Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: HARD BITTEN by Chloe Neill

hard bitten cover


In book four of the Chicagoland Vampires series, Cadogan House and its fearless leader, Ethan Sullivan, are under threat from politicians local and abroad: Mayor Tate is threatening to arrest Ethan if he doesn't put a stop to dangerous blood raves, and the Greenwich Presidium (kind of like the vampire UN) wants him to mind his own biznas or they're going to take over his House. With Ethan stuck between a rock and a not-so-comfy place, it's Merit to the rescue, hitting the streets of Chi-town in search of raves, drug dealers, and her arch-nem, Celina. Unfortunately, Merit forgot to bring along the little grey cells, so things aren't going so well!

The first half of the book was pretty boring. Nothing happens and I think Merit spends like eighty pages driving around Chicago and talking on her cell phone--that's what it felt like, anyway. Also, there are very drawn-out scenes involving food, which don't seem to have a point. Then she goes to a rave and the plot starts picking up, but the sense making does not.

Here's the thing: there are a lot of convenient plot device (CPD) moments in this book, most of which involve the characters acting inconsistently. Merit's supposed to be really smart, and she has been in the previous books, but in this one she bumbles into offices with no plan, talks without thinking, doesn't listen to her instincts, and generally acts like a dope; and all of this inevitably contributes to the conclusion of the book. Merit's not the only one suffering from alien body syndrome, either: in Twice Bitten, she and Ethan slept together, but then he was like, "Office romance is bad news, babe," and she was all, "NEVER TOUCH ME AGAIN." In Hard Bitten, Ethan wants Merit back, I'm not sure why exactly; and in the interim he's somehow gone through a total personality makeover, where he's not a snobby prig and is actually... um, kinda nice. And sweet. *chokes* Even Merit thinks at some point, "Maybe people can change." Um. Maybe. But probably not people as old as Ethan is. And probably not that much. Did he take a Male Sensitivity in the 21st Century class or what?

Then there's Mayor Tate, who acts like a character straight out of a Spiderman comic; Morgan, who betrays Merit's trust for no clear reason; Celina, who is definitely out of character; Jonah, who conveniently develops the hots for Merit; Paulie, who is ridiculously forth-coming... need I go on?

Now, you all know I'm not a fan of Ethan (see this post, and this one, and also this one), so I'm not against Merit having another romantic interest (Team Morgan! The scene where he took his shirt of=priceless), but the ending of this book took me completely aback because there was absolutely zero set-up. There wasn't even foreshadowing! For four books I saw this series as heading in more or less a certain direction, but now I have no idea. And as a reader, I don't like feeling left out to sea with no idea where a story is going.

What Chloe Neill did at the end of this novel was very gutsy, and I commend her for that. But things like this require at least a little set-up, or your audience gets angry and stops trusting you as a story-teller. On the plus side, I still want to find out why things happened the way they did, and hopefully the next book, Drink Deep, will answer a few--or more than few--questions.

Musical notes: "Judas" by Lady Gaga

Powered by ScribeFire.

Monday, May 30, 2011


prophecy cover

Something you should know about me: I hate prologues. Like I don't read them. Ever. Begin the story at the beginning, please. So it probably shouldn't come as any surprise that I hard time getting into Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess, despite the fact that I love Hieber's writing and this series in general.

Perilous Prophecy is a prequel to the last two Guard books. In those novels, a reincarnation of the goddess Persephone helps a group called the Guard close the door between the Whisper World and the mortal world. For the most part, this book follows the Guard previous to the one we're familiar with, which was formed in Cairo, and gives us a more thorough understanding of the Goddess prior to her reincarnation.

At first I was excited about this, because the setting offers a ton of interesting venues for adventure. Tombs have got to be filled with ghosts, right?? And Beatrice's (the Cairo Guard's Leader) dad is even an archaeologist! But aside from one notable exception (which is one of the better scenes in the book), the setting wasn't really taken advantage of and the transition between mortal and Guard seemed fairly easy for these characters. They don't even have to explain things to their family, who are under some sort of spell to just accept whatever they're told. So no dramaz there, my friends! Then it's decided they have to go to London, and the book starts to rehash things we already know from the previous two books.

In other words, I'm not sure what the point of this book was...? Don't get me wrong, Hieber's style is as good as ever; but as far as the story's concerned, we're not shown anything new. And for some of the scenes I really wish I had been allowed to just imagine them. Of course I'm always happy to read about Alexi and the rest of the London Guard, but the scenes in which they appeared didn't really add anything to my understanding of their characters. We found out why Alexi wears a red cravat and where he got his feather ring from, and that's about it. Also, I struggled with the age Alexi was in this book--he's what, 16 or 17? He doesn't act like it. He acts like grown-up Alexi, and it was really frustrating for me. I hate it when kid characters in books and movies act too much like adults.

