Sunday, March 28, 2010

Movie Dude Weekend

This weekend we watched the first two movies in the Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures Collection.

of the Lost Ark, 1981

Jones and the Temple of Doom, 1984

Director: Steven Spielberg; Producer: George Lucas

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Kate Capshaw


Movie Dude: One of my friends had his gym shorts fall down when he was running in P.E. this week. He was going commando.

Lori: Well, there is a moral to that story...

Just Me: Yeah. Wear a belt.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Outlaws of Mesquite

The Outlaws of Mesquite by Louis L'Amour
Mass market paperback, 224 pages
Bantam Books, 1991 edition
Meet the frontier bad men—like Leo Carver—a man so hated that everyone in the town of Canyon Gap planned to turn up for his hanging. Then meet those who dared to challenge them—like Marshal Lou Morgan, who tried to save his citizens from a goldmine swindler, only to learn that his own code of honesty made him the biggest sucker in town. There's champion rodeo rider Marty Mahan, called a coward because he was afraid of the bronc Ghost Maker—until he showed them the true color of his courage. Here are classic tales of the West from the storyteller who brings to vivid life the brave men of women who settled the North American frontier.
My Thoughts:

My best friend in high school was a Louis L'Amour fan. I can remember quite distinctly rolling my eyes at her, behind her back, at a book store as she browsed through his books, looking for one she hadn't yet read. I knew, even then, that westerns, much like romances, were not my book of choice. Naturally, my 7th and last Critical Monkey book needed to be a western. It was either that or Just Me was going to thrust another romance novel at me, one in which a Viking is set loose in Scotland where he has to deal with a fiery beauty and haggis. I quickly took matters into my own hands and literally snatched up the first western I saw.

The Outlaws of Mesquite is a collection of short stories from the famed Western writer, Louis L'Amour. On the back of the book it says that these are "classic tales of the authentic West." Really? In them tall, muscular men, who are experts at shooting and horses, save women, ranch owners, and towns from evil doers. There are illustrations. All the stories are painfully predictable. The elements are simple: A hero, a villain, a horse, a girl. I really didn't see the appeal, at all. Perhaps his novels are better but I'm glad this was just a collection of short stories. I don't know if I could have fought my way through a whole western novel. The writing is simple, though, so I'm going to see if my young nephews want to read this one.
Oh, man.... no rating

If I manage to continue, the remaining Don't be a Hatin' Amendment books are going to perhaps run beyond the time limit (packing to move, again) and include books like War and Peace and Jane Eyre. (Just Me was horrified when she discovered that in high school I had read an abridged version of War and Peace.)


Milt Cogar was at the corral catching the paint when Thacker walked down from the shore. "You'd better get out of this town, boy. They are fixin' to make trouble for you." pg. 5

He was slick. He was slicker than blue mud on a side hill, only he didn't look it. pg. 6

He was, unfortunately, in love, and the male animal in love is an abject creature when faced by the tyranny of his beloved. At the time he should be firm, he is weak. pg.30

Marty Mahan, tall in the saddle of his black gelding, rode in the Grand Entry Parade of the Wind River Annual Rodeo, but beside him rode fear. pg. 57

An instant, Johnny Garrett hesitated. He could always quit. He could draw his time. But how long would forty dollars last? And where else could he get a job at this time of the year. Moreover, if he left the country he would never see Mary Jane again. pg. 81

The bat-wing doors slammed open as if struck by a charging steer and he stood there, framed for an instant in the doorway, a huge man with a golden beard and magnificent shoulders. pg 105

Red Clanahan, a massive man with huge shoulders and a wide-jawed face, was no longer in a hurry. The energetic posse which had clung so persistently to his trail had been left behind on the Pecos. pg 125

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Return of the King

The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
Lord of the Rings Trilogy #3
Trade Paperback, 432 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999 edition
ISBN-13: 9780618002245
Very Highly Recommended

"This, the third and last part, will tell of the opposing strategies of Gandalf and Sauron, until the final catastrophe and the end of the great darkness. We return first to the fortunes of battle in the West." pg. xii

My Thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed my latest visit to Middle Earth. Since I have reread Tolkien's books many times over the years, obviously I enjoyed The Return of the King. Tolkien told a brilliant story that has become a timeless classic.

Very Highly Recommended


Pippin looked out from the shelter of Gandalf’s cloak. He wondered if he was awake or still sleeping, still in the swift-moving dream in which he had been wrapped so long since the great ride began. The dark world was rushing by and the wind sang loudly in his ears. He could see nothing but the wheeling stars, and away to his right vast shadows against the sky where the mountains of the South marched past. Sleepily he tried to reckon the times and stages of their journey, but his memory was drowsy and uncertain. opening

Pippin woke to the sound of voices. Another day of hiding and a night of journey had fleeted by. It was twilight: the cold dawn was at hand again, and chill grey mists were about them. Shadowfax stood steaming with sweat, but he held his neck proudly and showed no sign of weariness. Many tall men heavily cloaked stood beside him, and behind them in the mist loomed a wall of stone. Partly ruinous it seemed, but already before the night was passed the sound of hurried labour could be heard: beat of hammers, clink of trowels, and the creak of wheels. Torches and flares glowed dully here and there in the fog. Gandalf was speaking to the men that barred his way, and as he listened Pippin became aware that he himself was being discussed. pg. 732

‘Mithrandir! Mithrandir!’ men cried. ‘Now we know that the storm is indeed nigh!

