Friday, April 30, 2010

Teaser: Bamboo People


Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins. Charlesbridge. Publication date July 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

Teaser:

Imagine going to a job interview and, instead, being dragged into a bus and forced into the army.

That's exactly what happens to Chiko, 15. One moment, he's worrying about his father, a doctor imprisoned by the Burmese Government, wondering how he and his mother will pay the rent and buy food. The next, he's in the jungle, being given military training to fight rebels on behalf of Burma. He's a most reluctant soldier.

Tu Reh is not a reluctant rebel -- he wants revenge against the Burmese soldiers who burn his peoples villages.

What happens when Chiko and Tu Reh cross paths?

A full review will be posted closer to publication date!
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Faking It

The book blogosphere (particularly the children's literature and young adult corner, but truthfully, "all" book bloggers) received some attention from the Huffington Post in Sarah McCarry's provocatively titled post, Faking Nice in the Blogosphere: Women and Book Reviews.

Why respond? Because you and I know how much is inaccurate. But most of the readers of Huffington Post? Of that article? Don't know it. They will read it. And when you are at a family gathering, or a job interview, or some other circumstance, and say you are a book blogger, that person across from you will hide their smile as they think "ah, yes. I read about you. You write fake nice things online because you're a woman."

Let's move on.

Some basics, first.

Perhaps the most basic.

What is a "book blog"? A blog is an easy way for a person with limited or no coding or other technology skills to create a website. Posts are created by the blogger and published on the blog, with the most recent post at the top of the blog.

A "book blog" is a blog about books. "About books" can include anything that is about books -- discussions, reviews, critical responses, personal reactions, interviews, contests, press releases, publishing news, etc. Some blogs are not "exclusive"; a book blogger may also blog about family, recipes, crafts, movies, camping trips.

Yes, you know all this.

McCarry either does not know it or does not care. McCarry only wants to read critical approaches to books and, rather than looking for the journals, magazines, websites and blogs that do so, wants all blogs to write what she wants to read.

But it's not enough that a blogger doesn't take the approach she, McCarry, wants you to! If you don't take this approach you are not only doing it wrong -- you're being "fake." And we all know what fake is -- not real. Not authentic.

Just so you understand: GalleySmith not liking Incarceron? Keeping it real. My including Incarceron in my favorite books read in 2010? Fake nice.

McCarry talks about "apologism," when those who dare criticize a book are attacked for being mean to the author. This, like every other line in her essay, is unsupported by links to posts. No, really. When I first began reading Faking Nice in the Blogosphere I had this image of a book blogger Deep Throat, giving McCarry evidence of scores of bloggers who had admitted to saying they liked books they did not. Would it be Direct Messages? Forwarded emails? What was the proof?

There is no proof. Just McCarry throwing out that any review that likes a book is suspect.

So, the people who are attacked for a critical (or, some say, "negative") review. I'll be honest; I'm not going to link, either, but I've seen comments where people disagree with book reviewers. And sometimes it gets testy. How can you not like a book I loved! How can you not like the characters I loved! And yes, I've seen "think of the author."*

Now, here is the twisty logic of McCarry: a book author should be able to withstand any critique of their book, while book bloggers cannot. In point of fact, book bloggers so fear the "don't be mean to an author" comments that they avoid any negative or critical writing, thus becoming part of an inauthentic "cult of niceness**And the reason behind this "cult of niceness," that will bully a blogger into telling lies about the books they read and review? Women.

No, really. Women bloggers, writing about women authors, for women readers (because, apparently, young adult books are all about the women), all demand "niceness." This, of course, is because of misogyny, resulting in women holding other women to a lesser standard.

McCarry believes this "fake nice women bloggers" is true of "book blogging in general." Not some blogs; no, it's all book blogs, all of us.

The problem with McCarry's arguments (other than that they are unsupported by any facts and force all bloggers into the role of critic, whether it's a role they want or not) is that not "all" book blogs are part of this "cult of niceness." And, even if such a cult exists -- there are reasons for it beyond a person's gender. It can be personal preference. It can be professional -- there are many reasons why an author may be careful about what they blog or may be sensitive about how criticism is done. It can be because some bloggers see their role as "promotional" for books and authors, so keep their language promotional (aka "nice.") It can be that life's too short to blog bad books. Wow, I've already listed four reasons for such a "cult" that have nothing to do with my reproductive organs.

So why bring gender into this? Bad enough that McCarry uses both sweeping language and offers unsupported statements; she then has to bring gender politics into the equation. And not just any type of gender politics -- the type that attempts to shame women into a particular action. Here, to get women to say "wow, I owe it to my sex to write negative reviews."

In other words, McCarry accuses women of being mean girls bullying bloggers to only write nice by being a mean girl and bullying bloggers into the role of critic.

It would have been easy to ignore McCarry; to not give attention to something that says from it's title "LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME." But the bullying? Cannot be ignored.

So, bloggers. Book bloggers. Continue to be true to yourself. Continue to be authentic. How you write about books may change over time -- you may be influenced by how others blog or don't blog. You may start reading more critics and want to change your style. You may want to take a more informal, conversational approach. All good, as long as they are your choice, not something someone else tells you is the One True Way To Blog.



* There are two times a blogger should "think of the author" when reviewing books. First, write about the book, not the author. "The author sucks" is hardly the critical discourse McCarry hopes to achieve. Second, when you meet the author in person, it is never cool to say "your books suck." That is just manners.

**I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of discussion and disagreement, but we readers, whether as bloggers or in person, should be able to have intellegent and passionate discussion about books without getting personal. Disagree with another reviewer; but don't shut them down. And if someone disagrees with you? Not everyone will agree with everything you write. Don't write to have cheerleaders say "ZOMG I totally agree," whether your post is positive, negative, or critical.

Edited to Add: Get Back, Loretta has a terrific take on the Fake Nice article, especially about the role of bloggers.

Angela's take. Obviously, I disagree with what she says about women. But I agree with what she says about authors and reviews.

If there are other responses to add, let me know & I'll keep editing this and adding.

And: Faking Nice and the Allure of the Mean Friend at Wendy on the Web

And Robin McKinley defends Pollyanna reviewing. My comment: if you have actually read the book Pollyanna, you realize Pollyanna isn't a bad, naive, or ignorant state of mind. As a lover of the book, I find the term often misused. Anyway, I agree with McKinley that "For those of us who are just readers, who are not trying to be critics: let’s not give bad books the space for a trashing. Let’s not waste the space. There are lots and lots and lots of books out there—thousands upon thousands published new every year‡‡‡. This seems to me quite a powerful argument for niceness: I only want to spend time talking about books that I want to see survive." Agree or disagree with McKinley, but note that this is a valid argument for "niceness" in the blogosphere which says "nice" isnt' a four letter word and which offers a reason for it other than sisterhood. And the reason I am squeeing like a fangirl is not because McKinley, a woman, linked to me but because McKinley, an author I love, linked to me. And because much of my own philosophy of what I do on this blog, that has evolved over time and continues to change and grow, is what McKinley explains in her post.

