What I did on summer vacation this year

Well, not everything I did, but I’m going to list the books and movies I watched/read and give a brief review of each.  One or two sentences, that’s it.

So, here goes:

1.  Fifty Shades of Grey, E.l. James — great summer read.  Wonderful inspiration for the bedroom.  Total fantasy, but addictive as hell.

2.  Blue Shoes and Happiness, the latest book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Alexander McCall Smith — these books always make me smile.  They’re sweet and gentle and full of lessons on how we should live our lives.  Finally, Mma Makutsi finds happiness, although not through her new blue shoes.

3.  Fallen, by Karen Slaughter — a crime drama.  My mother gave me this book.  It’s a good read.  Fast-paced, action driven.  Surprising ending.  Strong, capable, believable female protagonist(s).  I’d read more of Slaughter’s books.

4.  The Friday Night Knitting Club — can’t recall the author, sent this one home with my mother because she’s a knitter.  Not a great read.  Dull, plodding and sappy.  Sure it was written hoping to be made into a movie.

5.  The Fall of the Templars, Robyn Young — this is the third book in a trilogy.  It’s slow and plodding, reads like a history lesson.  But, it is interesting for the historical facts it imparts.  Glad I didn’t read the first two.  Characters are wooden and uninteresting.


1.  Batman, The Dark Knight Rises — loved it?  No.  It’s too dark and very disturbing.  Is it a good movie?  Definitely.  Christian Bale is excellent as Batman, and the story was strong and well-paced.  I’m convinced Jeremy Renner has a cameo as the evil Bane character during one of the prison scenes.

2.  Brave — absolutely fabulous.  I don’t care if it is an animated movie!  Loved everything about this movie — the story, the perfection of the images and the flawless recreation of animal and human movement.  Not just a ‘girls’ movie.  An ‘everybodys’  movie.

3.  The Bourne Legacy — latest of the Bourne movies.  You can’t compare Jeremy Renner to Matt Damon.  And neither can you their characters.  This was a complete departure from what we got with Matt as Jason Bourne.  If they keep making these movies they’re not going to be able to keep trading on the Bourne name.  Was a great summer hit — story driven but with just enough action to satisfy our needs.  Only complaints — didn’t explain the connection between Aaron Cross and the doctor well enough and the motorcycle chase scene was too long.

4.  Dark Shadows — dreadful.  First time I’ve ever been disappointed by a Johnny Depp flick.  (He was good, though.)

5.  Singing in the Rain — what is there to say?  This is a one of my all-time fave’s.  Have seen it on television numerous times, but WOW seeing it on the big screen is an experience and a half.  Woke up singing “Good Morning, Good Morning” this morning.  And Gene Kelly — sigh.

And that, folks, is my entertainment diary for the summer of 2012.  What books did you read?  What movies thrilled you?


It’s late on a Saturday night. . .

Just a quick post to review a book and a movie.

First, the book:  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

This was an okay book.  I was more than a little disappointed in it, because I had heard such great things from others who’d read it.

It should have been a wonderful story, but, for whatever reason it lacked real emotion.  The truest parts in the story take place in the nursing home where the elder Jacob recounts his tale of life in the early 1900’s working for a travelling circus.

The story has all the elements of a great story — love, betrayal, hardship, cruelty, mental illness, circus life, depression-era trials and tribulations, animals — it truly has it all.  None of it, though, ever connected with me.

And, I think, after having a couple of discussions with other people who’ve read the book, the reason is that it was written with a screen option in mind.  It doesn’t say that on the dust jacket, but while I was reading it I would come across a scene and immediately I’d think:  Well, won’t that play out well on the screen.

Call me jaded, cynical, harsh, whatever you want, but I find this to be true with a lot of the books being written today.  Anything popular, that is.  It’s like the authors are giving us the outline of a story, they’re providing a bunch of scenes that are loosely connected, but they lack any real art.

I find it very difficult these days to find books that really grab me.  Even The Hunger Games (which I recently reviewed), good as I thought they were, were obviously written with a movie in mind.

Gruen’s writing is solid, though I found it seemed to plod where it should have sung.  For some reason I can’t fathom she chose to throw in various sordid sex scenes — usually portraying grotesque or deviant behaviour.  These were rather jarring and other than acting as a contrast to the ‘pure’ love Jacob feels for Marlena, I couldn’t discern any reason for including them.

For me, this book, which should have been so full of life and emotion, fell flat.  It began with an anti-climactic whimper; and ended on an absolutely improbable and ridiculous notion; it was, when all is said and done, about as second-rate as the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth was.