‘It is upon you,’ said Gandalf. ‘I have ridden on its wings. Let me pass! I must come to your Lord Denethor, while his stewardship lasts. Whatever betide, you have come to the end of the Gondor that you have known. Let me pass! pg. 735

For when you are older, you will learn that folk are not always what they seem; and though you may have taken me for a soft stranger-lad and easy prey, let me warn you: I am not, I am a halfling, hard, bold, and wicked!' pg. 752

'What do you fear, lady?' he asked.
'A cage,' she said. 'To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.' pg. 767

He caught the glint of clear grey eyes; and then he shivered, for it came suddenly to him that it was the face of one without hope who goes in search of death. pg. 785

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Hipee, you knew this story would be coming. I know you’ve probably dreaded it and will deny it, but sweetie pie, there are too many witnesses still alive and it’s time to tell the next generation. Hipee and I kinkled as children. Not only did we kinkle, but we did it together.

For some odd reason mom tried to teach me to say I had to tinkle when I had to pee. So, instead of saying I had to use the bathroom, or the restroom, or pee, I said I had to tinkle, only I said it as kinkle. That is odd enough and a good example of why you should not give cute names to normal bodily functions. Even the numbering system of #1 or #2 is better than kinkling/tinkling. I don’t know if ED tinkled or not. It would be even more disturbing if he also said he had to tinkle. (Note: ask ED if he tinkled/kinkled as a child.)

But the story of kinkling gets better. Hipee is 2 years younger than me, so I was all potty trained and kinkling before her. By the time she was ready for potty training, I did it. I potty trained Hipee. I went in to kinkle and she followed me. Then she kinkled too. We were kinkling buddies. I had to go, Hipee followed. We kinkled. One went, the other went. Every time.

I don’t know when it stopped. Obviously we went on our own at school, but when we were together, we kinkled together. And we still said “kinkle” even though at this point we knew #1 and pee and other words for tinkling/kinkling. We may have finally stopped the kinkling buddy system when I was about 10. I know… a little slow on the uptake, weren’t we?

At about age 10, or maybe 9, I clearly remember running into the house to kinkle and Hipee following me, ‘cus, you know, that’s how we rolled. When I went to kinkle, Hipee followed. Dad was in the hall as I went charging past him into the bathroom, Hipee hard on my heels.

“Good Grief! Do you always have to go into the bathroom together!” grumbled Dad.

Hmmm… Did we?
Certainly there were times we could and did kinkle alone. There was no hard rule that Hipee had to follow me into the bathroom. Yes, she had always done so since she first started kinkling. It was our standard MO. But did we have to go together? Well, no. We were both perfectly capable of kinkling all on our own. It was an epiphany. We could do solo kinkling at home.

Now if we could just eliminate this urge to call it kinkling.

The Two Towers

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
Lord of the Rings #2
trade paperback, 352 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999 edition
ISBN-13: 9780618002238
Very Highly Recommended

This second part, The Two Towers, now tells how each of the members of the Fellowship of the Ring fared, after the breaking of their fellowship, until the coming of the great Darkness and the outbreak of the War of the Ring, which is to be recounted in the third and last part. pg. x

My Thoughts:

My rereading of Tolkien's books continues. This second volume never seemed to suffer from the second book in a series syndrome for me, possibly because I have always loved the Ents. I hated the movie Ents. I hate the fake eyes that people put on trees after the movie came out. Love the Ents in the book. And, of course, Frodo is not as wimpy and whiney in the book as Elijah Wood played him in the movie. In many ways it's very comforting to reread a book I know so well - so well that I even know whole passages from it simply from the many times I've read it.
Very Highly Recommended


Aragorn sped on up the hill. Every now and again he bent to the ground. Hobbits go light, and their footprints are not easy even for a Ranger to read, but not far from the top a spring crossed the path, and in the wet earth he saw what he was seeking. opening.

He knelt for a while, bent with weeping, still clasping Boromir's hand. So it was that Legolas and Gimli found him. pg.404

'He fled, certainly,' said Aragorn, 'but not, I think, from Orcs.' What he thought was the cause of Frodo's sudden resolve and flight Aragorn did not say. The last words of Boromir he long kept secret. pg. 409
At the bottom they came with a strange suddenness on the grass of Rohan. It swelled like a green sea up to the very foot of the Emyn Muil. The falling stream vanished into a deep growth of cresses and water-plants, and they could hear it tinkling away in green tunnels, down long gentle slopes towards the fens of Entwash Vale far away. They seemed to have left winter clinging to the hills behind. Here the air was softer and warmer, and faintly scented, as if spring was already stirring and the sap was flowing again in herb and leaf. Legolas took a deep breath, like one that drinks a great draught after long thirst in barren places. pg 413-414

'There is something strange at work in this land. I distrust the silence. I distrust even the pale Moon. The stars are faint; and I am weary as I have seldom been before, weary as no Ranger should be with a clear trail to follow. There is some will that lends speed to our foes and sets an unseen barrier before us: a weariness that is in the heart more than in the limb.' pg. 417

Aragorn threw back his cloak. The elven-sheath glittered as he grasped it, and the bright blade of Anduril shone like a sudden flame as he swept it out.'Elendil!' he cried.'I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dunadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil's son of Gondor.His the sword that was broken and is forged again! Will you aid me or thwart me? Choose swiftly!' pg. 423

'Orders,' said a third voice in a deep growl. 'Kill all but NOT the Halflings; they are to be brought back ALIVE as quickly as possible. That's my orders.' pg. 435

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Trade Paperback, 432 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999 edition
ISBN-13: 9780618002221
very highly recommended

From the Publisher
Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him all the Rings of Power except one -- the One Ring that rules them all -- which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task when Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

My Thoughts:

I'm continuing my very satisfactory return visit to Middle Earth. We are very old friends and thus very comfortable with each other, although I'm still getting used to my new editions of The Lord of the Rings. My old editions had traveled many miles with me. Tolkien wrote a very satisfying story on all levels and I'm enjoying my return immensely.

