Sunday, July 31, 2011

Saying Goodbye to July

Every day I've thought, "I need to get online and write a post today!"  That just didn't happen--obviously.  One of my cousins got married yesterday and we've had lots of family time.  Plus, two of the groom's siblings have had babies in the last month, so there was a lot of baby cuddling going on during the wedding and reception.  Talk about two cute, sweet babies! All of this family time helped drive out the moody blues I had last week and I'm feeling much more prepared for the craziness of school starting soon.

With the month ending, let me also say a quick thank you to Bookbath and Thyme for Tea for hosting the Paris in July Challenge.  I feel pretty satisfied with my triple movie reviews, my look at Edith Piaf, and my review of Anna and the French Kiss.  I had a great time and will definitely be doing more with Paris-related stuff in the future! 

Well, that's my sum up and weekend. For this last weekend in July, it was a pretty great one and I'm feeling more up to the challenges ahead.  Now it's time to face August head on!  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: Dilemma by Father Robert Cutie

I think I can say that I've snapped out of the moody blues that had taken over me on Monday.  As with life, you just deal with people moving on and things always changing.  This weekend I'll be seeing a lot more family and friends at my cousin's wedding, so I will get a lot of time with people I love!  That is definitely something to look forward to.

Anyway, as I mentioned on Monday, I have been in a bit of a dry spell with reading.  That changed when I ended up not sleeping Monday night.  Yep, I literally didn't sleep one bit, so I just stayed in bed and grabbed a couple of books.  One of them that finally sucked me in was Dilemma by Father Robert Cutie.  In our local library, they put out new books, by category or genre on display as you walk in.  I always like to look over the new arrivals and noticed Dilemma there.  Because I remembered this story from the news and his appearance on Oprah, I was interested to read his take on it all and to catch up with where he is now.  So, rather than my typical synopsis and review, I wanted to just dive into a review to tell you more about his story.

Father Robert Cutie was born in Puerto Rico and then raised in Miami, Florida.  His parents were Cuban and had left Cuba back in the 60's for Puerto Rico, but finally ended up in the United States.  Robert grew up Roman Catholic and felt a strong connection to the church, so after graduation at the age of 19 he entered the seminary to study to become a priest.  He later took his vows and served as a priest in Florida at a variety of parishes and churches.  Later in his career, he was asked to join a daily talk show on Telemundo (a Spanish-language network), where he gained notoriety for his moderate views.  He later went on to work on his own talk show on the EWTN (an international Catholic network).  During this time, he was also doing the day to day labors of a Roman Catholic priest, serving the people of Miami, Florida. 

His career as a Roman Catholic priest was one part of his life, but the book is really a more interesting internal look at Cutie's interpretation and view of what was going on in the church and in his own life.  Because he later met a young woman in one of the churches he served in, felt what he says was a powerful "love at first sight" experience with her, and later followed his heart to acknowledge his love for her and to eventually leave the priesthood to marry her, his story is a type of "how did this happen" retelling.  Cutie shares the struggles that priests encounter in being celibate and denying their natural sexual urges.  He doesn't ever share his own or what that was like for him (which I found strange), but he does talk about the varied sexual practices going on behind the scenes in the priesthood.  From his own experience, he knew of sexual affairs going on in the seminaries between the teachers and seminary students, priests who had girlfriends/boyfriends that they either housed with them or off church property, fathers who had children by a variety of women, and even priests in the upper levels of the Vatican who where famously homosexual with partners there.

Father Cutie and wife on their wedding day.
Although you might think the story is about his "dilemma" to leave the church for the woman he loved, the book is set up much more to examine the practice of celibacy.  From the beginning of his story, to the last several chapters that are more of a persuasive essay on the negative side of celibacy, his book seems to be more of an argument against celibacy and more about the acceptance of married priests and an acknowledgement of sexuality as a part of mankind.  As such, and with this thesis, the book comes together with a pretty powerful message that man's sexual nature cannot just be demonized and then skirted around or ignored, but must be addressed and encouraged in positive ways.  In fact, Cutie has strong empathy for priests who have been demonized or cast aside because of  scandals that have reflected badly on the church.  One of his main issues with priesthood, as he currently see it, is that those who remain to secretly carry on sexual affairs and such are more successful in the priesthood than those who choose to share their struggles and desires and want to get help.  This has then encouraged a culture of secrecy that reaches the highest levels of the church and continues to create an atmosphere where men joining the priesthood continues to plummet.

