Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sunday Snapshot

Calypso found an ornament she likes

Currently Reading:

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken: I know it's a fool's errand to expect a story about time travel to make sense, but still. I'm having some issues.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore: I'm enjoying it, but I do have to agree the feminist lip service is growing irritating for various reasons.



animal house
Animal House, starring John Belushi, Karen Allen, and Tom Hulce

A little too long (like the entire scene with the sorority girl undressing served absolutely no purpose), and obviously hailing from a more "innocent" time (the girl almost getting date raped at the frat house party, ish), but soooo funny. I think we can all take inspiration from the words of John Belushi: "Over? It's not over till we say it's over. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"

Gold, starring Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramírez, and Bryce Dallas Howard (Mandatory: must be pronounced, "Goooooold!")

Kenny Wells is a mining company owner and the last in a long line of Nevada prospectors. Unfortunately, he is really really bad at it. Facing down getting a dreaded "real job," Kenny has a dream that leads him to The Most Interesting Geologist In The World, and the gold find of a lifetime. Or is it???

Better than I was expecting, despite the script's propensity to reiterate the obvious ("We gonna make a ton money!" "I went looking for gold and I found a friend," etc.). The movie really succeeds because of two things: one, McConaughey is obviously enjoying the fuck out of playing Kenny Wells and generally not wearing pants. And two, the friendship that develops between him and the geologist, Michael Acosta. It's almost a romance between those two, I swear to god. So sweet. I wouldn't run out to watch it in the theaters or anything, but worth streaming on Amazon or Netflix once it gets there.

inside job
Inside Job, directed by Charles Ferguson

A very clear and compelling account of how the world economy went into a tailspin in 2008. There's the unholy trinity of power, greed, and corruption; men who seem like prime candidates for "The sphincter says what?" jokes; and graphs. SO MANY GRAPHS. While the documentary feels a little outdated now that Obama's not in office (though I doubt Trump will improve matters), it's an eye-opening look into just how intertwined the worlds of government and finance are. "It's a Wall Street Washington," one interviewee replies when Ferguson asks him why there have been no serious financial reforms or accountability. I was also surprised by how deeply Wall Street has its hands in higher education. Definitely a must-watch.

This week in heidenkindom:

Is January over yet? To quote one of my FB friends, "Die, January, die!" This month feels like it's been dragging on forever.


Don't forget I'm hosting a readalong of Trevor Noah's memoir, Born a Crime, next month at Book Bloggers International! The schedule will be posted February 1st. Only 10 pages a day gets you to the end of the book by the 28th.

Have an excellent week, everybody!

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Mini Reviews III: A Convenient Artistic Malice

mini reviews

This parcel of mini reviews features a contemporary romance set in New Zealand, a classic Regency, and a mystery/thriller from Japan. Enjoy!

artistic license
Artistic License by Elle Pierson

Art student Sophy is so distracted by a museum security guard with a face "Picasso would love" that she doesn't duck out of the way in time to avoid colliding with his impressively muscled torso. When she asks him to model for, Mick feels like he can't say no, and he's not sure he wants to. Will these two crazy kids get together???

I'll readily admit that I have a weakness for any book involving artists or art. Sometimes this leads me astray, but in this case it didn't. While Artistic License isn't a perfect novel–the clothing descriptions in the first chapter were enough to drive me bonkers; the author apparently has an obsession with jackets because I literally knew what kind of jacket every single character was wearing, or had ever worn–the story drew me in and, for the most part, I enjoyed reading it.

Sophy is an Anastasia Steele type of character: young, uncoordinated, shy, awkward, and not very confident. Normally this would be eye roll inducing, but here it felt authentic, possibly because Sophy is also quirky and accepting of herself as she is. Mick is slightly less well-drawn, but I loved the details in his mannerisms that gave the book a well-needed dash of realism.

This is one of those stories where the hero/heroine don't hook up for a long ass time for no good reason, and there were some niggling little details that bothered me, but overall Artistic License is a good–not great–read. If you're at loose ends searching for a romance, you could do worse.

the convenient marriage
The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

I've tried to read a couple of Georgette Heyer books in the past and pretty much gave up on that. But then I saw a post on Angieville about how she loved The Convenient Marriage, and one of the commenters said the audiobook version was narrated by Richard Armitage. RICHARD ARMITAGE, said my brain. And, lo and behold, said audiobook was on Hoopla. I immediately started listening to it and I'm glad I did, because it's a hella entertaining coming-of-age story full of adventure, duels, and social contretemps.

