Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Thank you to all those who had a few kind words for my slipping sanity last night.  This last grading period had me ready to run screaming for the hills (so to say). Thankfully, the grading is in, and I'm feeling like a new woman!

So, I know you're saying, "Wait, didn't she go out of the country not too long ago?  Isn't that why she's stressed out?"  Why, yes.  That's true.  In fact, I packed essays with me and did my online job while I was away, so I can't say that I got off the hook completely.  That's all behind me now, and I'm thankful that on one of my flights home I had the chance to read Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins.  I LOVED Anna and the French Kiss, so I was pretty eager to read Stephanie's newest book.  I was not disappointed.

Synopsis:  Lola is a girl all in her own style, personality, and right.  Raised by two loving gay fathers in San Francisco, Lola was off to her senior year with a hot Rock n' Roll boyfriend and the quirkiest, yet most unique style around.  Although mature beyond many of her school friends, Lola was brought back to reality when her first love/crush/best boy friend moved back into the house next door.  With him came a flood of memories, one being the time she felt most rejected by him.  Not only did she feel rejected, but he had also stomped on whatever romantic feelings she had blossoming within her at the time.  Thankfully, this time around she was bolstered by her new relationship with the hot, older rocker.  Besides, the boy next door was just that, a too sweet boy from next door that never worked out.  But, is that ever really the case?

Review:  First off, let it be known that I love the reality that somehow makes its way into these teen novels by Stephanie Perkins.  No matter how far from what I know for the teens around me, her characters feel real, vulnerable, and engaging.  In short, these teens are people you wish you were friends with and had hung out with when you were in high school.  In that way, they aren't that unrealistic, but they lend their hearts to you so you can understand their reactions, hopes, and desires.  I love that about these characters.

Not really taking off where the wildly popular Anna and the French Kiss left off, but still including our much loved Etienne and Anna, we have what feels like an extension piece that adds another story to the pot.  In this case, we have the fashionista, Lola, who first steals our heart with her own back story behind how she came to be adopted by her two dads.  It doesn't take long though to also love that slightly awkward boy next door, Cricket, who wears his heart on his sleeve in so many ways.  We want to hang onto Max, but what is it about rockers always putting their "craft" first, thus leaving any chance for real connections to a day in the future?

I really liked Lola, Cricket, and even Max (at least in the beginning).  Lola seems just in her reasons for not wanting to let that next door neighbor boy back into her life.  She wants to do what is right for all involved, but how in the world can you do that when you don't even know what that "right" thing is to begin with?  This seems to be at the crux of all Lola goes through in this novel.  What is right in romantic love?  What is right in parental love?  What is right in friendship?  What is right for happiness?

In short, I loved this second installment by Perkins.  She has a wonderful knack of creating characters that you want to walk around with for awhile, and hate to set aside when the book is finished.  In all of their individual quirks and weaknesses, we love them all the more.  And in this case, Lola and the Boy Next Door has enough romantic tension to keep anyone flipping pages until the book is finished.  Where some romantic teen novels have romance, Perkins creates crazy-real tension; tension that anyone who has ever loved someone but not been handed them on a romantic platter will readily understand.  The misunderstandings and sappy sentimentalities are so understandable that we all fall in love with Lola and want to see her truly and undeniably happy. 

If you haven't read a Stephanie Perkins novel, you really must.  The judge is still out on which book I liked better, but I think Anna won out, but only because of my own whole recent Paris trip.  Honestly, these books are so strongly character driven that you will instantly see parts of yourself in them.  In some way, you'll see yourself resolving teenage relationships that probably took you way too many years in your own real life.  In short, Lola and the Boy Next Door is a great read that will easily capture the love of many readers who either see themselves in these characters, or wish they had been them at a much earlier age.

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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Late Night Sunday Blatherings

There should be some rule against cranky blogging.  Here it is.  Sunday at 10 pm and I'm just finishing the last of the grades I needed to post for school, the grades I needed to finish for my online job, and a rambling post on the discussion board for the class I'm taking.  I feel like I need to play that song, "Mama Said There'd be Days Like This" or something.  The good news is, that I survived our first grading term (barely), and can now try to eek out some time for myself in the coming weeks.

