Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Not So Wordless Wednesay: Wroclaw #1

I am always amazed at how I've been traveling to Wroclaw, Poland, with my husband since 1992, and we still find things I have not seen.  On this trip, we visited a number of architectural wonders hidden within the University of Wroclaw, including this Jesuitical church built in 1689.  You would never know what was about to hit you in the face from the outside, but you step in, and you are immediately awash with all of the Late Baroque intensity.  I found it humorous to hear, during the tour, that the Jesuits actually ran out of money while building this church, and were disappointed that they had to scale back!?  As it stands, it is sensory overload. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Emily, Alone - Stewart O' Nan (Audio)

If you want to meet a band of loyal, take-a-bullet-for-their-author fans, go on to Twitter or Facebook, or even stand on the street, and yell "STEWART O' NAN" at the top of your lungs and see what happens.  This man has got his people.  He has written some scarey stuff, some literary family drama, and even wrote a book about the Red Sox with Stephen King.  There has been so much love swelling from social media and the blogs on this guy, I felt like I was missing out on the fun.  I hate missing out!  I hopped on over to my library website, and found they had "Emily, Alone" on audio, so I snapped it up.

"Emily, Alone" is actually a sequel to "Wish You Were Here", a novel about Emily Maxwell trying to hold her family together after the death of her husband.  It is unfortunate that I didn't read that one first, but I was assured by Beth Fish Reads and Lakeside Musing that the novel would still stand on its own.

Synopsis:  It has been years since Emily's husband died, and still the 80 year-old widow is struggling to navigate through her life alone.  She has her aging dog Rufus and her sister-in-law to keep her company, but she wrestles with loneliness, the friends that keep dying, her progressing frailty, her middle-aged children that have their own life and demons to battle, and settling her affairs before she dies.

Sometimes she is shocked by her going out and buying a new car with good gas mileage!  Or putting her dog on a diet and whipping him back into shape.  Or maintaining her garden.  At the same time, she is frustrated with her own weakness of pining away for her kids and grandkids calls and thank you letters and visits.  Or needing to ask for help from the neighbor when the sidewalks get snowy. 

At it's heart, "Emily, Alone" is a character study that focuses on the dignity and indignity of aging, in a tone that is deeply emotional but realistic and unflinching. 

My thoughts:  I'm not a huge fan of character studies, I'm finding.  I need some kind of plot, some climax in which to work towards in a story.  This book was perhaps a wee bit too gentle for me to call a favorite, but I did sincerely enjoy it.

I adored Emily.  She reminded me of my grandmother.  Feisty, no-nonsense, with an attitude of "I'll be damned if I let my age prevent me from doing something".  And even though I'm 35 years away from being in her position, I was right there with her in spirit.  I became profoundly melancholy observing life pass her by, her kids and grandkids moving through their lives with little regard for her.  O' Nan, who is only a handful of years older than I, somehow "got" it, which I consider amazing. 

While I would not consider this an uplifting story, it does have moments of hope.  Emily is doing her thing, trying to keep her family together, and living her life to its fullest.  Or at least as full as she is physically able.  O' Nan has also set up the ending to lead into another installment. 

A word about the audio production:  Our narrator was Andrea Gallo, who was new to me, but has narrated many other books, including ones by Debbie Macomber and Temple Grandin.  She portrayed Emily, in her spunk and frustrations, perfectly. 

3.5 out of 5 stars      

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hugo (2011)

There weren't too many movies coming out this holiday season that I was more excited for than Hugo.  After all, the book was spectacular...a story told with both words and stunning illustrations, with the ability to enchant everyone from the ages of 9 to 99.  My big concern was whether even the great Martin Scorcese was up to the challenge of sustaining the magic that was created by Brian Selznick.

Two things made my spirits rise.  First, my sister, an indie movie critic, loved it.  She is not a huge fan of the big-budget box office blowouts, so this was huge.  Roger Ebert loved it too.  So yesterday, the kids and my parents went to see it.

You can't argue with the cast, with Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) as Hugo, Chloe Moretz (Let Me In, Kick-Ass) as Isabelle, Ben Kingsley (no explanation necessary) as Georges Melies, and Sasha Baron Cohen (Borat) as the Station Inspector.  Even greats like Christopher Lee and Jude Law had bit parts that supported the film.  (Correct me if I am wrong, but methinks I spied Johnny Depp as a street musician.  He is the producer after all.)


I won't talk too much about the plot.  If you are interested, here is my review of the book.  Suffice it to say that the screenplay stayed very true to the book.  I didn't see a thing out of place.  In fact, it was like the pictures on the page came to life, which made me extremely happy.  This book does not deserve to be sliced and diced and abbreviated.

