Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

It has been awhile since I reviewed a book. This is partly because it has been awhile since I last read a book. That is to say, a book besides Lord of the Flies, which I pore over constantly when planning lessons. I was in serious need of some literary variety in my life.

I recently got an iPhone, and like so many before me, I am greatly enjoying it. One of the first apps I downloaded was iBook. The app store was advertising it, and while I thought my phone was a bit small to read a book on, I downloaded it. I figured it was free, why not? Then the other day I had the sudden urge to read something new, something good. Since I now live on a small island, it now takes about half an hour to get to the nearest bookstore. It isn’t so much the distance as traffic and finding parking, a pain in the neck all around.

So what to read, and where to get it. I decided to poke around the iBook store, but the way they organize their books didn’t really lend itself to browsing (or at least not the way I was doing it, I should play with the app a bit more). Then I remembered that a friend (hi Mike!) had recently mentioned a book on twitter that sounded interesting. He described Ready Player One to me as “Dan Brown for geek fanboys,” which could mean a lot of things, but it sounded fun to me. The book was in the iBook library and I downloaded it, hoping that the small screen wouldn’t make me insane.

Reading a book on an iPhone wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I would certainly say it slowed me down a bit. It was harder to get immersed in the story when you had to turn the page every 20 seconds. But eventually my brain would get the rhythm, and it didn’t detract from the story.

Anyway, onto the actual review. As usual, spoilers will be written in white text so you can highlight and read them if you choose too. I will try to indicate if they are major or minor, in case you just want to be mildly spoiled.

Let me start with a brief plot summary – It is 2044 and the world is in seriously bad shape. This is your typical distopian future, fires in the street, poor living conditions, a beaten down populace, the haves are few and far between and they have everything, the have-nots are barely scraping by. Our hero is a have-not, albiet a resourceful one when it comes to his main hobby – a virtual world called Oasis. Oasis is a fully (depending on how much equipment you have) interactive virtual world. The sad, beaten down people of earth use it to escape the horrific real world; they go to school, work, carry on friendships and romances, battle for virtual money and status, and generally enjoy things reality can’t offer them. When the creator of Oasis died, he left behind a massive puzzle to be solved by players. The prize for solving this mystery is the “egg,” a symbol for unimaginable wealth and control over Oasis itself, everything that the creator of the game, James Halliday, left behind when he died. This leads to huge amounts of the population devoting themselves to solving this puzzle, the clues of which are deeply rooted in 80’s culture of all kinds. Our main character, Wade, devotes any time that isn’t taken up by virtual high school  to solving the puzzle that so many people have obsessed over. After the contest drags on for 5 years without anyone finding the first of three keys, some people lose interest. But not Wade, and not thousands of other “gunters” as they are called (egg hunters).

What’s bad – The author has a little bit of a wish-fulfillment issue going on. Since the story is immersed, literally, in technology, he occasionally dives off into long tangents about the cool and mostly imaginary technology on offer. Suits that allow you to physically feel what is happening in the real world? Fine. Boxes that release scents into the air so you can smell what you are seeing? Silly, especially when placed in a chapter that is devoted to describing how people can feel, smell, order food that really arrives at your apartment, blah blah blah… It is like the author made a list of everything you would need to make virtual reality as real as possible, then wrote about all of them. And no one told him to cut it down. Leave something to the imagination, not many people are sitting there thinking, “but what about smell!”

The writing itself also leaves something to be desired. The author’s desire to describe everything is related to bigger issues with “show don’t tell.” If Cline wants to tell you what something looks like or how someone feels, he just tells you. All too often there is no effort to integrate information into the story, instead it gets its own descriptive paragraph. Most of the time Cline has taken the time to describe something because it comes up later in the story, but he doesn’t seem to realize that its place in the story is description enough. Everything doesn’t need its own detailed introduction.

