Book catch-up, part 1

Posted by barb on Jul 23, 2006 in Books

I took a bit of a hiatus from reading in December, but I have been reading since then – I just haven’t been keeping up with my book diary. Here’s half of the books I’ve read since my last entry.

by Gregory Maguire

This is not your mother’s Wizard of Oz. In fact, that’s clear from the first page.
“She [the wicked witch] was castrated at birth,” replied the Tin Woodsman calmly. “She was born a hermaphroditic, or maybe entirely male.”
As with Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, this book is fairly dark. Elphaba was born green and with sharp teeth. Is it any wonder that life was hard for her? Her father was ashamed of her, but doted on her armless sister. In school (yes, Shiz, just like the musical), she found a cause – the rights of Animals (where the capital ‘A’ denotes an animal who is sentient and intelligent). But when she brings her cause to the Wizard, she finds that he’s behind the villification of the Animals. He created them as an enemy to unite the different factions of Oz. Her crusade goes wrong, and everything she touches seems to go wrong. Is it any wonder that she became “wicked”?

Great book, highly recommended

In Search of the Big Bang
by John Gribbin

I didn’t actually finish this book, but that’s because the content wasn’t what I expected, not because of the quality of the book. In fact, as usual, Gribbin takes a very difficult subject and makes it manageable for laypeople. he tells the story of how scientists came to devlop Big Bang theory and some of the ongoing investigations into refining the theory.

I was looking for a book that told the story of the COBE spacecraft and its results. Since COBE is depicted on the cover, I don’t think I was foolish in thinking that I might find it here. Sadly, COBE was only mentioned in a paragraph or two of one chapter. Sigh.

Undead and Unemployed
by Mary Janice Davidson

The subject on the spine says “paranormal romance”. What more could a girl want?

Betsy Taylor is Queen of the vampires. She got this title just a couple months ago when she died, though most vampires don’t acknowledge her as Queen yet. In fact, several of these vampires are now out to kill her…er…again. During all this, Betsy secures a job at Nordstrom’s shoe departement at the Mall of America. So, at least her shoe-fetish is satisfied among the death threats.

There’s not much substance here, of course, but the book is rather fun while it lasts.

Twilight Rising, Serpent’s Dream
by Diana Marcellas

I’ve been anticipating this book since The Sea Lark’s Song. It’s Marcellas’ third in her series that started with Mother Ocean, Daughter Sea Brierly grew up wondering if she was the last of the shari’a, a race of witches which had long ago been killed off. But then Brierly found a young fire witch after Brierley fled the Duke’s dungeon. In this book, we found two forest witches, a girl and her twin brother (usually the shari’a abilities are passed down to the girls in a family, but if a girl has a boy twin, he may get some of the abilities as well). The forest witches have been awaiting The Finding – an event that will only happen when one of each type of witch gather (fire, ocean, forest and air). However, no one is quite sure what will happen at The Finding. Perhaps the abilities of the witches will change/grow. Perhaps new types of witches will come about. But it seems clear that the shari’a will find a rebirth at The Finding.

Wonderful book – up to the high standards set by the previous two books in this series.



Quiet Weekend

Posted by barb on Apr 17, 2006 in Crafty Me, Games, Pictures

After the hellish week I had, we decided to have a quiet weekend at home. We rented a couple of PS2 games (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and X-Files: Resist or Serve), and I gamed much of Friday, since I’d already put in more than my 30 hours.

Harry Potter was quite fun, though we came close to defeating the game by the end of Saturday. (We had gotten to Voldemort, but didn’t quite defeat him – we didn’t try again, but most of the fun of the game was done.) Goblet of Fire can be played by two players simultaneously for many of the levels – not the Tri-Wizard challenges or final fight with Voldemort, but all other levels. So, Andrew and I were able to play together, which I think is the first time we’ve done that. I can hardly wait to pull out Tak and Lok and play that with Andrew.