Scorcese also gifted us the sensory experience of 1930's Paris...the lights, the music, the fashion, the food.  Oh, it was intoxicating!  But that was just the beginning of the fun.  The love of books, the love and preservation of old film, and the automaton!  Ever since I first read the book, I've been obsessed with this mechanical cyborg-looking thing that mysteriously draws pictures, writes poems, and seems like it is half-human.  I've watched the You Tube videos.  I drug my kids willy-nilly through the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to see the one that inspired Selznick.  The automaton created here was gorgeous.

We debated whether to see the movie in 3D or not. My sister said she didn't think it was necessary. Plus, it costs about a mortgage payment to take a family to see a 3D movie these days. But in the end, we went for it. I knew that Scorcese did film this specifically for the 3D experience, not with gimmicky tricks, but for the effect of full-immersion. As a result, I wasn't just watching this film, I was IN it. I was IN the clock tower, or running through the streets of Paris dodging pedestrians, or standing outside with snow falling on me. I would highly recommend spending the extra money for the 3D experience.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Salon: I left my heart in St. George

Actually, my heart was still there from when we went three years ago, but I left it again this time.  It has set up permanent residence.  As we drove away, I had a gigantic lump in my throat.  I love this little island so much.  I know we'll be back, but I will miss it. Even my husband commented on the drive home that with every visit, we love it just a little bit more.   

I love how the kids discard their electronics and their addictions to the movie theaters and the malls, and head to the beach to go for a run or walk, throw a football, or build a fiefdom in the sand.  Our rental house is within walking distance of the handful of businesses on the island, such as the local fisherman selling his hours-old shrimp or oysters, or the spice shop that bakes fresh bread on the hour and holds wine tastings.  We had our own wine tastings overlooking the ocean each evening at sunset.    

A new activity for the Nawrots this year was to rent bicycles and explore the island.  We thought we'd seen everything over the past 7 visits and 12 years, but on a bike, so much more is accessible.  On one adventure, we found a hidden little bird estuary on the Apalachicola Bay.

Typical for my daughter, the cat whisperer, we attracted a hungry and homeless but very sociable cat within 15 minutes of our arrival.  We fed him shrimp and scallops and cat treats and he hung out with us like he belonged.  It broke my heart to leave him but we SO did not need a sixth cat personality in this family. 

Because this trip was all about spending time with family, I didn't do as much audio listening as I thought I would.  (Really, I should know better by now!)  I got through about half of Patrick Ness's "Monsters of Men", which is really good and I'm totally twitchy to finish it.  Soon! 

In print, I finished "The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus" by Sonya Sones and LOVED it.  Then I read Brian Selznick's "Wonderstruck" in an evening, because his books are just that way.  Magical.  I am about 2/3 of the way through Yrsa Sigurdardottir's "My Soul To Take", an Icelandic murder mystery.  Having fallen in love years ago with "Smilla's Sense of Snow" and the whole atmosphere of Iceland, I grabbed this.  Can't tell you yet if it is working for me though.  I have mixed feelings. 

I am hoping that today I will accomplish two things:  putting up my inside Christmas decorations, AND seeing Hugo at the theaters.  My sister loved it (not something that happens often with big budget mass-marketed flicks) and so did Ebert.  The kids and I have all read the book and seen the automaton at the Franklin Institute, so it should be extra special!  You'll know whether or not we saw the movie if you see a review of it tomorrow!

Hope you all had a wonderful, relaxing Thanksgiving weekend!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion (Audio)

I am told that zombies are the new rage, replacing vampires and werewolves on the list of hot monsters.  According to the video games my son owns, this would make sense.  It is all about slaying the zombies.  All the fuss on TV and at the movies would support this as well.  (Did you see Zombieland?  Holy cow, was that movie FUN!)  I wasn't too sure, though, about a zombie love story.  Which is what this is.  All the other paranormal goons are in love, though, so why not zombies?  They need love too.

I started this audio with my cynical hat on, and not exactly an open mind.  But I was in the hands of Kevin Kenerly (the amazing narrator behind "Crooked Letter Crooked Letter") so I figured I could handle anything with him in my ears.

Synopsis:  R is one of thousands of zombies that walk the earth at some point in the future when everything has gone to hell in a handbasket...climate meltdown, financial meltdown, and a strange virus that has turned much of the world's population into blood-thirsty eaters of flesh and brains. 

R is cool though.  He loves music.  He longs for companionship.  Even though he can only utter simple grunts and a few words, and remembers nothing about his human life, he longs for more.  And he gets it when he eats the brains of a young male victim.  Suddenly, he is filled with the victim's memories, including those of his beautiful girlfriend Julie.  R finds Julie, whisks her off to his hideout, and befriends her. 

