Monday, November 28, 2011

Minding Frankie

by Maeve Binchy
May 28 - June 26, 2011

Minding FrankieI've read every single book Maeve Binchy has ever written. Her prose is so silky and charming that you actually start to hear the Irish accent in your head as you read. Quite a few years ago (I don't really remember how many), it was announced that Binchy was retiring. She had written her last book. I was sad. But imagine my delight to find that it was somehow untrue....or maybe she changed her mind...because she has written several books since. Each title fails to disappoint and I'm always able to devour them quickly. Unfortunately for Minding Frankie, this was not the case.

All of Binchy's past books have sweet, wholesome undertones that I find quite welcoming after a heavier read. In reading other reviews I found the perfect description of how her books make me feel: "Reading a Maeve Binchy novel is like settling in for a cozy visit with an old friend." But this one took on a little darker tone than I would have liked, and I actually question why the sudden change from my beloved author. As I read along I couldn't help but have a sense of dread and worry for the characters; Frankie and her father, Noel, in particular.

Noel is an alcoholic who suddenly learns that he is about to be a father. The mother of his child is dying, and has asked him to raise Frankie (already not a comfy, familiar situation like Binchy's other titles). When Frankie is born, Noel does his very best to make a proper home for his daughter. He enlists the help of an American cousin and the kind people in his neighborhood. That's one thing I do love about Maeve's books – the recurring characters. While Noel has vowed to quit the drink and be a proper father, a social worker continues to interfere and waits impatiently for him to fail. Of course everything works out for the best in the end...true fans of Binchy wouldn't have it any other way, but getting there was definitely not a fun, relaxing journey. I'm just not sure I can recommend this one.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011


by Emma Donogue
May 17 - 28, 2011

Room: A NovelWow. What a book. Told from the point of view of a 5-year old boy; it took me a few chapters to get used to his language. But once I acclimated, I flew through this one.

Jack knows nothing but the Room he has lived in with his mother since the day he was born. Jack's perspective is that of a vast, yet cozy home he shares exclusively with Ma. To Ma, Room is a prison in which she has been held captive for years. Despite it all, Ma still tries to make life as normal as possible for her son. Unfortunately, Old Nick's nightly visits are a harsh reminder of their true reality.

The overall premise and lives of the protagonists is truly disturbing, but somehow, when narrated by a little boy, it works. The first few chapters were excruciating as I learned more and more of their situation and Jack's definition of "normal." Halfway through, I was routing for their rescue; followed by a disbelief that the story could in any way end well. Donogue does a fantastic job keeping the reader guessing and wholly intrigued. Her prose was poetic and profound ... the kind you continue to think about long after the last page is turned. I found this line to be particularly striking:

"It's what we believe about ourselves that determines how others see us."

So true, right? Upon their escape (no, that's not a spoiler; you know it's going to happen), Jack makes a statement that proves he is truly a wise, old soul.

"Her laughter was a wondrous, liquid thing that splashed across my face, over the toes of my shoes, and into the grass."

While Room was released in September 2010 and I may be a little late with my review, if you haven't read it, make sure it immediately gets on your list.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

101 Things to do Before You Turn 40

by Kristin McCracken
The Year I Turn 40

Well, it happened. I turned 40. And the crazy thing is that I survived. I guess a week in Jamaica with my closest friends and family was enough to ease me into the next decade. I couldn't have asked for a better time; surrounded by my favorite people. If any of you follow me on Facebook, you'll remember that back on July 3 of this year I started a countdown using this very book. 101 days to calculate how much I have accomplished in my 39.9 years. I think I did pretty good! The complete list is below, but the final breakdown was 76 out of 101. Not bad! There are a few out of those 25 that I may never try (like #20: Camping and I just don't get along.) But there are also a few I might sneak into this new decade (#59 would be glorious). This was a very fun little exercise, but now I need a nap to recuperate from last week's dream vacation...

#101: Quit your book club. CHECK! In the 90s I was in an awful one and am still scarred by Charming Billy and Santa Evita. 1-1

#100: Bridge the Baby Chasm. CHECK! The book says be there for your friends with children and "Be the hippest auntie there is." Enough said!! 2-2

#99: Admit to everything. "A candid woman is a refreshing thing... 'Fess up and move on." CHECK! 3-3!

