Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Hallow's Read and Survey Results

all hallows read swap button

I'm well-known for being a Halloween Scrooge, but this year Amy from My Friend Amy and Ana from Things Mean A Lot were inspired by Neil Gaiman's All Hallow's Read (giving someone a scary book on Halloween) to do a "spooky" book swap, and I was all in!

ghosty book and cocktail

My "secret Satan" (har har) was Amy! Yay! She sent me The Ghost Writer by John Harwood (and another secret something that I haven't gotten yet, unfortunately), which looks really good. I can't wait to dig into it. Thank you, Amy! And thanks to Amy and Ana for hosting this great book swap.

As for NaNoWriMo, you might recall that on Sunday I asked you all to vote on what story you wanted me to write this month (see the post here). The survey is now closed and the winner is... SLEEPLESS IN PARIS! Thank you to everyone who voted and I hope the story lives up to your expectations. If you voted for one of the other stories, don't worry--I will get to them after NaNo. But for now I have about 8 hours to refresh my memory on 1920s Paris, so I'd best get started.

Enjoy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: RITUAL SINS by Anne Stuart

ritual sins cover

When Rachel's mom dies suddenly of cancer and leaves all of her considerable fortune ($12 mil) to a cult called The Foundation of Being, Rachel is pissed. She travels to New Mexico to confront the leader of the Foundation, Luke Bardell, a charismatic ex-con. There she discovers Luke is anything but the spiritual ascetic he pretends to be, and that everyone at the Foundation of Being is a FREAKING PSYCHO.

The premise of Ritual Sins is pretty far out there, and I love it. How many romances do you come across that take place in a New Age-y compound where the hero is the leader of a cult? Not that many! Of course, most writers would have trouble making a hero such as Luke appealing, but since this is Anne Stuart and bad boys are her raison d'etre, she knocks it out of the park. Luke reminded me of Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, only after he got out of prison and started another con in the middle of the desert.

I was really enjoying Ritual Sins for about the first half, but then Luke and Rachel leave the Foundation of Being, and it totally threw me out of the story. I almost gave up on the book at that point, in fact, but was in the middle of a bout of insomnia and figured I might as well keep going. The second part of the book isn't bad, it just takes a while to get reinvested in what's going on, and the information we're given really isn't, to my mind, that important. I don't need to know any more details about Luke's shitty childhood than I was already given earlier in the book.

As for Rachel, she was an okay character, but it seems like these two have way too many problems between them, and I was never sure why Rachel was attracted to Luke at all.

And then they go pack to the Foundation (I don't want to say "and it's kind of like in Pirates of the Caribbean when they go back to the island," AGAIN--see here and here--but actually it's just like that) and there are SO MANY THINGS that make no sense. Luke is supposed to have the Foundation under constant surveillance and a killer instinct about people, but he had no idea what was going on, really? And why did all these people want to kill each other? Seriously, way too many murder plots running around this book. And why doesn't someone just call the police?

I really admire Stuart's guts and willingness to take chances in her writing, and I think Ritual Sins is a perfect example of those qualities. However, as far as this story goes, it's kind of disappointing. There are many books by Stuart that are more successful and probably better for those unfamiliar with her work to try out.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

TSS: NaNoWriMo, DNFs, Kindle Paperwhite

nanowrimo badge

Hello, my bookish cabbages! Usually I do a "deep thoughts" post for Sundays, but there are a bunch of little things I want to mention this week, none of which have anything to do with the other, except as they pertain to this blog and my reading!

National Novel Writing Month

I'm participating in NaNoWriMo again this year. If you don't know what NaNoWriMo is, it's this super-fun thing where people try to write a 50k word novel (or more, if you're ambitious) in a single month. Last year was my first year participating, and I started writing with absolutely no idea where I was going. This year I have three stories plotted out, and I'm having a bit of trouble choosing between them, so I thought it would be fun to ask you all for help! If you would be kind enough to vote on the story you'd most like to see written, I'd really appreciate it. Just use the form embedded below or go to the survey's webpage. I've included blurbs for each of the stories in the survey.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

If history is anything to go by, I'm not going to be posting much during November because I'll be focusing on NaNo. Instead, I'm planning to cross-post some reviews from my other blogs here, and vice versa, once a week, plus new posts as I'm able to do them.