Fr. Cutie pictured on People magazine w/ wife and baby.
I remember seeing Father Cutie and his now wife in the pictures that broke in the news across the country, and even his later interview on the Oprah Show.  Yes, it was big news that this famous Roman Catholic priest was caught canoodling on a beach in Miami, and I remember thinking that he was incredibly naive to think he could go out on a beach somewhere with a woman and NOT get caught!  In the book, he describes what led up to this and how he had already admitted in his own confessions to another priest his feelings for his now wife.  At this point, his disillusionment with the priesthood, the issue of celibacy, and the entire sexual scandal that continued to hang over all priests in the church was a bigger issue than even his decision to leave the priesthood to get married.  His decision was not between the woman he loved and the priesthood, it was between his faith and his priesthood.  In essence, had he not been caught, he could have continued a secret relationship with her and never admitted to any of it.  However, because of his own determination to leave the Catholic church, he left and joined the Episcopal church, where he is currently serving as a married priest (who was also expecting a baby girl with his wife at the time the book was written).

As I'm not Catholic, I have to say that I was unfamiliar with priests and what they have to do to join the priesthood.  Fr. Cutie's explanation of the priesthood and the troubles it encounters were extremely enlightening, especially considering the horrific spread and cover up of sexual abuse that has been uncovered across the country.  Cutie shares at a later section of the book that studies within the priesthood show that over half of all priests are homosexual, leading to a serious question about the forced cover up that is actually encouraging men who want to be faithful Catholics to choose priesthood and celibacy as a way of avoiding that lifestyle.  The church has recognized this to be a real challenge, and although homosexuality is not a precursor to becoming a pedophile, it has pushed all sexuality into the closet (so to say) and caused some priests to express their desires in secret and undesirable ways.  As part of his argument, Cutie takes on sexuality and desire as part of his thesis that the modern church (all churches) need to address sexuality as a part of man's normal, natural development, and to take it out of the shadows of secret and shame.  His arguments are strong, and seem to make a great deal of sense from my outside point of view, but I wonder how the Catholic church would tackle these issues of priesthood celibacy, women in the priesthood, and even birth control.

Dilemma is a very well written book, with a well focused point of view.  Although I wanted to understand more about his wife, what she thought or felt, or even more of the emotional turmoil behind falling in love, I came to realize that this was not the goal of his story.  It is very obvious that his story is not about the agonies of love, but about his struggle with faith.  As such, I thought it was an exceptionally written, fine tuned argument about man and faith from his own experience.  I read the book from cover to cover in one sitting and did not feel that it was gratuitous or even self-serving for that matter.  Yes, Cutie has a bias against celibacy in the priesthood and has strong feelings about problems within the priesthood, but I didn't feel that he was out to convince everyone to like him.  His real message was about a problem as he saw and experienced it and his own resolution.  Overall, I thought it was very well done.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the book.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Moody Mondays

Well, I missed my Sunday Blatherings post and here we go with the last week in July and I'm sad.  For once, knowing work is looming has little to do with my mood and more to do with the people in my life.  Last month my BFF moved to Michigan.  That made me sad.  Today, my cousin, with his wife and one month old baby boy are packing up to move tomorrow morning.  That makes me sad.  I got the chance to go down on Friday to help my cousin move, and mainly got to sit with the baby so they could go through boxes. So nice. 

I know changes happen all the time.  I'm just sad to see some pretty important people to me move away, especially now that I'm settled in and have no plans to move anymore.  At least I bought a home that has a nice guest room so they can all come visit any time they want!  (Hint. Hint.)  My mom was also down here for the weekend and left earlier this afternoon.  We always have a nice, relaxing time together, even though we overhauled my storage and got everything organized.  Having the storage all in order is really nice, but spending time with my mom is even better.  Well, she left to drive home and that made me sad too!  I need to pull out of it and cheer up.  It's strange though that the weather is muggy and overcast today, possibly reflecting my own mood?

To top it off, I haven't read very much--at all.  With busy work meetings last week, appointments, and family around, I just didn't really read.  To compound it all, I've been suffering from some pretty nasty insomnia this month and have gone against the advice they give for insomnia and have been re-watching the show Alias during those sleepless nights.  What a great show.  Now that's a way to brighten my mood!  Jennifer Garner is so good in that show, and I forgot how great the storyline was.  Having gone through a graduate program in English, how in the world did she get a graduate degree while flying around the world?  Yea.  I don't think it's possible.  Still, I love the show. Now I have a secret wish to be a kick-butt spy like Sydney Bristow.

With the three weeks I have left of my summer break, I will be heading back to work soon so I can get ready for a super busy school year.  (Yea, that will make me scared and then moody too if I think about it too much.)  On Saturday, I dragged my mother to the library with me and picked up some books. 