#98: Throw an Oscar party. NOPE. Since I see about one movie a year, this wouldn't work. But a Red Carpet or Tony party... 3-4

#97: Make out with the best man. CHECK! But I won't say who! ...4-5

#96: Eat the worm. "It's said to hold magical, mystical powers of happiness beyond belief." Unfortunately, I haven't experienced that one yet. Yuck. 4-6

#95: Build a nest egg. Well, if 401(k) counts, then check. But according to the book, it's more like real estate and investments, so no. But I'm taking this one anyway! 5-7

#94: Take your parents out to dinner. Check! 6-8

#93: Date a 25-year-old, one last time. "Find a boytoy and have one last fling." Sounds like something I need to do in the next 93 days...any takers?? 6-9

#92: Put a lid on it. Stop gossiping. I've tried. Never gonna happen. 6-10

#91: Karaoke. Um, I own a karaoke machine, so CHECK! Although *some* say that I'm no good, I say I have a song in my heart. 7-11

#90: Host. "When entertaining friends, think of their comfort first...make sure there's plenty of beer and food and that each sleepover guest gets clean sheets, towels and a washcloth." CHECK! Just ask Marcy Bricker Ritzert! 8-12

#89: Scuba Dive. I've snorkeled, but have yet to scuba. Perhaps in Jamaica, mon?! 8-13

#88: Document your life. Well, sort of. Probably not to the extent the book suggests. But I scrapbook and ask the elders questions, so I'm gonna take it. 9-14

#87: Stop the tchotchkes. Instead of 'things' give your friends experiences...massages, pedis, gift certificates, etc. Check! I think I have enough cute frog stuff and my pals enjoy the bigger picture more than that beach-scented candle :) 10-15

#86: Serve on a jury. "It's a disgrace that so many people take pride in shirking their duty when they instead could be part of an amazing, complicated human microcosm..." I couldn't agree more! CHECK! What a great experience. 11-16

#85: Play poker. The book says learn how, so since I already know, I'm taking it. But I don't like it...not a fan of betting on cards. But euchre, now that's my jam. 12-17

#84: Musically upgrade. "A grown woman should have a sophisticated and diverse musical library..." CHECK! My music ranges from Bon Jovi to Broadway musicals to Bach. 13-18

#83: Yell at someone. "sometimes expressing your anger is called for." CHECK! I kinda love yelling:) 14-19

#82: Remove it. As in laser hair removal. Would love to, but mama needs to save her money first. 14-20

#81: Lose the snooze (button). Get up the first time the alarm goes off. Um, never going to happen. I've never been a morning person, not since birth. 14-21

#80: Pierce something other than your ear. Nope, I scar too easily. 14-22

#79: Strain your brain. "play a book and look up the unknown words." Am I a total dork if I confess I have a dictionary in my nightstand? Don't answer that...I get this one. 15-23

#78: Rent the classics. Learn the dash, class sass and moxie of old movies. Natalie Wood happens to be one of my favorites...CHECK! 16-24

#77: Pay off credit card debt. Done! I actually can't sleep if my credit cards carry a balance...and I have lots of cards! 17-25

#76: Think outside the box. As in a box of hair dye. Good lord, I haven't home-colored in 20 years! New color every 5 weeks too. This one's a cinch. 18-26

#75: Do something romantically cheesy. I'm kinda glad I don't have anyone to "go on a hot air balloon ride at sunset" with. That makes me throw up in my mouth a little. 18-27

#74: Drop $50 on a bottle of wine. Most definitely have not. Maybe $40 in a restaurant, but never for home enjoyment. Actually, my taste buds quite enjoy Two-Buck Chuck. 18-28

#73: Date a musician. "Go to his gigs, stare down his groupies..." Well, it was a long time ago, but it's definitely been done. Yay! 19-29

#72: Drive cross-country. Sorry, no interest. In college we drove straight through to Sanibel Island...24 hours. Never again. I now have a 4-hour time limit in the car. I'll go see the sights of America, but I'll fly to each one. 19-30

#71: Control the future of your face. Wash with rich cleanser and moisturize!!!...wear sunscreen... No-brainer, right? 20-31

#70: Say NO. Plan for downtime, and don't overschedule your life. This used to be hard for me, but I'm currently a champ at picking and choosing. 21-32

#69: Ride a Harley. You'd think with all the people I know, this would be a Yes, but I'm too chicken. 21-33

#68: Accentuate the positive. Negativity is exhausting, so when someone asks how you are, talk about something good. I work hard to be positive, but there's always room for improvement. I'm taking it. 22-34

#67: Say yes to bubbles. "Make it your personal policy to accept champagne whenever it's offered...and always find reasons to celebrate." I heart champagne!! And a Kir Royale....mmmmmm. 23-35

#66: Redistribute the wealth. Be a good tipper and know who/when to tip. Most definitely. 24-36

#65: Unsubscribe. "Magazines are life-suckers to the highest order...Cancel all but one." this speaks the truth for me. I stare at the pile then read them mainly out of obligation. I quit all but one and couldn't be more relaxed. 25-37

#64: Confront bullies, racists and homophobes. Whom you decide to confront is a personal choice... "Even if you can't change the world, you can still try to change a mind. " Amen. 26-38

#63: Supply your own power. "Understand the difference between Wi-Fi and FireWire...the next time the tech guy comes to your office, pay attention." Uh, I am the tech guy. 27-39

