Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bloggiesta Dia Dos


What have I done for Bloggiesta so far? Rather a lot, I think, considering I had to work yesterday. Let's look at the list:
  • Link to my blog reviews on GoodReads. This didn't take as long as I thought it would. After about an hour, I linked to all my reviews through August 2011. I'm calling that good for now, and will hopefully remember to maintain linking back to my reviews in the future. I'm sorry if I unintentionally spammed you with the updates! Didn't realize GR was doing that...
  • Tackle Technorati. I'm still ignoring this one.
  • Find out why the FaceBook 'like' button on PGP isn't working. This is KINDA complete. I set up a FB fan page for PGP and linked to the feed with Networked blogs. Now I just need to confirm that my solution actually worked.
  • Get rid of the TBFB at the start of every post and "This work by..." in the summary. Meghan from Medieval Bookworm helped me with this! I'll have to wait about 24 hours to see if it's working properly, but basically it has to do with adding meta descriptions to your blog and posts. Just Google how to add meta descriptions with your blogging platform and you should come up with directions on how to do it.
I also:
  • Made a page listing with all my art and art history posts. There were A LOT of these. It took forever, and the list is still kind of unorganized.
  • Designed some social media buttons. I plan on setting them up today.
And I need to write one or two blog posts for PGP at some point during the weekend. Or later in the week.

How has your Bloggiesta been so far?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bloggiesta To-Do List

bloggiesta start gif

It's time for Bloggiesta, olé! For those of you who don't know, Bloggiesta is a blogging fiesta where bloggers work together to get stuff done on their blogs. Then we eat Mexican food and dance to Latin music. Wheee! It's really fun and will run the entire weekend. To sign up or find out more, check out There's a Book and It's All About Books.

Here are my blogging goals for Bloggiesta:

  • Link to my blog reviews on GoodReads. I'm not sure why I'm doing this, but I decided it was a good idea. I'll probably just do it until I get bored.
  • Tackle Technorati. One of the first Bloggiesta mini-challenges was signing up for Technorati and then using it to tag your posts. I tried signing up then, but Technorati kept crashing, so I decided I'd finish it at some point in the future. Now here we are, two years later...
  • Find out why the FaceBook 'like' button on PGP isn't working. It's probably because the PGP feed isn't connected to FaceBook, which I tried to do weeks ago but it wouldn't let me. blargh
  • Get rid of the TBFB at the start of every post and "This work by..." in the summary. This is something I definitely need help on. When I google my (main) blog, the results that show up look like this:

TBFB google search results

The page titles are either inaccurate (Review, Book Review) or the title of the blog, and the description below each is my feed's copyright notice. Compare that to what comes up when you google Dear Author:

dear author google search results

DA has clear page categories, and the description underneath is mostly appropriate for the pages.

So why are all my post titles prefaced with the title of my blog, and why is the feed copyright notice used as the description? Does anyone know what the root of the problem is and where I can find help or info about this?

I will also be on twitter following the #bloggiesta hashtag and trying to help people where I can. Let's get the fiesta started!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Guest Post by JOANNE DEMAIO: Life Through the Lens of Art

whole latte life cover

As a writer, I often depend upon visuals to compose my ideas and words. I especially employ this method with my novel’s corresponding blog (  Each post is inspired by an everyday photograph. My view through the camera lens provides a clear perspective on examining how we live our passions and dreams, the theme of the blog. A boat marina becomes a post asking when the reader’s ship will come in. A crumbling stone wall parallels building the lives we seek one stone at a time. I’m never at a loss for a post; yet, without my photographs, the blog would not exist. Photographs provide my written vision.

The same can be said for my novel Whole Latte Life’s main character, Sara Beth. She sees circumstances in her days through the lens of her art background. Her art history education and a love for antiques provide her with a perspective that serves her well in understanding life and the choices she is to make. Words and family and feelings become the shapes and forms and brush strokes that comprise her life like a work of art. I’ve written passages where she sees her family through the idea of a Tonalist painting; others where she feels a personal longing through the fleeting colors of the summer evening light falling upon an historic carriage house; she understands the woman she wants to become through imagining sketched images of herself in others’ eyes.

And it works. When we bring a passion, be it art history or photography or song, to our inquiring thoughts, we often find a richer answer than we might have without that lens.

