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July 20, 2010

It's called "right of way" for a reason.

Pet peeve of the day: drivers who get all mad that I will not go when they CLEARLY have the right of way. I guess they think they're being nice? Or something? But if I have a stop sign and you do not, JUST GO. You're not being courteous. You're trying to force me to break traffic laws, for no apparent reason. Why? Why do people do this? (I wrote that as a rhetorical question, but actually, if you do this, I'd love to know why.)

Posted by Kat at 04:00 PM | Comments (2)

January 31, 2010


At some point between when I drank it regularly in college eight or ten years ago and when I picked one up at a rest stop tonight, they seem to have slightly changed the formula of Diet Peach Snapple. I do not approve. When I am choosing beverages based on nostalgia value, I want them to taste the same as they ever did, darn it.

Posted by Kat at 11:32 PM | Comments (1)

January 11, 2010

Review: Food Rules

Food Rules by Michael Pollan
Genre: Food
Pages: 140
Rating: 7.9

You've probably heard Michael Pollan's basic rules: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." This little book expands these three rules into 64 rules, most of which are guidelines to figuring out what counts as "real food." I've heard some criticism that this is mostly a rehash of his other books, and if you've read the others, then sure, this might not be very helpful or interesting. But if you want a quick introduction to Pollan's way of thinking - or if, like me, you've been meaning to read his longer books for years and haven't gotten around to it - this is an accessible, quick read that I found both inspirational and useful on a practical level.

Posted by Kat at 07:06 AM | Comments (1)

January 04, 2010

Review: The Fourth Part of the World

The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name by Toby Lester
Genre: European history
Pages: 462
Rating: 8.5

This books is supposedly about the 1507 German map that used the word "America" for the first time, but it's actually about a lot more than that, and almost all of it is fascinating. It tries to tell the story of pretty much everything that led up to the creation of this map, which means the entire history of European (and some Asian) exploration, cartography, geography, and a fair amount of theology and philosophy from ancient times through the 1500s. Aside from the obvious elements such as Ptolemy, Marco Polo, Columbus, and Geghis Khan, there are digressions into such topics as the Papal Schism and Gutenberg - and all of them do play a role (albeit sometimes a minor one) in the story.

The sheer scope of the book means that it moves very quickly, which makes it engrossing but also at times confusing. It jumps back and forth in time a bit, so I kept having to check whether certain things were happening before or after other things. And there were some comma usage issues that really bothered me. Other than that, though, I enjoyed this one and read it pretty quickly, and it definitely sparked interest in some of the topics it covered. (I kind of want to write a novel about the Council of Constance now.) I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in exploration, cartography, or the Renaissance in general.

Posted by Kat at 07:09 AM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2010

Review: It Will Come to Me

It Will Come to Me by Emily Fox Gordon
Genre: Literary fiction
Pages: 267
Rating: 6.5

It Will Come to Me tells of Ben, a sixty-ish philosophy professor, and his wife Ruth, a novelist turned bored faculty wife who hasn't written anything in years. One of the reasons for this drought, the reader eventually finds out, is that their son Isaac, now 24, is mentally ill and homeless, and Ruth's grief and worry has blocked her creativity. It has also, I have to say, made her very unpleasant. (I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt and assuming that she was less unpleasant before the troubles with Isaac.) Therefore, Ruth is a sympathetic character but not a likable one. And I'm not saying I have to like the characters in order to like a novel, but in this case, it certainly doesn't help. Ben is more likable, and my favorite character was certainly his secretary, Dolores.

Gordon's strength here is in the quality of the writing and in her just-slightly-overblown descriptions of academia. The university is thrown into an uproar by a new president, a visit from an accreditation committee, and an enigmatic visiting writer and her odd husband. Ruth hopes that they will give her a way back into the world of publishing, while Ben has to deal with the various changes caused by all three new elements as well as his hateful dean. And, of course, they are also trying to figure out what's going on with Isaac and his mysterious therapist, who is their only (supposed) link to their son. All of these issues could have been brought to some sort of interesting and natural resolution, but instead, the end of the book contains several out-of-the-blue happenings that can only be described as deus ex machina, and that left me dissatisfied with the whole novel.

Posted by Kat at 12:28 PM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2010

Review: Bed of Roses

Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts
Genre: Romance
Pages: 358
Rating: 9.1

The first book in this series, Vision in White, was the only romance to make it onto my "best books I read in 2009" list, so I was very excited to get this sequel. (It had a very long queue at the library, of course.) I loved it, although it wasn't quite as absorbing as the first - mainly, I think, because the romantic hero in the first was an English teacher, so it got extra points for that. But anyway, the couple in this one were Emma, a florist, and Jack, an architect. This series revolves around four childhood friends who now have a wedding business together, which sets it up quite nicely for both romance and a variety of bridezilla-type hijinks. They all live and work on a huge estate in Greenwich, CT, with their amazing housekeeper/cook (and now Carter, the hero of the first in the series, who is living with his fiancee there). It's an idyllic set-up, and the friendship between the women is pretty amazing, which goes a long way toward making this practically the perfect romance series. And since this is Nora Roberts, they all end up with friends' brothers, brothers' friends, etc. As in most of her series, the characters have a strong network of family and friends that makes the reader pretty much want to just go live in the world of the book.

And in all that, I haven't actually said much about the plot. Okay. Jack is Emma's best friend's brother's best friend (see?), so they've known each other forever, but always suppressed their mutual attraction. They kiss, sort of on a whim, and then decide to get into a relationship, much to the consternation of their mutual friends. But Emma is looking for a husband and family and permanence, and Jack has always shied away from that. So - well, I don't want to give any spoilers, exactly, but this is a romance novel so we all know where it's headed. Let's just say that the way it gets there is satisfying and avoids most of the standard contrivances romance novels employ to keep the characters apart. The writing is solid, and even though the plot isn't exactly labyrinthine, it's engrossing. All in all, it's a thoroughly delightful paragon of the romance genre, and I'm looking forward to book three in May.

Posted by Kat at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2010

Review: Meet Rebecca

Look! Fulfilling my promise! I just finished this book and I am blogging it immediately! Also, I added a new widget over on the right that will show all the books I have read in 2010. As long as I, you know, keep up with it.

Meet Rebecca by Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Genre: Juvenile historical fiction
Pages: 85
Rating: 8.8

Okay, I'll admit it - I've been reading American Girl books for 21 years and I still adore them. This is the first book about Rebecca, the child of Russian Jewish immigrants living in NYC in 1914. It's like they MADE this one for me - World War I! Immigrants! Jewish traditions! New York! As with all of the American Girl historical novels, Rebecca's story manages to be educational, in a completely non-subtle way, and simultaneously completely engaging. It's a gentle read while also not shying away from serious issues - Rebecca's family is trying to save money to bring relatives over from Russia before they get drafted into the tsar's army and/or starve to death. And nine-year-old Rebecca is scared and worried about this, as you'd expect, but there's no suggestion that children can't deal with such things. This main crisis is set against a backdrop of sibling rivalry, intergenerational tension between old world and new world customs, and a little girl trying to grow up too quickly. Really, my one main issue with it is that I was too embarrassed to ask for the Rebecca doll for Christmas.

This has prompted me to figure out which American Girl books I've missed and, um, request about twenty of them from the library. So! Just a warning that you will be seeing a lot of these sorts of reviews in the next few weeks.

Posted by Kat at 06:58 PM | Comments (1)

November 22, 2009

Gift Guides 2009: Time Magazine

Ever since I started reading Beck's holiday gift guide reviews, I've been wanting to jump in with some of my own. But I've been a little intimidated, because Beck is just so darn funny. But. I finished my NaNoWriMo novel today so I'm feeling pretty invincible and am just going to jump right in here. Without further ado, the Time Holiday Gift Guide 2009, reviewed!

First, a note: they call this a list of "books, music, DVDs, games and gifts that give back." I guess by that they mean there are some of those "buy this and we'll give some money to charity" items or the "this was made by starving children in a third world country" items, which are all well and good, but seem out of place on such a media/entertainment-centric list. Anyway. Onward to the list!

Under $5

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love
What is it? An mp3 from iTunes.
How much? 99 cents.
Who is it for? I suppose it is for music lovers who like Motown but, improbably, don't already have this whole album.
What's wrong with it? Well, first of all, this is in no way, as claimed, "the greatest holiday song of all time." It's good, but the greatest? Just no. It's not even the best track from A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, which may in fact be the greatest holiday album of all time. I also didn't appreciate the wholly gratuitous Leighton Meester bashing in the description. But! Sure. It's a good song. People should listen to it. The real issue here is this: How on earth do you give an mp3 as a gift? I mean, sure, I think there's a way to buy a song on iTunes and send it to someone. I think. But it still seems weird and not very gifty. "Here's this 99 cent song that I barely thought about before I pressed a button to send it to you!" Sending a song to a friend seems like a nice gesture but not exactly a Christmas gift.
Grade: B for content, F for presentation.

What is it? Some sort of cartoony game for the iPhone.
How much? $2.99
Who is it for? Hipsters with iPhones, looks like.
What's wrong with it? Well, I have to say that iPhone apps are yet another category of things that I'd never considered as a gift. Is there a way to buy one and send it to someone's phone? I suppose there probably is. The description doesn't really say much about the game itself, so who knows what it's like. If you know your recipient has an iPhone and has extra space for another app and likes to play games, then hey, go for it.
Grade: C, I guess.

