Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

GL&PPPS cover

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

When I first opened this book, I didn't know what to expect.  I'm not a real fan of epistolary texts (Dracula and Dangerous Liasons didn't do it for me) because I find it difficult to get into a narrative with them.  But I decided to try Guernsey since it was part of A Buckeye Girl Reads' book club, and she had given it a very positive review.

For the book club post this month, Buckeyegirl31 and I decided to take on the spirit of the novel and discuss Guernsey via letter.  The second half of our conversation can be read on A Buckeye Girl Reads' site.  Enjoy!

Letter from Tasha (heidenkind) to Colette (A Buckeye Girl Reads)

Dear Colette,

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is the longest title ever.  Fortunately, I enjoy long, weird titles, and also have faith in your excellent taste in books.  Guernsey is an island in the English Channel that was occupied during WWII.  The book itself tells the story, via a series of letters, of a London writer named Juliet who discovers Guernsey and its eccentric-yet-lovable inhabitants.  It all starts when Dawsey Adams writes to her about a book she used to own (her name and address were on the cover of the book--totally doing that with all my books from now on, btw!).  She soon discovers he's a member of the weirdly named literary society, which was started in order to avoid German imprisonment during the occupation (should that be capitalized?).

I can't help but feel like some of this book was taken from Pride & Prejudice.  And not just because I see P&P practically everywhere.  Our noble-yet-spunky heroine, Juliet, at first seems to be falling for the dashing Markham Reynolds, whom I keep picturing as Capt. Jack from Torchwood.  But then we realize someone else is secretly in love with her, and then she realizes she's in love with him.  See?  Just like P&P.  And he loves her because she reads.

Which brings me to the subject of Dawsey Adams.  I didn't see the appeal; I guess I don't go for the yeoman type.  What makes Dawsey so attractive?  Seriously, I want to know.

I loved a lot of the characters in the book, especially Juliet.  I loved that she broke off her engagement because her fiance started packing away her books.  Good call!  I also loved Eben because he reminded me of someone I work with--I could totally hear his voice channeled through the pages of the book while I was reading Eben's letters.

One character I absolutely hated was Elizabeth.  UHG.  Could miss perfect and her halo be more annoying?  By the time I got to the part where she was in the concentration camp or prison camp or wherever she was, I was thinking it was a good a thing she was dead or she'd be insufferable.  I'd almost rather put up with someone like Adelaide Addison, because at least you'd get some entertainment value out of her.

Now that you probably think I'm a terrible person... uh, yeah.  I'm just a bitch when it comes to books I guess.

One of the things that I loved about this book, and which I think makes it attractive to any book lover, is that it's all about bibliophiles and seems really relevant to book blogging.  When the GL&PPP Soc. first starte, they just read books and review them.  But then they start trying to get other people in the book to read the books they like, too; and then they start having conversations about it.  Practically everyone in the book is bound by their love of books and stories, and those that aren't soon want to forge that connection, too.  For example, the scene where Jonas Skeeter tells Woodrow Cutter what he thinks about The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is one of the most memorable in the book.  Woodrow and Jonas are friends, and Woodrow (who is already a member of the Society) convinces Jonas to read his favorite book by shaming him into thinking he should do something profound.  Jonas' response:  "...I did read it and here is what I think.  Marcus Aurelius was an old woman--forever taking his mind's temperature--forever wondering about what he had done, or what he had not done.  Was he right--or was he wrong?  Was the rest of the world in error?  Could it be him instead?  No, it was everybody else who was wrong, and he set matters straight for them.  Broody-hen that he was, he never had tiny thought the couldn't turn into a sermon.  Why, I bet the man couldn't even take a piss--"

One might think that this insulted Woodrow, but instead the two shook hands and headed off to Crazy Ida's, which I'm assuming is a bar.  I think this is a great illustration of what we do as book bloggers:  tell people about the books we read, try to get people to read the books we love, and then talk about them!  Even if someone doesn't enjoy the same books you do, you still have something in common.  It's like old skool book blogging.

Anyway, overall I loved the book.  What did you think?



Letter from Colette to Tasha

Dear Tasha,

When I saw the name of this book for the first time, I thought why in the world would you name your first book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society?  It wasn't until they explained how they got the name of the society that I went: " makes sense now."

I loved the fact that the whole story started because Dawsey Adams was hunting down more books by an author from a book that Juliet used own.  I thought that was the coolest thing ever, and like you am totally writing my name in every book I own...well except for the smut ones, because I'd be afraid of what kind of guy I'd attract to me then!

When the book starts out the heroine, Juliet, is on a book tour promoting her book that was taken from humorous articles she had written in a London paper. She keeps getting flowers from the mysterious American, Markham Reynolds, and finally meets him and starts dating him. The whole time Markham is courting her, she's writing letters to Dawsey Adams. Dawsey shows her letters to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and she starts writing to different members. She starts to fall in love with the island and its people from the letters, and the jerk Markham doesn't understand the whole letter writing thing. The whole time they date I wanted to shout to Juliet: "no, you have to go and meet Dawsey!! You don't need this guy."  Which brings me to your point about the Pride and Prejudice connection. I can't believe with all the Jane Austen type books I've been reading that I didn't see the Pride and Prejudice connection. My only excuse is that I read it before all of my JA themed books.  (It's still not a very good excuse, but I'm sticking to it.)

Now that you've gotten that idea stuck in my head, Markham does act an awful like Wickham.  Cute & handsome at first then you find out he has a secret he's hiding from everyone. It's funny that you say that Markham reminded of Captain Jack Harkness in Torchwood because I kept picturing him as George Clooney. Dawsey is totally Mr. Darcy-quiet, & aloof until he is among friends. Which brings me to this point: How could you not love Dawsey? I admit I fell a bit in love with him by the end of the book.

I don't think you are horrible for not liking Elizabeth. She was just too perfect. Falling in love with the one good German on the island-which reminds me, have you heard of Toldt slaves before this book? I hadn't-I love it when I learn something about history in unexpected places. I have to admit she was really annoying me by the end of the book as well, but I still thought it was horrible when she got turned into the Germans for some little infraction. I liked the character of Adelaide Addison because it let us see another side of Juliet, and every story needs a villian or villianess. Didn't you love the story of Juliet trying to rescue her books from her apartment that had burned down rather then other possessions?

I think the best part of the book for me was that total strangers on the island became friends over books, and each one was passionate about the book they choose to share. I also liked how some stuck to the same book and didn't fall to peer pressure to choose another book. After reading this book, I totally want to go to the British Channel Islands. I loved the book, and am glad that you liked it. I got this book from the library, but now want a copy of my own because it's one of new favorites.



To read the rest of the conversation, go to A Buckeye Girl Reads!

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

TSS: The Reader Returneth

The Sunday

I'm back, baby!

If you've been keeping track, the last few months has been very frustrating for me, reading-wise.  I haven't read very many books (I only finished one during the entire month of August), and most of the ones I have read have been really not good.  But this week, I feel like I've turned a corner--I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for a book club, as well as The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, and I really got into both books (and both have super-long titles; coincidence?).  And right now I'm into The Lost Symbol and already have some ideas for posts based off that.  So I believe the book drought is over and I'm back to my typical reading ways. *crosses fingers* 

Oooh, and during this coming week is the Friends of the Library sale, so I'm super-excited about that!


