Thursday, February 28, 2013

Princess for a day

My beloved running shoe, the Brooks Glycerine
It has taken me a few days to recover (!) and get my head around one of the biggest personal accomplishments of my life...running the Disney Princess Half Marathon.  Most of you have been hearing about my training and preparation ad's been going on for just about 9 months!  But I figure I owe it to myself to recap this thing.
So nine months ago, Dawn announced that she and her daughter would be running in the February 2013 Disney Princess Half Marathon, and threw down the gauntlet at my feet.  Would I take the challenge?  My first reaction was "HELL NO!".  I could barely run a mile or two at that point, having just picked up a pair of running shoes for the first time in 20 years.  But once an idea gets into my brain (ahem...blogging?) it doesn't let go, and I decided I'd give it my best shot.  My goal was to finish, and to run the entire thing...even if running was slower than walking.  

The training was not without challenges.  Knee issues, pulled muscles, and a nagging case of (I suspect, but refused to see a doctor) plantar fasciitis had me investing in massages, ice packs, foam rollers, Bio Gel, and anti-inflammatory tub soaks.  But I built up my miles, trained to an 11 mile distance, and hoped for the best.  I was pretty excited because not only was Dawn and her daughter going to be there, but Julie as well!  My blogging sisters!

My running partner and I decided that since we had to arrive at the park by 4:00am, we would stay on property the night before.  We were up at 2:00am to allow for stretching and bathroom management, and hopped on a shuttle at 3:30.  I spent the next two hours with my jaw hanging open.  

24,000 runners, people.  24,000 women mostly dressed in Disney costumes, sparkle skirts and tiaras.  Even a few men get in on the action, God love 'em.  It was total chaos.  It took about an hour just to make our way from the shuttle to our ultimate starting corral.  There are hundreds of port-o-potties but lines to each were 20 women deep.  There are fireworks, a big stage with Disney characters and a chippy, chirpy female host trying to pump us up with loud music and hopeful encouragement.

So off we went.  It was incredibly difficult to run when there are a gazillion people around you, all moving at different speeds, but I attempted to weave my way through.  All along the way there were PowerAde and water breaks, gel shot stops, protein bar stops, and photo opportunities with Belle, Captain Jack Sparrow, Prince Charming, etc.  I had no patience for the photo ops, but many women were all over that.  

This thing weighs like 2 pounds
The run was more difficult that it should have been given the miles I've run over the last 9 months, but my foot was plaguing me and my running partner left me!  (Not even getting into that one.)  But I finished and I ran the entire thing, I got my bling, so goal accomplished.

I think aside from finishing, I was just as excited about meeting up with the girls.  I am sad that we didn't get to spend more time together (hey, just FINDING each other was a miracle, in that stinky sea of humanity) but it was an accomplishment we could all share.  Julie and I are both new runners, and Dawn was injured but we all did it.

Me, Julie and Dawn

The first thing I did when I got home was put my 13.1 magnet on my car.  The second thing I did was take a 45 minute shower, like a teenage boy.  I was dragged out to see a movie (I stayed awake, and I had a hot dog and Junior Mints!) and my husband took me out to dinner that night.  I slept like the dead.  I spent the next day at the Ritz Carlton Spa, getting rubbed and pampered.  It was a perfect way to celebrate.       

I have officially been bitten by the bug, and I fully intend to run more of these things once I get my foot back into good health.  I might even do the Princess again, now that I know the drill.  Hey!  You know they have a Half Marathon in Napa/Sonoma?  Yeah baby.      

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Indiana Sunset

When it comes to my summer visits at my parents' house in Indiana, this picture pretty much says it all.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Shining - Stephen King (Audio)

I am generally not a read-along kind of gal.  I'm too inconsistent.  I have the best intentions for sure, but then some unforeseen shit happens and I always end up bailing, which makes me feel bad about myself.  But when Fizzy Jill made the casual suggestion of a #shineon-along in February, where all willing victims participants read one of King's earlier treasures, The Shining, I had to make it happen.  To re-read this book was to reclaim my youth.  

The first King book I ever read, in 8th grade, was The Stand.  It blew my ever-loving little pea brain.  I proceeded to blast through everything else he had written at that time...The Shining high up in the queue.  Then in my freshman year in high school, my dad took me to see the movie.  I'd never seen my dad so excited about a movie!  Since then I've seen the movie, oh, probably 20 times, and has become a Nawrot classic.  But I never returned to the book.  I still have my original book, which is cool, but this time I thought I'd listen to the audio.

Synopsis:  Jack Torrence, a man with demons and trouble in his past, has been thrown a bone so to speak, by being hired to be caretaker of the Overlook Hotel during the winter when it is closed to the public.  Because of its remote location and snow accumulation, the hotel is basically closed off from the world for months.  In fact, one caretaker submitted to a particularly violent case of cabin fever and hacked up his entire family.  But Jack isn't thwarted; he needs to get his reputation back on track.  He packs up his lovely wife Wendy and his five year-old son Danny, and heads for the mountains.

What Danny's parents don't appreciate is his ability to see into the past and future, sense others' emotions, and see dead people.  According to the Overlook cook, Dick Halloran, who has the same gift, this is called "Shining".  He reassures Danny, before he leaves for the winter for Florida, that while there is a sinister presence in the hotel, nothing can hurt him.  But that may not actually be totally accurate.  The hotel is powerful, fueled by its history of violent death, and it would be well-served to possess Danny and his gift forever.  And the best way to get to Danny is to invade the weakest soul present...Jack.

My thoughts:  Where to begin?  I guess my first response is that I had forgotten how DIFFERENT the book is from the movie.  Apparently Uncle Stevie was not pleased with how the film turned out, and did his own TV mini-series (I haven't seen that one, and have no interest in seeing it).  I don't really blame him for being unhappy.  It certainly sheds a different light on the movie that has always been close to perfect in my eyes.

