Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - True Grit

Today's Monday Movie Meme from The Bumbles is all about the documentaries you would like to see made. Personally, docs are one of my favorite movie genres. I mean, a good director can make anything interesting, and you might even learn something too.

But come up with some doc ideas of my own? Haven't they basically all been made in one form or another? (Puts head in hands) You guys are killing me!!! This is a Monday morning! After a week off! OK, fine. Here are some ideas, but I'm not promising they are original!!

The hidden lives of the homeless: I think the homeless could use a little extra empathy. Some of them are scammers and some aren't. How do we know the difference? What about the personal stories of successfully employed workers who fell on hard times or got a mental illness? How can we help?

Cat stories: When I let Casper out in the morning, and he comes back at night all dirty, with burs in his coat and a wound on his tail, I always wonder what the hell he has been up to all day. How cool would it be to follow him around with a camera, or even attach a camera to him. Take it one step further and imagine his twisted internal thoughts. I haz can cheezburger?

Hoarders: Every now and again, I run across that reality show where they try to help hoarders overcome their sickness. I am totaly fascinated with these people, and in a selfish way, it makes me feel better about my messy house! Why not a full-length film? I bet there is plenty of material out there.

Biography of Viggo Mortensen: I'm just saying.

I bet some of you smarties out there probably even know of docs that have been made on these topics. A creative genius I am not. What about you? Any topics you'd like to see covered?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Salon: Diet time and a Shelf Discovery Rampage

Good morning Sunday Saloners! What a week it has been! The kids were home with me all week, so they demanded some entertainment (beyond house cleaning and Rock Band Beatles!). As a result, we saw New Moon (for my daughter and myself primarily...Taylor Lautner's pecs definitely put me firmly in Camp Jacob), 2012 (totally insane special effects, to the point where I laughed insanely throughout) and Fantastic Mr. Fox (a clever delight). Needless to say, I got little exercising done this week. Only 9 miles, thanks to my elliptical trainer, bringing me to a total of 120 miles. After my Thanksgiving feast, my rear end desperately needs to be back on the walking regimen. Speaking of feasts, here are some photos of the culprits of Sandy's big butt:

Cranberry relish, ala Dawn. This stuff is nearly sinful. Let's just say it will be served at Christmas as well.

Maple roasted turkey with sage butter, and just a few pieces of thick-sliced bacon on top.

Homemade macaroni and many cheeses. Ooey and gooey.

Three berry pie, converted to four berry pie because of some extra blackberries. Great with Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream.

One of the big highlights of the week was Friday. No, not because all of our favorite shopping establishments were open at 4am! Because I got three book packages in the mail. One from James (C.B. James), one from my secret santa of the Holiday Book Swap, and the recent release from Connie May Fowler from the goddess herself. See my ecstatic post here.

I'm happy to announce that to curtail stress and fighting in the Nawrot household, all Christmas cards have been completed and mailed the day after Thanksgiving. And the tree is up. Shopping, however, has yet to be completed. I refuse to get into fisticuffs to secure a parking spot. I will make my first attempt on Monday...

From a bookish perspective, I continue (very slowly) on Dennis LaHane's audio "The Given Day". I'll blame it on lack of personal space. BUT, we did finish "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"! Now we are quickly moving onto "Catching Fire" on audio, which we have been patiently awaiting for months on the library reserve list. With regard to my printed books, I've been working my way through my list for the Shelf Discovery Challenge. I have officially proclaimed December to be my Shelf Discovery Challenge Rampage Month.

I will attempt to review all 10 books that I have listed for this challenge in the month of December. So far, I've read six, and just need to get to the last four before the end of the month. So far, this has been a total blast. I'm finding it fascinating to read my favorites from my middle and high school years, and comparing it to my impressions back then. So stay tuned, here they come!

Hope you all have a relaxing and unstressful Sunday...a tall order for this time of year. What are you all up to on this fine day?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

One Kool, Kreative Blogger!

