Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Salon: Back from the void

 It's been a long time since I've missed a Sunday Salon, but I did so last week!  Just too much going on, including a rather enjoyable soiree at our house last Saturday night, and preparing for Christmas.

Speaking of which, how was everyone's Christmas?  Ours was good!  We went to 4:00 Mass on Christmas Eve WITH both kids, which is a miracle.  Then we had our traditional Polish feast and a tour of nearby light displays.  We had Christmas both at my mom and dad's house next door, then at our house, with more eating.  Lots and lots of eating.  We ended the day at my friend's house for more eating and drinking.

With all that eating and drinking, I'm pleased to inform you that I got a Fitbit Flex and am having a good time with it.  Let me know if you want to friend Sandy Slug.  I also got some golf stuff, some new perfume, two books (Pioneer Woman cookbook, and Lost Girls:  An Unsolved American Mystery), an Amazon gift certificate, running socks, a new blender, and the piece de resistance...the Breaking Bad Complete Series including 55 hours of special features, a Los Pollos Hermanos apron, all packaged in a money barrel!!!!  I almost cried.  It is just too beautiful.

The only thing my son wanted from his grandparents this year was a Playstation4, and of course none could be found anywhere.  So my mom and I set out in separate directions on December 26th at 6:00am and stood in line for the 7am opening at two different Targets to fight over whatever inventory they might have.  My mom scored one of four in stock (my Target had none) so all was saved in my son's eyes.

The kids and I have been working out at Andre with some regularity.  We've seen a couple movies as well...The Hobbit:  Desolation of Smaug (pretty good on 3D, but way to string out a story Peter Jackson) and American Hustle which we LOVED.  I'm sure we'll see more before the vacation is over, but I'm not sure which one.  Anchorman 2?  The Wolf of Wall Street?  Philomena?  Nebraska?

So reading!  Or the lack thereof.  To cover off the last two weeks, I did finish "Death of the Black-Haired Girl" in time to get it back to the library.  It was OK, I'm glad I read it but it didn't blow my mind.  I also just finished "The Rosie Project" which was completely sweet and adorable, and a great easy read for the holidays.

On audio, I listened to "Police" by Jo Nesbo, the maybe final installment of the series, but who the hell knows.  I don't trust the man any more.  It was a solid mystery and I was highly entertained, but in my heart I've grown weary of his manipulations.  He has messed with me too many times.  I also listened to "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed, and despite the mixed reviews, I really enjoyed it.  Actually I loved it.  I guess while I have not lived the type of life that Cheryl did, I can respect someone who turns to physical exertion and nature to purge demons.  I am now four discs into "Native Son" and WOW.  Even though this book was written in 1940, it packs a huge punch, and even early in the book I've found my emotions in turmoil.  Rage, frustration, the white and black characters in the book.

So with the new week, we are looking at some shopping (my daughter has some gift cards burning a hole in her pocket), maybe a day at Sea World before our passes expire, and celebrating New Year's Eve with friends.  On January 1st though, it will be time to pay the piper, and pay up for all the excesses lately.  And don't forget about James' Triple Dog Dare starting January 1st!  Hoard your books now (haha)!

Hope you all have a great remainder of your holidays.  Does anyone have big plans?  New Year's resolutions?  I need to come up with some of my own, since my right eyelid has been twitching for two weeks straight.  Which I'm pretty sure isn't a good sign.

See you in 2014!    


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A few of my favorites of 2013...Young Adult

 Today I'm on my last favorite list...Young Adult.  Now this genre of book is always a little tricky with me.  I'm not even close to being a young adult, but I have two living with me.  And I have way enough of the typical trappings of this age to go around.  I am not patient with angst, drama, fit-throwing, emotional outbursts, and anxiety in my books because I'm trying to survive this stage in my children.  So you could say that I'm pretty hard to please in this category.  Yet I've found five this year that blew my mind.  In all five there are strong characters with mountainous obstacles, and I've been moved, sometimes to tears.  Here they are in no particular order:

Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell

I said it a couple of days ago, and I'll say it again.  You are missing out on LIFE if you don't read this author.  Although this novel is technically YA, it is good for everyone.  This story about outcasts finding each other, young love, and rising above the worst home life is one you will not forget.  Precious characters is what Rowell does.  Just do yourself a favor and read it.

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

This book defied all odds with me.  YA is touchy, and I don't read Sci Fi AT ALL.  But enough people told me it was excellent, and the movie was coming out so I caved.  And I'm glad I did.  A compelling, precocious protagonist, clever twists and a knock out ending did it for me.  

Rose Under Fire - Elizabeth Wein

From the author that impressed us with her strong females and twisty plot in "Code Name Verity", we get more of what we loved in her new book which stands as a companion novel (a few consistent characters in the two books).  The ladies in this book don't get any more kick ass than this...survivors of torture, starvation and experiments in the Ravensbruck concentration camp in WWII.  At this point, I'll read anything Ms. Wein writes.

