Monday, August 31, 2009

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

by Lisa See

This novel follows the life of 80-year-old Lily in 19th century China. It centers around her relationship with her Lao-Tung (best friend) Snow Flower and the circumstances of their lives since childhood. It includes their trials with foot binding, arranged marriages, the Taiping Rebellion, and the pressure to give birth to boys.

I LOVED this book and highly recommend it, especially if you are at all interested in Chinese culture and history. Lisa See is a captivating author, and I found myself unable to put this book down. She vividly described the lives of these girls in such a way that I could literally feel their pain and picture exactly what they were going through. Rarely do I find a book that grabs my attention from the first page all the way through the end, but this book accomplished it. 5 of 5- easily.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book One: The Lightning Thief

by: Rick Riordan

Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson never really fit in at school. Trouble always seemed to follow him. His mother ends up taking him to the only safe place for him, Camp Half-Blood, where Percy finds out he is a half-blood (or hero). He is the son of a mortal woman and a Greek god. That's right, a Greek god.

At camp Percy learns that all of the stories from Greek mythology are actually true and that the gods and godesses are still alive. He also finds out that the monsters from the stories (Medusa, the Minotaur, etc) are also still alive and are constantly trying to kill the half-bloods.

Someone has stolen Zeus's master lightning bolt and Zeus believes Percy took it. To find the real culprit Percy and his friends must go on a quest and discover the truth, fighting monsters all along the way.

First off, thank you Suzette for introducing me to this series. I am loving it so far. This book was a lot of fun, exciting and cleverly written. It was a very fast read and it kept me entertained the entire time. I always loved learning about Greek mythology when I was younger so I thought it was fun to read about them again and to see how the author has creatively added them to this book. I did find it to be similar to the Harry Potter novels, just like you Suzette, but I didn't mind it either. I think he did a good job of making it his own.

I can't wait for the movie.

4.5 stars

I'm afraid I've been Buffy-ized against my will....

Behold my hero and thy name is Buffy. I can't believe I've never watched this show until now, a true Buffy virgin. What was I doing in the late nineties besides giving birth, working and going to school...hmm, nothing important, so how did I not find the time to watch this glowing, bloody gem?? Ah, the witty dialogue, the kung-foo fighting in high-heels, the vampire smooching, what's not to like I say. Don't know how I survived this long, but I'm perplexed. I don't know which man hunk to worship. Just like Buffy, I like them all. But who's the best?

Ah, Spike. I'm afraid I like you the best, but that blond hair? If it was dark I'd probably be peeing my pants.

Angel - You don't show much emotion but you sure are hot! Although I hear your spin-off series wasn't so great. Thank goodness Cordelia went with you though. She drove me nuts!

Riley, Riley, Riley. You're cute, tall and and oh, so muscular. Sheesh..

Giles - Hold off on the serious poses. This pic made me laugh outright, but that accent! That singing voice! Be still my rapidly beating heart.

Zander - You're insane but have the best pouty lips ever!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Actor and the Housewife

by: Shannon Hale

Becky, a housewife who is pregnant with her fourth child, goes to LA to sell a movie script she wrote and accidentally meets her favorite celebrity crush, Felix Callahan, and they end up becoming best friends.

I really liked Austenland so I was excited to read this, but I was incredibly disappointed with this book. I already knew it was going to be unbelievable. It being about a super famous actor (think Brad Pitt) and a housewife from Utah being best friends and all, but I almost quit reading it after 50 pages (and oh, how I wish I had!) because it was so incredibly unbelievable. In short, I also found it depressing and the ending... ugh... the ending! I thought if it ended a certain way it would at least be an okay book. But after the ending I thought two things. 1. What was the point of this book? and 2. What a waste of completely good and precious reading time. . .


Would any husband be okay with his wife being best friends with an incredibly famous, handsome actor, who she used to lust over in his movies? No. Would he be okay with her talking to him late at night on the phone? No. Or when she giggles and gets all excited when he calls, would that be okay? No. Yes, the author tried to cover this but I just didn't buy it. I still don't think a husband would be okay with this, no matter what his wife tells him. I, personally, found the whole relationship completely inappropriate and I found Becky to be incredibly selfish. Sure I think it is okay for married women to have guy friends but they went way beyond just good friends.

The most unbelievable part for me was when Becky ends up starring in a movie opposite Felix. Ha!!! I laughed out loud at that part. Talk about far-fetched. You know movie companies always cast completely unknowns who haven't really ever acted before to star in big budget movies... sure...

