Other works:The Shell Collector, About Grace, Memory Wall, Four Seasons in Rome
Recommended by: This was a book club pick, but it was also one that my book-savvy husband had heard great things about. Also, the fact that it won a Pulitzer recommends it rather well.
Genre: Historical fiction, World War II drama
Main characters: Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl; Werner Pfennig, a German boy.
Opinions: Our book club was divided. One member came to the meeting calling it “brutal” because she’d just finished it and spent a good chunk of the end of it crying. Some thought it was hard to get into, but good after a while. Some thought the language was too flowery, and some don’t really get into historical fiction much.
I think I was the only person there who love love loved it. The writing didn’t feel flowery to me, just gorgeous. The author skilfully made every character real and human – even the heinous ones. The two main characters are particularly beautiful, and the way their lives gradually converge had me totally hooked. I read considerably past my bedtime on many occasions.
A quotation I liked: My very favourite moments, the ones I had to go back and re-read, would be too long, and are spoilers anyway. But there were so many lines full of wisdom or insight that I found exquisite. For example,
“There is the humility of being a father to someone so powerful, as if he were only a narrow conduit for another, greater thing. That’s how it feels right now, he thinks, kneeling beside her, rinsing her hair: as though his love for his daughter will outstrip the limits of his body. The walls could fall away, even the whole city, and the brightness of that feeling would not wane.”
What sticks with me: Fascinating portrayal of a blind person’s perspective – the sounds, smells, and strategies. But even more, the depth of feeling, rendered with zero melodrama. Lots and lots of writers have placed their stories during WWII, so you’ve gotta be good to make sure your story hasn’t been already told in some form, and that it’s worth telling. This one made me feel the same way Atonement did: very sad, but uplifted by so many forms of love. Moved by humanity’s capacity for beauty, even during the ugliest times in our history.
Recommended to: War buffs, gemstone buffs, Jules Verne buffs, marine biology buffs, and those who don’t mind a heartrending story in the service of love.
To sum up: I will definitely be re-reading All The Light We Cannot See when I have the chance.
Our book club read The Couple Next Door only a few months ago, so I clearly remember how I felt about it.
Author: Shari Lapena
Other works:Things Go Flying, Happiness Economics
Recommended by: Book Club, and several people I heard discussing it on the radio.
Main characters: Anne and Marco Conti, and their kidnapped baby daughter Cora. And some iffy neighbours and in-laws. And a world-weary detective.
Opinions: The book club was divided – some found it quite engaging and exciting, and some found it annoying. I have to admit, I am one of the latter. I wanted to like it; after all, the author is a Canadian English teacher, yay! Good on her for writing a very successful book. Listening to other reviews, people are like, “It’s full of twists! I couldn’t put it down! Page-turner from start to finish!” I, on the other hand, was like, “It’s full of gimmicks! I couldn’t relate to any of the characters! Cringeable writing from start to finish!” I didn’t hate it – it wasn’t boring – I finished it with no problem. I did want to know what happened. But honestly, if you’re planning, as an author, to wrench readers’ heartstrings by featuring a missing infant, you need to back that up with grounded plot lines and realistic parents we can care about. (In my opinion.) In this case, it felt like plot-twist experimentation, as in, “Let’s see if they’ll swallow THIS one!” Especially at the end.
A quotation I liked: Sorry… nothing that moved me. The writing was part of my problem with the book in general – I couldn’t make myself stop noticing the awkwardness of a third-person narrative in the present tense.
What sticks with me: That awful idea of coming in to see your baby – and her being gone.
Recommended to: Readers who love a surprising, suspenseful plot and don’t mind so much about underdeveloped characters.
To sum up: I’m not a fan of The Couple Next Door, but you might be!
Minnie could never have guessed that being lost at sea would result in a very special connection with a misunderstood sea “monster”. After all, he’s really just a creature looking for love, like you and me (but more scaly).
Sometimes, if an orphaned mini counting-bear comes along at the right point in a mama Bakugan-dragon’s life, she will take the cub and raise it as her own. This mother is seen grooming her cub as if he were her own Baku-spawn.
The green aliens came to Earth for a reason. It really is just a darn lovable place. Makes you want to give it a big smooch. (Canada especially.)
Happy New Year! Isn’t it nice to have a new start, after the year we’ve had?