What’s fine – 80’s 80’s 80’s! Any connoisseur of 80’s culture is going to enjoy this book. The sheer number of movies, videogames, bands, songs, actors, pop culture icons, etc. that are mentioned in this novel is staggering. Me, I’ve never been overly into the 80’s. I was seven when the 90’s came along, and even then I’m really more of an aughts girl when it comes to music, movies, and gaming culture. I did enjoy some of the name checks, like Wil Wheaton, but I can see how someone who is more into the 80’s would get more out of the book in general. In order to “win” the game and collect all the keys, gunters have to be encyclopedias of knowledge about the 80’s, a decade James Halliday was obsessed with. Puzzles include things like (minor spoiler) reciting entire movies and successfully playing through Pac Man without making a single mistake, and only the most obsessed will survive.

Another mention for wish-fulfillment for the “fine” catagory. What annoyed me about some of the other wish-fulfillment was that it was too much “listing” and not enough story. But there is another, romantic comedy-esque style that also shows up. (Minor spoilers to follow). Our protagonist starts off the novel looking like what one might expect someone who spends all their time in a virtual world to look like. He’s spotty, pale, and overweight. But after suffering a soul-crushing setback, Wade downloads a program that forces him to exercise in the real world before he is allowed to play in the virtual one. Thus our chubby nerd transforms into six-packed hero, just in time to do something that demonstrates his willingness to leave the virtual world and kick ass in the real one. This is the kind of wish fulfillment I don’t mind. The authorial urge to take an ugly duckling and swan him up a little is strong, if not original. Taking care of ones’ self physically is a tried and true sign of growth in fiction, so I’ll give the author a partial pass for leaning a bit too much on the “training montage” school of character development.

But also, let’s face it, it undermines his “it’s not what’s on the inside that counts” message a bit.

Another thing I’d have to put in the “fine” catagory is the ending. After working our way through this book of incredibly complex puzzles and epic battles, the story seems to end quite suddenly. But perhaps that was just me. Also, (major spoiler) the big red button that destroys the entire online world? Mmm, not sure what to make of that. Clearly the message is that part of the reason humanity is going down the tubes is because everyone spends all their spare time in a virtual world where they can be and do anything they like. Wade will presumably be pressing that button at some point, thus forcing humanity to face what they’ve done to the real world and work on solutions to the disaster that is Earth. But if you are going to introduce a major button like that, wouldn’t that fall under the Chekov’s gun rule? For those who are unfamiliar, the rule basically means that one shouldn’t put a gun on stage if it isn’t going to go off at some point later in the story. Can we not even get a quick conversation where Wade and the virtual Halliday discuss the pros and cons of the button? No? Just going to throw it in there, say “you might want to push this at some point, up to you, moving on”? Ok… If the author writes a sequel that features the button, I officially retract my complaint. Spoiler over.

The good – This is a really engaging story. I think the comparison to Dan Brown is fair – the writing is weak (better than Brown’s, but still weak) but the plot is really, really fun. James Halliday and his cohorts were clearly based partly on real world characters like Jobs, Wozniaki, and Gates. I think Cline has a strong grasp on human nature that shows in his character development. The main characters tend to be a tad overdramatic, but then again, they are teenagers. I wouldn’t say their drama queen tendencies aren’t a fair representation of your average 18 year old.

I really enjoyed learning about some neat pop culture history. As I mentioned before, the book is awash in 80’s nostalgia. While I couldn’t always relate to the obsession, it was interesting to learn more about the Atari, or hear a story about the man, John Draper, who discovered you could make free long distance calls by blowing a penny whistle a particular way.

I also found myself in the rather unique position if being midway through this book when Steven Jobs passed away. Suddenly, the anecdotes in the book were showing up in articles about Jobs’ actual life. One article in particular, on Slate.com, mentions what a large impact John Draper and his whistle had on Jobs and Wozniaki in their youth – inspiring their first foray into the technology business (You can find the article here). My first computer was an Apple, my current computer is an Apple, and I was reading Ready Player Oneon my iPhone. The sadly premature death of Steve Jobs lends the book an air of poignancy I’m not sure it would have had otherwise.