 Yes, I finally picked this up on audio book.  A lot of my students read this series, so I thought I'd finally give it a try!
This is on reserve in eBook format through my library, but I'm a bit too impatient and would like to dive in.  Who knows, I might have two copies of this out!

Finally, I'm super excited to read Sisterhood Everlasting.  Having read all of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, I can't pass up this future look at the girls.  Now I hope I remember what happened in previous books!

Well, that's my Monday.  I'm a little sad, but that's life.  Things will look cheerier soon, right?  Now it might just be time to remedy the no reading slump I've been in and pick up one of these great books!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

It's time for another installment of Paris in July!  I think this challenge needs to stretch along another couple of months, especially because I feel like I'm just getting on a roll.  In fact, I just got my hands on David Lebovitz's book The Sweet Life in Paris, as well as the movie Paris Je T'Aime (after Tasha at Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books mentioned it).  It seems that I'm going to be busy for awhile with my newest Paris finds!

To be honest though, I'm a book rotater, as I've mentioned before.  That usually makes my reading time a little longer than normal, because I'm reading a million things all at once.  Anyway, I had heard a lot of glowing reviews about Anna and the French Kiss and finally got my hands on a copy.  Let's just say that I started it one day, read a couple of chapters, and put it down.  I picked it back up, and forget putting it back down!  I stayed up half the night finishing it.  For me, that's really saying something!  I love it when a book demands my attention.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris - until she meets Etienne St. Clair: perfect, Parisian (and English and American, which makes for a swoon-worthy accent), and utterly irresistible. The only problem is that he's taken, and Anna might be, too, if anything comes of her almost-relationship back home.

As winter melts into spring, will a year of romantic near - misses end with the French kiss Anna - and readers - have long awaited?"

Review:  I couldn't put this book down.  I really worried that with all the hype surrounding it, that I wouldn't like it.  That wasn't the case at all.  Anna is a great character, who is sent off to Paris by her Nicholas Sparks-esque (or that's how I pictured him) dad, who had gained his riches and notoriety from a number of successful tear-jerker novels turned films.  Of course she resents being ripped from her life in the U.S., along with a new possible love interest she had been crushing on before being forced to leave.  Thankfully she meets a small circle of friends who show her the ropes and make her time a little bit easier.  Also, it helps that one of them is an English American guy named Etienne St. Clair who is the school hottie and her new best friend.  The trouble is that he has a longtime girlfriend at another school and Anna has established Etienne as her friend.  That's a hard line to cross, even with enough chemistry to light the city.

The thing that I most loved about the novel, besides being set in Paris, was the development of the characters and their relationships.  Anna was a fun, unique character who had interesting flaws (a fear of going off of campus alone) and some real sounding conversations.  Her friends were people you wanted to know, and her romantic interest was agonizing and exactly the way any teenage girl could dream.  There is a crazy amount of tension in the story that keeps you flipping pages, praying for a resolution in the story.  Not to mention that there are enough misunderstandings to drive you to distraction!  Then, when it all ends and it has come together, you're sad and wish it would just go on.  

This is one charming story.  Thankfully, the buzz about this book was spot on and I'll definitely be recommending it to others!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the novel.

The Paris in July Challenge is being hosted at Bookbath and Thyme for Tea.  Stop by to join in today or to check out other great posts.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The W's of Reading: Camping Memories

After finishing Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me, I have to admit that I had a flood of memories come to me from my childhood growing up in rural Idaho.  So, the novel really didn't talk about camping at all, but I grew up near where the novel was set, so I've been reminiscing a lot lately.  Once again, there's another reason to love reading; I get back all those fun memories that I'd filed away somewhere!

Some of the memories I couldn't stop thinking about this week have to do with camping trips.  Although camping and nature outings were very much a part of my summer breaks, my family actually wasn't a big "camping" family.  I usually went with a church group, a friend, or we just pitched the tent on my grandma's lawn and called that camping!  (Believe me when I say that camping on the lawn was the best, because it was nice and cool, and you could be as noisy as you wanted.) 

One aspect of camping that especially makes me laugh now, but TERRORIZED me when I was in my early teens were pranks.  At our church group's campground in the mountains, there was an old mine entrance in the hill above the camp.  As first years (meaning you were new to camp & usually only 12 or 13), the older girls told us this drawn out story about how it was haunted and such, later taking us up there at night to scare the living daylights out of us!  When we went camping, it never failed that someone would warn us about bears, cougars, or mountain lions.  Of course that only made it an impossibly scary thing to get up in the night to walk to wherever the bathroom was located, which was usually as far away as was humanly possible.  If you survived the heart palpitations from running there and back, then you took another hour to slow your heart down enough to actually fall asleep.  Now I remember why we always came home from camping trips so stinking tired.

