Thursday, June 30, 2011


ghost cover

Eve has always dreamed of living in New York City, just like her mum, and now she finally is--in a Greenwich Village apartment inhabited by the ghost of beatnik writer Donald Bellows, who wants to dictate his stories to her. Meanwhile, Eve tries to figure out a way to keep her apartment and her incorporeal roommate. If only Donald would agree to write his memoirs instead of the experimental BS he makes Eve write now!

In case you haven't guessed already, this novel is an adaptation of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir--except instead of a roguish sea captain, Eve gets an irascible beatnik. I thought the beginning was charming and very The Devil Wears Prada-ish. Eve gets a job interview at a morning talk show as a writer, only she has no idea what she's doing. I enjoyed learning about the world of TV writing with Eve--that was actually my favorite part of the book.

But as the novel went on, the questions and inconsistencies in my mind started to build, most of them having to do with Eve. She is really an impossible character to like, and if I had to list all the things that drove me crazy about her, this would be a long-ass post. This supposedly 38-year-old woman has zero life skills, one ex-boyfriend she was lukewarm about, doesn't know anything about current events, makes fun of people who speak German, is an irresponsible dog owner, and doesn't have a TV, cell phone, or a computer. Her home telephone still has an answering machine instead of voicemail. I can see someone going without two of those things, but all of them? You'd think a "writer" would at least get a typewriter.

And that brings me to Donald. Truth: the only things I know about beatniks come from Funny Face. Did beatniks work in awesome-looking bookstores, wear black, and do funny dances in front of Fred Astaire? As far as I know, yes. So obviously I'm not the best judge of these things, but Donald's story seemed really bland, like you could pick it up and insert it into any time period in history. This book tries to be about loving history, but it feels like it's faking it--Eve isn't walking in the shoes of young artists in the 1950s, for one thing; she's too much of a square. She calls Donald's experimental writing confusing and denigrates him for it, then does a complete 180 on the opinion scale when someone else says he was good. So lame. For another, I don't feel like I know any more about beatniks or Greenwich Village now than when I started this book.

Since I knew this was an adaptation of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, I was expecting some relationship... dare I say romance?... to develop. But there wasn't any romance in this novel. Eve goes on several dates with guys who are kind of cringe-worthy and that's about it. But the romance in Mrs. Muir wasn't so much a romance as a metaphor for writing itself and how characters are a part of the writer. I kept looking for some sort of similar extended metaphor in this book, but didn't find one beyond "people create community." Which = duh.

I'm not saying this is a bad book--it's a very quick read, and I did find it for the most part enjoyable. I just wish the author had gone for the jugular with it, made it tighter and smarter. If it wasn't for Annoying Eve, I would have liked it a lot more.

Guess what? The publisher is offering one copy of this book if you're interested! Fill out the form below or click here to enter. Thank you to TLC Booktours for giving me a chance to review this novel!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Book Review: HALO by Alexandra Adornetto

halo cover

Bethany is an angel sent to battle the forces of darkness in a quaint seaside town, along with her brother and sister (I'm assuming those titles are honorific), Gabriel and Ivy. Unfortunately, unlike the other two angels, Bethany enjoys her experiences as a human way too much--especially when the cute captain of the high school, Xavier, starts paying attention to her. Alas, humans and angels cannot fall in love! What will these two crazy kids do?!?

The first half of this book was actually pretty good. I was impressed by the amount of research Adornetto put into angelology and how she made the inhuman angels seem completely believable as characters but most definitely otherworldly. The chemistry between Beth and Xavier wasn't exactly burning the pages up, but it was there. Plus it was fun seeing a complete innocent like Beth face the mysteries of hurdles like drinking and boys being attracted to her. I was engaged, I wanted to know what would happen, I was caught in the midst of teen angst. That's just about everything I ask from a YA novel!

Then came the second half of the book, and everything went downhill. Since the angels are on an "urgent mission" to battle the forces of darkness, I kept expecting, you know, something bad to happen. But the only sign of the devil in the little town Bethany and Xavier inhabit is a super-obvious sneering demon from England (where else?) who shows up in the second half, so that story line was really boring. Even more troublesome, the characters remained very shallowly sketched throughout the entire book, especially Xavier, whom I really wanted to understand better. Why is he so attracted to Bethany? Why is she attracted to him? I still don't know. And in the second half, Xavier becomes so "protective" (feel free to read that as "controlling") he makes Edward Cullen look like a neglectful baby sitter.

Then again, Bethany does magically lose the sentient part of her brain in the second half, so perhaps Xavier's justified in treating her like a 3-year-old.

Plus there are alllll these inconsistencies of logic to deal with. Beth had to step out of class during slide presentations because her skin sparkles in the dark, yet she goes to beach parties at night where people are sure to notice--one would think--her sparkly skin. The angels have all human knowledge at their fingertips, yet Beth still has to learn things for class and they can't figure out how to pay an electric bill. They're supposed to be humble messengers of God, but they live in a posh mansion and don't have to work. And so on.

There is a strong religious thread in this book. Religion in books doesn't necessarily bother me--in fact, in books about angels, I get annoyed if the concept of God isn't at least brought up--but here I became a little concerned because the religion espoused seemed very fundamentalist. Bethany says her "family" supports family values (which I've always taken as code for "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen"), and there's a strong message that sex before marriage is BAD. Nearly all the girls who have sex in this book are killed. I am NOT even joking. The threat the "forces of darkness"--i.e., the one kid who cartoonishly embodies Bad News--present is ridiculous and difficult to take seriously. There are no crises of faith and no deeper layers of what's right and wrong. What you see is what you get.

Yet at the same time the innocence and simplicity of this novel is refreshing, especially in the beginning. It has a 1950s retro vibe to it, like Pleasantville before everyone got color. Xavier even drives a classic car, and I have zero trouble picturing Bethany in a poodle skirt and cardigan.

