Saturday, March 19, 2011

Me and My Shadow

Lucy and Mrs. B enjoying a late afternoon walk in sunny Ocala Florida 3.18.11.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


More often than not of late, I tend to wake up in the middle of the night or the early morning with a multitude of thoughts racing through my mind competing for first place. When this occurs, try as I might, I usually cannot get back to sleep, even if I'm completely exhausted. I've utilized all the tricks I've heard of over the years to calm my mind so that I can drift off:

Getting up and writing the thoughts down

Counting backwards from 100

Reciting the ABCs in reverse (something, I might add, that, although terribly difficult to do when one is totally inebriated, ain't so hard when one is desperate to get back to sleep!)

Focusing on my toes and imaging a feeling of calm, peacefulness spreading up my body to my mind

Plus one or two I've thought of myself, namely, taking a mental tour of houses I used to live in.

As I said, lately, nothing is working. So, I get up (in the complete and total dark, I might add; way too early to walk Lucy) and putter around doing this and that until it's a respectable enough hour to get on with my morning routine. Of course, usually by noon, I'm tired, grouchy, cranky, irritable (and if I could think of four more, I'd have a team of dwarves!)

This morning, as I lay there attempting to get back to sleep after Mr. B left the house and I was dwelling on a few things for the umpteenth time, I got to thinking about how I organize data on my computer; the way I create file folders in My Documents for everything under the sun and ditto within my email program.

After something is written or received and if it is worth saving, it is filed into an appropriate folder where it sits waiting for me to either come back and use it again at some point or completely forget it's there. If I'm not exactly sure where to put it or I want to look at it again sooner rather than later, it either goes on my Desk Top (if a document) or into an email folder labeled "Save" (so that I can "Follow Up Later"); eventually, it'll either get processed and filed somewhere or deleted and sent to Trash. Every once in awhile, I remember to execute the command, "Empty Trash". This is the ultimate in removing something from the computer; up to then, even though it had been deleted and was in the trash, it could still be retrieved (and, yes, for all you computer geeks out there, things can also be recovered even if the trash has been emptied, but, play along with me here).

So, the light bulb went off this morning and I thought to myself, "From now on, this is how you're going to process these nagging, pestering, irritating on-going thoughts that play over and over in your mind: Follow Up Later, Delete and Empty Trash."

Such as (a few examples):

Follow Up Later
The Carpet Situation With KB

Determine Items For A Yard Sale

Arrange a Meeting with a Real Estate Agent

I Don't Understand Why Someone Is Being So Distant, Especially Now

I Still Have $2 On A $50 Rebate Card But No Store Will Accept It

Empty Trash
Everyone In This Neighborhood Are Stupid Idiots; I Can't Believe How They Acted Last Night At The HOA Meeting

Gloop (you gotta be in the know for this one, folks)

Along with these three mantras, here are a few more that I'm going to strive to live by, because, for God's sake, I'm freaking tired of worrying ALL OF THE TIME; life really is too damn short:

1. No Crisis Before Its Time
2. Have A Good Time All Of The Time/Enjoy Yourself because... is later than you think.

Mrs. B

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: November

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich: Didn't Much Care For/2 Stars
I liked the concept of this book; a woman discovers that her over bearing and controlling husband has been reading her diary. So, she begins to write a shadow diary; her real one (kept locked in a safe deposit box in a bank) and continues to write in the old one, knowing that her husband is reading it.

Her plan, it seems, is to write lies in order to drive him to divorcing her.

Throw into the mix three somewhat odd children, the fact both the woman and her husband are drunks and Indians, (which seemed terribly stereotypical to me) and quite a few scenes of somewhat violent sex, and you have a book which I pretty much became disgusted with.

Maybe I missed the point?

I kept reading it to get to the end, which, BTW, was not terribly satisfying.

Innocent by Scott Turrow (CD): Solid/Good/3 Stars
20 or so years after the events in "Presumed Innocent", Turow is back with another courtroom drama surrounding Rusty Sabich and arch enemy Tommy Molto. Sabich, now a judge, is accused of murdering his wife of 40-something years.

Sabich's defense attorney from "Presumed Innocent" is back, too, to defend Sabich. There are a few new characters who add spice to the tale (Rusty's hottie son Nat, to name one), and, as can be expected with Turow, lots of twists and turns.

I can't say that I thought this was quite as good as "Presumed Innocent", but, it was definitely worth listening too. I will also freely admit that I got the ending entirely wrong!

I couldn't help but picture Harrison Ford as Sabich (since he played him in the movie version of "Presumed" so wonder if there will be a movie sequel? Alas, the most excellent actor who played Sandy Stern, Raul Julia, has passed from us, so, maybe not.

