Sunday, January 31, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

This week's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about the highs and lows of an actor's career. I mean, you see a performance worthy of an Oscar, and are mightily impressed. The next year, you think "what the HELL were they thinking? Did they have some gambling debts to pay off?". Here are some actors that have made some questionable choices (trust me, these break my heart as much as it breaks yours):

Robert DeNiro

The Good: The Godfathers, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver
The Bad: Analyze This, Analyze That
The Ugly: The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Dustin Hoffman

The Good: The Graduate, Tootsie, Rain Man
The Bad: Meet the Fockers
The Ugly: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Nicholas Cage

The Good: Adaptation, Leaving Las Vegas, Moonstruck
The Bad: 8MM, Bankok Dangerous
The Ugly: Ghost Rider

Meryl Streep

The Good: Where to start????? Too many
The Bad: She Devil, Death Becomes Her
The Ugly: Before and After

Al Pacino

The Good: The Godfathers, Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface
The Bad: 88 Minutes, Heat
The Ugly: Gigli

Sunday Salon: Engulfed in Chores

Happy Sunday friends! Down here in sunny Florida, we have had some truly gorgeous weather, so yet again, I've been a walking fool this week. I logged in another 25 miles, which took me to a year-to-date total of 104 miles! This exercise, along with the Game On Diet, has seriously helped me with my efforts to lose some weight (13 pounds so far).

So what do I think about the Game On Diet? For someone like me, who was having a good old time eating everything within arm's reach during the holidays, it was like hitting a brick wall. Sometimes drastic situations require drastic measures though, and it kick-started a whole laundry list of healthy behaviors, like drinking water, getting enough sleep, limiting the alcohol, and eating small portions five times a day. If you like vegetables (which I do not!) it is perfect because many of the leafy greens are free foods, which you eat until you turn green. I found the key to Game On success, however, was the support system in which you surround yourself. A enthusiastic set of team members will be there when you slipped up and ate a cookie, or are feeling depressed or weak. I did find the food requirements were very restrictive and I was hungry all the time, but I can't really argue with a 13 pound weight loss. Going forward, I will loosely stick to the rules and continue to work towards my fighting weight (aka the weight that allows me to get into a bathing suit for Hawaii and not embarrass myself!).

In the reading department, I've been moving kinda sloooooow. I started My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier, and am finding it deliciously atmospheric, just like Rebecca, but I never get to just sit down and read lately. And at night, probably because of all the walking I've been doing, I fall fast asleep after a page or two. I was able to finish Andre Agassi's Open this week, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then I started David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed in Flames on audio (narrated by Sedaris). I've never read him before, and am having a ball. This guy is freaking hilarious! Is it me, or is his comedic timing and delivery reminiscent of Sarah Vowell? Anyway, I can't imagine how the written word could be any comparison to listening to this guy deliver his sarcastic, one-liners in his high, whiny voice. He's going to make me bust a gut.
I am preparing myself for what is going to be a chaotic February. We are renovating our master bathroom, and the demolition starts this Tuesday and construction will last for a month. Oooh, fun, I get to share a bathroom with my children! I am starting to get my head around the Spring Scholastic Book Fair in late March, the school has a big Grandparents' event tomorrow, my dad and I are going to start hauling dozens (hundreds?) of bags of mulch from Lowe's for my yard, and a few other yard projects on top of that. Sounds like a drag, but I always feel so darned good about life when I accomplish something!

Hope you all have a restful Sunday. I will be fairly occupied this week, but will make my best attempt at making my rounds!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Read the Book/See the Movie: Fingersmith - Sarah Waters (Kindle)

I've read The Little Stranger and Night Watch, both by Sarah Waters, and was mesmerized. And everyone that has reviewed Fingersmith has been mesmerized. So there were some high expectations involved here, and I was a little nervous. Not to worry, however. From the moment I sat down to read Fingersmith, I was dumbstruck. I was infatuated. I was stunned. The intrigue! The plot twists! The writing! The Victorian atmosphere! I needed resuscitated when I was finished.

Nymeth (Things Mean Alot) says that the first rule of The Fingersmith Club is that you shan't talk about it. And I understand why, I do. It is a house of mirrors. But I at least need to say enough to lure people to read it. So I shall be brief.

Susan Trinder has been raised her entire life in Victorian London by a ragtag group of thieves assimilating a dysfunctional family. One day, a thief acquaintance arrives at their door, proposing a scheme. He and Susan will befriend a young heiress, Maud Lilly (Susan will become her maid, he will become her boyfriend). He will marry Maud, and they will make off with her money, and commit her to an insane asylum. But as they will, things don't go quite as planned. And there I will stop. Have I protected the goods? I think so.

Waters is a master. She could make tax code interesting with her brilliant storytelling and her compelling prose. This story is riveting and beautiful and haunting. It made such an impact on me, I couldn't walk away from it just yet. I had to see the movie, a BBC production.


