Friday, May 29, 2009

The Title Fight - Kindle versus Sony

At this point, I'm sure you think I'm on Amazon's payroll. But honestly, as an avid reader, I had a keen interest in E-readers prior to my Kindle Mother's Day gift, and I know you have an interest as well. I feel compelled to be your conduit for information!

So my husband sits down this evening and starts to read his July Consumer Reports. He announces they have pitted the Kindle against the Sony, and the Kindle won. Do we trust every word CR says? Not necessarily, but it is a good place to start. Here is my boiled down version of their report:

Kindle 2: $359
Sony PRS-700BC: $349

Convenience - The Sony requires installation of software on your PC, in order to download. It takes about a hour to set this up. Kindle is wireless via Sprint's 3G network, and you are up and running in 5 minutes.

Screen - Both are the same size (6 inches), both frugal with power. Type and images are more crisp and accurate on the Kindle, and pages turn a little more quickly. The Sony does have a night-light, where the Kindle does not.

Navigation - Sony has the slight advantage here via the touch screen, versus Kindle's joystick.

Portability - Both weigh about 10 oz. Kindle is a bit thinner.

Availability of titles - This is a toss-up. Kindle has 270,000 titles, far more than Sony, at an average price of a few dollars less than Sony. Amazon also offers a free first chapter or intro for every title. Sony offers this only on a limited number of titles. However, Sony offers access to 500,000 free public-domain titles. (I might add that you can easily access most public-domain titles on other free sites and upload them to your Kindle.)

Versatility - The Sony is solely for reading books, but the Kindle offers an audio option as well. The Kindle also offers feeds to select blogs, newspapers and magazines for a small fee.

Bottom Line - The Kindle is easier to use and very versatile because of the wireless feature. The Kindle DX will have a larger 9.7 inch screen, and will be the same resolution as the smaller version (it will cost $489 when released this summer). If the touch screen and the night light is your hill to die on, then the Sony is worth considering.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Every Man Dies Alone - Hans Fallada

"Mother! The Fuhrer has murdered my son. Mother! The Fuhrer will murder your sons, too. He will not stop til he has brought sorrow to every home in the world. Pass this card on. So that many people read it! Don't give to the Winter Relief Fund! Work as slowly as you can! Put sand in the machines! Every stroke of work not done will shorten the war!"

This was the first postcard written by Otto and Anna Quangel, then left in a stairwell of a Berlin business. The first of hundreds. Having just lost their only son in the war, this working class couple decides they must do something to protect their decency and integrity. They must not blindly obey the criminals that are in charge. So they methodically create these postcards and leave them all over the city, in hopes of convincing others to join the fight. A termite revolution, if you will.

Does it work? At the end of the day, most of the postcards dropped were turned into the Gestapo with a hot-potato fear. It surely didn't have the affect the Quangels were hoping for. But in a perfect example of The Butterfly Effect, many devastating results occured. The deaths of at least seven souls, most innocent. Ruination of a successful career. The arrest, interrogation, torture and imprisonment of many. A runaway child. A mother's abandonment of a family. In an era of the predatory, guilt-by-association witch hunt, many do not survive the downfall of the Quangels.

The proud, ethical inspector Escherich keeps a wall-sized map in his office, littered with a red flag for every postcard found. Finding and arresting the "hobgoblin" planting these postcards becomes his mission in life. But when he finally does, he finds himself faced with some pretty humbling realizations. He has participated in the humiliation and the degradation of a decent man, and he questions who, indeed, is the real criminal. He is disgusted to provide "fresh prey" for the authorities. He understands that the only man truly converted by Quangel has sentenced him to death. He has sealed Quangel's fate.

This story, which by the way, is loosely based on a true story, starts out as an interesting tale of intersecting lives. Lives of those not convinced of Hitler's motives. Lives of lazy deadbeats who are always on the take. Lives of those just trying to survive. There are moments of humor - some of the personalities are priceless, and you chuckle. Then an innocent old woman, terrorized by a Hitler Youth punk, jumps out the window to her death. Zero to 60 in a few pages, then back again. The prose is rigid and unembellished, but about two-thirds the way through the book, uses its power to pull you into a dark, murky hole. The last hundred pages made my heart race, made me nautious and almost, I dare say, weepish. However, if you know me, you will know that this is a true sign of a masterpiece. I'm not moved easily in this way. It got to me.

The story of the author bears mentioning, and it is as dysfunctional as any fictional tale. Rudolph Ditzen struggled with his sexuality in his teens, and to protect the reputations of their families, staged a duel with his friend, intending to kill each other. Rudolph's bullet hit its mark; his friend's did not. Ditzen was committed to a sanatorium and was later released. He changed his name to Hans Fallada and moved to Berlin, where he began his literary career. He found some success, but most of his work came under scrutiny of the Third Reich, and his craft and spirit were beaten down by authorities. He became addicted to alcohol and various drugs, and was in and out of asylums. A fellow author and friend brought him the case file of Otto and Elise Hampel, a couple that was incarcerated for a three-year propaganda campaign against the Nazis. From their story, Fallada created the Quangels, and wrote this story in 24 days. He died of a morphine overdose before it was published. Fallada's personal demons and struggles are subtly woven into this story, and leaves you with a feeling of deep regret for his pain.

For those of you who are interested in the German resistance to the Nazis, I whole-heartedly recommend this book. Just plan on reading some Stephanie Plum or David Sedaris afterwards.

5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Alaska, at 2am, taken from the balcony of my cabin.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Watching Movies

This week's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is about how you watch movies. Do you rent, do you buy, do you plunk down a thousand dollars and watch it on the big screen or do you watch at home? Drive-ins? Netflix? Blockbuster? Here is what we do at the Nawrot house:

Netflix - We are avid fans of Netflix, and have been members for four years. We are on the 3-at-a-time plan, which may be a bit indulgent, but I like having a nice pile of movies waiting to be viewed. Some are mommy/daddy movies, and some are appropriate for the kids. We like to have a family movie night on Friday nights. I have also been known to watch a Netflix "Watch Instantly" movie on my computer. Also, another cool option is to view instantly on my son's TV upstairs - it streams through his XBox.

