Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sandy Casts Blockade Billy - Stephen King

I know you all know I love Stephen King, whether he is writing a book that will keep me awake at night thinking about dead babies coming to life, an insightful book about crimes against women, or a short story about one of his favorite sports, baseball. He writes, I read. So James (Ready When You Are, C.B.) and I thought it would be fun to read King's short story about a forgotten baseball team and player with a dark past, then cast it. With some sassy arguing, all in good fun of course. Uncle Stevie, listen up!

Set up:

King interviews George Granny Gantham, a retired third-base coach for the New Jersey Titans. Gantham reflects back on the year 1957, when the team lost their catcher to injury, and called the team's Iowa farm system for a replacement. Their answer was Billy Blakely. The result was having his existence, and the associated scorecard, wiped completely from official record.

Casting for Billy Blakely - Kellan Lutz:

Billy is a young farm boy, a strapping, corn-fed fella. And he is an odd duck, in a sweet kind of way. He refers to himself in the third person, and can barely hold an intelligent conversation with his teammates. But he is an excellent player, and defends home base like a murderous bull. In fact, people often get hurt when they're sliding in for a run. In a pure Uncle Stevie-ish twist, we find out Billy has a secret, mysterious past.

Known best for his role as Emmett Cullen in the Twilight Series, I chose Kellan Lutz for his beefy build, those dimples, and that slightly scary gleam in his eyes. Because Billy was in his late teens or early twenties, I knew this role had to be filled by a younger face. He is sure to draw the younger crowd with his association with hunky werewolves and sparkly vampires.

James' choice - Corey Monteith: I won't argue that this young man has a fresh face that could have been born on the farm, but he lacks a certain edge that this character is going to need to pull off Billy. His only serious experience has been with Glee, so he hasn't really proven whether he could shoulder a significant role on the silver screen. Thanks James, but I'll pass.

Casting for Pitcher Danny Dusen - Mark Wahlberg:

Danny Doo was one of the more minor roles in the story, but still memorable for his explosive, prima donna attitude ("Danny Doo is four games from two hundred wins, and he's going to be mean as hell until he gets there"). Initially suspicious of his new catcher, he soon takes Billy under his wing for his own ulterior motives.

I needed to find an athletic actor that was at an age where he would be a seasoned player. He needed to have some kick to his personality and some grit, and of course he needed to look good in baseball pants. Voila! Wahlberg certainly has proven himself onscreen and will appeal to just about any red-blooded female.

James' choice - Tim Roth: Yeah baby! Roth might be a little too old for this role, but put a little makeup on him and get him to lose that oh-so-hot accent. I'm just pissed I didn't think of him first.

Casting for Third Base Coach Granny Gantham - Leonardo DiCaprio

Granny, both in his coaching days and in his golden years, is full of piss and vinegar. He is quite the colorful storyteller, all full of play-by-play stories, cuss words and politically incorrect attitudes towards humanity in general.

I REALLY wanted to cast Leo as Billy, but he is too old for the role. Strange that I went from laughing at him to respecting him, but at this stage in his career, I think he could pull off just about any role that is given to him. And, of course, the world needs to see him in a pair of those baseball pants.

James' choice - Kevin James: I think James was smoking something when he cast this one. Without a doubt, the Nawrot family did like Paul Blart Mall Cop, but there is NO WAY I would cast him at the hub of this film, whether we get him as a bargain or no. It would send a message that his movie is a comedy, which is what Kevin James does best. And this is no comedy. Not even close.

Casting for team general manager Joe DiPunno - Tommy Lee Jones:

Joe is the textbook GM. He is a tough cookie, intense, chain-smokes, cusses like a sailor and defends his team with every ounce of his being. Upon learning of Billy's dark secret, however, he folds, and realizes there is no way to BS his way out of this one.

From the second I met the character of Joe, I envisioned Tommy Lee Jones. No other actor would do.

James' choice - Eli Wallach: OK, the guy has been around the block and is going to get a lifetime achievement award. So that adds some credibility to the film (offsetting that Kevin James disaster). But personally, I think this guy is just a little to old to be managing a baseball team. Good Lord, the guy is 95! No way makeup can get him back to his 60's where he needs to be.

Overall, James has critiqued my casting as being "too sexy". And the problem is? Help me out here people. Is there such a thing as too sexy? I didn't think so.

Do you need to be a fan of King and baseball to enjoy this quick read? Absolutely not. There is alot of baseball-speak, but even if this isn't your language, you won't care. It is fast-moving (on my Kindle, it was one click per page) and full of action, testosterone and a sinister undertone. Definitely worth your two hours of reading time.

Now hop on over to James' blog to see his snarky comments!

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - Ticket to Paradise

Perhaps the holidays are already getting to our beloved Bumbles, as the topic this week for the Monday Movie Meme is "movies that make us want to travel". You know, the ones that you watch, then turn to your friend or partner and say "I have got to visit that place!".