The Sea of Tranquility - Katja Millay

This gem was recommended to me by Rhapsody Jill, the expert in all things YA.  Yet I hesitated and shame on me for that.  This book had some similarities to Eleanor & Park (outcasts that find love), except the characters are older and more damaged.  The characterization is so real and raw, the chemistry palpable. I was so completely moved, and similar to a Rainbow Rowell book, it ended too soon.   

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

Yet another well-crafted book, written in the form of letters, that truly captures high school in the 80's from the perspective of a bright, shy and damaged young man.  I loved all the cultural references, as well as the message that there can be joy in being yourself and finding your people.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A few of my favorites of 2013...Fiction

 So I'm back again today to talk about my favorite fiction reads in print for 2013.  Definitely the pool to choose from was much smaller because I have not had much luck in sitting down and reading the written word this year.  All of the books below were published in 2013 except for Murakami.    

Calling Me Home - Julie Kibler

This was a surprise find for me, chosen as a monthly book club selection by She Reads.  I am still thinking about this story about love and friendship between blacks and whites in the South.  I could not put this book down.  It broke my heart but in the best possible way.  Definitely not one you want to miss!  

Indiscretion - Charles Dubow

HIGHLY recommended at SIBA.  Read in one sitting my the slowest reader on earth (me).  Loved by everyone in my book club.  Smutty, twisty, and impossible to resist.  Not exactly high brow, but every now and again you need a book like this in your life.

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

I suspect you will see this book on my year end lists.  It was a bizarre premise but one that tickles your woman living and dying over and over again, with many different outcomes.  As a ruined, battered woman.  As a mistress.  As a search and rescue worker in the Blitz.  As an assassin of Hitler.  Fascinating storytelling that forced you to think about coincidence and destiny.  And while I did struggle to understand the WHY of the whole thing, it was a clever and engrossing read.

Night Film - Marisha Pessl

The world either loved or hated this book.  I was in the loved category, despite the hype.  It was unique, using different forms of media (newspaper clippings, police reports, web pages) to tell the story of a man driven to investigate the suicide of the daughter of a reclusive, iconic filmmaker.  It gripped me from beginning to end.  It was trippy and twisty and delicious.  But you ain't seen trippy until you've dabbled with Murakami...

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami

May I present the King of Trippy.  I had been insanely intimidated to even try his books, with his imagery, symbolism, cats, wells, and precocious teenagers.  But I finally tackled this one, and I think I loved it.  I'm not altogether sure what it was about, but it was interesting and unlike anything I'd ever read before.  For that, it belongs on this list.

One last list from me tomorrow, and that will be Young Adult, some of the best stuff I read this year.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

A few of my favorites of 2013...Audios

 Surprise, surprise!  Here I am with an actual proper post!  It is amazing how out of practice you get with this thing.  But I couldn't let the year pass without doing a favorites list.  They are so much fun...I love doing them, and I love reading everyone else's.

As usual, I'm going to break things down in groups, and start with my favorite, audios.  In my audios list, there is a mixture of biographies and fiction and YA.  When I break out my lists for fiction and YA, those will only be what I read in print.

It is hard sometimes to really isolate the root of the awesome in audios.  Is it great writing?  Is is phenomenal narration?  Sometimes it is both.  In the list below, rest assured that the moons have aligned and you will be treated with the best of everything.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home - Carol Rifka Brunt

There is nothing fun about teen angst, coming of age, and AIDS in the 80's, but this debut novel is worth the tears and heartbreak.  It is gorgeously written, a masterpiece, and ultimately filled with hope.  While the narration of Amy Rubinate was solid, the real attraction here are the words.  In my review, I gave it 4.5 stars but over time, the story has stayed with me, and I feel it deserves a place on this list.

Me Before You - Jojo Moyes

Well, here we are, more crying.  But I'm sure none of you are surprised to see this book on any list because it grabbed the world by the heart and squeezed.  Truly one of the most precious  and touching books you will read (or listen to) this year, about a young woman at odds with her life and her quadriplegic employer.  The narration of Susan Lyons was excellent, but the real highlight was the message.

 Rod - Rod Stewart

You don't have to be a fan of this guy or his hair to enjoy this audio.  Although he was a musical presence in my youth, I always thought he was a sleazy oaf.  But please believe me when I say that this is the most fun you will have listening to an audio.  His antics, his self-deprecating humor, his raw honesty, brought to life by the impeccable narration of Simon Vance, was an 11 hour belly laugh.

Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson

I'll give credit to Isaacson for doing a great job of making this biography extremely readable, but the raw data...Jobs' quirky personality, his career path, his brilliance, his vision...really made this read a winner.  Whether you like the guy or not, whether you are an Apple addict (like me), the facts themselves are nothing short of mind-blowing.  Dylan Baker as narrator became Jobs, throwing in all the passion and enthusiasm that you would expect in a book about this great man.