Soap with Hope
What is it? Fair trade soap from India in nice scents (jasmine, cucumber, mango or cinnamon).
How much? $4.50
Who is it for? Socially conscious people who like smelly bath stuff. (Also - me!)
What's wrong with it? Well, this is one of those things that, sure, costs under $5, but if you were actually giving it to someone you'd probably get a few bars or a little soap dish or something to go with it. But other than that issue, it's a great idea. The price isn't outrageous and the scents sound nice. I looove cucumber. In case anyone was wondering.
Grade: A-.


The Indie Rock Coloring book
What is it? A coloring books for grown-ups of things somehow related to indie rock bands.
How much? $10
Who is it for? "Bearded hipsters and the women who abide them," according to the magazine. Hey, I resemble that remark! But I don't want this.
What's wrong with it? Well, anything for adults described as "precious" makes me immediately suspicious. And the art looks really dense, like it would be hard to actually color. But I guess this might be the perfect gift for a certain very narrow demographic, and if you see it more as a novelty book rather than a coloring book, the price isn't that bad. And I have to say that the bands listed look right on the money. Oh! And it seems to be for charity, which was not at all obvious from the Time listing! That makes it better.
Grade: B-? Sure.

Children's Chopsticks
What is it? Chopsticks in bright colors that are linked at the top with animal shapes.
How much? $10 per set.
Who is it for? Patient children from families who eat a lot of Asian food.
What's wrong with it? Some kids might have a lot of fun with these, but I can also see them being frustrating if the child in question doesn't have the fine motor skills for it yet. And if a kid sees Mom and Dad using chopsticks, I feel like he'd likely want to try regular ones, rather than "baby" ones like this. (And again, if he were young enough to like these, they'd probably be too difficult.) But the proceeds go to UNICEF!
Grade: C+. Good effort, but seems to slightly miss the mark. But what do I know? I don't have kids. Any parents disagree?

The Man's Book: The Essential Guide for the Modern Man
What is it? A book that tells you things like how to make a fire, choose a beer, mix a drink, and close a letter. Because clearly only men need to know these things.
How much? $16.31
Who is it for? Men, clearly. It says it's for the modern man but it seems pretty retro.
What's wrong with it? Well! There's the obvious sexism. Some of the information provided seems useful but there's also "when to get married and how to break up." And in addition to being sexist, it ALSO buys into the "all men are the same, poor inept little dears" thing. The following line in the Amazon description made my brain hurt too much to keep reading: "Organized by subject in a man-logical way, it's the go-to guide for anyone with a Y chromosome." So. No.
Grade: D-.

What is it? A Pixar DVD or Blu-Ray disc. I'm sure you've heard about it ad nauseum already.
How much? $19.99. Really? It's probably on sale for less at Target.
Who is it for? Kids? Maybe adults too, if you believe the hype?
What's wrong with it? I know this was wildly popular, but the previews left me completely cold so I never saw it. So maybe you shouldn't listen to me on this one. The kids you know would probably love it. Of course, they have also probably already seen it, so you might want to check with their parents as to whether they liked it. Or already have it, actually. I can see lots of kids getting multiple copies of this this year. Also, I have to say that after the whole Balloon Boy saga, this movie seems a little less fun.
Grade: B. I'm probably letting my own tastes get in the way too much here.


Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season 1
What is it? A DVD set of a cartoon series set between Star Wars episodes two and three.
How much? $27.49
Who is it for? Star Wars fans.
What's wrong with it? Not much, except that it's the sort of thing that some Star Wars fans would have purchased on release day, so keep your receipt in case your recipient already has it. And - are there Star Wars purists who are opposed to this series? I'm not sure. $27.49 is a good price for a whole season.
Grade: A-.

What is it? A doohickey that turns the regular music on your iPod into karaoke-type tracks (with the vocals turned down) so you can sing along.
How much? $29.88
Who is it for? Karaoke fans who aren't going to actually go do karaoke, I guess. And who have iPods.
What's wrong with it? First of all, all iPods are not created equal, so check the compatibility and make sure this will actually work with the recipient's iPod. And to make this really work correctly, you also need a stereo and an FM transmitter or cable or something. If you don't prepare very carefully, I can totally see this turning into one of those Christmas morning nightmares in which you can't actually get the present to work because you need all these other things to go along with it and the stores are all closed, and where are you going to find that specific cable on Christmas morning? Otherwise, I guess it seems kind of fun, but what's wrong with just singing along to your iPod?
Grade: C. Seems cool on the surface but kind of finicky and unnecessary.

And So to Bead
What is it? Beaded necklaces made by women in Uganda.
How much? $30.
Who is it for? Women who like extremely bright jewelry.
What's wrong with it? I don't know if it's just the pictures or what, but these look practically neon. They also kind of look like those pop-bead things. Was that what they were called? You know what I mean. So they look kind of childish, basically. And bright! Did I mention bright?
Grade: C. I'm all for supporting women in Uganda, but most women I know wouldn't actually wear this, so I'd rather just give the money directly to the charity.

A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt
What is it? A book of tritone pictures of African animals.
How much? $31.50.
Who is it for? People who are into Africa, animals, and/or photography.
What's wrong with it? Personally, I am not so big on photography/coffee table type books because I always end up disappointed at the lack of words. But I realize that I'm weird. So this is probably a great gift for people who are not me. I can particularly see older kids who are into animals liking this. Ooh, especially if they have graduated from The Lion King.
Grade: A-.

What is it? A four-disc boxed set of Dolly Parton recordings.
How much? $36.99.
Who is it for? Country music fans.
What's wrong with it? Well, I can't, offhand, think of a single person on my gift list who would have the slightest interest in this. But your mileage may vary. If you are buying for Dolly Parton fans, I'm sure this would be a great choice.
Grade: I don't know. I'm from Connecticut.

thirtysomething: The Complete First Season
What is it? A DVD set of the first season of the apparently groundbreaking show.
How much? $39.99.
Who is it for? I'm not sure. Probably original fans of the show who will be excited to know that they can now rewatch it.
What's wrong with it? I actually really want to see this, because I adore Timothy Busfield with an unseemly passion. But I wouldn't necessarily want to own it right off the bat, and I'd say that about pretty much any show I hadn't seen. So it would probably be safest to get this for someone you already know is a fan of the show.
Grade: B

Gone with the Wind 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition
What is it? A DVD set that comes with all sorts of extras, a picture book, etc.
How much? $45.49.
Who is it for? My friend Christine, as I could practically hear her squeal over IM the other day when she saw a commercial for this. Also: classic movie fans. Those who like pretty costumes.
What's wrong with it? Nothing, except that it's prompting me to publicly admit that I have neither read nor seen Gone with the Wind. So someone should get me this for Christmas! Anyway, it looks like it has enough fun stuff added to make it worthwhile for even someone who already has the basic DVD of the movie, so you don't have to worry about that issue.
Grade: A.

What is it? Dude, I have no idea. A game? Okay, it says "you're a badass desperado wandering a postapocalyptic Western wasteland, blasting critters with a near infinite variety of sweet-looking firearms and driving around in funky vehicles with bouncy suspension." Well then.
How much? $49.99
Who is it for? Someone to whom the above description is not only comprehensible but appealing.
What's wrong with it? Okay, this actually sounds pretty cool, if you're into this sort of thing. "You go up levels. The critters go up levels. Even your guns go up levels." Hah. Just be sure you get the version that goes with the gaming system your recipient has. And note: this does NOT seem to be for kids.
Grade: B? Sure.

Uncharted 2
What is it? Another game! This one sounds awesome: It's like Indiana Jones, basically, except instead you are descended from Sir Francis Drake! And there's artifact hunting! Museums! Fisticuffs! Marco Polo!
How much? $49.99.
Who is it for? Gamers, Indiana Jones fans.
What's wrong with it? I'm sure if I looked more closely I'd find all sort of historical inaccuracies about which to be righteously indignant. It's a sequel, so it would sort of bother me to get it if I hadn't played the first one, but your gift recipients are probably less rigid and/or neurotic than I am. It seems to only come for PlayStation 3, so I can't play it. And it's rated T, so if you're thinking of getting it for a kid, I'd check with his or her parent first.
Grade: A-.

The Paris Review Interviews Box Set
What is it? Four decades - 1946 pages - of interviews with famous writers about how they work.
How much? $50.
Who is it for? Me. My dad. My uncle. My cousin. Probably some people who aren't related to me, too.
What's wrong with it? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Assuming you are buying gifts for the sort of people who want to read thousands of pages of writers talking about writing. But maybe your family is less nerdy than mine, in which case you probably think this is the most boring gift idea ever.
Grade: In the Welsh family? A+. In the general populace? I'm not sure.


The John Barrymore Collection
What is it? A boxed set of silent films from the 1920s: Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Beloved Rogue, and The Tempest, which seems to have nothing to do with Shakespeare.
How much? $53.99.
Who is it for? Classic film buffs, or maybe extremely obsessed Drew Barrymore fans.
What's wrong with it? Well, I initially read this as "The John Barrowman Collection," and most of my friends would be way more interested in that. The price seems a little steep for four movies without a lot of extra features or anything, but it looks like some of the movies are hard to find and/or expensive by themselves, so if you're buying for someone who's into silent film, this might be a good deal.
Grade: C+.

Sinatra: New York
What is it? Four CDs and a DVD, all of unreleased material recorded in New York.
How much? $55.99.
Who is it for? Music lovers. Rat Pack wannabes.
What's wrong with it? I realize that it's entirely a reflection of my own biases that this seems an eminently more reasonable gift suggestion than the Dolly Parton set, but it does. It's nice that it's all unreleased stuff. The Time blurb says that the packaging is unimpressive, and I've never really been a fan of concert DVDs. But this might be the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for grandmother or elderly uncle.
Grade: B+.

