Saturday, October 31, 2009

Top Commenter Award

I was recently awarded these two awards by the lovely Melody of Melody's Reading Corner, which was a real highlight for me. I take alot of pride in leaving comments to the bloggers I follow, because I know that is the bread and butter of blogging. Those comments liven up the party, and confirm to us that we are not talking to ourselves! The only bummer in this whole equation is that I can't really pass this award back to Melody, although I'd sure like to. Melody is always one of the first commenters on every one of my posts. If I don't see a comment from Melody, I know something is amiss...she is either sick, her kids are sick, or she is traveling.

Melody has one of those blogs you really want to add to your blogroll. No matter where your literary interests lie, she has probably read and reviewed something in that genre. And, of course, she is incredibly friendly. I want to thank Beth @ Beth Fish Reads for turning my attention to Melody earlier this year via an awards post (I think she introduced me not only to Melody in this post, but also Jackie @ Farm Lane Books and Dar @ Peeking Between the Pages - I hit the jackpot!).

Now I get to nominate bloggers for this award and pass along the love. I don't really follow the rules here normally. I know I am supposed to pass these along to a certain number of people, but have always found it more meaningful to concentrate my attention on one person. In this case, that would be Kathy @ BermudaOnion. If you haven't seen Kathy around, then pay closer attention...she's there. In fact, she is everywhere. It is hard to find a blog where she isn't commenting. I recently connected with her right around BBAW time, and since then, she makes the rounds to my blog as well, every day. Always thoughtful, she even comments on the posts announcing winners with a friendly "way to go". Not only that, but I've received e-mails from her with encouraging words and side conversations. She is really the essence of the blogging community, and has a big heart. (Oh just as an aside from all this gushing, she has a fabulous blog.) If you are one of the few that haven't met Kathy, head on over.

I love music, so I had to find something to share with you relating to the post. Since we are talking about talking, how about a video from "Talk Talk"??? Who didn't love this song in the '80s?

Talk Talk - It's My Life
Uploaded by cladstrife. - Watch more music videos, in HD!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Feathers - Jacqueline Woodson

I blame it all on Natasha and Amy. They inspired me to read "I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This" by Jacqueline Woodson, and I was so impressed by its simplicity and beauty, that I was soon on my library's website ordering more from Woodson. Feathers was next up on the list.

The title Feathers is based on the quote from Emily Dickinson: Hope is the thing with feathers. The story is short (118 pages), subtle and gentle, but sneaky. I'm not sure it is possible to close the book upon finishing it, and move directly on to the next book in the pile. The story leaves a trail of crumbs in your heart that helps you re-trace and re-think about where you've been. True to the quote, the story is all about hope.

Frannie is a tween-aged black girl living in a black neighborhood in the 1970's, and goes to a black school. Life is as normal as it gets, until one day, a white boy walks into her classroom. A boy with long hair and a peaceful demeanor. The kids soon refer to him as the "Jesus Boy". Some even begin to wonder whether he IS Jesus, sent from the heavens to their school for a reason.

There are several plots taking place in the book, but they are all interwoven with the desire for hope. Frannie's older brother has been deaf since birth - will he ever be able to fully integrate with the speaking world? Frannie's mother is pregnant, but has had a history of devastating miscarriages - will this baby survive? Why would the "Jesus Boy" want to live among people with a different skin color? Is he really Jesus, or just a normal boy? Frannie sums up her feelings to her best friend Samantha:

"Maybe he is (the real Jesus). Maybe there's a little bit of Jesus inside of all of us. Maybe Jesus is just that something good or something sad or something...something that stays with us and makes us do stuff like help Trevor up, even though he's busy cursing us out. Or maybe...maybe Jesus is just that thing you had when the Jesus Boy first got here, Samantha. Maybe Jesus is the hope that you were feeling."

Amen sister. What a wonderful way Woodson has with depicting the emotions of young adults, the tension between blacks and whites, and the innocence of kids who really want to push all that aside and get along.

4.5 out of 5 stars

100 Mile Fitness Challenge Update: October 23 - 30

Another week down, but this one was special. As I told you all, I went on a cruise with three of my high school girlfriends, and I was determined to put away a few miles with their help.

