June 29, 2009

How to Make a Fool of Yourself on Twitter

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I love Twitter. It can be very entertaining, informative, lots of fun but it's not the place to record every thought that pops into your head. This is the internet. Everyone can see it. This is especially true if you are a famous author with lots of followers.

Yesterday I was Twittering away when a particular writer's tweets popped up. She was angry about a review in The Globe. I was curious so took a look at the review. It wasn't especially harsh. It wasn't totally positive but the reviewer balanced the bad points with the good. I didn't really get what the big deal was and did a bit of eye rolling.

Today the proverbial poo hit the fan. GalleyCat sniffed out the story and posted the nastiness for all the world to see. The author called on fans to start a flame war, posting a email address for the reviewer (for the record, I didn't see this until today). As you can see, that author is Alice Hoffman. Yep, Alice. Hoffman.

Twitter. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy. I'm not a huge Hoffman fan but I was following her tweets. I was disappointed to say the least by her reaction. As someone who has been in the business a long time, I think she should know how things work. Not everyone is going to think your stuff is the best thing since sliced bread. It's okay to grumble to your friends and family but to encourage negative rabid fan behaviour on a social networking site is not good. It's just makes the person doing the posting look bad.

It is too easy to sign onto Twitter and post something dumb. Everyone has at some point. It only takes a few clicks and you've publicly shown the not so flattering side of your personality. The thing is I'm not a celebrity and no one cares. For authors, it pays to do what authors do best and weigh their words carefully.

Update: Alice Hoffman apologizes.

Summer of Hitchcock: Rear Window

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Rear Window

A few months ago, I watched Rear Window for the first time. I was supposed to go somewhere while it was on but put it off until the movie was over. Once I started watching, I had to see how it would turn out.

Photographer Jeff (Jimmy Stewart) breaks his leg and has to spend his recovery in his apartment. These are the days before TV and video games so he gets bored just sitting around. He starts spying on his neighbours who offer him hours of entertainment. Occasionally his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) comes over to keep him company. She can't help but get sucked into the voyeurism. When one of his neighbours starts acting fishy and his wife disappears, Jeff starts nosing around a little too much. His interest borders on obsession. His police friend doesn't believe him and this only fuels the fire. Sooner or later, he's going to get burned.

I loved this movie. A little voyeurism never hurt anyone, right? It's all fun and games until someone ends up dead. It's a movie that hits a little close to home. I've never really had neighbours before I moved. I don't know if I can get used to people sitting out on their decks watching me wash the car. And I can't help but notice their comings and goings. (I wonder what so-and-so are up to in their yard. Someone bought a new car? Seriously, someone needs to put a leash on muffy.) I'm drawing the line at sitting in the window with a camera lens though. It all starts out as fun. A little entertainment. But then Jeff sees something he shouldn't have and things get ugly.

The familiarity of the plot inspired a lot of other movies and TV shows. It's got to be Hitchcock's most copied. Here's a short list of ones I remember:

The 'Burbs: Even if it wasn't intended, The 'Burbs is Rear Window-esque. I loved this movie growing up- and not just because of Corey Feldman either. Tom Hanks is hilarious as a guy forced by his wife to take a vacation at home. Sitting around in his bathrobe is just too boring and he starts watching the strange new family- the ones who dig holes in the middle of the night! I think the funniest scene is when the neighbourhood visit the new family and they all have crackers and sardines. Awkward! I feel like watching it again.

The Simpsons (Bart of Darkness): After the Simpsons get a pool, Bart breaks his leg and has to spend the summer cooped up in his room. Lisa gives him a telescope but Bart thinks looking at the sky is too boring o he watches goodie-neighbour Flanders. Bart suspects Flanders killed his wife Maude and has Lisa snoop around. 'Jimmy Stewart' makes an appearance.

Disturbia: Remake that Shia Labeouf said was not a remake... Okay then... It totally is. Teen angst, technology and voyeurism. Shia is under house arrest. He watches his sexy neighbour swim and his other neighbour, Mr Turner, mow the grass (Mrs Turner Cutting the Grass?). Only Mr Turner doesn't reminisce about his lost youth, he murders red heads. Much more violent and lame than Rear Window.

The Unusuals (The Dentist): I love this quirky new cop show. Det Leo Banks (Harold Perrineau- Michael from Lost) thinks he's going to die before his next birthday. So he does what any normal person would do and locks himself in his apartment. Thinking he's safe, he watches the neighbours, including the sexy Yoga Girl. One night Yoga, Girl has an unwanted visitor and Leo has to decide whether or not to leave the apartment.

