Category Archives: Movies

Six more down

Well, hasn’t time flown by! I’ve not stopped reading, but some of the books I’ve read recently have made me want to give it up completely. Here’s a rundown on the latest.

bittersweetLet’s start with Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. A frumpy, lower class college freshman is invited to her wealthy roommate’s family cottage/compound for the summer where they skinny dip and wear pure white outfits and hang masterpieces on their walls. The more engrained she gets into this fabulous family, the closer she gets to understanding some shady secrets that nobody wants revealed. This has popped up on a whole bunch of “summer beach read” lists, and to be quite honest, I don’t think it’s even worth that. The characters are dumb and dull and the story takes some significant leaps. Not a fan. That said, I liked this a million times more than I did the next book I read…

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger. This almost cost me my 52 book challenge for the year. It took everything I had to finish this piece of crap. A young, plucky lawyer (think Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde) is stuck on a high profile divorce case because the wronged wife likes her spunk. Of course, she isn’t cut out for the job at all, but then…of course she is! It’s entirely told through emails, memos, and legal documents, which is great if you want to be a lawyer or plan on getting a divorce. To me it felt largely inspired by the Bridget Jones series, but way, way worse.  I really hated this book.

After that garbage I needed to read something completely un-chick littish, so I read The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wacker. It was a good move. This book takes place circa 1899 in New York Citgolemy, and follows the incredible story of a Golem – a woman made from clay by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in Kabbalist magic – and a Jinni – a genie who is liberated from the ancient oil bottle being repaired by a tinsmith. The two, who are seen as regular people by everyone else, recognize each other for the beings that they are, and try to navigate their way through the human world. A rich, smartly conceived novel that is fantastical, but deeply rooted with great characters and a really great story. I liked this one. Thank goodness.

Next up was Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch. Last year I read The Dinner, and this was similar in that it was filled to the brim with really complicated characters, most of whom weren’t very likeable. But being unlikable just made them complicated and, honestly, real. The story is about a doctor who is a bit of a misanthrope. He treats his patients, but secretly summer housedespises them and their ailing bodies. When a famous actor/patient invites the doctor and his family to his summer house, the doctor grudgingly agrees and sets the whole family on a dangerous path. It’s psychologically complex, occasionally disturbing and really, really well written. It’s good, but I needed to cleanse my palette after this one, so I went for something light next.

goodnightGoodnight June by Sarah Jio was definitely a light read. To me, this book was written with the movie version of it in mind (not that I think it will become a movie). The pacing, characters and leaps in plot f elt more like what one might find in a romantic comedy versus a novel. A 30-something hard-edged New York banker, who specializes in foreclosing on small businesses, finds that she’s inherited her great aunt’s children’s bookstore in Seattle. Upon returning to Seattle to sell the store, she realizes that she actually wants to keep it open, especially when she discovers a stack of her great aunt’s letters to and from the author of Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown. Through the letters she draws parallels to her own life, blah blah blah. The concept is marginally cute. The execution is a little bit embarrassing. I almost couldn’t take it when Bill Gates appears in a chapter in a cameo. So lame.


Finally, I finished The Vacationers by Emma Straub. THIS is a beach read. A husband and wife on the verge of divorce, their daughter who’s on her way to college, their 30 year old son and his fitness obsessed cougar girlfriend, and the wife’s gay best friend and his husband spend two weeks together in a fabulous house on the island of Mallorca. There are lots of conflicts, conversations, great food, soul searching and realizations of what it means to be family over the two weeks. Quick, easy, not mind-numbing.

This brings me to 33 books finished out of 52. Not too shabby!

Next up: After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman.




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Three for me, three for the kid

I’m 52% through my 2014 book challenge, and apparently two books ahead of schedule with 27 out of 52 books read. Not bad, but there are no room for dry duds to pop up and slow me down.planb

I’ve read three books since my last post: one good, one meh and one great.