WBTP challenge

In other news, I've decided to join YET ANOTHER CHALLENGE.  I know, I know.  This one is the Words Behind the Pictures Challenge at A Few Minutes with Michael, which I discovered on Jemima's blog.  You basically read a screenplay (online and for free, even), and then watch the movie and compare the two.  Sounds fun, doesn't it?  I don't know if screenplays will turn out to be my thing, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Heidenkind's Art History Challenge

As for the challenge I'm hosting, Heidenkind's Art History Challenge, there's still time to sign up!  There is a pretty good group of people participating so far (which I'm thrilled about, because I was envisioning one or two), and there have even been some reviews posted already.  Check them out:

Both sound like great books! Click on the challenge button to see the details of the challenge and who else is participating.

prehistoric art

As for me, I've decided to give myself a personal reading project in addition to the Art History Challenge:  I want to build up my knowledge of art across all time periods and locations, starting with Prehistoric Art and eventually working my way to the 20th century.  I've already ordered Prehistoric Art: The Symbolic Journey of Humankind and The Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East at the library, and will be ordering more books in the coming week.

I've also been thinking about doing a paper on Guillermo del Toro's films and how women are portrayed in them (I know, this doesn't have anything to do with books).  Del Toro is one of my favorite directors; I even presented a paper once about how Pan's Labyrinth was influenced by the art of Remedios Varo.  But this project might just remain in the embryonic stages; it depends on how much time I have.

I've noticed that several people have been quitting reading challenges lately because they have no chance of completing them--and here I am joing more challenges and giving myself challenges, even though I haven't made any noticeable progress on any challenges for quite some time.  I suppose I need something to keep me focused on my reading so that my "fun" reading is more enjoyable.  Or maybe I'm just a sucker for punishment.

Finally, I was interviewed this Saturday by another blogger--Booklogged from A Reader's Journal!  Check out her site to read my thoughts on my home state of Colorado.

How did your reading go this week?  Have you found any cool new challenges?

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker


This unusual and unique historical romance combines the paranormal, Greek mythology, and adventure into a very engrossing read.

It's 1888 London, and there is a group of six people possessed with the powers to banish spirits--Alexi, the leader of the group and a professor; Rebecca, the headmistress of Athens Academy; Michael, a vicar; Josephine, an artist; Elijah, a ne'er-do-well; and Jane, a healer.  These six people are awaiting the arrival of a seventh, prophecied from when they were first possessed, to help them fight... whatever it is they're fighting (they don't specifically know).  Unbeknownst to most of the rest of the group, Alexi is convinced that the seventh will be the reincarnation of his goddess and his true love.

So it's safe to say they're all a bit impatient for the seventh's arrival, especially Alexi.

Into all of this wanders Miss Percy Parker, an albino orphan raised in a convent who is very innocent, not very confident, and has a gift for languages.  Oh, and she sees and talks to dead people and has visions.  Could Percy be the seventh?  Gosh, I just don't know!  The other six dinglebats in this group certainly have a hard enough time figuring it out.

Anyway, Percy (who I imagine looking like Princess Nuala from Hellboy II:  The Golden Army) is thrilled to be attending Athens Academy, a progressive co-ed institution; and she's even more thrilled with her yummy math professor.  Rawrrr.  Too bad she sucks at the maths.  Aha, BUT, since she's so bad at it, she needs some private after-hours tutoring from the teacher.  Ohhh yeahhhhh.  If the office is a-rockin', don't come a-knockin'.

I became really, insanely involved in this book.  I loved the set-up with Percy entering the Academy and being a total romantic, and then being told she'll be expelled if she so much as touches a male.  You can't help but look forward to how things are going to shake out after that.  Athens Academy has an almost Harry Potter-like feel to it, especially with ghosts floating around everywhere and Alexi stomping about and swirling black professorial robes like Snape on a bender.  The relationship between the six Guardians, although only hinted at in the book, is also very complex and practically crying out for a sequel (or several).

The only part of the book that kind of freaked me out and that I would bother to take issue with was Percy and Alexi's relationship.  As Stacy pointed out in her review, Percy seems very meek.  I could see why that bothered Stacy, although I accepted it as part of the Gothic genre and expected Percy to grow more confident during the course of the story.  But it did bother me insofar as the balance of power between her and Alexi is so obviously in Alexi's favor.  Percy has nothing--no friends, no family, and no hope of every marrying because she believes she's horrific.  Alexi, meanwhile, has money, friends, family, a job in which he is her teacher... so of course she's going to be attracted to him.  And when it's a question of whether Percy is risking anything by being in a relationship with him, personally I don't think it's that much.  For most of the book, Percy's attraction to Alexi felt more like a silly crush to me than true love, although their relationship does eventually become deeper and seems more equal.  But the real question is, is there ever any danger that Percy is going to break off this relationship?  Hell to the no--she has too much to lose.

I'm sure there other various things in this novel that might bother people, but trust me when I say it doesn't matter.  This is the type of book that needs to be read in one sitting.  First of all, if you try to do anything (like drive) while you're reading this book, you're not going to be able to keep your mind on the activity in question, which could be dangerous (not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything *cough*).  And second of all, the story in the book is very much like a suspended dream.  You don't want to stop reading and break the spell.  Sure, I could probably pick elements of the plot apart three ways to Sunday, but I won't because I bought into it completely while it was happening.  There were times when I was seriously bothered by the actions of the characters in this novel, but that was because I so deep into it; and I haven't been that involved in a book in a long time.  I have to say, it's a wonderful feeling. 

Much love to Katiebabs for introducing me to this novel and convincing me to read it with her review.  I would love to return to the strangely beautiful world of Percy Parker and learn more about it whenever I get the chance.

Other reviews in case you're curious:
Babbling About Books & More
Smexy Books
~Stacy's Place On Earth~
A Buckeye Girl Reads
Lurv a la Mode

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

10 Books to Read Before You Die

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Pam at has a question for us... what ten books should you read before you die?  And by "you" I imagine she means you, the reader, as opposed to me--because how else would I know you should read them?  But on the other hand, you could say I've read them so you don't have to, so maybe I should include books I haven't read but think I should before I die (also, I was having trouble thinking of books).

Books I Haz Read:

Jane Eyre

As I've mentioned maybe once or a billion times, this is my favorite book.  EVER.  It's not just romantic and a great story, but it's about a woman finding complete independence and then love. *sigh*

The Age of Innocence

Another painfully romantic book.  I sat down to read the first 30 pages for class... and didn't get up again until 3 AM, when I had finally finished the entire thing.  Great book!  It's about another woman determined to find independence and the man who just can't go there.

The Great Gatsby

I didn't really understand this book until I was older (I read it in high school).

Pride & Prejudice

There's a reason why this book has endured through two centuries and is still popular.  When I read it, it's like visiting with friends.  Plus about half of the romance novels and movies are based on it these days, so it's a must-read if you like that kind of stuff.

The Phantom of the Opera

Again, great story and wonderful characters (well, except for Raoul, he's an ass).  Definitely worth the read, especially if you enjoy anything Gothic, romantic, or Victorian.  And it's much better than you would expect based on the musical.

Things Fall Apart

This well-crafted story story by Achebe is all about how fear can rule people's lives.  Personal revelations, anyone?

To Read Before I Keel Over:

The Lord of the Rings

I did start this series once upon a time.  But do I really need a sixty-page treatise on hobbits?  COME ON, Tolkien, give me something to work with here.

The Italian

I should really read something by Ann Radcliffe someday.  Really.

Thus Spake Zarathustra

I feel borderline-guilty for admitting this, but I have never read Nietzsche.  The guilty part is from the fact that the guy I did my thesis on was obsessed with him.  Yet I couldn't quite force myself to observe proper research etiquette and read this book.

