The Uncoupling: Couples Therapy With Meg Wolitzer

uncoupling

I don’t know about you, but I can’t read “uncoupling” without adding “conscious” in front of it. Thanks, Gwyneth.

gwyneth

This uncoupling is unconscious anyway. The couples, or rather the women, in a small American town are under a spell that has them saying no to sex. Happy couples, unhappy couples, all are affected. Whether they want to or not, they’re participating in a sex strike.

The spell begins when the new drama teacher announces the school play will be an adaptation of Lysistrata, an ancient Greek play centering on a woman of the same name who organized a sex strike to end the Peloponnesian war. As the spell makes its way through the town, women decide for their own personal reasons that they will no longer have sex with men (it only affects male/female relations). It doesn’t take long for the men to turn into passive-aggressive babies, who act out their frustrations on their womenfolk, all leading up to Opening Night.

The premise of The Uncoupling amused me, I admit. I wondered what would happen if all the women in a small town suddenly told all the dudes no. A lot of these women had a right to be fed up with their men. It’s funny how clear-headed the women became once sex was taken out of the equation. But the climax (heh) was eye-rolling and silly.

I’m not sure what to make of The Uncoupling. All of a woman’s power in in her drawers? Men are overemotional? What are you saying Meg Wolitzer? Because of the structure of the book (as the spell touches people their story is told), I never felt anything for the characters beyond curiosity, the exception being the asexual girl who realized she didn’t have to have sex if she didn’t feel like it. (You go, girl!) Everyone else’s story is nothing new. All of these things happen to people in other books all the time, though not all people all at once. Not because of a spell, but because of life.

I did enjoy the narration. An omnipresent narrator follows the spell as it makes its way through town. It’s whimsical and quirky. I think I was expecting more high jinx from the tone. The Uncoupling had a great premise with poor execution.

About the Audio: Angela Brazil performed The Uncoupling. I thought she was lovely as the storyteller of this tale.

Note: I listened to this book through Scribd, but it is no longer available in Canada. Boo.

The New Nordic Cookbook: Scandinavian Recipes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last month, I saved a review of The New Nordic cookbook from my Flipboard, and sort of forgot about it. I happened to be going through my saved articles and found it again earlier last week. Everything about the book seemed like my jam, so I ordered it online. This week it arrived and it was time to start cooking!

The New Nordic: Recipes from a Scandinavian Kitchen by Simon Bajada:
New Nordic cuisine centres on an idea: the celebration of traditional Scandinavian ingredients- gathered from the forest, sea and land- by preparing them in contemporary ways. The flavours are earthy, clean and subtle, often with soft contrasts of sweet and sour. This is the way that Scandinavia eats today.
The New Nordic is a collection of recipes, as well as descriptions of the techniques used to prepare the food. I’m okay with pickling, but I am not going to smoke my own meat. Most of the recipes are unfamiliar to me and look like the might need a bit of practice to perfect.

I do know how to make my own family’s Danish rye bread, but the one here is a bit different. It has a lot of seeds in it. Mine is pretty plain. I’d love to try the book’s recipe for Black Bread and a flatbread called Tunnbröd (looks like a tortilla).

What I did make from the book was Carrot and Cardamom Cake. It turned out well, though next time I will use a different pan. I had to bake it longer than suggested and the extra time dried out the edges. The cream cheese frosting was yum!

  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A lot of the recipe ingredients are measured by weight, which is not usually how I bake, so that required a different mindset. Luckily, I own a kitchen scale. There is also a number of ingredients that I don’t have on hand and will require some hunting around the supermarkets to find. There is a list of substitutions at the back. Most of the ingredients aren’t too exotic though. It’s easy to find rhubarb, radish, and carrot around here.

The New Nordic is worth buying for the photography alone. Not only do the food photos look delicious and homey, but the landscapes are beautiful.

If you like interesting ethnic cuisine and lovely photography, get yourself a copy of The New Nordic by Simon Bajada.

