delphipsmith: (save the liver)
One of my goals this year was to get out of the usual menu items that we have in regular rotation and try some new things. The best so far have been sweet potato-green onion pancakes with eggs, ham and pepper jam and Smitten Kitchen's crispy broccoli with lemon and garlic. Tonight I thought I'd try roasting some carrots and parsnips tossed with olive oil, sea salt, fresh-ground pepper, and herbs. I was pretty sure I'd had parsnips at some point in my life, and how bad could a root vegetable be?

Nowhere did any of the recipes I consulted warn me that for the first ten minutes roasting parsnips smell like melting plastic. Ugh ugh ugh.

We soldiered on, however, and in the end they...weren't bad. They needed butter (which is unusual, in my experiene, for roasted veg; perhaps I went too light on the olive oil?) and more seasoning. I also grated a little manchego on top because cheese, you know? The first bite was meh but then they rather grew on me, though I admit that could have been the butter, salt and cheese.

So all I can say is that where parsnips are concerned, I remain uncommitted.
delphipsmith: (George scream)
Why am I seeing pictures of Miley Cyrus naked on a wrecking ball everywhere I go online? Is this some sort of metaphor for what she's done to her career or what?

Also, the winner of the "Best Spontaneous Reaction" contest is "Oh, sweet Jesus on a breadstick..." for this atrocious violation of a beloved classic. I'm sorry, Carrie what? And Captain von Trapp is being played by Stephen who??

Thank god for today's google doodle, otherwise I would despair of modern culture.
delphipsmith: (BuffyVlad)
These Children Who Come at You with Knives, and Other Fairy Tales: StoriesReviews of this book said it was "irresistibly droll," "wickedly dark," and "wildly entertaining." I beg to differ. As someone who's read widely in and on fairy tales (Kissing the Witch, Red as Blood, Snow White, Blood Red, The Uses of Enchantment, The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse, etc.) I found it sadly lacking. I would even say lame. I don't care whether your retellings are dark, light or total fluff as long as they're well done and respect the spirit of the story. These don't. These are Beavis and Butthead do Grimm, dragging fairy tales down into juvenile sniggering bathroom jokes. The writing is technically adequate (though if you want masterful gritty slang I'd point you to The Best of Damon Runyon, he does it much better) but the head and the haunch and the hoof of these stories is "life kinda sucks, so let's just wallow in the worst of it."

Most frustrating: the opening tale, where Satan designs the world. This is an elegant, clever, biting, funny alternate creation tale, which I loved. Everything that followed fell terribly, terribly flat. I might have dislike the rest less if the preface hadn't set the bar for my expectations so high.
delphipsmith: (books-n-wine)
Since I'm serious about my New Year's resolutions this year, I decided that on Sundays I will do a brief "take stock" on how I'm doing, to keep myself on track. So how are we doing at the end of Week I, you ask? Well, grading on an A-to-F scale:

1) Get physical: C Took the stairs up all six flights at work (and however many it ended up being at the parking garage) every day, and walked the stairs at lunch two days. In the grand scheme of things it ain't much, but it ain't nothing either. That which makes me huff and puff makes me stronger...

2) Write more: F Wrote maybe 300 words this week >:| I do slightly excuse myself what with all the holiday cleanup at home, holiday catch-up at work, and prep to go out of town. But still. On the plus side I posted here 5 days out of 7. Still haven't decided if I can count that or not as "writing." On the whole I think not...

3) Slow down: C Very tough to avoid multitasking at work but I did make some progress. Also did well with not automatically turning on the television as background noise (a bad habit of mine).

On the whole this is pleasing. If I were doing fabulously I'd fret over keeping it up for the next 51 weeks; as it is, I can look forward to slow but steady improvement, right?
delphipsmith: (George)
Death Comes to PemberleyI wanted to like this more than I did. It was clever and readable, and it certainly held my attention, but it's difficult to mix a comedy of manners in with a murder, particularly when the victim is actually a character one knows so one doesn't feel right laughing about it. Nobody seemed to care that much that the victim was dead (apart from the person accused of killing him, naturally!) except insofar as it would cause scandal, so it would have worked better for me if the victim had been someone previously unknown.

