Wednesday, February 29, 2012

KINDLE vs NOOK

a nook and a kindle humping

For Christmas I got a Nook Simple Touch. Now that I've had both a Nook and a Kindle for a few months, I thought it would be useful to compare them. It's not quite like comparing apples to apples, as my Kindle is over a year old (yet weirdly seems like I've had it forever) and is not a touch screen like the Nook is.

Cover

It may seem shallow to start with a cover as a selling point, but for me the covers of eReaders really add or subtract to the experience of reading on them. They help me to feel as if I'm reading a paper book, and that's important.

The Kindle covers are awesome--sturdy, comfortable to hold, and very nice-looking. I've had the same Kindle cover for over a year and it looks as nice as the first day I bought it, and I definitely haven't been light-handed with it.

The Nook covers, on the other hand, SUCK. There are lots of choices, but the vast majority of those choices are either ugly or boring. I chose the "Charm" cover, above, because it was one of the few I thought was pretty. It cost $60, which is comparable to the Kindle cover I own; unlike the Kindle cover, however, this one is very cheaply made (the fabric started bubbling up a week after I bought it), flimsy, and not comfortable to hold. You fail me, Barnes & Noble.

Screen Quality

With eReaders there's a "flash," or what I like to call the Etch-a-sketch effect. It's a flash of black between turning pages or changing screens before all the words and images reform the way they're supposed to be. Sometimes there's also an afterimage of the previous page or screen saver that appears; this goes away after you change the screen (or should).

The Nook definitely has a shorter flash than the Kindle, and the images are much sharper, so that's a definite plus. Keep in mind I don't know if this would be the case with a new Kindle, and when I'm reading I don't don't notice the flash that much, anyway.

Touch Screen vs Buttons

The main reason I wanted a Nook in the first place was because it had a touch screen. "How convenient!" I thought to myself. I love making notes on Kindle, but the tiny little buttons drive me crazy, and it's a pain to add things like question marks and apostrophes (you all know I hate me some dropped apostrophes). I also thought a Nook would be preferable over a touch-screen Kindle because there are side buttons to turn the page, so I don't HAVE to touch the screen if I have jam on my fingers or something.

The reality is, touch screens are a pain in the ass (unless it's a good touch screen, and only iPad has that right now). The Nook screen is extremely sensitive, but not accurate; I have to fight with it every time I want to highlight anything, as it never seems to follow my fingers. As for the side buttons on the Nook that I wanted, it take a lot of effort to press them, and my thumbs quickly become fatigued. The side buttons on the Kindle are sooo much better.

Ease of Sideloading/Uploading

One of the things I love about Kindle is that I can buy books from my device, or from the webbernets, and immediately have them on my Kindle to read. I can also delete or archive books directly from my Kindle. It's so easy you never even have to think about it.

I wasn't expecting things to be any different with Nook, but they are. For one, it's a bitch trying to get it to connect to our wifi at home. Turns out since December 2011, Nook devices aren't compatible with wireless routers from certain companies. HOW. CONVENIENT. What, shall I traipse over to the nearest Barnes & Noble just to download my effing books? Come on! (My mom's reaction to this news: "I'm done with them." I have to echo that sentiment.)

Plus, I can e-mail myself files to read on Kindle. You can't do that with Nook. Since I download a lot of files from Project Gutenberg and other sites, it seems like I have to sideload onto my Nook a lot--much more than with Kindle. I also can't delete those files from the Nook once I'm done with them; I have to plug it in and delete them from my computer. Another inconvenience, if minor.

Formats

Of course, a plus point in Nook's favor is that it allows more formats than Kindle, including the beloved ePub. I was excited by that as well. But you know... with Calibre and de-DRM programs, it's pretty simple to reformat ePubs for my Kindle. Turning mobi files from Amazon into ePubs, on the other hand, is something I haven't puzzled out yet (if someone has any clue, please feel free to share--keep in mind I have a Mac). I've found myself thinking, "Good thing I have a Kindle," a lot lately. Number of times I've thought "Good thing I have a Nook" so far: zero.



Do I like my Nook? Yes, I like certain things about it. And I'm happy to have two eReaders so I have two options to read books on (as well as being grateful and aware that I'm very technology-spoiled). But if I could only have one, I'd chose the Kindle. The Nook gives me headaches that the Kindle has never ever given me; whether those headaches are due mostly to the touch screen, the cover, or the device, is up in the air at the moment. But I definitely feel a fondness for my Kindle that just isn't happening with the Nook.


Do you have an eReader[s]? What are the features you like/dislike?


Monday, February 27, 2012

Kindle Mini-Reviews: CANDY HOUSES, HIGH SCHOOL REUNION, and NOCTURNAL WHISPERS

candy houses cover

Candy Houses by Shiloh Walker

Greta is a Grimm, someone who fights demons. Pulled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, she encounters an old flame who is hunting one of their own.

I decided to read Candy Houses after Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads told me she thought the new Grimm TV show might be based off this series (it's not). It's essentially an urban fantasy with the twist being the characters are from fairy tales. Greta is really Gretel from Hansel and Gretel, and her fellow Grimm is Rip (it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out which fairy tale he was from). I usually love fairy tale twists, but here it felt like a gimmick because the characters really have nothing to do with their fairy tale counterparts and are actually angels fighting demons. Why not just write about angels then, one wonders? Plus, the "real" versions of these fairy tales, told from the perspective of the characters, are pretty lame. Especially in Rip's case--I would rather be left with the original fairy tale version.

