Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I finished A Thousand Splendid Suns last night. It was a wonderful book - and a real page-turner. I think it only took me two days to read it (and that's mostly time outside with Kile playing!). This book is by Khaled Hosseini, the author of The Kite Runner, another fabulous book that I highly recommend to anyone looking for a good book.

A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two woman in Afghanistan over the last thirty years. Mariam is a "harami" or an illegimate child of a rich man, Jali, and his maid. He built them a shack outside of town to live in and Mariam looks forward to his visits once a week. When she is 15, Mariam asks to see where Jali lives with his three wives and 11 children and also to see a movie in the cinema that he owns. Jali doesn't show up that day and she goes to town in search of him. When she finds his house, no one will let her in and she sleeps outside. Tragedy ensues and Jali's wives force Mariam into a loveless marriage with Rasheed a much older man from Kabul. Rasheed beats Mariam and is angry with her after she is unable to bear him a son.

Meanwhile while Mariam is trying to survive her marriage, Laila is born in 1979 when the Soviets have taken over Afghanistan. Laila grows up in realitive happiness, goes to school, and is in love with her best friend, Tariq. Tariq stepped on a land mine as a child and only has one leg. As different tragedies play out (too many plot spoilers), Laila is forced to marry Rasheed at age 14 when Rasheed is in his 60's!!! At this time things are really bad in Afghanistan and Laila is unable to go to school anymore or even appear outside of her home without a burqa or a male escort. Mariam and Laila become unlikely friends.

Although I figured out one major plot twist WAY before the end of the book, I still enjoyed it and it was a real page turner. Laila's story particularly hit home as she would only be one year younger than me. And what a different life we lead. I can't imagine having all of my freedoms as a woman being taken away, so much so that you can't even go to a decent hospital and have anethestics during child birth! It was very disturbing. I don't know much at all about how real everyday people live in Afghanistan and Iraq, and this book (as well as The Kite Runner) are real eye openers. It really makes me feel bad for the people and hope that the U.S. does not just abandon them. People should not have to live like this!


Ben and I watched Cars last night. We enjoyed it until we realized that this is the only type of movie we'll be able to watch for the next 15 years:-) Actually I always have enjoyed animated films, I've just fallen behind on them since graduating from college.

Cars tells the story of Lightning McQueen, a race car. He is traveling to California for a tie-breaker race to win the Piston Cup. Along the way, he accidentally is left behind by his tired semi-trailer, Mac. He ends up in Radiator Springs, Arizonia where he ruins the road during a high speed chase with a cop car. He is sentenced to fix the road much to his dismay. During his week in town, he becomes friends with the local townsfolk and also falls in love. He learns that winning isn't as important as being a good person and friend. He also helps the town to revive after it was bypassed by the interstate.

I really enjoyed it - but didn't have as many laugh out loud experiences with it that I've had with other animated films. Ben and I did like how "Click and Clack" make an appearance.

Northern Lights by Nora Roberts

I received Northern Lights as a Birthday present from Jenn back in March. I've become quite obsessed with library books and keep forgetting I have quite a big stash of my own that I need to catch up on!

I enjoyed Northern Lights. It tells the story of cop Nate Burke and his move to Lunacy, Alaska. After the murder of his partner and a rocky divorce, Nate is looking for a new life in a rural area where he doesn't have to worry about murder. His spirits start to pick up after his move to Lunacy as the "Lunatics" are all very nice people, especially a bush pilot named Meg Galloway. Peace is shattered though when some young climbers find the body of Meg's lost father who has been missing for 18 years. Nate is on the case and finds that sometimes things aren't always as they appear.