Thanks to a partial weight now being lifted from my shoulders, I can report that I did have a meltdown yesterday and sat down with Sharon Lathan's book Miss Darcy Falls in Love, in which I only meant to read a chapter or two. I finished it a couple of hours later.  I suppose that my late night blathering is the payback I get for getting sucked into the first book I made time for  in over a week?  Okay.  That's an okay payback I suppose!  I should have known that I couldn't sit down with one of Sharon's books and "just read a chapter or two."  That's just not possible for me when it comes to her books.  Miss Darcy Falls in Love comes out on Tuesday, and I have to say that I really loved it.  In a couple of weeks I'll have the great opportunity to have Sharon Lathan on my blog.  I'm a big fan of her writing, so I'm always excited to read her books and to simply get a chance to visit with her. 

Besides my time out, meltdown read yesterday, not much has been going on in the reading department.  I anticipate that I'll be having a bit of a secondary meltdown and will be reading like crazy this week to make up for its absence.  In fact, maybe that's what I'll do tomorrow night as I turn out the lights early to avoid trick or treaters.  I know.  What a mean person, right?  Honestly, I don't get many Halloween visitors, so I didn't even buy any candy this year and will be calling it an early night tomorrow.  Anyway, here's what I'm finishing, or getting ready to read:

Edited by the lovely Laurel Ann Nattress of Austenprose.  I'm almost finished with this one, and so excited to be highlighting it later on this week!

This is one I need to finish for book club next week.  It looks really good, so I'm excited to get started!

I can't tell you how long I've been wanting to get to this book!  I'm excited that I can revisit France through this book and am really eager to jump right in.

Well, I'm feeling better already, just knowing that this post came AFTER all that hideous school work was completed.  After a little sleep tonight, hopefully I'll be back to my normal self!  Still slightly stressed out, but much more normal than I've been this past week!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Double Review: Two NetGalley Novellas

Quite awhile ago, I joined Netgalley, but then lost sight of what it was all about and let it go.  Sadly, I think that I found it too tricky with my Kindle to figure out how or if I could download books and what my responsibilities really were.  Now that I have my iPad, I have no problems accessing just about any ebook out there, so that issue has been resolved.  As for responsibility, so to say, I think I have that figured out as well and started off slow with a couple of novellas that I thought I'd try out while I was on vacation.  Really what can be better than a short novella to give you that escape factor in a short amount of time, so for me, this was a nice way to start out.

Both novellas that I chose were short romance reads, which it seems dominates this format.  Am I right?  Both were actually pretty different from one another, but both were easy to get into quickly and to finish in a short amount of time.

When Harriet Came Home by Coleen Kwan is essentially about Harriet Brown's return to her small hometown in Australia.  As a grown woman who overcame her shy, nerdy-girl teen years, Harriet just couldn't overcome the anxiety she felt around her high school crush Adam.  That wasn't all that had her stumped though, as she was also responsible for exposing that same crush's mayor father for his infidelities and corruption.  In essence, she blew apart Adam's life and now had to face all of that in returning to help her own ailing father.

This was a classic romance tale where said girl changes for the better and catches the eye of yesteryear's hottie.  There is a nice amount of tension, with a fast moving story, sometimes believable and sometimes not.  Either way, it was a fairly clean read with plenty of romantic tension to keep you turning pages.  Adam seemed like a character I couldn't quite figure out, but I liked that he was so into Harriet, regardless of their past.  In a lot of ways, he is that man that women hope exists, in that he's sexy and aloof, but completely able to commit and be vulnerable at the same time.  (Could we call that a true oxymoron in male terms?)

Three Days, Two Nights by M.J. Frederick was way more graphic where the first novella was subtle.  What I found to be shy or tense in the first novella was completely different in the second.  In this novella, Nathan is trying to reconnect with his ex-wife Tess.  With a long, complicated back story in the military that led Nathan to put his wife on the back burner as he dealt with difficulties of his career, Tess had moved on to become a powerful career woman in her own right.  Nathan found an opportunity to conveniently step in to pilot her jet to a work retreat, wherein he hoped to renew his love for Tess and to make up for past hurts.  Like the perfect storm that it was, the plane hit bad weather and ended up stranded in paradise.  During that time, if Nathan couldn't win Tess back, then he had much more to worry about than a plane that had gone down and food shortage.