The rest of the weekend I spent scrapbooking. I finished up the “Wedding Odds ‘n’ Ends” book that I’d been working on. Here are a few of the spreads I did:
Wedding Odds 'N' Ends Scrapbook spread  Wedding Odds 'N' Ends Scrapbook spread  Wedding Odds 'N' Ends Scrapbook spread

You can check out all of my scrapbook photos on Flickr. Next up? The eclipse cruise scrapbook!

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Book Catch-Up

Posted by barb on Nov 24, 2005 in Books

I haven’t been reading as much as I usually do, but I’ve read more than I’ve blogged here. Here are the books I’ve finished in the last few months:

The Annals of the Heechee
by Frederik Pohl

I had been looking forward to this, the last installment of the Heechee books (well, at least the last featuring Robinette Broadhead). Sadly, the book did not live up to my expectations. Not even close.

I found myself often annoyed with the constant harping on the fact that Robinette is now digitized — not a “meat person”. We get explaination after explaination that he moves at higher speeds and that the speeds of “meat people” is way too slow for him. I didn’t need it beaten into my head.

The story does wrap up (sort of) the questions of what the Heechee are hiding from.

The Chronoliths
by Robert Charles Wilson

In early 21st century Thailand, Scott Warden witnesses the sudden appearance of a 200-foot stone pillar inscribed with a military victory of “Kuin”…16 years in the future. The novel follows Scott over the next 16 years as he joins the team investigating these events and whether or not they can be reversed.

The story idea is compelling; however, it’s told from Scott’s “future” self. Annoyingly, he keeps forshadowing how much worse things are going to get. After the third or fourth time hearing “little did we know” or “that was only the beginning”, I was ready to toss the book. However, the story intrigued me enough that I wanted to finish it.

Dooms Day Book
by Connie Willis

In the future, the best way to study history is to go back in time. However, several eras are off-limits as being too dangerous. Kivrin was determined to go to the early 14th century, but it has been declared off-limits due to the plague and plague-related histeria. When the history board starts to open up a few decades in the 14th century, Kivrin leaves for the past as soon as she can.

When she gets there, though, she finds that the drop site had drifted in time more than any other drop had drifted, and suddenly she’s in one of the un-approved decades. In the meantime, back in her own time, an epidemic hits London, and no one has the time or energy to see that she is not where she should have been.

As usual, Willis weaves an interesting and intricate story.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2002
edited by Natalie Angier

Another great collection of science articles. A few noteworthy ones:

  • “Violent Pride” by Roy F. Baumeister – This article blows apart the premise that violent people have low self-esteem. This piece of “common knowledge” had not really been rigorously tested, and when a group does test it, they find that the agressive group actually has high self esteem.
  • “Welcome to Cancerland” by Barbara Ehrenreich – Ehrenreich examines the pink world of breast cancer after she is diagnosed with it
  • “As Good As Dead” by Gary Greenberg – This piece examines the fuzzy line between life and death and the ethics involved in declaring someone dead enough to harvest their organs.
  • “Why McDonald’s Fries Taste So Good” by Eric Schlosser – Interesting article on how flavorings are made and used. It’s surprising how flavorings are really the heart of the food industry, not the foods themselves.
  • “Shock and Disbelief” by Daniel Smith – This piece is about electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and how it has changed in the last 20 years. It also touches on the controversy and highlighted how today’s ECT is far removed from the horrors that most people have in their minds.

There was also one annoying piece, “Sound and Fury” by Garret Keizer, and I skipped at least one other piece after reading the first few pages. However, all-in-all, this was a better collection than the others I’ve read.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
by J. K. Rowling

It’s Harry Potter’s fourth year at Hogwarts, and by far his most dangerous so far. As he is forced to compete in the triwizard tournament, a dangerous tournament between the top three wizard schools in Europe, he faces challenges that test his skills as a wizard beyond what he was ever prepared for.

This is the best Harry Potter book so far in the series, and the darkest. I can hardly wait to read the next one to see where things go next.