It wasn't until I was in on the jokes and pranks that I actually thought they were funny, but until that point, it's no wonder that camping caused me to shudder (from something other than the bugs)!  I have to say that it's thanks to a good book, accessing my own prior knowledge to put me on the path to memory lane.  The book had nothing to do with camping and other summertime shenanigans, but since I grew up in that area, it sure brought back some fun memories!

In dedication to my own prank memories, I had to include this Scare Tactics prank.  When I'm having a grouchy day, I swear that this video can yank me out of it with a good laugh!  Enjoy, and happy summer!

Do you have any funny camping memories or pranks? 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler

I'm not sure why this book took me so long to finish!?!  I read it for my district's reading club this past school year, but had about 50 pages to finish up when the group met.  Honestly, Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me was such a fun and fresh new YA novel that I loved reading it.  Life got in the way at the time though, so I'm catching up, finishing up, and sharing it now!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "KJ Carson lives an outdoor lover’s dream. The only daughter of a fishing and wildlife guide, KJ can hold her own on the water or in the mountains near her hometown outside Yellowstone National Park. But when she meets the shaggy-haired, intensely appealing Virgil, KJ loses all self-possession. And she’s not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that they’re assigned to work together on a school newspaper article about the famous wolves of Yellowstone. As KJ spends time with Virgil, she also spends more time getting to know a part of her world that she always took for granted . . . and she begins to see herself and her town in a whole new light."

Review:  In short, Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me feels fresh and new, untouched by any other writer that is out right now.  For that, I think that Kristen Chandler did an incredible job of taking a topic and turning it into an engaging teen read that I could hand to any of my high school students (and have).  Not only could I hand it to any student, but I also know that it's a great enough story to catch them up into a great reading experience.

Kristen Chandler's writing is precise and real.  I loved how the conversations between KJ and the other teens felt real, not contrived or made overly dramatic.  The teens in this story spoke like real teens, even if driven by convictions and ethics that make them admirable.  KJ is not just the ideal beauty queen or ugly duckling looking for reassurance from the male population.  In fact, I can't recall KJ, the teen, coming up hardly at all.  This story is about KJ, the daughter, friend, and peer; this is about KJ the activist and community member who wants to be heard.  For this, I think that this teen novel was an incredible read.

Although the wolf issues facing Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming are not hot button issues for much of the rest of the country, I can adamantly say that for my home state of Idaho it is beyond controversial.  I grew up an hour from Yellowstone Park and a mere 40 minutes from Island Park and other surrounding mountain areas where people ranch and farm.  Wolves are considered the ultimate evil to a cattle rancher.  Because of this status, the reintroduction of wolves sent every conservative farmer and rancher in the state on their heels, at the ready with their shotguns to protect their livestock.  Since moving out of state, I haven't followed the issue much, but do know that the wolves have flourished and I'm sure have spread outside the park.  To this issue, Kristen Chandler's novel tackles it head on, through the eyes of her teen protagonist and friends.  

There is a feel that this is a pro-wolf novel, but both sides of the issue seem nicely presented so that even if you were unfamiliar with all of the background on this issue, that you understood how both sides felt.  KJ's story shows how this issue has affected her family (a relationship with a single-parent father who isn't as plugged in as he should be), her community, and her school life.  As a writer on the school newspaper, KJ tackles the wolf issue by writing a column that looks at the wolves for what they are, an animal in a thriving ecosystem.  The controversy of writing about the wolves soon follows her into her out of school life and sets an engaging, dramatic story into motion.

I really enjoyed this YA novel and can't say enough about how fresh it felt.  Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air.  There is nothing paranormal, dystopian, or even that teen drama loaded in this novel, which makes it intriguing.  There is drama, there is romance, and there is teen to parent relationships being examined, but nothing that feels trite or overworked.  In short, I felt that this was a great read that seemed like uncharted territory.  

As a quick side note, I offered this novel for a book circle choice in my Popular Fiction class.  One of the groups selected it and quickly devoured it before it was due.  When they presented their final project, the group couldn't have been more glowing in their reviews and were highly defensive of it.  In fact, when a boy quipped that it looked like another dumb rip off of a shape-shifter novel, the group jumped all over his comment, telling them it wasn't remotely like anything they've read lately and a darn good book to boot.  I was impressed!  If you can impress some pretty well read teens, with pretty picky tastes and opinions, then you know it was a good read.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based off a personal copy of the novel.
What's the most recent, truly fresh-feeling novel you've read lately?  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Blatherings & a Little Paris in July

This week has seemed like a month!  Since I have never been around "home" here for my summer break, in years (literally), I'm finding that there are a lot of things I'm trying to take care of so that I won't have to worry once the school year begins.  When I'm away from home, I'm forced to relax and let it go.  Maybe that's a good reason to get out of Dodge! Where did those lazy days of summer go that we used to have as little kids?

