Thursday, December 30, 2010

Halloween Update

I know I spent an awful lot of time and energy wailing on this blog about my Halloween costume dilemma. Thus, I figured it would only be fair to give my loyal readers the payoff of finding out the results.

Behold! I give you that Rock of Love himself, the Thorn on your Rose, What the Cat Dragged In....


(Rock of Love girls not included...though not from lack of trying. However, The Boyfriend was strangely resistant to the idea. Go figure.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An Angry Consumer

Dear Old Navy,

Listen, mostly I really like you. I appreciate that you keep your prices reasonable, have a decent selection, and most importantly make plus-size clothes (I mean, you don't make them available in your stores, because after all, there's not really enough space to display the fat-fat-fatty clothes, but you at least have them on your website, and that's awfully nice of you). I am generally a fan, but today I am so angry with you that I can barely stand it.

Last Thursday (note: nearly a week ago), I placed an order with you. I ordered several items (in order to take advantage of free shipping for orders over $50). Two of these items were Christmas gifts for The Boyfriend, as he also enjoys your clothes and appreciates that you carry styles for the big and tall gentleman. One of these items was an orange (excuse me..."Autumn Log") performance fleece jacket. The Boyfriend needed a new fleece, and his favorite color is orange. I was so excited.

Then, today, I got an email from you explaining that "while processing [my] order, [you] found that the item(s) below are no longer available." The item, of course, being the orange fleece. You refunded my money, which was nice. You also offered me a 10% discount coupon, which was nice, too.


And thanks a lot for your bullshit coupon. To order one more item, I'd have to pay like $8 in shipping, which is likely to be nearly what the item I wish to order is worth after your coupon.

I sent your customer service email a short note, explaining as politely as possible my frustration, and also explaining that since this is the second year in a row this has occurred, I from now on will be taking my holiday shopping elsewhere. After all, I'm already not good enough to shop in your store, now you're telling me you can't be bothered to stock items you've already sold me?

Thank you for all your wonderful help. I guess I will just have to take my lucrative lounge-pant business back to Target.

The Caustic Critic

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Addendum to 'Observations'

I forgot, when mentioning television shows I've been watching, to bring up Hawaii Five-O. However, I can't pretend that I watch it for any reason other than to drool dreamily at teensy, cranky, adorably Jersey Scott Caan. Therefore, it's probably best to not bring it up.

P.S. I fucking LOVE Scott Caan, okay? I just want to bring him home and snuggle him like a lost hamster. Is that so wrong?

P.P.S. The show itself is not terrible. Sometimes it (mostly Scott Caan) is funny. The scenery is very beautiful, and sometimes Alex O'Laughlin takes his shirt off (why not you, Scott Caan?) and that is beautiful too.

P.P.P.S. Actual native Hawaiian actors are being used, it seems, which is a good thing.

P.P.P.P.S. Scott Caan, people. If he's wrong, I don't want to be right.

P.P.P.P.P.S: Don't worry, Nic Cage. Scott Caan is just a fling. You know I'll always love you best.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I had totally planned to do NaBloPoMo, and then suddenly realized it's November 8th and I am already seven days behind. So that was the end of THAT idea.

I have been reading quite a bit lately, though have not yet started blogging on books again. No word on whether there will be a Cannonball Read 3. I kind of would love to get it going among a small group--more like a book club but we read different books--but I'm not sure how well that idea would go over. After all, most of the people I know (live and virtually) are very busy. If any of you readers are interested or have ideas of your own, please let me know. I guess I feel kind of silly blogging away about books almost by myself. Left to my own devices, I just read them, which is probably not as effective and productive.

Speaking of books, I have discovered that my giant Ikea shelf my parents bought me in
April is now almost completely full (as are all the other shelves in the house.) I am either going to have to do a serious book purge, or I need to find a space to put up the second shelf. (The latter option seems more likely, frankly.)

I have been watching TV lately, some very interesting things going on at the moment. I like all my old favorites (though I find both L&O:LA and L&O:SVU somewhat disappointing) but there are some great new things on that I am really enjoying.

1. Boardwalk Empire, HBO: This show is stellar, and I'm really enjoying it so far. The characters are multi-faceted and well-acted, and the plots are usually very intriguing. Not to mention the set design and costuming are unbelievable. Steve Buscemi is great as Nucky Thompson, a crooked politician who is running Atlantic City at the beginning of Prohibition. Michael Pitt (whom I wasn't really sure of at first) is really settling into his character, dangerous yet vulnerable war-veteran-turning-gangster Jimmy Darmody. At first he seemed unsure of exactly how to play the character, but as time has gone by, I feel like he's gotten a grip on what drives Jimmy's thought processes. Plus the Jimmy character is less lost and has more purpose now. Anyway, it's one of the very few shows that The Boyfriend and I both enjoy, and I recommend it.

2. The Walking Dead, AMC: I just got around to watching the pilot episode for this yesterday, and I was very impressed. I'm kind of surprised to see something like this--humans versus zombies--on mainstream television. I have read the first three books in the comic series on which the show is based, and am thus far pretty impressed how closely the show has stuck to the source material. Anything that was added so far seems to be a benefit. Obviously it's hard to say much about a show having seen only one episode, but I will say the tension was constant, and many of the scares were not so much gore related (though they don't shy away from that) as they were pure "Omigod what is going to happen next Oh why are you going into that dark hallway what are you doing GET OUT OF THERE!" thrills. I was interested to check this out because I have enjoyed Frank Darabont's previous Stephen King adaptations (the only director, IMHO, who has had any luck adapting King works). So far, so good, though I suspect it won't take me long to hate the wife character. It's also kind of great that while there are no "big name" stars in this, there are several "Hey, it's that guy!" moments. If I were you, I'd check it out.

3. Raising Hope, Fox: I don't watch too many sitcoms these days (mostly just The Big Bang Theory and Community) but this one is definitely worth watching. It's the story of Jimmy Chance, a not-very-bright young dude who winds up with a baby after a one night stand with a serial killer. Jimmy decides that he is going to keep the baby, Hope (or as her mother named her, "Princess Beyonce") and raise her himself, trying to avoid the mistakes made by his parents, who were teenagers when he was born. The parents are played to perfection by Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt. I have always loved Martha Plimpton, and her portrayal of cynical cleaning lady Virginia is hilarious. Even better is Garret Dillahunt; I have really liked him in everything he's done before--he's done brilliant work as creepy, evil characters on Deadwood, Life, and Burn Notice--so it's a treat to see him play the good-natured but utterly dim Burt. Throw in Chloris Leachman as Virginia's deranged grandmother, and it's a veritable cornucopia of dysfunction. I guess what gets me, though, is how they--particularly Plimpton--remind me of a white-trash version of my own family. This show was created by Greg Garcia, who was also responsible for My Name is Earl. Raising Hope has the same sort of vaguely cartoonish feel about it, while still having a heart. Don't miss this!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Halloween is Upon Us!

Halloween is upon us again. As usual, despite my yearly vows that I will plan AHEAD! I seem to be three weeks away without even a wisp of an idea. Miss Piggy worked out great last year, but I have a personal belief that wearing the same costume more than once is laziness. The Boyfriend doesn't understand this, but that is because he is the kind of person who doesn't really enjoy dressing up, and therefore has been perfectly happy to be Walter Sobchak for three years running. (Besides, I've already promised the Piggy costume to a friend who is going to rock the shit out of it and I can't let her down.)

Someone suggested to me that I go as a Titanic victim. The costume would be fairly simple--peasant duds, blue make-up, wet hair, seaweed, life ring with HMS Titanic stencilled on to it--but I was surprisingly appalled by the idea. Now, I am not someone who is generally bothered about being horribly tacky (i.e. if I could get my hands on a pink sweater seat and a pillbox hat, I'd happily throw fake blood all over it and go as Jackie Kennedy) but this idea stopped me right in my tracks. I'm not sure exactly why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I've become something of an amateur Titanic scholar. It would be different, I guess, to go as someone who survived. If I could get the upper-class clothes, I'd be all right going as the Unsinkable Molly Brown or as Office Lightoller. But the thought of dressing up as someone who was locked down in third class on a sinking ship is just...well, it feels a little to me like saying "Hey, why don't you paint some burns on, rub ashes all over yourself, and go as a 9/11 victim?" I know the names of many of those who were lost. I've heard their stories, and to pretend to be one of them would just be all kinds of wrong, as far as I'm concerned. They were mostly not famous people, they were regular people caught in a massive tragedy. Even though it was more than 98 years ago, I've read about it so much that to me it's still current news. I don't know. I guess it's a weird issue to have, but there you are.

