Friday, July 29, 2011

Excellent Reads: Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"

Good news! Due to the fact I am on a reading kick, I felt I would present my blog with a double dose of "Excellent Reads" for the month of July. For readers like myself, we've had a lot to go through this month, the announcement of the closing of all Borders everywhere in particular. I feel that readers everywhere who enjoyed going to Borders, as they enjoy going to any bookstore, should get some mercy and what better way to give them mercy. The best way to kick it up a notch is by recommending an excellent read. That excellent read happens to be The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which is the first of the Millennium Trilogy written by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. While this was supposed to be a series of ten books, Larsson died while working on the fourth novel. Nonetheless, this series starts out really well and kicks off a literary phenomenon.

Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist who reports for the Millennium magazine, who have been accused of libel involving industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Blomkvist decides to take the prison sentence to avoid fighting the situation head-on, but Henrik Vanger wants to strike a deal. In exchange for some grimy information about Wennerstrom and a ton of money, Vanger wants Blomkvist to help him seek the truth about his niece, Harriet, and how she disappeared back in 1966. Blomkvist moves into the Vanger estate and learns more and more about the family. From who's who, what kind of personality they have, what role they play in the family, and most of all... do any of them have anything to do with the disappearance of Harriet Vanger???

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander is a computer hacker and a misfit. She has dyed black hair, many piercings, and many tattoos. The dragon tattoo happens to be on her shoulder blade. Her childhood, school days, and life up to this event continue to be a living hell. She is a rebel who ignores directions and isolates herself from social interaction. She's been arrested a few times before and is under guardianship. However, she frees herself with her most recent guardian who wants to use her for his personal pleasures. After hacking into Blomkvist's computer, he wants her to help him complete the case. The two of them enter an adventure that involves the Vanger dynasty and all of the details in between.

I really like Lisbeth Salander's role in the novel. She is a social misfit who is a genius when it comes to computers and completing her job. When she's doing what she's good at, it's a completely different life for her. Blomkvist believes that this is because she has Asperger's syndrome, which I could honestly agree could be a possibility. She could very well have many mental conditions, but Asperger's syndrome could very well be one of them. Social complications with an area of extreme intelligence usually equals Asperger's. I find it to be very interesting that this featured as a possibility in this novel for Salander and directly so (not high functioning autism or "a mental condition"). Simply put, Lisbeth Salander stands out as one of the most memorable characters in modern day literature.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was originally called Men Who Hate Women when it was released in Sweden, as the novel revolved around several instances in which men would be committing harmful acts against women. Any kind of harmful act is frowned up in society, but men hurting women has really been frowned upon, which would in turn bring in the discussion of gender role. It doesn't really matter, because Salander takes many juicy opportunities to put some abusive men in their place. She has the last word in these circumstances. Keep that in mind when you're reading, because that's all I'm going to tell you. This is a ongoing theme.

I like this series already. It's not perfect, but like all great things in life, nothing is perfect. As far as I'm concerned, I was entertained, thus it was perfect enough for me. You have to take your time reading this novel, as important details can go right over your head. Just take your time, enjoy, and have a great experience. This is sure a landmark in this era of literature.

The entire Millennium trilogy has been filmed in Sweden and is now filming in America. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo will premiere in theaters on December 21st, starring Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, Christopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger, among many others. Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer have already established themselves as great actors, but if Rooney Mara (who had a role in The Social Network last year) executes Lisbeth Salander well, she could very well become a household name and make Salander into a highlight staple in the cinema.

Completing the first novel, I can confirm a few things. I will be reading the next two novels (The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest), I will be seeing the first film in theaters when it comes out on December 21st, I will suggest the series to those who ask about it, I will suggest the series to those even if they haven't asked about it, and most of all... The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is an excellent read!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fantastic Films: Inception

The movies have been a popular form of entertainment for an extremely long time and I felt they are deserving enough for their own monthly segment. The segment, "Fantastic Films," will be about all kinds of films, old and new, that I feel that you should check out and watch right after you finish reading this post. For the first segment, I was thinking about any current movies out in the theaters that I felt you should go check out. I have already discuss and analyzed my thoughts about the final film in the Harry Potter series and felt that I've talked enough about my take on it. The next time I will be talking about anything HP will be in my "Ten Best Books I Read In 2011" and "Movies I Watched From 2011" posts at the end of the year. As for a movie I feel you should go and watch right now, I will suggest that you relive the most excellent film from the summer of 2010, Inception. I reviewed it before on Facebook and I will review it again on Caponomics.

Christopher Nolan, the genius behind Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and the upcoming film, The Dark Knight Rises, decided to stray away from his Batman genius and create another masterful picture that we know as Inception. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, whose job is to plant dreams into others, working with his partner Arthur (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He's one project away from being able to return home and see his children, which is to plant a dream into a subconscious mind, in an act called "inception," hence the name of the film. Each of these figures has an object that represents whether or not they are performing in the dream, Dom's happens to be a spinning top. Keep in mind that the spinning top plays a very important role in the film and that you should pay close attention to it... and that's all I'm going to say about that. Cobb's main hurdle is his dead wife, who often stands in the way of his efforts and interferes in the way of past memories.

The next thing you should pay attention to in the film is the flight, which is where the act of the creation of the dream begins. This way, you will know that this is the base to where the dream begins and that from here on out, this is a dream. However, the dream world is very confusing, especially when you are dreaming within a dream. When watching the film, I was on the edge of my seat, carefully following scene after scene after scene. If you don't look closely enough, it'll be just like a fast treadmill, you are going to fall right off.

I only watched this film once and I have yet to master the entire plot of the film, but watching the film once made me fall in love with the concept, the characters, the settings, the plot, and everything else in between. This film was a gem, something that you don't see while you're in theaters everyday. It's not one of those B-rate, action packed, 3D, comic book superhero films that are dominating the box office these days. This is a film that concentrates more on a goal and the concept of a dream within a dream, and casts Leonardo DiCaprio, a fine actor indeed, as its center character. I also felt that Ellen Page, who played the center character in Juno, did an excellent job as Ariadne, who was the architect of the dream. Page has to be one of my favorite actresses of this time period and I look forward to seeing her in more upcoming films. As for DiCaprio and his character, Dom Cobb, he has a character that you really feel for and for the pain that he struggles with from losing his wife.