 The Dinner - Herman Koch

This was another fun book to listen to for many reasons.  Snarky commentary on the rich?  Unreliable (and possibly sociopathic) narrator?  Unexpected twists and turns, never knowing what was coming at you from around the corner?  Good stuff.  And I may be partial to delightful little British accents in my narration, like Clive Mantel here, but you could tell this guy (who normally narrates children's books) was having a ball.  It has been optioned for a movie, to be directed by Cate Blanchett.

The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton

I have a hard time verbalizing how much I love Kate Morton and her meandering, long-winded, gothic storytelling.  Her novels have at least 200 extra pages in them, but somehow I am still disappointed that it is over when I turn the last one.  The extra added punch that makes these stories so magical is the narration of all of them by the amazing Caroline Lee.  If you are a Morton fan, you must not miss this one.

Where'd You Go Bernadette - Maria Semple

This was definitely the "it" book to listen to this year.  To start with, our protagonist, Bernadette, was larger than life.  Strange, lovable, and completely full of piss and vinegar.  I laughed my way through this one.  But the narration by Kathleen Wilhoite?  Probably some of the best narration I've ever heard EVER.  They have optioned this for a movie, and I'm not surprised in the least.

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

This was certainly the year for Rainbow Rowell for me.  I've read all three of her books, and I would now consider myself a Rowell fangirl.  I implore you...just read her.  Her books are perfection.  They are gritty and real, but ignites a chemistry in her characters and creates a preciousness that turns people like me (cynical and snarky) into mush.  Our narrator, Rebecca Lowman, did an amazing job...the perfect mixture of youth and wit.  I promise you that with any of Rowell's books, you will fall in love with her characters so hard that you won't want it to end.

Tomorrow I'm going to talk about my favorite Fiction reads in print!  See you then! 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Salon: The Fantasy

 Let me share with you my latest fantasy.  (Don't worry, this isn't TMI.) The fantasy is that I lay burrowed in my bed, all day.  No shower.  No cleaning, cooking, shopping, acting as a psychiatrist, resolving disputes, arguing.  I'm mentally and physically drained!  I'm not sure that a day in bed would solve anything, but it sounds so good.  But that's not going to happen.  The best I can hope for is a quick afternoon nap.  I also have occasional fantasies about living in an apartment, too, by the way.

How are all the holiday festivities going for everyone?  I have probably 85% of my shopping done.  The things left to do are primarily gift cards, which I can do online.  I still have to sit down (probably today) and plan out various holiday meals and come up with a grocery list.

Next week is mid-term week for my daughter.  What this means (besides stress, foul attitudes, tears and emotional outbursts) is that there is no day next week with a clear schedule.  Tests are at 8:00 and 10:00, but not necessarily both times every day.  So basically this is an on-call week.  Plus we have my son's Christmas program (the SAME PROGRAM I've been watching for the last 12 years, Jesus give me strength), and another Confirmation class.   I'm definitely not feeling the spirit yet.  Maybe later.

We had a book club meeting this week, discussing "The Silent Wife".  This was one of those books that we all read ravenously, but hated all the characters.  We had a good discussion.  At January's meeting we will be discussing "The Rosie Project".  We will see who shows up...we have a lot of pregnant women coming due.

I saw in EW they had an online bracket game determining the best YA book ever.  The winner of course was Harry Potter.  But I was just as delighted with the runner ups...To Kill a Mockingbird, The Fault in Our Stars, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  That is a damned fine lineup, and I'm feeling pretty self-satisfied that I've read them all!

All the "Best of" lists are starting to appear everywhere, and it is so much fun.  It just makes me wish I could read faster.  Or maybe it just makes me wish I could read, period.  Anyway, even though I'm not officially blogging anymore, I will be doing my "Best of" lists this week.  On Monday, my favorite audios.  Tuesday will be my favorite Fiction reads, and Wednesday Young Adult.  I've been working hard!

But not reading unfortunately.  Still reading "Death of the Black-Haired Girl", and people, this is only a 280 page book.  My library due date is coming up soon.  I need to get cracking.  I HAVE been listening to audio this week though..."Police" by Jo Nesbo to be exact.  I need to take a moment and express my frustration with this man.  He freaking messed me up with "Ghost", then came back with this installment and is manipulating me some more.  I am nearly enraged.  I won't go into details, but you can't trust a thing he says, and he kills people I love.  Damn him.

Today my daughter and I will do a little kitten therapy at the animal shelter.  Beyond that, maybe we will see a movie.  Hobbit?  Out of the Furnace?  Dallas Buyers Club?  Such choices!  But first, a nap.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday Salon: Holiday crud

Good morning friends!  I'm a little foggy this morning - an after-effect of a very busy week.  By all accounts, the week should not have been so crazy but it is holidays.  The holidays demand our exhaustion.

My daughter brought her crud up to the beach last week for Thanksgiving, and my son and I effectively caught it.  It was a particularly bad strain, to the point that even now, after a week, we are still feeling its effects.  My son actually only missed a full day of school, and otherwise I drugged him up and brought him in a little late so that he didn't get behind.  So I was feeling crappy, but there is so much to do!    

