Friday, April 29, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


snowball in hell cover

Detective Matthew Spain is a widower and former Marine in 1943 Los Angeles when he comes across the strangest murder he's ever seen: a body dumped in the La Brea Tar Pits. Fortunately, Nathan Doyle, a war reporter recently injured and relocated stateside, is on hand and immediately starts acting suspicious. It turns out he knew the victim and was possibly the last one to see him alive. Not only that, he's clearly hiding something. Is Matthew's attraction blinding him to the fact that Nathan's the killer???

This is a re-release by Lanyon in anticipation of what is apparently going to be a new series. It doesn't have the hip edginess of The Dickens with Love or the sharp wit of the Adrien English novels, all of which are set in the modern-day and told in the first person. That being said, I did really enjoy Snowball in Hell, and it's entirely due to the characters. I absolutely love Matt and Nathan, and even Matt's partner, Jonesey.

The protagonist of the story is definitely Matt, who has sort of an everyman vibe. He was married to a woman he fell in love with high school, but has always been attracted to men. This isn't something he acted on, however, until meeting the suicidal Nathan, who is obviously the "snowball" in this scenario. I'm not sure Matt could have chosen a worse boyfriend, in all honesty, and am still not entirely certain what the attraction is on Matt's part, but whatever. Even though Nathan is unstable, the story needs his manic always-on-the-edge-of-death-ness to balance Matt out.

The setting is interesting. It's not palpably 1940's Hollywood--it's not a literary version of film noir--but Lanyon does use plenty of old timey words and lingo I had to look up, and the time period and place is integral to the story line. I can definitely picture this as a black-and-white movie in my head.

The conclusion left me unsatisfied. I wanted to see Matt chew Jonesey out for dropping the ball on the investigation! I wanted Nathan to have an internal realization that yes, life is worth living. But most of all I wanted some sort of conclusion to Matt and Nathan's affair. Can these two crazy kids continue their relationship? At the novel's end, I had my doubts, but I'm more than willing to root them on.

Snowball in Hell
does have problems with pacing and the mystery isn't that mysterious, but overall it was an entertaining read with characters I want to know more about. I can't wait to spend more time with Matt, Nathan, and hopefully Jonesey in the next book.

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Monday, April 25, 2011


Proposed alternate title: OLD MEN WITH GUNS

In the last of the Millennium movies (based on the novels by Stieg Larsson), Lisbeth is under arrest for attempting to kill her criminal mastermind father, Zalachenko, and it's possible she could return to the mental institution run by Dr. Teleborian, who tormented her for 2 years when she was a child. Don't worry, though, Mikael is coming to the rescue with an exposé about how a secret section of the government maneuvered to have Lisbeth declared legally incompetent in order to protect Zalachenko.

lisbeth in armor

This movie was pretty good, even though the plot is sort of impenetrable. That doesn't really matter, though, because all the important parts make sense: we know Lisbeth is in danger and that Mikael is trying to save her. There are some awesome new characters, like Lisbeth's doctor at the hospital, Jonasson, whom she should marry and have a dozen children with. There's also the creepy psychologist who molested her while she was in a mental institution, Dr. Teleborian, who looks like someone tried to create a Frasier clone in a lab experiment and it went terribly wrong; and Annika, who's Mikael's sister and agrees to be Lisbeth's lawyer.

Finally, there's Mikael, who only sees Lisbeth twice during the entire course of the movie, but spends all his time busting ass to make sure she doesn't 1. get murdered by her half-brother; 2. disappear into Teleborian's crazy house; or 3. get convicted of attempted murder. He and Lisbeth are such a mismatched pair, but as with the other films, you really feel a connection between them. I absolutely loved the courtroom scene where they stared at one another while Mikael testified, and the final scene in the movie was priceless. Not exactly what I was hoping for with these two (maybe a hug or something? no? okay then), but perfect for their characters.

Of course, the star of the show is Lisbeth. I love her! Who wouldn't? She's sooo kick-ass. I mean, look at what she wears to a trial where she's the defendant (above). LIKE A BOSS. She's also super-smart and doesn't make nice for anybody. At the same time, there's a purity to Lisbeth, which is what I think attracts Mikael and what he's trying to protect. As the prosecutor observed at one point in the movie, "She's surprisingly fragile and delicate. Like a child." Lisbeth's NOT a child, and she's more than capable of taking care of herself, but the innocence and fragility that she lost when she was a child because no one protected her is still there, somehow. I think this is why Mikael and Lisbeth's relationship is the way it is: Mikael is kind of like a knight in shining armor trying to protect his lady, and that means not imposing on her, sexually or personally.

