Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dear Life

I’d never read anything by Alice Munro, but became curious about her work when in October, at the age of 82 (not the oldest recipient; Doris Lessing was 88 when she was awarded the Prize in 2007), Munro was awarded the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature and lauded by the Swedish Academy as the “master of the contemporary short story.” A Canadian born and bred, Munro’s short stories usually focus on life in the Ontario region. She published her first collection of stories back in 1968 under the name “Dance of the Happy Shades.” “Dear Life” is her latest collection, published in 2012.

From the publisher:
“With her peerless ability to give us the essence of a life in often brief but spacious and timeless stories, Alice Munro illumines the moment a life is shaped -- the moment a dream, or sex, or perhaps a simple twist of fate turns a person out of his or her accustomed path and into another way of being. Suffused with Munro's clarity of vision and her unparalleled gift for storytelling, these stories (set in the world Munro has made her own: the countryside and towns around Lake Huron) about departures and beginnings, accidents, dangers, and homecomings both virtual and real, paint a vivid and lasting portrait of how strange, dangerous, and extraordinary the ordinary life can be.”
I rarely read short stories; the last collection of short stories that I read (and loved) was Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning “Olive Kitteridge,” which featured a number of tales all linked by the titular character, retired schoolteacher Olive Kitteridge. While I enjoyed “Dear Life”, both its format which allowed me to delve into the lives of these diverse characters in a short amount of time (each story is 30 pages or less) and the compelling stories, I found the book as a whole a depressing read. The individual stories speak to the worst human traits in each of us; selfishness, greed, pride, indifference.

“To Reach Japan” tells the story of a young poetess traveling via train with her young daughter, whom she leaves alone in her sleeping compartment in order to have a rendezvous with a performer she’s just met and then returns to find her daughter missing. “Amundsen” features Vivien a young teacher who’s been hired to teach at a sanatorium for children with tuberculosis, and the older surgeon working there that ultimately breaks her heart. “Corrie” tells the story of a wealthy young woman with a limp that starts an affair with a married man, and the purported blackmail by a former employee of hers that is threatening to rat them out to his wife. In “Train” we are introduced to Jackson, a young soldier on his way home to his fiancée after serving in the war, who gets off at an earlier stop, and comes across Belle and her dilapidated old farmhouse, and leaving his past behind starts life anew. My two favorite stories from the compilation were “Leaving Maverley” and “In Sight of the Lake”; the latter being a truly unforgettably poignant and haunting tale which will stay with me always.

There are a total of 14 stories in “Dear Life," the last four which Munro calls semi-autobiographical, and although each offers a captivating tale, most also highlight someone selfishly cheating, using, abandoning, or hurting someone else, whether intentionally or inadvertently. I know that “every” story can’t be wrapped up neatly with a bow and a happily ever after ending, life isn’t usually so sweet or neat, but I felt there was no sense of light or hope or even redemption in “any” of the tales. Life isn’t fair and rosy for everyone, I get that, but at the same time it isn’t all doom and gloom for everyone either. I guess what I missed was a sense of balance; joy and sadness, good and evil, dark and light.

Despite the book’s solemnity, I’m glad that I read it, for even in its darkness I was awed by the talent obviously necessary for an author to offer an insightful tale with depth and memorable characters (whether likable or not) in less pages than another author’s typical book chapter.

The Bishop's Wife

I was originally supposed to babysit my knuckleheads this past Friday; well, not really babysit, more like chauffeur them around, but my brother’s dinner plans changed last minute and I had to save use of my chauffeur’s cap for Saturday night which meant my usual movie night was back on. In the mood for an oldie, I ended up watching the 1947 romantic comedy, The Bishop’s Wife, starring Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young.

In The Bishop’s Wife, Henry Brougham (Niven) is a new and ambitious bishop trying to raise funds for building a new cathedral, whose prayers for guidance are answered by an at times mischievous and frustrating angel by the name of Dudley (Grant). Henry is a lamb who has lost his way; he’s focused all his energies on a new cathedral instead of the many people in need, all to the detriment of his own family, including his beautiful wife Julia (Young) and young daughter Debby, who are feeling very neglected. Skeptical of Dudley’s revealed identify (only revealed to him), Henry is nonetheless eager to get his help in building a glorious cathedral on a hill for all his new (and wealthy) parishioners, but Dudley quickly corrects him, informing Henry he’s there to offer guidance not a cathedral. Henry is so obsessed with the cathedral, he’s oblivious to both Julia’s unhappiness and the true need behind Dudley’s appearance, but when the entire household, including Julia and Debby, begin to fall under the spell of the charming angel, Henry finally opens his eyes and realizes a man’s got to do, what a man’s got to do, even if it means fighting an angel for the love of his wife.

This was such a great find. I had never seen this classic, and I absolutely loved it. The movie offers each of us a reminder of the true priorities (love and family) in both life and during this holiday season. It is a sweet and sentimental tale that offers all of the wholesome innocence and charm you’d find in most of the movies of that time. An oldie but goodie about which you can honestly say, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

Grant oozes charm in his role as the helpful angel that begins to be tempted by the all too human feelings of love, and to envy the human he’s been charged to help. There was such a devilish glint in his eyes in his every scene with Young, as well as all other ladies (young and old) in the film, that you couldn’t help but be held equally spellbound by his charm. Niven was perfect as Henry; portraying a lost but sweet man who only needed to be reminded about the true priorities in his life. Niven played the perfect straight man to Grant’s wit, and even brought a few laughs of his own with some slapstick humor involving a newly finished chair. Young was equal to both lead actors, and quite believable in her role as the neglected wife finding new joy and life in the attentions of this very attractive and captivating angel. In addition to the main leads, you’ll also recognize a couple of the young stars, who also appeared in “It’s a Wonderful Life”, including Karoline Grimes, who portrays Henry’s daughter Debby and was little Zuzu Bailey, and Bobbie Anderson who appears in this film’s snowball fight scene with Debby and previously portrayed young George Bailey.

As I said, I loved this film, and in particular the closing scene when Henry, with no recollection of Dudley’s previous presence, reads a sermon which he thinks he wrote. The simple words are a perfect reminder of what is truly important during this holiday season.
“Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled... all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we are celebrating. Don't ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most... and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK and Profiles in Courage

While I wasn’t even a twinkle in my father’s eye when the tragic events surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination unfolded on November 22, 1963, I nonetheless came to admire him greatly as a great American hero and one of our finest Presidents. As a young man serving as a PT-boat commander in the South Pacific during World War II, he imperiled his own life to save a fellow crew member when their boat was rammed and destroyed by a Japanese destroyer. Thanks to that act of bravery he received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for “extremely heroic conduct” as well as a Purple Heart for the spinal injuries which would plague him for years to come.