Time for the semi-traditional New Year’s Questionnaire. This year, I’ve decided to take some liberties with it. That is to say, I deleted or modified the questions that were annoying me or seemed repetitive. No time for baloney in 2017!
What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?
Me: Visited North Carolina, taught English, tried an Escape Room (with a team of smart/more experienced people) – and escaped!
Sean: Bought a minivan, subsequently inaugurated it by taking 15 hours in one day to drive two kids and four adults to North Carolina. And then 15 more hours to drive back a week later.
E: Went to the Hogwarts classes and Quidditch practice at the University, licked my own elbow, started Tae Kwon Do classes.
AB:Started school, said lots of French things, learned some Tae Kwon Do moves from my brother.
Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions?
Me: No. I did not at all get my 52 blog posts done, despite the scaled-down nature of the resolution. (I got to 32.) Sigh. I am disappointed. I also didn’t achieve what I set out to with my delayed NaBloPoMo strategy. Life is just too hectic, and although I know that writing is important for my brain and my spirit, so is getting sleep. And so is planning lessons and marking stuff. And so is reading stories to my kids. Et cetera. There are not enough hours to do ALL THE THINGS.
Sean: Not exactly. See Question #17.
E, A: We’re kids. We live in the moment.
3. Did anyone close to you die?
Me: A very dear family friend and member of our Friends’ Meeting.
Sean: Two wonderful step-grandparents.
E: So many of my baby teeth.
A: The loops on my rubber boots.
4. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
Me: My report cards done early.
Sean: Really good sleep.
E: A wooden sword. I might make one with all the boards I’ve been breaking in Tae Kwon Do.
A: I would like a unicorn that a princess can ride on!
5. What events from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why:
Me, Sean: Fires in Fort MacMurray, US Election results, deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Gene Wilder, Charmian Carr, Leonard Cohen, Alan Thicke, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds.
Sean: Becoming a supervisor and initiating the overhaul of the tooling system at work.
E: Earning my yellow and orange belts in Tae Kwon Do and participating in my first tournament. And I really developed the skill of soccer this year.
A: Singing many songs in French, especially the one we did at the school concert (“La neige tombe”).
7. What was your biggest failure?
Me: Still not managing to finish unpacking by 2017. (Sadly, this is not a joke.)
Sean: Not losing weight.
E: I get mad at myself when I do things imperfectly.
A: I have no failings.
8. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Me: I suspect I’ve been suffering from plantar faciitis…
Sean: Toe broken by karma as I ran up the stairs chasing the kids, having just told them not to run up the stairs. And then there was that tiny metal chip that had to be surgically removed from my eyeball.
E: The usual viruses, and the usual grievous injuries about five times a day.
A: The time my brother scratched my hand that had already been scratched!
9. What was the best thing you bought?
Me: Poo-Pourri. Especially Vanilla Mint. Highly recommend. (And thanks for the tip, JP!)
Sean: OluKai flip flops.
E: I bought my smelly markers with my own money! I went to Staples with the six dollars plus tax in coins in a green container with a lid, and when we checked out I put it on the counter, and that’s how I proudly paid for my own markers. (This is Mummy’s description. Gosh, it was cute.)
A: I got five dollars from my Uncle Barry in North Carolina and I helped pay for my very own pink Automoblox.
10. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Me, Sean: Trump + supporters, ISIL, other terrorists and corrupt individuals… the usual.
E: Mummy and Daddy, when they make me do my homework.
A: Mummy and Daddy, when they make me use words and manners instead of just reading my mind.
11. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Me: The peaceful Standing Rock protesters, and the two thousand veterans who joined them.
Sean: Pope Francis’s, for his work with the poor and refusal to buy into the pomp of popehood.
E: Mine, when I broke my first board! (And then a whole bunch more.)
A: Mine, for many diaper-free dry nights!
12. What did you get really excited about?
Me: A beautiful white Christmas.
Sean: The US election – good excited… and then bad excited.
E: Screen time. There’s a lot less of it now that I’m in Grade 2.
A: I’m four. I have no need to examine my own behaviour.
15. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Me: Stressing out.
Sean: Eating out.
A: Walking to school. It’s such a long way. I think I still deserve my stroller.
16. How did you spend Christmas?
All: With people we love, all kinds of family. So very fortunate.
17. What is your resolution this year?
Me: Learn not to use the snooze button; use my massage benefits.
Sean: Be fit and productive.