We didn't do half bad, considering that we didn't shut up for two minutes, and when we weren't talking, we were drinking libations. We went to the beach for a couple days before the cruise, and on that first morning, we went on a 7 mile beach walk. Those last few yards were practically crossed on hands and knees, but we made it. The picture below was taken at the halfway point. (Kim and Julie, in the front, are also on the list for the challenge!)

We also walked on the ship's track, and of course we walked all over the Bahamas when we disembarked. In Freeport, I spotted a lighthouse and needed to see it. Look at what we found at the end of our journey:

As you may remember, I set a goal of 20 miles for this week. If I had walked today, I would have hit my goal, but dirty house and dirty laundry beckoned. We did log in 15 miles amidst our frolicking, which brings my total miles to a respectable 66. Barring unseen entanglements, next week I'm aiming for 20 miles again! Time to work off those late-night buffets!
Don't forget to check in with Trish to report your miles!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Best of...Sandy's Top 10

In honor of my first bloggiversary this past Tuesday, I felt it was time to finally reveal my own list of top 10 books. I've forced the project on all my friends and family, so it is only fair. This isn't easy to do, is it? I labored over it! How do you draw the line between a wonderful book, and a favorite? My reading tastes have changed over the years...dare I list a book I read 10 years ago? Here was my conclusion, after long thought. There are some books, on rare occasion, that move your spirit. You turn that last page, and you have a feeling that cannot be duplicated. It might be a feeling of elation. It could be devastation. You wish the book could have lasted forever. With these emotions in mind, here are the 10 books that rose to the surface:

1. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee: How I waited 43 years to read this book is beyond me. Most civilized people are required to read this in high school or college, aren't they? My mom had always stated that this was one of her favorite books and movies of all time, but I didn't take the hint. What finally inspired me was the Southern Reading Challenge, in which I seized the day and listened to it on audio. Sissy Spacek narrated as Scout, and she was a delight. She was the embodiment of our favorite little precocious tomboy.

2. Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett: Yes, it is long, and yes it is cram-packed full of the architectural struggles of building a cathedral in medieval England. But the characters come alive in this amazing chunk of historical fiction. You feel you have toiled along right beside them. What made this read special...almost a four-dimensional experience...was that I read it while working in London. I not only read about these cathedrals, but took a quick train into the countryside and saw them for real. Little did I know that I would have to wait over 15 years to finally read the sequel "World Without End".

3. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote: In my earlier years, I dedicated at least a decade of my life to reading crime novels, particularly true crime. So it is with the utmost confidence that I say that this is THE BEST true crime novel ever written. Capote became so immersed in the story, so bewitched by one of the killers, Perry Smith, that he was virtually ruined after finishing the story. The crime was so brutal and senseless, I believe it would leave most red-blooded humans just a little less comfortable laying their head down to sleep each night.

4. My Life in France - Julia Child: I've always loved Julia, even long before blogger Julie Powell brought her back into the spotlight. I read this book within weeks after its publication, and was smitten all over again. This large, loud American bursts into France with joie de vivre, but no culinary knowledge whatsoever. This is a story about overcoming odds and achieving your dream. It is also a love story. I finished the book with a tear in my eye, and sole meunerre on my mind.

5. The Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling: Pure magic. Pure enchantment. And pure unadulterated joy in reading. It doesn't matter your age, these books grab you at hello and leave you mourning and depressed when it is all over. A hint? Once you finish the books and the movies, listen to the audios.

6. Beach Music - Pat Conroy: If you've ever visited coastal South Carolina, you know that there is something special, something atmospheric about the region that almost defies words. Unless you're Pat Conroy, that is, in which case your books exude this aura. Close your eyes, and you're there. This story weaves a tale of the famous Carolina Beach Music, family secrets and the horror of the Holocaust in one, powerful, life-changing read. This one is on my re-read list in the near future.

7. Rebecca - Daphne DuMaurier: A recent contender! Having just read this for my read-along, I can't not put it on my list. Du Maurier crafts a roller-coaster of a reading experience that is part drama, part murder-mystery and part romance. It is brilliant in every way.

