adults
The Moon Daughter, Zoe Ghahremani (Pub date: 2013)

1) Timer **
2) Absurdistan
3) Muppets **
4) Gattaca
5) A Separation **
6) The Artist **
7) In Time
8) W/E ** (one of my absolute favorite films this year)
9) The Joneses
10) Iron Lady
11) Friends with Kids
12) Being Elmo
13) Hunger Games
14) I Do
15) In the Land of Blood and Honey
16) Rue Cases-Negres
17) The Best Marigold Hotel
18) The Grey
19) Rock of Ages **
20) The Dictator
21) Little Manhattan **
22) The Intouchables (I haven't shut up about this since seeing it)
23) Dark Knight Rises
24) The Descendants
25) Serious Moonlight
26) Ruby Sparks
27) From Rome with Love
28) Up
29) Magic Mike
30) The Names of Love
31) Moonrise Kingdom
32) Mirror Mirror
33) The Runaway Bride
34) Argo
35) The Sessions
36) First Position **
37) Katy Perry: Part of Me [oh no she didn't. oh yes, she did]
38) Limitless
39) Anna Karenina **
40) Dumb and Dumber (had somehow never seen this)
41) Manon des Sources
42) Out of Sight
43) Rebound
44) Still Bill
45) No Strings Attached
46) Five Year Engagement
47) Safety Not Guaranteed
48) Les Miserables
49) Lincoln
50) Happy

Post-Game Wrapup:
In what is no surprise to anyone who knows me, it was harder for me to get around to the movies than the books. People ask if we cheat and read children's picture books, etc. to get the count up. No, although I did foray into Young Adult books on a few occasions (The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, is one of the best books I've read in recent years, actually). And I definitely generally found myself more willing to throw a book aside (or turn off a movie) if it wasn't doing the trick. Getting stuck and bored is one of the reasons people turn away from reading, I think, so I managed to avoid that almost completely.

In general I was so eager to hit the numbers that I gobbled up whatever came my way, which made it a much more interesting year of reading, taking in recommendations from other people at a pace I've never done before. In the end, it's a complete mash of topics and quality, but it was also, without a doubt, fun as hell.

I am most definitely signing on to do this for 2013. Starting tomorrow, in fact. No rest for the wicked, I say.

Reposted from I Have Writer's Blog (12/31/2012).

I can list on one hand the number of books that have left me breathless and in tears.  The most recent is Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation from her Dear Sugar column.  I had seen the book around, but didn't think much of it.  From the cover I thought it might be a shallow dating column from some women's magazine that was already full of enough junk advice that I didn't need more. How mistaken I was.

I opened Tiny Beautiful Things a couple of days ago and entered a world in which people write in to confess and and try to make sense of their sins, or their deepest fears and insecurities, or their latest personal tragedy, with a complete stranger who responds each and every time with a logic, compassion, and a tapestry of words so beautiful that I found myself literally breathless.

Although she could have just doled out some smartly-written advice, the brilliance in the column is in how far she goes into the trenches with her readers.  She scrapes up the very personal memories and stories, the lessons and experiences we, as strangers, have absolutely no right to access, and lays them before us, like a most patient teacher, so that we may learn something.  She doesn't flinch as she offers up her scars, so we can run a finger along them, perhaps even recoil, before looking again. Closely.

While I have been reading Tiny Beautiful Things I have been consumed by the themes, the plot lines of the letters, and the stories Strayed used to convey her ultimate advice. Consumed, I tell you. I hadn't even finished the book before I'd bought a few copies to fire off to friends, and as I read I kept a mental tally of the others who will find it under their Christmas trees, in their birthday gifts, slipped to them in a moment when they need it most.

I realize I'm being vague here, and it's a conscious effort not to spoil the reading experience that I hope you will have after reading this.  I understood why certain topics hit home with me, but what of the others? How was I so affected by stories of marital infidelity, of grief after the loss of a child, of dealing with middle-aged body image issues, situations that couldn't be further from my realities?

This, my friends, is the key to good writing.  We often talk about fiction being transcendent, but I don't think we talk enough about nonfiction and its ability to bring us into other people's stories and lives and make us feel their pain for the moments we share. Dear Sugar's advice is directed at the person who has written in, but in the same way that a parent will say something to a spouse fully knowing the child is listening in.  It is written to them, but entirely for our benefit.

Under the layers of jealousy or greed or regret or guilt or anger, or the hundred other emotions swept onto these pages is an underlying theme that we choose how we live. We do not choose our circumstances or the hand we're dealt - and as you read letter pile up on letter, you realize that, no matter how wildly different our lives come out, everyone has problems, everyone has difficult choices to make. Although the details of our individual lives couldn't be more different, the themes are shockingly similar.

I'm convinced that each reader will take something different away from this book. Me? This: We do not choose some of the detours or roadblocks or  forks in the road, but we choose how we proceed. We choose how much compassion and patience we bring to the most difficult circumstances. It isn't meant to be easy, but it can be done. Most importantly, we choose how we work forgiveness - of others and of ourselves - into the narrative of our lives.

This book may, like me, make you tear up in public - repeatedly. But it will be worth every tightening of the chest, every locked-away story or memory that comes up to visit you. Promise.

Reposted from I Have Writer's Blog (12/16/2012).

So it’s down to the wire.  Please tell me I’m not alone in this 5-weeks-left induced panic. Personally I’m at 38 books, 38 movies. Which means that I have my work cut out for me.

What is the graceful way to handle this challenge? I’ve mentally put myself in Finals mode. It’s game time and I have no intention of fizzing out on a challenge that I helped start. I mean, what would happen to all the millions of people counting on me? Or hey, just you?

I have devised a surefire way to get through the final month of the challenge, and here it is. Take notes.

1) Celeb Trash
When my bookclub disbanded for lack of steady, engaged participation, I asked a friend what would make her actually show up regularly to book club. She responded instantly - “read trashy celebrity books”.  So we started Celebrity Trash Bio Book Club and lo and behold, people did their reading. Why? Because celeb bios are usually written for the least common denominator. They know their audience- the audience has a frazzled attention span and is used to getting updates on said celeb’s life while children tug at them and they are checking out a week’s worth of groceries. This is good reading for when you’re busy. The books virtually read themselves.  In the past month, I gobbled up Mindy Kaling’s dripping with sarcasm Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? as well as R Kelly’s Soulacoaster.

2) Young Adult
Again with the “books for people who don’t have an attention span”.  Young adult might arguably be the hardest genre to write - you’re competing with raging hormones. I mean, if that’s not competition, what is?  As a result, many young adult novels tend to be witty, fast-paced, and high concept. I finished The Fault In Our Stars by John Green in a matter of a day. High concept: Teens meet at a cancer support group and fall in love. Granted, I spent part of that day openly weeping in a café, but you’re a big kid, you can handle it.

