Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Musing over An Evening with Michael Bublé concert

I attended a Michael Bublé concert in June this year, my fourth time hearing him live, and I've spent the last several months mulling over why this particular Evening with Michael Bublé fell so incredibly flat for me when it should have been amazing.

First, there was some drama over buying the tickets. I don't like drama, and I don't like it when other people cause drama in my life. Even if that drama really isn't that big, it still has an effect. So, there is the possibility that the ticket-buying experience with friends was just enough of a nightmare to ruin the entire evening.

But, more than that, I'm disappointed in Michael himself.

He's a crooner, and he presents a very classy image on his albums and even in his Christmas specials (which he's not doing anymore, sadly).

But in person, on the stage, he's crass. He's always been crass and I've always overlooked it, but I'm tired of pretending I'm fine with his behavior.

By being crass he lowers the quality of his performance and my enjoyment. I was even more disappointed in him than in past times because I actually had my younger sister with me and having her listen to him tell his jokes and swear made me realize that I didn't really want her listening to him and I didn't want to listen to him anymore either. If I could have, I would have walked out, but that's hard to do when you're with others.

I'm not sure why it took me four concerts to come to this conclusion, but better late than never, as they say.

Maybe I'm expecting too much of him, but I don't think so. How hard is it present a clean show when he knows his audience has families in it? Or, heaven forbid, does he swear like a sailor in front of his own kids? There's a terrifying thought.

I wish he didn't demean himself and the art form he's trying to keep alive by his behavior on the stage, but he does. So I'm left with a decision. I can continue listening to his music or I can give him up entirely. Or is there something else in-between?

I love Michael's music. He has a beautiful, silky voice that makes me smile.

But apart from his music, I'm done with him.

No more fanclub, no more concerts, just a new album every couple of years after I learn its content. Nope, sorry Michael, not buying them outright anymore until I'm sure the songs you're singing continue to be of the same standard I'm used to, from your music at least. I wish I could stay that you met a higher standard in person, but that's just not the case.

Maybe someday he'll figure out that crass behavior in his concerts doesn't serve him well. Until then, I'll relax to his Christmas album as the holiday season approaches and allow myself to enjoy what I consider to be an album of pure delight and joy.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Radio Theater: Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson as Holmes and Watson (1955)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio series starring John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson

I'm on the eternal hunt for the ideal Holmes and Watson pairing.

Oh, of course, many come close, like Jeremy Brett and David Burke in the celebrated BBC television series from the 1980s, or even Ian Richardson as Holmes, but alas, I can't recall his Watson, which is never a good sign.

Photo of Sir John Gielgud
Sir John Gielgud
But I believe I may have finally found the ideal paring in Gielgud and Richardson, both esteemed stage actors in their own right with all of the professional training needed to make radio theater a success.

In a word, they're marvelous.

I mentioned Ian Richardson a moment ago, and I actually hold him up as the ideal Holmes. They only thing he didn't have was Holmes' height, but everything else was absolutely 100% spot on, from his mannerisms to his appearance.

John Gielgud is the same, only on the radio.

One doesn't need much imagination to conjure an image of Sherlock Holmes while listening to Gielgud's radio theater performance. He has just the right touch of arrogance and humility in his performance, the proper notes of conviviality paired with the behavior of a social recluse. That mixture is what makes Arthur Conan Doyle such a delight to read. It's not everyday that a lead character can be offensive and still likeable.

Gielgud plays Holmes with a genuine fondness for Watson, a nice change from some of the more unpleasant incarnations of the man, and he absolutely sells that the story is happening in real time, at this very moment. No small feat.

Photo of Sir Ralph Richardson
Sir Ralph Richardson
Then there is Ralph Richardson, not to be confused with Ian Richardson. RR is a marvel. I've not encountered him very often in my movie watching ventures. He just sort of slipped on by me, as it were, although he does play Lord Mere in The Divorce of Lady X with Laurence Olivier and Merle Obern, one of my favorite romcoms from the 1930s.

I guess the real question is who do you see when you think of Dr. John Watson? I don't see an idle, fat man with absolutely no brains at all. I'll be forever troubled that Watson is often cast as such when there is no evidence at all in the canon that he was overweight and stupid. Opposite Holmes, almost anybody would seem stupid.

RR's Watson is delightfully amiable, awash with a warmth and enthusiasm for life that just makes the listener smile. He can and does keep up with Holmes on their ventures. His radio theater performance in The Dying Detective, the hurt and dismay he feels in thinking Holmes doesn't trust his expertise as a doctor, is perfection itself. Those authentic emotions are like nothing you have ever heard.

