Saturday, October 31, 2009

Creepy Art

the crying spider The Crying Spider by Odilon Redon

In honor of Hallowe'en, M from Alberti's Window has a great post up on her blog about Goya and his creepy paintings.  Although I tend to avoid anything Hallowe'en-related like the plague, I thought it would be fun to take a page out of M's book and write about a few of my favorite creepy artists.

Odilon Redon was a French Symbolist who, like many 19th-century artists, took inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe and Goya.  He wanted his paintings and lithographs to appear mysterious so as to inspire the unconscious mind.  One of my favorite works by him is Parcifal, because if you look at the painting one way, it appears to be a man; but if you look at it another, it looks like a woman.  Why, you might ask?  Because Parcifal was considered to be androgynous and the Symbolists were all about that.  And also because he first wanted to make a druidess, but she didn't turn out well; so to salvage the plate he just decided to change her into a guy. Art!

Butterfly Catcher by Remedios Varo
Butterfly Catcher by Remedios Varo

Another one of my favoritest artists of all time is Remedios Varo, a Surrealist who was (also) very inspired by Goya and Bosch.  And also Redon, funnily enough.  Varo's work is very clever, with a wry sense of humor, and is really more fantastical than scary--unless you consider being a woman trapped in a male-dominated society scary, in which case, yes, her paintings can be pretty creepy.

severed heads Severed Heads, Géricault

Finally, I lurrrrv Théodore Géricault because he was morbid as heck.  It all started with The Raft of the Medusa, a painting based on a true-life event that Géricault researched out the wazoo--talking to survivors, building a model of the raft, and so on.  At one point, he decided he needed to sketch dead bodies so his depiction of the tragedy would be "accurate."  After that, he had random body parts lying around his studio all the time!  He even (according to legend) would collect heads freshly severed from the guillotine.  In the above painting, one head is real and one is fake--the creepy part is that the one that's been collected from the guillotine looks more alive than the fake one.  In his later years, he also enjoyed sketching portraits of the insane.  Gotta love a guy like that!

Do you have a favorite creepy or disturbing work of art?

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Slave to Sensation

slave to sensation cover

Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh

Source: la bibliothèque

The first book in Singh's Psy-Changeling series is practically famous as one of the best. paranormal. romances. EVER!  Although I didn't enjoy it quite that much, it does have a very interesting premise and is well-written.

The world we enter into with this novel is pretty much exactly like our own--the same countries still exist, the same states and cities, similar technology, and even the same national parks and the same prejudices.  This world, however, is shared between humans, changelings (who are basically weres--animal/human hybrids), and Psys.  Psys are humans with psychic powers who are all connected through something called the PsyNet.  About 100 years ago, the Psys decided to rid themselves of emotions like rage and anger in an effort to cut down on violent crime.  But they couldn't isolate the emotions enough to get rid of specific ones, so instead they removed all their emotions.  As a result, Psys now know nothing of love, kindness, desire, or even physical sensation.  For all intents and purposes, they're basically highly functioning robots.

What I found really interesting about this book is that Psys in this scenario are actually us--i.e., regular humans.  They represent the dangers of us being cut off from nature and relying too much on technology like the internet (which the PsyNet definitely resembles), and material possessions.  The changelings, on the other hand, are humans bound with nature and tied closely to their family and friends, valuing emotional ties over information and intellectualism.  That doesn't mean changeling nature doesn't have its drawbacks, but clearly the changelings are the good guys in this scenario.

With two species representing two sides of human nature, one might wonder if humans themselves are redundant--and in fact, there are no prominent human characters in this book.  The hero is a wereleopard and the heroine is high-level Psy.  But this Psy, Sascha, has a secret--she does feel emotion.  She spends her life trying to hide this fact from the PsyNet so she won't be "rehabilitated" á la McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  But Lucas, the leader of the wereleopard pack in question, can sense that Sascha isn't a normal Psy, and he's resolved to find out whether she can feel emotions or not.

The beginning of this novel is very, very good.  Sascha and Lucas definitely have chemistry, and the premise of the book is totally believable.  Where the story started to lose me was when Sascha and Lucas became über-focused on finding a serial killer.  Since this is a romance novel, I wanted the story to focus on Sascha and Lucas' relationship, not a mystery.  Furthermore, it was painfully obvious who the killer was from page 57.  No joke.  Maybe if the mystery has been a little bit more puzzling, I might have gone for it, but as it was--no.

Also, the whole Pack mentality--which includes the men protecting (re: dominating) the women--started to grate on my nerves after a while.  I usually don't enjoy books about weres for that very reason.  Sascha does resist domination, but let's be honest--she doesn't try very hard, now does she?  And why is that?  Well, because she loooves Lucas, of course! gag gag gag

But really that's just one of my personal pet peeves.  Overall, this book is very intelligently written, with great characters and an intriguing world for a new paranormal romance series.  It's also intensely emotional--since Sascha hasn't really allowed herself to experience emotions, once she does she's like a teenager tripping on raging hormones.  And considering she's facing death or psychic lobotomy, I suppose her mood swings are justified.  There is also a definite sense of danger for both Lucas and Sascha, and a level of risk involved with them getting together--which only makes the end all the more satisfying. 

Really, I can't imagine anyone not at least liking this book.

Other Opinions:
Aneca's World
Bitten By Books
Dear Author (1)
Dear Author (2 (this is the one that is closer to my opinion))
J. Kaye's Book Blog
Lusty Reader
Scooper Speaks
Secret Dreamworld of a Bookaholic
Stacy's Place on Earth
Did I miss yours?  Please let me know in the comments!

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Attraction of the Paranormal in the Modern World

sparkly vamps

Paranormal normal novels.  You've seen them.  You've read them.  You've tried to ignore the fact that Twilight is taking over the world as well as the consciousness of our youth.  But have you asked yourself why?  Why here, why... now?  Why Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Well, I have a little theory.  I mentioned in my review of The Immortals:  The Crossing that I found the fact that fairies used the internet to be ridiculous.  Even the fae don't need magic anymore; they just google everything!  I was also a little sad when I read The Vampire Diaries:  Nightfall that cell phones had eliminated the need for Bonnie's telepathic abilities--instead of calling someone with her mind, she could have just texted them.  In Slave to Sensation, the Psy are basically hooked up to the mind version of the internet; and in The Lost Symbol, people are raised from the seemingly dead--through simple science.

In other words, as these books demonstrate to some degree, technology is allowing people to have more "abilities" than they ever did before--abilities that could be conceived as preternatural in another context.  I think our increasing realiance on technology is taking an unexpected turn in that it is fueling a parallel fascination with the paranormal.  But is this interest based on a sense of nostalgia, a longing for mystery that we've lost?  Or is it instead built on the anticipation of what is to come, advances in science that we're building towards but have yet to make?

If I had to guess, I'd say the latter.  Do current paranormals give one the feeling of mystery or nostalgia?  Do they make your spine tingle with the fear of what's out there, in the dark and unknown depths of the world?  Unlikely.  For the most part, paranormal novels that I've encounted (particularly UF titles) treat the supernatural as a matter-of-fact part of daily life.  And I wouldn't exactly call Twilight spooky.  In fact, ever since I convinced my mom to read Twilight, she has been obsessed with vampire books.  When I ask her why, she says she wants a vampire to make her live forever.  I suspect she's only half-joking.  And you know there are scientists somewhere working on making the live-forever thing possible.

Sparkly skin.  Eternal youth.  An academy for wizards.  Zombies that want to eat your brain.  Be on the lookout; in this world, fantasy all often becomes what some people want for a reality.  And then, before you know it, it is reality.

Do you love paranormal- and supernatural-themed novels, TV shows, or movies?  What do you think is the basis of their appeal?

