31 December 2012

Bye-bye, 2012 (and where I reveal how many pages I read)!

2012 was an odd-ball year for me. 

I simply could not read to task.  I couldn't make plans to read certain books - they either had to hit my fancy or not.  This year, my fancy leaned toward...

...romance novels.  Almost to the exclusion of everything else.  I read my way through Eloisa James (nearly everything she wrote), Mary Balogh's Bedwyns, Julia Quinn's Bridgertons, Smythe-Smiths, and Bevelstokes, and discovered Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Caroline Linden, Miranda Neville, Sophia Nash, and Elizabeth Hoyt.  I even tried out the grand-dame of historicals Georgette Heyer (and if you can get Richard Armitage to read it to you so much the better).

I think this had to do with the fact that all I could do was worry about my mom.  I couldn't guarantee that her chemo and radiation would do the trick (so far, so good - the MRIs are clear, cross my fingers and toes) and I couldn't fix it so all I could do was read.  I used to read romance novels in junior high and high school because Mom usually had a few laying around the house.  While we don't read to the same taste (she usually read contemporaries while I prefer Regency historicals followed by other historicals) I found that being able to read a 250-300 page romance novel with an almost gold-plated, guaranteed Happy Ending in the two hours between coming home from work and falling asleep not only helped me relax but delivered a weird sense of accomplishment.

So much so that I read 191 books this year when I only meant to read 110:


That is 63,496 pages.  HOLY CRAP ON A CRAP CRACKER!!!  Almost twice as much as last year when I read 102 books.



I guess having an ereader really does make me read faster.  As far as the breakdown of books goes I did like almost everything I read this year (5 stars being "amazing", 3 being "it was OK/readable", and 1 star being "sucked hardcore"):


Likely the best book I read this year is either The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (which just tore my heart out) or One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean (and since it's not pubbing until the end of January 2013 that's sort of cheating).  The worst book I read this year was The Husband Hunt by Lynsay Sands - if I hadn't pre-ordered the ebook I would have lit the damn thing on fire (see reasons why here).  One book is unrated (The Duke Diaries) because I haven't decided where my opinion lies yet - it's for a review in March 2013 so I have time for a re-read.  Nothing was officially DNF'd this year, so that was good.

Speaking of reviews, I started reviewing romance at Brazen Reads this year!  The brainchild of Pam, Brazen Reads is a collaborative blog where romance of all types is reviewed.  I concentrate on Regency and historical so drop on by if you're interested.

I also tried on graphic novels for size this year.  DC Comics had a buy-2-get-1-free sale from late August to mid-November so I decided to rectify a "blind side" in my reading life.  I started with Watchmen, Fables #1: Legends in Exile, and Sandman #1: Preludes and Nocturnes.  I had read Watchmen back in high school in a hopeless attempt to impress the boys in drumline (snare players are uber-cool) and didn't really like it.  This time around I was much more able to appreciate the art and storytelling.  Fables was a great intro to an alternative fairy tale world but Sandman just about blew my mind.  I'm halfway through the series now.  Neil Gaiman is a national treasure (since he lives stateside but is still a Brit I guess we'll have to share him).

The downside of all the reading I did is that I am hopelessly behind in reviews.  Almost shamefully.  I'll catch up don't worry.

Have a safe and happy New Year, everyone!

The Seduction of Elliot McBride (Mackenzie/McBride #5)

Summary from Goodreads:

PROPERLY IMPROPER…AND DARING TO LOVE…

Juliana St. John was raised to be very proper. After a long engagement, her wedding day dawns—only for Juliana to find herself jilted at the altar.

Fleeing the mocking crowd, she stumbles upon Elliot McBride, the tall, passionate Scot who was her first love. His teasing manner gives her an idea, and she asks Elliot to save her from an uncertain future—by marrying her…

After escaping brutal imprisonment, Elliot has returned to Scotland a vastly wealthy yet tormented man. Now Juliana has her hands full restoring his half-ruined manor in the Scottish Highlands and trying to repair the broken heart of the man some call irredeemably mad. Though beautiful and spirited, Juliana wonders if that will be enough to win a second chance at love.


We've jumped tangentially with Elliot's book - skipping Inspector Fellowes (temporarily, I think, but he does put in an appearance) we jump across to Ainsley's brother (the one who was tortured in India) and a young lady we haven't met yet, Ainsley's school friend Juliana. Compared to the last book The Duke's Perfect Wife this installment has a much tighter plot and the backstories don't take odd twists (i.e. I didn't have to read sections multiple times to understand why Eleanor would have broken off with Hart the first time). There's a lot of simplicity to the story of a man who has gone through hell and back and gets extremely lucky in the fact that the woman he always loved gets dumped at the altar.  I loved the secondary characters (Hamish, Uncle MacGregor) and Elloit's Indian servants are sometimes given their own POV which was nice.

As for timeline, this takes place the summer before the novella A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift so there are a few teeny spoilers in that novella (but the novella, while taking a good deal of time to go over each family and the children, completely skips over Priti and I find it odd that Elliot would leave her at Castle MacGregor while he and Juliana went to Kilmorgan for Christmas).

Apparently Daniel is up next (according to the teaser chapter) - while I find the prospect of goofy teenager Daniel taking center stage as one of the virile Mackenzies odd (there's a little icky factor at work) at least this one will jump six years in the future.

29 December 2012

Searching For Pemberley

I started reading Searching for Pemberley last January since I got it as part of the Austen birthday ebook sale at Sourcebooks.  It took almost a whole year to finish - not good.

It is long and overstuffed. Too many asides, too much extra history. It isn't fun to read. Maggie comes off as an absurd little busybody who is treated with indulgence. I had only read to Chapter 16 by December because it took so much work to get through each chapter. So I skimmed the rest to see what happened.  I didn't much care for the worries about religion or if Suitor #1 really loves her vs. Suitor #2.

Eh. I'll go read Austenland or A Weekend with Mr. Darcy again.

28 December 2012

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

I read a review that said Wild made them want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail...riiiight. I definitely do NOT want to hike ANYWHERE EVER after descriptions of being smelly, dirty, hungry, thirsty, injured, and sleeping outdoors (my idea of camping is six people in one motel room) and especially not after the many descriptions of her feet (as a dancer I have had my share of gross feet stories and these are way, way worse).  No way in hell do I want to go anywhere hiking ever now.

By now, courtesy of Oprah, everyone knows Strayed's story - someone spiralling out of control, grieving for her mother, a crumbling marriage, with a drug addiction who seizes the opportunity to hike the PCT both for something to do and just to see if she could do it.  She definitely needed to do something drastic and not within her comfort zone because she was reaching the point of no return.  If hiking the PCT with no hiking experience whatsoever did that for her, then more power to her. 

Although I sometimes wanted to slap the Cheryl depicted in this book for sounding so damned whiney at times, it was interesting to see how she unpacked the mess of her life (spooling is a metaphor she used) and came to grips with her issues over the course of her hike. This is also a biography of-sorts about Strayed's mother and those sections of the book are the most moving. I should check out the Adrienne Rich poetry book Strayed read throughout.

I didn't buy the Oprah version - it cost 3$ more than the regular ebook. F' that. This book was fine without Oprah's notes.

27 December 2012

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love From Dear Sugar

I was interested in Wild, but not sure if I would like Strayed's writing style enough. So I decided to start with Tiny Beautiful Things since I'd never read any of her Rumpus columns (she didn't originate the column, but took it over from the original writer and kept the pseudonym).