BoGo Light SL2 Solar-Powered Flashlight
What is it? A solar-powered flashlight. When you buy one they'll send one to a charity (you choose from a list).
How much? $59.99.
Who is it for? Your friend who wants to put solar panels on his roof but can't afford it/hasn't gotten around to it yet.
What's wrong with it? I don't know, it seems kind of expensive for a flashlight. Even a special flashlight. But I guess it's kind of cool. (Note: Requires special batteries! In order to, you know, be solar-powered!) But I got someone a combo hand crank/solar powered radio/flashlight a few years ago for a lot less. Of course, that one didn't have a charity involved.
Grade: C.

Modern Warfare 2
What is it? A game. About modern warfare. Part of the Call of Duty series.
How much? $59.99. But I wouldn't be surprised if it's on sale in various places on Black Friday.
Who is it for? People who like combat games.
What's wrong with it? I've actually seen the TV commercial for this about 40 times today, because they quite reasonably seem to be going for the NFL-watching demographic. The art is certainly impressive. The content isn't my thing (and it seems a little grim for Christmas, says the girl who asked for books about Cheney and Nixon last year), but I can see why it's popular. Again, make sure you get the version that matches your gamer's platform, and don't assume that just because it's a video game it's appropriate for kids.
Grade: B.

Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection
What is it? 13 movies spanning from 1958 to 1982. With a 136-page book.
How much? $62.99.
Who is it for? Paul Newman fans, one assumes.
What's wrong with it? I don't know. Honestly, I associate Newman more with auto racing and organic food than with acting. Is it possible that the only one of his movies I've seen is Cars? Huh. Most people probably are not as oblivious as I am, though, and I'm sure many of them would like this.
Grade: B? Okay.

Rome: The Complete Series
What is it? DVD set of both seasons of the HBO/BBC series about the Roman empire.
How much? $64.99.
Who is it for? Um, ME. History buffs who don't get HBO. Maybe Grey's Anatomy fans who want to see the new Army doctor Owen in a toga.
What's wrong with it? Nothing. Well, okay, it's kind of violent, and it wouldn't be ancient Rome without some poisonings and incest and such. So maybe it's not for everyone. But for those who are interested in ancient Rome - this is very, very well done. I think I read that it had the highest per-episode budget of any TV show ever, and that definitely shows in the attention to detail and the breathtaking scope of this.
Grade: A.

The Iconic House and Frank Gehry: Houses
What is it? Two big pictures books of architecturally interesting houses.
How much? $65 and $85, respectively.
Who is it for? People who like architecture and coffee table books.
What's wrong with it? We've already discussed my issues with coffee table books, but these do seem neat, especially for people who are into architecture. Might want to make sure that the recipients haven't had their houses foreclosed upon or anything, though, as that would be awkward. I guess it seems like an oddly extravagantly-themed choice for this year in general, but whatever. Pretty houses!
Grade: B+.

Absolute Death by Neil Gaiman
What is it? A big book that collects various shorter works about the character Death from Gaiman's Sandman series.
How much? $99.99.
Who is it for? Most of my friends, who love Neil Gaiman. Fans of graphic novels. Goth types, if only for the character name. People who already have the Absolute Sandman series.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's kind of a niche item, and it's expensive for one book. But Gaiman is great, and I can assure you that his many fans really, really want this for Christmas this year.
Grade: B+.

More than $100

The Shield: The Complete Series Collection
What is it? A DVD set of all seven seasons of The Shield, a show about cops in L.A.
How much? $107.99.
Who is it for? Uh, fans of cop shows? I guess? Is this supposed to be an "intellectual" cop show? I'm not sure.
What's wrong with it? First of all, I am unclear why the words "series" and "collection" are both required in the title. You'd think we could do with one or the other. Anyway. I wouldn't spend over $100 to get someone a complete TV show on DVD unless I was sure that he or she liked the show in question. A lot. But if you're shopping for someone who is a fan of this show, this would be great. I've never actually seen the show, so I can't say much about it.
Grade: I don't know. C? With all the good TV out there on DVD, this seems kind of random.

Grapes for Apes Collector's Pack of Wine
What is it? Six bottles of wine. Some slightly unclear percentage of the proceeds go to a group called Orangutan Outreach.
How much? $114.
Who is it for? Wine lovers, theoretically.
What's wrong with it? Well, I'm always suspicious of the actual quality of the wine with this sort of thing. $114 isn't bad for six bottles of wine, but if the wine isn't any good, then I'd rather just give the money to the charity in the first place. And people who are really into wine tend to know a lot about it and like specific things. So really, I'd skip this one.
Grade: C-.

Futurama: The Complete Collection
What is it? Another DVD set. Like The Simpsons but sci-fi, I think.
How much? $117.99.
Who is it for? People who like both The Simpsons and sci-fi.
What's wrong with it? Again, I'd only get something like this for someone I knew liked the show. But if you do have someone who likes the show, go for it!
Grade: B-.

DJ Hero
What is it? Like Guitar Hero but about DJing. It's a video game that comes with some sort of fake turntable thing.
How much? $119.99, but I'd look for Black Friday sales on this one too. And it looks like it's $99.99 on Amazon at the moment.
Who is it for? People who like music games. Aspiring DJs.
What's wrong with it? It says it has a wide variety of songs but lots seem to be hip hop, techno, etc., so make sure the prospective recipient likes the music involved. And if it's for a kid, make sure the parent is okay with the music as well as the "clubbing" portrayed, etc. (And, once again, get the version that goes with your recipient's gaming system!) Other than that, this could be a lot of fun.
Grade: B+.

AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa
What is it? A DVD set of 25 movies and "a plethora of ancillary scholarship." I'm not sure exactly what that includes.
How much? $284.99.
Who is it for? Action film buffs.
What's wrong with it? Well, that seems like a lot to pay for a DVD set, even such a large DVD set. But if you have the money and know a Kurosawa fan, I'm sure he'd like it. I haven't seen any of these movies, I don't think.
Grade: C+.

And one more thing: I am completely baffled that the new Beatles Remastered Box Set is not on this list. It seems as though it was made for lists like this. (And it is in fact at the top of my own Christmas list.) So! Something else to consider.

Well! That was fun! I have several more lists coming up through the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Posted by Kat at 11:16 PM | Comments (6)

November 20, 2009

Review: Bookmarked for Death

Bookmarked for Death by Lorna Barrett
Genre: Cozy mystery
Pages: 297
Rating: 7.2

This is the second in a series of mysteries set in a town of bookstores - like Hay-on-Wye but in New Hampshire, and the actual location is based on a town where I used to live. So you can see why I have to read them. But . . . they're not that great, honestly. They're not bad. They're certainly readable, and enjoyable enough, but . . . enh. Nothing special. As perhaps a symptom of this, I can barely remember the plot of this one. I would try one of these (the first is Murder is Binding) if you're particularly interested in bookstores or small-town New Hampshire, but otherwise, there are probably better options.

Posted by Kat at 06:10 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2009

Review: Catcher

Catcher: How the Man Behind the Plate Became an American Folk Hero by Peter Morris
Genre: Sports, social history
Pages: 386
Rating: 8.1

Now, as we've discussed recently, I am not really a baseball fan, although I do at least understand the basics of the game play, which was more than I could say about football until, oh, about last week. (Okay, okay, maybe it was a few weeks ago.) But this was about old baseball (about 1870 to the early 1900s), and social history, and it mentioned Stephen Crane in the little blurb in the library catalog, so I had to give it a try. And I have to hand it to Morris - this was a thoroughly interesting story, even for a non-baseball fan. He did a good job of blending history, individuals' stories, quotes from literature of the time, and other cultural artifacts (especially ads for various baseball-related products) to show how the public perception of the catcher changed over time and how this echoed other societal and cultural changes. The narrative could be tightened up and was a bit hard to follow at times, and there was some repetition, but overall this was a readable and engaging history. Definitely give it a try if you have any interest in baseball or turn-of-the-century social history.

Posted by Kat at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2009

Review: Love and Peaches

Love and Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson
Genre: YA
Pages: 243
Rating: 7.8

This is the third (and last?) in the Peaches series (so named for the peach orchard at the center of the series), and it wasn't as good as the second, which wasn't as good as the first. But it was a quick read and I like finishing series, so whatever. These are follow the model of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants et al. - a group of teen girls who seem very different on the surface end up helping each other deal with various Big Issues and Important Lessons as they grow up. I had a harder time warming to the girls in this series - they just didn't seem real enough. And there's a slight mystical element that seemed kind of unnecessary. But I shouldn't be so negative - they're a decent read, just nothing wildly special. If you (or a girl you know) love the Traveling Pants and want more in that vein, give this series a try. The first is Peaches.

Posted by Kat at 07:17 AM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2009

Review: A People's History of Christianity

A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story: A History of the Grassroots Movements in Christianity that Preserved Jesus's Message of Social Justice for 2,000 Years and Their Impact on the Church Today by Diana Butler Bass
Genre: Religion, history
Pages: 353
Rating: 7.5

The basic premise of this book as that the current "progressive" or "generative" Christianity movement is not as new as people think it is, and that churches and believers today lose something by not having a better sense of their history. Bass sets out to rescue some of this lesser-known history and relate it to today. She discusses many figures and movements who were interesting or important but have been obscured or just neglected by the "official" narrative of church history. As with virtually all books of history that strive to provide a specific message for today, this book suffers a bit from having its information molded into place for its message. Bass also tends to jump around a lot - the sections are roughly chronological but the chapters alternate between religious practice and social justice, and each chapter starts with an anecdote from Bass's own life before jumping back to its historical topic. I'm sure the latter format was designed to make it easier for readers to relate to the book, but I just found it distracting. All that said, though, there was some really good information here, and Bass is a pretty clear writer, so if you're interested in church history, I'd give this one a read.

