Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Salon: My week of Sleep

Good morning dear friends.  Hope this post finds everyone relaxing from a busy week.  This week was a bit of an improvement from the last.  My son still had some stomach issues early in the week, but we got a medication for nausea (apparently one used by chemo patients) and that got him through the week.  He seems to be feeling much better now.  He was back in the groove with football, and they absolutely creamed their opponents yesterday.  My daughter had a decent run in cross country.  All was well on that front.

I attended a book club meeting on Thursday night to discuss "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini.  Unfortunately, we spent about five minutes talking about the book and the remaining two and half hours talking about swollen feet, nausea and weak bladders as half of group is pregnant.  (I stayed FAR away from their water glasses, thanks.)  Oh well.  One of these months we will get back to discussing books.  Until then, I'll call it wine club and will still happily attend.

I started reading "Ender's Game" in preparation for the upcoming movie, but honestly, I had a very hard time concentrating because on Tuesday, Stephen King's long-awaited sequel to "The Shining" came out called "Doctor Sleep".  (I actually woke up at 3:30 that morning to powder my nose and just went ahead and downloaded it to the Kindle.  I almost stayed up and started it right then and there.)  You know, thank God for Kindles.  I love not having to wait, or rush out to get the book.  So anyway, I dove into this baby and pretty much did THE MINIMUM this week.  I just fed my family, cleaned the house, and cleaned the ceiling fans (lest my husband catch on) and the rest of the time I read.  I'm somewhere around 85% so I am hoping to get very close to finishing the book today.

On audio, I spent most of the week listening to "The Doll" by Taylor Stevens, the third installment of the Vanessa Michael Munroe series.  For the first third of the book, I almost stopped listening.  I just couldn't care what was going on, and it made me weary.  But then it picked up and I ended up really liking it.  It is a very worthy addition to the series.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes strong female characters who are clever and very badass.

I finished up all the reviews I'm going to publish on the least for now.  That felt weird, and a little bit wonderful.

I am still obsessed with Breaking Bad.  We've watched two episodes of Season 5, and are closing in on the end (which will actually air this Sunday I think, but we won't be watching that until we are ready).  I think I've probably said this before, but this is TV like I've never seen.  It is something very special, and highly addictive.

So today we have church, my daughter and I have a four-hour dog adoption event at a Pet Smart, and then pray tell maybe I'll finish "Doctor Sleep".   Hope you all have a wonderful Sunday.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Crash - Nicole Williams (Audio)

I was tipped off to this YA trilogy by Rhapsody Jill.  She didn't necessarily deem it high brow or at the level of John Green or anything, but said it was fun and got smuttier with each installment. I like to be in-the-know on what my teenage daughter could possibly want to read, so I figured I'd better see what it was about.

Synopsis:  Lucy Larson's family has suffered several devastating setbacks, one of which was when her father lost his job.  Supported only by her mother, they had to move out of their posh home and into their lake cottage, away from Lucy's private school and into a public one.  In the summer before her senior year, she meets Jude, a devastatingly handsome bad boy with a troubled past.  Sparks fly.  There is an instant attraction, and after some posturing, flirting, passes and rebuffs, the two hook up.

As the story progresses, the two encounter multiple obstacles.  Jude is constantly being arrested or chased by the police.  He is elusive about his past.  The rich quarterback has set his sights on Lucy, and every time Jude is waylaid he tries to move in.  There are snap judgements made, and there is poor communication and misunderstandings.  As teenagers are wont to do.  As the story approaches its denouement, we learn that Jude and Lucy's lives are more closely intertwined than they ever imagined.  Their happiness seems thwarted at every turn, like a modern day Romeo and Juliet.

My thoughts:  Honestly this plot, and the writing, is ridiculous.  It is predictable to the point where I had to laugh.  You have heard all of this before!  Dangerous bad boy that is unattainable suddenly dedicates his heart to the damaged girl that saves shelter animals and is a ballerina.  Can she trust him?  No!  Yes!  No!  He is bad for her but she cannot resist him 'cause he is so hot!  He tells her that he is a cancer and she should find someone more worthy of her goodness!  Oh for Pete's sake.  I set a world record for eye rolls.

It is worthy to note that in this first book, there is no sex.  I hear that it is coming in the next book...

But it was brain candy, and I blew through this audio faster than anything else I'd listened to in a long time.  It was completely reminiscent of Twilight, except that Jude is much less of a creeper than Edward and Lucy is stronger-willed than Bella the moper.  It was a total throwback to those hormone, drama-infested teenage years.  And while you will hear me spew disdain for the Twilight series, I sure read them quickly at the time.  And for the same reason why I will probably be ordering installment #2 (Clash) and installment #3 (Crush).

Update:  Since I wrote this review, I ordered Clash on audio, and listened to about a half hour of it.  In that time, Jude almost beats up a guy for helping Lucy with her dance costume, they fight about it, then they make up, participate in some heavy petting while driving really fast in Jude's truck, and fight about when they will actually have sex.  I just couldn't do it.  Silly overload.  Maybe later!   

A few words about the audio production:  I only have one name to tell you...Cassandra Campbell.  This is exactly WHY this audio was so easy to listen to.  The woman is a pro, no matter what character she is portraying, even a 17 year-old girl.  She makes audio books a pleasure.

