Friday, September 30, 2011

Wants and Needs (Bookmarks September/October)

Time for another issue of things that I am coveting from the latest Bookmarks Magazine, but will be lucky if I read one or two.  Especially since lately, I've been averaging about 30 pages a day in print.  Oh well.  It doesn't hurt to fantasize.     

Need:  Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs
This book has been EVERYWHERE on the blogs lately, and it seems like the perfect fit for the RIP challenge.  Descriptions of the book include phrases like "exploring the crumbling ruins of an abandoned orphanage", "answers to grandfather's death", "treacherous bog", and "peculiar children trapped in time".  Then there are these spooky pictures.  I must have.

Need:  Before I Go To Sleep - S.J. Watson
Somebody blurbed this book as "Memento on crystal meth", which is like the best blurb ever.  After an automobile accident, a woman is afflicted with a condition where her memory resets every 24 hours.  At the same time, trouble is afoot with her husband.  Everyone has said this one is a seriously wild ride that doesn't unclench its claws from your face until the last page. 

Want:  Sister - Rosamund Lupton
Two sisters, totally different but closely bonded through the death of a brother and paternal abandonment in their youth.  When one sister tragically dies by apparent suicide, the other vows to get the true story.  Bookmarks deems this "heartrending and spine-chilling" tale, told in epistolary form, a success.  We are warned that this is a "hold your breath and your handkerchief thriller". 

Want:  Time and Again - Jack Finney
Featured in an article about Old New York On the Page (which is completely alluring to me), this 1970 novel is about a government experiment that turns out to be a time-travel expedition to 1882 NYC.  This novel has been around for awhile...has anyone read it?  I whet my appetite on "The Doomsday Book" and now I need more.  

Want:  The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
After immersing myself in the absolute brilliance of "Middlesex", I guess I don't really care what this one is about, I just want more Eugenides-ness.  But for the curious, this is described as a modern love story that includes some students writing their thesis (theses?) on literary classics.  I don't know, Raych liked it and wrote a seriously amazing review on it, so that about does it for me.  I am eyeballing an audio for this one...

Does anyone have opinions?  Are there any of these that I must not miss at any cost? 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys (Audio)

You all probably know by now that I love WWII novels, even though at this point, I'm finding myself getting more and more selective.  Just like mystery/thrillers, after awhile they all start to sound the same, and takes something really special to make them memorable.

I'd been hearing about this particular title for awhile now, making it's rounds when it first was published in March of this year.  I even had the book sitting on my shelves.  But what ultimately motivated me to read it was the audio version (shocker, I know).  Thanks to Ti, I learned that I could load Overdrive on my iPhone, and just pluck audios at will from my library website, so I went nuts.  (I could never figure out how to get Overdrive titles on my iPod Classic.)  As always, if I want to get something read quickly, I turn to audio.

Synopsis:  Lina is a typical 15 year-old living in Lithuania in 1941.  She has friends, she is annoyed with her little brother, she has a crush on a boy, and she loves to draw.  All of that is stolen from her one day, however, when her family is torn from their home by Russian soldiers, for crimes which Lina does not understand.  Lina, her mother, and little brother are thrown on to a train headed for a Siberian work camp.  Her father is sent elsewhere.

While in captivity, Lina is befriended by a young man for whom she begins to have feelings, and who encourages Lina to continue to draw everything she sees - at great risk.  This tiny shred of pleasure is not enough to offset the horrors Lina witnesses...disease, starvation, murder, and dwindling hope they will ever experience freedom again.

My thoughts: In some ways, this story is identical to hundreds of stories that were born from WWII...a teenage girl suffering with her family at the hands of a murderous dictator's reign of terror.  In other ways, the viewpoint of someone terrorized by the Soviets instead of the Germans, someone from Lithuania, someone sent to Siberia, is something a little new.  These twists made the book completely worth reading for me.

The characters are well-drawn, generally likable and heroic in their small ways.  Their circumstances are tragic and extremely harsh, considering this is a YA novel.  There is no sugar-coating.  Babies die, fathers die, mothers die.  Soviet soldiers are brutal.  But at the same time, the victims also help each other to survive malnutrition, frigid winter conditions, and fight the desire to give up.  The rare Soviet soldier shows an act of kindness.  There was beauty amidst the horror.

Because Sepetys is the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, she has used real stories and real details to bring this story into sharp focus.  Carrying around a good luck rock.  Finding a dead owl and smuggling it home for food.  These little touches were a direct reflection, and a tribute, to the experiences of those who lived through this hell.

A word about the audio production:  The narrator for this audio production was Emily Kline, a new voice for me.  She does not appear to have much experience with fictional narration - most of her experience is with non-fiction.  Her vocalization for younger children was very high pitched, and actually made me wince because I felt it was piercing into my brain.  This was a distraction for the first half of the book, but I did get used to it.  

I did have one issue with the flow of the story, because I was listening to audio.  Throughout the story, as Lina is enduring a particular horror, she takes little trips back in her mind to an instance in her earlier life.  A conversation with her father, or her cousin, or mother.  In the book, these regressions were indicated by italics.  But in the audio, there was no pause or other sign that this flashback was occurring.  It was highly confusing.  Because of these reasons, I would recommend reading the book in print.

Despite my complaints about the audio, however, this is a beautiful book that I would highly recommend. 

4.5 out of 5 stars                

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Norway #11

This is a view of Bergen Norway from atop a nearby peak, accessible by hiking trail or a funicular.  Luckily, we went on the one clear day we had during our visit.  Say goodbye to beautiful Norway, home of Jo Nesbo.  Next week, we will start our tour of Sopot, Poland. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Second Nature - Jacquelyn Mitchard

I was one of the 20 gazillion people who read Jacquelyn Mitchard's "Deep End of the Ocean" way back when it was an Oprah book, and when it was made into a movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer.  I loved it but it disturbed me deeply.  Briefly, the story was about a photographer (Beth Cappadora) who turns her back on her two sons for only a moment in a hotel lobby, when the youngest, Ben, is kidnapped by a mentally ill woman.  Nine years later, after utter destruction of the family, Ben is discovered and brought back home.