Me, Sean: This year, we are keeping Bullet Journals! We shall thus become organized and effective, beyond all previous experience or expectations. (Sort of like a resolution.) We’ve already started. We are already getting a bit compulsive. I’m sure the Bullet Journal will get its own blog post one of these times.
E: Get my green belt; learn to skate. My mom would like me to resolve to whine less about my responsibilities. We’ll see about that.
A: Try a new dance class or maybe Tae Kwon Do. My mom would like me to resolve to cooperate in the mornings. We’ll see about that.
18. What was your favorite TV program?
Me: The Crown.
Sean: Luke Cage, Daredevil Season 2, The Crown.
E: Lego Ninjago.
A: Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig.
19. What was the best book you read?
Me: The Girl on the Train was basically un-put-down-able.
Sean: A Brief History of the Future and The Harrows of Spring.
E, A: We had the rest of the Harry Potter series read to us, and then all of Narnia, and now we’re on to Roald Dahl. We love them all!
20. What do you regret?
Me: Not being better organized, especially during April through June.
Sean: Spending money on junk food.
E: That time I missed most of gym period because I forgot my indoor shoes at home.
A: All the clothes that are too small for me.
21. What decision are you glad you made?
Me: To buy a mini-van.
Sean: To accept the supervisor position.
E: To ask for Diary of a Wimpy Kid for Christmas. (He has been devouring the series and was almost done book 7 as of Sunday night).
A: Changing my mind at the last minute to be Minnie Mouse for Halloween instead of Elsa again.
22. What was your favorite film of this year?
Sean: Captain America – Civil War.
23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Our family went to see Moana the day after I saw Fantastic Beasts, so it was a fully magical weekend for me, cinema-wise.
Some thoughts on Disney’s latest epic:
It’s a musical! I’d only seen trailer dialogue, so I didn’t realize this (even though I should have) until I was already watching it. Songs make me all happy.
The music is co-written by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Lin-Manuel Miranda (who got famous for Hamilton only after signing on). It had me teary-eyed from the first song. It’s powerful, full of drums and lavish harmonies.
The music is also apparently well-done in terms of authenticity, since Foa’i is a distinguished Samoan musician and he would know. (Also the whole team of composers immersed themselves in a Pacific music festival in New Zealand as part of the preparations.)
Related to that, and predictably, I also loved the dancing. Not just the exuberant “choreography” for the musical numbers, but the lilting, traditional Polynesian movements that seem to come right from the ocean, performed by certain characters seemingly by instinct. The dance isn’t a topic in the movie, it’s just part of the fabric of the life portrayed. As it should be.
The animation is just… indescribably beautiful. The scene at the beginning with baby Moana picking up shells… I could hardly bear it, with the shining colours and the living water and the perfectly-rendered toddler-walk. SO. TOTALLY. GORGEOUS.
I cried a few times. Maybe several. Mostly due to beauty.
Moana is a tough cookie. I liked her a lot. Described by producer Osnat Shurer as “kick-ass, feisty, [and] interesting.”
She is also NOT a princess, as she explains with meta-Disney-humour. (She is, however, already being lumped into the “Disney Princess” club by social media.)
I am grateful for her status in the Disney canon; that is to say, that she is one of an ever-expanding line of female heroines I’m glad for my daughter (and my son, for that matter) to emulate. I love that she’s going to succeed her father as chief, and no one makes any kind of deal about her being a female chief. (Sorry, I just spoiled it by getting excited about it being no big deal.)
I’m also grateful that she’s not white. Much as I appreciate the multidimensionality and strength of character in recent white heroines like Rapunzel, Merida, Elsa, Anna, and Riley (and even Judy Hopps, since even though she’s a rabbit, she’s got a distinctly Caucasian vibe going on), we’re a global society at this point. Time to represent – and properly.
As I watched, I did wonder often how the (non-white) peoples represented in the film would feel about it. I get that as a white viewer, I could potentially be enthralled by something someone else would find offensive. It made me happy to read afterwards that reception of this movie has been mostly really positive among Pacific Islanders, including those involved in the production, as well as other Indigenous people and other people of colour. Disney is gradually turning things around regarding cultural appropriation.
Moana, the character, is ridiculously beautiful, of course. But no more so than Auli’i Cravalho, who voiced her.
