Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Soldier On

Today's theme for the Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is in honor of Memorial Day, where we pay tribute to our fallen soldiers. There are so many incredible movies about soldiers in a variety of wars, that even though Molly and Andy picked some of the best ones, there are plenty more to pick from! Here are their picks, which could have easily been mine as well:

The Best Years of Our Lives
Full Metal Jacket
In Country
Born on the 4th of July
Forrest Gump

OK, so I had to work just a little harder to come up with some of my own. Here they are:

1. Katyn - These aren't American soldiers we are talking about here, but hit very close to home here in the Nawrot household. The story is about the execution of thousands of Polish soldiers in the Katyn forest by the Russians. (In fact, the Polish President was headed to a memorial service of this very event when his plane went down, killing everyone on board.) This is an incredible film that would cause the most stoic person to shed a tear.

2. Uncommon Valor - As Vietnam films go, this one might not have appeared above your radar, but I saw it multiple times in high school. The premise of the film is that a group of Vietnam Vets are gathered once again to perform one last rescue some fellow soldiers who were still being held as POW's.

3. The Deer Hunter - I feel like I talk about this movie alot, which surprises even myself, considering I've only had the cojones to see it once. It certainly left its mark on me. I don't think there is a film out there that better depicts the consequences of battle.

4. The Hurt Locker - We can't forget about this recent addition that is an intense, raw depiction of the war in Iraq, and its effects on the human psyche. I questioned its win at the Oscars, but darned if I'm still not thinking about it months later.

5. Private Benjamin - OK, enough of the serious stuff, let's give a nod to our girlfriend Goldie. I love this movie, despite its predictability. And apparently I'm not the only one, because Ms. Hawn did get nominated for Best Actress for her role in this gut-buster.

I will admit, I did have a few more (Saving Private Ryan, Stalingrad, Apocalypse Now) but I felt like I might start to sound like a broken record. I tend to mention the same movies over and over again! Which would be in your top 5?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Salon: Women Cannot Survive on Husbands Alone

Good morning weblings! Unfortunately, I cannot squawk to you about writing this post while looking at the ocean this week. It has been one of those weeks where my patience has been tested. Let me whine a little to you, in hopes that I will feel better.

My husband was (is) out of town on a business trip to Poland, so I am flying solo. It was finals week for the kids, and while my 12-year-old is pretty self-sufficient, my 10-year-old is not. He had two finals that were comprehensive, which required hours of studying every evening with my assistance, additionally aggravated by his inability to sit still and focus for more than 5 minutes at a time. Dear Jesus give me strength. I've also still been dealing with critter damage control at my parents house, with a parade of various professionals traipsing through that need to be managed. Two kids' doctors appointments. Pool maintenance, air conditioner maintenance, and glazed my kitchen floors (where I slipped and fell in the glaze and sent it flying everywhere!). Field trip with the 4th graders to the Arabian Nights tourist attraction, where there was a performance supporting their full-immersion experience with the book The Black Stallion. (It would have made a great post topic...missed opportunity on my part!)

The good news is that because 80% of the book blogging world was in New York this week at the BEA conference, it didn't take much effort to stay up-to-date on everyone's posts. So with all that extra time, I used it to mope and feel sorry for myself that I wasn't in New York too.

Back in my first year as a blogger, I used to look at my Google Analytics every day to study my stats, but I hadn't looked at it recently. Thursday night I was messing with it, and a few depressing things dawned on me. First, even though my number of followers seems to slowly but consistently rise, I'm not seeing any increase in the number of daily hits. Also, if I benchmark myself against other similar blogs, I totally suck. My stats told me that people, on average, stay on my site 38 seconds per visit. Are you kidding me? I wound up feeling very negative that evening, and swore I wouldn't ever look at those figures again!

So as I plodded through my week feeling like a big Negative Nelly, I received bursts of happiness as I listened to the audio "Belong To Me" by Marisa de los Santos. I was thrilled to get back to Cornelia and her husband, and Claire, and some new characters, after having finished its prequel, "Love Walked In", a couple of weeks ago. The story, the author, the characters...everything is precious. One of the quotes from the book really hit me while I was out walking and listening - "Women cannot survive on husbands alone". The point being that despite having a wonderful husband, you really need girlfriends to make your life whole. With this in mind, on Friday night, four of us moms (three of us with out-of-town husbands) gathered at one of our houses, with our little ducklings in tow, to celebrate the end of a tortuous week. The girls went upstairs to watch movies. The boys were like a wild pack of testosterone-filled wolves running crazy. And the moms sat down around the kitchen table with salsa, hummus and wine, and let it all out. My soul was cured. I think Santos is onto something.

So besides wallowing in the perfectness of "Belong To Me", I also finished the audio "The Solitude of Prime Numbers", which I really did not like at all. Thank goodness it was only six discs long. It was depressing. It had no point, the characters were unlikable, and had very little plot. Blah. I'm also making my way through a review copy called "Ashes to Water", a mystery thriller. The author had run out of actual books, so was I surprised when I received 400 pages of copy paper! Ack! Not real portable, but definitely a page-turner. I hope to finish that today. The kids and I are closing in on Harry Potter 7, but may not finish it before we leave for vacation next Thursday.

We embark on our vacation next Thursday, leaving our house-sitter behind with our menagerie of pets. Our first destination is the Grand Canyon, where we will stay for a couple of days, and hopefully fitting in a helicopter ride. Then we are on to Yosemite, where we have rented a house for the week. Our final stop will be San Francisco, for a day or two of kid-friendly fun (no wineries unfortunately). I will have my Kindle in hand and your recommendations in mind!

Praise the Lord that next week is a very short, last week of school and the beginning of summer. Freedom! Sleeping in! No homework! Fighting siblings! Can I have an Amen?

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Heart Is Not a Size - Beth Kephart

Ever since I started blogging, I've been hearing about Beth Kephart and her beautiful poetic prose. It seemed that I might be the last person on earth to be graced by her words. Until Amy contacted me with an offer to read Beth's newest book, The Heart Is Not a Size. Now I'm in the club!

If you have meandered around my blog in the last six to eight months, you know I have an ongoing love affair with Jacqueline Woodson's work. It is simple and comfortable and lyrical. It communicates complex emotions in few pages. It makes you feel like you are young again. This was how I felt when I was reading The Heart Is Not a Size. I just wanted to wrap myself up in a cocoon of Beth Kephart's words.

