Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thursday Tunes


Thursday Tunes is a weekly event hosted by S. Krishna, devoted to sharing the music we love.

S. Krishna usually features a new artist each week - just to be different, I'm going to focus on a specific song, because it's the song that hooks me. There are very few artists whose entire body of work is in my MP3 player, but I have thousands of songs I love.




I have mentioned before that I really love a good cover song - I especially like them when they are unexpected. Here is one of my all-time favorite Broadway stars, Lea Salonga, covering one of the hottest dance songs of the season - perfect to get you in the New Year's Eve mood. Enjoy!




Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.


I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Spiced: A Pastry Chef's True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes On in the Kitchen by Dalia Jurgensen. You can read my first post about the book here.

Synopsis from publisher:

Spiced is Dalia Jurgensen's memoir of leaving her office job and pursuing her dream of becoming a chef. Eventually landing the job of pastry chef for a three-star New York restaurant, she recounts with endearing candor the dry cakes and burned pots of her early internships, and the sweat, sheer determination, and finely tuned taste buds-as well as resilient ego and sense of humor-that won her spots in world-class restaurant kitchens. With wit and an appreciation for raunchy insults, she reveals the secrets to holding your own in male-dominated kitchens, surviving after-hours staff parties, and turning out perfect plates when you know you're cooking for a poorly disguised restaurant critic. She even confesses to a clandestine romance with her chef and boss-not to mention what it's like to work in Martha Stewart's TV kitchen-and the ugly truth behind the much-mythologized family meal.


My thoughts so far:

In this second part of the book, Jurgensen's story starts to take a turn toward reality. So far, her journey as a chef has been, quite honestly, pretty smooth. She's had to work hard, but all her bosses have been supportive, her skills have stood the test, and she's worked for very successful restaurants.

However, now she accepts a job in a kitchen that is a confirmed "boy's club", and finds herself ignored at best, and harassed on a regular basis. After leaving that job, she finds herself working in a better climate, but in a restaurant that is not considered memorable by the critics, and ultimately won't ever be a success.

I found this part of the narrative more interesting, because it shows the side of restaurant work that isn't all smiles and great reviews. Things get tough, and Jurgensen has to just push through. She also talks about her relationships - or lack thereof - and I'm reminded again what an all-encompassing job being a chef really is.

This is still a quick, fun read, and it's working well for me at this time of year. I expect I will be done with it in no time!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Challenge One Night Stand


Some of you might have noticed that I enjoy joining reading challenges....=)

I have already joined 11 (ELEVEN!) challenges for 2010, which might be more than I can possibly hope to complete. Even so, more challenges have been calling my name. OH, how I want to join them all! But really, there's no way I can finish all these, right? Right?

So what's a girl to do? In my weekly blog reading, I read this great post from Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty - in part, about how much of the fun of joining these challenges is making the book lists in the first place. She plans to have a few challenge "one night stands" - have the fun of making a list without the commitment of the challenge. And a lightbulb went on in my head - I could make lists for some of these other challenges, but not "officially" sign up for them! That way, I can read along but not be committed. After checking with Wendy to make sure stealing her idea was okay, I decided to jump in.

So here are a few challenges I am NOT joining this year, and the book lists to go with them.



The Debutante Ball Challenge


The challenge:

Read books by the authors of the Debutante Ball, a group blog for debut female authors.

If I were joining, I would be reading:

Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony
All Come Home by Alicia Bessette
101 Ways to Torture Your Husband by Marcia Garcia-Kalb
The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen
The Whole World by Emily Winslow


I've heard nothing but good things about the authors from The Debutante Ball, so this challenge would be a lot of fun - IF I was joining.



The L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge


The challenge:

Pick some books by L.M. Montgomery and read them in January.

If I were joining I would be reading:

Anne of Green Gables
Kilmeny of the Orchard
The Blue Castle


I love this author - the only reason, really, I'm not joining this challenge is because it's limited to January. But, if I was joining, I'd sure be happy to revisit these old favorites!




The Beth Kephart Reading Challenge


The challenge:

Read from author Beth Kephart's backlist.

If I were joining I would be reading:


Still Love in Strange Places
Ghosts in the Garden
House of Dance
Nothing But Ghosts


That would put me at the Mix n' Match level, reading two memoirs and two YA novels. I know lots of bloggers who rave about Kephart's work, and the interactions I've had with her have been lovely. IF I was joining this challenge, it would be fun to get to know her better.



The Social Justice Challenge


The challenge: Each month will have a theme. Participants will read or watch something from a list of resources on that theme. Additionally, each month participants will take an action step that relates to that month's theme.

If I were joining I would be reading:

1 - Religious Freedom - Silence by Shusaku Endo
2 - Water - Unquenchable by Robert Glennon
3 - Domestic Violence/Child Abuse - Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
4 - Hunger - The Boy Who Harnassed the Wind by W. Kamkwamba and B. Mealer
5 - AIDS - The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin
6 - Genocide - We Wish to Inform You.....by Philip Gourevitch
7 - Poverty - Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
8 - Illiteracy/Education - The Book Boy by Joanna Trollope
9 - Modern Day Slavery - The Night Ferry by Michael Robotham
10 - Homelessness/Refugees - Little Bee by Chris Cleave
11 - Women's Rights - ??? too many choices to narrow down right now
12 - Child Soldiers/Children in War - God Grew Tired of Us by John Bull Daw
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah


I think this challenge will be a powerful experience for participants. I'm not joining because of the high level of participation required - I am pretty sure I wouldn't complete the monthly requirements. But, IF I was joining, I know it would be a memorable year.


A Tournament of Reading

The challenge:

Read a bit of medieval literature.

If I was joining I would be reading:

Queen Isabella by Alison Weir
Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir
The Memoirs of Margery Kempe
Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliott
The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Company of Liards by Karen Maitland


That would put me at the Lord level - 6 books from 3 different categories. I'm not joining this challenge because I really don't know if I can get through actual medieval literature, but it would sure be fun to try - IF I was joining.