3) Essays
Here’s why I love essays: because the author’s sole goal is to engage you about a topic. They’re bite sized nuggets (“Oh, I’ll just finish this one. Oh just one more!) and before you know it, the book is done! This weekend I read More Baths, Less Talking, a brilliantly titled collection of Nick Hornby’s Believer magazine columns. Don’t know what to read? Read about other people reading!

4) Documentaries
Documentaries are a good bet for because they’re shorter than the average film but you feel like you learn something. So not only do you knock out one of your films, but you can feel intellectually superior. Consider First Position, the moving documentary about children trying for ballet scholarships (the ballet equivalent of Spellbound).  Too highbrow? You too can rent Part of Me, the Katy Perry documentary. And if you, like me, are suffering from an emotional hangover imparted by the book described in #2, you can get teary for a second time in a day when you see Katy Perry embrace her now-ex Russell Brand (whose Booky Wook you may have read, c/o #1, above. Circular, people)

The battle is not yet lost. I’m not saying to cheat. I’m saying give in to a little temptation, a little brain candy, and you might find the challenge just happens to finish itself.


Do you have a final countdown tip or recommendation to share with your fellow fiftyfifty’ers? A word of inspiration? A deep dark confession? Join us in the comment section below, won’t you?

Some people have asked if we're doing the Fifty Fifty Challenge next year. The answer: heck yes!

Even as we're scrambling to finish out our fifty books/movies this year, we're already gearing up for 2013.

Currently we're working on getting a new site together that will (hopefully) give us member pages and a way to show each other our lists, because that's something Blogger hasn't been able to do for us.

We didn't expect so many people to participate during the first year of the challenge -- seeing as we just started sign ups December 2011 -- so this has been amazing and we want put together some better tools for people to support, cheer, and meet one other. (Not to mention declare our majors and minors!)

So the timeline is for a new site to go up is mid-December, and then full scale signing up from then on. For now, if you want to make sure you don't miss when the new site is ready, you can subscribe to our mailing list below. Don't worry, there will be no spam or anything, we just figured a mailing list is the best way to keep everyone updated and informed for next year.

Thank you all for a great 2012 and hope the next six weeks are productive!

There should be a space for people to tell us when they've finished the challenge! We already had our first finisher but as the end of 2012 nears, there's bound to be more. Please link to any "I'm finished!" posts (or just comment away below) as I'm sure the rest of us would love to check them out!

Do we need some celebratory buttons or something like that? Or is it enough to know we read fifty books and watched fifty movies?

[When we saw that we had our first 50/50 finisher, we had to get a guest post from @selinalock. Read on and then go congratulate her!]

Hello fellow fiftyfiftyme participants. I'm Selina, a part-time science librarian, writer and comic book publisher/editor. I've been asked to do a guest post as I was the first person to officially declare I had hit the fiftyfiftyme target of reading fifty books new to me and watching fifty films new to me.

I completed the challenge back at the end of August and one of the things the fiftyfiftyme team wondered was whether there was a particular month or season where I had struggled to keep up with the challenge. Well, if I hadn't already hit target then September onwards would have been the answer, which is why this blog post is over a month late!

It was all Camilla's fault...
For the last couple of years I kept track of what books I'd read by adding their covers to a Facebook photo album. In January I finished adding the books I'd read in 2011, which totalled seventy books. My friend Camilla pointed out that if I'd read that many in a year then I'd have no problem joining in with the fiftyfiftyme challenge... obviously I then asked what the fiftyfiftyme challenge was, and one thing led to another...

So, as you can gather I was already an avid reader before taking up the challenge, and have been since about the age of eleven. I also enjoy watching films but do have a tendency to re-watch old favourites, like John Hughes’ 1980s teen movies or the comforting magical boarding school feel of the Harry Potter films.

What I thought the fiftyfiftyme challenge would help me do was to make more use of the extensive DVD collection my boyfriend has built up. In particular I was keen to watch some classic and cult horror films, as we have many friends who are horror writers and fans and are aghast by my lack of education. I avoided the horror genre in books and films as a teenager after witnessing my sister have one too many nightmares that would wake the whole household up!

I certainly managed to do this during fiftyfifyme as I watched things like Misery, Candyman, both versions of The Woman in Black, Alien and several others. It also helped that my boyfriend was very supportive of the challenge aims so was more than happy to go to the cinema or suggest movies we could watch that would count towards the challenge.

I did have an advantage over some other challengers, as being part-time, I had a little more time on my hands than some of you. I also have a disability which means that I am often sofa bound for several hours a day with little else to do (though it also sometimes leaves me too tired to concentrate on reading or watching anything very challenging... so please don't judge me for some of the films I chose to watch when ill!).

In terms of when and where I read: I have a pink Sony eReader which lives in my handbag, and I read on the bus home from work. Then I normally have one or two print books on the go at home at any one time, so that I can always read something that matches my mood or concentration level.

I read a lot of speculative fiction (sf&f, horror, cross-over genres) and a particular soft spot for YA fiction. Plus, as a comic book writer/editor/publisher/fan I read a wide range of graphic novels.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly...
Of course, what many of you might be asking is what were my favourite and least favourite books and films from each fifty? I found this a difficult question, so I'm going to cheat a little and divide my favourite books up into several categories!

Favourite Adult Novel:
 (This is a tie between two books)
The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey & Louise Carey
When three hundred concubines and their children find themselves about to be executed in the middle of the desert they must take extraordinary measures and find the strength within themselves to escape. The Careys took inspiration from the setting and structure of The Arabian Nights to weave together and embroider tales upon tales, just as the women of the story learn to weave, embroider and tell tales to survive. The rise and fall of the women of Bessa will sweep you along in an exciting, emotional and complex journey.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
Tara returns home twenty years after disappearing in the Charnwood Outwoods during bluebell season. She maintains that she has only been gone for six months and she doesn't appear to have aged. The impact of her return is felt in different ways by her parents, her brother and the boyfriend that was accused of her murder. I liked the way that we get a glimpse of some possibly dangerous fairy folk while the story also deals with the immediate assumption that Tara must be mad or lying. I also loved the fact that it was set locally (in Leicestershire) with locales I'm familiar with.

Favourite YA Novel:
The Ninnies by Paul Magrs
Alan's Dad disappears on his window cleaning round, whisked off by the tall, skinny, giggling Ninnies, but no-one will believe Alan. Not until he meets the adventure loving Amy from the local shop and the strange oldsters who live in the flat upstairs. Things go from strange to stranger as more people disappear and parts of animals (yes, parts) get taken from the Bonnitime Zoo. Magrs does a wonderful job of creating an eccentric and lovable cast of characters. Alongside some seriously creepy monsters and an interesting mystery, you have the best kind of children's book. I loved some of the pop culture and nostalgic references too.

Bubbling Under: I also enjoyed The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Favourite Graphic Novel:
Spandex - Fast and Hard by Martin Eden
Attack of the 50ft Lesbian, Pink Ninjas and a rainbow of colourful gay superheroes. What's not to love?

