This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

I've had this on my 'to read' list for awhile. Then I requested it from the library and ended up on the waiting queue forever. I gave it to Tim first, thinking the subject might be intriguing enough for him but he lost interest so I took it from him. While I the book was a page turner, I had it figured out fairly quickly. Then I doubted myself, then I realized I was right.

*** Spoilers ahead - meaning, I will give it all away ***

The theme of this story is that Christine has amnesia. Really bad. She wakes up every day not knowing who the man is next to her, or why she is 47 years old instead of a young girl. It can vary but never someone in the last 20 years or so of her life.

The man next to her in her bed is her husband Ben, who seems too good to be true. A very patient, loving husband, who has stood by her since she was 29, through a terrible accident, in which she was hit by a car that left her as this extreme amnesiac, where she learns about herself everyday, then goes to sleep and forgets it all.

She finds a doctor who recommends keeping a journal and along with that, he calls her every morning to remind her of this journal. This helps her read and write her thoughts and slowly, she starts to remember bits and pieces of her life, and the reader learns with Christine.

It is truly depressing. This amnesia: to forget your entire existence and lose your life like that. I was really forlorn about that story-line because it was many years of Christine's life that she had lost. And while this type of amnesia seemed a little outrageous, I found, after reading the book, that this was loosely based on two real life stories, one being "H.M" and the other is Clive Wearing, who developed amnesia from an illness that brought him to an even more extreme case than Christine from this book, he has the capacity to have 7-30 seconds of memory before he loses it.
He spends every day 'waking up' every 20 seconds, 'restarting' his consciousness once the time span of his short term memory elapses (about 30 seconds). He remembers little of his life before 1985; he knows, for example, that he has children from an earlier marriage, but cannot remember their names. His love for his second wife Deborah, whom he married the year prior to his illness, is undiminished. He greets her joyously every time they meet, either believing he has not seen her in years or that they have never met before, even though she may have just left the room to fetch a glass of water.
Fascinating and to me, sad.

But back to the book.

Christine starts reading her journal, which, at some point, she wrote "DON'T TRUST BEN". And flashes of memory start playing into her head. I pretty much figured out the end, without knowing exactly how it played out but -- BIG SPOILER ABOUT TO COME IN THE NEXT SENTENCE -- I knew that Ben was not her husband but her attempted killer.

Yes. The man she thought was her husband was not. It was the man who actually put her in the amnesiac state. As soon as the flashes of the bathroom came into play, and I already knew "Don't trust ben" was there, I had the answer. The page-turner was simply justifying my theory and finding out how exactly it happened, and where the hell her real husband was.

That part: where her real husband was (he was in another country; left her in the hospital to take care of her young son, since she was unable to recognize him and it was traumatic for the son) was pretty flat.
The daily routine of waking up and figure out where she was, was getting pretty groundhog day in the beginning but I know this was necessary to establish her illness, her routine.

The thing I do like is the dark twist: the sick idea of having a man who attempted to kill her out of obsessed sick love, take her as his own and keep her as his own 'prisoner'. Who would write that and release it? Quite depraved but I respect that.

I just figured it out too early so to me, I feel the writing could have been a little better to not make it so obvious. I read the amazon comments and some people never saw it coming. Well, I'm no rocket scientist, or CSI agent and *I* saw it immediately. I would have liked to be surprised like The Sixth Sense surprised me and I think I could have with some improved writing. I'm not a literary professional either but I read a lot...some of it fluff, and this falls into the fluff category, in my fluffy-pedantic-opinion.

So, a "fun" read that lead me to learn about H.M. and Clive Wearing and hoping that I don't find myself in any similar situation.

As I looked for an image of the book cover, I did notice with Nicole Kidman.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Me and You by Niccolò Ammaniti

This was a quick read at only 154 pages long. It is an Italian novel translated to, of course, English. I found this fairly recently on a site that suggested a few books to read this summer (I can't seem to recall the site, nor can I find the list). As usual, I couldn't remember the essence of the story, which is what I like.