Becky at Becky's Book Reviews also posts about the article and I love her "Bloggers Against Blanket Statements Club."

Melissa at Book Nut has a different take, about personal opinions and how to discuss things when we disagree. I've said before that law school taught me how to be a public speaker; I'll add it also taught me how to discuss and disagree and remain friends by not making it personal.

And more blogs post about this:

Mel's Books and Info. What is "too nice"

Sarah Darer Littman with an author's point of view

deCompose applies the post to Christian fiction and the the Christian book blogosphere and reviewers and discusses the assertion that "The lens of gender “taints” our writing, reading, and reviewing, and may even lead to subtle forms of discrimination".

librarified applies the post to the public library field

renay takes on the YA Cult of Nice. and eek, quotes my Twitter. It's kind of like hearing your own voice: that's how I sound? Renay agrees with much of the Huff Po post and links to reviews. Please note -- I believe the Internets is a diverse place with good, bad, and ugly. Having started online in fandom, I've also seen how the quasi-anonymous, not in person nature of an online group can bring out the nasty. And I firmly, one hundred percent believe we can disagree without being personal (ie "you like/don't like that book? well then you're stoopid and ugly cause it and its author sux/ is made of awesomesauce" or does nothing but make the person saying that comment feel good.) And, frankly, if any blogger only wants "ZOMG I totally agree" responses, it will be boring -- but it means that, absent true trolls, the blogger has to be as thick skinned as an author and put up with their own posts being critiqued/ reacted to negatively.

What I disagree with for the HuffPo post is her blanket assertions and concluding it's all because bloggers are women. I mean, has McCarry seen what goes on in other parts of the blogosphere? In my humble opinion, if there is going to be a discussion about what Renay talks about, it cannot begin and end with "...and you do it because you're a girl" because a, I don't agree, and b, it shuts down discussion because there isn't much I can do about being a girl other than thinking "now I have to be more like a man to do it right."

And for what it's worth, I use the term "rants" when I shouldn't always, including for my own posts. I'm slowly shifting away from it.

If I've missed a post, let me know & I'll link.

Well, that happened. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, damned whatever you do. See Friday Fakers.

and wait, there's more!

Fizzwhizzing Flushbunker. Yes, that is really a blog name! FF lists reasons other than gender for online blog culture, as well as looking at gender as it relates to blogging, just not doing it in a "girls do it wrong" type of way. Tho she's a former legislative advocate, so, like me, believes in discussion. As I do. Given how she writes, I'd add, even tho she doesn't say so, believes in passionately discussing things that one cares about without getting personal. Which I call having a great discussion, but, sadly, others call "being nice" as if nice were a four letter word. Oh well!

And Youth Services addresses the question of Gender In YA.


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

The Wind That Shakes The Barley


The Wind That Shakes the Barley DVD via Netflix.
2006.

The Plot: 1920. Ireland is fighting for its independence from the United Kingdom. Damien, a young doctor, is set to leave Ireland to continue his medical studies. After witnessing several acts of brutality by the Black & Tans (the British soldiers sent to put down the rebellion), he joins his brother, Teddy, in the Irish Republican Army. After the 1922 Anglo Irish Treaty is announced, Teddy believes that some peace is better than continuing the fight and joins the pro-Treaty forces. Damien rejects the compromise of the Treaty and remains with the IRA.

The Good: Well that was depressing.

This acclaimed film about the beginnings of modern Irish independence, and the extreme bloodshed and violence that occur ed in Ireland in the 1920s, doesn't glorify anything or anyone. Oh, yes, the Black & Tans (see the Wikipedia entry as well as this newspaper article) are shown in all their awfulness. While the members of the IRA are fighting for their country, their language -- heck, the right to gather and play sports -- it's not innocent. The toll on Damien is shown, as he is confronted with having to shoot a man he has known since childhood because that man betrayed the IRA to the Black and Tans.

That said, the movie does take a position: "get out of my country". While we see the execution of a traitor by the IRA, many of the people who worked on behalf of a free Ireland, such as the women in the Cumman na mBann, are portrayed admirably. What the movie explores very well is how it is not that simple -- "get out of my country" -- what does that mean, really?

I loved that the how and why a group of regular men slowly become a discliplineddisciplined guerrilla unit is portrayed. How do you shift from a medical student to someone with a gun in your hand?

The politics of the situation are tricky and complex; this film does a good job of conveying that complexity. There are several discussions, heated and passionate, that show conflicting opinions while conveying information. Actually? The discussions are just as exciting to watch as any shoot out. And edited and cut as carefully as any action sequence. It is action -- it is equally good people with a common goal (Free Ireland) with different views on how to get there.

Also portrayed well is the politics of the time. For example, James Connelly is quoted. He was, of course, a Socialist leader and the fight in Ireland was not just "why we do it know" but also about "what happens next?" In a discussion of their politics, Damien quotes Connolly: "If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you organize a Socialist Republic all your efforts will have been in vain. England will still rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers."* That complexity continues to be shown when the terms of the Anglo Irish Treaty are announced. (For more on that, see Michael Collins. Movie trivia! Quick, who portrayed the person who assassinated Collins? And I did not just spoil the movie for you, HISTORICAL FACTS ARE NOT SPOILERS.)

The DVD has commentary by the historical advisor to the film, Prof. Donal O'Driscoll.





So in sum:

Beautiful movie. Terrific acting. About a time period and experience that many in the US know little or nothing about. But, be warned, depressing as hell. Because how can it not be? Sometimes history is depressing. How one group of people treats another? Especially when one group is in power over another? Isn't all puppies and daisies. And the legacy of that doesn't just go away on rainbows.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Poop Happened


Poop Happened!: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee, illustrated by Robert Leighton. Bloomsbury. May 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Middle grade.

It's About: Poop.

The Good: What about the bathrooms? Such a big question, so rarely addressed. Especially when there were no bathrooms.

This book is organized in chapters and broken down into easily readable sections, rarely more than a few paragraphs long, with plenty of pictures. As the cover indicates, it covers everything from Egyptian to Outer Space toilets.

Albee uses the history of poop -- where humans poop, and how, if at all, they remove poop from where they live -- to tell about the history of waste removal (or waste non-removal, as the case may be). It's more than poop, though, because Albee explains the link between waste and disease. Seriously, learning how many diseases that people get (and die from) that basically comes from contamination from poop is enough to make you throw up, and then become an obsessive compulsive hand washer. And then, when you're reading history and biography books and that disease gets mentioned and you realize its because it was the poop... excuse me as I go throw up and wash my hands.

Poop Happened also provides an interesting look at the changing view of modesty when it comes to bodily functions such as urination, defecation, and what happens to that waste. I passed this on to my fourth grade niece, and one of her main "ewws" (and mine, too) was how public some of the peeing and pooping was. It's especially intriguing to think that while it was fairly public, it still wasn't really written about in novels and such.