Aside from that, there were a hella lot of annoying characters in this novel. My big two were Ibrahim and the Goddess. Pardon me while my blood pressure rises.

Ibrahim  Okay, what is this dude's damage?!? 1. Stop whining about shit, you're not the only person with problems; and 2. man up for God's sake. Why on earth does Beatrice even find him remotely attractive? When he's not being boring, he's telling people not to do things because they're "dangerous." Okie dokie, Mom, thanks for the heads up!

Goddess  This one surprised me, because I really like Percy, the Goddess' mortal incarnation, in the other books. But the Goddess herself was a bitch! And not even a fun bitch, either, one of those passive-aggressive types. The Goddess is always going on and on about how she lost her true love, yada yada, don't really care. Erm, hello, but have you noticed the totally awesome Darkness that's super-devoted to you? Okay, so you were taken into the Whisper World against your will, but maybe you could make the best of it??? Because Darkness was pretty hawt. PS, the world doesn't revolve around you and you have no redeeming qualities-love, me. Again, I have to wonder what anyone sees in this "woman" other than sparkly rainbows--she just seemed very immature and selfish.

So, yeah, I wasn't too wild about this book. It did get considerably better in the second half, but by then I was too frustrated to enjoy it. I do, however, look forward to reading Hieber's next novel.

, ,

Powered by ScribeFire.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend Cooking: TAMPOPO Movie Review

tampopo poster

First released: 1985
Starring: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken Watanabe, Nobuko Miyamoto
Director: Juzo Itami

Last week when I reviewed Ramen Girl, Sarah from Pussreboots said that I HAD to watch Tampopo, the Japanese film Ramen Girl was inspired by (Tsutomu Yamazaki stars in both). It took a few tries for me to figure out how to get my old VCR working so I could play the VHS copy my library has, but it was totally worth it--this is a great film about how food brings people together and makes them happy.

Goro and Gun are truck drivers. As they're driving along one rainy night, Gun is reading a book about the proper way to eat ramen, which both men think is stupid. Nevertheless, the book makes them hungry, so they stop at a sad-looking ramen joint off the highway. The food is terrible and the proprietress--a young widow named Tampopo--and her son are both bullied by the locals. After Goro and Gun get into a fight defending her honor, Goro offers her some some advice on how she could improve the restaurant, and Tampopo is so impressed she asks him to stay and teach her how to cook proper ramen.

Over the course of the film, Goro and Tampopo collect helpers to assist them in their quest of making the perfect bowl of ramen: an old homeless man who is an expert at broth, a chauffeur who can make great noodles, and even one of the bullies who beat Goro up. But most importantly, Tampopo finds something in her life to be passionate about. As she tells Goro, "Everyone has their own ladder.... You helped me find my ladder."

tampopo still
People come together over bowls of soup.

This movie is really charming and funny. Interspersed into the main storyline are unrelated vignettes, such as a husband who forces his dying wife to make dinner (a scene that shouldn't be funny but totally is). There's also a gangster whose level of foodiness would put Anthony Bourdain to shame. For all the characters, a love of food gives them a sense of nobility that they wouldn't have had otherwise.

Tampopo has been called a "ramen western" (like a spaghetti western, only Japanese), and I can totally see where that comes from. Goro and Gun are basically cowboys (Goro even wears a cowboy hat, even though he looked more like Crocodile Dundee to me than a cowboy, but whatevs) who ride into town and take on the job of saving this woman and her son. The ending has a very Magnificent Seven-esque feeling to it; but unlike that movie, Tampopo gives you the warm fuzzies. I may or may not have started crying at the end because it was just so great, but anyway....

If you're at all interested in food, you have to watch Tampopo! You will love it. The shot during the ending credits pretty much says it all about the importance of food to people all over the world, I think.

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

Powered by ScribeFire.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Armchair BEA Interview with AnimeGirl!

anime girl banner

For Armchair BEA, I'm lucky to have Alex (aka AnimeGirl) from A Girl, Books, and Other Things as my interview partner! I hadn't visited Alex's blog before, so I was excited to learn more about it.

Welcome, Alex!

Tasha: I've noticed you've been reading a lot of Sarah Dessen books lately (for Sarah Dessen Week). If you could have a picnic with Dessen and one other author, who would it be?
Alex: I think it would probably be Meg Cabot since I adore her and I've been such a fan girl of her for ages!