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Two Challenges

harry potter and the chamber of secrets

For GalleySmith's Harry Potter Reading Challenge, I re-"read" Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on audiobook. I've had very limited experience with audiobook before now, but I found this version to be very entertaining. Jim Dale (or, as I like to think of him, the Pushing Daisies guy) narrates, and for the most part he's pretty good. The man can work a Scottish accent, let me tell you, although I was occassionally annoyed by the way he voiced Hermione's character. And Harry's. What I love about Harry in the books is that, although he's definitely a prototypical hero, he doesn't feel bland or characterized at all. He has his own unique personality and feels like a real person, not just The Hero. But the audio version (kind of like the movie versions) seems to erase that and make him very typical. Other than that, though, the audiobook was good, and I'm definitely planning on listening to the other books to complete this challenge.

Since I've read HP&TCOS a few times before, I though it would be fun to do a Poetic Review of it as part of Jenner's Take a Chance Challenge. We're supposed to write a book review in three different forms of verse: haiku, limerick and free verse. So here we go!


Harry is well on his way
To defeating Voldemort some day
Though they are much the same
Harry seems to have more of a brain.


The ghosts take time to eat cake
Nearly Headless Nick
Sees a snake but saves a life

Free Verse:

There are many things to fear
Snakes, spiders, girls
Angry teachers, difficult exams
Not having friends
But above all, one should fear books.
Because you never know
What sort of mind you're agreeing to follow.

So, that's it! I can't wait to start "reading" Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (and I don't even like that book).

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tempt Me at Twilight

tempt me at twilight cover

Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas

This is the third in Kleypas' Hathaway series, which features the crazy-but-lovable brood of the Hathaway family and their sexy Rom brothers-in-law. The book has pacing and plot problems, and is definitely not as good as its two predecessors; but it's still an enjoyable read.

In this installment, Poppy, the supposedly "normal" Hathaway, meets the owner of Rutledge Hotel (THE hotel), Jay Henry Rutledge. Did Kleypas run out of gypsy heroes? I'm sure she could have found some distant relatives of Cam's and Merripen's if she'd tried. Anyway, despite the fact that he's not as interesting as either of those characters, Harry Rutledge decides he wants Poppy. But oops--she's already engaged to a future viscount. Don't worry, though, Harry gets her to marry him anyway. That's when the story really starts.

Like I said, I had fun reading this book. But it's kind of a mess. Harry is okay, although all the disparate elements of his personality that we're introduced to aren't really pulled together into a cohesive character. The same is true for the Rutledge hotel itself; I loooooooved the staff and wanted to know more about them, especially Chef Broussard. He had every single lawl-worthy line in this book. Two of the more memorable ones:

The chef gave him a patronizing glance. "That's how much you know. Mr. Rutledge will marry, once he finds the right woman. As my countrymen say, 'A wife and a melon are hard to choose.'"


Broussard shook his head in disbelief. "What is the matter with you British?"

"He's not British, he was born in America," Jake snapped.

"Oh, yes," Broussard said, recalling the indelicate fact. "Americans and romance. It's like watching a bird try to fly with one wing."

The indignant Jake in the latter quote is another great character, as Rutledge's valet/hired thug/secretary. I definitely hope to see more of him in future books! The Rutledge Hotel is--or rather, could have been--another character itself, filled with secret passages and strange events. But we never really learn anything more about it beyond superficial facts and settings. Where was Kleypas' fabulous research skills when she studying up on hotels? I have to confess, I was looking forward to seeing the inner workings of a 19th-century hotel, but Poppy seemed to spend most of her time in her room, reading.

And that leads one to Poppy. Since when has she been the "normal" Hathaway? Is every Hathaway we encounter going to think of themselves as normal, one wonders? I liked Poppy, but her attraction to--and supposed love for--Michael Bayning was ridiculous. The man was obviously a spineless wimp; and really, who would marry a future viscount in an effort to attain normalcy??? Try a parson or something, honey! Her anger at Harry for getting rid of Michael is very difficult to sympathize with, especially since she and Harry start making out the first time they meet (really great kiss, btw)! Didn't she at some point think to herself, "Hmmmm, I'm kissing and thinking about one man and planning to marry another. Is this a good sign?" She deserved to be tortured wayyyyyy more than she was in this book.

Beyond that, the story doesn't really flow well. The backstory inserted into places at the beginning of the novel stops the narrative and it takes a while to get it going again.

You're probably wondering why I even liked this book at this point. Well, to be honest... I have no idea. I suppose I enjoyed reading more about the Hathaways. Kleypas knows how to write historical romances; I just wish she would have pushed this one farther. Make Harry more ruthless, do more with the hotel, more with the interactions between Harry and Poppy, more with the plot. But yes, it was still good.

Other opinions:
Dear Author
Lurv A La Mode
Romance Rookie
AnimeGirl's Bookshelf
The Good, the Bad, and the Unread

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Readathon Wrap-Up

dewey's readathon

The 24-Hour Readathon is over!  I got off the computer around 3 AM, but stayed up reading until about four, trying to finish my book.  Which means I'm reeeeeeeally tired.

Because of work and other obligations, I didn't get much reading in, which makes me sad.  I read for about 7-ish hours, and at least half of that was audiobooks.  I did, however, finish two books!
  • Tempt Me At Twilight
  • Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets
All right, technically I was already in the middle of these books when the Readathon started, but hey.  They're finished now.  And I started Turn of the Screw, as well as completed three mini-challenges, including Memory's picture challenge.

Now, if you have a mind like a steel trap, you might be thinking, "Were those books on her Readathon TBR?"  The answer is, no, they weren't.  I never got to a single book that I had picked out for the Readathon! 

So there you have it.  I'm kind of bummed I didn't get to read more, but I did all I could.  Hopefully when the next Readathon comes around, I'll have the day off so I can seriously read until my eyes bleed!  Right now I'm off to work.

Thank you to everyone who set the Readathon up, and all the cheerleaders who visited my blog.  You guys rock!

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Raphael's Holy Infants

Children in the Victorian Era

the double star Julia Margaret Cameron, The Double Star

As part of the 24-Hour Readathon, Memory from Stella Matutina is challenging us to post a picture that has something to do with the book we're currently reading.

I just started The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (actually I'm listening to it on audiobook--yay Librivox!), and one of the things that really struck me is the attitude of the narrator toward her charge, Flora.  For example:

In spite of [Flora's] timidity--which the child herself, in the oddest way in the world, had been perfectly frank and brave about, allowing it, without a sign of uncomfortable consciousness, with the deep, sweet serenity indeed of one of Raphael's holy infants, to be discussed, to be imputed to her, and to determine us--I feel quite sure she would presently like me.

Whew!  James needs to learn how to use semicolons.  Much is made of how Flora looks physically attractive, and the narrator wonders why her guardian--a young-ish gentlman--isn't spending time around her constantly.  Keep in mind that Flora is young--too young to understand the conversation of adults around her, so maybe less than five years old.  The narrator, a woman, also wonders if Flora's older brother (I'm thinking ten-ish) is as attractive as Flora; and the housekeeper/maid suggests that the narrator will be "carried away by him," and that he is just probably misbehaved enough to be enjoyable.

LIKE OKAY.  James'--or should I say, the narrator's--descriptions of the children seems right on the edge of exploitative, at least from a twenty-first century perspective.  That's why The Turn of the Screw immediately made me think of the photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron, specifically ones like The Double Star and Infant Undine

In case you're too lazy to click on that wikipedia link (and really, who could blame you if you were), Julia Margaret Cameron was a photographer when photography was in its infancy.  She's mostly known for her portraits of famous friends, like Tennyson and Ellen Terry; but Cameron's real passion was taking artistic photographs like those above. 

