Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landnik

This was the first book read by the new Mom's Club booked club . . . the book club that I somehow DID NOT FIND OUT ABOUT until after the first meeting. Someone helpfully pointed out that if I would have read the second page of the newsletter, I would have seen it. Oops! Since I'm in charge of the newsletter starting next month - I won't let such things pass me by! I thought I better read this book before our book club meeting tomorrow so I would be caught up.

This was a good book. It was enthralling enough that it kept me awake and engrossed at 2 AM last week while I was running an XP-SWMM model for work. If that's not a ringing endorsement - I don't know what is!

The overall plot of Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons concerns the lives of five different women who live in a suburb of Minneapolis and have started a book club in 1968. The book tells the story of each woman and how they change over the thirty years they are involved in the book club. Faith is a woman with a secret past who is new to town with a loving pilot husband who is gone a lot and twins; Audrey is a woman who likes to live life to its fullest; Merit is a shy, quiet pastor's daughter witha controlling doctor husband; Kari is a 40-year old widow with a longing for a child; and Slip is a tiny "slip" of a woman who is always trying to change the world for the better. The title of the book comes from the name of the bookclub that one of the husbands bestowed on it.

I also liked how each chapter was for each woman and it listed the name of the book to discuss and why it was chosen. I was happy I had read a lot of the books and it gave me ideas for a few more I'd like to read in the future.

There were only a couple of things I didn't like. One was the characterization of one woman's gay son. Supposedly they are able to tell he is gay because he plays with dolls instead of trucks when he is a kid and runs like a girl - Please! That seemed a bit too much of a stereotype to me and very unrealistic. I also didn't care for Faith's letters to her mother at the end of each chapter.

If you are looking for a good book about women bonding together, this is it. I liked it much better than Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - a book I thought was highly overrated.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Body Surfing by Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve is one of my favorite contemporary authors. I actually own all of her books (except for this one - I'm better now about checking books out from the library!). She writes fascinating stories that are full of human emotion. It's hard to describe why I love her books so much, they remind me of a modern day Edith Wharton, another of my favorite authors. I recommend reading one of her books yourself to check out what I'm talking about. I'd recommend The Weight of Water, Fortune's Rocks, Sea Glass, or The Pilot's Wife.

That said, this is one of Shreve's weaker novels. Truthfully the last few novels have been weaker than my favorite novels listed above. I like her historical fiction better than her contemporary in general.

Body Surfing tells the story of Sydney, a young woman of 29 who is in college and a tutor for the summer to the Edwards' family's youngest daughter, Julie. Julie is "slow," but it is never explained why. Sydney has already been widowed once and divorced once. The Edwards family is spending the summer at their beach front summer home on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in New Hampshire. Interestingly this is also the house that Fortune's Rocks, Sea Glass, and The Pilot's Wife are set. I hope she continues on with the history of the house! The Edwards' elder sons arrive for the weekend, Ben a real-estate excecutive, and Jeff, a professor at MIT. Both appear to like Sydney and she ends up in a romance with one.

The novel had a slow beginning, but I liked it the more I got into it. Especially with the twist in the middle of the book.

The things I didn't like about the book were the beginning (I found myself not caring at all about the main character until later in the book), the hero (I thought he was kind of a jerk from the get-go), and the style of writting (this book seems to jump around in random thoughts a lot more than her other novels).

I highly recommend Anita Shreve - but if you have to read only one of her books, I'd recommend one of the ones listed above. This novel was an okay read, but not one of her finest.

"The Complete Jane Austen" on PBS Spring 2008

I just read the following press release and am so excited!!! :-) I love Masterpiece Theatre anyway - but four months of Jane Austen - I'm in heaven!

DALLAS, May 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- MASTERPIECE THEATRE has good news for Jane Austen's millions of fans: PBS' beloved British drama series will broadcast adaptations of all of Austen's six novels, plus a new drama based on her life. It's the first time in television history that her books have been broadcast as a complete collection.

Beginning in January 2008 on PBS, MASTERPIECE THEATRE is inviting viewers to tune in on Sunday nights for "The Complete Jane Austen": new presentations of Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and Sense and Sensibility.