While he was only in office 1000+ days, it was enough time to help create an incredible legacy. President Kennedy created the Peace Corps; he inspired a nation to get involved and make a difference with his memorable quote on his Inauguration Day, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" as well as bringing the world together with his call to other the nations to join together to fight what he called the "common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself"; he lead the way for our country’s first steps toward space exploration, becoming “the first President to ask Congress to approve more than 22 billion dollars for Project Apollo, which had the goal of landing an American man on the moon before the end of the decade”; and with his introduction into Congress of a new Civil Rights bill to help end racism, took the first steps towards righting a nation’s wrong; with that amended proposal ultimately becoming the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which is “the nation's benchmark civil rights legislation, and it continues to resonate in America. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” While the President didn’t live to see the fruits of his efforts, his legacy nonetheless lives on in the generations whose lives were changed for the better by his action.

Inspired by what was the upcoming (today’s) 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, I recently borrowed the Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage from my public library. Written by John F. Kennedy while serving as Senator from Massachusetts, Profiles in Courage focuses on eight United States Senators whom Kennedy felt risked their life and career to stand up for their beliefs, to protect and keep together our Union, and to help shape our great Nation to what it is today. The eight senators highlighted were John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris and Robert A. Taft.

Senator Kennedy identified what he felt were the three major pressures playing a role in discouraging political courage: pressure to be liked, pressure to be re-elected, and pressure from constituents and interest groups. Robert F. Kennedy wrote the foreword to the edition of the book which I read, and in it he states that his brother was fond of Dante’s quote "the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in a time of crisis, maintain their neutrality." Whether you agreed with their decisions, like Daniel Webster, the Senator from Massachusetts, who in an effort to avert secession and a civil war sided with the Clay Compromise which said slaveholders were entitled to property rights, fugitive slave laws should be strengthened and the issue of slavery put aside for the good of the union; Webster and others like him did not remain neutral in a time of crisis and you had to admire their grace under pressure in making difficult decisions for the nation’s greater good, sometimes to their own detriment. As a young nation struggling to just stay together, hard decisions and sacrifices needed to be made; Henry Clay is quoted as saying "compromise was the cement that held the Union together."

Senator Kennedy goes on to explain how many Senators are focused on their local interests, but in Washington they serve as “United States Senators” and in doing so should focus on the national good. Senators should not "serve merely as a seismograph to record shifts in popular opinion.” Inherent in their constituent’s vote is the trust in their ability and judgments, and as such sometimes that means the need to "lead, inform, correct, and sometimes even ignore constituent opinion." He goes on to say "Today the challenge of political courage looms larger than ever before. For our everyday life is becoming so saturated with the tremendous power of mass communications that any unpopular or unorthodox course arouses a storm of protests...and thus, in the days ahead, only the very courageous will be able to take the hard and unpopular decisions necessary for our survival…and only the very courageous will be able to keep alive the spirit of individualism and dissent which gave birth to this nation." A startling and foreshadowing statement when you take into account our current political landscape and the pressures faced by politicians dealing with a 24-hour news cycle through print, online, and television media.

In addition to Daniel Webster’s act of compromise, the book highlights other acts of courage and compromise made by John Quincy Adams, Senator from Massachusetts, who sided with Thomas Jefferson in 1807 in enacting an embargo against Great Britain to shut off international trade to retaliate against British aggression to American merchant ships, in direct opposition to his Federalist party and despite the severe impact it would have on his home state’s economy as the leading commercial state in the nation; a decision which prompted Adams to resign his Senate seat in 1808. Robert A. Taft, son of William Howard Taft opposed the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Taft felt “defendants had been tried under ex post facto laws (laws that apply retroactively, especially those that criminalize an action that was legal when it was committed), these laws are expressly forbidden in the U.S. constitution.” Despite being vilified in the press and by colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Taft believed so strongly in the wisdom of the constitution, it was worth speaking out even at the expense of his political career.

While the why’s behind each individual’s selection for the book were interesting, if a little (alright a lot) dense, I found the simpler human stories shared about each man even more fascinating; such as the fact that despite distinguishing himself with a brilliant career as Secretary of State, President, and Member of Congress, John Quincy Adams faced feelings of inadequacy, somberly writing that his "whole life has been a succession of disappointments. I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success in anything that I ever undertook." Or the fact that Sam Houston, Senator from Texas, had actually first served as Governor of Tennessee, and that as a child he ran away from his Tennessee frontier home and was adopted by the Cherokee Indians. Or Senator Benton’s softer side, who it is told on one occasion while entertaining a French prince and other distinguished guests, his wife, who suffered with both physical and mental illness, rambled into the room while not fully dressed “and stared adoringly at her husband. Interrupting the embarrassed silence that followed, Senator Benton with dignity and majesty introduced his wife to the prince and others, seated her by his side, and resumed conversation.” These random tidbits of information and many others liked them helped to humanize each man and make the book more than just a compilation of facts.

As we mark this anniversary and face the ones to come, we should celebrate and honor President Kennedy’s memory and commitment to public service by giving back to our community and in turn our nation. As another great man once said:

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.
You don't have to have a college degree to serve.
You don't have to have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.
You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.
You don't have to know Einstein's "Theory of Relativity" to serve.
You don't have to know the Second Theory of Thermal Dynamics in Physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace,
a soul generated by love,
and you can be that servant.”

Excerpted from The Drum Major Instinct, 1968
a sermon by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

About Time

About Time is a new British romantic comedy from the creator of Notting Hill, Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral, starring Irish actor Domnhall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, and Bill Nighy. In the film, Tim Lake (Gleeson) has spent yet another miserable New Year’s Eve party without a girlfriend. Waking up the next morning with a hangover and no happy memories of a passionate midnight kiss, his father (Nighy) shares a family secret that’s revealed to all Lake men once they reach their 21st year; they can travel through time. While Tim can’t go to the future or change history, as his father says “you can’t kill Hitler or shag Helen of Troy”, he can travel to and change moments in his own life. The instructions are simple; go in a dark cupboard or closet, close your eyes, clench your fists and think of the exact time and place to which you want to travel. In complete disbelief of his father’s words, Tim runs off to prove his father wrong, only to end up in the previous night’s party, and happily sharing the passionate midnight kiss he craved.

After a summer spent suffering the pangs of unrequited love for his sister’s (Kit Kat) friend, Charlotte, Tim leaves Cornwall and relocates to London, where he'll share a home with his father’s friend, Harry, a struggling playwright, and begin his career as a lawyer. While out with his friend Jay, he meets beautiful but insecure Mary (McAdams), and falls instantly and madly in love. To reference another romantic comedy, Sleepless in Seattle, once they meet it's “magic.” After asking for her number, which she readily enters into his phone, he says one of the sweetest lines I’ve ever heard; his phone was old and shit before but now it’s his most valuable possession (Aww, right?…I’d be a puddle on the floor if someone said that to me; I’m easy prey aren’t I?).

