Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Salon: Boo

Happy Sunday and Happy Halloween my friends! Is everybody ready for some spookiness this evening? What I am ready for is an evening with friends and my husband's margaritas. It has been another one of those weeks!

As you may have deduced from my Monday Movie Meme post, my son lost his football playoff game Sunday. It was a hard thing to face for me - I wasn't ready for all of that to end. So I brooded for a couple of days over that. My son shook it off though, and is looking forward to an exhibition bowl game to end the season next Saturday up in Jacksonville.

Our Babes, Books and Bordeaux group met this week to discuss "Room", and what a great discussion we had! One of our members is 8 months pregnant, and suffice it to say she didn't get past page 30. But everyone else literally consumed the book and thought it was one of the best books we've ever read. We spent a long time talking about breast-feeding (ha!). You just never know what's going to push our buttons! Our next book is "Cane River" by Lalita Tademy.

My son turned 11 on Thursday. We didn't have school on Friday, so the kids and I went to Universal for a little roller coaster and Harry Potter action. My husband was out of town, so when he got home on Friday night, we all went out for a decadent dinner at one of our better steak houses to celebrate. (My son's choice...he is a meat eater.) As for a little fun with his friends? Because of our crazy schedule this time of year, the poor child usually has to wait until January for that. He wants to take a couple friends to Disney, so I'm going to sit down and try to perform a miracle to squeeze it into the calendar.

I also had a parent meeting on Tuesday evening to put the final touches on a trip coming up next week that I have yet to share with you, because I knew you would be jealous (not). My two kids and I, along with about a hundred other parents and kids from our school, will be flying to Washington DC and Williamsburg for a field trip Wednesday through Friday. We have to be at the airport at 6:30am on Wednesday, land (in theory) at midnight on Friday, and in between those two points is a whole flurry of goodness. Pray for me.

So between all of this, and some more stuff that I won't bore you with, and Blogger shutting down for a good part of Friday, I fear I haven't been as sociable as I normally am. My apologies, but it isn't going to be any better next week. I'll do my best!

So reading. What of reading? The kids and I are about 10 minutes away from finishing "White Cat" on audio. My daughter has declared that she is sick of "this audio book thing" and is annoyed with the mediocre selections as of late (which I guess means White Cat and Mockingjay?). I can probably blame some of this on Harry Potter withdrawal. I may take her to the library and let her pick out the next one, although I'm doubting whether anything will please her these days. I've been listening to "Backseat Saints" by Joshilyn Jackson, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was about one of the characters from "Gods in Alabama"! I love it when authors do that. I'm not sure I like this book as well as GiA, but it has kept me very entertained. Jackson is narrating this book herself, and I love her little southern voice.

After 2 1/2 weeks, I finally wrapped up "Carry the Rock", an OKRA pick and a book I picked up at SIBA. This was a painful experience. In theory, a book about race and football in Little Rock Arkansas should be solid, but it was as dry as dry could be. This is was one of those situations where I should have walked away, but I felt obligated. Anyway, that behind me, I picked up "Before I Fall" by Lauren Oliver. Rhapsody Jill told me I had to read this book, so like a good girl I ordered it from the library. I am unable to put the book down for more than five minutes people. Wow. No idea what I am going to read next. I've got a read-along coming up for Doctor Zhivago with Frances, and a huge stack of urgents on my nightstand. Maybe I should focus on wrapping up some challenges? I'll let the spirit move me.

Hope you all have a safe, candy-filled (the GOOD kind), and perhaps even margarita-filled evening!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The City and the City - China Mieville (Audio)

I am a huge fan of the mystery thriller genre, but I would be the first person to admit that a vast majority of the plots out there are predictable and forgettable. I'm tired of the religious zealot/mother obsessed serial murderer that dismember/eat their victims/take souvenirs, I'm tired of the damaged protagonist's loved one getting kidnapped but living when everyone else dies, I'm even tired of the male and female protagonists that can't seem to cast aside their hangups and get together while chasing bad guys. Please, people, something original!!!!!

Ask and ye shall receive, says China Mieville.

Synopsis: On its surface, it is business as usual. Dogged investigator Tyador Borlu has been assigned to the murder of a young woman found in an empty lot in his home town of Beszel (vaguely Eastern European). Through the first person narrative, Borlu begins to suspect that this is not a straight-forward crime, but one that may have breached borders with Beszel's neighboring city Ul Qoma.

Borlu reveals a unique relationship between these two cities that exist amongst and betwixt each other. Beszel exists in the same physical location as Ul Qoma, but the inhabitants, their language, their dress, their architecture, their officials, their laws, EVERYTHING is separate. A passport must be used to travel from one city to the other. Political struggles abound. Citizens of either city are taught from an early age to "unsee" anything from the other side, and if they dare breach, a sinister KGB-ish group emerges from the mist to rain down all kinds of hell on them. So begins one of the most complicated cases of Borlu's career.

My thoughts: A little confused? Yeah, so was I for at least a disc or two of the book. The story lulls you into what seems like a typical police procedural, then it takes a 90 degree turn and you find yourself in very strange, unfamiliar territory. How did I get here? What on earth IS this? HELP!!!!! I've gotten lost before though, and my general response is to just relax and go along for the ride. In this case, it works itself out quite nicely. In fact, this was the equivalent of a 10K for the brain - it got those lazy cells humming. I marveled at the uniqueness, the cleverness of Mr. Mieville and figure he must be some kind of a genius. I know I am not alone in this sentiment. This book has been highly regarded in the book blogging community, justly.

So. Anyone out there want to see if some equally genius director make this into a movie? A show of hands?

