Thursday, April 30, 2009

Brideshead Revisted - Evelyn Waugh (audio)

About six months ago, this book was highly recommended to me by John Cole, a trusted non-blogging book-loving friend. We had both agreed we needed to stop reading trashy top 10 stuff, and delve more into classic literature. He felt this one classified as such. Then last week, I ran to the library in an audio book emergency, and here it sat, waiting to fulfill my classically undernourished life. The cherry on top? That it was narrated by Jeremy Irons, who starred in the PBS version of this book back in the '80's. Sold! I dove into it head-first during a 3 hour road trip I took last Sunday.

Probably the only thing I knew about this book going into it is its famous, timeless symbol - Sebastian Flyte, a dapper, unruly, carefree Oxford student that carried around a teddy bear as a pet. It is true that a portion of this book is aptly represented by this whimsy, but grows into a much larger, meditative expansive story.

Our narrator is Charles Ryder. When we meet him, it is 1944 and he is a captain of the British army. He describes himself as "homeless, childless, middle-aged and loveless". Yikes. It is obvious this is a man with a story, and some hard knocks under his belt. He finds his regiment billeted at Brideshead, an estate which has been abused and ravaged because of the war, sadly forgotten and neglected. He begins to reminisce about Brideshead in an earlier, better life...

Charles meets Sebastian at Oxford in the '20s. Sebastian is angelically handsome, an aristocrat, and wild as hell. His personality is flamboyant, and draws admirers like flies. His family has owned Brideshead for generations. They begin what I believe to be a platonic yet impassioned relationship. Sebastian has deep-rooted issues though. I will list them per my dime store psychoanalysis. First, his family. He doesn't want Charles to come near them. He loves them but abhors them, and knows that if they get their claws in Charles, he will be lost to him. Second, religion. His family members are borderline Catholic zealots, and Sebastian does not follow in their footsteps. (Neither does Charles, who is agnostic, which will come to haunt later.) Third, his sexuality, which, in the book, is vague, but to me pretty obvious. All of these factors transform Sebastian into an alcoholic bent on self-destruction. About halfway through the book, he disappears into North Africa, and eventually joins a monastery ironically, a withered defeated shell of his old self.

Against Sebastian's wishes, Charles does indeed get drawn into the Flyte family. After Sebastian falls off the face of the earth, he becomes a successful architectural artist, marries a bimbo he doesn't love, and has a couple of kids he is completely detached from as a result of his travels. He is reacquainted with Julia, Sebastian's sister and his spitting image, and falls deeply in love with her. More psychoanalysis...Julia is Sebastian's replacement. Charles and Julia divorce their spouses, but at Julia's father's deathbed, things fall apart, their love affair a tragic victim of issues bigger than the both of them.

The story is big, sweeping, epic in nature. It so beautifully captures the decadence of this time in history. The underlying thread woven throughout the story (there always is one!) is religion and theology, specifically Catholicism. I'd read that Waugh was a converted Catholic, and I had a hard time with this for most of the book, as he seemed disparaging towards this branch of Christianity. Religion caused Sebastian's father to resent his wife and flee to Italy and take a mistress. It drove Sebastian to alcholism, and it drove Julia to rebellion then devotion. In the end, however, Charles finds God in his heart, and is so uplifting. It is not sentimental - that would not appeal to me at all - but is very subtle. As Charles is kneeling in the private chapel in Brideshead in 1944, we are left with an amazing passage:

"Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played. Something none of us thought about at the time. A small red flame, a beaten copper lamp of deplorable design relit before the beaten copper doors of the tabernacle. The flame, which the old light saw from their tombs, which they saw put out. That flame burns again for other soldiers far from home. Farther in heart than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tradedians and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones."

My Miss Merry Sunshine badge is still affixed to my lapel! 5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

What defines success? In a group of fifty people, why are there some professional athletes, bankers, doctors and lawyers that have stellar careers (deemed "outliers") and others can barely put food on the table? If you would have asked me a couple of weeks ago, I would have said hard work and innate talent. Mr. Gladwell says think again. Then he proceeds to blow your mind, chapter after chapter.

Success, it seems, follows a predictable course. Yes, it is a given that one must have a certain amount of drive and passion for what they are doing. But that is not enough. The first rule of success is that in order to achieve mastery of anything, one must practice for 10,000 hours. That is a HUGE amount of practicing! What about the child prodigies? Aren't they just born with the gift? No, apparently not. Child prodigies, Bill Gates, The Beatles, Tiger Woods...they've all done their time. There are no shortcuts. So that means if I blog for 10,000 hours, I will be the best blogger in the world? (Believe me, my husband would attest that I am trying to hit that number...) Well, no, not exactly, but it's a good place to start.

The rest is just pure dumb luck. Being born in the right month or year. Having a certain ancestral heritage. Having random opportunities handed to you at the right time. Gladwell offers explanations to observations that would have been unexplainable before. Why are a majority of professional hockey and soccer players born in the first three months of the year? Why were the geniuses of the computer age all born around 1955? Why are there so many Jewish powerhouses in the legal field? Why are Asians so good at math? Why do airplane crashes happen more with pilots and co-pilots of certain ethnicities over others? Why do poorer kids score lower on tests than kids from wealthy families? I guarantee you, the answers are not what you think.