Some of the letters sent to Dear Sugar are soul-shattering, gut-wrenching confessions and Sugar/Strayed reveals a lot about her own past in trying to help those authors. The response to Stuck ("How You Get Unstuck") was beautiful, telling a mother who miscarried a pregnancy and is now lost in depression and eating disorders that its OK to be sad, and what happened was awful, and that to get unstuck she will have to take all that pain and use it to transcend.  Some of the letters are rather whiny and Strayed lets those authors know that, too, in trying to help them clear a path out of their predicament (see: "Write Like a Motherfucker").  Another letter/response (M/"No Mystery About Sperm") hit too close to home for me - about a woman looking at her remaining years of fertility and whether she should go for it and have a child alone or suck it up and wait, on the off chance she'll find a non-loser partner who will stay with her/have children.

This is the first time I've ever read an "advice column" and actually wanted to know how the people who wrote in were doing after. Definitely going to pick up Wild now (although, not the Oprah 2.0 edition - it's 3$ more than the regular edition).

25 December 2012

A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift

Summary from Goodreads:

The Mackenzies gather for a clan Christmas and New Year's in Scotland. In the chaos of preparations for the celebration--the first of Hart and Eleanor's married life--one of Ian's Ming bowls gets broken, and the family scrambles to save the day. Daniel busily runs a betting ring for everything from the time Eleanor's baby will arrive to whether Mac's former-pugilist valet can win a boxing match to who will be the first of the many guests to be caught under the mistletoe. Ian begins a new obsession, and Beth fears the loss of one of his precious bowls has made him withdraw once more into his private world.

Very sweet and a great companion to the previous books in the Mackenzie/Highland Pleasures series. It takes place in the weeks leading up to the birth of Eleanor and Hart's baby spanning Christmas and Hogmanay (a big deal in Scotland) so the entire extended family is there including Inspector Fellowes and David Fleming (could have done without David and his I-sill-love-Eleanor drivel but he was needed for a plot point). It's a mite choppy since Ashley gets around to each of the four brothers/wives and their children as well as catching up with Daniel, Fellowes, and Sinclair McBride (I'm assuming he has a book in the works, too).

A bit of warning though: the fifth book in the series, The Seduction of Elliot McBride, does not arrive until December 31 and there may be a little spoiler for that book in this novella.

24 December 2012

More Baths, Less Talking

I love readingNick Hornby's "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns - particularly the contrast between the "Books Bought" and the "Books Read" columns.  They never match up and some books that were bought never seem to get read.  Just like me!  When he stopped his column in 2008 I was so disappointed (he was really the only reason I eyeballed The Believer magazine (sorry)) but he started up again in May 2010 - yay!

I really liked his comments on David Kynaston's Austerity Britain 1945-51.  It's not a book I would have normally thought about (and apparently this is a series that will run through Thatcher's election in 1979) so its nice to read Hornby's very extensive thoughts about the social culture of Britain during a time of stress.

He liked Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist far more than I did - I found the protagonist impossible to like or care about so never finished the book,Hornby apparently developed a liking for Elizabeth Bishop.  He also reminded my that I'm woefully behind on my Sarah Vowell reading.

(June 2010 cracks me up because Hornby has to open by mentioning he went to the Oscars as a nominee - he wrote the screenplay for An Education - this was the month he finished Austerity Britain so he didn't have much to say about The Possessed by Elif Batuman, which is a book I also read a while back.)

19 December 2012

'Tis the Season: The "Things You Want But Can't Have" Edition

So, amongst all the gift requests for "I need a book about wolves for my fourth grade son" and "Where's the Oprah book?" we get requests to order books that are existentially challenged.  They are either in process, planned, or completely non-existent, but completely unavailable to me as a bookseller.

Welcome to a list of "Things you want but can't have":
  • Entwined With You (available in May, sorry)
  • The fourth Fifty Shades of Gray book (announced but likely unwritten as yet)
  • A Dance With Dragons in paperback (maybe May, since the last release date got pushed back)
  • The sixth A Song of Ice and Fire book (in progress, not finished yet - GRRM has a blog where he occasionally posts tidbits and updates)
  • The new Robert Jordan book (A Memory of Light is not available until January 8 - save your gift cards)
  • The new Patrick Rothfuss book (I'm not sure when The Doors of Stone will be available; I have heard May but the date hasn't been officially announced)
  • The new Rick Riordan book (well, since your kid already read The Mark of Athena I don't have any newer than that)
  • A new book by Christopher Paolini (sorry, no dice)
  • Catching Fire and Mockingjay in paperback (unfortunately that format is not available for retail sale, blame Scholastic)
  • Any Wimpy Kid books in paperback (again, blame Scholastic)
  • The Twilight-from-Edward's-perspective book (likely never to be published since it got "leaked" years ago)
  • The new Harry Potter (which was really a request for The Casual Vacancy, which the customer didn't want after learning it wasn't a Harry Potter book)
And in the line of regular, random, crazy-pants requests/incidents:
  • A non-fiction novel (eh? And what he actually wanted was a local-yokel author's book of history)
  • A book about Ohio State football (which we don't have on hand since we're in Iowa and the University of Iowa is down the road making OSU football anathema)
  • Gabby Gifford's gymnastics book (er, do you mean Gabrielle Douglas?)
  • A customer told me how much more he gets laid now that the Fifty Shades & Co. books are out.  (TMI, dude, beyond TMI.  Also, please bathe.  Ack.)
  • Books on panning for gold (which have to be ordered since we don't really have a market for those here in a breadbasket state)
  • I tried to hand-sell Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks to a woman who told me it sounded "weird" then turned around and bought Gaiman's Coraline (which is also a "weird" book, but whatever)
Only five more bookselling days until Christmas!

16 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

So Peter Jackson has made a triolgy of movies about hobbitses and dwarves.  First up, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

I'm down for that.  Eh, yeah, it is nine hours of film, broken into three movies, which makes me a bit apprehensive since the book isn't even remotely that long, but I'll watch it.

And I liked it.  There were a few things I could have done without:  having obvious "jokes" simply because Martin Freeman is very funny and can do funny things when a troll farts in his face, Radagst the Brown was unnecessary, and the foreshadowing about a rise in evil things during a coucil between Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman, and Gandalf was way too heavy handed.  I don't know if this was due to the 48fps the film was shot in (I saw it in 2D, not 3D or I-MAX) but there was a glaring difference between practical and digial SFX work.  The Great Goblin and the Pale Orc were so obviously digitally created that it looked terribly next to the actors wearing SFX make-up.  The only time this wasn't obvious was in the Gollum scenes which makes me wonder why more care wasn't taken with the rest of the film.

But I have two words for you:  Richard.  Armitage.  Oh, my God.  That is the hottest dwarf king/prince/mercenary around.  It is a huge departure from the book, creating a conflicted hero in Aragorn's likeness (who is an even more conflicted character than he is in Tolkien's original), but it works if only because Armitage is such a great actor.

Previews
1. After Earth - didn't Will Smith already make a movie like this?
2. The Host - which totally does not seem like the book, but whatever; I'll only watch it Jackie or Jessica want to, I'm not going to watch it of my own volition
3. Warm Bodies - this looks pretty funny and I have a soft spot for Nicholas Hoult
4. Beautiful Creatures - possibly awful, but I might watch this just for the cast (Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons)
5. Pacific Rim - Guillermo del Toro + Idris Elba + Real Steel + alien invasion...this might be pretty watchable

14 December 2012

Anna Karenina (on screen)

I practically stalked all the local movie theatre listings until one (the one across town, of course) started showing Anna Karenina.  There was no way I was going to not see this - Joe Wright direction, Tom Stoppard adaptation, Dario Marienelli score...I am so in.  I even turned down an extra shift at the store because I essentially had one shot to see this.