Tasha: What is your favorite animé series?
Alex: Well, this is going to be long. Of My childhood: Magic Knight Rayearth - my first and biggest anime crush ever is in there!. Of my teens: Card Captor Sakura. Of my college years: tie between UltraManiac and Ouran High School Host Club.

Tasha: Do you usually read a manga before or after (or at all) you watch an animé series?
Alex: I actually don't read Manga all that much unless is an author I love like CLAMP or Wataru Yoshizumi. Otherwise, it's usually the anime first manga second.
Tasha: You read a lot of different genres. Is there a single theme running through all of the books you read that attracts you--i.e., romance, friendship, etc.?
Alex: Definitely romance. I know a lot of people say they don't need romance to love a book, but I do. Humor too, save for very few exceptions, I stay clear from trauma porn (you know, sad, sad books), so funny is always a plus.
Tasha: Is there a genre that you refuse to read?
Alex: In general terms, vampires. Also, I'm not really big into Sci Fi and Fantasy (though I've been known to read fantasy when it comes well recommended). I don't usually do Epic, or thrillers/mysteries because I'm not a very patient person.
Tasha: If you could travel to just one place in your lifetime that you haven't been before, where would you go?
Alex: London, probably. I think it's part of my obsession with historical romance, most of which is set in London/somewhere in England.
Tasha: What's one book you've always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to?
Alex: I tend to be very single minded when I want to read something and don't stop till I read it, and I used to read a lot of classics as a kid, but I would say Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad if I had to name one.
Tasha: What was your favorite book when you were 10 years old?
Alex: Oscar Wilde's Complete Works (see, classics). I read it for the first time when I was 9, and I remained obsessed with it for years. Particularly, Canterville's Ghost, and Lady Windemere's Fan.
Tasha: What do you think is the best book-to-movie adaptation ever?
Alex: The Secret Garden, and Cuaron's version of The Little Princess. For mini-series: the newest BBC Sense and Sensibility, and, of course, Pride and Prejudice.
Tasha: What in your opinion is the most over-used trope in YA novels?
Alex: Trope as in shtick? Love triangle. And I bloody hate me some love triangles... lol, it has be exceptionally well done for me to stomach it, usually I just can't. Plus, I tend to pick the other guy ALWAYS (Hell, I picked Bois Gilbert over Ivanhoe in IVANHOE!)

Thanks so much, Alex! I never could understand why Rebecca chose Ivanhoe over Sir Brian, either.

To check out Alex interviewing me, go to her blog, A Girl, Books, and Other Things!

armchair bea gif

Powered by ScribeFire.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Armchair BEA Hello

armchair BEA

'Allo, 'allo, bloggy nation. BEA and BBC are all about meeting your fellow bloggers face-to-face. Since we can't do that because we're not there, I thought the second-best thing would be to do a vlog where I tell you about my blog and bit about myself as well:

Watch it on YouTube

Powered by ScribeFire.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekend Cooking: RAMEN GIRL Movie Review

What happens when a flighty American woman decides she wants to learn how to cook Japanese ramen? She falls in love, of course! ...wait, what?

I heard about Ramen Girl on Beth Fish Reads, and since I'm a fangirl for all things Japanese, I immediately decided I had to watch it. The movie stars the late Brittany Murphy as a young woman who moves to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend, who looks like Blane's friend from Pretty In Pink--you know, the asshole guy who drinks too much. But apparently Murphy's character has never seen Pretty In Pink, because when the boyfriend says, "Uh, I have to go to Okinawa, like yesterday... uh, I won't have time to hang out, I'll be working... uh, I don't know how long I'll be gone? Look, I'm breaking up with you, is what I'm trying to say!" she's completely gobsmacked. Then a magical breeze beckons her to a ramen restaurant across the street from her flat, where she discovers her purpose in life: to make soup!

ramen girl in the kitchen

This movie was very reminiscent of Simply Irresistible, an earlier film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar about a young woman who inherits a restaurant and discovers that when she cooks, she can make people feel the same emotion she does (which in itself was reminiscent of Like Water for Chocolate, except without everyone dying at the end). Also, there are dancing crabs and magical breezes, and she falls in love. Of course! Ramen Girl is basically that movie, but set in Japan and with a more muddied storyline.

I did like the movie, even though there were cheesy parts. Above all I enjoyed the setting and the grumpy alcoholic ramen chef who tortures Murphy for most of the film. Murphy's Japanese/Korean boyfriend was also super-cute. I was completely with this movie until the end, when it seemed like all of a sudden she's a ramen chef (?). Hm, how did that happen? You were only allowed to scrub floors 2 minutes ago, girl! The denouement made me confused and really sad, and made me snort in disbelief, in that order.

