Monday, October 31, 2011

From Byronic to Sparkly

vampire darcy

A few weeks ago, a post titled From Byronic to Moronic popped up on my radar because a few people thought I might be interested in it. The author, Christine Spines, draws a deep and meaningful connection between Stephenie Meyer and her production of Austenland. To wit: she thinks Twihards and Janeites are all crazy people.

The sanity of these two groups aside, several of Spines' statements in this article makes me think she has never actually read any of these books--most especially her conclusion that women find the characters she gives as examples (which are all over the map, by the way--from Mr. Darcy to Heathcliffe to Jay Gatsby; why not just say every male character evar?) is that they're... wait for it... bad boys!

Mmkay. Bad boys ARE quite appealing, I think we can all agree, but Mr. Darcy and the Sparklepire? I'm not seeing it. Even Spines argues against herself, saying,
Above all, what Darcy, Wentworth, Heathcliff, Rochester—and to some degree [sorry, I just have to intervene here--some degree? This describes Cullen more accurately than any of the other characters she lists here! And Heathcliffe and Rochester really shouldn't be grouped with any of these other guys, especially in this context. Okay, back to the quote], Edward Cullen—all share is a powerful strain of high-minded morality and a stubborn unwillingness to be conniving or mercenary enough to follow (or flout) the social codes of conduct necessary to unite them with the plucky heroine they so desire.
Wait, so bad boys have high-minded morality and are unwilling to break social codes of conduct now? I think you're searching for the Wickham and Willoughby characters in Austen's novels there, who are most definitely not the romantic leads. Has Spines even watched the movies, one wonders?

In any case, there's no need to scratch our heads over this anymore, as I have found the answer to Spines' question of why heroes like Edward Cullen and Darcy and all the rest have this "powerful strain of high-minded morality" and are "torment[ed] over their own imperfect nature." I discovered this long-searched for key through a pioneering research method I developed called LET ME GOOGLE THAT FOR YOU.

You see, the roots of romance novels can be found in chivalric romances such as Le Morte d'Arthur or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, wherein a knight errant goes on a quest to prove his worthiness, which may or may not include courtly love. These medieval romances were eventually reworked into several literary genres, including Gothic novels of the 18th century and "novels of education," which focus on the character development of the protagonists and were popular among romantic artists like Goethe. Both of these types of novels influenced Jane Austen and continue to hold strong sway over our definitions of literary romance.

In other words, the thing that Darcy, Cullenpire, and even Heathcliffe and Rochester all have in common is that they're knight errants, NOT that "They are the ne plus ultra female fantasy embodiment of bad boy and marriage material," whatever that's supposed to mean. Hence the morality, code of conduct, and concern over their imperfect nature.

Everyone's looking for a knight in shining armor, yo.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

TSS: Genre Ruminations and NaNoWriMo

romance kitteh

Two of the biggest events in book blogging are behind us, BBAW and Dewey's Readathon; and while I had fun participating in both, I couldn't help but notice that both had a noticeable lack of romance bloggers. Only two romance blogs were shortlisted for Best Romance Blog during BBAW; and of the 249 participants in the Readathon, less than a handful were dedicated romance blogs (that I recognized, anyway). In other reading events and memes, romances seem to be taking a back seat, as well--FridayReads, for example, doesn't have a single romance blogger on staff and the closest thing to a romance novel I've seen on the "Best Read" list is Jane Eyre.

All of this would make one think romance was a small portion of the publishing market and that romance readers and book bloggers were a minuscule and inactive part of the community, but I think even people who don't read romance know that isn't true. Two of the most successful book blogs out there, Smart Bitches Trashy Books and Dear Author, are dedicated romance blogs; and some of the most prolific, well-read, and smart writers I know are romance bloggers.

Are romance bloggers being marginalized in the community, or are they just doing their own thing? I don't know, although I think it's probably a combination of both. If the bloggers running these events specialize in literary fiction or young adult, naturally the prizes and marketing for the event are going to be more prolific within those genres. But the main reason I'm concerned is because, among the more ridiculous things I worry about (aside from what job I'll be qualified for in our dystopian future) is if romance as a genre is dying.

Have you been to a bookstore lately? I admit I haven't because I don't have the monies; but the last time I was in one, it seemed like the romance section was taking a serious hit in shelf space. Even what was there wasn't necessarily romance, but YA and UF. Where haz all the romance gone? Are the sales all digital nowadays? Are people even capable of believe in romance anymore? I'm not sure I want to live in a world where truly romantic novels have to struggle to be noticed even among their own genre.

ANYWAY. I'll be the first to admit that although I still self-identify as a romance reader, I haven't been reading a lot of romance lately. Of what I have read, only a few in the past year have been "really like" books for me. This might have something to do with blogging--other books seem much more shiny when the people you know are also excited about them--but I don't think so. In 2008, I took a bunch of new releases I was really excited about with me on vacation. They included the new Mercy Thompson book, a Christina Dodd novel, and several other romances. On that vacation, my grandfather died and we wound up attending his funeral instead of doing any vacation things. When I got home, I put all those new releases on the shelf and I never finished a single one. I picked a few up and tried to read them but wound up DNF'ing them, and others I just gave up on and donated to the library. I also haven't pre-ordered a single new release since then.

That was really the start of my extended break-up with romances. It's not that I don't like them anymore or aren't interested in them, because I still do want to read romantic stories; and when I do go to the bookstore I buy a lot of romance. But once I have them here, on the shelf, I can't force myself to actually read them.

