30 December 2003

Reads & Listens, December 2003


Leyla: The Black Tulip (Girls of Many Lands Series) by Alev Lytle Croutier
Again, I am impressed by this series. Leyla is well written with interesting characters and a steadily developing plot which should engage most readers.

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka
That such a small book should tell such a terrible story so well. Timely. Profound. Stark.

The Sweet Potato Queens' Big Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner) by Jill Conner Browne
The financial advice probably will not make you rich and the recipes (Death Corn Five is even better the second day) will give you a cholesterol problem, but who cares? This is one hilarious book (even The Husband thought so).

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede
Includes Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, and Talking to Dragons in one real purty book club omnibus edition. Hilarious, fun, sarcastic, and clever -- a good "make me happy" read.

Jewish Cooking in America by Joan Nathan
My favorite kind of cookbook -- both a recipe book and a culinary history. Fun to read as well as to cook from. An excellent companion to Nathan's The Foods of Israel Today.

East by Edith Pattou
Wow, what a good YA fantasy! Combining elements of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, the legend of Cupid and Psyche, and aspects of Norse mythology, this is an utterly captivating story. Beautiful cover art, too.

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry intro. by Billy Collins
Wonderful little book full of approachable poems for people who avoid or disparage poetry. While this collection is a print version of the LOC's Poetry 180 project the poems currently on the site are different from those in the book. Ideally, you should read both.

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip
Beautifully crafted, but very dense and full of twisty passages. Best read slowly and carefully over a period of evenings. If you like creative usage of language or interpretations of old fairy stories, this is a good pick. I mean, it has Baba Yaga -- what's not to like?

06 December 2003

Cheese Smugglers Are We

We smuggled cheese into the European Union for my mother-in-law...

I'd been worrying about the giant wheel of cheese since we bought it in Zürich. Some faint remembrance of a Chef! episode niggled at the back of my brain. Something about black market fromage. And then we were wheeling the suitcase full of cheese through the "nothing to declare" portion of Customs and there where all these posters of meat and cheese (cheese which looked exactly like our cheese) with red slash marks through them. We just kept on wheeling. Don't know nothin' bout no stinkin' cheese, man.

I do not understand the passport stamping system -- I only spent three hours in Düsseldorf (all in the airport), but I have entry and exit stamps for Germany. I was in Zürich for a week, but don't have any stamps to prove I was ever even in Switzerland. I have an exit stamp for England, but no arrival. It seems very dodgy to me.

The Husband, of course, got pulled aside when we re-entered the US at Newark. They took him into a room and I stood as close to that room as I could get, staring at its door, and wondering how exactly one goes about getting one's spouse out of detention. The security guard standing next to me was all very sympathetic and told me I had nothing to worry about. Everything would be just fine. And it was.

Sometimes, a bad dream is just a bad dream.

And now we are home with lots of chocolate and, of course, books. Ohhh, and assortments of yummy, minty Kendall Mint Cake. And, because I went a little crazy spending my birthday money in the duty-free, lots of girlie-girl skincare stuff. And a sex toy, because what's going to Europe for if not to buy a sex toy?

For seeing art, maybe? Well, I did see oodles of art in Zürich. Beside some very nice museums (overdosed on religious icons at the Swiss National Museum) and galleries, the city is also sprinkled with statues and fountains and those weird CowParade. Sadly, the Kunsthaus's O'Keefe exhibition wasn't as grand as I hoped. Really expensive admission, a twisty collection of white rooms with rows of paintings, clunky audio tours, too many people (our own fault as we went on a Saturday afternoon), and not enough places to sit and meditate.

Wouldn't mind going back to Zürich, someday. So much lovely green space, many beautiful buildings, and lots of delicious food.

30 November 2003

Reads & Listens, November 2003


Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize ...

Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
Winner of the 2003 Man Booker Prize. While yes, it held my interest and I did laugh a few times, this book doesn't seem good enough to be an award winner. The characters are all flat stereotypes and the plot is repetitive and just not that exciting. Also, there seems to be a drastic change in tone partway through the book -- as if portions had been written at different times and then pasted together?

The Unadulterated Cat by Terry Pratchett & illus. by Gray Jolliffe
Living with six very Real cats, I can tell ya it's all true. Jolliffe's cartoons are a hoot, too.

