Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fragment Friday--One Night That Changes Everything

Fragment Friday is a meme hosted by James at Book Chic.  Today I'm reading from a book I just reviewed, One Night That Changes Everything.  Check out James' blog and post your own reading this Friday!

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One Night That Changes Everything by Lauren Barnholdt

1 night cover

Sooooo, remember that movie Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist where the girl makes a big deal about how she hasn't had an organism in her sixteen loooooong years of existence, and then that guy who was in Juno gives her a hand job in her dad's recording studio and you're like, "Eugh, where's a cutaway scene when you need one?"  Well this book is kinda like that except totally without the orgasm.

See, Eliza has this notebook where she writes all the things she's afraid of.  And most of them are pretty stupid BUT understandable, like most everyone's fears.  Then she breaks up with her boyfriend--I won't tell you why, but he's a total playa--so her boyfriend's douchey friends steal the notebook and then spend an entire night forcing her to do some of the things she's afraid of.  Most of the things wind up being really fun and cool, though, so REALLY she should be thanking them instead of breaking into their house... but I digress.  Eliza and her friends have this totes ah-mazing night where they discover deep, personal truths about themselves and hook up with a bunch of guys but I don't think their definition of hook up and mine are the same.  In fact, I'm pretty sure they're not.

You can get through this book super-quick.  It's for the 12-13 crowd and has the feel-goody message that it's okay to make mistakes and do things you're afraid of.  None of the tasks Eliza has to do are dangerous or anything, so there's no sense of tension or danger and it finishes off with the warm fuzzies.

But OMG, what was up with Cooper?  The dude was pathetic!  He kept following Eliza around for no reason, even though she kept telling him to bugger off, and then he has to save her at the end?  What. Ever.  His entire existence as a character was totally just an excuse to set up this scenario where Eliza has to face her fears and it was super-fakey.  And who names their kid Cooper, anyway?

Anyway, I read this book right after watching Easy A, and now I can't stop talking like this!  Halp!

teen speak rehab

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Movie Reviews: Easy A & The Searchers

easy a poster

Easy A

After lying to her best friend about losing her V-card, Olive becomes the enemy of her high school's Christian faith group, led by Marianne (who totally ripped her hair style off of Sarah Newlin in True Blood).  Olive then discovers how easy it is to gain a bad rep without doing anything.

This movie is based off The Scarlet Letter, although it references the film versions more than the actual book.  In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne commits adultery, thus being forced wear an A on her chest.  Olive also wears an A, usually on a boob, even though she's not married (or even dating), and really just pretends to be a slut.  This makes no sense.  Why not wear an S?  Or a W for whore?  Or a WW for a wanna-be whore?  Also, adultery is morally wrong, whereas having sex with consenting partners isn't, and pretending to have sex with the social dreck of the school's male population is just stupid, so that kind of takes all the moral ambiguity out of it.

Bad adaptations aside, this movie was actually enjoyable.  It was funny and the romance, once it got going, was very sweet.  Although the portrayal of gays was very stereotypical (the decorating line again, really?), and the Christian faith group suggested more of an attack on religion than fanaticism.

the searchers movie still

The Searchers

A much more subtle attack on fanaticism can be found in John Ford's The Searchers, starring John Wayne.  Wayne's character, Ethan, becomes obsessed with seeking vengeance for the murder of his brother's family by Comanche Indians--to the point where he decides to kill his niece after finding her married to a Comanche chief and integrated into Indian society.

Ethan is definitely a fanatic, and it's hard to tell exactly how far he will go.  One doesn't want to think he will go so far as to kill the innocent in his total disgust for the Indians, because he shows occasional signs of awesomeness (and he's John Wayne), but evidence suggests otherwise.  Screams it, actually.  For Ethan, his niece, Debbie, represents both something he loves--his brother and most particularly his brother's wife--and something hates--the "Comanch."  Which side will win out for him in the end, love or hate?

The strength of this movie really lies in the fact that Ford doesn't spell out the whole story.  He gives us hints and then lets us fill in the blanks, particularly when it comes to Ethan.  He remains an ambiguous figure until the end of the film, and we're left with questions that we have to answer by reconstructing the movie in our minds.  Where did Ethan get the money he gave to his brother? What did Ethan see when he went into the canyon on his own?  Is Martin Ethan's son?

