Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Have You Seen This Book?


Hello. I am looking for some books that I read a long time ago. Maybe you can help?

Book #1

I've been searching for this novel for so long that at this point, finding it has nothing to with how good it is or how much I want to read it, but simply the fact that this search is starting to develop into something of the Maltese Falcon/Holy Grail variety. I honestly don't know what I'll do if I ever find this book, possibly cry. But here are the deets:

Definitely for sure part of the book: It's a category romance from the '90s that's about a woman who travels back in time to Georgian England. She works as a maid in an aristocratic house, and the hero's the butler. Meanwhile, Jack the Ripper (who is also a time traveler) is there. They eventually kill him.

This may or may not be part of the book: I think it was published by Signet under their "[number I can't remember] Light Street" line. I also think the heroine was a crime scene photographer.
Book #2

This is a novel I recently started thinking about because of ghosts and snow. I don't know why I was thinking about ghosts and snow, but I was, and then I wanted to know what this book was. The details of this one are even more sketchy.

Definitely for sure part of the book: It's a MG novel from the late '80s or early '90s set during a horrendous blizzard in 19th-century New York City. A bunch of people die. An elevator was involved somehow.

May or may not be part of the book: I think there was a contemporary heroine who had visions of the historical scenes due to ghostly encounters, but I'm not sure. There might have also been a tragic love story sub-plot.

Do you have ANY idea what these books might be titled? If you do, please let me know in the comments!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Announcing a New Theme Month!

I've been wanting to do another theme month for a while, and as you might have noticed, I've been ruminating a bit on romances recently. Who doesn't like a little bit of romance, especially in the winter? As Cole Porter put it,
Ev'ry average man you know
much prefers his lovey dovey to court
when the temperature is low.
romance month button

Therefore I'm pleased to announce that December will be Romance Month at TBF&B. I hope to get through a lot of the romances on my TBR stack this month and review them on this here blog. I've also scheduled some of my favorite romance bloggers for guest posts, and an author interview or two.

PLUS! For the first time, I'm opening up the theme month to anyone who's interested in participating! I know, that's pretty exciting. Whether you love romances, have never read a single romance, or are somewhere in between, I invite you to participate by reading at least one romance novel with me this month. To RSVP, please fill out the form below or go here.

Here's to making December one of my best theme months yet!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Favorite Not-Holiday Movies, Take Two

sweeney todd

It's officially the holiday season, which means it's time for another installment of favorite not-holiday movies! Last year, I discussed how I really like to watch movies during the holidays that have nothing to do with Christmas, but I think they do, because I guess I don't understand 'Christmas movies.' This year, there's a new crop of must-see not-holiday movies I'm adding to my watch list!
  • Sweeney Todd  What's cheerier than seeing Johnny Depp singing? If you answered lots of blood and bodies being baked into mince meat pies, thennnn you might want to see a psychiatrist. Unless you were thinking of this movie, in which case, yeah!!! I'm not sure why I like this movie for the holidays, but there is something weirdly cozy about it. Everyone gets their just desserts. Plus, red... that's, like, half the Christmas colors.
  • The Golden Compass  I love the steampunk design of this movie, and how Lara's really smart. I also love Daniel Craig. Rawr. Plus you've also got polar bears and a little girl setting sail for North Pole, so that's pretty Christmas-y.
  • The Lord of the Rings  Wizards with long white beards! And lots of names that start with S (like Santa)! And ghosties and fairies and golden rings, oh my! These are also a series of films that feel very cozy to me even though they are insanely long and take three weeks to watch. Plus, my mom got the new blue ray extended edition set, which is like FIFTEEN DISKS, and I'm super-psyched to watch them.
Now that I think about it, a lot of my favorite not-holiday movies have several things in common, namely: 1. man candy, 2. lots of special effects, 3. a dark story, 4. spooky or violent plot elements, and 4. British accents.

What are some of your favorite not-holiday movies?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thoughts on NEW MOON by Stephenie Meyer

new cover

After seeing Twilight (the movie) on TV, I felt the need to bleach Kristen Stewart's quote-unquote acting from my mind, but I've already read Twilight (the book) three times. So decided to reread New Moon, instead. Bonus: my mom bought me the new edition after I casually mentioned one or six times how incredibly hot Taylor Lautner looked and how I would buy it just for the cover art ALONE! Exclamation mark! Look at him, all muscly and tanned and protecting Bella from the man-with-too-much-eye-make-up-in-the-moon. I think my favorite part of this cover, though, are Jacob's fellow tribesmen looking like they're climbing out of the primordial ooze, protozoic beings not yet evolved into humans. Subtle as always, Hollywood!

