Monday, June 16, 2008


1. I am a complete and total klutz. I do not have grace, I have never had grace, I will never have grace. At the moment, I can count several bruises from a) hitting my head on the bar of a ride at Lagoon last week, b) falling into the wheelbarrow in the garage, and c) walking into the hook on the bathroom door of Jake's hospital room--twice.

2. I only wear jewelry that means something to me. I admire my friends who accessorize. I love the concept. But for me, I prefer to have and wear a few pieces that have stories. Like the diamond stud earrings my husband gave me in the delivery room when our only daughter was born. Or the garnet ring that belonged to my birth mother and her mother before her. Or the necklace my friend gave me for my birthday this year, the week after my son's diagnosis. Or the earrings I bought in Kenya made from antique Venetian trade beads that were once used to buy and sell goods, including slaves. I guess you just can't take the storyteller out of the woman.

3. I have gone to the dark side and learned to love shoes. It's probably the one thing my husband wishes I hadn't picked up from my friends. I never used to care about shoes--probably because I hated my feet. But then I learned of the magic of pedicures a few years back and how painted toenails make all the difference in the world. And I also learned it's okay to wear shoes without hose or socks and that I can indeed walk in heels and suddenly my world opened up. Kitten heels, pirate boots, bright colors and fun patterns. Now I have to keep myself very firmly to one simple rule--my shoes have to fit on the shoe racks in my closet. No spilling over. No stacking on the floor. (This does not apply, of course, to my winter boots, which can be stored away somewhere else during the summer, making room for new sandals without the slightest twinge of conscience on my part.)

4. My not-so-secret-dream is a simple one, encompassed in three words: Live in London. From the moment I set foot outside Victoria Station almost 8 years ago, I knew I belonged there. It was like reverse deja-vu--I knew I had lived there, I just hadn't done it yet. I want to live in a London flat, close to a tube station, with easy access to, well, everything that I love. It's funny--the summer that Chris and I were married we lived in Hong Kong for two months and I swore I was not a big city person. But I think I just hadn't come into myself yet. Now I know who I am, I'm confident in myself, and I can think of nothing I'd rather do than live in the best big city in the world. (It helps that my almost-sister's secret dream is to live in the British countryside--we plan to swap houses at convenient intervals.)

5. I am a geek. There's no two ways about it. I have never been even remotely cool. I offer as evidence the fact that I saw the film PRINCE CASPIAN twice in one week. And loved it. And that brings me to a point I've been meaning to make for a month now, let's call it: BOOKS ARE ALWAYS BETTER THAN MOVIES--EXCEPT ONCE IN A BLUE MOON

To take three recent examples of books-to-film in the same genre.

Up first, HARRY POTTER. I love the films, particularly the three young actors who play the key roles. I've particularly enjoyed the later films. Who wouldn't enjoy seeing Hogwarts come to life, or Diagon Alley, or the Triwizard Tournament? But the books win hands down. To quote my daughter (who started reading the books after seeing the first two films): "Mom, the best thing about the books is that they have absolutely everything in them!" I agree.

Second, THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I thought I would hyperventilate the first time I saw the teaser trailer for the first film--seeing Gandalf and the hobbits and Legolas and Gimli and Boromir and Aragorn striding across the screen . . . And then I saw the first film. You know what? The first time I saw it, I spent a lot of time picking at the things that weren't in it. And then I saw it again, and fell in love with the film for its own sake. It was the same experience with the subsequent two. Once to shake the book out of my head (and believe me, there was a lot of head shaking to be done when it came to the filmmaker's interpretation of Faramir) and then I could look at the films themselves. And they became that rarest of creatures--a series in which I love the books AND the films equally. I thought that was the pinnacle--the most any film or film series could ever hope to achieve.

And then came the film adaptaions of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA.

The moon must have been bright blue when the Narnia films were made.

Don't get me wrong--I love the books. I owned them all when I was young and read them multiple times. My favorite was THE SILVER CHAIR. Or maybe THE LAST BATTLE. Of course, I really loved THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER as well. And you can't beat the introduction in THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. And . . .

You get my point.

But coming back to these books as an adult left me hungry for more. More conflict. More character development. More action. C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful fairy tale world, but the people often read more like outlines than actual human beings.

I think Andrew Adamson, the writer/producer/director of the Narnia films, must have felt the same. Because he managed what I would have believed impossible before--to keep not only the spirit of the books but their structure intact, while coloring in the background with vivid strokes that made all the difference for me.

