In Which I Discover What Kind of Videos My Teen Boy is Watching…

Every night at bedtime lately The Peeshwank lovingly hugs me and sneaks the tablet out of my hands and trots off to bed.  When I ask him what he does, he just says, “Oh, watch videos or read on the kindle app.”  He’s always been a trustworthy kid and whenever I check on him, there aren’t any crazy online shenanigans going on. The other day I finally discovered what’s been keeping him so engrossed though.

It wasn’t what I expected…

P: I saw this awesome thing the other night.  It’s… (he begins describing some scientific concept my brain just couldn’t wrap itself around)

Me: Is that for real?

P: Yeah, I watched a video on it.  It’s so awesome.

Me: Where did you see this? (Thinking it would be some sci-fi youtuber or something.)

P: Oh, it was on yesterday’s TED video, but it was so cool.  They…

Me: Wait, you watch TED videos?

P: Yeah, every day.  They’re awesome.

Me: Carry on.

Whew.

tedtalks

What I Read: May

The Last Cato by Matilde Asense

This book is basically what would happen if Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code gave birth to a daughter. The main character is a nun who translates ancient works for the Vatican. She’s an intriguing character to say the least. She pairs up with the leader of the Swiss Guard and an Egyptian scholar to track down the people behind the disappearance of pieces of the cross Jesus was allegedly crucified upon.  It’s a fun story with a lot of history mixed in.  A lot of history. When I was in school, I never would’ve considered myself a history buff, but I guess I am. I loved reading about Constantine, St. Helen, and so many other stories the author worked into the novel.  The historical references were one of the best parts of the novel.  The “tests” the characters have to endure required a lot of suspension of disbelief.  The last chapter is a throwaway.  It’s like she ran out of steam and just quickly wrote the first thing that popped into her head.  Of course, it may have lost something in translation along the way.  A good editor could’ve corrected most of what’s wrong with the book.  Seriously, are proofreaders and editors a thing of the past?
On a side note, I noticed Dan Brown is coming out with a book that focuses on Dante’s Inferno.  Nice.  I guess he’s hoping we haven’t read The Last Cato…
Oh, and for the second month in a row, a book I read mentioned Briareus.  What an odd coincidence.

Naked Heat by Richard Castle

Yes, as a die-hard Browncoat, I am required by law to watch “Castle.”  Crime shows were never my thing, but I will follow my Captain wherever the ‘verse takes us.  And so, when I saw this at the used bookstore at my local library for a meager 50 cents, I couldn’t resist.  And… it’s not good.  It’s not even close to good.  It’s a poorly-written hour-long Castle episode spread out over 400 pages minus the wit, dialogue, and character growth.
One thing I did enjoy were the couple of Firefly references.  I read the first one and thought, “This was written by someone pretending to be Richard Castle, who is portrayed by Nathan Fillion, who played my beloved Captain… it’s like Inception: Browncoat-style.”  If you want to read it, you can have my copy.  I won’t revisit this one.

Nathan Fillion at Borders Northridge

Nathan Fillion kissing a baby.
Just because.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

My dear friend, Tina, gave me a copy of this book after falling in love with it herself.  It’s a series of letters between an author, her best friend, her publisher, and the people of the British Channel isle of Guernsey after WWII.  It’s funny and heartbreaking and easy to get swept up in.  As soon as I finished, I immediately began researching the Channel Islands with the hopes that someday I could go visit the charming little island that was so intriguing throughout the book.  It’s not a change-the-world type of book, but it mixes romance, intrigue and humor with the German occupation of the island during WWII in a beautiful way.  It’s a must-read for fans of the epistolary novel.  (A favorite style of mine and one that I hope to try my hand at writing in the near future.)

Liberating Paris by Linda Bloodworth Thomason

I picked up this novel at our library’s used book sale mainly because Paris, France has become The Peeshwank’s latest vacation-spot obsession.  So, imagine my surprise when I realized that it wasn’t about Paris, France, but Paris, Arkansas.  It was written by one of my all-time favorite TV writers (“Designing Women” and “M*A*S*H”).  Then as I read the “thank yous” at the beginning, the author thanked someone I know personally.  It was like the gods were begging me to read this book and I’m so glad they did.  The story lines (of which there are several) touch on everything from young love to homosexuality, from the Wal-Marting of America to religious hypocrisy.  And they are told masterfully.  On one page I found myself laughing out loud and a page later fighting back tears.  I loved the characters and the setting.  It felt like any small town here in my neck of the woods.  This is one of the few books that I feel would make an excellent movie.  Or TV show (since Mrs. Thomason has already proven she has a knack for that.)