In book news, my reading has not been going at all well lately. I did manage to finish a book this week, but I nearly DNF'd it, and now I have NOTHING to say about it; or at least, what I do have to say seems very confused and my review is utter nonsense. All of my other last three books have been DNFs, too. I don't know if this has anything to do with my insomnia problems lately (it seems like changes in the seasons make it more and more difficult for me to sleep every year), but I end up reading very late at night and getting bored and annoyed. I mean, if I WANT to sleep, and I CAN'T sleep, the least I could be is entertained. BUT NO. The books I pick up are either really stupid or boring or I just don't care. That's probably the insomnia talking, of course, but it doesn't change how I feel about it.

So basically I've been watching a lot of movies.

Shiny Pigeon!

kindle paperwhite

In other exciting news, I got a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday (that was three weeks ago... slow shipping). Yay! I only got it yesterday and haven't even had a chance to read a book on it yet, but so far it's very cool. I love the cover and the ability to adjust the light, and the words are much sharper than on my keyboard kindle. The device is slow in processing highlights and typing, but at least the touch screen seems to be more accurate and sensitive than the Nook's touch screen. I'm kind of excited to use the glow screen during my next bout of insomnia!

That's the major news for this week. What's going on in your reading world?

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Originally released: 1935
Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Based on: the novel of the same name by Rafael Sabatini

Peter Blood is a peaceful country doctor, until he's arrested for coming to the aid of a wounded Monmouth rebel. Convicted of treason, he's shipped off to Jamaica as a slave. But Peter Blood isn't fate's bitch--he arranges an escape and becomes a pirate captain!

After I read Captain Blood (see my review at Project Gutenberg Project), everyone--by which I mean Ruth from Booktalk & More--wanted to know if I'd seen the movie. Well, I hadn't, but during an attack of the insomnias, I decided to give it a try. It was kind of strange watching Captain Blood after reading the book; usually I can separate a book and movie in my mind, but in this case it was almost like the book had come to life. It creeped me out a little, actually, but this movie is really really solid and sooo much fun.

errol flynn and olivia de havilland in captain blood
The hat definitely needs to be bigger.

First of all, the performances--can a more perfect person to play Peter Blood exist other than Errol Flynn? Talk about dream casting! He seriously IS this character. And Olivia de Havilland does a fabulous job of playing Arabella--she actually makes her almost completely not-annoying! Her and Flynn have amazing chemistry together. I loved all their scenes. Basil Rathbone deserves a mention for coming up with a very silly French accent.

Second of all, the cinematography: I loved the use of shadows in this film, it was so fun and super creative. The battle- and sword-fight scenes were also perfectly shot with original cuts and framing to put you in the middle of the action. Did you know Captain Blood was nominated for Best Picture, and Curtiz almost won for Best Director just through write-in votes? So totally not surprised by that.

captain blood poster

The movie is a little too long, and the plot becomes quite garbled near the end, but who cares. Sword fights! Pirates! Hats with feathers! Do you honestly need a comprehensible plot with all that going on? I know you don't, because you went to see the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. And Captain Blood is much better.

I think I've actually talked myself into loving this movie. LOV-ing. I seriously cannot stop thinking about it. I definitely recommend checking it out.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


jamie oliver's great britain cover

The English are about as famous for their food as the French are for their music. I'm not saying British food is terrible, just that it has that reputation, especially in North America. But Jamie Oliver's Great Britain (or as I like to think of it, Jamie Oliver presents: Jamie Oliver's Great Britain) is a book that aims to heroicize traditional British foodstuffs, from pub dishes to pies and puddings.

As a cookbook, there is a lot that's problematic about Jamie Oliver's Great Britain. Beth Fish Reads mentioned editing and consistency issues in her review, and those are definitely present. The recipes read like Oliver dictated them into his phone and the person transcribing them couldn't always understand what he was saying. That, added to the fact that most of these recipes require really quite advanced cooking skills, means that the average person isn't going to be making most of the recipes in this book, especially if that person happens to not be British. Would I eat haggis? Wellllll... I might try it, if I was in Scotland. Would I make it myself, from scratch, in middle of the US? No I would not.