Considering that Adornetto is 18 (or was when this book was published), I'm impressed with her ability to write appealing characters and a good story, and I definitely wouldn't be adverse to reading more of her work. Unfortunately, though, this book is too long, and everything in it is treated very shallowly. I don't think there was much depth to the characters, even major characters like Xavier. There are also a lot of convenient plot devices roiling around in here. So this book was okay... ish, but I was really really glad when it was over.

Musical Notes: "Crazy In Love" by Beyoncé

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Check Me Out at Wordsmithonia

wordmithonia blog

I'm guest posting at Ryan's blog, Wordsmithonia, about one of my favorite re-reads in the history of the world. Check it out!

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Author Fan Letter: JOSH LANYON

blog crawl gif

A draft of a letter found in the recently renamed law offices of English, Sheridan, and Doyle:

Dear Mr. Josh Lanyon,

We here at English, Sheridan, and Doyle have recently become aware of your numerous novels, novellas, and short stories; and the preponderance of characters therein named after ourselves and our associates, such as Devlin, Marlowe, and Crisparkle.

Given our litigious careers, you may be expecting this to be a cease-and-desist notice--and we were seriously considering it--but after reading your books, we have reconsidered. Instead, we have become what the intrawebz refers to as "fanboyz" and would like to offer you representation, pro bono publico. See the following for our reasons:
  • Variety Although most well-known for your contemporary mystery series (the Adrien English series in particular, which our own senior partner, Mr. English, particularly enjoys), you write in a wide variety of genres such as fantasy, paranormal, romance, adventure, and even non-fiction. Furthermore, your novels are set in many different locations and time periods: WWII Los Angeles, contemporary Los Angeles, a fantastical city that resembles Los Angeles... all right, so maybe the settings don't have THAT much variety. The point is, there's something in your books for everyone!
  • Smart As Mae West once said, "It isn't what I do, but how I do it." All the settings in the world wouldn't matter if your books weren't smart, full of witty dialog and intelligent characters. But they are, and we like this.
  • Bibliophilic In almost every story you write, there is a writer or reader who loves books. Nuff said.
  • Characterful In addition to being smart, your characters are multifaceted. They seem like real people. People we like! People we want to be friends with! People that we root for and characters that carry us through to the end of the story.
  • Entertaining Regardless of whether your stories are comedic or have a more serious tone, they're distractingly entertaining and enjoyable to read.
Because of the above, we are willing to read over all your future manuscripts with an eye towards avoiding legal infractions. Before we begin what is sure to be a fruitful partnership, however, we would like to raise one issue that's bothering us: you have many cop and PI characters, but why so few lawyers? We are very literary and intelligent, and are a vast source of entertaining storylines, as proved by The Practice, Suits, and John Grisham. Think about it.


The partners of English, Sheridan, and Doyle

The Author Fan Letter Blog Crawl is hosted by Kassa at three am and celebrates authors every day in June. To read yesterday's letter, visit Babbling About Books, and More! Tomorrow, make sure to check out I Love Books.

Friday, June 24, 2011


nerds heart ya

Nerds Heart YA is a bracket-style tournament for under-represented books in YA literature. This year I'm a first-round judge and the two books I read were Paper Daughter by Jeanette Ingold, and What Momma Left Me by Renée Watson. Only one of these books will move on to the next round of judging.

These books were great for comparison, because they both take place in the Pacific Northwest--Paper Daughter in Seattle and What Momma Left Me in Portland--and they deal with very similar issues. Both main characters, Maggie and Serenity, have recently lost a parent before their stories start, and as a result have to deal with issues of identity. They question who their parents were and what that means for them and their own life choices.

I have to say, I have considerable fondness for Paper Daughter, even though it takes longer to get into than What Momma Left Me. My absolute favorite scenes involved Maggie's internship at a newspaper, where she starts off doing everything wrong. I also found the world of the newsroom itself fascinating--who knew writing sports would require so much expertise?? Not me. That being said, the whole mystery with Maggie's dad seemed a little far-fetched; and even though I can understand why Ingold included the scenes of Fai-yi Li's life, they tended to interrupt the flow of the narrative.

What Momma Left Me, meanwhile, felt entirely authentic from cover-to-cover. I think this is due in large part to the characters, who felt like real people to me. I connected with Serenity immediately. Unlike in Paper Daughter, where I felt as if the teenager behaved too much like an adult, Serenity's feelings and experiences were true to that of a thirteen-year-old--from dealing with peer pressure to being attracted to the cute bad boy. Even though her life with her mom was wickedly depressing and messed-up, the way Watson told the story made me want to know every last secret that Serenity harbored about her family. I also think the writing style in Momma was very lyrical, and I loved the inclusion of poetry into the text.

So even though Paper Daughter was good, I was blown away by What Momma Left Me and am advancing it to the next round of competition. Renée Watson is a very talented writer and I'm happy I got a chance to read her work!

Curious to see what book will be competing against What Momma Left Me in round two? Check out Melissa's choice at Book Nut!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Listed: The Gothic Reader

catherine morland reading

A few weeks ago, Anastasia from Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog posted a review of Rebecca where she lamented the fact that she couldn't get into Gothic romance. Admittedly, the tropes of Gothic romance can be pretty tiresome--the young ingenue unsure of her suitor's love and of herself, etc.--but I think... no, I know that done right, Gothic romance can be fantastically awesome! So I started to think of books that might lure Anastasia into admitting Gothic romances have their merits. I don't think they're what she would expect!

  • Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley--Innocent Alice Montague travels to Lord Lucien Knight's estate--I forget why--and finds herself embroiled in a Hellfire-type Club with a whole bunch of sexxxoring going on. Shocking! Then she stays for a while and Lucien broods. There are atmospheric trees and cliff faces. Win!
  • The Scarletti Curse by Christine Feehan--It takes place in Italy. Don Scarletti is drawn to the village healer, but ruh-roh, there's a curse upon the Scarletti men! That involves the women they love dying! I think they turn into something, I'm not sure.
  • Wings of the Falcon by Barbara Michaels--Michaels wrote a heck ton of Gothic Romances back in the '80s. Wings is one of my favorites. It takes place in Italy and is about a young English woman who moves there and becomes fascinated with the mysterious figure of The Falcon. Fun!
  • The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart--Stewart is another person who's written a load of Gothic romances. In this one, a mysterious woman shows up claiming to be a billionaire's long-lost daughter and heir to his fortune. But is she really? Or is she just an imposter out for the old man's money? Great story telling!
  • Nevermore by Kelly Creagh--Definitely one of my favorite recent reads! Varen, a broody goth, and Isabelle, a perfect blonde cheerleader, are partnered together on an English assignment. A great Gothic atmosphere and lots of chemistry between the two main characters makes this one of the best Gothics I've encountered recently.
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen--This is one of my favorite Austen novels. I just love Mr. Tilney! Anyway, Catherine Morland, the heroine, loves Gothic romances, but her life conspires to keep her away from anything interesting and salacious until she meets someone who own a properly crumbling abbey.
Do you read Gothic romances? What favorite Gothic roms have I missed?

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Imaginary Cookbook: SASSY GAY FOOD--The Recipes Every Girl Needs from the Sassy Gay Friend Every Girl Needs

After my review of 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know, I started to think of other cookbooks that could be marketed to women. Naturally, my mind jumped to Sassy Gay Friend, the man who leaps in to save literary and historical characters from their own folly. What would SGF make to wake the intervention-hungry world up?

sassy gay cookbook

MiO Mojito: Because why add kool-aid to water when you can add it to alcohol?

Stupid Bitch Bundt Cake: Real Housewives make bundt cake, and then they rub the other housewives' face in it.

What, what, what are you doing?! Risotto: You need a time out. Stand over the stove for an hour stirring rice and think about your life. Is this what you want?!? No, you want to eat risotto in a restaurant like a reasonable human being. Stop wasting your time!

Look at Your Choices Chicken: Girl, what is wrong with you? Do you not watch Martha Stewart? Put a sauce on that or something, unless you want to be choking on stringy chicken for the rest of your days! Do you want to be the stringy chicken girl??

Pity Party Pita: Boo-hoo! I'd feel sorry for myself too if all I had in the fridge was vodka, cat food, a package of 3-week-old bread, and a container of hummus. Look at your life, look at your choices. I think you're a 30-year-old woman who can't feed herself. For god's sake, take a cooking class and flirt with some chefs.

He Broke My Heart Blueberry Cobbler: Really?!? This is the guy were really planning to marry? He's been in jail 3 times! He should be kissing your feet that someone as good as you would even consider sleeping with him, and what does he do? Make you feel pathetic to give himself an ego boost. You can do better. Wake up!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Book Review: THE RUINS OF DETROIT by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

I have never been to Detroit, but of course there are things I associate with it--mainly Motown and cars. After reading this book, however, it will be difficult for me not hear the word Detroit and think of the crumbling ruins of capitalism and industrialization.

I first heard about this book from Natasha at 1330v. It's a photographic essay of a wide variety of abandoned buildings in the Detroit area in various stages of decay. Meffre and Marchand began photographing urban ruins in Paris, but with Detroit they hit a gold mine. This is more than just the few rotted-out buildings here and there that exist in every city; these are entire neighborhoods, abandoned as if the occupants just suddenly got up and left, with only the detritus of human existence--clothes, papers, books, toys--to acknowledge that these spaces were once occupied. It's like something straight out of I Am Legend.

ruins of detroit book cover
The abandoned Michigan Station serves as the cover for the book.

The book is more than just pictures, though, it's the history of Detroit from its beginnings as a French fur trapper rendezvous, to its peak as the machining capital of the US, and the decline that began with white families moving to the suburbs, essentially strangling the city center. In the 1980s businesses began to leave Detroit and the ruins of today took shape; but the ruins themselves aren't confined to the city center or businesses--they include the older neighborhoods and suburbs of Detroit, as well. The place where the industry for which Detroit became known, cars, began in Highland Park, where Ford started his first assembly line and Woodward Avenue became the very first paved mile. Today Highland Park is more a ghost town than not, with some houses literally taken over by trees, and no city services. The photographs of the Highland Park police station, completely abandoned, show the floors littered with files of murder victims and evidence of the man who killed them--some of the creepiest photographs in a book full of eerie and creepy shots. As Meffre and Marchand put it, "Everything began and everything seems to be ending in [Highland Park]."

The photographs themselves are, on one level, very beautiful--the framing and color is so intriguing, capturing the texture and romance of something that many would probably consider an eyesore. But there's also a sadness to them, especially coming in the wake of recent financial troubles all over the world. One can't help but finish this book and wonder, Is the American dream dead?

As someone who lives in Colorado, I've seen my share of ghost towns. But those are little mining shacks out in the middle of nowhere, relatively small boom towns completely stripped of clues as to what its inhabitants were like. Detroit is an entire city, with paved roads and beautiful architecture, that hosted a lot of big dreams, most of which (judging by these photos) have literally gone to seed. Residents of US are so rarely confronted with signs that civilizations don't last forever, but one can't help but consider as one reads through this book that this this what all our cities are going to come to eventually.

This is not a happy book. You will not feel optimistic about the future of America after reading it. But it is an excellent book, one that will stick with you, and one I highly recommend.