That being said, I did love the romance between Greta and Rip. It was sweet and romantic, and really saved the entire novel.

If it wasn't for Rip, though, I would have been really bored. I skimmed through the unnecessarily long descriptions of demons and felt like the novel should have ended in the middle.

book cover

High School Reunion by Marlene Sexton

Jerry is dragged to his high school reunion by a friend, but finds himself in a pity spiral because, unlike many of his classmates, his life is a mess. He's divorced, living in a crappy apartment, and only gets to see his kid every other weekend. Then an attractive woman strikes up a conversation with him, and they wind up going back to her place. It's only then that Jerry finds out "Denise" is actually a Dennis.

I downloaded this erotica short story after KatieBab's review of it at Babbling About Books and More. How many books with transgender main characters does one come across, after all? Personally, I've never heard of single one, so I was intrigued to read something so unusual.

The writing style is 3rd-grade-ish, there are some serious LOLlines ("Jerry hadn't really considered that option... However, Denise could do it. She had a cock." ahahahaha), and Jerry seemed to take the fact that Denise had the body of a man a little too in stride, too quickly; but overall it was okay. The ending was lame and nonsensical, but it was free! (Please note that it's not free anymore, however.)


book cover

Nocturnal Whispers by Caridad Piñeiro

I bought this novella (50-ish pages) because it had a mummy's curse in it. I can't resist a mummy's curse! Lord Alec is 200-years-old, having been cursed by a mummy he took from Egypt to live forever and have sexy dreams of fellatio every night. Sounds onerous, eh? All he has to do to end the curse is reunite a child mummy with the mummy of its mummy. This has taken him OVER 100 YEARS even though he knows where both mummies are. Oh, and anyone who touches the baby mummy immediately turns into a nymphomaniac and starts humping people, preferably Lord Alec.

This book was bloody AWFUL. The writing was really terrible--one bad, cheesy sentence followed by another--and there was a lot of tell-not-show going on (actually no "show" at all). The "plot" reminded me of something from a porn movie, i.e. a totally ridiculous and lame excuse just to get people to have sex, into which the author put zero thought. Added to all this, the book was ALSO boring: it put me to sleep, twice, in the space of fifteen pages.

Maybe High School Reunion wasn't significantly better, writing- and plot-wise, but at least it didn't put me to sleep and was free. I'm kind of disgusted with myself for wasting time and money on Nocturnal Whipsers. I'd rather give those three dollars to a homeless person on the street.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weekend Cooking: A Classic Cocktail

manhattan cocktail

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that cocktails began with prohibition... well, I might have fifty cents. Still, that's a lot (of times, not money).

The myth is that cocktails were invented during prohibition to hide the taste of crappy bathtub gin. In fact, I think that may be a direct quote from The Supersizers Go, which I count on to be 100% historically accurate. Although cocktails (defined as any mixture of alcohol, bitters, sugar, and water) are indelibly associated now with the 1920s and prohibition, in fact they date back to the 18th century, and the first cocktail party took place in 1917 in St. Louis.

Prohibition did have a strong effect on cocktails, but mostly in the type of alcohol used to produce them. Instead of whiskey, the preferred spirit became gin, which didn't require aging. There was a lot of bad alcohol floating around, but of course the quality of alcohol you got depended on who you knew and how much money you had.

I was reminded of all this the other day when I ran across a mention of cocktails in Mary Roberts Rinehart's The Man in Lower Ten, first published in 1906. One of the characters has invented his own cocktail, which he calls a Bernard Shaw: "a foundation of brandy and soda, with a little of everything else in sight to give it a snap." Other cocktails that date back to the 19th century are Old Fashioneds (bitters muddled with sugar, alcohol added with a citrus twist), Punches, Sours (e.g., sidecar, margarita), Slings, Cobblers (wine, sugar, and fruit), Shrubs (vinegar-based cocktails), Toddies, and Flips (using raw eggs).

In the spirit of experimentation, I decided to make my own Bernard Shaw. I'm not sure what "everything else" in the recipe refers to, but I'm going to guess it's ALL OTHER ALCOHOL. This could be bad.

bernard shaw
A mix of brandy, club soda, vermouth, whiskey, and white wine

Ooof. This drink was a little hard to take, I'm not going to lie. Not only did it taste really foul, but the alcohol content was cray cray and it started giving me a headache after the first sip. Remind me not to mix drinks I find in novels from now on, okay?



Weekend Cooking 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. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

On the TV: HIDDEN CITY



Hidden City tries to uncover the essential character of a city by looking at its criminal history. If it sounds kind of like City Confidential--the true crime show that used to air on A&E back in the day--that's because it is, in theory. But whereas City Confidential took an in-depth look at one crime per episode, Hidden City usually covers three or four in the space of an hour.

marcus sakey in NYC

The real strength of the show is the host, crime novelist Marcus Sakey. He gets some great one-liners in ("I'm not a criminal... I'm a novelist." HELLS YEAH! I started watching the show just because of that line), and he looks like a detective out of a 1970s movie. I love him! The best moments of the show are where Sakey tries to "get into" the criminals' heads by doing things like being pepper sprayed, panning for gold, and tailing a spy. In the second episode, Sakey was criminally profiled and the psychiatrist was like, "Yeah, you're a borderline sociopath." That was weirdly fun.

