Monday, March 24, 2008

Contest on Plotmonkeys

Author Julie Leto's new novel, Phantom Pleasures, is soon to be released.   To celebrate, she's hosting a contest on Plot Monkeys.  ( )  For the next seven days, starting today, she will post an excerpt from her book.   You are invited to stop by, read, and leave a comment.   She will choose one person from the list of comments each day to receive a #20 Borders/Amazon gift card.   That's seven gift cards! (So glad that B.S. in Accounting hasn't gone to waste!)

I stopped by to read the first excerpt.   It's a mix of contemporary and historical with a heavy dose of paranormal and a good dose of heat.   This won't be for everyone, but I'm hooked.

Julie is a member of TARA, and she's a sharp and funny woman.   I'm looking forward to reading all of Phantom Pleasures myself.

Phantom Pleasures (Signet Eclipse)  

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Getting to know you....

I've been tagged by my fellow TARAn, Sarah Mäkelä. Here's how it works:

The rules of this meme are simple.

1. Link back to the person who tagged you.

2. Post the rules on your blog.

3. Share six unimportant things about yourself.

4. Tag six random people at the end of your blog entry.

5. Let the tagged people know by leaving a comment on their blogs.

Six unimportant things about me:

1. I own a ball python named Medusa.

2. I accompanied choir on the piano in high school.

3. I earned the nickname River Rat when I fell into the stream a few times at camp.

4. I've only been out of the country once -- a day trip to Nogales, Mexico.

5. When I was little, my friend Cindy and I used to climb tangerine trees and pretend we were stewardesses. Our favorite passengers were Davy Jones and David Cassidy.

6. I could recite the entire text of A Visit from St. Nicholas at age four.

I'm tagging:

J. Calton Watters

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Attend the Tale...

I just came back from seeing Sweeney Todd:  The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and my heart is still racing.   At the time I'm writing this, the movie has earned an 87% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and personally, I think that's a bit low.  Before seeing Sweeney, I suggest that you remember a few simple points.

First, Sweeney is a musical.  A very different musical, but a musical nonetheless.   There are some people in this world who can't stomach musicals. Having grown up with wonderful shows like The Sound of Music and Oklahoma, I don't understand this, but there it is.   If you can't abide musicals of any kind, you might want to pass on Sweeney Todd.

Second, Sweeney is not The Sound of Music or Oklahoma.   Julie Andrews will not sing about her favorite things. Shirley Jones will not vocalize about love.   This musical is about the depravity of man, the loss of hope, insanity, murder and mayhem.   It is very dark, intense and gory.   The film is bloody.   Think the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, make it realistic, and raise it by a factor of a hundred.   Lots of arterial action.  If you have a weak stomach, you may want to pass on Sweeney Todd.

Third, Sweeney is a movie.   If you saw the musical on Broadway or the film of the national tour, expect some differences.   Theater is more removed than film.   Theater is fantastical.   Although the movie did not significantly deviate from the script, the medium is much more realistic, more personal, far more intense.   Expect a different experience from the stage production.

The performances were outstanding.   Vocally, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter give respectable performances of Stephen Sondheim's music, but it was their acting that distinguished them.   Their performances are intense, manic, powerful.   The best musical performances were by Jayne Wisener (Johanna) and Ed Sanders (Toby).   Along with Jamie Campbell Bower (Anthony), these young actors light up the screen.   Alan Rickman was predictably wonderful as Judge Turpin.   Timothy Spall (Beadle Bamford) was good, but I kept wondering how Wormtail ended up in 19th century London.   Sacha Baron Cohen did a good job as Signor Pirelli.

My biggest disappointment was that the Ballad of Sweeney Todd was not sung.   The greatest improvement was the direction for the song By the Sea.   That song never worked for me in the stage production, but in the movie, it's very funny and effective.

I have seen several theatrical productions of Sweeney, and at one time, I owned the soundtrack.   Knowing what to expect did little to lessen the tension.   If you ride a rollercoaster several times, you may know when to expect the drops and loops -- but anticipation only heightens the excitement.   Sweeney is very bloody, very graphic, very, very dark and intense.   It is a total thrill ride.   It's poignant, frightening, funny, gross, and sad.  Director Tim Burton is a genius at telling dark, quirky, surreal tales -- and Sweeney is no exception.  I give Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street five sanguineous stars.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Book Challenges for 2008 -- Part Two

I've picked my books for the 888 Reading Challenge and In Their Shoes Reading Challenge. The overlapping titles are in color.

