Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Body Work - Sara Paretsky (A V.I. Warshawski novel)

It has been YEARS since I've read a Sara Paretsky novel, but I've always been fond of her V.I. Warshawski series. Victoria Warshawski is a "mature" (not using the term "older" since I turned 40), hard-boiled private investigator who pursues evil-doers in my favorite town of Chicago. She is a truly likable character who has a heart of gold, will champion her causes like a dog with a bone, and will kick ass if she needs to. She surrounds herself with wonderful, quirky friends, like her protective, elderly neighbor Mr. Contreras, her young, naive niece Petra, and her rambunctious dogs. She reminds me alot of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone.

So anyway, when Lydia Hirt from Penguin Group contacted me about various review possibilities, I concentrated really hard to say "no, no thank you, I'm overwhelmed, but thanks Lydia". Then she said "Hey! I've a Sara Paretsky novel coming up" and I caved. Just like that. I was very excited to catch up with "Vic" and see what she is up to.

As usual, she is knee-deep in trouble. Concerned with the welfare of her niece's recent employment with a seedy club, she sneaks in on a night when "The Body Artist" debuts her most unusual act...to show up on stage stark naked, covered in makeup, and invite members of the audience to paint on her. Vic witnesses some strange stuff: One nasty-looking man drawing some kind of code on the Artist's backside, a young distressed Latina who paints some kind of symbol on the Artist, and a soldier from Iraq that becomes enraged as a result. When the Latina is later shot and killed outside the club, and the soldier appears to have been framed for the murder, Vic just cannot resist getting involved.

You get your money's worth with this plot. You would expect an element of the criminal underworld, because that is just the nature of the beast, but what you also get is lesbianism, the pain of having one's sexual orientation ridiculed, the politics and big business of the war in Iraq, and post traumatic stress disorder. Vic digs head first into the meat of the problem, and comes up for air holding a big nest of intertwined plot threads, ulterior motives and hidden agendas. It was more than little fun to stick my nose into the mess, and watch Vic sort it all out.

And speaking of fun, you are always in store for a little comedic relief in Paretsky's novels. We're not talking Stephanie Plum wackiness, but Vic's antics are good for a chuckle. For example, I LOVED the fact that a bad guy called Vic a "dried up old cougar" (and Vic wasn't sure if that was a complement or a slam!). In another scene, I was tickled at the vision of Vic and her entourage (her cousin, her old neighbor, two Marines and her two dogs) interrogating a person of interest, with everyone talking and barking and almost running into each other. Vic also inadvertently stops a bad guy from killing her by throwing up on the frozen pavement and the bad guy slipping on it and hitting his head. It was all highly amusing.

If you are new to this series, you shouldn't have any trouble hitting the ground running with this book. Obviously, it is impactful if you are aware of back stories and character history, but Paretsky is a master at having built colorful and distinct personalities that shine through with their actions and words. You will feel like you've just run into some old friends.

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Kid Stuff

Today's topic today for the Monday Movie Meme with the Bumbles is all about memorable child actors. This was an easy one! But then I had to decide...do I pick the Oscar winner Anna Paquin? Do I continue my one or two song act and talk about the little guy from The Shining? Do I steal from the Bumbles and talk about the kids from Stand By Me? No! I'm all about keeping you on your toes, so here are a few kids that came to mind early this morning. Ones that I think totally stole the show:

1. Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) - You can't fake that haunted, tortured look that this guy has on his face almost the whole movie.

2. Ricky Schroeder (The Champ) - I've heard the original movie is even better, but when I was growing up, this was the movie we all saw and let loose those ugly cries, especially at that last scene. Even the coldest heart would be cracked open with that performance.

3. Brandon De Wilde (Shane) - This talented kid was unforgettable in his role as a hero-worshipping boy who would have rather had Shane as a daddy (and I don't think his mother would have minded either). Sadly, Brandon was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was only 30, cutting short a potentially successful career.

4. Justin Henry (Kramer v. Kramer) - Another great movie to watch if you need a good cry. Even watching this movie as a self-absorbed 13 year-old, it was quite clear to me the devastation and collateral damage of divorce.