Those moments are great because they're relatively original. The problem is, those original moments are few and far between. The crimes and events are, ones that are generally familiar to the general public. Take the premier Chicago episode, for example, which covered HH Holmes (subject of Devil in the White City by Erik Larson), the Democratic National Convention riots in 1968, and John Dillinger. All of these subjects are interesting, but they've been dealt with before, better and more in-depth. The strength of City Confidential was that, one, the stories were thoroughly plumbed; and two, they were about crimes that might be notorious within the city, but were relatively obscure to outsiders. Hidden City has neither of these things going for it.

I will, however, say that the last few episodes have been really good, probably because they went to less-covered locations: Seattle and Anchorage. So while this isn't the greatest true crime series ever, it's definitely improving, and I'd be interested in seeing what they do with a second season. Sakey does have a way with words. (And yes, I know the season's over. As usual I have incredible timing.)


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Review: THE GHOST AND THE GOTH by Stacey Kade

ghost and goth cover

Alona Dare is the most popular girl at school, until she's hit by a bus one morning ditching first period. That's when her afterlife begins, and the only person who can see her is Will Killian, a loner freak she would not normally be caught dead talking to (pun!). But desperate times and all that...

I'm so glad my library had this novel because I ADORED it! I first saw The Ghost and the Goth on Forever Young Adult, where Jenny loved it but called it out for the cheesy title. The cover is also burn-worthy. BUT. You know that maxim that you should never judge a book by it's cover? It's totally true in this case. I cannot resist ghost stories, especially cute ghost stories with romance, and The Ghost and the Goth is an ideal example of that.

First of all, I LOVED the characters. I'm in complete book lust with Will, who is stoic and too smart for his own good. Being able to talk to the dead can make your life pretty miserable, so he tries his best to fade into the background in the hopes that the ghosts at school won't notice him. It's also pretty difficult to appear normal when it looks like you're talking to yourself a lot.

Alona, on the other hand, isn't exactly likable; but she is hilarious. Her attempts at giving people compliments were painfully funny, and the fact that she does help out Will and can get things done made me warm up to her. Plus I'm a sucker for opposites-attract romances, and the development of Alona and Will's relationship is so sweet and swoon-worthy.

Added to that, this story is told really well. Stacey Kade does a great of capturing your attention right at the beginning, then revealing layers and secrets to the characters and story at the perfect pace. She also has the atmosphere of a high school nailed down pretty well--in fact, I wonder a little if we didn't go to the same high school, because I recognized a few of these characters. The only part of the book where the tone was slightly off was the climax, but I'm willing to overlook that even though it was kind of cheesy.

The ending also bothered me, as Kade had several opportunities to wrap-up the story, either tragically or comically, and bypassed all of them. That's right, welcome to the time-and-money-suck vortex of unnecessary YA series. The Ghost and the Goth could (and should) have been a standalone novel, but instead it's now a trilogy. I mean, a part of me is happy, because I do love Alona and Will, but there's a bigger part of me that wants to do this:

headdesk

Why does every single book need to be part of a series? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

Aside from that, though, this book is pretty brilliant. Great characters, romance, fab storytelling--I actually bought a copy, that's how much I enjoyed it. I really think you ought to read it.



Musical notes: Really the entire Taylor Swift catalog, but let's go with "Haunted"





Saturday, February 18, 2012

Downton Dudes

Matthew Crawley
Image by Hey Downton Lady

I read an article recently titled, "Why Men Like Downton Abbey." While the main purpose of the article was to make fun of the idea that men can't enjoy historical drama (and I agree that's pretty stupid), I think the question of masculinity plays a big role in the series, and that's part of its attraction. As one respondent to the informal poll replied,

There's a Clint Eastwood epic flowing through the show in that everyone has deeply repressed emotions and is big on obligations to duty. I don't think you see that in American shows so much, especially with reality TV. Everyone is putting their thoughts out there and emotions are heightened. [In 'Downton'] people are swallowing their deeply held feelings and doing their duty anyway. I wish I had the ability of Mr. Bates to stuff everything down into a dark hole, but instead I'm Twittering.
You're right, guy who confuses Twitter (noun) with tweeting (verb)--even if Downton Abbey had wifi, Bates would be too busy being awesome to use it. I'm pretty sure the whole reason WWI started was because he was no longer in the government's service and thus unable to prevent it. Also: Clint Eastwood.

To my dad's generation, Eastwood is what John Wayne was to my grandfather's generation: the embodiment of what a man should be. And it's no coincidence that both actors made their name in westerns, a genre that's all about coming-of-age and masculinity. So I think when Twittering Guy compares Downton to "a Clint Eastwood epic," he's actually identifying the themes of manliness running through the show.