***Spoiler alert. It's a quick read. I suggest, if you haven't read it to stop reading further, check out the book and come back and read the rest of my review.***

The story opens in Cividale del Friuli, in Northern Italy, with someone sitting in a cafe sipping coffee, and opening a letter that they receiving 10 years earlier from their sister.

The novel then goes back 10 years and we meet Lorenzo, who is a young boy who is odd. Another character who appears to be socially awkward - he pretends to be like the kids around him just so they leave him alone. He's smart enough to tell counselors what they want to hear, so they can leave him alone. And he ends up pretending to go on a skiing trip with kids from school, who he is not friends with, just to please his mother, because she's sad he doesn't have any friends.

He wants to tell her the truth but she cried with happiness that he was invited on the trip so he hides in the cellar of his own home for the week. So he doesn't have the heart to tell her the truth and just goes with his own ruse.

His half-sister Olivia surprises him with a visit. He doesn't want her around, for fear that she will blow his cover. Except that she's also dealing with her own issues. He can't quite figure it out at first: is she sick? Does she have the flu? Pneumonia? Eventually, he figures it out and confirms it when he finds the syringes in her purse. She's having withdrawals from a drug addiction.

He doesn't know her very well as Olivia is from his dad's first marriag and is nine years older...and doesn't get along with their dad. But, during one evening, she tells Lorenzo a story about how, when he was just a young boy wearing armbands to keep him afloat in the water, someone mentioned to their dad that the best way to teach a kid to swim is to just throw them into the water, without the armbands.

So their dad snuck behind him, while he was playing with toys (on a boat) and took him, kicking and screaming, and threw him into the water. He sunk. And then their dad had to dive in after him to get him out.

His mom wasn't around because she would surely have murdered their dad for pulling such a stunt. But after such screaming and crying, he fell he'd been given an 'anesthetic'. So Olivia lay next to him.

"Me and you?"
Yes." She took a drag of her cigarette. "Me and you." 
Hence, the title of this story.

The book is a great story, just reading about Lorenzo and his maddening mind. But it's the point when Olivia comes to his world that it changes and becomes THE story that just translates into something more special.

Those two lines that I quote just moved me. No, not to tears...just beautiful and simple and poetic.

The book it one big sort of poem. Not really. The style reminded me so much of the type that the writers from QRB Teen Writing Club write. Just good storytelling with a morbid twist at the end.

Remember, the story started ten years later with someone at the cafe. That someone was Lorenzo. When the week was up at the cellar with Olivia, Olivia was the one who left Lorenzo a letter and that letter was what that someone was reading in Northern Italy at the opening of the book. 

In the letter, she asks Lorenzo to keep his promise. That promise being that they see each other again. And he is - ten years later in Cividale del Friuli. You'll have to read the book to see how it ends. I'm not spoiling it that much.

The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone

Beware: spoilers galore within this review.

This was a quirky novel about Becca and Buckley.

We meet Becca first, who, at 8 years old, gets struck by lightning in, guess where? Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I guess this must be how I stumbled upon this gem of a book, someone mentioned that it was set in NC -- which is almost always a winner for getting on my must-read list.

No one seems to believe her, despite the fact that she can no longer wear a watch because the batteries wear out as though she sucks the 'life' out of 'em. And there's the whole 'time moves backwards' when she wears the watch. But her Grandma Edna believed her. She saw the hands of her watch clock move backward.

Buckley was 13 when Becca was struck by lightning. He lived in Mont Blanc, Arkansas with his mom and grandmother. He adored his mother so much. His grandmother was mean. Eventually, his mother, who was obese, married Reverend Pitank, thinking he would be a good male role model for Buckley. Unfortunately, it was a mistake. The reverend and grandma got along great because they were both mean. So one day, Abigail (Buckley's beloved mom) took Buckley and they ran away to Galveston, TX. There, Abigail was pursued by Paddy John and eventually, she gave in. Paddy John loved Abigail and one dreadful, tragic, fateful day, Abigail was struck and killed by lightning. Paddy John and Buckley lost the love of their lives.

