Thursday, December 31, 2009

100 Mile Fitness Challenge Wrap-Up

Well, folks, the three months are up! At the beginning of Trish's 100 Mile Fitness Challenge, I wasn't even sure if I could walk/exercise 100 miles in this time period. When I crunched the numbers, though, I realized it was totally doable. In fact, I set a personal goal of 150 miles, and a stretch goal of 200. How did I fare?

Well, I am happy to report that I accumulated 178 miles through both walking and exercising on my elliptical machine. Until a couple of weeks ago, I was pretty confident I would reach 200 miles, based on the fact that I would be at my parents' house for a week, unencumbered with housely duties. But here is the deal. I haven't actually stepped foot up north in the winter since 1998, so I grievously underestimated the impact of the weather. Sleet, freezing temperatures, wind and snow does not a walking experience make. I tried, I really did, but my plan of covering the last twenty miles did not materialize.

The good news is that Trish has decided to host another 100 Mile Fitness Challenge running January 1st, 2010 through the end of March. Except for a week-long trip to Hawaii in early March (woo hoo!) I should be home and entrenched in my routine, so I should be able to hit the 200 miles this time around. This should be especially helpful during the month of January, when I participate in the Game On Diet!

I have found that the accountability of reporting into Trish weekly, and posting my progress on my blog has been a huge motivation to stay active, even on those days where I would have rather stayed home. I think this is the key for me, and plan on making it part of the routine.

How did you all do? Are you going to sign up for the next challenge?

The Best of the Best for 2009

It's that time of year again, when everyone pulls out their notes and comes up with lists of best books, best music, best movies, etc. There are a few that I look forward to...Entertainment Weekly's Best Books of the year, and Stephen King's best books, songs and movies. (I had even entertained the idea of hosting a challenge to read EW's top books, but I'm thinking there is probably enough challenges out there already.) Last year I did not prepare a list of my favorite books, as I was new to blogging and had no earthly clue what I'd read in 2008. But I am prepared this year!

One disclaimer however. The books I list are not necessarily new to 2009. If you follow me, you know that I am often the last person on earth to read a book, which means if I had to stick with new books, I might have THREE on my "best" list. So you are going to get new, old, classics, the whole bit.

I started a rating system in April, so I am making a few judgements on my earlier books. But it seems I have read approximately 25 books this year that would be considered five stars. So I have to do some prioritizing, and it ain't easy. Here are my top ten in no particular order:

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier (read-along comments here and here)

Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon (audio)

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

School of Essential Ingredients - Erica Bauermeister (audio)

Random Acts of Heroic Love - Danny Scheinmann

The Problem with Murmur Lee - Connie May Fowler

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (audio)

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (audio)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Schaffer (audio)

Every Man Dies Alone - Hans Fallada

Other ones that came close to the top 10, that need to be listed so I don't feel guilty:

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson (audio)

The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls (audio)

Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters (audio)

When Katie Wakes - Connie May Fowler

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (audio)

Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh (audio)

The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield (audio)

So what about yours? Are any of the books above on your lists as well?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Wroclaw #8

I love doorways, and their symbolic meaning of promise and new adventures. You'll notice I tend to take lots of pictures of doors. This one belongs to one of the old churches in downtown Wroclaw, worn from its hundreds of years of visiting parishoners.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Let Me Go - Helga Schneider (audio)

Not long ago, I read a compelling review for "Let Me Go" by Helga Schneider from Melissa @ Shhh...I'm Reading. All I really needed to know was that it was a 4-disc audio, it was about WWII, and was narrated by Barbara Rosenblat (some effusive fangirl adoration on her in a minute). I ordered it from the library on the spot. Cool, I thought. After audios ranging from 15 to 48 discs, I can handle 4!!! Not so fast. Friends, there is more heartbreaking emotion packed in those 4 discs than in 40. Small but mighty is this one.

This is a true story, written from the viewpoint of Helga, who has not seen her mother in 30 years, and even then, only for an afternoon. At this uncomfortable meeting, Helga learned that her mother had abandoned her, her brother and her father to become a member of the SS and a powerful guard at Auschwitz. Sickened and horrified, Helga walked away from her mother, determined to cut off all ties forever. However, 30 years later, Helga has been notified that her mother, at the age of 90, is residing in a Viennese nursing home and is asking for her. With trepidation in her heart, but a determination to receive answers and closure, she leaves her home in Italy with a cousin to visit her.

A majority of the story is a recounting of this visit. Helga finds her mother partly lucid, the next minute delusional, irrational and belligerent. She initially states that her children are dead, and denies Helga's existence. She shows no maternal instinct whatsoever. She seems to be obsessed with how she looks, and is offended that she could have a child that is such an "old bag". Her moods swing from pathetic tears to rage to ice cold belief in the Nazi's "final solution".

