Sunday, December 13, 2009

Keeping Faith

My students drew me to Jodi Picoult. They read every book of hers, and they keep reading, and reading, and reading. Now, it's my turn to read.

The first book I could get my hands on (since they can be so scarce) was Keeping Faith. Since it's about religion, it really wouldn't have been my first choice, but it was the only choice. For her first book, I'd say it was pretty good. It must be because now I'm reading a second book of hers: The Tenth Circle.

Now that I'm in the middle of her second book, I can see patterns in her books. Each book takes on a controversial topic that she wants us to think about. They make us consider our morals and our stances on such topics. Keeping Faith is about religion; The Tenth Circle is about rape. When I'm finished, I will pick up The Pact which is about suicide. I kind of like this pattern she's got going. I think it's pretty smart.

Keeping Faith sounded a little tacky, but Picoult did it in an alright way. Mariah White is a mother who is bored with her life, and her husband is bored with her. She walks in on him having an affair which causes them to separate. Amidst this familial struggle, Faith "starts talking to God." She calls God her "guard" and refers to her as a woman. At first this causes trouble just with Mariah and her mother, but eventually it catches the attention of the media.

Faith engages in such activities as reviving her dead grandmother, curing an autistic man for a short period of time, curing a baby with AIDS, performing stigmata on her hands similar to Jesus's wounds, and telling personal information that she would have no way of knowing. It's a little out there, but you have to have "faith."

Two side plots go on in the meantime. First, Ian Fletcher, an atheist TV host whose job is to discredit acts of God to prove his point, seeks out to bring down Faith White as his next episode. He comes to the town to point out her flaws, but for some reason, he can't find any. He slowly gets close to the family and closer with the Mariah. It's easy to predict that these two seemily opposite people fall in love.

Next, Mariah's husband who cheated on her, Colin, sues for custudy. A custody battle in court then ensues. They peg Mariah as unstable from her earlier suicide attempt (after Colin's first affair) and with a made-up psychological disorder that Mariah has. The court scene went on for a BIT longer than I would have liked, but I think all of the evidence presented was crucial to the plot. The succession of events also was significant towards the end result.

During the trial, Faith falls deathly ill. She has been sentenced away from her mother with a restraining order, but she gets worse and worse as she is away from her mother. But, Mariah can't keep herself away. She goes to the hospital despite the order, and for whatever reason, Faith goes from critical condition to being fine to leave. This is Faith's last act of God to prove that she belongs with her mother.

The book ends ambiguously. It ends with Faith wondering where her God is, calling out to her. But, we don't know if she has gone from her life completlely or if she will always be there. I like that there is no closure. I think it adds more to the story. But, people do get closure with the romance since Ian and Mariah seem to hook up in the end.

I can see why so many women connect with this book. These characters seem so real because they have such honest, true flaws--flaws that we all might face. I think women connect with these characters, male and female, because they might reflect parts of themselves or others they know. I just think it's good writing. She develops an in-depth plot that pans out into so many different avenues that I never predicted. She connects earlier plots and shows such character development among characters. I'm just astonished.

I would recommend Picoult books to readers, but I don't need to. She already has such a VAST audience that has read all of her books. I am the one behind. But, this is my way of giving approval. I like it. I'm going to read more.

So what do you think of Keeping Faith?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Away We Go

I love good writing in movies. You don't normally see it too often. Luckily, Dave Eggers, a very talented writer, has been turning to screenplays lately. He just finished working on his adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are, and here he has created a wonderfully smart romantic comedy, Away We Go.

Away We Go is a film he co-wrote with his wife, Vendela Vida. It stars Maya Rudolph, who is amazing in a dramatic role, and John Krasinski, who plays a similar role that he's used to: a mellow, easy-going, funny-but-lovable guy. Having been created by a married couple, one would wonder if the roles are in any way similar to their own relationship. I wonder if the characters are closely bound to the writers themselves.

The film is about a couple, not married, who become pregnant. When they visit Burt's parents, they drop a bombshell that they are moving thousands of miles away. On the way home, Burt and Verona discuss why they're even staying where they live, in New England. They think they are "fuck ups," and decide that this new baby will help them become better people.

The couple decides that they will move to somewhere new for a fresh start. So, they visit all of their friends and family that live around the country to decide where they will move to. Along the way, they meet some crazy people who shed different perspectives on raising a family.

They travel to Phoenix to visit Verona's crazy old boss. They are too outspoken and treat their children like they are crazy science expirements. Then they travel to Tucson to visit Verona's sister where Verona and her sister discuss their deceased parents, drawing upon absent parents and death. Then they travel to Madison, Wisconsin to visit Burt's childhood friend. She is too "granola" and over-the-top with being an earthy mother, and they leave after they offend them with buying a stroller since it makes the mother "push away the baby when it should be held close."

Next, they travel to Montreal to visit their college friends. They have a diverse family of children, all adopted, all different races, all different ages. The woman cannot become pregnant, even though they keep trying. It is a real stress on their relationship, but it shows how strongly a family can be created even if it isn't blood deep. Finally, they travel to Miami to visit Burt's brother who was recently left by his wife, leaving his brother to raise his daughter alone. Burt freaks out, trying to find her and console his brother, but he speaks with Verona, and that's just the way the world is. You can't save every child and every family; you can only make your own.