8. Outlaw - Warren Kiefer: You may remember this book on Kenny Cupples' (my husband's co-worker) top 10 list awhile back. Actually, he loaned me this book about five years ago, singing its praises. I took one look at the cover and thought to myself "Are you kidding me? A Western?". This is SO not me. But I humored him. What I found was a man's compelling life story, from a cattle thief to an oil baron, encountering Pancho Villa and fighting in the Spanish-American war. I distinctly remember being forced to run errands and being at the end of the book. I read at stop lights, and finally pulled into a parking lot to finish the darned thing. Then I cried. May I never judge a book by its cover or genre again.

9. Into That Darkness - Gitta Sereny: I know, I won't shut up about this book. After getting into an intense debate with my husband's company's chairman, Dick Shura, over capital punishment and abortion, he handed me this book and told me to be prepared to have it change my life. And it did. Journalist Gitta Sereny digs deep for answers to the Holocaust. She doesn't just stop at interviewing the commandant of Treblinka, Franz Stangl, she takes it further than you could ever imagine. At the end, we are left with our own conscience, and asks questions that aren't comfortable to address.

10. Pride & Prejudice - Jane Austen: This is another book that took me 43 years to read. I stumbled upon it at the library and picked it up on a whim. Listening to it on audio was an epiphany! So THIS is what all the hype was about! I didn't think I was a fan of this genre, but I was wrong. I fell head over heels in love with Austen.

Are any of these books on your favorites list? How do you define a favorite?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Zakopane #4

This is a sheep farm that we hiked through on our journey through a National Forest, near Zakopane, Poland. And whenever there are sheep, there will always be my favorite food. Stay tuned next week to see what my next job is going to be.

For other Wordless Wednesday photos, click

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One Year Ago Today...

Today is officially You've GOTTA Read This's first birthday! I shake my head when I think about how far I have come. (I apologise in advance to you if you have heard all this blabber before. I tend to repeat myself, but this is a moment for reminiscing, so bear with me!)

I've always loved to read - that was a given. But a writer I am not. And a techie I am not. My only writing efforts had been to compose my annual Christmas letter that goes out with my cards.

My sister had a blog, and I was full of admiration for her moxie and her writing prowess (I'm not thinking she got it from our high school English teacher, so where did it come from?). Never once did I say to myself "Sandy, you should do something like that". Too scary to contemplate.

I could never find a good live book club. I couldn't find a good online one either. I was complaining to my sister one day on the phone, and she said "Well, do your own book blog. What do you have to lose? Get on blogger and mess around. It's free." No way. It blew my mind. With a nervous laugh, I told my husband about my sister's idea. He said it was insanity. I don't have enough time as it is. But the seed had been planted. Why not indeed?

So I blindly set up my blog. I know more about splitting the atom than I do about html. I was an idiot pressing buttons (actually I still am). I banged out some obtuse "welcome to my blog" post. Then I sat and stared at the computer. Nothing happened. Nobody commented. Sort of anti-climactic! So I grabbed a couple of recently-read books, Child 44 and My Stroke of Insight, and banged out a couple of reviews. Still no comments. I kept adding reviews, and finally got one comment from my sister on November 8. God love her, but that doesn't count!!!!

Scratching my head, I asked my sister how long it would take to get someone's attention. Her advice was to start socializing, so I did. My first official follower, after my mom and my sister, was C.B. James. He took me under his wing, and even offered me an opportunity to write a review on Larousse Gastronomique at the end of November that would be posted both on his blog and mine. When the big day came, we heard crickets chirping. How embarrassing! But soon, the socializing paid off. I clicked through on blogs from James' blogroll, and pretty soon I was hopping from one to another, making inane Sandy comments. When anyone would give awards, I would check out the recipients. (Because of this, I will ALWAYS pass along awards. It is important!). I "met" the Bumbles and joined their Monday Movie Meme. Jackie @ Farm Lane Books and I interviewed each other. Influenced by Beth Fish, I started posting my photos on Wordless Wednesday. I hosted a Wuthering Heights readalong. I participated in a Gone With the Wind readalong. And on and on it went. I was even shortlisted for a Commenter Award in BBAW.

