December 31, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 12.31.14

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December 30, 2014

My Favorite Things: Serial Podcast (Season 1)

I love the Sound of Music. The movie. The play (in which I was Max in a school production). The songs. So the title is an homage. This will be a new addition to my blog where I will share something that currently delights me.

Released in Fall 2014.

Plot line: It's Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he's innocent - though he can't exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.

Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, and is hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one story - a true story - over the course of an entire season. Each season, we'll follow a plot and characters wherever they take us. And we won’t know what happens at the end until we get there, not long before you get there with us. Each week we bring you the next chapter in the story, so it's important to listen to the episodes in order, starting with Episode 1.

I have loved listening to this first season of Serial, and have often binge listened. I love the idea of a story that slowly unfolds every week. This is an example of using podcasts in a new and wonderful way. 

You can get more information and the downloads here. If you have not already listened to it, this is a podcast worth listening to. And if like me you are exhibiting Serial withdrawal symptoms, you'll find this SNL spoof entertaining. Cannot wait for Season 2.

December 29, 2014

Recent Reads

181. Light in August
My first Faulkner, and it will not be my last. Holy smokes can this guy write. This is not an easy read, nor is it a fast one, but it is well worth the time. The audiobook is wonderfully narrated by Scott Brick, and while at first the slow pacing was annoying, I came to realize that he is the perfect reader for this story. You need to move slowly. You need to feel the heat, and the dust, and take your time getting to know the characters in this story. You need to get sucked in, one breath at a time. 

What is this story about? Well, in one word: Life. Set in the 1920s American South, there are the expected racial tensions, but Faulkner is not happy with easy answers, and will not let you think you know all there is to know. The people in this novel are wonderfully (and sometimes horribly) fleshed out, and you are swept along, sometimes willingly, sometimes not, as you observe people in the fullness of their flaws, prejudices, demons, and humanity. 

You know that feeling after you eat a wonderful meal? That is how I feel. Absolutely wonderful. I docked a star, not through any fault of the author, but because my mind sometimes wandered. Would have probably been a 5 star rating for the print/ebook format. Rating: 4 stars.

182. The Girl and the Bicycle
I love wordless picture books because the words don't get in the way of a good story. Not only that, but each time you "read" it, you get a slightly different story. This picture book for young readers is pretty straight forward in terms of the story line and has lovely illustrations. Rating: 3 stars.

183. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption: A Story from Different Seasons
This novella by King was the inspiration for the fantastic movie The Shawshank Redemption. If you have yet to see it you must rectify that asap. 

I've been distracted as I prepared for an upcoming trip, and found that nothing was holding my interest. Whenever that happens, I invariably end up on King's stoop. He hardly ever disappoints, and he does not this time either. A fast and engrossing read set in a prison in Maine. Rating: 4 stars.

184. Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy #2)
This is book #2 in the All Souls Trilogy, and it picks up exactly where book #1 ends. The witch Diana, and her paramour vampire Matthew, time travel back to London circa 1590. The plan is to find a witch to help Diana figure out how to use her magical powers, and to see if they can get their hands on that mysterious book. We are introduced to a fun cast of characters including Elizabeth 1 (yes, that one), Christopher Marlowe, etc. I liked how Diana comes more into herself in this volume, but as in in the first book, I think this would have been a much tighter story if entire sections has been edited out. Still, I liked it enough that I'll probably read the final book in the trilogy before too long. Rating: 3 stars.

December 28, 2014

My fave places in Ann Arbor

A trip to A2 is not complete without a visit to my fave haunts. One is Zingerman's Roadhouse.

The food is delish, and I love that the drive through window is an airstream trailer. How cool is that?

Local color that is fun, and the strange thing is that many of the patrons look related. Must be a mid-west thing.

Another fave haunt is in Kerrytown, and that would be Hollander's, my one stop shop for beautiful papers and book binding supplies.

It has always been a wish of mine to attend one of their workshops, but I'm never in town for one I'm interested in taking. Am thinking that I might have to plan a trip to A2 around their schedule next time.

Seriously, these pics do not do justice to the sumptuous papers, so if you are ever in the area, drop in for a visit. Just beware that you might walk out with a lighter wallet than you intended.

As always, click on images to view larger.

December 26, 2014

Doggie in the window

How much is the doggie in the window?

Today I saw a Lassie kind of dog in a shop window, lying on a bed of keys. If this inspires you to write a short story or a poem, you are welcome.