Another thing I really enjoyed about the book was the twist it took about three quarters of the way through. I was genuinely surprised (major spoiler) not only that Wade was dragged out of his apartment by the evil corporation he’s been battling, but that he’d carefully planned the whole thing to gain special access to their system and save his friends. It was a level of badassery I hadn’t expected from Wade, and a pleasant break from the near constant immersion in the virtual world. Glimpses of the real world are sprinkled throughout the book. Wade’s rare forays outside are quite engaging. Cline doesn’t engage in over-description when Wade is outside Oasis, and this is a very good thing. Because the reader has spent so much time thinking about the 80’s, most of us are probably picturing some cross between Blade Runner and Back to the Future II (the ugly future, not the shiny one) anyway. The jarring differences between Wade’s real life and his virtual one make for some of the most interesting moments in the book.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to pretty much anyone. Especially since most people my age have an undying affection for things like The Breakfast Club (when it comes to 80’s movies I’ll take Aliens over John Hughes every time, sorry!). I’m a little surprised this book isn’t listed as a young adult novel. The themes and writing seem very YA to me. Cline has included a lot of really dark themes here – murder, terrorism, evil corporations, suicide, a distopian future, racism, sexism, homophobia, and on and on… But when it comes down to it, the book can’t help being fairly gleeful and happy. This may be due to how much fun the author is clearly having with his subject. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the tone of the book did mean that I never once (spoiler) had the least doubt that everything was going to work out just fine. There was just no way that Art3mis was going to get murdered or the corporation was going to gain control over the egg. It just wasn’t going to happen. Nothing wrong with an upbeat tone, but it didn’t really lend itself to suspense. 

Here ends my rambling review. As usual, my attempt to put things into good, bad, and fine categories just meant I put everything all over the place anyway. But hopefully I got my point across. If you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend it. And go into it expecting what is basically YA that is a billion times better than Twilight, but not on the level of something like Hunger Games or A Wrinkle in Time.

Edit: I should probably mention that I am often mildly annoyed by books written in the first person. I think it is tough for a lot of writers to write a solid protagonist without the “I did this, I did that, this is how I feel, me me me” making the character seem a lot more self obsessed than they are actually meant to be. But this is a personal preference and might not bother other people at all.


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I haven’t written a book review for awhile, so I thought I’d share a little bit about what I’m reading these days.

I should start by saying that I finally took the time to step into a weird little shop down the road from me. The window is packed full of records, so I never really took the time to look more closely. Records are interesting and all, but not a hobby of mine. It wasn’t until I spotted the name of the shop, Diskovery (another reason I thought it was just music) on mysecretBoston.com that I came to learn that it was a used bookstore as well. I have been complaining lately about the lack of bookstores in my area, so I was a touch chagrined to learn that there has been one only a few blocks away for almost two years without me realizing it.

The place is delightful and odd. First of all, there are cats draped about the place. As in real, live cats. They are quite friendly as far as I can tell. Another interesting feature is the almost total lack of organization. This is not the place to go if you have your heart set on one particular book. Aside from being loosely arranged by genre (and a loose definition of the word genre) there is no alphabetizing whatsoever.

There is, for example, a section devoted to books that have been made into movies (I snagged a few photos with my phone while I was browsing today) –

This is what I mean by a loose definition of genre. It was in this section that I snagged a copy of Jane Austen’s Emma. I don’t own my own copies of any Austen books since I’d read them after taking them out of libraries. But while I found Emma in the “books that became movies” section, I found P&P, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility in a different section entirely (one which I guess could be loosely termed “classics”?). Those books have been made into movies as well, but… Well you see what I’m saying. Chaos!

The other interesting quirk of this place is that the books are layered. Meaning that most shelves have two rows of books. If you are feeling determined, you have to move the front stack in order to see what is behind it. Sometimes you will catch a glimpse of something interesting (The Spy Who Hated Fudge? What is that all about) and then you have to decide if it is worth possibly meeting your death under a pile of old books while you play Jenga in an attempt to investigate. Visual aid –

Incidentally, I kept pulling my phone out of my purse to take pictures, and I was a little worried the proprietor would think I was slipping books into my bag. But she seemed unconcerned about what I was doing rustling around in the stacks. It would be incredibly easy to steal from this place, there are no security measures whatsoever. But one would have to be an asshole of epic proportions since a) the lady who runs it is so darn nice and b) you can buy 8 books for 12 bucks, which I did today.