Note: I made the book trailer, above, for my own amusement.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


I know what you're thinking right now: that's a long title. And also: everything you want in life?!? But you want so many things! Can food really get you all that? No, no it can't. Or can it????

Anyway, who cares, there's no harm in trying, right? *cough* Let's start with the recipe this book is built around: Engagement Chicken. Basically a lemon roast chicken, but with the added benefit/detriment (you decide) of making men fall in love with their stomachs... or you, the book doesn't really go into specifics. POINT IS, make this chicken for a guy, and bam! he'll ask you to marry him.

glamour cover<--This is what I look like while cooking, fyi.

I had several issues with the centerpiece recipe of this book, mainly because it was just way too general. How many people have roasted chickens in their lifetimes? Not me. Even one of the Glamour editors who tried this recipe said she had no idea what giblets were (which definitely puts these recipes in a new light). Yet the book never actually explains what giblets are, or has any technical instructions at all. Are they contractually obligated not to say, "Yo, giblets are..." whatever they are? Because if YOU wondered what giblets were, it's a fair bet that your readers might, too. Also, I'm pretty sure roasting a chicken involves some sort of tying of the chicken legs. I'm not exactly sure why or how this is done, but I clearly remember a French guy doing it on Anthony Bourdain. Yet does the recipe mention anything about tying chicken legs together? Nope. So if you were a newbie cook who'd never roasted a chicken before, you'd just plop that sucker into a roasting pan and who knows what might happen!

The rest of the recipes--i.e., recipes from Glamour that they renamed to fit in with the theme of the book--are a mixed bag. I skipped the breakfast and drinks sections, because I don't mix drinks and I sure as hell don't make breakfast. There are a few must-tries, like "Perfect Host Lobster Pie," which sounds like it's ridiculously easy to make and incredibly decadent at the same time (love that concept); and "Complexion Soup," which is really just a carrot soup. But then there are other recipes like "Broke and Fabulous Grilled Cheese." In case you're wondering, yes, it is just bread and cheese grilled.

My favorite two sections of the book were "Sides" and "Cheap & Easy Meals." Who doesn't need creative ideas for side dishes? I'm always buying something that I think will be great, like brussel sprouts, and then wondering what to do with them. The sides section contains a "Kitchen Basics" insert that has five recipes for vegetable sides, plus four recipes for toppings you can use on any veggie. In fact, the inserts are definitely the best part of the book--they cover things like basic pasta sauces, $5 chicken dinners, and making the perfect cheese plate.

I think overall this is a pretty good cookbook, although the packaging just bothers me. I know it comes from Glamour, which is a woman's magazine, but did they have to market it soooo aggressively as a cookbook for women??? What if I want a guy to make Engagement Chicken for me to convince me to accept his proposal? No guy is going to pick this book up. This gives me a sad. Also, there's this strange dichotomy between a circa-1950s assumption that women are the ones who cook in a relationship ("Let's not forget the cook's needs when we're thinking about the guy's needs!" "Get the man in your life to make this for you--the recipe is that easy." Are you freaking kidding me right now, Glamour?), and the fact that it's obvious none of the editors of Glamour actually live like this (prima facie evidence, the editor who didn't know what giblets were). Do they think the women "in the middle," living between LA and NYC, do? Because that's... kinda dumb.

Anywhosie, despite that, the recipes in the book are worth checking out. I think this would be a great cookbook to give to anyone who's starting out in their first kitchen. And if it's a guy, well... I guess you could just copy them down for him?

weekend cooking gif Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, and photographs.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Movie Review: THE TOURIST

First released: 2010
Starring: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Paul Bettany, Rufus Sewell, Timothy Dalton
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Based on: the 2005 film, Anthony Zimmer

The gorgeous Elise lives in Paris, where she is constantly watched by police due to her connection to international criminal, Alexander Pearce. One day while having her typical tea and croissant (tea, because she is British), she receives a letter from Alexander with these instructions: board the 8:22 train in the Gare de Lyon and pick someone of his height and build. Make the police believe that someone is Pearce.

Elise picks Frank, a math teacher from Wisconsin. Apparently Frank has never seen North by Northwest, or he'd know talking to beautiful women on trains is a very bad idea. As it is, however, Frank is gobsmacked by the fact that Elise honoring him with her presence. Once the train reaches its destination, though--ah, Venice!--Frank realizes he's in serious danger and Elise starts to question Pearce's willingness to embroil an innocent in his cat-and-mouse games.

elise and frank
Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou...

This movie is FABULOUS. If you like any of the classic romantic suspense films like Charade, North by Northwest, How to Steal a Million, etc., then this is definitely right up your alley. The costumes are gorgeous, the locations are romantic, and there's plenty of mistaken identity, bad guys shooting, and double-crossing to keep the plot moving.

By far the greatest strength of the film though, is the acting. I'm not a huge Angelina Jolie fan, but she really impressed me in this movie. When the story starts out, Elise seems almost cartoonishly unapproachable, but Jolie gives her depth--she's not just eye candy; she's vulnerable and smart. I also loved Johnny Depp as Frank--he's so charming and funny, and I could totally see him as a "cool" math teacher.

As for the setting, to be honest I don't think the filmmakers took much advantage of it. Yes, it's Venice, and it's gorgeous, but 80% of the scenes are indoors. And while those interiors are gorgeous, they could be located in any posh European city. There's no art, no decor, to give one the sense of a specifically Venetian atmosphere. Paris was much better utilized as a setting--but then Paris was also entirely exteriors.

That's really a minor quibble to the whole movie, though, which just great escapism. I definitely recommend it for a mini-staycation!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


hypnotist cover


FBI Art Crime agent Lucien Glass is trying to crack down on Malachi, who specializes in past life regression (this plot is continued from the previous books in the series, which I haven't read). Meanwhile, some other people want to steal a chryselephantine statue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and so does this other person, who instead of just stealing it hatches an elaborate plot involving stolen artwork that they use to bribe the Met into surrendering the statue of Hypnos. Then there are explosions. Somehow, everything intersects.

