Category Archives: entertain me: reading & watching

“you’re dead, dude. get over it.”

When it comes to suffering sickness, I have few needs:  my couch, freedom from the shackles of pants, and copious amounts of television.

Happily (or as happy as one can be in such circumstances) all of these things were available after coming home from Alt and commencing with the neverending Cold.  Meanwhile, The David was away for work for a week, which meant that I was all sickly, pitiful and alone – but also free to watch whatever I wanted on the television machine.  And I’d just had a timely recommendation from a lady friend

Oh, the perfect chicken soup for my soul:  The Vampire Diaries.

44 episodes are available on Netflix streaming right this very minute.  And if you want to know if I watched them all in the past 8 days, the answer is yes.  Yes, I did.

Let me give you some snippets of why this totally trashy show from the CW is just so riveting…

Elena is the central character.  She is incarnate good-girl, with long straight hair.

Elena starts dating the new guy at school, Stefan, and learns that he’s a vampire.  There is some balking at this unexpected affliction, but she lurves him and it is all systems go for teenage-dream.

Stefan has a brother, the smoldering hot Damon, also vampire.

Damon drinks people blood and kills the local townies.  Stefan does not.  Arguments about vampire morality.

Behold!  The town is governed by a committee of vampire killers!  They are riled up about all the blood-drained dead people, but don’t know who the vampires are.  In fact, they invite Damon to join their committee.

Elena looks EXACTLY like this vampire, Katherine (very long curly hair), who was responsible for Damon and Stefan’s undeadness in Civil War times.  Both brothers were in love with her.  So there’s a fancy triangle with the two brothers and Elena/Katherine.

And Elena’s best friend has newly discovered that she’s a witch!

There are also werewolves, ghosts, and gay dads.  No zombies.  As of yet.

That’s just a teeny tip of a big iceburg, but I don’t want to reveal too much, just in case you’re tempted to indulge.

My cold is on the way out, The David is back home again, and I’m up to date on episodes.  Now that I’m free from the viewing frenzy, I’ve gained enough perspective to somewhat sheepishly concede the level of drivel that is this show. Which has nothing to do with what I’ll be doing this Thursday night…

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a glut of young adult novels

It wasn’t just toffee that I gorged on in this epic time of 11 days off.

My ladyfriend, Caroline, posted NPR’s list of the best Young Adult novels of 2011 on Facebook and it spurred a glorious frenzy of book readery.  And oh, wasn’t it the best thing ever?  I had a bounty of quick, engaging material and no other constraints on my time.  Except for the toffee.  In both cases, it’s all chomp, swallow, mmm, next!

Anna Dressed in Blood is about Cas, a kid who kills ghosts with a magic knife.  He lives a nomadic life with his good-witch mom, tracking down one ghost after another and sending them off into the nether world.  He follows a tip to Canada to find Anna, the scariest ghost of all time.  And she is pretty feckin scary.  There are quite a few gruesome murdery scenes.  Despite her propensity for violence and her dress that is perpetually doused in and dripping blood, Cas falls for Anna, and teenage romance ensues.  The story behind Anna’s death is harrowing and the climax is full of supernaturally suspense.  Reminded me a lot of I am Number Four.

 

Eyes Like Stars was my least favorite of this batch of reading.  The NPR recommendation was actually So Silver Bright, but that was the third in a trilogy called Théâtre Illuminata so I opted to read the first one instead.  The main character is Bertie, a girl who lives in a theater that is magically populated by the characters from every play written.  Bertie isn’t a character in a play; she was dropped off at the the theater as a baby and her story is unknown.  She’s constantly accompanied by the fairies from a Midsummer’s Night Dream and she can’t decide if she’s in love with a pirate (who talks in swashbuckle) and an air spirit (whose clothes and hair are always ruffled by wind and who has butterfly familiars.)  Due to best intentions gone awry, all sorts of chaos ensues and the fate of the theater is threatened.  It’s up to Bertie to save the day and figure out who she is along the way.  Too twee for me.  Also, that’s not how you spell Theater.  Someone should tell that lady.