Helga, in her determination to ask every ugly unanswered question her mind has ever conjured, to avenge a lifetime of betrayal, starvation and abuse from a step-mother, and soothe her disgust for her mother's role in the Holocaust, begins to aggressively and persistently pick away at her mother's hardened shell. What role did she play in the medical experiments? Did she ever feel guilt for putting thousands of children to death? Did she form any relationships with her prisoners? Did she ever think of her own children or miss them? Did she really hate the Jews deep down in her heart, or was she just following orders?

And her mother eventually answers the questions with unflinching honesty. But not before she emotionally blackmails Helga. Yes, Helga, I will tell you everything you want to know, but first you must promise to come back tomorrow and bring me yellow roses. Yes, Helga, I will tell you that, but you must call me "Mutti" (mother). It is blood-chilling to witness. Diabolical almost.

Throughout the story, Helga also flashes back occasionally, filling in the blanks with historical fact as she knows it. Some of it from general knowledge, some from Helga's mother's file.

I listened to the entire audio with a knot in my stomach and a tight throat. In my mind, at the end of "Let Me Go", we are left with one final mystery. Did her mother answer all of Helga's questions with the specific intention of solidifying her daughter's hate and thus freeing her to walk away with a clear conscience? Or is Helga's mother truly without remorse? I will leave that for you to decide.

A note about the narrator: Barbara Rosenblat is one of the masters, ranking up there with Jim Dale, Simon Vance, Jonathan Davis. If you've ever heard her, you will never forget her. For me, her specialty is with languages and accents, which are flawless. She has won 6 Audie awards, and over 40 Golden Earphone Awards. If you happen to see her name on an audiobook, you must experience her first-hand. You won't be sorry.

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Don't Know Much About History

Today's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about the historical film. You know, the ones where you actually learn something useful, not just how good a bare chest looks when it has been worked out effusively, or what it might be like if California slides off into the ocean. Here are some of my personal favorites, excluding the ones that I've beaten to death over the past year:

Gladiator - even if you haven't seen the film, the title sorta speaks for itself. Although it is brutal, we do very much enjoy Mr. Crowe in this 5-time Oscar winner.

Gone With the Wind - the Civil War told from the street level. Plus some romance, narcissism and greed thrown in for sport. This is one that even the kids like!

Downfall - a depiction of Hitler's last weeks before his death, from the perspective of one of his secretaries who was still alive when the movie was shot. A date movie this is not, but is truly one of the most amazing films made on this topic.

Blood Diamond - gut-wrenching story about the diamonds mined and sold to finance the brutal Sierre Leone Civil War in Africa. I guess I've always thought of Leonardo DiCaprio as a twerp, but loved him in this flick.

The Killing Fields - I've never been able to get the pictures out of my mind after seeing this film...journalists attempting to capture the civil war in Cambodia, and the true story of friendship and the will to live. This isn't one I can watch often, but is powerful.

United 93 - devastating as it was to watch, I was compelled to watch multiple times. From the well-recognized director Paul Greengrass, we relive the last minutes of the heroes of the infamous flight that crashed on 9/11 in a Pennsylvania pasture.

Jesus of Nazareth - I'm sure there have been hundreds of films made about Jesus and his life, but we enjoy this one the most. It was made for TV in 1977, and takes a bit of time to watch, but prepared to be inspired by this star-studded tribute to Him.

I realize I've left off hundreds of incredible historical films, but there you go. I mean, seriously, isn't like 80% of movies based on something historical? Anyway, I listed the ones that came to my mind first. What are some of yours?

Sunday Salon:

Greetings from a cold, snowy Indiana! We flew up here from Florida on Tuesday to a nice couple of inches of snow on the ground, which prompted some great sledding and building/dismembering of snowmen. Soon after that, however, the sleet moved in, and we didn't see fluffy flakes again until Friday evening.

As a result, there wasn't much progress made towards my 200 mile fitness challenge goal. I did walk five miles one day in the sleet, but can't say I want to make a habit of that! One neighbor guy even stopped and asked if I needed help, thinking a flat tire would be the only possible reason for a body to be out walking in that mess! Guess I'm going to have to live on my elliptical machine once I get home! The exciting news is that Trish is going to have another 100 Mile Fitness Challenge running from January 1st through March 31st, which will keep the momentum going. In addition, I am excited to announce that I will be taking part in the "Game On Diet" starting on January 4, based on the book, with some blogging friends. I will be on team Ho Ho (beware the Ho's!). The premise here is that you get daily points for eating healthy food, exercising, getting a certain number of hours of sleep, drinking 3L of water, establishing a new healthy habit, and kicking some bad ones. The team with the most points at the end of the month wins. I'm not sure if my teammates and adversaries know how competitive I am, but I'm not going to leave any points on the table guys! And maybe I might lose a pound or two along the way!

Speaking of pounds, well, maybe we shouldn't. My mom has been cooking like a maniac, and we've been eating it all, whether we are hungry or not. We've also been taking in some movies. We got our fill of A Christmas Story, Home Alone and Christmas Vacation with the 24 hour marathons on TV. We saw The Blind Side at the theater. My sister got my husband and I a three-disc DVD set of remastered movies directed by Andzej Wajda (a renowned Polish director) that have been providing late-night viewing fun. The kids got Star Trek and Harry Potter in the their stockings, so we've watched those also. Lots of sittin', lots of eatin'...a giant sloth am I.

