Friday, June 5, 2020

Themes and Variations by David Sedaris

Themes and Variations by David Sedaris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"If women come home from work and take their bras off, their husbands return and look for things they can force up their asses."

There you have a sample of tales David Sedaris heard from fans during his book tours in this short, funny essay from the master of the form.

Looking back at his broke-ass days, Sedaris recalls getting short-shrift in the way of interaction from an author for whom he plunked down hard-earned cash for a book to be signed. He's told this story before, but he returns to it here to explain why he always takes time to engage fans, and is often rewarded with interesting (and bizarre) revelations.

Friday, May 29, 2020

What to Watch June 2020

What to Watch June 2020

We're sliding into summer, so I'll ignore the heat and focus on new shows and movies coming to streaming! As always, I've made a list of shows we'll be checking out in my house, and I'm sharing it here along with links to everything coming to streaming services in June.

And away we go!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Life with Picasso by Françoise Gilot

Life with Picasso by Francoise Gilot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pablo Picasso was a gifted artist, one of the lucky ones who was successful during his lifetime, allowing him to reap the rewards of fame and fortune while still alive and kicking. He was also a dick.

In Life with Picasso, Françoise Gilot, his former lover and mother to two of his children, employs a sharp intelligence and memory to recount experiences from her decade with the artist. She describes in detail his work habits and techniques for those who love particulars of the creative process. You'll also get a glimpse of many other artists and writers in post-World War II France whose lives intersected with Picasso and Gilot.

However, the most fascinating and disturbing parts of the book focus on Picasso's actions and feelings towards the women, children and friends in his life. He didn't give a damn about anyone, though some people served his purposes or amused him for a time.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the kind of book that if you just go with it and ignore anything that seems to not quite make sense, you'll have a good ride. Not that there was a lot here that felt unexplained by the end, but as with most mystery/thrillers, you have to let a few things slide.

The make or break moment for a lot of books comes as they head into the home stretch. Some novels that were great for the first half turn into a disappointing mess by the ending. With Then She Was Gone, I felt satisfied with the story and how the threads wrapped up as the tale wound down.

That's not to say there weren't a few plot flaws or that the actions of some characters didn't ring false here and there. But this tale grew on me and I just went with it.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran by Andy Taylor

Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw my first Duran Duran video in the early '80s, and that was it, I was hooked. I was a superfan and a failed recruiter for my new-found obsession, but one getting no respect, no pay, and no takers. I would not shut up about them. It's low-key embarrassing now the way I went on, but I thought they were the best thing in the world, ever. It started when I was 12 or so; I didn't have a lot to compare it to.

They were the first band I found on my own (rather than one I caught wind of from older siblings), and an excitement and adoration blazed into my brain like lightning. I can't remember exactly when I first heard about them, which is shocking given how major they were to me for a few years, but it was sometime between 1982 and 1984. It was a newfangled music video that grabbed me, and I was captivated instantly. I never tired of watching those five young, gorgeous guys in beautiful locations, dressed to kill and belting out cool songs. I was entranced, enthralled, in love.

Friday, May 1, 2020

What to Watch May 2020


Quarantine continues in many areas, and so does the list of new shows dropping each month. With several productions shut down due to the pandemic, I suspect we'll see a little less in the way of new offerings about six months to a year from now – at which point we'll all catch up on some shows we couldn't get to before!

As always, I've made a list of shows we'll be checking out in my house, and I'm sharing it here along with links to everything coming to streaming services in May.

And away we go!

Friday, April 24, 2020

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."
In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway captures a fascinating picture of a long-gone moment in time, a place that still exists but will never exist in this exact way again, and a talented group of writers honing their craft and breathing in the creative life in Paris of the 1920s.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The audiobook of Ready Player One wowed me. The story beautifully wove together a tale of friendship, courage, love, and yes, '80s trivia. It added in evil corporations and the many ills facing society and the planet, ramped up a good bit.

It was heavy on '80s video game references, which isn't something I'm normally all that interested in, but the way it played out in the book worked for me. I was alive and well in the '80s, but was never that interested in games, and we were way too poor to have a home system. I did hit the arcade a few times, though, and was all about the Pac-Man and Galaga. That's about as deep as I go into '80s video games. And yet this story, based largely around games, worked for me.

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I couldn't help thinking as I read that this book is like Little House on the Prairie for grownups. In some ways. Ok, yes, that sounds nuts, but let me explain. The Little House books focused on Laura's wonder at the world and in little things around her, but you could also see the hardships of her life – told gently. They depicted tough times, certainly, but never got too nitty-gritty. They softened the edges of that life to make the story suitable for children.

