27 August 2011

Well, suffice it to say it's going to be an interesting move this weekend. While that lil hussy Irene won the first round with me and delayed our travel plans of moving from North Florida to Virginia Beach from Friday to Sunday, it certainly looks like it will still continue to be an adventure. Today, it's bright and sunny, with some fantastic clouds in the sky, but yesterday was a scatterbrained weather day.

We'll be heading to our new house in Virginia Beach on Sunday - hopefully the storm will be kind to all of my family and friends in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater area, and all along the East Coast.

For more of this week's Saturday Snapshots, please visit Alyce with At Home With Books.

Picking up lunch in Neptune Beach, Florida ~ Friday, Aug. 26, 2011
Driving back to our North Florida home

We leave tomorrow. Fun, huh?


26 August 2011

The Ruins, by Scott Smith (Before the Blog Days)

Since I'm hanging back and delaying the drive for our move from North Florida to Virginia Beach because of that lil hussy Irene, I was trolling around and looking at prior books I read before I started blogging. As a fan of all books and movies that are creepy, this one jumped out in my memory and produced an immediate shudder of recognition. Now, I realize that most may remember the awful movie that came out, which carried along the same lines of other horror movies at the time such as "Hostel" and "Turista," (which in my humble opinion were pretty horrible), the film version of The Ruins did have a rare moment or two that were somewhat entertaining and checked the list on ultimate horror. For the most part, though, the movie is one to skip.

The book, however, is quite different. Although leading off with the standard recipe of vacationing tourists and an unknown terror, The Ruins by Scott Smith establishes a unique approach to the "regular" horror story and focuses more on the psychological aspect of fear. It is a book that pushes the reader to fully experience the characters' cycle of emotions encompassing tension, nervousness, questions, doubt, ultimate panic and fright, and not to mention loss of trust, which carries its own special blend of emotional turmoil.

Four Americans traveling through Cancun, a vacation hot spot, meet a German tourist searching for his brother, who apparently took off with a female archaeologist to visit a Mayan ruin and hasn't been seen since. Deciding to travel with him, the team of five track down the Mayan ruin and are immediately accosted by the local Mexican villagers. Feeling threatened and not understanding the quickly spoken Spanish accompanied by shouts and guns, the five tourists find themselves inadvertently stepping into the area around the Mayan ruin. When they attempt to step forward, the locals are now pushing them back into it. Trapped, they can now only redirect back into the wooded area to escape. They soon discover that what they thought was the threat outside of the ruin was quite the opposite. The terror has just now begun.

Creepy and downright frightening, The Ruins is one that will freak you out. Several events throughout the book are jarring solely for the fact that it is completely understandable how one could emotionally break down in that environment while facing the unknown. One scene in particular still makes me blanch with discomfort while my stomach turns over when I think about it.

In my opinion, Scott Smith didn't write a horror story. He instead crafted a psychological thriller which incorporated elements of horror to provide a frighteningly unsettling story that compels the reader to continue reading each and every page with a tight grip. Highly recommended for those who want a really good scare to read, or for those who enjoy a good psychological thriller, and I'm pretty sure horror fans will approve as well.

Did you read it? What did you think?

This is also one to put on the list if you are participating in Stainless Steel Dropping's annual RIP Challenge, which this year's challenge should be announced soon. I'm definitely joining in.

About the Author
American author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan (and screenwriter for the film adaptation starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton), Scott Smith has won numerous awards, along with an Academy Award nomination. Stephen King called The Ruins, "The best horror novel of the new century."

Click here to visit the author on The Ruins official site.
Click here to view or buy the book on Barnes and Noble.
Click here to view or buy the book on Amazon.com.
Click here to view or buy the book on Book Depository.


25 August 2011

Lack of Reviews Lately? Here's Why...

I'm almost hysterical with laughter at the absurdity. Moving is already something that causes complete hilarity at all of the last minute I-can't-believe-that-just-happened nonsense, but now this?

The movers will be here today. We are moving from Florida to Virginia. We are ready to go.