And that gal can sing!! Holy smokes. I think she nailed the whole part, actually, despite being the youngest Disney “princess” voice ever (did the work at age 14, movie released on her 16th birthday).
I couldn’t help adoring Grandma Tala’s character. The deep matriarchy in this film is so satisfying – especially when you compare it with all those movies where Mom dies (Bambi, Finding Nemo, Frozen) or is already somehow dead or gone when the movie starts (Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, Lilo & Stitch, The Rescuers, Big Hero 6).
It also seemed significant to me that the animal sidekick Moana ends up bringing on the voyage is not the adorable tiny pig she has as a pet, but the bizarre-looking dumb-as-a-post chicken. Just another way to mix things up.
That chicken is voiced by Alan Tudyk (also known as Wash, as well as the Duke of Weaselton and a number of other Disney bit-part voices). We did not guess it was him.
Maui, the demigod, is well-played by (half-Samoan) Dwayne Johnson. More complex than he first appears, of course, with quirky moves that will apparently be familiar to fans of The Rock.
Dwayne can sing too! What! He was great. We were fully impressed.
The animation for Maui’s tattoos is hand-drawn, unlike most of the movie, which is CGI. And they are beautiful. That’s part of what makes the movie stunning: the Pacific-Island art. It’s woven throughout the movie’s imagery.
Sean and I enjoyed hearing Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame) voicing Tamatoa, the giant sparkly coconut crab/thief. Jemaine is great at weird+funny+sinister. (Did you know his mom is Maori?)
There were a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in the film, both for us and the kids. Some of them even overlapped.
21 b) I sure am glad I’m raising kids in the days where kids’ films are made with the parents in mind too. It’s very easy to watch them over and over. If I didn’t have kids, I’m sure I’d still watch them, and laugh and cry and feel my heart squeeze.
Speaking of the kids’ reactions, there were some scary moments. Four-year-old AB quailed a bit watching the lava monster, Te Ka. She held onto my arm, but she never wanted to hide her eyes and never opted for my lap. And there were no nightmares or anything. So – scary but not regrettable.
Although I’d say the main theme is the Belonging vs. Identity Quest thing (as it often is), to me the Sustainability message was also big. The unhappiness of Te Fiti (Mother Earth goddess with stolen heart) is a powerful message, but even more so is the “we only have this one island that provides for us and if it is ruined we are screwed” message. All of us have only got this one rock in space to live on (for now, at least) and we need to enact some healing before we kill ourselves off.
I only figured out what was going on at the end a few seconds before Moana did – didn’t see it coming at all. I don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll just say that the dénouement was totally goose-bumpy and amazing… and yep, I shed tears.
To sum up: highly recommend to all humans, goddesses, demigods, chickens, piglets, and Oceans.
As with the books… it’s been a while since I reviewed a movie too, huh? Might be rusty. Hence, the numbered list/crutch. Here goes! (No spoilers, I promise.)
J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them… Newt Scamander, young magizoologist, comes to New York City from England, sometime in the 1920s, just as a strange black shadow has been ripping apart NYC neighbourhoods… And what ensues? The hi-est kinds of jinks.
It’s just THRILLING to see a new movie from the wizarding world! (I’m sure there are those cynics saying “ahem, money grab,” but those of us who are fans have just been wishing in our hearts for more… and here it is!!)
I went to see it without worrying that it would suck, because Skye (fellow Level 5 fan) had already seen it, and came back with one of those grins that tells you it was not just good, but great.
It’s basically one happy nerd-treat after another, for folks who know their lore. Having read the books to my kids so recently, I had all the details in my mind of the significance of the Murtlap, Bowtruckles, Erumpent, etc.
Eddie Redmayne, as Newt, is great at being awkcute.
The movie is worth the ticket for the Niffler alone. Hilarious and adorable. HOW do they animate such attitude into a squat little animal with a duck bill? He could have his own movie: Fantastic Trinkets and Where I Found Them.
The Ministry in the states is called MACUSA – the Magical Congress of the United States of America. (I was picturing it “MACOUSA.”)
Katherine Waterston, who plays Tina, the MACUSA employee who kind of first befriends Newt, is great. I’d never seen her in anything but I enjoyed her acting.
She’s apparently British. I couldn’t tell.
Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, is a fun character. A lot more multi-dimensional than he first appears.
I think they told Alison Sudol, who plays Tina’s sister Queenie, “Just channel Marilyn Monroe, witch version.”