She dares to consider her reflection and study the woman, who, at forty, had to walk out of her life to find her way back. The eyes are less assured than she had imagined, her skin drawn. Instead of a small thrill, now there’s this nagging doubt. Did she do the right thing? They say that in an oil painting, colors can be painted over each other, changing the nuance of light. So maybe this is what she’ll do. Change just the nuance of Sara Beth.
Excerpt Page 14 ~ Whole Latte Life

writing table at the Met
This is a room from Paris’ Hotel de Varengeville, reconstructed in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Find out more about Joanne on Twitter, BookFace, and GoodReads.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Parallels Between Publishing Today and the Birth of Modern Art

mary cassatt at the louvre
Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt at the Louvre, 1879. Image courtesy of the Met.

We're studying impressionism in my art history course this week, and I couldn't help but notice some similarities between the art world during that time period and the publishing world today--specifically, the impact eBooks, self-published or otherwise, are having on publishing. For instance:

  • Deskilling A common statement about modern art is that, "my five-year-old could do that." And when you compare a Pissarro to a Vermeer, the former does look pretty bad. But people don't care about skill! That much. They care more about the ideas behind the pieces and that they're something new and different. Similarly, self-published eBooks are often criticized for grammatical mistakes and lack of editing. But people don't care! I mean, I care, but if Fifty Shades is on the NYT Bestseller List obviously there are a lot of people who don't. They just want to read something new and different! But not too different, like different in the sense that you feel uncomfortable while reading it. Also, being really cheap or free helps. Moving on...
  • Establishment vs the Salon des Refusés Whenever you have a system to evaluate the worth of something and promote that which is judged superior, there are going to be rejections and hurt feelings. However, in 1863, the Academy Salon in Paris rejected 3,000 pieces of art, far more than they ever had before. It was so extreme the French government sponsored a salon of the rejected work, which included what are now some of the most famous pieces of 19th century art. Basically all these young artists who set the groundwork for the crumbling of the Salon wanted to be let into the establishment in the first place. They didn't set out to tear the system down, but the Salon had become too conservative and didn't want to be shaken up by new ideas. Similarly, one of the complaints I hear from self-published authors are that the Big 6 publishers don't support mid-listers anymore, which is where most new authors would start out (keep in mind all my information is hearsay, and this may only be a few people's experience). It makes sense that, as the economy gets worse, publishers are buttoning down the proverbial hatches and not taking chances on lesser-known writers anymore; but where are those writers going to go? They'll probably self- or e-publish.
  • Technology Impressionists are famous for painting scenes of modern life, not allegories with cupids or historic scenes. Their images included trains and factories, and they were interested in the latest and greatest technology, science, theories, and newspaper reports. I don't think one could say the total opposite was true of Salon artists of the same time period, but the work of artists like William-Adolphe Bouguereau, whom Degas and Monet believed would be the most famous artist of their generation (with more than a little disgust), definitely has a completely different sensibility. I.e., frolicking cupids. In a similar way, it seems like some publishers are being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century--not just in their acceptance of eBooks, but also in their business models.
Obviously, none of these parallels are exact because we're looking at two different centuries, art forms, and cultures. But from my perspective as a reader, this is a very exciting time period in literature. The rules of how and what is being published are shifting rapidly, and that offers a great opportunity for writers to experiment, as well as an audience open to reading their work. Will we soon have the literary equivalent of modern art? Is Fifty Shades our generation's Impression: Sunrise?

Gawd. I hope not (but then I do confess I have a soft spot for Bouguereau).

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review: THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

hunger games cover

Sixteen-year-old Katniss lives in a post-apocalyptic North America, where every district is required to send two teenagers to participate in the Hunger Games--an annual fight to the death broadcast on live TV. Like Highlander, there can be only one; but unlike Highlander, there are no kilts or Scottish accents. Naturally, Katniss becomes a Hunger Games tribute and has to fight her way through a bunch of people who want to kill her. Is she going to survive?! Considering there are two more books, I'm guessing yes.

Yes, I finally read The Hunger Games. What took me so long? It had mainly to do with the insane popularity of this book, and also because it's the type of thing I wouldn't normally read if it WASN'T popular. I have to say I'm happy I read it, since at last I can finally understand what people are talking about half the time on twitter.

First things: this is a very well-written book, and it only gets better as it goes on. The last quarter of The Hunger Games is especially good, with an interesting twist and lots of action and great emotion from the characters.

That being said, the novel wasn't really what I was expecting. It's billed as a dytopian novel, but Panem doesn't seem THAT bad. There are the Hunger Games, yes--but at least there seems to be racial and gender equality, so that's something! Also, when I think of a dystopian novel, I think of a critique of government or society. While there's definitely some of that in The Hunger Games, mostly it's about a tough-ass chick trying to out-fight or -think her way past mean humans and even meaner animal hybrids, including human-wolf mutants (hulves?), while protecting innocents. So in that respect the book reads more like an urban fantasy than a dystopian novel, and people who like UF will probably love it.