Overall, though, this a light and fun romcom with a unique setting. Worth checking out if you need a brain break.

weekend cooking Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share.

, , , ,

Powered by ScribeFire.

Schnauzer Saturday

pearl in car

Pearly wants to know what you got her from the store.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Future of Books?

I saw this video on YouTube one day while searching for things to do with old books. It's about artist Brian Dettmer and his use of books in sculptures. Aside from the cool art pieces, wherein he glues books closed and then carves into them to create a relief, Dettmer has some interesting ideas about the role of books in society now that supposedly everything is becoming digitized.

the war on all fronts
Dettmer, The War on All Fronts (detail), 2010.

There's always been a difference between a book's content and the book itself as an object--don't judge a book by its cover and all that. Don Quixote reads the same in paperback format as it does in a fancy leather-bound hardback, but the hardback is invariably valued higher. Now that there are digital books, however, the same could be said for all paper-bound books: they're now objects distinctly separate from their content.

Another thing Dettmer says that's interesting is that with books, once they're sold, the creators of the book--from the author to the cover designer--have little to no control over what the purchaser does with it. The same isn't true for eBooks, where they can edit the file even after you purchase it, revoke the license, and dictate what format you read it in. In some sense, publishers own eBooks more thoroughly than they do bound books, which may or may not be a good thing.

What do you think about Dettmer's vision of the future of books? Are bound books destined to become valued more for their materials than their words?

Powered by ScribeFire.

Review: INK EXCHANGE by Melissa Marr

ink exchange cover

Leslie appeared briefly as one of Aislinn's friends in Wicked Lovely; unbeknownst to Aislinn or any of her other friends at the time, Les' life is nightmare. Basically abandoned by her father and working to keep a roof over her head, her addict brother occasionally drugs her and then pimps her out to his friends. To gain some control over life, Les decides to get a tattoo. Unfortunately, said tattoo is actually a magic spell that ties her to Irial, the king of the faeries' Dark Court.

As with Wicked Lovely, in Ink Exchange, Melissa Marr takes familiar tropes of teen paranormal romance and switches them up. Irial is the handsome and dangerous Dark King who isn't all bad; he cares for Leslie as he wouldn't for any other mortal, feels her emotions, and wants her to be happy. He promises to give Les everything she ever wanted: love, a place to belong, protection, revenge against the men who raped her, and above all mind bleach to take away the fear that's defined her life for months. "Only Irial makes it all better," Les says at one point. Yet Irial is not in any way the romantic hero of the story the way, say, Edward Cullen would be. For one thing, from the beginning of the novel a correspondence is drawn between Irial and Les' brother, Ren--they both use her for their own ends and take away her choices. For another, the narrator of the book (I listened to this on audiobook) makes Irial sound ridiculously sleazy. It's hard to imagine Les actually being attracted to this creepzoid if it wasn't for her tattoo.

Then there's Niall, another fae who is the Summer King's advisor and was also in Wicked Lovely (he was the funny one). Despite the fact that Niall is now part of the Summer Court, he was once a member of the Dark Court and v e r y close to Irial. Their relationship definitely contains homoerotic overtones ("He saw the dark passion in Irial's eyes," they kiss, Irial spends centuries waiting for him, I could go on). Despite the fact that Niall talks like an escapee from a Renaissance fair ("Come! Let us go to the club."), Leslie thinks he's a normal human and is deeply attracted to him. But then of course she is--Niall is addictive to humans, which is why he generally stays away from them. But he can't stay away from Leslie! Is it true love?

It's impossible not to root for Niall, who is totally likeable and has been ever since Wicked Lovely; but even though he seems like better hero material than Irial times a thousand, there really is no difference between him and the Dark King other than the fact that Niall resists the dark side of himself. At least, he does until he can't. Although he knows it's wrong and Leslie's response to him is dependent on his fae nature, her own attraction to the dark court and connection to Irial are too irresistible for him.

With two guys after her, both of whom are essentially bad news, it seems like Leslie is screwed no matter what happens. Yet somehow the tables get turned on our two would-be heroes. Les frees herself and escapes, apparently unscathed, into a normal human life, while Niall and Irial's lives are upended even as they continue to revolve around Les. Niall especially gets the short end of the stick at the ending, and one has to wonder why. Like Les, Niall was used and victimized by those he trusted, and like her, he left the Dark Court because of it. But if Niall can't deny his "true nature," the part of himself that was attracted to the dark to begin with, can Les? She was the one who initially demanded Irial's tattoo, after all. Will she eventually be unable to deny the attraction of the Dark Court like Niall? Or is the very fact that she's able to make choices for herself in a way Niall and Irial can't the element that attracts them to her?