Check out the other Weekend Cooking participants posts.

Not Here But There! Project Gutenberg Project


Hey! I have a review of The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas over on Project Gutenberg Project. Spoiler Alert: I loved it!

This is a visual representation of my feelings about reading Dumas.


Check it out!

Scribd: The Experience So Far

Scribd app
Maybe you’ve noticed the abundance of graphic novel and audiobook reviews on the blog lately. It’s all due to Scribd.

After seeing my bookish friends raving about Scribd, I signed up for two free months. (When you use a friend’s referral code, you get two free months, or just sign up online and get one. This is my code if you’d like 2 free months.)

What is Scribd?

Scribd is an online book subscription service. It’s a comparison that’s been overused, but yes, like Netflix for books. The cost is $8.99 per month USD.  Once you sign up, you get access to thousands of books: ebooks, audiobooks, and graphic novels.

Reading Books from Scribd

You can access books from your computer or download apps for Android and Apple devices. I read books on my Android tablet and listen to audiobooks on my iPhone, so I’ll cover both those experiences here.

AndroidApple Compare

When I’m home, I stream the audiobooks from wifi, but I have the option to save books (ebooks too) to my device. A great option if you have to leave your house!

Finding, Saving Books

After signing up, I started by browsing the catalogue. You can browse either Books or Audiobooks, by category. Also, if you’re curious you can check out Scribd Selects (editor favorites) and Top Books (trending and bestsellers). Once you find something you like, click the Add to Library button and it’s added to your library and the Saved for Later bar on your homepage. This Scribd help page explains it all in detail.

When you’ve added a few books to your library, you start getting recommendations. I like this feature because I don’t always know what I want. Sometimes I end up saving books I would never have found on my own and books I forgot I wanted to read.

Scribd snip

Searching for books has been less successful for me. There are a lot of books on Scribd, but not everything. Scribd tries hard to make a match though. For example, a search for H Is For Hawk didn’t bring up that book but one titled H Is For Hardcore (!!!) and a Tony Hawk biography. Not what I was looking for, sorry.

Also, not every book is available in all formats. I’ve ended up listening to a lot of audiobooks, because the ones I want to read are only available as such. If the book is available in another format, it is mentioned in the description.

scribd

The Downsides

Besides ignoring all my other books since getting Sribd, I do have a few issues with it.

First, the Apple app, which I use exclusively for listening to audiobooks. For some of the books, it crashed. A Lot. It was frustrating. I’ve also found that if I pause the book and then go back, it won’t always start from where I left off. I have to make sure to bookmark my spot before pausing, otherwise it starts the chapter from the beginning. I really hope this glitch is fixed soon. (It’s a Known Issue.)

Another weird thing, for both apps, was when I tried to remove an audiobook from my library, it kept coming back. Ack! What a pain.

Conclusion

With my free trial period almost up, I’m definitely going to continue paying the monthly fee. At least for now, until I can’t find anything I really want to read on there.

I would definitely recommend Scribd for people who like graphic novels and audiobooks. It's not going to replace going to the bookstore or library for me, but a nice addition to my reading life.

Pinteresting Coffee: Stovetop Moka Pot

stovetop moka pot

Coffee. Water of life. Bringer of mornings. Reason for existence.

I might be getting carried away.

I do love coffee.

There are so many devices for making coffee: just a regular percolator, French press, or a fancy pants espresso maker that costs hundreds of dollars. When it comes right down to it, you don’t need to spend a fortune to make a good Cup O’ Joe.

The Moka pot was invented by Luigi De Ponti in 1933. It ingeniously uses pressure to make coffee by forcing boiling water through a valve after passing though a layer of ground coffee. I didn’t know any of this when I bought my Moka pot. I had seen the tiny coffee makers before, but couldn’t imagine making coffee in one. I didn’t think I possessed that kind of coffee witchcraft. Turns out it’s not that hard.

moka pot

I took the plunge and brought my little coffee maker home. After squinting at the teeny vague instructions that came with my pot, I took to Pinterest where I knew someone was an expert on the thing. And…yep, lots of articles and blog posts pinned on how to use the Moka pot, as well as delicious to drinks to make from the results.