Even though the Victorians are often thought of as being prudish, about some things they were much less prudish than we are--and one of the big things was the exploitation of children.  To modern eyes, Cameron's photographs of children look like borderline child pornography.  To Cameron, however, she was making something akin to allegorical paintings--these weren't "real" children, they were personifications of innocence and beauty, much as little Flora seems to be to her governess in Turn of the Screw.

Will the little kids from Turn of the Screw become even creepier than they already seem?  I'm only on page 17, but I'm guessing yes.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009



This Saturday, I'm participating in Dewey's Read-a-thon, despite the fact that 1. I have to work, and 2. we're going to dinner with my grandparents right after work. Booo, work! Always interfering with my reading and blogging. Anyway, I will try to read as much as I can and leave it at that. I will be doing updates via my phone, but I don't have internet where I work, so any major updates or discussion will have to wait until later Saturday night or even Sunday.

I already have my pile o'books to read, and I've added a few more to it, as well as some audiobooks just in case. Wish me luck that work is boring and I get to read most of the day!

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Friday, October 23, 2009

The Point of Vanishing

the point of vanishing

In Which Inspector Lewis Finds Art Usefull

This was the last episode in the second season of Inspector Lewis (aw, sad ;_;), and it was the best EVAR!

The episode opens with a party to celebrate the promotion of some blonde woman to inspector.  Hathaway is brooding and slugging down liquor with a fatalistic air, so it's pretty obvious something has been going on with him and the blonde.  Lewis remains oblivious. 

Then someone is murdered.  The victim is identified as a man who drove a truck into some rich person's car back in the day, crippling their daughter.  Lewis and Hathaway meander over their mansion and meet an "American" (the accent was a little sketchy on that one) girl with red hair living with the family; their son and wheel-chair bound daughter, the nice-guy dad, and the evil bitch mother.  The American flutters her eyelashes at Lewis and they spend the next forty minutes flirting, because Americans are sluts like that.  Oh, did I mention she's engaged to the son?  Meanwhile, Hathaway makes friends with the daughter, and she invites him to her birthday party, where yet another murder occures.

detail of renaissance painting from inspector lewis ep

It was pretty obvious from the get-go who the killer was in this episode; but I loved how Lewis figured it out because he used a painting!  Lewis and Hathaway first become interested in it when they find a postcard of the piece with "It was no dream," written on the back.  I'm not sure what painting it is in real life; in the show was mearly described as "a Renaissance painting" (if you recognize it, please let me know).  It depicts hunters, dogs, and other animals rushing into a dark forest in pursuit of a distant lady on a horse.  As the overly enthusiastic museum volunteer told them, the painting represents courtly love, which was viewed as analagous to the pursuit of the hunt in the Renaissance.  But (she continued), what makes the painting so compelling is the element of danger--the hunters don't know what they're rushing into within the darkness of the forest.  Is the lady leading them to bliss or danger?  They have no idea, and they don't care; the possibility of love is too alluring to allow them to pause.  This proves to be a good metaphor for the entire episode, as many of the characters are looking for love in all the wrong places

I adored this episode because 1. Lewis managed to look at a work of art without making fun of it (much); and 2. it was all about love and forgiveness.

And what about Sgt. Hathaway and his over-before-we-even-knew-it-existed romance, I'm sure you're wondering.  Well, Lewis eventually gets a clue (because the pathologist hits him over the head with it), and tells Hathaway he needs to "say goodbye properly" to the blonde.  Then he watches them kiss from her apartment window, which is kinda creepy.  So much for Hathaway and his monkish ways, I guess.  As for Lewis, at the very end of the show he looks at the postcard of this painting, which I think is a clue that Lewis himself is ready to pursuit of love again, as well.  But we'll have to wait until season three for that.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Two Mini-Reviews

how do I love thee cover

How Do I Love Thee by Nancy Moser

Source: la bibliothèque

I don't normally copy book cover summaries into my reviews, but I think I should here because it totally sold me on this book:

She dreams of love for others but never for herself.... 
Elizabeth Barrett is a published poet--and a virtual prisoner in her own home. Blind family loyalty ties her to a tyrannical father who forbids any of his children to marry. Bedridden by chronic illness, she has resigned herself to simply existing.
That is, until the letter arrives...
"Love your verses with all my heart," writes Robert Browning, an admiring fellow poet. As friendly correspondence gives way to something more, Elizabeth discovers that Robert's love is not for her poetry alone. Might God grant her more than mere existence? And will she risk defying her father in pursuit of true happiness?

That sounds fun, doesn't it?  Well, it wasn't.  I've never been a fan of EBB's poetry, and now I'm even less a fan of her personality.  She's presented in this book as a selfish, lazy, spoiled brat, with a morbid streak a mile wide.  Here's what Elizabeth thinks about and talks about for the first fifty pages of the book:

  • People she's known who have died
  • People she didn't know who died
  • Letter from that Robert guy
  • Family members she won't believe are dead
  • How her family members are dealing with dead people
  • Her own imminent (one can only hope) demise

UHG!  I know the Victorians were morbid, but that doesn't mean I want to read a bor-ing book about it.  This was a throw-at-the-wall DNF.

passion unleashed cover

Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione

Source:  My mom loaned it to me

This is the third book in Ione's Demonica Series, which I didn't know when I started it.  Apparently the series is about a group of brothers who are all different supernatural creatures, and they run a hospital for demons and fallen angels and whatnot.  That's what I gleaned, anyway.  I spent most of the book feeling pretty confused about what exactly was going on, and eventually decided to give up.

That being said, the writing in the book was really good, and it was a fun, fast-paced story.  I wouldn't mind going back to the beginning of the series and re-reading this book after I've read its predecessors.  Although I had trouble caring about the hospital and the romance between Gem and Kynan, which began in previous books, I did like the main romance between Serena and Wraith (even though it was a bit simplistic, and the lustful virgin thing made me lawl). 

Ione is a wonderful writer, and I will definitely be reading more books from her in the future.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writing from a Female Perspective

it's beginning to look a lot like murder cover

Today, mystery writer Jeff Markowitz is guest blogging about writing a female protagonist from the perspective of a man.  Jeff is the author of the Cassie O’Malley Mysteries, an amateur sleuth series set deep in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

Welcome, Jeff!

jeff markowitz

I hear sometimes from readers who are surprised that the main character in my mystery series is a woman.  One reader explained it this way.  “Many men write superficially convincing female characters and if the plot is good enough, well cool. But very, very few write women whose character can carry the story.”  So I am gratified when my readers, particularly my female readers, tell me that they find Cassie O’Malley to be a believable character who can carry not only a story, but a series.
Genre fiction has not always treated women kindly.  For many years, female characters in genre fiction (and, to be honest, in most other fiction) existed in order to be rescued, and to admire the male characters doing the rescuing.  Genre fiction has always loved the “damsel in distress.”  But the truth is, the mystery genre would not be thriving today if mystery writers weren’t writing characters, both male and female, who are three-dimensional, men and women who may sometimes be larger than life, but who are never written “smaller than life.”   

Readers of mysteries want stories that keep them guessing, that are marked by unexpected twists and turns, but it's not the mystery that hooks them and keeps them coming back.  It's the characters.  It's important for me to remember that the story I'm telling is Cassie's story.  The murder mystery is just the vehicle to tell her story.

Cassie O’Malley is a woman whose life has not lived up to her expectations.  Let me share a little bit of her back story (Authors love back story).  As an undergraduate at Princeton University, Cassie had her life’s plan neatly mapped out in a three-ring binder.  She was going to be an investigative reporter, walking the halls of power in Washington, a force for truth, beauty, and the American way, holding politicians to their promises by the power of her words, exposing the hypocrites and the cheats and, along with her equally successful husband, becoming rich and famous in the process.

