Saturday, April 29, 2017

April 2017 #Readathon

24 hour readathon

Another Readathon has come and gone, whomp-whomp. I did manage to complete my goal of reading The Vegetarian by Han Kang, so yay! That makes it the first and only book I've ever started and finished in a single Readathon. I wouldn't say I enjoyed reading it, but I'm pretty sure it's not meant to be an enjoyable read anyway. It was really dark and violent and weird and disturbing. But, if you can get past that, well worth the time to read I think.

If you read The Vegetarian too, be sure to check out my discussion post for it on BBI.

CLOSING SURVEY

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

Honestly, there were a lot of daunting hours. The three hours it took to make dinner, which turned out to be a disaster, for example. Also around 2am I was just really tired and fed up with reading The Vegetarian.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a reader engaged for next year?

No.

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season?

Idk, I kind of miss the cheerleaders. Maybe people could commit to a length of time and platform?

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

Even though I got annoyed with it, reading one short book during the Readathon worked out better than I expected. I may do something similar next time.

5. How many books did you read?

One (and on a side note, how do people manage to read multiple books??? I know I got a late start, but I was also up until 4am, so it's not like I wasn't putting time into reading)

6. What were the names of the books you read?

Don't make me type it again.

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

I didn't.

8. Which did you enjoy least?

All of them.

9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I will definitely participate if I am able!


STATS

Mini-challenges completed:

  • One Night Reads
  • Show Us the Weather
  • A few of the #IGReadathon challenges
  • Summer Road Trip
Consumed:
  • 2 glasses of water
  • 1 cup of coffee
  • A piece of breakfast casserole
  • Snacks: grapes, apple, hummus and pita chips
  • Roasted chicken, paprika-parmesan corn, yeast roll
  • Wine/martinis
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Hallo hallo. For those of you who don't know, today is the 24 Readathon, aka the bibliophile's Super Bowl. I'm getting a late start on the Readathon this time around, even by my standards, but I am awake at last a ready to read!

Let's get this party started with the opening survey. I'll be updating this post throughout the Readathon instead of creating new posts because laziness.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

"I believe I have seen hell and it's white, it's snow-white."

A snow-packed Colorado.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

My goal is only to read one book this time around, The Vegetarian by Han Kang, for a readalong I'm hosting over at Book Bloggers International. It's a live readalong!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I don't really do snacks. I am looking forward to the breakfast casserole I currently have in the oven, and maybe leftover enchiladas for lunch.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Okay! I have three dogs: two Scottie/schnauzers from the same litter and one miniature schnauzer who's a rescue dog. They enjoy watching Cesar Millan and Animal Planet.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Usually I just try to finish what I'm currently reading during the readathon, but this time I'm focused on getting through one book. Fortunately Andi said it was a fast read and she was right! I'm already 10% through it and I literally just woke up.

MID-EVENT SURVEY

It's the middle of the Readathon already??? Wow, time flies when you sleep in till 10. Here's the mid-event survey:

1. What are you reading right now?

The Vegetarian

2. How many books have you read so far?

Zero!

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

I'll probably pick up What Did You Eat Yesterday? Vol. 3 if I ever get through The Vegetarian (I'm actually more than halfway through already, I just know that after dinner when Doctor Who comes on and everyone piles into the living room it will be a challenge to focus on reading).

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Not really. I took a shower.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

It's been a pretty quiet Readathon. I wish it was warm so I could sit outside with a glass of rosé, but otherwise it's been what I imagine an ideal Readathon would be like.


Are you joining in the Readathon today? What are your plans?



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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sunday Snapshot – Spring is Here!

The eye of Calypso

Currently reading:

An Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles: Idk, I don't hate it, but I do wish I was finished with it already.

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by GS Denning: Absolutely hilarious.

Posted:

Reviews of Act Like It, A Study in Charlotte, and Beastly Bones over at Book Riot; and a peek at the exhibition Japan Style over at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center.

Movies:

cafe society
Café Society, starring Guy Who's Not Michael Cera and Kristen Stewart

Ooof. This script needed A LOT more work. One thing you should know before watching this movie is that the first 2/3rds are a prologue. The actual story about the "Café Society" doesn't start until there's only about forty minutes left to go! But since we've fiddle-farted around with the prologue for so long, none of the secondary characters are fleshed out and the story has no emotional impact. The narration should have been done away with completely, Kristen Stewart and Not Michael Cera have zero chemistry together and are occasionally painful to watch, and even the art direction made me feel like I was wasting my time.

There is one good line in the movie, though: "Socrates once said, 'The unexamined life is not worth living.' But the examined one is no bargain."

This week in heidenkindom:

Not much new and noteworthy to report, but spring is in the air and that makes me happy (most of the time). Here are some pictures of flowers!




Bonus:

When we think of novels that inspire people to do crazy things, we probably think of Catcher in the Rye. But Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther inspired so many people to commit suicide that it was banned in Leipzig, Denmark, and Italy. Even today, a rash of suicides in a single area is called The Werther Effect.

the more you know


Have an excellent, Werther-free week, everyone!



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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Snapshot for the Last Sunday in March

High winds tore the roof off my local library

Currently reading:

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino: Coming across an old school chum is never a good sign in these books.

Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter: TBH I've completely forgotten what these two are investigating or why.

