Thursday, December 20, 2012

Best of 2012: Audio

 So audio!  My favorite topic.  Finding my favorites can be a tricky thing, because it has to be a great story, but the narrator also has to nail it.  Failure on either end will result in something unsatisfying.  Yes, a phenomenal narrator can make an average book good, but to be a five star favorite, everything has to work perfectly.  

I had no issues finding a few of these.  In fact, to assuage my guilty heart, I have a few at the end that ALMOST made the list.  So here we are, in no particular order:

11/22/63 - Stephen King:   Uncle Stevie is an audio addict, so I never worry that his books are going to be narrating by some goober.  But the brilliance of the voice of Craig Wasson, combined with an amazing story of time travel and love and death, with Uncle Stevie behind the wheel doing his story-telling best?  By far, this book would be on my top 10 books EVAH.  I even wept at the end.  

Broken Harbor - Tana French:  There are two givens in this world, complementary of Ms. French.  First, that she will always give us smart, literary thrillers with tangible, electric characterization.  And two, that her narrators will rock our world with their gorgeous little Irish accents.  She doesn't disappoint with this one.  Stephen Hogan, our narrator, had me riveted from the first word to the last.  

Every Last One - Anna Quindlen:  I'm a little embarrassed to admit that this was my first Anna Quindlen book, but it certain won't be the last.  I'd heard all about how this story pulls the rug out from under your feet, and does it ever!  I was shocked to the point of nausea, but the silky smooth voice of Hope Davis (who also expertly narrated "State of Wonder") made this one of the easiest but emotional reads in a long time.

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green:   Another first, if you can believe it, even though I think I've got most of his books sitting around the house.  I initially was tentative to listen to it because, do I REALLY want to hear about kids dying of cancer?  But it was so much more than that.  It was heartwarming and clever and it left me with a residual of hope and love, the narrator Kate Rudd completely embodying these young people.  I will eventually read all of Green's books, but I can't help but imagine this one will always be special to me.  

The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton:  This one slipped right under the wire at the end of the year!  I'd been waiting years for my library to get this book on audio, and was so excited when they finally did.  And it delivered everything I've come to expect of Morton...a gothic, twisted, multi-generational story of secrets and tragedy.  While her other books felt like they needed a hundred pages edited from the story, this one needed every glorious word, all spoken by Caroline Lee, who narrates all the Morton books.  Definitely my favorite Morton so far. 

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty - Joshilyn Jackson:  I'm not sure what more I could say about Joshilyn Jackson that I haven't already said, like, a hundred times.  She writes the best Southern women's fiction.  Gritty stuff, not this poofy flowery mint julepy stuff.  Laugh to keep from crying stuff.  And this little treasure measures right up there with "Gods in Alabama".  Dire topics with humor that only Jackson can deliver...AND NARRATE HERSELF.  If you haven't read her yet, you must.  Read this one, and do it on audio.  Now.  You will thank me later.

Runners up (because I have a guilty Catholic heart):

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh (narrated by Tara Sands)
The Invisible Ones - Stef Penney (narrated by Dan Stevens)
The Chaperone - Laura Moriarty (narrated by Elizabeth McGovern)
Heft - Liz Moore (narrated by Kirby Heyborne and Keith Szarabajka)
Perfect - Ellen Hopkins (narrated by Aya Cash, Heather Lind, Aaron Tvelt, Tristan Wilds)

Well folks, that is it for 2012.  I am signing off now until some future time in 2013.  I'm going to take some time off, get caught up, and come back rejuvenated.  I may still post on Sundays...we will see.  Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Years!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Chicago #4

As many times as we have visited Chicago, this was the first time I'd visited the Chicago Board of Trade.  My husband works in the grain business, so he had a buddy who works there give us a tour.  It was fascinating, all this history and bustle, and important scurrying around and waving of arms down on the floor.  It made me want to be part of the machine, and I was in awe of those who actually understand how it all works.  We actually caught it on a slow day, right before the 4th of July holiday, but the "pits" (organized by commodity) were still a hive of activity.  

The Chicago Board of Trade is the world's oldest futures and options exchange, established in 1848.  The building itself was built specifically for the CBOT in 1930.  The architecture is very Art Deco, as evidenced by the top picture, which is part of the lobby.  