It's particularly noticeable in PRINCE CASPIAN with the character Peter. In the book, Peter doesn't seem particularly bothered about once more being a teenage boy after having run his own kingdom for some years (granted, the book doesn't give you long in England at the beginning). And when they return to Narnia, Peter is his old kingly self--noble, self-sacrificing, intent only on helping Caspian claim the throne.

Okay, so maybe that's the ideal we should all be striving for. But it makes for a boring story, not to mention the disconnect between actual human beings and this perfect teenager.

But Andrew Adamson, in a stroke of genius, makes Peter real. Angry at being back in London. Disgruntled at having to cope with adolescent jealousies. Delighted to the point of, well, ego when he returns to Narnia ("High King Peter, the Magnificent"). Prone to fighting with Caspian, a foreign claimant to Peter's throne. Stubborn about proving a point even when it's stupid. In other words, a normal teenage boy with an unusual degree of both power and responsibility.

He's also capable of seeing the big picture, of sacrificing his own desires, of humbling himself and seeking help from his youngest sister, of putting himself in personal danger to protect his people, of realizing that growing up means you don't always get what you think you want. In short, a kind of person I would like my own teenage boys to be (without, say, the sword-fighting and risk of death.)

Bravo, Andrew Adamson. Your vision of Narnia is a wonderful addition to C.S. Lewis. I, for one, thank you for it.

(Told you I was a geek.)

Monday, June 02, 2008


I reviewed this when I read it the first time last year. I wasn't sure I could re-read it for book club (it deals with grief in the year after Didon's husband died and she dealt with the serious illness of her only child), but I did and I'm awfully glad. Everything she wrote resonated for me in a way it couldn't have before my son's cancer. I liked it the first time--I loved it the second time.

In this newest Gregor Demarkian mystery, Gregor is only too glad to leave Philadelphia and the frenzy of wedding preparations for an investigation on a fictional resort island. Loosely based on communities like the Hamptons or Martha's Vineyard, the island has been invaded by movie people and do-nothing celebrities for a film production. A true Nor'Easter blows through on New Year's Eve and a young man from the film crew is found dead in his truck. Filled with the wonderful characters that Haddam excels at, the book is a scathing look at celebrity culture and the people who feed on it. But her novel structure is sometimes so complicated that five minutes after finishing I'm not quite sure who the killer was or why. Still, I love Gregor and Bennis and will keep coming back for more.

The newest Jane Austen mystery finds Jane staying in London with her brother, Henry, and his wife, Eliza, while she oversees the production of her first novel, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. When a young Russian woman is found dead on the doorstep of a leading politician, Jane and Eliza come under suspicion of murder. To clear their names, Jane must look into treason and the society of high-paid courtesans. The late Lord Harold helps Jane once more, providing clues in his papers that he entrusted to Jane. A satisfying look at the early 1800s.

CARELESS IN RED/Elizabeth George/A++
I had a serious case of nerves heading into this newest in the Inspector Lynley series. George set herself a monumental task when she killed of a critical character in the book before this and I knew she would have to write an absolutely astounding book to follow up. She did. The book opens with Lynley walking Cornwall trying to escape his grief. On the 45th day of his walk, he finds a body at the bottom of a cliff and thus is reluctantly is drawn into the world once more. George creates a mystery as compelling as Lynley's personal storyline and that's no mean feat. She opens a window into the Cornish surfing community and into the hearts of damaged families. All I can say is "Brava! You delivered."

Set in Palestine on the eve of WWII, Barron's book follows a female archaeologist whose name I can't remember. That will tell you most of what you need to know about this book--the setting was fabulous and the premise is intriguing (a British archaeologist is killed in the midst of terror attacks on Jerusalem and an artifact goes missing), but the characters were unfortunately forgettable. If you're interested in the time or place, you might enjoy this. Otherwise, I'd give it a miss.

THE SUBTLE KNIFE/Phillip Pullman/B
The second in The Golden Compass trilogy, it opens with a boy named Will in a world that's obviously meant to be ours. In trying to escape pursuit, he tumbles into a world haunted by Specters. It's here that we meet up with Lyra once more and she's nearly as engaging (but not quite.) Will and Lyra have to work together to find out about Dust, about Lord Asriel's plans, and about Will's missing father. They also have to retrieve the Subtle Knife, a weapon that can cut anything, including doorways into other worlds. Helped by the witches and the valiant Texan from the first book, Will and Lyra set out upon the journey that will end in the next book. (A word about the atheism--it's much more pronounced in this book and I imagine will continue stronger in the third. Clearly Pullman has no use for religion or God in any sense. That's his choice. As for me, I like Lyra and Will well enough to follow them to the end of their journey.)