Oct 312014

10 FUN

For a girl who hates anything scary (we’re talking I hide my eyes and sing when a Law & Order: Criminal Intent commercial comes on), I love Halloween. Maybe it’s that Halloween means fall and changing leaves and chili, but I really enjoy it.

Growing up in my small town, we had a lady everyone called the Good Witch of Groves who sat outside with her pointy had and talked to children and passed out candy minus bloodcurdling screams and bloody eyeballs in a bowl. I loved it. My mom has taken to doing the same in her neighborhood, and I usually go out there for a bit and enjoy the more kitschy side of the holiday.

But my favorite thing to do on Halloween is curl up with some chili (usually with cheddar thrown in for good measure), leftover candy, and a good Halloween movie. Mine may not be traditional, but these have all been in the rotation in the past years, and if you haven’t seen them, I give them all high scores as being perfect for the Halloween weekend:

1. Arsenic and Old Lace (Of course my first pick would star Cary Grant. What do you take me for?)

Mortimer Brewster is flying high on his wedding day and stops off to tell his sweet old aunts and pack his bags…until he discovers they have a dirty little secret, or actually, over a dozen dirty little secrets buried in the basement. What follows is a funny, unsettling romp as Mortimer tries to figure out where to stash the body he’s discovered and how to deal with his psychopathic, criminal brother who suddenly makes an appearance.

2. Clue

This movie needs no introduction really, but in case you haven’t seen it, it is inspired by the game of the same name and takes its characters into the library, the dining room, AND the kitchen to determine who is responsible for the suspicious and sudden deaths. Oh yeah, and just why are they all gathered? Inspired performances by Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan, and many more.

3. Murder by Death

Though not as well known as Clue, Murder by Death is just as endearing. A mystery writer gathers other famous mystery writers at his home, ones with names like Dick and Dora Charleston and Sam Diamond. The invitation is for “dinner and murder,” and murder is, indeed, on the menu. Watching these supposed experts in their fields devolve in the ensuing chaos is absolutely hysterical. Peter Sellars really shines in this one.

4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

When I taught ESL, I was able to really incorporate the holidays into my lesson planning, and each Halloween I showed this classic, and my students loved it. But who am I kidding? I love it too.

5. Monster House

I rarely watch animated films these days. I don’t have kids, and a lot of them (animated films, not kids) just don’t look that appealing. However, a few years ago I picked this one up and thought it was just the best.

Nebbercracker is known across the neighborhood as the bad-apple neighbor. He destroys anything that lands on his lawn, so when DJ and his friend lose their basketball in his yard, bad things happen. It doesn’t take long before they figure out that something strange is going on, and they’re determined to expose the monster house.

6. The Thin Man (any of them)

If you haven’t read the book, it’s a real treat. And the movies extend the pleasure, particularly as the acting duo of Myrna Loy and William Powell have such amazing on-screen chemistry that they went on to make five additional films, all based on Dashiell Hammett’s characters.

Nick and Nora Charles have returned to New York with their dog, Asta. No longer a detective – and now living off his wife’s money – Nick has some unsavory friends but is determined to go straight. But when a family friend who has been missing is accused of killing his girlfriend, Nick knows he has to get up to his old tricks.

7. The North Avenue Irregulars

Oh how I love this movie. I’m so grateful to my mom and dad for movie nights when we’d watch films that were often before their time as well.

The North Avenue Irregulars is just plain fun. A young Edward Hermann is a progressive minister in a traditional town. When one of his church members loses money meant for the church while gambling, he determines to do something about it. But the local government hasn’t been able to do much good, and it’s only when a group of church women gets in on the action that the crooks begin to worry. Cloris Leachman is absolutely hilarious in this film.

8. That Darn Cat!

Another Disney film, That Darn Cat! stars Haley Mills and Dean Jones. A local bank robbery and kidnapping has Patti Randall’s imagination in high gear. So when her cat comes home with a wristwatch around its neck, she’s convinced it’s a message. She contacts the FBI who then sends out an agent who is – of course – allergic to cats to follow the cat back to the hideout.

9. American Dreamer

I actually haven’t seen this film in ages, but I remember loving it. I need to just buy it.

JoBeth Williams stars as Cathy Palmer, a housewife who wins a trip to Paris in a contest ghostwriting a story about Rebecca Ryan, an international spy. A freak accident sends her into the hospital, and she wakes up thinking she is Rebecca Ryan. In her altered state, she encounters real spies in a laugh-out-loud film.

10. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

No one does cowardly like Don Knotts. Playing local journalist-hopeful Luther Hegg, he is asked to spend the night in the Old Simmons House, the site of a murder-suicide 20 years earlier, to commemorate the anniversary. Ghostly happenings abound, and Luther may just stumble upon the answer to a decades-old mystery, get his dream job, and win the girl before it’s all over.

Happy Halloween! I hope you enjoy your evening!


Aug 202014

It’s just me. Little ole me. Peeking warily back into the dashboard of my blog after so many silent months.

My problem? I shouldn’t be here. Between my full-time gig as the director of a university writing center, a teaching load, writing and getting a fellowship, then teaching a collaborative course for that fellowship, freelance editing, and, you know, living, I’ve had so much going on – and continue to – and blogging felt like a luxury, giving time to something that wasn’t absolutely necessary.

But I miss my corner of the Internet. I miss all of my blogging friends as well as the readers who would only stop by every now and again. I miss talking about books, even though the only books I’ve read this summer have been cozy mysteries (seriously, check out my Goodreads pages. It’s ridic).

I won’t be that blogger that says, “I’m back!” and then disappears another four months. But I also can’t promise for any regularity until after the fall semester begins and settles in. *sighs* One day I’ll have some free time.

Today, though, I could feel a bit of a break in myself and my workload. After several frenetic, frantic weeks of spending the remains of my budget, hiring new writing tutors to replace graduating tutors, planning and ordering *stuff* for an expansion of our center, and finishing teaching two summer courses, today I gave a professional development presentation and realized…I’m in decent shape. I need to finish prepping my online course for fall, but everything else is (dare I say) in place or out of my control at the moment.

I actually sat down to look at NetGalley to request books for Bloggers Recommend (to which I’ve still managed to contribute, albeit sparsely), and I thought: It’s time.

So, my friends, how have you been? What’s new? And most importantly, what bookish gossip have I missed? ;)

I’ll tell you mine first: I have lost no weight despite doing P90X at least 4-5 days a week. I cut eight inches off my hair. This week marks one year with the boyfriend. (!) I’ve updated my home office. I wrote *a* chapter of a cozy mystery. My house is utter chaos.

Mar 312014

Picture this: a verdant park full of sunshine and open spaces, tennis and basketball courts, a sprinkler pad, playground area. In this park, people are LARPing (Live Action Role Playing…I know, I didn’t know either) in full dress. Kids are learning to ride their bikes. A tot practices walking with a tiny walker. Across the park, a diverse group of kids roll down the hill while a young mother sunbathes and the father chases after their child. Puppies abound. Women in colorful saris walk after their rollerblading children. A sweet little girl no older than about two and a half runs with a kite string in her hand as her father looks on, tossing an errant frisbee back to a couple. A preteen walks the trail, writing in his notebook and singing to himself. In a far corner, a larger group takes a break from tossing a ball to eat barbecue while beneath a shady tree, a young couple kicks off their shoes and toasts with stemware, a fancy picnic, by my standards.

In Central Park, this would be nothing out of the ordinary. But where I live, in Beaumont, Texas – a place named among the nation’s worst for wellbeing by the Gallup Healthways Study – I have to pause and really appreciate the diversity and joy around me. Of course, out of the over 150,000 people in the area, just 674 were polled as to their well being. The study itself is based on rising obesity, environmental issues, and employment, but as is often the case, most journalistic outlets equate this with dissatisfaction and unhappiness, especially on the heels of another study last year that analyzed the tweets of those in this area.

Of course, I’m not one to look at my environment and toss aside the very real concerns mentioned in the first study, but these polls are opinion polls, and I’m not too inclined to put much stock into them until someone begins going door to door to weigh and measure citizens and study their mental health. Of course I wish my corner of Texas were more pedestrian/cyclist friendly. I wish for more life in my historic neighborhood. I wish there were less racism and more art. I sincerely wish our economy depended less on the refineries that surround us. But I also know there are good people here. People who look out for each other’s kids and play catch in the park with any child interested. Artistic people. Intelligent people. People who come together after natural disasters to lend helping hands. People taking chances to build the lives they want in the place they live now, not the place they plan to move down the road. People who recognize that to live in a great place, you must invest in that place. (Like The Giving Field or Boomtown Film & Music Festival or the ever-growing farmer’s market.) And I also recognize that there are places, popular, top-of-the-wellbeing-list places that have the same sorts of problems we do – and different ones altogether.