They were a wee bit intense on dress code (?) and would not allow children nor anyone in shorts on the floor.  (I questioned what, exactly, was going on down there on the floor that wasn't suitable for my son's eyes, but never got a valid answer.) But since it was over a hundred degrees that day, they could have their pants for lunch.  I took my bare legs and my son and viewed everything through the 2nd floor observation window.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Best of 2012: Non-Fiction

 Non-fiction often gets a bad rap for being boring, but I strongly disagree.  The right non-fiction book can blow my mind like nothing else.  Reality often IS stranger than fiction, and the fact that this stuff really happened...the fact that you can do a little research and get pictures and interviews and is riveting.

I had no problems finding five star non-fiction reads this year.  And where I'd normally think that my favorites would all be true crime?  Not so in 2012.  I have only one true crime (or two if you count what those bastards did to Pat Tillman), and FIVE GRAPHIC NOVELS!  An exciting development.  Here is what rocked my world this year in the non-fiction department.


Imperfect Justice:  Prosecuting Casey Anthony - Jeff Ashton:  Next to OJ, this was the trial of the century.  So even though I was particularly invested because little Kaylee belonged to the city of Orlando, I think any reader who has a television would find this story spellbinding.  It is well-written, forthright, and a shocking look at one of the most horrid miscarriages of justice I've ever seen. 

Le Road Trip and When Wanderers Cease to Roam - Vivian Swift:  I'm giving you a two-for-one here because they both need to be read.  If you have never read a graphic novel, this would be the perfect place to start.  Humorous, whimsical, thought-provoking and gentle.  And something I'm definitely going to purchase to keep and read over and over again, whenever I need to stop and appreciate life.   

The Photographer - Didier Lefevre and Emmanuel Guibert:  The exact opposite of Vivian Swift's graphic novels, but equally as impactful, we take a journey with Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan through the eyes of a photo journalist.  Using a combination of often shocking real photographs and illustrations, Lefevre gets us as close to life in this poor and war-torn country as most of us will ever get.  His story was on my mind for weeks.   

Where Men Win Glory - Jon Krakauer:  I had to learn a little anger management while reading this tragic story of Pat Tillman, the NFL star who joined the Army after 9/11 to serve his country.  Except that his country didn't serve him, and he ended up being killed by friendly fire.  The government's manipulation and misdirection of all information about Pat's death, and 9/11 in general, sickened me.  But the facts are thoroughly and convincingly laid out by Krakauer, and by the end I wanted to buy a hundred copies of this book and insist that everyone educate themselves and take heed.  Not many books can get my blood boiling like this one did, so I felt it needed some recognition.     

The Bucolic Plague - Josh Kilmer-Purcell:  Take two gay city kids and plop them in the country to chase their dream (which unknowingly includes zombie flies, baby goats with intestinal distress, and a Martha Stewart reputation to live up to) and you have the most charming memoir ever.  And since Josh personally invited me to visit them in Sharon Springs, mark my words, one day I'm going. And I'm picking you all up on the way.

Maus I and Maus II - Art Spiegelman:  Another two-for-one, because they should really be read together at the same time.  Spiegelman tells his father's story of the Holocaust, cleverly showing race and class stratification by making them different animals.  The illustrations are arresting, and the story of the Holocaust AND life after cannot be any clearer.  Or more intense.  Definitely a must-read for anyone interested in WWII.

On Thursday, come back and spend a little time listening to me go ON AND ON about my favorite topic...audios.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Best of 2012: Fiction

 I actually enjoy sifting through my reads for the year and attempting to pick out my favorites.  Because I rate my books 1 through 5, I have a good place to start.  But so much of this is subjective. I suspect if I read the same book in two different weeks, I'd have two different ratings.  So I go through everything with a 4 rating or higher and think back.  How did the book make me feel?  How do I feel about it now that time has passed?  Are the characters still living inside my mind?

And call me crazy.  But I always have a little sliver of guilt for leaving "someone" (as if these books have beating hearts) off the list.  I wouldn't make a very good Olympic judge would I?