Shortly after graduation, she marries her college sweetheart and less than a year later, he dies in his sleep.  When we meet Cassie, she’s in her mid-thirties, widowed nearly fifteen years, living alone in a condo at the edge of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, her dream of becoming a big-time investigative reporter having been replaced by the reality of her job writing about space aliens and sea monsters, psychic spies and Siamese triplets, for a barely reputable tabloid magazine.  And she’s good at it.  She’s successful, but hardly happy.  My editor refers to Cassie as a “semi-depressed, semi-alcoholic journalist.”

The question, however, remains.  Why did I decide to make my protagonist female?  The first book in the series opens with a character, alone, on a back road in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, in the hour before the sun comes up.   Perhaps you’re thinking that putting a female character into that desolate environment heightens the tension right from the opening scene.  And that may, in fact, be the result of my decision, but it has nothing to do with my decision-making.

I don’t want my characters to see the story through my eyes.  If the story is going to work, I have to see it through their eyes; I have to see the story through Cassie’s eyes.  In some ways, it is easier for me to maintain this separation with a female character.  Certainly Cassie and I share some personality traits, for example our love of jazz (and whiskey), but she is her own person, more clever than I am, more assertive, way more interesting.  If there has been any "bleeding" of personality, after six years writing Cassie’s story, it is that perhaps I have become more like Cassie, rather than Cassie becoming more like me.

And now, Cassie is back in It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder (ISBN 978-1-59414-729-6), a Christmas mystery that will keep you laughing and guessing until the final showdown.

At odds with her new boss, tabloid reporter Cassie O’Malley finds herself covering the mall at Christmas.  Cassie wants nothing to do with the assignment.  Then Big Mack turns up dead, in the men’s room.  Sensing an opportunity for fifteen minutes of fame, mall security guard Oliver Berryhill spins a heroic tale of his confrontation with the loan shark.  The police are skeptical, but Big Mack’s son, the even bigger Little Mack is determined to avenge his father’s murder. 

Barely a week later, a second body turns up and Cassie finds herself covering a double homicide.  In a race against time, Cassie must solve the murder before a third victim is killed in It’s Beginning to look a Lot Like Murder.

Jeff's latest novel, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder has just been released by Five Star.  To find out more, please visit

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sweet 16

kathleen winsorforever amber cover

Jessica from Racy Romance Reviews is asking for sixteen of our favorite romances, in honor of Kathleen Winsor, the author of Forever Amber (totally going to read that some day, I swears), arguably the first historical romance novel.  I know I'm late to the party with this post, but here it is.

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte--You know why.  If not and you like to have your ear talked off, ask.
  2. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen--Ditto.
  3. Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (okay, technically this isn't a romance because it doesn't have a happy ending, but it's romantical)
  4. Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase--Rawr, Comte d'Esmond, rawr.  And an awesome heroine who's an artist.  Author grab:  For other great books by this writer, see The Lion's Daughter, Lord of Scoundrels, Mr. Impossible, and Your Scandalous Ways.
  5. Guilty Pleasures by Laura Lee Guhrke  Author grab: The Secret Desires of a Gentleman, She's No Princess
  6. Stranger in My Arms by Lisa Kleypas--My first Kleypas novel, and still the most memorable.  Author grab: too many to list.  Secrets of a Summer Night, Someone to Watch Over Me
  7. Here Comes the Sun! by Emilie Loring--This is a very strange and dated romance that I still enjoy for some odd reason.
  8. Drive Me Wild by Julie Ortolon--LOVE Julie Ortolon!  Author grabJust Perfect, Lead Me On, Falling for You
  9. Be My Baby by Susan Andersen--Compulsively readable romance set in NOLA  Author grabBaby Don't Go, Hot & Bothered
  10. Sunshine & Shadow by Sharon Lee & Tom Curtis--Like Amish romances but think they don't have enough sex?  Well, have I got a book for you!
  11. All Through the Night by Connie Brockway--Broody, thieving yumminess!
  12. Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley--Totally bizarre, in an awesome way.  Author grabThe Duke, One Night of Sin, His Wicked Kiss, Devil Takes a Bride, Princess
  13. Charmed and Dangerous by Jane Ashford--A spy goes to Vienna and falls in love with a mousy governess.  Pitch-perfect romance. 
  14. Bad Karma by Teresa Weir--Another very odd romance with way too much shag carpeting.  Author grabSome Kind of Magic, Cool Shade
  15. How to Kiss a Hero by Sandy Hingston--Totally fun historical romance that takes place in a girls' school.  Author grabThe Suitor, A Most Reckless Lady
  16. My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne--Another fun historical romance full of adventure.  Author grabThe Spymaster's Lady

So what did I learn from this list?  Almost all of my favorites are romances from the 90's.  Have I become more cynical as a romance reader in the last few years or what?  They're also mostly historicals or contemporaries--no UF or paranormal, which is sort of strange, since I do like those genres.  But obviously these two are my favorites.

What are your favorite 16 romances?

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Romance Tropes

There have been a few posts recently (Lurv a la Mode, Love Romance Passion) dealing with tropes.  This got me to thinking about tropes used in romance and why romance readers love to talk about them.

Several years ago when I first starting to notice romance blogs, Smart Bitches Trashy Books had a post on tropes they hated; and it seems like a common theme on romance book blogs to see posts regarding romantic clichés to love or hate.  Now, I'm not a regular peruser of genre blogs outside of romance, by any means, so this might be completely untrue--but it seems like romance readers are kind of obsessed with tropes, more so than readers of other genres.

Other genres have their own tropes, obviously--the detective gathering all the suspects together to reveal the killer, for example--but does any genre have such a proliferation of tropes as romance does?  Kmont from Lurv a la Mode wrote a post asking for YA cliches, and it was fairly difficult to think of one (there was also some confusion over what was a trend and what was a trope).

I don't necessarily think this means other literary genres don't use tropes.  I suggest (and I might be completely off-base with this) that as romance readers, we're more conscious (or at least more discursive) of clichés than other readers.  Why?  Well, first of all, it helps us pick which romances we want.  Hello, Sexy Italian Billionaire and the Shy Virgin Secretary.  And furthermore, we love our tropes!  I mean, you pretty much know what's going to happen before you even open a romance novel, right?  The fun is in seeing how it plays out--and most of the time you keep reading even when the latter's obvious, as well.  A similar thing can be said for mystery novels--you know the detective's going to find the murderer--but I'm not sure it applies to YA and speculative fiction as univerally.  In any case, I think the romance recycling of tropes can add to the enjoyment of a book rather than subtract from it.

How about you?  Do you read genre fiction and notice or enjoy any particular tropes?  Why do some tropes remain popular longer than others?

Sorry, no picture today.  I have to go to work!

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Leonardo da Vinci Mystery

a portrait by LdV?

According to recent news reports, the above painting has Leonardo da Vinci's fingerprints all over it--literally. Well, one fingerprint.

The painting was bought from Christie's by Canadian Peter Silverman for about $20,000 (whether that's in Canadian or American dollars, I don't know). It was listed in Christie's catalog as a portrait by an unknown German artist, circa the 19th century; but Silverman thought it might date back to the Italian Renaissance based on the clothing. Enter a bunch of experts like Peter Paul Biro, a forensic art expert, and Martin Kemp, professor emeritus at Oxford University (who is currently writing a book about the subject), and come to find out the painting is the work of one Leonardo da Vinci.