To be honest, I never planned on rereading this book, because it's a little hard to take. If any of you have suffered from depression, Bella's reaction to Edward leaving is all too easy to relate to, and I don't think the payoff is that satisfying. There are moments in this novel when it's absolutely impossible not to hate Edward, who not only leaves but takes away Bella's family and the entire future she's dreamed for herself. It takes most of Eclipse for Edward to fully redeem himself for that. Despite that and the fact that it's way too long, however, the novel ends up working. After rereading it, I can see that Meyer put a certain amount of literary ambition into this one.

Once upon a time, there was a young girl who lived at the edge of a great forest...
Like many romances, these books are based on fairy tales. But if Twilight was based on Cinderella--complete with a ball at the end--then New Moon is based on Sleeping Beauty. Bella says several times that she's asleep, and the course of the novel is about her waking up. At first glance, one might assume that Jacob is the prince who wakes her up--but he's not. Bella wakes up before she sees Jacob, when she goes to Port Angeles with Jessica and hallucinates Edward's voice for the first time. "...whether it was the zombies, the adrenaline, or the hallucinations that were responsible--it had woken me up," she says.

That sentence is significant because while Edward is still the fairy tale prince, just as he was in Twilight, he's not the one who saves Bella. She knows she's hallucinating when she sees him and that his voice is only in her own mind. It's actually Bella who wakes herself up--she's the one who decides to buy the motorcycles, she's the one who asks Jacob to fix them, and she's the one establishing the rules of their relationship. She makes the conscious decision to reestablish connections with her friends and family and not go back to the numb sleep-walking state she was in before.

She's also the one who saves the prince at the end of the story, not vice versa. So while New Moon is based on a fairy tale, it also turns the conventions of that fairy tale around. Bella's the hero of her own story, not Jacob or Edward.

Jacob Black: Convenient Plot Device
Speaking of Jacob, you've got to feel for the guy. In Twilight he was a convenient plot device used to clue Bella into the fact that the Cullens were vampires; and in the rest of the series (which, let's face it, is really just the first book re-written with a love triangle and werewolves) he basically serves to help Bella find dangerous things to do, rebel against Edward, and keep Renesme from being eaten by the Pack. But on the plus side, at least he's a convenient plot device with a personality.

I know there are a lot of people who are Team Jacob, especially after New Moon (the movie), which is understandable. But really there was no way he and Bella were ever going to wind up together. I take that back--there might have been a chance if he'd stayed human. But as soon as he turned into a werewolf there wasn't, and I would go further to say that's probably a good thing. As Bella says, "He was not my Jacob," the one she knew before he became a werewolf. The human Jacob had a crush; the werewolf Jacob is closer to obsessed. And Bella only 'needs' him because he keeps the yawning nothingness away, so she's essentially using him. That's not the greatest basis for a relationship.

Past Hope, Past Cure, Past Help
There are a lot of references to Romeo & Juliet in this novel, which I think is quite effective. Not because it feeds into the whole star-crossed lovers thing (since the books have a happy ending that's not very convincing), but because thematically Romeo & Juliet really informs what's going on in this novel.

What was Romeo's and Juliet's major downfall (aside from the fact that they were impatient and overdramatic teenagers with no life experience)? They had no faith in themselves and the people around them, and lost hope that the situation would end favorably. Admittedly, it is pretty difficult to maintain hope when your wife's lying in a coffin, but still. If Romeo had kept his faith in Juliet, then a lot of the things that led to the tragic ending would have been avoided.

Edward and Bella have pretty much the same problem. Edward has very little faith or hope for himself, which is why he leaves at the beginning of the novel. What he does have is destroyed when he hears that Bella killed herself. Bella likewise had little faith that Edward loved her as much as she did him; but it's because Bella allowed her hope to survive--pursued it, in fact, in the form of her hallucinations--that things worked out. During the brief moments when she considers "acting like a grown-up" and being with Jacob, she's really considering giving up hope. It's not Edward that haunts her nightmares but a world without hope.

1 Corinthians 13:13 is one of my favorite quotes ever: "For there are these three things that endure: Faith, Hope and Love; but the greatest of these is Love." Love may be the greatest, but I've always personally believe faith was the most important--because without faith, love can't survive. Meyer seems to be arguing something similar in this book: that hope is the most important, because without hope nothing can endure, not love and certainly not the people who are searching for it.