It helps to split up my groups so I can choose more favorites.  Today I've selected my favorite fiction books, read in print or on Kindle.  Tomorrow I'll list my favorite non-fiction, and Thursday will address my beloved audios.  The list below is not in any particular order, and I've not selected a certain number of books.  I won't summarize the book, I'll just briefly tell you my lingering impressions that have made these books my top of the year.   


A Land More Kind Than Home - Wiley Cash:  There are many great Southern yarns out there, but this one, told through several perspectives, was tragic and precious, in a prose that grabbed me in an embrace and pulled me in.  I had no choice in the matter...I was going to read this and be charmed and devastated by it whether I welcomed it or not.  Plus, the antagonist was one that made my blood boil.  

Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter:  This one was probably one of the most bizarrely beautiful books I've read in a long time.  It continues to befuddle me...I can't accurately describe how incredible it is.  It transported me to another time and place, it was intensely thought-provoking, and the writing was GORGEOUS.  Not only gorgeous but clever and with a sense of humor that really puts Walter at the top of my list of people I'd love to take to dinner.  

Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta:  It is a rare thing for me to find true depth, heart and mystery in a Young Adult book, but this one had it all.  It was complex (almost requires a re-read) which I loved because it was a puzzle my mind enjoyed toying with.  Ultimately, however, it was the characters - a group of teenagers - that stole the show.  They were each memorable and when the story was over, I grieved.  I missed them immediately.

Joy for Beginners - Erica Bauermeister:  If anyone has ever read Ms. Bauermeister, you know that she mines the connection between a woman's soul and food, and she does it with beauty and grace.  Following in the footsteps of "The School of Essential Ingredients", she brings to life a handful of women who have lived and lost, and who are fighting their way back to happiness.  I have one lingering vision from this book, and that is a woman who is a cancer survivor taking a flying leap off a ledge into a body of water, and screaming with delight all the way down.  A woman who has been given a second chance at life.  It still gives me happy chills.  

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn:  Yeah, yeah, it is dark and messed up (to the point where you doubt Flynn's sanity), and it ends in the most despicable way possible, but I will never forget this book.  I felt like a big dog got it's teeth in me and just shook and shook until I was senseless.  While I usually need to connect with at least one of my characters, in this case I hated them all and reveled in the slimy, oily nastiness of it.  Good, dirty fun.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, my non-fiction list!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Salon: Perspective

 I'm sure all of us this morning are thinking about those families in Newtown, CT, and praying for their strength during this awful, awful tragedy.  As I was picking up my children from their schools on Friday, my heart was struck with terror at the idea that THIS COULD HAPPEN ANYWHERE.  There is no school security tight enough.  No law is going to keep a mentally ill person from getting a gun and accomplishing their mission.  So we should pause and be thankful for what we have.  Hug our kids.  Say a prayer.  Just when I'm ready to strangle my son for forgetting to do his homework for the umpteenth time, or my daughter for leaving a big schmear of peanut butter on the refrigerator, I need to remember that at least I have them.  

Then yesterday I was driving to go get a pedicure, and I passed a Toys For Tots distribution location, and there were hundreds of families lined up to get gifts for their children.  I was ashamed that I was going to pay someone to paint my toenails and massage my tired feet when these folks are just trying to make a Christmas for their little ones.  It certainly puts one's life into perspective, doesn't it?  

So no whining today!  Aren't you happy???  I had a fairly busy but productive week, despite my lack of initiative.  I got three good workouts with Andre and three good runs with my running partner, including a very rewarding 10-miler yesterday morning.  I finished my shopping and got everything in the mail.  I did all my normal chores.  I actually attended a book club meeting!  (We discussed Gillian Flynn's "Sharp Objects", which left everyone impressed but slightly disturbed.)  My husband, the kids and I had a dinner out Friday night at a new local Italian restaurant...a rarity with busy and moody teenagers.  We attended a dinner party last night.  It was busy, but a good busy.

Next week will be all crazy, as my daughter has midterms and gets out early from school each day.  And then we all leave our 6 cats and house in the hands of my trusty house-sitter and fly to Indiana and beyond.  So next Saturday I will be officially on vacation for a couple of weeks, so I may be scarce.  

Also next week I will be doing my "Best Of" lists for 2012, then going dark until February.  I will most likely check in on Sundays because I will miss you :)  In the meantime, I will be working on catching up.

