Sunday, May 24, 2015

Suspense Sundays (150) The Legend of Robbie

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"The Legend of Robbie"
Air date: May 8, 1960
Starring Larry Robinson and George Matthews
>>Episodes here<<

Robbie is convinced by his friend, Dutch, and the girl he likes to steal his employer, Mr. Harris' money.  He's worked for Mr. Harris for a long time and he's trusted to take the weekly earnings to the bank.  But his friend convinces him that he can just pretend he was robbed on the way, and no one will know the difference.  Robbie is very reluctant but for the girl he'll do it.

Ooh this was a great episode - such a good twist midway that I just can't reveal!  But I loved how what seemed like a sad tale of how Robbie was lead down the wrong path, was turned into something unexpected with Robbie being much more than he seemed.  And then the ending is another twist.  And so funny that the real villain turns out to be the girl I think!  This was a great episode.
Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: The Day of the Triffids

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
The Day of the Triffids
by John Wyndham
Science Fiction
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Bill Masen, bandages over his wounded eyes, misses the most spectacular meteorite shower England has ever seen. Removing his bandages the next morning, he finds masses of sightless people wandering the city. He soon meets Josella, another lucky person who has retained her sight, and together they leave the city, aware that the safe, familiar world they knew a mere twenty-four hours before is gone forever.

But to survive in this post-apocalyptic world, one must survive the Triffids, strange plants that years before began appearing all over the world. The Triffids can grow to over seven feet tall, pull their roots from the ground to walk, and kill a man with one quick lash of their poisonous stingers. With society in shambles, they are now poised to prey on humankind. Wyndham chillingly anticipates bio-warfare and mass destruction, fifty years before their realization, in this prescient account of Cold War paranoia.


Although this story took a little time to really get going, it was a very chilling tale.  It's an account of the aftermath of two disturbing events - that a majority of the world loses it's sight, and the mysterious Triffids are at large and preying on mankind.  And I want to talk about both events individually.

The story sets up some sort of explanation about what this blinding meteor shower could have been, but there is no conclusive answer.  But what is more important is how completely it changes mankind's superiority on Earth.  That aspect is well explored, and creates some very disturbing circumstances and raises many morality questions.  I have not thought of how utterly we are dependent on sight as a species to thrive.  I don't completely agree with the point made in the book that humanity's superiority is mostly due to sight (because obviously has to be our brains) but it is so essential to how we function and it's distressing to read how people deal with blindness in this book.

The origin of the Triffids is never explained, but then it seems that nobody knows where they came from.  It's funny though that just because of their novelty, they become very widespread and even grown in household gardens, despite the deadly stinger (which can be removed).  They are weirdly threatening, since they seem so passive, but as the story develops there is a stronger sense that they are smarter than anybody thought, and they are filled with purpose - or at least a drive.  The story is named after them, but so much of the drama that occurs in this book have the Triffids just in the background lurking.  It's so nervewracking!

As the story did kind of info dump the set up and the circumstances that led to this post-apocalyptic world, I felt it began slowly, but the human drama of survival, and the difficult decisions the main characters had to make, really made this a riveting story.  It's a very thoughtful science fiction read too, because there were more than a few relevant ideas and scenarios that were explored and those ideas felt important even to our modern times.  I will say though that the characters aren't as vivid in my imagination as the intensity of the plot, but I did feel very sympathetic to what the characters went through.   I was entirely engrossed by this unsettling book!
Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Movie Musical Challenge: The Band Wagon

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In Movie Musical Challenge, I'm watching all 25 picks for AFI's Greatest musicals starting from the bottom.  Number 17 is the 1953 film The Band Wagon starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.

I'm a bit conflicted about this film.  On the one hand, I've heard lots of positive things about it and about the dance sequence in Central Park.  And of course a match up with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (I love Cyd!) is a winner.  I've also even read staunch supporters say it's better than "Singing in the Rain"!  So I was totally expecting to love this musical.  And let me say, this was no "Singing in the Rain."  But I hope my rather ... not lukewarm, but just not excessively warm thoughts about this musical isn't because I was comparing it to that incomparable film.