When in Miami, Burt and Verona have an INCREDIBLE discussion on a trampoline. It is extremely brilliant writing which immediately hooked me into this movie. There are moments in the film where the characters speak these deep, wise words that are absoluytely captivating. I was sucked into the screen, drawn into the wisdom, and I could only think of how much I miss watching good movies that communicate this caliber of intelligence.

In the end, Burt and Verona end up buying her childhood home to fix up. It's a wonderful last scene as they sit on the porch and say final words about raising the baby. A wonderful ending to bring them back to where they always belonged.

Throughout the movie, the couple has their own problems. How will they raise the child? Why won't Verona marry Burt? Where will they live? Will they succeed?

What I like about the movie is that it's realistic. Verona never accepts Burt's marriage proposal. They learn to accept things about each other, but it doesn't mean they'll be bad parents. They've learned a lot from their journey, and all they can do is give the most love they can to their child. It's a really beautiful story in how this message comes across.

Here is one excellent quotations from the movie that hopefully gets across the smart writing:

"It's all those good things you have in you. The love, the wisdom, the generosity, the selflessness, the patience. The patience! At 3 A.M. when everyone's awake because Ibrahim is sick and he can't find the bathroom and he's just puked all over Katki's bed. When you blink, when you blink! And it's 5:30 and it's time to get up again and you know you're going to be tired all day, all week, all your fucking life. And you're thinking what happened to Greece? What happened to swimming naked off the coast of Greece? And you have to be willing to make the family out of whatever you have."

I hope to find more, especially from the scene on the trampoline.

Not only is it good writing, but it has GREAT cameos from great actors and actresses. Maggie Gyllenhall, Jim Gaffigan, Catherine O'Hara, Jeff Daniels, Paul Schnieder, Allison Janney, Chris Messina, Melanie Lynskey, and Josh Hamilton have incredible small roles that are either hilarious and touching. And, Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski blew me away. They are normally in comic roles, but they do a great job of making you laugh but also being very serious. Their acting was incredible. They stepped it up to a new level.

This is a MUST-SEE movie. It's one of the best I've seen in a long, long time. This is one I'd like to own and would watch over again (and I'm not one to usually do that). Whatever Dave Eggers does, follow. Read his books. Watch his movies. Read the books where he selects the best "non-required reading." He's a smart man to trust, read, and learn from!

So what do you think of Away We Go?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Palin 2012

Being an SNL and Digital Shorts fan, I couldn't help but absolutely love this newest Digital Short. I just commented recently on Firelight, which was hilarious. But, this week's Short almost topped the last one in terms of movie spoofs. Palin 2012 was definitely one to discuss with others, and definitely laugh about in the process.

Watch the Short here. You'll have to cut a little ways into the clip, but it's the only place to watch it at this point in time.

Basically, the Short is a spoof of the movie 2012 (where the world comes to an end), but the spin is that Palin is now president, hence the world coming to an end because of it. The way they cut news footage and interviews, mixed with actual movie scenes, is hilarious. They even do an AWESOME job cutting in interview clips with movie scenes--hence the "bridge to nowhere" comment as a bridge collapses, and ending with the White House being demolished. It's just put together very well.

I don't normally connect with political satire on the show, but I really liked this one. Especially since it has to do with Sarah Palin. Especially since she's doing her book tour. Yuck.

And come on. We all know she'll run even though she won't admit it. Can't wait to see it.

So what do you think of Palin 2012?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Whatever Works

I'm not a Woody Allen fan, but I had to see one of his latest films, Whatever Works, since it features the extremely talented comedian Larry David. Being a Larry David fan, I had to see it. He isn't one to star in movies--let alone his own television show--so I knew this one had to be pretty good.

When David interviewed on Conan O'Brien's show to promote the film, he talked about how horrible he is as an actor. He's really not that bad. He said when Allen first asked him to do it, he refused. "I'll ruin your movie" was his reaction. I wouldn't say he ruined it at all. It seemed more like the role was written for him. I don't think we'll see David in more films, but this role was made just for him. He was Boris Yelnikoff.

Whatever Works is different from other comedies I've seen. The writing was very intelligent and well written. I'll give Allen that. The actors did a great job of delivering very clever one-liners and longer monologues.

The film stars Larry David as Boris Yelnikoff, an extremely intelligent man who almost wins A Nobel Prize. He used to be a professor teaching music and chess, but he stops doing that after a revelation. He divorces his wife and lives alone in the city where he teaches young boys to play chess; although he is very abrasive and rude to these boys.

Boris is so brutally honest that it's funny. He makes stunning observations about his surrounding world and will announce them even if it will offend the person listening. He will be honest about the kids he is teaching, right to their parents. He will make straight-forward comments to the people concerning them. He doesn't care. He does "whatever works." That's his new philosophy on life.