So there you go - all the challenges I am NOT joining this year. It's possible that you MIGHT see reviews for some (or a lot) of the books on these lists - if so, I will be sure to remind you of which challenge it WOULD have counted toward. =)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Challenge failed - Decades '09


My challenge:

Read a minimum of 9 books in 9 consecutive decades in 2009.

My list:

1910s -
1920s -
1930s - Invincible Louise by Cornelia Meigs - finished 3/29/09, rated 8/10
1940s -
1950s - Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - finished 2/27/09, rated 8/10
Gentle Infidel and Queen's Cross by Lawrence Schoonover - finished 7/09, rated 7/10 & 8/10
On the Road by Jack Kerouac - finished 10/22/09, rated 5/10
1960s -
1970s - Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson - finished 7/8/09, rated 7/10
The Summer Before the Dark by Doris Lessing - finished 8/16/09, rated 7/10
1980s - Midnight's Children by S. Rushdie - finished 4/23/09, rated 6/10
Alaska and Journey by James Michener - finished 2/14/09, rated 8/10
Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee - finished 5/8/09, rated 7/10
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - finished 9/7/09, rated 8/10
1990s - By the Shore by Galaxy Craze - finished 1/23/09, rated 8/10
Skellig by David Almond - finished 6/09, rated 9/10
A Good House by Bonnie Burnard - finished 7/4/09, rated 7/10



I like this challenge - it encourages me to read such great books. I haven't seen if it will be offered again in 2010, but I would certainly consider participating again!

Challenge failed - Book Buddy Blogger Challenge


My challenge:

Read 5 books from a set list of 10 that appeared on bloggers' Best of 2008 lists.

My list:

1- The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff - recommended by Stephanie of Open Mind, Insert Book (6/1/09, rated 9/10)
2 - Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips - recommended by Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit (5/3/09, rated 7/10)
3 - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford - recommended by Marcia of The
Printed Page
(5/28/09, rated 10/10)



I still plan to read the other books on my list - I just didn't get to them this year.

Challenge Completed - Orbis Terrarum


My challenge:

Read 10 books, by 10 different authors, from 10 different countries.

My list:

1 - Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (Britain) finished 4/23/09, rated 6/10
2 - This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun (Morocco) 12/15/09, rated 9/10
3 - Angel of Grozny by Asne Seierstad (Chechnya) - finished 3/1/09, rated 8/10
4 - Infinity in the Palm of her Hand by Gioconda Belli (Nicaragua) finished 3/19/09, rated 7/10
5 - Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee (India) finished 5/8/09, rated 7/10
6 - Cutting Loose by Nadine Dajani (Lebanon) finished 6/13/09, rated 8/10
7 - Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (Pakistan) finished 6/24/09, rated 8/10
8 - A Good House by Bonnie Burnard (Canada) finished 7/4/09, rated 7/10
9 - After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (Australia) finished 10/2/09, rated 8/10
10 - The Book of Murder by Guilermo Martinez (Argentina) finished 8/09, rated 6/10


I do love this challenge - if Bethany hosts it again in 2010, I have a feeling I'll be joining....=)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Baby Sam Christmas update

Sam had a very precarious Christmas. When a baby is doing well, it's easy to forget that a split second can change everything, and that certainly happened for this family on Christmas day. Joy sent some new pictures reluctantly - she said she finds it hard to share pictures when Sam looks so puffy and sick, but she wanted to let people know exactly what he was facing. The first picture is Sam with his parents, Joy and Kurt. The second picture is Sam with his Aunt Stephie (Joy's sister), and siblings Matthew, Emma, and Parker. The third is just Sam. Here's the latest update from Joy:


"I never want to relive last night.
I do not want to remember the complete brokenness, we as parents had looking at our sweet baby fighting for his life...and knowing he was losing the battle.
Sam went downhill very quickly yesterday afternoon. Our prayer requests have focused on fluid retention and severe edema, and yesterday his body was at maximum capacity of fluid overload and it had had enough. Even his little ears were so swollen-they
were swelled shut. His kidneys started to shut down. He was not urinating despite massive doses of strong diuretics.

The doctors laid everything out extremely clear for us. We could do nothing and watch Sam die. We could shut off the ventilator and watch Sam die. We could give our consent to a procedure that had the potential to help him...but also had the very high possibility of killing him. The Doctor's words still ring in my mind, she said them over and over..."we could kill him with this procedure".


It is a situation no parent EVER should have to be in. Those are not words ANY parent should have to hear. It is not a decision that parents should have to make for their babies. Yet we know that many do every day...last night we were one of them, and it shattered us. We just kept asking for one more minute.

... One more minute to feel his warm, soft skin. One more minute to feel him gripping our fingers with his sweet tiny hands. One more minute to tell him how much he was loved, and how proud we were of him. One more minute to reassure him that he was in God's hands. One more minute to smell his precious little head. One more minute to pray over him. One more minute to cry out on his behalf. One more minute to spend holding on to each other trying to breathe through choking sobs and hot tears. One more minute asking God to spare his life.

Finally there were no more minutes left, and we had to walk away from our baby Samuel...we had to walk away and leave him to have this procedure, knowing we could lose him in the next half hour. We said one more I love you and gave one more kiss knowing it could be our last. Kurt and I cried like we have never cried before. It was more than our hearts could take.
We put aside our wills, and what we wanted for Sam, and we started praying for God's.

We could feel people praying. We could feel you lifting us up, and bringing Sam before The Lord. There were more tears as we realized we will NEVER be able to thank you all enough for praying for our little boy. NEVER.

When the doctor came and told us that Sam made it through and there were no complications
the tears and sobs came again. We give all of the glory and honor to The Lord, because He is the only one who could have done what was accomplished last night. We are praising and thanking Him for all He has done in and through our little Sam's life...and we are praying that He continues to use him.

Samuel is still in VERY critical condition, and is extremely fragile right now. They were able to pull a lot of fluid off today with the dialysis, but there is still so much extra on his little body. I have not wanted to post a picture of him so swelled up because it is so hard to look at, but I have tonight so you have a clear picture and a better understanding of just how dangerous of a situation we are facing.