Can you think of anymore?

Next week, Psycho.

June 27, 2009

My Lord John by Georgette Heyer: Review

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Although Georgette Heyer is known for her Regency novels, she was fascinated with the Middle Ages. Before her death, she planned to write a trilogy revolving around the House of Lancaster. The work took years because of the amount of research. Her husband said she was a perfectionist and studied every detail of the period.

The first book she planned was a tribute to Henry V's brother John of Bedford- My Lord John. The book starts when John and his brothers are children. His father is not yet king but the cards are being dealt. Henry of Bolingbroke will soon be on the throne. The children are separated and although raised far from each other, they are still loyal brothers. When their dad is king, he relies on them to keep his kingdom together. What happens next, I do not know. I couldn't finish it. I read close to 300 pages but can't see me finishing the next 200. I usually feel really bad about this but in this case not so much because the book is not finished either.

John does seem like an interesting character. I liked reading the parts where John's personality is the focus but these moments are too few. I can't help but think that if Heyer finished the book she would have breathed more life into it. Her Regencies are so lively. The dialogue seems to just be for conveying information to the reader. I didn't get a sense of who they were as people. They didn't have any great thoughts or desires other than strategies for war. I'm not saying I wanted John to be Dr Zhivago but some inner dialogue would have helped me connect with him better.

So far, being a king stinks. It's a good thing Henry IV had a bunch of sons. He sends them out to defend his borders, beat off usurpers, and do it all without a budget. Lather, rinse, repeat. How do these guys have time for anything else? And why would any of them want to be king? What is the payoff? An early grave? These are questions I would have liked Heyer to have explored.

My copy from Sourcebooks includes a glossary, a genealogy, and a character list which is very helpful. There are numerous characters who have similar names.

As I read My Lord John, I was saddened. Heyer was one talented lady with a passion for her country's history. She never got to complete her life's work. What would her trilogy been if she had lived to finish it?

Thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy.

June 26, 2009

1892 by Paul Butler: A Review

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In the summer of 1892, fire ravaged the city of St John's, Newfoundland. Paul Butler was inspired by this part of history to write a fictionalized account of the cause of the fire.

Kathleen, an Irish servant, meets Tommy as she's shopping for a gift for the sister she left in London. Tommy is a n'er-do-well who follows Kathleen and offers her a stolen music box as a present. Kathleen knows Tommy is trouble but she's lonely and has some major daddy issues. So when Tommy shows up at her employer's house in the middle of the night, she agrees to go walking with him. Eventually, Kathleen falls for Tommy, believing that she can change him into the man she wants him to be. Yeah, you know that always works.

Tommy is an angry young man. He drinks too much and the more he's mistreated, the more he drinks. He makes some half-assed attempts at pulling himself together after he meets Kathleen but mostly he wallows in self-pity.

In the meantime, Kathleen's employer, Mrs Stevens, invites her cousin Dr Glenwood to conduct some scientific experiments in her house. Kathleen is persuaded to take part in the experiment. This causes Mrs Steven's daughter Louisa, a lively teen, pangs of jealousy. She so wants to have admirers and adventures like Kathleen. Adventure is about to find her, in unexpected ways.

All these characters are about to play a part in the disaster that is the fire of 1892.

1892 is a unique story- part mystery, part historical fiction. It's beautifully written yet it's a dark novel. So many characters have sinister aspects to their personalities or they are unknowingly pulled into dark deeds. The narrative alternates between Kathleen and Tommy; Butler is good at luring us into switching our sympathies from character to character. Just as a felt a connection to a character, they would do something foolish that made me want to smack them. Equally frustrating is the attitude of the upper crust of St John's. Something happens toward the end that had me seeing red.

Even though I enjoyed 1892, it's a tragic story. That's not a spoiler. We know from the beginning that something really terrible has happened. Butler leaves us just enough clues to make us want to read on even though we feel like we might regret it. It's a 'don't look in the closet' kind of feeling. There are some twists that took me by surprise.

1892 is a perfect mystery to read on a hot, sticky night.

Recommended

June 25, 2009

Bunsch of Munsch: A Bunsch of Reviews

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It's coming down to the wire for The 2nd Canadian Books Challenge. Since I'm far behind, I decided to raid my daughter's shelves for some quick Canadiana. (It's not cheating. John told me to!) Who better than Robert Munsch? Loved by so many Canadian kids. We went to see Robert Munsch a few years ago and he was very entertaining. It's too bad that his recent health problems will keep him from performing for awhile.