One day, he meets a girl on his doorstep, Melodie, who has traveled from the south to live in New York City, her land of dreams. Boris is reluctant to let her stay there, but she ends up crashing there for a long time. She isn't very smart in the least, but he is fascinated by her. One night when she returns home drunk, they decide to marry, even though they are VERY far apart in age.

A year later, Melodie's mother finds her in NYC and stays with them. She is distraught with the marriage and vows to herself to break it up and find her someone more suitable. She succeeds--she introduces Melodie to Randy whom she soon has an affair with. They separate. Boris's friends, and even Melodie's mom, start to pair off.

Like in the beginning, Boris tries to commit suicide. Boris failed the first time because he landed on an awning. This time, he lands on a woman, Helena, who he then ends up with. He does "whatever works."

This movie was different because Boris directly spoke to the audience, which isn't normally done in films. It's like when Ferris Bueller would do it, except much more in depth. You'll see it more in plays, but not necessarily in movies.

In the beginning of the film, it opens up with Boris, in present day, chatting with his friends. He mentions an audience watching him and how they're probably eating their popcorn with their overpriced tickets (alluding to the theatre experience). Obviously, his friends are skeptical. He then walks down the street, addressing the camera, to tell us his life story.

David goes on a solid five+ minute monologue where he discloses his thoughts on life and of his past. It's absolutely incredible. The whole time I kept thinking, "How did David memorize all of this?" It really is a brilliant monlogue. It seems longer than a normal play or movie would have one. But, the fact that Boris is aware of us as an audience proves how intelligent he is. He will even speak to us even though others thinks he's crazy. He just does whatever works for him.

Overall, a great story, great plot, great acting, great writing. I was impressed. It's very different from anything you'll ever see. And if you like Larry David, this is a must see. He stays in his character (from other roles) which is what we all love.

What do you think of Whatever Works?

Saturday, November 21, 2009


A couple weeks ago, Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island put out a hilarious SNL Digital Short to spoof the Twilight movie series. The hype is so huge right now. Teenage girls and middle-aged women are swooning night and day for the premiere of New Moon, the next movie in the Twilight series. The Digital Short captures it all.

View the video here.

The Short is called "Firelight," obviously a play on words for Twilight. The Short is a trailer that almost exactly mimicks the trailer for the original movie. Instead of Bella Swan swooning for a brooding vampire, Bella swoons for a monster that resembles Frankenstein. The way they script the exact same scenes to fit this new monster is absolutely hilarious.

And what makes it that far off? Vampires. Werewolves. Wizards. Monsters. They're all fictional. They'll all work to hook an audience. Monsters, like Frankenstein, just seem so ridiculous which plays on the whole fictional aspect of it. How are so many people buying into this (like I am myself)? It just highlights the absurdity. But, if you like the series, you'll still get a kick out of it. It doesn't make fun of it TOO much so you're offended.

The New Moon hype really is outrageous, but I think this Short comes at an appropriate time. It proves that Andy still has his flare. He's still creating hilarious Shorts. Taylor Swift looks like an excellent Bella Swan. And for Bill Hader, it's impossible for him NOT to be funny. It all just connects so beautiful comedically, if that's a word.

So what do you think of "Firelight?"

Friday, November 20, 2009

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

Many friends suggested I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell to me. Since I generally trust my friends, I picked it up. It sounded pretty interesting since it had to do with outrageous stories about an outrageous life. But, overall, I wasn't as impressed as I thought I'd be.

As I was reading, I couldn't help but wonder how accurate some of the details are since they're so centered around him and his persona that he builds up. The dialogue seemed very scripted, not natural by any means, especially when he's talking. I know it's hard to recreate dialogue because it's hard to get across what was said word for word so long after it's occurred, but this retelling seemed very over-the-top, especially to build up his character, which he is constantly trying to impress us with.

I'm not saying that I doubt that these things happened; I'm sure they did. I just wonder on some of the small details that may be blown out of proportion or maximized for the ultimate effect of telling a good story. I mean, he wants to sell books here and live off of his crude lifestyle. He wants to be a celebrity, anyway.

A lot of times in his stories he would mention, "I'm Tucker Max." Or, "Then I remembered, I'm Tucker Max." It just seems very arrogant to me. As if no one else exists around him. The rules bend for him. Well, I guess it's worked thus far for him.

I also didn't appreciate how he treats women throughout his novel, especially when he gives them nicknames like Fatty. It just turned me off, overall.

The whole thing seemed like a big compilation of bragging. And when I saw what he looked like after I was done reading (since I have the movie cover version), I was very surprised. I pictured him to look very different than what I saw.

Anyway, for those of you who do seem interested in the book (I won't steer you away), it has some crazy tales about being drunk, trying to become a lawyer, crazy hook-ups, building his website, going on his book tour, becoming recognized, losing his pants one night, going to Vegas, going to a strip club in Texas, and about his friends and their uniquenesses.

I'm sure this book would appeal to college students and pretty the majority of men. I don't regret reading it. Maybe I just had a different read of it as a female. My friends have had mixed reviews. Some of my friends had the same reactions that I did; other friends said that they enjoyed the crazy stories. In any event, I wouldn't say not to read it. Make up your mind for yourself. Maybe I'm reading the tone completely wrong. But, that's my take. That's my two cents.

