30 April 2012

Talking to Siri

I really love my iPhone - taking pictures, listening to music, playing games, staying organized.  Love it.

And I have the 4S model so it includes the lovely voice assistant Siri...whom I would love more if she acted less like a petulant teenager and more like an assistant.  Because we definitely have a failure to communicate.

Like any good reader, I turned to a book to help me out.  Talking to Siri by Erica Sadun is a short, small book, only about 150 pages and not quite mass-market paperback size, and it is very helpful.  I learned how to phrase questions using Wolfram Alpha-style queries.  I learned how to set places like "home" so I could tell Siri to get me directions to home.  I got the hang of having Siri make appointments for me.

And I learned a few fun things.  For instance, Siri is an "it" not a "she" because different markets have a different voice - the US has a female voice but the UK has male, apparently.  And you can make Siri give you funny answers.

Just tell it you need to dump a body or say "Beam me up, Scotty."  The answers are all deadpan, of course.

24 April 2012

The Voice: Live Eliminations April 24, 2012

Yet another Tuesday elimination on The Voice

Ooh, Florence + The Machine!!!!  New single, "New Light, New Light" (I really have to buy Ceremonials).  I love how it's a great mix of rock, pop, and New Age-y (hey, there's Team CeeLo up there, too).

Who did America save (apparently Tony and Juliette hit #1 and #2 on the rock charts on iTunes)?
Team Adam:  Tony (I was pretty sure he would get through - it was a performance that people would really like)
Team CeeLo:  Jamar (this was a toss up between Jamar and Juliette for me - both gave really heartfelt performances but I was hoping Juliette would get through)

Team Adam sing-off:
  • Mathai - she chose "Cowboy Casanova" and it sounded pretty good. I'm not sure if she connected with the song well; I got emotion in that arm that was flailing around but not in her voice.  The band overshadowed her a bit much so maybe not the best arrangement.  (I'm not sure why Carson talks to the coaches for the first performer, then rushes the others)
  • Katrina - she chose "Perfect".  A good choice for her since the words fit the situation and she could really belt, use the emotion.  Great praise from Christina - I'd like to hear original material from Katrina for sure.
Adam saved: Katrina.  Thank god - Adam rambled so long I had no idea where he was going (I just realized that it has to blow standing up there while the other three coaches say who they would save and none of them say your name - I would barf fer shiz while waiting).  Mathai is a doll, though, and I hope that the record execs are watching and give her a chance.

Team CeeLo sing-off:
  • Cheesa - she chose "Already Gone".  Eeep, she started off with the breathy thing and it was pretty flat all over.  Ack.  Hmmm, even the chorus was a bit flat, but better as she went on.  Oh Blake, just because you hit the big note doesn't erase the poor breath support throughout.  Even though not everyone is perfect all the time, you have to do it when it counts.
  • Juliette - she chose "Torn".  Also, another great choice because she could use the power and the nerves to get into the song.  She just kills it, every time.  I said it yesterday, I love her.  Love. Her.  AND she hit every note.  (I'm a technical singer - remember?  You get off pitch, you find your way back, ASAP)
CeeLo saved: Juliette, yes!!!! (uh, did Adam duck out?  No Adam commentary on who CeeLo would save?  Oh, CeeLo - Cheesa is SO NOT CLASSICALLY TRAINED.  CHRIS MANN IS CLASSICALLY TRAINED.)

Side notes:
  • Dear audience: STOP YELLING while the coaches are talking; if Adam says "Shut it" then you shut it.  End of story.

23 April 2012

The Voice: Live Quarterfinals April 23, 2012

Knowing that the coaches on The Voice (i.e. CeeLo and Adam) will have to immediately cut a singer, let's see if the performers throw down.

  • Jamar - singing "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi
    • A really interesting, heavy metal arrangement.  Perhaps a bit on the slow side but I was really listening to the words and Jamar's performance as opposed to comparing the performance to Bon Jovi's.  He did a great job, sang his heart out.  I hope going first doesn't hurt him in the voting.
  • Katrina - singing "Jar of Hearts" by Christina Perri
    • Did they get her extensions?  Or did her hair grow that much before the live rounds and it was always up before today?  I'm glad she stuck with the full voice rather than try and make it wispy, it was a much better performance.  Really solid this time, very confident.  Even the little cracks over her break worked in this song.
CeeLo and his team performed "Dancing in the Street" - the old TV/retro look wasn't quite as fun as the disco possibilities for staging (CeeLo wore a truly awful James Brown wig).  Everyone sounded pretty good.

Commercial break had a new iPhone4S ad (or, at least, new to me) with Zooey Deschanel.  A great improvement over the kid with the stupid music questions/band names.

  • Mathai - singing "I'm Like a Bird" by Nelly Furtado
    • Hate to say it Adam, but Mathai sounds A LOT like Nelly Furtado (and she totally got upstaged by the awesome acrobat up on the fabric trapeze or whatever it's called).  She sounded less like like Nelly Furtado by the end.  It was a good performance - I wasn't blown away but she did a good job.
  • James - singing "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel
    • Gotta hand it to CeeLo - he knows just how to pick songs to suit his artists this season.  This song really fit James's style and vocal type.  He has a really smooth tenor sound.  I personally would like a bit in a dynamic range out of him (I'm with Blake - he sang well but it just laid there).  Adam had a good idea - maybe some old school Sinatra would be good, from early-on in his career.  While James doesn't do it for me, the teen girls love him so they'll probably carry him.
Goody Mob?  Sorry, Goodie Mob.  I am not well-versed in Southern hiphop.  Should there have been more rapping?  CeeLo sounded good until the light-up grill he sported gave him a lisp.  Adam was really into it but I really didn't get it.  Maybe I had to be in the auditorium for it to work.

  • Tony - singing...Carson didn't say??
    • wait, what is he singing?  Oh, my god, he's singing Britney Spears.  I love it.   I love that arrangement of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" with the rock rhythm rather than the pop.  I like him so much better this week than with the Peter Gabriel.
  • Cheesa - singing "I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston
    • I got goosebumps.  This is the first performance where she knocked it out of the park for me.  She didn't shy away from those high notes and just killed it.  Fantastic perfomance, very well-done (the staging looked a bit like "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" from Evita).  CeeLo looked like the cat who got the cream.
  • Pip - singing "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane
    • Thank you for not wearing the bow-tie (and he does have a similar voice type to Adam).  This is a much better song choice for him.  Except for the falsetto - not my favorite part.  It was good otherwise, perhaps not better than his other three team members.
Team Adam performance (and I could do without the Christina Millian filler) of "Instant Karma".  I love how they did the accompaniment with a little assist from the Voice band (Adam didn't sing, also kind of cool).
  • Juliette - singing "Crying" by Aerosmith
    • Her hair is getting lighter, not sure if I like the blond.  Aerosmith is a great choice for her, just the grittiness of her voice suits the tempo and the emotion of the song.  That voice just pulls at you (what record exec listened to her and thought "girl band"??  not a smart person).  I love her.  Love. Her.  (Next week, can we please have her do some classic sixties rock?  Please?  It would be so awesome.)
Ugh, instant elimination.
CeeLo sent home (so heart-felt that he took the time to write out what he wanted to say on his BlackBerry): James.  A good choice.  Of the four singers, he was the only one not to really stretch.  He's a good singer, but not quite at the level of Juliette, Jamar, and Cheesa.
Adam sent home (poor Adam, babbling since he's stalling):  Pip.  Also a good choice.  He was pretty much neck and neck with Mathai, in my opinion. 