Listening length:  9 hours and 20 minutes (384 pages)

3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bait - J. Kent Messum

The pitch for this book from TLC Book Tours was something along the lines of "if Jaws, Survivor and Stephen King had a baby, this book would be it".  (I can't find the e-mail so I apologize if I am misquoting!)  Anyway, that was the spirit of the e-mail, and combine that with the fact the story takes place in the Florida Keys?  It was like dangling a bloody steak in front of a dog...or a shark for that matter.  I was in.

Synopsis:  Six strangers wake up on an uninhabited island in the Florida Keys, clueless on how they got there.  Soon however, it becomes very clear what they all have in common...they are all heroin addicts and they soon begin to have violent withdrawal symptoms.  They also discover a chest filled with food, water and a message.  Swim a mile, it says, through shark-infested water, to the nearest island for additional food and your next heroin fix, or die.  Just off the shore, a yacht's mysterious inhabitants observe what happens next.

What follows is a brutal and deadly game of survivor, played by crazed junkies...two woman and four men.  Not only do they have to battle each other and their own demons and agendas, but their unknown adversaries who seem to be bent on proving a point.

My thoughts:  One thing I can say about this book, and that is it is a rip-roaring fast read.  The author doesn't waste any time.  He immediately plunges you into the nightmare and drags you through to the last page.  The plot is gritty, grisly and unflinching.

But as fun as it is to read something like this, I felt there were some missed opportunities in really developing these six characters.  You get a small amount of background, but I didn't get nearly enough.  These were all real, sympathetic folks that had fallen on bad times.  I could have easily invested in them, but I wasn't given much time to do that.  With what I was given, I placed by bets on the guy with the most fight in him.

I also felt the reader got the barest of explanations on the motive of the game players.  I sort of got it, but thought it was a stretch that these people would go to such extremes and expense to prove their point.  In a conversation I had with Ti, we agreed that it might have been better to have no explanation at all versus one that just skimmed the surface.

Be that as it may, this would be a perfect book for the beach or for a readathon.  Your attention won't stray.  In fact, don't be surprised if you finish in one sitting.

I do have a copy to give away, so leave me a comment if you are interested in reading this, and I'll randomly select a winner by September 30.

3.5 out of 5 stars   

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Salon: More Mo

 Happy Sunday everyone!  What a freaking week...I'm not even sure where it went.  My biggest bit of angst this week was that my son came home Monday mid-day and was home sick ALL WEEK.  At first we thought it was the flu, but it didn't go away.  After a visit to the doctor, it appears he has some more pervasive issues with his stomach and hopefully meds will fix.  Not only am I rattled because my boy doesn't feel well and is going crazy at home, but there is the missed sports practices and school that has to be made up.  It mucked up my state of mind all week, and I didn't get much done.

We were able (with much scrutiny of multiple schedules) to go out to dinner with our good friends the Lopuses (the ones that own the wine store) on Friday night, taking advantage of Magical Dining Month.  Saturday was full of kid events, but unfortunately my daughter didn't run well in her cross country meet, and my son's football team did not win (and he couldn't play because of being out all week).  Boo.

On audio this week, I finished "Kiss Me First" by Lottie Moggach.  What a great listen!  This was the author's debut novel, but it was twisted and thought-provoking and very tense from beginning to end.  It will also be my first official book not reviewed on the blog.  Starting with this book I will make a brief comment on my thoughts on Goodreads.  I'm not going to be putting a whole lot of energy into these comments (otherwise, why not keep blogging?) so keep your expectations low!  But for those of you who are interested, I'll give my two cents.  I then started Taylor Stevens' latest addition to the Vanessa Michael Munroe series "The Doll".

In print I wrapped up "My Year with Eleanor" for next month's book club.  It was a pleasant read...nothing earth-shattering but fairly upbeat and benign.  I then DOVE HEADFIRST WITH GREAT RELISH into the 3rd installment of the Jack Caffrey series by Mo Hayder called "Ritual".  The first two books in the series almost kept me up at night they were so disturbing.  This was not quite as severe, but was so so satisfying as a mystery thriller.  I am in love with this author.  I drug this book everywhere with me and actually finished it in less than a week...shocker for me.  I have so many books I want to read, but I'm on a roll here, and I'm sure I will be grabbing the 4th in the series soon.  I am now picking up "Ender's Game" in anticipation of the upcoming movie.  I'm not a sci-fi kind of girl, but it has been highly recommended so I'm going to give it a shot.

Today we are looking at church, animal shelter and hopefully a little rest and relaxation.  The kids actually have Monday off from school, so that should take a little edge off the Sunday night blues.  What does everyone have going on today?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

This Town - Mark Leibovich (Audio)

Back when this book first came out, there was a huge stir, at least on TV.  Part of our morning routine is to watch MSNBC's Squawk Box, which is primarily a business news show, but the anchors go off on random tangents as well.  And they were all practically VIBRATING over this book, their eyes all buggy and big silly grins on their faces.  Then I started hearing other news programs talking about it, and the author started showing up on the night talk shows.  When Penguin Audio sent a special e-mail to all of us audiophiles, announcing that THEY HAD THIS AUDIO FOR DOWNLOAD, I grabbed it.  It sounded like this would be book that everyone would be buzzing about, and maybe for once I won't be the last to read it.

