Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Movie Review: NICKY'S FAMILY (2011)

Nicky's Family (2011). Documentary. Dir: Matej Minac. No rating.

Nicky's Family is the story of Sir Nicholas Winton, a centenarian who made his fortune in the stock market, but made his name as a rescuer of children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War 2.

Nicholas "Nicky" Winton was a carefree young man planning a ski trip with friends when circumstances conspired to change his life, and that of hundreds of Jewish children. He ended up in Czechoslovakia and toured refugee camps with his friend, who was trying to attract the attention of the international community to the plight of that country's Jews. Winton was so moved by the plight of the families struggling for some way to free themselves and their children from the Nazis that he formed a one-man committee to advocate for the children and arrange shelter for them with British families. The arrangements were only supposed to be temporary, until things improved and the children could rejoin their families, but they never did.

The film follows the story of how Winton accomplished his improbable mission and features interviews with Winton and with several of the people he saved- now elderly adults with families of their own. We learn about what happened to many of the kids in later life. Some joined the military to fight for Britain during the war; others returned to Czechoslovakia or ended up in Australia and the United States. The film also shows many of the people inspired by Winton's courage and tenacity and kindness, and the good deeds that they have done in turn. The film is truly inspiring and moving. I burned through every tissue in my purse by the end of this heartwarming, wonderful film.

I never knew anything about Winton's role in saving so many lives during the war, and I strongly recommend this film to anyone interested in the topic. It was amazing, what he was able to do!

Rating: RUSH

FTC Disclosure: I received free passes to this film from its distributor, Menemsha Films.

Monday, May 27, 2013

It's Monday- What Are You Reading?

 

So I finally finished the wonderful Corelli's Mandolin and reviewed it last week. I also finished Jane Gardam's The Man in the Wooden Hat, another luminous entry in the Old Filth trilogy. I read Old Filth a long time ago and never reviewed it on the blog; I loved it, and I don't know why I never got around to reviewing it, but now that the third and final volume in the series is out I decided to dig in and finish it. Jane Gardam is one of those writers who's just really, really good. Not flashy, not fancy, not out there, just really solid.

This week I'm reading the final volume of the Old Filth series, Last Friends. Each book told pretty much the same story but focused on different characters- their background, point of view, details particular to that person. Old Filth focuses on the eponymous character, Edward Feathers QC. The Man in the Wooden Hat centers on his wife, Betty, and her relationship with her husband and her lover, Filth's rival Terry Veneering. Last Friends is about Veneering and what makes him tick. I think the three books should be read together, as one long book, but they stand alone fine and I think can be read in any order. If you like British literary fiction you should not miss these gems.

And I'm still working my way through the enjoyable The Teleportation Accident, by Ned Beauman. He is the son of Nicola Beauman of Persephone Books, which I find interesting. I like the book so far. I'm about halfway through and the story of Egon Loesser, perpetual left-behind of the German avant-gard set on the outbreak of World War 2, is a witty and fascinating romp.

I DNF'd my latest bedside book and I'm trying to decide with what I should replace it. James Joyce biography? Serge Gainsbourg? A book about the Blasket Islands of western Ireland? Lots of choices. What are you reading?

See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: CORELLI'S MANDOLIN, by Louis de Bernieres

Corelli's Mandolin, by Louis de Bernieres. Published 1994 by Vintage. Literary Fiction.

So, it took me almost a month, but I finally finished Louis de Bernieres's wonderful, wonderful Corelli's Mandolin, and now I'm sad, because I'm done reading this beautiful book.

Set on the Greek isle of Cephallonia during the Italian occupation of World War 2, Corelli's Mandolin is primarily the love story of Pelagia, a young Greek woman, and Antonio Corelli, captain of the forces occupying her island. We don't meet Corelli for a little while though, and in the mean time we get a multiple-voiced narrative about life on the island, the war in Greece and Italy and the political situation of the island. So the first 100 pages are a little slow, I'm not going to lie to you. But I bet you'll get hooked nonetheless.

