Thursday, July 29, 2010

Linguine with Broccoli

Coming right up at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 6

Continuing from yesterday. These are in no particular order, by the way. Just jotted them down as they occurred to me.
6. What's Eating Gilbert Grape

The movie that convinced me Leonardo DiCaprio could act.

Johnny Depp is a teenage boy who loves his 400 pound mother, his mentally retarded brother (DiCaprio), and his restless sister but the weight of their combined needs results in crushing responsibility. Stuck in the backwater of tiny Endora, he sees no way out of his situation. The answer to his problems is not what one would anticipate and is as understated as Depp's performance in many ways. Along the way, we are shown each person in greater depth and as we do the quirkiness becomes less important than the different aspects of humanity. Life affirming and it will stick with you.

In which Davies and Carruthers receive a great surprise ...

Yes, chapter 23 of The Riddle of the Sands is up at Forgotten Classics. Short but sweet. Short because the Beyond Cana retreat begins tomorrow and I have no time. Sweet, because despite past performance on a retreat week, there IS a podcast. YAY!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dogs and Eggs ... and Bandages

The Anchoress is going through the sort of suffering that the owners of old and beloved pets find themselves in. Begging her dog to just taste a soft-boiled egg.

It makes me think of when our Daffy would only eat banana bread. When she would not even eat it from my hand anymore then I knew it was time for her to go.

Somehow pets can twist us up like that. Even when they are not aged and ill.

As I well know from this week's experiences. Zoe, our female Boxer had a tiny tumor removed (cancerous, but they got all the edges). They had to remove so much skin that they weren't sure the staples would hold the edges together. She promptly tested them upon returning home by joyously leaping over a low patio wall not once, not twice, not even thrice, but four times. The stitches withstood that.

But wait, there's more.

She has an E-collar (cone of shame) and it is clear so she rams into everything full speed. Including the backs of people's legs. I now have a line of bruises up the back of the leg she favors trotting behind.

Her collar now has surgical wrap around the outside edge to help her "see" it and around the neck edge because all that ramming was rubbing a sore on her neck.

She has figured out how to prop her collar against her body and extend her head (kind of like the jaws in Aliens) so as to get to her itching leg and managed to remove the middle stitches.

Several days of repeatedly rebandaging the leg followed. THEN in order to alleviate the problems being caused by the draconian and frequent rebandaging needed to keep her from dislodging the wrapping ... yesterday they wound up bandaging her from hip to bottom of paw. Which we can't get wet, so we have to somehow affix a plastic baggie to her foot whenever she goes out. Of course, it rained last night.

We won't even get into the fact that it has taken her several days to figure out how to eat and drink without us holding little bowls to her collar. Now that she has, there is the fun that comes from her triumphant whipping of her head aloft when she is finished. Whatever was left in the bowl goes flying.

I am so very grateful that Rose has been home all week (though Rose may be less so at this point) so that there is someone to keep an eye on this crazy dog during this ordeal.

Oh the things we go through for our dear pets.

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 5

Continuing our list from yesterday.
5. A Perfect World

In Texas in the fall of 1963, Kevin Costner is one of a pair of recently escaped convicts who take an 8-year-old boy hostage on their journey, which soon becomes a journey with just Costner and the boy. The little boy has never known his father and his childish innocence sparks fatherly feelings in Costner.

Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood is the Texas Ranger tracking them down. Eastwood knows about Costner's troubled past and although he must capture him, Eastwood has a certain level of sympathy for him personally as well. Gradually we see that there is a constant contrast between the flight and the manhunt, the fatherless and those who could fill the fatherly roles. This is an understated movie but it is hard to match its examination of good versus evil, the consequences of the past on the present, and the strength of its statement against senseless violence. Also probably Kevin Costner's best performance.

A Little Bit of Flannery ... and Fascism

Yesterday I wound up reading a long conversation about the new liturgy in a forum where one would not normally find such a thing. Among other things, there was an extremely angry person who continually called the pope a fascist and, as far as I could gather, seemed to feel that in stating her opinion in the most angry and forceful way possible, she was following in the steps of those who helped the Church stay on course. No amount of conversation, whether gentle or spirited (and there were both sorts) was enough to shake her set beliefs.

I was left to my own thoughts on whose steps she felt she was following and, therefore, my thoughts turned to the great saints who have been instrumental in changing the Church in the past. St. Francis of Assisi and St. Teresa of Avila are those who always come to my mind, although I never can think of examples where they were not obedient and respectful as well as continually trying to effect change. Not being educated extensively in their writings, I could be wrong, of course.

Most mystifying of all to me was the repeated appellation of Pope Benedict as a "fascist." I don't really understand what that means and I surely don't understand why it would be applied to him. It was, therefore, with delight that this morning I read in The Habit of Being, Flannery's own response to being called a fascist because she was Catholic.
To "A."6 september 55

I looked in my Webster's and see it is 1948, so you are five years ahead of me in your vocabulary and I'll have to concede you the word. But I can't concede that I'm a fascist. The thought is probably more repugnant to me than to you, as I see it as an offense against the body of Christ. I am wondering why you convict me of believing in the use of force? It must be because you connect the Church with a belief in the use of force; but the Church is a mystical body which cannot, does not, believe in the use of force (in the sense of forcing conscience, denying the rights of conscience, etc.). I know all her hair-raising history, of course, but principle must be separated from policy Policy and politics generally go contrary to principle. I in principle do not believe in the use of force, but I might well find myself using it, in which case I would have to convict myself of sin. I believe and the Church teaches that God is as present in the idiot boy as in the genius. ...
Whether or not this has any application to that pitifully angry person's labeling of the pope is anybody's guess. But I liked what Flannery said anyway.