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares (CD): Solid/Good/3 Stars
Initially a really neat concept. Daniel has lived since the 500s AD. Every time he dies, he's reborn into another body but yet he remembers everything that has gone before in all of his other lives.

Most importantly, he remembers Sophia, the literal love of all of his lives. She is reborn, too; problem is, she never remembers HIM. There are other "souls" he recognizes throughout his lives; a sister in one life is a wife in another; his mother in one life is his mother again many lives later, etc. Also, his evil brother Joaquin pops up in several lives, always evil, and always somehow attached to Sophia. With the exception of another exceptional soul named Ben, Daniel appears to be the only soul who remembers everything.

The story is told alternatively by Daniel (in his various lives) and the present day Sophia, now named Lucy (a high school then later college student in Virginia).

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this...up until the last disc when it became, IMHO, relatively stupid. I also didn't care a hoot for the ending...left wide open for another book. Maybe this is because Brashares is used to writing several books in a series? She's best known for the YA series "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants".

Anyway, a fun read.

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #5) by Rick Riordan: Solid/Good/3 Stars
All in all, this was a fun series to read. This is supposedly the last one, however, it was inferred at the end of the book that there may be another round of books involving demi-Gods from Camp Half Blood.

This particular book was not, perhaps, as interesting as the 4th in the series but it was entertaining and a quick read. Plus, I love Greek Gods and Greek mythology, so, it's all cool with me!

I note the author has written "adult" books; may be worth a look-see.

Finally, the characters in this series, similar to the Harry Potter books, grow up. In the first book, they are 12, in this, they are 16. So, then, does their thoughts, actions, antics, etc., "age" from what a 12 year old would do to what a 16 year old would do. I noticed in this book, more human character were offed than in the prior books. However, after reading "The Hunger Games" trilogy, I have to say, everything in this series is quite tame by comparison!

I'd give the series a sound 3!

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane: Totally Awesome/5 Stars
An absolute power house of a book. The characters will stay with you long after you've read the last page, as will the tragedies and ironies of life this story illustrates.

Probably one of few cases, too, where the movie and the book do each other justice; the movie, in my opinion, was perfectly cast.

Now that I've read the book, I want to go re-watch the movie!

I know, this is not really an actual review of the book itself, but, it's all I want to say.

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb (Book Club Selection): Really Liked/4 Stars
This was such a sweet funny book. It made me laugh out loud in certain places, no mean feat, that. For this only, it deserves the 4-star rating I am giving it!

Taking place in the mid to late 50s, it's the tale of Felix Funicello (3rd cousin to THE famous Mouseketeer and Bikini Babe of the 50s, Annette) and his 5th grade class, his family, and what it's like when you start to "grow up". All of this plays out in a short period of time; late November-Christmas, and revolves (mostly) around the preparation for and production of the school's annual Christmas pageant. There is a delightful sidebar segment about Felix's mother attending a bake-off contest hosted by none other than our 40th President (well, quite a bit before he was, of course!)

Although it is a work of fiction, my guess is there is some of the author in the character of Felix; certainly, most of us will recognize some of our own classmates, family and friends in many of the other characters.

Added bonus. It's a short, quick read. Perfect for the busy holiday season; one can read it waiting for cookies to come out of the oven, or while in line at the post office!

The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld (CD): Didn't Much Care For/2 Stars
Ok "slice of life" book about Hannah aged 14 (or so) through late 20s struggling to handle teen angst, oddball relatives, going to a shrink, college, boyfriends (or lack thereof) and an unrequited love.

Nowhere near as good as "American Wife", which I read earlier this year.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: October

Apparently, I didn't have much to say about October's selections!

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins: Totally Awesome/5 Stars
I've definitely caught this fire.

Mocking Jay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins: Really Liked/4 Stars
I would have given it 4.5 if I could. Loved this series; am looking forward to the movie (whenever it comes out).

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (CD): Solid/Good/3 Stars
Sweet...interesting...entertaining...and a tad predictable.

BTW, did folks back in post-WWII times do nothing but write letters and notes? Sometimes three or four a day? Must have kept the postmen busy!

I listened to this so perhaps this bothered me more had I read it. I do have a copy; maybe I'll read it again someday.

The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #4) by Rick Riordan: Really Liked/4 Stars
Riordan's 4th in the series was a notch (star) more enjoyable/interesting to me than the first three. I really liked the concept of the Labyrinth and many of the "new" characters who popped up this go-round.

All in all, this has been a real fun series to read!