What makes the book is the rich panoply of characters, starting with Pelagia, her father Iannis who is the island's doctor, her fiancé Mandras with his own sad arc, the music-loving Antonio Corelli, and his soldier and close friend Carlo. But the minor characters are just as memorable, like Mandras's mother Drosoula, a priest who loses his mind, the English soldier Bunnius who provides some comic relief, the little girl Lemoni, and even a pine marten has an important role to play. Pelagia starts off as sort of just another pretty girl but her personality fills out to become the center of the whole story. Mandras and Carlo will break your heart in different ways, and the love story between Antonio and Pelagia is something you will never forget.

But there is plenty of plot, too, plenty to keep you turning the pages and a lot to learn about Greece's role in the war. De Bernieres shows us the war in Greece from the point of view of politicians, rebels, soldiers and ordinary people. The story follows almost Pelagia's whole life and we see some post-war Greek life and the changes that come with it.

I am so glad my friend at the bookstore persuaded me to read this book. Corelli’s Mandolin is historical fiction of the old school, a sweeping story to get lost in and fall in love with. It would appeal to almost all readers of adult fiction save hardcore genre readers. I would give it to just about anybody, male or female, young or old. It totally took me by surprise. I hoped I would like it, but I didn't think I would love it this much. It's also a wonderful summer read, a book to linger over, smile over, cry over, a book that will leave its mark on your heart forever.

Rating: Are you kidding? BUY!

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: THE HUMANITY PROJECT, by Jean Thompson

The Humanity Project, by Jean Thompson. Published by Blue Rider Press, 2013. Literary Fiction.

So, I became a fan-for-life of novelist Jean Thompson after 2011's luminous The Year We Left Home, and I jumped at the chance to review her latest, The Humanity Project. It's a little more outlandish than her last book, a little less grounded in ordinary life and more about people on the margins of American society, but it's just as wonderful in its own way.

Set in the present day and mainly in California, the book starts with a car accident that in one way or another will shape the lives of all the book's characters. Down-on-his-luck blue collar guy Sean goes to a bar to meet a woman for a drink. On the way back, he's in a horrific crash that lands him in worse shape than before. His son Conner, a smart kid trying to do the right thing, tries to take care of his dad but they're broke and basically homeless. He goes to work as a handyman for the wealthy, elderly Mrs. Foster, who is in the process of growing a foundation, called the Humanity Project. Her nurse, Christie, lives next door to Art, a lonely bachelor and unwitting father caring for his teen daughter Linnea, who is traumatized following her survival of a school shooting.

Everyone in this book is walking wounded, in one way or another. Conner is in the unenviable position of having to care for his parent. Sean means well but he's hooked on pain medicine and falling apart. Art, who never intended to raise his daughter, can't relate to her and can't help her. She falls into a loose group of kids roaming San Francisco and forms a tentative bond with Conner. Mrs. Foster earns the consternation of her grown daughter with her foundation, which has no clear mission but to make the world a better place. A noble ambition, to be sure, and Mrs. Foster does make the world better for these characters, though not in the way she intended.

I really enjoyed this book. It covers a shorter space in time than Year but Thompson shows the same warmth and compassion towards her characters. My favorite character is Christie. Mrs. Foster makes Christie the head of her foundation, and for a while we think Christie's found a purpose. But when she does discover the purpose of her life, it turns out it's right there all along, where she least expects to find it. Each character has his or her own story but the way Thompson brings them together is sweet and tender and very memorable. Once again Thompson creates a rich portrait of contemporary American life in all its strangeness, wondrousness and truth.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie Review: CLOUD ATLAS (2012)

Cloud Atlas (2012). Dir: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw.

I've finally seen the masterful, moving film adaptation of David Mitchell's amazing novel, and if you haven't guessed already, I loved it.

Directors Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski have taken Mitchell's multi-layered narrative and turned into one of the strangest and most beautiful movies I've ever seen. No, it's not perfect, and it's not even a perfect adaptation but wow they did a good job. I'm going to refer you to my review of the book for a plot summary. Mitchell tells his story by alternating several stories which are tied together by theme and language.The filmmakers interleave the stories by flipping from one to the next over and over, and even reusing the same actors in different roles in each story. The viewer leaps around in time, place, setting, plot, and sees the same faces pop up again and again, often in unexpected ways.

I'm not surprised the movie didn't fare well at the box office. It's weird, unconventional and difficult. But it's also incredibly beautiful and accomplished. The filmmakers made some changes in their adaptation; that's to be expected and for me the changes worked well, even the last change, at the very end. At first I went, "wait a minute, that's not how the book ended," but then I think I realized that even though the movie takes us a long way from the book in many ways, it remains essentially true to its spirit and the decisions the filmmakers made suit the screen just as Mitchell's suited the page.