Unfortunately, none of the men on Downton are doing a very good job of maintaining their masculinity. As I mentioned on my recap of the Series 2 finale at Edwardian Promenade, practically every man on this show, with the possible exception of Carson, is emasculated by the end of the season. Let's take a quick run-down, shall we?
  • Lord Grantham--He's the boss of the place, but after the army turns Downton into a hospital, no one listens to what he says anymore. Plus, we wants to go into the army to fight the war, but he can't because he's OLD. So instead he just spends the entire season in his out-dated uniform, which is pathetic. When the war is finally over, he wears these new-fangled tuxedos, as if he's a young man on the cutting edge of fashion (not even), and starts an affair with a house maid. But he can't even manage to do that right--instead, he's cock blocked by Bates. COITUS INTERRUPTUS, as they say.
  • Matthew--Of all the men on the show, Matthew really gets it the worse. He is LITERALLY impotent for half the season. They bring it up so much that his nickname might as well be Castrated Crawley. "I'm going to see Mr. Crawley--you know, the one who's basically a eunuch." "Oh, yes, that one." Even when he does regain the use of his limbs--all three of them--he still behaves like he's powerless. Instead of telling Mary he loves her and he's going to do something about it, he apologizes. Instead of taking responsibility for his own decisions, he blames everything on fate. Instead of having a dick, his is one.
  • Bates--Despite his gimpy leg, Bates used to be the most badass guy on this show (which should tell you something right there). Oh, he wouldn't punch you in the face, but you knew that he could if he wanted to. Plus, he staked a claim on what he wanted, like in the final scene of Season 1 where he told Moseley to back off Anna. But then, before Season 2 had barely said good morning, his ex-wife, Vampy Vera, showed up, and it became abundantly clear she'd ripped off his balls and been kicking them down the street for years. You could practically see him shriveling before her very eyes. He then spends the rest of the season slinking around, hiding, and basically letting Vera command him to her bidding. Anna has to order him to marry her (naturally he acquiesces); and don't even get me started on the Bates Motel he keeps talking about. Oh, the Freudian symbolism! I think we all know he didn't kill Vera, but don't you kind of wish he did?
  • Branson--Branson doesn't fair as badly as some of the other men in this program--after all, he does profess his love to Lady Sybil and drive a car. But then came the part where he was rejected by the military for "medical reasons." Now, I don't know if this is just an American thing, but in US movies whenever a man is rejected from the military for medical reasons, it winds up being code for This Character Is Gay. Seriously, every single time. Of course Branson isn't gay, but if his petulant behavior for the rest of that episode is anything to go by, being rejected by the military is still an insult to his masculinity. As for Sybil, he may have to fight for her, but it's not as if he has to fight for her against another man of her own class, is it? He's the only young man meat in town. She's in total control of their relationship, when he sees her, where, and what will happen when he does. And he ends up accepting Lord Grantham's money. Nuff said.
  • Thomas--Thomas is another character that used to be pretty boss, but he's been acting strange all season. First he fell in love with a blind guy who committed suicide, then he let the doctor/military guy boss him around. And he actually showed concern for people a few times. But by far his lowest point came at the end of the season, when he found out the cache of black market goods he'd spent all his money on were fake. Then he seemed pretty pathetic. By the end, Thomas is once again a footman, which I think we can all agree is a bit of a demotion.
  • Sir Richard--Sir Richard, Lady Mary's slimy fiance, is the only guy in this season who gets anything done. You want Vera taken care of? BOOM. Get out of my office, bitch. You want Matthew distracted from Mary? DONE. He could do that in his sleep. You want to weasel out of an agreement you made with him? Too bad--now get against the wall and pucker up, slut. Is it any wonder he's the one about to marry the Ice Princess? Both Lord Grantham and Matthew know this guy is bad news, but are too intimidated to say a single word against him. He owns their asses.
eastwood and lady violet
Clint Eastwood and Lady Violet have a similar opinion of you.

If there's any character that embodies Clint Eastwood's masculinity in Downton Abbey, it's Lady Violet. Who's the only person with a clue as to what's going on around the Abbey? Who's the person that successfully outmaneuvers the military and the church to get William to Downton Hospital and married to Daisy? Who's the only one with the cojones to tell Matthew that Mary is still in love with him and he needs to man up? Who sweeps in to save the day whenever one of the sisters needs help? LADY VIOLET, that's who. Then she rides off into the sunset in her fancy equipage and feathered hat.

I suppose it's no surprise in a show about a house that the male characters aren't quite as masculine as Clint Eastwood, but it would be nice if they asserted themselves more in Season 3. For example, when refused a place in the military, Lord Grantham could say, "You may stop me from serving as an officer, but can you stop me from sailing my yacht full of explosives into the German fleet?" instead of, "What's the meaning of this? *bluster bluster bluster*" And instead of telling Mary "I'm so so sorry," Matthew could say, "Get on that table so we can add a rhythm section to this gramophone record." Then they'd be giving Lady Violet a run for her money.



Thursday, February 16, 2012

New Project and Review

project gutenberg project

Hello, my lovelies! I wanted to give you all a heads up that I have a new project in works, a group blog dedicated to books in the public domain. It's called The Project Gutenberg Project, and my first review--of Princess Maritza by Percy James Brebner--just posted. I'm very excited about this new project and working with all the great bloggers who signed up (Aarti from BookLust, Alexandra from The Sleepless Reader, Chris from Book-a-Rama, Iris from Iris On Books, Lu from Regular Rumination, Meghan from Medieval Bookworm, and Nymeth from Things Mean a Lot), and I would love if you joined us as a reader, contributor, or commenter!

And, by the way, if you want to make your own Bayeux Tapestry-inspired image, like the one above, check out Bildwirkerey von Bayeux. Highly recommended for history geeks of all stripes.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: THE SHERLOCKIAN by Graham Moore

the sherlockian cover

I have this weird thing: I hate the original Sherlock Holmes stories. I tried, okay? But there are hardly any women in them and they're just boring. That being said, I LOVE Sherlock adaptations. Maybe it's the fact that I find the survival of his character as more of a real person than a fictional character fascinating; or maybe it's that Sherlock mysteries are always about the reign of logic and empirical evidence--yawn--while the Sherlockian ephemera produced in their wake is incredibly illogical and theoretical. Either way, if there's a Sherlock spin-off or adaptation, I'm all over that. That's why I really wanted to read The Sherlockian as soon as I heard about it, and Sheila from One Person's Journey Through a World of Books was kind enough to send me her copy of the book.

