Friday, April 30, 2010

Let the Great World Spin - Colum McCann (audio)

OK fellow bloggers. You've all been here. This is one of those times where words just aren't going to cut it. How does one communicate an overwhelming sense of love, fascination, sorrow, and more emotion in general than will fit into my heart or my brain? No matter what I say, the only way to truly appreciate any work of art is to experience it first hand, which is what you must do with "Let the Great World Spin".

If you were an adult in the '70's, or if you are a recent lover of documentaries (Man on Wire), you may have some knowledge about a French tightrope walker who decided he simply HAD to walk between the twin towers in New York City. Just because the towers were there. So he trained and planned, and similar to a big bank heist, navigated his way through security, logistics, and timing to make his dream become reality. It is this event, a half mile above the ground, that is occurring in the periphery of a ground-level drama interconnecting the lives of ten beautifully flawed but precious human beings. An Irish street priest, a drug-addicted grandmother and daughter who are both hookers, a mother grieving over her only son lost in Vietnam, a judge, a hippie artist. They are all connected through one tragic accident.

McCann tells the stories of these people in such clear, vivid voices, you will feel like you have shed your own skin and inhabited their bodies. You are the 38-year-old hooker who only wanted the best for her daughter, and granddaughters, but failed to break the cycle. You are the ex-socialite artist who lost her way while embracing the drug culture, but now wants to do the right thing and is compelled to leave behind her old life to chase it down. You are the Park Avenue housewife who wants to break down all barriers of social status and find someone...anyone who can understand the pain of losing a son to a senseless war. McCann interweaves these lives, their humanity, and the irony of fate with such grace, that by the end of the novel, you want to weep with gratitude. Or recognize his rock-star status and throw your panties at him.

It is magical. It is profound. Likely you will profess your vow to read it again (soon). McCann's words will make you laugh, make you cry, will lull you into a trance, will draw you to a higher power, will make you want to become a better person, will change the way you look at the stranger on the street.

If you are an audio book person, you absolutely mustn't read this book in print. Not only is this book a masterpiece, the audio is as well. The voices are brilliant, a different narrator for each story, each an embodiment of the personality, no matter what the nationality or accent. It is 13 discs of pure, unadulterated entertainment.

Have I convinced you that life will not be complete unless you read this book? Can anyone explain to my why this did not win the Pulitzer? (no offense to the winner of course). This is by far the best book I've read this year, bar none.

6 out of 5 stars (can I do that?)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling (audio)

Well, it has been like a very long relationship, between me and this audio. The kids and I have been listening to it since (checking library records) before Christmas. 23 discs is a long haul when we only listen in the car, when everyone is in the car, and when there is nothing urgent to discuss.

If you haven't read the Harry Potter series or seen the movies, and you don't want any spoilers, please cease and desist here, and proceed to my final two paragraphs!!!

When I reflect on my journeys with Harry Potter, the Order of the Phoenix is one that tends to be blurred in my memory, sandwiched between Cedric's death in The Goblet of Fire and Dumbledore's death in the Half Blood Prince. But in re-reading/listening, there is much to remember about this installment:

* One of the literature's most vile villains comes to life. Delores Umbridge is described as toad-like, with a girlish giggle, pink cardigans, and a blood-thirsty taste for torture. Reading about her makes me squirm with discomfort, she is so nasty. One of the top ten moments in the series is when she is dragged off by angry centaurs.

* The "gang" grows a couple cajones. In response to Umbridge's effort to suppress all productive education in the area of the Dark Arts, Harry and friends form a subversive army whose sole mission is to learn the skills that enable them to defend themselves against Voldemort.

* The prophecy is revealed. See, Trelawney isn't good for nothing!

* The death of Sirius. This is possibly one of the most heart-breaking moments, next to losing Dumbledore. Harry finally finds "family", to lose it again forever. I shed a tear every time I read it or see it.

* More history on Severus Snape. Dare we feel pity? This character development is critical for further plot, and makes the hook-nosed, greasy-haired teacher just a tad more complicated.

Strangely, I felt an emotion with this audio book that I hadn't felt before in previous readings, and that is an irritation and annoyance with Harry. Had he focused on learning how to block out Voldemort from his thoughts (occlumency), the death of Sirius and injury of his friends could have been prevented. But then I guess it wouldn't have been nearly as exciting an ending, huh? Still, when I listened carefully, I could hear an internal dialogue in my mind that was pretty harsh..."Harry always sticks his nose into things that are best left alone", "Harry should stop trying to rebel and listen to Dumbledore already" and "Harry is always trying to be a hero and save people". I know Harry beats himself up over it, and Dumbldore isn't innocent in the whole mess, but I was less forgiving this time around.


Jim Dale continues to perform at a level that I feel puts him in the top narrators of all time (under Simon Vance of course). Whether he is singing "Weasely is Our King", uttering Umbridge's little clearing-the-throat "hem hem" noises (which makes the kids and I laugh uncontrollably every time), or portraying a devastated Harry who is no longer comfortable in his own skin, he is truly remarkable.

To me, The Order of the Phoenix is where my stomach started to hurt from the tension and tragedy of the plot. (I mean this with love in my heart of course. It is a good thing if a book causes physiological reactions in me.) By the end of The Half-Blood Prince, however, I'm almost nauseous. I guess what I am trying to say is that the climax of the Harry Potter series begins it's ascent here, and steadily climbs to its peak late in book 7. Make sure your seat belt is secure and your hands are inside the car.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Maui #7

Koi begging for food in the hotel lobby.

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Look Again - Lisa Scottoline (audio)

"Look Again" was the April selection for our Book Club. I'd not read anything by this author, although I do have a couple of her books sitting on my shelves. I went into the audio stone cold - no preconceptions or knowledge of the topic of the book.