But here's the ultimate ridiculousness of recent events: that lil hussy Irene is going to be in my way. I was planning to get into the car with my husband, Roma the Dog, and Puppy the Cat this Friday to drive to Virginia. But.

Irene's path is the exact same path to drive from Florida to Virginia.

Sigh. See you soon.

My unhappy Roma


14 August 2011

Sunday. Catch up on work...or work on the blog?

I know which one is supposed to win out, but...
By the way, if you have an iPhone (or other SmartPhone), check out the free Instagram app. Wicked cool filters, and you can link to your Facebook or Twitter accounts. Just sayin'.


13 August 2011

I may be romanticizing all the pictures from the honeymoon to Italy two years ago, however I love this train shot. You can see the train curving to the right on the left side of the picture, and the mountains in the background with the overcast sky, are just perfect to me. (Click on the picture to get a better feel for it). Mysterious, too, right? What an adventure it all was. We were leaving the hustle and bustle of Rome and heading south to Formia, which is where my husband's extended family lives. Formia is south of Rome, and about an hour and a half north of Naples.

For more of this week's Saturday Snapshots, visit Alyce with At Home With Books. Next week from me ~ more of Formia, Italy...

Here was our route: Roma a Formia a Napoli a Sorrento (Rome to Formia to Naples to Sorrento).
Tutto era bello. (Everything was beautiful).


07 August 2011

Becoming Marie Antoinette, by Juliet Grey

Many know the story of Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI. The subject of scores of debates and studies, biographies and a few films, Marie Antoinette's ultimate fate is known to all. While her name conjures romantic images of a French monarchy of old, and the scandals surrounding her name, rarely do we get the glimpse of how the little girl in Austria actually became her.

Juliet Grey's exhaustive research incorporated into her unique debut fiction novel, Becoming Marie Antoinette, in stores this Tuesday, August, 9, does just that. With a new take on her life and simultaneously providing insight into little "Toinette," who at the age of ten, is pronounced the future wife of the eldest heir to the throne of France, Grey turns over the negative assumptions of Marie Antoinette (who really said, "Let them eat cake?) and details extensively the process of turning the young, naive, and fun-loving girl into the very image of a Queen. Although Marie Antoinette does not willingly immerse herself in the joys of reading, the agonizing hours and days of physical transformation are, without question, the toughest. Little is known about the months spent in a contraption that was horrifyingly fixed to her teeth in order to straighten them, or the hours spent to "fix" her head of hair to make more regal, to the point of intense pain. Beauty, in that day and age, was painful, and Grey leaves nothing out.

Merely a child when this process began,  Marie Antoinette's relationships with family are extremely detailed. The cold and calculating Empress of Austria is her mother, constantly fretting over Marie Antoinette's poor education and penmanship, and goes through one tutor after another without success. Her main concern is to ensure that Austria is protected, and to do so, the mother of sixteen children must marry each of her daughters off to leaders of countries who can ultimately benefit their homeland. With that, Marie Antoinette is obligated to France, and Charlotte, her sister and best friend, is sent to become the Queen of Two Sicilies, never to see her little sister again, only to communicate through correspondence. Charlotte's letters regaling the sadness of her marriage to a man she cannot love are touching, and even more so when it is remembered how very young these girls are, mere pawns in a game of diplomacy.

Age 13, portrait presented to Louis XVI before meeting
Juliet Grey also takes a different tack to validate a unique perspective of the relationship between Marie Antoinette and her husband and the suggested reasons on their lack of intimacy. That alone is much to handle for Marie Antoinette, but combined with her attempts to remove herself from scandals and gossip, it becomes even more overwhelming. These are events which are difficult to endure as an adult, much less a teenager. All to  ensure that national affairs were in order. Who could expect a young girl and boy to truly understand the consequences of their actions, particularly as it comes to leading a country?

The letters, though, between her and her sister, Charlotte, virtually disappears after Marie Antoinette is married. Although it was mentioned through the narrative that they continued to write to each other, it was a surprising absence to not include what they might have been like after both were finally married. It would have been interesting to see what the written conversations could have been between Marie Antoinette and Charlotte, especially since now they could compare the differences in their wedded intimate lives. After all, Charlotte had already shared how disgusted she was by her husband, but Marie Antoinette was completely denied intimacy with hers. What an interesting conversation that could have been between the two sisters if a letter or two after Marie Antoinette was married were included. It seemed odd that it didn't crop up at all in the book.