Felix getting divorced and Becky's husband dying were both very predictable but his death was incredibly depressing. The book just became a downer for me for the rest of it. I thought maybe the end could save it but Becky and Felix don't even end up together!!! What?!?! What was the point of this book then? That after your husband dies you will be in a complete depression for over 3 years and you won't even be able to fall in love with your best friend because you can't get over the husband you lost. So... pretty much you will be alone for the rest of your life... Yippee!

UGH... 1.5 stars

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Scary Buffy! Scary Buffy!

Note to self:
Don't watch Buffy late at night when the husband's out of town. That heavy breathing you think you hear just outside the open window may well be the harbinger of death ready to drain your body of blood or worse, tell you a bad joke.

The season four finale creeped me out!
Imagine shuddering here -

Mr Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange

Oh, know. Oh, know. Oh, know.
After reading this book, I've discovered a little known fact that I never wanted to know, gasp: Mr. Darcy was one boring dude.

Kill me now.

Unfortunately, this harsh reality makes perfect sense, I mean, look how Austen portrays him in Pride and Prejudice? He rarely speaks unless spoken too, he's horribly shy amongst strangers, and nobody interesting, except Bingley of course, can stand to be around him he's so haughty and full of himself.

I thought the concept of Mr. Darcy having a diary had great potential. What little tidbits would we find out about, I wondered. Like, what was he doing before he met Elizabeth, how exactly did he fall in love with her, what were his experiences with his sister and Bingley, etc. Exciting stuff, right? Well, no. In truth, I found him completely uninteresting and dull for about the first half of the book, and then when he drove Bingley from Jane Bennet, I thought him just plain mean. When he does begin to see Elizabeth in a different light I of course, liked it better. A few more details here and there helped it become interesting enough by the end, but by then I was almost mad.

Is that the author's fault? Is it even possible to make the true Mr. Darcy of Austen's novel the dashing romantic hero of almost every females dreams? Do we have the mini-series to thank for our obsession? Many,many years ago, long before 1995, I did my senior thesis on Jane Austen, and more specifically, Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I read both books and remember thinking them okay, not my favorite novels at the time - I was very young, but I don't remember thinking one way or the other about Darcy. In fact, I probably thought very little about him at all. Because that's how he's written. Elizabeth is the hero of Pride and Prejudice. It is she we come to love and admire first and foremost.

And then along came the mini-series and Colin Firth. Ah....sigh. That changed everything didn't it. Now we've come to expect more from the man than what was really there. We invent truth were none exists. We invent, feelings and emotion expressed. We invent the feelings we saw on Colin Firth's face when he looked at Elizabeth, the dimple in her chin, the curve of her shape. In essence, we brought the book to life perfectly. But real life is never perfect. Expectations are never met, there is always let down. Rarely are men capable of jumping on the same romantic plane as women, because seriously we as a sex always expect too much, don't we?

That was my main problem with this book. Like all my relationships I probably expected too much. I'm afraid Mr. Darcy I might have to break up with you after all these years.

Just kidding.
3 stars.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse, cleavage-showing and nicely-tanned ,waitress extraordinaire, lives a boring life...for the most part. Aside from her unique gift of being able to read minds, her life borders on the uninteresting and bland, until a sexy vampire named Bill wanders into the bar looking for some bottled synthetic blood.

You see in Louisiana, vampires are "out of the coffin" so to speak. She's intrigued. Who wouldn't be by a walking cold corpse I say. But she likes him instantly because his mind is as quiet as...well, death.

Upon his arrival, bad things start to happen. Big, ugly, bloody murders. People seem to be dying left and right. Could it be Bill? Sookie wonders, or the new trio of vampire nesters that have deposited themselves in the town, much to the locals dismay. Or maybe it's someone else entirely like her mysterious boss who currently has the hots for her as well. When her wayward brother is suspected, Sookie means to solve these murders on her own, with or without her dead-slash-suspect boyfriend.

I hoped she hadn't dropped her health insurance in these harsh economic times.

I thought the plot would be simple enough. Big strong male rescues female. Again. But it turned out slightly different than I thought it would. Overall I guess, this book was entertaining enough to fall into my quick-read category. I like stories that take place in the South. Stories with an atmosphere so thick I can hear that Southern twanginess in my mind when I read the dialogue.

While I would say, "Sookie" (think cookie), vampire Bill would say, "Soo-kay," with long drawn out, silky syllables that come out so smoothly, you're not sure if he said sex or Sookie.

