Saturday, December 31, 2011

Snapshot Saturday - Layla and Abbey

Our largest furry family member meets our smallest family member on Christmas morning.  Layla is hard to miss, but please look closely for Abbey (I've zoomed a couple of extras in case you miss her)...she's the teeny one with the big round black eyes staring into the face of the giant ;)











Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce @ At Home with Books

Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review - Explosive Eighteen



Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

2011, Bantam Books
Why?  I've read all the Stephanie Plum series and have eagerly awaited 18's publication since I closed the pages of 17
What Now? Glad I didn't purchase a hardback of this one :(  After I write my review I'm anxious to see what other Evanovich fans have to say about this 

Golden Lines:

"Did you report the found driver's license to the police?"
"Yes. I told Morelli."
"Then I'm sure he's there with a cadaver dog.  He's an idiot, but he's a good cop."
"Why is he an idiot?"
"He lets me get close to you."


Lula swung through the coffee shop door and came over to us.  "Is that a gun?"
"Oh for Crissake, who's this?" Brenda asked.
"I'm Lula.  Who the heck are you?"
"This is a private conversation," Brenda said.
"Yeah, but I want to take a look at your little peashooter.  It's kinda cute."
"It's a gun," Brenda said.
Lula pulled her Glock out of her bag and aimed it at Brenda.  "Bitch, this is a gun.  It could put a hole in you big enough to drive a truck through."
"Honestly," Brenda said, "this is just so boring."  And she huffed off to her car and drove away.
"She was kinda snippy, being I just wanted to see her gun," Lula said.


Summary

Returning from a ruined trip to Hawaii, Stephanie finds herself in the middle of a crime mess...just from sitting by the wrong person on the airplane.  The man sitting on the airplane accidentally slips a photo into her messenger bag that a lot of people want...and want bad enough to hunt Stephanie down.  Stephanie is trailed by fake FBI men, real FBI men, the hairdresser sister of a mobster and a foreign killer.  She's dodging dangerous people at every move.  At the same time, Stephanie's dodging (unsuccessfully) both Ranger and Morelli after the events in Hawaii and doesn't seem any closer to making a choice.  


What I Liked

Stephanie and Lula - I definitely giggled out loud at more than one place...these two are nuts.

I can't think of anything else. :(



What I Didn't Like

Why the heck did Lula keep saying WHAM?  There were more than enough Food Network mentions so I'm assuming Lula's new saying is a spin-off from Emeril Lagasse?

Stephanie's trip to Hawaii was a major cliffhanger at the end of Book 17.  In Explosive Eighteen it was glossed over like it was nothing.  The one paragraph that finally explained what happened on the trip when Stephanie explained to her mother, Lula and Grandma Mazur could have been developed into the storyline that occurred before this one.  Unless Evanovich is dragging it all out even more, I honestly have no idea what she's thinking by not hashing this out.  

***SPOILER ALERT***
I am no prude, but in all the other books, Stephanie is either with Morrelli or Ranger...not both...and she's usually committed to one of them, not neither of them.  This was a major change of events for Evanovich, and I just can't imagine where she's headed with it.

Evanovich also suggest twice in different places that Stephanie might have been lax in her family planning while in Hawaii.  What is that all about??  You've got to be kidding me???  If Evanovich does that, I'm done.  For a LOT of reasons.
***SPOILER OVER***

The minor character names in this book were the worst...Razzle Dazzle, Tootie Raguzzi, Lancer Lancelot, Buggy, Magpie, Sly Slasher, Lahonka, ...??? Huh??

Even the bad guys were jokes this time...the scariest character was Razzle Dazzle...and no, that's not a typo.  How can someone be scary with a name like Razzle Dazzle??  Even more important, how can someone be scary when he talks like this"
"You will be stopping moving," he said. "You are understanding?"
Oy.

All of a sudden, Stephanie is a martial arts expert??  I know she works well with rage, but she's so tough now that even the cops are amazed at her actions on surveillance video??  Huh?

Morelli's interactions with Stephanie after Evanovich's Hawaii explanation are not consistent with his traditional expectations of Stephanie and of where their relationship is or is not going.  