But the recent lack of romance representation within book blogging in general has inspired me. In the near future, I plan to read a lot more romances and do a lot more features about them here on my blog. I have several ideas in the works, so stay tuned for announcements pertaining to that in the future.

nanowrimo badge

In other news, I plan on participating in National Novel Writing Month this year for the first time. Since I don't currently have a full-time job and aren't in school, I thought this was the perfect time to try something different. What this means for you, my lovely blog readers, is that I probably won't be posting very much this month. I will try to have at least one post a week (even if it's just Schnauzer Saturdays), but I will be focusing mainly on getting my 1600 words a day (cough cough cough) in. Don't worry, though, I'll be back in December with a vengeance!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo or any other special projects in November?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Early Gothic Showdown: THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO versus VATHEK

Beckford vs Walpole

For the Classics Circuit: Gothic Lit Edition, I thought it would be fun to read two of the earliest examples of Gothic literature and compare them. I first heard about these crazy 18th-century kids when studying Gothic Revival architecture--Horace Walpole (right) built Strawberry Hill, arguably the first Gothic Revival house. The much more elegant William Beckford (left), built Fonthill Abbey and Lansdown Tower. Both were mad for collecting--Walpole, medieval art; Beckford, items from the Orient and Italian Quattrocento paintings (many of which you can now see at the National Gallery)--and were full of more than little hubris, which is reflected in their respective books.

All of this makes the novels sound hoity-toity, doesn't it? Let me assure you, they're not.

The Castle of Otranto by Walpole (1764)

It's difficult to summarize this book because it doesn't really seem to have a plot, but essentially it's purported to be a translation by Walpole of a 16th-century manuscript he found in Naples that recounts a story from the 12th century--or earlier!--about a prince named Manfred who was a total dick and eventually got hoisted in his own petard.

This is honestly one the most bizarre books I have ever read IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. If you want a story that'll give you the OMGWTFBBQ's, then you should definitely pick Otranto up, because it is alllll over that like sticky in honey peanut butter. It's like Walpole was sitting around writing and thinking, "Hey, you know what this story needs? A prophecy! A murder! A shrieking virgin! A lost son returned! A lost father returned! A secret passage! Knights! Saints! Clergy! A convent! Sword fights!" and on and on, every other paragraph. I've heard some people explain this by saying Walpole was writing a parody, but I really don't think so. This was apparently the first book of its kind, so what was he parodying? I think it just reads like a parody because it's utterly ridiculous.

Basically, the one redeeming factor of this book is that it's short and you can skim through it. The idea that Otranto sparked the creation of an entire genre of literature is MIND BOGGLING to me. Because I was thinking something like that would be, you know, good-ish. Is this what 18-century avant-garde writing looks like?

Vathek by Beckford (written in French, 1782; published in English, 1786)

Compared to Otranto, Vathek is pretty good (the key words in that sentence being "Compared to Otranto"). Written in a much different style but with a similar theme, Vathek tells the story of a caliph who's a sensualist and wants to know ALL THE THINGS. But the gods, they don't want the people to know ALL THE THINGS; that's the gods' job. Everything is going great until a few deities take notice and send a djinni to lure Vathek into a trap made mostly of his own ego. Ensue abuses of power, renouncing of Islam, foolish escapades, mass murder, etc., until Vathek eventually gets what's coming to him.

Vathek reads like a tale from the Arabian Nights (quite deliberately), and would actually be readable if one was able to root for Vathek at all. Instead, he's totally unlikable and TSTL to boot. It makes a lot more narrative sense than Otranto, but since I knew exactly where it was going and didn't care about the character enough to find out how it was going to get there, I got bored. I also don't know why this is considered a Gothic novel. I do have to say the ending where Vathek gets his just desserts was pretty satisfying, though.


Even though I wouldn't call it good, Vathek definitely wins over Castle of Otranto. I think Beckford's Ideas about power and human limitations, which really reminded me of Frankenstein, were much more elegantly and effectively conveyed than whatever Walpole was up-chucking. I find it REALLY interesting that both of these men--who were incredibly rich, knew everyone who was worth knowing (Beckford took music lessons from AmadeusfreakingMOZART, for god's sakes), and spent lavish amounts of money creating a world for themselves that reflected their fantasies--wrote books about self-centered egomaniacs who needed to be taken down a peg. That being said, from the viewpoint of literature, whyyy are we still reading these books???

Beckford and Walpole were fascinating men, but as far as the Gothic is concerned, their architectural contributions seem more successful to me than their literary ones.

classics circuit button

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review and Discussion: MUMMY DEAREST by Josh Lanyon

mummy cover

Drew's boyfriend/boss (awwwkward) tells him he needs to publish more if he wants to get tenure, which is how Drew finds himself in Walsh, Wyoming, trying to inspect the mummy of Princess Merneith on the same day Frasier Fortune, host of the TV show, The Mysterious, is filming a segment about the mummy's supposed curse. Sparks fly between Frasier and Drew on their first meeting--the sparks of annoyance and dislike, since Frasier is refusing to let Drew inspect the mummy. But after the two compromise, Frasier changes his mind about Drew and vice versa, and then they solve the mystery of the walking mummy.

This is a fun book, although I would have liked a little more from it. It's unclear exactly what Drew teaches (what is with Lanyon and academic characters recently, anyway?), and I felt certain elements of the plot--well, really all of the plot--were not fleshed out. But whatever weaknesses the novel might have, this was a sure bet for me from the start because:

  1. There's a mummy--I love mummies! There needs to be more mummies in fiction.
  2. The Mysterious is like those shows on the Discovery Channel--Destination Truth or Legend Quest--which I'm a total sucker for.
  3. There are a lot of old movie references.
After starting this novella, I realized it was something Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads would really enjoy, so I loaned it to her. It was her first m/m romance! (I may not have initially disclosed this.) Below is our discussion about the book:

What did you think of your first m/m romance?
Colette: I was pleasantly surprised by my first m/m. I don't know what I was expecting, because this was just like a normal romance novella-except the romance was between two guys. I will definitely be reading more from this genre.
How does this book compare with a traditional romance?
Tasha: Well, first of all, I'm not sure this is a "romance" in the traditional sense because there's no HEA. It's more of a hook-up. But one of the things I liked, especially after reading Instant Attraction, was that there wasn't any of this bullshit pretending-we're-not-attracted-to-someone-for-no-good-reason crap that I hate. Apparently male characters are allowed to act logically and hook-up with people if they feel like it and women aren't.