I, however, am notorious for not liking UF. So I had some difficulties. These were only compounded by the fact that I found Katniss to be really annoying, what with the whining about how terrible her life in District 12 is, the sullenness and temper tantrums, and the constant second-guessing of other people's motives.

Thank god for Pita Bread Boy, because he's the only likable character in the entire novel and without him I would have been bored out of my mind. He is WAY too good for Katniss. These two apples have fallen from different trees, and I honestly don't see them as having a future together. It's like when you go to a foreign country and you hang out with people you would never normally would hang out with, just because they speak the same language you do. That's Katniss and Peeta in the Hunger Games.

I'm not sure if I'm going to read Catching Fire or not. On the one hand, I am invested in the Peeta/Katniss storyline at this point (in case you couldn't tell) and want to find out what happens; but on the other hand, sometimes things are better left to the imagination. I'll probably break down and read it because I'm curious like that.

Bottom line: this is a good book, and I liked it; but I couldn't really get into it to the point that I know others have. If you haven't read it, you should, if only to find out what a Haymitch and Cinna are.

Musical notes: "Friends" by Bette Midler. Katniss needs someone to sing this to her.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Movie Review: HIGH SPIRITS

Originally released: 1988
Starring: Peter O'Toole, Daryl Hannah, Beverly D'Angelo, Steve Guttenberg, Liam Neeson, Jennifer Tilly, Peter Gallagher
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Based on: a script? I assume they had one, anyway.

It's time for another edition of Cheesy Movies Tasha Likes! This 1980s gem takes place in Ireland, which was an exotic place to travel in the '80s, or so I imagine. Peter O'Toole is the last in a long line of Plunkets whose castle is about to moved brick-by-brick to the US by an evil corporate dude. So he sets it up as a haunted hotel to make the money to buy it back. It IS haunted, but he doesn't think it is, so he makes his employees pretend to be ghosts and scare a bunch of American tourists. But the tourists take matters into their own tentacles and fall in love with a few of the ghosts.

I saw High Spirits when I was eight, and I swear I was obsessed with this movie. It has everything I could possibly like: castles, ghosts, people falling in love. But by far my favorite part of the film is Sharon, played by Beverly D'Angelo. She is SO hilarious. As an eight-year-old, she represented ideal womanhood, which is a little bizarre because she is a total raging bitch. I freaking love her! See, Sharon isn't a bad person, she's just trapped in a marriage with this boring guy who is completely uninteresting. But things turn out happily for Sharon, because she meets LIAM NEESON (aka, Martin, a ghost) and he knows EXACTLY what to do when she starts spiraling. *eyebrow wraggle*

liam neeson
Oh yeahs.

Strangely, it appears that in certain circles, this is not considered a "good" film. Like, seriously? Not a good movie? I don't... I can't even... You have true love, a talking horse, a castle, ghosts literally coming out of the walls, Steve Guttenberg getting bitch-slapped, and gratuitous scenes of drunkenness. A better question is, What's NOT to like? I suppose you don't enjoy The Butcher's Wife or Robin Hood either, huh? Huh? Okay, the talking horse is pretty stupid. And Daryl Hannah's accent is pretty bad. But still.

For me, this is a highly enjoyable movie. It's worth watching just to see a young Liam Neeson acting silly and lusty instead of broody and shouting into a phone. And look at how many stars are in it! You know you want to watch it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Random Spring Thinks

spring and cherry blossoms

Hello, Sunday Saloners! It's been a while since I participated in a Sunday Salon, but I'm in the mood to ramble on about various things in my reading life today.

First of all, I am incandescent lately because the weather is finally getting into the 60s and 70s. I'm like a flower: when it starts getting warm and sunny, I come to life (actually, my theme song is "Coming Up"). That means I can go outside and read! More reading means less time for blogging, but I'm not getting too worked up about that. I can blog when it's cold.

