Sunday, October 02, 2016

Somewhere from West Side Story, Maya Angelou Movie, Root, Petal, Thorn by Ella Joy Olsen and The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

I recently saw a video of Jackie Evanchco singing this tune from West Side Story along with a pre-recorded video of Barbra Streisand singing the same song. It was so lyrical and lovely, I felt compelled to share it.  This past week was difficult, fraught with health problems, car trouble and insurance companies stalling. When there's trouble at every turn, I always look for positive and uplifting songs and books to help get me through the rough patches. On Friday I reconnected with a friend from the Clarke College Theater Dept, and had a great time chatting with Mary Rose and others about the good old days. That helped to lift my heart from the doldrums as well. I miss my days learning and growing at Clarke, and I miss the friends I made there and those who are no longer with us, including my Clarke Tuckpointer and my room mate, both wonderful gals gone too soon from this life.
Somewhere from West Side Story 
(lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, music by Leonard Bernstein.)
There's a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us

There's a time for us,
Some day a time for us,
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care,
Some day!

We'll find a new way of living,
We'll find a way of forgiving
Somewhere . . .

There's a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we're halfway there.
Hold my hand and I'll take you there
Some day,
I've been a big fan of Maya Angelou's for a long time. A wise and wonderful woman, there is a documentary about her that is coming out soon, which I will rush to see once it's available in my area.

A trailer has been released for the documentary film Maya Angelou: 
And Still I Rise
Directed by Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack, the the film "celebrates
Dr. Maya Angelou by weaving her words in her voice with rare and
intimate archival photographs, home movies and videos, which paint
hidden moments of her exuberant life during some of America's most
defining civil rights moments. From her upbringing in the Depression-era
South to her swinging soirees with Malcolm X in Ghana to her inaugural
speech for President Bill Clinton, we are given special access to
interviews with Dr. Angelou whose indelible charm and quick wit make it
easy to love her," Deadline wrote.

The film, which features interviews with prominent figures including
Oprah Winfrey, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Bill Clinton and Hilary
Clinton, hits theaters October 14.

Root, Petal, Thorn by Ella Joy Olsen was a book that I read about on Shelf Awareness, and it sounded interesting, so I put my name in to win a copy. The author wrote to tell me that I didn't win one, but she hoped that I'd read it anyway, as it was about finding out about the history of a home through clues left behind over the years, ie photos or old diaries. After purchasing a copy online, I was dismayed to learn that the book is about a series of Mormon families who lived and grew up in the house, so there was a religious aspect to the novel that I wasn't expecting and that was an unwelcome intrusion to the story line. Here's the blurb from the publisher:
In this beautifully written and powerful debut novel, Ella Joy Olsen traces the stories of five fascinating women who inhabit the same  historic home over the course of a century—braided stories of love, heartbreak and courage connect the women, even across generations.
Ivy Baygren has two great loves in her life: her husband, Adam, and the bungalow they buy together in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, Utah. From the moment she and Adam lay eyes on the  home, Ivy is captivated by its quaint details—the old porch swing, ornate tiles, and especially  an heirloom rose bush bursting with snowy white blossoms.  Called the Emmeline Rose for the home’s original owner, it seems yet another sign that this place will be Ivy’s happily-ever-after…Until her dreams are shattered by Adam’s unexpected death.
Striving to be strong for her two children, Ivy decides to tackle the home-improvement projects she and Adam once planned. Day by day, as she attempts to rebuild her house and her resolve, she uncovers clues about previous inhabitants, from a half-embroidered sampler to buried wine bottles. And as Ivy learns about the women who came before her—the young Mormon torn between her heart and anti-polygamist beliefs, the Greek immigrant during World War II, a troubled single mother in the 1960s—she begins to uncover the lessons of her own journey. For every story has its sadness, but there is also the possibility of blooming again, even stronger and more resilient than before…

While I have heard that Salt Lake City, Utah is the center or headquarters of the LDS/Mormon faith, I had assumed that there were books written about the town that didn't focus on that religion as part of the plot. Just when I thought I had gotten away from religious discussion between characters in the text, inevitably it was brought up as an important plot point. This might be a SPOILER, but I was disgusted and distressed that Emmeline entered into a polygamist relationship, agreeing to share her husband with a German woman that he married after WW1 to defend her and her son against prejudice from the American people, when it was against her own beliefs to do so. And the Greek family seem to be overly dramatic and the mother ridiculously preferential to her son Adonis, insisting that he not join the military for WW2, because she believes he will die in the war (though he does, it was his choice to enter into the war). She attempts to sabotage him at every step, but he manages to escape her iron clutches and join the war effort, which, as an adult, was his decision. She seems perpetually angry and mean, and she neglects her daughter as a result, which made her seem like a bad person and a crappy mother all at once. There was no real resolution to the story set in the 60s and 70s, of the mother diagnosed with bi polar disorder, when what she really had was schizophrenia. She was as pathetic a character as Ivy, who also couldn't seem to function without her husband, who died unexpectedly. Again, a mother is represented who becomes mentally ill over a man, and can't care for herself or her children. None of these women seemed to have control over themselves or their emotions, and only the Greek mother seemed to have any backbone, and she was mean and cruel. In other words, I didn't like any of the protagonists in this novel, nor did I feel much sympathy for them and their bad choices. None of them could function properly without a man or men in their lives, which seems ridiculous to me, as I know its possible to be single and live and take care of oneself and ones children. It's called maturity, and none of these women seemed to have developed it. The prose was fluid and sometimes lyrical, but the plot felt disjointed and the characters, as I've said, seemed weak and drawn in a sexist fashion. Still, I'd give this novel a B, and recommend it to anyone of the Mormon faith who is fascinated with historic homes.

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann was a steampunk genre novel that was recommended to me by my fellow "friends of Gail Carriger" group on Facebook. Carriger writes steampunk that is deliciously witty and wonderful, but as I've read all of her work, I'm always seeking new steampunk novels to tide me over until she comes out with a new one. While the Affinity Bridge was certainly similar to Carriger's work, in that there were plenty of devices in an alternate Victorian England, Mann's female protagonist kow-tows to the male protagonist and pretends to be his inferior mentally and physically in order to cement her place at his side as his apprentice. Here's the blurb:
Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by unfamiliar inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, while ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen, and journalists.
But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side.
Queen Victoria is kept alive by a primitive life-support system, while her agents, Sir Maurice Newbury and his delectable assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes, do battle with enemies of the crown, physical and supernatural. This time Newbury and Hobbes are called to investigate the wreckage of a crashed airship and its missing automaton pilot, while attempting to solve a string of strangulations attributed to a mysterious glowing policeman, and dealing with a zombie plague that is ravaging the slums of the capital.
Get ready to follow dazzling young writer George Mann to a London unlike any you've ever seen and into an adventure you will never forget, in The Affinity Bridge.
Newbury is, of course, a Sherlock Holmes-like character, who tends to overdo the laudinum on benders when he's bored or out of sorts. Hobbes is, of course, like Watson, in that she tries to get him to give up drugs and take care of himself, though he seems to have a death  wish and goes through repeated beatings and an evisceration. Because she's a woman, she is thought to be morally superior, and the men try to shield and protect her from things that they feel are too dangerous or noxious for her delicate sensibilities. Fortunately, Hobbes does manage to get out from under this layer of suffocating sexism and do some investigating, but most of the adventure and physical derring-do falls to Newbury. The prose was straightforward and the plot swift as a zeppelin, but the overt sexism tainted the characters for me. However, I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys steampunk and legendary characters, good and bad, of British literature.

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