Colette: I would say this was a like a traditional romance because all though there wasn't the pretending not to like you part, Drew did fight his feelings for Noah-he just didn't fight them as long as they do in traditional romances. It's also similar because there was one character who thought the other was better then they were and that's why they weren't getting together. But again, unlike in traditional romances, that was wrapped up much faster then it would have been otherwise.

Tasha: Well, Drew did resist hooking up with Frasier because he was already in a relationship, which is reasonable. But almost as soon as he broke up with Noah he got together with Frasier! Like literally three minutes afterward.

What did you think of Frasier Fortune?
Tasha: He was fun! Like a leprechaun.

Colette: I liked him a lot! He made me laugh out loud, and reminded me a lot of Josh Gates, my favorite reality tv boyfriend who chases myths like Frasier does.
Was there anything that surprised you about the novel?
Tasha: There were a lot of and-the-plot-thickens! moments, but I felt like they didn't pay off in the end because the story wasn't long enough. I liked how olde timey movies were integrated into the story and really wanted to read more about that. I also thought the thing about Princess Merneith and homosexuality in Ancient Egypt was really interesting. I'm surprised there isn't more information about that!

Colette: I really liked the twists and turns it took to get to the end, and I also liked learning about stuff about Ancient Egypt that I didn't know. I thought the ending was a little abrupt, and would have like more conclusion with Drew and Frasier, but I'm hoping this means that we'll see more of these two in the future.
How would you characterize this book as far as tone, theme, etc.?
Tasha: This is definitely a light and fun novel. As for theme I think Drew definitely goes through a journey where he has to decide whether what he perceives is authentic and what's "real." Like with the fight with Noah, for example.

Colette: I would characterize the tone of Mummy Dearest as humorous, and the basic theme was mystery, with Drew trying to figure out just who he was.
Was there anything that bothered or annoyed you?
Tasha: You know there's usually some detail that bugs me. In this one I was really bothered that they called Walsh "Matthew Shepard territory." That seemed like a rather broad generalization. It also bothered me that Noah wasn't attached to his phone. I know he's an old fuddy-duddy, but every single department chair I know is glued to their smartphone.

Colette: I think what annoyed me the most didn't have to do with the actual story, but that 20% of the book was for promoting his other books. I can understand doing that for the last 2-3% of the book, but a whole 20%? I always feel a bit cheated with ebooks when that happens.

Tasha: That annoyed me, as well. I thought I had way more in the book to read and then all of a sudden it just ended! Maybe that's why I keep harping about the length with this one...
How does this compare to other books Josh Lanyon has written?
Tasha: As far as his shorter, lighter mysteries are concerned, this was pretty comparable. I remember liking the characters better in The Dickens With Love, but it's quite similar to that. I think his longer, more serious novels, like Fair Game and Snowball In Hell, are better just because there's more character and plot development. I'll say this for Lanyon, though, he always writes very unique characters.

If you want quick, fun, Halloween-related read this week, I'd definitely recommend this novella. And to get you in the right frame of mind, here's the trailer of the The Mummy with Boris Karloff:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

End of Readathon Post


It's the end of the Readathon! I DNF'd three books: Turn Coat, Map of Time, and The Historian; skimmed to the end of Vathek and The Tomb of the Argosa Kings; and listened to a good half of O Jerusalem on audiobook. Unintentionally, my reading had an odd, mid-East and militaristic bent this time around. To be honest, I can't wait to get back to reading "normally" tomorrow (not to mention bed).


  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I think it was hour 8, because I started feeling pressure to finish books and it just wasn't going very well. Then I started an audiobook that I could listen to while doing other things, and that calmed me down enough to start having fun again.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? Even though it was a really odd book, The Tomb of the Argosa Kings was actually pretty good for the Readathon; fast-moving and lots of action.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Hm, maybe some sort of live ticker with the number of books or pages read as the Readathon progresses?
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? Things went off without too much of a hiccup as far as I could tell.
  5. How many books did you read? Basically one. This is typical.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? See above.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? O Jerusalem by a landslide.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? Well I didn't like ANY of the others that much, to be honest.
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I wasn't.
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Oh, I'll definitely participate next time if at all possible. Not sure what role I'll take, but I think I'll volunteer to do something again; it was fun!

Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon Mini-Challenge: READING ZOMBIES

dewey readathon button

By now you're probably all feeling more than a little tired. Maybe the words on the page, they aren't sense-making. The thoughts in your head, they're hard to form. Maybe you feel a bit like a zombie. And you know what that means: time to zombify your books!

zombie Shalvis

vampire bianca cover

For this challenge, I want you to take a book you've read during the Readathon and "zombify" or "vampirize" it in the style of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. You can do this by either zombifying the cover, or providing a synopsis of the zombified adaptation. Then post it somewhere online where I can get to it and provide a permalink.

Zombifying Your Book Cover

The two images above are examples of covers I zombified using Picnik, a free online photo editing program. Simply upload a .jpg of the original cover and go to the featured effects tab to find tools to turn your cover into something spooky. Or you can use whatever editing program you prefer!

Adaptation Synopsis

Your second option is to write a summary for your zombie adaptation. Here's an example of an adaptation blurb for Persuasion by Jane Austen that I made up and put in my review of the novel:

Title: Devil's Persuasion

Sir Walter Elliot is really a demon, using the mirrors in his bedroom to travel to and from Hell.  His daughters, half-demon spawn, have succeeded in spreading discontent and misery throughout the county--all except for Anne, who has resisted the influence of her demon side for many years.  But will the demon remain quiet when Capt. Wentworth returns to Somersetshire?  Or will it emerge to wreak vengence on Anne's innocent cousins and anyone else who dares mess with her man??
As you can see, you don't have to use zombies! Any supernatural creature will do.

This mini-challenge will run until the end of the Readathon, hour 24. One person who posts by hour 24 will be chosen randomly by myself and win one of a select number of "zombied" classics from the Book Depository. This contest is open internationally.

To enter the contest: Fill out the form below or go here.

To share with others: Leave your permalink in the comments!