I haven't been making much progress with print reading.  I did finish the very short "Blood Beneath My Feet" by Joseph Scott Morgan, and started "Bad Karma" by David Safier, a gift from Jackie at Farm Lane Books.  (See book title link for her review.)  IT IS SOOO FREAKING FUNNY!  

I also blasted through the audio of Steve Jobs' biography.  If I weren't done with my reviews for 2012, I would have this one as a top read for the year.  It was incredible.  Well-written and compelling, just from the perspective of what this man did to change our lives.  I was gripped from beginning to end.  I am now listening to "Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend" by Matthew Dicks, and it is very clear to me early on that this is a very creative, clever book.  It was an Editor Pick at SIBA and is our book club selection for February of next year.

We'll see what life has in store for us today.  Early church for sure.  Past that, I'm not making plans because it never works out.  I'd love to see The Hobbit, but not sure if I'll be able to pry the daughter away from midterm studying.  That may have to wait for Christmas break.  I am very anxiously awaiting the opening of "Zero Dark Thirty" next weekend.  

Hope you all have a blessed Sunday!   


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gone Missing - Linda Castillo (Audio)

"Gone Missing" is the fourth installment of the Kate Berkholder crime series (I've read them all).  I was initially intrigued with the idea of a strong female character who was once Amish, but has left the life and become Chief of Police in a predominantly Amish community.  In the first three novels, some pretty terrifying crimes were committed in Kate's small hometown of Painter's Mill, Ohio.  The question looming, in my mind, was how many murders can actually happen in a small town like this?  Something was going to have to change in order for this series to continue to be believable.

Synopsis:  A number of Amish teenagers have turned up missing over the last handful of years, presumed runaways.  Those investigating, including John Tomasetti (Kate's long-distance love interest and fellow cop), know that an Amish teen is allowed a brief period of time to sow their wild oats, called Rumspringa, before they are baptized.  So the assumption is that these kids have experienced a little freedom, and have run for the hills.  Then one girl's body is discovered, and the case takes a sinister turn.  Because Kate understands the Amish culture and speaks Pennsylvania Dutch, Tomasetti feels that her presence on the case would help open doors to a group of people that generally distrust outsiders.  Kate is hired by the investigative team to assist.  

My thoughts:  I was pleased to see that Castillo took Kate out of Painter's Mill for most of this installment.  Pretty soon Painter's Mill was going to have a higher crime rate per capita than Miami!  I was also pleased that she retained Tomasetti for his dude-ish presence and rescuing services...he is a nice distraction AND he isn't a bad investigator either.

Kate continues to be the main attraction though.  She is damaged and defiant and fierce.  She isn't a pushover either...she is taking her time in the romance department.  I just recently read that the first in the series, "Sworn to Silence" will be a two-hour television movie starring Neve Campbell.  I'm pretty happy with that casting...she is exactly how I would have imagined her.  

The mystery in this story was well-devised, with a few red herrings and a complicated structure.  Castillo does a great job with her plots.  The dialogue?  Not that clever or snappy.  On audio, it falls a little flat, and always has.  But the characters and action (which is always pretty bloody) make up for it.

A few words about the audio production:  It is always nice when a series maintains the same narrator, in this case Kathleen McInerney, who does a decent job.  Her voice has become that of Kate, and I'd miss her if they replaced her.  The one issue that I've had, however, since the very beginning, is the way she portrays Tomasetti.  It just...bothers me.  She lowers her voice, and makes it breathy and sultry.  He sounds like a sleazy lounge lizard!!  I've long since gotten past this, and she can't change it now, but I feel compelled to mention it.