A word about the audio production: Narrated by John Lee, he of the smooth and enticing British accent, and narrator of "Drood", "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society", "World Without End" as well as other Mieville audios, is flawless. He can utter his words through my headphones anytime. He makes an audiobook experience what it is all about.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Only Sunshine - Lou Dischler

Even though I was born and raised in the Midwest, I've lived in the South for 18 years so I think I have the right to call myself a Southerner. I have survived hurricanes, I grow gardenias and jasmine in my yard, and I looooove my Southern Fiction. A perfect example of this genre is anything written by Connie May Fowler, where you will find the essence of the South on every page.

Now in my mind, there are two types of South. There are the debutantes and the old money and mint juleps and parties that use crystal goblets, and then there is the real South, the street-level South, with lots of cussin', shootin', drinkin', with plenty of gators and mosquitoes and swamp. I knew, when I met Lou Dischler at SIBA, and saw that little mischievous gleam in his eyes, that he was going to give us some of that real stuff, and it was going to be fun.

Synopsis: It is 1962, and Charlie Boone is living with his grandparents and little brother Jute in Louisiana. Charlie is a real piece of work...his inquisitive mind and his boyness is always getting him into trouble, and seems to have "gotten it honest" from his jailbird father and runaway mother. When Charlie's uncle, fresh out of prison, arrives into town with an ex-con girlfriend, a stolen Buick, and plans to make it big (whether it be selling pornographic bibles or robbing a bank), things really start to happen for Charlie and his small town of Red Church. Throw in a Cuban Missile Crisis, and you've got the makings of one helluva coming-of-age story.

My thoughts: I could call this book alot of things (hilarious, outrageous, and even a little bit precious), but the bottom line is that it is a nostalgic, comedic southern yarn. When you finish it (all 219 pages of it) in a day or less, you will set it down with a goofy grin on your face. It isn't hard to imagine a kid who thinks it is a great idea to bash a bullet with a rock to see what happens (Lou mentioned this part of the story came from his actual experience!). Or a kid who sneaks into the mayor's office to hide from the feared missiles, and experiments with the Mayor's whiskey and plays strip-poker with the cute twins from his class. This is what Southern Fiction is all about. It doesn't take itself too seriously, but there is enough shootin' and killin' and cussin' to give it a dose of realism. Even when there starts to be a body count (be it man or horse) I still just shook my head from the insanity and ridiculousness of it all.

The book is narrated primarily by Charlie, and occasionally by his Uncle Dan and Dan's girlfriend Lona. Dischler nailed the voice of a precocious nine year old to a tee...methinks he probably still has a little bit of nine-year-old in him! I did think that Dan's and Lona's voices interrupted the flow of the novel just a tad bit, even though their input is necessary to get the whole story. That still did not lessen the pure enjoyment of this book, which I would highly recommend.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Indiana #1

Along the roadside in Indiana, on one of my walks. For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sandy and James and their directorial debut...Peyton Place the book

If you have known me for long, then you probably know James (from Ready When You Are, C.B.). James was my first follower, after my mom and my sister. If you DON'T know who he is, well, get on over there!

James and I like to occasionally read something together, then watch the movie, then do some type of creative duo-post. This time around, we thought it would be fun to read something lighter and fun, and we decided on Peyton Place. You may recall it as a scandalous book that was published in the '50's. You may also recall it as a sort of early soap opera on television. Seems predictable, yes? But James and I got a whole lot more than what we expected.

So to verbalize our thoughts on the whole matter, we have each made a movie. I have made a movie about the book, and James has created one about the movie. We used the online website to show off our skillz. Please be a little patient...the voices are a bit robotic but it is really a whole lot of fun...

One funny thing that I have to share with you...after I'd made my movie, James informed me that my avatar (which actually does sorta look like me) is actually Hilary Clinton. I almost had heart failure...

Make sure you head on over to James' place to see what we had to say about the movie!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Horrific Royalty

Today's Monday Movie topic, suggested by our beloved Bumbles, is all about the King of Horror. That would be my main man, Uncle Stevie. Not only does he write a undeniably terrifying book (both overt and psychological) but he has cranked out some great movie adaptations as well. The Bumbles have asked us this perplexing question...if King's movies would be banned from the earth (I can't even bear to think about this!), which one would we hide and preserve for posterity?

Well. I woke up this morning having decided not to post my Monday Movie Meme. I am in mourning over the loss of my son's football game and the end of a wonderful, three-month season. But the Bumbles know there is NO WAY I can ignore this topic.

Trouble is, I'm not sure if I can pick just one movie.

OK, so I guess the answer is pretty obvious, and that would be The Shining. Spooky hotel, spooky music, Jack Nicholson, murdered twins, waves of blood, and something beyond description in one of the rooms. This is horror at its absolute best! Sorry to copy the same answer as the Bumbles, but there is no other right answer here.

But I can't just leave this post with one selection. Here are my runner ups:

1. Pet Semetary - This one is on my iPod for when I need the bejesus scared out of me. The intoxicating idea of bringing dead things (cats, dogs, children...) back to life is just over the top. Especially when the reborn come back...changed.

2. The Stand - I know many think this TV mini-series is hokey compared to the book, but the Nawrot house loves it. We watch it at least once a year.

