Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Couple of Things

There will not be much blogging this next week or so. Tomorrow, I have a work event that goes all hours for the next three days then Sunday I need to do a massive clean of my apartment and car because my parents are coming to visit for a week. So I will be super busy though hopefully collecting blog ideas to share when I get back.

For now, enjoy the full-length trailer of Tangled, Walt Disney Animation's next film release. I am not as excited for this one as I was for The Princess and the Frog but still, it looks like a continuation in the right direction for my favorite company.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Labyrinths, Carcassonne and Another Chapter of the Grail

The search for the Holy Grail is considered the ultimate quest. Recent literature has imagined the Grail into every form and hiding place it could think of. Kate Mosse’s idea behind the Grail was unique, surprisingly so, though I feel she failed to deliver on the promise of her story. However, it was not for this latest chapter in Grail mythology I bought a copy of Labyrinth back in 2005. Though I may argue I’ve lugged it around until now without reading it because of that Grail connotation connected with this story.

This book first caught my eye across a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, a booklover’s heaven. It was during my semester abroad in England and the bibliophile in me had been trying to avoid buying a slew of books I would somehow need to get home. However, Hay-on-Wye beat me. It was too much to resist and I left that little haven with more books bought in a day than any other time in my life. I remember vividly the moment I caught sight of this book though. It has a gorgeous cover (as you can see) but that wasn’t all that drew me. "Labyrinth" in and of itself was a word that drew me. I was introduced to the magic and mysticism behind the labyrinth mythology in 11th grade French class. Madame had chosen the labyrinth of Chartres for our project that year at the foreign language festival. We all stood around in our purple T-shirts and massive labyrinth reproduction and recited out story faithfully. I wish I had my school materials here with me. I know in my plastic bins at home in the basement I have the entire spiel among my French materials. I had done some reading beyond class for the idea of labyrinth and found it fascinating as a substitute for the holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the devoted in their own cathedrals.

This book also had another magic word associated with it. Just within its cover flap, the word Carcassonne screamed out to me and that was it, this book was coming home with me. I visited Carcassonne on my 12th grade trip to France with Madame. I fell in love with the walled city the moment I saw it, across the fields of dormant grape vines in the early April sunshine. Walking its streets, the history of the place has never left me. I remember its narrow streets, houses so close that two people could reach across and touch hands across the road. It was like stepping back in time for a moment and it has remained the highlight of my trip since then. This book, set in both medieval and modern day Carcassonne was one I needed to read.

So, it was odd that it took me 5 years from the moment I bought this book to the moment I read it. But, the idea that it was another book about the Grail put me off. I found other books to read, other things to do but the imagery of the book and its premise has meant I’ve never been able to let this book go. So, once I started my quest to read every book on my shelves, it was only a matter of time before I had to tackle this book.

The story follows two women in different times, one, Alaïs in the summer of 1209 when a force of Northern French nobility and Catholic priests came to the Midi to root out the heretics in name, but in truth, it was a bid for land and power; the other, Alice, in modern day France, volunteering on an archeological dig in the foothills of the Pyrenees when she discovers a cave hidden for 800 years. Both are about to begin a journey of a lifetime to protect a secret thousands of years old.

This story lacks the excitement of say, Dan Brown. It is more subtle, more involved with the setting of the story than the story itself. Carcassonne and its surrounding countryside is a character in itself as is the mythology of the Pays d’Oc and its ancient language, what seemed to me a combination of French and Spanish. In that, it is a lyrical read as Mosse gives you a tour of the Midi and its romance. But, because it is not quite a thriller, the story is harder to become invested in a reader. It is also a rather obvious story. You are never in any doubt of who the heroes and villains are, which makes the character’s ignorance of those facts annoying after awhile. Dramatic irony has its place but the pay –off for when the character discovers the fact never materialized in this novel. The characters seem to miss their ‘ah ha’ moments. They figure out the facts but there seems to be no reaction from them. Also, I feel like Mosse had a germ of a great idea for the mythology but honestly, it is underwhelming in its realization. The use of the Bons Chrétiens and their history was clever and interesting but you’re never quite sure how important it actually is to the story itself. In general, Mosse had a rich history to pull from and uses it but I felt there was more potential there than she discovered.

I liked the characters but I did not love them. They live in the moment of the story and there are details I feel like I am missing about them in order to really be invested in their story. I liked the two Alices best and luckily, they are who carry the story. Two strong, smart women who are entrusted with the protection of the Grail? What’s not to like? The mythology of women surrounding the Grail though was unsurprising considering the recent additions to the Grail mythology. But, I liked the use of the two heroines and how the action revolved around them, even as they remained elusive to the rest of the characters and even to the reader. There are still questions I would like answered about the two heroines so now I am left to fill in the blanks.