Is it possible for the undead and a human to have a relationship?  Humans are trained to kill zombies, and zombies instinctively eat humans.  In a twisted tale of an apocalyptic Romeo & Juliet, R and Julie are about to find out.

My thoughts:  This was one bizarre adventure, let me tell you.  It was graphic (brains and dead people smells?), it was creative, it was endearing.  Even a little bit funny.  It is hard to even describe my emotions really.  I liked R...he was kinda sweet and earnest and cool, for a member of the walking dead anyway.  But then the visual of he and Julie, like, being a couple?  Completely disgusted me.

I laughed out loud.  Zombies making derogatory comments about the drudgery of marriage?  Or Julie putting makeup on R to smuggle him into a human-occupied area?  What the hell!  I can't say that the story completely blew my mind, but I was very much entertained. 

A few words about the audio production:  My biggest thrill with this whole experience was the narration performed by Kevin Kenerly.  I believe the man performs in Shakespearean theater, but then turns around and narrates, to perfection, a Southern gothic literary thriller?  Then gurgles and grunts zombie-talk?  Really?  That is one versatile and talented guy.  If you like audio books, you need to make a point to track him down. 

3.5 out of 5 stars   

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

May each and every one of you have an amazing feast today!   

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Osada #3

Here is a picture of the accommodations at Osada.  Each guest has the choice of renting half of this bungalow, or the whole thing.  I'm not sure how many of these little huts they have on property, but you could have one heck of a class reunion there if you wanted.  When we were visiting, there was a large wedding party on property.  It was very charming (I wanted to put flowers in my hair and run through the fields) but with all the modern conveniences like Wi-fi! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The End of the Affair - Graham Greene

I have had this book on my TBR list FOREVER.  I heard all about the emotion, the tears, the heart-warming plot.  I was disappointed that my library did not have the audio.  When I was up in Boston this past September, I took the opportunity to purchase the book, and because it was less than 200 pages, decided to read it for the October readathon.

Big mistake.  Haven't I learned that sometimes the shortest books pack the biggest punch?  It took something like 9 hours to read 160 some odd pages.  And by the end I was getting irritated.  So I don't know how fair this review will be.  Let's see how it goes.

Synopsis: In London, during WWII, a novelist named Maurice Bendrix engages in an affair with a married woman, Sarah Miles.  Sarah is bored with her proper, fuddy-duddy husband, and finds the missing passion in Maurice.  The affair endures a number of fights and jealousy, some sneaking and near-misses with Sarah's husband, but their passion never ceases.  During one illicit afternoon, however, as Maurice leaves the bedroom to investigate a noise, he is crushed by a door in a bombing.  Thinking Maurice dead, Sarah vows to God that she will give up the affair and dedicate her life to Him if He lets Maurice live.  When Maurice wakes up after only being knocked unconscious, Sarah believes it is a miracle and vows to keep her word. 

Years later, Maurice still grieves over the loss of his true love, but begins to develop a close friendship with Sarah's husband.  It is only when he gets his hands on Sarah's diary does he fully appreciate the sacrifices made and the extent of Sarah's feelings.

In this powerful yet reflective novel, Greene explores themes of love and loathing of self, love of others, love of God, and of sacrifice.

My thoughts:  In many ways, this book was masterful.  In so few pages, there were many complicated emotions and themes.  I was touched by the immense love between Maurice and Sarah, although it is not immediately obvious.  In my mind, I figured this was all about the sex.  Not until later do we understand the depths of the emotion. 

I was also impressed with Sarah, who had so few scruples that she cheated on her husband, SOMETIMES WHILE HER HUSBAND WAS IN THE NEXT ROOM, yet ultimately remained true to her impulsive promise to God, even at the expense of the only man she ever really loved. 

I was entranced with the friendship between Sarah's husband and Maurice.  It was precious that they both found common ground in their love for one woman.  Maybe a little weird, but precious. 

And yes, the whole thing was heart-breaking.  I felt like a large animal was sitting on my chest for most of the book.  This book was heavy, heavy, heavy.  Not what you would want for a readathon. 

I had some complaints.  I felt that the repeated harping on self-hate and the role of God in Maurice's situation was so heavy-handed.  Around the 8th or 10th time these topics were addressed, ruminated over, and dwelled upon, over and over again, it grew very old with me.  I really got the point after the first or second time it was discussed!  Perhaps if I had read this over a period of a week, in small doses, I wouldn't have been so overwhelming.  Under the circumstances, I can't say I loved this book.

I do intend to watch the movie (movies?).  I think this is a perfect book for film, and I believe I will find it much more enjoyable.  Does anyone have any advice on whether I should see the 1955 version or the 1999 version?

