Saturday, December 10, 2011

La Cabanita

Restaurant:  La Cabanita
Location:  3445 N Verdugo Rd, Glendale, CA 91208
Like/Don't Like:  How do you say "I loved it so much I wanted to marry it" in Spanish?

Quick, everyone, get in my car!  I'm going to take you to La Cabanita and then you'll throw a parade in my honor.  You can walk down any street in town and find good Mexican food.  This was GREAT Mexican food.

Bronwyn was in town (yay!) and she requested Mexican for lunch so I got on Yelp and was directed here.  Thanks Yelp!

The chips and salsa were fresh and really, really delicious.  Particularly the brown salsa.  It was very peppery - which is just how I like it.

We told the server it was our first time and asked for recommendations and ended up with the pork chops, which were fall-off-the-bone tender, enchiladas with mole (amazing) and rancheras (equally amazing), and a taco norteno (I could have had ten).  Everything tasted so fresh and their sauces were killer.  If I didn't already have plans I would have stayed for dinner and then camped out for breakfast.

It's out of the way for most of you who read this but if you're in the area you're going to want to stop in.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Book:  Matched
Author:  Ally Condie
Like/Don't Like:  I had a hard time putting it down

I have once again found myself in a reading slump, where nothing holds my interest.  It's a horrible place to be.  So it was very refreshing to read a book that I didn't want to put down. 

This is a love triangle set in a dystopian society that is not the Hunger Games.  (It is also not as nuanced or action packed as the HG but still worthwhile).  Cassia is seventeen and lives in a world where every decision is made for her.  From the clothes she wears to the food she eats to the city she lives in to the job she will have for the rest of her life and the person she will marry.  She happily goes along with the system because it has always worked for her but on the day of her match, when she finds out whom she will marry, an error occurs that makes her question what the Society has been up to all along.  Drama ensues.

It is primarily a love story and if the world that they live in weren't so detailed and defined and the problem they're up against so interesting I would not have been able to tolerate it.  There were a lot of longing gazes followed by averted eyes, and at times I felt like it was holding the more intriguing part of the story back - that being the system that they have been living in.  But I loved how thought out the world she lived in was.  And I did not question how a character could live in such a society because Cassia was very believable.  She goes from trusting in the Society to slowing and methodically seeing it for what it really was.  It was not a sudden change in her and I liked that, because it wouldn't be for most people. 

It needs to be said though about the two love interests:  It was hard to not root for the one she will not end up with because he was so good.  I would have liked him to be a little bit less perfect for her.

Dystopian love stories seem to be the new teenage vampire love stories so I don't know how long this trend will be able to sustain itself.  But this was a good one.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Muppets

Movie:  The Muppets
Like/Don't Like:  Would you trust someone who didn't like this movie?  Me neither.

I think it's impossible to not love the Muppets.  Especially if you're my age and you grew up watching the Muppet Show and Sesame Street.  If you combine them with Mickey Mouse Disco, Thrify's ice cream cones, and a Big Wheel it would pretty much encapsulate all the glorious parts of my childhood. (When, WHEN, I ask you, will they create a grown-up sized Big Wheel? I want one more than I want a Slurpee machine.)

So this movie was a no-brainer.  It was bound to be great.  It was nostalgic (I got chills when they did the intro to the old Muppet Show and welled up when they sang Rainbow Connection) and still riffed on modern pop culture, as they have always excelled at doing.  And it was corny and funny and not a bit ironic or snarky.  Miss Piggy looked glamorous even as she karate chopped someone, Fozzie wore fart shoes, there were subtitles for the Swedish chef, celebrities made cameos, and Kermit played the banjo.  Basically it was everything you want from a Muppet movie. 

Friday, October 14, 2011


Book:  Modelland
Author:  Tyra Banks
Like/Don't Like:  Um, well, that's complicated

Where do I begin?  Oh, how about THIS IS THE CRAZIEST, CRAPPIEST BOOK I'VE EVER READ.  And I mean that in the best possible way.  You know how sometimes you watch really horrible movies for the laughs?  Like Spice World?  Well, this was the book version of that.  And let me just tell you, if you don't appreciate Tyra's brand of crazy, this book will be UNREADABLE.  If you don't think that Tyra's funny accents and zany antics and wackadoo jumpsuits and weaves and gimmicks are a special type of hilarious than you would be miserable reading this book.  Because it is baaaaaaaaaaad.