I wouldn't call Ink Exchange a romance at all, really, but it does tell a great story and takes a deeper look at these sorts of relationships than your average YA novel. I definitely recommend this series!

Musical Notes: "Your Love Is My Drug," by Ke$ha

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

REBECCA Old Timey Movie Review

Rebecca was Hitchcock's first Hollywood film, and won the Oscar for best picture in 1940. It tells the story of a meek and guileless young woman who meets the dashing Maxim de Winter, of the lots of monies and mysterious past. Their beautiful romance gets a harsh dose of reality when Maxim takes the young woman (who remains nameless throughout the story--I'll just call her Sweetie, shall I?) back to his family estate in Cornwall, Manderley. There Sweetie has to put up with damnable Mrs. Danvers, who is obsessed with the former Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca; not to mention Maxim, who starts acting distant and temperamental almost immediately. Sweetie begins to feel that Rebecca is haunting her and Maxim, and she is--but not for the reasons Sweetie thinks.

rebecca poster

This is absolutely one of the best adaptions of a novel, ever, and one of Hitchcock's best films. One of the things that struck me watching Rebecca this time around was how similar the characters of Sweetie and Maxim are to Bella Swan and Edward Cullen in terms of types: Sweetie is young and innocent, and Maxim is significantly older, handsome, rich, mysterious, and keeps warning her about how dangerous he is. But Sweetie doesn't care, because Sweetie loves him! (And it's not like she has anywhere else to go, let's be honest.) Yet she harbors all these insecurities that she's not good enough for Maxim because he is teh awesome. Have I mentioned the wealthy and handsome part? Yet he's also very intelligent, perceptive, a little snarky, and very interested in her and what her opinion is about things (this isn't as well expressed in the movie as in the book, but I think you still get that impression). It's kind of eerie how the two couples' personalities from this movie and Twilight mirror one another; I can't help but wonder if Stephenie Meyer is a fan of the book.

Danvers intimidating Sweetie
When wallpaper attacks....

Another thing that struck me watching Rebecca this time around is how it deals with femininity. I know I'm always going on and on about masculinity in books and movies, and I may at one point have said that there are no movies that treat femininity in a way comparable to masculinity--I was wrong. This movie totally does do that. Sweetie starts off the film as a little girl scared of the world, and has a definite idea of what the ideal woman is like: "I wish I were a woman of 36, dressed in black satin with a string of pearls!" she says at one point. Basically, Rebecca is the ideal woman, and Sweetie spends a good portion of the movie trying to be her, despite the fact that Maxim tells Sweetie to promise him never to be 35 and dressed in black satin. In fact, Maxim seems to take a vested interest in keeping Sweetie immature, calling her a child and telling her he never wants her to grow up (creepy!) even though he knows she will. Meanwhile, the "real" women in the film whom Sweetie might look up to and emulate are all evil bitches--well, except for Bea, Maxim's sister, who's not evil. But she's still a bitch. Aside from her, we have Edythe Van Hopper--evil bitch--Mrs. Danvers--scary evil bitch--and Rebecca, the bitch queen of Manderley. With all of these examples, is it any wonder Sweetie has trouble asserting herself? One could almost say that adult womanhood is villainized in this film.

Or maybe the movie is simply characterizing women who grasp for power they don't have as bitches. After all, Sweetie does eventually assert herself, once she knows she has Maxim's love, and seems much more grown-up, yet not bitchy, by the end. Mrs. Van Hopper, Danvers, and Rebecca are all women without character or true love in their lives, and none of them make their exit without conveying the sense of how empty and pathetic their lives really are.

In any case, due to Danvers' craziness, Manderley ends up being destroyed. I think for both Sweetie and Maxim, Manderley represents a loss of innocence, and perhaps that's why they never rebuild it. One can imagine them moving happily on with their lives without the weight of Manderley dragging them down. But in the book I got the impression that without Manderley, they live like exiles, feeling completely cut off from their true home. I prefer the movie's ending, because when you think about it, Manderley was beautiful but really not that great!