Synopsis:  Mark Leibovich has been a reporter all his adult life, most recently employed as a New York Times chief national political correspondent.  Using the Tim Russert's funeral in 2008 (the social event of the season) as a starting point, and running through the reelection of Obama, Leibovich unleashes a snarky and fairly bi-partisan skewing of anyone and everyone involved in the machinations of "This Town", Washington D.C..  Even Obama, who started out clean and pure and above all the typical fray of the game-playing, has been called out on the carpet for sliding into the muddy, lobbyist-filled trenches with the rest of the veterans of This Town.

Very few walk away unscathed (even himself), but the author rests his attention on a number of players in the game as case studies for the egocentric self-promotion rat race that permeates our capital.  As Leibovich so eloquently states "Washington may not serve our country well, but it has in fact worked splendidly for Washington itself."  He offers example after example, in the words of someone has seen and heard it all, of the pettiness, ambition, greed, social-climbing, and obscene wealth run amuck. For nowadays, this is "a town where there are no longer Democrats and Republicans anymore in the nation's capital - just millionaires."

At times laugh-out-loud funny, other times heartbreaking, and the next minute maddening, you'll see This Town and its dirty little secrets like you never have before.

My thoughts:  Well I can now certainly understand why all the talking heads on TV were going crazy over this book.  For anyone who knows the players and the names, this is some jaw-dropping material.  Snark!  Intrigue!  Bad behavior!  I expected that it would be skewed towards one side or the other, but as the author explains, there aren't really sides any more.  The opposing factions would like you to THINK there are sides, but really everyone is in it for themselves and they understand that fighting is good for business.

There is a whole helluva lot of dirt here, but it didn't seem like a tabloid.  The prose is witty and snappy and is grounded in facts and quotes and interviews with hundreds of players.  This guy is speaking from experience.  Now, does he have anyone left speaking to him at this point?  I wonder.

I loved the insight on Obama.  I loved the insight on the Clintons.  I was amazed at the insight on some of the politicians that I thought were good, wholesome folk but are detested on Capital Hill.  I loved the swirling, chaotic, amoeba-like mass of personalities.  And now I know I would NEVER EVER want to be a part of that mess.  

But I honestly feel that much of this book was lost on me.  Like I said, I watch MSNBC every single morning, but I guess I'm not familiar with the names of the movers and the shakers.  It's like listening in on a funny story but you have no idea who the story is about, so it loses a bit of its punch.  After listening to 3/4 of the book, I got a little tired of being out of the loop.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this joyride was Joe Barrett, who has a huge resume in the field and whom I've heard several times.  He has a pleasant voice, if not necessarily theatrical.  He has the perfect sound for a book like this, with enough timing and tongue-in-cheek to keep it interesting.

Listening length:  12 hours and 15 minutes (400 pages)

3.5 out of 5 stars          


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Requiem - Lauren Oliver

So here we are, round #3 of the Delirium Trilogy.  I'm not a huge fan of trilogies, especially YA ones, but I got sucked in from the get-go with this one.  Once that happened, I had to see things through to the end.  I will do my best to highlight the general plot without spoiling.

Synopsis:  In a world where love has been deemed humanity's downfall, everyone has this evil emotion surgically removed at the age of 16 and are matched up with a mate.  Some like this idea and some don't.  Lena is in the latter category, and finds love with Alex right before her surgery.  In the first installment "Delirium", Lena escapes into "the Wilds" but Alex is left behind, presumed incarcerated or dead.   In "Pandemonium", Lena becomes a hardened survivalist and joins the revolution against the government, picking up a love interest along the way.  It ends with a doozy of a cliffhanger that is guaranteed to bring back the most cynical reader to the third act.

Which brings us to "Requiem".  This time, we alternate between the narration of Lena and her best friend from high school, Hana.  Hana has had her operation, and has been matched with the next Mayor of Portland.  Hana feels despondent from the loveless life she is facing and wonders if she is as "healed" as she is supposed to be.  Lena has found herself in the center of the revolution, and the battles have risen to a fever pitch.  She also is consumed by her emotions and a confusing love triangle. Passion is the name of the game, forever present is the mantra:

"We wanted the freedom to love.  We wanted the freedom to choose.  Now we have to fight for it."

My thoughts:  After the cliffhanger in "Pandemonium" that smacked me right between the eyes, I had really high hopes for a bang-up ending.  I didn't really get it though.  The love triangle, in my estimation, should have been HOT.  I mean, they are fighting and killing for this stuff, right?  So why did it feel subdued, confused and wishy-washy?  Everyone's pants should have been on fire, epic revolutionary battles or not!

In terms of a denouement, we got some action, but the ending was left pretty wide open.  My immediate reaction was "Huh?  Is that it?".  I tried to construct a better, more satisfying ending but didn't have much luck.  Most alternatives would have felt contrived.  As Jill put it in her review, life as Lena knows it is about NOT knowing and trusting what will come, so to her this all made sense.  I just felt a little deflated.

