Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

15954464Oh, James Bond. How I love thee. At least when you are brought to life by Daniel Craig. Casino Royale and Skyfall are two of my favorite movies of all time so I decided to give the source material a read. I worried the books wouldn’t live up to my love of the films and that the woman-hate would be too hard to overcome.

The first Bond novel, Casino Royale, is at first about a high stakes baccarat game between a British Secret Services operative, our handsome Bond, and the soviet scumbag, Le Chiffre. Le Chiffre has lost millions of dollars that belong to a high terrorist conglomerate, SMERSH, and he needs to win this showdown if he’s to save his own life. But pesky James is always in the way. Interrupting Bond’s game playing is that beguiling minx, Vesper Lynd. She’s been assigned to work with Bond in the field and becomes quite the player in Bond’s work and surprisingly, his heart.

Gotta say – a great overall reading experience. I loved Fleming’s writing. His novel reads like a literary page-turner that manages to feel far less dated than I would have thought. The sexism is there, but I think Vesper’s character is far more interesting than just some piece of meat for Bond to bed. She’s extremely important to this novel and the rest of Bond’s life. I could get annoyed that she ultimately ends up being a boobed villain without much depth, but I like when a woman manages to sneak up on a world renowned master spy – so sue me.

The book is different enough from the movie to be a worthwhile read. I’m also convinced that Bond’s character in the books is far less campy playboy, and much more brooding, clever lone wolf with a sharp tongue and sense of humor. For this reason, I really appreciate the newer films even more and believe Daniel Craig’s Bond to be very faithful to the source material. Reading the novel allows one to get inside James’s mind and see that there’s a lot going on there – at least in this initial offering. He philosophizes ideas of good and evil. He also weighs his role of hired killer in a far more moral and intriguing way than one might expect.  Bond is blunt about the world he sees and how he sees himself.

So I definitely recommend Casino Royale to anyone with even the slightest interest in 007. It’s a great companion to the movie and a wonderful addition to any readathon TBR. I’ll definitely be continuing on with Fleming’s next Bond installment!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

15783514Much like The Illusion of Separateness that I reviewed on Monday, I adored every single thing about this novel and have nothing negative to say about it. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is my first full length Gaiman. My local indie bookstore tweeted me that they had signed copies available, and I ran immediately to pick this delightful little story up. I sat down the next evening and read it in one sitting. Four hours that ran the emotional gamut. READ. THIS. BOOK.

I’m not going to really add a synopsis. The less you know the better. At its most basic level, Ocean is a middle aged man’s memories of the year he turned seven and the Hempstock women he came to know.

Again, such a short book packed with so many great and wonderful things. Gaiman’s themes are deeply explored and his relevant characters so full-bodied. I loved looking at the ideas of memory, aging, childhood, power, imagination, loneliness, and so many more through the eyes of our narrator – a thinly disguised young Gaiman, himself. I also found the reading of this novel deeply personal and much more intense knowing that Gaiman wrote it when he and his wife were navigating a rough patch in their marriage.

Someone on Twitter (so sorry I don’t recall who) said he wasn’t sure if this was Gaiman’s best work, but it cut the deepest. That summation has stayed with me, and I believe might be the best way to describe Ocean.  It leaves the reader feeling slightly raw but all the better for it. Do yourself a favor and read it immediately. Don’t wait to finish your current book – don’t think about reading Gaiman from beginning to end – just go get The Ocean at the End of the Lane and inhale it. You won’t be sorry. Then go share it with someone you love.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

15815333The Interestings has quite a title to live up to, don’t you think? And hype. I scoured the interwebs recently trying to find blog reviews that weren’t positive – and let me just tell you those are few and far between. Most bloggers have already added this to their best of 2013 lists. I so badly wanted to be one of them.

Wolitzer’s world opens on six young teenagers attending a rural Massachusetts summer camp for artistic youth. Jules, Ash, Goodman, Ethan, Jonah, and Cathy call themselves ‘The Interestings’ in hopes that they will grow up to work in their particular artsy-fartsy field of talent and be uber successful. As they grow and age over the next 40 years, the reader follows along and watches each character bumble, fumble, thrive, and, ultimately, survive the trials of their individual fates.

It’s a very simple premise, no doubt, but one that intrigued me for whatever reason. I like long, sweeping stories that take the time to richly develop characters through gorgeous prose. Wolitzer is a fantastic storyteller. She weaves together chronological plot and flashes of memory seamlessly. I was amazed at how flawlessly she fades in and out of various memories without the story feeling disjointed. It felt natural, organic, and full of talent. The characters were well-drawn and filled with petty jealousies, disappointment, bad manners, loyalty, kindness, and a warm sense of honesty I deeply appreciated. At least for the first half of the book.