As usual, Molly and Andy picked one of our top picks in the Nawrot household, Lord of the Rings - Return of the King. Who knew New Zealand was so beautiful??? Watching that movie makes you want to take off your shoes and tromp over hill and dale. Besides that one, here are some that added some destinations to our lists:

1. Under the Tuscan Sun - total fantasy movie, and most likely one that appealed to the female persuasion. Move to Tuscany, buy a villa, fix it up, make friends with the locals, have a fling with a hot Italian dude? Who wouldn't?

2. Mamma Mia - another fantasy movie, only this time, I'm moving to a Greek island to run a bed and breakfast. The scenery is absolutely, breathtakingly romantic, enhanced by the fact that Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan are fighting over me.

3. Motorcycle Diaries - South America never popped up on my radar before this movie. In fact it seemed kinda scary (ever watch City of God?). But then I watched this charismatic travelogue of a young Che Guevara, and I decided it wouldn't be such a bad idea after all.

4. Out of Africa - bugs and wild animals aside, few red-blooded humans could watch this sweeping, Kenyan landscape and not want a piece of it. Assuming there would be running water...

5. MacKenna's Gold - this one is my husband's addition. Apparently, he saw this movie when he was 9 years old, a poor little kid in Communist Poland. 40 years later, he still remembers it as his inspiration to see the Wild Wild West. I can't vouch for it, but it stars Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif, so it can't be all that shabby.

Which movies have inspired you? Do we have any of the same travel fantasies?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Salon: Here it comes

The Holidays are officially here! And so is the season of the big butt, the headache, the empty bank account, and precious times with family and friends!

The kids had a week off from school this week, so for the most part, I laid low. If it kills me, I always get my Christmas letter and picture pulled together for mailing on the day after Thanksgiving. Self-imposed drudgery, I know, but that pretty much sums me up. So I worked on that. I got my Book Blogger Holiday Swap gift mailed out as well. Shopping? No. All week I looked at my Christmas lists and stuck my tongue out at it. Blug. Can't start shopping until after Thanksgiving. I was completely unmotivated.

For turkey day, the Nawrots went over to my BFF's house. I brought the turkey and Dawn's eat-it-out-of-the-pan-its-so-good Cranberry Salad. And we ate, and drank, and ate, and drank. At the end of the meal, I quietly excused myself from the table and went into the living room where I could lay flat. Otherwise I would have exploded.

The day after turkey day, I made my husband mail the Xmas cards, and I stayed home and cleaned the house. No way in Hades I was going to get mixed up in the chaos at the malls (one of our malls opened at MIDNIGHT!). I did some online shopping though. And on Saturday, my daughter and I hit the trail. I made a pretty significant dent on the prezzies. Today, we decorate! Funny, I think the rest of the family is hiding from me...

Whenever I'm home with the kids, I never feel very productive with my reading. I did finish my next Babes, Books and Bordeaux read, "Cane River", on audio. Then I started "The Book Thief" on audio for the Heathrow Literary Society. (I'm going to cry at the end of this one, aren't I? Just wanted to be forewarned.)

And I finished Sarah Waters' "Affinity"!!!! Oh, I could just melt into a puddle. I did not want that one to end! If only I could just lay down and sleep in her words. I started the graphic novel "Laika" in various tub soakings (I'm going to cry in this one too, aren't I?), and also started "The Lotus Eaters" for a blog tour in December. This will complete my Vietnam Challenge right at the finish line!

So have the Holidays kicked in for all of you? Do you love this time of year, or do you get stressed out, or a little of both? How about your reading? Does it suffer or do you kick into high gear? Whatever the case, hope this post finds you all healthy and happy. I've not been the best visitor lately, but I'm hoping I will get back into the groove next week. See you then!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Zora and Me - Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon

I don't think anyone would argue that Zora Neale Hurston is one of the most influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance, and maybe even of literature in general. Her book Their Eyes Were Watching God was pure magic. She is an icon down here where I live, as she spent her childhood years in the first all-black town in the US called Eatonville, just on the north side of Orlando.

I find it natural and expected that writers and best friends Bond and Simon decided that they needed to craft a book about Zora as a child - she was such a compelling personality. Instead of writing another biography, though, they gathered as much factual data about her as possible, observed pictures of where she lived, learned about her friends and mentors, read her short stories to capture her spirit, and wrote a fictional middle grade novel. Thus came the highly anticipated debut novel "Zora and Me".

Synopsis: Narrated by Zora's best friend Carrie, the girls, along with the third musketeer Teddy, have adventures in Eatonville in the early 1900's. The presence of a mythical alligator named Ghost, and it's maiming and killing of one of Eatonville's residents, fuels the children's imagination. Zora, an inquisitive, precocious little firecracker, is the ringleader of the trio. She is convinced that Ghost is really half man, half beast, and the kids play detective to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Unfortunately, they stumble into something that is bigger than all of them. Instead of catching the evil man-gator, they receive a harsh education on the chasm between blacks and whites.