As for what I've been reading, lately I've been having trouble connecting to characters, and I'm bothered by the cynicism in many novels. I am so tired of heroines that seem to have no emotions, dreams, or self-awareness. I'm also starting to realize that I'm more than a bit of an outlier. It feels like I'm never in step with the latest trends, and when I am my opinion goes against what the majority thinks. Not that it matters a lot (I'm not going to change my reading habits any time soon), but as far as blogging goes, I've been feeling more isolated in recent months. As much as I love writing down my thoughts on novels, there's something to be said for having the freedom to react to a book in any way you want without having to defend what you feel about it.

liquid persuasion button

ANYWAY. It's warm! What else am I up to? I started a new blog with Melody from Redeeming Qualities called Liquid Persuasion this week. This one is devoted to cocktails and is on Tumblr. I know I need another blog like I need a broken leg, but this blog isn't dedicated to books, so it will be at a different speed than my other two blogs and shouldn't add too much to my schedule.

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

How fast can you read? Trish from Hey Lady Watcha Reading posted this week about a new web app that measures how fast you can read on an eReader. This is a fun thing to play with, but I was perturbed by the fact that the app designers related speed of reading directly to education levels. In the results, they place respondents on a sliding scale of grade schoolers to college professors. I read 34% faster than the average adult, yet my score is below high school level. How does that make sense? Are they implying the faster you read, the more educated/intelligent you are? Or that most adults read at grade school levels? But then how would you get a higher score for college students--wouldn't it be the same?

Also, reading speed depends on what you're reading. I read non-fiction much faster than I read fiction, because I've trained myself to speed read it. With fiction, I read a lot slower because that's my "fun" reading. I read novels more for the experience of reading them, to get to know different characters and be transported to another place, and for me that's worth the time and attention to read slower. With non-fiction, I'm looking for information, so it's easy to identify what I need and speed through the extraneous stuff.

In any case, the app is really interesting and I definitely recommend you check it out. Feel free to share what your score was!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: SILK IS FOR SEDUCTION by Loretta Chase

silk is for seduction cover

This review may be my Dear John letter to Loretta Chase.

Marcelline Noirot and her three sisters--who remind me of Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos--want to dress Lady Clara Fairfax, who's promised to marry the Duke of Clevedon. It's sure to be the wedding of the year, if not the decade, and the Noirots know that creating Lady Clara's wedding dress will be a major coup for their new dress shop. So, to accomplish this commission, Marcelline travels to Paris to capture the interest of the still-single duke. BECAUSE THAT TOTALLY MAKES SENSE.

Silk is for Seduction is a hot mess of ridiculousness from start to finish. I'm not one of those people who expects historical accuracy or a strict level of plausibility from novels, but I do think one should be able to buy into the story on some level. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do that. At all. Let's break it down a bit, shall we?

Premise: Why would you travel to Paris to convince the potential fiance of your desired client that SHE should patronize your establishment? Since when do guys want to be bothered about women's fashion, or women want to be told where to shop by the men-folk? And even if THAT made any sort of sense, how would dressing in gorgeous gowns, following a guy around, deliberately getting his attention and then challenging him NOT be seen as a come-on?

And speaking of traveling to Paris, Marcelline is from there. She speaks perfect French, has lots of glamorous, wealthy friends, and fancies herself the greatest dress designer in the world. Yet she opens her shop in London when it seems like it would be just as easy, if not more so, to open it in Paris, the official fashion capital of Europe??? This is never properly explained. Either you believe you're a great designer and put your lady panties on to play with the big boys, or you believe you're a sub-standard designer who can only sell to those English aristocrats who don't care enough about their appearance to go to Paris to get clothes. Which is it?

Characters: I found Marcelline very difficult to warm up to. She's mercenary and doesn't seem to have regular human emotions. I suppose one could call her pragmatic, but since she hared off to Paris to convince a man to convince a woman to patronize her shop (see nonsense-making, above), it was really hard to interpret her that way. If I pictured her as anything, it was as Mrs. Danvers, and the shop is her Rebecca. Basically she has all the depth of a bit character in a Shakespearean play, and when she did show emotion, it was over so quickly I didn't care.

As for Clevedon, he's a handsome, wealthy duke. Do you really need to know anything else about him? What we are shown of his personality is really inconsistent. He's supposed to be a forceful, brooding, seducer of women and alpha male, yada yada yada, but he doesn't seduce anyone and acts like a goofball half the time (the other half of the time he does make a go at brooding, but it's more like pouting).

I didn't feel any chemistry between these two not-really-characters, and the "love" scenes between them felt more like business transactions. It left an extremely bad taste in my mouth.

Writing style: The writing in Silk is for Seduction isn't bad, but there are some pretty lazy descriptions going around in this book. Clevedon is described as having womanly lips, yet hands that are "larger than was fashionable." Hm, since when is hand size a fashion statement? Or are we not talking about hands but rather "hands"? In which case, when has large NOT been fashionable?