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride tells it like it was. It's a fascinating history lesson about life in the 1840s in general, and in specific about life for families journeying a long distance across North America to settle elsewhere. It helps you understand what that trek would be like day in and out, and the dangers wrought by passing through vast areas where there was no possibility of buying supplies or obtaining medical help.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid



From Goodreads:
At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan. 
Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?
The book Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid blew me away, so of course I wanted to pick up more of her work. The current global turmoil decided me in favor of reading something that sounded light and sweet, so I wound up with one of her earlier novels, Maybe in Another Life, in my hands.

Friday, March 27, 2020

What to Watch April 2020

What to Watch April 2020
Why balloons? My birthday is in April! And we
could all use something cheerful right now, too.

What a difference a few weeks bring. A lot of us are staying home, social distancing, and trying not to catch or spread COVID-19. My monthly list of shows to watch may be small comfort at this time, but losing yourself in a good show can offer a brief respite from worry. I hope it helps someone out there find a way to think about something besides the pandemic and all that entails for a brief interlude here and there.

As always, I've made a list of shows we'll be looking for in the Choco household, and I'm sharing it with you, dear readers, along with links to everything coming to the ever-expanding universe of streaming services.

And away we go!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading How to Stop Time by Matt Haig feels like moving through a poem or song, wrapping yourself up in it, living inside it.

It's a melancholy tune that nonetheless shimmers with hope. It's an ode to love, and life, and learning to live in the present. It's about turning your back on worry and fear; it's about embracing love and truth.

Technically, it's about a man who ages at a dramatically slower rate than the rest of us. The condition is more of curse than a blessing. But his is a fascinating journey, and a beautifully written one.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads:
Set in the days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
For many, this is not the moment to pick up a book about the devastation left after a flu pandemic. But I've noticed some actually enjoy reading these types of tales amid our current COVID-19 pandemic. Is it soothing somehow? Or do they enjoy it like a horror story (one that seems more realistic by the day)? I don't know, but this a great novel. If you'll find comfort in reading a worst-case scenario, this delivers. But those overwhelmed by the current crisis should definitely wait awhile to give it a read.

Friday, March 13, 2020

The One with the Review of Generation Friends

Generation Friends by Saul Austerlitz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a Gen Xer, I was the prime audience for Friends when the show was spanking new. I loved the cozy, cool lifestyle of hanging around joking with friends day in, day out. I loved the style, from the clothes to the couch at Central Perk. And man oh man did I love Monica's purple apartment with the huge, multi-paneled window and balcony.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Cool Stuff to Watch

Cool Stuff to Watch


I've found lots of great things to watch in the past few months. If you're looking for something new to stream, or want an entertainment game plan in case you need to avoid crowds and stay home in the coming weeks and months, check this out!

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Someone recommended Things Fall Apart several years ago, adding that they often assigned it to lit students. This seemed like a good enough reason to add it to my own Goodreads list, as it struck a chord with reading habits of my younger days.

In my late teens and 20s, I based many personal reading choices on titles considered classics that were often studied in classrooms. My high school, for whatever reason, never assigned novels. Once in a while they'd pass out mimeographed sheets, and we'd read Romeo and Juliet (probably just a portion of it?) or some other piece short enough to copy for the whole class, but they never handed out a pile of books for us to read and discuss. Maybe they couldn't afford 20 or 30 copies of each book they might've assigned, I just don't know.

Friday, February 28, 2020

What to Watch March 2020


Spring is nigh, and this TV lover's thoughts turn to new shows on the horizon. As always, I've made my list of shows we'll be looking for in the Choco household, and I'm sharing it with you, dear readers, along with links to everything coming to the ever-expanding universe of streaming services.

And away we go!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

My Favorite Books Read in the 2010s

My Favorite Books Read in the 2010s

The 2010s passed by in the blink of an eye. The most satisfying way I can measure all that time slipping through my fingers is through books: What did I read that I loved each year?

So I've looked back at my Goodreads account, and even pried open my old Library Thing account, to check out what I read each year for the last decade. I've compiled the books and audiobooks I liked the most – not the ones I rated most highly, but what I look back on fondly or that left a lingering impression.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I loved this book and its main character so much! Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a tale of loneliness and trying to overcome childhood trauma, a story of not fitting in and not understanding why. I don't want to give anything away by detailing her struggles and their outcome, but the story grabbed me immediately and I couldn't wait to find out what would happen.

I sympathized with Eleanor even though I could see why other characters often found her odd or difficult. As author Gail Honeyman said in an interview with The Bookseller: "I thought it was important that Eleanor was never self-pitying, because I think as a reader that is when you lose sympathy for a character. Even if [a character] has been through horrendous experiences, if they are seen as self-pitying, it’s a very distancing thing. She’s broken but she’s not destroyed. She’s a survivor of it all."

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Me by Elton John


My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of all the music I've loved in my life, I come back most often to Elton John's songs, the tracks least likely to prompt me to change the dial or tell Alexa to skip. I'll listen to it the rest of my life, and I'm sure people will still be listening to it many lifetimes after I'm gone.