Tomorrow night's show should be interesting.

19 April 2012

Sophia Nash: The Royal Entourage One and Two

A title caught my attention the other day, The Art of Duke Hunting.  Huh, cute.  So I read a bit of the first chapter while on my break and wound up buying it.  I then realized that it was book two in the series...oops. 

The Dukes of Norwich are a cursed line.  The first Duke incurred the wrath of a witch (maybe?) by accusing her of witchcraft when she spurned him (he brought some icky fowl instead of jewelry, I'd refuse him, too).  Since then there have been seventeen dukes in only 200 years, an unprecedented rate of inheritance, and a good number of the first sixteen met their ends in duck and/or fowl related incidents (the others either lost duels or died fighting Napoleon).  The seventeenth Duke of Norwich, Roman Montagu, is determined that he will be the absolute last duke of his accursed line.  There are no brothers (Roman's elder brother died in a sailing accident), no secondary lines, no exceedingly distant male cousins, and Roman is determined never to father a child.

That's just the prologue.  The plot opens on Roman's worst nightmare - a ship in a storm - and the poor man has no idea how he got there.  Worse, one wrist is tied to the deck.  Before a wave can wash him away he is rescued by the Esme, the Countess of Derby, and they shelter together in her cabin (and not in separate corners, either).  When the damaged ship puts in at the Isle of Wight Roman learns how he came to be on board: at the bachelor party to end all bachelor parties, held by the royal entourage, the Duke of Kress put Roman on the ship as some sort of absinthe-fueled joke.  Unfortunately for Esme (who prefers to be called March) and Roman the biggest gossip in England, Mr. King, was also aboard ship so by the time they make it back to London their goose is cooked: they must marry.

So, in short, I liked the book. Roman and Esme's romance is both sweet (how they both actually care about one another, despite actual appearances) and disturbing (Roman's jealousy; though, in all seriousness I thought Topher was gay because all the women felt rather safe around him, but I guess he was merely waiting to retire before scoring a lady?).  Love all the duck/duke humor. Who knew Regency England was so full of duck paraphernalia?

I only have one quibble with the plot (OK, two - and these are total spoilers so skip this paragraph, alright?):
1. The twist at the end of the book where it is revealed that Roman is, in fact, not the son of the 16th duke but that of an Italian sculptor is pointless. Worse, it detracts from Roman's ability to overcome his fear/superstition and live out his live despite his notorious family history. It makes the entire I-sailed-a-yacht-through-a-storm-to-rescue-my-wife-despite-the-curse feeling of triumph dead in the water.  Boo.
2. And speaking of the Norwich curse how did the original "witch" actually have legitimate children? I was assuming that her accusation/death came very close on her refusal of Norwish I's offer making it less likely that she had children at all. So that would make Esme less of a granddaughter and more of a niece/cousin of some type. So the "direct descendant" business doesn't quite make sense to me. Also, it's an unneccessary plot point because by the time it's revealed he's already learned his true parentage.

With all the whispering about Alexander Barclay, the new Duke of Kress and Roman's good friend, I had to read the first book Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea.  The prologue is a glorious detailing of all the naughtiness the royal entourage got up but left out just enough detail to leave the reader hanging (Candover left his bride at the altar, someone's maid is missing, Candover's sister is sent home in disgrace, one of the dukes got secretly married, Barry's got a mysterious dead man, Candover and Abshire have a longstanding animosity, etc).  Alex is the nitwit that supplied the group with all the absinthe which caused all the debauchery.  As a result, the populace is starting to question whether the aristocracy is even necessary.  Prinny immediately goes on the defensive and orders all the dukes to straighten up and get married.  Alex is the first - exiled to his Cornwall estate to await the matchmaking mamas he finds Roxanne Vanderhaven clinging to a sea cliff for dear life. 

Her husband tried to push her to her death.   Nice guy.  Alex rescues her and....romance!

I had a little trouble with the final twist (sorry, SPOILER again): the convenient-death-of-Roxanne's-skeezebag-husband obligatory plot twist followed by that monstrously silly courtroom scene where everybody and nobody confessed to killing him....good Lord.  Nash should have just let Paxton steal Alex's water-shy horse, get thrown off/drowned, and been done with it instead of having him steal the horse AND someone shoot him. Actually, that sounds suspiciously similar to my issue with The Art of Duke Hunting. Hmmmm.

Beyond that, this was an enjoyable novel.  Alex and Roxanne make a good couple and it was nice to see them fight through Prinny's orders to get their HEA.  I'm really looking forward to the other books in the series (maybe six in total?), so books for Candover, Abshire, Sussex, and Barry.  Maybe a seventh for Isabelle if she doesn't wind up being the heroine in one of the dukes (which she seriously might since it seems she has a bad crush on one of them).

(Side note on that absinthe: as a drink it was not popular until the 1840s and the major distilleries in France opened only a few years before this novel opens in late 18th/early 19th century.  The likelihood that Alex's fully English cousin had a cellar-full both in London and the Mount when it needed to be smuggled I find a little implausible.  I know it's a hair-splitting detail but I read a lot of articles on absinthe and opium when writing a paper about addiction in Victorian literature.  If Nash needed a black-out level party she could have had them drink a load of nasty whiskey; it feels like the absinthe was used for the exotic-ness.)

17 April 2012

The Voice: Live Eliminations April 17, 2012

So after last night's cut-one-team-member bad-surprise The Voice is back to cut another member from Team Blake and Christina.

First up - a performance by British group (?techno boy band) the Wanted with an assist by Blake's team.  I wasn't really familiar with them and it was an...adequate performance.  I wasn't impressed by the song or group (and you couldn't hear Blake's team members).  I was actually more worried for the dancers considering at least one of them nearly tripped over the white backdrop when it was dropped right where they were danced.  Bad staging decision.

Who was saved (after Carson stalled for frickin' ever - srsly?)?  From Team Christina it was Chris (FUCK YEAH!!!!!!!) and America voted through Jermaine on Blake's team (surprising, I thought it would be Erin but I like him, too).