That being said, I honestly don't think the point of Jamie Oliver's Great Britain is to be a practical cookbook. Instead, it seems more like a love letter to UK food and culture. There are tons of color images, many of which are only tangentially related to food, giving it a scrapbook feel. And Oliver's focus seems to be more on telling us about the history of each dish and raising awareness of the richness, variety, and character of English (and Welsh, and Irish, and Scottish, etc.) food than giving detailed directions for beginners on how to make it. Even if you never plan on cooking a single dish in Jamie Oliver's Great Britain, if you're any sort of Anglophile, you'll probably still get a lot out of this book. And that's what completely won me over about Jamie Oliver's Great Britain.

As for actual cooking, the most approachable chapters are probably "Vegetables" and "Afternoon Tea." Like many places with short growing seasons, the UK is all about the root vegetables, and there are some fantastic recipes for potatoes here, as well as leeks (yum, love leeks), asparagus, spinach, brussel sprouts, and pretty much all my favorite veggies. "Afternoon Tea" is basically a collection of cake and cookie recipes. I decided to try out the Scottish shortbread recipe, since it only had three ingredients and didn't require that I use the Mixer of Doom.

Scottish Shortbread

--Taken from Jamie Oliver's Great Britain; makes 12 pieces

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 4 tbsp sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 4 oz unsalted butter
Flavoring options:
Chocolate, orange, & caraway
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 oz good dark chocolate
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
Lavender & honey
  • 2 tbsp lavender honey
  • 2 tbsp lavender sugar (use only 2 tbsp regular sugar when making this version)
Lemon thyme & vanilla
  • 1/2 a small bunch of fresh of lemon thyme, leaves picked
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
Preheat the oven 325 degs F. Mix the flour and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with your thumb and forefinger, then add your chosen flavorings (if you're using chocolate or seeds you might want to push these into the dough at the end, after you've rolled it out) and squash, pat and push it into a dough. [Here's what I mean about unclear directions. Is the dough supposed to be the consistency of pie crust or what? I just assumed it was, but I think I still overworked the dough a bit.] Don't knead it, you just want to pat it down flat. Push or roll it out until it's 1/3-inch thick--do this directly on to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper so you don't have to move it. Once it's in the shape you want--which could be square, round or a few mall finger shapes--feel free to thumb or pinch the edges. If it splits or tears, just press it back together--but remember, the less you work the dough, the shorter and better these cookies will be.

If you want to score lines on the shortbread so that you click it off into pieces later [total nightmare, fyi], you can. Sprinkle over some sugar, then pop the baking sheet into the oven and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. Keep an eye on it--you want a lovely light golden color (unless you're making the lavender honey version, which will be darker). Leave to cool, then put away in a tin or serve. These will be delicious for two or three days and make a lovely present for someone special.
And here were my results:

Tasha's Scottish shortbread

These tasted very flowery and were a little flat (but maybe they're supposed to be that way?). Were they blow-my-mind delicious? Nooo. But they were tasty, and pretty easy to make.

As I said, Jamie Oliver's Great Britain might not be the most practical cookbook, but it is a fabulous collection of recipes and culture from the British Isles. By the time I turned the final page on this book, I was totally in love! Definitely something I would consider a keeper and that may, over time, prove to be a treasured cookbook.

Thank you to TLC Booktours and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book to review! The publishers are also providing a copy of Jamie Oliver's Great Britain to one lucky reader of this blog. To enter to win, please fill out the embedded form below, or go here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Review: ENSHADOWED by Kelly Creagh

enshadowed cover

After leaving Varen in the Edgar Allan Poe dreamworld, Isobel has not moved on with her life. Instead, she's spiraling into a depression and has horrible dreams. If only she could find a way to be in Baltimore on Poe's birthday, she might be able to convince Reynolds to show her a way back to the world she left--for good reason--in the last book.

I really enjoyed Nevermore by Kelly Creagh when I read it a few years ago (review here), so I was super-excited about the planned sequel, Enshadowed. Nevermore had everything: a broody, Snape-like hero; the big dance at the end where EVERYTHING HAPPENS; poetry (you guys know I love it when characters quote poetry); a Gothic atmosphere; and a romance where the hero and heroine fight. The only thing I didn't like about Nevermore was the last third of the book, which was all about "nocs" and the spooky Poe dreamworld. It felt tacked on and completely nonsensical. Plus, Varen (aka Young Snape) was not in it.

The thing about Enshadowed? It's basically the last third of Nevermore, but spread out over another 500 pages.