The movie is also very racist--women stolen by the Comanche as children behave as if they're mad or have been raised by wolves; Martin's Indian wife, Look, gets shoved down a cliff and the camera doesn't even follow her; and Martin himself faces plenty of taunts and outright racism because of his one-eighth Indian ancestry.  Yet this is supposed to be a "revisionist" film where the Indians are treated more sympathetically than they had been in the past!  I think that all hinges are Martin, who is obviously the hero.  Some might call Ethan the hero, but I don't think the story is told through Ethan's eyes--we see Martin's perspective, the spectrum of good and evil, racism, opportunity, fellowship, love, hate, white, Indian, Mexican, danger, and home that makes up the tapestry of the West.  If the film had been told from Ethan's perspective, it would have been in black and white.

Although this was a good movie, I didn't enjoy it a lot.  It just went on and on and on, and I can't believe they spent THAT LONG looking for that girl.  Honestly, I expected Ethan to just fall over dead at the very end.  It was also a very dark film.  But I would definitely say that it's worth seeing, especially if you like Westerns--or Star Wars, for that matter.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Mentalist: Why It's Starting To Annoy Me

simon baker <--I'm bored!

I have a particular weakness for mystery shows.  Love them!  Two years ago, The Mentalist was my absolute favorite show on TV.  But after a lackluster second season, and the third season premier this week, I'm starting to think this show is beyond ridiculous.

Why is every episode about rich people?

Honestly, it's bloody bizarre how every. single. episode has a rich person being murdered and/or the suspect.  I guess we're not supposed to be saddened by the bloodthirstiness of Californians because they're so rich?  Or maybe the writers just want to make the show more appealing to foreign markets who've already been conditioned to assume people in California are all wealthy after The O.C. and The Hills (I'm assuming the latter is set in California; I've never actually seen it).

Simon Baker's Wardrobe

Okay, first of all, this is California.  Looking professional doesn't require Oxfords, a jacket, vest, tie, long-sleeved dress shirt, and undershirt.  Why don't you put on a fedora and spats while you're at it?  And second of all, this is California!  I could see all the layers as a sensible fashion choice if you were based in San Francisco, but you go out to the middle of the desert in that getup?  I'm sure.

The emasculation of Patrick Jane

Patrick Jane isn't a "real boy."  He's an asexual Peter Pan zooming around the CBI office and playing tricks on the boring, grown-up pirates while Wendy (aka Lisbon) tries to reign him in.  He has no power (he doesn't even drive when Lisbon's around), drinks tea and dresses like a grandma (if said grandmother was a man, of course).  The only thing Jane (even his name is feminized) has going for him is his quest to seek revenge, bloody revenge! against Red John for killing his family, but that was taken away from him in season two, essentially emasculating the character and rendering him completely useless. 

And let's face it, he's never going to catch Red John.  The writers are going to draaaaag this on forever, because that's what TV writers do.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fragment Friday--Priceless

Wilkommen! Welcome to Fragment Friday, a meme hosted by James from Book Chic, and one which I have been neglecting for a few weeks. Today I read from Priceless by Robert K. Wittman, a memoir by the founder of the FBI's Art Cream Crime Team.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Turning the Feather Around: My Life In Art by George Morrison As Told to Margot Fortunato Galt

feather cover

From Alexander of Abingdon to Salvador DalĂ­, artists frequently indulge in telling of their own story or explaining their philosophy of art in writing.  They're not the final word on criticism of their own work, by any means, but these autobiographies and manifestos can be entertaining and fascinating reading, as well as being useful source material.  Unfortunately, Turning the Feather Around is only marginally interesting and of limited use to scholars.

George Morrison was an artist who led an incredible life.  Born in the poverty-stricken Indian village of Chippewa City, Minnesota, in 1919, Morrison was infected with TB in his hip as a boy and had to go to St. Paul to receive treatment.  Here he interacted with other children, read books, and did art projects.  This visit opened up a much broader world to Morrison.  Eventually he left Chippewa City (now a ghost town) for New York City in the 1940's.  He hung out in Greenwich Village and palled around with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Frantz Kline; showed in tons of exhibits, and was pretty much livin' the dream.  But no matter how fun New York was, Morrison always wanted to return to Minnesota, which he eventually did, to much acclaim of "local boy makes good."

Oh, and P.S., he was an American Indian.