Reasons Why You Might Enjoy This Book:

  1. You like strange names. Instead of being named Richard or John or Scott, or something you would expect an FBI agent to be named, the FBI agent here is named Lucien. As if he's a brooding bad boy from a Regency romance novel. In fact, no one in this book has a normal name; even Lucien's first love is named Solange--SOLANGE, are you freaking kidding me?!?
  2. You find foreigners to be suspicious. All the baddy bad guys in this novel are foreigners. In addition, an overwhelming percentage of them appear to be from the Middle East. So that's not stereotyping at all.
  3. You have a less-than-rudimentary grasp of the law. Um, yeah, the whole thing with Lucien investigating the murder of his one twu love would totally happen. And also the thing with the hypnotism. And also being called to a scene before the local authorities.
  4. You love it when a new character is introduced every five pages. After about the quarter mark this starts getting reeeally annoying.
  5. You enjoy looking shit up. Don't know what a chryselephantine statue is? Have fun on wikipedia, kids, because the author doesn't explain it. Does she know? Does it matter?
  6. You like Dan Brown's novels, but the writing is a little too edgy and deep for you. The way this author phrases things is SO CHEESY, I could hardly believe I was even reading it. "Taghinia smiled as he opened his humidor, extracted a Cuban, rolled it in his fingers, listened to its music, cut off the tip, and set about lighting the stinking weed." Mmmkay. "His arms ached to hold her, hold on to her and keep her with him, keep her safe."!11!! *gaggyface*
Sooo, you really want to read this book now, don't you? Yes you do, just admit it! Luckily for you, I haz a contest. Voila! It's even open internationally if you're willing to accept the book in eFormat (PDF).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Review: FLIRTING WITH FOREVER by Gwen Cready

Proposed alternate titles: Bumbling into Bernini, A Lay with Lely

flirting cover

Cameron is trying to get a book about Van Dyke published (because god knows the world needs another one of those) so she can become the director of a museum. Problem: her publisher wants her to "sex it up." But how to come up with these gossipy stories about Van Dyke? Answer: make them up! And also: travel back in time and sleep with another painter who met Van Dyke twice!

I know what you're thinking right now. You're thinking, "That doesn't make sense." You are correct. Why didn't Cameron sleep with Van Dyke? It just worked out that way. She was sent to sleep with the time period of Peter Lely, the official English court painter after Van Dyke. And she and Lely have awesome sex and then she comes back to the present--how I don't know--yet still insists on writing a biography of Van Dyke; then Peter travels to the present and becomes a modern artist. And that's just the first half! I would expand on the plot some more, but trust me when I say it's not worth it.

Despite the nonsensical plot--I mean, it's a time travel romance, so what do you expect?--my two main problems with this book were Cameron and the writing. Cameron was the dumbest heroine I've encountered in a long-ass time. Her idea of original research is doing a book search on Amazon. To fact-check herself, she goes to wikipedia. When she realizes she's going to have to back up her "research" with documents, she instead just decides to say it's all made up! And her version of art appreciation is any painting that makes her wet. I am not kidding. Honestly, the idea that a person like this would ever be a curator at a major museum, let alone the director of it, is galling. And if she's an academic, I'm Happy Pants McGee.

Furthermore, don't EVEN get me started on the writing. Oh lordy! There were moments when I was just like, "WTF please stop!!! My eyes, they are bleeding!" Basically any attempt by the author to describe a piece of art was hi-lariously awful. But beyond that (art descriptions are usually pretty painful, anyway, so I just skim over them), there were times when this book did not make sense because it was trying way too hard to be poetic. For example, Peter is described thusly: "The gentlest crurve of cheek hung by the corners of his mouth, a signal of middle-age in an artist unafraid of such trivialities." LOLwat? His cheek was hanging off his face? That sounds a little more than trivial. At one point Cameron's thighs were described as amorphous white blobs and her nipples like bas-relief sculpture. NEED I GO ON???

All that being said, I did finish the book, and in one day (there's no way I would have spent more than a day on it). I think it comes down to the fact that this is every art historian's dream! Honestly, do you know how many times I've imagined what it would be like to meet Giorgio de Chirico or Manet in person? Too many times. And Cameron actually gets to do it--of course, the opportunity is wasted on her because she's a dumbass, but whatever.

Another thing I liked about this book was Peter Lely. He was a great character and really the only thing that kept me reading. His regret over and struggle to right past wrongs in his life made him the most believable and sympathetic person in a book filled with shallow, selfish idiots. Another character I liked was Jeanne, Cameron's assistant, because she used her brain instead of her vagina to make decisions. Hooray for non-crotch-based decision making!

So, right. Why did I read this? I don't even know anymore. It was a train wreck, but of the fun escapist kind. Even if it drove me bat-shit crazy.

Musical Notes: "Breakin' Up" by Rilo Kiley

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Making a Soufflé

This week, I suddenly became obsessed with making a soufflé. Why? I don't know. I had never actually eaten a soufflé before, but I decided had to make one. (Note: If you can't see the imbedded video, click here. I apologize for the poor sound quality and the watermark; apparently that's what happens when you try to convert wmv files to mpeg4 using freeware. My camera man had the day off. ;)

As we all know from classic movies, soufflés are difficult to make. I decided to try Alton Brown's recipe for a basic cheese soufflé. A soufflé is basically egg yolk batter mixed with egg white foam, to make it fluffy. Because the egg foam is unstable and incompatible with egg yolk (kind of like water and vinegar), making a souffle is technically difficult.

