Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Glove

object by valentine hugo
Valentine Hugo, Objet

Have you ever noticed how gloves play a role in romance novels?  I was reading The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook the other day, and there's a great scene with the hero and heroine involving her glove (to hear me read the whole passage, click here):
Satin slid in a warm caress over her elbow, her forearm....  His expression changed as he continued to pull.  First registering surprise, as if he hadn't realized the glove extended past her wrist.  Then an emotion hard and sharp as the long glove slowly gave way.  It's white length finally dangled from his fingers, and to Mina seemed as intimate as if he held her stocking.... she felt exposed.  Stripped.

There are also memorable scenes involving gloves in Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase, and (if I remember correctly) The Age of Innocence.  In Little Women, one of the signs Laurie's tutor is in love with Meg is that he keeps her glove.  So why are gloves charged with this sexual connotation?  It's not just because it's a piece of clothing and removing reveals a slice of skin--there's nothing inherently erotic about hands.  Gloves, however, do have a certain sexual symbolism. 

The surrealists believed an empty glove was an uncanny object because it had no life or anima where one expected to find it; it was like an empty piece of skin, without any soul.  A worn glove, however, is just the opposite:  the wearer gives it life, fills it with their own essence simply by slipping their hand inside.  It's a metaphor for the alchemical combination of male and female, and for the sexual act of creation.

A glove being worn also has a symbiotic relationship to the wearer.  In The Iron Duke, Trahaearn, the hero, is surprised by the nature of Mina's glove, just as he is surprised by her nature as well.  This is why taking off a glove is symbolically more sexual than putting it on--by taking off the heroine's glove, the hero inserts himself into her defenses.  In order to regain the power to animate, the heroine now needs the hero.  As Freud psychoanalyzed in one dream, the glove is basically analogous to the person who wears it, and the hero has taken possession of it.  That's not to say possession of a glove equates to possession of the heroine; but rather, the hero taking possession of the glove is a symbol of his desire (or vice-versa, although it doesn't usually work that way).

A visual demonstration of this idea is found in Objet by Valentine Hugo.  Valentine was the granddaughter of Victor Hugo, and had a huge crush on "the pope of surrealism," André Breton.  In Objet, she tried to attract his notice by engaging two gloves in a game of chance--i.e., love.  A love poem to Breton also accompanied the piece.  The tension in the piece comes from a central question--would the "male" glove (which looks remarkably similar to the description of Trahaearn's glove in The Iron Duke) succeed in breaching the female's defenses?  The answer was no--Breton was just not that into her.

With the main characters of these romance novels, however, the answer is a never-surprising yes.  Can you think of any other scenes where gloves play a symbolic role in novels or art?

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Unseelie Spaghetti

spaghetti monster
Image from silver marquis

  • olive oil
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • hot pepper flakes (as much as you like)
  • 1 cup white wine (or amayl)
  • 14 oz canned tomatoes
  • chopped parsley (amayl)
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 lb spaghetti
  • Get the pasta going by setting a pot of water to boil; follow package directions.
  • Drizzle 4 tablespoons oil into a thick-bottomed pot (I use a wok).
  • Set to medium heat and put anchovies in; mash down with wooden spoon until they melt into the oil, all while thinking about how the gray fillets wiggling in the hot oil kind of resemble Unseelie flesh as described in the Fever books by Karen Marie Moning.
  • After about a minute, hurriedly put in garlic and hot pepper flakes so that you don't get so grossed out you have to scrap dinner and go out. Lower heat to meduim-low.
  • Once garlic is soft, add white wine and briefly raise heat so it boils down.
  • Add tomatoes, lower heat to medium-low again and stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Once done, drain pasta and put back in pot to mix with butter and most of the parsley. Add a few spoonfuls of sauce and mix with spaghetti, too.
  • Put pasta in bowl and spoon over sauce; sprinkle some of the leftover parsley on top. Eat while reading Shadowfever.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Gentleman in Love by Barbara Cartland

in love cover

Sometimes I get strange ideas into my head.  For example, during the holidays I was talking to someone about romances, and mentioned Barbara Cartland used to put fake historical facts into her novels so she'd know who was being lazy and just copying her books (the answer was, of course, everyone).  While I was thinking about that, I realized I'd never read a Cartland novel, and resolved to correct this.  So off I went to to order a random Cartland novel.

So now I've read one.  And all I have to say is, we've come a long way baby.

Okay, I lied, that's not all I have to say.  This book was awful.  A perfect storm of bad writing, cliches, and info dumping, all tied together in a curiously flat tone.  If this book had a narrator, it'd be the guy from the Visine commercials.

The premise is pretty basic:  the Earl of HELLington (rake alert! rake alert!) decides he needs a wife, but is put off by the boring prospect of listening to women talk.  Then he meets a Milliner with a beautiful voice, and like Prince Erik with Ariel, falls in love.  Little does he know that the Milliner is actually the daughter of an earl living in reduced circumstances.  Maybe if he had known, he wouldn't have stalked her; but I think he probably still would have.

The plotting in this novel is actually fairly decent, but the methodology is just all wonky.  Cartland does this thing with her female characters where their speech is hampered by many dots between their words.  For example:  "Thank you . . . My Lord.  I am . . . of course . . . grateful."  No, she hasn't just run a marathon; she's conducting a business transaction.  And I don't mean that kind of business.  There's absolutely no reason for her to sound like she's about to pass out, so why is Cartland putting all those dots between her words?  After awhile, I realized it was because she's talking to a man and feels the need to space out her words like she's speaking to someone who doesn't know English.  Or maybe the dots are the literary equivalent of beeps and she's actually saying, "Thank you bleeping My Lord.  I am bleeping of course bleeping grateful."  Wait, that doesn't make sense.  ANYway, it was just odd.