I still enjoy Creagh's writing style, and for about the first 100 pages Enshadowed I was completely gripped by the story. I loved Isobel's brother and their interactions, and I liked the idea of setting the book during Christmas while Isobel's on break. BUT. The spooky incidents that lead nowhere started to get really repetitive, really fast, especially as they were pretty dang corny: The TV that plays a static-y black and white video clips. Shadows on the wall. Books o' mysticism. The ethnic minority who knows way too much about demons. Also, THERE WAS NO VAREN. Instead, Isobel hangs out with this girl named Gwen, whom I honestly do not remember from the previous book at all.

But the real drag on Enshadowed is that this is not a story. Or if it is, it's a short story, and one about which I probably give only a marginal shit. The actual story lies with Varen--he's the one trapped in Poe World (coming in 2013, brought to you by Dickens World) with a demoness. What's he doing to get himself out of this mess, hmmm? What if he likes it there? Reading about this story from Isobel's perspective is like reading about Harry Potter from the perspective of Mrs. Weasley. SHE'S NOT EVEN AT HOGWARTS. You get what I'm saying?

Enshadowed wound up being extremely skimmable, and I'm very happy I waited for it to come in at the library rather than shelling out money for it. Based on the (rather ridiculous) cliffhanger at the end of Enshadowed, I'm guessing there's going to be a third book in the series, which will hopefully be better.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Food in DRACULA

gary oldman as count dracula
"I don't drink... wine."

It's not that I pay particular attention to food mentions in books (honest), but in some novels the characters talk about food so often it's impossible not to notice and be slightly weirded out. The Chicagoland Vampires series by Chloe Neill, for instance. And, another vampire book (coincidence?), Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Here are just a few of the food mentions from the part I've read so far (basically Jonathan Harker's journals):

I dined on what they called "robber steak"--bits of bacon, onion, and beef, seasoned with red pepper, and strung on sticks, and roasted over the fire, in the simple style of the London cat's meat!

The wine was Golden Mediasch, which produces a queer sting on the tongue, which is, however, not disagreeable.

I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem. get recipe for Mina.) I asked the waiter, and he said it was called "paprika hendl," and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians. [Apparently this is actually chicken paprikash.]

I rejoiced to see within a well-lit room in which a table was spread for supper, and on whose mighty hearth a great fire of logs, freshly replenished, flamed and flared.

Dinner with dracula

The count himself came forward and took off the cover of a dish, and I fell to at once on an excellent roast chicken. This, with some cheese and a salad and a bottle of old tokay [Tokaji wine?], of which I had two glasses, was my supper.

He took my arm, and we went into the next room, where I found an excellent supper ready on the table.

I had for breakfast more paprika, and a sort of porridge of maize flour which they said was "mamaliga", and egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish, which they call "impletata". (Mem., get recipe for this also.)*

DOOD, SLOW DOWN. Who does Jonathan think he is, Anthony Bourdain? I swear to god all he does is eat. And what the heck is forcemeat? (When I first read that I thought I thought it said "horsemeat" and I seriously wanted to throw up. Maybe it's related to empenadas?)

Anyway, because I'm me, I have to wonder--why all the food mentions? Here are some possibilities I've come up with:
  • Bram Stoker was a foodie and couldn't stop himself from writing incessantly about food.
  • Jonathan's journals are supposed to imitate a travelogue, and eating weird stuff is one of the great joys and trails of traveling.
  • Jonathan's food lust mirrors the Count's lust for blud.
  • MOST LIKELY POSSIBILITY: Food, like everything else in Dracula, is a metaphor for sex.
Take, for instance, Jonathan's encounters with the vampiresses, where they "licked their lips like an animal" and sent him into a major spaz attack. Admittedly, that's pretty easy to do with Jonathan, but I think it's clear they think he's appetizing. IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. I think, too, all this eating eating eating sets the stage for Jonathan's paranoia that he's about to be the Count's dinner.

Have you ever read a book where the food descriptions seemed out of control, and was it by any chance a vampire novel? Because so far all the ones I can think of are.

*Dying--har har--to make some of these dishes yourself? There's an excellent blog post with the recipes Jonathan mentions at Her Raven Domain.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Novel In Pictures

Interior of the Blue Mosque. Source: via Tasha on Pinterest

I was browsing on the webbernets yesterday afternoon, and came across a great article by Bharat Tandon, "Living in Jane Austen's Emma," at Huffington Post. Actually, the article itself isn't what I liked; it was the slideshow of images Bharat used to help him illustrate, in his own mind, Jane Austen's Emma, which I found most interesting.