James' writing is good, of course, but she does a better job capturing Austen's style at the beginning and end, where she's liberally borrowing events and even phrases from the original, than in the middle, where it starts to sound more like any other conventional country-house murder. She does draw in several characters from other Austen stories, namely the Knightleys and the Elliots, though it's by reference only and they never actually appear. And Elizabeth does propose answers to several niggling questions from the original (how did Lady Catherine find out that Darcy was intending to propose to Elizabeth, for example?).

The characterizations were decent, though Darcy was painted as a bit too anxious and self-accusatory and the others were rather flat. I thought the ending/wrap-up was a bit of a cop-out too; the explanation was very Victorian cliche and the neat tidying of loose ends was a bit TOO neat. I was left with a fairly strong suspicion that the explanation given was not the true one at all -- I think spoilers ) But that might just be a mark of James' too-successful planting of a red herring :)

Of course I got a giggle out of the fact that it's basically fan-fic. That always makes me laugh, when I find fan-fic successfully sneaking onto the NYT best-seller list. I've noticed that if you're a big enough author you can get away with writing a novel-length fic and calling it a sequel. Heeee.
delphipsmith: (books-n-wine)
A Time of Changes
My reactions to Silverberg are somewhat uneven. I absolutely love the creepy yet alluring The Book of Skulls and the dystopian The World Inside but have never been able to get into, let alone finish, any of his Majipoor series which he seems to be so well known for. This one left me ambivalent. I think sometimes he tries a little too hard with his social messages -- in this case, I suppose, the value of love (published in 1971, surprise, surprise).

The main character, Kinnall Darival, is a member of the upper classes on a world settled several thousand years ago by religious fundamentalists (specific type not mentioned but one suspects a virulent strain of Puritans). The original settlers built into their world the Covenant, a socio-religious structure that requires people to keep their private joys and sorrows -- indeed all their emotions -- strictly private and bother no one else with them. This suppression of the self is so extreme that the words "I" and "me" have become obscenities and the greatest sin/crime is "self-baring."more, including spoilers, behind the cut )

I give it a resounding "Meh."
delphipsmith: (DamnNotGiven)
So we watched A Vanishing on 7th Street last night. Talk about your strangely weird flicks. We were seriously creeped out by it initially, to the point where I didn't want to go out and pull my car (left in the driveway earlier due to Haste to Open the Wine) into the garage because I was afraid of the dark. Thank goodness for motion-sensitive spotlights. The shadow-beings, the constantly shrinking hours of daylight, the flickering lights and the tension of WHEN WILL THEY GO OUT AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! were all very well done.

Then we got to the ending and were left all WTF-y. NO resolution at all, vast numbers of questions left unanswered, loose ends raveling everywhere, logic holes abounding. Most vexing. Not surprised it grossed a laughable $22K. What's really sad is that it had great potential -- the shadow-creatures, the creepy soundtrack, etc. -- but it was really poorly executed (and marketed, I guess, since I never heard of it when it came out).

If only Hayden Christiansen had Vanished before he played Anakin Skywalker...
delphipsmith: (DamnNotGiven)
Auralia's Colors: The Red Strand (The Auralia Thread #1)Yet again, a book I desperately wanted to like but didn't. The premise sounded intriguing: the king of Abascar, a kind of city-state, decrees that all things of color and beauty be "donated" to the castle and everyone will from then on wear only shades of grey and brown ("Abascar's Winter"). At some indeterminate point in the future, he promises that all will be returned to the people and Abascar will be brighter and more beautiful than ever ("Abascar's Spring"). But one young woman, a mysterious foundling raised by the Gatherers (men and women exiled for petty crimes; they live outside Abascar's walls and hope to be readmitted at the annual Testing), knows how to draw colors from nature and create beautiful things for her friends. Auralia's colors eventually spark (literally) changes in the city.