I never would have imagined this hobby for myself, not in a million years. But I have found it to be incredibly rewarding. I have forged friendships that have extended far beyond the occasional comment. We have found common interests, we have been there when a parent has taken ill, when a pet has chewed through a string of lights and nearly electrocuted itself, when babies were born, when cancer was detected, when loved ones were lost, and when we celebrated achievements. It is one, giant support group that just happens to have a deep love for books.

It has also dawned on me that online, everyone is equal. There is no poor, rich, fat, thin, disabled, black or white. Unless you are rude to someone, you are welcomed to this community with open arms. And that is a pretty wonderful place to be.

In honor of my bloggiversary, I've decided it was time to finally post MY top 10 books ever. I've milked it out of my friends and family, so fair is fair. Stay tuned on this Thursday, all will be revealed....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Travels with Tara - Carol Buckley

When I came home one day last week, I was greeted with a package at my door. Inside the package was this book, Travels with Tara, signed by the author, which I won in a giveaway from Natasha @ Maw Books. Thanks Natasha, and thanks to Sarah at Tilbury House Publishers! I promptly read the book, in its entirety, to my kids at breakfast the next morning.

I have an affinity for all animals. And not just the cute furry kind - I love all of God's creatures (except for cockroaches). I even went through a stage in my younger years where I was obsessed with camels. So when I read Natasha's review of this book about Tarra the elephant, my heart melted into a puddle.

Tarra is an Asian elephant who was captured from her home in Burma as a baby in 1974, and sold via an animal broker to a tire store owner in the US. She was going to be the store's mascot. The author, Carol Buckley, happened to see the elephant on one of her daily walks around town, and introduced herself to its owner. Carol was in college at the time, studying about the care of exotic animals, so this was a dream come true. Carol soon took over the elephant's care, named her Tarra, and began to train her. They formed a very close bond.

Eventually, Carol purchased Tarra from her original owner, and began to travel with her to zoos, circuses and other events. Tarra was a spirited, playful, and intelligent animal. She played the xylophone, the harmonica, and even learned how to ride roller skates! Tarra also loved other animals. She especially would gravitate towards dogs, and the dolphins whenever they were at a zoo.

Carol attempted to find Tarra a zoo where she could live and be with other elephants and possibly find a mate, but nothing worked out to Carol's satisfaction. The other elephants would pick on her. In partnership with another gentleman, they were able to purchase 800 acres in Tennessee, and established an elephant sanctuary, which is where Tarra lives today. She was soon joined by other homeless elephants, who began to form a family.

This book is nothing short of precious. There are large, black and white pictures of Tarra on each page...Tarra playing in the water, Tarra holding her harmonica, and my favorite, Tarra on roller skates. My kids, aged 10 and 11, who usually think they are way too cool for a picture book, were entranced. At some point, they had stopped eating their breakfast and were listening to the story with rapt attention (making us late for school!). The prose is gentle and simple enough for even kids of much younger ages. In fact, I'm going to bring the book to the kids' school library so it can be shared with all of the children.

Carol Buckley has also written other books about Tarra. "Tarra and Bella" is about the elephant's special friendship with a dog, and her latest, "Just for Elephants", about the sanctuary. I'll leave you with a video of Tarra and her BFF Bella:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Salon: Bon Voyage!

OK, I will admit, I cheated a little on this post. By the time it is published, I will be headed to the cruise ship with my long lost high school friends.

It was a hectic week! I did my share of walking - 14 miles worth, bringing my total miles to 51. I feel pretty confident that I will hit my personal goal of 150 miles by the end of the year for the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge. Maybe even my stretch goal of 200! My daughter's basketball season ended this week, and her track season started. My son's football season is headed into the playoffs. My mom flew in on Thursday to help my husband with the kids while I am off playing at the beach and on my cruise. I haven't really made peace with the fact that I will not have much (or any!) access to the computer while I am gone. Cold turkey baby!