Side note:  Is is fair for me to talk so much about the movie, when this is a book review?  Probably not, but I'm just not sure I can separate the two.  Sorry.  

There are the expected differences, like character development.  In the movie, Jack is sinister from the get-go, but in the book, his deterioration is slow in building.  Wendy also grows a couple of brass ones over her time spent at the Overlook, but in the movie she is an annoying, sniveling wimp!  (Oh, and whoever decided Shelley Duval should be cast as a gorgeous blond woman should be smacked.)  We won't even talk about the movie's lack of homicidal animal topiaries, or the boiler issue, which is the cornerstone of the entire plot.  And that scene in the movie where Wendy finds Jack's novel-in-progress that is nothing but gibberish?  That was Kubrick's invention.  No creepy dead girls luring Danny to play, no blood spilling out of the elevator.  

Not giving too much away, but the endings are as different as night and day.  We have had vigorous discussions in our house as to our preferred ending.  The consensus is...we actually like the ending of the movie.  While people die in the movie and live in the book, the hotel is left intact.  And it is incredibly alluring to think of the hotel living on, and capable of doing some evil business again in the future.

All that aside however, the story is intense and suspenseful, and moves along at a decent pace without too many side trips (something he has tended to do with his later works).  This was only his third novel, and while his craft has gone through some amazing growth and transformation over the years, this is classic King...serious character development, atmosphere that you can nearly smell and touch, and tension that keeps your stomach in knots.

A few words about the audio production:  I have come to expect wondrous things when it comes to the narration of King's novels.  I think he is involved in the selection most times, and the man does love his audios.  So I walked in with VERY high expectations.  In this case, Campbell Scott is in the driver's seat.  And compared to other King productions, I was neither disgruntled nor blown away.  His voice tends to be fairly monosyllabic so I think the experience could have been more dynamic.  

Audiobook length:  15 hours and 49 minutes (528 pages)

Another side note:  There is a documentary that has recently released called "Room 237" about the possibility of hidden messages and clues that Kubrick snuck into the film.  I'm dying to get my hands on this but it has yet to be picked up by Netflix.  TBD on that one.

A third side note:  Apparently King is working on a sequel to "The Shining" called "Doctor Sleep", to be released fall of 2013.  I don't know how to feel about this.  I hope Uncle Stevie is careful, that's all I'm going to say about that.  

5 out of 5 stars


Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Matinee: The Impossible (2012)

I've been on an Oscar movie roll lately haven't I? Well, I couldn't miss this one.  I like Naomi Watts (nominated for Best Actress in this role) and Ewan McGregor well enough.  But I think the real appeal for me was knowing that this story of a family of five, who were staying at a resort in Thailand when the 2004 tsunami hit, and who all survived and were reunited, IS TRUE.  Kinda clues you in on the origin of the title, no?

In the movie, Maria and Henry Bennett have brought their sons Lucas (12), Tomas (7) and Simon (5) to a paradise resort in Khao Lak, Thailand for a Christmas vacation.  The family is originally from Australia or New Zealand (I am guessing, it was not specified) but are currently living in Japan.  When the tsunami hit, they were all at the pool.  Henry manages to grab the two younger boys, while Maria and Lucas end up being swept away, inland, but together.  

Maria sustains a toe-curling wound to her upper thigh.  The other family members are generally unharmed, save cuts and bruises (which to me is unbelievable).  Maria and Lucas are eventually rescued by locals and taken to the hospital, where Maria fights for her life.  Henry leaves the two younger boys with a rescue organization while he searches for Maria and Lucas.  (Another WTF moment.  Can you imagine leaving a 5 and 7 year old?)  So at one point, they are all running around separately in a foreign-speaking country that is completely incapable of handling a tragedy of this caliber.  It is total chaos.  (Over 200,000 people were killed in this tsunami.)  

But eventually, their paths all cross at the hospital where Maria is located.  This is not really a spoiler because this is the whole point of the story...what has happened to this family seems totally impossible.  If this had been a fictional story, I would have given the movie one star, because it was so improbable and predictably happily-ever-after.  The fact that it actually happened completely changes things.  It is mind-blowing.
In reality, the family's name was Belon, and were from Spain.  The names and nationality was changed, and a couple of big names were cast, to give the movie a broader appeal.  I'm not totally sure how I feel about that.  So we'd rather see white people in the movie than Hispanic?  We'd rather not read subtitles?  I guess it has ultimately worked out for the film company, and was released nationwide.  This may not have happened had it been an indie.

The acting was good all around.  By the time this review posts, we will know the results of the 2013 Oscars, but I'll say now that I don't think Watts will receive the nod.  She is good, don't get me wrong.  It is just that most of her work here is screaming, crying and looking like she is going to die.  And Ewan is...Ewan.  His acting is usually pretty solid.  I was particularly impressed with the young actor who played Lucas, Tom Holland, who has had some experience on the stage.  I look for this kid to get some roles going forward.

I found the reenactment of the tsunami very realistic, and the trauma experienced by Watts and Holland terrifying and violent.  The director did an amazing job of pulling the viewer into the experience of being swept away by a force of energy equivalent to 5 megatons of TNT - it is extreme.  Watts and Holland apparently thrashed around in huge tanks of water for five weeks, gulping and choking and being generally miserable.

Because I knew the general outcome of the Bennett/Belon family, I was less inclined to cry like a fool.  But there are a few moments where you might need your tissues.  Overall it is an emotional, traumatic and hopeful film.

4 out of 5 stars  


Friday, February 22, 2013

The Light Between Oceans - M.L. Stedman

First, I Love (with a capital L) lighthouses.  I am drawn to them, and I always try to make an effort to visit them in my travels.  That is the first thing that caught my eye with this book.  Then came a wave of really good reviews.  Finally, the last straw book club chose it to read for November.  I couldn't get a copy of the audio (too many holds) so I bought the book.  I was very excited. 

