Some whimsy and calm before the storm. All the packages are wrapped with care awaiting squeals of little girls - Makyla is 9, Skylar is 2, Dakota is 7 months, and Abby (no doubt playing it cool) is 13.
Plenty of fun under the tree for all. We are very fortunate to be able to overindulge at Christmas time.
Family events begin on Saturday 12/23 and carry on through the weekend.
Then back to work for me on Tuesday and a blog break until after the New Year strikes.
I wish everyone all the best for the season. Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward ...All!
More reviews, blather, and pics in 2018. I look forward to catching up with everyone then.
Meanwhile - Merry Christmas. Good health and good cheer. Happy New Year, too!
Sunday December 3rd our little writing/reading group gathered to celebrate Christmas, writing, and friendship. We enjoyed a fabulous meal cooked by Becky Thorne. We shared Christmas stories - some of our own or pieces we enjoyed from other sources. I pulled out something my mother saved from Mrs. Baldwin's Second Grade Class. Yes, I was a writer even back then.
Then we began a Christmas swap with wrapped used books that we chose to bring from our own libraries. Quite a collection that we switched, swapped, and fought over.
Interesting that Bonnie Pemberton brought a book called Pemberton. No relation, but she said it was quite good. I believe Peggy ended up with that one.
We were missing a few people (Stacy, Ann, and Beth), but this wacky group included
Lauren, Peggy, Bonnie, Me, plus Deb and Becky.
Naughty or Nice, it was a Word Gathering Festivity.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is
HOT. Oh yeah. From the opening line - Everyone is Shaker Heights
was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson
children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down - to
the last page, you will be mesmerized by this story. The characters are vivid.
The writing is brilliant. And this book “explores the weight of secrets,
the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the
danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.” (cover blurb)
Shaker Heights is a community that conforms. And the
Richardson family is key – Tripp (football star), Lexie (smart and popular),
Moody (name fits), and Izzy (non-conformist). The kids chafe at the bit to be
unique but it’s not in their DNA. Enter – Mia Warren and her daughter
Pearl. Enigmatic artist and a young scholar. They rent the Richardson’s second
house and become a part of the “family”. And yet, there’s conflict. Mia
does her art, but also cooks and cleans. She also encourages a fellow immigrant
woman to challenge for custody of her child from a Richardson best friend. The
whole area is in an uproar. Meanwhile, Pearl is best friends with Moody, but
ends up dating Tripp……how’s that brotherly love going to end? Lexie dates
another guy, ends up pregnant, and uses Pearl’s name when she visits a clinic.
Issues? Heck yeah. And Izzy. Oh Izzy……she’s transfixed and inspired by Mia’s
photography and approach to the world.
No wonder there’s a conflagration on many levels.
Celeste Ng has written an incredibly smart book. She knows people and delves
deep into the psyche. I really liked this book and shall not give any
more spoilers. The house burned down…………..and………….
Little Fires Everywhere will be on end of year
lists for 2017. It’s hot. Check it out.
Here is my baby sister, Lori, celebrating her birthday (11/25) at Longwood Gardens.
They are glorious. I've been there in the past - lovely light displays, the gardens themselves, and a wonderful fountain show.
It’s tough to read a Dan Brown book featuring his Professor
Robert Langdon, and not imagine actor Tom Hanks running around exotic locales
figuring out the mystery. The movie is already on the pages. Origin
is no different. Edmond Kirsch is a genius billionaire and futurist who
is about to make a bold announcement that will stun scientists and the world.
He was a student of Langdon, and claims his breakthrough will “answer a
fundamental question of human existence”.
In a huge presentation, guests are immersed in a multi-media
event. But chaos erupts, there’s a murder, and the “discovery teeters on the
brink of being lost forever.” (cover blurb). Robert Langdon must escape the
Bilbao museum with Ambra Vidal, the museum director and fiancée to the prince
of Spain, heir to the throne. Ambra was a good friend to Edmond and now
worried about a conspiracy. Key religious figures are disappearing, and perhaps
the Cardinal is to blame. “Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and
extreme religion, Langdon must evade a tormented enemy.” Modern art, symbols,
and the usual mumbo-jumbo lead Robert Langdon to clues to uncover answers.
Origin by Dan Brown is an amusing read. It’s
breezy and skimmable, a fluff thriller that throws in a lot of blather to make
it sound edgy. And it should be another chance for Tom Hanks to run around
exotic locales. Thank goodness, he has job security.
Lady Bird is the first artsy movie in a while
that’s been on my radar, lived up to expectations, and is worthy of Oscars.