After some struggling and crud-induced emotion, I got all of our inside lights and tree up (the outside is my husband's job).  What is the deal with pre-lit trees and the strings of lights that last one season???  Gah!  I did some yard work, cleaned the house, and went golfing.  (I played like hell, but I figured fresh air would be good for me).  I took my daughter shopping at the mall FOR SIX HOURS on Saturday.  The mall was a mess and my nerves were shot, but she loves this tradition we have and I was happy to spend the time with her.

It is the season for all the good, potentially Oscar-worthy movies to come out.  So last Sunday my mom and I went to see "12 Years a Slave", and then we all piled into the car on Friday night to see "Captain Phillips".  Both excellent movies...well-acted and based on true stories.  I'm HOPING that we might get out to see The Book Thief today, but we will see how things roll.
Last night was my husband's annual holiday party.  Also known as "the event where my feet kill me, I talk and drink too much and don't eat enough".  After being at the mall all day, I totally did not feel like partying but I did my wifely duty and made my rounds and visited with everyone.

So as you can imagine, after all that, I'm averaging about 5 pages a day in my print reading.  I started "The Watch That Ends the Night" about the Titanic, but I couldn't get invested.  It really is good, I just need to read it at a time when I'm not so distracted.  So I started "Death of the Black-Haired Girl" by Robert  Stone that I got from the library.  My husband told me this is supposed to be THE book to read these days, according to some source.  Crazy good writing, but again, I can't get into anything.  It's that time of year.

On audio I finished "Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell.  I can't even begin to verbalize how much I love Rainbow Rowell.  I hope you know what it means when I tell you that she is right up there with Tana French and Mo Hayder, for a million different reasons obviously.  Girlfriend has some serious talent and makes the literary world a better place.  *sigh*  Now I'm fairly close to finishing the hilarious David Sedaris in "Let's Explore Diabetes in Owls".  He makes me laugh.  You can always count on him for that.

Today's agenda:  Shuttle my daughter to the shelter and back for her six hour volunteer day.  Run a few errands.  Encourage my husband to get his rear end to Costco and put up the outside lights.  Maybe see The Book Thief.  Flog kids to get their chores and homework done.  Plan dinners for the week.  Read for 10 minutes (heh heh).  Hope you all have a wonderful day filled with holiday stuff!  


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Salon: Giving Thanks

 Good morning friends!  I'm a little late in posting this morning because we were having Internet issues.  I was all bug-eyed over this, and was accused of being obsessed.  Guilty as charged.

We just got back from the beach late yesterday afternoon, which gave me a sad.  But I do need to remember to be thankful we were able to go.  Time spent in St. George recharges me, and I know that we will go again.

Not that I cared, but the weather up there was DAMN COLD!  In the 30's at night, with a howling wind and some rain.  But we still managed to get our bike riding in, some shopping, and beach walking.  And reading of course.  We had a great time putting away oysters, shrimp, clams, crab, grouper, you name it.  Hours fresh.  We also prepared some yummy comfort food for Thanksgiving.  Here are some pictures I took when I wasn't being blown away.

I rarely touched my computer while I was at the beach.  I know I've said this a few times in the last month or so, but I feel liberated.  I don't feel any kind of commitment or pressure and it is nice!

As much relaxing as I've done in the last week, I didn't really set the world on fire with the reading.  It is hard to concentrate on much of that when you are surrounded with family, but Thanksgiving is all about family, so I'm OK with that.  I did finish Mo Hayder's "Pig Island" which was creepy and twisty, and deliciously ambiguous and open at the end.  She is really good at this leaving-the-reader-hanging thing, and I admire her for it.  I expect to pick up "The Watch That Ends the Night" by Allan Wolf today at some point.

On audio I also finished "The Cuckoo's Calling".  My opinion has not changed since last week.  Sort of a pedestrian, plodding mystery but the characters were excellently drawn and the audio performance was perfection.  I'm now a couple of discs into Rainbow Rowell's "Fangirl" (LOVE HER).

My parents are down now for the winter, so we will be doing stuff with them today.  My dad and husband want to go to the annual car show to touch all the pretty toys, and I think my  mom and I and maybe a kid are going to the movies.  Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving week, and I look forward to catching up with all of you and see what is going on. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Salon: Happy Place

 I'm coming to you today from my happy place.  Most of you that come by here have been around long enough to have heard about this place before.  Sorry to be a broken record.  St. George Island is in the Florida Panhandle, just off the coast from Apalachicola (known as the Oyster Capital of the World).  The island is a laid-back place with no high rises...just a bunch of houses on stilts.  A few restaurants and shops.  And miles and miles of beach, dunes and sea oats.  Sorry no pictures today but Google it - it is gorgeous.  We've been coming up here for 13 years, mostly over the Thanksgiving week.