Ultimately I kept waiting for something to happen that never did.  That doesn't mean that I'm sorry I read these three books.  The first was my favorite, and it had enough power to carry me through them all.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday Matinee: Preparing for Halloween Horror Nights 23...

It's that time of year again!  The time when the Nawrots get SO excited to experience the thrills of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios.  This is the 23rd year of the festivities, and based on our experiences since we started going a few years ago, it just keeps getting better.  This year we are planning on going October 4th, so we have been preparing ourselves.

Each year they pick themes and reveal each name of the eight or so haunted houses.  Often they are based on legends (one year it was all about Bloody Mary), movies, and video games, and we have found that the more you know about them, the more effective the thrills.

This year it seems they have gone with a zombie/mutant theme.  They have a Resident Evil house (per my son the video games are awesome and the movies are trash), a Walking Dead house (based on the AMC series), one based on An American Werewolf in London (movie), one based on the 2013 movie remake of Evil Dead, one based on the movie Cabin in the Woods, and three others with themes of after life, a murderous mother, and genetically-engineered super-soldiers.  The kids and I decided we need to see a couple of movies to bone up on our demons.


 I remember when Evil Dead came out in the theaters this past spring.  It got a decent Rotten Tomato score of 62%, and was nostalgic of the original Raimi film that came out in 1981 that we all saw back in the day.  The premise is that a group of friends convene in a cabin in the woods (which looks insanely similar to the set of The Cabin in the Woods) to help one of the girls detox and get clean from heroin.  They discover an old book in the basement that, when certain words are read, unleashes a homicidal demon that invades human souls.  The problem is that when said demon gets inside the detoxing girl, nobody realizes it because, you know, ridding oneself of drugs can bring out the worst in people.

Let me just say that the visuals are terrifying and extremely GROSS.  There is a horrifying basement full of dead hanging cats, things come out of the ground, and while under the influence of the demon, people do really bad things to themselves and others.  After we watched this one, my daughter had to sleep with me that night.  This would be my veteran B horror movie daughter.  Just be warned.  But as a high octane horror film, this is what it is all about.  4.5 out of 5


 So we are back in a cabin.  In the woods.  Also with a messed up basement.  A group of attractive young friends are hanging there for the weekend for fishing, smoking dope and hanky panky.  As you would expect.  (I'm willing to overlook all the stereotypes for a peek at Chris Hemsworth...just sayin'.)  Little does this group know that they are in the middle of a type of orchestrated reality show, run by ruthless game players that make bets on what evil the group will unknowingly unleash and whose blood will be spilled first.

I can't say I loved this one, much to my surprise since Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 92%!!  It certainly was different than any other horror movie I've ever seen, but I thought the premise was pretty goofy.  I mean, I get that this is satire, but I didn't think was GOOD satire.  I thought the most interesting part of the whole hour and a half was witnessing the smorgasbord of evil that is held captive by the game players and could potentially be unleashed if they are "chosen".  All that said, I'm pretty excited to see what the folks at Universal will do with this one.  3 out of 5 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Salon: Hot Hot Hot

 Good morning one and all.  I had intended to write this post last night, but I fell asleep on my bed with my clothes on.  That was the kind of day...WEEK...I had!  It was ungodly hot this week, and my various activities (first golf league of the season, my son's football game, the high school football game, cross country meet, Andre workouts) caused me to sweat so much that I wondered if at some point I would just shatter and blow away in a cloud of dust.  Seriously, I couldn't drink enough fluids to keep up.  Thus the whole passing out thing last night.

So it was great to start up with golf again.  It's not much fun to be teeing off with sweat dripping down your nose, but great to see the ladies again.  Such a happy group.  My son's football team, if you recall, has had a history of being pretty good, and they continue their performance with a win yesterday 39-0.  Unfortunately my daughter did not have her best run yesterday after having the crud for a couple of weeks on top of what seems like an insane amount of homework.  I honestly don't remember high school being THIS bad.

We continue to have problems with our Internet provider.  It goes in and out (predictably it goes out as soon as the kids get home from school and desperately need the connectivity for their homework), and when I call technical support, they blame my router.  Because they are idiots and don't know what they are doing.  One day the kids just sat there, wide-eyed, as I screamed at one of them and hung up.  It seems like having an Internet signal should be our right as human beings!!!

I was totally excited that Melissa (Avid Reader's Musings) and her husband were down here from Indiana on vacation at the beach, and decided to come over to Orlando to visit Islands of Adventure (primarily for Harry Potter World).  We met at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville for lunch, right outside the park gate, for an air conditioning and food break.  It was so nice catching up with them, they are good people.  I try to see Melissa every time I'm in Indiana, so it was nice to have her down here.  

Since making public my decision to turn off the blog in November, I have felt a wave of peace run over me.  I DO have a few more reviews that I need to write to get me through that time, but that is OK.  I have decided to join Goodreads as a way to keep track of what I'm reading, so PLEASE PLEASE if you have an account, friend me if we haven't connected yet (Sandy Nawrot is my full name).  If you don't have an account, it is super easy to set up and you can get an app for your phone (I'm talking to you mom).  I have also decided that I'll continue to write my Sunday Salons.  They don't even really count as blogging in my mind, because they easy and fun to write.

