Saturday, January 31, 2015

What I Read/Watched in January

I swore I would do even better this year reading at least one book a month. So I thought a monthly review might be a fun post.

Ragtime - E. L. Doctorow
I'm a big fan of the musical, the music from which I was obsessed with last Fall, and I was curious if the same themes permeated the book. The book wasn't quite what I expected. It does still have some of wonderful writing on immigrants and racial tensions from the early 1900s. But I would also say it is not for children to read. It seems like the author enjoys trying to throw in sexual language and references and often very casually almost catching the reader by surprise.

Ragtime is an elaborate weaving of many characters, some based on historical figures such as J. P. Morgan and Harry Houdini, and some vague caricatures with names no more specific than Mother and Younger Brother, in 1906-1914 America to showcase the various shades and colors of the culture. America was very much the melting pot of immigrants, successful businessman, African Americans, women's suffrage, and political doubt and Doctorow weaves the characters in, around and through these various themes to present a representation of the times.

Here is a clip from the opening of the Broadway production:
Coming at the book as one who had already seen the musical, I thought the musical did a wonderful job disregarding those aspects that I thought weren't necessary in the book while maintaining the brilliant tapestry of the characters and the times.

I'm glad I read the book and I do find it a valuable read to better grasp the distinct flavor of America at the time but if I want to revisit, I would rather watch the musical.

Cruel Beauty - Rosamund Hodge

This one came recommended by Melanie and the author is a fellow UD graduate. It is a mythic romance novel. Nyx has been brought up training to destroy the demon lord her father agreed for her to marry in payment for her birth and that of her twin sister. But after a wedding to the shadows and entering his castle, a mystery unfolds around her beguiling husband and his labyrinthian home. The story intertwines classic fairy tale with mythology. A few things reminded me of Howl's Moving Castle as well. It made me want Studio Ghibli to make a movie of it.

The book was a quick read as I finished it in about 4 or 5 days but that is because it was such a page-turner. I'm not the fastest of readers so for a book to hook me so well was a real treat and I was hooked by the second or third chapter. I felt somewhat blind-sided by the ending but the more I think about it the more I like it. It wasn't what I was hoping would happen but it works. I don't read many modern novels but this one was fun and will stay on my shelf. I'm looking forward to her next book which comes out in May.

Breaking Bad - Netflix/DVD

I watched the pilot episode last summer before I began packing the house and didn't watch any more until after we were moved but between September and January I watched the rest of the show. Many are already familiar with it but those who aren't, it is about an overqualified high school chemistry teacher who, upon discovering he has lung cancer, decides to begin cooking the purest meth he can in order to make as much money as possible to leave his family when he dies. He teams up with a former student and drug addict as his cooking partner but not a whole lot goes right for the duo and they struggle to get ahead in a dangerous business.

It is not an easy show to watch. It is intense and violent. But the cast is very, very good and the writing outstanding. The writers write themselves into incredibly difficult predicaments only to surprise you every time how the characters will get out of it. And as the show progresses, the moral dilemmas and questions mount so there is much to consider and discuss.

What I liked best about it though was that, because they knew where they wanted to begin and where they wanted to end and the story they wanted to tell, the creators were able to look the show over from front to back and top to bottom and be very thoughtful and thorough. So you see hypocrisy side by side and parallels driving home points. You can compare and contrast characters and choices. It is really a well-written, well thought out series and, if you can stomach it, well worth the viewing.

Downton Abbey - PBS

I'm watching Downton Abbey again. Mostly I'm enjoying it. I am finding the whole Bates investigation tedious and a bit silly. And Miss. Bunting irritates me to no end, not because of her views but because of her sheer rudeness and lack of respect for those who disagree with her. My heart breaks for Edith and I hope Lady Mary's actions have consequences. I do love the Dowager's story and I'm curious to see where it goes. Same for Cora's irritating of Lord Grantham, but we've seen before where too much harmless flirtation can lead. I've no idea where Thomas' story is going but I do hope it is original. His story has become so repetitive it has become dull. The seasons is only halfway through though so we will see where it goes.

Masterchef Junior - FOX

The girls really enjoy watching this show. They watched it last year and last fall and now are watching season 3. They love seeing other kids cook and make such beautiful and amazing dishes. They generally root for the youngest contestants and the girl contestants. And I do think the judges enjoy working with the kids. I think what I like best about the show is that, unlike shows with adults, the kids know they are competing and they want to win but they encourage and cheer on each other anyway. There really is very little ill will and they really want to make friends with their competitors. It is so refreshing to see and makes many of the adults look downright repulsive.

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