Movie Theater - I'll just lay down my cards here on this one. If we go to the theater, it's most likely to see a kids movie. (I can count on one hand how many adult movies my husband and I have seen at the theater in the last five years.) Luckily, our kids are old enough to view most PG-13 movies, as long as the sexual content is at a minimum and plot will keep them interested. They don't scare easily. Sometimes we'll see a new feature (like last night - Star Trek!), sometimes we go to dollar theaters. We rack up some serious movies in the summer.

TV - Once in a blue moon we will happen upon a good movie on the idiot box. This is something that happens primarily to me. I can't flip by certain movies when they are on, I am compelled to watch them, even if it is the 32nd time I've seen it, and even if the movie is half over. An Officer and a Gentleman, Shawshank Redemption, Baby Boom, When Harry Met Sally...they stop me in my tracks.

Hotel/Drive-In - OK I've only had this experience once in my life, but it was so cool, I have to mention it. A couple of years ago, my daughter and I went to Colorado for a wedding, and stayed in a hotel that faced a drive-in. Each room had a big picture window, speakers that you could turn on or off, and easy chairs, so at night you could watch what was showing from the comfort of your room with your carryout pizza and beer. We need more of these around! We don't have drive-ins where we live, so this was a treat.

Restaurant theater - We have one theater in town that shows one movie at a time, and is generally a smaller, indie movie. You know, the really good ones that are reviewed in EW but you never see heads or tails of. But the fun part is that they have a full menu, as well as wine and beer, and you sit at tables when you watch the movie. We've only been to this theater a handful of times (most movies are rated R), but my dream is that one day I can buy an annual membership and see everything they show from my reserved table!

How do you enjoy your movies? Do you have any unique viewing experiences?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Books of My Youth - a Tribute to the '80s

My husband and I were invited to a 40th birthday party last night. The theme was the '80s, and we were all required to dress up accordingly. After I had assured my other half that no, I didn't have "that crap" still shoved in the back of the closet, I did a little shopping at Goodwill and decided on the Flashdance look...a ripped up grey sweatshirt, legwarmers that were actually detached sweater arms, alot of makeup, a headband, and poofy hair. No pictures - Jennifer Beale I am not. But this inspired contemplation on that wacky decade of my youth, specifically my favorite books. So while you all were reading your Steinbeck, Jane Austen, and other cultured literature, here is how I was spending my time. I even took care to find the exact cover I owned!

Flowers in the Attic Series by V.C. Andrews - I'm not sure what the attraction was...nooky with your brother? Ewww. But all of my friends read every last book in this series.

Forever by Judy Blume - Now, we ALL know what the attraction was on this one. This book started the generational trend of giving your private parts names, after all. I think there was one book that was passed around to all of my friends, read at night under the covers with a flashlight and hidden in the underwear drawer. The lingering question in my mind is...did my mother know I was reading this?

The Promise by Danielle Steele - This book, and everything written by this author, is a big skeleton in my closet. In hindsight, The Promise was probably the best of her books, but still. The characters are obnoxious and whiny, the plots completely predictable, but I bought into them hook, line and sinker.

Whispers by Dean Koontz - My mom had this book on her shelves, I think maybe she got it from one of those book-of-the-month clubs. I don't recall asking for permission to read it, I just did. It frightened the bejeebees out of me, gave me lifelong baggage with cockroaches, and plunged me into a two-decade love affair with this author. The truth? I still read his stuff.

The Stand by Stephen King - I don't remember the exact moment I decided I needed to read all of Stephen King's books, but The Stand was gift from a boyfriend when I was in 8th grade. (I'm actually a little shocked that I would have the patience to read a 1,000 plus page book at this age!) I read it, loved it, and blew through the rest of whatever had been published at that point in one summer. I continued to read everything written by King, even the angry-woman- book phase, until maybe 10 years ago. I think I bowed out at "The Cell".

So if I would not have been buried in trashy paperback novels, and been reading something that contributed to the betterment of young minds, would I have turned out differently? Not sure, but I certainly did have fun! So what were you reading back then?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Kindle Update!

As you may have read earlier this week, I finished my first book on my Kindle, The Help. I can't imagine a better book to break in my new toy. Although I spewed out umpteen wonderful attributes about my Kindle when I first received it, now I can give you some actual feedback.

Perhaps because my Kindle is new and fun to mess with, and yes, The Help was a phenomenal book, but I read it lightning fast. I can sometimes be intimidated by a book's size, and get off to a slow start knowing it is going to take me forever. This is out of mind with the Kindle. There are no page numbers per se, just a "percentage read" notation at the bottom. No bad covers, no annoying blurbs on the back. You just dive in without baggage weighing you down. You then become so engrossed in reading that you almost try to turn a page. It is the size of a book, and honestly, you forget that it's not. Even better, there are no pages flipping around so you don't lose your place. You can bookmark wherever you stop.

You can adjust the size of the font for those of us that have some challenges with books with tiny words. I would enlarge the font even more when I was blow-drying my hair and was farther away from the book. (Don't laugh - I multi task!)

I was able to easily mark passages that were compelling, as well as make notes, then refer back to them later. This is something I usually do in a journal, which is fine, but this way, everything is in one place.

Another thing I love...well, its kind of silly and superficial, but when the Kindle goes on snooze, it shows very cool pictures of famous authors. Like Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, John Milton, Lewis Carroll and Jane Austen. I know I'm not the only one who revels in these types of things!

With the help of Molly from My Cozy Booknook I found two websites where you can download hundreds of free books. They all seem to be classics that are old enough to qualify for public domain. I've already downloaded Great Expectations, Little Women, Anna Karenina, The Woman in White, and Jane Eyre. The web navigation is a bit cumbersome...not something you would want to sit and toy with for long, but easy enough to use for the downloads.

I have also signed up for subscriptions to daily blogs that are updated automatically each time there is a post. I am still in a 14-day trial period, but after that they are $1 a month each. I haven't decided if I will keep them or not, but its fun to play. The three blogs are The Book Stacks, DailyMe Literati, and Write Anyway. There are 4,458 blogs to choose from, ranging from Sports, Travel, Arts & Entertainment, Humor & Satire, and more. Through the web navigator, you could actually pull up just about any blog you wanted, but they aren't formatted for the Kindle, and it is difficult to view properly.