Nanny Ogg's Cookbook: A Useful and Improving Almanack of Information Including Astonishing Recipes from Terry Pratchett's Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Stephen Briggs, Tina Hannan, and Paul Kidby
If you're not a fan of the Discworld, you're not likely to appreciate this book. I happen to love anything that has the witches in it, so this book tickled me pink. Now I can make me own Dried Frog Pills (sans frogs), Strawberry Wobbler, and Sausage Inna Bun. Sweet.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Best read in chunks or your brain will explode.

Angels by Marian Keyes
Good Irish Girl separates from husband after marriage derails. Moves to Los Angeles to stay with her friend, an unsuccessful script writer. Goes on a bender. Sleeps with Unobtainable Object of Fascination. Has a Lesbian Experience. Obtains Closure on relationship with an Old Ex. Reconciles with hubby. Goes back to Ireland. Gets preggers. Happy Ever After. Amen.

A pretty good airport read.

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin
Pretty okay. Witty, comical, sly, blah blah blah. A good light read for the train from Preston to Euston.

30 October 2003

Reads & Listens, October 2003


Samurai Girl: The Book of the Sword by Carrie Asai
Fast, easy read. Constant pop culture references are annoying (but I'm not 14) and most of the characters are flat types. Would make a good anime or sitcom (like Buffy or Alias), but suffers as a plain old text.

Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
First, this is a beautifully designed book -- the cover art, the font styles, the size of the book -- it's all wonderful. It's a book that will survive multiple readings quite nicely and still look good on your shelf ten years from now. Secondly, the story (essentially a close retelling of the goose girl fairytale) is lyrical and utterly captivating. In many places it reads more like poetry than prose and would be great read aloud. I think if you like Robin McKinley's books, you'll like Goose Girl.

Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin (illus. by Eric Beddows)
Not a collection of short stories so much as a travelogue or set of fictionalized essays. Not as enjoyable as some of her other works, but a good airport read.

In Their Own Voices: Teenage Refugees and Immigrants from India Speak Out compiled by R. Viswanath
Part of Rosen Publishing Group's In Their Own Voices series. Tells the stories of seven Indian teens -- why they left India, what living in the US is like, their hopes and dreams, etc. Each teen's story might work better if paired with an essay discussing a major issue in the teen's story. For example, essays on culture shock, marriage customs, or political uprising in Kashmir would have done wonders. While this book also includes a very brief history of India it concentrates mostly on India under colonialism and makes colonialism seem pretty okay, really. On the other hand, Voices offers the reader a pretty unique POV not found in most other YA materials.

Neela: Victory Song (Girls of Many Lands Series) by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Overall, a good YA read. Pretty historically accurate look at one girl's life in 1939 India. Neela is strong and determined -- good role model material -- and the author's treatment of the Bengali culture seems authentic. My only real complaint is that the ending was too abrupt. What happened to Neela's mother while Neela was away rescuing Dad? How is Neela's disappearance and return handled by her village? What happens to her marriage prospects (considering her indecorous behavior -- climbing trees is one thing, but running off to Calcutta dressed as a boy is quite another)?

Asian Americans: Oral Histories of First to Fourth Generation Americans from China, the Philippines, Japan, India, the Pacific Islands, Vietnam and Cambodia by Joann Faung Jean Lee
Personal histories of Asian Americans grouped into three major sections -- "Living In America," "Aspects of Americanization," and "Reflections on Interracial Marriage." By no means a warm fluffy look at "model minorities," but rather brutally honest look at an extremely diverse group of people.

Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural World by Hazel Rochman
Brilliant book with essays on cultural issues and bibliographies of juvenile and YA resources on specific ethnic groups. An absolute must have.

Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking by Raghavan Iyer
The photos are beautiful and make everything look temptingly delicious. The simple (mostly vegetarian) recipes use ingredients readily available at local grocers and Iyer's comments are always helpful.

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
As always, a clever little novel. Pratchett never disappoints.

Karma of the Brown Folk by Vijay Prashad
Inspired by du Bois's The Souls of the Black Folk, this is a well written and eye opening attack on the myth of the "model minority."

Everything You Need to Know About Asian-American History by Lan Cao & Himilce Novas
Well, not precisely everything, but certainly more than you learned in school.

30 September 2003

Reads & Listens, September 2003


Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black
Apparently, there are faeries in New Jersey (sure, why not?) who plan on making tithe of this girl only she's more than just a girl. Oh, and she has the hots for a completely unsuitable bloke her friends warn her against. Hrm. If you like Gaiman or de Lint, you'll probably like this book. Character development isn't all that, but Black's descriptions can be quite stunning. Would make a good graphic novel or manga.