I've not read any of Gladwell's other hits, like Blink and The Tipping Point, but I knew I was in for a bit of fun with this book just based on the reviews. This type of non-fiction is not even a genre I claim to enjoy much...I like action, twisted plotlines and witty dialogue. (This is the main reason I put this book on my list for the TBR Reading Challenge - I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone.) His prose is very easy to read, though, like he is just chatting with you over coffee. And he keeps you entertained not with dead bodies and torrid affairs, but instance after instance of how success can be explained in the most unorthodox but intuitive ways. Throughout the book, I kept stopping and yacking to my husband about Gladwell's curious findings, but I never could summarize them adequately, and I just got raised eyebrows and noises like "oh..uh huh..mmm". So instead of rambling on any further here, and risking the same reaction from you, I will just end it by saying that you must read it for yourself! Prepare to be dazzled.

Wordless Wednesday

Longboat Key, Florida.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Some Like it HOT

I'm already blushing, and I haven't even started typing yet!!! This week's Monday Movie Meme from The Bumbles is all about those steamy love scenes that sometimes even MAKE the movie. The ones you don't necessarily watch with your parents? The ones that make you squirm, but watch with your mouth hanging open anyway? I'm going to be forced to copy a couple from Molly and Andy, because honestly, they came to my mind instantly, and it would be just wrong to exclude them!

9 1/2 Weeks - Does anyone really remember the plot of this movie? Does anyone care?

Fatal Attraction - Kitchen sinks, elevators, Chef's doesn't get any better than this.

Risky Business - I'll never feel the same about trains.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - I wouldn't necessarily call it hot, because Phillip Seymour Hoffman's naked butt is not that attractive, but it is graphic, and is the opening shot of the movie. You click "play" and nearly jump out of your seat. Whoa!

Y Tu Mama Tambien - a little three way action...

Secretary - and some S&M...

Boogie Nights - I guess you sorta expect lots of sex in a movie about the porn industry, but still, who could forget a few of these scenes! In one scene, I remember yelling at my husband "what did she just say???", and in another scene "is that thing real?".

OK, well thanks Bumbles. I'm nice and awake now! My palms are sweating. I need to go take my shower now!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center (audio)

Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered "where did the perky twenty-something go?" or "whose big butt is that?". Have you wondered when was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with your other half, or when you stopped being a woman and started being an automaton that cleans messes and slings hash? As a wife and a mom, this the insanity that I live with. I wouldn't trade it for the world, mind you, but sometimes its nice to know you're among friends that understand.

This is your gift when you read "Everyone is Beautiful". Officially, it is "mommy lit" but that words seems to cheapen the book. It is more of a story about women, about finding yourself, and about the beauty within all of us.

Because of an opportunity for her husband to further his musical education and career, Lanie has just uprooted herself and her three boys under the age of 4 from her home state of Texas to the east coast. They have no money, their apartment is tiny, she hasn't lost the baby weight, the kids are typical out-of-control toddler boys, and she has no friends. When a pert little "khaki mom" at the park asks Lanie when she is due (why in God's name do women DO that?) she decides it is time to take charge of her life. She joins a gym and enrolls in a photography class, and tries to reclaim the woman she used to be. Only she ends up risking her marriage in the process.

There is alot that most women will find in common with Lanie. Now, her situation is a little extreme. I will admit that my kids never pooped on my friend's white furniture, a colleague never planted a big wet one on me in front of my husband, the landlord has never seen me naked, and I've never fallen off a treadmill, but you'll completely understand where she is coming from. I would estimate that 95% of women out there know what it feels like to lose herself in the tidal wave of motherly and wifely responsibilities, and will cheer Lanie on to regain her footing. The best part about this story is the author's voice (heard as Lanie's voice). It is worn out and adrift, but with a sense of humor you've gotta have to survive this period in your life. The author adds in a little humility and a little self-deprecation, which will have you laughing out loud throughout this easy-to-read romp of a book.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Night by Elie Wiesel

Serendipitously, I finished this book Tuesday, which was Holocaust Remembrance Day (even though I didn't know it at the time). It seems the most appropriate way to pay homage to those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and to those who survived as well.

Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor himself, has a reputation that is without question one of the most respected in the WWII literary world. He has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the French Legion of Honor, and the Nobel Peace Prize. Although he has published over forty internationally acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction, Night was his first, written a little over ten years after he was liberated from Buchenwald. The first version was published in Yiddish in 1956, and then in English in 1960. In 2006, his wife, who probably best understands Elie's voice and personality, re-translated the version I read.

Elie was born and raised in Transylvania, and as a youth, lived as a devout Jew. When he was fifteen years old, he was herded into a ghetto, then transported with his family to Auschwitz. His mother and younger sister were exterminated there, but Elie and his father were able to stay together until they were moved to Buchenwald, where his father eventually died. While this is an auto-biographical recount of his experience, it about more than the horrors we have come to expect in a book about the Holocaust. It is more about the loss of youth, the loss of faith in God, and questions what one would renounce in order to survive.

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."

I'm sorry, but if this doesn't put a chill in your bones, nothing will.

This is a very short book - only 120 pages - but took me days to read. I had to put it down often. The prose is direct and factual, and lacks any in-depth character development. Despite this, I'm left with echoes of a young Polish boy who played his beloved violin to his death. Of hundreds of cries and moans of distress from the train cars, "a death rattle of an entire convoy with the end approaching". Of a commandant telling young Elie not to worry about his dying father, that it is "every man for himself" and there is "no such thing as a father, a brother or a friend".

Did I like this book? Yes I did. I can't ditch my Miss Merry Sunshine badge quite yet...this would not be a good place to start with a critical attitude. But neither would I be anxious to re-read it anytime soon. I know this is an overused word, but it is downright haunting. But Wiesel accomplished what he set out to do, and that is to first, bear witness. Second, to "prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory".

