July 27, 2010

Movie News

From Shelf Awareness (7/27/10):

Craig Is Blomkvist

The name is Blomkvist. Mikael Blomkvist. Rumors that Daniel Craig--best known as the latest James Bond--was in talks to star in the English-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Shelf Awareness, July 22, 2010) have proven to be true. Deadline.com reported that Craig has closed a deal to appear in the adaptation of Stieg Larsson's first novel that also "factors in options for two sequels based on The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest."

Casting for the Lisbeth Sander role is still underway, with candidates including Ellen Page, Mia Wasikowska, Emily Browning, Sara Snook, Rooney Mara and Sophie Lowe. Sony has set a release date of December 21, 2011.

Go here for my review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

July 20, 2010

The Piano Teacher

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
Historical Fiction
2009 Viking
Finished on 6/24/10
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Product Description:

Sometimes the end of a love affair is only the beginning.

In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese, with terrible consequences for both of them, and for members of their fragile community who will betray each other in the darkest days of the war.

Ten years later, Claire Pendleton lands in Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter's piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the colony's heady social life. She soon begins an affair... only to discover that her lover's enigmatic demeanor hides a devastating past.

As the threads of this engrossing novel intertwine and converge, a landscape of impossible choices emerges—between love and safety, courage and survival, the present and, above all, the past.

I can't believe I owned this ARC for well over a year before I finally got around to giving it a read. OK, it's not that hard to believe, especially if you've seen the recent photos of my toppling stacks! Anyhow, I'd heard good things about the novel, especially after it became a Barnes & Noble Discover title, but it wasn't until my book club chose it for our June selection that I finally picked it up. Yes, we've read quite a few World War II novels, haven't we? And you'd think that alone would have won me over. I did enjoy Lee's beautifully evocative writing, but the characters were unsympathetic and I honestly couldn't work up much compassion for their predicaments, whether it be their romantic entanglements or that of the turmoil of war and imprisonment in the internment camp. It felt as though all the characters held each other (and the reader) at arm's length.

The narrative alternates between 1941-1942 (Trudy's story) and 1952-1953 (Claire's story).


People talk about Trudy all the time—she is always scandalizing someone or other. They talk about her in front of him, to him, as if daring him to say something. He never gives them anything about her. She came down from Shanghai, where she spent her early twenties in Noel Coward's old suite at the Cathay, and threw lavish parties on the roof terrace. She is rumored to have fled an affair there, an affair with a top gangster who became obsessed with her, rumored to have spent far too much time in the casinos, rumored to have friends who are singsong girls, rumored to have sold herself for a night to amuse herself, rumored to be an opium addict. She is a Lesbian. She is a Radical. She assures him that almost none of these rumors are true. She says Shanghai is the place to be, that Hong Kong is dreadfully suburban. She speaks fluent Shanghainese, Cantonese, Mandarin, English, conversational French, and a smattering of Portuguese. In Shanghai, she says, the day starts at four in the afternoon with tea, then drinks at the Cathay or someone's party, then dinner of hairy crab and rice wine if you're inclined to the local, then more drinks, and dancing, and you go and go, the night is so long, until it's time for breakfast—eggs and fried tomatoes at the Del Monte. Then you sleep until three, have noodles in brother for the hangover, and get dressed for another go around. So fun. She's going to go back one of these days, she says, as soon as her father will let her.


It begins like that. Her lilting laugh at a consular party. A spilled drink. A wet dress and a handkerchief hastily proffered. She is a sleek greyhound among others—plump, braying women of a certain class. He doesn't want to meet her—he is suspicious of her kind, all chiffon and champagne, nothing underneath, but she has knocked his glass down her silk shift ("There I go again," she says. "I'm the clumsiest person in all Hong Kong") and then commandeers him to escort her to the bathroom where she daubs at herself while peppering him with questions.

She is famous, born of a well-known couple, the mother a Portuguese beauty, the father a Shanghai millionaire with fortunes in trading and money lending.


