Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Round-Up

Favorite GIF of the year.

Guys, did you realize it's December already?? I kid, I knew it was coming all along. And since the year is ending, one feels the need, forced upon one by the Gregorian calendar and popular culture, to reflect on all happenings since January. This will probably come as a shocker, but I read a few books. Here are the stand-outs, with links in case you missed 'em:

hell is empty cover
Favorite New-to-Me-Author: Craig Johnson
Johnson writes the Walt Longmire series, which has been turned into a TV series on A&E (Longmire). The TV show is okay, but the books are so much better. Hell is Empty is one of the best books I read all year.

the english girl cover
Best Spy/Thriller: The English Girl by Daniel Silva
A surprisingly emotional, thoughtful book for a spy novel. Daniel Silva is also an awesome writer. This is another author whose entire backlist I want to read IMMEDIATELY.

vera cover
Best Forgotten Classic: Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim
This book is like a very dark, cynical Rebecca; yet it's also weirdly funny because von Arnim is so freaking clever. I would recommend it to anyone who thinks Edward Cullen is a stalker.

animal farm cover
Favorite Not-Forgotten Classic: Animal Farm by George Orwell
Kind of the perfect novel, in my opinion.

the bridge cover
Favorite Book Actually Published in 2013: The Bridge by Rebecca Rogers Maher
I pretty much love everything about this novella—the characters, the premise, the setting, how the romance developed, the tone, and the ending. A very hopeful, uplifting, romantic book.

the river of no return cover
Only Book That Kept Me Up Past My Bedtime: The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
It's a real challenge for me to find a book that will keep me up wanting to read one more chapter, one more chapter, no matter how tired I am. The River of No Return did that, and I loved it. This one also has great characters and the chemistry between Julia and Nick was page-scorching.

the brinkley girls
Favorite Art-Related Non-Fiction Book: The Brinkley Girls by Nell Brinkley
I have a bias for beautiful, huge books that are heavily illustrated (it's the art historian in me), and The Brinkley Girls is definitely that. Nell Brinkley was an iconic illustrator of the late 1910s and -20s, whose drawings influenced the fashion of an entire generation of women. Her comics weren't just pretty to look at, though—they also had surprisingly feminist storylines. The Brinkley Girls contains all of Nell Brinkley's full-page color comics, and a little info on the artist herself.

in the frame cover
Best Art-Related Novel: In the Frame by Dick Francis
I do love Francis' painter heroes, and Charles Todd is no exception.

the secret adversary cover
Best Mystery: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie is so tricksy, you guys. I honestly didn't know who Mr. Brown, the criminal mastermind, was until the end of this novel. Plus, it's hilarious and I LOVE Tommy and Tuppence. Can they be my best friends? Pleeeeease?

the three musketeers cover
Book I Can't Believe I Waited This Long to Read: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
If this book had been long enough, I seriously would have kept reading it for the entire year. IT'S THAT AWESOME. Also, I have a serious lady crush on Lady de Winter. Such a badass.

the suicide shop cover
Book Most Obviously Destined to Become a Cartoon: The Suicide Shop by Jean Teulé
Just read it. Then you'll know.

inferno cover
Book I Had the Most Fun Mocking: Tough one! I think this has to be a tie between Inferno by Dan Brown and Secrets and Lords by Justine Elyot.

the sheik cover
Favorite Discussion: I'm so glad Bridget from Portable Pieces of Thought agreed to read and discuss The Sheik by EM Hull with me. In the running for best book discussion ever.

Favorite NON-Bookish Thing: I am obsessed with the TV show Scandal. Colette from A Buckeye Girl Reads has been trying to get me to watch it forever, and I was like, "Meh," cuz I don't really do the political drama thing. But one night I decided to just bite the bullet and watch, and was immediately hooked. I recently got the first season from the library and binge-watched the whole thing in two nights, then immediately wanted to rewatch it. It's THAT addicting. It's not just a political drama, it's about true love and gladiators and solving mysteries and loyalty vs trust. Anyway, if you haven't watched it, you should.

Reflection time! I read a lot of mysteries and classics this year. I still enjoy romance, but I'm getting to the point where I need more from a romance than just two people getting it on to keep my attention. I also feel like I didn't read much this year, and according to Goodreads that's true. I've read less books this year than I have since 2010: only 139 books (so far), compared to 193 in 2012 and 158 in 2011. So next year I'd definitely like to make an effort to read more.

On a more personal note (notice how I stuck that at the end? I hate talking about myself), 2013 was a really hard year for me. My grandma, with whom I was very close, died of Alzheimer's. It was really awful and I still don't want to talk about it. But there were good things that happened this year, too. Since I was unemployed and pissed off about it, I decided I was going to try to break into freelance writing. And even though I'm making nowhere near enough to live on yet, I do have several paying writing gigs. I love being my own boss and getting paid to do something I enjoy. And I went to Las Vegas for the first time in October and met up with some fellow bloggers, which was awesome and a blast. w00t! I've made so many great friends through this community of book bloggers, I don't know what I'd do without you all.

So there were some excellent things that happened in 2013, and I'm more than willing to take the good with the bad. That being said, I really really REALLY hope 2014 will be better than 2013.

Hope you all have a great Christmas, and if I don't post between now and the 31st, may you have a fabulous, champagne-filled New Year's.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013


perilous life of jade yeo cover

Jade Yeo is making a meager living as a writer in 1920s London, when one of her reviews catches the attention of famous author Sebastian Hardie. Hardie is handsome, clearly into her, and also married. On the other side of the aisle is Jade's sweet and dependable editor, Ravi. Will Jade give in to temptation and curiosity, or will she follow her heart? And how does she make a living writing only two articles a month, that's what I want to know.