I may still go as a drowning victim, but something generic like "drowned prom queen" or "generic oceanic zombie". I think I still have a bridesmaid dress somewhere that might prove useful...

Any suggestions from my faithful readers out there?

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Reminder

Just a reminder to check out The Boyfriend's blog, The Frugal Bostonian. If you go over there today, you will find the first post from your old pal me, giving away the secret to one of my famous barbecue sauces.

You know you want it!

(I have been told by The Boyfriend that I am not allowed to give away the recipe for my Coke sauce or my Sweet Caroline mustard sauce. Apparently, those are trade secrets. *Shrug*)

Also, I have been reading books lately, but haven't necessarily felt like blogging, partly because I've finished the Cannonball Read and prefer to just READ the books. I've just started Robert Leckie's Strong Men Armed, which is his non-biographical book about the Pacific theater of WW2. So far it's pretty good. I've also read some trashy books and re-read some old favorites. I've also read several new ones that I'm sure I'll get around to blogging on eventually.

Then again, fall television is here, and you know how hard it is for me to accomplish anything when there's a crime show available to be watched!

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Quick List

In honor of the long weekend, here is a list of ten movies I am utterly unable to resist if I come across them on television. If I'm looking at the guide or flipping through the channels, and I see one of these I have to stop and watch, no matter how far into the film it happens to be. (These are all movies I do not own on DVD.) In no particular order:

1. Mama Mia!
2. The Replacements
3. The Rock
4. The Legend of Billie Jean
5. The Princess Bride
6. Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark
7. Swiss Family Robinson
8. Annie
9. Die Hard
10. Steel Magnolias

Do any of you have movies that you just can't resist when you're flipping around on a drizzly Sunday afternoon?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A True Blood Post: Because I am Possibly the Biggest Dork Alive

Unfortunately, neither The Boyfriend nor Starbucks Queen are even the slightest bit interested in True Blood, and most of the people I know who are have either only read the books or only seen the show or are behind on the show because they're watching it on DVD or whatever. Therefore, I am spewing out all my opinions here because I can't keep them to myself any longer.

Reasons the Books are Better than the Show:

1. Sookie is a lot less annoying when you can't hear her. I like Anna Paquin, and think she mostly does an okay job with the character (though this season the writing for her has been weak at best) but sometimes she has a voice like a dental drill. Particularly when she is shrieking "BEEEEEEEEEELL!" every 38 seconds.

2. In the books, Alcide is a hottie and he and Sookie have crazy chemistry. On the show he has all the personality of a garden hose, and he and Sookie seem to barely like one another. He's been underused this season, but I'm not exactly sad, because the actor playing him is a significant disappointment.

3. The books are a little more focused than the show, allowing the Sookie character to be more important. They're told from her point of view, so reader can find her character more sympathetic.

4. The fairy Claudine is more awesome and interesting and involved and less "Whoo, I'm mysterious and pointy-faced in my fuzzy-filtered Stevie Nicks world!" Her character personality-wise is much more similar in the books to what Maryanne was last season. In the books, Claudine is an active and vital force for good out in the world rather than the twinkly, whimpering doom-whisperer she's been thus far on the show.

5. There is a lot less Arlene in the books. I find Arlene and her storyline sort of annoying this season, though I think the actress is doing the best she can with the little she's been given. She's a shrill character, and I wish she'd been improved instead of turned into a whiny stereotype and easy doorway for witchcraft to enter the show.

6. Calvin Norris is an interesting and complicated character, instead of a deranged meth head who shouldn't have even showed up until season 4. I was extremely disappointed at how he's been used in the show, since his character in the books is another option for Sookie--a slightly more "normal" guy who wants to give her a more "normal" life. I mean, aside from being a panther, obviously.

7. Bubba! I know why they can't use him on the show, but I do miss him.

Reasons the Show is Better Than the Books:

1. Lafayette doesn't die! In the books, he's a throwaway character who gets murdered at the end of book one. In the show, he is just a huge bowl of awesome and Nelsan Ellis should get an award or a big check or something. He's an effeminate-looking gay tough guy, who has a lot of great lines, and I'm happy that he finally has someone to appreciate him, though I'm not sure I like where this Jesus thing is going.

2. Jason is a better character. In the books he's kind of a selfish jerk, whereas in the show he is sometimes self-involved, but sweet...though not very bright. Often, watching Jason try to puzzle out what's going on around him and figure out what the appropriate response should be is the funniest part of the episode. I am admittedly rather unimpressed with him and his whole wannabe-cop, dating the meth-girl story line this season. He's a much better brother than he is in the books, though, and I have liked his interactions with Sookie.

3. Although this season the side characters have gotten a little out of control, in the past I have enjoyed how some of the very minor book characters have developed their own lives and personalities and story lines. Terry Bellefleur is a great example of this--he's mentioned in the books in passing, but I have liked his character and become invested in what happens to him (frankly, his relationship with Arlene and falling out with Sam has me very concerned at the moment). Sam is another character that is not nearly as important in the books as he is in the show. It's interesting to see him have his own life, though I could have happily done without his creepy white-trash family. (Also, the dude who plays him is adorable and apparently not shy about getting naked a lot.)

4. Jessica! She's a completely new invention from Alan Ball, and she's great -- a young vampire, a counterpoint to Bill, Eric, Pam, and all the other vamps we know who are centuries old. She's a modern girl trying to figure out how to behave and where her place in the world might be. The interactions between her and Bill (her unwilling surrogate dad, who--we're led to believe--is nicer to her than her real dad ever was), her and Sookie (both a surrogate mom and an older sister, helping Jessica see how a nice--but not stiflingly sheltered--girl behaves), her and Hoyt (one of the cutest relationships on the show), and her and Pam (who shows her how a BAD girl behaves) are all great and show different sides of familiar characters.

5. As many have been mentioning this season, Dennis O'Hare's Russell Edgington has been campy fun all the way around. Although his storyline is very different than it was in the books, he's been a delight to watch in every episode. He's another person who deserves an award or a large check (particularly since I think his character doesn't have much longer to live.)

Things That are Ties:

1. Tara in the books is a minor side character who is not very interesting. I really liked her character in Season One, but she all of season two and most of season three weeping around. I miss when she was feisty. I did enjoy her recent conversation with Sam, but she seriously needs to stop getting all the "victim" stories.

2. Sam's brother, a recent addition, could go either way. I'm not sure if the show is better because he's in it or the books are better because he's not. Although I like that he's kind of scrappy, and his crush on Jessica is kind of cute, he can be a pain-in-the-ass for no reason. Like, okay, you are uneducated and have daddy issues and mommy issues and class issues. Stop treating Sam like trash and let him help you out, pitbull face.

3. The Queen is not interesting to me in the books or the show. She is just dull and mostly used as a plot point rather than a real character.

4. I'd really like to see Sookie's friendship with Pam develop as it does in the books, but so far, Kristen Bauer has done a great job being icy and sarcastic and yet deeply attached to her maker on the show.

5. Eric is awesome no matter where he is. I really don't know how he could be improved. Then again, I am a sucker for a saucy viking.

Any other thoughts?

Cannonball Read 2 #52: Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

Whoohoo! I managed to complete the Cannonball Read goal this year with two whole months to spare! (I actually probably would have finished sooner, but I haven't been as good about blogging as I could have been. I'll get around to writing those blogs eventually.) Even though I wasn't chosen to actually compete in CR2, I'm proud of myself that I managed to do 52 books in one year. Since I started my first Cannonball Read way back in December 2008, I feel like I've done an incredible amount of reading for pleasure -- something I had let fall by the wayside in college. Anyway, I want to take this moment to thank all the little people (ha ha) who helped me get where I faithful readers, including fellow Cannonballers Jen, Mike, Figgy, and Doc Spender. It's not easy to keep up something like this without the encouragement of being part of a group. And thanks to my other readers, who read my (often bizarre) ramblings purely out of friendship.

