April 30, 2013

the middle vowel...

We've made it to the middle vowel, perhaps the easiest letter to write, and one we use all the time (since we talk about ourselves constantly, right?).  I give you I!

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

A moving, based-on-personal-experience, story about a young woman and her struggles with mental wellness.  It takes place sometime between the 1950's and 1960's, and it follows Deborah as she goes into a mental hospital.  Her time there came after the lobotomy craze and before a lot of the drugs that we use now.

We get to see both how the institution works (or doesn't) as well as Deborah's struggles with her illness (schizophrenia) and learning that when it comes down to it, she is the only one who can decide to be healthy or "ill".

The thing that draws me so much to this book is the depth of honesty that we find from the author (Hanna Green, aka, Joanne Greenberg) as she handles both "her" illness and the sufferings of the other patients.  In this mental ward they don't pull punches, they have no reason to.  It's raw, it's harsh, and there is a stunning beauty to be found there.

I've read this one at least five times since discovering it in early college, and every few years I pick it up again because there is so much to be gathered up about what is sanity, can we take imagination too far, and to what lengths will the human mind go to to protect itself from threats both real and imagined.

(I recommend this one for those who are 18 and up since many of my younger friends would be highly sensitive to many of the themes.)

April 29, 2013

ha ha ha...

I thought this would be an easy letter to deal with, but turns out I don't have a lot of favorites with H, well, that's not true, I have two songs that fit the bill that are in my top ten favorite songs ever...so I guess you get to hear about them (even though many of you know them already).  Without more adieu, I give you H.


If you don't think this song is a story, well, think again.  It is so many stories wrapped up together, it can't help but touch most listeners somehow (I would venture a claim that those who can listen without being somehow touched are rather stone inside, just sayin').

I came up on the k.d.lang version of this song at a particularly dark point in my life, and it carried me, and in its own way, gave me peace and comfort.  The writer of the song, when he heard lang perform it, said that her version was the ultimate performance of it.  I tend to agree.

Give it a listen.

Hey Jude

This is my favorite Beatles' song, and as I said above, also one of my top ten favorite songs ever.  The funny thing is, the story I hear in it is vastly different than the one most of my Beatles-loving friends hear.  And, I found out, very different from the original inspiration.

What I hear in this story is a young man who is afraid to love, and yet there is love there for him to take.  This man tends to turn things to the worse, but he doesn't have to. The singer is encouraging him to pick love, to not fear it.  The singer is telling Jude that this is his destiny, and that love can save him.  How can I not melt at that?

Fun note: I am very drawn to such stories--another song, Desperado, has similar themes, and that one in my all time favorite song.

April 28, 2013

go golden...

Welcome back!  Today we are on the letter G.  There are a lot of contenders for this one, from Green Eggs and Ham to Gossamer by Lois Lowery, with The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing vying for a nod, and Ghost Story by Jim Butcher also a likely choice.  So what to pick for this letter?  Read on and I'll tell you.

The Goblin and the Empty Chair

I am not ashamed to admit I read children's books.  Some of them are very good.  A few of them are so beautifully written that your heart is likely to burst as you read them.  This gem by Mem Fox, is one of those.  The beautiful illustrations by Diane and Leo Dillion are the gilding on story that makes my heart ache and rejoice in the same moment. 

It tells about a very ugly goblin who is very lonely.  And a family that lives near him has suffered an incredible lost, and the goblin has seen that this family is heartbroken, and he decides to see if he can do something about it. 

I'm not sure why I picked this up in the library in January, I think someone mentioned Mem Fox as a good children's writer, or it caught my eye.  Either way, I'm every so thankful that I stumbled on this book in particular.  The story is simple but moving, and the characters are easy to identify with.  There's a life lesson here, and it's not overly subtle, but it's handle with such care that you almost want to thank the characters at the end for helping you become a better person, or at least for reminding you of who you should be. 