She had accepted Martin's proposal to escape the dark interior of her house, her bitter mother railing against everything, getting worse, it seemed, with her advancing age, and an uninspiring job as a filing girl at an insurance company. Martin was older, in his forties, and had never had luck with women. The first time he kissed her, she had to stifle the urge to wipe her mouth. He was like a cow, slow and steady. And kind. She knew this. She was grateful for it.

She had not had many chances with men. Her parents stayed home all the time, and so she had as well. When she had started seeing Martin—he was the older brother of one of the girls at work—she had eaten dinner at restaurants, drunk a cocktail at a hotel bar, and seen other young women and men talking, laughing with an assurance she could not fathom. They had opinions about politics; they had read books she had never heard of and seen foreign films and talked about them with such confidence. She was enthralled and not a little intimidated. And then Martin had come to her, serious, his job was taking him to the Orient, and would she come with him? She was not so attracted to him, but who was she to be picky, she thought, hearing the voice of her mother. She let him kiss her and nodded yes.

On the tropical climate:

Coming over, she had noticed it for days, the increasing wetness in the air, even more than usual. The sea breezes were stronger and the sunrays more powerful when they broke through cloud. When the P&O Canton finally pulled into Hong Kong harbor in August, she really felt she was in the tropics, hair frizzing up in curls, face always slightly damp and oily, the constant moisture under her arms and knees. When she stepped from her cabin outside, the heat assailed her like a physical blow, until she managed to find shade and fan herself.

On Hong Kong:

The man lifted up the harness with a grunt. They started to roll along and Claire settled into the uncomfortable seat. Around them, the green was overwhelming, tropical trees bursting with leaves that dripped when scratched, bougainvillea and every other type of flowering bush springing forth from the hillsides. Sometimes, she got the feeling that Hong Kong was too alive. It seemed unable to restrain itself. There were insects crawling everywhere, wild dogs on the hills, mosquitoes breeding furiously. They had made roads in the hillsides and buildings sprouted out of the ground, but nature strained at her boundaries—there were always sweaty, shirtless worker men chopping away at the greenery that seemed to grow overnight. It wasn't India, she supposed, but it certainly wasn't England.

Final thoughts: The Piano Teacher is very readable. I was immediately drawn in to the storyline, although happy for the short chapters since my summer reading is sporadic at best. Although I never warmed to any of the characters, I did appreciate the historical context of the story.

And, oh my! Isn't that cover gorgeous?!

I found this Hong Kong War Diary link on Lee's website. Fascinating reading!

July 18, 2010

Garden Party II

Welcome back! I hope you enjoy your visit. I'm away this weekend, but feel free to wander around the backyard. :)

As always, click on picture for larger view. Click again for a close-up view.

View from driveway gate.

These are pretty much gone.
Rabbit food.

I decided to try planting some lantana in the ground.
So far, so good.

More lantana.
I love the colors!

View of garage from deck.
Ignore the nut grass in front of the bench.

It's gone now, too.
Wish the rabbits would eat it!

This is my favorite corner of the entire backyard!

Geranium sanguineum

Garage and shed covered with the most invasive vine ever.
It's probably all that's keeping the garage from falling down!

Annie's favorite corner of the backyard.
It's always cool and damp next to those hostas.

Not to mention all the bunnies that hide in that bed...

Garden phlox.
Nice to see the rabbits ignored it this year.

July 16, 2010

World Without End

World Without End by Ken Follett
Historical Fiction
2007 Penguin Audio; Unabridged Edition
Reader: John Lee
Finished on 6/9/10
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Product Description:

On the day after Halloween, in the year 1327, four children slip away from the cathedral city of Kingsbridge. They are a thief, a bully, a boy genius and a girl who wants to be a doctor. In the forest they see two men killed.

In 1989, Ken Follett astonished the literary world with The Pillars of the Earth, a sweeping epic novel set in twelfth-century England that centered on the building of a cathedral and the men, women and children whose lives it changed forever. Critics were overwhelmed--"it will hold you, fascinate, surround you" (Chicago Tribune)--and readers ever since have hoped for a sequel.