The movie was a BBC production, with a running time of 3 hours. Most of the actors are unknown, with two exceptions. Mrs. Sucksby is played by Imelda Staunton, who is delightful as always. Susan is played by Sally Hawkins, a British actress best known for her lead role in Happy-Go-Lucky. The casting, based on my mind's eye, worked well (Susan could have been just a wee bit cuter, but there you go. She had a rough life, after all.) The writers of the screenplay and director are obviously Waters admirers, as the production is very true to the story...there was no embellishment for the sake of a thrill. The sets were magnificent, depicting the beauty of the gothic Briar estate, and the squalor of inner city London.

Did I like it? I did, immensely! However, if you've read anything by Waters, you know the beauty of her story lies within the words and the writing. I'm not sure any movie ever adapted from a Waters novel could ever quite have the same...essence. If you are a fan of the story, though, you won't be sorry.

Book: 5 out of 5 stars
Movie: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Liar's Club - Mary Karr (audio)

Memoirs can be a dicey business. It has almost become standard fare these days to find yourself slogging through tales of childhood abuse, molestation, alcoholism, and drug addiction...some true stories, and some fabricated. And for anyone who has read The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, the standard has been set for tell-all excellence. Mary Karr's name kept coming up though, and eventually I couldn't ignore it. Her latest release "Lit" was ranked as one of the top non-fiction books in 2009 by Entertainment Weekly. I soon learned that it was the third in a loosely-formed trilogy about the author's life. "The Liar's Club" focuses on Mary's childhood, "Cherry" on her adolescence, and "Lit" on her adult life. Far be it for me to read things out of order, so I ordered the first book on audio from the library.

There really are no surprises here - it is your garden variety dysfunction. Mary recounts her life, spent growing up in Texas with a brief stint in Colorado. Her parents both drink and fight, her mother just a few cards short of a full deck and prone to bouts of depression and psychosis. She fondly remembers her hapless, doting father spending countless hours at the lodge with a group of other petroleum factory workers, deemed The Liar's Club, drinking and telling tall tales, often with Mary in tow. When Mary's bad-natured grandmother is diagnosed with cancer and comes to live with them, the tide turns for the worse, which ultimately results in the equivalent of an implosion in the Karr family.

Mary also finds herself battling against a lifetime supply of unanswered questions regarding her mother's behavior, actions and secrets, always imagining that she was to blame somehow. I found it to be rewarding to witness Mary's eventual reconciliation with some of the demons which drug her down paths already traveled by her parents.

Mary uses level-headed, slightly dry-humored southern prose to lay out her life before her readers. Whether she is telling about being raped by a neighbor boy when she was 7, molested by a babysitter at 8, witnessing her mother making a bonfire out of family possessions, or digging food stamps out of the garbage in order to redeem them for a gift for her father, she never permits despair or martyrdom to consume her. She reports it all as matter-of-fact, with a touch of sardonic humor. Her voice is incredibly entertaining.

But compare this to The Glass Castle I must. While The Glass Castle inspired outrage as a reaction to the behaviour of Jeanette Walls' parents, I wasn't nearly as emotional with this memoir. The Liar's Club never found itself wallowing in self-pity, but there wasn't quite the wisp of hope I would've liked to see either. I guess understandably, Mary has two more books of crappy life experiences to share before she hoists herself out of the quagmire! (Which I will absolutely be reading in the near future.)

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Christmas in Indiana #4

On one of my frozen walks. This is an old cemetary near my parents' house, that has graves dating back to the Civil War.
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When Teachers Talk - Rosalyn S. Schnall

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by Amy at Phenix & Phenix about the opportunity to review "When Teachers Talk". I was intrigued by its premise...that the book uncovers the real reason for the dismal state of the public school systems in America. Our schools are so bad in Orlando, my husband and I have opted to enroll our children in a private school. There are hundreds of theories on the underlying issues, and I was interested to hear another.

Schnall's claim is that the primary reason for the decline in public schools is abusive principals. She has interviewed 500 teachers, primarily from the Chicago area, and has transcribed these interviews, word for word, without edits, placing the topics in various categories...teacher's health affected, teacher attrition, unbelievable abuses, etc. This is dense information - over 500 pages worth. Pages and pages of teachers, varying in tenure, having their day in court, so to speak. Tales of power-hungry principals, asking teachers to falsify answers on standardized tests, covering up crimes that occur within the school walls, destroying teachers' classroom projects, and demeaning the teachers in front of other staff and students. As a result, children are not receiving quality schooling because of these distractions.

I experienced several different emotions while reading this book. First, I would like to validate the book's message. Yes there are issues here - ones we've all heard about in the news. The danger of standardized testing and linking principal compensation and school grants with the results of these tests. The absence of checks and balances. Poorly compensated teachers. The list goes on.

I believe, however, it is an over-simplification to blame it all on the bad boss. Because let's face it. There are bad bosses out there. In corporate America, where I worked until a handful of years ago, there were 10 bad bosses to 1 good one. Bosses that asked you to do things that were not only uncomfortable, but sometimes downright illegal. Bosses that were high on a power trip. Bosses that demeaned you in front of others, spread rumors, harassed, maligned and bullied. If you ever ask me why I quit my job, I'll give you an earful. It is not unique to the school systems, it is everywhere. This, folks, is the human condition. The unfortunate consequences of this condition, as it applies to schools, however, is that it does affect our children.