OK, so far so good. But the author leaves massive holes EVERYWHERE. Explanations, if given at all, are so thin as to be transparent. Why would the people agree to this nonsense? What's his motivation in the decree (come to that, what are the motivations of ANY of the characters)? Why isn't there a thriving black market in colorful stuff from the other cities? Who are these Beastmen and why haven't they been stamped out long ago by the other cities? Why was Jaralaine so unhappy and why on earth is she here )? What the hell is wrong with the King all these years? Why is the annual event called the Testing when nobody is tested? Why was Scharr ben Fray exiled? Why does Stricia completely lose it when this happens )? What are these Northchildren and are they real or imaginary? WTF is this Keeper that everyone dreams about and why does he, or it, even matter? Then there is the very bizarre denouement of the story which a) is way too melodramatic, b) makes no sense whatsoever, and c) has nothing to do with Auralia or her colors! (It's all down to jealousy and the fact that alcohol is flammable.)

Worst of all, the central pivot of the story -- the fact that Auralia's colors have some kind of magical power -- is only ever mentioned in passing!! She has no idea that they do (in fact she says they don't). The first time it's mentioned is third hand, when one of the Gatherers says that so-and-so's breathing was better when he wore a yellow scarf that Auralia made for him. Why didn't so-and-so himself mention it? Or better yet, why didn't we see this happen?

Everything that happens in the story has this same third-hand feel to it, as if the most fascinating bits are happening off screen and we only get glimpses of them or hear about them later. Good characters jump off the page, make you feel like you've met them; these characters come across like mannequins that the author moves around. The author invents weirdly-named animals and plants for no apparent reason (vawns? why not just have them ride horses like normal people??). The characters are paper cut-outs, one-dimensional and cliche: the mad king, the noble prince, the stalwart and loyal soldier, the mysterious foundling, the exiled wise counselor. The fact that the most interesting and complex character in the whole book is the guy who tortures people in the dungeon, who appears for a total of about 5 pages, should tell you how limp and pale the rest of them are.

I ended up just skimming the last hundred pages. Don't waste your time.
delphipsmith: (Hepburn)
I've always liked this movie (Joan Crawford and Eve Arden) and only found out recently that it was based on a book, so of course had to read it. It wasn't really what I expected -- in some ways it was better than the movie, in others worse. Better in that we get a fuller explanation of why Veda is the way she is, and why her mother puts up with it, but worse in that Mildred comes off as much stupider. The ending is completely different from the movie, much less dramatic; it ends -- literally -- not with a bang but a whimper. Cain apparently also wrote Double Indemnity (another favorite movie of mine) and The Postman Always Rings Twice. His writing isn't anything terrific -- the characters are two-dimensional and cliche, for the most part; maybe that's why they did better as movies where that doesn't matter so much. Bottom line: meh. May have to see the Winslet version, just so I can compare.
delphipsmith: (BA beta)
Thank goodness for Wiccans, Renaissance Festivals, and the SCA, because otherwise all these people would be dead. Dies the Fire isn't a BAD book, it's just kind of...fluffy. Not that there aren't cannibals, rapists, gangs, and some detailed descriptions of death-by-broadsword, but everything happens just a leetle too conveniently. They need to escape from the city, and oh look! someone has a horse and wagon they use for Faire. They need supplies, and oh look! somebody in the group used to run an organic restaurant and has tons of supplies in the warehouse. (No mention of how they manage to get a baggage train laden with goods through a disintegrating city and out into the country.) They rescue a man and his wife from some White Power rednecks, and oh look! the man happens to be an experienced horse wrangler. They find a man trapped in a ravine, and oh look! he just happens to be a bowyer. As such, it has just the faintest tinge of wish-fulfillment on the part of the author.

A good summer read, but not the most complex piece of writing you'll ever encounter (or so I hope!). I doubt I'll be going on to the numerous sequels.
delphipsmith: (BA beta)
1.5 hours, 1520 words

Thank god thank god thank god. I finally finished The Golden Bowl. Talk about tedious. (It's too bad because I love Washington Square and Portrait of a Lady. There's a literary joke that there are three phases of James' work: James I, James II, and The Old Pretender. I guess I prefer James I.)