Historical accuracy: What year is this book set in? Does anyone know? For an author who prides--or used to pride--herself on historical accuracy, Silk is for Seduction is just bizarro. It's very unclear as to what time period the novel is set in. The characters talk about typical Regency-era things like Almack's and La Belle Assemblée, yet it's clear this takes place post-Waterloo. How far post-Waterloo is something of a mystery; it probably isn't set in the Victorian era, because they refer to the king and all his mistresses; but the gowns Marcelline design sound closer to an Edwardian style (although it's hard to tell exactly what they look like--see writing style, above). Everything in this novel MAY be historically accurate, but because the descriptions and references are so vague, it's really hard to get a sense of the book being set in a certain time--instead, everything seems fudged up to be historical-ISH. Add to that anachronisms like asking someone if they're stalking you and the "let's be friends" line, and the novel loses all historical credibility.

So there you have it! This may be the last book I read by Chase--it definitely feels like it was phoned in. I also just found the whole thing disturbingly cynical, even though it's supposed to be a romance. What wasn't cynical was so blatantly implausible it was ridiculous. The one plus side: I finally have this book off my shelves.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: DRINK DEEP by Chloe Neill

drink deep cover

Guess what everybody?! I love Ethan now!


Drink Deep is the fifth book in Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires series. Spoiler-free summary: it's about an English lit grad student called Merit who is turned into a vampire against her will, then has to deal with a whole bunch of supernatural drama. In Drink Deep, Chicago is being threatened by an unknown magical force that's turning Lake Michigan black, the sky red, and so on. Naturally, vampires are being blamed for everything, so Merit rides to the rescue.

After Hard Bitten (review here), like most readers I was hoping for some explanation about wtf just happened??? Because wow, that came out of nowhere. Unfortunately, Drink Deep brought on only more head-scratching. All the things that bugged me about Hard Bitten are present in Drink Deep, only they're magnified by the force of Very Weak Plot. After about fifty pages of long, pointless conversations, the obvious villain being obvious, and endless descriptions of eating, I realized that I either had to DNF this book or skim through it like a mutha. I chose the latter, mainly because I was dying to read the ending.

Here are some patterns I noticed while reading:

  • Ethan, Gone But Not Forgotten  Hey, did you know Ethan's gone? What are you feelings on that, Merit? We all know how close you two were. I swear to GOD every character has this conversation with Merit at some point in the book. Mallory. Lyndsey. Luc. Dolores Umbridge guy from the GP. Catcher. Jonah. I mean, a conversation reminding us that, yes, Ethan is gone, is one thing; but after the fourth, I started to get a little excitable. And by excitable I mean throwing the book on the floor and running through the house going, "It's happening again! Again again!" and laughing hysterically. It got to the point where I would drink every time the exact phrase "Ethan's gone" appeared in the dialog--and if I'd been drinking something other than water, I'd have gotten really drunk. Instead I just needed to go to bathroom.
  • Food  I love food as much as the next person, but the food mentions are getting out of control in this series. I don't know what a "red hot" is, but I do know I don't need to read about them every twenty pages. In previous books, the noshing was amusing because it highlighted that Ethan was 1. a prig, and 2. not of this century. Now it feels more like these novels should be renamed Caroline Merit: No Reservations.
  • Jonah  As we all know, I'm not a fan of Ethan (see here and here and also here), but he did make the books interesting. He had personality. Jonah, Drink Deep's boy toy du jour, has ZERO personality. I liked him better when he was all grumbly and hated Merit. Does she HAVE to be attractive to every single person with a penis she comes across?
  • And speaking of characters...  Inconsistency much? It seems like there have been major personality transplants in some of these characters. Take Morgan, for example--he's supposed to be the nice guy option, or at least he was in Some Girls Bite (review here). Now he's being described as having "the attitude of a sulking, bitter teenager." Say what? Mallory, Merit's practical bestie, is suddenly a raving lunatic; and Ethan was apparently off on a retreat to pick up male sensitivity in the twenty-first century. It seems like there are a lot of changes with the characters, but not much development leading up to it.
As for the ending, I've read other reviews where it was said the reunion between Merit and Ethan felt emotionally distant. I actually disagree with that; I thought Neill did a good job with the emotional aspects of Ethan's return. But it did seem like Ethan came back to life--if you know what I mean--awfully quickly. Like, aren't there tests someone can do? Take his blood pressure? Once again there wasn't much of an explanation for what happened, but everyone seemed to accept Ethan as hunky-dorey and move on. Basically, that feeling of wtf just happened???? Still having it.