So far, any downsides? It doesn't light up. I'm not sure why this is. I would think it would be an easy feature to add, but what do I know? The only time I need a light is when I'm reading at night while hubby is sleeping, which tends to annoy him anyway. I can live with it, or attach a booklamp to it. Its not a hill to die on. As I said before, the web navigation is tedious, but this was not the purpose for which I wanted the Kindle. If I need to buzz around online, I will do it on a computer.

I know there are many more things about this wonderful device that I have yet to discover. I will continue to put it through its paces. I will need to concentrate on finishing some books on the printed page before I leave on my travels, but by mid-summer I should have more to report!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray - Ann Martin

This book came into our family unexpectedly. It is required reading for all third-graders in my kids' school, and has been for years. While my son was home sick with me Thursday and Friday, we decided to read it together. The story is told from the perspective of a stray dog, from its puppy years to old age. How precious is that? How can I not read this?

Squirrel starts out her life in a farm shed with Mother, Bone (her brother) and a variety of mice and cats. Life is good...Mother teaches Squirrel and Bone how to hunt, forage for garbage and to stay hidden from humans. But when Mother disappears, presumed dead, Bone and Squirrel decide to venture off. There begins a difficult life of constant hunger and a struggle to hunt and find garbage to eat. It is a battle against the elements. Of cold nights sleeping in woods, fighting off other stray dogs. Then there are the humans...some are kind, and leave out food for Squirrel, but others are cruel, selfish and irresponsible. Some want to capture Squirrel and take her to an animal shelter. Only at the end of Squirrel's life is she rescued by a loving, gentle old lady and finds the safe, warm home that she's always wanted.

Being a dog lover, I enjoyed the experience of reading about a dog's life from the perspective of the dog. While the prose was awkward at times, and a bit repetitive, overall it was an entertaining but heartbreaking story. The one predominant message in the book is responsible pet ownership. Impatience with "dogisms" (having indoor accidents, barking, digging through garbage), physical cruelty, and neglect made me angry at individuals who think it is cool to have an animal, but don't hold up their end of the bargain. When you adopt a pet, they are yours for life, not just until you get bored with them or they are inconvenient. I'll get off my soapbox now!

I'm impressed that our school has established this book as a third grade requirement, as the official age range is grades 3 through 5. My son was able to read it easily, but I suspect a slower reader is going to struggle a bit with it. There are scenes of cruelty and death, and a few mentions of bodily functions, but nothing inappropriate for this age range. My takeaway? It reaffirmed the notion that I am over my grieving period and I need another dog!

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

These two ducks came to visit us as a layover on their flight from one lake to the next. We are always happy to have company...frogs, racoons, rodents, stray cats and dogs, and snakes are always welcome too. One of our cats, Annie, can't decide if she wants to play with them or eat them.

The Help - Kathryn Stockett (Kindle)

I recently signed up for the Southern Reading Challenge, and because of overwhelmingly positive reviews from bloggers and Entertainment Weekly, I added this book to my list. Not only that, it was my first purchase on my Kindle. First-time author Kathryn Stockett has hit a serious home run here, guys. Watch out. I'm working up to a major love fest.

It is Jackson Mississippi in 1962, and we are knee-deep in segregation - separate bathrooms, separate hospitals, even separate libraries. Every middle and upper class family has a black maid. But we are on the brink of big changes. Martin Luther King Jr. is making a name for himself, and tensions are running high between blacks and whites.

At the center of the story are three women. Aibileen is a meek, middle aged, single black woman whose only son was killed in a tragic accident several years prior. She has spent her entire life raising the babies and polishing the silver of her white employers. She is God-fearing, and her prayer lists are famous for their effectiveness. Minny, Aibileen's best friend and also a maid, is a firecracker, whose sassy mouth tells it like it is and gets her in big trouble. She even served one particularly bitchy employer a cake with an extra special ingredient to get the last word in. At home, though, she suffers from domestic abuse. Then there is Skeeter, a white, spindly, homely girl from a wealthy family, who wants to become a writer. She also fiercely disagrees with the inequities between blacks and whites, but must keep it to herself or suffer at the hands of her bigoted family and friends.

In order to convince a New York publisher that she has what it takes, Skeeter decides to write a book. But not just any book...she wants to interview about a dozen of Jackson's black maids and tell their sides of the story. The kindnesses, the humiliations, everything. It's not an easy sell. If caught, these ladies could be fired and blacklisted, or even physically harmed. Skeeter and the maids meet at night, in secret, and names are changed in the stories. But the danger is still there. Aibileen and Minny take the challenge, and rally their fellow maids to do the right thing, regardless of the cost.

There are so many reasons why this story works. As any good plot should, there is a villain - the high society's mean girl that manipulates everyone and everything to her whim. I wanted to smash her face! Stockett brings the characters to life, particularly Aibileen and Minny, with voices so real I can hear them in my head. I fell in love with these two ladies. They are warm, spiritual, flawed, courageous, and full of life. You feel tension in your stomach from the risks they take; you cheer for them to succeed in their mission and in life. There are also a multitude of sub-plots...Minny's employer, a white trash floozy who married rich, ostracized by society, and who would take a bullet for her maid. Skeeter's mother's battle with cancer. Aibileen's attachment to her employer's children, who she so desperately tries to teach lessons of equality and self-esteem. The unbreakable bond of friendship and love between blacks and whites, even during a time of discrimination and hate. I could go on forever. You will not want to put this book down, even for food and sleep.

Tell your friends. Tell your book club. This one's a winner.

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Tears of a Clown

This week's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about those nasty little tear-jerkers. Now, I am not usually a highly emotional person when it comes to movies. I can usually detect when I'm being manipulated, and it makes me angry instead of weepy. But there are a few that will always do a number on me, sometimes when I even THINK about the movie, let alone watch it. There are some repeats from the the Bumbles, but this list is what it is:

Life is Beautiful - This one is at the top of the list. Yes, it is a movie about the Holocaust, so you'd think that crying would be natural, but hey. I didn't cry at Schindler's List, but this one brings on tears even at the thought. It is one of the best movies ever made, in my humble opinion.