Vasari's Lives

The original art historian, Vasari wrote all about his buddies Michelangelo, Raphael, and many other Renaissance artists.  As of yet, I have not been forced to read him comprehensively.  Thank god.

What would your list of 10 books to read before you die look like?

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe

gerogia o'keeffe paints a painting

Well, I watched Georgia O'Keeffe on Lifetime Saturday night.  I know this is going to shock y'all, but the movie was not good.

Aside from the fact that the script was choppy, cheesy, and didn't really make any sense, I had two big problems with the film:  the portrayal of Alfred Stieglitz, and the portrayal of Georgia O'Keeffe as a female artist.

The movie opens with O'Keeffe entering Stieglitz's famous gallery, 291, to demand he take down her paintings (which he'd hung without her permission).  I have no quarrel with that as the opening scene--in fact, if I was telling the story of O'Keeffe, that's exactly where I would start--but I was kind of shocked by how Joan Allen portrayed O'Keeffe, and the laughable lack of chemistry between her and Jeremy Irons (for the lulz), who plays Stieglitz.  Allen shows O'Keeffe as extremely quiet and introverted, while I'd always imagined her as more, I don't know... confident?  Brazen?  Single-minded?  She appears to be letting things just happen to her like an observer of her life, instead of participating in them--she's completely passive.  Meanwhile, in real life Stieglitz had to have been incredibly smart, quick-witted, and charismatic; but in the movie Irons seems to be channeling the old timey conductor from Thomas the Tank Engine.  It's actually pretty hilarious.  One would think O'Keeffe's (who was totally pissed off) and Stieglitz's (who managed to convince said pissed-off woman to not only let him show her work but to move to New York within twenty minutes that she first walked into his gallery) first meeting would be full of sparks; instead, I found myself going, "Huh?"  And then she starts throwing herself at him and it's more like, "Hur?" and then "Ewwww."

Black Cross, NM, by O'Keeffe Black Cross, New Mexico, by Georgia O'Keeffe

BUT!--it gets worse.  How many times, during the course of this two-hour movie, do we see Georgia O'Keeffe actually painting?  I would say three or four times (compare that to something like Pollock where we see him painting freaking constantly).  And every time she's painting flowers.  Now, I love O'Keeffe's flowers the same as the next person, but let's be honest:  people like them because they're fucking pretty.  There is long tradition of women painting flowers, and they are considered a feminine subject; but O'Keeffe became famous for them because she did them in an entirely new way that forced people to look at a flower differently.  Not as something that was simply pretty and therefore easily dismissed, but as a creation of architecture and angles that had power and force--sexual and not--and was impossible to dismiss (much like O'Keeffe herself).  That was the effect when she first painted her flowers--not that you would know from this movie--but nowadays, people take that for granted and they're just pretty.  So I was disappointed that they didn't show her painting landscapes, or skulls, or cows, or something other than flowers.

Back to the creepfest that is Stieglitz, the fact that his and O'Keeffe's relationship was at the heart of the movie was yet another disappointment.  I know he was very important to O'Keeffe's career and life and blahblahblah, but I'm sure she thought about, you know, something other than her hubby.  Just saying.  Also, not to harp on Irons' performance as Stieglitz, but it doesn't do any favors to either him or O'Keeffe.  Stieglitz was a total basterd (as one my professors put it once, "He was difficult to live with."), but here he just seems pathetic and not really mean per se.  Why is O'Keeffe even hanging around this decrepit looser?  Because she luffs him??? *gag* 

I did really like that the movie showed Tony Luhan giving Georgia driving lessons, though.  The best part of the movie is definitely where she goes to Taos and hangs out with Mabel Dodge Luhan (side note:  I stayed in her house once!), but I think that lasts about 7 minutes.  So out of about 120 minutes, 7 are worth watching.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Storm of Visions

storm of visions

Storm of Visions by Christina Dodd

This book is basically a mess.

When I first started it, I thought it looked promising.  No prologue (always a good thing), no annoying miles of backstory; we're just dropped straight into Jacqueline Vargha and Caleb d'Angelo (or is it D'Angelo?) meeting in California.  They obviously know each other.  But then the book feels like it starts again a little while later in New York City, and again when we get into the whole unnecessary backstory (flashback alert! doodly-do, doodly-do, doodly-do) o' Caleb and Jacqueline.  In fact, I could tell that part was the beginning of the book at some point, because all the introductory information about Jacqueline and Caleb that we'd already received was repeated!  Great editing, btw.

So, what is this book about?  Well, when kids are abandoned by their parents, they receive special powers, and they either work for the Devil or The Good Side [insert favorite deity here].  The good guys are called The Chosen Ones and the baddies are called The Others.  What separates the good from the ugly bad?  Well, I'm not entirely clear on that--I think it's the people who find them and raise them.  But basically, there is ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE between The Chosen Ones and The Others, other than the fact that one is good and ruled by... (? I'm guessing capitalism), and the other is evol and is ruled by the Devil.  And they hate each other.

Pop quiz time!  Given the above set-up, what romantic relationship do you think is rife with the most potential drama and angst?
  1. A Chosen One and an Other
  2. Two ex's (both Chosen Ones) who can't keep their very ugly arguments under wraps in front of other people--awkwardness
  3. A human and a Chosen One who have known one another since they were kids
  4. Some random character from Dodd's last paranormal series (because God forbid we start a new series without bringing in someone from the previous one) who's not even a Chosen One OR an Other, and whoever else.
If you answered 1, then you're in for disappointment, because that is the only thing not going on in this book.  The main romance--if one could call it that--is totally lame and not really the focus of the book, anyway.  Which is kinda-really annoying, since I'm 98% sure it says romance on the spine of the book.

Aside from the dead-in-the-water romance, the rest of the plot does not make much sense.  There are characters in the book that have zero purpose, I have no idea what half of The Chosen Ones' powers are, I'm utterly confused about how the organization of The Chosen Ones works (is Irving a Chosen One?  Do only the 7 leaders have powers?  Why do they operate out of a travel agency, of all things?), and all the characters spend 3/4ths of the book literally doing nothing.  NOTHING.  So that's pretty damn exciting.

Wait a sec, this is starting to sound familiar--a plot that's a complete mess and an unromantic romance.  Weren't those the same issues I had with Dodd's last book?  (Aha!  They were--thank you, book blog.)  Wow, two really bad books in a row.  It looks like I might have to find a new favorite author.

Other reviews I found, in case you're curious:
Darque Reviews

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Life Born of Fire

life born of fire

I did not like this episode of Inspector Lewis.

Since Ruth hasn't posted her review yet, I suppose I will have to make some attempt at writing a coherent synopsis. A kid named Will shoots himself in the head in front of a church altar. For some reason, homicide detectives Lewis and Hathaway are called to the scene. Turns out, Hathaway knew Will when they were kids, and he freaks the hell out. Lewis subsequently makes two nonsensical decisions: one, he will investigate Will's death as if it's a homicide, even though it was obviously suicide and therefore should not even be under his purview; and two, Hathaway can be on the case because he has no conflict of interest. ORLY? He literally ran out of the church, but he's perfectly all right to investigate Will's death, sure, uh-huh.

Eventually, it turns out Will is gay ("Oh yeah," sez Sgt. Hathaway), he had a girlfriend, and he was part of a Christian group that was trying to un-homophize him. Nice to know those kinds of organizations exist in Europe and not just in America. And Will knew how to use a camera because he sent all his gay friends inflammatory video right before he died.