He is urinating, but his output in that area needs to be more than what it is. He is on very strong medication that has the potential for very serious side effects like bleeding on the brain, internal bleeding, and stroke. He is at high risk for infection, which would be disasterous for him at this point. His body cannot handle an infection-it would be deadly. He has a really long way to go. "



I know that was a long one, but I really wanted you to feel Joy's heart. She said it, but I need to say it too - THANK YOU for your continued prayers and warm thoughts for this little boy. They really are helping this family!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas


Look there at the star!
I, among the least,
Will arise and take
A journey to the East.
But what shall I bring

As a present for the King?

What shall I bring to the Manger?

I will bring a song,
A song that I will sing,
A song for the King
In the Manger.






Watch out for my flocks,
Do not let them stray.
I am going on a journey
Far, far away.
But what shall I bring

As a present for the Child?

What shall I bring to the Manger?

I will bring a lamb,
Gentle, meek, and mild,
A lamb for the Child
In the Manger.






I'm just a shepherd boy,
Very poor I am -
But I know there is
A King in Bethlehem.
What shall I bring

As a present just for Him?

What shall I bring to the Manger?


I will bring my heart
And give my heart to Him.
I will bring my heart
To the Manger.



~Shepherd's Song at Christmas, Langston Hughes

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thursday Tunes

Thursday Tunes is a weekly event hosted by S. Krishna, devoted to sharing the music we love.

S. Krishna usually features a new artist each week - just to be different, I'm going to focus on a specific song, because it's the song that hooks me. There are very few artists whose entire body of work is in my MP3 player, but I have thousands of songs I love.




Merry Christmas Eve.





Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.


I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read is Spiced: A Pastry Chef's True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes On in the Kitchen by Dalia Jurgensen

Synopsis from publisher:

Spiced is Dalia Jurgensen's memoir of leaving her office job and pursuing her dream of becoming a chef. Eventually landing the job of pastry chef for a three-star New York restaurant, she recounts with endearing candor the dry cakes and burned pots of her early internships, and the sweat, sheer determination, and finely tuned taste buds-as well as resilient ego and sense of humor-that won her spots in world-class restaurant kitchens. With wit and an appreciation for raunchy insults, she reveals the secrets to holding your own in male-dominated kitchens, surviving after-hours staff parties, and turning out perfect plates when you know you're cooking for a poorly disguised restaurant critic. She even confesses to a clandestine romance with her chef and boss-not to mention what it's like to work in Martha Stewart's TV kitchen-and the ugly truth behind the much-mythologized family meal.


My thoughts:

I needed something light after finishing up a couple of very heavy reads, and Spiced has perfectly fit that bill. It's just been an easy read, fun and entertaining, which is just what I was hoping for.

Dalia Jurgensen always wanted to cook, and so she enrolled in cooking school, quit her job, and weaseled her want into a entry-level position at the famous Nobu in New York. Her new boss didn't care that she had no experience - that just meant she didn't have any bad habits he would need to break. She was initially miserably bad at her job, and then better, and then quite good. She got a better job at a newer restaurant, and eventually worked her way up to grill chef. Then, inexplicably, she decided she needed to take a break, which is where I left the story this week.

Jurgensen tells her story in a friendly, conversational style, which has been a pleasure to read. She doesn't gloss over her failings, even recounting the time when she burned an actual hole in a metal pan. She seems to be remarkably quick at picking up the nuances of her job, and her reactions to stressful situations are impressively cool and collected. She seems to be the type of person who would be fun to hang out with, so it's easy to root for her as she pursues her dreams.

I don't know that this will have any deep life lessons to impart, but it's a lot of fun, which is perfect for this busy time of year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review - The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez


The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez
published 7/09
224 pages



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com.


What happens when a crime novel comes to life? Could a novelist do the unthinkable - live out his story?


Ten years ago, a young writer in Argentina faces a crisis - up against a deadline, he breaks his wrist, leaving him unable to finish his manuscript. Desperate, he calls his editor for help. His editor offers a perfect solution: he will send Luciana, a brilliant typist, to help the writer finish his work. Luciana usually works for Kloster, a rather eccentric novelist, but he is away for a month and her services are available. So the writer employs Luciana, finishes his novel, and doesn't give her another thought.

A late night call from Luciana a decade later startles the writer, but her story is even more alarming. Convincing the writer to meet her and begging for his help, she relates her belief that Kloster has been systematically killing her loved ones for the past ten years to revenge a personal tragedy for which he holds her responsible. At first the writer is skeptical, but as Luciana lays out her circumstantial evidence, he unwillingly finds himself believing her.

"Why did I say yes when everything inside me said no? Why didn't I fob her off with some excuse and put as much distance between us as possible? There are times in life - not many - when you can see, with dizzying clarity, the fatal fork in the road represented by one small act, the catastrophe that lurks behind a trivial decision. That evening I knew, above all else, that I shouldn't listen to her anymore. But, overcome by the intertia of compassion, or politeness, I stood up and followed her out."

Against his better judgment, the writer arranges a meeting with Kloster and teases out his version of the events. As Kloster refutes each of Luciana's assertions with a perfectly logical explanation, the writer becomes more and more perplexed. Who is telling the truth? Whose life was truly ruined? Are the events coincidence, or the work of a truly brilliant murderer?

Martinez spins a chilling tale of revenge and murder with just enough ambiguity to keep the reader constantly guessing. The story is presented almost entirely in the form of two monologues - Luciana and later Kloster telling their stories takes up the bulk of the narrative. This is a uniquely effective approach for this novel, as it allows the characters to relate their own tales but gives no actual insight into the workings of their brain. Readers are never given access to what is truth and what is lie, keeping them wondering until the very end of the novel.

Unfortunately, this approach does not allow for a great deal of connection to the story. Readers looking for characters with which to sympathize may be disappointed; Martinez holds them at arm's length for the duration of the novel. His logic and persuasion are second to none, but there is a lack of emotion that permeates the story. Readers looking for a cerebral mystery will be more than pleased with this haunting tale, and its unexpected ending will likely keep all readers thinking for many years to come.



This book counts toward:


Orbis Terrarum Challenge
book 10/10
country: Argentina

Monday, December 21, 2009

Baby Sam update, take 2

From Sam's mom this morning:

"We were all up early today, and at the hospital trying mentally to prepare ourselves for sending our baby into surgery once again. But when we got to Samuel's room the cardiologis
ts were there looking him over. They told us that they spoke with the surgeon and that Sam would
NOT
be having surgery today!!!

