Friday, October 24, 2014

Book Review: Leaving Time

For some reason, every time I think of the title of Jodi Picoult's latest novel, Leaving Time, I get the song "Closing Time" by Semisonic in my head. They have nothing to do with one another, but that's just what the title conjures up for me. (Then again, "you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here" makes me think of how I feel now that I'm done with the book. I can keep it in my head all I want, but I really need to move on soon or it will consume me. I'm just not ready to stop pondering over it just yet...) What's inside the covers is a reading adventure that you won't forget anytime soon.

I have to start off by saying that I'll post a short review with just some thoughts about the book in general and will then post spoilers for those who have read it and wish to discuss it with me at some point.

First things first, the synopsis:

For more than a decade, Jenna Metcalf has never stopped thinking about her mother, Alice, who mysteriously disappeared in the wake of a tragic accident. Refusing to believe that she would be abandoned as a young child, Jenna searches for her mother regularly online and pores over the pages of Alice’s old journals. A scientist who studied grief among elephants, Alice wrote mostly of her research among the animals she loved, yet Jenna hopes the entries will provide a clue to her mother’s whereabouts.

Desperate to find the truth, Jenna enlists two unlikely allies in her quest. The first is Serenity Jones, a psychic who rose to fame finding missing persons—only to later doubt her gifts. The second is Virgil Stanhope, a jaded private detective who originally investigated Alice’s case along with the strange, possibly linked death of one of her colleagues. As the three work together to uncover what happened to Alice, they realize that in asking hard questions, they’ll have to face even harder answers.

As Jenna’s memories dovetail with the events in her mother’s journals, the story races to a mesmerizing finish.
(Courtesy of Goodreads.)

Basic thoughts:

This is definitely a departure from Jodi's more recent novels. There are no courtrooms or ethical dilemmas to focus on. Instead, it's more of a mystery but with many different layers and voices. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite books of hers, Second Glance. Both involve ghosts in some way, since in Leaving Time, Serenity Jones is a psychic who has connections with people who are deceased. Both talk about sacred areas of nature being taken over by humans. Both have a "cold case" aspect to them. And both are incredibly compelling stories.

I really liked the voices of the four main narrators of this novel. When I read the synopsis, I wasn't expecting Jenna to be a 13 year-old girl, but I've been more interested in reading perspectives of teens and pre-teens lately, given that some get snuck into the chick lit novels I've been enjoying. She's very mature for 13 anyway, which makes me forget that she's that young. With Alice, some of her chapters are just descriptive of elephants and their behavior, so it takes a while to get to know her for who she is, outside of what is going on with the elephants. That's when her part of the story really picks up. I would have liked to know more about Alice's relationship with her mother, as well as what her childhood was like. Based on the synopsis of her short story, Larger than Life, I may be able to get more information. (Here's what I was saying about not going home just yet...)  I was visualizing Jessica Chastain as Alice in the movie version. (Maybe because she was on the recent cover of Entertainment Weekly when I was reading this book.)

Serenity is just fascinating. I love learning about how she came into her psychic abilities and how they have affected her life. She's unforgettable in description with her cotton candy pink hair and her elaborate make-up. I definitely need to read the novella, Where There's Smoke, which focuses on her. I think it was written as a prequel. For some reason, I would picture her being played by Laverne Cox sometimes and Lisa Kudrow at other times. Finally there's Virgil. I wasn't expecting to like him at all, but it turns out that he has a soft side. I couldn't place his age and thought he was in his 50s, but apparently he was in his 30s. I kept picturing Jeremy Ratchford from Cold Case though. And even though Thomas wasn't a narrator, I was picturing Andrew Gillies (Orphan Black) as him when he's older. (Welcome to my mind...)

The only thing that weighed down the book a bit was all the scientific details about elephants. Some were fascinating, but it was more the emotional aspects. It would have been nice to have a glossary to explain some of the terms more in detail. I think I just had trouble keeping up with which elephant was which unless they had a prevalent role in the story, such as Maura. Some of the parts involving cruelty to the elephants were hard to read about. The elephant information reminded me of the wolf information in Lone Wolf. Both were very well researched though.