#62: Sculpt yourself. "If you can't accept the way you are, you're facing constant misery and wishing your life away. No one is perfect. No one." 28-40

#61: Teach a class. "Hold a session at work on the latest computer skill you've mastered." Lucky for me that's my job! 29-41

#60: Have a kid if you want one. ...I have two amazing nieces that bring so much joy into my life...for them I am truly grateful. 29-42

#59: Go to Paris. Mais oui, on my bucket list for sure, just isn't gonna happen before I hit the next decade. Alors, un de ces jours... 29-43

#58: Reunite. "Some people are surprised by 20-year friendships..." Not me! Zipfiesta is a perfect example of how I try to keep in touch with dear old friends. 30-44

#57: Be your own Schneider. Wow, just saying that makes me sound old... Anyway, while I might have "overcharged" my cordless drill, I do have lovely pink tools. I also have a very handy father. Can I take a half point? 31-45

#56 Give a really great toast. Wow, I can't say I've ever had the opportunity. But with my amazing presentation skills, when the time comes, I'll be ready :) 31-46

#55: Buy a real piece of art. "you can find undiscovered gems at local art shows." Amen. I have tons of pieces from said shows...that's the best way to find art! I also have lots of artsy jewelery... 32-47

‎#54: Take a stand. "Go to a political march. Run for office." The last office I held was secretary of the French Club in high school. I've tried, really, but politics just isn't my thing. 32-48

#53: Master a mass-transit system, but know how to hail a taxi. Listen, I'm no stranger to public trans...I embrace it. This one's easy. 33-49

#52: Cut someone loose."How do you get rid of the human equivalent of a piece of driftwood?" I have definitely removed negative energy *friends* from my life. I highly encourage anyone else out there to break it off with those friends who are life-suckers. You'll be glad you did. 34-50

#51: Vibrate. A little TMI for FB. That is all. 34-51

#50: Enact a two-drink maximum. "two drinks should certainly be enough." I'm sorry, but that's just stupid. 34-52

#49: Play an instrument. Unfortunately, I can't play a thing unless you count the tambourine I like to wear around my neck. Can't read music either. 34-53

#48: Make a new friend each year. Sing it with me, "make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other's gold." I think I do a pretty good job at this, but I also believe that at some point one doesn't need more friends...quality is better than quantity. But, my friends, I heart all of you! 35-54

#47: Smell good. "Sweet-smelling nectar can make you irresistible." In college it was Design by Paul Sebastian. Nowadays it's anything I can get my hands on that smells like pink grapefruit. I have lots of great scents, but still need to find the perfect clean, citrus eau de toilette. At least I don't stink! 36-55

#46: Dump the Gap. "start supplementing your wardrobe with real clothes that are neither disposable nor replaceable on any corner, and that actually say something distinctive about you and your style." I can definitely say that I walk out of the Gap with nothing most of the time...and I really do try to buy things that not everyone else is wearing. My stupid short legs hold me back a lot, but still I try to keep stylish and current. 37-56

#45: Boycott February 14. "Who the hell was St. Valentine, and where, exactly, did Cupid's arrow shoot him?" Seriously, it's a *holiday* born from Hallmark and guilt. "Just because" occasions are so much more fun and meaningful. So far, THIS is my favorite one. 38-57

#44:Take a sabbatical. Ha! Dream on...who makes that kind of money??? At least not most people I know. But I am lucky enough to have 5 weeks vacation...6 weeks beginning in May. That time off definitely keeps me sane. 38-58

#43: Go fishing. "Commune fully with nature." While I haven't fished in a long time, I did like it and would definitely do it again. I even had my own fishing license in college...ha! 39-59

#42: Fill up your jewelry box. With heirlooms and a few luxury pieces. I'm lucky to have Tiffany earrings and even luckier to have my grandmother's wedding band. Plus, my collection has grown so much that I asked for a big jewelry box last Christmas. And the pieces I've bought from local artists I hope to pass down one day. 40-60

#41: Kiss the frogs. "Dating can be a situation fraught with land mines for single women in their thirties...Hold out for the prince, because you're worth the wait." Damn right I am!!! 41-61
#40: Play matchmaker. I honestly can't think of anyone I've ever set up. And let's face it, if there's a successful, funny hottie out there, he's mine! 41-62

#39: Be a boss. While I'm not currently anyone's boss, I've always been a leader (thinking about the RA years). I was also the "assistant" boss when I worked at Pier 1, so I'm taking this one :) 42-63

#38: Purge. Throw out the old junk. Think before you buy. Don't bring any more crap into your life. Easy. I hate clutter. I'm about to tackle a storage closet in the basement too, just because it got a little wet from a leaky pipe. Just say no to tchotchkes! 43-64

#37: Break your own record. This is like run a marathon or climb Mount Kilimanjaro. And I can't take credit for any of it. 43-65