Something happened in the middle and that something wasn’t magic. After being enthralled with Jules and her friends for nearly 250 pages, the whole thing just sort of fell apart for me. I’m not sure if everything just started feeling repetitive, the character growth evaporated, or if the whole thing just felt too damn long after awhile. I do know that the second half was rushed and less developed. Whereas the first part covered 15 years, the second was left to cover 25 years in the same amount of pages and that didn’t work. For me, at least.

Despite really struggling to finish the book, the last 50 pages made a comeback. I was once again wrapped up in the characters and frantically reading to find out how their lives would end (at least my time spent in their lives, not necessarily THE END). The last paragraphs and the final sentence were poignant and rendered me glad to have finished despite the difficulties.

So tell me: Did you go to summer camp? How many friends from your childhood do you still interact with regularly?

Monday Salon

600859_10102150884277510_1820388992_nA whirlwind weekend! Another wedding in the books and a lovely Sunday spent exploring our city! I’m choosing to ignore the never ending rain. Saturday night we attended a fancy pants wedding of some former co-workers so it was like one huge reunion. Plus an open bar. Sunday afternoon we went to the Atlanta History Center which is essentially a museum of all things Atlanta. Love being a tourist in my own city! Plus, their gift shop was filled with amazing books. It took me forever to choose which one to buy, but I eventually settled on the tales of Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris. Such a beautiful edition published by the Beehive Press of Savannah. 

This week I’m hoping to hear back from the company I interviewed with last week. After speaking to the two ladies I’d be working with, I am so excited about the job and think this might be my dream position in the accounting world. I’m also hoping to jump back on the exercise bandwagon. Then there’s all the house cleaning, maybe some lounging in the sun, and lots of reading, obviously.

What else am I up to? Let’s see. Went to watch Iron Man 3 Thursday night with the Hubs. We enjoyed the movie. Jimmy loves any action film. He gets so angry with me if I try to discuss character development or plot in regards to his summer popcorn flicks. Robert Downey Jr. is just a joy to watch. Now the countdown to The Great Gatsby is officially on and I cannot wait! I’ve also been listening to some book podcasts recently. I stumbled upon one called Literary Disco which was created by none other than Rider Strong! Loving it.

Literary Blog Hop Giveaway!

lithopfeb1

Hi everyone! Guess what? As a part of the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop hosted by Judith, I’m giving away one of the five books listed below – your choice! Just fill out the form linked below the list of books eligible to win and you’ll be entered to win. Anyone can enter as long as The Book Depository ships to your address. The giveaway closes end of day February 13 and I’ll announce the winner (provided by the ever helpful random.org) on February 14. The lucky winner will be emailed and given 48 hours to respond before another winner is selected.

So which fine books are up for grabs? Five of my all-time favs that I’d love to share with fellow readers. I’ve linked to each book below via The Book Depository. That copy linked will be the exact copy won.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

9780140167771

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.

I loved this book so much. It’s one of the most well-loved books on my shelves currently – think beaten and battered spine, water stained, and filled with just the right mix of perfect book smell. Books with university settings can do no wrong!

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

9780312853235

Wow…so the book description totally gave away the twist ending! How rude! Basically, Ender lives in a future world where Earth is at war with an alien race and special children are selected to attend battle school in hopes that they will one day lead the Earth to victory. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this books since I was 14. A great option to share with the children in your life.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

9780316126670

An expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment–to oneself and to others in a baseball story that goes beyond the sport and into hearts and minds

This books comes highly recommended not just from myself, but from my entire bookclub who enjoyed this collegiate coming-of-age story so very much. See how every book includes school in some way? I swear I didn’t plan that. Will the trend continue?

Emma by Jane Austen

9780141199528

Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others.

My favorite Austen! Emma is a very flawed heroine, but one of the most delightfully human. She has so much to learn and makes so many mistakes along the way. I think this is Austen’s masterpiece.

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

9781847492128

Containing obvious parallels with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s own lives, The Beautiful and Damned is a tragic examination of the pitfalls of greed and materialism and the transience of youth and beauty.

Some of the best literary symbolism of all time and by far my favorite Fitzgerald. The two main characters are impossible to like, but are a train wreck you can’t take your eyes off of. I think I need a reread!