Am I going to read the next Chicagoland Vampires book? Of course! I need to find out if Ethan starts hungering for brrrraaaaiiiiiinnnssss. I hope he does.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Weekend Cooking: TEA--History, Terroirs, Varieties

cover of tea

You might not know this, but I LOVE tea. There is probably more space in my cabinets devoted to tea and its various implements than any other single food or beverage in my kitchen. So you can imagine how excited I was when I saw Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties at my library.

I've read a few books about tea before (yes, I'm that much of geek), but none that covered so much ground--both literally and metaphorically--or had so many high-quality illustrations. This is really a gorgeously photographed book.

That being said, I've also never read a book about tea that was this boring.

Here is just a sampling of the type of writing that will greet you upon opening this book:
"Picking tea leaves is a simple yet critical activity that involves detaching the young shoots from the plants."
Could you repeat that, please? I don't know what the word crit-i-cal means.
"Flavor is the combination of olfacto-gustatory sensations derived from consuming a food."
But what is the sound of one mind screaming? Riddle me that, Zen word master.

I would describe the style of writing in this book as "government pamphlet," but I'm pretty sure I've read a few government publications that were more entertaining to read than Tea is. It is so pedantic and dry that I'm amazed a human being even wrote it. I think I honestly would rather watch grass grow than spend hours of my life reading this book.

tea color varieties
Image courtesy of Slow Food Australia

To be fair, there are some interesting parts that introduced new factoids to me. For example, I didn't know that oxidation effects the hue of the tea. I also really liked reading the sections on how different countries drink tea, particularly the gong fu cha tea ceremony practiced in Taiwan. This type of tea ceremony isn't well-known to people in America (certainly not in comparison to Japan's chanoyu ceremony), but if you need a visual of it you can watch "The Blind Banker" episode of Sherlock Holmes--the tea ceremony Soo Lin Yao performs is Taiwanese.

Other than those few sections, though, for the most part this is a book written by and for people in the tea industry who want to know about distribution, prices, quality, and when and where to buy. It's beyond the scope of interest of even a devoted tea drinker, like myself; and even if it wasn't, do you really want to subject yourself to 200+ pages of that writing style? I know I don't.

Unless you're planning on opening a tea company, I'd recommend going with another book.

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, March 8, 2012

Movie Review: HUGO

Original released: 2011
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Jude Law, Sasha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Helen McCrory
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Based on: The novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (review here)

After reading (and loving) The Invention of Hugo Cabret, it went without saying that I'd want to watch Hugo, the movie based on it. The film tells the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphan who lives in a train station in Paris. Hugo's only possession is an automaton his father was fixing before he died, and Hugo is convinced that it contains a message from his dad. While trying to fix it, Hugo meets an old toy maker with many secrets, and finds a family.

hugo cabret in a clock

To begin with the positives: this is an absolutely beautiful movie. The cinematography, set-design, and costumes are gorgeous, and the movie looks like art. It's worth watching just for the visuals alone, and Robert Richardson, Dante Ferretti, and Francesca Lo Schiavo definitely deserved the Oscars they won for cinematography and art direction.

That being said, I think I would have enjoyed this movie a lot more if I hadn't read the book already. Not that it does any injustice to the novel--Hugo actually follows the book pretty closely--but compared to the book it's kind of slow and boring. This is because they added a whole bunch of crap that slows the narrative down to a crawl. It's a good thing I didn't see this in theaters, because if I had, after half an hour I would have been like, "I have to go to the bathhhhhhroooooom."

Of course, when you have great actors playing bit parts, vanity and politesse demand that you pad up their roles so they each have some time in the spotlight, and there are a lot of great character actors in this movie. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the scenes with the bakery owner and her dachshund, or Sasha Baron Cohen and his crush on the flower girl; just that it would have been better for the pacing of the movie if they'd been cut. It's also clear Scorsese had way too big of a budget for this film (if that's even possible), because he adds scenes literally just for the sake of burning up special effect cash. Don't try to tell me that dream gratuitous dream sequence had any other purpose.

Hugo and Isabelle unlock the automaton

I was also thoroughly annoyed that a convenient plot device character like the station inspector was expanded, while the role of Isabelle was marginalized. In the book, Isabelle is a really bossy, smart, take-charge sort of person, and she saves Hugo from the station inspector. In the movie, she's given a much more passive role. Just to give one example, she dances and giggles around the train station with her friends, while Hugo watches from the walls like the Hunchback du Garre. Just remember, girls, your job is to be an object, even if you're a plucky little object, and it's the guy's job to watch you being it. /sarcasm It's not like I'm surprised or anything, considering this is a Scorsese movie, but it's still damn annoying.

