Friday, January 28, 2011

Home Again Home Again Jiggitity Jig...

...not as fast as a lion but quicker than a pig!

We arrived safely home Wednesday, making great time from Ocala to Durham. Well, I say great time, but, in reality, it always takes 10 hours, pretty much no matter what.

We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise on Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas. Review of the ship/series about our vacation forthcoming.

We spent time after the cruise in both Sarasota and Ocala; both very fine places in their own ways.

Now, I've gone from having zero to say to being overwhelmed with things to Blog about; not to mention, getting pictures up!

This might not occur for some time, however; too many other things to get done around the house, bills to pay, errands to run, etc., etc.

Hopefully, soon!

In the meantime, here are at least a few pictures from our cruise!

First drink of the cruise! I love their Frozen Mojitos! Port of Tampa
in the background behind us.

Writing in my travel journal out on our balcony our first morning at sea.
We were on Deck 10, aft. Loved the size of the balcony; really enjoyed
looking at the lovely wake.

See the people standing way up on the top? Our stateroom was
directly below them.

Formal night. Not thrilled with our table location this time
but at least we had one to ourselves.

We took a cooking class in Cozumel. Lots of fun!

Mrs. B

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: May

May was a heavy hitter month; mostly because The B's were floating around on a cruise ship for 9 delightful days so I got a lot of reading in! Thankfully, most of them were 3 Stars or better, too!
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (CD): Really Good/4 Stars

I've never much been one for short stories, but, since I really liked Lahiri's "The Namesake" (a novel), I thought I'd give her short stories a whirl.

"Unaccustomed Earth" has eight short stories; all of them containing several themes which were also central to "The Namesake"; including the gulf that separates expatriate Bengali parents from their American-raised children.

All of the stories were fairly engaging although there was one that I didn't care for as much as the others (interestingly enough, it was the one story told from the perspective of a Caucasian male). What I found really fascinating was how, as I listened to each story, I began to see how an author can use the writing of short stories to flush out different aspects of what may eventually become a novel.

I find Lahiri's style refreshing. I'm not so sure why I am so interested in the Indian-American culture, but, I find myself wanting to read/listen to the Lahiri's debut collection of short stories, "Interpreter of Maladies". I am hoping she'll be writing another novel at some point, too.
The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and The Olympians #1): Solid/Good 3 Stars

What a fun read! I have always been interested in Greek mythology (heck, I named several of my cats after Greek Gods) so when a fellow book club member mentioned she'd been reading this series and how much she enjoyed it, I did something I hardly ever do, and that's reserve a copy from my local library.

I could tell when I picked up the copy how often it had been read; falling apart, torn, pages dog-eared, cover a mess. Considering this book (and the series) was written for, oh, say, middle school aged kids, the fact the book had obviously been well read is a testament to its allure.

In summary, Percy Jackson, 12, lives with his mom and step-father in NYC (although he's more often than not off at one boarding school after another; always getting tossed out on his ear for "bad" behavior).

At his current school, it becomes apparent to him that things are not right when his detested math teacher turns into a harpy and his best friend is revealed to be a satyr.

Thus begins Percy's adventure with the Gods; which revolves around the age old bickering between three of the most prominent and powerful; Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. Along the way, Percy discovers the identify of his here to now absent father, makes friends with other "Godlings", and sets out on a quest to hopefully save the world from the wrath of Zeus.

This is number one in the series; I'll look forward to reading number two!

And, yes, it may be a bit of a "rip off" of the Harry Potter theme (quite a few plot similarities) BUT it's still well worth reading, especially if you liked the Harry Potter series.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: Really Good/4 Stars

This book/series came highly recommended by many of my book club friends and others. I came across a nice, used copy at the library sale so snatched it up.

It definitely did not disappoint! The main characters are intriguing and well developed; the plot/story is really, really interesting with some great twists here and there.