Man With Farm Seeks Woman With Tractor: The Best and Worst Personal Ads of All Time
by Laura Schaefer

This is a collection of personal ads through history. Unfortunately, the best one was the one used for the title. All of the rest paled by comparison. It also seemed that Schaefer picked many ads from the same paper on the same day or week, leading me to believe that her research was a bit lacking. This collection is not worth the time or money.



Weekend Movies

Posted by barb on Nov 13, 2005 in Movies

Went to a couple movies this weekend:

  • Dreamer
    3/5 stars
    Cute feel-good movie, though no surprises if you’ve seen the trailers
    [IMDB link for Dreamer]
  • Good Night, and Good Luck.
    4/5 stars
    As Andrew said after the moive, “TV was sure different back then.”

    In 1953, Edward R. Murrow, a respected CBS newsman, chose to broadcast a couple shows dealing with Senator McCarthy and his communism witch-hunt. Needless to say, at that time it was dangerous for anyone to speak out against McCarthy, and there were lost of white knuckles in the CBS newsroom.

    The film was very well done, and one of the first with George Clooney where I felt that he wasn’t just recycling Dr. Ross from ER.
    [IMDB link for Good Night, and Good Luck]

We also spent our evenings this weekend re-watching the Harry Potter movies – I am sooooo looking forward to The Goblet of Fire next weekend!!



Mega Movie Round-up

Posted by barb on Oct 18, 2005 in Movies

More for myself than anyone else, here’s the movies I’ve seen over the last month, but not blogged:

  • Must Love Dogs
    3/5 stars
    Cute romantic comedy. Not much else to it, though.

    [IMDB link for Must Love Dogs]

  • A Sidewalk Astronomer
    3.5/5 stars
    This documentary did not get a wide distribution (and, in fact, is only available to theaters on DVD). It is about John Dobson. Dobson, for those of you unfamiliar with amateur astronomy, invented a widely used mount for telescopes that is simple for anyone to construct. This mount allowed almost anyone to build larger and larger telescopes without putting out large sums of cash (I remember being at a star party with Melissa and being invited by a drunken telescope owner to climb a ladder to look through his telescope). Dobson is revered by amateur astronomers for this accoplishment.

    Dobson has also brought astronomy to the sidewalks of San Francisco. He brings a telescope to a street corner, points it toward the moon or planets or, during the day with a appropriate filter, the sun. Then he invites people to look through the telescope. Some people look and leave, while others choose to look and learn (fewer of the latter than former, unfortunately).

    I don’t want to diminish the accomplishments of Dobson – both the telescope mount and the outreach are incredible achievements. The film, however, goes on to show Dobson lecturing on his view of cosmology. He’s a steady state guy &#150 the universe has always been, with no beginning. Sigh. In his cosmology, Dobson is a crack-pot. Oh well, two out of three isn’t bad.

    [IMDB link for A Sidewalk Astronomer]

  • Top Hat
    3.5/5 stars
    Cheeky comedy featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. One night when Astaire demonstrates his moves in a hotel room for the producer of his next show, an annoyed downstairs neighbor, Rogers, complains. The two immediately hit it off, but complications arise as Rogers belives that Astaire is the married producer rather than a single dancer.

    [IMDB link for Top Hat]

  • Just Like Heaven
    3/5 stars
    Cute romantic comedy. Reese Witherspoon is upset when Mark Ruffalo moves into her fully-furnished apartment. However, there’s not much she can do about it, since she appears to be a ghost, and only Ruffalo can see her.

    [IMDB link for Just Like heaven]

  • Serenity
    3.5/5 stars
    I’m not a Firefly fan, but went along to this with Andrew and a couple who recently moved to the area, all of whom were Firefly fans. It was fine, as far as sci-fi flicks are concerned – better than much of the crap that’s come out recently – but Joss Whedon is not a god to me.

    [IMDB link for Serenity]

  • Swing Time
    2/5 stars
    Another in the series of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies that the local theater is playing. As usual, plot is secondary to music and dancing; however, this one had even less plot than normal, and it seemed to have less dancing. Astaire plays a lucky dancer who goes to the city to earn a fortune in order to gain the blessing to wed the woman he loves. While in the city, however, he stumbles into Rogers, and falls for her.

