Friday, December 31, 2010

This Time, There's No Upside

No new interesting author for you this time folks (is there ever? :)), it's one you've seen before, in a genre you've seen before.  Yay for you and yay for me :) Do I sound cynical? Forgive me, but there wasn't much Tasha Alexander's Dangerous to Know (other than the fact that I recognize the allusion in the title :)) that I hadn't seen before.  Not that I'd complain about that of course, since I have been known to read the same book 10 times over if I like it… so what am I complaining about? Well aren't we rushing ahead of ourselves just a bit? Maybe just a bit :)

So I put Dangerous to Know on reserve a while ago, and it became available at the same time as two other books, all right before I left to Israel, so perfect timing there :) Finished this one on the plane, and responsible girl that I am, writing this on the plane too :) (and now I have an excuse not to reread my previous Tasha Alexander entry to make sure I'm not repeating myself without duly noting it :)) Anyway, as you may recall, I enjoyed Tears of Pearl, her last one, more than I was expecting, so I had some hopes for this one.  She managed to keep the romance fresh by introducing issues with pregnancy and whatnot, and the setting kind of saved the story (if I recall).  So at best, I could hope for both a satisfying Colin/Emily plotline and a fairly decent story (this one set in the Norman countryside, less exotic but still plenty to work with).

And you know, right away I noticed what I have always noticed about this book, that Lady Emily is a bit of a Mary Sue and that these books are written in the "tell, don't say" style - these characters just jump from one dramatic turn a phrase to another hyperbolic outburst and then onto some light fervent outpourings (I had fun with that sentence, could you tell? :)) Never mind that they say things I wouldn't expect to hear coming out of most people's mouths, they say them without any warning, any lead-in.  So yeah, no prize for writing here… but I knew that going in.  

What about Colin and Emily? To be fair, she did try to introduce some decent tension… but omg, not my style.  All about Colin smothering Emily and she not wanting to be smothered… really she is just *way* too into her own independence - again, no change from earlier books, but it doesn't make for compelling romance.  And as for the pathos involved in her continued child-bearing related issues, I have to say I actually found her wallowing annoying.  And if I found it annoying, you know it was pretty extreme, since I'm usually up for a good wallow as long as it gets the main character some sympathy :) But here it was just another contribution to all the drama, drama, drama that pervaded the story.

Which brings to me to what I guess I disliked most about the book, the story.  I mean, of course, it's what I care about the least :), but, come on, I need something to fall back on when there's nothing else there.  But here, I felt like the mystery was simply badly developed.  There were never any hints, never any deductions, just a matter of things happening… okay I guess there was a little investigation, but mostly it was Emily talking to people and getting nowhere.  And to keep up the urgency, instead of going with real plot or decent villainy, there was a lot of drivel (I'm proud of that one was well :)) about ghosts and whatnot.  Make up your mind, is this a gothic horror or victorian whodunnit? (and proud again :)) I mean, in their place, spooky ghosts are fine, but there place is not the sedate Norman countryside in Victorian times, where the author just doesn't have the weaving skills to graft them in seamlessly (and again! :)) Even the ending didn't redeem - I knew what was coming, I pretty much guessed who the bad guy was (or at least I knew he was not as he seemed when we met him, and he seemed good :)) and I have to say I was almost skimming at one point because the ending was just more of the same frenzied palooza (I couldn't think of a good prefix, sorry :)) that occupied the rest of the book.

Verdict: 2/5
Food: Weird ingredients that just don't mesh… can I make something up? I guess that's cheating… but I must have had enough weird foods in my time… but of course I can't think of anything… maybe it's time to give this up… for now anyway

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stop Trying So Hard, It Isn't Really Working

You may recall my waxing slighty rhapsodic on a piece of decent chic lit I read back in Australia (see here) which I enjoyed much more thoroughly than I expected.  Naturally I had to search out the author's other books, only one of which turned out to be available for taking out of the Manhattan library.  So I put Goodbye Jimmy Choos on reserve (not because it's so popular, I was just too lazy to go pick it up from wherever it was) and when I got it out, expected to sit down to at least somewhat of a decent chic lit.   When I got the book, I realized it was one I had seen before and rejected, because it was about two married women rather than my preferred one single starring gal, and because I had read the ending and decided it didn't look like it was worth reading.  But I already had it out so... expectations lowered I picked it up and began, with hope still lingering from my previous foray into the author (Annie Sanders)'s previous work.

Right away, I could see this book wasn't as promising.  I think I described the other one (or could have described it) as light and fast... this one was fast I suppose, but it wasn't light.  Actually what it reminded me of more than anything else was the way I used to play Civilization.  I had no interest in the strategy or the fighting, I just liked the world building.  So I made a cheat world where everyone else died, and then I had all the technology, all the land, and all the food to myself.  So yay :) I just kept building and building... but it got boring pretty fast.  So what's my point? It felt like there were all these little goodies thrown in there for details (things about the children, or about their houses, or little vignettes about their thoughts or their lives or whatever) that were supposed to make the book cozy or fun or whatever, but they just felt kind of fake somehow.  The point is, instead of a well-integrated plot we could follow along, it was just neatly built up fluffiness.  Really it was more of a style thing, it's not that there wasn't plot, but there was just all this other stuff that made me feel like, show it, don't say it.... I really don't think that was clear, but whatever, I know what I'm saying :)

So that was one issue... but as I read on, a few more.... serious... ones cropped up.  Specifically, some very serious plot twists that were *not* what I would have expected from the back cover... or the tag line... or the front cover.  I mean this book was supposed to be about two city girls trying to make it in the country... but it wasn't.  I don't feel like spoiling, but there was serious stuff going on with their relationships.  No chick lit romance here, nu uh.  And as we coasted through that, we moved on to what I suppose was the fun part of the book.  Which was more of what I was talking about above, too much detail, not enough feeling.  I guess that's the best way to say it - there was so much description I felt like there was nothing for me to do.  This is as opposed to what I remember saying, I think about Eva Ibbotson's the Morning Gift, where the absolute minimum was written out and everything was left for me to feel.  Interesting contrast, if I do say so myself.

And that's not even the worst of it... I have to say that as I read further (in this quite long book that took me over two weeks to get through actually, not that it's really a reflection on the book, just on what I spend my time doing :)) I got more and more annoyed by the plot.  First of all, there was this whole issue with their professional image that I felt positively ridiculous - like they were selling and product and no one was going to buy it if they didn't live a certain way? Pu-lease.  And I knew the whole time something was going to blow up in that direction, and guess what, it did - more annoying.  And then there was the whole non-romance between Izzie and Jean Luc... I mean I think it's nice she ended up with Marcus (oops, spoiling here :)) but that was just a complete about face from the beginning of the book.... I wonder if that's because it was written by two authors? Actually that might be the reason... but I don't think that quite accounts for all my issues with this book... which were topped off by an ending that was just like... what? I mean where is that coming from? and where is that coming from? And why did you choose to write this book which basically meanders on to nowhere? Okay not nowhere, but basically you could have cut out about 200 pages in the middle nothing would have changed in these characters' lives - and no the journey made no difference, don't tell me that.  Or at least I saw no evidence of it.  So basically I did not like this book.  I really saw very little to like about it at all.  Oh well again :)

Verdict: 1.5/5 (eeko, I think that's two in a row!)
Food: someone might think it's good, but I don't... tastycake (okay no one thinks it's good, but it's supposed to be good :)) but it's dry and looks waaaaay better than it tastes