5. Linda Blair (The Exorcist) - I was never really sure how talented you would have to be to act possessed by the devil, but who cares? This movie scares the hell out of me even now, and I've never been able to watch Ms. Blair in another movie.

OK, now it is time for you to remind me of all the other child actors I've forgotten in my early morning daze! What say you?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Salon: The Big Grabowski

A busy week was had in the land of the Nawrot this week. Lots of fun and frivolity and stuff, so please allow me to share with you on this fine Sunday morning!

There was high excitement going into the week because on Wednesday, my husband and I were to fly up to Chicago for an annual business meeting. This is a huge mid-year highlight for me...a handful of days spent shopping and eating our way through the Windy City, kid-free! Woo hoo! My parents drove down from Indiana to watch the kids, and I spent Monday and Tuesday scurrying around getting ready for the trip. While cleaning my pool, I found a little surprise in the skimmer, which I had to fish out and dispose of.

Nice stiff little baby possum, huh? Thought you would enjoy that. I was so offended by the whole experience. Snakes and toads I expect to find, but not that. These things never happen when my husband is home. All I have to say is thank God for the empty lot across the fence.

We arrived Chicago to find the most BEAUTIFUL weather...mid 70's with a little breeze. Big difference from that horrible, oppressive crap in Florida. In the mornings, my husband and I walked by the lake. My friend Jenny and I did the Magnificent Mile from one end to the other, as one must. We ate at one of the original deep-dish pizza joints called Pizzeria Due. We ate at the historic Atwood Cafe. We did drinks at the Trump Tower, then dinner at a place called Benny's Chophouse. Crazy as it sounds for a evening in a chophouse, out of 8 of us, 7 had the Dover Sole, which is something I personally cannot resist if I find it on a menu. It was humorous watching all the little waiter boys hunched over our fish, preparing it for plating:

On our last morning, my husband and I found a popular breakfast joint called West Egg Diner or something like that, where I indulged in something called "The Grabowski" (isn't that the best name for a breakfast dish???), a grilled Polish sausage, covered in mustard, onions and cheese, with a side of eggs, potatoes and English muffin. Hey. At least we walked about five miles that morning. Still, no need for a flight home. I'll just roll back, thanks.

I managed to sneak by Sandmeyer's Bookstore again over on Printer's Row, as I did last year. I was greeted warmly by the lovely Mrs. Sandmeyer, who remembered me from my previous visit. After some cruising through the stacks with her, I came away with the following treasures: 84 Charing Cross Road, Jane Gardam's Old Filth, Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides, Dave Eggers' What is the What, and an Icelandic murder thriller called My Soul to Take. I'd show pictures, but I'm feeling lazy. Of course I want to cast aside every other book I have and read them all...

So what of the reading? Unfortunately, with all of this running around, I got very little done. I'm about halfway through In the Woods by Tana French, and I'm remembering why I was so besotted with this author after reading The Likeness. The kids and I are less than a half hour away from finishing Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Prince of Mist on audio (entertaining but feeling more like a contrived spooky story I'd tell around the campfire). And then there is my current audio, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Everyone seems to have loved this book, but friends, I'm not feeling the love at all. Don't know if the audio production is to blame or what, but I feel like I'm watching paint dry. I so desperately just want to move on. Four more discs. Serenity now.

So I said goodbye to Chicago knowing that in just about week, I will be back for another short stay, during which I am hoping to meet up with Jen @ Devourer of Books and little Daniel. One can really never get enough of that city.

What are all of you up to today?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dangerous Neighbors - Beth Kephart

There is nothing but love for Beth Kephart in my book blog circles, and I had always wanted to make her novels a project some day. That day came for me this past spring, when I was fortunate enough to review "The Heart is Not a Size". It was a beautiful introduction to her work, and gave me a craving for more. Ask and ye shall receive, says Nicole @ Linus's Blanket, and I was offered the chance to review Beth's latest, Dangerous Neighbors.