A quick note on the movies for those of you who don't know the books:
Shame on you Peter Jackson!
Although many people think he did a darn good job following the books, I prefer the books and hate having (untrue) movie parts jump into my head when reading them. As for the casting, I will concede that he did a pretty good job, with the exception of the hobbits. Sean Astin is the only good and true Hobbit choice. Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan were ok, but not cubby-cheeked enough. Ian Holm was ok, but in the beginning not the uncannily well-preserved Bilbo of the book. But Elijah Wood... Elijah Wood as Frodo was perhaps one of the worst casting decisions ever made. Period.
Very Highly Recommended


When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. opening

'Elves and Dragons! I says to him. 'Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don't go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you'll land in trouble too big for you,' I says to him. And I might say it to others,' he added with a look at the stranger and the miller.
But the Gaffer did not convince his audience. The legend of Bilbo's wealth was now too firmly fixed in the minds of the younger generation of hobbits. pg. 24

'You mean to go on with your plan then?'
'I do. I made up my mind months ago, and I haven't changed it.
''Very well. It is no good saying any more. Stick to your plan — your whole plan, mind — and I hope it will turn out for the best, for you, and for all of us.'
'I hope so. Anyway I mean to enjoy myself on Thursday, and have my little joke.'
'Who will laugh, I wonder?' said Gandalf, shaking his head.
'We shall see,' said Bilbo. pg. 25

Thirdly and finally, he said, I wish to make an ANNOUNCEMENT. He spoke this last word so loudly and suddenly that everyone sat up who still could. I regret to announce that — though, as I said, eleventy-one years is far too short a time to spend among you — this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!

He stepped down and vanished. There was a blinding flash of light, and the guests all blinked. When they opened their eyes Bilbo was nowhere to be seen. One hundred and forty-four flabbergasted hobbits sat back speechless. pg. 30

Frodo took the envelope from the mantelpiece, and glanced at it, but did not open it.
'You'll find his will and all the other documents in there, I think,' said the wizard. 'You are the master of Bag End now. And also, I fancy, you'll find a golden ring.'
'The ring!' exclaimed Frodo. 'Has he left me that? I wonder why. Still, it may be useful.'
'It may, and it may not,' said Gandalf. 'I should not make use of it, if I were you. But keep it secret, and keep it safe! Now I am going to bed.' pg. 36

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them,
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie. pg. 49

Friday, March 19, 2010


Spring Break Movies thus far:

The Te
rminator, 1984

Director: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield

Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991

: James Cameron
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Hobbit

The Hobbit or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien
Trade Paperback set, 288 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999 edition
ISBN-13: 9780618002214
very highly recommended

From the Publisher
Whisked away from his comfortable, unambitious life in his hobbit-hole by Gandalf the wizard and a company of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins finds himself caught up in a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon.

My Thoughts:
I'm re-reading some old friends - books I have read many, many times over the years. I actually wore out my first paperback copy of The Hobbit (cover pictured to the left) and bought a newer set several years ago.
Very Highly


In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. opening

By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed)—Gandalf came by. Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the most extraordinary fashion. pg. 5

“I beg your pardon, I haven’t asked for anything!”
“Yes, you have! Twice now. My pardon. I give it you. In fact I will go so far as to send you on this adventure. Very amusing for me, very good for you—and profitable too, very likely, if you ever get over it.”
“Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea—any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good-bye!” With that the hobbit turned and scuttled inside his round green door, and shut it as quickly as he dared, not to seem rude. Wizards after all are wizards. pg. 7

As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees. He thought of the jewels of the dwarves shining in dark caverns. Suddenly in the wood beyond The Water a flame leapt up—probably somebody lighting a wood-fire—and he thought of plundering dragons settling on his quiet Hill and kindling it all to flames. He shuddered; and very quickly he was plain Mr Baggins of Bag-End, Under-Hill, again. pg. 15-16

“That’s right,” said Gandalf. “Let’s have no more argument. I have chosen Mr Baggins and that ought to be enough for all of you. If I say he is a Burglar, a Burglar he is, or will be when the time comes. There is a lot more in him than you guess, and a deal more than he has any idea of himself. You may (possibly) all live to thank me yet." pg. 19

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Review Cliche Bingo!

Michelle Kerns has a hilarious article:
Book Review Bingo: More book review cliche fun than you can shake a riveting, unputdownable stick at. Michelle writes:
"What's the point of identifying the top 20 most annoying book reviewer clichés unless you can have a bit o' fun with them?
"Keeping a running tally as you read through the week's reviews/book jackets/gushing publicity sheets of the number of times books are referred to as a "tour de force" or "compelling" or "readable" (shudder) is certainly one source of amusement. It's a well that just won't run dry.
"Playing Bingo with those clichés, however, ups the ante into realms of, hithero, untrod delight.
"Just because I'm a sucker for you guys, I've taken all the work out of it: you'll find, below, eight Bingo cards specially designed for the cliché-intolerant among us. I even gave you a freebie -- see the middle square? It's the "Cliché -free" zone."

Go visit Michelle today and let's play Bingo!
(No fair playing with any of my reviews, though...)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ya-Yas in Bloom

Ya-Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells
Hardcover, 272 pages
Harper Collins, 2005
ISBN-13: 9780060195342
Recommended - for fans


Rebecca Wells' wonderful third book in her Ya-Ya trilogy, which includes Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, is sure to provide reading that makes you laugh and cry, a book that will break your heart and mend it again.