Team Christina singoff:
  • Ashley chose "You and I" - I didn't quite like the quieter ending, needed a bit more of a bang but she sounded good.
  • Lindsay went with "Please Don't Go" - such a good choice for her because she tapped into the coffeeshop roots she is used to; she's grown a lot because I think the Lindsay from the blind auditions wouldn't have looked at the audience or shown so much emotion
Oh, look, what a surprise (I'm with Carson - that was so not a surprise) it's Justin Bieber.  He brought a clip from his new video from "Boyfriend".  Eh, color me bored.  It was barely thirty seconds of video where he looked like an overly groomed tweener being groped by hands.  He rapped, it was OK.  (Aaaaand, he's going to be on The Voice in three weeks.  Meeeehhh)

Christina saved: Lindsay!  (I really don't have an opinion, they're both good singers and either would have been a good choice)

Team Blake singoff:
  • Erin went with "Proud Mary" - it's a great choice for her vocally because she's got a big voice and she uses it.  Go Erin!
  • Then RaeLynn sang "If I Die Young" - ok, that much styling is really annoying; she doesn't really talk like with such an exaggerated accent so why sing like that?  If it were my choice, I'd certainly not keep her with that accent.  Also, this song is really poignant (and sad) and she so doesn't pull that off.
Blake saved: Erin!  (Thank you, because I don't think I could have handled another week of RaeLynn.  She's cute and all but the yowling was getting out of control)

Side notes:
  • caught the trailer for Dark Shadows - is it just me, or is Johnny Depp just playing yet another facet of his always-witty-and-wacky Captain Jack persona only more Nightmare Before Christmas in color palatte as opposed to Alice in Wonderland Technicolor?  It's supposed to be wierd.  Not daft.
  • CeeLo has had Dorothy's ruby slippers enlarged and made into a fabulous blazer.  Love it.
  • People, it is RUDE AS HELL to yell "We Love You, [fill in the blank]" while the person is trying to talk to the performer on the stage.  You look like a moron, please be an adult and a good audience member.
  • Carson needs to not stall so much early in the show then he wouldn't get that harried/freaked out look as the show starts to run long.

The Voice: First Quarterfinals April 16, 2012

For the quarterfinals of The Voice, not only will the audience "save" a singer from each team but each coach will have to immediately cut one team member.  Ouch!  None of the coaches are happy about that surprise.

Surprise!  Xtina performed "Stronger" with her team and the Crenshaw High School Choir.  Great sounding performance but she needs to rethink the bustier/panties outfit.  It wasn't flattering.  Although I did enjoy her little country intro just to tease Blake.  I do like how Christina tries to give her team good pointers, getting them exposure outside the show.

Maroon5 (drool, Adam!) premiered their new single "Payphone" featuring Wiz Khalifa (and I just cheated to look up the spelling on iTunes).  Definitely a Maroon5 song.  I liked it.

Team Blake also performed with their coach on his single "Heartbreak".  Of the two group performances I liked this one better.  It showed the singers to better advantage.

The performances!
  • Raelynn - singing "She's Country" by Jason Aldean
    • I have to admit it, she is cute as can be.  I have trouble putting her voice together with how young she is.  If I close my eyes, she totally works for me as a country artist.  If I watch her, I just don't believe the "sexiness" she adds to her performance.  She isn't old enough and she doesn't really need it.  Her diction was much better this performance which was something I didn't like two weeks ago.  I also worry that she sings and growls so hard that she's doing some vocal damage.  I'd like to see her do a softer piece once.
  • Jesse - singing "Halo" by Beyonce (total aside: Xtina's red studio mic/stand cracks me up everytime)
    • It's an interesting choice.  Initially I was worried that they had set the arrangement too high but he warmed into it as the song along.  The staging was so sweet with all the pictures of his little girl.  He really does put his heart into every performance and he deserves to move forward.  He's one of my favorites.
  • Jordis - singing "A Little Bit Stronger" by Sara Evans
    • This is such a change from her rock performances.  Hearing her sing with vulnerability, so lovely.  I really liked this choice for her.  She had such a nice tone to her voice and I hadn't heard that before.  She is one of my favorites, too.
  • Ashley - singing "Foolish Games" by Jewel
    • The introduction wasn't my favorite - she was lost behind the guitar until the second phrase when she brought up the volume.  She really went for it but she sounded like she was pushing way too hard.  It got really pitchy, especially the big climax note - that one was sour.  The arrangement was really good, since I don't think she could have carried the original arrangement.
  • Erin - singing "Set Fire to the Rain" by Adele
    • Erin is absolutely one of my favorite singers on this show.  Not only is she crazy-talented she has got the strongest backbone.  She is the only singer on this show as yet to take on Adele and make the performance and song her own.  Absolutely solid.  I loved it - voted, bought the single.  I'd love to see her in the finals.  (I thought the phrasing was good - but you know you did a great job when the criticism is a point that most singers don't even get to).
  • Lindsay - singing "Part of Me" by Katy Perry
    • I'm not a gigantic Katy Perry fan (I think she's annoying) so Lindsay's performance was pretty fresh for me (CeeLo hasn't heard this song before, either?  Random).  I think she sounded better on the whole than last week but she really needs to keep her breath support up because she loses her pitch on the longer notes (as pointed out by the coaches).  Her pants, however, are an egregious party foul and ought to be burned.  Hideous.
  • Jermaine - singing "Against All Odds" by Phil Collins
    • This was a great choice for him.  He connected more with this performance and it was less "polished".  He took the song a little more soul than rock power ballad and it worked for him.
  • Chris - singing "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay
    • Such a great choice for him.  The long phrases show off his breath control to perfection.  And that is what voice training is for.  Also, his pitch is absolutely rock solid.  I love him, I want to see him win.  We need more classical singers in this world! (Note to Adam: while I also would like to see him sing opera, or a more classical piece, it would probably go over better in the style of the East Village Opera Company.  Hmm, speaking of, they do a great "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca that he would totally kill).
Christina is up first for an elimination:  wow, she chose to let Jesse go.
(Jesus, this is harsh - worst idea the producers for this show ever had because it felt like the air got sucked out of the auditorium when Christina announced his name).  I perhaps might have gone with Ashley, but as long as it wasn't Chris I was good.
Blake's choice: JORDIS!??!????  WTF?????  Blake, that was so wrong.  What a cop-out.  Of the four performances of his team tonight she gave one of the best.  He totally has a favorite *cough* RaeLynn *cough* - she gave the weakest performance of the four and so, following the premise that the judging is based on the performances as given, ought to have been let go.

*Total sidenote: You can't even purchase the single for the two singers eliminated - Jordis, I love you, I think you totally got a raw deal, and I would so buy the song from your performance tonight.

15 April 2012

Eloisa James: The Duchess Quartet

Back to Eloisa James and an earlier series: her Duchess Quartet.

The first book, Duchess in Love, introduces us to Ambrogina (Gina), the Duchess of Girton.  She was married to Cam when she was eleven (illegal) and the groom (eighteen) promptly decamped to Greece to be a sculptor.  Gina is now all grown up and impatient to actually be a wife.  She finds a suitor - Sebastian Bonnington - and decides that she ought to have her marriage annulled so she can marry the very proper and very present marquess.  At a house party - and it's one of those house parties where is seems no one sleeps in their own bed - Cam shows up, hunks of pink marble in tow, to throw a wrench in those plans.  Meanwhile, Gina's friend Esme decides that it's time she and her aimiable-but-infatuated-with-his-mistress husband to try for an heir whilst another friend, Carola, starts to reconcile with her estranged husband Tuppy (Tuppy?).

