12 October 2011

I feel compelled to share...

Okay, so, by now you know that I am not a big contributor to this blog! I like to read. I always have a book "going," and I usually like the books I read. My weakness lies in talking about the book afterwards. So, here goes nothing.

It was my turn to host book club and so I had to come up with a book. We tend to lean toward books that are in paperback format, just because they are less expensive. I have recently, however, also sought books that are available in the Kindle format! (You can read about my Kindle obsession at a previous post!)So with those limitations in mind, I embark.

I can generally find a book in Amazon because they helpfully suggest that readers who chose this book also liked this one. And I carefully study the reviews and the story lines deciding what will appeal to the ladies in my group. We are all very varied in our interests, so this can sometimes be daunting. More often than not, I just close my eyes and point once I have the selections narrowed down. This blog is not about my book club book!

This particular book didn't meet any of the necessary criteria. It was a hardcover, and at the time when I "assigned" the book, this one had not yet been published. I added it to my pre-order list and for the most part forgot about it. It downloaded on the day it was promised and I held it in reserve until I finished reading my book club book. (Duty before pleasure!) At last I could start.

The book is called The Night Circus and it is written by Erin Morgenstern. It is not a book I would normally pick up. And far from a book I would traditionally read. I am a bodice ripper fan from way back. I atone by reading my book club books! There was something about the reviews that drew me to this book, and I can't tell you what it was. Once you have read the book, you may believe that I can speculate it was probably magic. In the meantime, you will have to take me at my word.

"The circus arrives without warning." This is the opening line of the book. And you are drawn into a world that is pure imagination. There are descriptions that make you feel as if you are at the circus, smelling the foods, tasting the cocoa, hearing the noises, thrilling in the anticipation, and walking amongst the artists and the patrons of the circus. I think I can safely say that I have never read a book that drew me into it so readily with narratives that almost overwhelm the senses. Colors, costumes, characters, rooms, meals, and ideas so specifically portrayed that you feel as if you are there in the very same place that the story occurs.

To say that this is a book about the circus is to do it a grave injustice. Erin Morgenstern makes you believe in magic. The book would not exist without it. The main thrust of the story pits two individuals with magical abilities against each other. The competition they are forced to take part in is not voluntary, and they are never certain, until close to the end, of the ultimate goal or of the rules of the contest. They are given the circus as a venue to display their talents and they work wonders with our imaginations as they create tents and displays that defy all we can dream of. It is not coincidental that the circus is called "Le Cirque des Reves" The Circus of Dreams. And it opens at nightfall and closes at dawn - when all of the best dreams occur.

There are elements of good vs evil, romance, fear, innocence, wonder, death and heartache. I am still absorbing the impact The Night Circus has had on me. I will continue to think about it for quite some time. And while I have not given you much to go on - I cannot recommend this book enough. I am happy to report that while it was nothing I ever would have picked up at random, it turns out that is exactly what I did. And I will read it again and look forward to learning what I may have missed in the first go-round. The ending satisfied me, if for no other reason than there was no other acceptable ending.

Coincidentally, my mother read this book and finished it a few days before I did. We had a lengthy discussion about it last night on the phone. She was still taking in the magic, herself. We both agreed that we REALLY liked it! Can't wait to hear what YOU think!

15 September 2011

In Which I Finally Post This Review

Author's Note: I have been sitting on this review for like, 2 months.  No joke.  Time to brush off the dust.

Over Memorial Day weekend, SmartBitch Sarah was talking of little else than Courtney Milan’s self-published e-novella, Unlocked. There are all kinds of political and logistical reasons this novella is self-published (and only in e-format), and while they are very, very interesting, they really mean nothing to me at this stage.

What meant something to me was the fact that it was supposed to be (and is!) a damn fine book. Er, novella.

We all know how I feel about digital reading (Brief recap for the non-initiated: I like to collect the books. Actual books, not digital files. That is all.), so I bought the e-book and sat on it until one day I was at Scout Camp, had finished the one book I had brought with me, and needed to kill some time.