Recently, I was awarded with the Kreativ Blogger award from Catherine at Words World and Wings. Catherine and I hooked up recently as a result of our participation in the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge, and I've really enjoyed reading her blog. She is a Children's Librarian who reviews books appropriate for babies through young adults. She mentions something about grandchildren, but honestly from her profile picture, she looks like she is about 16! Everyone should go check her out!

So now for my part. Kreativ with a K and no E, huh? Not sure about all that, but I thought long and hard about the bloggers I follow who are creative, and I came up with a long list. But I would like to introduce you to one, who, if you haven't met, will make your head spin. I came across her blog during BBAW, and have followed ever since. With every post, I sit reading, with my mouth hanging open, in sort of a trance. Where does she get her insane, manic energy? Is she like this in real life? (Her profile says she is.) And the wit! She leaves me baffled and confused, and highly entertained. Everyone, please meet Raych at Books I Done Read. I don't think she "does" awards, so I'm not expecting her to pass it on, but would not be a good friend if I didn't make sure you'd experienced her at least once.

And with that little bit of gush, may I leave you with the most creative video I could think of. My dear beloved Peter Gabriel got into the fruit one day and this is what happened.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Bountiful Friday!

It is Black Friday, and I have no intention of getting anywhere near a shopping mall. My plans today were to drop my daughter off at a friend's, then clean my house (my son is thrilled). I just happened to stop by my mailbox on my way out, and I found it FULL of stuff. A few bills, some flyers, but most importantly, three books. Normally I don't participate in mailbox memes, but people, I just couldn't help myself. Here is what I received:

From my friend C.B. James @ Ready When You Are, C.B. sent me his copy of "The Drinker" by Hans Fallada, which he recently reviewed. We both read and loved Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone (my review here and his review here), and he graciously offered me this book as a result. James you are the absolute best.

Then! I opened this package and found an advanced copy of Connie May Fowler's "How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly", sent by Connie herself with a little note asking about a possible guest post. OMG!!!!! I had seen Kathy @ Bermuda Onion mention receiving this earlier this week, and I about lost my mind. I wanted a copy of this book so bad, but I knew that Connie had promised me a copy and I just had to be patient. Have I told you lately how much I love Connie May Fowler? Not in a week or two?

And the goodies just kept coming. I had a mysterious Amazon package in the pile, and it was from my secret santa from the holiday book swap, Trisha @ Eclectic-Eccentric. Taking the lead from my wish list on Amazon, she sent me Stone's Fall by Iain Pears, a highly recommended book from Jackie @ Farm Lane Books (her review is here). In addition, Trisha sent me a beautiful bookmark that says "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step", and a set of 8 magnetic page markers that are marked with "Dream", "Love", "Laugh" and "Energy". Thank you so much Trisha!!!

So my big question is the hell am I am going to settle myself down enough to clean my house?

Run at Destruction: A True Fatal Love Triangle - Lynda Drews

"Truth is stranger than fiction." Those famous words from Mark Twain have been a driving force in my reading life for at least the last decade. Somewhere along the line, I discovered Ann Rule, a widely-known true crime author, and never looked back. I became addicted to these types of stories...the personality disorders, the trail of evidence, the deceptions, the trials, the victims. I literally have read hundreds of these stories. I think somewhere deep down in my psyche, I thought that if I learned the signs of sociopathic personality, I might have a better chance of avoiding them! Where am I going with all of this? Well, recently I was offered the chance to review this book and I jumped at it. While I have diversified my reading selections since I started blogging, this is one of my favorite genres.

The author, Lynda Drews, has an interesting tale to tell. Her and her husband, Green Bay, WI natives, have been avid runners and marathoners most of their adult lives. The running community in Green Bay is a tight-knit bunch...they run together, they party together, they are each others' support systems and are all good friends. On April 7, 1984, however, this world imploded for Lynda. Her best friend, Pam Bulik, was found drowned in her bathtub, presumably of suicide. Soon, after the facts begin to emerge, Lynda, the rest of her group, and the police know this was no suicide. They all believe Pam was murdered by her husband Bob.