I did like how Cartland put her characters in the social context of the time period--with Prinny and Byron and all the usual suspects--but as I said, the tone of the book is strangely dry.  It seems to suck all the entertainment value out of story.  I honestly don't think there's any reason to read Cartland with good romances out there.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding

diamond cover

Setting: 1790s London

Stereotypes: There are several typified characters: a tempestuous Italian musical director, an idealistic youth, and a street bully.

Major Likes: The narrator's voice and the historical detail

Major Dislike: Felt a little spastic with everything going; not too bad, though.


Cat Royal, a perspicacious orphan with a gift for getting into scrapes, grew up in the Royal Theater on Drury Lane.  She has the theater manager for a father, the costume mistress for a mother, and stage managers, conductors, musicians, players, prompters, and playwrights for aunts, uncles, and friends.  One day she overhears the theater's manager talk about hiding a diamond in the building; sworn to secrecy, she accidentally lets the story of hidden treasure slip to Pedro, an African violinist.  With Pedro drumming up schemes to get rich and Billy "Boil" Shepard threatening to kill her, Cat has her hands full enough for any 12-year-old.  But she also has to rescue and protect the diamond, and write a novel for the delight of a duke, all while saving her friends in the theater.

This is a quick-moving, quick-witted tale that's brimming with historical atmosphere.  You get a wonderful sense of what 18th-century London must have been like; and I have to say, despite all the talk of the lack of equal rights and political freedom, it sounds like a blast!  Cat is intelligent and funny, and in the course of the novel manages to interact with all sorts of interesting characters, from Covent Garden gang leaders--Billy--to ducal heirs and political cartoonists.  Even though the audience of the novel is definitely middle-grade, I never once felt my attention waning from the story, which is full of action if not of plot.

Speaking of the plot, that's really the only issue I had with the book.  The hidden diamond story wasn't much of one; and even though all the side adventures eventually led back around to it, I thought the conclusion was anti-climatic considering everything else that was going on (all of which was much more interesting).  This is a minor quibble, however; I was having too much fun reading the story to analyze it that much.

middle passage

One thing I personally found very interesting was Billy Boil, the street tough who is Cat's mortal enemy.  I picked up The Diamond of Drury Lane after reading a free novella on my Kindle titled Middle Passage, a Cat Royal story that takes place two years after Diamond.  Let's just say Billy undergoes a dramatic transformation in the ensuing two years, and as of right now I have no idea how to reconcile the Billy of Middle Passage with the one in Diamond--although I think I can see inklings of what will happen.  Either way, I'm definitely intrigued and looking forward to reading the next Cat Royal book!

This is a very light, fun novel.  There is a lot of information and stuff going on, but at the same time it's one of those books where your mind can wander while you're reading it and you'll still be able to figure out what's going on.  I think this is a perfect read for kids in the 7-11 age range, and pretty damn entertaining for adults, as well.  Recommended!

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gankutsuou, or The Count of Monte Cristo

Vengeance, baby!  This animé adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas takes the book out of Napoleonic France and turns it into a space opera where Mercédès and Fernand's son, Albert, is the hero of the tale.

Albert is visiting the wild planet of Luna with his friend, Franz, during Carnivale.  One night he meets the mysterious Comte de Monte-Cristo, a man who looks like Gary Oldman from Dracula, only blue and less attractive, if that's possible.  The comte is flamboyant and mysterious, and seems to possess questionable moral judgment, something Franz picks up on immediately.  Albert, however, is smitten; and after the comte "saves" him from the gangster Luigi Vampa, they form a bond that will lead to the comte's entré into Parisian high society--and treason, insanity, heartbreak, incest, and murder for the families of Albert and his friends.

luna scene

The look of this animé is amazing--and sometimes way over the top.  Patterns cover every surface of the characters' clothes and the visuals are a confusing mix of Edwardian, modern, and futuristic.  For example, old-timey cars mix with motorcycles and spaceships pulled by horses as if they were carriages.  I didn't mind the inconsistency, but it can be jarring and overwhelming, and beautiful at the same time.

It's clear the animators have a love of 19th-century Paris, although it's la Belle Epoque Paris and not the Paris we see in the original novel.  Streetside cafés, the opera, music by Debussy and Rachmaninoff, art nouveau decor, and country house parties give the series a romantic feel and certainly made me like it more.

As for the story, however, I had several problems with it.  For one, it's way too long.  For another, there's a reason Dumas made the Count the hero of the book--Albert is boring, and his incessant whining about one thing or another got on my nerves.  We have to listen to Albert's trials and tribulations, which for the most part run along the lines of, "Waaa!  No one respects me!  Why are you treating me like a kid??"  I couldn't connect to him and many of his actions, especially at the end, were completely nonsensical.  Meanwhile, what we're really interested in is the Count and the clockwork-like unfolding of his vengeance.

Also, the animé tweaked the story so that it was super-depressing.  The series gets heavy.  A lot of shit happens to Albert that would be enough to make anyone have an emotional breakdown, and the middle seriously bummed me out.  Everyone either dies or goes insane--and unlike in the book where it seems inevitable, here it feels manufactured and too convenient.  They all deserve it, but not from the perspective of Albert, our hero. 

In addition, the Comte doesn't get his full revenge (I'm still confused as to what happened with Baron Danglars), even though he crosses lines he never did in the book; and there was a feeling of things left unresolved in favor of an expedient ending.  Which is ridiculous, because this series is twelve freaking hours long.  It starts with an opera, and ends like an opera, with all the characters running back and forth across a stage-like backdrop and screaming, sobbing, and dying.  Whereas The Count of Monte Cristo leaves us with a sense of redemption, Gankutsuou takes a lower road and turns the count into a tragic figure.

Of course, from the perspective of Albert, there is a "happy" ending; but since I didn't really care about Albert that didn't help much.

I'm not sure I can recommend Gankutsuou.  Visually it is stunning, and might be worth a watch just for that; but for people who have read and loved the original novel, I'm not sure it's worth it.  It's not compulsively watchable--I had to force myself to keep up with it--and can be frustrating to watch.  I did enjoy the creative tweaks to the story, but in the end the heart of the novel was changed too much for me to like it.