The only thing I found hard to believe was that Lisbeth would capitulate on showing the video of herself being raped, or telling the entire world her life's story in Millennium. I can understand that circumstances seemed to demand it, but it still seemed out of character; and furthermore, they never show her agreeing to do so. They just have Mikael handing it off and saying, "Lisbeth says you can show this if you need to." Really?! Does she really, Mikael??

Other than that, though, I definitely recommend this movie and the previous two in the series. They're not exactly happy viewing, but they are suspenseful and entertaining.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

ATTACHMENTS by Rainbow Rowell

attachments cover

The year is 1999. After spending many years in school, Lincoln has returned to his hometown. He lives with his mom and has an incredibly stupid, boring job preparing a local newspaper for Y2K (pointless, as we all know) and enforcing the office's e-mail policy. The only highlights of his life are his mom's cooking, and reading e-mails between Beth and Jennifer, a movie reviewer and copy editor who enjoy complaining about their lives over their work e-mail. As Lincoln reads Beth and Jennifer's e-mails, he starts to feel like they're his friends, and he starts wishing he'd have the chance to meet Beth because he loves her sooooooo much.

As you can probably tell from the synopsis, this is a very sweet book. It's basically chick-lit, but with a guy as the protagonist (dude lit?). I would describe it as being like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but with a twenty-nine year old who isn't a virgin (though through no virtue of his own). When the book starts, Lincoln seems pretty pathetic. And by pretty, I actually mean reeeeaaaally. He just got out of school, has a job a monkey could do where he doesn't talk to anyone, and is still hung up on a girlfriend he had in high school. He doesn't seem to have any friends or interests; he's a lump. As the book goes on, Lincoln gradually makes some friends, but goes into a guilt spiral because he's been reading Beth's and Jennifer's e-mails for months without sending them warnings for non-work related content.

This wasn't a terrible book by any means--there were definitely a few funny parts, and I warmed up to Lincoln eventually. But I never warmed up to Beth, who spends nearly the entire book in a dead-end relationship, yet still hoping to marry Mr. Rocknroll, even though she has completely checked out of his lifestyle and seems to be dialing in their relationship. I understand the attraction, but how long it went on confused me, seeing as how Beth is no doormat. I got bored with Beth and Jennifer's e-mail correspondence (why do they never sign up for hotmail accounts?), as well as Lincoln's flashbacks of his ex.

That being said, the ending ALMOST makes up for it all. It is soooo sweet and romantic. But I thought it was undercut by the dragging out of Beth's relationship for no reason that I could see other than the author was afraid Beth would look like a floozy (10 points for channeling grandma words! drink!) if she went from one guy to another. I understand that the purpose of this book is to be light and sweet and fluffy, but I can't help thinking it would have been much more dramatic and interesting if Beth and Lincoln had gotten together earlier in the book.

I feel like there was a huge disconnect for me in regards to this novel. I don't know if it was because the book was too sweet, not romantic enough, or set in 1999 (still scratching my head over that one), but I feel like I didn't get it. Maybe there isn't even anything to get. However, I can see why other people like this novel, and if it sounds interesting to you, you should go for it.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

ROPE Movie Review

Two high-society prep-schoolers murder someone just for fun, then hold a party with the corpse in the room. Will the party guests--most particularly their former professor--find them out? Or will they get away with murrrrrderrrr?

This is one of Alfred Hitchcock's lesser-known movies, but I think it's one his best. It's shot in an interesting way, is very suspenseful, and poses some interesting ideas related to nihilism and intellectualism run amok.

brandon and philip

Brandon and Philip went to prep-school together and obviously developed a very close relationship. And by close I mean I kept waiting for them kiss all during the movie. They stand really, realllly near one another. Oh, and when Philip decides he wants to kill someone just so he can see if he can get away with it (not that he has much doubt), Brandon of course agrees to help.