As if it were possible to improve on perfection, somehow this radio theater series managed it in the simple act of casting Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty in The Final Problem. Welles delivers an understated, calm performance as the devious Moriarty, a refreshing change to the Moriarty performances which hint at just a bit of crazy.

Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, and Orson Welles performing the radio play Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem
Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, and Orson Welles

Paired together, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson elevate the Holmes canon with their performance.

They show how the stories can and should be performed. I would give almost anything for a new television rendering of the stories if I trusted the BBC to get it right. But I don't trust them to not stay true to Doyle's original stories, so there's no point in my even going on about it, alas.

On a complete side note, my one annoyance with the series is the narrator's continued ignorance. He insists on calling Watson, Dr. James Watson! I mean, really!?

The radio series has 16 episodes (how I wish it were longer!)

Dr Watson Meets Sherlock Holmes
A Scandal in Bohemia
The Red-Headed League
The Six Napoleons
The Blue Carbuncle (an absolute gem)
The Speckled Band (shivers galore)
The Disappearance of Silver Blaze
The Golden Pince-Nez
A Case of Identity
The Final Problem (an absolute must)
The Empty House (again, an absolute must)
The Second Stain
The Bruce-Partington Plans
The Dying Detective (my personal favorite)
The Norwood Builder
The Solitary Cyclist (another favorite)

You can find them all HERE for free streaming, which I think is a lovely service.

If you do get a chance to listen, what is your favorite of the stories? What do you think of the performances? And, most especially, which of the Holmes stories do you wish they had performed!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Angela Lansbury and Raymond Burr in Please Murder Me! (1956)

Angela Lansbury and Raymon Burr in the film noir Please Murder Me! from 1956

Angela Lansbury has been synonymous with Disney and Jessica Fletcher for so long that it's hard to remember that she was an actress long before she ever jumped on the Disney bandwagon. It's even harder to realize that she played some pretty unpleasant characters. She was the "other" woman opposite Judy Garland and John Hodiak in Harvey Girls which I love and reviewed HERE. She was also absurdly cast as Elvis Presley's mother in Blue Hawaii and even as Queen Anne in The Three Musketeers that starred Gene Kelley as D'Artagnan.

And now I've seen her in an even more startling deviation, as accused murderess in the 1956 black and white film noir Please Murder Me! opposite Raymond Burr.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Radio Theater: Orson Welles in Noël Coward's Private Lives (4/21/1939)

Orson Welles preparing for a radio play

I honestly don't know how I lived before finding Orson's radio theater performances! I mean, seriously!

Private Lives is a crazy combination of hilarity and tragedy that appeals to my macabre sense of humor. Orson Welles plays Elyot and actress Gertrude Lawrence plays his ex-wife Amanda (Gertrude actually played opposite Noël in 1930 in this play on the stage!). Each of these individuals has remarried and each of them is on their honeymoon, I would say the wedding night, actually. And of course, each couple stays in the same hotel!

And of course, they have suites right next to each other!

Elyot and Amanda see each other, turn white as a sheet (assumedly, since it is radio), and immediately beg their new spouses to agree to move to a different hotel. Which is hilarious because each of them wanted to go to Paris so they would have run into each other there too. Apparently, Amanda and Elyot both love the same hotels/resorts. Can't imagine how that happened.

Anyway, the new spouses are frustrated at this new itchy, irritating side to Elyot and Amanda and dig in their heels, refusing to change hotels. Each of the new spouses storms off to have dinner alone in the resort, leaving, CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC, Elyot and Amanda alone!

The divorced couple gets to talking, realizes how very much they still desperately love each other despite the smackdown drag-out fights they indulged in when they were married. Yah, that sounds healthy. After indulging in a bit of desperate guilt, the two set up a phrase, or in this case, a name, Solomon Isaacs, that each of them has the right to say to call a cease-fire for several minutes should an argument break out. Then they run away together, off to Amanda's apartment in Paris.

Whoo boy.

Yes, Private Lives is hilarious.

But my heart also breaks for the other spouses. These poor people, Sibyl and Victor, had nothing whatsoever to do with any of this insanity. The only thing they did wrong was fall in love with fickle people who can't live with each other and can't live without each other either. It's not a comforting thought to realize that the only way your husband/wife would be faithful is if they never saw their ex-spouse in the flesh. Yipes!

Down to the nitty-gritty of the radio theater performance.

Orson uses a delightful hoity-toity British accent as if he were a second son of a lord or duke. It's a lovely accent, made even more so by the absurd lines in the play that he gets to perform. Gertrude must have been a hoot on the stage because I absolutely adore her in the radio play! She has this charming selfishness to her voice that suits the character perfectly. And together, you buy that Elyot and Amanda are still in love. They just sell it, even though they each had their own microphone they were performing from, you can picture them in each other's arms, both arguing and kissing at the same time. It's insane to be able to capture that type of authenticity on the radio!