When I was approached recently by Maria at Random House to review Mitchard's new book (in which the Cappadora family plays an important but supporting role in the plot) I jumped at the opportunity to experience her work once again, and to find out what was going on with the family that simultaneously stole and broke my heart all those years ago.

Synopsis:  Sicily Coyne was only 13-years old when she lost her face in a fire that also killed her firefighter father.  Soon after, she lost her mother in a tragic accident.  Her life has been spent being raised by a dynamic and loving aunt, and undergoing dozens of surgeries and battling infections.  Sicily is now a confident young woman, an accomplished medical illustrator, and is engaged to a man who knew her before her face was a horrifying mask.  When she is approached by Eliza Cappadora, a transplant surgeon (and coincidentally, married to the once-abducted Ben Cappadora), for a revolutionary face transplant, Sicily refuses.  Why would she want to endure yet another surgery, and risk an infection or even her life for superficial beauty? 

A devastating heartbreak, however, changes Sicily's perspective, and she decides to receive a face transplant from a young woman who is in an irreversible coma.  Sicily enlists Beth Cappadora, who is a still a photographer, to document the journey.  Sicily faces a future of beauty, but also a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs and possible relapses, and the probability of not being able to have children because of these medications.  Everything, it seems, has a price.

As Sicily becomes more and more a part of the Cappadora family, and experiences a life she never dreamed she would have, she is suddenly faced with some unexpected, controversial and ethical dilemmas.  Ones that are of life and death, loneliness and happiness, of life stifled or liberated.  

My thoughts:  This is one of those books that it pays not to know TOO much about the plot.  I promise you I have been vague enough in my description to keep you protected!  And the plot was all over the place...this was truly a four-dimensional book.  There are dozens of threads, of discussion-worthy choices and dilemmas.  Enough to make a book club swoon.

I was thrilled to see the Cappadoras again.  On the surface, they had all grown up and gone on with their lives since Ben's abduction. But there were scars underneath that affected every move they made, that affected not only their family but Sicily as well.

I enjoyed Sicily as a protagonist.  She was full of piss and vinegar, having developed an outer shell of humor and barbed sarcasm to help her cope with her disfigurement.  She had a mildly annoying way of pushing people away at times, but completely understandable.  Any lesser of a personality would not have been able to pull off this role.

While the story captured my heart and mind in the first half of the book, however, I became slightly disenchanted in the last half.  The plot did a 90 degree turn into a completely different direction, which, in principle, I was OK with.  But it became bogged down with a confusing quagmire of awkward relationship angst.  The dialogue was out of sync, and I never really knew what was going on after there had been one of many of these "discussions", which were painful to me.  Was it all realistic?  Yes probably.  Relationships are often this way.  But it slowed down the momentum of the book.

I still would recommend the book however.  Face transplants absolutely FASCINATE me.  I had to Google some real-life examples, and I just shake my head at the magic created at the hands of today's surgeons.  Mitchard's writing is also compelling and creates characters that feel like they are about to walk off the pages and into your life.

4 out of 5 stars       

Monday, September 26, 2011

SIBA11: The Authors

During the four days spent at SIBA11, I met many authors and listened to even more of them speak about their books.  Amongst them all, however, there were a few that made a distinct impression on me, or took time to talk with us.  I'd like to dedicate this post to those authors.

1.  Kadir Nelson - author of "Heart and Soul:  The Story of America and African Americans" (Harper Collins).  Kadir seemed to me to be the definition of heart and soul as he spoke to us at our first lunch.  Even though your first impression of him would be his devastating good looks, he exuded passion for telling the story of the African American people.  He not only wrote this book, but his illustrations are stunning.  Stay tuned for a review upcoming.

2.  Wylie Cash - author of "A Land More Kind Than Home" (William Morrow).  While we are on the topic of handsome good looks and charm, I have to mention Wylie.  His debut novel, to be released May 2012, has been compared to the works of John Hart and Tom Franklin, and is a "literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small North Carolina town."  That aside, he has a personality that is impossible not to love.

3.  Jennifer Niven - author of "Velva Jean Learns to Fly" (Penguin).  I am intrigued by Jennifer's Velva Jean series about an independent heroine living during WWII.  However, we learned while talking to her that she started her career by writing two non-fiction books ("The Ice Master" and "Ada Blackjack") about Arctic expeditions in the early 1900's.  Looks like I'm going to have a Jennifer Niven project on my hands!

4. Alma Katsu - author of "The Taker" (Simon & Schuster).  I read the book.  It blew my mind.  And I wondered what kind of woman came up with such a thing.  I never in a million years would have imagined it would be this tiny lady with a wicked sense of humor and an aura that made you feel like she was one of your girlfriends you would meet for a drink after work.  Alma talked to us about her previous work, the editing process of "The Taker" and of its sequel "The Reckoning" (she just started working on the final trilogy installment).  If we didn't have to leave for another panel, I think we would have chatted for hours.

5.  Susan McBride - author of "Little Black Dress" (William Morrow).  I've never read any of Susan's books before, but hearing her speak and meeting her was like finding an old friend.  She is a woman's woman, who has had hard knocks in her life (usually occurring while writing under a deadline!) and has come out victorious.  She made us all laugh when she and Wylie Cash were talking about the benefits of stretch jeans, and what one can hide in them.

6.  Tom Franklin - author of "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" (William Morrow).  I don't know too many people who have not completely loved this book, including the people handing out awards.  One of my book clubs was fortunate enough to talk to him over the phone, so we knew he was an incredibly nice guy, as well as humble and charming.  But I got confirmation of all that when I met him right before the author auction.  I was prepared to plunk down my kids' college fund to bid on him and take him to dinner, but we ultimately decided we needed to share. 