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Ending Is Everything

Quite a saga I have to record... a small percentage of my reading material comes from random sampling of the library shelves, whenever I'm in the mood for something slightly different.  So it must have been like in March or April or something I was in Towson library and I picked up this book called Mr. Allbones Ferrets (actually it was maybe more like June, I don't know).  It seemed like a witty type of book, decently written, and the cover claimed it had a love story at the center... so you know, on the appealing side.  But given that it was about a man who collected ferrets, I just never got around to reading it that first time... But it was by a New Zealand author so when I got back I decided to get it out again (plus I'm a bit compulsive about reading books once I've gotten them out) but yet again I didn't read it... and then I got it out *again* when I first went to the library in Manhattan (see this post) and I kept on renewing it and renewing it... and *finally* I started reading it.
I was reading it mostly on the train, as I do these days, and I was finding it surprisingly engrossing.  After the first rather gross chapter, which described ferret-aided poaching activities in great detail, Mr. Allbones turned into a surprisingly likeable man, considering that he was a completely uneducated nineteenth century English villager (right time, right place, wrong class :)) He takes care of his family, he knows what's what, and he's good at what he does, which is basically ferret keeping.  And the other characters too were well formed... I guess I really do like England, because they were somewhat Dickensian stereotypes, I think (can you say pretension? :) (I'm referring to me here, not the author)).  And the story... well it wasn't that much of a story, but it moved along well, and I had great hopes that everything would turn out well for our friend Allbones.
The slightly disturbing feature of the narrative turned out to be the promised love story.  Now it was bad enough that the romance was between Allbones and his employer's daughter, who differ by at least two degrees of class (she being a gentleman's granddaughter, the bourgeois at least intervening between the them) but really that wasn't even as bad as the fact that I can't imagine what he saw her in her.  Actually I don't have to imagine it - it's very clear that he admires her more as a porcelain doll than as anything else.   Or if he appreciates her inner beauty (and there is some of it in her love of nature and desire to educate combined with a certain innocence and a near complete ignorance of class boundaries) we don't hear all too much about it.  Just about her clear skin and flax blonde hair, etc.  And even though Allbones is a poor villager, he's a good poor villager and I don't like him falling for nothing but a pretty face.  It doesn't mesh with what  I think of him, that's all.
But with that said, the book was flowing along well, and I was willing to give it a chance when... I took it out of my bag and forgot to put it back in before I left the house... which means I didn't have it to read on the train... but since it was Friday, I also didn't have it to read over Shabbos, when I most certainly would have finished it.  And I was quite upset actually - mostly because I wanted to finish it, but really, I was enjoying the book and I thought it would ruin it if I stopped in the middle... but there was nothing for it, and I put off finishing it till the next week (which was last week, I've just been lazy about writing a review).  So anyway, I picked up reading it the next week on the train, and it continued along fine, going along to what I hoped would be some amiable conclusion.  There was a little too much gory detail about this or that, which I guess the author feels makes it more villager like or whatever, but that was okay.  The romance continued to be annoying and implausible, and actually got worse as the relationship grew... but okay, I was still going to finish the book and it wasn't hard to get through or anything.
So yeah, they're all on the ship to New Zealand (yay, New Zealand :)) and the book is almost finished when... I don't know, I guess it's a spoiler, and I don't feel like saying it, but trust me it's weird.  Gross and weird.  And pointless.  I mean what a way to end it.  I really didn't see it coming, it was really not necessary, and I don't see what it added... but whatever at least it was at the end of the book, so I didn't have too much more to get through after the bomb was dropped... oh well, it was good while it lasted :)
Verdict: 1.5/5
Food: something utterly disappointing in the end... like with a terrible aftertaste... like mexican food... well not all mexican food but definitely some of the mexican food i've tasted that uses that weird spice... it's like almost going to be good, if different, but then that spice (whatever it is) just ruins it...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Third's Not So Charming This Time

I haven't posted in a while because the last book I finished (on Shabbos, naturally) was yet another Robin Lee Hatcher and I'm just very lazy to review it... I mean, come on, these books are pretty much all the same... This is the third and last of the "Bethlehem Spring" sisters, the first two of which I reviewed previously.  What those two had in common was that they were short, and therefore, mostly to the point and definitely somewhat sweet.  This one was is short as well, but I have to say it had even less substance than the other two.  I don't know if substance is the right word, but what I'm saying was I didn't feel like the romance was justified even in taking up as many pages as it did.  I think it was more the guy than anything else... well the guy and his relationship with the girl.  He's first of all not particularly likeable... he has a temper, he's kind of stupid at times, and he's far from infallible.  And while he likes Daphne from the start, it's mostly about her looks... and it never really goes farther.  I mean I'm okay with, yeah sure she's pretty, but wait... I'm in love with her, but this was more like, yeah she's pretty! she's really pretty! I like her! Actually, the conflict came mostly from his half-engagement to another woman, which was definitely a variation from the typical western Christian romance (at least as far as has come to my attention :)) but even that wasn't angsty so much as annoying.  I guess the best part was when Daphne was sick... man, I'm such a sucker for angst it's funny.  A good death scare... well okay, it might not be my favorite, but given a lack of any other good heart wringing, I'll take a snowy cabin and the Spanish influenza :) All in all, I read it fast, it wasn't torture, but really nothing whatsoever to speak of.

Verdict: 2.8/3
Food: nothing to speak of... like baked chicken often.  I mean broiled is always good (at least the way I make it :)) and baked chicken is sometimes great, but sometimes it's just something to eat... (I wonder how many times I've compared things to chicken... you can see how much chicken I eat :))

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Not As Magical As Someone Clearly Thinks It is

Half the time I read a book that's not pure chic lit, I end up saying something like, but it was fun anyway b/c... or after a while i got caught up in... or she/he did a good job with it... basically, that even though the subject matter isn't my favorite, or even on my radar screen, it was still fun to read, either because the characters were good, or the story moved fast, or it was funny or whatever.  I wish particularly to recall the case of Gail Carriger's Soulless series - I read the first for the romance but the second was good despite the relative lack and the third was... well not great, but I don't think I complained too much.  In contrast to that case, I have here the sequel to Leanna Renee Hieber's The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker.  Now I didn't love the first one either, but if I recall, I said it got better towards the end.  Now part of that was of course the romance, but I think the main story was more compelling that at the beginning as well.  I mean you kind of just expect that - first of all, you just end up caring more, and second of all, the climax tends to be the most exciting / least full of uninteresting side details part of the book. 

So I kind of expected that in this book, at least a little.  I mean, I knew I couldn't expect much romance, because that story was already over, but I kind of thought there was a reason to read this book.  Like, did I care about these characters at all? Did I want to know what would happen to them, especially given that the story was pretty unresolved at the end of the first book? I mean, I'm pretty sure the answer was yes.  But... wow, that book did not live up to expectations, in that case.  I mean, from the beginning, the romance was *soooo* over.  Alexi and Percy were like impossibly syrupy and *melodramatic*.  Like so melodramatic I'm sorry I ever call anything else melodramatic.  This stuff was *over the top*.  Omg, I love you, I'll never leave you or hurt you, don't ever leave me, we'll be together, our love is the stuff of legend, blah blah blah.  And Percy is so wonderful, so sweet, so lovely... I just don't buy it.  She seems at turns ridiculously timid and silly, at others this all powerful loving saint... but never overly likeable.  And as for the plot... well I complained I couldn't really make heads or tails of this fantasy world in the first book, and the sea of confusion continues in this one.  I feel like it's just all over the place with spiritual mythology and mysterious powers leaking every which way, with no real discernable system.  I know I make fun of world-building, but there's something to be said for a fantasy world that respects some methodical system, instead of one that changes its rules to fit its conveniences.  Ghosts can't make things move... oh look, he moved that! Darkness is a god... no darkness is a power... no darkness is dead? I don't know, and I don't care.  It's frankly very silly, and a not very interesting amalgam of Greek and Catholic religious gobbledygook with some random magic thrown in.  Not really much of a redeeming feature anywhere... not even the Victorian English setting had any appeal, as it was really only the setting in name only.  The people don't act English, and the place they live in bears little resemblance to mid 1800's London, as I can tell from my expert knowledge of the place :) I really must say, I was pretty much waiting for this book to be over as soon as I started, and I never really got over my impatience.  
Verdict: 1.5/5 (I suppose there are worse books than this one... at least it's by a girl :)) 
Food: utterly, thoroughly disappointing - cook definitely trying too hard... like that nougat I once made... just... don't ask

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Spoiler Alert...

I'm not a huge fan of mysteries for their own sakes (as you probably know :)) so I'm not a voracious reader of Agatha Christie.  I mean, I read the Poirots when I was younger, and a few others, but despite the fact they do take place on my favorite island :), I've never made an effort to get through every single one (or even most of them.)  That being said, there are a few that I have read multiple times and thoroughly enjoy, those being of course, Why Didn't They Ask Evans and Tommy and Tupence's first story, The Secret Adversary.  Even if you've never read a single Agatha Christie (which I know you all have :)) I'm sure you can guess why these two lucky books have gained my favor... yes, it's the romance :) I mean, not like romance is the central focus in the book, but it certainly adds plenty of incentive (especially Why Didn't They Ask Evans, which features the daughter of a peer (maybe an Earl? side note, though, now that I think about it, not exactly enamored of an earl's daughter marrying the vicar's son... Georgette Heyer, you have made a snob of me :))) Oh and there's also The Man in the Brown Suit, which was excellent, but somewhat ruined by *s/1* telling me she gets together with the wrong guy, causing me to root for the guy I didn't want her to get together with... who she didn't, because of course *my* romantic instinct was not at fault and she in fact got together with the right guy!... whatever, I know that was hard to follow, and has not much to do with the current point... which is that Batya told me that besides these three, there was one more I'd find romantic - They Came to Baghdad.  Now obviously, I took that with a grain of salt, #1 because you can't really ever trust a/1's else's ideas of romance, #2, because she made this recommendation years ago, and she's probably got smarter about it since she read this books some time in high school, I presume, and #3 (most importantly) Agatha Christie just isn't about the romance, so no matter what, it's not going to be *that* amazing.  But with all that said, I still wanted to read it and actually have had it in mind to read for years. But it was never at my branch of the library... but now that I'm basically just reserving books and having them sent over to Muhlenberg for pickup Tuesday or Thursday, I just put it on the list... so I finally had a chance to read it.  Whew, that was a longer intro than I had planned :)

