Thursday, March 31, 2016

ABC Reads: March Review

Today is the day to link up your ABC Reads!!  Here's a refresher on the terms of the challenge in case you missed it previously:

What does the challenge entail?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  There are 26 letters of the alphabet and Mia and I challenge you, during the course of 2016, to read a book that starts with each letter.  For example, Atonement (A), The Bell Jar (B), Catching Fire (C), and so on.  Makes sense, right? You don't need to go in order - if you want to start with S, go for it.  On the last day of each month, we'll host a link-up for you to share your ABC Reads.  We will award one point for each letter you review AND a bonus point for linking up with us!  At the end of the year (or when the first participant reviews a book beginning with each of the 26 letters), the winner will be awarded a $30 Amazon gift card.  So, what do you say?  Do you accept our ABC Reads challenge?

Each ABC Reads book that I read this month was fantastic.  I devoured all three.  Each one was well-written and more than held my attention.  Each broached heavy topics - murder, cancer, thoughts of suicide.  It was all very real and heartbreaking.  Two were true life stories written in memoir style with the other being a fictional work.  I completed the following letters: Y, L, and R.  Here are my thoughts...

The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby and John Busby

I really enjoyed reading this one.  What an incredible story!!  John, a third shift policeman, is nearly murdered on his way to work in the late summer of 1979.  The book alternates between his perspective and Cylin's (his daughter) 9-year old voice.  It is well presented and gives an intriguing look into the politics and corruption of the police force in small town American.  Check out my full review HERE.

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

I found this little gem via the monthly Kindle First emails I receive.  Such a creative and intriguing story surrounding the heavy topic of cancer.  The story begins with Libby being told she has a rare form of cancer.  In her denial and shock, she tears out of the doctor's office to head home and tell her one and only love (seriously...childhood friend turned high school sweetheart turned husband), Tom.  However, when Tom sees her so terribly broken up he assumes she's found out his secret.  And then the real fun begins.  It was a light-hearted tale that broaches many a tough topic.  Definitely worth a read.  Perfect for reading at the beach this summer!  

The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town by Ryan D'Agostino

What a truly horrid and terrifying story.  Bill Petit finds himself beaten and tied up in his basement while two intruders do who knows what to his wife and two young daughters.  Miraculously, Bill escapes and rolls to a neighbors house to get help for his girls, but it is too late as the murderers have set the house afire.  It is absolutely heart wrenching, but a fascinating look into the power of human resilience.  For my full review, click HERE.  

Which letters did you cross off your list this month?

Andrea :)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

50 Years!

On Saturday, Christopher's parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  What an incredible feat!  And what a journey they have been on since that snowy March weekend in England.  A move to America, successful careers, two wonderful children, and so much more throughout the years!

We treated them to a doo-wop concert earlier this month and took them out for a family dinner on Saturday evening.  It was a lovely night with fantastic food that we all thoroughly enjoyed.

It really is remarkable to think about spending 50 years of life together.  Christopher and I have nearly 18 months behind us so we have quite a way to go...but I'm hopeful we'll get there someday!

Andrea :)

Monday, March 28, 2016

#collaboreads: A Memoir

Memoirs are one of my favorite genres to read.  I easily selected a book this month.  In fact, I was able to incorporate a book that was on my ABC Reads Challenge list.  Shameless plug - feel free to join Mia and me as we host a monthly link-up that provides a place for our fellow bookworms to review a book that begins with each of the 26 letters in our lovely alphabet over the course of 2016.  It's never too late to join the fun.  Learn more HERE!  Now...back to my selection for #collaboreads this month - The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir by Cylin Busby and John Busby.

What part of the book could you NOT get enough of?

I simply could not put this book all.  I read it in two days.  I was caught up in the story from the first flip of the cover.  It alternated between Cylin, in her 9-year old voice, and her father's perspective on the tragic and miraculous events of his near murder in their small Massachusetts beach town in the late summer of 1979.  John was a respected third shift police officer with a wife in nursing school and three young children at home.  The book only covered a brief portion of time following that fateful night but did a great job of incorporating prior stories and events seamlessly into the story. 

How did you relate to/care for the characters?
What's your thought on the plot line and twists and turns?

I related more to Cylin than John, but thoroughly enjoyed both perspectives.  Growing up, my dad was a principal (and later a teacher) so I could relate to Cylin's feelings about being in the spotlight and having people treat her in a certain (good or bad) manner based on circumstances she was unable to control.  I really felt for her and her brothers.  At the same time, I could identify with John's frustrations with the police force for not doing more to solve his case.  He was also left to deal with having so much of his identity stripped from him when he was unable to speak let alone go back to work.  I also had so much sympathy for John's wife.  Even though they had family nearby to help and great friends to lean on, she really had to be the strong and firm voice that held them all together...and it could NOT have been easy in any possible way.  There are a few twists and turns along the way, but the story is pretty straight forward.  I was surprised that more of the book didn't focus on the family's life after their eventual relocation.  However, I got caught up in the descriptive way life after the incident was presented that I didn't realize it until the book was finished.