Ellen Gleeson is your typical working single-parent, raising a spirited 3 year-old son whom she adopted as a baby. Layoffs threaten her position as a journalist, but hopes that the tall, dark and handsome boss of hers, with whom she has a mutual crush, might protect her. But when she sees a little white card in the mail entitled "Have You Seen This Child?", and the age-progressed picture looks eerily like her little boy, her life is turned upside down. Ellen goes into investigative journalist mode, determined to get at the truth, and also make the right decision for her little boy. She ultimately discovers much more than she ever expected.

Despite the subject matter, which is very serious, the tone of the book still came across as light. Maybe it was the prose, maybe it was the narrator, maybe it was the Latin Antonio Banderas-ish boss that was so easily wooed, I'm not sure. It was also predictable, and tightly tied up with a bow at the end, which I am sure contributed to my lasting impression. Scottoline does throw out good discussion questions and ethical quandaries though, which I am sure will fuel our Book Club chatter. If you discovered your child was adopted illegally, would you say anything or keep it to yourself? OK, so say you think you might say something, but what if you found out that the biological parents of your child aren't model citizens, then what? Is it our right to judge, and play God with this information? What would YOU do to protect your family?

In her subplot, the author also paints a picture of life as a single parent with a more than full-time job...the chaos, the jealousy of a babysitter spending more time with the child than the parent, the never-ending exhaustion. Scottoline, a single parent herself, seems to be intimate with these emotions. She also addresses the loss of a mother, and the dynamics of a father/daughter relationship when dad establishes a new life wants to remarry. All of these topics are what elevate this book from boorishly mediocre to an entertaining read.

So on to the Book Club discussion:

The girls all seemed to feel a little snarky about the book. There was one who hadn't finished it, and wanted us to fill her in. When we walked her through the last half of the book, it became obvious how absolutely ludicrous the whole climax and chain of events really were. However, as I expected, we did have spirited discussion over wine and appetizers. We covered the gamut, including how far we would be willing to protect our children, examples of adoption nightmares, the downside of open adoptions, cheating spouses (which OF COURSE got us steaming about Jesse James and Tiger Woods and the cop-out of "rehab"), the feasibility of single-parent adoptions, and other books we've read with similar topics.

The bottom line on Look Again was lukewarm. I believe most of us would give her other books another chance though.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Look Who's Talking

Today's topic for the Monday Movie Meme from the Bumbles is all about narrators. Now you all know I have a serious addiction to audio books. Narrators can literally make or break them - they can turn an average book into an experience, and can cause me to want to give up listening to a Pulitzer-winning novel (won't mention any names!). But what about movies? As the Bumbles point out, the ultimate narrator and go-to guy in Hollywood seems to be Morgan Freeman, and for good reason. His deep timbre is gentle and calming, and gives you the notion that all is right with the world. Here is Mr. Morgan, plus a few more that are memorable:

Shawshank Redemption (Morgan Freeman) - you wouldn't expect me to neglect one of my favorite movies of all time would you? I have always thought it fitting that Freeman, with his "all is right with the world" voice, would narrate and star in the ultimate story of hope and faith.

The Christmas Story (Jean Shepard) - I'm duplicating the Bumbles on this one, but I must. This relatively unknown radio and TV personality has perfect comedic timing. Without it, the movie would not be what it is today.

The World at War (Laurence Olivier) - when I asked my husband about narration, this one was the first one he thought of. The World at War is a 26-part documentary about WWII, and of course we own it and have watched it multiple times. Olivier's narration on this film garnered him nearly as much attention as his stage or film career.

Goodfellas (Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco) - probably one of the more violent mob films, I was always intrigued by the narration of "Henry Hill" and his wife. I mean, he seems so matter-of-fact, regardless of who is getting their head bashed in. When I was looking up this movie for the purpose of this post, I read where the f-word was said nearly 300 times, the ninth most in film. Then I wondered whether I should admit that I like this movie so much!

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Matthew Broderick) - I'm not sure if this one counts, as the narration is sporadic. But I've always loved how Broderick speaks directly to the camera throughout the film. Makes you feel like you are in on the fun!

I'm sure I've missed a few. Got any favorites of your own?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Salon: More Connie May!

Good morning to all my friends! Another crazy week is behind me, another week closer to the end of school! Is it just me, or do all of you with school-age kids get a little antsy as May draws near? Although I like my routine, I do look forward to a few months without homework, sports practices and a whole lot of running around. Which is what this week was all about. I also had a dentist appointment and a dermatologist appointment, and I was actually pretty verbal with them to just LEAVE ME ALONE! Stop poking me for just six months please. I had to balance out my doctor-angst with a respectable round of golf on Thursday.

It has gotten hot down here in Florida, with plenty of rain, so everything is growing again. Which means yard work and lots of sweating. We have had a strangely cold winter, so I'm actually ready for this. It also means that my walks may get ugly, but I won't give them up!

We had book club this week, and my BFF joined for the first time which was exciting. We discussed Lisa Scottoline's Look Again, which drew a fairly unanimously snarky attitude from all...unbelievable, predictable, but with some excellent discussion points, which we pursued spiritedly over wine. (Review coming next week.) No word on the next pick yet...

Highlight of the week! Connie May Fowler came back into town for a signing at Borders. She invited me to share a glass of wine with herself and some other friends afterwards at a nearby restaurant, and who was I to not make this work out? About a dozen of us, mostly people from her past creative writing classes, all sat around talking and laughing and having a ball. I was drawing on my super-human strength to NOT act like an infatuated fangirl idiot. She was such a delight to hang out of these people that makes sure she focuses on each and every person at the table, and has a big enough heart to love us all.

Smaller but still exciting highlight of the week! I finally got an iPhone. This is the first time I've had a phone that was actually manufactured in the decade in which it is being used. As luck would have it, my old phone stopped working earlier in the week, and the cheapest alternative was to buy out the contract that expires in July (my husband accuses me of accidentally on purpose running over it with my car). Now I can Facebook and Twitter on-the-go! I'm on the lookout for cool bookish apps - any recommendations would be appreciated!