The secondary casting for Sibyl and Victor was excellent as well. Sibyl (Naomi Campbell) is this sweet little voice that you empathize with because she's right when she says that it's all so squalid. And Victor (Robert Speaight), well, he's a bit of a dullard, sort of white bread with mayonnaise, which is fine, but Amanda should have known better than to marry him. She would have been bored within a week.

And then there's the manager of the hotel. Oh my gosh, I LOVE him and I have no idea who played him. He's this officious little Frenchman who's an impartial observer to the insanity of Amanda and Elyot reconnecting. He's, in effect, the chorus or the narrator, and is positively brilliant.

Private Lives is in my top 5 favorites of Orson's radio theater productions. It's a perfect representation of the 1930s lackadaisical attitude towards marriage and I just can't help loving it.

Laurence Olivier and his first wife, Jill Esmond
Laurence Oliver and Jill Esmond
On a completely unimportant side note, Laurence Olivier performed as Victor in the stage play with Noël and Gertrude in 1930 and even married Jill Esmond, the girl who played Sibyl. This, of course, was before the Vivien Leigh debacle. As the narrator of the radio play would say, "These people are crazy!"

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Lovable Ruffian - James Cagney with Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy (1931)

James Cagney and Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

"Now the world owes me a living, and I'm gonna collect it, see." - James Cagney in Blonde Crazy

Pre-code films are spectacularly vulgar and this one is a humdinger!

I think until now the earliest Cagney film I'd ever watched was probably A Midsummer Night's Dream from 1935, which is brilliant, by the way. But I'd never ventured into any of his earlier films simply because they're a pain to track down. But I know a gal who found a way for me to watch all of these amazing old movies, so yay!

James Cagney was made for pre-code films. There's a certain raw, brutishness about him that you just can't get away with today. He's not even playing one of his infamous mobster roles in Blonde Crazy, he's just a guy who's an impressively foolish con artist and wow, quite the playboy!

James Cagney and Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

If I met a man who drawled out "hoooooonnnneey" that way, I'd be tempted to sock him in the nose. Maybe that habit was common in 1931?

Let me expound on my reason for labeling James Cagney as The Loveable Ruffian.

Because I know that at this point he really doesn't sound all that loveable!

It's that raw energy, that wolfish twinkle, that I find repulsive, but at the same time, Cagney possessed enough acting chops to incorporate glimmers of regret, yearning, and genuine selfless love to make my label him as that loveable ruffian. He's kind of this way in most of his roles, at least the ones I've watched so far.

James Cagney and Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

Blonde Crazy is entertaining because he's a guy who's always out to make a fortune anyway he can, even if it means selling his own hooch or pulling a fast one on visitors to the hotel where he works. Enter the plucky Joan Blondell, who I've never seen before but absolutely love. I'll have to track down more of her films, apparently she and Cagney were paired together quite often.

Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

Anyway, Joan gets employed at the same hotel as a linen lady. Cagney takes an immediate shine to her, just as he would any girl who would get the job. Ladies man, like I said. But she'll have none of it. In fact, just as often as he drawls out "hoooooonnnnneey" she'll whip around and slap him in the face. I'm guessing that's what made him really fall for her? A girl who wasn't fooled by his tricks.

James Cagney in Blonde Crazy from 1931

They do partner up as con artists, although she feels a bit guilty for it. Together they make thousands of dollars by conning suckers who can afford it. She finally has enough, falls for a good guy (or convinces herself she has), just as Cagney realizes he's in love with her.

The ending is quite the pip. I didn't quite see it coming, but I liked it, really, because it's a bit unpredictable, but also made sense.

Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

One thing that could be either objectionable or admirable depending on your point of view is the pre-code era's take on sex. They actually acknowledge that it's a thing! They also acknowledge, whether they mean to or not, that men can be pigs. Perhaps it's my modern moralizing self looking almost 90 years into the past that sees this, but all of the men in this film, at some time or another, treat the women in their lives as possessions, something to be bartered or bought. That makes them pigs, but it was normal for men in that era to wolf whistle and eye a girl up and down as if she were nothing more than a hunk of meat.

Cagney's character helps Joan's character get a job and then he expects her to sleep with him. They didn't come right out and say that, but it's what he was thinking and required very little reading between the lines.

It's not the cleaned up version of Hollywood that sometimes gets presented. But like I said, I kinda admire that about really old Hollywood. They didn't put blinders on, just created movies to represent the morality of the era in which they were living.

James Cagney and Joan Blondell in Blonde Crazy from 1931

I would actually watch Blonde Crazy again.