My thoughts: Bond and Simon have created a precious novel on several counts. They have obviously done their homework, and have resurrected Zora as she must have been as a youth - vibrant, curious, and a great storyteller. They have also stayed true to her environment and recreated Eatonville as it was: the boisterous, gossipy men on the front porch of Joe Clark's store, the closeness of the community, the transient workers passing through town, the trips into Maitland for shopping, the wise guidance of Zora's white godfather. (By the way, all of these elements have been included in "Their Eyes Were Watching God" as well.) It is a loving tribute to a very talented lady.

It is also a coming-of-age story. Carrie begins to have confusing and warm feelings towards Teddy. The children also lose a bit of their innocence as a result of the tough life lessons they learn about race and class. It is tender and bittersweet.

Whether you are a fan of Zora Neale Hurston, a fan of Southern fiction, or a 10 to 12 year old looking for something interesting to read, this book is a must.

I normally don't like to burden reviews with a video, but this one gives you an excellent feel for the passion behind Zora and Me. Take a look:

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Indiana #5

The suspension bridge at Turkey Run State Park, IN. For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver

When it comes to sitting down and reading a printed novel, I am generally helpless. There is always a dirty toilet to clean, cat throw-up to remove, a weed to be pulled, blogs to be visited, or homework to be assisted. I leave the bigger books to audio, and stick to the under-300-page-variety for visual reading, or else I would never finish anything.

That is, until I came across Before I Fall. Rhapsody Jill told me I had to read it, so I ordered it from the library like a good girl. When it showed up at my doorstep and I saw that it was 480 pages, I gulped. Oh dear. Big trouble. Except it was no trouble at all, except for the fact that literally nothing else got done until I'd finished it (in three days).

Synopsis: Samantha Kingston thinks she's got it made. She is at the hub of the popular crowd, her boyfriend is the most sought-after guy in the school, and she is beautiful. But after a party, she and her friends are in a terrible car accident, and she dies. Before her soul moves on, however, there are a few things that need tending.

In a manic but touching Groundhog Day-esque story, Samantha is forced to live and re-live the last day of her life. In viewing this day as it occurred originally, there is no other way to describe it but UGLY. Sam and her friends are the mean girls, humiliating the outcasts, bullying anyone that crosses them, stringing along the boys with promises of sex, smoking, drinking, skipping school, flirting with teachers...every parent's nightmare. But as Sam is forced to view her priorities and her friendships over and over again, rubbing her nose in her every self-absorbed act, she begins to see her life from a different perspective. She seeks to understand why she has been chosen for this fate. Is she being punished in some sort of twisted purgatory? Is she meant to fix something before she moves on? After a few rounds of staring at the cold, hard truth of her life, and attempting to correct the error of her ways, she wonders if she is even fixable.

My thoughts: I think it is pretty safe to say I will never forget this book. Despite it's designation in the young adult genre, it has the potential to change the lives of anyone who reads it by asking some very adult questions. Are we living right? If we had to relive this day, would we be happy with the choices we made? What are people going to say about us after we have passed?There are also the questions that are complex enough to drive us mad and nearly impossible to answer (but provoking to think about). What are the implications of a stolen parking spot? A snarky comment? A practical joke? Leaving five minutes late for an appointment? It brings to mind the theory of the butterfly effect, and it is sobering. In Lauren Oliver's capable hands, it was the equivalent of being hit in the face with a frying pan.

Not everything in this book is explainable and rational. I won't list them for you, but if you read the book, I'm sure these same quandaries will probably hit you the same as it did me. My advice would be to let it go. Do not come into this reading experience with your literal hat on. Just come with your tissues.

I struggled with the decision to let my daughter read this book. Dare I allow her to read about girls behaving badly? Ultimately, I gave her permission because there are some critical lessons in the story that are teachable moments. There is reference to sex, there is drug and alcohol use, there is language, basically every mistake a teenage girl can make. And the repercussions are very clear. I wish I would have had the benefit of reading this when I was a teenager.

5 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - What Did I Come In Here For???

There's nothing more fun (and at the same time frustrating!) to watch a movie about memory loss. You begin to question yourself. What is real? What has been forgotten? What am I missing? The Bumbles have asked us for our most memorable (ha) movies about memory loss, spells, or hypnosis.

One of my favorite movies about amnesia is Overboard, with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. It is so totally precious, and if I stumble across the movie when it is on TV, I have to stop and watch. This is one of the Bumbles favorites too, so I won't officially include it in my list. Here are a few more that come to mind (ha! pun intended):

1. Finding Nemo - now how could we forget (ha) our very favorite little fishy that has short-term memory loss? Everyone loves Dori, whether she's confused and dim or not.

2. Memento - I love to use this movie as an example of what a mind screw a movie can really be. Leonard has anterograde amnesia, which prevents his mind from storing new memories. He knows his wife has been murdered, but must chase clues quickly through notes and pictures, before they disappear from his mind. Plus, for sport, the movie starts at the end of the story and moves backwards. Incredible flick, just don't have a glass of wine or a beer while you are watching.