I’d rate this book:  2.5 stars


Now, for the movie:  War Horse by Stephen Spielberg.

This is a lovely movie.  I was afraid to see it because it deals with: war, and horses in war.

I did not want to see animals suffering; I just can’t stand that.  And, I can’t stand movies about war — I can’t stand thinking of humans suffering.

So, usually, I do my best to avoid both those themes in movies, but, I had heard how good this movie was and had been assured that it wasn’t very graphically violent.

It isn’t.  The worst part involves the Germans’ treatment of the horses, how they used them til they died in the hauling of heavy artillery.  But, thankfully, that is a very small part of the movie.  The British are shown as being far more compassionate towards the horses, but I think there just might be a little historical bias involved.

The hero of the story, a horse named Joey, is a ‘miraculous’ horse.  He was raised and trained by a young English lad who treated him with kindness, intelligence and love.  Those traits were imprinted on Joey and when he goes into service as a war-horse he continually demonstrates a depth of character that astounds all those (save the evil German in charge of getting the big guns up a steep hill so that he can shell the peaceful French community below) he comes in contact with.

While I was watching this movie I couldn’t help thinking of stories like The Black Stallion, My Friend FlickaBlack Beauty and Beautiful Joe.  All great stories about the plight of much-loved animals who because of unfortunate circumstances suffer mightily before they finally find peace and protection with people who love them. It took me back to the days when I was a girl and couldn’t get enough of the Famous Dog or Famous Horse Stories compilations.  (I used to make my mother crazy because I’d either be blubbering about the horrible treatment the animals I was reading about endured, or, I was wandering about enraged and fraught with righteous indignation because of it.)

I know this movie was a play before it was a movie, and you can easily see how it would play out on a stage.  Whether or not a make-believe horse would have the same emotional wallop as a real one though is something I’d have to debate.

It’s a beautiful, heart-felt story, something big and lovely and innocent.  It made me cry and it made me smile.  What more can you ask from a good story?

I’d rate this movie:  4 stars

Game 4 — heartbreak — again

I can’t begin to explain the overwhelming feelings of frustration and despair I experienced watching tonight’s game.

It started out good — Kesler was feisty right off the first face-off, and I was all pumped for a spectacular win.

Alas, it was not to be.  The team just seemed to crumble as the 1st period came to a close.  The Bruins, to their credit were out hitting, out checking the Canucks.

However, they were also playing like a bunch of goons.  The hacks, the slashes, the taunts, the shots to the head, the tripping — it was unbelievable.  Or, well, I guess not, considering the fact that the officials in these games have chosen to continually look the other way — until a crucial moment in the game, and then they would blatantly favour the Bruins.

I know there are people who will read this and say, yes, but it was the same with the Canucks.  But, honestly, in my opinion, it was one-sided.

And, I’m going to have my say about Rome’s hit on Horton.  It was not a dirty hit.  It was a hard hit.  And it was awful to watch Horton laying on the ice with his arms straight out in the air before him, signalling that he had taken a severe injury to his brain.  But Rome’s intent was not to injure, it was simply to finish his check.  It was open ice and both players were skating very fast and very hard.  When Horton hit the ice, his head took one hell of a knock.  Thank God for helmets.

I think the loss of both Hamhuis and Rome has seriously hurt the Canucks ability to perform effectively.  Henrik is obviously playing hurt, as is Kesler, and Luongo has lost his confidence or his focus, something is wrong.  As a team, they seem intimidated.  They’ve allowed the Bruins to get inside their heads, and allowed them to shake them off their game.  Henrik and Daniel need to step up and be the leaders they can be, and Kesler has to find a way to get the magic back.  Burrows, Torres, Bieksa, Maholtra, they all need to ‘bring it’, and in a huge way.

The next game is in Vancouver — home ice — and hopefully, being back in friendly territory will give the team the encouragement and inspiration they seem to be lacking right now.

I’m not giving up on them.  They’re still real contenders for the Cup — they wouldn’t be where they are if that weren’t true.

So, I’ll keep washing my t-shirts and wearing them every day — until Lord Stanley’s Cup is back on Canadian soil.

Go Canucks!

It was a massacre in Massachusetts

See those smiles? They'll be back! Daniel and Henrik Sedin Photo courtesy of Google images.

Oh, dear Lord, I have no idea what happened, but it was terrible.  8 – 1 Boston.

It doesn’t get anymore embarrassing than that.

Apparently, I’m not very good at predicting outcomes.