Least Favourite Book:
Undead and Unfinished by MaryJanice Davidson
I've read all the previous books in the Undead series and I usually like the light-hearted humour surrounding Betsy, vampire Queen, her quest for designer shoes and her motley band of friends. This instalment sees Betsy and her younger sister Laura (who happens to be the antichrist) visiting Hell and doing a spot of time travelling. The focus on Betsy and Laura with little evidence of the rest of the gang just meant that unfortunately, the characters seemed to descend into whiny parodies of themselves.

Favourite Film:
The Avengers (aka: Avengers Assemble)
I had to pick this as I managed to put my back out at the cinema laughing so much at a certain scene with Hulk and Thor! We watched Iron Man 2, Captain America, Thor & Hulk (as we'd seen The Incredible Hulk more recently) in the week before the film to get us into the mood and remind us of how the plots might lead into The Avengers. I don't think you had to do this to understand or enjoy the film, but it probably enhanced our enjoyment. I thought it did a great job of showcasing all the characters, with some hilarious character moments while having enough of a plot and danger element to keep the action going at a rollicking pace.

Bubbling Under: The Cabin in the Woods, Midnight in Paris and The Awakening.

Least Favourite Film:
The Hangover Part II
I remember finding some of The Hangover quite funny, especially some of the surreal and unlikely things that go on. There were a few bits in this that were amusing, but adding a sixteen year old boy into the mix did not work. It mainly just showed how stupid and irresponsible the main characters were. It can be funny watching the characters doing drugs and being in danger as adults but far less so when they drag a teenager into the same world. And on what planet does this then make them better husband material...!?

Dishonourable mentions: John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (though that almost makes it into the so bad, it's good category).

I've had great fun taking part in the fiftyfiftyme challenge and I'm continuing to add films and books to my lists, so that I can see what total I hit by the end of the year.

Hope you're all doing well and enjoying your reading and watching.

  • Selina's fiftyfiftyme shelf on Goodreads
  • fiftyfiftyme post on my blog (including films watched)
  • Factor Fiction comics website

Courtesy of Amodini | | Originally posted 9.25.2012

Title : Dog Stars
Author : Peter Heller
Genre : Dystopian
Publisher : Knopf
Pages : 336
Source : Netgalley/Publisher ARC
Rating : 4.5/5

It’s a dystopian world out there. And there are few survivors, most of the world’s population and wildlife having succumbed to a fatal flu. Those that remain, remain only because they are hardy and resourceful, or because they have “the blood” and nobody can come near them for risk of infection. Our hero is Big Hig, who has lost wife and unborn child to the flu. He survives because he has combined forces with terse neighbor Bruce Bangley, to keep the predators at bay. Bangley brings with him his large arsenal of guns and ammunition and Hig has the “Beast” - his 80 year old four seater Cessna. They enforce a perimeter, and patrol it via land and air, and make short shrift of trespassers. Hig survives year after year with only Bangley, dog Jasper and painful memories for company. Their only other (harmless) human neighbors are a band of people - the Menonites - who have “the blood”, and live within flying distance.

Hig’s plane’s radio is silent, because there is no one around, but he calls out anyway, hoping for a reply. In all these 9 years only once has his call been answered. Repeat mayday calls have not brought about a repeat response. He has almost given hope of finding that lost radio caller, until one day, after one more unexpected loss, Hig, in desperation, decides to fly out beyond the Point of No Return - the point at which he would not have enough fuel to get back - to find other survivors . . .

I elected to read this via NetGalley because of the interesting premise: what happens after the apocalypse? And those that do survive, how do they do it ? Heller paints a vivid picture, via Hig’s words - clipped thought they maybe. Initially there are only two characters, and a dog, and there isn’t much going on except survival, but the book is un-put-down-able. Heller has a way with words, short sentences, casually said, but resonating with feeling:
"Sometimes back then, fishing with Jasper up the Sulphur, I hit my limit. I mean it felt my heart might just burst. Bursting is different than breaking. Like there is no way to contain how beautiful. Not it either, not just beauty. Something about how I fit. This little bend of smooth stones, the leaning cliffs. The smell of spruce. The small cutthroat making quiet rings in the black water of a pool. And no need to thank even. Just be. Just fish. Just walk up the creek, get dark, get cold, it is all a piece. Of me somehow."
Hig as the main protagonist, is at once strong and weak. Smart enough to cope with changing circumstances, he is not quite the ruthless survivalist Bangley is; Bangley has to get him out of more than one life-threatening situations. He longs for companionship, unlike trigger-happy Bangley, who is fine with solitude, and not in favor of Hig flying off of on a wild goose chase. But vulnerable as Hig is, Heller builds him up beautifully; you root for him, you cry in his sorrow and laugh in his joy.

Hig’s story, because that is what “Dog Stars” is, boils down to one main idea - that of hope. Even after devastating loss, in dire desolation and faced with lonely reality, hope survives. Hig must chance the one thing left to him - his life - to justify that emotion.

This is a magnificent novel and an uplifting read. Highly recommended.

Never fear fellow fiftyfifty-ers! (That is so much alliteration.) We're back with another podcast about mid-summer panic. And we talk about a few books we've read lately, plus what we think about watching movies alone. With three months to go, everyone needs to rally and finish strong! [16:59 min]

Books mentioned:
  • Fifty Shades of Grey, E. L. James
  • Trinity, Leon Uris (and the unfortunate cover)
  • Public Crime, Bill James
  • Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
  • But Enough About Me, Jancee Dunn

Movies mentioned:
  • The Intouchables (2011)
  • Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  • The Descendents (2011)
"One notable difference with going with others - spouse, lover, friends, or family - is that with company there is always some DISCUSSION. First there is the pre-movie discussion followed by the post-movie discussion. Everyone is fully armed with sharply pointed opinions, judgments, theories, beliefs, criticisms, praise, hype, comparisons, which often lead to HEATED discussions and even arguments. She is totally miscast! There’s no payoff! The plot’s all over the place! By the end of the evening whatever small pleasure you may have derived from the film has been undone."
-The Pleasures of Going Alone: What Solo Moviegoing Teaches Us-

Courtesy of Bibliotechnicienne | | Originally posted 8.18.2012

Part sci-fi, part fantasy, part computery, Alif the Unseen takes place in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. The main character is Alif (his online name, not his given name) a young man who lives his life online, providing digital protection to rebels, dissidents and hackers alike. He’s not picky about his clients.

Scorned by the woman he loves, he reacts…poorly. In no way can this be viewed as an overreaction (read: he overreacts big time) he creates a computer program that will detect his former lady loves presence online and when it does, it will erase all traces of him, making him invisible and uncontactable. I know that’s not a word, but wait, there’s more craziness ahead.

Said computer program causes a few…problems in the real world. This is an understatement. An ancient book is thrown into the mix, and suddenly Alif finds himself on the run from the State with his neighbour Dina in tow, seeking the protection of a jinn and the spiritual world. For some reason in North America, we stick a D in front of djinn. This is mentioned in the story, but not explained.