The good was Plan B by Jonathan Tropper. I’ve read a few of his more recent books, and this debut was as solid as the rest. A just-turned-30 year old, freshly divorced, conspires with three other old college cronies to kidnap and rehabilitate another college friend who’s become a coke head. He also happens to be a movie star. Things, obviously, don’t play out as anyone imagines, but the characters are interesting, the plot is fun and the book is full of late 90s pop culture gems.  It’s an easy read and a good intro to Tropper’s work. This Is Where I Leave You (the first book of his I read) is going to be a movie soon with Tina Fey and Jason Bateman, so there’s that.astonish-me

The meh was Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. I really wanted this to be good. It takes place in the ballet world of the 1970s and the 1990s, focusing on a corps ballet dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star escape in the 1970s. Years later, she’s raising a son to be a dancer with her devoted husband and hiding a whole lot of secrets. Let’s just say it didn’t astonish me, though I will say it ended better than it began. It really started to hit its stride around 80% through – not nearly soon enough.

the-confabulistThe great was The Confabulist by Steven Galloway. It weaves the story of Harry Houdini’s rise to fame and the behind the scenes intrigue of his life with that of Martin Strauss, a man who can’t seem to determine which of his memories are real and which are made up. It dives into how Houdini performed some of his most famous tricks, and focuses on his determination to debunk spiritualists who prey on people’s grief for money. This book is fantastic. So well written and so intriguing. I loved it.

I’ve also read a few books with the kid. We’re a big reading family, and both Chad and I want to have a hand in her literary discovery, so every night I read a few chapters of a book with her, Chad reads a few chapters of a different book with her and then she reads on her own in bed. She’s got to have crazy dreams.

Aside from my own book challenge, I’ve read a number of “chapter books” with her lately. Here are a few.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I loved this book as a kid and was excited to find the 50th Anniversary edition at Chapters, so picked it harrietup and read it with Scarlett. It’s about an only child growing up in New York, who dreams of being a spy – and tries her spying skills out on everyone in the neighbourhood, including her friends. One day she loses her notebook, which records all of her truthful and sometimes hurtful spying activity and finds herself shunned by the friends she’s been spying on. A great, honest novel about friendship and growing up. It was one of the first books I read – probably right before I dove into Judy Blume – that didn’t sugar coat childhood. This is a great one to read with your kid as there’s lots to discuss. A gem.

We also recently read The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. Scarlett and I watched the The-School-For-Good-And-Eviltrailer for this book a long time ago and decided this was a “must read”. It’s a pretty complex story about two friends – one beautiful, charming and princess-like, the other ugly, morose and witch-like – who are stolen away from their home in the woods to attend the School for Good and Evil, a place where all fairy tale characters get their start. The twist is that the beauty is thrown into the school for evil, while the witch-like girl is put into the school for good. Why were they switched? How can they get back to their proper spots? Will their friendship last? Unlike a lot of fairytales, this one really dives into the meaning of beauty and ugliness, good and evil, and how nothing is truly definitive. My one gripe with this – there’s a sequel. Clocking in at around 500 pages, this isn’t a quick nighttime novel, and jumping into the next one right away feels like a bit much. I think we’ll end up reading it, but we (I) need a bit of a break.

The last book we read together was Doll Bones by Holly Black, the co-creator of The Spiderwick Chronicles. This is not for the easily-scared child or one who is prone to nightmares. The book is about Zach, Poppy and Alice, three friends in dollbonesthe 10 to 12 age range who have been playing this amazing and imaginative game with old dolls and action figures, creating their own world of adventure, ruled by the bone china doll in Poppy’s mom’s china cabinet. When Zach’s dad throws his figures out because he thinks he should focus on  more age appropriate activities, their world is thrown upside down until Poppy starts having vivid dreams about the china doll and claims she’s visited by the ghost of a girl who won’t rest until the doll is buried in her empty grave. The three set off to put this spirit to rest, but nothing goes to plan. Well written, kind of disturbing, and super creepy. We both liked it.