Posted by Kat at 07:25 AM | Comments (0)

June 29, 2009

Review: Smooth Talking Stranger

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas
Genre: Contemporary romance
Pages: 340
Rating: 8.5

(Note: This is actually the third book in a series. I'm usually a stickler about reading series in order, but I didn't realize this was a series until I was too into the book to make myself stop and go back. So you might want to read Sugar Daddy first.)

Ella is an advice columnist whose orderly, boring life is disrupted when her irresponsible sister leaves a baby with her irresponsible mother. Ella is called in to fix the situation. The sister won't name the father, but some of her friends suggest Jack, a millionaire businessman. Now, Jack isn't the father, but he and Ella of course fall in love, and have to straighten out various issues involving their families, their very different lifestyles, and, of course, the baby before they can live happily ever after.

This book was almost a perfect example of the light romance genre. The main characters were likeable but not ridiculously perfect. There was a big fun extended family, a la Nora Roberts. There was a baby, and the baby storyline was actually done well. (It seems that element can be very hit or miss.) The characters had real problems to work through, but there weren't excessive obstacles put in the way of their happiness just for the sake of it. There was a definite sense of place (Texas). I apparently have no recollection of how the sex scenes were, so I'm going to assume that they weren't ridiculous enough to ruin the rest of the book for me (as has happened with other romance novels). The writing was decent, and compelling enough that I read most of it in one sitting. It definitely made me want to read the rest of the series, and Kleypas's other books (historicals).

(SPOILERS AHEAD) I just had one main problem: Ella's relationship with her boyfriend Dane. At first, he's just sort of boring, but then turns out to be extremely self-absorbed, which - fine. But then, when Ella finds out that he's sleeping with someone else while she's away trying to figure out what to do with the baby, he tells her that they've had an open relationship for the past four years, and he just hasn't mentioned it. What?? And even after that, Ella keeps apologizing for getting involved with Jack before she and Dane have officially broken up. So that whole subplot was rather frustrating. (END SPOILERS)

But! With that caveat, this was definitely a great light summer read - perfect for the beach or vacation or one of those days when it's too hot and sticky to move and you just want to sit on the couch with a book.

Posted by Kat at 07:16 AM | Comments (0)

October 21, 2008

September Books

Oops. I just realized that this post has been sitting here half-written since October 1. So I guess I should just finish it, huh?

Tippy-Toe Murder by Leslie Meier
Genre: Mystery (cozy)
Pages: 227
Rating: 4.1

See my review here.

Getting Things Done by David Allen
Genre: Business, productivity
Pages: 267
Rating: 4.5

It's a bit early to say that this book was life-changing, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it ends up being so. Allen has developed a system of dealing with work - and pretty much everything you do falls into his definition of "work" - that really makes sense, at least to the way my brain works. I haven't had time to completely implement his system yet (because there's some initial set-up that takes a while but doesn't need to be redone), but I've been slowly adopting his various tips and that has already helped a lot. I just wish he had provided some more cohesive, long examples - maybe a few days or a week in the life of a few people using his system - to better show how it all works together.

God's Harvard by Hanna Rosin
Genre: Religion, sociology
Pages: 296
Rating: 4.7

I have to say that I'm a) a big fan of Rosin in general and b) extremely interested in the sociology of religion, so it was pretty likely that I'd like this book. But really, it was great. Rosin spent a few years researching a prestigious evangelical Christian college, complete with tons of interviews with students, parents, professors, and staff. And the results are fascinating. Rosin presents a relatively balanced and fair (I thought) portrait of the college and the people involved with it. This college focuses on politics and many of its graduates end up working in the field in various capacities, so if you have any interest in what the future of American politics will look like, God's Harvard is definitely worth a read.

Posted by Kat at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

July 30, 2008

Review: The Village Bride of Beverly Hills by Kavita Daswani

The Village Bride of Beverly Hills by Kavita Daswani
Genre: Chick lit
Pages: 271
Rating: 4.4
Finished: July 5

Priya, who grew up in India, agrees to an arranged marriage with an Indian-American named Sanjay. Soon she's living in LA with Sanjay and his parents - and her new mother-in-law makes her get a job, in addition to doing all the housework and cooking. As Priya advances in her career at an entertainment magazine (and tries to hide the true nature of her job from her family), she finds it harder to keep up with her two separate lives and eventually makes some changes. While I thought that several aspects of the plot were a bit too far-fetched, and while the ending seemed to wrap up too quickly and neatly, this was a good read and hard to put down - I read it in a day. It also provided an interesting look at Indian and Indian-American life.

Posted by Kat at 04:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2008

Review: Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs

Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 379
Rating: 4.3

As I mentioned in my recent review of Bones to Ashes, I decided to go back to the beginning and read this series in order. Since I had read the first one last year, I started with this, the second. It was a great read. As usual, Temperance Brennan investigates several murder cases, and some of them are connected but some aren't - a feature I enjoy, because everything can't be connected all the time. This one was mostly set in North Carolina, but there were some nice Canadian winter scenes. The main mystery revolves around murders connected to a new religious movement, and there's some interesting stuff about cults, etc. There's also some nice supporting material about Brennan's daughter and Brennan's long, drawn-out semi-relationship with Detective Andrew Ryan, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that develops over the course of the series. My one main problem with the book was that it seems unlikely that there are so many cases that have ties to both of Brennan's homes (Montreal and North Carolina), so I'm hoping that later books in the series focus on one or the other.

Posted by Kat at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2008

Review: The Sewing Machine Guide by John Giordano

The Sewing Machine Guide by John Giordano
Genre: Sewing
Pages: 105
Rating: 3.4

I am thinking about buying a sewing machine (advice welcome!), so this book's subtitle of "Tips on Choosing, Buying, and Refurbishing" made me very hopeful that it would be a good resource to help me through the process. It wasn't. Somewhat inexplicably, I thought, the book was written only for people who already had at least one sewing machine and were considering buying a new one. I guess that's a pretty big market, but it seemed weird that first-time buyers were not even mentioned. Giordano assumes that his readers know a lot about sewing machines and nothing about computers, so much of the book is devoted to explaining this newfangled computerized stuff that machines have these days. But my problem is the opposite - I know a fair amount about computers, but next to nothing about sewing machines. So I guess what I'm saying is that this book isn't necessarily bad, but I was not its proper audience, and I didn't think the target audience was properly telegraphed by the title/cover/etc. There were also a few general life philosophy-type statements that the author assumed all his readers agreed with that bothered me, but of course at the moment I can't remember any examples. Something about his attitude toward the use of leisure time and/or money. Yeah, I know, that's very specific and helpful of me. Oh, and he also pretty much said that if you don't have $1000 to spend on a machine, just don't bother, so that was disheartening (and, I'm hoping, not quite true?), since I can't spend that much right now.

Posted by Kat at 05:19 PM | Comments (2)

Review: Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs

Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 388
Rating: 4.6

Kathy Reichs is the inspiration for (and one of the producers of) the show Bones, about a forensic anthropologist who works with the FBI solving crimes. Since I love the show, I picked up the first in the book series last year. It was fine, but I wasn't thrilled with it - possibly just because it was so different from the show. But a few days ago, I was at an airport shop looking for something to read, and the most recent Kathy Reichs seemed like the best among the (very limited) options. And I'm so glad I picked it up, because I loved this one! I liked the main character, Temperance Brennan, much better in this installment, although that is probably partially because I had had some time to get over the fact that the character in the book is completely different from the character on the show. Brennan is working with the police department in Montreal when an officer brings her bones that just might belong to her childhood friend who went missing forty or so years before. At the same time, her sometime lover Ryan (also a detective) enlists her help with a string of murders of teenage girls. A few other cases are involved as well, and there are various subplots involving Brennan's friends and family. The book also provide an interesting glimpse into traditional Acadian culture. The plot is quite complex, and it's definitely a page-turner. I thought the major flaw in the book was that one of the big twists at the end seemed pretty obvious way before the characters realized it, and I got frustrated that they were being so dense. Other than that, though, I loved it, and I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

Posted by Kat at 05:00 PM | Comments (1)

Review: Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Genre: Young adult
Pages: 371
Rating: 4.9

As you can see from my rating, I love love loved this book. I am a Sarah Dessen fan in general, but I think this was one of her best. It's the story of Annabel, who finds her life falling apart after a traumatic incident that she finds she can't talk about. She tries to hold herself and her family together by denying her feelings and acting as though everything is fine. But then she meets Owen, a well-known "bad boy" who always tells the truth, and finds that she can't keep all her secrets any longer. As with most of Dessen's novels, Annabel's story combines personal growth, family issues, and a great love story. Owen is passionate about music, and his attempts to widen Annabel's musical horizons provide an interesting element to the story. Dessen writes great complex male leads, and Owen is no exception. The secondary characters are unusually well-drawn in this one, too, and Dessen has several characters and locations from her previous novel make cameos in this one. My only issue with the book was that I thought Annabel's big secret was a little too obvious from the beginning. But all in all, it was a great read.