It's a design thing. The cat is lost in the negative space.

From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 9.15am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Poster

I opened the screen door yesterday and my cat got out and has been missing since then so I was wondering if you are not to busy you could make a poster for me. It has to be A4 and I will photocopy it and put it around my suburb this afternoon.

This is the only photo of her I have she answers to the name Missy and is black and white and about 8 months old. missing on Harper street and my phone number.
Thanks Shan.

From: David Thorne
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 9.26am
To: Shannon Walkley
Subject: Re: Poster

Dear Shannon,
... Although I have two clients expecting completed work this afternoon, I will, of course, drop everything and do whatever it takes to facilitate the speedy return of Missy.


 From: Shannon Walkley
Date: Monday 21 June 2010 10.24am
To: David Thorne
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Poster

yeah thats not what I was looking for at all. it looks like a movie and how come the photo of Missy is so small?

David is living every designer's nightmare. It's like having a truck. Instead of everyone wanting you to help them move, they all would like design favors.

The saga goes on and is more amusing all the time. See the whole thing here.

Thanks to my brother for the email that made me search out the website.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why the miracles we ask for, the miracles we expect, may not come through.

My friend The Practicing Catholic has been suffering since her father died. I have missed her, both in person and online. I know she is struggling and I also know that there is not much I can do about it other than to pray for her.

So you might understand why I was thrilled to see a new post from her. Little did I suspect that in talking about her own trials, she would cement my recent decision to give The Chronicles of Narnia one more try. Go read it all ... but here is the bit that struck me personally.
I recently recalled a passage in C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. Lewis possessed a wonderful understanding of pain and grief and persevering in faith. He wrote many great things on these subjects, but none of them have resounded with me quite so much as this passage from one of his books for children.

In this scene, the Lion Aslan, confronts the boy Digory, who has awakened the evil Witch/Queen in Aslan’s newly created land of Narnia:

“Son of Adam,” said Aslan. “Are you ready to undo the wrong that you have done to my sweet country of Narnia on the very day of its birth?”

“Well, I don’t see what I can do,” said Digory. “You see, the Queen ran away and–”

“I asked, are you ready?” said the Lion.

“Yes,” said Digory. He had had for a second some wild idea of saying “I’ll try to help you if you’ll promise to help my Mother,” but he realized in time that the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with. But when he had said “Yes,” he thought of his Mother, and he thought of the great hopes he had had, and how they were all dying away, and a lump came in his throat and tears in his eyes, and he blurted out:

“But please, please–won’t you–can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another. But I have to think of hundreds of years in the life of Narnia.”

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 4

Continuing our list from yesterday.
4. Serenity

Is it a western? Yes. Is it sci-fi? Yes. 500 years in the future, society is a mixture of "core" planets with all the luxuries and those on "the rim" where life is more like living in a old time Western. The Alliance, the totalitarian government, controls everything in the core and would like to exert the same control over all the planets.

Simon and River Tam are on the run from The Alliance. They take refuge on a spaceship whose crew will do anything, legal or illegal, to keep fed and in the air. As a survivor from the losing side in the recent civil war, the ship's captain, Mal Reynolds, doesn't mind going against the authorities but has to rethink his decision when the Alliance sends an assassin to track River down. What follows is a fantastic, fast moving adventure crackling with wit. It is also one that examines what different men choose to put their faith in, how strong that belief is, and what it means to live an unexamined life. (My complete review is here.)

A Little Bit of Flannery

I am back to reading The Habit of Being, a collection of Flannery O'Connor's letters. She is such a likable person and alternately insightful and humorous ... so naturally I am going to try to find time to share some tidbits with you.

This one is a bit out of order but I thought I'd start off with something light. And it is such toss-offs that make me wish I'd known her.
To Sally and Robert Fitzgerald

I am sending you off the mixes and whatnot tomorrow and I hope you get them before the worm does. I found it all but the Maltex. The Southern child lives in such a rich environment that he don't need Maltex and it is not to be found in this community. I substituted an angel-food cake mix that Mama dotes on. All you do is spit on it or something and you got an angel-food cake. ...

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 3

Continuing our list from last week.
3. The Castle

An understated comedy about a man whose home truly is his castle. Any normal person would jump at the chance to sell his property when the local airport wants to buy, as it sits at the end of an airport runway and directly under gigantic power lines. However, this man fights in court for the right to keep his home.

The father's unconditional love and approval for every person in his family is reciprocated by each of them. Watching the local news the father turns to his daughter, the only family member with a "college degree" (from hairdresser school), and tells her that they have "ripping bodies" but their hair really could use fixing up to be like hers. Needless to say, the daughter's hair is horrendous but her pleased and loving reaction underscores the family's complete happiness. If they think about the outside world at all it is to be sorry that the world doesn't have a share in their contentment and "riches". If more families were like this one then the world would be a better place. This movie is rated "R" for language.

Friday, July 23, 2010

In Which Carruthers Does Some Spying ...

... in the further adventures of The Riddle of the Sands, Episode 127 at Forgotten Classics. Get it while it's hot!

Something I Really LIke - Pupcakes!

Hannah had a gift certificate to Target and came home with Hello, Cupcake! and What's New, Cupcake? which she promptly proceeded to use. Luckily, she was provided with the perfect event as the vet where she works is having a goodbye party today for two vet techs who are going away to college.

These were amazingly easy. Plus, they will taste as good as they look as Hannah eschewed the authors' cake mix and canned frosting suggestions and baked from scratch chocolate cupcakes to adorn with real buttercream frosting. Now that's how you do it!