3. The Shawshank Redemption - Just to prove that Uncle Stevie has a soft-side...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Salon: Distracted

A bright and shiny good morning to you all! If there was ever a week that I needed Prozac (or alternatively, a non-smashed foot that permits me to energetically exercise) this would have been it. I made a slightly disturbing self-discovery early this week...that I am no better than one of those obnoxious beauty queen stage moms. Fueling this annoying behavior has been my kids' sporting events. It turned out that my son's first football playoff game and my daughter's basketball tournament game were both on Tuesday night. I couldn't sleep Monday night. I couldn't focus on reading, I couldn't focus on my special project with James - I was a big fat mess. I attended the basketball game and had a four-way texting marathon to keep up with my son's progress. Serious case of cramping fingers. Turns out they both won that evening, and my blood pressure almost popped my head off. My daughter went on to lose her next basketball game the following day, but my son plays in the semi-finals TODAY, and I am facing another day of manic and unfocused energy. I know you really don't want to hear about all of this, but this is my life and I must share. I'll just warn you that if the boy wins today and goes on to play in the finals at the Citrus Bowl next week, you are in for more of my nonsense, at an elevated pitch.

So with all of that going on, the week was frittered away. I did attempt to walk once or twice, but my foot is absolutely killing me. How long does it take these things to heal? I played mediocre golf. I worked in the school library. We went to a chili cookoff fundraiser last night. Lots of running around to various practices. But my mind was elsewhere.

I did get my latest issue of Bookmarks magazine, which is always fun to study and use as a wish list. The theme, however, was Best Books of 2010. Some of their choices gave me pause...The Passage? Major Pettigrew's Last Stand? The Lacuna? Really? Sometimes I think hype and an author's reputation propels books onto these lists.

I did finish Room, of course. (And why, may I ask, wasn't THIS book on the "Best of" list???) I then started Carry the Rock, a book about race and football in Little Rock Arkansas, and an Okra pick. I am really struggling with it - so much fact and detail. Ugh. I did dig into it in earnest yesterday and have gotten a hundred pages under my belt, but I am at that stage where I just need to knock it out or move on.

The kids and I still are slowly making our way through the audio of White Cat. We just don't move fast on audios these days, to no fault of the story. They both do seem to be enjoying it, particularly my son, who keeps offering comment and theory from the back seat. I am entering a very scary and strange phase in my daughter's life right now, though, in which she doesn't want to talk to me at all about anything. So when she DOES open her mouth, the last thing I want to do is turn on an audio. I think the key going forward is to pick books that aren't too long.

As promised, I wrapped up Last Night in Twisted River on audio, and after deliberation, started (and finished) Red Hook Road. This was a good book, but don't let anyone tell you it isn't depressing because it is! But there is also great writing, great characters and some shards of hope to offset the sadness. I am going to lighten things up a bit now with Backseat Saints followed by some David Sedaris. At least that is my plan at his moment.

As I sign off here, I'd like to respectfully ask you all to do a dance, say a prayer, rub a good luck charm, payoff our refs, or whatever, at 4:00 Eastern Standard Time. We've got a football game to win.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ravens - George Dawes Green (Audio)

Probably about 6 months ago, I read a review on Ravens that inspired me to order the audiobook and load it onto my iPod. When I was recently browsing through my audio selections, looking for something that would work for the RIP Challenge, I saw this and had forgotten all about it. I had no clue what it was about, and for some reason thought it was YA (it is NOT by the way). I went into it blind, which is always kind of fun.

If I had to put this story in a category, it would be a psychological thriller, but is not your garden variety thriller by any means. Let me explain.

Synopsis: The Boatrights are just a notch above Georgia white trash. They are seriously strapped for cash, Momma is an alcoholic and plays the Lottery every week, Dad is a dried up holy roller, and their two kids are lost in the middle. Tara, their oldest college-age daughter, dreams of getting the hell out, and finds her only solace in her spunky Grandmother. Then one day, their dreams all come true - they win the $318 million jackpot.

Shaw and Romeo - old friends, toxic relationship, dead-end jobs - are heading to Florida for vacation when they learn about the jackpot winners at a local gas station. Shaw decides this is their chance to make it big, and holds the Boatwrights hostage by threatening their lives unless they share their winnings. The two young men immerse themselves in the small town, claiming to be long lost friends of the Boatwrights, claiming to be children of God, making emotional connections and inspiring awe and religious fervor. It is the ultimate con. Only one old, bumbling police officer doesn't buy the story, but can he rise above his nickname "Deputy Dawg" and do something about it?

While the con is occurring, strange emotional transformations begin to take place within the hearts of the players. Tara hates Shaw for what he is doing, so why does she get excited when she thinks about him? Romeo just wants to be a loyal friend to Shaw, but can he really kill these people if called upon to do so? Is Shaw really the sociopath that he seems to be? Is the $315 million a blessing or a curse? It all climaxes in a violent, unpredictable ending that leaves you feeling a little bit dizzy.

My thoughts: This is one complicated little yarn. Characterization in spades - these people are big and loud and flawed. Narration occurs throughout the book in a variety of voices, including Tara, her parents, Shaw, Romeo, the deputy, and other townspeople. This allows the reader to get down deep into the minds and psyche of some messed up folks. You begin to empathize with the bad guys, question the good guys, and multiple times I wondered where the heck this was all going, except south. As the story progresses, the pace accelerates, the heart beats faster, then BAM. It's over.

I was left with a very strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. Did I like it? I THINK so. I sure thought about it a long time. But the book presses your nose in alot of bitterness, greed, self-absorption, jealousy, fear...dark stuff. And despite a definitive end, I didn't get a sense there was going to be much sunshine in the lives of the affected for any time in the near future. As a reader, can you live with that?

A word about the audio production: Phenomenal. There was a female narrator assuming all of the female characters, as well as a male narrator for the men. The female, Maggi-Meg Reed (The Time Traveler's Wife, Prayers For Sale, Home), was deliciously southern and trashy. The male, Robert Petkoff (Beat the Reaper, Room, So Cold the River), was young and clipped and cold. Both are seasoned veterans in the audiobook world, and it showed.