While the book is a moderate length (352 pages) it took me weeks to read it.  I'm always introspective about WHY it takes me so long to read some books, and I've been thinking a long time about this one.  We'll get to that.  First let me tell you a bit about the plot.

Synopsis:  Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia after four years of fighting on the Western front, damaged and haunted by the men he has killed.  In a sort of act of self-punishment, he takes a job on Janus Rock, a small island a hundred miles off the coast, to manage a lighthouse.  Tom relishes the isolation and precision of his record-keeping, and only gets a leave every other year or so.  However, on one such leave, he meets and falls in love with a young and spirited woman named Isabel, who he eventually marries and brings to his island.  The years, the harsh elements, and several miscarriages begin to wear on Isabel until a dead man and an infant wash up on the shores of Janus Rock one night.  Tom's moral compass dictates the need to report such an event, but Isabel has already taken in the baby as her own and named her Lucy.  After all, the mother must be dead, right?  To appease his beloved wife, he buries the man and stays quiet.

Years later, while on leave, Tom learns a bit more about the circumstances surrounding Lucy's birth parents, and finds that it is all more complicated than he'd ever imagined.  And he is faced with a dilemma that has the potential to destroy everything he knows and loves.  It is a decision that he will have to live with for the rest of his life.

My thoughts:  Because of my love for lighthouses, the idea of living on one, a hundred miles from civilization, is an alluring idea.  The love affair between Tom and Isabel, and a baby showing up on the beach when Isabel is at her lowest, is intriguing as well.  But.  I seriously LABORED through the first half of this book.  It could have been the distraction of my life, or it could have been a slow-moving plot.  The reading pace was just torturous for me.  Eventually, the story picked up steam and I was able to finish off strong, but there were several times when I almost threw in the towel.  

The thing is, I really did like this book.  I thought the ending was poignant and touching, and I even shed a tear.  The plot was somewhat corny at times, but ultimately heartbreaking and realistic in emotion.  I missed the book club discussion, but there was a sea or morality threaded through the pages that just begged the question "what would YOU do?".  There are no easy answers.  And because of this, the plight of Tom and Isabel and Lucy stuck with me for weeks.  I didn't always LIKE Isabel, but I could understand where she was coming from as a mother.  

So this is one of those times when it paid to stick it out.  If I'd have quit at 50 or 75 pages, I'd have missed out on a great read.

4 out of 5 stars        

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Slammerkin - Emma Donaghue

I was pretty pleased when I heard our book club selected this novel for our January read.  After all, wasn't "Room" amazing and clever and unlike anything you'd ever quite read before?

Alrighty then!  It took only about 20 pages to realize this was no "Room".  The first thing I had to do was look up what a "Slammerkin" actually was (a term used for a "loose dress" as well as a "loose woman").  I was plunged into the mid-1700's, so...historical fiction?  Not at all what I was expecting, but why not?

Synopsis:  Mary Saunders was born into a working-class family in the mid-1700's, daughter of a seamstress and a step-father that didn't pay her much attention.  Mary was always one to admire quality clothing and finery, and was convinced it would be her ticket to a better life.  Unfortunately, her desire for a pretty red bow led her down a path of no return, and at the age of 14 was on the streets, earning her living as a prostitute so she could possess these clothes.  An unfortunate set of events sends her scurrying to her mother's childhood home of Monmouth, where a few well-selected lies land her a job as a seamstress for a dress shop owned by a respectable middle-class family.  Mary's ambition cannot be tamed, however, and despite a new start with a new life, she turns back to old habits, and it ultimately leads to her undoing.  

Loosely based on a true story, the author departs her regularly-traveled path deep into historical fiction.  Rich in texture with intricate detail provided on the underbelly of London in the 1700's, class, race and gender stratification, and fashion, Donaghue has obviously done her homework and brings it to life for the reader.  She also leads us by the hand to the dark side of ambition, greed, narcissism and their consequences.

My thoughts:  Whatever I thought I was getting with this book, it wasn't this.  To this moment, I am still not completely sure if I liked it or not.  Let me try to explain.

On the positive side, the setting is incredibly real.  If you were ever a geek like me and wished you could time travel back to this period, this is your chance.  It isn't always pleasant, granted, but the filth, the depravity, the rats, the diseases, public hangings, the boarding houses, the drunks looking for a quick trick in a dark, reeking are there.  What magnified these images for me was seeing "Les Miserables", and the prostitutes in that movie.  Time periods were slightly different, and the cities were different, but that was how I imagined it.  This part of the book was enthralling.

In the first half of the book, the story is narrated by Mary.  So we are only getting her side of the story.  Still, even in her own words, girlfriend is not all that likable.  She is immature, self-absorbed, and superficial.  But she is scrappy, and one small part of me admired her pluck.  She was a survivor if nothing else.

In the second half of the book, once Mary escapes to Monmouth, the narrative opens up and we get some other perspectives from characters within Mary's toxic orbit.  For me, the clouds parted and we see her for the despicable bitch that she is.  With the swish of a hip or the purse of her lips, she would ruin the most decent person's life for the betterment or pleasure of herself.  It wasn't hard to figure out what her fate would be, and that was just fine by me.  

At the end, I was also left feeling empty-handed.  I wasn't sure what the bigger message was here, except that maybe...Karma is ruthless?  Bad decisions have consequences?  There are other things more important than pretty clothes?  It was a page-turning read, absolutely, with plenty of stomach-turning descriptions, lewd behavior, and colorful characters.  But the complete package lacked something important.  I also finished the story feeling...slimy and unsettled.  

So did I like it?  It was compelling.  The period was fascinating.  But I was glad to move on after it was over.