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 2

Continuing our list from yesterday.

2. Monsoon Wedding

A large, Westernized, upper middle class Indian family is gathering for a wedding in a movie that includes Bollywood-ish singing, dancing, and romance. What may be unexpected are the strong messages about family love, protection of the innocent from sexual predators, doing the right thing and telling the truth no matter what it costs you. I love this movie but Tom is the one who added it to this list which tells you that it has a wider range than one might expect. The "R" rating is for the language, mostly that of the Wedding Event Coordinator and his help. (A full review is here.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Well, Would You Look At That ...

... my little piece for the Future of Catholicism is up today. When I say little, I'm not kidding. But, you know, when you have just one thing to say you don't need to go on and on. And my one thing ... it's pretty big.

Plus, The Anchoress twisted my arm and got a photo out of me. So for anyone who is not satisfied with a purple-haired avatar, that is one more reason to check it out.

If you are dropping by from the Symposium, welcome!

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 1

This originally ran as part of a series that I intended to feature 30 films. I was inspired by Good News Film Reviews' list of 50 movies you might have missed. Do go read Scott's recommendations. Specifically, I am skipping mentioning these movies here because you can read them on his list:
Sadly I ran out of steam at about #20.

I revive it here after having a conversation with friends earlier this week where they lamented having a difficult time finding good and unusual movies outside the mainstream. I don't know if this list fits their criteria but I am always surprised when I recommend these movies and no one has heard of them.

And, who knows? I may find my original list and take it all the way to 30!

1. Mostly Martha

Martha is a chef who has a great deal of discipline, an obsession with food although she never seems to eat, and little joy in her life. When her sister dies, Martha is forced into facing unknown situations after her orphaned niece comes to live with her. Then a new chef is added to the staff and Martha's loss of control seems complete. Suddenly Martha's life is no longer under control at all with the expected growth of character resulting.

This is a slow and deliberate movie but the acting and dialogue are great and a lot of the scenes are very funny. Naturally, as this is about a chef, it is a major "foodie" film. Mostly Martha is a German movie with subtitles but don't let that scare you. Actually we liked listening to the German and picking out words that were almost the same as in English ... but that's the kind of thing our family does for fun.

Do not be fooled by the American remake: No Reservations. It completely messes up the last third of the movie.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

can I interpret this past Sunday's Gospel reading as scriptural proof that Jesus doesn't want me to cook or clean?

The Crescat asks the question and then backs it up with visual proof. How is she always so funny?

A Review in Haiku

I love reading Patrick O'Hannigan and never more than when he is whimsically reviewing a book. Go see what I mean.

And, if you'd like to see something a bit more serious, I just discovered that Patrick is one of today's featured writers in the Future of Catholicism symposium at Patheos.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Whatever Happened to Describing Something as Mouthwatering?

Or even as tantalizing? Or appealing?

No, it's all something-porn. Oh the unimaginative and vocabulary-poor times in which we live.

Regardless of that mini-rant, do pop though and take a look at these scrump-diddly-umptious book collections at Bookshelf Porn. It is enough to make one dream longingly of a large country house with a really proper library of one's own.

(Thanks to Tante Leonie for this treat!)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reviewing Inception: Putting Together a Dream Team for the Perfect Crime

Something is locked away in an impregnable fortress, something the owner knows by heart. Can this band of thieves replace it with something so similar that he'll never notice the difference?

On one level, this is the ultimate crime caper with the enjoyment of watching the team be assembled, watching the multi-layered plan be put into effect, and the tension of wondering if it will work.

On a completely different level, this movie probes how we know what is true, whether we will settle for what we wish rather than what is real, and our ultimate deep need for facing guilt and true reconciliation.

Somehow Christopher Nolan has managed to combine James Bond style action, a stylish heist movie, the best elements of the Matrix (which this blew out of the water, hands-down), horror movie suspense, a sci-fi world setting, a logic puzzle requiring intense concentration, and the love of a man for his family into a cohesive and satisfying whole. It is a mark of Christopher Nolan's skill that he leads us deeper and deeper into the complex plot without huge chunks of exposition but in such a way that we can keep up while the story flows on.

You can enjoy this on many levels or simply for the top story-telling. The acting was superb from such well known actors as Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy ... and a new actor to me, Tom Hardy.

I would say more about the plot, but having avoided every review so I could let the movie unfold and take it on the director's terms, I will let you do the same. Do not miss this elegantly told, layered story that succeeds on a personal level which I have not seen from Nolan's movies before.

SPOILERS below the white space:

Just a couple of points:
  • Ariadne - in Greek mythology was the girl who helped Theseus get through the maze so he could overcome the minotaur ... think of the maze she created to get the job. Even at the time I was watching and trying to puzzle why that name was significant, I thought that maze was like the Minotaur's labyrinth.
  • I loved how the different levels echoed the people whose subconscious we were in, such as the rain in the chemist's city, the elegant design of Arthur's hotel (just passing through), the snow-cold fortress of Fischer's heart (thank you, Dad).
  • The parallel sons and fathers were interesting as well, as briefly as we saw them. Cobb's father (Michael Caine) was supportive and taught him everything he knew. Fischer's father was cold and heartless.
  • Although we never saw them use their tokens, I liked how they echoed their makers: point man Arthur's loaded die and architect/maze maker Ariadne's chess piece.
  • Rose told me that Christopher Nolan had to use a pyramid story-telling scheme to keep track of all the levels and the time lines. One reviewer called the story relentlessly true to it's internal logic and this seemed right to us. I can't image how they kept track of all this.
  • I know this is a Nolan trademark but I liked all the repeating lines through the movie that always meant something different depending on the time, place, and character saying them. Just a clever thing that adds emphasis to the depth of the story.
  • ADDED: I am not really a Leonardo DiCaprio fan at all but he is simply wonderful in this role. It made me think back to the first movie I ever saw him in, What's Eating Gilbert Grape. He and Johnny Depp were both very good. Now, flash forward and I am mentally comparing their acting. DiCaprio's work in this film especially makes it clear to me that he is progressing into an actor of depth and that Johnny Depp, as much as I like him, has simply stalled. I am not sure whether he needs to seek different roles and directors in order to further develop his talent or whether he has fewer notes to sound than DiCaprio. Either way, he is not the same caliber of actor and everyone in our family had to admit it (despite the fact that none of the females wanted to do so!).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More Books ...

