Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: The 500

The 500, by Matthew Quick, was a nifty find. Combine political intrigue with heart-pumping action and money, lots of money, and you've got an entertaining read. Like Grisham's The Firm and Turrow's Presumed Innocent, The 500 has smart people doing bad things and twisting laws to make it happen.

Mike Ford, fresh out of Harvard Law School, lands a dream job at the Davies Group - powerful Washington consultants. Mike grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and knows cons when he sees them. At the Davies Group, he's witnessed the biggest power grab of all and must stop it.

He's in and now trying to get out. This could involve things he vowed to never do again - lie, cheat, steal - and this time, maybe even kill. (cover blurb)

The higher the climb, the harder - and deadlier - the fall. Get in on the secrets and root for Mike in The 500. He never had to work more in his life to live.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Just Kidding Around

 If you've read my book, My Zoo World, then you know I'm rather afraid of animals. So we visit son, Kevin and his wife Maria's ranch about an hour away. Three of the five dogs were ready to greet us.
 cousins, Makyla and Abby, ruled the road in the John Deere 4-wheeler.
 Yep, they have pigs, too.
 Yes, I chose to have a photo taken with the cutest kid. He could scamper like crazy and was adorable. No, I didn't accept kisses.
But baby goats turn into big goats - not so cute or pretty. It was quite a day in the country - mid-70s for January is unusual weather. Ray grilled burgers and we had a good family visit.  Oooh, maybe next time, there will be a pony ride.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review - Junot Diaz' Latest

I'm not a bad guy. I know how that sounds - defensive, unscrupulous - but it's true. I'm like everybody else; weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. Magdalena disagrees though. She considers me a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole.

Those are the opening lines from This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. He won a Pulitzer for his previous work The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I really enjoyed this second book - a loose collection of stories involving Yunior, our young flawed hero who cheats on his women, and feels remorse afterwards.

Diaz has a strong voice and his humor shines through. You can tell he loves his characters but won't sugarcoat their intentions. From the cover blurb - the haunting, impossible power of love - obsessive love, illicit love, fading love, maternal love. Diaz covers it all with energetic, inventive prose. There's a hint of salsa as his words flow musically to expose the inevitable weakness of the human heart.

This is How You Lose Her is a joy to read. And yes, you'll forgive Yunior over and over again. Diaz knows how to tug at our heart.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Movie Review: The Impossible

The Impossible is freakin' unbelievable. Try to live through a tsunami. Way too much water just pounding every single thing until it dies.

Well, the Belon family manages to live - all four of them. Naomi Watts is up for an Oscar as Maria - the mother who manages to live through very life threatening surgeries. Her son, Lucas, played by Tom Holland sticks with her and manages to help others. Meanwhile Ewan McGregor (always excellent) survives with the other younger sons and ultimately is able to find his wife, son, and get them out of Thailand.

Even though you know it is a happy ending, you find yourself holding your breath, crying, and very fearful for this family. This is angst times twenty. Holy cow. It all looks good when they land at Christmas time. Then 12/26 the tsunami strikes and it becomes a crazy world. The force of water plus debris causes so much damage. The hospitals can't keep up with the trauma. You truly fear for Maria's life at so many points. Again, Lucas, the elder son, is such a good actor. You feel his fear and yet embrace his hope. When the family manages to all meet, you'll be using a pile of tissues.

The Impossible is exhilarating film making, with great acting, supeb water effects, and an amazing true story. I left waterlogged, in a good way. Happy ending, but to get there you must endure a tsunami..............whoa times a zillion. I truly can't imagine that Thailand is back to "normal". Wow!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Perot Museum of Science and Nature - Dallas, TX

 The brand new Perot Museum of Nature and Science in downtown Dallas is fabulous. Hands-on interactive displays delight. Easy to read and understand signs guide you through categories of science and nature. Short videos give extra insight into the scientists who actually work on ground-breaking research. Dallas is now out of the dark dingy corner of Fair Park and into the light of the future. Perot and his team truly built a visionary dream, with plenty of room to grow.

First, admire the building. It's solid natural materials ground it, and then pieces jut into the sky as if daring us to believe we can learn. In the lobby, you are greeted by a 35 ft. long dinosaur. There are eleven permanent halls and a traveling exhibit hall. There is a Children's Museum designed for kids five and younger. The digital theater features 2D and 3D science movie experiences. Green features include a rainwater collection system, LED lighting, and solar powered water heating.

Start on Level 4 - the Expanding Universe Hall features a journey through the solar system. Also the Then and Now Hall has dinosauers - always a crowd favorite. Plus there is a special Hall of Birds.