Anyway, on to book #52! Flags of Our Fathers was written by James Bradley, whose father John "Doc" Bradley was a Navy corpsman in the Pacific theater of WWII, and one of the men in the iconic photo of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. Doc always tried to avoid the publicity that came with being a part of that photograph, and in tried to forget everything that happened during his military service. After his death, his son James went in search of the story behind that photo and how it had impacted his father's life. He also sought answers about the other men involved -- who were they, why were they there, and what had become of them?

The book traces all of the "flag-raisers" from childhood, to the Marines, to Iwo Jima, and beyond. Of the six, three were killed on the island, one was destroyed by everything he experienced in the Pacific and died in an alcoholic accident ten years later, one lived a life of disappointment, always trying to recapture the fame he'd had from being part of that photogenic moment, and one lived long and quiet life as a mortician, avoiding interviews and memories. James Bradley does a great job of researching the men and trying to figure out what kind of people they were and what brought them together in their historic moment.

Although I at some times thought the author focused a little too much on himself and his views about his father, it also serves to bring the book to a personal level. I thought it was both well-written and extremely interesting. The horrors the young men experienced are compared and contrasted with the government's exploitation of them afterwards, travelling the country trying to sell war bonds to a public desperate for tangible heroes.

I'll be interested to see Clint Eastwood's movie based on the book, and will let you know how that is. (I'm guessing that since one of the characters is Native American, Adam Beach will be in it...since he is apparently the ONLY NATIVE AMERICAN ACTOR IN THE UNIVERSE anymore. Seriously, Hollywood, there must be Native American actors, and besides, Beach is really not very good. TRY HARDER, PLEASE.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #51: Plague of the Dead by Z. A. Recht

This was great as far as zombie books go. Unlike World War Z (which is an incredible book) this is more personal -- we are introduced to a set of characters whom we follow as the world collapses.

In this book, zombies are caused by a disease. It's spread through blood contamination, and it first kills, then reanimates its victims. The American government tries to keep the public in the dark, but an Army scientist and a daring reporter (two of the main characters) break the story, and have to suffer the consequences. The other group of survivors are a military group, and include a wild private, a beautiful young Red Cross volunteer, a worldly photographer, a hardened military leader, and several other terrified refugees. This group escapes from Africa on a ship and lands in the Pacific Northwest, trying to make their way east while avoiding the hoards of the undead. The scientist and the reporter also have to try and make their way to a safe place to meet up with the other group.

It's a great book, and I found it totally engrossing. It would also make a great movie, as it's suspenseful and focused. However, it's the first book in a trilogy, and although the second book has been released it's out of print, and unfortunately the young author passed away before completing the final book. Although his family has apparently said they are going to get the third book completed and published, I'm still trying to decide if I should put myself through the torture of getting hold of the second book only to be waiting indefinitely for the finale. I guess I'll have to see just how badly I want to know what happens!

Cannonball Read 2 #50: Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose

The full title of this book is Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany. It's a well-written, well-researched book detailing the experiences of the men on the ground in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during WW2.

Stephen Ambrose has once again created a book crammed full of facts and first-person experiences, much like his Band of Brothers. This book is less specific, in that Band of Brothers followed just one unit, while Citizen Soldiers is more of an overview of the entire ETO. He explains the troop movements and what was going on at the top, but most of the story comes directly from the enlisted men who were there, explaining what their day-to-day lives were like, and what kind of conditions they were surviving in.

There are chapters dedicated to many different types of soldiers and types of units. There are chapters about the Air Force, detailing what it was like to be a pilot or a gunner, as well as about the effect the American Air Force had on the war. There are also chapters on medics, mechanics, and other rear-echelon personnel. Ambrose includes a chapter on the service of African Americans, but it is fairly short. This book has a lot of fascinating information about things like how supplies got to the front, and how this enabled the allied forces to continue their push through Europe.

The book is well-researched, and Ambrose has interviewed many soldiers of the time, including British, Canadian, Russian, and even German in order to get as many perspectives as possible. Although it is a lot less focused and therefore slightly more confusing than Band of Brothers, it is an extremely informative and interesting book that should be read by anyone with an interest in World War 2.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #49: Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connolly

I saw the movie based on this book a few weeks ago and immediately purchased the book to see if it was equally interesting. To be honest, I was surprised how closely the movie resembled the book -- it's a good adaptation, and for the most part, the things that were left out or changed were an improvement.

The plot is the same as the film -- Frank Pierce, a NYC ambulance driver/EMT is in the middle of a breakdown. His past is haunting him constantly, and the madness that surrounds him is starting to be more than he can handle. The book spans about five days in Frank's life, starting with the night he and his partner save an elderly man named Mr. Burke from cardiac arrest. This brings the patient's daughter, Mary, into Frank's life. Mary is the one thing that seems to make sense to Frank, and they continue to run into each other for the next few days as Mr. Burke lingers in the hospital. Frank careens through the night with various partners, answering a variety of calls. However, the circles of his life keep getting smaller and smaller, until he can't help but run into his own past.

On the whole, this is an interesting, dark, and often funny book. I recommend it to anyone who likes edgy fiction narrated by an unreliable anti-hero.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #48: Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon

I have not seen The Wire. Yes, I know--every time I turn around, someone is insisting that I MUST see it, that I would LOVE it and how can I possibly have NOT SEEN THE WIRE BECAUSE IT IS SO AWESOME. Unfortunately, the more people push me, the more I balk. It's just the way I am. However, I am reconsidering my position because David Simon's book Homicide (on which The Wire, as well as the old show Homicide are partially based) was so good I may not be able to resist him.

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets is a non-fiction account of David Simon's time shadowing a shift of Baltimore homicide detectives for the calendar year of 1988. He follows them as they work on cases, process evidence, testify in court rooms, and interact with one another. It's a fascinating study of the way the job of a homicide detective works, and Simon's writing style is totally engrossing. The personalities of the detectives come alive, and as a reader I really cared about each of them. They were all so distinct, but each contributed something different to the squad. The story is not really about the individual cases--some of the biggest of the year go unsolved--but about the men who work them. Simon touches on the politics of the work, noting how the solve rates can be manipulated and how politicians and the upper level brass pressure the men on the street to make things look better than they are. He shows the way the job can be tiring, frustrating, and at times completely futile. Simon has chapters that elaborate on court trials, the medical examiner's office, the beat cops. This is an incredibly detailed and fascinating book.

I recommend this to anyone who is interested in the way a homicide division operates. Although the technology today is light years beyond what was available in 1988, I'm sure that for the most part, the job of an ordinary homicide detective in America probably hasn't changed all that much in the 22 years since this book was written.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #47: Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow

After reading all those very heavy non-fiction war books, I felt like I could use a little break. I needed something fluffy and simple to relax my poor over-extended brain, so I picked up Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow. It's an historical fiction romance, much like Bristow's other book, The Jubilee Trail (one of my favorite no-brainer romances.)

In the Calico Palace, young Kendra ends up on the west coast of the USA during the mid-nineteenth century, just in time to be involved in the 1849 gold rush. This is the story of her and her friends (including Marny, an independent woman who runs a gambling parlor) and their struggle to thrive in the newly settled wilderness as gold fever takes hold. The characters are met by a variety of obstacles, including abandonment, disease, weather, fire, and human nature. They all manage to overcome and end up more or less happily ever after.

To be honest, it's almost the same basic plot and character types as The Jubilee Trail, though I found it a little less enchanting. On the whole, it's a very sweet book with some interesting historical context.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer TV: 2010

It's that time of year again, when I tell you what's great to watch if you are a couch potato like me. The summer shows are surprisingly good this year, and I have also found that reality TV is playing almost no part in my summer. Which is good--I think supporting scripted television is totally the way to go.