At this point, think Aladdin without Robin Williams. Also nix the singing.

I started reading this as a foil for Emma. I found the first bit a bit slow, but I really got into it about halfway through. I also couldn’t decide right away whether it was YA or not. Which isn’t a criticism, it just had that feel. I think it was when the book got into *ahem* adult situations that I decided that it’s not.

There’s a romantic subplot, but it’s different from your typical one. There are a lot of longing glances and coveting of ankle glimpses [which seems to contradict the above paragraph, but they're both right] I guess it’s not that much different than Emma after all.

Some books I find hard to recap with the right balance of telling enough to get someone interested, but not telling too much, and divulging the whole book. This is one of them. I already feel like I’ve said too much. But trust me, there’s a whole pile of stuff I haven’t touched on.

It’s a bit of a departure from my typical reads, but it’s a good one. I say "Read Me!"

Book 30 for fiftyfiftyme.

  • I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron
  • Edda, Conor Kostick
  • Code Name Verity, Lizzie Wein
  • I Remember Nothing, Nora Ephron
  • How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran
  • The Amazing Spider-Man, Marc Webb
  • Jarhead, Sam Mendes
  • Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan
  • The Intouchables, Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano
  • Step Up Revolution, Scott Speer
[ | Pinterest | Google Doc]

I feel like my months are falling into mini-themes. May was dystopian, June was middle grade, and now July, heavy on friendship and feminism. For example, Caitlin Moran is being touted as the next Nora Ephron but that's really unncessary. Moran doesn't need to be the next anything. Her How to Be a Woman is hilarious and thought provoking without having to attach it to anybody who came before her. What's important is that both Ephron and Moran write essays that I could read over and over.

Next month I'm gonna go back and read Ephron's older essays and then turn my attention to whatever the male equivalent of this sort of writing is. Confessional, smart, and funny. (What is the male equivalent of these books?) Or I'll just stay in this lane and go either lighter with Sloane Crosley or heavier with Joan Didion. It's about time I went Didion right?

  • On the Intersection of Race & Feminism: A Conversation With Neesha Meminger and Ibi Zoboi

As for Code Name Verity, let me just say "wow." One of the best books I've read this year and I don't even want to tell you anything about it because it's much better going in without knowing much. Nominally it's young adult but it's not like any YA I've read. I don't know who was the lone dissenter giving this a three star review on Amazon but they were dead wrong. Code Name Verity is so great, and even if it doesn't sound like it's up your alley, you should read it. Man, I wish I could forget it so I could read it all over again.

And a quick head nod for Conor Kostick's Edda. A science fiction / fantasy YA that actually has some depth and interesting world building. Most of the YA stuff I read in this genre has only a light glossing of sci-fi, but Kostick's series actually has ideas and depth behind all the action and plot. That would make sense since he was "a designer for the world's first live action role-playing game." Plus he is a former European champion at Diplomacy, a board game I love and long to play often. Respect. I headed into Edda expecting some generic-ness and emerged wanting to check out Saga and Epic.

For the Dark Knight fanboys in the audience. Here's the deal: Dark Knight Rises wasn't that good. I'll come right out and say I'm not a huge fan of the franchise in general -- Batman's growly voice kills me -- but I can concede that it's done great things for the comic book movie. But this one especially was so hokey and littered with so many plot holes and inconceivables that afterwards I had to nitpick at each one.

Having said that, I did go back and watch it again. Upon rewatch, the first hour or so of the movie is spectacular. Christopher Nolan pushes the tempo, sets up the current day situation, and introduces Bane in a great way. However, when Bane becomes the star of the movie, putting Gotham under siege -- and Bruce Wayne gets tossed into the pit -- the movie lost me. Also, where was the fighting? Nowhere! Dark Knight Rises wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, and I loved Anne Hathaway, but I think it was a clear letdown.

Also, while we're here, I wish Fox would just stop making Spider-Man movies so the rights could revert back to Marvel. Not that Amazing Spider-Man was bad, not with Emma Stone in it, but it's totally unnecessary. Let Spider-Man join The Avengers please! And while they're at it, let Wolverine scurry back to Marvel too.

One movie I will recommend from this past month: The Intouchables. Originally the trailer put me off because it seemed like too much of a sappy feel good story. But upon a trusted friend's recommendation, Lilly and I went to go see it.

And we loved it!

The movie had so much wonderful energy, an opening featuring "September," and an utterly charming Omar Sy. The Intouchables played like a light version of The Sea Inside or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Actually those movies had quite a lot of humor in them too, but more subtle.) It was nominated for all sorts of awards in its native France and it's definitely a perfect Sunday matinee.

There is some debate about The Intouchables' broad racial characterizations and its use of the black man as cultural liberator trope. The criticism is impossible to dismiss because the movie certainly plays into those stereotypes. While philosophically I agree 100% with those criticisms, I still think The Intouchables was delightful and worth a watch.

Also, Driss in real life is Abdel Sellou, an Arab from Algeria, conveniently blackwashed for the movie. Is that, like, a first?

[Crossposted from]

Courtesy of Amodini | Friday Nirvana | Originally posted 6.25.2012

Lately I’ve been reading books which I would normally have not read - you think the book is of a particular genre but it turns out to be quite something else. I’m glad though for having been able to read these different genres - they are great books and I’m the richer for having read them. There was Exogene by T.C. McCarthy which seemed like a sci-fi adventure set in a genetically-modified future, but which read like a war-novel instead. And then there is Age of Miracles which I requested via NetGalley because of its astounding sci-fi premise. As it turns out, sci-fi is but a backdrop for this wonderful coming-of-age novel.

As I write this, in today’s world, we face a number of environmental challenges. The earth’s climactic patterns are changing, some say due to man’s ill-treatment of the earth. Global warming is on the rise, human waste is piling up, polluting the land and choking natural water systems. Imagine that in addition to all these slow changes there is one sudden, totally unanticipated change - a shift in the earth’s rotation causing our days to no longer be sunlit and our nights to no longer be starry. This is the world this novel is set in.

Julia, the heroine of this novel, is an 11 year old middle-schooler negotiating her schooldays with the help of best friend Hanna. It is during this time that the rotation of the earth changes leading to an influx of minutes into a regular day. The days get larger, initially by a few minutes each day, but the cumulative effect causes the traditional day length of 24 hours to increase by hours, by days and then by weeks.