December 25, 2014

My fave present this holiday season

The past six weeks have been rather stressful for my family.  My Dad was scheduled for open heart surgery, and at 77 years of age, we were all naturally worried about the procedure.

The surgery on Dec 10 went without a hitch,  and a week later my Dad was discharged on schedule to a rehabilitation center. He has been there for over a week, and expects to be back home by the end of this week. He has good days and tough days, but has been recovering really well. Seeing his face and those of my beautiful nieces is the best present I could have gotten this holiday season.

December 24, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 12.24.14

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December 23, 2014

Happy Holidays

Can you even believe that another year is almost over? Where the heck does the time go?

I hope you've been very nice (and a little bit naughty) this year. Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Holiday season.

December 22, 2014

Recent Reads

177. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History
The author used to be a sales rep and bookseller, and this little book is a collection of essays, part memoir, part history, of the book industry. And I wanted to love it. It should have been right up my alley - books, history of books, insider information on the publishing industry, etc. The first couple of essays were interesting, but I find that after I put the book down, I am reluctant to pick it up again. There is something about this collection that does not work for me. It's not that the writing is bad, or that the history is not interesting, but after 100 pages it still did not grab me. 

It has lines like this: The most important qualification of all, however, is that the book be compelling enough to to draw the reader into the erotic space of reading, where the mind is enflamed and the body in repose. Well, my body was in repose, but alas my mind was not enflamed. Rating: 2 stars.

178. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty
An excerpt from the author's note at the end of the book: The girl sitting quietly in class or waiting for the bus or roaming the mall doesn't want anyone to know, or doesn't know how to tell anyone, that she is locked in a tower. Maybe she's a prisoner of a story she's heard all her life - that fairest means best, or that bruises prove she is worthy of love. But here's the great thing about stories: They can be retold.

I read fairy tales as a kid, and you know what always annoyed me? The fact that boys got to do all the cool stuff, and have adventures, while the girls were damsels in distress, and simply waited for some guy (granted he was Prince Charming) to come save them. So, so unfair. 

This slim volume is a collection of feminist poetry interspersed with surreal photographs targeted at a young adult audience. As with all collections, I liked some better than others, but overall I loved the honest and unflinching look at fairytales juxtaposed against issues faced by so many girls of all ages. This collection would be a wonderful gift for teen girls, and yes boys too. Rating: 4 stars.

179. A Life Force (The Contract With God Trilogy #2)
This is Volume #2 in the Contract with God Trilogy, and unlike the first book in the series, this one is a collection of linked stories - the characters all interact with each other over the course of the book. The depression years were a bleak time for many, maybe especially for the immigrant residents of Dropsie Avenue. People struggle to make ends meet, and as with all bad times, there are those who make/find opportunities to make a killing (literally and figuratively). 

This volume tells the story through the stock market crash and the harsh winter of 1934. A very unsettled time indeed, which brings with it generational issues as many of the young see things differently than their elders. While I loved the art, there was a bit too much text/newspaper clipping style pages for my taste. Still, a historical graphic novel that is well worth the read. Rating: 3 stars.

180. The Empathy Exams: Essays
How would you define empathy? Do you think of yourself as an empathetic person? Does a person's pain/suffering have to be "real" to invoke empathy? Do you think empathy is innate, or is it something that can be taught? Such great ideas to ponder right?

My book club read this collection of essays this month with mixed reviews. The author is clearly a talented writer, but it seems to me that in order to get her on the radar of the average reader, this book was pulled together with a collection of her previously published and new work.

The first two essays in this collection are wonderfully thought provoking, and if the book had ended there, it would have gotten 5 stars. The problem is that it was followed by other essays, many of which I simply did not care for, or even understand the point the author was making in regards to the theme of empathy. There is some great writing throughout however, and I would highly recommend reading the first two essays in this collection, but be warned that the rest are somewhat choppy. Rating: 3 stars.

December 21, 2014

Road Trip to Ann Arbor, MI

We are headed to A2 for the holidays.  I love road trips, and this time we decided to stop overnight in Buffalo, NY. It is always interesting to see what the dining options are in a new town.

This was our best option. Almost missed it as I thought it was a car lube place.

They have interesting details like this door handle to the bathrooms.

It is hard to concentrate on the football game when there is a car flying overhead.