Ya-Yas in Bloom reveals the roots of the Ya-Yas' friendship in the 1930s, following Vivi, Teensy, Caro and Necie through sixty years of marriage, child-raising, and hair-raising family secrets. When four-year-old Teensy Whitman prisses one time too many and stuffs a big old pecan up her nose, she sets off the chain of events that lead Vivi, Teensy, Caro, and Necie to become true sister-friends. Using as narration the alternating voices of Vivi and the Petite Ya-Yas, Siddalee and Baylor Walker, as well as other denizens of Thornton, Louisiana, Wells show us the Ya-Yas in love and at war with convention. Through crises of faith and hilarious lapses of parenting skills, brushes with alcoholism and glimpses of the dark reality of racial bigotry, the Ya-Ya values of unconditional loyalty, high style, and Louisiana sass shine through.

My Thoughts:

Ya-Yas in Bloom is really more of a collection of additional stories and is not as focused as the earlier two books, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere. It starts out strong and then sort of meanders around. I can see where that might put some readers off, but, as a fan of the Ya-Yas, I basically enjoyed it. It really felt like Wells was a friend who was just telling me some family stories during a visit. (And I'll be the first to admit that I have an uncle who played duck call Christmas carols during family Christmas get-togethers, so that phenomenon is not just found in Louisiana.) But this third Ya-Yas book is not as good as the first two books and does come across as an afterthought of additional stories that didn't make it into the other books. It has been several years since I read the first two Ya-Yas books. Perhaps that explains why I enjoyed Ya-Yas in Bloom enough that I was going to be pretty generous in my recommendation for fans to read it - until I read an interview with Rebecca Wells that ticked me off. I'm going to rise above that and Recommend it - for die hard fans.


Vivi, January 1994

My name is Viviane Abbott Walker. Age sixty-eight, but I can pass for forty-nine. And I do. I altered my driver's license and kept that gorgeous picture of me when my hair was still thick and I looked like Jessica Lange, and glued it onto every new license I've had since 1975. And not one officer has said a word to me about it. opening

As Ya-Yas, we've grown up, raised our kids--the Petites Ya-Yas--and welcomed our grandchildren, the Très Petites, into this sweet, crazy world. We've helped one another stay glued together through most any life event you can imagine. pg. 1-2

Oh, there is pain in my life, but it is harder to put a name to it. Sometimes I lie in bed and wonder if there was a typhoid booster or dental checkup that I forgot to give Sidda, Little Shep, Lulu, or Baylor. Something I missed and should have done. Sometimes I lie in bed and wish I had just asked the kids what would have made them feel more loved. But I do not dwell, thank you very much. I follow Necie's words of wisdom: "Just think pretty pink and blue thoughts." pg. 4

In the beginning was the word. And the word was pecan. Or was it nostril? pg. 13

As they walked from the bank to the doctor's office, Teensy called out to each person they passed, "I stuck a pecan up my nose!" she pointed to her nose. "And nobody in town can get it out!" pg 14

"And try to contemplate that God sent us here to love him and worship him and venerate the mother of his Blessed Son. Also keep in mind that He is a generous God who does not expect perfection but does expect reverence. God needs good little girls. But sometimes He also needs busy little gophers." pg 32-33

If we are lucky and God is good to us, Little Shep and me will grow old together. We'll sit out on the porch and tell stories about how when we were children, about how he was the kind of little boy who'd knock himself out cold for something as beautiful and rare as snow. pg. 93

I have stolen other things though. Haven't we all? There are no stones to throw here. I have no stones in my hand. pg. 202

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Movie Dude Weekend: Traditional Star Wars Marathon

It was the traditional Spring Break Star Wars marathon

Episode I: The Phantom Menace, 1999,
Episode II: Attack of the Clones, 2002,
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, 2005
Star Wars Episode IV, 1977
The Empire Strikes Back, Episode V, 1980
Return of the Jedi, Episode VI, 1983

Director: George Lucas

Frequently repeated comment heard during the original three movies which were altered with new CGI:


All the participants, except me, know their Star Wars trivia and often questions are asked and answered. Although I have often had questions, I never have had any answers - until today. A question arose: Did anyone know what Han Solo did that caused Jabba to put a bounty on him? Because I had read Star Wars: Rebel Dawn, book three of the Han Solo trilogy, I knew the answer to that question and several others. Yeah.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries by Emma Mclaughlin, Nicola Kraus
Trade Paperback, 306 pages
St. Martin's Press, 2002
ISBN-13: 9780312291631
Highly Recommended

One young woman to take care of four-year-old boy. Must be cheerful, enthusiastic and selfless—bordering on masochistic. Must relish sixteen-hour shifts with a deliberately nap-deprived preschooler. Must love getting thrown up on, literally and figuratively, by everyone in his family. Must enjoy the delicious anticipation of ridiculously erratic pay. Mostly, must love being treated like fungus found growing out of employers Hermès bag. Those who take it personally need not apply.

Who wouldn’t want this job? Struggling to graduate from NYU and afford her microscopic studio apartment, Nanny takes a position caring for the only son of the wealthy X family. She rapidly learns the insane amount of juggling involved to ensure that a Park Avenue wife who doesn’t work, cook, clean, or raise her own child has a smooth day. When the Xs marriage begins to disintegrate, Nanny ends up involved way beyond the bounds of human decency or good taste. Her tenure with the X family becomes a nearly impossible mission to maintain the mental health of their four-year-old, her own integrity and, most importantly, her sense of humor. Over nine tense months, Mrs. X and Nanny perform the age-old dance of decorum and power as they test the limits of modern-day servitude.