 Level 3 - Check out a huge drill bit in the Energy Hall. Learn about oil and shale exploration and environmental issues. Then wander down the Gem and Minerals Hall - the huge amethyst is glistening purple. This display hall was beautiful as the gems and mineral colors gleamed.

Level 2 - Being Human shows slices of the human body, teaches us about molecular biology and genetics. Then the Engineering and Innovation Hall features robotics and new technologies being designed today. And the Discovering Life Hall features a Texas Blackland Prairie.

Level 1 - This is where you first entered. It hosts the theaters, a cafe, the museum shop, and a rooftop deck to view the Dallas Skyline.

Lower Level - Here kids can start their science adventures in the Children's Museum. Adults can have fun with science in the Sports Hall. Throw a football. Then check out your video against that of Roger Staubach. Somehow my toss was not as smooth. The study of sports science is growing as you learn how they measure the human body and its limits.

As you can tell, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science is fun and enthralling for the whole family. Come explore today.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Blown Resolutions Day

January 17th, I read, is Blown New Year's Resolutions Day. Supposedly by mid-month, folks have given up on their goals. Too tired, too hungry, too lazy, too much work - pick any excuse in the book. We've all used 'em.

I'm doing okay. Still eating more than I should, but I'm back on my Wii workouts. That helps a bit. I'm maintaining a decent attitude at work. That shall keep the paycheck rolling in. And I'm making progress on the first draft of my book, Athletic Antics.

Here's the opener:
                                                Tangled Jump Rope

Born in 1958 and a kid in the sixties, I was a deprived child. Band-Aids choices in that day were size only. No cool colors or characters. I couldn't heal quicker with my favorite cartoon hero. Nope - tan regular, wide, or small. That was it. And I used a lot of Band-Aids in my day. They covered cuts and scrapes treated with Mercurochrome - that weird orangey-red color seeping out from under the adhesive.

I was a dorky girl in sturdy corrective shoes. Skinny arms and legs flailed as I ran. Constantly pushing my glasses back on my nose, I participated but did not excel at kid sports and activities. I remember my time outdoors as a collection of athletic antics, and indeed, my coordination has not improved with age. However, I am no longer a patchwork of scabby knees and elbows, thanks to less risk-taking on asphalt.

The book is a humorous memoir, thus I hope you chuckled as you read this. I need to resolve to finish this book, super duper edit, and get it published.

How are you doing on your resolutions?  Blown completely?  Or floating in the breeze?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Book Review: Wild

Wild by Cheryl Strayed is a powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven hundred mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe - and built her back up again. (cover blurb)

Strayed's lost. Her mother died, she's barely making a living, she drinks too much, and she destroyed her marriage. Twenty-two years old and at rock bottom, she decides to hike the Pacific Great Trail from the Mojave Desert through California, Oregon, and end in Washington State. Against all odds, she forges ahead on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her. (cover blurb)

Cheryl Strayed does not sugarcoat her life or this trip. She is brutally honest in her writing. Early in the book, I thought maybe she was a bit whiny and I didn't think I'd like her in person. However, she hooked me each step of the way and won me over. Wild is well written with humor and a down-to-earth reality check. You will meet interesting characters along the way, and the Pacific Trail itself is a character in Strayed's memoir.

Chapter 18 - Wet and miserable as it was, the forest was magical - Gothic in its green grandiosity, both luminous and dark, so lavish in its fecundity that it looked surreal, as if I were walking through a fairy tale rather than the actual world.
Join Cheryl Strayed in her Wild trek toward redemption and hope.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Movie Review: Les Miserables

Les Miserables is based on the classic by Victor Hugo and transformed into a British Musical which moved to a Broadway show in the 1980s. It's now getting it's due on the silver screen and is worthy of the theater experience. Directed by Tom Hooper, he actually had the actors sing their parts. No special dubbing later. Thus, many of the numbers are extra impressive for that effort. The movie is all music. Let me repeat - it is a musical with very very minimal talking. Now, if you are still with me - here's the scoop.

The story takes place in mid-1800 France - a time of huge contrast between the rich and poor. We meet Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who's been in prison for years due to stealing a loaf of bread. Once out he has to evade the evil Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) and try to transform himself. Once a thief always a thief, and yet a crucial church encounter changes his soul. He manages to become the major of a small town and a factory owner. Unfortunately there's an incident and one of his young workers is kicked to the streets. Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is forced into prostitution and she tries to send money to her daughter.

Lives intertwine and Valjean ultimately eases Fantine's death by vowing to care for her girl, Cosette. Years march on and at different times, Valjean must flee with Cosette because Javert shows up. Finally, we get to the French Revolution. Cosette falls for a young rich fellow (Marius) who is fighting on the poor people's side. Marius and brawny young men build a barricade and face the French troops head on. Once again, Valjean and Javert butt heads. Valjean and Marius (Eddie Redmayne) are pulled together, war and possible death lurks, and love wins.