I don't necessarily think books have to be illustrated, but I love the idea of creating a collection of images that connect with a book you've read. I tend to do this with novels that feature historical figures or actual places. With The Oracle of Stamboul (review here), for example, I created a board on Pinterest with people and places from the novel, such as the Blue Mosque, the Library of the Sultan, and the African Hoopoe. I also had a lot of fun looking up photographs of people from Ferdynand Ossendowski's memoir Beasts, Men and Gods (review at PGP).

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to pick out some images for my current read, The Red Necklace. It takes place in 18th-century France and there's a lot going on: magic, gypsies, automaton, evil counts, and that's just in the first fifty pages!

This automaton was built in the 18th century by Henri Maillardet. Click through to see a video of the automaton writing. Super creepy!

If you didn't already know Regina on Once Upon a Time was evil, her obsessively duo-chromatic office would make it obvious. The description of how the evil count's rooms were decorated in The Red Necklace reminded me of this.

The Marquis de Villeduval's library is fabulous, with two stories of books and spiral staircases leading up to the mezzanine at either end, and reminded me of the Prunksaal in the National Library of Austria.

Source: via Tasha on Pinterest

Setting fashions of the the nobility is important in The Red Necklace to convey the difference in the classes.

What images would you select to illustrate your current read?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Perfect Reading Space

“The Love of learning, the sequestered nook, and all the sweet serenity of books.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Yesterday on Twitter I saw this tweet from @buckeyegirl31:

Colette is on to something here. I definitely need to feel settled in order to read. During the summer I usually read outside, but once it cools off, I start getting TENSE because I know my reading spot isn't going to work for me anymore (another reason to dislike fall). But suddenly I thought: maybe I could create my own reading spot inside! Here are some musts I need to search out for my own reading nook:

  1. Good seating. I hate reading in my room because there's no place to sit.
  2. Lighting, obvs. Preferably both natural and artificial.
  3. A nice view or something nice to look at. I like to look up from my books once in a while (astonishing, I know), and when I do I want to know if it's day or night outside, and what the weather's like.
  4. Proximity to other books. This isn't a deal breaker, but it is nice to contemplate one's books while one is reading a book. So meta.
  5. Music. I like to listen to music while I'm reading, especially if the book I'm reading is a little sleepy.
  6. A table or steady spot to put a drink and/or snack. I get really thirsty.

Another VERY important factor for all reading nooks is privacy. There's a reason why a lot people read in the bathroom, and it's not because they use the pages in books as toilet paper. If you start reading where people can easily get at you, you're going to be BOTHERED, like our friend M. Poirot here:

poirot reading
Don't let this happen to you.

A reading nook needs to either be hidden or out of the way enough that people won't notice you. For example, this reading nook, which I'm kind of in love with, is only accessible by ladder. This not only makes it private but easily defensible:

And this kids' reading nook is under a tent, which will probably be too claustrophobic for adults:

Finding a private or out-of-the-way space is where I'm running into difficulties on the reading nook front. Right now I'm thinking either a closet or the bathroom are the only likely possibilities (I hate reading in the bathroom, fyi. Not sanitary). I suppose if I got rid of all my CDs and found another place to store my guitar and files I could make some space for a chair in my bedroom. But then I would need to find a comfy-but-narrow chair.

Do you have a reading nook in your house? Any tips or ideas for someone who wants to create their own?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Guest Review: REFLECTED IN YOU by Sylvia Day

reflected in you cover

I have a surprise for you all today: I received, unsolicited, Reflected In You from Penguin UK, and could tell immediately from the cover it was a Fifty Shades of Grey cash-in novel. Since we all know how I feel about Fifty Shades (review here), I didn't have much interest in Reflected In You. However, my mom enjoyed Fifty Shades, so I asked her if she wanted to read this book, and then if she wouldn't mind writing a review of it for my blog. She agreed, yay!