Georgia and Riley are best friends preparing to enter their senior year in high school. They have known each other since kindergarten, and serve as a yin to each other's yang...Georgia is tall, regimented and smart, Riley is elfin, free-spirited and an under-achiever. Georgia comes from a warm, supportive family, and Riley's is distant and dysfunctional. They both decide that to further their resumes, and have a little adventure, they will travel with a group of teens to Juarez Mexico to build public bathrooms for a poor rural community.

The girls go into the experience with some personal baggage, issues that have been triggered by their self-image and pressure they place upon themselves. The trip to Mexico not only opens the girls' eyes to a world of underprivileged but loving people, but is also a catalyst to self-discovery and healing.

"We find out the heart only by dismantling what the heart knows."

Some very serious issues are addressed in this book, but it never loses that glow of youth's innocence. It never feels heavy or depressive, but instead focuses on the power of friendship and the importance of facing down your fears. My only complaint was that it wasn't a couple hundred pages longer. And it certainly could have been. But instead, we must appreciate what we are given - a brief trip to a happy place called Bethland.

My next journey to Bethland will be with Nothing But Ghosts...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Read the Book/See the Movie: The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton

I'd heard this book described as "groundbreaking" for the YA genre. James (from Ready When You Are, C.B.), who teaches middle school students, has claimed it as one of his favorites that he teaches the kids every year. At our most recent book fair, one of my kids' teachers grabbed it off the shelf and exclaimed "this is one of the best books I've ever read!". My sort-of-non-reading son decided he would read it for an upcoming book report, and I jumped on the bandwagon. I also knew that the movie was a treasure trove of yet undiscovered stars in 1983...Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane. This was a ready-made opportunity to finish off my Read the Book/See the Movie Challenge.

The story is centered on Ponyboy Curtis, a teenage boy who lives with his two older brothers (his parents were killed in a car accident) and is considered a "greaser" or a thug. His friends are greasers, and they all participate in various unlawful shenanigans...shoplifting, destruction of property, and most of all, fighting with the Soc's, a group of upper class preppies.

But Ponyboy is cut from a slightly different cloth. He is smart, he has dreams and aspirations. His schooling and long-term goals are derailed after a particularly violent confrontation with the Soc's one night, and is forced to flee with his best friend and hide from the police. A string of tragedies follows that tests Ponyboy's bonds with his brothers, damages his belief in himself, and causes him to question the rules that have governed his life. Are the Soc's really their enemies? Can he break the cycle of mediocrity in which he lives? What does all this fighting really accomplish? Is there really any good left in the world?

Initially, when this book was published in 1967, it shocked people for a couple of reasons. Did kids really live like this, fearing for their lives on a daily basis, scrapping to survive? Indeed they did, for the author, a 15-year-old female, lived the life and saw her friends experiencing the same anguish. Which was shock number two...a teenage girl wrote this? Hidden behind the genderless name S.E. Hinton, she broke not only a literary glass ceiling but unseen barriers in the YA genre that paved the way for more raw, realistic works to come.

My son and I were both moved by the emotion and depth of the writing. Hinton not only explored the unglamorous, depreciating life of a greaser, but also the relationships between siblings and friends, the definition of a hero, the love of literature, and appreciating the simpler things in life. It is truly a testament to the plot and the prose if my son, who nearly has to be forced to read, whipped through the novel in just a few days without suggestion.


So what could be more fun that watching a movie full of successful actors when they were just fresh-faced little newbies? And a movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola?

Turns out, there probably could have been something more fun to watch, but wasn't time wasted either. The movie is rated PG, so we made it into a family movie. The script stayed true to the book for the most part, until the end, which missed most of Ponyboy's torment and soul-searching. This was disappointing - a missed opportunity for C. Thomas Howell, who played Ponyboy.

The soundtrack seemed a little strange to me, all dramatic and flowery, like it belonged in a Disney film. But the cinematography was beautiful at times. There was one scene that was reminiscent of a sweeping panorama from Gone with the Wind, which mentioned in the story multiple times. You could tell a veteran was at the helm.

Overall, however, the film did not do the book justice. This is not a huge surprise - there aren't many that do.

Book: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Movie: 3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Maui #11

10,000 feet above sea level, with our heads in the clouds.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Summer of Moonlight Secrets - Danette Haworth

Imagine this...your parents run a historic hotel in a historic Floridian town, and you call the hotel home. You have total run of the place! You have just started summer vacation. There are natural springs nearby where you can swim. The hotel is filled with secret tunnels and servants' stairs, an attic that is open to the elements where kudzu grows, and several really cool kids your age have come to stay at the hotel for a few weeks. There is a beautiful, mysterious girl wandering around who seems to be a runaway, who has secrets, and is just a little other-worldly. Oh, and did I mention that the hotel just happens to specialize in dollar-sized blueberry pancakes???

Sounds like the summer you've always wanted as a kid? Yeah, me too. My Floridian author friend Danette Haworth has done it again. Just like her debut novel, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning, she has blended the perfect tale of childhood adventure, friendship and coming-of-age infatuation, along with the struggle of loneliness, relationships with your parents, and standing up for yourself. And all of it occurring in a creaky old hotel, rich with stories and rumors of ghosts! But what came as a total surprise in this novel was the element of fantasy that takes this childhood romp to the next level. I'm not going to discuss the fantasy portion of the book. I will leave that up to you to discover.

Danette and I share a love for historic old southern houses and old Florida (and American Idol!). And what I love about her books is that this passion shines through her words and stories. Live oaks, kudzu, humidity, thunderstorms, bugs, manatees, Spanish moss, night blooming jasmine...everything you need for atmosphere. She also "gets" kids too - their hopes, dreams, worries and confusion with today's pressures and distractions, but doesn't allow it to get too dark. Her books are the perfect read for the 8 to 12 year old who doesn't want to grow up too fast just yet.

I would love to thank Danette for an engaging lunch and offering me the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this charming novel!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Brotherly Love

This week's Monday Movie Meme from The Bumbles, delivered slightly later than usual (sorry...moving in slow motion today) is all about brothers on the silver screen. Now I don't have any brothers, but I have a few friends that I've adopted as brothers, so I know that things are not always harmonious with them. In the movies, the first examples that come to mind are brothers that are a bit homicidal towards each other, steal each other's woman, and wreak general havoc with each other's lives. So I've challenged myself to come up with some non-dysfunctional brotherly relationships as well:

Brothers in Arms

1. Rain Man - Perhaps Charlie Babbitt had ulterior motives in taking his savant brother Raymond on a gambling road trip, but he ultimately learns some lessons in brotherly love. God bless his strange little heart.