Posted by Kat at 03:12 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2008

Review: The Joys of Love by Madeleine L'Engle

The Joys of Love by Madeleine L'Engle
Genre: Young adult, coming of age
Pages: 255
Rating: 4.2

This is actually one of L'Engle's first novels, set in the 1940s and written in the 1950s or so, but it was just published this year. It's a bit rough - perhaps because it was edited for publication after her death - and certainly not one of her best novels, but it was still very good, and it provides an interesting look at her early development as a writer. It's the story of Elizabeth Jerrold, a young woman who is trying to pursue acting while not completely disobeying her aunt/guardian, who disapproves of the theater for various reasons. She is an apprentice at a summer theater company, and learns a lot about acting and about herself while also falling in love for the first time. She falls for a flashy young director, but by the end of the novel has pretty much figured out that another apprentice is actually the right match for her. It's interesting to look at these men as prototypes for some of L'Engle's later male leads, such as Zachary Grey and Adam Eddington. And as always, L'Engle manages to create a romantic interest who is complex and realistic while simultaneously seeming pretty much perfect for her heroine. Joys of Love is somewhat dated at this point, but it's a must-read for any L'Engle fan.

Posted by Kat at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2008

How Not to Keep a Customer

A few years ago, a new yarn store opened near where I was living at the time. I was a regular customer for a while, but I'm not anymore, partially because I live farther away (and closer to other stores) now, and partially because I'm not thrilled with some of the store's business practices. But I still go there occasionally, because I happen to be walking by or because I urgently need something when I'm in that town or whatever. Every time, the owner puts on a big show of being thrilled to see me, but it always includes a lot of "I haven't seen you in so long! Why haven't you been here?" Every time, I politely tell her that I've moved, so I'm not in the area as much. Every time, she makes a huge issue of it anyway. I end up feeling even less inclined to shop there, because it means I'll be interrogated about why I apparently don't spend enough money there as she wants me to.

Today, I met a friend who works in that town for lunch. We went to a cafe a few blocks from the yarn store - and there she was. The yarn store owner. And what does she say? "I haven't seen you in so long! Why haven't you been in to the store?" Sigh. Can't we just leave it at "Hi, nice to see you"?

Posted by Kat at 04:36 PM | Comments (2)

April 24, 2008

Shaving Cream That Will Change Your Life.

Last weekend, my cousin and I were wandering around Cambridge Naturals and she pointed out Kiss My Face Moisture Shave and told me that it would change my life:

I didn't really believe her, but it was all of $4 so I figured I would give it a try. It's amazing! My legs are all smooth! No nicks! No itching! Usually, I don't wear skirts as much as I'd like during the summer because I hate shaving so much, but this is definitely changing that. You should try it. Really. It will change your life.

Posted by Kat at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2008

Calendar issues

I seem to be having trouble with the calendar recently:

1. Daylight Savings Time. I'm hearing this from practically everyone - it's been really really hard to get up or go to bed at a reasonable time this week. Bah. I am enjoying having more light after work, but I think I'd really rather it be light when I'm trying to wake up.

2. Easter is too freaking early. Not only does this mean that it doesn't feel like spring yet - and it's supposed to be springlike on Easter, at least in my head - but it means it coincides with my big sports weekend of the year. Yeah. The only sports I really follow on TV are figure skating and auto racing. (NOT Nascar, just for the record. I'm snobby about my auto racing.) This usually works well becuse skating is a winter sport and racing is a summer sport. But there's always a weekend when the figure skating world championships coincide with one of the first races of the season, and this year that weekend is Easter weekend. So I have to clear tons of space on the TiVo before I leave for Easter, and then I'll have lots of quality knitting/blog-reading time while catching up on everything when I get back. Sigh. (I know, I know, of all problems to have, this is totally a non-issue, but it's still vaguely frustrating.)

Posted by Kat at 02:11 PM | Comments (0)

February 29, 2008

That other thing you're not supposed to talk about...

For quite a while, I tried to avoid talking much about religion or politics here. I figured it was polite, because I have readers of all different faiths, ideologies, politics, etc. But obviously I've been mentioning politics, quite a bit, and I've lost a few readers but not too many. In the past week or so I've been trying to find a better balance of talking about a variety of things.

This Lent, I've been doing a lot of reading and studyng and praying and trying to recommit myself to my faith. And I have come to feel that part of what I need to do is to stop avoiding talking about it - here and other places. Don't worry; I'm not going to start preaching or talking about religion incessantly or anything. But it's part of my life and I'm going to start talking about it if it's on my mind or I want to share something I've been studying or something.

I didn't mean to make this sound like a big serious announcement or anything. Just wanted to explain in case anyone was confused if I suddenly posted something about Lectio Divina or something.

Posted by Kat at 02:26 PM | Comments (2)

January 31, 2008

Books for January

Apparently I only finished two this month. Ah well; it's been a crazy busy month, and I'm currently in the middle of about four books, so February's list should be longer!

Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah
Genre: Mystery, women's fic
Pages: 469
Rating: 4.5
Ellie is a small town police chief who is totally out of her league when a potentially feral child wanders out of the forest into her town. Her sister, Julia, is a top child psychiatrist whose glittering career is disrupted when one of her patients kills several other children and then herself. She returns to her hometown in disgrace to try to help Ellie and the child. Along the way, both Julia and Ellie are transformed. Some of the small-town characters are cutesy and cliched, but the main characters are all surprisingly complex, and the story of the child is riveting. This one gets extra points for making me cry - something that doesn't often happen with books. But don't worry, the ending is perfect.

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Genre: Juvenile, fantasy
Pages: 202
Rating: 4.3
I'd actually never read this one before. I read three or four of the Narnia books as a kid, and liked them, but lost interest somehow and never finished the series. I recently decided to read/reread them all. The edition my library has start with The Magician's Nephew as the beginning of the series (anyone want to weigh in on that debate?), so I started with that this time. (I'd started with Lion, Witch last time.) I don't think this novel was Lewis's best, but it was definitely very good. I think reading these books as an adult makes the humor even better - I loved the running commentary about what a great day the housemaid was having, for one thing. And, of course, it was very interesting to read about the creation of Narnia.

Posted by Kat at 09:26 AM | Comments (1)

December 31, 2007

Books for November

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
Genre: Literature
Pages: 358
Rating: 4.7
This novel revolves around the interaction between a sex ed teacher and her daughter's soccer coach, and evangelical Christian. They initially clash and assume that they will hate each other, but they find they are somehow attracted to each other and things become complex, both in their personal lives and in their small New England town. Perrotta does a very good job of writing about both sides of the abstinence-only education debate without making it into a clearly "good guys vs. bad guys" thing either way. Some of the characters are quite cliched, but others are surprisingly complex. I couldn't put this one down.

On Strike for Christmas by Sheila Roberts
Genre: Women's fiction
Pages: 339
Rating: 4.3
Members of a knitting group feel that their families don't appreciate everything they do to prepare for Christmas and decide to go on strike. The local media hears of it, and the whole thing spirals out of control, with somewhat predictable results. I won't say that this was overly original or anything, but it was a cute, feel-good Christmas read and I'm a sucker for those. The writing was decent and I got attached to some of the characters. I'm hoping Roberts makes this a series.

Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 414
Rating: 4.5
This is one of George's series of Inspector Lynley mysteries. These are traditional British mysteries at their best (although George is actually not British, contrary to popular belief). This one had a boarding school setting, which I always love. I definitely recommend this series - start with A Great Deliverance.

Candy Cane Murder by Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine, and Leslie Meier
Genre: Mystery, cozy/holiday
Pages: 390
Rating: 4.4
This is a collection of Christmas mystery novellas. I hadn't read any of these authors before, but they all sounded interesting, so I figured I'd give it a try. I loved the one by Leslie Meier, and the Joanne Fluke was quite good too. The Laura Levine was okay but not great. Overall, it was a fun Christmas read, and has gotten me reading Leslie Meier's and Joanne Fluke's series. I've tried a few of the recipes included, and they're quite yummy.

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott
Genre: Juvenile, classic
Pages: 62
Rating: 3.5
This little book wasn't much longer than a short story. It is about a farm family in early 1800s New Hampshire - the mother is called away at Thanksgiving and the children decide to make Thanksgiving themselves. Alcott's writing is always fun to read, but this wasn't anywhere near as good as most of her work. I kept being distracted by the "country" dialect that Alcott gave her farm characters, to point out how they were so good-hearted despite their lack of education, I suppose. It just seemed unnecessary - but, of course, these things must be seen in light of their times, and Alcott is, if anything, more politically correct by today's standards than are most writers of her time. I thought this story was interesting in light of the effort in the late nineteenth century to create the "history" and tradition of Thanksgiving, given that this story was set decades before it was written.

Posted by Kat at 04:00 PM | Comments (1)

Books for October

Apparently I was on an alphabet kick in October. (And apparently I was doing something other than reading much, though I can't remember what. Actually, I think I started some books in October that I didn't finish until November. Or didn't finish at all. Or something.)

The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson
Genre: Literature
Pages: 119
Rating: 4.3
This was a quirky but moving little novel. I often have trouble with books that are so studiedly "different" and "artistic," but I decided to try to let that go and just enjoy this one, and I succeeded, most of the time. It's the story of a man who finds out that he is ill and about to die, and he and his wife try to go to a place for every letter of the alphabet. The characters are surprisingly well-drawn for such a short book, and the ending had me in tears.

ABC by David Plante
Genre: Literature
Pages: 247
Rating: 3.8
My review is here.

