I once spent a month in Alaska during the summer, and while there was much hiking and playing and loving the outdoors, we also had a great time coming home and watching long winded dramas. In honor of that I would like to share with you my 2017 list of things to watch when the cool romance/funny drama mood strikes

1. North and South

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(Currently streaming on Netflix)

North and South is a miniseries based on a book by Elizabeth Gaskell. It covers a large span of time. The character of Margaret is always recalling fondly her memories of warmth and beauty of her homeland. It is the summer of her mind. She starts a journey and winds up in a completely different place than she thought she would. In the end Margaret is empowered and she has grown far beyond where she started. It is worth the fours hours that you will sink into watching it. I suggest scones and coffee on a lazy or rainy or simply too cold to get out, Saturday.

2. Love & Friendship

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(Currently streaming on Amazon Prime)

This gem of a movie, while not as long as North and South is much more funny and light hearted (and less realistic). It center around Kate Beckinsale’s, Lady Susan who flits from household to household after the death of her husband wreaking mayhem wherever she goes. Her daughter is long suffering and usually embarrassed by the antics of her shameless parent. Its much like what might happen if Mrs. Bennett (Pride and Prejudice) had lost her husband and been a bit more intelligent. Most of the drama takes place in the residence of Lady Susan’s deceased husbands brothers home (confusing isn’t it?). Its light and funny and irrelevant. Go Enjoy.

 

3. Barefoot in the Park

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(Currently streaming on Netflix)

If you are looking for an oldy but a goodie this is your movie. It was the first movie that Robert Redford and Jane Fonda did together and it was rather magnificent. They play newlyweds in New York. Jane is the overly clingy Cory who has newly discovered the concept of romantic love and hasn’t quite reconciled that with the reality of every day life. Redford plays her straight laced new husband Paul, who hasn’t quite figured out how to deal with his charming if batty wife.

4. Sabrina

TM, ¨ & Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

(Currently streaming on Hulu)

Sabrina is one of those interesting movies with a narrated introduction. Sabrina tells us a “Once upon a time” sort of story as an introduction. She grew up as the daughter of a chauffeur living on the property of his employers on one of those complexes that normal people don’t visit much less live on. Sabrina watches the parties from afar and dreams of one day catching the eye of the younger son whom she fancies herself in love with. After a growing up period in Paris as a fashion intern she comes back home where she does catch the eye of both brothers and the story weaves its way into your heart with the charming older brother Linus and his need to really start experiencing life. I enjoyed it immensely.

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What would it be like to wake up without a name every day except for whatever the shop keeper you just stole from shouts at you? What would it be like to be part of a less than popular minority in Europe? To be an orphan? To not even know what your heritage was? I sometimes bemoan the loss of my grandmothers home, but I still know where I come from. I have pictures, memories and people that claim me. But what if you had none of that and the only people to take you in where other street urchins who were as generally disliked and as much a misfit as yourself? Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli takes thatt premise to Warsaw on the cusp of Great War. I might have read Milkweed  if I hadn’t been so busy reading the Diaries of Anne Frank or the Hiding Place. My own child will definitely be reading Milkweed when the time comes.  I think this book more than many others has the power to leave an impression.

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The book takes place, first on the streets of Warsaw then in the ghetto. The young boy grows, survives, and takes on new names. When asked recently, a group of teenagers in my acquaintance named the fear of being forgotten as one of their great fears. I felt that way as a preteen and well into my late teen years. Spinelli does a wonderful job addressing that fear even as he doesn’t sugar coat how easily it is to be forgotten. As an adult reading this book was heartbreaking but sweet in its simple happy moments. Everyone addresses their anger and frustration with the situation, with the ghetto, with God himself differently.  Uncle Shepsel becomes a Methodist. Uri becomes a double agent. And the boy we learn to call Misha adapts to his surroundings and uses his wily nature to make the best of it. Isn’t that what we all strive to do when faced with life? GOotake a few hours and read this book. It will make you think and heaven knows we could all use more thought in our lives.

