Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Dragonfly in Amber" by Diana Gabaldon (audio)

At this point, it feels like listening to this series has become a career for me. At 33 discs, this second installment of the Outlander Series is by far the longest book I've listened to, but I wouldn't change it for anything. Time travel, romance (and lots of sex to go with it), bloody battles, political turmoil, men in kilts, fellowship of family, and revenge. It doesn't get any better than that, guys! The only downside I see is how the heck I boil down 33 discs, or over 900 pages, into a few short paragraphs that will do it justice.

Before I go further, I will throw out the warning about spoilers. I don't think I can avoid some of them in order to properly review this book. So read at your own peril! I will also assume you know the basic premise of the Outlander series. If not, please refer to my review of Outlander here.

At the end of Outlander, we leave Claire and Jamie in the year 1744, with the knowledge that Claire is pregnant. In the first pages of Dragonfly in Amber, we find ourselves with Claire and her twenty-year-old daughter Brianna in the year 1968. Huh? I thought I'd picked up the wrong book in the series, but all was revealed soon enough. In order to save her own life and the life of her unborn child, Jamie insists that Claire return to the year 1945, back to her first/original husband Frank. Side note: I would've liked to be a fly on the wall to hear how she explained that one! Once Frank dies, twenty years later, Claire decides that she must reveal to Brianna her true parentage. They travel back to Scotland, and with the help of historian Roger Wakefield, attempt to determine the fates of Jamie and his clansmen in the bloody Battle of Culloden, a battle fought soon after Claire left. Claire finds Jamie's grave, and begins to tell her story to Brianna and Roger.

At this point, we flash back to 1744 and spend the next 3o-ish discs reliving the events that led to the Battle of Culloden. Having decided to try to alter history to prevent the deaths of many, Jamie and Claire use their connections in France and Scotland to collect information about the growing political tension and alliances. They throw in a monkey wrench where they can, but worry that nothing they do will make a difference. Attempts are made on both of their lives, Claire gains the reputation of a witch, they have multiple confrontations with the evil Jack Randall, Claire sacrifices her virtue to the King of France to free Jamie from prison...never a dull moment in these people's lives. Through it all, the love between Claire and Jamie remains steadfast, but seriously intense. If they aren't trying to kill each other, they are in the bedroom swinging from the chandeliers. I feel like I've been in bed with them; Gabaldon does not spare us the details.

After Claire tells her story and we are back in 1968, Claire reveals a secret that has been nagging at me since the last book. I will not go into the details, but this time travel plot twist continues to haunt the reader at the end of this book, and I assume will continue to haunt us going forward. And of course, Gabaldon would not be doing her job unless she drops the final bomb on us in the last paragraph. I literally threw up my hands, and with them, my iPod, and screamed "Oh for Pete's sake!".

I am still as besotted with this series as I ever was. I will warn all impatient readers that there are oceans and oceans of detail. I can't fathom what Gabaldon must do to get in the frame of mind to create such a level of minutia. What this accomplishes for the reader, however, is the sensation that you've been there and lived it with them. You know what they eat, how they cook it, how they dress, their customs, and step-by-step details on how a hanged man is drawn and quartered (I'm not kidding). Jamie is as dude-ish as a guy in a kilt can be - fierce in battle but emotional and passionate. Claire continues to be strong-willed and headstrong, intelligent, and willing to do whatever it takes to protect her husband. I can't think of a more compelling love story.

I was quite blown away by the way the book dare she? You are instantly filled with a million questions. Why did Claire have to leave Jamie and come back in the first place? How did Jamie die? Are we sure he died at Culloden? Why can't Claire go back in time again, right before Jamie died, and save him? How will Brianna react to the news of her hidden parentage? I NEED ANSWERS NOW!!!! I found myself nervously twitching throughout the entire flashback, wanting anxiously to get back to 1968. Of course, when I did get back to 1968, I didn't get all my questions answered then, either!

By the way, there are rumors swirling around that Gerard Butler may play Jamie in the upcoming movie. Does anyone out there have better information? I think it could work, although my vote is still for Viggo...but "Gerry" (as the swooning women are calling him) doesn't look half bad.
Check Spelling

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"To My Senses" by Alexandrea Weis

This is my first official book I have ever received directly from an author. As a new blogger, this was a big deal for me! I am grateful to Alex Weiss for her generosity, and for presenting the opportunity to read and review such a wonderful book. Although this novel may officially be classified in the romance genre, don't let that get it in the way. From a broader perspective, we are also presented with a story of self-discovery, loss and healing, corporate treachery, and the pervasive essence of pre-Katrina New Orleans.

Our narrator is Nicci Beauvoir, a young New Orleans lady, born into money but not particularly fond of the baggage that comes with it. Nicci is modern, independent, beautiful, smart and, if I may say, a bit of a butt-kicker. I loved her from the moment I met her. If you've ever listened to the lyrics of "Miss Independent" by Kelly Clarkson, you've got a good idea of what Nicci is all about. She's studying to become a nurse, but we get the sense that this really isn't her dream in life, just a practical answer to being self-sufficient. She's also not all that interested in developing a serious relationship either. Nicci doesn't have the time or patience.

Her walls are dismantled, however, one evening at a social event. She meets David Alexander, a painter and a plaything to the rich, over-botoxed Sammy Fallon, her father's corporate arch-enemy. The connection between Nicci and David is immediate, intense, and soon develops into a full-fledged love affair. David is the quintessential bad boy...he drives fast, he has an accent (yeah baby), he wears killer Armani suits, and is passionate about life. Specifically, he is very supportive of Nicci pursuing her dream of becoming a writer. The two split up as suddenly as they get together (for reasons I will not reveal), and Nicci walks away jaded, hurt and pledging something close to abstinence. Against her better judgement, she is soon dragged into a relationship with a conservative, controlling, fuddy-duddy doctor who will never fill the shoes of the dashing David. Nicci sells herself short for awhile, before coming to her senses.

Although secondary to the plot line, we are also given a delicious peek into the old money of New Orleans. Over-involved parents raise their daughters to marry money, and their sons are assumed to take over their father's businesses or are ensured the best education money can buy. There are black-tie parties, debutante balls, body parts bought and paid for, and plenty of alcohol to ensure a good fight or two by the end of the night. It's good fun.

Probably the biggest debate you will hear about this book is the way it ends. I knew, from prior reviews, that there was a twist, and I thought I was armed and ready for it. Well, folks, I was not. But neither was I disappointed. If there is one thing that brings the enjoyment of a book crashing down around me is predictability. I hate it. I don't necessarily want a happily-ever-after ending...that's just too easy. I want to be surprised. I like to be left with something I can swirl around in my mind for awhile, like a glass of good Pinot. And what I was left with, after finishing "To My Senses", was this doctrine, which I happen to believe in. People come into your life for a reason. They may bring joy or pain. Either way, you learn from them, and they enrich your life and make you a better person. Bravo, Alex Weis! You hit a home run.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Messenger" by Lois Lowry (audio)

My kids and I enjoyed Lois Lowry's "Gossamer" so thoroughly, I decided to order more of her works from the library. My original intent was to get audio that I could listen to with my kids in the car, and have them assist me in my posts. Of several library orders, I received "Messenger" first. We got through about 10 minutes, and the narrator lulled them into boredom and they switched on a Lord of the Rings movie. So I'm on my own. I also learned, after I'd listened to the entire book, that it is the third in a trilogy, which makes me uncomfortable. I like order! I suppose I will find out when I read the first two of the series whether this was a bad move or not...

Matty, our protagonist, is a teenage orphan who has been adopted by a blind man named "Seer", and on a larger scale, adopted by "Village". Village is a tight, isolated community that takes in the wayward, the injured and the lost souls, and nurtures them to become a contributing citizen.

Many people in Village have gifts. Matty's is the ability to heal with his touch, and is conflicted as to how and when the gift should be used. Seer can see into the past. Leader, Village's President if you will, can see into the future.

Village is guarded by Forest, which seems to decide who can come and go. Most are not allowed to go, lest they be strangled by the vines covering Forest floor. It's all just a bit creepy, like "The Ruins" meets "The Village" meets some cultish sect.

Matty notices that the kind people of Village are starting to change, for the worse. Normally patient and giving, they have become intolerant, rude and selfish. They have voted to build a wall and keep out all newcomers because they no longer want to share their resources. He learns that the people of Village are meeting regularly, and "trading" their souls (with someone I would liken to the devil) for their heart's desire...a gaming machine, furniture, or the love of an unattainable widow next door. At the same time, Forest has become dense, wild and decaying. Matty must travel through Forest to find Seer's daughter, who lives in the next village, and bring her to her father before Village closes its doors on outsiders forever. The question is whether Forest will allow this to happen.

Although this book was not as delightful (I think this is probably the best word to use) as Gossamer, it was very engaging and thought-provoking. I am beginning to see that Lowry's books are full of parables and symbols with endless possibilities. This story could be about staying true to ourselves, about resisting materialism, about realizing our inner potential, or even about Jesus. Lowry's stories truly provide wonderful talking points for the Young Adult crowd, and are still entertaining for us old folks. As I said earlier, the narrator had a voice that varied little from character to character and almost lulled you into a nap, which I was able to get past because of the engaging story. But he lost my kids, which is unfortunate because I think they would have loved the story as much as I. I may need to have them try the book version and see how that goes. My next Lois Lowry selection will be The Giver, both in book and audio form. Stay tuned!

Wordless Wednesday

I took this shot several weeks ago on a camping trip. We were hiking through an area where there had been a controlled burn, and all the trees looked like this one. It was a spooky sight. For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Simply the Best

In honor of the Oscars last night, this week's Monday Movie Meme is all about our all-time favorite Oscar-winning films. I've not even come close to seeing them all, but this was incredibly picking your favorite children! But if I must, here are my top 5 (I've seen each of these movies no less than a dozen times):

* The Sound of Music

* Godfather

* Godfather Part II

* Silence of the Lambs

* Schindler's List

However, in doing my research, here were my runner-up considerations:

* Gone With the Wind

* On the Waterfront

* Lawrence of Arabia

* The Deer Hunter

For more fun with the Monday Movie Meme, visit the Bumbles here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Dewey" by Vicki Myron

After having my share of the Holocaust, time travel, and murder and mayhem, I needed something to warm my soul. Dewey has been sitting on my bookshelf for a few months, waiting until I needed him, and now was the time.

I was born and raised on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. I grew up surrounded by dozens of cats. Even now, in the big city of Orlando, I have four underfoot. I knew this book was going to touch me. How could it not? Look at that sweet little face, handsome and regal, posing for the camera. I shed my first tear on page 11.

I doubt I need to provide much of a synopsis, but I hate to assume I am the last to read this book. On the coldest morning of one Iowa winter, in the small town of Spencer, Vicky Myron opened up the book return box at the local library to find a tiny, scared, frozen kitten. She gave him a bath (!?), some food, some love, and the rest was history. We cat lovers all think our own kitties are God's gift to us. But this cat really did have something special. He greeted library patrons at the door, sat in the laps of those who needed company or comfort, rode the book cart like it was his personal limo, attended meetings held at the library, and draped himself on the shoulder of anyone willing to let him. He made special connections with the homeless, the disabled, the sick, the lonely. He was calm, patient, and had an innate sense for the people who needed him the most. These are not qualities you often see in the feline persuasion, who are known for their independence, freakishness, and narcisism. For all these reasons, plus alot of karma, this cat became a national and international celebrity. Dewey put Spencer on the map.

You might ask how one could write a whole book about a cat. But there is more to the story than just Dewey. It is about the unique way of life in the heartland, where the library is the center of the community, where everyone looks out for each other. It is about a community that had hit rock bottom, and through it all, adopted this kitty as their innocent, furry mascot. The story is also about the librarian who found Dewey, and how the cat gave her a purpose. Vicki Myron had divorced her alcoholic huband, become a single mom, had lost two family members to cancer and one to suicide, survived breast cancer, become estranged from her daughter, and struggled to get her education while working a full-time job. This cat was her emotional rock to lean on.

How can you put into words what it is like to lose an animal that is such a presence in your life, and in the life of an entire town? (Or in the life of the country, for that matter.) Most of us have been there, felt the impact that a pet can have on your psyche, and perhaps this is why this novel has touched so many. No, this is not classic literature, but I don't think Ms. Myron ever aspired to this. She just wanted to share the story of a little country library cat that touched alot of lives. I dare you to read it and not cry!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"The True Story of Hansel and Gretel" by Louise Murphy

We've all read the story about Hansel and Gretel as children. I, for one, was terrified by it. Mean stepmothers, dark forests, witches with massive ovens that want to cook and eat children?! Perhaps it is fitting, then, that Louise Murphy puts a clever spin on this fairy tale, and weaves it into a fictional and terrifying account of the survival of two Jewish children during the Holocaust.

A 10-year-old girl and her 7 year-old brother, named "Hansel" and "Gretel" by their father and stepmother to disguise their Jewish heritage, are encouraged to run and hide in the ancient, primeval forests of Eastern Poland to escape capture by the Nazis. They happen upon an old "witch", or healer, with a Gypsy background, named Magda. Putting herself and her entire village at risk, Magda takes in the children, feeds them, and acquires Christian identification for them. A very tense, fine line must be walked in their interaction with the nearby village Piaski, which is governed by a small but ruthless German group led by a Major Frankel and the psychologically twisted Oberfuhrer.

The village Piaski is a perfect microcosm of Europe in the middle of WWII. Many of the villagers only want anonymity, but some are angry and preparing to uprise, storing away weapons and waiting for the opportunity. Some do their best to get in the Germans' good graces for favor. Most are starving. Major Frankel is a defeated man that started out a soldier's soldier, who has become ensnared in the dehumanization of the Polish people and the Jews. His superior, the Oberfuhrer, on the other hand, is what one would consider the epitome of Nazi ism and evil. He is one sick and twisted human being, and enjoys inflicting pain on others. This is not a happy or comfortable place to live.

At the same time, the children's father and strong, independent stepmother join a rogue band of Russians whose solitary mission in life is to seek revenge upon the Germans for all that has been taken from them, and eventually join forces with the Russian army that will collide with the German army in Poland. Neither the children nor the parents know of each other's well-being, nor do they know if they will ever see each other again.

While I generally prefer to read actual memoirs on the Holocaust (why make it up when reality is vivid enough?), this was an engaging and nerve-wracking read. While lyrical and poetic at times, Murphy does not hold back the horrors of the Holocaust from her story. In one instance, the Oberfuhrer systematically starts selecting the "perfect" Polish children with Aryan qualities, with the intent of sending them to be fostered in Germany to strengthen the Aryan race. The townspeople learn of the plan, and begin physically maiming their own children to prevent them from being selected. As a parent, this is a devastating scenario, but understandable. We see other blood-chilling horrors happen to Hansel and Gretel. Things that made me put the book down and walk away. On the other hand, there are strands of hope and redemption sewn throughout the story. The feminist in me was intrigued and excited that Murphy purposefully redeemed the "witch" and the "stepmother" by making them powerful, positive figures, versus the stereotypes we see in all of our childhood fables. I was just a bit disappointed with the ultimate integration of the fairy tale and the story told on these pages. It felt to me like an original and clever seed of an idea that got lost in a bigger story. Either way, the story is a worthwhile investment of your time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

This photo is the Town Hall (Ratusz), built in the 16th century, in the city center of my husband's home town, Wroclaw Poland. For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Stealing Scenes from Actors

This week's Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about cameos. While they were watching the Daytona 500 this weekend, they couldn't help but think of the movie Talladega Nights, and the Fox broadcasting crew that all had cameos in the film. They were inspired to come up with some of the more famous cameos. Now, the Bumbles are a creative couple, and they always have the best answers to this meme, and based on principle I will rarely copy. It makes my job just a little bit tougher. I decided to not only list cameos, but to list director cameos that come to be expected with each film they make. It almost becomes a distraction, once you know they're there (like looking for the hidden Mickey's at Disney!) Here are the ones that came instantly to mind:

* Alfred Hitchcock - not only is he known for his amazing films, but his cameos in each one of them. It became such a phenomenon that he began putting the cameos at the beginning of the film, so viewers would focus on the movie and not trying to spot his face!

* M. Night Shyamalan - to my knowledge, he has had cameos in all of his films. This fact had to be pointed out to me, since I was too busy being creeped out.

* Peter Jackson - I haven't seen everything this guy has made, but I know he was in all of the Lord of the Rings movies, ever so briefly.

* Martin Scorsese - again, I doubt I've seen everything Scorsese has made, but I know he's in some four or five of his biggies

* Vanessa Echols - OK, this is just for fun. She's not a director, she is our local morning anchor in Orlando. She had a cameo in Deep Impact (or was it Armageddon? the two were so similar) that had all of Channel 9 a-twitter

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Fifth Photo

Beth of BethFishReads tagged me for this fun photo meme. I must find the fifth folder of photos, and pick the fifth photo within that, and share it with you. Yikes. I'm a little nervous. OK, I'm going to go find it...

I guess that wasn't so bad. This came from my folder with my pictures that I used for my 2008 calendar that I did for family members. There was probably a 75% chance it would be something of the kids, and this is one I took of them when we were exploring a lighthouse in St. Augustine Florida. Lighthouses are sort of a new hobby we have adopted. We seek them out wherever we go. At some point, I am going to do a month or two of Wordless Wednesdays just with my lighthouse pictures!

Next I tag some more people who I think may be interested in playing:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An interview with Jackie, from Farm Lane Books

I recently wandered onto Jackie's blog, Farm Lane Books, as a referral from Beth from BethFishReads. I was so pleasantly surprised to find wonderful book reviews, weekly memes, questionnaires, and best of all, a really nice person behind the blog! Jackie and I began an e-mail correspondence about a hard-to-find book I was looking for, as she is in the business of buying and selling books online, all from the comfort of her home in the UK. We decided it would be fun to interview each other as a sort of interview cross-post. So without further ado, let's find out a little more about Jackie!

Sandy: I am intrigued with the career change you describe in your profile. When did you make the switch, what motivated you to make it, and explain exactly what it is you do presently for a living. (A loaded question, I know!)

Jackie: I worked for a multi-national pharmaceutical company, as an analytical chemist until about three and a half years ago, when I went on maternity leave to have my oldest son, Adam. To make a bit of extra money, I started to sell my old books on Amazon. I realized that I was actually making a profit on some of them, despite having read them, so it was only a little step to buy more, and skip the reading part! I loved it, and decided not to go back to my laboratory job when my maternity leave ended. Over the past three years I have slowly increased the number of books I have for sale, and I now have about 2500 listed in my amazon shop. (Note: see her Amazon shop
Farm Lane Books

I buy books from charity shops, local sales and on the internet, and then sell them to people all over the world. My only problem is that I hate selling books that I think might be interesting to read, so my TBR pile turned into a mountain! I am trying to be more ruthless but I still have several hundred books waiting to be read!

Sandy: Can you describe a typical day in your life?

Jackie: Not really! Every day is so different, but I’ll give it a go!

Mornings are dedicated to my two boys. I’ll often have friends with similar age children over for a coffee, or meet up with them in a park somewhere. If I’m at home on my own with them, then I might try to persuade the boys that sorting out the washing, or doing the vacuuming is fun too! We have lunch, then I drop Adam at nursery. I then have about an hour and a half while Matthew is asleep to get on with my work, blogging or reading – depending on my mood! It is normally a mixture of all three! I then go and pick Adam up, drop all the books I’ve sold at the post office, and come home to make dinner. Luckily my husband normally makes it home in time for dinner, so we can have a nice family meal together. My husband then plays with the boys for an hour, while I get a bit more time on the computer. We then put the boys to bed, and have a few hours where we might watch a bit of TV or read. I normally have a nice, long bath before bed in which I do my best not to make my latest book turn crinkly!

Sandy: Besides running a profitable online book-selling business, running a home, raising two children, and blogging, what are some of your hobbies that you enjoy in your loads of spare time?

Jackie: We like being outside with the boys walking and cycling are the only things we can really do with them at the moment, but hopefully we’ll be able to do more once they’re a bit bigger.

I’m also very involved in my local NCT group. The National Childbirth Trust is a charity supporting pregnant and new mums. I’m on the committee, and am currently busy organizing a nearly new sale to raise money for the group.

Sandy: Tell us an interesting or unusual fact about yourself that would surprise us!

Jackie: I used to breed show quality, pedigree chinchillas! I soon realized that I didn’t have enough time to take them to all the chinchilla shows, so I now just keep three of them as my lovely, furry friends! I’ve attached a picture of one of my chinchillas with her baby below.

Sandy: What is your favorite book that you have read in the last twelve months?

Jackie: That’s easy! A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I think it is probably my favourite book of all time too! It is a great story, packed with emotion. I still think about it all the time. If you haven’t read it, then you should order a copy now!!! See my review here.

I have had alot of fun getting to know Jackie, and hope you have enjoyed reading more about her! If I can find some willing subjects, I may try to do this again in the future. If there are any interested parties out there, let me know!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wordless Wednesdays

This picture was taken on a short stop at an animal park, on the way from our cruise port to Anchorage Alaska. This is nature at its purest and most beautiful. For more Wordless Wednesday pictures, click here.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Death in Breslau" by Marek Krajewski

Not long ago, my in-laws, who live in Wroclaw, Poland, sent my husband a care package that included a series of crime novels. These novels are apparently all the rage in Poland, and in particular, Wroclaw, because the stories take place there. (Before 1945, Wroclaw was actually part of Germany and was called Breslau). My husband is not a big reader, but dove into one of the five books, and raved about it. Well, my fellow bibliophiles, as you can imagine, this was all I could take! It was like dangling a string in front of a cat, or dangling a picture of Viggo in front of any red-blooded woman. I NEEDED to read these books. Unfortunately, only one has been translated to English...Death in Breslau. My library was able to track it down in a library in Washington state, and get it for me on loan.

The series focuses on an investigator named Eberhard Mock. Mock is an enigma - he is very hard to characterize. He's not always likeable. He's a middle-aged man with a big gut who struggles with his mortality, desperately wants offspring but has yet to accomplish this task with his past two wives. He drinks, he cheats, he has a temper. He has allowed the imprisonment of an innocent man to further his career. A real ass, right? But he is also very smart. He has a list of "vices" on every significant personality in town, he has serial sadists in his debt, and has a keen knack for survival during a time when survival ain't easy. He gets the job done, using every tool and method possible...some legal and some very much heinous. He craftily maneuvers through the myriad of political landmines one would find in Germany in 1933.

In Death in Breslau, the crime in question is the murder of a 15-year-old daughter of a baron, who was found disemboweled with scorpions crawling around in the remains. A gentlemen by the name of Herbert Anwaldt, an investigator from Berlin, is temporarily assigned to help Mock expeditiously solve this crime. Anwaldt is a damaged man, an alcoholic with deep emotional scars from his childhood. These two are quite the pair. They pursue leads that soon reveal the story of an ancient and secret sect of devil-worshipers from the twelfth century, and a legacy of revenge. Simultaneously, the two investigators unearth secrets about themselves that are just as dangerous.

I have read literally thousands of crime novels. This particular one stood out from the crowd on many counts. Yes, I was initially intrigued to read a piece of fiction that takes place in my husband's home town, of which I am familiar. Beyond that, Krajewski has managed, in a book of about 250 pages, to peel away layers of two very troubled men, exposing both tenderness and ugliness. From his edgy, gritty prose, he has created the essence of Germany in the 1930's - bleak, paranoid and taut. There are torture scenes that made my hardened, cynical stomach turn (ones that involve honey and hornets, and ones that involve a dentist's chair...). The translation was a tiny bit awkward, but did not overshadow the intent of the author, which I believe was to rip you out of your comfort zone for awhile. Please, publishers, please translate the rest of the series!

A note about the book cover: I can't leave without mentioning this unique work by graphic artist Andrzej Klimowski (see his website here), who is internationally known for his posters and book covers. To me, they are very reminiscent of the surreal European art of the 1970's, and are mesmerizing to behold.


Melody, from Melody's Reading Corner, very graciously bestowed this award on me and I can't thank her enough! I've recently discovered her blog, but now have to visit her daily for her amazing book reviews, her multi-part travel diary on her trip to Australia, and her daily memes! Here is the official definition of the award:

"These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

In turn, I will share the love with a few of my blogging friends (who are so cool, they have probably already received this award, but I'm gonna do it again!). There were a few more that I would have listed, but Melody already got them! Here they are:

Jackie from Farm Lane Books

Michele from A Reader's Respite

Carrie from Books and Movies

Molly and Andy from The Bumbles

Matt from A Guy's Moleskin Notebook

James from Ready When You Are, C.B.

Monday Movie Meme - Whose Line Is It Anyway?

This week's Monday Movie Meme is all about those quirky little lines in the movies. We're not necessarily talking about the famous ones, like "Go ahead, make my day" or "Scarlett my dear, I don't give a damn". It's the ones that are like a second language among you and your friends or between you and your spouse. The ones, when you use them in public, sometimes draw curious glances (but you do it anyway 'cause it cracks you up). Here are some of ours:

* "It puts the lotion on its skin"

* "The horror..."

* "The shitter was full"

* "You get f***ed in the drive-through!"
* "Be careful..." (this one is all about the facial expression and accent)

For more movie-speak and other fun, go visit The Bumbles here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The best way to spend 11 hours!!!

I love movies. Maybe not as much as my sister, who sees about 8 a week, but I enjoy them, nevertheless. I get especially anxious and excited around Oscar time, always vowing to get out and see some of the nominated films. Reality? I never do. I might get to them on Netflix six months down the road, and instead go see Paul Blart Mall Cop or Inkheart or something else kid-friendly. (When the kids turn 18, they're going with me, darn it.)

Filled with this angst, I came across something in my Entertainment Weekly this weekend that I had to share with you. On February 21, select AMC Theatres will unspool all five best picture nominees for $30...bottomless popcorn bucket included! I checked...that is eleven hours of butt-numbing entertainment. This is almost too tempting...

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Gossamer" by Lois Lowry (audio) featuring a guest post from Emma

Recently, I was inspired by Anna at Diary of an Eccentric to start to read some YA fiction with my daughter, Emma, and let her hone her writing and analysis skills in a co-post with me. (Anna does this occasionally with her daughter as well). What a great way to bond with your kids and share the love of reading with them! YA is not necessarily my genre, but there are so many bloggers out there reviewing these types of books, I knew we could easily find something entertaining to both of us. Gossamer was one of those books on which I'd seen several glowing reviews. I ordered the book for Emma and the audio book for me from the library. Emma finished the book in two days, and I'd started listening to the audio in the car on the way to school and back (the Outlander Series has to wait until the kiddies are NOT in the car). Emma loved the book so much, she wanted to listen to the audio with me, and surprisingly my very boyish 9 year old boy became enraptured as well. Wonders never cease!

Gossamer is a magical tale about little creatures (like little butterflies or fairies in my mind's eye) that bestow dreams to humans. With a light, feathery touch they extract memory fragments from items in the humans' homes, and use them to transfer these memories back into the subsonscious as dreams while the humans sleep. My son Ryan commented that he thinks they come from God (which of course made me cry.) Adversely, there are also Sinisteeds, which are dark, snorting, aggressive horse-like creatures that attack the human psyche with nightmares.

Littlest One is a dream-giver-in-training, and is a lively, curious sweetheart. She is also very talented at bestowing dreams, and at her gentle "Gossamer" touch in gathering fragments. She and her mentor, Thin Elderly, become aware of a disturbing situation occuring at one of their "clients". A lonely, elderly woman is fostering an angry little boy who has been grossly abused by his father. Because the little boy is vulnerable, the Sinisteeds attempt to permanently damage the boy with vicious nightmares. A battle ensues between the dream-givers and the Sinisteeds for the boy's soul.

The definition of Gossamer is something fragile and delicate. Everything about this book is fragile and delicate, and is perfectly named. It is filled with a magical, twinkling, child-like wonder. It is beautiful and pure in its example of hope, and I don't think I've read anything quite like it. Despite everything I have said so far, however, I must warn you that the scenes of abuse imposed on the boy are troubling and heartbreaking. But patience and love prevails, as it should. I cried at the end. I would recommend it to young and old.

Emma's take: I really enjoyed Gossamer, although it was a little confusing for me at points. One thing I did like is all of the imagination used to write the book. It made me feel like I was really there. I thought that John's (the angry boy) behaviour was really mean, and it made me feel both angry and sad inside. I loved the character Littlest One. The way she is always talking and curious is so cute. This story made me want to read more from the same author. (Note from mom: The Giver is next.) I would rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Wonderful Letter "U"

Beth at BethFishReads just participated in an alphabet meme, and I thought it sounded like a fun thing to do on this Thursday afternoon. Beth provided me a random letter, and I now need to list ten things I love that begin with this letter. And I get the letter...U?????? I couldn't at least get the letter "V" so I could throw out a picture of Viggo? She said she used a random letter generator, and felt bad when my chosen letter came up. So she closed her eyes and pointed to a letter in a nearby book, and got the same letter. I guess its fate. Well, fate is pushing it. I had to do a little digging to find my ten! Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Umbrellas - I live in Florida, so I need these on an almost daily basis. I have a collection in my car, in various states of disrepair.

2. Underwear - as in clean, comfortable and cute. Who doesn't like underwear?

3. Utah - my family took a vacation to Park City this past summer. Beautiful country. The cross-country car ride with my kids wasn't so beautiful, however. It sounded like a good idea at the time...

4. Uma Thurman - there is no actress that kicks more butt than Uma in Kill Bill, volumes 1 and 2. I also love her yellow motorcycle outfit.

5. Unfiltered wine - not all that common, but every bottle of unfiltered wine I've tasted has been very good juice.

6. Usual Suspects - this movie was my introduction to Kevin Spacey, whom I adore. I could watch this movie about the mysterious Kaiser Sozay (sp) over and over.

7. Unspoiled nature - I love the outdoors. Except in the dead heat of the Floridian summer.

8. Brian Urlacher - da Bears!

9. Ushers - (ok guys, I'm starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel here!) because they make me feel special and taken care of.

10. Umpires - to maintain order in a chaotic world.

Whew. I'm tired. If you want to have a little fun with this meme, let me know and I'll send you a letter. Pray it isn't U!!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty" by Julia Flynn Siler

Before I get into the details of this amazing book, I feel it is only fair to give you a head's up on the emotional baggage I carry around on my shoulders with regards to Mondavi wine. At the risk of lowering your opinion of me, I will admit to being a wine snob. My husband and I have come to really appreciate a good bottle of wine. We feel that making wine is an art form. The wine doesn't necessarily have to be expensive to be appreciated (although I can't say I've found many of them for less than $10 that I would want in my house). With that said, I have always had a very derisive attitude towards Mondavi wines. I know they have good wines in their cellars somewhere. But to me, they are the ultimate sell-out...a winery claiming to be high quality that isn't. A winery that sold its name and soul to the Disney in Anaheim (and failed, thank you). Their cheaper wines are swill...not drinkable, and not even fit to cook with. Where is the pride in their craft, for Pete's sake???? Their Oakville estate is like Disneyland - swarms of tourists and queues everywhere. On the various trips to the Napa area, I have visited over 50 wineries, but never this one. I refused to go in, even though my husband wanted to see what it was all about. I stood there, arms crossed, like a petulant two-year-old. Having worked in the business sector for most of my adult life, I understand the need for growth, profit margins, and managing investor expectations. Still, I have very little room in my heart to feel too much respect for Mondavi.

When I first heard about this book, I scoffed. Why on earth would I want to read about these people? But I trusted the opinions of those that recommended it to me. And I do love wine. Emotions aside, how can you go wrong with a book about wine? Begrudgingly, I will admit that I am glad I read it. The author took off a considerable amount of time from her job at the Wall Street Journal to write this heavily researched book. Her sources are credible, with countless details laid out in a very readable prose. And the details make it all quite clear why the Mondavi family had the tiger by the tail, and they blew it all to hell.

The story starts with the classic American Dream of Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, Italian immigrants, who came to America to make a living for themselves. And through sweat and hard work, they did. They purchased the floundering Charles Krug winery in Napa, and dreamed of a small but successful multi-generational legacy. This was not to be, however. Their oldest son, Robert, had the flash of a sky's-the-limit entrepreneur. The younger son, Peter, was quiet and deliberate. (The two daughters were not considered to be plausible contributors to the business.) Aggravated by Cesare's favoritism towards his older son, spite and bitterness grew between the boys like a cancer, even culminating to an infamous fist-fight. Once Cesare died, however, Rosa jumped in to protect Peter, and Robert was literally thrown out of the family business on his behind. Robert, in turn, sued the family in an ugly courtroom drama, and won a large settlement. Rosa died in the middle of the ruckus. The brothers did not speak again until they were in their nineties.

Ever the positive thinker, Robert forged ahead to establish his own winery. I must give Robert his due and call him a visionary, because he started from virtually nothing, just the seed money from the court ruling against his family. He grew it into the monster it is today through acquisitions, partnerships, and an unlimited fount of energy and passion to be the biggest and the best. He was the ambassador for wine, fostering the education of the masses of the benefits of wine drinking, and the necessary connection between wine and food. Between point A and point B, however, some critical issues started to erode the foundation. History predictably repeating itself, Robert took more of a shine to his flashy older son Michael (the businessman), and found faults with the younger son Timothy (the winemaker). The fighting was incessant, bitterness and jealousy directing every move they made. Robert was also a philanderer and ended up leaving his wife for greener pastures (interestingly, Timothy was the same way). To fill the niches in the retail market, they began producing the swill I complained about, and the company began to have an identity crisis.

As Robert got older, he began to allow his dysfunctional sons to take over the business. To raise more capital, they took the company public, which is when it became very clear through investor scrutiny, that the company was very mismanaged. The brothers constantly fought, nepotism was the rule versus the exception, millions were dumped into indulgent projects. If you were an outside executive and you climbed your way to high up the ladder, fault was found, and you were given the boot. If you were a shrink or a management consultant in the Napa area, you were in like Flynn. Dozens of professionals were invited to analyze and help the Mondavis with their issues, but the advice was usually ignored. To cut costs to please the shareholders, they started to get sloppy with their winemaking, and even their premium wines earned severe criticism from wine authorities. Timothy was forced to take a sabbatical for that one. Eventually Michael was forced out of the company. (Honestly people, you really don't know who to root for here!) To raise more cash, and to bail Robert out of a philanthropic binge, the Mondavi family sold their shares and their voting rights. The Sands brothers at Constellation Brands smelled fresh blood, and acquired the company through a hostile takeover. The Mondavi family certainly aren't out on the streets of Napa panhandling, but Cesare's legacy was no more.

I realize this is a long post, and I'm sorry...I try to boil these books down to the nitty gritty. I just can't boil it down to anything less...I just can't! This book blew me away. You don't even need to have a passion for wine to be entertained. I liken it to seeing a horrible accident along the side of the is tragic, ugly and bloody...but you still have to look. As I finished the last few chapters, I reflected on my views of the Mondavi's, and whether they have changed. I don't think they have. They made the bed they are sleeping in. I was saddened by the image I was left with, however, which was a family full of dreams, bitterness and regrets. It was of two men in their nineties attempting to make amends by making a barrel of wine together to sell at a fund-raising auction. Of Robert Mondavi, sitting at the auction, who can't hear, can barely walk, selling off his favorite vintners jacket for charity, holding hands with his brother.

Wordless Wednesday

I took this picture while strolling down the street in Kolobrzeg Poland. It's one of the things I love about this foot in the now and one foot in the past, where the older generation still like to sit in their windows and watch the world go by. Apparently, on this day, we weren't all that entertaining...

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - The Great Race

This week's Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about the Great Race. You know, the movies where there are dizzy, heart-racing pursuits through streets, alleys, over fences, for what seems like hours? I think about nine out of ten have them. It is, after all, on the checklist of what you must have if you are filming an action flick. There are some, however, that do stand out in your mind. Here are some of mine:
1. The French Connection - This is a repeat from the Bumbles, but I swear I'm not copying. It was the very first thing to come to mind. It's the chase scene to beat all chase scenes!
2. The Return of the Jedi - Remember Luke and Leia on those speeder bikes, racing through the trees? I can't remember what planet that son probably would.
3. Thelma and Louise - You don't see every chase scene with the chasees intentionally running their ride off a cliff. You gotta love it.
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark - This movie had some cool things I'd never seen before as a kid. One standard that was set by this movie was the climbing under and over moving vehicles to get to the bad guy and beat him up.
5. Casino Royale - If pressed, you could identify a cool chase scene in just about any Bond film. Because I have seen this movie recently, and because Daniel Craig is a hottie, I will list the opening chase scene from this one...on foot, flinging themselves around on top of a high rise construction site, seriously intense!
What are your favorites?