At this point, I'm thinking this Will person was reeeeeeaaaaaaaaalllllllllly annoying and I'm glad he's dead. But unfortunately, other people connected to Will and the crazy talk Christian group are being murrrrdered, which means Lewis and Hathaway can now justify investigating his death. Blood and fingerprints point to a guy with some strange Welsh name whom Will was in love with, but who disappeared from Oxford about three years ago and hasn't been seen since. Yet Hathaway has his number on his cell phone! It seems like Hathaway is all up in Oxford's Flamboyantly Gay community. Is it because he was in the Seminary, or because he's English, or... could he ACTUALLY BE GAY??? This leads to a hilariously awkward exchange between Hathaway and Lewis:

Lewis: Are you... nah.

Hathaway: Go on and ask.

Lewis: No, it's... it doesn't matter.

Hathaway: You've been dying to ask.

L: It's none of my business.

H: Maybe you really want to know.

L: Well, okay. *expectant look*

H: What?

L: Are you?


L: Are. you. gay?

H: *extended pause* What does that mean?

L: You know what that means.

H: What, there's boys and girls and a nice, neat, straight line down the middle; and gays if you like shoes and musicals and straights if you get loaded and eat Yorkie bars?

L: No, no.

H: Find a definition then, Sir.

L: Loaded and Yorkie bars--how stupid do you think I am, man? You're right, it's none of business.

H: *heaves a sigh--of relief???*

Meanwhile, Sgt. Ambiguously Gay knows way more about the people in this case than he's telling Lewis, and when Lewis finds out, he is PISSED. And not in the really, really drunk sense of the word, either (that would be Hathaway). Lewis says he never wants to look at Hathaway again, and he might get his wish, since it seems that the Sergeant is the next person on the killer's TBK list.

I found this episode to be really annoying. The plot was badly set-up and thus felt like an excuse to preach at me about gay rights. It would have been cool to be shown into the Oxford GLBT scene, but the way this was done was really shallow and unbelievable. And the whole "mystery" about whether or not Hathaway himself was A GAY was just dumb. Obviously they aren't going to make that character gay, since he's the only eye candy on the show (sorry Kevin Whately); and personally I thought the way they played with that idea was simply juvenile. The writers need to catch an ep of Torchwood, if you ask me.

Oh, and it was painfully obvious who the killer was. Honestly, what kind of girl agrees to date a guy and meet his mom after she finds out he's gay? That should have raised a whole slew of flags. Hathaway and Lewis need a woman on the team to catch these things.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

The Once and Future Blog

The future of the blog

Today is the final day of BBAW. :(  Aww, sad.  For today's meme, we're asked to say, in 50 words or less, what we like about our blogs now and what we want for our blogs in the future (and for all of you who are thinking my borrowing of TH White's title for this post exhibits a certain amount of hubris, I'd have to agree--but what can I say, I'm a sucker for catchy titles).

What I like about my blog right now is mainly the people who visit it!  I like that's it my happy place and I'm enjoying writing reviews.  In the future, I'd like to have more author interviews, review weirder books, and improve my writing skillz.  Also host another challenge, possibly, and change the design of my blog so that it's more better.

Then I had an idea to do a card reading of the future of my blog!  According the cards (seen above) my blog's future is pretty uncertain.  The bottom cards all indicate strife and nasty people in my future.  A few of the top cards indicate success and luck, but some of them also indicate financial difficulties.  So not the greatest spread to get regarding my blog's future (although how this currently free blog can have financial difficulties, I don't know).

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Recs & Friends

Odd Thomas

Today's question for BBAW is, "Can you believe it's already day 4 of BBAW?"  Nooooooo, I can't.  Time goes by so fast!  *sniff*  Oh, and also they want to know what the first book was that I read just because a book blogger recommended it to me.

Well, this is kind of complicated answer (not really, but as usual I'm going to make it that way).  The first book I ever read because a blogger recommended it was Odd Thomas.  It was recommended by the lovely and beautiful Amethyst, who is also my adopted mom.  She's not really a book blogger (yet--mwahahaha), and I'm not entirely sure why or how she recommended it to me, but I read it and I loved it!

in sheep's clothing

The second book I read because a blogger recommended it was In Sheep's Clothing by Susan May Warren.  It's one of Ruth's favorite books.  Now, Ruth is a book blogger--but she wasn't at the time she recommended it to me.  I did really enjoy the book and the yummy Vicktor, and the fabulous Russian setting.

With both of these books, I was definitely stepping outside my comfort zone.  I tend to avoid both Christian fiction and horror novels--but because of Amethyst's and Ruth's recommendations, I tried both and really enjoyed them!

Two Shall Become One

If you want to get all technical about it, the first book I read because a book blogger recommended it was Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy:  Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan.  It was recommended by MJMBecky at One Literature Nut on Twitter!  Again, I wasn't too sure about this book, since I'd never read a Jane Austen adaptation before, and I wasn't certain I wanted to read about Darcy and Lizzie gettin' it on.  But it turned out to be an absolutely lovely and romantic book that I really enjoyed.

the strangely beautiful tale of miss percy parker

Aha, but none of those books were ones I actually bought.  Because of my depressing financial situation, I got them all from the library.  The only book I've bought based on a book blogger's recommendation is The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker--mainly because of Katiebab's killer review of it on Babbling About Books, and More.  Then Smexy Books said the hero was like Alan Rickman and, well, I really HAD to buy it after that.  I mean, Alan Rickman's a pretty big selling point.  I haven't read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

And now for the philosophical portion of my day....

The main thing I've found with book recommendations is that it really seems to cement friendships between people when you read a book recommended by a blogger, especially when said book is something you would never consider picking up if he or she hadn't mentioned it.  I think this is because when you read a book based solely on a recommendation, you're not only taking a chance on the book, but on the person who rec'd it as well--on whether she (or he) has good taste, and has paid enough attention to the kinds of books you like, to make a good recommendation.  So far, I've been rewarded on both fronts and have met both wonderful people and wonderful books by taking a chance and stepping outside my comfort zone. 

Have you ever read a book you normally wouldn't just because a friend recommended it?

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Makings of a Marginaliac

marginalia in sir isaac newton's OPTICE Marginalia in Optice by Sir Isaac Newton, possibly by the author himself. Image c/o Colorado State University

As part of BBAW, we were asked, "Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?"

Personally, I love to write in books, and love coming across books that have writing in them.

A lot of people who answered this question said marginalia (or book graffiti, a less complimentary term) horrified them.  I can understand that--I was raised to respect books.  I don't dog-ear books, I don't take them into a bath because I don't want to get them wet, and I don't eat while I'm reading because I know I'm going to spill something on the open pages (and usually myself).  But writing in books?  Hell yeah.

It really all started when I went to grad school and realized that writing notes in the books I was using for research made writing the final paper sooooo much easier.  Then once, I was reading a book and came across a notation with the title of an article and an author.  Being a naturally curious person, I looked up the article on JSTOR.  It convincingly refuted the book chapter's entire argument, and the author of the book never once cited it.  The kind graduate student who wrote that note had just saved me hours of work.  After that incident, I was all about the writing in books.

Plus, speaking purely as a history geek, what's better than coming across a book someone owned in the past and seeing their thoughts scribbled on the side of a page?  That's a researcher's dream come true, and it gives you a real connection to the last reader of the book.  It's like book blogging old skool style!

