30 December 2010


Character Connection (17)

Read about Judy Plum and other great characters
in this week's Character Connection!

It's about time I did one of these again, aye? I thought I might as well close 2010 properly.

In a recent discussion of the Harry Potter series, I remarked that I tend to like J.K. Rowling's supporting characters much more than her leads: that, in fact, my least favourite of her characters are Harry himself and Professor Dumbledore. =P But I think most writers with a love of ensemble casts have a real gift for creating supporting characters. (No comment on the leads.) So today I feature a very minor character (or so we think) from one of my favourite YA novels of all time. I do like the heroine of this one, but I confess I like him much, much more.

28 December 2010


Twelve Things about Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot

12. Last year, on Los Inocentes, I featured a Top 5 List that I thought perfectly captured the spirit of this feast day: My Top 5 Action Star Au Pairs. This year, I'm going in the opposite direction, age-wise.

Arnold Schwarzenegger having closed the decade of the Biggest, Baddest Action Heroes Ever with his tongue firmly in his cheek (Forgive me as I plug the Kindergarten Cop live blog yet again), his good pal Sylvester Stallone decided to sail into the next decade with his own good natured poke at the Action star figure. If there is anything which can hinder a tough guy more than an kindergartener, it's a senior citizen. (LOL!!!)

11. "Buddy Movies" are like Romance novels. We know that the mismatched duo is going to have a genre-appropriate happy ending (in this case, by bringing the baddies to justice), but that doesn't stop us from wanting to watch every squabble along the way. One day, my Buddy Movie IQ will be high enough for me to make another Top 5 List; in the meantime, I'm already quite sure that this pairing of the cop who always gets his man and the mother who always knows best would make it.

27 December 2010


Reading Diary: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

But before he knew it, Harry was shouting.


Every bitter and resentful thought that Harry had had in the past month was pouring out of him; his frustration at the lack of news, the hurt that they had all been together without him, his fury at being followed and not told about it: All the feelings he was half-ashamed of finally burst their boundaries . . .


Mine isn't the only "Potter-thon" going on this month, if the shelves in my favourite chain bookstore are anything to go by. A few weeks ago, when I was looking for a copy of the first book in the series, they had everything else in abundant stock. But yesterday evening, when I dropped by to get the sixth installment (Finally, aye?), what had been the "Potter section" for the past few months was stuffed with Mysterious Benedict Society and Septimus Heap titles, with only The Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows still flashing their Hogwarts colours. And who wants to bet that Deathly Hallows will be out of stock next week?

But in a way, this is a good thing, because it gives me some time to write down my thoughts on the big reread I've just done. When I started, I intended to have individual Reading Diary entries for each book (and did manage one for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) . . . but more often than not, I'd move on to the next novel and get distracted. So this break is actually a good thing. Let me take each book separately now.

25 December 2010


Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Three!

Merry Christmas!!!
And Welcome to Narnia Day: The Return!

What better day for this celebration of C.S. Lewis' fantastic settings than today? Remember that Narnia's curse used to be that it was "always winter but never Christmas." I'd say most people who live in countries that see snow will admit that it is the winter holidays--from Christmas to Candlemas--which make these freezing months most bearable. I'm glad to be in a world that knows both Christmas and Narnia.

Please note that our cheesily named (Yes, I admit it!) "Worlds of Tomorrow" Challenge for futuristic settings is set for 8 January. If you think I'm going to shoot myself in the focus by scheduling it for New Year's Day, when everyone who has a life will either be partying or asleep, well, you were right a few weeks ago. =P

But now that I have another setting in mind for 1 January, it gets to be a special extension of "Wild Card Month".

24 December 2010


Fairy Tale Face-off: The Christmas Eve Edition

There are some really lovely Christmas-set fairy tales. I almost made another Top 5 List until I realised I was inspired by no more than four. =P

So I decided to pick one of them and just do my usual face-off.

Yesterday's post about minions and toys (and a belated idea that to many "masters," their minions are indeed nothing but toys) put me in the mood for the following pairing . . .