To be fair, the scenes from the book that were absolutely magical were also magical in the movie. I especially enjoyed the part where Hugo and Isabelle finally unlock the automaton. And the ending did give me the warm fuzzies. Overall it's a satisfying, VERY well-made film--there's not a single technical misstep. It's almost mechanical, in fact. I just really wish it had been edited down ruthlessly. And the book's way better.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Review: EDENBROOKE by Julianne Donaldson

edenbrooke cover

Marianne isn't happy in Bath, where her father sent her to live while he moved to France to escape her mother's death. Then she receives an invitation to visit Edenbrooke, a country estate, and she jumps at the chance go. More than her family, Marianne misses the country, riding horses, painting landscapes, and twirling. At Edenbrooke, she also meets the handsome Philip--but can she beat off all the other women who are chasing after him, including her own sister?

If I was between ten and twelve years old, I probably would have enjoyed Edenbrooke a lot more. Yes, it's YA, but it's definitely on the Y end. Since I'm a cynical crone who could probably walk the length of the continent on all the romance novels I've read laid end-to-end, however, I found Edenbrooke to be kind of corny--but it redeems itself by being sweet and funny, too.

I really enjoyed the story, which involved plenty of scenes where Marianne gets into trouble and then has to get herself out of it, often with hilarious results. She's definitely a "plucky" heroine and pretty easy to sympathize with.

My main problem with the book had to do with the romance. There were some REALLY REALLY cheesy lines in the novel, let me tell ye. Marianne referred to Philip as "that horrible/insufferable/wicked man!" exclamation mark! so many times I was literally counting them. Insufferable was by far her favorite adjective, by the way. As for Philip, I hesitate to call him a convenient plot device, as it was more like he WAS the plot. Philip does something, and then Marianne reacts. The scenes between them were fun (when he wasn't staring at her and declaring that he was enjoying the view--which he did three times, I should add--or something equally eyeroll-worthy), but I wish he'd had more of a personality. Added to that, it was INSANELY OBVIOUS he was into her. You could tell because he stared at her constantly, he didn't run off in the other direction screaming "Girl coodies!" as soon as she showed up, he got magnificently jealous every time another guy dared to look at her, he watched her sleep (sleeping heroine!), and he was "protective" (that's the Twilight tie-in, in case you were wondering). Yet Marianne remains oblivious. Why? Because if she wasn't, the book would be over? Because she wants to be a nun?

the baroness and Maria
"Come, my dear, we ARE women. Let's not pretend we don't know when a man notices us!"

The story lagged in the middle because I kept waiting for Marianne's sister, Cecily, to show up and ruin everything. Once she did, the emotional angst really took off and the novel became pretty unputdownable. Although I was a little perturbed by Marianne's passive-aggressiveness, I thought the sisters' relationship was really interesting and much more true-to-life than the romance was. Also, there were dances and dastardly deeds done by dastardly doers!

Honestly, though, even if I can't help making fun of the silliness in this book, the ending completely made up for it. It was so much with the warm fuzzies I actually felt not-that-depressed about going to work the next morning. Yay! Even if Edenbrooke isn't the coolest or hippest book on the block, it is very sweet and has a very good heart--if a book can have a heart, and I think this one does. Definitely worth checking out if you're in the mood for something cute and romantic.

Thanks to Pam from for sending me a copy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Less Is More

lolcat who hates pickles

Sometimes the less work and ingredients you put into something, the better it is.

For example, I like to make croutons out of stale bread because I hate throwing out bread. My dad loves them. All I do is cube the bread, drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and put them in a 325 degree oven until they're crunchy.

Then one day I decided to mix it up a bit and add cheese, thyme, and garlic. I followed this recipe from Rachael Ray:

Image courtesy of Gimme Some Oven


  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 cups cubed sourdough bread
  • 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1 1/2 t. dried)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Heat garlic and oil over low heat and melt butter into the oil.
  3. Place the bread in a large bowl and toss with garlic oil and butter.
  4. Season with pepper, Parmesan and thyme.
  5. Spread croutons evenly on baking sheet and bake until crisp and golden. (15 - 25 minutes).
Double the ingredients, double the fun! How can anyone go wrong with cheese and garlic, right? Instead of tasting better, though, the croutons tasted really cheesy--and not in a good way, more in an American-Idol-is-making-me-hate-this-song kind of way.

