Monday, March 20, 2017

In the Works

photograph by me

Happy Belated Saint Patrick's Day, all my fine blog readers! I went out more this year for St. Patrick's Day than I think I ever have before and I am now in a very Irish/Celtic mood. I have brought out all my Irish/Celtic/Scottish music from my obsessed teenage years. (It's not like I ever abandoned it though. Not really. It is a predecessor of the folky-rock-ish sound that is my favorite for music, after all.) Can I just say, Hanna has some of the best music suggestions?

Anyhow, I have been working on plans for future blog posts. I have one in the works about my current Work-In-Progress and then I am looking at my to-read list for books to review here. But I have another much more informal post I would like to do. I would like you to know me better. I am very socially awkward. (Imagine me holding a friend's baby while rambling on about decapitation and being extremely thankful the babe's mother was not there to witness my floundering. I'm also very thankful that the baby had no understanding of what I was going on about and was too young to ask me what it meant. *ahem*) I also have a hard time letting people outside of my immediate family know much about me and what I like. They know I write and I love books, but I never go into details. It's one of my big goals for 2017— to let people get to really know me as I actually am and to get to know other people better instead of shying away from social settings and interactions. So, ask away! Ask me anything you would like to know about me, books, film, music, art, travel, that gluten-free life, or anything else you can think of to ask me and leave the question in the comments of this post! I will make a hopefully long and chatty reply blog post in the next two weeks.

My questions for you: What did you do this Saint Patrick's Day? And what are your favorite Irish songs/singers?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

2016 In Review: The Films

Better late than never seems to be my blogging style these days. Approaching on two months since my favorite books of 2016 post went up, the film half is finally making its appearance.

At the beginning of 2016, I made the decision to make a list of every movie I watched that year so I could keep better track of the ones I saw and look back. It is somewhat incomplete, because I know I forgot to write down some, but most of them are recorded and I hope to keep better track this year.

Anyhow, here is a list of my top 10 films watched in 2016. Please note, that, after much debate, I have decided to only count films I saw for the first time. I’m going to talk about re-watched films at the very end because Singing In the Rain.

The Gunfighter (1950). Gunfighter Jimmy Ringo kills a young man in self defense and leaves town, traveling to another town where he hopes to be reunited with his family before the young man’s three brothers catch up seeking revenge. Starring Gregory Peck and featuring a stellar supporting cast, this western moves along quickly and packs an emotional punch.

Little Annie Rooney (1925). In a way 2016 was the year of silent movies for me and this one came out as one of my favorites. Mary Pickford is luminous and adorable. And this film contains what might be one of the most heartbreaking scenes I have ever watched. Watch it.

Casablanca (1942). I finally got around to watching this classic and why it took me so long I will never know. Claude Raines, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Heinreid, S.K. Sakall, and other familiar members of the Warner Brothers studio lot comprise a cast that made this the classic it is. And did I mention Claude Rains? His performance in this is superb.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). This intense drama based on the Nazis war crime trials that took place after the war packs a mean punch, only this film narrows down the focus onto German judges who were put on trial for their actions during the Nazi regime. An outstanding cast led by Spencer Tracy includes Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell, and Richard Widmark who are more than ably supported by Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift, and Judy Garland.

The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935). Set on the Erie Canal as the railroads were beginning to flourish, a riverboat cook, born and raised on the river, falls in love with a farmer determined to find himself a farm to live out his dreams. Starring Janet Gaynor and Henry Fonda, this film took me by surprise and ended up delighting me.

No Highway in the Sky (1951). Scientist Theodore Honey has a theory about why a new airplane has been crashing and while en route to investigate the crash site, he finds himself on one of the planes he believes to be defective. With a cast that boasts Jimmy Stewart with Glynis Johns and Marlene Dietrich supporting, how can you go wrong? A thoroughly engrossing film.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Another classic I finally got around to watching, I had previously seen the musical remake In the Good Old Summertime starring Judy Garland. Two shop clerks get off on the wrong foot and dislike each other intensely, while falling in love with each through an anonymous correspondence. Starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan.

The Kiss of Death (1947). A film noir directed by Henry Hathaway, the plot follows ex-con Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) as he assists in helping the assistant DA collect evidence against his psychopathic former prison mate (Richard Widmark). Cast also includes Karl Malden in a bit role, Coleen Gray, and Brian Donlevy.

Desk Set (1957). Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn star in this romantic comedy where an efficiency expert finds his match in a researcher at a broadcasting company's reference library. I’ve been told Katharine Hepburn’s character’s job in this movie is what I should have been if I had lived in the 50s. I love looking up random facts and I usually remember them.

And tied for tenth place, I’m going to go with The General (1927) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) two silent comedies starring Buster Keaton. Keaton is another silent film discovery I made in 2016. His serious take on slapstick comedy is film gold.