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Scottsdale, Arizona, on a little family hiking trip. Lots of heat, lots of snakes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (audio)

Not long ago, I realized that The Thirteenth Tale, the debut novel by Diane Setterfield, had taken the blogger world (and the rest of the world too) by storm, and I'd been left out. And I hate being left out. I'd read countless rave reviews, and was finally convinced to set my reading challenge books aside to witness this spectacle I'd heard so much about.

It is a novel written for book lovers, which explains the fervor. Margaret Lea is the daughter of a antique book dealer and a novice biographer, with secrets in her past that have left her a withdrawn, haunted young woman. She is mystified when she is summoned by Vida Winter, the world's most recognized and published storyteller, to write the story of her life. Vida seems to have some secrets of her own, and has lied about her past to interviewers time and time again. To Margaret, however, she vows to tell the truth.

So we begin on a journey back into time. Throughout daily sittings, Vida tells Margaret about a family that spawned madness, about ghosts, and twins, and love and murder. As she progresses through the story, Vida's tale becomes dense with twisted layers of mystery. Margaret begins to do some independent research, and with it, she not only uncovers more clues to the history of Vida's life, but some insight to her own.

This is storytelling at its absolute finest...a tale you can get lost in. The characters are flawed, quirky and rich, the plot is wonderfully twisted and keeps you guessing right to the end. But, at the end, the pieces fit nicely together and all questions are answered and tied up with a big red ribbon.

The setting is strangely without specific indicators to its era. There are cars, so that narrows it down. But the atmosphere feels decidedly old and Gothic. There is mention to a "computing machine" but is not actively used, which makes me think that while it is not modern times, it is not so far back either. I expended some mental energy on this riddle, and just added to the overall charm.

I listened to this book on audio, and I would highly recommend it. There are two for Vida Winter, and one for Margaret and the other characters, and it works well. Without a doubt, this book would be in my top 5 reads of the year thus far.

So, I'm starting to feel easy again. I know it is irritating to read only glowing reviews of everything I put my hands on! Is it because I do so much research on what I read that I only pick the really good ones? Am I not critical enough? I'm not sure! I'm worried about myself. I swear, I am not Miss Merry Sunshine. I'll see if I can't pull a bad one out for you soon!

Monday Movie Meme - Get Your Popcorn...

Today's Monday Movie Meme from The Bumbles is all about the big profit-maker of the movie theaters...the concessions! Here what Molly and Andy have to say:

See our happy logo for the Monday Movie Meme? It is a shot of the "Dancing Concessions" that used to play before every movie for one of the big theaters that has probably since gone out of business. It was their way of reminding everyone to get up and go spend money on snacks and drinks before the movie started - as if we hadn't already remembered to do this on our way in. The allure of buttered popcorn is pretty strong after all. Movies and snacks go hand in hand - whether you watch from home or out on the big screen. Here are our favorite movie snacks. What are yours?

After last week's brain teaser, this one is pretty easy, huh? If I were not worried about counting calories, getting hulls in my teeth and experiencing the wrath of my dental hygienist, this is what I would have at the movies every time:

Popcorn, with a nice healthy dose of butter

A big box of Junior Mints

And a tall glass of something caffienated

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Let's have a moving party for Carrie!

One of my most favorite bloggers is Carrie of Books and Movies. We have been supportive friends via our blogs and on Facebook. The big news for Carrie is that over her Spring Break, instead of frolicking and reading books, she moved her blog to a new site...a courageous move! The move was motivated by her frustration with the limitations and mandatory marketing by, and she made the judgement call to move her site to the one I have currently linked to above. The downside is that her old blog site would not let her communicate one last time to her followers. If you love her site, as I am sure you do, please spread the word and let everyone you know that she has moved.

To commemorate her move, Carrie will be hosting a blog-warming giveaway sometime next week. Please let everyone know, so they can all welcome her to her new home.

I thought this would be the perfect time to do a feature on Carrie. Let's get to know her:

Carrie grew up in Sedro Woolley, Washington with her three sisters. After high school graduation, she got her AA degree from Skagit Valley College in Mt. Vernon. She then transferred to Pullman, where she studied theater and music at Washington State University. She left after her junior year, and didn't finish her degree. Too many student loans, too much partying, and no idea what she would do with a theater degree after graduation!! (Sounds pretty familiar Carrie! Who knows what they are going to do at that age!)

After her college experience, she moved to Vancouver, Washington where she worked as a nanny and got her real estate license. That is where she met Kevin, the love of her life, and got married in 1995 - they just celebrated their 14th anniversary on March 31st. A year and a half later, after their wedding, they had Natalie. When Natalie was six months old, they moved to a little town north of Spokane Washington, which is where they live today.

She has four kids, very adorably pictured above and below. Natalie is 12, Noah is 10, Jonathan is 9 and Josiah is 7. The picture above was taken Bonneville Dam fish hatchery on the Columbia River. The picture below was taken in the shark's jaw at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon. Carrie home schools all four of her kids and does freelance writing in her spare time.

One thing that might surprise you about Carrie is the fact that she loves to act. When she was in college, she appeared in Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors" and "Love's Labour Lost", the musicals "Once Upon a Mattress" and "Anything Goes" and other plays, including "Steel Magnolias". What I would give to have seen Carrie perform any of these! I'm sure she rocked!