Books by TARAns
1. Scream for Me, Karen Rose
2. True Pretenses, Karen Lingefelt
3. Good Girls Don't, Kelley St. John
4. Phantom Pleasures, Julie Leto
5. Kill Me Twice, Roxanne St. Claire
6. Chasing Charlie, Kathy Carmichael
7. The Twisted Trail, L. W. Rogers
8. Atlantis Unleashed, Alyssa Day

Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies (In Their Shoes!)
1. Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, Terry W. Glaspey
2. Statesman and Saint: The Principled Politics of William Wilberforce, David J. Vaughan
3. Roman Lives, Plutarch
4. The Parish Papers, George MacDonald
5. Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose (Lewis & Clark)
6. Stephen King, On Writing
7. Travels with Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck
8. The Pirate Hunter – The True Story of Captain Kidd, Richard Zacks

Award Winners (eight different awards)
1. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (Pulitzer)
2. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card (Nebula Award)
3. Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card (Hugo Award)
4. Bootlegger's Daughter, Margaret Maron (Agatha)
5. Lisey's Story, Stephen King (Bram Stoker)
6. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (Richard and Judy Best Read Award)
7. The Devil to Pay (RITA)
8. Citizen Vince, Jess Walter (Edgar)

Fantasy/Science Fiction (including Romantic Fantasy)
1. Dark Celebration, Christine Feehan
2. The Hollow, Nora Roberts
3. Sizzle and Burn, Jayne Ann Krentz
4. Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
5. Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
6. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
7. A Clash of Kings, George R. R. Martin
8. A Storm of Swords, George. R. R. Martin

Religion/Philosophy/Christian Living
1. Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyon
2. Pilgrim's Regress, C. S. Lewis
3. Stepping Heavenward, Elizabeth Prentiss
4. Hind's Feet on High Places, Hannah Hurnard
5. The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
6. Pray with Your Eyes Open, Richard Pratt
7. Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, John Milton
8. The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis

1 Animal Farm, George Orwell
2. We, Yevgeny Zamyatin
3. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
4. 1984, George Orwell
5. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
6. The Giver, Lois Lowry
7. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
8. The Stand, Stephen King

Thrillers (Including Romantic Suspense)
1. The Last Goodbye, Reed Arvin
2. The Good Guy, Dean Koontz
3. Scream for Me, Karen Rose
4. Predatory Game, Christine Feehan
5. Shadow Dance, Julie Garwood
6. Have You Seen Her? Karen Rose
7. The Monk, Matthew Lewis
8. Shadow Music, Julie Garwood

Written before 1940
1. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (1939)
2. Paradise Lost (1667) and Paradise Regained (1671), John Milton
3. Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyon (1678)
4. Evelina, Frances Burney (1778)
5. The Monk, Matthew Lewis (1796)
6. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)
7. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
8. The Parish Papers, George MacDonald (1867-1872)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Book Challenges for 2008 -- Part I

My friend Kristi introduced me to book challenges.   I will participate in these two for 2008.

"In their shoes" Reading Challenge. Read memoirs, biographies or autobiographies.   You choose the number to read.   I plan to read eight.  I'm not sure yet which ones.

Triple 8 Challenge   Read eight books in eight categories of your choosing in 2008.   You may have eight overlaps, so a minimum of 56 books.

Here are my thoughts on categories so far:

  • Books by TARAns
  • Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies (In Their Shoes!)
  • Award Winners (eight different awards)
  • Fantasy/Science Fiction (including Romantic Fantasy)
  • Religion/Philosophy/Christian Living
  • Around the World
  • Thrillers (Including Romantic Suspense)
  • Written before 1940

    I'll let you know when I figure out the books.   Please let me know if you are doing these or any other reading challenges.
  • Monday, December 10, 2007

    Perspective and Purpose

    One of the best ways to get out of a funk is to help someone else.   Part of the reasons this works, I suppose, is that when we see others in need, it reminds us that we aren't alone in our problems.   Serving others gives us perspective and purpose.

    Serving and giving are great ways to show thankfulness and to demonstrate love.   The world's needs are great, so finding a place to plug in and help is pretty easy.   I have links to some of my favorite charities and ministries in my blog.   Find a place of your own and start giving of yourself -- your time, your talents, your treasure.