On the literary front, I finished the audio of The BoneMan's Daughters. Despite a decent narrator, I can't say I was blown away by the story. Crime thrillers tend to all blend together for me, and I fear this will be one won't be remembered in a year's time. It may have been to its detriment that I read it shortly after The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which to me is one of the better crime thrillers I've read in a long while. I started listening to my second Sarah Waters novel on audio, The Night Watch. No comment on that yet, except that the narrator is excellent. The kids and I continue listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I finished Her Fearful Symmetry last Sunday evening, and all I can say is WOW. Loved it. I can't stop thinking about it. I had dreams (nightmares!) of dead kittens. I then read my book club's next selection, Changing Faces by Kimberla Lawson Roby. I haven't been able to express my proper feelings and write the review yet. Middle-aged African American women having a mid-life implosion? An insane roller coaster ride? Plot twists galore? A big fat headache? Stay tuned on that front. I just started Mating Rituals of the North American WASP, and that seems like the perfect read for a girls' vacation. I'm also taking The Art of Racing in the Rain, and Laura Rider's Masterpiece. All three will be counted towards my sadly lacking Random Reading Challenge!

Hope you all have a fabulous Sunday. I will miss you while I am away! I promise to try my best not to fall overboard!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

You've GOTTA have friends!

Recently, I received the Let's Be Friends award from Amy @ The House of Seven Tails. Amy is a relatively new blogger that has jumped into the game with both feet! She joined in BBAW, is participating in read-alongs, and is already being awarded for her sweet disposition, great reviews, and of course, her adorable menagerie of kitties which are lovingly pictured on her blog. You must go check her out!

I know there are probably rules that go with this award, but I like to generally pass these awards on to one person, just so all the glory can be focused in one happy place. But before I do this, I have to tell a story.

Recently, Ti @ Book Chatter and Other Stuff published an excellent post. It was about blogging etiquette. Specifically, Ti mentioned a number of blogs that she had been faithfully visiting and commenting, but the love was never returned. Eventually, she dropped these blogs from her reader, as everyone needs two-way communication, right? I immediately hung my head in shame. I am guilty of receiving wonderful comments and never following the commenter back to their blog of origin. I have made a personal goal to stop this laziness and make more of an effort.

One blogger that has been commenting on my site for some time is Amy @ Amy Reads Good Books. She leaves insightful comments, and yet I go on my merry way without returning any love. This has been put to a stop. I am now her follower, and she has an excellent blog. Amy is a literature professor,
is from the wholesome Midwest, and reads just about anything and everything. So Amy, this one's for you!

I have to include a Youtube video, because I can't help myself. Of course, it is about friendship:

Friday, October 23, 2009

100 Mile Fitness Challenge Update: October 16 - 22

The flu is gone, the hot weather is gone. Life is good! I had originally set another 20 mile goal for myself this week, but didn't hit it. Life got in my way, and I only hit 14 miles, bringing my total miles to 51. I'm feeling pretty good about that! I'm halfway to 100 and I'm not even out of October!

For the record, I am going to attempt to hit 150 miles by the end of the year. Like I've said before, it isn't going to hurt me!

My big news, which I can't shut up about, is my exciting reunion with three girlfriends from high school. This afternoon, they will fly into Orlando and we will head to the beach for a couple of days. Then we are going on a 4 day cruise to the Bahamas! (Getting ready for this trip is the reason for my not hitting my goal this week!) Mind you, two of the three ladies I've not seen in 25 years, but I'm thinking it won't feel like a day has gone by, thanks to Facebook. Two of the ladies are part of the 100 mile fitness challenge, so dare I set a goal for all of us? I'm going out on a limb and say that despite my anticipation of alot of food and drink, we will hit 20 miles! Want to take bets? How are all of you doing? Don't forget to stop by Trish's place and report your miles for this week!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Uninvited - Steven LaChance

Yes, I will admit I am a book snob. I was actually embarrassed to carry this one around with me. But it was the next selection for our book club, so I had no choice. I was even embarrassed when I went into Barnes & Noble to buy the book, as it was buried deep within the "New Age" section. But see, this is the beauty of book clubs...we read books that I would never in a million years pick up on my own.

Here was the appeal: it was our October selection, and it was a true story about a haunted house in a small town near St. Louis MO. Time to open our minds!

Steven LaChance was a single dad with three children trying to make ends meet, skipping around from apartment to apartment. He found an ad for a house (with a backyard!) for a very reasonable price. The ad said it was perfect for kids. Sold!