So anyway, I read this book mostly on the train - +1 for public transportation :) - so that alone says something.  It was definitely compelling enough to hold my attention.  Which isn't really surprisingly, as we are talking about Agatha Christie here.  Isn't she like the #1 best selling author ever or something like that? And again, we do get all those delightful English sensibilities that make the book such familiar and welcoming territory.   Do I *really* care about the mystery? Certainly not overly much, but it was a spy story, which I always care more about than the generic murder mystery types... spies are just so *cool* :) And while I found the main character, Victoria, to be frankly annoying at the beginning, she grew on my quickly enough - and I found her to be as delightfully charming as she is meant to be, rather than a fairly silly creature who doesn't get along at all well in the world. And the romance? Well I  wasn't expecting anything much... and I have to say, I pretty much got what I expected.  There was no romance at all for 3/4 of the book (and by that I mean the couple doesn't even meet until that point) and even from then, there's very little interaction, as most of the book's action is happening then as well.  But I must say, their story was a *very* cute one - bachelor archaeologist and English gentleman, wise and fairly uninterested in women, meets utterly frivolous but very pretty and surprisingly resourceful English girl... it works, ya know? :)

Actually, what I found most interest about the book was how affected I was by the back cover.  I mean, this is a mystery, you wouldn't think they would give anything away.  But they state that Victoria follows Edward to Baghdad, where she immediately witnesses the death of a secret agent and is kidnapped by her rival.  Now that being said, when do you think all this would take place? Within the first few chapters, right? Well actually, the secret agent's murder is about 1/3 of the way through, and the kidnapping over half way! Which means that 1) even though I found the secret agent awesome, I knew he was going to die, which kind of killed some of the tension and depressed me at the same time.  2) I was on alert for the rival girl and knew her for an evil one the second we were introduced.  and 3) (most importantly) I was pretty darn sure Edward was a shady character (not that  I wouldn't have known that anyway, I'm pretty sure).  Anyway, suffice it to say, that for a mystery, there was not *tons* of suspense here.  Not that I'm really complaining, since I don't really care much for mysteries/guessing games anyway :) And there were a few (really one big one) surprises left at the end... in good Christie (at least I assume good Christie :)) style. I just thought that whole back cover was more than a little irresponsible...

But basically, the book was fun - good writing, good plot, good characters, good reading... not too taxing, not too compelling either, but good stuff :)

Verdict: 3/5
Food: good stuff... I'd say potato chips, but I think I've compared something else to potato chips, so let's just go with corn chips... but I like corn chips too much... back to potato chips - this is just a very potato chippy book (not pringles, potato chips :))

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Inconsistency - Sometimes Necessary For Likeability

If you pay attention to my posts at all (and I know you do :)), you'll know that Lauren Willig is, if not one of my favorite authors (which I think she is in any case), definitely my #1 most followed, by virtue of her often-updated website, which frequently features contests in which free books are raffled off.  Anyway, I always know exactly when her next book is coming out, which is usually in January.  But this year, she published what was supposed to be kind of a mini-novel, Christmas special kind of thing.  As it turned out, it seems almost like a full-blown book (over 300 pages, and clocking in as #7 instead of as #6.5 or some such thing).  Anyway, since it is only a mini member of the series, I expected less of it than usual, especially given that it's about Turnip.

Turnip is kind of the idiot of the series - Percy Blakeney, if Percy Blakeney wasn't the Scarlet Pimpernel :) But since it was the considered opinion of the commenters on the blog that he couldn't possibly be as dull as he seemed, Lauren Willig decided to give him his story too.  But actually, he is pretty much a slow guy - but with all that, he's nice.  And not only nice, but handsome and rich.  So a worthy hero in that sense :) But I have to say, I couldn't really see how she could write a successful romance with a hero who seemed incapable of real feeling.  I mean, whence the angst, whence the tension, whence the exquisitely subtle dance of courtship? :) I just couldn't see Turnip performing any such thing convincingly.  I think that's the reason I wasn't quite as excited about this one as usual... but certainly I sat down and read it as soon as I got ahold of it.

And to some extent I was right.  It was not really possible for the Turnip of the other books to feature as a complete romantic leading man.  I mean, I could certainly see what Arabella, no dummy, saw in him, that was fine - he is definitely a solid gentleman, well worthy of regard.  And he's slow and unobservant, but not stubbornly unenlightenable or anything.  But in order to pull off the romance, Ms. Willig (I hate using that, but Lauren seems too familiar :)) basically changes up Turnip's character.  At times, he's the same bumbling oaf he has always been, but whenever he needs to be, he comes through as plenty wise.  This is even true when the book switches to his point of view.  There's really very little hint of the bewilderment with which he seems to view the world when we see his actions from anyone's vantage point.  That being said, the romance is pretty gol darn decent, so who cares if Turnip needed a little tweaking to get him into shape? :) There's less of a spy plot than usual, which is just dandy, so we get to spend a little more time with the main characters and their all important developing story instead.  And yes, it's perhaps a little less developed than usual, but remember this is the mini version.  Lighter and shorter than usual.

So I'm not complaining, it was thoroughly enjoyable, if not from the start, than from very early on.  I wouldn't even criticize the Turnip turnaround at all if it were not for another author's perfect handling of a similar case... do you know who I mean? (okay, I know you don't :)) In Cotillion, everyone pretty much thinks Freddy Standen is an idiot, totally incapable of powerful thought.  By the time he and Kitty make their final bows, we know that while his intelligence may not be obvious at first, or pointedly clever, he has very well capable of taking control and steering things right.  Could Turnip have been another Freddy? Well of course, we don't want Turnip to be that smart.  But since he comes off as rather smarter than he's supposed to anyway, we might as well have gotten another Freddy out of him.  I guess this way he can continue as comic relief for  the next six books :), so it's all working out for the best :)

Verdict: 4.5/5
Food: a slightly less decadent version of a favorite... perhaps mendelsohn's pizza - it's good, definitely a treat, but store-bought is obviously better, if a little more effort to obtain

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's Always Nice To Get A Different Point of View ;)

A nice guessing game for you - I've mentioned the book I'm about to review on this blog before... too hard? I reviewed I think two previous books by this author... still don't know it? Here's the previous post.  So I didn't even have so much to say for that one - basically it was good because it was short.  I guess i have a little more to say about this, which is the first in the series - A Vote of Confidence.  Well a little more anyway...

So first of all, this one was fairly short as well, which was again a plus.  The romance builds up fairly steadily, not even much conflict, so you kind of wonder, where's it going to go? But the truth is, it doesn't really have to go anywhere at all because it basically takes almost the entire book for them to get together.  And that's despite the fact that there were no real obstacles.  I mean the couple are opposing candidates for mayor, but nobody cares much about that... and that popular figure of western christian romances everywhere, the reluctant male, isn't really in evidence.  If anything, Gwen is the more reluctant of the two to commit, but it never means very much when it's the woman who doesn't want to get married-  everyone knows women are fickle ;) So what was going on besides this fairly tame romance? You know how I always say with Christian romance, there never is much going on... not really the case here, I must say.  There was the election and besides that there was bad blood between Morgan (guy) and the county commissioner.  So yeah, all that took up space too - a lot of space, I was thinking as I read through it, slightly bored.  But now that I think about it, nothing there got too involved either.  Morgan basically withdrew from the election by about half way through the book, and Harrison Carter (commissioner) never really got anywhere with his dastardly schemes (sorry for spoiling).  

So nothing at all happened in this book? Is that what I'm saying? It didn't really feel like that when I was reading though... it had the blah blah parts about faith, self confidence, family and all that.  It had some pretty decent romance, with a hefty portion from Morgan's POV... oh *that's* what filled the book up! Everything happened from two perspectives.  How funny, that's really what it was.  Okay, well I'm not complaining - all I ever want is more from the guy's POV anyway :) And I never complain about lack of tension/danger/trouble. And like I said, yeah it was short.  Ended none too soon, as I lost patience the second Morgan proposed and Gwen accepted.  But it was lots of fun up till that point :)

Verdict: 2.99/5 (I can't give it a 3, it's an fairly mediocre book that I didn't really love and there are too many threes on here that I just liked better, but it's certainly not really in the 2 range)
Food: utterly ordinary, but mildly pleasing with all that... rold gold thin pretzel shaped pretzels - they're good (and right now they'd be such a treasure i'd like swoon) but really they're not the hugest treat in the universe...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Enthusiasms Taken Way Too Far

Guess what? An author you probably haven't heard of... and there's a fairly good reason I'd say.  Anthony Capella, author of, amongst others, The Food of Love, at best fills a niche for travel/gourmet novels, which as far as I know, is a fairly empty one.  The concept is pretty great, I admit, at least from my perspective.  You know how much I love travel books, or really books that take place in different countries that make my list of interesting ones (yes, that's Western Europe, if you're wondering :)), and it should be fairly obvious how much I love food :) So a book about Italy, and really about Italian food? Sure, why not? Actually though, when I read my first of Anthony Capella's books, The Wedding Officer, I had no idea it would be so food-centric (it is rather less than this one, his first).  I got it out because it looked romantic... and to some extent, it was that too.  But Anthony Capella, being a man, doesn't write chic lit, or even what I consider good romance.  I mean there's drama and great love involved, but not necessarily that angst, frustration, and ultimate reconciliation that comes standard in my favorite fare :) So the point is, I'm not even going to evaluate this book based on its romantic possibilities... I'm going to do it on its own terms.

