Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Salon: Lazy Sundays? I Wish.

Yes, it's another late Sunday Salon, as I've been doing my best to work through a to-do list that I hastily threw aside yesterday morning when I heard the news of the tsunami. Actually, my mom was the one to call with the news that she was being evacuated. Knowing what happened to Hilo back in 196o, people were rightfully concerned and wanted to be prepared. (Let's not forget that my mom has personally lived through a flood, and an island-wide blackout--that I was there for--that left us without power for 24 hours.) I had every reason to be concerned!

Obviously, the news was good, and Hawaii evaded any major catastrophe. Chile, however, will be struggling to dig out and rebuild for some time. My heart goes out to the people of Chile and I hope for their safety and speedy recovery.

Well, having spent my day waiting to make sure Hawaii was going to be all right, I'm now working through a long list of things I need to do before heading back to work tomorrow! I'm hoping to finish all the "must do's" by tonight so I can spend a little time finishing up Shannon and Dean Hale's graphic novel Calamity Jack. I've already read Rapunzel's Revenge and look forward to doing a double review of the two.

I'd also like to dive into Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella. I really like Kinsella's novels, so have had this one for some time and would love to finish it soon.

Finally, let me point out the fun way I spent my Saturday evening! Last night I had a chance to attend the Utah Book Blogger Winter Social. It was such a great time meeting other bloggers and authors there. Since we all have such a love for reading and books, it's wonderful to meet up with others who share their own experiences with blogging or books. Honestly, I couldn't list all the people I met up with there, but will point to a couple of other bloggers who will probably be posting pictures in the near future, as I saw them taking pictures and toting cameras: Natasha at Maw Books Blog, Suey at It's All About Books, and Angie at Angieville. Thanks to everyone else I met, I'd link you all up here, but there's a great list up at the Ning. You can see this pretty impressive list of bloggers in our area at: Utah Bloggers. (Thanks Natasha for providing this link!) Since I can't join in on the awesome blogger conference coming up in May, this gave me a great opportunity to meet and mingle with the people behind the words!

Now, tell me what you've wrapped up or pushed aside so that you can do some reading today?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Review: The Cubicle Next Door by Siri L. Mitchell

I sometimes have to giggle at what I read in my downtime. Listen, I'm absolutely NOT a book snob, but I do think it's funny what I choose to read! The past several weeks I've gone from teaching Shakespeare's Hamlet, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man, to whatever escape read I could get my hands on once I left the building. Although I love my gripping Booker Prize Winners, native literatures, and classics, I really have to get away from it when I go home. In this case, Siri L. Mitchell's novel The Cubicle Next Door served as a great escape for me! She even got me to walk an 1 1/2 hours on a treadmill, just so I could finish the book!

Synopsis: Jackie Harrison is a computer administrator at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. One day she is informed that her office will be split, and she must set it up in cubicle fashion. Not only is Jackie upset about sharing her space, but in her "save-the-environment," "eat healthy," and "spend little" sort of fashion, just can't stand having someone opposite working so closely beside her. Introduce Lt. Col. Joseph Gallagher, retired air force pilot. Joseph is retired, but definitely not old. Joe has simply been grounded due to migraines that have forced him out of the sky. With his new desk job, he becomes a teacher on campus, and roosts next to Jackie.

Where Jackie is uptight, Joe is laid back. Where Jackie pushes people away, Joe is open to everyone. Where Jackie has determined never to fall in love...EVER, Joe has already been married, and open to loving again. To vent her antisocial, cubicle-hating feelings, Jackie starts a blog to write about her feelings. However, venting soon turns to considering what Joe is making her feel about herself, and about him.