But, Grey is a passionately descriptive writer. Passages easily paint the picture of the times and evoke a sense of history and the flourishing period intrigue, along with startling refreshing moments that display the internal conflict a young girl would have on becoming this future Queen. In this paragraph detailing her travels from Austria to her new country, Grey accomplishes the beauty of the moment, along with the fear of the unknown:
I felt bad, as the cobbles they had carpeted with spring flowers were now being heedlessly trod upon by hundreds of horses. Eager faces pressed forward to see me, eyes shining, cheeks rosy and flushed with excitement. An elderly man, violin tucked beneath his chin, serenaded me from an iron balcony. Regaining my poise as Maman would have wished, I smiled and waved to everyone, especially the little children who skipped alongside the coaches with posies in their hands. They would never see how frightened I was; never know that my stomach was tumbling like an acrobat and that I was drowning in a sea of perfume and perspiration that trickled from my hairline down the back of my neck toward the yellow ruching on my gown. (p.177)
In reading the Author's Note at the end, I discovered that this was book one in a trilogy, so the ending is not empty but instead gives an eerie promise of more to come, which makes sense. And although I am interested to read more about this historical figure's life from Juliet Grey's research, I must admit that (although I realize there is so much story to tell with Marie Antoinette) I wish trilogies were not so in fashion now. It might just be me, but it seems as though every book out now is only the first of three and I sort of miss the days when the story was told all in one.

Recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction, particularly French history, and Marie Antoinette.

About the Author
Juliet Grey has extensively researched European royal history and is a particular devotee of Marie Antoinette.  She and her husband divide their time between New York City and southern Vermont.

Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read this book. Upcoming tour stops can be found by clicking here.


06 August 2011

Yet another picture from my honeymoon to Italy two years ago. This is the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II. Sometimes referred to by foreigners as "the wedding cake," and by local Romans as "the typewriter," it was completed in 1935 to honor the first king of a unified Italy. There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the construction of this, since because of its vast size, they had to destroy a large section of Capitoline Hill and apparently a medieval neighborhood with it. People also think it's too big, but it is breathtaking when standing before it. Click here to see another one of my favorite shots of it at sunset.

For more Saturday Snapshots, visit Alyce with At Home With Books.


04 August 2011

Very Valentine, by Adriana Trigiani (Audio Review)

The introduction of Adriana Trigiani's work for me has been with the two audiobooks for Very Valentine and Brava, Valentine. Let's put it this way - I am so enamored with the audio versions, that I just can't imagine the character of Valentine not voiced by the incomparable Cassandra Campbell. You better believe that when the final book comes out, I will be downloading the audio straightaway. Does anyone know when that third book is coming out?

In Very Valentine, The Angelini Shoe Company is part of the shrinking world of family-owned small businesses in Greenwich Village, and with their primary product being original designs of handcrafted wedding shoes, combined with mismanaged financials, it is soon uncovered that this business might not be around for too long. But Valentine is the last single woman in the Angelini family (as Trigiani calls her), and come hell or high water, she will do what she can to find a way to save the family business. With a new relationship forming with sexy chef Roman Falconi, Valentine travels back to Italy with her smart and sassy grandmother, Teodora, to learn new techniques and designs that she might be able to bring back to America to rejuvenate the business.

A fun and endearing story, Adriana Trigiani knocked it out of the park with this one for me. I was in the mood for a story about family and friendships, and combined with the Italian countryside, culture, and people, for a good part of the story, it just couldn't go wrong. It was hilarious, it was heart-warming, it just was all the things I needed to read right now. And the characters! Who can read this book (or listen to it), and not love Teodora, Valentine's grandmother? You have no soul if you can experience this book and just not fall madly in love with her.