Plot summary:

The story takes place in an amazing setting... the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial fair. 17 year-old Katherine has recently lost her twin Anna to a tragic accident. Anna was her best friend, her other half of self, and losing her has knocked Katherine's world off its axis. As Katherine relives the last summer of Anna's life in her mind, and grieving over all the mistakes she may have made in their relationship, she stumbles through the magical, transformed streets of Philadelphia wondering if she can go on living. Despite her crisis of the soul, life places a number of carefully disguised blessings in Katherine's path that will challenge her to re-evaluate the downward spiral that she has allowed her life to become.

My thoughts:

This is only my second Beth Kephart book, and therefore still do not have a good sense of her literary depth and breadth. Still, I was nearly giddy with how completely unexpected I found the plot. Similar to "The Heart is Not a Size", Beth's gentleness of spirit was very much present, as well as her pitch-perfect voice of a teenage girl. But what is this?! The Philadelphia Centennial celebration, the symbol of a world that was changing and expanding and moving forward, was an inspired choice for the setting of this story. To match this historically rich event with the tale of a girl who, more than anything, wanted to prevent change, worked brilliantly.

Beth's claim to fame is her poetic prose, and there is no shortage of it here. I like to mark memorable passages as I'm reading, but I might as well have marked the entire book. Just to give you a flavor of the writing in this book, here is a taste:

The organ doesn't sing, it exhales - filling the volume of the Main Exhibition Hall with elaborate moans and peeps. The sound works like a hand in water, sending pulse waves through the minnows below, or at least that is how Katherine, from her perch, has come to see this crowd: as scales and fins, pooling and scattering.

You will find the plot to move at a restrained pace, and the events and the dialogue to be more inward and reflective. Is this typical for the author? I'm not sure, but was a completely different tempo than "The Heart is Not a Size", and was probably another reason why I found myself so surprised. Despite the slower pace, I flew through all 165 pages of it in one sitting, and then afterwards wished I had taken more time to soak in all the beautiful words and imagery.

For die-hard Beth Kephart fans, I am about to state the obvious. While her novels are officially classified as Young Adult, they transcend the genre and would appeal to just about anyone. In other words, I would comfortably loan the book to both my mother and my 12 year-old daughter.

Beth Kephart's blog can be found here. Do yourself a huge favor and check it out...it is just as entertaining as her books!

Have you read any of Beth Kephart's novels? If so, which is your favorite?

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We are big fans of Harry Potter in the Nawrot house. We've read all the books, listened to all the audios, and seen all the movies. Nobody could have been more excited about the new expansion of Universal that opened this past June. However, the place was chaos. The heat and humidity, the crowds, 3 hours to get into the Harry Potter section, 2 hours to get a wand, 2 hours to ride the rides. Please.

But my daughter put her foot down. She must see it before school started, even if we had to wait in lines. So I donned my hat, took my Prozac (ha) and off we went.

We arrived right when the park was opening, and were happy to see that there were no lines to get into the new area. Still, once you get into Hogsmeade, it was nearly standing room only. (An hour and a half after the opening of the park, however, the line was very long.)

Within the Wizarding World, there are three rides, but two of them (a tame coaster and a kick butt coaster) have been refurbished from before, therefore not new to us. Our goal was to ride the new attraction, The Forbidden Journey. Riders must be 48 inches tall to ride. (There has also been some scuttlebutt about the ride not accommodating larger folks as well.) At 9am, the wait for this ride was one hour, and does not offer an express option. We decided to get in the single rider line, and it took only 15 minutes. Another tip? Don't bring your backpacks and bags to the park...period. Not only do you have to have these bags checked by security before you enter Universal (which is a long line) but for this particular ride, all guests carrying bags have to stand in a long line just to put their gear into lockers. I shove all of my belongings in pockets. It's the way to go.

The queue meanders through the Hogwarts castle. All of the framed pictures on the walls are actually LCD TVs, and they move and talk. Right before you get on the ride, the Sorting Hat wishes you well.

The ride itself it a blast. Your car moves through different rooms in the castle, and incorporates film, movement and three dimensional elements, like steam and water, to make it a virtual ride. You feel like you are riding a broom, and get to come face-to-face with dementors!

Once you are wandering around Hogsmeade, you are faced with more lines. Particularly, if you want to buy a wand at Olivander's (an experience in itself, I am told), you must wait for the privilege. There is a "secret entrance" in the back of the shop that will allow you to bypass the lines, but alas, it is no longer secret. There was a long line for that too!