3 out of 5 stars


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Chicago #7

These are photos of The Rookery, a very famous building and Chicago icon.  After the fire in 1871, the city exploded with new growth, and this building is a fine example.  It was designed by the well-known architectural firm Burnham & Root (who was at center stage in "Devil in the White City").  The building was revolutionary in 1888, when it was built.  First, at 11 stories tall, it was one of the first buildings to use metal framing with masonry walls on such a large scale.  Today it is considered to be the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago.  

Because of the innovative design, it allowed the use of large expanses of glass, which gave access to unprecedented amounts of light and air.  As you can see in the pictures above, the "light court" or the center of the building (which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905) almost seemed like a bird cage.

This structure is breathtaking.  It is located at 209 South Lasalle Street.  If you are ever in the financial district, you should take a moment to pop your head in.  I guarantee it will be a highlight.  

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Indiscretion - Charles Dubow

Sometimes a book can just grab you from the very beginning and suck you in until you have turned the final page.  The book doesn't care if you have other commitments, like children to feed, or sleep to be had.  With "Indiscretion", I had advance warning.  At SIBA, it was an Editor's Pick, and they told us it was a one-sitting read.  

It seemed like a foregone conclusion when Trish from TLC Book Tours asked me if I wanted to read it for the tour.  Uh, YEAH.  That girl always makes me an offer I can't refuse.  She is the Godfather of book tours, that one.

My one-sitting read luckily occurred not when I had hungry children, but when I had a flight from Chicago to San Francisco.  I did have to shut the book temporarily when we landed, but once in the hotel (with a husband who really wanted to get out on the streets and see stuff), I locked myself in the bathroom until I finished it.  I swear on all that is holy that is what I did.  This book is one of THOSE BOOKS.

Synopsis:  Harry and Madeleine Winslow are one of those couples who seem to have it all.  Harry is a successful novelist and National Book Award winner.  Maddie has an ageless beauty and grace that charms and enchants all those that come within her orbit.  Together they host parties at their East Hampton summer home, are surrounded by vibrant and loving friends, have a child that has flourished despite some health issues, and have a rock solid marriage based on mutual respect.  

Then one summer, a young and pretty woman named Claire, visiting the Hamptons with a less-than-reputable investment banker boyfriend, gets drawn into the hypnotic and addictive warmth of the Winslow's aura.  She brushes off the banker and joins the Winslows for weekends at the beach, and befriends them both.  The friendship takes on a slightly obsessive edge, however, and temptation and flirtation turn into something more threatening.  

Narrated by Maddie's heavily-invested childhood friend Walter, we are provided a predominantly omniscient perspective of how a charmed life can turn so very wrong with one lusty decision.

My thoughts:  There are many tawdry books out there about affairs and their consequences, so the intelligent question at this point would be "why is this one any different?".  It's not like the story doesn't have faults, because it does.  But there is special something going on in this story that is completely compelling.  Riveting, vivid characters for one.  Edgy, breathless writing for another.  

There is a tension present on every page...a wormy, niggling fear in your stomach.  You just know things are going to be awful.  YOU KNOW THIS.  The question is exactly what will it be?  I had memories of Fatal Attraction!  OMG, will a rabbit die?  Will there be a sinister element, with knives and threatening tapes?  Or will it be like watching a natural disaster, slow-motion?  Will people die?  There is foreshadowing oozing out of every chapter, but because I don't know this author, I wasn't sure if he would make good on his hints, or is he just trying to scare me?  I certainly had an idea of what I thought would happen, but when the gig was finally up, it was like I had been punched in the gut.  I cursed out loud.  

And what is this deal with Walter?  I turned a skeptical eye on him.  Is HE the psycho?  Is he reliable?  I wasn't completely comfortable with the way he knew everything about the story he was telling.  There were explanations for how he knew, but it was sketchy.

I also felt like the last 50 or so pages of the book was a bit of a letdown.  Like a slow air leak out of a tire.  After all that anxiety, I wasn't sure how to handle the change in tone.  This did not stop me from loving the book, however.

Ultimately, I found this to be an amazing book, and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys a wild, 24-hour ride in the book world.  There is plenty to discuss for a book club pick as well.  Go read it now.

5 out of 5 stars  


Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Matinee: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

 This was one movie I was PSYCHED to see.  I was going a little bit crazy trying to figure out when, exactly, it was going to open in Orlando.  It released in a small number of theaters in 2012, but nationwide on January 11, 2013.  My entire family saw the movie on that weekend.  

And oh the hype.  It worked on me.  How could you not be anxious to see, exactly, how they managed to track down Osama Bin Laden to a compound in Pakistan, 10 years after 9/11?  Before the movie was made available to most of us, it had already been nominated for an Oscar!  Plus there was the street cred of the director, Kathryn Bigalow, and screenplay writer, Mark Boal, who together created the amazing "The Hurt Locker" (which won the Oscar that year).

Bigelow's goal was to create a testament to the folks who dedicated every breathe of their lives for ten years to track down OBL...from a street level viewpoint.  The story hinges on a young, female CIA agent named "Maya" (Chastain) who doggedly, almost maniacally, chases down every lead, watches every detainee interview, looking for the trace of a clue.  She battles a whole sea of naysayers and skeptics, from the on-site techies all the way up to the Secretary of Defense, to trust her instincts.  Instincts which, ultimately, prove to be a goldmine.

The characters surrounding Maya are colorful and distinct...I thoroughly enjoyed Jason Clarke (no big movies until this one, but will appear in "The Great Gatsby" later this year) as fellow CIA agent.  But really?  This is Chastain's party.  She appears tiny and fragile, but underneath the exterior she is tough as nails.  She was perfectly cast.  

I am intrigued by the idea that there was truly a female CIA agent that played a major role in this manhunt.  She is still classified, obviously, but based on my Googling fest, there were some hard feelings about her getting all the glory in this movie.  And apparently she is so manic, she is a bit of a pain-in-the-ass.  I think any woman in that role would have to be though.  Otherwise, who would listen?

