Thursday, February 17, 2011

Third Book of the Year - Done!

For #19 - Read 10 Books in 1 Year, I finished my third of 2011 last night. I'm realizing now that this isn't much of a challenge, as I'm pretty sure I average at least a book a month, and that makes 12 in one year. Oh well!

For my third book of the year, I read Grecian Holiday by Kate Cann. Sharon let me borrow the book to take South with me, but I didn't end up getting to it while on the beach in Cuba. Upon returning home, I read The Kite Runner, and following that, I definitely needed a light, fluffy read, which Sharon had guaranteed me this fit that bill.

Oddly enough, it took me longer to get through the chick lit than The Kite Runner. Go figure.

Grecian Holiday tells the light, fluffy story of a young British woman named Kelly who opts to spend her summer holidaying in Greece with her friends instead of back-packing it across Europe with her new boyfriend, Mike.

Kelly and her friends Jade and Sarah are living their dream vacation, staying in a gorgeous old farmhouse, spending their days at the beach, and their evenings clubbing and hosting lavish parties. Then, one day Mike and his mates turn up, and Kelly must decide whether she wants to continue on for the rest of the summer with her friends or take off with Mike instead. On one hand, she'll have some ticked off friends. On the other, she could lose her boyfriend. Oh the dilemma!

Light & fluffy. Through & through. I think my favourite parts of the book were the descriptions of Greece - the beach, the ocean, the villages, the architecture, the people, the food, the wine... I've never thought of Greece as a place I'd like to go when dreaming of overseas vacations, but it seriously shot up the list after this book! It sounds heavenly!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Another Movie Checked Off for #30

I was a little surprised that I didn't already have a 'C' movie checked off for #30 - Watch 26 movies starting with each letter of the alphabet. But I'm very pleased to count Country Strong towards that task! I now have 13 of the 26 movies knocked off the list. Woo!

I really really loved Country Strong. Totally my kind of flick. I went with my friend Sharon last Friday night to see it in theatre, and when we left, my mind was spinning with thoughts of the bittersweet tale, my new celeb crush, and a soundtrack that I can't wait to get my hands on.

For Sharon's take on the flick, check it out here. If you want to read my schoolgirl ramblings on how dreamy Garrett Hedlund is, carry on:

The story centres on Hedlund's character, Beau Hutton, an up-and-coming country singer, who gets his big break opening for superstar Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) after he befriends her at the rehab centre where he works and she is a patient. Canter's husband/manager James (Tim McGraw) also sees potential in Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), so he brings her along for the ride too. Kelly mounts her comeback while opening doors for two new bright stars-in-the-making, offering them advice while unknowingly giving them a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how fame can tear a person apart.

There's also a lot of mixed-up romance going on. Kelly adores Beau, but she also depends and leans on her husband, striving for his approval and hoping to make up the mistakes she's made in their marriage. Meanwhile, she's jealous of Chiles, who has caught James' eye. And once Beau and Chiles, old-time frenemies, are put in close confines, they start falling for each other too. At times, it's hard to keep up with the love...square?

But the soundtrack was the shining star of this movie. Gwyneth Paltrow was excellent as Kelly Canter, and from the concert scenes, you'd swear she spent her life on stage, doing just that. Leighton Meester, who James calls "the next Carrie Underwood", also perfectly portrays a young country starlet.

And Garrett Hedlund...Ohhhh, yum. His voice is like sand paper and warm hot chocolate. He reminded me of one my new country singing faves, Jamey Johnson. From Beau's first performance in the movie, when he sang a cover of Merle's "Silver Wings", I was in love. Definitely, definitely, my new celebrity crush. Sharon said she thought he looked like he needed to be thrown in a shower and scrubbed down. Quite personally, I was a big fan of his scruffy, shaggy cowboy appearance. But if we had to throw him in a shower and scrub him down, I volunteer...

Whoops. Just drooled a little on my desk, there.

Anyways, I was also fully impressed by the fact that all the stars in the movie sang their own songs. And thought it was pretty funny that the only actual country star in the cast, McGraw, didn't even have a singing role. In any case, it ups the cred of the movie that they all did their own vocals (and were quite good at it, too), much like Jeff Bridges and Colin Ferrell in Crazy Heart. Anyone of them could release a country CD right now and I'm sure it would hit the charts. Highlights are Hedlund's "Chances Are" and "Timing is Everything", Meester's take on one of my Jessica Andrews favourites, "Summer Girl", and her duet with Hedlund, "Give in to Me", as well as Paltrow's performances of "Shake That Thing", "Coming Home", and of course, "Country Strong".