Posted:

Discover the other wines of Champagne and meritage, the New World wine blend to look for if you love Bordeaux.

Movies:

woman in gold
Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, and Tatiana Maslany

LOVED IT. This movie shows exactly why I study art and why I think it's important: it tells us who we are. But it doesn't necessarily tell the story we think it does, or tell a single story. I ugly cried at the end and I didn't even care. The scenes of pre-War Vienna were also perfect; Tatiana Maslany really looked like she could be a younger Helen Mirren.

My only criticism is that Ryan Reynolds struggled with the whole mild-mannered nice guy persona. Sometimes he'd break character, and when he wasn't breaking character it was painfully obvious he was Acting!.

life
Life, starring Rebecca Ferguson, Jake Gyllenhaal, Bradley Cooper (kidding, it's Ryan Reynolds again)

Scientists at the International Space Station collecting samples from Mars discover an adorable single-celled organism named Calvin that's all eyes, all brain, all muscle, looks like a vampire bat, and grows rapidly. What could go wrong?!

Idk about this movie; I spent most of it rooting for the alien. Also there are a ton of inconsistencies: lack of oxygen is supposed to kill Calvin, but it spent 20 minutes frolicking around in outer space like a kid in a McDonald's play area! I think it would have been better if the filmmakers had pulled a Jaws and not let us see Calvin for most of the movie. Because it was way too cute.

foodies movie
Foodies: The Culinary Jet Set, directed by Thomas Jackson, Charlotte Landelius, and Henrik Stockare

This documentary follows the life and adventures of top-tier foodie bloggers, who travel the world in their quest to eat at Michelin-starred restaurants. In other words, the life I wish I had.

If anything, this film made me glad I'm not one of these super food bloggers, or whatever they call themselves. Yes, I have scheduled portions of vacations around eating in specific restaurants before, but they weren't Michelin restaurants, and even if I could afford such a diet, I wouldn't even want to eat in these fancy-ass places for all three meals every damn day. I would have liked to have seen some questioning of the Michelin rating system and a few bloggers who don't slavishly follow it, as well. Overall just an okay doc.

snowden
Snowden, starring Shia Lebeouf? wrong! Joseph Gordon-Levitt

You can really tell this movie was directed by Oliver Stone. For some people that might be a good thing. For me, eh. I enjoyed JFK, but that movie was actually entertaining. This one, on the other hand, is too vague and bland to be terribly interesting. Your time would be better served watching Citizenfour.

I did like the performances, however! I was impressed by how well Lebeouf–no–Levitt transformed into Snowden, but really all the actors do a top notch job. My favorite by far, however, was Rhys Ifans as Corbin O'Brien. He brought some very much needed personality and energy into this film.

miss peregrine's home for peculiar children
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, starring Eva Green and Asa Butterfield (for whom I couldn't invent a more appropriate name)

Okay, but not as good as the book. I would have expected a movie like this to be totally up Tim Burton's alley, but he never went for the jugular with it. It could/should have been scary, or at the very least creepy, but instead it was all nice, bright skies, flowers, fun people with British accents, etc. Plus they kept the prologue and, while I can understand why they did, I still found it irritating.

Bonus:

Time is getting on, so I'm going to skip the updates for this week. I did want to share one link, though. Remember how I started keeping track of the nationality of all the authors whose books I read this year? Well, check out this handy map of every country's favorite/most famous novel.


Have a great week, everyone!



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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Snapshot: Saving Daylight

Calypso needs a few more zzzzs

Currently reading:

Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas: So far I'm enjoying it a helluva lot more than Marrying Winterborne.

Beastly Bones by William Ritter: Frankenstein!

Posted:

Learn about Jura, France's most obscure wine region! And read my article on the Denver Art Museum's Mi Tierra installation art exhibit.

Movies watched:

gods of egyptGods of Egypt, starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gerard Butler

I expected this movie to be pretty stupid, and I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed! Although it is better than some other ancient tymes action flicks I've seen (Prince of Persia, The Last Legion, The Scorpion King... I could go on, I've yet to come across one I can say no to), it was about as accurate and plausible as one would expect. Which is to say not. at. all.

This week in heidenkindom:

Whelp, daylight savings is upon us (if you live in most of the US anyway). The long slog through winter is semi-officially over! Sometimes I don't have any problems adjusting to the time change and sometimes it takes weeks; I have a feeling this year it's going to be the latter.

Art history time:

jug in the form of a head gauguin
Jug in the Form of a Head, Self-portrait, Gauguin, 1889. Kunstindustrimuseet, Copenhagen.

I thought this was pretty damn fascinating: Only days after his epic fight and split with Van Gogh, Gauguin attended a decapitation in Paris, where he conceived of Jug in the form of a Head, a self-portrait-as-beheaded-death-mask. Even more curiously, the head has no ears. Is it a reference to Van Gogh cutting off his ear in Arles?


Have a great week, everyone!


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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sunday Snapshot is MARCH-ing Along (See What I Did There?)

This is why we can't have nice things.

Currently reading:




Posted:




Movies watched:

i don't feel at home in this world anymore
I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore, starring Melanie Lynskey and a completely unrecognizable Elijah Wood

When Ruth's laptop and her grandma's silver are stolen, she finds the police not just unhelpful, but completely without fucks to give. So she decides to take matters into her own tentacles and look for the stuff on her own, with a little help from a not-so-mysteriously-single neighbor.