Floating on cloud nine over his true love, Tim makes his way home only to find Harry distraught over the failure of his play’s opening night, after a lead actor forgets his lines. Determined to help his friend, Tim travels back in time and having successfully rescued the day, pulls out his phone to call Mary only to find he doesn’t have her number, because since he went to the play instead of the restaurant they’ve never met. After some initial heartbreak and hilarity, Tim finds Mary and meets her for the first time again, and then again, until he finally wins her heart. Ultimately, Tim uses his newfound gift to chart the course for a perfect proposal, marriage, and family, but he quickly finds that he can’t avoid all life's sorrows, for into each life a little rain must fall.

OMG…deep sigh…I went to see this movie last night, during the usual cheapo night at my local theater, and I’m still sighing today. It was so great! Maybe not Oscar great, but beautiful, sweet, sentimental, poignant, romantic, and funny; I can’t think of other adjectives that might apply, except for maybe perfect. The romance was sweet and charming, and Gleeson and McAdams had perfect on screen chemistry. Gleeson’s nerdy charm was endearing and he played his role with the perfect measure of naiveté. McAdams was wonderful as always, and despite her natural beauty, she conveyed her characters insecurity very believably. Nighy was pure gold as the wise old sage to which this incredible gift is nothing new. His every scene with his onscreen son radiates warmth and love. It might surprise you, but I’d say he was my favorite character in the movie.

As much as the film is a romance or love story, it’s equally a story of love, not just romantic love but also familial love, with incredibly moving and poignant scenes involving the father and son, and sibling relationships. Through the tale of this sweet couple and their extended family we are reminded that life is short and, unlike the Lake men, we don’t get second chances or do-overs with those special moments in our life, so we need to live every moment of our life to the fullest and absorb and appreciate every second of every day as if it were our last because that moment won’t come around again. There is beauty all around us, but sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to truly open our eyes and take it all in.

About Time is a phenomenal film that you’ll want to experience again and again.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Six-Word Memoir (and more)

I was recently visiting the O Magazine site to enter their 12-Day Holiday Give-O-Way; in case you haven’t heard about it, it’s a holiday contest in which twelve lucky winners get to take home all 60 of the Favorite Things chosen by Oprah. Last year’s favorite things included an electric bike (don’t know how to ride a bike, but I could learn), an elliptical trainer (my mind says yes, my body says no), a Bose VideoWave (46-inch HD TV and home theater in one) (yes, please!), and a Tempur-Cloud Supreme mattress (schwing! OMG…my heart couldn’t take it). Of course, it wasn’t until after entering the contest that I checked out this year’s list of favorite things and it appears the economy has been tough on Oprah’s wallet too, because this year the prizes include Pie Corps Turkey Pie, Bonnie’s Jams, an Electric Kettle, Sprinkle’s Cookie Dough, and Chocolate Truffles, to name a few. I sense a theme there. Anyway, I’m just kidding Oprah, I would be beyond thrilled to win any of those wonderful prizes, though a Tempur-Pedic mattress is no lie, one of my dream purchases if I were to win Lotto.

As usual, I’ve gotten completely off topic. What I wanted to tell you guys about is that while visiting O Magazine online, I spotted a great piece on SMITH magazine’s six-word memoir project. SMITH is an online magazine started in 2006, whose mission it is to celebrate the joy of personal storytelling. In November 2006, inspired by Hemingway’s legendary shortest-short story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”) SMITH Magazine challenged their readers to come up with a six-word memoir of their own. “They sent in short life stories in droves, from the bittersweet (“Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends”) and poignant (“I still make coffee for two”) to the inspirational (“Business school? Bah! Pop music? Hurrah”) and hilarious (“I like big butts, can’t lie”). Since then, Six-Word Memoir project has become a global phenomenon and a bestselling book series.”

In addition to the six-word memoir you can also participate in their six word story projects which cover subjects as varied as happiness (share your six words on the secrets to happiness); war (share six words on coming home from war); and moms (what can you say about motherhood in six words?).

Motivated by some of the wonderful contributions I read, I decided to write a six-word memoir of my own. Here goes. Small and simple yet happy life. Not glitzy, witty or funny, but it about sums it up.

What would you write? For more inspiration, visit SMITHmag.net.

P.S. I’ll keep you guys posted on whether I’m one of the lucky 12 to win the give-o-way. Hopefully Oprah doesn’t hold my snarky comments against me, though I doubt she’s reading this blog.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Can you believe the holidays are almost here? Yikes, the older I get the faster the year flies by. The holiday’s proximity hadn’t really hit me until this weekend’s Sunday drive to visit my ‘cuz, who’s recuperating from surgery. After flipping through countless radio stations to pass the time, I landed on one running a 70’s broadcast of a Casey Kasem America’s Top 40 special on Christmas songs. I stayed on the station for the bulk of the ride, drawn in as much by Casey’s incredibly smooth voice as by the songs. That man’s voice was pure magic, and to think now we’re stuck with Ryan Seacrest for the Top 40, but anyway, I digress. After a fun family visit, I drove home under gray skies and showers which sort of put a damper on my original plans to go to the movies, so I drove home instead and hunkered down on the couch with a couple pillows, a fluffy blanket, and of course Jasmin curled up against my legs which meant I was doomed to keeping the lower half of my body completely immobile for the duration of the movie I was ordering through OnDemand.

Now in the holiday spirit thanks to Casey, Rudolph and the Jackson Five, I decided to order one of my favorite holiday-themed films, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Written and directed by the late, great John Hughes, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is easily one of the best odd-couple/buddy films ever made, starring Steve Martin and the brilliant John Candy. For those rare few who haven’t seen it, the film tells the story of Neal Page (Martin), an uptight advertising exec in New York City on business who is trying to catch a flight home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. It seems like the fates have conspired against Neal making it home for there’s an obstacle placed every step of the way on just his trip to the airport, including first tripping over a steamer trunk on the sidewalk as he’s racing another pedestrian for a cab, and then having successfully bribed another rider to give up his cab, having said cab stolen right out from under his nose. A bus ride gets him to the airport in time for the flight, only to face a delay and the jerk who stole his cab, Del Griffith (Candy), a jovial, down-to-earth, loudmouth who happens to be a shower curtain ring salesman. Stuck sitting next to Del, who hasn’t heard a joke or story he doesn’t just have to share, Neal is already in a bad mood which quickly turns sour as the already delayed plane to Chicago is now diverted to Wichita, Kansas due a storm-related closure at O’Hare.