Travel Journal Art Supplies (Video)

Here is a video of the journaling art supplies I took with me on my recent trip to Las Vegas.

If the embedded link does not work, click here.

Links mentioned in the video:
Traveler's Notebook (Fauxdori)

December 20, 2014

Pico Iyer: The art of stillness (Video)

A reminder of something we already know, and yet often forget. Especially important during the holiday season I think.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

December 18, 2014

Cinemascope: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2014.

Plot line: For Steve Rogers, awakening after decades of suspended animation involves more than catching up on pop culture; it also means that this old school idealist must face a world of subtler threats and difficult moral complexities. That comes clear when Director Nick Fury is killed by the mysterious assassin, the Winter Soldier, but not before warning Rogers that SHIELD has been subverted by its enemies. When Rogers acts on Fury's warning to trust no one there, he is branded as a traitor by the organization. Now a fugitive, Captain America must get to the bottom of this deadly mystery with the help of the Black Widow and his new friend, The Falcon. However, the battle will be costly for the Sentinel of Liberty, with Rogers finding enemies where he least expects them while learning that the Winter Soldier looks disturbingly familiar.

I've watched my share of dark movies this year, so this was a delightful change of pace. It is a fun movie - action packed with people with nice bods. And while the special effects are great, it also has a plot - what a novel idea! This is a sequel, and I have yet to watch the first one, but that did in no way diminish my enjoyment

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

December 17, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 12.17.14

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December 16, 2014

Journal page

Every now and then I do a page like this. A week in review of sorts. A fun way to jot down random thoughts as they occur to me.

(Click on image to view larger)

I used my hand as a simple stencil and Sharpie Flip Chart markers in large cheapo journal.

December 15, 2014

Recent Reads

174. Barefoot Gen, Volume Two: The Day After
Book blurb: Barefoot Gen's autobiographical story - author Keiji Nakazawa was only seven years old when the atomic bomb hit his hometown of Hiroshima - tells of ordinary people dealing with extraordinary situations, both in the last days of World War II and after the nuclear attack. Volume 1 told the story of the days before the dropping of the bomb; this entry describes the devastation and chaos following the blast.

This is book two of a ten part series targeted at a teen audience, and picks up right where the first one left off. The entire volume recounts the day after the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. As I said in my review of book one, I'm not a fan of these old-timey manga style comics, but in reading this book the art provided some much needed relief for my mind. This is not an easy story to read. The author captures the death toll, destruction, madness, physical and psychological damage, and grief of the survivors in an unflinching manner. For you dystopia fans, I'd recommend skipping the fiction and read about the effects of this real dystopia that happened in the not too distant past. War is hell, but I guess we have yet to learn that lesson. 

I plan to read this entire series, but need some space and time before I can even bring myself to read the next installment. Rating: 5 stars.

175. Seven Wonders
I was in the mood for a thriller, and had recently heard the author talk about this book at the Boston Book Festival, so picked it up. The premise sounded good: archaeological thriller with murder, secrets, history and the seven wonders (ancient and modern). And oh yes, Amazons, those women warriors of mythology. Sounds great right? Unfortunately not. The writing is so dang bad, that after 60 pages, I've decided to return it to the library stacks. Still looking for a fast paced thriller .... Rating: 1 star.

176. The Princess Bride
Book blurb: What's it about? Fencing. Fighting. True Love. Strong Hate. Harsh Revenge. A Few Giants. Lots of Bad Men. Lots of Good Men. Five or Six Beautiful Women. Beasties Monstrous and Gentle. Some Swell Escapes and Captures. Death, Lies, Truth, Miracles, and a Little Sex.

I saw the movie many, many years ago and recall enjoying it, so thought I'd give the book a try. The first half is fantastic - so tongue in cheek that I found myself smiling every couple of paragraphs. Me smiling while reading a book? That has not happened in ages, and is precisely why I picked this one up. I needed some fun reading. Unfortunately, the second half did not hold up as well. Yes, there were still some fun tidbits, but I found myself getting bored with the story. And what happens at Level 5? Was that really necessary to this narrative? And do not get me started on Buttercup! Still, a different twist on a fairy tale that has some original and fun writing. Rating: 3 stars.

December 11, 2014

Cinemascope: The Normal Heart

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2014.