Authors we bought at the auction:  For the two years I've attended SIBA, they have featured The Writer's Auction Block where attendees are able to bid on an author and take them to dinner.  Proceeds benefit a charitable organization supporting literacy.  The four bloggers (KathySwapna, Heather and myself) bid on three of them, and a fourth joined us as a bonus.  Here were our dinner partners for the evening:

Wendy Wax - author of "Ten Beach Road" (Penguin)
Jim Minick - author of "The Blueberry Years" (Thomas Dunne)
Marybeth Whalen - author of "She Makes It Look Easy" (David C. Cook)
Lisa Patton - author of "Yankee Doodle Dixie" (Thomas Dunne)

Each one of these authors made it a special evening for us.  They were gracious, and had dozens of hilarious stories about their lives and book publishing experiences.  (I'm not telling...what happens at dinner stays at dinner.)  We laughed uproariously as we drank beer and wine and ate delicious Southern food. We were sure that all the other authors must have been jealous because we did have the best table!  It was nice for all of us to take off our blogging and writing hats and just have a good time.         

Top left to right:  Heather, Marybeth, Jim, Wendy
Bottom left to right:  Swapna, Kathy, Me, Lisa

In my next SIBA update, coming next Monday, I'll talk about upcoming books that have my heart racing!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Salon: Home for Awhile

Happy Sunday morning everyone!  I am pleased to announce that I THINK I am home now for awhile.  Well, at least until Thanksgiving (when we go to St. George Island).  That means I can unpack my jewelry and try to get into a routine in earnest.  Now it is all about the to-do lists!

I started off my week by wrapping up SIBA11.  It officially ended on Monday afternoon, Heather and I said goodbye to Kathy and Swapna (very sad - I miss my girls!) and had an early, leisurely dinner at Magnolia's downtown.  I think I passed out by 9:30 from utter exhaustion.  We hit the road first thing Tuesday morning, and made it home by mid-afternoon.  I was greeted with big hugs from my kids.  Apparently my husband was driving them crazy, and perhaps I'm not so bad after all?  I've decided to recap SIBA11 with two posts:  one covering the authors, coming tomorrow, and one covering the books, which will come the following Monday.

Short digression:  oh the books, people, the books!  My shelves were threatening to collapse before SIBA, but now it is out. of. control.  I have informed my husband that I must have bookcases for Christmas.  I must have many of them, and they must be all the way to the ceiling.  The chaos and disarray must stop.   

The rest of the week was spent catching up, which seems to be the theme of my life.  I even skipped golf on Thursday so I could get a grip on things.  Saturday was dedicated (as usual) to football, church, and then one last stab at Magical Dining Month at Capital Grill with friends.

Now is when I hang my head and tell you what a loser I've been when it comes to reading.  And with all these wonderful books staring at me accusingly.  I'm STILL reading "Dominance" by Will Lavender, a week and a half later, not because it isn't a good book but because I'm distracted.  I think once I finish this guy (hopefully in the next day or two) I'm going to knock out some of my shorter books to make myself feel better.

On audio I have two books going.  Because of uploading issues, I am listening to my next Heathrow Literary Society book, "Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan, only in the car with the actual discs.  On my iPod, I'm listening to "The Snowman" by Jo Nesbo, narrated by Robin Sachs who is SUBLIME.  To an audio/Nesbo addict, this is like the stars and moons aligning.  I cannot get enough. 

A couple of other random thoughts...did you guys see Jenners' post about being a book hoarder?  Then Heather came up with the idea of setting it to the music of Fiddler on the Roof's "If I Were a Rich Man"?  And who best to make a song parody than Fizzy Jill?  Take a look at this.  It will make your day.

Second random thought...have you heard of Club Read?  It is a totally unique event sponsored by SIBA where you spend 24 hours with dozens of authors, eating, drinking, talking.  Total immersion, total dream-come-true kind of thing for a reader.  So if you are looking for something fun to do the weekend of October 15th, check this out!  Myself, I shall be serving Polish chili (recipe yet to be determined) at a Chili Cookoff fundraiser for my daughter's 8th grade class.  So please think of me when you are rubbing elbows with all those amazing authors.

So what is up for today?  My daughter has horseback riding lessons, then she wants to go shopping (!?).  Maybe a movie?  Doesn't sound too promising for reading does it?  We will see.  Have a good one!     


Friday, September 23, 2011

Does the Noise In My Head Bother You? - Steven Tyler (Audio)

Although I've literally grown up on Aerosmith, and I love their music, Steven Tyler only really appeared on my radar when he became a judge on American Idol.  I guess in the past, I'd just written him off as your typical drugged out rock and roller who lived on the edge.  But when he actually opened his mouth as a judge and started to show his human side, I fell in love with him.  And more than that, he seemed like he was clean.  Well, maybe there is more to this guy, you know?  I was pretty excited when I won this audio from Jen during Audio Book Week this past June.  I was interested in what this guy had to say.

Synopsis:  In a nutshell, this is the story of Steven Tallarico's life.  A New York boy, he was the son of musical and beatnik parents, and started making music (and chemically altering himself) in his early teens.  He tells it all, the highs and lows between he and his band over the 41 years they've been together, his marriages and kids, his drug addictions, and the process of making music and writing his incredible lyrics.

My thoughts:  I had so much fun listening to this audio.  Because I am a music lover, the very first thing that jumped out at me was that this was not just a walk though Tyler's life, but a walk through music history.  Bands that came before him, and developed simultaneously with him, influenced the musician that Tyler was to become.  Whether he was talking about Joplin, the Beatles, the Stones, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin or even classical music that his father played, this was a ground level view of rock and roll as it was being birthed.

I was amazed at all the trivia and urban legends in here. In just about every conversation I had with friends, I had cause to pipe up and offer my little nuggets of wisdom.  "Did you know it cost between $200K and $2 million for a camel?"  "Did you know that Tyler was in rehab with The Kings of Leon's dad?"  "Did you know that Tyler snorted Lunesta?"  "Did you know that Jimi Hendrix used a microphone in unmentionable ways on a woman WHEN THE THING WAS ON?"  On and on it went.  I think I drove everyone mad.