Cinema Paradiso - Sobbed for probably an hour after this one ended. It is nostalgic and sentimental, and it pushed my buttons.

Steel Magnolias - I think I am in the majority on this one. Who hasn't cried at this one? It is perfect to watch with your girlfriends, and cry without abandon.

Terms of Endearment - This one is in the same category as Steel Magnolias. Terminal women with children left behind will getcha every time.

Old Yeller - I have issues with dying animals. There are alot of them out there, but I think this one was the first to stab me in the heart.

Sophie's Choice - This is not a sentimental flood of tears, it is painful, sore-stomach, rip-your-heart-out-and-stomp-it-on-the-ground crying. A mother should never have to choose which child will be spared the gas chamber, ever.

Hoosiers - This one is silly, and is probably unique to me only, which is why I have to list it. First, I love this movie. Having grown up in the heartland of Indiana, this movie is a testament to one of our religions there...high school basketball. But at the end of the movie, when they show a picture of the State Championship team made up of a bunch of skinny white boys from podunk, and they echo the voice of the coach saying "I love you guys", a tear comes to my eye. Every time. And I've seen the flick probably two dozen times.

Friday, May 15, 2009

39 Clues: Maze of Bones - Rick Riorden

The 39 Clues series has been one of the hottest selling tickets at the last two Scholastic Book Fairs at my kids' school. At this past fair, we purchased all three books that have been released so far. In total, there will be ten, all written by different authors. These books are an example of the mixed media tactic recently used by publishers to connect with the generation of kids that would rather play video games or surf the Internet than read a book. (Another example would be Skeleton Creek - see my review here.) The 39 Clues books can be purchased with a set of clue cards, and you can also purchase additional cards separately. You may then log on to the official website and use these cards to solve a mystery with the clues provided, and may be rewarded if you solve it. More on the cards later...

The main characters are Dan (11) and Amy (14), orphaned siblings who live with a rather ill-tempered aunt, and occasionally visit their beloved (and wealthy) grandmother Grace. When Grace dies, she leaves a very curious legacy in her wake. You see, she is the matriarch of the large and once-powerful Cahill family. Just about anyone in history of importance has been a member of the Cahill family, but somewhere along the way, the family lost their power. (The definition of this "power" is yet to be a nuclear weapon? a cure to world hunger?) Grace's last will and testament proposes this: For those chosen members of the Cahill family, you may take one million dollars and walk away. Or, you may attempt to chase a series of 39 clues, that if solved, will earn them back all the lost power of the Cahill family. Dan and Amy, with the help of their iPod-toting au pair, launch themselves headlong into a race around the world to solve the clues. But so do a number of their ill-intentioned cousins.

Each of the 39 Clues books features a prominent historical figure...this one features Benjamin Franklin, who also happens to have been a member of the Cahill family. Amy and Dan follow clues from Philadelphia to Paris, into libraries, graveyards, museums and catacombs, picking up the more commonly known facts about Franklin, as well as other facts that may NOT have been his crowning glories, like his written works on farts (the kids love this stuff). Their adventure, however, is rife with mysterious figures and nefarious family members attempting to blow them up, bury them alive and poison them.

Personally? I could take or leave this book, but since we have started the series, I guess we are in it for the long haul. I believe kids will find this book more entertaining than adults...mine are not that discerning. They only require action to be entertained. The writing is very simplistic, the characters stereotypical, and the conflicts predictable. Every single time Dan and Amy find a clue, they are thwarted by an opposing family member. Every single time. Toward the end of this story, even my daughter was shaking her head at the umpteenth time it happened. On the positive side, your kids will learn about Benjamin Franklin (including fart literature), the book is fast-paced, and the content is clean and appropriate for ages for 7 or 8, depending on reading level, to middle school.

With regards to the cards, they were a bust for my kids. They poked around on the Internet with the cards and the clues, but could never get engaged in the challenge. I will admit I did not try it myself. I spend enough time on here, eh? So, let's ask Emma what she thought:

Emma's take: I love mystery and action books, so I really enjoyed this one. There weren't very many boring parts, and I like the idea of hunting for clues. The little brother, Dan, made me laugh. He made pretty funny comments about things, and Amy would get annoyed, just like a real brother and sister. But there is something I did not like. It is the fact that every time Dan and Amy found a clue, their relatives just popped up out of nowhere and stole information. I really got tired of that. About halfway through the book, you started expecting that to happen. I think most kids would like this book - it is not too scary, it has alot of action and is easy to understand.

Sandy's rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Emma and Ryan's rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Page in the Life,!

This is a big day for me, friends! My fellow blogger buddy, Wendy, at Musings of a Bookish Kitty, has a feature post that she publishes now and again called "A Page in the Life". In this post, she interviews someone from the book blogging community, so the rest of us can get to know them a little better. I am so honored to be her subject for this edition! Come on over and check it out!

Before Women Had Wings - Connie May Fowler

Are you sick of hearing about Connie May Fowler yet? I hope not, because I'm not close to being done with her. My latest experience with Connie is the book that put her on the literary map. Before Women Had Wings, a semi-autobiographical novel, apparently made a noticeable splash early in Connie's career, so much that the story was made into a TV movie for Oprah (please don't hold it against her!). I have chosen this book for both my TBR Reading Challenge, and my Southern Reading Challenge. In case you are new to the blog, you may reflect, if you wish, on my earlier ravings with Connie's debut novel Sugar Cage, and my personal favorite so far, Remembering Blue.

The story revolves around Avocet Jackson, nicknamed Bird. She lives in poverty in rural Florida with her older sister Pheobe and her parents. She is a spirited nine year old who loves animals, and loves Jesus. She prays to him often, hoping that He will help her parents stop drinking, her dad from beating up her mom, and her mom from beating up the kids. Her dad is known for his boyish charm and wasted country singer potential, and her mom is a dark-haired beauty with a hair-trigger temper. When Bird's father kills himself, her mom moves the three of them to Tampa, where things progress from bad to worse. Aggravated by drink and loss, Bird's mother descends into the depths of hell, putting herself and her daughters in mortal danger.