The Convenient Marriage is kind of like Pride & Prejudice, if Mary Bennet had decided to take matters into her own tentacles and propose to one of Jane's wealthy suitors. Horatia *seems* like she would be a shy, uncertain young woman, because of her stutter. But in fact she's feisty and a grab-life-by-both-hands sort. She's self-conscious about her stutter but still insists on going out in society and doing what she wants, which also makes her seem really brave.

Lord Rule is a bit more of a caricature, all laconic and superior all the time (except when he gets really pissed off), but whatever. It works here. And there are many other characters and a ton of stuff happening in the book that has nothing directly to do with the "romance" between Rule and Horry, so much so that you could almost turn this book into an entire TV series!

Finally, I really have to mention Armitage again, because he is an AMAAAAAzing narrator. Every character had his or her own voice and it was hard to believe one person could embody so many different personalities and accents. Honestly the best audiobook narrator I've ever listened to; I will definitely be listening to every other audiobook he's ever worked on.

Highly recommended!

And now for something completely different...

Malice by Keigo Higashino

I received Malice as a birthday (or Christmas?) present, and honestly didn't know what to expect from it. It's not the type of book I would normally pick up on my own: the summary makes it sound like a dark and gritty police procedural, which is not my jam at all. After reading it, I would still say it's not "my type" of book. But because the writing is so fantastic, Malice transcended its genre and completely won me over.

The story is about two writers and their books: one, Kunihiko Hidaka, is a bestselling author; the other, Osamu Nonoguchi, is a literary unknown and Hidaka's childhood friend. When Hidaka's body inside his locked office, Nonoguchi decides to write about the investigation, much to the consternation of Detective Kaga.

I wish I could say more, but I don't want to ruin the twists and turns for you. I'll admit that the last twist went way beyond the bounds of plausibility and sense-making for me, but it was a thrilling ride getting there nonetheless. I can definitely see why Higashino is one of Japan's bestest-selling authors: his writing is compulsively readable. This is the type of novel you want to consume in great big gulps because it grabs hold of your imagination almost immediately. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of Higashino's books in the future!

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sunday Snapshot

Buffalo at Yellowstone

Currently reading:

Malice by Keigo Higashino: This was a birthday present, and I had no idea what to expect from it. Pleasantly surprised so far!

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas: Uhg. I was looking forward to this one, because Sherlock Holmes, but so far it's meandering and eye roll worthy. This might be a DNF.


Mini-reviews of Real Food/Fake Food by Larry Olmsted and But First, Champagne by David White.


I didn't watch any movies this past week, but I have been watching some TV series I'd like to talk about.

a series of unfortunate events
A Series of Unfortunate Events, starring Neil Patrick Harris, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith, Patrick Warburton, and K. Todd Freeman

As I mentioned last week, this Netflix series is fairly delightful, even though the final episode was pretty damn grim. After Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire's parents are killed in a fire, they're thrown out into the world and forced to deal with an increasingly myopic and unimaginative series of adults, all while trying avoid falling into the clutches of the evil Count Olaf. There is no happy ending for the poor Baudelaires, but the series is interspersed with a ton of fun literary references, awesome guest stars (including Aasif Mandvi, Alfre Woodard, Will Arnett, Don Johnson, and many others), and on-point art direction. This is a series for book lovers, for sure.

The Young Pope, starring Jude Law, Diane Keaton, and Silvio Orlando

When the first episode of this new series aired, I thought it had fantastic acting and production values, but was a little long and dull. BUT THEN – that second episode! The pope's opening speech went in a direction I totally did not see coming. What is Lenny's long-term plan here? What does that blonde woman have to do with anything? How will this affect the Vatican? Add in some film-level cinematography and I'm officially hooked.

emerald city
Emerald City, starring Adria Arjona and Oliver Jackson-Cohen

A darker, grittier take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, because that's what we all need in our lives. /sarcasm I tend to be suspicious of Wizard of Oz adaptations because they're pretty much always a trash fire, and this one makes the same mistakes all the other awful ones do. Dorothy's an adult (and a rode hard adult at that); the Emerald City and its wizard are the opposite of wonderful; and Oz is a depressing hellscape instead of colorful and fun. After the first ep I was like, "Well that was pretty terrible," but decided to keep watching because Lucas is super hot. Unfortunately, ep 2 was boring, and not even the cute guy could save it. Not worth watching imo.