I loved it.  The idea to set the story in a proscenium theatre and use the backstage, the floor, the seats, the loge, everything was genius.  It served to heighten the distinction between the false world of rules inhabited by Anna/Vronsky/Karenin and the natural world that Levin adores - when the camera finally breaks through the back-wall of the stage and move out into the fields was amazing.  Also amazing were the trademark Joe Wright tracking shots - one single take with a spiraling camera to follow Levin from Oblonsky's office to the restaurant was just mind-boggling to think of all the set-up involved.

The casting - with one glaring exception - was excellent.  Although not my favorite actress, Kiera Knightly did well as Anna.  Jude Law played against type as the older, very staid, very Orthodox Karenin.  Alicia Vikander (who I didn't realize was both Swedish and about twenty-five) was perfect as the young, starry-eyed Princess Kitty.  Even the small roles were perfect - Kelly MacDonald as Dolly, Matthew MacFadyen as Oblonsky, Olivia Williams as Countess Vronksy, and Ruth Wilson (who I absolutely did not recognize as a blonde) was the insipid yet dangerous Princess Betsy.  Loved the cameos - Michelle Dockery and Emily Watson as ancillary Russian aristocracy - with Shirley Henderson and her wonderful cutting voice as a disapproving matron at the Opera.

Which brings me to my glaring exception - Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky.  What an annoying, unconvincing little brat.  He isn't that attractive, he doesn't even look seductive.  Just a poseur with a wimpy little moustache.  He had big shoes to fill (Kevin McKidd, Sean Bean, Christopher Reeve, and Fredric March) and just didn't pull it off.  I didn't believe that Anna forsakes her husband and the child she can't hardly bear to leave behind for him.  Ugh.  There must be a thousand and one other young, talented, smoldering actors they could have cast instead.

To end on a happier note, I have to mention the music.  The music.  Dario Marianelli (who previously won an Oscar for his work on Atonement, was nominated for Pride and Prejudice, and also wrote the music for Jane Eyre, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, and V for Vendetta) is like a chameleon.  Every score sounds different from the previous one because he fits the type of music to the film.  For Atonement the music is very longing, but stoic.  Pride and Prejudice is very late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century in feeling with a lot of solo piano mixed with reels and period-sounding pieces.  Jane Eyre is free-spirited and lonely, like the moor Jane wanders across.  For Anna Karenina, Marianelli has created a score reminiscent of classic Russian ballet (the great walzes of Tchaikowsky and Prokofiev) mixed with the simplicity of Russian folksong.  It is so, so wonderful to listen to, especially "Dance With Me" which makes me want to twirl around the room (caveat: this is a choreographed ballroom scene which Aaron Taylor-Johnson makes a mockery of by not adequately performing the choreography, making it yet another thing I don't like).

Sorry, no previews.  The new Blogger app for iPhone apparently ate my original draft post so I can't remember the previews aside from Promised Land (eh....) and the one where Ewan MacGregor and family are in the tsunami. Oh, Great Gatsby, too (which looks both crazy and amazing).

09 December 2012

A Rogue by Any Other Name (The Rules of Scoundrels #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

What a scoundrel wants, a scoundrel gets...

A decade ago, the Marquess of Bourne was cast from society with nothing but his title. Now a partner in London’s most exclusive gaming hell, the cold, ruthless Bourne will do whatever it takes to regain his inheritance—including marrying perfect, proper Lady Penelope Marbury.

A broken engagement and years of disappointing courtships have left Penelope with little interest in a quiet, comfortable marriage, and a longing for something more. How lucky that her new husband has access to such unexplored pleasures.

Bourne may be a prince of London’s underworld, but he vows to keep Penelope untouched by its wickedness—a challenge indeed as the lady discovers her own desires, and her willingness to wager anything for them... even her heart.

I haven't read the last two "Love by Numbers" books by MacLean - the heroine of this book is apparently the jilted fiancee of the hero in Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart so I'd like to read that just to see a different character's perspective of Penelope.

Because I like her - she wants more out of her life than just the proper, polite existence as the wife of an aristocrat who married her because of her father's title/her dowry and when she let Leighton go in Eleven everyone assumed there was something wrong with her because she couldn't hold his interest. Bourne (Michael) basically kidnaps her (because her father appends the estate land that Bourne lost/got cheated out of by his guardian - and subsequently won by Penny's father in a card game...the "evil guardian" plot of the novel got a bit convoluted and unclear, imo) she manages to negotiate some good behavior out of him to help her sisters. And then she decides to stop being quite to meek and proper - she doesn't go nuts, she just decides not to be a doormat for men.

Michael, on the other hand, is truly an awful piece of crap at the beginning of the book. He has some bad history. He isn't very nice to Penny even though he can seduce her right out of her socks when she's mad at him (which makes him doubly not nice for that reason). What really made this book for me is that the "falling in love" trope is laid in the characters' backstories - they were best friends as children, and loved each other, so once the revenge plot/forced to marry plot is worked out before the love plot just happens. It's nice.  And when Michael gets his head out of his arse it's lovely.

Also: "Sixpence" is the greatest nickname ever. Read the book to find out why. (Sarah MacLean does great nicknames.)

01 December 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

I've been struggling with how to review this book.  I mean no disrespect to John Green, but...

Dear John Green,
Fuck you.  Fuck you for creating two characters who just wormed themselves into my heart and then broke it wide open.  I bawled like a baby.
And I'll read everything you ever write.
Melissa

I mean, damn!  Teenagers aren't supposed to be this erudite and witty and funny and, and, waaaaahhh - that actually makes the end of the book even harder to read!  On the other hand, having known cancer kids from all walks of life (I volunteered with the first Dance Marathons at the University of Iowa), I don't find it so odd that Hazel and Gus are this sharp.  A kid who is largely isolated from his/her peers and given a great deal of alone time due to illness, as Hazel demonstrates on her shopping trip with a friend, is actually pretty likely to develop a crack wit and an advanced education.  There really isn't much to do in the hospital at times except homework and sharpening your wit on the medical staff.

And because I laughed as well as cried, here are two great quotes:

Osteosarcoma sometimes takes a limb to check you out.  Then, if it likes you, it takes the rest. (p18)

(Off topic, but: What a slut time is.  She screws everybody.) (p112)

Okay?  Okay.

16 November 2012

A Lady by Midnight (Spindle Cove #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

A temporary engagement, a lifetime in the making . . .

After years of fending for herself, Kate Taylor found friendship and acceptance in Spindle Cove—but she never stopped yearning for love. The very last place she'd look for it is in the arms of Corporal Thorne. The militia commander is as stone cold as he is brutally handsome. But when mysterious strangers come searching for Kate, Thorne steps forward as her fiancĂ©. He claims to have only Kate's safety in mind. So why is there smoldering passion in his kiss?

Long ago, Samuel Thorne devoted his life to guarding Kate's happiness. He wants what's best for her, and he knows it's not marriage to a man like him. To outlast their temporary engagement, he must keep his hands off her tempting body and lock her warm smiles out of his withered heart. It's the toughest battle of this hardened warrior's life . . . and the first he seems destined to lose.

Kate Taylor, music teacher, is the heroine of the third Spindle Cove novel. She's got a mysterious past she can't remember, having been raised as a charity pupil, and her hero - Corporal Thorne - knows who she is, even if she doesn't (and he's not telling).