Bird has lost her childlike innocence. Jesus has failed her. She feels completely responsible for her father's death and for the beatings she receives. Until she meets Miss Zora, a gentle, wise soul that lives around the corner. Miss Zora is a spiritual healer who provides friendship, guidance and a warm embrace to Bird when she needs it the most.

I know it sounds dire. At times it is painful to read about the abuses suffered by these children. It is not for the faint of heart. But there is hope in the form of a little old black lady that pulls the reader out of the muck, with references to birds, wings and angels throughout. What makes this book about domestic abuse any different than the thousands of others out there? Because Connie May Fowler is a brilliant writer. How else can you explain reading about such atrocities and still not being able to put the book down? Adding more distance between this novel and the competition is the knowledge that this story is coming from a very personal and painful place in Connie's heart. I know that she spends a great deal of time touring through the US, speaking to groups about domestic abuse and donating her time to help those in dead end situations. Since penning "Before Women Had Wings", she has written her own memoir, titled "When Katie Wakes", about her harrowing experiences with domestic abuse, and the unconditional love of her dog Kateland. This will be one of my next purchases on my Kindle. Stay tuned!

4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

A warm water spring in the Ocala National Forest, Florida.

The Kind of Friends We Used To Be - Frances O' Roark Dowell (audio)

“The Kind of Friends We Used To Be” was a featured book on our Scholastic Book Fair this year, so when I stumbled upon the audio in the library, I thought it might be a good selection for the kids and I to listen to in the car. It was pretty short – only four discs – so we were able to listen to the entire story during a few errands and our Mother’s Day roadtrip to the beach this weekend.

Kate and Marilyn have been best friends and neighbors since grade school. They are now entering 7th grade, however, and it is becoming more and more apparent that they have very little in common but their shared history. Marilyn is a cheerleader and has gotten caught up in makeup, fashion, and becoming an elected member of the student government. She also struggles with her parents’ recent divorce. Kate is a jeans and t-shirt kinda girl, and has recently decided to learn to play the guitar, write song lyrics, and has added a big clonky pair of lace-up black boots to her wardrobe.

Each girl has her own middle school challenges. Does Marilyn dare befriend the slightly odd new girl who is an amazing artist, and risk the scorn of the other cheerleaders? Does she even care? Is there anyone she can talk to about how inconvenient and empty a broken home really feels? Kate doesn’t feel like she fits in. She surprisingly finds music as a common ground with the pink-haired older girl down the street that used to torment her, and forms a close friendship with a boy in her creative writing class but is confused about her feelings for him. Each girl sadly misses “the kind of friends they used to be”, but have moved on.

This was a light, moderately entertaining book. While the characters are primarily girls in the 12 to 13 year old age range, my 11 year old daughter and 9 year old son were actively interested. The themes weren’t inappropriate and were within the realm of their understanding. The storyline, however seemed to be without purpose. Yes, there were some lessons in there, but it meandered too much to leave much of an impact at the end. I questioned the kids this morning after we finished the audio and before we reached school, and both of them said in monotone voices “it was good”. I couldn’t get much more out of them. Neither really wanted to help review it. I guess I have set the standard with Lois Lowry books and The Hunger Games, and I can’t blame them for their lack of excitement.

Sandy's rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Emma and Ryan's rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Minor Memories

This week, the Bumbles have changed it up a little for us. They have asked us to close our eyes and reflect back to that fragile moment in our lives when we lost a little of our innocence...when we saw our first rated R movie. Chances are pretty good we weren't "legal", and we knew we were getting away with something a little naughty.

I usually have very vivid memories of my youth. In fact, I can remember conversations I had in first grade with my friends, but often not what I had for breakfast. So I'm a little vexed that this important moment in my life doesn't readily come to mind. In general, my childhood was heavy on the slasher films and light on the sex films...I bet my sister, cousins and I saw Friday the 13th and Halloween a couple dozen times on VHS throughout high school. With a little research on dates, here are my best guesses:

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

I distinctly remember going to see this movie with a group of friends in the Attica (Indiana, not the prison) theater. Attica showed movies that had been released for awhile, like a dollar theater, so it is possible that we saw it in '78, which would have made me 12ish. Julie Reynolds' mom took us, and as we were walking up to buy our tickets, she made a comment under her breath that she hoped the black underwear on John Travolta wouldn't freak us out. I almost wet myself right there on the spot. Did my mom know I was seeing this? I have to imagine she did, but then again, who knows?

The Shining (1980)

I think this was the first scary movie I ever saw...this one came out the same year as Friday the 13th, so I don't know for sure. What was memorable about seeing this movie was that my dad took me, of his own free will. (My sister got to see a Disney movie with my mom.) We'd both seen the trailer, and I'd read the book at this point, so we were pretty excited to see it. Frankly, the book was pretty terrifying, so I was well-prepped for the crazy dead lady, the murdered twins and blood coming out of the elevator. After my initiation with this film, it was an all-out barrage of Friday the 13th/Halloween/Nightmare on Elm Street movies and their inane sequels. I saw them all.

If anyone from my childhood remembers something different, please let me know. So what rated R movie memories do you have?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book bloggers are the best!

I am way behind on posting some wonderful awards I have received! I received the 2009 Friendly Blogger Award from two amazing blogger friends Serena @ Savvy Verse & Wit and Desert Rose. Serena is one of those bloggers that sets the standard for the rest of us. She writes amazing reviews, participates in blog tours, author interviews, giveaways, and is a very generous supporter to her blogging community. Not only that, but she is an excellent writer of poetry! Thanks Serena! And if you have been following my blog for any lenth of time at all, you know Desert Rose. I think a majority of my awards have come from her. She herself is one of the friendliest bloggers out there, and reads a wide array of books. There is something for everyone on her blog!

I also received another award from Serena, the #1 Blogger Award. The originator of this award, Naida at the bookworm, created this button from a photo of her new dog Diego. Again, Serena, an award coming from you is an honor. Thank you so much!

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Earlier this week, I was tagged for an upbeat little meme by Susan at Bear Swamp Reflections. Now before I go any further, I have to wax lovingly about Susan's blog, which is fairly new to me. She has recently finished a seven post series on a photo album that she picked up in an antique shop. The photos are of a vacation taken in the early 1900's by a group of three women and a man (we think, who may be the photographer) overseas to Europe. The pictures are phenomenal, the women interesting. Some of the landmarks are unidentifiable...are they gone now? Some of the activities of the women are mysterious. I had so much fun looking at these pictures, and think that Susan should write a book about them. You must go check them out!

