Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Review of 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn (Audio Book)

"On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary.  Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River.  Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife's head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.  Under mounting pressure from the police and the media-- as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents-- the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior.  Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter-- but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love.  With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence.  Trouble is, if Nick didn't do it, where is that beautiful wife?  And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?"

A return to gardening this summer signaled a return to audio books.  'Gone Girl' was one I had been meaning to read for a while and just never got around to reading.  But now I have!

***Note: As usual, this review will contain spoilers.  Read at your own risk.***

This book is one of the more engaging books I've ever read.  I've never considered myself much of a reader of mystery novels, but after this... I think I need to try more.  I won't say that I'm hooked just yet.  Give it time.

I am floored by how intricate this story is.  Maybe to be clearer, I should say that I'm floored by Amy's attention to detail.  It's totally ridiculous.  Once you realize just what Amy is doing, you can't help but wonder how she thought about each and every problem that had even the smallest chance of happening and, more importantly, how to avoid it or spin it to her advantage.  She had Nick so cornered that I was more impressed by her level of plotting and cunning than I was creeped out and scared that she would even think to go to these lengths.

Despite how impressed I was, I absolutely hated both Nick and Amy.  I started out only hating Nick, but then I hated Amy closer to the end.  It just turns out that they're both terrible people.  Nick does nothing but think about himself.  He does this by essentially taking Amy away from her entire support system in New York (he doesn't give her a choice in the matter).  This is a big sign of abuse in a relationship.  He also, of course, cheats on his wife with a woman half her age (who also happens to be a student of his, but that's a whole other ethical debate).  Amy has a history of overreacting and has a tendency to ruin the lives of anyone she pleases.  Both are absolutely despicable.  

It's interesting how the stories with the most hateful characters tend to be the most engaging for me (take 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' for example).  

I loved this book up until the ending.  I was at the point where I just wished Amy and Nick would kill each other or get a messy divorce, but no, they dragged a kid into it.  I thought that this had crossed a line.  Someone in my life wisely said that you should not bring a child into the world if they are going to be a punishment that you need to bear.  Nor should a baby be given an agenda from the day it is born.  Nick and Amy's child is given both of these things.  This baby had the agenda to fix this irreparable marriage.  These two 30-something adults can't even fix their marriage in a normal or healthy way, so how can this baby be expected to achieve this desired result?  More importantly, this baby is born out of revenge.  The biggest "screw you" a couple can (but shouldn't) give.  Nick felt obligated to stay and raise his child.  I worry for this (fictional, I know) child born to a selfish father and a sociopath mother.  What kind of a childhood will it have?  Will it get enough attention and love?  What happens if it does something wrong?  How will Amy react?

Despite the ending, this is an amazing book.  I don't know if it's worth rereading when you know what happens, but we'll see.

I give 'Gone Girl':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, September 14, 2015

A Short Jaunt in Iowa

The day after I moved out of my home, my mom and I got in the car and we sped off to Iowa (I'll tell you why in a bit).  Well... we sped off for maybe 30-45 minutes.  Possibly an hour.  We had to make our first pit stop at the Largest Candy Store in Minnesota!  And really, it's not just a lot of candy in this place.  It's a lot of everything.  Soda (or is it "pop"?), puzzles... it's a whole lot of everything.

As soon as we walked in, we were a little overwhelmed by just how much stuff was in this one place.  I mean, just take a look.  In the picture, I wasn't that far inside of the front door.  You can't even see the other side of the store...

Here are some of the more interesting foods that I found:

Rows and rows of differently flavored salt water taffy

A whole section of Dutch food!  The treats!

Referring to the Larvets and the Ant Candy: Ew.
As overwhelming as Minnesota's Largest Candy Store is... it's a little bit magical too.  Mom liked looking for the candies that she had when she was a kid and I just liked looking at the weird flavors of everything this place had to offer.