I will absolutely have to take the opportunity to watch this film again. Maybe by doing this, I will become a student of the film and of the concept of a dream within a dream. While others may ultimately lose patience to this concept, the film has such beautiful scenery and a story of a genius of the craft of inception who is given this assignment and we see him at work. This is easily one of the two favorite films that I watched in 2010 (the other being The King's Speech) and I will most definitely take the opportunity to watch this film again if such an opportunity is granted. Maybe I should go get a top as well and watch it spin, though I doubt I can spin it as well as Cobb.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Top Notch Television: Big Brother 13

Okay, I will be breaking up my "Check This Out" segment into even more specific segments. These segments include "Fantastic Films" for films I recommend, "Check This Blog" for blogs I recommend, and "Top Notch Television," for television shows I recommend. This happens to be a recommendation for shows on TV (which I don't watch too much of with the exception of some prime time TV) that I enjoy watching and feel that you the reader would enjoy it as well. During the summer, the majority of shows that are on are repeats. The shows that are actually new are most likely reality and game shows. Since 2000, the TV show that has become a summer time phenomenon is "Big Brother." For those of you who enjoy three days of watching several house guests compete for power, use the power to set up an eviction of their fellow house guests, and one by one watching these house guests walk out the door, this would be your cup of tea.

"Big Brother" is filled with a boat load of drama and that's exactly what the intentions of the show are. This season is especially no different. The motto of this show is to "expect the unexpected." Starting with just eight contestants sure left these contestants wondering what kind of twist was in store. Asked to form into teams, the groups included Adam and Dominic, Keith and Porsche, Cassi and Shelly, and Lawon and Kalia. They were ultimately joined by Brendon and Rachel from last season, Jeff and Jordan from season eleven, and Dick and Daniele from season eight. While it would have been extremely interesting to see Dr. Will and Mike Boogie (Chilltown), Dan and Memphis (The Renegades), or any Brigade pairing (Hayden and Enzo being the strongest and most committed choice in the matter) join, these were some pretty interesting choices.

Here's my take on last season... I was a heavy Brigade fan and was anti-Brenchel. Sometimes I very well think that Rachel is there to simply stir up drama. The fact that she won HOH (Head Of Household) four out of five opportunities leaves me to wonder how strong the curtain to this show is. Then again, to argue the point, she was a chemistry student, and is a clear target for someone being underestimated. As for Brendon, he makes just the right significant for her. Last season, they were the prime target since week one, but it took until week five to successfully evict them. Now it seems like their current alliance, with veterans such as Jeff and Jordan, are beginning to shatter. Then we see the soap opera caused by something, anything, just anything that could possibly start drama. While I think their own TV show would defeat the purpose, and the fact that soap operas are becoming an endangered species on the way to extinction, the two of them have pretty much created their own show that would make for a good spinoff... that would ultimately be cancelled after a few episodes.

The house guest I'm most rooting for this season is Dominic. He seems to be the one who's doing most to play the game and knows how to compete. He's already a target on Jeff and Jordan's radar, but has gotten close to Daniele and is making moves to secure votes. He seems to be the only newbie who is fetching for himself at the moment. The others have relied on the veterans for support or are simply floaters who are doing a fine job at the moment just dodging the radar. When the teams start playing as individuals after this upcoming eviction (which is what it looks like is bound to happen), the game will really start to become extremely competitive. We know that Brendon and Rachel will remain an alliance, and if both remain into next week, Jeff and Jordan and probably Daniele and Dominic (which looks like a newly formed alliance) will remain intact. The others will either be floaters or form one or more alliances of their own.

I was bummed about the fact that Evel Dick's stay in the Big Brother house was shortened due to personal matters. He was forced to walk from the competition before the first veto competition was even played. During his short stay, he was very active in strengthening the veteran alliance to include newbies that would vote along with them. He wasn't given so much of an opportunity to stir controversy or demonstrate his brutal honesty. The only thing we could do is remember him for being the successful and likable antagonist he was from season eight. I could only remember how he stuck it to Jen, the drama queen of season eight, and how he told her off with his comments and his cigarettes. Losing Evel Dick immediately on "Big Brother 13" is one of the only disappointments that will not be able to seek a redemption of any kind.

I honestly have no idea what keeps me hooked to "Big Brother." It's simply a show filled with drama and is arranged to encourage this kind of drama. I have realized that the show is fairly predictable, as I have predicted the outcome of several competitions and decisions, but it's still an interesting watch. It takes a lot of commitment to watch this show, as it comes on three days a week (Sundays for nominations, Wednesdays for veto competitions, and Thursdays for live evictions and HOH competitions). The ones who will most enjoy this series are those who have nothing better to do than involve themselves with a summer show like this one. If you don't wish to get into some kind of addictive dramatic reality show, then I would suggest staying away from "Big Brother," because this show gets really addictive.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My Reaction To The Closing Of Borders

I love books. That means I love reading books, collecting books, turning a books pages, placing a book under my nose and flipping the pages so I am able to smell the fresh scent of a new book, and I especially love shopping for books. I love a nice trip to the bookstore, which to me is like a carnival for the young ones, and I just like to send myself into paradise as I skim through the shelves and look at all of the different authors and all of the different names. It's unfortunate that one of these heavyweight bookstores, Borders, is shutting all of its remaining stores down after failing to keep pace with the way book selling is like to this day. Once the biggest name, and then the only competitor of Barnes & Noble, the days of going to Borders has now come to an unfortunate end.

My closest experience thus far to witnessing and feeling what the tragedy of Borders shutting down is when I went to the Waldenbooks at my mall, which became a part of Borders. The only good thing to come out of this situation is that the clearance sales become bigger and bigger. When I went to Waldenbooks for the last time, I got all of my books for 50% off, which is a great deal for many of the books. It's a saddening sale, knowing that the store is only having this sale because it's shutting down its door after all is said and done, but it's fun while it lasts.