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Homer & Langley - E.L. Doctorow (audio)

Have you ever watched shows on television about the hoarders? We don't watch alot of TV, but when the hoarders find their way onto one of the channels, it is physically impossible for me to turn it off. It is fascinating and horrifying all at once, and in a sick way it makes me feel good about the few measly piles of books in my bedroom.

I am certain this is why there has been so much morbid curiosity about Homer and Langley Collyer, who gained notoriety as two eccentric hoarding brothers who lived, and ultimately died, in their 5th Avenue brownstone apartment in the first half of the 20th century. Much has been written about the 50 years worth of newspapers, the Model T Ford, the numerous pianos, typewriters, televisions, irons, chandeliers and junk that was hauled out of their home, or how it took ten days to actually locate one dead brother under the detritus. But what of their lives? E. L. Doctorow gently reveals not only the brothers' descent into madness, but lives intertwined with the unfolding of the growth of our nation.

Synopsis: The colorful story of the Collyer brothers' lives is narrated by 62-year-old Homer, who has been blind since his teens and has recently gone deaf. In a pleasant, humorous voice he tells of his incredible history through his sightless impressions: Emotionally-distant parents that were struck down by the Spanish Flu. The younger Langley who fought in WWI and came home damaged and primed for what was to become four decades of an obsessive interest in junk. Their hosting of speakeasy-like tea dances during Prohibition. Their Japanese-American housekeepers who were hauled off to an internment camp upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Homer's infatuation with a piano student-turned-nun who is murdered on a mission in El Salvador. Their friendship with a mobster who uses their apartment as a hideout. The beatniks that "crash their pad" and share their pot and women. It is a charming microcosm of American history.

And while history is occurring, so is the Collyer's refusal to play by the rules. The telephone is the first to go, followed by electricity and water, after their failure to pay their bills. They board up their windows to ward off gawkers. They cook their meals with propane and haul in water from a spigot in Central Park. No way you could make this stuff up.

Boiled down though, after you get past the bizarre behavior and the history lesson, you are left with the loyalty, dedication and love between the brothers. Left with only his brother's touch to save him from loneliness and starvation, Homer endearingly forgives Langley of his foibles and just loves him for being.

My thoughts: I couldn't help but be reminded of my beloved Middlesex when listening to Homer and Langley's enchanting mixture of oddity and historical events, whimsy and gravity. Except this is the real deal. The prose may not be as beautiful as what Eugenides provides, but nothing can quite compete with pictures, can it?

I thoroughly enjoyed this story from beginning to end. Instead of portraying the reclusive brothers as societal rejects doomed to die in their own filth, Doctorow depicts them as sympathetic, full of wonder and living large. Is this an accurate reflection of the men behind the boarded-up windows and dead-bolted doors? I'd like to think so. After all, Doctorow does have Homer's diary as evidence of their humanity. I like to believe that everyone has a story, and everyone is inherently good.

A word about the audio production: Our narrator for this audiobook is Arthur Morey, who has had extensive experience in the field. (He is the narrator for Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving, which I just uploaded on my iPod). Initially, he seemed just average...he sounded alot like the guy that introduces the title and plot of many of the audios (who knows, maybe he is). But I began to appreciate his gentle, grandfatherly voice and various vocal inflections, and by the end of the book, he embodied Homer.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: San Francisco #6

Such a big, handsome (strange) kitty. For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

84 Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff

Ms. Helene Hanff
New York City, NY

Dear Ms. Hanff:

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sandy and I am a book blogger that recently read the collection of letters between yourself and Mr. Frank Doel, an employee of the Marks & Co. antiquarian booksellers in London, England. Forgive me if I sound too familiar with you (as you are a stranger) but those letters melted my little book-loving heart! If there was ever a book for book-lovers, this was it.

I found myself nodding my head throughout your short but impactful book. What else would serve as a basis for a twenty-year correspondence and overseas friendship besides the love of books? I totally GET that. Bibliophiles like you and Mr. Doel immediately and easily find a common bond with each other, even if it is through letters and not face-to-face interaction (just like book bloggers).

Oh, the books you received from Marks & Co.!!! If you started a blog, Ms. Hanff, you would definitely be on the short list for the Most Eclectic Blog award. A Grolier Bible, Jane Austen, Chaucer, Samuel Pepys, have an amazing range of interests. No wonder you are such an accomplished writer! And you have such an enthusiastic love for the written word. That enthusiasm shines through in your letters. And may I be so bold as to tell you that you have a ripping good sense of humor??? You made me laugh out loud.

You are also a very kind person. Do you give yourself enough credit for this? You seem so casual about your thoughtful gestures. It isn't everyone who would appreciate the food shortages experienced in London because of WWII, and send such rare delicacies such as ham and candies and other goodies to your friends at Marks & Co. You must have been their favorite customer. In fact, I would imagine most of them would consider you a family member. After all, these kind folks did offer you the use of their guest bedrooms if you would have ever visited.

Which brings me to the one big beef I have with you, if I may speak frankly. I realize times were tight, you had to get your teeth fixed, you had to move to a new apartment, etc. But girlfriend, please. I know a good dozen bloggers, including myself, who would have floated you a little bit of cash to send you overseas to meet these dear people, especially Mr. Doel. Would that not have been the perfect end to a perfect story? You made me want to cry at that missed opportunity.

Oh well, I forgive you. You brightened my day. You made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I'll still give your book a 5 out of 5.