There is a curious affectation to Turning the Feather Around in that it is basically a transcript of Morrison recounting his life to Galt.  This may sound like an interesting idea, but it doesn't really work because there's no formative narrative for the reader to frame these incidents, so it takes on an aspect of, "First we did this, and then we did this, and then this happened."  These aren't stories--they rarely even manage to be anecdotes--and the information is all over the place: Morrison's art, his personal life, some random philosophical musing, people he hung out with, his dog, he likes a girl, he likes the dog better, back to artistic accomplishments, etc.  Plus, because Margot doesn't insert herself into the book at all, we have no idea what she was asking or why he's talking about these things, so it ends up reading like a one-sided phone conversation.

Galt does insert Morrison's ex-wife, Hazel Belvo, into the book, however.  In some ways this was an improvement, because at least you could get a sense of the interaction between her and Morrison; at the same time, though, her interjections are pretty pointless.  I wanted to write her a note saying, "Dear Hazel, What's up with you, woman?  Quit riding George's coattails and write and your own damn book.  Love, me."  That's the kind of nice person I am.

But then Morrison hasn't written his own book, has he?  He's told his story to a (white) woman who has then presumably edited his pearls of wisdom for this book.  My question--WHY.  Unless Galt is incapable of critical thinking, why am I not reading her biography of George Morrison?  Or why am I not reading Morrison's own autobiography?  He was perfectly capable of writing--he mentioned that he kept journals in Turning the Feather Around.  Those sound very interesting; why am I not seeing an annotated version of them?

Even though one could say Morrison is telling his own story here, I disagree.  It's being framed by a white point of view, one to which the most interesting aspect of his life and character is his American Indian-ness.  This is clear in the fact that Morrison repeatedly says the Indian aspect of his art is something other people have always looked for--and, coincidentally enough, seen--in his work, not something he ever purposefully brought to it; yet he spends a good half of the book, if not more, talking about how he felt as an Indian, how his work was received within the Indian community, how Hazel had to adjust to being married to an Indian.  For someone who considered himself and artist first, we spend an awful lot of time talking about his ethnicity and not a lot about his art.  Again, what kind of questions were being posed here?

There's something curiously emasculating about this book.  When one reads the writings of great artists--even female artists like Georgia O'Keeffe--they typically come across as full of bravado and machismo and stubbornness.  They could tell the entire world to fuck off--could and did--as long as they get to work the way they want.  I have a feeling Morrison had that attitude, as well, but you're only given hints of it here.  First his voice is filtered through Margot Fortunato Galt, and then his ex, Hazel, comes in and further obscures it.  He almost disappears into the background, a whisper.

Is this because Morrison was an Indian?  Is an Indian with the power and machismo of Pollock really that threatening?  Or was this simply a side effect of the method through which Morrison's story is conveyed?  Or is it more an issue of gender and the fact that Galt is a woman?  It's hard to say, but after reading this book I do think it's disappointingly non-critical, and I wish Morrison had written it directly or that Galt had simply taken their interview and used it to write a biography.  Not that either of those would necessarily have been more critical, but at least they might have been framed better so that the book would be more appealing to the average reader.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Fuck You--A Censorship Dilemma

The catchy new single from Cee-Lo Green presents a problem for radio.  It's a good song.  People want to listen to it.  BUT over half of it consists of fuck, shit, and other things you can't say on the radio (for, as we all know, even though kids don't actually listen to the radio anymore, stations still can't play songs with bad words on the off-chance impressionable children will hear them from someone other than their parents and siblings).  To further complicate things, the song's meaning is most certainly lost if you censor it.

The solution can go two ways:  erase the words from the song or replace them.  The former gives it choppy feel ("I see you driving round town with the girl I love, and I'm like,! Ooo! Ooo! Ooo!"), but at least there's some sense of maintaining artistic integrity.  The latter might be considered the best option, but what word do you replace fuck with?  I've heard "forget," which has two syllables instead of one, and doesn't have the same piquant sentiment--so, it really doesn't work.  What other words could they use?  Maybe they could go all BSG and use frack! 

On top of that comes the problem of what to do with the word shit.  As the fuck issue has already used up too much thinking for most music executives, the consensus seems to be to just replace it with, "shhhh."  This is even more annoying than "forget" ("If I was richer, I'd still be with ya--now ain't that some shhhhhh?"  Ain't that some shhhh?!?!  UHG).