It wasn't the dancing that left me less than warm though - there were some great numbers (although I was surprised that the first song Fred Astaire sings features no dancing - zilch and nada.  Astonishing.  I was so distracted during that song, waiting for Fred to take off!)  Cyd Charisse shows off some serious ballet skills - all en pointe gracefulness - she is so talented! I loved the supporting cast too - it was nice to see Oscar Levant again (looking forward to re-watching him in An American in Paris) and Nanette Fabray was adorable!  I thought the whole dynamic between all the actors was interesting - it's kind of a downbeat musical at times, and there is a lot of drama between all the characters.
Monday, May 18, 2015

Book Signing: Patricia Park "Re Jane"

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Last week, I was able to go to Patricia Park's book signing for her novel "Re Jane".  (Which I reviewed over here!)  It's a modern Jane Eyre retelling with a Korean American heroine, that takes place in New York and Korea.  It was a wonderful read for me - very intelligent with a main character who grows so much as the story progresses.

It was also much fun to listen to Patricia talk about her novel at the book signing.  She was so friendly and kind - she happened to sit in front of me before the event to talk to someone and said hi to me and remembered me from twitter!  During the talk she read different excerpts that highlighted different and interesting things in the novel - one descriptive of Queens, New York, one about Korean dramas (I loved how fond and yet gently teasing Jane, the character, is in the book about the obsession with them), and the last excerpt was about language.  I thought it was a great way to get an overview of the novel, and Patricia also talked about her experiences with those things.  Since she lived in Queens, grew up watching Korean period dramas, and went to Korea to do research for her book.  (And that is very evident since I felt the part of the book where Jane goes to Korea was so detailed, vivid and culturally enlightening!)
Sunday, May 17, 2015

Suspense Sundays (149) Bitter Grapes

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"Bitter Grapes"
Air date: May 1, 1960
Starring Rita Lloyd
>>Episodes here<<

Hypochondriac extraordinaire Mrs. Blake is sure she's going to die soon, and she's angry because she's also sure her husband is cheating on her.  So she makes a special dish for him with poison in it at their country home with a letter to him, and then makes a message on a record telling him that the food he just ate was poisoned and that he will die along with her.  Just after recording her message and putting it in the box to be mailed, she realizes she's not actually going to die soon and she is now desperate to get that recording back before it reaches her husband's private P.O. box.

An alternate title for this episode could be Overreaction, since Mrs. Blake seems to go off the deep end in everything she does.  In her hypochondria, in her attempt to first break the box that contained the records, to running about town trying to follow the mail truck.  It's a tragic and ironic end though, when she discovers that she was sent a record from her husband as well, and her husband explains why he's been so distant.  Well almost tragic though, since there is a happy ending.  I was actually very happy for that, it was nice change of pace because I was really expecting the worst.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Movie Musical Challenge: Yankee Doodle Dandy

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In Movie Musical Challenge, I'm watching all 25 picks for AFI's Greatest musicals starting from the bottom.  Number 18 is the biographic patriotic spectacle from 1942 - Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney.

This film is based on the real life of composer, actor, writer George M. Cohan, and made for an inspiring tale of a self-made man.  The story was told in vignettes almost - with snapshots of each stage of George's life shown.  I'm not even sure where to begin with this muscial, so I'll begin with the lead James Cagney.

I was mostly familiar with James Cagney as sort of a gangster type - it seems like he was in a lot of those roles, but as a song and dance man he did very well in this.  I mean his singing is only so-so though, and his dancing was oddly stiff, but the tap dancing was fantastic.  I think it's just that he played the role with so much charisma that I felt he was wonderful in the part.  And for a character who was conceited and bratty at first, it was great that his character turned around for me.  Since the film shows most of his life, it was also poignant to see how he changed from brash upstart to seasoned, respected professional.