3 out of 5 stars                 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Zombieland (2009)

When this movie was at the theaters, it slipped by right under my radar.  But recently, my son has been into slaying zombies on his video games (he has informed me that he has over 40 different games that feature them), and pop culture would indicate that they are the next hot paranormal creature, ousting vampires and werewolves for top billing.  So one night we decided to watch this on Netflix streaming.  Were we in for a surprise.

Are you cool with gore and really bad language?  Good, then you are going to love this movie.  Am I a bad mother for allowing my son to watch it?  Yes, probably.  But this was right up his alley.  He already has been informed of the "bad words" and is threatened within an inch of his life for using them.

This is not a serious movie really.  It is insanely over-the-top with regards to undead flesh-eaters chasing and eating live humans, and can be very disgusting, but throughout the entire flick, we were laughing until our stomachs hurt. 

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a studious young college student who is just a dude trying to survive the zombie apocalypse.  He has made it thus far by following 30 important survival rules which include Cardio (to effectively outrun them), The Double Tap (two shots to the head just to make sure), Always Look in the Back Seat, or Avoid Public Restrooms.      

On his way to Ohio to see if his parents are still alive, he runs across a Twinkie-obsessed redneck Floridian named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who helps him in the struggle.  Later they happen upon a beautiful young woman and her "little sister" (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin), and the four head out to LA where they hear there is a zombie-free amusement park.  There is alot of shooting, zombie-slaying, some furtive glancing between Stone and Eisenberg, and its all just a madcap bunch of fun.

The highlight of the movie for me was when the four survivors break into Bill Murray's house in LA and find him there, disguised as a zombie, hiding out and drinking his stash of expensive wine.  Most wacky. Scene. Ever.  In the best possible way. 

If this type of sick and twisted humor is something you enjoy, you must rent it immediately.  In the event of a zombie attack, you will be prepared and capable of saving yourself.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Salon: Ahhhhhhh

Praise the Lord, someone finally hit the off button.  We attended a track meet yesterday, then headed up here to our heaven on earth for the week, St. George Island.  I'm hoping to do some chilling out, some reading, some wine consumption, shopping, napping and MAYBE a little review-writing. 

Over the years, we have been to this island, located in the panhandle of Florida off the coast of Apalachicola, probably more than a half dozen times.  Four of those times have been at Thanksgiving, breaking the stereotype of turkey day by celebrating with the crash of waves as background noise.  Every time we cross the long bridge to this strip of land with a bunch of houses on stilts, my heart sings.  But it has been three years since our last visit.  The last time we were here, I had just started my blog and was fretting the entire week over a post I was writing for James (Ready When You Are, C.B.) on Larousse Gastronomique.

I turn into a different (better) person when I'm here.

Up until Saturday, I was busy with dentist appointments, horseback riding lessons, packing for our trip, and hosting our Books, Babes and Bordeaux book club (discussing "Unbroken").  I was so preoccupied though, not only with our upcoming trip and getting the hell out of Dodge, but with my most excellent reading adventures.

I finished the audio of "The Knife of Never Letting Go" by Patrick Ness (the first installment of the Chaos Walking trilogy).  I became totally obsessed with it.  So I attempted to get the second installment "The Ask and the Answer" on audio, but no go.  I downloaded it via Overdrive on my phone as an e-book and read it in only a few days, despite the fact it is a looong book.  I've now just started "Monsters of Men" on audio.  I'm going to knock this one out here on my vacation.  What a series.

I also listened to "The Stranger You Seek" by Amanda Kyle Williams, which was insanely fun.  The murder mystery was very satisfying but the real treat here was the protagonist, a Chinese-American, recovering alcoholic, crotch-grabbing, ass-kicking woman worthy of your attention.  I cannot WAIT to write this review.

I'm now reading, in print, "The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus", a testament to all of us near-menopausal wives who are grieving over our lost younger bodies, our children who are embarrassed to be seen with us, and are contemplating our aging parents.  This is a fast read, and highly entertaining, written in verse form.  I should have it knocked out today.

Even though I'm on vacation, I can't promise I'll be around 100% of the time.  I'll do my best.  What are you all up to today?


Friday, November 18, 2011

Love At First Bark - Julie Klam

My first instinct when I see a cute dog on the front cover of any book is to run like heck in the opposite direction.  I really have too much baggage to handle a dying animal, which is usually what happens in these books.  But I was reassured that this was a collection of stories that offered hope, so I tentatively poked my nose in. 

I'd heard of Julie Klam through many reviews of her first book "You Had Me At Woof", which features an adorable, googy-eyed Boston Terrier on the front cover.  In this book, Julie learns many life lessons, including the pursuit of happiness, from her dogs.  I never got around to reading this book, but I can totally back her up on this theme.