First off, I have to say that this was a pretty steamy, graphic read.  The characters are guarded and unsettled enough to create an instant tension and chemistry that it doesn't take more than a chapter or two to get where the story is going.  Tess is pretty wounded though, so in this short amount of space, Nathan had to prove that he had not only changed, but that he wanted her back.  The mode of getting those points across were pretty physical, so I'm thinking that the healing was more of a sexual kind than an actual working through of the core issues.  The tension in the story was well established, and what little we knew about the back story between these two was frame worked, but I will admit to wishing we had more emotional details worked out between the two characters in this short amount of time and space.

Both novellas were an interesting dive into using Netgalley and super vacation friendly with their length in page numbers.  To their credit, I think that Netgalley's site is extremely easy to use and has a great variety of books to choose from.  For me, this was just a start and I hope to read a lot more from them in the future.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Crossed by Ally Condie

During our most recent Book Blogger get together, I won one of a stack of copies of Crossed by Ally Condie.  Having read Condie's first novel Matched earlier this year, and then having selected it for a book circle read in my Popular Fiction class, I really wanted to get my hands on a copy!  Besides, I had students who mentioned it all the time, asking me when it was going to come out, etc.  Thanks to Suey at It's All About Books, we had a wonderful chance to win a copy, so I wanted to thank her for arranging to bring a bunch of them to give out as prizes.  I read and really enjoyed this second book, and now several students in my classes are passing it around already.  (I love when they are that excited about a book!)

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky - taken by the Society to his certain death - only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake.

Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander - who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart - change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever."

Review:  Following on the heels of Matched, we know that Ky has been sent to the Outer Provinces and Cassia has watched her friend, teacher, and love be taken away from her.  For any reader of the first book, we have been anxiously waiting to find out what Cassia was going to do and where exactly Ky went.  Beyond that, what in the world is going on in this controlling society and what were we not being told?  In essence, it was all such a mystery that this follow up novel was highly anticipated for the answers it held.

Without giving away much-anticipated information, I can say that Cassia sets off to find Ky.  The opening of the book was actually a little slow as it set up what had and was happening to both Cassia and Ky.  The narrative is split into chapters that tell each of their stories, so we are allowed to hear what they are both thinking and what they are witnessing.  Honestly, these opening "journey chapters," as I like to call them, give us a bit more information about the society that we just have to have.  Sadly, it's still not enough information!  With what little we know, it gives the novel this foreboding, ominous tone.  There is this sadness and anxiety that hangs over the story as our two main characters narrate their journies and travel along different, but hopefully converging paths.

Although the opening chapters have a lot of story to cover and build up, I felt that it was all necessary to the story and helped me wrap my head around what this society was trying to achieve.  It still feels odd and needs A LOT of explaining, but we're finding out little bit more in this installment.  The final 1/3 of the novel is where the real crux of the action takes place, and many questions are answered, while even more questions are born.  I love that these characters are thinkers, that are complex and emotional.  At times I felt they were unreal, but so is this entire society, so it allowed me to give them their reactions.  With a new list of characters, a most surprising direction to the plot, and an ending that leaves me thinking and wanting answers now, I felt that this second novel in the series was a really surprising addition.  I can see that some readers might not like the slow pacing, and might even be upset by some of the twists revealed, but I thought they added a complex layer to the story that will have me eagerly waiting book three.  Now, when does that book come out?!?

*FTC Disclosure:  This review is based on an ARC of the novel obtained by another reader.

Watch for Crossed in stores on November 1st! 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Blatherings: Back to the Grind

Hola!  I'm back from my trip and quickly gathering all the loose strings.  This was one of the fastest paced trips I've ever been on in my life.  The best part of it was getting to be with people that I love and care about.  I can't say that I got a lot of reading done, since we were busy 24/7 driving to sites, hiking, and more hiking.  At night, when we would come in to crash, I would pull out papers and grade like crazy.  A miracle happened and I actually finished it all, so I'm happy now.

I did get a few novellas read and I finished Lola and the Boy Next Door on the way home, whenever I could stay awake on those plane rides.  Other than that, I now need to survive the last week of term before I have my own reading marathon!

Here are a few pictures of my trip!

