Monday, April 28, 2014

A Table by the Window- Book Review

A Table by the Window by Hillary Manton Lodge combines a few of my favorite things: food, non-cheesy romance, and a bit of mystery.  The book follows food writer Juliette D'Alisa as she navigates an increasingly stressful career, contemplates opening a restaurant with her brother, tries to solve a mystery surrounding her beloved late grandmother, and oh, begins a long-distance romance.  If her life was not complicated enough, she must also manage her large, incredibly nosy (and opinionated) family of restaurant owners.

I liked that Juliette is a successful and independent woman but struggles with realistic self-doubt.  She is part of a large, close-knit French-Italian family that have a lot to say about her job, her love life- just about everything.  While her family is in everyone's business and a couple of siblings really push Juliette's buttons, it is clear the family acts out of love and truly cares for each other.  Their nosiness came across as endearing rather than annoying.  I enjoyed the bit of mystery involving the possible romantic past of Juliette's grandmother, and the romance angle for Juliette developed nicely.  Three possible suitors appear throughout the book, and while none were terrible choices, I was rooting for one relationship in particular to blossom (and it did!).

I hate when you already know where the plot is going in chapter one, and this book was not one of those books. While there were no huge plot twists, it kept me guessing and changing my mind throughout the romance and mystery story lines.  Food does play a role in the book as Juliette's family has always revolved around running restaurants and sharing great meals.  Luckily, the author previously interned at Northwest Palate magazine and, knowing a thing or two about delicious meals, includes multiple recipes throughout the book.  I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a somewhat light read with romance and a bit of mystery.  And food.      

A copy of this book was provided to me for free by Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.   

Friday, April 4, 2014

Let Me (Okay, Netflix) Entertain You!

There are certain times of the year when there are so many excellent shows on television, I can go weeks without watching Netflix.  Now is not one of those times.  The Walking Dead's season is over, Scandal is losing my attention, and Mad Men isn't back on yet.  I've dropped The Americans, Hannibal and The Following, so all I have left is The Good Wife and The Blacklist.  This leaves me plenty of time for some Netflix entertainment. 

In case you are looking for some recommendations for your weekend (and I know you are), here are some things I have enjoyed on Netflix over the last few weeks/months. Warning up front: I tend to like independent, quirky things, and I am not at all bothered by cursing or most violence.  