So after telling ourselves that we would only spend fifteen minutes in this place, finding presents for some of the people in our lives that we like, and actually spending somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes in Minnesota's Largest Candy Store... it was time to say goodbye and continue on our journey.

So the reason that we were headed to Iowa is this: my mom's best friend from high school teaches eighth grade English (and a section of history).  For a while, we had talked about how I should come down and see how she works.  She's been a teacher for twenty-seven years.  Finally, we found a time that would work for both of us.  We'd come down on a Wednesday, I'd go to school with Beth (my mom's friend) Thursday and Friday, and then we'd go home on Sunday.

I don't have pictures from the school because of permission and privacy reasons, but I have the memories.  Both Thursday and Friday were under heat advisory.  This means that students had half days (unless they had sports, in which case they still had to stay and play sports, which is just dumb).
Thursday I mainly watched and I sorted files to finish getting ready for the school year.  I was happy to be busy.  I'm discovering that I'm the kind of person that is uncomfortable sitting and not doing very much.  Friday was a lot better because I got to "teach" a bit!  I finished up a lesson on personality types and learning styles (they were paired with colors) and I gave a spelling test on the names of the teachers the eighth graders will come into contact with this year.  It's harder that it sounds, some of the names, because it's apparent that some of the teachers have Dutch heritage by their names (Mrs. De Zeeuw, Mrs. Hoogeveen, etc.).  On this day, towards the end of the day, we put on music because the students wanted to dance.  Some of those kids have skills, seriously.

After school on Friday, it was hot, but not so hot that we couldn't go out and enjoy Orange City a little bit.  The cool thing about Orange City is that it's a Dutch bubble.  And they really market on that.  Everywhere you look, there are wind mills, signs in Dutch, and if you come in the spring, there are tulips everywhere (but right now, they're a little out of season).  So here are some pictures from my wanderings...

"Welcome to the Back Garden"
"See You, Come Back"

"Bridge to Orange City"

This is a telephone booth :)

After going home for a little while, we decided to go back out again to a little place called De Zoete Winkel, which in Dutch means "The Sweet Shop."  Driving past, I thought it was a candy store, but it's actually a serve yourself fro-yo place.  It was really yummy :)

Dancing to the music :)
This was a really fun long weekend (well, Wednesday to Saturday) and I enjoyed visiting my mom's friend as well as getting a chance to teach a little bit!

Thanks for Reading!


Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Great Minnesota Get Together

Right before moving, Jack and I decided to make a visit to the Great Minnesota Get Together-- The State Fair!  It had been longer than we wanted since we had seen each other in person, so this was a much needed date day.  And actually, we went on one of the nicest days-- relatively cool, sunny, and breezy all day long.

One of the first things that I made Jack do with me was climb to the top of the ranger tower that is set up near the DNR booth.  It's just... I like climbing up tall things.  I did a lot of that in Europe.

As you can see, pretty much everyone and their mother also decided that it was a great day to visit the fair that day.  This makes for a lot of great people watching.  We didn't do this, but I heard that there was State Fair People Watching Bingo with things to find like, someone with blonde dreadlocks and someone with five kids or things like that.  The reason why I bring this up is because I saw the most stereotypical country boy and I just need to tell the world about it.  This guy was wearing jeans with a big belt buckle, a plaid shirt, and when he spoke, he had a thick Minnesota country accent complete with a "Wooo-hooo!" associated with a cowboy in the west.  Holy cow.  I can't make this stuff up and apparently neither can the writers or directors of any cowboy book or movie ever.

Next we visited the Miracle of Birth barn so that I could see baby animals and their mamas.  It's possible to watch live births with the cows and pigs and sheep there, but I've never seen more than the video footage.  Birth is such a fascinating process.  I know that a number of people think it's really gross and would not care to see it themselves, but... I just feel like you have to appreciate what the females of the world have to go through in order to perpetuate whatever species they belong to.  And to think that humans willing go to many lengths to conceive and carry their babies to term... just... wow.