And oh, what a way to kill some time.

Lady Elaine Warren has been the laughingstock of the ton for about ten years. This is mainly because Evan Carlton, Lord Westfeld, made her the laughingstock, mocking her mercilessly during her first season and encouraging others to do the same. Her obnoxious laugh was the main source of amusement, but also subject to ridicule was/is her mother, a highly intelligent but highly scatterbrained, terribly naive woman.

The story takes place in the “ten years later” part, with Evan returning from a really long sojourn mountain climbing in Chamonix. The reason he left? Well... he was in love with Elaine. Madly, wildly, passionately in love with her. But he was 19. And a bit of a douchebag. And he started making fun of her to a) get her attention and b) put people off of the fact that he wanted her so desperately. The moment he realized that he had gotten her attention in all of the wrongest of ways, he fled.

After meeting up at a house party, Evan immediately starts to make amends. He apologizes to Elaine. He publicly shows the utmost respect to her mother. And then he publicly declares his love for Elaine in front of all of her worst tormentors.

Miraculously, as the reader, you like and believe Evan. It’s not like he comes back and then is confronted with everything he’s done that makes him realize he’s an asshole, he already knows. When he walks in to the ballroom for the first time and sees Elaine, his first thought is only to try to make amends and come to terms with the consequences of his actions.

For her part, Elaine doesn’t trust him (uh... duh), but agrees to a friendship that blossoms in to something more (uh... duh).

This is a quick read, but I would in no way classify it as light or insubstantial. This is a full-fledged romance in novella form, one of the only ones I have ever read that didn’t leave me feeling cheated or yearning for more. The length of this story is exactly right. We get everything we need from the evolution of the relationship (including hot sex) without feeling rushed. There is a sense of history established between Evan and Elaine that you believe from the first minute. And nothing about Elaine’s (SPOILER? No. I mean, honestly...) eventual capitulation feels forced.

I loved this story. So get over your e-book prejudices and go buy it, mmmk?

5 September 2011

In Which Monday Menu Mayhem Bounces Back


There are explanations to be made involving travelling for work, moving (Hello, Scout Camp!) having one day out of fourteen to get settled after moving, and then an epic hurricane that knocked out power to everyone I know for at least 3 days.

But explanations are boring, and I have a feeling you didn't notice one way or another that this blog has been shockingly void of new material since July (!!).

So let's just get right back in to it, shall we?

And, starting back on the right foot, I of course have no photo to offer of the Ten-Hour Chicken I made for  Ma, Pa, and Baby Bro Jones on this glorious Labor Day.

I do, however, have an explanation.

It's a Gwyneth concoction, and it's actually the second time I've made it: you squeeze a half a lemon over each end (front/back, top/bottom, whatever you want to call it) of the chicken, then thoroughly salt-and-pepper the whole thing.  Stuff the lemon halves and 3-4 cloves of garlic into the chicken, put it in the pan, and put another 3-4-5 cloves of garlic in the pan, seal tightly with foil, then cook at 200 for nine and a half hours.  At the nine and a half hour mark, you pump the oven up to 400, remove the foil, re-salt-and-pepper, and chuck back in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the skin reaches desired brownth.

This is some of the best chicken I've ever eaten.  The foil seal and slow cook keeps all of the moisture in, and all of that lemon and garlic infuses in to every square inch of the chicken.  Additionally, the juice that ends up at the bottom of the pan makes for (literally) effortlessly delicious gravy.

The original recipe calls for the chicken to be cooked breast-side down for the nine and a half hours, and then flipped when the browning needs to occur.  We tried this the first time, and the problem becomes that after nine and a half hours, the chicken falls the frak apart.  In a great way.  In a glorious way.  In a way that makes it impossible to be flipped intact.

Make this chicken, friends.  Make it right side up, and enjoy every bite.