I'm looking forward to seeing what you creative reading zombies come up with. Have fun and good luck!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Readathon Hour 12 Update

cat art

Good news, everyone: I started O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King on audiobook, which I've been wanting to read for a while, and am enjoying it! I got slightly derailed when my grandparents stopped by, but it's all good cuz they're my grandparents. I gave my grandma some of the cookies I'd baked for the Readathon but she wouldn't join me in a shot of vodka for some reason. *pouts*

As for the read-a-chunkster strategy... not going too well so far. I gave up on Map Of Time, as well. I think maybe I'll just try to finish the book I was reading last night and call it good.


Food consumed: One quarter of a fritata and 2 3 cookies, a bowl of beef teriyaki (Japanese take-out, yay!) that Vasilly bullied me into eating, a handful of grapes, and 1 Brötchen (bonus points if you know what that is).
Drinks: A cup of coffee and a 2 glasses of water
Mini-Challenges: I managed to complete two mini-challenges! My Perfect Anthology and Book Trailer

Readathon Hour 8 Update

give a hoot

Hour 8, y'all! The Readathon is chugging right along. I've decided to give up on The Historian; I wasn't fifty pages in and already skimming through extraneous info. Plus the things that were supposed to be creepy were instead making me laugh. It has an interesting narrative structure but I'm not in the mood for something so esoteric right now (or ever). Going to move on to Map of Time, recommended by the lovely Memory.

In audiobooks, I'm finished with the first disk of Turn Coat and TOTALLY CONFUSED. I started the series (Harry Dresden) years ago but only read up to book four, and I think this is book, like, eleven? I should probably pick another book but whatever. The narrator's pretty good, anyway.

Food consumed: One quarter of a fritata and 2 cookies
Drinks: A cup of coffee and a glass of water

That's all the updates that are fit to be made so far! How's your reading going?

Read-a-thon Start Post!


Hello, everyone! I am officially starting the 24-Hour Readathon. Yays!

I haven't had my coffee yet, so I'm just skipping straight to the meme. Will be more chatty later.

1)Where are you reading from today? Colorado.
2)Three random facts about me… I need a haircut, the TV show Chuck is my anti-drug, and my favorite flowers are gladiolas.
3)How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? One. I just have to decide which one.
4)Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? Staying awake. Haha.
5)If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, any advice for people doing this for the first time? Yes, have fun with it! Don't feel like you're falling behind because you're not finishing books or doing a bunch of mini-challenges.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Interview: Morgan Greer from Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires series

Jamie Dornan
A visual approximation of Morgan via

To celebrate the release of the fifth book in Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires series, I invited Morgan, the head of Navarre House, over to my blog for an interview. Bonus: this is the first time I've ever interviewed a vampire! (I think...) Check out Morgan's answers and be sure to enter the giveaway at the end of this post!

TBFB: Hi, Morgan! Thank you for talking with me today. You're my favorite character from the Chicagoland Vampire series.

Morgan: Wow, thanks. That's pretty high praise. Especially since everyone is all atwitter about other vampires these days. *Grumbles*
TBFB: Are we going to see more or less of you in Drink Deep?

Morgan: *Scowling* I wouldn't call Drink Deep my high point as a character; Chloe didn't exactly give me a lot of screen time. On the other hand, I have my hands full with all this supernatural weirdness in Chicago and a House to run. Celina was head of Navarre for a long, long time. I'm still playing catch up in a lot of ways.
TBFB: In Hard Bitten, many readers felt like you betrayed Merit. Would you agree?

Morgan: *Paling* Like I betrayed her? Did she act honorably toward me when she was dancing with Ethan? Sneaking around with him after promising--in front of her entire House--to allow me to make a claim? I was humiliated by that, you know. As for betraying her, I act in the best interest of my House. *Shrugs* I guess she can interpret it how she wants.
TBFB: Speaking of interpretation *obvious segue-way*, do you think Celine's actions will help Navarre House in the long run?

Morgan: Celina was a great Master. I'm not saying she's perfect, but look at the status of our House. We're the oldest House in the country, the most prestigious. We have the largest private art collection, an historic home, and we're incredibly financially stable. It's easy to make Celina the fall guy when you don't want to look at your own problems.
TBFB: Moving on to something more personal, are you happy you were changed into a vampire?

Morgan: *Pausing* I'm glad to be alive. I didn't always appreciate that, but I do now. But do I wish I'd had all the information when I made the decision to join the House? Yeah. Yeah, I do.
TBFB: What is the one thing you admire most about Merit? About Celina?

Morgan: Merit always thinks she's doing the right thing. She has a certainty about that that's admirable, even if she's wrong. Celina puts her House first, even if it doesn't reflect well on the other Houses.
TBFB: Thank you so much, Morgan! One last question: have you ever thought about using your vampire powers to help the Cubs win?

Morgan: I have not. But now that you mention it . . .

Drink Deep blog tour

As part of the Drink Deep blog tour, Chloe Neill is offering a giveaway for a swagpack of Chicagoland Vampires-related material. To enter, fill out the form below, or click here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review: THE RELUCTANT HEIRESS by Eva Ibbotson

heiress cover

Guy Farne, an English businessman, has bought the castle of Pfaffenstein in WWI-torn Austria to impress his toffee-nosed fiance. But while waiting for her to arrive, he falls for Tessa, the Princess of Pfaffenstein, who is the complete opposite of Guy's fiance in almost every way. Will these two crazy kids get together?

This is a very sweet, romantic novel that feels like a fairy tale adaptation even though it doesn't follow any particular fairy tale. It's researched out the wazoo as far as music--and opera in particular--in the city of Vienna is concerned, and has great characters and great writing. Ibbotson's writing style is fantastic; this isn't the short, straight-forward tone of voice that one might expect from someone like Ernest Hemingway, for instance. It's very lyrical and full of references to art and music that's perfect for this type of story. Take this sentence, for example: "...eyes the color of a Stradivarius, eyes which might have been put in by the thumb of Titian himself when he grew too old for detail and was concerned only with the extreme condition of the human soul." Don't you know exactly what Tessa's eyes look like now?