Look at Me!: Madison goes to the park with her family where a face painter is giving kids free face paintings. Madison tells her, "I want just on my cheek, a small perfect rose that looks really real." The painter does her best and Madison is happy but soon the rose multiples mysteriously until she is covered in roses. Now she just has to get someone to really look at her to see her problem. Very cute story.


Mmm, Cookies: Christopher makes a cookie out of play clay and tricks everyone in his family into eating it. The joke's on him though when his teacher makes a cookie of her own. Christopher definitely gets what he deserves but I'm sure the teacher would be fired if she tried that in real life. Includes a recipe for play clay.



Boo!: A Halloween tale. Lance wants to make his face very, very scary for trick or treating so he paints it himself. It's so bad he has to wear a pillowcase on his head. He goes around scaring people out of their treats until a teen tries the same trick on him. I'm not sure how I feel about a character who scares people unconscious and then raids their fridges but kids seem to like it.

The previous 3 books were illustrated by Michael Martchenko (an awesome illustrator). The next book is illustrated by Sheila McGraw.


Love You Forever: The book that makes Moms cry. A mother rocks her son every night while reciting a special poem. As he grows into a man, she still insists on rocking him. It gets a little Edward Cullen creepy in the middle ("I like to watch you sleep") but turns into a tear jerker at the end.


Muncsch tends to rely on repetitiveness, aka Teletubbie syndrome. This can get on a parent's nerves if they've read the story aloud several times. At least, the kids can pick it up easily and spare the parent a bit. Although I didn't list it here, I prefer his earlier story Millicent and the Wind.

12/13 books down!! Almost finished my last one!

June 24, 2009

Summer of Hitchcock: Dial M for Murder

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Dial M for Murder

Margot (Grace Kelly) is married to washed up Wimbledon champ Tony (Ray Milland) but having an affair with an American crime writer named Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Margot decides to break off the relationship with Mark after a love letter is stolen and she is blackmailed by an anonymous letter writer.

Meanwhile Tony has the love letter and enlists the the help of an old school acquaintance, Mr Swan (Anthony Dawson), to murder Margot. Margot has loads of money and if she runs off with Mark, he's broke. Better to kill his wife before she has the chance and keep her money for himself. Tony makes himself an alibi by taking Mark to The Most Boring Stag Party Ever and leaves Margot at home to face her doom.

Things go awry for Tony when Margot gets stabby with a pair of scissors and kills Swan. Now Tony has to make sure there are no clues to his part in this mess before Chief Inspector Hubbard (John Williams) gets wise. Margot gets in hot water when the love letter is found on the body. Will Margot be saved in time?

This is a very entertaining movie even though we barely leave the couple's apartment. Tony is super suave as he bullies Swan into agreeing to murder. He tells him a creepy and personal story of his wife's infidelity. "Dude, why are you telling me this?" "Well, I want you to murder her, old boy." He's as cool as a cucumber. Beautiful Grace gets to wear some awesome dresses. I loved the clothes! And that stabbing scene gives me the willies. But the character I liked the best was the inspector. I loved how he figured it all out, although I thought he was leaving things go on a little too long.

This DVD included extras like commentary by modern filmmakers including M. Night Shyamalan. Very interesting. I enjoyed hearing them discuss details like the colour of Grace's clothes and the shift in sympathy from character to character.

Dial M for Murder was remade as A Perfect Murder with Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas in the 1990s. I remember seeing this and I think there were some major changes. It was entertainng but not as good as Dial M.

Next up if Rear Window, which I have seen already (yay!), I have a plan for that post so please come back next week!

June 23, 2009

Ecoholic by Adria Vasil: A Review

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I've hinted that Ecoholic was scaring me. I'll tell you why. Reading about all the chemicals hovering around me waiting to give me tumours, Alzheimers, or worse makes me want to live in a cave in a mountain- all dirty and hairy. Of course, then I'd be still have the pollution made by others to deal with. I better build a rocket. To say I found Ecoholic both alarmist and depressing is an understatement.

Ecoholic is "your guide to the most environmentally friendly information, products and services in Canada." Adria Vasil just can't help but tell us about the horrors of modern living though. "Like to sleep? Well just think of the chemicals from that mattress seeping into your pores! Mawahahaha!" Okay maybe not quite like that, but you follow me, right? Every item you come into contact with everyday has some terrible chemical connected to it. Everything! I'm a bit of a hypochondriac so this all freaked me out.