    Happiness cannot come from without.  It must come from within.  It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.   Helen Keller

    Christmas gift suggestions:
    To your enemy, forgiveness.
    To an opponent, tolerance.
    To a friend, your heart.
    To a customer, service.
    To all, charity.
    To every child, a good example.
    To yourself, respect.

    Oren Arnold

    Saturday, November 24, 2007

    Count Your Blessings

    When I'm worried and I can't sleep
    I count my blessings instead of sheep
    And I fall asleep counting my blessings
    When my bankroll is getting small
    I think of when I had none at all
    And I fall asleep counting my blessings
    I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
    And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds
    If you're worried and you can't sleep
    Just count your blessings instead of sheep
    And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings.

    Name that movie.

    1954.   Vera-Ellen.   Rosemary Clooney.   Danny Kaye.   Bing Crosby.   The above song, written by Irving Berlin, was nominated for an Oscar.   Too easy?   It should be.   White Christmas.

    I love that movie.   As far as I'm concerned, if there were a Canon of Christmas Movies, White Christmas would be among the greats – along with the Miracle on 34th Street (1947, Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwinn and Natalie Wood), It's a Wonderful Life (1946, James Stewart, Donna Reed), Scrooge (1951, Alistair Sim), A Christmas Story (1983, Melinda Dillon, Darin McGavin, Peter Billingsley) and Christmas Vacation (1989, Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo).

    I love Christmas Vacation.   It's everything our celebrations generally are.   Lights that tangle and don't light.   Relatives that bicker.  Children that complain.   Kitty-Os in the jello salad.   Crazed squirrels.   (Or is that just my house?)   Clark Griswold is my soulmate.   We both have expectations we can never hope to meet.

    Ellen: You set standards that no family activity can live up to.
    Clark: When have I ever done that?
    Ellen: Parties, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays, vacations, graduations....

    Clark Griswold has watched White Christmas too many times.

    White Christmas is 1950s Utopia in Vistavision.   Vera-Ellen looks more put together in her flannel pjs after sleeping on a train or after sweating from a strenuous dance routine than I did on my wedding day.   She and Rosemary Clooney wear the most gorgeous dresses throughout the film, and they never get wrinkled or spill hot chocolate on themselves.  

    In White Christmas, even World War II looks clean.   Patriotism is the norm.   Democrats in Vermont are rare.   {Giggle}   Dashing Danny Kaye dances into Vera-Ellen's life.   (The best things happen while you're dancing….)   White knight Bing Crosby croons his way into Rosemary Clooney's heart.   Soldiers from all over the country fill the lodge to honor of General Waverly, the boys get the girls, and the long-awaited snow falls to the strains of, what else, White Christmas.   I love a good romance.

    What does any of this have to do with being thankful even in difficult circumstances?   I believe that if you look hard enough, you can find wisdom anywhere – even Hollywood.

  • When you're worried, depressed, or troubled, count your blessings.   Think of all the good things in your life.  Or as Paul wrote,

    Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Philippians 4:8

  • When times are trying, remember when times were rough before – and how you came through them.   In the Old Testament, God's people are constantly instructed to remember, to repeat what God has done in their lives.   It's not that God needs our constant praise (although He deserves it) – it's that we need to remember who He is and what He has done in our lives and in the lives of others.   Remembering His faithfulness gives us courage to live.

  • Don't have unreasonable expectations.   Real life is more Family Vacation or A Christmas Story than White Christmas – which becomes very apparent when you dress up four children and try to keep them clean and looking at the camera for that family Christmas photo.   Strive for perfection in the areas that are meaningful – in love, in forgiveness, in humility, in faithfulness – and be flexible with all the other stuff.

  • Even when things aren't perfect, when circumstances aren't what we expect, when Cousin Eddie arrives unannounced, parks his RV in your front yard, and empties his chemical toilet in your sewer, you can still find joy.   When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.   Or to borrow from A Christmas Story, when the Bumpuses's hounds steal the Christmas turkey, find a Chinese restaurant and discover Peking Duck.   (Fa ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra.)

    Remember these things, and you'll find joy and thankfulness.

    Oh, and one more thing – don't eat Aunt Bethany's jello.