At this point, Barnes & Noble remains the lone big name bookstore that stands. Whether or not any bookstore will be able to come up along the ranks is tough to stay, but it's going to be very hard with the rise of electronic books. Barnes & Noble is doing well with its "nook," as is doing well with its "Kindle." Electronic books are becoming the thing of the generation. It seems like once you get the hang of it, you never want to return to reading a regular book again.

I don't have much of a personal experience with electronic books. I got one "Sharper Image" e-book for Christmas one year and haven't used it so much. There are a lot of strengths to having an electronic book, but there's something special about traditional books that makes reading worth the experience. There's something special about holding a book in your hands, touching it, feeling it, turning the pages, things that can't be done by pressing a button. I can believe that I will ultimately get the hang of using a "nook" or a "Kindle," but at this point, I like reading actual books.

Losing Borders is a big deal to the world of book shopping in general. That will leave Barnes & Noble as the only big name bookstore. While other stores sell books, the selection is limited. Besides Barnes & Noble, you would have to rely on flea markets, bargain book stores, and libraries to keep up with books. The era of physical books is beginning to fade and may very well keep fading and fading until we are left with a world of electronics. It's not at all a bad thing, but I still like holding a nice novel in my hands, and reading that.

The State Of Today's Game Shows

I watched the premiere of the new game show "It's Worth What?" hosted by Cedric The Entertainer and featuring a team of two contestants banking money and given the opportunity to win as much as $1,000,000. The object of the game is to bank money by winning as many pricing games as possible. Whether or not the games are going to change episode by episode, I do not know. However, the games that they did have ranged from simply guessing which was worth more to guessing the outfit that was worth more to guessing which possession belonged to which celebrity (in this instance, it was JFK, Jackie O, and Marilyn Monroe). This is basically a version of "The Price Is Right," only tweaked up a little bit more to make it different. "The Price Is Right" has its excited and energetic audience members who compete for prizes. This game has a money ladder format and just money as a prize. The structure is a lot like the syndicated "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader," in which you bank money and have a final chance to multiply your winnings by ten. With this game, you first earn your money, then double, then multiply it by four, and then by ten. You lost most of your money if you miss and can walk away at any time in the final round.

Like many of the game shows of today, I feel that "It's Worth What?" is pretty much the same as any money ladder game show with a different concept. Another term that could be used is "The Price Is Right" with a money ladder. Another concept I'm not into is hearing about the lost opportunities. It's not like "Million Dollar Money Drop," in which the contestants start with $1,000,000 and then have to hold on to as much as possible for seven questions, but once they get one wrong on this game show, you know that the contestants can't win the million. Then again, "Deal Or No Deal" saw missed million-dollar opportunities on many of occasions, but that show did a good enough job concentrating on the contestants and who they were and what they hoped to do if they won big.

Another game show I recently saw was "101 Ways To Leave A Game Show," hosted by Jeff Sutphen. The object is to pick the correct answer to each question (usually from research studies) in order to remain. It starts off with three right answers, then two, and then ultimately one. If you happen to have the wrong answer, you leave the game in an interesting way, such as off a plane, on a moving semi-truck, or down a runway in a car. The final round is always on a drop of terror, where the losers are tied to a chord and dropped into water. The last person standing walks about with $50,000, which according to Sutphen, is "the way to leave a game show!" I felt this was one of those comedy game shows. It's an interesting concept and those interested in the concept will have a ball with it. It just isn't something that's on my schedule to shows I must watch.

Simply put, I'm looking for a game show that's worth looking forward to each and every night. At the moment, the only game show I look forward to each and every evening is "Jeopardy!" at 7 PM (eastern time). It has an excellent concept, an excellent and professional host in Alex Trebek, and game play that keeps your concentration to the game. I almost always play along and phrase my own answers in the form of a question. What excites me even more is when a great contestant comes along and starts winning consecutively and shutting down his competitors. When you get someone who wins multiple games, then the excitement starts driving in. Ken Jennings is the biggest winner, followed by Dave Madden when it comes to days (Brad Rutter is up along with Ken Jennings when it comes to money, due to his tournament wins), but this season has produced several many-day champions. Jeopardy! is the intellectuals game show of this time, and it's great to see that kind of classic format doing well.

It would be great to see a game show wave like that from 1999 to 2001. During that time, you had "21," "Greed," and "The Weakest Link," which were shows that had excellent concepts, but unfortunately didn't last too long. Then, you had what I felt was the great game show of the decade (with the original format of course), "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" with Regis Philbin. This was the game show that ultimately brought the quiz show concept back on track. It was just so exciting to see millionaires be made and the ladder was so intense and kept you on your toes. Unlike many current game shows, where they made making the million far more complicated than it needed to be, all questions simply got harder, but you got to keep your lifelines no matter what. The show started airing more and more, and quickly began an unfortunate slide in the ratings. The syndicated version started like the original, but then began to change its format time and time again. At the moment, the game is extremely different from the original.

Simply put, I'm looking for another rebound of intellectual, big money, big opportunity game shows that give people the opportunity to win big amounts and contend for records of being the highest game show winners. It's great to see big names like Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, John Carpenter, Dr. Kevin Olmstead, Ed Toutant, Dave Leglar, Curtis Warren, and many others rise to the ranks and win big. Some of the biggest names competed in a sixteen-player elimination tournament on GSN called "Grand Slam," which was exciting in itself, something that would have made it even bigger on a heavy network. I highly believe that a few more names in the exclusive club of game show heavyweights won't hurt at all and I highly believe that game shows with big money opportunities wouldn't hurt either.

Monday, July 18, 2011

More Memorable Sax Solos

According to my stats page, my "Memorable Sax Solos" post I wrote last month has received a good amount of page views. Sax solos are a pleasure within itself, as music in general can be ear candy. Some ear candy is good and some ear candy can be unfathomable, and I know plenty examples of both. Someone who plays a good saxophone can make for some really good ear candy and can fill what ever time length very well. Some of which can be as long as Clarence Clemons' three minute sax solo in "Jungleland" and some could be five seconds, like Eddie Money's solo in "Take Me Home Tonight." Here are three more sax solos that I did not include in my original list, but have realized that there was a place for them on the list.