For the plot: we have Tookie de la Creme (for real) as our heroine.  She is overlooked by everyone around her but she somehow makes it into Modelland, a school for would-be models (think Harry Potter meets ANTM) and goes through the rigorous training.  Or at least I think she does.  For a book that is over 500 pages (and, according to the acknowledgements, was originally over 1000) there was very little action.  Everything is description, description, description.  I got the feeling that Tyra's golden rule for writing was More Is More.  If it can be said in 10 words it would be better in 100.  Why just use 1 adjective when the thesaurus is giving 20.  There were so many crazy characters and activities and places that about 100 pages into it I started just skimming through all the descriptions.  I could not help but compare it to Twilight.  Although, to Tyra's credit, Twilight is WAY more insufferable.  We all know that Tyra is crazy.  Stephanie Meyer has no excuse.

So Tyra is a lot of things, but a good writer is not one of them.  Fortunately for all of us she has other talents. 

Talents like:  the excessive use of adjectives and adverbs; the ability to say something in 100 words that a normal person would only say in 5; making up cutesy names for things that already have names; taking those cutesy names and giving them cutesy nicknames, abbreviations or acronyms; creating the most elaborate description of every single item, action, place, person, outfit, food, dance move and modeling technique found in the book; making me simultaneously laugh out loud and pray for death.

Oh, Tyra, what would I do without you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Movie:  The Adjustment Bureau
Like/Don't Like:  Liked

This had all the right elements - an interesting story, good acting (I like that Emily Blunt.  I think she has spunk.), and a fast pace without being too fast that it confuses you.

Matt Damon plays a political hopeful who's life takes a turn he did not expect.  He later finds out the source of that unexpected turn in the form of men in suits and fedoras who call themselves the Adjustment Bureau.  They've been making slight alterations to his life course and he's fighting against it in order to stay with Emily Blunt.  It was way more romantic than I expected (I was anticipating a straight action flick), but when do I complain about romance?  I thought it was sweet.

Now lets, just for a moment, give three cheers for suits and fedoras!  I'm going to sound 80 here but don't you wish men wore suits more often?  They just look so sharp.  And you cannot go wrong with a gray fedora.  It's a class act all the way.

The House at Riverton

Book:  The House at Riverton
Author:  Kate Morton
Like/Don't Like:  If only I had known I would be so bored with it I would have quit reading

Let's talk about foreshadowing for a sec.  I feel it is a device bested used in small, subtle amounts.  If it's going to be used it needs to be just enough to give the reader an inkling that something is coming without making them try to guess what that something is through the entire story.  One of my least favorite phrases to read in a novel is, "If only we had known what we know now." It gives the entire book away.  Suddenly, I know that there's going to be a twist so I miss out on it because I'm anticipating it. When a twist comes I want to be so surprised that I go back and reread it to catch any hints that might have been there.  What I don't want to do is shrug.  There was a lot of shrugging going on while I was reading.   

So there was a lot of foreshadowing in this book.  And absolutely zero surprises.  Which made reading it a bit of a drag.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  You don't even know what it's about.  This 98 year old woman Grace is recounting her time as a maid in a big fancy English house during and just after World War I.  She is intrigued by and mysteriously drawn to the family she is serving and the story really becomes more about them than her.  There are quite a number of subplots and characters, none of them adding anything to the actual story.  There is a lot of telling and not a lot of doing.  All that foreshadowing felt like a weak substitute for what was happening in the moment - which was very little.  There just wasn't a whole lot of action.  And I could barely muster any feelings for the characters.  They were so underdeveloped, I felt like they were just there to move the story along and get to the big climactic ending - which wasn't nearly as climactic as it could have been.  The whole thing felt really contrived and a lot was sacrificed for an ending that was a let down.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bombay Bistro

Restaurant:  Bombay Bistro
Location:  8851 Central Ave., Montclair CA  91763
Like/Don't Like:  Delicious

This is another Restaurant Club pick.  And like all that came before it, there were a lot of things to love.  Specifically their ginger garlic coconut sauce that we had in two of the dishes.  So tasty!  We ordered garlic naan, lamb kabab, chicken tikka masala, chicken shaquidi, aloo gobi, and malai kofta.  The naan was not as garlicky as I like it, and the lamb kabab was a little overcooked although the flavor was terrific.  Everything else was fantastic.  The sauces were so good, really balanced and you can have as much or as little spice as you like.  We asked for something between mild and medium and all agreed it was just right.  The service was great and the prices weren't that bad.  They have a lunch buffet for $9 which could be a real bargain and a great way to sample everything. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

84 Charing Cross Road

Book:  84 Charing Cross Road
Author:  Helene Hanff
Like/Don't Like:  Loved.  So loved.

