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Archive for July, 2010

Friday Fun! (Scott Pilgrim, How I Met Your Mother)

July 30, 2010 6 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  I hope you all had great weeks and got some time in for reading.  To my fellow Scott Pilgrim fans, I hope you got your hands on the final installment already.  If not, best get to it before the movie comes out next month, eh?  I don’t know if you’re aware, but the movie adaptation of the graphic novels was started before O’Malley had decided how the story was going to end, so the script writers kind of wrote their own ending.  O’Malley says he’s happy with the film ending, but I’m curious to see if I will be as well.  I was surprisingly happy with the ending of the graphic novel series.  Generally I can find something to gripe about at the end of series, but not this time.  I’m not sure if the movie can live up to it, but oh the third trailer has me really hopeful.

I was sick the beginning of the week with some sort of stomach thing, so I wound up watching a lot of tv.  I started watching How I Met Your Mother and in that sick haze, wound up getting almost all the way through the first four seasons.  It’s not a bad show.  A few of the episodes are hilarious, such as Slap-Bet.  The rest are at least entertaining.  I have to admit, though, if I knew the main characters in real life, I would absolutely hate them.  That doesn’t make it a bad show, but I doubt that’s the writers’ intention, since they based two of them on themselves.  Obviously the womanizing Barney is a character we’re supposed to love to hate, but I don’t think that’s the case with the rest of them.  Honestly, they’re all basically those people who just pick on anyone who isn’t exactly like them and apparently have no actual goals in life or morals.  It seems like kind of an empty existence for characters who are in their late 20s to early 30s, but oh well.  It’s good entertainment, but Friends is still better.

You can tell I spent a substantial portion of the week in bed, as I’m mostly yakking to you about tv shows and movies. Hm….oh! One of my pepper plants appears to finally have buds! I may have blossoms soon! I’m rather stoked.

Are any of you guys Scott Pilgrim fans?  How do you feel about the upcoming movie?  Any other thoughts on How I Met Your Mother?  I hope you all have lovely weekends!

Upcoming Review: CSN Stores Product

July 30, 2010 1 comment

I’ve been seeing reviews of products from CSN Stores on many blogs, and I’ve been pretty damn impressed with them.  They offer multiple stores such as their kitchen supply one, le creuset.  Their prices are quite reasonable, and I’ve been browsing their website using the convenient left panel search feature periodically since I’ve discovered them.  I was therefore quite pleased to be contacted by them offering a product for review.

I knew exactly what I needed–more storage space for my tiny Boston apartment-sized kitchen.  In just a few minutes of browsing, I found the perfect shelving unit.  I’ll be reviewing it, complete with pictures, when it comes, so be on the look-out for that!  In the meantime, check out their site for yourselves!

Note to my Canadian readers, CSN Stores also ships to Canada!

Book Review: Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson (Series, #1)

July 28, 2010 1 comment

Blonde woman sitting on top of a tomb stone.Summary:
Betsy was a 30 year old secretary (previously a model, previously a college drop-out) living in Minneapolis, and she was quite content with her life.  Oh, a good date would have been nice, but at least she got to drool over the hot detective assigned to figure out who assaulted her a few weeks ago outside an Italian restaurant.  Everything was fine.  Until she got hit by a car one slippery night in front of her house and woke up undead in the morgue the next day.  Even that would have been fine, but the local vampires keep insisting she get involved in vampire politics.  True, a lot of the vampire rules don’t seem to apply to her.  For instance, holy water only makes her sneeze, but why should she bother with vampire politics when she could be doing more important things like getting her designer shoes back from her stepmother?

Review:
This is not paranormal romance.  I repeat. This is not paranormal romance! It is, however, what I have chosen to dub paranormal chick lit.  Undead and Unwed reads like a Sophie Kinsella novel if it was set in the frigid midwest and had a pleasant back-drop of vampires.

Betsy is one of those main characters who you really think you would hate in real life.  In fact, I hated her so much in the first bit of the book that I almost stopped reading it.  Statuesque blonde who used to be a model who was too good for college and is illogically obsessed with designer shoes?  Blergh.  The thing is, though, when she gets turned into a vampire we see the happy-go-lucky, humorous, good souled person underneath.  What a flip from typical vampire books, eh?  But it works.  Betsy is a flawed main character.  What a nice change of pace!  But she isn’t so flawed that we can’t sympathize with her and enjoy her presence.