2. The Outsiders - I actually JUST watched this as part of a Read the Book/See the Movie event, and enjoyed both experiences. The movie is crammed full of young, soon-to-be-famous actors and actresses, and is the perfect example of brothers watching out for each other's best interests.

3. The Blues Brothers - You can't not love a movie about a couple of brothers trying to raise money to save a children's home! This one is such a classic, and Belushi's lasting legacy.

4. The Straight Story - I need to mention this movie once or twice a year, as it is precious. An old man, who can no longer drive a car, loads up his riding mower and drives across several states in the Mid-West in order to visit his brother and resolve a decades-long feud. Along the way, he meets people from all walks of life and leaves a lasting impression on them. Sort of a non-traditional road trip film, if you will.

Brothers Gone Bad

1. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead - These two brothers first conspire to take out their parents for financial gain, then turn on each other. Directed by the great Sidney Lumet, and stuffed full of great actors, such as Marisa Tomei, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Ethan Hawke, this one is worth watching if you can handle familial ugliness and greed at its worst.

2. Godfather I and II - The Corleone brothers should be at the top of every bad brother list I think. I would have to be strung up by movie lovers everywhere if I didn't mention it. I mean, poor Fredo! He was always misunderstood.

3. Trading Places - Thought I'd throw in some comedic relief here. This movie makes me laugh, no matter how many times I watch it. I have it loaded permanently on my iPod whenever I need a pick-me-up. It is hard to pick which acting team is more fun to watch...Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd, or the fuss-budget Duke brothers working their evil scheme.

4. A Simple Plan - This movie might be off most people's radar, but is in the same class as #1 on my list - just good, old-fashioned, dark and juicy greed. Two brothers and a friend find a large sum of money in a plane that crashed near their house. The pilot is dead, so nobody will know right? They just have hide the money and sit tight. But nothing is ever quite that simple. This movie is dark, dark, dark.

There are millions more brothers movies. Which are your favorites?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Salon: From Sarasota with love

Ahhh! I greet you this morning as I sit out on my balcony, overlooking the ocean! My family and I buzzed over here to Sarasota yesterday afternoon to attend a wedding of an employee of my husband's. It was held at a little resort called Little Harbor, and is exactly that - a little harbor with a marina, nestled across the bay from St. Petersburg. The wedding and reception were outside at sunset, then we moved inside for dinner and dancing, in which we participated like silly fools. (My son was even salsa-dancing with the bride.) I love the ocean. It makes me a calmer, nicer person. But as excited as I was to see and smell the water, I was equally thrilled to be able to spend a couple hours in the car in each direction listening to the 7th Harry Potter!

I had a very labor intensive week this week...getting caught up on stuff that probably won't get done over the summer. Pressure washing the house, blowing all that nasty pollen off the roof, washing windows, trimming our palm trees. The kids had their spring band concert (another extra-curricular activity wrapped up for the year!). Mentally I spent a good part of the week agonizing over an issue that my son had at school. What started out as petty jealousy on the part of another boy ultimately resulted in physical bullying and spreading lies about my son that hurt him and others. I tend to carry around my kids' problems, worrying and stewing and wishing I could absorb their heartache. In true Ryan form however, he resolved the issue by addressing it head on in a three or four step process. I couldn't have done a better job myself. I was proud of him.

Because of all these distractions, I wasn't really all that productive with the reading. I did finish "The Daughters of Witching Hill" by Mary Sharratt, and LOVED it. I sat down with Alison Bechdel's graphic novel "Fun Home" down by the pool here at the resort yesterday and am almost finished with it. I finished "Garden Spells" by Sarah Addison Allen on audio (I was underwhelmed) and also finished "The Life of Pi" on audio for book club next week. I am now listening to "The Solitude of Prime Numbers" in the car when the kids aren't there (this was another 100 track per disc audio that wouldn't load properly to iPod). And, with a giggle bubbling up in my chest (heeheehee), I started Marisa de los Santos' "Belong to Me" on audio as well. And of course there is Harry Potter. We are halfway done, and are trying like heck to finish it before school is out!

Over the next week or so, I will be devising a prioritized list of what I'm going to read this summer on my Kindle. Thanks to everyone yesterday who helped on that front! I even got a shout-out from Dave Cullen who suggested I read his book "Columbine". If an author asks personally, how can I not? And I'll be reading "The Things They Carried" for sure, for the Vietnam Challenge. Beyond that, it is all yet to be decided. But what a problem to have, no? It's like being locked up in a Godiva shop and wondering which platter of truffles I'm going to eat first.

Hope everyone has wonderful Sunday. For those about to leave for BEA in New York, wish I were there! Have a dirty water dog and an author signing for me!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Help wanted! Summer reading list in progress...

Less than two weeks away from summer vacation! Yipee!

I have been feverishly plowing through my short stack of books (aka review copies, library books that have to be returned), in attempt to get them all read before summer starts. Why? Because I have made a pledge to myself that on my various travels this summer, I will be ALL KINDLE (and iPod of course).

So here is my quandary. I have a nasty little habit of impulsively purchasing books I NEED on my Kindle. Then, because the Kindle stack is invisible, I forget what I have. And the pile creeps up on me until it threatens to (virtually) collapse! So here are my options for the summer. Please advise to help with my prioritization:

The Kindly Ones - Jonathan Littell

Hurting Distance - Sophie Hannah
Little Face - Sophie Hannah
The Singer's Gun - Emily St. John Mandel
The Postmistress - Sarah Blake
The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin
The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
Assegai - Wilbur Smith
Columbine - Dave Cullen
The Mascot - Mark Kurzem
Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Unnamed - Joshua Ferris (audio)

Rebecca called it "heartbreaking, bleak and surprisingly beautiful". I think she also considered throwing her undergarments at the author out of adoration. Swapna said that it "captured her imagination". The Bookmarks magazine listed it as the number one most-reviewed book in December 2009 and January 2010. (As usual, I am behind the curve.) It seemed like something I shouldn't deny myself.