Posted by Kat at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

Books for September

Yes, trying to catch up a bit before the end of the year. I know I still won't have posted about all the books I read, but I at least wanted to mention some of them from the last part of the year. I'll try to do better next year! :)

Jinx by Meg Cabot
Genre: Young adult paranormal
Pages: 262
Rating: 4.5
We all know how much I love Meg Cabot. This is another fun YA from her - as with many of hers (fantasy or not), the premise is pretty ridiculous, but as long as you can get past that, the book is a delightful read. It's probably more similar to Avalon High than to any of her others. Jean, or Jinx, is an unlucky 16-year-old who moves from small-town Iowa to the Upper East Side to live with her wealthy aunt, uncle, and cousins. Unsurprisingly, she doesn't fit in, and she and her cousin have all sorts of conflict about many things, including their family legacy of witchcraft. As with almost all of Cabot's novels, there's a great male lead and sweet romantic subplot. Highly recommended.

Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott
Genre: Mystery, academic/paranormal
Pages: 304
Rating: 3.9
I had mixed feelings about this one. I thought that Stott was definitely a good writer, and I was impressed by the way she demonstrated complex relationships and histories between her characters. But I was unimpressed by the actual mystery. There were many threads of the plot, both in present-day Cambridge and in the Cambridge of Newton's time, and they never connected the way I wanted them to, and thought they would. Most of the individual threads were resolved, somewhat, but the connections between them ended up being some sort of "Oh, look, everything in the universe is connected" thing instead of anything actually interesting or satisfying. Still, I'll probably give her next book a try to see if she improves.

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
Genre: History, Colonial
Pages: 461
Rating: 4.7
I love love loved this one. I find the early Colonial period fascinating in general, and this book provided much more of the "real story" of the Plymouth community than is usually heard. Don't let the title mislead you - it goes far beyond the actual Mayflower voyage and covers King Philip's War, which was a fascinating conflict that I didn't really know much about. I definitely recommend this for anyone interested in that period of history.

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs
Genre: Mystery, forensic
Pages: 411
Rating: 4.3
For those not as obsessed as I am: Kathy Reichs is the executive producer of Bones, which I feel is the best show currently on TV. Although the main character of Bones has the same name as the main character in Reichs' novels, but the show is actually based on Reichs herself, not her books. The character, Temperance Brennan, is, like Reichs, a forensic anthropologist who writes mysteries. ANYWAY. I knew all this going in, but since I love the show so much, I still had a hard time getting past the fact that this Temperance wasn't the Temperance from the show. Other than that, though, it was quite a good book, and I will be looking for more in the series. It is set in Montreal, so it included some interesting things about the law enforcement/criminal justice system there.

Posted by Kat at 10:14 AM | Comments (1)

November 05, 2007

Review: ABC

My review of ABC by David Plante is here. No, I don't know why it says Amy Diaz at the top - if you scroll down, you'll see that my name appears correctly at the end.

Posted by Kat at 07:17 AM | Comments (0)

October 14, 2006

Nick Hornby, will you marry me?

(This one-book-at-a-time thing? Totally going well. I started this book last Saturday, was totally into it, and finished yesterday. Not bad, considering the amount of homework/D&D work/TV/etc. I have going on. Also, I'm hoping that the one-at-a-time thing will make me more likely to actually review all the books I read here.)

If you didn't guess it from the subject line, let me just tell you that it's official: Nick Hornby is my new celebrity crush. If only he didn't smoke. And wasn't already, you know, married. But hey, no one's perfect.

I came to this book in an odd manner. It was on the "New Paperbacks" table at the bookstore where I work, and I was neurotically straightening the stacks of books, as is my wont. What attracted me first, actually, was the title: Housekeeping vs. the DIrt, which is really one of life's ongoing crises, plus also rather funny. And then I noticed that it was a book about reading. And then I noticed that it was by Nick Hornby. Now, either of those latter two elements would have been enough to make me pick up the book, but it was the title that originally grabbed me. Huh.

(I feel compelled to mention that I've never actually read one of Hornby's novels. I adored his book about music, Songbook, and I have enjoyed a few moives based on his books. But yeah, I realize I should actually read his books at some point. Seeing as how I'm apparently proposing marriage and all.)

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt is a collection of Hornby's "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns from Believer magazine. Each represents a month; Hornby lists the books he bought and the ones he actually read, and then talks about why he read what he read and what he thought about it. The concept is simple, but the execution is compelling and touching and hilarious.

There are many reasons to love this book. First and foremost is Hornby's down-to-earth and self-deprecating sense of humor. Then, of course, are all the books he talked about that I now want to read. And there's the window into his daily life that the column provides. And his reflections on the differences between Britain and the US. (Hornby is British; the Believer's audience is predominantly American.) But this line, in the introduction, was what really got me:

"And please, please stop patronizing those who are reading a book - The Da Vinci Code, maybe - because they are enjoying it." (17)

I've been trying to say that, to lots of people, for years. And a bit later:

"Read anything, as long as you can't wait to pick it up again." (18)

He gets it.

Posted by Kat at 10:00 PM | Comments (4)

July 31, 2006

I know you won't believe me...

But Oreo Dunkers taste absolutely nothing like real Oreos. Seriously.

Posted by Kat at 10:52 PM | Comments (4)

July 23, 2006

Holy freaking cable, Batman!

Vogue Knitting has their fall preview up. Quick thoughts before I go write write write write write. (I'm actually starting to feel like I might someday be done with the paper! Whee!)

1. Gray's Anatomy. I love me some cables, and gray, actually, but I'm not so sure about these. Nos. 1, 3, and 4 might have some potential, if I could actually see the whole sweater. 5: Not big on the uneven sides thing. 6: Can't really tell what it is, but it's looking like it's cutting off her circulation.

And #2, of course, is the source of this post's title. qw21? Actually, the cabling the cables together thing looks like it might be fun. But please, PLEASE do not let me knit this or, God forbid, wear it. It could not possible look good on, I don't know, anyone, actually.

2. Modern English. #1: Cute! Love it! Wow, I'm shocked! #2 and 3: Okay, I guess. Not my style.

3. Hobo Chic. Enh. I actually feel like all three might have some vague potential, but I can't really see enough of them in the artistic photography/odd poses to tell.

4. Socks! We love socks! Nos. 1 and 3: Eeesh! Interesting, but I'm not sure. I tend to be skeptical of how designs like those will work on those of use who don't have calves like twigs. #5: Adorable, but same concern as above. #2: Maybe! It looks a lot like Potamotawhatever. I hear a rumor it's the same designer, but have not been able to confirm this. #4: Once you get past the colors, cute! I might want to try these in white, actually. They remind me of lace socks I used to have as a child. #6: Fun! Definitely want to try these.

Overall: Not as exciting as the Interweave preview, but then, I wouldn't expect it to be. Enough interesting stuff that I'll probably buy it.

And heck, a few random paper thoughts while we're at it:
1. I'm searching lots of databases and starting to find the same articles over and over. I think this is a good sign, right? That I've found everything important, at least?
2. I keep searching for "Mary AND Wollstonecraft." It just struck me that the only other important Wollstonecraft is also named Mary, so this is probably not helpful. Ah well.
3. I just came across a citation to an essay called "Needlecraft and Wollstonecraft." Exciting! Unfortunately, I don't think it's very relevant; it looks like it's about needlework and women's rights and education in 18th century Salem, MA, and they put Wollstonecraft in the title because it rhymed . Ah well.

Posted by Kat at 09:22 AM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2006

Random Wednesday (19 to go)

Might as well have a countdown in the post titles, right? Actually, I hate coming up with titles for the Positive Mondays and Random Wednesdays because I try not to repeat them. Hmm.

1. You all are great. Thank you for the outpouring of support and offers of hugs, chocolate, beer, etc. I may well take you up on it.

2. Yummy leftover Chinese food for lunch. And ooh, I'm going to go get some free chai from the break room... back in a minute. Okay, back. (You all really needed to know that.) Alas, the free-beverage-dispensing machine was blinking "ADD WATER" and there is no obvious way to do this. Hmph. So I'm drinking my TaB, and I'll check back for the chai later.

3. Do we have any Mary Wollstonecraft experts/aficionados in the house? Drop me a line.

4. I had a very relaxing evening last night, and then was up way too late but got a lot of homework done, so I'm feeling a bit more in control than I was yesterday. Not a lot, but a little.

5. Except that I have to give a presentation in class tonight. Ack ack ack. Oh well; in a few hours it'll be over, right? And I have promised myself yarn tomorrow as a reward for finishing.

6. I have both a really really good book and a really addictive sock in my purse. How am I supposed to decide what to do on the T?

7. You know what I want to knit? I want to knit something really, really complicated. With lots and lots of cables. Total escapist can't-think-about-anything-else-while-I'm-knitting-it complicated. Suggestions?

8. Conversely, I'm feeling the need to knit kids' stuff - quicker gratification, maybe? A sense of whimsy? Less darn serious? Something. I have tons of cute baby patterns, but anyone have leads on good patterns for little boys, say sizes 4-8-ish?

9. I think the milk is bad again. Maybe it's a Wednesday thing.

Posted by Kat at 01:40 PM | Comments (8)

July 10, 2006

IK Fall Preview!

Breaking news! (Well, at least it was news to me.) The Interweave Knits Fall Preview is up!

My quick takes:

Dear Red-Headed Model,
I usually like everything you wear. So why do I not like two out of three this time? I fear our weird cosmic connection is waning...

Dear Kate Gilbert, Evelyn Clark, Kristin Nicholas, Veronik Avery, and Norah Gaughan,
I love you. As always. But couldn't you maybe take turns?