So what is Julie up to now?  All kinds of good.

Synopsis:  Now married with a daughter and an apartment full of dogs, Julie shares three personal stories of dog rescue. 

In the first story, Julie and her husband find a home for a pit bull that had been left chained to a light pole.  In the process of their unified mission, they rediscover each other after years of going in opposite directions.

In My Darling Clementine, Julie agrees to foster a dog with an uncontrollable poopy problem, but with a sweet temperament.  She learns that sometimes the ones that nobody else wants are the best pets, and that unconditional love goes both ways.

In the last story, There is a Dog House in New Orleans, Julie and her husband get involved in the rescue of a feral dog that had gotten a jar stuck on its head while they were there on vacation. 

My thoughts:  I am pleased to inform you I didn't cry once while reading this book!  While Julie offers heart-breaking stories about dogs that have been abused or neglected, which is hard to stomach, she also negates the ugliness with all the kind souls that care for the unwanted (including herself).

Julie reminds us that there are lessons in every overwhelming challenge, hidden blessings waiting to help you see the bigger picture.  Whether we are talking about animals, children, spouses, or life in general, opening your heart and giving of yourself can save your soul.     

I also liked Julie's literary voice, which is very down-to-earth and casual.  You can easily envision her as your next door neighbor or colleague at work (one with a huge heart of gold).  Plus, she isn't some crazy dog lady (she might admit to that though!)...she is gorgeous, she is honest, and is even hip to using social media like Twitter and Facebook to get the word about about dogs in need.  The world could use more Julie Klams.

Now I want a dog.  Again.

4 out of 5 stars         

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand (Audio)

I think most of you know I love WWII novels, particularly ones depicting true stories.  So why did it take me so long to read this one?  Well, the book, which I got at SIBA in 2010, was a little chunky-looking.  Then I heard that the audio was good, so I put my name on the waiting list at the library and it took me over four months to get it.  All decent excuses, I guess.  But shame on me that it took Books, Babes and Bordeaux to force me to read it.  Ultimately, this will be one of the best books I've read all year. 

Synopsis:  Louis Zamperini didn't start out his life looking like someone who would eventually be one of America's great heroes.  As a youth, he was troubled, leading the life of a petty thief and vandal.  But when his older brother encouraged him to join the high school track team, Louis found a positive outlet for all that energy.  Truly a talented runner, Louis went on to be one of the youngest long-distance Olympic athletes at the time, and competed in the 1936 Berlin games.  He went from  miscreant to a hometown star, and his family was proud.  This alone would have been a compelling story.

Louis then enlisted in the Air Force in WWII, and was deployed to Hawaii as a bombardier.  In May 1943, his plane went down in the Pacific, killing 8 of the 11 crew members.  For 47 days, the three survivors lived on a raft, drinking rainwater and eating birds and fish, despite the elements, aggressive, circling sharks, and Japanese planes that attempted to shoot them.  One of the men eventually died, and Louis and his pilot were then picked up by Japanese soldiers, and imprisoned in a POW camp.

For two and a half years, the men were held prisoner in conditions barely survivable...they were starved, forced to work 18 hours a day, and dehumanized.  Probably the worst aspect of their years in the camp, however, was the camp's leader, named "The Bird", who was one of the war's most unbalanced, sadistic tormentors.  After Louis was liberated by the Americans, he suffered extreme PTSD and alcoholism, with The Bird haunting his dreams. It was only when Louis discovered Billy Graham did he embrace Christianity and forgive those who had harmed him.  He went on to become an inspirational speaker and an advocate for troubled boys.  He is alive today at the age of 94.

My thoughts:  I am not normally in the habit of going into such detail on a book's plot.  I like to keep it short and to the point.  But what part of this man's life do you leave out?  Any one facet of Louis's life would be biography-worthy, but in aggregate it is almost beyond comprehension.  It made me close my eyes and PRAY that this wasn't another example of embellished bullshittery like "A Million Little Pieces" or "Three Cups of Tea".  Based on what I've Googled (and I would encourage you to do is a treasure trove of articles, pictures and videos) it appears to be authentic.

A couple of themes really hit me hard.  First, Louis makes a statement that he would have rather gone back to the raft, where he had to deal with sharks, the elements, and reliance on mother nature for food, than to stay in the POW camps.  He states that dehumanization will break a person long before starvation and isolation.  I'm sure this explains why his soul suffered long after the war because of the atrocities committed by The Bird.  But it is a thought-provoking dictum on human nature.