The week in heidenkindom:

My reading so far this year is starting off promising! (I hope I didn't just jinx myself by saying that.) I've read 10 books already and–here's the part I'm really excited about–I've been surprised at how diverse my reading's been in terms of nationality.

I spontaneously started keeping track of the nationality of the authors of my books in the second week of January, and so far 2/3rds of the books I've finished have been by non-US authors. I don't know why I'm so pumped by this because it's a total coincidence and I've certainly not been trying to read internationally, but it gives me a thin sense of accomplishment. We'll see if this trend continues as the year goes on.

And for the first time in years I'm also looking forward to a bunch of new releases this year, including The Last of August, Pretty Face, and A Crown of Bitter Orange.


born a crime readalong

Don't forget to join me in February for a readalong of Trevor Noah's memoir, Born a Crime, on Book Bloggers International. I don't usually read memoirs at all, but I was intrigued by this one, since it tells Noah's story of growing up in Apartheid-Era South Africa. Every review I've read of the book so far has been glowing.

It's a short book so the readalong shouldn't be too onerous, just about 10 pages a day, or 20 minutes a day if you're listening on audiobook.

Have a great week everyone!

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Mini-Reviews: Foodie Nonfiction

mini book reviews

Sometimes I have things to say about the books I finish, but not enough for a whole blog post. Enter mini-reviews! This time I focus on two recent non-fiction reads: Real Food/Fake Food by Larry Olmsted, and But First, Champagne by David White. I think both are valuable and worth reading, depending on your interests. Keep reading to find out more.

real food fake food
Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It by Larry Olmsted

I like torturing myself by watching documentaries and reading books about how terrible American food is. Everyone needs a hobby I suppose. Anyway, I learned a lot from this book, such as:

  • The difference between the US Department of Agriculture and the US Food & Drug Administration. The USDA is actually designed to serve companies and producers, while the FDA is supposed to protect consumers. However, the USDA is actually the more trustworthy of the two for consumers because the FDA is a useless trash fire that doesn't even bother to follow the bare minimum of its own internal policies, let alone regulate the shit other people do.
  • What kobe beef actually is–I'd been looking into this before the trip to Japan, so I was surprised by how everything I read, on the internet or otherwise, was WRONG. Kobe beef is actually a genetically pure strain of cow from a very specific part of Kobe, and the genetics are what gives it its marbling and flavor, not massages and classical music and a diet of beer, as you might have otherwise heard. Also, only 3 restaurants in the US serve actual kobe beef. Everything else is fake.
  • Speaking of restaurants, I had no idea restaurants could essentially call food anything they like, even if it's completely incorrect.
  • The term méthode champenoise is not synonymous with méthode traditionnelle or méthode classique and can only be used for champagne, not other kinds of sparkling wines. That's because the "méthode champenoise" begins long before the wine is ever bottled and involves what grapes are grown, where, when, how they're planted, how tall they get, when they're harvested, and everything else that's part of the regulations for the winemakers of Champagne.
  • I already knew that the olive oil industry was filled with completely fake products and that Italian extra virgin olive oil especially was to be avoided. But I didn't know that the best EVOO to buy is from Australia, which has the strictest regulations regarding olive oil on the planet.

Sometimes Olmsted takes the whole "fake food" thing a little far, like when he complains about Cook's labeling their wine champagne. I mean, it should really be obvious that Cook's isn't from Champagne, based on the price alone. But then maybe to some people it isn't so obvious, idk. Either way, I came away from this book with some great tips on how to read labels and what to look for to make sure I'm getting the most value for my money by buying "real" food.

but first champagne
But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World's Favorite Wine by David White

I enjoyed the first few chapters of this book, which were engaging and well-written. When White got into the modern history of Champagne, however (namely the World War periods), it became sleep-inducing.

I also occasionally felt like White was either soft-pedaling certain facts to make the Champagne houses look good, or didn't bother to do his due diligence in his research. For example, take this passage from the beginning of Chapter Six:

Jay-Z and other celebrities abandoned Cristal after Louis Roederer's president, Frédéric Rouzaud, spoke dismissively of his new devotees.

This sentence makes it sound like Jay-Z and a few of his friends threw a fit because Rouzaud wasn't star struck. The truth is bit more complicated than that. In actuality there was an organized boycott of Cristal in the hip-hop community because they felt Rouzaud's comments were racist, or at least inspired by racism. (Fun fact: the sudden popularity of moscato in the late '00s and early '10s was thanks to this boycott. Jay-Z may have replaced Cristal with Ace of Spades, but most hip-hop artists decided to abandon champagne altogether and instead started drinking moscato.)