And now it’s time for honorable mentions. (You didn’t think you would get by without them, did you?)

First, I will go with two films that were re-watches for me but secured much higher rankings in my list of favorite films the second time around: The Great Escape (1963) and Singing In the Rain (1953).

I honestly lost count of how many times I watched The Great Escape in 2016. I first watched the recorded off TV copy that is my family’s and was horrified and aghast to discover the screen had been cropped from its glorious widescreen into a pan and scan. *ahem* I will refrain from ranting on the atrocity that is cropping widescreen films. Anyhow, it was shown on TCM in all its widescreen glory a couple of days later and all was made right. The Great Escape stars an all-star cast in a WWII POW escape story based on actual events.

I first saw Singing In the Rain maybe seven(?) years ago but was not a massive fan. I honestly did not understand why it was such a classic. My younger sister and I decided to re-watch it one night and fell head over heels for it. It is a classic for a reason. It is such an exuberant film! The main cast includes Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor all at their finest. I highly recommend it.

Three more honorable mentions that I greatly enjoyed were: It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), The Four Feathers (1939), and Journey For Margaret (1942).

What were your favorite films watched in 2016? And what have been some standouts so far this year?

All photographs via Pinterest.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pinterest Storyboard Party: 2017 Edition

Elisabeth Grace Foley is hosting a second edition of her Pinterest Storyboard Party and I am more than a little bit excited to show off some of my storyboards! The party's intention is to let writers showcase their Pinterest storyboards for finished works, works-in-progress, and stories still being mulled over.

This western story is a rehashing of my first completed novel. The story has been stripped back to its bare bones and refocused to what would have been backstory in the original first draft. I am very excited about its prospects!

This story set in Nazi occupied Holland is still in the researching and plotting stage, but I already have a clear idea of the characters and the atmosphere. I just need to get my hands on some more detailed information about Holland and everyday life in Holland during WWII and the post-war period. Anyone have suggestions?

Spanning from the turn of the century to the 1920s, this is another story that is currently undergoing plotting and research. I am excited with the idea of this one, but I am a little afraid I might be biting off more than I can chew.

What are some of your favorite Pinterest storyboards? And do visit Elisabeth's post and join in the writerly fun!

P.S. I promise, promise, promise that the film half of my 2016 In Review post is coming. I promise.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2016 In Review: The Books

photograph by me

2017. A new year, a new me. And insert all those cliched sayings that capture how most of us feel at the start of a new year. I have many goals I would like to fulfill in 2017, but first I want to recap 2016.


Reading wise, 2016 was a little of a disappointment for me. I did not reach my Goodreads reading goal in 2016 or surpass my previous reading record. I only made it to 25 books. However, I did discover new authors and was blown away yet again by old favorites.

If I had to make a list of top five reads it would probably be:

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. This is a book every bibliophile needs to read. It is like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society but actually a true story. Enough said. Go forth and read it. Goodreads review.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope. My introduction to Anthony Trollope and the first book in his Chronicles of Barsetshire series, the plot of the book failed to completely engross me but I have fallen in love with his authorial voice and satire. I cannot wait to read the next book in the series Barchester Towers. Goodreads review.

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney. Unflinching and vivid are two words that describe this translation of the famous Anglo-Saxon epic poem. You can read further gushing here.

Resist by Emily Ann Putzke. High expectations were fulfilled when I read this piece of historical fiction based on a true story. Hans and Sophie Scholl and the rest of the White Rose came to vivid life. I have a more complete review here.

Sundown Slim by Henry Herbert Knibbs. There was something different about this story in comparison to other westerns I have read (admittedly, I have not read many). The relatively soft-spoken hero thrust into a cattle rancher vs. sheep herder conflict made for a memorable read.

Okay, scratch five, we are going to make it a tied for sixth with an honorable mention.

Pendragon’s Heir by Suzannah Rowntree. An epic, time traveling retelling of the legend of King Arthur and Camelot, this full length novel by Rowntree built upon all the things I love about her fairytale novellas. I cannot wait for her Crusader epic Outremer. Yes, I realize I probably have a long wait.

Storming by K.M. Weiland. This book was pure fun. I fell in love with the characters, and while I will admit it has its faults, it has become one of the few books I actually fangirl over with family members who have read it.

And honorable mention actually goes to Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. The notorious prequel/sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, this was a different read for me because of its controversy. I read TKaM during a summer vacation to California in 2014 and it was my favorite read of that year. To Kill a Mockingbird is a well deserved classic and I loved it to proverbial bits. While, Go Set A Watchman does not quite match up to its predecessor in quality and suffers from a little bit of choppiness, it still has its author’s distinct voice (and also remember, it is the untouched first draft). Nonetheless, I thought Go Set a Watchman provided food for thought and let Scout grow up. I am glad I read it and as I write this, I become more and more convinced I need to reread both books.

