Author Archives: julieflevine

At Home With the (Teenage) Kids

Kids have a lot of entertainment options these days.  My generation was not as fortunate.  I remember when HBO started, it didn’t even come on air til like 5 pm (remember those vertical colored bars that aired until then?) and then it felt like it was the same 5 movies every day. For some reason, all I remember is It’s Alive with the baby carriage ad, yuck.

I’m an only child so, growing up, I was alone a lot.  I did jigsaw puzzles, played hours of wall ball and read many books. I chuckle every time my son tells me he’s bored.  There are so many platforms and so many shows and books geared just for these kids; they have no idea what boredom is.  

My 16-year-old daughter and I share the same entertainment sensibilities, plus she actually enjoys my company, so we watch a lot of shows together and share some of our books.  If you are looking for some suggestions on what to watch with your teenager, try these:

Outer Banks” on Netflix, 1 season

It’s “Dawson’s Creek” meets “The O.C.” meets The Goonies.  A wrong side of the tracks (very good looking) teenager and his gang of fellow outcasts look for buried treasure in North Carolina.  All three of my kids watched this, separately of course, and then re-watched some episodes with me.  It’s very entertaining and twisty.  

Never Have I Ever” on Netflix, 1 season

I really enjoyed this show; it’s clever and often poignant and offers a viewpoint we don’t often see; the trials and tribulations of a first-generation Indian-American teen girl.  Mindy Kaling is behind it so you know it’s going to be funny and smart. Plus John McEnroe is the narrator for all but one episode, but I won’t spoil who the narrator is for that one. : )

The Half of It on Netflix, movie

At the heart of it, this is a story about a smart, quiet girl who helps a jock woo a popular girl. Also included; Chinese family integration in the US, same-sex attraction, small town religious communities, etc.  It’s got heart and integrity and is very well done.

The Last Dance” on ESPN, 10-part docuseries

We watched this with our son, while the girls checked in intermittently.  A film crew followed around the Chicago Bulls and was given an amazing amount of access as they were vying for their 6th NBA title in 8 years.  The focus is clearly on Michael Jordan who is, simply, the GOAT, but you see the team and all the dynamics that played a part in making this one of the most iconic teams of all time.  I didn’t like all of the timeline jumping, but it was great to revisit that era and now is the perfect time to watch if you are craving some sports.

Miss Americana on Netflix, documentary

People love an underdog and they love the new thing.  Once both of those are no longer true, they tend to turn on those people whom they used to love.  Not sure why, but it happens almost always – especially with girls.  I’m not gonna lie, I still love Taylor Swift.  This documentary follows her path from beginning to now.  She was loved and then reviled.  It portrays the scrutiny she is always under and how the self-doubt kicks in, no matter how famous you are.  All you can do is stand up for what you believe in and be the best person you know how to be.

My So-Called Life,” 1 season

I own this so you’re on your own as to how you can watch it.  I LOVED this series when it aired in 1994 (Claire Danes AND Jared Leto?!  Come on!!)  I’ve been making reference to it for years around my sophomore and she finally conceded to watching it with me.  It’s actually perfect timing because Danes’s Angela is a 15-year-old sophomore!  It’s as terrific as I remembered, if not better.  It is incredibly well written and well acted with many compelling arcs.  I used to be so annoyed when the storyline would follow the parents because they were so old and who cared about them?  Um, they’re 40!  With a sophomore and a middle schooler – seriously?!  I’m so old.

“Survivor: Winners at War” 

Did you know this show has been on air for 20 years?  This past season was #40 (!) and it consisted solely of past winners.  I probably haven’t watched since season 4 but my girls wanted to watch so I did.  There is a reason “Survivor” has been around for as long as it has.  It is addictively entertaining.  I think Richard Hatch turned the tide toward the scheming and shifty for this and other reality shows with his season 1 novel hidden alliances, and I wonder what reality TV would’ve been like if he hadn’t started it all off that way. Maybe it would’ve happened anyway?  I don’t know.  I don’t like that part of it but there’s no denying the ingenuity of the games and resilience of the players.  “The Amazing Race” is similarly great – both shows you can dip in and watch random seasons On Demand.

“Normal People” on Hulu, 1 season

Do NOT watch this with your teenager.  This story follows a couple from high school to college but it is heavy and a little graphic.  You may remember my listing this book by Sally Rooney in my top 10 from last year.  It’s definitely not for everyone; in fact I said I easily could have disliked it.  Once I decided to like it, however, I liked it a lot.  This adaptation is fantastic.  It is so true to the book that if you didn’t like the novel, then you probably won’t like this either.  I loved it and the casting is pitch perfect.  The relationship, which reads as a bit stilted with a lot going on in the silences, is much easier to relate to/understand when seen on screen.

Fun suggestion – Drive-In Movie!!  The girls and I and another mother/daughter met at a drive-in a couple Fridays ago.  We parked next to each other, said hello and watched the movie in our own cars.  It was really fun.  I can’t even remember the last time I went to a drive-in.  There were many (mediocre, but that’s beside the point) film choices; we opted for Bad Boys for Life (even though we hadn’t seen either Bad Boys 1 or 2) while the new Trolls and then Valley Girl were playing next to us.  

Side note, in honor of the new VG, I made my 16-year-old watch the original Valley Girl with me.  Let me begin by saying that I have a framed poster of this movie hanging in my basement and its soundtrack is the only vinyl album I still own.  Similar to Xanadu, a movie I looooooved in my youth, it has not really aged that well.  My daughter is a pretty game girl, but even she was like, “You love this movie?”

I hope this finds all of you well. It’s a crazy time but hang in there. Congrats to all the graduates!! Stay well and be safe.

Shelter in Place

This is my 20th blog post! Whoda thunk?! Not exactly the 2020 we were all hoping for, huh?  I’d like to say I never could’ve imagined what is happening now, but I did.  I remember years ago (2014) reading Emily St. John’s Station Eleven about a swine flu pandemic that spread thoroughly and rapidly, thinking, “seems like something like this could happen very easily.”