Much as I love history and historical fiction, one thing is certain. I could never live in a time or place without bathrooms and flush toilets and sewer systems and sewage treatment plants.

One final thought: one of my recent non-book-blog blog obsessions is reading the Georgian London blog, which addresses all issues and news of Georgian era England. Albee does not include this item in her book (I mean, she cannot include everything and she includes a heckuva lot) but I thought you may be interested in it.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Where Are You, Mary Sue?

Salon has a terrific post up about the Mary Sue in Original Fiction.

In A reader's advice to writers: Beware of Mary Sue, Laura Miller writes a great essay explaining what a Mary Sue is and how she has crept out of fanfiction and into published books.

I have so many favorite lines from Miller's essay:

"Whenever a character serves as an improved or idealized version of his or her author, as a vehicle for the author's fantasies of power, allure, virtue or accomplishment rather than as an integral part of the story, that character is a Mary Sue."

Right there, ladies and gentlemen, is a key definition of a Mary Sue: things about her are not an important part of the story. I would add another element here: when the tragic backstory (usually involving death of family members, torture, or rape) has nothing to do with the present story? Entering Mary Sue land.

"Because genre fiction tends to trade in wish fulfillment to begin with, you're far more likely to find shameless Mary Sues in mediocre mysteries, science fiction and romance novels. Even in the most routine series fiction, however, there's a distinction between the kind of character who embodies the fantasies of readers -- Nancy Drew, for example -- and a character who's really only working for the author."

I'm a genre reader; I'm proud of it. But I totally agree that Mary Sues are easy to find in genre. I don't read enough literary fiction to say how often she pops up there, but lit fiction has its own issues and weak spots, so lit fiction and genre are even when it comes to strengths and weaknesses. I've rarely seen such a succinct (and obvious!) explanation of why a character becomes a Mary Sue rather than, say, a Harry Potter -- it's a character who is the author's fantasy, rather than the reader's.

Man, I keep on wanting to quote over and over and over. There's this: "Instead of contributing to the seamless fictional experience readers want from a book, this character, they sense, is really a daydream the author is having about herself. It's an imposition, being unwittingly enlisted in somebody else's narcissistic fantasy life, like getting flashed in the park. And just about as much fun." I'm giggling here, because I sometimes think of Mary Sue books as being literary masturbation, where the author is only concerned about their own pleasure.

Miller ends with a question that was raised in this blog a little while back -- creating a true litmus test for When Is an Original Character a Mary Sue.

Frankly, the best litmus test is what Miller states over and over: Is it about the story? Does it add to the story? Look at your character's characteristics, her talents, his backstory. Is it part and parcel of the whole story? The story should always be the guide. Second, because Mary Sue is a fantasy version of the author, check out such things as, does Mary Sue have your fantasy life? How many languages does she speak? What talents does he have? Where does she live? How much money does he have? Are all those your dreams, as opposed to a reader's dreams? And do they all make sense for this character, this story?

Since I am never one to pass by an opportunity to self promote, don't forget to read the School Library Journal article about fanfiction, When Harry Met Bella, that Carlie Webber & I wrote.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, April 26, 2010

What's It All About, Alfie

And I reference the Michael Caine version.

Anyway.

Lenore at Presenting Lenore has her latest Bloggers Behaving Badly post up, and since one my suggestions was included, I wanted to follow up here.

My pet peeve: "Using the publisher summary in your reviews but not linking to your source."

My lawyer and librarian (and semi journalist) hats insist, "if you quote, cite your source." And cite accurately. The Amazon page for Ally Carter's Heist Society contains a "product description." If you didn't know before, know now -- that product description is not written by an Amazon employee. At Barnes & Noble, they call it the Synopsis, but it's still not B&N's words. It's written by someone at the publisher. (Huh. In this instance, Amazon, for no apparent reason, leaves out two of the lines from the publisher copy. ) (BTW, I'm picking on Carter because I LOVE her books so it's truly an example, not a picking on her.)

So, please, if you've decided to use the publisher copy (which can also be found at other online places), please, use quotes and note that it's the publisher description. I'd add that italics or indenting isn't enough, because RSS doesn't always preserve that type of formatting, so people (like me) reading via readers (like Bloglines) don't "see" those italics and indents. All I see is your review and I don't realize you're using someone else's words.... until I read the same start of a post on other blogs. I'd add, "don't assume that the reader will know it is publishers copy." Why would a reader -- especially someone new to blogs -- assume part of your post isn't yours?

Under "requests," I'd also like to see more bloggers not rely on publishers copy.

That request is partly selfish; but I like to think that some of my reactions are shared by others.

Why create your own synopsis / plot description?

To Stand Out. Like many of you, I read hundreds of blogs. What do you think I'm more likely to click thru to read -- a post that begins exactly like twenty others in my blog reader? Or one that begins with something unique? (I said this was "me me me".)

To Give Your Own Spin. I don't always agree with how the publisher's describe their own books. No, really. I understand that the copy is marketing and is designed to sell the book. That's cool. But different readers take different things away from a book, even including what a book is about. That can be reflected in not only your review of the book, but also how you write up what the book is about.

To Showcase Your Own Original Voice. I love the variety of voices in the blogosphere, including what and how say about books. Why limit that originality to the review/discussion portion of your blog?

I'll be honest. It can be hard to write a plot description for a book! And it doesn't have to be a separate part of a blog post; it can be woven into the review/discussion. The reason I have "The Plot" and "The Good" for my reviews is because when I started blogging it helped me to focus on a tight, short synopsis. And at times, I've used publisher copy when I have failed at doing my own description.

So, I am alone and lonely on this one?



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Anniversary

Another year, another post.

April 26, 2005: Welcome.

April 2006: No special post to mark the first year anniversary.

April 2007. Still same old, same old.

April 2008. I again pass up an opportunity to make it all about me.

April 2009. FINALLY, I acknowledge the passing of years.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, April 23, 2010

Buffy & Angel


Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel.

The Plot: Buffy is a vampire slayer. There is only one slayer, one teenage girl to fight all the vampires and demons. Pretty bad odds. Luckily for Buffy, for seven seasons she has friends and family as she stops an apocalypse or two, fights vampires, demons, gods, and assorted other big bads. In other words? She saves the world. A lot.

Angel is a vampire, but one who has been cursed with a soul. The guilt from the atrocities he has committed puts him on the difficult road of redemption.

Together for three season, Buffy and Angel fight -- sometimes the bad guys, sometimes each other. Eventually he moves to Los Angeles and assembles his own team, and for five seasons he helps the helpless.

The Good:

You knew Buffy was going to be included in this list. It is, after all, my favorite television show in the history of the world. It is the inspiration for my blog name.

Joss Whedon has a gift for television. The man is a genius; in addition to Buffy and Angel, he is responsible for Firefly and Dollhouse.

First things first.