The famous volcano at Arenal.  Yes, it's still active and has destroyed cities around the base.  It sure gave me pause for thought when they said it went off in the last 50 years and it is going through a dormant time, which means it could be gearing up for another round of activity.  This was the view out of our window at the place we stayed!
On the other side of Arenal, we hiked up over the lava fields.  Here my friend and I are behind the sign that says it's a high volcanic activity area & to not go any further.  
A volcano near Arenal.  The hike down was so incredibly intense!  There were all stone steps, sometimes narrow, always steep, lined with chains to give you a little something to hold onto.  Let's just say that hiking back out of there made me walk like Frankenstein's monster for the rest of the trip!  It was really beautiful though and so worth the trip down all those stairs.
This is a picture of the criss-cross cement ground cover they used for trails all over the place.  Let's just say that I brought the worst shoes ever & should have brought tennis shoes for all of these trails.  You can see too that it was in the rainy season. 
Here's my friend peaking around the tree down the trail in front of me.  Such pretty greenery!  Just stay away from the holes in the side of the path.  Some of them are homes to giant tarantulas.  *shudder*  One guide even showed us one, which gave me the creepy crawlies for a long time after.
 So, I'm a little mad at myself for not taking more pictures of people and locations.  For me, a lot of times those pictures grab my attention faster than landscapes, but I have to say that the landscapes are pretty cool.  My batteries died when we went to hold the Toucans at this private reserve outside of San Jose.  I have to get my friend's pictures of these amazing little birds.  They are so stinking cool and I loved holding them.  

Well, that's just a snippet of my trip!  Now I need to get back in the groove and get some grading done before school tomorrow.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Blatherings: Como Estas?

Getting to this point has been a nightmare of epic proportions (with work), but I'm finally off on my Costa Rican adventure.  I've vowed to push work out of my mind so that I can focus on relaxing and enjoying my time with my bff and family, but I'll admit that I'm still stewing on it all a little.  It will be great though, so I'm going to soak it all in!

Hopefully, once I get back I'll have a bunch of great book reviews to post.  Vacations generally equal great reading time, so I'm hoping that's true this time around.  Yes, I did bring a stack of AP essays to grade, but that shouldn't mean I can't still get some really great reading time in as well!  Now, if I could just remember enough of those 5 years of Spanish classes I've taken...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fiction, to Film, to Fantastic Music Friday: The Killing Fields

I know this seems like a strange addition to this new weekly post, but I recently watched the iconic film The Killing Fields and knew I couldn't pass on a review.  A follow up novel came out as well, but is mainly based on journalism reports written for The New York Times.  This real-life story is based on the experience of a group of journalists who returned to Cambodia, and in particular on two men, Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg.

As journalists, our main characters return to war torn Cambodia in 1973 as the Cambodian national army is in conflict with the Khmer Rouge after the spill over from the Vietnam War.  The two men are arrested when they are caught taking pictures of an execution and feared their own deaths.  All of the journalists are taken prisoner and essentially only offered a release after Dith Pran negotiates their freedom.  In the days following, the group of Americans prepare to leave Cambodia for the United States, but Dith Pran is unable to get a passport to leave the country with his American associates, and thus begins the first-hand account and gut wrenching story of genocide and murder in Cambodia.

Left behind, Dith Pran must pretend to be simple minded and docile, to prevent the Khmer Rouge's men from thinking he is an intellectual that must be added to the increasing number of Cambodians who have already been murdered.  In the hopes of returning Cambodia to an agrarian nation, with no ties to family but all to state, the Khmer Rouge put forward a campaign to eliminate the "elite" of the country and to reprogram young children and the laboring class to return their power to the nation.  Under the totalitarian regime, men and women are forced to work for hours in the hot sun, planting rice and working in the fields.  All this, done under the eye of brutal young children who have been trained up in hatred for family or natural respect for adults.

In short, Pran escapes and makes his way to the border of Thailand, where he enters a refugee camp and meets back up with his American journalist friend Sydney.  Over their time of separation, Sydney had received awards for his war reports and photographs, but had never been able to rest knowing his Cambodian friend was a prisoner of conflict.  The two meet at the camp, and the closing scene literally broke my heart.  Supposedly, even in real life, as Sydney pleads for the forgiveness of his friend, Pran simply rejoices in being reunited and tells him there is nothing to forgive.