Audiobook length:  10 hours and 9 minutes (288 pages)

3.5 out of 5 stars  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Chicago #3

Yeah baby!  If you are in Chicago, you must abide by the 11th Commandment:  Thou Shall Eat Pizza.  Preferably, the Chicago-style kind that is about six inches thick.  In our case, that was Giordano's, which is an institution in the city.  There are others (Pizzeria Uno and Pizzeria Due) and you won't be disappointed with any of them.  Please take note that these pizzas take about an hour to cook once you have ordered them, so plan accordingly.  In our case, we ordered ours while waiting for our table and hanging out at the bar, so by the time we sat down we didn't have much waiting time.  We were getting dirty looks from other customers sitting around us.  It is just THAT GOOD.  (I'm not going to tell you how many calories per piece.  Just eat it and be happy.)  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Atlantic - Simon Winchester (Audio)

This book is probably one of the oldest ones on my iPod...recommended to me by Beth Fish Reads almost two years ago.  Her review inspired me to order the audio from the library, but then I lost interest quickly, probably because this is generally not my genre.  But recently I had a hankering for some interesting facts and was also faced with an 8 hour drive that would offer a huge chunk of listening time, so viola!  

Synopsis:  Simon Winchester, a British journalist, broadcaster and traveler extraordinaire, has always had a love for the ocean.  Only now, in his 60's, has he decided to share that love with the rest of the world.  And he covers it all...from how the Atlantic was created, when the supercontinent broke apart and eventually settled into the Earth as we know it, to the state of the Atlantic today.

The range of topics is immense, but instead of going through it chronologically, he divides his material by topic.  He covers early exploration, mass transportation "across the pond" (both by air and sea), wars waged on the Atlantic, great storms, and the inspiration is has provided poets and artists.  He finishes on a less than positive note when he discusses the permanent depletion and extinction of some types of fish, of the pollution and the effects of global warming, and the outlook for our children and grandchildren.

My thoughts:  While this was definitely not my usual fare, I found it fascinating.  Some topics were more engrossing than others...I listened raptly about the early explorers and their amazing courage in conquering the unknown.  But I found my mind wandering when I was working my way through the great battles on the seas.  Overall, though, my expectations - learning more about something new - were met.

I did find his section about the deplorable state of the Atlantic's health...the over-fishing and pollution of the be a tiny bit heavy-handed.  I totally understand that mankind is doing a wonderful job of ruining our natural resources in the Atlantic, and I'm horrified by it all.  Florida residents have had their noses rubbed in some of these blunders, with BP's oil washing up on our beaches.  But I felt bludgeoned by the end of this chapter, and it weighed me down.  I felt like hanging my head and admitting that we all suck, and are on the highway to hell.  And that is not how I want to feel at the end of a book.  Nevertheless, it WAS a slap in the face and a reminder that we all need to check ourselves and do our part.  

A few words about the audio production:  Author narration is a slippery slope.  Some do a phenomenal job (David Sedaris, Joshilyn Jackson) and others do not.  Simon Winchester has a beautiful voice for narration, and I dare say he could do this for a living if he wanted.

Audiobook length:  14 hours and 30 minutes (512 pages)

3.5 out of 5 stars  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Matinee: Life of Pi (2012)

 Any book lover knows that a story translated from the page to the silver screen is a slippery slope.  Especially if the book is universally revered, like Life of Pi.  And what director in his right mind would attempt to make one that dedicated 75% of the story to a boy and a Bengal tiger on a life raft???

Turns out, the project passed through the hands of many directors over the years until it landed in the lap of Ang Lee, a guy known to take a chance or two.  Casting an all-international lineup, and making heavy use of visual effects, I think most lovers of this book figured it would be an epic winner or an epic failure.

For those who are not familiar with the plot, I'll give you the two-cent tour.  Piscine Patel was born of an upper middle-class family in India who made their living by owning and operating a zoo.  Although his family was Hindu, at 14 Pi began to explore Christianity and Islam as well.  When the political environment began to get dicey in India, the family decided to take their animals and cross the Atlantic to Canada in a Japanese freighter.  Except there is a storm, the boat goes down, and Pi finds himself in a life raft with a hyena, an injured zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.  As you can imagine, after a short span of time, only the tiger and the boy are left, and they must learn to co-exist in order to survive.    


The actors are fairly unrecognizable.  Irrfan Khan, the adult Pi, actually has a respectable resume, with such movies as "The Namesake", "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Amazing Spider-Man" under his belt.  But the bulk of the movie sits on the shoulders of a 19-year-old actor named Suraj Sharma, who makes his debut here.  And he does a wonderful job.  