Like something you saw and now want to enter? Just fill out this FORM!! (GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED. WINNER HAS BEEN SELECTED.)

Linky List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. The Book Garden
  3. Sam Still Reading
  4. Candle Beam Book Blog
  5. Ciska’s Book Chest
  6. Too Fond
  7. Alex in Leeds
  8. Under a Gray Sky
  9. Bibliosue
  10. The Book Club Blog
  11. Fingers & Prose
  12. Lori Howell
  13. Rikki’s Teleidoscope
  14. Girl vs Bookshelf
  15. Lizzy’s Literary Life (Europe)
  16. Booklover Book Reviews
  17. The Blog of Litwits
  18. Reading World (USA/Can)
  19. Seaside Book Nook
  20. Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  21. The Book Diva’s Reads
  22. Breieninpeking (Europe)
  23. 2606 Books and Counting
  24. Giraffe Days
  25. Lucybird’s Book Blog
  1. Roof Beam Reader
  2. The Relentless Reader
  3. Read in a Single Sitting
  4. My Diary (Malaysia)
  5. Heavenali
  6. Dolce Belezza (USA)
  7. The Misfortune of Knowing
  8. My Devotional Thoughts
  9. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  10. Book Nympho
  11. Kaggsysbookishramblings
  12. Quixotic Magpie
  13. Lost Generation Reader
  14. BookBelle
  15. Under My Apple Tree (USA)
  16. Mondays with Mac
  17. Page Plucker

Atlanta Restaurant Review: Bone Lick BBQ

If you are anywhere near West Midtown and craving some BBQ – this is the place to go!  Bone Lick is run by the same guy responsible for P’cheen and started as a pop-up Monday night dinner in that restaurant.  Due to popularity, Bone Lick got its own home and now serves some of the yummiest BBQ in the city.  With our trusty ScoutMob deal in hand, Jimmy and I headed over that way a couple of weeks ago.

Bone Lick is located just down the street from Star Provisions/JCT Kitchen and has a rather unassuming home at the bottom of some apartments.  The big neon sign can not be missed, so don’t worry about driving by unawares!  The decor is simple and the restaurant feels a little rustic and a lot cozy.  I will say that the chairs get rather uncomfortable quickly which I suspect is to help with the turnover rate at busy times.  Did I mention there is skee ball and vintage arcade games?  Cause there are.  Awesome.  Oh, and a bar.  What more do you need?

The service was very laid back and casual, but more than sufficient.  But the main attraction here is the FOOD and boy was it delicious.  I am by no means a BBQ expert, but have eaten it many times in my life and this little plate of pulled pork I ordered was mighty tasty.  Such a great smoky flavor and so juicy.  YUM.  Jimmy’s brisket was also a hit with a gorgeous red smoke ring surrounding every piece.  Better yet, I ate the leftovers for two days and they retained their flavor wonderfully.  Our appetizers included housemade fried pickles and boiled peanuts.  The pickles had the best crunch and the peanuts were nicely cooked, but lacked a bit of seasoning.  If you like non-salty boiled peanuts, you’ll love these guys.

Jimmy’s award for best food of the night goes to the jalapeno mac and cheese.  He loved this stuff unnaturally which is odd since he’s not a mac and cheese fan.  This variation on a classic is lightly creamy with just a hint of the jalapeno flavor throughout.  It’s not overly spicy, but just a little heat infused which means my aversion to spicy food didn’t affect my love of this customer favorite.  My tater tots were nothing to write home about, but the texas toast is done with a fun mixture of spices that was a welcome surprise.

Prices are reasonable; portion size is excellent.  We’ll definitely be back!

Atlanta Restaurant Review: Mary Mac’s Tea Room

Ah, Southern food.  How I do so very much love you – at least when you come out of my mother’s kitchen.  But alas, most restaurants fall short of my mother’s brilliance and I’ve never found that go-to comfort food spot.  Would Mary Mac’s come to the rescue?

The restaurant is an Atlanta staple and somewhere I urge all visitors to check out.  Even the Dali Lama has dined at this most Southern of establishments!  The decor is somewhat dated, but you can enjoy browsing through the wall-of-fame photos taken of all the famous people who have visited.

I’m going to dock the restaurant a couple of points on service solely because of the hostess who seated us.  She was obviously in a pissy mood and wanted nothing to do with customers.  She brought us into a dining room and just stood there while we had to guess which table we were supposed to sit at and then threw our menus at us.  Wow.  But then we were rescued by our server who was fantastic and super helpful.  So things turned around quickly.