The plot is curious, unique. Tim Farnsworth is a successful lawyer, with a wife and daughter, and a normal life. Until "it" struck him down. "It" being an unexplainable force causing him to walk, continuously, until he collapses with exhaustion. It comes without warning, drawing him into the elements unprepared, unable to stop for food or rest. Even when he is strapped down, his body movies and convulses. It can happen every other day for months or years, then will go into remission. After a battery of tests, no physical explanation can be found. Tim and his family lives under the burden of a debilitating illness that cannot garner sympathy or understanding from their friends because they cannot put a name to it.

And debilitating it is. Tim's daughter is collateral damage, always a secondary priority. His wife lives her life trying to find Tim, worrying about where he will wake up (in a ditch? in an alley, with a homeless man trying to rape him? in a hair salon in the 'hood?) and whether he will survive the next episode. Tim's erratic behavior causes him to lose his partnership, friends, fingers and toes, and his family. His wife is driven to alcoholism, and ultimately Tim attempts to spare her from her misery by leaving her and living a life of a wandering homeless man.

At it's heart, this is the story of a marriage, faced with obstacles most of us will never know. The prose is very internal, exploring the waxing and waning desire to conquer, to understand, to give in and give up, the need to be a member of productive society, the fear of taking more than you can give from the ones you love.

The prose is beautiful and unassuming, and very easy to listen to. In this case, Ferris was the narrator, and while he wasn't the most dynamic narrator I've ever experienced, he performed well. He comes across as personable as I believe him to be in real life, based on interviews I've read. I believe if Rebecca would have listened to the audio, it would have been the deciding factor to part with those undergarments.

All of this being said, I am still not sure how I feel about the book. I finished it feeling melancholy and confused...not confused about the plot or the ending...that was pretty definitive. But confused about whether I really liked the book. I think I did, but had to wade through the muck to get there. This was very similar to my reaction to We Need to Talk About Kevin. Perhaps my next personal goal should be to find peace within myself to more fully enjoy well-written books that tramp around in dark places...

3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Storm Prey - John Sandford

I realize I might begin to be obnoxious by declaring my love for all things Prey, and for Lucas Davenport. But there you go. As a result, I was pretty darned excited to get my hands on the latest installment, and the catalyst for the TLC Days of Prey Tour, Storm Prey. More Lucas, more clothing finery, more high-speed chases in the Porche. Yeah baby!

In the 20th installment of this fine specimen of man-fiction, the focus of attention is, to my delight, Lucas' ballsy surgeon wife Weather. Weather is involved in a high-profile surgery to separate Siamese twins conjoined at the head. One early morning, when she is prepping for the surgery at the hospital, she unknowingly is an eye-witness to a hospital employee escaping the scene of a pharmacy break-in that ended tragically. Paranoia sets in, and the group of miscreants responsible for the theft hires the services of a hit man to take out Weather, and also begin to turn on each other. While the case falls into the jurisdiction of the city and Lucas' old flame Marcy Sherill (aka Titsy in Weather's opinion), Lucas is determined to act as the knight in shining armour to protect his wife. The climax of the story takes place in the middle of a violent winter Minnesota storm (hence the title).

Unlike some of the Prey novels, we know everything about the evil-doers from the beginning of the novel. What is left, then, is the fun of watching the cat and mouse game, and witnessing the organization of said bad guys implode as they begin to distrust each other. The suspense of the novel really lies on the shoulders of the depraved hit man, and the drug-addicted hospital employee, who are the wild cards in the equation.

I have always appreciated the character of Weather. She is probably the only woman that could handle Lucas. She doesn't take any guff from him, has her own successful career, and is no shrinking violet. It is a pleasure when she takes center stage in a Prey novel.

One unique aspect of the Prey novels is that there is usually a major subplot underfoot, that makes each novel distinct and unique. With Storm Prey, it is the surgical separation of the babies. This added a human factor to the chaos and mayhem, and seen through Weather's technical point of view, interesting albeit slightly distracting.

Of course, it isn't a Prey book without some reference to Lucas' fashion obsession, whether it be about Lucas having a fifteen minute discussion with another doctor about loafers, or Lucas complaining about ruining a pair of his $450 Italian calfskin shoes after getting into a scuffle with a steroid freak.

I wouldn't say this is one of the best Prey novels, but with 19 others competing for the title, this isn't a bad thing. The novel is a strong entry into the series, and is highly entertaining for the Prey newbie and veteran alike. The good news is that I will be giving away my copy to one randomly selected winner a week from today, 5/27. Just leave a comment, letting me know if you have read this series yet, and if so, which is your favorite installment?

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Maui #10

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris (audio)

I listened to my first David Sedaris audiobook just a couple of months ago, after hearing much ranting and raving from my blogger friends. That pretty much sealed the deal for at first listen. I then ordered everything my library had of Sedaris on audio (which isn't really much) which brought me to "Me Talk Pretty One Day". I'm probably repeating myself, but nothing I say here will properly capture the genius of his dry humor, and the magic of his whiny, nasal-toned narration. Just trust me that he is a funny, funny man.

I am not easily satisfied with humor either. Comedic books and movies tend to annoy me, because they are usually trying too hard. My entire family could be wetting themselves over some inane film (cough...Nacho Libre...cough) and I just sit there like a stone. Fart humor doesn't cut it. (No pun intended!) Falling down doesn't either. But Sedaris seems to have what I need. He doesn't take himself too seriously, and openly exposes every one of his frailties for all to see, even the more serious ones.

As with the last audio I listened to, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Sedaris covers his childhood, his quirky parents and siblings (including his now-famous sister Amy), his addictions, his time spent living in other countries and the difficulties in trying to speak another language.

I didn't laugh at every single segment. But on the ones where I did laugh, I laughed BIG. I loved his term "tapeworm", which is sort of like "bookworm" but replacing the love of books with the love of audio tapes - something to which I can totally relate! I loved his story of an encounter on a French train with a group of tourists from Houston, and their annoying and loud stereotyping of the French people. I appreciated his honesty about his drug problem and years of shiftlessness.

But I think my favorite part was when he was relaying stories about attempting to speak French. For any of you that have attempted to learn a new language, you will appreciate this. When you know only a finite number of words, you try to communicate by piecing these words together, usually with your conjugation completely hosed up. (And I wonder why every time I open my mouth in Poland, my in-laws laugh!) In his French-speaking class, a cultural melting-pot, some of David's classmates wanted to understand the meaning of Easter. Here is how the conversation went:

The Poles jumped in first. "It is" said one, "a party for the little boy of God who calls his self Jesus and....oh, s***." At a loss for words, her fellow countryman tries to help out.