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
A fast-paced and fun read, even if a bit predictable and eerily like something else I've read (been wracking my brain for days trying to figure out which book).

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
451 is the latest selection in the "One Book. One Region" project. I doubt I can say anything about it that hasn't been said before and ... well ... I'll just say it was okay, but not something I will read again.

Echo by Francesca Lia Block
Readers who liked Tithe will probably like this book. Me? I wish Block had written a thicker book with less glitter and more meat. Yes, the short story format was a cute trick and the mythic overtones where pretty amusing, but it feels as if I've just woken up from a drug induced dream and I'm a little pissed over how hungry I have been left by it.

Letters in the Attic by Bonnie Shimko
A very enjoyable read. Funny and painful with a realistic and non-Hallmarky look at first love. My only complaint is that the book had no real ending. Shimko left the book open for a sequel -- maybe, Lizzy goes to Florida to see her Gran, meets another nice girl and finally gets over Eva? Or Lizzy goes to Florida to see her Gran and Eva realizes how much she needs Lizzy and follows her? Or, Eva has enough of Lizzy's mooning about, outs her to everybody, and Lizzy flees to Florida in mortification? Also, I want to know which character was supposed to be the boyfriend of which the cover flap spoke.

Among the Imposters & Among the Betrayed by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Companion volumes to Among the Hidden. For the most part, Imposters was quite satisfyingly scary and full of unexpected turns. Unfortunately, Betrayed failed to hold my attention most of the time, because the plot seemed so obvious.

Kissing Kate by Lauren Myracle
Painfully realistic. Also compelling, funny, and insightful. Generally brilliant. Mercifully free of saccharine sweet "be brave, young lesbian" overtones or political speechifying. Readers will have little difficulty empathizing with Lissa. Honestly, I think this is one of the best "young lesbian identity" novels I've ever read. It's just a story about a girl whose world changes after she kisses (and is kissed by) her best friend.

Alt Ed by Catherine Atkins
Ouch. Hits a little too close to home.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The reviews I've read all call this a sensational first novel and a passionate romance, but it seemed strangely flat to me. After 518 pages shouldn't I have felt something more than relief I'd reached the end? And what was that little conversation between Charisse and Clare at the art reception about? "I just design them [computer viruses], then I paint the html onto canvas, then I have a show. I don't actually put them into circulation." Is Charisse saying she writes the viruses in html? 2006 should be a fun year (Once again, I outgeek myself).

Who knows? Maybe, it will make a better movie. Starring Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, no doubt. Gak.

Animal Sense by Diane Ackerman (illus. by Peter Sis)

Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman
Fun Australian YA novel. It took the story a little while to build up speed and then it went hurtling into the end. I thought the character development was a little flat, but I don't think most readers will care.

Jahanara: Princess of Princess, India, 1627 (The Royal Diaries) by Kathryn Lasky
Actually, pretty good. I was kind-of leery of it -- it being a "Royal Diary" and all -- but I was pleasantly surprised. It was reasonably well written with a fair amount of historical detail for a book of this kind.

Shelf Life: Stories by the Book by Gary Paulson
"Barcarole for Papers and Bones" is a complete mindfuck. Read it three times and still don't know what happened or why, but I get the creepies every time. The rest of the stories where a pretty good mix of well written material. "Barcarole" was the best, though.

Cupid & Diana by Christina Bartolomeo
Light romantic comedy with no surprises. While I have little interest in fashion and the clothing descriptions were lost on me, the intra-family relationships were well worth the read. The only real flaw in this book is the sister, Annette. She's barely mentioned in the novel, has no real role in it, and could just as easily have been edited out.

30 August 2003

Reads & Listens, August 2003


The Future Homemakers of America by Laurie Graham
I managed to slog through the first part of the book (real slow going) until the characters developed to such a point I could keep them straight in my head. Overall, this wasn't the most exciting book I've read nor the best written. At times it seemed the author was sacrificing story for time -- was it really necessary to cover forty years in the life of Peggy & Co? Couldn't we just have covered the "important" events? Why keep introducing issues and then abandoning them? However, despite its failings, this was still a pretty pleasurable piece of fluff.

Swann by Carol Shields
Do not skip ahead to the end. I did this and ruined the book for myself. It was still a great read, but knowing how and why the Swann material was going missing took some of the fun out of it.