For one thing, I adore the absurdity of 1930s fashion. Some of it made perfect sense and was super stylish and some it was just insane, usually the ladies' evening wear. Sometimes I spent a good chunk of time wondering how the women held their gowns up!

Joan Blondell is delightful, just delightful. And Cagney's character is probably 50/50 turd to nice guy. All he needed was a little push in the right direction. And even when he realizes he can't have Joan, he actually turns his life around anyway. It's kinda funny.

If I were to label them as anything, I would say a realistic version of Bonnie and Clyde. It is the era, after all!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Pastor Frank Hogan: Why he took the "heart" from When Calls the Heart when he left

I find myself being very suspicious now, about Mark Humphrey's elimination from When Calls the Heart in the role of Pastor Frank Hogan. Now that my trust in Lori Loughlin (should any of us have trusted her to begin with?) is gone, I'm starting to feel that it was her idea to get rid of him.

I remember when she put out the call to "Save Pastor Frank," long after the decision had already been made to release him from the show. She would have known his contract wasn't being renewed, so why even bother asking the fans to fight for him? Except to give the impression that his going wasn't her idea and that she was upset that he wasn't staying.

We all know that Lori Loughlin wanted Abigail to be a strong, independent, single female. Just like almost every other woman in Hope Valley. I guess the logical thing then would be to get rid of one of the men who had "set his cap" for her, so to speak. I dislike thinking that she might have had even more devious intentions about removing the faith element from the show, but it's always possible that was her motivator too.

Keep in mind, I have no proof. This is just my theory, but right now, it sounds good to me.

I haven't watched When Calls the Heart this last season. 

Some might dislike me for jumping ship at the end of season 5, but I just can't continue. Some of it is probably due to Daniel Lissing leaving. You can't have your romantic lead die off like that and expect all of the fans to stay faithful. So by the time the Lori Loughlin debacle hit the news, I was already long gone. While I felt for the fans of the show and was horrified at her behavior, I wasn't invested in When Call the Heart anymore.

Why, you might ask?'

Because when Pastor Frank left so too did my love of Hope Valley.

Yes, all right, I liked Abigail and Frank more than Abigail and Bill, but that was never my main reason for liking the character. Frank was so much more than just a love interest for Abigail. He was the spiritual leader of the town. Without a pastor, that building Jack put together is just a school, not a church with a school in it during the week. 

I got tired. Tired of pretending that it was okay for there to be a church with no pastor and no Sunday service. Tired of pretending that I was okay with Pastor Frank leaving when his departure was so full of unanswered questions. Tired of feeling like the producers were avoiding giving us straight answers. 

I read Janette Oke's books growing up and they left a lasting impression on me. But there is so little of her books and her faith left in When Calls the Heart that, in a way, I'm distraught that the show is still running. We were promised a replacement pastor when Frank left. Where is he? I may not be watching the show this season, but I've kept up with the news about it and I know that church stands empty on Sunday.

Why? Why do I have to pretend that it's perfectly fine for a Christian television show to have all vestiges of its faith stripped away until all you're left with is a "clean" production?

I will always miss Pastor Frank. I miss his wisdom. I miss his experience. And I miss his redemption arc that made him feel so real and genuine. Christians aren't perfect. That's never the message of Jesus. Who does he approach? The hurting, the broken, and those desperate for a new way of life. That was Pastor Frank, a man with a past who had a hope for the future because of his faith in God.

Could When Calls the Heart eventually incorporate a new pastor? Maybe. But I'm not holding my breath anymore. After almost 2 seasons without one, I just don't have enough faith anymore. I'd rather watch a secular program that at least is honest with me about its motivations then one that pretends to be Christian but whose faith is such a thin veneer I can pass my hand right through.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Radio Theater: Orson Welles as the Count of Monte Cristo (10/1/1939)

No, you're not looking at a bizarre facsimile of Leonardo Dicaprio. Although I do find it strange that in their youth and based solely on appearance, Orson and Leo could have been brothers.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Orson Welles.

Most people probably know him for Citizen Kane and The Third Man, the latter of which his role lasts no more than 20 minutes and the former being a film I've not yet watched.

Instead, Orson Welles is my radio theater champion.

If you know of Orson but don't ever recall him playing the Count of Monte Cristo, you would be right, in a sense. He never performed as Edmond Dantes on the screen, but instead lit up the airwaves in a vastly abridged yet brilliant hour long radio play of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Performed October 1, 1939, Orson had yet to advance to the silver screen. He wouldn't move from New York to Los Angeles until November of 1939 when he began his work on what is, arguably, his most famous role in Citizen Kane

Instead, he's still in New York, performing every week for radio audiences.