Review: First off, let me say how totally and completely aggravated I was with Jackie's uptight personality. Listen, I eat organic, recycle, and try to conserve, but her neurotic behavior and piety about her choices made me crazy at times. At first, because of her actions, I couldn't understand why her cubicle mate Joe would even want to be her friend. It seemed bizarre to me that Joe would continue to ask her to lunch, to run errands, etc., but he did! However, I have to give Mitchell credit in that, over time, we continue to learn more about the insecurities riddling Jackie (her mother abandoned her at birth, and her father died before she was born, in Vietnam). Through a series of blog posts, examining her confusion over what she wants for her life, I began to feel sorry for her. I did think the popularity of the blog, so much so that it was featured repeatedly on TV, was a bit far-fetched. As the writer of this blog, I doubt that if I whined about my job and my love life, that this alone would draw readers by the thousands, right? So, I could be wrong, but that's just a guess. Therefore, that part reminded me that it was all fiction.

Overall, I do think that with development the ridiculous moments blend away. I became so caught up in wanting to see how saintly-man Joe would handle this pain-ridden woman, that I really got sucked into the story. It is a clean story, with no sex scenes to jar your reading, and the intimacy is really of the strong relationship kind--deeply emotional at times. The storyline is playful, emotional, and gut-wrenching, all at the same time, and on a scale of escape reads, I would say it's pretty good. Yes, I rolled my eyes and growled a few times, but on the whole, it was a nice book to get me away from all the dead white guys I've been reading at school!

For more information on the novel, see: The Cubicle Next Door.

*Review based off of a library copy of the book.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Let me begin with some good news for once! Last night a couple of my students participated in our local Poetry Out Loud competition, and one of them took 3rd place at districts. After spending over a month teaching and reading poetry with my students, it was really nice to see them embracing it for themselves. It's always my hope that my students will find a connection to what we're reading, and develop a life-long love of literature on their own.

Having said that, I recently finished reading Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy because I'm getting ready to teach Tess of the D'Urbervilles again this year. It's truly one of my favorite books to teach, so I wanted to delve into a bit more of Hardy's work. I'd already read The Mayor of Casterbridge in college, and a number of his poems, but I didn't really learn to love Hardy until I read Tess last year. There's just something about Hardy, so I wanted to read some of the rest of his work to compare them, and to get a better overview of the themes he addresses.

Synopsis: Jude Fawley, the central character of the novel, has hopes for a future wherein he can get an education, and rise out of poverty. In this pursuit, he meets a young woman named Arabella, who convinces him to marry her after tricking him into believing she might be pregnant. Although the couple do eventually have a child together, Arabella abandons Jude before revealing her pregnancy. Jude delves back into work by becoming a stone-mason, wherein he meets young Sue Bridehead and falls madly in love with her. A strange relationship develops between the two, however, as Sue like Jude, but seemingly fights and withholds her feelings from him, eventually marrying the schoolmaster she works for out of some sense of obligation. Strangely, Sue instantly regrets her decision and leaves her husband before the marriage is consummated, and moves in with Jude.

The rest I hate to reveal, as much more drama occurs, including the return of Arabella with a son that Jude never knew he had, and Arabella's marriage to another man, which was considered illegal because of her prior marriage to Jude. Sue and Jude seem well matched though, and are on the path to weather out the storms of life that confront them, but like all Hardy novels, tragedy is just around the corner.

Review: After having my friend Doc read this novel and vehemently declare how much she hated it, I had a good deal of curiosity about the story. I will say though, that my own feelings are quite different. While I understand the frustration that comes from reading a novel with twists and tragedies as Hardy's novels do, I also really found the subject intriguing. Not only did I find Sue's evasive toying with Jude nearly unbearable to take, but also failed to comprehend why such a nice man as Jude would put up with the manipulation and whining that seemed to come from any and all of the women in his life. I tried to take into account the time period, realizing that Jude's life would be nothing but one big scandal, which actually made me like Jude more. As a character, I found him to be filled with honor, and merely a man dealing with the cards life had dealt him. As for Sue, Arabella, Phillotson (Sue's first husband), and a parade of other characters, I would say that the broad spectrum of human characters and their traits didn't fare well in this novel.

From his biography, I understand that Hardy retired from writing novels after writing Jude the Obscure, having been similarly attacked for being salacious in his previous novel, Tess. You can't miss the social commentary Hardy is making here, showing how hypocritical the social mores were of the day. Marriage, for anything other than love, is strictly painted as being damning to the soul, and a hypocrisy against any sort of religious belief. Hardy definitely holds a mirror up to society, then and now, to examine our judgments of other's lives, and our lack of knowledge behind what truly lies in the hearts of those we judge by the world's standards.