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Wow. This is one of the best books I have ever read. I laughed. I cried. I danced. I hungered. Go read this book. Go. Now.

Alia Waking by Laura Williams McCaffrey
Hrm. Alia wants to be a warrior, but fears she will not be accepted into the sisterhood. Slowly, through her relationship with two captured "spies" she begins to rethink what it is to be a warrior and whether she really wants to be one. Includes dabs of magic, beautifully descriptive imagery, and realistic character behavior. I would have enjoyed the novel more if McCaffrey had avoided the use of made up or tweaked names. "Keenten," for some reason, drove me crazy. Maybe, because I kept trying to read it as "kenteen" (canteen)?

What Are YOU so Grumpy About? by Tom Lichtenheld
Yes, the story is fun, but it's the illustrations and side comments that really make this book (the cereal boxes are my favorites). Some of the text is hard to read -- the washing machine page uses a swirly, squiggly font which is pretty hard on the eyes, but does look like a wash cycle ought to. All the children in this book are white and most are male. A pity, because while the topic should appeal to all children (and their parents) some children may feel left out as they are not represented in this book.

Bliss by Gabrielle Pina
Absolutely stunning debut novel. Beautifully written with lyric prose and excellent character development. I was so completely swept up by this novel I cried a little bit at the end. All this book lacked was a soundtrack.

Love With the Proper Husband by Victoria Alexander

Pillsbury Doughboy Slow Cooker Recipes: 140 New Ways to Have Dinner Ready & Waiting!
One of the best slow cooker recipe collections I've ever used. Simple, straight forward, and yet tasty recipes perfect for a work night or Sunday dinner. So far, I've made the Cheesy Italian Tortellini, Ravioli with Smoked Sausage and Peppers, Yellow Pea Soup with Chorizo, Smothered Buttermilk Chicken over Biscuits, and the Salsa Chicken. All keepers.

The Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughes
I first read this book when I was elevenish and it rocked my world. It had everything -- robots, space travel, impossible love, self sacrifice, and faint whiffs of sex. Olwen is the only human on Isis. One day, settlers arrive and Olwen discovers that the things she has taken for granted about herself and her planet are suddenly and startlingly different. What is it to be human? I am pleased to discover this book is the first part of a trilogy and I look forward to reading the rest.

To Sir Phillip, With Love by Julia Quinn
As always, this Quinn novel starts with a cute plot premise and then goes nowhere fast. With tighter editing, this would make an excellent short story.

It All Began with Jane Eyre or, The Secret Life of Fanny Dillman by Sheila Greenwald
Fanny's mom is worried about the books her daughter has been reading (Jane Eyre, for one) and gives her a few "teen angst" novels, instead. Of course, Fanny incorporates the plots of those books into her own life and madness ensues. While the tone is a little too clever (and sometimes the tone feels a bit condescending) this is still a good YA read. This is the book that introduced me to Jane Eyre and the joys of reading in the closet by flashlight.

Threshold by Ursula K. Le Guin
Published in the US as The Beginning Place, this is the story about growing up, and the loss of innocence. I found the book to be a bit confusing -- the unanticipated POV changes and constant reference to characters by pronouns rather than proper names kept me flipping back and forth trying to make sense of what I was reading. The characters are also not very well developed, but if you treat the book as a mythic tale full of archetypes, character development may not matter so much.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Frequently compared to Maus because of its content and graphic style, this is simply stunning book. I grew up knowing very little about the conflict in the Middle East -- either, it wasn't taught in school or I wasn't paying attention, but I don't remember covering the 1979 revolution (I do remember covering the US Civil War every damn year). This book is extremely well-told fantastically illustrates Iranian history in the late twentieth century. I devoured the book in one sitting and await the next volume with great anticipation.

The Wright Sister by Richard Maurer
This is a beautifully put together book full of otherwise unseen photos of Katherine Wright. Even discounting her relationship with her brothers, she remains a very interesting lady.

Nerd in Shining Armor by Vicki Lewis Thompson
As a girl geek married to a boy geek, I wanted more from Nerd than it delivered. While this book is not particularly well edited or put together and most of the story is extremely predictable, it would still make a decent beach or airport read. Large parts of the story are repeated over and over again so you don't miss much by reading it in chunks. The sex scenes are alright, but generally told from the male POV (what he did to her versus what she felt or did to him), but that's pretty standard for this genre.

