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2017 Reading List #22: Drums of Autumn, by Diana Gabaldon

I’ve been very absent from my little blog here for far too long, so apologies for that.

In truth, a bit part of my being M.I.A. was reading Drums of Autumn, which is no insignificant read at 880 pages. But this week I completed my journey through the book and enjoyed pretty much every second of it.

I completed Drums of Autumn in just over six weeks, which is about on par with how I’ve read the previous books in the series. I also did my best to not be distracted by other novels while in the process, though I did read a few plays and a book of poetry alongside it (to be fair, three of those plays were for my teaching obligations, so real life has to find its place among my personal reading projects).

Drums of Autumn finds Claire and Jamie Fraser in the Colonies, but it balances their storyline with coverage of their daughter, Brianna, and her beau, Roger Wakefield, in England/Scotland/Boston in the 1960s and 1970s. I won’t say too much so I don’t give it all away, but their storylines eventually merge, though not without lots of trials and complications and physical harm to Jamie (because that’s how Jamie works).

One thing I found most enjoyable about the book was how invested I felt in Brianna and Roger’s characters. I was a bit nervous knowing that Gabaldon would introduce more leading characters to rival Claire and Jamie, but Brianna and Roger are equally compelling. And, as this book finds Claire and Jamie creating new lives in North Carolina, Gabaldon also introduces several important Native American characters that I’m happy to say are complex and interesting, not just caricatures or stereotypes. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out in season 4 of the TV series.

And speaking of the show, season 3 isn’t set to air until this fall (sadly), and my biggest concern for it and future seasons is seeing more of Brianna on screen. When she joined the cast in the season 2 finale, I wasn’t blown away by her acting skills, but I have high hopes she’ll improve, especially since she grows into a leading character. Let’s hope for the best.

Since finishing Drums of Autumn on Tuesday night, I’ve felt like a newly free woman. I’m now reading Angie Thomas’s debut novel, The Hate U Give and really liking it so far, so I’ll be sure to post again soon. And as for my future with the Outlander series, I’ve got book 5, The Fiery Cross, waiting on my bookshelf, and I’m quite sure I’ll take that on later in 2017. For now, I’d like to move along with some shorter projects that don’t require quite the same effort.

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I went to Sundance again and it was great

I have sadly neglected my blogging duties of late, but I’m working to correct that issue by blasting through a few important bits of news concerning my current life.

Two weeks ago, I returned from my third trip to the Sundance Film Festival, and as my title might tell you, I enjoyed my time. The weather was the worst it’s been in my experience, but a few feet of snow hold no power against my will to see films and celebrities.

Without going into unnecessary detail about all parts of the trip—if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for, I’m more than happy to share at another time—but I’ll fill you in on some of my favorite bits.

To begin, here’s the full list of the films I saw during our eight days:

  • Lion (seen in Salt Lake City)
  • Jackie (seen in Salt Lake City)
  • Dayveon
  • Lady Macbeth
  • The Discovery
  • Ingrid Goes West
  • Thoroughbred
  • Colossal
  • Lemon
  • Walking Out
  • Marjorie Prime
  • Band Aid
  • Burning Sands
  • Novitiate

So, over the course of the festival, I saw twelve films, attended three panels, and waited in a lot of lines. Below, I’ve given you some basic information about the films I most enjoyed and some other weird highlights of what happens when you go to a film festival in the mountains during some major snow. Enjoy!

The Films

First of all, I’m happy to say I had a very positive viewing experience at Sundance this year. Though I wasn’t completely blown away by any single film (like I was with Whiplash in 2014 and Manchester by the Sea in 2016), I also didn’t have any excessively negative reactions (I’m looking at you, Listen Up Philip and Wiener-Dog).

So here were my general favorites of the festival:

  • Dayveon, a realistic and quiet film about a young boy in Little Rock joining a gang. This is one to look for if you’re a fan of Moonlight.
  • Lady Macbeth, a Thomas Hardy-esque story of a young woman who marries a wealthy older man and has no qualms about using her new wealth and comfort to get exactly what she wants (featuring murder, sabotage, and a cute cat).
  • The Discovery, a film in which sci-fi and indie blend perfectly to create a world in which the Afterlife has been proven, and the national suicide rate has skyrocketed. This one will mess with all your expectations and leave your head spinning.
  • Thoroughbred, a dark comedy à la 90s classics like The Craft or Jawbreaker in which two wealthy high schoolers conspire to murder a parent. It’s all kinds of fun.
  • Lemon, a truly inexplicable film about a struggling actor and his odd life, featuring a song about matzoh balls that you will honestly never forget.
  • Band Aid, a quirky little comedy about a young married couple who decide, when counseling doesn’t help, to start a band and turn their fights into songs.

Overall, I’d say Lady Macbeth, The Discoveryand Band Aid were my real favorites. Thankfully, The Discovery makes its way to Netflix on March 31, and Lady Macbeth is set for a summer theatrical release.

