Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book v. Movie: Auntie Mame

I'm not sure when or where I came across this novel but, since I had seen the movie once and liked it and this book had a fabulous cover, I decided to pick up Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. It was published in 1955 and was on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years (112 weeks!). Though steeped in the superficial--clothes, homes, engagements--the story takes some surprisingly deep turns and I thought it was a fun read even though Mame was extremely exasperating at times.

The narrator is also named Patrick Dennis, writing as an adult who is looking back over his exceptional life with his Auntie Mame. After he is orphaned at the age of ten, he moves from Chicago to New York City to live with his father's sister. From the moment he steps out of the elevator at her floor, he is swept up into a world of high society, low inhibitions and many ups and downs. Mame is a free-thinker who falls head-over-heels for the young man that comes into her life. She always wants what's best for Patrick but maybe doesn't know exactly how to get it. Whether it's enrolling him in a nudist elementary school or pretending to be someone she is not to please his future in-laws, Mame always means well but her outrageous personality often gets in the way. The story takes Patrick from the age of ten until he has a seven year old son of his own.

The main difference between the book and the movie is Mame. In the novel, she truly loves Dennis but in a very matter-of-fact way. She speaks to him as she would to an adult and she expects him to catch up. She's not always kind but what she does almost always turns out to be in his best interests. In the film, Mame is much more emotional and sentimental. I would have loved to see Rosalind Russell be a bit less weepy and a bit more saucy. Also, the novel is quite a bit racier -- be it with Mame's marriage to a younger Southern gentleman (who was already engaged at the time he met her), her involvement with a young lecherous Irish poet or her ill-advised relationship with one of Dennis' college friends. Some of these situations aren't even mentioned in the film and the others have the teeth taken from them. The man she marries in the film actually appears to be older than she is, which makes the relationship not very interesting at all.

The novel also takes on the racism and sexism of the early- to mid-twentieth century in a very honest way. There is an exchange between Mame and Dennis' future father-in-law regarding Jewish people (at the start of WWII but pre-American-involvement) that is presented in about two lines of the film but takes pages of the book. Mame is absolutely amazing in this scene and it's one of the moments where her intelligence and depth are revealed. The film takes away many of those moments and makes them mushy with a bit of slapstick and a smile.

Verdict: Both are fun but I would recommend the book over the movie. It's got more substance and is a forgotten gem. And I would definitely recommend watching the film first because, if you watch it second like I did, you are bound to see its shortcomings.

Taking it in stride,

Support our site and buy Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade (the book) and Auntie Mame (the film) on Amazon or find them at your local library. We bought our own copy of the book.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Moment to Breathe

photo by k
Apologies for being light on the posts lately but I've been sick for almost a month now (some icky lung thing that keeps me constantly tired and coughing), had a death in the family and had a ton of things to do that go along with the end of the school year. I have a small stack of books here that are waiting to be reviewed and I'll try to catch up in the coming week. In the meantime, please enjoy this butterfly that hatched in our habitat last week.

photo by k
Eyeing the wagon that I need to get back on,

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Once Upon a Time V Wrap-Up Post

I'm so happy to have finally joined in on the Once Upon a Time Challenge this year! It was nice to explore myth and magic this spring, especially since the sun decided not to ever come out in Seattle and so I've had to escape through reading.

I started in April with a re-read of Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones for Tif's Tales to Tomes reading group. I was just as heartbroken by the heavy topics this time through but fell in love with the book all over again. (mythology)

I then read the middle-grade new release Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis. This was a fun tale of magic but I thought it relied too much on copying its magical and Regency influences rather than forging its own path. (magic)

I then went with the amusing and charming The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde. The sequel is already in the works and I can't wait to find out what happens next for young Jennifer Strange! (magic)

Next was The Emerald Atlas by John Stevens which I couldn't get enough of. It was the perfect blend of adventure and mystery. (magic)

Then I read Clockwork Angel, the first in the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. This was also for Tales to Tomes and it was kind of awesome. (magic)

My last "youth" read for the challenge was The Witch's Boy by Michael Gruber. This one took fairy tales in a fascinating direction and also took me by surprise with how good it turned out to be. (fairy tales)

Next, I picked up a very adult read -- American Gods by Neil Gaiman. This was an amazing and intense book that won't be for everyone. (mythology)

Finally, I found time for another Diana Wynne Jones re-read -- House of Many Ways. Though this is billed as a sequel to Howl's Moving Castle, it can definitely be read as a stand-alone book. It's one of her most perfect stories and I adore it. (magic)

And, because it was part of the quest I signed up for (5 books and a play), I finished this journey with a joint reading and watching of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. I prefer Shakespeare when it is spoken aloud and, as I didn't have much time to myself to recite it, I simply read along with a bizarre version of the play from 1968, starring Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Ian Holm, Diana Rigg and others. The acting was quite good but the makeup, costumes and special effects were rather bad and it was somewhat startling to see Judi Dench's breasts on nearly-full display. I think I prefer when this play is performed in a more whimsical and sweet manner rather than the dark and hate-filled way it was done in this version.