This final scene left me a sobbing mess.  Although I've always loved this famous song by John Lennon, this scene gave it an entirely new meaning.  I had an uncle who served in Vietnam.  From what little he would share with us, I knew that it had changed him forever, and because of his experiences I took an early interest in the conflicts throughout Southeast Asia.  It's not easy to sum up all that led to these conflicts, nor how the global community responded to them.  In a strange way, the closing song and conclusion to the film hit on the terror that is genocide and the reality of its occurrence.  We know that it still happens today and it always leaves us to question what leads up to these evil events in history and how we can prevent them.

The events of the film were real and happened to the man Dith Pran.  He returned to the United States and worked for The New York Times until his death in 2008.  There are amazing tributes and pictures found on their website if you're interested:

Also, the actor who played Dith Pran in the film had also lived through the Killing Fields and was virtually plucked out of obscurity to play the role. This actor, Haing S. Nor went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.  His award speech is heart-warming and sincere, as well as much deserved. Although I have not read the companion novel or articles, I've since purchased other books about this event to go along with what I've learned.  In essence, it's given me a new interest in the stories of those who have survived this horrific event.  If you have not had a chance to watch this amazing film, I highly recommend you check it out.

* Fiction, to Film, to Fantastic Music Friday is my own little weekly post. The premise is just to share my favorite books made into film, with amazing soundtracks to boot.  There might even be times where it's just a great film and soundtrack, or great book and film.  Either way, join in if you would like! 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review: Sense and Sensibility by Nancy Butler

Early last year I read and reviewed Nancy Butler's graphic version of Pride and Prejudice.  The next release for Sense and Sensibility was advertised and I was eager to get my hands on it.  As I've mentioned before, graphic novels are a great easy read that helps you escape into a good story.  What's better than a Jane Austen escape?  That makes these graphic versions kind of fun.

I'm not sure that Sense and Sensibility needs much of a synopsis, with its themes of using good sense in judging people's character and in one's own character.  The charm of sisterly bonds are present in this great story, with Elinor as the eldest and seemingly most sensible, Maryanne as her younger and more whimsy-driven sister, and the youngest adventuresome sister Margaret.  Having lost their fortune to a step brother who was given their father's property and cash at his death, the Dashwoods move into a cheaper cottage and lifestyle, but also into a romantic new chapter of their lives.

As with any good Austen story, the romance is really one of the character features.  Although we don't really lose the basic story, I thought it was interesting that it feels a little washed out in the graphic novel sense.  I think it might be the descriptions I missed here, even though the dialogue pretty much stayed in tact.  Not much is lost in the story, but is obviously centered around conversations and thoughts. 

The pictures are soft and pastel, with pretty rounded edges and crisp outlining.  There is a comic element to this that you can't miss, but I think that the brightness and seemingly soft quality to the frames gives it a soothing, happy tone that propels you through the familiar tale.  Overall, I genuinely enjoyed this graphic version.  I'm a bit more partial to the Pride and Prejudice version, if only because of the stronger focus on a few characters instead of the many we get in this tale.  The story is still all there though and a treat to read (and view) in this graphic form.  I hope Nancy Butler pens a few more great classics!

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

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Meanderings: What I'm Reading...

This weekend was kind of a fun-filled busy one.  I had family come for the weekend, and since I was getting over a bit of a nasty cold, I was ready to relax and have a great time.  I'm feeling overwhelmed and a bit stressed out now about all the things I need to grade and prepare for school, but I had a great time out for a couple of days!  (We all need those.)

Anyway, I wanted to share what I finished over the weekend:

I have seen mixed reviews on this follow up to Matched, by Ally Condie, but I really liked it.  There are obvious "middle book" plot points that the author had to cover, but I thought it was still really good.  Now I'm hoping I can be patient for the third book!

The other book I'm super excited to read and seems to be getting mad, in love reviews is Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins.  A couple of people I work with have read it and are already raving about it (and I'm super jealous they had it already).  I just got mine from the library, so I'm definitely ready to dive in!

Here's what I've picked up from the library.

Since I'm a book circulator and I read about 10 to 14 at once (yes, it's a sickness), here's some of the books I'm working on:

Wuthering Heights is my SIXTH time reading this novel, but I haven't read it in about five years, so I thought I'd better revisit it (since I'm teaching it).