17 August 2003

Glorious Garlic In My Tummy @ Adam's Garden of Eden

I have eaten so much garlic today that I could knock a vampire dead at ten paces. The rain turned out to be a plus as it cut down on the crowds and made it much easier to talk to stall owners. No real waiting for food, either. Was I ruled by my taste bud's insatiable lust for garlic today? You betcha.

Balsamic grilled portabella mushroom caps with a dollop of garlic goat cheese ... garlic and shiitake potato vichyssoise with garlic pesto croustades ... fried dough with garlic ... damned fine chicken gyro with garlic ... ginger garlic chicken ... garlic ice cream ...

And there are pictures, because The Husband brought the camera along. We don't bring the camera to family functions, but we bring it to the garlic festival!

30 July 2003

Reads & Listens, July 2003


Terminal Velocity by Blanche McCrary Boyd
Thelma and Louise with Sixties psychodelic drugs and lesbian communes.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
Too long, badly edited, lacking continuity, and extremely repetitive. Even less palatable than The Nanny Diaries.

The Blind Assasin by Margaret Atwood
Hard to follow, but that may be because I was not giving the book my full attention. The pulpy bits were just hilarious.

The Dark Horse by Marcus Sedgwick
You know when you go to the movies and you realize all the really good stuff was in the trailer? That's what reading this book was like. The premise sounded quite good, but the book itself was only mediocre. Nice cover art, though.

My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverly
The cross-dressing theme was amusing, the villians were terrible, and the violence disturbing. Overall, you could read the first half of the book and be content. Once "Cyn" brought Chastity home to his family the novel became annoyingly predictable. God save me from reading more books with Rothgar and the stick up his ass. Apparently, he's supposed to be quite the hottie from the whole tortured soul/Healthcliff school of romantic heroes. Or something. Stick up his ass, I tell you.

Fireflies: A Winter Tale by Alice Hoffman (illus. by Wayne McLoughlin)
Beautifully illustrated and utterly charming allegory.

Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
Hodge podge of linguistics, science fiction, feminist theory and alternative history. Some interesting points are raised, but mostly it's pretty dry going.

Jennifer Government by Max Barry

Troy by Adele Geras
Real purty cover art. Pretty good interpretation of the Trojan War, but the ending is really rushed and hard to believe. I'd expected that one or more of the main characters would die during the destruction of Troy and no-one did. Quite improbably, we have an (almost) happy ending.

A Cat Named Darwin: How a Stray Cat Changed a Man into a Human Being by William Jordan
A bittersweet little book about love and loss. While I found some of the philosophical ramblings to be a bit over the top, the book is well worth frittering an afternoon away on. A two hanky read.

Unless by Carol Shields
What a beautiful book! Lyrical and thoughty -- it should be read slowly and savoringly with lots of pauses for consideration. Amazing.

Darjeeling by Bharti Kirchner
A love triangle. A changing culture. Tea. Food. The perfect novel for a lovesick foodie.

30 June 2003

Reads & Listens, June 2003


Crusader by Edward Bloor
Pretty damn exciting for a book off the middle school summer reading list. Racism, virtual reality, repressed memories, murder, young love ... it has everything a beach read needs and more.

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney
Another book off the middle school summer reading list. This is a stunning interpretation of the Iliad and early Greek history as seen through the eyes of a twelve year old hostage. Well worth reading, but not for those looking for cutesy princess stories. Helen is not a nice Barbie princess. Paris is one evil bastard. The gods are capricious and cruel. And men, in general, just come off badly.

Green Angel by Alice Hoffman
Dark. Haunting. Lyrical. Beautiful.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Yet another book off the middle school summer reading list (if I have to shelve 'em then I might as well read 'em). I had a lot of fun reading this book and I do thinks it would make a fine summer mother-daughter read. On the other hand, the some aspects of the storyline were either just a little too Hallmark at it's very best or too After School Special. And Bee's sexual shenanigans were just ... disturbing. Her behavior was so flagrant and yet none of the adults running the camp savvied on to it? I wish I'd gone to her kind of camp when I was fifteen.

Technology as Magic by Richard Stivers
The central point of this book seems to be that technology's main contribution and attraction for people is the magical qualities they attach to it rather than the practical tasks it accomplishes and technologists acting as contemporary magicians have worked hard to keep people feeling that way. By making everything "user friendly" the average user has no real understanding of how technology works and sees it almost as a kind of magic.