Although I know there's some controversy regarding Bella's independence, or lack thereof, in New Moon, on the second read I found her to be much stronger than I expected. She fights back against the existential nothingness and chooses to create meaning out of her shell of a life. I would never go so far as to say New Moon is empowering, but I do think the novel makes an argument for the power of faith, hope, love, and never giving up on your dreams, which to me seems a pretty positive message.

Musical notes: "Where is My Mind" by The Pixies

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Sunday Salon: A Book In Any Other Format

At the bookstore...

One of the perennial questions of book blogging is, how has blogging changed changed your reading habits? I've always found this question interesting if completely speculative--interesting because I like to torture myself thinking of what might'ves, and speculative because the same personality traits that led me into book blogging also guide my choices in reading. Let's face it, as soon as I knew about blogging, the concept of me blogging about books was pretty much inevitable. So my reading interests without the influence of book bloggers was just never going to happen.

Anyway, there is one area where I'm confident book bloggers have changed my reading, and that's in the format of the books I read. I'm not necessarily thinking of eBooks versus paper books (although the volume of eBooks I read right now probably is a direct result of book blogging); rather, I'm thinking of bindings for paper books.

I used to ONLY read mass market paperbacks. I couldn't (and still can't) afford trade paperbacks or hardcovers--especially when you consider the number of books I read every month--so I wouldn't even look at them in the store. Why torture myself? Oh, I might buy a hardback or tpb if my one most favoritest authors started publishing in that format and I absolutely couldn't wait to read their lastest novel, but for trying out new or just okay authors? No way. Plus, both trade and hardback are a pain in the ass to carry around. I can't fit that crap in my purse!

Then I started getting book recommendations from bloggers. On the internets, you can't "see" what format a book is in, so you can't avoid trade paperbacks or hardcovers (you also can't see how long the book is, which is another problematic thing for me)! Around the same time I started getting most of my books from the library, because a lot of the books I wanted to read were suddenly in more expensive formats. Libraries buy more hardbacks and trade editions than mass market, for obvious reasons, so that availability made the price ceiling I'd placed on myself irrelevant.

Now the vast majority of books I read are hardback or trade paperback. If I buy a book, it's usually in eFormat--even mass market paperbacks are out of my price range these days. $8 or $9 for a mmp? I really don't think so (now I understand why my mom was always whining about paying five bucks for them back in '90s; that seems like a bargain these days... and now I feel old). Some publishers still have agency pricing on their eBooks, which means they sell at the same price as the paper version; but most other eBooks are four dollars or less, which is quite reasonable and cheap enough that I'm willing to take a chance on new authors or genres that I normally wouldn't.

The thing is, that used to be the role of mass market, so I can't help but wonder if mass market books are phasing out. I hope not; they're still more convenient to carry in my purse than a kindle.

Has blogging changed the format you prefer to read in?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Movie Review: BREAKING DAWN Part 1

Originally Released: 11/18/2011
Starring: Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, also did I mention Taylor Lautner?
Directed by: Bill Condon
Based on: The novel of the same name by Stephenie Meyer

If you go to the theater expecting this movie to be "good," I really don't know what to say to you other than, Have you seen any of the last three movies? Look, there's basically two ways this is going to go: either it's a manflesh fest during which you spend two hours giggling at inappropriate moments, OR it's boring. I'm happy to report I found this movie pretty freaking hilarious. And RPatt and Stewart don't even act as badly as they did in the previous films! WIN.

movie still
"Yes, hello, I'm afraid the prognosis is vampire baby."

Let's recap the highlights! Reasons why you should see this movie on as big a screen as you possibly find, maybe even 3-D:
  • Taylor Lautner takes his shirt off in the first five seconds. HELLS YES.
  • The homoerotic overtones of Edward only 'hunting' men. LOVE IT.
  • Virgin hero reference ftw.
  • I cried three times. Damn you, weddings! *shakes fist*
  • Jacob with stubble! *rowl*
  • Charlie threatening Edward with his gun (I would also like to thank the women I went to see this with for sighing as loudly as they could whenever Charlie appeared on screen. Team Charlie!)
  • The headboard scene was totally not a metaphor for what I thought it was going to be. Three words: "Ooops." "It's okay."
  • The belly rubbing. OH THE BELLY RUBBING.
  • This installment of the Twilight ~*Saga*~ brought to you by: Yahoo! And also: Apple, Inc.
  • Conversations in wolf MINDSPEAK. Thank god none of them saw a squirrel.
  • Drinking blood through a straw, YUM. Totally reached for my Sprite during that one.
  • Unnecessary artery and bone marrow shots!
  • Unnecessary and frankly obnoxious use of bokeh!
  • BIRTH SCENE! Okay, so it wasn't as gory as I was hoping it would be (why no blood spray, Condon? WHY), but it was still pretty gruesome.
  • Renesme grows up to be the Anti-Christ and brings about the Apocalypse! Wait, that's the fan fiction I'm writing in my head...
  • The Volturi! You can't have a Twilight movie without them! The one on the right is my faaaaavorite.
Now the real question is, what happened in the second half of this book again? Because it seems like they covered 80% of it already, other than Bella yelling at Jacob because he imprinted on her 10-minutes-old baby. I'm guessing there's going to be a lot more of vampires punching wolves in the snout and wolf MINDSPEAK. Also probably more kissing.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Sunday Salon: A Literary Hard-On