One nice thing about being around home is that I was able to plant a little urban garden that I put on my back patio.  Growing up in Idaho. we had a huge garden, so I've always kind of missed having plants to tend over the summer.  Now I have a few of my own with a cherry tomato plant, a basil plant, and a couple pots that have lettuce.  I didn't get to put these up until the first of July, after I got home from my trip, so I think they are doing pretty good (the lettuce was just last week & I see little plants popping up). I also planted a couple lavender plants, just as a reminder of France.  They're looking pretty gnarly though, so I'm not sure if they're going to make it?  I had to buy the lavender though, because as we drove from Calais to Paris, I noticed these small fields of lavender and had to recreate a small piece of it on my back patio.  I love it.  Now I have to hope that the tomatoes and lettuce pull through or I'll be at the farmer's market more than I originally planned!

This week, although I had meetings to attend and a general list of things to do at home, I listened to some of the French music I brought home for my Paris in July Challenge.  My main focus was Edith Piaf, who I have to say was like a vacation to Europe for my ears.  If I didn't want to spend my life traveling the world before, her music really set me in that direction!  Many of us are already familiar with "La Vie en Rose", and in fact, I had even seen the movie about her life with the same title.  (Here is a link to Edith singing "La Vie en Rose" which I can't embed, but wanted to share because it's my favorite.  Also, here is a beautiful translation of the lyrics.)

Edith was famously abandoned by her mother and alcoholic father and went to live with her paternal grandmother who ran a brothel in Paris.  Edith was later discovered when she was singing on the streets, and upon beginning her career, would tremble before taking the stage.  This earned her the title "The Little Sparrow" which followed her throughout her career and life.  Spanning the time before and after WWII, Edith is still considered one of the most famous artists of France.  In fact, on that drive from Calais to Paris that I mentioned above, we listened to the "Best of Edith Piaf" over the bus intercom.

Although I don't speak any French, I have to say that the music really does transcend language barriers.  I may not know what Edith is singing, but I can feel it.  One song that I really like is "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" which I translated and means "No, I Do Not Regret".  It has a fantastic musicality to it that makes it feel like a real anthem to survival.

I still have more French music to explore, but what better way to begin than with Edith Piaf?  I've really enjoyed listening to her CDs this past week and plan on downloading her music so I can keep a copy. 

*The Paris in July Challenge is being hosted at Bookbath and Thyme for Tea.  Stop by to join in today or to check out other great posts.

So, how was your weekend?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Denial. Thank You.

Today is the day for Harry Potter to make his big, splashy conclusion.  Let me be clear about this.  I'm not happy about it.  My way of dealing with it is this.  I'm denying it.  I watched a movie trailer when they first came out.  Showed them to my class that read the book.  I haven't looked at the clips since.  Last night it opened.  I was angry to see it on the news.  Angry.  I turned the channel when the news reported it.  Loads of people have gone to see it.  Even my mother has seen it.  That is pretty bizarre to me.  Here's my deal.  I'm just not going to.  Don't make me explain it. Call me weird, but I just can't do it.  They call it the grieving process.  Which step is denial and anger?  Yea.  That's me. 

I'll see it eventually.  Just not right now.  Until then, it's not over.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: The Food of Love by Anthony Capella

Thanks to a quick road trip up to Idaho to visit my mother, I had the chance to listen to an audio book, The Food of Love.  I'm not sure if the cat enjoyed it, since he was in the back seat in his carrier, but he stopped howling at me after about 45 minutes.  Yes, I turned it down and tried to comfort him.  He was just being a bit of a diva and wanted out, but there was NO way I was opening that carrier!  He soon settled into a nice nap and I moved on with my audio book.  It's nice to be able to listen to an audio book for long stretches of time and not just during a commute or daily errands!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Laura, a twenty something American, is on her first trip to Italy. She's completely enamored of the art, beauty, and, of course, food that Rome has to offer. Soon she’s enamored of the handsome and charming Tommaso, who tells her he’s a chef at the famed Templi restaurant and begins to woo her with his gastronomic creations.  But Tommaso hasen'’t been entirely truthful—; he'’s really just a waiter.

The master chef behind the tantalizing meals is Tommaso’'s talented but shy friend Bruno, who loves Laura from afar. Thus begins a classic comedy of errors full of the culinary magic and the sensual atmosphere of Italy. The result is a romantic comedy in the tradition of Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxanne that tempts readers to devour it in one sitting."