The visual effects were stunning.  I'm not completely sure how much of the filming was real tiger, meercat, hyena, zebra and orangutan, and how much was computer imagery, but the fact that I can't tell is a real testament to the work of the team.  As an animal lover myself, I was wooed completely.  I wanted to hold Richard Parker's big cat head in my lap too.

The film did the book proud.  I can't think of one departure from the original story, and for this reason I am satisfied.  The story DOES move slow, but if you have read the book, you know this.  Pi is on the ocean for a very long time with Richard Parker.  Will it win any awards at the big dance this year?  I doubt it.  But it's imagery will be forever imprinted on my mind.

4 out of 5 stars (Per Sandy)

3.5 out of 5 stars (Per Sandy's husband, who has not read the book)  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Salon: Pressure is OFF!

 Howdy friends!  Are we in the Christmas spirit?  I'm doing my darnedest to get there.  My husband put lights up outside yesterday, and I've been slowly picking away at the gift shopping, but since we are spending the holidays away from home, I realize I have a very FINITE period of time to get my act together!  (Unless I binge on gift cards, which could happen.)  

And it would help if it weren't 80 degrees in mid-December.  A cold snap of, let's say, 60?  That would be great.

I hopped back on my normal schedule this week, and that included running and Andre.  I just feel so much better about life when I am not sitting around stuffing my face.  My running partner and I are now up to the 10 mile mark for our long runs.  It is quite painful, this distance, but when we run that Princess Half Marathon in two months, we will be glad we did it.  Kids are back in school, healthy for now.  The pool and the house are clean.  Pesky Internet issues resolved.  All six cats have been vaccinated.  (An event that ranks below UTI's and root canals.)  All is well.

So now that we are in a break between kid sports, our weekends are a little less hectic.  We got all kinds of things done yesterday, including a run, grocery shopping, Costco, outside Xmas lights, a nap of course, and a night out for hubby and I to watch a friend perform in a rock band in a local pub.  I find it totally cool that this guy is an ER surgeon, but also loves to cook, plays the bass guitar, and has four kids.  This is a guy that grabs life and runs with it.   

So, has my reading improved?  Not one bit!  But since I've decided the blog is going dark in January (and maybe longer) the pressure is off.  I've got all my posts done for December, and now I can focus on the holidays, read what I want, and if I fall asleep each night having read 3 pages?  No worries.  

I did finish Tom Rob Smith's "Agent 6" on audio, and because I have no time constraints now, started the biography on Steve Jobs.  And it is absolutely FASCINATING.  Being the creator of all things that make my world work, I find this man's personality and creative genius totally bizarre.  Listening to this is like a study in psychotic human behavior. This is a very long audio, but I have a feeling I'm going to blast through it.  In print, I've been reading a 150-page book ("Blood Beneath My Feet") FOR A WEEK, and I'm only halfway done!  Ha!  It really doesn't matter if the book is good or bad, I can't get interested in sitting down to read anything.  Yet there are about three dozen books that I want to read now.  I crack myself up.

The only thing on the official schedule for today is early church, and animal shelter duties.  I'm not even going to wish out loud for reading time, but maybe, maybe, maybe.  A nice long walk would be nice too.  Or a nap.  Perhaps all three?  I hope you all are having a relaxing Sunday.  What is going on with you?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Drinking at the Movies - Julia Wertz

 Every now and again, I crave a graphic novel.  It uses a different side of my brain, they are quick and easy to read, and they almost always pull me out of a reading funk.  I just don't always make the effort to order them from the library...I'm always worrying about getting other things read that are sitting on my nightstand.

So one day I was killing time in a Barnes & Noble, and I picked through all the Marvel Comics and anime to find this book.  I know nothing about the author or the story.  It just looked interesting.  Who doesn't smuggle a little bottle of wine into the movies, after all?  (Really?  You don't?)

So this is a story about Julia, and her first year or so of living in New York City.  Her move from San Francisco in the summer of 2007 was an impulsive one, a behavior she is known for.  Her entire family lives on the West coast, including a brother that has a drug addiction and is known for OD-ing on a regular basis.  Moving across the country was contrary to all common sense.  