If You Ask Me – A Review

I’ve been reading a ridiculous amount of biographies lately. I think it is mostly in response to trying to write my own narrative. I’m not terribly creative so it helps me to see how other have done it. I picked up Betty White’s book If You Ask Me (and of course you won’t) at the library the a few weeks ago and put it in a hefty stack of books I planned to either read or at least peruse to see if they had any value and there it sat for almost two weeks. On a whim I picked it up Sunday after church and finished it before I had to be back for the 5pm service. It looks much more content filled than it is. It also wasn’t what I was expecting.

I hadn’t researched Betty White before I picked the book up, if I had I would have realized this wasn’t her first book or a true autobiography. It is in fact more of a series of short essays on any number of given topics. She talks about the shows she has had success on, her relationships, her looks, her hair, her memory, her love of stuffed animals and crossword puzzles. Perhaps the most interesting part of this book is that there are accompanying pictures for most of the sections. I think this is fascinating. I love a good book with pictures. Accompanying each story there is a picture ranging from many different decades and varied subject matter. I learned in this book that Betty has a room full of stuffed animals. I mean more power to you Ms. White but I never would have guessed that about her.

Betty White is a wonderful author, an interesting person and honest in her reflections. If you want a quick and funny Sunday afternoon read this one is for you. Its sort of refreshing to hear her take on all of these different subjects since she has had far more experience and more time on this earth to observe humanity than most of us. Besides all that practical stuff Betty White is my hero and I want to be her if I ever grow up, or Lily Tomlin.

While I have not yet read Our Souls at Night, the book, it is most certainly now on my list. I was prepared to be disappointed by the movie. As much as Netflix gets things right it gets them abysmally wrong with original works. However, this beautiful bit of a movie about growing older and still finding that sliver of happiness was everything I could have wanted (mostly). I think many of us, when faced with the prospect of growing older, or with older people, somehow believe that they outgrow loneliness or the need for companionship which is ridiculous but maybe it is more of a hope. In any event the heroin of our story, Addie, starts off very boldly by asking her neighbor Louis to fill a need she has for companionship by sleeping over and talking to her. She has been a widow a while and lives alone in a house much too big for a single person and she misses even the most basic companionship. Instead of doing what many do, which is suffer in silence or let loneliness overtake her she reaches out to someone she has known to be kind and who seems to be in at least a somewhat similar situation. What a brave thing to do at any age. And absolutely honest.

While Louis is definitely more hesitant than she is they form a sweet bond which grows slowly over time. It did make me think. I’ve, for all intents and purposes been single for about three years and especially in the last two years its been hard to go to bed alone every night. It would be something truly special to have someone who simply wanted to have a pleasant and insightful conversation with me before bed each night and to close my eyes and know someone else would be with me when I opened them again. This is not to say I am totally alone. I have a two year old of course and my sister is wonderful but there is something to be said for a different kind of companionship. Robert Redford and  Jane Fonda did a wonderful job with the material. I’ve actually never seen them together in a movie before but my mission is to have a movie night with their movies tonight. They are wonderful together. There were several wonderfully insightful moments in the movie but this quote from the book about growing up,  life, marriage and companionship sum  it up well.

“Who does ever get what they want? It doesn’t seem to happen to many of us if any at all. It’s always two people bumping against each other blindly, acting out old ideas and dreams and mistaken understandings.” – Kent Haruf

 

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I’ve been on a feminine author and life story book binge the last couple of months. Writing that made me remember I need to pick out books for the beach. Anyway I just finished another excellent but very different book by Jillian Lauren called Some Girls. The premise of the book is to tell you the story of a girl entering a harem. Why would any nineteen year old think that was a good idea? What leads one to that decision? Honestly I was pretty fascinated with the thought process from the beginning and I had to know more. This book has been sitting in the bottom of one of my many bags for weeks now until I picked it up last week because I didn’t want to deal with some issues in my own personal life. I wish I had picked it up sooner.

Lauren explores the sex trade in NYC, as well as how she got into “the harem”. Spolier alert** Its not really a harem. I had wondered about that terminology. She actually is attending nightly parties and while there is sex and an exchange of goods for services rendered it is sort of fascinating how this sort of industry works, especially for me as someone who has never given it much thought. I love bread way too much to ever attempt to make money from my body. Luckily I had different opportunities than she did.