Whedon created a teenage girl who fought back. A tiny blond, who looks like the only things she thinks about are fashion, music, dating. Looks are deceiving, and while Buffy does care about fashion, music, and boys -- she also knows how to use a crossbow. Now, books and television shows are full of strong teenage girls, like Veronica Mars. Buffy was one of the first -- and one that stuck around the longest. Seven seasons worth.

Whedon set the high mark for storytelling over multiple episodes and seasons, paving the way for shows like Battlestar Galactica. Over the course of seven seasons, there were vampires, friends who turned evil, an Apocalypse or two, a god, even the government.

Whedon respected his audience, with dark storytelling and characters who weren't perfect and who made bad choices. The person who you disliked one season, you were rooting for the next. People surprised you. Things were not always predictable, but Whedon was such a skilled storyteller that you went along with it. Storylines that on paper sounded "no way" turned out to be amazing. And the language! The lines! The quips! He can out outquip anyone on Arrested Development.

Buffy was a show about the supernatural, and some may dismiss it as "just" being genre. It's always dangerous to see something as being within a genre as meaning it's "less than" real TV. Buffy, like My So Called Life, took life seriously; took teenagers seriously. Angela Chase, had she watched Buffy, would have understood right away. High School can be hell. We are always fighting personal demons.

Buffy lasted seven amazing seasons, taking Buffy (and her friends and family) from high school to college and beyond. Like Veronica Mars, the initial move from high school to college was shaky. While many (me included) believe the best of Buffy was her high school years, Buffy at its worst (season seven) was still head and shoulders above other television. Even bad, it was good -- it was only "bad" in comparison to just how perfect previous seasons were. For example, the famous musical episode? Season six, after high school. And season three (high school) had possibly the worst. episode. of Buffy ever, Dead Man's Party, where Buffy's friends are incredibly mean, horrid, and selfish and I'm still pissed at them. So there.

Part of the "bad" wasn't really bad -- it was simply change. Buffy and her friends had to change, and Whedon was confronted with doing what he did best (believable character growth over multiple seasons) with television limitations. In other words, in the real world? Friends grow apart. In TVland, they always have to come back together. In the real world? There is no One. True. Love. In TVland, there are One True Pairings. That Buffy dealt with those limitations, went on for seven season, and remained made of awesome shows just how talented Whedon (and the cast, crew and writers he assembled) is.

Some have called Angel Whedon's "grown up" series, which I always resented. It reminded me too much of parents who mess up with their first set of kids, and fix the problem by being better parents to a new set of kids. In other words, Buffy remained "young" to Angel's "grown up and dark" only because Whedon chose to do so. Plus? Buffy didn't remain young; she was growing up, changing, maturing, making choices, becoming more her person. Perhaps part of the reason that Buffy seasons 4 to 7 were messy and uncomfortable is because college years, that time of growing up, is messy and uncomfortable. Also? You cannot convince me that Angel getting paid for fighting the powers of darkness is acceptable but Buffy doing so is not.

Angel's first season didn't do much for me, I confess. It felt too much like a show the network wanted, a show that hadn't found its footing. About half way through, something clicked -- the actors, the writing, the stories -- and Angel became must-watch TV. While some of the actors (Angel, Cordelia, Wesley) had worked together on Buffy, each character was different in Angel. Angel's focus was no longer Buffy, making him harder and darker; Wesley had gone from wimp to gruff; and Cordy. Sigh. At her best, Cordy had matured into a likable young woman with a common sense, comfortably selfish view of the world. At her worst, Cordy was a shaft of light. No, really. She was literally a shaft of light.

As a former lawyer, I had a lot of fun watching Angel battle lawyers and other corporate entities. I also enjoyed how dark things went, especially with Wesley. (All I will say is: "I'll take away your bucket.") I had such a crush on Wesley in Angel.

One man alone -- even someone like Whedon -- does not a good show make. It requires a combination of so many things: actors, directors, writers, crews who do things I do not know but make a show so perfect. Whedon does a terrific job of finding and using talent. The people who work on his shows crop up again and again in other shows and movies, and always deliver quality.

Enough of me gushing! With a total of twelve seasons to choose from, as well as so many possible spoilers, I went with some basic season previews.

The Buffy Season 2 trailer:



The Angel Season 1 trailer:



And who can resist Buffy v Edward? Especially those of us who want our vampires dangerous?





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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars.

The Plot: Veronica Mars is having a rough Junior year at Neptune High School.

Last year, Veronica Mars's best friend, Lily Kane, was murdered. Veronica's father, the Sheriff, bungled the investigation and lost his job; her mother fled, never to be seen; and Veronica's friends not only deserted her, they turned on her, with the abuse culminating in Veronica being drugged at a party and raped.

Welcome to Neptune.

But don't cry for Veronica. She picked herself up, dried those tears, cut her Alice in Wonderland long blond hair and dealt with it. Her dad is a poorly paid private investigator, helped out often by Veronica; and now that she's learned a trick or two about investigating people, she has a plan.

Find out who killed Lily Kane.

The Good: Veronica Mars may have the most perfect first season of television, ever. Even with Paris Hilton as a guest star. No, really. Rob Thomas, the former young adult author turned television producer, created this show and wow, the benefit of having someone do this who understands story, especially long term story arcs, shows.

Veronica herself is fabulously flawed yet always likable; her view of things is not always right, but it takes a while for the viewer to understand that. Pay attention to how she she labels her former friends who turned on her in the first episodes. As time and flashbacks reveal, those friends also loved and lost Lilly and truly believed that Veronica's father screwed up the investigation to find her murder. It takes time for Veronica to see that she is not the only one hurting.

Veronica's friendships and romances are not perfect but are perfectly shown, perfectly developed. She starts with "no friends," and is a rather prickly teen. Yet a few people have the patience to befriend her and in return she gives loyalty. Also? Veronica Mars has one of the best father/daughter relationships in the history of television. If I had to pick a TV dad, it would be Keith Mars. Keith, who has lost wife, house, job, place in community. Yet he picks himself up, creates a new home (in a crappy apartment complex on the bad side of town), starts working as a private investigator and most importantly, loves and supports his daughter. Always.

First season, Veronica solves the murder of Lily Kane. How she does it is beautiful; there are false leads, there are road blocks, there is doubt. Always, Veronica is smart, and driven, and kicks ass. She doesn't apologize for who she is and what she does and what she wants. She is both a terrific role model and also scary as hell. Veronica was hurt in the past, so can be slow to trust. Who can blame her, though?

Thomas, perhaps fearing this would be a one-season show, answers all the mysteries raised in the first season. Which, as a viewer? And as someone recommending that you watch this ASAP? Was terrific. However, this led to a problem -- what would be the next mystery for Veronica to solve? In addition, part of the strength of season one was the artful use of flashbacks into Veronica's life "before," before Lily was murdered. Thomas brilliantly used Veronica's past to show who she was now, and to also show the viewer that how Veronica remembered things and how others saw them were not the same. You watch Veronica Mars first to learn whodunit; you watch it next to realize that the clues were there all along.