My Thoughts:

At the beginning, The Nanny Diaries seemed to promise a humorous look at life as a nanny working for a wealthy, self-centered socialite. And while it really was quite funny in several places, it's not a comedy. It really should have been marketed not as humor as much as social satire. Truthfully, it was even a bit depressing at times. The anger boiling under the surface in some sections was palpable. I also found myself getting a little frustrated with Nanny. I wanted her to get a backbone, stick up for herself, set some boundaries and tell Mrs. X that she was hired to be a nanny and that's it - no extras. I wouldn't have lasted a month as a nanny for the X's. I would have quit. Seriously. I know she loved Grayer, her charge, but at what cost? Truthfully, Nanny could have reported these parents for their neglect for several incidents - and she should have. The ending was a bit anti-climatic for me. I really wanted Nanny to have her say. Still, The Nanny Diaries was very well written and I actually enjoyed it. (I haven't seen the movie and have no idea how the book compares to it.)
Highly Recommended


Every season of my nanny career kicked off with a round of interviews so surreally similar that I'd often wonder if the mothers were slipped a secret manual at the Parents League to guide them through. This initial encounter became as repetitive as religious ritual, tempting me, in the moment before the front door swung open, either to kneel and genuflect or say, "Hit it!" opening

She is always tiny. Her hair is always straight and thin; she always seems to be inhaling and never exhaling. She is always wearing expensive khaki pants,Chanel ballet flats, a French striped Tshirt, and a white cardigan. Possibly some discreet pearls. In seven years and umpteen interviews the I'm-momcasual-in-my-khakis-but-intimidating-in-my-$400-shoes outfit never changes. And it is simply impossible to imagine her doing anything so undignified as what was required to get her pregnant in the first place. pg. 2

We will dance around certain words, such as "nanny" and "child care," because they would be distasteful and we will never, ever, actually acknowledge that we are talking about my working for her. This is the Holy Covenant of the Mother/Nanny relationship: this is a pleasure--not a job.... The closest we get to the possibility that I might actually be doing this for money is the topic of my baby-sitting experience, which I describe as a passionate hobby, much like raising Seeing Eye dogs for the blind. As the conversation progresses I become a child-development expert--convincing both of us of my desire to fulfill my very soul by raising a child and taking part in all stages of his/her development; a simple trip to the park or museum becoming a precious journey of the heart. pg. 3

Nanny Fact: in every one of my interviews, references are never checked. I am white. I speak French. My parents are college educated. I have no visible piercings and have been to Lincoln Center in the last two months. I'm hired. pg. 4

There are essentially three types of nanny gigs. Type A, I provide "couple time" a few nights a week for people who work all day and parent most nights. Type B, I provide "sanity time" a few afternoons a week to a woman who mothers most days and nights. Type C, I'm brought in as one of a cast of many to collectively provide twenty-four/seven "me time" to a woman who neither works nor mothers. And her days remain a mystery to us all. pg. 26

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Word Freak

Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE ® Players by Stefan Fatsis
Trade Paperback, 384 pages
Penguin, 2001
ISBN-13: 9780142002261
Non fiction
highly recommended

Stefan Fatsis, a Wall Street Journal reporter and National Public Radio regular, recounts his remarkable rise through the ranks of elite Scrabble players while exploring the game's strange, potent hold over them — and him.
Scrabble might truly be called America's game. More than two million sets are sold every year and at least thirty million American homes have one. But the game's most talented competitors inhabit a sphere far removed from the masses of "living room players." Theirs is a surprisingly diverse subculture.... [Fatsis'] curiosity soon morphs into compulsion, as he sets about memorizing thousands of obscure words and fills his evenings with solo Scrabble played on his living room floor. Before long he finds himself at tournaments socializing — and competing — with Scrabble's elite.
But this book is about more than hardcore Scrabblers, for the game yields insights into realms as disparate as linguistics, psychology, and mathematics. WORD FREAK extends its reach even further, pondering the light Scrabble throws on such notions as brilliance, memory, competition, failure, and hope. It is a geography of obsession that celebrates the uncanny powers locked in all of us.
My Thoughts:

Word Freak takes a look inside the subculture of obsessive, competitive Scrabble players as well as the history of the game. Almost everyone has played Scrabble. Fatsis took it a step further and decided to try to become a highly ranked competitive Scrabble player. Word Freak is strangely fascinating as it delves into competitive Scrabble players and their strategies, obsession with finding anagrams for fun, and memorization of word lists - lots of word lists. It takes a whole lot of work and dedication to be a successful tournament level Scrabble player. Gradually Fatsis himself turns into the "word freak." There is a lot of strategy talk that may slow down the casual reader. Although I actually found Word Freak quite interesting, and it makes me want to play a game of Scrabble, I have no desire to become a tournament level player.
Highly Recommended


The world of games and the world of words are governed by their own set of elaborate rules. This book is about one game, Scrabble, and the words used in playing that game. So it's only natural that it has a few rules of its own, too.
First, a little background: Organized, competitive, tournament Scrabble differs from the game played at home. A twenty-three-page rule book governs everything.... One [rule], however, bears mentioning up front: Competitive Scrabble is a one-on-one game. opening

Scrabble is among the best-selling and most enduring games in the two- hundred-year history of the American toy industry. Hasbro Inc., which owns the rights to Scrabble in North America, sells well over a million sets a year. Around a hundred million sets have been sold worldwide since the game was first mass-produced in 1948. .... say the word “Scrabble” and everyone knows what you’re talking about: the game in which you make words. pg. 3

A good living room player. That's what John D. Williams, Jr., had dubbed me, and if it sounds like a backhanded compliment, that's because it is. pg. 5