Then about halfway through I calmed down. First of all, I wondered at the science behind her claims and a lot of it is phrased "studies have shown" and "people claim." What studies? What people? Also it sometimes felt like she was saying that we are damned if we do or damned if we don't. Think becoming a vegetarian is the way to go? Think again, all that soy for tofu is grown in fields of previously virgin rain forest. Better start eating weeds- but wait! Better check and make sure it's not endangered. Plus, they might have been sprayed with pesticides. We're doomed, People! Sigh. I came to the conclusion that it's like raising kids- you pick your battles. There is no way I could do all that she suggests or buy all the products she recommends. I'm not a Rockefeller; some of this stuff is tres expensive. However, I can feel good about some of the small changes I can make.

The information was quite overwhelming. It covers everything from beauty products, medicine and food to transportation and business. While I copied down a few products I'd like to try for the most part I think I'd do a bit of research before committing to any major changes. Also, be aware that this book was published in 2007 and might already have outdated information.

Who would I recommend this book to? Someone who wants to buy and use more environmentally friendly products (ones you can get mostly in Canada). I wouldn't recommend it to a worrier like myself.

Read for The 2nd Canadian Reading Challenge and The Eco Reading Challenge.

June 21, 2009

Bloggiesta: Squeezing It In

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So I didn't officially join Bloggiesta this weekend but I had some spare time on Saturday to work on my blog. So what did I do? Here goes:

*Cleaned up the sidebar a bit.
*Deleted a few labels.
*Added Meta Tags to my HTML.
*Made an 'official' Contact page.
*Looked at a few new blog templates (not sure if I should do it- so much work!).

I'd like to add a Shop to my blog without having to be on Etsy anymore- just a few book related items. Not sure how to do this though. Any thoughts?

June 18, 2009

Pondering: Book Blogger Angst

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I don't know if I was always this much of a critical reader. I've been thinking about this lately. I find myself getting more annoyed with certain things in the books I read: plot devices I've seen before, stereotypical characters, cliches. I don't like stilted dialogue or run on sentences either. I'm unsure if this is the result of blogging about my reading or if it is just a result of the volume of reading I do.

I'm sure I was easier to please at one point, but now I wish to find something truly unique. Has it all been done before? Am I reading the wrong books?

I'm also annoyed with myself because it's hard to find a new way to say, "The writing was great" or "I really enjoyed it." It's taking me longer to write reviews and I'm never 100% happy with them.

So what is this? Book blogger angst? If you are a book blogger, do you ever feel the same? What can I do to break out of my reading and writing funk?

June 17, 2009

Summer of Chris

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Does anyone remember the Seinfeld Episode where George declares a Summer of George where he'll do whatever he wants? Well, I'm not going to play frolf but George does inspire me to have my own Summer of Chris.

I've been part of book blog tours, had deadlines for reviews too, over the past year but this summer I'm limiting all that. I've only signed onto 2 blog tours for the summer- ones I really wanted to be a part of- and resisted several others. While I have a buttload of books on the shelves, many of them newer ones, I have many books I've been dying to read for months but there was always another book to be read instead.

So for my Summer of Chris, I'm going to throw schedules out the window. I'm going to throw caution to the wind. Whatever grabs my attention at the moment will be read and if I can't get into it, I will put it aside. I even hesitate to write down what I'm thinking about reading because it's subject to change.

So, come July I'll put on my velvet sweats (though that sounds a bit hot), eat a block of cheese (maybe not) and read willy-nilly!

Who's with me?

June 16, 2009

Bookish Movies

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Recently, I watched a couple of book related movies. Today I think I'll give my thoughts on them.

First up Lost in Austen (DVD). Amanda Price (Jemima Rooper) has a boring job and an unromantic boyfriend. There are some nights she just wants to curl up with her favorite book, Pride and Prejudice. She wishes she lived in it. She gets her wish when Elizabeth Bennett (Gemma Arterton who also played Tess in the BBC production of Tess of the D'Ubervilles) shows up standing in her bathtub. A door in Amanda's apartment is a gate between the 21st century and Jane Austen's imagined world of Pride and Prejudice. She and Elizabeth switch places and Amanda finds that the world she dreamed of isn't quite what she expected.