Another picture, to demonstrate the vibe of the place –

I took this last one sitting on the floor in the crime section. Mystery seems to be vaguely divided between the more traditional mystery novels, Agatha Christie and the like, and other kinds of crime like spy novels and noir. I spent my time there today chilling among the more traditional mysteries, where earlier in the week I’d come across an old favorite, Shroud for a Nightengale by P.D. James. I also found another novel by James, The Murder Room, and decided to give it a try.

P.D. James, who is a British writer, is around 90 years old at the moment. She is quite famous, perhaps a bit more so in England than here, for her detective novels featuring Adam Dalgliesh. She’s written 14 novels about that particular police officer, as well as a few others with different protagonists. Though her books are more modern, it would be fair to say that she is influenced a bit by Agatha Christie and a great deal by Dorothy Sayers, a favorite of mine and apparently hers. She also wrote the book The Children of Men, which many people probably remember as a film that came out a few years ago starring Clive Owen.

The Murder Room is over 100 pages in before the first murder even happens. This is fairly typical of James, who is rarely sparing with character development. It does get a bit tiring at times, especially with recurring characters like Kate Miskin. While James clearly wants to keep Dalgliesh a bit more mysterious and thus reveals a bit less about what he is thinking, we are frequently treated to Kate’s innermost thoughts and feelings. At a certain point, you kind of want to tell her to join match.com and stop obsessing about everything. Even though Kate isn’t overused in this particular novel, her inner monologue can still be an overshare.

Once the murders begin, things don’t exactly get off to a rollicking start. There are a plethora of suspects and not much to narrow them down. There is one character in particular whom I dearly loved, the serene, 60 year old Tally. James is quite good at making you feel what her characters are feeling and really understand them, which may also be why it can be hard to listen to Kate’s darker, sadder thoughts.

It isn’t until another death, many, many pages later that things get going a little more quickly. The novel is very, very slow paced. Did we really have to go along with two of the detectives to question the man who serviced the victim’s car? Yes, not because it furthered the plot but because it further unpacked the relationship between those two detectives. P.D. James will include these moments because they fit into the larger story of the relationships between recurring characters over 14 novels. It might not mean much to someone who is reading James for the first and last time, but even so, it isn’t boring.

If I have a complaint about James, it is her endings. In this particular novel, despite our villain having several excellent motives (along with many other people), James feels compelled to throw another one in there. A wrong from many, many years ago that is casually mentioned during a confessional moment at the end and never really elucidated upon. It doesn’t hurt the story, but it is completely unnecessary. In two of her other novels, James gives intricate secret Nazi backstories to characters that end up being the impetus behind the crimes (though these secret Nazis aren’t necessarily the murderers themselves). Granted, the idea seems to be that we get information at generally the same time Dalgliesh gets it, which is a very valid way of telling the story. My complaint is that in some of her books it can be overly clever and not always necessary. And if you are going to come up with these crazy backstories, why not let it come up somehow in the investigation or even hinted at? In this case, we are flat out told by the killer at the end. One could argue that there is some pretty heavy foreshadowing which adds some depth, but not quite enough for me.

Spoiler ahead. It doesn’t give away the killer at all, but it does give away a victim (who is easy to guess early in the novel anyway) and the silly extra reason the killer did it.  Highlight the white text to see it  –

The first victim, a psychiatrist, failed to hurry to see a patient 12 years ago and that patient committed suicide. That person was dearly loved by the killer, so the killer decided to wait over a decade and then brutally murder the guy, partially driven by the collection of other perfectly good motives that have popped up since then. So not necessary to throw in a 3 sentence add-on about a 12 year old suicide! 

So P.D. has a bit of a weakness for overdoing it. Overall, this is not her best Dalgliesh novel by a long shot. It was definitely not a “can’t put it down” book, in fact I put it down a few times when I found I just wasn’t getting sucked in. That said, I did enjoy it. The whole series is really very good and I plan to read all 14 of the books featuring Dalgliesh. I believe I’ve read about 5 now, with Death in Holy Orders being by far my favorite. Death in Holy Orders very much echoes Dorothy Sayers novel, Gaudy Night, which is one of my favorite novels.