I feel like my history with this book itself was more interesting than what I had to say about the book itself. It felt incomplete to me. Wrapped up too quickly with lingering questions from me, its reader. However, if only because it gave me an excuse to revisit Carcassonne through its words, I am glad I finally made time to read its pages. My next read is another Kate Mosse book set in the south of France. Also bought on the strength of the promise of Labyrinth. I am hoping it will impress me more.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

You Just Won 22 Million Dollars! What are you going to do now?

Sadly, go to Walt Disney World is not one of your choices in Heather McElhatton's Million Little Mistakes. Since, I had a lot more fun with this book than I expected too. I always loved Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid. Something about being about to read the same book a hundred different ways thrilled the bookworm in me. Last summer, I discovered a Jane Austen choose your own adventure, Lost in Austen, which reminded me of the fun these books could give to the reader. So when I saw Million Little Mistakes up on the Goodreads giveaways page, I thought I'd try for it. And I won!

The premise of the adventure is you just won the lottery. From there, you make your first decision, to keep your job or to quit. Then you are off! I haven't done all the scenarios yet but I'd one quite a few and each seems to get more ridiculous the more outrageous my choices.I think my favorite though was when I became a B-movie film producer for horror movies and died by mechanical crab claw. Like I said, the scenarios are often ridiculous and completely implausible. But entertaining. I had a blast one evening going back and changing my decisions to see where I would end up next. I took a cruise around the world, got fleeced by my family, discovered an ancient treasure, became a vampire...

It's sort of fun to have some control over the story as you read and even when you think you're making the "right" decisions, you find out that maybe being a bit more irresponsible meant you could have kept your fortune. The copy I read gave me an extra challenge as it was an uncorrected ARC so there were no page numbers for the different paths, so I had to fill them in as I went. It was an easy way to keep track of what decisions I had made before so I could follow a new storyline. Also meant I could correct all the typos as I read LOL

Overall, if you're looking for a more interactive reading experience, I would suggest this fun choose your own adventure for adults.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sigh...a kitchen goddess I am not

I love to think I can cook and bake. And really, most of the time, things do turn out just fine. But the moment I say I'll cook or bake something for someone else, something inevitably goes wrong.

Luckily, frosting hides all kinds of problems, like the fact I had to piece the brownie cake back together when it broke in pieces while I was changing it between pans so I could frost it. Let's hope it at least tastes good.

Sigh. I am a thwarted kitchen goddess. 

Update: never mind, frosting just highlights the issues once it settles. The cake looks like there are random caverns in the middle...Bother. Oh well...Happy birthday to my boss...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Where does time go?

I missed yesterday's blog post because I was out "late" at a Dickinson Young Professionals social event, Girls' Night Out. Last night's theme was recipes so I shared a favorite autumn recipe, Sausage and Apple Pie along with the recipes for Mom's Christmas cookies.

Tonight, I am taking a break from Kate Mosse's Labyrinth (only so much medieval France a girl can take in one day and I read it for three hours while waiting for my car to be finished at the dealership earlier) and I am diving into my ARC of Million Little Mistakes that just arrived today. Only my second win on Goodreads giveaways, and I do love a Choose Your Own Adventure book, so I have high hopes for this adult version of one. Will update you tomorrow!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Minor Crisis

I have a fish. It’s the only pet my apartment complex will let you have as far as I can tell. So, when my closest friend in the area came to visit me after I’d just moved to the middle of nowhere last winter, she insisted on buying me a betta fish. And Jumba has kept me company, and someone to talk to so I don’t feel like I’m going completely daffy. However, when I first got him, funds were low and so I bought the cheapest tank I could find at Wal-Mart. It lasted until yesterday.

Yesterday, in the middle of cleaning my apartment when I had things strewn everywhere and music blasting, I noticed a puddle of water surrounding Jumba’s tank. Not too much luckily so I got him out and looked at the problem. There was a small hole in the bottom of the tank for draining water. I thought the cover had simply come loose so I changed everything over, pounded the cover back in place and put Jumba back in his tank. I watched it all night and everything seemed right as rain so I assumed the crisis had passed.

I got up this morning, gave Jumba his breakfast, all was still well. About three hours later I looked over and there was water everywhere, much worse than the day before and Jumba was swimming in about half a tank, maybe less, of water. I may have slightly panicked. I know a fish isn’t much but he’s currently all I’ve got so I rushed to save my poor Betta. Once he was safely secured in a non-leaking home for the moment, I hoped Wal-Mart would be open on the holiday. I’m never sure around here when things will be open or closed especially on a holiday but luckily; the store was open and crowded. I made my way back to the aquarium corner and upgraded Jumba to a new home; it even has a LED light. But since his tank resides next to my lamp, that wasn’t really a new feature for him. The only thing that makes me slightly nervous is the lack of a top of the tank. Luckily, Jumba does not seem to be a fan of Amélie so all is well for the moment.