There are many shades of Jane Eyre in this book - the charity school, the impoverished music teacher, the long-lost relatives, and the leveling of social status (although there are no crazy wives tucked up in the attics - everyone in the Cove would know, no secrets in that village).

While not as frenetic as A Week to Be Wicked (which is a force unto itself), this is a delightful book, although I wanted to throttle Thorne for being so stubborn.

09 November 2012

Gratuitous Cat Picture Friday (9): The Story of Chaucer and the Lamp

Chaucer loves to bake himself under my desk lamp.  It is his special heat source, like that of a heat lamp in a baby chicken pen.

Observe:  I was getting set to do some work at my desk.  Chaucer wormed his way onto the desk and declared his intentions of getting in the way.





















And then he plopped down under the lamp....which typed about a 1000 '~' on my email.





















So I moved the laptop over and Chaucer just spread out.




















And then he laid on the computer keyboard again and got scolded.

I don't think he cared.




















But he decided to let me apologize by giving him a tummy rub.



















Skyfall

James Bond is fifty years old this year - he has never looked better.  I've been excited about Skyfall since shooting started after MGM got itself out of financial trouble.

Daniel Craig, at the behest of M and Her Majesty's government, is after a terrorist who has acquired a list of embedded MI-6 agents.  During pursuit one of the terrorist's minions Bond is accidentally shot by a fellow agent, falling into a river (leading to one of the best opening title sequences, with theme song by Adele).  He is announced as deceased.

Which any Bond fan knows is false because that would make a really short movie.  C.f. You Only Live Twice.  While Bond recuperates on a desert island the terrorist begins releasing agents' names - deliberately taunting M.  A decidedly shaky, out of shape Bond returns to service.  M trusts him, a fellow government wonk (played brilliantly by Ralph Finnes) disagrees.  Bond does his job and brings in the terrorist: Silva.

Silva, as played by Javier Bardem, is the Bond villain to end all Bond villains.  He's a megalomaniac.  Without conscience.  He pushes the envelope (there's a brief hint of a homoerotic interplay with Bond).  Silva has this weird, creepy little laugh.  And don't get me started on the amazing SFX work done when Silva takes out his partial plate/bridge.  Ack, ack, ack.

But the greatest part of this movie is Judi Dench in this, her best M outing yet.  While she had a greatly enlarged part in The World is Not Enough, Dame Judi brings gravitas, humor, and a beautiful performance as someone who can't afford to second-guess or doubt her decisions.

I loved the score, the cinematography (there is an amazing fight sequence with a sniper in a high-rise that is backlit with rotating neon ad signs - wow), and the casting (Ben Wishaw as the new Q was genius, pun intended).  It got a little dusty in the theatre toward the end.  My only issue was the standard-issue "expendable Bond girl", Severine: if she's just confessed to being a child prostitute/abused woman Bond really ought not to sneak into her shower like a creeper.  Just saying.

Previews:
1. Jack Reacher - totally looks just like Mission Impossible
2. Iron Man 3 - aw man, please tell me they aren't going to kill Pepper off just for kicks
3. Hobbit - Richard Armitage, squeee!!!
4. Red Dawn - No.  Just no.
5. Django Unchained - Tarantino and Christoph Walz reunited.

Seducing Mr. Knightly (Writing Girls #4)

Summary from Goodreads:

He’s the only man she’s ever loved…

For ages it seems advice columnist Annabelle Swift has loved Derek Knightly, editor-owner of The London Weekly from a distance. Determined to finally attract her employer’s attention, she seeks advice from her loyal readers—who offer Annabelle myriad suggestions…from lower-cut bodices (success!) and sultry gazes (disaster!) to a surprise midnight rendezvous (wicked!).

She’s the only woman he never noticed…

Derek never really took note of his shy, wallflower lady writer. But suddenly she’s exquisite…and he can’t get Annabelle out of his mind! She must be pursuing someone, but who? For some inexplicable reason, the thought of her with another man makes Knightly insanely jealous.

Will Dear Annabelle find her happy ending?

But Knightly’s scandalous periodical has been targeted for destruction by a vengeful Lord Marsden, and the beleaguered editor now faces a devastating choice: either marry Marsden’s sister to save his beloved newspaper…or follow his heart and wed his Writing Girl.

This review is mostly lost, but I have to say I did love the conclusion to Maya Rodale's Writing Girls series despite some modern-sounding language. Annabelle is such a sweet character and Derek's predicament gave some good conflict to work with.  The reader write-ins for Annabelle's "advice" are hilarious no matter the anachronisms.  However, some of the secondary characters are flat.

(Beautiful cover, though, no?)

The Sandman, Vol 6: Fables and Reflections

Moving directly to volume six, Fables and Reflections

I really like how, after the intense story A Game of You, this volume is a short-story collection that moves backwards and forwards in time to add to the mythology of Gaiman's Morpheus.

I loved "Three Septembers and a January" and the last three stories "Orpheus", "The Parliament of Rooks", and "Ramadan" (beautifully drawn and lettered). It was also interesting to see the art styles shift with the different artists used for each story.

I wasn't sure if this was the original order of publication - one story, "Thermidor", ended with a panel stating "Next: Augustus". However, the next story in the book was "The Hunt" and I didn't see any other stories with that type of final panel.

05 November 2012

Seduced by a Pirate

Summary from Goodreads:

Sir Griffin Barry leapt out of the bedchamber window at age seventeen after a very disappointing wedding night, drank a bit too much at the pub and woke to find that he'd joined the crew of a pirate ship! Years later, he has become one of the most feared pirates on the high seas, piloting the Flying Poppy, a ship he named after the wife whom he fondly (if vaguely) remembers.

What happens when a pirate decides to come home to his wife — if she is his wife — given that the marriage was never consummated? And what happens when that pirate strolls through his front door and is met by... well, that's a surprise!


A very lovely, cute, and a nice companion novella to Eloisa James's The Ugly Duchess. Like its big sister, I think the reconciliation between hero and heroine comes a bit fast (I think I'd have made him sleep on the couch for at least one night before deciding he was a delicious hunk of sexy pirate).  But I also liked how the father/son drama was very minimal and it was deliciously funny in places.  So win-win.

The Sandman, Vol 5: A Game of You

The fifth installment of Gaiman's Sandman, A Game of You, brings back Barbie from volume two's A Doll's House.  She is living in a boarding house with as odd a collection of characters as in that book and having residual flashes of a dream where she is a princess.  When a dream character becomes real and dies in front of her, Barbie falls into an unending dream as a lethal hurricaine bears down on the city.  She must traverse the Dreaming and avoid the Cuckoo (and no, that's not a bird).

I loved the intricacy of the stories and the myriad characters, including the mysterious Thessaly.  The moon-path was an incredible plot device and so good when mixed with all the other Greek mythology elements.  The last chapter was heart-breaking.

04 November 2012

The Best American Science Writing 2011

Rebecca Skloot, author of the acclaimed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and her father edited the 2011 Ecco volume. This is a very well-curated collection of science essays spanning from perennial sources The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Discover to the less-common Vanity Fair and Mother Jones and the Speakeasy Science and Not Exactly Rocket Science blogs. Great breadth of sources.

Must-read articles include "What Broke My Father's Heart" (included in The American Essays 2011 edited by Edwidge Danticat), "BP's Dark Secrets", "The Estrogen Dilemma" (this one is really good, I took a course in clinical epidemiology from one of the original researchers on the WHI study that was terminated due to unexpectedly poor outcomes), "Cary in the Sky With Diamonds", and "The Enemy Within".