"He calls his self Jesus and then he die one day on two....morsels....of lumber."

The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.

"He die one day and then go above my head to live with your father."

"He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here to say hello to the peoples."

"He nice, the Jesus."

"He make good things, and on the Easter we be sad, because somebody makes him dead today."

They struggled because explaining complex theological concepts was beyond their linguistic ability so they turned to food.

"Easter is a party to eat of the lamb." The Italian nanny explained. "One too many eat of the chocolate."

"And who brings the chocolate?" the teacher asked.

I knew the word, so I raised my hand, saying, "The rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate."

"A rabbit?"....

"Well sure," I said. "He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have a basket and foods.

After listening to this, my husband shouldn't be surprised if I never utter another word in Polish! I'd rather run around playing charades and talking really loud in English!

My next adventure in fun with Sedaris will be "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim", which I will save until I need a break from murders, wars, treachery and physical abuse!

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - So You Think You Can Dance

This week's topic for the Monday Movie Meme from The Bumbles is all about dancing. Apparently Molly and Andy attended their niece's dance recital this past weekend, and it inspired them to think of movies that are either focused on dancing, or have memorable dance scenes. Here are ones that come to mind:

1. Footloose - I saw this movie in high school so many times, and always fantasized about being able to dance like those people. One time, a bunch of my friends went to see the movie with our Typing and Shorthand teacher, who was young and sorta cool, and we were so jacked up we went out looking for dance to crash. (We didn't find one.)

2. Saturday Night Fever - Admit it. You've at least tried dancing like that, shaking your booty and pointing that finger. I may have mentioned this while discussing another movie topic, but this was my first rated R movie. My friend Julie's mom took a group of us. I think we were just as impressed with John Travolta's black underwear as with the dancing actually.

3. Dirty Dancing - Isn't there a little bit of Baby in all of us? Uncoordinated and overlooked? I think that is why this movie was such a huge hit. Get out of that corner!

4. Pulp Fiction - Another iconic John Travolta moment. You have to admit, this was really one of the coolest dance scenes ever. The first time I saw it, I just sat there with a stupid grin on my face. Then of course, we had to replicate the dance after the movie was over. That, and eat blueberry pancakes.

5. Mad Hot Ballroom - This is what documentary film is all about...showing inner city kids lifted out of the cycle of dysfunction by their love of ballroom dancing and competition. Watching it leaves you with a feeling of elation. Watch it now!

I know you all must have your favorite dance movie! Please share!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Salon: Making room for Pi

Here I am again friends, on a Sunday morning, feeling like I need a few more hours of sleep. At the Adult Literacy League silent auction, my husband bid on and won a dinner for 8 at the chef's table at The Capital Grille, plus limo service. We used it last night, and it was so much fun. However, there never seemed to be any end to the champagne and wine, which was paired with each course. I think I need to turn in my head for a new one. Blegh.

It was a busy week as usual. This is shocking news I know. The kids are starting to have their final projects due, plus take their finals (which somehow becomes my problem!!!). My parents' house next door has had a little critter problem, where the cute little things chewed through air conditioning pipes, causing a very large leak, causing their bedroom ceiling to partially fall down. This, as you can imagine, is requiring a twelve step process to fix, and is going to be an ongoing project. We laid to rest a dear sweet woman who worked at the kids' school who finally succumbed to the devastating effects of ALS. My daughter had a spring dance on Friday night (and had her first slow dance - eek!). She was horrified that I was a chaperone, but too bad. We also got her ears re-pierced yesterday. We had it done four years ago, but they got infected, so we are hoping for better results this time. Actually praying would be a better word. This child is not good with pain and discomfort, and and if she suffers, we all do.

I had a decent reading week, slowly working on the pile of books that I need to get through before the summer, when I turn solely to my Kindle. I did finish "The Heart Is Not a Size" by Beth Kephart on Sunday by the pool. What a sweet book! I read a biography on Jane Austen. My daughter and I also read "Beastly", a modern twist on the beauty and the beast plot, which is going to be a movie this summer. I'm now about 50 pages into "The Daughters of Witching Hill" which I have heard so much about lately. The prose is a little different but I'm getting used to it and finding the story very compelling.

I finished the audio book "Love Walked In", the prequel to "Belong To Me" by Marisa de los Santos. What a wonderful, charming book! There are two narrators in the story, and one of them initially irritated me because she sounded prissy, but I got over that quickly as the story unfurled. I couldn't stop listening. And now, there is nothing more I would rather do than listen to "Belong To Me" but instead I must listen to "The Life of Pi" for book club. I've read this book before, years ago and really liked it. But the audio isn't tripping my trigger much, and is making me antsy. It is not a real long audio, so I will grind through it, but I'm not happy about it. I've also been listening to "Garden Spells" by Sarah Addison Allen in the car without the kids. That narrator is a little strange, but I'm enjoying the story. I should be able to finish it this week I think. The kids and I are also making good progress on the 7th Harry Potter audio, and hope that we can finish before school is out.

So what is in store for this lovely Sunday? Church of course. Probably projects and studying with my son. Maybe a little reading by the pool if I'm lucky. What are your plans?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Smile - Raina Telgemeir

A minor detour was required amidst serious reading. My daughter bought this insanely popular book "Smile" at the book fair, and she assured me I could read it in about 20 minutes. Turns out, it took about an hour, but was a wonderful diversion. A little bonus? It was a graphic novel! I haven't started whittling away at my Graphic Novel Challenge yet. My intent was to have a month of graphic hedonism sometime this summer. But why not see what all the fuss was about? There had to be something to it if Emma has read it three times already.

The book is an autobiography of sorts by Raina Telgemeir, a comic illustrator who has been nominated for various Ignatz, Cybil and Eisner awards, as well as the adaptor and illustrator of Babysitter's Club graphic novels. The story follows Raina from 6th grade into high school. It documents her 4 1/2 year journey through dental torment, including reconstruction, retainers and braces. We also see her progress through boy troubles, judgemental friends, a devastating earthquake (in her hometown of San Francisco), acne, homework, and family dynamics. She learns to stay true to herself and not allow her peers to walk all over her.

