Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Report: The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

The Best of Me, by Nicholas Sparks, reaches in and rips your heart out.  Which is to say that it's like every other Nicholas Sparks novel.  This particular story was one part The Notebook and one part Dear John, with a heavy dose of The Guardian's darkness tossed in.  Actually, the last three or four Sparks books I read seemed uncharacteristically vengeful and violent.  What's more, there seems to be a thread of spying at large in a growing number of titles.  Not, of course, in a creepy way, but in a do-gooder-just-watching-over-you kind of way.  Which, come to think of it, is a little bit creepy.  In Dear John, John skulks around Savannah's house for years even after they part.  Then there's The Lucky One, in which the entire plot hinges upon ex-soldier Logan pursuing a woman he knows from only a photograph. 

Easy-target jokes aside, no bestselling author spins a tale of unrequited love more poignantly than Sparks.  He drops characters into situations that force them to come to terms with their purpose in life.  That's the theme at the core of each of his stories, with the romance serving as the conduit through which these revelations are made possible.

So, The Best of Me.  Dawson and Amanda are two small-town North Carolina high school kids who fall in love.  He's poor, and she's rich, and her parents tear them apart by packing her off to a prestigious college.  This, of course, is The Notebook-y part.  But unlike in The Notebook, they don't meet again just seven or eight years later.  Instead, fate wedges twenty-five years between them, reacquainting them at, of all places, a funeral.  It's after this part that things get especially dark and dicey.  Then there's a bit of medical drama that seems heavily borrowed from Dear John.  At times it was all a bit too much, and I can see why a lot of readers may write it off as unbelievable, or even worse, cheesy.  But here's the thing.  It's this crazy course of events that clarifies exactly what it is that Dawson and Amanda are meant to be doing.  Because try as they might, they're too indecisive and influenced by worldly concerns to figure it out on their own.  Whether they end happily or tragically, Sparks's novels always give readers (or at least this reader) the sense that things are as they should be and that everything has gone according to plan.

If that sounded vague in terms of plot, then I've done my job.  The Best of Me is one of those books that would be spoiled by discussing too many details.  That having been said, I'll leave you with a quote that struck me:

"Too many people glorified small-town America, making it seem like a Norman Rockwell painting, but the reality was something else entirely.  With the exception of doctors and lawyers or people who owned their own businesses, there were no high-paying jobs in Oriental, or in any other small town for that matter.  And while it was in many ways an ideal place to raise young children, there was little for young adults to aspire to." (82)

There's a lot of truth in what Sparks says here.  I found this interesting, especially given that most of Sparks's books take place in small towns.  It made me wonder if, on some level, the deaths of his romances are symbolic of the death of small-town America.  Or, at the very least, that the romances are plagued by the same limitations.             

Friday, December 30, 2011

Etsy Favorites - Pizza Party

What is it about the phrase "pizza party" that inspires such instantaneous celebration?  No one ever throws a cheeseburger party (okay, they host BBQs, but that hardly has the same ring) or a bucket of chicken party.  No, there's something about the combination of melted cheese and tomato sauce all smooshed together on a round of dough that brings people together.  And, apparently, inspires cool art.  I don't know about you, but donning these pizza-themed wearables, flicking on a pizza light switch, and curling up on a pizza rug with pizza plushies to gaze at pizza paintings while digging into a slice sounds divine.  

Speaking of which, it's about time to order my Friday pie.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Muse and the Mistake - A Fashion Fairy Tale

Tee: Kohl's
Tank: Target
Skirt: Kohl's
Shoes: Candie's, Kohl's
Bag: Target
Belt: B Fabulous
Necklace: The Tote Trove

Tank: Gap
Dress: Marshalls
Shoes: Candie's, Kohl's
Bag: DSW
Belt: Cast off from an old dress
Necklace: The Tote Trove

Top: Kohl's
Skirt: Kohl's
Shoes: Betseyville, Macy's
Bag: Target
Belt: B Fabulous

I'd been wanting to make this Fabulous Felt Red and White Polka Dot Bow Necklace for some time.  But on the first try I thoughtlessly sandwiched black satin ribbons between baby pink felt, causing the black to show through.  The horror!  Having done its adhesive best, my trusty Beacon Felt Glue ensured that the felt could not be pried apart.  So I had no choice but to cover up the mistake by adding yet more rhinestones.  Although pretty, the look wasn't in keeping with my other Fabulous Felt bow necklaces, so I resolved to add it to my personal stash and try again.  This time I used black and white polka dot ribbon, which hid itself nicely underneath the pink. 