Not only is Carrie a prolific reader, she also knows her movies (hence her blog title). She also maintains a personal blog titled Mommy Brain that journals her homeschooling journey. (If we could all now bow our heads and take a moment of silence to admire this lady...)

It is my pleasure to know and blog with Carrie. Again, please spread the word about Carrie's move. Once you get to know her, you won't be able to live without her!

You don't say!

Desert Rose has done it again! She has very kindly awarded me with the "You Don't Say" Super Comments Award! I have to admit, I do tend to comment. Alot. Sometimes they are inane, and sometimes I actually have something constructive to say. For those of you that know me in "real life", this should not surprise you. I just won't shut up.

Here is the definition of the award:

"We give and get awards for having a great blog and being a good friend. What I want to award is those people whose comments have meant THE WORLD to me. It takes time to visit a blog and leave a comment ... I wanted to recognize some special bloggers whose comments have made such an impact on me. The “You Don’t Say?” Award is awarded to these special bloggers in hopes that they will pass the award along to 5-10 of their best commenters!"

I have some very very loyal commenters on my blog, and on those days when I feel I am talking to myself, they come along and brighten my day. In fact, there is rarely a post that goes by where they don't comment. Here they are:

Beth @ Beth Fish Reads

I would also like to make a special mention about ds (Third Storey Window), Melissa (Shhh I'm Reading) and Wendy (Musings of a Bookish Kitty), who would be on my list if they hadn't already been nominated by Desert Rose.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Garman

Skeleton Creek was one of my kids' purchases at the recent Book Fair. My knowledge of the premise ensured me that both my son and daughter would buy into it, hook, line and sinker. Written and produced with the Internet generation in mind, this "package" is part book, disguised as a journal, and part online videos, accessed by secret passwords. I was very much intrigued by this innovation. If you have a child in your house that is glued to electronics, this just might be the way to entice them to read a book!

Something very sinister is going on in the small, Oregon town of Skeleton Creek. Teenagers and best friends Ryan and Sarah start out investigating the origins of the town's name as a lark, but soon unearth disturbing stories and clues that all point towards an old, decrepit structure in the woods called a dredge. Years ago, the dredge was actively used to excavate the earth and recover gold. It is full of rusty gears, rickety rotten steps, shadowy figures and ominous noises. When Ryan and Sarah pay a late-night visit to the dredge, Ryan is injured (was it an accident or was he pushed?), breaking his leg. This little adventure lands Ryan in bed for weeks with a full leg cast, and the parents of both teens barring all interaction between the two...OR ELSE.

It is at this point that we start reading Ryan's journal (the book). As teenagers will, they secretly e-mail each other, disabling the spyware installed on their computers by their parents. They pick up each other's messages early morning and late at night, erasing their tracks as they go. They continue to investigate the evil lurking in Skeleton Creek, Ryan doing Internet research, and Sarah poking around and filming oddities with her camera, which is regularly sent to Ryan's computer. Everybody's a suspect...Ryan's dad, the seasonal park ranger, even Gladys the shotgun-toting librarian.

I have to give credit to the author for his creativity. The story is deliciously creepy for the younger crowd. The journal looks authentic, with hand-written entries, and the appearance of various documents taped into the book. It reads quickly and easily. The videos, which we are regularly prompted to watch online, are sometimes Blair Witch-like. From an adults' point of view (which, really, doesn't matter that much does it?), it can get a little Scooby-Doo hokey, although the ending passed the test. It certainly sets it all up for the sequel, which is due out in October. There is also the issue of non-stop sneaking around and deceiving those annoying, meddling parents. Let's just call a spade a spade, and admit that this is what teenagers do, but do we really want to promote it? Eluding the parents isn't just a suggestion in this book, it is a pivotal theme! I believe I have done what I can to instill honesty in my kids, and hope that a book wouldn't pull them off track. Still, I thought it bears mentioning.

All that being said, my kids went absolute NUTS over this book. They couldn't wait to watch the videos...they kept asking "how many pages until another video?". When they were watching the last video, which ends the story, they were shrieking and covering their eyes, then threw their hands up in the air in outrage because they have to wait until October to see what happens next. Now, at this stage, I would normally have one of them add their thoughts, but they've checked out on me for the night, and are gearing up for Survivor, and I'm not going to force the issue. What's next on the Nawrot menu, you ask? While we are in the mixed media groove, we will be picking up the 39 Clues Series next. I'm starting to have Nancy Drew flashbacks...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sugar Cage by Connie May Fowler

I believe I said this when I reviewed "Remembering Blue" by Connie May Fowler. But I simply love this author. I adore her. If I could just bottle up the feelings that run through me when I read her books, I could hire a yard guy and a cleaning lady and read all day. Her writing is hypnotic, melodic, smooth and familiar. She is a Florida girl, and she expertly yet subtly weaves the essence of my home state into everything she writes, which makes her very special to me. She seems to have had quite a difficult life in her early years, which adds to the depth of her words. Sugar Cage is Connie's debut novel, a work of art that launched her career. Let me tell you about it.

We are introduced to Inez Temple, the heart and hub of the story. Inez grew up a poor black girl in Eatonville, and now lives just south of Saint Augustine and works as a hotel maid. She is a regal, wise and gentle soul. She meets and befriends the Jewels and the Looneys who are both honeymooning at the hotel, and over time become neighbors and support systems for each other. With these central characters, we take a journey over two decades. Tales are told from the perspective of Inez, Rose Looney and her husband Charlie, Eudora Jewell and her husband Junior, the Looney's son Emory, Emory's girlfriend Soleil Marie Beauvoir, the Jewell's daughter Luella, and even the local mortician Patrick Lackley. Each has their own unique, colorful voice.