Of course, the alternative would just be not to play the song at all, or to play it with the regular lyrics.  But that would make the world explode, so let's not do that.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Sesame Street Library

I've been learning a lot about the library in Sesame Street this week.  First, Cass from Bonjour, Cass! recommended this Grover video in our BBAW interview; then Katiebabs posted an ode to the library this weekend where she featured a video with Cookie Monster in the same library.

This made me wonder what else I could learn about libraries from Sesame Street, other than 1. you must be quiet, and 2. there are no cookies.  So behold, my semi-scientific (i.e., what I did with my afternoon other than homework) survey of the Sesame Street library!

Lesson 3: the library is for everyone, even grouches.

La la la la la la la lalalalalalalalalalalalalalala!

Lesson 4: you can meet rock stars at the library!

Lesson 5: there are computers.

Naturally, since this video features Elmo, it's pretty lame.

That's right, Elmo. LAME.

What are your favorite library-related videos?

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

BBAW--Future Treasures

bbaw button

It's the last day of BBAW!  It's been a great (if busy) week.  Before it's all over, I want to say congratulations to the fabulous Devourer of Books for winning Best Eclectic Book Blog.  Her blog is great and definitely worth subscribing to if you haven't already.  I was honestly surprised and honored to be shortlisted in this category with such fabulous company, so thank you to everyone who voted for this blog!

When BBAW drew to a close last year, this was a new book blog with a different name (Heidenkind's Hideaway).  I wrote a post stating, "In the future, I'd like to have more author interviews, review weirder books, and improve my writing skillz.  Also host another challenge, possibly, and change the design of my blog so that it's more better."

I believe I accomplished all of those things in the past year.  My reading habits have definitely changed; in 2008, probably eighty percent of the books I read were romances.  Now it's more between ten and twenty.  Does book blogging have anything to do with that?  Definitely.  Although I've always been very eclectic in my reading habits, reading book blogs has amplified that and inspired me to try books I never would have even heard of, let alone picked up in the bookstore.

I have to confess, I'm still conflicted over this change in my reading habits.  I often ask myself if I would be happier switching back to romances.  Even though the tropes of romances aren't really working for me right now, people falling in love is still the major thing in stories that I respond to.  Without it, I tend to just not care.  I only read two five-star books in the past year... but then, both were recommended by book bloggers and were novels I never would have picked up without their recommendation, so sticking to romances might not have improved my year in reading at all.  In any case, the past twelve months have been an adventure in reading--interesting, fun, occasionally frustrating, but certainly an adventure!

What does the future of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books hold?  I want to keep reviewing a wide variety of books.  I plan on reading what I want, when I want to, and writing whatever I think about it, whether snarky or fangrl-ish.  One of the things I figured out during BBAW this week is that what I love to see most in reviews--or in anything, really--is creative thinking.  I've been striving to bring more creativity to all my posts, and will continue to do so in the coming year.

Above all, I want this blog to be fun and to remain my happy space for the coming year.  Thank you to all of my readers for helping to make it that way!

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

BBAW--Forgotten Treasures

to the hilt cover

Today's meme for BBAW involves books we don't think have been given enough face time on book blogs:  recently published books that have flown under the radar or forgotten classics. 

My favorite book that I've read this year so far has been To the Hilt by Dick Francis, which was suggested to me by the lovely Orannia from Walkabout

Dick Francis isn't exactly hip.  I know this.  But this novel was SO GOOD. 

Do you like Sir Walter Scott?  Novels of knights errant going to battle for their honor and the honor of their patrons?  Distant ladies who are both noble and brave?  Then you'll love this book, because that's basically what it is--a Camelot romance set in contemporary Britain.  It's smart and detailed and compulsively readable, and I can't recommend it enough.

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BBAW--Unexpected Treasure

midnight secretary

It's day three of BBAW and I'm already exhausted!  (Not necessarily because of BBAW though.)  ANYway, today we're asked to share a book or genre we tried because of the influence of another blogger.

I picked manga, mainly because I haven't talked about how I was introduced to it before.  My brother has read manga forever, so it was on my radar, but I have to admit I wrote it off as something that wasn't for me.  Mind, this was my brother, so the manga he read was all about fighting Pokemons.  I didn't have any exposure to any other form of manga, or even graphic novels.