So what, you may ask, is up with that last necklace-less outfit?  I just liked it.  The sweater is a favorite of mine, even if its cowl neckline isn't necklace-friendly.  It has a subtly 1950s look about it, which I enhanced with the colorful polka dot skirt and matchy black and white polka dot clutch and belt.  All it needs is a cute little hat!   

Book Report: George and Martha

On Christmas morning, I was pleasantly surprised to unwrap this paperback copy of James Marshall's classic children's book George and Martha.  George and Martha, for the uninitiated, are a couple of gently quarrelsome hippos who also happen to be best friends.  My five-year-old self had been under the impression that they were married, but a quick read-aloud revealed that they were not.  Which made them even more hilarious, especially in "The Tub," the mini story that made me laugh the hardest:

 "George was fond of peeking in windows."

 "One day George peeked in on Martha."

    "He never did that again.  "We are friends," said Martha.  "But there's such a thing as privacy!" '

I couldn't help but think that such humor was too subtle, not to mention suggestive, to be intended for children alone.  So I flipped to the back cover, which sure enough parroted this quote from the New York Times

"James Marshall's five stories about two great friends are really five mini-farces in which the dignity and the bulk of the hippos is in contrast with the ludicrousness of their situations . . . The secret of Mr. Marshall's success lies not just in the freshness of his sense of the ridiculous, but in the carefulness of his control and editorial judgment."

Indeed, Mr. Marshall, you are a jewel.  So much so that I may just have to start a George and Martha library to have all that ludicrousness at my fingertips.     

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Something New and Sparkly - Lady in Leopard

Top: Kohl's
Skirt: Target
Shoes: Journeys
Bag: Betseyville, Ross
Tights: Betseyville, Marshalls

I recently discovered printed felt.  Although I'm pretty sure I mentioned this before, it isn't until now that my use of it has come into full flower.  I particularly like the way the leopard print pops in this Fabulous Felt Leopard Bow Necklace, all ready to moonwalk into a strobe light-infused 1980s nightclub.  Next stop, polka dots. 

At the Movies: Blue Valentine

I waited to rent Blue Valentine until it was 50% off.  Because I like my heartache at a discount. 

Simply stated, it's about a young married couple that has fallen out of love.  Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a house painter, and Cindy (Michelle Williams) is a nurse.  They have one child, a five-year-old daughter named Frankie.  Dean's "the fun one" and an attentive dad, but he drinks too much.  Cindy is a nag who won't let him touch her. This is how we first meet them, a setting that makes it easy to feel sorry for Dean and to wish that Cindy would soften a little.  But then the flashbacks start.  Like favorite photographs, they slip in and out through the couple's present misery, revealing how they fell in love and how they got to be where they are now.  A world of subtlety is unraveled in those snapshots, and it becomes clear that Dean and Cindy's relationship, although once seemingly pure, was disintegrating even as it was being built.  Before even meeting Cindy, Dean says something that foreshadows their demise.  Men, according to him, are more romantic than women because they live their lives resisting commitment until one amazing woman comes along and changes their minds.  Women, on the other hand, are always ready for commitment but weigh their options, choosing to settle down with the man who makes the most money.  Dean says all of this naively, yet is so convincing that even I had to stop and wonder if maybe we women are just a bunch of unfeeling opportunists.  But by the end of the movie, I realized that Dean's words had prophesized the problems that would result between him and Cindy.  He thinks finding the right person, that one amazing woman, is enough.  He doesn't realize that he needs to work at his relationship to keep it going, that's it's not ultimately how much money he makes that will determine his wife's happiness, but the level of emotional support he's willing to give her.  (Sorry to get all Dr. Phil on you, but it's true.)  Knowing this, my loyalties reversed, and I began rooting for Cindy to break free of Dean.  The movie is crafty this way, manipulating your viewpoint to unveil the truth through the most accurate lens.  Watching it is uncomfortable, but then, it's supposed to be.  Blue Valentine, after all, is a dirty-dish-towels-exposed slice of life, not a detergent commercial fantasy.