30 October 2012

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011

Catching up with 2011's Best American Sicence and Nature Writing.  Edited by Mary Roach - whee!

A good collection, with many good pieces here that need to be read by a wider audience.  Such a good reflection of how Roach is a great writer popular science books with an eye for a great story.  A lot of "famous names" in this volume including Jonathan Franzen, Stephen Hawking, Malcolm Gladwell, Atul Gawande, and Deborah Blum (whose article "The Chemist's War" was later incorporated into her book The Poisoner's Handbook).  Roach arranged the articles in alphabetical order by author, so there's monkeying about with agreement or disagreement of organization.
  • Bhattacharjee's "The Organ Dealer" about the illegal kidney trade
  • Bilger's gag-inducing (at the very end) "Nature's Spoils"
  • Dittrich's "The Brain That Changed Everything" which brings a very personal sense of history to the story of a man with brain damage resulting from a surgically-absent hippocampus
  • Freedman's "Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science" which highlights how reported medical research oftentimes is later proven incorrect or inconclusive
  • Gawande's haunting "Letting Go" about the disconnect in the medical establishment regarding end-of-life care
  • Mooallem's occasionally funny, occasionally stern "The Love That Dare Not Squawk It's Name" about the long-term mating habits of the Laysan albatross and the ridiculous levels humans go to to apply animal behavior as justification for human behavior
  • Sack's "Face-Blind" about the neural basis and social complications of face-blindness or prosopagnosia
  • Zimmerman's elegy "The Killer in the Pool"

27 October 2012

Cloud Atlas (on the screen)

Cloud Atlas is a book that has been circulating in my periphery for some time.  As a Booker short-lister, I would likely be reading it as part of my Booker Project.  It was also rumored to be "unfilmable" which really got my attention when the Wachowski's announced they had finally managed to adapt the novel and turn it into a film co-directed by Tom Twyker (who directed the Perfume adaptation, another novel said to be "unfilmable").  It had apparently taken years - no studio really wanted it, the funding was unstable, but they had managed to cast good A-list actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving).  The more I read about the film, the more I knew I wanted to see it.

I didn't care about the reviews (which were kind of a mixed bag, judging from what I saw on Twitter, ranging from "breathtaking" and "beautiful" to "pretentious art-house" and "boring").  I didn't care that it was over three hours long.  I saw one trailer and Cloud Atlas immediately went on my "must-see" list for Fall 2012.

Jessica and I chose a 500pm-ish showing of the movie which conveniently gave us the matinee price for a movie that would let out around 830.  Ha. 

Cloud Atlas is one of the best movies of the year.  I thank the creators for pursuring the project throughout all the obstacles placed in their way.  It is beautiful and breathtaking and a work of art.  It is wonderfully composed, shot by shot.  The score by Twyker, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil is so lovely and perfect that I immediately bought it on iTunes.  This is a long movie, so make sure you visit the ladies' before you settle in, but it didn't feel like an obvious three-hour movie; it felt like perhaps two hours, but I wasn't checking my watch like I have with other, shorter films (Transformers 2, I'm looking at you).  The cross-cutting of the six timelines was fantastic.

I liked the multiple-roles-per-actor idea and it worked well on the whole, although it is very apparent that Tom Hanks really isn't good at accent work (his Scottish mobster role was actually pretty nails-on-chalkboard).  Even though his Zachry character resembled Forrest Gump more than I expected he did make the "dialect" used in those Far Future scenes understandable.  Hugo Weaving was wonderful as the dreadful Nurse Noakes, playing off Jim Broadbent's indignant elderly gentleman.

Although all the sections were beautifully done my favorite timeline was the neo-Seoul/Sonmi-451 section. It was obviously one of the Wachowskis' sections with visuals reminiscent of the Matrix and a similar type of rebellion at its core.  I had never seen Doona Bae's work before and she absolutely blew me away.  There were tears.  She was able to convey so much emotion and compassion just by being so calm and still when there was so much other action around her.  I was also impressed with Jim Sturgess.  I hadn't yet liked many of his movies and his performance of Hae-Joo was better than I had expected

This isn't a perfect movie.  Some of the special effects makeup is funky (the "aging" makeup looks too crinkly and dry and the prosthetics used to make the non-Asian actors Korean gave everyone an odd Botox look) and I've mentioned the issue with the accents.  I will agree with some critics who said that the message of the movie did tend to bash viewers over the head by the end.  But those things didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film.  Cloud Atlas is the reason why independent films exist, especially those requiring larger budgets - it could never exist otherwise.

Previews:
1. The Impossible - follows a vacationing family through the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.  Good cast (Ewan MacGregor, Naomi Watts).
2. Parker - Jason Stathem, doing what he does best, this time with JLo in a plot similar to that of The Italian Job (which he was in, oy)
3. Silver Linings Playbook - looks kind of goofy in a fun way
4. Gangster Squad - Ryan Gosling does LA Confidential?

26 October 2012

An Infamous Army

Read War and Peace?  An Infamous Army is War and Peace for the Regency romance set.

You have to read this the right way. Even though the book opens with familiar characters - Judith and Worth, Charles, Perry - you have to follow the narrative line with Wellington.  Meaning you have to read it as a history narrative as opposed to a romance. There are huge gaps in the romance - just like there are gaps between the domestic storyline in War and Peace - to concentrate on preparations for the coming skirmish with the French (culminating at Waterloo) and extensive descriptions of the battlefield - also, just like in War and Peace.  Although not QUITE as extensive in the battle sequences as War and Peace. There's only one - Waterloo - but it's pretty awful in the recounting of the staggering loss of life. Heyer gives Wellington excellent lines, many taken from his extensive correspondence.  Thackeray's Vanity Fair also provides a slightly more contemporaneous look at English Society in Brussels in the run-up to Waterloo.  Heyer's research for this book was extensive and very much respected.

On the romance side, Bab is a typical Alistair: provocative, daring, devil-may-care (she wears open-toe Grecian sandals with nail polish - le scandale!!). Charles is a bit in over his head with her behavior but he at least tries to take it all as part of her personality instead of being controlling. I think their story worked out very well. It was nice to see Judith and Worth interacting as a couple since in their book (Regency Buck) Worth was playing the creepy guardian angle whilst Judith was working at being a dandy (since there isn't really a feminine version of the word) and we didn't see them actually LIKE each other until the last half-chapter. Also reassuring to see that Dominic (now Duke of Avon) is still as nuts as he was in Devil's Cub while Mary is just as practical and good-hearted.

23 October 2012

Miranda Neville: The Burgundy Club (in reverse)

Once again, I read a series backward.

I can't remember how I wound up reading Confessions of an Arranged Marriage by Miranda Neville.  I think it was an ebook sale.  Anywhoo, Miss Minerva Montrose, radical politician and bluestocking, develops a migraine at her come-out ball and slips away to the library for a bit of a rest.  The foxed Lord Blakeney, rake, dilettante, and heir to the Duke of Hampton, mistakes her for a lady of his acquaintance who is open for dalliance (Minnie and the lady have on similar dresses, so Blake is an idiot) and proceeds to put his head up her skirt, literally...at which point several prominent guests at the ball enter the library just as Minerva wakes up and shrieks.  There's pretty much no way of explaining any of that so Blake and Minnie are compelled to marry.  They more or less loathe one another at first - Minnie is pissed her political ambitions are thwarted, while Blake feels like Minnie deliberately makes him look stupid (he's not a stupid man and he has a secret he fears will ruin him if it gets out).  They begin to thaw toward one another on their honeymoon in Paris but then Blake's (ex)mistress shows up which rubs Minnie the wrong way then his father suffers a heart attack and dies making Blake and Minnie the powerful members of the aristocracy.