The story was good - sweetly comic - but I was often wondering what the major dramatic moment would be.  Would he have a big falling out with his family?  Cheat on his lovely wife?  Have a breakdown?  Nothing.  The story is just a nice, heart-warming, kinda predictable tale, and I found it hard to understand why it was so highly regarded to rate on this list.  The music - while classics in their own right, and of a genre that I do enjoy - were all kind of similar to me in the end and I didn't really feel that it was such a highlight of this musical.  I can't even pick a scene or song that I would say was a highlight for me.  The title song is perhaps the one that sticks in my mind the most though, but it is the most familiar.  All in all, I think this is a pleasant film, with some elaborately staged musical numbers, but it doesn't seem to me to be worthy of top 25 status.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: Wouldn't It Be Deadly

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Wouldn't It Be Deadly
by D.E. Ireland
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins make an incomparable pair of sleuths in the start of a delightful new series

Following her successful appearance at an Embassy Ball—where Eliza Doolittle won Professor Henry Higgins’ bet that he could pass off a Cockney flower girl as a duchess—Eliza becomes an assistant to his chief rival Emil Nepommuck. After Nepommuck publicly takes credit for transforming Eliza into a lady, an enraged Higgins submits proof to a London newspaper that Nepommuck is a fraud. When Nepommuck is found with a dagger in his back, Henry Higgins becomes Scotland Yard’s prime suspect. However, Eliza learns that most of Nepommuck’s pupils had a reason to murder their blackmailing teacher. As another suspect turns up dead and evidence goes missing, Eliza and Higgins realize the only way to clear the Professor’s name is to discover which of Nepommuck’s many enemies is the real killer. When all the suspects attend a performance of Hamlet at Drury Lane, Eliza and Higgins don their theatre best and race to upstage a murderer.

This reimagining of George Bernard Shaw’s beloved characters is sheer pleasure. Wouldn’t It Be Deadly transports readers to Edwardian London, from the aristocratic environs of Mayfair to the dangerous back alleys of the East End. Eliza and Henry steal the show in this charming traditional mystery.


As a reimagining of Eliza, Higgins and Pickering all together again in another adventure, I found this a delightful read.  Eliza, especially, is such a fun character to me - so full of surprises and a flair for improvising.  She's so smart too and I love that the other characters underestimate that.  Higgins felt a bit more brusque and unkind than I remembered, but it fit in well with the dynamic the authors were going for in this story.

As a mystery, I thought the story felt a bit cobbled together.  There were clues that I felt were disregarded for too long, and then so many red herrings, that it was hard to get any sense of where the mystery would go.  But then again, because it was all over the place, I guessed who was involved pretty early because I mentally simplified the story down.  Sort of.   I don't want to say anything that would hint towards who the murderer was though, so I won't say any more than that.  I think the best aspect to the murder mystery was in how it was resolved - with a very farcical, and entertaining finale where everything is explained.

I wanted to read this because I loved the idea of the characters from My Fair Lady as detectives and overall I think this story delivers very well on that.  All of the memorable characters are back and we even get more development with them - especially a surprising revelation about Henry Higgins.  I enjoyed this mystery, and will probably pick up the next if there is another mystery novel involving these characters.
Monday, May 11, 2015

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - a Musical

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Last weekend, I went over to the La Mirada Theatre to see a new production of Pride and Prejudice as a musical. The book and music is by Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs. I had no idea of the cast or the songs, but hey, it's Pride and Prejudice!  It had to be enjoyable.  And it was!