This novel is a not just words on a page. It is a sometimes comical, sometimes wistful, sometimes brutal slice of humanity that comes alive as you read. We experience death, adultery, miscarriage, familial estrangement, first loves, blind devotion, friendship and reconciliation. Which is truly, when you think about it, Everyman's life.

Fowler entwines these personal struggles with themes of spirituality. Inez was raised with a general healing spiritualism, Junior worships nature, Eudora gravitates to mystical communication with the dead, and Soleil Marie, an illiterate Haitian who works in the cane fields, is a mambo with a missionary's influence of Catholicism.

In the not-so-distant backdrop of the story looms events and attitudes that shaped modern America. The Jewels and Looneys were married on the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Fear and confusion hovers over all of them like a dark cloud after the assassination of Kennedy. Hope motivates Inez's activism with the prominence of Martin Luther King Jr., and paralyzes her when he is assassinated. Charlie Looney participates in a protest march against blacks. Emory and Soleil Marie struggle to keep their relationship a secret from a society that abhors mixed couples. Emory enlists to fight in Vietnam.

And through it all, Fowler folds in intimate details of the graveyards and the fort in St. Augustine, eating at an authentic fish camp, a carnival in Clewiston, the beauty of driving down A1A with the windows down, the concrete jungle of Miami, the baptismal cleansing of a dip in the ocean, and the culture of the sugar cane industry in southern Florida. These are all pieces of life down here for me. I've even been to the carnival in Clewiston. This is the side of Florida that is real and raw, and what makes Fowler's stories so emotional for me, and why I wish I could send this book for each and every one of you to read!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

This is my last installment of lighthouses. It is the Cape St. George lighthouse, and has a little story. If you've been following me for awhile, you know that my favorite place on earth is St. George Island, and have been vacationing there for over a decade. One year, we hired a friendly hippy-ish captain guy to take us out shelling on some of the uninhabited islands nearby. This lighthouse was on one of them. It was not operational and not maintained. At the time, it almost seemed haunted. I cannot find pictures from that trip unfortunately, a fact I find quite distressing. A year or two later, it fell down in the middle of a hurricane. The local community lovingly collected all of its fragments and put it back together on the populated St. George Island, right next to where we stayed last Thanksgiving. In fact, its grand re-opening was that weekend, and a huge number of people showed up to climb to the top. They have a passionate group of people that love their Cape St. George, and have put their lives on hold to bring this beautiful structure back to life.

So I guess I wasn't so wordless today. That is the story of my life...

Two Lovely Awards

Jackie from Farm Lane Books recently awarded me my second Splash Award - you're the best Jackie! I read Jackie's blog daily, and if you check it out, you'll know why. She has got it all going on! She reads what I would consider quality literature, she participates whole-heartedly in the Blog Improvement Project, she even just finished a "best comment" competition. (And oh by the way, is raising two kids and has a business selling books on Amazon UK.) Did you know she used to breed and show chinchillas? Check out my interview of her here.

I was also awarded the One Lovely Blog Award by Kay at Pudgy Penguin Perusals. Kay is a Floridian like me, who retired down here to get away from the cold winters of MA. Kay is a new blogger to me, and I'm excited read more of her reviews. But really, how can you go wrong with a blog name like that? Thank you so much Kay, for passing along a little love! I'm going to pass this lovely award on to the following bloggers, who are the epitome of loveliness:
Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza
Frances at Nonsuch Book

Monday, April 13, 2009

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon (audio)

If I may be so bold, this is the best installment in the Outlander Series thus far, by a long shot. If you are new to the Outlander Series, let me just start out by saying that there is no grander epic. There is no more satisfying love story, no more intriguing time-travel journey, no hunkier male species, no tale more worthy of your obsession. After Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, and now, Voyager, and after a total of 97 discs, the story has consumed me. You might see a hair or two sticking out of the proverbial pages...that is all that is left of me.

At this point, I have to apologize for a few spoilers that will follow. I have found it impossible to even remotely summarize the plot without giving up a few important facts. I save a few juicy twists for you to read, though. Never fear!

Twenty years have passed since Jamie and Claire were together in 1745. Twenty years since Claire escaped back through the magical circle of stones, in order to save the life of her unborn child. It is now 1965, and Claire, with the assistance of her grown daughter Brianna, and the historian Roger Wakefield, have found evidence that Jamie did NOT die at the battle of Culloden as once suspected. They have assumed that time has passed simultaneously between the past and the present, so therefore they must determine if Jamie is still alive in 1765, so that Claire can go back and find him. Through a series of historical clues, they determine he is, and Claire says goodbye to her only child to be reunited with the love of her life. Almost immediately upon their reunion (which I will address in a minute, but was almost more than I could bear), they are thrust yet again in a whirlwind of frantically-paced action and drama.

Jamie has led quite the colorful life in the last twenty years. He has sired a child, and married and separated from a vengeful woman from his past. He has forged friendships with all walks of life, including an alcoholic Chinese criminal with a foot fetish, a gay officer in the British army, and a madame. He has supported himself through various occupations that include smuggling, printing, owning a whorehouse. All of these little facets of his life come collecting their due, and make things a teensy bit hairy for Claire and Jamie to get re-acquainted.