If I were to randomly invent a star system for my book reviews, this one would get a 3 1/2 out of 5.

Edit: I just realized that my post title kind of makes it look like the bookstore is called The Murder Room. Which would be a fun, if confusing, name for a bookstore.

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1. The word “digging”

2. Dorothy Sayers. I bought a book of her short stories at a used book store while we were in Chicago. Love her stuff, she is a better Agatha Christie. I’ve read some of the short stories before (and all of the novels) but some of these are happily new to me. I’ve been reading a story or two a night before bed, and I am almost done. So not excited for that! What will I keep next to my bed next? Short stories are perfect because I can’t get sucked into reading too many chapters.

3. Bright lipstick, still. Kind of. I can wear it to go on walks. Working my way up to actually wearing it out with friends.

4. The Bruins. I am watching game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs right now and TENSE! Bruins are winning 3-0 right now, I hope it stays that way! With the way I write blog entries the game might be over before I finish and I’ll have to edit this. Edit: Bruins are Stanley Cup Champions! Won 4-0, what a series!

5. Restaurant patios. A place we really like down the street opened a new patio and it’s great. It is huge and has all these lights and plants and so on. Really pleasant way to spend an evening. The weather needs to be friendlier though, come on summer!

6. Curry and Greek Salads. Not at the same time, but just in general I’ve really been craving curry dishes and I’m still on my endless Feta cheese kick. I bought a Greek salad the other day and threw it in the fridge for the next day. Sleepyhusband ATE IT WHILE I WAS SLEEPING. Rageface. I’ve also been into anything really spicy. I pretty much dump cayenne all over everything I eat right now.

7. Nights out with friends. I tend to be the one who brings my group of friends together because a) I am sporadically employed and have a lot less to do and b) I get bored really easily and immediate start thinking of ways I can get people to enable my restaurant addiction so I don’t have to cook. On Saturday I managed to get two sets of couples to get Indian with SleepyHusband and I. It was my college best friend and my childhood best friend and their significant others, and we had a fab time. Then CollegeBest and her SO came over to our apartment and we played monopoly on xbox (and I won, long live the top hat!).

8. Travel plans. We finally got our act together to get tickets to fly over to see SleepyHusband’s Dad for his birthday in August. SleepyHusband’s brother and his girlfriend will also be there. We all have a fantastic time together, so excited to see them!

9. Summer TV. Standards are lower, because it is summer TV, but light, fluffy summer shows are perfect for a warm evening. Covert Affairs, White Collar, Memphis Beat, The Glades… Yes, I have a crime show problem. This is a cry for help!

10. Now that I’ve come this far, I want to post 10 things… Uuuuum… I’m digging that my week is half over! I am currently doing a 6 day week because of a weird scheduling thing with the 3 week program I am teaching for right now. It is only 3 days in, but I’m finding the psychological effects of knowing I have that extra day coming are making me a bit twitchy. I’ve found this job really, really intense because the kids are so low level. I never have a second to sit down and I have to be so hands on that I’ve started buying a smaller coffee because I don’t have time to drink my normal size before it gets cold. (hi teachers who work with young children! I don’t know how you do it! I would lose my goddamn mind!) This really isn’t a “things I’m digging” entry is it? Yay for my week being half over!

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I’ve started watching a new show on CBS called Chaos. So far it is ok, cute, funny and earnest. We’ll see if they grow into their voice a little better. Anyway, I was watching Friday’s episode tonight (love our DVR) about the CIA team at the center of the show was trying to get a man’s wife out of N. Korea. One of them is talking about how they might have to give up and gives this little speech that I actually thought was a good little bit of writing (and well-acted by the cute British actor, James Murray) –

“Song is ready to die for his wife and her for him, they are the very definition of star-crossed lovers. Anyone who knows their Shakespeare, or has caught a midday telling of Ella, will tell you that star-crossed lovers crush anything that gets into their orbit. Which in this case would be us.”