As a children's book, it's short, and most of you could read it in less than ten minutes.  Next time you are in the library, see if they have this one and treat yourself to a beautiful story.

April 27, 2013

a grade you don't want...

Yay, we have made it to the sixth letter, F.  While you wouldn't want to have to explain getting F as a grade, there are many stories found under this letter, and I'm going to share two of my favorites with you (because I just can't pick between these two).

The Fields of Athenry

This song by The High Kings, an Irish group, is a great ballad.  Every time I hear it, it makes me want to write a story.  Sometimes I want to write the story of how these lovers came to this point in their life, where he had to steal bread to try to feed their child, is caught, and is now being sent away, presumably to work across the sea.  Other times it makes me want to write about them in ten or fifteen years, when the child is grown.  And sometimes it makes me just want to write any story.  The harmony and melody get me just as much as the storyline.  It doesn't hurt that I'm a sucker for Irishmen singing, either.

If you haven't heard The High Kings, check out this song here.

The Fifth Element

Yeah, I know, weird one to pair with an Irish ballad, but hey, I have eclectic taste!

This sci-fi film came out in 1997, and I saw it sometime after it left the theater.  My brother was the one who introduced me to it, and he didn't figure I'd like it much, but that I would watch it because it has Bruce Willis in it (my brother has a crush on Mila Jovovich, who also stars).

The story is classic "flawed, angry washed up hero saves the world".  There is space travel and blue aliens.  There are trips to Egypt and far away planets.  What sci-fi fan could resit?  But the thing that really gets me about this one is that Willis is great at playing vulnerable characters who are tough but deeply hurt, and Jovovich is so very charming (not just good looking) as the precious "fifth element".  

Anyone needing a good "save the world" sort of flick that will make you laugh and might make you tear up just a tiny bit, this is a good one. And did I mention the supporting cast of Ian Holm, Gary Oldman, and Luke Perry (don't judge, he's adorable)?  Oh, and Chris Tuner (not Rock), though highly annoying, is also rather charming in this one.

April 26, 2013

second vowel to the left...

Let's move on now to E, that lovely vowel that is sometimes silent and makes for a lot of difficulty when learning English.

East by Edith Pattou

I'm a sucker for fairy tales, and in East, a young adult novel, we have a great one.  Pattou tells us the story of the polar bear king (if you haven't heard of this one, check out the Norwegian tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon) who has to find love, but is thwarted by a queen, who happens to be a troll.

You get a little bit of Beauty & the Beast, a little bit of Cupid and Psyche, and a few lovely twists that Pattou devises on her own (I really like how she uses the compass rose!).

The novel takes us into various POV's that shift between chapters, and in a way, that helps this story.  Because you have to really pay attention, have to read behind the lines, see what motivates each narrator, and figure out what is going on as you see the various points of view.

As far as fairy tales go, this is one of my favorite "re-tells".

April 25, 2013

dum du dum dum...

Here we are at the fourth letter of the alphabet: D.  I love this letter.  And I know you are expecting me to wax on about how much I love The Dresden Files (a natural choice, I know.  What's not to love?).  But I'm going to throw you a curve ball.  Ready?

The Dark Tower by C.S. Lewis

What?  You've never heard of Lewis' Dark Tower!  For shame!

You'll find this fantastic short story in a collection of stories and essays by the same name.  The story itself is somehow related to Lewis' space books--you can tell it's related, but not often sure where it would have gone.  (Reports are that it was a possible sequel to Out of the Silent Planet, before Perelandra.)  It deals with interdeminsional travel, and time travel.

Some of our favorite characters are here, primarily Lewis the narrator, MacPhee (an early version of him, at least) and Ransom.  It's a fascinating little tale about automatons and "othertime".

The most tragic thing about this is that this story is incomplete.  It has pages missing.  At crucial points.  Talk about making a reader go insane!  

I always find it fun to discover obscure works by favorite authors.  And while there are some who say this isn't Lewis, I believe that it is.  It's Lewis exploring, as all writers do.  And I find it a fantastic compliment to the rest of his works. 