There are sooo many plotlines in this book.  Gina uncovers a secret about her past, the prudish Sebastian constantly picks on Esme for her outrageous lifestyle (even though he secretly wants in her knickers), there's a bit about thieving from a sculpture, a reading from Shakespeare that gets everyone all hot and bothered, and another character, Helene, the Countess of Godwin, who is also estranged from her husband.  Oy.  And then everyone starts to try and reconcile and stuff really gets all crazy-pants.  The cute and funny bits that make Eloisa James novels got a bit lost in the multiple plotlines.  The transitions in the last few chapters were pretty shaky.

So you'd think that the next novel would give the A-plot to Esme or Helene, right?  Nope, we get an all new heroine, Lady Henrietta McClellan, and hero, Simon Darby in Fool for Love.  Simon is the now-widowed-and-pregnant Esme's nephew by marriage; if the baby she's carrying turns out to be Rawlings's son, Simon is disinherited (since he has a fortune, it's not a huge deal but the title would have been nice).  There's some contrivance about how Henrietta and Simon meet and an issue with Henrietta herself - she's been told she can't have children (therefore, no marital relations) due to a congenital hip deformity.  When Simon withdraws his suit because he isn't interested in a wife in name only, Henrietta writes a love letter to herself and signs Simon's name...which of course gets out into public circulation forcing Simon and Henrietta to marry.  This actually makes the story more interesting because there is a brief, in-depth discussion of Regency birth control.  It's pretty accurate and made me wish that Simon had thought of that in the first place.  Meanwhile Esme is besotted with her "gardener", one Sebastian Bonnington in disguise, which leads to some interesting sexy interludes.

Esme finally gets some resolution to her plot in A Wild Pursuit.  She doesn't get the book to herself, though, because the other romantic couple is comprised of Lady Beatrix Lennox and Stephen Fairfax-Lacey, the Earl of Spade.  Unfortunately, I really didn't pay as much attention to the couple (they were just wallpaper).  Esme is still slumming a la DH Lawrence with her naughty gardener, though we are thankfully spared ridiculous sentiments about naming body parts.  The plotlines of the foursome becomes entangled due to everyone's inability to be honest about their feelings and Esme's mommy issues - her mother is dreadful.  I give James a lot of credit for doing something daring by having a very pregnant heroine - who is pregnant for the better part of two books - and is still desired and pleasured by her lover.  I do have to agree with Beatrix on the subject of Helene - if I had a husband who enticed me to elope then ran about installing an appalling number of mistresses in my household I'd stab him with a fork/take to blunt objects, too. Helene is a rather pitiable character but a bit tiresome since this has been a third book with her as a side character and she's made little to no progress with her story.

Finally, we get to Helene's book, Your Wicked Ways.  And Helene finally has it with her husband - she decides she wants a baby so she decides to stop being so very virtuous (since that hasn't got her anywhere) and be very, very wicked indeed.  She wears provocative gowns, dances scandalously, and crops her hair very short in the latest outrageous style.  All this does is catch the eye of her husband, Rees.  The man is having trouble writing an opera (both he and Helene are musicians, which is what drew them together in the first place) so he strikes a deal with Helene: if she will help him with the opera, he'll have "marital relations" with her so she can have children.

This last is the best book in the quartet, in my opinion.  It is the most polished and has the fewest side plots (there's a B-plot romance involving Rees's vicar brother and his most recent mistress/opera singer).  After disliking/not getting Helene's issues in the previous books, it was nice to see her go wild.  I also liked seeing the Earl of Mayne in his pre-Essex sisters days.

Compared to the Desperate Duchesses, the Essex sisters, and the Fairy Tale novels, the Duchess Quartet is very uneven.  I didn't like all the characters and there were too many extra plotlines.  I'd read some of the plots before (Gina and Cam had the same problems as Isidore and Simeon, Helene and Rees/Carola and Tuppy were very like Poppy and Fletcher) so they seems a bit recycled since I'd read them all so close together (but in reverse since I was reading the series newest to oldest).

(I also picked up an e-novella, A Fool Again.  Goodreads lists it as #1.5 in the series but is better off as #2.5 because the hero is Tobias Darby, brother of Simon.  It also connects the Essex sisters because Lucius Felton shows up as one of Genevieve's suitors.)

13 April 2012

Paris in Love

If you've been following my Goodreads stream (if not the blog - sorry, it's catching up slowly) you'll know that I have succumbed to the call of romance novels.  I can read a 250-300 page romance novel in approximately two hours making them ideal for nights when I need to unwind after working a bookstore shift yet can't stay up all night.  Over the course of one week I read all of Eloisa James's Essex Sisters series (four books), the Desperate Duchesses series (six books), one of her Fairy Tales series (I'd already read the first two and the first novella), the second Fairy Tales novella, and the first book in the Duchess Quartet (did I mention that I didn't have to work the buttressing weekends at all?).  No judging.

I have few Eloisa novels left to read for the first time (eReaders make binge shopping/reading too easy) and to tide me over until the newest Fairy Tale novel (The Ugly Duchess, due in August) I picked up Eloisa's new memoir, Paris in Love.  In 2009 she and her Italian fellow-academic husband packed up the children, sold the house and cars, and moved to Paris for a sabbatical year.  This book is a collection of Facebook posts and tweets - little snapshots of words -  interspersed with essays musing on varying themes (French women's style, her mother, enjoying experimenting with cooking, getting the heck out of her small town, &etc).

I was expecting Eloisa to love Paris.  They way she lovingly described the dresses of her Georigan duchesses or their homes or lavish entertainments in her novels I assumed she would describe the food and fashion she would see around her.  I expected thoughts on the many museums and attractions in Paris.   I was expecting some awkward moments of culture clash (there were).  I was not expecting this book to be so funny.

It is completely unforced humor.  It's the way she recounts the relish with which her daughter describes returning the slap in a playground spat or how Anna is completely captivated with the Harry Potter series to the point that the Loire valley castles are the actual embodiment of Hogwarts and environs.  It's how she describes her teenage son Luca's hair one morning - like that of a toilet brush - or that, like any other teenager, he's trying to drive her and her husband nuts (or that they are trying to drive him nuts).  It's how her husband Alessandro (Goodreads has a short video of Eloisa and Alessandro on the Paris in Love page and for two seconds I thought she was married to Jonathan Pryce and I was massively jealous) goes to buy flowers in apology but comes back with none because there were too many to choose from.  He later buys some delectable cheese instead.  It's how she has very little good luck with colorists at hair salons for most of their stay.  It's how her Italian mother-in-law describes her "efforts" to get an extremely obese (and spoiled, let's face it) chihauha to lose weight.  And it's this tidbit on pages 58-59 that had me laughing so hard I almost fell out of my chair:
(Setup: Anna came home in tears and told her parents the math teacher mocked her division and Alessandro has gone to talk to the teacher.  He comes back with a few promises....)  [Anna] will stop chattering in class, stop forgetting to bring her homework, and will forbear from announcing (this is a direct quote) "I didn't learn to divide in my old school; they don't teach that in the States."  'Twas this last that invoked the math teacher's laughter (described by Anna as mockery), but really, one can hardly blame him.
Anna, at age ten/eleven, provides a number of wonderful, humorous moments in the book with a combination of impish glee and precocious intelligence.