I found the entire story very grounded and edge-of-your-seat gripping for most of the movie.  The search for OBL was like looking for a needle in a haystack, and the movie does an excellent job of showing us the tedium required to track him down.  The climax, of course, and you know it is coming, is the Navy Seal invasion of the compound.  Wow.  These guys are something.  Like ninjas in the night.  Total badass.  Serious heroes.

The movie has gotten some really ugly backlash in the press about its depiction of detainee torture.  Critics say that the movie glorifies the torture, such as water-boarding, and implies that this type of torture was critical to finding OBL (they claim it wasn't). Well, I have an opinion on this (shocker I know).  I think it would have been negligent for Bigelow to leave out those torture scenes.  They are squirm-worthy, but are factually accurate.  It happened, whether we like it or not.  Bigelow shows us that the agents torturing these people had one goal in extract information.  She doesn't not show them having a good time while administering the torture, nor do they gloat or take pictures.  This movie is NOT the venue to issue a statement on the morality of torture.  The movie documents everything the US did to catch OBL.  It is highly irritating when people MUST find something to get upset over.  Stop over-thinking people, and just watch the movie or not.

The movie is R-rated for scenes of torture, as well as a few f-bombs.  Both of my teenagers saw the movie, and it made an impact on them.  They are both tuned into the events of 9/11, and the war on terrorism.  They both felt this was a historically relevant movie and were talking about it for hours afterwards.

Highly recommended.

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Salon: T minus 7

 I'm coming to you fine folks in a slightly frozen state this morning.  I know you all don't want to hear about it, but we did have freeze warnings here in Florida last night!  Woo hee!  I wanted to wear jeans and a sweater, and I've gotten my wish.  

Of course now I'll be studying my WeatherBug app on an hourly basis, trying to figure out what the weather will be next Sunday at 5:30am, when I run the Disney Princess Half Marathon.  I'm prepared for all climates.  I just want it DONE.  I'm really looking forward to seeing my compatriots-in-pain, Dawn and Julie, and I'm also really looking forward to some treatments at the Ritz Carlton Spa that I've planned for the next day.  So just a head's won't hear from me next Sunday.  I'll try to post pictures as soon as I'm physically able!  (And Dawn, I do remember that it was you that talked me into this!)

And it is now Lent, so starting this past Wednesday I am officially on the wagon.  No alcohol for 40 days.  As a result, we celebrated Valentine's on Fat Tuesday, eating chicken wings and drinking champagne.  Food of the Gods baby!     

Now, all of you tuned into "the latest thing", don't roll your eyes at the fact that I'm late to this game.  But first there was all the "Call Me Maybe" videos.  Then everybody was riding their horse Gangnam Style.  Now there is the Harlem Shake.  If you are ever having a bad day, just search Harlem Shake on Youtube, and find yourself a compilation of the best ones.  It is crazy and addictive.  I have Andre to thank for this latest obsession.

The kids had a three-day week this past week, so that always changes my routine.  I had been picking my way through the graphic novel by Chris Ware called "Jimmy Corrigan" (I still am, thanks to the extremely tiny words and my horrible eyes).  But I took the kids to Sea World for a few hours on Thursday, and when they told me I was not to accompany them on rides (OK fine) I found myself sitting and twiddling my thumbs so I pulled up my emergency Kindle app on my phone...and started reading Gillian Flynn's "Dark Places".  Now I am completely absorbed, and totally disturbed as only Flynn can do.  And I will finish the GN, as soon as I get a magnifying glass.  

On audio I listened to "The End of Your Life Book Club" by Will Schwalbe, and that was very touching, and I loved all the book talk.  I am now several discs into "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple, and it is HILARIOUS.  The audio narration is incredible and just a little bit insane, in a good way.  Did you know they are making a movie?

Today will be a Sunday like most, animal shelter, and maybe a little reading.  Maybe a little Harlem Shake watching.  Maybe a little Ruzzle playing.  Maybe some beef roast cooking and hot chocolate drinking.  Good stuff.  Hope you all have a good one! 


Friday, February 15, 2013

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend - Matthew Dicks (Audio)

There was some serious buzz about this book at SIBA this year.  It was one of the Editor Picks and of course the publisher ran out of copies before I got to their booth, so I went away with a sad.  I did hear after the fact that the audio was very good, so I perked up and ordered it from the library.  

I also chose it for our February book club selection, to ENSURE that I listened to it post haste.  I have to admit, it sounded very clever and I couldn't wait to start it.

Synopsis:  The memoir in question is that of Budo, the imaginary friend of 8 year-old Max Delaney.  Budo is five years old now, and is the oldest imaginary friend he knows, as most imaginary friends die (fade away) when their human companions enter Kindergarten.  His advanced age can be explained by the fact that Max is on the Asperger's spectrum, and needs a little extra help day-to-day in coping with people, changes in his routine, and making decisions...all things that terrify him.  Budo can only be seen and heard by Max, and other imaginary friends that Budo comes in contact with now and again.  Budo is a pretty smart cookie, can walk through walls and doors, and loves Max's teacher Mrs. Gosk, because this is the way that Max imagined him to be.

Budo has always had a bad feeling about one of Max's teachers in the Learning Center, Mrs. Patterson.  But his worst fears are realized when Mrs. Patterson kidnaps Max one day from school.  Budo knows he must somehow save Max, but how can he when he can't physically interact with the human world?

Guiltily, Budo also worries that if something bad happens to Max, he will cease to exist, and Budo does not want to die.  He may be forced to choose between Max's happiness and his own life as an imaginary friend.