Stranded at the airport without a hotel room, since he took the time to call home first, despite his better instincts Neal is forced to accept Del’s generous offer of a shared room at a sleazy and cheap motel nearby. Hilarity follows as Neal and Del face every imaginable road block to getting home, including a robbery, a broken train, and a fire to name a few; nonetheless, Del makes it his personal mission to get Neal home, whether he asks for help or not. As the two reluctant travel partners travel from NYC to Chicago via Wichita and then St. Louis, these very different men will learn a little about each other and a lot about themselves; and if they make it home alive, they’ll be better men for the experience.

I love this movie. I have a small list of must see holiday movies which I try to catch each holiday season, which includes Elf, It’s A Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (both the Boris Karloff narrated cartoon and the Jim Carrey movie), and this film of course. It’s a wonderful story filled with laughs, a few tears, and even a little bit of redemption, with an ending that is everything you’d expect for a holiday film.

John Candy gives an incredibly funny, moving and at times bittersweet performance in what was undoubtedly the best film in his too short career. While he handles the slapstick humor masterfully, it is those touching and poignant moments where he truly shines and becomes the movies beating heart, such as when fed up with Del’s annoying loudmouth, slovenly, and chatty-cathy ways, Neal rips into him; and Del looks at him with this wounded look, as if each word was a physical blow and then haltingly says “You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I'm an easy target. Yeah, you're right. I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you, but I don't like to hurt people's feelings. Well, you think what you want about me. I'm not changing. I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. 'Cause I'm the real article. What you see is what you get” …that moment tears me up every darned time.

You can't help but love Del because while he is all of those things Neal says; annoying, cloying, a slob and a loud-mouth; he’s also all heart, and while you understand Neal’s frustration, at the same time, if you ask me, he’s pretty ungrateful because through it all, Del is constantly trying to help. Giving. Kind of like the giving tree from that kid’s book. Of course, since it’s a film, every character is allowed a learning curve and to reference another holiday movie, Neal’s heart grows two sizes that day, and he’s definitely a kinder man by the end of the movie.

As I mentioned before, this movie classic was written and directed by John Hughes, the incredible writing (and in some cases directing) talent behind such enduring 80’s films as Home Alone, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, to name only a few. John Hughes films all offered an incredible insight into the teen psyche, and while this more adult themed film was a bit of a departure from the teen films which preceded it, it is nonetheless a beautifully written story which feels very real, both thanks to his accomplished storytelling and the two actors perfectly cast in the lead roles.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles sheer brilliance lies in how effortlessly it touches our hearts; making us laugh and cry, and laugh all over again. Released in 1987, the clothes and cars may be outdated, but the laughs are timeless.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Shine Shine Shine

Lydia Netzer’s debut novel, Shine Shine Shine, tells the quirky love story of two unique people destined for each other. Sunny Mann is a perfect wife, married to Maxon - a Noble prize-winning engineer currently on a NASA mission to the moon, a perfect mother to her autistic son, Bubber, and expecting a second child, as well as a perfect neighbor and friend. “She was a pro. When she moved to this town, said the neighbors, things fell into place. Barbecues were organized. Tupperware was bought…No one went without a meal on the day they had a sick child or root canal.” Unfortunately, the façade of perfection goes quite literally out the window when while driving home with Bubber from visiting her dying mother in the hospital, the car crash happened, and “while no one died, everyone’s life was changed.” For in “that tremulous moment, a perfect blonde wig flew off Sunny’s head, out the window, and landed in the street in a puddle full of leaves. Underneath the wig she was all bald…Her mother was dying, her husband was in space, her son was wearing a helmet because he had to and she was bald.” Sunny was born without hair and never grew any. No eyelashes, no eyebrows, no leg hair, nothing. No one had known except Maxon, her mother and Bubber.

With her secret finally revealed, Sunny finally “woke up out of her sleep” and allowed her true self to shine, and in doing so took stock of her life, including the fact that despite their love, her and Maxon were starting to lose their way, and the fact that her boy didn’t laugh on his own anymore. Beginning to right past wrongs, Sunny gets the unexpected news that there’s been an accident involving Maxon’s rocket which threatens the life and family they’ve built.

I loved these two wonderfully imperfect people – Sunny and Maxon – who were perfect for one another. Sunny is funny and strong and the perfect foil for Maxon, the genius neglected by his poor parents as a child who had to be taught by Sunny and her mom how to feel and act much like his robots, though no lessons were ever needed when it came to loving Sunny.

The books is mostly narrated by Sunny, interspersed with chapters from Maxon while on his moon mission, and through the use of flashbacks we learn of Sunny’s childhood in Burma and later in Pennsylvania (where she meets Maxon), her teens and carefree college years far from home, and ultimately the journey which brings her back to where she always belonged, in Maxon’s arms. Interwoven with Sunny and Maxon’s tale are also dark secrets revealed from their past that though not pivotal to the story offer insight into each character and the events that shaped them.

The narrative involving Maxon’s innocent courtship of Sunny were my favorites. He was so wonderfully endearing in his awkwardness that you couldn’t help but root for him. In truth some of their interactions reminded me of Forrest and Jenny from Forrest Gump. Maxon falls in love with Sunny at the tender age of seven and from then on his love is on a cosmic-level, beyond this earth, for he says “if the planet was spun like a top, and stopped suddenly, and he was asked to point her out, that he could do it…she would be there like a red balloon in an asteroid belt. She was the only one, ultimately in the whole world who mattered. She was the only one he would have known anywhere.” What made him so dear was that despite the eloquence and romanticism of his thoughts, his actual delivery left a lot to be desired, like his opener before proposing marriage, “Sunny are you all finished with having sex with other men?” I loved Maxon, quirks and all, because despite his foibles he was at peace with himself; sure in who he was and his true worth, and not concerned with what people thought of him.

I was as captivated by the book’s message, as by its love story. It’s a book that reminds its readers that it’s all right to be different or flawed, as deemed by society's standards, and that there’s truly no such thing as perfect or normal. Sunny’s plight is relatable. Who can’t understand and commiserate with Sunny’s need to fit in? Who hasn’t tamped down their inner geek to fit in with the cool kids? The term "normal" is relative, and in truth we all know someone who figuratively “puts on a wig” to hide or disguise the baldness in their life. None of us are perfect; we are all flawed human beings for whom perfection is impossibility, and we’d all be the happier if we reminded ourselves of that more frequently.