Review:  Admittedly, I was drawn to this book because of the food and travel elements.  The fun, seemingly romantic turn to the story was also an added bonus, but I was most interested in hearing about the preparation of really great Italian food.  The book jumps into the affair between Laura and Tommaso pretty quickly and spends a large chunk of the book unraveling, just as its Cyrano de Bergerac comparison heralds.  The unraveling is painful, and to be quite honest, I found the romance to not be romantic at all!  The food references were beautiful and poetic, but when twisted up with sexual trysts, they started to sound almost sleazy.  In fact, I'm not really sure that a woman would be wooed in quite the way the author describes it.  I wonder if my own bias in this is mainly because I'm a female reader and the author's perspective as a man is describing what romance looks like to him?  Maybe I just missed it?

Since Tommaso isn't the cook in the story, and just the Lethario who wants in Laura's pants (sorry to say it that way mom, but that's the only way of describing it), it's much easier to connect to the shy chef Bruno.  In the beginning I thought he was a bit of a creeper; why would he be so smitten with his roommate's girl, enough so that he would create these magical dishes for their dinners?  Over time though, Bruno's heart really comes through and helps to round out the story and the insincere sort of romance going on between Laura and his roommate.

There are lovely descriptions of food and food preparation, from handmade pastas to stewed meats and tender spring vegetables.  Bruno's passion for food is more attractive than he is, which I do think the author was vying for, so his descriptions were excellent.  Although the story felt sleazy in the beginning, there was redemption in the arc of the story by the end.  Overall, it was still a nice read, with great food references.  Now, can I get my ticket to Italy please?!?

*FTC Disclosure:  This review is based on a library copy of the book.

Just out of curiosity, could you be seduced by really great food, enough so that you would overlook a creeper?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard by Belinda Roberts

With summer in full swing, I'm feeling like I want to read anything and everything that has to do with summer or a great vacation escape. Thankfully, I have plenty of books in my pile that fit that bill!  One of these summer reads is the new release, Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard by Belinda Roberts.  That combined my desire for more summer and anything Jane Austen.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard replaces ballgowns with bikinis, country mansions with luxury yachts and the militia with a fiercely competitive squad of local lifeguards...

The Bennet family is enjoying their seaside home in Salcombe when Mrs. Bennet hears that the nearby magnificent villa Netherpollock has been taken by a young man of great fortune. She is determined that one of her daughters will go out with him, until Mr. Darcy glides into the harbour on his yacht and she decides he would be the better catch."

Review:  As far as Austen knock offs go, this one was pretty silly and fun-spirited.  In this modern twist, Darcy and Elizabeth first meet on Darcy's fabulous yacht.  All of the families are vacationing on the seaside coastal town of Salcombe, so they get a lot of opportunity to rub shoulders at beach outings, swim competitions, and house parties.  Darcy isn't quite as snobby as I pictured him in the original or other remakes, but just more reserved.  Everyone is much sillier, and many of the girls have this valley girl-like dialect (such as using the word "like") going on that threw me a little.  I was trying to picture the British accent, coupled with a valley girl spin.  I was stumped.

This book was short and pretty cheeky overall.  The familiar tension between Darcy and Elizabeth was a little watered down, as were the other relationships in the story.  Mr. Collins was my one exception, in that his complete inability to swim really heightened what a nuisance and a fool he was, and I loved it.  On the whole, this was a silly little read that makes for a funny take on Pride and Prejudice.  I missed the romantic tension that came from all the misunderstandings, but think it's a funny take on a classic that didn't involve death or the afterlife!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on an advanced copy of the novel provided by Sourcebooks.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Vegetable Primavera Pasta

This is one of my favorite dishes, and it has a lot of room for switching up the base vegetables you want to use.  I used to try to meal plan before heading to the store, but I watched a show where Cat Cora helped a mother meal plan and suggested she go to the store to see what was in season and on sale.  I don't know why I didn't think about that before, but now I'm walking into the produce section with that in mind.  Having said that, yellow squash and small, spring zucchini were on sale, so I grabbed a couple for this recipe! 

I have to be honest.  This recipe is kind of a take off of a Giada recipe where she cooked squash and sausage together, before tossing it with bowtie pasta.  I made that original recipe with turkey sausage, red pepper flakes, and a lot of garlic, but found that if we removed the pasta and sausage, that it was still a great side dish.  Enough rambling on my part.  Let me get to the recipe!