Another instance where I've found this to be true is with risotto. Usually I make Alton Brown's asparagus and mushroom risotto, because the man's a genius. Here's the recipe:

mushroom and asparagus risotto
Image courtesy of AMISTA Vineyards


  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 5 ounces wild mushrooms, cooked and coarsely chopped, approximately 3/4 cup
  • 7 ounces asparagus, cooked and cut into 1-inch pieces, approximately 1 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan, approximately 1/2 cup
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  1. In an electric kettle or medium saucepan with a lid, combine chicken broth and white wine and heat just to simmering. Keep warm.
  2. In a large 3 to 4-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and sweat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until the grains are translucent around the edges. Be careful not to allow the grains or the onions to brown.
  3. Reduce the heat to low. Add enough of the wine and chicken stock just to cover the top of the rice. Stir or move the pan often, until the liquid is completely absorbed into rice. Once absorbed, add another amount of liquid just to cover the rice and continue stirring or moving as before. There should be just enough liquid left to repeat 1 more time. It should take approximately 35 to 40 minutes for all of the liquid to be absorbed. After the last addition of liquid has been mostly absorbed, add the mushrooms and asparagus and stir until risotto is creamy and asparagus is heated through. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan, lemon zest, and nutmeg. Taste and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
But last week I wasn't in the mood to mess with asparagus and all that, so I decided to just follow the directions on the back of the Arborio rice bag, which was basically this recipe halved and without the nutmeg, lemon zest, asparagus, and mushrooms.

Let me tell you, it was AMAZING! I've never made a dish of risotto so awesome. It tasted so light and fresh and bright. You don't need lemon zest when you don't add all those other ingredients to weigh down the taste.

This got me thinking, how many other recipes are out there that would taste great if only we added less ingredients to them? Have you ever come across a dish where less is more?

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.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Wrong Clothes, the Wrong Man?

illustration from the man in lower ten

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know I obsess a bit when it comes to clothing in books. But a few books ago (who needs to tell time in actual days?), I encountered a Fictional Clothing Situation that threw me a little.

In The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart, the main character, Lawrence, meets a woman under unusual circumstances and falls in love with her. Sounds pretty normal, right? But whenever he sees her for most of the book, he's wearing someone else's clothes. Just in case you don't notice it on your own, the character helpfully points it out us: "I don't want to meet you like other people, and I suppose you always think of me as wearing the other fellow's clothes."

Usually when characters wear another's clothing, it's to spoof gender or social norms. Think of something like The Prince and Pauper, for example, or Some Like It Hot. I don't think that's the purpose here, however. In fact, I'm not sure what exactly the clothing mix-up signifies.

Part of the purpose is probably to underscore The Wrong Man storyline, as Lawrence is mistaken for a man named Sullivan, who stole all his clothes and luggage and left Lawrence with his own. Once he puts on Sullivan's clothes, no one believes he's NOT Sullivan--except for Alison, who clearly knows the real Sullivan but won't say so.

That's just one instance where Lawrence wears another's clothes, however. In the second case, he stalks Alison to a weekend party and has to borrow another guy's dinner suit (or bathing suit--I was a little unclear on this point. I hope it was the dinner suit). In this instance, he's not really mistaken for another man, and it's connected solely with his pursuit of Alison.

So what does it mean when a suitor is constantly wearing another man's suit? This where I'm having a bit of trouble. There's no doubt Lawrence's behavior in regard to Alison is unusual for him--one of his friends calls him "Blakely, the Great Unkissed!" and is sure Lawrence won't "lose his head" over her like every other man who meets her. Is Lawrence a virgin? Is he gay?

I don't think he is gay, mainly because it doesn't make sense for his character to pursue Alison if he is. As for him being a virgin, I don't think it matters. This isn't that type of book, for one, and for another an implied gaining of masculinity or experience with the donning of Lawrence's borrowed clothes doesn't happen, since neither gentleman seems any more or less particularly "manly" than he is.

Perhaps Lawrence's different suits are more important from the perspective of Alison's character than his. Sullivan was a man who lied to her and had her in a long con; then Lawrence shows up wearing Sullivan's clothes. As with Sullivan, Alison has to decide if she can trust Lawrence, and his wearing another person's clothes symbolizes that she hasn't seen the "real" him yet.

Have you ever read a book where a character wears another character's clothes? What was the purpose in the story?


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