Overall, it was very hard to put this book down and even harder to stop thinking about it now that I finally have. If you've read it and want to hear the rest of my thoughts with SPOILERS included, keep reading. If you want to read the book and come back later to hear my thoughts in full detail, stop now and this post will be waiting when you get back. In the meantime, I'm going to share links for a few of Jodi's books and then those who want the spoilers can move down past this section.


My thoughts with SPOILERS included:

I first need to say that I saw the ending coming a long time before it did. When Jenna found her toddler-sized sneaker in the back of Virgil's car, that just spoke volumes to me. I immediately thought of a certain popular movie from 1999 and how that turned out. So I wasn't surprised when things unfolded the way they did. I will admit that the scene with Nevvie in the old rundown house threw me a bit. I was beginning to wonder if I was wrong.

I liked the Matrix-esque feel that came about when Jenna and Virgil started to realize they were both actually dead. And then you find out who else was actually dead...that just floored me. Knowing that Serenity was surrounded by spirits this entire time and she ended up talking to them out loud anyway because she thought that everyone she encountered was real? Well that was just priceless!

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concepts of ghosts or spirits being able to have physical contact with the living world. It just doesn't work for me. Like where was all the evidence that Virgil was carrying around and having tested? Was that symbolically dead? How was he able to drive a car? Was it a virtual ghost car? Same with Jenna's bicycle crashing into Serenity's scrying bowl. And how Jenna was able to wear her mother's scarf and necklace. How were they eating all the food that Serenity ordered at the diner? Or was that make-believe ghost food? And how do they age if they're dead? Wouldn't they be frozen at the age in which they died? Or is it like Serenity said in relation to seeing her deceased mother, that ghosts can come back in a form that they want people to see them in. I recently read another story involving a ghost being able to connect physically with the living and their objects. So it's not just Jodi putting this stuff in her story.

Thomas' situation reminded me of A Beautiful Mind. In the end, I just felt bad for him. He really was a victim in some ways, both of his own head and of Alice cheating on him, which lead to the eventual death of his daughter.

I'm still reeling from the whole situation surrounding Jenna's death and disappearance. Being the mother of a three year-old, it freaks me out even more. It was so heartbreaking. And the way it happened was terrible, like a nightmare. I couldn't believe Nevvie would take an innocent life just to avenge her daughter's suicide. How spiteful can one get that they would resort to murder? I think I'm reeling from that the most. Just the way everything happened. I can't even imagine what Alice must have been feeling. Just horrifying.

I'd love to discuss this story with anyone who has read it so that they were able to make it to this point in the review without yelling at me for ruining the plot.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In it to win it

Sometimes I only get the chance to blog once a week. And since I can't always get up the motivation to think of a topic, it's nice to have other friends to blog with so we can take turns. I enjoy being challenged to write about stuff that might not normally come to mind and also reading everyone else's thoughts on the same topic. Blog Project 3.0 has been going on for about a year now, even though one of the group members changed after a few months. I love blogging with this group and I hope we can continue to inspire each other.

This week I chose the topic: Have you ever won anything? If so, tell us about it. If not, tell us about something you'd love to win.

First, read what everyone else had to share on this topic:
Darwin Shrugged
Froggie
Moma Rock

Over the past few years, I've not only been giving away books, but I've also entered a lot of book giveaways. There have been times when I actually won a book or two...or three. It thrilled me to no end each time that happened. A few of my favorite book prizes were The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes (from Novel Escapes), Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner (from a contest Sarah Pekkanen was having and she liked my idea the best at that time), The One that I Want by Allison Winn Scotch (from Manic Mommy...it was even signed!), Stay by Allie Larkin (from this website about dogs) and The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate (her son picked my name at random on Facebook). I've won numerous others, but those giveaways stick out to me for some reason. I've also won bookstore gift cards a few times, which has been nice. I remember winning one for $50 from Josie Brown a few years ago. I was thrilled!