Angel Time (The Songs of the Seraphim #1) by Anne Rice: Hated It/1 Star
Typical Anne Rice. Limited parts of it were somewhat interesting, most of it was all over the place ramble (how much time can an author dedicate to describing a hotel in Riverside CA, anyway?)

Add to it the fact she wrote this after her "Come to Jesus" phase, well, yawn.

She certainly had an intriguing concept (which is why I stupidly bought it); a modern day hit man is offered a chance at redemption by becoming an angel's assistant. He travels (back) in time to help people in need.

Yeah, except he only goes one place and the story surrounding this job is just lame.

It's denoted as "The Songs of the Seraphim #1". Which means there will be more of them. Run screaming! The main character is not that likable; I can't see him carrying a series like Rice's Lestat (who, to give Rice credit, is one of the best fictional characters ever created, in my opinion).

The only good thing about this book was it was short.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Radiant Cruise on Radiance: Two

It's been a month and a half since we took this cruise! Best get a move on, Mrs. B!

Our first full day at sea was a good day! We ordered room service (as we usually do) so that we could enjoy breakfast out on our balcony. Unlike last cruise where there wasn't any place on the order form to indicate what time we wanted it delivered, we were happy to see that the ones on this cruise had several time slots to chose from. Since it was our first morning, we elected to sleep in; having it delivered around 9:00 am. Before it arrived, I stepped out onto the balcony to determine if it was warm enough to eat out there. What a pleasant surprise, it was quite balmy and most likely in the low 80s. Pure delight! On top of it, the sea was relatively calm, enabling me to get this picture, one of my favorites of this trip.

Anyway, room service called with the heads up that they were on their way (a very nice touch as it can work something like an alarm clock) while I was out on the balcony writing in my travel journal about the day prior.

Breakfast was fine; we always order the eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns and grilled tomatoes (actually, the tomatoes just come with it, must be a British thing) and a basket of pastries. Oh, and LOTS of coffee! Nothing terribly exotic but it works for us and keeps us out of the buffet. And, of course, we'd much rather be enjoying breakfast with our private view of the ocean.

We spent the majority of the day hanging out in The Solarium, the adult-only pool area. It took awhile to get loungers as there were a lot of people in there, but, we finally did. There was a definite jungle-theme going on in there, complete with a soundtrack of chirping birds and, if you listened carefully, a bellowing elephant on occasion. Sorta silly, but, it was actually calming. We had a light lunch at The Solarium Cafe (wraps and salad) so that we didn't have to abandon our loungers. We did enjoy ourselves there but found the pool side drink service nowhere near as attentive as it was on our cruise in May. No Placid from India. Boo hoo. Also, later in the afternoon, a rowdy group of Brazilians took up residence in the pool drinking, shouting, and carrying on. Not very calming at that point!

We left around 3:00 to attend a martini class in The Champagne Bar. Alas, there was a requirement for 10 and only 4 of us showed up. Can you believe that? We couldn't! We had a glass of Champagne and sat in there looking out at the ocean through some pretty amazing huge windows; after, we went back up to our balcony for a few hands of cards and a cigar.

Oh, because this was our 2nd cruise on Royal Caribbean and we'd signed up for their loyalty club, we each received a booklet of coupons (waiting for us in our stateroom when we first arrived). Nothing huge; a few drinks here and there and 25% off of logo merchandise, but, hey, free is free and a discount is a discount.

Dinner that evening, the only formal night of this cruise, was fine if a bit noisy. Mr. B repeatedly said, "What?" to me throughout our conversation; he could hardly hear me at all. We'll definitely have to address this issue before we book our next cruise. Anyway, one of the options for dinner was a very tender beef fillet; quite yummy.

I made Mr. B wait with me in The Centrum to watch some show people dancing to the tunes of the 70s, which turned out to be quite lame. By way of apology, I agreed to go up to Star Quest (off The Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 13) for scotch and cigars.

Our evening rounded out with us having fun posing with Mr. Pig back in our stateroom!

Mrs. B

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: September

...and I trudge onward with this series...

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson: Really Good/4 Stars
So far I am finding Larsson's series incredibly fun to read. Too bad he died as, for, as well as these initial books are written, he probably would have continued into the mouth dropping realm (well, too bad he died for many more important reasons than my enjoyment, of course!)

As it is, there's not much I can say that others haven't already written. If you like fast-paced crime novels with intriguing characters, join the club and read these books.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman (CD): Solid/Good/3 Stars:
A really sweet book, maybe a bit too sweet, though, IMHO.