In between all this are Eloisa's musings on finding her way again in this life (my phrasing, not hers).  After her mother's death from cancer and her own diagnosis (and subsequent relatively-uncomplicated treatment and recovery - alluded to in the introduction but not described in the book, this is not a cancer memoir), she enters a kind of "gray area" - she doesn't feel like a "survivor" but she also isn't quite the same person either.  The year in Paris, documented by her online posts, is the permission she gives herself to enjoy her life and her family.

I loved it.  And I'm a bit jealous - I'd never have the balls to live in a foreign country (Canada I could do and the UK, because I love all things associated with afternoon tea, but I'd be stretching my limits with anything outside of my terrible traveller's German).  I also couldn't afford it.  Perhaps I ought to have purchased a lottery ticket in the last disgustingly large drawing.

*ETA: I have just figured out that Robert Bly is her dad.  OMG.  I Googled the poem she mentions in the book - "I Have Daughters and I Have Sons" - that was published in the New Yorker during their year in Paris.

11 April 2012


Thanks to the Sourcebook sale back in December, I broke the ice on Austen-esque sequels/updates/retellings.  Now, thanks to the NOOK Daily Find, I've come up with another Austen retelling that I've thinking of reading:  Shannon Hale's Austenland.

Jane Hayes has an obsession with Jane Austen, more specifically with Mr. Darcy of the Colin-Firth-in-a-wet-shirt-variety.  Great-Aunt Carolyn suspects this is why Jane is still single - no mortal man measures up.  When the aunt dies, she leaves Jane a trip to Pembrook Park - an "immersion" vacation specializing in Jane Austen's novels (hence the title, Austenland).  Jane decides to take the trip, to get Mr. Darcy out of her system, and be ready to face the world Austen-free.

Pembrook Park is a bit of a trial - no cell phones, no computers, no electricity, and no hanky-panky (or, at least, none it seems if one is below a certain paying rate).  Jane rediscovers old passions (she used to paint) and makes the acquaintance of a rule-breaking gardener (Martin) and a stiff-necked, proper English gentleman (Mr. Nobley - who reeks of eau de Darcy) providing her with the perfect love triangle.  But who is acting the part and who is real?

This is easily the best Austen adaptation I've read.  Hale uses Austen's themes of propriety, marriage, honesty, and love to explore Jane's dilemma.  Jane's ex-es are taken out and examined, one per chapter, and their offenses detailed.  None are spared, from her kindergarten crush to the recent walk-out of her fiancee.  Buried within the Pride and Prejudice plot and Jane's love of Mr. Darcy is the wish to find a man who might take one for a mere fifty pounds per annum, to paraphrase Lizzy Bennet.  Known in the modern sense as the wish to find a partner who doesn't take you for granted or treat you like crap. Which all of Jane's boyfriends have done - they don't respect her or, in the case of her fiancee, don't treat her very well.

Midnight in Austenland is definitely going in my TBR!

10 April 2012

The Voice: Live Elimination April 10!

It's The Voice!  Four more singers will go home but first Jessie J (wearing an odd combination of a military-inspired romper and a sheer curtain for a skirt) performed "Domino" with an assist (sort-of) from Team Christina.

Team Adam:
  • Mathai
  • Tony Lucca
  • Pip
    • I am really surprised that Katrina didn't get into the top three but she did have to sing first and that is a hard spot to be in.  People can forget your performance with eleven other singers.
Team CeeLo:
  • Juliet Simms
  • Jamar Rogers
  • James Massone
    • I am not surprised to see Juliet and Jamar voted through.  They gave the two best performances of the night (and I voted for them!).  I'm a little surprised the voting went with James not Cheesa - but I did say he appealed to the teenager portion of the public and you know they all voted as many times as possible. 
The Sing-offs!

Team Adam:
  • Kim: She choose "Spotlight".  This is a song that is right in her wheelhouse and she did a great job with it.
  • Karla:  She sang "I Can't Make You Love Me".  It was good - she tried for some dynamic contrasts and it went much better than last night's "Airplanes".  I would have liked to see "Bertha" come out.
  • Katrina:  She went with "Don't Speak".  I am really surprised by her choice because she's never come off with much of a "rock" attitude.  She did a great job - the song let her really belt for one.
    • The non-Adam judges went with Katrina...and so did Adam.  I thought he might go with Kim, might, but Katrina did really put the emotion into her performance.

Team CeeLo:
  • Tony: He picked "Sweet Dreams are Made of This".  Weird.  He sounded better tonight than last night but the posturing is definitely not my favorite thing.  As much as he says he wants to get way from the Broadway thing he always looks like he's acting.
  • Cheesa: She sang "All By Myself".  I don't know what was up with her mike but her aspirants were really loud.  She went for it on the last chorus but her pitch sounded a bit funky to me.  Not quite as good as last night.
  • Erin:  First things first, she looks really cute tonight not like Grace Jones, Jr.  She sang "Your Song" which got a bit overdone with Moulin Rouge.  I still don't like her voice.  Not only is it too squeaky for my taste I think she puts on a lisp.  Gah!
    • Please CeeLo, for the love of God pick Cheesa or Tony.  He went with Cheesa (although it was a little mean for him to go "My head says Tony but my heart says Cheesa...a little mean)

Side notes:
  • Yay, Adam, you listened and unbuttoned your top buttons.  Whew.
  • Also, I agree with Adam - the contestants have to sing from the heart all the time, not just when it can save their bacon.  They have to be hungry.
  • Xtina looked really nice - a good contrast to the "boobs-out" looks she's had recently (oops, she forgot Tony's name).

Just Like Heaven (Smythe-Smith #1)

Reading all those Eloisa James novels brought me to Julia Quinn, who wrote a lot of blurbs for said novels.  I found a strip of Just Like Heaven at the store, started reading it, then bought it because I enjoyed it so much.

Just Like Heaven is the first of the planned Smythe-Smith Quartet.  Lady Honoria Smythe-Smith is getting a bit desperate for a husband.  She's still living at home with her mother - who may be slightly clinically depressed due to her only son Daniel living abroad due to the lasting effects of a duel (he won, if that is any consolation which it's not) - and starting to wish for a household of her own.  The problem is that any time she thinks a gentleman might be coming up to scratch he runs away.

She can thank her brother for that.  Before he left, Daniel asked his best friend Marcus, the Earl of Chatteris, to look after Honoria and make sure any fortune-hunters/rakes-looking-to-take-advantage-of-missing-male-protection leave her alone.  Lonely, only-child Marcus grew up practically as one of the family.  He spent many holidays with the Smythe-Smiths where he and Daniel gave Honoria her unfortunate nickname: Bug (it started out as Mosquito but she thought it was pretty).

So Honoria hatches up a plan: during a house-party, to which several eligible gentlemen are invited including the very-eligible Marcus who lives nearby, she will take a walk, trip and "injure" her ankle in a pre-prepared gopher hole, and require a rescue from any aforementioned gentlemen.  Marcus sees her preparing her hole, waits until she "injures" herself, teases her about it, then gets his own foot caught in the hole which causes him a real injury.  All of this leads to Marcus catching a chill then septicaemia - his valet cut his foot when they cut his boot off, the cut becomes infected then threatens Marcus's life.  Honoria's plan is working very well, don't you think?

