Saturday, July 31, 2010

BookLook Review "When We Were Romans"

“When We Were Romans”
The novel “When We Were Romans” by Matthew Kneale describes a family in crisis through the eyes of nine year old Lawrence. His family lives in fear that the father will return from Scotland and harm them. Lawrence’s mother hurriedly loads his little sister Jemima and a few belongings including his precious pet and they drive through the underwater chunnel to Rome.

Lawrence’s mum used to live in Rome when she was single and still has friends there where they hope to find refuge and start over. Spending a few days with each of them, the little family seems to be getting on their feet with the help of an interesting cast of characters. And then their world unravels again. Despite his efforts, our young narrator cannot save his family from itself.

There are similarities to other recent novels including “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” which use a child as narrator. The mysterious adult world described by a precocious child is always an amusing and bewildered perspective. They cannot understand what is really happening around them which causes the reader to be equally confused at times.

One of the charming aspects of the novel is that young Lawrence assigns animals to adults as he meets them and uses the phonetic spelling of a young child. A woman who is small with dark hair and gives quick little kisses as greetings reminds him of a squirrel. She is labeled “Chintsier squirrel”. Another is “Crissy chick” since her hair is short, yellow and stands straight up. He is also fascinated by his new book describing past rulers of Rome and sums up their history in his funny misspelled childish style. “One day there was a big fire in Rome, it went on for days, and some people said Nero did it because he was emporer but nobody was sure. Thousands of famous temples and houses got burnt down and Nero went up a tower to watch, he said doesn’t it look beautiful and then he sang a long song.” His version of history is much more entertaining and simplified than a high school history text.

I suppose I would only give this book 2 out of 5 stars if I did that sort of rating. I don’t usually since it is too restrictive and often misleading in a book review. There were things I really liked about this book, and things I didn’t. It did have moments of great reading but it also had sections that didn’t quite ring true. I give it a guarded recommendation to those interested in the struggles of children and adolescents dealing with the confusion of living in a dysfunctional family.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What do you pack in your carry-on luggage?

These are glasses and stemware from my mom and grandmother. We packed them in socks and t-shirts and put them into our carry-on luggage. Mom is downsizing so we brought them home and didn't even break one!

You have to admit this is a great shot of my nephew Aaron diving into the pool during the family pool and BBQ party!

Kobe the lifeguard dog is climbing out of the pool after making sure the little ones are safe with their parents.

Friday, July 16, 2010

BookLook Review in time for the movie

“Eat, Pray, Love”
On August 16th the movie version of this book comes out. I guarantee the movie will be better than the book. This goes against all that I believe – the book is always better than the movie. But this was a book with lots of empty parts that could be discarded. I think Julia Roberts is bound to improve the story and the storyteller.
Our life is made up of choices. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book about her choice to divorce her husband and using the advance money for this book travel for a year to find some meaning in her life. The subtitle she chose was: “One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia”. I have some better subtitles: “Around the World in a Daze”; or “Gullible’s Travels”. Or perhaps the less subtle title: “Dump All Responsibility so You Can Travel Without Baggage.”
Gilbert does write with a sense of humor and I found myself chuckling during the first third of the book as she describes Italy and the joy of pasta and gelato. These foods do have curative powers even if you have to buy larger size jeans after a few months. Leaving Italy she tries to become spiritual by visiting an ashram in India. Will a few months of seclusion with a guru to guide her actions and thoughts cure her self-esteem issues? Will she finally stop crying? Alas, no. Next it is on to Bali to find balance between pasta and the lotus position - interesting choice Bali. This Indonesian island filled with corruption and superstition does provide a Brazilian expat named Felipe with whom she has an affair. Meaning at last?
I believe the author’s claim that her travel talent is making friends as she brags: “If there isn’t anyone else around to talk to, I could probably make friends with a four-foot-tall pile of Sheetrock.” The interesting characters that she encounters are the highlights of her travelogue. She describes them more as an observer in the room at a large party would than a friend who spent many weeks in their company. It may again be the problem of having the book in mind before the actual experience takes place.
Her narrative bogs down often with many references to her failed marriage and struggles with depression. I know that it’s important for us to understand her state of mind as she embarks on this search for peace and meaning, but sometimes she comes across as too defensive and self-absorbed. I am actually looking forward to Julia’s interpretation in the movie and expect I will like the story edited for the big screen.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Roman statues

I thought this was so funny when Roman went and stood by his mom and copied her foot way of standing. The boy has addiction issues with 3 items: popsicles (as you can see), ketchup - he dips everything in it including broccoli,and plain potato chips.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

BookLook Review "The Lost City of Z"

“The Lost City of Z”
Glancing around the pool at a Park City resort recently to see what people were reading (I do it all the time!), I noticed they weren’t reading anything I would really like. The already tanned teen girls were oiled up and turning the pages of the latest “Twilight” clone. The mommies glanced up at their splashing kids from the pages of a celebrity biography and the grandmas were covered up in the shade weeping over another Nicholas Sparks. I was reading a fascinating nonfiction bestseller titled ”The Lost City of Z” by David Grann, slathered in sunscreen under an umbrella between the grannies and the mommies. Ah, vacation reading – read whatever you want because no one you know is watching!

Grann became obsessed with the story of legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett. In 1925 Fawcett, his son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh disappeared in the jungles of the Amazon searching for the lost city of Z – an El Dorado. Like Amelia Earhart, his mysterious disappearance launched expeditions to search the dangerous jungle for his story and evidence of his remains. Included in the book are historical pictures and a photo of the Washington Post headline, “Deep in the Fearful Amazon Jungle, Savages Seize Movie Actor Seeking to Rescue Fawcett”. Not only did Fawcett and his party perish, but several others disappeared searching for him.

Despite the failure of previous searches Grann is determined to solve the mystery. He and a large staff of researchers spend years reading published and unpublished letters and documents trying to piece together the probable route of the small Fawcett party. Unfortunately, like many explorers of his time, Fawcett was secretive to the point of paranoia. He didn’t want any other competing expeditions to get there ahead of him. His secrecy and lack of communication during the trip made it seem impossible to solve the mystery of his disappearance without traveling into the dangerous Amazon jungle. Consequently, Grann takes a Brazilian guide and sets out to find the city of Z and clues about what really happened to Percy Fawcett.

I bought this book for my son Chris who spends a lot time in the jungles and ancient ruin sites of Guatemala and Mexico doing research. I have highlighted the critical passages where blowfly maggots crawl out of your elbows and indigenous residents attack you if you don’t take precautions. It’s just a little motherly advice and a “vacation” book to read in his hammock during his upcoming jungle expedition.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

We took a vacation from our vacation

We had a great family vacation to Lake Arrowhead California. Stayed up late watching movies at the cabin,loved getting up at 6 am with little grandsons,walking down to feed the "gucks" (ducks) many times a day,going to Newport Beach and a children's nature hike - but we did have to take another week just the two of us to Mexico to rest up from our first vacation!