The book is chock-full of horror stories, but stories that are fraught with spelling and grammatical errors. Ones that often are not clearly-defined, but rantings and ravings of people on the edge. It is pretty intense, and must be read in small doses.

Missing from the interviews are the students and the principals' perspectives. There are always two sides to a story. How can one really get to crux of the complaints without it? How do we know if the teachers were meeting performance expectations, had attitude problems, or if they were exaggerating? I had plenty of experience with problem employees, ones that did not perform, made repeated errors, and led what I liked to call the "bad attitude club". If you would have interviewed them at any given point, you would have thought I was the Wicked Witch of the West, if I were not allowed to offer my side of the story.

I'm not saying that I don't believe the teachers' stories. But I think to provide validity to the argument, we need to hear from everyone.

Schnall has collected a tremendous amount of data that would serve well on a larger study. There is obviously a pervasive issue here, and we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. After reading this book, I discussed it with my husband and had hours of compelling discussion on the topic. There are no easy answers, but I applaud the author for this monumental undertaking.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Beyond the Screen

Today's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about how you nurture your inner movie buff and keep the memories alive. It's really not about just sitting and watching a film anymore...there is a whole social and technological aspect that comes into play. Here are some of the tools we use in the Nawrot household to fully appreciate everything the silver screen has to offer:

1. Netflix - not only is this the way we watch 95% of all movies, but is also an excellent tool to keep track of everything you've seen, and everything you want to see, your ratings, your comments, and recommendations to your friends. It is like another social network.

2. IMdb - there is not a Monday Movie Meme that goes by where I don't tap into this source at least a half dozen times. Generally if you Google anything pertaining Boldto a movie, this website will be at the top of the search list. Love a movie but can't remember the actors' names? Want to know everything that an actor has ever done? Want a plot synopsis? Look no further. Who needs a good memory when you have IMdb.

3. Read the Book/See the Movie - yes, I happened to use the title of a reading challenge out there (hosted by James @ Ready When You Are, C.B.), but long before that, I've always felt that reading a book, then watching the movie adaptation brings a whole different appreciation for the film. Sometimes the whole essence of the plot is changed from Point A to Point B, and other times the translation is so perfect that the experience is completely three-dimensional.

4. Movie sharing - for those films we love and want to watch over and over, we will buy the movie. This is a frequent occurrence with the kids - only a kid can watch Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings 30 times in a row and not get tired of it! For my husband and I, we seem to have alot of WWII movies in our library. What makes for interesting and spirited dinner party conversation is when you have shared these movies with your friends - sort of like an informal movie club. A couple of my husband's colleagues are WWII movie addicts like us, and it always seems like there is an outstanding loan amongst us.

5. Educate the kids - as our kids get older, nothing has given us more pleasure than sharing the classics with them. The Sound of Music, Rocky, Ferris Bueller, Gone with the Wind, Big, you name it. And the cool thing is, they GET it. (The only issue is that some of those older PG movies can be a little dicey - you may get boobs or f-bombs, so we stand by ready to cover eyes or ears!) Some of the most enlightening and philosophical conversations we have had with our kids have been inspired by movies we've shared.

6. My sister's blog - Kathie watches more movies in a week than I do in several months. She is a freelance movie critic for her local paper and for online publications, and she keeps a blog as well. You won't find much chatter about the big releases when you travel in her circles - she specializes in art house films and Asian films. It would be a challenge for me to name a movie she hasn't seen. So when I need a little edg-ma-cation in the film arena, this is where I go.

How do you keep your movie memories alive? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Salon: A Walking Fool

Happy Sunday friends! Well, we started out the week on a great note. A day off from school on MLK day, and the kids and I decided to brave the crowds and do a few rollercoasters at Universal. There is no pick-me-up quite like it! Not only is there a new coaster (where you get to select the music you want blasting into your ears while you ride), but we got to see the progress made on the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which should be opening sometime this spring. We are so excited we can't stand it! We left Universal and went to see The Lovely Bones with my parents. It was a pretty good "don't talk to strangers or weird neighbors" lesson for the kids, and it was cinematically artistic but strayed pretty far from the book. And it completely freaked out my dad. He no likey.

It was another good exercising week. With the exception of one rainy day, the weather was beautiful and I was a walking fool. It's not all that difficult when you have excellent audio books in your ears! I have accumulated almost 80 miles in three weeks, so that 100 mile challenge should be history by the end of next week. This also was the last week of the Game On diet, and trust me folks, I AM READY! I intend to continue many of the rules in order to get down to a bathing suit weight before my trip to Hawaii in early March, but perhaps not with quite as much deprivation. I will publish a wrap-up post once I have final points!

