Friday Finds ~ January 29th, 2010

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This was my favorite meme to put together.  I like looking at the book covers and putting them all together.  It makes me want to go to the book store!  Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  While browsing fabulous book blogs,  Amazon.com, Washington Post.com, NPR.org, various other places on the Internet, and getting recommendations from friends, these are the books that either made it to my wish list this week or I downloaded the samples on my Kindle from Amazon.com.

    

   

Incendiary by Chris Cleave
The Commoner: A Novel by John Burnham Schwartz
Indignation by Philip Roth
Reading Lolita In Tehran: A Memoir In Books by Azar Nafisi
One Thousand White Women ~ The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
Midwives: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian

Book Review ~ The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

From Amazon: Book Description ~ This work was set in Berlin, 1942. When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But, Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than what meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

I decided to read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne after reading Lisa’s review last week over at her blog, Books on the Brain.  I am glad I did.  This book is in the young adult book category.  It had been a long time since I had read a YA fiction book and I was reminded of what I thought when I used to read books for my age group growing up.  I thought that I didn’t need to be reminded of different points throughout the book but the way Boyne handled this was very good.  Just certain fictional facts about each character were repeated everytime the subject came up but it wasn’t too distracting.  (Just a personal thing.)

I have read a few historical fiction books set in WWII in the couple of years but none that handled the concentration camps with so much care and subtlety.  Because the story is seen through the eyes of Bruno, a nine year old boy and a naive one at that, the details of what is really happening at his new home in “Out-With” (Auschwitz) are not really brought to the forefront and made clear.  I had a blond moment and was so wrapped up in the story through Bruno’s eyes and I didn’t get that “Out-With” meant Auschwitz for a little bit.  I exclaimed with a big “Oh!” when it hit me.  (I’m not always with it people.  Give me a break.  LOL)  I think that if I had been in high school or even junior high when I read this, I would have been a bit confused.  I didn’t have WWII history until tenth grade I think.  I mean we learned about WWII and when it happened in earlier grades but details like the gas chambers and starvation weren’t in text books till later. 

The story held up and kept my interest throughout and thanks to Lisa’s review I was anxious as I read, especially towards the end, as I waited and wondered what was going to happen to Bruno and especially his friend Schmuel, who lived on the other side of the fence that separated the camp from Bruno’s new home.  The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is an easy read for adults and a good one at that.  I don’t think, like with any book that is set during such an awful time in our world’s history as WWII and the concentration camps, you can say it’s an enjoyable read but it is a clever story that is told well and makes you think.  Sometimes that is just as important as an enjoyable read.  

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5} 

I Want To Be Blue Too!

Poster Avatar James Cameron by Cine Fanatico.

I don’t know if I’ve ever posted about a movie but Avatar isn’t just any movie.  Avatar is as magical and amazing in 2010 as The Wizard of Oz must have been in 1939.  The brilliant colors, incredible characters and new world never seen before make the world of Pandora in Avatar rival The Merry Ole’ Land of Oz in my mind.  I tend to watch movies with a childs eye and I’m not even trying.  Hubby often reminds me that with a lot of films it’s silly for me to get scared or full of anxiety because I’ve already seen them but I really can’t help it.  The husband of the couple we saw Avatar with on Saturday night said I kept physically moving when the fight and flight scenes were on the screen.  Now also keep in mind that Avatar is watched while wearing very cool, Ray Ban-esque 3D glasses and though the objects on the screen don’t seem to jump out and fly over your shoulder, the effect does make you feel like you are moving and makes everything that much more amazing.  Hubby said he wished that the glasses didn’t have frames and were more like a goggle frame so he wasn’t distracted. 

The story of Avatar is simple but complicated by the science fiction details.  I am not going to go into details because I really believe that everyone should see this film.  I will tell you that I cried throughout the film.  I cried because the film was so beautiful.  I cried because of very touching moments between characters.  I cried because of where the storyline went.  I wish that Pandora was a real place and I will hope with all my heart that James Cameron hurries up and makes a sequel.  I also can’t wait for Avatar to be released on BluRay because there is a reported forty minutes of usable film that didn’t make it to theaters. 

Sigorney Weaver is probably my favorite of the actors but everyone is extremely good and help to make the world of Pandora a believable and amazing world.  The transformation from human to Na’vi is brilliant and I want to do it too.  I can’t get this movie out of my head and that hasn’t happened in a long time.  It was reported that Zoe Saldana had a very difficult time leaving the filming and the world of Pandora behind.  I would probably feel the same way even though all the filming was done while wearing body suits and motion sensors while in Howard Hughes’ old airplane hangar that housed the Spruce Goose.   