Shine Shine Shine is a funny, compelling and poignant story that asks us to be a little brave and embrace the differences that make us unique and human. A sweet, witty love story with characters I won’t soon forget.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Seeing Red

NBC, The Blacklist, Episode 9, "Anslo Garrick", Air November 25, 2013

As many of you know, patience is not my virtue, so despite all plans to the contrary, I’m embarrassed to admit that I am completely obsessed with The Blacklist and dedicating an inordinate amount of time to solving the Lost-like riddle which is Raymond “Red” Reddington. Like I told my friend who said to just wait for the mysteries surrounding Red to be revealed…where’s the fun in that?

This week’s episode titled “General Ludd” was par for the course in regards to the blacklist target story; not much meat on that bone and relatively dull, but the storyline surrounding the meeting between Liz’s adoptive father, Sam (played by William Sadler aka Sheriff Valenti from Roswell), and Red was oh so juicy. We got to see the two proud papas together for the first (and last) time, and we got the big reveal that the two men obviously know and care about each other; and as they reminisced about old times, though it wasn’t said outright, it was heavily implied that Liz is Red’s daughter. Probably the closest the directors/producers are willing to go at this time.

Red tells his friend, “You gave her an incredible gift, Sam, taking her in and loving her as your own.” Sam confesses that he’s been given only 6 weeks to live, adding “I need to tell Lizzie,” to which Red replies “I can’t let you do that.” The implication is that he wants to fess up to Liz’s true parentage, but really Sam never comes out and says what he wants to tell Liz, so it could be that Red is her dad, but it could also be maybe that her mom isn’t really dead, or that there are aliens in Roswell, who knows. We’ll never know what he was going to say, because a few scenes later, after ending a phone conversation with Liz (she couldn’t get away from the General Ludd case to travel home) in which Sam shares the true extent of his illness, Red sits at his bedside and consolingly tells him that he can only hope to love and protect Liz as well as he has. “You will always be her father,” Red says…and then suffocates him with his pillow. Ugh…that scene was just eerie, because in one instance you have Red brutally killing his friend, holding the pillow down despite Sam’s struggles, and then when the deed is done, he gently and almost lovingly brushes Sam’s hair back off his face and then kisses him on the forehead. While I know most viewers will see this as a cold-blooded murder by Red in an effort to prevent his friend from talking to Liz, in all honesty, it could equally be viewed as a mercy killing; after all Sam was dying of cancer and just before Red kills him, he did say he wished he could die quickly.

So after all that, we’re still no closer to knowing definitively whether Red is Liz’s father or not. It seems a moot point at this time, but then I think it’s too obvious; they’ve been spoon feeding us that since episode one, so there’s got to be more there. That can’t be the big reveal.

Like we don’t have enough questions to answer with the enigma which is Red, Liz’s history, Tom’s mystery box, and the surveillance apple-eating guy, we got a new puzzle piece added to the board. Near the start of the episode, we see Red negotiate a tit for tat trade with Agent Cooper in exchange for his help on the General Ludd case, and as the episode neared its conclusion we see Cooper bring Red into an office with a laptop at which Red logs into the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP) database, and punching in the code he received from “Wujing” (episode 3), he brings up someone’s record. Below is a screen grab from the episode video.

Who is Lucy Brooks? Initially I thought it might have been Liz’s mom, but her age is listed as 30, so that’s definitely out. I went back to “The Stewmaker” (episode 4), to determine if it was the same girl as in the picture he took from the album, but I couldn’t really tell, which means we have yet another question to ponder.

All in all, I still know nothing, but I remain hopeful. In other news, in an interview on TVLINE.com with Ryan Eggold (Tom), they asked about the apple-eating surveillance guy and when we might find out what is going on there, to which he replied “Something dramatic was going to happen with the Apple Man at the end of this week’s episode, but then they changed it… We’re changing it up until the moment it airs, which is fun, but also: Where are we going?! [Laughs] So, the plan for the Apple Man is shifting, but I do know that they’ve said to me that Tom and Liz are going to find out who is watching them soon — I think within the next few episodes.” Very interesting. In addition, TVGuide.com reported that Alan Alda will be appearing in an upcoming episode of The Blacklist as a man by the name of Mr. Crowley, a nemesis from Red’s past.

Sadly, NBC will not be helping to fuel my obsession this coming week, because for some unknown (and undoubtedly poor reason), they have decided to preempt The Blacklist’s November 18th episode, and air episode 9, “Anslo Garrick” on November 25th instead; and it sounded so good too, very dramatic…"the hunter becomes the hunted." Anyway, I will continue my sleuthing and hope to beat the show’s reveal with an incredibly satisfying Aha! moment of my own.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan

REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

If you've watched the news these past few nights you have undoubtedly been witness to the scenes of nature’s devastation, this time in the Philippines, a sight which we’ve seen far too many times lately. The scenes of people – men, women, and children – rifling through the wreckage of their homes searching for any treasured tokens of their life before Typhoon Haiyan hit is gut-wrenching. As with most tragedies it is the poor and those that can least afford the loss that are the most directly impacted; when already rickety and dilapidated structures with tin roofs are easily tossed aside like specks of dirt under the massive force of the typhoon’s path of destruction.

Motivated by the magnitude of damage and loss (local officials estimate around 10,000 dead when all rescue and recovery measures are done), I went online and made a donation to the Red Cross. There are any number of organizations offering a helping hand to those affected, including the Red Cross, UNICEF, and Doctors without Borders, to name a few. No matter what your situation, we can all make a small difference, whether through a monetary donation (nominal or larger, if you can), or by donating clothes or other necessary items to any number of Filipino organizations in your local area that might be organizing relief efforts for their country of origin, or by offering something as simple yet powerful as a prayer for those taken by the storm, and those left behind to struggle and suffer their loss.

It is during times of trial and sorrow when we should most come together, motivated by our common humanity. So next time you turn on the TV and take in the grief stricken faces of Filipinos and think of the pain and loss they have endured, imagine yourself in their shoes, walking those decimated streets; imagine your brother, sister or mother, sobbing for a lost home, memories, or worst loved ones; for we are all one human family and their tragedy should be our own.

Click on any of the links above and stand united with our extended human family across the globe.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Mud is a coming of age tale starring Matthew McConaughey in the titular role which shares the story of two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), living in Dewitt, Nebraska that visit a small island in the Mississippi River on an exploration expedition and find a small boat perched on the high limbs of a tree, probably from a past flood, and despite their plans for ownership quickly realize someone is living there, Mud. After a tense introduction, Mud beseeches the boys for food and supplies, in exchange for the promise that upon leaving the island the boat he's currently using as home will be theirs. Despite Neckbone's protestations, Ellis comes to Mud's aid and brings him food. Finding an ally in the young boy, Mud shares a dramatic tale of love, woe and murder. Relying on Ellis' idealized and romantic notions on love, Mud asks the boys for help in getting word to his true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), with whom he's supposed to rendezvous and leave town. The stakes are raised as all communications have to be under the shadow of an outstanding police APB for Mud, as well as a crew of henchmen on Mud's hot pursuit.