Summary: A down on his luck writer/investigative reporter (Blomkvist) is hired by a somewhat eccentric but extremely wealthy old business baron to simultaneously a) write a history of his equally eccentric family and b) look into the mysterious (unsolved) case of the disappearance of his favorite niece some 40 or so years prior. Blomkvist realizes soon enough that he is in need of some super duper research assistance and so becomes partners with the fascinating character of Lisbeth Salander, a much younger somewhat emotionally disturbed woman whose punk-ish appearance belies her extreme intelligence. Together, they discover quite a lot, both about the case at hand and themselves.

Some said, and I agree, that the book was initially a bit slow going; I think some of this was due to trying to become accustom to the Swedish names, terms, slightly different style of writing (perhaps due to translation). But, after 75 pages or so, I was hooked.

I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the 2nd and (alas, final since the author passed away before his books were even published; tragic!) book in the Millennium series.

I'm also planning on watching the movie (Swedish) version of the book when it becomes available in the US.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Book Club Selection: Totally Awesome/5 Stars

Maybe it was because I was on vacation, but, I absolutely fell in love with this book.

After our book club discussion, I'll cede that, although the core of the story; the interment of the Japanese in America, (even those who were 2nd or 3rd generation and were more "American" than Japanese), the troubled (and for good reason) relations between Chinese and Japanese and the hope, joy and honor of young love in the midst of it was perfect, some of the other aspects of the story/certain character development/editing were a bit frayed at the edges.

However, I still feel it was beautifully written and it will retain one of my coveted five stars because, after all, books are like wine, if you like it, it's good!
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks: Really Good/4 Stars
Brooks' first novel did not disappoint!

Year of Wonders is a fictionalized account of a true historical event; a village near London is infected with the plague. The resident Rector convinces the villagers to quarantine themselves in order to keep the plague from further spreading throughout the country.

The story is told by Anna, maid to the Rector and his wife. Through Anna, we learn the likely cause of the plague's infestation in the village and we see, through her eyes, the good and bad that can manifest in people when tragedy strikes.

This was thoroughly readable; in fact, I read it in about one and one half days (of course, I was on vacation, but, still).

I thought about giving it 5 stars but, in the end, realized it was on par with the other two of Brooks' novels I've read, "People of the Book" and "March".

All of her books seem to be prime for movie versions, IMHO!
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls: Totally Awesome/5 Stars

Once upon a time, I knew a family who lived somewhat in the vein of the Walls family; maybe not quite as mouth dropping in amazement and astonishment and OMG, but, close.

Because of this, I probably was not as shocked by what I read in the author's memoir; an accounting of the bizarre, hardscrabble and out and out (seemingly) unbelievable childhood she and her brother and sisters experienced.

I gave this a 5-star rating mostly because of the thoroughly wonderful and entertaining (if that is really an appropriate word to use given the circumstances) way in which she relayed the tale and her descriptions of the people in her life (which somehow managed to be both loving and cynical at the same time).

In the end, her memoir is an honest examination of someone who grew up under extremely unusual circumstances with many emotionally disturbed/mentally ill (and some deranged) people around her and a testament to the strength of (certain) family bonds. Seriously, it is amazing how "well" she and at least two of her siblings appear to have turned out!

Mrs. B

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: April

Plain Jane: A Novel of Jane Seymour by Laurien Gardner: Didn't Much Care For/2 Stars
I've read quite a few books about The Tudors and, although I'm not an expert per se, I have learned a lot about them. The majority of these books have been non-fiction but I do take a romp through the historical fiction from time to time. And, lately it seems there has been a run to jump onto The Tudor band wagon. Case in point this relatively new historical fiction series by Laurien Gardner with each book in the series dedicated to one of Henry VIII's six wives.

"Plain Jane" is about his 3rd wife, Jane Seymour. I lost count of how many times Jane (or others) referred to herself as "plain" (I suppose the author wanted to reinforce the title of her book) and found it a bit rather like cheating when I read in the author's afterward that her sources for the book had been better written non-fiction books about The Tudors (all of which I'd read). Maybe I was disappointed that I hadn't thought about writing such a series; certainly, I have enough Tudor trivia floating around in my head!

