The Martian Chronicles
by Ray Bradbury

September 24, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 1

bradbury_martianchron

★ ★ ★

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury | May 1950, this ed. 2012 | Simon & Schuster | Paperback $7.99

In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, America’s preeminent storyteller, imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor; of crystal pillars and fossil seas, where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work of fiction, Bradbury exposes our ambitions, weaknesses, and ignorance in a strange and breathtaking world where man does not belong.

When I compiled my Classics Club list, I purposely sought out classic books in the realms of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. To be honest, I rather prefer the stuff closer to the Fantasy side of that spectrum, and — again with the honesty — I don’t think I would have picked up this particular book if it hadn’t been for the Classics Club challenge.

The Martian Chronicles is really a collection of related short stories rather than a “real” novel. The stories begin at a time when Earthlings first begin to land on Mars and meet the native inhabitants, and proceed along to the point where a little group of humans become the Martians.

Of course, this book was written nearly two decades before we landed on the moon — several years even before the Space Race began. So, a lot of what a modern reader might consider “expected” in the way of terminology and technology and culture is completely reimagined. For example, space ships are generally called “rockets”… and mid-20th-century gender roles/expectations are quite firmly enforced, even for the original alien Martians themselves. It’s a little jarring, not gonna lie, but that’s the sort of thing you learn to expect with these old books, y’know? Not worth burning the book over, but I definitely rolled my eyes a few times….

I found this book kinda hard to rate because I wasn’t really grabbed by it (if it had been something I’d started on a whim, I might not have bothered to finish) but I can also see why it is so widely considered a classic. Bradbury’s writing is generally clean but beautiful in its own way, and the characters — while not 100% 3-dimensional — are interesting and realistic.

Further complicating matters, this particular edition does not include 2 stories that have been included in some other editions — “The Fire Balloons” and “The Wilderness” — while it does include a story sometimes cut from other editions, “Way in the Middle of the Air”. I suppose I can see why overly-cautious editors would cut the latter, as it includes quite a few utterances of the n-word. However, the story is quite clearly inspired by the budding Civil Rights Movement of the ’50’s-’60’s.

In the end, I’m glad I read The Martian Chronicles but it isn’t something I’d unreservedly recommend to other readers. But it’s a fine choice if you’re looking to expand your experience of early speculative fiction!

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?


Links:


Publication information: Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print.
Source: Thrift shop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Welcome Home

September 23, 2016 Home Sweet Home 2

We had 2 new kiddos join our family this week.

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(If you follow me on Instagram you already know this… sorry for the repost I guess, but CATS so whatever.)

The slinky gray one on the left is Bentley. He’s a little shy, hates closed doors, and is very good at pouncing and going for the kill.

The fluffy orange one on the right is Oliver. He’s a big cuddlebug, likes watching TV, and he hasn’t quite figured out how the litterbox works yet.

These two are a bonded pair — probably siblings, but we don’t know for sure. They were at the shelter for a while because their previous human passed away, but they couldn’t be adopted out separately because they’re so attached to each other. I found out that the shelter was having a 50% off sale on cats AND they have a BOGO deal for bonded littermates, so… here we are!


Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys

September 17, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys | 1966 | W. W. Norton | Paperback $14.95

With Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys’ last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.

What can I really say about this book that hasn’t already been said, and by people far more eloquent than myself?

Whatever, it’s MY OWN DANG BLOG, DANGIT.

Anyway, this might not have been the absolute best time to read this book? I mean, Jean Rhys Reading Week, so that’s one point in its favor. But I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and… well, this (IMHO) was a fantastic novel. So on the one hand, I was actually motivated to read and was super happy to have spent my time on it! But on the other hand, how can anything else compare to this???

OK, maybe I’m just being overly dramatic.

TBQH, I might not have picked up this book if it weren’t for the word “Sargasso” in the title. Now, I know that might seem weird, but hear me out: I live on the Gulf Coast. Every year, we (or some other spot in/on the Gulf of Mexico) will get an influx of this Sargassum shit. I realize that might seem like a crazy reason to put a book on your TBR list — it happens to mention a type of seaweed in the title! oh joy! — but is it honestly any worse than “the cover is pretty” or “it’s a classic so people SHOULD read it”… ?

In any case, I am so, so glad that I put this on my Classics Club list — and I’m so, so grateful to the folks who hosted Jean Rhys Reading Week this year. Maybe this was just what I needed to read at this point in my life? It kinda felt like it….

So: You? Have you read this novel — & what did you think of it? Did you participate in Jean Rhys Reading Week, too?


Links:


Publication information: Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 1966. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal use.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Movie Musicals Challenge –
Singin’ in the Rain

September 16, 2016 Just for Fun, Movies 6

I am SO BEHIND on my Movie Musicals Challenge! This one is only number 5 out of 25. Yikes. Looks like I might have to extend this challenge on into 2017… maybe 2018, haha.