Finally, writing in books gives me a real sense of ownership of that particular book.  I've always been very attached to my copy of a book--reading isn't just an intellectual experience, but a tactile and visual one, as well.  Memories aren't captured in the pages by words alone, but by smells, pictures, and markings, so re-reading a book can take me back to the place and time I first read it--if I still have my original copy (I'm not sure what would happen if I didn't have the original--that would be sad).  By writing in a book, perhaps the memory of my experience with the book will survive, even after I haven't. 

Besides, since books are much cheaper and easier to come by now than they were when famous marginaliacs like Coleridge, Poe, Voltaire, and Newton were alive, I think I have more than right to write in books.

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To Be or not To Be, that is.

TBR pile outdoors

As part of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, we were asked to take a picture of our TBR pile in a creative way.  I've actually done this before for a Booking Through Thursday meme, but it wasn't very creative.  So I decided I would put my books outside, since that's my favorite place to read.

Note:  this is not my entire TBR pile.  Not by a long shot.  However, I was getting really tired carrying books from one end of the house to the other, then out to the backyard.  Also, there was a storm coming and wind kept knocking the books down.  So I decided this was good enough.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Me & Melody Lee--BBAW Interview

BBAW interview swap

My BBAW Interview partner is the lovely Melody Lee from Melody's Reading Corner!  Melody's blog specializes in all sorts of fiction, and she's involved in a lot of challenges and memes.  Let's find out a little bit more about her, shall we?

Melody's Reading Corner
When did you first get into reading?  Do you remember the first book you read?

I loved reading since I was in primary school. I remember I read a lot of books by Enid Blyton and the Nancy Drew series. I was a huge fan of these series back then. I can’t remember which is the first book I read but it is either one of these books.

What is your favorite book/s of all time?

This is a rather tough question for me! I have so many favourite books that I would want to read over and over again… I wish I could give you the whole list but I know this would take forever to read so I will just name a few:
  • My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • The Ghost Writer by John Harwood
  • Tokyo (aka The Devil of Nanking) by Mo Hayder 
  • The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

When did you start book blogging?

I started my blog in July three years ago. Curiosity is the top factor but I also find it is a good way of recording and jotting down my thoughts on the books I read. Later I discovered that there is a bookblogging community out there and I was thrilled. And as for the rest as they say is history.

What are three book blogs you would recommend to anyone?

There are so many great book blogs out there that I want to recommend to anyone, but I’m not going to spoil the fun by giving that reply so after giving some thoughts, these three book blogs spring to mind because I love their writing style: Musings of a Bookish Kitty, Things Mean A Lot and A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook.

If you could write a book, what do you think it would be about?

I love reading about female heroines that kick butts! She could be a sexy vampire slayer or an intelligent PI but one thing they would have in common is the enthusiasm they put into their work and that they are not afraid to show their vulnerability to the people around them.

Or, I would write a fairy tale retelling but the thing is, which one should I choose?

What's your favorite place to read?  Do you have any reading accessories you can't do without?

My sofa at home! Generally, I can read anywhere but I’d prefer a quiet place so I can devote my full attention on the book.  Funnily, I can read on the commute despite the crowd but that is because I’d rather read than doing nothing else! 

As for reading accessories, I can’t do without bookmarks! They are a must-have for me because I hate dog-earring my books. Anyway, I’m always attracted to beautiful bookmarks so I buy them if I like their designs. It is another addiction which is hard to ditch for me!

 What do you like to do when you're not reading or blogging?

I wish I could say knitting or baking because these are the two things which I wanted to learn badly, but being a working mother I don’t have the time for classes so that leave shopping (book buying most of the time!) and well, more reading!

 Do you have any favorite memes?

I love memes! I think they are a great way of getting to know other bookbloggers. I participate in Mailbox Monday, Monday Musings, Teaser Tuesdays, Wordless Wednesday, Cover Attraction and Booking Through Thursday. Sometimes, I’d also participate in Weekly Geeks but it seems like I haven’t been doing those for a while. These are my favourite memes but there are a few others which I’m interested but I’m not sure if I should participate more. I want a balance between memes and book reviews and I would appreciate it if anyone could tell me if I have too many or too little memes on my blog.

Thank you, Melody!  It was fun getting to know you.  You can check out Melody's interview with me over at Melody's Reading Corner.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Book Blogs and Hows I Love Em

BBAW celebrate books

Many of the book blogs I voted for in BBAW were not shortlisted, which sucks cuz they rock.  Here are a few of the blogs I nominated:

Best Literary Fiction Blog:  The Biblio Brat

Best History/Historical Fiction Blog:  Medieval Bookworm

Best Thriller/Mystery/Suspense Blog:  Bookish Ruth

Best YA Blog:  I Heart Monster

Best Speculative Fiction Review Blog:  Things Mean a Lot

Most Eclectic Taste:  Lost In Books

Best Writing:  Monkey Bear Reviews

Best New Blog:  A Buckeye Girl Reads

Best Commentor:  Walkabout

Of course there are many other blogs that I adore, but which don't fit neatly into the above categories.  So I made up my own categories for some them (I'm not really creative enough to do justice to all of them, sadly):

Best book, TV, movie, and music blog:  Booktalk & More

Favorite Jane Austen Fanatic & Bestest Blogging Buddy (~_^): One Literature Nut

Best author interview:  L. J. Smith by

Best objectification of the opposite sex:  Smexy Books

Funniest RL story teller:  Bookphilia

Blog with best menages and menageries:  Babbling About Books & More

PS~To everyone who has given me an award recently, I promise I am planning a post where I will pass them on.  Thank you to everyone who reads my blog and all the many bloggers who write up things I enjoy reading.  Kisses!!! ;)

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Written on Your Skin

Wrtten on your skin

Written on Your Skin by Meredith Duran

The follow-up to Bound By Your Touch, this book is about the romance between the broody Phin and the so-Blonde-she's-smart Mina Masters.  It's not as good as BBYT, but it is a good romance novel that I would recommend.

Phin was a super-spy, but now that he's become the Earl of Ashmore, he can't be ordered around by his arch-nemesis, Ridland.  Then Ridland captures Mina, who saved Phin's life four years ago in Hong Kong.  Phin decides to keep her in his house, even though he doesn't trust her (or himself), and one thing leads to another.  Meanwhile, Mina is trying to find her mom, who was kidnapped by her evil ex.

I loved BBYT, so perhaps my opinion of WOYS was scewed by unfair expectations, but there were several things that annoyed me in the beginning of this book.  First of all, the first three chapters are actually a prologue.  As I mentioned in this week's Sunday Salon, I hate prologues.  Furthermore, I was really psyched about the Hong Kong setting because I love books set in historical China (even though technically Hong Kong was part of Britain at this point...),  but Hong Kong could have just as easily been Delhi or even London--there were no details as to the setting at all; it was purely incidental.  Finally, once the story starts, the conflict between Phin and Mina is one of those that feels like it could be easily resolved if they just sat down and hashed it out; but instead, they either ignore one another; or when they talk they do so in circles, which drove me crazy.

So because of those two things, I was a little underwhelmed by the romance once it started to get going.  But the book isn't terrible by any means, and if you don't have a problem with prologues or misunderstanding plots, you likely won't be bothered by it at all.