Rizzoli & Isles (TNT Mondays 10pm): This isn't anything particularly special, but it's a competent procedural, and it's nice to see a show with females as the leads in this genre. I always liked Angie Harmon when she was on Law & Order, and Sasha Alexander was great during her stint on NCIS. The two of them are believable as friends, though they're only a few episodes in to the series and are still finding the characters' rhythm. I'm pleased to see Donnie Wahlberg working, since I think he is the less attractive but more talented of the Wahlberg brothers. Main distraction: every time Bruce McGill comes on screen I find myself squealing "D-Day!"

Memphis Beat (TNT Tuesdays 10pm): I'm still not sold on this one yet, but I'm giving it a chance. I like Jason Lee (despite the fact that he's a scientologist) and Alfre Woodard (remember when they played a couple in Mumford?). The cases are not particularly complicated, but they're enough to keep me watching. The side characters are funny, but I think may of them are under-utilized. Also, while I get the whole "Memphis" emphasis, sometimes the constant music cues get to be a little much. I'm not sure if this one is going to improve, since it could very well become extremely monotonous. It's not a "can't miss" but it's serviceable.

White Collar (USA Tuesdays 9pm): Con-man extraordinaire Neal Caffrey is back, and he is just as charming as ever. This season, the mystery of the music box continues, as well as Neal and Peter trying to figure out who killed Kate at the end of season one. The weekly cases are interesting and clever. Matt Bomer is really excellent in the role, and the interplay between him and Tim McKay (as FBI agent Peter Burke) continues to improve. Willie Garson is also still very funny as Neal's underworld friend Mozzie. I give this one a definite thumbs up.

Warehouse 13 (SyFy Tuesdays 9pm): Warehouse agents Myka and Pete are back, trying to keep society safe from the mysterious artifacts that belong in the Warehouse (think the place where the Ark of the Covenant went at the end of Indiana Jones...) Eccentric boss Artie, the mysterious Mrs. Frederic, and computer genius Claudia track artifacts all over the world. It's hard to explain, but for those who are into sci-fi, it's a fun little show. Not a "can't miss" but totally watchable. I just hope the show ends before they finally hook up Myka and Pete, since their current relationship is great to watch.

Psych (USA Wednesdays 10pm): This show has probably "jumped the shark" but I still watch it for the characters. The cases are really sort of lame, but as long as you acknowledge that they're just excuses for the characters to be doing things, they're all right. James Roday--who has written, directed, and produced a surprising number of episodes--and Dule Hill (as "psychic" Shawn and his sidekick, nervous and uptight Gus) make me laugh every single episode. The screenwriters may be struggling for plots, but their dialogue never fails me. Carlton Omundson as the tightly-wound Detective Lassiter is also a treat. As long as you don't expect too much from this, it can be a highly entertaining hour of TV.

Hot in Cleveland (TVLand Wednesdays 10pm): This is an old-school sitcom, "Taped in front of a live studio audience" and all. It has all the typical sitcom cliches, but I have really been enjoying it. Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick star as three women from L.A. who decide to move to Cleveland on a whim. They rent a house that comes with a cantankerous caretaker (Betty White.) They suffer the usual travails of single women in their late 30s-early 40s as well as making the cultural adjustment from Hollywood to the Midwest. The women have good chemistry, and as cheesy as the situations are (blind dates, visiting parents, fashion disasters) it's still fun. Sort of Golden Girls for the new millennium.

Burn Notice (USA Thursdays 9pm): Burn Notice is back once again. This is another show that isn't nearly as innovative as it was in its early seasons, but it's still worth watching, if only for the performances of Jeffrey Donovan (whom I saw throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game! Whoo!) and Bruce Campbell. Anything Bruce Campbell does is okay with me, really. This season, Michael is trying to chase down another giant dangerous conspiracy, with the help of Fiona and young spy Jesse (Coby Bell) whom--unbeknownst to him--Michael accidentally got burned. The question of course being how long Michael can keep his secret from Jesse while ostensibly helping him get his revenge. There hasn't been nearly enough of Sharon Gless as Michael's mother this season, but hopefully that will change.

Royal Pains (USA Thursdays 10pm): I am not sure why I watch this 'private doctor in the Hamptons serving quirky rich people' show, to be honest. I am generally not a fan of medical shows, but for some reason I enjoy this one. I think--as with most USA shows--I'm a fan of the characters, despite the slightly stupid situations they're often subjected to. USA really takes seriously their "Characters Welcome" slogan. While the plots of their shows aren't the greatest, I think as a channel the characters on their original programming are very enticing.

Project Runway (Lifetime Thursdays 8pm): Project Runway starts this Thursday and I am really excited, though not sure that expanding the episodes to 1.5 hours is a good idea. While I like to think we'll get more discussion of the process of designing and watching the designers struggle in the workroom with making their ideas into reality, then defending them on the runway, I have a sneaking suspicion it just means more time for cattiness and crying. They can long as they cut and cry.

Haven (SyFy Fridays 10pm): This one is not really very good. It's supposedly based on Stephen King's novel The Colorado Kid except it seems to have very little if anything to do with the book as I remember it. FBI agent Audrey Parker comes to small town of Haven for an investigation and decides to stay once she sees a photograph of a mysterious woman who could be her mother. Haven is a weird place full of very quirky locals where people can control the weather and music can drive sane people crazy and crazy people sane, and Audrey kind of digs the weird. She joins the local police force and is partnered with native son Nathan (son of the sheriff) who has a medical condition that doesn't allow him to feel pain. The two of them run around investigating weird happenings (according to locals, it's the return of "The Troubles") while Audrey tries to find out about her past. To be honest, I kind of only watch this for Eric Balfour--who plays town bad boy Duke Crocker--because as it turns out, at some point he got insanely skankiliciously hot. (When did that happen? Last I remember he was gawky and his head was too big and he sort of reminded me of Lurch with a bad goatee.) Anyway, it's another show that people who like sci-fi might like. Or people who like hot guys--Lucas Bryant, who plays Nathan, is fairly attractive as well--might like it too.


We also watch a rather stunning number of cooking shows--particularly Diners, Drive-ins, and & Dives (shout out to Minnesota Missy, who works on the show) and really anything else Guy Fieri is on, and several considerably nerdier cooking shows on PBS. Plus there's an endless parade of sports, plus new Futuramas.

On the whole, it's not a bad summer for TV. I'll be excited to see what's new in the fall but I'm not suffering any withdrawal so far!

Monday, July 26, 2010

"The streets are not like the ER. There's no walls, no controls." - Bringing Out the Dead

I know it's not cool, but anyone who knows me (or has read this blog at least twice) knows I have a totally irrational love for Nicolas Cage. I don't know what it is--his insanely rolling eyes, his slightly over-large teeth, his totally inexplicable and rapidly-worsening hair? Maybe it's the sense that he's probably a douchebag in real life...but one of those hilariously entertaining douchebags, the kind who are just self-aware enough to to be in on the joke of their douchebaggery. I really don't know, but I find him irresistible. Bringing Out the Dead is Nicolas Cage as I love him best--with echoes of the style of The Weatherman or Lord of War--a character who is calmly voicing-over totally chaotic events as they unravel around him, despite the fact that somewhere along the line he himself has gone mad.

In Bringing Out the Dead, he plays EMT Frank Pierce in events that span the course of three nights. Pierce is living in a strange nightmare life--existing on alcohol and coffee, almost never sleeping, literally haunted by the ghosts of people he couldn't save. He works at night with a variety of partners (played with gleeful abandon by John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore) who all have different ideas about "the job" and how to handle it. Frank's world is New York at night--all neon signs and traffic lights and tail-lights reflecting off wet pavement and going by too fast to distinguish--and the people he meets are all night people. However, at the beginning of the film (on the first night) he and his partner arrive to revive an elderly man who's had a heart attack, and Frank meets the man's daughter, Mary (played by Patricia Arquette with that hard-edged fragility that she's so good at [side note: she and Cage were married at the time this was made]). He keeps returning to her throughout the film as her father lies dying in the hospital and the world keeps unraveling around him.

It's definitely one of Cage's niche movies. It is not a "plot" movie; things happen, but it's not a "From A to B to get to C" kind of film. It's more a series of episodes, tied together by Frank's exhaustion and guilt stemming from a patient he lost and Mary's quiet strength. There's a lot of humor and also several very depressing parts. There's commentary on the inner-city health system, but but also the acknowledgement that everyone is doing the best they can (whatever that may be.)