Katie, remembering my love for the movie, found a copy of the book at the going-out-of-business sale at Borders this afternoon and brought it home to me.  Within an hour it was read and wept over. 

This slim volume of a decades long correspondence between an American writer and a British bookseller is in every way a charmer.  Helene is spunky and sassy and loves books.  And Frank has that dry British wit that kills me.  It is so sweet to see their friendship develop over the years.  It made me wish I had a long running correspondence with someone.  Any takers?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Angels and Demons

Movie:  Angels and Demons
Like/Don't Like:  Rome - like.  History lesson and icky things - don't like.

Wait, didn't this movie come out like a gajillion years ago?  Right.  It did.  But it takes me a while to get around to things.  I'm the late bloomer of movie watching.

Anyway, this movie would have been a little unbearable for me had it not been set in Rome.  I love Rome.  Have I told you that?  I've been to so few places in the world but Rome is one of them and, I don't know, maybe it was all the gelato and pasta I ate, but I think it's a magical place.  Nearly every scene was set somewhere I'd strolled through and at the end I called up my traveling companion Cynde and screamed, "Have you seen Angels and Demons?  That scene where the priest gets burned alive? It's in the chapel we were nearly killed in front of by a speeding yellow Ferrari being chased by the police!"

But that, my friends, was its only redeeming quality for me.  Fond memories of gelato and near death experiences.  It also stirred up other memories - the ones from when I read the Davinci Code and said out loud on multiple occasions, "ENOUGH, you enormous wind bag!"  Because if Robert Langdon isn't the most insufferable character out there, I don't know who is.  Nobody likes a no-it-all.  It was one thing in a book to expound upon everything, because information needs to be given and there's plenty of time and space to give it in.  But it's a joke in a movie.  When the only dialogue there is consists entirely of information to catch you up on the Illuminati, arcane Catholic protocol, and ancient religious shenanigans, the movie is going to struggle.  Plus, it was predictable.  I guessed the bad guy from the start.  And many of the plot points in between.

But oh, those memories of gelato.  Let's all go to Rome!

The Help

Movie:  The Help
Like/Don't Like:  As with the book - Liked (ish)

I completely forgot that I saw this movie last week (which, I suppose isn't much of a recommendation).  I felt about it pretty much the same way as I did about the book - it could have been cut down.  And it solidified a feeling I had about the book that I didn't recognize when I read it - it could have gone deeper.  Maybe I would have been fine with the length if hadn't painted everyone so ... (oh, heavens, I just about typed "black and white." how about...) one dimensional.  This is such a complex issue and everyone seemed to be clearly on one side of the fence or the other.  It could have used a little depth.

But that being said, it was still a decent film.  I laughed, I cried (because when don't I cry, and also, racism - gar!  It makes me want to spit.)  There were some legitimate moments in it that made it worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

True Grit

Movie:  True Grit
Like/Don't Like:  Liked very much

I hesitated watching this movie because I am a delicate flower.  I don't like violence, particularly gun violence, the kind that is often found in westerns.  But several people have said that I could handle it and that I would like it in the end.  I am happy to report that they were right on both counts, although I had to avert my eyes several times.

Thinking back, I really loved everything about it (ok, except for the shooting).  It's definitely a whole package film.  The acting was sensational (I'm a little upset now that Hailee Steinfeld isn't playing Katniss - as originally rumored) the score was perfect, and I loved the stylized dialogue.  Everyone, even the drunks, spoke with crisp drawn out sentences.  No contractions.  It somehow added a sense of importance to the story.  As soon as it was over I wanted to watch it again. 

The City of Ember

Book:  The City of Ember
Author:  Jeanne DuPrau
Like/Don't Like:  It could have been better

This book would have been significantly improved with better writing.  The story was gripping - an underground city whose inhabitants don't know anything more than the fading light bulbs and dwindling supplies left centuries ago by the people who built it - but the storytelling was lacking.  There just wasn't any spark or magic.  There were plenty of times when I found myself getting caught up in the story, I would imagine what it must be like to live in such a place, the constant fear of black-outs, only breathing stale cold air, a food supply that was quickly running out.  There was a wealth of emotions and feelings to pull from but most of them were just alluded to without any kind of depth or understanding.  Which made the characters seem very flat and dull and made a really great story a bit disappointing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

When You Reach Me

Book:  When You Reach Me
Author:  Rebecca Stead
Like/Don't Like:  Really liked.