The bones of a great story, with Princes and love affairs and young beautiful stepmothers, London and Italy and the English countryside, but would have been better if cut down by half. At least. Fanny Assingham (o the name, the unfortunate name) drove me maaaaaad with her mental gymnastics regarding what her friends are thinking and why (she never bothers to ASK them, just invents it all in her head) and to top it off she never communicates it directly, it's always vague suggestive phrasings. Here's a fine example:

"What we shall see is whether that mere dose of alarm will prove enough."
He considered. "But enough for what?"
"Enough to give her a shaking! To give her, I mean, the right one. It will make her understand one or two things in the world."
"But isn't it a pity," said the Colonel, "that they should happen to be the one or two things that will be the most disagreeable to her?"
"Oh, 'disagreeable' ? They'll have had to be disagreeable to make her sit up and decide to live."
"Decide to live -- ah yes! -- for her child."
"Oh bother her child! Any idiot can do things for her child. To live, you poor dear, for her father. To save him."
"To 'save' him --?"
"To keep her father from her own knowledge. That will be work cut out!"
"An but you know, that's rather jolly!"
"Jolly?"
"I mean it's rather charming."
"Charming?"
"I mean it's rather beautiful. Only I don't see why that very care for him which has carried her to such other lengths, precisely, as affect one as so 'rum,' hasn't also by the same stroke made her notice a little more what has been going on."
"Ah there you are! It's the question that I've all along been asking myself, and it's the question of an idiot."
"An idiot?"
"Well the idiot that I've been...You're excusable since you ask it but now. The answer has all the while been staring me in the face."
"Then what in the world is it?"

What indeed?? As you can tell, half the time her husband is completely at sea as to her meaning because she's so elliptical, and when he does guess he almost always gets it wrong. As he says at one point, after a particularly convoluted passage from Fanny, "I can do with all our friends -- as I see them myself: what I can't do with is the figures you make of them. And when you take to adding your figures up --!" I sympathize with the poor man.

Slogging through this -- which took me two solid weeks -- I felt like a python trying to swallow a particularly and uncomfortably large goat. Having choked it down, I can now get on with the rest of my bulging to-read list.

(...50 days...)
delphipsmith: (library)
Strangers, by Anita Brookner. Another minute examination of character. She's good, of course, as always; brilliant at describing nuances of emotion to a microscopic degree, like fine pen-and-ink sketches. I enjoy her books because I often identify with their main characters: quiet, bookish women, observers of life rather than livers of it, baffled but admiring spectators of the more irresponsible, egotistic, demanding women around them, who seem to be almost a different species from themselves. (Although I must admit I meet fewer of those as I get older; perhaps they don't wear well...)

But this wasn't one of her best, I thought. For one thing, there's a man, Sturgis, as the central character and she's better with women. For another, Sturgis -- a man in his seventies, alone and occasionally lonely, meditating on what it means to grow old without family or close friends, who finally decides to strike out and try something new, even though he admits to himself it may be too late -- doesn't seem to have enough complexity to sustain such a lengthy exploration. He goes in mental circles quite a bit. Hotel du Lac, the one she won the Booker Prize for and which I still measure all her novels against, has Edith Hope, a very complex, self-analytical main character who learns some crucial truths about herself in the course of the book; Sturgis just doesn't seem to have the same depth, nor does he seem to come to any profound self-realization. It could be of course that I read Hotel du Lac at a B&B in Germany while my ex and I were on our honeymoon; that tends to lend things a romantic and satisfying aura. But I've revisited it several times and it's held up very, very well indeed. (Much better, in fact, than my ex...)

So meh; it's ok for a rainy Sunday afternoon but I wouldn't go out of my way for it. If you want to try a Brookner go for Hotel du Lac, or The Debut, or Brief Lives.
delphipsmith: (kaboom)
My mom, of all people, had me track down this book, The Coming Insurrection. It sounded intriguing, so I got myself a copy as well. The alleged authors ("the invisible committee") were arrested by the French government who labeled it a "manual for terrorism," which means I'm now probably on everyone's Watch List from Homeland Security to the French Foreign Legion (thanks, Mom!).