If you are worried about getting a headache from wearing and looking through the 3D glasses, just give in to it.  I felt the motion when the film started and slightly freaked out in my head because it kind of scared me but I reminded myself that Oprah went to the movies with Stedman to see Avatar with the glasses (and they hadn’t been to a movie theater to see a flick since Dances With Wolves) and if she survived the three hours than I could too.  I’m so so so glad I did because it is simply marvelous!

{Rating 100 out of 5!}

Book Review ~ The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel

From Amazon.com ~ Loyalty, loss, and the ties that bind. These are the ingredients of The Recipe Club, a “novel cookbook” that combines an authentic story of friendship with more than 80 delicious recipes.  Lilly and Val are lifelong friends, united as much by their differences as by their similarities. Lilly, dramatic and confident, lives in the shadow of her beautiful, wayward mother and craves the attention of her distant, disapproving father. Val, shy and idealistic—and surprisingly ambitious— struggles with her desire to break free from her demanding housebound mother and a father whose dreams never seem to come true.  In childhood, “LillyPad” and “ValPal” form an exclusive two-person club, writing intimate letters in which they share hopes, fears, deepest secrets—and recipes, from Lilly’s “Lovelorn Lasagna” to Valerie’s “Forgiveness Tapenade.” Readers can cook along as the friends travel through time facing the challenges of independence, the joys and heartbreaks of first love, and the emotional complexities of family relationships, identity, mortality, and goals deferred.  The Recipe Club sustains Lilly and Val’s bond through the decades, regardless of what different paths they take or what misunderstandings threaten to break them apart . . . until the fateful day when an act of kindness becomes an unforgivable betrayal.  Now, years later, while trying to recapture the trust they’ve lost, Lilly and Val reunite once more—only to uncover a shocking secret. Will it destroy their friendship, or bring them ever closer?

The Recipe Club A Tale of Food and Friendship: A Novel by Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel is a unique book.  I had first heard about this book either on NPR or in The Washington Post, and though I can’t remember exactly where, I knew I had to own this book (in book form and not on the Kindle) and that I had to have it NOW.  So, thanks to one of my birthday presents from my in-laws (a Barnes & Noble gift card), I bought it last week and finished it last night.  I haven’t had time to make any of the recipes but I promise I will and I will post pics here on Planet Books and tell you how the dishes turn out. 

The Recipe Club is a story about two women, the girls they were and the friendship that helped to make them who they are.  Valerie and Lilly are completely different personalities with very different interests and ways of living their lives but they have one thing in common for sure.  FOOD!  The Recipe Club is a constant part of their childhood written correspondence and though they both live in close vicinity to each other, in New York City/Brooklyn, they do keep up with the letters.  

The book starts with Val and Lilly as adults.  They have reconnected after a devestating fight has kept them apart for many years and e-mail is the new form of letter writing.  Then we get the back story.  Starting in 1963 when the girls are ten, we meet young Val and Lilly.  They have already started The Recipe Club, a two person club just for them.  The first recipe is Chocolate Icebox Cake.  The recipes throughout this book do look great but because there are more than eighty recipes that take up every other page in a good part of the book it moves very quickly.  The story is told through letters but you don’t miss anything because of that.  The flow of the story is quick but detailed and the character development is very good.  I did have a favorite girl, Val, but that is probably because I related to her more than Lilly.  Their parents are prominent characters who help to develop the story even more and give the girls many reasons for grief, even in adulthood. 

There are some great twists in this story and I definitely had a hard time putting it down.  Not only is the story pretty good and the recipes look tasty but the book itself (only available in hardcover now) is beautiful.  The artwork on the recipe pages throughout the book  is cool, retro and colorful and the cover with the egg is such a soothing shade of blue/grey I just loved to hold it.  If you had a childhood friend who has continued to be there in adulthood and knows you better than most, and if you like to cook and/or read recipes, than The Recipe Club is the book for you (and that friend).  If you can wing it, I highly recommend picking up the hardcover edition and when you’re done reading it keeping it with your cookbooks.  There is a nice index of all the recipes in the back of the book for easy reference.

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

Friday Finds ~ January 22nd, 2010

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This was my favorite meme to put together.  I like looking at the book covers and putting them all together.  It makes me want to go to the book store!  Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  While browsing book blogs,  Amazon.com, Washington Post.com, NPR.org, various other places on the Internet, and getting recommendations from friends, these are the books that either made it to my wish list this week or I downloaded the samples on my Kindle from Amazon.com.

   

 

The Rock And The River by Kekla Magoon
Await Your Reply bu Dan Chaon
Waiting: A Novel by Ha Jin
The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry
Deeper Than The Dead by Tami Hoag

Book Review ~ The Help by Kathryn Stockett

From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. What perfect timing for this optimistic, uplifting debut novel (and maiden publication of Amy Einhorn’s new imprint) set during the nascent civil rights movement in Jackson, Miss., where black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college in 1962, and, anxious to become a writer, is advised to hone her chops by writing about what disturbs you. The budding social activist begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom the country club sets relies and mistrusts enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who’s raised 17 children, and Aibileen’s best friend Minny, who’s found herself unemployed more than a few times after mouthing off to her white employers. The book Skeeter puts together based on their stories is scathing and shocking, bringing pride and hope to the black community, while giving Skeeter the courage to break down her personal boundaries and pursue her dreams. Assured and layered, full of heart and history, this one has bestseller written all over it.