Christina's review of Reflected In You by Sylvia Day:

Having read all 3 of the Fifty Shades books, I started reading the 2nd book from Sylvia Day, Reflected in You. I enjoyed the Fifty Shades series quite a bit. The female protagonist was at least her own person. In Sylvia Day’s rendition, the female is whiny and annoying. Plus, the male lead is absent most of the 2nd book. Altho Sylvia Day is an astute writer, her series is whiny and annoying. Who would want to listen to all that angst??? And why can’t all the writers submitting their own renditions of E L James’ 50 Shades come up with their own story line?????

There you have it! Thank you to my lovely mom for reviewing this book for me. :)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: LORD OF TEMPTATION by Lorraine Heath

lord of temptation cover

Anne wants to visit her fiance, Walter, in the Crimea, but her brothers won't let her. So she hires a ship on her own, captained by the dashing pirate Crimson Jack (actually he's just a normal merchant captain, but let's go with pirate. ACTUALLY actually, he's Lord Tristan Easton, but his title was stolen from him when he was a teenager, and he's no longer welcome in Society or vice versa). Soon he and Anne are PLAGUING one another with their beautiful and attractive selves, he being all impossible man!-ish, she being all proper. Tristan sets the price of the voyage at a kiss, but he may be the one to pay--with his heart. If only could give up his true mistress, the sea!

I have read and enjoyed Lorraine Heath's novels in the past. I can't remember what those novels were at the moment, but I know they exist. I love novels set on ships (and with pirates, although once again I must reiterate that Tristan isn't a pirate), so I thought Lord of Temptation would be a sure bet. It certainly has all the elements of a historical romance romp--historomaromp?--but they never came together for me.

It wasn't because of the writing style, although sentences like this drove me crazy:
He wished the fire in the grate was producing writhing flames into which he could stare contemplatively rather than into her eyes.
Hm, yes. I wish the sun was emanating spring-like rays in which I could twirl ecstatically rather than sit inside. I wish the stove was cooking delicious comestibles with which I could quench my appetite rather than just watching the Food Network. There are so many things insentient objects could be doing right now to make our lives easier!

No, that didn't really bother me. But what did bother me was that the settings were never fully utilized. There was no sense of the mechanics of running a ship--Tristan mostly acted like he was on holiday and could whatever he wanted--and very little description of Scutari once Anne and Tristan reached it. Then they go BACK TO ENGLAND, and despite the fact that it was kind of like in Pirates of the Caribbean when they go back to the island, I was actually looking forward to their return because I imagined the London haute ton would be a familiar enough setting that the characters would have a solid setting to move in and established characters to interact with. But despite the addition of some entertaining impediments--namely Anne's brothers and an obsessed fangirl for Tristan--this part of the novel seemed to drag. I feel like Heath didn't do enough research for Lord of Temptation and that it could have been set at any time, in any place, with the result being that it feels a little phoned in, particularly near the end.

lord tristan is an orange
Lord Tristan (visual approximation)

As for the characters, Heath did a good job of setting up Anne's motivation for going from a proper engaged lady to someone willing to risk her reputation and carry on an affair, which is something that doesn't always happen in historical romances. But at the same time, I really don't need THAT much convincing someone is willing to have sex. Furthermore, I don't get what Tristan's appeal was at all, other than physically. And as this is a book and I can't see him, his bulging biceps and bright blue eyes don't really work as convincing features of attractiveness. Aside from his love of oranges, and the fact that he smelled like oranges (he was an orange, basically), there were no consistently distinguishing features of his personality; it seemed to change from scene to scene.

There's another thing that really bothered me about Lord of Temptation: this book would not pass the Bechdel Test (quick run down of the Bechdel Test if you're not familiar: the story has 1. female characters who 2. talk to other female characters 3. about something other than men). There is one main female character, and that's Anne. The three other minor female characters get about five pages between them, and when they do talk to Anne, all they talk about are men and how she needs to get married. So you're writing a book with a decidedly female audience, and STILL the story is basically all about dicks? It's a giant dick party! And don't even get me started on the fact that Anne "has" to get married because, well, she just does! Otherwise she's totally useless! And then (spoiler alert) she gets married. Uhg. Just kill me and get it over with.

Anyway. Lord of Temptation wasn't one of those Heath novels that I REALLY liked, although honestly it was okay. It was a little cheesy and predictable, but it wasn't boring (most of the time), so that was a plus; and I did have fun imagining Lord Tristan as an orange.