High praise. Saoirse Ronan is a formidable young actress and her portrayal of
Christine “Lady Bird” is amazing. She’s a senior who wants to leave…just
leave Sacramento – ready to fly the nest – head to NYC or anywhere. So her math
grades aren’t awesome and she has an attitude, but she’s very open to new
experiences. Chomping at the bit.
She’s a young lady with doting parents. The key is her
mother played by Laurie Metcalf (also Oscar worthy). The mom is a
nurse/counselor for a psychiatric hospital and works hard. She also puts up
with and fights “Lady Bird” on many levels, but it is with care and concern.
There are too many great moments to mention in this “little film”. It’s about life,
day to day interactions. It’s about Lady Bird surviving Catholic school. She
cares and yet bursts at the seams to not be Catholic. She’s excited about her
first boyfriend (Lucas Hedges) and then is disappointed. This movie is about
traversing that senior teen year when you just aren’t quite a grownup but think
you are. And meanwhile, your parent knows you aren’t a kid, but just
can’t let go.
Lady Bird is a gem with so many good moments.
It’s quiet even when it’s loud. It’s funny even when it’s poignant. I am
gushing and could see this again in a heartbeat. Go flap your wings, remember
your potential at eighteen, and see this film.
Coco is Pixar’s Hispanic reworking of the Wizard
of Oz. I have not read that anywhere, but that’s what struck me.
There’s no place like home or family is at the heart of the story. It is
a lovely story and movie. The animation is gorgeous. The story is rich. The
actors who voice the characters are excellent. I highly recommend this movie
for ages 6 and up. Based on the audience I sat with, those kids sat still,
stayed quiet, and enjoyed the flick. Any child younger – NO. Do not bring them.
Get a babysitter – no, I do not care if you are trying for family bonding. That
is rude for the rest of the audience.
So – Miguel wants to play music, but it is forbidden in his
family. On the Day of the Dead celebration, the family salutes the ancestors
but one man is cut out of all pictures. Miguel is sure it is Ernesto de la Cruz
– the greatest musician ever. So he steals Ernesto’s guitar from the mausoleum
and is suddenly sent to the afterworld in a transitory state. He must get
approval from an ancestor to return and be able to pursue music. But alas
there are complications. Miguel gets help from Hector who worked with Ernesto.
But there’s far more to that story……spoiler alert that I will NOT divulge.
Let’s just say it’s a race against time for great –great
grandmother Coco to not forget her true love. This is the key to Miguel’s
future. There’s murder, there’s death, there’s humor, and there is the
theme of life and family. All truly heartwarming and of course, it ends
well. Root for Miguel. Enjoy the brilliant palette of animation. I
really loved this movie and highly recommend it.
The Day of the Dead has a whole new meaning for me……
Claire Messud has another compelling read – The
Burning Girl. I really liked The Woman Upstairs, so when I
saw she had a new book I got on the library waitlist. It was worthy being in a
This is a coming of age book. Julia and Cassie have been
friends forever, but the dynamics change in adolescence – friendship, goals,
and actions. From the cover blurb – The Burning Girl is a complex
examination of the stories we tell ourselves about youth and friendship, and
straddles, expertly, childhood’s imaginary worlds and painful adult reality –
crafting a true, immediate portrait of female adolescence.
The author captures the ups and downs of girls, the
struggles and competition when boys enter the picture, and the issue of family.
Julia’s family is solid and caring. Cassie’s changes with a new stepfather. I
enjoyed this story and felt the pain and heartache of lost and found
friendship, deep history and concern even when paths diverge. Claire Messud’s
writing is very smooth and her characters and story flow will keep you
interested. Thumbs up on The Burning Girl.
Murder on the Orient Express is a lush remake
of an Agatha Christie tale. If you’ve never read her work, I suggest you march
to the library and check out one of her books. She was a prolific talented
writer with some very defined characters, good plot twists, and that old
English humor twinkle in the eye. So, for this film, there’s a large
gathering of seemingly random characters all with a backstory, a reason to be
guilty, and a dead body on a train. Whodunit?
I can’t write any more about the plot. You need to go see
this movie and watch the twists and turns evolve. Kenneth Brannaugh directed
and stars as Hercules Poirot – the most brilliant detective in the world. He’s
an extremely fussy, fanatic man with an eye for detail and a mustache that
deserves its own Oscar. Everyone else has their quirks and suspicions.
Dame Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi,
Penelope Cruz, and more are along for this ride. The scenery is spectacular,
the filming works well – at times you feel the confinement and rocking of the
Murder on the Orient Express harks back to
an old timey flick in a good way. Punch your ticket and go All Aboard for an
entertaining two hours.