Before I started book blogging, I used to read Smart Bitches Trashy Books.  Not religiously, but off and on.  One day they had a short post on a manga you could read online for free called Midnight Secretary.  They warned me my entire day would be sucked away reading it--oh, they warned me!  But I couldn't resist just giving it an itty bitty peek, especially as it was called "Harlequin: Presents crossed with manga and vampires."

Midnight Secretary is about a shy girl named Kaya who is very desirous of being the best secretary she can possibly be.  Anal retentive secretaries, unite!  She starts working at Touma corporation, only to be set up babysitting Director Kyouhei Touma, the playboy son of the company's founder.  He doesn't seem to do any work, just ferries women in and out of his office all night.  Hmmmmm.  Let's try that again:  hmmmmmmmmmmmm.  Eventually, the secretary finds out her boss isn't just a selfish playboy--he's a selfish playboy vampire!!! *gasp*

This manga is totally dumb and weird and enjoyable and I could not. stop. reading it!  After nineteen hours straight I finished and had to find other vampire romance mangas to read like right away!  Which is how I started on Vampire Knight (fabulous) and Rosario + Vampire (very fun).

So there you have it.  The Smart Bitches convinced me try manga and opened up a whole new format of reading to me, and it was definitely an unexpected treasure.

What books have you unexpectedly enjoyed that were recommended by another blogger?

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Monday, September 13, 2010

BBAW Interview Swap


Today for BBAW, we get to interview a blogger we're not familiar with.  Hooray!  I have the pleasure of interviewing Cass from Bonjour, Cass!  To check out the other half of our interview swap, go to Cass' blog.

Bonjour, Cass! :) First off, are you or is anything you read French (i.e., where'd your blog name come from)?
Actually, I'm mostly Italian--there's a bit of French-Canadian blood on my mother's side, but not enough to be able to claim any kind of Frenchness. I can't speak or read or write in French, despite the best efforts of five years of French classes. I like the French well enough, but I can't even claim to be a true francophile. Such a poseur. I just like the way Bonjour, Cass! sounds. It was either that or FanCASStic, which I thought might seem a bit egoCASStical. Ahem.

Now that we've got that out of the way, you read a lot of GLBT literature.  What's the best GLBT book you've read recently?
I mostly read GLBT non-fiction, theory, and the like, and the best I've read recently is The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies by Victor Russo. Published in 1981, it's a seminal work of the history of gay and lesbian characters in film. It's a bit out of date (it says that Rocky Horror Picture Show is the gayest movie to date, for example) but it's a very readable, in-depth history of film.

You say in your profile that your first favorite book featured Grover. Grover is my favorite Muppet, too!  What's your favorite Grover skit?
I really love this one of Grover trying to explain what a library is while trying to speak very, very, softly (which is very, very hard for Grover to do).

Have you ever tried to read a book in a genre you don't like?

Oh yes, especially if it's recommended by someone I trust. I'm always willing to go outside my comfort zone when it comes to reading. Sometimes I end up loving it, sometimes I end up throwing it across the room, it's really a toss up... (Pun intended. Har har.)

If you had to describe reading metaphorically, what would you say it was like?
Depending on the genre, reading is a curled up cat napping in the most blissful patch of sun, or the five intense hours spent solving a Rubix cube.

Do you always finish books, or are you of the mindset that life is too short to read bad books?
Before I started writing my blog, I always had to finish books, especially books in a series--even if I didn't like the first one! Now I seem to have fine-tuned my tastes and/or instincts, and I sometimes even put books down after four or five pages. It keeps me from getting too cranky.

Do you write bad reviews?
I do hope my reviews themselves aren't bad but I believe the question is about whether or not I'm ever critical in my reviews -- in which case, the answer is a definite yes! Offering a thorough, fair, rigorous critique is what I enjoy most about reviewing.

It's the zombie apocalypse.  How long do you think you'd survive?
I consulted my local expert in zombie takeovers and she says about ten minutes. I am completely unprepared for the zombies. I am also a slow runner.

What do you like to do first, read the book or see the movie?  Or does it matter?
I've decided to start seeing the movie first, when possible, because I've been known to ruin the whole movie for others by whining about how the book was either completely different, so much better, or both!

If you could meet one literary character, who would it be?
What a tricky question! I think I'll go with Thursday Next, from Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. We could make bad book jokes together and she could probably protect me in case any zombies show up.

Thank you, Cass! Hmmm, I think someone should challenge Cass to read a book from her least-favorite genre, romance.  Anyone want to take a stab at recommending one?