I found this cover interesting, I might even call it cute. Innocent. Almost cartoonish, perhaps for a younger audience, but the only thing innocent about this book is.....hmm, I can't think of anything. Whole lots of blood oozing, blood sucking, death, burned-up stinky bodies, and sexiness all rolled into a big pot of shrimp gumbo. So if you like ah, shrimp gumbo then by all means, eat. 3 stars

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Historian

by: Elizabeth Kostova

A 16 year-old girl finds an old book in her father's library which doesn't have any writting in it, but has a picture of a dragon with the words "Drakulya" in the center of the book. She questions her father about the book and he goes on to tell her the story of how he found the book and what happened to him afterwards.

He begins by telling her that when he first received the book he confided in one of his professor's at his university about it. That professer had an intriguing story that included him saying that he believed Dracula was still alive. Hours later that professor mysteriously disappeared.

I had a hard time with this book. I liked it at first, then it got slow. Then it picked up again and I liked it, then slow again, etc. I wanted to know what was going to happen but I just couldn't seem to make myself get through it. It was like wading through a swamp. I wanted to get to the other side but my legs kept getting stuck in the mud and every step was labored.

I enjoy history and research, which is the majority of this book, and I found a lot of it interesting, but it began to get very tedious and I found myself not really paying attention. The author was very good at giving me the heebie jeebies though. Many a night while reading alone in the recliner I got the creeps and didn't want to open the door to put the cat out.

By the end I was all into it again and thought the whole book was worth it. All the build-up and suspense. I couldn't wait to see what happened. And then... major let down. The ending for me was very anticlimactic. I was disappointed. I was expecting more.

2.5 stars

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

A girl washes ashore from a distant land. Shipwrecked and unsure of her surroundings, unsure if her twin brother is still alive as well, she (Viola) disguises herself as a boy (Cesario) to be presented to the love-sick Duke Orsino who pines for the mourning Olivia - If music be the food of love, play on. Orsino-1.1.1

Sad Olivia has no interest in seeing anyone now even though her drunken Uncle Sir Toby means her to be wooed by one Sir Andrew. But she will see none but the Duke's new messenger, Cesario who is trying to plead the Duke's case to her. She'll have none of it and instead falls in love with "him", much to Cesario's distress.

Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, and a sneaking handmaid Maria contrive to play a joke on their arch enemy Malvolio, the right hand man of Olivia. They fake a letter in Olivia's hand proclaiming her love for him, and that he must wear yellow socks in her presence - something of course, Olivia really detests. He grandly imagines himself the next Lord of the castle and does as the letter requests - Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. Malvolio-2.5.149-50. She, of course, not knowing why he does what he does, has Malvolio declared insane and locked in a box, much to Sir Toby's and Sir Andrew's glee.

Meanwhile, Sebastian, Viola's look alike brother has also been saved from the sea by the pirate Antonio. They become friends and travel to the land of the Duke not knowing that Viola is also alive and looking very much like her brother.

Trouble ensues...
Will Cesario have to marry Olivia? What will happen to the poor Duke? Will the two twins ever be reunited? Is Malvolio doomed to spend his life in a box?

Reading a Shakespeare play and seeing a Shakespeare play on the stage is almost two completely different things. With one you smile a few times, with the other you laugh until you fall off your seat. Same words, different reactions. Without being able to witness the facial expressions, the mannerisms, and tones of voice of a good actor, it's almost easy to get lost in the language one must concentrate on so hard for the meaning. At least for me. Seeing it performed brings the words alive in perfect clarity.

Having both read and just attended a production of Twelfth Night, what would I say Shakespeare thought of love, romance and human nature? In this play, and I'd venture in most of his comedies, I'd say love and romance always has a tidy ending, no matter how untidy it's beginning and human nature, well, we are all pretty fickle I guess. Throw in that and fool and you're set. I'll leave the true nature of love to Romeo and Juliet.

I had so much fun watching this it now rates a close second to A Midsummer Nights Dream. It was that good. A warm summer evening, good food, good friends and a Shakespeare play. Seriously, what more does a person need? Little else.
Read it - 4 stars
See it - 5+++stars

Monday, August 17, 2009

Catch - 22 by Joseph Heller

I finally finished this book! I feel like I've just run a marathon, my mind and emotions feel all rubbery and slack. I'm tired. This novel was a workout for my brain neurons; a serious digestion of word play, some almost too big to swallow, some going down smooth as butter, some felt like I was eating knives.