Well, our mothers teach us that if it seems too good to be true...which was the case here. As early as move-in day, weird things started happening. Pictures fell off the wall. Rooms got suddenly cold. Electric energy would pass through their bodies. They saw shadowy figures aggressively approaching them, they heard screaming, they saw bodies hanging from the trees. It didn't take long before they got the hell out, and the house was rented to another family.

The next family wasn't so smart. They could not afford to move once the bullshittery started, so they decided to seek help and try to ride it out. Steven felt compelled to help out these poor souls, and befriended Helen, the grandmotherly woman of the house. The longer she stayed, the more serious the hauntings became. She was "raped" by a dark figure in the house. She had bites and bruises on her body. She started acting possessed just shy of pea soup, and had impulses of suicide and homicide.

They learned that the house was built over land that was once a burial ground for slaves. They sought help from psychics, priests and medical personnel. Eventually, both Steven and Helen recovered from their experience, and Steven has dedicated himself to helping others with similar issues.

Do I believe it? That is hard to say. I am a very open-minded gal, and this guy seems pretty earnest. I couldn't find any skeptical evidence against him online. He even has (questionable) pictures taken within the house. I guess I can go with it...why not, just for grins?

I was, however, a bit put-off by Mr. LaChance's flair for the dramatic. He kept pulling out these corny lines like "That was the beginning of Helen's last week in the house, but the start of many new nightmares for us both" and "In the years to come I would try to figure out why it all went so wrong so fast". I was frustrated by Helen's refusal to leave the house. She called Steven alot in the middle of the night, she cried alot, she asked for help alot. Here's the deal. If a spirit were raping me, I think I'd live in a homeless shelter before I spent one more night in that house, so I found all of this a bit hard to swallow. I was beleaguered with questions like...if Mr. LaChance was so disturbed by his experiences in the haunted house, why did he keep going back, even after he'd moved? Why did he blame everything bad that happened to him (even after he'd left the house) to some demon that apparently wanted him dead? Personally, I think at this point, La Chance was milking it. Coincidentally, he had become unemployed right about this time and perhaps needed an income stream?

On the positive side of things, La Chance did find God as a result of his tribulations. And he has dedicated himself to helping others suffering from evil beasties find God as well.

The book club's takeaway:

Most of the book club found the book to be frightening. Like "I can't read this at night" frightening. As a whole, we all agreed we could believe in the idea of spirits...almost everyone had a story about other-worldly things that had happened to them or a friend, particularly around the time they had lost a loved one. There was some discussion about the sensitivity of children and pets to these types of things (kids who had "seen" and talked to dead grandparents), and the fear of anything weird that happens between 3am and 5am. One member of the book club even once worked for a group of ghost hunters that went around the country investigating occurances, attempting to prove their falsehood. We all agreed that the prose in the story was pretty lame and pedestrian. Overall, however, I think most of the club members liked the story a bit more than I.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Zakopane #3

An evening picture of the Tatra mountain range, taken from outside our cabin in Zakopane Poland.

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson (audio)

This was another book on my list in which I felt I was the last to read. Fueled by insanely great reviews and Larsson's tragic death at the age of 50, after he had written a trilogy beginning with this book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has taken the literary world by storm. As Larsson was Swedish, I knew the book was a translation, and included a huge cast of characters (to the point where the book comes with its own genealogical map), all with Swedish names. Was this too ambitious for an enjoyable audio experience? At the end of the day, my vote would be a resounding NO. In fact, it was pure unadulterated joy listening to this story.

The story is complicated, particularly once you sit down and try to briefly summarize it. Our protagonist is one Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged journalist who is managing editor of a small magazine that specializes in the financial sector, often exposing corporations and their white-collar crimes. One story involving a international hoodlum backfires, however, and Blomkvist is nailed for libel and sentenced to a short prison term. Blomkvist takes a leave of absence from the magazine to lick his wounds.