Imagine Kill Bill, but instead of a ninja assassin seeking vengeance for a wedding massacre there's a shy nurse trying to find the people who broke into her house, and you basically have this movie. I thought the start of the film and the conclusion didn't really go together, but I did enjoy both parts for different reasons. Weirdly, it reminded me of Idiocracy–it's in that same lane of really sharp social commentary crouched in a completely ridiculous plot. Worth watching, I think!

This week in heidenkindom:

Not a lot going on this week, aside from the usual, which is nice after a hectic February. I finally finished Pretty Face, which was a slog (review to come!), and started The Last of August yesterday. Oh, and I made homemade hamburger buns from starter on Wednesday.

We've actually been trying out a few new recipes recently, and I have to say America's Test Kitchen has been killing it this season. Their cast iron steak and chicken are both simple to make and fantastic, and I tried their pan seared salmon this week and it was SO GOOD. Even my dad was like, "This is my new favorite salmon recipe!" (Note you have to create an account to access ATK recipes on their website.)

I also got a cookbook called Simple: The Easiest Cookbook in the World, where all the recipes have no more than 4 steps and 6 ingredients. So far every recipe we've tried from this cookbook have been absolute winners! Full of flavor and just plain delish. Some of the recipes are "strange" by American standards (it was written by a Frenchman and originally published in French), but as far as I'm concerned that only makes it more fun to flip through. It's fascinating to get another cultural perspective on basic, everyday dishes. I definitely recommend this one!

Bonus:

Tif is hosting a readalong of The Underground Railroad over at Book Bloggers International this month. The first discussion will be Monday, March 6th, for those who want to join in.


Have an wonderful week, everyone!



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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sunday Snapshot: Adios, February

plexus no. 36 by gabriel dawe art installation denver art museum
Gabriel Dawe, Plexus no. 36, 2016

Currently reading:

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker: I keep picturing Luc as a bald Ron Howard.

Jackaby by William Ritter: Looooove this one.

Posted:




Movies watched:

blind date 2015
Blind Date (French title: Un peu, beaucoup, aveuglément), starring Mélanie Bernier and Clovis Cornillac

A young woman whose dream is to be a professional pianist settles into her first apartment in Paris. At first she thinks it might be haunted, but she quickly realizes that her next door neighbor, a reclusive inventor, is instead trying to scare her off. The apartment acoustics are shoddy and they can hear what's going on in each other's space as if there isn't a wall between them. To keep from driving one another crazy, they set up a schedule of time when each can make noise or concentrate, but as they get to know one another more they fall in love–all without ever having laid eyes on each other.

This is a fun, modern take on a marriage of convenience romance plot. The hero and heroine are forced to essentially cohabitate and go from hating one another, to grudging respect, to love. Aside from one particular scene that was eye-rollingly sexist, and some stuff that seemed laughably convenient (he just happens to be a music expert as well as an inventor? mrokay), I completely enjoyed this movie. Definitely recommend it if you're in the mood for a romcom!

john wick 2
John Wick: Chapter 2, starring Keanu Reeves

There are three things you need to know about John Wick: he has a dog, he has a car, and he used to be the best hitman for a cabal organization that can't really be that secret, since it seems like everyone is a part of it. Naturally, the organization isn't going to let him stay retired for long.

Hmm I'm kinda torn on this one. On one hand, it's a well-made movie that sets a surprisingly high bar for assassin revenge flicks (seriously). There were long stretches that I totally enjoyed, the locales are amazing, and it looks really fucking cool, which I think is probably the main point. On the other hand, the gun violence was way over-the-top. TOO MUCH. It was like those single-shooter video games except worse. And you can tell it's gun porn because the characters feel the need to tell you what every goddamn firearm in the entire film is. Like it makes a difference? There were times when I was caught by Reeves' balletic prowess and the impressive fight scene choreography, but really how much of that do you need when you can just lay lead into people? Still, I'm glad I watched it. I found some excellent articles about the filmmakers' nods to Buster Keaton and the problematic gun violence in the movie as well.

This month in heidenkindom:

Ooops, looks I unintentionally checked out of blogging this month. This is definitely the fastest February I've ever experienced in my life. Usually it feels like three months rolled into one; but this year, what with the unseasonably nice weather (temps in the 60s and 70s), another job I got setting up a website, and various birthdays and writing assignments, I'm legit shocked February's almost over.

Bonus:

Last Saturday I went up to Denver to see a new exhibit called Mi Tierra, which features installations from up-and-coming Latino artists. I was really impressed! Here are a few pics of my favorite pieces:

fridalandia
Justin Favela, Fridalandia, 2017

Justin Favela, Fridalandia, 2017
Justin Favela, Fridalandia (detail)

Justin Favela, Fridalandia, 2017
Justin Favela, Fridalandia (detail)

Daniela Edburg, Uprooted, 2017
Daniela Edburg, Uprooted, 2017

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus no. 36, 2016.
Gabriel Dawe, Plexus no. 36

Gabriel Dawe, Plexus no. 36, 2016.
Gabriel Dawe, Plexus no. 36 (detail)


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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mini Reviews: 2 YA Fantasy Novels

mini book reviews of passenger and graceling

Sometimes I have some things to say about a book, but not enough for a whole post. Enter mini reviews! This week I'm reviewing two young adult fantasy novels that, on the surface, have a lot in common: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken and Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Both have one-word titles. Both are the start of a series (but then what book isn't these days). And both were kind of a mixed bag. However, I think one was slightly more successful than the other. Read on to find out which!



passenger
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

A gifted violinist, 17-year-old Etta Spencer is eagerly awaiting her professional debut concert. But her career and everything else in her life is put on hold when she's literally shoved through time and into Revolutionary-Era America. Trapped aboard a pirate ship, Etta has to figure out how to get back to her own time and save her mom.