I found this to be a very sweet book.  Honoria's reluctance to play in the Smythe-Smith quartet - the infamous, traditional, tone-deaf string quartet comprised of eligible female Smythe-Smith cousins - provided many laughs (the only way out of the performance is marriage or death - whichever comes first).  I loved how Marcus is a quiet man not a rake (and since I've been reading Cynsters and Mackenzies and Boscastles and Desperate Duchesses, I needed the change).

One caveat: weak stomachs may want to skim over the debridement scene - it is decently accurate and icky.

The Voice: First Live Rounds (part deux)

According to Carson, if you're anywhere near electricity you can vote for your favorites.  This week on The Voice, Team Adam and Team CeeLo took the stage.

  • Katrina Parker - singing Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight"
    • Definitely a different take on a Smashing Pumpkins song.  Katrina has a lovely voice.  It sounded a little pitchy at the beginning - the breathy phrases need a more breath support - but she ended on strong notes
  • Cheesa - singing Thelma Houson's "Don't Leave Me This Way"
    • A great song choice for her.  I am much more impressed with her on this song than with both her blind audition and battle round performances.  She sounded much better so props to CeeLo's coaching and her hard work.  (I agree with Blake.  It looked like a Solid Gold performance but that also makes me think of the original performance by Thelma Huston)
  • Tony Lucca - singing Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes"
    • He sounded really, really good in a song that is extremely well known.  That said, I felt he was straining for the higher notes and that might hurt him in the long run.  I'd like to see him do more of a "rock" song than a "pop" song
  • Kim Yarbrough - singing Adele's "Rolling in the Deep"
    • God, this is such a hit or miss song because Adele is so big right now.  The second the intro kicks in you think of Adele.  I liked how Kim gave it a little more of a soul/R&B vibe, used the growls, etc.  The verses were better than the choruses, in my opinion - that first "We should have had it aaaallllllll" was definitely off on the pitch.
  • James Massone - singing Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why"
    • First of all, I have to say I loathe that hairband he wears (the letterjacket is an affectation but it annoys me less than the hairband).  There's enough grease in his hair to start with that he shouldn't need a hairband, too.  About the performance....  He has a very N*SYNC/Backstreet Boys/Justin Bieber (ugh, I can't believe I just wrote that, I am not a "Belieber") vibe so the sweet little melody of the song fit his voice.  His voice is changing (as he admitted) so the higher notes were shaky at times.  (He works the crowd, playing to all the little teeny-boppers so I have a feeling he'll make it through on the strength of the voting)
  • Juliet Simms - singing the Police's "Roxanne"
    • I loved her performance.  Juliet has this great Janis Joplin/Florence Welch vibe.  I love the hard rock edge in her voice.  I would love to see her in the finals - I voted for her and bought the single (and, for someone who never votes in these reality competitions, that is something).
  • Mathai - singing John Legend's "Ordinary People"
    • Ordinarily I don't like the "little girl" voice-types but something in her voice is really interesting.  It was a nice take on the John Legend song.  I thought the jazz club/lounge style fit her very well.
  • Tony Vincent - singing Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World"
    • It was a good performance.  I think I was expecting more "rock" in the performance.  I kept losing him in the lower register ("the world" kept getting lost).  I do have to say that he has an affectation where he tips his back to the right on certain vowels - it's distracting and perhaps ought to be ironed out.  (Congrats to Tony on being a new daddy!  That has to be so tough with all the new baby things to add the pressure of a competition on top.)
  • Karla Davis - singing B.o.B's "Airplanes"
    • I give her a lot of credit for going against her comfort zone with this song.  The first chorus was a little off (nerves) but the next was better.  The "rap" sections weren't awesome but she did spit the words out so they could be understood.
  • Erin Martin - singing The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian"
    • I. Do. Not. Get. Her. At. All.  I know CeeLo thinks she's hot shit but I just don't get it.  She blew the introductory "Walk Like an Egyptian" - the backing vocal was on pitch and she was not.  It's really hard to ignore at that point.  I thought that was a terrible performance as a whole.  It was boring (aside from the dancers, they were hot) and she wasn't engaging at all.  This is a case of a voice affectation I can't stand.  Sorry, CeeLo, I have NOT acquired that particular taste.
  • Pip - singing The Killers' "When You Were Young"
    • The Killers was a good choice for him to go a little more rock.  He has a similar sound to Brandon Flowers, not quite as rough though.  He has a good sound and I agree with Adam - he needs to look less "trustworthy".  If he wants to be more rock'n'roll he needs to get rough around the edges (both vocally and appearance-wise - try not shaving and lose the bow-tie/suspenders).
  • Jamar Rogers - singing Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way"
    • Awesome.  He killed it.  I would also love to see him in the finals - I voted for him, too.  (Poor Blake and his dislike of production numbers)

Side notes:
  • Dear CeeLo: thank you for not wearing that fringed jumpsuit, you look very spiffy in your suit
  • Adam, unbutton your top button.  You are not Forrest Gump (whom, with that hair, you are starting to resemble).
  • Poor Carson.  I also didn't quite know what to do when Blake, who I find to be the nicer judge in general, pretty much dissed Adam's entire team.  Then Adam commented that Blake's jacket was the color of crap.  Petty, dudes.  Petty and not fun to watch.
  • Xtina needs to find another adjective besides "dope".
  • The eyeballs in the backdrop of the staging for Tony Lucca's song were too on the nose and excessively creepy.  CREEPY.
  • As per usual, the band is freaking awesome.

04 April 2012

The Duke's Perfect Wife (Mackenzie #4)

So...having read Ian's book, Mac's book, and Cam's book I was really looking forward to Hart's book, The Duke's Perfect Wife.

Because Hart is a really odd character, as introduced in those books.  He's the duke so that makes him autocratic and dismissive.  He also seems to have zero sense of humor.  He kept a mistress who kept a brothel.  He's rumored to have non-normative sexual proclivities (and in a novel set in 1880s Victorian Great Britain this really piqued my interest).  His first finacee ended their engagement and his wife died giving birth to his son who also died.

Cam's book also introduced us to Lady Eleanor Ramsey, Hart's ex-fiancee and Aisley's good friend.  Eleanor is about as far from a conventional lady whilst still being part of the aristocracy as you can get.  Her father is nearly destitute, an eccentric scholar of biology/botany/archaeology/you-name-it, and she helps prepare his manuscripts.  She has completely withdrawn from whatever society she kept after she threw Hart's ring at him.  She knows all of Hart's secrets - and she starts out the book by appearing in London to ask Hart for a job.

Which is just the cover - someone sent her a photo of Hart.  A nude photo of Hart.  While there is no malice indicated by the sender (no requests for money, no threats), it is odd that someone would take the time to send a nude photo of a prominent politician to his ex-fiancee.  Eleanor is willing to discreetly investigate the source of the photos if Hart employs her.  Which Hart does - but he doesn't want her investigating the photos.  They come from a part of his life that he doesn't want to share with her or anyone.  As the two dance around each other, drawing closer together, political issues threaten Hart's life and, by extension, Eleanor's.