It was a good week for books as well. After finishing "Brooklyn" (which, by the way, held my interest but made me infuriated with the ending!), I picked up the YA book "Life As We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I'd rented it from the library and my daughter had already read it, and she'd been asking me daily to PLEASE hurry up and read it. She needed to talk about it! Now I know why...apocalyptic stories are never easy. I finished that book a couple nights ago and now am trying to finish the YA book "Ghost in the Machine" by Patrick Carman, a sequel to the much-loved "Skeleton Creek". I started reading it to the kids last September, and they really had no interest in it whatsoever. It was like pulling teeth to get them to sit still to listen. Not a good sign for a book. So I'm finishing it by myself and getting it off my kitchen table already.

And as for my ear candy "The Girl Who Played With Fire"? Yeah baby! This is what I'm talking about! Some may not care for the late great Stieg Larsson, but personally, these stories are like crack to me, and are a perfect example of what thrillers should be. I didn't want it to end, and now I have to wait until May to get my hands on the third and final book, which is maddening. It almost sends me into a fit of depression to know that because of Larsson's untimely death, I only have one more adventure with Lisbeth Salander. ANYWAY. I'll move on here. After finishing that audio, I picked up Agassi's memoir "Open" which I am loving immensely.

I'm looking forward to a nice romp on the elliptical here shortly, and a pleasant day of watching my son play football. What's on your agenda today?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins (audio)

The kids and I listened to The Hunger Games this past March on audio, and were completely entranced by this compelling story. It is against this novel that all Young Adult novels shall be judged. In fact, it could stand up to many works of adult fiction as well. It was physically painful then for us to wait for the release of the second installment of the trilogy in September. Throw in a healthy waiting list for the audio at the library, and here we are, in late December, with Catching Fire behind us, banging our heads against the wall, waiting now for book number 3.

I have no idea how one goes about reviewing this book without spoilers. So I guess you won't get much of a synopsis. I'll see how far I can go without crossing the line...

Katniss and Peeta return from the Hunger Games to their home district, presumably to a heroes' welcome and life of luxury. There is some spirited love triangle action going on between Katniss, Peeta and Gayle, as you would expect, but other than that, they are getting settled back into their routines. The government, however, has their knickers in a knot. Sensing district unrest, they are becoming more militaristic, more brutal, more manipulative, than ever before. And they have a few bones to pick with Katniss.

It is with some anticipation that Panem awaits the next round of Hunger Games, which will mark the 75th anniversary. Every 25 years, they hold a special Hunger Games called a Quarter Quell, each with their own sadistic little twists and special rules. What will the government have up their sleeves this time? Let the games begin.

If there is one thing I hate, it is being able to figure out plot twists before they happen. I am pleased to announce that this DID NOT HAPPEN in Catching Fire. In fact, we didn't quite know what hit us. We laughed at the ironies, screamed with our arms upraised at the evil, the twists, the unfairness of it all. Was this book as good as The Hunger Games? Not quite, but almost. The premise is no longer new, and you just can't get that magic back once you've traveled down that path. Still, our expectations were met and exceeded.

Now we are back to Harry Potter. I'm not sure if our little hearts can stand all this excitement!

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Winner of "What I Know: Uncommon Wisdom and Universal Truths from 10-year olds and 100-year olds" - Roger Emerson Fishman

Last Thursday, I reviewed "What I Know: Uncommon Wisdom and Universal Truths from 10-year-olds and 100-year olds" by Roger Emerson Fishman. I am so happy to announce that the winner of this precious book is.....
Kathy @ Bermudaonion!!!
I will contact you shortly for your address!

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami (audio)

Believe it or not, but I still have not read any of the amazing novels by Murakami. Kafka by the Shore and Wind-Up Bird Chronicles still sit on my shelves, intimidating me with their size. But time was ticking down on Bellezza's Japanese Reading Challenge, so in a moment of panic I started browsing my library's audio archives for a Murakami, and came up with this. Initially, I had no idea what I had stumbled upon. Then the clouds parted, and I was enlightened.

What you have before you is a peek inside Murakami's brilliant mind, a memoir of sorts. His life as an author, and the influence running has had on every facet of his author's existence. My first reaction was "Well, great. I used to run, but my knees gave out on me years ago, so I'm not sure how interesting this could be." It was riveting, in fact.

Murakami reflects on the parallels between writing and running...the requirement of endurance, training and practice, the solitary nature of both activities. How both force you, if you want to achieve your potential, to work through the "toxins" to get to the good stuff. Despite Murakami's insane schedule of touring, speaking to groups, and writing his novels that have a cult-like following at this point, he always makes time to run. It is his lifeline.

Murakami shares with us his life before running. He owned a jazz bar, working unhealthy hours, smoking over five packs of cigarettes a day. But one day, he decided, out of the blue, he wanted to write, and entered a contest (of which he won of course.) Later, he took a leap of faith, closed the bar, and started writing full time. He began running about the same time, for no other reason than because he wanted to, and this prepared him for the focus and the stamina he needed to become the success he is today.

He laments the effect of aging on his body. He admits that he is bull-headed, stubborn, a loner, and doesn't think he is a very likable person. He is hyper-sensitive but brutally honest about his faults with an endearing, self-deprecating humility. He tells us about his running a double marathon (over 60 miles?!), and about silly mistakes he's made when competing in triathalons. He examines his own fears and frailties, measuring their impact on his life. All of the sudden, this author, who is already on a pedestal in my book (without having read word one), is now real and human. I can only imagine the insight this may give me when I read his works of fiction.