I can never say no to a story about time travel, especially when it involves romance, so when I saw this book on Booktalk & More Too, I immediately requested it at my library. I definitely enjoyed reading Passenger, but there were some inconsistencies and issues that kept pulling me out of a story I desperately wanted to be sucked into.

I loved the beginning of Passenger, where we get a peek into the life of a child prodigy and witness Etta's passion for violin. It reminded me of Mozart In the Jungle, which is one of my favorite TV shows ever. I also liked that Bracken didn't completely whitewash the past and that Nicolas was black (that said, I would have liked it even more if he wasn't the only black person in the book). The story itself was perfectly paced and it's the type of book you don't want to put down.

Unfortunately, Passenger also has some major weaknesses in regards to plausibility and continuity that made it a frustrating read, especially in the second half. I'm not talking about the time travel aspect–I don't expect that to make sense, and it doesn't–but character motivation and practical details that the author skips over or makes a hash out of.

For example, when Etta first time travels, she gets "Traveler sickness" and is unconscious for several days, allowing Sofia to take her from the time portal and deposit her on a ship. Okay, fine. But how did Sofia get Etta from the portal to the ship? Did she have someone carry her? Fireman's hold? Wingardium Leviosa? Teleportation? I guess we'll never know.

Then there's the romance, which I simply did not feel at all. It's one of those romances where they're attracted to each other as soon as they lay eyes on one another, but then spend 500 pages not doing anything about it BECAUSE REASONS. And let me add here that the male half of this equation is a pirate. I found his behavior distinctly un-piratical.

Add to all that long-ass passages of really headslappingly stupid exposition ("Marrying up was the only way that any number of women in history had escaped their pasts and whatever stations they’d been born into. They couldn’t work to improve their lives the way men did, and live by their own means. It was grossly unfair to them–" Thanks for that), and descriptions that are just a bunch of words strung together in sentences that honest to god mean absolutely nothing, and I couldn't work up more than a like for this one. But, it's a decent and fun time travel story, and if you enjoy shows like Timeless you'll probably enjoy this read.


graceling
Graceling by Kristin Cashore

In an alternate world, Katsa is graced with a powerful fighting ability, which her cousin and king exploits to his own advantage. But when she meets similarly graced Prince Po, he inspires her to rebel and set out on an adventure.

Graceling is another novel with a well-told story, but some problems that prevented me from really getting into it.

When I was reading reviews of this book on Goodreads shortly after I started it, I noticed that some people were grouchy about "the raging feminist agenda." And, about halfway through, I understood why. Graceling makes a big show of being "feminist," with a heroine who literally kicks people's asses. But when there's only one female character (aside from a maid whose only purpose in the narrative is to make Katsa attractive so she can attract boys) and the book doesn't even pass the Bechdel Test, the feminist agenda feels more like patronizing lip service than empowerment. I got pretty damn cranky about the whole thing myself, I have to say.

I also was not into the romance between Kat and Po. I did like that they were equals and Po treated her as such, but for me personally it's hard to wrap my head around a positive relationship built on fighting. And the sex scene was like something out of a different novel. A bad one.

But! In the last quarter of the book Po is out of the picture, and I have to say Graceling improved by about 1000 percent. More female characters showed up–a princess, who while a little kid is pretty smart; a sea captain; Po's mom–and since Po's not around, Katsa can do what she does best: survive against the elements and baddies.

I probably won't read the second book in this series, but Graceling was okay. I'm glad I finally got around to finishing this book that's been on my shelf for years.




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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sunday Snapshot

Calypso found an ornament she likes

Currently Reading:

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken: I know it's a fool's errand to expect a story about time travel to make sense, but still. I'm having some issues.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore: I'm enjoying it, but I do have to agree the feminist lip service is growing irritating for various reasons.

Posted:




Movies:

animal house
Animal House, starring John Belushi, Karen Allen, and Tom Hulce

A little too long (like the entire scene with the sorority girl undressing served absolutely no purpose), and obviously hailing from a more "innocent" time (the girl almost getting date raped at the frat house party, ish), but soooo funny. I think we can all take inspiration from the words of John Belushi: "Over? It's not over till we say it's over. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"

gold
Gold, starring Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, and Bryce Dallas Howard (Mandatory: must be pronounced, "Goooooold!")

Kenny Wells is a mining company owner and the last in a long line of Nevada prospectors. Unfortunately, he is really really bad at it. Facing down getting a dreaded "real job," Kenny has a dream that leads him to The Most Interesting Geologist In The World, and the gold find of a lifetime. Or is it???