By far the best part of the book was Phin's character.  In my review of BBYT, I said Sanburne was like an animé character (still love Sanburne better, btw).  Well, Phin is like Batman:  he operates under this façade of a wealthy socialite, but there's another side to him that's dark--very, very dark, and powerful and controlled to within a millimeter.  Even though that side of Phin is essentially good, it has tortured and murdered people, and done terrible things.  Mina says Phin's problem is that he doesn't trust himself, but I don't think that's his issue at all; I think his real problem is that he's suffering from an identity crisis.  He doesn't know who the "real" Phin is--the man who can kill with nary a thought, or the useless (and harmless) artistocrat living in civilized luxury.  He's terrified it's the former; and is haunted by the possibility that if he is his darker identity, when will it come out and take over?  Duran captures the loss of control Phin feels when he's in the grip of his dark self beautifully with a rush of words that makes you feel like you've stuck your head out of the window of a train and they're whipping past you.  There were times when reading this book where I felt truly breathless and dizzy with the unstoppable speed of Phin's thoughts.

Mina is harder to like--actually, I never warmed up to her.  She's the polar opposite of Lydia from BBYT:  Lydia is in-your-face intelligent and bookish, and almost incapable of pretending otherwise; Mina is like a 19th Century version of Marilyn Monroe, always playing up her role as the "dumb blonde" even though she's very sharp.  What bothered me about this is that she never really seemed that dumb to me, and the fact that she was able to fool so many people for so extended a period (like her stepfather who lives in the same house) is a bit difficult to believe.  Also, I never forgave her for letting Phin fall literally on his face after he'd been poisoned.

This is another beautifully written romance from Duran, and she's still my favorite new writer.  I personally didn't like Written On Your Skin as much as Bound By Your Touch--I would have prefered it if the book started in 1884 London, and if Phin and Mina got the I-don't-trust-you-because-you-might-have-alternative-motives part of their relationship out of the way much quicker--but someone who preferred darker romances could certainly have an opposite preference.  I'm definitely looking forward to Duran's next book!

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Music to Die For

for the love of music

In the second episode of Inspector Lewis Series II, a gloriously shirtless Bradley James (I'm such a dirty old lady) is involved in boxing.  And then a very red-faced, obnoxious English guy gets murdered, Inspector Lewis is seduced, and a kid with a scarf that makes his head look like it's coming out of a vagina jumps off a balcony.  And Lewis is like, "WTF?" and Hathaway is like, "Do you honestly think you have a chance with a woman who looks like that?" to Lewis, and suddenly it all makes sense.  And then Hathaway goes to Berlin and is freaked out by Deutschlanders and takes illegal pictures of secret documents with his cell phone.  THEY'RE NOT GOING TO LET YOU GET AWAY WITH THAT, HATHAWAY!  But fortunately he also writes stuff down. 

Um, yeah, so I'm pretty sure that made no sense to you unless you've watched Mystery!, and I'm sorry for that.  But you should watch it--no free plot handouts!  Besides, if you want a review that makes sense, you can read Ruth's at Booktalk & More.  Right now, instead of a plot synopsis, I'm going to tell you all the random things I know about Wagner.  Brace yourselves.

Richard Wagner lived in the 19th century.  He was inspired by folk tales such as the Poetic Edda and many of the operas he wrote tried to revive a noble and glorious Germanic past.  Nietzsche was in love with his wife and saw Wagner as keeping them apart (duh).  Anywho, another 19th-century personage who loved the Poetic Edda was Guido von List (though he was not actually "von" List, or anywhere for that matter, and just made up that name so he'd sound more aristocratic).  Like Wagner, of whom List was a huge fan, he wanted to revive the glorious German past; to that end, he studied ancient standing stones and whatnot, and pretty much invented runes.  Well... he had visions of what the runes meant and how to read them delivered by Odin.  Or so he said.  And then, after WWI, List wrote that the dead would rise up for vengeance against all of Europe like an ancient and crusading army and that Germany would take Russia as its due.  And guess who read that?  That's right, Hitler was a HUGE fan of List (and Wagner) and that 1. is why only one of List's books has been translated into English; and 2. everything I know about Wagner.  Well, that and Inspector Morse was a huge fan.

And now for a change of topic and a token question--What do you think of Bradley James' acting skills?  I think he's okay, but Ruth says he could use some work.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

R&R Challenge: The Monkey King by Wu Cheng-En

mjmbecky's rejuvenate and renew challenge

The Rejuvenate and Renew Reading Challenge is hosted by Becky at One Literature Nut.  The challenge is to read three non-fiction books this summer!  Quite a challenge for me, but I gave it a go.  First I read Symbol and Magic in Egyptian Art by Richard Wilkinson; and I started, but wasn't able to finish, Reading Egyptian Art (also by Wilkinson). 

A few weeks ago, I read on writer Jeff Markowitz's blog that his first novel was about Buddhism.  Since I've been wanting to read more about Buddhism for a while now, I asked him if he could recommend any books on the subject.  Jeff's recommendation surprised me:  Monkey King by Wu Cheng-En.  Jeff assured me it was the best introduction to the subject of Buddhism he could think of.

the monkey king page one

The Monkey King tells the story of a Buddhist monk named Hsuan Tsang who walked from China to India and back again to bring Buddhist scriptures to his country.  But you'll forget all about that when you read it:  beautifully illustrated, it's a fable and adventure story whose protagonist is a monkey made out of stone.  The monkey leads all the other monkeys into a cave behind a waterfall, where they like to sleep; and because of his bravery, they make him their king.

As the monkey ages, however, he starts to get nervous about dying.  He doesn't want to leave the earth where he's having so much fun (can you say mid-life crisis?).  Someone tells him that a person can achieve immortality through the study of Buddhism; so he travels to the Cave of the Slanting Moon and Three Stars and devotes himself humbly to religious study.  His teacher releases him after many years, asking only that the Monkey King not use his newfound abilities to cause trouble.  Clearly this teacher knows NOTHING about monkeys, because the first thing the Monkey King does when he gets home is start to build an army.

The Monkey King is a very quick, enjoyable read, and it can definitely be read purely for pleasure.  But it also contains many layers of deeper historical and religious significance.  Since I was reading it as an introduction to Buddhism, here is what I learned:
  • Buddhism is the shizzle:  You can become immortal and gain mad fighting skillz.  Awesome.
  • Reality is all in the mind:  The Monkey King can bend reality and objects to his will, changing the size of the weapons, along with the size and number of himself.  He's definitely not constricted by reality as normal people experience it, and uses its bendable nature--along with his cleverness--to beat his foes.
  • The Buddha is inescapable:  The only person the Monkey isn't able to defeat or trick is Buddha himself, whom the Monkey King meets.  He can somersault around the world, but he can't jump out of the Buddha's hand.
  • Buddhism challenges authority:  The Monkey King mostly uses his powers to unseat, trick, and defeat powerful kings; which seems to suggest Buddhism was something of a subversive religion when it came to China.

Whether you're interested in Buddhism or not, I definitely recommend The Monkey King.  It's a fun story, and it's free to read online.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

TSS--Things That I Am Sick Of

The Sunday

Another song for you this morning:

And now for the main rant event:

I'm not going to lie--lately there have been some things about books that have really been annoying me. 

Long-Ass Books

I've never been a fan of long books.  I suppose I have the attention span of a gnat, but I can't handle spending more than a week reading one book.  My TBR pile is too big and there are too many books in this world for me to read.  Usually this isn't a problem, but lately--is it just me, or does it seem like books in general have been getting longer?  Nowadays I heave a sigh of relief every time I come across a 300-pager.


This kind of ties into the long books thing, but does every single book that's published have to be part of a series?  I recently read a book that was pretty good, but the fact that it was the first in a series annoyed the crap out of me, because it was over five hundred pages long and had no conclusion.  Because it's part of a series, of course!  Not only that, but a seven-book series ("at the very least," the author states on her website), which quite frankly I don't think the plot of the book warrants.  I don't mind when series makes sense, but in some cases it seems like a cop-out.  You don't have to write a conclusion because it's part of a series!  You don't have to come up with new characters because it's part of series!  Well, my gnat-like brain wants new characters and new ideas and is tired of series.  So I guess I don't have to keep reading them.


Prologues are another thing I've had a long-standing issue with.  I do not read prologues.  If I'm going to read a novel, I want the story to start at the beginning.  Hence, I start reading at the beginning and not at the before-the-beginning.  But recently a writer twicked me by putting in a prologue, but not labeling it as a prologue.  Instead, it was called "Chapter One."  By the time I finished chapter three, I realized that I'd just read 40 freaking pages of prologue and didn't even know it.  Infuriating! 

I just want my novels to start at the beginning, have a middle part, a climax, a denoumet, and then an end.  Is that too much to ask?  If there's backstory and it can't be fit into the narrative, I really don't need to know about it.

Is there anything you're sick of seeing in books?

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Studying Literature: Dead or Alive?

julius caesar mouse

I read an article recently by an English professor at Berkeley that states that the humanities (English, art history, history, etc.) are dying.  Why?  Well, obviosly money plays a part.  The humanities are being fostered in private schools, which are far more expensive than public schools.  Ergo, the humanities are losing teaching jobs in many public universities; and meanwhile, people who study the humanities have to attend the more expensive schools.  But unlike doctors or lawyers, English majors don't tend to make enough money to pay off their student loans once they graduate.  It's a vicious cycle, one that doesn't exactly support a career in the humanities.

Chace, the author the article, also suggests that student enrollment in humanities classes has dropped because of a lack of coherence in the disciplines and "near exhaustion as a scholarly pursuit."  He speaks of English Literature studies while my speciality is in art history; but I don't think the disciplines have run to exhaustion, although perhaps they're being taught as if they have.  If English has run itself into exhaustion, perhaps because it's because it's retreading traditional literature instead of branching out to new books?

I have to admit that I never took an English class during the entire course of my college career.  I took AP English in high school that counted for the general requirement English courses.  That probably seems strange considering my obsession with enjoyment of books, but it was precisely because of that I didn't want to take English courses.  As I've said before, reading is an entirely personal experience, and I wanted to enjoy it, not analyze it and then write essays about it.

*Pause for momentary realization of the irony of this statement*

Anyway, I always thought art history was more analytical because what you see is what you get.  But the events in books take place in a person's mind, so... really I have no idea where I'm going with this post at this point.  Other than I am, very strangely, one of those people who have avoided English courses.  And if I don't want to take English classes, then you know something's wrong with the system.  Did you notice where Chace mentions one strategy English professors want to employ is to rekindle time and love for reading?  Yeah, unless you've got a time machine, the former isn't going to happen; and you can't force people to enjoy reading, so the latter's not going to work, either.

Do you have any experience with humanities studies?  Do you think the study of art, history, and literature is as doomed as Chace predicts?

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Oracles of Delphi Keep

oracles of delphi keep

Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie

This is a well-written YA adventure novel filled with magic, mystery, and scary beasties. 

In pre-WWII England, the young orphans Ian and Theo (short of Theodosia) are exploring the caves that crisscross the cliffs of Dover like Swiss cheese.  Ian wants to be an adventurer when he grows up and find loads of treasure to support himself and Theo, so he explores the cliffs for practice.  Theo is kind of like his adopted sister and is set against him looking through the caves because the headmistress of the orphanage they live in, Delphi Keep, has forbidden it; but she tags along anyway because someone has to keep an eye on him, and she has a terrible feeling (Theo has a lot of portentious feelings because she's psychic).  On this particular trip, they discover a new cave filled with strange writing.  They follow the writing into a cavern where Ian discovers a silver box--his first treasure!  As he's prying the box loose, they two children hear a terrible howl.  Coming after them from the other end of the cavern is a giantic wolf!  Ian and Theo manage to save themselves; but unknowingly they've unleased a terrible evil and put themselves in mortal danger.

I can't really talk about the story any more without giving away spoilers, but this is the type of book that is full of twists and exciting things happening every few pages.  It really reminded me of an Indiana Jones movie in that way.  And also like Indiana Jones, the plot twists together archaeology, ancient mysteries, and the paranormal (although there's a lot more paranormal elements in this book than you'll find in an Indy movie).  When I first started the novel, I expected it to take place in Greece--well, it doesn't, but Ancient Greece does have a role in the story. 

The author, Victoria Laurie, does an absolutely excellent job of capturing the time and place of the novel, along with the English mannerisms of the characters.  The kids even get yelled at for using the word bloody!  She also tells a wonderful story--I was really impressed with the way she weaved all the disparate elements and characters of the narrative together and drew me into the world of Ian and Theo.

I did get frustrated with the book, however.  Part of this is my fault because I was so busy I couldn't devote large chunks of time to reading it; but in the last quater of the book, it started losing me.  One of the interesting things in the novel is the prominent presence of adults.  Usually in YA and Middle-Grade books, the adults are mysteriously absent or just plain oblivious to what's going on; here they take a major interest in the kids' lives and have very active roles in the plot.  For the most part, I actually liked this.  Near the end of the book, however, I began wishing the kids and adults would be separated so that the focus of the story would return to Ian and Theo.

My other major problem near the end of the book was Theo.  Let me be clear:  this book is Ian's story.  Theo starts out as his sidekick, but as the book goes on, for various reasons she becomes more and more the object of Ian's protection.  Correspondingly, she starts off as a strong character but by the end of the book she seems to spend all her time either crying or huddling near one of the boys for protection.  Furthermore, Theo's psychic abilities are not consistent.  She can see WWII very clearly, not to mention other events, but she doesn't see Ian getting attacked by the giant wolf?  Or their party being attacked in the desert?  There was no explanation given for why she sometimes has visions and sometimes doesn't, and no one calls her on it (which I certainly would if I were in that position), so it starts to feel like her visions are just a convenient plot device.

Although I did feel like the story lost focus at the end, for the most part this was a very fun and entertaining novel that I'd definitely recommend.  I know there have been issues with Victoria Laurie in the past (as detailed at Dear Author), and that some bloggers are boycotting her books as a result.  That's understandable, but personally I think it's a shame to let it keep you from reading a truly excellent book like this one.  Laurie has penned a rare wonderful adventure tale that deserves huge props.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea

And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea

See! the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea: -
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?
~Percy Bysshe Shelley, Love's Philosophy

I like mystery books, but I LOVE mystery shows; and last week's And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea, the first episode in the second season of Inspector Lewis on Mystery! (or Masterpiece Mystery or whatever the hell they're calling it now) was a great piece of television:  entertaining, intense, mysterious, and fascinating.

inspector lewis and ds hathaway

If you don't keep up with Mystery, here's a quick run-down:  Inspector Lewis started off as the Detective Sergeant on a previous series, Inspector Morse (which I've never watched).  Then Morse died, and now Lewis is the inspector in his own series, aided by the "dishy" Det. Sgt. James Hathaway. 

Lewis and Hathaway are part of Thames Valley Police, whose environs include Oxford University.  The central mystery of And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea revolves around one of the university's most famous students, Percy Shelley.  It all starts when several volumes of rare 19th-century literature is discovered in the flat of a murder victim and janitor at the Bodleian Library, arguably one of the most famous libraries in the world.  After getting a peek at the inner workings of the Bodleian, Lewis and Hathaway are led, strangely, into the world of gambling and fine art.  This isn't exactly a whodunnit story (it's obvious fairly early on who the baddies are), but the mystery lies in raveling why the murderers killed their victims.

First of all, let me just say that Hathaway is my favorite part of this series.  He is super-smart, quiet, funny ("Do I get to play at being a policeman, then?" Philip, suspect number one, asks at some point in the show.  "Why not?" Hathaway mutters in response.  "We do it all day."), and very intuitive.  Not to mention dishy!  And did I mention he plays music?  It's, like, Ren Fair jazz or something, but still.  He's totally swoon-worthy.  Thus I was the complete opposite of bothered by the fact that he recited Shelley's "Love's Philosophy" so many times during the course of this episode I now have it memorized.  He can recite poetry as much as he wants as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, back to the point (assuming I have one), what I really found fascinating about this episode was, of course, the way it treated art and artists.  One of the murder victims is an art student who does conceptual pieces like videos of paint drying.  Philip, her friend and the initial suspect, is a painter with a photographic visual memory.  Lewis and Hathaway, of course, being no-nonsense policemen and blah blah blah, are completely perplexed by Nell's contemporary art pieces--works like video of paint drying and trying to bomb a building.  However, the show itself didn't treat Nell's work dismissively--on the contrary, she's called original, imaginative, and creative several times in the course of the episode.

Not so with Philip, a painter and fan of JMW Turner and John Constable, the gods of English landscape painting.  The university gallery manager calls him, "Just an eye," and Philip himself says he doesn't have ideas.  Because he paints what he sees, he's portrayed as a mere copyist--literally.  Not only that, but he's sexually and emotionally emasculated.  At the same time, however, his "copyist" powers of observation give him an almost Sherlock Holmes-esque ability to help solve the case.  Apparently, mimetic art is good for deductive reasoning and recording, but does not qualify as creative or original.  One wonders where that puts photography, then.

I also love how academics are portrayed in this series (hint:  it's not flattering).  They're snobby, completely out of touch with reality, and either abuse their specialities for personal gain or hate them--or both.  Academidiots are such easy targets.

Overall, I thought this was a great episode, but I was a bit bothered by how art was portrayed in it.  The "good" pieces were incomprehensible--which fits way too much into this myth that there is any such thing as originality, let alone that that contemporary art is the sole possessor of it.  Talk about academidiots--that's total bull crap.  But then I'm a 19th Century person, so obviously I would favor Turner over watching paint dry.

If you want to read more about And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea, check out Ruth's excellent review of it at Booktalk & More!

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Heidenkind's Art History Challenge

heidenkinds art history reading challenge 1 heidenkinds art history reading challenge 2

The other night on twitter, Rebecca from Lost in Books convinced me I should do an art history reading challenge. Yes, that's right--I'm so good at keeping track of challenges, I'm starting my own! This should be fun. :)

The Challenge in Ten Words or Less: Read six art history books in nine months.

When: September 1st, 2009-May 1st, 2010

The Details: Pick a subject related to art you want to read about. It can be as general or specific as you want. Then read 6 books about that subject from the categories listed below.

What do I mean by this? Well, say you're a fan of Lewis Carroll. Carroll was big into photography and there are several good books about his photographs. Then you could read one of Carroll's novels or a biography of him; or you could go in a different direction and read about other Victorian photographers, like Julia Cameron. This could lead to reading a book by Tennyson (who was Carmeron's next door neighbor and friend). Perhaps this example is a little more specific than most of you want to go, but trust me when I say that you can find art books related to practically any topic, place, or time period you can think of.

Or if you have a book related to art sitting around that you've been meaning to read, like The Da Vinci Code, you can start with that and build up the categories based on it--a catalog from the Louvre, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, etc.

One caveat: You can double-up on categories--e.g., read two fiction books instead of one--but the books you read have to be from at least 3 different categories to complete the challenge. Fortunately, a lot of books can also fit into more than one category, so you have a good deal of flexibility on what sort of books you can pick.

The Categories:

Theory is a filter through which one can interpret art. Some very well-known theorists (or people whose writings are the basis for theory) are Foucault, Marx, Freud, Georges Didi-Huberman, and TJ Clark.
Specific Study
These are usually shorter books that deal with a very specific subject--for example, Victorian nudes, or the art in a specific cathedral.
General Study
This is basically your typical textbook--a general overview of a subject. I know reading a textbook sounds like sooooo much fun, but there are good ones out there that are really interesting. The ones published by Phaidon are generally pretty good.
Academic article
If you have access to an article database like JSTOR or Academic OneFile, you can try to get articles online. There are also some e-journals available for free online, like Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide.
Coffee table or picture books
Go for it.
Popular history
These are books about history whose intended purpose is focused more towards entertainment than education (or a combo there of--entercation?). Something like the Digging for the Truth book would be a good example.
Exhibition Catalogs
If you've ever visited a major museum exhibit, you might have noticed there are really thick, large, and expensive books for sale about the exhibition in the museum gift shop. These books usually contain a lot of super-useful essays and information about the works in the exhibit. Plus they have great pictures. Since these books are so expensive, you'll probably want to get them at the library; however, most libraries won't have them unless it's an academic library at a larger university. If you have access to ILL, that's probably your best bet.
What were the techniques artists used to create art? That's the sort of thing practicum books look into and usually try to teach to other people. This would be a great category for anyone with artistic inclinations.
There are lots of great biographies of artists, scholarly and not, that are readily available. You can also read biographies of people who were the subjects of a work of art.
Works by an Artist
A lot of artists like to write, too. JMW Turner wrote poetry, as did Dante Gabriel Rossetti; and Giorgio de Chirico wrote several works of fiction, including the first Surrealist novel. There are also artist/movement manifestos, letter collections, and artist autobiographies. My personal favorite of the latter is Salvador Dalí's.
Works Peripheral to an Artist or Movement
Artists and writers have a long history of hanging out together and influencing one another--Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites, for example. Artists also take a lot of inspiration from literature and classics for their work, so if you find out Manet was strongly influence by Baudelaire, or that a particular painting is an illustration of the Iliad (just to use an example) and want to read it, that would fall under this category.
There are some novels that take inspiration from the lives of artists, or from paintings. Susan Vreeland is probably the most well-known author of this type of novel. Or you could read a novel that uses art or a painting as a major feature in the work, even if that painting is completely imaginary, like in The Picture of Dorian Grey.
Want to watch a movie about the life of an artist? Or a movie made by an artist, or one that inspired an artist? Go for it! This category is also great for people who want to focus on a film-related subject.

How: Use Mr. Linky to link back to your blog (or tell me you're participating in the comments if you don't have a blog). In your post saying you'll participate in the challenge, tell us what subject you're going to be focusing on or starting off with. I'll keep track of the blogs and do a monthly update with everyone's progress. Feel free to grab the buttons at the top of this post for your own blog.

Prizes: I am planning on having prizes. Exactly what these prizes will be is TBD.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don't be! The important thing to remember is this is just to have fun and learn more about art and art history in completely free-form, self-guided way. And if you get stuck and don't know what subject to pick or what book to read, remember I'm your resource--just ask, I'll be happy to help!

If you want to check out another, completely different (oh yes completely different totally) art history reading challenge, go to The Art History Reading Challenge page.

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