It's a strange little book. These folks are clearly anarchists; while some of their criticisms of modern society ("Today's work is tied less to the economic necessity of producing goods, than to the political necessity of producing...consumers") have merit, their solutions (shoplift, plunder and loot, but also learn how to grow tomatoes so when the stores are empty you'll have something to fall back on?) don't seem to have much long-term viability. Much of it is just plain incoherent (one review called it "elegant...eloquent" -- all I can say is they must have had a different translation from mine!). Here's an example of their daffy logic, talking about the evils of work:

Individuals are possessed of so little life that they have to earn a living, to sell their time in exchange for a modicum of social existence...[but] the commune eludes work...they put their benefits in common and acquire clothing workshops, a bakery, putting in place the gardens that they need.

What they fail to grasp, seemingly, is that keeping a garden viable is work. In fact, it's a hell of a lot MORE work than sitting in an office. As is making your own clothing or running a bakery. So where's the benefit? How will I have more free time if I join a commune where I have to make or grow all my own food (which maybe I don't ENJOY doing) instead of getting a fair wage for work I DO enjoy, which I can then exchange for tasty goodies grown by people who also enjoyed their work?? There's just no sense to it. Here's another: Things like jogging, karate, fishing, what have you are, they say, all artificial hobbies invented by a desperate need to fill up spare time, yet they argue that going their route we will have MORE spare time which, presumably, we would fill with...what?

They tear down everything but have nothing to offer in its place. Money is evil, work is slavery, capitalism is exploitation, education is pointless, yadda yadda yadda. Well now, I think barter's all very well -- but once civilization has broken down into their ideal of tiny little communes, how do they think a commune in northern Europe will avoid scurvy if all they have to offer the traveling merchant from Egypt as barter for his lemons is some nice Roquefort Blue, which will melt or go moldy (ok, moldiER) long before he can get it home to Cairo? (Where they won't want it anyway because feta's so much better, and local to boot, ha ha!) Growing your own food is great -- but who's going to run their nuclear power plants so they don't have to take time out from cultivating haricots verts to make candles? Will we start paying the local doctor in chickens again -- and what if he doesn't want any more chickens but chickens are all you've got?

Pfffft. They've stated the problem in some interesting ways but their solutions are just plain wacky. The French government (and Glen Beck, of course) gave it WAAAAAY more attention than it deserves.
delphipsmith: (South Park kids)
Another dystopia but this one lives up to its name :) YA, which means it was a quick read without a lot of subtlety and left me wanting longer, richer, deeper, just plain more, of course, but "a good effort" as Franz Joseph said to Mozart. Given the behavior of huge corporations, particularly those in the pharmaceutical industry, the power of the Longevity corporations was all too believable; their ideal world is full of happy little immortal (human) sheep and they do whatever it takes to ensure it stays that way, an eerily credible scenario. I can believe that they'd, um, "encourage" everyone to sign The Declaration. The ending was a mix of powerful (Anna's parents' attempt to save her and Ben) and fairy-dust-easy (no way the soldiers would just stand down). I wanted more about several of the characters, notably Miss Pincent and her loser husband and father (where did she learn how to do this mind-f**k on the kids??) but also Anna's parents, and the whole underground movement.

I also wish she'd explored some of the larger questions of what would happen if everyone was immortal. Would everyone be, or only the ones with the money? How often do people do the "A life for a life" exchange? Is it considered noble or shameful? Who's raising the food? Nobody would want to be a farmer for eternity. If it's automatically produced then do people bother to go to work or do they just sit around playing bridge and comparing their latest face lifts? What about this black market in childrens' stem cells? Without the influx of new people, is there a slowdown in innovation, ideas, inventions, etc? What's the impact of that on society, science, etc? Is the whole world just some big stagnant pond? Like I said, I wanted more!