So, I’m going to go with a positive spin and say that I got it backwards.  The boys will make a comeback.  They’ll beat Boston on Wednesday and take the game home to Vancouver to finish them off.

I’ll still be wearing my t-shirts.  It’s only one game.

Vancouver is still leading the series 2 games to 1.  Let’s not lose sight of that.

Okay, ’nuff said.

Good night.

The Bishop’s Man

The Bishop’s Man

Written by Linden MacIntyreLinden  MacIntyre Author Alert Category: Fiction
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Publisher: Random House Canada
ISBN: 978-0-307-35706-9 (0-307-35706-6)

Pub Date: July 28, 2009
Price: $32.00

The Bishop’s Man was not what I expected.  It was not full of gut-churning details about abuse perpetrated by priests, but rather a story of how one very conflicted man tries to do the right thing while working for a tyrannical system that is interested only in saving itself.

Sounds pretty cut and dried, but it’s not.

Essentially, the book is a large character study.  First, of the main character, the Bishop’s man, secondly of Newfoundland and the East Coast communities most affected by the scandals of the Catholic church. It makes you look and think beyond the sensational headlines and question why this horror happened, and continues to happen.

MacIntyre’s writing is sparse and clean; it’s very straightforwardness lends itself perfectly to the telling of this story.  You never forget that you’re an observer, you never get too emotionally involved.

That’s not to say I didn’t sympathize or agonize with/for the people in the story, but it was from a point of observation — I didn’t jump too readily to general assumptions about what was going on.

The message in this book is that life is complicated, there are no easy answers and that the men placed in such powerful positions are, in the end, just men, not Gods, and that accountability is highly personal.

I would highly recommend this book.  It sure opened my eyes to what some men choose to  sacrifice in order to serve a God who may or may not exist, and what they choose to tell themselves when that faith, naturally, begins to waver.

It’s no bloody wonder alcoholism is so rampant in Catholic communities.

The Last Oracle, James Rollins

The Last Oracle
Author: James Rollins
Published:  2008, Harper Collins, New York, NY

This is the first of these books I’ve read.  And, it will be my last. 

I was given this book as a gift; the blurb on the back of the book sounded very interesting so I had fairly high hopes starting into it.  It’s an espionage thriller with a plot involving bioengineered autistic children, a threat to annihilate all the world leaders and replace them with one puppet controlled by an evil military regime, and mystic ties to an ancient civilization of oracles.  Unfortunately, it’s just over-blown pulp fiction.

Rollins is an adequate writer; he keeps his story moving along in a nice, formulaic style.  He has pretty good research backing up his plot, though it’s not as in-depth as say, Dan Brown’s.  (The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons).  Rollins, a considerably better structural writer that Mr. Brown, but lacks Brown’s creative imagination.  His characters are merely wooden stereotypes.  I think the most interesting one so far is the obviously twice-doomed Monk.  Everyone else is just flat and uninteresting, even the children the evil Russians have experimented on.  Which really, is quite sad, because you’d think with children involved, the emotion would be ramped up.  Oh, and don’t forget the animals. 

This book, as I’m presuming is the same with the others, was clearly written with the idea of a movie deal in mind.  I can just see Nicholas Cage in the role of Commander Gray Pierce (are your eyes rolling?), Rollins’ steely eyed, square-jawed, university degree-d hero.  Then add a big guy like The Rock to play his sidekick, Kowalski; a petite, little known blonde actress to play the smart,  bookish though very attractive Dr. Elizabeth Polk, and a host of other lesser-known but recognizable actors to play the other assorted characters that overrun this story.

It’s your typical spy/thriller with lots of guns, swords, globe-trotting, ties to ancient history and racial stereotyping.  Only the Americans are good enough/smart enough/resourceful enough to save the day.  But wait!  He does throw in an American villain or two — just to keep things kind of realistic, I guess. 

The problem, for me, is that I could have liked this book if only some effort had been put into making me want to like it.  it’s an interesting concept, but I’m reading it now simply to see if it plays out the way I’ve imagined it will.  I’ve seen enough of these kinds of movies to have a pretty good idea of the outcome. 

If you like books you can read with your eyes closed, then this one’s for you.

Just After Sunset — finished

I finished Just After Sunset by Stephen King right before Christmas.  I have to say I loved it.  Mr. King has re-discovered that old familiar voice we devoted fans of his love to hear. 