Don't let the title of this memoir scare you. It makes no difference whatsoever if you've never jogged a mile. (In fact, it kind of makes you want to try!) What it does is provide an intimate view into the mind of an amazing author. If you are a Murakami fan, this one is not to be missed.

On a final note, the title of this book was inspired by a collection of short stories written by one of Murakami's heroes, the late Ray Carver, entitled "What I Talk About When I Talk About Love". Just as another form of proof that what you are reading here is nothing short of words from the heart.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Christmas in Indiana #3

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Body Scoop for Girls - Jennifer Ashton

When Lisa @ Books on the Brain contacted me and offered me the opportunity to review this book for a TLC Book Tour, I didn't hesitate. While this is not the type of book I normally read, I do have a daughter who is about to turn 12. I'm entering scary territory here people! She and I had the period talk a couple of years ago, and that, by itself was wrought with angst. My daughter is a worrier, so I had to convince her, at least fifty times, that she wasn't going to die from the pain, and arrange a secret code word that she could whisper to me over the school phone if she ever had a period emergency.

But then the school chose, this past summer, to send out Catholic-sanctioned booklets about sex to the parents of all the upcoming sixth graders. The intent was that the parents read the info, then discuss it with their kids. Now you know, and I know, that there are parents who, rather than have the difficult discussion, simply handed the booklets to their kids and told them to have at it. So essentially the cat was out of the bag, and therefore forced my hand. And this is a slippery slope. You talk about sex, then you have to talk about reproduction, disease, peer pressure, the whole bit.

The Body Scoop for Girls was a breath of fresh air. Written by an OB-Gyn that specializes in adolescents, this lady is hip and current. She wears leopard-print skirts and strappy heels. She gives her patients lattes and fuzzy robes! I want to go there! She also, in concise, no-nonsense language, tells is like it is to a generation of girls who are growing up under a different set of circumstances than we did.

All the bases are covered. She covers the basics, such as breast development, periods, body hair and changes in the appearance of the body. But she also addresses waxing and grooming, piercing, excessive cramping, infections, breast exams, drugs, alcohol and smoking, the importance of eating healthy and about body image. But the heavy stuff? A good third of the book is dedicated to sex. A list of reasons to wait until you are 18. Safe sex, the dangers of oral sex, how to talk to your boyfriend about your decisions, birth control A to Z, and STIs. No stone is left unturned. Yes, it is all bound to curl our hair as parents, but I don't think we can hide our heads in the sand. There is too much at risk.

The book is written as if Dr. Ashton is speaking directly to the teen. Will a teen really read it? Perhaps not the entire thing, because there is alot of information here to digest at once. But the language is not preachy and not overly technical, so it would be easy enough for a 14 or 15 year old to comprehend. Practically, I think the book is perfect for a parent to read, and armed with the facts, speak with their daughter about the topics that are applicable. Maybe even have them read a chapter and then talk about it afterwards.

One particular aspect of the book that demonstrates Dr. Ashton's progressive attitude is that she answers questions as they pertain to those girls who are lesbians. Nobody is left out in the cold with Dr. Ashton.

I'd like to thank Lisa and Beth at Avery for the opportunity to review this book, and keep as a very important reference and guide to get me through the minefield of the teenage years.

4 out 5 stars

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Token of Appreciation

This week, I was all set to list movies about racial discrimination, in honor of MLK. Foiled again! The Bumbles, our hosts for Monday Movie Meme, have instead suggested we talk about those movies in which must be seen at least twice to fully appreciate. The ones where you need to see how it ends to understand how beautifully it was put together from the beginning.

Well, you could interpret this many different ways. There are some epics that are so rich and multi-layered (Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Reds) that it does serve the movie well to see it a few times. There are also the hilarious, quotable movies (Caddyshack, Monty Python & the Holy Grail, Rocky Horror Picture Show) that have risen to cult status from the re-watchings.

However, for me personally, multiple viewings are always required when there are unforeseeable twists. You watch the movie for the first time, and when you hit those twists, you go "Wha??? What just happened? What does this mean?". And it changes the way you perceive everything that just transpired for the last two hours. Then you must rewatch the entire thing again. Here are some of those movies:

The Sixth Sense: The mother of all twist movies. The awesome thing about my first experience watching this movie was that I HAD NO IDEA what the twist was. No one had spoiled it for us. And it was just mind-blowing.

Primal Fear: Again, I had no spoilers the first time I saw this one. It was also the first time I'd seen Edward Norton in action, and he is brilliant. And once you know the truth, it is with awe that you go back and analyze not only Norton's brilliance, but the character's as well. I liked this one so much I own it on my iPod.

The Game: The twists in this movie (and there are dozens of them) occur throughout the movie, not just the end. To the point where you really have no freaking clue what is going on. By the end of the movie, your brain hurts. This one is at least a three-time rewatch.