Completely drawn in by Mud's charm, the boys wholeheartedly throw themselves into reuniting the two star-crossed lovers, by gathering supplies to patch up the boat in hopes of ensuring Mud and Juniper's escape. As Ellis and Neckbone get deeper and deeper into Mud's sordid tale of doomed love, they blindly put themselves in harm's way, all in the hopes of helping their newfound friend finally find the redemptive power of love.

I wanted to watch this movie to see McConaughey stretch himself in a more substantive role that veered away from his typical romantic leading man roles of the past, and I wasn't disappointed. Mud was an entertaining and engaging film with a wonderful performance by McConaughey, who seems to have found a new found confidence in his acting and is no longer relying on his pretty boy looks to woo audiences. McConaughey gives a complex performance of a man beaten down by life, love and his own mistakes; a man who isn't clearly good or evil, but who falls somewhere in those grey areas.

The film also offers a memorable breakout performance by Tye Sheridan, whom I had never seen act before but who I learned was cast in the role of Ben Day in the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn's Dark Places. Tye movingly brings to life Ellis' idealistic innocence and hopefulness in his performance, and is even more compelling and believable in his portrayal of sad disillusionment in the scenes involving his parents broken marriage. Both child leads bring to life on the screen a Huck Finn-like adventure filled with daring, danger and self-discovery.

While Mud isn't on par with some of my recent movie viewings, like Captain Phillips or All is Lost, it was nonetheless a touching and engaging story with compelling and, in the kids, lovable characters, and believable and thought-provoking performances from the entire cast which definitely make it one to watch next time you're trolling your OnDemand movie queue.

Memoirs of An Imaginary Friend

In Matthew Dicks' novel, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, our narrator, Budo, introduces himself by telling us that he’s been alive for five years, which is positively ancient for an imaginary friend. Max Delaney is the human friend that imagined him and the only human person who can see him, and while Max’s parents call him an imaginary friend, Budo insists he’s not imaginary. Budo is pretty lucky as imaginary friends go, since Max is creative, Budo has two arms, two legs, a face, and he’s not even missing any body parts, which is a rarity in the world of imaginary friends. Why Budo has seen all different types of imaginary friends; one looked like a boy-sized spoon with two big round eyes, a tiny mouth and stick figure legs and arms; heck, he even knew one friend called Chomp, who was just a spot on the wall – he could talk and slide up and down the wall, but he couldn’t pry himself off. Most imaginary friends aren’t lucky enough to be able to walk and talk like Budo. He can even pass through things like doors and windows even when closed, because Max imagined him that way, though imaginary friends can’t touch or move things in the real world.

Max imagined Budo when he was just four years old, and as his friend Budo loves and protects Max at all times. Max is what some people call “on the spectrum.” Budo doesn’t understand why everyone thinks Max is so complicated, he knows that “Max just doesn’t like people in the same way other kids do. He likes people, but it’s a different kind of liking. He likes people from far away”, and since he can’t touch Max and Max can’t touch Budo, it’s probably why they get along so well. Budo protects Max when he gets stuck, which is when he gets upset and he rocks back and forth; his eyes are open but he can’t really see anything. Max explained to him once that when he’s stuck “he can hear the people around him, but it sounds like they are coming from a television in the neighbor’s house – fake and far away.” Budo also protects him at school, from bullies and buses; and while he loves Mrs. Gosk’s class, he doesn’t trust Mrs. Patterson, a paraprofessional that works with Max, because “she’s always thinking something different in her head than what is on her face.”

Budo hopes he can always be with Max but he fears the day that Max will stop believing in him since he knows then he will disappear; just fade away, like his friend Graham did when her human friend Meghan didn’t need her anymore. When despite his best efforts the unthinkable happens, Budo turns to other imaginary friends to try and save Max, and in doing so is forced to choose between Max’s safety and his own existence.

I was completely captivated and enchanted by Budo and Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. In Budo, Matthew Dicks has given readers an original and authentic voice that offers readers a glimpse into a magical world with so many dimensions and so much heart that it seems almost real. Budo embodies the innocence of a child, including their shrewd perceptiveness, like the way a child can see beyond someone’s artificial façade straight through to their heart and true self, the way Budo does with Mrs. Patterson. While Budo shares Max’s childlike sense of wonder, he’s also fascinated by the adult world and is therefore more alert and aware than Max as to the dangers in the real world.

In addition to Memoirs’ charm and wit, Budo’s innocent yet astute descriptions of Max’s quirks and fears, also give us some insight into the small and at times insulated world of a child with autism; helping us to better empathize and understand their mindset and limitations. While the book is very sweet and uplifting, there are some tense moments related to Max’s rescue, as well as some incredibly poignant passages that touched my heart and brought a lump to my throat which involved Budo branching out to a children’s hospital to get help because he says it’s the best place to find imaginary friends – even better than schools – because sick kids “need imaginary friends to keep them company when their parents go home and they are left with the beeping machines and flashing lights.”

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is a wonderfully imaginative and winsome tale of love and friendship with a few dark clouds thrown in under an otherwise blue sky that only serve to make us love our unique and brave hero even more.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Defending Jacob

In William Landay’s mystery and courtroom drama, Defending Jacob, 51-year old Andy Barber is a successful assistant district attorney, happily married to Laurie, the girl he met in college thirty-odd years before and for whom he still feels the thrill of first love. After 20 years on the job, Andy has seen it all, but then a shocking crime occurs in their peaceful community, a 14-year old boy is found stabbed to death in a park. Initially assigned the case, Andy is determined to find the culprit, focusing his attention on Leonard Patz, a sex offender new to the area, but as questions arise and facts are brought to light, the unthinkable happens and Andy’s own 14-year old son, Jacob, is accused and charged with the heinous murder of his classmate.

Forced to recuse himself from the trial, Andy steps down from his job and focuses his attention and experience on helping to defend his son. Jacob insists that he is innocent and Andy believes him for to him he is still that little boy of four whose bedtime routine included the question, “Who loves Jacob?” and the answer “Daddy does.” The Barber’s hire a local defense attorney to represent Jacob, and Andy determined to prove his son’s innocence begins the arduous task of digging for the truth; questioning Jacob’s past friends, stalking Patz, and even turning to someone from his own tortured past in hopes of vindicating his son. As they await the trial, the family is abandoned by friends and treated like pariahs in their community; as secrets are revealed Andy’s once loving marriage begins to crumble under the weight of fears and doubts, and he is forced to face his own demons and face a trial of his own.