There's nothing quite like the radio of the early Hollywood years. These performers were artists, really. Regardless of your opinion of Orson Welles as a person, no one can deny his epic, masterful voice. 

And he puts all of his skills to work in the role of Edmond Dantes.

I have never read the book. I admit it. I've seen the Jim Caviezel film and been struck by its morbid tragedy, but the book has always seemed daunting somehow. To have Orson Welles pare it down into an hour long performance staggers the imagination.

The story begins as a young and foolish Edmond Dantes trusts the wrong people in his life, young men he thought were his friends. Orson would have been 24 when he played Dantes, a little older than the youthful character, but if there's one thing Orson had, it was mastery of his voice,. He plays young Dantes as an eager to please, hopeful youth who simply wants to marry his sweetheart and live his life.

Of course, the next phase is the betrayal of Edmond by his so-called friends. It is suspected that he is a supporter of Bonaparte and he spends the next 20+ years imprisoned in the Château d'If, a prison island off southeastern France.  There's nothing more haunting than hearing a young man who has done absolutely nothing wrong, scream that he is innocent as the guards lock him away to be forgotten in solitary confinement.

After 6 years of utter silence, Dantes spends the next 6 months attempting to starve himself to death. At least, until a prisoner known as the Mad Priest, digs his tunnel into Dante's cell. The two spend the next 14 years in each other's company, saving Dantes from the sin of suicide.

When the Mad Priest dies of illness and supposed old age, Dantes switches himself with the body and when tossed over the side of the Château d'If, cuts himself free of the shroud and swims off to collect the treasure of Monte Cristo that the Mad Priest had essentially bequeathed to his young friend.

I'm prone to loving Orson when he plays supremely young characters. He imbues a certain whimsy into his lines that is just extremely attractive and charming. But there is nothing more terrifying than Orson as a vengeful Edmond Dantes, recently escaped from 20 years in a French prison.

You would almost think that the time spent in the Château d'If might have tamed the character. But not the way Orson plays him. Instead, Dantes is masterful, a man in his late 30s, performing a convincing masquerade as the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo.

Revenge, of course, is enacted.

I suspect that the last half of the play might be the most condensed since we never know what happens to the villains who betrayed Dantes all those years ago. There's an intense, snarling confrontation when Dantes casts off his mask as the Count of Monte Cristo. But there is nothing after this point, which is probably good because I think one of the men commits suicide, another gets captured by bandits (maybe?), and the third goes insane. At least according to Wikipedia.

I do know that H. H. Holmes (the infamous devil of the White City), read The Count of Monte Cristo during his time in prison, but unlike Dantes, Holmes was GUILTY!


Orson's ability to move from youthful, wistful Edmond Dantes to the avenging devil Dantes is remarkable.

Think of it.

This is radio.

You don't have facial expressions or sweeping gestures to help you. The audience can't see them. All you have is your voice. And that has to be perfect, every time, if radio theater was your career.

If you get a chance, Audible has a 60 hour collection of Orson Welles' radio plays. I've listened to most of them half a dozen times now, and not all of them are classics, but contemporary plays, well, what would have been contemporary during the 1930s. But each of them gives a much more complete view of Orson Welles as a performing artist. Yes, he was excellent on the silver screen. So much so that I wish he'd gone to Hollywood sooner and acted during the 1930s. But if he'd done that, we wouldn't have his radio plays, and that is a sacrifice I'm thankful he didn't have to make.

More reviews of his radio plays to come.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Mount TBR - On the Shoulders of Hobbits by Louis Markos

Title:  On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis
Author: Louis Markos
Genre: Fiction
Publication Year: 2012

I thank Louis Markos for re-awakening my imagination with On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis. I've had this book in my library for 5 years now, but have never read it until now. I hate that I waited this long, but perhaps I needed to wait for such a time as this.

It's so easy to get bogged down in the cares of this world, of the corruption and evil we see around us every day. We live in a cruel and sinful world and it's a simple thing to be disheartened by it, but even though Louis Markos touches heavily on corruption and evil in his book, he doesn't stay there.

Instead, he draws the readers attention to Tolkien's masterful use of the classical virtues in The Lord of the Rings. To a lesser degree, he also chooses examples from C.S. Lewis' remarkable Chronicles of Narnia. He asks the question of why so much modern fiction is not fulfilling on an intimate level like it once was. The answer is simple; as a society, we no longer believe in "universal" virtues. Some of our knee-jerk reactions might be to deny this, but how can we? Everywhere we turn, people are encouraged to define their own truth, their own lifestyle, and their own virtues. Our world is chaos and there is no universal virtue to be found in chaos.

But that doesn't mean we're without hope.