The Usual Suspects: The movie is loaded with great actors, but the one that shines through is Kevin Spacey (which actually earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, if I'm not mistaken). Similar to Primal Fear, once we are enlightened at the end of the movie, you must then turn back and observe both the character and the actor's amazing performance.

Memento: The premise of this movie is the main character cannot store new memories, and must do bizarre things in order to keep himself straight. The movie starts at the end of the story, where the protagonist thinks me may have killed his wife, but...can't remember. The story line moves backwards in time in short snippets. If it sounds confusing, it is. It's head-spinning. (Don't see this movie while drinking.) But at the same time, it is amazing and creative and you won't forget it any time soon.

The Village: The gig was up on M. Night after he did The Sixth Sense, so we all knew there was a twist with this one. It isn't quite as mind-blowing, but is respectable enough to give you an "Ahhhh haaaa!".

And last but not least, I must list the movie that never fails to delight, whether I'm viewing it the first time or the tenth...

Eastern Promises: 'Nuff said.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Salon: Playing with Fire

And a happy morning to y'all! Well you know you're getting old when you sit down to talk about your week, and you can't think of a single thing you've done. Of course, at top of mind is the Game On Diet. The routine is getting a little easier, except for the deprivation of wine, chicken wings and chocolate. (What a combination, huh?) But we're seeing results, which is all that matters. Team Ho Ho was every so slightly behind the Twinkies and the Ding Dongs after week 1 points were tallied, but we've got our eye on the finish line. Those other teams had better watch out! We are hungry for the win (uh, literally).

Again, stellar week in the exercise category. I racked up another 23 miles, bringing my 100 mile Fitness Challenge total to 53 miles. My three month challenge should be completed by the end of January! Not to worry, though. I shan't stop. I'll set my sights on the 200 mile mark after that.

We had book club this week, discussing my pick, The Help. It gave me a happy heart to see the group embrace this book and love it. What's not to love, really? The next book selected was Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. I've read enough reviews to know I'm probably going to like this one. Hats off to my friend Marianne for choosing it!

Because of the Game On Diet, and the requirements for daily exercise and daily decluttering, I've been reading less I think. I don't feel I've been all that productive. (On the bright side, my house is shaping up!) I finished the ARC "Home is Where the Wine Is" by Laurie Perry, and started in on "Brooklyn" by Colm Toibin. A number of people mentioned this book in their top reads for 2009, and at about the halfway point, I am really enjoying it. The kids and I continue to plod through Harry Potter 5 on audio. I finished "Cemetery Dance" by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child on audio, and plunged into the heavenly bliss of "The Girl Who Played With Fire" by Stieg Larsson. There aren't too many audios where I've wished the listening experience would never end, but this series is one of them. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that it is narrated by Simon Vance, who is like ear candy. Read the telephone book to me, Simon baby! Just let me hear you speak!

I have been overwhelmed with the response from you all with regards to my mission for the Adult Literacy League, and collecting author-signed books. I have even received two already in the mail. The event isn't until early April, so please keep us in your thoughts. If you make contact with an author, ask them if they wouldn't mind donating a signed book. Every book makes a difference!

Hope you all have a nice, relaxing Sunday and ramp up for another awesome week! Hey, tomorrow is a holiday in the US, so in addition to honoring MLK, we get another day to play! Jury is still out for the Nawrot activity - it is a tossup between the movies and Universal. Most likely, everybody and their nephew will be at the theme parks, so chances are, movies will win. How are you all planning on spending your day off?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Any Gardeners Out There?

Confession: Despite the fact that I live in Florida, where plants grow of their own free will, whether you want them to or not, I have a black thumb. And I really don't have much initiative to change that fatal flaw in myself, until I look at my friend Kim's pictures (this beautiful bougainvillea to your left is one such beauty).

Kim and I went to college together. And not until I discovered the joys of Facebook did I even know what had become of her. But, as FB is wont to do, we found each other. In fact, she lives just a handful of hours south of me. The first thing that came to mind when I was reacquainted with Kim was...she is one of those rare people who looks ten times better now, in her forties, than she did in college (not that she looked bad in college). Wow! The second thing was...this girl is one amazing gardener!

Well, I was excited to discover that Kim has recently joined the world of blogging, in the area of her greatest passion - gardening. Her blog is named Garden in Paradise. I am following her, if only to be inspired and see what she is up to. Go check her out and welcome her to the fray!

By the way, Kim is also an avid reader, and participates in the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge. Who knows, maybe we can persuade her to do a book review or two!

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County - Tiffany Baker (audio)

I am actually proud that I remember the details of how I ended up ordering this audio book. Normally, I order them impulsively and don't keep notes. I've actually seen many reviews for this book, with it universally enjoyed, but it was Jenn's review (Devourer of Books) that tipped the scale...pardon the pun.

Truly has not had an easy life. Her mother died in childbirth, her father was a destitute alcoholic, and her sister, Serena Jane, was beautiful, petite and perfect. Oh, and Truly just happens to be a 400-pound giant. Ridiculed by everyone including her father and teacher, avoided by the townspeople, bullied by her peers, she became accustomed to taking the submissive role and not standing up for herself. Her best friends consist of a wiry little know-it-all boy and a nearly mute farm girl.