The musical has an interesting framing structure, in that it begins with Jane Austen as a character in the show, trying to revise her novel First Impressions at the insistence of her sister Cassandra.  Jane Austen takes part in the show by telling the story and sometimes the characters will look to her for help or in confusion, and it was very funny to see how Jane sometimes did not know what to do about certain situations.  For example, she was very distressed when Elizabeth turns down Mr. Darcy's proposal.  (Which was suitably awkward and confrontationl!)  I liked the idea of Jane Austen needing to reign in her characters and of their sometimes doing things she wasn't expecting.  It's a very author-sensitive view of the story.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Suspense Sundays (148) One More Shot

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"One More Shot"
Air date: April 24, 1960
Starring Joseph Julian and Frank Thomas Jr.
>>Episodes here<<

Bernie and his son work for the newspaper as photographers and are covering an event.  Bernie sends his son along with the photo negatives to the office, but on the way the son has a fatal accident.  Bernie can't believe his son was so reckless and looking over the scene of the accident, he's convinced that his son was murdered instead.  The police discover that a certain gangster was at the event, and he would be unwilling for anyone to know that he was in town, so he probably had Bernie's son killed to keep the photos out of the newspaper.  The police want to take over the investigation from there, but Bernie is determined to catch the gangster himself.

This is not really suspenseful as I'm sure it's obvious there will be justice in the end - it's more tragic to me though that the son had to die for such an idiotic reason.  And it's great that the father does get that closure from it.  But since he doesn't ever really seem to be in danger in the episode, I found this just an average story.  Not as memorable as it could have been.
Friday, May 8, 2015

Star Trek VOY Season 2 - Top 5 Favorite Episodes

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Season two of Voyager was a wonderful season for me - I had seven episodes listed for my top favorites, and it's been a long time since I had to whittle down my list to five!  One episode that I decided not to go with was "Death Wish" which had the wonderful, unexpected return of Riker for a brief scene and the alright return of Q (the Q we are all familiar with).  Well actually it was kinda nice to see Q.  And the other episode was "Investigations" in which Neelix tries to discover the traitor on board Voyager.  And although I didn't note it (because it was so close to the end of the season) I really enjoyed "Resolutions" where Janeaway and Chakotay face the possibility of living the rest of their lives on an uninhabited planet.

The season was not really memorable in any overarching theme - some of the stories were interesting, and I was happy to see the characters develop further.  I don't yet feel deeply attached to the crew, although I do look forward to seeing what unfolds in each new episode.  This season had a cliffhanger ending involving Seska though, which I was glad to finally get on with, as I wanted her storyline resolved a long time ago.   I did not care for her as a character at all!

5.  The Thaw

Voyager comes across a planet where most of it's people have been cryogenically frozen to endure a natural disaster, but something happened and only three people survived.  Yet their system has not woken them up yet, so the Voyager crew try to revive them.  This episode almost didn't make my list because the whole creepy clown thing is not appealing to me, and it was annoying to have to watch the figment of the machine be overbearing and superior - holding the lives of anyone's consciousness hostage.  But that ending though!  Janeway gets the better of him, and the episode ends on this weirdly solemn note, as it touches on fear of death, and then fade to black.  It was such an impactful ending, that I felt like I had to include it on my list. 
Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Review: Re Jane

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Re Jane
by Patricia Park
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

For Jane Re, half-Korean, half-American orphan, Flushing, Queens, is the place she’s been trying to escape from her whole life. Sardonic yet vulnerable, Jane toils, unappreciated, in her strict uncle’s grocery store and politely observes the traditional principle of nunchi (a combination of good manners, hierarchy, and obligation). Desperate for a new life, she’s thrilled to become the au pair for the Mazer-Farleys, two Brooklyn English professors and their adopted Chinese daughter. Inducted into the world of organic food co-ops, and nineteenth–century novels, Jane is the recipient of Beth Mazer’s feminist lectures and Ed Farley’s very male attention. But when a family death interrupts Jane and Ed’s blossoming affair, she flies off to Seoul, leaving New York far behind.

Reconnecting with family, and struggling to learn the ways of modern-day Korea, Jane begins to wonder if Ed Farley is really the man for her. Jane returns to Queens, where she must find a balance between two cultures and accept who she really is. Re Jane is a bright, comic story of falling in love, finding strength, and living not just out of obligation to others, but for one’s self.