Plot line: Directed by Emmy® Award winner Ryan Murphy and written by Academy Award® nominee Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart tells the story of the onset of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City in the early 1980s. Based on Kramer’s Tony Award® winning play of the same name, it takes an unflinching look at the nation’s sexual politics as gay activists and their allies in the medical community fight to expose the truth about the burgeoning epidemic to a city and nation in denial. An ensemble of searing performances featuring Academy Award® nominee Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Emmy® winner Jim Parsons, and Academy Award® winner Julia Roberts.

I loved the book And The Band Played On, and the movie of the same name. This HBO movie covers those same early days of the AIDS epidemic in the US from the New York angle. Heartbreaking story with a great ensemble cast. 

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a TV movie worth watching.

December 10, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 12.10.11

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December 9, 2014

Journal page

I've been on a graphic novel kick this year, and I love the exposure to diverse artistic styles.

It is always fun to quickly sketch some of the art in my journal, to get a sense of how the artist captured an expression or mood.

As always, click on images to view larger. These were done with pen and markers in my large cheapo journal. You can see a video of my 2014 journal plans here.

December 8, 2014

Recent Reads

170. A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories (The Contract With God Trilogy #1)
This is the first book in The Contract With God Trilogy, and is considered to be the first graphic novel. I am reading a wonderful edition, one that collects the entire trilogy, with an introduction by the author, and some new art.

A Contract with God contains four short stories, all examining various characters and life on Dropsie Avenue in the Bronx, a primarily Jewish neighborhood. In the title story a young Russian Jew escaping the progroms finds heartbreak in his new country, and in his grief rejects his contract with God. This poignant story is based on the death of the author's child.

The three other stories all deal with other people in the hood. There is the street singer who serenades the people in the tenements. There are people who go away on vacation in search of love, or if not love, at least a match with someone of better circumstances. And there is the story of the building superintendent, which unfurled in an unexpected manner.

Ordinary people with complicated lives wonderfully captured. Originally published in 1978, the beautiful art, and stories of a place and time still resonate today. Rating: 4 stars.

171. Quest
This wordless picture book is a sequel to JOURNEY, and I'd recommend "reading" that one first.

In this story, a boy and a a girl are sheltering under a bridge, when a door bursts open. A king emerges, hands them some a map, and other artifacts, then he is immediately hauled away by soldiers before they can talk to him. What happens next is a flight of fantasy, and while the art is lovely, I did not like this story as much. There was not the sense of magic, mystery, and adventure as in the first book.  Rating: 2 stars.

Book blurb: In 1804, Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark set out on an expedition to explore the uncharted American frontier. This is the story of the monsters they discovered lurking in the wilds... Collects MANIFEST DESTINY #1-6.

I love travel and adventure stories, and had fun reading this alternative version of the Lewis and Clark expedition. There be monsters indeed. This series has great potential, and my complaint about this volume is that it does not quite live up to it. The art is fantastic, but the characters are rather one dimensional, the dialogue rather stilted, and it is actually hard to tell the men apart. Thanks goodness for the appearance of Sacagawea - though she kinda has a Xena Warrior Princess vibe. Still, I enjoyed the read, and the clever premise, and will keep my fingers crossed for better writing in future installments. Rating: 3 stars.

Book blurb: On a Halloween night, eight boys are led on an incredible journey into the past by the mysterious "spirit" Moundshroud. Riding a dark autumn wind from ancient Egypt to the land of the Celtic druids, from Mexico to a cathedral in Paris, they will witness the haunting beginnings of the holiday called Halloween.

I listened to the audiobook book wonderfully narrated by Bronson Pinchot. Is this my first Bradbury (I heard that gasp), yes I do believe it is. This novel is targeted at a young adult audience, and is a fun read for the season. Traditions are often touted as oh so important, when in reality most people have no idea about the history/reason for those cherished traditions. This story explores the traditions and stories that surround Halloween. The writing is good and often poetic. This is a fun romp through time, history and culture. Trick or treat baby! Rating: 3 stars.

December 4, 2014

Cinemascope: Flawless

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 1999.

Plot line: An ultraconservative police officer suffers a debilitating stroke and is assigned to a rehabilitative program that includes singing lessons - with the drag queen next door.