The stories are smart, funny, poignant and relevant.  Even the final story, as disgusting as it was.  The thing with King, when he is at his best, (and I would have to say Just After Sunset is representative of some of his best work in a long, long time), is that he draws you into the story effortlessly.  Once there, you feel as though you know these characters, these situations.  And that’s because you can relate them to your own experience, your own deep, dark thoughts and hidden fears.  It’s a fun ride.

Of the thirteen stories that comprise this collection I’d have to say my favorites are: 

Harvey’s Dream
The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates
The Things They Left Behind and
The Gingerbread Girl

Each of these stories touched a personal chord within me, that made me sit back and think: “yeah, exactly” or made me shudder with the very real possibility that there but for the grace of God . . . 

I particularly liked Willa, because I could see myself in her.  The practical, logical, let’s just face this situation for what it is attitude she has, and, of course, it’s a nice little love story.  The writing in this one is tight, clear and unsentimental, but at the same time very evocative of the emotions people in such a sad situation would experience.  Highly recommended.

The Gingerbread Girl is just a great survival story.  It’s exactly what we would imagine we would do in a situation like that.  (Whether we could pull it off like the heroine in the story is doubtful, still the imagination likes to think we could.)  I just loved this one.

Ayana has shades of The Green Mile all over it.  It’s a gentle story about kindness and paying it forward and just what that costs.  The writing is superb.

The Things They Left Behind, although a little ‘out there’ for me was wonderfully written and a take on 9/11 that I hadn’t read before.  King captures beautifully that sense of hopelessness some of the survivors of that terrible day experienced.  It’s a tale of atonement and personal guilt when neither is justified. 

And, although I didn’t mention it in my favorite’s list I’d have to say the end story, A Very Tight Place, has stayed with me.  It’s full of the usual themes, guilt, fear, hatred, madness, over-wrought emotion, violence and the imagination’s desire to do nasty, nasty things to people we can’t stand or understand.  Suffice it to say it’s a great, satisfying, albeit yucky, read. 

Anyway, I hope you’ll give this collection of short stories a try.  If you’re a die-hard fan like me you’ll love it.  If you’re a newbie I think you’ll be surprised at just how wonderful a writer Stephen King is. 

Post me and let me know what you think.

Just After Sunset, Stephen King

Just After Sunset is a collection of short stories SK wrote a couple of years ago.  I got the book last year, either for Christmas, birthday or Mother’s Day.  It’s a sad statement on how busy I’ve allowed myself to get that it takes me this long to get around to reading a book.  I think it’s only about the fourth book I’ve read this year.  Maybe fifth.  I used to read voraciously, one or two books a month.  (That’s voraciously for me.)  Now, if I manage to get 1/2 an hour a night before I go to sleep I’m accomplishing something. 

Anyway . . . whining about my poor time management skills isn’t what I started this post about.  It’s supposed to be about Just After Sunset. 

In the preface SK says he wrote these stories after being asked to judge a short story contest.  He says doing that re-awakened in him a desire to write short stories as he once had — with passion and a sense of urgency for getting the story told.  In his younger days, when writing meant feeding the kids or putting gas in the car, short stories were his stock and trade.  They paid the rent while he was working on the big stuff. 

I can remember literally devouring his collections of stories when I got my hands on them.  They were like a special treat and I would read them like I would occasionally binge on chocolate.  These days I don’t have time for binge-reading, and maybe that’ s a good thing.  I’ve also got a few years of University lit classes under my belt, so I’ve got a somewhat more refined skill-set in use when I’m reading now. 

When I used to read, I read strictly for pleasure, now I read with a more critical eye — I’m looking for plot, construction, reference, tone — all the boring stuff they teach you about in school, or try to at least.  I’m just lucky enough, or geeky enough — have it your way — to find that stuff not boring at all, but fascinating.  And when I’ve applied my newly acquired critical eye to a few of Stephen’s latest books I’ve come away a tad disappointed.  They all seemed to be lacking something, seem to be forced in some way that when I finished I felt a little sad, a little disappointed, because the man seemed to have lost his way.  But I’m a devoted fan, so I’ve hung in there, waiting.   Hoping. Praying he’d get the ‘feel’ back. 

Well, I think he has.  Just After Sunset is a fun read.  The stories roar along like a freight train and when I’m reading them I’m gone.  That’s what SK used to do for me, he’d transport me right the hell out of where ever I was, and take me on crazy ride.  I’d be jammed into some small compartment with people I didn’t know, some of whom I really came to care about, others whom I wanted to hide from, others whom I’d weep over as they fell or were pushed from the open doors of the speeding cars.  And to come back from that ride was agony, all I wanted to do was stay there and see it through to the journey’s end.  And when the book was finished?  I felt the way you do when you just don’t want to leave the party even though you know it’s over, that the door is closing, you’re waving goodbye, but you wish, real hard that the host will say: “Aww, what the hell!  Let’s keep’er going!”  And I’d put the book away on my bookshelf with my growing collection of Stephen King’s books and I’d start waiting, right there, right then, for his next one to appear.