My best and warmest regards,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Dress Up

With Halloween approaching, who can help but think about costumes? In my house, this is a huge topic of discussion, especially for my daughter. She plots and plans and browses the Internet for months, deciding what she will wear at the end of October that will win her the most candy. (And yes, I have to usually get involved, just to make sure nothing is hanging out that shouldn't be.)

Costumes in the movies are just as my daughter, the director and costume designer put great care into their choices in order to wow the audience and ensure authenticity, and maybe snag another Oscar for their troubles. The Bumbles have asked us which movies have made the biggest impression with their costumes. Now of course, everyone knows that the best costumes EVER were the ones in Gone With the Wind. Wearing one's own curtains have never been so gorgeous! But because the Bumbles took that choice for their own, here are a few more of mine:

The Titanic - For a twerp, Leo sure cleans up nice, doesn't he? And just about everything Kate wore in this movie looked stunning.

Grease - Sandy looked pretty cute in her poodle skirts, but those black leather pants are killer.

Moulin Rouge - everything about this movie is rich and extravagant (and SO romantic). But then again, Nicole Kidman would look good in a potato sack.

Fiddler on the Roof - we aren't talking glamorous here, but I adore the clothes of these Russian Jews. Yes, Tevia does look a little stinky, but he wears it well. I love the attire at the wedding (although I couldn't find a good picture) and am annoyingly enchanted by the dancing Russian soldiers.

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Audrey Hepburn is the definition of beauty and grace. The look that they chose for her in this movie will never go out of style. I'm pretty sure not many people could pull off this look as well as she did.

I have this nagging feeling I've missed some really important ones, but I've been distracted this morning (as you can tell, I'm posting a bit late today!). What have I forgotten???

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Salon: My left foot and love for football

Another week gone, and I'm sitting here wondering what I actually accomplished. My husband was out of town for most of the week, so that meant less cooking, more reading, and no one to share the responsibility of picking up and dropping off for football practice. Amongst some of my friends (I won't name names to protect identities) a husband out of town can be like a mini-vacation of sorts, but we would never admit it to them. It is the wife's best-kept secret! Still, it does get lonely after awhile, and I was glad to have him back Thursday evening.

A quick diversion while I talk about football for a second: Football season has been going on since August 2nd at the Nawrot house, has required between three and five practices a week, a game each week that basically takes up most of our Saturday, volunteer hours for parents, a fundraiser or two, and multiple contusions on my son's body. We had our last game of the regular season yesterday (blew out the other team 30-0) and are headed into playoffs, which start next week. We have a practice today at 8:30am (I guess in Florida it is football over God?), a practice Monday night, and a game Tuesday night, with more practices and games if we win. While this sport has totally consumed our lives for nearly three months, I just felt the need to stop and acknowledge the beauty of it all. It teaches the kids to work as a team, to have each other's backs, that success only comes with exhausting and painful hard work, they learn a rigid, militaristic discipline, and it makes little men out of these kids. I've never seen my son so totally consumed with passion for anything besides video games. He even gets emotional when he talks about the end of the season (which he prays will continue for as long as possible.) My kids have played just about every sport there, golf, soccer, basketball, track, volleyball...but nothing has quite had the same impact. So while I look forward to having my life back at some point, it is bittersweet. I had to get that off my chest.

So anyway, Friday morning I was flying around the house, and I smashed my left foot on something and it dropped me in my tracks and actually brought me to tears, and I'm not a crying-from-pain kind of girl. I don't know if I actually broke the damn thing (who can tell?) but I can barely walk. This is quite distressing for someone who loves to walk. I guess we will see this Tuesday when I meet my friend Susan for our frequent walking / therapy session. I am such a klutz.

I did get some reading done this week. I finished The Typist, but haven't written the review yet. It is a toughie. It was a subtle but wonderful viewpoint of post WWII occupation of Japan, and left me thinking about it for days. I also read a quick short story (novella?) called Blockade Billy by Stephen King. James (Ready When You Are, C.B.) and I thought we might do something fun with it. We will see. I'm also about two-thirds of the way through Room, which I am reading for one of my book clubs. Holy crap, you guys. I know it seems like half the world has read this book and I'd been warned that it was unique and disturbing, but nothing can quite prepare you for this. This woman is freaking brilliant.

In audiobook land, the kids and I continue to slowly listen to White Cat. I'm not making any judgements yet on this one - it is too soon to tell. Our listening in the car has been on the unproductive side, either because we are not all in the car together, or there is an drama that needs to be discussed, or studying that needs to be done. This book is only six discs though, so we will get there. I'm also thiiiiis close to finishing Last Night at Twisted River by John Irving. A consuming book for sure. Don't know that I would put it on my top ten list, but after twenty discs, you can help but get sucked into the story. I should knock that out today. No idea on what I will listen to next. Red Hook Road? Time Traveler's Wife? Angelology? Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show? Backseat Saints? What do you think?

OK, time to get the child out of bed and feed him before practice. It has been nice having this peaceful quiet time with you. Have a great Sunday!

Friday, October 15, 2010

America - Jon Stewart (Audio)

Admission: I don't watch The Daily Show. In fact, I rarely watch television at all. But I do know Jon Stewart is a funny funny man. I'm not that out of touch.

But when Kathy (Bermudaonion) tells me I have to listen to an audio book so I can laugh my head off but warns me I might be offended, I don't have the will to resist. After all, the audio only takes a few hours to complete, so what do I have to lose? (Apparently just my dignity at almost wetting my pants.)

The book is structured as a mock textbook about US History. It has discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Classroom activities. Supplemental material. And with rude language and politically incorrect brattiness, it unleashes its wrath on everyone, from our esteemed forefathers to the Bush Administration. It is like the ultimate roast, and nobody can hide.