For Season Two, Thomas killed a bus load of kids to give Veronica a mystery to solve and also brought back a few loose ends from Season One. It worked well -- Veronica sometimes is mistaken, jumps to conclusions, so to see that come back in Season Two was great. Season Three saw Veronica starting college, so having to start over, in a way. Season Three was more a number of mini-mysteries than a season-long mystery. Rumor at the time was the network didn't want a story that went the full season. For those of us who loved the show because of the mix of mystery of the week/season mystery, it was a disappointment. Also, Veronica Mars was a fabulous critique of not just High School, with the haves and have nots, but also of society, with Veronica as the outsider/observer. Moving to a university campus lost this aspect of Veronica Mars, and no replacement "bigger commentary" was offered.

Still? Season one was so. perfect., it would have been almost impossible for other seasons to live up to it. What those seasons did live up to was well plotted mysteries, Veronica remaining an interesting, flawed, driven, smart woman, some laugh out loud lines and beautiful friendships. I would have loved another season (or two or three). Personally, I believe that Veronica (and Thomas's storytelling strengths) would have been best served by fast forwarding Veronica's life by a few years. That way, skip over the awkward college years and also allow a story that requires the types of flashbacks that worked so well season one. Ah, well...there is always the rumored movie, right?

What else can I say without being too spoilery? How about two of my favorite quotes?

"Veronica Mars is smarter than me."

And

"Adversity is the diamond dust with which Heaven polishes its jewels."

Also?

I want Veronica's entire wardrobe. Including these boots.



In looking over past posts, I blogged a lot about Veronica Mars when it was on. There are some wee spoilers in those posts, but nothing big. Such as... OK I have to say it...

Logan Echolls is my TV boyfriend. And if that's a spoiler, so be it. I was going to embed a clip to prove it...but sigh. I don't want to give to much away.




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Arrested Development


Arrested Development. Originally on FOX. Originally...unwatched by me.

I know! This is one of those stories -- like Going Bovine -- where I heard the description, thought "too wacky for me" (ignoring all the evidence that I love wacky) and didn't watch. Then I listened to those who said I'd love it, got the DVDs thanks to Netflix, and I watched it and guess what? I DID LOVE IT.

The Plot: Wow. This is hard. It's about the Bluth family, a wonderfully dysfunctional, functional family. The father (and head of the family company) was just arrested and is in prison, good son Michael is trying to keep the family, the business, and the finances together. It's a bit hard because his family is out of control. And they are so over the top that words fail me.

The Good: Saying words fail me is a bit sad, isn't it? I mean, this entire blog is about having the words. So big brother Gob is a magician who thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread -- and somehow everyone else agrees. Even as his magic tricks fail spectacularly over and over. Younger brother Buster has been kept in the baby brother mode for so long that he's an amazingly stunted individual whose relationship with his mother involves matching outfits (and that's the healthiest part). Sister Lindsay is married to an ex-doctor, now wannabe actor and has a cynical daughter Maeby, a high school student who moonlights as a studio executive. Michael's son George Michael is in love with his cousin, Maeby.

It's zany and over the top and sometimes just doesn't make sense. But it's like a roller coaster; strap yourself in, trust in the track, let yourself go. Don't let logic ruin it.

Zany isn't enough to keep you going three seasons. Part of what helps is Michael, who looks like (and thinks he is) the Marilyn in the Munsters Family. The normal one. Except what is awesome is Michael is just as looney tunes as the rest of the family. All of them have a distorted view of themselves and their world and their place in it. While Michael sees how wrong his mother's relationship with her youngest son is, Michael and George Michael's relationship isn't much better.

And the story lines... the places this series goes. Michael dates a blind attorney and every. single. joke a person would think yet never say about a blind person? It goes there. There are no sacred cows, "oh no we cannot" in Arrested Development. People behave badly over and over. Add to it some off the wall plot lines that tie it all in together -- because OF COURSE the blind attorney that Michael is dating? Turns out to be prosecuting Michael's father! Except Michael lied about his name at the bar where he picked up the woman during an intended one-night stand. And Michael doesn't realize until the next day that the woman is blind and suddenly finds himself in a relationship (under an assumed name and made up career) because you cannot dump a blind woman! And his family finds out and realizes this is the perfect chance to sneak into her house and read the files she has on the Bluth family! And decide to do it while she's at home because, you know... blind. And all that is in one episode, with other things going on, and its amazing and beautiful and hurts from laughing so much.

And what is even better? People, plots, throwaway lines don't disappear when one episode ends. In other words? That blind attorney is going to reappear. Actually, the way things pop up again or get worked in? I think this works better in a DVD set, where you can sit back and watch several episodes in a row because that way you pick up on the little things. Waiting a week, I think you'd miss those little details. Also, because sometimes this show is so quick, and so jam packed, you want to rewatch an episode or a scene right away to get the full, rich experience.

What else?

STEVE HOLT!

And if you're not going to watch it? You're a CHICKEN! And I will chicken dance at you!


Arrested Development Chicken Dances - Watch more Funny Videos



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Battlestar Galactica


Battlestar Galactica

Original series show on Syfy.

As I explained back in 2005, I watched the original Battlestar Galactica and was highly skeptical of the remake. But since I always fall for a good story, I fell for Battlestar Galactica. Even if they did make Starbuck a girl. They took all the best about the original series, and dirtied it up, made it darker, made it real, made it classic.

Here is the promo that convinced me to give the new Battlestar a chance:



In a nutshell, the plot: The Twelve Colonies (twelve planets) created a robot life form called Cylons, who, rather than be mindless servants, rebelled against their human creators in a violent war that ended in a truce. Forty years later the Cylons end the truce with a devastating attack on the Twelve Colonies. Less than fifty thousand humans survive in a handful of space ships; they are fleeing the Cylons and looking for a refuge and new home. Oh, and another thing? The Cylons have been evolving and inventing (or reinventing?) themselves. They now look like humans. The person next to you? Could be a Cylon. Who wants to kill you. And I have to add... because it was in the original and the sequel... the myth-planet they are looking for, as their hope and salvation and sanctuary is called... Earth.

The Good: So, right there, what more do you want? We're talking classic survivalist, people! Imagine you're on the bus to work and BAM that bus aka space ship turns out to be your new home as you're fleeing murderous skinjob Cylons. And the only clothes you have? The suit you're wearing.

From the start, what made this miniseries, and then television series, terrific was nuanced, in depth characters who made you go "wow." Forget the special effects and the "it's kinda like our world only not" setting. Forget saying "frak" instead of something else. Forget the oddly cut papers.

Instead -- the characters. Bill Adama, his estranged son Lee, gruff Tigh, suddenly President Roslyn. For example, Roslyn begins as a Secretary of Education who becomes President because no one is left. Adama is the defacto head of the military. What kind of community, what kind of government, should they have? Democracy? Military rule? What steps will these people take to ensure both the survival of civilization and of people? These were people you cheered and yelled at, wanted to hug or throw across the room.