But that’s not what this post is going to be about.  I’m choosing to feel grateful during this time as we, and our extended family, are, thankfully, healthy.  I have a senior who is not experiencing the ideal second semester of her high school senior year, but she isn’t complaining.  She will be off to college (probably??) soon enough, so what a gift this is that we all get to really enjoy her and each other for these homebound weeks.  We are taking family walks, we are cleaning toilets and doing laundry, we are playing games and doing puzzles and we are watching TV as a family (please don’t judge that our viewing list includes “Tiger King.”)

Zoom and Face Time are wonderful; I still feel connected to my family and friends.  The Internet can be a fantastic thing when used for good.

I’ve been getting many emails and texts asking for recs and I have been feeling the pressure.  This is my forte; this should be my moment!  Unfortunately, the days have gone so quickly, I haven’t been glued to Netflix or to any book in particular.  I felt like I needed to provide substance to be worthy of a read.  Then I thought, “Nah.”  So many lists of what to watch and read are circulating now, y’all don’t really need mine.  But here are a few suggestions, just in case.

TV

“American Idol” – if you gave this up, get it back.  I have watched every season but this one is stellar.  This show is not about the judges; it is about the massive amount of talent out there.  Since it has been on ABC, it has been a kinder, gentler and supportive Idol.  They really do foster these youngsters and try to help them channel their skills.  And these kids can sing!  It is SO impressive.  We watch as a family and I tear up throughout every episode; the stories are touching, the talent is goose bump inducing and the “will they/won’t they make” is compelling.

“The Good Place” – I’ve promoted it before so I won’t go into detail except to say that this is another whole family option and that the series finale is one of the best I have ever seen, a total A.  

“Schitt’s Creek” – Catch up on Netlix and, if you get Pop Network in your cable package, you can watch this season there.  The first season is ok but then it gets great – I especially loved season three.  I’m so sad this will be the last season; I am going to miss the Roses very much.

“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” – I want to love this a little more than I do but it is entertaining and I love Jane Levy (big fan of her “Suburgatory”).  Zoey hears “heart songs” from people that no one else can hear and that the singer doesn’t know s/he is singing.  The dance numbers are fantastic and the cast is great.  The reason I am promoting it is because episode 8, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Glitch” had me laughing so hard I was crying.

“Fleabag” – this is not a news flash since it won every award last season but I’m putting it in anyway in case you are holding out for some reason.  We’re talking two seasons; six (30 minute) episodes per season – totally doable.  Again, the first season is just ok but the second season is fantastic.

“Tiger King” – it’s not quality television, in fact, it’s like watching a train wreck.  You just can’t stop once you really get into it.  If you can’t do it, I get it.  But if you can, you should, if for no other reason than to be able to talk about it with everyone else because everyone is watching it.

Please read my past posts if you want to catch up on some shows, there are some great ones  – “New Amsterdam,” “The Good Doctor,” “The Resident,” “Mom,” “Jane, The Virgin,” etc.

Movies

It’s the perfect time to watch those movies that won all those awards.  I don’t always agree with the nominations but this year a lot of them were spot on.  Parasite and Little Women were solid As for me, A- for Jojo Rabbit and Ford v Ferrari.  

We have been watching a lot of old movies.  An American President is just so good, for a thousand reasons. Amélie is as whimsical as I remembered.  We watched Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma (I haven’t seen the new one yet), which led us into Clueless, one of my all-time faves.  Baby Boom is dated but so good. I would make a lousy home school teacher, but in terms of movie “educating,” I would definitely excel!  

It’s also a great time to catch up in preparation for new releases coming up – Top GunBill & Ted’s Excellent AdventureThe Matrix, the James Bond movies, etc.

Books

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms 

A single working mom gets a long vacation in New York City.  It’s a lightish read but also touches on some big topics; parenting, divorce, literacy, finding love, motherhood, wellness, etc.  I enjoyed it.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Another fun one about two people who share a flat but never see each other due to their work schedules, and how they fall in love having never met.

I’m sort of staying away from the heavy stuff for now but if I come across anything great, you know I’ll share it.

Song of the blog

A friend shared this and I just love it.  This is not normally my preferred genre of music but “The Weight” by The Band has always been an exception for me.  I love how music can transcend this enforced distance and can bring everyone together.  Click here to watch.

Thanks for reading and please be well and stay safe.

A Look Back on 2019

Books-

Following are the books I read (in order) in 2019; if I recommend it, it has an asterisk in front of it.

  1. Stripped – Zoey Castile
  2. Wicked and the Wallflower – Sarah MacLean
  3. Bitter Orange – Claire Fuller
  4. *The Other Miss Bridgerton – Julia Quinn
  5. The Dreamers – Karen Walker
  6. *Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating – Christina Lauren
  7. *One Day in December – Josie Silver
  8. *Beautiful Bastard – Christina Lauren
  9. *The Devil’s Daughter – Lisa Kleypas
  10. Roomies – Christina Lauren
  11. Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty
  12. Beautiful Stranger – Christina Lauren
  13. *Becoming (audio) – Michelle O’Bama
  14. Silent Threat (ebook) – Dana Marton
  15. A Whole New Light – Sandra Brown
  16. Where The Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens
  17. *Save Me The Plums – Ruth Reichl
  18. *Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss – Rajeev Balasubramanyam
  19. You Don’t Know Jack – Erin McCarthy
  20. The Peacock Emporium – Jojo Moyes
  21. *Tomorrow There Will Be Sun – Dana Reinhardt
  22. *Daisy Jones & the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
  23. *The Bride Test – Helen Hoang
  24. *Favorite Half-Night Stand – Christina Lauren
  25. The Mother-in-Law – Sally Hepworth
  26. Dating You/Hating You – Christina Lauren
  27. *Sweet Filthy Boy – Christina Lauren
  28. *Beautiful Player – Christina Lauren
  29. *I Miss You When I Blink – Mary Laura Philpott
  30. *Dirty Rowdy Thing – Christina Lauren
  31. Educated – Tara Westover
  32. *Evvie Drake Starts Over – Linda Holmes
  33. Beautiful Secret – Christina Lauren
  34. The Farm – Joanne Ramos
  35. *The Unhoneymooners – Christina Lauren
  36. *Normal People – Sally Rooney
  37. *”A” is for Alibi – Sue Grafton
  38. *Talk to Me – John Kenney
  39. *Carry On” (reread) – Rainbow Rowell
  40. Wayward Son – Rainbow Rowell
  41. The Little French Bistro – Nina George
  42. Dark Wild Night – Christina Lauren
  43. *Home Work – Julie Andrews
  44. *Waiting for Tom Hanks – Kerry Winfrey
  45. *Matchmaking for Beginners – Maddie Dawson
  46. *Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed – Lori Gottlieb