Though multispectral analysis, Biro found a print that matches one found on Saint Jerome in the Vatican. That Leonardo, putting his grubby little hands all over everything.

study of a young girl's head by LdV A study of a young girl by Leonardo da Vinci

Okay, so I'm not an expert on Leonardo da Vinci or anything, but I have to say... really? Because this doesn't look like any portrait by Leonardo that I've ever seen. I can definitely see where it's in the style of the Italian Renaissance, but how many paintings by Leonardo can you think of where he has the sitter completely in profile? Drawing a person's face in profile is much easier than drawing it in three-quater view or facing toward the viewer, which is exactly why Leonardo--who wanted everyone to know exactly how good a draftsman he was--tended not to do it. And even when he did paint or draw someone in profile (the portrait of Isabella d'Este, for example), he has some sort of twisting going on between the neck and shoulders, probably to give the portrait a greater sense of visual movement.

Beyond that, I think a portrait by Leonardo would have more elegance and personality than this piece does. Leonardo wasn't just interested in capturing how a person looked, but their personality and essence, as well. He was once quoted as saying that the greatest measure of an artist's skill was whether or not he (of course in Leonardo's world, all artists were "he") could illicit desire through the mere portrait of a woman--trick the viewer into thinking they were looking at a real woman, in other words. This involved not just making the portrait subjects desirable, but believable as real individuals with personalities. When I look at the Silverman painting, I don't see any attempt at capturing her personality or making her a "real" character.

I'm not saying I doubt the vaunted art historians' findings, just that I find it... odd. If I was presented with this work by someone who told me, "Hey, I bought this at an auction and it's supposed to be from 19th-century Germany, but I think it might be from the Italian Renaissance," I would be like, "Okay, that's plausible." And then I would try to research it with documentation and stylistic analysis. I would not immediately think of Leonardo da Vinci and then send the work out for multispectral analysis and carbon dating--like wtf? That's the sort of thing museums pay for after tons of research and applying for a billion grants. And then it just happens to have a fingerprint on it that just happens to match up to the single fingerprint of Leonardo's that we know of. That's a rather happy coincidence, no?

Perhaps all will be explained with the publication of Kemp's book about the piece, and I will be revealed as a cynical bitch. And hey, amazing discoveries happen. If so, this would be pretty awesome. For the moment, however, I find it all a wee bit too convenient.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Allegory of Love & The Quality of Mercy

lewis and hathaway

I swear this series should be re-titled, "Lewis and Hathaway:  A Bromance".  I don't know if the gay episode (as I like to think of it) put this idea into my head or not, but it seems like it's all about Hathaway's and Lewis' relationship now.  Whereas before it was all about ideas and art and me oggling Lawrence Fox, which was much more fun.

It's been a few weeks since I wrote a review, because I wasn't feeling particularly inspired by the episodes.  But just because I wasn't reviewing doesn't mean it wasn't airing, or that I wasn't watching!  The episode after Life Born of Fire was The Great and the Good.  I don't have much to say about that episode, but you can read Ruth's review of it at Booktalk & More if you're interested.

The episode after that was called Allegory of Love.  Here, we met Dorian, a very Oscar Wildesque (as you might have guessed by the name) fantasy writer who is huuuuugely successful.  HUGE.  Best thing since CS Lewis--who was a resident of Oxford and shared the same surname as Inspector Lewis (mentioned several times during the episode).  Anyway, someone dies, I forget who, and then other people die, and Lewis and Hathaway think it has something to do with Dorian's fiance, Alice--named after Alice from Alice in Wonderland, which was created by yet another Oxford resident, LEWIS Carrol (yes, also mentioned).  There's a surplus of creepy professors running around, and Dorian is obviously hiding something.  My first guess would have been that he's gay, but the writers already played that card this season.  So what could it be???

This was an okay episode, although I have to say--can we not go for the sexual shocker every single episode?  Also, Lewis' stubborn refusal to apparently read ANYTHING at all gets somewhat annoying.  Finally, Hathaway flirted with a girl in a bar (not gay, not gay at all), and I hated her.

In The Quality of Mercy, an actor in a student production of The Merchant of Venice is murdered, but no one cares because everyone at Oxford is a cold-hearted bastard.  But who cares about the murdered people?  Not me, that's for sure (hahaha).  The significant thing that happens during this episode is that Hathaway discovers who killed Lewis' wife!  Yes, it's true!  You thought they were going to drag that out until the last of the last episodes and have it be a huge dramatic thing, but no.  The actual unveiling of the murderer (or woman-slaughterer) was waaaay anticlimatic.  Hathaway, however, was quite humorous with the watching-Lewis-out-of-the-corners-of-his-eyes-as-if-waiting-for-him-to-explode bit.

And here's where it just gets too bromantic for me, because Hathaway is all concerned about what Lewis will do when he finds out.  So he... asks their supervisor's advice?  Oookay.  And then of course he has to tell Lewis eventually (duh-sigh), and Lewis ends up proclaiming, "You just proved you don't know me at all!  Or yourself!"  And they pout. Under direct questioning, Lewis refuses to admit that he ever felt anything for Hathaway other than professional admiration, and Hathaway looks like a puppy that's just been kicked by its mom.  Aw, sad.

Will Lewis and Hathaway mend their battered relationship?  Will they hug and share their feelings over a pint?  Will Hathaway ever stop with annoying quote attributions?  Hopefully we'll find out... next Sunday!

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Monday, October 12, 2009

With Seduction In Mind

With Seduction in Mind cover

With Seduction in Mind By Laura Lee Guhrke

I have never met a Laura Lee Guhrke book I didn't like, and With Seduction In Mind was no exception.  Although it's not my favorite book by her, it still delivers a satisfying historical romance.

Daisy is a total screw-up--she can't hold a job to save her life, and she's afflicted with a horrible case of verbal diarrhea.  She also wants to be novelist!  Then one day the lightbulb goes off and she remembers that one of her best friends is actually married to a publisher.  Ding ding ding!  Does she try to use this relationship to her advantage in order to get a manuscript published?  Oh, I think she does.  Meanwhile, said publisher asks her to write a review for the new Sebastian Grant play that has just opened.  Daisy is a fangirl, so she readily agrees.  Unfortunately, she hates the play, and her review reflects exactly how much.  I believe the phrase, "As amusing as a trip to the dentist," is thrown around.

Sebastian has just returned from Europe after weening himself off a cocaine addiction.  The good news is, he's now drug free; bad news: he can't write without the blow.  OR SO HE THINKS.  He reads Daisy's review, is incensed by it because he knows she's right, they meet at the publisher's office and Marlowe senses that the two have chemistry.  So he does what any romance novel character would do and hires Daisy to be Sebastian's editor.  She tells Sebastian that she'll kiss him for every one hundred pages he writes, and you can probably guess how it goes from there.

Guhrke has written about artists who are unable to create before--His Every Kiss' hero was a composer who had tinnitus.  Here we have a writer who's unable to write and doesn't even enjoy writing when he can.  But then he finds a new drug to inspire him:  Daisy.  Daisy makes writing fun because she gives him the smooches.  Pretty soon, he starts thinking he needs Daisy to write.  Eventually this is translated into, "Oh, I like having you around because I love you, duh!" but to me that transition felt rather abrupt and unbelievable.  I think Sebastian does need her to write, and that's why he wants her around. 

It's difficult to sympathize with Sebatian's character because he seems to have everything, and everything he's afflicted with is something he did to himself.  Unlike Dylan from His Every Kiss, who was truly tortured through no fault of his own (and not titled, with his own estates and houses), Sebastian took drugs because he was bored, not even caring if what he produced was crap.  I know the arc of a happy ending should eventually lead to Sebastian writing again, but personally I would have been okay with it if he'd come to a personal realization that he couldn't write any more.  Sorry, but he made his choices.