Wow.  I'm sensing a theme with all of these.  Oh well.  That's what I'm reading right now.  What are you reading that has you really excited?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fiction, to Film, to Fantastic Music Friday: Bridget Jones's Diary

I couldn't do a Fiction, to Film, to Fantastic Music tribute without posting about a couple of books that 100% shaped a whole decade of my life.  During my 20's, I got through every birthday past 25 by reading Bridget Jones's Diary and then The Edge of Reasoning.  By the time I turned 31, I let it go (so yes--I'm in my 30's).  Although I'm not even really like Bridget, I so related to her thoughts and feelings, that she warmed my heart and made me feel like I had a comrade in being a singleton.  In short, I loved her. 

When I went off to grad school, I started dating someone pretty seriously, and Bridget went away.  Why did I need to read Bridget?  I had outgrown such chick-lit, fluffy, vulnerable nonsense.  I had a man.  Well, that's what I thought at the time.  In my last year of graduate school, my contemporary British fiction teacher had us read and discuss Bridget Jones's Diary, which horrified me.  I didn't want pseudo-pre-intellectuals (myself included), ruining a book that had comforted and soothed me for so many birthdays!  I waited for that fateful discussion day, waiting to hear multi-tattooed, uber intellectual dude to tear it apart, or classics guy to say how stupid and nonsensical it was.   Strangely, no one felt that way.  Wait.  They didn't want to tear it to shreds and say what "drivel" it was?  They didn't want to say how it dumbed down our society and leveled women to mere cultural punching bags in our patriarchal society?  No.  I was shocked.  Instead, we had this amazing conversation about the mirror that Fielding held up to us as a society.  We talked about how she showed us the very real pressures placed on women to get married and to be thin.  We talked about Bridget's ability to wade through very personal emotions that are obviously so universal to women (enough so to become a smash hit), and deal with her desires and fears.  Those books weren't about criticizing her desires, but about the self-deprecating ways she dealt with them.  It was a truly freeing time for me.  My favorite read was NOT discredited by my classmates, which shocked me.

Mark in his famous reindeer jumper.
Having said that, there is more to those books than a single woman desperate to get married.  Bridget Jones's Diary was originally a serial in The Independent and Daily Mirror in the UK, which was later published into her first novel.  Ironically enough, the story was also modeled after Jane Austen's most famous story of singleton anxiety and love, Pride and Prejudice.  The evident judgment on the part of Bridget and Mark Darcy mimic the original in a very funny, modern way, that is subtle and yet filled with irony in so many ways.  It's obvious too, that the book had Colin Firth in mind as Mark Darcy, which was why casting him in the film version was so genius.

There is so much more that can be said about these great books.  People often discredit them, but for being one of the hallmarks in chick lit and modernizations of a classic, Fielding managed to write a funny little novel with an awful lot of depth before anyone else had even dabbled in this kind of writing.  (Even when said humor came in the form of giant pants!)

How then can I not mention the music.  This is yet another soundtrack that I own and have listened to about a million times.  The music in the film ranged from the silly, "It's Raining Men" to the sad "All By Myself," with plenty of songs filled with romantic longing in between.  One of my favorites was the song "Out of Reach," which is included at a pretty dramatic moment in the movie when we believe that Bridget has lost someone she really had grown to love.  Here's a taste:

The fact is, this is one of those movies that just makes me smile.  I love Colin Firth, I love Hugh Grant, and I thought that Renee Zellweger did an amazing job in the first film.  If you've been a singleton past the age of 25, these books and movies address some of the funny, insecure moments we've all had.  If not, then you'll just have to trust us.  If you've really never seen it before, here's the official trailer:

Now excuse me while I pick up an old friend and tradition and go re-read Bridget Jones's Diary!

* Fiction, to Film, to Fantastic Music Friday is my own little weekly post. The premise is just to share my favorite books made into film, with amazing soundtracks to boot.  There might even be times where it's just a great film and soundtrack, or great book and film.  Either way, join in if you would like! 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood by Tony Lee and Sam Hart

When you're in a reading slump, nothing helps perk things back up again than a great graphic novel or two, three, or four.  I recently tried out a graphic version of the famous tale of Robin Hood.  It was a lot different than I expected, so let me share!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "How did Robin of Loxley become Robin Hood? Why did he choose to fight injustice instead of robbing for his own gain? Expressive and gritty, this graphic novel whisks readers back to Crusades-era England, where the Sheriff of Nottingham rules with an iron fist, and in the haunted heart of Sherwood Forest, a defiant rogue — with the help of his men and the lovely Maid Marian — disguises himself to become an outlaw. Lively language and illustrations follow the legendary hero as he champions the poor and provokes a high-stakes vendetta in a gripping adventure sure to draw a new generation of readers."

