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.