Santa was very good to me this year. As you know, I got a Netbook from my husband and a Bookmarks subscription from my parents, both early gifts. I also got a gift card to Williams Sonoma, a gift card to Borders, and a gift card to Chicos. Cookware, books and clothes...what else could a girl want????

With all of the family, food, snow, movie and wine distractions, my reading hasn't been quite up to par. I did finish Connie May Fowler's new book "How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly", which has left me speechless. How I am going to articulate my thoughts in a review (which won't be posted until April, when the book releases) is beyond me, but I've got a few months to work on it. I am continuing to listen to "The Liar's Club" by Mary Karr on audio. And I started "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters on my Kindle. Oh what a delight she is! I am becoming a bit of a fangirl, to the point that I know I will have to read everything she has written eventually.

I hope all of you had a blessed Christmas with your family. Here's to one more week of gluttony and abandon before reality bites us in the butt!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Over the Top Awesomeness!

Alice, from Hello My Name is Alice has given me this award, one I have never seen before! Alice, thank you! My friends, if there is one thing that you should do today, it should be to go visit Alice. She has great reading tastes, but there is so much more to her than that. I swear, she is an amazing photographer. I think she could do it for a living. Check out these posts here and here. Even her food photography is excellent. Plus she climbs mountains. She is super woman.

I usually don't follow the rules of an award, but I think I will for this one, because it seems fun. I have to answer the following questions with one word only:

Your cell phone? Crappy
Your hair? Moody
Your mother? Shopper
Your father? Farmer
Your favorite food? Risotto
Your dream last night? Bizarre
Your favorite drink? Wine
Your dream/goal? Happiness
What room are you in? Den
Your hobby? Reading
Your fear? Heights
Where do you want to be in 6 years? Golfing
Where were you last night? Home
Something that you aren’t? Quiet
Muffins? Blueberry
Wish list item? Netbook
Where did you grow up? Indiana
Last thing you did? Walk
What are you wearing? Sweats
Your TV? Infrequent
Your Pets? Naughty
Friends? Fun
Your life? Fulfilled
Your mood? Peaceful
Missing someone? Always
Vehicle? Pilot
Something you’re not wearing? Shoes
Your favorite store? Williams-Sonoma
Your favorite color? Pink
When was the last time you laughed? Today
Last time you cried? Month
Your best friend? Michele
One place that you go to over and over? Bookstore
Facebook? Daily
Favorite place to eat? French

OK, so now I nominate some blogs to share in the fun. All of these guys are over the top, in all the good ways:

Alyce @ At Home with Books
Kathleen @ Boarding in My Forties

Julie @ Booking Mama
Jen @ Devourer of Books
JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing

These bloggers are all a part of my daily excitement...go check them out!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to all!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! Hope Santa brings you everything on your list, especially lots of bookish things! So do you believe in Santa Clause? Well, if The Boss were under my tree, I certainly would...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Wroclaw # 7

Inside one of the many churches in downtown Wroclaw. Each church is unique and breathtaking.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Flowers in the Attic - V.C. Andrews

I cross the finish line with both fists pumping the air. I've made it! 10 books from my youth, read in the month of December, completing my Shelf Discovery Challenge! And what a way to finish my marathon, but to read probably the most scandalous book of my formative years, Flowers in the Attic.

First I must comment on the difficult of obtaining said book. I actually had the entire series in my possession until my daughter got her own room about five years ago, thus eliminating a bookshelf and forcing a book purge. So I ordered it from the library, but I was number 10 in line. What the hey???? So I tried the little used bookstore around the corner from my house, and the owner scratched her head and said six months ago she had 5 copies, but have all since been purchased. Unbelievably, I had to go out and buy the damn thing new at Borders (all the while, listening to the saleslady rant and rave at the placement of this book in YA...I know, it's just wrong.) Dare we attribute this mania to the book Shelf Discovery? Or just a rekindling of interest in incestuous relationships? It is a mystery to me.

So we all know the plot here right? I'm not going to spoil anything for you? If you REALLY don't know the plot, and are going to read this book someday, skip on down to the end. But who are we kidding? We all know that this is the book where the brother and sister do it. But just to refresh your memory of all the other ancillary details, allow me.

Beautiful blonde Dresden-dollish mother, father, son Chris, daughter Cathy, and twins Cory and Carrie live a charmed life. Until dad doesn't come home one day, killed in a car accident. Mother was a trophy wife, and can't pay the bills, so she tells the kids she must go beg forgiveness from her estranged and filthy rich parents. The mother's "transgressions" (the word of the day) yet to be disclosed, later to be revealed. Kids have to stay up in the attic until mom can woo her cranky and dying father to write her back into the will...apparently he will blow a gasket if he finds out there were spawns of the evil union between mom and the late great dad. After all, she tells the children, money makes the world go 'round, not love. Not to worry though, it will all be worth it, and will only be for a week or two at most.