Truly's life is irreversibly changed, however, with the occurrence of two pivotal events: her sister's one and only date with the detestable Robert Morgan, spoiled son of the town doctor, and Truly's discovery of an heirloom quilt that was hand-stitched by Robert Morgan's great great great grandmother and herbal healer. Truly begins a personal journey of self-discovery, finding her voice and her moxie. She soon learns she is no longer willing to be meek and mild, but has a thirst for revenge and a desire for love.

Because this book was generally loved out in blogdom, it pains me to say that while I was entertained by this book, there was plenty that bothered me. I normally love stories about the underdog getting the last laugh and reinventing themselves. The character development, the building of our understanding of Truly's life from birth, it was all there and was wonderfully done. The personalities were well-constructed, from the bitter school marm, to Truly's friends Marcus and Amelia, Serena Jane and her gay son, and the narcissistic Robert Morgan.

But Truly scared me a little. She had every reason to have a chip on her shoulder, but she got pretty vengeful, without much afterthought. (Side note: OK, I just recovered emotionally from the cruelty to kittens thing in Her Fearful Symmetry, and now this?) And I guess Truly ultimately learns her lessons the hard way, but the whole thing made me uncomfortable and more than a little repulsed.

OK, so let's talk about the art of the simile. They normally make a book more three-dimensional and colorful. But the author was pretty heavy-handed with her similes in this case. As in, you could design a drinking game around it. I began to focus on how many there were in a two-minute period, and was distracted from the story.

"The inside of her chest rang and reverberated like a hollow urn."
"Her face crumbled at its edges like a wad of wrapping paper waiting to be burned."
"Her voice smacked like a ruler."
" useless as children's party balloons."
"...head as bald as a plucked goose."

You get the idea. Frankly, it was maddening. Maybe it is just me, because I don't remember anyone else having an issue with it.

The narrator of the book did an excellent job at embodying Truly. She made the story an entertaining 10 discs. The story never dragged, and was able to listen to the entire story in just a few days.

It is in these situations where I doubt myself. People didn't just like this book, they embraced it with all their hearts, in glowing terms. Perhaps I allowed a mood to overshadow the greater good, but I don't feel I'm worth my salt if I don't tell it like I saw it. So, just to be fair, here are some other opinions:

The Book Lady's Blog
Books on the Brain

3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What I know: Uncommon wisdom and universal truths from 10-year-olds and 100-year-olds - Roger Emerson Fishman

Have you ever spent time with a parent, grandparent or elderly friend, and were amazed by their stories of the past, the lessons they've learned throughout their long life, and the pearls of wisdom they are happy to share with you? When I think back of all the times I hung out with my grandmothers as a child, while they talked on and on and on about any topic (gardening, baking, life as a young wife, tricks to scraping by with little money, the antics of my grandfather), I just wish I could bottle it and give it as a gift to my kids. This is exactly what inspired Roger Emerson Fishman to write this book.

Roger was extremely close with his grandfather. In fact, Roger even wears the same style of glasses that his grandfather wore. Sadly, Roger's grandfather passed when he was 11 years old, and his father passed two years later, with all those precious tidbits of knowledge gone with them. So when Roger had a son of his own with wife Courtney Thorne-Smith, he decided he needed to leave a legacy for him when he grew older. What better way than to capture a spectrum of truths from 100 year olds and from 10 year olds from all over the country. Obviously, anyone who has lived a century has seen it all, and has things to teach us. But those 10 year olds have got alot on their mind as well (I have one that is always trying to impart his opinions on me). The end result was this precious collection that will make you smile, and make you ponder life, no matter what your age.

Roger organizes his book into 10 categories: Believing in Yourself, Integrity, Friendship, Parenting, The Joy of Giving, Preparing for Life, Personal Choice, Perseverance, Change and Longevity. He highlights a special 100 year old for each chapter...the assistant to Harry Houdini, a Major League Baseball player, an Activist, an entrepreneur.

"Work harder than everybody else.
When your mother sends you to the store, don't walk - run! I ran
everywhere...most of the time with older boys chasing me. I ran so much I
developed speed and became a base-stealer in the big leagues. If
you're always practicing more than anyone else, you'll always be a step

Then we get a few words of wisdom from 10-year-olds in each category. Their logic is innocent and simple, but often are words to live by.

"The best way to make a great friend is to pick
out your best lunch snack and share it with him."

Roger's voice is extremely pleasant. He's down-to-earth, sincere, and passionate about his mission. His love for his family, his wife and son Jack, are palpable and radiate off the page. This is the perfect book to keep around the house for an attitude adjustment, or as a gift.