So my reading week was fairly productive. I finished On Folly Beach by Karen White, and this was a real treat. What's not to love about a book that covers WWII, a South Carolina barrier island, a little indie bookstore, lovers' notes found in old first edition books, and a lighthouse? Review and guest post coming in a couple of weeks, when the book is released. I also read The Outsiders and watched the movie for the Read the Book/See the Movie Challenge. Now I'm giddily embarking on my Prey books for the upcoming tour in mid-May. I do so love Lucas Davenport. The kids and I are making good progress on the 6th Harry Potter audiobook, I finished Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed (which left me confused and bereft), and am now on the long journey of listening to Under the Dome by the masterful Stephen King.

My latest Bookmarks mag just showed up, so it is time to do a little drooling over books I probably will never get to read unless I clone myself!

Am I boring you? I just realized I'm getting lengthy. I'm feeling chatty this fine morning. Joy spilleth over. Pass it on. Life is good. Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Two More Challenges Complete!

Well, you can tell what I've been up to! In the challenge class of 2010, these two beauties were my nominees for "most likely to succeed".

I am an avid user of my local public library. Not only do they have an amazing selection of audio books, but they also deliver to my home. It's like door-to-door service for crack addicts! Anyway, I chose the 25 book challenge, and here they are:

The Adoration of Jenna Fox - Mary E. Pearson
The Given Day - Dennis Lehane
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling
The Good Pig - Sy Montgomery
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County - Tiffany Baker
Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami
The Liar's Club - Mary Karr
Life As We Knew It - Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson
Open - Andre Agassi
If You Come Softly - Jacqueline Woodson
When You Are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris
Olive Kitteredge - Elizabeth Strout
Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay
Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane
Hold Tight - Harlan Coban
The Swan Thieves - Elizabeth Kostova
Mystic River - Dennis Lehane
Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix - J.K. Rowling (review coming 4/29)
The Dead and the Gone - Susan Beth Pfeffer
Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris (review coming 5/18)
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
Behind You - Jacqueline Woodson

As you can see from THIS challenge, most of my library rentals are audio books, with a few exceptions. I accepted the maximum challenge of 20 audios:

The Given Day - Dennis Lehane
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County - Tiffany Baker
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami
Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
The Liar's Club - Mary Karr
Got the Look - James Grippando
Cemetery Dance - Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston
The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson
Open - Andre Agassi
When You Are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris
Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay
Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane
Olive Kitteredge - Elizabeth Strout
Hold Tight - Harlan Coban
The Swan Thieves - Elizabeth Kostova
Mystic River - Dennis Lehane
Harry Potter and the Order of Pheonix - J.K. Rowling
Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
Look Again - Lisa Scottoline (review coming 4/27)

I have to admit, these challenges were not really a challenge. Still, I can mark them off my list and focus on some of my neglected children...Vietnam, E-Book and Graphic Novels.

How are you all doing with your challenges so far?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Behind You - Jacqueline Woodson

"If Jeremiah wanted, he could be in the front row of his favorite ball team's game. He could be swimming or eating ice cream. He could know what it feels like to fly. If he were a different kind of boy, he could stand in fire just because it was something he'd always wanted to do, or take steps down into the ocean and touch some shark's fin. Braid up the tentacles of a jellyfish. But he's not that kind of boy. He's just a boy who can't let the world that he left behind get behind him."

I've described Jacqueline Woodson's various works, reviewed here at You've GOTTA Read This over the past six months as precious. Gentle. Delicate. Beautiful. Unassuming. I'm really not sure how much more I can say about her books. They are spare - rarely over 150 pages. But they are rich and complex and so very efficient, getting the very most from every word. I can't recommend her enough.

I reviewed If You Come Softly at the end of February. I fell in love with this sweet, heartbreaking story. I melted into a puddle when I heard there was a sequel called "Behind You". As hard as it was, I needed to know the "afterwards".

It would be difficult for me to talk about "Behind You" without spoiling the end of "If You Come Softly". If it is important to you to maintain the integrity of the story, please skip ahead to my conclusion.


In the aftermath of Miah's death, the lives of his loved ones are shattered - their day-to-day lives have come to a complete halt. His mother, his father, his best friend Carlton, and classmate Kennedy. But most of all, his first true love, Ellie. "Behind You" gives us the perspective of each of these people, their grief, their memories of Miah, and how they attempt to cope with the hole in their hearts. We also hear from Miah's dead grandmother and Miah, who both reside in the "in between" (to steal the term from The Lovely Bones). Miah is reluctant to travel to the other side, watching his family, friends and girlfriend reach out to each other for solace and attempt to move on with their lives.


And, typical of Woodson, she also addresses some taboo subjects with grace. At the top of the list, and the most poignant, is a young man's struggle to come to grips with his sexual orientation. While I feel that the issues with this struggle were superficially addressed, and were resolved a little too smooth to be realistic, I do admire that it was addressed at all. I mean, we have 118 pages to work with here. We're not going to solve world hunger or the issues of coming out in 118 pages.

I would recommend that you read "If You Come Softly" first, before you read "Behind You", otherwise the relationships and emotions will be meaningless to you. In fact, just get both of them at the same time, block off a couple hours of your time, get a wad of tissues, and behold one of the best middle grade authors that the literary world has to offer.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

If you have been around me long enough, I am sure you have heard me blab incessantly about my love affair with Shriver's book "The Post-Birthday World". I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say that it is clever and brilliant and is one of my top 10 books ever. I'd been told by many a blogger that "We Need to Talk About Kevin" was equally as clever and brilliant, and was backed up by the fact that it won the Orange Prize in 2005. I needed no further arm-twisting.

It took me nearly three weeks to read it. Granted, this was during my Cursillo weekend, and the set-up and running of the Book Fair. Still, the best I could do is a handful of pages a day. On an earlier Sunday Salon, I think I likened this book to slogging knee-deep through a dark, underground sewer. Waiting and thinking about this book, chewing it over in my mind, is not going to make the review any easier. It left toxins in its wake that must be purged immediately, lest they get the best of me.