Three and a half years later, the kids are still living in the attic. The truly nasty (the nastiest you can possibly imagine) grandmother brings them food daily, but has a list of rules, that scream religious repression, they must abide by. Failure to do so will result in starvation, whipping, and one particular incident with tar. Chris and Cathy come of age in the attic, and are forced to entertain and care for their young brother and sister, who are failing to thrive. And yes, due to close proximity and sexual awakening, there is a moment of weakness (ugh). As Chris and Cathy grow older, they realize they must escape to survive, and in the process of doing so, they discover some truths about their grandparents and their mother that are devastating.

Really, this is the stuff of trashy paperbacks. As adults, we utter an embarassed laugh and shake our heads at our youthful obsession over this series of books. But I must be brutally honest with you...I loved this book just as much now as I did back then. The hatred that I felt towards the grandmother never diminished. I cursed under my breath, willing Chris to bash her over the head with a chair (it is a clear case of self-defense!!!). I equally felt rage towards the self-absorbed, materialistic mother who wanted to be rich at the expense of her children. The heartbreaking truth, which is revealed at the end of the book, left me breathless and spent when I turned the last page. What I really wanted to do was race out that very minute and get the next book in the series. I have vague memories of what happens to Chris and Cathy, but nothing that is in the least bit satisfying. Not that I don't have a good solid fifty books in my short-term TBR, but I may just have to indulge at some point.

Granted, the whole thing between brother and sister is just gross, but in the spirit of this challenge and allowing myself to digress and go along for the ride, it is all a part of the tragedy and abuse wreaked on these children. I think as an adult and as a mother, it just heightened the horror of the entire plot. I'd like to say that it was totally unrealistic, but if you watch the news, sadly, we know it does happen.

Did you read this book as a teenager? Have you read of V.C. Andrews' other books?

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Holiday Faves

This week on the Monday Movie Meme, hosted by the much-loved Bumbles, we are presented with a not-so-original theme, but one that was sure to make us all warm and fuzzy from the memories. Which movies are your favorites to watch around the holidays? I know in most families, there are at least one or two that are watched every year with much fanfare. It is no different in the Nawrot house. None of these, I suspect, will surprise you. What you won't see on here are any of the mind-numbing garbage that has been released in the last handful of years that I was forced to see with the kids (Vince Vaughn and Tim Allen, I'm talking to you):

A Christmas Story - even my parents get in on the action of watching this one, sometimes in marathon style. Even at the 50th viewing, we are rewarded with belly-laughs. We love the pink bunny suit, the Ovaltine decoder (my son got a can of Ovaltine one year as a gift), the dog eating the turkey, Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and the "fradgeelay" leg lamp.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - not only must we watch this one around the holidays, but we watch it all year long as well. I bet we've seen in a hundred times. One of our all-time favorite sayings from any movie is "The shitter was full" (I'm not sure what that says about our maturity). This year, Hallmark came out with a keepsake ornament of Eddie's RV, complete with a recording of Eddie talking. Do you think I could find one anywhere? No! Sold out in the continental US. Apparently, I'm not the only one who likes that RV.

It's a Wonderful Life - yeah, I guess I have to put this one on the list. I doubt it ranks as high in our family as most, but we'll watch it during one of the marathon showings on TCM. It's cozy. It makes me want to drink a hot chocolate (versus the first two movies which make me want to drink alcohol).

Miracle on 34th Street - this was one of my favorites to watch as a kid, multiple times each season, and usually at my grandparents' house. But do you think I could get my kids even remotely interested? That is what happens when you fill their Christmas spirits with movies that feature sexy leg lamps, or uncle Eddie kidnapping a tight-wad boss. I always waited for the very end, when little Natalie Wood finds Santa's cane propped in the corner of the new house. It always filled me with wonder.

Die Hard - alright enough of the sentiment. Why not curl up with the most action you'll ever get on a Christmas eve...John McClane kicking Hans Gruber's butt? Yippee ki yay Santa!

Elf - I thought this was going to be another one of the inane, low-budget Christmas movies that I've been forced to see with the kids, but was pleasantly surprised. Will Ferrell doesn't always trip my trigger, but his is pure delight and charm in this one.

Trading Places - this may not come to top of mind as a Christmas flick, but I can't get the image out of my mind...Dan Akroyd in a Santa suit, drunk out of his mind, pulling meat from his beard and eating it. I actually own this one on my iPod, ready to perk me up when I'm feeling blue.

So please share! Which are your sentimental favorites to watch while you are drinking your egg nog?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Salon: The Christmas cheer continues

I never thought the day would come. School Christmas concert - check. Three more Christmas parties - check. Gifts delivered to teachers - check. Last day of school for two weeks - check. Managed to keep cat from ripping out all of his stitches - check. Yard mowed, pool cleaned, kitchen floor glazed, two dozen cookies baked, house cleaned, 15 miles walked, meals cooked, yes, yes, yes. It was a busy week, I admit, but there were still some wonderful, little blessings that plopped down in my lap in the middle of the tornado that was my life.