Tom Hanks in particular stood out in terms of acting. He has an incredible variety of roles to play and he manages to be menacing, hilarious, moving, and just plain wonderful throughout. I also loved Hugh Grant's appearance. My favorite story in the book was my favorite in the movie, that of Timothy Cavendish and his "ghastly ordeal." I think I need my undefinable-in-terms-of-genre stories with a healthy dash of humor. I absolutely loved Hugo Weaving in this segment in particular. I'm not going to spoil it- just see it.

I would absolutely recommend you read the book before seeing the movie, but I've talked to lots of people who saw the movie first and enjoyed it a lot, so if you don't want to read the book don't miss out on the film. You'll probably want to read it later anyway, and you should!

Rating: RUSH

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What's New on the Shelf?

So I guess you could say I haven't been in much of a mood to blog lately. Just been busy, you know? But I wanted to catch up with you a little and share some recent things I've added to the shelf.

Fallen Land, the upcoming novel by Patrick Flanery (whose Absolution I adored) landed on my doorstep this week. It comes out in August and it's set in the United States this time (Absolution was about South Africa) and centers on life and death on a Midwestern farm.

I picked up David Sedaris's latest, Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, the first day and it came out and started reading it then, too. It's a lot of fun, a mix of fiction and nonfiction with his usual wit.

Equilateral, by Ken Kalfus, is a book blending historical and science fiction that caught my eye after reading a review in Kirkus. It looks just so intriguing!

I've also received a bevy of international crime from Europa Editions lately. Maurizio de Giovanni's I Will Have Vengeance, Blood Curse and his Kirkus-starred The Crocodile all await, as well as Zane Lovitt's The Midnight Promise and Stav Sherez's A Dark Redemption. June is International Crime Month, so guess what I'll be reading? I also picked up Jane Gardam's Last Friends, the third in the Old Filth Trilogy, and started it earlier this week. It's great!

Some of my crime customers at the bookstore are giving me great feedback on the de Giovanni books so I think if you're a crime reader definitely check them out!

The most exciting thing to come my way recently is a galley of Margaret Atwood's upcoming MaddAddam, the third in her trilogy that started with Oryx & Crake and continued with The Year of the Flood. I have dipped into it and I can't wait to find a time to really do a belly flop. MaddAddam comes out in September.

What's new on your shelf? I've been just as bad about reading blogs as I have about writing, so let me know!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It's Monday! (Tuesday) What Are You Reading?

Well I'm lingering on my current reads and DNF'd two that weren't holding my attention. I'm loving Louis de Bernieres's Corelli's Mandolin; I feel like this is one of those "where have you been all my life?" books. Like, why have I never read this? It's amazing. I've heard the movie is pretty bad though I'll probably end up watching it anyway, just to see.

Today I'm starting Ned Beaman's The Teleportation Accident, which is not science fiction despite the title. My husband read it thinking it would be sci fi but quickly discovered it was mere literary fiction. Nonetheless he really enjoyed it and has been encouraging me to read it ever since. And since May is Recommendations Month, I can hardly say no.

Europa-wise, I'm looking forward to starting Maurizio de Giovanni's I Will Have Vengeance as soon as possible. My crime customers at the bookstore are raving about this one; I have to check it out!

My current audiobook is Ben Macintyre's Double Cross, about World War 2 double agents. It's great!

What are you reading? See more at Bookjourney.wordpress.com.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Press Release: Literary New England Fund-Raising Campaign

Literary New England is a great podcast hosted by Cindy Wolf Boynton, focusing on books and authors connected to the New England area. I've appeared on the podcast a couple of times now, and I'm a big fan of what Cindy does. She's launching a fundraising campaign to support the show and help produce the Literary New England Travel Guide, to be released in September. Please check out her campaign and her podcast and help support a great supporter of books!

One-of-a-Kind Author Experiences Among Giving Perks in Literary New England Fund-raising Campaign

Brunch with "Defending Jacob" author William Landay, lunch with "The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D" author Nichole Bernier, an Adriana Trigiani walking tour of New York, and personally inscribed copies of Tara Conklin's "The House Girl," Andrew Pyper's "The Demonologist" and Cathy Marie Buchanan's "The Painted Girls" are among the many perks being offered to supporters of Literary New England's fund-raising campaign.
  