I love the characters in Nora Robert's books. I wanted to live in Lunacy. I also really enjoyed the mystery that had me guessing up until the end. I also really liked the setting as I think Alaska is a cool and exciting place. Hopefully Ben and I will get to go there one day. I thought the romance in this one was a little weak. I could have used some more build-up, but then again, Meg isn't quite the shy kind of girl! :-)

Side note - I've really been enjoying the Nora Robert's movies on Lifetime. Ben, being the senstive man that he is, found one for me first last spring and taped it. I've watched Blue Smoke, Carolina Moon, and Sanctuary. I've been waiting for them to reshow the other movies this summer so I can watch them, but so far have been unlucky! I hope they show them soon!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Battlestar Interview has an interview online with Katee Sackoff (Starbuck) and Michael Hogan (Colonel Tigh) that is interesting and has a few snippets about Season 4. Also of note is that both actors will be appearing in this fall's new series The Bionic Woman on NBC.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Laura's TV Picks for the Past 2006-07 Season

Now that the 2006-07 television season is starting to fade into the past, I thought it was time to review what shows I liked to watch over the year. I've already done this once, so here is hoping that this time I can get blogger to save it and actually post it! As I started to make a list of them, I realized I watch a lot of TV shows. Back in college I only seemed to watch Star Trek Voyager and Stargate SG-1 and that was only because Dad taped them for me and sent up the tapes (all of this talk of tapes makes me feel old in the land of DVRs and TiVOs). After college I still didn't watch too much TV, but then we got our DVR. The DVR is great for a person like me (and Ben) that doesn't want to be made to watch a show at exactly 8 PM or mess with annoying video cassettes. As you can see by my list below, I know enjoy MANY shows:-)

My favorite shows for 2006-07:

1. Battlestar Galactica. I've waxed on about my love for this show on this blog before. It has fantastic acting and the most intriguing storylines on TV. Sadly, the next season does not start until January 2008 and will be ITS LAST SEASON. WHY!? I can see how it will be a good time to end it plotwise, but there are not too many shows of this quality on TV, and I will be very sad to see it go! For more news about the end of Battlestar, see the following yahoo article and interview with Edward James Olmos.

2. Lost. I was starting to lose my love for Lost during the fall "mini-season." Luckily lost got back on track this spring and ended up a winner of a finale (I'm still crying for Charlie - you didn't have to die "brutha!"). I love the mysteries and the character development in lost. I can't wait to see what happens over the next three years!

3. Desperate Housewives. Season 2 started to lose me, but Desperate Housewives got back in the groove for Season 3. The only flaw was that the Orson mystery was solved before the end of the season so there was a "finale" seemingly 3/4 of the way through the season. With Marcia Cross going on maternity leave, I can see why they had to do it. I love the campy, soap opera storylines crossed with mystery. Season 2 lost Ben, but I'm still devoted!

4. Dr. Who. Ben and I love Dr. Who. I have never seen the older versions of the doctor, but I love the new version. I wasn't sure after they replaced the doctor from "season 1" of the new version, but I like the new doctor. I really liked Rose and am sad that she'll be gone (although I seem to see her all around Masterpiece Theatre these days). We'll see how her replacement is when the new season starts on sci-fi on July 6th.

5. Survivor. Yes, I love Survivor. I remember being dubious of the show when it first started in 2000, but my little sister Katie made me watch season 1 with her and I was hooked. All these years later I still find myself loving every moment of it. I thought this year's seasons were exceptionally good. I loved Yule from the fall season and Earl this season. I love how they are mixing things up more lately and making it more exciting and different. I was once ashamed of my one reality show addiction, but have discovered that many people share my love for Survivor. I'm glad I'm not alone!

6. The Office. I love the office. It's quirky characters are hilarious and Jim and Pam's romance is sweet - I just want them to get together! After working in an "office" I can identify with many of the people/problems on this show. Ben and I started watching this during it's second season after we noticed we always laughed at the first few minutes that recorded after "My Name is Earl" on the DVR. We've since caught up and have enjoyed every show. It's a fun show.

7. My Name is Earl. Ben and I both enjoy this show. It tells the story of Earl, a former crook that won the lotto and got hit by a car losing his winning ticket. While in the hospital, he watches Carson Daley and learns about Karma. He makes a list of all of the bad things he has done and goes on his way to correct his past wrongs. He is helped by his not so bright, but sweet brother Randy, his brash ex-wife Joy, and her husband "Crab-Man." This show makes me and Ben both laugh - especially Ben. It has a sort of old-fashioned sweetness to it and it's fun to see more "normal" (as in not rich!) people being portrayed on TV even though it's not always in the most flattering light.