23 December 2010


Beyond the Magnanimous Masters

Santa this, Santa that. The debates I've been running into lately have reminded me that Norman Rockwell isn't quite out of my system just yet. One final face off now--the very last one, I promise, as it's probably already out of yours.

Santa Claus vs. The Discovery

Anyone who says there is no common ground between fantasy and reality needs some more imagination. (I'm assuming he already has a sense of humour.) Above we have a Santa as all little children must picture him in their minds and a discovery about the same Santa that all not-so-little children eventually make. This was the pair that actually inspired the whole smackdown--although I had to sacrifice it for the Thanksgiving-themed paintings. Seasonal reasons, you know.

Your votes and thoughts are totally welcome in the combox, as usual,
although they can't count as votes now. =P

By the way, you noticed that the "100+ Followers, 10+ Friends" Giveaway
now has a winner, right?

Anyway, Santa is cool and all, but I think I should put in a word for his elves now. I mean, we all love the guy with the cool suit, the amazing vehicle, and the glory that comes with closing the deal--which is also why Batman is so popular--but Santa is a leader who comes with a very hardworking team--like countless cute little Alfreds. And where would he be without his elves to sort the mail, make the toys, feed the reindeer, and keep his sleigh in excellent condition? He wouldn't have half as much time for his Naughty/Nice executive paperwork, I tell you! And it's not easy being an elf, either. If you've ever been in a toy store right before Christmas, then just multiply that mayhem by about a million to have a hint of what Santa's workshop is like for a whole month before Christmas. "Santa's Elf" is an extremely high-pressure job. Yes, the workload is virtually non-existent at other times of the year, but that hardly makes up for all the concentrated stress of December. And don't ask me how I know all this. I just do.

To the elves of the world, who are loved by St. Joseph the Worker, I dedicate this list:

My Top 5 Merry Minions

1) The Oompa-Loompas (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl)

People who work in candy factories supposedly lose all their desire to eat the lollies they have a hand in making--no matter how delectable these were to them when they began. Human nature, etc. None of that for the cheerful, childlike Oompa-Loompas, for whom working in Willy Wonka's world-famous Chocolate Factory never gets old.

They make what we love, love what they do, sing while they work, and still manage enough mischief to keep us from relaxing completely in their presence: the Oompa Loompas make fantastic elf variants. But they are vehicles for satire as well, and Dahl doesn't hold back in his Middle Grade morality play of a novel.

For there is something of both historical slavery and modern child labour in the creation of these little characters. It is both wonderful and troubling that Wonka has to "import" an entire tribe of Oompa-Loompas from their own native country, where he claims they had a terrible life being hunted down by whangdoodles and were "practically starving to death" because their own food was so hard to come by. And how convenient for him that their favourite food in the world is the cacao bean: all he had to do was promise endless chocolate (i.e., cacao to the power of infinity), and he had himself an entire workforce that would never threaten to form a union.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a capitalist fairy-tale which raises questions worth mulling over.

21 December 2010


Reading Diary: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen. Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours' time by Mrs. Dursley's scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, not knowing that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley. . . . He couldn't know that at this very moment, people meeting in secret across the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: "To Harry Potter--the boy who lived!

And this is where it all began. Do we remember???

I have one friend who definitely does: she likes to brag that she started reading Harry Potter long before the books became best-sellers--and has a well-read (British English) original edition of this first novel in her bookcase to prove it.

A few years later, when the fifth installment was released, to worldwide mania, another friend decided she'd better figure out what this Potter phenomenon was all about and borrowed my (American English) copies of the first four books. I was flying out to uni in New Zealand at the time, so I told her she could keep them for the next two or three years. [Fast forward two years.] Upon my return, she gave back Books 2, 3 and 4 in pretty much the condition in which she got them (allowing for the usual yellowing of the paper). They had obviously gone unread all that time, while the first book, which she had presumably at least started, was nowhere to be seen. According to my friend, I had never lent it to her!!! It was as good as an omen: a few years later, she become an ex-friend.