Vegetable Primavera Pasta

3 Cups of sliced small yellow squash & zucchini
1 red pepper, diced (optional)
3-5 cloves of garlic, minced (to your tastes)
red pepper flakes (to taste)
3 tbsp Olive Oil + additional as needed in sauteing
1/4 C. cream  (optional) 
3 C. cooked pasta
Top with Parmesean cheese

Slice up the vegetables in similar size and thickness.  Heat a large, non-stick frying pan to medium high heat.  Toss in the olive oil, followed by the red pepper flakes to quickly infuse the oil with its heat.  Quickly add vegetables and garlic to saute until nearly tender.  You can add a few tablespoons of water at this point to gently loosen any bits stuck to the pan. 

If you want a creamier finish, add some cream at the end and incorporate with the vegetables with some salt and pepper to finish off.  If you want a lighter, equally as delicious version you can finish it off with a 1/4 of chicken stock or white wine.  To this cooked vegetable base, toss in 3 C. of cooked pasta.  Bowtie, penne, or even a stuffed pasta generally make the best choice (something with a larger surface to catch any sauce and to go with the vegetable chunks), but use what you have!  As you can see, I used fresh ravioli that was on sale. Finish off with some fresh Parmesan and freshly cracked pepper.  Buon apetito!

Leftover Alert:  This tends to soak up any liquid you have leftover, so it's a bit drier when you go to heat it up again.  If I know I'm going to pack it up for leftovers, I sometimes add a bit more broth or water before I finish it off.  Yes, it makes it a little looser for your first meal, but if you serve it with a slotted spoon, leaving the sauce in the pan, then you have plenty of liquid to get you through your leftovers.

Other Optional Veggies for Recipe Base:  mushrooms, asparagus, carrots (but be careful, because their sweetness can be odd), a diced tomato, spinach, peas, and it always tastes great with a chiffonade of fresh basil!  Dare I admit that it also tastes great to cut up some sliced bacon and use it with the olive oil to get things started?  Yes, it's really good!

For more weekend cooking, go to Beth Fish Reads.  You'll find all sorts of great food-related posts and recipes!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Paris in July: Triple Film Review

In general, I love art house films, independent movies, and foreign films.  In fact, I think I've seen my fair share and really love the thought that goes into them.  I will admit that I've often struggled with French films and even had a conversation about it with a historian/guide on my trip last month to Paris.  After a pretty lengthy conversation about what the French find important or enjoy exploring, I learned that they like to consider existential questions about the true nature of man, his relationships with others, and his relationships with larger "truths" around him.   Honestly, I'll have to give some of these contemporary French films another chance.

One film that set me on that road was the movie Paris, starring Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris.  The basic premise of the film is centered on the life-threatening illness of Binoche's brother, played by Duris.  From this story, we see a number of other human stories play out around them.  We see the story of the couple who work in the market, who have separated.  We see the professor, who is undergoing a bit of a mid-life crisis.  We see the girl across the street, who seems so carefree and happy, but who can't settle on one thing.  And so the stories go on and on and on, each connecting back in some way to the brother and sister.  Through the stories, the city of Paris itself plays an integral role through its beauty, culture, and history.

Although a bit drab, with the hard issues and crazy relationships, I thought it was really beautiful.  Maybe having gone through caring for a family member who was terminally ill made the solemn, soul searching in the movie more palatable, but I thought the relationship complex and intriguing.  I wouldn't say that the entire movie is drab, and in fact would say that it really draws on the small beauties of life.

The second film I actually rewatched was Marie Antoinette with Kristen Dunst.  How could I not come home from Paris and watch this film again?  I wanted to see more of Versailles (minus the zillions of tourists) and see a dramatization of that amazing palace with someone living there!  I'll admit that the first time I saw the movie in the theater, years ago, that it was zany and felt like a Rocky Horror film mock up of what it must have been like.  Now, having read a bit and visited Versailles, I kind of get what they were going for in the film and totally loved it!  I suppose it also helped that Laduree, where I picked up my own box of macaroons, supplied the cookies and the color palate for their movie version of Marie Antoinette's life. 

Finally, I went to see Midnight in Paris, starring Own Wilson and Rachel McAdams.  The basic premise of the film is that Wilson plays a film script writer from Los Angeles who is vacationing in Paris with his fiance, played by McAdams.  In the quirky style that is a Woody Allen film, there is a lot going on in the dialogue and conversations that you have to pay careful attention to.  Basically, Wilson loves Paris and reminisces about the 1920's and how much inspiration he could have gotten there as a novel writer, had he lived at that time.  From this one little wish, the story takes off and he has quite a crazy experience with many of the authors, artists, musicians, and intellectuals of that period.  How would you explain such inspiration and the need for more with the people around you?