8. 30 Rock. 30 Rock is one of the two shows that started last fall depicting the back stage happenings on a Saturday Night Life late night variety show. This show is a half an hour comedic take on the business. It focuses on Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) the head writer of the show and her dealings with the other writers, cast, and her boss played by Alec Baldwin. Baldwin is a gem on this show and a lot more funny then I ever would have thought. It's fun seeing all of the crazy that goes on around Lemon. I wasn't sure about this show at first, but it quickly found it's groove. If you only watched the first episode or two, I highly recommend revisiting the series!

9. Robin Hood. I LOVE the new Robin Hood series that was on BBC America this spring. Although the series is more old fashioned in it's set-up (bad guys always caught by the end, ends with a touching moment, then a joke), I enjoy watching a show that harkens back to a simpler time. I like how Lady Marian kicks butt in this new take on the Robin Hood Legend. I also love Sir Guy. Although he is the "bad guy," he sure makes bad look sexy with his tortured love for Lady Marian. He wants to be good for her sake and is torn by his love. It's great!

10. Stargate. I can't believe Stargate has been on for 10 years and it's the end of the series! Ben and I still have to watch the five final shows to see how it ends. I loved the show when it started, but actually missed a couple of seasons in the middle after Daniel Jackson "ascended" and was gone. I was a bit bitter, and also got tired of Ben constantly watching it!! I've been back watching it for the last few years and still enjoy it!

11. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Yes, I also watch the "other" NBC show about a late night sketch show based on Saturday Night Live. I really like this show. I'm really enjoying the new episodes this summer. I can't believe this show was cancelled, it has some of the wittiest dialogue on TV and really presses some red button issues. It's series finale is this Thursday night. I'll be sad to see it go!

12. Ugly Betty. For some silly reason, all networks seem to plan the good shows during the same times on the same night every week. I can only DVR two at at time and I'm sorry Ugly Betty, but Survivor and Office/Earl win. I watched Ugly Betty during the hiatus' of my other shows and found I enjoyed it. I like how it is a comedy with drama. I like how Betty is a good person just trying to make it. I'm not sure about some of the crazy plot twists, but I'm willing to see how this show goes in the future. If only they would show more reruns in the summer so I can catch up!

13. Heroes. Ben and I are behind on our TV viewing of Heroes. We've only watched through last November - but we like what we've seen. We just need to find time to catch up this summer!

Those were my favorite shows. As you can see, I'm not really into hospital/doctor/lawyer/cops shows. I think they are all way overdone and am always looking for something more original like a good show about a young engineer trying to make it in the world . . . :-) What shows have I left out? Am I missing something that I should be taping on my DVR?

Lost Season Finale

Per your request, my review of the Lost Season Finale. Sorry I hadn't reviewed it yet - it was part of my best of 2006-07 TV list that I typed up and was NOT automatically saved (even though it says it is!) by blogger. It was lost and I haven't started over yet. I think I'll do a more brief list sometime in the near future.

Anyhoo - I loved the Lost Season Finale. The spring episodes made me forgive the Lost producers for the terrible fall episodes.

In the finale, the survivors are trying to find a way off of the island using Naoimi's satellite phone. Before they can use it, they must shut off Danielle's distress signal loop as well as the "looking glass" station that is blocking all off-island transmittals.

Charlie and Desmond took over The Looking Glass station and things were looking good. Charlie was able to turn off the blocking device and even made contact with Penelope who told him she DID NOT send Naoimi (who did!??), which he luckily was able to communicate with Desmond. Old one-eye evil man came back to life once again and flooded Charlie's compartment. He shut the door to save Desmond and embrace his "destiny" with the hope that with his death Claire and baby Aaron will be saved. NOOO! I loved Charlie and was so sad that he died. I still have hope he will come back to life as others have done. But I accept and admire Charlie's sacrifice, I thought it was a noble end for the character to change from a drugged out rock star to a caring and compassonate person!

Much happened on the beach too with Sahid, Bernard, and Jin left behind to blow up the Others that were coming to take the woman folk. The plan almost went good until one round of explosives didn't go. We later think our heroes are assasinated per Ben's direction, but luckily there were not. They are ultimately saved by Hurley and the happy VW bus. I LOVED that scene and was glad Hurley finally got to save the day!