I’ve been teaching a bit of Shakespeare in one of my classes. Since these are ESL students and Shakespeare is not even easy for most native speakers, we use adapted text. Some of the students could probably handle the actual play if we went really slowly, but since some of them are with us for 6 months and others just two weeks, not to mention the different levels in any given class, this just wouldn’t work. The play is turned into a simplified short story with easier vocab and occasional direct quotes from the play. I like using them because Shakespeare does tell a hell of a story, but it is tough sometimes to read them and know what the kids are missing out on. I always encourage them to give Shakespeare a try in his raw form sometime.

Finally I realized I was missing an obvious compromise. I could have them read the short story form of the plays, and pick and choose scenes for them to read in the original language. I tried this for the first time on Thursday and I think it actually went pretty well.

We are reading Twelfth Night, one of my favorites. We read the story up to the scene where Olivia and Viola (as Cesario) meet for the first time, and then I handed them that same scene from the original. I chose this scene because it has one of my very favorite moments in Shakespeare. It is a good little speech on it’s own, but even better when you read it with all the layers of deception and love in play at this moment in the story.

Viola describes what she would do for Olivia if she loved Olivia like Orsino does –

“Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out ‘Olivia!’ O, You should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth,
But you should pity me!”

Good stuff.

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Over at themarysue.com, which bills itself as a “guide to girl geek culture,” I found this article today – http://www.themarysue.com/essay-appreciating-the-little-things-pokemon/

A lot of it is pokemon related, but it has some stats in the first two paragraphs about female gamers. Some of them I found pretty surprising, like the fact that there are more adult female gamers than male under-20 gamers. BTW, if you like anything from video games to comics to Neil Gaiman to Futurama to feminism to a million other things, you will like themarysue.com. I’d say I find about half of their content personally interesting, and the writing is funny and engaging. (Also, checkout thehairpin.com).

Before posting my long ass commentary on the Dragon Age games, I figured I’d do a normal post about normal life stuff. Then I realized I have nothing to talk about, heh. Life is fine, chugging along same old same old. I try to get to the gym about 5 days a week (having a little trouble talking myself into it today, but I think I’m gonna get my ass there). TV has been slow and I haven’t read anything new lately, just a reread of an old favorite that was as fun and weird as ever (seriously, read Christopher Moore’s books, they are bizarre and hilarious).

We went down to my parent’s place on the beach last weekend. Friday night was so nice we went to the beach with my sister and some of her friends. They built a fire and we stayed out there for hours, staying just warm enough to be comfortable. Saturday night was much colder, Pat and I took it easy, watching movies and relaxing. No plans for this weekend, aside from getting out and having fun. The husband has been working crazy amounts, so we are both really looking forward to some fun.

Tonight is the first time in about a month people are available for pub trivia, which I’m excited about. Pat can’t go, unfortunately, due to the aforementioned working a lot thing. But I haven’t seen some of these friends in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to catching up (and in the case of two of them, hearing about their trip to Aruba, jealous!).

Classes have been going fairly smoothly. Worked Good Will Hunting into my freshman English class, and they’ll be writing reviews of the movie, which I look forward to reading. My ESL classes are fine, if a bit small. The trade off is generally that it is much easier to provide personal attention and guidance in small classes, but it can be much harder to keep the energy level up without many kids. I think we are managing pretty well, but those last 15 minutes before lunch can be a killer.

Last night I hit up a local Indian place with my sister (different sister than last weekend, I have two). I know this makes me so boring, but I always order their Chicken Tikka Masala because I just love it. And the garlic nan is killer. One of these days I’ll go and order something new and crazy that I’ve never tried before, but when it comes to restaurants I frequent, I usually opt for the “don’t mess with a good thing” order.

That’s about it, not much of interest. And if I don’t go to the gym now, I’m not going to get to it before trivia, so off I go!