Dear Ann E. Smith, Mari Lynn Patrick, Sharon Shoji, Jennifer Appleby, Michele Rose Orne, and Jodi Green,
Have we met? I'm not sure. But I think we'll get along just fine.

Dear Annie Modesitt,
You were kind and charming when I met you in person, but you have not quite sold me on this slightly bizarre pointy skirt concept yet. I'm still open to persuasion, though.

(Quick price-checking detour:
Dear WEBS,
Nice site redesign.)

Dear Kathy Zimmerman,
Your cabled afghan looks like just the thing for my frigid apartment. I'm not sure I can justify spending $90 on the yarn for an afghan, though.

Dear Shirley Paden,
Thank you for understanding that there can never be enough green cabled hoodies in the world. No, actually, I'm serious.

EDITED to add: Overall, I am very, very, very thrilled with how this issue is looking. Except for all the time and money required to knit everything, of course.

Posted by Kat at 12:33 PM | Comments (4)

May 16, 2006

April Reads

(Explanation of the ratings)

12. Bad Kitty by Michelle Jaffe
Genre: Young adult
Rating: 3.9
Comments: Cute! I've been reading Jaffe's blog since it started, so I was eager to read her first YA book. It was a bit far-fetched, and at times seemed a bit affected, but overall, I loved it. Silly and clever and fun.

13. The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4
Comments: This series comes highly recommended by my mom (as well as various bloggers), but I'd somehow never read one before. So good! Mrs. Pollifax is absolutely hilarious, and there was all sorts of fun stuff about Cold War-era espionage, as well. It's a classic series and I'd recommend it to any mystery reader.

14. A Grave Talent by Laurie R. King
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4.8
Comments: I've been reading King's Mary Russell series for years, but this was the first time I'd read her Kate Martinelli series. This was her first novel, and it was great. King writes the contemporary setting as well as she does the historical, and I can't wait for her next book, which is going to combine the two series. (Except I have three more Kate Martinelli books to read first, so I'd better get going on that.)

15. Suspense and Sensibilityby Carrie Bebris
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4.3
Comments: I gave the first in this series, Pride and Prescience, a good review, so I had high hopes for this one, and Bebris didn't disappoint. I loved the way she managed to combine characters from Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. As with the first, it did contain a supernatural element, but it was believable within the context of the story. The actual mystery wasn't terribly shocking, but oh, what a fun book.

16. My Cup Runneth Over by Cherry Whytock
Genre: Young Adult
Rating: 3.5
Comments: Another cute YA chick lit novel, this one British. Tone is similar to Louise Rennison, or maybe a younger Bridget Jones. The main character, Angel, is realistic and likeable, if rather wealthy and a bit twee.

17. Hardscrabble Road by Jane Haddam
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4.5
Comments: This is the newest entry in one of my favorite mystery series, featuring retired FBI agent Gregor Demarkian. Haddam has written over twenty of them, but the quality hasn't dropped off. My main complaint about this one was that my favorite supporting character was absent. Other than that, it was up to Haddam's usual standard. Fans of Elizabeth George or P.D. James should give this series a try. Start with Not a Creature Was Stirring if you're a whole-series-in-order person, or Somebody Else's Music if you want to start with something more recent and easier to find.

Posted by Kat at 10:13 PM | Comments (5)

March 24, 2006

Review: One Skein

CUPCAKES. What more do you people need to know? There are cupcakes. Go buy the book.

Oh, still here? You want a better review? Okay. This is a cute little book that seems to be along the same lines as Interweave's other recent products, such as Scarf Style and Wrap Style. The patterns are somewhere in between classic and trendy - not so conventional as to be "yeah, whatever, I've seen that a million times" and not so hip as to be "nifty, but I'd never knit it." In fact, I don't think there were any patterns in this book that I'd say I'd never knit, although of course some were more exciting than others. I'm am particularly excited about the silk sleeves, cabled socks, asymmetrical cable hat, unisex gloves, and leg warmers. Oh, and did I mention the cupcakes? There are cupcakes. They are adorable. I cannot even begin to express how adorable they are. Well. Let's just say that they are almost as cute as a kitten or a Tink.

I haven't actually knit anything from the book yet - I just bought it last night - but I've read through many of the patterns and they seem to be clear and decently written. Approximate weights of yarn (worsted, bulky, etc.) are given along with suggested yarn for each project. And I have to admit that I love that the models are read (well, holding) books like Kierkegaard and Madame Bovary. (Also, I seem to have spelled "Kierkegaard" correctly on the first try, so no need to revoke my "Overeducated and Proud" card yet, thanks.)

I do have a few minor qualms, although none of them are enough to make the book not worth buying. For one thing, the whole last chapter contains projects designed to use up odds and ends of leftovers. From multiple projects, apparently. Which is nifty, but... not one skein. At all. And that bugged me. Also, their definition of a skein seemed to be a tad loose - a few projects used yarn that comes in abnormally large skeins, so you might need to get more than one if you want to substitute. And at least two used two strands of yarn held together, so you'd have to wind you skein into two balls or something. Not a huge problem, but not exactly what I want to be doing with a one-pound cone of cotton, you know?

There were also some things missing, it seemed. Barely any lace, for one thing, and it seems like that would be an obvious one to include: you can get a shawl from a skein of laceweight, or a scarf (a la Branching Out or Dayflower) from a skein of fingering or sport. There was one project using laceweight, but it was... a tank top. Huh? (Okay, it was actually sort of cute. I might have to try it.) I think they could have easily cut out one of the four cabled scarves and include a lace one instead. Also, what happened to socks? There's one pair, which I LOVE: worsted weight cabled short little house socks. But no regular socks out of sock yarn, and there are plenty of sock yarns that will make a whole pair.

Another issue, related but not directly about the book: How do we feel about these knitalongs that Interweave has started making for their books? I mean, sure, knitalongs are fun. I like knitalongs. And I'm not necessarily opposed to designers or publishers getting involved in running knitalongs for their work. But the way Interweave is going about it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It just seems sneaky or something. I mean, they're using Blogspot instead of their own domain. And a generic Blogger template. It's making it look like it's not related to the publisher. Yay viral marketing. Hmm. Thoughts?

(Of course, it occurs to me now that it's vaguely possible that it is NOT related, and that they just link it from the book site. But I'm pretty sure that I read somewhere that Interweave is starting these knitalongs. Right? Someone let me know if I'm being all righteously misguided here.)

Posted by Kat at 04:58 PM | Comments (5)

March 15, 2006

Random, with Pictures!

Wow, it's already Wednesday again! And I'm still in a good mood. Yay.

1. I knew the recent springlike weather was just a tease. We had some bizarre fits of snow this afternoon. At least we know who to blame.

2. I'm liking the scarf better as it gets longer, so that's good, I guess:

As you can see, it's not exactly reversible, but rather two-sided. I'm hoping to knit a ball of yarn every two days, so I finish on Sunday and can start Rogue. The picture has about half a ball knit up, mostly from lunch yesterday, subway and class last night, and lunch today.

3. On Sunday night, I realized that, improbably enough, I didn't seem to have any plain decaffeinated black tea in the house. I picked up some Red Rose at the store today, and they have new figurines! I've been sort of collecting them since I was very young, so it's always exciting to get a new one. I got the cute little bunny.

4. I saw Match Point over the weekend. Whoa. I think I've decided that it was very good, and you should see, but I probably do not ever want to see it again. But ahhh, Jonathan. Even in this rather, shall we say, questionable role, he was gorgeous. Oh! And according to IMDB he's going to be Henry VIII! That's one of the most exciting things I've seen in a while.

5. I'm doing some reorganizing of my Bloglines feeds. I've realized that I have a hard time getting into new-to-me blogs without reading all the archives, so now I have a separate category for blogs I think I'll want to read regularly but that I have to catch up with first. It's making it all much easier to navigate.

6. Last night for dinner I tried an Odwalla Strawberry C Monster smoothie and Super Protein bar. It was filling and surprisingly satisfying. Hmm. This may have to become my default quick dinner for nights when I have class or work. If I can find them, of course. I found the smoothies at the grocery store tonight, but I couldn't find the bars, even though the cashier told me they sold them. I got a few Luna bars, since they seemed to be the closest, but they don't have as much protein. Ah well.

7. And another for Project Spectrum: (blurry) strawberries!

Posted by Kat at 09:05 PM | Comments (1)

January 22, 2006

Huh, I kinda like this finishing idea.

First, the promised picture:

Yup, I finished three things this weekend. Three! Now, granted, two of those scarves had just needed their ends woven in for quite some time, but still. I am proud of myself, and have three fewer things to feel guilty about.

I did almost as well with the other finishing projects. I only finished one book, but I realized that the closest to the end I was in any of them was 150 pages, so that's not bad. I'll make some more reading progress before bed. And I didn't write a whole draft of my story, but that might have been an overzealous goal for a day in which I also wanted to accomplish other things. I wrote an outline and about 1000 words of story, so I'm satisfied. My goal is to have a draft before my trip/the Olympics, and then revise it afterwards.

I did watch two Netflix DVDs. Apparently it was a weekend for historical epics, although now that I think about it, most weekends would fall into that category for me, especially if the epics in question involve pretty clothes and questionable historicity. Anyway. Last night I watched the first two episodes of Into the West. It started slowly, but ended up being captivating in that Oh-God-I-cannot-believe-another-horrible-thing-is-going-to-happen-to-these-people way. And every time blankets appeared, I had to restrain myself from yelling "No! Smallpox! Don't take them!" at the screen.