My top 10 recommendations (not romance) from this list are (please see past blogposts for my thoughts if I don’t describe below):

  1. Talk To Me – Ted Grayson is a beloved (except by his family) network TV anchor until he is caught on camera acting poorly and loses everything. A side story involves a “fake news” outlet that prints whatever it wants to print for sport/traction.  I did not buy this book but, if I had, I would’ve underlined many passages.  Here are a few:

“The nation was angry.  And it had a new and wonderful tool to express its anger.”

“Nuance is dead.  In its place, we have judgment.  Instant judgment.  That’s the world we’re living in.  There’s no truth.  There’s no fact.  There’s only what you can get to trend.”

This book hits the nail right on the head for me; I found it to be very powerful.

  1. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – Lori Gotlieb is a therapist who is genuinely invested and good at caring for her patients. When a personal crisis shakes her world, she, herself, seeks the help of a therapist.  In this book we delve into her patients’ lives and work through their issues in addition to hers.  It’s funny, sad, personal, intelligent and moving.  It’s nonfiction but reads very easily.  I could not put it down.
  2. Save Me the Plums
  3. Matchmaking for Beginners – I found this book utterly charming. It’s a little kooky but it is lovely.  I passed it along to my niece and mother-in-law and they enjoyed it too. Bonus – I got a new mantra out of it!  I loved this book.
  4. Evvie Drake Starts Over
  5. I Miss You When I Blink
  6. Daisy Jones & the Six
  7. Becoming
  8. Normal People – I feel like I could have hated this book, but I didn’t. I really kind of liked it. It follows the relationship between two people from high school to early adulthood.  At times, it is angsty, depressing, endearing, awkward and frustrating.  But it’s very real in regard to how hard it is to form connections.
  9. Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss – Professor Chandrasekhar is an expert in economics, but that’s it. He is succeeding in almost no other way, and really not even in his career, in the way that matters most to him anyway.  His family ties are in shambles and his body can no longer take the stress of his job, so his doctor orders him to follow his bliss.  He doesn’t know how or what that even is.  Here is the story of how he finds it.

In lieu of a romance list, I’m going to shout out the authors Christina Lauren.  The plural there is not a typo.  Christina Lauren is actually 2 friends who write together – how cute is that?!  They have written 24 books, most of which I read in 2019 (see above).  They are (almost) all very good but some are really great.  Click on the titles below to see synopses.  My favorites are:

  1. Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating
  2. My Favorite Half-Night Stand
  3. The Unhoneymooners
  4. Beautiful Player (book 3 in the Beautiful series)
  5. Sweet Filthy Boy (book 1 in the Wild Seasons series)

Movies-

Of the 26 movies I saw last year, here are the movies I rated an A or A-. Last year I listed 11, not so this year:

  • Aladdin
  • Toy Story 4
  • Booksmart
  • John Wick 3: Parabellum

TV-

I’m still a network tv watcher so I’m going to talk about a couple of those shows here because I feel like they get no love anymore.  My Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Apple TV list just keeps growing and is too overwhelming.

I still watch a lot of the same shows I’ve been writing about so I’ll just put a plug in for the new ones I’m enjoying.

  1. “Bob Hearts Abishola” – A very sweet comedy about an overweight, single, compression sock businessman and his relationship with a nurse from Nigeria whom he meets when he has a heart attack. It’s funny, it’s real (shining a light on immigration) and it’s well acted.  I really like it.
  1. “Stumptown” – If you didn’t know this show was based on a series of graphic novels, you wouldn’t really know it by watching. It centers on Dex (Cobie Smulders from “How I Met Your Mother”) a Marine vet who is a hard drinking, PTSD affected, gambling addicted, smart mouthed PI who takes care of her brother Ansel (who has Down Syndrome) and hangs out in a bar owned by her close friend Grey, an ex-con (played by Jake Johnson from “New Girl”).  Micheal Ealy plays a cop she hooks up with. The cast is fun to watch, the show is and different – quality escapist television.

I am also still watching “Emergence” and “The Unicorn” but I’m not as fully invested as I am with the above two.

Eating/Saving the Planet-

While we enjoy Veganuary at our house, I thought I’d share CNN’s list of the best/worst diets for 2020 – click here.

We have begun composting!!! If you are interested in learning more, click here.

Here we go into the 2020s!  It’s going to be an eventful year for my family.  I wish you and yours good health and much happiness and many, many entertaining moments.  Thanks so much for reading.

Better Late Than Never…

We’re just going to skirt past the fact that I sort of skipped the summer blog post and, instead, focus on the recommendations that I am making for your Labor Day weekend! (We had a fabulous summer and I hope you did, too!)

TV

If you are looking for something to binge, you should try Dead to Me on Netflix.  Christina Applegate plays a widow who meets another woman, Linda Cardellini, at a support group and they become friends.  It is a dark comedy full of secrets and twists and turns and is very fun to watch. Applegate was just nominated for an Emmy, which is terrific, but I also really enjoy Cardellini, I wish she had gotten a nom too.

Last post I mentioned the podcast “The Daily.”  I still love it.  If you do too, you should watch “The Weekly” on FX and Hulu. Similar to “The Daily,” “The Weekly” focuses on one story per episode (30 minutes each) featuring a New York Times journalist’s investigation.  It is compelling and informative.