And that is the summary of my challenge overachievement! I can't wait to participate again next year.

With a little magic,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Shadow had done three years in prison."

June 19th is the tenth anniversary of the release of Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Not many novels have their anniversaries celebrated and so I couldn't resist reading it right now (not to mention the number of times that it's been recommended to me by many of you readers when I show it on my TBR list). Now that I've finished, I can definitely understand the celebration of this novel as an essential piece of the American literary canon.

Shadow is a convict, getting ready to finish his sentence and head home to his beautiful wife. He ends up being released early though due to his wife's accidental death, and on his way home he is approached by a mysterious older gentleman who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. Soon after, Shadow is working for Wednesday and moving back and forth across America, meeting other strange characters and discovering that the new world may have more ties to the old than he ever could have believed.

There were parts of this story that were difficult to read because of their graphic nature (violent and sexual). There were other parts that were uplifting and beautiful. The characters (including many gods, as you can guess by the title) were fascinating and diverse. I couldn't put this one down and I was constantly amazed by the way that Gaiman pieced together so many myths and histories in a subtle and seamless way. When I started the book, I wasn't even sure I would like it but, by the end, I was convinced that it is the kind of novel that changes you as you read it. It won't change your beliefs but rather will cause you to question if you should believe or not. I plan to brush up on world mythologies and then to read the anniversary edition of this novel which is longer and is Gaiman's "preferred edition". There will be a live webchat with Neil Gaiman about the novel on June 21st (I don't see a time listed yet but will update if I find one), the day the anniversary edition is released.

This is another of my reads for the Once Upon a Time V Challenge.

Saying a little prayer, just in case,

Support our site and buy American Gods: The Tenth Anniversary Edition: A Novel on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy of this novel.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Books for Dad

If you're like me, Father's Day is sneaking up on you and you still don't know what you're getting for the fathers in your life. Here are a couple of books that came through our house recently that I would definitely consider.

Atlantic by Simon Winchester has one of the longest subtitles I've seen--Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories--and yet it still seems inadequate for a book that has such an incredible amount of history packed in. I'm about half-way through this book and anticipate it taking quite a while longer to finish only because I can't read more than a few pages in one sitting before I am overwhelmed with the amount of information that has been presented. There is so much that I want to remember, so much to ponder that I want to savor it rather than rush through and miss things. I started this book right after seeing (and accidentally stepping in) the Atlantic Ocean for the first time and so this book also just means something a bit special to me now.

This is my second read by Winchester and I'm impressed again by the combination of in-depth research and an easy, conversational tone. Any father that loves stories of the sea will be fascinated by this book. And, I'm sure it's obvious that this book isn't just for dads. This might even be an appropriate grad gift for someone in marine biology, anthropology or history.

The book I'm most likely to send to the younger dads in my life is The Geek Dad's Guide to Weekend Fun by Ken Denmead. Also with an impressive subtitle (Cool Hacks, Cutting-Edge Games, and More Awesome Projects for the Whole Family), this book's strength comes from its wide variety of projects and clear instructions. Some of the activities are even done with things that a good geek dad should already have around the house like massive amounts of spare Lego. The dad in my house is eyeing the Backyard Zip Line project (although the idea makes me rather nervous!).

There's a cute animated trailer for the book that happily features both a daughter and a son spending an entire day with their dad, making all sorts of fun projects. So, this could be a gift for you as well when you get a free day while dad is busy building a trebuchet with the kids. With over two dozen projects there's also something for just about every age group so that even the littlest ones can have fun making homemade rootbeer or playing Pokemon bingo.

And finally there's The Greatest Music Stories Never Told: 100 Tales From Music History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy by Rick Beyer. This is the next in a series of books that are published in conjunction with the History Channel. The other books focus on General History, War, Presidents and Science and you can look at them here.

Though labeled as music stories, this is more of a general history book that is packed full of trivia that just happens to relate to music. I learned that Benjamin Franklin gave guitar lessons and about the origin of the Billboard music charts. There's also a companion webpage where you can play videos and sound samples that pair with the stories. The only thing that I would warn is that the cover of the book is a bit misleading as it lists names that seem like modern songs but are, in fact, the titles that are applied to historical events in a bit of a punny way. New York State of Mind is not about Billy Joel but rather the story behind the Sinatra hit New York, New York. Still, this book has a lot to offer including a wealth of historical photos and tidbits.

Hoping not to forget to buy gifts in time,

Support our site and buy Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million StoriesThe Geek Dad's Guide to Weekend Fun: Cool Hacks, Cutting-Edge Games, and More Awesome Projects for the Whole Family and The Greatest Stories Never Told: 100 Tales from History to Astonish, Bewilder, and Stupefy on Amazon or find them at your local library. We received uncorrected proofs of these books for review.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Heaven for Readers of Classics

I have just seen heaven and it looks like this --

The British Library has just released an app for the iPad called British Library 19th Century Historical Collection App. What makes this different than any of the other collections of public domain fiction out there? Simply the fact that these are not digital files. They are scanned copies of early printings and first editions of a wide range of 18th and 19th century books.