Cover of "Liberating Paris: A Novel"

What I Read: April

The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus

I was really surprised that a novel about a real estate mishap could’ve engrossed me as much as this did from the start.  The switching points of view between recovering alcoholic/drug abuser Kathy Nicolo and former Colonel in the Iranian military Massoud Amir Behrani are written quite masterfully.  The last 100 pages or so let me down somewhat.  I finished reading it, but felt like the first half of the book was so much better written.  I could’ve done without switching to Lester’s 3rd person point of view later in the book.  As I was reading the last few chapters, I kept asking, “What!? But why? Seriously, why?  WHY?!?”  The characters reached a point where I just wanted to shake them. It’s a long read and can be quite tedious at times, but an interesting character study.

Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and The Olympians #2) by Rick Riordan

The Peeshwank and I read all of the Percy Jackson books together way back when they first came out.  They were some of the first “real” books he read, so they hold a special place in my heart.  Add to that how sweet Rick Riordan is in person and I can’t help but love the books.  I decided to revisit this one in particular because the trailer for the long-awaited movie (seriously, these kids are gonna be 40 by the time we get to the last movie at the rate they’re going) was released this week and although it looks like Hollywood did a typical chop job of the source material, we’ll be going to see it because…

Captain Tightpants himself as Hermes.  Y'all.  Seriously.

Captain Tightpants himself as Hermes. Y’all. Seriously.

And yes, they totally changed up the scene where Percy meets the Greek God of Bringing Sexy Back Thieves (and fathering lots of half-bloods), but I prefer my Captain in a suit anyway.  But, I digress.  We’re talking about the book here.  The book is… oh, who am I kidding?  Captain Mal as a Greek God.  Y’all.  The swoon is strong with this one.

The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #3) by Rick Riordan
The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #4) by Rick Riordan
The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #5) by Rick Riordan

Yeah, I ended up re-reading the rest of the series once I finished “Sea of Monsters”.  It really is a fun children’s series.  I always loved studying Greek mythology in school, so it’s amusing to see how Riordan plays with it and makes it work in our modern world.  Sure they follow the Harry Potter formula – three friends battle evil and just when you think all hope is lost, some deus ex machina swoops in to save the day, but it’s fantasy fiction for kids so it doesn’t bother me.  I think my favorite of the three is Labyrinth because, Briareus y’all!  Last time I heard about how he was doing was when I read Dante.  It’s always nice to run into old friends.

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I was looking for something to transition me back into more grown-up fare and grabbed this one out of The Peeshwank’s library.  This is one of the hundreds of YA novels The Peeshwank has picked up at book fairs over the years.  The cover intrigued me as soon as I saw it.  (I’m a DNA/genetics nerd, big time.)  It also clued me in as to what the big secret was regarding the main character’s identity.  It’s a little predictable, but it was a quick, read-in-one-sitting book.  It would be a good one for a tween/teen girl that likes to read about strong heroines.  It also tackles some deeper themes like science vs. religion that I truly appreciated seeing in a book meant for a younger audience.  That just doesn’t happen enough in YA lit.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Murakami loves to bend reality and send his readers on a metaphysical journey.  I read 1Q84 last year and fell in love with it.  I enjoy going into a book having absolutely no idea what to expect.  This one did not disappoint.  Murakami’s not for everyone, so unless you enjoy reading along and all of a sudden a main character is having a conversation with a cat, you may want to skip this one.  His descriptions of Japan and Japanese life are absolutely beautiful.  The settings in this story made me want to pack up and jump on a plane and follow in 15-year-old runaway, Kafka Tamura’s footsteps.

Kafka on the Shore

I’m almost done reading a sweeping epic of a book, but I don’t think I’ll have it finished today, so it’ll go on the May list.  Until then, read a book or two and let me know if you find any that you positively adore.

Like these.  (Another one will hopefully be joining them soon!)

The Peeshwank and The Lyrids: A Conversation

English: A meteor during the peak of the 2009 ...

Living in a science-loving home we are all about meteor showers, comets, eclipses and all sorts of other night sky phenomena.  The Peeshwank will drag the telescope out to the front yard to try to view all sorts of things.  (Usually this takes place on the coldest nights of the year.  Of course.)