To Make the Coffee:

This Hub Pages post from Redberry Sky goes into detail about how to make the coffee, as well as some trouble-shooting.

This cute diagram from Williams Sonoma covers everything as well. It might be nice to print it out on cardstock if you were giving one as a gift. Click on the pin to go to the site, which has diagrams for other coffee makers.

Cream, Sugar?

Now that you’ve made your coffee, it’s time to decide how to serve it. As always, Pinterest has lots of ideas about that. How about…

…a Latte? I love a little coffee in my frothed milk. Nellie Bellie explains how to make it at home with your Moka pot.

…Cuban Coffee? The trick to Cuban coffee seems to be the crema, which I have not mastered yet. Maybe it’s because I don’t use enough sugar. I did have some coffee from Cuba, but used it all up. It is really good and has a different flavour from other coffees. I’ve been using Jamaican instead until someone gets me the Cuban.

…Mexican Mocha? A Spicy Perspective shares a recipe for this spicy, chocolaty delight. I found that the amount for just one cup was too sweet for me. I got three cups out of it. It was still delicious!

…an adult beverage? My favorite is Irish coffee. Irish because it has Irish whiskey in it. Here’s the standard recipe from Happily Unprocessed. I’ve also tried Spanish coffee. Oh mama! It’s got a kick! Here’s a simple version from Food.com.


So, after playing with the Moka pot for a while now, I’m finding it fairly easy to use. I had some trouble with it until I realized I wasn’t letting to seal dry completely after washing it before making more coffee. It wasn’t able to create the pressure. Without pressure, no coffee. Since then, no problems.

They are usually small devices. I can only make one cup at a time. It’s great for someone living alone, or living with someone else who doesn’t partake. It would make a cute housewarming gift for a coffee lover. They’re decently priced; mine was $10 on sale.

Do you have a Moka pot? Do you make your coffee with it?

***I'm submitting this post as part of Trish's Inspiration on Monday post. Check out the other participants' ideas there!***

Mini-Bloggiesta: The June 2015 Edition

Bloggiesta-MiniS15

 

Yay, Bloggiesta! A little one. Just the weekend. I have a few things to work on this time around.

  • Clean out email.
  • Write a few posts.
  • Write a review of The Black Tulip.
  • Update Reviews page.
  • Pin reviews to Pinterest.
  • Work on a new gravatar and icon for new blog theme.
  • Style guide mini-challenge.
  • Join twitter chat.
  • Do some much needed blog visiting. (Put on the kettle for me!)

That’s it! Hope to see you around this weekend.

Jagged Little Book List

jagged little book list
Jagged Little Pill is 20 years old. Isn’t it ironic? I bought the album back in 1995, when I was 21 myself. It was like nothing I’d heard up until then. Here was a woman my age who was pissed about…everything. She was mad as hell and not going to take it, at least according to You Oughta Know.

The other songs were maybe not as in your face, but the undercurrent of anger was there, as well as frustration with not being taken seriously. There are songs about growing up and finding a place in the world. About setting boundaries. And all the overwhelming emotions a young woman has in her twenties. Listening to the album takes me right back. (“I’m young and I’m underpaid” –Hand In My Pocket, especially!)

Alanis Morissette is not the first, and not the last, young woman to feel this way. There’s quite a list of them in literature. I’ve made a list of books I’ve read that also deal with these experiences of becoming an adult woman. Some of them are angry, some just finding their way in the big, scary world. If you want to learn more about them, I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.


Blast some Jagged Little Pill, wear it out (the way a three year old would do). Choose your favorite heroine and make one of the songs her anthem.

Happy Anniversary, Jagged Little Pill!