Despite these challenges, Jamie and Claire are as hot for each other twenty years later, and Gabaldon gives us plenty of blush-worthy scenes. When Jamie's nephew, Ian, gets abducted on Jamie's watch, they then embark on overseas adventure to the West Indies to retrieve him. Towards the end, I started likening both Claire and Jamie to cats, and was wondering when their 9 lives will run out. They have more life-threatening injuries and dangerous run-ins with nefarious villains than any two people I've ever read about. Sheesh.

In hindsight, I think I found myself unsettled during Dragonfly in Amber because throughout most of the book, Claire and Jamie were not together, at least in the present tense. Most of the story was Claire reflecting back on the events that led up to her separation from Jamie. It also left me with many unanswered questions, as evidenced a bit of fit-throwing towards the end of my review. I had questions about what happened between Claire and Frank over the twenty years. How Brianna would handle the story of her parentage. Why Claire didn't go back in time, to right before Culloden and save Jamie. Voyager answered these questions quite satisfactorily. Gabaldon gave me reassuring closure on many fronts, that worked like a very strong sedative for my jumpy, twitchy need for the truth.

OK, now back to the reunion, which deems further emoting on my part. When Claire finally discovers that Jamie is alive and well in 1765 and knows where he is, the process that she goes through to get back to Jamie is almost like she is preparing to die. She must get all her affairs in order...she must resign from her job, collect the deed to her home and other critical papers. She also writes a long, heartfelt letter to her daughter, giving her all the advice she would have had to give her in her young adult life. It's a three-hanky situation. But when she actually finds him, at work at his print shop in Edinburgh, when neither of them thought they'd ever see each other again, I lost all semblance of control. Helpful hint to my friends: don't attempt this portion of the book in public!

Even though Gabaldon doesn't drop any bombs on us in the final moments of the book, I am very anxious to continue allowing the story to eat me alive (sadist, aren't I?). I will take a small two or three book break, then I will plunge headlong into Drums of Autumn. Until then...

Monday Movie Meme - You gotta have faith!

This week, the Bumbles have asked us to come up with movies that restore our faith. If we want to restore our faith in our country, we watch "Miracle". If we want to restore our faith in humanity, we watch "Schindler's List". You get the idea. These Bumbles just get trickier and trickier! This one was not so easy. After much thought, here are some of my inspirations:

The Killing Fields - in overcoming all odds, and the determination to survive
Shawshank Redemption - in the power of hope
Hoosiers - in the religion of basketball in Indiana
Rudy - in the belief in yourself
The Wizard of Oz - in the comfort of home

Friday, April 10, 2009

Resistance - Owen Sheers

Based on a rave recommendation from C.B. James, I placed "Resistance" on two of my reading challenges for TBR Challenge and my WWII Challenge. I special-ordered it from Borders, and chose it to be my vacation read this week. This debut novel by Welsh-born Sheers has been both reveled and criticized in the reviews, but personally I thought it was brilliant.

The setting is this: In an alternative WWII in 1944, Germany has invaded Britain and has occupied a vast majority of the country. Small groups of resistance fighters have silently banded together all over the country to do their part. In a small, remote valley in Wales, a handful of farm wives wake to find their husbands gone. No explanations, no notes, no hints to their whereabouts, just an indentation on the bed beside them, almost like God himself started Judgement Day a little early. The women have their suspicions, of course, but are in various stages of acceptance and denial. Even more urgent is the knowledge that they are faced with the labor-intensive task of running their farms by themselves. In the spirit of sisterhood, they lower their heads, lock arms, and figure it out together, and pray their husbands will return soon.

Soon after, however, a small group of German soldiers show up at their door, their intentions unknown. They are polite and do not interfere, but inform the women that they will occupy a nearby empty farmhouse. When a brutal winter storm cripples the valley, it becomes apparent that the women and the soldiers will need each other's assistance to survive. Slowly and gradually, the wives begin to accept the presence of the soldiers, and even become hesitant friends. One soldier begins to fall in love with one of the daughters. One damaged soldier allows himself to be nurtured by a woman who has lost her son in the war. Of primary interest to us is the captain, Albrecht, and a 26-year-old wife Sarah. Sarah is perhaps the most resistant of all the wives to the soldiers, but the two forge a delicate attachment. In one scene that particularly touched me, Albrecht brings a gramophone to Sarah's house for her birthday. The scene is magical.

"It was as if the notes of her heart over these past three months had been dictated directly to the hand that drew this bow over these strings to describe, so perfectly, the complex yet simple geometry of her damaged soul."

Despite the original agenda of the soldiers (which we find out late in the story), they all decide that they are not all that anxious to rejoin the fighting and die prematurely. They feel more complete and satisfied now than they have in a long time, and choose to remain in their little bubble of simplicity and serenity for as long as possible. The magic that has been created between the wives and soldiers is soon shattered when a resistance fighter is alerted to the perceived "collaboration", and takes action.

Sheers artfully introduces various themes of resistance into the story. There are the British resistance fighters waging their solitary war against the Germany army, which we expect. But we also sense the wives' resistance in believing they truly have been left alone forever by their husbands. Resistance of the wives to accept the presence and friendship of the soldiers. Resistance of the soldiers to be a willing participant of the brutality of the war anymore. Resistance to let go of the things that are safe and comfortable. Sheers' prose is deliberate at times, other times delicate and poetic. And in this novel, unlike many, I saw the entire story played out very clearly before my mind's I the only one out here that thinks this would make a great movie?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Gathering Blue - Lois Lowry

The kids and I just finished this novel, the second in a Lois Lowry trilogy. If you've been reading my reviews for a couple of months, you know that we accidentally read the books out of order, reading Messenger (the third installment) first, and The Giver (the first installment) second. This was not a critical error, but one I probably would advise against if you can help it.