The language used in this book is not for the faint-hearted, as I'm sure you could have guessed.  He is one rude and crude guy.  He loves his women and their private parts.  He has an addictive personality that works against him in the case of drugs, but works for him when it comes to the high of making music.  He is passionate about everything - an eternal optimist - but at the same time has the mentality of an 18-year-old.  And he admits it - he is very forthright in his frailties.  He is lovable, but only from a distance.  It would be very hard to live with his narcissism and immaturity.

I will gladly continue to follow him if he remains as an AI judge, but after listening to his life and its patterns, will be watching with one skeptical eye.  He genuinely wants to be clean, but he is still struggling and you can hear that in his words.  So while this is undoubtedly a musical success story, it is more of an ongoing battle of addictions as well.  I wish the best for him.

A word about the audio production:  Tyler has such a distinctive voice, and he is always breaking out in song as he talks, so you'd think that anyone other than Tyler performing the narration would be disappointing.  But Jeremy Davidson was INCREDIBLE.  I suspect this guy spent considerable hours studying Tyler's vocal mannerisms, because he sounded just like him (He must be an Aerosmith fan).  It looks like Davidson is Robert Ludlum's main man of narration, but I believe this project shows he could narrate just about anything.  Bravo.

4 out of 5 stars      

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk - David Sedaris (Audio)

But gracious yes, I do love David Sedaris.  I love him for his dry, self-deprecating wit and whiny voice.  I love him for his honesty and cynicism.  But his latest book, "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk", seemed a tad strange, even for him.  Reviews claimed it was their least favorite.  So it sat on my iPod since late last year, until Melissa at Avid Reader's Musings convinced me early this month that even though it might not be his best, it was still Sedaris and needed to be loved too.  It was when I was wallowing in the darkest aspects of "East of Eden" that I knew it was time.  I mean it is only three discs, so what they hey?

Synopsis:  In this collection of short stories, Sedaris provides a wide array of lessons in morality, all told through anthropomorphic animals that mirror mankind's frailties.  A racist duck, a judgemental adoptive mouse parent, an opportunistic crow, cheating dogs, inter-species dating.  What initially seems very strange quickly turns into an apt examination of (mostly) ugliness that humans are capable of.

My thoughts:  While Sedaris' latest installment of his humor did get more than one chuckle from me, I found it to be much darker than his normal fare.  Most of the stories would make one shake their head wryly, and think that while it is a pretty sad reflection of the things men do, it is also very realistic.  To present it all through animals makes for some very twisted Aesop's fables.

I think I enjoyed the last story the most, however, about a grieving owl who has lost its mate.  To keep its mind off its loss, the owl wanted to better itself, so sometimes it would spare the life of its prey in exchange for some interesting piece of trivia.  In one case, the owl learned about leeches that live in a hippo's butt, hang out there and sing songs.  OK, I know it sounds crazy, but you had to be there.  It was actually the most uplifting story in the book, believe it or not.  It cured me of my "East of Eden Malaise".

A word about the audio production:  What more can I say than to advise you to always listen to Sedaris on audio.  His delivery is perfection.  If I can't have him on audio, I don't want him.

3 out of 5 stars               

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Norway #10

Norway was an amazing place to visit, with all the natural beauty and fascinating history.  But the Fish Market was a huge highlight for us.  The market was settled right at the wharf, and everything fresh off the boat.  You could order your food from the vendors, have it prepared for you as you waited, and you could grab a beer and consume it all at a picnic table nearby.  We all could have eaten like this for every meal.  On top of a billion different kinds of fish, there were live crabs, shrimp, king crab legs as long as my arm, lobster, smoked and fresh salmon, even whale (which, thanks, I did not try but my husband and son did...the vendors are happy to slice you off a sample).  

We had a lunch here once and for a brief period of time, magically, no one spoke.  We just reveled in our delicious seafood, cracking shells and having juice drip down our arms.  I didn't ask how much it cost.  I didn't want to know.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating - Elisabeth Tova Bailey

If you saw one of your friends reading a book about a wild snail, it might cause you to do a double take.  Is that for real?  What on earth could you possibly find interesting about a sluggy creature that leaves slime in its wake?  I asked myself this question when it was first mentioned as a potential read for our book club.  But then I started hearing about it more and more, and I was able to get my hands on it at SIBA last year.  It is a cute little could fit right in your jacket pocket, with deckle edged paper And although I still didn't get it exactly, but at just over 200 pages, what did I have to lose?

Synopsis:  At the prime of her life, at the age of 34, Elisabeth Tova Bailey was sricken down by a mysterious virus picked up in Europe.  Bailey was completely incapacitated, where even rolling over from her right side to her left side took all of her strength.  She was forced to move from her home to a rehabiliation facility, her friends went on with their lives, and Bailey began to wonder if she would ever have a normal life again.

Then one day, a friend brought by a potted plant to cheer her up.  In the deathly silence of her room, Bailey heard munching noises and noticed that small holes had been eaten in her stationery at her bedside.  Lo and behold, she noticed a snail was living in her plant.  She began to study her new pet, and was fascinated with its daily activities, eating behavior, and adaptations to its environment.  Bailey began to worry about the welfare of the snail, and had it transferred to a terrarium, and began to draw strength and inspiration from its tiny little soul. 

My thoughts:  If my heart ever needed healing, I believe this gentle memoir would be just the thing to do it.  While Bailey is as debilitated as a human can be, the tone never seems whiny, just very sad for what she has lost and matter of fact.  The idea that a tiny creature, with its little eccentricities and determined personality, despite its size, can give a sick woman a reason to live?  The words just reach down into your heart and gives it a loving caress. 

And here was a shocker...snails are actually pretty cool.  Bailey does quite a bit of research on them in order to keep her little guy happy, and shares with us all kinds of bits of trivia.  Like if their shell gets cracked, they have a super glue-type fluid that patches things up.  Like their slime is a defense mechanism against their enemies.  How they lay eggs and tend them.  What they eat, that they are nocturnal.  Like which of their feelers does what.  It made me want one of my own.

And as you travel on this journey with the author, the snail not only lifts her up spiritually, so that she can have the desire and drive to heal, but it lifts you up as well.