Well not quite its own terms I guess... that would be merely a question of does it succeed upon the travel and gourmet fronts? Let me first answer that.  Travel - I'd say you get a good feel for what he think Rome is like, or wants it to be like (and he has some experience, as he's spent time there)... and it's a very Italian place, as I would expect.  And since Italians at their most Italian are a group about which I thoroughly enjoy reading - super confident, fairly capable, completely unfazed by everything displays of emotions and insurmountable obstacles - I'd say it was a definite plus for the book.  Food-wise... well #1, I had no idea of what half the foods he talked about were, since they were mostly Italian specialties, and #2, he makes this huge deal about the subtleties of this or that flavor and the importance of this or that ingredient, which I don't quite buy into.   With that said, if there's one enthusiasm with which I sympathize, it's food.  So it takes a while before the deeply detailed descriptions of every part of the meal you can think of get old.  They do get old eventually though, so I'm not sure if the culinary description is a redeeming feature. 

So from what exactly does this book need redeeming? Am I allowed to complain about the romance? :) Yes, because I'm not complaining about the lack of my idea of romance per se... that's fine, not every book has to be written to be good chic lit, and I certainly wouldn't expect this one to be.  It's much that even what the book does purport to be, a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac tale according to the jacket flap, it... well I don't know if it fails utterly, but it certainly falls short.  Here's the main complaint: Bruno is madly in love with Laura who's in love with his best friend Tomaso, so he cooks all these amazing dishes for her and comes up with more and more spectacular food as he's inspired by her... but meanwhile, it's all a tragedy because she thinks it's his best friend who's really a total nobody and he's just sitting there nobly pining away... but guess what? THAT GIRL JUST AIN'T WORTH IT.  She's pretty, artsy, and appreciates food - but she has *zero* personality.  She's boring and stupid and totally unworthy of inspiring great love.  In the middle of the book, another girl (some Italian name I can't remember) is introduced as a foil, and I was like, yeah, pick her, she's cool! But of course, no, he has to go back to Laura.  The whole thing, which tries for big drama, comes of more as a farce.

Now here's the second issue.  To some extent I think, the book is meant as a farce.  And as a farce, I could have enjoyed it a whole lot more.  But unfortunately, it just takes itself *way* too seriously.  I don't know if you remember, or if I actually ever even posted this (pretty sure I did), while I love The Morning Gift, the most annoying part of the book was the almost religious significance it bestowed on music.  I mean I like music *a lot*, but it doesn't like move my world or anything.  I felt like this book did the exact same thing with food.  It's just not that earth-shattering, ya know? It's good, there's a lot to do with it, but in the end of the day, it doesn't express anything more than the obvious.  And I know that's kind of funny, coming from me who compares e/t to food... but you know I'm not actually serious, right? :) Whereas this book seems all too serious about it... and turns what could be a light and fun Italian festo (looked that up :)) into a melodramatic and rather lurid tale of appetites. (man I think I outdid myself there with subtle punning :))

Verdict: 2/5
Food: Gosh I feel silly doing this... a food that takes itself too seriously? There are a lot of those, but I don't tend to eat them :) Let's just say any chicken dish with exotic ingredients... unnecessary, don't add much, and if the chicken isn't cooked right, it's still not good

Friday, November 12, 2010

Remembrance of Things Past... *

Lots of preliminary remarks, and I'm going to make them all, in order from least relevant to most:
1) I didn't even finish a book this Friday night or Shabbos! Was too busy hangin' out with ma girls - we had fun :)
2) I finished the book today on the A train *up* to Washington Heights, so that I had nothing to read down from Washington Heights *or* on the E train home... what a waste!
3) Since starting this blog (in *April*) I have reviewed
    a) La's Orchestra Saves the World, stand-alone
    b) The  Double Comfort Safari Club (I think that's what it's called), #10 in #1  Ladies Detective Agency
    c) The Dog Who Came in From the Cold, Corduroy Mansions
    d) The Importance of Being Seven, 44 Scotland Street
All by Alexander McCall Smith - I mean this guy does not stop! But of course, there's one more series from which he just keeps popping 'em out - The Isabel Dalhousie books.  So this latest is #7, The Charming Quirks of Others.   Unlike a lot of the other series, this one isn't read by the majority of my family readers.  But I always liked them...

I think Sarah Sp's main objection at least was the Jamie/Isabel older woman/younger guy thing.  Whereas I can get over that very quickly, and the romance was great, at least in the first few.  Other objections might have been more substantial - of all AMS's books, these have the most random digressions and author's thoughts disguised as characters'... the saving grace for me has been that I tend to agree with Isabel.  She's a very refined and British person :) But she's definitely on the snobby side an definitely a little boring.  So I totally get why other people don't enjoy this series.

But I always enjoyed it.  Like I said, there was good romance going on, it's about an upper class lady in Edinburgh, to whom nothing much, at least nothing bad ever seems to happen... and even when something does happen, it's so discreet you don't notice :)  So it's got all the advantages I detailed in my first ever AMS review :) (which I happened to have looked back on a few days ago) which is nice easy writing, very little tension... and sensibilities I either don't object to or actually symphathize with (I'm sorry for all the dangling prepositions, don't know why I'm noticing them/using them so much today).  Anyway, the point is, I've pretty much always enjoyed these books.... but my enjoyment has lessened in the last few, because they are really pretty much all the same... well Isabel has a son now, Charlie, which makes her a little more approachable than before, but I'm not sure how much of a difference that really makes.  But they just mostly ramble on, and nothing Isabel/AMS thinks sounds particularly new original.

So that's fine... I still read them, because I still care about Isabel, they're still easy reading, and once I start something, I don't stop lightly (witness this blog :) - no not really I love my blog :)) But anyway, the downward curve of enjoyability (how mathematical :)) has continued with this one.  The book is a series of little incidents, as usual... but this time, the little incidents seem rather less probable normal.  Isabel has this thing about her intuition, which is of course usually right... and I'm reminded of Shaya Sp's comment on Sherlock Holmes's brilliance - of course he makes impossible deductions, he's fictional! I mean a great guess should not make you roll your eyes! Isabel is just like, oh, he killed someone.. and she's right! well la di dah.  And even if AMS does acknowledge this with Jamie's skepticism with Isabel's "gut", in the end he goes right along with it by proving her right at basically every turn.  Anyway, that's a bit of a tangent, not even what I meant to talk about.  What I wanted to say was the I found her observations, etc. to be more either more esoteric, or totally obvious, or flat out wrong than usual.  I'm like, I know you're a philosopher, and you're not a bad person, but the truth is, y'aint saying anything I'm interested in (and that's besides the now seemingly obligatory references to certain rights...) Either I'm getting less patient, or there's less to distract me from all the rather silly wandering-offs in the middle of the book...

Of course, as always (or as typical), the book kind of gains a footing towards the end.  Everything is resolved, and fairly satisfactorily, as well as in somewhat unexpected ways.  I'd say I got through the last few chapters a little more easily.. but I can't read or review a book on the last few chapters.. (well I can, but I don't want to :)) So anyway, I didn't love the book... but oh well, I wasn't really expecting to, and for better or worse, I'm not stopping now :)

Verdict: 2.75/5
Food: disappointing, especially after what came before... yesterday I had a chicken salad from Abigail's for lunch (thank you, google :)) and then for supper a steak salad from some place in KGH (thank you, yael m. for picking it up for me :)) which cost $15! and was *not* particularly good... I think my daily restaurant lunches may be spoiling me... or maybe not... I mean a steak salad doesn't need *that* much for me to like it, but whatever it does need, that one didn't really have it...

* Like the title? It's a little vague, maybe not entirely appropriate for this post, but I couldn't resist showing off my vast trivial knowledge with reference to an actual philosophical novel :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More of the Same, But It's Good Same

When Huvi read Katherine Center's Get Lucky, she said, "her books are all the same."  True enough, so why bother reviewing?  Well I do have a standard policy of reviewing (at least to some extent) every book I read, and besides, I don't quite remember what I wrote about her other one I read... so here goes.  Interestingly enough, not only are her books all the same, I read them in exactly the same way.  I picked them up at night (this one Friday night) and read them in one sitting.  So that's a point in their favor right there.  I mentioned that they're short, which certainly helps in making them quick reads, but much more than that, they're engaging.  They move fast, flying through the characters' lives at high speed.  Stuff happens along the way, but there's no time to dwell on any one thing for long...

