Monday, March 30, 2015

GUEST BLOGGER (Author Connection)


How Reading Stories about Relationships can Make or Break your Own
a guest blog by Gerry Pirani

We've all read a story at least once that's moved us in mysterious ways. Why does a story have so much power? Storytelling is in our genes. As a species, we've learned how to cope with the unpredictability of life, the seeming randomness of it, and the vulnerability we face by telling tales and creating myths. 
Storage Solutions: there's always room for more books in life.

Non-fiction is published by traditional publishers far more frequently than fiction (novels, stories). People buy and read more non-fiction. But why? Perhaps we want to learn something new and not waste our time with imagination. 

But feeling for characters in a novel enhances our ability to have empathy for others. Stories can even help us gain awareness without feeling threatened or resistant. In other words, fiction can be therapeutic. No one's telling you to enhance these skills, it's just happening as a side effect when you read. When it's well-written and insightful, fiction can model better behaviors for us and improve our brain capacity. 

For example, studies show that readers of fiction - and particularly LITERARY FICTION - demonstrate higher aptitude when it comes to relationships. For more information, check out a useful summary in Gabe Begado's article in Mic.com here. 

In other words, well-written fiction may increase "emotional intelligence." 

So, the theory is this: If you read something that actually increases your emotional maturity and intelligence level, you're more likely to have good relationships. 

That's why it's important we select literature, films, and experiences with discernment. There's an ongoing argument about whether life imitates art or the other way around. Probably the truth is a bit of both. But because stories do hold such power, being careful of what we expose ourselves to, especially the sensationalism of negative or abusive versions of love, becomes imperative.

Yes, there's so much out there to choose from when searching for a book! Which is a great reason to find a good book reviewer whose opinion you respect just to narrow down the options. 

Over the course of the series The Search for Intelligent Life on Earth, my goal is to share a more meaningful approach to human relationships and a more adult (emotionally mature) interaction between lovers. The characters don't start out that way, of course. It's a learning curve.

This doesn't mean that the sex or relationship is bland. On the contrary, they get better and better. And isn't that what most of us want for our partnerships?

The concepts are in line with the themes of my blogs over the past few months, but the series demonstrates the growing pains when putting some of these ideas into practice. 

For communication skills in intimate relationships, check out my blog page here.


*******

About my Guest

Gerry Pirani is the author of The Search for Intelligent Life on Earth: A Story of Love, which is available now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and is the first in a series of stories about love, sex, and relationships. The search for meaning fuels this first novel about a group of young men as they attempt to navigate their way through life and relationships. Sequels are in the works. Pirani's characters have been called richly complex and irresistible, as the novelist has studied human behavior for millennia. For readers 18 and up. For more information: www.gerrypirani.com  


Check out my list of book reviews including my review of Pirani's novel, The Search for Intelligent Life on Earth, to help you find your next read! 



Friday, March 27, 2015

Family Movie Review: Divergent

In anticipation of the release of Insurgent, the second film adapted from the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, I watched the Divergent film again.  I was introduced to the series when my then sixth grade son started reading it. He made it through the first two novels. I read all three, but by the time I got to Allegiant, the third novel in the series, I was a bit over it all as well. 

Divergent
Shailene Woodley and Theo James star in this action-packed film. 

After watching the film again this week, I came to a few conclusions.  First, filmmakers did a great job of adapting the book into a movie and, second, it's a pretty darn good movie. BUT, as a "young adult" fiction series, is it right for your pre-teen?  

The answer is - probably not.  The story itself deals with concepts that younger children won't understand, and frankly, shouldn't be exposed to.  For example, there is quite a bit of graphic violence including a suicide and execution style homicides.  There is also much implied violence that filmmakers spare us from seeing, but it's effective nonetheless.  

Along the lines of The Hunger Games trilogy and The Maze Runner series, Divergent takes place in futuristic Chicago after humans all but completely destroy the planet - no surprise! The dystopian society is run in such a manner as to keep the people controlled and, therefore, powerless to ever resist authority. If they can't conform, they are a threat. And,while this is a very bleak look into our future, the overall implications will be too great for younger viewers to comprehend.  


If your middle-schooler is mature enough to read the novel, then she is old enough to see the film. However, read and watch along with her.


The biggest problem I had with the film - BEFORE I even saw it - was with the casting.  But, anytime a book is adapted to the big screen you run this risk as actors aren't always how readers imagined the characters. I was so disappointed in the casting of Shailene Woodley as our protagonist, Tris, that it threatened the likability of her character. And, Theo James as Tobias "Four" Eaton just couldn't pass as 19 years old - sorry! 

But, with that said, I will admit that Woodley's performance happily surprised me and James DID make the perfect Four. But, still, together, they just didn't jive.  Overall, none of the performances were riveting including those of Ashley Judd and Kate Winslet.   

No, what makes this film worth watching is the non-stop action and thematic story line.  If you can take yet another series about the ill-fate of our world, then this film is definitely worth seeing. It is much better than The Maze Runner, but not close to the caliber of The Hunger Games.  I am looking forward to seeing the sequel, Insurgent, in theaters now. 



The film is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality. 






For more of my Family Movie Reviews click here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Family Movie Review: The Breakfast Club - 30 Years Later!


I picked up the local paper yesterday to discover that my all-time favorite teen 80s film, John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, is celebrating its 30th Anniversary.  My initial reaction was, "They MUST have done the math wrong." But then my 12-year-old son kindly reminded me of how old I am. He's so helpful. 

With that said, I put the article aside because I just wasn't ready to read it - are all 40-somethings this damn sentimental!?

This morning, I felt brave enough to tackle this realization. And, upon finishing the article by Leslie Gray Streeter, I looked at my husband and asked, "Think he's ready for it?"

The Breakfast Club is R-rated mainly because of the language, but, sadly, it's nothing my son hasn't heard before having a New York Italian as a mother. Fine, there's also the pot smoking scene.  But, frankly, I've spoken to my son about drugs so what's the big deal, right? Except that in The Breakfast Club, it looks REALLLLY fun.  So that might not be the deterrent I'm looking for.

Oh, yes, and there's the scene where Judd Nelson puts his face in Molly Ringwald's crotch, as Streeter kindly reminds us of in her article.  However, that will be a perfect example for my son of what NOT to do and perfect timing with my post on talking to your teens about sexual violence.

Okay, so that's about it, right? Would I be a terrible parent if I let my seventh-grader watch it? Personally, I think the messages the movie has far outweigh the above concerns. The main message? No matter how different you think others outside your "social niche" might be, deep down you're all going through personal struggles and insecurities. We are not all that different despite the self-imposed teenage labels that are prominent in every high school in America. 

HOWEVER, there are more elements for parents to consider. The characters also discuss their sexual experiences, domestic violence, and suicide.  Do I really want to explain what a nymphomaniac is to my 12-year old? No, not really. So, guess this one, even the television version, will just have to wait a couple of years. 

But that doesn't mean I can't catch this one in the theater again! Special viewings are being offered in select theaters nationwide on March 26 and March 31.

In the end, this classic 1985 film of five very different high-school students who are forced to spend a Saturday in detention will forever remain dear to me and I look forward to the day when my sons are old enough to experience it for themselves. 

Ms. Streeter hit the nail on the head in her article when she wonders if, "they all at least nodded at each other in the hall on Monday."  And, I agree with her - probably not, and what a sad commentary on life that is. 




Click here for more of my Family Movie Reviews.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Family Movie Review: Dracula Untold

Spring Break was a great time for my sons and me to get in a few good family movie nights. And, since movie releases between the winter holidays and spring break are slim pickings we chose a few DVDs that we thought would make good flicks.

The first was Dracula Untold, a 2014 release starring Luke Evans as Dracula. You know, Luke Evans from The Hobbit - so, yeah, this film gets bonus points immediately!


"Sometimes the world no longer needs a hero. Sometimes what it needs is a monster."


Dracula Untold is a historical look at how Dracula became one of the most notorious monsters in the fictitious world.  And, like I discussed in my review of Maleficent, in Dracula Untold the viewers will without question be routing for this infamous villain. Now I am not going to sit here and say this film is movie-making at its finest, but I will say it was entertaining and definitely presented a new twist in the story of Dracula and vampire mythology. The prominent themes which I mention below are relevant commentaries on our society even today.

Plus, I'm a sucker for a tale where the villain turns out to be the good guy.

Imprisoned as a royal hostage by the Turk Sultan as a child, young Prince Vlad Dracula III was forced to fight in the Ottoman army.  He became the most feared warrior.  Years later, scarred with the memories and physical injuries of his past, Prince Vlad III rules peacefully over his land, but remains under the rule of the new Sultan, his evil brother.

In an act of ultimate sibling rivalry, the Sultan decides to enslave 1000 young boys from Vlad's territory including his nephew.  The Prince finds himself in a fight to save his son and his people from a repeated history that nearly destroyed him.  But, out-numbered and out-skilled, Prince Vlad must sacrifice his own humanity to save his people.  Eventually his people learn the truth about Prince Vlad III and now fear their vampire leader, leaving the prince wondering where all their gratitude is.

The prominent themes in the story are those that continue to reflect on our modern society.  

The most obvious is that a parent will stop at nothing to protect their child. This is evident by the countless sacrifices both Prince Vlad and his wife, Mirena, portrayed by Sarah Gadon, must make for their son. The film also touches base on the ideas that loyalty must often be based on blind-faith AND, quite simply, never jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts. But the most important theme in Dracula Untold  is the mere fact that even to this day, people fear what they do not understand.

The most noble of acts may have cost Dracula his humanity, but in the end proves that he is the real hero even if misunderstood.

The film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images, and some sensuality so I strongly caution parents.  After all, this is a horror film so expect a fair share of blood, gore, and corpses hung up on stakes - yes, literally!

The make-up and special effects are well-done and feature loads and loads of bats - and I LOVE bats, so this was a huge plus for me.



Overall, I feel this movie could be enjoyed by all age-appropriate members of the family and the unexpected ending leaves the viewer thirsty for more in a likely sequel.



Check out my Family Movie Reviews  page for more movie fun!


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Taking on Sexual Violence: A Must-Read for Teens and Parents

It's amazing how many people will watch a cute kitten or puppy video you post on social media, but try to post a short video on sexual violence and everyone shies away from it.  


Public Service Announcement in Ontario, Canada

Recently this ONE MINUTE video popped up on my Twitter feed and I re-tweeted it and shared it on Facebook - THREE SEPARATE TIMES.  A total of five people bothered to look at it despite the fact that I prefaced it with statements encouraging PARENTS to please watch it and discuss the content with their sons and daughters. 

Boys need to know that doing nothing makes them an accomplice to such acts.

I guess I am frustrated because I am tired of these types of behaviors not only going unpunished, but actually being celebrated.  Regardless of advances in women's rights, the topic of sexual assault still goes largely unrecognized by society. The attitudes of not wanting to get involved, boys will be boys, or, worse yet, she deserved it are archaic to say the least.  

I don't care how she posed on her Instagram, that was not consent to touch her! 

As a mother of two boys, it is obviously my responsibility to teach them to respect women - not an easy task in light of the media messages that surround them.  Yet just as important, it is my job to teach them that ignoring such behavior by others is just as unacceptable if not criminal.  Of course, parents want their children to do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. But, honestly, I am not afraid to pull the JAIL card on my sons if it means getting the message across. 

So, please, parents, take a minute and watch this video and discuss its message with your children. Middle and high school students should watch it for themselves before you discuss it.  Sexually active boys need to understand all the legal implications involved in engaging in sex without consent. Play it safe, if she is drunk or high she is unable to give legal consent - even if she is your girlfriend and the two of you have engaged in sexual relations in the past! 

Know the legal age of consent in your area. 

Unfortunately, even with consent there are laws your sons and daughters need to be aware of.  I saw countless cases come across my desk when I worked for the prosecutor's office of young men being unjustly charged with raping their girlfriends because her parents didn't like him.  Educate your children. 

The message in the video says it all.  "When you do nothing, you're helping him. But when you do something, you help her."  Be a hero! DO SOMETHING. 

For more information visit Ontario.ca/WhoWillYouHelp.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Going Vegan in 2015: Making the Transition

In my second installment of the series Going Vegan in 2015, I'm going to look at how one gets started with the transition toward veganism. Sure there are some people who can make the switch overnight - go cold turkey, so to speak. But for me, as I mentioned in Making the Choice, the transition has been building for some time and the final push was spread over two months.

It's okay to set deadlines and eliminate products gradually if need be.

As you know the elimination of poultry and fish (the last "meats" I was eating) back in December was fairly simple.  I did partake in my mother's Italian seafood feast on Christmas Eve because I am realistic and know that I am the type of person that needs to find my own path.  But, in my defense, the holidays aren't exactly a good time to alter any lifestyle or diet - especially so drastically.  So I allowed myself some slack. 

By January 1, however, all meat along with dairy and eggs were eliminated with one final exception. I still couldn't give up the creamer in my coffee.  The good news was my coffee machine broke at the same time (how's that for an omen) and, therefore, so did my coffee intake - creamer and all.  Still, I set a deadline of January 31, for the last time I can indulge in cream in my coffee.  In the meantime, I experimented with different options such as soy, almond, and coconut milks.  It took me a while to find an alternative I love as much as half and half, but while experimenting I discovered that all of a sudden my morning cup of coffee wasn't as important.  Even more fascinating, was that when I did indulge in dairy creamer in those final weeks, my stomach felt a bit queasy afterwards - just another reason why coffee became less of a necessity for me.

I have since discovered cashew milk - my new favorite dairy substitute for my coffee!! 


Eliminating the obvious was easy. However, becoming vegan means you will have to educate yourself on names of ingredients that you never had to consider before. For example, if a product says dairy free but then casein is listed as an ingredient - it's not dairy free. This can be very frustrating.  I've also learned that to be labeled vegan, the product must be processed in a facility where there is no risk of cross-contamination with animal products. The whole world of labels is a massive topic and probably one for a separate post. But use your transition time to learn some basics regarding ingredients and labeling. There are some useful apps out there, too, like Animal-Free available on Android and Apple, so check them out!



You might be surprised to learn that some items on your menu are not vegan despite appearing to be. For instance, my shocker was wine!  How is that not vegan??!!  Well, apparently they strain the wine through animal-based filters. Seriously?  Needless to say, I haven't had wine since the holidays either.  


Anyone want to suggest a tasty vegan wine?

The key is to find vegan versions of your favorite foods and the first few months is a perfect time  to explore what's out there.  The chart above gives some substitution ideas.  It's also helpful to refer to vegan websites and join a Google+ vegan community for tips and recipes. This is especially helpful if you don't have any vegan friends you can easily access for information.

For those of you who may be interested in learning more about the benefits of veganism, I suggest you check out Gary Yourofsky's website.  He doesn't sugar-coat the statistics and health risks involved with eating animal products. I will warn you that some of the material is graphic.  However, these are the images that keep me on the right track, because I cannot stand the cruelty that lies in the animal food industry.  On the rare days I do look longingly at a piece of cheese (which, honestly, hasn't happened as much as I thought it would) I just have to recall the horrific reality of the so-called life and brutal death of these animals and the craving passes immediately.  Going vegan means finding your own motivations. Once you've discovered the "why" the "how" is easy. 

As always, I encourage comments and suggestions particularly from current and former vegans. 

For more articles in this series, visit Going Vegan in 2015. 



P.S. International Normalized Ratio (INR) is a blood test that measures the time it takes for blood to clot. Learn more about what an INR blood test result means for you by going to this article from our sponsor, INRTracker, or this wikipedia link.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Remember When......A Mother Reminisces

Every mother of older children, even grown children, will quite frequently get a glimpse of something - typically a young mother with her baby, toddler, or preschooler - and will instantly recall those days of years ago when her own children were that little.  With these thoughts, come the flood of memories.  I had one of these moments this morning and decided to share it with you, along with the many others that often cross my mind. Perhaps some of you may relate to one or two.  

1. Knowing the phone number to my OB/GYN by heart. Lord knows during pregnancy she and her staff became like a second family.

2. Picking out the perfect car seat / stroller set was more stressful than applying for college because my baby's comfort depended on it.