  • Mud- Two Mississippi teens befriend a peculiar drifter named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) and get caught up in his tales of lost love, crimes of passion and bounty hunters.  McConaughey gets top billing, but the movie really revolves around the life of one of the teens, Ellis.  I thought it was a poignant story of young boys learning about hurt and loss of trust that all of us experience growing up. If you like quirky, emotionally challenging movies with more dialogue than action, you may like this one. Rated PG-13, I assume primarily for language and some violence.
  • Unfinished Song- This movie made me cry like a baby, and I'll probably watch it again just to cry again.  Arthur is a cranky old man whose wonderful wife, Marion, is terminally ill with cancer.  Marion joins an unconventional church choir.  Imagine elderly British folks singing "Let's Talk About Sex" a cappella.  Yep.  When the choir is chosen to perform in a competition, Arthur reluctantly joins.  A surprisingly touching movie that shows Arthur struggling with the fear of losing his wife and alternately destroying and rebuilding a relationship with their son.  Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and rude gestures. 
  • Blackfish- This documentary made me extremely sad.  I realize this is a very controversial movie and probably neither side is 100% accurate.  However, the stories told by former trainers and the man that helped capture whales from the wild are very disturbing.  There are also scenes in the movie that were difficult to watch because they showed injuries suffered by the animals as well as the trainers.  Rated PG-13.
TV Shows
  • Lilyhammer- Steven Van Zandt (of The Sopranos and the E Street Band fame) stars as a New York mobster who goes into hiding in Lillehammer after testifying against his former associates.  While I would personally hate the cold in Norway, the snowy landscape in this series is gorgeous.  For a highly manipulative person, Steven Van Zandt's character, Johnny, is very likeable.  There is a quirky cast of characters that are fleshed out enough to see the good and bad in all of them.  There are some clever (and some obvious) nods to both Springsteen and The Sopranos. This was Netflix's first original series and they have renewed it for a third season to be released later this year.  It is rated TV-MA.  There is a large amount of swearing, violence and more than one instance of nudity, just so you are forewarned.  
  • An Idiot Abroad- In this hilarious British series, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send their "idiot" friend Karl on a different adventure in each episode.   He is completing an item off a bucket list in each show, though as Ricky frequently reminds him, this is not Karl's bucket list.  Karl is a somewhat grumpy man who isn't too enthused with trying new things, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures- you can see where this is going.  He expresses some viewpoint where I think, "Aw, Karl isn't so awful" and then he says something else to make me think, "Idiot".  Ricky and Stephen really enjoy putting Karl in some very uncomfortable situations and I thought much of it was funny and interesting.  There are two seasons, though I personally thought season one was a little bit more entertaining.  Rated TV-14, there is frequent cursing, though some of it is British slang so maybe that doesn't count.  FYI- the British use the F word too.  There are also a few instances of nudity in a culturally appropriate way (native tribes in traditional dress), not in a sexually charged way.  
  • Doc Martin- I just started watching this British show about a grumpy surgeon who moves to a small seaside village with eccentric townspeople.  Think Dr. House with less overt nastiness.  Netflix has seasons two through five, though the details I missed by not seeing season one seem pretty small.  I've been able to figure out some of the backstory and enjoy the episodes in season two.   
  • Parks and Recreation- I'm probably one of the last people in America to watch this comedy because I have never been a huge Amy Poehler fan.  After it was recommended to me for the billionth time, I decided to give it a go.  I watched all five seasons on Netflix and started watching the current season on TV.  I'm still not a big Poehler fan, but the show is entertaining to me.  I don't need to take one of those incessant Zimbio quizzes to know that while we aren't in sync on everything, I most closely identify with Ron Swanson.  If you haven't watched it before, give it a good two or three episodes to see if you like it.  
  • House of Cards- Keven Spacey: enough said.  Okay, if you need more, this is a seriously suspenseful drama of D.C. political maneuvering.  There is something so deliciously evil about Spacey's character, Frank Underwood, that I couldn't stop watching.  If you loved The West Wing, but wished it were darker, more sinister, more murdery, and generally made you uncomfortable, this is the show for you. Rated TV-MA for very good reasons- lots of cursing, sexually explicit scenes, drug use and violence. 
I promise I actually do more than just hang out and watch television, though this list is a bit longer than I anticipated.  Any shows or movies you would recommend?  Do you like quirky movies too?  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek"- Book Review

I thought it would be fun to let one of the kids review a book and S enthusiastically agreed. "Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek" is the first book in Jill Osborne's The Good News Shoes series.  In this book, Riley Mae becomes a Swiftriver Shoe Company spokesperson for their outdoor sport collection.  Riley Mae's love of softball and adventure sound like a perfect match for this deal, until the responsibility of shooting commercials and attending promotional events takes up the whole softball season.  She also suspects something isn't quite right at Swiftriver and aims to find out what is going on.  

I thought Riley Mae was a seven year old just like S, but she's actually a seventh grader.  Oops. S still read it just fine, and said she would definitely read more books featuring Riley Mae.  S actually wrote our her own book review and wanted me to post it here, but I had to explain what "spoilers" are and point out that her written review had two of them.  Here is what I can share from her review: "I loved this book because there were some really shocking parts!  For instance, SPOILER.  And I was shocked when SPOILER.  It was just shocking and that is why I liked this book."  Well, there you have it.  HA!

I also read this book, and thought it was generally a pretty cute story about Riley's friendship with her BFF changing as she starts to miss softball games and let her friend down.  She also makes a new friend, Rusty, whose family is struggling financially.  I found this sub-plot a good jumping off point to discuss with S how some families don't have enough food every day, and how we should treat people kindly even if our other friends don't want to add new friends to the group.  Riley Mae's parents are largely involved in her decision to become a spokesperson, and they emphasize throughout the book the importance of sticking with commitments.  The ending of the book wraps up enough of the various sub-plots to leave you (or your child) satisfied, but also leaves some lingering issues I assume will continue to play out in book #2 of the series.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”