I just condensed a huge book, a three hour show, and an almost three hour movie into two paragraphs. Whew! So, here are some salient points. The movie is a tad too long. That's only one complaint - some editing needed. The other is that Russell Crowe was miscast as Javert - his voice is one tone and he stays too stoic. He needed to emote a bit more.

Now for the goodies - Hugh Jackman is in the role of his lifetime. He sings, he acts, and we root for him and his soul. The song "Bring Him Home" is chilling. Anne Hathaway as Fantine is excellent. She's not in the film for long, but her tremulous "I Dreamed a Dream" song will bring tears. Wow! And finally, the young men at the barricades - I loved their numbers. Eddie Redmayne was a standout and his songs of yearning and sadness, etc were solid. There's some comic relief courtesy of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the innkeeper and wife - they are nuts.

All in all, life in mid-1800 France looked darn miserable, but the human spirit prevails. Les Miserables, the movie, shall be rich in Oscar nominations. If you like musical drama, bring a hankie and hunker behind a barricade of popcorn. Vive la revolution!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Maverick Speaker Series

The University of Texas at Arlington hosts the Maverick Speaker Series. The goal is a dynamic forum allowing speakers to examine ideas, actions, and issues. Insight and entertainment in a college atmosphere broadens horizons.

Back in November 2012, Ray and I enjoyed seeing comedian/writer Seth Meyers. In his eleventh season at Saturday Night Live, Meyers anchors the Weekend Update. His pithy comments, pauses, and impish grin lampoon our world and also raise awareness with humor.

Generous with his time, Seth Meyers gave a 1-1/2 hour comedy routine. He regaled us with SNL stories, commented on the ridiculousness of video gaming, and was happy that Texas was not seceding from the union. "I'd hate for Friday Night Lights to be in the foreign film section." He gently poked fun at Governor Perry, Texas, and the whole political scene.

Whether in his presentation or the follow-up Q&A, Meyers showed quick wit, intelligence, and all-around "sorta normal" guy on the street vibe. Seth Meyers was a worthy Mavericks speaker. Ray and I came away smiling and impressed.  (It is free. You just have to sign in for pre-printed tickets. First come, first serve on seating.)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

This non-fiction fast paced narrative "tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life." However, the families live in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of Mumbai's airport. Scrap metal brings money and Abdul, Kalu, and Asha deal in trash, fight political corruption, deal with jail, and optimistically believe they can better their lives.

Each page is jaw dropping in descriptions, characters, and in pulling back the veil of third world poverty. Boo's research and first-hand experiences shine in her writing. She wanted to show how low income people, especially women and children, were negotiating the age of global markets. (p.248)

The unpredictability of daily life has a way of grinding down individual promise. (p.253)

In reading this book, I found myself enthralled by the minuscule victories, the daily fight to live and eat. Disease prevails and at times I had to put the book down. The extreme poverty was overwhelming and beyond comprehension.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers will stick with you long after completing the book. Pulitzer Prize winner, Katherine Boo's courageous writing and exploration into the underbelly of Mumbai are captivating.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: Ideal Bookshelf

I have done more than see movies at the end of 2012. I've been perusing books and collecting reviews which I shall sprinkle on my blog as we stroll through 2013. Let's get started.

My Ideal Bookshelf edited by Thessaly La Force, with original art by Jane Mount is a cool book to browse for the new year. I love bookshelves and the possibilities. You can tell a lot about people by books they choose to keep and display. Consequently, My Ideal Bookshelf  lends insight into other authors' and artists' collections.

In some cases, there's a sense of familiarity - aha moments of great reads (Diary of Anne Frank, tons of Jane Austen) In other cases, choices open up new worlds, authors and books that are strangers to me. The personal essays are thought provoking, amusing, and share the same love of words - a thirst for knowledge, and a yearning to reach beyond one's life and dreams.

Here are a few quotes from the back cover:
My goal as a writer is to do as much as possible at one time. Life itself is so cacophonous and complex...
I want to do justice to the complexity around us - Jennifer Egan

I think books find their way to you when you need them - Roseanne Cash

I think humor needs some kind of tragedy in order to be memorable. The funny things I remember have a twinge of sorrow to them - David Sedaris

Amongst many shelves, I have a favorite featuring David Sedaris, Mary Karr, Calvin Trillin, and other humor/memoirists. In regards to classics, I have all of my Dr.Seuss I read as a child, plus growing into Little Women - a fave.

Ray has a full shelf supporting Stephen King.
What's on your Ideal Bookshelf