The lineup will also include the acclaimed Emma starring Kate Beckinsale, and Pride and Prejudice, the Emmy award-winning miniseries that made Colin Firth a heartthrob.Miss Austen Regrets, a true story based on Jane Austen's own letters and diaries, will be part of the four-month marathon."Once we sealed the deal on the four new Austen adaptations, we decided we had to complete the package with Emma and Pride and Prejudice," says MASTERPIECE THEATRE executive producer Rebecca Eaton. "The biopic Miss Austen Regrets is the frosting on the cake: an intimate portrait of the remarkable woman behind these wonderful stories."

Almost 200 years after her death, Jane Austen's popularity continues to soar, with two feature films about her slated for 2007, and numerous books and articles analyzing her appeal."MASTERPIECE THEATRE is the perfect fit for this ground-breaking television event," said John Wilson, Sr. Vice President and Chief TV Programming Executive for PBS. "I know that I'm saving my Sundays in January for this incredible collection of Jane Austen stories, as I know millions of MASTERPIECE and Austen fans will do as well."

Four of the titles -- Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Pride and Prejudice -- were adapted by celebrated screenwriter Andrew Davies, whose Bleak House on MASTERPIECE THEATRE was one of the most acclaimed television dramas of 2006."Presenting Austen's novels consecutively is a brilliant idea because they reinforce each other -- and they are not too long," says Davies. "Airing all of Dickens would take five years!"

Mansfield Park is a coproduction of Company Productions and WGBH Boston. Persuasion is a Clerkenwell Films production for ITV in association with WGBH Boston. Northanger Abbey is a coproduction of Granada and WGBH Boston. Sense and Sensibility and Miss Austen Regrets are coproductions of the BBC and WGBH Boston. Pride and Prejudice is a coproduction of the BBC and A&E. Emma is a coproduction of Granada and A&E.MASTERPIECE THEATRE has been presented on PBS by WGBH since 1971. Rebecca Eaton is executive producer. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers provide funding for MASTERPIECE THEATRE.pbs.org/masterpiecePBS; WGBH

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bitter Sweet by LaVyrle Spencer

A tragedy has happened . . . the Mom's Club I belong too started a book club and NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT IT! I got an email earlier this month about the second pick, Bitter Sweet by LaVryle Spencer, which I thought must be the first pick. I emailed back in much excitment only to discover there had been a meeting already - WITHOUT ME. I was distressed! How could there be a Mom's Club book club without me? I guess that's what happens when you miss a business meeting because you were up until 4 AM doing some exciting engineering modeling:-) It sounds like this book club will be more on "lighter" reading material than my Kewaunee library book club.

Anyway - I finished this book on Friday and really enjoyed it. It has been a hectic last few weeks and this was the perfect book for me to read during a hectic time. It was an enjoyable, light read.

This book tells the story of Maggie Pearson. She has recently been widowed after her husband died in a plane crash. Now at 40, she finds herself alone as her only daughter leaves for college in Chicago (Maggie lives in the state of Washington). She gets back in touch with her old high school friends from Fish Creek, Wisconsin. That's right - this book is set in Door County, Wisconsin, just north of where I live. It made me want to drive up there and check it out - I still have never been further north than Sturgeon Bay! I'll be up north later this summer when we go camping with Corinna, Phil, and Clara. Anyway, Maggie visits her old friends in Door County and decides that she wants to change her life and use the insurance money from her husband's death to buy an old victorian house in Fish Creek and make it into a bed and breakfast.

She meets up again with her high school sweetheart, Eric Severson. Maggie and Eric were in love in high school, but drifted apart in college. Eric married a beautiful woman named Nancy, who is very career oriented. They lived in Chicago until Eric's Dad died and they moved back to Door County to help his brother run the family charter fishing business. Eric finds himself unhappy in his marriage as he wants children before it's too late and Nancy does not. At this time, he finds himself drawn to his old love, Maggie. And you have to read the book to find out the rest!

This book had very well drawn three-dimensional characters. So often in novels, "evil" characters are written as very one-dimensional people. In this book, that would have been Eric's wife, Nancy. Nancy does do a lot of negative things, but the book makes sure to point out that Eric has changed too and has not been the best husband to Nancy. Maggie's mother is also not a very nice person, but the book at least attempts to write about how things are from her point of view.

I enjoyed this book. If you want a light, enjoyable read about Wisconsin's beautiful Door county - I highly recommend it!