People will tell you to order the fried chicken and I’m not going to argue with those people, but I ordered the cubed steak with brown gravy.  Cubed steak with gravy is my most favorite meal of all time EVER.  My mom cooked this for me instead of baking a birthday cake.  Served with lima beans and mashed potatoes, all mixed together, is my idea of heaven on earth.  Mary Mac’s didn’t have lima beans, but did have butter peas which are just as yummy.  And they didn’t have mashed potatoes – WHAT?  So I substituted cheese grits and hoped for the best.

The sides were awesome.  Loved the peas and grits – both were a bit under seasoned but a little salt cured this travesty.  The cubed steak wasn’t so lucky.  Try as I might, the salt just couldn’t save this particular serving of beef.  The steak itself was tough and filled with grizzle.  I wasn’t able to cut it with my fork which is a huge no-no.  Plus, the gravy had a chalky flavor, so obviously the flour mixture wasn’t done properly.  I believe the gravy was missing milk or cream.  My mom makes this dish with milk gravy which works well.  Perhaps Mary Mac’s should do the same.

So, I’m still on the lookout for my perfect Southern comfort food outside my mom’s kitchen.  Jimmy did enjoy his chicken liver and onions – saying that the liver was a bit over salty but still managed to retain a lovely liver flavor.  He was less impressed with his turnip greens and sweet potato souffle.  He also liked the batter on his order of fried okra.  We both agreed that the prices were fair so we’ll probably go back at some point, and this time I’ll order the fried chicken!

(Picture courtesy of restaurant’s website)

I Finished a Book!

Seriously, that’s all I have today.  And I can’t even blog about the book until after my book club discussion.  Maybe I can try to finish another one this week!  Blogger FAIL!

Hope everyone is having a fabulous Sunday!

At the Cinema: Haywire and Man on a Ledge

Watched these films Sunday night and you can probably guess that Jimmy got to pick our selections!  I do enjoy a good action film from time to time so I tend to go in with an open mind.  I’m just often left disappointed due to lack of story.

First, we watched Haywire, a high-action, rescue-operation-gone-wrong spy movie.  And if that sounds fun to you, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.  It stars newcomer and MMA star (mixed martial arts), Gina Carano, who doesn’t appear to be the world’s greatest actress, but has the awesome ability to kick major bad guy ass.  It’s refreshing to see a powerful, female action hero and would suggest the movie on that basis alone.  The supporting cast is also shiny – Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Channing Tatum – so there’s plenty of eye candy.  Unfortunately, the story falls a bit flat, the third act is kind of lame, the story has plot holes galore, and the acting can be rather stoic at times.  So give it a watch, but make sure to have no expectations.

Man on a Ledge definitely won the award for most entertaining movie of the night.  Sam Worthington claims to be falsely accused of stealing hella expensive diamond, escapes prison, and perches his cute butt on the ledge of the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC to prove his innocence.  Fun concept.  Elizabeth Banks plays the negotiator trying to literally ‘talk him off the ledge’ and I love her!  Another kick ass female role so we were 2 for 2 on the night.  Granted, the plotting of this film is outrageous, but the emotions behind the crazy are genuine.  I love heist movies and this one has some fun heist-y moments between a bickering girlfriend/boyfriend that lends the movie some comedic relief to break the tension.  So many people gave this movie bad marks, but I enjoyed it as did Jimmy.  We had lowered expectations which probably helped, but would watch this again – even the terribly cheesy ending.

Final verdict (Skip, Rent, Buy):

Haywire:  Rent

Man on a Ledge:  Rent/Buy – if it’s your thing!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I’m writing this post a little ‘cold’ and unprepared because I’m unexpectedly going to see The Avengers tonight!  To say I’m excited is a ridiculous understatement.  I’m a Joss Whedon super fangirl.  As far as Perks is concerned, I’ve had a month to soak in the after reading funk and have come out on the side of – not a a huge fan.  And I’m entirely unapologetic about this unpopular opinion. (Spoilers below)

Chbosky’s debut novel presents itself as the universal tale of awkward teenagedom, especially that first year of high school. It was published in 1999 and follows Charlie as he writes letters to a ‘friend’ describing his freshman experiences as the ‘wallflower’.  Going in, I had reservations and expectations.  So many friends have lauded this book for its emotional revelations and ability to capture some truth of adolescence.  People who I trust have explained how the book saved their lives or got them through those turbulent years.  So. Much. Hype.  I avoided it like the plague despite the book being published during my freshman/sophomore years of high school.  I continued to avoid it during college and most of my twenties.