In fact, Markos' rallying cry is that we return to literature that holds to the classical universal virtues because they are eternal, being: wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice.

This book was a return to my English literature classes for me. And, in many ways, a return to my Christian development classes, which were a requirement for my degree, and which ended up being some of my favorite courses during my college education.

I forgot how much I love literary analysis from a spiritual perspective. I actually miss that aspect of college. I was so steeped in literary analysis for so long that graduating from college and joining the workforce full time negatively affected me.

Somewhere in the last 5 years, I misplaced the ability to reason and discern from the literature I read. And that's where I have to praise Louis Markos for reinvigorating my interest in literary analysis from a Christian perspective. Because that's how I read, that's who I am, and that's how I need to approach life and the books that I read. There are reasons why some books powerfully impact us and others disgust us. What virtues are they holding to?

It's time to read On the Shoulders of Hobbits. It's time to demand something more profound from the stories we read. Stories can be fun and profound at the same time, without talking down to us or compromising the virtues we should hold dear.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Mount TBR - Henry Tilney's Diary by Amanda Grange

Mount TBR 2019
Title: Henry Tilney's Diary
Author: Amanda Grange
Genre: Fiction
Publication Year: 2011

If you read or watch Jane Austen, then you know Henry Tilney is the hero in Northanger Abbey. It's funny, but I was never really a fan of that story until I listened to THIS radio drama set from Audible. I absolutely adored their Henry Tilney, decided to re-read the book, and have been a fan of the story ever since.

Amanda Grange does a fair job of bringing the characters in the Tilney household further to light than Austen, simply because Jane focused on the heroine instead of the hero, per the usual with all of her works. I appreciated getting to know a young Henry and Eleanor Tilney before their mother died. Henry's inner dialogue is charming and quirky, just like him.

I don't always agree with Amanda Grange's interpretations of certain characters. I hate Captain Tilney, Henry's older brother, and always will. No, I don't think his heart had been destroyed by an early love that left him. I believe him to be utterly selfish, with no thought whatsoever given to proving to Catherine's older brother that he was in love with a fickle woman and would be better to find out now than later. Captain Tilney is a cad, there's no other description for the man.

I'm not sure how whimsical Eleanor would have been as a child, but anything is possible since her mother was still alive at that point. One thing I did love was getting to know Mr. Morris, the man who eventually was permitted to marry Eleanor. He's just this random name in Northanger Abbey but is given a character in Henry Tilney's Diary and I liked that a lot.

I've owned 5 or 6 of Amanda Grange's Austen retellings since May 2018 so I'm thrilled to finally buckle down and get at least one of them read. This book truly is charming, effortless escapism for the anglophile who craves Austen, but maybe from a slightly different perspective.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Mount TBR - From Barefoot to Bishop: A Rwandan Refugee's Journey

Title: From Barefoot to Bishop
Author: Rt. Rev. Dr. Laurent Mbanda
Genre: Memoir
Publication Year: 2017

I've never really been one to read a lot of nonfiction, but in addition to wanting to read more classics this year, I've also decided to work through my pile of nonfiction books that have been spent years on the lonely shelves of my bookcase.

Since I work for an NGO, I am always curious about those who have made the journey out of poverty. I heard about Laurent Mbanda through my mother who had read his book and gave a copy to me last year sometime. He is not a young man, so he was not a refugee during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Instead, when he calls himself a refugee, it is from his childhood when, in November of 1959, he and his family fled the first in a wave of massacres against the Tutsi people in Rwanda.

From that time on, Laurent Mbanda spent his life as a refugee. He lived in refugee camps in neighboring Burundi where they were accepted as a necessity but never truly welcomed. He knew hunger and hopelessness. He also found a relationship with Jesus Christ during this time. A child's faith is sometimes the strongest faith we will ever encounter and I am awed by the strength of Dr. Mbanda's faith during these hardest years of his life.

He knew early in his formative years that he wanted to go into ministry. So he strived to reach that goal, no matter the cost. Even if it meant illegally trekking 500 miles into Kenya to attend a seminary. These years were incredibly hard, but each year, each step he took, moved him further along the path God had set for him to walk. He ended up married to a lovely Rwandan woman and together they journeyed to Colorado so each of them could pursue higher education. While in Colorado, they welcomed 3 beautiful children into their home. 

Eventually, Dr. Mbanda ended up serving high up in the ranks of NGO Compassion International for 17 years. It was during this time that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 happened and he went back to Rwanda under Compassion's banner to do what he could to alleviate the pain and suffering of his people.

His time with Compassion ended in 2010 when he was pressed by the Lord to become Bishop of the Shyria Diocese for the Anglican church in northern Rwanda. 