Secondly, Louis's return to Jesus Christ, after his tormented struggles with depression, alcoholism and anger, was devastatingly heart-rending for me.  This transformation saved Louis's marriage and his life.  Forgiveness is a miraculous healer of souls.  Lest you think this story turns into a preachy God lesson, please know that it is subtle and a small part of the overall story.  It was just that part that brought me to tears.

I did bristle at a couple of statements made by Hillenbrand, that were brought to my attention in Marie's review.  Particularly, statistics are quoted that imply Japanese prison camps were deadlier for Americans than the Fascist camps.  Perhaps they were - I am sure she can account for her numbers.  But to me it minimized the horrors wrought on humanity by the Nazis and Soviets, and thought it was in poor taste.

Beyond this complaint, however, I would recommend this book to anyone.  It is truly a testament to the human spirit.

A word about the audio production: Our narrator for this audio was Edward Herrman, a gentleman who has significant experience in the business but is a new voice for me.  While his vocalizations were not all that dramatic, he was pleasant to listen to and soundly delivered the goods. 

5 out of 5 stars                                   


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Osada #2

Osada, our little retreat in the middle of nowhere Poland, had alot going for it.  You'd never get bored there, I'm certain.  This was one option for entertainment...a four seater bicycle.  I'd never seen such a thing.  If we would have had more time, this activity would have been on my list. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs

I have to hand it to Random Riggs.  He found a hook, and he used it well.  If you have been around the blogs, or walked through Barnes and Noble or even Target, or read Entertainment Weekly, you may have been sucked in, like me, to this book with the creepy pictures.  Vintage photographs of children that cannot necessarily be explained (floating figures, nightmarish clown children), or at the most mundane level, photos that seem to have a story behind it.

Turns out, these pictures are real, collected by Riggs and others, and inspired the seed of a story in Riggs' mind.  It could have been a dismal of those great concepts that never got off the ground.

But not this time. Riggs made it work, even to the point where he attracted the attention of the movie studios.  Miss Peregrine is headed for Hollywood in 2013.

Synopsis:  Jacob has always had a strong bond with his grandfather, who, over the years, has entertained him with crazy stories (and pictures) of kids who floated, were invisible, and had two mouths.  Kids who, he said, were his childhood friends in an orphanage on a small island near Wales, where he lived throughout WWII.  Jacob has always assumed these tales to be fanciful.  But when the grandfather tragically dies, his last words to Jacob are a request to go back to that island and the orphanage to learn the truth.

So Jacob and his father travel to this island where there is no electricity, only generators, one phone, and one dilapidated, bombed-out orphanage.  Initially perplexed by what he could learn in such an ill-gotten place, Jacob soon discovers something very old and very dangerous that not only killed his grandfather, but could put his life in jeopardy as well.

My thoughts:  I guess I expected what everyone else expected...spooky pictures = spooky story.  Hidden behind these pictures was an unbelievably clever world consisting of evil creatures, time travel, and an island, unblemished by modern conveniences, that comes to life on the page.  There is also a coming-of-age thing going on as well, which adds a dash of sweetness and charm.  Frankly I was completely disarmed by everything this book had to offer. 

Also, superficially, but important to those who love paper and ink in all its forms, is what lies on the page.  Not only are we treated to the photos, but there are hand-written drawings, colored pages, scrolly-scripty designs at the bottom of every page, and heavy paper stock upon which it is printed.  This is a sensory experience.  So don't buy it on your e-reader. 

The world that is created here could send this book into a sci-fi category, but don't let that scare you off.  I don't consider myself to be a big fan of the genre, but I never gave this a thought as I was immersed in the adventure.  The book is also categorized as YA, and I would let my kids read it.  There was some language, but nothing too shocking.  Despite genre niches, however, it rises above them all to be enjoyed by everyone.

As you turn the last page, you might smell an overwhelming whiff of sequel set-up, but Riggs is confessing to nothing.  I'm keeping my eyeball on him though...

4.5 out of 5 stars    

Monday, November 14, 2011

Holiday Movies That Have My Heart Racing...

Inspired while writing my review for "Warm Bodies", a zombie love story, I was all set to talk about how much I love the movie "Zombieland" this morning.  Until I got my Entertainment Weekly Saturday.  Change of plans.  This issue is all about the amazing holiday movies set to bombard us with excellence.  Please let me share my excitement with you. 

November 23 - Hugo (Rated PG).  Adapted from "The Invention of Hugo Cabret", one of the best kids' novels EVAH, and directed by Martin Scorcese, I pray the movie will live up to expectations.  I'm scared, but I will take my chances.  Filmed in 3D.

November 25 - The Artist (Rated PG-13).  This black-and-white silent film has stunned audiences everywhere, and has HUGE Oscar buzz.  I can't say I would have originally picked it as something I'd want to see, but after hearing my sister talk about it as THE movie to see this season, and after reading about it in EW, I am there.