Meanwhile Jack as Moses has lead the survivors up the mountain to turn off Danielle's signal. He meets up with Ben who BEGS him not to send his signal. He says the people on the boat are the bad guys and warns Jack not to do it. Locke appears and is alive (the island magically healed him again?!) and also tells Jack not to do it. Jack calls anyway and it appears that help is on the way from Naomi's boat.

We find out at the end that the flashbacks throughout the episode were "flash forwards" and not flashbacks. We learn from them that Jack and Kate have both made it off the island. Jack is leading a not so happy life as a drugged out drunk guy who flys around hoping to crash and get back to the island. He goes to a mysterious funeral of a man we aren't told the identity of. He was so popular though that Jack is the only person who went. Jack refers to his Dad as alive, was it because he was drugged up? Kate leaves Jack at the end as she has to return to "him."

The finale left me with many questions I can't wait to see the answers to in the next three years. I would elaborate here, but Kile just woke up from his nap crying. I just wish Lost started sooner than next spring. In spring 2008 I will be one happy person watching Lost and Battlestar with Ben!

In Secret Service by Mitch Silver

In Secret Service had potential. I was at the library and read the back of the book and it described a thriller involving a secret Ian Fleming (author of James Bond novels) manuscript that linked together several English mysteries involving the abdication of King Edward VIII and the death of Princess Diana.

Then I read the book. It was rather mediocre. It wasn't so bad that I gave up on it, but it was VERY highly improbable. Amy Greenburg, a Yale professor, journeys to Dublin to pick up a the contents of a lock box that was in her Grandfather's name. She discovers Sir Ian Fleming had purchased the lock box and had left behind a first person account in manuscript form that described his dealings as a secret agent before, during, and after WWII. Amy races back to the states and is pursued by evil people trying to get their hands on the manuscript while she reads the manuscript to determine the mystery. Overall the big "mystery" was a big let-down and very improbable. Plus I was not sure why the evil people were so obsessed with containing the secret. Oh Well!

Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders by William R. Drennan

Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Murders is my June Kewaunee Library Book Club selection. It was a very interesting book to read. I really don't know that much about Frank Lloyd Wright. I knew he he was an architect who designs buildings that fall down that Ben talks about and that he had something to do with Wisconsin. I guess Ben and I had gone to the Church of the Cross that he designed in Sedona Arizona and that was beautiful. Jenn and I had driven by Taliesin about 7 years ago or so when we were taking a trip to Wisconsin.

What I discovered in this book is that I don't really like Frank Lloyd Wright. Like many brillant, artistic men, he was pretty messed up. He had a loving wife and six children. One day in 1909 he decided that his houses were his children and he didn't feel very fatherly and that he was going to run away with a client's wife, Mamah Cheney to Europe. He left his practice, his family, everything. He came back to Chicago and stayed with his wife for a bit just to get enough money to build his "love cottage" near Spring Green, Wisconsin, which eventually became Taliesin. He and Mamah moved there, much to the local people's dismay. Taliesin also served as a studio for Wright and his apprentices.

In 1914, a servant named Julian, brutally killed seven adults and children at Taliesin and burned it down. Included were Mamah and her two children. Frank Lloyd Wright was in Chicago working on a building at the time. The author explores the theories behind what happened, but there is no conclusive "Why?" ever answered. He also explores how this cataclismic event in Frank Lloyd Wright's life forever changed his architectural style.

It was a very interesting book and I highly recommend it if you are interested in reading history, love a good mystery, or want to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright.

Where Has Laura Been?

I'm sorry I haven't updated my blog lately. Things have been rather hectic with work and travel. Plus I couldn't get in to my blog. Blogger must not have liked my Casino Royale review and it kept saying my email address didn't exist. Luckily, it is all fixed now.

Also I was upset that a blog I had crafted at the beginning of June detailing my top list of shows for the 2006-07 season was deleated by Blogger and had to step away for awhile. I promise I will write it anew one of these days!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I finally watched Dreamgirls this week in bits and pieces. It was a good movie. I love musicals any way, but the acting and singing in this musical were wonderful. No actresses with voices not quite up to par (sorry Renee, but your voice was pretty weak in Chicago!).