It took me over an hour to make the three mini-soufflés, but I think they turned out pretty well. They were tasty, and actually all that work was kind of worth it. That being said, I think having someone make a soufflé for you is the better part of valor. :)

What's the most difficult thing you've ever tried to cook or bake?

weekend cooking gifWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Review: WHAT ANGELS FEAR by CS Harris

what angels fear cover

Nobleman Sebastian St. Cyr stands accused of murder in nearly-Regency England, and to dodge the charges he decides to investigate! With his two trusty sidekicks, Tom the pickpocket and Kat, the courtesan who broke his heart, he goes from this London house to that London house, and asks questions. And then he does it again. And again. Until the murderer says, "Lookie here, I'm the killa killa!!! Come and get me!" and then the light bulb finally goes off and Sebastian saves the day.

I've been hearing about this book from some of my favorite bloggers for years, and they all seem to love it. Unfortunately, I'm not quite as enthusiastic. I realized early on that this novel is basically a re-make of The 39 Steps, only set in the 19th century and 300 pages longer. You've got your dashing hero, with an uncanny ability to don disguises and escape pursuit, being accused of a crime he didn't commit and giving the authorities a merry chase, all while uncovering looming political plots and foreign spies. Except whereas Richard Hannay uses his wits to keep abreast of pursuit, Sebastian uses his nightvision and superhearing.1

Personally, I would rather have wit.

I actually really liked the beginning of this novel and the fact that I could identify what type of story it was right off the bat. It feels wonderfully atmospheric and Sebastian is honestly a pretty great character--although my favorite is Tom. He's a right plucky 'un! as I might say if I was in a production of Oliver. He's also ten times smarter than the guv'nor and could probably wrap this mystery up in 200 pages or less.

No, what got to me was that 1. this book takes itself way too seriously; and 2. the investigation became really repetitive. After Sebastian lines up the initial list of suspects, he just keeps visiting them over and over and over. I love it when the characters say to him, "Oh, you again!" (and they all do at some point). Yes, YOU... AGAIN. Maybe we should have been able to solve this thing a long time ago, hm? It felt like he was doing an awful lot of running around for zero information.

Furthermore, the political stuff is ridiculous, as it usually is. No one cares; it's the MacGuffin! But apparently the author thought I would care because she kept boring me with it. And then there's the ending, which did not impress me with its "moral ambiguity."

This isn't the worst mystery I've read, but honestly, I'd rather just reread The 39 Steps. Buchan knew what he was doing with that book. That being said, I'm willing to give the next book in this series a shot, just for the characters and the atmosphere--and the fact that the next book is shorter.

Musical Notes: "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley

The jumping men make me lawl.

  1. No, he's not a vampire. He has a genetic disorder called Bithil Syndrome that originated in Wales and comes from humans having babies with aliens. For more on this subject, see: Torchwood.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


kraken cover
Note: This post contains some images which may be NSFW (yay, my first NSFW post!).

A not-so-secret: I love squids. OMG, love! They are my favorite animals. There are so many cool things about squids: they're super-intelligent, for one, and there lots of different kinds, and they're very mysterious.

ANYwayyyy, that's why I leaped upon Kraken when I saw it offered for review. I was blissfully excited about learning more about squid. However, for some completely illogical reason, I thought it was going to be about the cultural history of squid as opposed to the sciency stuff (which is pretty silly considering the word "science" is right there in the title). Not that the science of squid can't be interesting, I just don't want to read a whole book about it.

One of the more fascinating themes in the book--though I'm not sure it's intentional--is how squid are often reviled and hated by humans. In the introduction, Williams describes the first deep-sea exploration vehicle, built in the 1930s by William Beebe and Otis Barton. Using this submersible, they were able to see a vampire squid--so-called not because it drinks blood (it feeds off plankton), but because of its red skin and eyes--in the wild. Beebe said it was, "very small but terrible," with "sinister arms."

vampire squid
Vampire squid comin to get ya

But the vampire squid isn't disgusting; it's cool! It's a squid and an octopus in one! Its huge blue eyes can turn bright red in an instant, no one knows why. And if a predator is chasing it, it chews off one of its little feet and the bio-luminescent lights that covers it lures the predator away.

(Actually, now that I think about it, the vampire squid is kind of like an underwater Cullen, isn't it? Sparkly, blood red eyes...)

I found that part really interesting. But Williams quickly moves on from there to devote most of the rest of the book to modern-day scientific discoveries. To be honest I 1. don't really care about the sciencey talk, especially when I feel like I'm rereading my middle school biology textbook; and 2. get a little touchy when it comes to scientific experiments on my favorite animals. Why can't you bastards just leave the squid alone???? WHY.

See, if I was writing this book, I might have looked at the long history of human revulsion for and fear of squid, and speculated on its causes. Is it because squid are as smart as humans? Because they don't have skeletons?

octopus stirrup jar
Octopus stirrup jar, Mycenaean, c. 1200 BC (in The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

One might also theorize that cephalopods represent a certain femininity that frightens the bejeezus out of men in patriarchal societies. Hence sailors' fears of a giant squid attacking them, and Beebe's antagonism toward them. Even if octopi don't represent femininity, they definitely seem to be associated with female sexuality.

hokusai print
Katsushika Hokusai, Dream of the Fisherman's Wife, c. 1820

When a portfolio of Katsushika Hokusai's prints, featuring erotic scenes with female divers and octopi, arrived in Paris, it became enormously popular in certain circles (as one can imagine) and influenced artists like Picasso, Rops, and Rodin to create similar images. A recent Picasso exhibition had an entire room that was grouped under the theme of "tentacles."

Picasso sketch, not sure of date or title.

It would be a mistake, though, to say our illogical fears of squid belong solely in the past. Williams actually demonstrates this effectively with her stories of contemporary research into cephalopods. Popular culture reflects this as well--there's a pest control commercial that likens octopi to roaches; and let's not forget the ever-popular Cthulhu or Ursula, the baddy bad woman from The Little Mermaid.