The Buliks' lives are unspooled before us. From Lynda's own knowledge, police interviews and crime scene details, we learn about the deterioration of the Bulik marriage. Of Bob's long-term affair with a fellow school-teacher, which becomes the primary motive. Of a mysterious attack on Pam nine months earlier, which was never solved. Of Pam's fear that Bob was drugging her, her depression, and fight to lift herself out of the quagmire. Of Bob's convoluted and lame explanation for what happened on April 7th. Lynda provides the history, the evidence, the trial, the verdict, the aftermath, and Lynda's involvement in process, from a point of view that is as street-level as it gets.

Throughout the book, you get such a sense of Lynda's raw devastation from the loss of her friend and the senselessness of the crime. This book is truly a labor of love, and a tribute to Pam's memory. But most impressive is her ability to also step away from her emotion and present the facts, and look at the case from different angles. I suppose time allows her a bit of this control, but from where I sat, I was ENRAGED. At one point, while my husband was playing with his iPhone and I was in my chair reading, I caused him to start when I exploded "ARGH, damn I hope they fry this guy!". I was highly disturbed that the legal system prevented the inclusion of certain, very important facts in the trial. I was disturbed by Bob's cocksure attitude and pathological lying. All of this adds up to a phenomenal true crime story, matching up nicely against anything else out there.

So how does it all end? Is Bob found guilty or innocent? Where is Bob now? Well, it is public record of course, but you aren't going to hear it from me. You need to read this book for the goods.

I also wanted to mention that this was the book (if you've been following me for the last few weeks and remember my distress) that I left at the park accidentally, and someone stole before I could return to retrieve it. Graciously, Lynda sent me another book, but at that point I had lost a week and had to reschedule the review. I was beginning to worry that I was more trouble than I was worth. So an extra big "thank you" goes out to Jaime at Pump Up Your Books Promotion and to Lynda Drews, who both were very patient and understanding with me!

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thank You

On this day of thanks, I want to reach out to each and every one of you and wish you all the best. I'm thankful for many things in my life, and you are one of them. May God bless you all and your families, and may you have yummy, bountiful food! So, as you all know, when I get mushy, I like to leave videos, and this time is no exception! My gift today is one of my favorite artists, Dido.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Wroclaw #3

This would be the view of the backside of the Ratusz, or the Town Hall, of Wroclaw, that I pictured last week. It is the hub of all activity in the city center.

For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Night Watch - Sarah Waters (audio)

After listening to and loving The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters this summer, I made a dash to the library to find more of her work. Particularly, I wanted to find the audio of Fingersmith, which is supposed to be her Magnum Opus. While they did not carry that audio (and will now require an interlibrary loan!) they did have The Night Watch. It has been locked and loaded on my iPod for months, and I've just now gotten around to it.

The book starts out post WWII in London, when everything is dark, shabby and in a state of disrepair and rubble. We are introduced to a cast of characters that are loosely related...sort of a six degrees of separation type of thing. There is Viv and Helen, two ladies in their early 30's working for a matchmaking service. Viv is in a long-term relationship with a married man, and is living a life filled with clandestine meetings. Helen is in a relationship with Julia, a writer, and suffers from a lack of confidence in her ability to maintain Julia's interest and affection. Kay is a lonely, masculine woman who wanders the streets aimlessly and listlessly, and who was once involved with both Julia and Helen. Duncan, Viv's "fey-looking" brother, lives a sheltered life with a creepy "uncle", and frequently experiences anxiety issues stemming back to his life in prison during the war, and the death of his best friend. Instantly the reader's mind is filled with questions. What on earth got them to this point? Everything is grey, blanketed with ugliness from the war, an atmosphere you can feel in your bones.

Chronologically, we then turn the clock back to the heat of the battle, in the dead center of WWII in 1944. How does Helen meet Julia? And what of her relationship with Kay? Why is Duncan so damaged, and why was he in prison? How did Viv meet her married lover? The scenes are almost surreal, with the details of lives unfolding while bombs and buildings fall around them, endangering themselves every time they step out of the house. The war forces circumstances upon all of them, as they all try desperately to grab hold of a shred of normalcy and happiness.