In the middle grade and young adult literary environment of vampires, teen sex, foul language and bullying, this novel is a breath of fresh air. It just reconfirms that you don't need trash to entertain a 12-year-old. If I sound a little edgy, that is because I am. I recently read a very positive review of a book that I ordered from the library for my daughter to sounded like it was right up her alley. Only to have my her tell me it was full of foul language and inappropriate behavior (she is pretty good at policing herself!). Shame on me for not reading it first. (I DO intend to read it by the way, so I talk her through whatever damage has been done.) She is a pretty mature 12-year-old, and understands the difference between right and wrong. Does this mean that she should read this stuff? I think she would choose not to. It makes her uncomfortable and finds it distasteful, and prefers books that make her feel like a happy, normal 12-year-old.

It is refreshing to read a book with a wholesome message. Ultimately, the proof is in Emma's attitude towards this book, which, as I said earlier, she has read three times and has rated it with quite a bit of love.

Emma: 5 out of 5 stars

Me: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Painter's Life - K.B. Dixon

My sister got the full family allotment of the artistic gene. I can't even draw a straight line. Still, I appreciate art, and when in the midst of an inspiring personality or novel, I dream that one day I will discover my inner Picasso. (I have this same fantasy about writing as well). This is why I accepted A Painter's Life from the author months ago. I'm expanding my horizons!

I started reading this unique novel at 4am during the 24-hour read-a-thon. This probably was not the best strategy, because although the book is relatively short (143 pages), it was a bit too clever and quippy for my fogged mind. It is best read with a clear mind. So I picked it up again a couple of days later.

The structure is curious. The painter in question is Christopher Freeze, a fairly accomplished artist. At the beginning of each chapter, we are spoon fed a small piece of Freeze's biography. How he met his wife, his various mental breakdowns, his successes and failures.

Then we transition into excerpts from Freeze's diary, which is a riot. He talks about the minutiae of his life, his friends' lives, his marriage, and his struggle with his craft. Here are some examples:

I get all my best ideas in the shower, which is one of the reasons, I take so many every day (four or five at least). It means heavy hot-water bills and dry, itchy skin, but you do what you have to for a picture. It always comes first.

I am thankful for many things, but right up there near the top of the list is not knowing anyone who would think of dropping by without calling first.

I'm content to be an easel painter. Safadi once told me that if my pictures were bigger my reputation would be too. How much of one's work should be done in service to a reputation? I know it's naive to think as little as possible, but there you go.

At the end of every chapter, there are snippets of various reviews of Freeze's work, as well as some interviews with him.

I was perplexed that between these three components of each chapter, there was complete disconnect in who Freeze really was. The biography made Freeze sound like he was mental, with some serious issues in his personal life. The pieces of his diary made him seem very real and down-to-earth, with a killer sense of humor. The reviews at the end of each chapter portrayed Freeze as a brilliant, artistic genius. Perhaps this is the point of the author...we are, as humans, very multi-dimensional. What we see depends on which angle we are observing.

There is really no plot here. It begins and ends mid-stream, mid-life, mid-story. This is a snapshot of a life, delivered at a gentle, slow pace. It is the life of someone who is trying to create beauty. He was so like the guy who lives two doors down, he fueled the fantasy of mine that I too, could create something thought-provoking on a canvas. Now, I know this isn't going to happen (at least not until the kids move out and I get my little white dog), but it's pretty cool when you are allowed and inspired to dream.

So whether you have artistic talent in the real world or in your own mind, and you are tolerant of meandering, yet clever, musings, perhaps this might be something you would enjoy.

I would like to thank Kenneth Dixon for sending me his book for review, and a heart-felt apology for it taking so darned long for me to read! Kenneth also just informed me that this book was just selected as a finalist for the 2010 Eric Hoffer Fiction Award, which honors short prose and independent books. Way to go Kenneth!

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Days of Prey Tour: Broken Prey - John Sandford

There are no words for the excitement I experienced when I was invited to participate in the TLC Days of Prey Tour, in honor of John Sandford's newest release "Storm Prey", which launches on 5/18. I have been reading the Prey series for well over fifteen years, starting with the debut "Rules of Prey" and working my way through them all. I chose to re-read and review one of my favorites, "Broken Prey":

Title and series number of the book you read: Broken Prey (#16)

Year published: 2005

Tell us about Lucas Davenport:

What is Lucas doing when he first appears in the book? Set up the scene.

Lucas has been called to the scene of a vicious murder of a young woman. He and Sloan are working the case. Aspects of the case do not indicate an act of passion, but one that is planned, cold and calculated. Lucas receives input from his childhood friend turned psychiatrist nun Elle.

Lucas is also attempting to shed a few pounds through a low-carb diet. He aimlessly wanders around the house, lonely, while Weather, the kids and the housekeeper are enjoying a maxillo-facial surgery fellowship in London for three months.

Weather recently purchased Lucas an iPod with a hundred dollar iTunes gift card. Lucas has accepted this as a challenge to compile the top 100 rock and roll tunes in which to load on his new device.

Sloan is burned out and considering quitting the job and opening a bar. He pledges to load the top 100 rock and roll songs on the bar's juke box.

• Give us a sense of time and place.

Summer in the twin cities, current with date of publication.

• Lucas’s occupation or professional role?

Lucas works for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), a state unit specialized in solving atypical crimes. He acts as a fixer of sorts for the Governor and Marie Roux, the commissioner of public safety. In Broken Prey, he is teamed up with his buddy Sloan, and gets a little help from Shrake and Jenkins as well.

• Lucas’s personal status (single, dating, married):

Lucas has settled down into married life with Weather, their toddler son, Sam, and his their ward, Letty. That doesn't stop him from noticing an attractive female, or an attractive female noticing HIM. After all, he is THE DUDE.

• Lucas Davenport is a known clothes-horse; did you notice any special fashion references?

I've always admired Lucas for his fashion sense. He sort of breaks all the rules as a police officer, not only with his clothes, but with his hot red Porsche. Here are some examples of his attire in Broken Prey:

"He was wearing a gray summer-weight wool-and-silk suit from Prada, over black shoes with a pale blue silk golf shirt, open at the neck."

"He finished dressing, picking out a good-looking Versace blue suit and tie, a Hermes necktie, blue over-the-calf socks with small coffee-colored comets woven into them, and soft black Italian loafers."

(I don't think it is a coincidence that his number 1 rock and roll song is ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man".