 There aren’t enough positive, glowing and loving words that I’m aware of describe Kathryn Stockett’s touching, eye-opening, powerful and memorable novel, The Help.  And that’s my review!  Just kidding.  But seriously, I loved, love and will always recommend The Help to anyone looking for a good book to sink themselves into.  The story is deeply involved with wonderfully detailed character development.  As you read The Help you get to know stong and weak women alike.  Aibileen and Minny are two housekeepers, child raisers and in Minny’s case, psychologists/mother to her employer.  Miss Skeeter is the young lady who brings their stories to light, or more specifically to paper.  She is a graduate from Ole Miss and wishes to be a writer and to live in New York City.  So after an idea of a book partly supported by a publicist in the Big Apple, Miss Skeeter begins secretly meeting with Aibileen, Minny and a few other maids in their hometown of Jackson, MS to get their stories of working in the family homes of white women on paper. 

The other characters we get to know (like them or not) are the white female employers who are, for the most part, a disturbing reflection of the time the story is set in.  1962 Mississippi and the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement is where The Help is set.  I’ll tell you what, this book has a villain like I haven’t read in a very long time.  If they made a film adaptation of The Help I would be very interested in seeing who is cast to play Miss Hilly.  I HATED her and all her beliefs.  Miss Celia (Minny’s boss) was fun, hopeless and the most alone of all the characters but still was one of my favorites. 

The Help is full of great twists, edge of your seat suspense and heartbreaking moments as well as laugh/gasp out loud ones.  The topics will make you think and if they don’t then this isn’t the book for you.  Though The Help is fiction, I would call it historical fiction.  Author Kathryn Stockett grew up in Mississippi and is said to have based a few of the characters on her own family’s maid and Stockett has written her story through and around true historical events in this nation’s history.  We just celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and are getting closer and closer to February which is Black History Month.  Please take a few days to read this gem of a book and reflect on where our country has come from and where we are going.   

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

At one point in The Help, Miss Skeeter catches a brief listen of Bob Dylan’s “Times, They Are A Changin’.”  Here is that song followed by Sam Cooke’s amazing tune, “A Change Is Gonna Come” performed by Lauren Hill & The Fugees.

“What’s A-Happening Hot Stuff?”

I love that line from John Hughes classic, Sixteen Candles!  It’s so funny, awesome and can be used for so many things.  I used it as my title because I wanted to update you on what’s been happening this year so far.  First of all, how the hell did we get through the 00’s so fast and enter a whole new decade?  Crazy!! 

January has been good so far.  Every year starts well for me because the first day of it is always my birthday.  This year was the best birthday celebration yet!  On the 1st Hubby and I were joined by sixteen friends and family at Macaroni Grill for a nice dinner and then we had them all over to the house for dessert and games.  Hubby had asked me what I wanted my cake to be and I asked for cupcakes from my Martha Stewart Cupcake Book.  He made German Chocolate & Hummingbird Cupcakes and they were delish.  Half the group left by 9:00pm and the rest of us played Beatles Rockband (thanks Mom & Dad!) followed by Taboo.  That was hilarious! 

So to continue the birthday celebration, Hubby took me to Walt Disney World and on the Disney Cruise.  We had invited a ton of friends and family to meet us there and had sent out the flyer/invite in our Christmas cards two years ago but with the recession that didn’t really work out the way we had hoped.  We still had a very special time with those that were able to go, which were Hubby’s folks, his sis and her family and his bro’s family.  We missed my bro-in-law who due to his deployment wasn’t able to go with us.  We had a fabulous time playing our roles of aunt and uncle to our three nephews and two nieces.  What fun they are!  Except for the chilling temperatures in Orlando and the rain and cold weather on the Disney island Castaway Cay, we had a really great trip. 

Meanwhile, back at home, Rocky was at a pet retreat where his dermatitis wasn’t healing as we had hoped.  With the dry, freezing air here in the DC area this winter (except right now, with daytime temps in the low sixties) poor Rocky developed a deep dermatitis.  It is pretty nasty and on his chin and lower lips but seems to finally be healing a bit.  He is on a steroid, antibiotics, Benadryl, vitamins and a cooling gel to sooth the itch topically but to prevent him from scratching, you guessed it, he has to wear “the cone of shame.”  Poor Pooh Bear!  He’s been wearing it for a month now and has come to accept it.  Sometimes his sores bleed a little though and he has a disgusting habit of licking the inside of the cone, like he pulls his head back so he can lick the surface of plastic under his chin if we haven’t noticed the dried blood there and cleaned it first.  EEEWWWWW!!!!!!  I KNOW!  Here’s a pic of him from the other day when he was laying in the big chair in the sun.  It looks like he’s waiting for the artist to set up the easel and start to paint his nude portrait or something.  When I showed this pic to Hubby he almost teared up he was laughing so hard.  Rocky cracks us up!!