My thoughts:  There are so many books out right now that address Autism and Asperger's Syndrome, and that truly warms my heart.  I have friends with children on this spectrum, and through them I know there are challenges and a great desire to better understand and help their kids.  And what a clever premise this was!  It was absolutely enchanting to understand Max through the innocent and trusting eyes of his very best friend whose only job is to help and protect him.  Dicks really had to think through every detail of the rules of an imaginary friend.  What do they look like?  How would a small child imagine them?  What are their skills, their temperaments, their limitations?  I wonder if he watched the Cartoon Network's "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends"?  (Like my kids did, ad nauseum.) 

Because Dicks is a school teacher, he brings great perspective to the novel.  There are the teachers that really "get" kids like Max, and others that do not.  He understands the obstacles that these kids face...the mean kids, the over-attentive kids, the problem with being touched, even the terrifying idea of having a "bonus poop" at school.  So many of these scenarios made me laugh and made me want to cry.  

All that being said, towards the end of the book, I found some of the dialogue circular and repetitious.  I began to tire of hearing "have to save Max", "afraid to disappear", "how to save Max", "what happens when I die".  These phrases were belabored a bit.  And I (ashamedly) was ready for the book to be done.  Now, the ending was precious and heartbreaking.  I loved that part.  But I felt like I kept hearing the same sentences over and over again throughout the last 2/3 of the story.

Overall though, it was a sweet and enlightening book that I would have to endorse.

A few words about the audio production:  The narrator for this book was Matthew Brown, who I've never heard before but absolutely enjoyed him.  He had a youthful, innocent voice with great intonations for the various imaginary creatures that Budo met, and portrayed Max so well.  He made this book so pleasurable to listen to.

Audio book length:   10 hours and 57 minutes (320 pages)

4 out of 5 stars     

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bad Karma - David Safier

I don't know about you, but I am a strong believer in Karma.  It is really the only way for me to be at peace with the presence of nasty people...I believe that their bad behavior will come back around to haunt them eventually.

Now do I believe that accumulating bad Karma or good Karma can assist in what form I will come back in a later life?  Nah, not really.  But it is a fun theory.  Imagining my 6th grade teacher coming back as a worm tickles me to no end!  She was a grumpy one, that Mrs. Edgerton.

So despite the piles and piles of books that I intended - NEEDED - to read, when I received this gift from Jackie, I dropped everything to read it.  Jackie's review was all I needed to read to convince me that this kind of fun was required during the chaos of the holidays.

Synopsis:  Kim Karlsen is not what you would call a model mother or wife or even human being.  She leaves the parenting to her stay-at-home husband while she works at her high-profile television career.  She rarely sees her daughter, she mistreats her employees, she cheats on her husband.  But whatever, she has just won a big award, and the world is her oyster!  Until a piece of debris from a Russian space station falls on her and kills her.  She realizes that because of her bad behavior, she has been reincarnated as an ant, and must redeem herself if she ever hopes to achieve the status of, let's say, a dog.

And she works at it.  She moves through the hierarchy of the animal kingdom, from ant, to worm, to guinea pig, to cat, to dog.  While she is busy earning good Karma points, and trying to better herself, she is able to spy on her grieving widower and daughter.  To her horror, she sees that her "best friend" is trying to take her place!  She also sees that her husband and child really did love her and miss her, despite her faults.  The problem's too late.  Or is it?

My thoughts:  I was pleasantly surprised by this hilarious, clever and thoughtful debut novel.  I was also intrigued that the author is a man, but writing in first person from a woman's perspective.  A very bitchy, snarky, boob of a woman that you really can't like at first.  The humor is goofball...a little Stephanie Plum if you will...but for some reason really tickled my funny bone.  And there were moments of levity and reflection, as only one would imagine if you were coming back ala Scrooge to see how life goes on after your death.  

I also was entertained by the author's interpretation of what it's like to be an ant, a guinea pig, a dog.  I do love my animals, so it was pretty easy for me to go snuggle up to mama or get a belly rub or have my ears scratched.    One thing is for sure - Safier is an animal guy.  (But I must mention that the dog in this book is a Beagle, and that is NOT a Beagle on the cover.  How hard is it to get it right?  Little things like that drive me crazy.)

According to Jackie, this author is a successful German screenwriter, and within his mother country, has found success with this book as well.  I found the translation to feel effortless, and would hope this book could get some traction here in the US.  If you want some fun reading with a little heft behind it, look no further.

4 out of 5 stars  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Not So Wordless Wednesday: Chicago #6

I figured everyone would be interested in seeing the bizarre but compelling architecture of the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago, on State Street just South of Loop L.  At the time it opened in 1991, it was the largest municipal library in the world with 756,640 square feet.  It is gargantuan!  

The most notable features of the library though are what appears to be big winged gargoyles on each corner.  Well, I looked it up and I guess my eyesight is poor because they are actually called "acroteria" in the design of an owl (for knowledge) and seed pods (for the natural bounty of the Midwest).  

Considering that the library in downtown Orlando looks like a modern bomb shelter, I'm always quite taken with this one in Chicago.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson (Audio)

If someone asked me which people have made the biggest impact on my life, the list would be fairly short.  It probably would be for anyone. parents?  God?  My husband?  Steve Jobs? 

I really never knew too much about the man, except for the iconic "computer built in a garage" story with his buddy Wozniak.  I'd heard he wasn't a very nice person.  But the impact that this man made on MY life and on humanity in general is astounding.  Only in the last year have I actually owned an Apple computer, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that the iPod changed my life.  That and the iPhone.  I know I'm not the only one.

I was so sad when I learned that he had inoperable pancreatic cancer.  You don't want anyone so young to lose their life, but I also (probably a little selfishly) worried about the future of Apple.  The company that, for the last decade, has told me what I needed...what I couldn't live without...before I knew myself.  Steve Jobs was the guy that was going to invent a way for me to push a button and have my house suddenly clean, I just knew it.  If there was ever a guy I wanted to know more about, Jobs was the one.