Dreamgirls tells the story of a Motown girls' trio of singers (The Dreamettes), Deena (Beyonce Knowles), Lorell (Anika Noni Rose) , and Effie (Jennifer Hudson), and their rise to power. They find a manager, Curtis (Jamie Foxx), who helps the trio become back-up singers to Jimmy Early (Eddie Murphy). Eventually to make them "mainstream," Curtis makes them their own act called the Dreams and has Deena become the lead singer although Effie is the better singer. Deena is skinny and more beautiful and Curtis wants to use that to make the group big. Curtis also curtails Jimmy's "crazy" act and has him sing soul music. He manages the singers down to the fine details and does not let them have the artistic expression they would like to have. Worst of all, he was dating Effie and two timing her with Deena. He throws Effie out of the trio eventually because she is late to rehearsals and not feeling well.

At this point Effie sings "And I'm Telling You, I'm not Going." I had been listening to the soundtrack for months before I saw the movie, and I must tell you - it was riveting watching Jennifer Hudson sing this on screen and so much better than just hearing it. You could see the pain in her face and understand her loss. It made me sad, but also made me appreciate how wonderful a singer and actress Jennifer Hudson is!

I'm confused on why this movie was shut-out from a best movie and director oscar nomination. It was much better than Chicago (as was Moulin Rouge). Things that make you wonder!!!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes by Louis Sachar is a young adult novel that has previously received the Newberry Medal and was made into a movie. I had never read the book or watched the movie. This book was chosen for my Mom's Club book club read for June.

This book tells the story of Stanley Yelnats and how through bad luck he has to pick to either go to jail or Camp Green lake for a crime he did not commit. He choses Camp Green Lake as he has never been to a camp before. Bad luck runs in Stanley's family and is blamed on "my no good pig stealing great-great-grandfather." Through various flashbacks we learn how this bad luck started. Camp Green Lake is a terrible place with a villianous woman named "The Warden" running the show. The boys are expected to dig holes every day to toughen them up or is there another reason for all of these holes?

I liked the book. It was a quick read and interesting plot. Sachar was really able to tie all of the lose ends together well. I can't wait to watch the movie!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Casino Royale

Ben and I watched the newest James Bond movie yesterday. We both enjoyed it, but found it to be rather mediocre. Not the worst bond, but not the best.

The story involved James Bond at the beginning of his career as 007. In order to stop a mysterous banker who funds terrorists, James must win a high stakes poker game. He is at the game with an attractive accountant named Vesper Lynd, who he falls in love with. You see James pick up some of his traits (wins a 1964 Aston Martin in a poker game), and learn to trust no one.

I liked how the high amount of cheese that had been added to the latest films has been scraped away to show the true essence of Bond. I also liked when James Bond walked out of the ocean in his tiny fitted swim suit . . . Daniel Craig was in fine shape through most of this movie and I liked watching him!

What I didn't like . . . the chase scene in the beginning of the movie was highly stylistic and looked like a video game. Especially the evil guy getting chased who bounced around unbelievably like a ping-pong ball. I complain about this for most movies these days - the special effects are getting away from them I think. I managed to forget this until the end of the movie when water "exploded" in the basement of an old building in Venice causing it to fall straight down. I won't go into the details of why this was all impossible according to engineering principles and the laws of physics, but it was almost more than two engineers could bear when watching a movie. Some movies I allow them to get away with it (like science fiction movies or other Bonds where it is all over the top), but the advertisements for this movie talked extensively about it's "grittiness" and bringing things back to the believable. If that be the case - make it all believable!

Overall though, it was an entertaining movie with eye candy for both the ladies and the men.

Confessions of a Teen Sleuth: A Parody by Chelsea Cain

I heard about this novel on NPR a month or so ago and thought it sounded pretty funny. It was a pretty funny novel, and a VERY quick read (only took an hour or two).

The premise of this novel is that Nancy Drew was a real teen sleuth in the 1920's. Her story was stolen by her vengeful roommate Carolyn Keene and published with errors. Upon her death She had her manuscript of her real life delivered to Chelsea Cain for publication.