There was something about this book that made me feel nostalgic.  It's set in the last 70s, a time I vaguely remember, but that's not why.  It sort of had a feel of an after-school special, or a Judy Blume novel.  Maybe that's it.  Warm feelings aside, it's a pretty great book.

Miranda is in the sixth grade and is tackling the usual 11 year old stuff like losing a best friend to outside forces, trying to make new friends, a mom who is trying to figure how to raise an independent kid in a dangerous world.  Pretty familiar story.  Except for a twist:  Miranda is receiving letters that appear to be from someone in the future.  I would hardly call this a sci-fi book.  The letters are vague and not often referred to, the story mostly focuses on the daily problems Miranda is dealing with.  But they gave the story a bit of a mysterious edge that was unexpected and appealing. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Withering Tights

Book:  Withering Tights
Author:  Louise Rennison
Like/Don't Like:  Duh.  Like.

Lovers of Georgia Nicholson - REJOICE!!!  We saw the end of her diaries with her snogging Dave the Laugh on the Cake Rack of Lurve and sighed that it was all over.  But the good news is that she has a cousin, Tallulah, who is off to the rugged moors of Yorkshire attending theater school.  Comedy ensues.  There's plenty of Irish jig dancing and marauding bands of local youth and attack owls and fretting about bouncy hair - basically everything we love about Louise Rennison is in here.  I think this calls for a Viking Hornpipe Disco Inferno.

Okay For Now

Book:  Okay For Now
Author:  Gary D. Schmidt
Like/Don't Like:  Loved so much

When I finished this book I thought, "This is the type of stuff I want to read all the time."  It is sweet and funny and clever and thoughtful.  I loved it.

It is a follow-up to The Wednesday Wars, which I also loved.  One of the characters from the book, Doug Sweitek, moves to a new town and his family instantly becomes that family, the one with the alcoholic father and hooligan brother all living in a dump of a house.  He struggles with these things and more as he begins a new school and tries to fit in.  What I love about it is that the voices are so clear.  I love it when a character is so well written that you know what he's going to say and think.  So the twists and turns of the story surprise you just as much as they surprise him because you're right there with him.  It is such simple and lovely writing that when the powerful stuff comes it sometimes took my breath away.  I love being surprised by books.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Movie:  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
Like/Don't Like:  Profoundly Loved

So here's my conundrum:  how do I express how much I loved this movie without sounding like a total lunatic?  Because it is well documented what an enormous fan I am of the whole franchise.  Love the books, love the movies, feel like I could be the first true muggle ever allowed into Hogwarts.  So you see the problem.  You all know that I'm a Super Fan and if you're not I don't want you to think, "Well, of course she loves this movie."  So, setting my fandom aside, I will say that this movie is thrilling.  There is loads of action, some pretty good laughs, some very sweet moments, great acting, great special effects and quite possibly the best movie villain you will ever lay eyes on.  I actually believe that anyone could walk into this movie, not knowing the difference between a horcrux and a blast-ended skrewt, and still really, really enjoy it.

But I didn't actually go into this movie looking for any kind of cinematic credibility.  I went in as a Super Fan.  We (me, Katie & Lindsay - who hasn't read the books but has seen all the movies so didn't know what was going to happen.  Can you imagine?!) got there 2 hours ahead of time, just to make sure we got good seats.  We were bouncy and giddy with excitement through the entire wait.  When the movie started we cheered.  When it ended we cheered and wiped the tears and snot off our faces.  As a fan it was one of the best movie experiences I've ever had.  They got everything right.  I didn't feel like anything was short-changed.  In fact, the big battle at the end seemed even more real and devastating than in the book because you're witnessing these characters that you love struggle and fight and die.  It was not easy.  I'm still not at the point yet where I can delve too deeply into it.  (Someone today described it as a mind explosion.  Agreed.) but I will just say this:  it was magical.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Larry Crowne

Movie:  Larry Crown
Like/Don't Like:  Pass

Due to some miscommunication we were under the impression that this movie was 2 hours and 45 minutes.  Which, in my book, is 45 minutes too long for any movie, an hour too long for a a romantic comedy, and an hour and a half too long for a romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts.  There is only so much I can handle of her toothy grin.  (Does anyone else get the feeling she hates you?)  So around 1:30 I was feeling like it should be ending and was practically in the depths of despair when I realized we were only halfway through.  You can imagine my elation when it actually came in at under two hours.  We weren't clapping because it was any good.  We were clapping because it was over. 