Samuel's nurse noticed that the chest tube drainage was very very minimal since midnight last night (10 cc). He has been averaging 100 or more each day. We were shocked! We prayed last night specifically for the drainage to cease so Sam would not need surgery. It is still something that will be very closely monitored, and if the drainage increases or x rays show an increase in fluid around his lungs then surgery will be on once again.

If his drainage stops for a week, they will then try feeding him again. Pray for the swelling and edema in his head and neck , that it would decrease and not come back. Pray for strength for his lungs. They are working him on the ventilator a little bit at a time. Dr. Oliver said he was at sprinters status right now, and we need to work him up to marathon strength!! "


Great news - thanks to all of you who have been remembering this family in your thoughts and prayers!

Baby Sam update

I've been contacted several times asking for updates on this little guy, so thought I would post here for anyone who is interested. Sam is now 1 month old! Hard to believe. He's definitely a fighter, but still has lots to get through before he gets to go home. Both of his parents, and his 3 siblings, are all at Mayo this week to spend Christmas with him, together as a family. It's hard to be at the hospital over Christmas, but they are just very happy to all be together again. Here's the latest update from Joy, as of 2 pm Sunday afternoon:

"Samuel will need surgery tomorrow. The name for the surgery is a thoricotomy with a ligation of the thoracic duct. They will take him down to the OR, prep him with anesthesia, and make an incision on his right side in between his little tiny ribs. They will then make a determination as best they can as to where the leak is and tie it off. They will do this with the expectation that the fluid and drainage will decrease from his 3rd spacing area around his lungs. Right now he is still draining a lot every day from his chest tube, and surgery was almost a month ago.
He needs this to decrease so he can start to get stronger and heal properly. He is weak right now.

All of the risks of surgery were explained to us. Obviously it is not as major as a heart surgery, but it is still a surgery...and for a tiny little prematurely born new baby who has already been through so so much it is a lot. It does not get any easier to hear that there is a risk of death for your child. There are not words to make you understand what a difficult thing it is to sign a consent form giving your permission to operate on your baby after you hear those things. You have to physically make yourself put the pen to paper. "


Sam's surgery is the first case today, so will be taking place sometime between 6 and 8 am CST. I know his family will appreciate your continued prayers and warm thoughts. Thank you, on behalf of all of them!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

TSS - Review - This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun


This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun
published 2001
195 pages


Synopsis from publisher:

An immediate and critically acclaimed bestseller in France, This Blinding Absence of Light is the latest work by internationally renowned author Tahar Ben Jelloun, the first North African winner of the Prix Goncourt and winner of the Prix Mahgreb. Crafting real life events into narrative fiction, Ben Jelloun reveals the horrific story of the desert concentration camps in which King Hassan II of Morocco held his political enemies in underground cells with no light and only enough food and water to keep them lingering on the edge of death. Working closely with one of the survivors, Ben Jelloun narrates the story in the simplest of language and delivers a shocking novel that explores both the limitlessness of inhumanity and the impossible endurance of the human will.


My thoughts:

Brutal. Beautiful. Horrific. Hopeful. Terrible. Triumphant.

All of those words are apt descriptions of this breathtaking novel. It was both a pleasure and a despair to read, and I don't think I'll soon forget it.

From the very beginning, I could tell I would be captured by Salim's story. As he describes the environment and companions in his prison cell, I could see it -

"Night clothed us. In another world, one would say that night waited on us hand and foot."

At times, I had to stop reading and take a breath, feeling almost claustrophobic reading Salim's words.

"Night had thrown her cloak over our faces no longer astonished by anything, a cloak without even the tiniest moth holes, oh, no; it was a cloak of wet sand."

I won't list the horrors experienced, though rest assured they are many; prisoners don't just die, they die horribly, from things I had never thought of that can kill you. But the soul of the book isn't the suffering - it is the way the prisoners find to keep themselves human. By telling each other tales out of the Arabian Nights, and American movie scripts; by keeping close track of the time; by adopting a lost dove, passing it from cell to cell, and eventually letting it fly free. By choosing forgiveness instead of anger.

The story moves from past to present, as we learn of the reasons Salim and his fellow prisoners are captured, and their day-to-day lives in prison. My lack of knowledge of the history of the time and place occasionally made it difficult to keep up with the plot, but mostly the author explains just enough in the text to assist readers like me. There are no extra words in the sparse prose, and yet the author manages to engulf readers in the narrative.

"I should say that there were different kinds of silence. The silence of the night. It was a necessity for us. The silence of the companion who was slowly leaving us...The silence of blood circulating sluggishly...The silence of the shadow of memories burned to ashes...The silence of absence, the blinding absence of life."

This is an incredibly powerful book. It is not action packed, or plot-driven, or even especially entertaining. But of all the books I've read this year, I know this is one I will remember. It is the story of the worst man can do to man, and the power of humanity to overcome. It is remarkable.

Finished: 12/15/09
Source: my shelves
Rating: 9/10


This book counts toward:

Orbis Terrarum challenge
book 9/10
country: Morocco

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)


This week's selection is the short story X-ing a Paragrab. You can read the full text here.

In today's story, we find an editor, Mr. B., who decided to move from The East to The West, because he thought the found a city who did not have an editor. When he arrived, he found he was wrong - there was already a newspaper, under the direction of a John Smith. Mr. B., not to be deterred, set up his own newspaper. One day, John Smith wrote a scathing editorial about the quality of Mr. B.'s work, stating he couldn't write a paragraph without an "Oh!".