Buckley would then write The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, where an excerpt of his book opens each chapter of this novel. Buckley and Becca are two different people who eventually meet but we meet them in each separate chapters and live their lives. It's fun, funny and sad. Becca is quirky, spunky and an unforgettable character. Buckley is possibly autistic, maybe bipolar but manages to get through life.

It was difficult to read this book during our frenetic weather last week: thunderstorms nearly everyday. In fact, last Tuesday, Melisa and I ran with an ominous cloud on the horizon. At the end of the run, I mentioned this book, to which she replied "I'm glad you waited until the end of the run to mention it to me!" All the 'signs' of impending lightning had me a little on alert and made me wonder about some of my symptoms, did I, in fact, in the past, get struck by lightning? I, too, can't wear watches because the batteries die quick. But then, it's just me finding symptoms in anything I read...:)

Saturday, July 07, 2012

SPoD - A Shower and Clams

I tackled my first venture at making clam chowder. MiMi loves clam chowder and I had planned on making her real clam chowder for some time but lost my recipe card (it *had* to be that one) and then I just kept putting it off. I decided this week would be the week I would actually do it. I thought I'd be able to do it during the time I had off but we ended up being too busy for me to actually do it so today ended up being the day.

It actually was not too time intensive, nor was it tedious to make. It was quite easy and it turned out UH-MAZE-ING. I didn't have any clams NOT open so I had a 100% success rate with my clams the first time out. This was not our dinner for the evening; we had something else but I wanted to make it today to have for later in the week (we have something else planned for tomorrow too).

Getting started: onions, chardonnay, littlenecks and clam juice:

Well hello there!

Red potatoes, chopped onions, and celery:

Final result, after simmering with the chopped clams, milk, half-n-half:

While I was being Julia Childs, Tim was working in CJ's bathroom, working to finish her shower in her bathroom. She's had her bathroom but not the shower. But we will soon need to rework the only bathroom with a shower, which will be MiMi's bathroom, because it's just in need of a remodel too. We have no master bathroom; we converted our 'master' bathroom to CJ's bathroom but the shower was in disrepair and just left undone.

So Tim's working on that, to have one shower available to demolish the other shower to redo that one. Eventually, MiMi's bedroom will become our master bathroom. After our trip to Canada, she will move into the spare bedroom, and eventually, the bathroom we are all using now will become her bathroom. It all sounds complicated but WE KNOW what the plan is and that's all that matters. :)

Friday, July 06, 2012

SPoD - Mozzarella & Movie

Sam invited me and the girls to her place to learn how to make mozzarella. When we were over her house for interactive pizzas, she had some of her own mozzarella cheese as a topping. She also had taken Thursday and Friday off (which gave me the idea, as well as her "you're taken them off; I made the decision for you" sentiment), so her offer was a 'hey, if you're not doing anything, come over and we'll make mozzarella'. I LOVE doing stuff like that because, how many people do you know/hear that just make mozzarella cheese on their day off?

I love how she has everything prepared - even her chalkboard is pretty and informative. This is how she is to work with: pretty and informative (her work but she is also pretty and informative :)).

She had a big pot full of milk and citric acid. We all tasted it, which tasted like lemonade powder mix without the sugar. The batch looked like we'd have a ton of cheese. I was excited.

After the rennet is added, the mixture starts to 'gel'. It's pretty amazing how quickly this process happens...maybe about 15 minutes? We kept an eye on it so give five minutes or so and we had something that looked like curdled cheese.

After the cheese is pretty solidified-like-tofu, then it's strained. Here Sam has strained it into disposable cheesecloth over a strainer. Who knew there was disposable cheesecloth? OK. Maybe _you_ did but I didn't.