I don't think I will ever want to watch Bringing Out the Dead again, but I'm glad that I watched it--it's an entertaining and thought provoking movie with some really excellent performances from a surprisingly star-studded cast. I do intend to get Joe Connelly's book (upon which the film is based) and will let you know how that is.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #46: We Were Soldiers Once...And Young by Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway

The full title of this book is We Were Soldiers Once...And Young: Ia Drang - The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. It's a true story, written by two men who were there--Col. Moore, who was the commanding officer of the first part of the battle of Ia Drang, and Joseph Galloway, who was there as what we'd now refer to as an "embedded" reporter.

The battle of Ia Drang, which happened in November of 1965, was one of the first real battles of Vietnam. It was the first time the Americans had met the North Vietnamese on a real battlefield, and was also the first time that helicopters were used in battle. Col. Moore was in charge of the newly formed 7th Cavalry division (a division that hadn't existed in the US Army since Custer's 7th cavalry were slaughtered at Little Big Horn) which was the first "air mobile" unit in the army. The idea was to use the helicopters to move men quickly on and off the battlefield. In this particular engagement, orders were to land the men, find the enemy, and attack. Unfortunately, information was spotty and Col. Moore and his 450 men (many of whom were relatively new to both the division and leadership) were dropped into a position that was surrounded by approximately 2000 PAVN troops. The battle that broke out at Landing Zone X-Ray would last for several days and cost many lives on both sides. A few days later, a second army attempt in the same area would result in an ambush that caused even more casualties.

Col. Moore tells most of the story from his point of view on the battlefield, and includes the accounts of several men who were also there. It is a relatively straightforward book, though it can become somewhat dry and confusing during his long descriptions of troop movements and command structure. His memories of the battle itself, and his descriptions of the heroism of his men, however, were riveting.

After reading books on the Pacific theater of WW2, Vietnam, and Gulf War 2 in a row, it's amazing to see how the same mistakes are still being made sixty years later. Young Americans are still being dropped into situations they are fundamentally unprepared for, in countries where they are completely ignorant of the culture, language, and character of the native people, with inadequate supplies, poor information, and leaders who are often incapable of taking charge. Of course, I'm sure if you looked back through history this would be true all the way back to the first two groups of cave dwellers attacking each other. It's just amazing how--while technology has changed in ways unimaginable in 1944--the day-to-day operations of being at war and the character and reactions of the humans involved don't seem to change much.

I'd recommend the book, with the warning that it is not a page-turner, and will require a certain amount of effort to wade through.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Give him a hand, folks!

Just a quick post to let you know that The Boyfriend now has his own blog, The Frugal Bostonian. He's going to be posting about two of our favorite things -- cooking and eating! (Okay, well admittedly, cooking is not one of my favorite things, but I do love eating the things he cooks, so I think that should count.) From now on, my BorkBorkBork posts will be going up over there, and since we now own a camera, I'll be able to take photos of my culinary efforts so you'll know how they're supposed to look...or rather how they look when I make them, anyway. Mind you, there probably won't be any cooking posts from me any time soon, since it's been approximately a million degrees here lately, which makes me lose all motivation to do...anything, really. However, I'm told that someday it WILL cool down, so there you have something to look forward to.

For those of you who are local (I'm not sure any of you readers are local, but who knows, you might visit!) we'll also be writing about local restaurants we go to.

I look forward to seeing you over there!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 # 45: Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie

Helmet For My Pillow is another of the three books upon which the HBO miniseries The Pacific was based, and as far as the miniseries goes, Robert Leckie was by far my favorite character. His book begins with him joining the Marines, follows him through training camp, and into his first several battles in the pacific theater.

It's hard not to compare this book to E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed. While both books are very similar in some ways--they are both men who are in the same places at approximately the same time enduring the same circumstances--there are some marked differences. The first and most obvious is style. Sledge's memoir is much more "Just the facts." He is quite direct in his descriptions, while Leckie's past as a newspaper writer shows in his more "literary" style of writing. Another difference is that Sledge was a mortar operator, while Leckie began as a rifleman and eventually ended up working in intelligence, so they got very different views of the battles that were going on. The final difference is their attitudes; Sledge comes in as a naive boy, and while his innocence is definitely shattered, he tries not to get too "What does it all mean?" about it. He suffers both physically and mentally, but mostly just puts his head down and carries on. Leckie, on the other hand, arrives as a slightly more sophisticated and cynical person (possibly because he is older when he joins), but also seems to be more seriously mentally effected. In fact, Leckie suffers a minor breakdown and is evacuated to a hospital for a time during the war. He seems to want to view the "bigger picture" while Sledge's memoir was more of a "Here's where I was and here's what I did and here's what I thought of it at the time" type of story.

This book was really very good, and I got through it very quickly -- I couldn't put it down, really. the author's descriptions and wry wit make for a book that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. On the whole, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Poetry Corner #1

In a rather lazy attempt to class up the joint, I decided to begin a poetry corner. People like poems, right? Okay, well I like poems and guess what? It's my blog and if I want to post poems I will! So there!

I figured I'd start with one I particularly like. I actually wrote a paper on this one years ago for some class. The paper is long gone, but I still like the poem. If any of you out there have poem suggestions, please feel free to leave them. (Also, if you're nice to me I may try to locate some of my really appalling high school poetry, which is always good for a laugh.)

The British Museum
by Miroslav Holub

To the tune of "Bolero,"
any ark
will be ruined
once, the trilingual
Rosetta Stone will be broken, steles of Hallcarnassus
will turn to dust, sandstone Assyrian spirits
with eagle heads will shyly take off,
the carved man-head lions of Ashursirpolis will croak,
the last red-granite hand of the Colussus of Thebes
will drop off, the Indian supergod Harikaru
will cover his onyx eyes, the Rhind mathematical
will catch fire, the suspended Zen poems will
and the green hellish judge from the Ming dynasty
will whine.

For the time of stone is meted out
and so is the time of myth.

Only genes are eternal,
from body to body,
from one breed to another breed,
on Southampton Row
in fact
you will find walking genetic codes of Egyptian mummies,
deoxyribonucleic acid of the man from Lindow,
whose bodily receptacle, cut in half by a bulldozer,
successfully swells under a glass bell,
in Bloomsbury, in fact, you find
all the eternity of the world rushing around
buying black flowers
for the Last Judgment, less Last
than a midnight hotdog.

So the British Museum is not to be found
in the British Museum

The British Museum is in us,
quite in the middle,
quite at the bottom.

Cannonball Read 2 #44: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

I had not read any of Jon Krakauer's books up until this point, because the two I'd heard of frankly didn't interest me that much (I am particularly uninterested in the story of some idiotic trust-fund baby who wanders out into the woods and freezes to death.) However, this story sounded interesting so I ordered the book.

Under the Banner of Heaven was described almost as a true crime novel, however, once I actually started reading I discovered it was more a history of Mormonism. It's definitely not an objective view -- Krakauer is quick to point out the history of lies, violence, oppression, and struggles for power within the Mormon organization, and also the destruction caused by its numerous splinter groups.

It is slightly out of date, as some of the figures named in the books as persons of power withing the splinter movement have had changes of fortune (i.e. Warren Jeffs who was arrested and charged with several sex crimes related to his taking of multiple young wives and forcing other teenage girls into unwanted sexual relationships with men in his group.) However, it's definitely still mostly relevant.

The book itself is somewhat scattered and poorly organized IMO. He starts off talking about the murder of a woman and her child, and returns to that event periodically, but it seems haphazardly thrown in to all the history and explanations of Mormon theology.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book, as it's really a little bit disturbing. However, for those interested in the subject matter, it's certainly worth reading.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

BorkBorkBork#4: Mexican Lime Pie

I found this recipe on a site called That's My Home! while trying to find a dessert for a Mexican-themed dinner I was making (perhaps my next BorkBorkBork entry will be the recipe for my oh-so-gooey and unhealthy creamy chicken enchiladas...then again, perhaps I should keep that a secret...). This is ridiculously easy to make, and it is so wonderfully refreshing when the weather is hot and muggy.