He is approached by an aging Swedish CEO and patriarch of a wealthy and extensive family, Henrich Vanger. Henrich offers Blomkvist a huge amount of money to write the story of his family history as cover for his real investigate the true nature of his grand-niece Harriet's disappearance (and presumed death) 40 years prior. There is a finite number of people who could have committed this unspeakable act, and most of them are the detested and dysfunctional members of Vangers' family. The police have long since exhausted all leads, but Vanger wants to try one more time before he dies. The cherry on top? If Blomkvist delivers, Vanger will serve up the international hoodlum to him on a platter.

Enter Lisbeth Salander. She is young, bi-sexual, anorexic-looking, pierced, tattooed (hence the title of the book), and socially backward, maybe even damaged. She wears leather and rides a motorcycle. But she is one of the world's best computer hackers and private investigators, and has come to help Blumkvist with his little project. Lisbeth is the real heart and soul of the story. She is an enigma...brilliant, vulnerable, introverted, and a total bad-ass. Any man that dares to mess with her is in for the shock of his life.

We have multiple plots. Corporate corruption. Familial blight and feuds. Brutal crimes against women. Sadism. If you like mysteries and thrillers, this is as good as it gets people. Blumkvist's unraveling of the Vanger family rat's nest is nothing short of brilliant, yet slow and methodical, revealing just enough to keep you on edge. And then there is Salander, who is probably one of the most bewitching characters ever developed on paper. I wanted to protect her, to befriend her, and maybe even accompany her when she is unleashing her whup-ass on her victims.

The narrator of the story, Simon Vance, is impeccable. He has won countless awards for his narrations, one of them for this performance. AUDIOFILE's review of his work on this book stated "“His voices are so natural and fit so well with their characters that the listener is completely transported into the story.” Well there you go. Couldn't agree more, couldn't have said it better. Swedish names be damned, you will not have any issues following this plot. You have my word.

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Howdy Partner!

Today's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about Westerns. No, Molly and Andy haven't gone on vacation and done the City Slickers thing, but they ARE visiting relatives, and will surely be playing Cowboys and Indians with the little ones.

I'll just come right out and say it - Westerns aren't my favorite movie genre, and I don't have much experience with them. But there are a few that stick in my mind.

Blazing Saddles - We own this one. It is goofy as all get out, and laugh-out-loud funny when you are in the right mood. There are at least a half dozen lines that come out of my husband's mouth on a regular basis around here (I'll leave it up to you to figure those out!).

Unforgiven - There aren't too many westerns that can claim a Best Picture Oscar, and keep my attention for 2 hours. This one did. It didn't hurt that it was packed full of talent, like Eastwood, Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman.

Dances With Wolves - Here's another one that won Best Picture, plus 6 other Oscars. I'm not a Kevin Costner fan, but give him credit for not only his acting, but his directorial debut. We own this movie, but have never watched it after that first viewing, probably because it is insanely long...over 3 hours!

Shane - There is a Roger Waters song from Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking that features a child screaming "Shane! My mother wants you!". I was always intrigued by this, and finally watched the movie to see what it was all about. What I found was an incredible movie. A dashing man comes riding into town to protect it from evildoers. And yes, that child's mother DOES want Shane, in a big way!

Hang 'Em High - I can't even legitimately tell you this is Clint Eastwood's best western, because it is the only one I've seen. It still is full of action and plot development. Most importantly, back then Clint was THE DUDE.

Please help me out here. I have no John Wayne listed. I am seriously inept in this category. What am I missing?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Sunday Salon:

I know that 90% of you are sick of my complaining about the heat. Heat and humidity would do a body good when it is snowing and freezing, yes? We did continue to have tremendous heat for most of the week, but yesterday morning, we woke up to glorious cool weather! We had highs in the 70's with a little breeze thrown in. After a good 7 months of oppressive heat, we live for this time of year. Now the walking can really begin!

Speaking of walking, not only did I have the heat to contend with, I also had the flu this week. As a mom, however, none of this matters, and I've adopted the attitude that if I just ignore the symptoms, maybe they will go away. Here's an idea...maybe I can even sweat out the flu! So with my 20 mile goal in mind for the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge this week, off I went. I not only hit my goal, I exceeded it by 3 miles. Heat and the crud be damned.