Has anyone seen the movie? I heard it only focuses on one story line. I'll watch it to see how they portray his persona and his crazy stories in one fluid story line. I wonder which story they will select to put into a film...

Does he make his living off of his website? I was surprised to see so many of his stories posted on there. It seems like you could read his whole book on his website without paying him. Seems strange to me.

So what do you think of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Cracker Factory

I don't know what possessed me, but I picked up The Cracker Factory last weekend and finished it in a couple of sittings. The Cracker Factory is a 1977 novel by Joyce Rebeta-Burditt that was turned into a made-for-TV movie in 1979. Years ago, I picked it up at a used book sale, and I decided to read it recently.

The cover of the book stated that it's comparable to One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. Perhaps the female version. It does have some similar plot points which would link the two. The Cracker Factory is set in a mental hospital, but it deals with a female narrator.

The protagonist and narrator, Cassie, is a young wife and mother who is unhappy with her life. Her husband is emotionally abusive, so she drinks in order to solve her inner problems. Her drinking and depression spiral out of hand; she drives under the influence with her children and eventually attempts suicide. Cassie lands in the mental hospital where she feels more at home.

Cassie loves this life because she is separated with her husband and she has time to herself. She doesn't have to do all of her chores for her children and husband. So, she wants to draw out as much time as possible to stay there.

Cassie has such an odd relationship with her psychiatrist, Dr. Alexander, who she has some weird crush on. She doesn't want to pursue it, but she is fascinated with this man. He won't let her return home, but Cassie eventually does decide to come home after Christmas once her son is sick.

The novel wasn't all that interesting. It is mostly Cassie's inner thoughts on her depression and drinking, which might be interesting to some. She has random interactions around the mental hospital, dealing with weird patients and doctors. Cassie is seen as the ideal patient since she seems the most together and because she visits AA meetings. She seems to have it the most together.

One weird factor that seemed to just be thrown in there was Cassie's affair. She supposedly had an affair with a man that is never really brought up. She also had another affair with one of her husband's friends. It doesn't really seem characteristic of her, but I guess it shows her unhappiness and how she really isn't cut out for the life of being a committed mother.

But, the ending didn't make sense to me at all. I actually had some problems with buying the ending. Cassie was so unhappy with her husband. She loathed him. She didn't love him. She wanted to live alone nearby to get her act together. That was her plan. But, when she goes home, she lets her husband make love to her. Her son gets sick, and she has a revelation that she wants to stay there and take care of him. She wants to return to her house to be the mother that she never was.

And, tie in some resentment from the angry mother who thought she was lazy and doing this on purpose. Weird characters are weaved in throughout.

Ahem. What a whim! How could that knock sense into her?? Give it two months and she'll be right back to where she was--drinking and landing in the hospital. I just didn't buy it. It seemed like it needed a sequel because she'd go right back. There wasn't any change or growth. What was the point of the novel then? It ends like it starts! Nothing was really accomplished!

After all of that, the ending was a total downer to me.

But, I researched that this book was turned into a movie two years after it came out. I didn't realize it was this popular. Has anyone else read it?

That's my refelction. I would only recommend it if you like internal narratives, mental disorders, depression, addiction, and/or adultery. So-so. Just wanted some feedback I guess.

So what do you think of The Cracker Factory?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Gingerbread Girl

I keep reading obscure Stephen King novels. I just picked up The Gingerbread Girl, a very short novel; perhaps it can be considered a novella. King continues to fascinate me with everything I read of his. Short story, film, or novel, he really is a talented writer. I can't believe he has created so many interesting stories.

Apparently, as I just researched, this story was first published in Esquire magazine. I can see how it could be so short to publish. It is REALLY interesting. I'd be hooked to read it in a magazine.

The Gingerbread Girl is about a woman who loses her child from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). She is absolutely distraught, and her and her husband get a divorce because they can't face the past or the present. The woman, Emily, decides to get away to her father's little vacation house in Florida to escape the death and divorce.

However, Emily stumbles upon a murder victim, a woman, in the house of a creepy man known as Pickering. Now she is the target of this murderer. He ties her up, tortures her a little, and then decides if he will kill her or not. Emily discloses that only the boat man knows where she is, so Pickering sets off to kill this man. Once he is gone, Emily does everything she can to break free from the chair she is duct-taped to.

Once Pickering returns, they have an all-out brawl to the death. They wrestle, stab each other, bite each other, wound each other with kitchen objects, run up the stairs, jump out of windows, chase down the beach, and eventually run into a Hispanic man who barely speaks English. Emily thought she was saved until Pickering tried to talk him into her being "loco." Pickering eventually kills this man.

Emily then runs into the water, in her last attempt to survive, luring him in. Pickering can't swim though. This is his demise. Even though he tried to kill her over and over again, he still screamed for help. Odd. Why the hell would she save him?

Emily's obsession with running was persistent throughout the novel/story, and it came in handy throughout the book. It contributed to her survival.