"At the beginning, people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world. Counselors came to talk to us at school. I remember watching Mr. Valencia next door fill up his garage with stacks of canned food and bottles water, as if preparing, it now seems to me, for a disaster much more minor."
Initially befuddled, governments and government agencies - schools, offices, hospitals etc. decide to stick to “clock-time”, i.e.; a 24 hour time cycle even though the sun could now set in the middle of the “night” and “dawn” could be dark. Some people, the “real-timers”, decide to go by the sun, but are gradually shunned, leading them to migrate to communes. The sun’s changing rhythms have an effect on most earthly things - the earth’s protective atmosphere burns up, global warming increases, animals change migratory patterns and die mysteriously; there is societal unrest and unforeseen sicknesses. Most people worried, start anticipating the worst; they stockpile supplies, rebuild shelters to guard against the end of civilization, and migrate to be close to families and religious houses. Julia’s own hyper-paranoid mother stocks up, “a rising tide of condensed milk and canned peas” in their cupboards. In between all this, Julia must negotiate her way through fragile friendships, loneliness, death, nascent love and exhilaration.

This book is Thompson’s debut, but reads like it was written by a seasoned writer. Even though I presume that coming of age novels with their personal, mini-scale conflicts are not my cup of tea, I was engrossed. The writing flows; I stopped every couple of paragraphs, rereading her meticulous prose, wishing to commit it to memory. This is that kind of book.

With the great attention to detail, the characters in the book come to life. The events in Julia’s life, as told from her point of view, are so beautifully narrated that I’m there with Julia every step of the way. Julia is finding her way through a very curious time in earth’s history, but even as the world seemingly collapses into chaos it is her story that holds interest.
"It was that time of life: talents were rising to the surface, weaknesses were beginning to show through, we were finding out what kind of people we would be. Some would turn out beautiful, some funny, some shy. Some would be smart, others smarter. The chubby ones would likely always be chubby. The beloved, I sensed, would be beloved for life. And I worried that loneliness might work that way, too. Maybe loneliness was imprinted in my genes, lying dormant for years but now coming into full bloom."
Julia herself, is a very sympathetic character, an introvert who just wishes to meld into the background and remain there in peace; you like her very easily. Julia’s story is the story of her family - her parents and grandfather, her friends - Hanna and Seth Moreno, the boy she secretly adores, her neighbors with their peculiar idiosyncrasies, and her schoolmates with their careless callousness. This is the story of her struggle to stay grounded amid the upheaval they bring, in an uncertain world.

This is a gorgeous book and my pick for 2012, smack dab in June. Highly recommended.
Title : The Age of Miracles
Author : Karen Thompson Walker
Genre : Dystopian/Sci-fi
Publisher : Random House
Pages : 289
Source : Netgalley/Publisher ARC
Rating : 4.5/5

Courtesy of Tanya | Green Paw Paw | Originally posted 5.13.2012

No, I’m not talking about Metallica.

Even though I’ve been reading other books in between, I’ve really been going through a whole Neil Gaiman phase. It started when I let talks of how I would love this guy, how his writing was nothing like I’d ever read before, how positively awesome he is get to me. So I finally picked up Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett (who I have yet to read). And then I read Neverwhere. Next on the list - The Graveyard Book.

So, do I love him? Yes.

Does he write like anybody else I know? No.

Is he absolutely, positively awesome? Beyond a doubt.

Why, then, have I been avoiding Sandman? Erm.

Quite honestly, I don’t know. Usually, when I hear about a graphic novel, I look up the premise, get excited, and find some way to devour read it. And I’ve loved every single graphic novel that I’ve read to date (well, except Blankets). So, you’d expect me to jump up and down like a crazy Oompa-Loompa at the mention of a marriage between Neil Gaiman and the glorious art of storytelling that is the graphic novel, yes? No.

Before I read Volume #1, if you said the word “Sandman”, I’d picture a weird hybrid of the sand man/monster from that pathetic excuse for a superhero movie (*cough* Spiderman 3) and the actual Sandman (the dream kind) from a Powerpuff Girls episode. Does anybody remember that one? Creepy guy in striped pajamas? Broken teeth? Can you blame me for not wanting to read it, especially when Neil Gaiman can disturb the hell out of you without even trying?

I was re-arranging books in the store, and it was the comic section’s turn. Tentatively, I picked up the first volume. Turned a few pages. Started reading. Finished reading. My shift had gotten over, and I had stayed for two extra hours. Without even noticing. Lucky for me, it had been a slow day.

I was expecting it to be a whole lot of things. I was expecting the Sandman himself to be a lot of things. What I wasn’t expecting was this.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, may I introduce you to Dream a.k.a Morpheus a.k.a The Sandman- King of Dreams, and one of The Endless - He Who Wears Black T-Shirts And Leather Jackets And Does So Many Things That Leave You Blubbering Like An Idiot And You Want To Cry In Frustration Because You Don’t Know Him Personally And/Or You Want To Be Like Him?

If you’ve read my reviews (if you can call them that) of Good Omens and Neverwhere, you’ll know that I have a problem with how they both end. That I was craving that staring-blankly-at-the-wall-with-the-what-the-hell-just-happened feeling that I thought each book deserved. With the Sandman series, Gaiman hits that feeling on the head with every issue. I’ve read four volumes so far, I’m just starting the fifth (I’m not sure how many issues that translates to and I’m too lazy to check, forgive me), and it leaves me gaping like a fish every five minutes. That man is a genius, and I don’t use that term lightly. He’s a factory of ideas, producing them in such overwhelming detail that I’m half grateful that he exists and writes like he does and half extremely jealous of his ability to.

And the illustration! *high-pitched scream* Yow! I loved the first two volumes more than the others so far, but all of them are incredible. They’ve got to be, anything less and the whole series would come crumbling down.

They’re addictive, these books. And even though you want to just gobble them all up, you realise how important it is to stop - and savour every panel, every moment you spend reading. I can stare at Morpheus’ cloak for a whole ten minutes. And after every few pages, you are forced to pause, shut the book, and think. Because this is not just a book. They are not just stories. Oh, no. You get the feeling that something of consequence is happening. That these books are changing something inside you, somehow. That you have to acknowledge the change, lest it slip away and forever be lost to you. That the way you see things is going to be very different the moment you accept that tentacle the books are extending to you and all that the invitation implies.

You know how people sometimes ask you if there was one book/book-series that you could read for the rest of your life - that and nothing else - which book(s) you would choose? And you think, “What? What is wrong with you? I can’t pick a favourite, go eat some cabbage and stop asking me these rubbish questions”? Yeah, well. I’d choose Sandman.

While I've seen some pretty good movies this year, with many more months to go, I can go ahead and anoint Moonrise Kingdom as my favorite film of 2012. I already gushed about it in last month's Stuff I've Been Consuming but since I just re-watched Moonrise, I can safely give it a double thumbs up. The first time around I just experienced it, trying to soak everything in. The second viewing I tried to pay attention and parse out exactly what it was that sucked me in. Here's a short list. And please, for the love of everything, just go see this thing already so I can stop soapboxing.

Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. The casting of these two were so good. I consumed every interview I could find online. I just had to know more about them. Neither had acted professionally before, can you believe that? Both were around twelve when they shot the film and they look like actual kids, especially Jared. He's a total dork but not of the type we normally see in movies. Gilman's character is prepubescent, totally oblivious in his uncoolness, yet totally assured. Kara's face is amazing. Beautiful and expressive but in an awkward way that is reflected in her slight gawkiness and imperfect symmetry. They seem wonderfully real and endearing, as actors and characters. Plus, what's the last movie like this featuring middle schoolers, Bridge to Terabithia?