Better than I was expecting, despite the script's propensity to reiterate the obvious ("We gonna make a ton money!" "I went looking for gold and I found a friend," etc.). The movie really succeeds because of two things: one, McConaughey is obviously enjoying the fuck out of playing Kenny Wells and generally not wearing pants. And two, the friendship that develops between him and the geologist, Michael Acosta. It's almost a romance between those two, I swear to god. So sweet. I wouldn't run out to watch it in the theaters or anything, but worth streaming on Amazon or Netflix once it gets there.

inside job
Inside Job, directed by Charles Ferguson

A very clear and compelling account of how the world economy went into a tailspin in 2008. There's the unholy trinity of power, greed, and corruption; men who seem like prime candidates for "The sphincter says what?" jokes; and graphs. SO MANY GRAPHS. While the documentary feels a little outdated now that Obama's not in office (though I doubt Trump will improve matters), it's an eye-opening look into just how intertwined the worlds of government and finance are. "It's a Wall Street Washington," one interviewee replies when Ferguson asks him why there have been no serious financial reforms or accountability. I was also surprised by how deeply Wall Street has its hands in higher education. Definitely a must-watch.

This week in heidenkindom:

Is January over yet? To quote one of my FB friends, "Die, January, die!" This month feels like it's been dragging on forever.

Bonus:

Don't forget I'm hosting a readalong of Trevor Noah's memoir, Born a Crime, next month at Book Bloggers International! The schedule will be posted February 1st. Only 10 pages a day gets you to the end of the book by the 28th.


Have an excellent week, everybody!


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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Mini Reviews III: A Convenient Artistic Malice

mini reviews

This parcel of mini reviews features a contemporary romance set in New Zealand, a classic Regency, and a mystery/thriller from Japan. Enjoy!



artistic license
Artistic License by Elle Pierson

Art student Sophy is so distracted by a museum security guard with a face "Picasso would love" that she doesn't duck out of the way in time to avoid colliding with his impressively muscled torso. When she asks him to model for, Mick feels like he can't say no, and he's not sure he wants to. Will these two crazy kids get together???

I'll readily admit that I have a weakness for any book involving artists or art. Sometimes this leads me astray, but in this case it didn't. While Artistic License isn't a perfect novel–the clothing descriptions in the first chapter were enough to drive me bonkers; the author apparently has an obsession with jackets because I literally knew what kind of jacket every single character was wearing, or had ever worn–the story drew me in and, for the most part, I enjoyed reading it.

Sophy is an Anastasia Steele type of character: young, uncoordinated, shy, awkward, and not very confident. Normally this would be eye roll inducing, but here it felt authentic, possibly because Sophy is also quirky and accepting of herself as she is. Mick is slightly less well-drawn, but I loved the details in his mannerisms that gave the book a well-needed dash of realism.

This is one of those stories where the hero/heroine don't hook up for a long ass time for no good reason, and there were some niggling little details that bothered me, but overall Artistic License is a good–not great–read. If you're at loose ends searching for a romance, you could do worse.

the convenient marriage
The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

I've tried to read a couple of Georgette Heyer books in the past and pretty much gave up on that. But then I saw a post on Angieville about how she loved The Convenient Marriage, and one of the commenters said the audiobook version was narrated by Richard Armitage. RICHARD ARMITAGE, said my brain. And, lo and behold, said audiobook was on Hoopla. I immediately started listening to it and I'm glad I did, because it's a hella entertaining coming-of-age story full of adventure, duels, and social contretemps.

The Convenient Marriage is kind of like Pride & Prejudice, if Mary Bennet had decided to take matters into her own tentacles and propose to one of Jane's wealthy suitors. Horatia *seems* like she would be a shy, uncertain young woman, because of her stutter. But in fact she's feisty and a grab-life-by-both-hands sort. She's self-conscious about her stutter but still insists on going out in society and doing what she wants, which also makes her seem really brave.

Lord Rule is a bit more of a caricature, all laconic and superior all the time (except when he gets really pissed off), but whatever. It works here. And there are many other characters and a ton of stuff happening in the book that has nothing directly to do with the "romance" between Rule and Horry, so much so that you could almost turn this book into an entire TV series!

Finally, I really have to mention Armitage again, because he is an AMAAAAAzing narrator. Every character had his or her own voice and it was hard to believe one person could embody so many different personalities and accents. Honestly the best audiobook narrator I've ever listened to; I will definitely be listening to every other audiobook he's ever worked on.

Highly recommended!

And now for something completely different...

malice
Malice by Keigo Higashino

I received Malice as a birthday (or Christmas?) present, and honestly didn't know what to expect from it. It's not the type of book I would normally pick up on my own: the summary makes it sound like a dark and gritty police procedural, which is not my jam at all. After reading it, I would still say it's not "my type" of book. But because the writing is so fantastic, Malice transcended its genre and completely won me over.

The story is about two writers and their books: one, Kunihiko Hidaka, is a bestselling author; the other, Osamu Nonoguchi, is a literary unknown and Hidaka's childhood friend. When Hidaka's body inside his locked office, Nonoguchi decides to write about the investigation, much to the consternation of Detective Kaga.

I wish I could say more, but I don't want to ruin the twists and turns for you. I'll admit that the last twist went way beyond the bounds of plausibility and sense-making for me, but it was a thrilling ride getting there nonetheless. I can definitely see why Higashino is one of Japan's bestest-selling authors: his writing is compulsively readable. This is the type of novel you want to consume in great big gulps because it grabs hold of your imagination almost immediately. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of Higashino's books in the future!