Anyway, the bottom line is; I picked this book up in a used book store while in FL. It was readable enough but, frankly, a bit silly. Not QUITE a bodice buster; more like a Barbara Cartland romance, but, definitely written for those who are looking for a romantic tale.

I guess I need to stop reading these fictionalized accounts because, in the end, they just get on my nerves!

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: Really Good/4 Stars
This was a fantastic read. In addition to (always interesting to me) descriptions of life for all classes of Chinese women back when foot binding was still practiced (really not all that long ago), "Snow Flower" was, in essence, about friendship. Any woman who has ever had a best friend who felt like she was closer to you than anyone else in your life will appreciate this tale of life-long friendship and what can happen if you, at any point in time, ever allow your heart to harden.

Other books I've read that fall into the genre of "Chinese women who've lived torturous but extremely interesting lives" are: The Binding Chair by Katherine Harrison, Empress Orchid by Anchee Min (and there was a sequel which I have not read) and any tale by Amy Tan, but, in particular, The Joy Luck Club.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson (CD): Really Good/4 Stars
I found this absolutely hysterical. Although Bryson is 13 years older than me, his memoir about growing up in the 50s and 60s in the midwest brought back so many similar childhood memories! This is a must read (or listen to, which is what I did); a quick, fun romp through the past for all Baby Boomers.

My guess is, you'll recognize at least one of the characters he describes from your own childhood; not to mention, his descriptions of family get-togethers, food, school, movie theaters, playing outside all day, America's fascination with appliances, cars, TV and even The Happiest Place on Earth!

I read Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" for book club in 2009; it was interesting enough; his style is quirky, but, this one was much more amusing!

The Soloist by Steve Lopez (CD): Sold/Good 3 Stars
This is a realistic rendering of caring for a person who has a severe mental illness. As this is a true story, I have to hand it to Steve Lopez for taking something that started out as merely a job to the point where he came to sincerely care about a perfect stranger, and, a perfect stranger with more than the usual "baggage".

As many of us who love someone with a mental illness already know, Lopez learned that there is a lot of "one step forward, three steps back" and that he couldn't, in the end, "cure" Nathaniel; only be a friend who cheered him on when he could and left him alone when he had to.

I would have given this a "4" except for two things. One: I thought there was a bit of "over do" with the "steam of consciousness" scenes (Nathaniel's jumbled "speeches"); meaning, a few illustrations of this was sufficient to get it. Secondly, I didn't quite care for the way Lopez began to refer to Nathaniel as "Mr. Ayers". I "got" why; it just seemed false. I know, I know, this actually happened so this is why it was written; I guess it just rubbed me the wrong way.

I'd definitely recommend this, however. Now, time to see the movie!
The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell: Solid/Good 3 Stars
Book five of The Saxon Stories finds our hero Uhtred alive and well while battling Danes and entering into at least two new romances. Whew, busy guy!

Seriously, these are fun books. I have a great time reading them (although some are a bit better than others). Cornwell, probably best known for his Sharpe's series of books (made into a PBS TV show), writes in a lively, wry style with non-stop action and a smattering of history thrown in for good measure (these books focus on Alfred The Great of England; the king who united the various parts of England into one kingdom).

I keep waiting for a PBS TV show based on these books. I wonder who'd play Uhtred?

If you're looking for something relatively light but not complete drivel, I'd definitely recommend these books.

Mrs. B

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Worry Wart

What? Me worry? Well, yes, unfortunately, all the time, it seems.

It starts from the moment I open my eyes in the morning (if not before in the middle of some of those sleepless nights) and continues on and on throughout the live-long day. I’ve noticed it has increased in both frequency and intensity these past months, too.