Next up: Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris.

Next up for me and the kid: Who Could That Be at This Hour? (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snicket.


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A mixed bag of books

My reading tastes are eclectic, and I don’t think there’s a better example of this than the last three books I’ve finished (taking me up to 12 completed longbourntowards my 2014 reading challenge – woohoo!).

The first is Longbourn by Jo Baker. I first heard about this book at the end of 2013 in a CBC Radio best of the year round up, and the critic they had
on talking about books raved about this one. Longbourn is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice (which I love) – this time through the voices of the servants at Longbourn, the home of the Bennet family. Each chapter begins with a quote or a sentence from Austen’s novel and then spins its own tale from there. I started this book hot on the heels of finishing the fourth season of Downton Abbey, and was keen for more upstairs/downstairs intrigue. The problem is that while there is intrigue, it doesn’t really turn up until very late in the book. In the meantime there’s a lot of detail about pot scrubbing, petticoat starching and trudging along mucky roads to buy shoe roses for the Bennet girls. It pays off – eventually – but it’s a bit of drudgery to get there.

The second book is Hollow City by Ransom Riggs. The second in a trilogy begun with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City pickshollow city up right where the last book finished. The bad news is that I finished it a few years back, so didn’t quite remember the details as to what was going on. The good news is that I got Chad the graphic novel version for Christmas, so he was able to give me a lovely recap. Hollow City follows a ragtag group of “Peculiars” – children with special gifts, like the ability to float or create fire with your hands or house a hive of bees in your belly – on the run from a group (people? Not quite…) who want to capture and kill them in multiple time periods and places. There’s no point digging into the plot on this, but know that the characters are easy to like and the book is easy to read (technically, it’s a YA novel). Pick up the first one and dive in – they’re good. The bonus of both of the books is the inclusion of wacky found photos from the late 1800s and early 1900s featuring creepy people and places. The best part is that most have been untouched.

The third book is The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick.  I haven’t read anything else he’s written, but I did like the movie version of Silver Linings Playbook, so thought I’d give his new novel a shot. The Good Luck of Right Now deals with grief,goodluck loss, family, odd friendships, cats, Catholicism and Richard Gere. Bartholomew is a 38 year old man who has spent his life living with and taking care of his single mom, who dies of a brain tumour. Finding a form letter from Richard Gere’s Free Tibet charity in his mom’s belongings, Bartholomew starts writing highly personal and emotional letters to Richard Gere, with whom he feels a spiritual connection since his mom called him “Richard” in her final days. The letters detail his meetings with his grief counsellor Wendy who encourages him to find friends, his odd relationship with the parish priest, his obsession with GirlLibrarian (a girl librarian), and a profane misfit grieving the loss of his cat at a group therapy session. It’s a fast, quirky read. I suspect we’ll see the movie version of this sometime soon. Hopefully with Richard Gere.

Next up: Stella Bain by Anita Shreve.


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Dusk-Til-Dawn, Family Style

Last night we packed up the car with a ton of blankets, snacks and pjs (for the kid) and went to a drive in. It was a triple feature — not quite a “dusk-til-dawn”, but pretty close.

In the true tradition of multi-feature drive in experiences, the owners pieced together a disjointed, and terrible collection of movies. In this case, it was Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Prom, and I Am Number Four. Obviously, the draw was Pirates, but in our case the clincher for us parking in front of screen number one was that they were all rated PG. With a kid in tow, we actually exhibited some parental guidance and avoided the other screens with movies we both wanted to see.

But going to a drive in isn’t really about movies at all. It’s about the experience. The making of a nest of blankets in the back seat, the giant drinks in the car cup holders, and the visit to the circa-1965 playground directly in front of the screen, which features a pure metal slide at a solid 60-degree angle and a side rail that stands about two inches off the side (yes, we saw a 4 year old crash off the side about 5 feet from the ground).