Choosing to make Betsy a prophesied mighty vampire puts an interesting twist on the typical paranormal trope.  She’s not a non-vampire with interesting powers who shakes up the vampire community, and she’s also not some regular newbie vamp learning the ropes.  She’s a vampire who the typical rules don’t apply to, but on top of that, she calls it like she sees it.  She laughs at the ridiculous names, pomp, and circumstance the vampires in the area have chosen to burden themselves with.  She’s a breath of fresh air, if you will.  These combine to make a truly amusing read.

Of course, there is sex, and it’s not badly written at all.  The vampire elements are played up more here than they are in series like the Sookie Stackhouse series.  Additionally, some readers might be turned off by the revelation that when a vampire feeds on a human, they must also have sex with them so the human gets a similar release.  I found this to be a call-back to the grittier vampires such as the type Anne Rice wrote, but I get it that some readers might be a bit skeeved out by that.

Overall, Undead and Unwed is a delightful northern piece of paranormal chick lit that will have you laughing or at least smiling in a wittily bemused fashion.  I recommend it to lovers of paranormal and chick lit alike, and I plan on reading the rest of the series.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Graphic Novel) (Series, #6)

July 26, 2010 3 comments

Scott Pilgrim holding a sword.Summary:
Ramona Flowers disappeared,and Scott Pilgrim has spent the last four months of his life wallowing in depression in an apartment his parents paid for playing videogames and avoiding fighting the last evil ex, Gideon.  His friends have got on with their lives, and they finally get around to trying to get Scott to face up to his past.  Will he fight Gideon?  Will he have casual sex with any of his exes?  Will Ramona show back up?

Review:
I loved this book so much.  It’s one of those endings to a series that makes you like the previous entries in the series even more.  I’m going to have a hard time writing this review without devolving into a bunch of random squeeing, so please bare with me.

O’Malley successfully ties up all the ends without being too cute.  The answer to what the subspace is makes sense and fits in with the story well.  It also doesn’t talk down to the reader’s intelligence at all.  Similarly, why Scott likes Ramona so much gets answered.  Them dating just makes a lot more sense after reading this book.

The action and the gaming and pop culture shout-outs that fans loved in the first five books are still present here.  I’m particularly fond of O’Malley’s choice to use 8-bit type drawing to depict characters’ overly idealistic memories of past relationships.  All of the other gaming references are still there as well, such as where characters get their weapons from.

O’Malley’s drawing has noticeably improved this time around.  My main complaint in previous books of the female characters being hard to tell apart has been addressed.  I had no issue telling them apart this time around.  Plus, O’Malley still pays attention to background details that make it worth looking closely at the scenes, such as setting one scene in a bookstore that’s going out of business with signs that say “Please Help Oh God” in the background.

I know some people won’t like how little attention is paid to secondary characters in this volume.  That didn’t bother me, because I was so caught up in Scott’s storyline, and it is called Scott Pilgrim after all.  It’s not like the secondary characters aren’t there.  It’s just that their personal storylines get tied up quickly.  It didn’t bother me, but it might bother some.

The only thing that bothered me at all was that there is one section of the book where the pages go blank for a bit.  I’ve always felt that’s a trite story-telling mechanism, and I don’t like the message it sends.  However, I just flipped past them and continued on my way instead of taking the dramatic pause I assume we are supposed to take.

These are really minor flaws when it comes to a series like this.  It could have easily fallen apart or failed to tie up the important questions in the end.  Instead, O’Malley addresses what is a common issue for a lot of 20-somethings in a creative manner, fleshed out with gaming and pop culture references and humor that makes it entertaining while simultaneously being touching.  I highly recommend the entire series to 20-something lovers of graphic novels or older graphic novel enthusiasts who can still relate to what it is to be in your 20s.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Volume 1: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life
Volume 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Volume 3: Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness
Volume 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together
Volume 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe

Review of first 5 books

Friday Fun! (Gardening, Kindle App, Swiffer)

July 23, 2010 5 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Thanks to my friend Nina, my tomato plant now actually has a cage instead of being held up by a contraption made up of random bits of my blinds, yarn, and my refrigerator.  It is surviving…barely.  It’s this tall gangly thing.  On the other hand, my peppers keep getting bushier but not blossoming.  Get on that, peppers!  The basil is behaving quite well.  I highly recommend it to anyone who forgets to water plants until they get wrinkly and then desperately drowns them with so much water that the dirt floats.  That might just be me.  In any case, the basil is thriving in spite of my abuse.