Certainly an interesting adaptation of the novel, though.

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Bloggiesta Day 3


Yesterday I did not get much done for Bloggiesta at all.  Basically I wrote one post and agonized over a few other posts without writing anything, and then I did homework and made nachos.  And I also made another vlog.  So hopefully today something will be written!

Updated goals:

  • Finish writing all my half-written posts.
  • Do the copyright mini-challenge from the last Bloggiesta. (I didn't exactly do this, but I did update my copyright notifications, so calling it good.)
  • Do the mini-challenges for this Bloggiesta (including my own).
  • Hang out on twitter and chat with everyone. (In progress)
  • Finish the bottle of champagne in my fridge. (Did not finish!  I only managed to drink half before I started feeling ill.)
  • Update review policy.
There you go.  Pretty much no change from yesterday.  And I better get a move on, because Downton Abbey and Johnny Cash in Folsom are both on tonight and will require at least 60% of my attention!

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bloggiesta Day 2 Update


I'm not sure how many hours I dedicated to Bloggiesta last night--I started losing track there at the end--but I think it was around 8.  I got a lot of stuff done!

  • Finish writing all my half-written posts (I've finished 1 so far. le sigh).
  • Do the copyright mini-challenge from the last Bloggiesta. (I didn't exactly do this, but I did update my copyright notifications, so calling it good.)
  • Do the mini-challenges for this Bloggiesta (including my own).
  • Hang out on twitter and chat with everyone. (In progress)
  • Finish the bottle of champagne in my fridge. (Did not finish!  I only managed to drink half before I started feeling ill.)
  • Update review policy.
I also completed something not on my original list, but which I've been meaning to do for about a month, namely play around with my video editor to make my vlogs feel slightly more professional.  I think I'm getting the hang of it!  I completed a vlog for Fragment Friday, which you can watch here.

For today, I want to focus on writing posts, but I will have to take time out to do some homework.  Sadness.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Fragment Friday: The Wicked House of Rohan

Bloggiesta: Update Uno!

Well, I've been at it for about five hours and am starting to feel the need for a brief siesta.  So far I've completed two of my goals.  Now I think I'm going to go read for a while off-line and possibly buy some food.  Will be back later to troll everyone's blogs.

Goals, I haz them:
  • Finish writing all my half-written posts (there's a lot of them; I have a problem with incomplete thoughts).
  • Do the copyright mini-challenge from the last Bloggiesta. (I didn't exactly do this, but I did update my copyright notifications, so calling it good.)
  • Do the mini-challenges for this Bloggiesta (including my own).
  • Hang out on twitter and chat with everyone.
  • Finish the bottle of champagne in my fridge.
  • Update review policy.
    Wow, so ambitious.  I'm excited.  Let's get this party started.  Olé!

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    Bloggiesta Mini Challenge--Help a Blogger Out


    Hola, mes amis (oops, I'm mixing my languages)!  It's time to get our Bloggiesta groove on with what makes Bloggiesta the greatest blogging fiesta evar:  connecting with other bloggers and helping each other out! 

    During my first Bloggiesta, I made two great blogging friends by asking for help with my blog.  Now it's your turn--use your talents, expertise, and wisdom to help another blogger who needs it.  Whether you're just starting a blog or are a blogging superstar, you have skills--skills others don't have, but wish they did!

    How do you find these bloggers in need?  Follow the hashtag #Bloggiesta on Twitter; go to the Mr. Linky on the Bloggiesta starting line and read the starting posts to see if anyone is planning to tackle tasks you can help with; or look at the comments for mini-challenge posts and see if anyone is having issues completing the challenges.  Offer advice, follow up by asking them if your suggestion worked, offer more help if needed, and check out the results.

    By supporting one another, we not only make new friends, but get things done faster and without wanting to throw our laptops across the room.  Once you've helped someone out, just leave a comment on this post letting me know you've completed the mini-challenge, and you'll be eligible for prizes!  And to get you in a cheerful, sharing mood, here's a little song:

    I can already tell we're going to make new friends.  Now go forth and assist!

    This EPIC mini-challenge will close when the Bloggiesta finish line has been posted.  Don't know what Bloggiesta is?  Go here.

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    Thursday, January 20, 2011


    Four four-sentence reviews:

    Beneath the Thirteen Moons by Kathryne Kennedy:
    This is basically a marriage-of-convenience book set in a fantasy world.  It should have been the sort of book I glommed onto like whoa--you've got magic, true love, mind melds (love mind melds).  Yet it took me over a month to read 100 pages.  The story didn't flow for me, but maybe that was because it took me so long to read.

    Pulse by Kaitlin Gow:
    This book was totally ridiculous.  The female character was a complete sex object who has magical blood that will make a vampire mortal--IF she's a virgin!  The two vampires were a rip-off of Stephen and Damon from the vampire diaries.  Couldn't take it.

    The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett:
    I thought I would like this book because I really like the movie, and enjoyed reading The Maltese Falcon.  It started out good, although the main character is a serious alcoholic; but before I was halfway through it got seriously boring.  I considered keeping it for narcotic effect, but decided there are probably enough boring books out there to replace it.  Oh well.

    Wuthering Bites by Sarah Gray:

    My mom got this for me for Halloween.  Heathcliffe and vampires sounds like a marriage made in heaven, but the book was closer to the original than I was expecting.  And I'm not a huge fan of the original.  Plus, I was and am seriously pissed that Emily Brontë is mentioned nowhere in this book as the original writer. 

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    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Dragonborn by Jade Lee

    dragonborn cover

    Setting:  "fantastical" land of Ragona (see cover)

    Stereotypes:  Sexual attraction=love

    Major likes:  The dragons; Natiya

    Major dislikes:  Naked fighting scenes, politics

    Category:  Cheetos for the brain


    Oh, Jade Lee.  Why do you do this to me?  "Clutching cave"?  Men spending at least 150 pages fighting in the nude because they can't keep their "belly-horns" in their pants?  Sometimes I really wonder.  Yet I keep coming back because your books are just so freaking out there.