Anyway, on to the meme. In the meme, you need to list ten unimportant things that make you happy. I say, if they make me happy, then they are very important (to me anyway!). Oh well. Here are some of my sources of happiness, in no particular order:

1. A long walk with my audiobook.

2. Writing a review I'm proud of.

3. The smell of freshly cut grass.

4. A weekend evening with no plans.

5. A glass of wine. Or two. Or three.

6. Time with my girlfriends. No kids, no husbands. (No offense.)

7. The beach. Preferably St. George Island, but any will do in a pinch.

8. Playing golf with my husband.

9. Getting a delivery from the library.

10. Spending quality time with my kids. When they aren't fighting or rolling their eyes at me.

I'm supposed to tag some people to play along. But I'm not going to. I am taking a tag hiatus for just awhile. I feel like I have tagged my blogging friends to a bloody pulp with memes and awards. But, if you feel the need for some light musings on happiness, please join in!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Persuasion - Jane Austen

It's a shame that after 42 years, I am only now discovering the genius of Jane Austen. I fell head over heels for Pride & Prejudice, and I jumped into the Classics Reading Challenge with the intent of reading more from Jane. I even bought a two volume set of all of her works. After some trusted advice, I decided Persuasion would be next. Before I talk about the story, though, I want to say two things. 1) I'm NOT a romantic 2) I am not automatically drawn to period movies or literature. Be that as it may, these books rock.

Our central character in Persuasion is Anne Elliot, a middle child, overlooked and underestimated by a family of hypocritical, narcissistic bigots. The father is the ringleader of the whole mess, setting an example for two of his three daughters. He is hypercritical of others based on how they look (freckles and weathered skin are down there with the poo on the bottom of his boots) and how much money they have. Anne, surprisingly, has grown up to be a down-to-earth, level-headed, sincere young lady. She carries with her a deep sadness, though, having been forced to break off an engagement with the love of her life, a Mr. Frederick Wentworth, 8 years prior. Wentworth apparently was not financially worthy at the time, and the family sent him scurrying away with his tail between his legs.

After Mrs. Elliot dies, daddy dearest blows all of his cash, and ends up having to downsize to a smaller place in Bath, and leases his estate to an upstanding sea captain and his wife. (This is an example of karma at its best!) The captain's wife just happens to be the sister to the one and only Frederick Wentworth (now quite wealthy), and when Anne finds out, she just about blows a gasket. All the old emotions come rushing back. Their paths cross again and again, but Wentworth is impossible to read. Is he still mad at her? Does he still love her? At one point, it seems that he is courting another woman, but then he turns his back on her. When a wealthy Elliot cousin breezes into town and starts to buzz around Anne, Wentworth begins to show some cautious interest, but overall is ambiguous in his intentions. Anne is encouraged but doubts her interpretation of his actions.

Now if you're a purist, and haven't read the book and intend to soon, I am about to talk about the story's "big reveal" that Austen is known for. So skip this paragraph if you don't want the spoiler. In Persuasion, the climax comes about a dozen pages from the end, and it is a wonderful scene. Anne is at a function, and is having a spirited discussion with a family friend about whether men or women recover quicker from a broken heart. Anne vehemently argues that women love longer, and find it harder to let go. Wentworth is sitting nearby and overhears the discussion, and understands now that Anne still loves him. He writes a very heartfelt letter to Anne, claiming to have never stopped loving her all these years. This is the ultimate story of second chances. They live happily ever after, of course.

I did thoroughly enjoy this book, but perhaps just a tad less than Pride & Prejudice. I know not everyone agrees. But I felt this book, while full of Austen's usual charm and nuances, was slightly less developed. I would have liked to see more of Wentworth's personality - he felt almost two dimensional. I also would have like the ending to be less abrupt, with just a little more elaboration. (My only basis for comparison is P&P, so I would love the more seasoned readers' opinions!) Only after I'd finished the book did I read that Austen was ill while writing this book, and in fact died before it was published. She hadn't even named the book, and the ultimate title of Persuasion was chosen by Austen's brother. This explains some of my issues, and in fact, makes the whole situation very poignant and bittersweet. At the end of the day, I have confirmed to myself that I must read everything written by Austen and look forward to the journey!

4.5 out of 5 stars.

My heart's desire has arrived!

The seed was planted awhile ago, when Stephen King, in one of his columns in Entertainment Weekly, started talking about this electronic book device, the Kindle. Mr. Pop Culture loved it. I was skeptical. I love the touch and smell of a paper book. I did some research. I threw it into a saucepan and put it on the back burner in my brain.

A mom that volunteered at my Book Fair had one, and I got to touch it. I cranked up the heat a little bit.

I started musing about how many books I would have to drag to Poland and Indiana this summer to keep me entertained (and how much these books would contribute to my 50 pound limit per bag). Last time I went overseas, I took all the Harry Potters with me. They were very heavy, and my husband was very angry. The saucepan was moved to the front burner.

Then Michele, my kindred reading spirit at Reader's Respite, got one. Not only that, I guessed what her first Kindle purchase was, and I won a $25 gift certificate to Amazon. That did it. I started my campaign with my husband. This was the only thing I wanted for Mother's Day and my birthday (coming in June). It arrived yesterday via UPS. I even had to work for it. It required a signature, so I made sure all my vacuuming was done prior to the estimated arrival of said UPS man, I didn't take a shower, and I broke some speed limits going to pick up my son from school and get back home before the UPS man came (plus I left a note on my door threatening him not to leave before I came back). How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

You can download just about any book in the universe via a wireless system built in to the Kindle, which takes about 30 seconds. Prices are reasonable, ranging from about a buck for older books and classics, to $10 to $15 for a new release. The screen is the size of a paperback, and fonts may be adjusted for those who are visually challenged (like me). For most books, you can turn on an audio function (electronic, not person) and it will turn the pages as it reads. You can subscribe to daily/weekly/monthly magazines, newspapers and blogs. The blogs run about a buck a month, and the magazines and newspapers are equal to or less than if you were to subscribe to receive the printed copy. It will hold about 1,500 books, and Amazon will archive them online if you don't want to carry them on your device. You can search Google or Wikipedia (albeit a little slow). You can mark passages you want to save for your posts, you can write notes along the way. The screen is non-glare so you can read it in the sun. You can send and receive some documents to and from your computer at home. The average battery charge, if you turn off the wireless feature, will get you about five days of reading. You can upload MP3 songs to play while you read.