I received a package early in the week from Serena @ Savvy Verse and Wit. I had been expecting to receive a copy of The Michael Jackson Tapes that I won in her giveaway. What I didn't expect was the little box of Mrs. Fields chocolates, a glittermark bookmark, and a lanyard from the This Is It movie! It was like having another Secret Santa! Serena you made my day!

I also received my first copy of the magazine Bookmarks, an early gift from my parents. Oh the joy! I've been slowly poring over every page, taking note of every article and book review. Pure heaven is what it is.

At my golf league Christmas party, one of my friends and followers of my blog, Jean, came up to me with a beaming smile and handed me a gift. She said that of all people she had to buy gifts for, buying me one was most important to her. She got me an excellent bottle of Pinot (wee!) with a note attached that made me cry. Here is a snippet:

"It is through your love of reading, I was able to have the opportunity to read some of the best books ever. Books that I would have never read had you not given them rave reviews. I guess to use a cliche, I am guilty of judging a book by its cover. Please keep up the good work. I would be so sad if you stopped."

How sweet is that? It makes me want to blog forever.

On the reading front, I had a great week. The kids and I finished Catching Fire on audio, which pretty much blew us away. I've ordered the 5th Harry Potter on audio but we won't start that until we get back from vacation. I also finished The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker, as well as What I Talk About When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami, both on audio. I finished my tenth and last book for my Shelf Discovery Challenge, Flowers in the Attic, which I will review next Tuesday. I also read an ARC for a tour in January called The Body Scoop for Girls. I am also about halfway through How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler. What is going to completely break my heart is not being able to talk about it until it releases in April!!!!

Ziggy the Frankenkitty is healing well. He is limping, and sleeping alot, but his scar has scabbed over and seems to have his appetite back. He goes to the vet tomorrow to get his stitches removed, which will be a relief. I lived in fear the entire week, worrying that the other cats, who seem to sense his weakness, would rip them out, or he would chew them out himself. He has developed an undesirable habit of needing human assistance to use the litter box however. I think it may be hard for him to get in and out with his leg, so we have been reduced to lifting him in and out. As you can imagine, this is not a good thing, as we are not always here at his beck and call.

Officially my vacation starts next Tuesday, when my family and I get on a plane and head for Indiana to my parents' house for a week. I probably won't be socializing online as much as I normally do, but then again, you never know. I've got my trusty little netbook in my purse, waiting for action. Hope you all have a peaceful, relaxing Christmas week!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

2010 Challenges (Part 3)

I warned you, didn't I? Well, I found some more challenges in which I must participate. Here we go, round 3:

Audio Book Challenge - I haven't gone back and counted up all the audios I listened to this year, but my bet would be close to 50% of the 113 I read in total. This is one I would call a "no brainer". I will be signing up for the "Obsessed" level, or 20 audio books. (Hosted by Royal Reviews).

E-book Challenge - I do so love my Kindle. I have a habit of having a glass or two of wine and playing with it, ordering almost impulsively (compulsively?). I don't think I will have any trouble hitting the "Fascinated" level of 6 books. (Hosted by Royal Reviews.)

Graphic Novels Challenge - The moment I've been waiting for has arrived! I pretty much convinced myself this year that Graphic Novels was a genre I needed to explore, and started to compile my list. I will be signing up for the Intermediate level (3 to 10 novels) with a few particulars in mind:

Fun Home - Alison Bechdel

Maus I and II - Art Spiegelman
The Color of the Earth - Kim Dong Hwa
American Widow - Alissa Torres
Blankets - Craig Thompson
Stitches - David Small
Malice - Chris Wooding
French Milk - Lucy Knisley

Something by Joe Sacco
Somthing by Chris Ware

(Hosted by Ana at Things Mean Alot and Chris at Stuff Dreams Are Made Of.)

Am I finished? I have no idea! That is the fun of the whole thing. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Go Ask Alice - Anonymous

So far in my Shelf Discovery journey, it has been fun and games. The frivolity stopped here, at my ninth book in my Shelf Discovery Challenge Rampage Month. I read Go Ask Alice in high school, and like many of the Judy Blume books, it was underwear-drawer-worthy. One that you and all your friends had to read at all costs, but was like the hot potato that you didn't want to be holding when your parents took an interest.

The story is in a diary format, written by an unnamed girl of 15, growing up in the '60's culture. At the opening of the book, she seems like the normal, dramatic, hyper-sensitive teen. She doesn't feel like she fits into the popular crowd, she has a crush on a boy who may or may not notice her, she hates her hair and is annoyed with her parents. But as she continues to document her life, we start to see issues with her weight (binging and starving), and wicked mood swings. Soon, in an effort to be accepted, starts to hang with the wrong crowd and begins using drugs - LSD, pot, uppers, and various injectible substances. During her drug trips, she allows boys to have sex with her. She bounces from friend to friend, boyfriend to boyfriend. She pushes drugs to younger children to earn money. She runs away, her life goes to hell, then runs back to her family, again and again.