I watched this movie again recently, and while it is a little dated and campy, it still has some of the best performances in movies I've seen in ages.  Robert De Niro is good, but Philip Seymour Hoffman steals the limelight in every shot.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

December 3, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: 12.3.14

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December 2, 2014

Chicago O'Hare

So, the plane I was originally scheduled to be on had a mechanical problem, and the flight was delayed by 4 hours. Got re-routed via Chicago with a 3 hour later arrival in Boston. However, there is an earlier flight that I'm on standby for .... Keeping my fingers crossed.
In the meanwhile am delighted at some of the facilities now available at airports.  Have never seen this one before.

The holidays are less than a month away, so fun to see some of the decorations.

Leaving Las Vegas

As much as I love traveling, it is quite wonderful to be heading home.

December 1, 2014

Recent Reads

166. Bad Feminist: Essays
In the midst of reading this book, I tweeted this: Reading an essay or two from Bad Feminist by @rgay when I awake calibrates my anger to just the right level for the day.

Ms. Gay is fast becoming one of my fave author/thinker/feminist. I want her to be my BFF, so I can tease her mercilessly for her penchant for bad TV shows and Sweet Valley High love.

What is this collection of essays about? Well, everything really: TV shows, gender, movies, politics, social media, women, men, society, books, music, sexism, racism, Scrabble. No, that's not all, I'm simply tired of typing. Just read it for yourself. This collection is a thought provoking critique of our society today. Not all the essays are fab, but they are all worth reading and pondering.

This collection of essays is going to make you angry, and if you are already angry, it'll make you angrier, and if you are not already angry and you are woman, check your pulse. I would not recommend reading this collection in one or even two sittings. Give yourself time for your blood pressure to return to normal for a few hours before reading the next one.
  Rating: 5 stars.

167. Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything
Maira Kalman brings her signature artistic style and wit to this biography of Thomas Jefferson targeted at the very young reader. I am a fan of Jefferson, and Maira captures a balanced portrayal of both his greatness and his flaws. While reading this one, I was reminded of my visit to Monticello last year, a place well worth a visit. Rating: 3 stars.

168. To the Lighthouse
The audiobook is wonderfully narrated by Juliet Stevenson. Remember how I said she was going to read all the classics to me? Thought I was kidding did you? I was not.

As far as I can recall, this is the first book I've read by Virginia Woolf, and it popped to the top of my TBR pile as assigned reading for the Fiction of Relationship Coursera class I'm taking this Fall. 

This is a story told in three parts, and the writing is luminous throughout. I loved Part One. The cast of characters are delightful. The random stream of consciousness and scenes captured fun. And Mrs. Ramsay. I think I've got a crush on Mrs. Ramsay. Part Two is wonderful at capturing the atmosphere of an empty house, and has some of the best writing I've ever read about loss, and the passage of time. Then we get to Part Three, and I'm not sure what point the author was making. Is it that you might not be around to see an idea come to fruition, but others you have inspired will? I honestly do not know, and I am so glad to have a series of lectures to help educate me.

Still, a book worth reading, and I am sure it will not be the last book I'll read by Ms. Woolf. Rating: 3 stars.

169. A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)
I've been patiently waiting for all the books to be published before starting this first book in the All Souls Trilogy. Vampires, Witches and Daemons Oh My. I should have loved this book. It is right in my sweet spot.

The planet is populated with four sentient beings - humans, witches, vampires and daemons - and there are strict rules about how the creatures must behave so as not to attract human attention. And after a history of witch burning and vampire hunts, who can blame them for wanting to keep a low profile? Enter Diana Bishop. She is no ordinary witch, but the offspring of two powerful witch genealogies. While doing some research, she finds a long lost book. One that all the creatures want. One that might explain everything. And if that were not enough to put her in danger, she finds herself attracted to a vampire, and cross species liaisons are forbidden. Supernatural beings, a book mystery, and an interesting exploration of evolutionary biology. See what I mean? My sweet spot. 

Now, I'll admit that Anne Rice set the vampire and witch genre bar really high, and the vampires in this story do not sparkle - that would have been a non starter - but while I liked the story, it would have benefited from tighter editing. There were too many tangents that did not add to the story line. Also, I am not a fan of romance novels - paranormal or otherwise - and there was more than a whiff of that. Another issue is that when an author starts out to write a trilogy, they have 600 x 3 pages or so to fill, and there is a lot of filler stuff. This would have been a much tighter story if it had been a standalone novel. 

Still, it is a good debut novel, and the 600 or so pages are a quick and fun read. I plan to read the next book in the trilogy hoping that the writing is better and the editing tighter. Rating: 3 stars.