December 9 - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Rated R).  Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy.  Need I say more? 

December 9 - We Need To Talk About Kevin (Rated R).  Heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, but insanely compulsive book has come back to haunt our dreams in film format.  I'll just have to make sure I take my Prozac first.  

December 21 - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Rated G).  Just kidding.  The director has already said he didn't expect Oscar nominations because there was "too much anal rape".  So there you go.  There is no way I will be able to resist the pull to see this and compare it to the Swedish version. 

December 25 - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Not Yet Rated.)  Takes some cojones and confidence to release a movie on Christmas.  Who's up for opening the gifts on Christmas Eve and seeing this on Christmas?  I might consider it. 

Other movies that may get my business:
November 16 - The Descendants (Rated R).  Only because it has big Oscar buzz, and because of George Clooney.

December 30 - The Iron Lady (Rated PG-13).  Again, Oscar buzz, and Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher.

January 27 - One for the Money (Rated PG-13).  Really unsure about the casting of Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum, but who doesn't love this series?

So do any of these get you excited?  Are there any movies on your list that I have missed? 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Salon: T minus 7

In a small burst of optimism last week, I declared that after coming back from our Washington DC field trip, life would calm down.  I'm just not going to say that again.  Cause it ain't happening.  I've decided I'm just going to close my eyes and hold on to something sturdy each week, and squeak by from vacation to vacation.  In this case, we are counting days until we go to St. George Island for Thanksgiving Week!!!  So next Sunday Salon, I'm going to be in a better state of mind.

Anyway, a quick rundown on the week.  Husband and son sick for a couple of days.  Got my hair blonded.  A couple of doctor appointments.  The first of many meetings for my daughter's confirmation process.  Making pierogies and a hunters stew in advance for a Polish night for our friends (that we hosted last night and have a couple times a year).  Fundraiser golf tournament on Friday with my husband.  Track meet all day Saturday, followed by that Polish dinner party.  Busy busy.

Another thing that took a bit of my time this week was working on my Christmas cards.  You may remember me talking about this last year.  I make a promise to myself each year that these things are going to be done and sent out the day after Thanksgiving.  This includes a letter and photo of the kids.  It takes an obnoxious amount of time, but I feel like it is worth getting this task out of the way so I can sail through the Christmas season with a little less stress. 

And I realized last week that I didn't even tell you of my reading activities!  Over the last week and a half, I made my way through Jo Nesbo's "The Redeemer", a long but very satisfying murdery, juicy piece of fun.  Enjoyable, even though I knew who was going to die because I read the damn books out of order again.  I then started reading "Liesl and Po" by Lauren Oliver, which was recommended to me by my evil twin Jill.  I'm early into that one, but I know I will enjoy it because I have loved Oliver's other books ("Before I Fall" and "Delirium"). 

On audio, I finished "Emily Alone" by Stewart O' Nan on my DC trip.  Then I quickly blasted through M.T. Anderson's "Feed" (not to be confused with the Mira Grant one), and that was really something amazing from an audio perspective.  I'll talk more about that when I review it.  I am now about 80% of the way through "The Knife of Never Letting Go" by Patrick Ness, and it has consumed me.  Not just consumed me, but chewed me up and spit me out.  Nobody warned me.  Or maybe I just didn't pay attention.  Holy cow.  These last two audio books of mine are perfect specimens of an audio being more than an audio.  They are experiences.  More publishers should take their lead.

I'm still not totally caught up on my review-writing, but I think I might be down to three or four, so I'm hoping to pound those out next week.  I have been having a hard time finding a muse to write, but I find that if I just sit my butt down and tell myself I have to start, it usually flows from that point on.

I am having serious yearning for downtime, and actual SITTING perhaps, while we are on vacation.  Just to sit.  Take a nap.  Listen to the waves.  Drink a glass of wine at 4pm.  Read when I want.  Take long walks.  Ahhh.  I can feel my cellular structure starting to morph and change already.

On that note, I'm going to bid you a wonderful, restful Sunday.  Adieu my friends.           


Friday, November 11, 2011

Model Home - Eric Puchner (Audio)

I first heard about this book through Ti at Book Chatter.  She is so convincing, that girl.  She stated that she wanted everyone to read this book, for its heartbreaking and hopeful qualities.  I ordered the audio from my library and away I went.  I'm not sure I loved it quite as much as Ti, but was swept away by this family's story nevertheless.

Synopsis:  With stars and dollar signs in his eyes, Warren Ziller uproots his wife and three kids from Wisconsin to Palos Verdes, California to make his millions in real estate.  Unfortunately, Warren's get-rich-quick scheme isn't working out, and has secretly piddled his life savings away.