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BBAW--First Treasure

BBAW 2010 button

Welcome to BBAW!  I'm so excited for Book Blogger Appreciation Week this year.

One of the nicest things about BBAW is giving a shout-out to your favorite blogs.  Today, we're being asked to share a great new blog we've discovered since BBAW last year.  But how can I pick only one?

Blogs I Discovered Because of BBAW 2009:

If you've participated in BBAW before, you know that it can seriously add to your reader.  Stella Matutina is a blog Meghan from Medieval Bookworm posted about, and focuses mainly on speculative fiction, though there is a lot of other genres mixed in.  Memory's posts are always lively and interesting.  My favorite is the "random thoughts" section of her reviews.

Love Romance Passion is another blog Meghan recommended that focuses on (as you can probably guess by the title) romance.  This blog has tons of content and great guest posts.

I'm not sure who recommend The Zen Leaf to me (it was probably Meghan), but this very smart blog is worth subscribing to just for the detailed analysis and comparison of Harry Potter books.  Amanda also reviews a wide variety of books like classics, general fiction, YA, mysteries--take your pick.

Bookphilia is written by a bookseller and English scholar, and the reviews can really blow your mind.  My favorite features, though, are the fun ones: I Interview Dead People (which I borrowed for my own blog), The Sarazens Head without New-gate, where Colleen tells us about her adventures in book selling; and Curious/Creepy, where we get to learn about books that have been spotted being read in public.

I also interviewed Melody from Melody's Reading Corner last year.  Her blog is great fun and she's a wonderful bloggy friend to have!

Other Blogs I've Found Since Then:

I've been wanting to gush about Hannah Stoneham's Book Blog for a long time--she reads mainly nonfiction books, and her reviews are always entertaining and intelligent. 

Slush Pile Hell
is a totally lol-worthy (and very popular because of it) peek into horrible query letters. 

I found Forgotten Bookmarks through Monica at The Bibliophilic Book Blog during her Bookmark Week, and it's quickly become one of my favorite book blogs evar!  I've even dreamed about it.  If you enjoy finding things in old books, you definitely have to follow this blog.

Promantica is a new, very thoughtful blog by a long-time romance writer/reader.  Magdalen doesn't necessarily write reviews, but she does have a lot to say about books and romance, and her posts are wonderful to read.

There are so many great book blogs out there that it's impossible to find and follow them all!  What's your favorite new discovery?

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Library Loot!

library loot badge

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

You all get to see my ugly apartment again for this week's Library Loot.  Aren't you happy?

For those who don't like to watch videos, I checked out One Night That Changes Everything by Lauren Barnholdt, Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman, and The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-Reading Monster Hercules Barefoot: His Wonderful Love and His Terrible Hatred by Carl Johan Vallgren.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Memorable Scenes

pollice verso by gerome

Sometimes books make a big impact regardless of how good they are because of certain scenes that you just can't get out of your head.

For example, I think about a particular scene in Gladiator's Honor by Michelle Styles at least once a week, usually while watching foodie shows.  It's the night before the Roman Games, so all the gladiators are having a huge party before they have to face death.  Each gladiator handles this in different ways--some have an emotional breakdown and sob, some get drunk and have orgiastic sex, and some eat so much they have to make themselves throw up so they can go back to eating.


Naturally, the hero of the book doesn't participate in any of these undignified activities, although he does go to the party just so we can see it through his eyes.  The entire point of the gathering isn't to comfort the gladiators at all, but to provide additional spectacle for the Roman patricians who can pay to be a part of the festivities.

The overall book was okay, but I was particularly struck by that scene because it had all the spectacle of a Jerry Springer show and really brought Ancient Rome to life in a way that I never would have expected.

What are some of your most memorable scenes from a book?

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Monday, September 6, 2010

What Alice Knew by Paula Marantz Cohen

alice cover

Immediately after I requested this book for review from Sourcebooks, I had a long pang of doubt--in my experience, novels that use Jack the Ripper in the plot are to be avoided.  However, I'm happy to say this book is an exception.

The unlikely hero of this tale is writer Henry James, who, along with his brother, William (a professor at Harvard and an early expert in psychology), and his sister, Alice, helps to investigate the Ripper murders.