How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) (David Sanborn)- This is not the 1964 original version by Marvin Gaye, but the 1975 version by James Taylor. Taylor was more jazzy compared to the Motown style in which Gaye gave to the song. However, Taylor did do a good job with this hit, as he has had over covers such as "Handy Man." What really did this song well was the sax solo that David Sanborn had during the song. It really put an exclamation point and made the term "jazzy" stand out and be bold. I felt that this song was a bit simple in general, but once you get to the sax, then things start to get fun.

Young Americans (David Sanborn)- This is another 1975 hit, this one being sung by David Bowie and the topic of the song being about the current state of society. Back in this era, protest songs that have to do with or were influenced by the Vietnam War were very common. While 1975 was the end of the Vietnam War-era, this song was still an interesting one. In some songs, you're waiting and waiting for a sax solo that only lasts for a short period of time and occurs just once in the song. This song, on the other hand, has a strong sax solo in the beginning and then continues throughout the song. It takes up the background, unlike "Baker Street," where the sax solo has four appearances and just as much, if not more, time as Gerry Rafferty's vocals. Still a good sax, though.

Freeway Of Love (Clarence Clemons)- When I wrote about the late Clarence Clemons in my previous post about sax solos, I hadn't realized that he had a sax solo in Aretha Franklin's 1985 upbeat hit "Freeway Of Love." This is one of those songs that is just cheesy, but at the same time is fun to listen to. When you put in Clarence Clemons on the saxophone, you have yourself something even bigger and better. He has time to shine in the beginning and then he has his own solo that fits perfectly into the song. Clemons had many more performances than just those with the E Street Band. He brought soul to this eighties radio hit that made it really feel like you were riding on the Freeway Of Love.

If there was an option to have the saxophone playing when you are walking up to Heaven, I bet that plenty of people would surely take that option. You can have something upbeat, bluesy, jazzy, or what ever other style you would want to hear when you are heading up. As long as it's good, that's all that matters.

Let's Be Brutally Honest: Polls Need Some Tweaking

While they may not be the most accurate source, polls make an impact on how the American people vote. Whether it be in a primary or in a general election. It's the polls that determine who is a front runner, who is a dark horse, who is a long shot, and everything else in between. Polls are what encourage people to conform to a candidate who has a chance and dismiss a candidate that "seems" to have absolutely no chance. The reason it "seems" they have no chance is because they've been dismissed. Just like anything else, the only time anything is impossible is if you say and confirm that it's impossible. Otherwise, anything is possible (of course, unless it's something that falls under the category as being ridiculous). The U.S. Presidential Election of 2012 is no different. You have your front runners and you have your candidates that aren't as heavily known. However, anybody has a chance to win and anybody should deserve that chance.

At the moment we speak, the front runners include Mitt Romney and the up and rising Michele Bachmann. We knew about Romney from the 2008 election and how he was a front runner from the time he entered until Super Tuesday, when he withdrew because he was unable to keep up with eventual Republican nominee John McCain. We also know about his governorship when he was governor of Massachusetts. As for Bachmann, she's a representative from Minnesota, who is a driving force for the Tea Party. We have only begun to hear about her. However, there are a lot of things that help her stand out. Besides being the only female in the race (which to me plays no effect in the way I vote), she is also from Iowa and a representative in the state north of Iowa. That, along with her all-around conservative views, make her a strong candidate. Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are the big players in determining the Republican nominee. Iowa could very well be hers if she plays everything right.

Let's get back to polling. These polls have really given these candidates the spotlight to stand out. Then you have Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, and Rick Santorum, who are beginning to lag, despite being given plenty of opportunity to shine. With Ron Paul, it took him most of the 2008 election to stand out and earn the recognition he deserves. Then, you have candidates that don't get the recognition they deserve, such as Buddy Roemer, Fred Karger, and especially Gary Johnson. Despite being excluded in recent polls and from CNN's first debate of the primary season, Johnson has polled in around the same numbers as Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman Jr. when he has been included in the polls. While polls shouldn't matter, they do. This is because polls not only influence the public's view, they also make up a portion of who is and isn't allowed to participate in the debates. Roemer and Karger have already been excluded and will probably continue to be excluded from debates, as Johnson has been excluded once and could continue to be excluded if he continues to not be included in polls. Libertarian Republicans, such as Johnson and Paul, have been excluded on several occasions, yet are beginning to make an impact on the votes.

The next point to make is this. Why are candidates who are not in the race being included in polls that matter? There are many polls that include Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, and many others. These candidates have not entered the race and we don't know whether or not they will enter. As far as I'm concerned, they should be featured in the "other" category until they declare that they actually are entering the race. Plus for the record, Christie has more than confirmed that he will not be running in 2012. I think he would make a great candidate and a great president, but he has other business he needs to take care of in New Jersey. Palin was considered a front runner since the end of the 2008 elections, but with Bachmann now in the race, this may simply split the vote. Also, Palin lags the most in polls against incumbent Barack Obama.

When organizing a poll, the organizers should have to include every current candidate (those who are running in enough states to win the election of course), and then include an "other" category if they want someone who has yet to enter, and an "undecided" if they have yet to decide. If they want to include polls with other candidates, they could do that as well, but this given plan should be the plan that organizers look at when they need to determine who should be able to participate in the debates. Of course, name recognition plays a big part, but that comes naturally.

Every candidate who enters a race should have the opportunity to win the election they enter. A primary is no different. You already have the name recognition and the results in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina that make an impact as to who is seen as the grand candidate in the Republican primaries at the very least. With that being the case, why don't you simply restructure your polling in order to give every candidate the opportunity to be recognized.