I liked the realism Neville introduced, particularly in the bedroom scenes. Although the genre standard is mad-hot sex straight out of the gate (behold the Magic Hoo Hoo and Mighty Wang in action, terms courtesy of SBTB) Neville chooses to allow Minnie's first time to be awkward and painful.  She doesn't like it and Blake also puts his foot in his mouth.  The resolution of Blake's secret and the development of the relationship between Minnie and Blake mirrors their progress in the bedroom: in fits and starts, a minor setback, but eventually finding harmony.

The previous book, The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton, was a 99 cent ebook special over the weekend and I thought, why not? I liked Confessions from an Arranged Marriage.  This volume concerns the courtship of Celia and Tarquin (met briefly at the beginning of Confessions). The set-up is a bit much: Celia is framed as a loose woman, dismissed from her governess position (and one where she might have married her employer because she handled his unruly children so well), kidnapped, robbed, and forced to strip; escaping from her captor's house she comes upon Tarquin, also stripped to his breeches and boots and knocked senseless. Although she knows perfectly well who he is (because he said she looked like a cauliflower during her debut), she pretends that he's her finacee just to mess with him. What a ludicrous backstory but whatever - it all works.  The two of them ramble through the English countryside - Celia telling bigger and bigger lies, Tarquin believing her but also feeling that something is "wrong"- until Tarquin's memory comes back.  Since they've been a) alone and b) had hot sex therefore Tarquin (even though he's pretty mad at her for the lying) feels compelled to offer for her.  I wasn't a huge fan of the should-I/shouldn't-I marry dithering but come to find out Celia does have a very interesting upbringing, to say the least. The two visit Sebastian and Diana - Minerva's sister and brother-in-law - during Diana's lying-in and eventually work things out to satisfaction (the Burgundy Club, come to find out, was founded by Tarquin, Sebastian, and Chase who are all antiquarian book collectors, an activity that Minnie and Blake don't take part in but Diana does, which makes me think this was originally a trilogy with Confessions tacked on as an afterthought).  There's also a good sideplot involving a book of erotic fiction by Aretino (him again) that Celia shares with Minerva.

Knowing a bit more about Sebastian and Diana, I hopped back to their book, The Dangerous Viscount.  The widowed Lady Diana Fanshawe is determined to make a brilliant match.  To that end she is determined to marry Lord Blakeney, a neighbor of her decidedly eccentric parents.  Blake (who is in full-on dickhead mode - glad I read his book first because I didn't like him here) makes Diana a bet: if she can get his repressed, nerdy, woman-hating (?) cousin Sebastian to kiss her, she'll win five hundreds pounds.  Diana accepts, thereby making her rather unlikeable for several chapters until she starts to like Sebastian's love of antiquarian books (which dovetails nicely with her love of history) and his brusque ways.  To top it off he's got that dark, mysterious, hunky look going for him.  One thing leads to another meaning Diana initates Sebastian into adulthood.  Neville gives us another unique take on a romance genre sex scene by making the hero the virgin.  Well, Diana's bet essentially blows up in her face when Sebastian finds out - because he has a history with Blake, and I mean HISTORY: Blake and his sisters were assholes to Sebastian when they were young explaining why Sebastian hates his ass so much in Confessions.  Fortunately for Diana and Sebastian (and the reader, otherwise this would be a short book) all it takes is just one sexual encounter to make a baby...and they are Viscount and Viscountess Iverly, trying to find their happy ending.

Thence, I came to the first book in the Burgundy Club series, The Wild Marquis.  Our heroine is Juliana Merton, a widowed antiquarian bookseller.  Cain, the Marquis of Chase - yes, that Marquis who at sixteen was kicked out of his father's house for doing something "unspeakable" - hires Juliana to represent him at an estate auction of books.  It turns out a priceless family heirloom, an illuminated book of hours, that should still be in possession of the marquessate is included in the auction catalogue.  Cain wants the book back at any price; Juliana wants the money that commission could bring her.  As the two work together to recover the book they grow closer.  Juliana is of uncertain parentage, Cain more-or-less considered irredeemable in the eyes of the ton and they enter into a liaison they can't back away from - not because of pregnancy or getting "caught" but because it just feels they should be together.  There's even a bit of death-defying suspense related to Juliana's backstory (although we didn't quite need the resolution to make the HEA work).

I liked the very frank take on the first love scene INCLUDING a discussion of birth control, although I believe Cain would be more likely to call condoms 'french letters'. It was a nice change of pace (compared to Celia and Sebastian - and he totally had beginners' luck, plus it seems Diana is just one of those women destined to be constantly pregnant since she's on child #3 in book #4).  Also: ANTIQUARIAN BOOK SALE!! BIDDING ON NICE THINGS!!!! THAT HAPPEN TO BE BOOKS!!! (Although, WTF writing in a Shakespeare quarto...offest slightly by a bulldog named Quarto, awwww).

I'm glad I read this series in reverse order because I was most impressed with the first one and would have been far less enamoured of Minerva and Blake by the time I got to their. I also like the rich colors used in the covers, very appealing.

Who wins "The Deception of the Emerald Ring"?

I have asked the oracle of Random.org to determine the winner of my first-ever giveaway:

Congratulations to commenter #2, Jennifer of The Bookie Nook (thebookienook.com)!!

If you get this before I email/tweet you, please email me with your snail-mail address.

Thanks to everyone who entered!

21 October 2012

A Feast of Ice and Fire

Who likes interesting cookbooks?  Meet a GAME OF THRONES COOKBOOK endorsed by GRRM himself!!!!!!

A Feast of Ice and Fire had me with the cover art - gorgeous and yummy.  I hope there's a second volume once all the books are finished.

I really liked the research behind the recipes as well as offering a more "traditional" medieval recipe and a modern version of most dishes. This is apparently based off a blog, The Inn at the Crossroads, which I have since started following.  There are great pictures, too, a must for a cookbook in my opinion (there's another Game of Thrones cookbook by some other people but it isn't near as nice).

The authors included some oddball recipes for the more adventurous gourmand, like snake (blech) which I will not be trying.  Lemon cakes and honeyfingers are much more my style.
 
I baked the modern Wintercake recipe for an autumn-themed potluck at the bookstore - it smelled wonderful and tasted really good.  Thumbs up from the booksellers!  It killed my food processor, though, so I have that on my Christmas list now.

20 October 2012

'Tis the Season: Football, School, and *sigh*

Weekends are heating up at the store.  Lots of traffic, lots of questions, and lots of *headdesk*

Related to football season:
- "Why don't you have books on [insert name of visiting football team from across the country here]?"  Because they aren't the home team or even in the same state.
- "Do you have a book that explains football to kids?" The child in question is using a teething ring, no lie.
- "Do you have the game score?" And he wasn't even interested in the game being played in town, which was the game I had up on ESPN.

Related to school:
Customer: "Do you have books on Egypt?"
Me: "Like a travel book?"
Customer: "Uh...sure!"
So we go to the travel section and I get out all six books on travelling in Egypt.
Customer: "My daughter has to write a report on the Sphinx."
And I turn to see a kid who is maybe ten years old, possibly eleven.  Unfortunately, we do not have books about the Sphinx specifically in the store, at all, or at any store in the area, and none of the books in the history section (adult or child) have much information on the Sphinx at all.
Customer: "Well, how is [my child] going to get her report done by Monday???"
*headdesk*
Seriously???!???!!  Perhaps you could try the library since those books are already purchased with your tax dollars.  

