Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Game of Thrones

I know I've had trouble finding much time to write for the last couple of months.  I've got postcards to post, travel and dives to detail and much more to share.  Unfortunately, time in front of the screen - especially the one attached to my hard drive filled with photos - has been light.  I'll do my best to improve.

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I've been watching the HBO series A Game of Thrones since it started a 3.5 seasons ago, and have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Despite Joker plowing through the books by George R.R. Martin (and swearing I'd love them), I just hadn't given them a shot.  Yet.  I just finished the first book in the series, and found that it was quite enjoyable.  Truth be told, it's tough to put down.

First of all, I find that reading the book helps a viewer of the show to figure out who is whom and where they came from.  There are SOOOO many characters, though, that I was not able to read without flipping regularly to the cast of characters in the book's appendix.  Still, characters in the show frequently are named once and then off screen for enough episodes I can't for the life of me recall when we last saw them.  The book helps.

And even though I do know the general plot - season 1 of the show hews closely to the first novel - it's complicated and enjoyable enough to keep me engaged in the reading of it.  I find the premise to be quite compelling: seven kingdoms, loosely held together, with the question of rightful rule very much unanswered.  The ruling houses and the dynamics between them are interesting, and the reader begins to gain insight into them from the onset.  I also find the supernatural elements to be particularly intriguing.

The book is written from multiple points of view, changing with each chapter, so while the story is all told in the third person, the narrator colors the perspective.  Martin handles this surprisingly adeptly, and certain of the narrators are particularly well executed.  Tyrion is the most amusing; Jon's chapters are probably my favorite; and Dany is a stronger character even than she is depicted on the show.

My critiques all fall into one category: the violence is a bit much.  Particularly that against women.  I could honestly do without all the rape and brothels. 

Still, I will certainly continue the series, although I may opt for a change of pace after the second book.  So next up: A Clash of Kings, also by George R.R. Martin.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Jane Eyre

Despite my expectations, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre bears stark contrast with the Jane Austen novels I've come to love.  Her Victorian style is somehow darker, with hints of the supernatural or of magical realism.  Bronte also seems not to prize physical beauty, or more, to associate it with serious character flaws.  This is romance that has entertained for  over 150 years, and it's a novel that is certain to do so for another 150.

The titular Jane Eyre is an orphan, living as a near-servant in the home of her maternal uncle's widow and her three spoiled children.  At the age of 10 she is sent to Lowood, a strict, often cruel boarding school many miles away, never to return.  At Lowood, however, her independence and aptitude for learning allow her to carve out a niche with staff and students who help her to survive.  Upon graduation, she is given a teaching post.  Still, she longs to try life on her own, and advertises for and accepts a governess position at an estate she's never seen.

The residents of Thornfield Hall, including her French charge Adele and Mrs. Fairfax the housekeeper, are a somewhat odd but tight bunch.  The master of the house is rarely there, and a well-kept secret creeps around the edges.  While Jane is already finding a comfortable place there, it is with the initial arrival of Mr. Rochester that her world is rocked.

The romance of Jane and Mr. Rochester will come as a surprise to no one, even one such as I who didn't actually know the plot in advance.  What was a surprise, however, is the earnest nature of this romance, the genuine love and pleasure it generates, the passion... and the great lengths that Rochester goes to in order to ensure his love is honestly and deeply returned.

Enter the mystery of Thornfield Hall.  As the reader begins to fear, all cannot go this easily for our long-enduring Jane.  She's forced to make a decision that tears out her own heart, and the next chapter in her journey begins dreadfully.  Her character and strength again pull her up by her tiny little bootstraps, setting the stage for the goofy coincidences chapter.  But trust me, you'll forgive that contrivance in the end.

In addition to the modernity of the plot and certain of the devices, I also truly enjoyed the character of Jane Eyre.  She is strong, intelligent, witty, brave, not just a little tough, and very plain-looking.  In short, she's not a typical Victorian heroine, but one with interesting and compelling layers.  The supporting characters are similarly atypical, whether physically unattractive, or emotionally shallow and weak.  There is a reason this book has endured.