This was our second drive in in about 11 years. We tried to go when Scarlett was two, thinking she’d fall asleep immediately, but after trying to watch The Bourne Ultimatum with her climbing on my head and honking the horn with her feet, we let it go.

This time, she was thrilled. Could she tell you anything about the plot of Pirates? Probably not, but neither could I. But all day today she talked about how it was such a special and fun night.

It made me think a lot about going to the Sundown Drive In in Saskatoon. Here are a few of the drive-in movies that I sat through back in the late 80s/early 90s:

That’s all I can think of right now. Remember anything else from the days of my Lada at the drive-in (I’m looking at you, AT, EG  and JC)? Please comment.



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10 Things

Yeah, I’m back. I admit it: I’m a fairweather blogger. Actually, I’m more of a crapweather blogger, but what of it?

When life gets stressful, I make lists. As such, here are 10 things that I’m really looking forward to (in no particular order):

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Even though it’s in 3D (which I hate, thank you very much), I can’t wait for the final installment of the film franchise. Harry, Hermione, Ron, the final battle, Bellatrix getting taken down by Mrs. Weasley–it’s got to be amazing.

2. The Mother’s Day Tea at the kiddo’s school. Here’s her performance from last year:

3. The Royal Wedding. When Charles and Diana got married, I woke up in the middle of the night and sat glued to the TV in my dad’s La-Z-Boy chair. I obsessively collected Royal Wedding paraphenalia including Charles & Di paper dolls and every hardcover book on the couple to ever hit the bargain table at Coles. I am so watching this wedding.

4. The movie version of The Help. I really loved this book and can’t wait to see the movie. Emma Stone is a gem and I think she’ll make a great Skeeter.

5. Mommy/Daughter Week. Every summer, Scarlett and Chad spend a week hitting every theme park in the province. This year, I’m countering Daddy/Daughter Week with Mommy/Daughter Week. It won’t involve roller coasters, but it may involve manicures and fancy picnics. I can’t wait.

6. A visit from my mom. It’s been over six months since she was diagnosed with MAC, but she’s still not able to fly. We were hoping she’d be able to come for Easter, but we’re now keeping our fingers crossed for a May visit.

7. Berry season. I can’t wait for all of my favourite berries to be in season. I’m tired of paying premium for the only fruit that doesn’t make me projectile vomit or erupt into hives.

8. Tom’s weather. I bought two pair of Tom’s shoes last summer, and wore the hell out of them. Once I can feel convinced that it won’t snow again, I’m picking up two more.

9. Mad Men Season 4. We watch TV on Blu-ray or DVD, so we’re always way behind. I don’t have to wait long for this one, though–we’re starting it tomorrow.

10. The weekly meeting I attend every Friday at 2:00. It’s hands down the best workday hour of the week.

I feel better already. What are you looking forward to?


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Let the Games Begin

Love him.

Love him.

It’s mid-January, and I can feel tingles of excitement all around me. People starry-eyed with witnessing competition at its best, complete with moments of pride paired with those tragic and heartbreaking glimpses of unfair defeat.

If you think for one second I’m talking about the Olympics, you’re crazy. I don’t give a damn about the Olympics. I’m talking about awards season in Hollywood.

The Golden Globes air tomorrow night, and I can’t wait. In many ways it’s the perfect awards show–drunk celebs, the combo of movies and TV, and none of the boring technical awards. Plus, it’s going to be hosted by Ricky Gervais. Amazing.

To prep for it, I’m going to go public with my picks. Here goes:

Best Motion Picture: I’m going for Up In The Air, not only because I really loved it, but also because I really don’t want Avatar to win. I don’t care if it’s the greatest movie of all time, I continue to have no desire to see it. Yes, this skews my vote, but I don’t care. Oh, and if Up In The Air doesn’t win, Inglorious Basterds should.