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Anyway — Singin’ in the Rain is another one of my favorite classic films. Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds are the perfect trio. The dance scenes are so impressive! The movie took me twice as long to watch as it ought to have, since I kept watched the best dance sequences twice….

I really wish I had more to say about this movie, but I didn’t take notes while watching like I usually do — I decided to just have a bit of fun and not worry about content for a blog post. Oops?

So, talk to me. Have you watched it, and did you like it? Do you have a favorite dancing scene?

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Jean Rhys Reading Week

September 11, 2016 Books 4

I’m participating in Jean Rhys Read Week, an event / semi-mini-challenge(?) co-hosted by the Lonesome Reader, JacquiWine, Poppy Peacock, and Margaret Reardon.

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I only picked out one book to read this week: Wide Sargasso Sea. Hey, it’s already on my Classics Club list!

A couple of readers I trust think it’s an awesome book… and it isn’t too intimidating. I’ve been in kind of a reading slump lately, so I’m hoping that this will be the book that rekindles my interest.

I’ll probably be mostly participating on Twitter and/or Goodreads, but I’ll post a book review here at the blog by the end of the week as well.


Magazines

September 10, 2016 Just for Fun 4

I’ve been reading a little bit lately. Not quite recovered from my summer reading slump, but – honestly? That’s OK.

I’m trying to be more mindful about what my brain+ body want and need to do, and “sit down and read a book” has been the default for a long time… but I actually want reading to be a purposeful, enjoyable and/or educational experience, not something I do just because I’ve always done it.
What have I been doing instead? Traveling, playing with makeup and perfume, doing little household tasks that I’ve been putting off for too long, exercising, watching too much HGTV and Animal Planet and old JAG episodes, and indulging in magazines.


Yeah, let’s talk about the magazines. I guess this is technically “reading” – but let’s be real, there is a huge difference in flipping through a half-ad glossy vs. getting caught up in a book. This started back in July when we went to Chicago. When we were waiting in the airport, I just could not convince myself to read any of the half dozen books that I brought along for the ride. But I couldn’t just sit there staring at the carpet. So, I grabbed a couple of fashion rags (which I hadn’t touched in years) and… they were actually kind of fun?

In the meantime, I’ve “rediscovered” my public library’s free online magazine options, which means I can borrow a whole bunch of them without having to pay or feel bad about wasting too much paper.

So, because I still feel the urge to be opinionated on the internet about whatever media I’m consuming, here are some quickie reviews for a few magazines!

Fashion & Beauty
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  • Allure
  • Elle
  • Glamour
  • Harper’s Bazaar
  • InStyle
  • Marie Claire

I like that these magazine focus generally on fashion and beauty topics, but some of them also includes a healthy dose of lifestyle content (budgeting, relationship advice), interesting celeb interviews, and the occasional “deep thoughts” editorial. The body-positive, feminist stuff is also appealing to me (although there’s plenty of questionable content to go along with). And, not gonna lie, the occasional perfume/makeup samples are pretty fun too!

Science & Nature
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  • National Geographic
  • Popular Science
  • Scientific American
  • Smithsonian
  • Texas Parks & Wildlife
  • Wired

Anthropology, tech, ecology, medical news, even travel guides — I guess I just love the variety of “nerdy” topics that these magazines cover. OK, so I usually skip the articles about the newest smartphones or hunting/fishing, but the other brain-stimulating stuff is right up my alley.

Miscellaneous
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Bon Appétit

I really prefer certain food blogs and cookbooks to most magazines, because it seems like a lot of homemaking/foodie rag recipes are just nicely-photographed recycled ideas or – worse – not even properly tested, kitchen disasters waiting to happen. Bon Appétit is an exception to that. Sure, sometimes the featured foods can be a little kooky, but I usually find at least 1 or 2 worthwhile recipes/ideas.

Family Tree Magazine

Genealogy is a hobby of mine, and this magazine is fun to browse through, even if I’m not currently researching anything in particular or in need of any of the included (and often repetitive) advice.

Mental_Floss

This magazine is great for trivia addicts. It’s basically educational, but in an off-the-wall kinda way that’s great for folks with short attention spans. I think it would also be the perfect present for your nerdy friends, if you’re looking for holiday gift ideas already.

Mother Earth News

I actually have mixed feelings about this one! It really does scratch a kind of crunchy, tree-hugger itch for me. (I may have insane fantasies of suburban homesteading with chickens, heirloom tomatoes et al., but I’m also too afraid of wasps and spiders to go in our backyard from like June – August.) But the emphasis on “natural” medicines and the constant verbal frowning in the general direction of “chemicals” makes me want to rip the dang thing up and use it for toilet paper.