All things considered I give it two thumbs up. Not as good as Genesis but better than the Lessing book :)
delphipsmith: (zombies)
This was a tall order, I must admit; a bit like MST3K trying to take on, say, Hamlet. I don't think it succeeded too well -- too much vomiting and bathroom humor. Some funny bits ("It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains"), and I was amused by Lady Catherine's ninjas and the baiting of traps with cauliflower (because it looks like brains). But overall I give it a "meh."
delphipsmith: (DamnNotGiven)
I had high hopes for this Andre Norton book, based on my affection for Dread Companion and Breed to Come, both of which I have re-read numerous times since first encountering them in childhood and still love. Alas, they were not realized. Reincarnation I can buy. Grand and sweeping cycles of time/the universe I can buy. But corpse-smelling dagger-toothed vicious evil-incarnate Monsters o' Darkness who are too stupid to jump over a fence?? I can't buy that. "Stupid on cue" drives me nuts. Not to mention she skips the whole middle part where the mysterious Lyle clan sets up their chain of guardianship, and never explains how/why Tor got split in two but no one else did. Add that to the peculiar stylistic quirks and the best I can give it is four out of ten. *sigh*
delphipsmith: (VampiresKiss)
Just added five more books to my to-read list, bringing the unholy total to 88. I think the worst day of my life was the day I realized I would never live long enough to read all the books I wanted to. If anyone knows a sympathetic vampire (or one susceptible to bribery), send him my way and I'll thank you forever. Literally.
delphipsmith: (Elizabethan adder)
SSIAW (Short Story In A Week) starts March 1 in the online writing workshop I belong to.  (SSIAW = Each week  the list posts two sets of five words each; you choose one of the lists and write a short story incorporating all five words.  Words are posted 12am Sunday, stories are due by midnight Saturday.)   I haven't tackled it in the past but am going to go all-out this year -- goal is to sub at least two and ideally four.  If nothing else it will give me lots of raw material to work on afterwards!

On the work front, had a stupendously boring mandatory 3-hour workshop this morning from HR.  Zzzzzzz....   The most amusing part was the animated powerpoint slide that looked like a martini glass with three giant olives appearing one by one.  Presumably this was unintentionally humorous.
delphipsmith: (George)
Edward's obsessive and controlling behavior is starting to seriously vex me, and all the back-and-forth and bargaining over Bella's choice is wearying.  Bella needs to kick him in the butt and tell him to lighten the heck up.  Felt v. bad for Jacob but then he acted like a prat and practically tried to date-rape her (she let him off WAY too easily on that).  Sad to see Bella give in to everything everyone else wants (marriage, the big huge wedding, etc etc) rather than sticking to her guns.  Edward is basically remaking her into this nice little early-1900s-girl that (presumably) he always wanted.  And still no sex!!  She and Edward are so conventional they're very nearly boring, even with the sparkly skin and the blood.  Still no substantive discussion of souls or heaven/hell etc and Eddie Baby's concern re: possible damnation seems to have just faded away.   Curious. 

On the other hand, Rosalie's backstory was pretty heartbreaking and made me understand her attitude towards Bella a bit better, and the growing alliance between the shape-shifters and the vampires is intriguing.  I predict Jacob's going to imprint on SOMEBODY in the next book, they can't stop talking about it.

The VOLTURI!!!! were nowhere to be seen but you know they're lurking.  I assume they will be back with a vengeance in the last book.
delphipsmith: (books)
Some questions:

1)  Why do all the shape-shifting native American kids have Bible names?  Rachel, Leah, Jacob, Seth, etc.  Very strange, no internal support for it.

2)  Could you beat me over the head a few more times with the Romeo and Juliet parallel?  'Cause I don't think I quite got it.

3)  Alice's fortune-telling skill is spot on every single time it needs to be and then -- surprise, surprise -- it's wrong at the perfect time to further the plot.  Color me surprised.

4)  Why is Edward so hot on the idea of getting married?  There's no internal rationale for him being so freaking conservative.   Even if he was born in 1902.  I mean, the guy eats mountain lions for pete's sake.  Then he changes his mind, then Bella changes HER mind.  Argh. Still waaaaaay too much angst from Eddie Baby.

5)  THE VOLTURI !!!  Seriously the best and scariest creatures encountered thus far and why isn't there more about them???  Freaky psychotic things.  (OK, actually they're the second scariest.  The first scariest is the human woman working for them who knows exactly what's going on and helps them anyway.  Think about that drain in the middle of the floor.  Brrrrr.)

And by the way, the Volturi are supposed to never eat the locals.  So this horde of people that come in as the Cullens are leaving are...what?  A lost tour bus?  Catered snacks?  Odd.  Though it certainly amped up the creep factor (see #5).  Dracula would have been proud of these guys.

Still waiting for the sex with the icy cold boyfriend.  Maybe Bella should practice with a popsicle.

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