So my son and I got up here yesterday.  My parents will arrive today.  Unfortunately my daughter and husband have to stay back until Tuesday night because of sadistic teachers that give tests on Monday and Tuesday.

We promptly rented some bicycles, went for a long ride over the island, then bought some shrimp from the fisherman guy that sells out of his truck.  That is for lunch today.  It turned cold last night (it is 52 degrees right now).  But you know how much I bitch about the heat so this is awesome.

On the reading front I finished Mo Hayder's "Hanging Hill" on audio.  This was not one of her best books, but was still entertaining with a deliciously ambiguous ending that would make Tana French proud.  I'm now 3/4 of the way through "The Cuckoo's Calling" by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) and I love it.  The mystery itself is kind of plodding but she creates such great characters, is such a colorful storyteller, I don't mind.  Plus I have to add that the narrator is incredible.  He will most definitely add a star to my rating for his performance.

In print I finished "The Sea of Tranquility" by Katja Millay based on the very high recommendation of Jill, and I was completely smitten.  She and I don't always see eye to eye on YA novels (I'm a cynical poop and generally fed up with teen angst), but the book swept me away.   A must read.  Now I'm about halfway through Mo Hayder's standalone novel "Pig Island".  It is insane.  This is why I love her.  It is also my last Mo Hayder by the way, until she adds on to her Jack Caffrey series.  With all the books I want to read, I think it definitely says something when I become so besotted with an author that I plow through everything she has written in less than six months.

I've been meaning to mention that our C.B. James (Ready When You Are C.B.) is once again hosting the Triple Dog Dare starting January 1st and lasting through the end of March.  Yes it is a challenge but one that I would never miss.  You just have to read from your shelves.  Sounds simple but its not.  I always go on a Kindle-buying binge on December 31st, then rarely end up even reading those books.  But it's good fun and I have to support James always because he was my very first follower five years ago when I started blogging!

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with family and yummy food.  What plans does everyone have?  Have you started your shopping?  I promise I'll take pictures and see you back here next Sunday!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Salon: The Apple

 Good morning!  I'm sliding my post in here with a fuzzy head and blurry eyes.  My son and I just flew back into town last night from our field trip to New York City, and our butts are dragging.  They ran us like crazy rats, from morning until night, but we crammed a lot of activity into three days.  We saw the 9/11 memorial, St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Empire State Building observation deck at night, the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular (wow), the Broadway show "Newsies", Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.  The kids were also taken on a study tour of the United Nations and Wall Street.  Whew!  Our weather was gorgeous, at least for New York...clear skies and in the 50's.  It was a little bittersweet because this will be the last big field trip for this school, as he heads out to high school next year.

So now we focus on Thanksgiving!  We will be leaving our kitties in the hands of our house-sitter on Saturday and heading up to St. George Island for a week.  I will definitely include some pictures next Sunday.  Turkey on the beach is an amazing thing.

I can't even remember what else I did this week.  Who knows. I read the GN "V for Vendetta" and really enjoyed it.  It wasn't easy reading, as most graphic novels are.  It was complicated and chaotic, but I loved it.  Now my son and I want to watch the movie.  I then started "The Sea of Tranquility" by Katja Millay on the Kindle, which was a MUST READ recommendation from Rhapsody Jill.  I have no choice in these matters, but in this case it was warranted.  I'm about halfway through, and it is soooo good.

On audio I'm still listening to Mo Hayder's "Hanging Hill" (no listening time in NYC).  I should wrap that up in the next day or so.  It is good stuff...all her books are.  But it isn't quite as mind-blowing to me as the Jack Caffrey series.  I'm excited to see how she wraps this one up.

I think today is probably just going to be spent getting my act together for next week.  We're off to church in a minute, then my son has an end-of-the-season football thing and my daughter has to be shuttled to the animal shelter.  I have to think about groceries and a dirty house.  Hope you all have a relaxed Sunday!  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Salon: (Semi) Easy Street

Good morning friends!  As I sat pondering my past week, I decided that for the most part, it was relatively easy compared to the norm.  We were in our last week of cross country practice (and most of that was moot because my daughter was out sick for a few days).  No sports for the boy.  Kids had Monday off (aka "Doctor Appointment Day").  Husband was in town.  I actually felt like I a had a grip.  So much that I actually got my Christmas cards done, the Christmas letter done, and my Shutterfly calendars made for family gifts.  Bam!

Offsetting the glow of easy street were three horrid workouts from Andre...I think he was trying to kill me, because for the first time in a long time, I could barely move.  Also we had our annual, obligatory conference with my son's teachers.  I wasn't surprised.  We have had these things since he was in 2nd or 3rd grade...the by-product of having a spirited, too-smart-for-his-own-good child.  I hate these meetings.  I always feel like I'm going to throw up.  But it is done and all is well.

It seems I am addicted to a game called "Cubis".  Just be warned.  I've almost finished it though, with only one level left that I haven't gotten a three-star rating.  Damn these games.  They plague me.

