How to punctuate dialog

Good writing is self-effacing.

Personally, when I’m critiquing fiction, I find it very, very difficult to evaluate things like character, plot, and pacing if there are a lot of distracting technical errors.

One easily fixable error I often see is this one.


Whenever I see this mistake, I feel as if I have been stabbed in the eye.

Cloud Atlas (2012)

From the Wachowski siblings who created pop-culture touchstone The Matrix (1999) as well as personal favorite Speed Racer (2008) comes Cloud Atlas (2012), a clever and ambitious positive spin on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell. I like it in some ways but not others.

It’s not a movie that can be easily summarized; it spans six different timelines that are tied together in surprising ways.

I’ve now watched the movie three times: once on a tiny screen on the plane, where much of the subtlety went straight past me; again via iTunes on a laptop screen; this time via iTunes on a huge TV shortly after reading the book.

For more on what I noticed about it this time (including SPOILERS), and ways the movie differs from the book, keep reading.

Also see my post on the book Cloud Atlas.

Continue reading Cloud Atlas (2012)

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

I was not particularly optimistic about Rise of the Guardians. But I should have trusted Dreamworks. They have made the best clap-if-you-believe-in-fairies movie I have ever seen. I thought I was over the whole childlike-holiday-spirit movie ethos, but apparently not. The movie was amazing. How on earth did it not make a profit? It was way, way better than the creepy adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Hogfather, which covers a lot of the same ground. There are also maybe some echoes of Epic here, but Epic wasn’t nearly as good.

Apparently, Rise of the Guardians (like that weird, weird mess, Meet the Robinsons) is the brainchild of writer William Joyce. Oh, hey, wait, Epic is his too, actually. Huh. He must really have a thing for hummingbirds.

Anyway, the premise of Rise of the Guardians is that a lonely magical teen named Jack Frost is called in to help four others (Santa aka Nicholas St. North, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman) who guard the children of the world because the Bogeyman, Pitch Black, is trying to gain power again by making them afraid. If he succeeds, he could destroy belief, and with it, the guardians themselves, along with all hope and happiness. But Jack is just a carefree punk who doesn’t know where he came from. What could he possibly do?

For more on what I liked (with SPOILERS), keep reading.

Continue reading Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Not a cantaloupe!

The red paper band in the photo says “Xinjiang Specialty”. The part of the red paper band that you can’t see in this photo says “Selected Hami Melon”. Wikipedia informs me that this is a type of muskmelon named after a city in—you guessed it—Xinjiang, China.

It’s like a cantaloupe (cantaloupes are also muskmelons), but a bit more oblong like a foo—like an American football, that is. Footballs generally being spheres. I think rugby balls are this shape? Whatever. Here’s another photo.

I find the shape slightly disconcerting. It’s as if someone squeezed the sides together.

It seemed crunchier than cantaloupes are, in my experience; the texture was more like that of a honeydew melon. This could just have been a particularly unripe one, though. I mean, hey, what do I know? On the other hand, according to the internet, it’s supposed to be crunchy. Anyhow, it tasted good! That’s what’s important here.

These things are apparently also called ‘snow melons’. I guess it gets cold in Xinjiang.

So, what’s a ‘rock melon’? The orange melon sold everywhere in Singapore at fruit juice stalls is invariably called rock melon. As far as I can tell, ‘rock melon’ is just another name for cantaloupe/cantalope, and whatever you want to call it, it tastes great with prosciutto.

If you think you’ve learned enough about melons for one day, think again. Botanically, they’re vegetables. (They’re related to cucumbers, squash and gourds.) So that whole “what is a tomato, really” debate… you can have it about melons, too.

Also, in case you haven’t stumbled into the parts of the internet that explain how humans have for centuries interfered with the genetics of food crops to make food more delicious, have a look at this article about the watermelon in an oil still life painting from the 17th century.

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

In The Legend of Tarzan, the fascinating, civilized man-beast who’s at home in the jungle and gets the anachronistically spunky girl is buried in a narrative tailor-made to showcase a whole roster of white men’s offenses.

I mean, really… what is this movie about? Because it seemed to me to be, start to finish, about The Evils of Western Civilization.

My advice? Go and watch the other CGI jungle animal movie about a human raised by animals. Mowgli’s story doesn’t even demonize the villain.

For a list of other vaguely related fictional works I prefer along with more on this movie (including SPOILERS) and a bit on the actual history of the Congo, keep reading.

Continue reading The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling

This book is alive and kicking after more than sixty years, so it must be popular with kids… but to an adult reader, The Chocolate Touch is not going to come across as subtle. In any way whatsoever.

John Midas (yes, like King Midas who turned everything to gold) eats too much candy. And it’s not just that, he’s selfish about it, too. So he gets a magical come-uppance by means of a mysterious coin that he spends in a mysterious store on a mysterious box of chocolates containing only one chocolate that makes everything he puts to his mouth turn to chocolate—including, as you might guess from this spectacularly badly chosen cover illustration, his mother. Then he repents and all is well again. (Didactic, much?)

The bright spot is this line spoken by John’s teacher Miss Plimsole in English class: “The more words you know, the more exactly you can think.” True dat.

But then the vocabulary words for the day are ‘avarice’, ‘indigestion’, ‘acidity’, ‘unhealthiness’, ‘moderation’, and ‘digestibility’. Hm. Do you think these words might be related to the book’s message at all? Even the character notices! “[I]t seemed to John as though they all had a special bearing on his present uncomfortable condition.” Sigh.

Then there are the names: John Midas, Doctor Cranium, Mrs. Quaver (the music teacher), Susan Buttercup (a classmate and friend with yellow curls). I am rolling my eyes.

Still, I think the book does a great job of conveying how the boy feels about chocolate, how he feels when the magic starts to happen, how he feels when it starts to go bad, how he feels as it gets worse, and how he feels when the crisis is over.

When and Why I Read It

Bought it at a thrift store in Colorado because I remembered reading it or at least seeing it when I was younger.

Genre: illustrated children’s chapter book
Date started / date finished:  03-Jul-16 to 03-Jul-16
Length: 87 pages
ISBN: 0553152874 (1984 paperback)
Originally published in: 1952
Amazon link: The Chocolate Touch

Related Books

I like Edward Eager’s 1950s ordinary-kids-with-magic-gone-wrong stories better. And the 1900s ones by Edith Nesbit, too, for that matter. And maybe I should revisit the (out-of-print) books of Scott Corbett, which I remember from the public library in my neighbourhood, where they sat next to Ruth Chew’s endearing matter-of-fact magic books.

And for chapter books about kids in school, I prefer Andrew Clements of Frindle fame.

Hey, look! This year the Edward Eager books are being reissued! This pleases me for two reasons: it means the books are still selling, and it means they’ve redone the cover illustrations. (I didn’t like the Quentin Blake ones, because they make me think of Roald Dahl, whom I don’t like.)