(In competitive Scrabble, each player has twenty-five minutes to complete a game; "go over" on time and you are penalized 10 points per minute.) pg. 9

Might as well be a UFO convention. The Scrabble tournament scene, it turns out - and I'm shocked, shocked - isn't the most highly functional subculture around. "We're dealing with some borderline pathology here," Charles Southwell....says as he surveys the hotel ballroom where eighty top players are competing. pg. 12

"It's the only thing I've put a lot of hard work into," Joel says. "When I can prove that my approach - my concentration on strategy as opposed to their concentration on rote dictionary memorization - it elevates my self-esteem. It's the one thing I'm really good at, and if I can't accomplish something in this field, it's unlikely I'll accomplish something in any other field.
"So this basically validates my existence." He pauses. "I'm not kidding." pg 19

In a way, the living room player is lucky. He has no idea how miserably he fails with almost every turn, how many possible words or optimal plays slip by unnoticed. The idea of Scrabble greatness doesn't even exist for him. pg. 128

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Movie Dude Weekend: Memorial and 2012

The first thing we did for Movie Dude weekend was watch two DVD's of pictures that were shown at my brother-in-law's funeral. They were both wonderful tributes and we will cherish the pictures for years to come.

Next was the movies. You had to know we'd be watching 2012.


Director: Roland Emmerich

Cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton

"Disaster movie maven Roland Emmerich's apocalyptic sci-fi thriller following the prophecy stated by the ancient Mayan calendar, which says that the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012. When a global cataclysm thrusts the world into chaos, divorced writer and father Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) joins the race to ensure that humankind is not completely wiped out."

I really enjoyed 2012. The special effects were great. There was plenty of action and suspense. Movie Dude commented several times that the action and special effects were beyond belief, which, yeah, is true. But, for me, when I watch an end of the world thriller I want it to go beyond what I can imagine - and I can imagine pretty darn bad.

Movie Dude and Just me were pretty chatty all through the movie... until Movie Dude fell alseep. Don't ask me how he could fall asleep. It is an intense movie. Just Me threw a coaster at him to wake him up. I'm kind of looking forward to watching 2012 again, with Wonder Boy. He won't talk during the movie.

All the Kind Strangers (1974)

tor: Burt Kennedy

Cast: St
acy Keach, Samantha Eggar, John Savage, Robby Benson, Arlene Farber

"Samantha Eggar and Stacy Keach play motorists held prisoner by a family of seven sweet-faced yo
ung orphans and their savage guard dogs. The children only want a mother and father but are willing to kill anyone who rejects them. Jon Savage co-stars with Robby Benson, who sang the theme song. All the Kind Strangers was initially telecast November 12, 1974. "

I remember watching this on TV when it first came out. It didn't seem quite as creepy now as it did then. Of course, I might have been distracted because there was a lot going on during the movie.

Just Me and Movie Dude had pulled out Just Me's netbook and were checking out online videos. This is one of their new past times for movie night - that and flipping through all the TV music stations. If it's not toddler tunes, it's chilled out vibes. They both found their favorite song for the evening - Rockin' the Beer Gut.

While watching a My Little Pony video, we saw one of the cute little ponies lick another one.
Movie Dude: Look! They're mating!
Just Me: They are not. This is not My Little Pony XXX!
Movie Dude: Let's Search for that!
Just Me: No. You're sick.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Double Fault

Double Fault by Lionel Shriver
hardcover, 317 pages
Doubleday, 1997
ISBN-13: 9780385488303
Literary fiction

Synopsis from publisher:
Tennis has been Willy Novinsky's one love ever since she first picked up a racquet at the age of four. A middle-ranked pro at twenty-three, she's met her match in Eric Oberdorf, a low-ranked, untested Princeton grad who also intends to make his mark on the international tennis circuit. Eric becomes Willy's first passion off the court, and eventually they marry. But while wedded life begins well, full-tilt competition soon puts a strain on their relationship—and an unexpected accident sends driven and gifted Willy sliding irrevocably toward resentment, tragedy, and despair.
From acclaimed author Lionel Shriver comes a brilliant and unflinching novel about the devastating cost of prizing achievement over love.
My Thoughts:

Shriver is an excellent writer and Double Fault displays her keen attention to language and detail. It is not, however, one of her better novels. The tone of Double Fault is relentlessly, overwhelmingly bitter. Tension is taut and unyielding through the whole novel. I found all the characters unlikable. Willy is so focused on herself, her goal, that she can't work out any marital problems or conflicts. I don't think Double Fault is an accurate picture of a two career relationship at all. I've never played tennis. I've never dedicated myself to pursue one course of action no matter what. In many ways my husband and I are very much a case of opposites attracting. We have some common interests, but many more different interests and hobbies.The result of my life experiences makes me completely unable to relate to Willy's single-mindedness and her inability to work out her relationship with Eric.
Recommended - because of Shriver's writing, but understand that this is a novel full of tension and bitterness.