4.5 out of 5 stars   

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday at the Movies: Coveting Colin Firth

Let's take a moment to revel in the handsomeness of Colin Firth.


He is wonderful, isn't he?  I was inspired to write this post because my daughter has lately taken to period movies.  She was talking about how much she loved the Kiera Knightley version of "Pride and Prejudice", and I told her "Oh, no no my child.  You must behold the Colin Firth version.  You haven't lived until you see him in his white shirt.  You will never know a Mr. Darcy quite like this one."

For anyone who hasn't seen the BBC version of this movie, made in 1995, you absolutely must.  It is a time commitment for sure, with it running about five hours, but you will sit there and love it and wish there were more.  The acting is phenomenal beyond that of Firth.  Lizzy (played by Jennifer Ehle, who by the way played Lionel Logue's wife in "The King's Speech") is smart, warm and beautiful, and the support characters playing Lydia and Mrs. Bennet are priceless.  The highlight however, is one scene where Mr. Darcy dives into the river to retrieve something and comes out all wet and soaked to the skin in his white shirt.  Lord give me strength.

Firth is one of those actors that has appeared in everything, and only once you start digging through IMDb do you realize how pervasive he really is.  And how many of his movies I HAVEN'T seen yet. 

Of course, his shining moment (besides the white shirt moment) was his portrayal of the stuttering King George VI in "The King's Speech".  It pleases me to see him getting the recognition he has always deserved.  It was a phenomenal movie, one that my kids loved as well.  


But he was also precious in the Bridget Jones movies, as one of the possible daddies in "Mamma Mia", or even the spurned husband in "The English Patient". When my husband was flipping through the channels the other night, he yelled "I didn't remember that Colin Firth was in Nanny McFee!".  Yes indeed he was.

If I were going to make Firth my next cinematic project, which is sounding more and more like a great idea, I would line up my Netflix Q as follows:

1.  A Single Man (2009)
2.  Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003)
3.  The Turn of the Screw (1999)
4.  Love Actually (2003)

Also, for the to do list, he has a movie coming out in December called
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" in which he co-stars with the also much-loved Gary Oldman (Harry Potters, The Dark Knight, Immortal Beloved, Dracula) and Tom Hardy (Inception, Warrior).  This movie is based on the novel of the same name, and is a Cold War thriller.  I almost can't stand the waiting. 

So help me out here.  What other movies are a must for my Firth-a-thon?


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Salon: SIBA 2011

Good morning friends!  I wasn't entirely sure if this post was going to happen today.  I thought I might put it together last night, but after our first full day at SIBA, without more than a five minute break all day, I was almost delirious from exhaustion.  God bless my body clock though, because even though I had my alarm set for 6:00am this morning so I could get ready for an early author breakfast, I was up at 5:15.  But before I get into the SIBA stuff, let me talk a little bit about the rest of my week.

Well, actually, there isn't much to tell.  After getting back from Boston last Sunday, my parents went back to Indiana, my husband left on another business trip, and I spent the week getting caught up on things and getting ready for my SIBA trip to Charleston.  The school had a big Grandparents Day celebration, for which I was a volunteer, and we also had our first day of golf for the season for my league.  It was hot, but for someone who hasn't touched a club since May, the balls were flying straight and far.

I didn't really get alot of print reading done because I was spinning in circles for most of the time.  I started "Dominance" by Will Lavender, which Swapna reviewed and convinced me I couldn't live without, but I couldn't make much headway.  Next week, I swear.  I did finish Michael Harvey's "We All Fall Down" on audio.  I love this guy.  Great Chicago action, great mysteries, and all in a small efficient package of 7 or 8 discs.  I then started Nesbo's "The Snowman" which is narrated by Robin Sachs.  Now, THIS is going to be fun!!!

So SIBA.  Heather and I left Friday morning to drive up to Charleston.  We had planned on listening to "The Last Werewolf" on the way up, but big shocker, we talked the whole way.  You all knew this would happen.  We met up with Kathy (Bermudaonion) and Swapna (S. Krishna's Books) and then off we went to a welcome reception, followed by an open house held in a featured author's Charleston home (she writes Southern cookbooks...biscuits were had, and I wanted to move into the house).  We followed that up with dinner at 82 Queen.  The whole city is having the Charleston version of Orlando's Magical Dining, so things were bustling.    

Saturday was a full day.  The schedule was packed from about 11:00am until 10:30pm.  Our merry band of bloggers set up interviews with authors Jennifer Niven (who was drop dead gorgeous and extremely gracious) and Alma Katsu, author of "The Taker" (who was the most real, warmest, funniest person would want to have her over at your house for dinner).  See photos of each author below. 

I will certainly do a more in-depth recap of the SIBA event, but yesterday we accumulated between 30 and 40 signed books (which eventually will be placed on our Adult Literacy League auction after I've read them), and saw so many mind-blowing authors (AVI, Sandra Brown, Karen White, Ted Dekker, Kadir Nelson - object of my crushing, Wendy Wax, etc.) that I was on the verge of being over-stimulated.  The organizer for the UCF Book Festival was also here recruiting for our Orlando event next year, so it is exciting to think that we may see some of these authors again. 

Today, the publisher exhibits open, there is an author breakfast and lunch, and an auction where you can "buy" an author for dinner.  There are so many I would love to buy...Tom Franklin, Amy Greene, Wendy Wax, Karen White...I'm hoping that maybe the bloggers can procure one!

I must say that this is an amazing event, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.  We have all the best authors, but the venue is intimate and very organized.  Stay tuned for more details to come.

As a parting note, I also wanted to tell you that I think this post marks my 1,000th (give or take one or two - it is confusing when I have pre-scheduled posts).  I shake my head at this number.  Who would have thought?  I will also be coming up on my 3 year anniversary in October.  What started out as a way to keep track of my books has turned into an effort that has become a way of life for me.

Hope you all have a wonderful relaxing Sunday.  I'll be back to check up on you on Wednesday.  What is up with you today?     