As a viewer, you cared. While I love me my teen drama, as you can see from yesterday's entry on My So-Called Life, I also love shows with grown ups, with the cares, concerns, loves, wisdom and wrinkles of those of us in our thirties, forties, fifties, sixties.

But did the writers simply rest on interesting characters and running from the Big Bad Toaster (um, Cylons) each week? Frak, no! Each season they brought something new, something different, while still fitting in with the whole series story arc. Time passed depending not on the "next week" lets pretend this is "real time", but passed depending on what the story demanded. Need to jump a year into the future? Done.

Without ruining anything with spoilers for those of you who haven't watched this series yet, this series went to so many places. Issues of terrorism, loyalty, love, forgiveness, family. What does it mean to be human? A human looks like a Cylon looks like a human, so what is the real true difference? A Cylon who dies resurrects in a brand-new identical body with old memories. What is life, what is death?

Battlestar Galactica provided one of the most serious, respectful looks at religion and religious belief on TV. The colonists -- the humans -- worshipped many gods. The Cylons believed in one god. Belief, disbelief, atheism, faith, organized religion, all were explored in these two vastly different belief systems.

What was beautiful about this series was the balance of the science fiction elements to satisfy the geeks amongst us with storytelling that captured those who normally said "I don't like science fiction." Combined with using a world that was not ours yet seemed like ours so that it wasn't drastically different... more like visiting a different country than visiting a different world and galaxy.

Battlestar Galactica also delivered a real ending: agree or disagree, like or dislike, BG had a plan and brought it home. No leaving things hanging or unanswered; there was a story to tell, and it was told.

Remember that "forty years before" about the creation of the Cylons and the war? The origins of Cylons, and why they were created, and how they became more than a machine, is being explored in the current Syfy series Caprica, set decades before Battlestar Galactica. The battle-weary Will Adama appears as a young boy. Man, I love well done prequels. But that is another post!



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Monday, April 19, 2010

My So-Called Life


A Top Five list of TV Shows on DVD must include My So-Called Life. I actually own two versions of
My So-Called Life on DVD. That is love, friend.

My So-Called Life originally aired 1994 to 1995, and was only nineteen episodes long. Claire Danes played Angela Chase, a fifteen year old sophomore trying to figure out who she was. This is classic coming-of-age drama, with Angela balancing the expectations of family and new and old friends. The clothes and music may be dated, but everything else is fresh and current.

While many critics loved this show, others dismissed it. Too white. Too middle class. Too high school.

I LOVED this show. Danes perfectly captured a teenage girl at the crossroads: between child and adult. Discovering and trying to figure out sexual attraction, lust and love. Wanting something new and different, as represented by new friends Rayanne and Rickie. Not knowing how to leave behind childhood and childhood friends easily -- hence her dumping of Sharon, who is too plain vanilla compared to Rayanne and Rickie. Loving cool unattainable Jordan, ignoring next door neighbor Brian.

And Jordan Catalano. The gorgeous object of Angela's affections. Who did not cheer when Angela eventually kissed Jordan? Yet at the same time... Jordan always stayed what he was. A stoner; someone more interested in cars and music; someone -- let us be honest -- not as smart as Angela. Watching this the first time around, and every time since, I loved that Jordan was allowed to be a whole real person, flawed, and was never turned into the "but secretly he's a deep poet" bad boy.

That was the genius of My So-Called Life: while apparently about Angela's so called life, it was actually about each character's own life. Each person was nuanced, with depth, with their own dreams, heartaches, and joys. Rickie and Delia's dance? Rayanne's sexed up version of the theme from Sesame Street? Even the parents were allowed to be whole people.

Little things happened or didn't happen that made this show one whole rather than a series of episodes. The same clothes being worn. Sayings such as "In My Humble Opinion" starting with Patty, Angela's mother, and soon spreading to all of Angela's crowd. And, of course, Tito.

On the one hand, I'm almost glad it was just a season long, a season in the life of Angela Chase. It was, in a way, perfect, a perfect portrayal in the year of one girl's life. On the other, because this was about so much more than Angela, I wish it had been longer. For those who must: there were two book tie ins, one covering the time period of the show (My So-Called Life) and one the summer after the series ended (My So-Called Life Goes On).

Here is what is probably the most perfect scene from the show, and I don't care about the spoilers.



Why this is perfect: everyone in Angela's high school life is there, in the hallway. Jordan, who is making out with Angela but refuses to acknowledge her in public glances across the hallway at her. Next to him, his friend who thinks Angela is weird. Rayanne and Rickie and Sharon, looking on, as is Brian. And Angela, looking at Jordan, wanting him but knowing its not a healthy relationship.

And then... Jordan walks up to her. From one clique to the other, ignoring the stares. Talks to her; takes her hand; Sharon, befuddled because Jordan is the bad boy, Rayanne and Rickie practically cheering, Brian, desolate. And its all conveyed in a few short minutes.

My So-Called Life is part of the Zwick/Herskovitz family of TV shows. Which in my head I call Teensomething (this show), Twentysomething (Relativity), Thirtysomething (hey, you call it that too!) and Fortysomething (Once and Again).

In considering what shows to highlight, I gave brief thought to both Party of Five and Felicity.

Party of Five failed to make the cut in part because it didn't sustain its early promise. The first two season I can watch over and over; after that, it floundered, especially in the portrayal of Julia. Sometimes, the "one season" show is actually a gift to a viewer because you don't have to see such "now she's married! not going to school! she loves Justin! she loves roommates boyfriend! she loves professor! she loves girls! she's a writer!" storytelling.

And Felicity...ah Felicity. Loved that show; loved her character growth. Loved that we got to see a grown up Brian Krakow (and yep I think Angela may have dated the older, improved, taller, better hair cut Brian.) Loved it ended up being four years at college. But this suffered a bit of a sophomore slump, pulling in odd problems (I cannot get worked up about gambling storylines, sorry) that sometimes seemed like filler. Plus the time travel wtfery the last season still confuses the hell out of me. Still, I own all episodes on DVD.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Classy

Because nothing says "classy" like running into a stranger and wanting to share an amusing anecdote involving her dead exboyfriend, that, actually, has nothing to do with the dead ex.

With bonus "how funny" points for wanting to tell the story in front of the dead man's four year old daughter.

And an added level of "creepy" because it's in Modern Love and talks about the interaction of two toddlers as if they were in a nightclub, hoping to get lucky.

And I keep forgetting. Being in movies and television shows means you give up the right to have a cup of coffee without it being turned into someone else's New York Times story.






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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Top TV Shows On DVD

It's TV Turn Off Week starting tomorrow!

Let's celebrate by talking about how awesome TV is.

Even though I would really love to instead rant about the demonization of TV and TV watchers. And how there is nothing more obnoxious than a snooty, looking down at you "I don't watch TV" person. Oh, wait...the person who SAYS they don't watch TV yet when pressed, "only" watches fill in the blank: PBS, DVD, foreign films. Or "only" watches old TV shows on DVD.