I didn't realize that this was a mini-series until I was up after midnight waiting for it to finish! It was a lot of fun though. A definite chick-flick. I had read Lost in Austen which is an interactive book where the reader changes the outcome of the Austen novels- all of them. The movie only focuses on Pride and Prejudice and Amanda takes our place. Still, like the book, every little thing that Amanda does changes the plot in major ways. She also finds out some unexpected things about the characters Mrs Bennett (Alex Kingston) is 'a real ball buster' and Wickham (Tom Riley) has a softer side. She even finds out some shocking surprises from Georgiana Darcy and Caroline Bingley (Christina Cole).

I didn't real feel the chemistry between Amanda and Mr Darcy (Eliot Cowan). In fact, I wanted her to run off with Mr Wickham- that bad boy. I loved seeing Lizzie in the modern world. I always thought she was too smart for Darcy.

Definitely recommended.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (DVD) A baby is born to a wealthy family in New Orleans with the unfortunate condition of being an elderly infant. The father, shocked and disgusted, leaves the baby on the steps of an old folks home. Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) who works at the home takes the baby and names him Benjamin. As Benjamin (Brad Pitt) grows, he seems to be getting younger. Benjamin meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett) and falls in love with her but circumstances keep them apart. Benjamin goes off to war while Daisy becomes a ballerina. Later they will come together again but Benjamin's condition is always an obstacle.

This was a beautiful looking movie with an interesting storyline. It was actually quite sad. How would in feel to age in the opposite direction than everyone else? Although it's based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, from what I've read it's a much different story.

I enjoyed Benjamin Button though it was a strange tale.

June 15, 2009

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

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In The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Connie Goodwin is about to start writing her dissertation when her mother asks her to clean out her grandmother's house so it can be put up for sale. Covered in vines with no phone or power service, the old house, located just outside Salem, Massachusetts, is a relict from another time. Connie has a lot on her mind, her mentor is putting pressure in her to write something amazing, her mom lives in a world of her own, and she's been having headaches and strange visions since she entered the house. Unable to sleep and looking for something to read, she comes across a key and a note in a Bible; a note with just a name, Deliverance Dane.

This intrigues Connie and she sets out to find the person behind name. She comes across a startling discovery. Deliverance was a woman tried for witchcraft during the Salem Witch trials. She was also the owner of a mysterious book of spells that has been lost for hundreds of years. Connie always believed that the witchcraft in Salem was the result of mass hysteria but this evidence causes her to question this rational explanation. Maybe the magic they feared was real. Now Connie is on the hunt for Deliverance's Physick to prove her theory and find the connection between the Puritan woman and her grandmother.

I can't believe how fast I read this. It was fascinating (or should I say spellbinding- har-de-har-har). Everytime I had to put it down, I couldn't wait to get back to it. I read it cover to cover. Even Howe's notes were interesting. Katherine Howe is a descendant of two accused witches and is finishing a PhD in American and New England Studies. She did a lot of research for this book and it shows. It might even be a little heavy on the scholarly details, but the story is impressive.

Everyone assumes that the people accused were innocent of witchcraft but in the novel Deliverance is not. She was a cunning woman who used her power and her book to help her fellow New Englanders. When things get crazy, they turn on her. But Deliverance makes sure the book is in safe hands and encourages her daughter to keep up the craft. Throughout the novel, in sections titled Interludes, we trace the path of the Physick as it passes in and out of the hands of her descendants. We have to keep reading to find out where it ends up.

All of this is unknown to Connie. She shifts through old documents hidden away in archives around New England, following a paper trail that dates back to the 1600s. Not exciting enough for you? There is also romance, magic and a really special dog.

This is a fun summer read, not really as serious as other books about the Witch Trials, but it has just enough detail to feel like historical fiction. The only real complaint I have is that I found Connie to be a little slow on the uptake for someone so smart. If I could put two and two together, why couldn't she?

Katherine Howe has a website with more information about the book (be warned: there is music)

Highly recommended

Other reviews:
Medieval Bookworm
S Krishna's Books
Teabird

This was an ARC from Hyperion. Thanks.


June 11, 2009

BTT: Don't Fence Me In

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Booking Through Thursday

There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.)

But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that.

What niche books do YOU read?


Hmm, I hope I can do this question justice. I read a variety of stuff so I don't have a particular niche that I just have to read, but I do read some slightly odd ball stuff:

*Craft Books: This consists of sewing, scrapbooking, crochet and general craft books. I have a nice collection of those. I don't know if you can say I read them as much as use them. Although some are beautiful enough that I just enjoy looking at them.