Puck lives on Thisby, a teeny fictional island of the Irish persuasion.  Every November in Thisby, monster flesh eating horses emerge from the sea.  The men of the island then manfully go catch these horses, train them up for a few weeks, and then race them in a big-deal race that results in a cash money prize and fame.  Cue the age old plight of small-town-ism.  Puck needs the money and she decides to enter the race and along the way, falls for Sean, a 4 year champ of the race.  Sean is very quiet and still.  Where’s Sean?  Look for the still part of the room and there he is.  People get chomped on by horses.  Puck and Sean are very still together.  There’s a race at the end.  Despite the premise of the mythical creatures, most of the story line was pretty ordinary.  Almost Maeve Binchy-esque, what with the Irish small town character stereotypes.  I give this one a pleasant shrug.

Man, do I love a post-apocalypse story.  This one tells about the kerplosian of the volcano in Yellowstone and the ensuing ash, darkness, early winter, and violent yokels that ensue.  Alex is a big nerd-o who was 130 miles away from his family when shit got real and then has to find his way to them.  Society has pretty much gone to hell:  no electricity, phones or radio.  FEMA, rather than being helpful, sets up concentration camps of sort that keep refugees locked up with minimal food and shelter where they slowly freeze or starve to death.  It wouldn’t be Great Expectations without an escaped convict, so there’s one of those, too.  Alex has a handful of run ins with violent types who want to steal his food, but he also meets Darla, who’s much savvier than Alex.  As such things are wont to do, Alex grows up a lot along the way and what says “I’m grown-up” more than a savvy girlfriend?
Definitely a fun read.

I liked this one a lot.  It had a lot of similarities to The Hunger Games:  a dystopian government born out of a people who want to recover from too much war, with a heroine full of butt-kickery.  This society is broken out into 5 factions, the Dauntless, Abnegation, Amity, Erudite and Candor.  Beatrice is born into the Amish-like Abnegation, but struggles with their extreme culture of selflessness and on Choosing Day, she chooses the Dauntless instead and changes her name to Tris.  The Dauntless are all about bravery, signified by wearing all black and having tattoos and piercings.  They also really like to jump off of stuff, like buildings and moving trains.  Tris learns, though, that she’s not really just Dauntless, or just Abnegation, she’s got varying amounts of everything, and this makes her dangerous to her government.   She has to keep her “divergence” a secret to keep the government from being out to get her, but in the mean time, she’s busy falling for her mentor in the Dauntless lifestyle.  And it turns out that this plan to keep people strictly in the lifestyles of these five factions is not working out, thus things start to crumble.
There’s a sequel to this book that I wanted to start reading immediately, but it turns out that it won’t really exist until the future and that I could only *pre* order it.  Which is malarky.  Who wants to preorder something?  Just give it to me!
Anyway.
Divergent was good enough that I definitely wanted to read more if I could have.

And finally, this book wasn’t really on NPR’s list, but it was a runner-up on Amanda’s 12 Favorite Books of the Year, and that was plenty of reason.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was neato.  There’s a cast of X-men like characters, who are trapped in time, trying to stay safe from the muggles and other more evil predators.  The story is illustrated with creepy vintage photos.  We learn about the peculiar children through Jacob, another dorky teenager, who has a special relationship with his grandfather.  Grandpa dies a grisly and inexplicable death, which sends Jacob into a bit of a spiral of crazy and on a trip to a tiny island off of Wales to get to the bottom of stuff.
I’d definitely recommend this one.

 

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This one goes on the Boo Shelf: The Particular Sadness of the Lemon Cake

I spent some of my precious Thanksgiving weekend hours reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender.

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The girl character, Rose, can taste the feelings of the people whose food she eats.  Kinda like Like Water for Chocolate, except she doesn’t feel rage if the food’s full of rage, she just won’t like eating that cookie.  So there’s an element of mysticalness, but it doesn’t spin into something cool.  She eats factory made potato chips instead and we continue to plod through the dynamics of her adolescence.  It’s a typical lady-literature bit of fiction, that delves into the very ordinary little pains and misunderstandings and disconnects of a family.  The mom is a little too flighty and dad is a little too regular.  The brother probably has Asperger’s and our heroine is just sliding under the radar.  We get extra bittersweet insight into other characters, especially the mother, due to Rose’s foodie affliction.