14 July 2011

In Which Thoroughly Obsessed Thursday is a Harry Potter Geek Once and Always.

This week I am obsessed with the trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2:

I don't want to be.  I am generally scornful of the Potter films for the simple reason that they always fail to live up to my expectations.  No, I am not one of those people who thinks that every detail needs to be translated perfectly from page to screen (OK, maybe I am).  But generally I find that it's the big details they get wrong that annoy me.

For example, even in the above badass trailer, the number of conversations that He Who Must Not Be Named and Harry have, and the number of locations they have them in, is just strikingly wrong to me.

That said, I am a total sucker for the "It All Ends" tagline they've had running around for months.  And I can't get rid of these pesky goosebumps the trailer gives me, no matter how many times I have to roll my eyes at the inaccuracies.

There's also this piece of awesomeness from Damon Lindelof (that's Mr. Lost to you) about why Voldemort (There! I said it!!!) is The Baddest Villain of Them All.

So maybe I'll just have to get my head out of my ass and go.

13 July 2011

In Which I Review Washington by Ron Chernow

It’s time again!

That’s right, time for Kate’s Non-Fiction Read of the Quarter. Except I might actually be slower than once-per-quarter.

My latest car-pick was Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, who I would now put in the same ohmyholyhellawesome category as the ohmyholyhellawesome David McCullough.

I don’t remember my specific reasons for picking George Washington as my next biography subject, because I can’t say that he’s ever interested me before. In fact, talking to some peeps (you know, some peeps), it struck/continues to strike me that he’s not someone who has interested many people.

He was the first President of the United States. He’s the reason we won the Revolutionary War. He’s on the one dollar bill. He owned Mount Vernon. Our nation’s capital is named after him. He has a phallic-looking monument.

What more is there to say than that?


As interesting as it is to read 1776 and to understand how many times we almost did not become the United States of America (A buttload of times. Those boys were flying by the seat of their pants), it is just as interesting to read Washington and to understand how close George Washington was to not becoming the father of our country. His father died, leaving everything to his older brother. Then his brother died leaving everything to his family. Then his family died, and Washington inherited by default. His commission in the army during the French and Indian War was based on who he knew as a result of all of the upheaval in his life, and if not for the death of her first husband (and the subsequent load if cash he left to her), Martha Custis would never have been on the marriage market to begin with.

Washington was a religious man, but he did not belong to a particular religion. He would better be classified as a man of faith. He owned slaves and was not always an awesome master, but he at least tried to be fair most of the time, refusing to break up families, etc.

Once again, it was striking to me (and a little heartening) to learn that American politics was and has always been a dirty business. By the end of Washington's first term, the Jeffersonians were conspiring against him to undercut him on just about every level, and it got very nasty. In fact, I have officially decided, after some research into the subject (including but not limited to John Adams and Washington) that Thomas Jefferson was a douchebag. Differences in politics aside, the dude was an asshole.

At the end of the day, I feel like I have a better understanding if the man who founded our great nation, who lead a rag-tag bunch of foot soldiers to defeat the greatest empire on the planet (at the time). He was a pretty cool dude. I wouldn't go so far as to say I like him more than, say, John Adams (his Vice President), but the stoic and silent Washington is now infinitely more real to me than he was before. For that reason alone, I highly recommend this book.

Up next? I'm definitely going to have to check out Alexander Hamilton, also by Ron Chernow. Did you know Hamilton was one of Washington's lieutenants? Yeah, me neither. Here we go.

11 July 2011

In Which Monday Menu Mayhem Reviews a Book.

Remember what I said last time about the apologizing?  Right.

In the way that A Lot Like Love is frothy, fun, sexy nonsense, If His Kiss Is Wicked is delicious, substantial loveliness.

Next time I hesitate about reading a Jo Goodman book, someone bash me vigorously about the head with a sharp object, mmmmmk?