    Kiril is a dragon hunter in the land of Ragona, which is ruled by an evil totalitarian Emperor named Dag Racho.  The Dag means that he controls a dragon--the only dragon left in the kingdom, thanks to Kiril.  But Kiril isn't killing dragons in the service of his emperor, whom he hates; he's killing them because he thinks they're evil.  He also has some plan to kill the Emperor that involves getting rid of all the other dragons, but how exactly this is going to work is never explained.

    Meanwhile, there is one dragon egg left in the kingdom, and it's being incubated inside Natiya, a tavern dancer whose parents were murdered by the Emperor.  She plans to use her dragon to kill the Emperor, but then Kiril wanders into her tavern and, overcome by lust, they somehow fall in love.  All the while Kiril never notices that Natiya's carrying around a dragon egg, even though he's a dragon hunter.

    This book is okay.  I never really got where Kiril was coming from in his attraction to Natiya, and actually expected it to be a complete ruse so he could capture the dragon egg.  The sexual imagery with the caves and dragons was out of control, and the politics side of it varied between nonsensical and boring (it's really hard to make fake politics even remotely interesting).  Not to mention the ending was completely ridiculous and there were lots of loose plot threads left hanging.

    Yet the thing I really like about Jade Lee is that her books are so unconventional--she's not afraid to push the envelope or turn romance genre formulas upside down, and this book is no exception.  Who else would write a romance novel where the hero and heroine are separated for a good 100 pages right in the middle of the book?  Or where the hero fights at least three battles completely in the nude?  Plus, I have to say the sex scenes were really hot.

    This isn't my favorite Jade Lee book by any means, but it wasn't as awful as I was expecting it to be, and provided a decent diversion.  I'm not going to say I recommend it, but hey, if you're interested go for it.

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    Monday, January 17, 2011

    A Writer's Worst Nightmare?


    I'm beginning to think I am a writer's worst nightmare.  Recently I was reading Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs, who used to be one of my favoritest writers in the world.  But from scene one I felt like the narrative was clunky and flowing awkwardly.  I kept questioning why we were being shown certain scenes (the Mr. Bojangles singing time?  Why?), and why some scenes dragged on forever when they should be short and sweet.  Actually, I take that back, almost every scene felt like it dragged on forever.

    And then I kept getting all snaggly on random details--for example, Charles' wardrobe.  Item the first, the man wears silk shirts.  Wow, hello early '90s!  I wanted to be the bigger person and ignore this, but the author kept shoving it in my face.  There was even a (pointless) shopping scene where Ana bought more silk shirts.  OMFG.  Make it stop.  Add to that the leather bomber jacket and cowboy boots, and I could not get the image of Steven Seagal out of my head.  It was nausea-inducing.

    But I don't just do this with Hunting Ground; I'm like that annoying person who notices inconsistencies in movies after seeing them for the first time, except I do it with books!  Granted, this doesn't stop me from enjoying a novel, necessarily--I've enjoyed plenty of dumb books--but there's always that super-critical part of my brain keeping a lookout for every mistake, blip in the flow of the story, something doesn't make sense.  I can't turn it off!  You should see me grade student papers.

    Or maybe I can turn it off.  Do you read super-critically, or can you just relax and accept whatever nonsensical crap an author throws your way?

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    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    My Blood Approves by Amanda Hocking

    my blood approves cover
    Category:  I read it so you don't have to.

    Setting:  Twin Cities, Minnesota.

    Stereotypes:  Gay men like to decorate, paint nails, and cook; vampires live in familial packs; once you go vampire, you never go back; and so many more I could never list comprehensively.

    Major likes:  The author has a very sarcastic voice. I suppose I'm kind of a sucker for vampire romances, too.

    Major dislikes:  It was really stupid, there were a bazillion grammatical mistakes

    Musical Notes:  "Let's Dance to Joy Division," the Wombats


    While exploring the city with her friend, a shy high school sophomore named Alice is rescued from gang rape by a handsome vampire named Jack, who introduces her to his extremely attractive family and their fancy house and car collection.  She falls in love with him and his family, only to realize they like her blood more than her personality.

    Sound familiar?  Imagine Twilight in Minneapolis, with Edward as a cheerful sk8tr and Jasper having lost Alice, and you get this book.  Granted, My Blood Approves isn't the worst Twilight rip-off I've read, but it is definitely derivative--I was going to list all the similarities, but the prospect was too daunting.  Just be prepared for a lot of obvious connections.

    We're all familiar with Amanda Hocking as the amazing self-pub'ed author who sold a bazillion copies of her novels in one day.  Or a weekend, or whatever.  After reading My Blood Approves, I can understand this--for one, the books are dirt cheap.  I paid 99 cents for this one, which I think is less than I burn in gas when I go to the library.  For another, they are very easy to read and satisfying for that fix of romantic teenage angst we all need from time to time.  They're also emptily addicting in the way Christine Feehan's Carpathian novels used to be--you know the books are going to be utter crap, but you buy them and read them anyway just because you know exactly what you're going to get out of them.

    If anything else, I learned the value of a good editor while reading this book.  Hocking is pretty good at editing her own work, but like everyone who self-edits, she missed a lot of obvious grammatical errors like "to" when it should have been "too," "then" instead of "than," etc.  There were also some pretty wonky sentences and whole paragraphs that didn't flow logically.  It teeters on the edge of being unreadable, but for the most part remains entertaining because of Hocking's sarcastic voice.  It's when the novel starts taking itself seriously that things go down hill.

    Aside from questionable grammar, I was disturbed by several scenes in the book where Alice thinks casually about how she'd rather be dead than apart from Jack or his family (I'm not sure we're ever given last names).  I know teenagers tend to make overdramatic statements like this (I used to be one of those teenagers), but let's not encourage it, okay?  And no, sex is never worth being killed, especially metaphorical sex with an unemployed vampire who spends his entire night playing video games and watching movies.  Standards, people!  At least Edward did something constructive like stare at Bella while she slept.