This is an extremely disturbing account of what happens to kids who become lost. The books is, after all, aptly named after the famous Jefferson Airplane song about drug abuse. The girl comes from a good family, and when she is having a good day, she appreciates them and gushes her love for them. On a bad day, she hates them. It is frightening to witness how she can be on cloud 9 today, swearing she is going to turn her life around, and the next week she has run away to San Francisco, in dirty clothes, starving and high, hoping she isn't pregnant. You honestly don't know what girl you will find at the next journal entry. The book ends abruptly, and not in the way you think it will. As a parent, it breaks your heart. But in high school, it scared the living crap out of you.

Do I believe it really is a journal written by a real girl who was protected by her publishers? No, not really. I think that Anonymous thing is a gimmick. (Some claim the author is Beatrice Sparks, psychologist and Mormon youth counselor.) When we all read this book in high school though, we all talked about it as if it were absolutely true, with wide, frightened, reverent eyes. The author certainly has captured the essence of the troubled teen soul, and has accomplished what I am sure he/she set out to achieve:
drug prevention at its finest.

4.5 out of 5

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Little Princess: The Story of Sara Crewe - Frances Hodgson Burnett

For my eighth book in my Shelf Discovery Challenge Rampage Month, I decided to read "A Little Princess". I did not read this book as a child, but my husband had very fond memories of reading it in Poland as a youth. I find this somewhat comical, because this novel seems so totally feminine. Apparently, his sister read the book first, and convinced him it was worth the effort just to bask in the deliciously horrid character of Miss Minchen. We have also always loved the movie, which is precious and magical.

The story is about a young girl named Sara Crewe, who was raised in India by her very wealthy father. Being motherless hasn't seemed to dampen this girl's spirits. In fact, she is a mature, joyful and well-adjusted child, who is loved by all. At the age of 7, her father takes her to a London school for girls, run by the brutal, money-mongering Miss Minchen. But money talks, and Sara lives well...she is given the largest room, a personal servant of her own, and the biggest birthday parties. Sara is not spoiled though. She speaks flawless French, is an excellent dancer, and has befriended most of the girls, even the backwards and difficult ones. Everyone calls her "Princess Sara", because she believes that every girl is a princess, no matter how poor or rich, how beautiful or plain.

On Sara's 11th birthday, however, she receives word that her father has died suddenly, and without a penny, due to a bad investment. The evil Minchen absconds of Sara's beautiful possessions, forces her into servitude, starves her, and provides a rat-infested attic in which to live. In Princess Sara style, she refuses to let her circumstances get her down. She finds beauty in the sunsets from the attic window, she befriends the resident rat, continues to entertain the other girls with fantastic stories, tells herself that she is still a princess, and holds fast to her dignity. Magical things start to happen when a family movies in next door, accompanied by a mysterious Indian gentleman. Who are they? And who sneaks into the attic while Sara is away, leaving food, comfortable bedding and books?

This is an amazing, charming, magical tale that envies Cinderella. I can see why children would be obsessed with it. The prose seemed a little simplistic and awkward at times, with the point of view erratically jumping all over the place. Still, it does not take away from the pleasure of reading this enchanted book of good versus evil.

BUT (this is a seriously big but), it was to my great disadvantage to have seen the movie first. I loved that movie. I've seen it dozens of times. But someone took the written word and completely bastardized it. In case you haven't seen the movie, I won't go into details, but let's just say that they Hollywooded it to freaking death, and totally changed the story. And I had no idea until I finished the book one night. It was almost a book-throwing situation. I raged to my husband the next morning over our orange juice. "What the hell was THAT?", I asked. "How dare they?", I screamed. He stood there open-mouthed for a few seconds, then said "Well it isn't the author's fault!". I replied, "Yes, I know that. But I couldn't separate the two, and it ruined it for me!".

So this is a perfect example of how the movie can ruin the book. If you've never experienced either, I think you will love the book. If you've seen the movie first, just be prepared for a whole different plot, and proceed with caution and no expectations!

3 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Wroclaw #6

This was an interesting, new addition to one of the bridges in downtown Wroclaw. It seems that various people have attached padlocks all across this walkway. Each padlock is inscribed with the name of a couple in love, the name of a loved one who has passed away, or whatever inspired them. I've never seen such a thing...

For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wifey - Judy Blume

For my seventh book in my Shelf Discovery Challenge Rampage Month, I chose Judy Blume's "Wifey". I have strong memories of the cover that I've pictured below, but I can't be sure if I actually read it. I seriously hope not. I either saw it on my mom's bookshelf, or coveted it at the bookstore, but I really had no business turning past the first page until I was at least voting age, maybe even drinking age. If I did read it at an early age, I must have blocked it out as a result of sever trauma to my formative mind.