Review:  Having read many different versions of the tale of Robin Hood, I was interested to see how a graphic novel version would take it on.  The tale was very classic to the most popular version of the story and took in Robin's time in the Crusades, his return to find his father deceased, his conflict with the sheriff, and his love for Marianne.  I can't say that it departed much from the original, but I will say that I wanted even more of his time with his outlaw friends.  I suppose I just wanted to see the relationships developed a bit more.  I'll admit though that I love this tale and seem to piece together the bits of the story I'm given with all the parts that I enjoy.

 One drawback to this graphic version is the darkness of the pictures.  I'm not quite sure why they came out so dark, but they made it feel like it was all set at night or in a dark castle or lodge.  I can see that the darker pictures, with sharp angles might be trying to set the tone and give it a slightly comic feel perhaps?  I'm not sure, but I did wish at times that I could reach for a button to turn up the light a little.  The focus in this tale was on the conflicts with the sheriff and less on character relationships (as the title suggests), but it was still the story I remember.  Overall though, I thought this graphic novel made the story its own in tone and style.  In classic graphic novel style, it clips along through the story, drawing on pictures to propel the story, and was a quick, fun read.   

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

Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

After seeing Rob Lowe on Oprah and the way he was with his kids, I knew I had to read his autobiography.  (Check out this link "Rob Lowe's Family" at  Although I've always thought he was handsome in a pretty obvious way, I can't say that I'd ever really followed his career that closely.  After his interview on Oprah, talking about his autobiography, I was pretty intrigued and put his audio book on hold at my local library.  Believe it or not, I took me until the middle of September to finally get my hands on it, but it was well worth the wait.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "A teen idol at fifteen, an international icon and founder of the Brat Pack at twenty, and one of Hollywood's top stars to this day, Rob Lowe chronicles his experiences as a painfully misunderstood child actor in Ohio uprooted to the wild counterculture of mid-seventies Malibu, where he embarked on his unrelenting pursuit of a career in Hollywood.  

The Outsiders placed Lowe at the birth of the modern youth movement in the entertainment industry. During his time on The West Wing, he witnessed the surreal nexus of show business and politics both on the set and in the actual White House. And in between are deft and humorous stories of the wild excesses that marked the eighties, leading to his quest for family and sobriety.

Never mean-spirited or salacious, Lowe delivers unexpected glimpses into his successes, disappointments, relationships, and one-of-a-kind encounters with people who shaped our world over the last twenty-five years. These stories are as entertaining as they are unforgettable."

Review:  This was probably one of my favorite autobiographies to date.  Having Rob Lowe read his own life story, you get a feel for the emotion behind certain chapters in his life, which was such a bonus.  The experiences he shared from his childhood, of his parent's divorce, being uprooted from Ohio, and his mother's mental ups and downs really do correlate to the addictions and issues he struggled through later in life.  Interestingly enough, he had a constant, internal dream of the stable family with a wife and children he loved.  Despite his good looks, his easy women, and his foray into addiction, Hollywood seems to be something that he has figured out and given a spot in his life, but not given the spotlight.  That journey was really interesting to sit back and experience with him.

One of the things I found most interesting about this autobiography was Lowe's constant identification with his passions.  Acting is obviously something that he is incredibly passionate about.  He loves acting, and it shows in the way he talks about the movies and television shows he has been in.  Rather than always playing the lead role, he learned that he had an aptitude for playing the supporting role in comedies.  Now he is engaged in searching out great films that he can direct and be involved in producing.  It's nice to see how passionate he is about acting and to hear about the craftsmen side of things.  

Lowe with his sons Matthew and John Owen.
Stories I Only Tell My Friends is a juicy read, filled with Hollywood tales and insider stories.  Rob Lowe has seemed to rub shoulders with presidents, stars, and royalty alike and has the stories to back them.   However, his end goal seemed to be more about finding happiness, which he has done with a wife that is his match in friendship and love, and with the jewels of his life, his sons.  The passion he feels for his family and acting make his life story even more interesting.  I enjoyed listening to this audio book and would definitely recommend giving it a try. The biography feels true to Lowe as a person and allows us a nice insider view.