I think it's an interesting title, as she did have to "run, run as fast as [she could]." It was her savior. And hopefully this new encounter will help her value her life instead of dwelling on the negative.

This novel/story is said to be an allusion to "The Gingerbread Man" story. I don't actually know what the story is; I only know the song. I wonder if that would shed more light on this piece.

King does a fabulous job of invoking emotions in the reader. He makes me cringe and visualize in ways that other authors can't. He's so talented. I am so envious of his glorious gift!

Last interesting piece of information: Pickering appears as a minor antagonist in the novel Insomnia. Hm.

So what do you think of The Ginerbread Girl?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hope's Boy

Memoirs always catch my eye. I had to read one called Hope's Boy when I saw it on the shelf. And, I haven't read anything like this book before. Hope's Boy is a memoir by Andrew Bridge about his experience in foster care. I haven't had much exposure to the foster care system, and it was very interesting to read about a personal experience of a person who went through the system and grew from the experience.

The back of the book made it sound like his foster care experience was going to be a lot more traumatizing than it actually was. Given, I can't even imagine how difficult it is to be separated from both parents during elementary school. I can't imgaine going to live in a house where kids come in and out of there like a grocery store on a Sunday afternoon. I can't imagine having pseudo-parents who don't really care for you like real parents. Instead of mom and dad you have Mr. and Mrs. Leonard.

I thought Bridge was going to expose how horrible the living conditions were, how atrocious the boy's home was that he lived in for a very brief amount of time. The pain and trauma really came in his own emotional experience, not feeling like he was loved and not having a real "family." He always felt like "just a foster child" instead of being "Andy," a real, loved person.

The beginning and end of the book take place in present day where Bridge has grown up and pursued a career helping out boys that were in his same situation, in foster care without parents. He first explains his career and helping out a boy who needs love, like he did. He also closes the book with his final conversation with this young boy. It's a nice wrap-around to see that even though he went through this pain, as many still are today, he's actually doing something about it. Maybe that's what gives him closure.

Hope's Boy goes through many phases of Bridge's troubled childhood. His first recollections are living with his grandmother in Chicago, wondering why his mother didn't live with him. She eventually calls for him to come live with her in Hollywood where they live a rocky two years together. His mother, Hope, is a flashy woman who smokes a lot of cigarettes and draws a lot of male attention. She lives in a shabby apartment and is very young to have a son. She doesn't seem to understand how to be a mother since it is just thrust upon her so forcefully.

She has abusive boyfriends, neglects him at times (sometimes unknowingly), wakes him up for midnight adventures (at one point robbing a house for money), but seems to really try and care. There's even an incident where Andy needs her to make a bunny costume for him at school and she ingores it until the last minute when she buys a very out-of-place suit that makes him feel both embarassed and proud.

Eventually, Hope strarts to lose her mind. She has visions that people are going to take Andy away from her. She stops working, so the landlord is constantly threatening to evict them. Hope eventually really loses it and is brought to a mental hospital, in which Andy begins his string of boy's homes and foster care. Hope continues to visit Andy for a few years until she escapes down to Arizona for a while where she is again thrown into a different mental hospital.

Meanwhile, Andy endures living with the Lenoards who take in many, many children who are characterized during his childhood. The most heart-breaking one was a boy named Jason who desperately wanted to become a part of the Leonard's family. He begged and pleaded with them. He eventually ran away to test if they would come looking for them, which they only did for a short while without success. Jason was then transported to the next home because of his run-away attempt.

The Leonards didn't seem to be abusive. They didn't really give out love, but at least they took care of him for all of these years. Andy ended up living there until college, which I wasn't expecting. That was kind of them. Mrs. Leonard's character was quite strange too; she grew up during the Holocaust where she was actually in a concentration camp. She wanted to take in children who knew pain and suffering like she had since her children were very spoiled. I thought that angle was really interesting.

After years of not seeing his mother, Andy seeks her out before he sets off for college on the west coast. In his path, many people didn't think he could go to college. They wanted him to go to community college because it would be easier. The main point was that no one really had expectations for him. But Andy wanted to prove them all wrong.

Andy shows one last experience with his mother where she still seems to care but she really is just gone inside. It's sad, but at least he got to understand at an age where it might be easier to make sense of the past.

If the topic of foster care interests you, it's a good read. It wasn't too depressing to bring down your mood. It was more informative and interesting, I found. He writes clearly and evokes certain emotions. It seemed therapeutic for him, which I like to read about through the lines.

I think his mother's name, Hope, says a lot too.

So what do you think of Hope's Boy?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Catching Fire

Reading The Hunger Games, the first of the Hunger Games series, I was hooked into reading the next book, Catching Fire. When I started reading the book, I didn't know it was going to start a long series that Collins would hope to become the next Twilight. It's certainly not the next Twilight, but it still is gaining a lot of teenage readers.

I thought the concept of the series was really unique. I think it's an interesting way to look at a post-apocolyptic world. Total government control. Extreme poverty. Overworking. Starvation. Human beings as entertainment (especially toying with their lives). Sounds like reality TV, eh?