At the top of the toss, the ball paused, weightless. Willy's arm dangled slack behind her back. The serve was into the sun, which at its apex the tennis ball perfectly eclipsed. opening

His fingers hooked the galvanized wire. He had predatory eyes and a bent smile of unnerving patience, like a lazy lion who would wait all day in the shade for supper to walk by. Though his hairline was receding, the lanky man was young, yet still too white to be one of the boys from nearby Harlem scavenging strays for stickball. He must have been searching the underbrush for his own errant ball; he had stopped to watch her play. pg. 2

"That was the most gutless demonstration I've ever seen," he announced.
"Oh, men always make excuses," said Willy. "Beaten by a girl."
"I didn't mean he was gutless. I meant you."
She flushed. "Pardon?"
"Your playing that meatball is like a pit bull taking on a Chihuahua. Is that how you get your rocks off?"
"In case you haven't noticed, I don't have rocks."
The lanky man clucked. "I think you do." pg. 4

Zipping his cover, Eric directed, "Time we had Randy's beer. Flor De Mayo. I'm starving."
"I may have missed it - was that asking me out?"
"It was telling you where we're having dinner."
"How do you know I don't have plans with a friend?"
"You don't," he said simply. pg. 7

"Tennis is about control," Eric disagreed.
"Tennis is about everything," Willy declared with feeling.
Eric laughed. "Well, I wouldn't go quite that far. But you're right, it's not the eyes. The tennis game is the window of the soul." pg. 12

...Willy belonged to the select stable of older pros whom Max was grooming for the tour. Many were handpicked from the graduating class, though a few, like Willy, were bagged on Max's cross-country shopping trips. pg. 18

Besides, through the summer Willy came to understand that her suitor's strategy was sourced not in self-abasement but conceit. Eric Oberdorf was a single-minded man who once bent on a project did not relent until its object was achieved. He did not court Willy with an eye to his own self-protection, because it never entered his head that he would fail. This proclivity for unreserved full-tilt at what he would not be denied was both winning and unsettling. pg. 40

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Battle Royale

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
translated by Yuji Oniki
Trade paperback, 624 pages (including extras) 2009 edition
VIZ Media LLC, copyright 1999; English translation 2003
ISBN-13: 9781421527727
Very Highly Recommended

In an alternative future Japan, junior high students are forced to fight to the death.
Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller envisions a nightmare scenario: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill until only one survivor is left standing. Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan—where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller—Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world.
My Thoughts:

A group of 42 fifteen year old students, 21 boys and 21 girls, from the third year class B of Shiroiwa Jr. High are taken to an evacuated island, given various weapons (from firearms to a fork) and told they have a time limit to kill each other until only one of them is left standing - or they will all die. The students all have explosive metal collars that keep track of them. This intense dystopian novel of an oppressive, alternate future Japan is disturbing and thought provoking. What would you do to survive? Would you kill your friends? Could you trust them? How much would fear and suspicion influence your actions?

I found Battle Royale to be both plot and character driven. You see what happens to each student and are given some insight into each of them At the same time there is plenty of action, sometimes quite graphic and violent, to keep you the story moving at a quick pace. It has been made into a movie and a manga. Also, apparently, there is an earlier English translation of Battle Royale was not as well done as the current translation, the one I read. At the front of the book is a map of the island and a list of all 42 students, to help you keep track of them. At the end of each chapter is a notation of how many students are left alive. This is a hefty book, but I found it to be easy to read. I was also a bit concerned that I would lose track of the characters, but that also proved to be a needless concern - except in a few cases, but I easily sorted them out again.
Very Highly Recommended

Now, a few words about The Hunger Games YA series by Suzanne Collins, which that bears a rather uncomfortably close resemblance to Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. I really felt that Collins' books were influenced by Battle Royale and she should have noted this somewhere in her books. Yes, perhaps it's just a coincidence, but it seems a bit too close a resemblance to not note it. Of course there are differences, but the main premise, young teens are forced to fight to the death with an assortment of weapons in a closed off environment, is the same. Also, when reading them, the clear difference between books designated as YA and adult novels becomes quite clear, no matter how many people want to say there is no difference other than YA books have teen main characters. I enjoyed The Hunger Games, but Battle Royal is the better of the books, especially for adult readers.


From the back of the bus, Shuya watched his forty-one classmates, who were illuminated by dull fluorescent lights fixed in dingy ceiling panels. They had all been in the same class the past two years. pg. 7

It was almost ten o'clock when Shuya noticed something strange.
Something weird was happening inside the bus. Yoshitoki, who was on his left, had suddenly fallen asleep and was breathing softly. Shinji Mimura's body was slouching into the aisle. Noriko Nakagawa was also asleep. No one seemed to be talking. Nobody was awake. pg. 16-17

Worst of all, Shuya himself was overcome with drowsiness. pg 17

At approximately the same time, men in black sedans began their late-night visits to the students' families back in Shiroiwa. Alarmed, the parents must have been more shocked when the visitors presented them with documents stamped with the government's official peach insignia. pg. 17-18

Under the moonlight, the bluish-white concrete pier gleamed like bone, and beyond the pier the ship that would transport the players was swaying sluggishly in the open black sea. pg 18

As they woke up their eyes remained out of focus. Everyone was clueless. His eyes met Yoshitoki Kuninobu's as his friend turned back. Shuya pointed at his collar, tilting his neck slightly. Yoshitoki immediately touched his neck. He looked shocked. pg. 21

"Let me explain the situation. The reason why you're all here today - "
Then he said: "- is to kill each other.".....
...."Your class has been selected for this year's 'Program.' " pg. 24

The students had to kill each other, competing for the title of survivor. It was the most terrifying version of musical chairs imaginable.
But it was impossible to oppose the Program. It was impossible to protest anything the Republic of Greater East Asia did. pg. 28

"We will have you leave one by one. Each of you will take one of these bags prior to departure. Each pack contains food, water, and a weapon. Let's see, as I said, every one of you differs according to ability. So these weapons will add another random element. Well, that sounds complicated. In other words, it will make the game all the more unpredictable. You will each end up with a randomly selected weapon. As you leave in order, you will take the pack on top of the pile. Each pack also contains a map of the island, a compass, and a watch...." pg. 43

Sakamochi grinned. "The collar monitors your pulse in order to verify signs of life and transmits this information to the mainframe at this school. It also pinpoints your exact position on the island for us. Now, let's return to the map."
"This same computer will also randomly select forbidden zones. And if there are any students left in the zone after the designated time - of course dead students won't matter - the computer will automatically detect anyone alive and will immediately send a signal to his or her collar. Then -"
Shuya knew what he would say.
"That collar will explode." pg. 44

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Those Stories

You know how families have stories that they tell for years and years? You know - those stories that you can never escape from… until everyone who knows them dies? I have previously shared several involving Hipee, concerning her fashion sense and the fact that she’s lucky to be alive. Well, now is the time to share some more of those stories!