It turns out that weird super powers run in the family, though, ’cause her brother turns into a folding chair and no one ever sees him again.

You think I kid.

But seriously.  Her brother vanishes never to be seen again, because he has turned into a chair.  Only Rose knows the truth.  Dad acts like it’s fine, maybe a little puzzling, that his son has disappeared.  And mom just believes that he’s exploring the Andes.

And Rose keeps her brother the folding chair safely tucked away in her closet.

Boo.

I can’t even pretend to appreciate this lady’s nice writing style because just eye roll.

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“one day i will have your tongue ripped out with hot pincers, and that will be hilarious”

I just finished reading A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in this epic series of books.  And even though there are still two books and so many unanswered questions left, I am just so glad to be free!  Finally!  Free from the madness of thousands upon thousands of pages.  The entirety of August and September were monopolized by this saga of a billion pseudo-medieval characters.  Characters, who George RR Martin had no qualms about viciously murdering on a regular basis.  By the end, I was all “Yeah.  You’re dead?  Right.  Who’s next?  Whatever.  You’ll probably just end up being a zombie anyway.”

I’ve so over glutted on these books I can’t even form an opinion about whether or not I liked them.  They were addictive, that’s for sure.  I absolutely could not stop.  I read into the night.  I read first thing in the morning, before I could spur myself out of bed.  I read while walking through downtown San Francisco to get to work.

There’s a tv show of the first book that I’d love to watch, but it’s on one of those fancy channels.

So in the interim between now and the availability on Netflix, I will make do with these fancy illustrations from the Fire and Ice wikipedia:

Probably these images can really help you to visualize just how awesome the awesomeness is.

 

 

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Maisie Dobbs

I’m going to blame Cloud Atlas, the novel of much buzz and fanfare by David Mitchell.  Once I got over the hump of struggling to get into it – to read more than a page or two at a time, I found that it was a really good book.  Really good. But the journey up and over that hump was a rough one.  I almost didn’t make it.  And I never give up on a book, no matter how bad, boring or bucolic.  Whatever.  Alliteration.  It’s where it’s at.

After finishing Cloud Atlas, which was around November of last year, I took a book reading vacation.  Which is weird.  Because I would usually devour a novel a week.  On this book reading vacation, I did read myself some YA, because let’s face it.  I couldn’t truly go cold turkey.  And reading material intended for someone half my age (or, erm…. crap.  A third of my age) totally counts as reading.

I finished that Sweet Valley Confidential piece of garbage in about a day.  It was bad.  And not bad like “oh come on, you knew it was going to be bad,” but bad like Francine Pascal had a conversation with herself that went like this:

– Why will these vapid little tween girls not desist in sending me their pitiful fan letters?
– What has become of me?  I know the word “tween.”
– After all these years, they still love Jessica and Elizabeth!
– The fools.
– Fools who have paid me millions for churning out saccharine trash.
– Perhaps if I were to wipe my ass and call it a novel, they would buy that.
– That is a brilliant idea!

But I read it.  No book left behind.

And today, I finished my first adult novel (at least I’m pretty sure it’s for grown-ups… kinda.  It is sort of Nancy Drew-esque.  Please don’t burst my bubble.) in months and months.

Yay!

Also, it was really good!

And!

It was the first in a series of eight, which means that I can just go chomping through these for a while.

So, Maisie Dodds.  She’s this World War I era British girl who goes to work as a maid.  Her employers pick up on her extra cleverness and sponsor her education.  Cambridge is interrupted by the war and Maisie goes off to France as a nurse.  Afterward, she starts her own business as a private investigator, and this book is the story of her first mystery solved.

Sometimes she wears a cloche.  And she has a pearl tipped hat pin.  And a nurse’s watch.  And from what I can tell, her nurse’s outfit was just like the one that one of my paper dolls had when I was five.