Honestly, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. I have a renewed love for Hardy, and have looked into buying a copy of his complete works of poetry. As is common in his novels, his poetry also carries strong messages, social and religious, that ask the reader to examine their world with greater honesty. No, Jude the Obscure does not leave you feeling chipper, but I would definitely recommend it as a great classic to read. Tess of the D'Urbervilles is still my favorite, bar none, but am really glad that I have another Hardy novel to compare it with. Now...I'm off to see if there is a great film version of the novel that I can compare it with!

For more information, see:Jude the Obscure.

*This review is based off of a personal copy of the novel. This also counts as one of my books for the TBR Challenge.

Have you ever read a classic that you were so intrigued with that you had to read another by the same author?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: Stress & Reading

I find it interesting on this busy Sunday, that I've actually read more this past week than normal, and yet I felt more stressed than usual. One week ago, I started two new online courses, which gave me at least two to three hours of extra work a night on top of my full-time work. The funny thing was that I would finish grading, and immediately GET OFF the computer and go read. I think that reading was my one huge stress relief in the midst of the craziness surrounding me. How thankful I am for great writers who have given me wonderful escapes in times of need.

Okay! Enough complaining. I love my job, and wouldn't want anyone to think that I didn't. I just can't help whining from time to time. :)

This Sunday I will be ending my day with a stack of books and me, all curled up in bed. Below I'll list what I'm reading.

Happy Sunday, and a fresh week ahead for all! What fun reading did you do this weekend?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book to Film Review: The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Back in 2005, I presented a paper at the the British Commonwealth & Postcolonial Studies Conference in Savannah, Georgia on "Threads of Indian-ness in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Mistress of Spices." As a graduate student, I had spent weeks, and then months working with Divakaruni's novel, not only in my seminar course that we were reading it in, but also in preparation for this conference. So, I share this why? Well, I wanted to be clear on the fact that I feel a certain closeness to Divakaruni's novel that comes through hours spent pouring over its pages and their meanings. Then to hear that the novel had been turned into a film, and that Tilo (the protagonist) was being played by famous Aishwarya Rai, really excited me. I was eager to see how it stacked up to the novel I loved and knew so well!

As a quick synopsis, the story centers around the character Tilo, which is an old woman who runs a spice shop in San Francisco. According to the story, Tilo was actually a young woman who was trained to help people through the spices she was the mistress over. Given the guise of the old woman, Tilo worked to help immigrants, working to make a place for themselves in the United States, to find ways of staying connected to their culture and sense of identity, as well as finding peace with their new world. Much of the novel introduced different characters who were struggling with the cultures they loved, for the changes they saw coming over their families as immigrants. To this mix, enters an attractive young man named Raven, also struggling with his own identity. However, in Raven's case, he is a Native American who is struggling with is lost identity, and Tilo struggles to know how to help him. In her struggles, she finds herself falling in love with the lovely man, and breaks many of the rules of a mistress of spices in order to help him and to be near him.

The central themes of feminine spirituality, a type of shamanism, and cultural identity are rich throughout the novel, and made for a breathtaking first novel by Divakaruni. I was then confused by the mixed reviews on the film version of the novel. From a "cold read" on the film, you would miss most (if not all) of the real issues with identity that are rife in the novel. The film seems to focus mostly on Tilo's power to soothe and heal others, as well as her blossoming romance with Raven. In the end, I felt that the film really relied on aesthetic beauties, such as with the beautiful spices and their colors, as well as the beauty of the characters themselves. Romance was the central figure in the film, which was fine. I thought the film was good, but maybe couldn't reach the depth of the novel.

In short, I think that from the outside, the film would seem "nice" to a casual viewer, even good. From those who have read the novel, or are familiar with Divakaruni's work, it could be downright disappointing that so much was lost. For me, I took it for what it was, and enjoyed the film. I will always heartily suggest that people read the book, especially if they like the film, but suppose I must warn them that it will lead them down many more complicated paths to consider than were presented in the film. Overall, it is not what I would call an exact companion to the novel, but a nice film to give you the general idea.