Money raised will be used to help the weekly Literary New England Radio Show continue to air ad free, as well as to complete the Literary New England Travel Guide that will be released in September in print and e-form. The campaign, hosted on Indiegogo, will run through May 30.

About the Literary New England Radio Show
Founded in December 2011, the Literary New England Radio Show [http://www.litnewengland.com/] airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. on BlogTalk Radio, featuring author interviews, book giveaways, event coverage and a celebration of all things literary New England. Listenership has skyrocketed from six to the first episode to as many as 10,000 per episode now and growing. Equally exciting is these listeners' diverse geographic locations, which include not just New England and throughout the United States, but Japan, the United Kingdom and other countries.

"New England is home to so many authors, and serves as the setting and inspiration for so many books, that the possibilities of who and what we can feature on the show are endless," said Literary New England Radio Show creator and host Cindy Wolfe Boynton.
An award-winning journalist, playwright and poet, Boynton is a long-time freelancer for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Better Health and other publications. As regular Literary New England Radio Show listeners know, she's also a college English instructor and big believer in the transformative power books and stories can have on both reader and writer alike.

"Books create connections, help us better understand ourselves and others, and can change lives," Boynton added. "The opportunity to use the show to talk about titles and writing, share author interviews and take listeners to book-related events they might not otherwise be able to attend is a real privilege. And the show fills a real niche."

Featuring both established and emerging authors and writers, Literary New England Radio guests have included Margaret Atwood, Joe McGinniss, Richard Russo, Jodi Picoult, Jenna Blum, Tara Conklin, Aria Beth Sloss, Will Schwalbe, Sebastian Junger, Amy Brill, Nathaniel Philbrick, Alice Hoffman, Owen King, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great-great-granddaughter Alison Hawthorne Deming, Anita Diamant, Alan Lightman, Geraldine Brooks and more.

For those unable to listen live on Mondays, past episodes can be accessed from the Literary New England Radio Show archives [http://www.blogtalkradio.com/literarynewengland].

About the Literary New England Travel Guide
Written by Boynton and scheduled for release in September, the Literary New England Travel Guide will take actual and armchair travelers to more than 500 New England locations featured in contemporary and classic books and related to popular authors, as well as provide a list of the best New England bookstores, book fests, writing workshops, retreats, and more.

Produced in both print and e-form, the guide will also include maps, suggested itineraries and author interviews. Travel spots include:
- Wally Lamb’s Three Rivers
- The Matlock Paper’s Carlyle U
- Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary”
- The Gloucester port from “The Perfect Storm”
- Truman Capote's high school
- Mark Twain’s home
- The Little Women house
- The apple orchards in Jodi Picoult’s Songs of the Humpback Whale
- William Styron’s and Arthur Miller’s graves
- The foghorn that appears in many Eugene O’Neill plays
- The Weissmanns’ Westport
- Where Linda Greenlaw set The Lobster Chronicles
- And many more
"The response to both the Literary New England Radio Show and Travel Guide have so far been amazing, exceeding all of our expectations," Boynton said. "Our commitment to those who support us and this campaign is that we'll do everything possible to make sure Literary New England exceeds all of your expectations, too."

Monday, May 6, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Well last week I didn't finish anything, but I started a bunch of new books. I started reading Falling to Earth, the Kate Southwood, about a hurricane that hits a midwestern town in early 20th century America. Actually I started that the day that my town was on lockdown following the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks, which was the worst day to start a book like that, and then put it down and picked it up again. But my theme for May is recommendations, and I'm starting out strong with Louis de Bernieres's Corelli's Mandolin, which I'm enjoying. It's an old-school historical epic, about World War 2 and Greece, and a really great read so far.

I'm also dipping into Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris's new collection. No laugh-out-loud moments for me so far, but it's funny. I feel like he's mellowing with age or something. Not that it's not funny, just that it doesn't impact me the same way. And I'm still on Jen Lancaster's Such a Pretty Fat, but that's my bedside book and lately I'm just falling asleep without reading.

In audioland, I started Ben Macintyre's Double Cross, his latest World War 2 true-spy-story. I love his books, I've decided!