In this installment, we are introduced to Kira. Her mother has recently died, and her father was killed by "beasts" from the woods before she was born. She lives in a filthy village where people are angry at each other, fight and curse constantly, beat their children and look out for number one. Immediately after her mother's death, a nasty village woman tries to confiscate Kira's hut and have her driven out of town because of a lame leg that she has had since birth. A trial is held to resolve the dispute, and much to Kira's surprise, is taken in by the elders of the community, given food, shelter, and a very important job. Because of her skills as a seamstress, she is to mend one of the most holy objects in town...the Singer's Robe. Once a year, a Gathering is held for the town, where the esteemed Singer sings the history of the world, which is also sewn into the robe as pictures. We learn that Earth has gone through an Armageddon-like destruction and is currently going through a re-building process.

Kira has a few friends around town, namely the dirty, scrappy, semi-feral but infectiously happy Matt (who we meet again in Messenger) and Thomas, who is also kept by the town's elders to maintain the carvings in the Singer's Staff. They discover a small child, who is being held in a locked room downstairs from Kira and Thomas, who is being groomed to be the next Singer. Kira is disturbed by the child's imprisonment, and its frequent weeping, and starts to question whether everything is as it seems. But when Matt runs away, and brings back a visitor as a "giftie" to Kira, she receives some shocking information that will change her life forever.

Of the three Lowry books in this trilogy, I probably liked this one the least. I didn't connect with the characters of Kira and Thomas, and the plot was a little slow. On the other hand, we thoroughly loved the character of Matt, and probably felt closer to him because of our awareness of his role in Messenger. The kids would giggle every time I read his lines, with his bad grammar and mischievous spirit. This book is, however, critical to the overall plot of the trilogy, and is the bridge between The Giver and Messenger. As a package, the three books are amazing...magical, disturbing, and enlightening. It provides almost a suggestion of what society could be like, if we had to start all over again. It sends a chill or two down my spine. Let's see what Emma thought...

Emma's take: I really liked this book, probably even more than The Giver. I found The Giver to be disturbing and scary in places, and Gathering Blue was not. Like my mom, I did not feel like there was much in the descriptions that made me really feel close to Thomas or Kira, but I had alot of fun with Matt. The village in Gathering Blue was more realistic than in The Giver also. I'm not sure all kids would like the trilogy, but my brother and I did.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Premio Splashdown

I was recently awarded the Splash award by Desert Rose Booklogue. I think at least half of my awards have come from you Desert Rose...thank you so much! If you haven't checked out her blog, you must. She reads such a wide array of books, and provides such thoughtful reviews, you will soon become a daily visitor like me!

The Splash Award is an award given to "alluring, amusing, bewitching, impressive and inspiring blogs". I should be so flattered to fall into this category!

My nominees for the Splash Award are:

ds from Third Storey Window
Wendy from Musings from a Bookish Kitty
Gavin at Page 247

Immediately after receiving the Splash award, I also was awarded the elusive Premio Dardos Award (one that I'd been coveting for awhile) from Melody of Melody's Reading Corner. Melody's blog is another one that I visit sometimes several times a day, depending on what cool things she's posting. Check her out! This award is described as such:

"This award is for bloggers who distinguish themselves for showing cultural values, ethics, great and fun writing skills, as well individual values, through their creative writing."

I've always thought this was a pretty cool award, and am thankful to Melody for believing that I fit the bill!

I have been bestowing so much love on all my fellow bloggers, I thought I would divert a little from my m.o., and nominate the following people for this award:

Kathie from Kathie Smith - aka my sister, keeps one amazing blog revolving around movies, primarily indie ones. We had approximately the same teachers growing up, so I am wondering how she became such a wonderful writer, and it didn't so much rub off on me! She's not all that into these awards, but I'm giving it to her anyway!

Danette from Summer Friend - I am having way too much fun reading Danette's blog. She is an author of a YA novel I read recently, "Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning". She is an amazingly creative writer, has great links and insight to the world of a writer, but also obsesses over Adam Lambert in American Idol and loves U2. Check out her blog and fall in love with her!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

These are the wind farms in Benton County, Indiana. They are insanely massive, and terrifying to stand near when they are running. For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell (Final Post!)

All I needed was two hours on a plane, and I got 'er done! I have thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I must thank Matt for inspiring me, but boy was I ever glad to see page 1024! And even though I've seen the movie, and I knew how the story ended, the momentum of the last 200 pages swept me away, and left me feeling breathless, devastated and even a bit sickened. Reading the book, even more than watching the movie, is like witnessing a full-scale natural disaster.

In this last installment, we start to glimpse small slivers of Scarlett's conscience. Frank's death literally flattens her with guilt, despite her lack of love for the man. She recognizes that she was not very nice to poor Frank, and feels that her irresponsible actions caused his death. Rhett thinks that her remorse is motivated by the fear of burning in hell...I tend to agree. But still, it is nice to see something stop her in her tracks!

It was so much fun to see Scarlett and Rhett finally get together, and for a brief moment in time, they are good together:

"Some mornings (Rhett) dismissed the maid and brought her the breakfast tray himself and fed her as though she were a child, took the hairbrush from her hand and brushed her long dark hair until it snapped and crackled. Yet other mornings she was torn rudely out of deep slumber when he snatched all the bed covers from her and tickled her bare feet."