Continuing the book talk with what I've read ... this catches us up for the moment.

The Window at the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Picked this up from LibriVox and I recommend it highly for the narrration by Robert Keiper which is pure delight. His introduction reads:
When a clumsy, well-meaning lawyer gets involved with a pair of delightful old maids and a beautiful girl, he must acquire some of the skills of his friends the detective and the newspaperman to solve the puzzle of The White Cat. That’s the name of a back-street political club serving beers, political favors and, occasionally, murder.
There is a wickedly understated humor to the story telling that the narrator picks up perfectly and which adds to the enjoyment of this old mystery. #59.

Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family
Picked this up at random at Half Price Books. I have a vague memory of having read it before but that may be inaccurate. You'd think from the name that this would be chock-full of life at a restaurant, whether from a childhood standpoint or adult looking back. Not so. Volk takes us into the lives of her quirky, fascinating relatives and gives us a look back at when individuality was to be expected of everyone. The restaurant was somewhat incidental and was presented as just another quirk of a few people's personalities but I didn't mind that at all.

Clearly Volk loves her family and there are many moments worth reading about here: funny, wistful, and sometimes cringe-worthy. What comes through more than anything is Volk's love and appreciation for all these people and I learned to like them very much indeed. My favorite was the aunt who spent 7 hours as a hostage at gunpoint and wound up being turned loose, having given the young man some very good advice about how to spend his time in prison and a decent meal. #60.

Vampire$ by John Steakley
(my review here) #61.

Armor by John Steakley
After reading Vampire$, there was no way I couldn't try this. How handy that I already had it in my bedside stack since I got them both from the library at the same time.

This book was written before Vampires and in some basic ways is very similar in character structure. I also am confused about why Steakley can only seem to name his main protagonists Felix and Jack Crow, especially when they are clearly supposed to be different people in a different reality. However, be that as it may, Armor is an intense story that holds up fairly well but didn't really grab my interest until about halfway through the book. Unfortunately, that is also the time that I realized a major plot twist revealed at the end of the book. I would say "figured out" but I felt my conclusion was practically thrust upon me. So that took the edge off of a lot of the story for me.

Not bad, and I may like it much better if I reread it. Not sure if that will happen though ... #62.

They Did It With Love
Yet another book thrust upon me by Hannah, however after reading Vampire$ and Armor I needed something light. This fills the bill as it is exceedingly lightweight and fluffy. A suburban murder mystery featuring a mystery book club that is determined to solve the murder of one of their own. Although that makes it sound as if this is a group of good friends making a concerted effort and that actually has just begun happening on around page 200. And I would never call these ladies pals. At best they seem to have joined the book club as refugees from the tedium of suburban life. Not riveting but it's a quick read thus far and I'm close enough to the end to want to stick around and see who dunnit. I slogged through the last hundred pages with unfaithful couples piling up like cordwood around me. It got more and more tedious until it got to a conclusion that I found distinctly unsatisfying. NOT recommended. #63.

You Are What You See: Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens
Y'all know by now that I like this book so I will direct you to this excellent review from Brandywine Books. #64.

Wife of the Chef
I seem to remember having read this long ago. Just began it but if nothing else you will appreciate how very un-busy your life seems in comparison to that of a restaurant owner-chef. A standard behind-the-scenes in the restaurant business book. However, the frantic pace of the text covering one mishap and frantic problem after another serves to make one wonder how they remain in business or even married. I blame the editor for this as if the author had slowed down occasionally for some thoughtful pondering and appreciation of the positive aspects of this restaurant life then the readers would have been able to see she had more than one note. I understand why some reviewers thought she was angry and complaining all the time. I believe much of it is an attempt at self-deprecating humor with the eye of sharing all with the reader. However, it does not come off well and an entire book full of it is wearying. #65.

Laughter in the Alehouse by Henry Kane
I discovered Henry Kane in Lawrence Block's article about him featured in the current Mystery Scene magazine. This was a nice combination of mystery and spy novel featuring a police lieutenant who has retired early enough to still enjoy life and earn extra money by taking on detection cases. Written in 1968 when a person could enjoy a cigarette without condemnation, handsome men slept with beautiful women without needing a blow-by-blow description, and main characters were sophisticated about food, quotations, and motivations. Quite enjoyable indeed. #66.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Something I Really LIke - A Chance to Be Creative

This is one of the few books that I have done all the creative design and layout for, including the cover.

It was a pleasure to work on also because it is the sort of book that I wish I'd had around when our own girls were young. I used to give the girls coupons for their birthdays and Christmas. They were good for their choice of activity with either Tom or me or for the entire family. Then I insisted that they use them ... and we had lots of fun with those.