Sunday November 5th, I sat in plush seats at Bass Hall and enjoyed another Fort Worth Symphony program. I settled in when the opening John Williams notes soared - Theme from Raiders of the Lost Arc
The Hollywood Hits kept coming including a whole James Bond theme section. Very cool to hear Live and Let Die, Goldfinger, etc.
A vocalist -Kelly Levesque - sang some lovely numbers too. The guest conductor, Brian Byrne, was an Irish fellow with a pleasant manner and a good sense of humor. He talked about some of the numbers, and conducted his own theme from Albert Hobbs, a movie that starred Glenn Close.
The finale included grand movie themes - Tara's Theme from Gone With the Wind, Lara's Theme from Dr. Zhivago, and of course we finished with Rocky's Theme. I left the symphony ready for victory, but I had already won - my heart was filled with music.
Thor: Ragnarok is a Marvel romp. This movie
has star power and humor. So many of these super hero flicks get so serious
with world mayhem and destruction. Oh, Thor: Ragnarok has plenty
of battles, but it also has a stunning Chris Hemsworth – his locks are shorn,
but his snark factor grew. He has great comedic timing and it’s put to plenty
of good use. The dialogue is whip smart whether he’s talking to Loki (I love
Tom Hiddleston), or teasing the Hulk (a rueful Mark Ruffalo), or bantering with
his evil sister Hela (a fabulous Cate Blanchett).
I won’t go into plot line. Needless to say there are plenty
of Marvel character appearances, plenty of power grabs, and Hela stirring
up fiendish trouble. When she dons her crazy black reindeer antler crown, you
need to brace yourself for some serious action. She’s crazy good. And then
there’s Jeff Goldblum. He takes wacky to a whole other level and is perfect for
This movie is huge tub of popcorn worthy. Stay through the
two bonus scenes during the credits, and enjoy the glory of Thor-Ragnarok
on the big screen.
Karl Ove Knausgaard, Norwegian author of Autumn,
writes to his unborn daughter and adds an essay a day on random subjects. This
is a very unique personal meditation with acute observations. I enjoyed reading
this work, and I would stop and look around my little world and contemplate
descriptions of the mundane. Some of his musings cover – apples, wasps, teeth,
twilight, chewing gum, and silence. This is the first of four volumes – Autumn,
with future Winter, Spring, and Summer. I look forward to the rest of the
seasons and his marvelous writing.
Cover blurb and opening:
I want to show you our world as it is now: the door, the
floor, the water tap and the sink, the garden chair close to the wall beneath
the kitchen window, the sun, the water, the trees. You will come to see it in
your own way, you will experience things for yourself and live a life of your
own, so of course it is primarily for my own sake that I am doing this; showing
you the world, little one, makes my life worth living.
Oh Ray wanted to leave for his deer lease after work on Thursday 11/2. But no, he had agreed a month or so before that he would attend a Maverick Speaker Series talk with me. (He's my night driver). Anyway, despite a reluctant start, we had a splendid evening. First, dinner at Italianni's - yummy manicotti for me and chicken parm for Ray. Then we heard Roland Fryer talk about education, race, economics, reward systems, and more.
This Harvard Economist and Professor was excellent. He discussed being raised by his grandmother and her words of wisdom that kept him on the right path. He talked about mentors that boosted his esteem and let him know he was capable of hard work. He learned about preparation - study for tests, study for talks, do the advance work necessary to succeed. He talked about the need to give kids attention and expectations.
He is concerned about kids and education - said it is absolutely the key to all of our futures. His research and work has made some inroads, but there's way more to be done. Just throwing money at education is not the solution. Early reading programs, daily tutoring, and attainable goals are just the beginning. His hour long talk was an overview. He left me wanting to hear more.
And I agree - no excuses, just hard work is needed to fix education for all.
I read The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs
with the Broadway soundtrack of Hamilton playing in my head.
This was unfair to the author because I felt like I was getting a rerun
of history and it was not to a rap beat. However, Cobbs obviously did plenty of
research and she gives a faithful and decent rendering of life highlights in
her historical novel on Alexander and Eliza Hamilton.
From the cover blurb – Set against the dramatic backdrop
of the American Revolution and featuring a cast of iconic characters such as
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette, the book
tells a sweeping, tumultuous true love story of Alexander Hamilton and
Elizabeth Schuyler, from tremulous beginning to bittersweet ending – a dueling
ground along the Hudson.
From scrappy bastard in St.Croix to the writer of the
Federalist Papers and creator of the U.S. Treasury, Alexander Hamilton had a
way with big ideas and concepts. He could flourish his quill and also fight on
the battlefield. His love of country, his fierce loyalty, and his long abiding
faith in independence and democracy allowed him to soar as an American patriot.