Downsides? It's an Amazon thing. No library e-books are compatible. The online browser function is a little slow. You wouldn't want to use it to blog, for example. But if you need to do a little research on Wikipedia, you can.

This is just what I've gleaned over the last day. I'm going to give it a workout over the next few months, and I'll report back what I find. For now, I am a happy girl.

Oh I forgot to tell you one of the best things. My husband also bought me a beautiful purple leather cover for it!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fun at Barnes & Noble

My kids' school had a special Book Fair event at our local Barnes & Noble last night, and I was so proud of its success, I decided I needed to share! I think we've had these events in the past, but this time we decided to really give it a big push and see what would happen. We held it from 5:30 to 8:30, and had the following highlights:

Our fifth grade jugglers

Our middle school chimes group

Our ukulele and harp ensemble

And our teachers relaxing in the cafe

But the greatest part for me was meeting Danette Haworth, a local author that has recently published her first book "Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning". See my review here and my interview with her here. We were lucky enough to get her to do a "meet and greet" at the same time as our event, and I think we spent most of the time chatting about becoming a writer, her current blog tour, other Florida authors, and of course our obsession with Adam Lambert, the hottest thing that has hit American Idol in years. Danette's sister even kept us company! Here are some pictures of Danette:

I'm very excited because Danette is in the process of writing her second novel "Hotel of Blueberry Goodness". She's just finished her first manuscript, and is on pace for her release in 2010. I will be first in line!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Beat the Reaper - Josh Bazell (audio)

I'd just started my long-term commitment of listening to Drums of Autumn (39 discs, thank you very much) when this little guy showed up at my door from the library. It was only 6 discs, which basically amounts to a couple of days of errands and a long walk. I've been hankering for this book since it took blogland by storm a few months ago, so I went for it.

What a trip. Bazell, who is apparently a doctor, has crafted a fast-paced mob story, soaked in some pretty disgusting medical ooze. I think it was EW that advised not to read this book if you are thinking about or currently in the hospital for any type of procedure (even splinter removal). I would advise not to read this book if you are offended by the f-bomb or various terms for male and female private parts. Luckily, I don't classify for either disclaimer.

Our protagonist is Peter Brown, a resident at a hospital in New York City. His voice, represented by an awesome narrator with the perfect voice for such a character, is that of a snappy, dry-witted Wise Guy. In the middle of his rounds one day, he runs into a mobster with stomach cancer, and his past smacks him upside the head. We learn through periodic flashbacks that Peter is in fact Pietro Brnwa, an ex-mobster in Witness Protection, whose cover has now been blown. He reviews his life in retrospect, and muses at the events that led to his current predicament. A life that involved his seeking revenge for his grandparents' murder, tracing their connections back to their homeland of Poland and their imprisonment in Auschwitz. A life that slowly sucked him into a life of whacking slimeballs for the mob (at least that is how he justifies it to himself).

The mobster tells Peter that the secret is safe with him, unless he dies of course, then the bet is off. And Peter does everything he can to keep the terminal sleezebag alive, but who would trust this guy? Peter also struggles with other to get free drugs from the hot pharmaceutical rep, diagnosing a gentleman with a pain in his backside (known as "ass man"), and trying to cheer up another young babe that is about to lose her leg from the knee down.

This is not literature for a book club or deep reflection. It is a fun, entertaining story that you will have a hard time setting down, even for a few minutes. (Provided you don't read it in a hospital, which in that case you will be sufficiently freaked out.) The audio is a special treat. Not only does the narrator embody Peter Brown, he has amazingly perfect accents (southern, NY mob, Romanian, Polish, Russian...I'm sure I'm missing some). They also inject just a few well-placed sound effects, like water, echoes, and hospital monitors. This is a new one for me. You could potentially see this as a bit hokey, but I saw it as something different. And at or near the end of each disc, they play seriously rockin' music. I loved it. In justifying my rating, I pulled it down a notch only because the cursing is gratuitous (even though you expect it from a mob story), and while it did not bother me, it could get under your skin.

4 out 5 stars

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

So sue me...I caved ONE MORE TIME

I've lived in Florida since 1991, so I consider myself a Southerner. We are a transient state, so for Florida, 18 years makes me an old-timer. When I saw this challenge, the Southern Reading Challenge, I knew that I must sign up. You are only required to read three books between May 15 and August 15, so this is a very achievable goal. (Thanks Iliana, I have you to thank for this!). If you would like to join me in a challenge that is really just a stroll around the gardens with a mint julep in hand, see the official website here.

I have quickly and impulsively decided what my three books will be:

Before Women Had Wings - Connie May Fowler: This is already on my TBR Reading Challenge, but I am having a "thing" for this author and she is the epitome of the south.

The Help - Kathryn Stockett: Good reviews everywhere on this one. It was on my list anyway, why not to reward myself?

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee: This is embarrassing really. No I haven't read it! I've always been intrigued with Harper Lee's relationship with Capote, so I am going to use this challenge to just get it done.

Wordless Wednesday

On my parents' farm in Indiana, taken when I was there over Spring Break.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (audio)

Yes, I am probably the last person on earth to read this book. I've seen it hold many a blogger hostage, fueling their obsessive natures and making them read until 2 in the morning or while at a stop light. When my Scholastic rep Mary Carrico (thanks Mary!!) offered to loan the audio discs to me, my eyes got all buggy and my day was officially made. Put my kids and I on the list of obsessives, thank you. This was one freaking wild ride.