This book enthralled me. To read of a man with such faith in the face of such trials is inspiring and intimidating in that I have never faced trials of my own, not like Laurent Mbanda's trials. How would I have reacted in his place? I don't know. But I'm thankful to him for telling his story. I'm glad I read it, and I'm glad I can share my profound appreciation for his journey with others through this review.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

KidLit Challenge - Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Title: Kat, Incorrigible
Author: Stephanie Burgis
Age Range: 8-12 years
Publication Year: 2011
Length: 295 pages

Official Summary

Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she's inherited her mother's magical talents, and despite Stepmama's stern objections, she's determined to learn how to use them. 

But with her eldest sister Elissa's intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat's magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat's reckless heroism will be tested to the upmost. 

If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true love?


Where in heavens' name do I start? 

Kat. That child has no more right being in a Regency novel than I would be in a psychedelic story from the 1960s. Why, oh why, do so many authors transplant the modern social mores into their historic literature? It never serves any purpose except to make me see red. I have no patience for such writers and so I'm afraid Stephanie Burgis was on shaky ground with me from the beginning. 

For someone who claims to love Regency England, she certainly disrespected every aspect of it that she could find in Kat, Incorrigible. Kat is the perfect, contemporary brat with no respect for her elders and no intention of ever acknowledging her failings. She'll be a charming little psychopath by the time she's 20. I'm stunned that neither of her sisters ever slapped her silly when she went off on one of her nasty little benders.

As for the rest of the characters, they at least fit into the concept of Regency England. All of the social graces are there, the propriety of character, all of those concepts are present in Kat's older sisters and the attendees of the house party. Frankly, if Kat hadn't been in the book at all, it would have been a much more enjoyable read instead of having to seethe my way through it.

I love the concept of writing Regency children's fiction since it broadens their horizons. But this is not the way to do it. If you're going to do Regency, do it right. Don't claim you love it by disrespecting every single aspect of the era from the courtship rituals to the expectations of society.

If I had a child, I would never permit them to read Kat, Incorrigible. It gives all the wrong impressions and would fill a child's head with nasty, rebellious ideas that are never apologized for and for which Kat is never held accountable. By the end, I pretty much loathed this book, which is a first for me since I love most KidLit.

To borrow a phrase from Emma's Mr. Knightley, "Badly done, Stephanie, badly done."

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

KidLit Challenge - Raymie Nightingale by Kate Dicamillo

Title: Raymie Nightingale
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Age Range: 8-12 years
Publication Year: 2016
Length: 263 pages

Official Summary

Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie's picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.


As I sit here with a mug of hot tea, thankful for a snow day free from work, I'm also thankful for books like Raymie Nightingale. I don't know why it is that some adult fiction tends towards the absurd notion that life is all wine and roses. That has never been, will never be, the case. Which is why I love books that acknowledge sometimes life hurts but while still offering hope. That is pretty much this book in a nutshell.

Raymie, as the summary says, is trying to win a contest so she can get her picture in the paper and win her father back to their family. Her grief at his betrayal is to try and rectify the situation. You know and I know that her plan will never work, but she's a child where all the impossible things become possible so she has hope. 

But if she hadn't wanted to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, she would have never met Beverly and Louisiana. She goes from being a little girl with no friends to a little girl with 2 best friends.

This book is both an easy read physically but a difficult read mentally. It deals with adultery, with suicidal thoughts, with broken families, and with the horrors of an animal center that takes in abandoned/unwanted pets in the 1970s. Not pretty pictures for children. But all so very real scenarios.

I'm glad I read Raymie Nightingale

I'm glad because the end of the book is so hopeful and I know these children will be alright. There's even a bit of a miracle that crops up at the end, some special magic that made me smile. Sometimes the most improbable miracle is the miracle you most wish could happen.

If your children prefer books about realism than you really don't get more realistic than this novel. I've never read anything by Kate DiCamillo and if I don't ever read anything by her again, that's okay, because I loved Raymie Nightingale.

2 books down from this challenge, 13 to go!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

KidLit Challenge - Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley

Title: Tumble and Blue
Author: Cassie Beasley
Age Range: 8-12 years
Publication Year: 2017
Length: 390 pages

Official Summary

Blue Montgomery is cursed to lose. At everything. And to make matters worse, his dad abandons him at his grandmother's house, which is full of madcap relatives with terrible fates - all fighting for the one chance to have their curse lifted.

Tumble Wilson is a hero in training. She lives by her idol Maximal Star's self-help book, How to Hero Every Day. But whenever she tries to save someone, she fails - and fails spectacularly.

When Tumble and Blue meet one fateful summer, they dare to ask a dangerous question: What if you can make your own destiny? They don't know that only a fool would dare to mess around with fate.