Friday, September 16, 2011

BBAW Friday Topic - Best practices

Today's topic asks that we share with you our best blogging practices, as well as any new trends or tools that make blogging easier, or more effective.

First, I'd like to just be straight with you.  By talking about my best practices, it makes me sound like I know something, or I'm some sort of expert, which I AM NOT.  I could sit here and tell you ten things I'm not doing to promote my blog that I should be doing, but I'm just not interested.  This is not a business, it is a fun thing.  Once I start treating it like a business, the fun is over for me.

So what are some habits or tips that I have found that work for me?

1.  Limit your time in blog-hopping.  All of us have lives and jobs.  To prevent my obsessive compulsive side from taking over, I allow myself to visit you all in the mornings, usually before 10:00am.  85% to 90% of all posts are published in the mornings, so I have a good chance of hitting most of you.  Unless I get a windfall of time for some strange reason, there is a good chance I will not get on Blogger in the afternoons or in the evenings.  That is family time.  If you post in the evenings, I may miss you.  I'm sorry about that but something's gotta give.

2.  Pre-schedule your posts, and plan them to publish in the morning.  I could be wrong, I've not done any scientific studies, but it seems that most traffic comes through in the morning. And like I said, I often personally miss anything published in the evening. 

Also, pre-publishing in general is the best way to manage my schedule.  I try to get out ahead of myself at least by two weeks, so if I have a busy day or two, I'm not compelled to stay up until the wee hours to get a post finished.  For my three-week vacation to Poland, all of my posts were done, so I could let my blog go on automatic pilot.  It's a beautiful thing.

3.  Just because you are a book blogger, don't feel like it has to be all books, all the time.  I love reading everyone's book reviews, but I do admit I also like hearing about movies, seeing pictures from vacations, and getting a peek at the person behind the blog.  For the last couple of years, I have found a groove I'm comfortable with.  Mondays are for movies (the official Monday Movie Meme temporarily on hold while the Bumbles enjoy their new baby), Wednesdays are set aside to feature my photos, and I blab (and often whine) about what is going on in my life, bookish and otherwise, on Sundays.  Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are reserved for books.  Everyone has a different rhythm, so experiment and see what works.

Trends and tools:  I erupted in laughter when I saw this prompt.  I'm not a trends and tools person.  I do have a Twitter account, where I generally lurk, to see what is going on, and occasionally I will butt into a conversation when I'm waiting to pick up my kids from school.  But I am wary of something that appears to be a time-sucker.  I recognize alot happens on Twitter, but it remains a secondary source of entertainment and promotion for me.

I use Facebook for my personal life, but rarely feature my blog posts.  Call it a separation of church and state, I don't know.  I figure if my friends really want to read what I have to say, they'll come on over to my blog, or they will get an e-mail feed.  (See, this is exactly what I was referring to when I walked about the ten things I could do but don't.)

Who knows, maybe with all of your posts and ideas today, I'll learn something! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

BBAW Thursday Topic - Readers

On the fourth day of BBAW, we are asked to talk about the effect blogging has had on our reading habits.  Specifically, I'm going to talk about two book blogging changed the way I read, and the discovery of books I never would have had it not been for book blogging.

Before I started blogging, I was an avid reader, reading mostly mystery/thrillers with an occasional piece of quality fiction.  You probably would call me a lazy reader, because I just took my time and read as my schedule would see fit.  I had been introduced to audio books, which worked well for multi-tasking. 

Once I started blogging though, everything just exploded around me.  Suddenly I was reading classics, short stories, non-fiction, memoirs, GRAPHIC NOVELS for Pete's sake!  I was all over the place.  If you truly do your time on the blogs, and open your mind, it is almost impossible not to get sucked into every genre out there, at least for a taste. 

But I also noticed a new habit that I'm not 100% sure is a good thing.  I became like a driven maniac, reading as if my life depended on it.  I almost feel like a coke addict, looking for my next high before I finish the one I'm enjoying at this moment.  I tend to turn away from chunksters because they take too long and prevent me from getting ahead on my posts.  (Audios are good for chunksters actually, and is the only way I can get through most of them.)  This isn't healthy, is it?  Maybe as I get older, I will mellow and stop caring about having posts 6 days a week.  But until then I don't see a cure.

How has your life changed since you started blogging?  I'm looking forward to all of your answers!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

BBAW Wednesday Topic - Community: Finding a place of your own

Today's topic is all about the book blogging community, and finding a place within a community where you fit in.

It can be pretty overwhelming and intimidating to start a book blog, and see all of the long-standing, flourishing relationships surrounding you, and wonder where you fit into the scheme of things.  For my first month of blogging, I was befuddled.  How does everyone know each other?  How do I get people to come visit me?  I asked my sister (my blogging inspiration), and her sage advice was...go out and visit people, and refuse to be ignored.  Use your personality in your comments, and they will come, out of curiosity more than anything. 

This was great advice, and really the best advice I could give to a new blogger.  I (somehow) came across James (Ready When You Are, C.B.), loved his eclectic reading selections and his adopted kitten and his book-eating dog, and started paying attention to the blogs HE liked.  It became viral at that point. Then I began my commenting thing, and that was that.  Find the bloggers that read what you like to read.  There is so much common ground in that. 

I'm not always able to visit the blogs every day, but I make a concentrated effort to get there most days of the week and say something, some blabber.  I also try to research the people who leave me comments and follow them as well, but I run a few months in delay sometimes (sorry, I'm a mess).  It all comes down to the golden rule...treating people as you would like to be treated.  Send an e-mail if someone is feeling down.  Take an interest, be supportive.  Book bloggers are good folks, and with a little time investment, everyone finds their niche.   


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BBAW Interview Swap - Featuring Anna at Diary of Eccentric

The second day of BBAW is my absolute favorite day of the week...the Interview Swap!  This event is where you are randomly matched up with another participating blogger, and you interview each other.  I was so pleased that this year, I actually knew my matchee - Anna from Diary of an Eccentric.