Jack and I did a lot of walking and looking.  Just walking around and nearly running over or getting run over by strollers and people who are bigger than you, it's easy to get the feel for just how many people are at this place with you.  And then you get pictures like this and you think holy.... expletive.  Just look at how far the crowd of people stretch down this road.

One of our favorite things to do while we're at the fair is go on the Sky Ride.  You sit on this ski lift chair and you can ride over the fair.  It's a nice way to take a break from walking and also figure out what other things you'd like to see in other parts of the fair.

Some of the other things that we saw and did was go to the Environmental building where I immediately saw my new favorite form of camping:

I can't tell you how cute I think this trailer camper thingy is and how much I want to spend a week living out of it.  We also saw a tiny house which I absolutely loved.  I am obsessed with tiny houses.  You don't even know, because I haven't talked about it on here before.

We saw this really neat kinetic sculpture in the art building that simulates the movements of ocean waves.

I can't talk about the State Fair and not talk about the fair food.  We discovered a little trick this time around so that we could eat a lot of food in one day.  The trick is this: split your food.  For example, I wanted to try friend pickles.  I'd never had them before and I was intrigued.  But instead of Jack and I getting a small tray each, we got one and shared that food.  So we did a lot of tasting and we got to try and eat a lot of different kinds of food without feeling like crap at the end of the day.  It was really great.  The picture above was my dinner-- a wild rice cheese burger.  Minnesota is known for its wild rice and this burger, also something that I hadn't tried before, was freaking delicious.  I'd love to learn how to make this at home.  Someday I will.

Okay, I'm curious.  If you live in another state, I especially want to hear from you.  In Minnesota, part of the State Fair is selecting the winner of the Princess Kay of the Milky Way pageant (?) winner and then she gets her head carved into a 20 lb block of butter.  As my mom said, "What a waste of butter."  Also, seeing that much butter, and there are several blocks in this refrigerated rotating room, is just nasty, even when you were born and raised in a state partially known for its dairy (perhaps behind Wisconsin, but who's counting?).  Is this a thing at other State Fairs too or is this a kooky Minnesota thing?

After we got our ice cream cones (a must... ice cream just tastes better at the State Fair.  I don't know why) and picked up Jack's family a bucket of Sweet Martha's cookies (what?  You can freeze them and they last all year!), we decided that this was a good end to the day.  We hopped on the bus which would take us back to where we parked our borrowed car.  It was the end to a very good day and a welcome reprieve right before our big move.

Thanks for Reading!


Friday, September 4, 2015

A Review of 'Broken Memory' by Elisabeth Combres

"Hiding behind a chair, five-year-old Emma can't see her mother being murdered, but she hears everything.  When the assassins finally leave, the terrified girl stumbles away from the scene, motivated only by the memory of her mother's last words: "You must not die, Emma!"  Eventually, Emma is taken in by an old Hutu woman who risks her own life to hide the child.  A quiet bond grows between the two, but long after the war ends, Emma is still haunted by nightmares.  When the country establishes gacaca courts to allow victims to face their tormentors, Emma is uneasy and afraid.  But through her growing friendship with a young torture victim and the encouragement of an old man charged with helping child survivors, Emma finds the courage to begin the long journey to healing.  Moments of grace and tenderness illuminate this spare, sensitive novel, which tells the story of the 1994 attacks in an age-appropriate manner."

My only knowledge of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 comes from the film Hotel Rwanda.  It's a powerful and at times difficult to watch film.  It was like taking a bath in cold water.  You wake up very suddenly, very abruptly, even though you hadn't registered that you were asleep.  No peace and a complete lack of comfort.  There is no hand-holding while introducing this part of history.