In all honesty, the majority of things I am worry about are really pretty silly. Perhaps they fall into the borrowing trouble category; meaning, because there might not be anything else to seriously worry about OR there are other things to get freaked out about but I don’t want to dwell on those; my mind lands onto something that makes no sense to be fretting about. And, by “pretty silly”; I mean, probably completely and totally unlikely it will ever happen. Or, maybe a more apt way of putting it is “unrealistic”; because if any of these things DID occur, it wouldn’t be silly at all.

And why is this happening, this increase in worry activity? Some of it, likely, is what I referenced above and perhaps that is some sort of self-protection mechanism. This morning, I got to thinking that, as one gets older, one might start worrying more because a) you have more to lose (in all senses of that word) and b) you’ve seen enough to know that bad things CAN and DO happen. Hell, my mind sometimes jumps WAY ahead and starts figuring out what I’d do if one of these things I’m worrying about came to pass. I doubt very much that my 20-something self did that.

Of course, I do have a touch of the OCD thing going on, so, arguably, some percentage of what I might find myself worrying about is complete bunk. Falling into this arena are those little nit-noid things that you KNOW you shouldn’t be worrying about because all the other times you worried about THE SAME THING, nothing ever came of it, but, you do, anyway. Such as, “Crap! Did I shut the garage door? I’m pretty sure I shut the garage door because I always shut to garage door but, well, maybe this time I really did NOT shut the garage door, and, wait, did I lock the door? What if I didn’t shut the garage door and someone gets into the garage and then gets into the house? Yeah, the alarm is on, but, they may flee and leave the door wide open and what if all of the cats get out?” Nine times out of ten, if I am close enough to home, I’ll turn around and go back to make sure the garage door is closed. Ten times out of ten, it is.

Mr. B knows my OCD well; he’s gotten to the point where, as we are pulling out of the driveway to go somewhere (especially somewhere far away like Charleston or Florida), he’ll stop the car, nudge me and point at the CLOSED garage door before he drives on down the street. The mind is an amazingly complex and canny entity, however; because, even after all of THAT, it’ll find SOMETHING ELSE to fret about. As we’ll be roaring down the interstate towards our destination, I’ll start to muse at first to myself and then, when it gets too uncomfortable a burden to keep to myself, out loud, “Did we close the lids to all the toilets? Because, you know, if we didn’t, the cats will drink out of the bowls and die because we put those Clorox bleach tablets in the tank”; or, “Did we put the all of the cords (for the window blinds) up out of reach? I don’t want to come home to find Athena hanging from the window!” Mr. B, bless him, tries very, very hard not to roll his eyes at me while he assures me that we did everything we always do to cat-proof the house before we went out the door. And, if for some reason we forgot something, my brother and sister in law (the cat care takers in our absence) certainly know the drill.

There are tricks to outsmarting this OCD, of course. One is to do something to yourself PHYSICALLY as you are doing the task that you will later worry you didn’t do. For example, as you pull out of the driveway and shut the garage door, you sit there and watch it until it is closed and then give your ear or hair or finger or something a brief tug. The idea is, as your brain starts the fretting process, it’ll remember this physical moment as well and stop worrying. It does work, too. Another (and this works better with things you really cannot control, like, someone you know is getting on a plane and you start obsessing that there will be mid-air collision or something) is, every time you start to worry, you say a mantra or some such to remind yourself that you are obsessing and to break the mood. My mantra is “Obsession is not intuition; intuition is not obsession”.

Ok, so, I’ve gotten off track here with the OCD thing. Truthfully, I’m not a total nut job; this OCD junk doesn’t happen all that often but it does occur frequently for anything related to departures/travel and the like.

So, my normal day to day worrying starts, as I said, from the get-go when the old eyeballs pop open in the am.

Mr. B. He’s my primary source of worry fodder. So, he goes downstairs after kissing my good-bye. Usually, after a few minutes, he’ll go outside to get the paper, turn the car on to warm up, etc. I hear the “beep beep” of the chime on the alarm panel indicating he’s gone out. Then, it starts. “Hasn’t he been out there long enough? How come I haven’t heard him come back in? Maybe he’s had a heart attack and he’s lying in the middle of the driveway dying? I should get up and go make sure he’s ok”. I have to admit, I did exactly this today. Of course, by the time I got up and put my clothes on, he’d come back into the house.