Which leads me to Daisy and her writing.  That's right, Daisy is a writer, too, remember?  She starts the book wanting to create her own work, but ends up being a muse for a man who calls her "Petal."  As soon as she starts having a relationship with Sebastian, she can't write--I kind of wanted her to end things right there.  But no, she sticks around.  Don't get the wrong idea:  her and Sebastian's working relationship isn't completely one-way.  They do help one another and give each other constructive criticism.  But let's be honest, Sebastian is "one of the greatest writers of this generation," and she's just a novice.  Her main role here to get him to start writing again.  Shades of objectification that squick me out!  And, since the entire plot seems to center on Sebastian finishing another novel and realizing he's not a dried up shell of an artist, once he does finish writing the book, it feels as if Daisy and Seb can go their separate ways.  I would have been much happier with the story if it had focused on Daisy discovering she's a good writer, and finishing and publishing a novel.  Sebastian can remain an empty vessel as far as I'm concerned.

I did like this book.  I stayed up until four in the morning reading it, and I enjoyed it.  I just think the potential for something much more was there, if Guhrke had taken her own character's advice and put the story first.

How I obtained this book:  I ordered it with my own sanity blood hard-earned money from an online retailer whose name may or may not start with an A and end with an N.  Then you do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around, and that's what it's all about. *clap clap*

Other reviews:
AnimeGirl's Bookshelf
Babbling About Books, and More!
Did I miss yours?  Please let me know in the comments!

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Fall Festival Recipe Exchange--Creamy Spaghetti & Chai

fall festival button

It's fall!  In all honesty, one of my least-favorite seasons.  I hate getting cold.  At least in spring you can look forward to getting warmer.

In any case, My Friend Amy is hosting a virtual fall festival where we share our favorite fall recipes!  One of my favoritest recipes that I always get a hankering to make when it starts getting colder is Creamy Spaghetti.  I got this recipe from Every Day with Rachel Ray, where it's described as risotto meets pasta e fagioli:

creamy spaghetti pic


  •     5 cups chicken broth
  •     2 tablespoons butter
  •     2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  •     One 1/4-pound chunk pancetta or one 4-ounce package sliced pancetta, chopped
  •     1 onion, chopped
  •     4 cloves garlic, chopped
  •     2 carrots, chopped
  •     1 bay leaf (dry or fresh)
  •     6 sprigs thyme
  •     Salt and pepper
  •     1 pound spaghetti
  •     1 cup dry white wine (eyeball it)
  •     One 15.5-ounce can Roman beans or small white beans (sometimes I use canned corn)
  •     1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese (hand-grated is a lot of work, but it produces the best results)
  •     1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (a generous handful)


  1. In a large saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently.
  2. In a wide, oval pot or a large skillet, melt the butter in the EVOO, 2 turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until lightly browned, 2 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, bay leaf and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Push the veggies to the side of the pan and add the spaghetti. Lightly toast the spaghetti, turning occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the wine and simmer until completely absorbed, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, then add a ladleful of the warm chicken broth. Keep adding the broth a few ladlefuls at a time, turning the noodles to absorb the liquid before adding more, as if you were making a risotto. Cook until most of the broth has been absorbed and the spaghetti is cooked until al dente, 15 to 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs, then stir in the parmigiano-reggiano. Remove from the heat and stir for 1 minute.
  3. Serve the creamy spaghetti in bowls, topped with the parsley.

This is serious comfort food and is guaranteed to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside!  Plus, it's delicious and simple to make, and you've never smelled anything better than pancetta frying in butter.  Mmmmmmm.  I would honestly eat this every other day if I could.

a cup of chai

Another comforting thing to consume in the fall is tea, and I love this recipe for Chai Tea from greentwiggy.  I know you can just get chai in a box, but making it yourself tastes SO MUCH BETTER!

  • 1/ 2 inch piece fresh ginger, cut into thin rounds
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 6 cups cold water
  • 6 bags black tea
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar

  1. Combine first 5 ingredients in medium saucepan
  2. Lightly bruise spices with the back of a large spoon
  3. Add water and bring to a boil
  4. Reduce heat to low and partially lid and simmer for 10 minutes
  5. Remove from heat and add tea bags
  6. Steep for 5 minutes or so
  7. Discard tea bags
  8. Add milk and sugar
  9. Bring tea to simmer over medium heat, whisking until sugar dissolves
  10. Strain and serve

This recipe was a lot more work than I expected it to be, but it was worth it.  Plus you can save the leftovers and reheat them, so you can have yummy chai for days afterward (this is, if you don't drink it all at once).

In other fall-related news...

You might remember that in August, I posted a list of books I was excited to read this fall.  So far I've read four out of the five books, and liked three of those (Tempt Me At Twilight I'm hesitating to read because I keep hearing mixed things about it--especially the hero, Harry).  Not too bad! 

Now that the days are getting shorter, and colder, I've definitely been in a mood for romance and paranormal novels.  Why does the fantastic seem so much more believable this time of year?

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

TSS: Lazy Sunday

The Sunday

An oldie but a goodie:  Lazy Sunday from SNL

I actually have this entire weekend off!  Can you believe it?  Since I don't have to inspect boats, this gives me time to chillax and think about things.  Like:

FTC Regulations

My parents subscribe to this magazine called Consumer Reports.  It's really expensive because they don't have any ads; that's so you know all the reviews in it are totally unbiased.  CR reviews everything from cars to actual stores; but you know what they don't review?  Books!  And art, and music, and movies.  That's because CR knows, where apparently the FTC doesn't, that reviews of these things are by their very nature biased opinions.  But hey, thanks for protecting the consumer, who also already knows that, FTC.  Next up: health care reform!

24-hour Read-a-thon

I noticed today that a lot people are posting what they plan to read during the 24-hour Read-a-thon.  I hadn't thought about doing this (I was just going to read... whatever), but then a post on the website suggesting strategies for the readathon (short books, light reading, etc.) got me to thinking about it.  Here is my list:

readathon stack
  • Short story by Tanith Lee in Winter Moon
  • Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh
  • The Fallen by Tom Sniegoski
  • Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James
  • Casting Spells by Barbara Bretton
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix
I doubt I'm going to read more books than that; but if I do, I have plenty to choose from!  All of the books are under 300 pages (except for the one by Singh), so hopefully they won't drag on me too much.  And hopefully I'll be able to read during work.  I'm working with someone that day whom I haven't met yet; I hope she's not a chatterbox and/or someone who will give me the howweirdareyou? look when I say, "Hey, I'm doing a 24-hour readathon this weekend.  Do I mind if I just read my book?"  Sigh.

What I read this week:
  • The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown--It was okay, but not up to the standards of Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code.  I was disappointed in the ending.
  • With Seduction in Mind by Laura Lee Guhrke (review pending)--As always, a satisfying romance from Guhrke.

An update on the art history challenge:

Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads has her review up of Digging for the Truth:  One Man's Epic Journey by Josh Bernstein.  Colette thinks Bernstein is a whiner and that the book was bad.  Check it out!

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Friday, October 9, 2009

The More You Wish You Didn't Know: How to Become a God

k1892, bowl featuring hero twins

In The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, Professor Robert Langdon is submerged in water and total darkness for some time in a sensory deprivation chamber.  The baddy bad guy, Mal'akh, says "The secret is how to die," and seems to imply that Langdon will find some sort of enlightenment through the experience, the same way Mal'akh himself did. 

This reminded me of the Maya myth of Xbalanque and Hunahpu.  Known as the Hero Twins, these two get into many adventures in the Popol Vuh, the Maya version of Genesis.  In one story, the Twins descend into the underworld, Xibalba, to challenge the Xibalban lords to a ball game.  Through trickery and the help of animals, the Twins defeat the Xibalban lords and are resurrected back to earth--this time as gods.

Why did being submerged underwater remind me of that?  Hang on for a bit, this is going to be a long walk.... 