    [IMDB link for Swing Time]

  • Proof
    4/5 stars
    Excellent film! Gwyenneth Paltrow’s character is a math student who drops out to care for her ailing father, Anthony Hopkins, who was a brilliant mathematician before falling ill. We join the story after Hopkins’ character has died, but see the dynamic that grew between father and daughter. More, though, is that this film shows math and mathematicians in a realisitc light. (Yes, they really do talk like that &#150 like physicists, they’re geeks!)

    [IMDB link for Proof]

  • The Matrix: Revolutions
    0.5/5 stars
    Total waste of time.

    [IMDB link for Matrix: Revolutions]

  • Bend it Like Beckham
    3/5 stars
    Cute flick about an Indian girl who wants to play soccer against her parents’ wishes.

    [IMDB link for Bend It Like Beckham]

  • Secret Window
    2.5/5 stars
    Predictable thriller about an author confronted by a pschotic fan claiming the author plagiarized his work.

    [IMDB link for Secret Window]



Movie Catch-up

Posted by barb on Sep 6, 2005 in Movies

I’ve seen a lot of movies lately that I haven’t blogged — I’m going to round most of them up here with a very brief blurb on what I thought, though these reviews may not be all that useful to anyone else. (Mainly I want to remember what movies I’ve seen…)

  • Skeleton Key – Caroline Ellis takes a job as caregiver to Ben Devereaux. She begins to suspect that his condition is not the result of a stroke, but rather that he believes that he was the victim of Hoodoo. This was a fun diversion for an evening, though I saw the twist ending coming long before the end. [IMDB link for Skeleton Key]
  • Miss Congeniality 2 – Not as good as the first one. As with many sequels, most of the good parts of this concept were done in the original movie, and not much can be added to the second flick. This time around, Gracie finds that she can’t do undercover work anymore, due to her celebrity from her highly televised performance in the pagent from the first movie. She takes to the talk-show circuit as the face of the FBI until her friend, the winner of the pagent, is kidnapped and held for ransom. [IMDB link for Miss Congeniality 2]
  • The Jacket – this is a triller about a gulf war vet convicted of murder of a police officer that he can’t remember. He’s sent to an asylum for the criminally insane, and his treatment includes time in a morgue drawer while tied in a straight-jacket. The concept sounded interesting, but the movie itself dragged, and would likely have been better as a short film. That, and I saw the ending coming from a mile off. [IMDB link for The Jacket]
  • White Noise – Jonathan Rivers’ wife has recently died, and he starts to hear from her from beyond the grave through the white noise on the radio and TV. The idea of EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon) is creepy (if scientifically unsupported), but this movie was fairly slow-moving, and didn’t really capture my attention. [IMDB link for White Noise]
  • THX 1138 – Of course I had to check out George Lucus’ first feature film. This is another of the 70’s bleak look at an over-regimented future. It was based off of a short he had done in film school, and, frankly, it would have been much better as a short. Much of the filler was incomprehensible, and the ending was clear about half an hour before it came. [IMDB link for THX 1138]



Movies in the Morning/You Can’t Take it With You

Posted by barb on Aug 27, 2005 in Movies

Another fun movie from Cinema Art Theatre’s Movies in the Morning series this morning. We went to see You Can’t Take it With You, a very silly Frank Capra film. It’s a bit difficult to summarize the plot, but I’ll take a shot. An investment team is buying up several blocks of land to develop, but Grandpa Vanderhof won’t sell. He and his eccentric household live exactly the way they please, and no price will take them from their house. That is, until Vanderhof’s granddaughter, Alice, falls in love with the bank president’s son, Tony Kirby.