What I do know (and what I often have to remind myself as a self-proclaimed homebody) is that, just as in any place, the more you step out your front door and away from whatever is keeping you inside, the more your immediate environment expands, and while I won’t be LARPing any time soon, I will carry the memory of walking hand in hand with the man I love, laughing and talking and people watching in wonder for a long long time.

Mar 042014

pg1*I received this ebook from the publisher Melville House in exchange for an honest review.

Billy Ridgeway is a do-nothing. He works at a Greek deli when he can make it on time. He thinks his girlfriend may have dumped him, but he’s not sure. And the short stories he’s written are pure crap – he’s got a writeup in an NYC lit magazine to prove it. When the Devil shows up in his apartment with good, no, great coffee and offers to publish Billy’s novel if he’ll just do him a tiny favor, Billy isn’t even tempted. Ok, maybe a little. All he has to do is steal the Neko of Infinite Equilibrium, a cat statue, from a powerful warlock.

At first, Billy can’t be bothered. If he can’t even get his girlfriend to return his calls, how could he possibly face a warlock? But soon, whether or not Billy wants to help the Devil isn’t an option as he’s in up to his neck and discovers he’s a hell wolf and that his entire life up to this point has been a lie. As he races across the city, Billy learns a lot about what he’s capable of, and if he lives through this weirdness, maybe he’ll be able to do something after all.

The Weirdness is absolutely, positively one of the most original takes on the nearing middle age, suffering male writer bit. Because frankly, had this been another story about a guy who is too lazy to get off his ass and do something, I’d have hated it. Hell, I may not have even finished it. But Jeremy Bushnell manages to turn this story on its head in what should be the most ridiculous novel you’ve ever read.

Instead, Billy and his really lovely counterparts, specifically his best friend Anil, are people you feel for. They’re doing what they have to in order to make it. Maybe Billy hasn’t been doing his part, but he’s obviously unhappy. He has a job that is fine but isn’t a career. His writing isn’t transcendent. His love life…yeah, it’s not great. In a lot of ways, Billy has just shut down, and he can’t figure out how to restart until the Devil shows up. And ain’t that the way of things? Ok, maybe the Devil doesn’t really show up in order for you or me to get out of our funks, but it takes something pretty out of character or, in this case, out of this world.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Feb 062014

pg1*I received this book from the publisher Bourbon Street Books in exchange for an honest review.

Jessica Mayhew’s psychotherapy office is a sanctuary of sorts. She goes in, listens to her patients, and goes home. Her life is routine, and she likes it that way. But her routine is disturbed when her husband admits to sleeping with a younger woman in what he says was a one-night stand. Her teenage daughter Nella has pulled away from her. And at work, a new client, Gwydion Morgan, an actor and the son of famous film director Evan Morgan, unsettles Jessica.

Gwydion has a phobia of buttons and is concerned it may affect his work in a period film. However, as their sessions continue, a recurring dream Gwydion has dominates their sessions. In the dream, he is a child on his father’s boat. He hears a disturbance and then a splash before he wakes up, unnerved. When Jessica makes a house call after Gwydion’s mother calls her, concerned he may be suicidal, she learns Gwydion’s au pair drowned at their cliff side home, and she begins to wonder if Gwydion’s dream is reality. What really happened to the au pair?

The House on the Cliff - beginning with its cover – looked like an absolutely perfect read for the dreary January weather we’ve been having. Set in Wales, the tone and the subject matter are eery and dark. However, the longer I read, the more I had to shake my head. I thoroughly enjoy mysteries whose detecting character isn’t necessarily a detective. That said, the main character should also exhibit a sense of investigation that makes his or her foray into detecting plausible. Instead, Jessica is a bit of a mess. She is certainly curious, but she never seems to pair her curiosity with rational, measured thought. Unable to forgive her husband for the affair, she quickly entangles herself with her patient (!), delves into his family history without authorization, manages to alienate and place her daughter in danger, and make an altogether ridiculously foolish move at the end of the book. Though I enjoyed the writing, The House on the Cliff left me wondering if Jessica Mayhew is capable of leading a mystery series.

If you’re so inclined, add this to your Goodreads shelf.

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