One final plug for “Jane The Virgin.”  I’ve already described it (a couple times) so I won’t again (because you can read past posts) but I will say that the final season was SOOOO good. It is quality television; heartwarming, suspenseful, surprising, thoughtful and really just lovely. If you never watched it, you should.

On a future television note, one of my favorite historical romance authors, Julia Quinn, has a series headed for Netflix thanks to Shonda Rhimes.  The Bridgerton Series is a collection of eight books, each featuring one of eight siblings.  I have read them all and they are all entertaining; laugh out loud funny, smartly written and so fun to read.  Not only is exciting that it is a Shondaland production but Julie Andrews has been cast as Lady Whistldown, who will serve as narrator.  I cannot wait.  For more info, read here.  Better start with book one, The Duke and I, now so you can get through all of them before they start airing in 2020.

 

(More) Books

Save Me The Plums: My Gourmet Memoir – Ruth Reichl

For some unknown reason, the only other book I have read of Reichl’s is Garlic & Sapphires which I also loved.  (If you haven’t read it, you should.)  This memoir, as the title suggests, chronicles her tenure as editor in chief of Gourmet magazine.  I love her writing, I also want to hang out with her and be her friend. This is a wonderful read and (bonus!) recipes are interspersed throughout.

Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

This is an “oral history” of the formation of one of the biggest bands of the seventies.  Daisy is a free spirit floating around LA who is beautiful, gets wasted, sleeps around, and can sing.  The Six is a band led by Billy Dunne, who is very intensely focused on his band, has a girlfriend, and goes a little crazy while on tour.  A producer puts them together and this is what happens.  If you love Fleetwood Mac, you’ll enjoy this novel.

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays – Mary Laura Philpott

My good friend wrote a book!!!!  And I loved it!!! (Thank goodness!  Can you imagine how awkward that could’ve been?)  My former neighbor, MLP, has compiled essays illuminating moments in her life; being a student, meeting her spouse, having a family, working, raising that family – and detailing the stress and pressure inherent in all of that.  So relatable, heartfelt, witty and charming – you’ll see that you aren’t alone when you realize you have felt the same way, that it’s never too late to re-invent yourself and that just because there’s a box, you don’t have to fit into it. You’ll want to share this gem with all of your friends, like I am sharing it with you. :  )

Evvie Drake Starts Over – Linda Holmes

One of the reasons I loved this book is that it is set in a small town in Maine.  Having spent a bit of time in Maine., I’ve often thought I could live there.  It’s quaint, it’s chill and the people are so nice.  Anyway, Evvie lives in Maine and is recently widowed. The crippling sorrow she feels regarding this life change is misunderstood by everyone around her.  Enter Dean, a New York major-league pitcher who can’t throw anymore.  Needing to get out of town, he moves into an apartment at the back of her house.  I love Maine and I love baseball so this book hit a sweet spot for me. If you are going on vacation, bring this.

 

Podcast

“Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” is an hour-long weekly news-based radio game show where panelists (mostly comedians) and contestants are quizzed in humorous ways about that week’s news.  It’s hosted by Peter Sagal and announced by Bill Kurtis, both of whom are very funny and witty.  It may not sound that interesting but I laugh throughout the whole thing. Props to my sister in law, Janet, for introducing this one to us.

 

Song of the blog

I heard “My Cheating Heart” by Love Fame Tragedy on Alt Nation and loved it immediately.  I hope you do too.

 

Thanks for reading!

Is This The Real Life?

Let’s get right into it (click on titles for links)…

Documentaries:

Leaving Neverland

Like most children of the 80’s, I was a big Michael Jackson fan.  Up until recently, hearing his music on the radio sparked joy, even knowing there were rumblings about his predilections and strange behavior. All of that didn’t really affect how I felt about his songs.  WHY NOT??  I think we were all so innocent and naïve that it overshadows everything from that period – we excuse it by saying it was a simpler time.  It was a simpler time because we didn’t live in a world where we knew of all the bad things that could and were happening.

Yesterday, a song of his came on and I immediately turned the station.  Obviously, I don’t know for sure what, if anything, he did to all those young boys he slept alongside for all those years.  But really, it can’t be good, right? People counter the authenticity of this doc with “why now?”  If these two men are telling the truth, per them, they just couldn’t bury it any more.

This two part (two hour each part) documentary is very persuasive, very thorough and very, very disturbing.

 

Surviving R. Kelly

HOW IS THIS MAN NOT IN JAIL????  I don’t really know what else to say.  In this case, how can there be doubt?  Here are dozens of women speaking their truth, they are identified as survivors, which they are.  This man is a pedophile, a misogynist and a monster.  And still, his fan support is unwavering. One of the psychologists interviewed explains this phenomenon by saying artists are attached to our memories and our love of music.  We don’t want to let go of this love so we minimize what we don’t want to know.  It’s easier to believe that it’s not true.

This six part (one hour each part) documentary series left me flabbergasted, appalled and so angry for these girls/women.

 

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

Let me begin by saying that I didn’t really love this documentary.  I do try to only talk about things I love and recommend those but I’m mentioning this because I think the topic is fascinating.

Elizabeth Holmes became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire (19!) by coming up with an invention that promised to revolutionize blood testing.  She had the support and funding from men even I’ve heard of, secured a deal with Walgreens (which put Theranos in their stores) and even got FDA approval.  But guess what – her product NEVER worked!!

I would like to have learned more about her; how she grew up, what her friends and family thought she was like, how she became who she is, but that’s not covered here.  A friend was reading the book on her, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou – maybe that’s the way to go?  Or you can wait for the just announced Hulu limited series starring SNL’s Kate McKinnon.  Or the possible feature film supposedly starring Jennifer Lawrence.  So many options.