Ranger - I've always been a Morrelli girl, and I have never disliked Ranger, but at this point, I'm beginning to.  If he cares so much for Stephanie, knows he's not interested in a "relationship" and knows Stephanie would be safer, happier with Morrelli, then why doesn't Ranger just step back.  In this book it almost seems like Ranger's using Stephanie.  For example, what happens in a closet where Stephanie and Ranger are hiding is unnecessary.  I had to re-read that page just to make sure it really happened...and still wasn't sure until a few pages later when Stephanie mentions the event and left no doubt in my mind.  Unless, of course, something else happened in Hawaii to make Ranger think he and Stephanie are together??   Unfortunately, I guess we'll never know.
Grrrrrr!

Overall Recommendation:

At first I thought only die hard Stephanie fans would like this, but I'm wondering if only those who haven't read any of the other books would really be the ones to read this?  And, I'm not even sure they would see the series for the wild ride it has been until now.  This is the worst Stephanie Plum yet; I'm so disappointed.  And, I'm not even sorry about giving it a negative review.
I'm sad.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Marriage Carol - Book Review



A Marriage Carol by Chris Fabry and Gary Chapman
Moody Press, 2011
Why?  My first Net Galley review...I love the original A Christmas Carol and this sounded like an interesting retelling of the story.
What now?  No need to purchase a hard copy of this one


Golden Lines

When I looked up we were nearing a curve, and through the haze and blowing snow I noticed two headlights bearing down on us like our oncoming future.  I couldn't scream, couldn't speak, just threw out a hand and pointed.
Instinct.  His foot to the pedal.  Steering wheel one way, then the other.  Fishtailing.  A truck's air horn.  Jacob reached out for me.
Spinning.
Weightless.
Out of control.
A snow globe shaken and dropped.


Summary:

Marlee and Jacob Ebeneezer are on their way to their lawyer's office in a snowstorm to sign their divorce papers on Christmas Eve.  An accident carries Marlee and Jacob through the past, present and possible futures of their lives depending on their impending divorce.


What I Liked:

I'm a fan of A Christmas Carol and enjoy watching and reading the many different ways the story can be told.  I was intrigued by the synopsis I read on Net Galley and downloaded it because of that alone.  I'd never heard of the book before then.  

The description of the snow, the couple driving and snarking with each other on the way to the lawyer's office was the most vivid scene to me.  I think any couple has moments like these.  

The little twist at the end when Marlee meets the old man's wife...I didn't see this coming and it was a pleasant surprise since I had already decided I wasn't crazy about this version.  

The images of Marlee and Jacob's early life together and how their relationship changed over time.  For anyone who is in a later stage of their marriage, these scenes will be true to heart.  The early, lovey dovey years, the hectic years when the kids are babies, and the growing years as the kids begin to make their own way and you find yourselves looking back toward each other again hit close to home for me.

Like the original A Christmas Carol, the book is very short.  This was very important to me once I started skimming.  I'm one of those people who has a hard time putting a book away once I've started reading it.  The knowledge that the story was a quick one was enough to keep me going.


What I Didn't Like:

As good of a message this is, the story itself is too predictable for me to "like."  The story is a faith based story, but the authors almost hit the reader over the head with religious tropes.  I am a Christian, but I think some readers, who may really need to hear the overall message of this book, could be turned off by the preaching early on.  Even I skimmed through a lot of it.

I thought Marlee was too calm for a woman whose husband/soon to be ex-husband was out lost in the snowstorm after the accident.  Even though they were on their way to be divorced, I didn't see her sitting around "waiting" on what to do next.  If someone is lost in a snowstorm, seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

Marlee was the only one who actually experienced the Christmas scenes from the past, present and future.  From the synopsis, I expected them to go through that together.  I was actually looking forward to that.  Marriage takes two...and in any situation where a marriage is splitting apart, it is usually not a one-sided ordeal (except, of course, in extreme cases).  In this story Marlee seemed to be the one who wanted the divorce...all bc of an old flame from high school who drank a lot of Coors?  Again, too obvious and a ridiculous example.  When Marlee saw her future with the high school dude demanding for her to bring him another beer, I had visions of the movie The Urban Cowboy where Debra Winger's character is living with the ex-convict after leaving John Travolta.  She comes in from the grocery story and throws a pack of cigarettes at him; he takes her by the hair and makes her pick the carton of cigarettes up.  I actually rolled my eyes when I read this part of the story.  The obvious made the story feel on purpose and rushed and cheesy.