The first book did a great job at hooking me in. The last line of the first book basically set up the next book. It was a cliffhanger to leave the reader hanging. And what did I do? I bought the next book just like others who read the first book like me.

If you have not read Catching Fire, you might not want to read everything below this line.

We all knew the second book was going to be about the tour. But the book was set up in different "books" or sections which took the plotline in different directions. We start off with the tour where Katniss keeps trying to fool others that she is in love with Peeta. They try to prove to the Capital (and to the people) that they are going to get married, and eventually Peeta even drops that Katniss is pregnant, even though she is not.

I won't lie that I get very bored with Katniss's act to fool everyone. Her internal narrative definietly bores me at times. She says the same things over and over and worries about the most predictable plot details. If I heard her say that she had to save Peeta in the arena one more time, I was going to scream!!

At the beginning of the book, Katniss parades around with her mockingjay which ends up being a sign for revolt. Katniss, unknowingly, makes a comment about her dead lost friend to their district, Rue, and the district revolts. Different districts start revolting, and Katniss is their unofficial leader.

Almost as a way to get rid of them, the president sends all (I should say most) of the winners from previous Hunger Games into the arena. This is his way to kill off Peeta and/or Katniss. Especially since they are young and fresh, they might get killed off by more talented, wisened, skilled hunters from previous years who have had more practice and studying.

I thought sending them back into the arena was a bit lame. I thought we were getting away from the Hunger Games in this book. I thought maybe they'd send in Gale (Katniss's real love??) to piss off Katniss. They definitely drew out their love affair. I get so frustrated with Katniss's thoughts as she torn between these two men. I'm having a very hard time liking this narrator as she frustrates me more than makes me want to keep reading. I want to read more to get to the end than to enjoy her telling of the story.

The last third of the book transfers to the Hunger Games where Peeta and Katniss team up with older, stronger winners from previous years. Katniss's main focus this year is to keep Peeta alive (as aforementioned), but more unexpected turns come in the arena. They insert a force field, introduce new animals, and use new weapons. Katniss's team tries to rig up an explosion which eventually triggers her group's rescue from the Hunger Games.

Katniss wakes up in a hospital where she will now assist her friends in revolting against the government, hence book three. And just like the first one, Collins leaves us with something to think about until the next book comes out: Katniss kept eluding to a District 12 where they could escape. But, at the end, she reveals that there is no District 12. Yikes! Then what was it? Where will they go now? How will they revolt? Will they succeed? (Probably)

I think it is a good read for young adults; I think I'm just having trouble reading it as an adult. It may be a little violent, but it's not anything too much worse from what's on television. And it is thought provoking. It could draw up some really interesting coversations too.

I do get a little tired of the simplicity of the reading. Maybe I'm used to more in depth reading. I just think Collins tells us more than she shows us. I want to analyze and interpret on my own. She tells too many things and repeats too many things. Maybe it's because it's a young adult novel. Teenagers like to be told information. They don't always like to 'figure it out for themselves.' Well, then they'd like this book. It says it all for them!

Does anyone know how many books there are going to be in all? Has it been announced? Does anyone know the next title?

Maybe I'm being too critical of this book. I really liked the first book and was completely hooked. I just felt a little bored with this one. It was too repetitive like the first one, too many similarities. And this time, unlike the first, the narrator bothered me. Hopefully the third book will impress me more. I will buy it. I will read it. I will recommend it. I just can't admit that I really enjoyed it. Have others enjoyed it?

What do you think of Catching Fire?

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did, but I really connected with it in the end. I picked it up because it's a memoir, my favorite genre. Unraveled: The True Story of a Woman Who Dared to Become a Different Kind of Mother was very touching. Maria Housden, the author, wrote a fabulous book that has stayed with me days after I've completed it.

Unraveled takes the reader through a journey of Housden's untraditional style of being a mother. I didn't really know what to expect, with that subtitle, but it makes sense after reading it. Housden takes us through her experiences of motherhood, jumping back and forth through time, to show us her unconventional ways.

Perhaps the largest part that sticks with me is Housden's explanation of her three-year-old daughter Hannah's death from cancer. In that span of time, she had to walk her husband, her older son, her sick daughter, and herself through the experience. Right before Hannah passed, Housden became pregnant and had a child. Thankfully, Hannah was able to see her baby sister's birth and meet her for a little while.

Housden completed her first book on the life and death of her daughter called Hannah's Gift, which is also explained in the novel.

I couldn't imgaine losing a child one month and giving birth to and raising another child the next. I can't imagine the loss I would feel, especially while trying to give love to another. That's a very hard, unique position to be in. It is definitely worth writing and reading about.

But, Housden also tells the reader about being "a different kind of mother." She struggles with her husband, Claude, and eventually decides to separate from him. He tried to mold her into someone she wasn't and asked her to do things she didn't want to do. Housden eventually divorces him but is faced with a hard decision. Does she take custody of the kids or let him have custody and live in their house?