It's not really bad, there just isn't anything there.  It's basically a pretty long set up about this guy Larry Crown losing his job and going back to school and...that's it.  He takes a public speaking class and an economics class (with George Takei as his teacher, hereafter known as The Guy Who Saved the Movie.) and falls in with a scooter gang (?) made up of young college kids who hang out at yard sales (Double ?).  There is no real conflict, no real plot, and nothing really to keep your interested.  There were, however, several instances of Tom Hanks wearing one of those ridiculous pocket chains.  I hope the whole point of that was to feel embarrassed for the poor guy, because I did.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Theo's Greek Cafe

Restaurant:  Theo's Greek Cafe
Location:  9197 Central Ave, Ste J, Montclair, CA 91763
Like/Don't Like:  Two words:  Greek Salad

I'm just going to give you the heads up right now.  You need to order the greek salad.  It is just iceberg lettuce, a couple tomatoes, a few slivers of bell peppers, cucumbers, loads of feta, and one kalamata olive.  But the dressing is made with one part olive oil and two parts magic.  It's sweet and tangy and I was tempted to slurp up what was left in the bottom of the plate.

Okay, now that I've done that service, on to the rest of the food.  Which was all great.  We split a lamb gyro and a chicken souvlaki.  Both were delicious.  The rice they came with was the only mediocre thing we had.  It was super colorful but it didn't have much flavor.  We also got some fries covered in feta, which is genius. 

The service was great - maybe because we were the only ones in there.  The new owner, Johnny, took care of us, told us about the history of the place and all of his plans.  There's a lot of American food on the menu and he's planning on making it more Greek, which I think it wise.  I'd like to try their sandwiches the next time because they sound pretty good.  As long as there is room after my salad.

A Northern Light

Book:  A Northern Light
Author:  Jennifer Donnelly
Like/Don't Like:  Yeah, it was pretty good

I wish I didn't have such a pet peeve for stories that go back and forth between past and present.  I find that unless it's done exceptionally well it disrupts the flow for me.  But I know that that is just me.  So I'm giving this a good recommendation because it really was well written.  I just have issues.

Mattie is a 16 year old girl living in upstate New York in the early 1900s.  Her mother has just died and she is left to deal with all that entails:  a grieving father, 3 younger sisters to care for and a farm and household to run, all while trying to decide between her dream of being taken care of and having stability and her dream of going off to school.  Plus, she has the added misfortune of being involved in the mysterious death of a guest of the hotel she is working for.  The story goes back and forth between the night the day the guest died and the months leading up to it.  I had a hard time seeing the connection between the girl who died and Mattie other than they were both poor and young.  I mean, I got it, I just thought it was a little bit of a stretch.

But all of that can be overlooked because the voice was so strong.  You believe Mattie completely.  She is a great heroine.  Strong but flawed.  Compassionate but capable of a little selfishness.  A teenage girl all the way.  It was easy to follow along with her and it left me wanting to know more about her life at the end.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Below Zero

Restaurant:  Below Zero
Place:  583 E. Foothill Blvd, Upland, CA
Like/Don't Like:  Do penguins like snow?

Long ago, when Katie, Liz, Heather & I were pursuing our dreams of becoming nun chuck masters we would pass by this place when it was just a dream of its own.  There was a sign on top that said, "Shaved Ice" and one below it that said, "Coming Soon!"  We would pass by every Monday night and wish that it were open because, well, that dojo was a hot and smelly place, and we could have used a little icy refreshment.

Well, two years later, it's finally open, and I've been a few times now and I'm hooked.  My love of slushy beverages is well documented, so it's a given that I would love this place.  Shaved ice is a fave.  But here's the awesome twist:  you can get your shaved ice on top of ice cream.  Magic!!!  They have a list of combo suggestions or you can make your own.  And they don't skimp.  And on Tuesdays you get a dollar off.  I predict my punch card will be full by the end of the month.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Wednesday Wars

Book:  The Wednesday Wars
Author:  Gary D. Schmidt
Like/Don't Like:  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

Holling Hoodhood is a seventh grader on Long Island and the only Presbyterian in a class full of Catholics and Jews.  All of his classmates leave on Wednesday afternoons for their different religious classes, leaving Holling alone with his teacher, Mrs. Baker.  To pass the time she makes him read Shakespeare plays, which at first he hates, naturally.  But over the course of the year he learns to love them and finds them very applicable to everyday life. 

So, that's it in a nutshell.  But it is an incredibly nuanced story.  The writing is magnificent.  It is sweet and very funny and I laughed and cried my way through it. I loved Holling.  His voice was so distinct, as are all the characters in it.  Everything wove together beautifully and bonus, Shakespeare!