In the meantime, marvel at Jumba’s new home and I hope you all had a lovely holiday weekend!

Jumba's new home!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What do you do when a book betrays you?

I know I usually post later at night but I am planning a thorough cleaning of my apartment and will collapse into a heap on my couch with for a movie fest later today. Not too mention, I finished this book this morning and need to share.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re reading a book, everything is going along swimmingly, and you know where you stand, where the book belongs. You’re reading along and then the author drops a bomb and changes the game. You don’t know where you stand anymore. What you thought was a harmless fluffy quick read suddenly becomes serious, overwhelming, slightly tragic. You get up, you wander the apartment for a moment trying to convince your brain that it needs to refocus, that it can no longer flit off as you read and enjoy the laugh out loud moments because suddenly, inexplicably, real life has invaded what you thought was a nice, quiet, safe fictional world that would give you the expected, predictable happy ending.

This is what Jane Green’s Bookends did to me. A book that was so firmly set in the chick lit, romantic comedy genre that when it switched suddenly, it blind-sided me. I found Jane Green back high school with Jemima J. Her other books I had to grow into. Somehow, the problems of 30-somethings didn’t matter to my 17-year-old self but as I’ve gotten older, her books have become more relevant.

Bookends follows the lives of Catherine, Simon, Josh and Lucy, 30-something Londoners who are dealing with a rut. Cath and Lucy open a new bookstore café called Bookends, Simon meets the new love of his life and Josh has a big deal going down that starts to strain his and Lucy’s marriage. Enter into all of this Portia, the glamorous friend that Cath, Simon and Josh left behind at university. From the moment Portia walks into Bookends, things are never the same for the group again.

One of my favorite things about Jane Green is her characters are unabashedly British. They drink gallons of tea, munch on Hobnobs and run off to the tube to head to SoHo for a night on the town. In fact, in Bookends, there is even a joke involving Mr. Kipling’s. My heart may have died and gone to heaven. Her books are always like mini getaways to England for me. In Jemima J, when she moves the action to Los Angeles, I feel homesickness for London along with the main character. Luckily, I had no separation anxiety in this book. Instead, seriousness invaded. In Jemima J, the element of the serious is so ridiculous that you laugh with the characters and move on. In Bookends, the element of serious is too serious to laugh off. It changes the entire dynamic of the book.

That said, I enjoyed the book. Green’s characters are always likable because of their flaws and their misguided attempts to make things right they themselves caused to go wrong. It makes me want to keep reading to find out if the character realizes she is being an idiot and then how she goes about fixing it. What I like about Green is there is no magical makeover of the person’s character. There is growth and change but it’s not unbelievable as sometimes changes like that can be. These characters simply evolve slowly and react realistically to the situations they find themselves in. All while looking fabulous in a bookstore I want to frequent on a daily basis.

I didn’t love it though because I could never quite forgive it for changing course from what I expected. Though it didn’t ruin the book for me; in fact, it did add an interesting element to the story but I couldn’t quite pardon the book for throwing me for a loop.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lots of loose ends

So, I am in the middle of watching the second season of Chuck and enjoying crushing on yet another geeky character. I also am in the middle of Jane Green's Bookends. So look for reviews and updates coming soon. Enjoy your holiday weekend!

Friday, September 3, 2010

You broke the ship! You broke the bloody ship!

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I was raised with a healthy dose of science fiction television and movies in my life. I loved my summer marathons of Star Wars with buckets of popcorn and only getting up to change the VHS tape to the next movie. Wow, I just dated myself there. That’s right; I’m old enough to remember VHS tapes. Call me ancient. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation religiously with Dad and had the required crush on Wesley Crusher. Then it was Deep Space Nine and Voyager. I didn’t get as excited about Babylon 5 but I watched enough of it. I was especially excited once I was old enough to go to the theater with Dad, Uncle Mitch and Jeff, my own personal peanut gallery for movies. I used to joke that it was like going to movies with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew. The first one I remember seeing with them was Starship Troopers. Not really a movie a 6th grader should have been going to. All I remember is sitting between Dad and Uncle Mitch and the two of them continuously speaking over my head, "That wasn't in the book..." with furtive looks down at me. Luckily, I emerged fairly unscathed and also became the cool girl who'd seen the movie in class the next week.