First Loves. Watching Moonrise has to make you think of puppy loves. The intense feeling that you'd do anything for the other person, even run away from everything you know. There's so much (painful) sweetness in it. It ain't never gonna be this good again. Except in the movies.

Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. This is a for real thing! I assumed Benjamin Britten was fictional but indeed he is not. here's a great post from Framescourer, "The Moonrise Kingdom of Benjamin Britten," with some history and videos of the whole bit. Wonderful stuff.

Khaki Scouts. Hanging in my closet right now is a Cub Scout shirt from my younger days. I was a Webelos Scout and while I'm not sure exactly what the differentiation was, I just remember all the random skills we had to learn. Tying knots, making fires, archery, fishing, kayaking, all these outdoor things I would never be associated with now. Watching Sam Sandusky use his wilderness skills to survive brought me way back. Man, I hope my uniform still fits!

Binoculars. Suzy's superpower of seeing with her binoculars struck a chord with me. Mainly because I recently purchased a pair for bird watching. Her binoculars made me feel less creepy about owning a pair. I'm not stalking, I'm superpowering.

One-liners. I could quote this movie all day. And I probably will for awhile. I won't ruin it for you though. Oh hell, if you're reading this far you saw the movie already. The "who's the say" line absolutely kills me. I rarely laugh out loud at movies and I was pretty much giggling throughout Moonrise. "I love you but you have no idea what you're talking about."

Suzy's Books. Wes Anderson made animated shorts introducing some of the fake books Suzy takes with her when she runs away. The titles, the artwork, the excerpts, all of them are so great. I would pay good money to have these as actual books. If Anderson wrote them himself I demand he pause whatever he's doing to finish the homage slash parodies. Seriously, the few lines from these are better than most of the stuff I've read this year. I feel like these would win those first page contests hands down. Publishers, get Wes on the phone.

"Meanwhile on the plains of Tabitha, Francine rested. There would be another time for war."
-The Francine Odysseys-

"I don't believe in magic. I used to but once I started taking introduction to life science with Mr. Mathy, I realized the logical explanation for practically every mystery in the world was even more interesting than a supernatural one. Auntie Lorraine wouldn't agree. Of course that's no surprise. She's a professional witch hunter."
-The Return of Auntie Lorraine-
[Crossposted from]

Norah Ephron passed away a few weeks ago and even though I'd never read any of her books, I was a fan of her work. After all, who hasn't seen When Harry Met Sally? While she didn't direct that one, she did write and produce it. Ephron did helm many other movies, including Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, and Julie & Julia. While some might call them sappy, others would call them fantastic romantic comedies. In fact, Harry Met Sally set the standard there didn't it?

I don't need to recap who Norah Ephron is, as there's been a slew of tributes about her. What I did want to share is how wonderful her collection of essays are. Until recently I'd never read her work, even though I knew I would love them. Her smart observations and hilarious voice are right up my alley. If you like Fran Lebowitz and Joan Didion, you'll like Ephron. I whipped through I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman in one sitting and am now actively seeking out her older collections.

  • From Sharp Edges to Sugary Success and Back
  • Seeing Nora Everywhere
  • A Farewell to Nora Ephron, Dish by Dish
  • Nora Knows What to Do (2009)

And if you
find yourself enjoying Ephron, may I recommend Jancee Dunn too? I stumbled upon But Enough About Me: How a Small-Town Girl Went from Shag Carpet to the Red Carpet at a used bookstore years ago and fell in love with Dunn's writing from that moment on.

Also, if you're short on movies and want to get some quality stuff in, may I suggest Nicole Holofcener's work as companion pieces to Ephron? Start with Please Give or Lovely & Amazing. I just wrapped up Walking and Talking and am still percolating on where I think that ranks in Holofcener's oeuvre. Her films are talky and low key, and Catherine Keener, Holofcener's muse, is always fantastic.

Courtesy of Amanda | Dragonflight Dreams | Originally posted 5.25.2012

I've been scrutinizing characters that I love lately, in order to improve my own writing. It's made me realize that all of the fantasy characters whose series I'm addicted to are pretty bad-ass. I mean, they kind of have to be to survive in their worlds long enough to be a series rather than a standalone book, but that doesn't make them any less bad-ass. They also all have some interesting personality quirks, a clue that part of the reason they are so lovable is because of the depth their authors imparted them with. So I thought I'd compile a list of my top 5 favorite fantasy badasses, and take a look at what makes them tick.

***Please note that this list contains some spoilers! I tried to keep any such tidbits vague in nature, but there are probably some spoiler bits nonetheless.***

1. Vlad Taltos (from the Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust)

: Assassin. Witch. Minor noble of the house of Jhereg. Resident smartass.
Badassery: He's an assassin with a pet dragonling and some unique enchanted (intelligent?) weapons who can also use witchcraft, and who is always good for a smartass remark or ten. If that's not enough, he's faced off against both gods and the enemies of the gods alike and come out alive. He's a personal friend of the current Empress, and the legendary Enchantress of Dzur, among others. He ends up marrying a fellow assassin who initially was hired to kill him (charisma!). He has a deep-seated appreciation for fine food and wine, as well as a good kup of klava (coffee), and still makes time to regularly visit his grandfather. He's got a knack for unraveling intricate plots, which usually lands him in trouble - his streak of luck might only be an inch wide, but runs a mile long.
Companions: Loiosh, a sarcastic dragonlike creature (jhereg) with whom Vlad can communicate telepathically.
Trademarks: A jhereg or two riding on his shoulders. Being the only human among a crowd of elf-like Dragaerans. Knives; lots and lots of knives.

2. Phèdre no Delaunay de Montrève (from the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey)

Role: Servant of Naamah (courtesan). Countess. Spy. Diplomat. Chosen of Kushiel/anguisette (masochist). Fashionista.
Badassery: Her beauty and personality combined to tempt the man she loved away from his sacredly-held vows of chastity. She is beautiful enough that men have beggared themselves for a night with her, but her beauty also makes people underestimate her intellect. She has a mind like a razor, is hyper-observant to the extreme, and can speak countless languages. And she's tough; being Kushiel's Chosen means she can/has to handle pain - and she likes it. She has literally been skinned alive, and not only survived (she has a special knack for survival) but stopped a war with the skin still hanging off her back. She singlehandedly killed the living avatar of a deathly evil with nothing but a hairpin, and channeled the name of God to tame a fallen angel. She is personal friends with rulers of several countries, and other powers-that-be as well. She has an uncanny ability to win any bet she makes.
Companions: Joscelin, her warrior-priest bodyguard. Hyacinth, her childhood friend. Kushiel, the god always riding behind her eyes (he comes out in flashes of bronze wings and keys)
Trademarks: The briar rose tattoo that spans her entire back. The speck of bright blood red in her eye (Kushiel’s Dart). Always being stunningly dressed enough to set court fashions.