I wouldn't say I've always been this lucky at winning stuff. The times I'd win something would be few and far between. I remember how hard it was to place at any level at speech tournaments. When I placed third for Verse Reading during sophomore year, I was over the moon. I placed a couple of times during senior year, but third was my highest. (Somehow I still liked doing speech team anyway. I think it was for the flirting aspect.) During junior year, I didn't get cast in any plays, but I assistant directed two of them and had a lot of fun doing that. At the end of the year, during the theater awards ceremony, I was elated to hear my name called out as one of the recipients of the Len Gustin Theater Service Award. I didn't see that coming at all and was so pleased to have won it.

I've won radio contests a few times, which is definitely a challenge. (There's that nervous feeling when the phone actually rings but then I just end up being caller number eight.) The biggest of the prizes was tickets to see Alanis Morissette and Barenaked Ladies in concert (10 years ago). Otherwise, I just got keychains and T-shirts for knowing random trivia.

A couple of years ago at work, our names got put into a raffle every time we actively participated in the database training program (like by answering questions correctly out loud). At the end of all the sessions, they chose a name and guess whose it was. Yep! I got a $50 Visa gift card and used it to buy a pair of boots (just for fashion, not for walking in snow). I always enjoy winning little things like this and am usually pleasantly surprised when it happens because I feel like it hardly ever does.

Even though I've won things, I'd like to talk about something I'd LOVE to win. While a large sum of money would be very much welcomed, I'd actually love to win a writing contest, either fiction or personal essay. I've entered a few in the past year or two, but haven't won any yet. I did get an honorable mention for the fiction piece I wrote this past summer and they sent me a swag package. I feel like my biggest success with writing, thus far, was during senior year when a play I wrote was published in the school's literary magazine and two different people directed it for directing class. That was 20 years ago and I think my writing skills have become more fine-tuned since then. (At least I hope they have.)

Since I like when people win things, I'm going to do a little giveaway right here for some random swag (and maybe even a book...) Just comment below and tell me about something you'd love to win. Please include your e-mail address or a way to reach you if you win. (US/Canada only. Ends October 30th at midnight EST.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fair(ly cold) weather friend

Sometimes I only get the chance to blog once a week. And since I can't always get up the motivation to think of a topic, it's nice to have other friends to blog with so we can take turns. I enjoy being challenged to write about stuff that might not normally come to mind and also reading everyone else's thoughts on the same topic. Blog Project 3.0 has been going on for about a year now, even though one of the group members changed after a few months. I love blogging with this group and I hope we can continue to inspire each other.

This week Moma Rock chose the topic: What are some of your favorite colder weather traditions?

First, read what everyone else had to share on this topic:
Darwin Shrugged
Froggie
Moma Rock

Our Sukkah a.k.a. The French Bistro
I absolutely love autumn. It's my favorite season. The nip in the air reminds me that it's time to start wearing long sleeves and even--gasp!--sweaters! This past week, we celebrated Sukkot. To me, it's no fun to eat in a sukkah unless the weather is brisk and you can truly enjoy a hot bowl of soup while sitting under the stars. (One year, Sukkot was during a particularly hot week and the heat just took away the feel from the holiday.)

Every autumn, my husband makes Journey's End soup at some point. It's this hearty vegetable soup that we would eat at this restaurant in Illinois that we enjoyed visiting frequently. Since the restaurant was called Journey's End, we naturally had to name the soup after it once we got the recipe and he replicated it perfectly. Of course, the experience is not complete without some oyster crackers.

In the past, we used to take trips to check out the fall colors. We haven't done it as often as we did in the past, but we need to start that tradition again. It's really hard to impress my kids when it comes to just being out in nature and if the leaves aren't in a pile to jump in, they could care less.

I tend to bake more in the winter, especially on snow days, when there's nothing better to do. I also love stocking up on Candy Cane Joe-Joe's at Trader Joe's. They're like Oreos with little pieces of peppermint in the cream filling. So so SO good! And no winter is complete without hot cocoa and mini-marshmallows.