The main "stuff happening" in this one is a pregnancy.  Not just a pregnancy, but Sarah's surrogacy for her sister Maddie.  So that alone sets it apart from Everyone is Beautiful, which is about the most pedestrian of topics... motherhood and marriage.  At first, I was afraid this book was going down the road of career vs. life but the surrogacy thing was a welcome turn along the way (that wasn't even an intentional pun at first :)) But like she introduces it as this dramatic, life changing event... which actually (spoiling here), it isn't.  And that's the case with a lot of her dramatic pronouncements... which is what huvi meant by all her books are the same.  She has this weird foreshadowing thing where she talks about what's going to happen before it does - and the weirdest thing is that when it does happen, it's never as big a deal! So it's annoying, but I have to say considerably less annoying than if everything did turn into the big disasters she says they will.  Like Sarah's life changes throughout her pregnancy, but it has very little to do with the pregnancy itself.  It has to do with getting a new job, meeting an old/new guy, and (and this is the closest it gets to the pregnancy) her distancing from Maddie, which in the end is caused more by motherhood than anything else. 

So anyway, that's the way her writing is annoying, and yes, the same in every book.  But like I said, I read this book in one sitting.. and I wasn't forcing myself to stay awake.  Because she's a good writer, quite a good writer.  And since everything happens so fast, there's very little tension (I said this in the last book review).  And despite Aliza's assertion that the other one was the most romantic, I found this one far more romantic.  There was great potential - a Persuasion-esque high school bf story - but it wasn't perfectly executed. I get the feeling she's not interested in really milking it for what it's worth.  Even the end moment (which I can't recall at the moment) is kind of anti-climatic - like, oh I know you love me, let's get together - no angst at all!

So basically my point is... well it's a good book, even though it maybe shouldn't be.  Because the characters are likeable and the story is good too.  And if all her books are the same, who cares, because I like them :) and last I check, I can read *the same* book 20 times over if I like it... so a different plot is more than enough to keep me interested :)

Verdict: 3/5
Food: more of the same, it's still good... the asian chicken salad I ate last friday was basically the same as a teriyaki chicken salad, but with peanut dressing, but who's complaining? :)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Setting, Characters... Who Needs Plot? :)

Funny-ish story - on Friday, I got out my book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, to read as usual on the train on the way to work, and I flipped through it looking for my place... and after a while I realized that, I had in fact, finished it the night before! oops :) This makes this the first book I have finished during the week, with the help of the daily commute and some nightly reading.  I had a lot of help though, having read the first half of the book when I got it out from the library over Succos... but anyway, to begin at the beginning, this is actually a recommendation of Jen T's.  I'm not quite sure why she though I would enjoy it - I think mainly because it's English - but she liked it so she handed it on.  Sarah Sp.  pointed it out to me too, so it certainly came with solid backing :)

Now against recommendations, we have a mystery written by a man, about a twelve year old girl.  So we're talking a lot of tension and no romance.  So why? Well if you recall, if there's one male writer archetype I actually enjoy, it's British comedian authors.  And while this book isn't strictly comedy, it certainly maintains a lightness throughout characteristic of both male Brits and twelve-year-old female prodigies.  I'm using a lot of big words here, but what I'm saying is, I liked the book.  There were two things I found appealing.  The first was the more obvious one - Flavia, the main character, is just the type of spunky, independent, and unique child to make for a good narrator.  I like her because she's smart and doesn't let anything bother her.  She just barrels right along and solves the case.  If there's an issue, it's that there's some slight inconsistency about her ultimate decency.  I mean she's not supposed to be a bad person, for sure not.  But at times, she seems like she really needs to grow up, and at times, she seems like a misunderstood and slightly naive child.  Of the two, I think I prefer the second, even if it makes her more vulnerable.  Little terrors don't appeal to me.

The real reason I liked the book was the setting.  The book is a mystery and has a pretty typical mystery setting - 1950's English countryside.  And this is where you go, oh.  That's why Rochel liked it :) Because it may not be Regency, but it's amazing how much I like reading about England, and mostly about the English upper class.  Maybe it's just that I've read so much about them, I found their attitudes especially sympathetic.  Maybe it just harks back enough to my favorite time period... Oh, I don't know why I'm rhapsodizing, England in the 50's, (or at least according to this book) still had its old dignity and ordered way of life that makes me love Regency so much (other than the for the romance of course :)) Maybe I should read more of these... but the truth is, this book is more of history than a mystery - I mean we find out whodunit, but a lot of the book is concerned with the minutiae of Flavia's life, and of course of her relationship with her family.  And until almost the end, the tension of a murderer on the loose is pretty much kept on the d.l., which is fine with me :)

I guess if I have a complaint, I didn't really like the ending so much, at least how it was handled.  I mean, the villain was fine and everything, but it wasn't such a surprise.  It was kind of blown up a little too much - forced drama.  But whatever, that's not why I was reading the book anyway... and everything I cared about was present and accounted for :)

Verdict: 3.75/5
Food: thoroughly delightful, if not my usual... for some reason, tacos just came into my head (was thinking of going to Carlos and Gabby's today) so let's just go with tacos... I mean, corn isn't bread, and some of the flavors are a little hot, but altogether a pretty good mix (I talk as if I've ever eaten a taco, when the closest I've come is an Ortega shell with meatballs, but whatever :))

Everyone Has An Off Day...

I was all excited about my new reading time on the subway, and how I was going to finish so many more books but here I am posting on Sunday again... Well the truth is, I did read most of the third of Gail Carriger's series, Blameless, on the train/at night before I went to sleep, but then I only read a very little bit on Shabbos.   So basically, I'm still holding at one book a week, which I suppose is status quo, but not nearly up to my library book taking out rate - oh well :) At least at nypl, you can renew books up to 10 times, supposedly.
So anyway, like I said, this is the 3rd in the series - and the other 2 are actually reviewed here as well! My little blog is getting so old... :) If you recall, (and I know you do :)) I had actually read a review of this one after  I finished the second, and it was rather unenthusiastic about this one.  So I wasn't completely excited to read it, even though there was the whole mess between Alexia and Lord Maccon to allow for some potential romance :) And of course, it makes the review a lot more boring if someone else wrote it already... so boring that I started this last Sunday and here I am *next* motzei shabbos posting... and with two more in the wings, don't expect me to take too much time with this one :)
Anyway,  what can I say? It definitely wasn't great... I suppose the style was the same as the first two, but somehow, it wasn't pulled off as well as in the second one at least.  I mostly found Alexia to be kind of pushy, yet without confidence.  She doesn't really shine for the most part... I mean if anyone does, Madame Lefoux comes off nicely enough, but even she has lost some of her suavity.  Lord Akeldama was totally absent, Lord Maccon was drunk, Professor Lyall... well he was doing pretty well actually, as was Floot.  Whatever, some of the characters weren't in top form, but that isn't really my main complaint.  My main complaint was that there was all together too much drama and not enough fluff in this installment.  It goes from chase to chase, danger to danger, with ne'er a bit of fun thrown in (well not much anyway).  And who reads these books for the action? I know I'm not the only one who could do very well with no action whatsoever... or not more than is strictly necessary for the plot... but here, even the humor was mostly pratfalls... and I hate physical comedy.  Sigh... this book just wasn't that much fun.

And that was before it got to the ending... well not the very ending, which was more just an opening to the next book (which may be very good, I'm certainly holding out hope). The almost ending in which... well I suppose I won't tell you, but I"m referring to what happens to Biffy, if you've read the book.  I mean, why? why? we did *not* need more pathos! A perfectly fun relationship and lighthearted secondary character gone... and for what? I guess we'll see in the next book, but I don't think it'll be worth it.  So that was annoying.  But I probably could have stomached it if the rest of the book was better.  Oh well.  I'm going to read the next one anyway.... and it might be better, because there's enough real plot available that we may be able to do without the manufactured drama of this one :)

Oh and I totally forgot to mention the romance! Well the pathos of Lord Maccon's regret at his mistake was definitely the best part of the book.  But 1) it was a little too pathetic, even by my standards and 2) it was over half way through... so not a completely redeeming factor

Verdict: 2.5/5
Food: Not as good as the original... like cherry vanilla dr. pepper - we did *not* need that addition

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Who Cares What You Throw In There When You Mix it So Well?

A few months ago, Austenprose did a review of Allegra Goodman's latest, The Cookbook Collector.  She got rave reviews, as she is apparently "the modern day Jane Austen", which seems to mean that she's a good writer whose genre is somewhat social commentary.  Now I'd never heard of her before, but apparently I'm the last one - Chava R. says she loves her books, which I didn't find suprising, but Sarah S. laughed at me when I asked if she had heard of her, and said that she, Yaffa, and Malka all hadn't liked this book as much as the others.  So with that said, I will of course be reading the rest of them... but first let me talk about this one. 