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Everyone has their guilty pleasures, whether it be a Beiber song tucked into their itunes, a penchant for terrible Chinese food, or any number of other less than impressive cravings. I’m practically made of guilty pleasures, and sometimes I find myself censoring my blog a bit in regards to them. I’ll write a book review of a respected Victorian author, but I didn’t mention that after reading the book I watched one of the worst movies ever, a movie I happen to love. Time to be honest! I figure I’ll put them in categories, much like the category checklist I use to sort my posts.

Books – Elizabeth Peters. What can I say? She writes these brilliant, romantic, action adventure books that I just love. I think I have written about her before, maybe in my Prague blog? Her main characters are almost always women, and they are always funny, badass, and have pretty decent taste in funny, badass men. She doesn’t veer into the shirtless Fabio on the cover type romance, which I like, since that’s never really appealed to me (I gave it a try a few times, just couldn’t get into them). She’s also a historian, so her stories tend to take place in really awesome places, like early 1900’s Egypt. If you are unfamiliar, please, do yourself a favor (ok, i’m pretty much talking to the ladies here, guys probably won’t get into her) pick up Crocodile on the Sandbank. From there the rest of the Peabody character books are great, as are her Vicky Bliss books.

Food – I’m gonna go with mac and cheese. I say this because I’ll sometimes hear people badmouthing good old-fashioned boxed mac and cheese and going on about from scratch and gourmet… Yea, gourmet mac and cheese is awesome. It is very difficult to go wrong with pasta and cheese. But I also love Velveeta, what can I say.

TV – Crime shows. I’ll watch pretty much any crime show until it gets too terrible to deal with. I’ve stuck with NCIS, Criminal Minds, and Bones through thick and thin (and believe me, as time goes by and plots are used up, things can get thin). I gave up on House a couple of years ago (painful, cause how much do I adore Hugh Laurie?), but I’d say the saddest show I’m still clinging to is CSI. Put a shark in a hotel pool? I’ll watch it. Make Justin Bieber an evil child bomber? I’ll watch it. Have a cute, normal guy be single for the million year duration of the show for some bizarre reason (get on that Nick)? I’ll watch it. Don’t think, “well if some people are still watching it, maybe I should get it out…” No. Bad. Don’t do it.

Movies – The fact that I enjoy those incredibly goofy syfy original movies (hello Ice Spiders) is already common knowledge, so I’m going to go in another direction. Any questions about why this movie is a guilty pleasure should be answered by the title – The Librarian: Quest for the Spear. Starring people like Noah Wyle and Bob Newhart who you’ll vaguely remember from other, better stuff, this movie is about a nerd who becomes the keeper of a library full of mythical objects. Soon after he gets the job, however, he has to go up against something called (guilty pleasure alert) The Serpent Brotherhood. It was made for TV by… TNT I think? Anyway, it is ridiculous and corny and funny and great. It shows up on TNT every 6 months or so, and I always record it, watch it at least twice, then burn out on it. This is the reason I can’t own this movie, I think that would just ruin it for me. L:QftS is the best kind of terrible movie – silly and charming, with a definite sense of humor about itself. Plus Noah Wyle is cute. The two sequels are just regular terrible, but L:QftS will always have a place on my DVR when it comes around.

Place – My big red couch, right side. If I am home, that is generally where I can be found. Yes, there is a dent (What? We’ve had the couch for a long time!)

Teaching fallback – Apples to Apples. If you’ve never placed this in your class (it is easy to justify for ESL, vocab!) I would get on that. It’s a blast.

Place to go – Kansas City. Not so much a guilty pleasure I suppose. It is cute little city and my husband is from there. But the reason I like going there is because they have amazing food. So I think it counts. OMG Winsteads. Steak burgers that you order based on how many layers you want. They are disgusting and wonderful.

Hobby – Video games. Sure, people would argue that gaming is an art form in its own right at this point, and not really a guilty pleasure. In fact, I’m among them. If you’ve ever played through a game like Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age: Origins, Fable 2 or Bioshock you might know what I mean. At this point, many of these games are basically interactive movies and tons of fun to boot. I would say the guilty part would be how I play. I get obsessed when I find a game I like. Dragon Age, for instance, basically took a week of my life the second I got it, and I’ve played it many times since. It wears off eventually, but let’s just say the dishes don’t get done by me when I find a game I love.