For the record, I will not confirm the candidate I will be endorsing for the primaries at this moment. I have a short list of whom I like most, but I need to strongly think about my decision. Regardless who I support, my reviews of the debates will remain unbiased and my grades will be based off of how clear the answers were and how well they performed in the debate.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Excellent Reads: Ilene Schneider's "Chanukah Guilt"

After blogging for a little over four months, I can happily say that "Caponomics" has made it for fifty submissions. I have considered throwing some kind of celebration, but then decided to wait until I got to one hundred (which I will probably do by the end of the year). I do want to thank all of my current followers and readers and am looking forward to attracting more followers and readers. As I do each month, I will be picking another "Excellent Read," a book I think that you should go find and read right now. This month, my pick is "Chanukah Guilt," which is the first part of a series. While many mystery novels center around an investigator or a detective, this mystery novel centers around a rabbi. This is something completely different from most literature, but it is executed perfectly. Plus there is nobody better to write this kind of novel than Schneider herself, who was one of the first six women to be named a rabbi in the United States.

Rabbi Aviva Cohen, who lives in the fictional town of Walford, New Jersey (a name inspired by Britain's "EastEnders"), is very much modeled around the author. They look very much alike and have many common interests (mainly birding and gardening). However, Rabbi Cohen has been divorced twice, and one of her former husbands has returned to town in the novel (Schneider is happily married and has two sons). While Rabbi Cohen's life seems to be ordinary and uneventful, things start to change after a funeral from a land developer who was murdered results in what's declared a suicide, but could very well be another murder. Rabbi Cohen begins to become incredibly involved in this incident, and ultimately pulls herself in to a mystery in which there will be no way she can turn back.

This novel is a very light and easy read, and it's excellent. There's a very comfortable feel to this novel that could surely make anybody interested, especially those who are looking for a change in pace. Not only is Rabbi Cohen a strong protagonist and the mystery behind the possible suspects in this whodunit strong, but the supporting cast is also a very strong one. One of these prime examples is Rabbi Cohen's sister, who's wife and her have a son named Josh, who has Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of Autism in which affects his social interaction, but at the same time releases a field of extreme intelligence. Everything about this novel was excellent.

Ilene Schneider also has a book called "Talk Dirty Yiddish," which is a nonfictional guide about the Yiddish that you usually won't learn in schools. As you can see, her titles are puns on Jewish terms. "Chanukah Guilt" being a play on words for "Chanukah Gelt." I will surely be looking forward to Schneider's next novel, "Unleavened Dead" (a play on words for "Unleavened Bread"), as well as her other works that are in the process of being written, such as "Yom Killer" (play on "Yom Kippur"). 

If you haven't read "Chanukah Guilt" yet, it isn't too late to start. Pick it up, read, enjoy, and join me in the waiting area of new reads as we look forward for the next novel in the series. These steps shouldn't be hard at all.

The Harry Potter Conclusion

...and so it concludes. After a journey that started with the release of the first book in 1997 and ended with the final film in 2011, Harry Potter goes down as a large empire in the world of entertainment. This is totally true and I'm saying this as a non-enthusiast who didn't watch a single Harry Potter film until 2009 or read a single Harry Potter book until this May. It ended with the second part of "The Deathly Hallows," which concludes what J.K. Rowling started fourteen years back.

I attended the first available matinee, just the way I like to enjoy my movies. The plot, like the final book, is that Harry, Ron, and Hermione are looking for the horcruxes in order to destroy and weaken Voldemort. It turns out there to much more to the situation between Harry and his interaction from Voldemort as a baby than we believe. Just like the books, we learn more and more about Harry Potter and the powers that he has. The series ends with supporting characters dying off (in which I will not name, because then I would be giving you a spoiler) and an epilogue that certainly gets your attention. I will admit that I did... not cry at the end, but then again, there are very few films, books, and anything else in the entertainment industry that has that effect on me. Even so, a tragic ending feels more like a punch in the gut, as a simply emotional ending makes you simply feel a bit choked up.

Honestly, I think that this final film was the best in the series, especially as a film in itself. It was not completely faithful to how the book went in ways that it added things to give the movie flavor and took parts out in exchange for bigger and better things. However, I must say that this is the rare instance in which I felt the film outdid the book. What I wanted to see was more connections throughout, especially how Ron and Hermione connect from midway through the book to the end of the book. While I felt the final book was a good end to the series, I also felt it fell victim to the Swiss cheese effect, which means there were several holes in the plot and how one part led to another. The movie, on the other hand, did not fall to that effect. The one thing I questioned after reading the book was the battle between Harry and Voldemort. I felt the battle was extremely short in the book, but the movie gives an intense battle that is visually stunning. Speaking of visually stunning, when the gang breaks into Gringott's Bank in the beginning, they feature a ride that feels like riding a roller coaster at an amusement park.

Now that the Harry Potter series is over, the enthusiasts will be setting up Pottermore accounts when J.K. Rowling releases this next project of hers. As for me, I will see it as a landmark in the world of literature and cinema, and continue my quest to finding the best books out there. I'm looking at the Millennium Trilogy at the moment we speak, so we'll have to see how reading that up and coming phenomenon goes. As for Harry Potter, it was a series that made for some good entertainment. I'm not a lover, but I liked it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

RIP Betty Ford

Last night, I saw an emergency update on my television telling me about the death of Betty Ford, who was President Gerald Ford's wife. She died yesterday in Rancho Mirage, where she and her husband lived, at the age of 93. Despite her brief time as a first lady, Betty Ford was made a huge impact, whether it was during her time in the White House or after her time in the White House. Betty Ford leaves behind a huge legacy.

Betty Ford was born in 1918 and went on to marry William G. Warren in 1942. They divorced after five years. She went on to marry Gerald Ford in 1948 and their marriage would last for fifty-eight years. Her husband, Gerald Ford, is most remembered for succeeding Richard Nixon in 1974 and he resigned from office. Ford gave Nixon a pardon and not much happened from there. Ford would eventually lose to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election and nearly lost in the Republican primary to Ronald Reagan (who would win the 1980 election from Carter). As for Betty Ford, she was an influential figure in her own way. She was known to be a fighter for equal rights for women. Plus despite being a Republican, Betty Ford was pro-choice, which is a stance not taken by many Republicans, especially in the 1970's. She was also an advocate for breast cancer awareness.