Mr. B., wanting to get him back, proceeded to write a paragraph in which EVERY WORD contained an "O". However, when his copy-writer went to set up the paragraph, he realized that every "o" was gone. Mortified, he decided he had to substitute the "o"s with "x"s, making the paragraph look like this:

"Sx hx, Jxhn! hxw nxw? Txld yxu sx, yxu knxw. Dxn't crxw, anxther time, befxre yxu're xut xf the wxxds! Dxes yxur mxther knxw yxu're xut? Xh, nx, nx! sx gx hxme at xnce, nxw, Jxhn, tx yxur xdixus xld wxxds xf Cxncxrd! Gx hxme tx yxur wxxds, xld xwl, — gx! Yxu wxnt? Xh, pxh, pxh, Jxhn, dxn't dx sx! Yxu've gxt tx gx, yxu knxw! sx gx at xnce, and dxn't gx slxw; fxr nxbxdy xwns yxu here, yxu knxw. Xh, Jxhn, Jxhn, Jxhn, if yxu dxn't gx yxu're nx hxmx — nx! Yxu're xnly a fxwl, an xwl; a cxw, a sxw; a dxll, a pxll; a pxxr xld gxxd-fxr-nxthing-tx-nxbxdy lxg, dxg, hxg, xr frxg, cxme xut xf a Cxncxrd bxg. Cxxl, nxw — cxxl! Dx be cxxl, yxu fxxl! Nxne xf yxur crxwing, xld cxck! Dxn't frxwn sx — dxn't! Dxn't hxllx, nxr hxwl, nxr grxwl, nxr bxw-wxw-wxw! Gxxd Lxrd, Jxhn, hxw yxu dx lxxk! Txld yxu sx, yxu knxw, — but stxp rxlling yxur gxxse xf an xld pxll abxut sx, and gx and drxwn yxur sxrrxws in a bxwl!"


Naturally, when this published Mr. B. had disappeared.


I honestly don't even know what to say about this story. It's meant to be humorous, but it's well documented that Poe's sense of humor is not the same as mine. I can see it might possibly be a bit of poking fun at the editors of Poe's day, but I don't know enough history to say that definitively. Maybe it's just a nonsense tale - as such, it works beautifully.

Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Friday, December 18, 2009

451 Fridays


451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?


Today, I'm so happy to welcome Tif to 451 Fridays. Tif blogs at Tif Talks Books - have you visited her there? She hosts a very cool feature called Literary Locals, where she invites readers to highlight the local authors from their community that might not get as much press as the "big guys" - cool, right? Welcome, Tif!


What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire


The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon


Blindness by Jose Saramago

Maus & Maus II by Art Spiegelman


Of those 5, which book would you choose to "become"?

This is a really hard question for me, but I think I will have to go with Harry Potter. It has fun, romance, and most importantly adventure.....all a girl really wants in life! =)


Do you have any favorite quotes from that book, so we know why you love it so much?

"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." (Albus Dumbledore)

"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." (Sirius Black)


Tif, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved!


451 Fridays is taking a hiatus until the New Year - I'm hoping to have lots more great lists of books to share - I'd even love to have YOURS! Contact me if you'd like to participate!

Did you know I'm hosting the first annual 451 Challenge? Visit the challenge blog, look at the list of great books, and JOIN US!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday Tunes


Thursday Tunes is a weekly event hosted by S. Krishna, devoted to sharing the music we love.

S. Krishna usually features a new artist each week - just to be different, I'm going to focus on a specific song, because it's the song that hooks me. There are very few artists whose entire body of work is in my MP3 player, but I have thousands of songs I love.



This week, I'm sharing two of my favorite christmas carols. When I was in school, our music teacher directed wonderful annual Christmas productions, and we were able to learn some beautiful traditional christmas songs.







Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.


I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. You can read my first post about this book here, and my second post here.

Synopsis from publisher:

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, acclaimed New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z?

In 1925 Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world’s largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many scientists convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett, whose daring expeditions helped inspire Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions around the globe, Fawcett embarked with his twenty-one-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization—which he dubbed “Z”—existed. Then he and his expedition vanished.

Fawcett’s fate—and the tantalizing clues he left behind about “Z”—became an obsession for hundreds who followed him into the uncharted wilderness. For decades scientists and adventurers have searched for evidence of Fawcett’s party and the lost City of Z. Countless have perished, been captured by tribes, or gone mad. As David Grann delved ever deeper into the mystery surrounding Fawcett’s quest, and the greater mystery of what lies within the Amazon, he found himself, like the generations who preceded him, being irresistibly drawn into the jungle’s “green hell.” His quest for the truth and his stunning discoveries about Fawcett’s fate and “Z” form the heart of this complex, enthralling narrative.


My final thoughts:

This third and final portion of the book really felt like it became the author's story. Fawcett and his son have started out on their great mission to find the Lost City - and disappear. Fawcett's wife basically devotes the remainder of her life to talking people into searching for him, which eventually becomes quite sad. Not only does she refuse to consider that he might be dead, she lures a number of other explorers to their deaths in the jungle, searching for her lost husband. I said last week that I don't think I could have endured being the wife of an explorer like Fawcett - this just reinforced that in my mind. She literally spent her entire life trying to support her family on a pittance, and talking people - including herself - into believing he wasn't dead. She was consigned to wait for him for their whole marriage. Her own aspirations were never taken into account. I found her story much more tragic that Fawcett's - at least he got to live out his grand adventures. She was only allowed to imagine them.

The author himself finally makes it to the jungle, only to have everyone who hears about his journey basically call him crazy. He does find a guide to take him to the place where Fawcett was last seen, and talks to several members of the Kalapalo tribe, including one who was alive when Fawcett was last seen. All the stories seem to agree that Fawcett and his small party ventured into territory that the Kalapalo's warned him against entering, and was never seen again. Ironically, it appears Fawcett was nearly at the place he was searching - a vast civilization is being uncovered near the location Fawcett was trying to reach, that may be just exactly what he was looking for.

Grann's own journey was dangerous, although modern technology made it quite a bit less impossible than when Fawcett attempted the same travel. I admit to being a little disappointed that he was not able to find a conclusive end to Fawcett's story, but his decision to accept what he had learned and return home was, honestly, the only logical decision either one of these men made, as far as I am concerned.

I found this book to be completely compelling from start to finish. Grann weaves his dual narratives seamlessly together, and each story beautifully compliments the other. Fawcett is such a larger-than-life persona, almost mythological in nature, and yet Grann is able to prod beyond the surface to give readers a glimpse of the real man behind the myths. There are not many people in the world today with the same spirit of adventure and thirst for knowledge that Fawcett embodied, and reading about him was a fascinating experience.