I say, hurrah for TV!

Thanks to TV, and to DVDs, I can watch a variety of programs. Films that were only shown in big cities get delivered to my small town door. And while snobs may cringe that geography no longer serves to restrict such viewing to those who live in certain zip codes, I cheer it.

Go to a movie theatre, you say? Where I get crying babies, smelly people, obnoxious food smells, creepy pervs, uncomfortable chairs? When I can take that money and instead watch in the comfort of my own home on my -- wait for it -- TV?

Wait, you didn't mean films? That's not the TV you're talking about?

It's just the series TV that is bad. Sorry, friend. Serial storytelling -- the kind of drama that requires the attention of six, ten, twenty two hour viewing -- cannot be duplicated in a mere ninety minute film. You, non TV watcher, may not have the patience or attention to detail to be able to follow a long storyline with multiple arcs and characters. That is your loss.

Oh, it's just the reality part. Reality TV is bad! Eh. If you don't want to watch House Hunters, America's Next Top Model, and the like, fine. You have no interest in what homes sell for in Scotland and how they have washing machines in their kitchens. You don't care what the modeling industry is like. I don't care much about singing, so I'm not watching American Idol. But when you turn "not interested" into this badge of "me smarter! me better!" and now, my fave, "me healthier" I have to show you the door, sit on the sofa, and grab the remote.

But wait, there is the last argument! "You're watching too much." Sigh. Guess what? Anything can be done "too much." The kid who is reading too many books? Is also unhealthy from sitting on the sofa all day. The kid who is out playing sports all day? May have a healthier body, but how much reading is he doing? Want to have a "Balanced Life" week? Awesome. But turning off the TV? Strikes me as just the type of "life: you're doing it wrong" attitude I like to avoid.

Huh. I guess I did rant.

Well, I could do hundred posts on the great television that is out there, from classic to BBC, from reality to documentary, from film to series. Instead, and with great difficulty, I give you, for one week only, Liz B's Greatest TV Shows On DVD.

My self imposed rules:

-- the entire series had to be on DVD. So no current shows.
-- it was not originally shown on a premium channel. So no Deadwood. Or Rome.
-- I had to have watched it on DVD. So I am not going off my memory of having loved the show years ago. So no Moonlighting.

In reviewing my selection, it's easy to see what makes something a favorite of mine:

-- complex storytelling over multiple episodes
-- nuanced characters that aren't perfect
-- humor
-- inventiveness
-- originality
-- character growth

Want to guess what I picked?




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, April 16, 2010

The New Brighton Archeological Society


The New Brighton Archeological Society by Mark Andrew Smith and Matthew Weldon. Image Comics. 2009. Copy from author. Graphic Novel


The Plot: After their parents die during an expedition, siblings Cooper & Joss and Benny & Becca go to live with their godparents in the huge mansion where their own parents grew up. Exploring the Manor and its surrounding grounds leads to mysteries they never imagined -- including why their parents died.


The Good: A fun, adventurous story with a quartet of likable kids.


Mysteries are introduced in the first few pages (a Manor house, a flying island, a goblin (or fairy?) wedding. Flashforward fifty years, where we see the two sets of parents die in Antarctica while searching for something. So, another mystery! The four kids recover from the loss of their parents by discovering that their parents weren't simply archaeologists. The parents also trapped ghosts, befriended goblins, and pursued assorted other supernatural thrills and fun. The kids dub themselves, like their parents before them, the New Brighton Archaeological Society.


There is a fun mix of supernatural creatures, introduced slowly to the reader with the discovery, first, of ghosts. Then goblins. And I enjoyed that the goblins are the good guys! By the time the fearless foursome are storming castles, Chinese vampires and frogs join the mix and its just a ton of fun. (Fun for the reader; I personally don't want to battle vampires).

This is a set up for a series; so while the kids accomplish some things, danger still lurks, things still need to be recovered. It'll be interesting to see what the Society gets up to next!



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sisters Red


Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. Little, Brown. Publication Date June 2010. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Seven years ago, the March sisters were attacked by a Fenris -- a werewolf. It killed their grandmother and then went after Scarlett, 11, and Rosie, 9. Scarlett fought back. She lost her right eye; she is scarred from the attack; but Scarlett saved her sister.

Seven years later, Scarlett is dedicated to the hunt. Hunting the Fenris, protecting a world of people that don't even know they are hunted. Rosie, loyal to her sister, also hunts. Rosie wants something out of life . . . . Something more than fighting. What, she doesn't know because she hasn't even dared dream of another life.

Then Silas returns to town. Silas -- Scarlett's hunting partner and best friend. Silas -- the son of the man who helped raise Scarlett and Rosie after the death of their grandmother, who taught all three about the Fenris and hunting and fighting and killing. Silas. For Rosie to fall in love with Silas would betray Scarlett, in every way possible. It would mean abandoning Scarlett... it would mean taking Silas away. Scarlett sacrificed her face for Rosie; should Rosie sacrifice love in return?

The Good: Love, love, love.

This is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Both Scarlett and Rosie have red names; the color red attracts werewolves; Scarlett hunts and hides her scars by wearing a red cape with a hood. Silas, like his father before him, is a woodsman. Silas's name has meaning, also; it means "man of the forest." Scarlett's and Rosie's grandmother was attacked and killed by a wolf/ Fenris.

Scarlett and Rosie, growing up, ignored the two years difference between them; ignored the two different fathers; and saw themselves as almost-twins. Rosie explains: "When we were little, Scarlett and I were utterly convinced that we'd originally been one person in our mother's belly. We believed that somehow, half of us wanted to be born and half wanted to stay. So our heart had to be broken in two so that Scarlett would be born first, and then I finally braved the outside world a few years later. It made sense, in our little pig-tailed heads -- it explained why, when we ran through grass or danced or spun in circles long enough, we would lose track of who was who and it started to feel as if there was some organic, elegant link between us, our single heart holding the same tempo and pumping the same blood. That was before the attack, though."

This duality carries throughout the entire book. Scarlett, Scar-red, whose scarred face ensures that she remains separate from the world and thus an almost perfect hunter. The only thing in her life besides the hunt is her sister, Rosie. Rosie keeps Scarlett part of the world.

Rosie, unscarred, owes her life, her existence, to her sister. Like Scarlett, she hunts. Like Scarlett, she is tough and good at what she does. Unlike Scarlett, Rosie has more options in life. Including, with her smooth face, love.

Scarlett and Rosie are, in a way, one person: and after the attack seven years ago, one scarred version survived with one set of hopes and dreams and another, unscarred version lived with a different set of hopes and dreams.

Silas and Rosie's gradually growing love affair, hidden from Scarlett, is not meant to hurt Scarlett but it would destroy her. Destroy her because it would mean that Scarlett is truly alone.