Lime Pie La Lechera

1 prepared 9-inch graham cracker crust

1 can Nestle La Lechera Sweetened Condensed Milk

1/2 C. (about 3 fresh limes worth) lime juice

1 tsp. grated lime zest

2 c. frozen non dairy whipped topping, thawed

1. Beat sweetened condensed milk and lime juice in small mixer bowl until combined; stir in lime peel.

2. Pour into crust, spread with whipped topping.

3. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until set.

This is extremely delicious -- you could probably substitute real whipped cream for the Cool Whip, but you'd need to add sugar because the pie is a little tart and benefits from the sweetness of the topping. I would never use real whipped cream because--to be honest--I don't like it. However, you COULD if you wanted to.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #43: Generation Kill by Evan Wright

Evan Wright was a reporter embedded with the First Recon Platoon, the first Marines to enter Iraq during Gulf War II. Wright travels with them, getting to know the twenty-six men and their commanders, and experiencing modern warfare from the enlisted man's point of view.

The platoon is the first to enter Iraq, and it doesn't seem that the plan of attack is very well organized or explained. The men basically drive around Iraq, drawing fire and eliminating enemy targets. They spend a great deal of time lost, confused, exhausted, and hungry. Their equipment doesn't function properly, they don't have enough food, and their vehicles are uniquely unsuited for the task at hand--in fact, the specialized training they received as a recon platoon is uniquely unsuited for this assignment. They are engaging in a mission that doesn't make sense to them and that they were not really trained for. It's a constant barrage of stress, never knowing if the people they see by the side of the road are villagers waving to welcome them or operatives waiting to trigger an ambush or detonate a bomb. They have commanders that are terrific and leaders like "Captain America" who lead poorly and cause more problems than they solve.

The men in the platoon are all distinct, and it doesn't take too many pages to recognize each one. The author clearly connected with the men and worked hard to bring out their personalities quickly. He makes it clear that these are average young men, all between 18 and 30 years old (most in the 19 - 25 range) who have been trained thoroughly and specifically, only to be thrown into a circumstance they don't understand, in a culture they can't fathom, where no one even speaks their language. They are both funny and human and chilling and destructive, sometimes both within the same paragraph. Wright doesn't seem to have any particular political leaning -- he is just reporting on the circumstances as he sees them. He is as objective as he can be, but doesn't try to take himself out of the story entirely. He compares his experiences and his reactions to those of the men around him, almost using himself as a foil.

Although Wright never brings this up, the book definitely made me better understand why some of the horrible civilian tragedies have happened in Iraq and Afghanistan; these young men have been moulded by the US military into effective killing machines. Then they've been taken into circumstances where they get almost no sleep (many are hopped up on No-Doz-type substances), are living on crappy food (when they have any at all -- many days the men had one K-rations meal per day), have equipment that isn't up to speed (the universally disliked supply officer didn't bring the oil needed to keep the roof-mounted machine guns working), can't speak the language and don't have enough interpreters available, have the rules of engagement changed on them nearly every day, and--most importantly--the enemy looks (intentionally) exactly like the civilians. If that isn't the recipe for bloody disaster, I don't know what is. It's not that I condone some of the things that have happened, but I definitely understand how some of those things COULD happen.

This is a great book, though not for those who have delicate constitutions. This is the story of a group of men who are bonded together by the Marines, and who who live and die for one another. I definitely recommend it, and am looking forward to getting the HBO miniseries based on the book from Netflix.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #42: The Avengers by Rich Cohen

Amazon recommended The Avengers to me based on the fact that I enjoyed Defiance. This book is also about Jewish partisans, but the Avengers' focus was less on survival and more on resistance. The story focuses on Abba Kovner, Ruzka Korczak, and Vitka Klemperer, three young eastern European Jews who lead others in a resistance movement against the Germans and eastern European Nazi sympathizers. The three young people managed to rescue many people from ghettos and work camps as well as committing acts of sabotage against the Germans. After the war was over, Abba continued his plans for revenge against the Nazis by organizing a mass poisoning of several hundred war criminals at Nuremberg. The two women and Abba eventually moved to the area that would become Israel where they joined the Israeli political movement and the kibbutz movement.

The book was really interesting and informative, and shines light on yet another perspective of the role of Jewish people during WWII. I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of that period or has an interest in Jewish history.

Friday, June 11, 2010

BorkBorkBork #3: Insanely Easy Cheesecake Fruit Pie

This recipe is something that is incredibly easy to throw together, and you can use just about any kind of fruit you want in it, though I prefer berries. I've made it with strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, and each version was equally good. It'd probably also be tasty with cherries, or maybe chocolate chips....

Cheesecake Pie


1 package Jello Cheesecake flavored pudding
8 oz plain cream cheese
Milk (as require by pudding recipe)
Fruit (2 pints blueberries, strawberries, blackberries -- you can add more or less depending on your taste.)
1 Oreo or graham cracker pie crust

1. Bring cream cheese to room temperature
2. Mix pudding according to box instructions.
3. Whip cream cheese into pudding (I used a hand mixer, but you could probably use a stand mixer if you have one.) Cream until smooth and completely mixed.
4. Mix 3/4 of the fruit into the filling mixture. (Strawberries should be sliced, but any other berry could just be washed and thrown in whole.)
5. Pour filling into pie crust.
6. Add reminder of fruit to the top.
7. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

See, I told you that would be easy! It's nothing fancy, but in our house it almost never lasts more than one day.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #41: With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge

I think I mentioned before that I was really excited about HBO's recent mini-series The Pacific. While the show didn't exactly live up to my expectations (Darn you, Band of Brothers for making me expect too much!) it did get pretty good during the last four or so episodes. One thing it definitely did was set me on a quest to find two of the three books the show was based on. The first I managed to get my hands on was With the Old Breed, which was written by E.B. Sledge (those of you who watched the show may recognize him as the character played by Joseph Mazzello.)

This story is somewhat unique, because there are not very many books about the fighting in the Pacific theater written by enlisted Marines (one reason being that so few of them survived intact, and those who did survive were not inclined to discuss their experiences.) This is a book from the perspective of a "boots-on-the-ground" Marine, and the tale is both gripping and bleakly brutal. Sledge does not shy away from the grotesque, gruesome, or violent; he does not hesitate to speak of the hatred he developed for the Japanese, or about the atrocities (major and minor) committed by men on both sides. However, he does avoid glorifying the idea of war as much as possible.

The characters are deliberately vague -- many times Sledge will simply say "my buddy" or "an NCO" -- partly because this was written in full years later and he may have forgotten names, and partly I suspect because he wouldn't want to embarrass any of his former comrades. Sledge himself comes off as a conflicted and complex person, someone who began his tour as a naive young man and completed it a hardened and somewhat cynical marine. I think that the portrayal by Mazzello in the mini-series fits very well with the person whose voice dominates the book.

The book is very heavy, though there are definitely moments of humor throughout. The thing that struck me most as I read it was for the most part, it is very matter-of-fact. There is not a lot of "What does it all mean?" introspection. It is more like a diary account -- "It was very muddy for weeks, and the dead bodies everywhere smelled so awful it was hard to breathe" type language. Although clearly intelligent, Sledge is not interested in impressing the reader. He is just trying to explain what happened to him in his own words. I think that's what gives this book most of its power. It's not trying to impress anyone, it's just trying to let you know what happened.

One small disappointment I had (and this is purely a personal thing) was the lack of "Snafu" in the book. He was probably one of my very favorite characters in the show (played extremely well by Rami Malek) and is not nearly as important in the book as I would have guessed. He does appear from time to time in the narrative, and he was obviously at Sledge's side most of the time, but some of the things he says and does in the show were actually said and done by other unnamed marines.

On the whole, I would recommend this book, though I'd add that some of the descriptions are very gory and graphic, so it's probably not for the faint of heart. However, considering how little most of us know about the Pacific theater of WWII, I think it should definitely be more widely read.