Movie:  Inception
Like/Don't Like:  Like!

This movie is the capitol of Crazytown.  I finally got around to watching it and by finally I don't just mean that it's been out forever but that it has been sitting in the Netflix envelope on top of the DVD player for about 2 months now.  Why?  Because everyone told me that I needed to pay close attention because it's a little hard to follow and I just haven't had patience for those types of movies lately so I kept putting it off until last night when I had the time and attention span it needed.

I don't usually go in for action movies.  I don't like guns and punching and stuff like that - so my senses were a little jarred by the end of it.  And my mind was spinning because, Knights of Columbus, that was confusing.  All those layers of dreaming were tough to keep track of.  And I got a little tired of all the dialogue sounding like a dream technician's textbook.  But on the whole it was a really cool movie.  The premise was cool, the music was cool, the stunts were cool (and I never notice stunts).  I thought it was so fascinating and I was on the edge of my seat through most of it.  I wish I had watched it with someone so at the end of it all I could have turned to them and said, "What the...?" and then had an in depth convo about the whole thing. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tanya's Lebanese Kabab

Restaurant:  Tanya's Lebanese Kabab
Location:  915 W. Foothill Blvd, Upland, CA
Like/Don't Like:  Mmmmmmmm...shawarma.

This place opened up just down the street about 2 months ago and at the previous meeting of the restaurant club it was suggested as our next stop.  Great call, Heather!  And also, you're coming with me the next time I go, which will be soon.

It's a tiny little place in a strip mall, sparsely decorated but clean.  We ordered the chicken kebab, beef shawarma, falafel, kuftah, and mutabel.  All standard Mediterranean food and all super delicious.  The seasoning on everything was great.  The tahini was mild, which I liked, and their garlic sauce was not, which I REALLY liked. 

The price was terrific.  We paid $30 for all of that food and it was more than enough.  And best of all, the service was wonderful.  The owner/cook came out several times to see how everything was going and to chat and when I asked what a certain drink on the menu was he brought it out for us to try for free.  It's called jalab, by the way, and it tastes like a bouquet of flowers steeped in syrup.  Very, veeeeery sweet.  But it smelled like a garden. 

Overall - awesome.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale

Book:  The Thirteenth Tale
Author:  Diane Setterfield
Like/Don't Like:  It was exasperating.  Don't.

This is a 400 page book, which is not much of a challenge.  I mean, it's not Dickens or Atlas Shrugged.  Yet it took me one month to read the first 200 pages (ONE MONTH!  Did I somehow end up in Remedial Reading?) It zapped my will to read.  So this morning, at only halfway through, I made the decision to stop reading.  I even made an announcement, "I'm not going to finish that book."  Because I just didn't care.  I didn't care about the characters, the mystery was too slowly revealed, the pacing was laborious.  I could not justify spending another minute on the book.  So how did I get to this point - a mere 12 hours after making the proclamation that I quit?  Spite.  I was a little peeved that I had wasted an entire month of reading on a book that I wouldn't even finish.  So I postponed cleaning my room and dug in.  And I have to say the second half was decidedly better than the first.  But not enough to make me want to recommend it to you. 

The concept is an interesting one and, on a personal level, a familiar one.  A woman whose twin sister died at birth (I thought that would give me some kind of connection to the story because I have a twin sister who died at 4 months.  It didn't.) is brought in to write the biography of a famous but reclusive writer who is also a twin.  There are a lot of mysteries and all of them are solved nice and neat and the end.  But the problem is that I felt very little satisfaction in any of the answers because getting there was so exasperating.  The story really suffers from a lack of good editing.  What could have easily been said in 1 paragraph was often said in 1 chapter.  Characters who should be important to you seem to have no personality beyond what is necessary to keep the mystery alive.  It was hard to care about anyone in this book.  Once I made the resolve to finish the book it went really fast.  The pacing was still dragging but more things were revealed, enough so to keep my interest.  But once the big reveal came - the point at which I should have been yelling, "No way!!" because I didn't actually see it coming - I just shrugged and said, "It figures."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tango Baires Cafe

Restaurant:  Tango Baires Cafe
Where:  Upland, CA
Like/Don't Like:  YUM

My friends and I have started up a restaurant club to try out some of the little places around town.  Tango Baires Cafe was our first stop tonight and it was a hit.  We each ordered different meals so we could sample a variety of entrees.  Wise choice.  Everything was delicious.  It's Argentinean food so there was a lot of beef, but also pasta, sandwiches, empanadas and pizza.  I think their sauces are what really put them over the top.  Especially their pesto.  Everything was fresh and yummy.  The menu is VAST, which is a slight negative for me because I am easily overwhelmed by too many choices, but I do love that I can try something different the next 50 times I go.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jane Eyre