For more information on the book see The Mistress of Spices: A Novel, and for the film The Mistress of Spices.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: Truly, Madly by Heather Webber

Whew! We survived Valentine's Day! I had a great weekend, and although I started TWO new online classes (yes, will I keep my sanity this next week?!?), I did get to spend time with friends. On Saturday night, I went to dinner at a friend's house (thanks Kris), where not only had she fixed us all a really lovely dinner, but had also decorated with a fun Valentine's theme. Too fun. Then on Sunday, Doc came down and we made chicken curry and finished watching the BBC version of Emma that wrapped up last weekend on Masterpiece Theater, followed by an evening of watching the Olympics. Honestly, it was a great, laid-back weekend that I'm sad to say goodbye to!

Having said that, earlier this month I read Truly Madly by Heather Webber, as sent to me for review by the Early Reviewers program from LibraryThings. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a huge mystery fan, but this one was cute and timely for February and Valentine's Day!

Synopsis: Lucy Valentine comes from a long line of psychics who have gotten into the matchmaking business. Thanks to their paranormal skills they have grown wealthy off of their many successful matches; however, Lucy's skill was zapped in an accident and turned into an ability to see items people have lost. One vital thing to mention here though, is that all the Valentine family members, although matchmakers, have a "Cupid's Curse" over them that makes it nearly impossible to stay with any one person.

Lucy's parents have taken off on a vacation, leaving her behind to care for the business. Little did she realize that there would be an Adonis working upstairs from her. Lucy starts off her time at the business by working with a client looking to find true love after losing a fiance that he loved, years before, because of manipulative friends. Upon shaking his hand, Lucy's abilities kick into overdrive, and she sees something her client has lost...but something that has been lost to an obvious crime. It's his girlfriend's engagement ring, but on a corpse! Now Lucy must use her Adonis upstairs, who owns a detective agency, to help her do some sleuthing, and not fall for him in the process. Darn that pesky "Cupid's Curse" on her family!

Review: I realize that my synopsis had to be vague in order to not give away the mystery, but I can say that there is murder, matchmaking, and mayhem throughout this funny little novel to keep you reading. Although I often get bored with mysteries, I found that it was light-hearted enough, and had me more interested in the relationships going on than the actual mysteries they were trying to solve. Lucy is a loveable character, and you want to see her happy, so the Adonis upstairs seems like just the ticket. Eventually, you'd not only like her to find the answer to the mysteries, but also to break that pesky curse and find love for herself. There are some mentions of sensuality, but no scenes of such. The book was pretty light-hearted, and fun to read. For more information, see: Truly, Madly.

*This review is based off of a review copy (ARC) sent through the Early Reviewers program on Library Thing.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine's Day--Got Love & Romance?

Valentine's can literally be a heaven or hell. Although I'm a single gal on this Valentine's Day, I'm okay with it. Valentine's is a strange time though, and it does make you reflect on love and romance, right? In thinking about this Valentine's I started digging through my book shelves to see what books I had that fit this holiday. Below are just a few of my favorite "love and romance" centered novels.

Gone With the Wind. Honestly, I was in my 20s before I actually read this novel, but like most readers, this became a favorite right away. You might want to shake Scarlet, but her connection to Rhett Butler can't even escape the green eyed vixen! (By the way, the above cover, is the exact cover that I have on my movie edition of the novel. I'm positive it's a collector's item at this point, and I love it.)

A Hopeless Romantic. This was one of my favorite reads of last year, and one that I still really love. Having given up on love, this character finds that romance has more to do with a real love than anything else.

Bridges of Madison County
. Yes, I really loved this short novel. I read this book in one sitting many, many years ago, and still remember shedding more than a few tears. This was one of those books that challenged the way I thought of "true love," and how people end up together. If you don't know the story at all, it is gut wrenching.

