Classic Review: Smile!

On Friday I posted about authors I feel like I’ve met–but there is one other author that’s true about too, in a very different way.  Geraldine McCaughrean wrote one of my all-time favorites, The White Darkness, as well as the rare excellent sequel to a class novel, Peter Pan in Scarlet.  She also wrote Smile! a book I reviewed long ago…but I didn’t share the story of how I ended up reading it.

I wrote a letter to McCaughrean telling her about how much I loved The White Darkness, and she wrote a wonderful letter back.  It turns out that’s one of her favorites of her books and she loves when people write her about it.  I mentioned my review of the book and she checked it out, finding also my rather rhapsodic comments on Richard Morant as the voice of Titus.  So along with a letter, McCaughrean sent me a cassette tape of the audiobook of Smile! which was also read by Morant.

McCaughrean has ever since been on my list of coolest authors ever!  I still haven’t met her, but I’d love to, and I almost feel like I have, in a way.

Smile! turned out to be delightful too…as I reviewed some time ago.


How often do you really think about a photograph?  You’ll look at photos in a whole new way if you read Smile! by Geraldine McCaughrean–or, as I did, listen to the audiobook.

Smile! is about Flash, a photographer whose small plane crashes in a remote area.  He manages to save only one camera–a simple Polaroid, with ten shots.  Flash is taken in by a primitive village, which has rarely had contact with the outside world.  As he speaks to the villagers, he realizes that none of them have ever seen a photograph.  Accepted by the villagers as “the magician who fell from the sky,” Flash must decide what to spend his ten photographs on–what sights will he preserve for the villagers? Continue reading

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Blog Hop: Meeting Authors I Almost Know

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: If you could meet one author, dead or alive, who would it be?

I’ve written quite a bit on this subject already (about alive authors and dead ones) and I think all regular readers already know that if I could only meet ONE author, it would be L. M. Montgomery, in a heartbeat.

However–let’s assume I could meet others.  And that set me thinking about authors I haven’t already mentioned.  It occurred to me that I’ve said a lot of about fiction writers, but not so much nonfiction…and in recent years, I’ve been reading more nonfiction and finding a lot of wisdom in the process.  Which leads me to a group of authors I’d like to meet because I feel like they already live in my head, ready for words of advice when needed.

Brene Brown (Daring Greatly) reminds me to be brave and embrace vulnerability because it’s the seat of all relationships.  But also, Susan Cain (Introvert Power) gives me permission to embrace being an introvert and get in a different line at the grocery store to avoid awkward small talk with a casual acquaintance.  Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) guides me through setting monthly goals, managing what I measure, and validating a neat house because outer order contributes to inner calm.  And when the outer order isn’t enough, Thich Nhat Hanh (Peace Is Every Step) reminds me to return to my breath.  And while the little monk provides perspective on an eternal level, Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) still pushes me to be aggressive in my career goals, and when life leads me to big decisions, Dan Gilbert (Stumbling on Happiness) offers assurance that I’ll feel happier about whatever I choose once I commit.

I’d like to meet any of these authors so that I could tell them how helpful their writing has been to me–and while I think it would be a little creepy to tell them that their voice lives in my head, I would like to say that I quote them to myself often.  I actually did meet Gretchen Rubin at a book-signing–and I managed to have enough presence of mind in the moment to tell her exactly that!

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Movie Review: Passengers

I recently watched Passengers with some friends, and found it utterly fascinating.  It’s gotten a lot of flack for the perception that it gives a questionable message about consent–although on a metaphorical level.  I didn’t see that at all.  In fact, I thought it raised some very interesting, complicated moral questions and invited the viewer to think them through.  Let’s get to the plot, and maybe this will make more sense!

The Avalon is a sleeper ship bound for a colony world, with crew and passengers in hibernation for the 120 year journey.  30 years in, a sleeping pod fails and one of the passengers, Jim (Chris Pratt) wakes up.  He can’t call for help, he can’t leave the ship, he can’t go back into hibernation, leaving him stranded on a luxury cruise ship alone for the next ninety years.  He really tries to cope, but ultimately can’t handle the solitude–and then he sees Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence), another passenger, and starts contemplating waking her up. He won’t be alone, but she’ll be trapped too.  When I tell you she’s played by Jennifer Lawrence you know she won’t sleep the entire movie!  So of course he wakes her up, and the rest of the story is about the fall-out of that decision.

So the apparent consent issue is about him choosing to wake her up.  And it’s true she didn’t get a say in that.  But the movie never acts like that’s okay.  That’s actually what I really liked–the movie doesn’t pass a moral judgement.  It shows the dilemma, it shows Jim’s agony that leads him to the decision…and it shows Aurora’s agony as a result.  It shows the truth of the situation and lets the viewer think about it. Continue reading

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2017 Reading Challenges: First Quarter Update

Three months into the year can only mean it’s time for my quarterly update on reading challenges!

PictureNewbery Medal Winners
Goal: 20 Newbery Medal Winners, halving the number remaining
Host: Smiling Shelves

A good start to the year, although I think I must have read these in a clump–it felt like I was doing constant Newberys for a while, yet it’s not actually that many for the year yet!

  1. Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
  2. The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
  3. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena
  4. Good Masters, Sweet Ladies by Laura Amy Schlitz
  5. Crispin: The Cross of Lead by AVI
  6. King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry
  7. Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman
  8. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Continue reading

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Book Review: Holding Up the Universe

I don’t find very many books at random anymore—I’ve become a “request and pick up” reader rather than a library browser, mostly.  But…sometimes I’m short on books and that requesting does take time.  And sometimes I find a gem just by picking it up.  Such is how I found Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven, a troubled teen story with teens with unusual troubles.

Jack has face-blindness—he can’t recognize anyone, even his mother or two brothers.  He navigates through life by remembering key details (his brother is skinny with big ears, his girlfriend has a very helpful fake beauty mark), hiding his challenge from everyone.  Libby went viral in an online video in the worst possible way—as a morbidly obese teen who had to be cut out of her house.  Since then she’s lost weight but remains large (and feels comfortable at her current size), and is now facing a return to high school.  When the two end up thrown together, they each see the other in unique ways.

This was a fascinating book.  I don’t like troubled teen books as a rule, but this was not your run-of-the-mill troubles.  I’m so intrigued by Jack’s face-blindness.  His particular situation is extreme, but it’s a real thing that a surprising number of people have (and surprising people: Jane Goodall!  Brad Pitt!)  The book is in alternating POV, and I loved seeing the world through Jack’s eyes as he navigates a world that is always full of strangers.

Libby may be a contender in nine months for my favorite character of the year.  She’s done a lot of hard work in the last few years, losing weight of course but also (and more to the point) work on self-image and self-confidence.  Her over-eating was brought on by her mother’s death and bullying, so that’s hard issues right there.  As she returns to high school, she is simultaneously totally confident in herself, and totally afraid of trying to be that self out in the world. Continue reading

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