This is a similar concept, but for an older girl who is getting ready to make those great strides toward womanhood. Michaelann Martin takes that same concept of mothers and daughters spending one-on-one time and puts it to good use in helping prepare a girl for her future as a woman of God. She gets creative but allows just the right amount of leeway for you to be creative also. It is a great book (oh, and so well designed!).
Girls' Night Out is divided into ten lessons, accompanied by a date activity that journeys to a tea house, salon, shrine, book store, cafĂ©, jewelry shop, department store, nail spa, community recreation center, a walk in your neighborhood, park, or simple hike, scenic drive, ice cream parlor, restaurant, and other inexpensive places to invest in your relationship with your daughter. This book is perfect for mothers who want to build close bonds with their daughters and are willing to invest special time in their daughter’s preadolescent years not only as a mom but as a special friend, examining their lives in light of God’s Word and the virtues.
Here are a few looks at some inside pages ... click on them to enlarge. You can order the book at Emmaus Road Publishing.

Books ...

It's been a while since I ran down the reading list, as we can see from the length of this list. I'll have some more for you tomorrow.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Major Pettigrew is living a quiet life in the village of Edgecombe St. Mary when the news that his brother has suddenly died comes and sends him into a (very quiet) tailspin. It sparks a sudden friendship with Mrs. Ali who has also lost her husband. Both are struggling quietly with relatives who selfishly want to force them to behave differently.

A brilliantly told tale in which no character is perfect but also no character is without a nuanced personality, which means no one is all bad either. A gentle tale of love, second chances, and self realization. #50.

Assam and Darjeeling
If there is any justice in this world, then this book will become a classic. I was enchanted by it when listening to T.M. Camp's audio version on iTunes (want a sample? go listen.)

Picking up the published version, I was afraid that the story wouldn't hold up to what I remembered. I need not have feared. The printed version is superior, in fact, because the eye can linger over the beautifully written phrases, which add a depth that the ear doesn't convey in quite the same way.

A masterful and nuanced book, Assam & Darjeeling is the story of a quest straight into legendary, mythological landscape. Two children’s efforts to save their mother serves as a lens through which we see pure love, redemption, and sacrifice. (For my complete review, go to SFFaudio. Highest recommendation. #51.

The Help
This is a brilliantly written book. Honestly, if I’d really known what it was about I’d never have been interested but once I was engrossed in it I was glad to have read this excellent book. Told by two different servants and one young woman who doesn’t fit into the Jackson, Mississippi society because she didn’t immediately get married and begin a family, this is a story of their unexpected collaboration on a secret project that results in all of them crossing lines that are not acknowledged aloud but which must be crossed in order to truly know themselves. I raced through the last fourth of it. Highly recommended. HIGHLY! #52.

The Guernsey Island Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
This book of letters back and forth between a London author and members of a literary society on Guernsey is a light and easy read. It takes the reader into what it was like on Guernsey during German occupation of the island, while simultaneously communicating just how much books can change a person's life. Very good. #53.

Trouble is My Business
Having suffered through City of Dragons, I realized I'd never really read any of the prototypical genre she was attempting to emulate. My random selections of Raymond Chandler from the library yielded a book of short stories and a novel. Beginning with this book of short stories, I discovered that Chandler is an author I am enjoying. These pithy stories are exactly what you would expect from the creator of Philip Marlowe, except that they show the quintessential hard-boiled detective from a developmental stage through many different stories. The last four stories have Philip Marlowe in them. Great fun. #54.

The Rookie
THE ROOKIE is set amongst a lethal pro football league 700 years in the future. Aliens play positions based on physiology, creating receivers that jump 25 feet into the air, linemen that bench-press 1,200 pounds, and linebackers that -- literally -- want to eat you. Organized crime runs every franchise, games are fixed and rival players are assassinated.

Follow the story of Quentin Barnes, a 19-year-old quarterback prodigy that has been raised all his life to hate, and kill, those aliens. Quentin must deal with his racism and learn to lead, or he'll wind up just another stat in the column marked "killed on the field."
I was listening to Luke Burrage's excellent review of this audiobook when I realized I had set it aside about halfway through in order to listen to something else (can't remember why) and forgotten to go back to it. I'm finishing up the last few chapters now. but as always Sigler writes completely entertainingly. Not a deep story but more of a coming of age story in space. The alien races created are very creative, as are the adaptations of the football rules to accommodate their participation.

Warning: when the author says with glee "lots and LOTS of violence" he means it. #55.

Katish: Our Russian Cook
Picked up this Modern Library edition using a Half Price Books gift certificate I received for my birthday. Just began it as I hadn't read anything food related in so long and after a while I've gotta have a fix. A charming, gentle memoir of a time when you could afford a cook and it might just give a Russian immigrant a home in America. In the process you will be fed many Russian delicacies and jot down the recipes so that others may enjoy them also.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
I read this for the SFFaudio read-along and found it very difficult to get into, although having found a definition of a pyrotechnic book in the introduction (which I read after finishing the book) helped a lot. Essentially the book is one firecracker after another, each bigger than the next so that the reader is rocketed (ha!) through the plot.

At the most basic level, this is the story of Gulliver Foyle who becomes obsessed with finding the ship that refused to stop and aid him when he was stranded aboard a wrecked spaceship. There are many other levels or themes to this story, most prominent of which is transformation. I will not expound upon this further as I want to discuss it on the podcast in July. However, I found it thought provoking, especially Foyle's statement about faith.

Definitely recommended, but be prepared to be patient as you adjust to the clipping pace. You may find yourself bewildered. It is intentional and you'll catch up as you read along. #57.