Later next week, my son and I leave for a short, whirlwind school field trip to New York City.  In the past we have gone to DC and surrounding attractions, Philadelphia, and Boston.  These are great trips but they are exhausting.  They pack in a huge amount of activities, and this time around we will see St. Patricks Cathedral, Empire State Building, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Statue of Liberty, United Nations, and see "Newsies" on Broadway.  And maybe more I'm not remembering.

I had some good reading this week.  I finished "Benediction" on audio and really liked it.  It didn't blow me away, but it was solid writing, had solid themes, and was packed a powerful punch.  I also listened to Joshilyn Jackson's novella that is a prequel to her upcoming new book called "My Own Miraculous".  She is just so talented.  She makes my heart happy.  I am now about halfway through one of Mo Hayder's standalone novels called "Hanging Hill".  It is good, but so far not as in-my-face as her series.  Will see how it wraps up.

In print I finished "The Shining Girls" which originally got a huge amount of hype when it came out.  Again, didn't blow my mind but I really liked it, not only for the fun of time traveling serial murderation, but for the historic Chicago references.  Now, at the behest of my son, I am reading the "V for Vendetta" graphic novel, soon to be followed up with the movie.  My son has really been digging GNs as fast as he can.  I cackle maniacally at all the fun I'm going to have shopping for him for Christmas THIS year.  Woo hoo!

On the agenda today is church, shuttling the daughter to and from school to work an Open House event (community service hours!), maybe a restored car show, maybe a movie (12 Years a Slave).  Reading?  Probably not.       

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Salon: Transitions

 Hey, here we are, another Sunday in front of us.  We are falling back with our time, which is never a bad thing.  This was the first week when my son had NOTHING GOING ON (except homework) and it was wonderful.  My daughter on the other hand is still running Cross Country.  Her team placed in the top five teams for Regionals this weekend, which means they are going to States.  Which means another week of practices, and a trip to Tallahassee in the near future.  Once everyone is free and clear of extracurriculars, I think we may be visiting the Angel of Death, Andre, in the evenings for some "enjoyable, voluntary" workouts.  But that is at least a week away.

My husband was back in town, which was a nice change.  Hey, I'm happy to make dinner in exchange for another set of wheels to get the kids where they need to go.  And someone to make me a concoction when I have a bad day.

So, I didn't say much about it at the time but I wrote my last bloggy book review this past week.  From here on out, it is my plan to write informal bookish thoughts on Goodreads (which get pulled into Facebook).  I hope this works out but so far is giving me the freedom to spend the time I need with my family.  I love blogging, but requires a huge amount of time for NO money and little benefit.  I fully intend to visit blogs and stay in touch with those I love.  I'm just hoping this gives me the balance I've been looking for.

One horrible thing that happened this week was that a woman who was messing with her cell phone inadvertently swerved across a country road, and t-boned my father in his truck. Although both cars were totaled, everyone walked away, which was a miracle.  But it just reinforces how freaking INSANE IT IS TO DRIVE WHILE DISTRACTED BY A CELLPHONE.  Put it away people.  And if someone is trying to get in touch, pull over.  A blogger friend (who is no longer blogging today) lost her granddaughter in an automobile accident caused by a texter.  This is really serious stuff.  If this woman, her little boy, and my dad hadn't been in big safe vehicles, someone would have died.  So.

On the reading front, I finished "The Woman Upstairs" by Claire Massud on audio.  And I did not like it.  It had a jarring little ending, but I hated the protagonist and felt like she got what she deserved.  I shant be reading any more of her novels, thank you.  I now am about halfway through Kent Haruf's "Benediction" which is quiet but powerful stuff.

In print, I finished "Eleanor and Park" on the Kindle, and I AM IN LOVE WITH RAINBOW ROWELL.  What a perfect book.  So much that it is hard to move on.  Seriously, if you have not read any of her books, you need to.  I am now about halfway through "The Shining Girls" by Lauren Beukes, a story about a time-traveling serial killer (YES!) that is really provocative.  I recently have received a Mo Hayder stand-alone novel in print and a whole mess of audios, all from the library, so I am really excited about the short-term reading future!

I have no idea what we are going to do today besides church.  My daughter has to work at the animal shelter from 9 to 3, so I will have to attend to that.  There is a Renaissance Festival going on, as well as some great movies out, but the boy has got the crud this weekend so we will see.  The great news is that neither of the kids has school on Monday, so we will be getting an extra day off.

Hope you are all having a wonderful, restful Sunday!


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Never List - Koethi Zan (Audio)

I'd seen a number of great reviews for this book when I got a copy of the audio from Penguin, which was great timing!  Penguin Audio is the bomb!  I'm always curious and excited when I hear of a strong debut mystery thriller novel.

The eerie thing about the release of this novel is that its premise...about a group of women held hostage in a basement by a madman...coincided with the real life story that broke at the same time about the three women in Cleveland who escaped after ten years of a similar fate.  Koethi Zan must have been shaking her head at the coincidence, and served to strike a chord with anyone who reads this book.