And at last it is here. Although the two novels may be read in any order, World Without End takes place in the same town of Kingsbridge, two centuries after the townspeople finished building the exquisite Gothic cathedral that was at the heart of The Pillars of the Earth. The cathedral and the priory are again at the center of a web of love and hate, greed and pride, ambition and revenge.

As adults, their lives will be braided together by ambition, love, greed and revenge. They will see prosperity and famine, plague and war. One boy will travel the world but come home in the end; the other will be a powerful, corrupt nobleman. One girl will defy the might of the medieval church; the other will pursue an impossible love. And always they will live under the long shadow of the unexplained killing they witnessed on that fateful childhood day.

The Pillars of the Earth was "a novel that entertains, instructs and satisfies on a grand scale," said Publishers Weekly. "With this book, Follett risks all and comes out a clear winner." And now he has done it again. Three years in the writing, World Without End once again shows that Ken Follett is a masterful author writing at the top of his craft.

And about the reader:

John Lee gives a breathtaking performance of Follett's sequel to Pillars of the Earth. Two hundred years have passed, and fourteenth-century Kingsbridge is now a prosperous town, with its cathedral and priory still a central force. As the novel follows its four main characters from 1327 to 1361, medieval English life is slowly and thoroughly revealed. Lee gives stunning portraits of change-resistant churchmen, the hardships and superstitions of peasant life, the inequities of corrupt noblemen, and the grotesqueries of the Black Death. While creating wholly credible major and minor characters, Lee delivers Follett's intricate plots and subplots, making each detail fascinating, from medieval medicine and bridge-building to the surprisingly powerful role of women. Even after 36 CDs, listeners will be sorry to see this book end.

Can I just say Wow?!!!

This was one of the most enjoyable audio books I have ever listened to. Maybe even the very best. I was completely enraptured with Follett's epic follow-up to The Pillars of the Earth, and as the above description states, yes, I was very sorry to hear this book end. As I listened to the last chapter and heard the final words, a wave of sadness washed over me. I'd been captivated by this grand story for over six weeks and I would have been perfectly content to listen for another six. I kept telling my husband how much I was enjoying the audio, but that I was glad I owned a copy of the hardcover so I could actually read it someday. (He gave it to me for Christmas more than three years ago!) This is one of those great books that draws you in from the opening pages and never once lets up or lags. Pretty amazing, for a 36-disc audio (and a 1000+ page hardcover). The richly painted details of life in a medieval village and the intricate descriptions of the craftsmanship involved in the building of a bridge or priory held my attention just as in The Pillars of the Earth. I've read several of Follett's earlier works, but these two epic tales are by far my favorite.

It's been over seven years since I read The Pillars of the Earth, and now I'm thinking I should get it on audio! In my 2003 reading journal, I wrote the following:

Group read for TheBookSpot (Yahoo group)
Superb character development. Excellent sense of time and place. Got bored here and there, but overall I thought it was a very good read. A bit repetitious. Could've used a little more editing. If you enjoyed Pope Joan, this one's for you! Took 3 weeks to read.
Rating: A- (8/10 Very Good)

I wonder if Follett has any plans to continue with this storyline. Just as The Pillars of the Earth's Prior Phillip, Tom Builder, Ellen, Jack and Ailiena worked their way into my consciousness, I came to care about Caris, Gwenda, Merthin, and Wulfric and missed hearing about their challenges and plights after I finished listening to World Without End. Follett not only creates gripping tales that keep the reader engaged chapter after chapter, but he peoples them with such fully developed and memorable characters that one has to remind oneself that they are simply that: characters, not real people.

On medieval life for a woman:

Caris stared at the closed door. A woman's life was a house of closed doors: she could not be an apprentice, she could not study at the university, she could not be a priest or a physician, or shoot a bow or fight with a sword, and she could not marry without submitting herself to the tyranny of her husband.