Customer on phone:  "Do you have City of Glass?  It's a graphic novel."
Checks computer - unfortunately we don't have Paul Auster's graphic novel adaptation of his novella.
Customer on phone:  "Isn't that by Cassie Clare?"
Me: "I believe there are planned graphic novel adaptations of the Mortal Instruments series but those aren't available, yet."
Customer on phone: "Oh, yeah, so I guess it is by that guy you mentioned.  Do you know where I could get this? I have to have it read for class by Tuesday."
*headdesk* Ugh, seriously?  Library?  Has the general population forgotten about this very valuable resource for getting homework and school work done on time?

Customer (walks up to me): "Chaucer."
Legit, that was the opening to the conversation.  No, "Excuse me" or "Can you help me find something?" just a word.
Me:  "Er, are you looking for something specific?"
Customer: "Chaucer."
Me (ARGH!):  "Do you need a specific title or translation?" 
Customer (blinks a bit at me):  "Poetry?"
Me (not the answer I was expecting): "Er, right.  There are a couple of different major poems.  The Parliament of Fowls or The Canterbury Tales, perhaps?"
Customer:  "Oh, yes, tales!" 
And hands me a Post-It with "Chaucer Wife's Tail" written on it.  And, yes, it was spelled like that.
Me: "OK.  This edition here is probably the cheapest if you don't need a specific edition."
Customer:  "I need an easy one."
Me:  "OK." (hands her a different volume) "This is the No Fear edition which will have a modern English translation on the facing page.  It's pretty user-friendly."
Customer: "Does it have the Wife's Tale?"
Me:  "Yes, it has the entire set of Tales so that would include the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale."  And I show her where they are in the book.
Customer: "Oh, good.  Do you know where I could get a summary?  I'm a tutor and don't have time to read this."
*headdesk*  I hope they aren't paying her very much.

Customer:  "Where are your Christmas sales?"
Me:  "We don't have our holiday sales out yet, ma'am."
Customer (aghast):  "Why not??"
Um, because it isn't even Hallowe'en yet?  Keep your shirt on, we'll have them out the first week in November.

And in the "Awwwww" department:
I'm back in the Kids' section and the cutest little girl with pigtails and glasses comes up to me.
Girl: "Excuse me please, could you show me where you keep the Percy Jackson books?"
(and of course she has the cutest lisp, too)
So I show her where the books are on display.  She very solemnly looks over the table, chooses Percy Jackson #4, and turns to me with a great big smile.
Girl: "I love books!  Don't you?"
Me: "I do!"
Girl: "When I grow up I want to read books all day!" 
She hugs the book and scampers off but turns around and comes straight back.
Girl: "I forgot to say thank you!  Thank you for helping me!"
And off she goes again. Dear parents of this child - your kid is adorable and I hope she stays that way.  Kids like her go a ways toward making a long day shorter.

19 October 2012

Judging a Book by Its Lover (mini-review)

I was looking for a funny book to read (I've been reading Sandman...no funny there) and was seeing a lot of buzz for Lauren Leto's Judging a Book by Its Lover.  Worth a shot.

And I'm a bit torn.  I really liked a lot of the chapters: the Twitter reviews of memoirs, bookstore hookups, F. Scott and Zelda having a meal together (which is completely made-up, obviously, and hilarious).  The "Rules of Bookclub" had me laughing out loud. (Side note: Lauren was a co-author/creator of Texts From Last Night.)

But the gift-guide was really long, maybe too long because it ceased to be funny after about five entries.  The "faking-it" guide to book discussion was also pretty un-funny to me: I'd read almost all of the books skewered in the section and we have differeing opinions about them.

On the balance, I laughed a lot throughout the book, so mission accomplished.

18 October 2012

The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes (mini-review)

It took me several years and at least two Dewey's Readathons to get through this book.

It was funny in places.  It tried too hard in places.  It was kind of awful in places.

The only story I liked was the Winnie-the-Pooh one and it was at the beginning.

(And the book opens the wrong way - I understand this is part of the joke but I find it annoying on my shelf.)

17 October 2012

Why Jane Austen? (mini-review)

Pride and Prejudice will turn 200 years old in 2013.  It's still one of the most-read and most-beloved and most-adapted English-language books - why?  Why is Jane Austen still relevant?

This is the question Rachel Brownstein (professor of English at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center) tries to answer in her book Why Jane Austen? (and, refreshingly enough, there are no subtitles).

Why Jane Austen? has the best opening line of any lit-crit book I've ever read:

Sometime in the 1908s, soon after the publication of my first book, I went to a literary party in Brooklyn at the home of a fashionably gritty playwright: jug wine, cheese and crackers, and brownies laced with cannabis, homemade by his wife.


And then she slips in an anecdote about some dude who is being a jerk about feminists. Like.

Brownstein examines Austen's world critically, noting how her novels have been re-interpreted and examined using theory of all types: economic, social commentary, feminism, politics, etc.  The book is a very readable volume of literary criticism, but it stays firmly grounded in academics with good supporting documentation and writing.

Aside from a few weird typos/boo-boos in the first half of the book (the star of Bride and Prejudice is Aishwarya Rai, not Ray, and in the ITV adaptation of Lost in Austen the heroine enters P&P through a door in the bathroom, not a dream - although we could argue whether the either thing is "reality" or "fantasy") it was a very good addition to my shelf of Austen criticism.

16 October 2012

The Best American Science Writing 2012

This year's offering by Ecco was edited by Michio Kaku - someone who I greatly like on any History Channel offering about the universe (when they actually have something either historical/scientific as opposed to pawn shops, shooting competitions, and various other "reality" television shows) and whose books I keep meaning to read.  So was already slightly more favorably disposed toward this volume compared to the Mariner 2012 volume.

Kaku decided on a rather interesting organization scheme - he ordered articles from most familiar subject to the general public to last familiar.  So he started with the most familiar subject, our own bodies, and an article from Science by Gretchen Vogel, "Mending the Youngest Hearts", in which the brave new frontier of medicine is lab-grown blood vessels created from infants' own stem cells for use in Fontan and other cardiac procedures.  He works outward through medicine, biology, ecology, psychology, and physics until he reaches the outer edge where science and religion butt-up against one another.  The latter half of the book is a bit heavy on the physics articles, so perhaps a few less of those and a smattering from ecological or engineering articles instead.

All the articles are highly informative - Rabelo and Bogdanich's NYT exposĂ© regarding the over-radiation of patients by untrained/uncertified medical technicians, John Fischman's rather frightening article regarding the predictability of criminal behavior in relation to brain structure, Jaron Lanier and a look back at IBM's Watson, Rachel Aviv's "God Knows Where I Am" about the fine line of madness and sanity and the gaps in our mental health system.  I particularly enjoyed "An Immune System Trained to Kill Cancer" by Denise Grady - a new direction in cancer research wherein a patient's immune system could be trained to kill cancer cells without the toxicity, side effects, and dangers of traditional chemotherapy and radiation; given that certain cancers have mutating genetic structures it would also be easier to modify therapy if a mutation changes the surface proteins, etc.  On the other hand, I felt "The Fire Next Time" - a Rolling Stone article by Jeff Goodell - really didn't have as much "science" in it as other articles, even for a lay-article, and was instead more of a call to arms.