This novel started off really well. It's told in two alternating story lines, the first one being from the perspective of Arthur Conan Doyle during The Great Hiatus (the years during which he didn't write Holmes stories); and the second taking place in 2010, told from the perspective of Harold White, one of the youngest people to be inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars. Harold is lovably nerdy, and even Conan Doyle wasn't as annoying as he's usually made out to be. The Conan Doyle story has a writing style that attempts to imitate Victorian prose, filled with extraneous details and overly long sentences (I just want to say that I hate when authors do this. *coughTheFlightofGemmaHardycough* If you're not a Victorian, and if the reason behind the style of writing you're imitating doesn't apply, please just don't do it). It drove me a little crazy at first, but I was able to ignore it for the most part and enjoy the setting. Graham Moore clearly did a lot of research for this book, and it shows. Plus, the mystery in this historical section was fabulous.

The contemporary section, on the other hand, had a very different vibe. It was very funny and read more like an adventure than a mystery--it kind of reminded me of the movie A Shot In the Dark, which I adore. I also love Harold, who is a total nerd and Sherlock fanboy. Unfortunately, the mystery in this section wasn't set up as well as the one from Conan Doyle's storyline, and I got bored with it pretty quickly.

About a third of the way through the book, it started losing me, mainly because of the constant flipping between 1900 London and 2010 New York City. That's a always a concern for me when I encounter a book that alternates between time periods. It can be pulled off--Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (review here) being a perfect example--but it usually doesn't work, and this book was no exception. The chapters in The Sherlockian tend to be very short, so it was difficult to stay invested in one story line only to have to switch to another, especially considering the difference in writing style and tone for each.

In the interest of saving my sanity, I knew I had to pick one story line and just read that; but the problem was I liked each storyline, for different reasons. I chose to go with Harold's storyline, because the characters were so fun; but the mystery itself was skimmable and really over-the-top. Which is crazy, because as Moore tells us in the final pages of the book, it's based on something that actually happened. That is way more interesting than the novel version!

I still like the idea of The Sherlockian, and found it enjoyable, but I wish Moore would have chosen to focus on just one of the stories in this novel. Perhaps he could have interspersed the Conan Doyle scenes in a more creative way. I get what he was trying to do, but because of the narrative structure, I found it difficult to emotionally invest in the characters. I do hope to read more books from him in the future, though!


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Downton Dragout: BRANSON

branson
Boom chicka-wow-wow

Everyone loves a rebel, and the mysterious Irish chauffeur, Tom Branson, is Downton Abbey's version of a rebel with a cause. Not only is he young and handsome, he's more daring than any of Downton's other employees, as evidenced by his willingness to answer the phone. And he's got Big Plans. "I won’t always be a chauffeur," he tells Lady Sybil, like three seconds after meeting her. Just so's you know!

Branson, like most rebels, is somewhat of a reverse snob and fed up with The Man. However, he does really like The Man's daughter and encourages her to break allll sorts of rules. Dontcha just love rule breakers? Women's suffrage, yay! Because of him, Sybil gets to do exciting things like go to radical political rallies, wear harem pants, and cook. Branson knows because he's watching... ALWAYS WATCHING.

sybil in harem pants
Hey kid, don't you have work to do?

Of course, Branson isn't as bad-ass as he--or everyone else--thinks he is. Political ideologies aside, the guy's a total softie. He freaks out like a teenage girl when Sybil gets bonked on the head, nearly swoons when she holds his hand, has absolutely no interest in fighting in the war; and then there's the goodbye speech when Sybil goes off to nursing school (which was like, what, three miles away?).  I think this calls for a rewatch (skip to 1 minute mark):



"I've told myself and told myself you're too far above me, but things are changing." And Branson's done a pretty good job of making sure Lady Sybil is changing with them, eh?

After Sybil rejects his simple yet eloquent profession of love, Branson's feelings are hurt. He spends the next five episodes acting out and being snappish with her, because he's a sensitive dude, mofus.

Okay, so maybe Branson's character isn't the most fleshed-out of the characters at Downton, but he has a romantic soul, acts like a rebel, is cute like a little puppy, and has a car (kind of). By all the rules of 1950s teenager movies, the guy's a dreamboat! And I will dump a tureen of poo soup on anyone who disagrees.

sybil and branson

Downton Dragout--where we're advocating for our favorite Downton Abbey characters! Be sure to check out the other blogs participating:
Evangeline from Edwardian Promenade for Lord Grantham
Katiebabs from Babbling About Books and More for Bates
Pam from Bookalicio.us for Matthew
Who's your favorite Downton Abbey character?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mysterious Romances

Sherlock's thoughts on love

Some people (like Sherlock, here) seem to think that mystery and romance don't go together. But out of all the romances I've read, some of my favorites have a great mystery plot. Here are a few that spring to mind:


book cover
When Night Falls by Jenna Ryan (review here)

This time-travel romance is about two people who are trying to find Jack the Ripper. Although I liked the romance, what really kept me reading was the question of who the murderer was. There's a long list of suspects, each more likely than the last. The mystery runs out of steam before the end of the novel, but there was a twist I didn't see coming.


book cover
Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase

This novel is one of my most favorite romances of all time! Leila Beaumont is a woman artist in 19th-century Paris. Her husband, Francis, is in love with the mysterious Comte d'Esmond, who is in love with Leila; but she doesn't want anything to do with either of them. Then Francis is murdered and she and d'Esmond join forces to find his killer.