*Classics (written by women): Are classics a niche? I don't know, but I have a soft spot for old books written by women: the Brontes, Austen, Eliot, Wharton. I'm interested in reading how they saw the world as people who didn't have much of a say in things.

*Weird Science Non-Fiction: Occasionally I'll come across non-fiction science reads that interest me: The Secret Life of Lobsters, The Seven Daughters of Eve, The Pluto Files. Something that deals with the fun side of science. I'm looking forward to reading Wicked Plants.

*Ecology: This is along the lines of the previous niche. I've become very interested in books on ecology lately: Ecoholic, Animal Vegetable Miracle. Anything that discusses how to live a more 'green' life.

*Local Folklore particularly Ghost Stories: I'm a sucker for these 'true' tales. They are true, right? Why would anyone make this stuff up? I love the local stuff because I can freak myself out when I'm in the location of the supposed event (Is that where he saw the hairy man?).

I think that's it. How about you? Do you read any of my niche books?

June 10, 2009

A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy by Charlotte Grieg: Review

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Susannah Jones is a philosophy student in the 70's with a complicated love life. Her long time boyfriend, Jason, is ten years older than her, owns his own antique business and a swanky apartment. But things aren't as good as they seem and after another night of being stood up, Susannah starts sleeping with a fellow student, Rob. She sneaks around behind Jason's back with Rob for several weeks not able to decide between the two of them until she finds out she is preggers. Then the plot goes Degrassi High (Will she be a Spike or an Erica?)

About halfway through A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy by Charlotte Greig, I turned to my husband and said, "I don't think I'm going to finish this one." I persevered and got to the end though.

My first issue with this book was the characters. Susannah is so shallow. She only stays with Jason because she likes his apartment; she doesn't want to live in student housing. She spends a lot of time describing how long it takes her to get ready to go out and she's always concerned about how she looks to other people. Not to mention that she is sleeping with two guys but can't be bothered to remember to take her pill everyday! Okay, I get that that is the point of the book but it didn't endear me to her. Both of the guys are asshats (neither of them feels the need to wear a condom either). What does she see in either of them? Most of the other characters are stereotypical college people: the prof who chases his female students, the insensitive doctor, the scientists wear tweed, the artists wear black, the gay guy is a snappy dresser, etc.

The back of this book's description calls Girl's Guide a "romp" and funny. I find this misleading and confusing for the reader. I didn't find it funny at all. I'm sure any woman who finds herself in this situation of deciding between keeping her baby or having an abortion wouldn't either. In fact, I found parts of the book pretty grim. Something I didn't understand was how she talked to numerous people about her problem but not one mentions adoption as an option- not one! Why was this completely overlooked?

Just one more thing, the writing style at the beginning put me off. Susannah gives us the minutiae of her life: "I thought, I'll get one of those dishes where you can load up on potato salad at the counter." It gets better as she wakes up and grows up but it was an awkward beginning for me.

So, why did I read A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy? Once I got into it, I wanted to see how it would all play out. I also wanted to know where the philosophy would come in. She uses philosophy to solve her real world problem. That was actually cleverly done. At first, she looks to Nietzsche and uses his ideas to avoid making decisions. Then the cold reality of Heidegger hits and finally acceptance of her decisions with the advice of Kierkegaard.

Well, lots of other people thought this was a great book but I thought it was only okay. I never felt any real attachment to Susannah and it kept me from losing myself in the story. I can only tell you to read it for yourself and tell me what you think. It's a quick read at 270 pages.

Thanks to Other Press, LLC for the review copy.

June 9, 2009

Eco Reading Challenge Update: #2

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I thought I'd post an update on the Eco Reading Challenge. Remember to post your reviews at the Eco Reading Challenge Blog. Please note, Mr Linky is not working and all links previously left have disappeared. Leave your links in the comments. I'm on my third book, Ecoholic by Adria Vasil. It's kinda freaking me out. It's the kind of book that might drive you to live like a hermit.

With the growing season upon us, here's an interesting challenge from David Suzuki: David Suzuki Digs My Garden. He is encouraging gardeners to grow their plants without the use of pesticides. It's a nice little site with tips, and a photo contest. Although the site is geared towards Canadians, I don't see why folks around the world wouldn't find something useful on it.

Speaking of gardening, here's a peek at my garden so far.