Cup of Morning Shadows (Book 2 of the Twelve Treasures) by Rosemary Edghill
Librarians in Faerie Land. An amusing and breezy read.

The Courtesan's Daughter by Priscilla Galloway
A YA soap opera set in ancient Athens. Very well researched, but kind-of repetitive and obvious.

Daughter of Elysium by Joan Slonczewski
Set on Shora long enough after A Door Into Ocean that it stands well enough on its own. Full of lots of un-Christian thoughts and gay people so you might want to skip this book or you'll make baby Jesus cry. (Sorry, I was reading Amazon.com reviews and, as always, that was a mistake). Really quite good.

The Woodwife by Terri Windling
Terri Windling copies Charles de Lint. Charles de Lint does it better.

Fires of the Faithful by Naomi Kritzer
Wow. Very interesting and clever interpretation of the Christian mythos. Lots of background detail, which I always like, and well written characters. If you like Shinn's Samaria books, you'll probably like this one. Although, I'm also a bit worried Kritzer's set herself up for a long series and the quality won't last. The last few chapters set up a lot of the action to come in the sequel and I can't believe it can all be resolved in just one more novel.

Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Beautiful and disturbing YA novel.

Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable by Mark Dunn
I had a great deal of fun reading this book even though the characters are about as flat as cardboard cutouts. Both clever and quirky, Ella Minnow Pea could pass as a morality tale for our time.

Rules of Engagement by Christina Dodd
This is the second book in Dodd's Governess series. The sex scenes are pretty damned spicy, but the over all story is very bland and about a hundred pages too long.

30 May 2003

Reads & Listens, May 2003


Princess in Waiting by Meg Cabot
Too much teen angst. Too much repetition. Basically, it's 225 pages of "I love Micheal! Don't let him dump me!!" and "I hate princess lessons!" and "I have no talent! Oh woe is me!" It gets old fast, trust me.

Midnight Champagne by A. Manette Ansay
Beautiful use of language. Not nearly as disturbing as her previous work, Vinegar Hill.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
One of the bookshop customers thought this was a very amusing book -- a "stunning satire." Sick bastard. Between the unending catalog of consumer goods and the grotesque habits of our protagonist ... I feel unclean. I admit I skipped bits after the murder of the call girls when everything seemed too depraved and indifferent, but I'm pretty sure I got the gist of it.

The Angel Factory by Terence Blacker
Boy thinks family is too perfect. Boy discovers that family really is too perfect. Boy discovers conspiracy of blonde white angels. Boy experiences trippy alien purple mist. Boy decides fate of world. And so on.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
Extremely funny and generally enjoyable read (Discworld books about witches are always my favorites). This book works just fine as a stand alone novel, although it might help to have read Wyrd Sisters so that the Ogg/Weatherwax interludes have more meaning.

A Very Dutiful Daughter by Elizabeth Mansfield
A very silly sort of romance. A proper Regency romance so no sex and thus no stupid purple prose about penises, clitorises, and body fluids. A nice change, really.

Pig Tale by Verlyn Flieger
Really gripping and thought-y sort of YA novel. Admittedly, quite a dark book and not a very straight forward read, but well worth getting your hands on.

Jack by A.M. Homes
Homes's first novel told from the perspective a 16 year-old boy who finds out his dad is gay. Much teenage melodrama ensues.

29 April 2003

Reads & Listens, April 2003


A Man, a Can, a Plan: 50 Great Guy Meals Even You Can Make by David Joachim
Tried three recipes from this book and while, yes, they were fast to prepare, the results weren't that great. The "50s-Style Creamed Chicken" was too much like college cafeteria food. I couldn't get the cream cheese to combine with the tuna very well for "Fish in a Blanket" so I ran it through the Kitchenaid which resulted in a disturbingly smooth texture (results looked like a hairball). The "Game-Day Stew" came out best, but because the veggies were canned they turned out very mushy. In several instances, fresh (or less "prepared") ingredients were cheaper than the canned ones and, I expect, tastier.

Girl in a Cage by Jane Yolen & Robert Harris
Quite wonderful historical young adult novel.

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
I keep reading reviews for this book that compare it to The Handmaid's Tale which, I think, does this book a great disservice. It's a very good novel and one I kept thinking about long after I'd finished, but it has little in common with Handmaid's or 1984 (which "Publisher's Weekly" groups it with). It's a book about surviving and redefining your world in order to survive. Go read it. If it has to be grouped with other famous Lit 101 text, then group it with Lord of the Flies. Better yet, let it stand alone.