    I don't have much to say about the book beyond that.  If the characters had evolved over the course of the novel, I might feel differently, but as it was this seemed like a really fluffy book about which there's not much to think.  In fact, it seems almost anti-think.  And hey, we all need moments of anti-think, but this is like anti-think on heroine.  It did have moments that I enjoyed, and I can see how a teenage girl would consider it painfully romantic, but I would really rather just reread my own teenage version of it, The Vampire Diaries.

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    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne

    rose cover

    Setting:  Post-Revolutionary France

    Stereotypes:  Spies can do anything.

    Major likes:  The setting; Adrian Hawker

    Major dislikes:  Marguerite; the sex scenes

    Musical Notes:  "The Dog Days Are Over," Florence + The Machine

    Movie Notes:  Scenes from The Count of Monte Cristo, especially in the baths, helped create the look of the book for me in my head.


    The first review I ever posted on this blog was for Bourne's second novel, My Lord and Spymaster, which I lovedThe Forbidden Rose didn't live up to the excellence of ML&S, but it was still very good. 

    Marguerite is a former aristocrat in Robespierre-run France, whose chateau has just been looted and burned to the ground.  At first she seems typically delicate and survival-challenged, unable to even kill a rabbit for her dinner.  Then William Doyle arrives with his sidekick, Adrian Hawker, and takes charge.  William claims to be a French bookseller, and he convinces Marguerite it would be a good idea for him to escort her to Paris.  They both know the other is misrepresenting themselves, but that doesn't stop them from being attracted to each other.

    I absolutely loved the setting of this book.  I have a weakness for Revolutionary France and Bourne's research is spot-on.  She really has a gift of making her readers feel as if they're witnessing a historical time period first-hand.  All the paranoia, uncertainty, and blood thirsty excitement of the era is palpable.  If you've ever read The Scarlet Pimpernel, this book has the same sense of tense adventure.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't have the same sense of mystery and surprise, and I think that's one of the reasons why I just enjoyed it and didn't love it the same way I did ML&S.  It doesn't take more than a few dozen pages for us to know exactly what all the characters are up to.  Also--and I hate to say this--but the plot is starting to get formulaic.  In My Lord & Spymaster, we had a woman whose father was suspected of crimes while her love interest was determined to see him pay for said crimes; in The Forbidden Rose, we have a woman whose father is suspected of creating a list of men to be assassinated, and her love interest who is determined to kill him for doing it.  Bourne is a good enough writer that I'm sure she could have come up with something at least a little different than that to keep the plot going; one gets the sense that even she's bored with it, as the plot is mainly just glossed over in favor of more interesting adventures, such as exploring Paris' catacombs and chasing down street thugs.

    Another stumbling block for me in enjoying this book was Marguerite.  Just as in ML&S, the story in Forbidden Rose hinges on the main character; but unlike ML&S, where I ADORED the main character, Marguerite drove me absolutely batty.  I honestly wanted to strangle her.  Any woman of good sense would have realized she was poisoned.  And she can send her friends into mortal danger but can't let her murderous cousin to be killed?  This does not make sense, just as her constant refusal to believe she and "Guillaume" can be together doesn't make sense.  I started to get the feeling Marguerite would walk into walls if someone wasn't keeping an eye on her.

    Anyway, this is really a good book, but I think for me Bourne works best with characters from the London underworld--like Adrian Hawker, a pubescent pickpocket whom Doyle won in a card game.  He's a great character, with an inexplicable attachment to Doyle, and I can't wait until he gets his own book!

    Overall I would recommend The Forbidden Rose, even though I still like My Lord & Spymaster and The Spymaster's Lady better.  Joanna Bourne is always worth your time, though.

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    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    Sabrina: Burning Questions


    • Why did Sabrina leave Paris if she loves it so much?  Did she lose her job?  Did French photographer guy break up with her?  Or did she want one last chance to nab David?
    • Who is Bubba Rockefeller?
    • Why do we never see Sabrina driving a car?
    • Isn't it a little odd that Harrison Ford drives them back from the city after their date even though he has a chauffeur?  Yes, the chauffeur is her dad, but still.
    • Why does Sabrina remember all this crap from their childhoods and the guys remember NOTHING?  Personally this would make me a little pissed.
    • So... Linus is a virgin, then?  "First time" and all that?
    • If Harrison Ford has his own private plane, why does he buy tickets for them to fly to Paris?  And if he takes the Concorde to Paris and beats Sabrina there, does that mean he made her fly coach?  What a tool!
    • Is giving all your money to your daughter a wise retirement plan?  Why didn't he just send Sabrina to college?
    • Have I watched this movie too many times?

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    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Preliminary Thoughts on Apollo's Angels

    apollo's angels cover

    I've only read the first chapter of Apollo's Angels by Jennifer Homans, but I wanted to record my thoughts on it now because 1. I'm still waiting for it to come in at the library, and who knows how long that will take; and 2. this is a long-butt book and, let's face it, the chances me of me ever reading the whole thing are pretty minimal.

    Despite that, however, I want to assure you that this book is really excellent.  It covers the cultural history of ballet from its inception in the courts of the French monarchy, to the modern-day.  The writing style isn't informal--it is a piece of scholarly research--but it is readable and not at all boring.

    If you want to get a better idea of what this book is about, Homans appeared on Charlie Rose a couple of weeks ago and gave a great interview where she summarized the origins of ballet and how she traced its history.  If you're at all interested in ballet, I highly recommend you check out the video here:

    Now, onto the book.  As I mentioned, it's well-written and as far as I can tell (considering I couldn't read the footnotes in my Kindle sample), well-researched.  Before I picked this book up, the only thing I really knew about ballet was that the Ballet Russe has a long tradition of being tied to the avant-garde--ballerinas from the Ballet Russe appeared onstage during Dada performances, for example.  So I knew ballet had broader cultural ties than just dance, but I had no idea how extensive. 

    As Homans touches on in the interview, the history of ballet is carried in the steps and bodies of the dancers themselves, passed on from teacher to student, and has very little in the way of textual history.  This undoubtedly contributes to its being overlooked by historians (including art historians), who are extremely book-centric. 

    What I love about this book so far is that it involves two things I'm interested in and recently posted about:  perfection and labyrinths (don't you just love it when there's synchronicity in your reading?).  The title, Apollo's Angels, refers to the ballet dancer's two main goals:  to be the perfect embodiment of dance, as the god Apollo is; and to defy gravity, like an angel (also another perfect spiritual being).  The first known ballets were in the courts of 15th-century French kings, and typically involved the king himself as a performer.  The dances were performed in the round by one or two people, the steps following a set of geometric patterns that may echo the forms of the Chartres labyrinth.

    I didn't go into it much in my review of Inception, because it didn't seem pertinent, but dancing is an important part of the labyrinthine myth and practice.  Ariadne uses a dance to make her way through the labyrinth; there's also a dance Trojan warriors performed to commemorate their fallen soldiers that Virgil identified as the dance of the labyrinth.  It was described as a very complex tracing of geometric patterns, which the Trojans performed either on foot or on horseback (fun fact: the ancient word for labyrinth is the same word used for Troy in early manuscripts; Trojan soldiers also had labyrinths painted onto their shields). 

    For the French kings, meanwhile, labyrinths are in some way connected with legitimacy--I'm not sure exactly how.  Here's what I do know: one, every French Gothic cathedral that has or had a labyrinth was the site of the crowing of a French monarch, starting with Clovis I who was baptized at Rheims.  Two, at least one French monarch recorded in his diary that Ariadne's golden thread passed on to him the right to rule.  And three, when the Church started to campaign for the removal of the "pagan" labyrinths in the fourteenth century, the kings of France did their best to support their continued use.  Apollo's Angels suggests that with the intermarriage of the French monarchy and Italian nobility, they began adopting the labyrinthine dance as a symbol of their rulership and abandoned the cathedral labyrinths as being too conspicuous and problematic.  Eventually ballet became the symbol of the whole court, but most especially of the king; Louis XIV often depicted himself in ballet pose in official portraits and participated in a night-long ballet after his coronation, at the end of which he danced as Apollo.

    Anyway, whatever random connections one teases out of it, this is a really good, interesting book.  If you have any interest at all in the subject, I mos def recommend it.

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    Sunday, January 9, 2011

    The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

    door cover

    Setting: Some town in California (?). I think.

    Stereotypes:  Sexy Italians are sexy. Why? See beginning of sentence.

    Major like:  The connection with Leonardo da Vinci was awesome and took me completely by surprise.

    Major dislike:  Too long.

    Musical notes:  "You'll Be Coming Down" and "Living In the Future" by Bruce Springsteen


    Abby is starting her senior year with a pleasant but righteously boring boyfriend, one bestie and one frenemy, and the perfectly understandable desire to get away from all of them.  Then what should happen but her school's production of Much Ado About Nothing is interrupted by a handsome foreign exchange student from Italy named Dante.  Did I mention Abby's middle name is Beatrice?  By the laws of all literary allusions, these two have got to get together!  But what is up with Dante and his other Italian friends, Zo, V, Tony, and Leo?  And why does Dante keep insisting he's dangerous to Abby?

    The main problem I had with this book was that it was just way too long.  Someone needed to heartlessly edit this down to about half its length, especially in the beginning.  Many of the scenes felt repetitive (especially the painful boyfriend scenes), and the majority of them didn't have anything to do with the central plot.  What does Much Ado About Nothing have to do with the plot of this book?  Not much.  Do I need to know, in detail, the questions on Emery College's application?  Yes, it's the awesomest college application in the history of the world; but no, I don't need to know about it.  And because the "love triangle" is so needlessly drawn-out, by the time I got a third of the way through the book I felt no chemistry between the characters and didn't care one way or the other if they got together.

    There are a lot of interesting ideas to do with music, time, art, and literature floating through this novel, which is great.  Only problem:  the book isn't about music or art or theater or any of that stuff.  Instead of making the novel more interesting, all these ideas detract from the narrative tension of the story.  There are too many distracting things going on for really no good purpose.

    I will say the book improved in the second half, when we finally learned what the plot was all about.  I loved the connection to Leonardo's inventions and was happy the author didn't go with a super-obvious Dante Alighieri connection.  But I still wasn't sure exactly what was going on, even to the end, and this was very frustrating.  At very least the author could make me think I knew what was going on, but no.  The "explanation" at the end was ridiculous and didn't explain anything.

    The reason for this lack of concrete elucidation obviously has a reason, for hark! I see there's another book in this series.  Well, sorry, but all my patience was wasted with this one.  If enough time passes that I forget how frustrating reading this one was, I might pick it up, but right now... not so much.

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Schnauzer Saturday

    I love the weekly memes where people post cute pictures of their cats (Michelle at True Book Addict, Lenore at Presenting Lenore, and James at Book Chic).  But I don't have a cat!  I do, however, have a schnauzer (actually, she's my mom's schnauzer).  ANYway, since I have know a schnauzer, I thought to myself, why not do a schnauzer Saturday?

    me and pearl

    This is me and Pearl, our schnauzer, who really behaves more like a cat.  Schnauzers are the cutest dogs ever!

    i heart schnauzers

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    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    The Metropolis Case by Matthew Gallaway

    met case jacket

    Settings:  Pittsburgh, 1960s-1970s; New York City, 1960s-2002; Paris, 1840s-1870s; Vienna, 1860s; Munich, 1865

    Stereotypes:  Women can't have a career and/or follow their dreams and have children (or even meaningful relationships); quitting your job is the only way to escape the existential malaise of modern life; casual sex and drug use is totally normal; school sucks.