It's good, though.  Layered and gritty and all of those other things that make you think and feel.  I'm glad I shelled out the $2.99.                     

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"I hope life isn't a big joke, because I don't get it."

And that's the last quote in the book.  Fitting, right?  Next Wednesday I'll begin posting quotes from Deepest Thoughts: So Deep They Squeak.  If that's not something to look forward to, then I don't know what is.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Season's Readings

Here is the "ton of excellent books" that I got for Christmas and made mention of in yesterday's (admittedly catty) book report post.  The collection spans the gamut from mainstream to obscure, including bestsellers such as Nicholas Sparks's latest, The Best of Me (a gift from the bf, who never fails to deliver the newest Sparks saga each December), and token titles like the Mardi Gras murder mystery Frill Kill.  I like to think of it as my new mini library, the perfect companion for a week's staycation. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Report: The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman

I was in RiteAid the other day, stocking up on Christmas candy, when I wandered over to the paperback rack in search of something sweet for my brain.  (It bears mentioning that I'd already browsed and resisted a 10-piece Coca-Cola-themed Lip Smacker assortment and various Calgon bath and body gift sets.)  I picked up and rejected a couple of murder mysteries, not wanting something even the slightest bit dark.  Then I saw a book called The Christmas Cookie Club, the back cover of which promised laughter and heartache, trials and triumphs.  In other words, all your usual sentimentality wrapped up with a great big holiday bow.  This sounded just marvy to me. What better way to forget life's problems, after all, than to read about a bunch of fictitious characters' undoubtedly more serious problems?

But these problems, as it turned out, were just a little too serious.  So much so that I probably should've stuck with a nice glossy copy of InStyle.  Readers, this Christmas caper was grim.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to hear about stillborn babies and twentysomething men plummeting to their deaths in my seasonal stories.  Or, actually, ever.  I know these things happen - but I'd rather not know about them, much less within the gilded confines of supposedly fluffy fiction.  Although I appreciate the occasional tearjerker, the thing I crave most from a novel is a frothy escape.

Whew.  I unleashed more of my inner mean girl there than I meant to.  Thankfully, I got a ton of really excellent books for Christmas, so my next book report is sure to be sunnier.  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Etsy Favorites - Birds of Paradise

Birds get a bad rap.  "You eat like a bird," is never complimentary, and calling someone a "birdbrain" is just downright mean.  Then there's the whole dirty bird thing, so named, undoubtedly, for the feathered ones' predisposition toward mites and lice.  Yet despite this nest of negativity, I've always liked them (the birds, that is, not the lice).  They're graceful and colorful and charming and exotic.  Which I say quite a bit and now seem to be regurgitating like a just-eaten worm.  So let's just leave it that I like birds as well as what this talented flock of Etsians has done with them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"If you're in a war, instead of throwing a hand grenade at some guys, throw one of those little baby-type pumpkins.  Maybe it'll make everyone think of how crazy war is, and while they're thinking, you can throw a real grenade."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Something New and Sparkly - Living in the Limelight

Dress: XOXO
Tee: Kohl's
Shoes: MetroStyle
Bag: J. C. Penney's
Scarf: J. C. Penney's

A few nights ago I was wrapping Christmas gifts into the wee hours while watching I Love You, Man for the umpteenth time.  I never get tired of that movie, mostly because Paul Rudd is at his hilarious nice guy best.  I still want to hide under the table every time he overhears his fiance and her friends talking about his sad friendless state, only to emerge from the kitchen bearing a tray of root beer floats for them complete with Pepperidge Farm Pirouette straws.  But I digress.  He (Paul Rudd, that is) and Jason Segal were rocking out to Rush's "Limelight" when I thought, hey, that would be a good name for that lime slice pin I made awhile back.  So here it is in all its limey, look-at-me goodness, albeit a little bit glarey.