Synopsis:  Sarah and her best friend Jennifer, scarred after being involved in a tragic childhood auto accident, have since constructed a extensive list of things to avoid for the sake of their safety.  In a weak moment, however, they accept a cab ride home from a party in college, and are kidnapped and held captive in a basement with two other girls for over three years.

A decade later, Sarah (who has since changed her name) lives the life of an agoraphobic, and has no contact with the other girls who escaped all those years ago.  Sarah is still haunted by the fact that Jennifer never made it out, but her body was never recovered.  When Sarah learns that her captor is up for parole, she decides to take action and try to find Jennifer's body to provide proof of murder, and put the man away forever.

With the assistance of the other two girls, who harbor deep grudges against Sarah, they set off on a quest that forces them to confront their past, a sub-culture of BDSM, torture experimentation, and the truth behind what happened to Jennifer.

My thoughts:  On the surface, I found this audio to be very fast-paced and spine-tingling based on the general plot.  As I said before, there have been enough real-life cases of this nature to make this story all too believable.  The descriptions of what these girls experienced were cringe-worthy.  I don't want to minimize that.

But I had some issues that just didn't sit well with me.  The idea that someone who is scared of people, who is a serious agoraphobe, and doesn't even leave her apartment to get groceries...suddenly decides it was time for action and proceeds to fly all over the country, sneak into warehouses, interview people and chase suspicious characters...really?

And for her to partner up with two other girls that previously HATED her, and cleverly solve mysteries as a team?

It seemed too easy and contrived.  I liked the idea that these women could shake off their past in this way for the greater good, like a damaged version of Charlie's Angels, but I didn't buy it.  Also, in an effort to spin a healthy number of red herrings, there were a number of plot threads dangled in our path, but were never resolved.  The story just felt incomplete.  The author definitely has potential though, and I'm anxious to see what she comes up with next.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator Kristin Sieh, appears to be a new voice on the scene (she did also narrate Bristol House, which is on my list), but did a great job here.  She has a great tone...tough sounding, with a hint of vulnerability underneath.  She was a great pick for this book.

Listening length:  8 hours and 39 minutes (320 pages)

3 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Salon: The End

Hello everyone from icy-cold Florida!  Well, maybe not icy but we had a "cold front" run through there this week and we are now enjoying frigid temps of 80 degrees during the day and lows around 60.  Woo hoo!  It cracks me up how the TV stations go nuts when this happens.  Bundle up the kids!  Wind chill!  Haha!  They need to go visit New York or Colorado or Canada.

So this was the week from hell, I'm not afraid to admit, and I am so glad it is over.  Hubby was gone all week, so I was solo. Over a 7 day period my son had four football games and two practices.  My daughter had afternoon practices everyday (versus the mornings which are much more convenient) and a Districts meet.  Plus a few other incidents.  So when my husband flew in late yesterday I told him not to expect ANYTHING out of me today.  Maybe not even church.  I want to lay in bed and do nothing.

And if we are going to look at the glass half full, my son lost his playoff game yesterday, HANDILY.  I was really sad to see them end their season this way, but at least now they have a small break before they start another sport.  By the time you get to the end of this football season (which started August 1st) you are ready for it to end.

My daughter and I worked an adoption event last Sunday and I fell in love with another dog.  This one was only 6 months old and was a love muffin.  She was so good, and so affectionate.  I was sternly told NO by my other half.  We have too many cats.  But you can see that I have serious dog sadness.  I go through these phases.  

I've been making progress on the reading.  I finished my last Jack Caffrey book by Mo Hayder on audio, and now I am left wanting.  She does have three stand-alone books (one I've already read) so I guess I have to move on to those.  I then moved on to the audio of "The Woman Upstairs" by Claire Massud.  I was a little hesitant on this one...people either love it or hate it.  I have to admit that the narrator/protagonist is annoying me.  She is quite whiny and pathetic.  We will see if my mind changes.

In print I finished "Rose Under Fire" by Elizabeth Wein and I LOVED it.  It was even better than "Code Name Verity".  Wow that woman can write, and has proved to me that I can still be blown away by a WWII book.  Then I read "The Silent Wife" by A.S.A. Harrison for my book club.  I freaking blew through that one in two days.  Almost a record for me I think.  I liked it obviously, but the ending was not satisfying for me.  There is definitely plenty to talk about and look forward to that discussion.  I am now digging into "Eleanor & Park", the much-beloved.

I want to take a special moment here to let you know that my baby boy will be turning 14 tomorrow!  I know everybody says this, but it is true...I can remember the day he was born.  Those first steps, first words (or in his case sentences), his grade school years, all those teacher conferences (ha), all those hugs and kisses and tears...they just fly by.  Gone - poof!  Now he is looming over me in height, deciding where to go to high school and giving me life advice.  It is scary.  We celebrated last night at our favorite steak house.

So we will see if I am left to decompress in peace today or not.  Hope you all have a great day!      