It was naturally with some trepidation that I even took out this book, because whatever the modern Jane Austen is, she isn't the writer of light and funny romance where everyone is either totally likeable or not meant to be liked.  There's seriousness, there's complications, there's weighty issues... in short, this ain't chic lit.  And much as I keep proving to myself that good writing matters, I just don't like reading books for the writing.  But, you know, I don't think an author would ever be compared to Jane Austen without having happy endings, and Laurel Ann (austenprose proprietor) really raved about her, so I thought it was worth trying.  And you know what, it was.  Right off, I just wanted to keep reading.  Despite the fact that there were a lot of not such likeable characters and tension out the wazoo, she somehow managed to write a book that was fun to read.  Fun enough that I read half of it on the subway, even when standing! (and almost missed my stop a few times :)) (sidebar, I think that's the biggest advantage to public transportation - time to read!) So as far as the writing goes, this is a case where good writing is everything.  But it's not good writing in the sense that the prose is magical or amazingly descriptive - it's more like the pace is just perfect, there's exactly the right amount of detail to captivate without getting boring, and the plot has enough small twists to be riveting without being improbable.  And I really liked that almost every character gets a voice at at least some point - which can lead to some unexpected sympathy with some rather unlikeable characters.

So that was the good part.  And it was good, definitely good.  But there was *plenty* to complain about.  Let's just start with the tension, which I mentioned already.  This book is like the poster child for dramatic irony.  It's about computer firms in the late nineties, early oughts, forming IPOs... yes we all know where that went- but they didn't. (side note - it was funny reading about the heady optimism of software companies at the same time I'm starting at Google... but of course, there's not really such a comparison - I hope :)) So of course, the whole time I'm reading it, I know that all that money is going to go down the toilet and everything is going to be a distaster... so it's like, what's the point of even caring? But you know what, I cared anyway (read the paragraph above :)) and as it turned out, it wasn't even a big deal.  Both companies survived the crash at least, and no one ended up disastrously poor (yay :)) (oh and this review is going to be full of spoilers, so stop right now if you care). 

But then of course, when I got over that there was the next big event on the horizon... September 11.  As Sarah S. pointed out, it fit with the time period, so I guess I don't really fault her for putting it in, but did Jonathan have to die on the plane? Even if she had to kill him (which she didn't, a breakup would have been way more satisfying IMO), it didn't have to be that way.  I just don't have patience with using September 11 for dramatic purposes.  It has a way of turning it into history that I don't like.  In general, I felt like the whole book relied too much on these kind of deep and dramatic moments for a plot.  There was September 11, there was a dead mother, there was a long-lost family... I thought it was a bit much, especially because so much of the book moved along just fine with the ordinary stuff.  Relationship issues, job/school issues,  family issues, maybe a little bit of existential issues... but nothing that doesn't happen to half the world, if you know what I'm saying.   Oh and there was a whole lot of stuff involving Lubavitchers (called Bialystockers for legal reasons I assume) that was very positive on the whole, but still just made me uncomfortable (of course).  And then there's the number one complaint - why everyone else didn't love it - the ending! Of the two sisters, Jess ends up with a great guy (and a decent kind of romance leading up I guess), while Emily ends up okay - with a start up that I don't find impressive and no guy as of yet.  And frankly, Jess does not deserve her luck.  She really doesn't ever grow up throughout the book - she takes care of Emily when she needs her, but whoop de do.  And poor Emily, who always did everything right, ends up content, but not in a great place... so what's the point? Okay, I know the point... this is real life we're talking about, and everyone deals just perfectly with it in the end, so yay for them.  But as a reader, come on, give me what I want! :)

Verdict: 3/5 - because whatever my complaints, she is one great writer (please no more comparisons with JA though :))
Food: something I'm skeptical of that turns out to be great... tofu! I'm so proud of myself for thinking of it, it is *perfect* for this book - healthy first of all, and so much fun in a way b/c it cuts up so nicely... but boring in lots of other ways.  But it was so good the way Chava made it on Thursday night!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Finally, a Non-Book Review Post :)

Wow. Thrill.  I'm sure you were wondering why I didn't visit the NY library yesterday (let's pretend you know I didn't :)) until you remembered - oh right, yesterday was Columbus Day.  So I couldn't get there till today, when I naturally hopped on the subway straight after work and restored your faith in my dedication to libraries (yes this was all facetious).  So of course I had to make the mistake of hopstopping to the central research library were I took the elevator to the 3rd floor and returned when I realized I could not, in fact, take out books from this building.  A helpful security guard pointed me two block down (short ones at least :)) to the Mid-Manhattan library, which I am fairly sure is the main circulating library branch.  It certainly looks like it :)

This library got me so excited that I didn't even wait to get home to write my post - I'm writing it in a notebook *by hand* on the F train - okay really I just needed s/t to do and I'm getting home late so this just seemed most expedient, but you should see how fast I'm writing - thoughts are just flowing... :)

So anway, the first thing  I noticed was the huge line waiting to check out - I mean it confirmed my suspicions that the NYpl is under provisioned for its citizenry but, wow, a lot of people read (or at least watch DVDs :)) in this city.  The long checkout line could be avoided by using the self-checkout, but apparently people don't use that here? Well I tried it and my card wasn't working, but I assume that's b/c it's brand new... but I'm getting ahead of myself. 

So the truth is, the fiction available isn't *that* impressive.  I looked first at the old books (not new) and most of them seemed quite... old.  Do they just get rid of their books when they're not new anymore?  The truth is, I think there were more books than at Towson (not EP central, they let you take out all the stuff back in stacks) and definitely a lot I've never heard of but cursory inspection is not enough to get a complete read.  I shall have to return for a more substantial inspection :) The more impressive display was the new books.  First of all, they had some of the new books I had to return to my library w/o reading, which made me happy.  Also, they had the new Gail Carriger that I mentioned earlier (the 3rd one) - and that one had a longer due date than the others - 3 weeks, not sure why.  Most interestingly, they actually have an express section! New books that can be taken out for a week only and I think no renewals.  That puts the pressure on the reader to be fast, but isn't that the coolest?  Means you get new books *fast*, even if you're not high on the reserve list.  Of course, I plan to be high on the reserve list as much as possible :) I have a bunch of things I'm planning on reserving tonight... as long as my card  works, please oh please! And I'm sure when I look through the catalog I'll find plenty of books I haven't been able to get a hold of in Baltimore (well, maybe a few :)) So I've got plenty to look forward to :) And one last thing - weeknight closing time? 11 PM.  Yes, you read that right.  Now *that's* how to run a library :)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Good Writing Evens the Odds

I'm not really in the mood of posting - stressed about my new job and all - but I just want to do this so I don't have to think about it later... On Shabbos I read Deanna Raybourn's Dark Road to Darjeeling, the 4th in the Lady Julia series.  If you remember, (I know you don't, don't worry :)) I mentioned this series previously as very similar to Tasha Alexander.  Both are recommendations I picked up from Lauren Willig - so they are Victorian mystery/romances.  That's similar enough to Lauren Willig herself's books, to Gail Carriger... but beyond that, they are both about independent widows whose first husbands died under mysterious circumstances and whom they were not in love with.  They both solve the mysteries of their husbands' death and then more mysteries side by side with the professional inquiry agents, eligible, handsome men, up to now impervious to ladies' charm.  Both get married at the end of the third book... both ladies celebrate their independence and indifference to societal norms, and both travel in the fourth book.
Okay, fine, so how do they compare? Well as I mentioned in the Tasha Alexander post, Lady Emily comes off as more annoying than independent and the writing is not the best.  Lady Julia is a much more well-crafted character, not bucking the ways of society for no reason, but only when they get too much in her way.  She has a lot of respect for tradition, earl's daughter that she is.  And in general, the book is much better written, the drama not feeling at all manufactured.  So that's one for Ms. Raybourn.  On the other hand, the Lady Julia books are just plain too dramatic, too serious.  There's not enough fun stuff in them! Especially when they take place in the wilds of India.  And person after person dies.  First the murderered one of course, but also the dr's wife b/4 we come on the scene.  And then there are two dramatic deaths at the end, of arguable necessity.  And then, right at the end, a *thoroughly* UNnecessary death.  Really ruined the happy ending.  So that's one-all.  Any way to break the tie? Well, I'd say both did a fair job of keeping the angsty romance alive post marriage (pregnancy issues vs. unresolved professional differences) but Deanna Raybourn has one more annoying thing that puts me off the books - annoying to those of us who do not share her liberal sensibilities- and I'll just leave it at that.  So I guess in the end, it's Tasha Alexander.  Except... well good writing is good writing... So I'm leaving this unresolved for now :)

Verdict: 3/5
Food: Solidly good in its way, but not the kind of thing that excites me, or anything overly healthy - perhaps sauted vegetables... though that might be healthier than appropriate... sauted w/ soy sauce

Friday, October 8, 2010

What Happens When You Read Old Chic Lit

I've delayed shamefully in reviewing my fourth last days read, but I was wallowing in a sea of disinterest in any extra effort, having spent the week taking care of things in my new NY apartment... farewell, home and all I know and love :( Seriously, wasn't in the mood of reading and certainly not of reviewing... but now I'm back in Baltimore, for Shabbos at least, and I know I've got to finish this up so I can move on with reading this weekend (hopefully more on that on Sunday :)) Anyway, continuing with the trend of over-indulged chic princess lit, (pretty impressive I think, 3/4 were actually part of this sub-genre) we have the original princess chic lit novel (or at least one of them that I can think of), Bergdorf Blondes.  Back when this was written, I don't think there were so many books about rich, pretty, fashionable girls whose only problems were catching a man... unless those books took place in the nineteenth century (oooh, snaps :)) This book wasn't written so much as a romance as an expose, or at least documentary, or the "Bergdorf Blonde", i.e. Upper East Side single gal, lifestyle. 