I definitely recommend this book - it will appeal to a wide range of readers, and a little escape into the jungle might be just what you need to warm your chilly winter night!

Finished: 12/6/09
Source: the publisher - thank you!
Rating: 8/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

At Home with Books

Trish's Reading Nook
A Lovely Shore Breeze

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review - The Kings Are Already Here by Garret Freymann-Weyr

The Kings Are Already Here by Garret Freymann-Weyr
published 2004
149 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Phebe Knight has always wanted to be a ballerina. But now, one year away from joining the Company, her mind begins to wander. To clear her head, she decides to visit her father, who lives in Switzerland. There, she meets Nikolai Kotalev, a teenage chess champion, who is looking for the legendary Stas Vlajnik, the teacher who will show him how to be a grand master capable of both grace and speed. Phebe organizes a search across Europe to help Nikolai find the elusive Stas. And all the while, Phebe and Nikolai study each other's obsessions to find the lives they want. What are they each willing to pay for perfection and beauty?

My thoughts:

Last month I read my first book by this author (read my review of After the Moment) and thought it was very good, so when I saw this slim volume in the library I grabbed it. I was curious to see if I would enjoy a second novel as much - I'm happy to say I did.

In fact, I think I enjoyed this one more. Phebe and Nikolai were uniquely interesting characters,
each struggling with an obsession that they were loath to part with. They were both so perfectly believable - as the author alternated between their voices, I was completely along for the ride. I love the way Freymann-Weyr creates characters that are intelligent and yet innocent. They never feel like people I've met before, and while they might be just a little bit too perfect to be real, they never feel fake.

I also enjoyed that this was not a story about love at first sight, as seems to be the norm in much YA literature these days. Throughout the novel Phebe and Nikolai come to care a great deal about each other, but falling in love is not really on either of their agendas. Phebe tells us early in the novel:

"Of course he means boys. They are the usual culprit. They are what cause girls with graceful necks and perfect turnouts to vanish. Back outside into life. It's always so sad. There was a boy about a year ago, but I found him...lacking. If I go outside into life, it won't be because of a boy."

I am becoming more and more a fan of this author. I know she has written several other books, and I am eager to read them. I thought this was a powerful and intelligent novel, and I would definitely recommend it.

Finished: 11/29/09
Source: Forest Avenue Library
Rating: 9/10

Sunday, December 13, 2009

TSS - The Dewey Tree


My favorite part of Christmas - hands down - is giving presents. I love the thrill of seeking out just the right gift - the fun of wrapping - the joy of seeing my loved one's face when they open that perfect present. I LOVE IT!!


I also love finding opportunities to give to people who need a little help. This year, my co-workers and I have decided to forgo the traditional Secret Santa in favor of adopting a family. I always participate in Toys for Tots, or The Mitten Tree, or one of the other avenues available at this time of year to do something for someone who has a need - because really, I am very blessed, and I know it.

So when I heard about the Dewey Tree, hosted by Lisa at Online Publicist, I thought it was the perfect idea for the book blogging community at this time of year.


"I thought about hosting a book swap, but I feel the problem is we're weighed down with too many books. Not having enough to read doesn't appear to be the problem! So in the spirit of the giving season, why don't we clean some shelves out instead? I know it's difficult to give up your books, but think about the people who really need them.

As I write this, I think of a favorite blogger who passed away this time last year. Her spirit lives on in the Dewey Read-a-Thon, Weekly Geeks, and The Bookworms Carnival. She loved reading. She loved books. She supported Banned Books Week and believed everyone had the right to reading m
aterial. In her honor, I'm calling this donation project The Dewey Tree. It's a little bit The Giving Tree, a little bit Dewey, a little bit charity. :-D

Here's what you do:
*Gather up the books you can live witho
ut. It can be 4 books, 10 books, or 20 books!
*Find a worthy group you would like to donate your overflow books to. It can be your local library, a literacy campaign (mine will go to the literacy center I volunteer for), or overseas. There's a great list of book donation sites here on the ALA. Find a charity that speaks to you!
*Then take a picture of your donation and email it to me (onlinepublicist [AT] gmail [DOT] com). It can be a pic of the mailing label on your package, one of your kids giving a box of books to a
librarian, or you handing books over to your literacy center. Be creative and have fun!"


Seriously, what a GREAT idea! Here's the picture I'll be sending Lisa - my stack of books, with my friend Chilly the Snowman who helped me pick them out. =) I'll be donating to my local library, for the Friends of the Library book sale.


If you are interested, you just have to leave a comment on the Dewey Tree entry page telling Lisa what you donated, and where - pictures are fun, but she's not requiring them.



It's an easy way to do something good, in memory of one of our finest. Thanks, Lisa!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Poe Fridays (on Saturday)


This week's Poe selection is the short story Ligeia. You can read the full text here.

This week's unnamed narrator marries Ligeia, the perfect example of everything good, beautiful, intelligent, etc. They share a few blissful years, and then Ligeia dies. After a short time, and the purchase of an abbey, our narrator marries Lady Rowena, also beautiful, but whom he does not love. Rowena is the opposite of Ligeia - fair rather than dark, scared of the narrator rather than in love. She becomes ill, and soon dies. Then, in an typically Poe twist, the narrator witnesses the dead Rowena resurrect in the body of Ligeia.

Can you sense me shaking my head as I write this? I think what I've been most surprised about in this year of reading Poe is how he seems to write the same story over and over again. Here we have the death of a beautiful young women (as seen in The Fall of the House of Usher, Berenice, and Morella), resurrection (again, The Fall of the House of Usher and Morella), and drug use, which is in countless stories. He changes up the details, but so much of the main themes are the same - perhaps that's why, at this point in the year, I have a hard time holding interest in the stories.

This story, however has received quite a bit of critical acclaim, so it is perhaps one of his best. I found it to be somewhat long, and I didn't really feel the gothic mood that I think Poe was attempting to portray.

Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Santa time!!

Boy, am I glad we finally got our back porch shoveled! Look what I found - my package from the Book Blogger Secret Santa Swap!!