Let’s talk about the mystery:

• Avoiding spoilers, what was the crime/case being solved?

A particularly sadistic serial murderer, who rapes and scourges his male and female victims, then displays them in public areas. Very early in the story (so it isn't a spoiler), all evidence points to a bumbling rapist recently out of prison, but things quickly don't add up. The perpetrator takes pleasure in calling and toying with the press and Lucas. The story contains adequate twists and turns, and prevents us from easily determining the killer.

• Does the title of your book relate to the crime?

I suppose so. I've always thought that the crimes and the titles of the books can be a bit of a stretch in this series. I guess there are lots of "broken" bones, and of course, what bad guy isn't "broken" in one form or fashion?

Who was your favorite supporting character, good or evil?

Lucas Davenport aside (he will always be my favorite), I really liked Ruffe Ignace, a journalist who is always on the make. He is described as "short, big-nosed, red-haired, pugnacious, intense, loud, never wrong, willing to bend any ethical rule, and three years out of journalism school". He is always buzzing quietly to himself, with bits of commentary on his surroundings and passersby, possible leads, song lyrics, and what he might do over the weekend, called the "Ruffe Radio". He is obnoxious but has moxie. Sanford HAS to have based this character on someone he knows. He is too larger-than-life to be a figment of an author's creative reservoir.

What was your favorite scene or quote?

My favorite part of this book, and the reason I chose to re-read it, was the ongoing banter between Lucas and his friends about the list of rock and roll songs. They are all in an uproar about it. They debate, they rant and rave, they rage because the Beatles aren't on the list, they doubt its credibility, they bring up songs that have been omitted. For someone like me, who is a fan of all things rock and roll AND a fan of the crime thriller series, this is like having my cake and eating it too.

Finally, how do you envision Lucas Davenport? If he were to be portrayed in a movie, what celebrity would play him?

This was really hard! Lucas has dark salt & pepper hair, is attractive in a dangerous kind of way, with mesmerizing eyes and lots of sharp edges. He isn't necessarily buff, but strong and agile enough to kick butt or chase someone down if necessary. Here are some possibilities:

Michael Madsen

Clive Owen (why not, right?)

Daniel Craig, but with dark, salt & pepper hair

Have you read any of the Prey novels? As with most series, it is possible to pick any one of them up and read it independent of the others. But it means so much more if you read them in order. You get to know the history of all the main characters, you develop an understanding of all their emotional baggage, of how Lucas received each and every one of his scars, and how he met and married Weather. The books do have language, which is inherent with stories involving police. Some can be rather gory and some can be sexually explicit (Broken Prey was both).

I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for this wonderful opportunity! Please make sure you visit the official Days of Prey Blog Tour to check out reviews of all the books in the series.

Wordless Wednesday: Maui #9

For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nine Dragons - Michael Connelly (audio)

Not long ago, my BFF said she had this latest Harry Bosch installment on audio from the library...did I want to borrow it for an upload? "Eh, well, yeah, I guess so" was my answer. Harry is one of those endearing crime thriller series characters that I've come to love. I'm not sure Connelly has been hitting his mark lately on plot, but why not? I go through a couple of audio books in a week.

Harry and his partner Ignacio Ferras (a little gun-shy from a recent shooting) were just assigned to a robbery/homicide at a liquor store...grunt work for these two veterans. The victim is none other than a Chinese immigrant who was a casual acquaintance of Bosch's years ago. With the assistance of over-ambitious Asian detective Chu, they believe the crime to have been committed by a Chinese triad gang. Bosch is asked to back off the case, he doesn't, and then his daughter Madeline is kidnapped in Hong Kong, where she is living with her mother and Bosch's ex-lover Eleanore Wish. So he runs around over there trying to save his daughter. There's guns, and knives and a body count. Of course.

I'm not trying to be snarky, but it is hard not to be when I have read three crime thrillers in as many months that involve the kidnapping of detective's daughters. You just come to expect that if a child of the protagonist is mentioned, you expect some sort of problem with them at some point. I guess it goes with the territory, but it gets old.

There are a number of sub-plots that are interesting. One was Harry's unrealized biases with the Asian people. Not that he harbored ill will, but that he had preconceived notions that were unfounded. Being the good egg though, Harry does give himself an attitude adjustment. Another entertaining plot was Harry's paternal instincts, and his relationship with his daughter. It's nice to see his protective side. There is also some angst between Harry and his partner. Harry is becoming frustrated with his partner's discomfort with the streets, and his torn loyalties between his family and his job. All of this comes to a tragic head in this story.

The story is a quick read. Via audio, you will find the narrator to be gruff and a little robotic. Not to the point where you can't finish the book, but enough that I couldn't listen to him for more than one book at a time. It does what you would expect...provides you with your fix of Harry, a little adrenaline rush, then you move on.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010)

Only once or twice a year, I truly get EXCITED about seeing a movie, most of my life being immersed in mediocre child-friendly flicks. The cherry on top of my Mother's Day yesterday was the long-anticipated viewing of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with my friend Marianne, who has also read the book. The movie was being shown at Orlando's one and only indie movie theater for exactly one week, and I'll be cracked if I was missing it.

Like the book, the movie is incredibly intense and very violent, but appropriately so. Softening anything here would have done a disservice to the story. My stomach was in knots for most of the film, and Marianne had her hands over her mouth and occasionally her eyes. Crime scene photos, graphic sex scenes, and scenes of rape and torture were not for the faint of heart. But if you read the book, you know this. There was a group next to us consisting of what looked like mom, dad, and two mid-teenage girls who were smoked out by the halfway mark, leaving a half-eaten meal in their wake. Lesson learned: do a little research before you bring your teens to an NR rated film.

The casting was spectacular. As many of you know, I have a bit of a crush on Lisbeth...just a peculiar fascination with such a vivid, enigmatic literary character. So it was important that this Noomi Repace chick fit the bill. The character of Mikael Blomqvist was equally as important. And they nailed it. Lisbeth was boyish and sinewy, odd-acting, distant and cold. She embodied Lisbeth. Mikael was smooth, earnest, persistent and good-looking in a non-traditional sense.

Marianne and I only took one exception with the casting. We were not thrilled with the character of Erika, Mikael's lover/work colleague. She was much less glamorous and much more weathered than we had imagined, but her part in the movie was minimal.