But Philip can't just kill someone; he has to tempt fate by hosting a party immediately afterward, to which he invites his victim's parents and girlfriend, and one of his old professors. In a way he's showing off what he did to the professor, who gave him all his highfalutin' ideas about superiority. In another way it's almost like a wake, with the corpse in the room and food being served on top of his coffin. The guests talk about the victim an awful lot, not that one notices in the movie, because David--the murderee--is at the forefront of one's mind. If they talked about something else, it would be boring!

As the soirée goes on, however, the professor (played by Jimmy Stewart) begins to suspect what Philip and Brandon have done. It's like Dumbledore realizing Tom Riddle is actually Voldemort.

In all honesty, Jimmy Stewart isn't that great in this. His character is supposed to be a super-intellectual professor who believes in Nietzsche's doctrine of the "superbeing"--people who are above morals and tolerance and things like that (naturally he thinks he's one of these superbeings). Plus Stewart's supposed to have had an affair with Philip and/or Brandon. But Stewart is such an aw-shucks boyscout you don't get any of that in the movie. He does make a great detective, though. I wonder why they didn't just change it so he was a DT Philip had cultivated for his eventual murderous triumph?

I really loved how this was shot. It was done entirely in "real time," something Hitchcock had been playing with since The Lady Vanishes. He did a series of "long shots," one after another, until a reel of film ran out (this is why some shots end focuses on strange objects, like the back of a jacket). I think this really added to the tension of the movie. Also, for much of the film the chest with David's body in it is placed just on the lower edge of the screen, so that it's always in view--and always on the viewers' minds.

Did I mention this was also Hitchcock's first color film? It's a strange choice for a first color film, because all you really see is the inside of the apartment, and Hitchcock kept the color deliberately muted. But the there's a large window in the apartment that looks out on a (obviously) miniature model of New York City, and it's fabulous! The New York City of dreams. The backdrop changes as it get progressively later to reflect the setting sun and that's mainly where we get to see the spectacle of technicolor--that backdrop would never work in a black and white film.

Hitchcock called Rope a stunt, but I think it's much more than that. It's a clever movie--with some serious over-acting at the end, it's true, but for the most part it's a lot of fun to watch and I highly recommend it.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Schnauzer Saturday


Pearl wasn't expecting to be greeted by a camera when she emerged from under the bed.

And if you haven't already, check out Pearl's guest-blogging debut at Coffee with a Canine!

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

DEN OF THIEVES by Julia Golding

den of thieves cover

Cat Royal is getting older, and everything around her is changing. People expect her to act like a young woman now, and sexual tensions are starting to arise in some of her formally platonic friendships. Meanwhile, Mr. Sheridan has made a deal to tear down the Theater Royal in order to build a new one, which means Cat is effectively homeless. With all her friends leaving London and her world topsy-turvey, for the first time in her life Cat is finding it difficult to land on her feet. Will she be able to recover her balance in Paris?

This another great Cat Royal book. I really do feel like I want to live in these novels. In this installment, Cat loses all confidence in herself and it's heartbreaking. I think just about everyone has that period of time in their lives (maybe more than one!) when they go from being a child to a teenager, and it seems like all the things you took for granted no longer seem certain--well, that's what happens to Cat in Den of Thieves, and she doesn't even have a lot to take for granted to begin with. Luckily, she's saved by her friends (once again), and travels to Paris, where we're introduced to a whole new set of characters who rule the Parisian underworld.

One thing I was less impressed with in this book was the setting. In the previous two novels, Diamond of Drury Lane and Cat Among the Pigeons, London was so richly evoked that I felt like I was really there. With Paris... not so much. It's really too bad, because I adore Paris and this time period, but the descriptions made it seem generic. Perhaps this was due to the fact that Cat kept saying it was similar to London--really, Cat?? Somehow I seriously doubt that.

However, the blah setting was more than made up for by one of the new characters, Jean-Francois Thiland, King of the Palais Royal Vagabonds. OMG, I heart him so hard!!!! J-F, as he likes to be called, is a Peter Pan-like character who is the "king" of a gang of thieves that claim the neighborhood around the Palais Royal as their territory. And if you're thinking the Palais Royal sounds awfully similar to the Theater Royal, it's not a coincidence--J-F and Cat are similar in more ways than one. J-F is a little sketchy, but also smart and fun and totally charming, and he can dance.... I really hope he shows up in the following books.

What with Cat out of London, we don't see a ton of the usual suspects in this book, not even of the friends who also happen to be in Paris: Pedro, Frank, Lizzie, and Johnny. We certainly don't see as much of Billy Boil, Cat's arch nemesis. Now, I know I said in my review of Cat Among the Pigeons that Billy was my favorite character, but then J-F came along and I just fell in love with him! I started thinking maybe J-F had taken Billy's place as favorite. BUT. Billy shows up in the final scene and it's ahMAYzing; best final scene in a book ever! And Billy is so awesome and he really is my favoritest character again.

I love these books and these characters so much! They're so much fun and I really encourage you all to read them. If you pick up Den of Thieves, don't forget to read the opinion of "The Critics" in the front or J-F's responses to readers' letters in the back, both of which are so freakin' cute I can barely contain myself. Just another example of why I love this series.

Musical Notes

"Ah Ça Ira" was one of the anthems of the French Revolution and appears in the book. Kind of an odd anthem for a revolution, if you ask me, but then I suppose Yankee Doodle Dandy doesn't make much sense, either.

Also, Cat appears in a ballet called La Fille Mal Gardée (loosely translated to "The Young Woman Who Needs Watching--no symbolism there, I'm sure), which was first performed in France in 1789 and is one of the oldest ballets still produced. This clip from the modern Bolshoi company is so charming I just have to include it.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

HIDE: Skin As Material and Metaphor, edited by Kathleen Ash-Milby

hide cover

Hide: Skin as Material and Metaphor is an exhibition catalog for a show of the same title that was presented at the National Museum of the American Indian and curated by Kathleen Ash-Milby. The theme of the exhibition is intriguing, offering possibilities of discussion about race, seeing, and Native traditions. However, the catalog’s essays are largely superficial, leaving one with the impression that there’s not much meaning beyond what is “skin deep” in the artwork.

The catalog’s problems really start with the design. While the Brian Jungen catalog was just this side of overdesigned, Hide crosses the line, being designed to the point of utter distraction. I spent more time running my hands over the faux-suede cover with the impression of rivets, looking at the pictures, and staring at the thick, satiny paper than I did actually reading the words printed on it. I think it was the paper that really pushed the book design over the edge, but the cover was a close second. It’s like the publishing version of rococo: frivolous, pleasurable, and the type of thing for which the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” was coined. There are also inserts, which are a personal pet peeve of mine and have been ever since they appeared in textbooks. I hate them. As if breaking off from the main text to read footnotes isn’t bad enough, now I have to stop to read inserts? No thank you. To add insult, these inserts weren’t even vaguely interesting. It’s clear the NMAI put a lot of time and energy into this catalog design and printing; now if only the graphic design department had also written the essays, this book would be full of win. Shiny, sparkly win.

sonya combs insert
An example of the inside of the catalog.

The actual content is chock-full of introductions. There’s the director’s introduction, the introduction introduction by John Haworth, and the curator’s introduction, which is the first chapter. There’s also an introduction to the photography section of the exhibit, by Jolene Rickard.  All these introductions do what introductions do: cover the subject with broad strokes and attempt to give an overall view of what the show is about. Ash-Milby’s introduction does a fair job of this, although there are some rather sweeping statements littered throughout, and I still don’t understand why some work was included. Ash-Milby tries to contextualize the exhibition by comparing it to other shows such as Bodies Revealed (a less ethical version of Body Worlds). I’m not sure this comparison is justified or useful; in fact, I’m fairly sure it isn’t the latter. Essentially, the Bodies shows are scientific vaudeville; Hide is--or is supposed to be--about contemporary art, which hopefully goes a little deeper than Bodies turned outside-out.

metrosexual indians
Terrence Houle, Metrosexual Indian, 2005

Rickard does a better job of contextualizing the exhibit, revealing that it derives from a previous show titled Only Skin Deep that was about the history of race representation. That show was all about photography, which is probably why Rickard mentioned it and Ash-Milby didn’t; still, it would have been nice to know this from the beginning. Also, one gets the impression photography was included in this exhibit only because of the show's roots, since it seems they had trouble finding photographic work that fit into the theme. I really like Terrence Houle’s photographs and do think they fit, but he feels marginalized in the catalog. Favell’s work is just boring, and I have no idea what Sara Sense has to do with the concept of Hide.

The cumulative effect of all these intros is to create a catalog that seems very shallow, and the rest of the essays don’t do very much to invalidate that impression. The only chapter I really liked in the whole book was Richard William Hill’s “After Authenticity: A Post-Mortem on the Radicalized Indian Body.” Hill takes on the issue of blood-quantum and -memory in the American Indian community, and how, though it’s defined by racist European values, has because almost self-sustaining. He also tackles the subjects of hybridity and authenticity, which are very important issues in contemporary American Indian art. Racism is a heavy subject, and perhaps Hill could have written about it a little more fully and sensitively, but I’m happy he did write about it and brought up the issue. That being said, this chapter could have just as easily been in any other catalog or book and had the same impact, possibly even more, so I'm not sure why it's included here.

Despite Hill’s essay, I didn’t like this book at all and think it has next to no value as a piece of scholarship. I don’t know what the exhibition Hide was like, never having seen it; but based on the catalog I would have to assume it was a shallow mix of great work and uninteresting work pastiched together but not really in conversation with one another. I hope next time the NMAI puts more thought into their catalog’s words and less thought into its cover.

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Readathon Wrap-Up


Oy. I did not get enough sleep last night, I can tell y'all that right now. I went to bed around 5 AM, two hours short of going through to the end of the Readathon. I think I read for just 12 or 13 hours.

Let's move on to the meme.

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Probably hour 14 when I was getting bored-ish.
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Den of Thieves was a good Readathon book. Very fast-pasted.
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Maybe have alternate hosts who can step in if something unexpected happens? Also, I was thinking there should be more of Tumblr presence.
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? The twitter feed was really great this year. Also, I loved the mini-challenges, and I like the idea of keeping track of all the books read during the 'thon.
5. How many books did you read? Um, one.
6. What were the names of the books you read? Den of Thieves, plus I read parts of Alfred Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut, and Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon
7. Which book did you enjoy most? Den of Thieves. It's not like I have a huge selection to chose from or anything.
8. Which did you enjoy least? Alfred Hitchcock. It's a good book, for non-fiction, but not the best choice for the Readathon.
10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I would say I'm likely. :) I always want to try cheerleading during the next readathon, but then I forget and just do reading.

So. Since I spent all of yesterday reading, I have a lot to do today, and I better get started on it. I had a great time during the Readathon even if I didn't get a lot done. Now it's time to recover. :)

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Readathon Hour 21 Update

the birds
"Grand Pier... Hitchcock Style" by MrsMinifig

So, the Readathon is almost over. I totally got lost after I finished Den of Thieves. I tried to finish Francois Truffaut's interview with Alfred Hitchcock, but I didn't get very far, and I have no desire to get much farther tonight. Instead of actually reading the book, here's what I did:
  • Ate pizza while watching a forgotten episode of The Mentalist on my DVR. The book was open on my lap, so this counts as "reading" (yeah right).
  • Washed the dishes.
  • Watched North by Northwest.
  • Drank the better half of a bottle of champagne all by myself. DO NOT RECOMMEND.
  • Spent the next hour tweeting about Cary Grant.
  • Got bored with that and visited blogs.
  • Decided to do Memory's mini-challenge (see Hitchcock picture, above)
Anywho... I think I'm going to make a cup of tea and see if I can sober up enough to read for a while. If When I do this again, I resolve to not drink *as much* alcohol, and not to read non-fiction books. Because even when the subject is interesting, they're just not something I can sit down and become absorbed in, you know what I mean?

Oh, and I won a prize. Yay!!!!

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Readathon Update Hour 10

den of thieves cover

It's hour ten of the Readathon, but hour 5 for me, as I started about five hours late. So far I've finished one book that I really enjoyed, Den of Thieves by Julia Golding. I still love this series and the ending to this book was soooo great! I wish I could live in these novels.

In other news, I finished a very fun mini-challenge hosted by Wordlily to make our own book origami! I made little dinosaurs out of pages from an ARC I didn't like.


Here is Bookasaurus wandering around the bookshelves.


Uh-oh, looks like Bookasaurus is in trouble! No wonder he looked so worried....

stegosaurus saves the day

Hooray! Stegosaurus arrives to save the day! All right, stegosaurus looks a little like a rat, but are you going to hold that against him??

So now that I've finished one book and a mini-challenge, it's time for a break (that will hopefully involve food, as I'm starving). See y'all in a few!

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Readathon Start Post

sleepy cat

Hey! I'm finally awake and starting the Readathon. I did wake up around 5 am, but decided I was way too tired and went back to sleep. Lame, I know but that's the way it goes when you fall asleep watching Alfred Hitchcock movies.

So there is/are some questions to start off the Readathon! Let's take a quick look:

1)Where are you reading from today? My apartment in Norman, Oklahoma. I might go somewhere else to read at some point just for a change of scenery.

2)Three random facts about me… My nickname at my job last year was Hollywood, squids are my favorite animals, and I refuse to paint my toenails any color but orange.

3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? A bazillion. I don't know. I didn't have time to plan this out at all.

4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? Yes, I'd like to at least finish Den of Thieves and Francois Truffaut's interview with Alfred Hitchcock.

5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time? Take breaks and do stretches. Order pizza. Pick out short books.

On to the Readathon!

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Schauzer Saturday

pearly wants the squirrel

Pearly is upset she's not allowed to chase the squirrel--and that she can't participate in the Readathon this weekend because she can't read!

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011


captive bride cover

Huiann is an unmarried girl living in China, until her father agrees to marry her to a man she's never met who lives a continent and an ocean away, in San Francisco. His name is Xie Fuhua, and after a long voyage, Huiann discovers her fiance has no interest in marrying her, but plans to prostitute her out to the richest men in the city. Trapped in a terrible situation in a strange country where she doesn't speak the language, Huiann manages to escape and runs straight into the perfect person to help her--general store owner Alan Sommers. Alan is sympathetic to Huiann's plight and lets her stay in his store and work for him. As Huiann begins to learn English, she and Alan fall in love, but can their relationship survive racial prejudice and the long arm of Xie, who is still searching for his "property"? Well it wouldn't be much of a romance if it couldn't, now would it?

This is a pretty straight-forward book. There's a lot of telling and not showing, and you won't need to use your pesky brain to guess at the characters' intentions or feelings; even the villains conveniently let us know exactly what they're up to. Huiann is highly sexualized almost from the beginning--before she even steps off the boat she gets "an odd tightening in her lower belly" when she sees the sailors' "gleaming muscles." Oh, the lusty little virgin! There's also a disturbing tendency to infantilize her, with Alan remarking upon the fact that she has the body of a child but the eyes of a woman (so the best of both worlds, then, I suppose).

Alan is really a beta hero, although not a blameless one. He's partaken of Chinese prostitutes himself, and is set upon becoming a politician of all things. Gross! The political subplot really annoyed me and didn't seem to have much of a point in the story. After he and Huiann start gettin' it on, the novel focuses more on Alan's doomed-because-he's-about-to-marry-a-Chinese-woman political career, his assistant's romance with a young lady, Huiann's burgeoning dress business, and Xie's continued pursuit of her. That's a lot of stuff going on, but the narrative loses all tension because we don't see Alan and Huiann's relationship developing beyond sex anymore--more tell and not show problems. The ending goes on for way too long and the book gets kind of boring in the second half.

the lady vanishes film still
Paul Lukas from The Lady Vanishes bears a similar distinguished appearance to Xie Fuhua.

That being said, I did like this book. I loved the setting of 1870s San Francisco and the fact that it's almost a Western--Alan wants to be a knight a shining armor and even wears a Stetson at one point! Dee's writing style is quite gritty, even graphic at times, and it occasionally feels as if she's channeling a film noir. Xie Fuhua, for example, is described as a man who "didn't look like a beast or devil. His dark hair was shot with gray and cut short with queue. He wore a Western-style suit, and a pair of half-moon spectacles perched on the end of his small nose. A cigar burned in a dish beside him, sending up streams of blue smoke that curled around his head." Hello Hitchcock villain!

Although Huiann is sexualized and infantilized, she's not just a doll. She's a thinking, feeling woman who acts in her own interests. Alan, meanwhile, despite his sketchier moments, is a very likable character. In many ways I enjoyed this book more than Butterfly Swords, which is another historical romance featuring a noble Chinese woman and a "white" hero. Unlike in that book, here the premise and the development of the characters' relationships felt connected to the setting and their backgrounds, both culturally and experientially, and I found myself rooting for them and wanting them to get together.

Although Captive Bride does have some problems, I think overall it was worth the download. Dee definitely has the potential to be a very good writer, and I hope she publishes many more books in the future.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with a copy via Netgalley!