Determined to be the heroes of their own stories, they'll journey into the Okefenokee Swamp in search of a legendary creature with the power to change fate itself - a mysterious golden alligator named Munch.

In the heart of the swamp, under the light of a bloodred moon, Tumble and Blue will finally learn if the legends are true..

Munch is about to meet two very brave fools.


Tumble and Blue is my starting point for kidlit in 2019.

The story incorporates a lot of real-life difficulties, such as an absentee father, or the death of an older sibling, etc. I appreciate children's fiction that acknowledges a child's loss or struggles, and Tumble and Blue fits that bill. It's also a delightful, magical, wondrous tale of friendship, zany relatives, and a family curse, so the fantasy element is brilliant.

But I think where the story really shines is in the development of the hero and heroine. Tumble's real name is Lily, implying a soft, delicate flower petal, but that's not the identity she wants at the moment. Hence the name Tumble, chosen by her as an excellent name for a beginning superhero. Blue loses at everything. It can be a footrace or a deadly game of tiddly-winks, but he is destined to lose. And yet, he's a caring, compassionate young boy who gives a lot to the people around him.

Friendship is crucial in storytelling. Get that right, and the rest of the story will follow. Tumble and Blue have a delightful friendship. Both of the children have the same goal, but for different reasons, and so of course, friction must happen. But that's a part of friendship. People make mistakes, get angry, apologize, and forgive. It's a cycle of reality that is captured really, really well in this story.

I didn't care for the ending because it felt unfinished, something I don't really like in book or film, but I get why the author left it that way, so I'll shrug and move on. If readers go in to this book realizing that reality and fantasy meet at the end of the novel then they'll be fine. Children who love fantasy will love this book.

Overall, Tumble and Blue entertained and delighted me despite a couple of "meh" moments. I'm glad I read it, and can definitely recommend it to parents looking for a fun magical realism/fantasy story for a slightly advanced reader in the 8-12 age range.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

hope is the thing with feathers

So begins a new year!

A part of me wants to throw confetti in welcome, but another part of me looks back on 2018 with a bit of sadness for everything that happened and can never be forgotten. Some of it's good, but some parts of it were overwhelming, hence the never to be forgotten bit.

My hope is that the growing I did in 2018 will benefit me in this new year. A new year is never going to be perfect and trouble-free, that much I know for sure, but I still want to approach the year with the same belief that God is faithful and in hope that I can handle anything that 2019 might throw my way.

How do you approach the new year? Optimistic? Hopeful? Fearful? Anticipatory?

What are some of the organizational decisions you make for every new year?

Now that I'm renting an apartment instead of living with my family, organization has become a must. To be transparent, it's never been my strength either. Which makes it a bit daunting. But there are a few things that I'm implementing this year that I've never tried before.

  • Time to move from card to cash. Starting with grocery money at the beginning of every month and then progressing by mid-summer to everything being paid for with cash unless it's an internet purchase.
  • Time for the daunting daily planner! Because, like I said, I suck at organization. I hate daily planners, though, so I'm going to research a variety of designs before choosing one. I'll have one in my possession by the end of the month. It may even end up being a whiteboard.
  • Meal planning. I've gotten used to eating out since I lived with my family and paid minimal rent. Not the case anymore, so it's time to reserve eating out for special occasions and get-togethers and implement tasty and cost-effective home-cooking.
  • Chop the website shopping! I'm addicted to Etsy. People have such incredible crafting ideas and every single one of them is listed on Etsy. It's time to switch my attention from web browsing in my spare time to crafting instead, with supplies I already have, of which there are many. 
  • And because I'm done with a small laundry basket, time for a bigger one. This will keep my closet, drawers, and room so much tidier.

How about the fun decisions? Things that are beneficial for you, but will also be fun once you get going?

There are so many things I love doing, but usually end up putting aside. Such as this, for one thing. A good friend of mine said something very profound recently. She reminded me that the important things with my hobbies, including my writing, is to just do it because I love it. And to not quit out of fear.

  • Read books, books, books, lots of them. A combo of middle grade fiction and classic literature with a solid focus on Charles Dickens. I'm already partially through Bleak House and loving it!
  • Knitting and crochet, finishing projects that are halfway done, so Hufflepuff fingerless gloves, a peacock inspired purse, a crochet Dobby, and a gorgeous blue shawl made of yarn from Finland.
  • Personal journaling of favorite memories.
  • Blogging for fun
  • Strengthening exercises because I really like not having lower back pain and I kinda love how the exercises make me feel, so much more capable.

Happy New Year to all of you! May you have the best success in 2019 with your dreams and goals!