Maybe I enjoyed every page of his autobiography, Me, so completely because I'm a fan, but I don't think it's only that. The writing is simple, engaging and honest, with a thread of humor and self-awareness running through it like a clear, sparkling stream. It swept me along.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Fun with The Oscars


I never cared to watch award shows when I was single, and I still don't – with one exception: The Oscars. Since my husband and I like watching movies together, seeing which ones scoop up awards is a fun game for me. My husband may grumble that he doesn't care about the Oscars, but we always have a good time watching and comparing notes.

With the help of printable ballots offered by various websites, we make it into a no-stakes sporting event. If you want to play at home, grab a ballot and mark your votes in advance. PureWow offers a great printable ballot. You can also peruse the Oscar Nominees laid out with nice thumbnails to jog your memory of a given movie or role. That site also offers a printable ballot. (Several sites have ballots; I like to look over a few and find one without a lot of unnecessary extra graphics and a layout I like for printing.)

Monday, February 3, 2020

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These essays had a comfortable sense of familiarity to me. They made me laugh, nod my head in recognition, or mull over the truth that even when your world sounds pretty great in many respects (as the author's certainly does), you can still get sucker-punched by life and your own issues. Hell, even when you have some pretty significant problems, you can usually count the ways millions of people in the world have it worse – yet knowing that doesn't make your troubles melt away like a snowman in the sun.

Many passages reminded me of myself ... in small ways. The messed up ways rather than the "You're winning at life, pal!" ways. Her dire sense of direction, the need to plan things out, get things right, check off boxes, be responsible and reliable and expect others to behave similarly. Sometimes annoying the shit out of others with all of that. Taking up the slack at work or anywhere really; if others don't do what needs to be done, stepping up. And end up taking on too much. Swimming in anxiety at times. Yep, sounds familiar.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

What to Watch February 2020


So many shows, so little time. As my husband points out, it's a good problem to have. My personal list of shows and movies we want to get to at some point is LONG. Every month it gets an overhaul as I add the list of new shows I'd like to watch and cut what we've already seen.

I'm sharing my new monthly additions here for anyone else keeping an eye out for new and returning shows. I'll include links to all the new content for a given service for you to browse as well.

And away we go!

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Sisters by Dervla McTiernan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The narrator, Aiofe McMahon, delivers an outstanding performance of a somewhat flawed short story. I can't determine how much of the momentum that kept me hooked was the story itself, and how much the dynamite voice work.

I don't want to give spoilers, so I won't go into detail on the weak areas. I will say the author has a great way of weaving a story, it's just that some of the threads were a bit thin. But at the same time, there were many parts of the narrative that resonated for me, particularly the relationship between the sisters and the challenges and obstacles they faced as young woman early in their careers.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Reflections on Chihuly Glass

When I first encountered the bright, blown-glass sculptures, alive with light and color and flowing lines that suggest movement and life, I'd never heard of artist Dale Chihuly. I thought the glass displays were whimsical and interesting, but didn't give them a second thought.

Missouri Botanical Garden Blue Chandelier, 2006
Missouri Botanical Garden Blue Chandelier, 2006
(That's the title of the piece, not the photo's date! Located in the visitor center.)
I can't even say for sure the first time I encountered Chihuly's work, as I may have seen it with no idea it was his or even who he was. But the first time I remember seeing it was at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, which has a few of his pieces on permanent display. Unfortunately I didn't get many good photos of them. It was only after I visited the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and saw its large collection of Chihuly's glass sculptures that I realized what I'd seen in Missouri, and later was captured by the chandelier sculpture in the visitor center of the Missouri Botanical Gardens on a return visit. A few other pieces adorn various spots of the garden like pockets of hidden treasure for visitors to find.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Best Books I Read in 2019


Looking back at the 45 books I read in 2019, I loved quite a few of them. A lot ended up being in the friendzone (I liked 'em, but didn't love 'em), and a few were so rotten they filled me with rage. But who cares about them? Let's focus on the best of the bunch.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't typically read romance novels, but the buzz around this one lured me in. The setup is a brilliant idea: the handsome young son of the U.S. president falls for a handsome young British prince. It uses the tried, true, and (usually) tired theme of having two future lovers hate each other at first sight before falling madly in love. But it does it with a real twist, that twist being that it actually does it well.

Friday, January 3, 2020

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading this book about a privileged, beautiful young woman made me feel I was in a bit of daze myself, but without the gargantuan amounts of drugs the main character takes to keep herself in a similar state. She was trying to sleep for a year, but even when she was awake she wasn't truly conscious.

The unnamed narrator just wants a reboot, and for her that means a year of sleep. "Life was fragile and fleeting and one had to be cautious, sure, but I would risk death if it meant I could sleep all day and become a whole new person," she tells us.