 

Podcast:

The Daily

I am very new to podcasts but a friend of a friend suggested this one and I am hooked.  Every weekday morning, Michael Barbaro informs on a different topic for about 20 minutes.  He speaks with a knowledgeable guest on that topic, usually a New York Times journalist, and they go in depth enough that I actually understand current events.  Subjects have recently included a possible cure to HIV, a Russian assassin’s story, explaining the Boeing crashes, the family that built its fortune on OxyContin, the Mueller Report, etc. I find it fascinating and helpful, and am now often able to hold my own in social dinner conversations!

 

Books:

Becoming by Michelle Obama

This book I did not read, but rather listened to on audio book.  I have realized that this is not my preferred method in completing a book but I chose to listen in this case because Michelle Obama is the one reading.

No matter your political stance, this is a great book and she is truly an admirable person.  It is not a political book; it is a recounting of her life – as a child/daughter/student/lawyer/girlfriend/wife/mother and ultimately First Lady.   She tried to do actual good while in the White House – focusing on children’s nutrition and bringing that to the public consciousness.  It is inspiring and well written. I feel like I know her, and I like her a lot.

 

Commercial

Another example of someone who has done good things in real life is Dwyane Wade.  Watch this commercial from Budweiser and make sure to have a tissue handy.

 

Game of Thrones

This blog post was focussed on real life not fantasy, but I must acknowledge the coming of Winter. If you haven’t watched every episode of Game of Thrones, I just heard it would take about 2 days and 15 hours plus.  If you need a little refresh and don’t have the time to re-watch all 67 episodes, click here because Entertainment Weekly has recapped them all for you.

 

Song of the Blog:

My 15 year old loves Billie Eillish.  I’m not totally sold but I do like the song “ocean eyes.”  She is 17 and is the first artist born in the 2000s to hit No. 1, with the release of her debut album so Mazels to her.  If you’d like to read a little about her click on her name above.  If you’d like to hear the song, click here.

 

Thanks for reading!

2018 In Review

Following are the books I read (in order) in 2018; if I recommend it, it has an asterisk in front of it.

  1. *The Power– Naomi Alderman
  2. *The Dry– Jane Harper
  3. A Stranger In The House– Shari Lapena
  4. *Still Me– Jojo Moyes
  5. *Before We Were Yours– Lisa Wingate
  6. *Born A Crime– Trevor Noah
  7. *Hello Stranger– Lisa Kleypas
  8. The Gilded Years– Karin Tanabe
  9. Every Note Played– Lisa Genova
  10. *The Immortalists– Chloe Benjamin
  11. How To Stop Time– Matt Haig
  12. You Think It, I’ll Say It– Curtis Sittenfeld
  13. The Flight Attendant– Chris Bohjalian
  14. *The Woman Left Behind– Linda Howard
  15. Accidentally On Purpose– Jill Shalvis
  16. *my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry– Fredrik Backman
  17. *What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw– Leah Stewart
  18. *I Am I Am I Am– Maggie O’Farrell
  19. Beach Rental– Grace Greene
  20. *Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine– Gail Honeyman
  21. *Before Jamaica Lane– Samantha Young
  22. *Hero– Samantha Young
  23. *One Good Earl Deserves A Lover– Sarah MacLean
  24. Wired– Julie Garwood
  25. Force of Nature– Jane Harper
  26. Hope Flames– Jaci Burton
  27. Fall From India Place– Samantha Young
  28. When Katie Met Cassidy– Camille Perri
  29. Life And Death– Stephenie Meyer
  30. Severance– Ling Ma
  31. *Echoes Of Scotland Street– Samantha Young
  32. *Chemistry– Weike Wang
  33. Hate To Want You– Alisha Rai
  34. *Fight or Flight– Samantha Young
  35. This Will Only Hurt A Little– Busy Phillips
  36. Roses– Leila Meacham
  37. *Because of Miss Bridgerton– Julia Quinn
  38. The Girl With The Make-Believe Husband– Julia Quinn
  39. *The Kiss Quotient– Helen Hoang
  40. The Little Shop Of Found Things– Paula Brackston
  41. The Wedding Date– Jasmine Guillory
  42. The Great Alone– Kristin Hannah

 

My top 5 recommendations on this list (not including romance, those will follow) are:

  1. Still Me
  2. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
  3. The Dry
  4. Chemistry  (I recommend actually reading this one, not listening to it on Audible. The way/how it is written is part of the experience.)
  5. The Immortalists– I wrote about the four above in previous posts so please go back for my take or click on the links to see book details. As for this one, I didn’t love everything about the book but it did stay with me.  If you could find out the day you were going to die, would you want to know?  After reading this, I’m not sure I would. Destiny, free will, family dynamics, living life to the fullest or protecting oneself from everything – a lot to noodle over.

As for romances:

  1. Hero/ Fight or Flight  – Same author though very different stories. Fun, escapist reading.
  2. The Kiss Quotient  – The lead character (and author!) has Asperger’s so a different slant to a romance story.  I enjoyed it.
  3. Because of Miss Bridgerton  – The first of a new series from one of my favorite authors.  I think I read it in a day because I didn’t want to put it down.  Book four comes out this year.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t enjoy the second book of the series and I haven’t yet read the third.)

 

Movies-

Rather than list all the movies I saw, I’m going to list the ones I gave A’s or A-‘s to (listed in order seen):

  • Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle
  • Molly’s Game
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • Ready Player One
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  • RBG
  • Hearts Beat Loud
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout
  • Beautiful Boy
  • Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

 

In the spirit of “I should go on a diet January,” I’d like to recommend a documentary on Netflix. What The Health critiques the health impact of meat and dairy products consumption and how the production of these foods affects communities and our planet.  It is very compelling in its advocacy of a whole food plant based diet which, shown here, can reverse chronic disease (including diabetes).  Obviously the creators of the doc want you to feel how they feel; it’ll be up to you to do your own research after you watch it.  All I can tell you is my girls have changed how they eat now after watching it.  It’s pretty powerful.