Synopsis:  After Jobs was diagnosed with cancer and it appeared his life was nearing its end, he invited Walter Isaacson (who had written biographies of Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein) to write his life story.  Isaacson was allowed full access to anyone and everyone in Jobs' doors were locked, no topic was taboo.  Jobs wanted everything out on the table.  He did not want this project to look like an inside job, or a dog and pony show, to make himself look good post-mortem.  

Isaacson started with Jobs' birth parents and his subsequent adoption by the couple who would raise him.  Jobs was always willful and highly intelligent, and felt that rules never applied to him, even from the youngest age.  He was prone to bizarre food obsessions, gravitated towards the Zen school of thought, and had high regard for simple and intuitive design.  Everyone who worked with him described the elusive Steve Jobs "Reality Distortion Field" that forces the impossible to be true, is.  Which was maddening, but also instilled a universal sense of awe in all those around him.  Ultimately, you either loved him in a twisted sort of way, or hated him.    

We travel from the circuit board assembly line in the garage at his parents' house, to the creation of Apple, to his dismissal from the company, to his involvement in Pixar, to his return to Apple, the reinvention of the brand, the Apple stores, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad.  For Jobs, perfection was the only acceptable answer, from his product to his employees.

We also hear about the dark side.  His estrangement from his illegitimate daughter, how he treated his employees who didn't live up to his standards (which was everyone at some point in time), and his initial reluctance to accept his cancer diagnosis and cooperate with the doctors.

In a clear, logically-constructed format, Isaacson enthralls from the first page to the last.  

My thoughts:  Without a doubt, this book is going to be on my favorites list at the end of 2013.  Talk about starting out the year with a bang!  Biographies are a hit or miss with me, and can tend to be dull in places, but I blew through this puppy, all 25 hours of it, in less than a week.  I couldn't get enough.  You could justify this reaction by the fact that I love Apple products.  But I would guess that most people in this world have been affected by Jobs in one way or another.  (When I go to Poland, every person over there has an iPhone.)  

What a study in human behavior.  Or human psychosis.  Or something.  This was one bizarre guy.  Was he bi-polar?  ADHD?  On the Autistic spectrum?  A spoiled brat?  Jobs surrounded himself with the best employees, yes, but he was the heart and soul of his company.  I continue to worry.  

I worked for a couple of people in my previous life that mirrored many of Jobs' behaviors.  Except they were not as brilliant and far less successful.  I had many unpleasant jolts of dejavu!

I think my favorite stories were the interactions between Jobs and Bill Gates.  What a pair, waffling between toxic derision and mutual respect, bitter enemies and reluctant business partners.  One particular scene came alive for me...the first time Bill Gates saw the iPod, with his mouth hanging open, gobsmacked at the brilliance.  Yes Bill, I understand.

So.  Read it with the highest recommendation from me.

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator for this audio book was Dylan Baker, who appears to have done it all in the audio world (even though I think I've only heard him on a David Sedaris audio).  He was pleasant to listen to and brought plenty of passion and enthusiasm to the table.

Audio book length:  25 hours and 8 minutes (656 pages)

5 out of 5 stars  


Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Matinee: Les Miserables (2012)

 Years and years ago, I saw Les Miserables on the stage in London.  So I knew the story, and I knew I was going to cry (a lot) before I ever set foot in the movie theater.    I have always wanted to read the book too, but alas, the 1,500 pages smoked me out.  I know, I'm a wimp.  

I'd read quite a few reviews beforehand, and the critics  were either ambivalent about it or really loathed it.  There was all this singing, some of it not well done, pandering for Oscars, road-show carnival, blah blah blah.  Entertainment Weekly showed up at the screening already pissed off and ready for battle before they heard one note.  What a mean-spirited review.  (See if I renew my subscription!  Freaking Commies.)

But it brings forth a good question.  How does one separate the story, which is impossible not to love, people, and the actual movie production?  I'm not sure if I can answer that.  I suppose that is why I am not a movie reviewer.  Because to see the movie is to have it invade your soul and take up space where the tears are stored, thus squeezing out everything.

So, brief summary for a complicated plot.  Convicted bread thief Valjean (Jackman) is released on parole, and is giving a fresh start from a loving bishop.  But in order to start fresh, he disappears (ignoring parole) and is forever hunted down by Captain Javert (Crowe).  Valjean becomes successful and selflessly lives every moment of his life trying to give back to those in need, including Fantine, a young woman who prostitutes in order to send money to a unsavory couple who cares for her little girl.  On Fantine's deathbed, Valjean promises to adopt the little girl, Cosette, and give her the best possible life.  Once Cosette becomes a young woman (Seyfried), she falls in love with a student revolutionary (Redmayne), and the lives of all of them become inexorably entwined.     

I thought all the singing (every word in the movie is sung) would bother me but it didn't.  Not everyone is a Broadway-caliber entertainer here, please understand.  But they all performed their own work, they were in key, and after awhile I didn't even notice it.  Russell Crowe has gotten so much crap over his performance and his singing, it makes me sick.  Is singing his thing?  No, of course not!  But it is not that bad.  He was the antagonist who eventually finds his moral code, and that particular transformation was moving to me.  I really have no wish to hear any more about his dyspeptic facial expressions or his "Cap'n Crunch" costuming - like that hat and epaulets are HIS fault.   

The performances by Hathaway and Jackman were superb.  My God, just rip my heart out and stomp on it.  If you have heard a rumor that you might cry harder at the movie than at a funeral, take heed.  Jackman had a few issues with his singing as well, but his raw emotion (and devastating good looks) compensates for them.  And of course, as I'm sure you all know at this point, Hathaway knocks it right out of the park, despite the fact that her on-screen time is minimal.  Dare you not to lose it when she sings (or as EW so sweetly describes it, warbles) "I Dreamed a Dream".  Plus she has her hair cut live in one of the scenes, and she loses 25 pounds for the role.  No small feat, this.