3. Harry Dresden (from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher)

: Wizard. Private Investigator. Freelancer for the Chicago Police Department.
Badassery: Harry has lots of raw power, stubbornness, and luck. He's very observant (except when it comes to women he likes), and chivalrous to a fault. He does not take well to being bullied, and often makes smartass remarks without thinking. He has balls enough to advertise as 'Wizard' in the yellow pages, and deal with all the crap that brings him. He literally has a faerie godmother, though that is often more problematic than helpful. He stopped a war between the faerie courts that would've destroyed the world. He managed to best a den full of vampires on their own turf. He has made a deal with Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, and survived. He bested his mentor-turned-black-wizard in a magical duel as a mostly untrained teenager. He has a habit of thumbing his nose at pretty much everyone at some point or another, but isn't dead yet.
Companions: Bob, a encyclopedic but lewd spirit that lives in a skull in Harry's basement. Toot-Toot, a pizza-loving pixie. Karen Murphy, Chicago PD's head of Special Investigations. Mister, his abnormally large tomcat.
Trademarks: Long black leather duster jacket. Blasting rod and staff, and pentacle necklace. General disheveled appearance.

4. FitzChivalry Farseer (from the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies by Robin Hobb)

: Bastard son of the dead, much-beloved prince. Assassin. Magic-user. White Prophet's Catalyst.
Badassery: He can go all berserker-like during a fight. He can talk to animals with his mind (the Wit) and also use the hereditary Farseer magic (the Skill), despite the initial crippling of his Skill by the hated Skillmaster Galen. He lived through his own execution. He helped save the race of dragons from extinction. He has uncovered and foiled numerous plots against the throne, helped forge a royal alliance, and helped win a war. He's so badass, people half a world away carved a ship's prow in his likeness. He let himself essentially be possessed by a dying prince in order to beget a royal child with the queen, then later served as mentor and teacher to the young/new prince. He feels things deeply, and is intensely loyal.
Companions: Nighteyes, a wolf with whom Fitz can communicate telepathically and who is his constant friend/partner. The Fool, a jester type who knows far more than he should, and more than he ever lets on.
Trademarks: Wolf at his side. Noticeably broken-and-set nose. Streak of white in his hair (leads to his pseudonym Tom Badgerlock).

5. Kvothe (from The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss)

: Orphan. Gypsy (Edema Ruh). Bard. Arcanist. Legend that stories are told about. Innkeeper.
Badassery: Youngest student ever admitted to The University/Arcanum. He can play almost any instrument (though partial to the lute) and sing really well. He is really good at magic, whether sympathy, naming or artificing. He convinced the reclusive Adem to teach him their secret fighting techniques. He has (so far) bested his nemesis Ambrose time after time. He has survived more than one encounter with the mythical and deadly Chandrian. He was seduced and ensnared by the legendary Fae lady Felurian, and not only survived but bested her with magic and won a special cloak. He has a penchant for collecting impressive nicknames: Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe Six-String, etc. He is a bit arrogant and quick to anger, with a tongue as sharp as his wit. But he shows signs of wisdom in that in the narrative he's retired (for yet unknown reasons) to own an inn, and renamed his sword Folly. This series is not yet fully published, so I'm sure there's more badassery to come - such as the whole 'Kingkiller' bit.
Companions: Bast, a being of the Fae who resides at the inn as Kvothe's assistant/student.
Trademarks: Red hair. Green eyes that change color slightly when he's angry. Ever-present lute.

Courtesy of Maxqnz | Fifty Pachaas | Originally posted 5.22.2012

"If Wodehouse hadn't existed, it would have been necessary to have invented him."

Voltaire may not have said that, but I'm sure he would have done, given the chance. After wading through a fatiguingly mediocre Sapne Sajan Ke, I was desperately in need of refreshment, and the chance to return to Wodehouse was a blessing.

Wodehouse's writing is like a soufflé, light, insubstantial and airy, and guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of anyone who enjoys a sweet treat. Despite having read many of his books, including almost all the Blandings books, and most of the Wooster/Pelicans stories, I'd forgotten that I even had Piccadilly Jim until reminded of it by Dustedoff's excellent review review of the 1936 movie adaptation. Having "discovered" it, it's now one of my favourites, almost the quintessential Wodehouse.

One of the reasons that Wodehouse does generally not translate well to the screen is that his trademark style is not in the narrative, but in the descriptive parts of his works. An oft-quoted example of this is "if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled." Or, one of my favourites from this book, "it was his tendency, when he found himself in a sea of troubles, to float plaintively, not to take arms against it. To pick up the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and fling them back was not a habit of his." Phrases like that can't be brought to life onscreen, but they are what makes Wodehouse Wodehouse. So too are ridiculously complex and contrived plots, the sheer silliness of which make not smiling at them an impossibility. Even by Wodehouse's high standards, though, the farcical intricacy of the plot in Piccadilly Jim takes some beating.

Reading a Wodehouse story is liking pulling on a comfortable pair of slippers, you know exactly what you're getting into. True love will conquer all, but only after twists and turns that would make the Minotaur's head spin, and only after defeating women who make the Minotaur seem like a pussycat. In Piccadilly Jim the twists and turns include the delightful bonus of the lead character and hero of the story having to impersonate himself, a twist I don't recall from other PGW stories, and one that made me laugh out loud when I saw it coming.

In a world full of political darkness, economic uncertainties, and various grim horrors, it's therapeutic to turn the clock back a hundred years and just laugh. Wodehouse at his best is a master laugh maker, and Piccadilly Jim is Wodehouse at his best. If you haven't read it, do, and if you have, return to it when you need to rediscover your smile. I guarantee that reading Piccadilly Jim will leave you thoroughly gruntled.

Courtesy of 1 Book 1 Movie | 1book1movie | Originally posted 5.13.2012

It’s Mother’s day, so you know what that means? Another themed post! I thought I’d list some of my favorite movie moms. There are so many out there, either truly good moms, evil ones, crazy ones…I’m gonna list my favorites. For all the mom’s out there, hope you had a happy mother’s day!

Stepmom: Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts are the perfect combination for a tearjerker. Roberts being the stepmom, clashes with Sarandon in the beginning…understandable. The stepmom being a “cooler” younger woman, has a tough time winning over the kids and Sarandon. Fighting turns to friendship, the kids disrespect turns to love, which makes it really hard to watch, especially towards the end.

2. Mermaids: I love this movie: The 60′s, a promiscuous Cher as single mom, a teenage Winona Ryder and an even younger Christina Ricci. Also Bob Hoskins, as Cher’s latest love interest, and Jake Ryan from 16 Candles! Constantly moving, makes for a functional, dysfunctional family. Ryder’s character is obsessed with trying to be good and pure, and essentially, nothing like her mother…but as her mother says: “With half my chromosomes, that may be tough.” Hilarious, touching and just a movie I can watch over and over.

