Friday, January 30, 2015

Favorite Things Friday: The Best Book I Read in January

It's that time again! Time for The Cephalopod Coffeehouse and the best book I read in January!

Everyone knows I am the slowest reader in the world! I love to read, but between trying to write every day and a stressful full-time job, I'm lucky if I get 30 minutes of reading time a day! It usually takes me around a month to finish one book. Add to that the fact that I tend to start 4 or 5 books at a time! Therefore, imagine my surprise when last Friday (on a whim) I downloaded on my Kindle the Paula Hawkins novel, The Girl on the Train...and it took me less than a week to finish it!


http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Train-Novel-Paula-Hawkins/dp/1594633665/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1422624379&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Girl+on+the+train

The concept tag for this book is Gone Girl meets Rear Window, and I think that's an accurate description. This novel has all the page-turning suspense of Gone Girl combined with the voyeuristic delight of Rear Window. This novel resonated with me right away since I used to live in London and took the train often into English suburbia and beyond. I spent hours looking out train windows and wondering who lived in the passing row houses and what their lives were like. That's kind of the premise with which this novel begins.  Rachel, the main narrator, travels on the same train at the same time every day. The train stops daily at the same signal light where she is able to glimpse the backside of a Victorian row house and the couple that lives therein. She's constructed a whole life for this unknown couple, given them names, talents, careers. The narrator soon reveals that this house is only four down from where she used to live in her old life that included a husband and a job. Her life is very different now, and as the novel unfolds, Rachel recalls life then and now. Because of her struggles with alcoholism and blackouts, she becomes embroiled in a murder mystery, sure that something she's forgotten is a key clue in solving the mystery.

Told through the point-of-view of three narrators, this novel is a fast-paced and riveting dark mystery with well-developed, likeable, and believable characters. Rachel is a sympathetic character who is terribly flawed but recognizes her shortcomings. This is one of those novels I would term brilliantly crafted, as the writing is as good as the story, and the plot twists are well-paced and placed. The Girl on a Train is suspenseful and not predictable, and although I did figure out "whodunnit" before the end of the book, it took nothing away from the story.

Not only is this the best book I've read this month, it's the best book I've read in several months!  I dare you to put the book down!




There are only a couple of days left to enter the free giveaway of Song From the Ashes on Goodreads! Enter here to win!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Song from the Ashes by Megan Whitson Lee

Song from the Ashes

by Megan Whitson Lee

Giveaway ends February 02, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Friday, January 23, 2015

Free Giveaway of Song From the Ashes

Enter the Goodreads contest to win a free copy of Song From the Ashes!

Contest ends February 2nd!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Song from the Ashes by Megan Whitson Lee

Song from the Ashes

by Megan Whitson Lee

Giveaway ends February 02, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Friday, January 16, 2015

Favorite Things Friday! Top Ten Favorite Movies, an Adoptable Dog, and a Free Book Giveway!


The third week of the month is usually the featured adoptable dog week. I’m still going to feature a dog in need of a home, but at the request of a friend, I’m going to feature my top ten movies of all time.
I have to dig back a few years for these (in fact, none of them are later than 2007, so clearly I’m not an avid movie goer these days). Okay, so here we go:

1.       The Remains of the Day

Any friend of mine knows about this era of my life. It marked an intense love affair with England, a long-lasting May-December crush on Anthony Hopkins, and an early-life reflection (I think I may have been 22 at the time the movie came out) regarding whether I was missing out on what was left of my life. This is an outstanding movie based on an astonishing novel by Kazuo Ishiguro about a butler in the evening of his life trying to correct mistakes from years before. I recommend both the novel and the movie (but especially the movie).

2.       Revolutionary Road
Every year for the past few years I’ve read and re-read this novel. I think Richard Yates may have been one of the best writers of the twentieth century. The movie only captures the flavor of the novel, but it successfully highlights the truths about the difficulties of marriage and the disappointments in life. Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet star.