"Are You There God, It's Me Margaret" pushed the envelope for fifth graders, and "Forever" was written to provide edgy and explicit sex education to teenagers, then this little puppy was written for the adult ladies. In a nutshell, this is really a Jackie Collins-esque, smut-tastic, laughter-inducing trash novel, packaged in Blume's easy-reading prose that she is famous for.

Enter Sandy Pressman, stay-at-home mother of two, wife of Norman Pressman for twelve years. She makes chicken on Wednesdays, pot roast on Thursdays, and provides Norm with his weekly romp on Saturdays (never mind that he sprays room freshener and gargles afterwards). Every Tuesday, a helmeted man rides his motorcycle into her backyard and is (ahem) the Master of His Domain in full view, then waves goodbye to her. Her husband is a stuffed shirt that criticizes Sandy's every move, and desperately wants her to learn to play tennis and golf at The Club so they can properly live as esteemed upper class (never mind that she hates all sports).

Her best friend is a swinger, her neighbors' husbands hit on her, and her mother-in-law is a bigot.

As you can imagine, Sandy isn't happy. Frankly, she's bored, and she's starting to have a full-blown mid-life crisis. She can't stop thinking about "the one who got away" - her bad boy crush that she had before she settled and married safe Norm. She fantasizes about the bad boy, about the cabana boy, about the plumber who used to sleep with her sister...

You can probably take it from here. Every four letter word signifying a private part, every sex act (with or without a partner), STDs, pot-smoking, we got it all covered folks. It was the seventies, after all! Is there an underlying message? I'm not sure. Maybe. Who cares? We're not solving world hunger here, we're just taking a couple of days to throw caution to the wind, laugh until we pee, and love Blume for taking us there.

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Good Vibrations

In the past, we have covered soundtracks and musicals in the movies, but never have discussed movies ABOUT music. Me, I love music. It is what makes the world go 'round! And fills my life with joy. So this week, the Bumbles are asking for our favorite movies that focus solely on that particular beauty in life. How to choose?

Some Kind of Monster - I can't help but mention this amazing documentary about the band Metallica. The filming initially was intended to record the making of their album St. Anger, but instead got some incredible footage of a band in distress. If you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in the middle of total dysfunction, here is your opportunity, never mind if you like the band or not.

Dig! - Another documentary about two bands...The Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Both bands are off the mainstream radar, but start out on equal footing as popular Pacific Northwest local bands. However, one band has their act together, and the other is self-destructive (drugs, on-stage rages, narcissism, etc.). This was an incredibly entertaining view of the underbelly of the indie band lifestyle, and a battle of the bands on the street level.

The Doors - I've always been a huge fan of The Doors, and I eagerly waited the release of this film when it was released in 1992. It isn't going to win any awards, but was pretty raw and real about Morrison's repulsive issues and insane genius. Plus you can't really argue with Val Kilmer's skillz.

Saturday Night Fever - I've talked about this one in the past. It was a rated R movie I viewed before I was legal, escorted by a mother's friend no less, at the dollar theater. That black underwear on John Travolta made me all tingly inside. Yeah baby! Shake that thang!

This is Spinal Tap - I suppose this is where my love for anything Christopher Guest came into play (don't even get me started on my love affair with Best in Show or Waiting for Guffman). This was cutting edge back in 1984, and officially gave me a complex about big bottoms!

Eddie and the Cruisers - another one that wasn't walking the red carpet back in '83, but boy I loved to watch this one repeatedly. We all loved to oooh and aaah at the reflection of Eddie's face in the window at the end, despite the fact that he was supposed to be dead. Soundtrack rocked too, in an messed up '80's kind of way.

The Sound of Music - heck I'm just getting warmed up! Why didn't I think of this one sooner? I like a spunky nun, and let's face it...Christopher Plummer was THE DUDE back then. He could have Edelweissed me anytime.

Pink Floyd's The Wall - This was the college-sit-around-and-act-messed-up-at-a-party soundtrack/movie. But it is really a work of art, I dare say. I would challenge anyone to find a person more devoted to Floyd than myself or maybe my sister. I named one of my cats Syd (after Syd Barrett, God rest his soul), I have a gold-plated version of Dark Side of the Moon CD, I was in the second row of Roger Waters' Radio K.A.O.S. tour, camped out overnight to see Floyd in their Momentary Lapse of Reason tour, and I have the laser disc of this movie. So it is fitting to end my list with this one.

Oh, people, I could go on and on. I think I could list 50 movies under this category, but it is late and I want to sleep. There are many I considered, but didn't feel they were worthy of a mention. Which music movies are on your list?

The Sunday Salon: An Early Christmas

Good morning my friends. I'm happy to still be of sound body and mind, despite the hellish week I've just endured. I warned you last Sunday that I might not be as present in the blogosphere this past week for about a dozen reasons that clogged my calendar and gave me stress-related eye twitches. At the same time, Christmas did come early in unexpected ways. Let me extrapolate on this a bit for you.

First, let's just say that there wasn't a day this week that didn't have a few bits of fun crammed into it. Sports practices, a band concert, a Barnes & Noble event featuring our school, book club, the middle school Winter Ball, a 4th grade field trip to Epcot, a 7 hour track meet and a football game were all a part of that fun.