Not just because she lost one of my books: that would be post hoc, ergo propter hoc and even I'm not that much of a bad friend book fiend. But I mention her because this pre-planned personal Potter-thon was delayed for several weeks while I waited for my favourite bookstore to find me a nice new copy of the sold-out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone--one which was about three times more expensive than my first one, but never mind . . .

20 December 2010


Reading Challenge the Fourth

A food book is a book which is centered around food and/or drinks.
That could be a cookbook, a food biography or memoir,
a non-fiction book focused around a specific food, wine, chef or restaurant.
Also allowed is a fictional story in which food plays a major role.

I guess I'll really be filling up my Reading Challenge plate for next year. =P

It's all Birdie's fault by the way. Bad bird! ;-)

As I've told her, whenever I read about food in books, I sit up and drool pay attention. They might not be "food books" according to the challenge's definition, but they are a cut above the rest just by being "books with food."

Who doesn't secretly wish for a pint of hot Butterbeer on cold mornings? (Thank you, J.K. Rowling!) Who doesn't agree that even a lifetime supply Turkish Delight isn't worth betraying your siblings for? (Thank you, C.S. Lewis!) Who isn't encouraged by the Eucharistic symbolism matter-of-fact magic of "waybread"? (Thank you, J.R.R. Tolkien!) Who hasn't tried putting honey in an omelet after reading that the Ancient Romans liked their eggs that way? (Thank you, Caroline Lawrence!) . . . Oh, wait, was I the only one who said yes to that last one?

Our hostess, Margot of Joyfully Retired and the separate Foodie's Reading Challenge Blog, has encouraged all participants to remember that this is a throw-down (participation by Bobby Flay optional), instructing us, "Go a bit beyond what you think you can really do."

So I feel like a bit of a wimp when I say I'll be aiming for the least ambitious Nibbler level. =P

18 December 2010


Locus Focus: Take Thirty-Two!

A good setting is more than just a backdrop!
Join us every Saturday as we write about our favourite settings
and the books that make them come alive!

Some reminders before we begin . . . so that I can feel like a teacher addressing her homeroom class again . . .

First, remember that next Saturday, Christmas Day, shall be Narnia Day: The Return. (Yes, it was originally "The Reprise"--but then I remembered that one properly returns to Narnia.)

Secondly, as I've been saying for weeks (elsewhere, if not here), I'm in the middle of a personal "Potter-thon", rereading the first five books and finally starting the last two. Accordingly, I'd like to have another special day for all of J.K. Rowling's settings within the wizarding world. How does late January or early February sound to everyone? I'd like to do it before Lent begins--because Lent will be for J.R.R. Tolkien.

In the meantime, to mark the "Potter-thon" landmark that is the first novel, I offer a setting from Rowling's wizarding world to whet everyone's appetite . . .

16 December 2010


Norman Rockwell Painting Smackdown, Final Winner
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2, the Interlude, Round 3A, Round 3B, and Round 4)
UPDATE: I think the Borrowers who live under my floorboards needed the camera cord, so the video is a hopeless case. But I've edited the post to announce the winner, anyway!

Forgotten Facts about George Washington = 3 Votes
The Runaway = 4 Votes
The Jury Room = 2 Votes

Remember the reader who requested, way back during the Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie Smackdown, that I do a tournament bracket that didn't have an obvious winner? Well, I really wish he hadn't disappeared since then, because I think I've finally achieved it with this bracket's Final Winner. I made three drafts for this post because I really had no idea which of the finalists (and that includes the wild card) would emerge victorious.

Anyway, what I wanted to say about The Runaway is that sometime between its first appearance and its entrance into the finals, it started reminding me of another, very different work of art from an artist in a totally different tradition.

15 December 2010


Look! It's Book-Related Content!

Because every "book blog" needs some--and I've been neglecting that obligation lately.

The following is mixed media, though . . . but that's really how I like it. When we're in it for good stories and strong themes, how can we separate the reading of books and the viewing of films? I wish I could throw in a few radio plays into my posts now and then--or something else hearkening to an older oral tradition--because they count, too.