This book is so much fun, mainly because of Henry.  One wouldn't expect someone like Henry James to be funny, but he really is--in a cute, bumbling sort of way.  Alice is another great character--she's smarter than both of her brilliant brothers (as she says at the end of Chapter 4, "I will review what you gather... and solve the case." There are a bunch of awesome one-liners in this book, btw), but remains largely bed-bound, viewing herself as an island of reason in an insane world.

Jack the Ripper has been done and re-done to death in books, movies, graphic novels--just about any format you can imagine.  In What Alice Knew, however, it doesn't even feel like the Jameses are investigating Jack the Ripper, because Cohen brings such a fresh spin to it.  And she uses the investigation to showcase numerous people and subjects: John Singer Sargent, Oscar Wilde, women's suffrage, photography, art (both academic and avant garde), social class, bigotry, religion, dinner parties, laudanum, theater, and just about anything else you can think of.  In fact, it reminded me of Drood in the way it seemed to submerge the reader completely in the world of the Victorians (except it's much better because it's about 500 pages shorter).

That being said, once the siblings' investigation got underway in earnest, the book ironically became a lot less interesting.  This was because the main suspect was so obvious, you knew he couldn't be the Ripper; but there really weren't any other leads to follow, which made the whole thing seem rather pointless.  The last one hundred pages seemed to drag by.  There were also two romances involving both Alice and William, respectively, which were absolutely delish in their Victorian subtlety and unspokeness; even though I enjoyed them, though, I think William's romance especially seemed like a tangent to the central plot of the book and slowed the narrative wayyyyy down. 

I also hated the ending.  While I can see, I think, where the author was going with it, it didn't feel supported by the rest of the book.  Cohen was trying to fit the ideas that you can never truly know another human being, all situations are about context, and did-they-catch-the-killer-or-didn't-they (?!??) into the last 10 pages of the book, and for me it really didn't work.

Overall, though, this was a very good novel--definitely one of the best Victorian-set historicals I've read in a long time, and the kind of book I would recommend unhesitatingly.  When I finished, I felt like the cloying atmosphere of Victorian London was physically clinging to me, and I do admit to still missing Henry.  If you're a nineteenth-century geek, you really, REALLY have to pick this one up!

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Censorship Week at Bookalicious

censorship button

Hello webbies!  Today I'm guest-posting at the fabulous blog for Pam's Censorship Week, and joining other great bloggers like Amy from My Friend Amy, Gail from Ticket to Anywhere, Susan from Waste Paper Prose, and last but not least, Danielle from There's a Book.  Check it out!

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Dream-Maker's Magic by Sharon Shinn

dream-maker's cover

Kellen's mother is convinced that her daughter is a boy.  She dresses Kellen like a boy and treats her like a boy.  Kellen's father believes her mother has gone mad and can't take it anymore, so he leaves.  As you can imagine, Kellen grows up a bit of a weirdo and doesn't have any friends until she meets Gryffin, a lame boy who also has a lot of personal problems.  Then Kellen's mother decides to open an inn and she meets a lot of interesting people who help her and Gryffin get what they want out of life.

Did you notice anything about that summary?  Like a lack conflict?  No central plot?  Boringness?  Because those are the problems in this book.

A few weeks ago, I read The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer, and thought it seemed like an unformed writing exercise that wasn't well thought-out.  The Dream-Maker's Magic, unfortunately, had the same feeling--but at about twice the length, I'm less willing to forgive it.  It feels like a short story addendum to one of Shinn's more elaborated series like Twelve Houses or Samaria, stretched out for no reason.

At first I thought The Dream-Maker's Magic had a lot of potential.  I figured Shinn would use Kellen's mother's insistence on her being a boy to explore the question of nature versus nurture and gender identity.  But she doesn't, or if she does she just glosses over it as she moves on to something else.  I also thought the romance between Gryffin and Kellen had great possibility in the beginning, too, but again, it was treated very shallowly and at some point I just lost interest.

This book is misguided and not even interestingly misguided.  Nearly the entire novel needs to be rethought and rewritten in order to make it work, because the story being told here isn't Kellen's--it's Gryffin's.  Gryffin is the one who goes on the greatest journey, risks the most, is put in the greatest danger, reaps the most reward, and is the character around whom the central conflict revolves.  Why in the name of holy heck are we reading about Kellen?? 

I'm not sure I'll be reading any more of Shinn's YA books in the future--I've been disappointed in each of them and I really don't think this is a genre she excels in, although most of her adult sci-fi books are excellent.

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