I've just been perusing a collection of stories by Mrs. Henry Wood (Ellen Wood to those in the know) and looking at the title page of a 1882 printing of Frankenstein. There are easily 30+ novels in here that I would love to read. And there are also books on History, Poetry, Geography -- okay, I need to breathe! The only thing missing right now that I would love is Natural History. But I assume that it will appear as they add titles. They've launched with a decent number of titles but plan to increase it to 60,000 volumes by the end of the summer. The Beeb is impressed and so am I.

The current version is free but they will charge some undisclosed amount for an upgraded version later when there is more content. The app was created by Bibliolabs, LLC and it really is stellar. The pages are slightly yellowed, the covers are old and a bit faded and it is a book lover's heaven.

Can't blog, must read,

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Release: Nerd Do Well

I will admit that when I saw this book was going to be featured on a TLC Tour, I contacted them immediately and begged to be included. I am a pretty big fan of the author's films and the television show, Spaced, that he created. And though I rarely read memoirs, this was one that I was really curious about. So, as you can imagine, my expectations were quite high for this book and thankfully it didn't disappoint. It definitely bodes well for a comedian/actor's memoir if they can make you laugh on the first page of the book. And laugh I did, half-way down the first page of Simon Pegg's Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy's Journey To Becoming a Big Kid.

You hopefully know Simon Pegg from his films Shaun of the Dead (a zombie comedy), Hot Fuzz (a small-town murder comedy) and Paul (an alien-visitation comedy) -- or at least his role as Montgomery Scott in the recent Star Trek reboot where he affects the cutest Scottish accent. If you aren't familiar with any of these, please go watch the trailer for my current favorite (which he co-wrote), Hot Fuzz with Simon as Officer Nicholas Angel, a London police officer sent away to a model village when he was too diligent. Of course, things are not going to remain calm for long when Angel's diligence uncovers the dark side of the seemingly happy town.

So now you probably have the gist of Simon's sense of humor. It's the backbone of the novel and his voice comes through quite clearly in his writing. The book is a combination of two parts -- the expected memoir of Simon's youth, education and early career interspersed with the story of a handsome super spy named, well, Simon Pegg. These chapters were absolutely hilarious to me but if you don't have the sense of humor of a fifteen-year-old fanboy (or the ability to enjoy that sort of humor), they might not really amuse you. The rest of the book is full of reminiscences of first films seen, childhood theater roles and musings on Star Wars among other things. It was fascinating to read about how Simon turned his youthful obsessions into a dream adulthood.

While the timeline skipped about a bit and sometimes took a little bit of work to follow, the content of this book was fun and I had a great time reading it. I'm sure it didn't hurt that Pegg is only five years older than I am so I was able to relate to some of his childhood experiences of the early 80s. My husband is excited to read it next and I think he'll relate to it even more than I did. Here's the book trailer (which is also rather funny) --

In a little nerd heaven,

This memoir is currently on a TLC Book Tour. You can read another review at


Other reviews will be posted throughout the month at the tour site.

Support our site and buy Nerd Do Well: A Small Boy’s Journey to Becoming a Big Kid on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received an uncorrected proof for review.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Once upon a time, in a faraway country, there was a woman who lived by herself in the middle of a great forest."

The Witch's Boy by Michael Gruber is in a rare set of books for me -- ones that I buy having heard absolutely nothing about them before hand. I happened upon it during an online search and it just caught my eye and was at a very reasonable price. But then, because I didn't know if it would be good or really even what it was about, it languished on my shelves for the last couple of years. Thankfully, the Once Upon a Time challenge seemed to be a good time to get to it and, in fact, it turned out to be a perfect read for the event.

The titular boy is named Lump and he is left as an infant on the doorstep of a witch with a note that reads "The devil's child for the devil's wife". He's ugly and hairy with a piggy nose, stumpy teeth and droopy ears. But the witch suddenly sprouts maternal feelings and decides to raise the boy. She employs a local bear to act as a nursemaid and nanny and has her captive afreet create a nursery for Lump. However, having not spent much time around regular people, she doesn't realize that there is more to raising a child than just providing material needs. And so Lump grows up to be an impetuous and surly child who doesn't appreciate the gravity of many of the rules that his mother has set for him. The result is a rough life for all who cross his path.

This story weaves alternate versions of many famous fairy tales into the narrative, including Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and others. It's a very engaging story and the witch is quite an amazing woman. Lump is an awful brat and yet you can't help but feel for him, growing up in such unusual circumstances with a face that only a witch mother could love. I really enjoyed this story and am glad to have taken a chance on it.

Seeing the magic in everything,

Support our site and buy The Witch's Boy on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.