The book is an epistolic novel in the form of letters, from Eva to her husband Franklin, two years after their son planned and killed eleven people at his school. As a form of therapy, Eva recounts their lives before they had children, her thoughts on her career, and her debate on whether or not to have children. Slowly and painstakingly, with all of her cards on the table and heart on her sleeve, she relives Kevin's youth...his emotional distance, her suspicion of the depth of Kevin's psychosis even at a young age, and how this drove the marriage to its ends. The story climaxes on the day in question, Thursday, where so many lives were systematically destroyed.

At the heart of the novel is not only the examination of a disturbed soul that appears to have been innate at birth, but the role of a mother in the creation of such a monster. These are questions every mother does ask herself - am I screwing up my kids? Am I nurturing enough? Am I too harsh? To permissive? Eva suffers so with these questions. Granted, she does come across as a tough cookie, maybe a little cold, and not the maternal type. But is it solely her fault that her son is a homicidal sociopath? She is pretty hard on herself, wearing every ugly comment, smack on the rump and unsupportive action around her neck like an albatross.

I am besotted with Shriver's prose. Her words and similes are complex and clever (I know I keep using that word, but this is what she is). She goes off on tangents, and I follow like a little lap dog. I'd follow her tangents anywhere. But this book? It took me to the darkest depths of hell, my friends. About halfway through the book, with sick realization, it dawned on me where it was all going. I knew the big secret, the big "reveal" at the end. My heart was sick. In those last twenty pages, I felt like I was trying to walk with ten pounds of mud on the bottom of my shoes. I didn't want to read, but I had to, because I needed to move on. I think I actually groaned out loud. Never has a book been so painful for me to read. I suppose there is a tiny shard of hope at the end, but it wasn't enough to help me out of the hole I found myself in.

So what is my bottom line? Let's get this straight...Shriver is brilliant. This isn't just another mediocre book, and it surely deserved the Orange Prize. It is just something you need to read when you are feeling resilient. I don't think I can separate myself enough from the pain and anguish of reading this book to give it five stars, though on merit alone it deserves it. It will be a story that knocks around in my head for a long long time.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Maui #6


For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Read the Book/See the Movie: Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston (audio)

When I first signed up for the Read the Book/See the Movie Challenge, hosted by my friend James (Ready When You Are, C.B.), I came up with a list of potentials to complete the required four movie/book minimum. I have yet to make good on any of them. See, I get drawn into an unplanned read, am blown away by the book, then realize there's a movie that goes with it. Voila! This is what happened with Fingersmith, Shutter Island, and the latest inspiration, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

My curiosity got the best of me. Folks are quite proud of Zora Neale Hurston down here in Central Florida. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida, (just north of Orlando) the first all black town incorporated in the US, and is heralded as a great African American folklorist during the Harlem Rennaisance. Every year in Eatonville, they have a huge festival celebrating Zora's life. It was only proper that I appreciated her contributions to the literary world.

The story is narrated by Janie Starks, a woman with a reputation around town. She's beautiful and elusive, and has been widowed twice in her young life, which inspires the townsfolk, sitting on their front porches, to speculate and envy the woman. Having just returned from the Everglades to her home in Eatonville, she tells her story to her friend Phoebe. Through her eyes, we see the development of Eatonville in the early 1920's...the establishment of the town store, the town's first street lamp, the town's first mayor. We witness the famous flooding of the Lake Okeechobee as a result of a hurricane in 1928. Jamie make not always make the wisest decisions when it comes to men, but we witness her finding love and finding herself.

I found the story compelling in the hands of Hurston. Florida's fascinating black history came to life - history of the area in which I live to which I was clueless. Janie, her husbands, and the townsfolk, were vivid, entertaining characters. The men dominating over their wives, the "porch drama", the love of baseball, life in a farm camp in the Everglades, and the immigrant Bahamian music. But the main attraction above and beyond all is Hurston's writing. It is rich and poetic, and oh so beautiful. This woman had some MAD writing skillz! It nearly put me into a trance, sort of like the intoxicating smell of night jasmine or gardenia.

There is quite a bit of dialect, and it took a little while to get used to listening to it. I'm not sure how easy or difficult it would be to read in print. In the care of the narrator, Ruby Dee (who was also in the movie) it was like watching a movie with my ears. It was breathtaking. This sets some pretty high standards for the movie, but I had to give it a go.


They filmed part of the movie in Orlando and in the Everglades, which caused a stir at the time. In fact, my parents, who had a home in a fish camp in the Everglades back then, had a Seminole Indian friend who had a bit part (the Indian who warned Janie and Teacake about the coming hurricane). Everyone down here was talking about the movie. We even taped it, but I never ended up watching it.

It was a made-for-TV movie (by Oprah), so who knew what we were going to get. On the other hand, the beautiful Halle Berry starred as Jamie, with her almond eyes, high cheekbones and long curly hair. She was the perfect Janie! I found the movie to be generally similar to the plot of the book, but it took much of the emotional, jagged parts of the novel and smoothed it over. Like the translation of book to film in Fingersmith, there is just no way the poetic beauty of the words can translate. This was Zora-Lite.

Besides Halle Berry, there are also cameo parts played by Terrance Howard and Ruby Dee. These are not parts that would ever gain your attention, but it does signify the support of this film by the African-American acting community.

Is the movie worth seeing? Yes, absolutely. But don't expect it to even come close to the masterpiece of the novel.

Book: 5 out of 5 stars
Movie: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 19, 2010

The 2010 EW Summer Books Challenge

Ever the temptress, that Julie at Booking Mama! But sometimes, even when you are not accomplishing goals as you should be, you must say "yes" one more time!

Most of you probably know I am a big fan of Entertainment Weekly, and recently they came out with their list of 18 book they can't wait to read this summer. Now if that isn't a ready-made reading challenge, I don't know what is! And Julie seized the day and made it her own.