John Lee is an outstanding reader. It took me a little while to get all the characters straight in my mind, but once I could envision their individual roles in Kingsbridge, whether a monk, nun, nobleman or peasant, I never once had to stop and wonder who was speaking. I should mention that this is not an audio you'd want to listen to with young children nearby. There are quite a few sexual scenes throughout the novel and the language and details are fairly explicit.

Final Thoughts: If there's ever going to be a third book about Kingsbridge, I hope it doesn't take Mr. Follett another 18 years to write! That said, Follett fans have a new trilogy to look forward to! From his website:

Fall of Giants, the first novel in my 'Century' trilogy, will be published in 14 countries simultaneously on September 28, 2010. In Fall of Giants, I follow the destinies of five interrelated families – one American, one Russian, one German, one English and one Welsh – through the earth-shaking events of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

The second book in the ' Century' series, set to be published in 2012, will feature the children of the characters in Fall of Giants as they live through the Depression and the Second World War. The third book, due out in 2014, will be about the next generation during the Cold War.

I. Can't. Wait!

July 14, 2010


I'm heading back to San Diego (Del Mar) for my 30th high school reunion.

Honestly, where did the time go?!

I wonder if I'll recognize anyone!

July 11, 2010

Garden Party

Rod and I just came in from sitting out on our deck, where we enjoyed the fading summer sunlight as we each savored a dish of Blue Bunny Double Strawberry and Bunny Tracks ice cream. A perfect ending to another busy weekend.

As we sat and chatted, I gazed about the yard, admiring our pretty potted plants and garden. Then I remembered I'd taken some pictures after getting all my planting done a few weeks ago. I wish you could all drop over for cocktails, ice cream and a garden tour. Since that's not possible, grab a cool drink and follow me!

I love hibiscus, but have never planted one in Nebraska since they're a tropical plant and won't survive our harsh winters. But this summer I decided, What the heck! and got one for one of our large pots. So far, so good! There are usually 3-4 blooms every day and the color is so cheerful. This is my most favorite addition to the deck this summer. Love it!!

Nothing says summer quite like geraniums. I love the fuschia color of this one. It looks so pretty in that pot, don't you think?

This is another favorite. Lobelia and impatiens. Not sure what the little white flower is. My mom gave me that pretty oriental pot a few years ago; I'm not sure, but it might have belonged to my grandmother.

More lobelia. I prefer the darker blue, but this still looks pretty and delicate.

Lantana and lobelia. The lantana never fails me! It loves the heat and attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and the occasional wasp. I wrote about it a few years ago here, here and here.

Patriotic plants. :)

My herb garden does very well in this large pot and the critters leave it alone. I have basil, rosemary, flat-leaf parsley and dill. The dill is the only one that seems to struggle. I wonder if I should dead-head those yellow blooms. Guess I could always read a book on growing herbs.

I hope you enjoyed our stroll. Please come back next Sunday and I'll show you what's blooming in my backyard. Maybe I'll even whip up a batch of these!


For another garden visit, stop over at Nan's. Her Farm & Garden Weekly is such a joy to read.

July 10, 2010

Mark Your Calendars!

Don't forget!

Faithful Place hits the shelves this coming Tuesday!

Click here to read my review.

July 6, 2010

TBR Stacks!

I'm nosy. I admit it. I love to peek inside other people's homes. (Nan's is probably my most favorite to visit via the gorgeous photos on her blog.) In addition to kitchens and gardens, I especially love to see pictures of my blogmates' book stacks and was recently inspired by Bellezza's Mount TBR to take some photos of my own.

Good grief! Seriously? When will I ever get all of these books read?! And these are just the ones upstairs. I have a couple of shelves in the living room bookcase, as well.

If you spot anything you've read, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Are there any I should move to the front of the line?

As always, click on the photo for a larger view. (Guess I got a little carried away and re-sized these a bit smaller than usual. You may not be able to read all the titles. Sorry!)