This Tremendous Lover
A bestseller over 60 years ago, written to act as an introduction to the spiritual life for every day Catholics, this book still speaks to us over the years on a highly practical level. Although sometimes the points Boylan is making have an emphasis that does not strictly apply to our modern lives, it is never a point wasted. As my husband has pointed out when I've read examples to him, quite often those points are still true for people today but they are just not spoken of as much. Really a wonderful book but time is needed to read in segments that allow for thought afterward. (Provided for review by Tiber River.)

Completely brilliant, both on a theological level and a personal level. I will be reviewing this in further depth later. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! #58.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Something I Really LIke - Toy Story 3

Critics are divided on this movie. They either love it or they criticize it as being the same old thing all over again.

I went with trepidation and was relieved to find it was a worthy end to the trilogy.

Don't listen to the naysayers (yes, Scott, I'm talkin' to you). It is funny, clever, and tells a worthwhile story. Even if there were nothing new, a good sequel that could stand on its own is worth the money.

I was especially intrigued by our glimpses of Andy as he is college-bound and facing transition to an adult. What do we regret? What do we hope for? There are hints of that in Andy's behavior.

I found that others had covered a lot of what I would have said about the movie on a deeper level, so I will excerpt them below. I will put subheads that won't spoil anything because the copy WILL contain spoilers (I saved these reviews to read until after I had seen the movie):

The Wonder of Storytelling
And wonder, actually, is what brings me to the second thing. Because at bottom, "Toy Story 3" is really about wonder -- specifically, the wonder of storytelling.

Near the end of the film, Andy finds a shy little girl who inherits his beloved toys -and the scene where he introduces her to them is enough to make strong men weep. (Pardon me, while I blow my nose. Sniff.) In that moment, Andy has discovered a kindred spirit: another kid without a dad, but one, like him, with a crazy and extravagant imagination -- the kind of imagination that will find new adventures for the toys, with new stories to tell. The movie that begins with an elaborate sequence inside Andy's imagination ends on a note of sweet expectation. You can't escape the hopeful feeling that there are many more Toy Stories waiting to be told, as long as there are children to love the toys, and keep them going. (An aside: There's also a hint that the greatest story, and greatest adventure of all, is life itself. I loved that the last shot of "TS3 "is the first shot of the original film: a blue sky dotted by clouds. But in the first film, it's a sky painted on Andy's bedroom wall. Here, it's the real sky of the real world - or, at least, Pixar's real world -- suggesting limitless adventures out there that are awaiting the little boy who grew up, and moved on.) — The Deacon's Bench
Attachment to People, Attachment to Things
As I was watching the scene in which Andy is giving away his toys, I was getting all choked up, getting a little teary eyed (I pretty sure I wasn't the only one who got all teary eyed as you can see here.) What the heck was I freaking out about. These are toys! This is an animated movie! I rationalized with myself that even though these were both true statements we, as movie goers, had assigned human personalities to them. After all, through three movies now, we had seen their adventures. We have seen them talk and walk and show fear, happiness and sorrow. In our minds, they weren't toys, or a cartoon---they were just as human as a human actor in a live-action movie.

Or was that all there was to it? Maybe we could associate with Andy and how he felt in giving away his toys. After all, we have all had to get rid of personal belongings before. We've all had belongings that have sentimental value to us. The question is--how much sentimental value to we put on these things. — Roman Catholic Cop
Right Relationship
there is enough here to explore the movie’s interesting logic of toy happiness. Such happiness depends upon a relationship between the owner and his toys. But the owner is not an owner in the same way that a slave-owner is an owner, and the toys are not “owned” as slaves are “owned.” The toys always remain free, but they cannot act freely for their happiness without an owner who plays with them and loves them. Their owner is something of a cross between a father (or mother) and a friend, and he loves and is loved in return. The relationship is necessary for the fulfillment of the toys. — Catholic Key Blog

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Some podcast lagniappe: You Are What You See

A little something extra about movies and how to watch them. From Forgotten Classics.

Something I Really Like - Thirst Quenching

Pomegranate Italian Soda from Tom Thumb. It is the best substitute for the now gone Central Market Pomegranate Soda. Deliciously tart, it is better than lemonade. Mmmm ...

In which Fraulein Dollman is shocked ...

... and the story begins to really pick up the pace. Yes, more of The Riddle of the Sands awaits you at Forgotten Classics. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spontaneous prayer for an injured fan during a ballgame

A fan tried to snag a ball during the Rangers-Indians game and wound up falling 30 feet instead.
The TV screen showed Indians outfielder Trevor Crowe kneeling face down with his head in his hands.

“What’s he doing?” my 13-year-old son asked, unsure if he was seeing what he thought he was.

“He’s praying,” I confirmed. As emergency personnel at Rangers Ballpark rushed to the fan’s aid, Cleveland shortstop Jason Donald also appeared to be praying.

I have watched a few thousand — OK, a few million — major-league baseball games in my lifetime. Never before that I recall have I seen major-league ballplayers bow on the field in spontaneous prayer. ...
Luckily, it seems that the man ... and the people he landed on (that didn't occur to me when hearing the story on the radio this morning ... that he could land on people) ... are not seriously injured.

I was very moved by the fact that the first instinct from some players was to sink down in prayer.

How was it covered in the news? As always, GetReligion's got that story.

Something I Really Like - Around the House

The FlexGrip pen from Papermate.

I can't tell you how often Tom and I have griped because there weren't any inexpensive pens that actually worked well or felt right in our hands. The last time Rose was home she was looking for these so she could resupply. When it came up in conversation, others of Hannah's and Rose's acquaintance confirmed the FlexGrip as a treasure.