3.       Howard’s End

Okay. Clearly I love English films. Clearly I love English films based on novels. And this IS another Anthony Hopkins movie. I’ve been watching this movie since 1994, but I just read the novel last year. I loved the novel every bit as much as the movie, but the film is visually stunning and worthy of repeated viewings. With a cast that includes Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham-Carter during the height of their careers…well, I just don’t know what else I can say. The story line follows three families from each socioeconomic level, and asks the questions with great subtlety, who will inherit England?


4.       Lantana

This is a little-known film in America, but it was critically acclaimed when it came out in 2002. The film is Australian, and I was in living in Australia at the time. I remember going to see it in the theater at least twice while I was there and finally buying the film when I returned home. Very much like the movie Crash, Lantana follows the lives of different couples and individuals who are all intertwined and connected by the death of a woman (shown at the beginning of the film). Until well into the film, you don’t know who the woman is, whether or not she was murdered, or her connection to these other characters . Starring Anthony Lapaglia, Jeffrey Rush, and Barbara Hershey, this is a gritty, honest look at marriage, infidelity, and miscommunication.

 
5.       Shadowlands

Okay! I know! I know! Another Anthony Hopkins film. There for a while he was on a roll of wonderful films. This is another English film about the wonderful Christian writer and theologian C.S. Lewis and his romance and marriage to Joy Gresham. Make no mistake—this is a tear-jerker, but it’s powerful and redemptive. Shadowlands is a beautiful movie that unashamedly reveals the danger, joy, and pain of true love and poignantly conveys that God’s plan is perfect--even in the midst of the pain. I used some of the music from the film in my wedding!

 
6.       Rebecca

Yes. The 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier and based on Daphne du Maurier’s extraordinary novel. The film is black and white, but I show it to my 9th grade students every year after we read Du Maurier’s short story “The Birds” and they almost always love it. Hitchcock was simply ahead of his time. He knew what he was doing with shadows and camera angles, and his choice of casting Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers, the creepy, obsessed housekeeper was nothing short of brilliance. The mystery of finding out what really happened to the doomed (and apparently wicked) Rebecca still appeals to modern audiences.

 
7.       The Others

I'm beginning to realize that almost all of these films I’ve mentioned are foreign (mostly English) and many are period pieces to boot!) The Others is a late 90s film starring Nicole Kidman. A ghost story taking place on the island of Jersey  during World War II, the protagonist’s husband has apparently gone off to war leaving his wife to care for the huge, isolated mansion with her two children suffering from porphyria (an illness that prevents them from being exposed to light). This is not a horror film, but it is a scary thriller with a completely unexpected twist at the end.

8.       Bridget Jones’s Diary

I loved the book. Dare I say I loved the movie a teensy bit more? Bridget, the unlucky-in-love heroine is sympathetic and adorable (played perfectly by Renee Zellweger), a train-wreck every time she opens her mouth or attempts a romantic relationship. Colin Firth is the perfect Mr. Darcy (not only because he played THE Mr. Darcy in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice but also because he embodies that attitude of the English gentleman who is aloof-bordering-on-rude but actually turns out to be a warm-hearted softy). Hugh Grant knocks Daniel Cleaver’s character out of the park. Who knew Grant--usually the bumbling, mumbling, self-effacing English gent--could play the smarmy, sleazy, yet devastatingly attractive scuzball so well? Laugh-out-loud funny movie.

 
9.       Christmas Vacation

Two comedies in a row! And no one even knew I could laugh! This is the film I view every year while assembling the Christmas tree. It is a favorite of my family and we regularly recite lines to each other (we know every single one of them). If you’ve seen National Lampoon’s Vacation or European Vacation, you know the sort of humor you’re dealing with here. It’s slap-stick to be sure. But the glory of this film resides in its indisputable truths of family and the holidays. Nothing ever goes the way you expect; there is always drama of some sort; and invariably, something always goes up in flames. Enjoy the laughs on this one!

10.   The Age of Innocence

Finally! An American one.  Scorcese directed this one back in 1994, and the film was nominated for several Academy Awards.  Of course, my most recent novel, Song from theAshes, is based on this novel. Like Howard’s End, I only read Wharton's novel in the last few years, whereas I’ve been watching the movie for over twenty!  Scorcese’s attention to detail, color, and accuracy creates a visual feast! The genteel appeal of this delicious world of 1870s New York society makes you want to crawl into the screen and live there for a while as Newland Archer fights against the gossip and expectations to decide which direction (and love interest) he will choose.