A few quotes:

The Enlightenment: Oppression and high mortality rates seemed ready to swallow what remained of mankind, when through the darkness emerged the light that would be its salvation: Reason. It began slowly. "Hey, what if we stop storing the corpses in the drinking water and see if that makes any difference to our health?"

If the presidency is the head of the American body politic, Congress is its gastrointestinal tract. Its vast and convoluted inner workings may be mysterious and unpleasant, but in the end they excrete a great deal of material whose successful passage is crucial to our nation's survival.

Hmmm...somehow, that just feels inadequate. Suffice it to say there are hundreds of quotable quotes, coming at you like rapid gunfire from all directions. At one point, through my tears I laughed and said out loud, "I can't take it anymore! My stomach hurts!!!". I even had a particularly blood-pressure-raising experience with Walgreens (as occurs almost on a weekly basis) and this audio eased me back into a state of healthful happiness.

The audio is narrated by the cast of The Daily Show, and all do a fine job as our "educators". There are a few audio effects that add to the overall experience...the ringing of a bell between discussion questions and buzzers to indicate our thinking time is up. It was all quite clever.

If you are looking for a little time-off from some of your more serious reads, allow yourself three hours of fun with this. Just remember to listen with your dander down, and without the kids in earshot!

4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The 2nd Annual Fall Festival Recipe Exchange - Indonesian Fried Chicken

It's that time of year again! Amy @ My Friend Amy is hosting the 2nd Annual Fall Festival Recipe Exchange, where all of us get to share our favorite foods that we save especially for that cozy fall weather.

Today I'm going to reveal a huge favorite in the Nawrot house - Indonesian Fried Chicken. My husband and son beg specifically for this dish on a monthly basis (my daughter can't decide whether she likes meat or not). It is very easy to make and it makes the whole house smell wonderful! The recipe comes from The New York Times Cookbook, which I've had forever and is one of my go-to cookbooks.

Indonesian Fried Chicken

1 chicken cut into serving pieces
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbl ground cumin
1/2 Tbl turmeric
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
Oil for deep frying

In a bowl, mix dry ingredients well. Add soy sauce and lemon juice, and combine into a paste. Add the chicken to the bowl, and massage the paste into all the pieces of the chicken. (Sandy tip: this stuff will stain your fingers and clothes, so wear latex gloves and an apron!!!) Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Heat the oil to 370 degrees. Cook the pieces until golden brown.

Yeah baby! Don't count your calories on this night!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: San Francisco #5

Frog legs anyone? This picture was taken surreptitiously at a market in China Town, San Francisco. This particular frog did not want to be dinner, and was fighting for his life. For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Financial Lives of the Poets - Jess Walter

Call it a moment of weakness. But in the middle of a self-imposed ban on all review copies, here comes sweet-talking Trish with TLC Book Tours , waving this beauty at me. There was really no thinking involved, just a knee-jerk reaction, after hearing all the wonderful things about "The Financial Lives of the Poets". This was the perfect set-up...I knew it was recommended, but had no idea what it was about. It was good thing too, because it had maximum impact.

Synopsis: Frankly, on the surface, it sounds like a buzz-kill. Matt the financial reporter abandons his steady but boring job to start a website that provides financial advice in prose form. Ohhhh kaaaaay. Not a shocker when that fails, and he comes crawling back to the newspaper, only to be canned soon after, as newspapers are wont to do these days. He is faced with a dire situation - the bank is about to foreclose on his house, he can't find another job, he has a family to support, and his wife has been dallying with an old boyfriend on Facebook. Am I the only one who has heard stories like this over the last couple of years and is weary from the suffering?

But stay with me. So dude goes to the local 7/11 to get milk at 3 in the morning, and gets mixed up with some gang-bangers who reacquaint him with escapism via new-age amped-up hooch. And in his drug-induced haze, Matt gets a great idea. He can sell pot to middle-agers like himself who need a reminiscent pick-me-up, and get himself out of debt!!! The clouds part! His problems are solved!

If you think this sounds like a block or two off your normal literary highway, you have no idea. Middle-age pot-selling is just scratching the surface of this wild ride.

My thoughts: You could call it fun with an undercurrent of realism. You could call it black comedy. But I'm not sure there is an appropriate box to check off in categorizing this book. Granted, the plot (as left mainly undescribed above to protect the innocent) is just plain crazy. Boil off some of that crazy and you get a commentary on the current state of the union where a hard-working, college-educated guy can't support his family. And rather than roll around in the economic downturn crud we've been slimed with for a few years, Walter chooses to laugh at it, tongue-in-cheek.

But the key element - the selling point that will make you remember the book - is really the witty, sharp-edged, bitter, deliciously rude narration by the protagonist. It comes at you so fast and from so many directions, there is nowhere to run. It was hard to find an example of this, because the whole book is drenched in it, but here is a taste:

"I try to put myself in her position - one day you come home from work a vital twenty-nine-year-old babe, whom the fellas at the office actively lust after and next day you go out looking for work a nearly forty-year-old Mom who colors the gray and doesn't even know PowerPoint, a short-tempered lady who didn't get any sleep last night because one of the kids pooped his bed (how do you poop a bed anyway?). Six months of resumes, referrals and rejections took their toll and Lisa accepted the first job she was offered - receptionist for a dull optometrist who calls the women in his office gals, and whose idea of a Christmas bonus is twenty-five bucks at a craft store."

In the 50 or 100 books you will read this year, I wager you will not read anything that even comes close to this one. There will be some people who may be turned off by the idea of a guy liquidating his retirement fund to buy drugs, who spies on his wife's nocturnal Facebook dalliances, or sometimes thinks of his kids as ungrateful shit-heels. But if you are in the mood for different, you can stop looking now.