I have read quite a few "Jane Eyre" retellings, of various quality and variety, but I am happy to say that I've never read one quite like this book.  Many retellings put the focus on the romance which is always lovely, but "Re Jane" is much more about the main character Jane's development into an adult - dealing with her family, an affair, and her cultural heritage.  There's so much more to this story than just a reimagining of "Jane Eyre" - Jane Re is a powerful character in her own right.

I do want to touch on the Jane Eyre aspect first however.  It definitely wasn't what I thought it would be, but it was everything it should have been for a modern version of Jane Eyre.  It was realistic, with serious consequences for Jane's actions despite her youth and naiveté.  The story has quite a few differences from Charlotte Brontë's work, but the basics are there, and it's interesting to see how the author, Patricia Park, brings it all up to date for the New York setting.  There's also tons of little nods to the original novel - from short lines sprinkled into the narrative, to names reminiscent of their Victorian counterparts.  I think a "Jane Eyre" retelling works best when it remains true to the spirit and the intent of the original, while also making it's own statements that are true to the characters and the setting of the retelling.  And in this way, "Jane Re" is wonderfully imaginative and intelligent.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

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A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR #1)
by Sarah J. Maas
YA Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!


Oh my goodness.  This is everything a fairy tale retelling should be!  Enough of the original to get the same emotion and the beloved story, while also introducing new, fresh twists to the world-building and the characters, all with tension, enchantment and danger.  This story is so addicting as well, it captures your imagination from the beginning as the main character, Feyre, is thrust into a situation where the reader can instantly see her ferocious resolve and you know her strength of character will be very important as the story progresses.

Feyre is a gorgeous character.  Nuanced, flawed, but strong and persevering.  And believable - we get to see that she is scared but she does what needs to be done, and she gets put through a lot in this story!  Tam as the fae Beast, is an interesting character as well.  Although there were times when I found it hard to get into him - I suppose it was consistent with his character though, as he keeps himself closed off for quite a bit.  It did make the romance feel a little lacking for me in the beginning though.  It was really good, but I initially found it hard to understand why he fell in love with Feyre so quickly.  I could understand Feyre's love for him (or her fascination with him) much more easily.  But once I got past that, the fact that they would do anything for each other, made the romantic tension very fiery and intense, which was especially evident in the last half of the story.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Suspense Sundays (147) Tonight at 5:55

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"Tonight at 5:55"
Air date: April 17, 1960
Starring Louis Van Routen & John Gibson
>>Episodes here<<

A small group of government men are locked in a room to decide on a very important matter.  Earlier the U.S. received a telegram stating that if the nation didn't surrender they would be attacked by nuclear missiles.  They have until 5:55 to respond.  The men are there to decide if they should attack first or call the other country's bluff.

This is one kind of Suspense story that I think would be fun to write.  To have a dilemma and to explore all sides of it through this small group of characters.  We can see different prejudices, opinions, and thought processes through this select group and it reveals a lot about humanity.  While I'm not the biggest fan of the political intrigue story, especially with something as ill-advised as nuclear warfare, this was still an interesting story because of how the characters had to deal with the potential consequences.  What was also interesting was the way this story ended, with no clear resolution/explanation of the consequences of the decision.  I normally don't like open-ended stories, but it was clear that this episode was made for everyone to think about the reality of the situation and make up their own mind.  
Friday, May 1, 2015

Father Brown

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,

I've been quietly falling in love with this new-ish throwback BBC mystery series called Father Brown, and I have the urge to talk about it on my blog.  The show stars Mark Williams as Father Brown (whom you may know as Arthur Weasley - Ron Weasley's father).  and the show centers around a very kindly priest in 1950s England, who has a knack for solving crimes.  And who actually can not be stopped from pursuing his investigations even when the local constabulary want him to stop.   I find this show so delightful, and for this post I'm going to list the reasons why I love it and perhaps convince other people to give it a try!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Review: The Tapestry

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The Tapestry (Joanna Stafford #3)
by Nancy Bilyeau
Historical Thriller
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.