So!  Reading!  What did I accomplish this week?  I did finish "The Girl You Left Behind" by Jojo Moyes.  I ended up liking this book, but it was very strange how I could not invest in the first plot thread.  Once the second one kicked in, I was fine.  I am now reading a memoir called "My Year With Eleanor" for my book club.  It is OK, fairly easy reading but is kind of a knock-off from Julie & Julia, or Eat Love Pray, or whatever.  I ordered a bunch of books from the library and they all showed up at once, so I'm anxious to dig into those.  Must read faster.

On audio, I finished "Tell the Wolves I'm Home" by Carol Rifka Brunt...such a raw, vulnerable book about coming of age and AIDS in the 80's.  I also listened to "The Never List" by Koethi Zan, an action-packed book about four girls held hostage in a basement, and their need for retribution years later.  I've now just started "Kiss Me First" by Lottie Moggach, a thriller about a sheltered young woman who gets sucked into an online underworld.

So what does everyone have on their Sunday agendas?  I think we are passing on the animal shelter today because of homework angst, so probably just church, grocery store, and a little bit of laying around before I have to take the hubby to the airport for a business trip.  Have a great Sunday everyone!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Panorama City - Antoine Wilson (Audio)

I heard absolutely nothing about this book until Ti came along and did her thing...she sold me.  When Ti loves a book, it is kinda hard to ignore her.  So, as usual, I checked to see if my library had the audio (the only way I will EVER get to a book) and I struck gold.  So what is this little charming story about?

Synopsis:  At the opening of the book, we learn that Oppen Porter, the story's narrator, has had some kind of terrible accident, is in the hospital, and expects that the end is near.  So he is recording his life's story and his words of wisdom on tape to his unborn child.

Oppen used to live a simple life, on the farm with his father.  Every day, he rode his bicycle into town to look for work while his father stayed home, writing a never-ending letter to the local editor.  When Oppen's father unexpectedly dies, Oppen buries him in the backyard according to his wishes.  The authorities immediately exhume dad's body and bury him to code, and send Oppen off to live with his Aunt in Panorama City.

It becomes quickly apparent that Oppen is not a usual young man.  He is not able to drive.  He is illiterate.  He deems himself a "thinker" but is not particularly adept at doing so quickly (he calls himself a "slow absorber").  He is insightful and brutally honest, yet gullible to those that might try to take advantage of his good nature.  In Panorama City, he decides it is time to become "a man of the world", and throws himself into any adventure that presents itself...a job at a fast food restaurant, a friendship with a sketchy "entrepreneur" that he meets on the bus, discovering God at a local Christian fellowship, or smoking pot with a neighbor.  It is a journey that lasts 40 days and 40 nights, after which the reader will view life with a new perspective.

My thoughts:  Ti was right, this book was utterly charming.  She compared the character of Oppen to Forrest Gump, which was spot on.  The presence of Oppen takes an ordinary story and makes it special and precious, and it was impossible not to fall in love with him.

Oppen shares with his unborn son many pearls of wisdom that he has learned over the years, and often they were so simple but so true.  Because I was listening to the audio, I couldn't write them down, but I loved each and every one of them.  I would do well to follow his advice in my life.  At its heart, this book is hilarious...I laughed the whole way through.  But I did have moments when I found myself getting upset.  Even if Oppen thinks everyone is a friend, to the reader we know that he is being bullied and taunted.  In his innocence and his childish determination though, Oppen always seems to rebound.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator and voice of Oppen was Paul Michael Garcia, a new name for me.  Not just anyone could have pulled off the performance of Oppen, but Garcia did it with grace.

Listening length:  8 hours and 6 minutes (304 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty (Audio)

Nothing could have tickled me more when I found out that the She Reads September book club selection was none other than the next release from Liane Moriarty.  You might remember me going a little bit crazy over her novel "What Alice Forgot", which I read a couple of summers ago.  More recently I reviewed "The Hypnotist's Love Story" which didn't quite hit the mark with me, but nevertheless, this author has so much to offer.  While her books appear to be fluffy fun reading for women, there is way more to her, and I'm always left with a swirl of thoughts in my head long after I finish.  She just seems to understand middle-aged women, more than most women understand themselves.  She is like the BFF who knows what's bothering you before you even utter a word.

So let me tell you a little about Moriarty's next work of art.

Synopsis:  Cecilia Fitzpatrick is a busy woman.  She has three daughters under the age of 12, is President of her parent/school association, she runs a successful Tupperware business, is highly organized and efficient, and has been happily married for 15 years.  Then one day when she was digging through the attic looking for something, she comes across a sealed envelope that is labeled "For my wife Cecelia Fitzpatrick, to be opened only in the event of my death".  Hmmm.  An irresistible temptation, no?  Especially since her husband has been acting a little strange...turning his back on sex, crying in the shower, etc.  But Cecelia could never predict the demons unleashed once she reads this letter.