Next up: After the most recent episode of HBO's series Game of Thrones, I cannot but embark on the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire.  Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin... here I come!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mima and Boppie's latest adventures

Yes, I've been remiss.  But as we learned last year, so has the Mexican postal service. 

Mima and Boppie returned to Cozumel at the end of January, and took the time to share some of the wildlife with the Bug and the Bunny.  Their hotel had flamingos, iguanas, turtles and parrots all hither and thither!  Joker and I don't have too many years before the girls can dive with us... and between their keen interest in the reef fishes, and their keen interest in wearing my snorkel and mask in the bath tub, something tells me they'll be coming along soon.

Arriving (rather amusingly) the day prior - since the trip was a month later - was this postcard from Mima and Boppie's trip to see the baby cousins (also known as the home of the *future* new NEW baby cousin, coming in July).  While they didn't get to see our President, they did take note.... after all, Aunt Jessie might be living there one day, right?!!


Friday, March 21, 2014

Jessie Danielson for State House

This post is long overdue, but I hope it's better late than never.  My incredible sister, Jessie Danielson, is a candidate for House District 24.  We could not be prouder of her, or more excited for the prospects of her district's constituents.

Jessie's been involved in politics since college, and we've all known for years that hers was a name we'd see in office.  We just didn't know when, although we were pretty sure she'd start in Colorado.  When her district's incumbent announced she wasn't running for reelection, Jessie stepped up.

I'll let her words speak for her, since I fear mine would not do her justice (or I might sound a wee bit biased).  Check out her website (www.JessieDanielson.com) to learn more.  But suffice it to say we are huge supporters, as are many of the voters I've been speaking to on the phone.  She'll be a fantastic representative - but she needs to get on the ballot first.  While even I don't understand the intricacies of the primary process, I do know that it's a critical time for fundraising.  If you can help in any way - even just $50 makes a real difference - now is the time.  You'll find the link and mailing address on her site

So I'm proud of my sister, and the girls are so excited for their Aunt Jessie.  Like her Facebook page, donate to her campaign, leave a comment of support here... All that you do will help Jessie get where she belongs.  And you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you helped her out, way back when.

Donate now, and one of these snazzy postcards can be yours, too!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Titus Groan

Apologies for the hiatus; more on that later, perhaps.

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So on to my first book review of 2014: Titus Groan, the first book in Mervyn Peake's mid-20th century Gothic trilogy.  Or, his Dickensian-style prose trilogy.  Or maybe his fantasy trilogy.  His grotesque trilogy?... It's been described as all of these and more.  Suffice it to say that categorization of this book is not simple, but the work itself is, without question, worth reading.

The novel opens with the birth of the titular Titus Groan, 77th Earl of Gormenghast.  Gormenghast is a remote earldom with the Gormenghast Castle - a mostly-deserted Gothic monstrosity - at its center, located seemingly long ago, somewhere unattached to our linear time or physical location, though without any time warps or other magic.  In fact, life at Gormenghast Castle is decidedly un-magic in any way.  Castle life, rather, revolves around endless rituals which must be performed in a particular way at a particular time, and for no particular reason that anyone alive could possibly remember.  And we are not talking about a population of the young and sprightly.  These are some OLD, gnarly dudes.

So the birth of Titus to Lord Sepulchrave, the 76th Earl of Gormenghast, and Countess Gertrude, his enormous wife, changes things up a bit.  In addition to there being new, and rather uncommon, rituals to perform, the level of activity simply picks up a bit.  The other occurrence of note on this day is the arrival of Steerpike, a 17-year-old Machiavellian youth who escapes the dingy kitchens to try his luck elsewhere in the castle.  If his red eyes don't give it away immediately, his actions soon tell you which side of good and evil he's on.