So, we had to try Butterbeer, right? All three of us got a cup of it, and all I can say is...now we know what it tastes like. To me, it was like a butterscotch candy liquefied and kind of milky. Frankly it was pretty gross. None of us could finish it. They serve it regular and frozen. They also served Pumpkin Juice too, but we chickened out. (See their faces? They're not looking too sure, are they?)

We did shop at Zonkos Joke Shop (Emma got a Pygmy Puff. When you buy one, they ring a bell and announce to the crowd that a "Pygmy Puff named Poofy has just been adopted!". I also bought the kids Chocolate Frogs at Honeydukes. I did notice they have a restaurant called The Three Broomsticks, where guests can dine on authentic British food. The village is a feast for the eyes and senses - the attention to detail allows for lots of browsing.

So is anyone planning on visiting? We definitely will be returning ourselves...when it is cooler and when there are a few less people visiting the park!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Yosemite #8

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Stand Volume 3: Soul Survivors

Just in case you were on vacation and missed my previous posts on the most blow-your-mind graphic novels, I will get you up to speed. Stephen King and the creative folks at Marvel have teamed up to transform one of the most epic apocalyptic novels, The Stand, into graphic novel form. At this stage, only three volumes have been published, out of six in total. I have them ALL in my hot little hands (evil cackle). Here are my reviews of Volume 1: Captain Trips and Volume 2: American Nightmares.

The various groups of survivors all continue to trek westward looking for Mother Abigail. Nick adopts Tom Cullen as a companion, Larry meets Nadine and Joe, and the Stu/Frannie/Harold/Glenn gang pick up stragglers as well. The focus of this volume is the history of Mother Abigail, the increasing tension between Frannie, Stu and Harold, and the growing presence of characters that clearly fall on the side of good or evil.

The visuals, as usual, are stunning. Here are a few:

Nick and Tom Cullen.

Mother Abigail, awaiting the coming storm.

The wild boy Joe, threatening Larry.

Volume 4, we are told in the bonus section at the end of the book, is called "Hardcases" (I'm thinking we will learn more about The Walking Dude's evil minions?). And as in previous books, we are treated to another illustration 101, an explanation of coloring from one of the artists, Laura Martin.

By now, you probably can guess that I will be collecting the entire series. It doesn't get much geekier for me, folks.

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Prison Break

Here is our weekly Monday Movie Meme challenge, if we choose to accept it. The Bumbles have asked us for our favorite prison movies, and they had the NERVE to tell me I couldn't use Shawshank Redemption!!!! People, that is the best prison movie of all time! Plus they took some other good ones, like Dead Man Walking. Party poopers. I was able to scrape together a few other memorable ones:

1. Chicago - I went into this movie with an attitude, because I can't freaking STAND Rene Zellwegger, but I ultimately (and sheepishly) enjoyed it. You just know if you lock a bunch of women up together, there is going to be trouble.

2. The Green Mile - If I can't list Shawshank, then this is the next best thing if you are looking for a movie to rip your heart out. Also, Stephen King penned both stories. This is one Tom Hanks role that I think is under appreciated.

3. Papillon - Steve McQueen + Dustin Hoffman + exotic locations = one amazing movie. At the time, the $12 million price tag made it a huge risk, but it made it's money back, and then some. You don't want to miss this one.

4. American History X - Neo Nazis and racial hatred make this an intense movie, but the real star is my man Edward Norton. I've said this before, but I would watch just about anything he starred in (even The Hulk).

5. 48 Hours - I thought this list needed some humor, and back in the '80's Eddie Murphy had that market cornered. Didn't he also give a great new spin to the song Roxanne?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Salon: School Days

Dzien dobry my fine friends! I come to you today slightly tired, and a little off-kilter. It has been one of those weeks. The kids started school on Tuesday, so it's all good, but I've been flying around here like a nutcase. There is a trade-off for having my days back, and I really don't want to bore you with my whining, but it will take a week or two for me to adjust to my new schedule. I'm also kind of freaking out my oldest is going into 7th grade. How did that happen? We are also immersed in a nice, healthy sports schedule, with my son's first football game yesterday, and my daughter's basketball season starting tomorrow. It is always encouraging to get them off the couch.