Aside from the characters and setting, the thing I love most about Captives of the Night is that the murder mystery is solid--it would be enough to carry the book just on its own. I had no idea who the murderer was until Leila and d'Esmond figured it out; and when they did, it was such an obvious solution I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it.


book cover book cover
A Woman of Virtue and No True Gentleman by Liz Carlyle

Both of these novels contain very decent mysteries. In A Woman of Virtue, Cecilia, the heroine, is being stalked by a serial killer. I enjoyed this mystery more for the atmosphere than anything else. No True Gentleman is more of a proper mystery, with a very Bogart-and-Bacall chemistry between the hero and heroine.



There are also plenty of mystery novels with a strong romantic sub-plot. Some of my favorites:

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The Gilded Age series by PB Ryan

This series takes place in Gilded Age Boston, with not-quite-lily-white governess, Nell Sweeney. Her partner in crime solving is the über-sketchy Dr. William Hewitt, the son of Nell's employer and the black sheep of the family. William survived in Andersonville Prison during the Civil War, while his elder brother died; and now dude's got some major problems, like drug addiction and gambling.

I love the relationship between Nell and Will in this series, and the kiss they share in the train station at the end of Murder In the North End was one of the best literary kisses I've ever read. I highly recommend these books!


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Vicky Bliss mysteries by Elizabeth Peters

Vicky Bliss is an art historian who is involved with a dashing art thief, Sir John Smythe. An art historian and art thief--could there be a better partnership for dramatic potential?


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Reading Group mysteries by DR Meredith

Megan Clark is a forensic archaeologist in Amarillo, Texas, who also happens to be a huge mystery fan. When people are murdered, she and her book club, Murder by the Yard, decide to investigate. The only voice of caution is Ryan, Megan's best friend.

Meredith has a history of May/December romances in her novels, and this is no exception. Ryan is 30+ years Megan's senior (if I remember correctly), and certain that she could never be attracted to an old geezer like himself. Megan, much like Brennan on Bones, remains oblivious. I loved the sweet romance between these two, but Meredith has an absolutely nasty habit of hitting the reset button on Megan and Ryan's relationship between one book and the next. Perhaps it's for the best that she stopped writing this series.



Do you have any favorite novels that cross over between mystery and romance?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Interview with RJ SILVER

RJ Silver

Today I'm pleased to have a chance to interview RJ Silver, who writes wonderful, entertaining short stories such as The Princess and the Penis (review here) and The Ballerina, the Gymnast, and the Yoga Master (review here), and My Third-World Girlfriend (review here), all of which are must-reads if you enjoy romantic comedy. I thought it would be fun to ask RJ a few questions about his books and being an alien.

Tasha: Welcome, RJ! What inspired you to start self-publishing short stories?
RJ Silver: I got fed up with the publishing establishment. I had one of the top literary agents in the world, and my thrillers were making the rounds with senior editors in the biggest publishing houses, but they seemed to want to cookie cut me into a marketing package, often requesting changes to my books solely to satisfy marketing demographics. That was a disheartening commercial end to my long creative journey, so I said “the hell with it” and decided to write just for fun.
Tasha: Do you consider yourself a "romantic" writer? In content, not personality. ;)
RJ: Well, first of all, you’re asking a man a question with the word “romantic” in it. There’s not a man on this planet who can tell you what that word means, as we rely completely on women to explain it to us. I do believe in love, however. And long-term relationships. And positive, uplifting thoughts. You mix all those together with a little humor, and that pretty much explains why I write the stories I do.
rj in a pub

Tasha: You're obviously well-traveled. What's your favorite book store in the world? Or, alternately, what's your favorite pub?

RJ: You know, I was never a bookstore guy. I tended to get hooked on certain authors, then go from store to store buying everything that author ever wrote. As for pubs, there have been so many (blush). I like little quirky places, full of oddball characters and good-natured buffoonery. You know, some place I easily can fit in.
Tasha: Do aliens like cats?
RJ: Not this alien. Well, it’s not that I don’t like cats. I just don’t understand them. I mean, you treat a dog well, he’s going to lick your face. Cause and effect are very clear. But with a cat, I never know what its thinking. I’ve tried to be affectionate with some, only to have them hiss and claw at me. Others, I’ve completed ignored, only to have them jump on my lap and purr. I’m starting to think they’re collectively messing with me, then getting together to chuckle about it afterward.
Tasha: Since you're an alien, have you thought about writing science fiction? Attack of the Amazonian Aliens, etc.?
RJ: As I’m a huge sci-fi fan, I’ve definitely thought about it. But you have to remember that, given where I’m from, writing about humans is science fiction!
Tasha: In My Third-World Girlfriend, is there a connection between sexual, cultural, and economic dominance?
RJ: Totally. Actually, it goes further than that, becoming outright exploitation of poor women by rich men (relatively speaking). Worse still, it’s exploitation that all too often ends in broken hearts. I see it every day here in Bangkok and it disgusts me, which is what compelled me to write My Third-World Girlfriend in the first place. Being in love with a smart, well-educated, strong Thai woman, I also wanted to combat the stereotype of Thai women as being all bar girls and prostitutes. That part of society does exist here, but the vast majority of Thai women are a lot more like Kinlaya (and thus Jan).