CeeCee Honeycutt is a 12 year old girl who hasn't had much of a childhood so far. Her mother, an ex-Southern Belle and beauty pageant queen, is seriously nutso. Her father, some sort of traveling salesman, is never around. No one at school likes CeeCee, mostly because her mother is the laughing stock of their small Ohio town. So, CeeCee reads A LOT and takes some refuge visiting the kind old lady who lives next door.

CeeCee wants her mom to be "saved"; and prays to God (using her mother's pearls as a rosary) to do so. And, she throws in a small prayer for herself, too.

The majority of the book centers around the answer to CeeCee's prayers.

Her mother dies unexpectedly and CeeCee is sent to live with her somewhat eccentric great-Aunt Tootie in Savannah, GA. Once in Savannah, CeeCee becomes acquainted with a group of kind but strong-willed Southern women, white and black, who help her begin a new life where things really aren't so bad after all.

This was a nice enough book; easy to listen to, but, it wrapped up just a bit too compactly; real life just can't be this way! Hey, I've been in Savannah; and, the book is just like the beautiful sections of the lovely historic district; colorful and interesting but at times, just a bit too much.

Some might say, too; yet another book about a white girl and her black mammy (there is a strong African American character in the book who teaches CeeCee a thing or two).

In any case, it was enjoyable enough, as I said. Also, I think it could very well be read by young women (tweens); it's sweetness does almost lend itself more to that genre.

Sharpe's Tiger by Bernard Cornwell: Solid/Good/3 Stars
This is the first of MANY in the Sharpe series. I really enjoyed Cornwell's Saxon Series so thought I'd try Sharpe. Although I'm not as interested in the historical timeline in the Sharpe series (British/India/Napoleon early 1800s) and the action is pretty damn gory at times, it was an easy enough read and I'll look forward to filling in my dance card with the rest of the series over the next year or so.

And then, there is always the 100 hour TV series, too!

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel (CD): Hated It/1 Star
I'm one of those folks who absolutely LOVED Martel's first novel, "The Life of Pi". I'll admit, it was different and perhaps one of the reasons I so enjoyed it was that I was listening to it on a long road trip from NY to CA (just back from a jaunt to Italy) with my buddies (cats) Nigel and Clyde in tow; thinking about the major changes I was in the process of making in my life. "Pi" provoked even more thoughts about endings and new beginnings and, in my opinion, had one of the best lines ever about the sorrow of losing a friend.

Thus, I had HIGH hopes for this new book of Martel's. I was terribly excited when I first saw it had been released and was just about ready to buy it when I noticed it in the audio book section of the local library. So much the better, considering how much I loved listening to "Pi" (as an aside, the narrator was quite good).

After I finished listening to it, I was initially somewhat unsure how I felt about it. I did something I hardly EVER do after reading a book (and before I "review" it), I Googled it, and, based on the number of hits (and the variety of what was contained), I'd say many other people felt the same way.

This book was nothing what I expected it to be. In fact, most of it made zero sense to me as I was reading it, and, even after everything somewhat falls in place towards the end, I still didn't think it made much sense.

Henry (an author) and his wife (of which we know very little except her name and she eventually becomes pregnant) move from Canada after Henry becomes disillusioned with his writing. They travel for awhile and then settle in an unidentified major metropolitan city (likely NYC; why it remained unidentified is just one of the odd quirks about the story that didn't make sense and didn't matter).

Henry receives in the mail a package containing a short story (about a young man killing animals but eventually becoming a Saint), a scene from
what appears to be a play, and a note asking for his help.

Henry eventually goes to the address on the return label and discovers that it is a taxidermy shop.

He meets the taxidermist, also named Henry but he's always referred to as "The Taxidermist" and finds him to be a highly unlikeable character. Still, Henry gets sucked into this play the The Taxidermist is writing and that he supposedly needs help with.

The play is extremely odd. It's about Beatrice (a donkey) and Virgil (a howler monkey) talking. That's pretty much it. Talking. They are trapped on a stripped shirt (I was thinking, like decals or something...I never quite got the whole shirt thing). They are scared, hungry and have obviously been through some terrible awful ordeal that the refer to as "The Horrors".

Henry tries to understand what, exactly, The Taxidermist is trying to convey with this play but The Taxidermist is fairly taciturn about it all.

This goes on for the majority of the book. The Taxidermist reading to Henry various scenes from the play (never in order; driving Henry nuts because he just wants to get his hands on the thing and read it from beginning to end). He asks Henry for help here or there; "help me describe Beatrice", for example. Or, "help me describe what Virgil's howl sounds like".

In the end, Henry finally figures out that The Taxidermist is really an awful person who is writing this play as an allegory to the Holocaust.

The End.

Ok, frankly, I pretty much hated this book but have to allow that there were a few sections that were ok; I gave it a 1 but if I could, it'd be a 1.5.