Each chapter is a different mystery and most are set in a different decade or so from the 1920's to the 1990's. The main story of Nancy's life is that her one true love was Frank Hardy and not Ned Nickerson. Ned junior looks like Frank with "Titian" hair :-) Nancy marries and divorces Ned, deciding she'd rather be "special friends." Bess and George are her, Bess with anorexia after becoming known as the "plump" friend and George who is gay, but Nancy never seems to notice. Each adventure is rather outlandish, but picks up some of the main fun of her books.

Other teen sleuths make apearances including Donna Parker, the Dana Girls, Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Beldin, etc. I only wish I was familiar with all of their stories.

My favorite line, "They didn't call him Hardy for nothing." LOL

If you are looking for a quick, funny read concerning your favorite teen sleuth, I highly recommend it!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I literally could not put this book down I was so intrigued by it. Jodi Picoult delivers another timely novely that deals with issues of today. This novel is set in a small New Hampshire town that is shattered during "nineteen minutes" when a young man named Peter Houghton comes to school one day with a bag full of guns and vengence on his mind. The novel is primarily the story of Peter and also of Alex Cormier, a judge, and her daughter, Josie. Josie was a friend of Peter's when they were younger and witnessed the shootings, although she can not remember them.

Picoult is excellent at writing at the shades of grey in her novels. In this situation, you want to hate Peter for what he has done, but he actually comes across as a rather likeable young man who was bullied to the breaking point. The only point I did not like is that it seemed unrealistic that Alex would have been able to be the judge at all over this case with her MAJOR conflict of interest. Overall thought, it was an excellent novel.

If you are looking for a page-turning novel - I highly recommend this book!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe by Nancy Gladstone

Four Queens: The Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe was a riveting non-fiction book set in thirteenth century Europe. It tells the story of four beautiful, provocative daughters of the count and countess of Provence (Raymond Berenger V and Beatrice of Savoy) and their successful marriages and rise to power. Marguerite, the eldest daughter, married King Louis the IX of France, which set the stage for successful marriages for the rest of the girls. Eleanor married King Henry III of France, Sanchia married Richard of Cornwall who eventually became King of the Romans (Germans), and Beatrice married Charles of France who eventually became the King of Sicily. Thus the four sisters eventually became four queens.

This book was a very interesting and relatively easy to read. I found the entire history of the period to be very fascinating. I know basically nothing about thirteenth century Europe. I was intrigued by the stories of the the crusades, English Civil War (I only knew about the one in the 17th century!), and the affect that one family and it's relationship had on the history of the European region.

If you are looking for an interesting book of history or just for something different that will broaden your horizons - I highly recommend this book!

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Queen

I watched The Queen this past weekend with Ben, my Dad, and Carol. I liked the movie a lot, Carol seemed mildly interested (but fell asleep), Dad seemed to be interested, but Ben seemed not like it.

The Queen is the story of Queen Elizabeth II during the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana in 1997. The monarchy faced a crisis as the public expected a response or some sort of grief from the Queen concerning Diana's death. When the response did not appear, the nation began to get frustrated with the monarchy as a whole and questioned it's existence. Queen Elizabeth was faced with having to make a public show of grief for a woman that she probably in reality did not have the fondest feelings for to save the monarchy. The Queen had many exchanges with Tony Blair during the crisis. Tony Blair starts off the movie not liking the monarchy and their rigid rules, but ends having respect for the Queen. At the end Queen Elizabeth says prophetically to Tony Blair something along the lines of "The people will turn on you someday too, just as quickly."

I liked this movie a lot. It was interesting to watch a piece of "modern" history unfold that I had actually witnessed (well I wasn't there, but I grieved via TV!). I thought the individual performances by the actors were fantastic, especially Helen Mirren's portrayel of Queen Elizabeth. I also learned about how the monarchy and prime minister work together in England. The whole concept rather baffled me. By the end of the movie, Ben thought the monarchy should be thrown out of England, but I rather liked them:-)

This movie does not have super special affects and lots of action, but it kept me rivited and was a great piece of cinema.