I won't go into all the details (see Julie's link above for the nitty gritty), but suffice it to say, the list is undeniably juicy:

THIS BODY OF DEATH by Elizabeth George (April 20)

HALF LIFE by Roopa Farooki (April 27)

GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok (April 29)

THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE by Julie Orringer (May 4)

THE LAST STAND by Nathaniel Philbrick (May 4)


WAR by Sebastian Junger (May 11)




THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin (June 8)

SO COLD THE RIVER by Michael Koryta (June 9)

THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR by Allegra Goodman (July 6)

LUCY by Laurence Gonzales (July 13)

RED HOOK ROAD by Ayelet Waldman (July 13)

I CURSE THE RIVER OF TIME by Per Pettersson (August 3)

YOU LOST ME THERE by Rosecrans Baldwin (August 12)

MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins (August 24)

OK, so the Elizabeth George novel and the Stieg Larsson novel (both in audio format) are already ordered from the library. And I don't know too many breathing humans that won't be reading the third installment of the Hunger Games trilogy Mockingjay. And Nathanial Philbrick, the genius who wrote Mayflower? And another Per Patterson? Why not?

I'm going to dip my toe into the water and commit to three books (level Polliwog), but may have to over-achieve when the time comes. The challenge runs from May 1 through September 6.

It's going to be a GREAT SUMMER! Who wants to join the fun?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Rock the Vote

It is an exciting day in Monday Movie Meme history...we have our first guest director. Taking over for the Bumbles today would be Susan from Bear Swamp Reflections (a dear blogger friend of mine). Today, it is all about politics!

Unfortunately, however, I'm not sure how much I will be able to contribute to the cause. I can't stand politics. In fact, often they sicken me. There is no better way to turn me off than tell me a movie is about politics. I didn't see Primary Colors, or Swing Vote, or even All the President's Men. I'm sure they are great movies, but I had no interest whatsoever.

That all said, when you think about it, isn't every movie about politics in some vague form or fashion? There is Dave, where some guy off the street poses as the president, when the president himself falls ill. Or The American President, where a single president finds love across party lines? You could find politics in The Last King of Scotland, Reds, Citizen Kane or Hotel Rwanda.

The more I thought about it, the more confused I got. There are documentaries about Watergate, documentaries about various presidents. Heck, we get a taste of politics in Napolean Dynamite (vote for Pedro!). I couldn't get my head around it.

However, I will share with you one movie that came to my mind the first instant I saw the topic. And that is Wag the Dog. To me, this is some very clever political satire. It doesn't hurt that it stars the brilliant Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman (before they found themselves desperate and started accepting anything offered to them). The premise is that in order to divert attention from an embarrassing presidential "dalliance" right before re-election, the powers that be hire a director to fake a war in the Middle East. More than once, I've reflected on this movie when our cherished leaders make fools of themselves. To me, the plot isn't that far off the mark! Anything is possible these days with enough money and enough narcissism.

What are some of your favorite political movies? Please share!

Sunday Salon: Back to the routine

Good morning! I was back in the saddle this week, with the kids in school after a nice Spring Break. Blogging-wise, it took me a day or two to recover from the 24-hour read-a-thon, but the overwhelming opinion of the event in the Nawrot house is that it was fun and we must do it again!

So it was back to after-school sports, a couple of doctor's appointments, an all-school retreat, a little golf, some exercise accompanied by my beloved iPod, and a good solid day of housecleaning.

Inspired by Connie May, I have been attempting to make contact with a local domestic abuse shelter in town, so that I might donate books as well as some other items. No luck on that yet, but I will not give up easily. It really shouldn't be this hard though, wouldn't you think?

I also attended a three-hour follow-up to my Cursillo retreat, called "The Fourth Day". It was great to reconnect with all of my new friends, and remind ourselves of the magic that was created several weeks ago, and also remind ourselves why we are put on this earth.

The kids and I are making great progress with the 6th Harry Potter audio. I think we are subconsciously fueled by the excitement of getting to Book 7, which we have read only once! I also finished "Let the Great World Spin" on audio (my head almost exploded it was so good) and am about halfway through Connelly's "Nine Dragons" (pretty meh, except that I do love Harry Bosch). I finished up "A Painter's Life", which was a unique little review copy that was way overdue. I then cast aside everything I SHOULD be reading and picked up "On Folly Beach" by Karen White, because I couldn't wait a moment longer. I haven't had alot of time to sit lately, but I'm hoping to get it finished this week.

Simon Vance alert! I was able to order "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" on audio yesterday from our library. I don't know when exactly they will receive this audio, but I am THIRD IN LINE! I want to stand up and do a mad, spastic dance at the thought of getting my hands on this audio. And speaking of this series, there is a Swedish version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" in a small number of theaters right now. My sister has seen it and has given it a thumbs up (and apparently Lisbeth Salander has been well-cast). It will be coming to our little art house cinema in Orlando in early May (girls' night out!). Sony has apparently picked up the rights to make a US version of the movie as well, but no word on when. I shan't be waiting around, folks. I have no patience for waiting for anything related to this series.

I wish you all the best of Sundays, and a fruitful week next week, filled with lots of reading!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Small Change - Sheila Roberts

You know it's going to be a fun read when the first chapter starts out with a wife attempting to beat her husband home so she can smuggle in her newly purchased "bargains"! Only she drives too fast and gets a ticket. I've never gotten a ticket during my cloak and dagger missions, but have been known to shove shoe boxes in the bottom of a trash bag, leave bags in the trunk, and claiming that no, these shoes aren't new, I've had them for awhile.

And this is what you will find with Sheila Roberts' newest release...a mixture of some serious and not-so-serious issues experienced by three best friends, all told with a voice of an author who has been there/done that, and has learned to laugh at what life throws her way.

Rachel is recently divorced with two children, cannot find a full-time teaching job, and is struggling to make ends meet (while her wealthy ex flits about with his young underwear model girlfriend). Jessica is stay-at-home wife who lives a life of leisure. Until her son moves back home after losing his job, and her husband loses HIS job at the bank. Tiffany (my shoe-smuggling soul sister) is a nail tech with an addiction to shopping, presumably to drown her sorrows over fertility problems, and thus a huge debt problem. Between the three ladies, they decide to take their economic problems into their own hands, and support each other through the often hilarious process of making their own giftables, shopping on the cheap, and making better decisions for themselves. Through the roller-coaster ride of successes and failures, marriage problems, love interests, and crappy jobs, these women strengthen their bonds and learn first-hand the power of a girlfriend.

If there was ever a book that is a sign of our times, it is this one. There isn't a person in this country that hasn't been affected, somehow, by the economic crisis. What I loved about the story, besides the hilarious dynamics between Rachel, Jessica and Tiffany, was that there are actually some really good ideas here to help women analyze their spending personalities, and find ways to live smarter and within their means. Tips like bartering for services, entertaining your family and friends through game nights and potlucks, when to shop for the best deals, and even recipes for making your own blackberry cordial, which can be given as gifts.

Granted, by the time I got the end of the book, I had heard enough about frugality, but the the points were all well-made. The plot is also very predictable. However, my expectations of this book were not that it would blow my mind and keep me awake at night with soul-searching dilemmas. I wanted to read this book for fun. Which is exactly what I got.

I would like to thank Pump Up Your Book Promotions for the opportunity to read and review this book!

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This World We Live In - Susan Beth Pfeffer

The happy day arrived just a few days ago, when Mr. Library Courier Man delivered this little beauty to our door. Alas, the third and final installment of The Last Survivors series! If you haven't heard of this series (ahem, translated as "you have not been reading my blog loyally!) I will catch you up. In the first book, Life as We Knew It, we experience an Armageddon of sorts through the eyes of 16-year-old Miranda (who lives in rural Pennsylvania) when an asteroid hits the moon and creates upheaval on earth. Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, famine, disease, etc. In the second book, The Dead and the Gone, we see the same event from the perspective of 17-year-old Alex Morales, who lives in Brooklyn NY. In both books, families grow close and the teens grow up overnight, learning to survive the elements, losing the ones they love, and discovering their ability to find happiness in unlikely places and in the smallest things.

I don't think I'm spoiling much by telling you that in the third installment, the characters from the first two books converge, and is narrated again by Miranda through her diary. Which is very exciting in the hearts of my daughter and I. We were both invested in Miranda, Alex and their families. It is satisfying to learn what happens next.

Except that what happens next is really no bed of roses. There is more hardship to come, I'm afraid to say, and is devastating to watch. Haven't these people suffered enough? Adversely, Pfeffer brightens things up a bit with some well-placed love interests, and with the message that "family" can be defined in more ways than one. Religion continues to play a vital role in some of the characters' strength to go on. Hang onto those little shards of hope, my reading friends - you will need them.

The ending is not tied up with a pretty red ribbon, which I greatly respect. We are left to imagine how things might be resolved at the ground level, in Alex and Miranda's microcosm. I have firm opinions on that; I'm sure you're shocked. From a macro, total-earth level, we get no answers either. One has to hold onto the belief that humanity will persevere, and will slowly rise from the ashes. I believe that Pfeffer could easily add on another book or two, and there would be plenty of material to work with.

My daughter Emma (who is 12, just for reference) and I both loved this series. It isn't sugar-coated - it is the end of the world, after all! For the overly sensitive tween or teen, the images of death could be disturbing for them. But it does have excellent life lessons embedded in the story. There is no foul language, and although there are teenage hormones bouncing around here and there, it is fairly chaste. I will mention that Miranda's last action, before she is left to the fate we create for her in our minds, is quite controversial. It got a raised eyebrow out of me, but I was not offended and I did not disagree (Emma was in the opposing corner however). It was a gutsy and potentially polarizing move on the part of the author.

So just to prevent any panic attacks, stock up on canned goods, bottled water, get practiced up on your wood-chopping skills, and grab these endearing, quick reads. You won't be sorry you did.

Emma: 4 out of 5 stars

Me: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Dead and the Gone - Susan Beth Pfeffer

The Last Survivors Trilogy has been flying above the radar for some time in the Young Adult literary circles. The series is also one of many that are fueling a sort of apocalypse fever gripping young readers (and a few older ones). I read the first book in the series, Life As We Knew It, with my daughter, and we both loved it. We knew at this point the deal was done...we had to see it through to the end.

The premise of both books is that an asteroid has hit the moon, pushing it closer to the earth, and unleashing tsunamis, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, flu outbreaks, loss of electricity, food shortages...your basic end-of-the-world fun. In The Dead and the Gone, we experience the after-effects through the eyes of Alex Morales, a lower-income 17 year-old living in New York City. Alex is a model kid, attending a Catholic school on scholarship, an over-achiever, and a good example for his two younger sisters.

When the asteroid hits the moon, Alex's father is in Puerto Rico attending a funeral, and his mother is in transit to her job at a Bronx hospital. With both parents missing in action, names on the list of those "gone", Alex becomes the head of household and caregiver for his sisters. He must live by his wits, bartering objects in his apartment building and objects taken from dead bodies for food and clothing. While he is determined to protect his sisters, he is spiritually distraught at what actions the circumstances have forced him to take.

Unlike the first book, where religious leaders were corrupt, religion plays a significant and positive role in the emotional and physical survival of these children. They pray, they attend church, the Catholic school continues to feed and educate throughout the crisis, and Alex receives guidance from various priests to help him reconcile his conscience with God.

Inevitably, as electricity is lost, the volcanic ash causes arctic conditions, and New York is quarantined due to the flu epidemic, humanity starts to circle the drain, including the Morales children. While the situation is oppressive and hopeless, with a significant body count to keep us humble, Pfeffer also rewards us with moments of beauty. Alex's spoiled, brattish 12 year-old sister grows up and pulls her weight in the family, Alex finds a special friendship with a boy he had previously disregarded, and faith prevails.

The novelty seems to have worn off after having experienced the asteroid event in book one, and maybe for this reason, book two wasn't quite as riveting. Nevertheless, I read this book in a day and a half, and was entertained and touched by the different perspective. I was especially thankful for the fact that we Catholics, who are usually on the receiving end of the media truncheon, were cast as a positive force.

The third and final installment, This World We Live In, is launched in less than a month. Knowing that the worlds and protagonists of books one and two converge in this novel makes the anticipation in the Nawrot house feverishly high. We hope it lives up to our expectations!

Here are my daughter's thoughts:

The Dead and the Gone turned out to be an interesting book in all. I wasn't jumping out of my seat in the beginning. It actually made me want to put the book down it was so boring. But, as the book progressed, it continued to get more interesting and made me want to read more. It starts just telling about a boy's life and his family. Then, when the asteroid hits the moon, it talks about
Alex and his two sisters trying to survive. At this point, events start to happen, leading the three kids to different places, having to do different things, and protecting one another. It was at this stage that I actually got more attentive to the book.

The characters in the book were very different from one another. Julie, Alex's youngest sister sounded like a spoiled brat to me. On the bright side she acted very tough at times, which was an advantage, based on everything that was happening. Bri, Alex's oldest sister, was a lot more kinder and gentler than Julie. She does not act like a normal teenager would.

The beginning of the book made me feel bored. The middle section of the book made me feel surprised and sick, because of all the disgusting things. The end made me feel completely sad because of a big shock that happens, that you'll just have to find out when you read it.

Tip: Read the first book in this series, Life As We Knew It - it is a way better book than this one, in my opinion.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Emma's rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Coupling

A couple of weeks ago we covered those amazing sidekicks. This week's Monday Movie Meme with the Bumbles is all about those sizzling couples on the silver screen. It takes a special chemistry to really make a movie sizzle...some have it, and some don't. Just because I MUST, I will need to repeat one or two from the Bumbles, but here are my picks for the week:

1. Harry and Sally (When Harry Met Sally) - I couldn't tell you how many times I've seen this movie. On paper, these two would be an unlikely couple. I mean, Billy Crystal? Sizzle? But sizzle they do, and it doesn't lessen even on the thirtieth viewing.

2. Jack and Rose (The Titanic) - I can't even say that I LIKED either of these actors when this movie debuted, but these two really clicked together. When they reunited in Revolutionary Road, I saw interviews that claimed that these two had such a connection, they considered themselves best friends and talked daily on the phone ever since, over all these years. (I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that she is getting a divorce???)

3. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara (Gone With the Wind) - agreed, the relationship was dysfunctional, but dysfunction never looked so good. I tingle every time I watch a drunken Rhet whisk Scarlett up those stairs.

4. Rick and Ilsa (Casablanca) - I will never get over the fact that these two didn't end up together. It's just wrong.

5. Maria and Captain von Trapp (The Sound of Music) - I dare you not to get goosebumps when they first dance, alone outside, as the party goes on inside. Melts my cynical little heart!

6. Baby and Johnny (Dirty Dancing) - the coolest thing about this movie, and probably why it resonated with so many of us teeny boppers, was that Baby represented every one of us that felt they didn't fit in and felt like we had two left feet. And she still gets the hot guy!

7. Richard and Elise (Somewhere in Time) - even back in his hey day with Superman, I never thought Christopher Reeve was a hottie, but with Jane Seymore, he perfects the art of eye contact and the look of love. Mama Mia.

Frankly, I could go on for at least another dozen couples, but alas, the kids must go to school! So let me hear your thoughts. Agree? Disagree and have some better names? What say you?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Salon: Where to begin?

Happy Sunday to you all! I'm sitting here on the tail end of the 24 Hour Read-a-thon, knowing that in just a few short hours I will need to be on the road to Sarasota for a shopping boondoggle with one of my High School friends who is vacationing in sunny Florida. I will be gone most of the day, so I guess now (4:45am) is the perfect time to tell you about my week. And what a week it was!

My kids were on Spring Break, so much of my time was spent playing. Emma and Ryan both had playdates throughout the week, we did some shopping, saw The Last Song per the request of Emma (as loathing as I was to see it, it wasn't all that bad), and attempted to go to Universal Studios, only to find out that it was blacked out. Boy did I feel like a heel for not checking! Overall, it was a nice week of hanging out though.

Friday night was our big Adult Literacy League fund-raising event, and it was a huge success! I don't have numbers yet, but it was close to sold out, and people were bidding on everything. Seriously, the book table was overwhelming...such an amazing array of literary coolness, thanks to many of you! Of course I had to buy a few of the books back for myself. My husband was also running amuck with a drink in hand, bidding on things. He ended up winning one of the "big" prizes...the Chef's Table for 8 at The Capitol Grille with limo service! He also got Emma and I tickets for Discovery Cove, where you can swim with the dolphins. But here is the auction item that blew my mind and that you will appreciate...he bid on the opportunity for MY NAME to be in Connie May Fowler's next book!!!!! Can you believe it??? What an amazing gift!

And speaking of Connie May, I did finally get to meet this lovely woman (if you missed her amazing guest post on Friday, you really must check it out). I had her sign all of my Connie books and was able to snap this picture:

I was pretty star-struck. In fact, I dreamed about it all Friday night! I know, I'm such a geek.

Then of course the 24 Hour Read-a-thon on Saturday. For those of you that get the automatic e-mails, I apologize. You probably didn't realize I was going to be posting a million times over the period of a day. The kids did a pretty good job. My non-reading son Ryan read 160 pages. Emma read 323 pages. And I read just around 500. I slept 3 hours, and took a break for a shower and church. This was my first time participating, and it was an interesting experience. I'm very impressed with the individuals who organized it, hosted various shifts, the cheerleaders, the readers, all. It is truly awesome to see 400 bloggers all supporting each other in a common mission!

So what this all boiled down to was a decent amount of reading. The kids and I are about 7 discs into Harry Potter 6. I wasn't able to make much headway on the audio "Let the Great World Spin" since the kids were always around, but after 6 or 7 discs, I'm seriously loving the story. I finished Facebook Fairytales, The World We Live In (the third and final installment of The Last Survivors trilogy), Small Change (a review copy), The Summer of Moonlight Secrets (middle grade ARC from my buddy Danette Haworth), and Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin. Not shabby eh? Now I just have to find time to write the reviews!

So now I think it is time for me to go back to sleep and get a couple more hours of shut-eye before I doing some driving. Have a wonderful (and for those sleep-deprived, restful) Sunday!

24 Hour Read-a-thon: Hour 20 and Back for More

After 3 hours of sleep, I'm back at Hour 20 (3:00am)! Don't know for how long...after all, I do need to be in top form to hit the road at 8am for my 2 hour drive to Sarasota. But I figure, do a post, read a little more, sleep a little more, see where it takes me.

There are a couple of mini challenges going on out there that I will attempt. The first is "Go INDIE", where we need to extol the virtues of our favorite independent bookstore. Sad story, that. In Orlando, FL, we only had one indie store called Urban Think, and they have recently closed their doors. They were an amazing little store, downtown, walkable from my kids' school. But as many indie stores do these days, they just couldn't make ends meet. How can a community of over a million people not be able to support an indie store? Are we that lacking of culture? Or are we just addicted to Barnes & Noble and Borders?

The other mini challenge is called Hungry for More, where we are to discuss the foods that are keeping us awake. Well, as you know, I haven't been awake. No food (not even Ben & Jerry's) was working. Right now, I'm waffling between tater tots and whole coffee beans. The tater tots might just be too much work.

I'm going to see if I can get any closer to finishing my book before I crash again. Good luck to the rest of you!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

24 Hour Read-a-thon: Hour 15 and Brain Dead

Hour 16 and counting. It is 11:15 at night, the kids just retired and I will probably not last much longer. The mini challenge was clever...too clever for my muddled brain. So I will give one last update for the evening, go to sleep and see when I wake up.

According to my record-keeper Emma, she has read 323 pages, and is still reading The Purloined Boy. She wanted to finish it, but it wasn't meant to be. Ryan hasn't read anything in ages...he made it to 160 pages, which is really a miracle for a non-reading child. I am currently at 321 pages and have about 60 more pages to read of Knots and Crosses. The book has what you need in a crime thriller...a good and damaged protagonist, heinous acts of violence, and as of yet, an unsolvable mystery. I'm going to try my darnedest to finish it, but I'm faltering.

I took a hot bath, but that just made me tired. Then my record-keeper offered her foot massage services, but that made me tired too.

I wish you all the Red Bull you can handle, and hope you make it later than I!

24 Hour Read-a-thon: Mid-Event Survey Mini Challenge

We are officially half-way through our 24 Hour Read-a-Thon! I suspect the next 12 won't be quite as productive as the first 12. In fact, I have to be on the road by 8am tomorrow morning to meet a friend for shopping in Sarasota - a 2 hour trip! It is going to be fun, but how fried am I going to be??? Anyway, since this is kind of a mile-marker, and the challenge only requires me to answer some questions, I'm in. Here they are:

1. What are you reading right now?

I am reading Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin, page 78 out of 228. Emma is reading The Purloined Boy by Mortimus Clay. Ryan is reading something Hardy Boys.

2. How many books have you read so far?

We have each finished one book and are variable stages throughout the second.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

I hate to sound negative, but I think I will be lucky to finish the one I'm reading right now. I will attempt, however to also read A Painter's Life by Kenneth Dixon. He sent the book to me months ago, and I really owe him a review!

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day?

Since we are on Spring Break, we really had no commitments except for church. I informed my husband that he would be on his own for the day, and he didn't complain...he is working on taxes and he needed the peace and quiet.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

We have had many interruptions, as you might imagine with a 10 year old and a 12 year old. They got hungry. They fought. I showered and went to church. But I just went with it. Interruptions aren't necessarily a bad thing.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

How freaking unproductive I have been! You would think, 12 hours into this thing, that I would have read several books. But between life and the blogging, I am moving at a snail's pace.

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

Since I am a newbie, I am afraid I have no words of wisdom for you. I think you are all amazing, and this whole event has been very well organized!

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year?

Even though the kids have been a source of frustration, I wouldn't change it for the world. I hope they walk away from this event with positive memories of our "camp out". Perhaps I should stay away from the computer a little more?

9. Are you getting tired yet?

Just a little fuzzy. I was nodding off around 3:00, but I'm back up and running after a break and dinner. I have vowed that I will not drink wine this evening!

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered?

Maybe make Candace's special brownies? Actually, I don't think I'm going to be the poster child of the read-a-thon this time, based on some of the stats I've seen on other blogs.

OK, I'm headed back to the book. See you soon!

24 Hour Read-a-thon: Hour 11 and Mini Challenge Malaise

I'm back! It is now Hour 11, and we have had a little break. I desperately needed a shower and we went to church. The kids also had to blow off some steam so they played volleyball outside. We have organized ourselves back in the usual position and are gearing up for the evening edition.

I finally finished The Summer of Moonlight Secrets and have started Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin. I have half-heartedly attempted several mini-challenges but failed. I couldn't get the push-pin to work in marking the location of my book (Edinburgh Scotland) and I didn't have any pictures of any of my elders reading to me when I was small. I also wasn't willing to take a picture of the panties I might throw at my favorite author either. Hmph. But I'll keep trying! I am feeling mightily uncreative.

Here are our stats:

Emma: 185 pages
Ryan: 95 pages
Sandy: 210 pages

I took a little walk outside, and had to share a picture of our blooming tree. It brightens my day every time I see it! It certainly got the cobwebs out of my brain! (Hey, I think that just qualified for a mini challenge! Woo hoo!)