Movie:  Jane Eyre
Like/Don't Like:  A solid adaptation

It's hard to be objective with a story that I know so well as Jane Eyre.  I have read the book countless times and have seen every film adaptation.  I am always hesitant when a new one comes out because I wonder what more it could possible add to what has already been said.  But I'm pleased to say that this one held its own.  And if all it added was more fuel to my already enormous desire to run reckless across the Yorkshire moors then job well done.

It was beautifully gothic and moody.  Most scenes were shot nice and tight so it added to that trapped and mysterious feeling you should get with this story.  It was quite faithful to the book. Obviously, considering the time, several elements had to be edited or cut out completely but what was left held true to the heart of the story.  And any liberties that were taken added rather than distracted.

Sitting across the aisle from us was a group of girls who must have come into it without any prior knowledge of the story.  This seems shocking to me.  But it ended up being adorable because they gasped at every revelation.  One of them even shouted out "NO WAY!" when the big mystery was revealed.  (Now that I know that there are actually people out there who don't know what happens, I wouldn't dream of telling you.)  It reminded me of the first time I read the book oh, 20 or so years ago, and had no idea of what was coming and just being completely enthralled with the whole thing.  There is a reason why they keep making new movies of it.  It's just that awesome.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love

Movie:  Eat, Pray, Love
Like/Don't Like:  don't

It wasn't that this movie was particularly bad.  It just didn't resonate at all.  It seemed to be a collection of self-help aphorisms and pretty pictures.  Very pretty, really.  I silently wept into my pillow as they showed scenes from Rome because I miss my gelato guy.  Julia Roberts' character was difficult to relate to, and sometimes difficult to like, and the side characters, Richard Jenkins especially, seemed a lot more real and compelling but were only on for about 20 minutes each. It didn't motivate and it wasn't particularly entertaining.  But Jarvier Bardem in nice to look at and it inspired me to eat more pasta just for the joy of it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Princess Academy

Book:  Princess Academy
Author:  Shannon Hale
Like/Don't Like:  Like

Hey, who's taking the day off of work to watch the royal wedding?  Who will be throwing a party complete with tiaras and crumpets in honor of it?  Yeah, it's me.  Because I love royalty.  The pomp, the jewels, the scepters, the delusional sense of entitlement - it's all just so grand!  And you just know the Queen is going to be wearing a marvelous hat. In my heart I know that the Queen and I would be best friends if she would ever accept my invitation to join my book club.

So, the Queen - yes.  But princesses?  No.  I blame the marketing department of Disney for their ubiquity, and therefore my distaste for them.  Why does every girl want to be the princess when the queen is where all the real fun is?   It was this distaste which led me to putting off reading this book, even though several friends and the Newberry people have all recommended it.  The title gave me a false impression that it would be all about tulle and etiquette.  But it actually had a lot more depth to it.

It's set in a mining village deep within the mountains.  Miri is 14 and not allowed to work in the mines with everyone else and because of this feels like she is not accepted by her community.  A royal proclamation arrives saying that all the teenage girls must attend a princess academy because it has been prophesied that the prince would marry a girl from their village.  This is where the tulle and etiquette come in, but only as minor scenes and mainly as jumping off points to touch on classic YA themes of acceptance and relationships.  It was not what I expected at all and I was quite pleased with it. 

Side note:  This was fantasy-lite - which is just my type.  I have no problem suspending reality but one of the reasons why I don't read too much fantasy is because the worlds that are created are more often than not over-created and lose any sense of familiarity.  This actually felt like a place that could exist, even though they could talk to each other over great distances by singing to rocks.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ella Minnow Pea

Book:  Ella Minnow Pea
Author:  Mark Dunn
Like/Don't Like:  Liked.  Clever.

Most of the time it's the story that carries a book.  Sometimes it's the characters.  This book is carried almost entirely by the style.  Normally I would roll my eyes at this but it was so well done that I didn't mind it at all.

The story is told through letters about a fictional island nation off the southeastern coast of America that was founded by the (made up) originator of the sentence, "The quick red fox jumped over the lazy brown dog."   In the center of town is a monument to the man with the sentence underneath, each letter having it's own tile.  When one tile falls off the island council determines it's a sign from the man that they should stop using that letter, and attache punishments for people who use it.  This proceeds until nearly all the letters have fallen.