3. Mulholland Drive - since we are on the topic of the strange and mind-bending, let's just mention this David Lynch film. An naive girl comes to Hollywood and gets involved in a woman with amnesia who is trying to re-discover her identity. In various reviews, phrases such as "psychotic illusions" and "bizarre dream sequences" are used, but only scratches the surface. It IS David Lynch after all.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Salon: Pickled Blogger

Ooofa! I THINK I am finally home for awhile. There are no planned trips anywhere in the short-term future and now perhaps I can concentrate on the holidays! Not that I'm complaining. Our trip to Napa was spectacular, and I am as yet uncertain how to share it all with you. My intention is to write up a couple of features, but I wouldn't place any bets right now on my productivity.

So this was our third trip to Napa. On our first trip, for our tenth wedding anniversary, my husband and I took a week and blasted through 40 different wineries in Napa and Sonoma, most of them consisting of the ones you can visit without appointment. On our second trip, we were in San Francisco at a conference, so we only had a couple of days to spend, and most of our tastings were by appointment only. This time, we were getting into wineries that are nearly impossible to see (if you aren't trade). We stayed with two different wineries in their guest quarters. We met head winemakers and owners. We walked through the vineyards, we touched and smelled soil, we tasted grapes still on the vine, we listened to the struggles of the 2010 season. We learned about the history of the vintners...ones that came to the US on boats with only the shirts on their backs, couples that gave up their corporate careers for their passion, a man that learned the trade from his poor farm laborer parents. It was all pretty mind-blowing.

This is our tasting at Shafer Vineyards, home of one of the best cabs on earth. Look at all that glassware!

The vineyards at Quintessa.

We were able to experience a wine-blending seminar. We tasted 12 different cabs from 15 of Napa's AVAs (or unique wine-growing territories), then blended our own bottle wine. I felt like the mad chemist (with purple teeth)!

So long story not-so-short, the four of us are trying to figure out when we can go back again. After I have dried out, that is.

I was able to get a good deal of reading done, surprisingly. I finished "The Store", a bizarre and scary little read by Bentley Little, then proceeded to read Beth Kephart's "Nothing But Ghosts", and the graphic novel "French Milk". I was faced with having no books to read for the flight back, so I loaded the Kindle app on my phone and started reading "Affinity" by Sarah Waters. How many ways can I say that I love this woman? Her writing is so delicious. I hope to finish this book within the next few days.

On audios, I finished "Cane River" for one of my book clubs, and started "The Book Thief" for my other book club. Because the kids are out of school next week, and there is all that turkey-eating and shopping and other fun, I doubt I will make much headway on audios. Just a guess. My daughter has declared she "is over audios", so I guess for now we won't be listening to them in the car. I just shake my head. She is such a delight at times.

I have quite the day planned for myself today. After church, I am thinking that the fam will go see Harry Potter (I know it is a sin we have waited this long!). And then tonight, my friend Marianne and I, along with Heather/Zibilee from Raging Bibliomania, will see "The Girl That Kicked the Hornet's Nest" at the local indie theater. It may be more fun than this pickled and weary blogger can handle!

Friday, November 19, 2010

White Cat - Holly Black (Audio)

After the kids and I finished Mockingjay, I was looking for something to listen to in the car for the three of us. White Cat was well-reviewed by Beth Fish Reads, it was written by Holly Black of the Spiderwick Chronicles, and who could resist that cover? So sultry with all that black leather against that beautiful feline. And, after all, I sort of feel like I am the White Cat blog, with Casper the freak-show as my mascot.

Synopsis: Cassel Sharpe is the only "non-gifted" member of a family of curse-workers...a motley crew of folks that can alter memory, manipulate emotions, and even kill with their powers. Cassel desperately wants to fit in with his private school classmates, and does a decent job by being a pretty good con artist and dorm bookie, but is haunted by vague memories of killing his best friend Lila several years ago. He keeps his secrets to himself.

When Cassel wakes up on the roof of a school building, presumably from sleep-walking, things really start to get strange. Something is fishy with his brothers. Have they been performing memory curses? Why is his sister-in-law acting addled? Why does he keep having these strange dreams about Lila, posing as a white cat, telling him that he is the only one who can break the curse? He is also nervous and suspicious about his family's connection with the organized crime syndicate, who use illegal curse working for monetary gain.

My thoughts: I found the whole premise of this first installment of The Curse Workers Trilogy (of course it's a trilogy) very creative. Instead of drugs being the driving force behind organized crime, it is curse work, because it is dangerous and illegal. Black does a respectable job of developing this alternative world of mind games and manipulation and the struggle for power.

I became very fond of Cassel. His character was a complicated maze of teenage hormones, faltering self-esteem and cockiness. His geeky-cool school friends reminded me of something from Napoleon Dynamite, and I look forward to hanging with them a little more. There were many other characters, though, that were shallow and two-dimensional - Cassel's grandfather, his brothers and Lila. There were hints of interesting history beneath the surface, just there to excite me, but it was kept at arm's length. Perhaps Black is saving something for installments 2 and 3?