This week, the Lyrid meteor shower promised to entertain us for a night.  So we bundled up and took our place in the driveway and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.

P: You know, on nights like these we should really live out in the the country.

Me: Yeah, the lights in town make it hard to see anything.

P:  And if we’re out in the country watching for meteor showers that aren’t gonna show up, at least we wouldn’t have neighbors around wondering, “What are those idiots doing laying in the driveway again?”

Touche`, Peeshwank.

What I Read: March

The list for March is fairly short because I’ve been writing.  Wanna see?

lastgirlpart2This is part two of my soon-to-be released book “The Last Girl”.  I’ve been diligently trying to get it organized (it’s told in non-linear sequence) and edited so it will hopefully be available for public consumption in time for summer. I’m venturing into dystopian territory and I’m really nervous about how it will be received.  Kind thoughts and good vibes are welcomed at this point.

But don’t worry, I still read a handful of books, so let’s get to it…

“Naked Picture of Famous People” by Jon Stewart

If you haven’t read Stewart’s collection of essays, you should.  Just because it’s funny.  Like pain in the side, make it stop I’m gonna pee myself funny.  I decided I would read one essay a night before bed.  The first night I read about a Jewish kid’s weekend at Hyannisport with a young JFK and couldn’t stop giggling.  Even long after the better half had shut off the lights.  I decided I should probably save it for another time of day since Joe probably wasn’t too thrilled with my bursts of laughter throughout the night.  (One of the dangers of sleeping next to an insomniac – when they are lying awake and remember something hilarious, their giggling may wake you.)  I’m sure Joe was happy that I hadn’t read the piece documenting Vincent Van Gogh’s foray into AOL chatrooms.  I had tears flowing during that one.  And yes, it has been out a very long time, so some of it may feel dated, but it’s still good for a laugh.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The tale is much different from his classic “Remains of the Day”, but it’s just as beautifully written.  It’s one of those stories that doesn’t fit well into a genre at all.  It’s coming of age, Brit-lit with a sci-fi leaning.  Yes, it sounds strange, but it’s really quite lovely and dark. (Yes, to me a well-written dark book is far more entertaining than happy books.  I’m just weird like that.)  If you’re going into it expecting groundbreaking sci-fi, you may be disappointed as it’s more “fi” than “sci”.  So, willingly suspend your disbelief for this one.

I’ve not seen the movie, so I don’t know how it stacks up – in case you were wondering.

Never Let Me Go

Joe Jones by Anne Lamott

Lamott (an author I absolutely adore) calls this book her “sloppiest”.  I can understand.  The structure, dialogue and character’s actions were just… odd.  Still, I managed to get involved in it and while it’s certainly not my favorite book I’ve read, I enjoyed her descriptions of setting and character.  For my writer friends, her book “Bird by Bird” is a must-read.

Last (and definitely least)…

Persona by Amy Lunderman

I’ve made it a point not to write negative reviews.  I know what goes into writing a book, even a not-very-good one, so I don’t like to take away from what the author has done.  But I couldn’t even finish this one (which says a lot, considering some of the clunkers I’ve read in my life).  The book has a fine-enough premise which is one of the reasons I downloaded it.  It was listed as dystopian, which really piqued my interest.  The fact that the author forgot to capitalize her last name on the listing should’ve been a red flag. The grammar throughout the prologue and first chapter made me want to weep.  There were sentences I had to read and re-read several times in order to figure out what the author was trying to say.  In reading the reviews, several reviewers commented on the poor grammar and how it made the book unreadable.  Several apologists (I assume the author’s friends/family) came along and said basically, if someone loves to write then the grammar shouldn’t matter.  I say, “A big, hearty F-YOU to all of them.”  If someone loves writing, their first priority should be learning the language they are writing in.  A painter doesn’t go to paint a masterpiece without understanding how oils differ from acrylics or what brushes work best for what techniques.  They learn their craft and spend time honing it.  The language an author writes in is his/her medium and he/she should learn the ins and outs of it.

Or at least have the common decency to hire a fracking editor.

I love books, I love language, I love being surrounded by words.  I have spent my entire life on a journey to fill my head with as much information about language as possible.  Linguistics classes, literature studies, research, and reading.  It’s a never-ending quest for me.  When someone calls his/herself a writer, but has no respect for the language of their craft, it is an offense to those of us that do.  This book and others like it are the reason why so many self-published authors are not taken seriously.