It’s  been very interesting to observe the reaction to this book, incidentally. I think most of my fans (predominantly women) didn’t really like me venturing into quasi-serious subject matter, which kind of surprised me, because usually women are telling me to grow up and act more responsibly.  But when I’m writing, they seem to prefer the other me, you know, the one they make sit in the corner three times a day for lengthy timeouts.
Tasha: You like to play off of stereotypes in your stories. What's one cliche you would love to satirize that you haven't yet?
RJ: Ooh, don’t get me started. I have so many characters I’m experimenting with. The ultimate pessimist, for example. I’m such an irrepressible optimist, I think it’d be fun to invert that perspective. I’ve had so many clashes and with bureaucracies and authority figures in my life, I’m definitely going to poke some fun at one of them at some point. And we still live in an age of such repressed female sexuality (despite having come a long way), I see a sexually voracious female character in my future, too (a kind of reflective satire, where you satirize something by way of its opposite).
Tasha: What would you recommend a Western visitor in Thailand never do?
RJ: Go to Bangkok’s red light district. There’s a lot of human suffering down there. Don’t feed it.

Thank you, RJ! Please check RJ out on the webbernets at his Blog, Twitter, FaceBook, and GoodReads.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Review: MY THIRD-WORLD GIRLFRIEND by RJ Silver

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Gerry is a middle-aged man depressed by his life-long history of failed relationships and women throwing things at him, not necessarily in that order. He's doing some soul-searching in the airport when he overhears a trio of dedicated rakes (for lack of better adjective) planning to move to Thailand where, they believe, the women will be easier to deal with because they haven't heard of women's liberation. Soon Gerry finds himself in Thailand, torn between the age-old conundrum of trying to please his new girlfriend and his old buddies, whom his girlfriend naturally hates because they are dicks.

I really liked RJ Silver's The Princess and the Penis (review here) and The Ballerina, the Gymnast, and the Yoga Master (review here). My Third-World Girlfriend is a little more serious than either of those stories, but it's also more grounded in reality--comparatively speaking, of course.

There's a definite connection drawn in this story between economic and sexual dominance. The West has a long history of going into Asia and doing whatever they want, and Gerry's three buddies continue that with the justification that people in Thailand don't know any better. "...if finances are going to force us to settle down now, I'd rather find a woman less inclined to violence," one of them says. Another of the three states, "The Chinese are too capitalist now. The vomen [he's German] there vant so many things, vee'd have to share von just to split the costs." And, once Gerry moves in with his girlfriend, she controls the household budget.

There are lots of funny one-liners in this novella, but I think what makes My Third-World Girlfriend feel more heavy than Silver's other stories is that Gerry's buddies have absolutely no redeeming qualities. In both TP&tP and TBtG&tYM, there are very few characters who aren't likable, even if they are misguided. In My Third-World Girlfriend, more than half of the characters--Gerry's friends--are totally hopeless. It kind of makes the story almost a battle between good and evil. You want to be like, "Don't listen to Hank the Relationship Yoda, Gerry!"

My Third-World Girlfriend wasn't quite what I was expecting, but then I don't think Silver's novellas have ever been what I was expecting, and that's a good thing. I would definitely recommend it for anyone who enjoys funny, romantic stories.



Musical Notes: "Only Daddy Who'll Walk the Line" by Waylon Jennings






Saturday, February 4, 2012

Movie Review: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS



Originally released: 2011
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Marion Cotillard, Carla Bruni, Michael Sheen
Directed by: Woody Allen
Based on: Woody Allen's imaginings of the phrase "midnight in Paris."

Gil, a Hollywood writer and aspiring novelist, is in Paris with his fiancée. He loves the romance of Paris, but she cares more about following around her pedantic friends. From the start, it's pretty clear this relationship isn't going to go anywhere. Then, after trying to make his way to his hotel one night, Gil is pulled into an olde-timey car by a bunch of partiers and swept away to 1920s Paris, an era he idolizes.

car full of drunks

It would be more than fair to call Midnight In Paris a love letter to the City of Lights, but the portrait it paints is distinctly America's love affair with Paris, not Paris as she actually is. The places Gil visits with his fiancée are in every travel guide you can pick up, and the people he meets on his forays to the past are predominantly American ex-pats: Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, Man Ray, Gertrude Stein. This isn't a film that strives to shine a new light on Paris; it buffets you with every romantic stereotype of the city there is.

The best parts of Midnight In Paris are, of course, the scenes that take place in the 1920s. Gil goes to the coolest parties, meets everyone worth knowing, and gets writing advice from his idols. Who wouldn't love this scenario?

Of all the characters he meets in 1920s Paris, Ernest Hemingway was my absolute favorite. I literally gasped when he first appeared on-screen. Ernest freaking Hemingway! I hate the guy's books and even I would geek out if I got to drink with him. Plus, he gets the best lines in the entire film (Gertrude Stein gets a few good ones in, too), and talks just like you would imagine Hemingway would talk if he was reading one of his own books aloud. It's hilarious.

ernest hemingway

As for the other 1920s characters, like Dalí, Stein, and the Fitzgeralds, their personalities felt watered-down in order to be more palatable and attractive. But I was surprisingly okay with that. This movie is pure fantasy, after all, and doesn't make any claims toward historical (or contemporary, for that matter) accuracy.