This is the third and final adventure for Joanna Stafford, former novice to the Dominican priory.  I have so enjoyed Joanna's journey, and the historical setting that the author has created from the real history, and I think this is a wonderful conclusion to the trilogy.   As this series has progressed, the focus has changed from a historical mystery for the main character Joanna to solve, to a mystery now more focused on Joanna.  However, the mystery in this novel is less hair-raising compared to the dangers of living in the court of King Henry VIII.  The author has created a perfectly chilling portrait of King Henry as a spoiled despot with a touch of vulnerability - especially when he is surrounded by so many ambitious men.  This novel posed somewhat as a history lesson as many of the people featured were people who lived at that time and the author weaves Joanna's story perfectly around them.  I was glad that I wasn't as familiar with the history, as I wasn't sure what would happen to some of the characters so there was a lot of suspense for me.

In this series, Joanna is faced with some great challenges - in the beginning it was adjusting to the loss of her priory and her plans for her life, and in this book, I felt one of the major challenges was dealing with the loss of Edmund who she had planned to marry until King Henry made it impossible.  The romance in this book is very understated - mostly because Joanna finds it difficult to deal with her own feelings about men.  Even though it's not a big part of this book, I was very invested in that aspect, especially as there is a bit of a twist towards the end and things did not go the way I was expecting.  But to get the true impact of that, it's important to read the first two books to understand the characters and their actions.

I found this a very satisfying, and thrilling conclusion to Joanna's story.  There's a lot of drama, suspense and twists and turns, and Joanna is the very epitome of a graceful, intelligent heroine.  This whole series was a joy to read, and I'm glad Joanna received a fitting and touching finale.

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.)
Monday, April 27, 2015

The Refined Reader (35) The YA Issue

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The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!
Old and new YA literature

The fact that adults also love to read young adult literature has been a big topic recently among bloggers and readers, usually fueled by weird people who feel the need to judge others for what they like to read.  But I was actually surprised to see just how long this topic has been discussed.  I work at a university and occasionally will look at research papers, and though I'm in science, I'll sometimes just look up papers related to literature for the fun of it.  And I happened to come across two articles from the 1980s that talked about the young adult novel.  After reading through them, it was interesting to see what the perspective was on YA lit just about 30 years ago, and I wanted to thoughtfully explore how our attitudes towards YA has either changed or remained the same in the intervening years.  And also to take a look at how the YA genre has changed.

The articles I read and will be referencing are from The English Journal and titled:
  • Looking Backward: Trying to Find the Classic Young Adult Novel by Linda Bachelder, Patricia Kelly, Donald Kenney, and Robert Small (published Sep. 1980)
  • Some of my Favorite Books Are By Young Adult Authors and Some Are by Jane Austen by Robert C. Small Jr.(published Apr. 1986)
Sunday, April 26, 2015

Suspense Sundays (146) Two Horse Parley

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"Two Horse Parley"
Air date: April 10, 1960
Starring Lyle Sudrow and Helen McCrae
>>Episodes here<<

Johnny has been living it up in New York City and owes quite a bit of money for his gambling.  He has to come up with the money so he calls his Aunt to convince her to send him more money for his "piano training" which is why he was in NYC in the first place.  His Aunt wants him to come home though because she's lonely, and after investing so much money in Johnny's training she wants to hear him play.  Johnny's only recourse is to get his girlfriend to come with him and play in his stead since she's a much better player and his Aunt won't be able to tell the difference.  Because she's blind.