Thanks Trish and TLC for the chance to review this one!

4.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Legends of the Fall

Is there anyone out there that doesn't love the onset of fall weather? I do miss the changing leaves and the sweater weather of the Midwest, but even down here in sticky, humid Florida, we are getting a slight change of seasons. We are having cooler nights, and what is this? A high only in the low 80's?

The Bumbles love this time of year too. So much that they had a fall theme for their wedding. So in honor of the smell of burning leaves, a nip in the air, and Bumble nuptials, we are asked to talk about our favorite fall movies.

Only I am struck dumb, and I fall flat on my movie-loving face before you. There seems to be plenty of Thanksgiving-ish, fall-ish movies out there, but I haven't seen them. So here is my lame list:

1. When Harry Met Sally - I can't get the shot out of my mind: Harry and Sally finally realizing that they are friends as they walk through New York (Central Park I'm guessing) with fall leaves blowing around their feet. Love this movie.

2. It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown - no wise cracks. Watching this movie is a fall tradition! The idea of the Great Pumpkin actually scared me when I was little.

3. Legends of the Fall - It was the power of suggestion, and because the Bumbles named this week's theme after this Brad Pitt movie, I can't get it out of my head. I can't seem to recall if the movie has anything to do with the fall weather, but it is the perfect showcase for everything there is to love about Pitt's bare chest.

4. Hannah and Her Sisters - I seem to remember this movie taking place around Thanksgiving. I'm not a big fan of Woody Allen the person, but his movies generally rock.

Alright friends. Help me out here! What am I missing? Obviously I need to brush up in this area!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Salon: An 8 Hour Read-a-thon

Happy Sunday Saloners and 24-hour Read-a-thoners! Today was the 2010 Fall Dewey Read-a-thon, a much- loved event that involves reading and blogging for a 24 hour period. I participated in this event, with my kids, for the first time last spring, and it was so much fun! My kids informed me that their schedules were not going to allow them to participate this time, but I felt I needed the time to get caught up and focus on completing some books in the stacks. Well, good intentions, and all of that.

My son had a critical football game today. A game, that if won, would clinch a slot in the playoffs. Well success was had! I love this sport. You have to love a bunch of 10 and 11 year olds going for the jugular and beating the crap out of each other. Thus is the religion of the south. That all being said, I was only able to dedicate about 8 hours to the read-a-thon today. I didn't even register my name officially in the event, but I did sit and read for a long time today...longer than an average Saturday. And I didn't turn on the computer once.

How did the reading go? Overall the week was pretty productive, considering. I believe I contracted some flu symptoms from the flu shot (you can't convince me otherwise) and Thursday through Saturday was spent with body aches and a headache - seriously screwed up my golf game. Despite feeling like dog poo, I got into a nest of good reading though and I couldn't put any of it aside no matter what the pains.

I finished the audio "Ravens" and found it very entertaining. I then started on my first official read for my Heathrow Literary Society - "Last Night in Twisted River" by John Irving. I am about halfway through the 20 discs and I am officially sucked into the epic tale.

From a print perspective, I finished "The Financial Lives of the Poets" and was refreshed by the wit and the cleverness. How to review a book like this??? some form of it will be coming Tuesday! Then I read "My Only Sunshine" by Lou Dischler, an Okra pick from SIBA, which represented everything awesome about southern literature. Today in a handful of hours, I started and completed "The Human Bobby" by Gabe Rotter. This was a book that I was told to read RIGHT NOW. So I did. And it blew my mind. Hello? I read it in the middle of a busy day! That tells you something! I also have started Michael Knight's "The Typist", another Okra pick, and should have that finished soon.

Praise Jesus, the kids and I finally finished "Mockingjay". I believe this audio will prove to be the biggest disappointment of the year. Everything about the book seemed rushed and just outright lame. Blah. We have since started "White Cat", and while my daughter has proclaimed her dislike of Jesse Eisenberg as a narrator, we will forge ahead.

So, with sore joints and head, there will be no staying up all night for me. I am off to bed. Did you participate in the read-a-thon? How did you do?

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot (Audio)

What do you first think of when someone says "Non-Fiction"? Self-help? A boring history lesson of the French Revolution? Bad celebrity memoirs? I think sometimes the reputation of non-fiction precedes itself, for whatever reason, and is excluded from potential reading lists.

If someone told me I could only read non-fiction for the rest of my life, I'd be OK. Let's just take a look at some of non-fiction I've read lately: Columbine, A Hundred Feet Over Hell, The Glass Castle, The Girls from Ames, The Monster of Florence. Give me true stories, give me pictures, give me something I can use! Up there with the best of the best, though, is Henrietta. I was thrilled that our book club chose this as our September selection. Behold one of the most incredible stories you will hear this year.

Synopsis: Henrietta Lacks was a poor, unschooled African-American woman who, in 1951, was diagnosed with an aggressive cervical cancer at the age of 31. Eight months later she died, leaving behind five children (the youngest just a baby) and a husband. Before her death, the doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took a biopsy from her cervix to study her cells. Where most cells died quickly after collection, Henrietta's cells were hearty and multiplied rapidly. This was a dream come true for researchers, and soon Henrietta's cells (called HeLa) were in the hands of scientists around the world, being used for testing to cure polio, cancer, aids, even acne. HeLa revolutionized modern medicine.

As a young science reporter, Rebecca Skloot was fascinated with the story of HeLa and began researching its history, and the history of Henrietta, in order to write a book. What she discovered was a family plagued with tragedy, poverty, abuse, drug addictions and murder. The family was hounded by fortune seekers looking to profit from Henrietta's legacy, and distrusted anyone and everyone. The family couldn't even afford health care, and Henrietta's grave was still unmarked - a shocking contract from the billions of dollars made from HeLa.