Running From the Blues With Lulu Anew

lulu anew

 

After an unsuccessful job interview, Lulu doesn’t return home to her husband and kids. Life overwhelms her and all she wants is a night alone. Until…A chance encounter with a stranger and Lulu hits the road. She has very little money and no plan, but it’s time for her to have an adventure.

lulu

Meanwhile, her already unstable husband begins to unravel. Lulu’s friends try to keep the family from coming apart.

This was a strange, but intriguing graphic novel. Lulu’s story is told by her sympathetic friends as they attempt to piece together what happened to her. As they tell what they know of the last few weeks, more drama is unfolding around them. What is happening in her home while they sit in her backyard? Where is her husband? Where is Lulu now? I wanted to know.

Although her story is being told by others, the illustrations are mostly of Lulu and her travels. Lulu does shocking, out of character things during the time she is away. Her friends (and her daughter) speculate about how Lulu feels throughout her adventures, but they can’t really know. All they can see is Lulu has changed. They also tell how her husband is handling Lulu being gone and it’s not good. It’s hard to muster up any sympathy for such a brute.

Lulu isn’t having some kind of Eat, Pray, Love getaway. She is running away. She has no way to support herself. It’s the actions of a desperate, fed up woman. For the last sixteen years, she’s been at home taking care of her family and now she is lost. Lulu learns more about what she is capable of in a few weeks than in her 40+ years. My feelings about what Lulu does are complicated. There are things I don’t approve of her doing, but I sympathize with her for doing them.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending.  I hoped for something a bit different.

Lulu Anew by Etienne Davodeau is translated from French. There is a lot of dialogue. Sometimes it’s a bit clunky. It’s one of the longest graphic novels I’ve read recently. As for illustrations, the subdued colours compliment the realistically drawn characters. This is a grown up story and deals with adult issues. There is a tiny bit of violence.

I hope you’ll give Lulu Anew a try!

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: Female Character Deal Breakers

crab apple

Hello all! How’s things?

I’ve started listening to The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas and so far so good. It’s hard to imagine the lengths Old Timey rich dudes will go over flowers. They are flowers! No need to plot terrible revenges over tulips.

I’ve been a moody reader again this week. I don’t really know what I want to read and everything is making me grumpy. I have an ARC by a local writer and I feel bad because I am just not in the mood for it.


I have been thinking about female characters after listening to the Smart Bitches podcast. Sarah discussed the “strong female protagonist” trope with author Jaye Wells. It’s very interesting and good points were made. When does a strong female character become a stereotype?

Women characters in general are something I’ve been pondering. Recently, I had been reading a book that I ended up dnfing due to the treatment of one of the few women characters. This woman, when first introduced, has been abused by her boyfriend and is continuing to live with him. She is obviously going to become an object (I use that literally) of interest for the main male protagonist. A damsel worthy of saving. I am so tired of this trope.

I skimmed through the end and not much changed in that area. Plot over characterization was a priority in the novel, so none of the characters are particularly interesting. I’m not familiar with the author’s prior work, but this was a deal breaker for me. Abuse as backstory is not going to keep me reading. Don’t make it her defining quality. I can put up with unlikeable female characters, silly ones, overtly sexual ones, murderous ones, and much more. I’m drawing the line here. Give me more than this to make me care about your character. It’s a shortcut if you want to spend less time on characterization, as most tropes are, but as a woman I am so damned tired of it. Could we find something else, please?

Obviously, I’m still going to complain about all the other tropes, but I’m like Liz Lemon from now on when I read this one…

 

dealbreaker

Creeping Out With Bird Box by Josh Malerman

bird box

Imagine never being able to look out a window ever again. Or, if you do, there is a good chance you’ll go mad.

In Bird Box, an epidemic- or something like it- has seized the world. The news is grim. Ordinary people are committing terrible acts of violence before gruesomely killing themselves.  Slowly, people begin to understand that the victims are seeing something right before they go off the deep end. No one knows what that thing is, but the only defense is to cover the windows and doors and never look outside again.