So, since returning from our trip I have had an awful cough and cold that unfortunately I passed on to Hubby and he’s in the midst of it now.  I have felt better for a few days now so I have been able to use my big Christmas present from Hubby.  My craft table from Potter Barn!!  Now I have longed for this particular piece of furniture for at least four years and I still can’t believe that it’s in our house and in my craft room now but it is.  I am sooooo LUCKY to have such a generous husband.  He checked in on my last night while I was making my thank you cards for my birthday gifts and he exclaimed, “You’ve got a craft room!”  It’s pretty cool.  Here are a couple of pics of it.  I love that I can just leave the room in the middle of working and not have to clean it up like I did when I used the kitchen table for card making and sewing when we lived in Memphis and Okinawa. 

Besides reading this year I will be working in here and happy as a clam about it.  Now I just have to finish arranging my office and the books on the shelves and I’ll be all set.  I might alphabetize my books by author.  Since I have so many it might make it nicer when looking for something.  Do you have your books in an order of some kind or are they just there waiting for you to pick then when looking for your next read?

Friday Finds ~ January 15th, 2010

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This was my favorite meme to put together and post last year so I’m going to keep it up in 2010.  I like looking at the book covers and putting them all together.  It makes me want to go to the book store!

Friday Finds is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.  While browsing book blogs,  Amazon.com, Washington Post.com, NPR.org, various other places on the Internet, and getting recommendations from friends, these are the books that either made it to my wish list this week or I downloaded the samples on my Kindle from Amazon.com.

   

  

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Remarkable Creatures a novel by Tracy Chevalier
The Good Soldiers by David Finkel
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Wolf Hall a novel by Hilary Mantel

 

What I’m Listening To This Week

This week I was so happy that Vampire Weekend’s sophomore release finally “dropped.”  It’s called CONTRA and I just love it!  This band first hit the scene back in 2007 and I have loved them since my first listen on NPR’s All Songs Considered.  This tune is from this weeks release and it’s called “Cousins.”  Enjoy!

My Addiction

I have many things that I love to do during the week.  Going on Facebook, reading, watching Food Network and HGTV, talking on the phone, playing with the dog and hanging out with Hubby and driving in Lucy (my Ford Escape) but there is one thing I love to do that has become a bit of an addiction.  I call it an addiction because it isn’t always a good thing.  We live in Northern Virginia, in a wonderful community and neighborhood.  We chose to build our house here because of those two things and are very pleased with it all for the most part.  One of the things that is in our community is Wegmans Grocery Store.  That has become my addiction! 

After living in Okinawa from May 2005 till May 2009 and having to rely on the base commissary or the alien yet cool Japanese grocery stores out in town for food and supplies, Wegmans is just heaven and it’s only two miles from home.  I get tempted to go almost daily and buy (that’s the problem, you have to buy things to get them out of the store!) fresh bread, soups, pasta sauces, anything from the Market Place (prepared meals), fruit, olives from the extensive olive bar and many other beautifully displayed items for our new kitchen.  I can’t even get into the HUGE wine section that takes up a quarter of the store!

Friends of mine in Okinawa would cry about missing stores like Target and Walmart.  Bookstores and shoe stores.  I found that shopping online from these types of stores really eased the need for shopping in person while living in Oki but I always missed nice grocery stores.  In 2006 I visited my relatives in Kirkland/Redmond Washington and one of my aunts took me to the flagship store for Whole Foods.  Well we walked in the double sliding doors and I just about cried.  Actually, my eyes did well up!  The store was gorgeous and the selection was so extensive that I got depressed thinking about the small amount of pasta sauce choices (I know I can always make my own) that was waiting for me back at the commissary in Okinawa.  The produce section seemed to glow and the prepared foods and deli departments were calling to me.  Aunt Jamie asked me to select some dishes for dinner that evening and I remember having the largest, most delicious couscous that day. 

I think Wegmans is the average checkbook holders Whole Foods really.  Their store name products are awesome and fill my pantry.  I am eating their arrabiata sauce on angel hair pasta for lunch right now and enjoying every spicy bite.  Dinner tonight will be a beef stew from Martha Stewart’s website and, oh darn, I have to (yes, MUST) go to Wegmans when I’m done eating lunch and typing this post to get some fresh chibatta bread to dredge through the stew tonight. 

What are you making for dinner tonight?