And I'm pretty sure that when it was written, it may have been a bit of a novelty to read about that kind of girl.  The girl who shops at sample sales, has a team of beauty experts, eats out at Michelin-rated, vacations in Italy, in St Tropez and whenever... okay, it's still fun to read about it, but it's not a novelty anymore.  And that means that a book can't be based *solely* on the lifestyle to be interesting.  At this point, it's more like, okay, I get it, stop trying to impress me, you and e/1 else :) (in chic lit anyway :))  And I don't find moi's (yes her name is moi) disingenuous flaunting of her lifestyle quite so adorable as I might have.  I mean, is the book meant to glorify, to condemn, or simply to illustrate the lifestyle? moi herself vacillates between stupid/needless indulgence and disapproval of some of her friends' over-the-top antics.  Make up your mind! B/c I sure already have - this lifestyle is fun to read about, but like, don't make such a big deal out of it - it makes you seem so.... nouveau riche :)

So basically, my feeling about this was, why did I like it so much the first time I read it? I think it's because 1) like I said, the first time I read it, there weren't a million books just like it and 2) I wasn't really expecting any romance at all, so the romance was a quite a pleasant surprise.  But this time, I read it more for the romance and all the other stuff, while funny at times, was more distracting.  And the romance is just not a huge part of the book.  That being said, it's a pretty darn cute romance, with none other than an English lord SLASH up and coming director! playing the male lead :) He's a lot more attractive than she is, to say the least.  And towards the end of the book, (the last... 4th maybe?) the romance comes more into focus, so I started to enjoy it a lot more.  And by the end, I'd say I look back on the reading experience with more pleasure than exasperation.  And I think in a few years, I may even read it yet again :)

Verdict: beginning: 2/5, end: 4/5, overall: 3/5
Food: s/t I don't enjoy and then get used to? that's a hard one, it's usually the reverse... maybe I should go with the was a novelty, but now kind of passe aspect - like a chicken caeser salad.  It used to be I was happy to get any grilled chicken salad, even *w/o* dressing... but after quite a number of boring old lettuce, tomato, and grilled chicken mixes, I need a little more than that to get me excited... like a chicken cobb salad - yummers :)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Well, I Didn't Stop In the Middle

Chic lit these days... I don't know why I even bother.  Next on the list Nancy's Theory of Style, by Grace Coopersmith, which is some random chic lit I found in the new section of the library.  Now, I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to expect from chic lit anyway - I mean I know the writing isn't going to be stellar, so it comes down more to plot, characters, and of course romance.  And some writing is better than others.  This particular story... well let's start with the plot - I suppose the plot was fine, actually better than fine.  Spoiled little rich girl tries to make it on her own with her event planning business, all with the help of her efficient and eminently eligible assistant, who is secretly in the employ of her estranged hubby (lots of es there :)) So that's got plenty of potential.  Unfortunately, the book fails utterly in the character department.  Nancy herself comes across as frankly fairly nasty - her only real friends are her non-silver spoon ones but she completely looks down on them.  She's supposed to be cute in her insistence on "perfection" but she's more silly than anything else.  Derek/Rick (main guy) is okay I suppose... but so many of the other characters are wring-your-neck annoying.  And who wants read a book where you don't like anyone? And then there's the romance... like I said, there's potential... but it is, how shall I say it... unrealized. 

More than anything else, the failures of this book come back to none other than the writing.  Characters that are supposed to be likeable are not, the plot is twisted with tension... and there's a whole lot of maudlin moments which I could do without quite easily involving Nancy's niece Eugenia (yes, Eugenia).  And besides that, the author is always using these annoying similes/metaphors/references to obscure art or random phenomena - which possibly are supposed to reflect Nancy's innate appreciate of true "style" but come off as guess what? pretentious. 

So no matter what I'd like to think, writing just matters even in chic lit.  It doesn't have to be great, but it can't get in the way.  On the other hand, I didn't stop reading this book in the middle.   And I did kind of - and I mean kind of - enjoy parts of it... so I guess it doesn't matter that much after all :)

Verdict: 2.5/5
Food: Disappointing... has potential but disappointing... one time I bought a sugar free vanilla latte from Pete's - appropriate for a San Francisco settting :) - it was NOT Starbucks

Delightful Reading We're Having

Next up is an author that is both familiar and new (how confuciusdic, no? :)) - I haven't yet reviewed a P.G. Wodehouse but I've definitely mentioned him as one of my favorite funny authors (see this post).  How unoriginal, you say? Well yes, but he is a master.  It's fun to wax rhapsodic about an author whose acknowledged as one of the good ones... so you see I do enjoy good literature :) Well seriously though, his writing is just so much fun to read - it has this delicately ironic tone that's really easy on the ear but full of subtle jokes.  And besides, it's exclusively English.  Well not exclusively, but even the Americans are English :) P.G. Wodehouse is similar to Georgette Heyer in that they both create worlds that may somewhat resemble an actual history on the surface, but are complete fantasy in their attitudes and every day events.  And what fun fantasy it is! The upper class British country life must be the most idyllic one ever imagined.  These people do nothing but get arrested for d&d and get engaged.  And it's not like they take either one of those things seriously.  And they do it in such a refined tone too :)

So I like P.G. Wodehouse - like everyone else.  And, like everyone else, I like the Jeeves and Bertie books best.  Bertie is just too funny - a total idiot, but also really nice and always ready with a rather neat turn of phrase (did I sound anything like him just now? :)) This particular book was actually not a Jeeves and Wooster.  It's called... Galahad at Blandings, I think.  So it doesn't have Bertie's unique voice (it's 3rd person narrated) and features Galahad instead of Jeeves as the man behind the curtain - and he doesn't quite measure up.  And the three marriages that make up the plot don't really have much connection beyond Blandings, whereas I feel like the Bertie books often to a good job of snowballing the story with little effort.  On the other hand, Lord Emsworth brings his own charm to the story.  So I'm not really complaining - it's good stuff, classic Wodehouse.  I mean the truth is I have a hard time differentiating these books (I can never remember which Bertie ones I've read) and I don't actually care because they're fun in any case. 

Verdict: 3.75/5 (4/5 would be a Jeeves and Bertie I think)
Food: classic, well-crafted... but maybe not the absolute best of its kind... shall we say an omelette, but maybe mushroom and onion instead of cheese... i do like eggs in all forms :)

Romping Along In Good Humor

Well, I've got a new crop of books for you, product of the last days (as promised, I think).  I'm kind of tired right now, but I think it's best to get right down to it, don't you? :) So without further ado (gosh, not really my most original or spicy turn of phrase)... My first read of the last days was Sophie Kinsella's Mini Shopaholic, #6 in the series.   I actually had totally forgotten to check when a new one of these was coming out but it happened to be displayed on the library website, so I reserved it and my wonderful mother actually went and picked it up for me (don't I have the best mother? :)) But anyway, of course I wasn't the only one interested in this book, so I discussed it with Huvi, even though I warned her that would affect the freshness and spontaneity of my review... but what can I do? I am putty in her hands :)

So... the Shopaholic series isn't exactly prime reading for me in any case, as may be indicated by my ignorance of the publishing date.  But I always read them, because having started, I haven't had any reason to stop.  The first book was somewhat romantic, which of course was the chief attraction, but since then the romance has been at best sporadic (well, actually it's been there sporadically in every book - more on that in a bit).  But the main attraction to these is actually that they're funny.  Funny because Sophie Kinsella just has great comic timing.  And of course, I'm not averse to reading about London girls living the high life surrounded by D&G, Fendi, Chanel and all that other stuff :)

So that's the good part of these books.  The bad part is that Becky Bloomwood is a first class idiot.  She is completely irresponsible, getting herself in spending trouble in every book, but that's not even the worst of it.  She's also compulsively dishonest with herself and others, until you just want to scream at her, stop it! just be sensible for once.  I mean, it's just difficult to sympathize with her when she's so clearly doing something idiotic.  So even though everything always works out in the end, it can get pretty tough to slog through all the schemes and disasters that make up the Becky Bloomwood Brandon life. 