I had my initial meeting on the Heathrow Literary Society this week with the Director of Membership from Heathrow and a gentleman named David who will officially chair the group. I knew everything would be OK when David and I immediately began to gush all over each other about the brilliance of Middlesex, and had to shut ourselves down when we realized our third lunch partner was being excluded (although I think she found our enthusiasm amusing). Our intention is to try to keep our reading selections on the literary end of the spectrum, which has really got me pumped. Our first official meeting is in mid-September, so I will keep you updated!

One of the perks of a new school year is my ability to return to my walking (in the 95 degree, but who cares about a little sweat). So I've been productive with my audios. I finished "Gods in Alabama" by Joshilyn Jackson, and I'm wondering why it has taken me 44 years to read her! May I digress here for just a moment, and mention how totally cool it was that the two of the main characters in the story played a game called "What do I have in my pocketses?", which is a nod to Gollum in The Hobbit? That tickled me to no end. After I finished that little bundle of fun, I started the latest Jack Reacher novel "61 Hours" and I have less than a disc away from finishing that. The kids and I are also very close to finishing the latest Carlos Ruiz Zafon audio "The Prince of Mist".

I also read "The Gendarme" by Mark T. Mustian, the latest Amy Einhorn imprint. After that, my sitting and reading came to a complete halt, and I'm about two pages into "In the Woods" by the most wonderful Tana French. I need to get some pool time today to put a dent on that one.

I would also like to raise a toast to my husband, who has put up with me for 18 years. Our anniversary was yesterday, and we celebrated by not only sitting and sweating all day at a football game, and going wine shopping, but attending a birthday party for a friend last night, then slipping away for a nice dinner. 18 years is a really long time to live with someone, but it really seems like only yesterday that we just met.

So as you can probably tell, the week has been hectic, and yesterday we spent probably a whole two hours at home. I didn't even touch my computer or visit any of you, so please forgive me. I predict most of my Saturdays from now on will be traveling the same path.

So what plans to you have today? I am hoping to write a couple of reviews (which I am behind on AGAIN), and maybe read a few chapters of my current book.

Happy Sunday!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Passage - Justin Cronin (Audio)

Among bloggers, I think I'm one of the last to read one of this summer's hottest sensations, The Passage. Entertainment Weekly made it one of its top selected summer reads, it is the first of a trilogy (the hottest trend in the literary world these days), and is being fast-tracked by Fox 2000 and Ridley Scott for a movie adaptation. At 784 pages, or 29 discs, America was doing a whole of reading over the last few months.

For those new to the scene, here it the gist. The military, of course, have discovered a virus in the jungles of South America that could potentially create a super-human soldier. But as we all know, these things rarely turn out well, and the virus in fact transforms humans into something called "virals", or vicious, vampire-like creatures that can fly. While in the experimentation stage, twelve of the test subject get loose, as they are wont to do, and unleash their unholy rage upon humanity. In a period of months, the US has been rendered a wasteland, overrun by millions of these nocturnal killing machines. Chaos ensues...cities burn to the ground, bombs are dropped on unsalvagable communities, Louisiana is a toxic dump, and California recedes from the union (I'm having a hard time keeping a straight face). Survivors must go to ground, learning to live without modern conveniences.

The shining beacon of hope is Amy, a young girl who was also a test subject, but only inherited immortality and none of that ugly ripping and killing stuff.

The book is multi-generational, from the point of impact (now considered "year zero") to a hundred years "AV", and are even given a peek into the diaries of the survivors a thousand years later. The story is epic, therefore, there are words. So many words, and so many details. But I am a student of Stephen King, and cut my teeth on The Stand, so I am a firm believer in detail. You need this detail to LIVE the experience and invest in it. Needless to say, while I had a hard time taking it very seriously (or maybe it was like whistling in the graveyard) but I really enjoyed this book.