I love the sister dynamic here; it is true and real. Scarlett and Rosie love each other; neither wants to hurt the other. Rosie wants freedom but also knows she owes Scarlett. Scarlett doesn't think of Rosie as owing Scarlett; rather, Scarlett sees herself and her sister as two against the Fenris, two hunters together, two saving the world. At the same time, Scarlett recognizes that Rosie could have more and both wants to protect Rosie and to have Rosie fight by her side.

Can these two sisters who share a heart each find their own way in the world? Can they be true to themselves and true to each other? This, alone, kept me turning pages and my heart racing and wanting answers and wanting to make sure that it all had a happy ending.

Of course, fighting Fenris, even with a bit of a friendship/love triangle, is just a series of random fights; more is needed to make a good story. When the Fenris change from human to Fenris, they lose their souls. A full moon isn't necessary to turn the Fenris in human form into a wolf; blood lust also can. But what is it that makes a human a Fenris? It's more than just a bite. Scarlett, Rosie and Silas realize that the Fenris are hunting a Potential, a human who -- if bitten at the right time -- will become a Fenris. What makes a human a Potential? Can these three find that Potential to save him? And by finding the Potential, can they set a trap to kill as many Fenris as possible?

Because of the love story between Rosie and Silas. Because of the terrific sister relationship between Scarlett and Rosie. Because Scarlett and Rosie are strong, capable, dangerous, lethal hunters. Because I cared so much for Scarlett, Rosie and Silas, I began to think they were real. Because the story line is smart and clever. Because the story is both original yet uses established lore. Because the writing is exciting and lyrical. For all those reasons, this is a Favorite Books Read in 2010 (see sidebar).

One final note. I got a bit mad at the author while reading this book. Something happened or didn't happen that PISSED ME OFF. And that was when I knew, this is a terrific writer. To care enough about what happens to a character that I get mad about it? Brilliant. I love that words on a page have been crafted and put together in such a way that I react as if it were real. If Pearce does not give me what I want in the companion books, I'll be busy writing fanfiction.

Oh, did I say companion books? Yeppers: Sweetly, 2011; and Fathomless. I have a few unanswered questions, about the world Jackson has created. I'm glad that there will be more books, for more answers. I suspect there will also be more questions. An endless cycle -- I'm looking forward to it!





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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Get It Now: April 2010

The following books were reviewed from ARCs before publication date and are now available:

This Means War by Ellen Wittlinger

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lord Sunday

Lord Sunday by Garth Nix. Scholastic. 2010. Review copy from publisher.

On the first day, there was a mystery.
On the second day, there was darkness.
On the third day, there were pirates.
On the fourth day, there was war.
On the fifth day, there was fear.
On the sixth day, there was sorcery.
On the seventh day, there was a choice.


The Plot: Arthur is falling; Suzy Blue is imprisoned; Leaf is surrounded by radioactive fallout. Somehow, Arthur must get the final part of the Will and the seventh key from Lord Sunday. Is it enough to triumph over Lord Sunday? What will happen when all the parts of the Will are rejoined and become one?

The Good: The seven parts of Keys to the Kingdom is a stunning sequence of books; more like seven volumes of one book than seven books. At first, it didn't seem like that. It was Monday; there was an adventure. It was Tuesday; there was an adventure. But then, wow, realizing that more, much more, is going on than a simple quest by Arthur to find the seven keys and seven parts of the Will.

The layers of Nix's worlds astound. Obviously, Lord Sunday is best read if you've read the other books in the series. Otherwise - well, it can be confusing. Plus, part of the pleasure of this series is how it begins so simply. Arthur accidentally pulled into a world and adventure he knows nothing about. a fairly common occurrence in children's fantasy.

What isn't common? How elaborate and detailed Nix's fantasy world is. It is dense in the best sense of the word, because there is so much more to this world. There is the House (the Lower House, the Middle House, the Upper House); the Far Reaches; the Border Sea; the Incomparable Gardens. It has its own entry in Wikipedia, trying to sort it all out, and NO, don't go there until you've read the books. It's best discovered by Nix's books.

This isn't a book "based on" or "inspired by" existing mythology or religion; it is its own creation.
Creation... Like many things that are created there are references to things that are familiar to us, almost half-remembered bits and pieces put together and reinvented. A Piper, a Mariner, the Old One, the Architect. You think you know them, but you don't. So, yes, there are references but they are used in such new and different ways. So there is a garden; and an apple; and a snake; and a woman who bites the apple. But it is not Eden.

Arthur's Earth. His Earth is clearly not our planet, even though for the first few books I thought it was our Earth. If it is, it's a few years into the future. Or maybe it is just one of the many worlds in Arthur's universe.

Worlds created by the Old One and Architect, creating something out of Nothing, creating people. Powers, immortality -- and while Nix stays away from using words like "God"
or "Angel," c'mon. An all powerful entity creates the world out of nothing. Almost immortal beings with wings are at times loyal to the creator or disagreeing with his vision. Humans are the only creatures who can truly create. The creation origins of this story, this world, this Earth are radically different from those of our world, yet at times so familiar, like a half-remembered sentence or a sense of deja vu.

And the ending... Lord Sunday delivers everything the last book in a series should. And then some. Some things that the reader had begun to suspect, or fear, come to pass. Middle school book? Oh, yes, middle school students will read and enjoy this series, but the questions and answers given are food for thought for older teens and adults. Arthur may be a seventh grader in the first volume of the book, as is Leaf, but the inhabitants of the House (Suzy, the Will, the Denizens) are all hundreds if not thousands of years old. Or older. And Arthur himself ages, in time and temperament and even appearance, as these books go by. The seven days? Hardly twenty four hour days.

If you haven't read The Keys to the Kingdom, what a wonderful time to start! Having to wait between books was especially frustrating because of the cast of characters and the slow unfolding of the complex world. Too much time between books meant spending time trying to remember how it worked, and re-aquainting myself with the various characters. But to read this all in one sitting (or, OK, one week... one sitting is a bit much), wow! What a treat. I envy you.

My previous posts on this series: Keys to the Kingdom; Sir Thursday (a 48 hours review)


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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

In Which I Get A Grade Of...

I love lists like Betsy's Top 100 Children's Novels so I can count up the ones I've read and give myself a score. Great minds think alike, and I copied my list from TeacherNinja. (Which I found via The Reading Zone). You know the drill; bold what you read.

Usually, I'm in the low C's. Let's see with this one!

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967)
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983)
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950
94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935)
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978)

90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985)
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)
84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)

80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)
77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)

72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)

70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelae (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart ( 2007)
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)
65. Ballet Shoes - Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959)
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)


60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)

54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)

50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)

46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961)
45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)


40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)
34. The Watson's Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)

30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)
27. Alice I and II - Carroll (1865/72)

26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)
22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightening Thief - Riordan (2005)


20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)

10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911)
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 - Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952)


78 out of 100. Per usual, the Gentleman's C. At least it's a high C! Maybe even a C+! It may be higher, because I've forgotten some of the books I read as a kid/teen. So I could easily go to read Half Magic, for example, and thirty pages in go "d'uh. I did read this."




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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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