the marriage plot billboard in times square
The billboard in Times Square for Eugenide's The Marriage Plot screams, "Ladies, lend me your panties!"

Do you all remember #pantyworthy? It was several years in the past, which is dinosaur years by interweb standards, and was a twitter hastag started by Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog when she declared John Irving's books got her so excited he was worth tossing her panties at à la a fangirl at a Tom Jones concert. This started a twitter thread about authors who, as Rebecca put it, "had a certain je ne sais quoi" and spawned a series of photographs and a Readathon mini-challenge. You can read Rebecca's history of #Pantyworthy here.

The first comment from that post, by Bookybeck: "I still can’t shake the implications, though, and have trouble applying the tag to women’s book [sic]..."

Indeed. #Pantyworthy may have been just be a silly, fun thing on the intertubes, but it also excluded, by its very nature, women authors. It should come as no surprise that all of the authors Rebecca mentioned in that post were men. Fast forward to the present and you now have Jennifer Weiner, of #Franzenfreude fame (and also a very successful author, p.s.) yelling at #FridayReads and Book Riot (both of which involve Rebecca as a contributor) for being publishers' bitches and favoring male writers over female writers.

I get that sex sells, and that creative men are sexy. But in an industry where women outnumber men as both consumers and producers, the amount of attention men get in acknowledgment, promotion, and professional respect is noticeably disparate. JK Rowling may be one of the most famous and successful authors in the world (a smidge behind, along with everyone else, James Patterson), but her publisher made her use initials on her books instead of her name because they didn't think boys would read the series otherwise.

Interestingly, the only segment of the book industry that I know of where this isn't the case--where male writers are actually pressured to take on female nom de plumes and the male market is completely disregarded--is the romance genre, and I've already addressed my concerns over how romance is marginalized in both the market and in book blogging.

This is an extremely complicated issue that will probably never go away. I doubt we'll ever live in a "post-sex" society. And Weiner probably could have expressed her annoyance in a better way. But that doesn't mitigate the fact that she has a right to be angry and frustrated; what's amazing is that more female writers aren't equally so. This isn't about who writes better or worse, it's about institutionalized sexism. Somewhat like #pantyworthy, publishing was built to include certain people and exclude others, just like any other institution you run into. Unlike a twitter hashtag, however, once an institution takes on a rule or a tradition, it's hell on wheels to undo it.

Publishers use sex to sell to women all the time, quite successfully--and definitely not just with romance novels, as the billboard for Eugenide's The Marriage Plot in Times Square suggests--but if you're a female author writing what Eugenides or Irving does, and your audience is largely other women, there is no je ne sais quoi. Tossing your panties at or literary crushing on another woman is just awkward (especially if you're straight, but probably still even if you're not). And guys can't do the equivalent because then they'd be objectifying women (not that the publishing industry assumes men will read books written by women, anyway--see JK Rowling, above).

But I say unto you, oh publishers of books, why not market a female author to men the same way you would market a male author to women? Just to see what would happen. Sex her up like a bookish version of Angelina Jolie; try to give men as big of a literary hard-on as you try to give women, and then let's talk. I want to see a #whistleworthy hashtag in 2012!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Book Review: SILVER PHOENIX by Cindy Pon

silver phoenix covers

Through a bizarre series of circumstances, Ai Ling is an unmarried seventeen-year-old in olde-timey China. When her father goes missing, she decides to find him. Along the way, she encounters many demons and a few friends, especially Chen Yong, a young man with mad fighting skills. Why are so many demons targeting Ai Ling and her companions? And does Chen Yong really like-like her? Questions!