Thank you to TLC Booktours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Originally released: 2008
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano (the kid from Almost Famous), Yifei Liu
Directed by: Rob Minkoff
Based on: The Chinese classic Journey to the West (see review here)

Hey, readers! It's time for a new edition of Cheesy Movies Tasha Likes. I saw The Forbidden Kingdom playing on IFC really late one night and decided it sounded like the PERFECT MOVIE. Totally not shocking: I was right!

forbidden kingdom movie poster

Jason is a Southie who gets picked on by bullies and loves martial art films. One day he finds a staff and is transported to Ancient China. He discovers his destiny is to return the staff to its owner, the Monkey King (see my review of The Monkey King here) so he can defeat an evil warlord and return power to the Emperor.

The Forbidden Kingdom has two actors whom I love in the same face space: Jet Li (LOVE him, love love love) and Jackie Chan (did you ever watch that cartoon with Jackie Chan? It was just me? Okay then). Basically, you don't need any other reason to watch this movie, but I'll give you some more anyway: IT IS HILARIOUS AND AWESOME. Michael Angarano rocks the mullet-with-pony-tail combo, shows his "powerful staff" to the token female character, Golden Sparrow, way too many times; there's a woman with purple hair; and Liu Yifei almost makes out with every guy in this movie except Jackie Chan, all while playing a musical instrument.

jackie chan and jet li fighting it out

This movie caters to American tastes, for sure. There's little talk of Buddhism, which is the original message of the story of The Monkey King, and there's an almost self-conscious cheesiness to it, especially the Boston scenes. If you even casually watch kung-fu movies like Kill Bill or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the sets and set-up to the story will feel very familiar to you, but in a good way that really lets you appreciate the story.

The only thing that made me grimmace was when Jason decided to return to South Boston after having awesome adventures in Ancient China. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? But I suppose they had to end the movie somehow.

If you like kung-fu movies, especially cheesy kung-fu movies (but really any sort of kung-fu movie), you should definitely check out The Forbidden Kingdom. It is super-accesible and fun.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

TSS: High School Reads

book cover collage

I've been seeing a lot (well, maybe two) mentions of high school books on twitter and the blags recently. I think everyone has issues with assigned reading, even people who enjoy books--perhaps particularly people who enjoy books! If you know what you like, you want to be reading it and not something you don't enjoy. Sometimes books can surprise you, though, and that makes a big impact, especially when you're at an impressionable age.

The following books are ones I read in high school that I found surprisingly enjoyable.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas  I had no idea what to expect from this novel, but how can anyone not love this tale of adventure and revenge? The Count is super-sexy, and hangs out with awesomely exotic people. This is definitely one of the best books I had to read for high school.
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck  Honestly, this seems exactly like the type of book I would hate out the wazoo, but I really connected with the characters and the sense of being completely displaced. I still wonder what happened to Tom. I loved him.
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton  When we did a unit on American literature, our English teacher said we could pick out some of the books. Naturally I had ideas! The Age of Innocence was one of the books I suggested, and I was the only person in the entire class who liked it. I didn't just like it, I loved it! I literally read the whole thing in one sitting. The rest of the class, not so much. Even my friend told me she gave up and just watched the movie. WTF. Sorry you don't like awesome, friend.
  • A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs  Another book I suggested for American literature was something by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was actually thinking of Tarzan when I mentioned him, but our teacher assigned A Princess of Mars instead. The plot of this book sounds super-cheesy when it's summarized, but it's extremely entertaining and totally worth picking up. Way better than the movie John Carter, fyi.
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe  This is another book I normally would never pick up, but was part of our unit on African literature in high school. I'm not sure I would say I enjoyed this novel, per se, but it was one of the most affecting books I've ever read. It's all about how fear influences people's actions, and it gave me a lot to think about in my own life. This is the type of novel I would recommend as required reading for everyone.

What were some reads from school that surprised you? Are there some books you wish had been required reading?

Thursday, October 4, 2012


telling lies for fun and profit cover

I wasn't going to review this book, even though I thought it was excellent. Why? It's definitely a classic and it's something I think every writer should read, but I'm not sure if non-writers would have any interest in it. Probably not. But then Telling Lies for Fun and Profit is so entertaining it might capture the interest of those who aren't its intended audience.