I really loved this film and thought it was too short!  There is a lot of name dropping and one liners and quotes that I had to pay very close attention to catch.  I quickly found myself scouring my memory for every discussion I'd sat through in my Humanities classes back in college and thankful for every biography of an artist or author that I've read.  I still know that I missed a few and have a few others that I want to look up more information on their lives.  On the whole, this was such a fun movie, with quirky dialogue and snappy wit.  If you love art and culture, reading and philosophy, then this movie is just your cup of tea.  The real relationship in the movie seemed to be between the artist and his creative muse, but the overriding message of the movie is the best of all (which I'll leave to you to discover because it would give too much away).  Paris is a wonderful center for the film, and definitely steps in as one of the main characters in the film.  Without it, you wouldn't have all the other crazy characters.  This was a fun, thinking man's film, and one that made me yearn for more like it!

Thank you SO much to everyone who left me recommendations for other great French films, or films that center around Paris.  I have a long list to try out! 

If you've seen any of these films, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: The Professor's Daughter by Sfar and Guibert

Thanks for the web and great book bloggers, I get to hear about graphic novels that I wouldn't know about otherwise.  I recently saw Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert's graphic novel The Professor's Daughter reviewed on the blogosphere and ran out to check it out.  To be honest, I struggle to find graphic novels on my own, so I sure appreciate seeing them reviewed elsewhere.  From time to time, a nice graphic novel can get me back into my reading groove!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert bring the true spirit of Victorian London to life in this witty, engaging, sepia-colored tale of a proper but mischievous young girl and the mummy who opens his eyes for the first time in 3,000 years and instantly falls in love with her. Will the love between Lillian and Imhotep IV survive when their fathers, the London police, and even the Royal Archeological Society are all determined to keep them apart?"

Review:  The Professor's Daughter is a quick piece of "what if" set in Victorian London.  Who hasn't looked at a mummy in a museum and wondered about Ancient Egypt or what that person was like in their time?  Even more interesting is to think about is what would happen if they perked up and rose from the dead?  In this graphic novel, Imhotep IV happens to be alive, all taped up, and out on the town with one of the curator's daughter, young Lillian.  They have a lovely day and in a very withheld, Victorian way, fall in love.  

I really enjoyed this short graphic novel.  The story develops really quickly, but has this lovely subtle development.  Honestly, I didn't catch the love story element and actually just thought Lillian and Imhotep were great friends and enjoying a day out in London!  There was a fun bit of tension in the story when Imhotep realizes they want to get him back in the museum, but it wasn't so supernatural or over the top that you couldn't kind of sit back and just watch the story unfold.  The sepia colors and subdued Victorian story were just a fun overlay on this tale.  It ended in a way that felt a teeny bit abrupt to me, but on the other hand, I'm not sure what else I wanted to happen.  On the whole, it was a fun diversion and nice idea for a graphic novel.

*FTC Disclosure:  Review is based off a library copy of the book.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July!

After a crazy month of June, I'm looking forward to the month of July.  I have a stack of books I set aside for the summer and it's about ready to fall over!  It's time to enjoy some lazy days of summer and get some of those projects finished that I waited all year to work on.  For today, we'll be kicking back to enjoy a nice holiday.  My family is heading home this afternoon so they can be back to work and then tonight I'll be going to a professional soccer game and firework show.  It should be great fun.  Wherever you're at, or what you're doing, I hope you have a good one!

I'd love to hear from you too!  How was your 4th of July?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Paris in July

Having just returned from Paris in June, I really couldn't help myself when I saw this challenge pop up over at Bookbath and Thyme for Tea.  The event runs from July 1st through the end of the month, and you can do a wide variety of things to celebrate.  Really though, all you need to do is blog about Paris or France throughout the month of July.  Here are a few things that were suggested:
  • Reading a French book - fiction or non-fiction
  • Watching a French movie
  • Listening to French music
  • Cooking French food
  • Experiencing French art, architecture or travel
  • Or anything else French inspired you can think of...
Here's what I would like to try out:

Watch some these...

Read these...

Listen to...

And, I might just try to cook something delightful.  I've thought about really trying a good quiche, ratatouille, a clafouti, or even a tart (since I've never actually used that new tart pan I own).  Maybe I'll finish the last couple of macaroons that have manged to survive the trip.  I picked them up at the famous Laduree.  (Check out their website--linked previously. The cakes, cookies, and pastries on their site look so luscious.  Besides, their site is just so pretty!)

Sadly, I haven't joined hardly any challenges this year.  When the new year rolled around, I was feeling way too overwhelmed to start anything new, so this will be a fun time.  I'm eager to get started.  Once 4th of July celebration stuff settles down, I can jump back in and try to enjoy a little Paris in July!

What are some of your favorite French films, books, music, food, or other things you might suggest?