Oh in bookish news, I got the Kindle app for my iTouch, partly because it’s free, but also because I was wondering if I’d actually successfully finish an eBook if it wasn’t a classic.  So far all the ones I’ve tried have been classics because that’s what’s free.  Anyway, I heard that you can get some romance novels for free from Amazon via the Kindle app, and lo and behold you can!  So expect a review of reading on the Kindle app, and possibly the book, if I actually finish it.  I have yet to successfully finish an eBook, and I only plan on reading this when I’m standing up on the bus with one free hand or in line for something.  So we shall see what we see.

Also, pet owners, for the love of sanity get a Swiffer.  After battling the epicness of my own long hair combined with my kitty shedding non-stop this summer, I finally caved and bought one.  You know what?  It’s amazing!  It actually caught all the hair without sending any of it flying toward my nose.  My floors have not looked this clean in ages.  Plus, it took about a third of the time of regular sweeping.  I’m totally sold.  Although, I’ll probably still do old-fashioned mopping periodically.

Happy weekends all!

Book Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (Series, #1)

July 19, 2010 10 comments

Girl looking between tree branches.Summary:
Mary’s world is tightly controlled by the Sisters and the Guardians.  The Sisters show the village how to find favor with God via the yearly and daily rituals.  The Guardians check and maintain the fence that keeps the Unconsecrated out.  The Sisters says the Unconsecrated came with the Return as a punishment to the people.  This is why they must maintain God’s favor.  But Mary dreams of the tales of the ocean and tall buildings her mother told her about, and her mother’s mother for generations back.  She will need those dreams when her world is turned upside down with a breach of the fence.  They’ve happened before, but never like this.

Review:
This is an interesting take on the traditional zombie tale.  In lieu of starting with the outbreak or just after the outbreak, Ryan envisions what life would be like for the descendants of the few who’ve managed to survive.  Of course the sheer number of zombies in the world means it’s impossible for the few survivors left to kill them all, so they must live with constant vigilance.  In the case of Mary’s village, they’ve turned to religion to maintain the level of control required to keep them all safe.  This is the strongest portion of the book as it leads to interesting questions.  The threat outside the fence is indeed real.  Mary’s questions are making it difficult for the Sisters to maintain the control needed and prevent panic in the village.  On the other hand, the Sisters aren’t exactly being honest with the population or giving them a happy life.  They’re just giving them a life.

Where the action supposedly picks up with the breach of the fence is where the book sort of left me behind.  The fact of the matter is, I wound up caring more about the village than Mary, and I don’t think I was supposed to.  Where I was supposed to be rooting for Mary, I found myself rooting for the community, the group of survivors.  Mary’s individualism rings as starkly selfish to me in light of the very real threat around them.  This is odd because generally I’m in favor of people being themselves and not necessarily following the group, but that’s different when a crisis is being faced.  I found myself wishing it had read more like Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic Cranford, which is a study of a town and not an individual.

Of course, that’s not the type of book Ryan set out to write.  She set out to write a book about a girl in a future where zombies are a fact of life.  She writes beautifully, with exquisite sentences that read more like an 18th century novel than a 21st century one.  I also am certain that the teenage audience this YA book is aimed at will be rooting for Mary in her quest to find herself and her dreams.

If you are a teen or a teen at heart looking for an adventure tale with a touch of romance, you will enjoy this book.  If traditional zombies are what you are after, however, you should look elsewhere.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Friday Fun! (Camping and Biking)

July 16, 2010 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Thank you for being patient with my hiatus last week, and I hope you enjoyed the posts this week.

Last weekend I went camping in Vermont with my friends Nina and E.  I love so many things about camping–the fires, the food, the technology free time to talk, sleeping outside, the justification for using a hatchet.  We rocked out in the car on the way up, and they also got a chance to meet my family.  My brother taught them how to shoot rifles and pistols, and my dad made us dinner one night.  They continued on to Canada, and I took a bus back to Boston after visiting a bit more.  Unfortunately, the bus was around an hour late, so I wound up arriving at work exhausted the next day.

Yesterday it was finally cool enough to start biking again.  My legs only  lost a little bit of their strength, so that’s good.  My bike fell off its chain for the first time yesterday, and of course I had no idea how simple that is to fix.  I spent a few minutes grappling with the chain and getting covered with grease before discovering this lever you can push on to raise and loosen the chain and set it back on.  At least I knew enough to put it on the second circle since it was on the second gear.  So then I got to arrive on my bus connection covered with grease and got weird looks from the bus driver. It was awesome.   I took a risk biking this morning.  It’s cool now but is supposed to get up into the low 90s by this evening.  We shall see.