I’m not even going to do a music category because it would be too hard to choose. I’ll listen to anything, and if it is going on my gym mix the quality takes a nosedive because anything that has a beat I can kick my own butt to will do. I used to be a huge music fan, but in recent years I’ve just found that it isn’t a priority. I listen to the radio and download things that catch my fancy. I mostly listen to the hip hop station and, here is the part that might worry people, I’ve never heard a song by Arcade Fire. I’ve heard of them because they seem to be the Kings of Leon of a couple years ago when it comes to popularity, but never heard them.

So what categories am I missing? Anyone else want to admit their crappy taste in something?

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I’ve been meaning to write about The Moorland Cottage for a couple weeks. There is a lull in good TV right now, so I’ve been doing more reading than usual. Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Moorland Cottage was definitely the stand out in the books I’ve gone through recently. A Victorian author and contemporary of Dickens and the Brontes, I hadn’t heard of Gaskell until recently when Kim did a review of this book over at her blog, Love Letters to the Library, which you can find in my blog roll. Coincidentally, I’d been sitting on a gift card for Amazon.com since Christmas, so I threw TMC into my cart.

I let it languish for a few weeks before actually picking it up. I wasn’t in the mood for a challenging read. I do love Victorian writers, but sometimes it can take a little effort to get into the rhythms of their writing. There was no need to be concerned, as Gaskell is a beautifully easy read. Her prose is simple, clear, and expressive. Take for instance this passage, a favorite of mine –

“Poor Mr. Buxton! What a sad life for a merry light-hearted man to have such a wife! It was a good thing for him to have agreeable society sometimes. She thought he looked a good deal better for seeing his friends. He must be sadly moped with that sickly wife.

(If she had been clairvoyant at that moment, she might have seen Mr. Buxton tenderly chafing his wife’s hands, and feeling in his innermost soul a wonder at how one so saint-like could ever have learnt to love such a boor as he was; it was the wonderful mysterious blessing of his life. So little do we know of the inner truths of the households, where we come and go like intimate guests.)”

A lovely observation (though perhaps theses days Mrs. Browne would have read of the tender chafing and mysterious blessing on Mr. Buxton’s twitter feed). The story itself is a simple one. There is a wealthy family made up of Mr. Buxton, his sickly wife, their son Frank, and his niece Erminia, who was adopted by the Buxton’s after the death of her slightly wayward mother. In a house on their land live the Brownes. This family consists of the widowed Mrs. Browne, her son Edward and daughter Maggie. Little Maggie, who is almost too good to be true, is our protagonist. Edward is a pain in the arse as a child and his poor attitude and creative perspective of right and wrong do not serve him well as an adult either. Mrs. Browne neglects poor Maggie in favor of her brother throughout the book, relenting (mild spoilers start here) only when Maggie does a big, fat favor for Edward near the end of the story. As Maggie and Frank grow up, they fall for each other and some fairly predictable shenanigans ensue. Roadblocks are thrown up left and right for our couple, mostly in the form of difficult relatives.

All in all I’d characterize this book as light reading, health food for your brain without making your brain work all that hard. The story itself is charming if not particularly original. Gaskell does, however, resolve the loose ends for her characters in a fairly unusual and unexpected way, (suddenly I wonder if Daphne du Maurier was a fan) keeping the book well out of danger of being just another polite society romance. It wouldn’t really be in danger of that anyway, on the strength of Gaskell’s writing, but it doesn’t hurt.

It is tempting to compare Gaskell to Jane Austen, who died a few years after Gaskell was born. Austen’s novels, however, generally take place in a much stricter social setting. Maggie and Frank meet as children and seem to be quite good friends along with their love for each other. They are also able to spend a good deal of time together in relative privacy even after their engagement. Gaskell also eschews the plethora of miscommunications and misunderstandings that Austen relies on so heavily (occasionally to my annoyance).

This book has definitely gotten me excited about reading more of Gaskell’s work, always nice to find a new author to enjoy!

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