April 24, 2013

third in line...

Here here are, the third post in my alphabet series on favorite stories.  Are you ready?  Here's C!

Cold Comfort Farm

Can we say quirky? Can we say delightful? Can we say quintessentially British?

Hope so, because that about sums up Cold Comfort.

This is a story set in the early 1930's and tells how a young woman with only 100 pounds a year goes to live with distance relatives she has never met on their farm, Cold Comfort.  There's all the token characters: the poetic waif, the lusty farm boy cousin, the ranting father who becomes a hell and brimstone preacher, the nervous mother, the overbearing grandmother.  And then there is Cousin Flora, and she can't abide a mess.  So she sets about fixing up the farm and it's occupants. 

I've read the novel and watched the film, and I have to say, I prefer the film slightly over the book.  You get a better feel for the story with the very unique characters fleshed out.

I can't remember who introduced me to this gem (very possibly it was Dara, but it might have been a fellow English student during my Jane Austen class...the memory is vague), but I'm ever so thankful.

The fact that the story of young Flora Post hits on so many Austen truisms didn't hurt at all.  It's like a slightly updated Austen mash-up.  And you just have to love a girl who says, "I just love the phrase, 'A marriage has been arranged.' When I feel like it, I'll arrange one."

Save yourself a few hours and go straight to the movie on this one, and don't forget, there is something nasty in the woodshed!

April 23, 2013

and then came b...

Might as well blog while I'm thinking about it and have the time, right?

I started a series yesterday on favorite stories, and I'm picking one for each letter of the alphabet.  Today's letter is B.

The Book of Eli

This is a fairly new addition to favorites--I've only seen it twice.  But powerful story can capture you the first time around, and that's the case with this Denzel Washington film.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world where there isn't lot to eat and water is a precious resource.  We meet our lone traveler, Eli (Washington), who is headed west.  Eli carries a book.  Turns out this book is THE book (the Bible), and that a wannabe lord has been searching for a copy for quite a while now.  When he and Eli cross paths, things get a bit crazy.

This movie is gritty; there is nothing really pretty to be found.  Yet there is beauty in the motivation, in the determination, and in the outcome.

I find in The Book of Eli a story about God's love, protection, and mysterious ways.  Which is sorta funny, since the movie wasn't made by a Christian outfit.  And perhaps that makes me love it more, because it reminds me that Truth doesn't require perfection or even someone who agrees with it; it will shine through if the storyteller is willing to honestly tell the story.

April 22, 2013

start at the very begining...

So, there is a thing going around the blogverse about doing 26 posts with each one being based on a letter of the alphabet.  I've been a very lax blogger as of late, so I think this might help get me posting on a regular basis.  I don't promise every day, but I do promise to make it to Z!

And because I need some structure, I'm going to tell you about my favorite stories--might be books, might be movies, might be a song or a person (hey, we are stories, too!).

Here we go with A...

The Abhorsen Trilogy: Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen

Written by Garth Nix, this fantasy series is a bit more grit and dark than many offerings out there.  But somehow, that makes it feel so much more real to me.  The series follows Sabriel, a young woman who has gone to school on the other side of the wall from the kingdom she is born in.  Little does she know, her father happens to be a powerful mage (called Abhorsen) who has the power to send the dead back when they escape the boundaries of death.  Through the books we see Sabriel taking on the mantle of Abhorsen, then we meet Lireal, a woman raised in the icy north where she lives with the clairvoyant sisterhood but never receives her calling (though she gets to hang out and work in the most amazing library EVER!), and then on to the final book, where stories and characters collide in a final effort to keep the world from ending.  Classic fantasy mixed with some very unique features.  And of course, a mention has to be given to the Disreputable Dog, who is one of the only dogs in all of literature that can make me laugh.

If you can handle a bit of magic and things that go bump in the night, and you haven't read this series, I highly recommend it (15 and up).