Cannonball Read 2 # 40: Carpe Jugulum (Discworld 23) by Terry Pratchett

I wish I liked Terry Pratchett. I feel like I SHOULD like him, but I just sort of don't. Carpe Jugulum is the second of his books that I've read and I wasn't particularly impressed with either of them. This one was significantly less annoying than The Color of Magic, in that by the end I was actually vaguely interested in how things would turn out rather than wishing all the characters would die horrible, painful deaths, but that's still not exactly a glowing recommendation.

Carpe Jugulum is the story of three witches who live in Discworld. Their relatively quiet existence suffers great upheaval when the head witch goes missing and some very odd vampires arrive to take over the town. I actually liked the majority of the characters, though the vampires' henchman's horrific lisp was funny the first time but grew extremely tiresome.

On the whole, I guess I feel the same way about this as I do about Christopher Moore--there's wacky and quirky, and then there's desperately wacky and quirky, which I feel this is. I know a lot of people really dig the Discworld series, but unfortunately, I am not one of them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BorkBorkBork #2: Deviled Ham Salad

I read a lot of food blogs. Mostly because I am a big fan of food. And I like to cook -- to a certain extent. I mean, I am not going to give Gordon Ramsey anything to worry about. Most of the things I cook fall into one of four categories: casseroles, appetizers & dips, sauces, or desserts. The other thing they all have in common is that they are pretty easy. So I figure that for my 6 loyal readers out there, I would broaden my blogging topics out into recipes. I call this feature "BorkBorkBork" after one of my favorite celebrity chefs, The Swedish Chef.

Today's offering is Deviled Ham Salad. I found this recipe on Homesick Texan, which is a great blog with a lot of terrific Tex-Mex food. I'd never had ham salad before, but the recipe looked simple enough, and I am usually enthusiastic about foods that are designed to be served on Ritz crackers. The recipe is as follows:

Deviled ham salad
2 cups ham, chopped
(I used a pre-cooked ham steak from the grocery store.)
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (about 1/4 of a pepper)
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
(About half a small onion)
1 large dill pickle, diced (I used 3 dill sandwich stackers)
1 jalapeƱo, diced (I only put in half, but it depends how spicy you like things.)
3 tablespoons mayo (I used 4 tablespoons of mayo and 2 of mustard because I don't especially like mustard.)
3 tablespoons mustard
Salt and black pepper to taste

In a food processor, mix all the ingredients together until blended but not too smooth as you want a bit of texture. Taste and adjust any seasoning or add more mayonnaise and mustard if you like. A little drizzle of pickle juice is excellent as well.

Yield: About 2 cups. Keeps in the refrigerator for a few days.

I warn you, this is not an attractive food. At best, it looks like cat food, and at worst...well, it looks like used cat food, if you get my drift. However, don't let that keep you from scooping up blobs on to Ritz crackers, which is how The Boyfriend and I mowed through the first batch I made. Another great use is to make sandwiches with lettuce and tomato.

If any of you decide to try this, let me know how it turns out.

(I've got more favorite recipes up my sleeve for upcoming posts...)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #39: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I think most people are probably more familiar with the film version of The Princess Bride, starring Robin Wright and Cary Elwes (before the fathead got him). The book is--well, let's just say they cut a lot out for the movie, and that was probably a good thing.

The basic premise is that Goldman is abridging The Princess Bride from a longer version written by S. Morgenstern. This device results in pages of explanations of things that were "cut out" and why the book is abridged as it is. There are also three introductions in the version I read (the 30th anniversary edition) which go into more detail of the alleged abridging process. Of course, this is all a complete fiction, and it seemed rather unnecessary to me. I would have been perfectly happy to just have the story of Westley, Buttercup, Inigo, and Fezzik. In fact, the one thing I like more about the book than the movie was that Inigo and Fezzik had more to do, since they're my favorite characters. For those who don't know, the basic story is that of a beautiful princess and her one true love; they have to overcome a variety of obstacles with the help of a varied cast of characters in order to escape the clutches of the evil prince.

On the whole it's an okay book, but I don't think you really gain anything from the book that you don't get from the movie.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #38: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated is ostensibly the story of a character named Jonathan Safran Foer who travels from his home in America to the Ukraine to try and trace back the roots of his family and find Augustine, the woman who rescued his grandfather from the Nazis. However, it is mostly told through the eyes of Alex, a young Ukrainian whom Jonathan hires to be his translator for his trip. Alex writes up a description of their journey together (along with Alex's blind grandfather who is their driver and the "Seeing-Eye Bitch" Sammy Davis Jr. Jr) through the Ukrainian countryside. Alex's portions are written in the style of a person for whom English is a second language and the thesaurus is a dear friend--they are stylistically hilarious, and (particularly in the beginning when he first starts writing) I laughed aloud at some of his descriptions. Intermingled with Alex's travelogue are snippets from the novel Jonathan is writing about his Ukrainian ancestors and their lives in the village of Trachimbrod (which is all very whimsical and fantastical, rather than historical), and Alex's letters to Jonathan, discussing Jonathan's critiques of his sections and Alex's ideas about Jonathan's.

I loved this book despite myself. When I first started reading it, I found myself thinking "I know this is going to get sad and profound and whatever at some point, but it is SO HILARIOUS that I just don't care!" And I enjoyed it, not noticing at first when the tone started to change. However, it did start to get darker and sadder toward the end, and by the ending it completely broke my heart.

From reading comments on GoodReads, I suspect that this is a book one either loves or hates. If you are a person who wants things to be literal and linear and realistic, you should probably avoid this. However, if you like books that are a little more whimsical and weird and funny and sad, I highly recommend it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #37: The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

In 1889, the small steel town of Johnstown Pennsylvania was nearly wiped off the map by a flood. This was only partly a natural disaster--the breaking of the South Forks dam was not entirely due to an unprecedented rainstorm--the selfish behavior of rich industrialists was also to blame.

High in the hills of Pennsylvania, the rich elite of Pittsburgh--people like the Fricks and the Carnegies, for example--purchased a piece of land to create a summer club. They built a hotel and cabins. They also liked the built-in lake, but decided the old earthen dam could use some improvements...they made it lower and flatter (so they could take carriage rides across) and put in some mesh "fish-gates" so the expensive fish they stocked couldn't escape. These "improvements" would weaken the dam, so when the record-setting rainstorm came along, there was almost no chance the dam would stay intact.

In the middle of the day on May 31, 1889, the South Forks dam collapsed and sent the approximately 20 million tons of water which had been Lake Conemaugh cascading down the valley, wiping out numerous small towns before turning a corner, picking up speed, and hitting Johnstown with a 60 foot tall wall of water, moving at about 40 miles an hour. The town was almost totally destroyed and many lives were lost. The wall of water picked up train cars, houses, trees, and other debris, and through it against a railroad bridge at the bottom of town. This giant pile of detritus stuck against the bridge, and as the waters were still receding caught fire, sending several people trapped in the debris to their deaths.

Of course, none of the wealthy industrialists whose selfish lack of attention created the deadly circumstances were ever held responsible.

David McCullough does an excellent job explaining the historical context of the flood, as well as the events that occurred. He also explains in an easily understandable manner the engineering failures that led to this disaster.

The book is both entertaining and informative, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in turn-of-the century Pennsylvania history.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #36: Defiance: The Bielski Partisans by Nechama Tec

I had seen the film Defiance and greatly enjoyed it, so when I watched the extra features, I made a note about the book it was based on. Nechama Tec's work is a well-researched and even-handed explanation of a piece of history I'd never heard of.

During the early 1940s, the Jewish people of Belorussia had few choices--many were either slaughtered outright or relocated to ghettos where they lived in constant terror of the Germans. However, a few managed to avoid those unpleasant options, fleeing into the heavy forests. Danger was around every corner--the Germans were often on the hunt and local peasants were likely to be Nazi collaborators. The Soviet partisans who also roamed the forest were not always friendly toward Jews, particularly unarmed women and children. All that aside, there were the obvious pitfalls of living in a forest with very little food during the Eastern European winter. However, many groups of Jewish refugees managed to survive, and a few armed themselves and fought back. One of these groups was the Bielski partisan group, or the Bielski Otriad. This group was started by three brothers, local peasants--Tuvia Bielski and his younger brothers Asael and Zus--and made it their mission not just to survive but to rescue as many Jews as possible. In the end, they survived in the woods for three years and saved approximately 1200 people, the descendants of whom now number in the tens of thousands.