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Monday, April 4, 2011

The Salon Strikes Again?

two tahitian women
Paul Gauguin, Two Tahitian Women, 1899

A few weeks ago, I reviewed The Salon by Nick Bertozzi, a graphic novel about a group of artists and cognoscenti--including Picasso, Apollinaire, Georges Braque, Gertrude Stein, and Erik Satie--who drink a special absinthe that allows them to enter paintings. The absinthe was discovered by the deceased Paul Gauguin, whose 14-year-old Tahitian mistress is using the absinthe to come out of his paintings and kill artists and collectors. The plot may sound silly and far-fetched, but was something I found to be powerfully metaphorical. As I argued in my review, Gauguin's mistress is wreaking vengeance against the Parisian art world and their sexual and colonial objectification of her, which led to her becoming a junkie whore and dying. The fear of their subjects coming back to haunt them as Anna did leads Picasso and Braque to create cubism, which effectively relegates objects to a two-dimensional surface.

Strange Concurrence

So imagine my reaction when I read this report (via the Washington Post) about a woman who attacked Gauguin's Two Tahitian Women at the National Gallery last week, screaming, "This is evil!"

Lack of Evidence

The Washington Post article implies the woman attacked the painting because of the figures' semi-nudity, but I have my doubts. After all, this is hardly the only work of art in the museum that depicts nude people. Why not attack something closer to the entrance? Secondly, why haven't we been told the woman's name? Very suspicious. Even court records have not been made available. Might it be because she's a member of The Salon????!?!?

An Associated Press article reports the woman, "told police the post-Impressionist artist was evil and the painting should be burned," the exact method Salon members used to destroy Gauguin's paintings in Bertozzi's novel ! ! ! !

Expert Opinion

Memory, who blogs at Stella Matutina and reviewed The Salon said of the book, "Me, I think it’s real, but alternate interpretations are certainly possible." When questioned about the Two Tahitian Women assault, she declared the attackeress was, "clearly a Salon member. Or at least someone who's read and been unduly influenced by the book."

I have to say, after reading the book, I can see how it might convince someone to link Gauguin's paintings with evil. Do we need to ban Bertozzi's dangerous vision of modern art in order to protect Gauguin's work? Or do we need to ban Gauguin's art to protect ourselves???? Unfortunately, I think the cat's out of the bag as far as Gauguin's paintings are concerned, so the mysterious woman's attack was essentially pointless.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011


keys to the castle cover

As a no-nonsense career woman in her mid-forties, single and childless, Sara Graves has given up on ever having a family and the metaphorical white picket fence. But then she has a nervous breakdown, quits her job, and falls head-over-heels in love with a French poet. In no time at all, they're married.

And in even less time than that, Sara's husband is dead. She travels to France to settle his estate, convinced that her one chance at love is gone forever--but in fact it's only just beginning.

This is a sweet, charming book. It definitely has a fairy-tale quality to it, although it doesn't follow any specific fairy tale. When Sara first arrives at Château Rondelais, it seems like an enchanted palace, like the castle in Beauty and the Beast. It doesn't take long for Sara to realize that an estate like this is a huge financial burden and she probably can't afford it; but that reality never diminishes the seductiveness of the castle. She falls in love with both it, and the co-owner.

Ash, the hero, is a prince charming in the unlikely guise of a lawyer. He's a smooth operator and very good at persuading people to do exactly what he wants. He also rocks it out LIKE A BOSS and has a mysterious dark side (how can he not, right?). Ash brings several other characters to Château Rondelais, including his serpentine ex-wife, and his mother, who is sort of like a fairy godmother character.

The great thing about this novel is that, even though you could call it a romance, it's really all about second chances. Both Ash and Sara have ruined relationships, burned bridges, and are much older than your average hero and heroine. Yet they really get a new start with each other and the château. This is a novel that is full of hope and the warm fuzzies.

It's also a little anachronistic, in a good way. The characters all have cell phones and use the internets, but still the book feels like it could have just as easily been written in the 1960s--or '70s or '80s--as the 2010s. It really reminded me of the romantic suspense novels of Mary Stewart or Barbara Michaels, except without dead bodies. In other words, there's a timeless quality to the book that makes it a perfect escape.

If you're looking for a charming, lightly romantic read, I definitely recommend Keys to the Castle.

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