It was a tragic movie about fame, love, and loss. I enjoyed every minute of it. If you like country music - or just scruffy, shaggy cowboys - I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Another Book & Movie to Cross Off

Yesterday, when re-capping all that I'd crossed off the 101 List in 2011, I forgot a movie for #30 - Watch 26 movies starting with each letter of the alphabet. Not sure how I forgot it, since I'd been dying to see it and loved every second of it once I saw it on Saturday afternoon. It's my "D" movie - Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights. For obvious reasons, I'd been wanting to see it since I returned from Cuba.
(I promise, I'm going to stop talking about Cuba some day soon!)

It's no original Dirty Dancing. To even try to compare it would be unfair. Not even a cameo by Patrick Swayze as the dance instructor at the hotel in Cuba could bring it the magic of the original.

But the music was hot. The dancing was fun. The story had a touch of history, as it took place on the eve of the Revolution. And it was pretty cool to pick out landmarks and places I remembered from our trip into Havana.

And it also made me wonder why I never found any Cuban boys quite as sweet & charming as Javier. ;)

I also have my second book to cross off for the year for #19 - Read 10 books in one year. The book club I'm in had selected The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini for our first book of 2011, and I wasn't sure how long it would take me to read it, so I wanted to get it started well before the end-of-February meeting date.

As it turned out, a whirlwind week of being completely enthralled by the story, and I was done it. I don't think I've read a book so quickly since Twilight! But it wasn't a feel-good story. In fact, it was quite a sad one. I expected this, as I read Hosseini's other acclaimed novel A Thousand Splendid Suns. I was prepared for the gut-wrenching horror, the sadness, the fear, and that sick feeling in my stomach as I thought to myself, This stuff really happens. These kids in Afghanistan really go through this.

It's an eye-opener. It's easy to forget about the terror in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, because they are just so far away. I sometimes find it easier to just turn a blind eye.

But Hosseini brings the reality of present-day Afghanistan closer to home. He puts a spotlight on their plight. In this novel, he does so by telling the story of Amir, a young Afghan boy who treats his servant boy, Hassan, quite badly, and feels guilt for it for years, knowing how Hassan always stuck up for him, but he turned his back on him in his hour of need.

As Amir grows into a man and moves to America with his father when political upheaval tears their homeland apart, he can never forget Hassan, the servant boy who was his only true friend. It isn't until Amir is married and his father long gone that he begins to find out secrets that his father kept from him, and he returns to Afghanistan to try to right the wrongs he committed against Hassan.

It's a moving novel, and Hosseini is a brilliant story-teller. I literally couldn't put it down, and when I finally forced myself to bed, I'd have trouble sleeping because I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was a heavy read, and I'm a little relieved it's over now.

I can't wait to see how everyone else feels about it at Book Club in a few weeks!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Check times... a LOT!

So, it's been awhile since I updated the 101 List. Since before Christmas.

I can't believe January's over already! And I've already accomplished so much off my 101 List in 2011! Here's the run-down:

#4 - Go Down South - Taking a trip south has always been a dream of mine, and it finally became reality on January 14th, when a group of us arrived at the Breezes Jibacoa resort in Cuba. It was a wonderful week of fun in the sun, and we also celebrated the marriage of Jeff and Kerry. I looooooooooooved Cuba!!

#13 - Dabble my toes in the ocean - Also accomplished January 14th - in fact, it was one of the first things I did in Cuba. We quickly changed into shorts and sandals and raced down to the beach, where the wind had kicked up white caps that kept crashing into the shoreline. Standing there, with the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean washing over my feet as I literally squealed with of my favourite memories!!

#17 - Go a whole week without signing into Facebook. Ryan tells me it's cheating since Internet access was slow in Cuba and we had to pay to use it, and also because there were a million other things to do, but I happen to know lots of our fellow travellers who checked into their Facebooks while we were down there. I, proudly, did not! From about 11:30 PM on January 13, 2011 to about 9:00 PM on January 21, 2011, I not only avoided Facebook, but I also had left my Blackberry at home, turned off. No technology for a week, other than a few quick emails home. Impressive, no?