(For those of you new to my family, Hipee is my sister, the high powered executive. ED is our older brother, El Dictator. Whiy is our little sister, who was whiney, and PB is Pretty Boy, our youngest brother. The Snack King is my husband, Wonder Boy our son, Just Me our daughter, and Movie Dude our nephew.)

ED dumped me out of the stroller when I was a baby. I don’t know where our mom was or why he, as a two year old, was allowed to push me in the stroller. I should probably interrogate mom to discover exactly why ED was pushing the stroller. It seems almost inevitable that he would dump me out of it. As far as I know I wasn’t hurt physically, but this occurrence also seemed to set the tone of our relationship right from the start. ED would try to control me (or eliminate me) and I would find ways to defy him (although as a baby all I did was cry.) I’m sure, after hearing about this misdeed for years, ED wished his evil plan had worked.

I danced on a TV show. Yup. Could I dance? Nope. It happened on some local children’s show. Some of you will remember these shows, where, between showing cartoons, the host talked to groups of kids who were visiting the TV studio. I think I was there with my Bluebird troop. (Before you could fly up to be a Campfire Girl, you were a Bluebird.) The host was talking to the group of girls I was with and apparently when he asked if anyone could dance, I said I could. Other girls in the troop had had dance lessons and could actually dance. I didn’t have a clue. He asked to see me dance and I got down from the stands and just hopped around, kicking up my legs. I have no memory of this at all but I have had to listen to the story for many, many years. I hate this story.

Hipee ate ED’s bug collection. That’s the story. The facts are simple: she was there, the bugs were missing, and the pins holding them down carefully put back in the Styrofoam. From that point on, the story is Hipee ate ED’s bug collection. She despises this story. She claims that there is no proof. She was also, subsequently, accused of smashing ED’s ant eggs that were carefully placed on top of his dresser, but I know for a fact that she didn’t do that.

Whiy stole my blanket with the blue roses. It’s really my mom’s fault. This is how it went down. Whiy was a baby. Mom was behind in laundry and needed a blanket for Whiy’s crib. She “borrowed” my favorite blanket - the world’s most beautiful blanket with the blue roses on it. She said she was just borrowing it for that night. I loved that blanket. I was reluctant to see it leave my bed and go to Whiy’s crib, to be peed on. Well, Whiy, the little creep, immediately decided she loved my blanket too. Guess who had to give up their beautiful blanket with the blue roses to an unwanted little sister? Yeah. I’m still bitter. Sisters stink, sometimes literally.

PB really was a pretty baby. He was a pretty toddler. He was one of those kids who, even though he was definitely dressed in boy’s clothes, people always thought he was a girl. I can remember Hipee getting pretty angry on more than one occasion, yelling back at people, “He’s a BOY!” I’ve got pictures of him in some pink footed pajamas, hand-me-downs from Whiy, and he looks like a very pretty little girl with short hair. You know what, just between us, for a very hairy man in his late 30’s he’s still kind of pretty. Recently, when picking him up after knee surgery, I had to help him get his socks and shoes on. (Not the first time I’ve done this, although it has been several years.) I’ll tell you exactly what I told him: “You have really pretty feet!” And he does, especially compared to my husband, the Snack King, who has big, ugly feet that are scarred up from a motorcycle accident in his youth. (The Snack King also has a bad back that acts up now and then so I’ve put socks and shoes on his feet before too.)

This is fun, isn’t it? Let’s tell some more stories.

Speaking of brothers trying to eliminate younger sisters, a two year old Wonder Boy threw a C cell battery at Just Me’s head when she was a baby. She was just sitting there, spitting up in her carrier, and “Wham!” a battery came flying through the air. The Snack King about had a heart attack over that one. He probably knew what Wonder Boy was thinking. I guess older brother’s always try to eliminate their younger sisters, because the Snack King once dug a deep pit in his back yard, filled it with water, and then tried to get one of his younger sisters to “wade” through it.

Just Me was a vertical baby. We had to keep her in a vertical position for two reasons. (1) She did not like being horizontal and (2) she was a spit-up baby. That girl just bubbled. Sometimes it was more throw-up than spit-up. We used towels with her more than baby blankets, to ease the clean up. I went through about six months of my life so covered with spit-up or throw-up on a daily basis that I no longer noticed the smell. I just mopped up what I could and went on with my day. I’m so glad she grew out of that stage. It was quite unattractive.

The Movie Dude was one of the chubbiest babies you’ve ever seen. We baby sat him when he was a baby. I have pictures of him I can’t wait to show his girl friend some day. In one he is getting a bath in my kitchen sink. He is sitting in the sink, with a big smile on his face, filling it up with all of his cute baby rolls of fat. I have another picture of him lying on the floor on his tummy. Wonder Boy and Just Me had lined up toy dinosaurs all around his head, in a semi-circle, just out of his reach. He’s just lying there, see-sawing on his belly, smiling. He was such a good natured, happy baby. You know, he’s still like that today.