Other Sundance Happenings

As I mentioned, I attended three panels during the festival, one of which provided me with a free copy of the first season of the Sundance TV drama Top of the Lake (I’m still very proud of winning this, if you can’t tell). But the real fun of Sundance for me—which I’m sure you know by now—is the people-watching, specifically since the people of Park City tend to be of the famous variety. This year, I again saw/met/stood awkwardly next to about 70 people of note. I won’t recount all of those sightings for you, but here are some of the best experiences. Check out the slideshow below for evidence.

  • I got to speak to Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” and she was wonderful.
  • I was trapped outside a bathroom and nearly lost my spot in the waitlist line because Sam Elliott was standing next to me and I was apparently a threat to his well-being.
  • I was twice in close proximity to Robert Redford.
  • Laura Dern is a beauty and has great hair.
  • Standing next to Matt Bomer is like being next to a living Ken doll, except he’s nicer and more attractive and eats apples on-the-go.
  • I watched Dianna Agron get a severe scolding from a police officer because she didn’t use a crosswalk.
  • Laura Prepon is kind of scary and looks alienesque close-up.
  • Height-related matters: Jason Segel walked past me on the street and wasn’t as tall as I’d imagined. Tim Robbins is crazy tall. And Nicholas Hoult is taller than expected. Important facts!
  • Though traffic was too bad to arrive to the Women’s March on time from a film screening, I did get to rally with the remaining marchers. It was an emotional and encouraging experience.
  • I saw Gael García Bernal more days than I didn’t see him. At least five different days. And he is incredibly beautiful, though I have no photographic evidence to prove it. He wears cute glasses and a little headband and sits very still while watching movies. Maybe I’m too involved?
  •  I was very upset I hadn’t seen Peter Dinklage and was doing my best to find him. Then, for my last two film screenings, I literally sat right behind him. I defended him from a weirdo who kept hitting him with her coat. It was very exciting.
  • I stood in a waitlist line near Ryder Strong from “Boy Meets World” and caught him talking about me to his friend. It was weird and fun.
  • I ran into Nigel Barker several times because he was just, like, around (???), and I can say there’s significant reason he was a male model.
  • And finally…on my last night of the festival, I attended a concert featuring none other than Tony winner Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton fame), and on his thirty-fifth birthday, no less. And he was kind enough to take a picture with me.

I’m not sure I ever really thought I’d attend the Sundance Film Festival, but to have attended 3 times as a 25-year-old is not something I take for granted. Again, I am incredibly grateful for the people who have helped me get there (multiple times) and for the festival living up to my magical memories year after year. I hope to return many more times and share it with the people I love.

Until next time, Park City…

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Book #49: Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon

If you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ll know I fell in love with the Starz series Outlander about this time last year. I started watching it after reading good reviews and was instantly hooked by the characters, drama, romance, and beautiful setting of the show.

Though I knew the series was based on Diana Gabaldon’s book series, I didn’t really pursue reading the books until this past spring when the first season of Outlander returned for the second half of its premiere season. I soon became too anxious to find out what would happen next, so I decided the only way to find out was to get to reading.

Since season two of Outlander (sadly) won’t premiere until the spring of 2016, I haven’t tried to rush through Dragonfly in Amber, the second installment in the book series. My copy of the book rounds out at just under 1,000 pages, so it doesn’t exactly make for quick reading. But after starting the book at the very end of June, I’m happy to say I finished it on this crisp fall afternoon.

Though the majority of the action in Dragonfly in Amber takes place in the 1740s like Outlander, the opening and conclusion of the novel are set in 1968, with Claire as a mother revisiting Scotland for the first time, hoping to share her story with her daughter, Brianna. This frame narrative was quite surprising for me, but worked in a way I really enjoyed; it kept things in perspective about the future for Claire, but didn’t skip over any of the story that I was so intrigued by in the previous novel.

In the most general sense, this novel sees Claire and Jamie doing what they can to keep the war between the Scottish highlanders and the English at bay, since Claire knows the Scots fight a losing battle. The story takes them on a journey to France where we meet several new characters. By the novel’s end, we’ve also seen the deaths of several familiar characters, all of which were surprising to me. It’s important to note that Gabaldon is the type of writer who isn’t afraid to kill off major characters.

There were times in the novel when I felt like the pace dragged a bit, but I love that it ended with some very tender moments between Claire and Jamie and a pretty fantastic cliffhanger (though I must say it was less surprising for me since I know a bit about where the series is headed). I’m especially interested to see how Gabaldon plays with the time changes throughout the rest of the series, and I’m curious to see if the TV adaptation follows this same structure.

At this moment, I’d love to dive into Voyager, book three of the series, but I know that my seriously heavy semester of coursework won’t allow it. Thankfully I haven’t bought the book so I won’t be too tempted to abandon my required reading just yet. For now, I’ll keep myself busy, but I’m hoping to journey back to the Outlander world sometime this winter. Here’s hoping!

Now Watching: “The Tudors”

Yesterday I watched the pilot of “The Tudors,” and I think I’m officially hooked. (Looking at Jonathan Rhys Meyers certainly doesn’t hurt the situation either.) I’m hoping this show will fill the void since “Game of Thrones” has ended. Stay tuned for more!