Master Bedroom TV Stand/Dresser

Master Bedroom Nightstand

Master Bedroom Built-In Nightstand

Master Bedroom Nightstand (Borrowed Books)

Master Bedroom Built-In Nightstand Shelf

Guest Room Nightstand

Guest Room Bookcase

Office Bookcase

Office Nightstand

Office ARCs and Must-Read-Soon Stack

My husband says it's no contest; I have by far more books to read than he ever will. This wouldn't be a problem if I could only read half as fast as he does!

July 4, 2010

Traveling with Pomegranates

Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor
Nonfiction - Memoir/Travel
2009 Penguin Audio; Unabridged edition
Finished on 5/28/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Fair)

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.
~Anaïs Nin

Product Description

An introspective and beautiful dual memoir by the #1 New York Times bestselling novelist and her daughter.

Sue Monk Kidd has touched the hearts of millions of readers with her beloved novels The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair, and with her acclaimed nonfiction. Now, in this wise and intimate dual memoir, she and her daughter, Ann, a writer making her affecting debut in these pages, chronicle their travels together, and offer their distinct perspectives as a fifty-something and a twenty-something, each on a quest to redefine herself and to rediscover each other.

Between 1998 and 2000, Sue and Ann travel together to the sacred sites throughout Greece and France. Sue, newly aware of aging, caught in a creative vacuum, and longing to reconnect with her now grown daughter, struggles to find the wherewithal to enlarge a vision of swarming bees into a novel. Ann, just graduated from college, heartbroken and benumbed by the classic question about what to do with her life, grapples with a painful depression. The intimacy of travel and the wondrous nature of the places Sue and Ann visit bring forth each woman's internal struggle and provide fertile terrain for reflection and inspiration. In voices candid and lyrical, this modern-day Demeter and Persephone explore the richly symbolic and personal meaning of an array of inspiring figures and sites in Athens and Eleusis, Paris and Rocamadour, and places in between. They also give voice to a moving transformation of that most protean of human connections: the bond of mothers and daughters.

A wise and engrossing book about feminine thresholds, spiritual growth, and the relationship between mothers and daughters, Traveling with Pomegranates is both a revealing self-portrait by a beloved author and her daughter, a strong new voice, and a momentous story that will resonate with women everywhere.

I spent most of May listening to this book while driving around town in my car. As it turns out, it was the perfect book to listen to rather than read. The allusions to ancient symbols, mythology and the "sacred" began to wear on me, and it was easy to let my mind wander, momentarily tuning out the repetitious references while driving to and from work. Had I read the book, I would have certainly lost interest and given up early on. However, I did find myself wishing that I had the book to occasionally glance at and mark passages for future reference. The three maps (one of the eastern states of the U.S., one of France, and one of Greece & Turkey) would have been helpful to look at before starting each new chapter, and the following Table of Contents would have added to the points of reference:

Greece/Turkey/South Carolina
1998 - 1999

France/South Carolina
1999 - 2000


September 2008

The authors narrate alternating chapters and my initial reaction to Sue's voice was that of annoyance and displeasure. She enunciates each and every word and syllable so precisely that she sounds unnatural and awkward. Ann, on the other hand, speaks in a relaxed, yet enthusiastic voice, drawing me into her narrative more so than her mother. Kind of ironic since I'm much closer to Sue's age than Ann's. But I did relate to Sue's role as a woman approaching the second half of her life, as well as that of a mother of an adult daughter.

Sitting on a bench in the National Archaeological Museum in Greece, I watch my twenty-two-year-old daughter, Ann, angle her camera before a marble bas-relief of Demeter and Persephone unaware of the small ballet she's performing—her slow, precise steps forward, the tilt of her head, the way she dips to one knee as she turns her torso, leaning into the sharp afternoon light. The scene reminds me of something, a memory maybe, but I can't recall what. I only know she looks beautiful and impossibly grown, and for reasons not clear to me I'm possessed by an acute feeling of loss.