I also wish I were the type of person who could make a Top 5 List out of the following topic . . . but I top off at a Three-legged list. (For now???)

3 Zombie Variants
in Books and Film

14 December 2010


The Holiday Tag

How about some seasonal filler? The lovely Jillian of Random Ramblings has tagged me for an original Holiday Meme, and I'm happy to answer her questions . . . if only because I have an ulterior motive I'll reveal at the end of this. ;-)

1. When do you usually know and feel that it's finally the holidays?

I know that a new year of holidays have begun when I start lighting up the candles on the Advent wreath . . . and when I start baking my special Christmas cookies.

2. What do you want for Christmas this year?

Bookshelves built right into my walls, if you please.

12 December 2010


Punk Catholic Thought of the Week XVIII

Behold the Popemobile!

Did you know that no matter how much research you do before you buy a car, you'll read more about your brand and model after you've bought it? This has something to do with convincing yourself that, yes, you bought the right car, after all. Ever since car marketers discovered this, they've spent millions of dollars each year just to make people feel good about their cars.

Now let's talk about similar marketing that goes on to make Catholics feel good about the Catholic Church.

11 December 2010


Locus Focus: Take Thirty-One!

A good setting is more than just a backdrop!
Join us every Saturday as we write about our favourite settings
and the books that make them come alive!

In case you haven't already noticed the change in the sidebar, Wild Card Month is going to get a little wilder. Join our reprise of Narnia Day on 25 December. (I'll be doing it properly this time, with invitations!) And if you like planning ahead, note that 8 January is for our "Worlds of Tomorrow" challenge. We'll be looking at time settings then: how writers through the years have imagined the future.

But now let's get back to the present . . . via the very recent past.

When I ended last week's Locus Focus post (See Take Thirty) with a reflection that one cannot expect to see the mind of man reflected in a cityscape, I knew that was someone who would disagree entirely. And so, within an hour of finishing my draft, I rescued my copy of her most lauded novel from ignominious storage and started skimming through it again for a setting that would let me fit this week's locus into the jigsaw puzzle piece of last week's post . . . because I like connections and continuity like that.

09 December 2010


Norman Rockwell Painting Smackdown, Round 4
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2, the Interlude, Round 3A, and Round 3B)

Last week's lesson is that Jackson Pollock just isn't palatable, even in parodies: The Connoisseur put up a brave battle against The Tattoo Artist, but was beaten in the end. But you don't want to hear about that now that The Moment of Truth is upon us.

Remember that after you cast your final vote in our smackdown, your last chance to earn points for the "100+ Followers, 10+ Friends" Giveaway will be to link up a Locus Focus post this weekend.

Forgotten Facts about George Washington
The Runaway

I guess it really is Wild Card Month--and not just for Locus Focus. Our smackdown finalists are both wild card picks: one which would have made it into the original "No Swimming" Sixteen, had I not been so scrupulous about those boy scouts, and another which made it in entirely on its own merits. But there can only be one . . .

Right now you're probably thinking that I'm going to let this round be nice and straightforward for you. ROFLMAO!!! Not likely, when my own favourite Norman Rockwell EVER hasn't been featured yet.

08 December 2010


And What You've All Been Waiting For . . .

letter WAstor Place Ampersand (New York, NY)typewriter key letter Q
Block Number 7

Please link up your December poems. And please be kind to mine! It barely made it out alive.

Remember that if you're hoping to gain extra entries in the "100+ Followers, 10+ Friends" Giveaway, you have until 15 December to link up! Everyone else may relax for an extra week.

There were three people who e-mailed me back after getting their prompts; so happy were they at their luck this time around. I wish I could say I felt similar elation, but . . .