Um, the melting snow as the visual for the scenes from the past, present and future was pretty silly and "magical" to me...unbelievable.  Good grief.

Marlee was worried that she might have gotten into a car with a serial killer, but she wasn't all that worried about being alone with an older many she's just met in his home during the night of a snowstorm.  Huh?  Again, completely unrealistic.


Overall Response:

This book was just ok to me...I do realize that it may very well be a wake-up call for some couples. Can this book stop a divorce...probably not.  But, maybe, especially around the holidays, it might remind a husband and/or wife of all that they have together.  Maybe.  I also couldn't help but wondering what a great story this could have been had some of the simpler issues been worked out and even developed into a much richer storyline.  If the authors don't have time to develop a story worth reading, what's the point?


Recommendation:

This little book might be a helpful gift for a couple in trouble who have a lot more together than they do apart...and just need a reminder.  
I don't review negatively much, and I always feel bad when I do...just because I didn't like this story doesn't mean someone else won't.


FTC Disclosure: An e-copy of A Marriage Carol was sent to me free of charge from the publisher through Net Galley.  All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wanna Be More Organized Wednesday


This is the time of year that everybody begins thinking about resolutions...things they want to do better...getting more organized, staying on a schedule, fixing things that need to be fixed.  I get a little nervous this time each year...as always there are issues that need to be dealt with, but I'm almost scared that if I make a resolution out of them, I'm setting myself up to fail.  As much as I like and need a certain amount of structure, I feel pinned in by too much structure.  Please don't worry if you don't understand because I know how nutty I sound.  

We won't be back to a normal schedule around here for 2 more weeks, so I'm going to try and concentrate on continuing the organizing things that have worked well for me as well as add on a couple more...Here they are: 

1.  Keep plugging away at weekly menus.  I'd love to break out into a monthly format, but I'm just not sure our lives right now would lend themselves to that much structure.  I'm also a freak about fresh as possible food, so I'd rather not buy fresh veggies and meats too early if I can help it.  I've also challenged my creative firstborn to make me one of these: 



With this little snazzy contraption, all members of my family would  know what we're having for supper and I wouldn't have to answer that question 5 different times (at least).  
We also need a better schedule for eating.  We end up eating too late because of the various schedules...I need to pick a time, complete the process by then, eat, and then latecomers can eat when they get home.  

2.  Follow my budget.  We have no credit card debt from Christmas.  I am stunned.  I cannot remember another year where we haven't needed several months after Christmas to pay for Christmas.  It feels a lot better than I thought it would.  

3.  Exercise.  I'm 43. I've always been concerned about my health, but I've officially reached a point where I have no choice but to be concerned.  I have a health concern that isn't a big one, but it could be if I don't get control of it now.  Part of that problem is that I've put on almost 20 pounds since Summer.  I'm not fat by any means, but my metabolism has left the building.  I actually weighed more at the doctor's office last week than I weighed when I gave birth to my middle child...GULP.   Gwyneth is about 5 years younger than me, but I think her sentiment says it all:




4.  Housecleaning.  I don't have house help...and really don't want it.  As messy as my house is right now, I'm particular about the way I like things done.  Especially if I'm going to pay someone, I'd like them to do it my way.  That rarely happens.  I've seen a couple of bloggers who swear by the 15-20 minute per day routine or even a calendar of the bigger jobs...I'm thinking about that.  I don't have an entire day to clean.  I don't want an entire day to clean.  There's got to be a better way.





5.  And, finally, at work, I've got to figure out a way to keep papers from piling up on me.  The first thing I've done is try to make the assignments themselves a little more interesting...in the hopes that my students' papers might be a little more creative...we'll see.  I'll probably have to add more structure here than I really want...but I get paid for grading those papers :P


That's where I am right now...still in the thinking stages really...we still have Christmas at both grandparents to go so I probably won't make any headway at least until those two trips are complete.  