#36: Quit smoking. Glad I've got nothing to quit. Easy. 44-66

#35: Sign each book you read. Reason being to remember when you read it. Well, I have a blog where I do more than just indicate the dates read...I also review and rate everything I read (although I'm about 6 post behind right now!). I heart books. 45-66

#34: Ask a friend for help. "You might have become the Rock among your friends, the one everyone comes to for support, guidance and a dry shoulder." Allow them to return the favor. OK, I'll take it! 46-68

#33: Drive a car that costs more than $50,000. Not own one, drive one. Go to a fancy dealership and ask for a test drive overnight. Drive it around then park it in the driveway and take a picture with it. I haven't done this, but doesn't it sound like fun?! I need to make this happen. Pronto. 46-69

#32: Show gratitude. "Thank you notes let people know that you have manners and that you appreciate even the smallest gesture." Think outside the box too when sending notes....they aren't just for gifts anymore. I wholeheartedly agree. 47-70

#31: Expose the wizard. Try get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a game or talk show. While I've never done that, I was in the audience of the Today Show in June 2001. And I have the VCR tape to prove it! That counts, right? 48-71

#30: Take a mental-health day. "Call in sick and don't tell anyone." This is brilliant and necessary. One of my fondest mental health days was spent alone in the pool and then off for a pedicure. Glorious. 49-72

#29: Discover your superpower. "Maybe you've got a special talent no one knows about...use your innate Spidey-sense to discover it, embrace it, and exercise it regularly." I've definitely got some tricks up my sleeve. Next time you see me, ask me about them! 50-73

#28: Go to a movie alone. This is a lovely idea, but I only see about two movies a year. And since I typically give in to another friend's invitation, I can't see me using one of these visits by myself. I would definitely go to the theatre alone though. 50-74

#27: Root, root, root. Pick a team, follow them. Go Tribe!! Go Zips (they need a lot of support ;) 51-75

#26: Instead of a stage name pick a "stage age." I. Love. This. One. And I already plan to leave 13 years in Jamaica, mon, so when asked (after Oct. 12) I'm 27 and sticking to it. Thank you in advance for your understanding. 52-76

#25: Lose gracefully. "Being a sore loser is not a healthy way to live...loss builds character..." I have definitely tried to become less competitive and aggravated when things don't go my way. It's hard, but I'm trying! 53-77

#24: Surprise someone. "What's more fun than throwing a big bash and inviting everyone you know?" A couple years ago I threw a great surprise party...and the guest of honor was thrilled. Plus she now has more black socks than anyone else! 54-78

#23: Ride in a limo. Prom night in the 80's doesn't count, according to the book. But I went to prom in a Buick, not a limo. Nowadays I rent a limo as often as possible. New Year's was the fun. 55-79

#22: Hang up your binoculars. "Vow never to go to an arena concert again, but break your vow the minute [Fleetwood Mac] gets back together. You won't regret it." It's so true...I am way pickier about shows I see and am so over the Q and Blossom. Blech. 56-80

#21: Let the spirit move you. The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. "Take a deep breath and enjoy." 57-81

#20: Sleep under the stars. Although this quest advocates this idea, it also says, "What sounds fun about peeing outside and counting the insects invading your space?" And I couldn't agree more. Camping is probably my number one most hated activity to date. I can say I've done it, but it will be a cold day in hell before I go again. Dirty feet and sleeping bags are my worst enemies. 58-82

#19: Give something back. "Make this the year that you commit yourself to improving the world." I've already donated time to people in need and donated cash to friends raising money for charities, so there's no reason to stop now! 59-83

#18: Habla sie Fran├žais? "We arrogantly expect the world to speak English to us, and they mostly, resignedly, comply." Learn a few words and phrases for when you go to other countries. Well, I already know I can ask for a cerveza in Mexico like a champ, so I bet Jamaica will be a breeze, mon. 60-84

#17: Throw out any t-shirts with logos on them. "Keep 5 of your favorites (and newest) for your workouts and dump the rest." I have to say I don't even wear big t-shirts to work out...who needs that bulk? Plus, I'm not a big fan of being a walking advertisement. Any old gems I can't bear to part with are stored in a box in the basement...not taking up precious dresser drawer space. 61-85

#16: Ride a roller coaster. "Wave your hands in the air like you just don't care." This quest refers more to riding one now, but while I love the speed of a coaster, I still hurl every time. I'd like to think I rode (and barfed) enough in my youth to keep me covered for life. 62-86

#15: Have a male friend. "Man-oh-man, can they gossip!" I don't have as many close guy friends as I did in college, but still a few good ones. 63-87

#14: Ditch your college furniture. So easily done! There's something very rewarding about having nice, matching furniture that you paid for yourself. I love making my apartment as cozy and welcoming as possible. 64-88

#13: Name something. A boat, a person, a dog. I have an uncanny talent for inventing the perfect nickname...and they tend to last for life. I also know that I get a yacht, her name will be Livin' on a Prayer. 65-89