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home - Carol Rifka Brunt (Audio)

It's really no great shocker that in wrapping up my reviews before I take leave, this one would be the last one that I'd have to write.  I've been allowing the story to brew and stew in my mind, and I'm still a bit tormented about what to say.  I'd seen the reviews for this, but it was Melissa at Avid Reader's Musings that finally convinced me.
Synopsis:  June Elbus is not your average fourteen year-old.  She is socially awkward and shy, is in love with the medieval ages, and is pudgy.  Her older sister is smarter, prettier, is popular and is destined for Broadway.  The only one who understands Junie is her maternal uncle and godfather, artist Finn Weiss.  When Finn dies of AIDS, Junie is left adrift, confused about her family's attitude towards Finn and Finn's "special friend", and confused at why her sister is so hateful towards her.  She is all alone.

But then she strikes up a tentative relationship with Finn's partner Toby, and realizes that there is someone else out there that misses Finn as much as she does.  Although her family believes that Toby was the one who killed Finn, Junie finds comfort and kinship with him.

With this intense debut novel, Brunt adeptly tells a coming-of-age story filled with friendship, loss, jealousy and healing.

My thoughts:  It is very hard to sum up all the feelings that this story conjured.  The whole coming-of-age thing is complicated and emotionally-loaded all by itself.  Fourteen is a tough age when you are trying to figure out who you are, where you fit in, and what love is.  My heart physically hurt for Janie.

But then you combine the whole stigma of AIDS in the 80's, with everyone trying to figure out the why and the how, and not being comfortable talking about it.  I can't imagine navigating through that as a teenager.

For spice, we then throw in the hurt and anger and jealousy between Finn and his sister (Junie's mother), the hurt and anger and jealousy between Junie and her sister, the resentment of Junie and Finn's relationship, the anger and blame at Finn's partner?  The frustration at being perfect, the frustration at being labeled weird, and the need for human connection?

This book?  It's SAD, people, so much that it will break your heart.  But it is also so tender, and the characters are so delicately drawn.  And at the end, you can sit back and feel a sense of peace for where the author leaves us.  So my advice is, don't let the dire subject matter drive you away from this one.  It is a beautiful story.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this audio was Amy Rubinate, who was a new voice for me.  Apparently she has a full career in voiceovers for animation, video games, commercials, as well as a career on-stage.  She has a very youthful sound, and is perfect to read for young protagonists.

Listening length:  11 hours and 46 minutes (368 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown (Audio)

For some reason, when I received this audio in the mail from Penguin Audio, it didn't initially pique my interest, despite the fact that I do love true stories.  But then I heard that some friends were reading it for a book club, and Kathy told me SHE had listened to it and been blown away.  I pulled the discs off the shelf, loaded them on the iPod, and then waited until I was in a non-fiction mood.

Synopsis:  This is an amazing story about a team of nine boys from the University of Washington...a rag-tag group of farmers and blue-collar workers with a special bond...who trained and competed during their years in college and in their senior year went on to the 1936 Olympics and captured the gold.

The heart of the story is focused on Joe Rantz, one of the rowers who grew up without any support of family. His mother died when he was young, his step-mother had no use for him so he was kicked out of the house as a teenager to fend for himself.  He scrapped for work to pay for college, and refused to accept defeat in any part of his life.  We also get to know the charismatic yet nonverbal coach, the eccentric British genius who designed the team's boats, as well as their other boys.

This inspirational story recounts obstacle after obstacle that these boys encountered...everything from the overwhelming competition of the money and tradition of the Ivy League crew teams, sickness, lack of funding from the university, the Great Depression, and the heavily favored German team on their home turf.  It is a true testament to the tenacity of the human spirit.

My thoughts:  I am so glad I was persuaded to listen to this...what a heartwarming story.  It just doesn't hit any closer to home than this, and makes you stand up a little straighter knowing what can be accomplished if the will is strong.

There is much to be learned here.  The author educates us in the basics of the sport of crew.  I had no idea it was so intense and physically rigorous.  We learn about the engineering of the perfect boat.  We learn about the rumblings of trouble in Berlin, the efforts made to elevate Nazi Germany to world class status, and the documentation of these efforts made by Leni Riefenstahl.

The human perspective was equally as compelling.  The average boy would have admitted defeat had they battled against the odds thrown at Joe Rantz.  One particular story I will never forget...that at the Olympics, one of the rowers was deathly ill - nearly comatose - but the team refused to compete without him.  So they put him in the boat, though he could barely sit up, and everyone compensated for him.  And they still won gold.

This is the type of book that I would compare to "Unbroken" or "Devil in the White City"...pieces of history that everyone should read and appreciate.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this book was Edward Herrmann, who actually did read "Unbroken" as well as many other non-fiction audios.  His voice doesn't vary much, and does take some time to get used to. Eventually, however, you get accustomed to his style and is actually pleasant to listen to.

Listening length:  14 hours and 25 minutes (416 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars