Friday, October 30, 2015

Nik's Piks: Halloween Movie Favorites for Families

Happy Halloween-EVE!  

In case you missed my month-long series of Halloween family movies, I am going to recap them for you again today.  AND, I am throwing in some others that I've previously reviewed.  I hope you all have a fun and safe Halloween.  Happy Haunting! PG)

If you've ever wondered what it would be like if monsters escaped their books and became real, you are about to find out. The small, quiet town becomes overtaken by R. L. Stine's fictitious monsters and the characters must write their way out of the mess. From the Abominable Snowman to a giant praying mantis, from a werewolf to zombies - the film is filled with intense monsters that will have you holding on to the arms of your chair. It will also, ironically, have you laughing aloud as the cast delivers one humorous line after another. Read my complete review here. (Rated PG)

The film centers around Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, and the other ghoulish residents of Halloweentown. As yet another Halloween comes to an end, Jack realizes that he is bored with the same old Halloween traditions. Tomorrow he and the mayor of the town will begin preparations for next year's Halloween. Distraught with the realization that this is all there is to life, Jack walks all night through the forest and in the morning stumbles upon a secret passage to another place - Christmastown! Read my complete review here. 
(Rated PG)

Holy rabies!  I completely forgot how laugh-out-loud funny Hotel Transylvania is. The screenplay is just brilliant, filled with more one-liners than viewers can possible catch in a single sitting. Any "inappropriate" lines will go right over the heads of younger viewers, but will keep older kids and adults enthralled. Read my complete review here.
(Rated PG-13)

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. Read my complete review here.

 (Rated PG)

Ghostbusters remains a classic that is fun to share with your children of appropriate age. Peter (Murray), Egon (Ramis), and Ray (Aykroyd) are parapsychologists teaching at a university. They lose their grant, but with the increase in supernatural activity being reported in NYC, they decide to open up their own business and profit from the epidemic of ghosts plaguing the city. After their first successful capture of a ghost, they become instant heroes and are in high demand.  Read my complete review here.

(Rated PG)

Frankenweenie is in black and white and, frankly, I can't imagine it any other way. It is a spoof of old (I mean really old) horror movies and will make you laugh and probably shed a tear or two. I know because it gets me every time. In fact, halfway through the movie my older son called from the other room, "Is she crying yet?" UGH! I was. Read my complete review here.

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Costumes of Halloween Past

Kitty Design by my son

My eleven year old son started digging through my linen closet this morning.  He emerged holding our collection of Halloween nail polish - white, orange, black, and green. He handed me the green bottle and said, "Here, this is for the costume I am putting together for you." 

"Oh, yeah, tell me about it," I said. 

"I think it is going to be like a witch. Don't mind me this afternoon while I rummage through your closet to look for things for you to wear."

So, in our normal fashion, here we are two days before Halloween (although, quite frankly, it has often been the night before) and my son and I are going to be scrambling to come up with a costume for me.  Every year I say I am not going to dress up, but then without fail, my elementary school students would beg me to. Last year was the first in several that I did not dress up because I wasn't teaching. And, even though I am not teaching this year either, I think my son just wants me to be all costumed up for trick-or-treating. 

It had me thinking about some of my previous concoctions.  Now, remember, I have always come up with these costumes a day or two beforehand and very rarely purchase anything, but rather use items I already have in my house.  While creative, in my opinion, not all my costumes were appreciated. 

There was the year I was a ladybug - still one of my favorite costumes and one of the few that had me adorning store-bought accessories - aka - the wings! Then there was the year I kind of, sort of....was a cat. But by the middle of the day I was tired of the kids pulling my tail so I ended the day simply dressed all in black. 

Then, in a what I call my most creative - but oddly received - costume, I was the ocean.  I dressed in an ocean colored sarong, wore a long blue wig, and carried a stuffed animal dolphin and orca with me. I must have heard "What are you supposed to be?" a thousand times that day.  My most favorite costume, particularly among my students, was the crazy cat lady.  I wore clothes covered in fur - thanks to my beloved cat Hunter - my hair was a mess, and I had a bunch of beanie baby cats stuck to my body.  Simple and fun! 

One year, when I was in charge of the Safety Patrol at the school, I took a risk.  Under the pressure from students and some staff, I borrowed a fifth grader's school uniform, put my hair in pigtails and threw a patrol belt across me.  Now, before you get any ideas, this was completely a G-rated costume. The jumper was at my knees and loose fitting.  Yet, still, the principal took one look at me, shook her head, and walked into her office. 

My final year as a teacher (No, this isn't WHY it was my last year) I merely dressed up in Halloween colors - all black with orange and black tights.  Unfortunately, all the kids kept calling me a witch - which was a huge no-no at the Christian school - and so, once again, I was getting the evil eye from administration.  

So, after a year off from having to publicly embarrass myself, I will once again be throwing together something to wear on Halloween night. Honestly, my older son has a Harry Potter cape in his closet I have been dying to wear, but I don't think that is what my youngest has in mind. 

At least this year I can throw on my witch hat, put on green nail polish, and be the baddest witch in the neighborhood. As far as pictures are concerned, the few pictures I do have of these costume disasters have my former students in them and I certainly can't share those. Honestly, it is probably a blessing.  

Happy Halloween, everyone! 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Nik's Piks: Thriller / Crime Series

As a continuation of my Nik's Piks book collection (favorite books by genre), I bring you my top three thriller / crime series - two of which have new releases that I can't wait to read!

Click here to read my selections of Memoirs and Women's Fiction

Enjoy and Happy Reading!


Cormoran Strike Series, Robert GalbraithThe Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) is the newest on my list of series and already includes two best- selling novels, The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm.  The third novel,  in this detective series, Career of Evil, was just released October 20, 2015 and I can't wait to read it!  This is a  sexy and intelligent crime series with characters that readers will instantly connect with. Rowling plans seven total books for this series and in development is a new BBC One drama series based on the novels.

Millenium Series, Stieg Larsson
Known as the Millennium series, this thriller / crime series by Stieg Larsson takes place in Sweden, primarily Stockholm. In fact, after visiting the city a few years ago, I came home and immediately started reading the series that refers to real landmarks and locations in this magnificent city.  The plots are very intense, sometimes brutal, with suspense that will have you on the edge of your seat. Unfortunately, up until August of this year, the series was cut short due to Larsson's death.  The newly released fourth book, The Girl in the Spider's Web - top on my To-Be-Read list - was written by David Lagercrantz.  The first novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was adapted to film by American filmmakers, but we are still waiting on the sequels. All three novels have already been adapted to film in Swedish versions

Robert Langdon series, Dan Brown
The Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown is my absolute favorite series in this genre. I have read all four novels in the series, but, ironically, I started with book four, Inferno, and worked my way backwards (which wasn't a problem at all). Set in major cities throughout the world, these novels will have your mind spinning with history and intrigue. For me, the subject matter in each of these novels is what made them so fantastic. The Lost Symbol is quite possibly my favorite of series.  The series gained even more notoriety when Tom Hanks played Professor Langdon in two film adaptations of the novels, Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code.  Inferno is due to be released in theaters In October 2016 and remains to this day the only novel to ever give me nightmares because of its intensity. 

 Check out my Book Reviews too! 

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Nightmare Before Christmas: Family Movie Review

The Nightmare Before Christmas reviewFrom the imagination of Tim Burton comes one of the most popular Halloween family films, The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I am a bit embarrassed to say that up until this week, I had never seen it.  It's not that I didn't want to.  The opportunity just never arose. My older son has never had an interest, and my younger son never watched it in its entirety - just bits and pieces here and there.  He told me yesterday that he didn't particularly care for it, but "maybe I was just too young at the time."  

His statement made me laugh but also contradicted what I was going to say about the film.  Despite its creepy ghouls, goblins, and the sort, I think this film is actually best suited for younger viewers.  None of the spooky characters seemed all that scary to me, but, of course, each child is different so parents might want to watch the film first.  

The film centers around Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, and the other ghoulish residents of Halloweentown.  As yet another Halloween comes to an end, Jack realizes that he is bored with the same old Halloween traditions. Tomorrow he and the mayor of the town will begin preparations for next year's Halloween.  Distraught with the realization that this is all there is to life, Jack walks all night through the forest and in the morning stumbles upon a secret passage to another place - Christmastown! 

Mesmerized by the scene before him of Christmas trees, lights, joyous songs, and warm and happy feelings, Jack decides to bring this magic to Halloweentown.  After all, why can't good feelings and smiles replace monsters and scary moans?  Upon returning to Halloweentown, Jack can't wait to share the wonders he has discovered in Christmastown.  Unfortunately, the residents of Halloweentown have a difficult time comprehending it all.  Jack decides he will help them understand by bringing Christmas to them.  He will personally take over the Christmas holiday. But, to do that, he must first kidnap Santa Claus! 

I don't want to spoil the rest for you, but here are some things parents need to know.  Although the film is filled with the creepiest of monsters, they are, at the same time, sort of adorable, in a Tim Burton kind of way. (Picture Jack's ghost-dog, Zero, with a red nose and skeleton reindeer to pull the coffin sled.)  Also, The Nightmare Before Christmas is in fact a musical!  Chris Sarandon is wonderful as Jack Skellington, but it is Danny Elfman, who does the singing for Jack's character, that steals the film with his magnificent vocals. 

 Watch Official Trailer

I did not intentionally pick two Tim Burton films for my month of Halloween family films. But I have really been wanting to see this film, and, although I didn't love it, it is simply perfect for a fun Halloween family movie.  The Nightmare Before Christmas is rated PG for for horrific images and some animated violence.  But I have to tell you, I've seen worse on Saturday morning cartoons. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Funk

Good morning! 

For my readers who are checking in for my Monday book review, I am sorry to disappoint.  Unfortunately, it would appear that I am in a book funk.  I find myself once again halfway through a book that I am disappointed in.  There are elements that I like that will keep me going until the end, but it doesn't have that "can't put the book down" quality I was hoping for from this author.

I could have put together another Nik's Piks list, but, with the release of Goosebumps, my allocated writing time was taken up this weekend and I don't like to just throw posts together.

There is a children's book that I will be reviewing just in time for the holidays (Honestly, it has been sitting on my desk since LAST Christmas!)  And, have received another children's book, a non-fiction,  that is sitting on my desk also waiting to be reviewed. 

My time is also being consumed by other endeavors.  I am currently in the middle of editing and collaborating with an author of a young adult mystery novel.  Plus, as you may already know, I have picked up a second volunteer shift at one of the local animal shelters, and have been feverishly volunteering at my sons' school where we are required to complete thirty hours.  The book fair just finished and the next big event will be the Thanksgiving feast which I will be helping with despite my oldest son's pleas not to.

So, again, sorry to disappoint those who may have stopped by for a new book review. I promise to get something done for next Monday.  In the meanwhile, I encourage you to check out my review of Brooklyn whose film adaptation is due out this November.

Lastly, please let me know if you've recently read a book that you loved and want to recommend to me. I am desperate for new suggestions. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Goosebumps: Family Movie Review

"I was so angry at the real world, that I created these monsters." ~ Goosebumps

Just back from viewing Goosebumps - this weekend's top anticipated movie release for families. Prior to seeing the film, the only knowledge I had of the Goosebumps franchise was that it is a very popular children's horror series written by R. L. Stine. Ironically, when my son was in second grade, the book covers alone scared him so we never experienced their magic.  However, now 11 years old, he was won over by the trailers and his appreciation for the talents of Jack Black who portrays Stine and agreed to go see the film with me. 

Goosebumps movie
 Black, Minnette, Rush, and Lee star in this horror comedy

Dylan Minnette was excellent as Zach, a high school student who moves from NYC to Madison, Delaware with his mom, played by Amy Ryan.  They move next door to the mysterious and reclusive neighbor who turns out to be none other than the writer, R. L. Stine, and his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush).  When Zach thinks he witnesses suspicious activity occurring in the Stine home that threatens Hannah's safety, he and classmate, Champ (Ryan Lee), rush to her aid.  Unfortunately, they stumble upon Stine's collection of locked Goosebumps books.  They quickly learn that there is a reason the books are locked!  

If you've ever wondered what it would be like if monsters escaped their books and became real, you are about to find out.  The small, quiet town becomes overtaken by Stine's fictitious monsters and Zach, Hannah, Champ, and Stine must write their way out of the mess.  From the Abominable Snowman to a giant praying mantis, from a werewolf to zombies - the film is filled with intense monsters that will have you holding on to the arms of your chair. It will also, ironically, have you laughing aloud as the cast delivers one humorous line after another. 

 Watch Official Trailer

  "Every story ever told can be broken down into three distinct parts: the beginning, the middle, and a twist."  ~ Goosebumps

And the twist in this one is.......nah, you're going to have to see for yourself.  Although not brilliant filmmaking by any means, Goosebumps is a fun family flick perfect for Halloween!  My son and I both thoroughly enjoyed it.  The film is rated PG for scary and intense creature action and images and for some rude humor. I would strongly caution parents not to bring children under the age of eight or nine. As they say in the film, these are not bedtime stories! 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Friday, October 16, 2015

Frankenweenie: Family Movie Review

As part of my month long of Halloween movie favorites for families, I am re-sharing my review of Frankenweenie previously published. In typical Tim Burton fashion, this stop-motion animated film is artistic, touching and thought-provoking. 
The other night I suggested to my younger son we get in the Halloween mood by watching a movie. His pick was Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, a bizarre twist on the 1931 movie version of Mary Shelley's classic, Frankenstein.  With Halloween just around the corner, and because I like this movie so much, I just had to write a review for those who haven't seen it yet. However, I must caution parents that Frankenweenie, with a PG rating, can be quite scary for young children and deals with disturbing subject matter. 

The film is in black and white and, frankly, I can't imagine it any other way.  It is a spoof of old (I mean really old) horror movies and will make you laugh and probably shed a tear or two.  I know because it gets me every time.  In fact, halfway through the movie my older son called from the other room, "Is she crying yet?"  UGH! I was. 

In the movie, Victor Frankenstein loses his dog, Sparky, after it is hit by a car.  The bond between Victor, who doesn't have many other friends, and Sparky is heart-warming and beautifully portrayed. Victor is unable to be consoled by his parents who try to explain that those we love never really die, they live forever in our hearts. Unable to let go, Victor decides to use electricity to bring back his deceased dog after his science teacher shows the class how a dead frog's muscles will still react to this power source. Of course, the experiment works, but chaos ensues afterwards when others try to duplicate Victor's experiment.  
 Official Clip

Victor, played by actor Charlie Tahan, is my favorite character.  But it is science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voice by Martin Landau) who delivers us the thought-provoking message that addresses the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by scientists.  "Science is not good or bad, Victor, but it can be used both ways." In other words, just because you can, doesn't mean you should.  A true scientist must always examine his motives. Mr. Rzykruski reminds Victor that people like what science gives them but not the questions science asks.
Frankenweenie's PG rating is for thematic elements, scary images and action.  For all Tim Burton fans and for families with older children, grab your popcorn -and a tissue or two -and enjoy! 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Exercise Results Through Osmosis?

My son walked in on me perusing my Pinterest Board entitled "Get Fit Now."  It is a great board filled with tons of workouts, healthy eating tips, and motivational fitness quotes. You should really check it out. After you finish reading this post, of course. 

The problem is, while I like to pin to this board and even glance back at the various exercises from time to time, I rarely use them. Sure, when I first created the board I did (a little), but as with most of my fitness endeavors, that didn't last long.  As I've been told, they aren't going to work via osmosis.

Damn it!

I jokingly turned to my son and said, "I really need to start doing some of these. Walking just isn't cutting it."

"How about no phone until you've done 30 minutes of exercise," he suggested.

WHAT? Who asked this kid, anyway?  "No - next suggestion please."

He walked over to my monitor and pointed to this pin.

Exhibit A

We both started laughing.

"Okay, okay," I said. "Go ahead and pick one out for me and that's the one I'll do today. Just make sure it is a routine that will work my arms, chest, stomach, lower abs, hips, butt, and/or thighs. Don't worry about my feet, they're good."  He giggled.

While I went in the other room to make his breakfast, he scrolled through all my fitness pins. (Probably more than necessary, but considering the number of photos of amazingly fit, scantily clad women, I can't blame him.) Bet you want to check that board out now, huh?

He finally called to me, "Found one, mom!"

Exhibit B

My jaw dropped when I saw the one he chose (see Exhibit B). Oh geez, not THAT one. It was a workout I've actually done in the past, with zero enjoyment I may add. I tried to convince him to pick another one, but he once again referred to Exhibit A above.  Gggrrrrrr.

"I got you there? Huh, mom?"

"FINE! I'll do it," I conceded.

And complete it, I did. (Confession - minus the burpees, maybe next time. I wanted to be able to get out of bed the next day.)
But tomorrow, I'm picking my routine - provided I can even walk.  At the very least I will be certain to pin more workouts!  You know, for the next time my son calls me out on my non-existent fitness routine.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Love Line (Short Story Review)

NOTE: I received this book free from the author requesting an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's rules and guidelines.

 "Too many men in her life had asked for her understanding and on occasion she had tortured herself further by giving it." ~ Love Line

For all those who have ever admired someone from afar and wondered if their crush would ever notice them, this one is for you. Love Line by David Hall is a playful, flirty short story with the right amount of sensuality, humor, and suspense. 

In his debut publication, Hall brings to life likable characters and situations that readers will relate to.  Catherine has been admiring Marcus, aka "Tube Man," every weekday on the London Tube for a year, fantasizing about the time she actually captures his eye.  Just when Catherine and her friends are convinced this infatuation is never going to go anywhere, a mishap finally gets Marcus' attention. Will Catherine be able to use this to her advantage and propel the two of them into a relationship? And, if so, will it be the dream relationship she has been envisioning for a year?

Gabrielle Zevin, in her novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, states that great writers must master the art of the short story.  I would say that Hall is off to a wonderful start.  Love Line is a quick, fun read with an unexpected ending that will leave you wanting more. My regular readers know how difficult it is for an author to surprise me, but Hall succeeded. I highly recommend this story especially, although not exclusively, to fans of chick lit.

I know readers aren't always inclined to give indie authors a try, but what better way than with a short story - no long term commitment!  Love Line is available electronically on Amazon.

Read more of my Book Reviews. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ghostbusters: Family Movie Review

The 1984 classic, Ghostbusters, starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts (phew - what a cast!) is first on my list of October fun picks for family movie night.  Even today, audiences of this movie can't help but shout out "Ghostbusters!" anytime someone asks, "Who you gonna call?" However, I will caution parents up front.  This is yet another one of my "highlighted classics" that was rated prior to the implementation of a PG-13 rating.  

Ghostbusters is rated PG for sci-fi violence, language, some scary images and brief suggestive content.  After watching this film again for the first time in decades, this time with my eleven year old,  I can confidently say this film would today be rated PG-13 for all the above reasons - language and content in particular. The language is stronger than in any other PG film I can recall, and, in addition to seductive scenes with Sigourney Weaver (at one point my son said, "Wow, she's showing a lot of skin!") there are references to menstruation and the main characters have cigarettes in their mouths throughout the film.  

All that aside, Ghostbusters remains a classic that is fun to share with your children of appropriate age.  Peter (Murray), Egon (Ramis), and Ray (Aykroyd) are parapsychologists teaching at a university. They lose their grant, but with the increase in supernatural activity being reported in NYC, they decide to open up their own business and profit from the epidemic of ghosts plaguing the city.  After their first successful capture of a ghost, they become instant heroes and are in high demand.  

"We came, we saw, we kicked his ass!" ~ Ghostbusters

However, they quickly learn that the entire city is at risk of being taken over by paranormal creatures from another dimension. At the heart of the crisis are Dana (Weaver) and Louis (Moranis) who both become possessed.  There is an exorcism-like scene complete with levitation as Peter attempts to rid Dana of the spirit possessing her body.

In my opinion, none of the ghosts are too scary, but very young children might feel differently. What captured my son's attention the most (my future film director) was the very outdated special effects which he found humorous and limited the scare-factor.  And, who doesn't love the Stay Puft marshmellow man?  Overall, Ghostbusters is a fun film to kick-off a month of Halloween family movies as long as parents are aware that it is really a PG-13 film.  

 Watch Official Trailer

Read my review of the REBOOT Ghostbusters 2016

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Homework Overload

I completely understand my son's frustration - I really do! He doesn't get math homework for weeks on end and then gets 30 problems in one night. (I really never understood why teachers did that kind of crap. I'd rather my son have 5 problems every night than 30 in one.)  AND, of course, it is a night we have soccer. No, not even for him - for his brother.

However, I really don't see why he has to take his anger out on me. Just today I was having lunch with my friend and I was complimenting this same son on his ability to completely take control of his own school assignments. No more homework battles, no whining - he just manages his time and workload beautifully. (Although, I'd like to think this success has something to do with the years of teaching him time management and study habits.)

But tonight, the 30 math problems (his absolute worst subject) was just too much and, coupled with the fact that he was going to have to sit through yet another one of his older brother's events, proved to be too much for this kid.

Math homework

There was yelling......there was crying.....and, at one point, there was even a pencil thrown. Seriously? What are you - two? Now that I think about it, there may have been some cursing, but he is MY son, so........I'll take the fall for that form of expression. 

I can relate. I never liked math, although I did fairly well in the classes I took because grades mattered to me. I don't think I got my first C on an assignment until I was in college and that was on an exam I took two days after having my tonsils out and was completely doped up on pain medication. Yet, for some reason, my sons think it is completely acceptable to come home with Cs.  News Flash: IT. REALLY. ISN'T.

I think what frustrates me most is that my sons have a built in teacher as a mom and a math wiz as a dad - something, quite frankly, that could come in handy if they would stop freaking out and learn to take advantage of that. As much as I dislike math, I am usually very good at explaining things - so even if my husband has to explain it to me, I am then, usually, better at teaching the skill. There's just one catch to this method.  MY SONS HAVE TO BE WILLING TO LISTEN, which, of course, nine times out of ten, they aren't.


I guess I should be grateful that math is the only subject matter that evokes such an outburst from him. My older son basically has this attitude toward every subject and assignment. At one point or another both sons have told us we don't know what we're talking about. Sigh. 

Is it summer vacation yet? 

Related articles: 

Battle on the Homework Front

Fostering Independence Through Homework

Monday, October 5, 2015

Brooklyn (Book Review)

I bumped into this book, quite literally, at the bookstore and the title immediately caught my attention.  The display was promoting the film adaptation which is coming to U.S. theaters this November. When I read the book blurb, I knew I wanted to give this a read. 

 "The answer was that there was no answer, that nothing she could do would be right." ~ Brooklyn

Set outside Dublin and in New York in the early 1950s, Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín is a coming-of-age story about a young Irish woman, Eilis, who emigrates to Brooklyn for a chance at a better life.  Leaving behind everything and everyone she knows, she must learn to adjust away from the only life she's ever known in a strange, new world. 

Over time things fall into place for naive, sheltered Eilis - a job, an education, even a first love - and she truly blossoms. When an unexpected event occurs that threatens her new life, Eilis must make the dreadful choice between her own happiness and family obligations.  There are heartbreaking moments as Eilis battles between her own conflicting desires and being true to herself.  There are times she and her life are so manipulated by others that my heart bled for her. 

"He seemed part of a dream from which she had woken with considerable force some 
time before, and in this waking time his presence, once so solid, lacked any real substance or form; it was merely a shadow at the edge of every moment of the day and night." 
~ Brooklyn

Brooklyn is so beautifully written, so authentic, I felt like I melted into the pages. Tóibín captures the innocence of the era wonderfully including the strong family relationships and unspoken social etiquette and pure romance between men and women. Honestly, it is one of those novels that I cannot say enough good things about, but I will admit that it will not be for everyone. Do not expect edge of your seat suspense or in your face action. This book is pure heart and soul and poetic storytelling as it focuses on the inherently assumed sacrifices often made by women. I must have read the last paragraph of the novel five times or more, each time letting it sink further and further into my psyche.  Along with the readings came both tears of pain and smiles of warmth.

My English literature degree specializes in Irish literature, yet it has been years since I read an Irish author. However, I have since added another of Tóibín's novels to my TBR list. Between my own connections to both Ireland (where I studied for a semester) and Brooklyn (where I was born and spent a great deal of my childhood), this novel spoke volumes to me. I loved the historical references to the different nationalities living in Brooklyn and how they interacted with each other and brought back many memories of my own upbringing.  

I just watched the film trailer and I cannot wait to see this film!

Read more of my Book Reviews

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Is High School the New College?

Last night we attended a high school showcase for all eighth graders and their parents to check out area high school programs. Gone are the days, at least in Florida, where children automatically attend the school in their neighborhood. No, here it is a huge decision (and process) as parents decide which school has the best "choice" or "magnet" program for their kids. 

The school district, along with public charter schools and private schools, offer a wide variety of studies and are similar to college majors - because don't all 14-year-olds know what they want to be when they grow up!?  Courses of study are offered in pre-engineering, pre-law, pre-med (and every other "pre" you can think of), plus, performing arts, finance, science fields, you name it. My son wants a program in shop.  We had to explain that he is welcome to take electives in shop, but cannot major in it.  He was disappointed.  My sixth-grader took one look at the maritime charter school's brochure stating there is no school on Fridays and was ready to sign-up. As parents we need to reel our children in sometimes and make sure they aren't taking the easy way.

On the flip side of cruising through high school, some of the programs are so intense that students come home and spend hours each night doing homework. We walked right past those information booths.  Don't get me wrong, I want a good education for my children and want their high school studies to be a stepping stone to much bigger and better things, but I am not going to have them stressed out over it. I don't see any reason (except financially) to graduate high school with a two-year college Associates degree. I just don't think it is worth the stress I have seen some students suffer.

Unfortunately, it isn't as easy as finding the program you like and then enrolling. There is this entire application system which eventually trickles down to a lottery - which is both unfair and insane. When my oldest was going into middle school, I filled out applications for five different programs or schools just hoping he'd get selected to at least one of them (again, it is predominately lottery based).  He was accepted by all of them and we finally relinquished our seats at four of them and settled on the school he and my younger son now attend.

Honestly, I am not sure what is more daunting - researching / touring the schools and filling out the numerous applications and then waiting months for an acceptance or rejection letter - OR the mere thought that my first born is going to be starting high school next fall.  Either way, we discovered last night that one of our top choices is already conducting lotteries for NEXT school year. So I am given the task today of getting that application submitted.

 I am not kidding when I say the process is similar to applying for colleges - except without the essays (in most cases) and registration fees (thank goodness!).  All the programs have minimum academic requirements and some require auditions, testing, or interviews, but for the most part it is just a ton of paperwork.  It can take weeks even months. The one thing as parents we have to keep in mind is that we cannot live vicariously through our children. There is one performing arts school that my son has in his top two possibilities that I would have died to attend as a teenager.  But the overall decision has to be based on what is best for him (and not his mother's undying obsession with the stage).

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Stuart Little: Family Movie Review

The film adaptation of Stuart Little is based on the story by E.B. White and was always a favorite of my sons.  Released in 1999, the film combines live action and computer animation (it was nominated for Best Visual Effects) and stars Michael J. Fox as Stuart Little along with Geena Davis (Mrs. Little), Hugh Laurie (Mr. Little), and Nathan Lane as the Littles' mischievous cat, Snowbell.  The film spawned two sequels along with a brief television series.

Stuart Little

The Littles decide to add to their family of three by adopting a second child.  However, once at the orphanage, Mr. and Mrs. Little fall in love with Stuart - not a child, but an orphaned mouse.  They decide to make him part of their family. However, the Littles' older son has a hard time accepting Stuart as his new brother.  It quickly becomes apparent that the Littles didn't think this decision through carefully when their pet cat, Snowbell, nearly has Stuart for dinner. 

The beginning of the film focuses on Stuart's adjustment to life with a human family and provides some obvious laughs, but quickly shifts its attention to the fact that Stuart feels an "empty space" in his heart and decides he'd like to try and find his biological parents. Snowbell, with the help of his street-wise feline friend, Monty (Steve Zahn), devises a plan to get Stuart out of the Little home for good, which will allow Snowbell to save face among his cat friends who tease him relentlessly for being the cat whose master is a mouse. 

What ensues is the ultimate game of cat and mouse (quite literally) as Stuart must find his way back to the Littles and prove that family is who you choose it to be. 

 Watch Official Trailer

Stuart Little is rated PG for brief language (damn being the worst of it). There are some cute, even silly, scenes that will sure to entertain. Without trying to sound biased, the cats really stole the spotlight in this film. It is suitable for the entire family, particular those with younger viewers, and makes a fun, family movie-night when you've already exhausted the more recent films. 

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