#12: Divorce your hair stylist, or at least cheat. Oh the HORROR! That would never happen! I divorced my last one about 15 years ago and I am still amazed every 5 weeks. Who knew you could do so much with color?! 66-90

#11: Get someone else to love your favorite movie. I have so many favorites that I think are also most people's favorites, but here's one you have to see and will immediately love: Grosse Pointe Blank. See it. Love it. Watch it again. My job is done. 67-91

#10: Take the long way home. "Explore the options right around the corner." I love to drive through different streets in Lakewood because I always find a house I hadn't seen before. I'm also a big fan of being a tourist in my own city. Last year's 8-9-10 Celebration involved just that! 68-92

#9: Learn to tango. This one refers more to having two left feet....which I do not. Thanks to dance lessons all the way through college, I can cut a rug with the best of them. And, no, I don't need to look at my feet when learning a new step. 69-93

I do not know what happened to #8!!!!

#7: Charm your way into (or out of) something. "Talk your way out of a speeding ticket without resorting to tears." Been there, done that. Yeah, this one's pretty much my b*tch. 70-95

#6: Figure out why you want to be when you grow up. Although..."A career doesn't have to complete you, but it should give you relative satisfaction." Amen to that. 71-96

#5: Colorize. Don't be addicted to black, beige and white clothes. Paint your walls a festive color. While I love white pants, I need lots of color in my wardrobe! In also have a yellow kitchen with periwinkle cabinets. Enough said! 72-97

#4: Never show up empty-handed. What kind of guest do you want to be? Bring something for your hostess!! DUH! 73-98

#3: Bring something back to life. I'm so not the thrifter, but I am pretty good at reviving plants. I have a plant I rescued from work over 10 years ago and it just started sprouting babies a few months ago. So yeah, I can raise the dead. 74-99

#2: Retreat. Where do you go when you need to be alone? Find a place, in or out of the house. My in-home retreat is my ever-faithful papasan chair. Out of the Alone time is beyond important for me. 75-100

#1: Accept that forty is the new thirty. Get over yourself. Find activities that keep you young, and surround yourself with people who love you. The world will be your oyster for the decades to come. 76-101

And that, my friends, is what's called *saving the best for last.* It's time to go to bed because I am leaving for the airport at 4am. The time has come!!! Hooray beer! Montego Bay, we're on our way!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Late, Late at Night

by Rick Springfield
Apr 19 - May 16, 2011

Late, Late at NightOK, here goes. I have always said that Rick was my first boyfriend before I met JBJ (and Olivia was my first fave girl before I was introduced to Stevie), so I was pretty excited to hear that he wrote a memoir. Little did I know that by the time I got to the end of it, I would kind of hate him. Am I still a true fan? I think so. "Jessie's Girl" will always bring out the guitar leg in me, as well as remind me of the fight I got into at the Basement with a friend's ex-wife, but I guess that's a different story.

My first thoughts, after reading the first 30 pages or so, was that this guy must have failed English class miserably, and that he should have enlisted a professional writer's help. RS had a bit of trouble with past and present tense and when it's proper to use which one. I'm guessing that his goal was to write with his stream of conscious, but it didn't work. Plus, he couldn't complete a thought before jumping to a new one. He would start a story about something that happened when he was 13, and in less than a sentence, end at age 31. When he explained that he was clinically depressed, it all began to make sense. This depression even got "his" own name: Mr. D. Once I got used to that craziness, I found the memoir to painfully drag on. I mean, I really don't care what he did when he was 13! I don't think it was necessary to take up over half the book on a childhood no one cares about when in truth no one ever really heard of him until his early 30s.

Pretty much from the time RS was 14, all he cared about was having sex. Once he finally found a willing woman, he practically made it his life's goal to have sex with anyone who looked at him sideways. I'm in no way naive, and I totally get that rock stars are all so sex-starved, but something about the way RS told his story made him a total sleaze ball. Why does it sound so much more acceptable coming from someone like Tommy Lee? I don't know. The point where the book lost all credibility to me was when RS described his relationship with Linda Blair (green-vomiting, head-spinning, possessed girl from The Exorcist). When they met, he "took her virginity." She was 15 and he was 25. The way he told it made it seem like the most normal, natural occurrence between a grown man and a teenage girl. He even said that her mother approved of the relationship. Ewwww! Pedophile!! I'm sorry, but that's just gross. And remember, he wasn't even famous at this point.

He continued to go on and on about the millions of affairs he had all while explaining that his wife is his soul mate and how lucky he is to have her in his life. The book was just completed in 2010 and he was still having affairs a year ago! Really not sure why his wife continues to forgive him. And I guess at this point I really don't care anymore.

The one small redeeming subject was of his love for dogs. Dogs seemed to have been what kept him sane through his turbulent past. But by the last few chapters, I was so fed up with his ridiculous behavior that I wasn't interested in his stupid dogs. But he is extremely passionate about his craft. For that I can thank him for many memories, great songs, and my first-ever concert!