After it was strained, we all tasted the curdled cheese. It tasted like ricotta. Yummmy. Apparently, the whey, or the watery stuff that the curdled cheese left behind, can be used to make ricotta. Sam said once she gets the mozzarella making down to perfection, she'll go on to trying ricotta. Today, we threw the whey out.

She used the cheesecloth to squeeze more of the whey out of the cheese then put it all in a glass bowl and popped it into the microwave for about 30-45 seconds.

After that, she took it out and had the girls hold it from the top to show how stretchy it becomes. Now it's looking like mozzarella.

After stretching it, there's more kneading

and then, Voila!

If it will last, I hope we can use this for our own interactive pizza night.

Later with Tim, we headed to the Rialto to watch Moonrise Kingdom. This would be MiMi's first trip to the Rialto. Maybe we'll wait awhile until we bring her again as she fell asleep. That's too bad because the movie was so beautifully sweet. She made it to the end but I'm not sure if she was able to understand the entire thing. It broke my rule by having too many big name actors: Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton and Edward Norton...but the stars of the show were two young actors who just mesmerized us all. I teared up a couple of times and almost lost it at the end, just because it ended so beautifully.

After that, we ended our evening out at Yopop, which is my favorite frozen yogurt place. This one is different than all the rest because it has an asian flair to it. It has my favorite flavor, Taro, better known to me and my filipino peers as Ube. And they also have fresh fruit toppings not found at other yogurt places like kiwi. There are also these little round balls that are filled with fruit juices. I don't know what kind but I love them.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

SPoD - Shop Til You Drop

I decided on Monday that I would take Thursday and Friday off this week. Most folks were out this week anyway and typically, this would give me an opportunity to take advantage of a quiet week but with much over-thinking, I went ahead and took it off. My girls have spent most of the summer shut indoors and I thought I'd take them to the outlet mall on one of those days.

So today would be one of those days.

I had my hair appointment moved up to 9 so I could get that done first and we could go after I got my hair "did". We still actually didn't leave the house until 11.

We headed out to the Tanger Outlets, which is in Mebane, about an hour away. Our first stop when we got there was a burger place to eat. MiMi had a grilled cheese while CJ and I wolfed down a cheeseburger.

Overall, we had some decent buys. We ended up buying more for Tim than we did for ourselves but  I felt like buying more for him than me anyway. I just wasn't in the 'shop for me' mood. Yes. That really can happen.

CJ couldn't find the 'perfect' things she was looking for anyway. If she found the perfect thing, it was too expensive, or if it was the right price, it wasn't the right size.

MiMi had already spent most of her money on Justice, which is a package on its way to our house. To be fair, the trip to the outlet was spontaneous. To be unfair, MiMi spends her money on the silliest things. Tim and I typically have to manage her spending. Not the amount she spends but what she spends it on. Seriously. This girl will buy anything shiny. She also LOVES watching infomercials. Not a joke.

But she has some money and bought a few things. She tried to sucker me into buying her a few things, which I flatly refused. I did buy her one top at The Gap. At the Nike store, CJ found a pair of Nike sneakers that were 24.97. She literally pushed me aside to see if she could find her size. And there's MiMi following in big sis's footsteps, trying to find her size. MiMi has yeti-sized feet, relative to her age. At 9, she picked out a size 7.5 in women's that FIT just so, so that with socks, they would fit perfect. CJ, unfortunately, did not find her size at that great price.

As we are checking out, I asked MiMi if she had any money. She said "yeah, i have $5". I was like "That's all you have?!" And she looked at me like I was mad "No. I have more!" "Oh." I said, relieved.   She continued, "I have a bunch of ones."

"How are you going to pay for these shoes?" I asked, shocked. She stared at me, aghast. "Mommy. I thought you were going to buy these for me!"

WTF? What gave her that impression? Sigh. I was suckered. I went ahead and bought them anyway. But she owes me. And I told her that. I'm sure she'll hold on to that too.