Betty Ford became most well known for opening up about her substance abuse and for finding a way to help others who were battling the same problems. She created the Betty Ford Center (formerly known as the Betty Ford Clinic) in 1982, after recovering from her substance abuse. She received a Presidential Medal Of Freedom from George H.W. Bush in 1991 and a Congressional Medal Of Freedom in 1999.

Gerald and Betty Ford became the first presidential couple to both live to their 90th birthday. Gerald Ford died in 2006 at the age of 93 and Betty Ford was five years younger, but the fact that both reached the age of ninety is a landmark in the history of presidential knowledge. Ronald and Nancy Reagan became the second couple to accomplish such a feat, as Nancy Reagan turned ninety just this Wednesday. Ronald Reagan died in 2004, and he also died at the age of 93.

Betty Ford's legacy with be a strong one for first ladies. Not only will her legacy be strong and memorable, but it will also be a positive legacy. A legacy of somebody overcoming an addiction and then creating something that helps solve problems like Betty Ford herself had. She believed in what she believed in and not what her husband's party told her to believe, which takes a lot of courage to do. She will go down at being a fighter for women's rights, breast cancer awareness, and a fighter against substance abuse, which she will surely be remembered by with her Betty Ford Center.

RIP Lady Ford, you will be missed.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Big Cheeses: Cabot Tomato Basil Cheddar

I had the great opportunity to spend some time at Delicious Orchards recently and the even better opportunity to try some new samples. Traditionally, they have the dressing samples (which I barely show need for since I'm not a salad person) and this time, they had powdered doughnut samples, Salami Napoli samples, and of course my wonderful pleasure... cheese samples. While I enjoyed trying Caerphilly cheese and will eventually go forth and make it a "big cheese," I am going to blog about a cheese I tried when I went to time before last and enjoyed so much that I had to go back and buy it a second time. It also happens to be a specific company and a specific flavor, which won't be common for my highlight cheeses that I choose. However, Cabot Tomato Basil Cheddar is such a good cheese that it is unable to go without recognition. It's just one of those gourmet style cheeses that should not be overlooked.

Cabot, Vermont is a farm area that has been known for making Cheddar cheeses since 1919. Cheddar is probably the most well known cheese in Britain and is called "Cheddar" after the cheddaring process. Cabot has been known for its various takes on Cheddar and thus flavors such as Horseradish Cheddar, Habanero Cheddar, Chipotle Cheddar, Smoky Bacon Cheddar, and Wasabi Cheddar have been made. As for me, I like the simply Tomato Basil Cheddar. Sun dried tomatoes are mixed with basil in a mild Cheddar, which compliment the cheddar with a refreshing element. This gives this Cheddar the opportunity to stick out.

There are several ways you can eat this cheese, but I feel that Tomato Basil Cheddar sticks out so much, that it plays the grand star. I personally enjoy having sliced pepperoni next to it. I'll either wrap a slice of pepperoni around the Cheddar or just simply start with the pepperoni and follow it up with the cheese. This allows the refreshing but appetite quenching Cheddar to relieve the spicy pepperoni. This works just perfectly when it comes to a cheese dish that can be made so simply. It's just the perfect snack for any time of day and to me, what kind of snack is better than dried meat (in many instances, a nice and impacting Italian meat such as Soppressata, Salami, and Pepperoni) and cheese. You also have bread, crackers, and fruit, but with this instance, I like pepperoni.

If you ever go cheese sampling or shopping at a place where Cabot has cheese, you should definitely check out their Tomato Basil Cheddar. Pick your preparation, pick a time, sit down, eat, and enjoy! Cabot Tomato Basil Cheddar cheese will surely help you do that.

The Harry Potter Experience In One Submission

Between May 2nd and June 23rd of this year, I was able to complete the entire Harry Potter series. I read the books in as much of a consecutive order as I possibly could, but this was almost never the case. On my own, I watched all of the movies from "Sorcerer's Stone" to "Deathly Hallows: Part 1." On top of that, I read none of the books. Zip-a-de-doo-dah! I also had no intentions on reading the books, because I generally read adult fiction and felt my young adult fiction days were over. I did read "Artemis Fowl" and "The Chronicles Of Narnia," but never got to finishing either series. Ultimately, I met a friend who became a good friend who also loved to read and happened to be a Harry Potter enthusiast. I tried to dodge every opportunity I could to reading the series and thought that I could get away with watching the movies. It turns out I set up a trap when it came to naming movies I watched before I read the book. There was "The Kite Runner" (which was an excellent movie and book), "Hearts In Atlantis" (another excellent movie and book), "The Green Mile" (which I actually watched a part of the movie, read the book, and then watched portions of the movie over again. Excellent, by the way, except for the different endings), and of course, "Harry Potter." Ultimately, I felt bad about not reading my friend's absolute favorite thing in the world and decided I would give it a chance. Those who read the series would most benefit from this writing, as these are my feelings to the series. This is more of a discussion starter than anything.

What I say and think about the Harry Potter series will most likely make absolutely no different in the world of literature. There are enough fans to push the series over the edge and make J.K. Rowling a successful woman. There is, however, no reason why Rowling should be denied the success. Rowling is a genius for being able to create such a utopia. Harry Potter has also not fallen victim to having an anti-group that's just as strong as it's pro-group (like "Twilight"). However, pro-groups outdo anti-groups in every meaning of the definition, because it all comes down to recognition, success, and money. It doesn't have to mean that the book or series is the greatest thing ever to be written.

I liked the series enough to keep on reading until the end. You learned different and more interesting things as the series went on. The further you got into the series, the juicier it became. With that being said, I felt the final four books ("The Goblet Of Fire," "The Order Of The Phoenix," "The Half-Blood Prince," and "The Deathly Hallows" in order) were better than the first three ("The Sorcerer's Stone," "The Chamber Of Secrets," and "The Prisoner Of Azkaban"). The first three books were light, simple, shorter than the final four, and built the foundation as to which direction the rest of the series would go. The first one was completely appropriate for being an introduction to all of the characters in the series. As for the second, it just introduced a young Voldemort, the grand villain of the series, and ultimately not knowing so much about the connection to Tom Riddle until toward the end. Then, you had ghosts in the bathroom... ooooooooooohhhhh! "The Prisoner Of Azkaban" introduced Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, and you learned more about Harry's background.