It is entirely possible that I fell enamored of the style and sentiment of the era more than the actual story telling, but I was engaged in the story and the character.  Although she is a little stuffy and not so quirky, but she’s awfully smart and sensible and always knows just what to say.

Even though it wasn’t a challenging read, I’m still feeling pretty chuffed* to have finished a whole grown-up book that perhaps I will do it again**!

*See what I did there?  I used a cute little British word, just like a Maisie Dobbs character would.

**For my next act, I will be reading the 2nd Maisie Dobbs book.

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“Jessica, who becomes engaged to Todd, is desperate for her twin’s forgiveness. But Elizabeth never wants to see her, or Todd, ever again.”

The interwebs told me something incredible today.

There is a new Sweet Valley book out.  With grown-up 28 year old Jessica and Elizabeth.

The reviews all say that it is terrible.  That we could forgive it for being insipid trash, but can’t excuse it for being poorly thought out and riddled with errors (both of grammar and of consistency in the story line).

But I don’t care.  I pledged an allegiance to those books that goes deep.

I half way imploded waiting to download this book onto my iphone and am now trying to snort a few words at time, like the crack cocaine that it is.

In the short bit that I’ve read, I learned that Elizabeth cried after every orgasm when she was sleeping with some dude.  And, ahh…  Now I feel a little weird.  The Elizabeth that I knew didn’t have…. um.  Orgasms.  She had the library.

I will proceed with caution.

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why i’m reading a novel I know nothing about

Last night, I was running a bit early to meet a friend for dinner, so stopped by the local Pegasus bookstore to look around.  I did some nice looking and then decided that if they had this pretty little Penguin version of The Secret Garden, I would buy it:(Also, why on earth can I only locate this book to buy from Anthropologie and not from Amazon or Penguin?)

I asked the bookstore guy if they happened to have the special pretty Penguin books and he said that they had some of them and showed me a spot where they could be.  Then he asked which one I wanted, so we went looking in the young adult section.  And then he went looking up information in his computer and to see when it was coming out and generally went to a lot of trouble to see what he could see about this book.

In retrospect, I can now see that the trouble was that this isn’t actually a book, but a bit of decorative fluff from Anthropologie.

But after all the trouble he went to, I figured that I ought to buy some book and sauntered over to the new fiction releases.

There weren’t any titles that I knew I was jonesing to have, so I was basing my selection on the color of the spine, because, well…
I’m likely to read the book no matter what and when I’m finished, a colored-spine book can add to my rainbow ordered book collection.
So I picked out some book with a nice red spine and took it up to the counter.

And then the very helpful bookstore guy tells me that they have copies of this book from the UK print edition and they’re half as much.  “I’ll get one for you!”

The UK edition has a black spine.

I could say “Actually, I’d like to buy this same book for twice as much money, please!”

But that would be crazy, right?  So I say nothing, and buy the black-spined version.

Consequently, I’m now reading a novel that I knew nothing about, hadn’t even read the blurb on the back of, and has a black spine.

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If I just sit here long enough

I watched Julie & Julia today and it was just as endearing as everyone said it was.  Meryl Streep was vibrant and she sure did do a good job of sounding like the stereotype of Julia Child.  I loved the story of Julia Child’s success and her love of good cooking.

Amy Adams, as ever, was adorable.  And the concept of what the character did was, admittedly, neat-o.  I couldn’t help but identify with it.  I like cooking!  I write a blog!  Look at me!  I’m writing a blog entry right now!  So I admired her and what she did, but man, was I jealous.

Just like that stupid girl in P.S. I Love You, I was jealous of Julie Powell, who found a way to turn something she loved into a hugely successful career.  People were begging her to publish a book.  And then she became A Writer.  Or that she was A Writer all along.

I wish I were A Writer!