Then, there is the worry of his drive to work. All sorts of bad things could happen, from a deer running out on Doc Nichols road and crashing into his car to some idiot running a light on Glenwood. Both of these events happen frequently; deer running into the road and idiots abounding on the drive, but, thankfully, Mr. B’s sailed on by. Still, we have a routine whereby he sends me an email when he gets into the office telling me he’s there. If I haven’t received this email by, say, 9:00 (I know he can get diverted), that worry really kicks in. When I’m out of town, he sends me a text message. Ok, I KNOW I’m being ridiculous! I know it. But, if I don’t know that he’s ok, I have a hard time relaxing and/or focusing on what I need to do that day.

As an aside, this appears to go both ways, or, maybe he’s caught it from me as, if I don’t reply to his email or text within a certain amount of time HE starts to worry about ME.

After I know he’s ok, if I’m going to worry about anything else, it’s going to be the dog.

She’s not eating, maybe the cancer has returned and it’s in her stomach now. Or, there is a zit on her snout. Maybe it’s another MCT? Or, she’s in the yard and I can’t see her. Maybe one of our ass wipe neighbors, upset that Mr. B is enforcing the “no parking on the street” rule, has poisoned her? I’ve expressed this particular concern to Mr. B, BTW. He just looked at me (patiently) and said, “We can’t be cowed into not doing the right thing”. Actually, this was a better approach of handling this particular worry because, rather than just telling me not to worry about it (as if that would happen) or that I was being silly (which would have just pissed me off), he appealed to the rational and logical part of me, which is to say, “We ARE going to do the right thing and we CAN’T control what everyone else is going to do or not do so it doesn’t matter”. I’ve pretty much stopped fretting about that one now.

So, Mr. B, Lucy, the cats. Makes sense that I’d worry about them since they are my world. The OCD stuff, too, typically involves something or someone I love, even if a bit indirectly. Let me just put it this way; when I fret about leaving the garage door open, it’s not because I’m worried someone is going to get into the house and steal my jewelry; it’s always concern about the pets.

And, here’s one final thing. I hardly EVER worry about myself, and, best as I can figure, this is because I’m in control of myself. Or, maybe, really, it’s because I’m too busying worrying about everyone else!

Mrs. B

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: March

Although I certainly read a lot of books in March (six), the books themselves were mostly disappointing.
S is For Silence by Sue Grafton (CD): Didn't Much Care For/2 Stars
It's been a long while since I've read Grafton. I believe I got through "C" in her series featuring Kinsey Millhone back in the early 90s. I enjoyed them; mostly due to the character of Kinsey; a very no-nonsense practical woman with some interesting personality quirks.

Not much has changed in Kinsey's life at "S"; even though in real life, it's been over 10 years, in hers, barely a few years have passed (still in 1989, I think). This fact made listening to "S" quite fun; no cell phones in her life; certainly no Palm Pilots, text messaging; in fact, I don't believe email was even mentioned.

The private investigation in "S": is not too exciting; a woman disappeared over 30 years ago and Kinsey is hired by her daughter to find her because the daughter (who was 7 at the time of her mother's disappearance) is stuck and can't move on. The daughter's life is a mess; she needs to know if in fact her mother left her or is dead. What made it a tad more interesting was the tale is told from several different perspectives in two different time frames (the few days around the time the lady disappears in the 1950s and the "present" time of 1989).

When all was said and done, however, I found the ending/revolution of the book rather lame and not terribly convincing. In fact, after the last CD was over, I felt like I must have missed something because there were still several questions in my mind about what really happened. Perhaps this was due to the fact I was driving and may have been thinking about lane changes or pulling off to get gas when the important revelation occurred, but, I don't think so.