June 8, 2009

Weekly Geeks #21

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I should probably answer Weekly Geeks this week, since it was my own question. It wouldn't be very encouraging if I didn't, would it? I asked people to give parents ideas on how to entertain the kids over the summer or share a childhood summer memory.

Now my husband has the best summer memories because he spent all summer swimming and water skiiing at his parents summer place. I wasn't lucky enough to have a summer house (which I whine to him about) so Ill skip the summer memories. I'll do #1 and #3.

#1) I remember spending hours lying on my bed reading during the summer. When I got into my teens, I was staying up until 4 am reading Stephen King novels. But before that, I would read Nancy Drew (Carolyn Keene) novels cover to cover. I also liked Blossom Culp (Richard Peck), the Ramona series (Beverly Cleary), and The Secret of NIMH (Robert C O'Brien).

This summer, I think my daughter and I will be reading lots of Clementine (Sara Pennypacker), Junie B Jones (Barbara Park) and Animal Ark books (Ben M Baglio).

#3) There are lots of fun family destinations here on the island to visit over the summer. This is just a few of my favorites.

Fortress of Louisbourg
: The government of Canada had the ruins of the former French fortress reconstructed back in the 1970's. The fortress fell to the British in 1758 and was destroyed. Now reenactors play the parts of average people and officials from the 1700s. Upon entering the gates, visitors are stopped by "armed" 18th century guards and if you aren't careful you might find yourself in jail! Usually they are pretty friendly though ;). You can ask the actors questions and they will tell you all about their characters and the life they lived in Louisbourg. It's a lot of fun.

The Highland Village (Iona): A collection of houses from the early 1800s to the early 1900s were moved to this site to preserve the history of Scottish settlers on the island. The site includes a church, a schoolhouse, general store and blacksmith. More actors can be found here as well. You and the kids can take a ride on a horse and cart.


The Cape Breton Highlands
: One of the best places for hiking, swimming and camping. Beautiful sandy beaches like Black Brook and Ingonish are great for the kids. There are awesome hiking trails and look-offs. You might even see a moose! The scenery is indescribable.

June 4, 2009

Weekly Geeks #20

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So what's your pleasure? Your guilty pleasure... Weekly Geeks asked us to discuss our guilty pleasures.

I have a few. I figured I'd list them and discuss them a bit.

#1) Chocolate. If you dipped a shoe in chocolate, I'd probably eat it. I've always been a chocolate lover. I just can't stop. For a little while there it was almost a health food but it didn't last. It hasn't made it into the Canadian Food Guide so I guess I still have to feel guilty about it.

#2) Coffee. I used to hate it but my husband is an addict. Slowly he got me hooked too. Now I can't live without it. I think I'm now worse than he is. I hear there are a few benefit to drinking it but it does keep a person awake at night. Plus, I get nasty headaches if I haven't had it in awhile. That might be a problem.

#3) Wipeout. Yes, I mentioned this last week. I love this terrible, terrible show. People falling off of things, getting wet and muddy, doing things I wouldn't do and then getting laughed at by millions of people. Good times. Plus you gotta love those nicknames (Michelle "Deadbeat Daughter" won last night).

#4) Twitter. Some people don't get Twitter. I admit I didn't get it either at first. Now I spend hours reading people's Tweets. There are great things about Twitter. I hear all the book news first and have great discussions on there. But it is a time suck.

June 3, 2009

The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein: Review

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From prostitute, to concubine, to celebrated artist, The Painter from Shanghai by Jennifer Cody Epstein tells the story of Pan Yuliang "famous western-style woman painter."

Yuliang was sold to a brothel by her uncle, a man addicted to opium, at the age of fourteen. The years in the brothel are terrible but her friendship with the top-girl Jinling gives her hope. Jinling tells her that the men may buy her body but they can't get in her head. Years later, as an artist the only way she is able to express her feelings is through ink and paint.

At a party, Yuliang entrances a customs inspector, Pan Zanhua, who makes her his concubine and saves her from prostitution. Zanhua is a modern man forced into a traditional Chinese marriage. He opens a whole new world for Yuliang by getting her an education. The more she learns, the more she is drawn to art. Zanhua sees art as frivolous occupation but Yuliang excels at it to the point that she is offered a chance to study in Paris. Zanhua is torn between his love for her and his desire to see her succeed. Over the years, this struggle within him threatens to drive them apart.

In the meantime, Yuliang is enjoying her freedom in Paris. It isn't always easy and she is often a 'starving artist' but she has a freedom to express herself she didn't have in Shanghai. The politics, especially the return to traditional Chinese values, makes it difficult for Yuliang to show her art which often featured nudes- including self-portraits. This causes Zanhua embarrassment and affects his career.