If it weren’t exceptional, they wouldn’t make a movie about it, I know.  There’s not some pot of gold waiting to be discovered for everyone.  But I feel so jealous I can literally taste bitterness at the back of my throat.  Which makes about as much sense of being jealous of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.  Except that the cooking blog turning into a book deal was a true story.  And also that Vivienne was a prostitute before she was swept off her feet.  But still.  I know it’s a movie.  And I have plenty to be happy about.  Unlike Julie, I’m never alone in the kitchen with an imaginary friend.  I have a gorgeous boyfriend who does all the cooking with me.

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Robert Bolaño’s 2666

893 pages are in this book.  That’s probably the most important thing I have to say about it. 

2666 has 3 parts:

  • The 4 international professors who focus their studies on one obscure, German author, Archimboldi.  And then, a second rate Mexican professor who serves as their guide as they try to track down a rumor that Archimboldi had been in Santa Teresa, Mexico.
  • A chronicle of the discovery of the many, many murdered bodies of women left in the desert, on the side of highways, and in the garbage dumps of slums in Santa Teresa.  Most of the murders seem to be the work of a serial killer.  A strange German man is arrested for the murders, but they crimes continue while he’s in jail.
  • The story of Archimboldi from childhood, through his experience as a German soldier in WWII, and then into middle and old age as he writes a slew of novels.
  • (Technically, there are 5 parts.  The Mexican professor is really Part II and then there’s a whole long bit about a journalist who goes to Santa Teresa who gets into the murder story and that’s Part II.)

I did get interested in each of the bits of the story, but there was SO much extra detail about tangential characters that really brought nothing to the story.  Or if it brought something, I’ve got no idea what it was.  In the first part, for example, we get a huge spin-off of story about the Mexican professor’s wife, who had left him.  We learn an insane amount about her and what she does after she leaves her husband.  It could potentially have been interesting, but it ultimately is cut off before anything is resolved and then we’re on to the next random long, uber detailed drawn out story line.

More than anything, I almost feel mad at this book.  It was very slow going and took me so long to read and bloody hell, I’m not even sure that I know what it was about.  Bitter.  And worst of all, it was highly reviewed by proper book critics.  I’m not the most critical or insightful person when it comes to my reading, and mostly I just like a good yarn, but this makes me feel like whadda maroon.

In the last 20 pages – and I do not kid here… this book has 893 pages and it’s only in the very last 20 pages – the 3 stories start to come together.  There’s no conclusion or resolution, mind you.  But at least the connection among the 3 parts has been revealed.

And that’s it.  I can’t muster up anything clever to say about this, so will just leave at this.  Boo.  Hiss.

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Ben Folds @ The Fox Theater, May 17

The Fox Theater was the star of this evening.

It opened in February of this year and this was my first of, hopefully, many shows here.  It is astonishingly beautiful.  There are several tiers of floor and a seated balcony.  The hardwood floors are fabulous, with little vents poofing cool air.  It’s sort of art deco and kind of Middle Eastern.  Opulent without being gaudy.

It gives me this feeling of hope for Oakland.  Like maybe it won’t be so scuzzy some time soon and that nice places to eat and drink won’t be so surprisingly noteworthy.  The charm of the Fox Theater is sure to improve the tenor of it’s surrounding neighborhood.

So… Ben Folds.  He was cute and geek chic, yes.  But mostly, I yearned for the shows of yore.
The last time I saw him was so great.  He got the audience singing a harmonized round that was super fun.  And he did an over the top cover of Aerosmith’s Dream On that left me a little obsessed with that song.
I loved Rockin’ the Suburbs and admittedly, his new album, Way to Normal, didn’t thrill me quite as much.  So I knew that the show would have a lot of his new songs going in to it.

And maybe something totally great happened at the end of the show.  I left at 10:30, because, you know.  My bed time is at 10.  And while the show was supposed to start at 8, nothing happened until almost 9:30.  Happily, I was enjoying my exploration of the venue during the wait.  To be fair, a group of semi-talented kids from Sacramento did an acapella cover of Annie Waits prior to Ben taking the stage.  So if something really great happened once the actual show started, I missed it.  But in the hour I saw there was a guy playing a fancy glow-in-the-dark tambourine, and Ben put some Altoid tins on the strings of his piano.

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