My Secret Santa was the FABULOUS Aarti, and here's what she sent -

-A copy of The Secret River by Kate Grenville
- some yummy chocolate
- a bar of gardenia-scented soap
- a very cool Egyptian bookmark
- a lovely note

How cool!! I've been interested in reading something by Kate Grenville, so I'm very excited this is the book she picked out for me. And the rest of the items are just so much fun - I love gardenia scent, and chocolate is ALWAYS a winner.

Thank you so much, Aarti - I LOVE it all!


UPDATE - I just found out Aarti bought the bookmark IN EGYPT!! It's make of very unusual material - just gorgeous.

451 Fridays

451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.

451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?


Today, I'm so excited to welcome Robyn to 451 Fridays! Robyn has TWO related blogs - I'm So Not a Blogger, and The Book Club Blog. She shares The Book Club Blog with her sister, which I think would be so much fun (hint, hint, Carolynn). They are a fairly new blog, so please go give them some love! Also, she is from South Africa, which is just about as far away from me in Iowa as I can think of - I love making friends from all around the world! Welcome, Robyn!

In no particular order, these are the 5 books I would save:

Jitterbug Perfume - Tom Robbins

Jitterbug Perfume is full of wonderful insights and a host of wonderful characters, including the animal god, Pan. It shows how belief is a strange and fantastic thing and if there is no belief then things become faded and forgotten. It is the story between a man and a women, searching for truth and eternal life, and also, perfume. It is a love story and a story about beetroots. It has everything that a book needs in order to get you thinking and wondering at the beauty of life, at the complexities of the human spirit and adventure of the soul.

Rasero - Francisco Rebolledo

This novel is fantastic, it is set in the 18th century and the characters include Voltaire, Madame Pompadour, Roussea and Mozart. This book contains a heady mix of magic realism as well as politics, science and art of the times. It contains what none of us today could even begin to imagine and contrasts it with our world. The main character, Rasero is orgasmically clairvoyant, given at the moment of carnal release to apocalyptic visions in which he beholds what we recognize as the horrors of our own century: the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Vietnam War. And seeing as though I am saving a book, the past in this book is written so beautifully that one can almost vividly be there,within the pages. History at its best;-)

Calvin and Hobbes - Bill Watterson

Calvin and Hobbes encompasses such humour, sadness, true to life thoughts it makes my heart sing. It is a comic strip which never fails to lift my spirits and def would save any of his books, but have to say that 'Its a magical world' would be my favourite to keep.

The Family from One End Street - Eve Garnett

This is one of my all time favourite books and I often reread it. It is about a working class family living in the 1930's in a town called Otwell. It is very simply written, the father is a dustman and the mother is a washerwoman with 7 children so life is hard, but they are happy. It depicts their day to day life with the personalities of each character shining through. It truly is a magical children's book and the adventures of the characters are believable and amusing. It also shows a community which I dont think is quite alive in this day and age.

Perfume - Patrick Suskind

I know this is probably a bit of an odd book to save, but I found it a very compelling book to read. In a way I felt for the main character because he had no smell, he had no aroma and this was brought across as being almost as bad as having no soul, which ultimately one wonders about as you read it. I found that it was written extremely well and when they made it into a movie, I was quite keen to see how they would depict the sense of smell through sight. I have to say that it wasn't done too badly at all, but would still favour the book over the movie.


The book that I would choose to become is Jitterbug Perfume.
I think the world would be a poorer place without Tom Robbins in it. Without his humourous wisdom and uncanny ability to state the world as it is. It provides food for thought and love and laughter and the way that he constructs his sentences are brilliant.

Quotes:
‘The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious’

‘The highest function of love is that it makes the loved one a unique and irreplaceable being. Still, lovers quarrel. Frequently, they quarrel simply to recharge the air between them, to sharpen the aliveness of their relationship. To precipitate such a quarrel, the sweaty kimono of sexual jealousy is usually dragged out of the hamper, although almost any excuse will do. Only rarely is the spat rooted in the beet-deep soil of serious issue, but when it is, a special sadness attends it, for the mind is slower to heal than the heart, and such quarrels can doom a union, even one that has prospered for a very long time.’


Robyn, thank you so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved!

Do you have a list you'd like to share? I'd love to have you participate - please let me know!

Did you know I'm starting a 451 Challenge? Take a look and join us - we have lots of good books to read!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday Tunes


Thursday Tunes is a weekly event hosted by S. Krishna, devoted to sharing the music we love.

S. Krishna usually features a new artist each week - just to be different, I'm going to focus on a specific song, because it's the song that hooks me. There are very few artists whose entire body of work is in my MP3 player, but I have thousands of songs I love.



This week, I'm taking you back to my childhood, for a couple of songs that just make me grin. Enjoy!





Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.


I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. You can read my first post about this book here.


Synopsis from publisher:

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, acclaimed New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z?

In 1925 Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world’s largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many scientists convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett, whose daring expeditions helped inspire Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions around the globe, Fawcett embarked with his twenty-one-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization—which he dubbed “Z”—existed. Then he and his expedition vanished.

Fawcett’s fate—and the tantalizing clues he left behind about “Z”—became an obsession for hundreds who followed him into the uncharted wilderness. For decades scientists and adventurers have searched for evidence of Fawcett’s party and the lost City of Z. Countless have perished, been captured by tribes, or gone mad. As David Grann delved ever deeper into the mystery surrounding Fawcett’s quest, and the greater mystery of what lies within the Amazon, he found himself, like the generations who preceded him, being irresistibly drawn into the jungle’s “green hell.” His quest for the truth and his stunning discoveries about Fawcett’s fate and “Z” form the heart of this complex, enthralling narrative.

My thoughts:

While this section of the book continues to chronicle the adventures of Fawcett in the Amazon, it also gives a glimpse into his life as a husband, father, and friend, which makes him seem much less a mythical hero, and much more a highly unique but definitely fallible human. We see him leaving his wife for years on end to pursue his dreams, never allowing her the privilege of joining him in the jungle. She clearly believed in the equality of the sexes, but it seems her husband the fearless adventurer was not quite ready to embrace that belief. He also had a strong sense of favoritism for Jack, his oldest son, who was athletic and strong. His younger son, Brian, felt that favoritism keenly, and suffered for it when Fawcett decided to take Jack on his mission to find the Lost City and leave Brian behind. I honestly can't imagine being his wife and kids, left alone for years at a time, never knowing if he would come home. I don't think I could ever make peace with that life.