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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Snapshot

Buffalo at Yellowstone

Currently reading:

Malice by Keigo Higashino: This was a birthday present, and I had no idea what to expect from it. Pleasantly surprised so far!

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas: Uhg. I was looking forward to this one, because Sherlock Holmes, but so far it's meandering and eye roll worthy. This might be a DNF.

Posted:

Mini-reviews of Real Food/Fake Food by Larry Olmsted and But First, Champagne by David White.

TV:

I didn't watch any movies this past week, but I have been watching some TV series I'd like to talk about.

a series of unfortunate events
A Series of Unfortunate Events, starring Neil Patrick Harris, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith, Patrick Warburton, and K. Todd Freeman

As I mentioned last week, this Netflix series is fairly delightful, even though the final episode was pretty damn grim. After Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire's parents are killed in a fire, they're thrown out into the world and forced to deal with an increasingly myopic and unimaginative series of adults, all while trying avoid falling into the clutches of the evil Count Olaf. There is no happy ending for the poor Baudelaires, but the series is interspersed with a ton of fun literary references, awesome guest stars (including Aasif Mandvi, Alfre Woodard, Will Arnett, Don Johnson, and many others), and on-point art direction. This is a series for book lovers, for sure.

The Young Pope, starring Jude Law, Diane Keaton, and Silvio Orlando

When the first episode of this new series aired, I thought it had fantastic acting and production values, but was a little long and dull. BUT THEN – that second episode! The pope's opening speech went in a direction I totally did not see coming. What is Lenny's long-term plan here? What does that blonde woman have to do with anything? How will this affect the Vatican? Add in some film-level cinematography and I'm officially hooked.

emerald city
Emerald City, starring Adria Arjona and Oliver Jackson-Cohen

A darker, grittier take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, because that's what we all need in our lives. /sarcasm I tend to be suspicious of Wizard of Oz adaptations because they're pretty much always a trash fire, and this one makes the same mistakes all the other awful ones do. Dorothy's an adult (and a rode hard adult at that); the Emerald City and its wizard are the opposite of wonderful; and Oz is a depressing hellscape instead of colorful and fun. After the first ep I was like, "Well that was pretty terrible," but decided to keep watching because Lucas is super hot. Unfortunately, ep 2 was boring, and not even the cute guy could save it. Not worth watching imo.

The week in heidenkindom:

My reading so far this year is starting off promising! (I hope I didn't just jinx myself by saying that.) I've read 10 books already and–here's the part I'm really excited about–I've been surprised at how diverse my reading's been in terms of nationality.

I spontaneously started keeping track of the nationality of the authors of my books in the second week of January, and so far 2/3rds of the books I've finished have been by non-US authors. I don't know why I'm so pumped by this because it's a total coincidence and I've certainly not been trying to read internationally, but it gives me a thin sense of accomplishment. We'll see if this trend continues as the year goes on.

And for the first time in years I'm also looking forward to a bunch of new releases this year, including The Last of August, Pretty Face, and A Crown of Bitter Orange.

Bonus:

born a crime readalong

Don't forget to join me in February for a readalong of Trevor Noah's memoir, Born a Crime, on Book Bloggers International. I don't usually read memoirs at all, but I was intrigued by this one, since it tells Noah's story of growing up in Apartheid-Era South Africa. Every review I've read of the book so far has been glowing.

It's a short book so the readalong shouldn't be too onerous, just about 10 pages a day, or 20 minutes a day if you're listening on audiobook.


Have a great week everyone!



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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Mini-Reviews: Foodie Nonfiction

mini book reviews

Sometimes I have things to say about the books I finish, but not enough for a whole blog post. Enter mini-reviews! This time I focus on two recent non-fiction reads: Real Food/Fake Food by Larry Olmsted, and But First, Champagne by David White. I think both are valuable and worth reading, depending on your interests. Keep reading to find out more.

real food fake food
Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It by Larry Olmsted

I like torturing myself by watching documentaries and reading books about how terrible American food is. Everyone needs a hobby I suppose. Anyway, I learned a lot from this book, such as:


  • The difference between the US Department of Agriculture and the US Food & Drug Administration. The USDA is actually designed to serve companies and producers, while the FDA is supposed to protect consumers. However, the USDA is actually the more trustworthy of the two for consumers because the FDA is a useless trash fire that doesn't even bother to follow the bare minimum of its own internal policies, let alone regulate the shit other people do.
  • What kobe beef actually is–I'd been looking into this before the trip to Japan, so I was surprised by how everything I read, on the internet or otherwise, was WRONG. Kobe beef is actually a genetically pure strain of cow from a very specific part of Kobe, and the genetics are what gives it its marbling and flavor, not massages and classical music and a diet of beer, as you might have otherwise heard. Also, only 3 restaurants in the US serve actual kobe beef. Everything else is fake.
  • Speaking of restaurants, I had no idea restaurants could essentially call food anything they like, even if it's completely incorrect.
  • The term méthode champenoise is not synonymous with méthode traditionnelle or méthode classique and can only be used for champagne, not other kinds of sparkling wines. That's because the "méthode champenoise" begins long before the wine is ever bottled and involves what grapes are grown, where, when, how they're planted, how tall they get, when they're harvested, and everything else that's part of the regulations for the winemakers of Champagne.
  • I already knew that the olive oil industry was filled with completely fake products and that Italian extra virgin olive oil especially was to be avoided. But I didn't know that the best EVOO to buy is from Australia, which has the strictest regulations regarding olive oil on the planet.