To say that the Vanderhof household is eccentric is a vast understatement. Vanderhof’s son-in-law and the house’s one-time iceman make homemade fireworks in the basement. Vanderhof’s daughter writes plays (when we first meet her, she’s gotten herself stuck in a monastery”). His other daughter-in-law dances her way around the house and her husband plays the xylophone and runs a small printing press. Sometimes it feels as though chaos reigns in the Vanderhof household. Sometimes I wished I could live there (though I probably would have bopped the dancing granddaughter after too long).

The movie was a lot of fun, and I’m sad to say that the Movies in the Morning series is taking a hiatus (possibly permanently) for a while.

[IMDB link to You Can’t Take it With You]



Movies in the Morning/West Side Story

Posted by barb on Aug 20, 2005 in Movies

There were two movies I wanted to see in the Cinema Arts Theatre Movies in the Morning series this weekend – West Side Story and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. However, since we wanted to take a longer bike ride at least one morning this weekend, we could only see one. We decided that West Side Story would be the better choice to see on the “big screen”. We were right.

I’d never seen West Side Story from beginning to end. I’ve seen selections – at least part of it in an English class when we studied Romeo and Juliet. I’ve also heard much of the music, both recently and in my distant past, because this was one of Dad’s favorite movies, so he had the LP.

While the gang violence looked tame by today’s standards, the message still holds up well.

[IMDB link to West Side Story]



Grizzly Man

Posted by barb on Aug 18, 2005 in Movies

4/5 stars

For 13 summers, Timothy Treadwell lived with grizzly bears in Alaska. For the last 5 summers he brought a video camera and captured some of the most incredible nature footage of the Alaskan wilderness. At the end of his last summer, in 2003, Treadwell and his girlfriend were killed by a grizzly. This film is a combination of choice bits of Treadwell’s extensive footage and a search by the director to understand who Treadwell was and what drove him to the Alaskan wilderness every year.

It’s hard to know what to think of Treadwell. In much of the footage of him, he’s talking about protecting the grizzlies. However, the only threat that he ever captured (according to the director’s narration) was a few fishermen throwing rocks at one of the bears, when the bear got close to their boats on the shore. The bears need lots of space, but it would seem that threats to that space would be best fought in city hall (or congress), not in the wilderness itself.

Treadwell also talked about studying the bears, but its clear that he was more interested in interacting than studying. I shutter to think what biologists would say about Treadwell’s form of study. I don’t deny that he was able to obtain some wonderful footage of the bears in their natural habitat, acting as bears do, but he also interacted with the bears – we see him stretching out his hands to bears when they get curious about the camera…he even taps them on the nose from time to time.

Treadwell did a lot, however, to educate children on the bears and their needs. He volunteered time in classrooms, and showed his footage to the children. Sadly, we didn’t get to see him in action in front of the kids. In some of the footage of Treadwell in Alaska, he looks a bit crazed, and he was likely bipolar. It would have been nice to see which face he put forward to the children.

His death was a tragedy, though some may say he asked for it. It was even more of a tragedy because he took his girlfriend with him. We don’t hear the audio that was taken during the bear attack that took their lives, and I was glad of that. I’m not sure I would have slept after hearing it. As it was, a very creepy medical examiner, the one who received the remains of Treadwell and his girlfriend, described what was on the audio, and that was enough for me.

Overall, an excellent film, both for its footage of the Alaskan wilderness, and for its exploration of Treadwell.

[IMDB link to Grizzly Man]



Movies in the Morning/Bringing Up Baby

Posted by barb on Aug 6, 2005 in Movies

We continued supporting the Cinema Arts Theatre‘s Movies in the Morning this morning by going to see Bringing Up Baby. This is a screwball comedy of the best sort from 1938. Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) is a paleontologist trying to get a million-dollar grant from Elizabeth Random. His attempts to meet with Ms. Random’s lawyer, Mr. Peabody, however, keep getting interrupted by Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn). While delivering a tame leopard to Miss Vance’s country home, Huxley finds out her aunt is none other than the Ms. Random from whom he’s trying to win the grant. Hilarity ensues.

Actually, it was quite good. While the plot is highly improbable, the humor holds up well over the years. We had a lot of fun.

[ IMDB link for Bringing Up Baby]


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