Powered by ScribeFire.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A LOT LIKE LOVE by Julie James

Proposed alternate title: The Emasculation of Nick McCall

a lot like love cover

Jordan Rhodes has a rich daddy, her own successful business were she gets to drink wine, and is so beautiful she doesn't even notice when men are attracted to her. Because, you know, it's just another day at the office! But she's also really down-to-earth and not snobby at all because... well, there isn't a good explanation for that. The only fly in Jordan's La Prairie Platinum is her brother, Kyle, whom we're repeatedly told looks like Sawyer from Lost. Kyle shut down twitter so that his model girlfriend couldn't post video of herself giving another guy a blowjob (ew?), and they sent him to prison for it. Twitter jail: it's not just a joke anymore, people! Yada yada yada, the FBI shows up offering to release Kyle from prison if Jordan will take an undercover officer to a wine tasting party at Bordeaux, the hip wine place for Chicago elites run by restaurateur/doing-something-illegal-with-a-gangster-I-was-never-clear-on, Xander Eckhart. Enter undercover operative and he-man extraordinaire, Nick McCall!

In case you can't tell already, I had some problems with Jordan. I don't want to say I hated her, but I kinda did. She's beautiful, she gets to wear gorgeous purple ball gowns and go to parties and Napa, and drive a sports car... grrrr, I hate her! Also, this book is only three-hundred pages, but it's still way too long. There's a lot of backstory that's just boring, and (as usual with a Julie James book) it's a long walk to get to the action. Here's what should have happened: set-up, meet-cute, BOOM, wine party! Instead we got: set-up, meet-meh, fifty pages of Jordan talking to her friends and brother to prove that she does indeed have friends (and is therefore worthy of affection); Nick's backstory and proving that he has friends (kinda), set up to the wine party, and fiiiiinally wine party. Yes, please! Wake me up!

Anywhosie, around the time Jordan and Nick head out to Napa, this book starts to get curious. Nick is supposed to be this manly man type, and he agrees to go on a weekend trip with (read: funded by) Jordan. Who wouldn't?? But as soon as they go on the trip, all of sudden Nick is not such a manly man anymore. It starts off ominously right away when Jordan won't let him drive. *coughcontrolfreakcough* Then pretty soon he wants to discuss his feelings and where their relationship is going, and he says stuff like, "You know I don't need any of these things, right? I'm here because of you," as they stand atop a verdant Napa hill. Meanwhile, Jordan wants to take the relationship one day at a time and just see what happens, and we're informed that she doesn't do "feelings."

So, to sum up, Jordan stole Nick's balls. Right out from under him.

Now, I have no problem with a reversal of gender roles, as long as it makes sense. But here I felt a little confused by it--I don't think it's done for comedic effect, and if it was intentional on James' part it wasn't set up very clearly. At first I thought it had to do with Jordan being a billionairess--this is America, after all; money trumps everything, even penises--so she becomes the sugar mama of the relationship, which admittedly is kind of awkward. But wouldn't Nick have tried harder to assert his masculine authority in that case instead of just giving in and letting Jordan make him her bitch? That seemed way out of character.

Then I remembered that all Jordan's friends, who are not billionairesses (re: down to earth and not snobby), have husbands who watch Dancing with the Stars and cook and work in musical theater and find the question, "Who do you think will be in the playoffs?" confusing. I didn't think anything of this at the time--other than the fun contrast they made to Nick's character--because hey, why wouldn't men cook and watch DwtS? But it's clear that Nick isn't one of those guys. He's painted as the stereotypical macho guy from the beginning of the book. Yet in the last scene of the novel, Nick agrees to watch DwtS (DON'T DO IT, Nick!!!) with Jordan even though there's a big game on. It's like he's turned into a completely different man! The sort of guy that Jordan indicated she usually dated at the beginning of the book: designer glove-wearing, wine-drinking, etcetera etcetera. Were Jordan's friends' husbands like Nick before they got married? I don't know now; maybe! I have a hard time believing the Nick of the first half of the book wouldn't think the Nick of the second half of the book needed to man up, though; and setting up this scene in what could be called a pattern of male emasculation within the context of relationships seemed odd and little squidgy.

Aside from that, this book was okay. It was too long, I never connected with the main character, and Nick and Jordan's relationship lost all sexual tension after they slept together; but on the plus side, it was entertaining.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Weekend Cooking: ARTISAN BREAD IN 5 MINUTES A DAY by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

artisan bread cover

The Beginning:

Starting last semester, I became obsessed with baking my own bread. I'm one of those people who eats massive amounts of bread, and I spent a ton of money buying baguettes from Panera. Then I thought to myself, "Hey, maybe I could make my own baguettes?!?" I knew I could save a lot of money if I made it myself because flour is cheap, yo. At the same time, though, I wasn't sure I could because it seemed like homemade bread required:
  • kneading (I'm a weakling)
  • lots of time
  • precise measurements and other things that bore me
  • special equipment and tools that I don't have and don't have the money to buy
Then I found this book! And I have to say, it does exactly what it claims to: makes baking bread at home very accessible to the average person. There are some caveat emptors to go along with that, but as someone who needs bread in their diet, I feel liberated now knowing that I can make my own bread any time I need or want it. The recipes in this book don't require kneading, have a very reasonable rise time, and are fairly flexible as far as the equipment required.