Texas Monthly

I have to confess that I get most of my news from Twitter (actual journalists/news outlets on Twitter, though, if that helps you hate me less). However, I’m really interested in keeping up with a smattering of local + state goings-on, and the variety of subjects covered by this magazine hits that sweet spot for me.

Yoga Journal

Despite all the running I’ve been doing lately, yoga really is my exercise of choice (even though I don’t really subscribe to all the spiritual stuff that often goes along with it). This magazine features lots of different poses, advice about finding balance or building strength, and occasionally interesting articles on things like incense or healthy veggies.


So, talk to me — do you ever indulge in magazines? Does your library offer them for free, too?


The Book
by Keith Houston

September 5, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

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★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time by Keith Houston | August 2016 | W.W. Norton & Co. | Hardcover $29.95

We may love books, but do we know what lies behind them? In The Book, Keith Houston reveals that the paper, ink, thread, glue, and board from which a book is made tell as rich a story as the words on its pages—of civilizations, empires, human ingenuity, and madness. In an invitingly tactile history of this 2,000-year-old medium, Houston follows the development of writing, printing, the art of illustrations, and binding to show how we have moved from cuneiform tablets and papyrus scrolls to the hardcovers and paperbacks of today.

I haven’t been reading a whole lot lately, but at least when I actually DID read, it happened to be a fantastic book-about-books!

I got an ARC of this in e-book format via Edelweiss (and I’m a bad reviewer for not even finishing reading/reviewing until after the publish date, but whatever) and the whole time I was reading it I kept thinking, “I NEED this book IN MY HANDS.” Now, don’t get me wrong, the e-book is perfectly nice, but we’re talking about a book that covers everything from papermaking to binding to mass printing… so if you’re at all a fan of the physical object we know as the book, you’ll probably enjoy reading this in its classic format. The printing of this book in particular is quite lovely — and it includes many full color illustrations/photos, which is a huge plus in my book. (Ha.)

I’m convinced that this would make the PERFECT gift for any bookish person on the planet. I know it’s on my wishlist, and I can think of at least one person who’ll probably be getting a copy from me as well.


Links:


Publication information: Houston, Keith. he Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2016. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by Publisher.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Wine Folly
by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack

September 4, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

Puckette_WineFolly

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack | 2015 | Avery | Paperback $25

Red or white? Cabernet or merlot? Light or bold? What to pair with food? Drinking great wine isn’t hard, but finding great wine does require a deeper understanding of the fundamentals.

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine will help you make sense of it all in a unique infographic wine book. Designed by the creators of WineFolly.com, which has won Wine Blogger of the Year from the International Wine & Spirits Competition, this book combines sleek, modern information design with data visualization and gives readers pragmatic answers to all their wine questions….

I like wine, but getting “into” it was a little bit intimidating. All the new vocab, funky tasting methods, and just the general snootiness of oenophile culture can be kind of a hurdle to get over, you know?

A while back, I dug around in the internet for wine websites and blogs. There are plenty of them out there, but Wine Folly is different from most. It seems more welcoming to newbies, more casual/fun/relatable. I was super happy to see that the creators of the Wine Folly website had published a book by the same name.

highly recommend this blog + book to anyone who’s interested in learning more about wine yet might be hesitating because of how intimidating the whole wine scene can seem. The book starts with the basics — how to store wine, carefully taste it, and pair it with food. Then come the wine style profiles, followed by info about regions where the grapes are grown and how geographic origins can affect quality. This is all accompanied by simple but attractive infographics that make it all so much easier to understand.

The real reason I’m reviewing this book — besides the fact that I really do think y’all out to check it out — is because I’ve just started the Wine Folly tasting challenge. This involves tasting 34 wines from the 12 main wine-producing regions, with at least 1 or 2 selections from each of the 9 main wine styles (aromatic white, full-bodied red, and so forth). I originally intended to get this done by the end of this year, but (1) I’m trying really hard to watch my calories right now and (2) I’ve got a lot going on between now and then, what with the holidays and some big work projects and stuff, so I can’t realistically commit to tasting X number of wines per week. If I taste just 1 or 2 wines per weekend, I should be done with this challenge by the end of next April at the latest.

So, how about you — do you enjoy wine? Have you done much exploring with it, or with any other type of beverage you like (tea, craft beer, or whatever)?


Links:


Publication information: Puckette, M. and J. Hammack. Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine. New York: Avery, 2015. Print.
Source: Gift.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Chicago

August 13, 2016 Adventures 4

My husband and I went to Chicago a couple of weeks ago. It was kind of a work trip for him, just a little vacation for me. Neither of us had ever been there before.