#19 - Read 10 books in one year - I can check off the first book of 2011, as I read The Things We Do For Love by Kristin Hannah while in Cuba. It was a light read, perfect for the beach - about a young girl whose mother abandons her, but fortunately she befriends a woman who is in the midst of divorce and was never able to have her own children. The two are a match made in heaven, and the girl finds out what it's like to be in a real family, while the woman finally gets to try her hand at mothering. A great, quick read! I have to admit, I was highly optimistic that I'd get more reading done, as I brought two other books with me, but I guess I must have been busy with other things, because I didn't finish The Things We Do For Love until we were almost back in Ottawa!

#21 - Try a food I've never eaten before. Again, I accomplished this in Cuba. My plan was to try lobster at some point, but I missed out on the lobster night because we had booked an a la carte restaurant for seafood night at the buffet. So instead, I tried a bite of rabbit off Brenda's plate one day at lunch. And it's true what they say - tastes just like chicken!

#22 - Pull an all-nighter - It wasn't exactly what I had planned when I put this on the list, but because our bus picked us up at 2 AM the morning of January 14th to take us to the airport, there was pretty much no sleep to be had that night. I was just toooooo excited to get to Cuba! I had a quick "nap" at Mom & Dad's that evening (but I don't think I actually slept), then showered and arrived at Wayne's by 12:30 AM. By the time we got on the bus, I was starting to feel pretty zonked, and then I tried napping on the plane, but it didn't work either. By the time we arrived in Veradero, I hadn't really slept for over 30 hours!!

#30 - Watch 26 movies I've never before starting with each letter of the alphabet - I have a whole bunch to add to this list:

  • G - Grownups - One of Adam Sandler's latest offerings, and it was just "meh" for me. A bunch of old friends getting together, talking about the old days, and trying to teach their kids to have fun the way they used to. But it wasn't very funny...Not one of my favourite Sandler movies.
  • H - How Do You Know - Saw this one in theatres with Lindsay and Sharon. It starred Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, and Owen Wilson - three of my faves. While I found the movie a little slow-moving at times, and I truly expected more from the Jack Nicholson scenes, it was a sweet movie with a happy ending, and a great night out with friends!
  • O - Orphan - There's a reason why I don't watch scary movies. Orphan is one of the scariest I've seen in a while. (Maybe it's because I don't usually watch them, as my imagination runs wild afterwards and I have to sleep with the lights on. For months.) Yep, this one creeped me out. And there's a pretty cool twist at the end which really helps to explain why "There's something wrong with Esther..."
  • S - The Switch - Just rented this one last night with Luke and Amanda, and what a pleasant surprise it was! Starring Jennifer Anniston and Jason Bateman, it tells the story of a woman, Cassie, who decides to have a baby on her own after selecting a sperm donor, but then her best friend Wally gets drunk and switches the "goods" for his own. Seven years later, Wally meets his son, Sebastian. And the kid is the spitting image of him. But Cassie still has no idea that Wally is her son's father... Well worth the rental fee, and the kid who plays Sebastian is ADORABLE!!
  • V - The Vanishing - Oy. Luke picked this one up out of a cheap bin somewhere, and it piqued his curiosity because it starred such big names as Kiefer Sutherland, Jeff Bridges, and Sandra Bullock. But it was released a long time ago, long before any of them were big names in Hollywood. You can tell by the clothes and hair styles. It was dated, to say the least. And also scary. Awesome.

#31 - Take a plan ride for the first time - January 14, 2011, holding Brittany's hand, I flew for the first time on Sunwing flight # 694. I was nervous. I worried that every little bump and noise meant there was something wrong. But we made it. And now I'd never hesitate to fly again!

On the plane before take-off - a little excited!

#42 - Spend an entire day at the beach. I crossed this one off on January 19, 2011. We spent lots of time on the beach in Cuba, but on this day, I was there from 9:30 in the morning til sunset, around 5:30 PM. I lounged. I read. I listened to my iPod. We took a paddle boat out. I snorkeled. But I never strayed far from the sand or the ocean. It was the perfect day.

This is the sun setting on my full day on the beach!

#98 - Wear a bathing suit in public without shorts. Again, not what I had planned when I put this on my list. I had hoped to lose a pile of weight and then finally not be embarrassed to go in public without cover-up. It was supposed to be an empowering moment. But it actually went down in Cuba, while still very uncomfortable with my size and weight, yet I couldn't imagine getting into the jacuzzi with the girls with my shorts on. So I took 'em off. And I did so all week long. But there is no photo evidence, because it wasn't pretty, people!

There we have it! All of my check marks since Christmas til now. Sorry I haven't kept up with the postings, but I'll try to be better from now on! It's been so rewarding to cross off so much on the list - and much of it all in one week!