Gone by Mo Hayder

It's been a long time since I've read a bona fide the whodunnit types. This one was one of those. It is also a serialized novel - a series with Detective Inspector (DI) Jack Caffery.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a fan of serialized novels. I like some series, like the Harry Potter series, or the Hunger Games' trilogy, or even better, the Song of Ice and Fire but the continual publication of one genre of one guy and different crimes? Yeah, doesn't really do it for me. I used to read James Patterson WAY back in my early 20s and LOVED it but I have no interest anymore...but for whatever reason, Gone made it on my list and I almost put it away when I realized it was the fifth book in the DI Jack Caffery series.

But I also noticed that an author "friend" of mine (I really did meet her and almost had coffee with her :) :)) said that this was one of her FAVORITE books by Mo Hayder, I decided to read it. And it was, yet again, a great summer read. This was a nice break in genre because, as mentioned in the first paragraph, I haven't read a good mystery, crime thriller in a long time.

I also seem to be on a UK kick as this is the third (?) novel set in England that I've read; the fourth outside of the US (the other being in Australia). It doesn't bother me one iota (the landscape, the language, etc.).

This was a great mystery. I wouldn't necessarily consider it a nail-biter but it was a page-turner, keeping me on my 'toes'. I definitely figured out the culprit early on, inadvertently, but talked myself out of it...going back and rereading pages to figure out that I was "wrong".

But I did it again and by then, I was certain I was right and, even though I read something that lead me to believe I could be wrong again, I knew I was not wrong that time. Perhaps the writing was written that way to lead us to figure it out.

The story begins with a woman who gets shoved out of the way of her car in a garage by a man wearing a rubber mask. He throws her on the ground and carjacks her car. Only in the car is her 11 year old daughter Martha.

DI Caffery thinks this is just a carjacking and that once the jacker sees the little girl in the car, he will drop the girl off unharmed and make off with the car. The hours tick by, however, and the girl is not found.

Eventually, evidence of similar jackings surface but the similarities are that little girls are taken, not the cars. Those girls, fortunately, were release within hours; Martha is still missing days later and time is running out. A second girl is taken and now DI Caffery is two steps behind this jacker, who seems to know exactly how to elude the police.

That's one story. The other minor story is Flea Marley, who leads an Underwater Search team. The team's morale has gone down, as well as their performance. It may have something to do with the fact that she's been hiding a dead body. Her brother killed a famous model when he struck and killed her while she walked alongside a road, as he drove home drunk. He placed the body in the trunk and drove it home; Flea hid the body in a cave in the middle of nowhere. DI Caffery saw the hiding of the body and presumed Flea was the responsible hit-and-run killer.

Oh. And apparently, in previous novels, there is sexual tension between Flea and Caffery.

It's a good novel. It won the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

There's a character in this novel, and in others called The Walking Man, which also lends to The Walking Man series. The Walking Man lost his daughter to a pedophile when she was young. Her body was never found so he still searches for her. DI Caffery goes to him - when he can find him, as he seems to be like a homeless man...a vagabond, even though he's wealthy - for advice. He seems to be a man with supernatural abilities but he claims not to be that... But I love this quote and man, I believe this is what we should do to pedophiles *and* rapists. This is what the walking man did to the person who killed his daughter, in the words of DI Caffery:
The walking man had been precise about the injuries he'd inflicted. Evans [the killer] no longer had eyes to watch children nor a penis to rape them with.
So am I into serialized novels again? No.

Would I read I read DI Caffery series of novels? Yes. Most definitely.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

SPoD - Day of Rest

Sunday was not completely a day of rest. It was my day to complete some tasks off my To Do list, like 'Finish laundry', 'Clean the bathroom', 'Clean the bedroom' and menu planning for the week.

With the exception of laundry, _then_ there was the day of rest. It was just too hot to hang out outside and do anything. Tim was nice enough to get dinner supplies and cook dinner.

I enjoyed reading my book. The twins enjoyed snuggling with me. 