The deterioration of their relationship, however, was hard to watch...squirm-worthy, really. Like watching a bad Dr. Phil show. We know they love each other (even though neither will admit it) which makes it worse. But fueled by pride, ego, and unfaithful emotions on both sides, these two would have made good candidates for intervention.

What we witness from here on out is an avalanche of epiphanies for Scarlett. Perhaps she is finally starting to grow up? It's like she was asleep or in a trance for the last decade and suddenly wakes up. When she is caught embracing Ashley and is the talk of the town, her only concern is Melanie's opinion. Despite her insistence that she hates Melanie, Scarlett depends on her and as she later acknowledges, is really her only true friend. It even seemed like Melanie, with her gentle, loving soul, replaced Ellen in Scarlett's life. She admits she cannot imagine life without her.

Scarlett also realizes that her love for Ashley was all a made-up fantasy in her mind. She sees Ashley for who he really is...a weakling, stuck in the past - someone who will never become a success, unless riding on someone else's coattails. Someone she has absolutely nothing in common with. We all knew that from the beginning, didn't we?

Scarlett is shocked to find that her children have no confidence or affection for her. In fact, they are scared of her. She knows she has not been a good mother, and has pissed their childhoods away while tending to her businesses.

I think most importantly, though, she learns that money does not buy happiness. This is the woman who found her sole motivation for living was to get rich and rub it in people's faces. However, as she watches her life crumble around her, she admits that she would give up every material possession she has for love.

That being said, I can't say that I completely forgave Scarlett for all she had done. I admired her for her scrappy, survivalist, butt-kicking tendencies. But beyond that, I kept thinking to myself "paybacks are hell, girl" and that bad karma is a dangerous thing. She got hers.

The ending begs for a sequel. I know that one came out not long ago titled "Scarlett", which I have no interest in reading. I prefer to leave the plot open and unresolved, as I am sure anything besides Ms. Mitchell's rendition would be unfulfilling. I did read that upon her death, Ms. Mitchell had all of her notes burned. The book, which consumed over 10 years of her life, put her over the edge, and was quoted to say that she "didn't give a damn" what happened to Rhett and Scarlett.

Monday Movie Meme - Falling Stars

I'm a little late on posting this weekly meme, as I was en route to Indiana this morning. On the bright side, my sister, the movie guru, is here with me, so on the ride back from the airport to my parent's house, I drew on her knowledge to help with this week's topic.

Which is all about Falling Stars. Now we can all easily come up with those stars that started out in obscurity and rose to amazing accomplishments...Tom Hanks and George Clooney to name a couple. But what about the ones who've obviously hooked up with a bad agent and have lost their edge? I won't copy from The Bumbles, who named Joe Pesci, Kevin Costner and the best one of all, Nicholas Cage. I loved him in Adaptation, Moonstruck and Leaving Las Vegas. What the hell happened? Bangkok Dangerous??? Someone is leading down a very bad path! Anyway, here are the ones that came to my mind:

Robert DeNiro - I believe he is one of the best actors of our time. Cape Fear, The Godfathers, The Deer Hunter, Goodfellas, The Awakening, The Taxi Driver? You can't find better cinema. But lately, I have to doubt his choices. Yes, the Fockers is pretty funny, but there have been a string of flops, like Righteous Kill, What Just Happened, Analyze This, Analyze That, etc. It is very depressing.

Al Pacino - To me, this is pretty much the same deal for me as DeNiro. The Godfathers, Scent of a Woman, Scarface, Sea of Love, Dog Day Afternoon...this man could do no wrong. You can't convince me just because he is older, the best thing he could find was Righteous Kill, 88 Minutes, and the Merchant of Venice! Come back to us, baby! We've almost lost you!

Shirley MacLaine - She had a long roll of good stuff way back when. My personal favorites are Being There, Steel Magnolias and Terms of Endearment. Perusing her latest work gives us some TV movies, Rumor Has It and Bewitched? Shame on her! I'm wondering if her new age jag sunk her ship?

John Malkovich - There was a time when I would watch anything this guy was in, without question. He is so deliciously creepy and twisted, and he would make any movie he graced that much better. In the Line of Fire and Dangerous Liaisons are two very good examples. When I saw him playing a bad guy on my kids' DVD of Eragon, I decided he must be pretty hard up.

I'm sure there are more out there! Please share!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Why I've been out of commission lately, and why I won't finish Gone With the Wind this week

You all know I love books. And running my kids' Book Fair is truly a labor of love. But it does tend to consume every ounce of energy and time that I have when it is happening, which has been for the last week and a half. I've been attempting to keep up with my blogger socializing at night when I get home, but my reading and posting has been woefully crappy. I will not finish the last 150 pages of Gone With the Wind this weekend, but as we are on Spring Break next week, you will get the final glorious dregs very soon. I am taking my kids to Indiana to visit my parents, and I intend on sleeping in and reading to my heart's content. I will be also hopefully finishing Voyager, the third audio book in the Outlander series, while I am away as well.

I have to admit, I've been slipping into a depression because I am not getting through these books very quickly. I am used to posting on at least two books a week, and I seriously feel unproductive. Is this wrong? It probably is, because the obnoxiously long books I'm reading are fantastic. I guess I feel I need to provide reading material on the blog, and it just ain't happening here lately!

So my apologies for not doing my dance routine for you here lately. Here are a few pictures from the Book Fair that I managed to take when I wasn't running around like a chicken with my head cut off!