We also see Fawcett start to formulate his ideas about the Lost City, and make his first (unsuccessful) attempt at finding it. I find myself reading with horror as the author describes the conditions of the explorers - near starvation, covered in parasitic insects, hallucinatory and diseased. I think the people who go on Survivor are crazy - this seems like complete madness. Why would you go through that kind of horrible experience, and then keep going back? I cannot relate in the slightest to this mindset, but I certainly find it fascinating.

Meanwhile, the author is preparing to make his own voyage into the Amazon, to see if he can uncover the whereabouts of Fawcett's lost excursion. As he is leaving, his wife says to him, "Don't be stupid." THAT made me snort my hot cocoa. Because there is so much about this crazy idea that is smart. But it makes for great reading, and I can't wait to see how the two stories converge.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My month in movies


Running out of movie quotes, so I'll just jump right in -

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan (2009) - I never thought I'd say this about something from the BSG universe, but I found this very disappointing. It seemed disjointed and sloppy, like they didn't really figure out beforehand what story they wanted to tell. It did answer a few questions, like Leoban's weird obsession with Kara, but overall I felt it wasn't a great way to end the franchise.

Good Morning, Night (Buongiorno, notte) (2003)
- selection from Italy for the OT Film challenge, this was an interesting movie about a terrorist action in 1970s Italy seen from the perspective of one of the terrorists.

Milk (2008)
- excellent biopic of assassinated city supervisor Harvey Milk. Sean Penn is not my favorite actor, but I thought he did a very good job in this movie.

Spring Breakdown (2009) - what a great movie! I'd seen a bunch of bad reviews, but decided to give it a try because I really like Amy Poehler - I'm so glad I gave it a chance. Great cast, great message about learning to accept yourself at every age - I loved it, and laughed out loud! "Why would anyone want to wrestle in salsa? We're human beings - we're not tacos."

The Education of Charlie Banks (2007)
- Well, I wasn't as in love with this one as the rest of the indie-movie world, but it was an interesting film, made more interesting by the fact that is was directed by Fred Durst - that's right, the Limp Bizkit guy! Jason Ritter as the bully was magnetic, but I think I might be suffering from college-angst-movie overkill, because while it was alright, it wasn't much more than that.

The Namesake (2006) - book-to-movie adaptation that actually mostly works, this is the story of one family's immigration from India to the US, and their struggle to adapt to the differences between the two cultures. I thought the lead actress was wonderful, and many of the relationships portrayed were excellent, but of course, the book is better.

Up (2009) - Hmmm. Well, perhaps because I SO loved Wall-E, this movie didn't quite live up to its hype for me. It was a good story, and I like it as a kid's movie, but it didn't have the emotional depth of Wall-E that connected with me.

Star Trek (2009) - Ever since I was VERY young and my parents took me to see the original Star Trek movie (I was very concerned about the "bald-headed lady"), I've been a fan. I was looking forward to this movie, and it lived up to my expectations. Chris Pine captured a young Kirk well - all that brash, arrogant confidence. Zachary Quinto was excellent as Spock, and I LOVED the actor who played Chekov - he might have been my favorite character! I was intrigued by the story, and of course the special effects were fun. I really enjoyed this installment, and hope to see more in the future.

Cautiva (2003)
- Argentinian film about a young girl who finds out a terrible secret about her parents. This movie is intense and emotional, and very well done. Recommended if you can tolerate some violence and nudity.

Summer Palace (2006)
- Chinese film that was interesting in idea, but failed in execution. I can't say I enjoyed this one very much, but it was the last film for the OT film challenge, so I plodded my way through it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Progressive Dinner Party - Day 1 - Appetizers and Drinks

Welcome to the Book Blogger Progressive Dinner Party!! Are you ready to have some fun??

It's day one, and we are all about the appetizers and drinks. Because you can't have a party without some yummy starters, right? I have a couple of great, fast recipes for you, but first, make sure you head over to visit Trisha at eclectic/eccentric - she has a yummy recipe for Green Bean Bundles to share!





I don't know about you, but I tend to have problems with recipes that have too many steps - my brain starts wandering, and then it's trouble! That's why I love this recipe for Parmesan Star Puffs - it's so easy, even I can't mess it up!

Cut a sheet of puff pastry with a star-shaped cookie cutter. Arrange the stars on a parchment-lined baking sheet; brush with olive oil and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees until puffed and crisp, about 15 minutes.


See - super easy. And look how cute!


This second recipe is a little more labor intensive, but definitely a party pleaser. It's from funny lady Amy Sedaris, and is called The Heavyset Cheese Ball.

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups whole natural almonds
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1/2 cup real mayonnaise
3 crispy cooked bacon slices, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1 tablespoon chopped green onion
salt and pepper to taste
pine or rosemary sprigs, for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Place and spread all the almonds on a cookie sheet or in a shallow pan, pushing the almonds around until they turn color, about 20 minutes.

Mix together the cream cheese and the mayonnaise. Add the bacon, salt and pepper, dill, and onion. Chill overnight.

On a serving platter, make 2 pine cone shapes with the cheese.

Begin to press the almonds at a slight angle into the cheese, starting at the narrow end of the pine cone shape. Do this in rows, continuing to overlap rows until all the cheese is covered.

Garnish with fake sprigs, or real ones, or with rosemary. Serve at room temperature and spread on crackers.



Yum. My only issue with this recipe is making the pine cone shape - sometimes mine look a little lumpy. =) If you're not into the look, just crush the almonds and roll the cheese ball in them - the taste is still wonderful!


Now that you are drooling, head on over to Joyfully Retired - Margot has a tasty recipe for shrimp dip ready to share.


Also, make sure to visit the Book Blog Social Club this week - it's Progressive Dinner Central, with links to all the blogs who will be participating each day this week. I know I'll be there - I can't wait to see all the recipes!