 

TV-

I listed my favorite dramas last time.  My favorite comedies haven’t really changed and I think I’ve discussed them all previously:  “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (thank you NBC!), “Mom,” “The Good Place,” “Superstore,” “Blackish,” and “Fresh Off The Boat.”  No I haven’t watched “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”  (Amazon Prime) yet, though I have seen half of the “Barry” (HBO) episodes – jury is still out.

 

Song of the Blog –

In Busy Phillips’s memoir she talks about sparkly humans.  I like the term though it conjures up a different type of person for me than it does for her.  Sparkly people, to me, are those to whom we gravitate or want to be with – they draw you in.

My aunt Micki was a sparkly human.  She was always the life of the party; you could hear her laughter from across the room.  The world needs more sparkly people like her, not less.  She left too soon, but while she was here she did a lot of good and she had a ball.

My grandfather celebrated his 100th birthday this past July.  I think we were all more excited about the milestone than he. I also think he was biding his time until he could be reunited with my grandmother who passed away 3 years ago. He was properly exalted at his party; we praised, celebrated, memorialized and loved on him – it was a gift for all of us that we were able to do it and that he was able to receive it.  He was a small, quiet man with a big presence.  He wasn’t sparkly but you wanted to make him proud.  And if you made him laugh, you felt like a million bucks.

He passed away in October.  I’ve been thinking about what it must’ve been like to have lived for 100 years and all the change he must have witnessed: the loss, the love, the disappointment, the joy, the pain, the gratitude, etc.

I guess the number of years doesn’t ultimately matter, 100 vs 74, but how you live them.  Hopefully, to borrow from Marie Kondo, you can do something every day that will spark joy for yourself and for others.

As for this song, the title is kind of apt, but that’s it.  I just like the song; the feel, the rhythm, the groove.  Here’s 1950 by King Princess, I hope you like it, too.

Thanks for reading!

A Fall Harvest

Movies:

In the Captain Obvious segment of movie recommendations let’s begin with A Star Is Born. The performances are all top-notch (I especially enjoyed Sam Elliott and Andrew Dice Clay).  The singing was, not surprisingly, the best part for me.  Lady Gaga steals it with every performance; she is just so innately, effortlessly talented.  I really love that they recorded every song live, it gives the movie so much more power and authenticity. But can we just discuss Bradley Cooper?  I’ve been a fan since “Alias,” admiring his looks and acting chops but he is ridiculously distracting in this movie.  I’m not sure I have ever seen anyone better looking on the movie screen and I do not say that lightly.  Swoon.

Bohemian Rhapsody has not gotten the best reviews.  Critics complain that the movie did not delve deeply enough into Mercury’s hedonistic lifestyle or accurately portray his gayness. All that may be true but everyone I know who saw it looooved this movie.  Not only that, we all fell in love with Queen’s music again. Have you noticed “Bohemian Rhapsody” is on the radio more?  I enjoyed the movie and I thought Rami Malek was excellent.  As far as highlights go, that Live Aid scene is truly Killer Queen.

A movie I’d like you to consider seeing is Immediate Family.  For anyone who has harbored a desire to foster children, or at least an admiration for those who have, this movie is for you.  Or, if you appreciate a well-done family comedy, it is also for you.  It’s based on the director/co-writer’s own experience as a foster parent. My mom and I heard him speak at the screening, and he is very passionate about the subject.  The movie is not slap sticky or hokey; it is realistic in a loving way and definitely funny.  I really liked it.  It’s PG-13; your kids will like it, too.

 

TV:

Here are my top 5 favorite (network) television shows right now:

  1. “The Resident” – I’m a big fan of Matt Czuchry (“Gilmore Girls”), I love that it’s filmed in Atlanta and visually proves that it’s in Atlanta and I like that it shows us a different side to the medical drama than we are used to seeing. It’s a little more corporate and evil than I’d like to think it is but what do I know?
  2. “Manifest” – It’s filling my “Lost” void. I love the concept and I like the supernatural aspect of it mixed with everyday life.  They were missing for 5 ½ years?!  That’s so cool.
  3. “New Amsterdam” – It’s heartwarming without being schmaltzy. Don’t you want to assume that every hospital administrator would prefer focusing on exceptional care over bureaucracy?
  4. “FBI” – I’m not really a procedural girl (imagine the “Law & Order” BUM BUM in the background) but I am enjoying this show.  Smart, levelheaded people responsible for keeping us safe – again, what we all like to assume is truth.
  5. “The Good Doctor” – hmmm, I have a lot of medical shows on this list. What can I say? They are all good!  I liked this last year and I like it this year.  It’s very well acted and thought provoking while also entertaining.  In a recent episode of “CBS Sunday Morning” there was a story highlighting companies that hire people with autism because these are highly intelligent people who often have uncanny abilities and strengths, which can be utilized in many professions. After watching this show, I definitely believe it.

 

I’m in the middle of “Ozark” and “Bodyguard” on Netflix so maybe more on those later.  I was going to watch “The Good Cop” on Netflix because the reviews were so good but just saw that it got canceled so…maybe not?

 

Books:

Chemistry by Weike Wang:  I really enjoyed this book; I learned some things and I laughed out loud.  I saw this review which coincides with everything I feel about the book:  “Wang’s heroine, a young Chinese-American woman who is emotionally and professionally adrift, feels crushed by the expectations of her demanding parents, and by the pressures of her prestigious Boston university and her competitive male-dominated field, synthetic organic chemistry. She is also deeply ambivalent about marriage and committing to a career in synthetic organic chemistry. Chemistry is a sort of anti-coming-of-age story: Instead of figuring out how to be an adult, the narrator learns to live with uncertainty and indecision . . . In a deadpan voice, Wang drops in arcane chemistry trivia and captures the quirky, cutthroat subculture of science graduate students.” —Alexandra Alter, The New York Times

I did not find a corresponding New York Times review of Fight or Flight by Samantha Young, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good! It’s a romance, so if that’s not your thing, you can move on.  It is a quality read AND you can take it out in public because the cover is not embarrassing.  If you like it, I recommend all of her books, particularly Hero. You’re welcome.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel by Gail Honeyman is deeper than you may originally think.  She is definitely quirky and not initially likeable but you soon begin to see how she came to be the way she is and you grow to care and hope for her; funny and heartbreaking.  (Side note, I just read that Reese Witherspoon’s company is turning it into a movie which is set to be released in 2019.)