The Duke's Perfect Wife was a fun book.  Ashley gave it a perfect set-up in the last chapter of The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by letting the family wager on the chances of his success with Eleanor.  So the reader - even knowing the marriage plot outcome is a given - also roots for Hart.  Ashley also ups the ante by providing the nude photo plot and plenty of chances for Eleanor to describe Hart sans kilt.  However, the nude photo plot also makes the novel unnecessarily complicated when the Feinian plot comes into play.

I really only had one quibble with the book - it is really, really hard to understand why Eleanor chucked Hart in the first place.  Particularly when Hart mulls over the scene in his mind.  I had to read the section three times then go back and read the section of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie where Hart meets Beth.  Then the pieces started to fall into place - it wasn't that Hart was possessive or controlling but that he cared nothing for the wishes of others. This does partially translate into Hart's sexual tastes but once that secret is revealed I wondered what the big deal was.

According to Ashley's website there are two more planned books in this series - a book for one of Ainsley's brothers (up next) and one for Daniel (please make him grow up a little bit more, thanks).  I'd also like a book, or at least a novella, for Inspector Fellowes and Isabella's sister who got a nice little scene (although their age difference would be the largest of the series - Fellowes is two years older than Hart so nearly 45 while the sister is five years younger than Izzy so approximately 20).

Plothole:  The old, abusive duke whom everyone hates (not only because he was abusive but also because he killed his wife - Ian was the witness) seems to have died two ways.  In Ian's book it's mentioned that the old duke broke his neck falling off his horse.  But in this book Hart's letter to Eleanor reveals that the duke was shot under suspicious circumstances.  So which is it? 

The Voice: Live Elimination April 3!

I had to DVR the live elimination of The Voice (like I did the performances last night).  Although I really wouldn't want to be in the shoes of the "bottom three" from each team, I do love how the coaches are given the opportunity to keep one singer off each team.  One more chance for each artist to stay alive.

Team Blake saves:
  • Erin
  • Jeremiah
  • RaeLynn
    • I am definitely happy that Erin and Jeremiah were voted through.  I'm a bit surprised with RaeLynn, I thought Jordis would be through for sure but they were probably close.  I wish Naia had got through but Erin, Jeremiah, and RaeLynn did have big performances that did stick in the mind more than Naia's lovely, more nuanced song.
Team Christina saves:
  • Jesse
  • Lindsey
  • Chris
    • So, so happy to Jesse and Chris voted through.  I am really surprised that Sera was not part of the top three for Team Xtina.  I thought she sounded a bit more secure than Lindsey.
The sing-offs!

Team Blake
  • Naia:  She chose "If I Were a Boy" which I thought fit her really well.  Her first run through the chorus felt a little shaky (nerves) but she ad-libbed really well.  I don't think it helped when Blake said he wished she did something reggae when he most likely knew she didn't have the opportunity to choose that from the song list.
  • Charlotte:  She chose "Iris".  I think her nerves were getting to her.  The performance felt pitchy and forced (what, no commentary from Blake before commercial?).
  • Jordis:  She chose "Wild Horses" and nailed it.  It was a different choice for her as a rocker but it worked in that moment.
    • Blake did go with Jordis.  I love Naia's style and I hope she sticks with it - she's so talented - so I was sorry to see her go.
Team Christina
  • Ashley:  She chose "Paris, Oooh, lala."  She had the right sound for the song but I was losing a lot of her words.  Rock solid nerves, though, and she came out and had fun.  It showed.
  • Sera:  She chose "Vision of Love" - a good fit for her voice.  She souded really good, nice runs and ad-libs. 
  • Moss:  He chose "Break Even/Falling to Pieces."  He came out and sang.  He did a good job.  He doesn't have the voice to compete with Ashley and Sera - some of the higher pitches just weren't there - but he did a really good job. 
    • Christina kept Ashley.  I was sure she would go with Sera since she had that connection with her at the blind auditions.
Side note:  Christina is making better clothing choices this season.  I would have gone with a different shade for her dress tonight, though, since that orange wasn't lighting well with her tan.

03 April 2012

The Voice: First Live Rounds

The Voice went live this week, giving the voting public the opportunity to cut each team in half - then the bottom six will have to sing for their lives in the hopes that their coach will keep them.

This week the artists from Team Christina and Team Blake took the stage to appeal to the voting public for the first time.  I have my favorites, but it is interesting to see how the newer/younger artists do with "real" staging and the pressure of going up "live."

  • Jermaine Paul - singing Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer"
    • I love his voice and energy.  As an experienced performer and backup singer he already knows how to use the stage and make eye-contact.  The only drawback, for me, was that it felt like he was hiding from the highest notes on the chorus, swallowing them/pulling the mike away instead of really going for it.  Maybe they should have taken the song down a half step if he felt that nervous.
  • Chris Mann - singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
    • I am totally in Chris Mann's corner.  I am classically-trained singer (I don't sing much anymore, just in the shower - great acoustics) and I can tell you from personal experience that it is so hard as a classical singer to get noticed because there are so many of us and so few recording contracts.  Classical singers don't get to fall back on runs or trills to hide bad notes - we hang on to the high ones for life.  Chris is following in Josh Groban's path as a cross-over artist.  I would love it if he won.
  • RaeLynn - singing Maroon5's "Wake Up Call"
    • This brings up an issue I have - age appropriateness of performance types.  I do not believe RaeLynn for a second when she talks about catching another girl in her man's bed.  That said, she was really entertaining with that very country-stomp performance.  She sells it but if she's going to really be a vocal stylist then she needs better diction (as my coach used to say: more words).  The band gets props on this song - very fun.
  • Moses Stone - singing Kanye's "Stronger/Power"
    • I have to agree with Blake - this really is a singing competition.  Moses did really well singing against The Line in "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" but this week he didn't sound solid as a singer.  On the other hand, he is easily as good an MC as all those other guys on the radio and TV.
  • Naia Kete - singing Adele's "Turning Tables"
    • I think I would have liked to see this done with more of a reggae style.  Doing it straight did make me compare her too much to Adele's vocal choices.  She does have really nice styling and I enjoyed the dynamic contrasts.
  • Lindsey Pavao - singing Gotye's "Someone That I Used to Know"
    • I got so excited when Christina chose this song for Lindsey because I like the song and I think it fits her personal style.  I quite don't know what I was expecting but I was waiting for her to just rip it on the chorus.  She's such a shy singer that it works against her a bit but I hope she makes it through - she has so much room to develop.
  • Jordis Unga - singing Heart's "Alone"
    • I loved this choice for Jordis, giving her a chance to belt and scream on the chorus.  She has a great rock voice and I want to see her make it farther in the competition.
  • Sera Hill - singing Drake's "Find Your Love"
    • Sera has a great voice.  She can work the song, work the runs, work the tricks - very smooth.  She definitely has a career as an R&B/soul singer.  Props to the band again: loved the funk vibe.
  • Erin Willett - singing Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City"
    • Erin is another singing that I want to see go far.  She's got a big (big!) voice and I love it.  Like Jordis, she's a bit of a head-case so she just needs to believe.  We believe, Blake believes - she needs to believe because she has it.
  • Ashley de la Rosa - singing Alanis Morissette's "Right Through You"
    • I like Asheley OK.  I don't dislike her and her performance was good.  But next to Erin and Sera and Jordis, she didn't quite get "angry" enough for me.  And this is an Alanis Morissette song - it has to go there.  She get's props for the boots - not everyone up there has to rock the super-high heels.
  • Charlotte Sometimes - singing Paramore's "Misery Business"
    • She started out a bit flat, got back on pitch, then lost it a bit again (PS Adam: pointing out pitch issues is not hypercritical; she needs better breath support in quiet sections).   She has a round sound and I started losing her in the middle of the orchestra (can I just say again how the band for The Voice kills it every song).  She needs to brighten up her sound so she doesn't get lost.
  • Jesse Campbell - singing Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World"
    • This song kills me every time I hear it.  Every time.  Jesse has such an emotional past he can draw on for a song with these words and the gospel feel to the arrangement suited him so well.  He made me tear up.  I would also love it if he won.
Side notes:
  • Dear CeeLo - I love you, and the jumpsuit can stay, but please don't wear that wig.  It looks like one of Elton John's rejects
  • Adam, I love you, please keep being awesome.
  • The coaches need to not be bitchy to one another.  It gets old.