Till then, any advice?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 10 Favorite Books I Read in 2011





I love Top Ten Tuesday lists at the end of the year over at The Broke and the Bookish: the 10 books I hope Santa brings, the best books I read in 2011 and then the top 10 I'm looking forward to in 2012.

I'm not a "typical" reader I don't think.  Of my favorites of 2011 not a single one was actually published in 2011.  When I began blogging and particularly reviewing books, one of my intentions was to prioritize my reading again.  As long as I can remember, reading and books have brought me intense pleasure...after an 8 year stint working with nothing but academic text, I vowed to re-invigorate my reading life.  And, I have.  I still can't get through a book as fast as some of the book bloggers out there, but I also don't really feel the need to...some books were meant to be savored...or thought through as they are being read...while others have to be read every second of every minute bc I just can't stand to wait another minute to find out what will happen next. The Hunger Games and Water for Elephants are the only two books on this list that I flew through.  


1.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


This was my first read of 2011, and I loved it.  Alcott should be read slow and easy...candlelight or Christmas light preferable.  You also must be able to relax and just enjoy the story for what it is...a family story...but especially that of 4 sisters and how their lives are shaped over time.



2.  March by Geraldine Brooks


After Little Women, I went on an Alcott binge...I read Little Men and Jo's Boys, won an Alcott bio that I started and picked up my first Geraldine Brooks.   Oh my goodness.  American Civil War history in the light of reality vs. fantasy.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  I can't wait to read more of Brooks.



3.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Another book that garnered a lot of hype, but I didn't give in until my firstborn talked me into it.  Katniss is the kind of heroine I enjoy...tough and sensitive at the same time, loyal, head held high, and a fighter.  There was enough believable edge here to keep me interested as well.  A little nervous about the movie... but I always am.


4.  The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck


I can't even remember why this book got my attention in 2011...but it did.  This is one of those novels that stays with you for a long, long time after you read it.


5.  HT Be Your Dog's Best Friend by The Monks of New Skete


After I got Layla, I was determined to learn everything I could about my big dog and be the best owner I could possibly be.  I enjoyed learning about the monks, their lives and their dogs.  Their positive reinforcement/leader of the pack take on owning German Shepherds makes perfect sense to me.



6.  The United States of Arugula by David Kamp


A history of the food culture in the United States from the earliest influences, James Beard, Julia Child and friends, to the Food Network generation of today.  How food has shaped communities, re-invigorated run-down areas, brought families together and educated even home cooks on eating well.


7.  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen


I almost didn't read this one.  Amidst all the hype I kept picking it up, reading the synopsis and trying to get excited about the storyline.  I just couldn't.  At the last moment I downloaded it on my Kindle and read it on a trip to Baltimore...I couldn't put it down.  I even downloaded the Kindle app on my Blackberry so I could read my book everywhere, waiting in lines, on the train, etc...LOVED it.


8.  Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier


I chose this as a read to share with one of my classes.  I loved it.  We discussed it for 6 weeks even though I finished it before then, and then we watched the movie, comparing our perspectives with Hollywood's.  I enjoyed this assignment so much that I'm planning to continue it next semester...this time with Marcus Zuzak's The Book Thief.




9.  The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne


Another slow read...language, language, language.  Again, as with Little Women, take your time and enjoy this one...a family, but not so much a family story as it is a mystery...generations of hate finally come to an end.  Good stuff.



10.  The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir


My Tudor addiction is alive and well...I also can't get enough of Alison Weir.  She's something else.



And, there they are...the 2011 reads I enjoyed the most :)
Can't wait to see what happens in 2012 :):)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday at the Movies - Cold Mountain


Cold Mountain
December, 2003

First and foremost, let me say that I am one of those people who very seldom likes a movie as much as a book.  And, I've adopted a self-imposed edict that a movie may not be watched (by me) unless I've read the book first.  I know I'm weird...but, that's just the way it is.  It is important to know this about me though before you take my review to heart.

It's probably important to read my review of the book first as well...you can find it here.


Trailer





What I liked:

The scenery - nature, the environment, place to place was a hugely important aspect of this novel, so I was very glad to see the movie makers took the time to make sure nature was at the forefront of the movie as well.  