Barbed Wire: A Political History by Olivier Razac
"Olivier Razac uncovers the hidden history of barbed wire for the first time." That's what the book jacket says, anyway, but I found most of the material in this book to be quite familar. As always, I am "The Girl Who Reads Too Much."

The Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse: A Nancy Clue Mystery by Mabel Maney
I've been wanting to read the Nancy Clue books ever since I read Maney's Bond spoof Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy. Unfortunately, it took a good year of searching before I could get my hot little hands on this book. Was it worth the wait? Oh, yes. Funny, clever, and oh-so-camp. No way in hell anyone is borrowing my copy.

The Case Of The Good-For-Nothing Girlfriend: A Nancy Clue Mystery by Mabel Maney
One of the most amusing books I've read in ages. "'I'm okay, Miss Gertz,' Cherry calmed the frantic woman. 'Except for the rope burns on my arms, there was no harm done.' Lucky for her, she had had the foresight to pack rope-burn salve."

Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan
While the title kept putting me in mind of Fay Weldon's The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, this novel is in no way similar to it. Revenge is, at best, a sweet and moderately amusing look at life post marriage. There are no real surprises in this novel. I suppose, in that aspect, it's more like real-life. The characters behave, mostly, as real people would. Which means that sometimes the book was a bit boring. Sweet, moderately amusing, but a bit boring. Very British.

Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male & Female by Phyllis Burke
Interesting look into "Gender Identity Disorder" -- a disorder we have all encountered at one point or another in our lives. Yes, all of us. Even you. Wouldn't it be nice to live in a world where gender, sexuality, and biology weren't all lumped in together? Wouldn't it? Well?

The Cat Who Covered The World: The Adventures of Henrietta & Her Foreign Correspondent by Christopher S. Wren
A sweet and funny read. Recommended to all cat people.

Everything & The Moon by Julia Quinn
Completely unbelievable, but fun.

Scandal by Heather Cullman
Completely unbelievable, pointlessly verbose, and not a lot of fun at all.

Further Observations of Lady Whistledown by Julia Quinn et al
The first story was fairly amusing, but it was all downhill from there. Maybe, I've just ingested too much romance, but all the stories seemed reallllly familar.

30 March 2003

Reads & Listens, March 2003


Abhorsen by Garth Nix
You must read it.

Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn
I would have liked to know more about Jaxom and the aliora, but otherwise I found this book to be a quite satisfying light read. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Patricia McKillip's novels.

First Truth by Dawn Cook
Pretty good first novel. Excellent world building, good character development, and an interesting plot. The ending was a bit of a disappointment, but I still look forward to reading the sequel.

The Apothecary Rose by Candace Robb
Fairly unexceptional medieval mystery. I think I'll stick with Ellis Peter's Cadfael series. They're generally better developed and better written.

Milton & Milton Goes to the Vet by Hayde
Absolutely charming books about Milton the cat.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) by Example by Steve Callihan
Using this book and the downloadable examples, I found it very simple to master the basics of CSS. And that's the problem, really. I've learned enough basic CSS to do the examples, but no real idea how to adapt to my own needs or desires. I suppose that's where O'Reilly's CSS Pocket Reference and css/edge come in. I would recommend borrowing this book from the library, but I most definitely would not fork over $29.99 for a copy of my own.

The Sword of Maiden's Tears by Rosemary Edghill
I felt a strong sense of deja vu when I read this book. In many ways it is similar to many other fantasy books I have read or movies I have seen. Quite frustrating as I always knew where the plot and character development were headed. I spent a lot of time thinking "I've seen this movie" even though there is no movie.

The Binding Chair, or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society by Kathyrn Harrison
Enjoyable even when the story kept bouncing between different time periods and characters.

26 February 2003

Reads & Listens, February 2003


Just Desserts (A Bed-and-Breakfast Mystery) by Mary Daheim
What to say? It was okay. Not as funny as I'd hoped. Probably, it would make a good made-for-tv movie.

The Actress & The Marquis by Cindy Holbrook
Quite funny in places, but not particularly surprising or inventive.

The Seduction by Nicole Jordan
Very well written and researched erotic romance. Toe curlingly sexy -- don't skip these sex scenes.

George and the Virgin by Lisa Cach
Generally funny time travel romance, but the last chapter was a complete disappointment. What is it with romance writers that they feel they need to attach these crap addenda at the end?