Other than these few parts, though, I don't think it held together well, there was a lot of disjoint, some things were never explained, some explained overly much. There were some parts that were just horribly disturbing and to what end?

When I finished "Pi" I felt hopeful. When I finished this, I felt sick.

Someone on Google said, "Well, if anything, it'll provide the opportunity for a good discussion".

Maybe, but, really, I don't want to think about it any longer. I'm so glad I didn't waste my money buying it, because, I do believe after reading it, I would have thrown it away.

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins (BCS): Totally Awesome/5 Stars
All of the acclaim this book has received is well deserved.

Whether you are a parent of a young adult who has avidly read through this series or whether you just enjoy a fascinating (if extremely disturbing) story expertly told, you should definitely read "The Hunger Games". I can almost guarantee you, if you read it, you'll read the following two in the series (probably in quick succession!)

I personally love reading stories that can be peeled away, layer by intriguing layer, to reveal something even more amazing underneath. Moreover, tales that, after you discuss them with someone else, you discover even more that you didn't on your own, causing you to want to go back and re-read it all over again.

The general concept: It's the future. It's somewhere in what used to be the United States. The country is now organized in Districts (originally 13...which brought to my mind the thirteen original US colonies). Each district is known for some sort of work or trade; e.g., agriculture, electronics, coal mining. In punishment for a prior rebellion, the powerful Capital requires each of the remaining 12 Districts to send two children (a boy and a girl)from their district to compete in the annual Hunger Games. These children are now known as "Tributes".

Think a cross between "Survivor" and "American Idol" (with all the pre-show hype given the kids as they parade around the capital and mentors (prior game winners) assigned to assist them with their strategies) EXCEPT these games are real and deadly. Only one Tribute can win, which means all the others must die. The games take place in an elaborate yet contained arena (devised and designed by game keepers) and watched by the entire country on T.V. Whenever a Tribute is killed, a loud "boom" sounds throughout the arena so the other Tributes know someone has been offed. A hovercraft immediately comes to get the body. Each night at dusk, as the country's anthem is played, images of whomever died that day are shown in the sky so that the remaining tributes know who is left there that they must kill.

Creeping you out yet? It should!

The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to go as a Tribute in place of her much younger little sister, is one of the strongest female characters I've ever read. She's all of 16, and let me tell you, she could whomp all over that Bella Swan from the "Twilight" series (and likely the vamp and dog, too!) The interplay between her and her fellow district Tribute, Peeta, is not your typical girl meets boy love story! It's, as the 12 year old daughter of one of my fellow book club members said (who is NOT interested in love stories yet) "Ok because it's STRATEGIC".

I could go on and on but suffice it to say, this book was one of the best I've read in a long, long time. It felt weird, really, to read something that was so good and yet so terribly disturbing, but, there you have it.

Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond (BCS): Solid/Good/3 stars
As befitting the month, this was my book club's selection for October. I have to say, I think our discussion was one of the best times I've had with this group! My SIL hosted the meeting (and led the discussion). Bless her, she went out and bought as much of the candy written about in the book (and then some) that she could find for us to share. Believe me, a group of women on a collective sugar high are even more raunchy than when drinking a lot of wine (although we had some of that, too).

So, the book. Steve Almond (appropriate name) is a self-acclaimed freak when it comes to candy. His book pretty much details his life-long love of candy (and obsession with it). Being that he is just a few years younger than yours truly, most of the candy (and accompanying candy rages) he writes about are ones I am oh so familiar with.

Including: Making retainers out of cherry Jolly Rancher candy sticks (I don't think they make the sticks any longer); the huge candy display in Sears, the whole Bubble Yum craze (and ensuing urban legends about spider eggs found therein AND that whole Rod Stewart rumor...OMG...I laughed so hard when I read that DH thought I'd cracked my gourd); Zotz, the disgusting taste of purple Neccos (clove; although we decided last night that it may be an adult taste) and pop rocks. BTW, pop rocks were a big hit last night at the meeting.

In addition to his memoir about his personal candy history, Almond visits several candy factories (none of the biggies but most produced candy you'd recognize (assuming you're old enough)) to talk to the owners, operators and those who had the enviable positions of "chocolate engineers".

Almond has a quick, witty (if self-depreciating) style and the book is a fast read (although had it been much longer than its 250 pages, we'd all be fat).

Only negative, really, was a few places where he goes off on a rant on George W. Bush (didn't fit at all within the "story") and his fear that he was dying of cancer of a certain appendage (just didn't seem appropriate).

A fun read; made me nostalgic for those simpler days when candy figured prominently in my universe.