To Black's credit, she didn't leave us in the middle of a cliff-hanger, which I think is a cheap tactic to get us back for the second installment (titled "Red Glove, which she is still writing). I'd be happy to come back without any of that strong-arming. My son and I really enjoyed the story...it didn't blow us away but we were entertained. My daughter stopped listening somewhere in the middle. She thought it was "weird and confusing", her words.

My daughter is right, the plot is a bit twisted. There were a few times when I wasn't sure what was going on, but just allowed myself to go with the flow. There was some language - nothing too shocking though. There was also some kissing and one close situation, but no sex or reference to sex. I felt comfortable with my 11 year old listening.

A few words about the audio production: This audio was narrated by actor Jesse Eisenberg, who is probably most known for his leading role in "The Social Network". Even though he is in his late twenties, he has a very young-sounding voice and lent itself to the spirit of Cassel's personality. He talked a little too fast, and did not use much inflection, which could be his style, or could be inexperience in narration. But after a disc or two, we got used to it.

Me: 3.5 out of 5 stars
My son: 4 out of 5 stars
My daughter: 2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Backseat Saints - Joshilyn Jackson (Audio)

First there was Gods in Alabama, a novel that I believe has the best opening line EVER. A true example of Southern fiction at its finest, with all the trimmings. Cussin', shootin', drinkin', fightin' and lots of childhood dysfunction and humor to cover up the tears. Born from this story was the minor character of Rose Mae Lolly, an ethereal, mysterious girl with a violent past. Jackson is back again to tell the story of Rose Mae.

Synopsis: Rose Mae thought she was starting a new life when she ran away from Fruiton Alabama, where she was abandoned by her mother and beaten to a pulp by her angry, alcoholic father. Unfortunately, Rose Mae is one of those women who attracts violence, and marries an abusive husband. After years of trips to the ER, Rose Mae is warned by a gypsy that she must act now or she will end up in the morgue. So Rose Mae grabs her fat, three-legged dog, her granddaddy's gun, and runs like hell.

Rose Mae first stops in Fruiton, to find her old boyfriend Jim Beverly, who disappeared her senior year in high school (if you read Gods in Alabama, you know how that turns out). She also confronts her withered father, trying to find closure from all those healed bruises. From there she embarks on a journey to find her mother in California, hoping to also escape a husband she knows is going to try to hunt her down and kill her.

My thoughts: I would read Joshilyn Jackson any day, anywhere, anytime, on a train, on a plane, with a fox, in a box. On the surface, she might qualify as women's fiction, or southern fiction, but there is really alot more going on here. In this particular story, I went through a variety of emotions as Rose Mae traveled on her journey of self-discovery. Pity at her battered life. Confusion at the internal battle between the persona of Ro Grandee and Rose Mae Lolly, then when she assumed the completely new identity of Ivey Rose. Does she even have all her marbles? Would I blame her if she didn't? Is she delusional to take off across the country to find a mother she hasn't seen since she was 8?

The important thing to note with Jackson is that even though her stories contain plots that have been run into the ground, everything you read feels fresh and new. Plus she is funny HELL. Laughing at one's misadventures in life is the southern way, after all.

If I were to compare this book with Gods in Alabama, though, I would have to vote for Gods. It seemed to have better flow. Backseat Saints seemed a little fragmented, with sharp turns in the plot that left threads hanging. The resolution of the story was predictable as well, but aren't all domestic abuse cases? These are minor complaints, though, and didn't diminish the fun ride.

A few words about the audio production: Unlike Gods in Alabama, this book was narrated by Jackson herself. Normally, this is not a good idea. There are professionals out there that do these things for a living. But with Jackson? If she ever decided to quit writing (praise the Lord, no!) she could always fall back on audiobook narration to pay her bills. She is delightful. Her tiny, melodic little southern voice personified Rose Mae. I hope she decides to narrate all of her books in the future.

4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Indiana #4

Hiking in Turkey Run State Park, IN. For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Carry the Rock - Jay Jennings

I've always been a fan of non-fiction (it's all about the pictures!) and I love the passion behind the game of football. It also didn't hurt that my son's football season had gotten me all pumped up about the game on a personal level. So this book seemed like the perfect fit for me. I picked it up at SIBA (signed!) and it was an OKRA pick as well. With the subtitle "Race, Football and the Soul of an American City", how on earth could I go wrong?

Synopsis: Jay Jennings, originally from Little Rock Arkansas, has returned to his roots to tell the story of his hometown. Little Rock, in fact, is steeped in a rich history of racial unrest that started in the early 1900's with lynchings, and progressed to its pinnacle in 1957, when nine African American students faced an angry mob at an all-white Central High school after desegregation was enforced.

Folding in the state's biggest passion - football - Jennings follows the 2007 Central High School team, surprisingly when racial tensions still exist, both on and off the field. He brings the reader inside the locker room of long-time coach Bernie Cox, a tough nut and old-school motivator. Despite all of his successes over the years, Cox struggles to find a way to inspire this particular team to work together, to take the game seriously, and walk the straight and narrow, resulting in a year of extreme highs and lows.

My thoughts: The elements in this book are all fundamentally sound. Racial struggles in the South, the division of a town into the right and wrong side of the interstate, the religion of football, the fierce leadership of a coach that loves his players like sons. But somehow it all fell flat for me.

There was a great deal of detail in the town's history, and while I was horrified at the unfair treatment of blacks, the prose felt more clinical and proper than emotional. I found that I was much more engaged in the segments about Central's fight for a winning season, but I never felt compelled to pick up the book and keep reading. It took me 2 1/2 weeks to read 250 pages.

I also felt like there was little synchronicity between the history of Little Rock's racial struggles and the plight of the 2007 Central High School football team. Both were interesting stories individually, but the jump between the two seemed jerky and did not flow. I'd build up momentum on a story about an exciting football game, then the narrative would stop and focus on a piece of the town's history.

Perhaps I was not the right type of person to read this book. I kept asking myself what I was missing, as it was an OKRA pick. If I were attached to the city of Little Rock in some way, it might have had more impact. I can imagine the thrill in reading this book if I had grown up there. But as it stood, I was unable to invest in the story.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Movie Meme - The Great Beyond

This past week, the Bumbles have spent some time in churches attending both a baptism and a funeral. And they began to think about heaven, hell, and the after life. The first movie that comes to mind, of course, is Ghost. There isn't a person with a sliver of a heart that doesn't love this movie. Although I'm slightly addled at the moment, racing from meal to winery to meal, I thought I'd throw out a few ideas of my own:

1. Defending Your Life - If you haven't seen this movie, the premise is that Albert Brooks dies, and must defend himself against a judge and jury, supporting his selfish acts, acts of courage and good deeds, in order to move on to heaven (or hell). It is incredibly funny and even a little sweet.

2. Bettlejuice - Speaking of defending, I'm not sure I can give you a full explanation of why I like this movie. It is very strange, a little stupid, and a wee bit scary, but I always have to stop and watch it every time it comes on TV.

3. City of Angels - I would not be a person to stand up and declare my love for the talents of Nicholas Cage (well, maybe in Adaptation), but something about this movie touched me. So much yearning, love and heartbreak between an angel (Cage) and an earthly beauty (Meg Ryan).

4. Flatliners - I remember the first time I saw this movie, I was in a motel by myself, and I was just a little bit creeped out. Med students begin to stop each other's heart to experience what may lie beyond. *shudder*

So let's hear some of your ideas! And while you do that, I'm off to this:

And this:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Salon: Napa baby!

Last night as I fell into bed from the effects of time change and wine consumption, I had given myself permission to skip this Sunday Salon. But alas, I am on Florida time so even though I fought the urge to get up at 3am, I am up at 6. So I might as well chit chat with you since I'm here, right?

My week was primarily spent getting caught up on blogging. I wrote about six reviews, and boy did that feel good! Other than that, it was a pretty low maintenance week. It sure is nice to settle down under the radar now and again. My mind was focused primarily on our upcoming five day trip to Napa commencing Saturday morning. Originally, my mom and dad were going to take care of the kids, but my mom's still struggling in Indiana with her detached retina and just went through her third surgery (please send a prayer her way). So we hired a babysitter, and I had lists and lists of instructions and had to coordinate extracurricular activities. I was moderately stressed about the whole thing.

But now? It's all good now. We arrived in San Francisco yesterday morning, about an hour after our friends, had lunch in the city, then zipped up to one of our favorite places on earth. The smells! The grape vines! The wine! Although we have a pretty full schedule of appointments today through Tuesday, we were unencumbered yesterday, so we tracked down a vineyard up on Spring Mountain, Terra Valentine, getting in by dropping a few names, and had a delightful flight of tastings while overlooking the valley at sunset.

It is going to be an incredible week! Our friends Craig and Kathy own a wine store in Windermere, FL so they have arranged some fun adventures for us with their trade connections. We are also staying at the properties of two different wineries for our accommodations. Last night and tonight we are staying in a little Victorian carriage house (where a lady has been plying us with fresh baked cookies, wine and bottles of water) on the property of Trinchero Wines. Am I really going to want to leave?

So as far as my reading, I finished the audio of David Sedaris's "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim", and I got my much needed belly laughs. I am several discs away from finishing a book club read "Cane River", which is a decent read. Sort of a miniature version of "Roots"...multi-generational story about a family of slaves in Louisiana in the 1800's. I'm not sure I will have time to finish it while wining, but I'm going to try.

The kids and I went by the library on Monday and gorged ourselves on tons of good bookish stuff. We got the audio "Fallen" (chosen by my daughter...no idea if it is good or not), and I checked out six graphic novels and "Nothing But Ghosts" by Beth Kephart. Woo hoo! I am hoping to read Ghosts and the graphic novel "French Milk" on this trip. I also finished a very strange book I had on my shelves called "The Store" by Bentley Little. I needed to read something I'd gotten from a resale shop to finish a challenge, so I picked this one. It was a slightly cheesier, but equally as scary version of a Stephen King-ish horror novel. King has even recommended this author in the past. Although I used to read this stuff all the time when I was younger, I don't think I could take it for long now. Oy vay.

I hope you all have a wonderful day, and wonderful week! Stay tuned for next Sunday Salon, where I will share a few more winey pictures with you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My thoughts on Mockingjay (Audio) - NO SPOILERS

If you meander about the blogosphere, you know that there isn't much I can say about Mockingjay that hasn't already been said. Third and final installment of The Hunger Games series. Some people loved it. Some hated it. And some were just apathetic. I don't intend to spoil the plot, so if you haven't read it, please don't be scared. I'm just going to chit chat a little.

The kids and I listened to all three books on audio. With Mockingjay, by the time I remembered to get in line for it at the library, I was close to number 50. This would never do, so I actually bought it from Amazon. There was much excitement in the Nawrot household when it arrived.

I refused to get bogged down by all the opinions out there. I went into it with an open mind.

And I was sorely disappointed. Katniss seemed to have lost her spunk and vitality. She had been through alot of trauma in the first two books, so that is understandable, but her ability to pick herself up by her bootstraps and fight the good fight was what we loved about her. She seemed to be perpetually uncertain and high on pain-killers. The plot drug on, and on, and on. I was so bored I could cry. Oh sure, there was a body count, but it felt forced.

The last third of the book, the pace did pick up. We saw a glimpse of the Katniss we all knew and loved. Then she retreated again. We were halfway through the last disc, and I wasn't seeing a viable ending. Then, Collins hastily wrapped it up with a big fat bow, threw it at us, and ran. I passed it off to my BFF, wished her luck, and moved on. *grumble, grumble*

The audio was 10 discs long, and it took the kids and I a good solid month, maybe even slightly more, to get through it all. So while the kids would tell you they were "OK" with the story, they weren't begging to listen every time we got in the car. There were times when they even forcefully told me to turn it off.

All that being said, if you have invested in the trilogy, then you have to finish it. Just don't get your hopes up.

If you want to see the book summarized in the most brilliant way imaginable, please go visit my blogging buddy Jennifer @ Literate Housewife, who chose to write her review in Haiku form.

2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Red Hook Road - Ayelet Waldman (Audio)

When you reflect back on your life, there are certain events that you never forget. Births, weddings and deaths are among these. Beginnings and endings. The idea of death intruding on the sparkling optimism of a wedding isn't something I even want to allow myself imagine, so it was with trepidation that I listened to this audio. I went into it knowing there would be pain. Others who have read the book made assurances that hope outweighed grief, but I was skeptical.

Synopsis: Two families, one wealthy and one blue collar, one local and one From Away, come together on a cloudless Maine summer day to celebrate the wedding of John and Becca. Gossiping attendees, irritated relatives, a controlling mother of the bride, the father of the bride that brings two left dress shoes, a flower girl that forgets to throw the rose petals...predictable havoc. Only this day ends in tragedy...the bride and groom are killed in a car accident on the way to the reception.

The two families, neither whom like each other very much, and couldn't be more different, must struggle through their grief together and bury their children, the services held in the same church still bearing remnants of the wedding from days prior. Conflicts arise immediately, stemming from differences in religion, expenses and affordability, family plots, both sides playing the blame game and wrestling for the upper hand in a no-win situation.

Each summer, we revisit the families and get a glimpse of their grieving and healing. The battle of the mothers. The inability to get past the tragedy. The depression. The failing of a marriage. But there are shards of promise as well. A romance blossoms between John and Becca's siblings. Becca's grandfather, a professional`violinist and Holocaust survivor, finds a musical prodigy in John's niece and begins to tutor her. The two families begin to find common ground. The two families begin to move on.

My thoughts: I think that was a pathetic excuse for a synopsis. But I'm having trouble finding the right words to express the beauty and complexity of this story. Right out of the gate I'm going to tell you that this story is heart-breaking. I didn’t know John and Becca at the beginning of the story, so I felt sorrow at a distance. I was left amongst the survivors, who, as they went through the grieving process, reveal their memories of John and Becca as babies and toddlers, their antics, their personalities, how they met, their courtship, their dreams for the future. I felt the raw pain of the mothers, the fathers, the sister and brother, and I began to really hurt for their loss.

Then it became a complicated character study. John’s hard-working, no-nonsense mother Jane who resents the wealthy outsiders that invade her peaceful hometown. Becca’s father, Daniel, who turns to his old profession of boxing to get him through his darkest days. Iris, Becca’s headstrong mother, who painfully admits to herself that she always preferred her older daughter. Becca’s little sister Ruthie, a quiet, inward young woman who has only lived to please her mother. These fragile personalities struggle to make sense of John and Becca’s death, and try to move on with their lives while stumbling around blind and making serious mistakes along the way. Not all of them are likable, but are so very three-dimensional and resemble real people in all of our lives.

The colorful cast of characters isn’t the only thing competing for your attention and your heart in this story. Also playing a leading role is the small coastal town of Red Hook, Maine. The fresh lobsters, the local beer joint, the slow pace, and the community’s passion for sailing are things that you can almost smell and hear and taste as the words float by your eyes (or ears!).