He tried to regain (my) credibility near the end by explaining:

"I remember meeting a friend at a party in the early '70s, who'd just had a big hit with the song 'Baby Come Back.' He was telling me that the first thing he did was go out and buy a Ferrari. Six months later he was asking me if I knew anyone who wanted to buy it. That stuck in my head, and although it's a relief not to have to worry about paying the electric bill every month, for me, money is just a way of keeping score of how well I am or am not doing. What it's really about is the joy of writing music people want to hear, playing to people who want to celebrate with me; of being in a career I'm passionate about..."

But he went on to finish that thought by completely ruining the poignancy of the moment:

"...and having sex with lots of strangers."

I'm not sure what RS was hoping to accomplish with this memoir. In my opinion, he gained a few enemies with it. If he intended to heal wounds or mend fences with people, I can't imagine that he succeeded. For myself, I won't be attending another one of his cheesy concerts – held at a Rib-Burn-Off near you. Unless I get free tickets.

Oh, and extra credit goes to whoever can guess who sang "Baby Come Back" without Googling it.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

by Beth Hoffman
Apr 1 - 18, 2011

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: A NovelAfter a pretty long string of heavy reading, this was a welcome breath of fresh air! My mom and her cousins exchange books every Christmas, so this one came to me with the Mom-Seal-of-Approval. While I don't always think we share the same taste in books, I can count on my mom for the "charming" variety.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is reminiscent of the Ya-Ya's. And who doesn't love a good Ya-Ya tale?! CeeCee is a 12-year old with a mentally unstable, former beauty queen mother and a father who honestly could care less about his daughter. When her mother is killed (by an ice cream truck no less), CeeCee is sent to live with an eccentric aunt in Georgia. There she forms friendships with many adult women who each have something unique to offer. And while some parts of the story have the potential to become stressful (CeeCee and her aunt's housekeeper get robbed at gunpoint), Hoffman has a way of working them out before the reader even has a chance to worry. Overall, the story of how CeeCee is saved is calm, soothing and delightful.
"Her laughter was a wondrous, liquid thing that splashed across my face, over the toes of my shoes, and into the grass." 
Throw in a few life lessons, and you have a great quick read.
"It's what we believe about ourselves that determines how others see us."

I love that last quote a lot. I need to incorporate that thought into my own life.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

The 19th Wife

by David Ebershoff
Feb 9 - Mar 30, 2011

The 19th Wife: A NovelWell, that was more like homework than pleasurable reading. The first quarter of took me longer than reading all 507 pages put together. I mean who writes historical fiction with fictional footnotes?! How can a reader possibly flow through a book with ease when she has to stop to read fake citations, made-up Wikipedia entries and pretend newspaper clippings? I'll give the author credit for his ambition, but I guess I just don't get it.

Another case in point, in the acknowledgments section, Ebershoff writes, "This is a work of fiction. It is not meant to be read as a stand-in for a biography of Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young, or any of the other historical figures who appear in it." Which leaves me with the question, why bother?! It took me nearly two months to read The 19th Wife. Two months of my (reading) life that I will never get back. And it's not like I learned anything. Yes, I know it's a work of fiction, and fiction is what I prefer to read, but historical fiction tends to have a bit more truth to it than this novel. I don't know, I'm just having trouble understanding the author's point. If I'm going to read about the history of the Firsts, I would hope I could learn a little something.

There were actually two stories being told simultaneously. The first is a fake book, entitled The 19th Wife, written by Ann Eliza Young. Ann Eliza was the supposed 19th wife of Brigham Young and wrote the book in an attempt to rid America of polygamy. (Near the end of the book, a footnote states that she was actually more like his 52nd wife?!) The second is a modern-day tale of a young gay man shunned from the Saints and his attempt to prove his mother's innocence. Jordan's mother, also a 19th wife, is accused of killing her husband. In my opinion, Ebershoff should have simply written a fiction novel revolving around these 20th century characters and called it a day. I wouldn't have been left wondering what the point was of the majority of the book. The modern "half" was much more interesting, but was not given nearly as much attention. Out of the 500 pages, I would guess that only 150 of those pages were dedicated to Jordan and his mother.

I'm on to much more lighthearted material. Can't say I would recommend this one.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Eat the Popcorn

Today was a rare Sunday in which I didn't have any freelance obligations. But instead of laying like broccoli reading on the couch all day, I decided to organize my ginormous pile of recipes. Super productive and now I'm inspired to cook lots of yummy meals. Tonight's wasn't too shabby, if I do say so myself.

And last night I had a pajama party with my five-year old niece. After make-your-own-pizzas, cookies and ice cream sundaes, we watched one of my faves, Alice in Wonderland and ate a big bowl of popcorn. At bedtime I was one proud Auntie as I witnessed a super smart girl read me an entire book! I can't stop smiling as I think about my brilliant reader. She definitely takes after me.