But what about Becky's and Luke's relationship, which could potentially be the best part of the book? First off, I like Luke - I don't think he's mean (expressed opinion of my sister) - I think he's just much too reserved.  Which is a problem for the Brandon marriage, but doesn't make me hate him.  Especially because he may be too reserved, but Becky tends to hide things from him as well (things like credit card bills and whatnot...) so the lack of communication is really both their faults.  But - and this is where the sporadic romance comes in - that lack of communication actually makes for some decent angst... and the occasionally re-declaration of love and devotion to spice things up for the old married couple :) So I guess I should really complain... but these characters do make you scream with their stupidity here as well.

So much for the series in general? What to say about this book... Two things I guess, one for each of the subplots in the book.  #1 is the newest Brandon, Minnie, now age 2 and a SPOILED ROTTEN BRAT.  So obviously the proud parents need to deal with that... and they do, in a matter of speaking.  But two things - Becky Bloomwood is a *horrible* mother - I mean other people can control her daughter, but she never makes the slightest push to do so.  And that is never acknowledged at all, or dealt with - as far as the book is concerned, Becky's parenting skills are just fine.  And guess what? (spoiler) Apparently, Minnie isn't even a little terror, just a spirited toddler! To which I say, my toddler *better* not have that much spirit! So even though I never have much interest in parenting stories, I'd say this one was worse than average.  At least it never gets too tense... Which is more than I can say for the other subplot.  If it can even be dignified with that title... Becky's big plans in this book are all dedicated toward throwing Luke a spectacular surprise birthday party.  The amount of trouble she ends up getting into, the harebrained schemes that don't work out... it's the same as every other book but this time it's about something that TOTALLY DOESN'T MATTER! Sorry for the abuse of caps, but this annoyed me.  I mean, seriously, when I read the book jacket I was like, umm... where's the plot? I'm sure something else happens... but nothing does. It's just about throwing a party.  But I guess the plus side is no matter how tense it all gets, it just can't be that bad... be who cares anyway?

Actually I got the feeling that this book was mostly filler anyway, kind of like the 5th Harry Potter.  Life goes on, setting the stage for some new scenes in Book 7 (wow, Book 7), but there's not much crucial development.  And do we care? Well not much, after I get over my annoyance with all the above things I just complained about.  After all, I'm not exactly a stickler for meaning in literature :) I'm not sure why it even bothered me that this book was about a party... maybe just because there is so much tension... and you know I don't like tension :) But the point is, after all that, the book was still fun to read! Because guess what? Sophie Kinsella knows what she's doing.

Verdict: 3.5/5
Food: There's a lot I don't like about it... but I still enjoy it in the end - is there *any* food like that? Maybe tropical mike and ikes.  They are *not* my favorite flavor - kind of weird and somewhat too sweet... but you know, they're still pretty good

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nothing Too Impressive Here

Shameful as it is, I have not yet finished my first days reviews.  As excuse, I offer my current residence in the laziness-inducing locale of Chapman Lake.  I have spent the past few days not reading and definitely not blog-writing.  But since it's almost the second days and I've got a whole new crop of books to read and then review I figured I better get caught up... So here goes #4, Shades of Milk and Honey by... s/t like Mary Robertson Kowal.  This is Austen paraliterature reviewed on austenprose, where Laurel Ann has never given any book less than a 4 as far as I can remember.  That means recommendations there are more like a mild suggestion, but this one looked promising enough.  #1, it's not about the Bingleys, the Darcys, or any other character from P&P.  It's basically a Regency country gentlepeople setting, with a slight protusion of magic thrown in - and as I mentioned just a few posts ago, what better setting is there? :) It was purportedly a romance and that's really all I need to give it a whirl.

And you know, I can't really say it didn't live up to its promise.  The magical element was kind of weird and I didn't really get the point but it was also extremely unobtrusive - not really changing society or humanity at all in any way that mattered.  The writing wasn't great, but I can't say I really expected more.  But... the romance! My gosh, I don't even know if I can call it romance.  Well I guess I can, because the guy liked her, there was a *tiny* drop of angst, there were some subtle hints, they didn't get together till the end... but 1) it was really badly done and 2) there was another guy involved the whole time! who she liked! and who seemed to like her! and who didn't turn out to be bad in the end! I don't know, it was just weird and badly done.  Totally not enjoyable.  Also there were all these weird elements of different Jane Austen plots mixed in and it kind of confused everything.  Basically, concept was decent, execution pretty darn bad.  Oh well, can't win 'em all.

Verdict: 2/5
Food: Like I said, decent concept, terrible execution... raw a/t... raw chicken i suppose - i do seem to use the raw metaphor a lot, don't I? I really don't like raw food :)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Funny Saves the Day

Continuing with authors you will find familiar (yes, I'm assuming an intimate acquaintance with posts on this blog :)), next on the list of yom tov reading was Gail Carriger's Changeless, sequel to Soulless (see here).  If you recall (and I know you do :)), I read Soulless mainly (solely) for the romance.  So that romance was satisfactory enough, but since the book ended in marriage, I wasn't actually expecting much of a romance for the sequel.  So why would I bother reading it? Well the simplest answer is that when I like a book, I don't want to leave the characters.  If more's going to happen, why wouldn't I want to know it? And even though the vampire/werewolf menage holds little interest to me, I'm a sucker for Victorian England and the nobility thereof :)  The last book was light and funny, I enjoyed it despite all the supernatural stuff, so I expected to get through this one easily as well.

And I'd say my expectations were more than met.  As expected, very little romance, though it was fun enough to see the happy couple alternately sparring and swooning (not really swooning :)) But the main attraction of the book proved to be humor.  The book was written in the same facetious way the first one was, but I think she kind of hit her stride with this one.  Either that or I am starting to understand the writing better.  In any case, I was able to appreciate the complete zaniness of most of the characters in the book and sympathize with Alexia's rather unorthodox approach to society.  And Alexia has really come in to her own as a force to be reckoned with, I think.  I never felt like she was unduly threatened, she basically stayed in command of every situation.  That's not to say she was like Scarlet Pimpernel cool or anything.  It was more like the tension/danger was kept light in keeping with the humorous tone.  So we never feel too nervous that something cataclysmic is going to happen.  She's in control, we're in control, so why not enjoy it? Rather a quick and bouncy ride, if you know what I'm saying.

So I'd say I enjoyed it even more than I expected.  But that was because I wasn't expecting any romance in the first place.  And in the end, (not going to spoil here :)) there's a new development that brings up the possibility of some nice angst in Book III.  But don't get too excited... Book 3 (Blameless) has actually already come out and according to the review I read on Amazon... we may have wait till 4 before the series gets back in form.  Oh well, one good 'un will have to be enough to tide me over for now :)

Verdict: 3.5/5
Food: Unexpectedly delightful in a bit of different way... fresh teriyaki salmon - you never till you taste, but sometimes it's just really good... of course, it's still fish, not ice cream :)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Yes, Another One of Those

Next one's pretty boring... read yet another Robin Lee Hatcher (I think this is like the 4th or 5th Christian romance I'm reviewing here... what can I say, easy pickings).  So this was actually the second in the series... and I will be reading the first and third, which I think pretty much says everything I want to say.  It was your usual Robin Lee Hatcher, so not cringeworthy, easy reading, a few light references to G-d, but nothing that really gets in the way.  Characters likable enough... actually this one was kind of welcome change - Woody isn't quite as much of the brooding male type as I'm used to in these things.  Actually he's a lord - son of a duke! - but it's so out of place here, I didn't even care too much about it - it was almost annoying actually.  Of course, a marriage between a duke's son and a cowgirl really is completely implausible, so that makes the back-and-forth, what are we going to do, how are we going to be together a little less annoying than usual, because it's actually grounded in reality.  The way they solve it? well (spoiler) they stay in America, but it doesn't go much beyond that.  Doesn't bother too much with the details.  That's because this one is nice and short - which I think is the real reason the back and forth doesn't annoy me too much - there actually isn't too much of it.  I mean, often the issue with these books is they're completely dragged out - they fall in love too early and then other stuff has to be introduced so the story doesn't just end... but here I guess Robin Lee Hatcher said, why not just end it? And I agree, why not? I get exactly the same enjoyment out of the romance and I stop reading before I get bored with all the other stuff.  So good decision there :)

Verdict: 3/5 (I think that's my usual for Christian romance)
Food: same old, enjoyable enough... pretzels works I think - and I don't mean honey mustard, just the usual