I also loved the characters in this book, particularly Guy. Creating an alpha hero who is also believably kind and an incurable romantic is quite the challenge, but Ibbotson pulls it off perfectly, mainly by showing and not telling. Guy's actions, even without an explanation for them from the author, demonstrate perfectly what he's thinking and feeling.

As for the heroine, Tessa, she's a very interesting character. I wouldn't say she's too stupid to live, but it's hard to connect with her because she seems to have no sense of self-preservation. I understand she's supposed to be innocent and pure--not necessarily sexually pure (though she is that), but pure of any vanity or avarice--and that this is part of her appeal. However, for me Ibbotson went a little too far with it and as a result Tessa is not a believable character. I'm not sure I would ever trust her to take care of herself, which soured the conclusion of the book for me. I also thought Nerine, Guy's fiance, was a bit cartoonish. If Vernon and Petunia Dursley had a daughter, she'd be Nerine in a handbasket.

As I mentioned before, the romance between Guy and Tessa is very sweet, but the more interesting aspect of the book for me was the portrait Ibbotson captured of Vienna in the early 1920s. As a piece of historical fiction, this book is really evokes a romanticized vision of the place and time, sort of like the movie Anastasia. It feels exotic and fresh because it's so unusual in YA fiction. Plus there are fun names, like Pfaffenstein and Spittau! You can't beat that.

My point being, if you're a fan of romantic stories like this, I highly recommend this novel. I wasn't blown away by it, but I did enjoy it and am more than willing to try more of Ibbotson's writing--which is the best thing about this book--in the future.

Musical notes: Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind" reminded me of Tessa's excitement over living in Vienna.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Girl"-y Books

Lisbeth Salander

Thanks to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there are now way too many books out there with the word "girl" in the title. Here are just a few I've noticed:

  • The Girl In the Polka Dot Dress by Beryl Bainbridge
  • The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy
  • The Girl Who Disappeared Twice by Andrea Kane
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Girl In the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman
  • The Girl In Alfred Hitchcock's Shower by Robert Graysmith
  • The Girl with the Mermaid Hair by Delia Ephron
  • The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
  • The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow
  • The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw
  • The Girl On Legare Street by Karen White
  • The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane
  • The Girl Who Became a Beatle by Greg Taylor
  • The Girl Who Wanted to Dance by Amy Ehrlich
  • The Girl In the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
There are a lot more, but I got tired of typing. As you can see, these titles come from books in many different genres, fiction and non-, and marketed to a very broad spectrum of people, some of whom probably haven't even read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or maybe even heard of it.

Why do you think titles that begin with "The Girl Who/In/On/With" are so popular right now? Why do some titles take off like this and others don't, even if the books are just as popular?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Weekend Cooking: WHAT THE WORLD EATS by Faith D'Aluisio and Peter Menzel

world eats cover

If there's a book just asking to be made into the PBS version of No Reservations, it's this one. Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio go around the world and take photos of families with a typical week's worth of food, comparing diets, prices, and a bit about the food culture of the country.

Any foodie worth their salt is interested in what other cultures consider staple foods, so this book is really fascinating, just as I expected it to be when I read Natasha's review of it at 1330v. I was surprised at what parts I found most interesting, however. The variation in what a family spends on food in a single week, for example, can be really mind-boggling. One family in Bhutan feeds 13 people with a little over $5 USD a week; a family of four in France, meanwhile, spends close to $420 USD a week on food! Of course, the French shopping trip included things like wine, cheese, croissants, sausage, and other things I personally wouldn't want to do without. Big spenders on food also have a lot more variety in what they eat. And if there's one thing I've learned from this book, it's that meat is a big expense. Nearly a fourth of the French family's budget was spent on meat, while the Bhutan family only ever ate eggs and a small amount of dried fish for protein. In fact, almost all of the big-budget weekly meals devoted the majority of their money to meat.

I also loved the addition of the family members' favorite foods, just because something like that is always so personal and random. People tend to go either really broad ("everything") or really specific ("spaghetti carbonara"). Unfortunately, we don't get that information for every family, so that was a bit disappointing. The recipes were another odd addition, as the probability of me making something with ingredients I've even heard of, let alone can find, is pretty small.

On an ideological level, I had some issues. This book can get very preachy and the authors definitely have a point of view, one in which McDonald's and processed food is evol. No, I don't eat at McD's; and yes, I am one of those people that's all about fresh and seasonal food, but that's partly because my family is German and I was raised that way.

There's a reason processing and preservatives exist--because eating McDonald's is better than starving. Since the start of civilization, the fight against starvation has been one that requires a way to preserve food for a long time, and nowadays we're pretty good at it. Maybe it's not as healthy as eating everything fresh, but unless we're all going back to being hunter-gatherers (and I can tell you right now I'm not), that's reality. The authors rightly point out that there's a cruelly ironic dichotomy between the fight against obesity in the US and the fight against the hunger that exists in other parts of the world; but they seem more concerned with the former when one would think the latter is more important.

There's also a colonial tone of romanticizing the "primitive life" of non-Western cultures here, an "Oh, look how we're destroying the simple lives and eating habits of these people with our wickedly advanced grocery stores and fast food restaurants" message that I found to be annoying. And if Menzel and D'Aluisio think that this book doesn't invite generalizations (as they say in the introduction), they're deluding themselves; it's titled WHAT THE WORLD EATS, not What a Select Group of People Eats. Overall, though, I think this book is worth at least paging through if you're interested in food and culture. It contains a lot of good information, and the photographs are very interesting (Menzel and D'Aluisio should consider designing supermarket window displays). Plus this book inspired me to compose my own mini-photographic essay! Here is what I eat in a day:

Name: Tasha (31)
Favorite food: Miso soup

I'm not a big breakfast person and usually just have coffee with cream and peanut butter toast.

Not a big lunch person, either. Today it was chicken enchiladas with what I have to say were some pretty sub-standard tortillas and Spanish rice.

I ate three chocolate chip cookies. Munch munch munch.