What other books are like this one? If none, did it remind you of a particular TV or movie with it's themes and characters? Does it serendipitous-ly line-up with things going on in your life or the news right now? 

After watching Making A Murderer and following much of the unnecessary police violence incidents over the past few years, I was interested discover that our justice system was just as corrupt in the early 80s.  It's an awful shame, but I was shocked by the stories of low level criminals running the town at will.  John stood up to the corruption and nearly paid his life for it.  If nothing else, I recommend reading this book just to get a closer first hand account of the workings of the police department in small town America.  Similarly, I just finished The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town by Ryan D'Agostino.  This one doesn't focus on corruption as much as recovery in the midst of horrible tragedy.  Ironically, a great follow-up read.

You know you judged this book by the cover. What did you think of it? 
How did it relate to the contents of the novel? And the font and layout of the pages? 

The design proves intriguing.  John's police ID and an authentic, innocent image of Cylin with a pet turtle in their yard is a great snapshot of the family before life turned upside down.  Both images on the cover are addressed in the first part of the book bringing even more meaning to them.

How many out of five do you give this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?  

I give this book 4.5 stars!  It is an incredible story, but I wanted a little more on life post-disappearing.  The focus was on everything leading up to the disappearing with a couple chapters after the family's relocation.  Definitely recommend giving it a read though!

Andrea :)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Rising Above To Heal Within

Close your eyes.  Picture the face of the person you love most in all this world.  Now, imagine they are horrifically tortured and murdered in the bedroom and living room of your home while you are beaten to near unconsciousness and tied up in the basement.  Then, think about how you would feel if that was not only ONE person you loved and adored, but rather THREE.  Finally, thank God that none of it is true for you personally.  The same can not be said for Bill Petit.

The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town by Ryan D'Agostino tells Bill Petit's story from beginning to end in a way that allows the reader to connect with many of the individuals involved.  Specifically, I enjoyed the chapters that focused on Jennifer, Hayley, and Michaela.  That section really honored their memory in a special way by pulling stories from family members and friends.

The book shares some pretty intense scenes from the night of the brutal crime that took their lives as well as from the trials of the two murderers.  Definitely had my emotions running high and stomach completely turned at times.  I just can't fathom such senseless acts.  My mind truly can't process it.  I have so much admiration for the sole survivor - Bill Petit - as he fought through both his physical and emotional pain to honor the memory of his wife and daughters.  And to continue to live a life they would have wanted for him.  That sheer resilience and strong will is not easy when death comes naturally to people you love, but in this situation it is a true miracle of God that Bill wasn't completely crushed and defeated forever. The book shares in great detail his struggle to live in the days, weeks, months, and years after that horrendous night.  That was another true bright spot in the book.  Everyday we make choices about how to live our lives.  Bill Petit does the same.

I was particularly intrigued by the Petit Family Foundation that Bill began with funds that he received in the aftermath of the tragedy.  The Foundation serves to honor the memory of Jennifer, Hayley, and Michaela as well as recognize the charities and events that were close to their hearts during their short time on Earth.  I was quite impressed with the impact the Foundation continues to make in their community today.  A wonderful legacy for three seemingly fabulous women.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.  If you would like to learn more about the book or purchase a copy of your own, click HERE.  I learned so much from reading the story of the Petit family.  I would recommend the book to anyone with an interest in psychology, human resilience, and the power of community.

Andrea :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Fighting for Peace

In 1910, Jack Johnson - World Heavyweight Champion - faced yet another "Great White Hope" in the Fight of the Century.  He won.  Race riots ensued in cities all across America on the annual celebration of our nation's birth.  By winning, Johnson - a phenomenal black boxer - had just humiliated whites in America.  And that was unacceptable.

The Royale (currently showing at Lincoln Center Theater) depicts the inner struggle of Johnson as he exerts his dominance inside the ring while all outside it are deep in the midst of Jim Crow.  And the struggle is real.  Lives are affected.  Family issues arise.  A man is troubled, yet capable.  His skin color is the crux of it all.

The Royale is a fantastic portrayal of the issues that somehow still manage to be present in our daily lives over 100 years later.  The unique and creative manner of presentation makes the performance all the more appealing.  I highly recommend checking it out.  And afterward, really thinking about what it means.  It is a travesty that our country still finds a way to continue fighting with one another over skin color when what we really need is peace for one and all.

Andrea :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Flat Stanley discovers NYC

I got plenty of crazy looks as I took great care in positioning and posing Flat Stanley throughout NYC.  Surprisingly, it was a lot of fun taking him to experience some of my favorite things in NYC - cupcakes and pizza!!  And showing him the not-so-lovely parts - snow and the subway!!  Check out all the fun we had during his week in the Big Apple!

Have you ever been sent a Flat Stanley?  

Andrea :)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Hope you're all wearing green!  And finding your own pot of gold today!