    Major likes:
      I think Gallaway has a good writing style; I really enjoyed the historic sections.

    Major dislikes:  Incest; too many "stories" going on; there is really no plot.

    Musical notes:  "Firework," by Katy Perry.  The line about a plastic bag is actually in the book!


    Tristan and Isolde is this really great opera about love and death, which all the characters in the book either sing in or see, and then they all either love or die.  Coincidence???

    This novel is very difficult to summarize because there are a billion different characters (actually just four main ones--JUST. Haha!), and for three of them we're told their entire life story.  You're got Martin and Maria, who both grow up in 1970s Pittsburgh and then move to NYC; Anna, who's an operatic diva; and this Lucien character, who sings in the first production of Tristan and Isolde.  Like sand through an hourglass, these are the days of their lives.

    This was a very difficult book to get into, mainly because it's way too jumpy.  Gallaway is a good writer, but every time he switched from one character's story to another's--which was every 5 pages--I was jerked out of the story.  And when I say story, I actually use that word very loosely, because this book has no plot.  All the characters are connected, but we get no clue as to how until about 150 pages in.  Even knowing how they are connected, their stories don't feel interconnected except in the most distant way because they still spend almost no time together to speak of.

    My two favorite "lives" were Maria and Lucien, mainly because I can sympathize with really hating school.  I also really liked how Maria and Lucien's stories show the importance of parental support in the developing of a child's artistic talent--artistic geniuses are often presented as simply being born with talent, but there's usually a parent behind that talent who made sacrifices to support it.  As soon as Maria moved to New York City, however, I felt like she became a caricature.  We got a bunch of details about her sex life, yet next to zero info on how she must have busted her ass to be successful in her career; that was awesome (feel free to read that sarcastically).  It's nice to know that whatever a woman accomplishes in her life, she's always just a walking vagina.

    As I read this book, I began to wonder what Gallaway's purpose in writing it was.  It definitely wasn't to entertain, because in all honesty it's not entertaining.  And I don't think it was to teach us anything about opera or music, because despite the blurb on the cover, Tristan and Isolde, and music in general, has very little to do with the entire book.  At first I thought he wanted to write a truly transformative piece of art wherein one would find the "opus metaphysicum of all art," as Nietzsche said about Tristan and Isolde (according to Wikipedia); however, upon further thought I decided Gallaway wanted to write something that would mark "the end of all romanticism," which is how Richard Strauss characterized T&I in his more forgiving moments.  If that's the case I would have to say Gallaway succeeded to a certain extent. 

    This book is very unromantic.  There is an argument against the existence of God, and the characters live an Albert Camus-esque existence in which moral behavior falls to the impulses of the individual, which are primarily indulged.  Like Meursault with Marie, the characters may "fall in love," but these relationships seem underpinned by little more than sexual attraction, if that (none of the men Maria sleeps with are described in attractive terms); they don't seem to connect except in the most shallow way.  Even grief is called the grief for oneself, rather than for the person who died--in other words, all human actions and emotions are selfish.  As a result, the character's crying and carrying on when someone breaks up with them or someone dies seemed histrionic rather than genuine, and I had no patience with it.

    I think this confusion between an existential nihilism on the part of the author and the desire to write something grand and operatic is the linchpin problem in this novel.  If all we're about is ourselves unto ourselves, then why should I care about death or tragedy?  These characters, I would argue, don't care and don't love, but they don't realize it.  When they try to connect to people or act as if they care, they feel like they're going through the motions; it's only when they're gripped in the malaise of boredom and total apathy that the book has a ring of authenticity.

    I don't think I can recommend this novel; but then, I've always been more of the Claude Debussy persuasion (and definitely not nihilistic).  I think I can see what Gallaway was trying to accomplish with the book, but for me he fell short of pulling it together.  I would still like to thank TLC Book Tours for giving me a chance to review this book, though!

    tlc booktours

    I didn't enjoy this book, but you might. If it sounds interesting to you, enter the giveaway to win a copy from the publisher:

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011

    Too Many Books In the Kitchen

    funny pictures of cats with captions

    I got a Kindle for Christmas, and for some reason it's made me mad for downloading cookbooks.  Not only are cookbooks generally a lot cheaper in eBook format, but you can download a sample and see how you like them before you buy them.  This has been really useful for me as I can generally tell when a cookbook's going to be a pain in the ass from the introduction.  Here are a few that I've tried out so far:


    I wanted a cookbook of "rustic" (re: simple) French recipes, so I tried out Provençal Cooking: Savoring the Simple Life in France by Mary Ann Caws.  She starts off talking about her perfect retirement in France, which was preceded by her perfect college days at Bryn Mawr, her perfect marriage, and her perfect children who spoke française at home because they're all just so special.  I kind of hate this woman, but I persevere in the belief that the recipes she gives us will in fact be simple and good.  And she is a pretty good writer.

    I was also immediately interested in Urban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable, and Seasonal Kitchen by Amy Pennington and Della Chan.  All the things I could possibly want are right there in the title--thrifty, sustainable, and seasonal.  The book also promised tips on how to keep an apartment-style kitchen garden, which would be pretty great.  However, I knew I was going to have issues with this book in the "Stocking the Pantry" section, where the author lists four different types of flours, none of which I had ever heard of.  If I have to keep track of flour, I'll go crazy.  Straight up.  Also, the author calls people who stay at home cooking instead of going out to eat while they're in their 20's lame, which seems counterproductive to the selling of one's cookbook.  Then I skipped ahead to the recipe section and realized I had no interest in cooking any of the meals.  One of them was called "bones and beans."  Wow, yum.  That'll be awesome for our cannibalistic, dystopian future.  Here's a great idea for a pantry meal: spaghetti.  Moving on....

    5 Ingredient Fix: Easy, Elegant, and Irresistible Meals by Claire Robinson is another book that I was instantly attracted to.  Five ingredients!  Sounds good to me.  But this book is odd.  Robinson begins the introduction by saying her philosophy centers on good, seasonal ingredients.  Okay!  But the book isn't organized by ingredient or season, so it seems to go against her "philosophy."  Furthermore, I was more than a little annoyed that she includes cocktail recipes in the book.  If I wanted cocktail recipes, I'd pick up a cocktail book, first of all; and second of all, how hard is it to make a cocktail with 5 ingredients?  Really.  Anyway, I'm not sure I want to buy this book and have yet to try any of the recipes.

    One of the things I NEED in my life is bread.  Even if I eat A LOT, I don't feel full unless I have bread with a meal.  Bread is surprisingly expensive, however, and I feel I could save money if I made my own bread.  This is why I sampled Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads by Nancy Baggett (awesome name for a baker, btw).  At first I was impressed by the scientific tone of the introduction and the fact that I didn't have to knead bread, which is great because I have arms like noodles.  However, from mixing to the point where you actually put the bread in the oven is a 30+ hour process, which seems mighty long, and this was another book that required me to buy a bunch of different flours.

    Then I was tooling around Amazon and spotted Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  These bread recipes are also no-knead, can be stored in the fridge or freezer until you're ready to bake them, and truly require only five minutes (not counting rising and baking time, which is about 40 or so minutes).  The sample I downloaded also suggested I would not need to buy any special flour or ingredients unless I wanted to, and no special tools.  Hooray!  This is the book for me!  I bought the whole thing, only to realize they do require special tools and flours that weren't mentioned in the free sample.  Nuts.  However, this still seems like a very hassle-free way to bake bread, so I think I will persevere and give it a try anyway.  Whether it will be worth giving up the convenience of just buying bread from Panera on my way to and from school remains to be seen.

    What are your favorite cookbooks?

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    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    Harlequin Manga

    comic cover 1comic cover 2

    Setting:  I honestly have no clue.

      Where to start?  Women are delicate, illogical, hormonal flowers.  The purpose of a woman's life is to marry and have kids.  A "true" woman is feminine.  Men are emotional idiots, yet bastions of calm and logic.

    Major like:  Ummmmm....

    Major dislike:  These books make no sense.

    Have you ever wondered what a Harlequin romance novel would be like in manga form?  No?  Well, that's probably why these comics are free.

    They're also probably free because they're terrible.  Seriously, they're bad.  There's no story flow to speak of, it's impossible to tell what's going on, and they're really sexist.

    In The Cinderella Solution, Charlotte's best friend Gabe teases her for being unfeminine and says she will never be able to "find a man" and will die a dried-up and pitiful excuse for a woman.  In response, Charlotte bets him she will be married within a month.  Just as her girlfriends give her a make-over, Charlotte happens to run into a new neighbor, who just HAPPENS to be the most eligible bachelor in the universe!  They go out on a date and Gabe is jealous.  You can see where this is headed.

    In Expecting the Boss's Baby, three millionaire bachelors who grew up in the same orphanage decide to do good works.  But then one of them, Michael, discovers his secretary Kate is preggers after they did some horizontal filing one night after work (the clue:  she's acting like a typical hormonal woman when normally she is very calm and logical--like a man).  Michael of course thought it was just a one-night stand, but now he realizes he feels very possessive and Kate must be his even though she keeps screaming at him and ordering him out of her house.  But that's just the hormones talking, y'all!

    Both of these mangas are based on actual Harlequin romance novels, and it would be interesting to compare them and see if the wtf-is-this-crap increased or decreased in translation.  If only I had the patience for such a thing!  I know these are only samples of the mangas, but these samples give me absolutely no desire to shell out money for the whole books.  If the plots weren't ridiculous enough, the utter lack of logical flow in the story telling would have warned me off.

    And yet... AND YET... I still kinda enjoyed them.  Even though I don't want to pay for them, I wouldn't be adverse to downloading more of the free editions.

    Damn you, manga!!!!!  You make even the stupidest things addicting.  Gagh.

    headdesk gif

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    Sunday, January 2, 2011

    The Wicked House of Rohan by Anne Stuart

    wicked house cover
    Setting:  Venice, 1740

    Stereotypes:  Venice is a den of sin; bored people are interesting; men are wicked but like their women angelic.

    Major likes: The setting; it was a fun, quick read.

    Major dislike:  The story had a lot of loose ends.

    Oh the Rohans.  How are they wicked--let me count the ways.  One, they propose debauchery.  Two, they hang out with people of Questionable Moral Judgement.  Three, they refuse to be shocked by said debauchery (see reason one).  Four, they have the sexs.

    Unemployed, friendless, and broke, Kathleen Strong is desperate enough to accept a shady job as governess to a Mr. Marblethorpe's sister in Venice.  But when she arrives at her new job, she discovers there is no governess job, she's actually the only living virgin in Venice over the age of 12 (because it's VENICE), and the gentleman is part of a club that wants to pop her cherry so they can feel like scandalous degenerates instead of utterly useless wastes of space.

    BUT!  Enter the mysterious and lethargic Alastair Rohan, the most degenerate of all the degenerates.  The forming of the club and the deflowering of the virgin were both his ideas.  Now that he's laid eyes on Miss Strong, however, he feels possessive and thus would like to lay more than just eyes on her. 

    And they fell in love.

    This novella was actually fairly entertaining.  Although we never find out what exactly Kathleen did to piss off her former employers, causing them to strand her in a foreign country; or why Rohan's butler is being controlled by Marblethorpe; or what the source of Rohan's cynical ennui is.  We do at least discover that Alastair and Kathleen have a shared past.  The story clips along at a very brisk pace, and before you know it, it's over! 

    As for the setting, it doesn't play that much into the story.  Venice is like the 18th-century version of Las Vegas:  what happens there stays there.  It's pretty over-the-top, actually, but then everything in this novella is.

    As a promotion for Stuart's new Rohan series, The Wicked House of Rohan does its job: I am now definitely interested in checking out the first book in the series, Reckless.  Although I am bummed it doesn't take place in Venice.

    3/6 books read

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