Only two articles over-lapped the Mariner volume - "Beautiful Brains" by David Dobbs and Rivka Galchen's "Dream Machine" - so I got a nice set of articles read between the two volumes.

15 October 2012

The Way to a Duke's Heart (The Truth About the Duke #3)

Summary from Goodreads:

Charles de Lacey, Lord Gresham, is running out of time, running from his responsibilities, and running from love.

Destined to be a duke, Charles de Lacey has led a life of decadent pleasure, free of any care for propriety or responsibility. It comes as a terrible shock to learn that he might be stripped of everything, thanks to his father's scandalous past. He has no choice but to find the blackmailer who would ruin him—and his only link to the villain is a woman who may be part of the plot…

To save his fortune and title, he vows he'll stop at nothing—in fact, he's all too eager to unravel the beautiful, tart-tongued Tessa Neville. She intrigues him and tempts him like no other lady ever has. With only his heart to guide him, and keenly aware that his entire future is at stake, Charles must decide: is she the woman of his dreams, or an enemy in disguise?

This was burning a hole in my NOOK whilst I read The Ugly Duchess (hey, Eloisa tweeted me, so she got to be first - I'm easy that way). Being a romance novel I had no doubt as to the outcome of the Durham Dilemma (duh) but I just wanted to know how it would all unwind as well as who Charlie would be paired with.

First off, I have to say I quite loved Tessa's companion/cousin, Eugenia Bates. Yes, Bates. Who has much the sweet, chatty, dithering demeanor of the Miss Bates of Austen's Emma - but not as annoying since we're not seeing her through Emma's eyes. And she has a taste for the luird Gothic novels of Mrs. Radcliff.

Second, I quite liked how Linden let us see how Charlie resented his younger brothers' freedom, just that little bit (Edward his facility in estate management and Gerard his fearless antics), and how he regretted that his break with their father had perhaps put the family in the situation of the Durham Dilemma (well, it would have been less-bad if Edward hadn't told his idiot fiancee at the beginning of One Night in London - but then he got Francesca and that was much better).

Third, Tessa is an excellent foil for Charlie. But she isn't set up as a paragon who is right all the time with regard to the business of the canal - she's allowed to have a failing or two.

But I do have a slight misgiving about the climax of the book and hence, spoiler warning (highlight to see text):

While I really appreciated the twist with Lord Worth - and the awful Maria as his wife - as the impetus for the blackmail scheme what I didn't appreciate was the scene with Maria before Charlie left the house and the he didn't explicitly tell Worth that he would have no claim on the child. Worth would always hate Charlie's guts, and Charlie didn't help himself there, but the least Charlie could do after explaining and apologizing was to say that he wouldn't ever contest the child's paternity. Or maybe he did and I missed it, I was pretty tired. And then Charlie should have got the hell out of the house rather than stay and discuss things with Maria - wouldn't Worth have followed to make sure Charlie left?

Caroline Linden closed out her The Truth About the Duke in style with an excellent finale in The Way to a Duke's Heart.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I started reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower for Banned Books Week.  I was also reading Sandman, so I got a bit behind-hand on Perks.

Perks and I are a like ships in the night: it originally published in 1999 when I was busy with MCATs, lab jobs, med school applications, and homework and really wasn't in tune with the world of fiction.  The book is set in the early 1990s, though, making Charlie and I almost the same age (I was a HS freshman in the fall of 1992 - and if you think Charlie is naive you should have met me at the same age).  Charlie has major depressive symptoms (stemming from an unknown source) and he is deeply affected by loss, the most recent being a classmate's death.  He writes letters to an unnamed friend (it's unclear whether these are actually letters sent or if these are actually diary entries, there's a little wiggle room there) chronicling his freshman year of high school.  Charlie is intellectually precocious but socially awkward, perhaps to an extreme but it serves a purpose.

Charlie falls in with two seniors, Sam and Patrick, who take him under their wings, so to speak, and introduce him to a very different world that exists outside the walls of school and home.  They introduce him to the Rocky Horror Picture Show (his reaction on that first live show was about like mine).  There is drinking, smoking, experimentation with drugs, an exploration of sexuality, and the dawning realization that with all these adult choices comes the reality that human relationships are messy, messy things.  From those issues along one can see that Perks is a book ripe for the bulls-eye of those looking to remove books from libraries and schools.  Even though this is usually shelved in the adult fiction section, teen protagonists often translate to teen readers.  Charlie's letters show both sides of his choices: it might feel exhilarating and freeing to have a few beers or smoke a joint, but that laxity can cause one to do or say things that hurt our friends.

Perks is an eminently quotable book, with any number of gifs on tumblr.  Many lines are well-known such as "And in that moment, I swear we were infinite."  I may not be on the "rabid fan" bandwagon, but I thoroughly enjoyed Chbosky's writing and the final plot reveal.

The only quibble I have is the oft-stated idea that Charlie is doing extra writing assignments and improving there - yet his letters remain very even in quality, very young and confessional.  Is Charlie a bit of an unreliable narrator when he wants to be?

14 October 2012

#readathon 2012 wrap-up!

Well, another 24-hour readathon has come to a close.  I didn't read as much or as long this time (needing to sleep eventually won out) but I had a decently healthy stack of done/mostly-done books:
 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (previously started, finished)
The Best American Science Writing 2012 (finished)
Why Jane Austen? (previously started, finished)
McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes (finished)
An Infamous Army (previously started, too much at 2am so unfinished)

The page count ended up at 819 pages read.  Not too shabby.

Thanks as always to the Readathon organizers and cheerleaders!  Mwah!

If you haven't, and are interested, please comment on my readathon give-away post.  Odds are very favorable right now!



In parting, I'd like to share this photo I took on this gray, rainy Iowa October Sunday.  One of those days where color contrasts always pop.  It's just a shrub outside the Starbucks, but I loved the red and green surprise.

 






 



13 October 2012

Win "The Deception of the Emerald Ring" audiobook during #readathon!

Hey-hey!  It's my first ever giveaway!  I'd been thinking about doing one for a while and then an opportunity just fell into my lap.

Lauren Willig, author of the Pink Carnation series of Regency spy/romance novels, was cleaning out a closet and found a bunch of finished copies of her books.  So she posted on Facebook that she'd be willing to send out these books to bloggers, etc., for giveaways and things.

She even had an audiobook copy of The Deception of the Emerald Ring.  It's my favorite of her books.  I love Letty and her practicality and how she just never gives up.  Geoff isn't so bad himself.  So I messaged Lauren and she was more than happy to send the audiobook on its way to me.
 
 
And now I am going to send it on its way to a forever home!  Because what better time to do a give-away than during Readathon?
 
 
This contest is open to the US and Canada.  To enter, please leave a comment on this post telling me what book you enjoyed most during the Readathon this go-round and link back to one of your Readathon posts or tweets.  At midnight on next Sunday, October 21 (my time - I live in the Midwest), I'll close the comments then put all the names in a hat - or Ye Olde Random Number Generator if there are too many names for a hat - and pick the lucky winner!
 
Yay, reading!


#readathon Starting Line!

 
 
Behold, the stack of Readathon books!  Yeah, I'll never get through all those (particularly since the red thing on the top is my nook and has 500 books on it alone) but I think that's a good variety of books. Even if I only read a chapter or two in some that's totally pages read.
 
Now, my start-time here in the Midwest is 7am my time.  Ugh.  So this is set to post then.
 
I am likely to be sleeping.
 
I'll catch up (and be sure to look for my give-away post around lunchtime my time - so about 5 hours after the Readathon starts).