Best Actress – Drama: Truthfully, I haven’t seen any of these movies, so this is a pure guess. Based on media saturation, I’m thinking Sandra Bullock is going to take it. I don’t get it, but I feel like she will.

Best Actor – Drama: Jeff Bridges. It seems like it’s already a done deal.

He's still The Dude.

He's still The Dude.

Best Picture – Comedy or Musical: (500) Days of Summer. It was quirky, but accessible, and more artistic than It’s Complicated and The Hangover, and better received than Nine and Julie & Julia.

Best Actress – Comedy or Musical: Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia. She’s competing against herself in It’s Complicated, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Marion Cotillard in Nine, and Julia Roberts in Duplicity. Seems obvious.

Best Actor – Comedy or Musical: This is a tricky category. I feel like it has to go to Matt Damon for The Informant!, but who knows? The other nominees are Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine, Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock HolmesJoseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer, and Michael Stuhlbarg for A Serious Man .  

Best Supporting Actress: I’m sure the Vegas money is on Mo’nique, but I’d love to see Anna Kendrick win. She’s got a great future ahead of her.

 Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz for his chilling portrayal of a heartless and calculating Nazi in Inglorious Basterds. No question.

 Best Animated Feature: I’ve seen all of these, some of them more than once. Up is bound to take it (and it was amazing), but I really, really loved Fantastic Mr. Fox.

 Best Director: I’m really rooting for James Cameron to lose this one. Again, I don’t care if he reinvented the wheel, if I have to hear another “I’m king of the world” speech from this man, though this time in some made up alien language, I’ll lose my marbles. Please. Anyone but him.

Best Screenplay: As with Best Picture, I’m putting In the Air and Inglorious Basterds in the one and two spots. I’d love to see Jason Reitman win—he’s adorable.

The non-obnoxious Canadian director nominee.

The non-obnoxious Canadian director nominee.

Best TV Series – Drama: This is a really tough category as I’m obsessed with all of these shows. I think it’s going to be a tossup between Dexter and True Blood with True Blood taking it. But with competition like House, Mad Men and Big Love, there are no losers.

Best Actress – TV Drama: I’m a big fan of the women in this category, but for me nobody can touch Glenn Close in Damages. Her character puts the fear of God into me. Runner up: January Jones for Mad Men. Best Actor – TV Drama: I’d like to see Michael C. Hall win for Dexter. Amazing.

Best TV Series – Comedy: The general rule is to never, ever bet against 30 Rock, but this year the feel-good sing-along-fest Glee is going have everyone singing “Don’t Stop Believing”.

Best Actress – TV Comedy: See above. Never, ever bet against Tina Fey.

Best Actor – TV Comedy: Also, never, ever bet against Alec Baldwin.

Best Supporting Actress – TV: Jane Lynch for her tracksuit-wearing cheerleader coach with an acid tongue in Glee. Obviously.

Go Cheerios!

Go Cheerios!

Best Supporting Actor – TV: I’d love to see Neil Patrick Harris take it for How I Met Your Mother. Just think about how awesome the speech would be.

I’ve skipped some of the categories for which I have no valid opinion (mini-series foreign language film, etc.), but I’ll stand by these.

Who do you want to win? And more importantly, who do you want Ricky Gervais to mock?



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Finally a kid’s movie that isn’t a cluster cuss

This movie is not a cluster cuss.

I sit through a lot of kid movies. A lot. Our family has shelled out more money than I’d like to tally on gems such as Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs in all its 3D splendour, not to mention G-Force and Aliens in the Attic.

But today we saw a movie that makes up for every Hotel For Dogs and Monsters Vs. Aliens: Wes Anderson’s brilliant Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Top-notch actors like George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson bring old-school stop motion animated characters including foxes, weasels, badgers and rats to life.

Might not sound like much, but the combination of Roald Dahl and Wes Anderson is pure magic.

I love, love, loved it. See it on the big screen even if you don’t have a kid to take. Trust me on this one.



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