Meg Cabot's Comfort Reads


I love Meg Cabot's blog. She updates it frequently (a lot better at it than I am!) and writes hilarious stories. If you don't know who Meg Cabot is, she wrote The Princess Diaries as well as The Boy Next Door, a book I reviewed a few months ago. In the link above, Meg describes her comfort reads, which are mostly romance novels and also has pictures of there covers. A lot of them were books I read in high school too. Reading about them makes me want to re-read them! Some romance novels are like "brain candy" that I love to read when I'm stressed out:-) I enjoy them and I don't have to think too hard about the hidden meaning of life.

Take a look - I guarantee you'll at least enjoy reading about them!

The Pursuit of Happyness

I watched this movie in bits and pieces last week. I must admit - I was annoyed at the title before I even started the movie. What is up with Happyness spelled INCORRECTLY? It drove me up the wall! Luckily the movie not only explained the overall title (from the Declaration of Independence no less) - but it also explained the misspelling. It was the way it was spelled incorrectly on Chris Jr's daycare wall. I was satisfied that it had a good explanation and wasn't just a ploy to make the title look different.

I enjoyed this movie and yes, I shed a tear at the end. It was a heartwarming story of a man, Chris Gardner played by Will Smith, and his struggle to do everything he could to take care of his son and pursue his dream. Gardner wants to move up in life and become a stock brocker. He wins a coveted internship at a high level firm, but the internship is unpaid. At this time, his girlfriend Linda decides to leave him. Garnder is trying to take care of his son as a single parent and has no paying job. He has to do a lot of difficult things (sleeping in a subway station bathroom) to make it, but he does.

The movie to me showed the American dream at it's finest and it was a wonderful story of a father's love for his son. I highly recommend it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett

I finished this book earlier today. It was a rather slow read, I had to take a break in the middle and read my last book!

Portrait of an Unknown Woman was a mediocre read. It had all of the elements of a good historical fiction novel, but it was never able to bring it all together to make a great novel. There were certain flaws with the plot that just did it in for me.

First an overview of the plot. The book is set during the reign of King Henry VIII at just about the time that he discards Queen Catherine and marries Anne Bolyen. The basic timeline is framed by Hans Holbein painting a picture of the Thomas More family at the beginning of the book and his painting of a second picture of the family five years at the end of the book. The main character is Meg Giggs the adopted daughter of Thomas More. The Thomas More family is a highly educated family and the daughters are well known during the time for their higher learning. Meg is interested in medicine. She falls in love and marries John Clement, the family's old tudor, who is also a doctor. But Meg also has feelings for Hans Holbein. Many changes happen to the family during the five year period at Thomas More becomes the Chancellor of England and stays firm to the Catholic faith during the time of reformation. Also many family secrets come out that threaten to destroy Meg's happiness.

I think the true strengths of the book lie in the telling of how the changes brought about by the reformation affected the common people in England. The tales of religious strive were riviting and throught provoking to me. Especially the disconnect between the monarchy and the common people. I also enjoyed the different angle of looking at the Tudor dynasty. I'm so used to reading books about Henry VIII's Queens, it was nice to read about other people living through the times and to learn more about Thomas More.

Although I enjoyed the strengths of the book, there were many weaknesses. The main weakness was Meg herself. She never really felt like a true three-dimensional character to me . . . and I didn't find her that likable or relatable. Both of her romances felt very forced. Her marriage to John Clement was artificially happy and then not working for no good reason. Her love affair with Hans Holbein just seemed weird to me. Her characterization just made me wonder what the two men even saw in her! Also John Clement's "secret" did not have enough background to even make me think it would be plausible.

The last chapter was a very good conclusion to the book and I enjoyed it. If only the middle of the book would have been as good as the beginning or the end, it would have been a lot better novel.

Read it if you are looking for a different angle on the King Henry VIII time period, but expect it to be a bit slower of a read.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

How Nancy Drew Saved My Life by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

I read about this book on a Bronte blog. They were actually making fun of it, but I thought that since it was supposed to follow the plot of Jane Eyre and also had mention of Nancy Drew, it was worth a read.

I've been pretty stressed out the last couple of weeks so I put aside the historical fiction novel I'm reading and read this for a light stress-relieving read. It proved to be good for providing light entertainment, but was not really that great of a book overall.

The book is about a nanny named Charlotte Bell who has had an affair with her married employer. She decides to move on my taking a new job as a nanny to an ambassador in Iceland and by reading all of the original Nancy Drew books to become more "plucky." Once she gets to Iceland, she has moments of irritation with her mysterious employer, Ambassador Edgar Rawlings, but eventually falls in love.