Dinner's my big meal. This chicken piccata with noodles and asparagus tips looks really unappetizing, but it tasted all right. I literally ate everything on this plate.

After dinner:
I usually have some wine late at night. Also another snack, but tonight I wasn't that hungry.

Total cost: No idea, that would require way too much math. I do think we spend between $150-200 a week on food for four people, though.

To find out more about Menzel and D'Aluisio's current project, check out this lecture Menzel gave at EG4:

Mini-survey time! About how much does your household spend on food every week? What's your favorite food?

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Manga versus Animé: xxxHOLiC by Clamp

xxxholic color spread

Kimihiro Watanuki hates the fact that he can see the supernatural in our mundane world. One day a ghost chases him to a strange shop run by Yūko Ichihara, a femme fatale witch who grants wishes. After reading his fortune, Ichihara offers to stop his visions--but first he has to work for her. Ichihara has clearly taken Watanuki on as an apprentice, but Watanuki isn't clued into this fact as he follows her and learns the basics of fortune-telling and wish-granting.

This is a very fun, cute story. Watanuki overreacts to everything, which weirdly enough makes him endearing and a nice foil to the other characters. Ichihara and her little Mokona (rabbit thing) love to eat and drink, and they seem to ground the entire series in a state of earthly delight. The magical element is also really well-done: Ichihara's practices are clearly based in Buddhist philosophy, and the magic is unusual by Western standards.

That being said, I had trouble getting into this manga. I think it had to do partly with the art, which I occasionally found very confusing to follow, and partly with the fact that the storyline is integrated with Clamp's other mangas, which I haven't read. Sometimes trying to figure out where these stories were going was very tiring. There are explanations of Japanese culture and references from Clamp's other series at the end of the books, which was awesome, but that didn't help me much while I was reading; it only made sense at the end.

After about two volumes of the manga, I thought I'd give the animé series (available on hulu) a go. Although the animé compressed the story in parts and rearranged some plot elements, it was much easier to follow, particularly as far as the action was concerned. I wish I'd watched it before starting the manga, even though the animé came after the manga.

Despite my problems with it, I do think xxxHOLiC is definitely worth checking out, in either format.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Listed: Vienna

winterwonderland 1

I started reading The Reluctant Heiress by Eva Ibbotson yesterday, and this reminded me what a great setting Vienna is! Exotic and elegant, Vienna has become indelibly associated with high culture and the arts, especially music. Here are some other books and movies that take place in Vienna:

  • The Illuuuusionist A great movie starring Edward Norton as a magician with a mysterious past who sets out to trick a Habsburg prince in order to save the woman he loves.
  • The Little Book, by Seldon Edwards This is a time travel novel that I never finished. The descriptions of Vienna were fabulous, though.
  • Charmed and Dangerous, by Jane Ashford One of my favorite romances of all time! I love this book! A governess follows her employers to the Congress of Vienna and meets a spy, resulting in adventures all over Europe.
  • Vienna Waltz, by Teresa Grant Another novel that takes place during the Congress of Vienna. I haven't read this one, but the cover seems to suffer from Luxe syndrome.
  • The Empty Mirror, by J. Sydney Jones There are a ton of mysteries that take place in Vienna! This one is set in 1899 and features Karl Werthen as the series detective.
  • The Marriage Artist, by Andrew Winer This is an odd-sounding book about an art critic whose wife jumps off a building with an American Indian artist. So that's already really complex. It takes place in Vienna in 1928. Naturally, there are Nazis. There must always be Nazis.
  • In Mozart's Shadow, by Carolyn Meyer A YA about Mozart's sister, Nannerl--who, you may recall, was said to be a greater genius than her brother.
  • The Third Man A film noir about spies in Vienna heavily influenced by the work of Orson Welles.
  • Airs Above the Ground, by Mary Stewart I forgot this book was set in Vienna! Actually, I think this may be one of the few Mary Stewart novels I haven't read. Shame on me!

Do you know of any good books set in Vienna? Have you read any of books listed above?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: INSTANT ATTRACTION by Jill Shalvis

instant cover

After surviving a terrible accident, Katie is determined to live "balls-out," which is more or less how she finds herself in the small mountain town of Wishful, working as a temporary accountant for Wilder Adventures. Then Cameron, one of the more wild Wilder brothers, shows up. Cam used to be an Olympic-level snowboarder, but after a terrible accident he went on a walkabout around the world for a year. *obvious connection made* They're attracted to each other, but can Cam overcome his Issues to settle down with Katie?

This book starts off really well, with a great meet-cute scene. The dialog is modern and amusing, and it's fun to read the interactions of the characters--not only Katie and Cam, but the secondary characters as well. For a good one hundred pages I thought I might actually enjoy this novel.

BUT THEN. What I'm starting to think of as the Two-Thirds Curse kicked in. The Two-Thirds Curse is where a book is really smooth reading for the first third--no continuity issues, a logical chain of actions and reactions, no draggy parts--but in the rest of the book? Not so much. In this case it wasn't as bad as it could have been: mainly the dialog became a little less snappy and the tropes got a lot more obvious. The big issue for me was that the particular trope used in this book is the one where the woman (it's always the woman) keeps denying her totally obvious and mutual attraction for the hero with no reason other than to drag the book out.

This is a really common romance novel trope. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's almost pervasive. But I just can't handle it anymore, especially in contemporary romances, and I think that's the main reason why romances haven't been working for me lately.