My favorite book in the entire series has to be "The Goblet Of Fire," which was the turning point in the series. From here, the series got dark and it became more than a young adult franchise. I also found humor in the fact that they actually have tabloids in the wizard world and how Rita Skeeter starts juicy rumors. This is the point where Voldemort returns to power and becomes a threat to the wizard society. You also witness the first major "then and there" death in the series. "The Order Of The Phoenix" introduces Dolores Umbridge, who I had more hatred toward than any of the other villains in the series. She came off as being the face of a corrupt government... just as the ministry happens to be. "The Half-Blood Prince" lured you in to "The Deathly Hallows" with another major death and then "The Deathly Hallows" ultimately wraps up the series. Honestly, I would think that the battle between Harry Potter and Voldemort would be far more brutal than what actually happened... and I'll just leave it at that!

Like in most cases, the books gave far more detail than the movies, as this is almost always the case. I also noticed that the movies altered some things that happened in the book (such as how Umbridge's group caught "Dumbledore's Army" in "The Order Of The Phoenix"). I find the former statement to be acceptable simply for the purpose of time constraints. I find the latter statement to be something I frown upon, because when you're adapting a book, you need to do the book as much justice as you possibly could.

Ultimately, I actually found myself enjoying the Harry Potter series. I don't come out of this experience as a fanatic, but I find the series to be an intriguing group of reads. For me, I finished the series and it's another one on the shelf. I consider myself more of an enthusiast for books in general. I'm more into the authors and the genre of horror fiction (along with the genres of thriller and suspense). Standalones don't take as much of an effort, but a good series can always be worth an experience.

It turns out that Harry Potter is far from over after the final film is released on July 15th. J.K. Rowling announced the creation of a site called "Pottermore," in which people can join in the Harry Potter experience in a role play kind of way. I'm sure this will keep the enthusiasts occupied, but I won't be one of them. I tried Runescape for about two tries and then stopped. I'm just not into role playing on the Internet. While Harry Potter fans will continue to talk about Harry Potter for years to come, I will simply mention it and discuss it as I do the many other books I have read in the past. To me, it's simply an equal for the rating in which I've given it. At the end of this year, I will be ranking the series as a single entry. The seven books will be ranked as one, because you ultimately need one to compliment the other. Plus I read the books in such a short period of time that it would only be appropriate to do so.

I will definitely be watching the movie when it comes out. I am on the fence as to whether or not I will be attending the midnight premiere. If I do, I would not be the kind to dress up. Since I haven't dressed up for Halloween since fourth grade, I wouldn't see much of a difference. Dressing up just isn't my thing. I am also left to wonder whether or not I will fall asleep during the midnight premiere. The movie starts at 12:01 AM and will run for two hours and five minutes along with probable trailers. It will probably end close to 2:30 AM in that case. If we are spared having to watch the trailers and the movie starts at exactly 12:01 AM, the film will end at 2:06 AM. I have my ticket already, so it's up to me to decide whether or not I feel like going. I have yet to attend a midnight premiere and Harry Potter would surely make for a good start.

I would like to thank the friend (who knows who they are) for convincing me to join the experience and allowing me to borrow their books. My Harry Potter experience would not be the same without them. Now I am only left to wonder where the series will rank in my "Top Ten Books I Read In 2011" at the end of the year.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ten Best Songs

It's July and now is just the right time to return to blogging. Ideas are flowing through my mind and I feel that fresh material is in need. I'm going to start out this month with something I wrote awhile back, but have since updated in order to fit my current tastes and opinions for the ten songs I would choose to download if somebody told me that I could only download ten songs. Due to the fact I have no wishes to rank them and since the rankings are constantly changing, I decided to just put them in the order in which they were performed. While some songs have been performed by different artists, the artist or artists I list is the version that makes the ranking.

If I can have just ten songs (twelve when you include a foreign song and a song without words), here would be my choices...

Stardust (1957) by Nat King Cole- Hoagy Carmichael wrote this song back in 1927 when thinking about previous relationships he was in while he was star gazing. He created the music, lyrics came in later on, and the tone was arranged to fit with the lyrics. This song was performed many of times by many of artists, but the Nat King Cole version is by far the best rendition. When Cole performed this hit, the music felt like being sent to a paradise known as the night sky. Put this together with Nat King Cole's calm and peaceful voice, and you have yourself an experience that you would most likely find in a peaceful dream. Putting a classic hit together with a great singer often comes out with an excellent result, and this does more than prove it right.

Get A Job (1957) by The Silhouettes- The 1950's was the birth of rock and roll and Doo Wop music was a popular genre of that style of music. Many of groups simply began at street corners, getting together and starting up a tune. The Silhouettes hailed from Philadelphia and were four guys who came up with my favorite doo wop tune, "Get A Job." While it was inspired by a mother's longing for their son, recently returning home from the service, to get a job, the song takes a more simple tune, like a nagging wife telling her husband to get off his backside and get himself a job. This song is most well known for the chorus, "Sha na na na, sha na na na na," which actually influenced the comedy doo wop group, "Sha Na Na," on it's name. This song never gets old and every time I hear it, it's just as fun listening to it as the time before.

The Crowd (1962) by Roy Orbison- For those who have read my previous musical works, you should have known that a Roy Orbison song would be somewhere on this list. I decided that I would put one of his songs on this list to give the list a bit more variety. I decided to simply pick the song I chose as his best song in my "Ten Best Roy Orbison Songs" I wrote in April (which happens to compete with my "Shark Tank" submission for the page with the most views), and that would be his 1962 hit "The Crowd." It's not as well known as many of his hits, such as "Oh, Pretty Woman" and "Only The Lonely," but to me, it's just my cup of tea. The story is a man coping with life, but simply wishing and hoping that his significant would come back to him and that things are truly not the same without her. The song has such a powerful and heartfelt meaning and the lyrics are perfectly arranged. Instead of the arrangement that several songs in the music industry take, this starts out slow and keeps going up in tempo, making it more and more powerful. The violin accompanies Roy Orbison's voice with perfection and the vocals are just as fantastic.

