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? :)