All of this made an impact on me. I grieved with these folks, and slowly allowed myself to smile here and there as they found small pieces of joy. But what left me speechless and brought my thoughts back to the book for weeks after I finished, was the Coda. After becoming a part of the family, after developing a love for John and Becca through their relatives, Waldman takes us back to the last thirty minutes of their lives. The segment was almost dream-like; ghosts dancing on the beach, kissing and high on life. I had to go back and listen to it several times. It was masterful.

A few words about the audio production: Red Hook Road was narrated by Kimberly Farr, who is a veteran narrator (The 19th Wife, My Name is Mary Sutter, American Wife, My Life in France). She is pleasant to listen to and did a great job with various accents, including those wonderful Maine drawls. At just over 14 hours, this was neither too long nor too short…just right!

4.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Indiana #3

The muddy Sugar Creek at Turkey Run State Park, IN. For more Wordless Wednesdays, click here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Last Night in Twisted River - John Irving (Audio)

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I recall that John Irving may have been the original inspiration of Rebecca's term "pantyworthy". (Meaning the author is at such a rock-star status, that bibliophiles could be inspired to throw undergarments at them.) Whether this is true or not doesn't matter...it is what I think of when I hear the man's name. Yes, the man is attractive, and yes he is a storyteller. I was quite open to the idea of Irving's latest, Last Night in Twisted River, being our first official read for the Heathrow Literary Society. I needed to get in on the excitement.

Synopsis: Widower Dominic Baciagalupo, a cook for a small logging community in New Hampshire, and his son Daniel live a modest but comfortable existence until two tragic events change the course of the rest of their lives. Dominic decides that to best protect his son, they must flee, and do so for a majority of their lives.

Covering 40+ years and thousands of miles (including Boston, Iowa, Colorado and Canada), Irving delivers with vivid description the lives of Dominic and Daniel and their odyssey. The rugged logging lifestyle, the drug culture and Vietnam, the passion of en familia Italia in Boston, a street-level view of the restaurant business, the life of a successful author, child-rearing in an all-male single-parent household, US politics after 9/11, and probably a dozen more storylines I'm not remembering.

There is more here, though, than a slice of the 20th century pie. It is also about the softer stuff...manhood, friendship, loneliness, loyalty, pride, and love. Perhaps for Irving, this is his all-American novel?

My thoughts: This is one of those books that you must go along for the ride. To enjoy the ride, you're going to have to come to terms with total cohabitation with the Baciagalupos for as long as it takes you to read 574 pages (or 20 discs). There is alot of detail to wade through here.

Overall, I found the story mildly entertaining. Intriguing at times, slow at others. I thoroughly enjoyed shadowing Dominic in his life as a cook. His famous pizza, his pasta dishes, his dabbling in French and Chinese cuisine...I felt my inner foodie purring at the description of Dominic's creations. I would also presume most of you would find the development and nurturing of Daniel's career as a successful novelist to be of interest as well. The writing process, the joy and angst of having books adapted into movies, and the incorporation of an author's personal experiences into his books is something that obviously came directly from Irving's heart.

The character of Ketchum, Dominic and Daniel's life-long friend, confidant and protector, captured my heart. In fact, only towards the end did I realize that Ketchum was as much of a main protagonist as the Baciagalupos, and was the underlying soul to Irving's tale.

I had some numerous gripes as well, some minor and some major. Irving tended to repeat Dominic and Daniel's names, their full Christian names with all aliases, all the time. I wasn't sure what his point was, but it bothered me. There was also a significant amount of jumping back and forth in time, and back and forth between characters. This was extremely distracting until about 2/3 of the way through the book, when I began to notice that there was a pattern. The pattern having elements of teasing and a building of tension from time period to time period.

I also felt that the ending was contrived. I'm skirting around the details of this one because of spoilers, but Daniel's big moment at the end of the book, his big epiphany if you will, fell flat for me. It seemed that Irving reached into the grab bag of plotlines contained within the story, and plunked it down as The Answer To Happiness. I didn't buy it.

A word about the audio production: Funny thing about Arthur Morey, the narrator for Last Night in Twisted River. This is the second audio I've listened to with Morey at the microphone (first was Homer and Langely). With both books, I initially was bored with his voice...it just kind of echoed inside my brain and sounded like the teacher in Peanuts (wwwaaaah, wa wwwwah, wa wwwwah). But in both instances, he grew on me and ultimately was very comfortable with the listening experience. He's not my favorite narrator, but I'd happily listen to him again.

Thoughts from the Heathrow Literary Society: We had a most excellent discussion in our newly-formed book club. We have a wonderful mixture of old and young, chick-lit readers and some of the most well-read people I've ever met. The discussion was lively and insightful. Overall, nobody loved this book. For admirers of Irving (one man had read EVERYTHING Irving had written), this was not a good representative of Irving brilliance. It was noted that the elements present in Twisted River were the same elements that had been included in other Irving novels as well, and this was just a compilation. They had been there, done that. We all agreed the only reason this book would ever be read was because it had been written by Irving.

3 out of 5 stars