I certainly don't know even one tenth of what White does about Champagne, but in the small parts where I did know something, it seemed like White's information was either incomplete or not entirely accurate. That said, I did learn some stuff, the full-color illustrations were fantastic, and it's true that there isn't a book similar to this one on the market. If you're interested in Champagne, or if you're planning a wine tour of the region, this is a good place to start.

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday Snapshot is Sick of Winter Already

Raggedy dogs taking over a chair.

Currently Reading:

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer: I haven't had a lot of luck with Heyer's books in the past, but I'm enjoying this one so far.

Artistic License by Elle Pierson: The clothing descriptions are driving me legit nutso–I swear to god the author is obsessed with jackets–but the story is drawing me in nonetheless.


10 movies for wine lovers on Netflix and Prime, plus an American abroad's guide to wine in Japan.


dior and i
Dior and I, directed by Frédéric Tcheng

At first you might assume that the "I" of the title Dior and I is Raf Simons, who became the creative director of Christian Dior in 2012. In fact, however, the title refers to Dior himself and how he felt split between his life as a regular guy and the head of a fashion house.

One of the things I really love about this movie was how it doesn't present haute couture fashion design as the vision of one man, or woman. Instead, as one of the Dior seamstresses put it, the real heart of a fashion house lies in its atelier, the people who physically create the clothes that go down the runway or are sold to clients. Many of these women and men work at the same house for over forty years, and they're the ones who train the next the generation in how the clothes are made, the aesthetic and design philosophy of the house. It seems incorrect to call them mere tailors or seamstresses; instead, they're really incredibly skilled artisans without whom the house's designer–or creative director, in this case–would be completely dead in the water. As one of the women in the Dior atelier said, "He [Simons] might tell me to change something, but that's just an edit. This my work, my dress. I'm the one who made it."

Anyway, it's a pretty fascinating peek into the world of Paris fashion houses and how big runway shows are put together.

This week in heidenkindom:

January has been a total drag so far. First, I went to the dentist and he told me I have cavities. Admittedly, the last time I went to the dentist George W Bush was president, but it still came as a shock. Then I had an ingrown toenail that hurts like a MF. Not to mention it's cold as shit outside.

But on the plus side, I did finish a really good book, Act Like It. I also started watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix and I adore it. If you're the type of person who is annoyed by people who say "literally" when they actually mean figuratively, this is the TV series for you!

That's all for this week–the series finale of Sherlock is airing early. Have an excellent week, everyone!

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sunday Snapshot Says Happy New Year!

Thor is facing the New Year head-on.

Happy 2017, everyone! Hope you're all enjoying a wonderful holiday season.

Currently reading:

But First, Champagne by David White: Idk, the World War chapters were SUPER boring.

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers: Could Lord Peter be more British?

I still haven't decided what my first read of 2017 will be; I finished The Chocolate Kiss last night.


My year in books.


Passengers, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence

The starship Avalon is on a 120-year journey to another planet, where its 5,000 passengers and crew–currently in suspended animation–are scheduled to set up a new colony. Then the ship is damaged and one man wakes up, 90 years too early. And, like Adam in the Garden of Eden, he has everything he needs except companionship.

Hmmm. This movie was okay. I really liked the special effects and set design, and Michael Sheen as the bartender android Arthur was just fantastic. But the movie really falls apart when it comes to character development. There are only three human characters in this entire film, yet the screenwriters couldn't be bothered to really sit down and think about their motivations for leaving all their family and friends behind, forever. What kind of a person would do that? That's the real question, and we're never given a plausible explanation.

I mean, look at the people who colonized the New World and their motivations: they were either soldiers or criminals who didn't really have a choice in the matter; people who were completely desperate and had nothing to lose; or, religious nutjobs. And neither of the main characters in Passengers fits those descriptions. JLaw's character (supposedly a smart journalist, yet she can't put two and two together to figure out how she got into this sitch) is going to the colony to write about it for earthlings, and then she's going to return. After 240 years? What's she going back for? Makes no sense.

But JLaw has the backstory to end all backstories compared to Pratt (I can't even remember his character's name), whose single description of his life on earth was that it was "all right." Uh okay? Did have parents, siblings, a goldfish? No idea! And the whole, "In a new colony mechanics can build things," explanation is just lazy, as is repeating ad copy from the colonization brochure.