Lawrence Block published his first novel at the age of nineteen (a lesbian erotica, in case you were wondering) and has written about a bazillion novels and short stories since then, so the guy's walked some literary miles. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit is a collection of essays he wrote for Writer's Digest about the craft of writing, and they range from the philosophically abstract (like Sunday writers, see here) to the technical and specific (such as using pronouns, see here). Even though certain aspects of the book are dated (it was first published in 1981), there is a lot of food for thought in this book for writers to chew on.

Block himself says he sometimes contradicts himself (he does), and there are things I find hard to believe or just didn't agree with (no rewriting Block, really?), but agreeing or disagreeing isn't really the point of the book. Nor does Telling Lies for Fun and Profit aspire to teach anyone HOW to write a novel, though Block does offer his own ideas about that. Instead, as Sue Grafton puts it in the introduction, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit is a comfort read for writers--just like any of his fictional characters, Block makes his own experiences relatable and universal. A lot of books about writing only address the difficulties, with the end result of making aspiring writers eager to get a job in a retail or accounting. Block doesn't ignore the difficulties at all, but he does make them seem completely normal and, thus, surmountable.

Block's writing style is also really entertaining and fun to read. I LOL'd several times, and even when I wasn't, I was very engaged. Not to say this is an easy read--it took me about a month to work my way through Telling Lies because some of the essays are really challenging and take some time. But when I was reading I was completely entertained, not something that can often be said for non-fiction. There were also times when I felt like Block was being a bit patronizing toward women, but I'm going to write that off as more of a generational thing than misogyny on his part.

Anyway, I'm really happy I bought Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. It gave me a lot to think about, and was very inspiring. I can see myself rereading this over and over and taking different things away from it each time. I would recommend this book to anyone who considers themselves a writer.

Some passages I particularly liked:

...when I want to write and can’t write I find myself possessed of murderous rage.

I don’t finish half the books I start nowadays, and a good many get hurled across the room after a couple of chapters.

Akin to the nonsense about formula, these same non-writers assume that the development of a series character is a major step toward success, financial security, and a final solution to the heartbreak of psoriasis. “Once you’ve got a character,” they say, “all you have to do is write about him for the rest of your life.” Terrific. Once you’ve got a pair of running shoes, all you have to do is leg it from Hopkinton to Boston. Once you’ve learned the Australian crawl, all you have to do is swim the Channel. Once you’ve hit puberty—oh, never mind.

And his name is Dan Brown:
The unspoken premise in “I wish I had your self-discipline” is that anyone with my self-discipline could do what I do, that a persistent chimpanzee could match me book for book if he could just sit still long enough and work the space bar with his non-opposable thumb. [Did Lawrence Block invent the infinite monkey theorem?]

On pseudonyms:

I had a letter just the other day from a woman intent upon keeping her true identity a secret not only from her readers but from her prospective publisher as well, and wanting to know how she could do all this without getting into a tangle with the tax authorities. I assume she has her reasons.

On acting professionally:

I’m not sure there’s any good sense in imposing questions of ethics upon a profession which has muddled along for centuries without any.

On titles:

Years ago, when I spent a year reading slush at a literary agency, it sometimes seemed to me as though a full forty percent of the stories I read were entitled “As the Twig Is Bent.” Another thirty-five percent were called “So Grows the Tree.”

Is Twins a good title? Or The Thorn Birds? Or The Shining? How about Coma, perhaps the first novel ever named for what it induces?

On feedback and reviews:

If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you don’t want the peaches, leave off shaking the tree. And if you can’t bear disapproval, keep the stuff in a locked drawer.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Bookish Holding Pattern

dante in purgatory
Dante with his book in Purgatory, Agnolo Bronzino, c. 1530

You know how planes will circle above an airport, waiting to land? Well, that's kind of where I'm at with my reading right now.

I'm currently reading a book at the pace of a snail, 0-10 pages a day. I have no desire to find out what happens next or to even continue reading it at all. Basically I'm waiting to start a book I REALLY want to read. But I'm having so much trouble getting settled into a book I don't want to start a book that I'm really looking forward to. So I just keep crawling through the book I'm not interested in, waiting for another book to come along.

Even when I do pick up the occasional book in a burst of optimism, I give up because I decide it's either really stupid or that I'm not in the mood for it. When I do finish a book, I have no opinions or feelings about it and no desire to review it AT ALL. I feel like I'm a self-imposed book Purgatory.

What's your book holding pattern, and what do you do (if anything) to snap yourself out of it?


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