Turn back the clock one more time, to 1941. It is here that we get the answers to our questions about the inception of our characters' relationships and their fatal flaws. It is an interesting way to build tension in a novel, to back into the story, from end to beginning. You don't see if often, but when you do, it is brilliant.

This is a highly character-driven novel. While there is action and chaos in the war happening around them, and the setting is highly atmospheric, the characters' lives themselves are outlined in slow detailed conversations, fractured and damaged psyches, and internal struggles. It is a dark, troubling story with personalities that are so well-developed, personalities that are so real, you feel you know each and every one of them as you would a good friend.

Amidst the experience of listening to The Night Watch, I kept asking myself the question "What is the damn plot????" and "What is the point???". I intentionally avoided reading any synopsis of the book, so I felt I was tromping around blind, waiting for something to happen. But the more time I spent with Helen, Kay, Julia, Duncan and Viv, the more I became invested in their welfare. It took me a week just to mull over the story after I'd finished before attempting a review, and found that I became more and more fond of it as time passed. I'm starting to think that Waters has this effect...she works on your subconscious. And of course her prose is a delight. It flows easily, it is highly descriptive, and is beautiful.

While the presence of lesbianism is subtle in The Little Stranger, in this book it is overt. In fact, it becomes a common theme (i.e. frustration in suppressing their real selves and their relationships in public). And while it is overt, it isn't ever preachy or uncomfortable. Waters actually approaches it in a very natural way and is not distracting whatsoever.

One word about the narrator, Juanita McMahon. Phenomenal. She rates up there with the best of the best. She is not only reading her script, she is ACTING. She is adding emotion, a tremulous voice, a flirtatious lilt, hesitations, inflections, attitude, fear, joy, you name it. It was if there was a little movie going on in my head.

My best advice is that if you like Waters, give The Night Watch a try. You may have to tell yourself to stick with it. There were times I felt I was force-feeding myself, which is a fairly easy thing to do with audio. At the end of the day, however, Waters worked her magic on me.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Movie Meme - We Are the Champions

Today's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about The Victory. Apparently Molly attended the football game yesterday between the New York Jets and the Patriots, and decided to revel in the win just a little more by giving us this theme. What if I'm not happy about the Patriots' win? What if Brady makes me sick to my stomach? OK, well, I'll play along THIS TIME because I like Molly.

I struggled quite a bit on this one, and I'm not sure why. A few come instantly to mind, but then I hit a wall. There has to be 4,260 movies out there about defying the odds, going up against the favorite as the underdog and winning (which is really not what happened at that game this weekend!), but I'll be damned if I can remember them. Either that, or the predictability irritated me and I pushed the flick out of my mind. Anyway, here is my best at 5:49am:

Hoosiers - Of course I'm going to mention this one. I AM a Hoosier after all. And this movie makes me cry every time, right at the end. No movie has better captured the pure religion of high school ball in my home state. And even better, it is based on a true story about a small town team of skinny little kids going head-to-head against a school ten times their size to win the state championship.

Breaking Away - And speaking of Indiana, here is another one that we felt did justice to a local passion and event. Four kids, a rag-tag group out of high school but doing nothing with their lives, deemed "the Cutters", participate in the "Little 500" bicycle race at Indiana University against the slick college boys. And win. This one will leave you hootin' and hollerin' at the screen. It's wonderful.

Miracle - The Bumbles listed this one too, but I couldn't NOT list it. This was one of the biggest underdog stories ever. You know you will always remember where you were when you learned that Lennon was shot, or Kennedy was shot? Well, I remember where I was when I learned that the US Hockey team beat the Russians in the Olympics. (At a high school basketball game...they literally stopped the entire game to announce it. The entire gym stood up and sang the Star Spangled Banner.)

The Verdict - A down-and-out lawyer (Paul Newman) fights for the little guy and battles against the team of corporate lawyers and the Archdiocese, and wins big. Nobody does it quite like Newman.