02 April 2012

A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: a mini-review

A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length (a phrase drawn from Ebert's review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) is a really nice collection of Ebert's movie reviews for movies he felt were on the failing side. He and I almost always have the same opinion on movies so I enjoy both his opinion and the seemingly effortless way he writes them. I've read his first two collections of bad movie reviews (I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie and Your Movie Sucks), would love to read the next.

We disagreed on Thor (I had so much fun watching this movie, I bought the Blu-ray+digital copy, but he only gave it 1.5 stars - did we watch the same thing?  In the gamut of movies to hate on, this is not one them) and Your Highness (I hated it so much - thank god I didn't actually pay extra money to see it since I have HBO - I would have given it maybe 0.25 stars only because there are things like Human Centipede that exist to deserve zero stars but Ebert gave Your Highness a full star).

01 April 2012

#Bloggiesta March 2012: Hasta la pasta!

All done!  How did I do with the Bloggiesta this year?

Voila! The "definite TO-DO list":
  1. WRITE. REVIEWS. Lots of them. I have a huge backlog thanks to writing and sick mom (Mom is doing much better - the parents called me from Savannah, GEORGIA, the other week because they took a surprise trip to celebrate the end of radiation treatments - a little warning, parental units, please otherwise I worry unnecessarily).  I wrote four (not as many as I meant to write but I got SO MUCH ELSE DONE).
  2. Back-up the blog (haven't done this in donkey's years). Done and done.
  3. Write post for April Literature by Women book (the moderator skillz are in the toilet, too).  Done and done, too.
  4. Suey has a nice Goodreads widget that counts up her reading challenge there. I like it - must investigate Goodreads site to find the code.  Easy as pie - go to "edit profile" --> "widgets" --> scroll down to the one with the picture of the challenge.  Installed.
  5. Find widget/linkage for my Posterous account so I don't have to cross-post all my pictures, only the ones I really, really want to.  Not only did I create linkage for my Posterous page but MADE AN ENTIRE FOLLOW ME GADGET!!!!  Look left! Some buttons were a snap (Pinterest and Ravelry have goodies pages to make life easy) but the rest was scavenged by looking up source codes in Google Chrome for widgets I admired and studying how those widgets were put together.  I am QUEEN of coding!!  (lol, not)  Also, I followed Blogger Sentrals tutorial on how to add a Pinterest "Pin It" button to the bottom of every post (look down - you have to be in the post so the pins have the correct source code).  Made. Of. Win.
  6. Redesign header picture. I like it but the books seem a bit too one-note (no offense, Prydain and Lloyd Alexander). I have the fancy D-SLR now and a Photoshop Express account so I ought to use it.  Mostly done.  I now must learn to use all the benefits of owning Photoshop CS5.1.
  7. Buy a mouse for my laptop. The touchpad is fine for basic navigation but sometimes my tap-taps just aren't fast enough or the drop and drag gets a bit wacky (PS Express editing is crazy-awful with the touchpad). Mouse will help with that. There were only about, oh, thirty mice to choose from at Best Buy. I wound up going with a Logitech that uses darkfield laser tracking (and is wireless).
The "would like to-dos":
  1. Investigate new Blogger theme. I've had my current template layout since the beginning of The Blog and it is non-customizable. Interpretation: both columns are too narrow and can't accomodate even the Blogger-designed widgets in places. Drawback: I can use basic HTML but I don't know doodle-squat about CSS, etc. I am willing to learn - is there a good book anyone recommends? Not only did I find a really great, thorough, well-designed, easy-to-use book of HTML and CSS...I started dinking around with the Blogger Design Template and re-arranged my blog template to make it more user friendly. And then I started updating the widgets (had two dead widgets, how does that happen?). Not done yet. Haha.
  2. This post on Mashable discusses how to use Pinterest to promote your blog and track your content. I lurve Pinterest. Must investigate.  A little more advanced as far as tracking your pin feed.  I went with the "Pin It" code instead.
  3. Go through the Google Reader and remove the blogs with dead URLs/updated URLs.  I winnowed the blog list while watching Great Expectations.  Side note: Gillian Anderson is fantastic as Miss Havisham.
  4. Check prices on Photoshop (I queried the Oracle of Twitter about Photoshop vs. Elements - only Hannah answered; she was in the affirmative on PS so I will check it out). One of us (me) remembered that I am a staff member at a University and can, therefore, get the academic pricing from the campus bookstore. Considering that I could use any skillz honed in private in photo editing at work (possibly, you never know when designing gown/glove studies) I could definitely use the price break.  Purchased.  There are beneifts to remaining employed with an academic institution.  Definitely a learning curve when using it, though.
Add-on tasks I finished, too:
  1. Sidebar widget clean-up/consdensation.  I moved some old badges and widgets to their own page, cleaned up my Goodreads widgets, removed a search box no one used, fixed my Netflix feeds, migrated some widgets to the bottom of the page, etc.  This allowed me to reduce the number of old posts listed on the page just to fill the space next to my very long sidebar.
  2. I moved the "About Me" section (controlled by Google+) to the bottom of the blog and wrote a new "Welcome" post to introduce myself.
I even joined a few mini-challenges.
This was the second Bloggiesta I participated in since I started the blog and I was really productive.  Thanks to everyone who hosted an event - lots of fun.
Whew!  Have I been productive on the blog this weekend!  If only I could muster this much energy to clean the house or mow the lawn...hahaha.

April at Literature by Women: The Weird Sisters

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Please join me at Literature by Women in April - we are discussing Eleanor Brown's novel The Weird Sisters.  I read the book last year when it was first published and loved it

Incentive: a wee surprise may occur.  Emphasis on "may".  No promises.