Perhaps a pair of really excellent character actors–like Sheen, for example–could have added depth to these two, but Hollywood decided to go with ye olde two attractive people who fall in love trick. YAWN. That wasn't the only predictable turn in this film, either. And I would like to add as a side note that I'm getting really sick of these movies where all JLaw does is scream and cry and throw emotive fits, or look pretty. It just really reminds me of high school drama club.

But hey, space!

pride and prejudice and zombies
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, starring Lily James and Sam Riley

Come one, come all, to see one of the classics of women's literature be transformed into a story for men. Because men don't have enough stories.

To be honest, I fell asleep during this one, but even before I fell asleep I decided it was dumb. As an adaption of the original, it's half-assed at best; and while you would think the addition of zombies would make it kooky and/or exciting, it really does neither. I can understand why no one went to see this movie.

jason bourne
Jason Bourne, starring Matt Damon and Alicia Vikander

There are certain things one expects from a Jason Bourne movie: first and foremost, Jason Bourne, obvs. Second of all, exotic locals and kick-ass car chases. And third of all, a menacing and seemingly all-powerful group of government spooks who want to bring Bourne in and make him do their bidding OR ELSE. Jason Bourne certainly had all of these elements, but they felt out of balance. There was hardly any Bourne in it all, 2 car chases, and way way way too many scenes of the spooks watching video of what Bourne's doing, followed by them telling us what he's doing. We can see the screen same as you can, people! As result, the movie as a whole just felt hopelessly muddled and Bourne seemed more of a plot device than a character. Vikander was a standout with her performance of the Agent With Unclear Motivations (I believe that was her title in the script, no?), but that's hardly enough to make me like the movie. Even a Bourne fan could stand to wait for this one to come out on cable.

manchester by the sea
Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges

Lee is an apartment complex janitor who has issues with emotions. Expressing them, recognizing them in other people, etc. When his brother dies he returns to his hometown of Manchester, where we discover what made Lee the man he is today. Spoiler alert: it involves tragedy.

What's this, a movie where I can actually remember the characters' names?!? This film sounds like it's going to be depressing AF but it's not. I wouldn't say it's hopeful necessarily, either, but it's definitely not cynical. There's a lot of humor to balance out the sad parts, and the filmmakers never stray into sentimentality or emotional manipulation, they just make you genuinely feel for the characters. Affleck's performance was completely on point and I loved the character of Patrick, his nephew, even though he is a fat jerk teenager. The gorgeous shots of the bay and the small town were just a bonus. I would be shocked if this movie didn't receive at least one Oscar.

New Year's Resolutions

I enjoy posting my New Year Resolutions even though I rarely make any attempt to follow through on them, and typically forget what they even were by summer. Last year my resolutions were to spruce up my professional writing site (which I did, though not to my complete satisfaction), get back to writing fiction (didn't happen, although I did write a non-fiction cocktail book), and get back into food and drink writing, which I was able to do!

This year I'd like to:

  • Practice my languages everyday. I'm already on a six-day streak with this, thanks to an app on my phone! Will it continue? Eh, probably not.
  • Get outside and exercise more. I'm aware that I need to exercise more, because the life of a writer is fairly sedentary. But recently I saw this video on how exercise is the #1 thing you can do in your life to prevent Alzheimer's. Since my grandmother died of Alzheimer's and my grandfather currently has dementia, this is relevant to my interests. Of course, I probably won't follow through on it because: 1. Winter. Brrrr. 2. Running/walking around my neighborhood is a nightmare since we don't have sidewalks; 3. I'm not going to drive somewhere for the sake of walking or exercising; 4. Imma definitely not going to go to a gym and I think stationary bikes/treadmills are nonsensical. Sooooo that's a lot of excuses. But hey, you never know!
  • Save more money, pay off credit cards. It's that time of the year again when you take a look at your credit card statement and gulp! But, aside from that, I need to make myself more financially secure in the long-term, which means reducing expenses and creating a more substantial parachute fund.
  • Finish The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I started Marie Kondo's tidying up project wayyyyy back in 2014, and got kind of bogged down on the miscellaneous category. But I'm almost done! I just have to do tabletop knick knacks/tchotchkes, stuffed animals and toys (not looking forward to that one), and photos, and then at last my life will be magically transformed /sarcasm.
What are your New Year Resolutions?

I hope you all have an awesome year in 2017! Be optimistic and kind to one another, and always remember to read plenty of books. <3

Discus this post with me on Twitter, FaceBook, Google+ or in the comments below.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...