While I don't think it's a good idea to read Elisabeth Combre's book and be done with the Rwanda of 1994, I think it's a good book to read if you have a good idea of why this happened.  It sort of completes the story that I started by watching Hotel Rwanda.  The story briefly takes place as the genocide is occurring, but most of the story shows post-genocide Rwanda.  It shows how people are managing afterwards.  How people like Emma and Ndoli cope, I think, are true testaments to just how horrific this time in history was.  They still have nightmares and it pains Emma that she can't remember her family.  She never got to know her family, not really, and their deaths did not have to happen.  How do you handle this from age four into adulthood?  This is something I'll never understand and I hope never fully comprehend.

If you read this book and don't have even a little bit of background on this time in history, I suggest that you read the Author's Note first.  Combres explains, briefly, how Rwanda reached the point that it did in 1994.  I found it extremely helpful when it came to filling my gaps in knowledge.

I give 'Broken Memories':

Thanks for Reading!


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Moving Out

Written last night, the night before I move.  Please pardon the verbiage.

Over the past few weeks, I have slowly but surely been packing up my bedroom at home.  Tomorrow, 1 September, I'm moving out of my childhood home and moving into my first apartment with my fiance.  It started looking like I was serious about moving maybe a week or two ago.  At first, it was just the books on my shelves that made their way into boxes and into the corner of the dining room.  But then the closet started getting cleaned out and the wire cubes that functioned as bookshelves for me were broken down and packed away, leaving a lot of extra space.  My extra blankets were packed up and the clothes in my closet nestled into a suitcase.  The only things left to pack now are so minor that they will be thrown in on top of the contents of the already packed boxes.

Not from tonight.  The room is even emptier now.
It's weird though because I haven't felt sad about leaving like I thought I would.  I mean, this is a momentous occasion and a milestone to check off in my life.  I'm no longer going to b living with my parents (I can't mention my sister here because she's moving to college a handful of days after I move).  But I'm not feeling sad.  It's just kind of a thing in my life that is happening, although I'm an active part of it.  I did sign the lease, after all. My dad asked me if it felt weird to be permanently leaving home.  Even I was surprised when I said "Not really," or something to this tune.  It's not that I don't love my family or that I hate being home, because neither of those things are true.  But the feeling remains.

My apartment is close to home-- it's just a few minutes away from my University, and I've lived there before.  The distance is not new, just the way to get to my apartment is new.  But having to go a different direction isn't upsetting, or at least it shouldn't be.

So my only explanation for my indifferent feelings toward moving out is this: I'm ready.  I started being ready back in Amsterdam, the day my fiance proposed, although I might not have been fully aware at that point.  There were too many other things going on at once.  But by saying 'yes,' I was starting a new chapter in my life.  I'm engaged and if all goes well, we'll be married next year.  I'll have to find a real "big girl" job next year.  So in a way, life was saying "Yeah, time to get a move on (literally) whether you like it or not" and in a different way saying, "Yeah, I know," and taking life's hand and walking into the sunset together.

So while there are a number of things that need to be taken care of tomorrow, I know I'm ready and I know that it's time.  I'm not sad, but instead I'm excited for the things that lie ahead, even if I don't quite know what lies ahead.

I'm not sure just yet how much I'll miss my childhood room.  A lot has happened in here that went into my growing up, both good things and bad (although I won't talk about the bad here... it's not the time for that).  This is where I did most of my reading, this is where I did my homework.  This is where I sat on the floor and opened my high school graduation cards.  This is the room I lived in from the time I was six months to until now, at the "ripe age" of 21.  This is where my sister and I tried to co-habitate for a short period of time (it didn't work out).  This is the room where, when I was younger, I would sing myself to sleep just because I liked to sing and I loved Disney songs.  This is where I packed for my first trip to France and my semester in the Netherlands.  This is where I wrote my stories and began to grow as a writer.  This is where I stayed up and read Harry Potter long into the night even though I wasn't supposed to.

This has been a great room and I can't wait to see what my new place brings.  But only time will tell.

Thanks for Reading!