YUM!!!

Our street during
Snowmageddon '10
Winter is usually mild out here and schools tend to close when there's barely an inch of snow on the ground. I prefer there to be enough snow to send my kids out to play and allow them to enjoy building snow castles, sledding down our hill, and having snowball fights. Sometimes I even join in. One year, we had an insane amount of snow here (a.k.a. Snowmageddon) and everything was closed for a week. We'd go to our neighbor's houses for meals or have them over here. It was a fun week of bonding, even though the kids got restless after a while during the day.

While we don't have any set-in-stone autumn/winter traditions, we do look forward to Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. (Of course, they were at the same time last year.) New Year's Eve is pretty low key, but we're happy to spend it with close friends who live nearby. I'm just looking forward to the simple pleasures of the season overall.

"So much fun-ukah to celebrate Hanukkah..."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Curse of the Non-Ghosts

Sometimes I only get the chance to blog once a week. And since I can't always get up the motivation to think of a topic, it's nice to have other friends to blog with so we can take turns. I enjoy being challenged to write about stuff that might not normally come to mind and also reading everyone else's thoughts on the same topic. Blog Project 3.0 has been going on for about a year now, even though one of the group members changed after a few months. I love blogging with this group and I hope we can continue to inspire each other.

This week Darwin Shrugged chose the topic: Ghosts

First, read what everyone else had to share on this topic:
Darwin Shrugged
Froggie
Moma Rock

Darwin Shrugged certainly has good psychic timing with her topics. When she suggested "Ghosts," I just happened to be reading Haunted Ever After by Juliet Madison. It's like a cross between Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella and the movie Over Her Dead Body starring Eva Longoria (based on what I saw from previews). I'm enjoying it so far, but it reminds me how I have had absolutely no encounters with spirits from another realm. I sometimes hear noises in my house, but can't imagine that it would be haunted. Honestly, when I first was given this topic, I thought of two funny stories that hint at ghosts, but don't quite get to that level.

When I was at overnight camp with my BFF, some other girls in our cabin made a Ouija board and decided to see if they could channel any spirits. It was the middle of the afternoon and we were all sitting in our counselor's side of the cabin while a couple of the girls were trying to communicate with someone from above. At one point, it felt like they were getting somewhere and then we heard a loud voice say "HELLO EVERYBODY!" We were all freaked out! I think everyone screamed. Then we realized it was someone announcing that it was time for dinner. Such crazy timing, right?!?

About a year later, I was babysitting for the kids I regularly looked after on Saturday nights. One night, I kept hearing a kid yell "Mommy, Mommy!" When I went to check on the kids, they were either sound asleep or laying there calmly trying to settle down for the night. I asked the older kid if he was calling for his mom and he denied it. I kept hearing the voice though. I finally figured out it was coming through the baby monitor and shut it off. I figured I'd just check on the kids every so often. When the parents got home, I explained what happened and they said that the monitor was switched to another channel and picking up signals from a neighbor. Still...pretty scary at the time!

While those are fun and harmless stories, I got to thinking about the other ghosts who haunt me. These are also non-ghosts, as they are still alive, as far as I know. However, they are no longer a part of my life, nor am I a part of theirs. I don't need to get into reasons, but that's just how it is with some people. They still find ways to get to me, such as visiting me in my dreams, being around on social media, having doppelgangers in other towns, etc. Either it's because of unresolved issues as to why we're not connected anymore or things just ended badly and couldn't be fixed no matter what. All I know is that these people still manage to haunt me, no matter how hard I try to get them completely out of my mind. I don't have room for them in my mind to begin with and am not sure why they still try to make their presence known when it's not welcome. It's times like these that I wish I could do something similar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. However, I wouldn't want to forget other little details from the time periods when I knew these people, such as books I read, movies I watched, other friends I hung out with, etc. I just hope that we can all make peace on this realm so that they can finally exit my subconscious once and for all.