I was on my own for the first day while the dude was at a conference thing. I took myself down to the Art Institute and spent nearly the entire day wandering around there. Perhaps the most delightful part of the day was watching some kid catch a Pokemon in front of a Picasso painting. I just about died laughing.

We went to the Field the next day. Again, my spouse had a work thing to deal with there, but we got a chance to explore the halls a little bit afterwards. And we saw Sue the T-Rex, of course.

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Most of the rest of the trip was spent at or around our hotel. We were actually near the O’Hare airport which is outside of the city proper, and Lollapalooza was happening that same weekend, so getting downtown to the typical touristy stuff was a huge pain in the butt and I just didn’t feel like dealing with it (+ I wasn’t handling the crowds very well).

Thankfully there was a movie theater, an entertainment district with several restaurants and pubs, and a giant OUTLET MALL within walking distance of the hotel. You better believe I spent plenty of time and a little too much $$$ at that mall.

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I would love to go back someday, maybe when there aren’t as many other tourists around, maybe at a hotel closer to the cool stuff downtown.

Have you ever been to Chicago?


A Perfume Self-Portrait

July 23, 2016 Just for Fun 4

One of the more interesting features I’ve seen around the more fragrance-centered parts of the blogosphere is the concept of a “perfume self-portrait” (or selfie, I suppose, if you’re worried about being old-fashioned). It’s basically a snapshot of one’s perfume habits at a point in time.

Perfume is a bit like wine. At first, you might only know if something tastes yummy or gross to you, and many people are happy to just stay at that stage; it’s only after extensive-but-fun experimenting that you start to be able to taste the different flavors, learn terms like terroir and corked, and so on.

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I have a small army of tiny sample bottles…

I’ve only recently — like in the past couple of years — started regularly wearing fragrances more sophisticated than scented soaps and lotions and stuff (if we ignore that period of overambitious fruity glitter body splash in my teen years, which we are definitely going to ignore). So, I’m still learning about perfume and haven’t ventured entirely into “fumehead” territory yet, but I’m certainly learning to appreciate all kinds of stuff that I never had a clue about before!

Without further ado, here’s my current perfume self-portrait….

Scents I reach for by default on the daily:
  • Burberry My Burberry Eau de Toilette — This is my “summer scent” this year. I think the slightly-citrusy peony note is youthful and feminine, but not too girly. Usually light florals like this don’t last long on me, but the rosey musk it dries down to sticks around for at least a couple hours.
  • The Thymes Lavender Cologne — I wear this when I want to feel particularly calm and uncomplicated. I like having a single-note scent that isn’t too flirty or bold to turn to on days like that.
  • Chanel No. 5 Elixir Sensuel — This is a discontinued formulation of one of the most well-known classics in perfumery. It’s kind of a gel that you apply to pulse points instead of spraying on, and I think it smells simultaneously gentler and sexier than the regular version. Sillage (basically “volume”) is low but longevity is impressive. It’s honestly my absolute favorite fragrance right now, but since it is discontinued I’m trying to make the bottle last as long as possible, so I don’t wear it every day.
Scents I’ve sampled and want a bottle of:
  • Dior J’Adore Eau de Parfum — I think this must be one of the most popular perfumes out there right now; it seems to flatter most and offend few. I can see this becoming my “everyday” scent after I’m done with the Burberry and Chanel perfumes above.
  • Miu Miu Eau de Parfum — It starts out as a green-woodsy floral, but dries down into something rather peppery. At first I didn’t like it! But I kept trying it again because it was just so intriguing, and in the end I’ve decided that this one is actually interesting in a good way.
  • Gucci Bamboo Eau de Parfum — I got a sample set that included this one as well as the Burberry perfume, plus a certificate to redeem for a full size version of any of the scents included in the sample set. I nearly got this one instead of the other, but my husband said it reminded him of his mom (a perfectly lovely woman, whom I’d prefer not to smell like all the time). It’s kind of a warm floral with a sandalwood background, and fantastic longevity.
Scents I have to be in just the right mood for:
  • Chanel No. 5 Eau de Toilette — This is supposed to be a more “relaxed” version of the original perfume, but I honestly find it quite a bit more in-your-face than my prefered Elixir version. I wear this when I want to feel sophisticated or, honestly, when I’m feeling a bit bitchy. This is what I wear when I want to project, “Don’t F with me today, or I will (sexily) tear your heart out.”
  • Victoria’s Secret Dream Angels Heavenly Eau de Parfum — Bluntly put, this is my “slutty” perfume. (It does not get used so much these days.)
  • Hermès Terre d’Hermès Eau de Toilette — Yeah, it’s supposed to be for dudes. In fact, it smells very similar to my husband’s usual cologne. But it’s just androgynous enough, with a greeny-citrus start and a spicy-incense finish, that I can get away with wearing it when I’m feeling a little outlandish.