I've been following Anna for probably about 2 1/2 years, or about six months into my blogging life.  I loved that she was so involved in her daughter's love for reading, and we had something in common besides the love of books...WWII!

So without further ado, here is my conversation with Anna:

1. (Sandy) Predictable question I know, but I think it is always fun to hear every blogger’s genesis story. As in, when and why did you become a blogger?
(Anna) I had been reading knitting blogs for several months when I thought having a blog would be a good way to keep track of my finished knitting projects. So Diary of an Eccentric was born in June 2007 as a knitting blog, but I soon realized that I didn't knit fast enough to have a lot of knitting content. I've always been an avid reader, so I figured I'd also take stock of the books I plowed through in order to remember what I'd read and have more to talk about on the blog. I didn't really post on a regular basis during my first year of blogging, but by mid-2008, I was doing more reading than knitting and posting more about books, so it became obvious that I was officially a book blogger.

I've always blogged mainly for myself, to chronicle my reading and my knitting and as a creative outlet. I love to write, and when I can't think of where to go with my novel or a short story, writing a book review or a random post can get the creative juices flowing. I blogged when my only commenters were my good friend, Serena, and my knitting buddy, Dawn, but as the book blogging community has grown, I've really enjoyed "meeting" new friends and having a space where I can chat with others about my passion for the written word.

2. (Sandy) For those who know you, we are all aware that a special relationship exists between you and Serena, another very successful book blogger (Savvy Verse and Wit). I’ve always envied the fact that the two of you share such a cool hobby, and are best friends as well. Someone to help with technical problems! Someone to do readathons with! Tell us more about your friendship, how long you have known each other, and how the both of you came to embrace the same hobby.

(Anna) Serena and I have known each other since August 1995 when we were freshman roommates at Quinnipiac College (now University). We were randomly thrown together and weren't sure we'd like each other from the one phone call before we met in person. When I arrived the day before classes started, Serena was hard at work at her desk, typing furiously, and I couldn't figure out for the life of me what she was doing when classes hadn't even started yet. So I asked her what she was writing, and she told me she was taking a correspondence course that involved writing children's stories. When I told her that I was enrolled in the same exact course...well, I guess we realized our friendship was meant to be, and it sparked a conversation about our similar passions for reading and writing.

I think we're more like sisters than friends. We transferred to the same college in Boston two years later, and I even lived with her in her parents' house. We bought a dog together, and she helped me get the job I have right now, and we share an office. We've been really lucky to share so much, but that also means we butt heads a lot and argue like sisters. I wasn't surprised that we both jumped into the blogosphere around the same time; I think she started her blog only a few days after I started mine. It's been great trading books, discussing what we're reading, and helping each other with our blogs. I'm glad I have someone to share the whole experience with because I think I'd drive my husband crazy otherwise!

3. (Sandy) For me, you are the go-to blog for all things WWII. I know this is one of many things we have in common. What is your inspiration for the love you have of this genre?

(Anna) I've always been drawn to books set during or dealing in some way with WWII, but over the last few years, they've really taken over my personal library. I am drawn to the European theater of the war because of my family's ties to it. My great uncle on my father's side was killed in France in 1944, and to this day, my grandmother (who celebrated her 93rd birthday in June) chokes up talking about it. My mother was born in Germany after the war, and her family came to the States in 1956 when she was three. So my grandparents were German living in Germany during the war, but I know so few details. I know my grandparents and uncles were in a camp, but I don't know if it was German or Soviet, and I know my infant uncle perished there from starvation. My uncle (who passed away in 2006) made references to Siberia, but whether they were there or not, I have no idea. My great-grandfather was taken away at gunpoint and never seen again, I think by the Soviets, but I am not sure. I know I had a great aunt living in Berlin when the Soviets invaded, and she was gang raped by Soviet soldiers. My grandmother died when I was 10, but I remember her telling me that Hitler was an evil, evil man and that she had to turn on the radio when he was making one of his speeches because if she didn't, she was scared one of her neighbors would tell on them. I remember her scolding me if I didn't finish all the food on my plate, but I didn't understand at the time that she had lost a baby to starvation.

I guess I just want to know what my family experienced during the war, and since my grandparents and my uncle are gone and my mother doesn't know all the details, I turned to books to give me an idea of what it was like for them. I have no idea if they were among the Germans celebrating Hitler's rise to power or whether they were among those who thought he was a madman from the start. I have no idea where they lived during the war, how they came to be in a camp, or what happened to them afterward. I am strong enough to accept whatever the facts are if I ever come to know them, but I don't even know where to start. I don't even know whether I still have family in Germany, but I'm sure I must. My cousin says she can tell me something of what her father (my uncle) told her, but we haven't had that chat yet. There are just so many unanswered questions.

I also find the whole era fascinating. Every time I read a book about WWII, whether fiction or non-fiction, I learn something new. The Nazis took control of every aspect of society, from government to family planning, and it seems like they didn't leave out any details. How were they able to do that? How were they able to kill so many people and so systematically and, for the most part, get away with it? It sickens me and boggles my mind. There are so many stories of resistance that underscore the strength, the resilience, and the hope of the people. The survivors' stories are so raw and heartbreaking, but I think they are so important to read, to know what happened, and to remember those who lost their lives so senselessly. They are a testament to the human spirit and the will to live.

4. (Sandy) What are some of your other interests, outside blogging and reading?
(Anna) I've always been a writer. I just love creating characters and stories, but I don't do as much of it as I'd like. I've been working on a novel for years in my free time, and my personal goal is to complete it in the next year or so. I also enjoy knitting, having recently picked up the needles for the first time in a couple of years, and I love camping and taking nature walks. I'm more of a leisurely stroller than a hard-core hiker, though.