Happy weekends, all! How were your weekends?  Any good weekend plans?

Imminent Arrivals and TBR #2

July 15, 2010 8 comments

The first time I did an Imminent Arrivals and TBR post it turned out to be surprisingly popular with you guys. Yay!  So I decided to continue doing them periodically.

Imminent Arrivals (books with the shortest estimated arrival from PaperBackSwap)

Paintbrush on woman's chest.Top of the queue is Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore.  I honestly have no idea what this book is about, but Jane Kamensky was my advisor for my History major in university.  She mysteriously took a year’s sabbatical and only told us later it was to write this book.  She specializes in US History, particularly women’s roles and colonial New England.  I kind of heart her.  A lot.  She’s a brilliant woman and taught me so much.  How could I not read her book?

Woman in a red dress.Next is Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder.  You guys know that I don’t normally do fantasy, but the concept of a woman convicted of murder being offered the choice between immediate death or being the food taster for the Commander of Ixia really struck me.  There’s a lot of room for interesting plot there from the methods and types of poisoning to free will to the original murder.  I’m curious and hopeful this will be a door into fantasy for me.  Or at least a window.

Woman standing in front of a city skyline.Third in line is Deadtown by Nancy Holzner.  It sounds largely like your typical paranormal plot-line (woman must keep people safe from monsters) but it’s set in Boston!  I mean I have to read anything set in Boston that isn’t about the Irish mob.  I get so sick of Boston equating Irish mob in people’s heads.  Anyway, it also appears to feature every type of paranormal creature you can imagine, so it should at least be entertaining.

TBR

Woman's blurry face.I’m trying to dig down to the books that have been in my TBR pile the longest.  First is S by John Updike.  After reading The Witches of Eastwick and enjoying it, I poked around to see what else Updike has written.  I have a weakness for epistolary novels, and this one is a bit unique in that it is set in the 1960s as opposed to the 1800s or some such.  The letters are also from a woman living on a religious commune.  It all sounds rather fascinating, but I’m not sure if I’m in the mood for what could be a slow-paced novel right now.

Woman wearing a glowing necklace.Also sitting on the TBR shelf for a while is Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler.  It was recommended to me by a friend due to my love of Margaret Atwood.  I honestly didn’t even read the summary at the time, just bought it.  Allow me to go look at the blurb.  Ok.  It’s set in the future and is about a woman who is an empath–a person who is crippled by the pain of others.  Ohhh, this sounds really good!

Wires.Finally there’s Neuromancer by William Gibson, which was recommended to me by an IT geek friend of mine.  It’s about a computer cowboy who gets banished from cyberspace (I think it’s fairly obvious that this is set in the future).  Rumors of a movie keep circulating, so I do want to get on this relatively soon.  I just hope it won’t disappoint me the way Feed did (review).

There we have it!  Please tell me what you think, my lovely readers!

Book Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

July 14, 2010 8 comments

Torn notebook with blood on it.Summary:
Fifteen year old John Wayne Cleaver has an odd fascination with the bodies he helps cremate in the family mortuary.  He also has difficulty feeling any emotions.  He even has been studying serial killers for years.  He is not one, however.  At least, not yet.  His therapist believes John may have Antisocial Personality Disorder, but both he and John hope John can learn to control his illness, an illness John refers to as Mr. Monster.  However, when bodies start appearing on the streets of the town gruesomely murdered, John wonders how long he can keep Mr. Monster in check.

Review:
I originally had high expectations for this book.  Then I had to wait for it so long that they waned, and I felt that it was probably just going to be a watered down YA version of Dexter.  Then I grabbed it for my camping trip because I am insane and love to terrify myself when sleeping in the middle of nowhere in the woods with strange men with hatchets I don’t know a mere campsite away.  It didn’t turn out to be a watered down Dexter.  It also isn’t terrifying.  The best word I can think to describe this book is relatable.

Dan Wells chose to write a YA book about mental illness and couch it with some supernatural features and a premise that will appeal to any teens, not just those struggling with a mental illness themselves.  These were both smart moves as it makes I Am Not a Serial Killer more widely appealing.  However, he not only chose to depict a mental illness, he chose to depict one of the ones that is the most difficult for healthy people to sympathize with and relate to–antisocial personality disorder.  John Cleaver has no empathy, and this baffles those who naturally feel it.