With one hundred pages left, I saw the end in sight, like one sees a lighted tunnel in the distance, but instead of getting closer, I felt stagnant, maybe even farther away than when I started, like some weird psychedelic dream. I was sure I was reading at least 10 pages at a time, but it was really only one or two! I wanted to scream by this point, until – finally - I crossed the threshold and the story progressed, coming to a climax that I expected not at all. I breathed a sigh of relief, reigned my emotions back in, took a Midol and went to bed.

What a book.

Our setting is off the coast of Italy towards the end of WWII, and flight bombardier Yossarian (no one in this story has a first name, that I remember anyway), the hero, I think…is quite inventive in his schemes to never get in a plane again. He's sure someone is trying to kill him, the Germans, every whore in Italy he’s in love with, his comrades, even his commanding officers are out to get him. His problem is the Catch-22. If he’s sane enough to be afraid of dying then he’s really not insane after all. Go figure.

Yossarian is the center of the story that everyone seems to revolve around; the one plot point in this isosceles triangle of a novel. Or should I say Bermuda Triangle. I liked it though. Except for that part I got stuck, I liked it a lot. Eventually every point connects to a part that makes sense. I enjoyed Heller’s writing style immensely, but it was a work out. He’s a master of word choice. The way the enlisted men talked to each other reminded me of my grandfather, a WWI vet who served in England. He talked just like these men, this sarcastic dry wit that emanates throughout the book. Perhaps it’s a way people deal with the stress of war. Each character’s personality was perfectly defined and unique, until I recognized their behavioral traits before their names. Some were hysterical. Some were sad. Some were just vaporless filler.

One part lunacy, one part humor and one part heaviness, Catch-22 is a novel for the ages. Everyone should read it at least once. Keep the headache medicine close though. 4 stars

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Julie and Julia: A tale of bread, cheese, and a scary duck!

Every once in a great while I get to go to a movie without children. Really, truly a whole movie without potty breaks! Me, and about 100 other mostly women in the over 60 crowd, out on the town with their girlfriends, snuggled in tightly to our dusty seats and sticky armrests, we leaned back and listened to the hum of the previews and some old man with the black lung coughing behind me, and after 15 minutes of watching a bad - ah, killer - stepfather and the world ending in 2012, finally got to watch a truly charming movie about an American legend and a blogger. Of course I was hooked.

Julie and Julia is a great movie. I laughed multiple times and even got a bit teary in parts, no small feat for me anyway. Unlike most of the audience members sitting around me, my only real remembrance of Julia Child is from Dan Ankroyd's depiction of her on Saturday Night Live. A treat we got to see again in the movie. I won't bore with details regarding plot here since I'm sure most know what the movie is about, other than to say it revolves around the lives of two women in two different time periods with exactly the same problem: Finding purpose and meaning in their lives. The separate plots weave together effortlessly, with real laughter and real moments of sweet emotion. Nora Ephron is in top form here, no doubt taken from an excellent memoir that I hope to be reading soon, Julie and Julia - My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell.

From hence forth, Meryl Streep is Julia Child. Fantastic acting. I felt inspired to cook after watching this show even though most of the dishes both Julie and Julia prepared were with meat! Duck even. Good grief she de-boned a duck! I could only survive in France on cheese I guess. Cheese...ah... blessed cheese, sounds good to me! Food is a uniting force isn't it? It is the glue that holds family together; friends together even. It's the jelly on the peanut butter sandwich. Speaking of food, at the beginning of the movie, the main character Julie is preparing and enthusiastically eating some bruchetta on wonderfully butter encrusted, toasted bread. It looked so fantastic I kept thinking and salivating about it the entire movie, plotting and wondering if I had all the ingredients to make this when I got home.

And believe it or not the stars aligned and I DID, right down to the multi-colored tomatoes and basil growing in my garden!

Bruchetta-Lula style
5 perfectly ripe tomatoes (yellow and red)
1 glove crushed garlic
1/2 red onion, chopped
salt to taste
A drizzle of olive oil
A handful of chopped fresh basil

Mix together and put on sliced asiago bread that's been toasted on both sides with olive oil and lots of butter in a pan.

You know that toast they give you with a baked potato at Sizzler? This toast is totally better than that!!

I ate like four of these and panted for more. If you're looking for a great end of summer treat this, like this movie, is perfect for an empty stomach in search of something satisfying. Bon appetit!