Seabiscuit - It isn't often that you can say a racehorse pulled a nation, troubled by the Great Depression, out of its miseries and gave them hope. This movie can pull you out of your miseries too, with the help of the much-adored Tobey Maguire and Chris Cooper, and a horse that had the desire to win.

Babe - I do so love pigs. How can you not love this little guy, who wants to keep himself off the Thanksgiving table and become a sheepdog (sheep pig?). He uses his good looks (with his cute little toupee-looking fluff on top of his head) and his good manners to win a sheep herding tournament. I dare you not to be charmed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Salon: The Calm Before the Storm

Good morning friends! Hope you are all having a peaceful Sunday. I've enjoyed what will probably be the last normal week for awhile. I always find that once Thanksgiving hits, everything kicks into high gear...decorating, shopping, parties, Christmas much unadulterated fun that a body can barely take it all in!

I had warm and sunny weather to help me break the hundred mile mark in my 100 Mile Fitness Challenge. I hit 15 miles this week, which brought me to 111 miles overall. During any other time of year, I think I could go on to hit 200 miles by the end of the challenge, but with the kids home next week, and all that raucous fun that I was talking about, I think I'll keep my sights on 150. Feeling pretty good about it however!

A little update on the stinky dead raccoon (apologies to my Facebook friends who already heard this). Right after my husband left for a business trip this week (of course), I came home to find that said raccoon had been extricated from its hiding space by another animal (cat? dog? vulture?) and was strewn across my driveway. After I'd screamed a bit, I realized the problem could no longer be ignored. Let's just suffice it to say that this was a seriously UGLY mess. I had to man up, poured bleach on the worst part of it to remove the smell and the blowflies, and fling it all over the fence into the vacant lot with my shovel. I proceeded to call my husband and inform him that I deserved a present, then spent the rest of the day nauseated. By the way, he did bring me a book (The Monster of Florence), so I was somewhat mollified.

I've been slowly planning my Thanksgiving feast. It will only be the four of us, so it isn't quite the event that it might be were my parents here or if we had friends coming over, but nevertheless a feast it must be. So far, I know that I'll be making my Maple-Glazed Turkey with Sage Butter, my homemade macaroni and cheese (because my kids don't like potatoes), Dawn's Chunky Cranberry Relish, traditional Polish apple carrot salad, and a three berry pie. It's a good start!

I had a very productive reading week. I finished The House at Riverton on audio, which I enjoyed and reviewed this week. I also listened to a WWII memoir called Let Me Go by Helga Schneider (recommended by Melissa at Shhh...I'm Reading) which rattled me. That review will be coming sometime in December. I then started the 20 disc Dennis LaHane book called The Given Day. It is starting out a little dry for me, but I'm going to roll with it for awhile, give it a chance. The kids and I are STILL listening to the Goblet of Fire, with only about four discs left. Hopefully we'll knock this one out this coming week. I continued to get a good start on my Shelf Discovery Challenge books that I will review in December, and read Then Again, Maybe I Won't and Forever by Judy Blume. Then I received another copy of Run At Destruction by Lynda Drews in the mail (this was the ARC I lost!) and I'm diving in to try to get it finished and reviewed by next Friday.

Hope you all have a blessed Thanksgiving, and for those of you that are participating in the Thankfully Reading Weekend, have fun!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

You Lift Me Up!

I was recently awarded this amazing "Uplifting Blogger Award" from Carolyn at Book Chick City. Carolyn is the source of more than a few of my awards, and I am ever so grateful and thankful that I've had the pleasure of interacting with her online. You would never know she just started her blog in July. She has a professionally designed site with content to match. Author interviews, giveaways and excellent reviews were a part of her blog from the get-go. If you haven't met Carolyn, go take a look. You'll want to be a part of her daily energy and passion!