So, here’s to April and a month of good books!

I won at Car Line this morning

What?  You didn’t know Car Line was a game?  Well, it is.  Mainly because I’m a nerd-girl living with two hard-core gamers.  And I won this morning.

We started our quest to deliver a sleepy-eyed Peeshwank to his blustery prison sentence (it’s in the 20s today with a 10-degree wind chill, because: Spring in Arkansas, yo).  We turned the corner to see a line of campers all the way from one end of the school property to the other.  After discussing our strategy, we made our way to the front of the line.  Even though The Peeshwank had lots of loot to carry (60lb backpack, lunchbox, OM supplies, and his bass) we decided to show these n00bs how it was done.

We quickly realized we had apparently leveled up over Spring Break and were approaching an epic boss battle.  This boss: icy school driveway.

The boss had victimized not one but two vehicles ahead of ours – both of the players had apparently spent all their XP to upgrade their chariots: 4WD monster SUVs, tires bigger than The Peeshwank, NRA life memberships, etc.  Their giant wheels were spinning in place though.  The boss had disabled their special abilities.

The Peeshwank looked at me, a fearful look in his eyes, as I yelled “LEEROY JENKINSSSSSS” and easily delivered him over the ice and to the front door.

He threw me a fist bump as he exited our little mid-size sedan and I could hear his cry of “GET PWNED N00BS!” as I pulled away.

That’s how you win Car Line, y’all.

Hummer on Ice

Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

You know, sometimes you have these great intentions – you lie awake at night and say, “Tomorrow I’m going to challenge myself.  I’m going to do something that scares me.”  Then you wake up the next day and once the coffee starts flowing, it’s back to the same routine?  Just me?

Last week I did one of those things.  It was scary as hell, but I did it nonetheless.

In early February an acquaintance of mine put out the call for submissions for a show featuring live readings about motherhood.  Last year I envied the women involved for having the guts to get up and share their stories about motherhood to a sold-out theater.

I spent twenty-four hours pumping myself up.  I had a piece ready to go.  It had already been signed off by my partners-in-crime/rocks-that-I-lean-on, Tina and Pam.  They gave me pointers and told me I’d be fabulous.

I submitted.

Three weeks later, I was asked to attend the live auditions.  Those happened Saturday.

I got up a little early to make sure I had time to apply make-up and dry my hair (read the previous blog post for more on that ordeal).  I picked out a cute dress, realized that I didn’t have a perfect pair of shoes other than flip-flops to go with it, and quickly changed into my “safe” outfit – black sweater, black pinstripe pants, a pair of my favorite heels.

The trip down to the auditions was riddled with traffic and I showed up only minutes before my scheduled time.  A fellow author friend (Hi, Phyl!) was waiting for me to give me hugs and encouragement.  We chatted a bit and then I trekked up the stairs.

The ladies casting the show welcomed me and I took a seat, thinking, “no big deal.  I’ll just read and be done.”  But the second I started to read, my anxiety issues took the driver’s seat and for the first few paragraphs I could basically hear my voice quavering and see my hands shaking and I was powerless to do anything about it.  I was knee-deep in the middle of a panic attack.  I stopped, took a deep breath and apologized.  The ladies were understanding about my pause and I went on.  The voice shaking slowly subsided and by the second page of my story, I felt I had it under control.

I got some polite laughs from my small audience and made it through the piece without crying, passing out, or vomiting so I’m calling it a win.  As soon as I was done, I was able to chat perfectly fine, like the panic attack never happened.  I’ll never understand this body of mine.  Seriously.  I can sing to a packed bar, tap dance to a full theater, jump onstage and dance with Sir Mixalot while my roommate ceremoniously slaps his ass as he charms the concert goers with his tales of big butts, and coach a gaggle of OMers through spontaneous practice.  But sitting and reading to three people = panic attack.

So, here’s to trying something new!  Yes, it can be scary, and like me you may be turned down when it’s all said and done, but challenging yourself is rarely a walk in the proverbial park.

Now, I’m off to take The Peeshwank to yet another in a long line of auditions that he will breeze right through.  Clearly the “audition with the greatest of ease” gene skips a generation in this family.

Next time, I'll just take a flask with me.

Next time, I’ll just take a flask with me.

Yes, the Sir Mixalot thing actually happened.  And it was just as awesome as it sounds.