Of course, I’m reading this one a story at a time, a few pages at a time.  The cool thing is, I can’t wait to get back to it every evening before I turn in for the night.  The other cool thing, my critical eye hasn’t found anything to bitch about.  So far, it’s all good. 

This was taken in August this year. We were on our motorcycle trip out East and back and we swung into Maine, well, because we were THAT close and I just had to do the dopey fan thing and go see where Stephen King lives. I was too chicken to go and knock on the door, although the gate was open and there were cars in the driveway. I'm guessing it was just groundskeepers and housekeepers -- Mr. King was probably in Florida. Still, it was a great big thrill.

The Horse Whisperer

I finished The Horse Whisperer.  I really enjoyed re-reading this story, but in the second reading I came away with a feeling that the whole story seemed to end before Tom and Annie consummate their love.  Once they’re together the whole thing is pretty anti-climactic.  The love-making is clichéd, and you can see the end coming from a Montana-mile away.  The most important character in the story, Grace, gets short shrift, and to kind of make up for it, I suppose, Evans turns her into a female version of Tom.  This is an amazing transformation for a fifteen-year old who has suffered unbelievable physical and emotional trauma.  Even Pilgrim, Graces’ badly maimed and brutalized horse, is miraculously cured and becomes himself again, although with a few scars that make him even more handsome than he was before. 

This is a book to read once, in my opinion.  A great summer or Christmas break read — you’ll cry, and then you’ll want to run out and fall in love with a cowboy and buy a horse.

The Road

Book  Review

©2009 Kathy Larson

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Read this book.

Then give it your brothers, sons, husbands, fathers, any male you are relatively close to, to read.  It’s not because it’s that good (which it is) that I say this, it’s because this is a book that will touch any man who has ever had a close relationship, or wished they’d had a close relationship with a son, a father, or a brother.  But, it’s not just a story for men about men, it’s a story for people, so, on second thought, give it to anyone you care about.

Basically, this is a survival story, but in a setting where survival is ultimately hopeless.   Some terrible, cataclysmic event has taken place, McCarthy is careful to never say what it was, and the earth is essentially a wasteland.  The only survivors are humans, and not many of them.   Better that they should have all died considering there is no food, no drinkable water, and no sunlight.  And, as in all apocalyptic sagas, there are roving bands of men who have decided that brutality and bestiality are the only ways to survive.  Into this world McCarthy throws his dying protagonist, whose sole companion is his young son.

Somehow, this pair has managed to survive for about nine years.  The wife/mother abandoned them years before, choosing suicide over hopelessness.  Her memory is not a source of comfort for either the man or the boy; there almost seems to be a sense of anger directed at her for leaving them alone to struggle in this hostile world.  The presence of women in The Road is minimal and when it is it is ugly and terrifying.   There is no room for equality in this bleak nightmare world, and there are no sensitive concessions for being deemed the weaker sex, only despair.

What is at stake in The Road is not merely the survival of this father and his son, but the survival of faith and all that it means to be human.  That, and the meager supplies of food and water they manage to scavenge once in awhile, is all these two wanderers have to sustain them on their journey.   For the man there is no returning to life as he once knew it, and for the boy the only hope is to reinvent the world he was born in to.  They are the ‘good guys,’ and ‘carriers of the light,’ in search of other good guys.  The boy must survive if there is to be any hope at all.

McCarthy’s stream of consciousness writing moves his story along at a relentless pace.  His short staccato sentence structure and sparse use of punctuation draw you along, sometimes unwillingly, into places you’d rather not go, but like gawking at a bad accident you just can’t stop yourself.   Despite the elements of darkness and despair in The Road there are also moments of indescribable beauty and emotion.  One such is the scene in which the father bathes his son; it achingly represents an act of pure and simple love, something they really have no luxury for.  It, more than any other moment in the novel exemplifies all that has been lost, and all there is yet to hope for.

The Road was one of the considerations for the Canada Reads competition this past summer on CBC Radio and I wish it had come out on top.  More people should read this book, it will make them appreciate those they love and the tenuous nature of what we all take for granted and call life.