Tess has just been informed by her husband and her cousin/best friend/business partner that they are in love.  They haven't slept together! No, no.  But they are meant for each other.  Horrified and deeply hurt, Tess takes her 6 year-old son and runs to stay at her mother's to try to figure out what to do.
Rachel lives for her grandson, Jacob, who is two.  He is the only shining light in a life that has been filled with anger and grief, ever since her daughter Janie was murdered over twenty years ago, and her husband died soon after of a broken heart.  Sure, Rachel still has her son, and but she can't quite move on since Janie's killer was never found.

In alternating narratives, these three troubled women are slowly drawn into each other's orbit, tackling a laundry list of problems ranging from menopause to murder.

My thoughts:  With many authors, after you've read a few of their books, you begin to see common themes and styles emerge, with just a change in names and locale.  So I find it curious and a little delightful that Moriarty does not succumb to this pitfall.  Each of her three books I've read are so different.  The only common denominator is women in distress.

For those that expect a fun beach read, they are going to be shocked at the depth and gravity of some of the issues here.  Sure, there is plenty of humor because let's face it, some of the crap women suffer through has to be laughed at, just so we don't fall apart.  But the underlying issues, in this case infidelity and all its forms, grief, middle age, deceit, forgiveness...are heavy burdens.  I was enthralled by the storytelling here, but will admit that there were times when I heaved a big sigh.

I don't want to sound like the book was a huge downer, but it does make one think.  Moriarty always is good for a few days of self-evaluation, and is a book club's dream.  Ultimately the author always pulls you back up from your navel-gazing and offers a delicious, warm ray of sun to let you know that not all is lost.  Life may not be perfect but is worth the effort to try your hardest.

A few words about the audio production:  I almost squealed like a kid when I heard the first words of this audio play into my ears...Caroline Lee!  She is THE VOICE for all of Kate Morton's books and I've fallen in love with her girlish, accented little performances.  They delight me, and she was perfect for this book.  She makes listening such a pleasure.  Also a big thanks goes out to Penguin audio for providing my digital download!

Listening length:  13 hours and 44 minutes (416 pages)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Matinee: You're Next (2013)

 I'm writing these thoughts for the two of you that actually watch horror films!  I know my movie opinions on movies in this genre generally fall on deaf ears, but I always feel compelled to talk about them.  Damn I love horror movies!  They are brain candy, sort of like my murder mystery reads.

Generally horror movies don't fare well on Rotten Tomatoes, so I was surprised to see that this one had a decent rating (I think somewhere around 70%).  On Labor Day, my son, my dad and I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Here is the premise.  A wealthy family consisting of dad and mom, three brothers, a sister, and associated spouses and significant others, convene at their remote estate to celebrate the parents' wedding anniversary.  Immediately it becomes clear that there is a quirky and dysfunctional dynamic within the is a nervous wreck and is on meds, the brothers all can't stand each other, the sister is worthy of eye rolls because of her silly chirpy cheerfulness.  Most of the characters here are fairly unlikable.

Upon the start of their first dinner together, however, someone outside the house stars picking off family members with a crossbow through the dining room window.  Chaos ensues, and that family dynamic I mentioned kicks into full gear as they decide who should make a run for the car, who should guard the house, who is brave and who is a coward.

Ultimately, three cold-blooded, masked murderers hold the house under siege  slowly picking off family members one-by-one with garrotes, machetes, axes, knives and other paraphernalia.  What they didn't plan on is that one member of the family is actually as badass as they are.  

This was a really fun movie to watch.  I know, you think I'm crazy, but it had a bizarre, over-the-top, dark humor feel to it. Parts of it WERE pretty those animal masks!  And the premise, while fairly predictable, is incredibly believable, which also gives you the chills. No bad guys come back to life, there are no zombies or witchcraft or homicidal clowns about.

But as soon as the arrows start flying, this unlikable family just gets uglier, and soon you're not really sure who you are rooting for.  You almost want to just lock the door and see who comes out victorious.  It is like the classic horror gore fest like Friday the 13th, but with more realism and a lot more snark.  At the end of the day, it is pretty exciting to see an unlikely hero emerge. 

The actors are all ones we've never heard of (although upon feeling like I should know the mom, I discovered she has made her way through all the soaps at one point or another).  The character development is thin at best, but you don't line up for these movies to see such a thing.  If these types of movies are your thing, you will have a good time with this one.

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday Salon: Decisions

 Good morning friends!  It has been another busy week.  Which is pretty standard fare in the fall.  My parents were visiting this week in order to attend my son's last Grandparents' Day at school on Friday.  Both kids had the crud, one who missed her first official Cross Country meet Friday night.  On the bright side of health, despite the crud, my son was released to play football after gimping around with a torn hip flexor for three weeks.  His team  killed their opponents on Saturday 32-8.  Yeah!  I'm really looking forward to another ball-busting year, personally.

We also had our season-opening brunch with my golf league, and commencement of whacking little white balls with sticks starts next week.