Oh, he was a man of many flaws (and an affair) too, but his wife, Eliza,
remained steadfast and supportive. Aaron Burr shall live in infamy as the man
who cut short Hamilton’s life in a famous duel.
The Hamilton Affair is a solid piece of
historical fiction. (The book is cheaper than a Broadway ticket, too)
Brush up on your Hamilton lore, be inspired, and don’t waste your shot in life.
Victoria and Abdul is a British costume drama
directed by Stephen Frears. And who better to star as Queen Victoria than Dame
Judi Dench? She’s always so good and indeed commands the screen. We first
see her going through lots of dinners and ceremonies for a jubilee celebration.
Yawn. She’s bored, old, and tired. Then she perks up. A young humble man (he’s
chosen because he is tall) from India (played by Ali Fazal) arrives to present
her with a mohur – a ceremonial coin. He dares to look her in the eye and his
energy and bearing give her a spark. She commands his presence and eventually
gives him the title of Munshi – a teacher. She becomes more interested in India
and is keen on learning some language, history, etc.
Slowly, Abdul seems to have too much power over her. Her
staff and son (played by Eddie Izzard) conspire to find a fault in Abdul, to
find a way to banish him from the court. However, the Queen is feisty and with
a twinkle in her eye she does not buckle. She might be short and fat, but she
stands tall. The movie is based on old journals found long after Abdul was back
in India and died. It’s a unique snippet of history and the movie takes a lot
of liberties with the story.
However, for entertainment value, I was amused. I enjoyed
Judi Dench’s performance immensely, and Ali Fazal was a worthy foil. Victoria
and Abdul is a pleasant way to pass some time and step into a royal
The Boy is Back is a silly romp by Meg Cabot.
It’s a no-brainer read and that’s a good thing in the fall. Sit on your
patio with a pumpkin spice beverage and laugh as you read her compilation of
texts, emails, and humorous dialogue between a family and friends in a small
town. Reed Stewart escaped Bloomfield, Indiana by hitting the pro golf tour.
He’s rich and famous, and now he’s back to help sort out his parent’s estate
problems. His parents caused a small town scandal by not paying a local
restaurant. Social media explodes and the Judge is under fire. As Reed and his
siblings uncover his parents hoarder tendencies (gavels and cat statues), their
lack of money despite country club pretenses, and health issues, it’s
time to call in a senior relocation specialist.
Cue dramatic music.
The specialist is none other than Becky Flowers,
Reed’s former girlfriend who was ditched by him on prom night. Can you say
awkward? Or is it a chance to fall in love again? I bet you can
guess where the plot line heads and that’s okay. Meg Cabot has an ear for current
lingo. She keeps the ball rolling with plenty of catch dialogue and laugh out
loud moments. The Boy is Back with a vengeance. Very amusing
Battle of the Sexes is entertaining and brings
back a slice of history. Emma Stone transforms into Billie Jean King, age 29 –
the number one female tennis player in 1973. She’s fiercely competitive,
conflicted in her life, and takes on the tennis establishment by breaking off
into a splinter group. Her Virginia Slims sponsored tour seeks better pay
for women athletes. Billie Jean forged a path for women’s rights and is still respected
today. In the film, she faces Jack Kramer, the smug director of the USTA,
and says, “It’s when we want a little bit of what you’ve got. That’s what you
Steve Carell plays the bumbling Bobby Riggs, age 55, who’s a
gambler, a hustler, and is still trying to live off the glory of his past
tennis career. He’s got a wealthy wife, but is bored. He issues a challenge
that a woman can’t beat a man at tennis. What starts as a joke turns into a
full court battle/show. He mugs for the camera, poses with scantily clad women,
and is confident he can win. Billie Jean trains and ultimately takes this very
seriously. It’s a bold statement for her to win this tennis match.
The movie packs a lot into its two hours. You get
background, you get sport, you get the bombast, and the buildup. In 1973 it was
a major television event. Spoiler alert – Billie Jean won in three sets. She
truly was a trailblazer for women. Emma Stone glows with the energy and vibrant
spirit of Billie Jean. She’s not just a girl, she’s a woman taking on a man,
tennis, and a bit of the world. Battle of the Sexes is an
energetic entertaining film. Game.. Set.. Match
Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is serious
literary fiction. I can appreciate her writing, but I can’t say I liked the
story. And maybe it was a bit deep for me. I did find myself skimming.
From the cover blurb - an intimate portrait of a family and an epic
tale of hope and struggle. Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through
Mississippi’s past and present examining ugly truths at the heart of the
American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.
