Posts By: Louise

Blood Red Snow White
by Marcus Sedgwick

October 8, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 0

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★ ★ ★ ★

Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick | October 2016 | Roaring Book Press | Hardcover $17.99

Russia wakes from a long sleep and marches to St Petersburg to claim her birthright. Her awakening will mark the end for the Romanovs, and the dawn of a new era that changed the world. Arthur Ransome, a journalist and writer, was part of it all. He left his family in England and fell in love with Russia and a Russian woman. This is his story.

First, let’s make something super clear: this is NOT any kind of fairy tale retelling, nor is it another popular YA fantasy/paranormal adventure/romance à la Cinder or Shadow and Bone. It’s actually a reprinting of a slightly fairy tale-themed historical fiction from nearly a decade ago. The redesigned cover is a little misleading, right? Well, never mind about that.

Now, let’s talk content: even though the marketing might be a little bit misleading, the actual story is totally worth reading. It’s based on the life of a real children’s book author, Arthur Ransome, with a focus on his fascination with Russian culture and his somewhat unwitting involvement in the Russian revolutions of the early 20th century. I’m in no way a Russian history “enthusiast” or whatever, but I did find this story incredibly fascinating after having learned a bit more about the country’s past in The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore, which I had the pleasure of reading earlier this year.

I actually jumped at the chance to read an ARC of the reprint because I read Midwinterblood by Sedgwick a year or two ago and ABSOLUTELY LOVED it. (But I didn’t review it here for some reason though?) Blood Red Snow White isn’t quite at the level of Midwinterblood, but it’s still pretty good and definitely worth reading if you’re into Russian culture/history, WWI-era Europe, or the classic children’s stories of Arthur Ransome.

Note: This book was provided at no cost to the reviewer by the publisher via Edelweiss.


Links:


Publication information: Sedgwick, Marcus. Blood Red Snow White. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2016. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Backlist Love | Slightly Less Depressing SFF

October 2, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 6

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (Penguin, 2001)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Pan, 1979)

The Eyre Affair

Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor. Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers….

Why I liked them

OK, I suppose the title ought to have been ‘Somewhat Cheery SFF’ or ‘More Likely To Make You Laugh Than Cry SFF’ but since I posted about ‘Slightly Depressing SFF’ yesterday I thought it might be best to continue the theme….

I enjoy somewhat silly books that make healthy use of puns, literary/film references, and, well, general silliness. Neither of these books are particularly heavy on character development or world-building or even particularly serious philosophy — they’re just good fun romps through quirky imaginary settings.

Also, both of these books are the first of series, so if you do enjoy them the fun doesn’t have to end when you turn the last page.

Who I’d recommend them to

TBQH, these books are not for everyone. They both involve heaping helpings of British humor, geeky humor, and just plain absurd humor — on top of liberal, deliberate use of just about every trope you can think of. If you need your spec fic to involve dragons or rebel princesses or epic space battles, these books are not for you. But if you’re intrigued by depressed androids or Shakespeare authorship gang wars or interstellar bulldozers or hardboiled book detectives… definitely give these titles a try.

Links

The Eyre Affair

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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Backlist Love | Slightly Depressing SFF

October 1, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 4

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Anchor Books, 1998)

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (Delacorte, 1969)

The Handmaid’s Tale

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….

Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist classic introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

Why I liked them

Don’t let the title of this post fool you — even though these books aren’t exactly uplifting, they do give me ALL THE FEELS. They’re both very political, tackling super tough topics like war and misogyny, but through the lens of somewhat absurd (initially, anyway) sci-fi circumstances.

Who I’d recommend them to

Um… everyone? OK, I guess folks who aren’t really into spec fic in the first place will probably not appreciate these books as much as they ought to be appreciated. I’d especially recommend The Handmaid’s Tale to folks who got really into the recent YA dystopian craze — especially to young women who are exploring their political opinions/options for the first time. Slaughterhouse-Five is a must-read for fans of Star Trek and other classic, thought-provoking science fiction stuff.

Links

The Handmaid’s Tale

Slaughterhouse-Five

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Wine Reviews for September ’16

September 30, 2016 Home Sweet Home, In the Kitchen, Just for Fun, Wine 0

La Posta “Pizzella” Malbec

Mendoza, Argentina, n.d.

A photo posted by Louise (@bibliothekla) on

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This is a deep, near-opaque purplish red wine that smells of rich, dark berries with a hint of some kind of spice — maybe cinnamon. It tastes of overripe cherries and plums with an almost cheese-like umami flavor followed by a faint cinnamon or peppery aftertaste. Overall, I’d classify it as sweet but earthy. I drank it with pizza, artichoke hearts, and salad w/ apple vinaigrette. The wine tasted fruitier with the pizza and more savory with the veggies. It was also VERY yummy with the dark chocolate + raspberries I had for dessert.


Cupcake Moscato d’Asti

DOCG Italy, 2015

A photo posted by Louise (@bibliothekla) on

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This wine is a favorite of mine because it’s light + sweet enough to go with just about anything, plus it is just about as low alcohol as you can get with wine (5.5 %). It’s a sparkling wine with large, slow bubbles that lend a little tickle to the taste — but they don’t last long, compared to most “party” sparkling wines. It smells and tastes like green apple, pear, and green grapes with a subtle floral note that makes me think of honeysuckle. I drank this with some good stuff that my husband cooked on the grill one hot summer evening: zucchini + mushrooms, corn on the cob, and hatch chile sausage.


Jam Cellars “Butter” Chardonnay

Acampo, California, 2015

A photo posted by Louise (@bibliothekla) on

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This stuff is a slightly green-tinted gold color with an aroma of apple pie or poached pear. I drank it chilled first, and found it initially tart-sweet with a strong apple/pear flavor with an oaky-bold taste upon swallowing. It tasted quite a bit more buttery after it had warmed up a bit. I quite enjoyed with with some pasta + veg in a mild white cheese sauce and some garlic-stuffed olives, then later with some goat cheese and tomatoes with more olives.


The Martian Chronicles
by Ray Bradbury

September 24, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

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★ ★ ★

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 4

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 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?