On the reading front, I didn't make much headway. Too many kids activities I suppose. I am still reading Her Fearful Symmetry on my Kindle, and I'm enjoying it. I'm hoping to get some reading time today to knock it out! I did finish Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on audio this week with the kids, and have cranked up the 17 disc of The Goblet of Fire yesterday. I also finished The Angel's Game on audio. Shadow of the Wind it was about that body count? Still, it really messed with my mind. It was an over-the-top cramming of murder, obsession, supernatural, smoke and mirrors into my ears and my brain. After I finished the audio, I immediately cranked up a feel-good book that lasted about 15 minutes. I couldn't do it. I was too twisted. I turned to a murder/mystery, and that seemed to work.

I had another book club meeting this past week, where we discussed the book The Uninvited. This is supposedly about a true haunted house located near St. Louis, MO. I found the book goofy and somewhat annoying, but the rest of the club was terrified. (Review coming next week.) Next month we are reading "Changing Faces" by Kimberla Lawson Roby, which at first glance seems like African-American chick-lit. One of the members has already read the book, and really liked it.

I am quite excited to tell you that because of Facebook, I have been reunited with a few good friends from high school. As a result, three of them are flying into Orlando on Friday, we are going to the beach for a couple of days, then going on a 4 day cruise to the Bahamas. My husband is afraid we will drink too much and fall over the edge of the ship, so we promised to hold hands and be careful. I will not have a computer with me, so I have pre-scheduled posts to carry me through. (Can I handle it? Will I get the shakes or a panic attack?) What this means, however, is that I will not be participating in the 24-hour read-a-thon next Saturday. I will be with you in spirit! My daughter and I truly wanted to participate, so I'm hoping that the schedule works out for us to do it next Spring!

Hope you all have a beautiful cool (or warm) Sunday!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Proximidade Fantastico

OK, so much for my Spanish! I received this beautiful award from Carolyn @ Book Chick City. Yes THE Book Chick City...the one that started her blog in JULY, has received several dozen awards, regularly receives ARCs and interviews authors, and has already redesigned her website! (And what a beautiful website it is...go check it out!)

The Proximidade Award is designed for the blogger that believes in proximity - the nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming - they aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. So with this in mind, I would like to nominate Ti @ Book Chatter and Other Stuff. I was aware of Ti for a long time. She is everywhere, leaving her clever and witty comments on all the blogs I followed. It wasn't until BBAW did I actually add her to my reader. And when two commenters find each other, watch out. It has been so much fun getting to know Ti, and interacting with her. I have to thank her specifically for a post she did a couple of weeks ago about blogger etiquette. She made me realize that there were so many loyal commenters on my blog that I had been neglecting, out of laziness more than anything. So not only is Ti friendly, but is helping me improve my rude-ish ways! Thanks Ti!

Today's video is a live version of Cat Power singing "The Greatest", and I'm playing it in honor of Ti. I love this song, and I love Cat's voice. It puts me into a Zen state! (She has a killer version of Sea of Love, and Amazing Grace...)

Music Videos by VideoCure

Friday, October 16, 2009

100 Mile Fitness Challenge Update: October 9 - 15

It is week 2 of the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge, hosted by Trish. How is everyone doing?

Well, last week I complained about walking in the heat. This week I'm going to complain about the heat and having the flu.

However, now that I feel accountable to all of you for hitting my goals, I trudged on. I decided that sweating and moving might actually help me shake off the crud, so I went for it. It didn't hurt, either, that I was listening to "The Angel's Game", the prequel to "Shadow of the Wind", and was totally immersed in this twisted mindf#$! of a story.

Last week I racked up 14 miles, and had set my goal for this week at 20 miles. Heat and illness be damned, because I actually hit 23 miles, bringing my total miles to 37! It can't hurt, because at the end of next week, I am going on a cruise with some good friends from high school, and have to squeeze myself into a proper bathing suit. I'm going to try to hit 20 miles next week as well, even though I know I will be busy getting ready for my trip.

So how did it go for you this week? Did you have any obstacles to overcome? Did you find any secrets to motivating yourself? Did you meet your goals?

Make sure and stop by the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge website to log in your miles. Also, next week at the Challenge website, I will be guest posting on my favorite books!