For the Maya, the Underworld wasn't just a mythical location; it was a literal one.  The Yucatan Peninsula where the Maya lived consists mainly of limestone.  Because the stone is so porous, rivers drill through the surface of the stone and run underground instead of above.  Sinkholes called cenotes allow acess not only to this water, but also to Xibalba. 

cenote sagrado

Every cenote is different--some are crystal-clear, some go down so far no one has ever found the bottom, and some are filled with plants and animals—waterlilies floating on the surface, trees that reach down with their roots, tiny fish that nibble on human flesh, and alligators lying in wait for thirsty prey.  But only one is as green as the forest, as green at the scales of a snake—the Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichén Itzá.

According to Spanish accounts written by Bishop Diego de Landa in the sixteenth century, the Cenote Sagrado was "the Jerusalem of the Maya," and used for human sacrifice, divination, offerings, and rituals for both Maya and Mexican peoples.  There were other cenotes that were used for these tasks, but the one at Chichén Itzá was the cenote with, apparently, the closest route to Xibalba.

Anyway, de Landa wrote that living people were thrown into the Cenote of Sacrifice, in the belief that they would come out again after three days (although, according to Landa, they never did).  In fact, it is theoretically possible for a person to travel through the networks of cenotes to another cenote, or even to the ocean, without modern diving apparatuses, as the underground passages can collect pockets of air.  Of course, such an endeavor would be incredibly dangerous and nearly impossible because
  1. The entire tunnel system is completely dark and you wouldn't be able to see where you were going.
  2. There would be no way of knowing where the air pockets were.
  3. Even if you somehow managed not to swim in circles, could hold your breath for an incredibly long time, and found air pockets, how would you find your way out of the labyrinth of tunnels and caves?  Even modern divers consider cenote diving dangerous.
So, it would be incredible if it was ever done, and of course there is no way of knowing if anyone ever did.  Hypothetically, however, if a person succeeded at diving through the cenotes and came out alive, he or she would become hero-gods in the styling of Xbalanque and Hunahpu after they defeated the lords of Xibalba.

So, that's why Langdon's extended underwater stay in the darkness of a sensory deprivation chamber reminded me of the myth of Xbalanque and Hunahpu.  And now you're probably wondering, does that mean Langdon is a god now?  Well, he wouldn't be the first professor to be convinced of his own omnipotence... but, not likely. (~_^)

the more you wish you didn't know

Stay tuned for the next TMYWYDK!

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Lost Symbol

the lost symbol cover

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

In what I'm assuming is the last book in the Robert Langdon: Symbologist! series, Brown moves the reader from Europe to the US and takes us on a tour of the hidden world of Washington, DC.  Except the hidden world doesn't seem so hidden, and the secrets aren't very difficult to unravel.  Overall, the novel is just okay, and a far cry from The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons as far as story-telling is concerned.

I should probably preface this review by saying that I actually do think Dan Brown is a good writer (but then I read romance novels, so I'm sure the people who would say he's not a good writer would question my literary judgement anyway).  He tells a good story and he researches the hell out of his books, which is something I always appreciate.  I don't normally go for books like The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons, but I enjoyed them anyway for those two reasons.  And also cuz of the art history shout-outs.

In The Lost Symbol, Robert Langdon, professor of a fictional discipline at Harvard, receives a phone call early one morning from his insanely wealthy, smart, and influential friend--the best kind of friend to have!--Peter Solomon.  Pete wants Rob to hop on down to DC to give a lecture on symbols.  Well, of course Langdon agrees, except he never speaks to Peter himself, and the next thing he knows, he's staring at Peter's severed hand in the capitol building. 

You see, a man with many tattoos has decided he wants Langdon to uncover the Masonic pyramid that, legend has it, is hidden below DC and has bunches of secret knowledgy stuff.  If Langdon refuses to help, the bad guy will kill Peter.  Oh noes!  Langdon keeps insisting the pyramid is just a metaphor (rather comical coming from him, considering the last two books), but this isn't very helpful.  Meeeeeanwhile, people can affect the world around them with their thoughts.  So, all that negative stuff you keep thinking about?  STOP IT!!

Much of this book feels like a retread.  Newton plays a big role, again, and Langdon solves puzzles in much the same ways he did before, becoming embroiled in a "secret" organization and alternately chased/helped by law enforcement.  This wouldn't have bothered me too much--I'm not philosophically opposed to formulas--but the puzzles aren't puzzling, the hidden places are boring, and the twist was so obvious, when I got to that part I was like, "Oh, was that supposed to be the surprise twist?"

For example, one of my favorite parts of Angels & Demons is where Langdon goes into the secret Vatican archives.  How awesome is that! *geeking out*  In The Lost Symbol, Langdon goes into the Library of Congress... when it's closed... and rides the conveyor belt across the street.  With his eyes closed.  Woo freaking doo!  I did like some of the locations--the National Cathedral and the storage building for the Smithsonian, for instance--but it didn't feel like the locations were utilized to the best of their ability.  Same thing with the science of Noetics, which is where people can affect the physical world with their thoughts--that's kind of cool (and freaky), but at no point in the book did anyone try to utilize this science.  And I certainly didn't feel as if I was being shown a "hidden" Washington, DC.  Anthony Bourdain had a DC episode that was more illuminating than this book.

Another thing that was really lame in The Lost Symbol was the villain.  I apparently have a thing for Dan Brown villains--I wanted to cuddle Silas (and Paul Bettany was kick-ass when he played him in the movie), and I loved the yummy Camerlengo. *lick*  But the baddy in this book was just pathetic, from his motivation to his final goal.  Plus, the names he chose were insanely obvious--Dr. Abaddon, really?  If I know that's the name of a demon, it's got to be general knowledge.

By the time the conclusion of the book came around, I couldn't care less about whatever secret there was and blah blah blah.  I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you what the "lost symbol" is--it was probably revealed during the part I skimmed.  But I don't think it even matters anyway, so it's a moot point.

The reason why The Da Vinci Code was such a success was that it took real-life facts, places, people, and events, and fused them together in a very creative, imaginative way.  Even if I thought it was ridiculous, I was completely willing to let Dan Brown take me through the journey of the story.  But with The Lost Symbol, I don't feel like Brown took me anywhere.  It's like Dan Brown lite--lite on the research, plotting, creativity, and surprises.  And I can't help thinking it's because Brown really pulled his punches in this one.  The Masons are depicted as all-around good guys; Noetic science (am I the only one who thinks that's kind of creepy?) is given a thumbs-up; and even the CIA, which spends the majority of the novel completely trampling on the Bill of Rights, is shown to be justified in the end.  Personally, I was like, WTF?  None of this is good.  At the very least it's sketchy.  The Solomons use the quote by Newton--"If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants"--as a positive to show that humankind is evolving and becoming better in that evolution, because we can learn from those who have come before us.  But all I could think of when I read that was Malcolm from Jurassic Park berating the scientists by paraphrasing the same quote,
But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline....  And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly. You don’t even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it.  And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases the power, like any commodity. The buyer doesn’t even conceive that any discipline might be necessary. 
Through the course of The Lost Symbol, Langdon does exactly this: attains the super-secretest Masonic knowledge without the discipline and training of a Mason, and he unleashes both that and dangerous Noetic science onto the world.  And the last word in the book is hope? It should be, Save yourselves while you still can!

Anywho... although the beginning was promising, by the end the novel felt mediocre and difficult to buy into.

Other reviews:
Devourer of Books
S. Krishna's Books
My Two Blessings
Book Nook Club

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mantitty and Cougars

Today is my birthday!  Since I'll be spending so much time stuffing my face with cake and tequila today (ha, yeah right), I asked King Mho Fho to guest blog for me (he will also be consuming sweets and alcohol, because I do share; but he is much more practiced at doing that and blogging than I am).  Mho is going to try to cheer me up about getting older with a post on mantitty.  Take it away, Mho!

When Heidenkind so graciously asked me, King Mho Fho the much beloved demon sheep mascot of Katiebabs at Babbling About Books, and More and all of blogging land, I said sure! I’m the best type of birthday gift any woman would want. *wiggles cute wooly behind*

You are all in for a treat because I will give you a taste of the day in the life of King Mho Fho and the wacky times I have with Katiebabs.

Setting: Katiebabs' bedroom filled with books to the point if one walks in the room one would smother under the avalanche if they fell.

Katiebabs: *Walks in with a handful of books* Hey Mho! You have to see the wonderful haul of books I got- *looks down at Mho in shock* What the heck are you doing? And what are you doing with all my prized books!?

Mho: *Surrounded by books that are thrown all over the floor. Also flexing his hooves and puffs out his chest* I am practicing my man titty romance cover skills.

Katiebabs: *Rolls eyes* What do you mean by man titty skills?

Mho: I have to make sure my chest is muscular and full of man titty goodness! I even took some pictures at Sears that I can send in to show these romance publishers that I am the next big thing. Move over Nathan Kamp! Mho Fho has arrived. Here take a look.

mho mantitty cover 1

mho mantitty cover 2

Katiebabs: *Grabs man titty cover shoot pictures and her mouth drops* Oh my god. There are no words to describe what I am seeing.

Mho: *Puffs out his chest even more* Aren’t I the sexiest thing you have ever seen? Since you are a cougar you should appreciate a fine young male like myself.

Katiebabs: *Begins to see red* Cougar? Hello, a cougar is a woman over forty who lusts after men half her age!!

Mho: You aren’t over forty?

Katiebabs: NO MHO!!

Mho: Chill babe. Well, you are a cougar in making then. You lust after Ryan Reynolds.

Katiebabs: Ryan Reynolds is my age.

Mho: How about George Clooney?

Katiebabs: George is older then me!

Mho: *rubs chin* Aha! What is this I keep hearing about you going on and on about the barely legal kid who plays Jacob in Twilight movies?

Katiebabs: *Face becomes red* Well… erm…..

Mho: *waddles over to KB* There, there my sweet KB. It will be our secret. But I have a surprise for you! I heard that the romance pubs are looking for female cover models also. Look what I made for you!

katiebabs cover

Katiebabs: *smacks head and mumbles* I need a drink…

Mho: Hey KB, where are you going? Why are you drinking straight from a bottle of Grey Goose? It’s not even noon yet! And I haven’t showed you the best cover of all! I’ve decided to change my name to Mho Fabio! *waddles after Katiebabs*

mho mantitty cover 3

Thanks Mho--I mean, Mho Fhabio!  That actually did cheer me up.  And, um, good luck with that new career. 

Don't worry, Katiebabs, you're not the only one who inappropriately lusts after teen Jacob:

heidenkind new moon cover

Bad, bad me.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

~Perfect~ Reads

Sometimes when the word perfect is in a book title, it's not being oversold.  For example:

perfect chemistry cover

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Alex is teetering on the edge of being in a gang; Brittany is teetering on the edge of becoming a full-fledged Valley Girl (which would be quite an accomplishment, since they both live in a Chicago suburb).  Will these two crazy kids learn to get along?  I just don't know!

Actually, that little blurb doesn't do justice to this great book, which takes ye olde uptown-girl-meets-downtown-guy plot and revamps it with wonderful characters, completely believable setting, and great writing.  One of my favorite books of the year!

just perfect cover

Just Perfect by Julie Ortolon

This contemporary romance is aptly named, as the romance is literally just perfect.  Christine, a doctor, goes to Aspen for ski lessons so she can overcome her fear of heights (the ski lift... I can sympathize).  Since she's willing to pay top dollar, she gets Alec, who is actually the head of Ski Patrol (re:  he's a VIP on the slopes).  They rescue a snow boarder, a pretty soon coco isn't the only thing that's hot in the ski lodge! (harrrr harrrrr)

Once again, this is a book with great characters--I absolutely LOVE Christine and how she seems very elegant and contained on the outside, but inside she's tough.  I also loved the emotional development of Alec and Christine through the novel, especially when Christine has to return to Texas at the end of her vacation and both she and Alec try to decide if their relationship is worth making major changes in their lives for.  A great read!

practice makes perfect cover

Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James

All right, I haven't read this book yet.  But I read James' first book, Just the Sexiest Man Alive, and really enjoyed it.  So hopefully this one will be just as good, if not better.  Here's the summary from Booklist:

*Starred Review* After eight years of grueling yet friendly competition, both Payton and J. D. anticipate partnership at their prestigious Chicago law firm. But after putting aside their personal animosities and working together to sign an important account, they realize each is vulnerable to, and attracted by, the other. Unfortunately, their boss then announces that only one partner will be named this year from the litigation department, and suddenly the competition is very real—and not at all friendly. In her second novel, following Just the Sexiest Man Alive (2008), James presents a sophisticated contemporary romance set in legal circles, and proves that she is a master at conveying both courtroom and behind-the-scenes maneuvering. As her charmingly arrogant and ambitious characters spar endlessly and entertainingly, they inadvertently reveal their insecurities and personal foibles, while competing for high stakes in both business and love. --Lynne Welch

one perfect knight cover

One Perfect Knight by Judith O'Brien

Like most of O'Brien's books, this one starts to unravel in the latter half; but the first half is so romantic it's difficult to care.  Advertizing exec Julie is a closet romantic.  One day she's helping with a kid's birthday party at a medieval-themed restaurant--the next thing she knows, she's in medieval times and being mistaken for a squire by a handsome knight.

But this isn't just any knight--oh, no, friendlies, this Sir Lancelot.  And y'all know how I love sexy Lancelot.  He takes her back to Camelot and we get to meet Arthur and Gueniviere, as well.  This book completely sucked me into this world and was blissfully romantic.  And seriously--it's Lancelot.  What's not to love?

Have you read any great books with "perfect" in the title?

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Monday, October 5, 2009

The More You Wish You Didn't Know: Ciphers and Codes

In The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, Robert Langdon compares the Masonic Cipher to "the Phaistos Disk, the Dorabella Cipher, the mysterious Voynich Manuscript."  What are these three things?  Obviously, they involve difficult (some say impossible) to decipher codes.

Phaistos Disk side B Side B of the Phaistos Disk

The Phaistos Disk
is an artifact that was found in a Minoan palace near Heraklion, Crete (Minoans again!).  It contains a series of symbols stamped onto both sides of the clay surface in a spiral pattern.  No one knows what these symbols mean--or if they mean anything at all.  Some people think this disk even represents the first example of movable type, 3000 years before Gutenberg was born.

dorabella cipher

The Dorabella Cipher was written in 1897 by composer Edward Elgar.  In addition to being a musician, Elgar was also a cryptologist; and this short note to his childhood friend, Dora Penny (whom Elgar called Dorabella), has been completely undecipherable to anyone but the writer and the recipient.  The strange thing is, there is actually a key to this cipher, but using it produces absolute nonesense.  Elgar and Penny were probably communicating in some sort of code known only to them, meaning this note will likely never be deciphered.

voynich manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript is a manuscript that is mostly famous for being unbreakable by famous WWII cryptographers.  The script looks vaguely Latin, but other things suggest its origin isn't European.  Is it a hoax?  An alchemical manuscript with a clever code?  No one knows.  The website for it from the Yale University Library is kick-ass, though.

the more you wish you didn't know

Stay tuned for the next TMYWYDK post!

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