 

Instead of a song of the blog this time, I am providing a recipe.  I’m not really a pumpkin everything fan, but I do love this recipe from Taste of Home magazine years ago.  I make it every fall because my kids love it (especially when I throw in chocolate chips) and I gift it to others as well.  I hope you enjoy.

Delicious Pumpkin Bread

5 eggs

1 ¼ cups vegetable oil

1 can (15 oz) solid-pack pumpkin

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

2 pkgs (3 oz each) cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp salt

In a mixing blow, beat the eggs.  Add oil and pumpkin; beat until smooth.  Combine remaining ingredients; gradually beat into pumpkin mixture. Pour batter into five greased 5” x 2 ½” x 2” loaf pans.  Bake at 325 for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool on wire racks. Yield: 5 miniature loaves.  OR (and this is what I do more): Bread may also be baked in two greased 8” x 4” x 2” loaf pans for 75-80 minutes.

 

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading!

A Dose of Reality

Happy summer everyone!

A lot of big movies have been out recently that have been really good; Black Panther, Ready Player One, Avengers: Infinity War and The Incredibles 2.  While we are getting a little breather until the next wave of tentpole movies arrives, let me recommend some smaller excellent films.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a documentary about Mr. Rogers.  I will pass along to you advice given to me, bring tissues (good looking out, Natalie). He was every bit as wonderful a person as you hoped he was.  I’m not the only one who is giving it an A, it has a 99% Rotten Tomatoes score.

RBG is a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I was not aware of the impact she made before she became a Justice.  She is a force.  I think you would look great in a Notorious RBG shirt, just saying.

Hearts Beat Loud is very reminiscent of Begin Again and Sing Street. (If you haven’t seen either of these yet, you should.)   In this film, Nick Offerman is a single father who owns a record store.  His daughter is about to move across the country for college.  Before she leaves, they (sort of) form a band. It’s sweet, moving and is chock full of good music.  I loved it.  (Thank you, Amanda.)

Books

I went through a little lull again where every book I read was eh.  That’s actually why it has taken me so long to get a blog entry out. I know people want recommendations and I only like to recommend if I really, really like it.  I have a pile of promising-looking books on my counter but the last 2 I read were worthy of posting.

What You Don’t Know About Charlie Outlaw– Leah Stewart

This book is not going to win any awards but it is a great beach read.  It’s about two Hollywood actors who have recently broken up.  The actress achieved stardom in her role as a Buffy The Vampire-type and the actor is on a popular show.  He has been kidnapped. That’s all I’ll say about the plot.  It’s a birds-eye view into the inner workings of Hollywood and the pitfalls that go along with being a famous actor/actress.  Side note, this book prompted me to start a new list on my phone of words I would like to inject into my verbal repertoire.  I enjoyed the tone of the book as well as its use of vocabulary.

I Am, I Am, I Am– Maggie O’Farrell

Probably not a beach read, at least not a breezy read if that’s what you are looking for. It’s a memoir in which each chapter chronicles one of her 17 brushes with death.  It’s a wonder she is around to tell some of these stories; gripping and well written.

TV

I’m basically playing catch up. I am watching a couple summer shows but nothing really worth promoting.  If, however, you haven’t watched Paul McCartney on Carpool Karaoke, then please click on this.  It’s perfection.

I don’t normally do product placement but I’m going to make an exception here.  At the risk of aging myself, I’m going to provide a public service for those of you females who need reading glasses.  Is there anything more annoying then going to a restaurant for dinner and not being able to read the menu?  Insult to injury, you couldn’t fit your readers in your little purse.  SO frustrating. I saw Neckglasses on Deals and Steals on GMA and bought some immediately. You’re welcome.

Song of the blog:

My girls and I are loving “Miracle” by Chvrches.

Thanks for reading and have a great summer!

Oscar Time, 2018

As you may know, it’s my favorite time of year – Oscar time!! This year, of the nine nominated films, I have seen seven. While I liked most of them, I am struggling with what Best Picture really means. None of them swept me off my feet or shook me to my core. Or is Best Picture the one that will hold up 20 years from now?  One we will still be talking about or have to watch every time we see it airing on television (or available on Netflix)? (Shawshank Redemption, cough.) I don’t know. Frankly, I’m flummoxed by how some even got the nomination, but that’s a whole other conversation. I’m not predicting winners here, but I will tell you a few movies I liked.

Of the seven I have seen, my top three are The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird. The first two are, simply put, romances – exemplifying that you really can’t help with whom you fall in love. The performances are breathtaking. I thought it was going to be Sally Hawkins’s year; you really get and feel her character yet she barely utters a word. The emotion she puts behind everything she does is truly impressive. Unfortunately for her, I’m pretty positive it’s Frances McDormand’s year. She is a force – not an undeserving win at all for her turn in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, just bad luck for Sally. As for CMBYN, Timothee Chalamet is fantastic. You can’t take your eyes off of him. He plays guitar and piano, he speaks multiple languages and he acts pretty well, too. (You can also catch him in Lady Bird, by the way.) He won’t win either (early congrats to Gary Oldman who is unrecognizable in Darkest Hour) but I look forward to seeing his future work. I really enjoyed some of the soundtrack during the movie, too.

Lady Bird is a very realistic snapshot of a teenage girl itching to get of her town while fighting, loving, trying to please and pushing away her mother. Laurie Metcalf is remarkable. I thought she was a shoo-in, and then I saw I, Tonya. I love me some Allison Janney (“West Wing,” “Mom,” and The Way Way Back – she is something else.)

Quick plug for Molly’s Game – it only got a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination, but it was great. Jessica Chastain is terrific and the director/writer is Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing,” “Sports Night,” A Few Good Men – you know the writing is going to be top-notch!) It won’t win but that’s ok, it’s definitely worth watching.