And three more honorable mentions because I cannot write a post about the books I read in 2016 without them: The Bells of Paradise by Suzannah Rowntree, The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron, and The Legend of Sam Miracle (Book 1 in the Outlaws of Time series) by N.D. Wilson.

Okay, I am going to end this now.

P.S. Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon.

Alright, I am actually finished this time. This post was originally going to include a list of my top favorite films watched in 2016, but because of how lengthy both sections became I divided it into two posts. So be on the lookout for that film post sometime next week.

Now, what were your favorite reads last year?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Book Review: Once

available via Amazon

Fairytale retellings have quickly become a favorite of mine. For many of these stories it’s my first exposure to the fairytale, but I love them and the themes that always seem to be intricately woven into their very structure. When I learned my favorite indie authors were collaborating to release a collection of retellings together, I was ecstatic. And then I was given the opportunity to read them in exchange for a review. Cue happy dance.

The Mountain of the Wolf by Elisabeth Grace Foley starts out the collection of stories and ended up probably being my favorite of the six retellings. It is an atmospheric western retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that showcases my favorite aspects of Foley’s writing— a character driven plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying ending.

The second story She But Sleepeth by Rachel Heffington I found less to my liking. While the Romanian setting and its historical background intrigued me, the story just did not click for me personally. Something that should not in the least reflect on Miss Heffington. Her writing is something to savor and I have loved everything else I have read of hers.

Rumpled by J. Grace Pennington was unusual for me. I rarely ever venture into the world of steampunk, but I enjoyed this foray into the genre and it confirmed my desire to read more of Miss Pennington’s work.

I knew going into Emily Ann Putzke’s Sweet Remembrance it was going to hurt and it did. Set in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, she retells the story of the Little Match Girl with heartbreaking vividness and reality. You can feel the cold seeping under your skin and you can feel her character’s pain. It is a tearjerker.

Suzannah Rowntree can weave a story like no one else. She has a way with words that is stunning to behold and this vibrant fast paced mystery set in Jazz era New Zealand does not disappoint. Death Be Not Proud kept me glued to the page from start to finish.

I did not know what to expect going into Hayden Wand’s With Blossoms Gold but was delighted by its sweet story and what I found to be a somewhat different take on the tale of Rapunzel.

I have to hand it to these ladies. They are excellent at their craft and masters of description. Each story came to life in its own unique way that made it memorable. I would highly recommend this collection to lovers of fairytales and historical fiction, or anyone who loves a good story.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Beowulf & Our Creative Voice

photograph by me

Then down the brave man lay with his bolster
under his head and his whole company
of sea-rovers at rest beside him.
None of them expected he would ever see
his homeland again or get back
to his native place and the people who reared him.
They knew too well the way it was before,
how often the Danes had fallen prey
to death in the mead-hall. But the Lord was weaving
a victory on his war-loom for the Weather-Geats.
Through the strength of one they all prevailed;
they would crush their enemy and come through
in triumph and gladness. The truth is clear:
Almighty God rules over mankind
and always has.
— Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

This passage captures everything I loved about Beowulf: the straightforward turn of phrase, the courage and steadfastness in the face of opposition and peril, and the always present acknowledgement of God's rule over earth and men. Beowulf is unflinching and vivid. It is an epic in the true sense of the word. I am now accepting any and all recommendations for other Medieval/Anglo-Saxon epics. (Seriously, if you have any recommendations please, please leave them in the comments.)

Fan girlish flailing aside however, I did actually struggle reading Beowulf at times. More often than not, I had to sit alone in a silent corner of the house in order to concentrate. This was not the poem's fault. I have never read long poems. I have never read much poetry. Period. Something I fully intend to rectify. I have decided to try putting my senior year of high school resolution of reading some type of poetry at least once a week back into practice. I also want to study poetry. I am sadly ignorant when it comes to poets and poetry. (Which brings us back to the part where I am accepting recommendations for poetry books and books on poets and poetry in the comments. Thank you. *passes out chocolate*)

In other reading, I have slowly started making my way through Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon, relishing each creative golden nugget and pondering over them. Probably the one that I have been pondering over the most is what he has to say about your creative voice.

... the only way to find your voice is to use it. It's hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.
— Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

I was reading back over posts on other blogs I had missed in the crazy shuffle of juggling that is my life right now and I ran across one by Schuyler over at My Lady Bibliophile. In her post, she talks about story elements she sees in her own writing and how they connect to beliefs she has and the stories she enjoys reading and watching in film. This has started me thinking a good deal about the elements I most often include in my own stories and the elements I have noticed in my favorite books and films. It provides fascinating food for thought and is something I would like to dig deeper into in the future.

Have any of you read Beowulf? How do you like poetry? Do you have any particular favorite poets and/or poems? And what are your thoughts on how some of our favorite elements in stories affect our creative voices?