So, who in the world would not want to be handed an award such as this? The thought of my blog uplifting someone's day is not only bewildering to me, it makes my drivel seem worth it, you know? Of all the blogs I follow, they each add different elements to my day. Friendship, support, laughter, serious book reviews, and fun. I gave some thought to those blogs that uplift me - even before I open their post, I know this is what I'm going to get. So without further ado, here are the blogs that consistently pull me out of my doldrums. I've added a song at the end of the post that blows me away every time I hear it. Give it a listen perhaps:

Susan @ Bear Swamp Reflections: For her loving, gentle spirit, her joy in the outdoors, cooking and her grandchildren

Ti @ Book Chatter: For her positive attitude that shines through every post, and her regular feature in which she confesses her sins

ds @ Third-Storey Window: For her thoughtful concern and interest in all her followers, and her poetry, which always comes at the most perfect time

Alice @ Hello My Name is Alice: For her absolutely STUNNING photography and sweet nature

Amy @ The House of Seven Tails: For her friendly demeanor and her adorable cats

Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Israel Kamakawiwoole

Friday, November 20, 2009

100 Mile Fitness Challenge Update: November 13 - 19

Happy Friday, my friends! It is time for my weekly update on the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge. When we last spoke I was precariously perched four miles short of the 100. With the help of some great weather, and my routine intact, I broke through the tape (the first tape at least). I walked 15 miles, bringing my total to 111.

I intend to continue pursuing the challenge, with the hope of at least hitting 150 miles. I had hoped to even maybe hit 200, but I'm not sure if that is feasible. Here will be my challenges:

Next week, my kids are home, so I won't be able to take off on my five mile walks. I will most likely be relying on my elliptical trainer in the early mornings. After Thanksgiving, I go into high gear with, decorating, parties. This will be a diversion that will be hard to avoid. At the very least, I'm thinking that I will wear my pedometer, and do some mall-walking along with my shopping errands.

Make sure you stop by Trish's to give her your update! How are you doing with this challenge? Any tips you'd like to share to get us all through the holidays?

Laura Rider's Masterpiece - Jane Hamilton

I've had this book on my shelf for several months, which I won as a giveaway from Frances @ Nonsuch Book. Thanks Frances! I selected it for my next Random Reading Challenge book, and took it with me on my cruise with my girlfriends. It was short (only 215 pages) and was described as a "full-blown comedy". It seemed the perfect match for what would be my state of mind on the trip.

Laura and Charlie Rider have been married for 12 years, and own a successful landscape business in a small town in Wisconsin. Charlie is an eccentric but lovable free-spirit. Laura has grown a little bored with the marriage, and has decided she is done with sex. She has also always wanted to write a romance novel, despite the fact that she denies any romance in her real life, reads infrequently, and hasn't written anything more complicated than her monthly landscaping newsletter. She believes so much in her skill and originality that she feels she can transcend the stereotypical romance, and will cause the clouds to part when she unlocks the secret of what Every Woman wants in a man.

Every Woman just happens to come in the form of Jenna Faroli, a local celebrity who broadcasts a nationally-recognized radio show. Laura has always had a fixation on Jenna - idol worship from afar. When Jenna and Charlie Rider just happen to bump into each other and exchange e-mails, Laura sees her opportunity. Posing as her husband, Laura begins an online correspondence with Jenna, luring her into a flirtatious relationship. A mental menage-a-trois if you will. Soon, as part of her "research project", Laura encourages Charlie to meet with Jenna:

Studying Jenna was the goal. She must keep in mind that if Jenna, the most superior kind of woman, could love Charlie, then Every Woman was capable of loving him, and Laura would understand the universal female. Laura must always keep her eye on that prize.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to predict the outcome of Laura's idiotic plan, but Hamilton kicks it up a notch with a twist leaving you shaking your head saying "oh she DID NOT just do that!". The characters are amazingly vivid and real for such a short book, and the plot is clever.

I can't say I found the story all that comedic however. It did have some great moments, but to describe the book as a full-blown comedy is overstating things in my opinion. My reaction at the end of the book was to sit there and gape for a moment, then throw it. My opinion of Laura Rider was rather benign at the beginning of the story, but by the end had firmly declared her to be a despicable, conniving, narcissistic dumbass. Yes, I felt that strongly. Is that a sign of a great book? Probably. I love to hate characters, but I just couldn't get past it here.