Oscar’s are on this Sunday night – love me some Jimmy Kimmel.  Enjoy!

 

Books

I have a belated Valentine’s Day book suggestion. I was going to recommend it earlier but the timing didn’t seem appropriate what with everything going on in the real world so I’m making it now. It does require some homework, however. If you haven’t read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (first of all, how is that possible?!) then you must start there. And read it with tissues next to you. As you know, I try to keep it positive on this blog, but I’m about to throw some shade (sorry Ms. Moyes). Moyes wrote a sequel called Me After You. I told people not to read it. I didn’t like it. Instead, I directed friends to another of her books, One Plus One – so good! When I heard she wrote a third book in the series, I was not optimistic, but I took the plunge. It’s called Still Me and it’s….terrific. I really loved it. “Do I have to read the second book?” you may ask. Yes, you do. Maybe you’ll like it more since I’ve lowered your expectations? Let’s hope for that.

If you’re looking for a good mystery that you can read in a couple days, try The Dry by Jane Harper. You’ll feel parched as if you are experiencing the drought in the Outback along with the characters and you’ll have no idea what is going to happen.

If you like historical fiction, try Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.   Unbelievably based on real-life events; poor children were stolen, neglected/abused and then sold to wealthy individuals. It was well written even though it hurt to read.

 

Song of the blog (Click on the link.)

In honor of Baby Driver’s three nominations, I’m going to plug its star, Ansel Elgort, and his song “Thief.”  It’s not new but it’s a favorite in our house.

 

Thanks for reading!

2017 In Review

Following, are the books I read (in order) in 2017; if I recommend it, it has an asterisk in front of it.

  1. The Versions Of Us – Laura Barnett
  2. *The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo – Amy Schumer
  3. *Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld
  4. Today Will Be Different – Maria Semple
  5. *You – Caroline Kepness
  6. *Modern Lovers – Emma Straub
  7. The Enchanted Life Of Adam Hope – Rhonda Riley
  8. Difficult Women – Roxane Gay
  9. *Commonwealth – Ann Patchett
  10. The Regulars – Georgia Clark
  11. Sting – Sandra Brown
  12. *The Arrangement – Mary Balough
  13. *Hillbilly Elegy – J.D. Vance
  14. *Natural Born Charmer – Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  15. *Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
  16. *The Trouble With Mistletoe – Jill Shalvis
  17. *Marrying Winterborne – Lisa Kleypas
  18. *Devil in Spring – Lisa Kleypas
  19. Maestra – L.S. Hilton
  20. My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout
  21. *Talking As Fast As I Can – Lauren Graham
  22. The People We Hate At The Wedding – Greg Ginder
  23. The Light We Lost – Jill Santopolo
  24. *The Hopefuls – Jennifer Close
  25. *Anything Is Possible – Elizabeth Strout
  26. The Woman In Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware
  27. The Assistants – Camille Perri
  28. *The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  29. *Less – Andrew Sean Greer
  30. *Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
  31. *Young Jane Young – Gabrielle Zevin
  32. *The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin
  33. Mrs. Fletcher – Tom Perotta
  34. *Bonfire – Krysten Ritter
  35. *Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
  36. *Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo

My top 5 from this list are (click on the link for more details):

  1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry  It came out in 2014 but I hadn’t read it. If you read a lot, you will LOVE this book. Even if you don’t, I’m not sure how you couldn’t like it. I found it reminiscent of A Man Called Ove in that the lead character is quirky but, ultimately, loveable. A joy to read.
  2. Eligible  I told everyone to read this book – it’s just so fun! A modern Pride & Prejudice with a little “Bachelor” thrown in.
  3. Anything Is Possible  I wrote about this in my last blog so I won’t repeat myself. I’ll just say it’s more like a short story collection where in all the characters are from the same town. Beautifully written.
  4. Marrying Winterborne  It’s romance, I know it’s not for all of you but it’s my list and I love Kleypas’s books.
  5. You  Creeeeeeeeeeepy

 

TV

I suggest, if you haven’t already, you read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I had not read it and was thrilled when my book club chose it. One of our members is a former teacher (Hi Karen K!) who LOVED this book and taught it often. She helped break it down for us and pulled out the intricacies. I liked the book though I did find it hard to get through at times which was the point of the writing style, I believe. If you’re NOT going to read it, PLEASE watch the television series on Hulu. It is phenomenal. I blitzed through it in 2 days and I never do that. The acting is terrific and the story is terrifying and seems all too possibly possible.

My favorite new show, which, as per usual, will probably get canceled, is “Kevin Probably Saves The World.” I love Jason Ritter in it and I find it heartwarming and sweet.

I also like “The Good Doctor” but I’m not alone as it’s the #1 new show this year.

“Outlander” kind of lost me in season 2 but has brought me way back with season 3.

One of my most favorite shows (I tape it every week) is “Sunday Morning on CBS.” In this time of in-your-face news and constant horrifying revelations, it offers stories of hope and mostly goodwill. I encourage my whole family to watch with me because there’s something for everyone. It always concludes with a video of calming nature somewhere to remind us the beauty that is out there; we should appreciate it.

 

Movies

I’m not going to list all the movies I saw this past year but I will list my top 5:

  1. La La Land (saw it in Feb)
  2. Baby Driver
  3. Wonder Woman
  4. Coco
  5. (tie) Spider Man – Homecoming and John Wick 2

I know this is a 2017 summary but I just saw Lady Bird and Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle and highly recommend both, especially Jumanji – great for the whole family (over 10 yrs old probably).

 

Song of the Blog

We lost a lot of incredibly talented people last year.   One of the ones who hit me the hardest was Tom Petty. I think he had a lot more rock ‘n roll left in him. “Breakdown” (click on it to listen) is one of my all-time favorite songs.  It takes me right back to hanging in the basement with my cousins and playing their pinball machine; a much simpler time.

 

Happy New Year all, thanks so much for reading.