5. (Sandy) Tell us one fact about yourself that we might not know, and would surprise us!
(Anna) That's a hard one. I honestly think I'm pretty boring. :) I'm not sure if this is surprising, but I'm sure people will think I'm weird. I'm a book sniffer. I love to flip the pages and smell the paper and the ink. That's one of the reasons I'm so resistant to getting an e-reader. I also can't stand bent covers and constantly smooth them out when I read. Yet for some reason, I'm okay with dog-earring one or two pages while I read...but then I spend a lot of time unfolding and pressing the creases so it's like they were never there. I'm a bit eccentric, but that's okay.  (Note from Sandy:  Actually, after we wrapped up our interview, in our back and forth chit-chat about ancestry, Anna revealed to me that she discovered she is related to Jane Austen (7th cousin 8 times removed) and Emily Dickinson (8th cousin 3 times removed).  How is that for literary mojo?)

Thank you so much Anna, for those wonderful, thoughtful answers.  I think I learned a thing or two about you even! 

Don't forget to visit Anna, where I answer a few questions from her!

Monday, September 12, 2011

BBAW Monday Topic - Community: An ode to two of my favorite bloggers

To start off BBAW 2011, and to launch this year's theme, "Cultivating a Community of Blogger's and Readers", we are to highlight special bloggers in our lives.  And I'd like to say this right up is hard to pick favorites.  There are SO MANY bloggers out there that have given me a boost, a pat on the back, encouraging advice, I could highlight 50 bloggers in this post.  You know who you are!  But I know you want to read everyone's posts today, so I'm going to keep this short.  I am going to talk about two bloggers that have made a difference in my life.

Jill (Rhapsody in Books) - I don't know exactly when we crossed each other's paths.  But once we did, we seemed to stay in each other's orbit.  We read similar books, we loved similar books, we could almost finish each other's sentences.  We starved ourselves together in the Game On Diet.  She made me read books, I made her read books, we read them and posted them together.  We exchange e-mails that resemble a live conversation...about husbands, the size of our butts, interesting Jo Nesbo youtube clips, and being on the "back nine" of life.  When I went to Poland this summer and had virtually no Internet, there was angst. 

But in addition to her being my friend, she is an amazing blogger.  She is incredibly eclectic, and she has a great habit of not only writing reviews, but adding the history behind a book's topic.  You always learn something if you hang out around Jill.  Jill, thanks for being the best (blogging and otherwise) buddy a girl could have.

Heather (Raging Bibliomania) - It wasn't that long ago (maybe a year and a half ago?) that Dawn (She is Too Fond of Books) told me that there was another blogger in Orlando.  Heather and I exchanged e-mails and immediately hit it off.  I first met Heather in person when she joined my friend Marianne and I at the artsy fartsy theater in town to see "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo".  We ultimately saw all three movies together, we attended SIBA together, and she joined my book club.  We text each other when we have bookish thoughts, we blogged the UCF Book Festival together, and we will be road-tripping and rooming together to SIBA in Charleston this year.  Every time I see her, she has a bag full of books to give me.

In the blogging department, Heather writes some of the most thoughtful, in-depth reviews you will find.  When it comes to having a blogging mentor in your backyard, I won the lottery.

My relationship with these two ladies is the perfect example of how the book blogging community works.  Do you follow either of these two wonderful ladies?  If you don't, make haste (you can tell I've been watching Pride & Prejudice) and add them to your reader.  You will not be sorry.    


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Salon: For Boston, For Boston

Good afternoon everyone!  I know, I'm a little late in posting today, as I was one of the crazy fools to FLY ON 9/11, IN THE MORNING, FROM BOSTON.  I can't really express my anxiety, my sadness, or where my tears were coming from this morning as I was sitting in the Logan International Airport.  But I am really really glad to be home.

What a week guys.  Holy moly.  I had a sick kid for two days, two books clubs (discussing East of Eden by John Steinbeck and The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver), and a broken air conditioner and broken Internet on one computer.  Oh, and I pillaged our last Borders in town, and got four hard covers for $30.  And that was just Tuesday through Thursday!  Hee hee.  Then on Friday, my hubby and I flew up to Boston.  He had meetings, and I had big plans for fun!  This little business jaunt was a means to an end for me.

Within an hour and a half of landing, I was out the door with Dawn (She is Too Fond of Books) and Marie (Boston Bibliophile) for lunch and book shopping.  I'd met Dawn before, while she was here in Orlando on vacation last spring, but I'd never met Marie.  And what is there to say about Marie but that she is so nice and so much fun.  The three of us analyzed every book on the shelves at both Trident Bookstore and The Raven Bookstore.  After that, I came back to the hotel, freshened up, and joined my husband for drinks and dinner on the top floor of our hotel, and was entertained by an Irish band (unfortunately it wasn't The Dropkick Murphys).      


So on Saturday, bright and early in the morning, Molly Bumble came to my hotel, and whisked me away for as much Boston as we could take in four hours.  I'd never met Molly before either, and I didn't even know what she looked like (although I think I could have picked her out of a lineup, just because I feel I've known her forever).  We went on a tour of Fenway Stadium which was AWESOME.  Then saw dozens of historical buildings, old cemeteries, little shops, The North End, found a bookstore down an alley that blew our minds and charmed us with it's resident fluffy kitty, and ended our day with gourmet cupcakes.  I wished I could take Molly home with me - she is one special lady.

After my invigorating morning with Molly, my husband and I went on a tour of the JFK Library and Museum, which was fascinating.  Then followed up with a romantic dinner at a place called Erbaluce.  
You wouldn't imagine that I got a darned thing read this week, but I did.  I finished the audio of "Maine" by Courtney Sullivan, which my Sype book club will be discussing in less than an hour.  Me no likey.  I shall extrapolate in my review in a few weeks.  Now I am about half way through Michael Harvey's latest in his Chicago crime series called "We All Fall Down". 

I also finished Marisa de los Santos' "Falling Together, and while I liked it, I think my heart still is stuck on "Belong To Me".  I then finished next month's Skype book club pick "A Friend of the Family" (in fact I finished it as I was driving home from the airport just a few minutes ago).  What to start next?  Certainly something for RIP! 

Lastly, I wanted to post this picture I took at the JFK Library and Museum yesterday.  It is perfect for today...a reminder of all that lost their lives ten years ago, and that we will never forget.

Hope you all have a blessed Sunday.