The book explains how the otriad formed and was operated. It's a very interesting history book, though anyone who reads it thinking it's going to be a "novelization" of the film is going to be very disappointed--although the movie is based closely on facts, it is a highly dramatized version of events. Tec's work is somewhat dry, frankly. However, I found it fascinating look at a facet of the Holocaust period I was unfamiliar with.

As I mentioned, I also enjoyed the movie for what it's worth. I thought the performances by Daniel Craig, Liev Shreiber, and Jamie Bell were excellent. Yes, it's emotionally manipulative, but movies of this type are that way by nature. And without it, I probably would never have known about the Jewish partisan movement which is tremendously interesting. (Also, Daniel, Liev, and Jamie are fun to look at, which is a bonus of course.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #35: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse is back, still recovering from the bloody battle at the end of her previous adventure. In her latest outing, there are vampire politics, fairy intrigue, werewolf betrayal, and another psychic. Not to mention the usual small-town interactions. When Erik's maker shows up with a special guest in tow, things go from crazy to downright insane!

I loved this book, though I did feel that occasionally the plot was in danger of flying off the rails, and there were a few moments when I wondered exactly what had happened. Luckily, I'm not nearly as sensitive about plot holes or logic issues as some people are, and was able to enjoy Sookie's drama-filled life. I'm also a big fan of Erik, and he was prominent in book #10.

On the whole, another great entry in the Sookie Stackhouse series. long will I have to wait for book 11 to come out?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #34: Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Invisible Monsters is the story of Shannon McFarland, a model who was in a terrible car accident and had her jaw eaten by birds. After her disfiguring injury, she throws in with Queen Brandy Alexander and they hit the road, criss-crossing the country in search of drugs, make-up, and entertainment. Along the way, Shannon tries to figure out who she is and what her life means.

The story, as is the case with all Palahniuk's books, starts out reasonable enough. However, the chronology starts leaping back and forth through time, and soon things begin to spiral out and become more and more bizarre. Shannon's first person narration is wholly unreliable, and her circumstances are often utterly ridiculous. Just like an old mystery novel, everyone somehow manages to turn up again in the end, and who they are and what they want will be surprising.

I feel like this is Palahniuk's version of a coming-of-age story. It's about identity--where does it come from? Who creates it? Are you what you look like? Are you more? Less? Do you create yourself, or are you created by those around you? By your circumstances? Do you have a choice? It seems as thought the message is that you are whomever you decide to be--the only thing stopping you is you. It's an interesting concept to ponder.

As usual, if you don't like Chuck Palahniuk, you aren't going to like this one. If you do like him, I recommend you check it out.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #33: Heat by Bill Buford

The full title of this book is Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. It sounds exciting, but for me it really was not. The writer, Bill Buford, decides--for reasons that are never fully explained--that he wants to be an apprentice to Mario Batali, a famous American chef. Buford takes a job in Batali's kitchen, travels around Italy learning the secrets of butchering, pasta making, and Italian food in general. There is a lot of information on Batali (most of which puts a serious dent in his Disney-fied Food Network image of cheerful sweetheart in goofy shoes--there is much discussion of his drug use, occasional bad temper, and lack of concentration on his business projects once he became famous) which can at least be somewhat amusing.

Maybe I would have enjoyed this book more if I were really into cooking. I bought it for The Boyfriend, and he really enjoyed it. I personally am not interested in reading five straight pages about digging through ancient Italian texts to discover when eggs started being used in pasta dough. I unfortunately do not care. I love pasta as much--or more!--than the next person, but I have no desire to understand its development and history. I just want to cover it in gravy and stuff it in my mouth.

For devoted foodies, this book is probably a great read. For anyone else, if you want to read funny writing about food, I recommend you try Anthony Bourdain instead.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #32: Columbine by Dave Cullen

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am fascinated by disasters. I know more about shipwrecks, fires, and molasses floods than anyone I know. I love the historical context, the idea that disaster brings out both the best and worst in people. However, I like my disasters in the past--a past where men wear watch fobs and women wear corsets and people travel by buggy--basically, a past so distant to me it might as well be another planet. I am not quite as comfortable when the disaster occurred during my lifetime--for example my review of 1 Dead in Attic, a series of essays written about the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. However, that still seemed pretty foreign--I've never been to Louisiana, and have no real reference as to how that whole thing might feel. Columbine was different.

I was a junior in high school on April 20, 1999. I remember when the news reports of the massacre in Colorado started trickling in--this was in the days before cell phones were everywhere, before texting, Twitter, and Facebook allowed information to pass almost instantaneously across the country. Columbine was not the first school shooting, but up until that time it was the biggest. We heard rumors--there were two shooters! Three! Five! They were a gang of goth misfits striking back at the jocks! There were guns! Bombs! Fires!--and we wondered. Some kids' parents came and took them out of school for the afternoon. The following year, they ran a "disaster drill" to determine police reaction times and school policies (as a member of the drama club, I was there to play "terrified student"--most of us who participated thought that any gunman with half a brain could easily kill significantly more of us than we suspected). One of my friends got hassled by the administration because he looked like a goth and had an attitude problem, a kid in my math class got arrested for having bomb-making materials in his car. This particular disaster actually EFFECTED me, which is why reading about it was so disconcerting and uncomfortable.

Dave Cullen has used his incredible research and interview skills to put together a portrait of the killers based on their own writings, videos, and history. He's interspersed the tale of their plan to kill with the lead-up and aftermath of their deadly spree, interviewing witnesses, police officers, FBI agents, religious leaders, scientists, and psychologists. He tries to lay out all the available facts (so much of what came out as "fact" at the time was merely distortions of distortions passed from one news outlet to the next until the story was universally accepted) and create a timeline of what happened and when. He talks about the reactions of survivors, the struggle the kids of Columbine HS made to return to normal and cope with everything they'd seen. Cullen tracks the police cover-up, trying to document what they knew and when, analyzing whether they might have been able to prevent the tragedy if they'd acted on the information they had. With the help of a friend--a psychologist who worked for the FBI and who happened to be one of the first on-scene because his son was a freshman at Columbine High--the author examines the two boys' history to try and figure out if anyone could have averted this deadly spree.

At the heart of his book, Dave Cullen tries to pin down the most elusive piece of the tragedy: why? What had driven two teenagers from relatively average backgrounds to attempt to kill every one of their peers? Who were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold really? Were they misunderstood loners? Monsters? Pliable teens driven to a horrific act by Marilyn Manson or video games or violent movies or bullies? Cullen sifts through their journals, their videos, their interactions with friends to try and give us a complete picture of who these two were before they pulled on their trench coats, strapped on their guns, and set out to create havoc and destruction. The author tries to be totally objective, though it's hard not to react to the two boys. Harris was a textbook psychopath: charming, manipulative, deceptive, sadistic, and with a totally out of control sense of superiority. He is clearly the driving force, the villain of the piece, if it must have one. Klebold, on the other hand, seems like more typical teenager--mired in suicidal depression and uncontrollable mood swings, he seems to have been swept into Harris's fantasy world and grasped on to it as a way out. He's still a loathed figure of anger and destruction, but by his own words he's also shown to be confused and pathetic. Sometimes as I read I found myself feeling sorry for him, having to remind myself that he helped kill 13 people and injure more than a dozen more.

The style of the book is as objective as possible, and the author does everything he can to avoid injecting himself or his opinions into the narrative. Judging by the extensive notes and bibliography section, the nine years he spent writing the book were spent researching in great depth. The writing is clear and simple--it does not try to shock, but instead to convey as much information as possible. I was pleased to discover the book has no photos -- that would have been exploitative, in my opinion. On the whole, though I can't say I exactly enjoyed the book, I thought it was worth reading. Dave Cullen did his best to explain what happened and give the possible reasons why. Columbine takes a dark and confusing monster from my generation's past and shines a light on it, exposing it as nothing more than humanity gone awry.

CBR11 #4:Pretending to Care - The Pretenders (Cemetery Girl #1) by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden

I wanted to like this, but...I just didn't. I don't know if it was too short, or whether it would have more appeal for a YA audience...