Anything by Jane Austen. Of course I love Pride and Prejudice, but because of my leaning towards the tragic or semi-tragic, I really love Persuasion. It helps that it has a happy ending though! (Let me add here that I also really love Sharon Lathan's Pride and Prejudice follow up series. As far as romance goes, those are definitely that!)

I've always really loved the Bridget Jones books, as well as most of what Sophie Kinsella has written, such as The Undomestic Goddess, and True Love, and Other Lies by Whitney Gaskell.

As far as "love" unfeigned is concerned, I can't think of a better book than Les Miserables for not only showing the love between a young couple, but mainly the love of one man for all mankind. Just excellent.

I know there are many other books that I could list here, but these are just a few of the books I look to on this Valentine's Day for a good look at love and romance. To all, Happy Valentine's Day!

So, what books do you consider a great fit for the category of love or romance?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review: Blankets by Craig Thompson

Let me give credit where credit is due with this post. Chris, from Stuff as Dreams Are Made On recently wrote a review of the graphic novel Blankets that had me pretty sold on reading it. Since I'm new to the graphic novel game, I've needed good suggestions, and besides a handful of other book bloggers who read great graphic novels, Chris has been a GREAT resource. So, thanks to Chris for pointing this one out. It's only my second, but it was really captivating! Also, go check out his blog. Besides being a huge Saints fan (come on, how can you not be?), he's a great book blogger with lots of great book reviews.

Synopsis: Centering on themes of one boy's maturation from young, awkward boy, to outcast teen, and successful, thoughtful adult, Thompson tackles a number of difficult issues. Thompson's main character has grown up with a seemingly controlling father, a confusing and contradictory relationship with religion, assumed childhood abuse, and fringe status among his peers. Any one of these issues would make the main character's life troublesome, but this character successfully examines and tackles each one of them throughout this graphic novel. Not only does he tackle "life" as thrown at him, but falls in love with a young girl at Bible camp, adding an entirely different level of complexity to the story. In the end, we see a boy learn about the very real struggles of life that most of us encounter, even if we don't face all that he has, to learn to come out as a functioning human being.

Review: Not what I would think of a graphic novel, with its hard-hitting issues and sketches to depict them, I was duly impressed by Thompson's artistic expression of a coming of age story. The story stirred me, disturbed me, and made me think more about what life throws at us, and can I just say, how do any of us survive to get into adulthood? Don't misunderstand me here, while this story is gripping and heart-wrenching at times, it really is a beautiful book of love and triumph. There are scenes (assumed or portrayed) of drug use, abuse, and sensuality, but were artistically represented in a way that I thought was quite honest. Most poignant, from my opinion, were the young man's thoughts on religion and the shame it placed on him. I thought those points, incorporated into the other complications, really made for a great and compelling read. Devoured in one sitting, I would recommend this graphic novel to anyone wanting to try something more adult and artistic in its themes. While hard hitting, I really loved this great read. Try it! For more information see: Blankets.

*Review based from library copy.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Review: Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford

I can't believe how quickly time is flying. Here we are, and we're well into February! Somehow I found it surprising when I walked into my local library, and there were "Valentine" and love themed books set out on display. It took me a second to realize that we really are close to Valentine's Day again. Amazing! Having said that, I had read several reviews on Michael Thomas Ford's novel Jane Bites Back, and then saw it on display at the library. To say I was somewhat horrified at a vampire twist on one of my favorite authors, is putting it mildly--I was also pretty intrigued and picked it up. Yes, I then couldn't put it down!

Review: Imagine that Jane Austen didn't die, and in fact, was turned into a vampire and walked among us. In the case of Jane Bites Back, famous poet Lord Byron turned iconic author Jane Austen into a vampire, as he already was. Set in our modern day, Jane Austen, now Jane Fairfax, worked as an independent bookstore owner. Although Jane had found some peace in her life, she was still definitely a vampire, with needs for blood, and a need to stay incognito to those around her. As a famous author, Jane watched as authors came along, publishing and capitalizing on parts or elements of her stories, driven crazy by some of the most bizarre. The biggest reason for her annoyance came not from the crazy number of books riding on her coattails, but on the fact that as a writer, she couldn't get her current novel published! Jane desperately wants to be published, wants to be understood by her good friends, and wants to be free of her vampire turner, Byron. In short, Jane wants to be happy to live her life the best she could.