The Deets:

boule loaf
The first loaf of bread that I successfully made!

The heart of Artisan Bread is Hertzberg and François' French boule recipe. While I definitely wouldn't call it an authentic French boule, it's close enough for a home kitchen. It has the crackly crust and slightly sour dough filled with holes that one associates with French bread. It takes about ten minutes to make up a batch of dough that will last two or three weeks, and you can put leftover dough in the fridge or freezer for when you want it.

Aside from the ingredients for the bread itself, there are only two things you'll need to buy that you probably don't have already: a baking stone and a pizza peel. I found a good baking stone at Target for $15, but the pizza peels tend to be more expensive, starting around $20.

Two things I should mention: one, the authors say the dough is moist, and they are NOT kidding. If you underbake this bread, it feels like you're eating a wet sponge. Not appetizing. Second, I've found that the dough is also really salty, especially if the bread is a few days old. For me, the salt content is way overboard, so I tend to cut back on it.

Don't Do This At Home:

I've been making the boule bread regularly for about four months, and now it seems fairly easy. But when I first started, it was a disaster! Actually, I wound up in the ER. Yes, that's right, only I could wind up in the ER after trying to do something as innocuous as bake bread.

Here's what happened: part of the baking process requires that you pour water into a hot dish that's placed in the oven--this makes the bread rise with the steam and causes all those holes in the dough. Unfortunately, the only oven-proof dish I had was Pyrex. I poured water into the dish and it exploded in my face. I got some glass in my eye, which I didn't realize until later. And since this was at, like, midnight (when do I ever do things at a normal time of day?), I had to go to the ER to get it taken out. To add insult to injury, the bread got hit with most of the water and glass, which meant I had to scrap it and start all over.

Lesson: DO NOT use glass when baking! Only use a metal bowl.

Other Breads:

petite brioche
Brioche rolls I make with chocolate chips.

Artisan Bread has many other bread recipes besides the French boule. Some of them use the same dough as the boule--baguettes and pain d'epi, for example--while other use a different dough. There are whole wheat, flatbread, and pastry dough recipes. Every dough can be used to make several different types of breads--for example, the olive oil dough can be used to make lavash, pizza, focaccia, and other types of flatbreads. The only other type of bread I've made from this book so far is the brioche.

Brioche is an "enriched" bread kind of like challah; it has eggs, honey, and butter in it instead of just flour, water, and yeast. It's said that when Marie Antoinette declared, "Let them eat cake," what she actually said was brioche--which would be a healthy thing for peasants to eat, but it's considerably more expensive than regular bread. Anyway, the reason why I started making this bread was pretty much for the same reason I started baking the boule bread: I love having a pain au chocolate (aka chocolate pastry) from Panera for breakfast, but they are freaking expensive! Again, I wondered to myself if there was a way I could save money by making something similar.

Pain au chocolate is made with puff pastry, something I know I cannot make from scratch, nor would I want to if I could. But I figured brioche was close enough. It's usually made in a loaf, like regular bread, but I baked it in muffin tins so that I could grab one in the morning and take it with me. Then I added chocolate because everything is better with chocolate.

The brioche muffins turned out great, and I highly recommend you try the brioche dough if you get around to buying this book. There are plenty of other types of bread recipes, including beignets, that you can make with it.


If you've ever wanted to bake your own bread, but thought it would be too complicated, you really need to check out Artisan Breads. I was amazed at how simple it made baking bread.

weekend cooking gif Weekend Cooking is a meme hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Every weekend, you can share your reviews of cookbooks, food writing, foodie novels, and movies that make you hungry.

, , , , ,

Powered by ScribeFire.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

COWBOY BEBOP Vol. 1 by Yutaka Nanten and Hajime Yatate

cowboy bebop cover

Spike, Faye, Jet, and Ed are bounty hunters in the distant, intergalactic future. Flying through space on their shuttle, Bebop, the four try to collect bounties on criminals, only to fail every single time.