I know pretty much everybody in the blogging world is aware of the RIP Reading Challenge hosted by Carl...where you read scary books in September and October.  This is pretty much a no-brainer for me normally, because I LOVE scary stuff (I even have a list of books I'd read if I could). But I'm a little nervous to even sign up for this, because lately I've been feeling that my time is not my own.  I can't seem to get traction in print, and I have all these books I MUST READ.  I'm sure they are great books, but it isn't necessarily what I want to read right at this moment.  It is starting to piss me off.  In addition, I've noticed that blog traffic has dropped off into la-la land.  Nobody seems very engaged these days.  So I've been pondering, and have arrived at a decision.  I think I'm turning off the blog starting November 1st.  I'm not sure if it will be for a couple of months, or for forever.  We will see how I feel once I remove myself from the fray.  You all know that things are not what they used to be.  So many old-school bloggers have quit and moved on.  I have my online friends, and that will not change...I'm always in touch with these folks regardless.  I'll talk about it a little more when the time comes, but it helps just getting my thoughts out on "paper" now.

On the reading front, I've been having fun on audio.  I finished "The Boys in the Boat" about the working class group of boys who ended up winning the gold in crew in the 1936 Olympics...such an amazing story.  Now I'm about halfway through the second book in recent weeks dealing with AIDS in the '80's called "Tell the Wolves I'm Home", and I'm really enjoying it.  In print I'm STILL reading "The Girl You Left Behind", and have only recently, with a switch in plot and time period, have picked up the pace.  THIS is the Jojo Moyes I love.

Hope you all have a relaxing Sunday, worthy of your best book. See you all during the week!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Wishing Tree - Marybeth Whalen

There is nothing better than a summer reading book by Marybeth Whalen.  I find her to be a precious human being and a role model, so I'll just admit that I might be slightly swayed in my opinions of her books, but there you go.  Her books are gentle and good, with some conflict, and a little bit of God, but always make an impact.  Her latest, "The Wishing Tree", is no different.

Synopsis:  Ivy Marshall had a bad day.  In 24 hours, she discovers that her husband Elliott has been cheating on her (something that seems to have been building after months of a growing distance between them) AND her estranged sister receives a proposal on national TV.  When Ivy receives an invitation from her mother to visit the family cottage on Sunset Beach, NC to help plan THE BIG WEDDING, Ivy balks.  While it would probably be a good idea to get away from the offending husband, Ivy has not really been on proper speaking terms with her family since she impulsively broke it off with a childhood sweetheart and family friend and married Elliott.  Plus, with her failing marriage, why would she want to think about marital wedded bliss?  Ultimately, though, she decides she'll give it a shot.

When she arrives in Sunset Beach, she finds that she has got her work cut out for her.  She works on mending fences with her sister and mother, but her mother is acting secretive and her sister goes hot and cold.  Elliott has launched a Twitter campaign to get her back, and that ditched ex-fiance?  He is looking better than ever, but wants nothing to do with her.

Ivy is put in charge of making "The Wishing Tree" for her sister's wedding, a tradition where invitees mail in their wish for the new couple, and it is artfully hung from branches in a display.  Perhaps the answer to Ivy's confusion lies within these messages of hope?

My thoughts:  One thing I always know about Marybeth, and that is she will take care of me.  My main character won't die, the whole story won't be a dream, and no virus is going to end the world as we know it.  Things work out in Marybethland.  It may not always be the way you want, but there is no need for fear.  Resolutions are satisfying and realistic.

That didn't stop me from feeling some frustration with the storyline.  I thought that Ivy needed to grow up a little.  She didn't really know what she wanted and therefore was stringing people along, and seemed clueless to other's feelings.  There was also horrid communication between all of them, to the point where you really just wanted to lock them all in a room, shake them, and tell them to FIGURE IT OUT.  The important thing, and probably Marybeth's point, is that Ivy and her family do figure it out.

Marybeth's last novel "The Guest Book" also took place in Sunset Beach (a favorite vacation spot for the author and a place I fell in love with years ago), so it was really nice to come back.  I wouldn't be too upset if we kept returning...if I can't visit there, this is the next best thing!

3.5 out of 5 stars 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

New on the iPod

I have a couple more audios that I have added to my iPod that I wanted to share with you.  Let me know if you have heard any of these:

The Never List by Koethi Zan (received from Penguin Audio)

Synopsis:  Despite all their precautions for safety, two young women are kidnapped and held captive by a sadistic psychopath for three years in a dungeon-like cellar.  Ten years later, one of the girls is still dealing with the guilt that her friend did not survive their ordeal.  When she learns that her abductor is up for parole and begins to receive letters from him, she goes on a cross-country chase in order to unravel the mystery about what really happened.

Narrator:  Kristin Sieh
Listening length:  8 hours and 39 minutes


Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach (borrowed from the Orange County Library and recommended by Jackie at Farm Lane Books)
Synopsis: A chilling and intense first novel, the story of a solitary young woman drawn into an online world run by a charismatic web guru who entices her into impersonating a glamorous but desperate woman.

Narrator:  Imogen Church
Listening length:  10 hours and 46 minutes

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Night Film - Marisha Pessl

It's been a long time since I've been compelled to write a review within hours of finishing a book.  But I'm just afraid all the juicy goodness...the atmospheric going to melt away over time, so I've got to get it out now.