So that's what I felt was really missing from this book--I wanted more history and less science, because that's what I'm interested in. Kraken is still worth a peek if you like squid, of course; but it didn't rock my world with its awesomeness and I think overall probably has a limited audience.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review: KILLER STUFF AND TONS OF MONEY by Maureen Stanton

killer stuff cover

Confession: I've never been to a flea market. Or an antiques show or a garage sale. I've never even watched Antiques Roadshow. My grandmother hates "old stuff," and my mom doesn't want "other people's junk." I didn't even realize average people (i.e., not museums or historic houses) bought old furniture until I was, like, twenty, and that was only because I started watching Martha Stewart. So why did I decide to read this book? I'm not sure... but I'm really, really glad I did.

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money is about the sub-culture of the American antiquities trade, from open-air markets like Brimfield to high-end indoor shows such as Boston Antiques Weekend; from eBay to Antiques Roadshow. There's even a chapter on antique forgers. The hero of the tale is Curt Avery, a mid-range dealer with an amazing amount of knowledge who works his ass off hauling thousands of dollars worth of antiques in his truck from show to show.

The name of the antiques game is caveat emptor: buyer beware. As long as you're a knowledgeable dealer, like Avery, you know what's valuable and what isn't; what's fake and what's rare. Knowledgeable dealers feed off of those who don't know what they're selling, turning what seemed like junk into treasure. The problem is, no one can know everything, and what people want to collect is always changing. Even the best dealers might come across a piece that they know is old, but they don't know how old or how valuable. Furthermore, as Avery explains in the book, by the time you've educated yourself on what the public wants to buy--weather vanes, for example--the taste has already shifted and all that knowledge (and inventory) is pretty much worthless.

I had a history professor once who told us, "Americans LOVE their stuff," and behind every dealer in this book--even the forgers--is a fascination with and love for American stuff. Stanton demonstrates how the entire evolution of our culture can be found in these material goods, from the tines of a fork to a stitching sample. It seems poetic, then, that the trade in these objects is even more a reflection of our culture--as Stanton puts it, "This is capitalism down and dirty." Dealers take advantage of buyers, sellers, and even each other, netting possibly thousands of dollars in profit off of other people's ignorance. At the same time, they could lose thousands if they fail to recognize the value of an object. Most of the dealers Stanton interviews in the book confess to feeling bad about taking advantage of other people this way, but as one man put it, "These pieces are there for the taking. If I don't take them, someone else will." In the antiquities trade, you can sense a similar economic philosophy to that of Goldman & Sachs or Gordon Gekko. At least Avery and the other dealers in the book are ennobled by their honest appreciation of these objects as pieces of history.

It's very rare that I pick up a non-fiction book and read it cover-to-cover, but with this one I did. Stanton's writing is so clear, and the story she tells so fascinating, that I was thoroughly entertained even while I was learning about this culture of antiques. This book was so good, and goes much deeper than just antiques: in the story of Avery and his pursuit of that one big ticket item, the find of a lifetime, I could hear echoes of Moby Dick, The Maltese Falcon, and the ending of The Great Gatsby. He's haunted by the idea that "the one" might have slipped through his fingers for a few hundred dollars. And even if he did find "the one," would he be able to call it quits and give up the gamble of the antiques trade? Probably not.

This is one of those books that I want everyone to read. If you have any interest at all in history or objects, I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review: CAT O' NINE TAILS by Julia Golding

cat o' nine tails cover

Sadly, this is the most disappointing Cat Royal novel I've read so far.

Cat now lives with the Duke and Duchess of Avon, and spends much of her day sitting around indoors while Frank, Pedro, and their friends are out doing fun things like hunting. Cat doesn't say she's bored, but how can she not be? Then Syd's family writes asking if she and Frank can help search for him in Bristol, as he's mysteriously disappeared. Sure enough, Syd has been kidnapped by the Press Gang to work in His Majesty's Royal Navy, and the trio of Cat, Frank, and Pedro aren't too far behind him.

My main problem with this book is that Cat just doesn't act like Cat. It should have been obvious who the baddy bad guy was, but she didn't figure it out. AT ALL. Also, I know she's been chillin' in drawing rooms wearing pretty dresses for the past few months, but it seemed she was oddly unprepared for the challenges of living as a cabin boy, considering her previous adventures have set her up pretty well for exactly this type of thing. I expected her be a little more plucky about the whole situation because of that, but instead she went the I'm-just-weak-little-girl route. Come on, Cat, it's not as if you haven't climbed a rope before.

Aside from that, the book itself wasn't particularly interesting. There were no awesome new characters as there was in Den of Thieves, and I felt like the level of research compared to the other books was minimal. Something that really bothered me was that one of the American Indians Cat met was named Tecumseh. I know this is super-nitpicky, but since Tecumseh was an actual historical figure during this time period (not to mention pretty well-known), I find it strange that Golding moved him from Ohio, where he really lived, to Georgia, and changed his tribal affiliation from Shawnee to Wind Clan. Um? If it's not supposed to be the same Tecumseh, then why use that name at all? That's like having a character in a book set in Elizabethan England named William Shakespeare, but living in Bath and working as a cartographer, and not explaining, "Oh, this isn't THAT William Shakespeare." If it's just because Golding thought Tecumseh was a cool name, then that's pretty effing lazy research!

Anywhosie, this book just doesn't have the wit and sense of adventure of the last three novels, and I can't even really say it advanced the characters at all, since they didn't act like themselves. And an even more depressing thing is, this is also the last book published in the US. If I want to read the rest of the series, I'll have to order the books from the UK! Sadface.

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

BOOK ARTS: Su Blackwell

I like doing projects in the summer, and this summer I decided it would be fun to do a series of posts about artists who use books in their work. I can't think of a better artist to start off with than Su Blackwell.

little red riding hood
Su Blackwell, Little Red Riding Hood, 2010

Blackwell's delicate book sculptures are the perfect metaphor for the tales they represent, offering a visual correlation between the potential magic and secrets that might be found in every book.

Blackwell says she grew up playing in the woods, where she would pretend the trees and birds were her friends. Her art projects reflect this childhood reliance on nature, but also contain a very grown-up sense of isolation and danger. In Little Red Riding Hood, for example, Red's being lost in the trees seems almost more threatening than the shadow of the wolf with in them--possibly because he's turned away from her.

mr. bronte's bedroom
[left] The Quiet American, 2005
[right] Mr. Brontë's Bedroom. Part of "Remnants" installation at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth, 2010

Blackwell's work also deals with themes of transition and transformation, from one world or form into another. This was evident in her first book sculpture, The Quiet American, which she created after her father passed away: she cut moth forms out of a book she bought in Thailand, referencing a Chinese legend about two lovers who are reunited after their deaths. Mr. Brontë's Bedroom, an installation created several years later, similarly has moths (or butterflies?) emerging from a pillow empty of everything but the impression of an absent body, suggesting the ghost of Mr. Brontë passing from one world into the next. The Secret Garden, meanwhile, is a book Blackwell has reinterpreted in her art several times, always focusing on the door between the enchanted garden and the other world.

the secret garden
[left] The Secret Garden, Finding the Door, 2007
[right] The Secret Garden, 2006

Blackwell's book sculptures remind me of one of my favorite artists, Remedios Varo, in that they are very narrative and fantastical, and balance the comfort of childhood with the psychological fears of adults.

If you want to learn more about Su Blackwell, watch the video at the beginning of this post or check out her website, which has a lot more images of her work:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Book Review: THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick

hugo cabret cover

Hugo Cabret is an orphan living by his wits in a train station in 1930s Paris. His most prized possession is a mostly-broken automaton, which he believes carries a secret message from his father. All he has to do is fix the machine and he will know what to do next. When he starts stealing repair parts from a toy shop, however, Hugo unknowingly sets in motion a revelation of secrets for the toy shop owner and his family.

I first heard about this book from Sandy at You've Gotta Read This, and immediately knew that, yes, I did have to read it. It's like a graphic novel in that it's told with both words and pictures, but this isn't set up as a comic--it's proto-cinematic, the pages surrounded by black as if you're sitting in a theater, and includes not only illustrations, but film stills and photographs. The introduction states, "I want you to picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie," and the book is kind of like reading a movie--which sounds very awkward, but totally works.

The story is absolutely charming and sweet, but also intense. In a lot of ways it reminded me of Amelie. It's all about magic and dreams, but in this case the magic comes to the characters through movies and machines such as clocks and wind-up toys. At one point Hugo says machines are always made for a specific purpose, which is why broken machines make him sad--they represent unfulfilled potential. Similarly, unseen movies created by the machine of the camera have lost their purpose to entertain and transport people to another world.

I really liked the inclusion of Georges Méliès into the book, too, mainly because I already knew a little bit about him from a class I took on Cinema and Painting. In film studies, Méliès is kind of a Big Deal. According to Natasha Staller (another Natasha, yay!), Picasso was influenced by Méliès when he created his first Cubist paintings. There was also an exhibit all about Cubism's relationship to early cinema at the Pace Wildenstein Gallery in 2007. If you check out this interview Charlie Rose conducted with the curators and skip to the 19 minute mark, you can get a quick tour of the exhibit and see some clips from Méliès' movies.

This is a great book I highly recommend, especially if you love movies. Even though it doesn't take a long time to read, it has a lot of heart and a tiny, perfect little twist at the end. Loved it!

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Completely Ridiculous Christopher Gorham Post

Warning: this post is utterly pointless and there is no excuse for it.

christopher gorham shirtless

Sooooo, I don't know if you all know this about me, but I am totes obsessed with Christopher Gorham. If you don't know who Gorham is, then we can't be friends, so I'll just tell you: It all began with Jake 2.0, which was kind of like the CW version of Chuck, except MUCH BETTER because Gorham starred as the geek who is integrated with computery stuff to become a super-spy (sorry, Zach Levi, you're cute but you don't hold a candle to Gorham). I also really liked the supporting cast, especially Jake's doc, Diane. Jake 2.0 is like my favorite show evar, btw.

jake 2.0
Gorham creeping around like a ninja in Jake 2.0.

RIGHT. And then he was in Ugly Betty as Henry, an accountant and Betty's sometimes-boyfriend, which wasn't a role with a lot of substance, but whatevs.

So cute!

henry shirtless

After Ugly Betty started to tank, Gorham wisely left the show to star in Harper's Island, which at first seemed really lame but grew on me. I began the series thinking, "Wouldn't it be funny if nice guy Henry (Gorham's character) turned out to be the serial killer?" Haha.

scary gorham
Scary Gorham in Harper's Island. It's a good think he wasn't around when Hitchcock was casting Psycho....

AND NOW he's in Covert Affairs, where he plays Auggie, the blind tech guy (this gives him an excuse to stare broodingly off-camera). The second season starts June 7th and I am totally psyched!!!!11!! Thank god Gorham is in this show, because without him it would be like watching The Bachelorette trying to be a spy, for realz. Here are some more gratuitous pics:

christopher gorham shirtless kitchen

Hmmm, let me get up and walk around my kitchen in the middle of the night for no reason other than to show off my beautiful body. Drink! (What I have to wonder is, why does Auggie have fancy art in his apartment if he's blind? And who picked it out?)

day mode
Day mode.

kitchen 2
Night mode.

You're welcome!

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