It's the summer of 1998, a few days before my fiftieth birthday. Ann and I have been in Athens a whole twenty-seven hours, a good portion of which I've spent lying awake in a room in the Hotel Grande Bretagne, waiting for blessed daylight. I tell myself the bereft feeling that washed over me means nothing—I'm jet-lagged, that's all. But that doesn't feel particularly convincing.

I close my eyes and even in the tumult of the museum, where there seem to be ten tourists per square inch, I know the feeling is actually everything. It is the undisclosed reason I've come to the other side of the world with my daughter. Because in a way which makes no sense, she seems lost to me now. Because she is grown and a stranger. And I miss her almost violently.


Lying on the twin mattress, I stare at the edge of light oozing under the curtain and I think about my relationship with my daughter. Congenial, warm, nice—those are the words that come to me. We've never had one of those pyrotechnic relationships that end up being written about so often and famously in books.

We've had our moments, naturally. The period of mild rebellion when she was fourteen springs to mind, a phase when the door slammed a lot. Beyond that, we had the typical antagonisms and disagreements. I suspect like most mothers and daughters we've participated in the classic struggle: the mother, trying to let her daughter go while unconsciously seeing her as an appendage of herself. And the daughter, enmeshed in her mother's power, compelled to please her and pattern herself in her mother's image, but straining at the same time to craft an identity separate from her.

Mostly, though, our relationship has been full of goodness. I would even say, given the natural constraints of adolescent girls and their mothers, we've been close. And yet I feel my relationship with Ann now exists largely on the surface. There is distance in it that I have trouble characterizing. We talk, for instance, but nothing really heart to heart. It's as if the relationship has fallen into a strange purgatory. For so long our roles were strictly defined as mother and daughter, as adult and child. But now as she leaves college, we both seem to sense some finality to this. She is changing and I am changing, too, but we don't quite know how to shift the conversations between ourselves. How to reforge our connection.

I feel traces of guilt about the growing distance between us. I toss on the bed, remembering that while she was away at school metamorphosing into the young woman I barely know, I was too busy with a book project to notice she was gone. Her leaving was not a problem. At least not in the maternal trench where these things are usually battled out. What's more, I was proud of this. I chirped to my friends: "I don't know what the big deal is about the empty nest. It's kind of wonderful, actually."

and now from Ann's point-of-view:

Catching my eye, she waves and begins to wind her way toward me through the other tourists. I wonder why I can't tell her what I'm going through. When it came to the letter back home [a letter in which Ann's application to study ancient Greek history at the University of South Carolina's graduate program is rejected], still in the drawer with my gym socks (why did I keep it, this evidence against myself?) certainly I didn't think she'd reject me. Perhaps the shame of failing is not my only reason for not talking to her about it. We've been close since childhood, but I feel a kind of partition between us now, not anger or aloofness, but a room divider that properly marks the space: this is your territory, this is mine. I did not confide intensely personal matters to her. Are the particulars of your own darkness something you describe to your mother or your best friend?

But it wasn't just the darkness I secreted, was it? Why did I give her only the postcard version of my first trip to Greece? Ran a race in Olympia, visited Athena's Tholos, saw the Charioteer, sat beside Parthenon, danced in a restaurant with some locals, bought a pretty ring...having a great time—wish you were here. Obviously she knew I'd been affected enough to want to spend my life teaching ancient Greek history, but I'd left her to sense for herself the deeper imprint those experiences made on me. Maybe it was the particulars of my soul—the experiences, feelings, and inner thoughts I held close—that I kept from her.

Final thoughts: Overall, I enjoyed listening to this memoir. In addition to the whole mother-daughter dance and travel stories, I found it interesting to learn about Sue's initial ideas for her novel, The Secret Life of Bees (a book I've read and enjoyed more than once), as well as Ann discovery of her own passion for writing. And yet, this isn't a book I want to own or read again.

Go here to listen to Ann and Sue deliver the commencement address at Scripps College in Claremont, California.