ALSO! I would never call myself an expert skier, but as someone who has skied, this book confused the hell out of me. I'm 80% sure Shalvis has never gone skiing a day in her life, nor even stepped into a sporting goods store, because there is sooo much stuff in this novel that would just never happen. My first clue was when Cam decided to hike to the top of a mountain taking some sort of secret back way so he could snowboard. Um. You do realize that snow is like really deep, right? Like REALLY REALLY DEEP. Unless this is some time between May and September, hiking up a mountain is total nonsense. You could snowshoe up the mountain, or take a snowmobile up a mountain, but hiking? In snowboarding boots? *picture extreme doubt face*

And then there were the ski pants, prima facie evidence of why I am totally against clothing descriptions in books. I didn't even think it was humanly possible to screw up not just a physcial description of ski pants, but a conceptual understanding of ski pants' function and mechanics, so thoroughly. It is truly mind-fucking; it's like if I were to try to describe a jock strap in action. I obviously would have nooo idea what I was talking about. Just so we're clear, this sexy beast (aka me) is wearing ski pants:

ski sale

These are ski pants. They're designed like overalls so you don't get snow in your undies, which means they don't have zippers on the front like regular pants. And they are not tight because they are just a thin waterproof shell that you put over layers, many many layers so that you don't get hypothermia. As I once heard someone who didn't like to ski say, "Driving for 2 hours in 5 layers of clothing is no one's idea of a good time." Wearing ski pants with nothing under them would be utterly idiotic because their job is to keep wet snow off your warm pants. You'd be better off to go skiing in jeans than ski pants with nothing underneath them, okay? Like maybe we should have dropped by the REI and discussed the difference between ski gear and scuba gear before we wrote scenes where people dress like it's a chilly day in Los Angeles when they're supposed to be hiking a mountain in winter.

Honestly, the ski pants thing wasn't a huge part of the book; it was simply that whenever the ski pants appeared, they remind me of everything in the novel that was unrealistic and totally dumb. Other stupid things were Cam's ex, the sub-plot with Nick and Annie, and the way the whole Wilder family travels back and forth and back and forth between the lodge and Wishful one at a time, in different vehicles, constantly and for no reason.

I couldn't help but compare this book to Just Perfect by Julie Ortolon, which has a similar premise and takes place in Aspen. I freaking love that book, which noticeably contains no in-depth ski apparel descriptions and gives the reader a glimpse into how ski towns work and the social hierarchy that develops in ski resorts. Research! Knowing what the fridge you're talking about! It's a beautiful thing.

So if you want a great romance novel set in a glamorous ski town, I'd recommend Just Perfect whole-heartedly. This book? Mehhhh not very.

Musical notes: "Not While I'm Around" from Todd Sweeney

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: CONTROL by Manna Francis

control cover

In the fourth Administration series novel, Toreth and Warrick both face issues of control--or lack thereof--in their lives. For the most part these short stories address PTB's (for those of you who are not Buffy fans, that's the Powers That Be--the dominating forces of government and corporates that the average citizen in this dystopian world has very little protection against), but they also show Toreth and Warrick figuring out who is in control of their relationship, and which of the two men can better control himself.

Aside from the first story, I didn't feel like there was a lot of character development happening in this volume. At one point Toreth grumbles that he's bored, and I can't help but wonder if Francis wasn't thinking that herself while writing this. I hope that's not the case, but it definitely feels like there's not as much thought put into this book as there was in the other three. It seems like Warrick just gets more accommodating and Toreth gets more possessive, and everyone (except Annoying Dilly) is hunky-dory with that. That didn't bother me in the previous books because 1. I wanted Toreth and Warrick to stay together, and 2. I understood why Warrick put up with Toreth and vice versa. But in this book I had more and more trouble sympathizing with either of them or understanding why they're still together.

One of the more interesting revelations in this book was Toreth's attitude toward Warrick's job. It's been obvious since the first book that Warrick has major issues with Toreth working for I&I, for very good reasons as we find out; but in this novel it becomes obvious Toreth hates corporates as much as Warrick hates the Administration. Really both corporates and the Administration can get away with whatever they want, so there's not much difference between the two, other than corporates have more money.

Overall this book was okay, but I hope it's just an aberration in the series and the next novel is more interesting.

Musical notes: "Helena Beat" by Foster the People

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What Would Jane Austen Do?


Maybe I'm more of a Janeite than I realized, because whenever something in modern literature starts to annoy me, I ask myself, "What if Jane Austen were living today? How would [insert annoying trend here] affect her books?"

Take series, for example. It's getting out of control, people! Do stand-alone books even exist anymore?! Is there any reason beyond trying to make me buy more books that you've decided to stretch out this story over fourteen 500-page volumes? I think we both know there isn't.

As I was telling Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads the other night, if Pride & Prejudice was written today, it'd be a 10-book series and would go something like this:
  • Book one, Darcy and Lizzie don't like each other, then fall in love.
  • Book two, Georgiana's volume! She falls in love with the broody next door neighbor she's never liked. There's sex in this one because some people complained.
  • Book three, Kitty's volume! She falls in love with an officer who rubs her the wrong way at the outset--until he rubs her right. heh
  • Book four, Colonel Fitzwilliam! He's always been sweet on a girl he knows in London, even though she hates him.
  • Book five, Mary's volume! She meets a roguish rake that she heartily disapproves of, and vice versa; but after his friends bet him that he can't convince Mary to "dance" with him, roguish rake sets out to woo her and falls in love after she gets a make-over.
  • Book six, the return of Wacky Wickham! After therapy, Wickham decides to stop drinking and joins the Quakers, where he falls in love with a virginal miss who instantly dislikes him. Fortunately Lydia has fallen into the pit of convenient plot devices.
  • Book seven, Caroline Bingly! Will her pride prevent her from seeing that a man below her station is in love with her? Or more to the point, will it stop her from caring?
  • Book eight, we're running out of characters! Miss Anne de Bourgh! She meets someone her mother really likes but she doesn't! But then it turns out he's not that bad after all! And he's the first person she's ever had an opinion about.
  • Book nine, Charlotte! Mr. Collins kicks the bucket by walking into a tree in Rosings Park and Charlotte runs away with a smuggler! Whom she doesn't like, until they have sex.
  • Book ten, there has to be some character left to hook up. Oh, hey, Mrs. Philips! She decides to travel the world and marries an Italian whom she at first didn't like. Lucky they both speak the language of looove.

In case you didn't notice, these are all basically the same book! And just think, if Jane Austen had spent her time rewriting P&P in these progressively more terrible books, then she never would have written Emma, or Mansfield Park, or Persuasion. Her entire legacy would be ONE great novel and a bunch of sad-going-on-pathetic imitations. Yes, the one great novel is enough, but how many series today have one great book in them?