Synopsis: I will admit that I wanted to really not like this novel. Yes, I love Austen sequels and remakes, but have a couple of "paranormal" type of Austen novels that I've avoided. Why did I try this one? Well, I will admit to being enough of an English major snob that once I noticed the literary name dropping going on (i.e. Lord Byron, Charlotte Bronte, etc.), I had to peek into its pages. All I had to do was read the first chapter to really be hooked. Ford's writing style is playful and commanding at the same time. He pushes us straight into the idea behind what it might be like if Jane Austen were a vampire, and what kind of life she might lead. Honestly, it was interesting, and kept me reading. Modern, vampire Jane is witty, and more experienced than the Jane Austen I pictured from her own era. As Jane struggles to get published, and to keep her vampire anonymity, I kept wanting her to find someone safe to confide in, or someone who would allow her to feel a peace in her life. To this, Ford introduces a shop worker and a male friend into the story who both pepper the story with their calm, realistic sort of friendships to help Jane deal with her crazy life.

In short, I thought this book was great fun to read. The literary name dropping that went on, the inside peek into publishing, and the intrigue of considering "what if" Jane Austen was a vampire were too fun. Going in I was a skeptic, but after one chapter, I didn't go back out again...Ford's novel sank its literary fangs into me with a fun, "vampy" sort of read! For more information see: Jane Bites Back.

*Review based on local library copy.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Film Review: Little Dorrit and He Knew He Was Right

Sorry about my momentary disappearance this week. It wasn't necessarily a "crazy" week, but I was rarely home this week, and don't generally post reviews from work. Not only did I have a strange schedule last week, but I also ended the week with a good friend coming into town on Friday night. Regardless, it was a great week...even if I am a bit behind on reviews!

Having said that about my schedule, one thing that has been pretty interesting to me in having a book blog, is the tendencies I have in reading and viewing. Yes, I was a bit clueless about the extent of my interests. Why I was unaware of my Regency/Victorian interests, I'll never know. There we have it though. Having said that, I recently watched two films that I've had on my list to watch, both from BBC.

Little Dorrit is a remake of Charles Dickens' novel by the same name. About a girl named Amy Dorrit, whose family had been forced into debtor's prison, the story draws in Arthur Clennam, a rich young man who has returned from being at sea for 15 years. Played by Pride and Prejudice's Mathew McFadden, Arthur Clennam returns home to announce the death of his father, and to try to solve the family issues that seemed to plague his father on his death bed. Arthur's problems arise as his mother wants little to do with her son, and leaves their family's life a complete mystery to him. Because of this, Arthur tries to solve the mystery behind his mother's secrets and his father's shame, only to determine that they had something to do with the Dorrit's current position in debtor's prison.

Arthur visits the Dorrits, becomes friends with Amy, and resolves to help them out of their current life. In this process, Amy falls in love with him. Arthur is clueless to this, and over years, and eventual release from prison, Amy has to move on with her life.

Review: Little did I realize how LONG this movie was going to be! I had checked it out from the library, and found that it took days for me to get through each two-disk set I checked out. In the beginning, it moved rather slowly, and even after good things start to happen for young Amy, you still get a sense that there is a lot left to reveal in the story. The movie is sweet, and revealing of characters and cultures of the time period, as is common for Dickens' work. If you enjoy lengthy character sketches, this is perfect. I can't say that I didn't enjoy it, but didn't feel that I needed the "serialized" descriptions of everyone's lives. I did like the film, don't get me wrong. The length of the film, and time it took to get around to Amy's life just takes a bit of a time investment!