This morning we decided to feed the leftover popcorn to the birds, but we needed to be sure the birds knew it was OK. Now I have a beautifully hand-written sign hanging in my window:

Did I mention that I was proud?!?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Hunger Games (trilogy)

 by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games: Book 1Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games)    Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) 

I've come to two conclusions. The first is that I don't really see a need to write three separate reviews on this series because, well, I just don't. The second is that Suzanne Collins kicks Stephenie Meyer's ass. I may (or may not) have been on a Young Adult kick of late, so I think that gives me full authority to make this claim. What can I say, I'm reliving my youth. But for as much as I enjoyed the Twilight series, The Hunger Games trilogy betters Edward and Bella in so many ways. Collins' writing is intelligent and inspired. Meyer is a proofreader's worst nightmare. While Meyer told each account to death, making sections drag on entirely too long, Collins gets to the point quickly and that point is spot-on.

I must admit that when I first learned of these books, I wasn't the least bit intrigued by the subject. Plus, while I was reading and describing the story line to others, I would end up explaining that the books are way better than the plot sounds. I think I felt the same way about Water for Elephants (although circus freaks and fights to the death never live in the same world) and yet it ended up earning a spot on my favorites list. To say that I was wrong would be a huge understatement. I was immediately wrapped up in the lives of Katniss, her family, Peeta and Gale. I was stressed out at points and even became misty a few times. The character development was superb, and unlike Bella, the whiny martyr who I ended up wanting to punch, Katniss is a superstar.

I'm sure by now everyone who is remotely interested in reading The Hunger Games knows the premise. But in a nutshell, Panem is a postapocalyptic United States consisting of 12 districts. Every year the Capitol of these districts, in order to keep its citizens complacent, hosts a Hunger Games in which one boy and one girl from each district is pitted against one another in a fight to the death. Only one child survives. These victors, past and present, are rewarded by living slightly less difficult lives than before their participation in the Games. Throughout the course of the trilogy, the reader meets several past tributes and comes to find how truly effected the Games made these survivors. And while Katniss at heart is cold-blooded and calculated, you still find yourself rooting for her.

After the last lines of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I absolutely couldn't wait to start the next book. Collins has a way with cliffhangers. And in the end, the series wraps up nicely. Not in the tied-in-a-pretty-bow way that I hate, but with a definite, satisfying end. In my opinion, there is only one part that I wish she would have paid a little more attention to. But by no means did this detail ruin the books for me. The finale had a poignancy that made it all worth it.

"Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children's lives to settle its differences. You can spin it any way you like. Snow thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control... But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen."

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Monday, January 31, 2011

Sarah's Key

by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's KeyI have a friend who can't read books about the Holocaust because it's just too traumatic. He's Jewish, so I can empathize, but until reading Sarah's Key, I didn't fully understand his hesitation. Now I get it. I'm quite sure I held my breath for the greater part of this book. The torment, torture and anguish was almost more than I could bear, especially considering that reading is supposed to be a relaxing, pleasant hobby. But, that being said, this book was powerful.

Set in Paris in 1942 as well as 2002, Sarah's Key explains the lesser publicized roundup of Parisian Jews and their eventual deportation to Auschwitz. Sarah is only 11 years old when her family is arrested and she attempts to protect her 5 year old brother, Michel, from inevitable death. The true horrors that these prisoners went through is told in extreme detail. Concurrently, in modern day, Julia Jarmond is an American living in Paris to a rat bastard Frenchman (pardon my French :). When the magazine she works for asks her to write a story of the 60th anniversary of the Roundup, she uncovers a link between her husband's family and Sarah's.

If you can classify such intense emotions and stress as enjoyable, then I enjoyed this book. It just sounds weird to say that. But I've already said that I love historical fiction, so I will use that as my hook. I do know there is NO WAY I will tell my friend to read this. But for as engaging as this was, my feelings are that the last 50 or so pages threw in the towel. Extremely sloppy and just a little too convenient an ending. You know when you're reading a book, turn the page, and automatically see the tone change? Like we just entered wrap-up mode? I really hate when this happens, but I think this was one of the most obvious hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with books I have ever encountered. It's a shame too because 80% of it was fascinating. Oh well, I would still recommend it, but maybe don't put it on the top of your list.

(p.s. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not linking the titles of the books in the body copy of these posts anymore. That's because the photo is now the link. Cool, huh?) 

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Left Neglected

by Lisa Genova

Left NeglectedThere's two things I really like. First is historical fiction. You know, where the story isn't real, but the facts, places and/or events surrounding the story are. What always comes to mind is the movie Titanic. Make fun of me if you want, I don't care, I love that movie. The second is accuracy. Now, I'm all for a story involving fantasy and the theory of "what if," but I also like when a fiction book can speak the truth about a syndrome, disease, disorder and still keep the entertainment value. I kind of think the two go together.