But off she goes, flying standby, sleeping in airports, finding the necessary subway train closed for repairs, forgetting the address of her final becomes apparent that this is just the type of life Julia leads.  She bounces from job to job, from apartment to apartment, trying to make ends meet.  What does she want to do when she grows up?  Will she ever grow up?  She locks herself repeatedly out of her apartment.  She loses her wallet.  A squirrel pees on her head in the park.  She gets a suspicious rash on her butt.  All the while she blames New York.    She begins drinking to soothe her bruised ego and depression.

It may sound dire, but Wertz keeps her humor and humility.  She even shows her head open like a tin can and her brain escaping for big adventures.  She also animates her wallet, imagining all the fun it has once she accidentally leaves it in a cab.

Ultimately Julia comes to the realization, one worthy of a grown-up, that her rotten luck is truly her own doing, and not at the fault of New York City.  

Is the book earth-shattering?  Not really, and the author admits that it is a story often told.  She apologizes to anyone who is sick of hearing these tales.  But it is her self-effacing attitude that makes this book enjoyable and often hilarious (as long as you aren't offended by bad language).  Definitely worthy of any graphic novel-lover's time and attention.

4 out of 5 stars   

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Chicago #2

Well, this will teach me to post pictures I took six months ago!  When we visited Chicago this summer, we toured through a couple of historic office buildings while roaming through the financial district and the Chicago Board of Trade.  During this tour, I took this picture, but I can't for the life of me remember what building it was in.  I THINK it was the Rookery Building, but I'm not sure.  So be it.  This gorgeous clock, with the light shining through behind it, was in the lobby.  It looked like stars.  If any of you know where this clock resides, please let me know!  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton (Audio)

There is something completely mesmerizing to me about Kate Morton's books.  Her stories have a gothic feel, with old secrets and tragic pasts and huge, sprawling mansions.  Granted, I will admit I've always felt that perhaps her books were a hundred or so pages too long, because she really takes her little sweet time in getting to the point, winding us around every garden, lake, whispered rumor and ancient fairy tale.  But there is a delicious decadence about her stories...layer after rich layer of intrigue.  

I've only listened to Kate Morton's books on audio.  There is only one narrator that she uses, Caroline Lee, who is a perfect match with the type of story that Morton tells.  So like Tana French, I will only ever listen.  And much to my angst, my library did not carry "The Forgotten Garden" on audio until just recently.  When I discovered they'd finally gotten it in, it was like Christmas.

Synopsis:  In 1913, in a port in Australia, a dock master discovers a little 4 year-old girl, alone and abandoned after getting off a ship that traveled from England.  She's not willing or able to tell them her name or her circumstances, and only carries a small white suitcase that contains a rare bound copy of fairy tales.  The dock master and his wife take in the child as their own, and name her Nell.  It is only when Nell is of age and about to marry that her father tells her the truth about her past, and this knowledge changes Nell forever.  She calls off her wedding and retreats from her family for the rest of her life.

Upon Nell's death, her granddaughter Cassandra (the only family member with which Nell has a relationship) learns of Nell's questionable background.  Cassandra also learns that Nell has secretly owned a cliff side cottage in England since the 1970's, that has now been bequeathed to her.  Cassandra decides to unlock the secrets of her grandmother's past.   Through Nell's journals and the mysterious book of fairy tales still kept in the little white suitcase, Cassandra learns of The Blackhurst Manor and the wealthy but tortured Mountrachet family.  Of a sick cousin and an orphaned one, best of friends.  Of a distant father, a hateful mother, and a mysterious authoress who writes her fanciful fairy tales on a high cliff top.  

Morton's narrative moves from the early 1900's to the 1970's to the current day, slowly revealing the complex layers of secrets and intrigue of this spellbinding tale.  

My thoughts:  All of Morton's novels are a spiderweb of plots and characters, but this one was more complicated than the others.  Three time periods, with five or six generations.  However, I knew from experience that if I was patient, all would be revealed.  She will take care of her beloved readers, never fear.  Pack some food and water and wander through a garden maze at your leisure.  Expect it to take all day.  Stop and smell a flower, listen to the birdsong, close your eyes and let the breeze carry you away.  This is what it was like to explore this story.

There were a few similarities to "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodges Burnett, which is such a wonderful children's book.  The author was even mentioned in this story, with an implication that the garden mentioned in the title was inspiration to Burnett!  Geek moment!  But while "The Secret Garden" is innocent and makes your heart swell, this story is more twisty and dark and tragic and the best kind of brain food for the literary lover.