The Painter from Shanghai is a fictionalized account of the life of Pan Yuliang. I know nothing about her so I have no idea what parts of the novel are true. At times it is both beautiful and shocking. I couldn't wait for her to get out of the brothel. The men were truly awful. While I was glad she found Zanhua, I held my breathe waiting to see how he would react to her new found talent. Honestly, at that time, he could have locked her away and never let her see a paintbrush again. Zanhua is instead of a typical 'man-keeping-woman-down' character found in a lot of modern literature, a complex and incredibly patient man. He sacrificed so much in order for her to follow her dreams.

Yuliang is almost enigmatic. She rarely shows her emotions to other people. You can't really blame her. She was betrayed so terribly by her uncle who she loved and trusted. Still, I liked her dignity and her strength. I hadn't looked at any of her paintings until near the end of the novel. Her self-portraits are very telling. Her eyes are just how I imagined them to be. She looks like someone who's had a hard life but still beautiful. You can see more of Pan Yuliang's art on Jennifer Cody Epstein's website.

Epstein does a terrific job of recreating China in the early 1900's and Paris in the 20's. I felt like I was there with Yuliang. The writing itself made me think of an impressionist painting. Vivid colours and small details made it all the more enjoyable. Epstein also skipped ahead in time throughout the novel to highlight the important parts of her life. Sometimes it was a little disconcerting but it kept the story going at a nice pace. A beautifully written book.

Highly recommended

This review is part TLC Book Tours. You can find out more about this book tour including other stops on the tour on the TLC website.


Jennifer Cody Epstein's fiction has also appeared in Thema, Confrontation, Carve, and Small Spiral Notebook and has been a finalist selection for Glimmertrain. She has also lived and worked in the U.S., Japan, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Italy for publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Asian Wall Street Journal, Mademoiselle, Self and Parents, as well as for the NBC and HBO networks. She has a Masters in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University and an MFA in fiction from Columbia University, where she is an adjunct professor in the School of the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters. You can read more about Jennifer on her website.



June 2, 2009

Cupcakes by Martha Stewart: Review

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For everything there is a season and every season there is a cupcake...isn't that how it goes? Well, if you a pick up Martha Stewart's Cupcakes you would think so. There truly is a cupcake for every season.

I'm no stranger to the cupcake. I looooove cupcakes. Not only are they delicious, but they are the most portable handmade snack. Great for kids' parties or school events. I even made my daughter a cupcake birthday cake one year. So me and cupcakes are old pals. But I've never seen so many different cupcakes in one place like Cupcakes. There are 175 cupcake ideas in this book. I could make cupcakes every week for a year at least. (I wonder how many times I can write 'cupcakes'?!)

Anyhow about the book, there are lots of cupcake recipes. There are cupcakes for everyday and fancy ones for special occasions. There are cupcakes for birthdays and holidays. Each cupcake is a tiny work of art- you can really get creative. There are even slightly healthy ones like allergen and wheat free ones. Let's be clear though, this is no diet book. Lots of butter, eggs and sugar are in most of the recipes. They are a yummy indulgence!

Besides recipes for the cupcakes themselves, there are recipes for the icing and tips on how to decorate and display them.

Now I couldn't do a review of Cupcakes without trying a couple of recipes. First I made the Marble Cupcakes and then the One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes. I made them with my daughter. We had a good time baking together. Here's a photo of the One Bowl Chocolate ones. We made them in mini-cupcake tins.

I definitely recommend this cookbook.

Thanks to Random House for the review copy.

June 1, 2009

The I Suck At Challenges Challenge: Update #5

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This is our last month for the "I Suck At Challenges" Challenge. How is it working out for you? Are you where you think you should be?

I've finished the Dewey's Reading Challenge and put a good dent in My Eco Reading Challenge. But all is lost for The 2nd Canadian Reading Challenge. Like the Titanic, I've hit an iceberg and am going down with the ship. Six books in one month just won't happen.

My Challenges:

Dewey's Reading Challenge 5/5
2nd Canadian Reading Challenge 7/13
Eco Reading Challenge 2/5

This will be our last update before the July wrap-up post. Let us know how your all doing one last time. Get all the reading you can done!

Mr Linky lost his mojo so leave your links in the comments.

(Thanks to Stockxchng for the iceberg pic.)

nrelate