(This is my second Goodman book, if you’ll recall. Last year I read the highly recommended Never Love a Lawman. I’ve been sitting on this one since then for reasons known only to The Goddess of Deciding Which Book to Read)

The place to begin when reviewing books is with the summary. But I have to be honest, I have no idea how to summarize the plot of this book, and I don’t really want to. It’s best when it unfolds before you, because it’s so layered and nuanced, and no summary I could give would do it justice.

What I will talk about, though, is the relationship between the protagonists, Emma and Restell. It is not spoiling anything to say that Emma seeks Restell out for protection, Restell provides it, and their relationship grows from there. Two of their exchanges had me so enthralled that I had to note them.

The first comes when Restell proposes marriage, and Emma questions him on a great number of things, including his logic for making such a proposal and his reasons for not making the same one to her cousin:

“No.” He sipped his tea. “I am not going to propose to your cousin, Emma, so you should not entertain hope on that score.”
“I only suggested it to point out the failure of your reasoning, not because I hoped you would act on it. If we were to marry, you could expect to hear regular reports on your failures of reason. That should give you pause.”
“That depends. Would you apprise me of them at breakfast or dinner?”
“Breakfast, I suspect.”
“Then it presents no problem. I will be reading my paper and am likely to ignore you.”

This exchange, in case you were wondering, is perfection crispy-fried on a stick. Two droll personalities (clearly established), hashing out that most romantic of pursuits in the least romantic way possible. And yet the idea of the contented, real love the picture presents is flawless (after all, who doesn’t know a happily married couple who engages in that sort of behavior?)

The second passage that caught my attention comes after they are married, right after Emma realizes she loves Restell. She comes home and collapses on the chaise with a cold compress over her eyes. That’s where Restell finds her:

“Lady Rivendell announced to your mother, your married sisters, and Marisol that I clearly love you. You will not credit it, Restell, but I am certain she’s right.”
Restell found a space on the chaise where he could sit. He lowered himself somewhat slowly to that spot as he considered his response. “So you came home and prostrated yourself across the chaise. Yes, I can see how that would be the thing to do. The compress makes me think the feeling has not passed.”

Goodman is the master of showing not telling. I mean, look at those passages. Emma wants Restell even at the beginning (note that she does not want him to propose to her cousin), but she never makes any grand declaration. Rather she proceeds cautiously, making sure he has thought everything through.

For his part, Restell questions Emma a bit more on the chaise:

“Does [this newfound feeling] make you afraid?”
“A little.”
“Then I am not the only one. That is good to know.”

So much subtlety! Such depth! I love love love this book. It’s absolutely freaking glorious. Just go read it, OK? I’ll even loan you my copy if you promise to bring it back.

8 July 2011

In Which Thoroughly Obsessed Thursday...

OK.  This is what we're going to do.

For the rest of the summer, I am going to post as much as I can, and if (read: when) I am late, I'm not going to apologize.  It's going to keep happening, and the constant contrition is going to get old for all of us.  So let's just go with it.

And now, obsessive links!

From the *HeadDesk* department of WTF-ery, comes SB Sarah's remarkable response to a remarkably horrific article about the effect of romance articles on female perceptions and sexuality.  Let's just say that you learn research techniques in middle school that are better than those used to write this annoying piece of drivel (To clarify: the article is drivel.  SB Sarah's response is badass).

From the *This Might Have to Be My New Cult Favorite* department of Awesomesauce comes this critique and clip of the upcoming show Once Upon a Time.  Does the premise sound awkward and ill-thought-out?   Perhaps.  But then there's the fact that it comes from the writers of Lost.  There's also the fact that the clip is... awesome.  Go to there.

Also, those just catching up to the UK phone hacking scandal should check out this article from the June issue of Vanity Fair.  We could be witnessing their Watergate.

And finally, from the *Start Lining Up Already* department of GAH! comes the news that the Arrested Development feature film is alive and well.  And anything George Bluth says must be... exaggerated for the manipulation of his stockholders.  Nonetheless.  This time next year, people!!

Have a lovely weekend.