There is one major thing I like about The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, and that's that it depicts a multicultural, historical London. Do you know how rare this is, people?? The novella's worth picking up just for that. Jade is from Malay (former English colony and modern-day Malaysia—thanks for that info, Google), Ravi is from India, and Sebastian is English. Not only are the characters from different places, but they have different sets of beliefs that influence their actions. For example, where Jade grew up it's normal for men to have several wives, and that definitely influences her interactions with Sebastian. The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo does an excellent job of showing how people can struggle to communicate when they're drawing from different cultural frames of reference.

I also kind of liked the tone of the novella, which is very Austen-esque. It's a comedy of manners, only instead of being set in the Regency era it's set in the 1920s. Most of the "action" consists of conversations in drawing- and ballrooms, and the characters are concerned with all the things someone in Austen's world would be: marriage, reputation, people's character, and so on. Zen Cho reinforces the Austen atmosphere with clever references to classics like Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and even The Yellow Room, so I think that's what the author was going for.

All that being said, to say I enjoyed this book would be—well, not exactly a lie, but not really the truth, either (warning: I'm about to get spoilerish). The Perilous Life Jade Yeo isn't that perilous; in fact, it's pretty predictable. Within the first few pages we know that 1. Ravi is Jade's true love, and 2. she's going to sleep with Sebastian. And we all know what happens when an unmarried heroine has sex in a novel.

boom! pregnant
Don't have sex, kids!

By the time the pregnancy went down I had pretty much lost all interest in the story, but even before that the novella moved very slowly. It only took a few hours to read, yet those hours felt like they were multiplying like rabbits in a cage.

Furthermore, the story isn't really a romance—it's a chick lit novella that's more about Jade coming of age than falling in love, the latter of which was a complete afterthought. I would be fine with that—and the fact that it all hinges on her losing her virginity—if there was a strong emotional evolution on Jade's part, but there isn't. She treats her affair with Sebastian very clinically from the beginning, even going so far as to describe, in completely unnecessary detail, his penis (was this an attempt on the author's part to prove that Jade has seen a penis? "I have seen the promised land, ladies! And it looks like 'a bulging cylinder of pink flesh,'" etc. etc. I'll spare you all the several paragraphs worth of commentary). I can understand if Cho wanted to keep Jade from falling for Sebastian so she doesn't seem like an idiot, but there's a reason why Lizzie falls for Wickham in P&P—so she can realize she was being an idiot! Unlike with Lizzie Bennet, there's no change in Jade from the beginning of her story to the end other than she gets pregnant. And even that's not a big deal, since Sebastian's wife is 100% okey dokey with him fathering children with another woman, and Ravi is 100% fine with his wife giving birth to another man's kid and then raising said kid. Hugs all around you guys!

Wait. You know what? Never mind, this IS a romance novel. Jade was turned into a woman by Sebastian's magical penis. MY BAD. Carry on.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Virtual Advent: Favorite Not-Holiday Movies, 2013

bond's childhood home on fire
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...

Back by popular demand, it's the fourth annual Favorite Not-Holiday Movies post! Every year I list some movies that I consider to be "holiday" movies, even though they have little if anything to do with Christmas, because I have a mental block when it comes to recognizing proper Christmas movies. For more not-holiday movies, check out my lists from 2010, 2011, and 2012 (and LA Confidential is still my favorite Christmas movie).

I actually didn't see many movies this past year, so I was surprised when I started itching to watch a fresh batch of not-holiday films this past week. I guess there's nothing like a good not-holiday movie to put one in the Christmas spirit! Without further ado, here's my not-holiday flick picks for 2013:

  • Lost in Translation—The lovely Bridget from Portable Pieces of Thoughts recommended this movie to me last year. I have to confess I wasn't expecting a lot from it, but I wound up enjoying it so much I actually bought it! It's romantic in the literary sense of the word, beautifully shot, and Bill Murray is hilarious and adorable. I have to watch this movie at least once a year or I will forget how awesome it is, and that would be sad-making.
  • Midnight in Paris—1920s Paris and Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald. What more needs to be said? I'm also a total sucker for movies where people just decide, "Hey, I'm just gonna move to Paris. C'est la vie, suckers." Then they immediately find some French person to hook up with.
  • Ratatouille—For two years in a row now, I've DESPERATELY wanted to watch this movie right around Thanksgiving. Unfortunately it's always checked out at the library. ALWAYS. By the time I move far enough in the holds queue to get a crack at it, it's usually March. I should probably just buy it.
  • Skyfall—It's just not Christmas without Daniel Craig. SERIOUSLY, IT IS NOT. The Golden Compass made my not-holiday list in 2011, and Casino Royale made the list in 2012. This year the Craig holiday movie of choice is Skyfall, a beautifully shot film with a spy plot that doesn't totally suck. I'm not sure I'm going to feel right about the holidays until I see Bond's childhood home engulfed in flames.
  • The Hobbit, part the first—I'm pretty sure this movie has a subtitle, but damn if I can remember what it is. The Unexpected Sexiness of Dwarves? Who knows. I actually thought this film would suck hairballs, and I'm still kind of resentful that Peter Jackson turned at 180-page book into six hours worth of movie, but still. Hobbits! Wizards! You can't have Christmas without them.
  • My Week with Marilyn—Evangeline from Edwardian Promenade reminded me of this movie's existence the other night while we were breaking down Eddie Redmayne's many positive attributes, as you do. I'm pretty sure there's a Christmas scene in this film somewhere. But even if there isn't, several of the actors are Harry Potter alumni, which automatically makes it thisclose to a Christmas movie. And besides that, it's a great coming of age story. I need to see this film again!

virtual advent tour 2013

Have any not-holiday movies you like to watch at this time of year? Share them in the comments!

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