To put my expectations into perspective, I feared I’d feel about Charlie the way I now feel about Esther from The Bell Jar.  Reading The Bell Jar in college felt life altering.  She and I were the same person with the same problems.  I felt so much in common with her that I began to fear I was bat shit crazy and would end up with my own head in an oven (I know I’m mixing up Esther with Sylvia here, pretend it’s for effect).  But upon a reread a couple of years ago – in my late twenties – my perspective had completely changed.  All I wanted to do was shake the shiz out of Esther and yell at her that all this shit won’t matter in 10 years.  What if I was too far removed from high school to relate to Charlie?  What if I had missed my chance?

But my fears were misguided.  I liked Charlie from page one.  I enjoyed his voice, loved the execution of the epistolary storytelling, and found myself in several of his thoughts.  One particular feeling really registered with me even as an adult – the idea that you could be happy and miserable at the same time.  I happily flew through the first 100 pages before I began to get uncomfortable.  Something was off about Charlie – and not just in an awkward 15 year old way.  His emotional responses to things were not normal.  I put the book down and got in bed, ruminating on what could be Charlie’s real problem.  When I awoke, I felt positive that he was autistic and read the rest of the novel under that belief until all is revealed in the end.  And even though he’s not autistic, he is the victim of sexual abuse/molestation which leaves him physically, emotionally, and mentally crippled.  I was enraged.

Not at Charlie or his particular story.  I still adored Charlie and was so happy I had gotten to know him.  Instead, I was mad at all the people who explained how much they related to Charlie’s life and all the marketers who touted this novel as a ‘universal’ teenage story.  Are you kidding me?  What is universal about being sexually molested unless you have actually been molested?  For those kids who have unfortunately experienced this kind of trauma, then yes, this book is ‘universal’ and probably so incredibly cathartic to read.  But for the rest of us who were simply awkward wallflowers in high school, band geeks, sci-fi nerds, etc. – how can we possibly pretend to relate to Charlie?  How disrespectful to the truth of his life and his experiences.

I just got really angry.  I knew kids who had gone through that kind of ordeal early in their life.  Or who were autistic.  And to walk up to them and say – hey, I know just what you’re going through because being a teenager sucks and sometimes I feel so sad I can’t even cry – what a holy fucking mess.

Again, I’m angry at the readers – not the book, not Charlie, and not Stephen Chbosky.

My second and far more minor problem with Perks is the misleading title and idea of what being a ‘wallflower’ is.  Charlie is not a wallflower.  He approaches Sam and her brother to befriend them, he tells Sam he likes her, and he has a handful of friends he spends lots of time with.  How is this being a wallflower?  I don’t even consider myself a true wallflower and I didn’t have the nerve to tell my crush I liked him or randomly befriend strangers all of a sudden at football games.  And just because you aren’t the most popular kid at school or have the biggest social circle doesn’t make you a wallflower either.  I had a handful of awesome friends – we weren’t popular; we weren’t unpopular – and most of my high school experiences were great.

And then there’s Sam.  When Charlie admits to liking her, she explains that he must not feel that away about her and that she doesn’t return his feelings.  And God Bless the boy, he respects what she says and remains her friend – doing his best to support her and her boyfriend.  When said boyfriend is revealed to be a total cheating douche, Sam has the nerve to berate Charlie for not immediately rushing in and claiming Sam as his own.  God forbid he just give her some space.  I mean, she has already told him she doesn’t like him.  And then to say he lacks the ability to take action and that if he likes her he should just ignore what she said and take her as his own anyway.  EXCUSE ME?  What lesson does this teach teenage boys?  Girls are stupid, don’t know what they want, never mean what they say, don’t want to be respected – and this is the kicker – No. Means. Yes.  Chbosky, what were you thinking?  Maybe we’re just supposed to chalk it up to teenage stupidity and lack of life experiences.  Sam and Charlie obviously still have much to learn.  But for a book that seems to be so validating to its young audience, I just think this path might have frightening affects on a teenage psyche that hasn’t reached full maturity yet.

Has anyone else read this and think I’m way over-thinking things?  I absolutely could be.  Did I entirely miss the point?  Please let me know.  Perks was my bookclub’s April selection, but our discussion won’t take place until the end of May so I’d love your thoughts.  I firgured I’d cool down the longer I was separated from the novel, but that hasn’t happened.  I don’t know why, but this book has affected me more than any other this year.  And garnered the longest post known to man.  Kudos if you made it all the way through!