What are you reading? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.org.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Crafturday-Zippers!

So, among the many reasons I haven't been blogging a lot lately is that when I'm home pretty much all I want to do anymore is sew. I recently learned simple zipper installation, and I can safely say that life will never be the same again.

I've been experimenting with lots of different kinds of bags and pouches. Yesterday I started a jewelry roll, which I completed this morning:

The zippers don't match because I'm buying them in small assortments right now and I never get two of the same color. I made this for practice so I don't really care if the zippers match, but when I make a nice one either for myself or as a gift, I'll need matching zippers! I'll also match the thread next time. I found the pattern here, on the Fiberosity blog.

I liked the way this came out. I made a couple of changes already, in that I didn't use premade cord to tie it up and I interfaced the pockets. The next time I plan to make a few further tweaks, but these instructions are a wonderful place to start.

I've experimented with other zippered pouches too but my very favorite comes from the wonderful sewing blog Dog Under My Desk, Easy Zippered Pouches. I've made two of these so far and I plan to more. The first is a quilted pouch just like the sample:

I love love love this little guy, just big enough for some cash and a chapstick. I want to make a thousand of them. I have a friend who would just love this but I have to keep it for myself. Maybe I'll make her one next! It doesn't take much fabric. And then today I made this one, out of oilcloth:

I used the same measurements but because it's not quilted or lined and thus not as bulky, it came out a little larger. It's still quite small though. I bought a fat quarter of oilcloth and I could make several of these pouches from that fat quarter. I love love love this one, too! And I love Erin's blog. I've already bought one of her patterns and I'll surely come back for more.

I may end up selling these in my Etsy store, Pandora's Craft Room, at some point but I'm still just playing around with zippered pouches for now.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review: AT THE END OF A DULL DAY by Massimo Carlotto

At the End of a Dull Day, by Massimo Carlotto. Published 2013 by Europa Editions. Crime Fiction. Translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar.

So. Where do I begin? Last year I read a phenomenal crime novel called  The Goodbye Kiss, by my favorite crime writer, Italian crazy man Massimo Carlotto. I loved this book. I even persuaded my husband, who never reads crime fiction, to read it, and he loved it. So you can imagine when I heard that Europa would be publishing not only another Carlotto as part of its World Noir series but the sequel to my favoritest crime novel ever, I was pretty flippin' excited. And then one day it showed up in my mailbox! Have I ever mentioned that I love Europa Editions?

The Goodbye Kiss told the story of Giorgio Pellegrini, a guy who gives "mad, bad and dangerous to know" a whole new set of wheels. In that book, he was out of prison and looking to settle down into a quiet life. Sometimes a guy just doesn't want to get hassled by the police and go to jail and all that. But the catch is, to get it, he needed to cause a whole lot of mayhem. But he did get his quiet life in the end. He opened a restaurant, married a beautiful woman, and all was supposed to be well.

And for a while it was. At the End of a Dull Day opens eleven years later. He's not exactly living clean- he's running a brutal prostitution ring, and he's the worst husband ever. I mean, if your husband doesn't openly cheat on you and make you exercise till you pass out every night, you're doing better than Giorgio's poor wife. But even a guy like Giorgio has his problems. For starters, his crooked lawyer just stole a bunch of his money and sold him out to the mob, and he's taking liberties with Giorgio's prostitutes as well. The mob has its boot on his throat, and Giorgio is used to being the one doing the windpipe crushing. So this has to end. And you'd better believe there's going to be a body count and some humiliation served up piping hot for his enemies.

Dull Day is another fun read from Carlotto. Giorgio is a guy you love to hate. And you'll really hate him. But he is the hero of this tale, so you kind of have to root for him too. Because really, there's no one better, except for the poor women. Women always get the worst of it in Carlotto's books, but I'm convinced that it's not the kind of titillating brutality you get in Stieg Larsson and his ilk. It's just nasty and brutish, gritty and dark. I really enjoyed my latest foray into Carlotto's world. I hope this book brings him to some new readers and pleases his longtime fans as well. You don't have to have read The Goodbye Kiss to get into this one but if you can, you should, just for fun.  If you like crime fiction you really can't do any better than these books!

This is my seventh book for the 2013 Europa Challenge.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.