The novel begins four years after the first outbreak. Malorie lives alone with her two children, boy and girl. On this day, she decides that she can’t stay where she is a moment longer and sets out on a perilous journey with the kids to find civilization. Blindfolded. As Malorie stumbles around completely vulnerable, she thinks back to how she ended up alone in a house with two preschoolers. It’s clear from the beginning that Malorie wasn’t always alone. What happened to the others?

When I really think about the concept of the novel, it seems silly. Some unknown “creature” is causing humans to commit Lovecraftian level acts of self-destruction. People aren’t just taking a bottle of pills. In most cases, people crack, start howling like dogs, before tearing themselves to pieces. Weird, right?
homer-goes-nuts-o
How I imagine this going down.

The thing is, I was totally hooked. I was a little nervous looking out my window while listening to Bird Box. I was impressed by the book’s aural descriptions. There is barely any visual information. Marlorie relies on her and the children’s hearing. As a result, the sentences are terse and filled with tension. All the while I wanted to see! What would have happened if Malorie gave into curiosity? What if she peeked? The success of this horror novel is what you imagine is there.

There’s also the human component.  How long can people live together under these conditions before the stress is too much? The survival of the group depends on everyone getting along, but can this harmony continue indefinitely? Paranoia, claustrophobia set in. Humans aren’t meant to be cooped up in the dark together. As adaptable as we may be, it’s too much, too soon.

There is some ambiguity within Bird Box. There are some theories about the creatures that sound reasonable, but that’s about it. It’s not so much about them anyway as it is about the humans’ survival when faced with these challenges.

Although it’s not a perfect horror story (there were parts that had me raising a sceptical eyebrow), it is quite good. It gave me the heebie-jeebies and that’s all I ask.

About the audio: Audio is the way to go! It’s a story about listening and listening to the audiobook adds another dimension of creepiness. Bird Box is optioned for a movie and I can’t imagine how they will do this successfully. Cassandra Clare narrates and she’s as good as always.

audiobook review

Pinteresting Photography: A Beginner’s Guide

Pinterest Photography: A Beginner's Guide

I made it my mission to learn to use my camera this year. For the longest time, I only used the auto settings on my camera. I was intimidated by the manual settings. Now that I’ve learned a few things, and played around with them a bit, I’m finding that it’s not as hard as I thought it was. Pinterest has been a big help. I’ve been pinning photography articles and blog posts to my Pinterest like crazy all year on a board titled I Turn My Camera On (thanks, Spoon!).

I’m just an average beginner photographer, but the following pins have been the most helpful to me. My camera is a Olympus E-620 but the tips I found work for all DSLR cameras.

Using Your Camera

First things first, learning the basics. This article from Photoventure has a list of camera settings and explains how to use them.

The Cookin Canuck offers a post on how to use Manual mode with visual aids.

Speaking of visual aids, sometimes I just need a quick illustration of what the settings do. Here are some great examples:

Aperture. Adjusting aperture sharpens or blurs background images. This photo of tiny people toys helps illustrate aperture. It appears to originate on Carly Webber’s blog which has since been taken down.

Shutter Speed. The Winthrop Chronicles uses photos of water to explain shutter speed.

ISO (International Standards Organization). ISO is the camera’s sensitivity to light represented by numbers. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Moms With a Camera has a printable reference card to help out.

There is also this guide from the Customize Windows Media Group for a quick reference of what the manual modes on a DSLR do.

White Balance. Boost Your Photography provides a photographic example of the ways to change the colour temperature of your photos by using white balance.

Metering. I confess I’m still trying to wrap my head around metering. Hopefully, this example involving Her Majesty the Queen from Clickin Moms will help me figure it out.

Getting The Shot

So, now that you know about how to use your camera, it’s time to take some pictures! How do you get that awesome shot? Here are some things to consider before you click that button!