Skloot eventually forged a bond with Henrietta's youngest daughter Deborah, and the two of them launched on a journey to learn everything they could about Henrietta's immortal cells and the impact her contribution made on our world today.

My thoughts: It seems counter-intuitive that a topic such as this could be the least bit readable. However, Skloot does an excellent job of boiling down an enormous amount of scientific information in a simple, palatable story. I was never lost or all made perfect sense. I was impressed that she presented the facts in a professional, unbiased voice (and still my blood was boiling...hers had to be as well). She asks some extremely difficult, ethical questions as well, pertaining to rights of tissue donors. Ones I don't think I am capable of answering. Still I am left with this outrage! How could the family of a woman who gave the world HeLa not even have health insurance????

On a more human level, Skloot's research into HeLa becomes just as much a memoir of her journey with Deborah and the Lacks family. My official, non-spoiler statement to you is that it is beyond heart-breaking. Have your Kleenex ready. It will rip your heart out.

The audio production: As soon as the narrator's voice started speaking, I knew instantly who it was. Cassandra Campbell, the narrator of the much-loved "The School of Essential Ingredients". Her voice is smooth and silky, emotional and real. You will never be disappointed with one of her performances.

The book club (now named Books, Babes and Bordeaux) weighs in: Picture if you will seven women sitting at a round table, all chattering loudly and excitedly above the restaurant music, all at once. That is what the discussion was like all night long. We all had so much we had to expel from our hearts that we couldn't talk fast enough. It was obvious that our buttons had been pushed by Henrietta. It was universally loved and it universally broke our hearts. None of us could answer the ethical questions posed by Skloot, but at the end of the day, it was hard to swallow the Lacks' financial hardship while Henrietta's cells were generating millions of dollars. Overall, this was an excellent choice for animated book club discussion.

5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Faithful Place - Tana French (Audio)

There are only a few things in life you can take for granted. Death, taxes, the sublime beauty of red wine, and great Tana French novels. At this point, I am asking myself if I would be capable of writing a negative review for Ms. French's work. I don't think so. I have fallen under her spell, so consider yourself warned.

French has an interesting way of structuring her "series". In her first novel "In the Woods", the story is narrated by Rob Ryan, a police detective, with his partner Cassie Maddox playing a strong supporting role. In French's second novel "The Likeness", Cassie is at the center of the action. In "Faithful Place", French's latest, the story revolves around Frank Mackey, Cassie's toughened boss in undercover. Funny, Frank never even really registered on my radar in "The Likeness", so I wasn't all that intrigued by a story about him. Reviews were mixed. I proceeded with caution. Like I had anything to worry about. Mind the drool puddles and you meander through my review.


Frank Mackey has had a rough life, living on the wrong side of the tracks in a blue collar neighborhood in Dublin. He and his four siblings grew up quickly and harshly under the roof of an angry mother and an abusive and alcoholic father, and all dreamed of "getting out". When Frank was 18, he had made plans to run away to London with his high school sweetheart Rosie, but when she failed to show up for their late-night rendezvous, Frank left and never came back. Although he assumed he had been dumped, he never heard what had become of Rosie, her absence overshadowing every facet of his life ever since.

His past comes 'a-calling twenty years later when Rosie's suitcase, filled with her clothes and two train tickets to London, is found hidden in an abandoned apartment in his old neighborhood. He gets sucked back into the mess of his family's dysfunctional mind games, and memories of a his first love and carefree youth when anything was possible. But this isn't just a stroll down memory lane...the underlying darkness present twenty years ago is alive and well today, and reawakens to finish an unsettled score.

My thoughts: I almost hated to use the words "dysfunctional" and "family" in this review, because I am sick to death of reading about it. Nothing, however, is ever passe in the hands of Tana French. She takes a mystery/thriller and makes it fresh and different. She has a keen gift of characterization that is so intense, that her people become your people, and suddenly that age-old, tired family crap feels very very personal.

I like to think of French's stories as having an undertow. You are just out there splashing around, unaware of the turbulence and danger present underwater. Before you know it, it has dragged you under and you never know what hit you. "Faithful Place" is very similar to her first two books in that there is alot of childhood baggage and reflection on buried issues, occurring at the same time as present-day trouble. Thereby creating a mystery thriller with a significant edge over the competition. The emotions and relationships are complex, and sometimes are not resolved by the end of the story. I give French credit for fighting the urge to fall into line with the unmemorable mystery thriller masses.

Frank Mackey was an interesting protagonist. Feisty, a little bit of a rebel, angry, holds a grudge, and far from perfect, he is also wears his emotions on his sleeve and wants to be a better person. I found his efforts at being a good father and protecting his daughter very sweet and kind of attractive. I really liked him (REALLY) despite all his frailties. It could be considered a little bit of a crush. And even though I know how French structures her series, I cast a gooey-eyed glance toward the future and hope I see Frank again.

The mystery was not all that difficult to figure out, and this is probably the biggest flaw in the story. But maybe that wasn't the point. This story was more about damaged youth, with the inevitable "reveal" being more heart-breaking than shocking. This was my least favorite of French's three novels, but please know that I am still very deep in the "love" range of the spectrum.

About the audio production: Simon Vance, someone is threatening your spot on the narrator pedestal, and that is Tim Gerard Reynolds. It does not appear that Tim has had much experience with audiobook narration, but I pray that is going to change. That Irish accent, his effortless seemed like French's words were his own. I could have listened to him forever.

4.5 out of 5 stars