I probably will pick up more of this series to listen to in the car, however, because they are readily available at the local library, they don't have to be read in any particular order, I was digging the nostalgia of being back in the late 1980s, and it will be fun (going forward from "S") to see if Kinsey can figure out how to use a Blackberry! :-)
South of Broad by Pat Conroy: Didn't Much Care For/2 Stars
It began and ended well. I very much enjoy Conroy's writing and loved reading about one of my favorite cities of all time, Charleston. Still, the tale itself was a bit ridiculous. Is this how the very rich of Charleston society really live? I found it hard to believe.
The Law of Nines by Terry Goodkind: Hated It/1 Star
First off, I had no idea this book was going to be connected to Goodkind's very long "Sword of Truth" series. I thought it was a stand alone novel. Wrong. Maybe this is one reason why I didn't like it at all; because I was expecting something totally different?

Well, what it IS is a 2nd rate version re-telling (in essence) of the relationship between the two primary characters in the SOT series. It is in no way written as well, plus, he DID connect this book with his SOT series (the two characters in this book have the same last names as the two primary characters in the series). Worse still (and the final straw), I think I ended up finding out things that occurred in the last few books of the SOT series that I didn't know because I haven't yet read those books.

Thanks A LOT.

There should have been a spoiler alert on the book flap.

What? Did he need money or something? I would have thought he could have come up with something new. Really disappointed in this book.

Goodkind left it wide open for a sequel. Suffice it to say, I won't be reading it.
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Norah Ephron: Solid/Good/3 Stars
Although I am not yet the age of "the certain age" Ephron describes in her collection of essays, I found many of them quite amusing; notably, the one about what women have to do to "maintain" their appearance and the title essay (which is mostly about body parts women don't like overly much as they get older).

A quick, fun read.
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult (Book Club Selection): Didn't Much Care For/2 Stars
The subject matter of this book (a younger sibling being genetically created (AKA Savior Sibling) for the primary purpose of medically assisting an older, sick sibling) is indeed thought provoking, whether you agree with it or not.

I initially found this book very readable; in fact, I got through the over 400 pages in record time. This doesn't mean I thought it was "all good"; there were several aspects of it that I found contrived and others completely irrelevant and still others really, really trite.

However, I absolutely HATED the ending; it was entirely implausible! And, having learned in book discussion that the author knew from the beginning how it would end, well, let's just say I felt "had". Sort of like when you are seeing a guy that you know is no good and will ultimately hurt you but you can't help yourself. Then, when he dumps you, you're like, "Crap, I KNEW this was going to happen, why didn't I listen to myself?"

I rented the movie version of the book and have to say this was one (unusual) case where i thought that the movie was better than the book.

One interesting side bar; in our discussion, we talked about the concept of "well written" and that, just because a book is on the best seller list, that doesn't mean it is "well written". In general, I'm not a book snob. I hold to the belief that one person's junk in another's treasure; similar to "Any wine is good wine if YOU like it". So, as long as a person is reading, I'm not personally going to judge what they read, what they like or don't like, etc.

So, is "My Sister's Keeper" well written? Yes, I think it is because it was a page turner and it kept me involved. I just did not care for parts of it, mostly, the stupid ending.
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (CD): Really Good/4 Stars
I was a bit surprised that I liked this novel as much as I did, especially because it is almost certainly (albeit somewhat loosely) based on the life of former First Lady, Laura Bush and I'm definitely not a fan of W. However, from the outset, I found it thoroughly interesting and engaging, although I'll admit I found the first part through the middle end more to my liking than when the main character (Alice) and her husband (Charlie) are in the White House towards the end of the tale.

Why did I give this a 4 instead of my typical 3? Because it kept me company on the long drive to/from FL; I was so pulled in to it, the time (and drive) seemed to fly by. Also, I thought the author did a fine job of creating and developing the character of Alice, whether or not she is supposed to be Laura Bush. I genuinely liked Alice (I can't say the same about Charlie, go figure!)

Mrs. B