Yet Wells manages to not only depict what makes John scary to those around him, but also how it feels to be John.  He simultaneously depicts the scary parts of having a mental illness with the painful parts for the one struggling with it.  John makes up rules for himself to try to control his behavior.  He has to think things through every time he interacts with people or he will do or say the wrong thing.  John is fully aware that he doesn’t fit in, but he wants to.  He wants to be healthy and normal, but he also wants to be himself, which at this point in time includes the behavior that is his illness.

Of course, this is a book about a serial killer, and it delivers there.  The death scenes hold just the right level of gruesomeness without going over the top.  Anyone with a love of the macabre will also enjoy the mortuary scenes, which depict the right combination of science and John’s morbid fascination.  There also is a tentatively forming teen dating relationship that is simultaneously sweet and bit nerve-wracking.

I feel I would be amiss not to mention that there is some self-harm in this book.  It is very brief and is clearly shown as a part of John’s illness.  In fact for the first time in reading about it in any book I can say the author handled it quite well, depicting the self-injurer and his reasons for doing so sympathetically and correctly, but without making it seem like something the reader should copy.

Overall this book delivers the thrills and chills it promises, but does so without demonizing John Cleaver.  It depicts what it feels like to have a mental illness in a powerful, relatable manner while still managing to be a fast-paced YA thriller.  I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA, books dealing with mental illness, or thrillers.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson

July 13, 2010 4 comments

Woman smelling a flower.Summary:
Ellen’s staunchly feminist, progressive family found themselves flabbergasted by their daughter’s preference for honing her homemaking skills.  However, with time they came around, and they are pleased to see her leave for a house matron position at a boarding school in Austria.  Her childhood has prepared her for dealing with the eclectic, progressive teachers, but the little school has more problems to face than unusual teaching styles and the lonesomeness of the children of wealthy world travelers.  Trouble is brewing in Europe in the shape of the Nazi movement in Germany.  Of course, Ellen may have found an ally in the form of Marek, the school’s groundskeeper.

Review:
I have been fascinated with WWII ever since I was a very little girl.  Also, I have no issue with feminists cooking meals for people or keeping house.  Feminism is about men and women being able to do what makes them happy, not just what they’re “supposed” to do.  I therefore expected these two elements to come together to make for an intriguing read.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.

The main problem is Ellen.  I simply don’t like her.  I can’t root for her.  I can’t enjoy any scene she’s in.  In fact, I wanted multiple times to shove her into the lake the school is on.  Now, I don’t have to like a main character to enjoy a book, but I do need at least one other character in the book to dislike her, so I’m not going around thinking something is wrong with me.  However, everyone in the entire book simply loves Ellen.  They frequently call her “angelic,” and everyone essentially worships the ground she walks on.  Every man of anywhere near a suitable age for her falls madly in love with her.  I can give that a pass in paranormal romance, as there’s a lot of supernatural stuff going on, but this is supposed to be  a normal girl.  Not every man is going to fall in love with her.  It’s just preposterous!  That doesn’t happen!  Ellen is, simply put, a dull, boring woman with no true backbone.  If this was a Victorian novel, she’d be fainting every few pages.

Then there’s Marek, her love interest, who I also completely loathed.  Everything he does, even if it’s helping others, is for purely selfish reasons.  He also has a wicked temper and frequently dangles people out of windows.  Why Ellen becomes so obsessed with him is beyond me.

Ibbotson also obviously scorns many ideals that I myself hold dear.  Any character who is a vegetarian or against capitalism or in favor of nudity is displayed as silly, childish, or selfish.  There is a section in which the children are being taught by a vegetarian director and some of them switch to being vegetarian as well, and of course Ellen finds this simply atrocious and worries about the children.  Naturally, the director is later villainized.  Clearly anyone who eats “nut cutlets” for dinner simply cannot be normal.  I expect an author’s ideals to show up in a book, but the book’s blurb certainly gave no indication that a book taking place largely at a progressive boarding school would spend a large amount of its time mocking those same values.

In spite of all that I can’t say that this is a badly written book.  Ibbotson is capable of writing well, I just don’t enjoy her content at all.  After finishing it, I realized it reminded me of something.  It reads like a Jane Austen novel, and I absolutely loathe those.  So, if you enjoy Jane Austen and WWII era Europe settings, you’ll enjoy this book.  Everyone else should steer clear.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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