Once I found a supply at Target, I was really happy with them. They are all I ever wanted: lightweight, write without skipping (a problem for us lefties), slim, medium point, retractable, with a clip ... and cheap!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Something I Really Like: Boxers and TV

Specifically, a young male Boxer, Wash, who has just turned one year old. He is suddenly realizing that he's the "man dog" around the place and over the weekend took over guarding duties. It has been very interesting watching Zoe let him do it as she's always been the alpha-guard around here.

As to TV, Wash has always been more aware of the television than other dogs we've had. He particularly responds to dogs barking. Now that we have the 40" monster and dogs barking look life size, Wash will bound over to the television and brace himself on the console so he can bark back "in person." When the dog disappears mysteriously, he will then go looking for the interloper around the house.

It is all quite amusing watching this young 'un find his feet as a soon-to-be alpha dog.

Vampire$, Dallas and Catholics. Oh my!

  1. God is real AND vampires are too.
  2. A team of mercenaries, with pure hearts, are taking cash for cleaning up vampire infested towns.
  3. The anti-vamp mercs are in league with the Pope and the Vatican, who know and support their efforts.
This was the section of Jesse's SFFaudio Essential review of Vampire$ that made me sit up and take notice. That, and the fact that Jesse rarely is as all-out enthusiastic as he was in this review, made me pick up a copy from the library.

Jack Crow leads a group of hardened mercenaries in hunting the evilest of all prey: vampires. Crow's only ally and employer, is the Vatican, specifically the pope. Most people do not know vampires are more than creatures of fiction so this makes "Team Crow's" job even more difficult, especially when it comes to getting cooperation from law enforcement. They don't let that stop them, however, and just do what a warrior's gotta do, which is to stop Evil in its tracks. That this is a military-style epic tale becomes clear as we see that the vampire hunters' violent, cursing exteriors can't hide their hearts of gold, especially for the other members of the team who are their true family. It is when Felix, a former drug smuggler, is added as an integral member of the team that the book takes off as he struggles with the concept that this may be the destiny he was born for.

The story is told in a clean, spare style which makes it no less riveting. There are plot turns and twists right up to the end of the book and many of them really surprised me because the style lured me into thinking this would be straight forward story telling. I also appreciated Steakley's sense of humor. For instance his use of rock and roll versus opera was a throwaway bit on the surface but reflected much about the people involved. As well, once I learned that Cat was a joker, I would anticipate his comments as soon as I saw he was going to speak. His puns were corny but used in original ways and that is a rare talent.

My only complaint is that there is one section where we hear an "inside story" about how a vampire takes over prey and establishes a base to work from. This seemed overly long and the concept and pattern were repeated with far too many examples. As this was a highly sexualized part of the tale, it seemed simply like an excuse to include lascivious details which quickly bored me. However, I must also add that this section was far less explicit than one would find in a comparable work today, or so it seems to me, and I appreciated that.

Highly recommended for those who like vampire tales, mercenaries with hearts of gold, Texas, and old-school use of the Catholic Church in fighting Evil. Not necessarily in that order.

For more about this author and Texas and the Church, just keep reading.

(Warning: this book contains sex, vampires, and rock and roll ... and all the bad language and violence which those things imply. Yes, I loved much of it because it felt very appropriate to the situations, but if you will not: avoid this book.)

I found myself surprised and intrigued by even more than the plot twists and turns that add pleasing dimension to the story. Steakley doesn't name names but his descriptions are enough to let you know that he has rooted the story in fact whenever possible. Jack Crow's favorite hotel is the Adolphus in Dallas. The pope's description leaves no one in doubt that we are reading about John Paul II.

For one thing, it looked as if author John Steakley knew Dallas. My first clue was reading his description of the Dallas bishop, when "Team Crow" goes by the bishop's residence to pick up their package of silver crosses sent straight from Rome.
The silver had arrived from Rome through the local see. The bishop was a new man who knew nothing about Team Crow or, for that matter, his parishioners. Persuaded by his aide that anyone with enough clout to receive a package from the Vatican through diplomatic channels was worth knowing, he grudgingly consented to share his sumptuous evening feast with Crow & Co.

It took less than fifteen minutes in his presence for Team Crow to know all the important facts about this man. He was cold. He was haughty. He was better than his flock, more cultured, more intelligently pious, more .. how shall one put it? More aristocratic.

The bishop was an idiot.
I felt a jolt of recognition. I told Tom briefly about the book, said it was set in Dallas, and copyrighted in 1990. Then I read him the description, and waited. It took only a second and then we both burst out laughing. It was a spot-on description of Bishop Grahmann who was installed in the Dallas diocese early in 1990.

However, that is also a common sort of character to encounter so I chalked it up to coincidence. It was when I saw that a wealthy character was introduced who lived in a secluded part of Inwood Road then I knew no coincidence was involved. John Steakly knew Dallas well because anyone from outside the area would have most probably placed the residence in Highland Park.

I asked Tom if he thought this author might be from Dallas and when I spelled his name, Tom said, "You mean as in Steakley Chevrolet?" (Now defunct but a Dallas staple car dealership for many, many years).

Oh. Right. I knew I had heard that name before.

Further research showed Steakley was from nearby Cleburn, Texas, which anyone who reads the book will recognize as a major setting and one where the police force is highly praised. For any Dallasites reading I will add that John Steakley lives in McKinney now. So he knows whereof he writes about Dallas.

(slight spoilers in this section)
It is not only Dallas that you get the feeling John Steakly understands. There is a dependence on the Catholic Church in the way that vampire tales of old used to convey. Good versus Evil. God versus the Unholy. Love, suffering, sacrifice, and redemption.