I probably need to do a little meditating to figure out why, for example, I find an evil character like Fumero in Shadow of the Wind thrilling, but can't even think about Laura Rider without wanting to slap someone. (I promise not to take it out on my cats or kids or pig.) Perhaps it is because her character is completely oblivious to what she has done.

I did find this video on YouTube of an interview with Jane, and it really is quite endearing. I like her alot, and she gives a little insight to what inspired this book (cosmic karma at work...she was on a cruise ship!).

3.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mating Rituals of the North American WASP - Lauren Lipton

"Sometimes what happens in Vegas...follows you home". Killer blurb on the back of the book. I mean, how can you resist? I've had this book sitting on my shelves for probably a good six to eight months, and recently picked it randomly to read for my Random Reading Challenge. I took it with me on my girls' cruise getaway, and it was just what the doctor ordered. No Nazi crimes, no serial murderers, no ghosts. Just pure romantic fun.

What we have here is a very predictable, but very sweet fairy tale of sorts. The type of story you can totally see as a rompish flick starring Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kucher, perhaps? Although I generally loathe predictable, it was OK in this scenario.

Peggy Adams, a successful New York businesswoman, goes to Vegas to celebrate a friend's upcoming nuptials, gets tanked, and wakes up in bed with a strange (handsome) man. Never mind that Peggy is living with a good-looking guy, who just happens to be terrified of commitment. She does a quick walk of shame back to her room, boards a plane home, and tries to forget her indiscretion. Except that she soon gets a call from the strange man, named Luke Sedgewick of the Connecticut Sedgewicks, informing her that they actually got married on the night of their Vegas drinking spree. Oops. Darned tequila will do it every time.

Before Luke and Peggy can quickly arrange a annulment, Luke's old, eccentric great-aunt Abigail gets involved. The old-money Sedgewick name ends at Luke, you see. Aunt Abigail offers the family estate and fortune to Luke and Peggy if they stay married for a year. An inconvenience to say the least, but Peggy and Luke can't ignore the financial possibilities, and decide to give it a go. There are the usual obstacles (how to inform the live-in boyfriend, or the hot tamale girlfriend, or the parents, how to pretend to be in love before Abigail's stuffy, small New England community). It is easy to ride the wave that you can see coming a mile away. There are a few side plots to spice things up...a friend going through in vitro, the ex-boyfriend that won't go away, a hidden treasure, etc. It is a nice, pleasurable fantasy, if you are looking for one.

Give this one a try when your mind needs a tall glass of a strawberry dacqueri. You'll feel refreshed and ready for another dose of seriousness.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The House at Riverton - Kate Morton (audio)

This is one of those audios I'd had on my iPod forever. I'd become intrigued with the general premise (gothic mansion, family secrets, plot twists) from Jackie @ Farm Lane Books. Still, I'd been putting it off because it was 17 discs long. I'd worked my way through the shorter ones, though, and plunged in.

Grace is a 98-year-old woman who has led a full life. At the age of 14, she became a maid for the Ashbury and Hartford families at Riverton Manor in the early 1900's, and worked for the families in various roles until 1924. She went on to break free of her subservient beginnings by marrying, having a child, and receiving a doctorate in archeology. Her life is turned upside-down, however, when a movie director approaches her to provide input for a movie being made about Riverton. Specifically, the movie revolves around a famous incident that occurred in 1924, when a young poet shot himself on the shores of the manor's lake. Grace just happens to be the last living witness to the event.

Grace agrees, and allows herself to be engulfed in memories. Through flashbacks, she remembers how the family was torn apart by family members' deaths in WWI, and her close relationship with sisters Hannah and Emmeline, who were near in age to Grace. Her love affair with another servant that became strained and confusing after he returned from the war damaged. Jealousy and competition between the sisters. Her questionable parentage. Her loyalty and devotion to Hannah, which came at a high cost. Hannah's loveless marriage. The handsome Robbie Hunter, the poet in question, whose presence threatens everything. And of course, the biggest memory of them all...what really happened on that fateful night.