The Landscaping Revolution by Andy & Sally Wasowski
Kick in the ass for those of us who keep dithering about going native. Everything you wanted to know about the whys of natural gardening. Sadly, the new edition is missing the radical cover art I love. So much for gardening as a form of political resistance.

The Bride Sale by Candice Hern
I would be much happier about seeing more gay characters in mainstream romances if they weren't so frequently portrayed as assholes or fuckwits. What's wrong with happy, well adjusted, non-hetero characters? Hmmm?

The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot
I really liked The Princess Diaries series and was quite looking forward to reading this book but ... I don't know ... it was all fluffy and cute ... maybe a bit too cute? The e-mail format was "fun" for the first dozen pages, but then I kept waiting for The Boy Next Door to turn into a real book. Silly me.

The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans & Other Stories by Johnny Valentine
Mediocre fairy tales in which most of the children have lesbian mothers or gay fathers.

Choosing a Career in Information Science (World of Work) by Laura Leone
Very good introduction to information science for children and pesky, but well-meaning relatives. Seriously, I can think of a whole raft of relatives who would benefit by reading this book.

Delicious & Dependable Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson
It's a beautiful book and the recipes sound quite yummy, but unfortunately neither of the recipes I tried came out particularly well. Oh, they were certainly edible, but they weren't as tasty as the recipes had given me to believe. Also, many of the recipes have out-of-the slow cooker steps that can be a trifle time consuming. When I made "Polish Beef Stew with Sauerkraut and Sausage" and "Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic" I felt as if I were pre-cooking dinner before it all went into the cooker. This book is going back to the library.

30 January 2003

Reads & Listens, January 2003


Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
This and a nice bottle of wine will get you through the worst of the holidays.

The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage by Cathi Hanauer
Loved the first half of this book and I probably would have loved the second half as well, except that by then, the book was a bit of a blur (I did not read this in one sitting). Many of the essays seem repetitive and while I understand that's because a lot of women are going through the same shit, I didn't need to be bludgeoned with it. Also, not being of the same generation as most of the writers, I kept finding myself thinking "What about me? Where are the women like me? These are almost but not quite like my issues." Sometimes, my selfishness alarms me.

The Big U by Neal Stephenson
His first novel and it shows a bit. I wouldn't tell anyone not to read it, but I'd certainly recommend nearly everything else he's written over it. Some parts were very funny and sharp, but a lot seemed like National Lampoon Goes to College.

Never After by Rebecca Lickiss
A charming, sweet, and funny fractured fairy tale. Clever, but not so clever it made me cross-eyed. Definitely recommended to those who liked The Princess Bride.

Contact by Susan Grant
One of my romance loving cronies recommended this to me as a good "cross over" romance. Basically, it's a romance novel that wants to be a sci-fi adventure in the same way that Trek novels want to be real books. I could see it as the screenplay for a movie of the week, but ... but ... oh, hell, it wasn't very good, okay? If I want sci-fi romance, I'll pick something like Mary Gentle's Golden Witchbreed.

Patently Female by Ethlie Ann Vare & Greg Ptacek
Obviously, I read too much, because I was already familiar with most of the women mentioned in this book. It's a good primer and it would make an excellent educational supplement when coupled with the Women Who Dare Knowledge Cards. As a librarian, I would have liked a bibliography or more in depth list of resources in case, you know, I wanted to know more.

An Offer From a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
Really good. I actually laughed out loud in a few places and never rolled my eyes in disbelief at some unlikely plot contrivance. Quite amazing, really.

Potent Pleasures by Eloisa James
I was captivated by this book right up until their wedding night. Then it became like every bad romance I'd ever read.

Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Funny. Almost as good as An Offer From a Gentleman, but ... was I really supposed to think that Eloise or Mrs. Bridgerton was Mrs. Whistledown? C'mon, people. Also, it dragged a bit and there seemed to be an awful lot of characters popping up for no particular reason (besides keeping loyal readers happy, maybe?) and ...
... some of the plot contrivances did make me roll my eyes.

Enchanting Pleasures by Eloisa James
Is Peter gay? That's what I wanted to know. Oh, and why was he such an ass in this book when he was actually pretty nice in Potent Pleasures? Unlikely plot contrivances abounded in this book. My eyes were just rolling madly the whole time. I know it's a "romance," but that doesn't mean it has to be nonsensical. Why do I keep reading these things? Why?