Where I think Lauren did a fantastic job is in humanizing the industry and highlighting her own path to that life style. She doesn’t try to make herself look better, or put a cute spin on what is a really intense, often scary, and more often sad life. She speaks in a voice you can’t help but sympathize with at the same time as you are shocked by the contents of her life. Through all that she talks about seeking help in dealing with her problems, and the good and bad of that life. It was fascinating and I highly recommend it.

Gregor the Overlander – Go Forth and Read

Gregor the Overlander is the dashing young (11-12yrs old) hero in a series of books written by Suzanne Collins who also brought us the Hunger Games. I must say for as long as the prospect of giant bugs put me off of reading these books she really did an excellent job. Gregor is a preteen young man living in the city that never sleeps, New York City, New York. He lives with his mother, sisters and grandmother is typical New York fashion for the working class. His father seems to have disappeared into nothingness a couple of years ago and Gregor is helping his mom keep everything together while they eek by on her salary. Gregor is a little mature for his age which makes sense as he is the oldest and he helps to keep his siblings fed.

All that changed the minute he fell through a dryer vent with his sister Boots. Gregor discovered a whole new world far below New York City. This world is completely different from the one he is used to and incredibly dangerous. Over the course of five books Collins introduced a number of different creatures and Gregor has to make a lot of tough decisions. I’m a huge fan of Rick Riordan and this series is at least as good as the Percy Jackson books. When they make the movies I’ll surely be just as disappointed. What I love about this series is that Collins doesn’t treat Gregor with kid gloves. He is the warrior, In tough situations he has to make tough decisions, all the while dealing with the fact that to his parents he is still a child and will eventually have to go back to life in the Overland. They are quick reads, and well worth acquainting yourself with.

In the last book Gregor comes to realize that while he has been named the warrior by a strange series of prophecies he does not have to let that influence the rest of his life or even his decisions in the moment. What a novel concept, just because someone old says something does not make it so, does not make it prophecy, does not make it inevitable. May we all come to realize we are the harbingers of our own happy or sad endings.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of youth fiction this summer, perhaps it is because I have been immersed in children’s programming or perhaps it is because there is something lovely about a plot that doesn’t involve silly sexual tension or needless death/rape/death scenes (I’m looking at you George RR Martin). I enjoy adult content and complicated plot lines as much as the next person but there is something clean and fresh in seeing the world from the perspective of a child too young to know yet what the real monsters are.

I’ve linked the books below.

Gregor the Overlander

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

Gregor the and the Curse of the Warmbloods

Gregor and the Marks of Secret

Gregor and the Code of the Claw

Book Review – Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Womens Prison

Over the last few months of teeny baby craziness I haven’t done a ton of reading, but I have managed to squeeze in a few books. One of those books was Orange is the New Black: My Year In a Women’s Prison.

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I’ve watched the Netflix original series based on the book and I enjoyed it so I decided to read the book and it was actually a really good read. The story center around a woman named Piper Kerman. Kerman was a self surrender to the prison system after being convicted of a crime she committed many years earlier. Thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing and a rather self serving justice system a one time mistake she made in her twenties ended up being a prison sentence she served in her thirties. Kerman tells of the relationships she developed with the other inmates and the ways that her stint in prison changed her outlook on the prison system.

I’ve read many biographies and I often blog about my own life so I am familiar with a myriad of stories and storytelling ways but this was a unique and well thought out perspective on what is often a rather mysterious place. Kerman met many interesting women while in prison and she tells part of their story as well as her own. She also hits on an important topic, especially in today’s world; the privatization of the prison system. Is it right to place our offenders in prisons run by private corporations for profit? Even before reading Kerman’s story I would have said, probably not, but definitely after reading her perspective I think we are doing a terrible disservice to our citizens by placing them in these privately run facilities. The sad conditions and silly bureaucracies of the private prison system driven by a monetary bottom line are obviously not going to be particularly interested in rehabilitation of prisoners since they, by therevery nature, only make money if people are sent to their facilities.