Lisa Genova is a real-life neuroscientist, so accuracy is her specialty. I think it's pretty cool that she can also write interesting novels. Sarah and her husband Bob are a career-driven couple with three children. They both work 60-hour weeks and have a nanny to care for the kids. While they love their children, neither can give up the corporate life to spend more time with their family. They tend to hide behind the excuse that they need these high-paying jobs to afford the lifestyle in which they are accustomed. I personally think this is a cop out, but thus is the basis for the story. Running late for an important meeting, Sarah is multi-tasking in her car going 70 on the highway when she looks up to see traffic at a stand still. She wakes up eight days later to realize that the left side of her body no longer exists, at least according to her brain. Here's where her true journey begins. Will she ever fully recover? What will happen to her job? Will she be able to take care of herself, let alone her children? Her struggles and new realities play out in a fascinating way. Told with believability and medical accuracy, Left Neglected is a story that hits the mark.

"I think some small part of me knew I was living an unsustainable life. Every now and then it would whisper, Sarah, please slow down. You don't need all this. You can't continue like this. But the rest of me, powerful, smart and determined to achieve, achieve, achieve, wasn't hearing a word of it ...
... Even my dreams began tapping me on the shoulder, trying to grab my attention. Don't you even know what you're doing? Let me show you ... With all that has happened, I honestly believe that they were guidance sent from a spiritual source. Messages from God. And I ignored them. I guess I needed something less fleeting and more concrete.
Like a traumatic smack to the head."

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let the Great World Spin

by Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin: A NovelI'm sitting here trying to think of what to write that would do this book justice. How do I describe this story with the same eloquence in which it was told? And will I tempt you, my blog reader, enough to make you pick up Let the Great World Spin? To initially hear the synopsis might not be convincing enough. Plus, when I say that it took me almost a quarter of the book to become emotionally involved and attached to the story, you may say that your time is too valuable. But I need you to read this book. I promise it is worth every minute of your precious time.

I'm a little late with my review. Great World was released in December of 2009, reviewed by my friend Ed in April and recently voted his 2010 Fiction Book of the Year. Anyway, for those who don't know, the heart of the story revolves around Philippe Petit and his 1974 tightrope walk across the World Trade Towers. A series of people are introduced and, while their lives overlap slightly, in the end they converge into one of the best told stories I have read in a long time. Publisher's Weekly can synopsize better than me:

"Petit appears in the courtroom of Judge Solomon Soderberg, that sets events into motion. Solomon, anxious to get to Petit, quickly dispenses with a petty larceny involving mother/daughter hookers Tillie and Jazzlyn Henderson. Jazzlyn is let go, but is killed on the way home in a traffic accident. Also killed is John Corrigan, a priest who was giving her a ride. The other driver, an artist named Blaine, drives away, and the next day his wife, Lara, feeling guilty, tries to check on the victims, leading her to meet John's brother, with whom she'll form an enduring bond. Meanwhile, Solomon's wife, Claire, meets with a group of mothers who have lost sons in Vietnam. One of them, Gloria, lives in the same building where John lived, which is how Claire, taking Gloria home, witnesses a small salvation."

My favorite characters/plot lines were Lara and her struggle with forgiveness and guilt, and Tilly, who did the very best she could with the cards she was dealt. The parallels McCann made with 9/11 are evident and truly fantastic. I found this video interview he did and it's worth the six minutes it takes to watch. Do so, then go get this book.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Still Missing

by Chevy Stevens

Still MissingOh holy crap. Immediately sucked in.
"You know Doc, you're not the first shrink I've seen since I got back. The one my family doctor recommended right after I came home was a real prize. The guy actually tried to act like he didn't know who I was, but that was a pile of crap – you'd have to be deaf and blind not to. Hell, it seems every time I turn around another asshole with a camera is jumping out of the bushes. But before all this shit went down? Most of the world had never heard of Vancouver Island, let alone Clayton Falls. Now mention the island to someone and I'm willing to bet the first thing out of their mouth will be,  'Isn't that where the lady Realtor was abducted?' "

I loved the writing perspective of the Realtor, Annie, speaking directly to the psychiatrist, whose "voice" is never heard. But knowing that she is speaking to him after her horrific ordeal doesn't make the tale any less stressful, even though you realize she survived her one-year abduction. The nightmare of Annie being taken from an open house, having to live like a wife to a psychotic maniac, and her eventual escape is truly only the beginning. As Annie tries to work out her fears and attempt regaining a "normal" life, she is still hoping to find out more about her abductor and why she was his victim. The result is something I don't think any reader will figure out.

My heart didn't stop pounding the whole time I was reading. Just thinking back on it as I type this, my heart pounds again. If you are looking for a real suspenseful, unique, quick read, go now. Actually, even if you aren't, just get Still Missing. It's that good.

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