Sometimes Olmsted takes the whole "fake food" thing a little far, like when he complains about Cook's labeling their wine champagne. I mean, it should really be obvious that Cook's isn't from Champagne, based on the price alone. But then maybe to some people it isn't so obvious, idk. Either way, I came away from this book with some great tips on how to read labels and what to look for to make sure I'm getting the most value for my money by buying "real" food.


but first champagne
But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World's Favorite Wine by David White

I enjoyed the first few chapters of this book, which were engaging and well-written. When White got into the modern history of Champagne, however (namely the World War periods), it became sleep-inducing.

I also occasionally felt like White was either soft-pedaling certain facts to make the Champagne houses look good, or didn't bother to do his due diligence in his research. For example, take this passage from the beginning of Chapter Six:

Jay-Z and other celebrities abandoned Cristal after Louis Roederer's president, Frédéric Rouzaud, spoke dismissively of his new devotees.

This sentence makes it sound like Jay-Z and a few of his friends threw a fit because Rouzaud wasn't star struck. The truth is bit more complicated than that. In actuality there was an organized boycott of Cristal in the hip-hop community because they felt Rouzaud's comments were racist, or at least inspired by racism. (Fun fact: the sudden popularity of moscato in the late '00s and early '10s was thanks to this boycott. Jay-Z may have replaced Cristal with Ace of Spades, but most hip-hop artists decided to abandon champagne altogether and instead started drinking moscato.)

I certainly don't know even one tenth of what White does about Champagne, but in the small parts where I did know something, it seemed like White's information was either incomplete or not entirely accurate. That said, I did learn some stuff, the full-color illustrations were fantastic, and it's true that there isn't a book similar to this one on the market. If you're interested in Champagne, or if you're planning a wine tour of the region, this is a good place to start.




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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday Snapshot is Sick of Winter Already

Raggedy dogs taking over a chair.

Currently Reading:

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer: I haven't had a lot of luck with Heyer's books in the past, but I'm enjoying this one so far.

Artistic License by Elle Pierson: The clothing descriptions are driving me legit nutso–I swear to god the author is obsessed with jackets–but the story is drawing me in nonetheless.

Posted:

10 movies for wine lovers on Netflix and Prime, plus an American abroad's guide to wine in Japan.

Movies:

dior and i
Dior and I, directed by Frédéric Tcheng

At first you might assume that the "I" of the title Dior and I is Raf Simons, who became the creative director of Christian Dior in 2012. In fact, however, the title refers to Dior himself and how he felt split between his life as a regular guy and the head of a fashion house.

One of the things I really love about this movie was how it doesn't present haute couture fashion design as the vision of one man, or woman. Instead, as one of the Dior seamstresses put it, the real heart of a fashion house lies in its atelier, the people who physically create the clothes that go down the runway or are sold to clients. Many of these women and men work at the same house for over forty years, and they're the ones who train the next the generation in how the clothes are made, the aesthetic and design philosophy of the house. It seems incorrect to call them mere tailors or seamstresses; instead, they're really incredibly skilled artisans without whom the house's designer–or creative director, in this case–would be completely dead in the water. As one of the women in the Dior atelier said, "He [Simons] might tell me to change something, but that's just an edit. This my work, my dress. I'm the one who made it."

Anyway, it's a pretty fascinating peek into the world of Paris fashion houses and how big runway shows are put together.

This week in heidenkindom:

January has been a total drag so far. First, I went to the dentist and he told me I have cavities. Admittedly, the last time I went to the dentist George W Bush was president, but it still came as a shock. Then I had an ingrown toenail that hurts like a MF. Not to mention it's cold as shit outside.

But on the plus side, I did finish a really good book, Act Like It. I also started watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix and I adore it. If you're the type of person who is annoyed by people who say "literally" when they actually mean figuratively, this is the TV series for you!



That's all for this week–the series finale of Sherlock is airing early. Have an excellent week, everyone!


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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sunday Snapshot Says Happy New Year!

Thor is facing the New Year head-on.

Happy 2017, everyone! Hope you're all enjoying a wonderful holiday season.

Currently reading:

But First, Champagne by David White: Idk, the World War chapters were SUPER boring.

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers: Could Lord Peter be more British?

I still haven't decided what my first read of 2017 will be; I finished The Chocolate Kiss last night.

Posted:

My year in books.

Movies:

passengers
Passengers, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence

The starship Avalon is on a 120-year journey to another planet, where its 5,000 passengers and crew–currently in suspended animation–are scheduled to set up a new colony. Then the ship is damaged and one man wakes up, 90 years too early. And, like Adam in the Garden of Eden, he has everything he needs except companionship.

Hmmm. This movie was okay. I really liked the special effects and set design, and Michael Sheen as the bartender android Arthur was just fantastic. But the movie really falls apart when it comes to character development. There are only three human characters in this entire film, yet the screenwriters couldn't be bothered to really sit down and think about their motivations for leaving all their family and friends behind, forever. What kind of a person would do that? That's the real question, and we're never given a plausible explanation.