The book had all of the makings of being good, but it never quite got all of the pieces together. None of the characters were that well developed and likeable. The action of the story was very slow until the last few pages where it finally picked up and was good. Also the main character and her "What Would Nancy Drew Do" got very old very fast.

Overall if you need a light entertaining read, I'd actually pick something else unless the premise really intrigues you!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Spiderman 3

Yes - I actually went to see a movie in the THEATRE last weekend for only the second time since Kile was born. Sadly Ben has still not been to a movie since Kile was born. We are hopefully going on a date on Saturday so I might be watching Spidey again!

My best friend Jenn was in town to visit as I mentioned on an earlier blog. Jenn and I love to go and see movies so we went and watched Spiderman 3 on Saturday afternoon.

I had low expectations going into the movie as I had read some terrible reviews. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. I thought overall it was a pretty good movie. It really tied up many of the loose ends from the overall story arc that has been going since Spiderman 1. Mostly it tied up Harry Osborne's story line. Although it wasn't quite as good as 1 or 2, I would like to watch it again and add it to my DVD collection.

I think the movie was not quite as good was the fact that Raimi just tried to do too much. Three villians is too much, especially when you try to give them a moving back story. If one of the two new villains would have been chopped out, I think it would have been a cleaner story. I can see what he was trying to do with both (help Peter Parker discover different dark aspects to his own character), but it would have been nice to have a more fully developed villian. The adding of villians reminds me of how overblown the Batman movies became as they kept adding too many villians!

Overall though I recommend this movie. I'd give a plot outline, but I'm tired:-)

Children of Men

Ben, Jenn, and I watched Children of Men on Saturday night. I had read a lot of great reviews about this movie, plus it was listed as number 14 of the Top 25 Sci-Fi list of the last 25 years in this week's Entertainment Weekly.

Children of Men is set in the not so-distant future of 2027. It begins with the death of "Baby Diego" the youngest person on earth who was killed at age 18. In 2009, all of the women on earth became infertile for reasons unknown. Without any hope for the future, the world has disintigrated into chaos except for Britian. In order to keep control, the British export illigal immigrants. Britian still has it share of problems with bombings, riots, etc.

This story centers on Theo (Clive Owen), an ex-activist who comes to the aid of his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore). Together they try to help a pregnant fugitive named Kee to escape Britian to sea where the "Human Project" awaits her. They will help study her to cure humanity's infertility problems. The escape out of Britain is harrowing. I was suprised by many things, but other deaths I forsaw along the way, which was kind of disappointing.

My favorite parts of the file were when Theo visited his friend, Jasper, (or father, I was never quite clear) played by Michael Caine. Jasper is a long haired hippy that lives out in the woods and grows pot. Theo visits him to escape from everything. Caine played a great character and was pretty funny.

The movie made me think, but it didn't quite live up to my grand expectations. Maybe I need to read the book or watch it again. Maybe my opinion will change over time. It was an interesting movie to watch, but I wouldn't add it to my "favorite movie" list. I did really like both Michael Caine and Clive Owen's performances.

Sidenote: Ben and I had a further discussion, would we rather live in the depressing Children of Men future of the post-apocolyptic "The Road" future. We both voted for Children of Men future as at least there are living animals and vegetation left on earth and people aren't eating each other!!

A Night at the Museum

I've gotten a bit behind on my blog! Mainly I've been too busy with work to read or watch too many movies. I did get some movie watching in this weekend though so it's time to catch up! My best friend Jenn was in town to visit and we spent time doing one of the things we like best - watching movies!

Ben, Jenn, and I watched A Night at the Museum Sunday night and were all underwhelmed. I don't know if the other two noticed, but I even took a five or ten minute nap in the middle of the film. It was a nice family movie that would be good for a movie for the whole family to watch, but is not something I would go out of my way to watch again.

The plot of the movie is that Larry (Ben Stiller) has gotten a job at the Museum of Natural History in New York City in order to settle down and make sure he provides some stability for his son. At night, all of the displays in the museum come alive because of a magical Eygptian Tablet. Larry must ensure that nothing leaves the museum as it will turn to dust on the outside when dawn breaks. Along the way Larry and his son must apprehend some crooks trying to steal museum goods.

Watch it if you need a good family flick, otherwise I'd skip it.