The story is entirely too long. I'll just get that out on the table. Beyond that, however, I was entertained. There was a significant effort put into the development of the characters, particularly Grace, Hannah and Emmeline. I loved Grace, with her secret obsession with books, her manners and her dedication to her job. Hannah? I could have taken her or left her. I could make no investment in her. I really didn't like Emmeline AT ALL. Got my dander up every time she spoke. She was spoiled, self-centered and annoying. I mark that up to good writing and good narrating.

There were numerous plot twists, and while none of them were too difficult to predict, they were satisfying. Morton slowly and carefully built the story and created an ever-mounting tension that was carried through to the very end. I was so pleased. I think I even might have uttered a huge sigh at the end saying "Ahhhhh! Yes!".

Overall, a lovely, intriguing Edwardian tale of a changing society, war, love, loyalty family and tragedy.

4 out of 5 stars

Wordless Wednesday - Wroclaw #2

This beautiful structure is the heart and soul of the city center of Wroclaw. It is the Town Hall, called the Ratusz, and was originally constructed in the 13th century.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Changing Faces - Kimberla Lawson Roby (KIndle)

"Changing Faces" was the November selection for my book club. I'd never heard of the author, but with a little research it became apparent that Roby was an established author of African-American chick-lit. Author of 13 novels, Roby has received countless awards in the African-American literary community as a result of her very real stories of domestic abuse, addictions, infidelity, racial discrimination, sexual discrimination, and other hot topics. I also knew that another friend of mine in the book club had read the book on her iPod Touch in about a day and a half. I was ready for a fun ride.

The story focuses on three middle-aged black women, all best friends, all with their own issues. Whitney is a plus-sized woman, weighing in at about 250 pounds, that has found professional success in her career as a telecommunications executive, but can't maintain a relationship, presumably because of her weight. Whitney is plagued with doubts and low self-esteem. Taylor is a high-powered attorney who is in a long-term relationship with a commitment-phobe. When Taylor is faced with a potentially life-changing health issue, she's forced to confront some pretty painful realities about her future with this man. Charisse is a nurse with a husband and two children. She is supposedly a very religious woman, but it becomes clear early in the novel she is a hypocrite of the highest order. She has skeletons in the closet, she is spiteful and hateful, and has had a troubled childhood.

The book was incredibly easy to read. Roby's easy, flowing prose makes for a one or two-sitting session. However, there was so much insane, histrionic drama, I found my head hurting about halfway through. Cat fights! Relationships falling apart! Friendships falling apart! Affairs! Lies! Ack! I think I am a pretty sympathetic individual, who easily makes excuses for the tortured soul, but I LOATHED Charisse. There is no way Roby could have made her a more detestable creature. I didn't care that she had a difficult life as a child, I wanted her to be PUNISHED! By her family, by the law, by God, whoever. Cosmic karma be brought down on her head! I did become invested in the other two women, and wanted the best for them. Roby also throws in a couple of curveballs that made this book unpredictable enough to give it an edge. Deep, thoughtful literature this is not, folks, but it was entertaining. When I clicked through to the last page, however, you could have stuck a fork in me. I was done. Plum worn out.

The book club's take:

I'm not sure why exactly, but only three of us showed up for book club this month. Which is pretty pathetic, out of about 15 ladies. I was left wondering why there wasn't a reschedule? We had some discussion about the book - we didn't love it, but liked it well enough. I sensed there may have been a bit more empathy for Charisse that I had personally, based on her torturous childhood, but I think we were in the same ballpark. But with only three of us, the dialogue petered out quickly. Although I will grab any excuse to go out with the ladies and have a glass of wine, I did walk away annoyed. Whoever was supposed to make next month's selection did not show. So our takeaway was: no book for next month, and no meeting date...

3 out of 5 stars