The novel's action takes place over the next 18 months, so Titus remains more prop than actual character throughout, but there are plenty of true characters to go around.  Steerpike's primary foil Mr. Flay, the very tall and spidery-moving steward to Sepulchrave, who has another nemesis in the fat, grotesque castle chef Swelter.  The castle's Doctor Prunesquallor, smart and toothy with a sharp wit he points at the less intellectually endowed, but who shows a fondness for Titus' older sister Fuchsia.  Prunesquallor's sister Irma, angular, unattractive and hell-bent on being a lady.  Nanny Slagg, tiny and self-depricating, whose finest hat is adorned with glass grapes.  Sepulchrave's twin sisters Cora and Clarice, always clad in purple, "their faces, identical to the point of indecency, were quite expressionless, as though they were the preliminary lay-outs for faces and were waiting for sentience to be injected."  Also, Gertrude has a hundred white cats and allows birds to roost in her ample bosom.

Peake weaves a story about this motley crew that is incongruously enjoyable, but it's not the plot itself that makes the book such a treasure.  It's the writing - Peake's prose - his humor, his description, his choices of words.  It's the Castle as a setting that becomes a character in its own right.  It's the glimpses seen of the world outside the Castle walls, whetting the appetite for more.  The major plot tentpoles are seen coming for miles, but you can't peel your eyes away when they come to pass.  Peake's writing is masterful.

Next up: I have this book as a trilogy and it weighs a ton, so I'm afraid it'll stay home for spring break.  I'll read the second installment, Gormenghast, soon.  But first, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  I've never read it and very much look forward to doing so.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Hello, Iowa

In between Christmas and New Years, Joker and I made a very quick, commando trip to Des Moines for a cousin's wedding.  While the primary purpose of our visit was for Joker to meet some of my relatives, many for the first time - and for me to get to know them better - we did get to see a little of the downtown.  There was more to offer than I'd expected from this little midwest city.

Postcard of the beautiful capital, sent to the Bug & Bunny
On our way from the airport to our downtown hotel (a drive lasting all of 10 minutes), we passed a very intriguing sculpture garden.  The next morning, that was our primary destination.  We met a cousin on the deserted streets - there are seriously zero pedestrians in Des Moines - who joined us for brunch.  Then we walked around a small square with an impressive array of sculptures from some very well known artists.  My personal favorite was a Mark di Suvero, an artist we enjoyed at Storm King in New York a couple of years ago.

T8 by Mark di Suvero

Untitled (Three Dancing Figures, version C) by Keith Haring

Both Joker and I really enjoyed the time spent with our Rasey relatives, a group of people who laugh well and often.  My cousin's wedding was beautiful, and even took place in a history museum alongside a fossilized mammoth skeleton and a 1913 time capsule.  It was a fun little weekend jaunt.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mockingjay

By the end of Mockingjay, the third and final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy, I was pretty ready for the series to be over.  The first person present narration had grown tedious, the bizarre love triangle held no interest for me, I'd grown weary of Katniss whining.  But there were some bright spots and I'd still categorize it as an enjoyable read.

The book picks up shortly after the events of Catching Fire.  Katniss and some of the other victors have been rescued by the rebels of District 13.  Peeta and a couple others were captured by the Capitol and are being subjected to who-knows-what kinds of torture.  Although she feels no particular affinity for them, the rebels want Katniss to serve as their Mockingjay - a sort of figurehead for the rebellion to keep them fired up.  She eventually agrees, as the book's title implies.

Life in District 13 is something of a drag, but the primary point of these scenes seems to be Katniss rekindling her relationship with Gale.  Which doesn't do much for me - yeah, he seems like a way hotter choice than Peeta, but a couple of tongue kisses followed by petulant pouting a romance does not make.  Soon, though, the Mockingjay and her security forces (which, of course, includes Gale) need to head into battle for some propaganda filming. 

The war has some very violent, bloody action, and the plot moves quickly through some exciting scenes.  Katniss has her own goals, which don't always align with the rebel forces.  She is, however, something of a force herself, earning the loyalty and respect of her fellow soldiers much the way she earned allies in the Hunger Games arena.

The near-final scenes were great, suspenseful and emotional, but the epilogue should have been jettisoned.  In all, it was a fun conclusion to the series.  But perhaps it would have been better to have taken a break between installments.

Next up: Santa left The Gormenghast Novels, a trilogy that's considered by many to be the preeminent grotesque fantasy classic, on a par with The Lord of the Rings.  I think Santa has my reading tastes pegged, and am very excited to dig in.