I liked JoJo, the thirteen year old boy who’s trying to be a
man. His white father is being released from prison. His true role model is
Pops, his black grandfather. His white grandparents choose to not acknowledge
him. His mother, Leonie, is a druggie mess who loves JoJo and his baby sister,
but is selfish and inconsistent in her parenting. Leonie’s dead brother appears
to her in visions. JoJo also can see dead spirits and is guided by a young man
who died in prison. (Here’s where it gets heavy with some history burdens of
the Deep South weighing on his soul) All in all the book touches on fathers
and sons, legacies, violence, and love (cover blurb)
There are some powerful moments, and perhaps as I write this
review, I’m seeing the book in a more favorable light. It’s worthy of a deep
book club discussion. This is not easy breezy reading for escape. You’ve
Ray and I enjoyed another interesting speaker at UT Arlington. Their Maverick Speaker Series brings in vibrant folks who encourage us to dream and dare. Anousheh Ansari was the first female private space explorer. Also the first Iranian and Muslim in space. Her eight days aboard the International Space Station completed a dream she had as a little girl, and also pushed her to think further about science, technology, and the future.
Ansari is the co-founder, chairwoman, and CEO of Prodea Systems - a company constantly seeking innovations in global access to technology. Her talk was very interesting. As a young girl in Iran, she drew pictures of rocket ships and dreamed of space travel. Her parents were able to flee the worn torn country in upheaval and come to America. Here, she pursued a math career but always had her head in the stars. Obviously a smart entrepreneur, her hard work did pay off.
She was able to pay for a trip in a Soyuz. Her discussion of the training, the ride in the Vomit Comet test, learning beginning Russian, etc was humorous. The preparation was rigorous. The pictures aboard the ISS - weightlessness, doing experiments, and the views from space - were awe-inspiring.
Now back on earth, Anousheh Ansari works to promote STEM education, especially for girls. She hopes to inspire youth to dream big and not give up. Look to the stars and see a future.
Whatever on a Wednesday - hope everyone is having a good week.
Sometimes things just strike me as I'm reading. I'm a paper person and I rip out pages in the newspaper or magazine and put them in a pile to digest again. Here are two little blips that struck me - enjoy
From Time Magazine 10/30 issue - in regards to a collision of two neutron stars 130 million years ago that just reached Earth signals recently, scientists learned a lot. Here is one finding that amused me:
The universe is speeding. We know the universe is expanding and a gravitational signal from a galaxy at a known distance made it possible for the first time to measure how fast: 43 miles per second per megaparsec. Here's the line that cracked me up - That's astronomy talk for "really fast." !!
And here's another comment from the Time Magazine 10/30 issue from author Philip Pullman who wrote the Golden Compass and others in a series. In regards to what he wants folks to take away from his writing, " The meaning of the book is never just what the author thinks it is. It's a great mistake to rely on the author to tell you. We don't know. The meaning is only what emerges when the book and the reader meet."
Ponder that on a Wednesday and carry on. Happy writing and reading.
Today Will be Different by Maria Semple is
different. I really liked an earlier work of hers, so I opened this one
with a good attitude. Semple has an odd sense of humor (that I like) and her
writing is smooth. However, I found the characters a bit annoying, and some of
the quirkiness seemed forced. I did not stay engaged and reached a point where
I did not really care what happened to Eleanor. I even sympathized with the
husband and his need to explore other avenues. Plus her son acted as more of an
adult than she did, and I found some of his comments to be stilted. So, I am
returning this book to the library, glad that I did not pay for it. Seek out
her book Where’d You Go Bernadette? Now that was a good read!
From the opening page: Today will be different.
Today I will be present…Today I will take pride in my appearance, I’ll shower,
get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga,
which today I will actually attend. Today I won’t swear….Today there will be an
ease about me. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will
abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m
capable of being. Today will be different.
Hmmm, let’s just say that goals are not met today. ‘Nuff
Feast your eyes on this new State Fair fried food winner. It's heaven. Only 14 coupons ($7.00). Yowza. But trust me, worth every penny. And when you convert your hard earned money into coupons, it's like monopoly money - practically free!
This is called Fat Smooth and OMG, hell yes. Three cream puffs fried in Cafe Du Monde beignet batter, then doused in powdered sugar with a drizzle of caramel and chocolate sauce.
It was tough, but I did share with Ray.
(we did walk over 10,000 steps that day. I feel good about it - absolutely)
Joanne Faries, originally from the Philadelphia area, lives in Texas with her husband Ray. She considers herself fortunate to be able to pursue a writing career after eons in the business world. Joanne enjoys reading and movies, and is the film critic for the Little Paper of San Saba.