This is a great book. Go, forth and read.

Product Review: Organic Belly Balm

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While I haven’t really bought into a whole lot of Maternity related products…in fact I typically avoid them like the plague, I have really enjoyed this Organic Belly Balm. I was given it as a gift for Christmas and if not for that I probably would never have bought anything no matter how much my growing belly itched. It is organic, as the label states, and honestly it is a bit pricey at $16.00~ a jar, but it has been highly effective. I have no stretch marks and right now I am almost 10 inches bigger around the waist then pre pregnancy. It has also gotten rid of all belly itch which was a really rather inconvenient problem I had before the balm. The other benefit is that the smell is really nice. It is a nice, neutral smell which I appreciate considering my new highly energized nose.

It comes from the Honest Company and you can buy it here or at the Maternity store, which is where my jar comes from. The jar is only about a quarter of the way depleted and I have used it every day since Christmas so I imagine it will last until almost before I have this baby. If you are looking for a belly cream or balm I highly recommend this.

Did you have any pregnancy products that really made a difference?

*I was in no way compensated for this review*

Death Comes to Pemberly

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My newest Netflix discovery has been Death Comes to Pemberly. While I am not an obsessive Pride and Prejudice fan I do enjoy movies and sometimes books associated with the worlds created by Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice) and Elizabeth Gaskell (Wives and Daughters, North and South). My favorite of these is probably North and South. Something about spring time just makes me want to watch a ton of haughty British miniseries and read all the associated books. This is perfect coinciding with my discover of Death Comes to Pemberly in the Netflix catalog.

This continuation of the P&P story takes place a few years after the original book ends with Darcy and Elizabeth and a bouncing, rather energetic young Darcy Jr. The movie (it is also a book) takes place around the time that the family is prepping for a grand ball. Georgiana makes an appearance as does Colonel Fitzwilliam, Jane, and several other beloved and some not so beloved characters. Leading up to the ball Captain Denny, and the still rather deplorable, but now a decorated war hero Wickham and as always a rather silly Lydia are on their way to the ball to *surprise* their relatives by showing up there unexpectedly in hopes of not being turned away. During the carriage ride Captain Denny has a fit of conscience and jumps out of the carriage with Wickham on his heels. During the ensuing panic Captain Denny is murdered and of course Wickham is the primary, possibly only suspect.

From here we are lead on a merry chase through many clues and multiple suspects until then final conclusion. It is a mighty mystery filled with touches of romance here and there. The movie definitely captures the romance between Darcy and Elizabeth and shows how their relationship could have grown in the ensuing years after the conclusion of P&P. We also get a rather satisfactory ending to Georgiana’s story. I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to get their British romance fix. And if you don’t have Netflix it is quite reasonably priced on Amazon.

Book Review: Sustain by Tijan

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I’ve read a lot of books by Tijan. I really love all the ones I have read so far. Some more than others. This book was good, a little different, but good. Sustain seemed to come out of nowhere until I realized that the book was actually about the band we meet in the Broken and Screwed series. I really, really enjoyed the Broken and Screwed books. Jesse and Alex have a great, if rather complex story. In Sustain we meet Luke and Bri (again). And there story is just as complex.

What I liked about it: The characters are strong. The side characters are really interesting and it looks like they will get their own books. Even though Bri starts out dating a rather shady individual she quickly dumps him when things come to light and doesn’t look back. Bri is a kick ass awesome drummer and strong female character.

Luke takes a little more time to get to know. He is definitely not my favorite of Tijan’s male characters, but he has several redeeming qualities. The other characters make up for a lot that our main man might be lacking. The dynamic of the band is great! Those guys are so dysfunctional but they somehow work great together. There are a ton of funny moments that are well worth the read.

What I didn’t like: Now, normally I am not a big advocate of dragging things out. I like one book wonders. I also think that if a story needs more than one book then that is fine too. I would have like to have scene more explanation, more back ground, and frankly more blanks filled in.

All in all Tijan is a solid writer who gave us yet another good book. Check it out for yourself. It is available on Amazon!

What have you been reading?