So, I’ve also always enjoyed the parodies the genre has inspired. Spaceballs being the notable one I remember from when I was a kid. I was introduced to Mel Brooks probably too young too but I loved all his movies. Not that I got all the jokes in Spaceballs the first time I watched it. After all, Rick Moranis to me was the guy who shrunk his kids. I appreciate it a lot more now that I’m older. I remember the first time I got the gag of the dancing alien. It was like I was finally old enough to be initiated into the cool kids' club. But, Galaxy Quest is the film I remember being old enough when it came out to really enjoy during the first viewing. The movie is ridiculous and yet highly enjoyable. A group of TV actors from a space program are taken to an actual spaceship where aliens believe the TV shows they’ve been watching are “historical documents.” You know only hilarity will ensue.

It has some great one-liners (including the title of this post) that I will pull out from time to time as needed. They never fail to crack me up. For a while, this was a go-to movie for me in the summer. It just fits the breezy, no responsibilities-so-I-can-watch-nonsense moods I get in the summer months when it's too hot to stir from the sofa and a pitcher of iced tea. Naturally then, when I saw this film in the $5 bin as summer was fading away last week, I had to revive the tradition I had let fall away since high school.

Color me crazy but it's not just the fun the movie provides. Because, despite the nutty premise and the fact the film is clearly poking fun at the genre inspiring it, it also creates memorable characters on the adventure of their lifetime. It is entertaining, funny and action-packed with decent special effects and a "plausible" storyline. Kind of like what all those shows that inspired them did at their best. To my mind, that makes it even better than a parody.

We will also mention in closing that before he was Mac or the on-again, off-again boyfriend of Drew Barrymore, and long before I fell in love with him again in Dodgeball or Accepted, Justin Long stole my 8th grade heart as the geeky fan that saves the day in this film. At least I knew how to pick ‘em young ;-)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I got distracted

I had every intention of finally writing up a review of Galaxy Quest this evening but I got sidetracked making brownies and enjoying Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Since we have a long weekend coming up, I'll be sure to finally get around to that review since it's been sitting on my desk for a week now. In the meantime, I'm off to enjoy my brownies (blast you School of Essential Ingredients for sending me on this baking kick, now I have a pan of brownies to either eat myself or give away somehow). I'll check in with you kids tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I Think I Might Be too Nosy...

I just finished The School of Essential Ingredients, a novel written by Erica Bauermeister who is a literature professor living in Seattle. The novel is actually a series of vignettes, each story following one person in a cooking class being taught by Lillian, a person who has always been able to reach people through food….I tried to think of a better way to explain that but I’m striking out. It’s just got a magical premise and we’re going to have to work with it.

Now, I love food. In fact, I will go through a baking phase this weekend because of this book. I even think I may have drooled at one point as they baked crabs in butter and white wine. So, this is not a book to read while hungry. You may end up eating your shirt and it will be nowhere near as tasty as one of Lillian’s meals.

I like to try to cook. And I do not fare well without a recipe. Ask my grandmothers. The second I try to make one of their dishes, it all goes down hill and I call them trying to figure out what I am doing wrong. “Are you sure you don’t know how much oregano you put in?” I ask frantically as I try desperately to make my goulash taste 1/10th as good as my Grammy’s. “Oh, I just put it in until it taste right. More oregano than basil though!” So very helpful right? I’d last about a second in Lillian’s kitchen where there are no recipes, no directions that make sense. At one point her directions involved a list of ingredients and then you were supposed to wrap up the ingredients "like a package". You seem to cook by feeling, by knowing, by adding ingredients because they are, well, essential, and magically whatever you make is a masterpiece, the exact dish you needed to make for that exact moment. Where is that in my kitchen I ask?

But once I finish drooling over the food, I mostly feel gypped by this book. Because of how Bauermeister put the narrative together, we never quite get the whole picture of any one character. Gaping holes in the narrative exist. I feel like I would like this book and these characters more if I just knew what happened to them next. What exactly occurred once Claire has her self-realization, once Chloe walked out of her boyfriend’s apartment, once Ian finally asked Antonia over for dinner? See? The story is missing all the good parts! Bauermeister would give us these tantalizing glimpses into a character’s life and then move onto the next one. Sure, I might get a hint here or there in someone else’s story about what happened but I would not get all the juice. I need closure; I am, not to put to fine a point on it, nosy. I want all the details, the entire story, not these artsy little endings that leave more questions than answers. I have never been a fan of books like that. A reason short stories and me have also never gotten along. OK, my imagination isn’t completely useless, I can think up endings for each character and, because I am me, they will all be happily ever afters. A lifetime of Disney movies has made sure I’ll never be cured of that tendency. But still, would it kill the author to finish the stories she started?

So, while I enjoyed The School of Essential Ingredients for the most part (if only for the food), it is not one I need to keep on my shelves. I would re-read and then just become annoyed again with the lack of an ending. The busybody in me needs all the details to enjoy the finale.