Out of curiosity, are there any other characters we want to hook up from P&P?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: DEMONGLASS by Rachel Hawkins

demonglass cover

After a challenging first year at Hex Hall, Sophie Mercer is going to England to spend the summer with her father and have her powers permanently Removed. But seeing as she's staying with the rest of the Council in the same house where her grandmother was turned into a demon, chances are good that Sophie will stumble upon some dangerous secrets.

I read Hex Hall, the first book in this series, when it came out, and here's what I remembered from it: Hex Hall is a high school. For... witches? Otherwise, my recall was embarrassingly blank. I remembered liking Hex Hall but thinking it was fairly predictable. Nevertheless, I heard a lot of good stuff about Demonglass, so I decided to keep on going with the series, and I'm definitely glad I did. Demonglass develops the story in new directions and is a big improvement from the first novel.

One of the things I really liked about this book was the "love triangle" between Sophie, Cam, and Archer (don't pretend you didn't know there wouldn't be a love triangle). Sophie knows both Cam and Archer from Hex Hall, but for various reasons, Archer is extremely unsuitable as boyfriend material--so, naturally, he's the one she's attracted to. Cam is Hex Hall's adorable groundskeeper who likes taking his shirt off (*rowl*), and the guy Sophie's best friend is rooting for. Sophie should really spend more time listening to her bestie. I love Cam so hard... but Archer is pretty awesome, too. Gah! Such a difficult decision!

As for what I didn't like, Sophie's relationship with her dad didn't make a lot of sense to me. She says herself that the only contact she's ever had with him during the entire course of her life are birthday cards obviously picked out by his secretary and tersely signed, "Your Father." WOW. Given that, I would think there'd be way more tension in that relationship than there was, especially with his super-sketchy behavior and the fact that he never explains why he's ignored her existence for the last seventeen years. It also bothered me when Sophie would think something along the lines of, "Oh, I'm seventeen now, so I have to respond to this like an adult." How realistic. Yes, by all means, consciously decide to deal with something as an adult, despite the fact that by our cultural and legal standards you are not.

Aside from that, this was a very quick, fun book, on the edge of being unputdownable (unfortunately I had to put it down because I have job. Stupid job). Outside the walls of Hex Hall, the books' world of magic feels much broader and more developed, and Hawkins really ups the ante for the main characters in this volume. The last fifty pages are incredibly intense, and the ending was a cliffhanger that left me wanting the third book in the series like NOW. I also love Sophie's humor and snark, which keeps the book feeling light even with all the serious events happening around her. I definitely recommend trying this series or the second book if you haven't already!

Musical notes: "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga, mainly because Sophie mentions she was "born this way" (i.e., with demon powers) several times during the course of the novel.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


sin cover

Aside from being vaguely aware that there was some sort of up-tight rule book preventing nudity, sex, and cursing in olde timey movies, I didn't know much about the Hays Code or anything about "Pre-Code" Hollywood until I picked up this book. To say a movie is pre-Code is something of a misnomer: there had been guidelines governing so-called decency in film since the 1920s, and the Hays Code (nick-named after William Hays, but officially known as the Motion Picture Production Code) was instituted in 1930. However, Hollywood completely disregarded the Code and did mostly whatever they wanted up until 1935-ish, putting the onus of censorship on pre-production hand-wringing by the studios and SRC (a studio-sponsored censorship board), as well as locally--meaning a lot of films were cut down by state and municipal censorship committees before being shown. In many cases, these cut versions are the ones people are familiar with, not the director's original vision. If you're watching a movie from the 1930s and it feels like there are scenes missing, that's because there probably are.

Using contemporary reviews, scripts, production photographs, and--when available--the complete uncut film itself, Vieira reconstructs for us these pre-Code films and how they were made. I adore the idea of this project and Vieira executes it beautifully: the book is filled with fabulous stills from pre-Code movies; and while Vieira's writing style is probably more academic than most people are used to, I wouldn't say it's dry. It's filled with juicy gossip and portrayals of all the major early Hollywood players. Vieira also isn't afraid to give his personal opinion of a film and whether it worked or not, which is great because I've never even heard of most of the movies in here, and have seen less than a handful.

dorothy mackaill
Dorothy Mackaill as a secrety-turned-prostitute in Safe In Hell, 1931.

One of the more interesting threads in the book is the history of censorship in Hollywood. Whatever happened to free speech, you're no doubt thinking. In fact, free speech didn't apply to movies because they were considered a commercial product, like chewing gum or cigarettes, not an artistic statement (of course, nowadays corporations are considered "people," so that argument wouldn't hold water). This adds a whole new layer of understanding to the films of auteurial directors like Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford, who wanted to prove that film can be an art form. Censorship began before a film was even shot (the suggested subversion of Norma Shearer, known for her good-girl roles, starring in Divorcee gave the SRC fits), and was applied regardless of taste. To the censors, it didn't matter if a movie was good or not, as long as it didn't portray something someone disagreed with or was afraid of. Fortunately, there were people in Hollywood who did care about making good movies, and supported those who wanted to make them.

grapefruit scene
The "grapefruit scene" in Public Enemy depicted domestic violence.

So what were the censors cutting? Girls in skimpy clothes, people saying "Dammit to hell!" and whatnot? There was some of that, yes, but also orgies, homosexuality, prostitution, drug use, abortions, transgender issues, sexually transmitted diseases, bestiality, violence--you name it. The U.S. in the midst of the Great Depression wanted to see gritty "reality," not be fed platitudes. And the reality of pre-Code movies heroized sexually aggressive and confident women, violent gangsters, and general rule-breaking.

If you're interested in Hollywood history, this book is a delicious and interesting read. It's worth getting for the film stills alone, I think, but contains tons of information about a fascinating period of time filled with awesome creative talents who were constantly pushing the envelope. After reading this book, I'm amazed any picture ever got made; but they did and they continue to, and I think it's safe to say the world is a better place with pre-Code films than without them.


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