Someone else pointed out that choosing the prompts is actually harder than writing the poem. Having had one player struggle with one of my questions and another wrestle with one of my words, I totally understand. May the people who provided the following forgive me:

05 December 2010


Punk Catholic Thought of the Week XVII

One thing I like to remind my readers every month or so is that blogging is the publishing of one's "pantsing" and thus is always open to revisions. Often, what is perceived to be flaky backtracking is actually a firm step forward in a learning process that would not have been possible if the original opinion hadn't been published. (Think: Catch-22--but a friendlier version.) In my own case, I insist that I never know what I'm saying until after I have said it--and true to form, I didn't know what I meant by the term "Punk Catholic", which I've been using for almost a year, until last night.

That is why I really am backtracking on a statement I made (somewhere) that I'd never do another "Punk Catholic Thought" post again. =P I meant it when I said it because I wanted the people who come here for only the explicitly Catholic stuff to give up and go away. And I take it back now, partly because I think they finally have and partly because this is a post I really, really want to write.

04 December 2010


Locus Focus: Take Thirty!

Let Wild Card Month Begin!

No need to check the date on your desktop. I know how late I am this week. (So late that it's now next week.) All I'm going to tell you is that offline life--which is, of course, real life--has been crazy of late; and so my blogging had to take a hit.

This month is probably going to be more erratic than usual, but that won't keep me from looking ahead to January. Which is kind of appropriate because I want to do "futuristic" settings then. You know: any setting which existed in a time that was still in the future when the text was written. So Oceania of George Orwell's Nineteen-Eighty Four is perfectly acceptable, although 1984 is, for everyone reading this, now in the past.

Of course, I know I won't be the only one doing this, so feel free to weigh in with other seasonally appropriate suggestions in the combox. Note that while I love my readers' suggestions, I'll likely give more weight to the votes of those who also participate in Locus Focus. =)

03 December 2010


Twelve Things about The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader"

12. Why can't all adaptations be like this? The film is hardly flawless, but it has great respect for both the source material and the characters. Yes, the filmmakers have "changed" a lot of things--but I'd say they had to, for the sake of making a good movie. Unlike today's MG/YA Fantasy writers, C.S. Lewis never teased himself with the thought that his books might be made into blockbusters someday and that the action scenes should be written accordingly.

11. One change which I think really improved the story was the combining of Deathwater Island and Dragon Island. (You've read Locus Focus: Take Twenty-Nine already, haven't you? Just my shameless plug for the week . . .)

10. I've also always been a big fan of the way the characters, particularly the Pevensies, are developed in each movie. I've become especially fond of Susan--who has a surprising lot of screen time in this one--and can't wait to see what becomes of her in the next four movies.

9. You know who my favourite character is in this movie?

02 December 2010


Norman Rockwell Painting Smackdown, Round 3B
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2, the Interlude, and Round 3A)

Last week's Turkey Day face-off ended with victory for the live gobbler as the ironically named Cousin Reginald Catches the Turkey beat Couple Uncrating Turkey by a single vote!

We have also have a definite winner for our first finalist: as both Daniel Boone and the Underwood Portable before it, Freedom from Want didn't stand a chance against Forgotten Facts about George Washington.

Now let's have this week's mini face-off:

The Connoisseur vs. The Tattoo Artist

Here we have Rockwell the illustrator playing around with the idea of "art." I've said elsewhere that his pitch-perfect parody of a Jackson Pollock might have been what earned him the ire of art snobs everywhere. On the other hand, one hopes the "inked" community appreciates his light satire of the permanency of their own chosen medium.

And now what you've all been waiting for--the contender which will take on the ridiculously victorious General George Washington in the final round . . .

Round 3B:
The "Freedom from Want" Four

01 December 2010


It's Advent! Let's Play . . .

letter WDSCN5686Q
number 7
Wondering what this is all about?
Read the main page!

My family has been kind of distracted these days and I haven't been able to post as much as I usually do, but I haven't forgotten our December W&Q game. =)

First of all, if you joined the November game and haven't made the rounds yet, please go through the combox of W&Q 6 to see which poems you've missed. Remember that this game has three stages of fun: making the prompts, writing the poem, and reading the comments!

If, however, you are new to the game, this is what you need to know: