Monday, August 31, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - The Great Outdoors

Today's Monday Movie Meme, brought to us by The Bumbles, is all about the Great Outdoors. Apparently, they were without power last night, which caused them a slight change of plans with regards to Internet access. Instead, it allowed them to wax fondly about their recent camping trip and come up with our latest topic.

The Nawrots are lovers of nature. We love to camp, hike, horseback ride, ride the rapids...anything outside. So why not movies about nature as well? I'm going to admit this up front - I have a couple of overlaps with The Bumbles, but this cannot be helped:

Into the Wild - when you have a movie about a guy that rejects society and survives on his own in the Alaskan wild, this must be included in the list, even if I am duplicating. I've mentioned this movie before...disturbing stuff.

Homeward Bound - you would think this was one of my favorite movies of all time by the number of times it makes the list. You can't help but love it, and it is, after all, about two dogs and a cat surviving in the wild.

Deliverance - it really is a great movie, but will never shake off its bad reputation!

Grizzly Man - the beauty of Alaska really takes a back seat to the twisted mind of Timothy Treadwell, a guy who thinks he is a bear, and would rather live with them than humans. I found this movie deeply disturbing.

Stand By Me - a great coming-of-age story brought to us by the great Stephen King. It has always reminded me of an adventure I had when I was in my early teens, including sleeping under the stars, trudging around in the woods, and the leeches. Just no dead bodies.

Princess Mononoke - always a huge fan of Miyazaki, I must mention this fascinating film. It is about a young man on a mission to a primeval forest to find a cure for his life-threatening disease. While he is there, he finds himself caught in the middle of a war between the forest spirits and the humans that want to destroy it. Miyazaki never fails to deliver visually stunning animation with a lesson.

Brokeback Mountain - another repeat from The Bumbles, but would be remiss if I didn't list it. A precious movie that I felt was not given its due at the Oscars.

Are you a nature fan? What have I missed?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Best of...Ken Cupples' Top 10 Books

OK, we had some fun with the wine. I hope it was helpful to all of you! I have returned with more book lists! Featured this week is a colleague of my husband's that we've been friends with for over 20 years. He has a background in the grain commodities business, rides a Harley, enjoys weekends at the beach, loves a good glass of red, and loves to read. He is responsible for my ongoing obsession with the Jack Reacher series, in fact he and I are always trading book titles. Here is his diverse assortment of literature that has inspired him over the years, with a little commentary:

1. East of Eden - John Steinbeck: I couldn't put this down - it is snuggle up in bed good reading. I love all of Steinbeck's work.

2. Outlaw - Warren Kiefer: You will live an entire life through the main character. I read it twice it was so good. (Sandy's note: He's not lying. This book would be on my top reads of all time.)

3. The Courtney Family in South Africa (series) - Wilber Smith: A multi-generational epic that covers your bases...romance, war, wilderness, survival, power, greed, murder. Series includes "Burning Shore", "Power of the Sword", "Rage", "A Time to Die" and "Golden Fox". (Sandy's note: Ken and I had a Wilbur Smith reading marathon with this series. It is phenomenal historical fiction.)

4. The Undefeated - Jim Dent: Oklahoma's undefeated winning streak in the '50's and Bud Wilderson's off-field exploits. A fun book to read and full of facts, heart-warming events and southwest football is everything you need in life.

5. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck: The era of my parents and grandparents is the setting. Steinbeck is a master. I love how he replied to a question in an interview once "I just tell a story".

6. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens: What can I say? It is a classic and should be required reading for everyone.

7. Hope to Die - Lawrence Block: A gripping, gritty murder mystery featuring a damaged P.I. Matthew Scudder. (Sandy's note: Read this one, followed by All the Flowers Are Dying. This is crime fiction at its best.)

8. Ugly Americans - Ben Mezrich: The true story of Ivy League hedge fund cowboys that raided the Asian markets for millions. Fast-paced thriller that once again proves that truth can be wilder than fiction. (Sandy's note: You don't have to know a thing about hedge funds to enjoy this ripping ride of a book.)

9. No Name on the Bullet - Don Graham: The story of Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WWII.

10. My Turn at Bat - Ted Williams: Great biography of the left fielder for the Boston Red Sox 1939 to 1960. Honest and entertaining, and brings back childhood memories.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The ABC's of Sandy

A couple of weeks ago, I was tagged by Carrie @ Books and Movies to participate in this fun meme. It seemed like a great post for a Saturday! Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person who tagged you

2. Share your ABCs
3. Tag three people at the end by linking to their blogs
4. Let the three tagged people know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website
5. Do not tag the same person repeatedly but try to tag different people, so there is a big network of bloggers doing this tag

Available or single? Married – for 17 years as of about a week ago.

Best Friend? Michele. She is my voice of reason, my beacon of light for getting me through my toughest kid issues, and general listening ear.

Cake or Pie? If my grandmother were still alive, I'd say her pies. Now? Neither, I'd rather spend my calories on risotto and wine.

Drink of choice? Non-alcoholic: Unsweetened iced tea. Alcoholic: Wine, preferably Pinot Noir.

Essential item for every day use? My iPod. Don't mess with it or I will have a seizure.

Favorite color? Pink

Google? Google Search all the way baby!

Hometown? Born and raised on the farm, but our address was Attica, Indiana.

Indulgences? Books, pedicures and the occasional massage.

January or February? Both! Great Florida weather! The only months I don't sweat to death.

Kids and their names? Emma, age 11; Ryan, age 9.

Life is incomplete without…? Family, wine and reading.

Marriage date? August 21, 1992.

Number of siblings? One sister (the coolest movie blogger ever).

Oranges or apples? Oranges! I live in Florida! Anything else would be sacrilege.

Phobias and fears? Heights, bridges and bugs. Specifically cock roaches that fly and are the size of a small animal.

Quote for the day? "The road to knowledge begins with the turn of a page." Anonymous

Reason to smile? A healthy and happy family. And Viggo Mortensen.

Season? Autumn. Love the smell of the leaves.

Tag 3 people? I'll pick bloggers who are new to me:

Andreea @ Passionate Booklover

Carolyn @ Book Chick City
Jeane @ Dog Ear Diary

And anyone else who would like to answer!

Unknown fact about me? My life is pretty much an open book. I have a passion for cooking? I stink at golf but love it?

Vegetable you hate? All vegetables are hated except lettuce.

Worst habit? I talk too much sometimes, and don't think before I open my mouth.

X-rays you’ve had? Ankle.

Your fave food? Risotto.

Zodiac sign? My birthday is on the cusp between Gemini and Cancer, and I have a little of both in me. I choose whatever horoscope serves my purpose.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles - Jennifer 8. Lee

I am happy to review my very first of twelve books that qualify for my Random Reading Challenge. I must say, it is an absolute hoot to stack all my TBR's in a huge pile, number them, then grab a number from to see what my next read will be! This book was a giveaway that I won from Frances of Nonsuch Book. Thanks Frances!

In 2005, something very strange happened. In the multi-state Powerball lottery, where normally only a few people might choose the winning numbers, dozens of people from all over the country hit it big. A conspiracy? Fraud? No! These people played the numbers from their fortune cookies. Jennifer 8. Lee, a Chinese-American, was intrigued, and set off to find out more.

What follows is a scatter-shot investigation of everything Chinese. Who invented the fortune cookie? Not the Chinese, as we are all inclined to guess, but research would show the Japanese responsible for the most oft-eaten desert in America.

We learn about the origination of the idea to deliver Chinese food to the masses, the marketing, the competition, and the standardization of menus. About the finer touches of brewing soy sauce. About the intertwined relationship between the Jewish community and Chinese food. About a scandal involving kosher ducks. About the perils of being a Chinese delivery person. The burnout of fortune-writers, did Confucius really say all that stuff, and the importance of screening out those fortunes that may offend someone. Did you know that General Tso's chicken does not exist in China, but is truly an American invention?

How is it that all Chinese restaurants are mom and pop shops, but are eerily interchangeable? What price does a Chinese family pay to own and run one of these restaurants? Ms. Lee tells us of Chinese immigrants that spent tens of thousands of dollars and risked their lives to come to America, and that a majority of them end up working in the restaurant industry. Ever wonder the name and location of the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world? Are you dizzy yet?

I am almost speechless. Almost. Don't get me wrong, I love Chinese food like the rest of America. This book is just chock full of facts about anything remotely related to Chinese food. And then some. The facts are interesting. The writing is factual and organized. But if it weren't for Jennifer 8. Lee's earnest passion for her topic, I would have set this aside after the kosher duck scandal. It was just too much random information about a topic in which I have only a casual interest. I will admit, though, that I am a softie. How can you turn your back on a girl that waxes poetic about a fortune cookie:

"An unbroken fortune cookie and an unexpired lottery ticket: they both hold promise. There is no sense of disappointment, of unfulfilled potential. It's a bit like youth. Both also ask for a small leap of faith. If you believe in the potential of the lucky number, in the upbeat fortune, you will be happier. It's a little bit of optimism packaged inside a wafer, an American import."

2.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I wanted to post a correction to something I'd published yesterday about the R.I.P. Reading Challenge. I got excited, you see, and got a little careless. You understand, I hope?

I understood this challenge to run for a full year, like most challenges do, starting now and running through October of next year. Uh uh! In fact, it runs September 1 through October 31st of this year. Two months! I would still be sitting here believing myself to have plenty of time to read my four books if it hadn't been for J. Kaye. Thanks for setting me back on the right path!

I apologize if I mislead anyone!

Now I'd better get busy reading...

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher - Kate Summerscale

Are you a fan of true crime? What about murder mysteries? Well, what we have here, recommended by Jackie at Farm Lane Books, is the original true crime mystery, laid out before us in journalistic detail. From the actual investigative files, newspaper articles and various other published works comes a story that set the standard for literary greats such as Charles Dickens, Henry James and Wilkie Collins.

In 1860, in the blended Kent family, a three-year-old is viciously murdered...suffocated, throat cut, and thrown down a privy hole. Based on the facts, it is a given that the perpetrator must have been someone within the Road Hill mansion - a servant or a family-member. Scotland Yard detective Jack Whicher is summoned to investigate the crime. He is the white knight of and intuitive, with a pristine track record. He unknowingly stumbles into a nest of hidden family secrets, jealously and dysfunction. The crime is close to impossible to solve, and the great Mr. Whicher stands by helplessly as his reputation, and those associated with the case, falls into ruin. Not only that, but the entire country turns its back on the profession, spawning derision and suspicion, and more than a few fictionalized accounts of the disaster.

The book goes on to follow the lives of the Kent family, the investigators, and the Kent servants from the night of the crime until their deaths. The author even muses and interprets, with the benefit of modern science, a few conclusions. While the true nature of the crime eventually, horrifyingly, reveals itself, the damage has already been done.

Before I started blogging, approximately 80% of everything I read was murder/mystery, either in the form of true crime or fiction. I've read The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins, which is said to be the first fictional mystery thriller, a story which was based on this case. Let's face it. This book was made for me. I will admit, it was fascinating stuff. When they say that truth is stranger than fiction, this must have been what they were talking about. There were diagrams of the crime scene, pictures of the major players (I love pictures), and examples of significant documents from the case. It reminded me of Patricia Cornwell's "Portrait of a Killer", where she investigates the unsolved Jack the Ripper case over a hundred years after the fact. The puzzles pieces haunt you.

It was quite a struggle to wade through, however. The writing is very factual and very dense. If I weren't such a fan of the genre, I'm not sure I would have been able to persevere. You can't pick this up and read it when you are waiting for a doctor's appointment or over lunch. You will not be able to absorb the detail. This is a book that must be read in peace and quiet, without a glass of wine and not late at night. You need all your synapses firing for this one.

It is also important to mention, too, that many references are made to various works of literature that were inspired by the case, and their plots. In some examples, you might even find a few spoilers. For me, this was not a huge hill to die on, but was prominent enough to acknowledge.

Am I glad I read it? Yes, absolutely! Would I recommend it? Yes, if this is your genre. Just make sure you are well-rested and on your game!

3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I have no self-control

I think I saw this reading challenge first on Melody's blog and I very proudly straightened my stance and firmly said "That challenge is right up my alley, but no, I must not join. I am behind on my reading!". Over the last few days, however, I keep seeing post after post of those who have joined. I realized that I have all the books I need on my iPod on on my TBR stack to qualify for the challenge. Aren't I good at justifying things to myself?

So what is the challenge? It is called the RIP Challenge hosted by the eloquent Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings. In this case, RIP stands for Readers Imbibing Peril, and includes anything that would fall under the category of spooky, gothic, horror, know, all those things that I love to read! There are levels of commitment for the challenge, but I've decided to step in cautiously, at the Peril the First (four books). The challenge runs from September 1, 2009 to October 31, 2010. I can do this.

Here are some of the books I have on hand to choose to read for the challenge:

Let the Right One In - John Lindqvist
The Seance - John Harwood
The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Luis Zafon
The Angel's Game - Carlos Luis Zafon
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane - Katherine Howe
My Cousin Rachel - Daphne Du Maurier
The Widow's Season - Laura Brodie

Any thoughts on which I should read first?

Wordless Wednesday - Marlbork #1

The next series of pictures will be from the Teutonic Knights castle in Marlbork, Poland, about about 35 miles south of Gdansk. Built in the 14th century, this was the headquarters for the Christian crusaders that were ruthless and brutal in their pursuit of power and assets. In 1410, however, the Poles got tired of the bullying and gathered support from Lithuania and other countries to defeat the Teutonic Knights in the famous Battle of Grunwald. The knights were forced to evacuate the castle, and was occupied from then on by various Polish kings. In WWII it suffered huge damages from the war, and is only now nearly fully restored.

For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Castle in the Attic - Elizabeth Winthrop (audio)

Another quick and sweet audio, selected at the library without much knowledge on its plot. From the description on the back, it reminded me of "The Indian in the Cupboard" which is one of my favorites.

Ten-year-old William lives a relatively normal life. He loves gymnastics, he gets good grades, he likes to hang with his BFF. He doesn't see a whole lot of his parents due to their work schedules, but has his nanny, Mrs. Phillips, to keep him on the straight and narrow. But when Mrs. Phillips decides it is time to return home to England, William is inconsolable. As a going-away gift, Mrs. Phillips presents William with a beautiful miniature castle, complete with a working drawbridge, stables and a silver knight. One day when William visits the castle, which is kept in the attic, the silver knight, Sir Simon, comes to life, and explains that an evil wizard has put a curse on him, keeping him the size of William's index finger. Sir Simon has a magical coin that can shrink others to his size, but doesn't work in reverse until the wizard's spell is broken.

Hmmm...William starts to scheme, and decides to shrink Mrs. Phillips to keep her from leaving! As one might imagine, Mrs. Phillips is not happy. William guiltily admits he must do whatever it takes to reverse the wizard's curse, in order to free his beloved nanny and Sir Simon, and save them both from a life cooped up in his attic eating crumbs and roasting mice.

William allows Sir Simon to shrink him, and enters a magical fantasy world of a vicious dragon, an evil wizard, a greedy old hag, and humans that have been turned to lead. William bravely battles all obstacles thrown in his way, freeing everyone living under the wizard's curse. He even learns to believe in himself along the way.

While this is not a unique is reminiscent of all of our is sweet and entertaining. It is safe for all ages, although the teen crowd would probably think it silly and too juvenile. My kids, ages 9 and 11, however, loved it. The audio has a cast of characters that do a phenomenal job of narration, which I think was the highlight. There are positive messages, an escape into fantasy, and no marginal language I have found recently with the kids' audios. There isn't even a hint of an innocent crush. Very refreshing!
3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Guest Post with Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Today is my third and final guest post at Musings of a Bookish Kitty, featuring my review for Testimony by Anita Shreve. This book was not an easy one to get through, but at the same time was hard to put down. I believe the overall experience of this book was heavily influenced by the audio production, and the cast of narrators that chillingly represented each of the characters in the story. Hop on over to Wendy's and check it out!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Liver, fava beans and a nice chianti

This week's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about those villains that you love to hate. The ones that make you want to jump out of your seat and scream, the ones that make your stomach hurt. I've decided not to travel down the road of the robotic, soul-less masked dudes in Halloween, Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street. Nor can I really hold anything against Darth Vader, Michael Corleone or Heath Ledger's Joker...I actually kinda like those guys. I'm targeting the ones that, through character development, you get a peek inside their evil little psyche. And what you see keeps you awake at night. These guys (and gals) are a downright nasty bunch, but they keep you coming back for more!

Alex Forrester (Fatal Attraction) - How many characters could single-handedly scare the hell out of every red-blooded man in America? I've watched this movie no less than two dozen times, and at every viewing, I want to kill the bunny-slaughtering woman myself.

Annie Wilkes (Misery) - While some of these villains are pure evil, I believe that Annie is just psychologically deformed, and knows not what she is doing. Either way, that hobbling scene always cured me of any empathy I could possibly conjure for the woman.

Delores Umbridge (Harry Potter) - In the book and the movie, my stomach churned over this one, and made my knee bounce up and down. It is the sign of a true author and director to incite this reaction in someone that is a lover not a fighter. I wanted to beat the living crap out of Delores. The childish voice, the nervous giggle, the kitten pictures and pink sweaters? I was happy to see her hauled off into the woods, thank you very much.

Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs) - Hannibal is scary because not only is he pure evil, he is a smart son-of-a-gun. Anthony Hopkins made this liver-eating, Chianti-swilling shrink come to life, chill our blood, and cause more than one sleepless night. Even more so than Buffalo Bill that wanted the girls to "put the lotion on its skin".

Randall Flagg (The Stand) - I'm not a huge fan of TV miniseries, but I own this one on DVD. I loved this interpretation of the Devil, a long-haired guy with a southern drawl and cowboy boots, also known as "the walking dude". It was one of the few times I felt justice was done to a literary masterpiece.

The Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz) - This is the antagonist that needs a good attitude adjustment. She's not necessarily evil per se, but foul- tempered and a general pain in the behind. She's like a knat you can't seem to shake, a pathetic old woman that needs to get a life.

Amon Goeth (Schindler's List) - As far as I'm concerned, this put Fiennes on the map and proved he really had the goods. I felt I needed to disinfect myself after watching his portrayal of a brutal, narcissistic commandant of Auschwitz.

I had about 10 more villains in my list, but had to prioritize and pare down. What are your favorites? What character turns you from a normal functioning human being being to a crazed screaming maniac? Please share!

The Best of...Craig Lopus's Top White Wines

So did you participate in a bit of imbibing last week with some of Craig's top red wines? Well, this week I've brought you his list of top white wines, which I find perfect for the hot summer days. He has pulled together a nice diverse list of chardonnays, sauvignon blancs and sparkling wines that won't break the bank. I have added one at the bottom of the list that is a favorite of mine...I couldn't resist.

Indaba, Chardonnay (South Africa) $9

Arnold Palmer, Chardonnay (California) $12

Napa Cellars, Chardonnay (California) $20

Cartlidge and Browne, Chardonnay (California) $13

Maso Canali, Pinot Grigio (Italy) $15

Rock Rabbit, Sauvignon Blanc (California) $11

Allan Scott, Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) $13

Gouguenheim, Torrontes (Argentina) $10

Casteller, Sparkling Cava (Spain) $12

La Marca, Sparkling Prosecco (Italy) $15

Sandy's Bonus: Caymus Conundrum, White Blend (California) $12

Hope you all enjoyed that little side trip through the vineyards. Next week, we are back to books!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

When love walks down your lane

As most of you may know, we are animal lovers in the Nawrot house. While we will be forever grieving over our Labrador Meggie who is now in doggy heaven, we are home to four cats and the sweetest guinea pig that God ever made.

We must send out signals that only those creatures in the animal kingdom can sense, as it seems wayward dogs and cats, and the occasional duck or egret, wander down our lane, looking for refuge. We provide it, and then they move on, usually when we aren't looking.

When we arrived home around 1:00am from Poland in early July, we noticed a big bushy tail disappear into the bushes as we drove down our lane. My guess was it was a raccoon. They like to hang around and get their share of the cat food. Instead, it was this frightened, skinny little cat, probably about 6 months old. We fed it, of course, and it decided it wanted to stay. I think it figured it had won the kitty lottery. So off he went, christened "Ziggy", to the vet to have his shots and his male particulars removed. He has since become an integral part of our ever-growing family, and delighting us with his kitten-ness and sweet nature. What's another mouth to feed, when you get so much in return?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Guest Post with Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty

I'm back at it again! One of my earliest book reviews is being featured today over at Musings of a Bookish Kitty while Wendy is away on vacation. This review is very special to me, not only because it was one of my first (and only about three people originally read it!), but is one of my top books of all time. Go on over and take a look!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford (audio)

I will admit, in the world of book blogging, I am probably the last person to read this book. However, I'm at peace with the fact that I am always a good 6 months behind the trend. It gives the dust time to settle! I saw this audio sitting on the library shelves during an emergency visit, and I knew this was thrown into my path for a reason. It is my tenth and last book in my WWII Reading Challenge. Anything that I read now on that topic is icing on the cake!

Henry, a middle-aged Chinese American and a recent widow, is going about the business of grieving and reconnecting with his college-aged son. When the old Panama Hotel, boarded up since WWII, is re-opened, and a basement-full of forty-year-old Japanese effects are discovered, emotions resurface for Henry. With permission from the hotel's new owner, Henry digs through trunks of old pictures, wedding dresses, toys...evidence of lives find a sketch book and an old jazz record. This is what he had been searching for. They belonged to Keiko.

Henry begins to travel back in his mind to his youth in Seattle. WWII was in full swing. Henry's parents, originally from China, insisted that Henry go to an American school, and only speak English in their home. Sadly, Henry's parents only speak Cantonese, and thereby forces an irreversible distance between the generations. Henry's father's life revolves solely around the war, and his hatred for the Japanese. So when Henry meets Keiko, a Japanese American girl at his school, and finds friendship, an ally against prejudice, and a fellow lover of Jazz, life gets pretty complicated for a 12 year old.

Keiko and all other persons of Japanese heritage are eventually "relocated" to an internment camp, leaving behind their personal effects to be hidden in places like the Panama Hotel basement. Henry stays fiercely loyal to Keiko, visiting and writing to her, and later, pledging his love to her. Slowly, for reasons that are revealed later in the book, their letters start to dwindle, and Henry assumes Keiko has lost interest. He moves on. Until now, when the memories flood back and cause Henry to question...can some broken things ever really be fixed?

The title of the novel is perfect. The story is full of the bitter and the sweet. Bitter for the American prejudices held not only for the Japanese, but for anyone of Asian descent. Bitter for missed opportunities and lost love, for estranged sons and fathers, and the persecution of Japanese immigrants by our government. But the story is so heart-breakingly sweet too. The innocence of first love, the ability of children to find hope and joy, despite the obstacles, from great jazz music and the company of each other.

The novel is incredibly predictable. There was nothing in the story that surprised me. However, as the tale unraveled, I was relieved it went the direction it did. You desperately want the story to end well, so I was willing to let this particular annoyance slide by. It was also a highly emotional read. No tears on this end, but definitely anger. Anger at the bullish pride of Henry's father who is so determined to mold his son into an ideal, that he is blinded to the irreversible damage he has done. Anger at the injustices we wrought on those who were also Americans, but with different colored skin. It is unnerving to face the fact that the Nazis weren't the only ones doing wrong by others.

It was also a nice change to read about WWII from the perspective of an Asian immigrant. We hear so little about anything but the atrocities that occurred in Europe, and, assuming the author stayed true to his facts, is a learning experience for me.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Gdansk #7

All of the pictures above were taken at the restaurant, Pod Lososiem (translated as "Under the Salmon"). It is one of the oldest restaurants in Gdansk, established in the 1400's. As you can see, this place was fancy...I was nervous to have my kids even walk through the place. I was especially intrigued with the immense collection of kerosene lamps that have been purchased or received through donation. The food was fabulous, more of a French-style preparation than Polish. Of course, my husband and I had to finish our meal with the traditional "Goldwasser", a liqueur that contains gold slivers in the bottom of the glass. Definitely the best restaurant experience of our trip.

For more Wordless Wednesday pictures, click here.

Winners of "A Better View of Paradise"

A week ago, I posted a review of "A Better View of Paradise" by Randy Sue Coburn, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to give two copies of the book away to my readers! Using (I love this little doo-hickey...could have used in when I was working in accounting!), I have drawn the following winners:

Melody from Melody's Reading Corner


Amy from My Friend Amy

Congrats guys! I will be contacting you soon to get your mailing addresses!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Undone by Karin Slaughter

This was a book I selected to review through Jaime of Pump Up Your Book Promotions. Before I started blogging, nearly 80% of my TBR list and reading history was mystery/thriller. Because of the wide variety of recommendations from my blogging friends, though, I am now a little more diversified than in my earlier days, but I still love to occasionally burrow down with a good serial murderer. I grabbed this opportunity with both hands! I mean, check out the cover! Isn't that the most incredible cover??

My first duty on this blog tour was to highlight a few interesting things about the author, Karin Slaughter. If you missed it, click back to yesterday's post and check it out! I'd like to have a beer with this lady. I like her style!

What I didn't realize when I first accepted this book was that it is a continuation of two series that have been dovetailed together; a merging of Karin's two fictitious worlds. Argh! I am a disciplinarian for reading books in order, so I was initially distressed. I reminded myself that if the author is worth her salt, I should be able to jump on board mid-trip and fall into step with her easily. Which was the case.

An elderly couple is driving down a dark road and accidentally hits a woman, who is naked, bleeding, bruised and hysterical. We get sickening little glimpses of what happened to this woman...captivity in a cave-like hole in the ground, torture beyond what the average person could even conceive, starvation, dehydration, and abuses on the mind. She did not suffer alone either. Another woman was held captive with her, but she chose to take her own life than to live with the effects. Soon two more women are abducted, presumably to suffer the same fate. The clock is ticking.

During the investigation of this case, we are introduced to Sara Linton, a young woman who has buried herself in her job as an ER doctor. We also meet the Criminal Investigation team of Special Agent Will Trent and Faith Mitchell. Will battles demons from his youth spent in orphanages and a severe case of dyslexia. Faith is pregnant by a man no longer in her life, and has just discovered she is diabetic. These three protagonists' lives are soon intertwined, all fighting to save the lives of a group of women who are not necessarily likable creatures, and at the same time, fighting to keep their own personal secrets hidden far below the surface. There is all kinds of "undone" going on here.

Often with mystery/thrillers, I get the sense that they are all to outdo each other. Who can come up with the most loathsome serial murderer and the most shocking acts of violence? To a certain extent, I got that sense here. I don't really have an aversion to this tact - I like to be shocked - as long as it makes sense to the overall story. In this novel, the methods of torture are beyond description, not something you want to read after eating a full meal. But beyond the blood and guts of the thing, they are intensely anti-female in nature. Hard core, even for someone who has seen it all.

The plot is very well constructed, complex but not difficult to follow, and a fast read. Perhaps because of the thousands of mystery/thrillers I have read, I picked up on literary clue early in the book that gave me just a sniff of an idea of who would be revealed as the evildoer. Even if you do happen to figure it out, the ride between point A and point B is a wild one, in all its heart-racing madness.

I believe what sets this book apart from the average mystery/thriller is the development of the characters. Even without knowing the history of Sara, Will and Faith (which would no doubt even heighten the experience of this read), we know we are dealing with very damaged people here. Real people. I was very quickly endeared to them, and want them to succeed and heal and smash a few heads. I wanted to give them a hug! *Sigh* Now I'm going to have to go back and read all the books that have come before this one, and of course will need to know what happens next. I'm invested, despite about a thousand books I want to read before next week.

My thanks again to Jaime, for sending me this book, and making my literary life just a bit more thrilling!
4 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - Fear Factor

Today's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about the scary movies (personally, I've been waiting for this one!). Awhile back, we talked about movies that traumatized us as children, and yes, most of them were the horror flicks, and yes, you may see some of them on today's list. For me, however, I didn't have to be 14 to enjoy a good horror flick...I still watch them! This list is a labor of love!

Jaws - Oh come on guys, you knew this one was coming! I mention this movie at least once a month.

The Exorcist - spinning heads and pea soup has never been so terrifying! The cherry on top is the theme song written by wunderkind Mike Oldfield.

Pet Semetary - I love this one so much, I have it on my iPod. The effects are a tiny bit corny, but the premise of burying things in a special place and having them come back to classic Stephen King.

The Shining - and on the topic of Stephen King, I have to give this one its share of love too. The music, the "thing" that lives in one particular hotel room, the murdered twins, redrum, and Jack Nicholson - this is horror at its absolute best! I could watch it over and over again (which I guess you can do when you stay at the hotel where this movie was shot).

The Grudge - watching this as an adult, I had issues sleeping after I'd watched it. I had particular issues with the black-haired girl who makes that (what is it?) creaking sound, as she crawls up the stairs. Thinking about it makes me squirm in my chair!

Hostel - One should never watch Hostel on a full stomach. This was the most gratuitous display of violence I've ever seen. Period.

Halloween - in musing through all of the slasher movies I saw as a kid, I think this one wins on all counts. Friday the 13th was close, but everyone could have learned a lesson or two about suspense from John Carpenter.

Silence of the Lambs - this one is not only psychologically thrilling, but just an overall cinematic masterpiece. If I've watched this one once, I've watched it several dozen times Clarise.

Tenebre or Suspiria - you can't talk scary without listing at least one flick from the Italian master of horror Dario Argento, who has made enough movies to keep you busy for awhile. Campy and grotesque, and I love every minute of them. In this case, I couldn't decide between the two so I listed both.

The Blair Witch Project - this film got alot of positive and negative hype, but you just can't take anything away from a movie that works on your own overactive imagination. It is hard to get this one out of your head, even after you have turned it off and tried to go to sleep.

I suppose I should stop, huh? I could probably list ten more, but I'd lose you at that point. I find that most people either love scary movies, or cannot watch them at all. Which camp are you in? Anybody up for a horror marathon?

Spotlight on Karin Slaughter, author of Undone

As part of her blog tour, I am excited to introduce you to Karin Slaughter, author of nine international mystery bestsellers, as well as a number of short stories. Her latest release is titled "Undone", which I received via Jaime at Pump Up Your Book Promotions, and will review tomorrow. But for now, I wanted to share a few tidbits of information I gathered from her official website.

Karin is a long-time resident of Georgia and specifically Atlanta, which you find to be the general location of her stories. She maintains two book series, all of them in the mystery/thriller genre with focus on crimes upon women. This lady is not afraid to shed a little blood, and is known for a healthy amount of violence in her books. In her latest novel, "Undone", she has dovetailed two of her series, allowing two of her worlds to collide so to speak. I can imagine this was a unique writing introducing two of your best friends that didn't know each other! But more on that tomorrow...

Karin describes herself as "run off into the mountains and write until I collapse" kind of author. Although there is no structure in this, it has worked for her so far, so she continues to follow it as her m.o. She is a mystery/thriller fan herself, listing some of her favorites to be Kate Atkinson, Sarah Waters (Fingersmith is her favorite), Lee Child, Kathryn Harrison, Mo Hayder, and Fidelis Morgan, to name a few. She and I could share bookshelves, it would seem!

In my perusal of Ms. Slaughter's website, however, I found a buried treasure. Apparently, not only is she a fan of Lee Child (of the Jack Reacher series), she is also a friendly acquaintance of the man. She has included a dialogue, compiled from a number of back-and-forth e-mails, between herself and Child, talking about "stuff"...crazy fans, how they started their writing careers, the use of cuss words in their books...both authors at their best! The Jack Reacher series is one of my all-time favorites, so reading this banter, which was insightful and wildly entertaining, was a special treat!

Now that you know a little about the lady behind the name, I hope you join me tomorrow when I fill you in on my wild ride of reading "Undone". See you then!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Best of...Craig Lopus's Top Red Wines

Last week, I featured my friend Craig's top 12 books of all time. In the process of introducing him, I mentioned that he quit Corporate America a few years ago and started his own wine store, called Tim's Wine Market in Windermere FL. As Craig would tell you, he and I had numerous ponderings on what he should do when he grows up, and in my mind, he was born for one sell wine. I have never known anyone more passionate and excitable over that liquid nectar (even me). Anyway, I digress. As a result of my post last week, several commenters mentioned that they would greatly benefit from a top 10 list of reds and whites, all reasonably priced, thank you. And my friend has risen to the challenge yet again! Just a slight diversion from reading, I hope you won't mind (although might I suggest a nice glass of pinot while reading this evening?). This week, we are featuring the reds:

Hob Nob, Pinot Noir (France) $11

Mark West, Pinot Noir (California) $10

Tierra de Luna, Syrah and Malbec (Argentina) $8

Altos Las Hormigas, Malbec (Argentina) $11

Layer Cake, Malbed (Argentina) $16

Avalon, Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa) $15

Dante, Cabernet Sauvignon (California) $10

Arnold Palmer, Cabernet Cauvignon (Napa) $12

Lady in Red, Red Blend (Washington State) $12

Hey Mambo, Red Blend (California) $11

Come back next Sunday for Craig's top whites!