There are some people in my life who have passed on already and I wouldn't mind being haunted by them, especially my late maternal grandma and my late paternal grandpa. I figure this would be the best way for them to see what I've been up to and meet their namesakes. If that ever happened, I would just want them appearing as young and vibrant again.

July, 1998: Late maternal grandma at left and
late paternal grandpa standing next to me

Do you have any ghosts...or non-ghosts?


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Oh, if life were made of moments....

Sometimes I only get the chance to blog once a week. And since I can't always get up the motivation to think of a topic, it's nice to have other friends to blog with so we can take turns. I enjoy being challenged to write about stuff that might not normally come to mind and also reading everyone else's thoughts on the same topic. Blog Project 3.0 has been going on for about a year now, even though one of the group members changed after a few months. I love blogging with this group and I hope we can continue to inspire each other.

This week Froggie chose the topic: It's that moment where....

First, read what everyone else had to share on this topic:
Darwin Shrugged
Froggie
Moma Rock

I'm in Into the Woods mode at the moment. As soon as I heard the word "moment," I immediately thought of "Moments in the Woods," which I talked about a few months ago on my post about favorite lyrics. In lieu of this, I've decided to just list a series of recent moments from my life.

*It's that moment where you realize during Yom Tov that you forgot to return the kids' library books and they were due that day.

*It's that moment where you decide to schedule your kid's dentist appointment for a ridiculous time of the morning so that you don't have to interrupt your work day.

*It's that moment where you step on the scale and are convinced you lost five pounds in the span of a week, only to realize that it was still balancing itself out and you only actually lost half a pound instead.

*It's that moment where the song "Jumper" by Third Eye Blind randomly pops into your head for no reason.

*It's that moment where the first person who pops up in your Facebook newsfeed is the same one you were telling someone else about.

*It's that moment where you realize you need another set of eyes....or a visit to the optometrist already. And in that same moment, you wonder if you'll look cute in glasses again.

*It's that moment where you realize that the behaviors your kid gets in trouble for are the same ones you display, on a different level.

*It's that moment where you end up reading four different books at around the same time.

*It's that moment where you keep getting distracted by sending e-mails and checking Facebook updates and are taking forever to think of more moments to post about here.

*It's that moment where "Jumper" changed to "Mother Nature's Son" (the Sheryl Crow version from the I am Sam soundtrack), and now that you've thought that, "I'm Looking Through You" (the Wallflowers version from the same soundtrack) replaced that song.

*It's that moment where you turn on Spotify to get the previous two songs out of your head. It seems to be helping and a Toad the Wet Sprocket song even came on!

*It's that moment where you wish you were more productive, but aren't motivated in the slightest.

*It's that moment where you just fantasize about laying on a beach all day with a stack of books and unlimited access to strawberry daiquiris.

*It's that moment where you've decided you said enough about moments in your blog post to reach a satisfactory length.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Stand-Up Kind of Gal

Sometimes I only get the chance to blog once a week. And since I can't always get up the motivation to think of a topic, it's nice to have other friends to blog with so we can take turns. I enjoy being challenged to write about stuff that might not normally come to mind and also reading everyone else's thoughts on the same topic. Blog Project 3.0 has been going on for about a year now, even though one of the group members changed after a few months. I love blogging with this group and I hope we can continue to inspire each other.

This week I chose the topic: Tell us about a time when you were fearless.

First, read what everyone else had to share on this topic:
Darwin Shrugged
Froggie
Moma Rock

"When I was little I thought I would be a big comedian on late night TV." Nah...I'm just quoting Avenue Q again. Really, though, I love seeing stand-up comedians perform. I am all about humor and laughter and if someone can have me doubled over with tears in my eyes, I know they've got it made. When Last Comic Standing first premiered, I was totally into that show. I liked the fact that people actually had to do more than just sing or dance to win. Stand-up comedy has so many facets...writing, delivery, ability to make people laugh, etc. It's a very intense art form. How do I know this? Well, I tried my hand at stand-up comedy once.