The great news is that the author has agreed to offer a signed copy to one of my readers. Just leave a comment with your e-mail address...if you are a follower, you will be entered next Wednesday, January 20th. I will announce the winner on January 21st. My thanks go out to the author, Roger, and his colleague Joe, for the opportunity to review this treasure of a book. I will leave you with the book trailer, which will give you a better sense of its Zen spirit:

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Christmas in Indiana #2

Gently falling snow on the farm

For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Given Day - Dennis LeHane (audio)

Boston has always been on my radar as a city full of history and raw energy. I've never visited this fine metropolis, but my best friend was born and raised there, and the Bumbles live there. What else do I know about Boston? Well, they have good seafood, I think maybe the band Boston is from there, and of course there's the Sox. There's the tea party thing, they have cool accents, there are alot of Kennedy's meandering around that neck of the woods, and they are supposed to have dirty water. When I read an author interview (don't know where and I don't know what author - ha!) where the author confidently told readers they must read The Given Day, a book about Boston in the early 1900's, I grabbed the opportunity to broaden my horizons beyond my inane, bits and bobs of trivia.

The difficulty comes in really summarizing this 20-disc chunkster. I've put the review off long enough, so I'm just going to have to move on and take a stab.

The story is focused on three individuals, representatives for the turmoil of the decade.

One is Babe Ruth. He pops in and out of the narrative, and we get a glimpse of him early in his career with the Sox. We see him up close, presumably through some mix of historical fact and the author's musings...the drinking, the womanizing, his determination in being the best and the highest paid. Does it add to the overall plot? No, not really, except that he is such an icon for Boston in this time period.

The second character is Luther Lawrence. Luther is a black man who has grown up with little to propel him through life but his smile, his love for watching and playing baseball, and his determination. But when his girlfriend gets pregnant, he loses his job, and they head out from Columbus to Tulsa where there are lots of theoretical jobs for people of color, he falls into the wrong crowd and makes some tragic errors in judgement. He leaves Tulsa and his now pregnant wife in the middle of the night, escaping certain death, and attempts to start fresh in Boston.

Our third protagonist is Danny, son of an Irish police captain, and a policeman himself. Danny marches to his own drum, feels oppressed by his father's God-like reputation and pride, is secretly in love with the family's Irish maid who's engaged to marry his brother, courageously defends the underdog, and has a strong sense of right and wrong, and doing right by that sense, no matter what the cost.

Though all three begin the story with independent lives, they soon cross paths serendipitously and intertwine.

Through Luther and Danny's eyes, we experience a number of significant events in not only Boston history, but US history. The devastating effects of the influenza pandemic. Terrorism and the Bolshevik Revolution. The creation of and the rise of the unions, and ultimately, the famous policeman's strike. After some browsing through Wikipedia, it appears LeHane has stayed true to historical figures and facts throughout, making me feel as if I were there, watching people die by the thousands from the flu, feeling the bomb explosions ignited by the radicals, and witnessing the chaos of the riots that resulted in the strike. The Irish Mob, one of the oldest organized crime groups in the US, is thrown into the mix as well, planting its roots deep into the Boston chronology.

LeHane's character development is intense and complex. Luther and Danny are, at times, pitiable and flawed. You question their decisions, you recognize their weaknesses and immaturity, but you grow to love them for their desire to do the right thing. You admire their humanity and loyalty to each other, despite the rules that state clearly they are to reside in two different stratospheres.

Narrator was fairly entertaining. My only hangup was that he strangely sounded like Obama...not that he doesn't have a lovely voice, but not in this context.

Complaints? Not too many, except that at times it seemed to drag. 20 discs isn't a short read, and while it is no Outlander, it took every ounce of my patience at times to keep plugging along. My bottom line, however would be that the overall experience was well worth the effort. After all, now I know a few more pieces of trivia about the home of the Dropkick Murphys.

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Monster Mash

Today's Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about monsters that have both delighted us and frightened us. Of course, Molly and Andy were inspired to use this theme after the monstrous loss of the Patriots this weekend. (I can't say I'm all that upset about it personally!) Here are some monsters that immediately came to mind:

Count Orlok (Nesferatu) - to me, this is the real image of Dracula, and it is terrifying. Nothing sexy or romantic here, people. Sookie or Bella wouldn't have wanted anything to do with this guy. He looks like he would have really bad breath too.

Hannibal Lechter (Silence of the Lambs) - one of Anthony Hopkins' best performances in my opinion. I know he's human, but anyone who eats their victims with fava beans and Chianti is a monster, nonetheless.

Dr. Frankenstein's Monster (Frankenstein) - no matter which version I see of this movie, I always feel sorry for the poor guy. After all, he didn't get to choose what parts were used on him or what he looked like. He just wanted to fit in and have a girlfriend.

Godzilla (Godzilla) - didn't this guy start the whole monster craze? I can't even tell you if I've sat through one of these movies beginning to end, but is so campy, it's fun for awhile, especially with a couple of beers.

Cannibalistic cave-dweller thingies (The Descent) - this movie was a ton of fun, and got the 'ol ticker pumping. Hard bodied women with some emotional baggage go spelunking and find these...thingies. You want a rush, rent this one.

Jaws (Jaws) - ha! It had been awhile since I'd listed this movie, so I thought it was time to resurrect it. This was no fish, this was a mutated monster, which, in later movies, could reason and strategize, and track people for thousands of miles for the sake of revenge.

Using the term "monster" loosely, you can go anywhere with this. Which are your favorites?