These were characters so magically developed that to experience this in an audio format made it all so true to life and each one virtually bounded out of the story and into my heart. The angst between the in-laws and *the* family itself were superbly genuine, and when the story moves to Italy, it felt right.  (Although I might be a teensy bit biased with that since, well, I love all things Italia).

What we all know about Adriana Trigiani, is that what makes her stories so memorable and tug at our heartstrings, is her ability to describe the family dynamic perfectly. Trigiani is a master artisan herself, of character development and the intertwined relationships of the large Italian family. With that expert comedic flair, she just rounds out the story perfectly.

And what can I say about the über-talented Cassandra Campbell? Once again at the helm of another best-seller, Campbell voices the character of Valentine and the family with an authenticity that is unquestionable. Like Trigiani, there is nothing pretentious with Campbell's work - both are delivered phenomenally, and it is a solid performance all around. This is a good pairing, and I can't wait for more. I'm almost done with Brava, Valentine, and again I ask, when does the third one come out?

You have to check out Adriana Trigiani on the Today Show - click here to see this clip of her promoting Brava, Valentine. It is this personality that comes out so resoundingly successful in her stories. She is hilarious!

About the Author
Adriana Trigiani is an accomplished author with thirteen books under her belt. Her bio on her website is filled with oodles of insight, so to really get to know this quirky and down-to-earth author, click here.

Millions of fans know her best for the Valentine series, and especially Big Stone Gap. I'm excited to read everything by her.

Click here to visit the author on her website.
Click here to visit the author on Facebook.
Click here to follow the author on Twitter.

FTC Disclosure - I downloaded this audiobook from iTunes. Go. Experience this fun for yourself, too.


01 August 2011

I don't usually post about a film I haven't seen, but this one looks so tantalizing I just had to! And Music Box Films, in conjunction with the Portuguese National Tourist Office, is offering a trip to Lisbon for one lucky winner!

Music Box Films is preparing for the U.S. release of Raul Ruiz' Mysteries of Lisbon, the adaptation of the nineteenth-century Portuguese novel by Camilo Castelo Branco. The movie has been described by Stuart Klawan in a review for The Nation as a "wonder, heartbreak, illumination, laughter, sumptuous sets, gorgeous costumes, flamboyant acting, lavish storytelling - carrying you into a Neverland of cinematic bliss."

If you love historical fiction, nineteenth-century novels, period dramas with gorgeous costumes and sets, you might want to check out this film!
Raul Ruiz's masterful adaptation evokes the complex intertwined narratives of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens. Mysteries of Lisbon plunges into a whirlwind of adventures, coincidences, revelations, vengeance, betrayals and love affairs, wrapped in a rhapsodic voyage that takes us to Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and as far as Brazil. Evoking the complex intertwined narratives of Charles Dickens, the film's central character is Joao, the illegitimate child of an ill-fated romance between two members of the aristocracy who are forbidden to marry, and follows Joao's quest to discover the truth of his parentage.
Nothing, and nobody, is as it/she/he appears in this intoxicating spiral of stories within stories within stories, filmed by Ruiz with gorgeous period design, a fluid, pirouetting camera, and a stellar French and Portuguese cast including up and coming actresses Clotilde Hesmé and Lea Seydoux. 


The film opens in New York and Los Angeles on August 5, 2011.
Click here to see if the film will be coming to a city near you!


Click here to enter Music Box Films Sweepstakes, in conjunction with the Portuguese National Tourist Office. This is what you're throwing your name into the hat for:

A five-day, four-night trip to Lisbon (with lodging at 4-5 star hotels) will start with a magical visit to the capital city, down the hills through historic neighborhoods of the Alfama and Mouraria. Along the way, stop to admire the monumental Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the splendid River Tejo. Then, you will be transported back to Camilo Castelo Branco's 19th Century World - exploring magical villages and frontier castles perched high in the hilltops, learning ancient stories of heroic deeds, glorious battles and the romance of noblemen and the beautiful ladies of high society Portugal.

Good luck!

Note: Certain restrictions and rules apply.
The Coffee and a Book Chick site is not affiliated with Music Box Films, the Portuguese National Tourist Office, or any other company associated with the promotion, sale, and distribution of this film or contest.