A Change Is Gonna Come (1964) by Sam Cooke- Sam Cooke was one of soul's finest. While James Brown has been considered "The Godfather Of Soul," I thought Sam Cooke was an important figure when it came to soul music. I like much of his music, but his posthumously released civil rights influenced hit, "A Change Is Gonna Come," was just excellent. His voice was stronger and more passionate than ever and it just felt like drifting off into history. While this song was covered several times, Sam Cooke clearly knocked this hit out of the ball park. It was unfortunate that he died so soon and especially the way he died. This is surely the best that soul music had to deliver, with only Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" coming close to such passion in the field of soul.

Unchained Melody (1965) by The Righteous Brothers- This is a landmark song when it comes to music. It was written in the 1950's and performed by lesser known artists. However, it was the Righteous Brothers who brought us by far the greatest rendition of this song. Bobby Hatfield's voice complimented the song just right and the arrangement of immediately starting the song worked perfectly. This is simply a love song of longing for your significant. It was originally written for a movie where a man was in prison and had to decide whether he wanted to escape prison (and live forever on the run) or serve his prison time (and return to his wife and family). The words "unchained melody" do not appear in any part of the song, it is simply what the song is. After the Righteous Brothers, many of performers gave their rendition, but none did it like the Righteous Brothers.

Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) by Simon and Garfunkel- This is a part of the top of the line when it comes to a great song and a great performance. Paul Simon, who is one of the greatest songwriters of all time, came up with the lyrics to this song. However, he wanted Art Garfunkel to sing it. A lot of debate occurred between both Simon and Garfunkel as to how things should have went and led to the two breaking up. However, it was Garfunkel that did the singing and it led to a work of genius. This is just a genuine gem when it comes to music. Regardless what it takes to create the song, the final product was just so good and peaceful that anybody could enjoy it. This is another song that's seen several covers, none of which could even stand by this version.

I Am I Said (1971) by Neil Diamond- I like the sound of Neil Diamond's voice. It has a care free kind of tone to it, but yet his songs are just so good. Two of his hits are just great, "Shilo" and this hit, "I Am I Said." The story is simply feeling lost with life and wishing that things were simply better. The mood is loneliness. Neil Diamond has revealed the origins to many of his songs, "Sweet Caroline" was about Caroline Kennedy, "Shilo" was about a dog (while we all thought it was an imaginary friend), and "I Am I Said" was about feeling homesick while auditioning for a film. There's just something about this song that brings you to another place and makes you feel the way Neil Diamond's feeling in the song.

Without You (1971) by Harry Nilsson- Surprisingly, the Harry Nilsson version of "Without You" was not the original. The song was written by Badfinger and was influenced by a party in which a member of the group realized he couldn't live without his current girlfriend. The Harry Nilsson version takes a darker and gloomier tone. The way that Nilsson performs the song makes it scarier and more heart breaking than anybody has even attempted. There's just so much passion. It turns out that the original writers of the song (from Badfinger) would both go on to commit suicide, which means the chorus was really how they felt.

American Pie (1972) by Don McLean- This is an anthem for rock and roll music. Don McLean wrote this song to commemorate the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper in the February 3, 1959 plane crash that shook the rock and roll world. McLean wrote about how this event changed rock and roll and used allegories to represent figures in the music industry. For instances, Bob Dylan was "The Jester," Janis Joplin was "The girl who sang the blues," The Beatles were "The Sergeants" and "The Quartet," Mick Jagger was "The Devil," and the list keeps going on and on. This is a song that could be dissected when the opportunity arose, but when this isn't the case, it's a nice song to enjoy.

Hotel California (1977) by The Eagles- I could only picture myself driving down an empty highway where the only lights around are the ones on the road and I think about "Hotel California," especially when it's just starting. The song plays as being about a hotel in California (obviously), but there's much more to it. Interpretations to this song include being stoned, having cancer, and cannibalism. However, the most logical and most likely allegory to "Hotel California" is that of the music industry (which can also fall along the lines as "becoming famous"). The last line, "you can check out anytime you'd like, but you can never leave," leaves an opening to this song. When this song is not being analyzed, it's a great hit with great performances on the guitar and great lyrics, a fine performance in the world of music.

Along with my ten favorites, I will also name my favorite foreign hit and favorite non-lyric hit...

Favorite Foreign Song

Sukiyaki (1963) by Kyu Sakomoto- This song has nothing to do with the Japanese dish, but was called such because they felt it would attract the American audience. The original song was called "Ue o Muite Aruko," which translates to "I shall walk looking up." Given that he should walk looking up so his tears don't fall, as the lyrics indicate, it's a sad song. Of course, the only way you would be able to know these things are if you know Japanese (which I don't) or looked up the translation (which I did). When you're listening to the song, you could tell by Sakomoto's tone that this is a sad song and you can also tell that it's such a beautiful song. I'm not such a fan of Japanese music, anime, or manga, but this is just a wonderful song that anybody can enjoy. This happens to be the only Japanese song to reach number one on the American charts.

Favorite Non-Lyric Song

Sleepwalk (1959) by Santo and Johnny- Music can sometimes just captivate without being accompanied by words. Music can simply captivate by bringing a mood that gives the listener an experience and that's what "Sleepwalk" does. The song is known for its incorporation of the steel guitar and nice, warm, summer feel that makes you feel like you're having that kind of experience. All you have to do is create the picture in your mind. This song is so soothing that it can relax you and take you away from any problem you may have. It brings an innocence that only an innocent time can bring. This song has been used to capture innocence, such as in "Hearts In Atlantis" the movie, when the group of friends are playing with one another and during "La Bamba," when Ritchie Valens older brother reacts to his death. This song has so much magic to it.

These are twelve of the great gems of music and I could listen to them on a loop. I tend to listen to these songs in moderation, but I could listen to them in the loop if I really felt like it. That's what music does.