*FTC Disclosure:  Review was based on a library copy of the audio book.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Blatherings: October Weekend

As much as I'm going to miss hot weather and long summer days, I forget how much I love October.  The cool nights and pretty fall colors are just something not to miss.  This weekend I harvested my basil and pulled up the last of my veggies that I was growing outdoors.  My tomato plant just needs to hang on if it can.  I want to harvest those last 30-40 cherry tomatoes that weighed down and broke a branch off my plant.  Hopefully, I can see a small bumper crop before it gets too cold.  Cross your fingers for me!

This weekend my mom came down to buy a new car.  Talk about stress.  I'll be in the market for a new car soon as well, but for now, I'll enjoy the car I already own.   

Work is great.  I'm weighed down with over 200 papers, book reports, and assignments, but I've learned that you have to just pick away at them and not get too overwhelmed along the way.  My AP students are going to start in on Wuthering Heights this coming week.  I get that the Bronte's are standards in literature, but I've never been a huge fan of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre.  That's okay though, since I have a direction I'm taking that includes comparing and contrasting it toMary Shelley's Frankenstein.  In that respect, I'm excited.  We'll see what the students think!

On my way into the library on Friday, I grabbed a couple of GREAT picks for just $.50!  Snagging a copy of Wolf Hall and Twenties Girl were a great find, so I was really excited to haul them home.  I've tried to not buy anymore books, especially after rediscovering Netgalley (for real this time), and that my library loans out epub that I can download on my iPad.  I'm loaded down to the gills with books to read, so the last thing I need is to pick up a few more, but there you have it.

I'm also finishing up Crossed by Ally Condie.  Talk about an exciting ARC!  Hopefully I get a second today to finish it (or maybe I should just make the time to finish it).

Although I haven't read as much as I usually do, I'm sure having fun trying.  Besides, with the iPad I feel like I have a million options and ways of reading anything I can get my hands on!

What about you?  What great bookish acquisition have you made this past week or weekend?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Pesto

What a lovely weekend.  My mom drove down on Friday (a little to my surprise) to spend the weekend with me and so she could go car shopping.  Listen, her car needs to be replaced!  She shipped her car with her to Hawaii, where the paint proceeded to erode.  Honestly, we saw it as a badge of honor while we were there.  When we pulled into a beach or went for a hike somewhere, it said, "Yes, I've been here for a bit."  We should have had a topcoat put on the car when she first arrived, but we didn't, so it now looks the way it has started to drive.

Anyway, it should be a great weekend with my wonderful mother!  She actually helped me harvest my basil this morning.  I've had several batches of pesto already from it, with a picking here or there for a sauce or soup, but this is my last picking for the year.  I actually was able to get about three batches out of it.  Two of them were with pine nuts and then one with walnuts when I ran out.

I don't actually measure anymore, but here is the "gist" of the recipe I love and use all the time:

2 C. packed basil leaves (I use enough to fill my food processor bowl)
3-4 cloves of garlic
3 Tbsp. of pine nuts or walnuts
1/3 C. Olive Oil
1/3 C. Parmesan (Or Parm/Reg mix)

Pulse together the garlic and basil leaves to get a basic chop going on the two.  Open the food processor and add your nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan.  Pulse it all together to make a thick paste.  If it's really too thick, add a touch more olive oil.  If it's too thin, add a little more cheese or basil leaves.

I keep a little fresh in the fridge (no more than a week) or mainly put it in an ice cube tray and freeze them.  Once they are frozen, I pop them out of the trays, and put them in a freezer bag so that I can use them for the winter.  Technically these should be used up in three months, but I have used them a little longer and they have tasted fine in soups and sauces.

To reuse them, you can either put them in the pan you're making your pesto sauce to let them thaw (I never microwave these) or I just pop them in my sauces and soups frozen.  These are great in any spaghetti sauce or tomato-based soup like minestrone.   I also love to heat up a little cream, add Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a couple of these pesto cubes.  This is definitely NOT diet food, but it makes an amazing, creamy pesto sauce.

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