Silver Phoenix--or, to be more precise, its cover--is one of the more infamous incidents of white washing by the publishing industry in recent memory. Ai Ling is Chinese and her adventure is set in China, something that's very clear in the hardback cover and very unclear in the paperback cover. Apparently the sales of Silver Phoenix were lower than expected and Barnes & Nobel even refused to carry it. The publisher decided this was because readers are racists (or, at the very least, xenophobes) and revamped the cover with something less obviously "ethnic."

I don't know if this marketing strategy worked, but I don't think the lack of sales for the book had anything to do with the hardback cover (which is gorgeous, anyway). People may be pretty shallow, but it's still what's between a cover that really matters.

This novel starts off really great. It's one of those books that doesn't really start at the beginning, which regular readers of this blog know is one of my pet peeves. But the unofficial prologue was interesting, and arguably pertinent to the story, so I didn't mind it as much as I usually do. Plus, once the book did get going, it didn't let go. There was always something exciting happening. I loved the tone of the narrative, the sense of adventure, and the characters Ai Ling met--especially Chen Yong. They meet some wickedly cool things in this novel: dragons! Goddesses! Myths that come to life! It was like a book version of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which in my world translates to a way more awesome version.

But then, about a third of the way through, I started to feel like Ai Ling's journey was becoming episodic. It didn't seem like her meeting with demons or various people was moving the story anywhere. Once the plot did make an appearance, it was a little late to capture my attention and too thin to support the entire length of the book. I also felt like the character development had stopped and Chen Yong had become more of a convenient plot device than an actual character.

A little past the halfway mark, an incident occurred that was clearly meant to give some emotional heft and depth to the story, which it definitely needed. But to me the decisions made by Ai Ling's character and didn't make any sense. It also didn't fit in with the tone of the novel up to that point. It was then that I pretty much lost interest--I didn't care about the characters at all anymore, and now they were TSTL on top of it.

This isn't a bad book, but I don't think its audience is as "young adult" as what it's marketed to. If it is YA it's definitely for the Y end of the YA crowd, and in actuality is probably suited more for a MG audience. The story is very light and exciting, but doesn't contain a lot of emotional resonance, and I personally don't think there's a lot of adult crossover appeal.

Just to be clear, I picked this book up because I wanted to read it and have ever since it came out, not because of the cover controversy. Pon is a good writer and I think this story had potential, but was forced into a box that it didn't fit into.

Musical notes: "Bring Me To Life" by Evanescence

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Review: QUIS CUSTODIET by Manna Francis

administration five cover

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?--a Latin phrase traditionally attributed to the Roman poet Juvenal, which is literally translated as "Who will guard the guards themselves?" or "Who watches the watchers?" It is frequently associated with the political philosophy of Plato and the problem of political corruption, but the original context had nothing to do with Plato and instead referred to the problem of ensuring marital fidelity. (via wikipedia)
Toreth is looking forward to his assignment auditing the Greek branch of Investigation and Interrogation, where he can catch some sun, enjoy the per diem, and basically do no work for three or more weeks. The only thing he isn't happy about is leaving Warrick behind in New London for that entire time. When he finds out our old pal Carnak is in New London working for Warrick's company while Toreth's away, he has a spaz and starts obsessing over Warrick cheating on him. Meanwhile, the Greek office actually does require some investigating. Worst paid vacation ever!

Quis Custodiet was a definite improvement over Control. I liked the new setting of Athens, and getting some stories from other characters' eyes gave the series a much-needed change-up. As the title indicates, the stories in this book are basically all about trust and leeway allowed, both politically within the Administration and in personal relationships. Both Toreth and the Administration are paranoid about betrayal because they themselves can't be trusted. On the flip side, Warrick and the other average citizens of the Administration don't even expect fidelity and honorable behavior; it's simply not going to happen (although it does seem like Toreth's slowing down quite a bit in this novel--he must be getting old). They're just happy if they get what they want out of the bargain, which in Warrick's case is sex. So by that analysis one could say that Toreth's and Warrick's relationship is a synecdoche of the Administration's politics.

That being said, I do still think Warrick's being shunted into the background more and more, and his character is becoming much harder for me to connect with. He just seems way too accommodating and not very autonomous, whereas Toreth still pretty much does what he wants. Not that he would be Toreth if he didn't!

In any case, it seems like this series is refocusing on the outside world of the Administration now and not exclusively on Toreth and Warrick's relationship, which is probably a good move on the author's part.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Schnauzer Saturday

Pearl is disturbed by schnauzer slippers.

Pearl got a haircut this week! Now we're both more bald.

Bonus schnauzer this week! Scooter, like many schnauzers, likes to eat toilet paper:


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