The Barnes & Noble event was actually pretty exciting, despite the fact that I had to be there and in two other places at the same time. We had a similar event like this last May. In the store, we feature our children's choir, chimes, string group, story tellers, jugglers etc., drawing parents to the store. Our Junior Civitan wrapped gifts for donations. And every sale associated with our school is counted towards a percentage we get back for our library. At the end of the evening, we earned nearly $900 for the library. My heart soared. I contributed to the cause, of course. I bought three books based on your influence: Lisa Scottoline's "Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog" (recommended by the lovely Caite at A Lovely Shore Breeze), Lionel Shriver's "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (from Jackie at Farm Lane Books, and because I loved "The Post-Birthday World"), and Laura van den Berg's "What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us" (from Rebecca at The Book Lady's Blog.) I just couldn't help myself.

My book club also took an upward turn this month, with the exciting book selection of "The Hunger Games", which I rated 5 stars back in March. We had six participants, most of whom loved the book. In fact, three of them had already rushed out to purchase "Catching Fire". Because the next person in line to choose a book was not present, I got my turn. I chose "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. Yes, yes, I've already read it, but I thoroughly loved it, and I want to read it again. I've heard the audio is excellent. And I'm pretty sure they will love it too.

My husband surprised me with an early Christmas present...something I've been begging for. Voila...

It is an HP Mini, or in other words, a Netbook. It is hard to tell in this photo, but this cute little thing is about 7 by 10 inches, and fits in my purse. Not a huge amount of hard drive space, but has enough to allow blogging and retrieving my e-mails.
The cherry on top? I have a chip in the computer that allows me wireless access to the Internet ANYWHERE (track meets, in the car waiting to pick up kids, doctor's offices, or when I get stopped by a train). I almost wet my pants. Life is good, people.

My other early gift was not so delightful. My new kitten, Ziggy, crawled up to the house Tuesday night, with an obvious issue with his back right leg. He was crying and in serious pain. A quick trip to the vet on Wednesday confirmed a complicated, shattered femur, that required extensive surgery costing about $1,000. Merry Christmas to me and to Ziggy. He is now recovering, and looking
like Frankenkitty.

I finished my ninth book for the Shelf Discovery Challenge, "Go Ask Alice", and started "Flowers in the Attic", which will be the tenth and will complete the
challenge. I also enjoyed an ARC called "What I Know", a precious collection of
"universal truths from 10-year-olds and 100-year-olds." Look for that review in January. I also finished The Given Day on audio, and started The Little Giant of Aberdeen County. The kids and I continue to plow through "Catching Fire", and will most likely finish it this next week.

OK, so I will shut up now. Lots on my mind I guess. Hope you all have a fabulous Sunday!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

2010 Challenges (Part 2)

After strategic planning, I have decided to commit to four more challenges. And they are:

Twenty Ten Challenge - This challenge requires 20 books to be read over 10 categories, which is kinda fun! I think I can make this challenge dovetail with some of my others, so I decided to take the plunge. (Hosted by Bart's Bookshelf.)

Read the Book, See the Movie Challenge
- As most of you know, from my Monday Movie Meme participation, I love movies. During BBAW, C.B. James and I collaborated on discussion-type reviews for Blindness the book, and Blindness the movie. What an awesome, three dimensional experience! I couldn't help myself with this one. I am going to commit to the Saturday Movie Marathon level (4 books/movies). I'd love to do more, but at this rate, I'm going to be reading 300 books next year! (Hosted by Ready When You Are, C.B.) Here is my tentative list, all books from my bulging shelves:

  • Let the Right One In - John Lindqvist
  • Anatomy of a Murder - Robert Traver
  • Sense & Sensibility - Jane Austen
  • Running with Scissors - Augusten Burroughs

TBR Challenge - I participated in this challenge for 2009, and I loved the structure. Once the list is published, you must stick to it, fickle heart be damned! (Hosted by MizB.) So here they are, now officially set in stone for 2010:

Fingersmith - Sarah Waters

The Complete Works of Irene Nemirovsky

The Drinker - Hans Fallada

Stone's Fall - Iain Pears

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri

Brooklyn - Colm Tolbin

Belong to Me - Maria de los Santos

In the Woods - Tana French

My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier

The Monster of Florence - Douglas Preston

The Strain - Guillermo del Toro

War Through the Generations Challege: Vietnam - I participated in this year's War Through the Generations Challenge (which was focused on WWII) and it was by far my favorite. I have what some may call a sick and twisted obsession with war novels, particularly WWII. I'm going to sign up for the "Dip" level, which commits me to five novels. One will be a group review project mid-year called Paco's Story by Larry Heinemann. I have some personal friends who are Vietnam Vets, so I will be turning to them for recommendations for this challenge. (Hosted by Anna and Serena.)

I will tell you that I am on the lookout for a Graphic Novel Challenge, which has yet to surface, but I have my list ready and waiting!