In the flicks that church forgot podcast review of 'Salem's Lot, Peter Laws pointed out that this was one of the first horror movies to devalue the nature of the sacraments into a reflection of personal faith. Actually, to put it as St. Augustine did, a sacrament is "a visible sign of an invisible reality." They have intrinsic value in and of themselves because they are blessed. (This might make them sound as if they are "magic" but that would be another misunderstanding and is not true ...)

The movie reflects Stephen King's book on this point of personal faith and sacraments. I was not Christian until long afterward but I still remember being vividly impressed by this speech from the book made by the master vampire after he has overpowered the priest, a man of shaky faith further undermined by alcoholism:
The cross--the bread and wine--the confessional--only symbols. Without faith the cross is only wood, the bread baked wheat, the wine sour grapes. If you had cast the cross away, you should have beaten me another night. In a way, I had hoped it might be so. It has been long since I had met a opponent of any real worth. The boy makes ten of you, false priest.
I took this as a statement of fact and it took several years of Catholicism to overcome a tendency to revert to this wrong concept.

There is no such shakiness in this book. The requirement for bullets made from the silver rendered by melting crosses which had to have been blessed by a bishop or higher does not also include that the gunman be a believer. The sacramental value is contained within the ammunition itself.

Furthermore, Steakley had no way of knowing in 1990 that Bishop Grahmann would never work well with his flock and that other major grievances would arise from his tenure. I, myself, had to struggle mightily with forgiveness on several fronts for this man. I will not spoil the moment by telling about the occasion in the story, but Steakley redeems the bishop in a spectacular way that out and out forgives the bishop for his lack of character. Well before that, he gives the bishop humanity which shows after the truth of the situation is understood.

Within the context of the story, this works well in moving the plot along. However, taken from the standpoint of one who was aware of the bishop both as non-Catholic and as a convert, it is a very generous stance. It is a stance of forgiveness and understanding that is far beyond that extended even today by some people toward the bishop. It was a humbling moment, actually, to realize that I am not sure if I'd have had that character show that Father Adam is right when he says, "There is a reason why people become priests, Kirk." It is a thoroughly Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

Those examples are just a few of the ways that Steakley unwaveringly sets the Church as the driving force behind this epic battle between good and evil. Just as those who enjoy horror read Dean Koontz's books with a Catholic focus, so can they enjoy this particular book. He knows whereof he writes about the Church.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Something I Really Like: Two Women Talking

In other words, coffee with a friend.

I don't usually have time to go to lunch during the day and my evenings tend to be rather full. I am, however, able to squeeze in an hour before the work day begins for coffee with a friend.

I must thank a good friend for being so persistent about getting together that I was forced to reevaluate my schedule. I now find this time once a week (or every other week) to be just what I needed in connecting one-on-one with people I don't usually get to talk with.

It is simply wonderful.

Elements of Faith: A Catholic Women's Book Club

Having evidently turned into a Goodreads junkie, I have just created a group for our local Catholic women's book club.

Not only will this make it easier to have between meeting book talk, but it allows us to open the club up to those who can't make it in person, such as most of the readers of this blog.

Even guys may find themselves interested in our book selections.

Feel free to check out the group's bookshelves and join up if you are interested.

Thursday, July 1, 2010 18 FREE Audiobooks (2 per week over the summer)


Everything from Shirley Jackson to Robert Louis Stevenson and including The Hunger Games, which I've been interested in since both Scott Danielson and Steven Riddle posted rave reviews about it.

Jesse says that you have to jump through a few hoops to get the books but I can do that thing. He's got the steps outlined and it doesn't look too bad, especially if the result is 18 free audiobooks. Check it out at SFFaudio.

The Best Thing About Eclipse? This Review.

Then we cut to Bella and Edward doing homework in a meadow. Must Edward and Bella ruin everything? (Yes.)

Also, he doesn't even let her do homework, which - look, dude, it's your own business if you want to spend your immortal years repeating high school in an endless cycle that would haunt the nightmares of any normal person who has been to high school just the one time, but some of us are just trying to pass Affectless Poetry Reading 102, okay?
Genevieve Valentine has that certain something that makes me enjoy readig very long posts about movies that I care nothing about. Yes, she's that entertaining. Here's a bit more that amused me ... and then you can click through and read it all for yourself ... with captioned photos!
Since the last movie, all the Cullens changed their hair. Carlisle also changed his accent (he's using Madonna's British one from 2005). He's not the only one, though; halfway through a flashback to his time in the Confederacy, Jackson Rathbone picks up a drawl that he decides not to put down, so for the last third of the movie it's like he's looping Val Kilmer in Tombstone.

Something I Really Like - Bookishly

I am greatly enjoying this book so far which we have begun for our Catholic women's book club. Talk about a great summer read!

It is an epic tale from the days when Christianity was new ... of Romans, Christians, slaves, and ... lions in the arena. I never realized that this was written in Polish and, as it says on Amazon, "The novel has as a subtext the persecution and political subjugation of Poland by Russia." Interesting ...

A little info I just stumbled across that gives me some interesting context:
Quo vadis? is a Latin phrase meaning "Where are you going?" or "Whither goest thou?". The modern usage of the phrase refers to Christian tradition, related in the apocryphal Acts of Peter (Vercelli Acts XXXV), in which Saint Peter meets Jesus as Peter is fleeing from likely crucifixion in Rome. Peter asks Jesus the question; Jesus' answer, "I am going to Rome to be crucified again" (Eo Romam iterum crucifigi), prompts Peter to gain the courage to continue his ministry and eventually become a martyr.

A little something extra about urban farms and real nature.

A bit of lagniappe from Forgotten Classics.