So there you have it! My top ten of all time! Now it’s your turn! What are you favorites? 
But before you go, check out Polly. She’s a galgo from Spain. Galgos are Spanish greyhounds who have a much harder life than their American counterparts. After their usefullness is over (they're used as hunting hounds) they are abandoned or killed.

Polly/

Polly/

Polly/
Polly is about five years old, and she’s a little shy around men, but she warms up once she gets to know you. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her, and I immediately fell in love with her. She is so sweet! Her adoption fee is $650 which includes her spay/neuter and transportation from Spain fees. If you’re interested, send an application to Sighthound Underground at: http://sighthoundunderground.com

Finally, don't forget to enter my free giveaway on Goodreads!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Song from the Ashes by Megan Whitson Lee

Song from the Ashes

by Megan Whitson Lee

Giveaway ends February 02, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Friday, January 9, 2015

Favorite Things Friday: A Russian River Zinfandel, a Virtual Wine Tasting, and a Goodreads Giveaway!

video


Trader Joe's wine is usually associated with Charles Shaw, but here's a little wine gem that may surprise you. Yes, it's from Trader Joe's, but it's produced and bottled through Pezzi King Vineyards in Healdsburg, California in the Russian River Valley region.






Trader Joe's Reserve Zinfandel from Russian River Valley in Sonoma County (2012) is perfect for steak or Italian food--such as spaghetti or lasagna. In fact, it's fabulous in the sauce! Juicy, spicy, and a little peppery with blackberry, cherry, and licorice flavors, this is a well-balanced, medium bodied wine with a nice, lingering finish.

At 14.2% alcohol, it's not one of your bigger zins, but for weekly or every day drinking, this is a flavorful and well-rounded wine.



Cheers, everyone! It's Friday!!

And after you get back from Trader Joe's head over to Good reads and enter my free giveaway of Song from the Ashes.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Song from the Ashes by Megan Whitson Lee

Song from the Ashes

by Megan Whitson Lee

Giveaway ends February 02, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win







Friday, January 2, 2015

Favorite Things Friday: New Year Hopes




           
 Happy 2015 to everyone! One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year is to do a better job keeping up with Favorite Things Fridays and the blog in general. I’ve had a really hard time keeping up with the blog since September when I had to start teaching again, and I really don’t want that to be the case starting NOW.

            Quite honestly, this school year has been incredibly tough. It’s become increasingly difficult to teach for several years now and for many different reasons. Some people are natural-born teachers and some are not, and one thing I’ve discovered about myself over the past ten years of teaching is that I am not a natural teacher. In fact, often I find it quite painful and the difficulty of the job has taken over a large portion of my life making it hard to put a lot of energy into other areas. So that is one resolution for this new year. Put more time into my marriage, my home, and the important things in life.

            2014 carried many blessings and good things such as the publication of Song from the Ashes, and the opportunity to make new friendships through writers’ associations and online networking. For these things I am very thankful. I’m also thankful for my eighty-six-year-old grandmother’s recovery from pneumonia and a weakened heart condition. Just a few weeks ago she was in the ICU, and last week I was able to visit her in the comfort of my dad’s home where she looked as beautiful as ever.
 

My husband and I are truly blessed to have wonderful families. My grandfather and father-in-law both had ninetieth birthday parties this year, and Stephen and I are close with both our families and love spending time with them. I think that’s the most important lesson I’ve learned this year: family is king. I know a lot of people have major drama, hardships, and heartbreaks with their families, and it’s not always a pleasant experience for people. For us, we love time with both families and we’ve begun to realize that we need to be closer to them. Both sets of parents and all family members live in the South Carolina/North Carolina/East Tennessee area, and it’s becoming difficult to be the only ones up here in the rat race of Northern Virginia.






 

So for 2015 we are praying for positive change and whatever opportunities the Good Lord may bring our way. Ultimately, it’s all in His hands, and we trust and believe in his sovereign plans and provisions.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11