There was this restaurant in the Chicago suburbs that was similar to Portillo's or Dengeo's in terms of the food they served and how you had to get it up at the counter. However, they had live bands performing upstairs, and on certain weeknights, they had a comedy club downstairs. At this comedy club, there was an amateur night every week. I first learned about it from a friend who had performed there a few times and invited us to see him in action. Then I decided to give it a go. I took improv comedy classes over the span of a year and wasn't so afraid of being on stage and trying to make people laugh. However, I wasn't about to "wing it" when it came to doing a stand-up routine. There's really a lot that goes into making it just right. I can't even remember most of my routine, but I definitely had fun writing it. I even ran it by the friend who had experience at these amateur nights and he helped me fine tune it a bit. That was definitely helpful. Then I rehearsed it until I had it memorized and wasn't tripping over my words. I do remember starting off by singing "Dancing Queen" and then saying that I thought I was at the live band karaoke that the restaurant had going on upstairs. I think I also talked about how Y2K was a total let-down and about my upcoming 10-year high school reunion (shows how long ago this was). Everything else is a blur to me. Apparently, people thought it was funny. My BFF even brought it up when she visited, and even though she's probably biased, it was nice to hear that I was able to make people laugh.

These days, I am not into public speaking all that much, but I like to put humor into my writing and I still like to make people laugh, even on an individual basis. I'd rather be told I'm funny than that I'm attractive. I recently took a quiz to see which female comedian I am and the result was Tina Fey:
Creative, reserved, and highly intelligent, you are most like the darling of the entertainment writing world, Tina Fey! Others see you as shy and a bit naive, and you may be at times - but at your core are a deeply intuitive and wise individual. Others seek comfort in your advice and company, and you're just glad to have the companionship. You give a lot to everyone and are ok with little in return.

Even that description says I put my humor into my writing. Validation! It's definitely an honor to be compared to Tina Fey. I respect and admire her comedic talent. I also wouldn't mind having comedic writing talent on the level of Mindy Kaling, but one can only dream.

So maybe I won't jump out of a plane or go deep sea diving, but writing a comedy act and performing it in front of a mix of friends and strangers is the most fearless I have ever been.

Side note: Since stand-up comedy is a hard field through which one can become famous, I wanted to give a shout-out to a comedian I saw a couple of times in 2012...Brian Parise. He was just hilarious and had great material and delivery. If he's ever performing in your neck of the woods, you should definitely go see him! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Girls' Night Out

Sometimes I only get the chance to blog once a week. And since I can't always get up the motivation to think of a topic, it's nice to have other friends to blog with so we can take turns. I enjoy being challenged to write about stuff that might not normally come to mind and also reading everyone else's thoughts on the same topic. Blog Project 3.0 has been going on for about a year now, even though one of the group members changed after a few months. I love blogging with this group and I hope we can continue to inspire each other.

This week Moma Rock chose the topic: Tell us about your first homecoming/prom/formal... and don't forget the photos! If you didn't go to any high school dances, why not? What did you end up doing instead?

First, read what everyone else had to share on this topic:
Darwin Shrugged
Froggie
Moma Rock

A few years ago, I was asked about something I regretted from the past. I decided to talk about not asking a friend of mine to go to prom with me because I was hung up on what people thought. You can read that post right here.

This time around, I will share about a positive memory that came out of not going to a dance. When I was a senior in high school, I did not end up going to the Homecoming dance (amongst the many others I didn't attend). Instead, I went out with two girlfriends for the evening. One of them was a close friend of mine from school. The other was a family friend who had moved to a nearby neighborhood. We saw For Love or Money and then went out for dinner. I just remember hanging out for a while at the restaurant and laughing about random things. The family friend did a great impression of Jack√©e from 227 and my high school friend and I found it hilarious. It was just a pleasant evening overall and I didn't even feel bad about missing the dance. I'm still friends with both women, even though we mostly talk through Facebook these days.

Sorry this is so short, but I figure that since I said a lot in the post from a few years ago and I don't really have any other positive or negative memories of what I did instead of going to a dance. I probably just babysat when I was younger or stayed home and did nothing. It's all a blur to me.