All of this being said, I walked out of the film feeling a little perturbed at the liberties they took with the screenplay. Listen, I know when you are attempting to convert a 600 page book to a 2 1/2 hour movie, some of the intricacies are left behind. How much longer would the movie have been if they would have portrayed Mikael as a ladies' man though? And what I would consider key plot points were completely changed. A secret from Lisbeth's past, revealed in the second book, is shown. Things were happening at the end of the movie that had Marianne and I shaking our heads in denial, whispering to each other "No! That is just wrong! That is not the way it is supposed to be!". On the way home, we tried to understand WHY these decisions were made, but we never found a satisfying answer. It may sound like we really need to get a life and focus on something more important like world hunger or the war in Iraq. But I guess I feel a little protective because Larsson is not around anymore to protect the integrity of his story.

If you were seeing this movie without the benefit of reading the book, or if you didn't remember much from the book, I think you would find the movie worth your time and money. Apparently Sony has bought the right to make a US version of the movie, with a little trash-talking about the quality of the Swedish version (maybe they didn't like the plot manipulations either?). I don't think that is warranted, but I will be very interested to see the final product and compare.

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Salon: Mom's Day Off

Good morning and Happy Mother's Day!!! I am waking up just a tad fuzzy this morning after last night's celebration of Polish food with friends. Hunter's stew made with venison, elk and pheasant, pierogies covered in butter and bacon, apple/carrot salad, kielbasa, Polish gluttony. I would have taken a picture, but we consumed it before I even thought about it. Anyway, besides my birthday, this is the one day a year I get a pass to sit and do nothing. Later this morning, my husband, my kids and I will go to a Mother's Day brunch at the club, then I will maybe read and nap by the pool, then (drumroll please) a girlfriend and I will go see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I haven't been this excited about a movie in a long time. It's going to be a great day, I can just feel it!

The week was exhausting and everyone has been cranky. There was something going on every night. My daughter has a serious attitude problem. My kids are routinely trying to kill each other. Headaches are involved. But as the school year comes to a close, things will slowly wrap up and in a couple of weeks, the only thing we should have to worry about are finals and preparing for our summer vacation. In the meantime though, tensions are high. Do any of you go through this? It kind of feels like the last couple weeks of pregnancy. You just want. it. over.

On Thursday evening, our school had an event at the local Barnes & Noble, which occurs twice a year, and I help to organize it. We have kids from the school singing, playing instruments, we had a balloon artist, teachers do storytelling, and we provide the summer reading books. A percentage of the sales is then given back to us to support our library. It is a wonderful community-builder and is alot of fun. We also were lucky enough to have a local author and a friend of mine, Danette Haworth, there to sign books. Sorry, no pictures. I really pooped out on the picture taking this week, didn't I? I only ended up buying a couple of books for my kids. There were SO MANY I wanted for myself, but the cold hard truth is that I probably wouldn't read them for another year. My stacks are just that out of control.

Speaking of the stacks, I whittled them down a fraction this week. I finished the new John Sandford book, "Storm Prey", which goes on sale in another week or so. I enjoyed it, as I do all of the books in this series. I also read "Stitches", a graphic novel that has been around the block on the blogs, and it pretty much blew my mind in a disturbing kind of way. I then started Beth Kephart's new book "The Heart is not a Size". This is my first Beth book, but it was clear to me pretty quickly why everyone loves this author so. Her writing is just precious, and reminds me alot of Jacqueline Woodson. I'm hoping to wrap up this book today by the pool.

The kids and I finished the 6th Harry Potter, and started on the 7th. Oh the excitement! I guess we need to start thinking about what the heck we will listen to after this is all over. We have been at this series now for a long time. I also finished off Stephen King's 30-disc monster "Under the Dome", and started "Love Walked In" by Marisa de los Santos. I am in a quandary over the "Garden Spells" audio by Sarah Addison Allen. I went into convulsions when I discovered that it has 100 tracks per disc, and the online database does not recognize it. Which means to load it onto my iPod, I have to type. in. every. line. Which just isn't going to happen. So I thought I might try just popping it into the CD player in the car and listening to it only there when I am buzzing around during the week. We'll see how that goes. I really didn't want to miss out on this book though.

I suppose I should shut up now. I hope you all have a wonderful, relaxing day!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Knots and Crosses - Ian Rankin

I will admit, I am a sucker for crime thriller series. There was a day, long ago, when I thought I was the expert in such series. After all, I've read every adventure of Jack Reacher, Kinsey Millhone, Stephanie Plum, Kay Scarpetta, Lucas Davenport, Harry Bosch, Bernie Rodenbahr, Matthew Scudder, Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, Stone Barrington, blah, blah, blah. But when I started blogging, I was humbled. There are literally thousands of crime thriller series I've never even touched. I write down two or three a month that are recommended by fellow bloggers.

The latest came from Jill @ Rhapsody in Books, with Knots and Crosses, the first in the John Rebus series. It was an impulsive library order, and it landed squarely at the top of my stack for the 24-hour read-a-thon. I figured it was a good bet, as I'd heard rumblings that Rankin was one of the most highly-regarded crime novelists, up there with Connelly and P.D. James.

We are introduced to Detective Rebus, divorced and lonely, missing his daughter, and suffering from suppressed horrors that occurred in his military days. He is your classic damaged soul, slogging through his days, and trying to make a difference but never sure if it's working.

He has been assigned to the latest case terrorizing Edinburgh...a psycho that is targeting girls around the ages of 10 to 12, kidnapping and strangling them. Coincidentally, at the same time, Rebus starts to receive mysterious letters, saying "clues are everywhere", with small pieces of string with knots in them. Is this a joke from his brother, his ex-wife, a colleague? Or is it the murderer? And if it is, how does he know where Rebus lives? Soon, the case becomes personal, and Rebus is forced to confront memories he'd rather keep buried.

As far as crime thrillers go, the plot is one I've seen, with variations, many a time. What separates Rankin, however, from the mediocre masses in this genre is Rebus' raw suffering and humanity. He doesn't always make good choices (sleeping with strangers, drinking too much, not washing his clothes! Ick!) but the guy has a good heart. You find yourself in his corner, rooting for him to come out on top.

Is this the best crime thriller I've read recently? I couldn't say that. I'm still wishing Stieg Larsson was still alive so I could throw my panties at him. But it got me through the late hours of the read-a-thon, and I came out the other side wanting more of Rebus.

4 out of 5 stars