The United States, as we know it, is gone. We now have Panem, a collection of 12 districts, that is run by The Capitol. To make sure that the districts don't forget who's boss, they annually hold the Hunger Games where they choose 24 teenagers (12 boys and 12 girls) to participate. The best way to describe the Hunger Games is to imagine Gladiator mixed with a little Man Versus Wild, and all of it documented on a really tacky reality show. The kids are thrown together in a man-made, controlled environment called an "arena" and told to go at it. The last kid standing (translation: still alive) wins, and will never want for anything again. They are expected to survive by hunting animals, eating roots and berries and leaves. Big Brother up there at The Capitol can introduce elements (fireballs, torrential rain, freezing cold, mutated wolves) to force action when things get boring. And all of it is televised for viewing enjoyment. If the contestants perform cleverly, or add a little drama, they may get sponsors that send them goodies that come from the sky attached to parachutes.

Our narrator is 16 year old Katniss, from District 12. She is a tough little cookie, and at a young age has learned to hunt for food in order to sustain her little sister, Prim, and her mother, who has been rendered child-like after Katniss's father's death. Katniss is street-wise and realistic, and knows that The Capitol is not to be trusted or counted upon to do anything but stand by and watch people starve to death. Her best friend is an older boy, Gale, who seems to be quite the hottie and has more than a friendly, but benign, interest in Katniss. However, Katniss will also never forget the baker's son, Peeta, who at one time saved her from starvation by leaving leftover bread for her behind his parents' store. Voila! We have a love triangle brewing!

When it comes time for District 12's Hunger Games contestants names to be pulled from a hat, Prim is chosen. Without thinking, Katniss volunteers to take her place. What even rattles her more is when Peeta is chosen as her male counterpart. Katniss cannot bear the thought of killing Peeta. In fact, the two of them have been counseled by their District 12 mentors that if they pretend to be in love, they may receive more sponsors and thus more goodies. Its all very cute, but the brutality and intensity of what transpires in the arena is nothing to laugh at. It is abrupt, violent and sobering. What is even more sickening is the manipulation, narcissism and unreliability of The Capitol.

Obsessive is probably too mild of a word to describe our attitude towards this audio book. We only listened to it in the car, so very quickly the kids were refusing to let their father take them to school. They no longer complained about the long haul to golf practice. They didn't want to talk about their day on the ride home from school. From my point of view, the story was adult-worthy. The character development was surprisingly complete for a YA novel, and the action was as insane as it gets. There were a few incomplete details that only adults would notice, but nothing that gets in the way of the bigger picture.

You may be questioning my judgement in allowing them to listen to such a story, at the ages of 9 and 11. There was no sexuality in the story...some kisses and hugs, all very chaste, but that is about it. The violence was shocking, but not any more than watching Orc heads flying around in LOTR. They absolutely loved the story. They are thrilled that this book is the intended first in a trilogy (the second, called Catching Fire is due out 9/1/09), and that it was recently picked up by Lionsgate to be made into a movie (screenplay will be written by Collins).

Emma's take: I loved this book. I really liked that it was about survival, and I liked imagining that I could survive like Katniss did. I especially liked the story once Katniss was in the arena. There was lots of action and it was so exciting! You never knew what was going to happen next. The lessons that I learned from the story were to be careful when you choose your allies, to be careful who you trust, and to not be afraid to be yourself. I think some kids would be a little frightened with this book if they were younger than me. (Although my brother wasn't.) But I think kids my age and older would love the action and the surprises. I'll be sure to read the later books, because I am eager to find out what happens to Katniss, Peeta and Gale. I've been having fun googling about the book and movie, and can't wait to find out who will be in the movie.

Sandy and Emma's Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday Movie Meme - Where the Wild Things Are

This week's Monday Movie Meme is all about those furry, non-speaking creatures that capture our hearts on the silver screen. The Bumbles were inspired this week by their two kittens that raise hell and destroy every thing in sight every time Molly and Andy leave the house (I know where you're coming from on this one!). As Andy so appropriate said "cats don't follow orders". What are your favorite movies that feature amazing animals that make the film that much more special? Granted, there are some BAD ones out there (Hotel for Dogs? Please!) Here are some of my favorites:

Lassie - Lassie was the daddy of all animals movies in my mind. Never mind all the sequels, but the original changed us as kids. And made us all want collies.

Homeward Bound - You gotta love a movie where the cat orders the dogs around. This one brings tears to my eyes every time the kids watch it. I'm such a sap.

Old Yeller - Dare ya not to cry. Damn movie.

Because of Winn Dixie - My husband accuses me of liking this one because Dave Matthews is in it. I think he's right.

Two Brothers - this movie makes you want to take a couple of tiger cubs in as pets, against your common sense. It may have been a bit contrived, but I did really love this movie. I mean, tigers and Guy Pierce? What's not to love?

Babe - I've watched this one at least a couple of dozen times myself. Many times without the kids. It is possibly one of the sweetest movies ever made, which is an accomplishment considering it's about a pig!

Best in Show - I will bring up this movie at any chance I have. Since it's a spoof about the Westminister Dog Show, and has lots of animals in it (lest we forget the weimereiner who can't perform without her busy bee), I must include it, even though The Bumbles had it on their list too!

What animals movies are your favorites? Don't by shy, I won't make fun!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The badge has been ripped off: The rejection of Yiddish Policemen

I've been saying for some time now that I feel easy. I've been wearing my Miss Merry Sunshine badge around since the beginning of the year, and just about everything I have reviewed, I've loved. Well, folks, the badge has come off. With The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.

I picked up this audio book at the library on an emergency run last week. I remembered that the reviews were pretty positive. I cranked it up yesterday in preparation for a good long house cleaning. It may be a mood, it may be the alignment of the stars, it may have been a bad hair day, maybe it was the narrator. Perhaps I'm still coming off my Brideshead Revisted/Jeremy Irons high. But I got about 2 discs into it and just couldn't go on. I never do this. There was alot of annoying fast-paced tough guy talk, alot of Yiddish words I didn't understand, I couldn't keep up with the names, or the jumping back and forth in time. Oy vay!

I will keep it in my iPod, and give it a try later. But for now, I'm going to quickly load Beat the Reaper, which I just received from the library yesterday, listen to that, then get back to the Outlander Series. (Drums of Autumn is 39 discs guys. Another long-term relationship.)

Have any of you read The Yiddish Policemen's Union? Was I too hasty in my actions? Do I try again, or move on? Please help me.