The fantastic beasts are truly fantastic. When you meet them, it’s like going on this mesmerizing journey of imaginative glee with the creators.
There seems to me, at this moment in history, to be nothing CGI can’t accomplish.
It was cool, but slightly saddening as well, to hear the characters calling Seraphina Picquery “Madam President.” Sigh.
I think it’s possible that they let Eddie Redmayne improvise some bits where he’s communing with certain beasts. They were strange and wonderful, if a bit oddly-paced at times.
I did not find the plot predictable, which is always good – and it’s fun to watch a wizarding movie for which I have not read the book multiple times (or at all).
Skye and I nudged each other at the end, noting Newt’s yellow-and-black scarf: “He’s a Hufflepuff!” We keep an eye out for our peeps. (Because despite my identity crisis, I was a Hufflepuff first.)
Apparently, we can look forward to 4 more Fantastic Beasts movies! They sure set up the audience for more at the end. Needless to say, I AM IN FAVOUR.
Here we go. The conclusion of Animal Cutes – and finally, some hope for our ugly friends.
Puppy knows. Like the sunflowers among which he frolics, his time in the sun will nourish him in health as he becomes an adult dog. He also knows he’s actually the love-child of a Mastiff and a St. Bernard, so he’s gonna be humongous. That’s when he’s gonna stick it to the man and overthrow the system.
Ah, the rodentian Robin Hood of his time! Sammy, with his dapper bow-tie and perfect mousie-finger placement, would be perfectly at home having tea with the Queen. He prefers, however, to outwit the powers that would see him die a grisly death in what appears to be a miniature leg-hold trap, and collect cheese for his woodland relatives. He is proficient at this job, with his dexterity and ingenuity, but more importantly, he gives hope to all the animals struggling against ankle-chains, baseball bookies, drug habits, and corporate control.
The bittersweet ending has arrived. This sweet little chick – her name is actually Mabel – was born with some problems. Her mother died of henbane poisoning when Mabel was just beginning to hatch, and she barely survived. She was rescued from freezing by Cubby Bear who heard her cries – but she subsequently witnessed things at Cubtown to which no chick should be exposed.
Recently, however, things are looking up for her. She has made friends and joined a support group. She has started seeing a therapist, the battle-scarred but compassionate Polly Parrot. She takes great comfort in nature, as long as she’s wearing her earmuffs to soften the harsh sounds of the world. She will be okay, and maybe even have chicks of her own someday.
It’s not an easy life for Animal Cutes. I hope I’ve given you a little bit of insight into the challenges they face, so that if someday you meet one of these strangely-dressed, unlovely-but-lovable creatures, you will treat them with kindness.
I know, the last instalment was kind of intense… Not as whimsical as they look, these Animal Cutes. I’m afraid Part 3 also contains some sinister activities.
Poor Miss K. Look at her face. She is clearly fleeing in terror. My sleuthing tells me that the backwards K on her shirt symbolizes, in baseball, “a strikeout looking (where the batter does not swing at a pitch that the umpire then calls strike three).” My guess is that she’s just lost her team a game – and that there was some big money riding on it. Or whatever the kangaroos use as currency. She’s hoping to make it to the Canadian border by nightfall.
This one chills me right to the bone. Sweet, innocent Baby Elephant, so big-eyed he could be the Gerber Elephant. He’s just drinking what he’s given, even though it is not his mama’s milk. By the time his free sample formula supply runs out, mama’s milk will have dried up. At that point, we just hope the family can afford to pay for more. We know who’s responsible: NESTLÉ. Re-read that caption and you’ll see it’s actually a threat. (And yes, Nestlé has been around more than long enough to be an antique – 150 years, actually.)
She’s wiggledy for a reason: simple case of shopaholism. Pigville store employees know her well. She obviously loves to accessorize. At least we know she’s paying in cash, so she’s not running up lots of credit card debt. Here’s hoping she bet on the winning kangaroo baseball team, to finance her proclivities. (Or maybe the winning team was the wombats – I’m sure they’d be great at baseball.)
I know what you’re thinking: Dilovely, you’ve gone beyond nerdy. Now you’re downright eccentric. Not to mention dark and morbid.
We all know from Toy Story that these characters don’t just lie still in the dark. They get up, have adventures, bond, and then cleverly put themselves back in a “just-got-dropped-here” position. Some of these friends have really become close over the years.