This was easily my favorite read of the past year. It is no exaggeration to say it is as haunting as a specter, for upon finishing it you’ll find it stays with you and pops into your thoughts at random times, making you ponder the incredible journey, revelations, decisions and the moral dilemma posed on its pages. Despite the trial and courtroom scenes, it has a rapid fire pace, full of twists and turns, which will keep you on the edge of your seat and turning those pages long into the night.

The novel starts at a grand jury hearing in which Andy is answering questions from Neal Logiudice, his ex-colleague and current prosecutor, and flashes back through his testimony to twelve months earlier and the events surrounding Jacob’s trial; with Logiudice’s questioning continually interspersed throughout the book in between Andy’s narrative. The reader is in the dark as to the why of the grand jury and what has occurred; was the case won or lost, until near the end when the truth becomes horrifyingly clear.

Through Andy’s eyes we see a father’s heartache and fear at both his son’s uncertain future and the possibility, which doesn’t bear considering, that his boy is the monster he’s being made out to be by the law. While Andy’s blind faith and devotion in his son is seemingly never broken, Laurie’s character offers the perfect counterbalance, as she gives voice to the fear and doubts which most parents might have about their child’s capability and culpability in committing such a violent act, and if guilty, what role they played and guilt they bear in what occurred. Whether strengthened by his faith or sheer determination, throughout the ordeal Andy stands strong, the rock that both his son and wife lean on for support, but Laurie is beaten up by the trial and the limbo preceding it; becoming withdrawn and seemingly aging 10 years in a matter of months. Defending Jacob offers an honest look at the agonizing pain and uncertainty faced during a trial not only by the victim’s family but by that of the accused as well.

In addition to the heart-wrenching family drama, Defending Jacob raises numerous questions, such as the issue of nurture vs. nature, the impact of bullying in our society, the almost laughable standard of a presumption of innocence, which as Andy and his family painfully realize is closer to guilty until proven innocent, as well as the larger moral question of the extent to which a parent would go to protect their child, whether right or wrong, innocent or guilty.

Defending Jacob is moving, poignant and utterly unforgettable. The last few pages and in particular the last sentence in the book will hit you like a punch to your gut that both takes your breath away and brings tears to your eyes. Defending Jacob is a book that will stay with me forever and is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fall/Winter Book Preview

With fall upon us and winter just around the corner, tis the season for cozying up to a great book as we wile away the hours during the long winter nights. I love winter days spent in the comfort of home; snuggled on the couch under a warm fluffy blanket with a cup of hot tea and a good book; having snow gently falling outside, blanketing the surroundings is an added bonus. There’s a wonderful silence when snow starts to fall that's just perfect for reading; it’s like nature holds its collective breath as it takes in the beauty around it.

I like nothing better than to be prepared, so in anticipation of the long nights and possible (fingers crossed) snow days on which to play hooky from work, I surfed online to find just the right mix of reading materials to comprise my fall and winter reading list. Below are summaries for six books that I’ll be putting on my library hold list or purchasing on my Kindle; hopefully there’s something which captures your interest and imagination as well.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
By Rita Leganski (Published)

A magical debut novel from Rita Leganski, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow is the tale of a mute boy whose gift of wondrous hearing reveals family secrets and forgotten voodoo lore, and exposes a murder that threatens the souls of those who love him. Bonaventure Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. But he was listening, placing sound inside quiet and gaining his bearings. By the time he turns five, he can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He also hears the voice of his dead father, William Arrow, mysteriously murdered by a man known only as the Wanderer. Exploring family relics, he opens doors to the past and finds the key to a web of secrets that both hold his family together, and threaten to tear them apart. Set against the backdrop of 1950s New Orleans, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow is a magical story about the lost art of listening and a wondrous little boy who brings healing to the souls of all who love him.

Doctor Sleep
By Stephen King (Published)

For many fans, the most terrifying King novel remains one of his earliest bestsellers, 1977's "The Shining." In that book, Danny Torrance -- a young boy with psychic powers -- picks up ominous messages from a sinister, haunted hotel. King picks up the narrative threads of The Shining many years on. Young psychic Danny Torrance has become a middle-aged alcoholic (he now goes by “Dan”), bearing his powers and his guilt as equal burdens. A lucky break gets him a job in a hospice in a small New England town. Using his abilities to ease the passing of the terminally ill, he remains blissfully unaware of the actions of the True Knot, a caravan of human parasites crisscrossing the map in their RVs as they search for children with “the shining” (psychic abilities of the kind that Dan possesses), upon whom they feed. When a girl named Abra Stone is born with powers that dwarf Dan’s, she attracts the attention of the True Knot’s leader—the predatory Rose the Hat. Dan is forced to help Abra confront the Knot, and face his own lingering demons.

The First Phone Call from Heaven
By Mitch Albom (Release Date: November 12, 2013)

One morning in the small town of Coldwater, Michigan, the phones start ringing. The voices say they are calling from heaven. Is it the greatest miracle ever? Or some cruel hoax? As news of these strange calls spreads, outsiders flock to Coldwater to be a part of it. At the same time, a disgraced pilot named Sully Harding returns to Coldwater from prison to discover his hometown gripped by "miracle fever." Even his young son carries a toy phone, hoping to hear from his mother in heaven. As the calls increase, and proof of an afterlife begins to surface, the town—and the world—transforms. Only Sully, convinced there is nothing beyond this sad life, digs into the phenomenon, determined to disprove it for his child and his own broken heart.

Someone Else’s Love Story
By Joshilyn Jackson (Release Date: November 19, 2013)

For single mom Shandi Pierce, life is a juggling act. She's finishing college; raising her delightful three-year-old genius son, Nathan, aka Natty Bumppo; and keeping the peace between her eternally warring, long-divorced Christian mother and Jewish father. She's got enough to deal with before she gets caught in the middle of a stickup in a gas station mini-mart and falls in love with a great wall of a man named William Ashe, who steps between the armed robber and her son to shield the child from danger.

Shandi doesn't know that her blond god has his own baggage. When he looked down the barrel of the gun in the gas station he believed it was destiny: it's been exactly one year since a tragic act of physics shattered his universe. But William doesn't define destiny the way other people do. A brilliant geneticist who believes in science and numbers, destiny to him is about choice. Now, William and Shandi are about to meet their so-called destinies head-on, making choices that will reveal unexpected truths about love, life, and the world they think they know.