Before the divorce, Housden went on a weekend retreat to clear her mind after Hannah's death to do some writing. On this retreat, Housden met the love of her life. She never thought she'd be one to have an affair, but she went with her internal instinct to be with him, Roger Housden, a writer. The way Housden describes meeting him was absolutely uncanny. She says that, once they locked eyes on each other, they knew that they were meant for each other.

Years later, Housden divorced her husband and moved in with Roger on the west coast in California. She let Claude take custody of her children in New Jersey and spent weekends and holidays with the children. Housden describes the pain of living away from her children, especially when major traumatic events happened like 9/11 and other injuries. Housden just wanted to pursue her writing career and explore her life more, especially with her new boyfriend.

After struggling with the distance, Housden and Roger moved back to the east coast to be closer to her children. They both ended up getting their own primary places in New York, one in New York City and the other a bit farther apart, where they now live and try to make more contact with her children. Claude still has problems letting her back into their lives even though he also had an affair and pursued a new love interest. It's all very strange.

But, the memoir was still extremely interesting. I was hooked. I know a book is really good when I can't stop thinking about it, and I can't stop thinking about this one! She always wanted to be a writer, and now I see why. She's talented, and she communicates her message quite effectively. I now want to read her other book! She's pretty good!

So what do you think of Unraveled?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Always Looking Up

Michael J. Fox astounds me because he has never given up despite his disease. I never got the chance to read Fox's first memoir, Lucky Man, but I did just finish his second memoir which is pretty new right now, Always Looking Up: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist.

I got to listen to this book on tape with Fox actually reading it himself, which I found extremely powerful. You could hear his emotion when times were tough and you could hear the lightness in his voice when moments were funny. The experience was pretty intense because it felt much more personal because I was actually hearing him discuss his problems.

Further, I didn't know too much about Parkinson's Disease anyway, so I got to hear some first-hand accounts of what it's like to live with this. I couldn't imgaine having to transform my life to the degree that Fox has. It's sad that he's had to make so many lifestyle changes to accomodate his situation, especially when he had to give up a television show he loved to produce and act on when he left Spin City.

I found it sad listening to Fox talk about leaving Spin City since he loved it so much, especially since it continued on without him. Charlie Sheen replaced him, which must have been hard to watch. But, it was hard for Fox to juggle his active television career and with taking his meds and controlling his shakes. He wouldn't be able to stop, once he was walking, and communicate with someone because he wouldn't be able to control his bodily functions. Cast members thought he was mad at them, and that's when Fox knew it was time to move on.

Also, I enjoyed hearing about Fox's personal life and how his disease affects his family. Fox tells a lot of stories about his wife and her acceptance of his decisions regarding his disease and about his children and how it affects them. A lot of focus was placed on their eldest son Sam and how he has viewed the disease.

But, I saw this book as Fox's second memoir on PD, and even though some of it was on PD, a lot of it was just on his life in general without dwelling too much on the effects of PD. A lot of the book was just on his family life and politics surrounding PD research and his organization. Perhaps Lucky Man deals more with Fox and dealing with PD, but Always Looking Up takes it a step further into his personal life and his life post-Lucky Man.

Fox even gets into some personal stories like how he went through September 11th. He was across the country, about to guest star on Spin City in California after being gone from it for a couple of years, and he heard about the attacks. His family lives, works, and goes to school in New York City, so he panicked. He cancelled being on the show and looked to travel back to NYC, but all flights were cancelled for weeks. So, Fox rented a car and drove across the country with a friend. Family counts more than other things.

Fox also details such personal incidences as travelling across the country with his son when he was young, experiencing the birth of his twin daughters, and experiencing the death of his oldest sister. His sister was hooked up on machines to keep her alive, and they had to make the tough decision whether they should let her loose or not. These moments are all intertwined throughout the memoir.

I also didn't know that Fox was involved in politics, an organization, and trying to advocate for PD research with stem cells. A significant portion of the book is dedicated to this facet. I like that Fox is using his publicity and his finances to not only help himself but help others like himself that are affected with the disease. I also learned, through his discussions on the organization, that Ali has PD too! You'd never think that such strong people could be hindered by something like this.

Overall, the memoir seems to be focused on his struggle with PD, but a lot of it had random details and stories just about his life, which I didn't mind too much. If you're interested in PD or about Fox's life, this book should interest you.

I saw there was a TV special on the memoir, but I missed it. What was it about?

So what do you think of Always Looking Up: Adventures of an Incurable Optimist?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Soloist

The Soloist grabbed my attention right off the bat because it is based on a true story. Besides that, the film has two phenomenal actors in them who are extremely talented, Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx. With those two elements on my side, the movie did follow through.

I think it's interesting how many times the story of this man's life has been told. First, Steve Lopez discovered this homeless, talented musician on the street in LA, and he thought it would be a story. Working for the LA Times, Lopez wrote a few columns on this talented man, Nathaniel Ayers, which he eventually turned into a book. Then this book turned into a blockbuster movie, and now people are commenting on the book and the movie just like I am now. Isn't it interesting how many ways the same story can be told?