3. Sticking to a feeding, sleeping, and, let's face it, breathing schedule meant the difference between sane mommy and bat-shit crazy mommy!

4. A big morning out was a visit to the playground or a walk around the mall with a fellow mom - Starbucks in hand.  Even to this day, every time I see a mother pushing her child in a stroller at the mall, I can't help but remember the countless hours I did that.  After all, it is air-conditioned, a huge factor when living in FL!

5. The backseat of my car typically had a couple of half-empty sippy-cups containing warm, two-day old apple juice and there were star-shaped puffs and cheerios scattered about and in between the seats.

6. Getting my toddlers down for a nap seemed to take an act of Congress on some days yet I'd stop at nothing to see this goal achieved.  Why?  See memory #3.

7. Going to the library was a weekly event: story time, friends, and piles of books.  My sons would check out the same ones over and over again.  And, in case any new parents are reading this, exposure to books at an early age won't guarantee your child will grow up loving to read - but expose them anyway!

8. Strolls around the neighborhood in the wagon fully decked out in costumes still worn from playing dress-up earlier in the day.  Sometimes the children next door would pile in as well and make it a real party!

9. Watching "educational" television snuggled on the couch to try and decompress after a long day.  Because, if the children weren't reading by age five, there was no way they would get into Harvard.

10. The sound of giggles - lots and lots of giggles, the kind that a young child makes when you blow raspberries on their bellies. One can surely never tire of those. Record your toddler giggling - I wish I had.

I can remind you to enjoy your babies and toddlers because they grow up fast - but you've heard it all before. What I will ask you to remember, when you're exhausted and ready to pull your hair out and when the crying and tantrums won't stop, is that there will be a day when you'll crave for the innocence of these days.

Moms and Dads of older children: What are your favorite memories of the first few years?



Read more of my blog here.



Friday, March 6, 2015

GUEST BLOGGER (Book Review)

                              
Democracy by Henry Adams
a review by Alisha T

Book Summary


Madeleine Lee, is a 30-year old widow living in New York. When she was 25 she lost, in quick succession, her husband and her baby. Lee and her sister, Sybil Ross board the train from New York to go to the capital in the search of "the mysterious gem which must lie somewhere in politics." She wants POWER. However, she finds an ill assorted group of men corrupted by greed, power, and money. 

Madeleine Lee is bored to tears by New York and chooses to go to Washington to be close to the hustle and bustle of the cities and close to center of politics. Mrs. Lee travels with her sister Sybil and they arrive in the capital. In no time Madeleine and her sister become involved in the center of social life and her living room becomes the social meeting place for people in the city, including senators John Carrington and Silas P. Ratcliffe. When she arrived in Washington she had no intentions of becoming romantically involved with a man, however two men in the group, the aforementioned Carrington and Ratcliffe, begin to develop romantic interests in the wealthy and attractive Madeleine. However there is differences in their love. John Carrington is sincerely in love with her, but Silas P. Ratcliffe, while he may be truly in love with her, is more interested in using Madeleine to help advance his political career.    

Over the time Lee is in Washington she gains more and more insight into the middle of political life. Ratcliffe sees his chances of marriage to Lee fade so he employs a complex plan to get rid of Carrington by setting up a well paying job in Mexico for his rival - who has little money - and cannot help accepting the offer. Little by little Ratcliffe brings Lee into a tricky positions in which he thinks that her only choice is to marry him. However, Carrington and Ross have also concocted a plot. Ross, who is very much against her sister's possible marriage to Ratcliffe begs Carrington to help her. Carrington agrees to do what he can and leaves behind a sealed letter which he tells Ross to give to Lee is she decides to marry Ratcliffe,  Lee is on the very cusp of accepting Ratcliffe's proposal when Ross comes to the rescue. She gives Lee the letter in which Carrington accuses Ratcliffe of being corrupt, in particular it accuses him of having taken graft during an election campaign nearly a decade ago. In a dramatic climax Lee turns down Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe then goes into the street and nearly gets into a fistfight with a visiting international ambassador. 

Sickened by the corruptness in politics, Madeleine Lee now wish to traveling internationally, preferably to Egypt. Sybil, who has become Carrington's confidante, pens him a quick letter in which she tells him to try to propose to her sister once they return from Egypt.  