This is a fun manga. I picked it up mainly because the word cowboy was in the title and I was intrigued. If this is a "western," it's one inspired by Sergio Leone, not John Ford--the quartet's main concern is money and the bonds of their friendship are pretty much dependent upon self-interest and making the quickest buck. Or are they? Maybe the Bebop crew aren't as greedy as they appear.

sample page from We Will Rock You

The narrative has some pacing problems and feels super-rushed on occasion, but for the most part the story is easy to get into. My favorite chapter was "We Will Rock You," where Spike goes undercover in a prison to break out a transvestite named Cidne who dresses like Marilyn Monroe. It was very entertaining. There are a ton of American pop-references in the stories and it has a fast, hip feel to it.

The manga is based on an animé series, and is only meant as a supplement to that show, so there are only three volumes. That's pretty short for a manga, but in a way it's also nice--I know I can power through the whole thing if I want! I'm definitely going to look for the other books in this series; it's worth checking out.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

ALFRED HITCHCOCK by Francois Truffaut

truffaut and hitchcock interview
François Truffaut talks to Alfred Hitchcock with the help of translator, Helen G. Scott.

In 1962, François Truffaut sat down with Alfred Hitchcock for hours upon hours to discuss Hitchcock's entire oeuvre. Truffaut was a filmmaker himself, and a total Hitchcock fanboy. The tapes where edited and broadcast on French radio (you can listen to them here), and turned into this book. Truffaut's interview with Hitchcock is now one of the most cited sources in books about Hitchcock, and for good reason: the director is astonishingly blunt and honest about his process and philosophy of filmmaking.

I ordered this book at the library because I was doing a paper on Hitchcock, but having difficulty finding the sorts of books and articles I needed. The lovely Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads helped me out by tweeting for suggestions, and a few people recommended this. I'm very glad they did because it's not only a good resource, but a great read!

You wouldn't expect a book that's really a giant interview to be interesting, but Hitchcock is. For one thing, Hitchcock and Truffaut aren't just conducting an interview, but having a conversation about the nature of film and directing (you get an even greater sense of this in the tapes). At one point, Hitchcock asks Truffaut, "What's your opinion?" One gets the idea that Hitchcock is as open as he is because he respects Truffaut as a director.

Another thing that makes this book great is of course Hitchcock himself. I have to say, I was surprised by how inspirational I found this book to be as a whole. I don't think anyone would argue today that Hitchcock was a great artist, but that doesn't mean he started out as a film genius or never made mistakes, and he's completely up-front about admitting that. The important thing was he kept going--he kept making films, he kept trying new things, or going back to old methods when the new ones didn't work. I have great respect for Hitchcock after reading this book, not just as a director but as a creative person who could at any time have been defeated by self-doubt.

One of the things I found really interesting was what Hitchcock says about critics--not just because this a book blog that reviews books, but because Truffaut was himself a critic before he became a director, and he was realllly critical. He was so harsh, in fact, that he was banned from the Cannes Film Festival! Yet as soon as the subject of critics comes up, both Hitchcock and Truffaut start dumping on them. Here's an good bit (which I edited to make more good):

TRUFFAUT     It's sometimes said that a critic, by the very nature of his work, is unimaginative, and in a way, that makes sense, since imagination may be a deterrent to his objectivity. Anyway, that lack of imagination might account for a predilection for films that are close to real life....

HITCHCOCK     By the way, since we're being so critical of the critics, what line were you in when we met for the first time?

TRUFFAUT     I was a film critic. What else?

HITCHCOCK     I thought so.

Some magazines deliberately select critics who don't care about films, but are able to write about them in a condescending way that will amuse the readers. There's an American expression; when something's no good, they say, "It's for the birds!" So I pretty much knew what to expect when The Birds opened.

Basically, Truffaut and Hitchcock's frustration with critics stems from the fact that they approach movies not as a entertainment, but as a subject for their own ideas. I couldn't help but wonder if the same is true of my own reviews... I might as well admit that it is, although I don't make any of the claims to objectivity that Truffaut suggests.

But then I started thinking about this in regards to book blogs: bloggers review books (for the most part) because they love them and want to write about them, not because someone hired them to write and they may or may not like movies books. So does that make blog reviews different from print reviews?

I don't think so. It might seem ironic, particularly considering my current major, but I think a great work of art stands on its own no matter what people write about it. Yes, reviews and essays can enhance a person's understanding of it, or promote it, but ultimately the only thing that matters is the work of art itself, whether it's a painting or a movie or a book.

In any case, there's a lot of great ideas in this book and interesting conversation, and I'd recommend it for anyone interested in film.

Powered by ScribeFire.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...