The use of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter for comic relief as Cosette's swindling caretakers worked well.  They were over-exaggerated, nasty and hilarious, as both of them do so well.  It provides that tiny bit of farce that lightens an otherwise heavy load.

The costumes were gorgeous.  Costuming is not something I usually notice.  I live in t-shirts and jeans and flip flops so a fashion maven I am not.  But all that silk, lace, ruffles and rags were stunning to the eye.  

I know many people have been on the fence about seeing this movie, with concerns about the length (close to 3 hours with previews) and the singing, but I left the movie feeling that everyone should give this film a try.  It so touched my heart.  It does have a PG-13 rating, with some bloodshed and prostitution.  My biggest concern, though, for an appropriately-aged kid would be whether they would understand what was going on.  I saw my daughter's eyes glaze over a few times.

Resist the haters.  Bring the tissues.  And enjoy.

5 out of 5 stars    

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Salon: Doctor this

 Good morning friends.  I've been looking at all the pictures from those of you in the Midwest and Northeast and was a leeetle bit jealous of being snowed in.  You know, having God tell you "No, you can't go running.  No the kids can't go to school or sports.  No scurrying around Miss Sandy.  Sit your ass at home for two days and read, sleep and watch movies."  Wouldn't that be nice just for a couple of days?  The weather down here is gorgeous, so I shouldn't complain.  But I'd love to wear a pair of jeans and a sweater, and be forced to go dormant for a wee bit. 

This was one of those weeks where I had to relinquish myself to the schedule.  Forget about getting anything else done, forget about blogging or reading or taking naps.  I stomped my feet and demanded I be allowed my three days of Andre and three days of running.  That's mine, don't touch it.  But beyond that it was all doctor appointments.  Two for me (annual checkup, fixing a cracked crown), and three for my son (all related to his back issues).  I also had my carpets cleaned, which is a day-long event.  Whatever.  These things had to happen.

I'm getting my head around a couple of book events coming up this spring...the UCF Book Festival on April 13 (great authors and Orlando bloggers!), and the Adult Literacy League Reading Between the Wines fundraiser on April 11.  It is going to be one busy week for me!  Stay tuned for updates on both.

On the reading front, I finished "Catherine the Great" on audio, which was REALLY a phenomenal piece of work.  I also listened to our very own Lenore Appelhans' "Level 2" on audio as well.  I have just started listening to "The End of Your Life Book Club" by Will Schwalbe.  I'm just preparing myself for tears, which can sometimes be a very good thing.  

In print, I did finish Uncle Stevie's classic collection of short stories "Night Shift", and am wrapping up a wonderful, insightful book called "Wild at Heart", which is about understanding a man's soul.  I'm reading this book primarily to better parent my 13 year-old son, but provides insight to my husband and myself as well.

So we have early Mass and Animal Shelter in store for today, plus management of homework.  Yeah.  That is always fun.  I'm giving up alcohol for Lent again this year, and that day starts Wednesday, so I shall be making hay while the sun shines (says the farmers).  Hope you all have a wonderful, restful WARM Sunday!  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Blood Beneath My Feet: Journey of a Southern Death Investigator - Joseph Scott Morgan

 I met Joseph Scott Morgan at SIBA this past fall, and I knew without a doubt this was one book I HAD to read.  Morgan stated that someone had deemed his book "the creation of a new genre".  I'm not sure I would argue with that.

Because what is this book?  A memoir?  True crime?  A collection of really disturbing pictures?  Maybe this IS a new genre, or maybe not, but I'm not sure it fits in any I've ever read before.

Synopsis:  Joseph Scott Morgan has spent most of his career in a profession that we would all probably find fascinating and electrifying, based on all the popular TV shows...a death investigator.  He started out in this field in New Orleans, working there for six years before moving to Atlanta and performing those same tasks for an additional fourteen years.  He also was an autopsy assistant, performing over 7,000 autopsies over his career.  

Morgan interweaves the story of his childhood, fraught with violence and abuse, with stories from his years in the forensic field.  While one might attest that his youth prepared him to disengage his mind from the horrors he would witness in his adulthood, it did not.  As Morgan relates the most disturbing crimes scenes he has processed, he also is brutally honest about the toll it has taken on his physical and mental health.  How seeing all forms of death can sneak up on a guy, and cause him to wonder when his number will come up.  So at a cocktail party, when someone asks him "what is the worst thing you've ever seen"?  Joseph knows that these innocents cannot handle the truth.  There are some things no man should ever have to witness.


My thoughts:  I am not sure what I expected with this book.  I knew it was a must-read for me, because I am a true crime junkie.  But it wasn't quite what I thought it would be.  I guess I didn't expect so much background on the author himself.  This was not a bad thing, in fact he did a nice job of transitioning between experiences in his childhood to memorable cases in his career.

The stories are frankly horrifying.  Remember, he is investigating death in New Orleans and Atlanta - how much worse could it get?  In fact, if you have lost someone recently, I would recommend you hold off on reading this because his descriptions of decomposition, the smells, the identification of a body, and autopsy procedures are not what you want to read.  But if you ever had an interest in this profession, this is a book that will give you the cold, hard, unvarnished truth.  Morgan is jaded, and for good reason.  

Then there are the pictures.  Yes, pictures.  Some are lovely black and white photos of Morgan with his mother, grandmother, grandfather, and other relatives.  But others are of various death scenes and they are disturbing.  But you can't help yourself, you need to see.  Just remember, you can't unsee it.  

The book is relatively short and easy to read.  Morgan has a clever turn of phrase, and you can tell the man is very intelligent.  But at the same time he is bitter.  His career took the best part of him and left him changed forever.  For those of you who think it would be cool to be Kay Scarpetta, this is a reality check. 

4 out of 5 stars