I mean, look at the people who colonized the New World and their motivations: they were either soldiers or criminals who didn't really have a choice in the matter; people who were completely desperate and had nothing to lose; or, religious nutjobs. And neither of the main characters in Passengers fits those descriptions. JLaw's character (supposedly a smart journalist, yet she can't put two and two together to figure out how she got into this sitch) is going to the colony to write about it for earthlings, and then she's going to return. After 240 years? What's she going back for? Makes no sense.

But JLaw has the backstory to end all backstories compared to Pratt (I can't even remember his character's name), whose single description of his life on earth was that it was "all right." Uh okay? Did have parents, siblings, a goldfish? No idea! And the whole, "In a new colony mechanics can build things," explanation is just lazy, as is repeating ad copy from the colonization brochure.

Perhaps a pair of really excellent character actors–like Sheen, for example–could have added depth to these two, but Hollywood decided to go with ye olde two attractive people who fall in love trick. YAWN. That wasn't the only predictable turn in this film, either. And I would like to add as a side note that I'm getting really sick of these movies where all JLaw does is scream and cry and throw emotive fits, or look pretty. It just really reminds me of high school drama club.

But hey, space!

pride and prejudice and zombies
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, starring Lily James and Sam Riley

Come one, come all, to see one of the classics of women's literature be transformed into a story for men. Because men don't have enough stories.

To be honest, I fell asleep during this one, but even before I fell asleep I decided it was dumb. As an adaption of the original, it's half-assed at best; and while you would think the addition of zombies would make it kooky and/or exciting, it really does neither. I can understand why no one went to see this movie.

jason bourne
Jason Bourne, starring Matt Damon and Alicia Vikander

There are certain things one expects from a Jason Bourne movie: first and foremost, Jason Bourne, obvs. Second of all, exotic locals and kick-ass car chases. And third of all, a menacing and seemingly all-powerful group of government spooks who want to bring Bourne in and make him do their bidding OR ELSE. Jason Bourne certainly had all of these elements, but they felt out of balance. There was hardly any Bourne in it all, 2 car chases, and way way way too many scenes of the spooks watching video of what Bourne's doing, followed by them telling us what he's doing. We can see the screen same as you can, people! As result, the movie as a whole just felt hopelessly muddled and Bourne seemed more of a plot device than a character. Vikander was a standout with her performance of the Agent With Unclear Motivations (I believe that was her title in the script, no?), but that's hardly enough to make me like the movie. Even a Bourne fan could stand to wait for this one to come out on cable.

manchester by the sea
Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges

Lee is an apartment complex janitor who has issues with emotions. Expressing them, recognizing them in other people, etc. When his brother dies he returns to his hometown of Manchester, where we discover what made Lee the man he is today. Spoiler alert: it involves tragedy.

What's this, a movie where I can actually remember the characters' names?!? This film sounds like it's going to be depressing AF but it's not. I wouldn't say it's hopeful necessarily, either, but it's definitely not cynical. There's a lot of humor to balance out the sad parts, and the filmmakers never stray into sentimentality or emotional manipulation, they just make you genuinely feel for the characters. Affleck's performance was completely on point and I loved the character of Patrick, his nephew, even though he is a fat jerk teenager. The gorgeous shots of the bay and the small town were just a bonus. I would be shocked if this movie didn't receive at least one Oscar.

New Year's Resolutions

I enjoy posting my New Year Resolutions even though I rarely make any attempt to follow through on them, and typically forget what they even were by summer. Last year my resolutions were to spruce up my professional writing site (which I did, though not to my complete satisfaction), get back to writing fiction (didn't happen, although I did write a non-fiction cocktail book), and get back into food and drink writing, which I was able to do!

This year I'd like to:

  • Practice my languages everyday. I'm already on a six-day streak with this, thanks to an app on my phone! Will it continue? Eh, probably not.
  • Get outside and exercise more. I'm aware that I need to exercise more, because the life of a writer is fairly sedentary. But recently I saw this video on how exercise is the #1 thing you can do in your life to prevent Alzheimer's. Since my grandmother died of Alzheimer's and my grandfather currently has dementia, this is relevant to my interests. Of course, I probably won't follow through on it because: 1. Winter. Brrrr. 2. Running/walking around my neighborhood is a nightmare since we don't have sidewalks; 3. I'm not going to drive somewhere for the sake of walking or exercising; 4. Imma definitely not going to go to a gym and I think stationary bikes/treadmills are nonsensical. Sooooo that's a lot of excuses. But hey, you never know!
  • Save more money, pay off credit cards. It's that time of the year again when you take a look at your credit card statement and gulp! But, aside from that, I need to make myself more financially secure in the long-term, which means reducing expenses and creating a more substantial parachute fund.
  • Finish The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I started Marie Kondo's tidying up project wayyyyy back in 2014, and got kind of bogged down on the miscellaneous category. But I'm almost done! I just have to do tabletop knick knacks/tchotchkes, stuffed animals and toys (not looking forward to that one), and photos, and then at last my life will be magically transformed /sarcasm.
What are your New Year Resolutions?


I hope you all have an awesome year in 2017! Be optimistic and kind to one another, and always remember to read plenty of books. <3



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