This book has gotten so much hype.  Everywhere from Entertainment Weekly to Barnes and Noble to the blogs to Amazon...people are talking about "Night Film".  Sometime in mid-July the buzz became so unbearable that I was worked up into a frenzy because I had to wait until mid-August for its release.  Rhapsody Jill came to my rescue by mailing her ARC copy to me in Indiana.  Just driving the point home was the fact that my sister (a movie critic, NOT a book critic) also had an ARC copy and was reading it in Indiana as well.  We laughed at that one.  So let me tell you a little about this wonderful thing.

Synopsis:  Scott McGrath has a love/hate relationship with Stanislas Cordova, mythical film director of a series of disturbing, unrated underground horror films.  While doing an investigative piece on Cordova a few years ago, McGrath received an anonymous tip that Cordova was up to something bad...really bad.  While McGrath was a huge fan of the reclusive director, he publicly accused him of wrongdoing and ruined his career and marriage in the process.  It remains a sore spot to this day.

Then Cordova's 24 year-old piano prodigy daughter Ashley is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in Manhattan, apparently of a suicide.  McGrath decides to resume his investigation of Cordova, because he has a feeling that Ashley's death was not an accident.  There has to be more to it, and this could be a way to redeem himself.  In his digging, he picks up two assistants in the form of an innocent wannabe actress and a grungy stoner, and they are launched on a wild ride into the murky world of Cordova.  Lines become blurred as they encounter stories of madness, black magic, and strange disappearances.  Soon the trio is questioning not only the depravity of Cordova, but their own sanity and grip on reality.

My thoughts:  OK prepare for some gushing.  Loved this book...LOVED.  Let me count the ways I loved this book.

Loved the noir feel to it.  You have this mythical director, who hasn't been seen for decades, with a cultish fan base.  His movies were once Oscar-caliber but have gone underground with its continued descent into the dark depths of the human condition.  People have been known to pass out or go insane after watching his movies, which is totally over-the-top and fun in an urban legend way.  There are secrets and rumors and even a highly-guarded fan website with sightings and artifacts and tidbits.  This is just rich stuff.

Loved the pictures.  There are webpage snapshots, police reports, photographs, newspaper clippings...which just add to the mystery and authenticity of the story.  For this very reason I would highly recommend this book in print.  But the author took it even further.  She even developed movie posters for Cordova's movies!  It just makes the whole thing full-immersion.

Loved the characters.  Scott and his sidekicks have a palpable chemistry between them.  If any of you have read Melina Marchetta's "Jellicoe Road", I would compare the camaraderie in that story to this one.  It is precious.  Also, the supporting cast in this mystery is vivid, each and every one of them.

Loved the wild ride.  The digging up of witnesses and clues and mysteries was positively delicious.  And it leads up to sort of a manic, Stephen King-like drug trip where you have no idea what is real and what is not.  For anyone who loves a puzzle, this is going to make your brain buzz.  And the twists and turns keep going to the very end.  (For those of you who like things wrapped up neatly, you won't find it here.  I am seriously hoping for a sequel.)

About halfway through the book, I started slowing down my reading.  First, I didn't want it to end.  Second, I was scared to death that the author was going to screw me over.  (If you have ever been on the receiving end of a literary screwing, then you know what I mean).  I am happy to report that I came out the other side of this one with my honor and faith in literature intact.

This book isn't for everyone.  You really need to be a fan of "the murk".  I'm not talking horror here.  Cordova made horror films, granted, but there is nothing here all that terrifying.  It is more of a brain-bending mystery that is so much fun to explore, but it is dark and oily.  If you like a good mystery, then without a doubt, this must be your next read.

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Salon: Happy Laboring

Happy Sunday, and Happy Labor Day!  Man, it is so nice to have an extra day to vegetate.  I honestly couldn't tell you HOW I'm going to spend my extra day (my wish would be floating in the pool with my book), but it is an extra day.  Let us spend it NOT laboring on anything but the most wonderful of things.

I spent a few days this week sans husband (he was gallivanting and frolicking in Chicago), running my kids to their activities and going to "meet the teacher" night at my daughter's high school.  We had our first Cross Country pasta dinner and meet, and our first official football game (in which my son did not play due to injury).  Results were game was won by a landslide despite the opposition's higher credentials, and the daughter ran well.  My hubby's company is also moving to a new office location this weekend so needless to was pretty busy.  We were doing our part in the "laboring" part of Labor Day Weekend.

Tomorrow my parents fly in from Indiana to spend about a week and a half in our little hellish corner of Humidity and Heat. After my daughter and I do our time at the animal shelter today, I'm hoping to crank up the grille and partake of some ribs.  And wine.  And Breaking Bad.

I have to admit that I am distracted.  I'm doing a decent job of LISTENING, as I finished "A Place at the Table" by Susan Rebecca White (truly wonderful) and am about halfway through "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown.  In print, I'm uninspired.  I did finish "Bait" for a TLC tour and am very SLOWLY plugging through Jojo Moyes "The Girl You Left Behind".  I wish I could get some momentum on this one but my head is somewhere else.  I am so wanting to join the RIP Challenge and just read spooky books for the next couple of months, but I'm not sure if I will even attempt it.  I have enough of these books to last a year, let alone two months.  Maybe over the long weekend, I will finally figure out which direction I need to take in this blogging business.

I hope you all have a really relaxing long weekend.  What plans do you have?