I did experience periods of dejavu. It had whiffs of The Stand, and maybe a little of The Road. It reeked of I Am Legend. But I won't hold it against Cronin for possibly allowing pop culture to subconsciously seep into the plot. It was entertaining in its own right. By the way, I am way over vampire books, and while this one might initially sound like another one that has hopped on the bandwagon, it is not.

I had a couple small prose irritations. The constant use of the exclamation "flyers!", which I am assuming is like saying "damn!", was annoying. Cronin was also at times very liberal with the similes. Not enough to start a drinking game with them, but enough that I noticed.

I did experience periods of mental wandering. After the thrill (if that is what you want to call it) of the initial cataclysm, Cronin takes some time to set up the scene a hundred years later - the personalities, the socio-economic structure, and the governing laws of one surviving community. I had to push a bit to get through this middle section of the book, but the pace picked back up again two-thirds of the way through, and blasted me out of my seat right to the very last cliff-hanger. Damn that man. How long to I have to wait for the next installment? Two years?

A word about the audio production. Not the best narrator. Scott Brick had a big job assigned to him here, but I'm not sure he was the right man for the task. His voice had very little inflection, except for a slight downturn of each sentence, like you would expect to hear from a martyrish, long-suffering type. There are also two small narration parts, one for each of the diaries preserved and read a thousand years into the future. Those narrators were female, and were very good, just not enough of them. That being said, I dealt with it, and it never became so intrusive that I considered quitting.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone that has a little patience and a love for the apocalypse.

4 out of 5

Thursday, August 19, 2010

So Cold the River - Michael Koryta

When I discovered that "So Cold the River" was a mystery/thriller that took place at the West Baden Resort in French Lick, Indiana, I cast all caution and reading commitments to the wind, ran out and bought the hard cover book. This NEVER happens in my life. OK, I had a coupon, but unless a book is given to me gratis for a review, hard covers are saved for library rentals. Why was I worked into a lather? Because I visited this resort last fall, and it blew. my. mind. I even published a post about it, I was so utterly breathless over this resort that absolutely DID NOT BELONG in a small, southern Indiana town. It was like finding the crown jewels in a (charming yet modest) pile of chicken feed.

Eric Shaw, a down-and-out film maker living in Chicago, is approached by a beautiful young woman to make a documentary of her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford's, life. Because Campbell is approaching death and unable to communicate, Eric has very little to go on, except that the old man spent his childhood in French Lick, Indiana. The young woman also hands him an old bottle of mineral water taken from that town's springs, and has been in Campbell's possession for his entire adult life.

So Eric head's down to French Lick to stay at one of it's two famous hotels, the West Baden Springs Resort. The hotel, with its restored dome and rich history, immediately entrances Eric. Since I'd been there, I knew exactly how he felt.

Entrance to West Baden Resort, which is described in detail in this book.

The infamous dome. You can see the balconies that overlook the enclosed area, similar to the one where Eric stayed.

But soon Eric is distracted from the hotel's beauty and observes another side to the area, and begins to have visions of a buried evil that threatens to resurface and destroy everyone in its path. And that old bottle of water...why is the surface of the bottle always so cold? Strangely, this water seems to have more going on than just the purported healing qualities.

You know when they say that the location of a novel (or movie) can act as another character? This is one of those times, whether you have visited the resort or not. Koryta grew up near French Lick, and felt his writer's muse stir when a local businessman renovated both historic hotels to their original grandeur. His description of the grounds and the hotel, and its history, is complete, and you will feel like you have heard your own footsteps echo under the giant dome.

Some of the characters I thoroughly enjoyed, particularly the elderly but spirited Anne McKinney, the town historian and weather-watcher, who goes to the resort's bar for her daily tipple. I also liked Kellen Cage, a lively African-American student at Indiana University who was writing his thesis on the history of blacks in the area, and attempts to assist Eric in unearthing information about Campbell Bradford. On the other hand, Josiah Bradford, a descendant of Campbell, was a little bit of a parody of an angry southern boy. And our protagonist, Eric Shaw, seemed to be overly obsessed with his failures in life, even a tad whiny.

The story delves into the paranormal, which is something I was not expecting. At times, it seemed slightly outlandish, and I had to let go of all the practical little voices inside my head. Once I gave myself permission to go with it, it sucked me in. Ghosts, murders, secrets, and vengeful demons abound, and while I couldn't take it too seriously, the whole gothic feel to the whole story, interspersed with real history, was incredibly riveting.

Overall, I am thrilled to have read it. And now I want to go back...

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Yosemite #7

For more Wordless Wednesday photos, click here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Stand Volume 2: American Nightmares

Here is the hard, cold truth...once you start this series, you won't be able to stop. The concept of Stephen King's The Stand is compelling enough - a super flu wipes out 99% of the earth's population, leaving only the good and the evil to fight it out to determine who will rule the world. The words themselves are graphic and frightening, but seeing the reality of it spring to life in graphic novel form is a whole different animal.

It started with Volume 1: Captain Trips, which was a birthday prezzie from The Bumbles. I promptly ordered the next two volumes, which are the only ones available at this point.

Pretty much the entire population has died of the flu at this point. The wagons begin circling, and the line between the good and evil has been clearly drawn. Everyone begins to have dreams of The Walking Dude (the devil or a high level minion) and of a little old black woman living in the cornfields of Nebraska named Mother Abigail. Stu escapes from the CDC in Vermont, and meets up with Glen Bateman, his dog Kojak, Fran and Harold (and oh I wish I could find a picture of Harold...he is just repulsive), Nick leaves his post as the jailer of Shoyo, Arkansas and heads for Mother Abigail. We meet the Trashcan Man (no doubt who's side HE will be on):

And also catch up with Lloyd Henreid, the miscreant trapped in an Arizona prison, starving and going a little insane:

Probably one of the most vivid scenes in this volume is also one of the most vivid in the printed book, and that is Larry Underwood's trek through the Lincoln Tunnel. You know, the long, dark tunnel full of dead people?

Like Volume 1, the plot in Volume 2 is very true to the original story, as far as I can remember. As with the book, once the virus has done its horrific damage, the pace starts to slow a little, and our characters begin to trudge down the road of no return. The scenes are no less shocking, however, and the artists are clearly enjoying themselves.

It appears that the artists have decided to give us little bonuses with each volume. In this one, in addition to offering different cover variants, they explain how inking and shading is used to create mood and texture. They also stress the importance of making particular scenes (New York for example) authentic. It is almost more awesomeness than one fangirl of Stephen Kind can handle. Stay tuned next week for Volume 3...

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009) - The Movie

Down here in Orlando, we are slightly deprived of culture, particularly in the indie movie category. (I've probably moaned about this before, so pardon my continued whining. My only escape is Netflix.) We have one theater that shows something other than blockbusters, and it is a small, limited-seating, one-screen deal. They generally show one movie a week, so it can take ages and some finger-crossing to get to see the lesser known movies of our choice.

With all that in mind, do I really need to tell you how loud I screamed when my friend Marianne called me and informed me that "The Girl Who Played With Fire" was now showing? This movie just released in the US recently, and I was shocked at how quickly our theater snatched it up. Apparently, the shows have been sold out, which makes my heart happy (except when I have to stand in line to fight for a seat). Right after this phone call, I received an e-mail from a local blogger, Zibilee (Heather) at Raging Bibliomania, giving me the same great news. I invited her to come along. So two highlights in one...more Lisbeth, and getting to meet my second-ever blogger in real life!

I'm not going to go through the plot of the second installment of the Millennium series here. What I will tell you is that the story stayed generally true to the book, but there were massive amounts of details left out. I recognize this is the way it must be, when the book is over 600 pages long. I was happy to see they didn't change small but critical details like they did in the first film.

In this movie, we find Lisbeth to be a tad bit more feminine (only a tad!) with longer hair and less piercings. I never noticed this until Heather mentioned it, but she says very few words in the film - it is all about her actions and facial expressions. We aren't privy to her internal thoughts, which is always the benefit of the printed word. Casting on the new characters (Zala and Neiderman specifically) were excellent, and really exactly what you would expect. I'm still finding the character of Erika to be a little creepy and worn-out looking.

Similar to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, this is not a flick for the faint of heart. It re-lives some of the violence from the first movie (via the infamous DVD), plus adds some new violence with guns and an ax for good measure, and includes a lesbian sex scene. In other words, don't take the kids!

I will leave you with a picture of Heather and I, with our glasses in hand, waiting in our queue to get into the movie. She was so sweet...she brought me books and bookmarks! It was so nice to get to know her a little better. What I find amazing is how two people, who have never met before, can instantaneously jump into a conversation like they've known each other for years. The world is so small in that way, and is what makes the book blogging community so special. I'm hoping that we can get together again soon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Salon: Last Days of Summer

The last week of summer has passed. Back to school, back to waking up early, back to driving hundreds of miles a week, back to separate sports schedules and homework. Back to peace and serenity during the day. Ahhhh!

So how did we spend the week? The kids and I went to Universal twice...once to finally see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (post coming on the 26th!) and once to ride everything else. It was hotter than all get out, but it pleased the little cherubs temporarily. We also completed the second week of daily football practices, in between some ugly storms that were a result of that Tropical Depression that pushed off into the gulf. I got a little more yard work done. Overall, we were pretty lazy, but I was willing to chalk it up to enjoying the last bit of irresponsibility.

Last Sunday evening, my friend Marianne and I went to see "The Girl Who Played With Fire" for our high-octane shot of Lisbeth, AND we met up with Heather/Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania. I will be posting my review of the movie and our adventure tomorrow, in place of the Monday Movie Meme. Suffice it to say, however, Heather is a sweetheart and I so enjoyed meeting her!

You would think that with all that laying around being a slug, I would have finished a dozen books, but for some reason I was in slow motion. I did finally finish the audio of "Middlesex", and Jenners and I are working on a little co-review of that piece of literary brilliance. The kids and I also finished "How I Live Now" on audio, and we loved it. So what audios are on the agenda for next week? The kids and I will listen to Carlos Ruiz Zafon's newly released "The Prince of Mist", and I will be listening to Joshilyn Jackson's "Gods of Alabama". (These are both short audios, which is what the doctor ordered after "The Passage" and "Middlesex", which both were turning into careers!!!)

On the print side of things, I just wrapped up "Body Work" by Sara Paretsky and then made a beeline to "The Gendarme" by Mark Mustian, the newest Amy Einhorn book. I've got other things I really need to be reading, but I just couldn't resist really.

I was contacted this week by a lady who works at our country club. She wanted to know if I would be interested in helping start up a Literary Society at the club. I jumped at the chance! I was particularly intrigued by the use of the term "literary", which I am hoping means that I don't have to read any Nicholas Sparks?! (I am so bad, I should be ashamed.) We will be able to use the board room for our meetings, it will be held over the lunch hour (aka no babysitting issues) and will provide a great opportunity to perhaps conference or Skype in an author or two. Since my current book club always meets at a noisy restaurant, we've never been able to do this, so I am pumped.

So, what do you all have going on today? What are you reading?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

DNF: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (audio)

With all of my heart, I tried. We adapted to the somewhat difficult narrator and actually enjoyed The Hobbit, but that story was simple, sweet and dear. With the complexities of LOTR, and an increased amount of chanting, singing, Shakespearean trilling and droning on, we crashed and burned. (This has only happened five times in my history of listening to audios.) I fear Viggo will never fall for me now.

It is entirely possible that this is my fault. It is summer, and we are distracted. We just finished Harry Potter, which is an audio masterpiece. But I found myself wanting to read my book in the car on roadtrips instead of listening to the audio. A bad sign, because I am very tolerant. So we took a break. The kids watched movies instead. Then we listened to another disc and it felt physically painful. It was confusing, and I tended to drift. We watched The Fellowship of the Ring the movie, and got a nice long look at Viggo, all sweaty and handsome and brave. But at the end of the day, after the kids and I arrived home from Indiana, none of us were inspired to pick up where we left off. I could have forced the issue, but that tact rarely meets with successful results with my children. We made it through 9 of 16 discs, so we did give it the old college try.

Beth Fish Reads loves these audios, in fact she has listened to them more than once. So my advice, if you are interested, would be to at least give them a chance. These are classic stories that are in need of admiration. I'm not crying uncle yet - maybe the printed version?