Composition. How do you compose the shot? ld nature photography explains The Rule of Thirds, and 10 Rules of Photography Composition.

Lighting. I prefer to shoot in natural light. This graphic by Mom & Camera and Pretty Presets gives suggestions on maximizing window light.

Sometimes you get too much of a good thing with natural light. Paint the Moon offers tips on shooting in bright sunlight.

And sometimes there isn’t any sunlight. Click It Up a Notch gives tips on shooting at night.

lights edited

Editing

The photos are downloaded from the camera! Yay! But we’re not done yet. Now is time for editing. Brightening, cropping, adding filters, touching up blemishes, adjusting the colour can be done with software other than Photoshop. I haven’t made the jump to Photoshop yet. There is editing software for my camera, but I really like PicMonkey. It’s fun and easy and FREE.

Here’s 50 PicMonkey Resources from Clothed in Scarlet.

Have Fun!

Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to kick it up a notch! The following are some creative ways to use your camera.

Bokeh. Bokeh is fun. I’m still getting the hang of it. Bokeh is a blurred background, but popularly used to blur background light. It creates really cool effects.

poppet

Globetrotter Diaries shows how to create heart shaped bokeh.

Photos for Blogging. If you’re a blogger, you might want to create your own stock photos. This Blogher article has tips and a list of items to photograph. One Dog Woof has 12 things to keep in mind for blog photography.

Text Mask. PicMonkey has a great tutorial on how to create a text mask. I created a text mask for my blog header.

Milky Way.  This seems so advanced to me, but I’m dying to try it. It involves taking timed photos of the sky at night. The results I’ve seen are amazing. Improve Photography has detailed instructions on how to do it.

Snow. It’s a bit late for snow where I am, but here are some tips for getting pretty snow shots from Nick Kelsh.

Snowstorm

Bonus: I love this collection of tutorials from J Fotography: Teach Yourself Photography. It’s practical and fun!

I hope this post has been helpful in showing how useful Pinterest is for beginner photographers. If you’d like, follow me on Pinterest. I’m always adding photography pins. Or add this post to your own Pinterest boards!

Thanks!

Colette Confusion: The Pure and the Impure


I have been trying to read Colette’s The Pure and the Impure. By try, I mean stare at the same page for about 10 minutes thinking, “Huh?”

I should have started with something easier than this book. I really want to like Colette.  I believe French sophistication will rub off on me by reading her books. I think I’m in over my head with The Pure and the Impure.

While reading it, I feel like I’m missing whole phrases. It’s like having a conversation with someone who trails off at the end of sentences or communicates by a series of eyebrow raises and elbow nudges.


The Pure and the Impure is a collection of conversations Colette has with people she knows about their sex lives. For a book about sex, no one seems to be having any fun doing it. It’s all, “Sex is a bore, but oh well, got to do it. Pass the opium.” It’s a bummer.

I thought maybe I just wasn’t getting it or I’m not French enough to get it, but then I read the Introduction from Judith Thurman and this set off a light bulb:
“…The Pure and the Impure show in the baroque syntax and the ubiquity of suspension  points, of obscure references, and of contradictions that make the text, in places, an exasperating experience for the casual reader…” 
Yes, exasperating. That is the feeling that I have.

The intro also gave me an idea of its place in time. Colette was almost seventy and quite sick when she published Pure and Impure during the Occupation. (It might also explain why it’s so vague. The Nazis would have a hard time figuring out what the hell she was talking about.) So, it was a bummer time all around.

It’s not that there weren’t parts I enjoyed. One misogynistic friend of Colette’s gets annoyed when two of his mistresses start discussing him behind his back. The men’s stories I read so far arouse no sympathy in me. They are a bunch of baby jerks.

At the moment, I don’t have the patience for The Pure and the Impure. I’m only about halfway through it.  I would like to read something a little peppier from Colette. I’m going to put this back on the shelf for now.


Have you read any other Colette you would recommend? Have you read The Pure and the Impure? What did you think?