Andrea :)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Our February Date Nights

One of our goals as a couple this year is to have at least two dedicated date nights each month. Despite my frequent work travel and an exciting birthday celebration, we managed to fit two fun dates into February!  I decided we should kick off the month by tapping into our Bank of America Museums on Us program to gain free entry into The Museum of the Moving Image located just a short bus ride from our apartment.  Chris planned a fun night out to see the legendary Hall & Oates perform at Madison Square Garden.

The Museum of the Moving Image provides a full range of stationary and interactive exhibits that allow visitors to better understand, enjoy, and appreciate the art, history, technique, and technology of film, television, and digital media.  It was SUCH a fun day.  We began our trek through the museum at an alternating exhibit area focused on cats of the internet.  Got in a few good laughs before continuing to the main area featuring an array of costumes and make-up artistry exhibits.  I enjoyed checking out the Mrs. Doubtfire memorabilia.  There were also several intriguing areas filled with old toys and marketing campaign materials as well as a brief history of animation.

We moved on to the interactive floor and let our inner kid come out to play.  There were high tech flip book movies to watch, short animated films to create, and even an opportunity to voice over a variety of movie scenes.  We did it all!  I wish I had recorded our voice overs.  I promise I sounded spot on like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  Chris tried a scene from Coming to America with an equally fun outcome!  Definitely a fun day of acting silly and learning all about the art of film making!

Later in the month, we ventured out to Madison Square Garden for a night of smooth grooves with Hall & Oates.  The opener wasn't my favorite, but when the main act finally arrived front and center things really began to heat up!  They played most of Chris' favorite songs and even I knew several of the hits!  We had fun people watching in our area of the arena, too.  It was a fun night that was much needed after I'd spent nearly a week away on work trips.  Hall & Oates certainly know how to work the crowd and put on a show. 

What fun date nights have you had recently?

Andrea :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Not-So-Smart People

When Second Stage Theater announced the cast of its latest production, Smart People, I was floored.  Four people...and I knew them all.  If by knew them all, I meant I had watched them in various TV shows over the years.  Needless to say, I was super excited to see the show.

We've attended shows at Second Stage for quite some time.  We even became season ticket holders this year.  We had yet to be disappointed by a production there.  And the premise of Smart People - on the eve of Obama's 2008 Presidential Election, four highly intelligent Cambridge residents broach the treacherous topic of race - seemed intriguing and certainly relevant, but we just didn't love it.

Despite the absolutely phenomenal acting from Brian (Joshua Jackson), Ginny (Anne Son), Jackson (Mahershala Ali), and Valerie (Tessa Thompson), the story line felt needlessly convoluted at times.  Brian, a progressive neuroscientist professor studying the brain's response to race and its implications, falls for Ginny, a psychiatrist studying low-income Asian-American women's reaction to stress.  Ginny interfaces with Doctor Jackson when she proposes her services at his newly establish clinic for low-income patients.  Jackson has a chance encounter with Valerie, a struggling actress, when he begins stitching up the deep gash an out of place prop made on her forehead.  Valerie later signs up as a research assistant for Brian.  And ultimately, the entire crew unknowingly gathers for a dinner party that goes awry once the issues of race are once again brought into the mix.

While there were some interesting thoughts brought to light, it could have been presented in a more appealing way.  It is a play that I would recommend based on the content rather than the production.  Honestly, the cast carried the true weight of the show.  Unfortunately, it is no longer showing at Second Stage, but it's possible it could pop up again down the line.

Andrea :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Birthday Fun with My Love

Celebrating birthdays is one of my favorite things in life.  Last Friday night was no exception.  Christopher and I spent the evening at the fabulous Club A Steakhouse in Manhattan.  Such a fantastic time!  And the food is SO delicious!

We started off with some lobster bisque...probably the best I've ever had.  We shared a meat platter with filet mignon and NY Strip for the main course alongside broccoli and mashed potatoes.  The Happy Birthday dessert plate was a perfect assortment of tasty treats to top off the night.

The next night, we celebrated with The Soul Rebels featuring Talib Kweli.  When I asked Chris what he wanted to do for his birthday, this was his choice.  We'd never been to the Brooklyn Bowl so we headed there about a half hour before the show was set to begin.  We figured that would give us time to find a nice spot to settle into before the show started.  Little did we know it would be nearly two and a half hours until we'd see any sign of life on the stage.  Ugh!  Not ideal for the over 30 crowd...which may have just been us.  But still, sort your life out Brooklyn Bowl!!

Once the group got started around 10:15, they weren't bad.  I was partial to the songs that included rappers like Nigel Hall, Talib Kweli, and Rakim.  The show lasted a little over and hour which was a bit disappointing since we had waiting so long for them to come on, but Talib Kweli performed Chris' favorite song so I guess it all worked out in the end. I was just happy that Chris had such a wonderful day and weekend.  Cheers to another great year ahead!

Andrea :)