We also hear from each member of the Ziller family, and get their perspective on life in California.  Each have their own issues and hang-ups, each contribute to the overall dysfunction.  When tragedy strikes, in a cruel and senseless turn of events, it is the final straw that sends the family over the edge into the abyss.

My thoughts:  When Ti described this story as heartbreaking, she picked the right word.  My heart just kept sinking with every disc I listened to - could this family ever catch a break?  Sprinkled into the general misery were brief moments of familial love and connectedness, but it wasn't enough to act as the glue to hold things together. 

Towards the end of the story, I saw small signs of hope that things could possibly improve, but that definitive leap is left to the imagination of the reader.  Do I believe that life eventually turned a corner for the Ziller family?  Yes, I have to believe that, otherwise this story would have been unbearable. 

A word about the audio production:  The narrator of this audio book, David Colacci, is a veteran in the business.  I don't believe I've ever heard him, but it was only a matter of time because he has many many titles to his credit.  He was pleasant to listen to, and handled accents, male and female voices expertly. 

3.5 out of 5 stars   


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Enron - Lucy Prebble (Audio)

This audiobook was my very first opportunity to be a "Solid Gold Reviewer" through Audiobook Jukebox.  Doesn't that sound cool?  Makes me want to put on my gold lame jumpsuit and do a dance for you.  I had originally requested to review this audio because I've always been fascinated with the disaster that was Enron, being someone intimately familiar with the slippery slope of corporate greed.  I loved the documentary "The Smartest Guys in the Room", and I'm always open to learn more. 

But this was not at all what I was expecting.  In my fully-realized audio world, I have never listened to a theater production, but that is what this was.  I was taken aback at first, but then became invested.  Let me tell you a little about what you should expect to hear:

Synopsis:  Lucy Prebble is a young (only 30), edgy, British playwright who has constructed a stage production of the Enron scandal that originally debuted in London to sold-out crowds.  It came over the pond to Broadway a year later, only to be slammed by the New York Times and quickly shut down.  Nevertheless, it went on to earn various awards, and has now been performed by the L.A. Theater Works in front of a live audience and made into an audio book.

From a layman's viewpoint, Prebble has taken all the complicated details of Enron's failings (mark-to-market accounting, market trading and hedging, playing the shell game with debt, and manipulating Wall Street for the best stock ratings), and making it understandable to everyone.  And at the same time, making it entertaining and amusing.  And shocking.  At one point, Prebble uses the analogy of Raptors, hiding in Enron's basement, cared for by the CFO, eating the dollar bills that are the company's debt. They are hungry, they want fed, and eventually they escape because Raptors ultimately cannot be contained.

For an hour and a half, at the hands of a full cast, prepare yourself for a crash course in all things corrupt.  Prepare for the ultimate cautionary tale of bad karma (or Raptors) biting you in the ass.  Prepare to be entertained.

My thoughts:  As I said before, I was taken aback when I first started listening to this production.  It was unnerving to be LISTENING to a stage production, but unable to see it.  The actors were doing things, and I could only guess by their words what was occurring.  (Well, there was one scene where two employees of Enron were getting it on at the office at night...I didn't need to see that!)

But like all things audio, I did get used to it, and I began to enjoy it.  I thought Prebble's interpretation of the Enron scandal was clever and nicely boiled down to the pertinent facts.  While I did laugh out loud on many occasions, Prebble was able to instill moments of levity, which I thought was only appropriate.  Many people lost their life savings because of these pompous, narcissistic goons, and should be appreciated.

A quick word of caution - foul language ahoy.  Don't listen when your kids are in the car.

I've read that the L.A. Theater Works produces other audios of the classics like Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, and Chekov.  Since I would consider this experience a success, I'll look forward to experimenting with this format more often.

4 out of 5 stars             

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Osada #1

After we had wrapped things up in Sopot and Gdansk, and before we drove to my in-laws in Southwestern Poland, my husband had to make a "quick" stop at a manufacturing plant for a business meeting.  His plan was to have his meeting, then scoot on down the road to his parents, which was going to be a full day of driving.  I've known Polish people for a long time, and I knew that this meeting would NOT be quick, and I didn't want to be driving at night, so we decided to stay overnight at a place called "Osada".

This place was in the middle of nowhere, but was a real treasure.  You stayed in a thatched-roof house all to yourself, there was a restaurant, a store, hiking trails, a lake, and the real highlight for my kids...animals.  Horses, dogs, peacocks, wild boar, and bunnies.  Here is a picture of one handsome fellow, who my daughter wanted for herself.  Over the next three weeks, I will share more pictures of Osada.