Graphic scenes - please don't get me wrong...I didn't like the graphic scenes...but this is war...there should be graphic scenes...anything less than graphic softens history for each generation removed from the actual events.  As graphic and hard to watch as some of the scenes in the movie, I felt the book descriptions were even more so.  Again, those scenes were not intended for shock effect...but a true depiction of the circumstances.

Attitudes - when the men hear that war has been declared, they begin jumping around hooting and hollering about going to war...as if they're going to wrestle a few rounds with the fellas down the street.  Young and old drop everything, leave everyone and go to fight...they truly think they'll be back quickly...and most of them never return at all.  I think these scenes are important because as bad as things were, ever are, or ever could be again, the tragedies of the Civil War were not seen as such from the beginning.  What is war?  How can you guess if you never been there?  How can you guess even if you have been there?  The men and women who went to Vietnam never expected the horrors and atrocities they suffered there either nor how they would  be treated when they returned.  The men of the North and South never expected such lawlessness as what they left behind...how women and children and helpless families were taken advantage of...and the examples could go on and on.  
War should never be taken lightly...with only fist pumping and going over to kick someone's a#$$.  Is there really ever a "winner"?

Ruby/Renee Zellweger - almost a flawless portrayal I think...hardcore, a spade a spade, realistic to the bone, hard-worker, smart, country, and independent.  The following is a perfect introduction to the character Ruby:



Jude Law as Inman - at first I wasn't sure...and I wasn't completely comfortable with his accent, but his acting overshadowed that for me...and that's really saying something.   His plight...a young honorable farmer, off to war, attracted to Ada, a war he doesn't believe in even from the beginning, the violence, wanting to go home, his perseverance, his inability to walk away from someone else in need, standing up for what's right while at the same time trying to be loyal...Inman is probably the most complicated person in this novel/movie, and Jude 
Law nailed it.  

The end - a very important part of this story is the way it ends.  The final scene was not my favorite in the movie and was much more meaningful and emotional in the book.  However, the actual ending "event" was done very well...even if you know what is going to happen (and I did), I felt the anticipation as Inman tracked down the fleeing member of the guard...I even caught myself hoping that the inevitable somehow might not happen.  That's pretty good movie-making, folks.


What I didn't like:

Nicole Kidman as Ada - I was a little nervous about the Nicole Kidman thing from the very beginning.  She just didn't fit my brain's image of Ada as I read the book.  While I felt she gave Ada her best shot, there were moments, especially at the end in the snow, when she looked like she had just put on blush and lip gloss.  That bothered me...I also couldn't help but wonder about her harsh portrayal of a woman with progressive ideas.  In the book Ada is much more believable...I'm not sure I'm really explaining this well...and maybe my doubts were about Kidman rather than her portrayal of Ada.  Kidman's best scene was the one where she is under the house hiding and the rooster attacks her.  Kidman looks like a crazed woman who literally has reached a point of nothing else to lose.  Perfect.

Changes to the story - As expected there were certainly some smaller scenes that were left out...and a few minor changes to the story or characters...and while I notice those, I can deal with them.  However, there was a major shift for Sally Swanger's character.  That I did not understand at all...living with Ada and Ruby after the brutal slaughter of her family...no voice...Did I miss something?  With that big of a change, I felt there should be some outstanding reason, some other part of the story developed...but there wasn't.  

Romance as a bigger theme - The movie was made much more into a love story than the book.  In the book Inman and Ada hardly knew each other when he left.  Their "love" grew from an idea of wanting what they had before the war took it all away.  The movie portrayed them somehow as the love of each other's lives from the very beginning, and I just didn't see it that way when I read the book.  


My Overall Response

I liked this movie enough to buy a copy and keep it in our DVD library.  It was not as good as the book, but what movie ever is?   I enjoyed looking for clips to share for this post which makes me think I will definitely watch it again.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Chistmas!!

Hoping for warmth and peace for all of you this Christmas...whatever brings that to you.  
For me, it will be twinkling lights, family, church, hugs, kisses, opening a few well thought out gifts with a surprise or two, squeals of delight, and content animals.



Merry Christmas!!!