And unlike her other books, if I had a gun to my head to force me to decide which hundred pages had to be pulled?  I wouldn't want to let a single one escape.  I was engaged from the first page to the last.  This was by far my favorite of all of Morton's books.

A few words about the audio production:  I mentioned the narrator at the beginning of this post, Caroline Lee, and I said all there is to say.  She is perfect.  If the powers that be decided to record a Morton audio with someone else, I would be devastated.

Audiobook length:  20 hours and 38 minutes (560 pages)

5 out of 5 stars   


Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday Matinee: Lincoln (2012)

 This is apparently THE movie to see these days.  We attempted to see it the day after Thanksgiving (a week after it had released) at 3:00 in the afternoon, and had to go to three theaters to find a showing not sold out for the rest of the day.  Which is insane, in the days of a dwindling economy and movie industry.

I honestly had no idea about what I was going to see.  The plot that led up to his assassination?  Civil War stuff?  Nutter Mary Todd fussing over her guys?  Daniel Day Lewis just walking around doing his thing?  What it actually IS is a supremely-acted reenactment of Lincoln's last months, where he manages to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery and end the Civil War.

I don't know guys.  I grew up in the US and studied this piece of history over and over.  I've read many of the various Lincoln books that have been all the rage.  And I've never quite absorbed the facts like this.  I've never appreciated the personalities involved, the toll it took on our 16th President.  Or the monumental EFFORT it took to convince a room full of opportunistic old white men, who have only known a world with slaves, to abolish life as they know it.

Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln

There were several times in this long movie (2.5 hours) when I didn't know exactly what was going on.  It is all very complicated.  But when you sift through the details, a few important things are clear.  Lincoln wanted to pass this amendment at any cost.  Many Congressmen were only willing to pass it if it meant the Civil War would end.  But what if peace was established between the North and South BEFORE the amendment was passed?  This was the tightrope that Lincoln walked.  To do BOTH at exactly the right time.

I think everyone who has seen this movie has found it highly ironic to view the bickering and bullying and manipulation going on in Congress while Lincoln was attempting to get the amendment passed.  Republicans, wanting to abolish slavery but also wanting and end to the war.  Democrats, who don't want to give up their bread and butter.  Apparently they acted like stubborn, bickering children back then too.  The difference is that Lincoln showed his leadership and got the job done.  

I found the pre-cursor to the lobbyists, more like low-level mobsters here, to be thoroughly entertaining.  Bribing and manipulating all the Democrats that were on the fence.  In particular, William Bilbo, played by a well-fattened James Spader, was a treat.     

James Spader as William Bilbo

Another highlight was the character of Thaddeus Stevens, Radical Republican Congressional leader and abolitionist, played by Tommy Lee Jones.  Loud-mouthed, sarcastic, passionate and caustic, Stevens fought his entire life to end slavery.  While he and Lincoln didn't always see eye-to-eye, they worked together on this mission and the chemistry on screen was palpable.  I'd eat my hat if Jones doesn't get an Oscar for this supporting role.  

Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens

So yes, this is an excellent history lesson.  I'd even say that it should be shown to kids of a certain age as part of their Social Studies curriculum.  (There are some swear words and some bloody scenes from the war, hence the PG-13 rating, so take care.)

There were many, many quotable quotes in this movie.  They were real zingers, ones that made my brain halt for just a moment, to ponder the brilliance.  I'm not sure if these were words uttered by Lincoln or written by the Tony Cushner, the author of the screenplay.  I think they could be compiled into a book to be used to live one's life.  Quotes about leadership, power, and true north.      

But the biggest reason to see this movie is to watch Daniel Day Lewis.  It is UNCANNY.  The man has certainly proven himself with the two Oscars he already has on his mantle for his roles in "My Left Foot" and "There Will Be Blood".  But this is something else.  He has such a presence, that you truly believe you are watching history happen.  In my mind, there is no way anyone else will come close to the Oscar this year.  In fact, I'm betting this movie is going to sweep the Oscars.  This is Spielberg at his finest.

5 out of 5 stars