To use an analogy one could say that Lee represents America. "America" must choose between corruption (Ratcliffe, who is after POWER), and the path to a better nation (Carrington). In the end as a democratic nation it is virtually the people's choice. America can choose corruption or the way to a better nation. The people must choose the path that leads to a better end than corruption. 


                                                  My Thoughts

Overall I really enjoyed Democracy. I think that Democracy provides a good cautionary tale against corruption and greed in politics. While Democracy deals with real and serious issues like corruption it is also an easy and fun read due to the traditional romantic aspect incorporated into the novel. Democracy is a good book for high-schoolers, but anyone over the age of 12 would probably understand it (but they may want to look up some of the vocabulary words in the dictionary!) Democracy is one of the most valuable tales about Washington and politics because the author, Adams, lived his story! Adams came from one of the most political families in his era, his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all either ambassadors or presidents of the United States. However, Henry Adams was disgusted by the corruption in politics and decided to become a writer in lieu of a politician. Thus, Democracy was his story. 


I give the book a 9/10. I would have liked to find out what happened to Lee after she returned from Egypt. 


About My Guest




Alisha is a book review blogger. She has always liked to read, but has just recently begun writing a blog. Alisha has worked at restaurants, in agriculture, and is currently self-employed. Alisha lives with her family in the South-West United States. You can read more of Alisha's blog at myrainydayreads15.blogspot.com.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Little Disappointed With This Acclaimed Romance Author (Book Review)


"After all, she had known the kind of love that was worth risking everything for, the kind of love that was as rare as a glimpse of heaven." ~ The Best of Me

My exposure to Nicholas Sparks is limited to seeing the movie adaptations of his romance novels The Notebook, one of my all time favorite films, and Safe Haven, which made a decent movie, nothing more. The only other novel by Sparks I've read up until now is Three Weeks With My Brother, a memoir written with his brother, Micah, which I thoroughly enjoyed. When the film version of The Best of Me was released in 2014, I knew I'd want to see it, but this time I decided to read the book first!  After all, Sparks is considered one of the premier romance writers of our time. 

The story is the classic tale of two young lovers, Dawson and Amanda, from opposite sides of the tracks.  Their love is doomed from the start, her parents and small town society forbidding the relationship.  But when tragedy strikes tearing the two of them apart, life just seems to go on autopilot.....until fate would have them reunite twenty-five years later.  


".....she'd lost sight of the person she'd once meant to be, and she wasn't sure she'd ever have the opportunity to find that person again." ~ The Best of Me


The death of a mutual friend brings the couple back to their small town where they grew up and fell in love, but things are different now, more complicated, and both have suffered horrible events. Amanda is married with three children and has learned that, while marriage is difficult under normal circumstances, becoming too familiar and predictable, it can become fatal when struck with tragedy. 

Dawson, too, has lived a hard life of injustice coupled with the haunting fact he never was able to let his love for Amanda go.  

Although the main premise behind the rich girl - poor boy love story is cliche, it is easy for the reader to quickly and easily get involved in their romance and in the touching back stories that bring them together once more.  

"...and though in many ways a lifetime had elapsed in the years they had been apart, she had the uncanny feeling that they'd never lost contact at all." ~ The Best of Me

However, this novel, which is gut-wrenching at times, failed to evoke any deep emotions from me because it was so predictable.  The ending was especially a disappointment because by the time I reached the last several chapters I knew exactly where the rest of the story was going - and I hate that!  I like to be kept on the edge of my seat until the very end.  

I believe Sparks now writes novels with the intent of them becoming screenplays.  Even the story is written in the style of a script with "scenes" flowing the way a film does.  He's definitely not the only author to do this, but nonetheless, it has a detrimental effect on the quality of the book. 

Overall, I would recommend this one to readers of romance novels and those who have enjoyed his other books. Otherwise, and I don't think I've ever said this before, perhaps you're better off just watching the movie! 

Someday I hope to go back and read The Notebook just out of curiosity.  If any of you have read other novels by Sparks that you think I should give a try, please type it in the comments section below. 



Click here  for more of my book reviews.