The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd (Release Date: January 7, 2014)

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

In the Blood
By Lisa Unger (Release Date: January 7, 2014)

Someone knows Lana’s secret—and he’s dying to tell. Lana granger lives a life of lies. She has told so many lies about where she comes from and who she is that the truth is like a cloudy nightmare she can’t quite recall. About to graduate from college and with her trust fund almost tapped out, she takes a job babysitting a troubled boy named Luke. Expelled from schools all over the country, the manipulative young Luke is accustomed to control­ling the people in his life. But, in Lana, he may have met his match. Or has Lana met hers?
When Lana’s closest friend, Beck, mysteriously disappears, Lana resumes her lying ways—to friends, to the police, to herself. The police have a lot of questions for Lana when the story about her where­abouts the night Beck disappeared doesn’t jibe with eyewitness accounts. Lana will do anything to hide the truth, but it might not be enough to keep her ominous secrets buried: someone else knows about Lana’s lies. And he’s dying to tell.

All I Want

When it comes to the latest music, I am absolutely clueless. I don't own an iPhone or an MP3 player, so iTunes is foreign territory to me. Luckily, thanks to YouTube I discovered an amazing Irish band, Kodaline, that just recently released their first album "In a Perfect World." As soon as I watched the poignant music video for their debut single "All I Want" I rushed over to Amazon to buy their CD. I absolutely love the soaring vocals, as well as the beautiful lyrics, but it was this powerful video and its incredibly uplifting message that won me over.

Beautiful, huh? If you loved it as much as I did, then visit YouTube to watch All I Want, Part 2, and find out what happened to our hero and his canine pal.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Author Spotlight: Gillian Flynn

I loved each one of Gillian Flynn’s trio of spellbinding thrillers. I of course came late to the party, as usual, and discovered this great author only after all the ruckus caused by the last of her books, Gone Girl, had spent the better part of a year on the best sellers list. Flynn offers a bold and unique voice, as her protagonists are the antithesis of what we as readers have come to expect from our heroines; no sweet, meek, vulnerable, or lost women here. Flynn’s heroines are dark, flawed, and utterly captivating.

Flynn has said “Libraries are filled with stories on generations of brutal men, trapped in a cycle of aggression. I wanted to write about the violence of women… Isn’t it time to acknowledge the ugly side? I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains… I’m talking violent, wicked women. Scary women” and in these three page-turners does she ever deliver.

Each novel offers an ingenious and engrossing mystery which keeps you on the edge of your seat right until the last page. They are addictive, unputdownable books which will leave you chilled and mouth slightly ajar at the knowledge that such a sinister tale can come from one person’s brilliant yet twisted imagination. It’s no easy feat to take these unsympathetic leading characters and still make us care about their journey; a fact which speaks volumes about the quality of her storytelling.

While Gone Girl was the book that garnered the most buzz and which drew me to Flynn as an author, I actually read Dark Places first, followed by Sharp Objects, and Gone Girl last, and it’s also the order I would put them in as far as preference. Each one offers an unforgettable tale, but Dark Places hit me like a good punch to the solar plexus through its countless twists and turns; while Sharp Objects enthralled me as much by Camille, whom I found a haunting and pitiable character for whom I felt the utmost of compassion, as by the murder mystery.

Dark Places. I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her. The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.

Sharp Objects. WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart. Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory. As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

Gone Girl. On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

It comes as no surprise that the movie rights for each one of these great novels has already been sold. In fact, Gone Girl is already in production with none other than Ben Affleck cast in the role of Nick, and Dark Places will feature the beautiful Charlize Theron in the lead role of Libby Day, a choice which kind of sticks in my craw since she’s a gazillion miles from Libby as written, which was barely five foot in height or as Libby said "dwarfy", with faded freckles, pug nose and dyed white-blonde hair; nonetheless, I’ll reserve judgment on her casting until I see the film, since it’s as much about the performance as it is about the appearance.

A movie rarely does a great book justice for the true magic of the tale can only be found in the author’s written word, so pick up one or all of Flynn’s books and settle in for an incredible thrill ride which will both haunt and amaze.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Boob Tube Update

This summer was nothing but clean living and lots of reading, as I fully committed to my reading good/TV bad motto, but like Michael Corleone in the Godfather, “just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in” and as feared my old reliable friend, TV, lured me back with promises of fun, fame and fortune (so far I've only found a couple quarters under the sofa cushions). Anyway, below is a quick recap of my current boob tube favorites.

This week The Voice culled the teams for the requisite number of contestants to go to the live shows and in the process ripped my heart out by booting out my favorite from the auditions, Holly Henry. What was Blake thinking? I think he had a lil’ somethin’ somethin’ in his Starbucks cup. With the knockout rounds over, each coach now has five contestants representing their team, and for the most part each team is diverse enough, with a little bit of country, rock, and other genres thrown in, to offer something that appeals to everyone’s taste. In my opinion, Blake and Ceelo have the best teams with two of the four contestants I had noted in my previous Voice post still in the running. One new person of interest that captured my attention was Cole, who really had a moment when he performed a great rendition of the Passenger song “Let Her Go” during his knockout round on Ceelo’s team and whom Blake was able to steal right out from under Adam. Despite his betrayal, I’m still Team Blake all the way, but I get the feeling that this just might be Ceelo’s year, and that he’ll have at least two contestants (Jonny and Caroline) which might go all the way. Nonetheless, as previous seasons have proven, song choice is crucial and America is fickle so a dark horse could sneak in, take home the win, and ride off into oblivion.

I’m still firmly hooked on The Blacklist, and though the last couple of episodes haven’t had quite the same oomph as the first four, I am geeking out about the fact that none other than House’s Wilson aka Robert Sean Leonard will be appearing as a mad scientist responsible for a chemical attack on next Monday’s episode entitled “Frederick Barnes” (picture above). While we’ve seemingly made some progress on the subplot surrounding Liz’s husband Tom, with Russian spy Gina Zanetakos corroborating his claims of innocence (a story which I just don’t buy), we are still no closer to solving the enigma which is Red. I’m hoping 1) that the stories surrounding the blacklist targets get a little stronger (ala The Stewmaker; still gives me the heebie-jeebies thinking about him) and 2) that we start to do more than scratch the surface of the whole Red/Liz dynamic (still think he’s her dad). I loved the fact that Liz turned to him when worrying about Tom. The entire hand-holding scene with Red was such an awww moment.

I’ve been making Once Upon a Time my Sunday afternoon, no good football games on TV, viewing material and as of last Sunday I’m fully caught up with all the episodes in Season 3. While the season started slow in my estimation, I’m enjoying some of the latest developments...(SPOILER ALERT - IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED ALL THE EPISODES STOP READING NOW) ...

including Hook and Emma’s smooch (all for it; not into Baelfire/Neal) and the fact that Regina just might have a Prince Charming of her own out there waiting for her in the form of none other than Mr. Robin Hood. The Mulan loves Aurora reveal seems like a desperate bid for attention, but hey, it keeps things interesting. Lastly, I don’t know if it’s just me, but the whole Neverland and Peter Pan storyline is starting to wear thin, so I’m really hoping they don’t drag this out for the entirety of the season.