Since the story is told through letters between several people, all under the restriction of not using certain letters, the writing becomes pretty creative.  You'll need a dictionary. 

While it was clever and pretty fun to read there were some drawbacks.  The story and characters are lacking.  Most of the emphasis is put on the language so you miss out on back story, character development, important things that generally make a book worth reading.  Which is why I found it so successful.  Once I got into it those usually essential items became secondary to the fun of just reading along.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Utah Blaine

Book:  Utah Blaine
Author:  Louis L'Amour
Like/Don't Like:  Like.  Mostly for circumstantial reasons, but enjoyable all the same.

My grandpa loves Louis L'Amour and has a vast collection of his books.  So a few months ago when he moved and had to get rid of his books I made sure to snag one - for sentimental reasons.  I've never had any interest in the genre.  But I've been in a reading funk and when I get this way I will pick anything up in the hopes of finding something worth my time.  This did the trick.

The plot is just like any western movie you've ever seen.  There are bad guys and good guys and one really good guy and some ladies who are mostly just lips and hips.  And there are shoot outs and saloons and horses and fist fights.  There's lychin' and fightin' and ridin' and shootin' - because everyone drops the g, ya' cityslicker.  There are men described as, "short and blocky with a beefy red face."  Is there a better description than beefy?  I doubt it.  How about this one, "He was a hatchet-faced cowhand."  And it even teaches you how to challenge someone to a fight, "Come on, you big lug, stack your duds and grease your skids.  I'm goin' to tear down your meat house!"

Pretty fun stuff.  As I was reading I could feel the funk liftin'. 

A Flaw in the Blood

Book:  A Flaw in the Blood
Author:  Stephanie Barron
Like/Don't Like:  Nah.  Not much.  Sigh.

Is it me?  Or is it Winter?  Is it my reading ennui that has tainted everything I pick up?  Or is it just plain mediocre writing?  Because it's been ages since I've enjoyed a book.  And I specifically picked this one up because I love Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mystery series.  They're fantastic reads.  But this one?  It was like hearing a sad trombone while eating unbuttered toast.

The plot centers around Patrick Somebody (it's been a few weeks since I've finished.  It's all pretty hazy.), an Irish barrister living in London, and Some Girl Whose Name I Can't Remember Because She Was So Underdeveloped Even Though She Was a Central Character, and Queen Victoria, of all people.  Prince Albert has just died and the Queen is a wreck, and Patrick and the Girl have some clues to Albert's death that Victoria doesn't want the public to know of so she sends some German henchman out to kill them.  They must unravel the mystery before that happens.

The plot sounded interesting and I've always thought that Barron was a gifted writer when it comes to pacing a mystery. But this was was pretty weak all around.  It switched between several POVs (a pet peeve, as you well know) and it just didn't go anywhere.  Sure, it traveled all over London and the Alps but the story just dragged without any real revelations until the very end and by that point it didn't seem so revelatory or earth shattering as it should have. 

There's supposed to be a new Jane Austen Mystery (and I really do recommend them, which is rare because I don't normally sign on for knock-offs of classics) and I'll have to give that a try to get this one out of my head.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Graveyard Book

Book:  The Graveyard Book
Author:  Neil Gaiman
Like/Don't Like:  I wanted to reread it as soon as I finished

I would like to state for the record that it is a great comfort to me that Neil Gaiman exists.  More to the point, that he exists and writes.  Everything I've read of his has been an absolute delight.  I could stop right here by saying he wrote Good Omens and be done with it.  Because my love of that book is fairly well documented.  But that wouldn't be very fair to The Graveyard Book - which is masterful.

No, I mean it.  Masterful.  It felt like a master class in writing.  It is a solidly crafted book.  He has such a handle on giving you characters and stories that feel like they've been around forever - that feel like they've already been formed and written and he just plucked them out for you and gives them shape and form.  Which is saying something because this story is composed mostly of ghosts and ghouls and other things that aren't alive.

It opens with a baby, later named Nobody Owens, who barely escapes being murdered by toddling into a graveyard and gaining the protection of the ghosts who live there.  He is taken in by a ghostly couple and given a guardian, Silas, who is neither dead nor alive and who teaches him the ways of the world as best he can despite all the dead people wandering around.  The story goes along in several vignettes over the first 14 or so years of Bod's life that all wind together in the end that is both a little sad but also very hopeful and exciting.  Which is such a satisfying way to end a book.