There are two connected thematic threads running through Midnight In Paris: one is the fear of death (it IS a Woody Allen movie, after all). Hemingway says, "You'll never be a great writer if you fear dying. Do you?" "Yeah, I do. I would say it's my greatest fear," Gil replies. I would say his fear of FAILURE is more of what's keeping him from taking chances in his writing and his life, but whatever you say, Ernest.

The second theme is one of romanticizing the past. It seems ironic that someone whose greatest fear is death would idolize only dead writers, but it's also appropriate. As I said, Gil is more afraid of failure--of living--than he is of death. The lives of artists in the past is comforting to him because from the perspective of the present, it seems as if they knew more or less what they were doing. But they were just as in the dark and uncertain as we are.

Midnight In Paris is a good movie--it's perfectly paced, hits all the right notes, is gorgeously shot, and Owen Wilson is ideally cast as the lead. It's funny and romantic and whimsical. If you love Paris or literature, you HAVE to see this film.

Quotable Quotes:

Gil: I would like you to read my novel and get your opinion.
Hemingway: I hate it… If it's bad, I'll hate it because I hate bad writing. If it's good, then I'll be envious and hate it even more. You don't want the opinion of another writer.
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Hemingway: If you're a writer, declare yourself the best writer! But you're not as long as I'm around.
________________________

Hemingway: It was a good book because it was an honest book, and that's what war does to men. There's nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully, and then it's not only noble but brave. [Makes no sense]
________________________


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Gertrude Stein: The artist's job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence. [LOVE this one]
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Gil: You can fool me, but you CANNOT fool Ernest Hemingway! [LOL]

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Discussion: THE FLIGHT OF GEMMA HARDY by Margot Livesey

flight of gemma hardy cover

Today I'm discussing The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey with Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads. This is part two. To read part one, please head over to Colette's blog, then come back! :)



Did you notice that whenever someone drove Gemma around, they braked for small animals?

Tasha: Yes. This book was filled so many random details. Maybe it's a symbol of something, but if so, I don't know what.

Colette: You are right, they always did break for small animals. I'm sure it was a metaphor for something. However when I read I don't look for metaphors, so when used in books they are always lost on me unless it's super obvious. There were a lot of random details in this book, and I'm sure they all were connected in some way that we are missing.

Tasha: I do read for metaphors and symbolism, and if the details represented anything, I think it was an unwillingness on Livesey's part to kill her "darlings." Perhaps she added extraneous detail because she wanted the novel to sound "Victorian" and didn't understand that the detail was there to make a point? I did like her writing style, but this book needed a lot more work and a heartless editor.


Birds are mentioned a lot throughout the book, what do you think they were trying to symbolize?

Colette: At first I thought the bird thing was there just to connect us to the original story of Jane Eyre. Now, though I'm thinking that it could have been a metaphor for how much Gemma changes... and the different birds mentioned show her changing from someone with little confidence to someone who is sure of herself. I thought birds were an odd hobby for a young girl to have in the era this book was in.

Tasha: I thought the birds were a symbol of Gemma's longing to be independent and an adult. That's probably why she and Sinclair reunited on the plane.


Why did you keep reading?

Tasha: lol Well, when I was in the first part, I was holding out hope the second part would be better, even though you warned me it wasn't. And at first I did really like second part, with the description of the Orkney's; but then it started to feel like it wasn't flowing naturally and things were just happening because they happened in the original Jane Eyre, you know what I mean? By then I wanted to finish it just so I could whinge about it, haha. ;)

Colette: I did love the Orkneys landscape. The descriptions were beautiful. I think you are right, the problem with the second half is that things were happening with the original version, only updated to match the time period of this book.


What did you think of the ending when Gemma goes to Iceland to reconnect with her mother's family?

Colette: I hated the ending. I liked her going to Iceland, but unlike in Jane Eyre, I didn't understand why her family couldn't contact her after her uncle died. Why not hire someone to do it? Why do think they had Gemma be from Iceland instead of England? I couldn't figure that out... except to have it be a reason for her aunt not liking her.

Tasha: The whole Iceland thing did seem pointless. For one, she was doing fine without her family, I didn't get why finding them was such a pressing issue she HAD TO STEAL MONEY FROM HER FRIENDS to go there (again, unlike Jane, Gemma's actions strike one as selfish at best and amoral at worst). For another, that wasn't much of a family; and even if she did find them, who cares? They live in frigging Iceland! This isn't going to make a significant difference to her life. Good luck making international calls, Miss I-don't-know-how-to-use-a-phone.


What did you think of the book overall?

Colette: This is one of those books that when reading reviews on GoodReads on I felt like I read a completely different book then everyone else did. I can't help but wonder if it's because I was expecting a little romance and didn't feel like that part of the book came through very well at all. Do you think that is why we, as romance lovers had such a hard time with this book?

Tasha: I think it's reasonable to expect some romance in a novel that advertises itself as a Jane Eyre adaptation, but the main reason I didn't like it was because of Gemma. Jane Eyre is about a woman who never compromises her ideals to make her life easier, but still gets what she wants. Gemma is like the female version of Meursault from The Stranger. She doesn't have ideals, she's just out to get everything she can for herself... and also the characterization was really weak.

Although Colette and I didn't hate The Flight of Gemma Hardy, it definitely didn't get better as it went on, and the ending was horrible. You'd be better served to spend your time reading or rereading Jane Eyre over this trying-too-hard-but-still-not-getting-it adaptation. We would like to thank the publisher for providing us with copies for review, though!

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