Well this story went in a direction I was completely not expecting.  It was clear that the whole plan Johnny came up with to get away with tricking his Aunt would not work, but just how the plan was foiled was the suspenseful part.  I don't want to reveal it of course, but there is a nice ironic twist to the whole thing, as well as a surprising aspect to why Johnny's Aunt wanted him back home with her.  This was a very good episode!
Friday, April 24, 2015

Movie Musical Challenge: On The Town

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
In Movie Musical Challenge, I'm watching all 25 picks for AFI's Greatest musicals starting from the bottom.  Number 19 is the 1949 film On The Town starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

Yay, the first (and definitely not the last) Gene Kelly film on this list!  I watched this film a few years ago when I was on my Gene Kelly binge, and I know this is a very highly regarded movie musical, but of the Kelly/Sinatra collaborations my favorite is Anchors Aweigh - unfortunately not on AFI's list.  Watching On The Town again though, I think it's interesting to see the influences of Gene Kelly (and probably also of the director Stanley Donen) in the fact that this is filmed on location in New York City (which was a big deal at the time) and the extensive fantasy dance sequence in the middle which seems like a hallmark of a Gene Kelly film.  It elevates this musical since the plot is a little light.

This whole musical is a big show of exuberance and joy - one day of shore leave for the three sailors means one day for them to get in as much fun (and a girl for each) as they can before they have to return to their ship.  The story is light and farcical, as the characters go from one part of NYC to another.  It's not a musical that I completely love - it's a little too fluffy and silly for me, but the characters make it very enjoyable, as do the memorable musical sequences.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Dark Triumph

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin #2)
by Robin LaFevers
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge - but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.

But her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for...


The second book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy centers around the darker character Sybella, who was very compelling from what I saw of her in the first book - "Grave Mercy".  And in this book she is even more so.  Her family and the background she comes from is amazingly disturbing - just all kinds of awful - and she is damaged quite a bit from her history, although it's not evident just how much at first.  Peeling back the layers on Sybella's history was a suspenseful aspect of this story, and showed just how strong a character she was to be able to come out of that experience with some integrity and decency.  Sybella was a big reason why I loved this book.

The first part of the story details how Sybella deals with living as a secret traitor in her father's house, and of the intrigues she must dodge as she tries to fulfill her mission.  This part of the story was so captivating to me, because of how tense and suspenseful it was to see Sybella flirt with danger.  And interesting to see just how vulnerable she was on the inside, when she always presented such a fierce exterior.

And then there's the romance that made me swoon.  Sybella is flinty, yet there is one character who sees beyond that and loves every part of her.  Just gorgeous.  The romance was a bit unconventional too which I loved.  It's an unexpected lighter aspect, given how grim the story is for the most part.  But it's important because Sybella has had such a difficult past, and she needed someone to help her leave all that behind.

"Dark Triumph" continues the political intrigue from the first book, but this story is more focused on Sybella's character development which I personally enjoyed more since there is a great balance between relationships and the politics of the land.  It made for a much more relatable story too since it was so easy to understand Sybella's motivations in such a difficult time for her land.  The larger historical context felt very realistic as well, which added another layer to the narrative.  This was a captivating read with suspense and a wonderful slow burn romance!

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review.  I was not compensated for this review.)
Monday, April 20, 2015

Disney Princess Tag

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Soudha from Of Stacks and Cups created this fun book tag that centers around Disney Princesses, and I couldn't resist joining in with matching some books to the different Princesses!  Please visit Soudha's post for her answers, and feel free to do this tag if you are so inclined!

Disney Princess Facts:
  1. Favorite Disney movie/Princess is The Little Mermaid/Ariel
  2. I think though that if I had to pick one Princess to be, I would pick Belle - she's so smart and bookish, and the Beast is ultimately a sweetheart.
  3. I'm a little afraid to say this, but I have not yet watched Pocahontas or Brave!  (I will though, I promise!!)

1. Snow White - Name your favorite classic

Easiest category for me on this list!  Of course I had to pick Jane Eyre!  My absolute favorite book, with a strong, admirable heroine, a gorgeous romance and some mystery and heartache.