Basically, Ayers was a homeless man who suffered extreme bouts of mental illness. She is schizophrenic, which caused him to lose his spot at Juliard and land him on the streets. However, Ayers is extremely brilliant. He taught himself to play various instruments, and he can play them better than those who practice for years and years. It's an incredible story.

Lopez helps get Ayers off the streets and helped with treatment. He even starts playing again which really lightens Ayers' day. It's crazy to think about how generous Lopez must be to help out this homeless guy. I mean, yeah at first he wanted a story and that is a bit selfish, but he didn't need to push it this far. His life started to blur with Ayers's life. It's really inspirational.

I thought the movie was done pretty well. I just wonder how it really happened and what the two men look like. I did look it up afterwards, and they look pretty different, but what are you going to do? Two talented actors did a terrific job. I just wonder how accurate the movie is to real life.

I enjoyed the movie. I heard it might even be movie of the year, 2009. Is that true? It was good, but I don't know if it was that good.

So what do you think of The Soloist?

Monday, September 14, 2009

I Was Told There'd Be Cake

True-to-life essays really captivate me. It's my new favorite genre that I am just stumbling upon. After being fascinated by David Sedaris, Chuck Klosterman, and Augusten Burroughs, I am now fascinated with Sloane Crosley's new book of essays, similar to the aforementioned authors, called I Was Told There'd Be Cake.

I was interested in this book definitely because of the nature of the stories, but I was also into the fact that she's writing about her past and she's not too much older than I am. A lot of her stories deal with issues and pop-culture references that are totally my generation. And, I get her humor.

Crosley's essays are quite a range. She'll discuss items from her childhood and even creep up into present-day issues and matters. Essays range from the following topics: collecting My Little Ponies in "The Pony Problem," working for a witch in "The Ursula Cookie," losing her keys while moving out of a New York City apartment in "Fuck You, Columbus," being half Jewish half Catholic and her voyages at religious summer camp, volunteering at the butterfly exhibit at a museum in "Sign Language for Infidels," being nominated as a maid of honor for a distant high school friend in "You on a Stick," reminiscing back to old-school computer games like Oregon Trail in "Bring-Your-Machete-To-Work-Day," and dealing with crazy neighbors.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake was such an enjoyable read. Not only is Crosley entertaining, but she's wickedly funny. She makes some pretty incredible points on obscure topics while making you think all the same. The incidents portrayed are ones that we might get ourselves messed up in (like a horrible boss or being a maid of honor) while others are completely outlandish and strange. But, that's what I like about it. I could totally connect with certain essays while I was completely entertained with other stories that were so bizarre and out there from my life. She is an excellent and easy read.

I know essays can scare some people, but they're very fun to read. They're little disconnected pieces of life that are really quite memorable. I kept wanting to read more. I hope that Crosley is on the path to creating more works because this book was spectacular. This is a great read and I would highly recommend this book to anyone who needs a light read or needs to laugh a bit.

But, I think I missed the boat on the name of the title or the cover of the book. Maybe there were some missing essays on the audio tape I listened to. I loved listening to the audio tape because Crosley read it herself. It just seems so much more personal, and it's interesting and fun to hear the author's inflections and how the author tells the story, literally. Try it if you have the opportunity. Can anyone fill me in on the title or the cover?

Read this book! So what do you think of I Was Told There'd Be Cake?

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Fillmore

A few months ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to see a concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco. The venue is known for its small atmosphere, great bands, and excellent concert posters.

When you walk in, you are assaulted with incredible pieces of artwork, or at least they seem to be, in the form of concert posters. The entire building is covered in them as if some sort of wallpaper, except they are all framed. I could spend hours in there just gazing at all of the incredible bands that have graced their presence in this important venue. It's absolutely breathtaking not only to walk through here but to see a band perform here as well.

What I like about the venue, besides the decorations and interior designs, must be the small atmosphere. The venue has two floors, so you could either watch the band from the floor, which really isn't that crowded, or from the balcony where about five tables exist if you get there and set up early. Also, they if you want to stand on the floor, where we were situated, they have aisles cleared on each side so you can walk up and down from the front to the back. You don't have to push your way through; you just need to make it to the side where an aisle is literally patrolled by a worker (trust me, my friend was constantly being flashed with a flashlight to move her dancing self out of the way). It's also nice when places provide free water instead of charging way too much for it.

At the Fillmore, bands do two sets with an intermission. This is when we took advantage of the free water. When I went, we saw Railroad Earth and they were absolutely phenomenal. What most stuck with me was their violinist, and a female guest violinist who came on stage and jammed with him. They had a violin battle, as I like to call it, where they basically duelled with violins for who could play the best solo. I've never seen anything like it in my entire life. It blew my mind--they definitely left a good impression in my mind.

And, if the show sells out, everyone gets the poster advertised for free! We got one for Railroad Earth, which was absolutely sick. It got a little crumpled on its way back to New York, but I still think it's cool.

Anyway, below I would like to show some incredible posters from the Fillmore. I'm sure you've seen them before but maybe you haven't put the venue to the design. Check them out. And check out the bands!! What band of these would you like to have seen there?

So what do you think of the Fillmore?