3. Anywhere But Here: Another single mother tale, starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman. Complete opposites, from a small town in Wisconsin, end up in Beverly hills. The two clash about Portman’s future, especially since her mother pushes her failed actress dreams onto her.

4. Steel Magnolias: The movie you watch, when you want to cry. Starring Sally Field as the overprotective mom (for good reason!) and Julia Roberts and what she risks to become a mother herself. The best ensemble of female actors including Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, and Daryl Hannah.

5. Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood: A crazy woman…who probably shouldn’t have had children. Supported by her 3 best friends, creates a friendship known as the “Ya Ya sisterhood.” This is a flash back movie about a woman’s childhood and the memories she had of her depressed mother. Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t one of my favorite “good” mother’s, she’s under the crazy category, but the movie is entertaining and is another tearjerker. Stars Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Ashley Judd, Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, Maggie Smith and the charming James Garner.

Here’s a great list with plenty more movie moms:

Who are your favorites?

Courtesy of Bibliotechnicienne | Bibliotechnicienne | Originally posted 5.10.2021

In the not so distant future, China has emerged from the 2008 global economic meltdown unscathed and more prosperous than ever. The general populous is euphoric. Constantly. And yet one month is missing from the official record. Twenty-eight days to be exact. Newspapers have been destroyed. The online versions that remain have been altered to reflect that the economic meltdown and China’s so-called Age of Ascendancy happened simultaneously, without protest or disharmony. Few people remember the lost month and dare to question it. Why are there so few people who remember the chaos and protests, the same people who don’t feel the immense and unending happiness of the majority?

I liked this book. However I like the story behind the novel better than the actual book. It’s banned in China. The cover of the book proclaims it as “the book no one in China dares publish.” Who isn’t intrigued by a forbidden book?

Some books are translated into English from their original language and they flow. This is not one of them. I found some passages clunky and/or confusing, and I found myself re-reading many parts of the book for clarity.

One part I re-read because it was heartbreaking. The main character, Lao Chen, is thinking about “90 percent freedom” which he believes he currently enjoys in China. The government is much more relaxed than they were in the past. So what if he can’t get some of the books he wants, that he could before the lost month? As a writer, he feels guilty that he hasn’t read many of the Russian classics. He can still access those. “It’s enough for me to have these classics, I don’t need too much freedom.” Perhaps they’re already at 95 percent freedom. Watching him slowly rationalizes that things are better than they were before, and he doesn’t need “too much freedom” and should be happy with what he has is tough to read. It’s a work of fiction, but it’s not hard to imagine that it’s true. If things are better than they were in the past, why would you want to stir things up by advocating for that final 5 percent of freedom?

While the story, and perhaps the translation could use a bit of polish, it’s a worthwhile read.

Book 19/50 for fiftyfiftyme.

Are you taking part in 50/50me? How are you doing so far? Any book recommendations?

Note: be wary of reading articles about this book before reading it. I found one in the Globe and Mail, and it contained a colossal spoiler. A spoiler from the last pages of the book. I won’t repeat it here (but I’ll email it to you, if you’re one of those people who can’t help but spoil things for yourself. I do that too, but this time the spoiling was inadvertent and unwanted.) So, in the event that other journalists are jerkstores, refrain from reading reviews/articles until after reading the book.

  • I Hunt Killers, Barry Lyga
  • The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  • The Big Nowhere, James Ellroy
  • Old Man's War, John Scalzi
  • The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Aimee Bender
  • Damsels in Distress, Whit Stillman
  • Lockout, Stephen St. Leger
  • Love in the Buff, Ho-Cheung Pang
  • Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
  • The Raven, James McTeigue
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A banner month as April contained virtually no missteps on the movie or book front! That's pretty rare right? Well, unless you count Lockout, which was only a filler film because I was movie hopping. I need more Guy Pearce as sarcastic anti-hero but the rest of the movie was horrible. Let's start with Love in the Buff, which was the reason I sat through three movies that day anyway.

I've seen my share of Chinese movies but they tend to be of the John Woo action variety or the Wong Kar-Wai stuff. Love in the Buff is a romantic comedy set in Hong Kong and Beijing and because it's not American, the beats are different. American romcoms haven't changed much in the past decade, so to get my fix, I may now have to turn to Asia.

Seeing as it's Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, let me just say that watching a movie with young-ish urban Chinese folk, wearing their bold rimmed glasses and drawing their fashion cues not from Williamsburg but from their own influences, was an eye-opening experience. The looks ultimately aren't that different but seeing a city full of young urban Asian people without knowing immediately what their fashion stereotype is was refreshing.

The last time I set foot in Asia was ten years ago, and I have no idea what the modern young population does there. After watching Love in the Buff, I kind of want to visit and find out. Note: This is a sequel to Love in the Puff, which has the two main characters meeting at an outdoor smoking area and falling in love. What's not to like?

On the books front, I finally got the chance to toss down The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, which I'd been saving for a rainy day. I'm a little tired of the multi-generational, interlinking stories type of book but Junot Diaz's novel is a must read. Big bonus for all his geeky comic book references. I mean, literature that incorporates Uatu the Watcher? I'm in.

At the end of the day, I thought Brief Wonderous Life was our generation's One Hundred Years of Solitude and I'll likely return to it at some point. Although I think I'd recommend his short story debut, Drown, first. Also, if you're looking to get a sense of Diaz's style, his short, "Miss Lora", was recently in this month's New Yorker.

And speaking of highly recommended shorts, Aimee Bender's The Girl in the Flammable Skirt -- which is not about Katniss -- was so great. I loved Bender's clean writing and the impactful nuance of her stories. It's been years since I've fallen so in love with a short story collection. This rejuvenated me. I had picked up The Girl in the Flammable Skirt thinking of another "Aimee" author, but I'm glad the mistake happened. Now I'm gonna get into Bender's latest, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which is just one of those long evocative titles I love.

Last up, Damsels in Distress starring Greta Gerwig. I think you have to officially put "indie darling" when you talk about Gerwig but it's fully deserved. Anything Gerwig is in I'll watch, even the (mostly) disappointing Greenberg. If you didn't know, Gerwig starred in mumblecore-y movies like Hannah Takes the Stairs and Nights and Weekends and is now slowly making her way through still quirky yet more mainstream projects.

I was very impressed with writer/director Whit Stillman's script and can't believe I'd never heard about him. Movies with sour dialogue and dour worldviews are right up my alley and Damsels in Distress was a near perfect example of the form -- although I can see a lot of people not enjoying it. If you watch one of Stillman's films and love it, please befriend me so I can be less alone. Bonus: Analeigh Tipton, another high riser in my "who to watch" ranking, co-stars in Damsels.

May is the start of summer blockbuster season so my indie diet may have to take a back seat to special effects and superheroes. Fire up the popcorn please!

[Crossposted from]

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