In the second film I watched, He Knew He Was Right, I have to be honest in saying that it took me a couple of weeks before I let that Netflix call my name and picked it up. Boy was that one film I shouldn't have held off watching! Based on Anthony Trollope's novel by the same name, it is about a man and his young, beautiful wife and the jealousy that came up between them shortly into their marriage. Set in the Victorian era, with its social mores and strict rules on appropriate behavior, the husband finds that he cannot handle his wife's relationship with her father's friend. The wife cannot convince her husband that nothing is going on between them, and she resents the fact that he does not believe her, trust her, nor even allow her to continue seeing him. The family friend is not completely innocent in this story, pushing the husband's buttons because he finds the entire thing silly himself. Ultimately, Trollope asks us to question where the lines are in a marriage, and what one should ask or not ask of their spouse.

Review: Let me say how ironic it is that I watched this film so close on the heels of reading Shannon Hale's The Actor and the Housewife, because both pieces seem to challenge the idea of friends within a marriage. In the case of the Victorian era, there really isn't ANY room. The husband feels deeply hurt that his wife can't see his discomfort, and the wife is deeply hurt that her husband doesn't trust her. In the end, I thought this was an amazing, thought-provoking film. It's easy to see how pride broke these characters apart, and yet you can also see how people on the outside of the marriage should respect it. Although not a feel-good film, I thought this was a great period drama.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale

Back before Christmas, I picked up The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale on audiobook. I'd seen other reviews on the book, and was surprised by the range of responses people had to the story. Having enjoyed many of Hale's other books, I knew I had to see what all the hub-bub was about for myself!

Synopsis: Mormon housewife, Becky Jack, happens to have a chance run in with her Hollywood crush on a trip to LA where she was in the process of selling a screen play. Very pregnant, and very different from the Hollywood life, Becky's chance meeting with famous Felix Calahan has her thrown a bit. The two end up sharing a cab back to their mutual hotel, sparring verbally with one another, and even sharing dinner together after a famished Becky is left to either sit at the bar or call up room service. Felix Calahan plays the aloof star, and although Becky has had a crush on him, she takes him for what he is, just another human being! Striking in her treatment of Felix, and her vibrant personality make Becky stand out and create an impression on the star, and the two become friends.

Over the months and years of the story, Becky and Felix chat on the phone and even share visits when Felix happens to be in Salt Lake City, near where Becky lives. Eventually, the two become the best of friends, and both go back and forth, questioning their friendship. Can men and women really be friends, even if they are both already married? Where these two, very different people meant to come into each other's lives for a reason? Will their spouses understand?

Review: I realize that we each have our own reactions and feelings about a story. In the case of The Actor and the Housewife, I have seen a wide range of these reactions. My own overwhelming feeling of frustration is evidence of Hale's ability to tap into an interesting idea, and to carry it through. While it's fun to consider what might happen if a woman, of an unspectacular background or life, came in contact with her Hollywood crush, I found myself scratching my head (figuratively speaking) throughout much of the book. I haven't been married before, but will say that the relationship between Becky and Felix definitely sounded and felt like love. It didn't seem to help me that I felt distant from Becky's spouse, and that although he was a part of the story, he ended up feeling more like a stock character, with little personality. That feels mean of me to say, but I felt as though after all the detail and time spent on the relationship between Becky and Felix, that her marriage was a kind of afterthought, or one we had to be convinced was better than what she had with Felix.

This adult book by Shannon Hale is an interesting read, and one that I've been asking friends and coworkers to give a try so I could talk to them about it! As for crafting a story to make you think, and to engage your thoughts and feelings, Hale has definitely done just that. I can't say that many authors have really looked at how male and female friendships come into play in a marriage. Hale's line of questioning in the book, to ask where the line is between appropriate friendships and those that threaten a marriage are quite interesting. I'll admit that I was often quite uncomfortable with Becky and Felix's friendship, and through to the end, really believed that there was more there than friendship. This really wasn't my favorite Hale novel, but it is one that made me consider how complex adult relationships really can be. For more information, see: The Actor and the Housewife.

*Review based on library copy of the novel.

This review is linked up at Cym Lowell's weekly Book Review Party. You can stop by there to see other interesting book reviews going up there! This audiobook also counts towards my first in the "Audio Book Reader Challenge," hosted by Royal Reviews. I'm now off to try to find my next great read for my daily commute!