This is Ricky with his head on my chest. The picture above is his ear and it took a lot of odd acrobatics to get my camera at an angle where I could get his head in the picture and my face out of the camera's way.  Ricky ALWAYS has to be in your face. Literally. And I mean that word literally. I'm just not using it for emphasis. He is annoying because he has to have your full attention by being *right in your face*. Lucy, on the other hand, is fine being at your feet or WAY AWAY from you. Like a cat.

CJ decided to prepare her decorations for our pool's cupcake contest, during its 4th of July event. 

She made this icing - on Tim's list of grocery supplies - and created these decorations, all on her own, freestyle. The top, red shapes are crabs. Below that are shells. And the bottom, with the green stripes are beach towels.

The theme for the cupcake contest is aquatic life. She's drawn out the concept and already described what these cupcakes will look like. Amazing. My little cupcake chef! And cookie, muffin, cake, etc.

The Walking Dead

I was excited about watching this show when it debuted. CJ and I were pretty stoked and the first episode was pretty cool: a sheriff's deputy is stepping over dead bodies and a young child - a girl - limps up towards him and he turns and shoots her dead.


Well, she was a zombie, silly! The zombie apocalypse has hit the US of A, well, at least as far as sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes is concerned. Actually, he doesn't know what the fuck has happened, being that he's just 'woken' from a coma and found everyone dead, gone, or walking and trying to eat him.

Sound familiar? Yeah. 28 Days Later. One of my favorites movies. I couldn't shake the similarities watching it during the first season. Just a tad bit of a turn off. And after the first few episodes, the amazing make-up job, the pretty good gore, of zombies was wearing thin. I ended up finishing the season by myself; CJ losing interest and me not really finding myself getting attached to any of the characters.

I didn't remove it from my selection of recordings and allowed season 2 to record. It queued up. I wasn't hell bent on watching them. I remembered my co-worker express astonishment when I stated that I was losing interest in the show. "But it's so awesome!" His sentiment stayed with me and I thought I'll give it another chance.

I'm glad I did. Season 2 sold me and not only was it one of the best character development seasons (reminds me a lot of how Six Feet Under developed...more character development, less about the overall 'funeral' story), it was one of the best story developments. This is less about zombies and more about these characters lives, personalities, and their interactions. Um...don't let me fool you, it *is* about zombies. A lot of them. And sometimes, they can come up and scare the shit out of you. But there such a MAJOR part of the story-line that they aren't really the major part. Does that make any sense?

It's genius. We have the 'crazy' guy, Shane, who, in my perception, is really just this guy who is trying to protect the pack and thinks he's one of the few that has the knowledge to do it. He was Rick's best friend and also fellow officer, who witnessed Rick get shot and end up in the hospital in the coma, before the zombie outbreak. He reluctantly left his BFF in the hospital but kept him as safe as he could...but in the end thought he left him for dead. With that thought, he took the role of 'Rick' and became Rick's wife's lover and father-figure to his son. Once Rick found his way into the pack, he backed off but couldn't shake the 'love' he felt for the son and wife...or the image he had of being father/husband/protector. It's an amazing character to put together and it's hard to hate him, no matter how fucked up he can be.

Season 2 ended up in two parts, with the 'last' half episode ending in November...with a very cool ending. I won't give it away but it rocked. I didn't think it could get any better and then the second half started in February with, what they titled "Nebraska". It starts off where November's episode left off.

I am a sucker for gun draws, ala Old West style. It just gets my adrenaline. And this one ended with one of those. It was a nice surprise. And to go with this great gun draw was Regulator by Clutch. I love Clutch. It's not your everyday old-style rock by a newish rock band band. I don't like old rock. But I like Clutch making old rock new. And this is one of my favorite ways of putting music to an episode.

Season 3 doesn't start until October. But AMC, which is the network in which The Walking Dead is aired, is preparing viewers for it in July. July 7th and 8th they will be airing all episodes for seasons 1 and 2. It looks like if you're on Dish Network, however, you're SOL. Dish has dropped AMC. Wow. That sucks. I'd drop Dish ASAP if that happened to me.