Tonight I watched part one of Henry VIII. I spent the first half hour or so trying to decide whether I'd seen it before; I eventually decided that I had, but figured at that point I might as well just keep watching. I'm planning a post about it after I watch part two (which I am quite sure I have not seen before), so I'll just say a few things for now. First of all, it prompted the declaration in my household that the beheading of Helena Bonham Carter is the hallmark of a good movie. (Don't tell me you haven't seen Lady Jane.) Also, the people who made both this movie and Into the West seem to be rather confused about the whole birth idea. Um, people, there's this thing called the umbilical cord. I really don't think you can pull a baby out of a mother and immediately walk across the room with it. Right? Someone with more experience (Ais? Erica? Kristen?) want to back me up on this?

Posted by Kat at 10:38 PM | Comments (1)

December 20, 2005

To whom it may concern:

Dear knitting,
Thank you for being reasonably cooperative thus far. Might I suggest that we step up the pace a bit?
the knitter

Dear stupid coworkers in the neighboring department,
I don't think the word "gay" means what you seem to think it means. You might want to look it up before you yell something like "You all must think we sound really gay" over the row of cubes again, because at least two of us over here are about ready to throw big cans of soup at you.
Just a thought,
P.S. Boss, that goes for you too. Also? Stop with the jokes about women. Thanks.

Dear Chris Botti,
"Hallelujah" (yeah, the Leonard Cohen one) is not a Christmas song. Just no. I don't care if it has the same name as the Handel chorus. No. Have you heard the words? I know you don't sing them in your version, but please tell me you at least know what the song is about. Your muzak version really has no reason to exist, especially not on a Christmas album.
No love,
Jeff Buckley fan

Dear customers,
I know you for some reason think the online reserve thing saves you time, but it really doesn't. And here's a little secret: it just makes us really, really annoyed with you, although I do understand that it's not your fault that the system's so screwed up. But please. Call and ask us to hold your book. It works just as well, if not better. I promise.
The girl with the pager

Dear out-of-it teacher lady,
30% of $30 is not $10. It is $9. I promise. I'm not sure how many different ways I can explain this to you. You're a teacher. Aren't you supposed to understand things like that?
Your cashier
P.S. I was nice. Next time find your darn educator's discount card. Preferably before you get up to the register and start holding up the line.

Dear reading public,
No, The Da Vinci Code is not out in paperback. Neither is virtually any book published in hardcover in the past year. That's just not the way it works, and I promise, it's not my fault. It is also not my fault that you didn't decide until December 19 that you need to order an obscure book for brother-in-law. I can't magically make it appear. I know that you are probably angry at yourself and just taking it out on me. The holidays are stressful. I know. Please try to remember that it's stressful for me too.
Let's all smile and try to get through the next few days.
Your friendly neighborhood bookseller

Dear salespeople,
I know this may come as a shock, but when you send a request to my department that includes direct insults to my department, that does not make me feel especially inclined to hurry up and get it done for you right away. Just in case that hadn't occurred to you.
No love,
The data corrections girl

Dear Mr. Ledger,
Well done. Couldn't you have played both roles?
Much love,
P.S. Casanova looks cute too, if a bit historically debatable.

Dear readers,
Thank you to anyone who waded through all that. Something coherent (like a review of Brokeback Mountain) will be coming one of these days, but, honestly, it might not be until after Christmas. I will try to at least get some Christmas knitting pictures up soon.
Much love,

Posted by Kat at 04:41 PM | Comments (4)

December 06, 2005

November Reads

Sorry this is a few days late. Things have been crazy, and I've been either happy but too busy to write or sad and therefore not feeling like it. Anyway. The mini-reviews might be even more mini this time, but it's something, at least. Again, five books for the month, which is not that bad, I guess, considering that I also worked two jobs, went to class, wrote a novel, and knit Christmas presents.

(Explanation of the ratings)

How Town by Michael Nava
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4
Comments: The third in the Henry Rios series. Like the others, very good. This one gets into Henry's past and his psyche, which makes things interesting. There wasn't as much of Henry's lover Josh as I would have liked, but we did get to meet Henry's long-lost sister. As I've said before, I highly recommend the series in general.

When the Bough Breaks by Jonathan Kellerman
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 3.5
Comments: The first in the Alex Delaware series; I've read a few others, but I decided to go back and read the whole series in order. It's definitely a fast-paced, enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward to discovering how the characters evolve throughout the series. My one main problem with this book was in Kellerman's descriptions of people, especially women and gay men. I tried to remind myself that it was written twenty years ago and tried to just enjoy the story. It sort of worked.

Hidden Law by Michael Nava
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 3.8
Comments: The fourth in the Henry Rios series. I didn't like it quite as much as the others I've read, which is why it gets a slightly lower rating, but I'm not sure if I really didn't like it as much or if I'd just read too many Nava books in a short span of time. Or maybe my main problem with it was that not-very-nice things happened with Henry and Josh's relationship. (Trying to avoid blatant spoilers here.) Still, a good read, and I still love the series overall.

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 3.5
Comments: Pretty good. It's a very short book, and I somehow felt like it was too short in some places and dragging in others. Still, a fascinating picture of a very interesting mind. I did think Styron was rather flip about the effects that his depression had on those around him, especially his wife. My basic conclusion was that I'm not sure I'd like him much as a person, but I definitely want to read more of his books.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 5 (yes, FIVE)
Comments: Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I loved this book. Loved loved loved it. So much that I'm having a hard time being very coherent about it. But it's about love and loss, and life and death, and grief and art, and hey, it just won the National Book Award. It's not exactly the happiest read, but with that caveat, I can't recommend it highly enough, especially if you're going through the aftermath of any sort of loss in your life (not just death). I made my roommate read it and I'm giving it to my parents for their birthdays. Both of them. It's that good.

My reading goal for December is to finish some of the books that have been languishing partially read. Starting the month, I had a list of ten (and that was after taking off five that had gone back to the library or otherwise been abandoned). I'd really like to start the new year with a clean slate. Wish me luck. So far, I've finished one of the ten, am a few pages from finishing another... and am about to start something new. Ah well. As Cate keeps saying, two steps forward, one step back.

Posted by Kat at 08:16 PM | Comments (1)

December 01, 2005


If I hadn't already pretty much decided that I can no longer in good conscience consider myself a member of the Catholic Church, this would be the final straw. I'll give you a few highlights, in case you don't have time to read it.

First of all, the main point: "Even if they have never had a gay sexual experience and are fully committed to celibacy, homosexual men are not suitable candidates for the priesthood."

And in case anyone was unclear, here are some "warning signs" of potential homosexuality:

students who had trouble relating to their fathers; are uncomfortable with their own identity; tend to isolate themselves; have difficulty in discussing sexual questions; view pornography on the Internet; demonstrate a deep sense of guilt; or often see themselves as victims.

Here are some of the reasons given for why even celibate gay men make bad priests:

He said they tend to have few friends, to close themselves off from others in "a clan of persons of the same type," to resent the claims on their time made by parishioners, to encourage other gay men to enter the priesthood and to deal with authority predominantly as a matter of "seduction and rejection."

Umm, pardon? Who has he been talking to?

The article goes on to explain that candidates for priesthood must be mature in their masculine sexual identity and theoretically capable of being good spouses and fathers. It seems to be accepted without question that any man with "homosexual tendencies" could not possibly fill any of those criteria.

Really, who are the ones making statements with no social or moral value now?

EDITED to add: I just found the actual text of the Vatican document here, in case you were wondering about the thing itself.

Posted by Kat at 10:50 AM | Comments (2)

November 27, 2005

Worth every penny

Up here in Red Sox land, I tend to get some weird looks and questions when I buy the New York Times on Sundays. Why am I not buying the local paper1 or, if I have to be snobbish about it, the Boston Globe2? I am clearly some sort of traitor. I get these questions from people behind me in line and even from the cashiers who are selling me the paper. (Hey, cashiers? Nota bene: saying "What could this paper have to make it worth $4.50?!?" is not necessarily the best way to, you know, sell more papers. Just saying.) I generally mumble something about the Book Review and the crossword puzzle and how yes, I know the other papers have crossword puzzles too, but if Will Shortz isn't involved, they really don't count, don't you see? But no, they invariably don't see, and they give up, and I give up, and they let me buy my paper. But it's sort of exhausting. And my actual reasons for buying it are a bit more varied:

1. The aforementioned Book Review and crossword are, actually, quite important to me. Something just feels wrong if I don't have them.
2. My father has purchased the Times every Sunday since... well, I don't know. Probably before I was born, anyway. Again, it just feels wrong not to have it around. And some sort of emotional connection/stability thing is involved, too.
3. There's always a chance that Amanda Hesser will have something in the food section. She is on the "Can I be her when I grow up?" list along with Sara Norton, Meg Cabot, and Stephanie.
4. Erica expects the Book Review when I'm done with it.
5. I really do like the other sections, at least most of them, even if I don't always get through them. I like having the option. Some weeks I read more of it than others, but, again, it just feels wrong if it's not there.
6. And, okay, I am a snob. I'm a bit ashamed to admit it, but part of me likes being the sort of person who buys the Sunday Times. (More on this in the forthcoming post "The New Yorker Divide." I know you're waiting with bated breath.)

But now I have a much simpler way to explain it. As I was reading last week's Book Review this morning (um, yeah, I'm a bit behind), I came across the phrase, in reference to Greg Critser, "arguably the least bubbly reformer since Oliver Cromwell." That alone says it all. That's why it's worth my $4.50.

Also? Every single week the Book Review includes more books that sound interesting than I could possibly read in a month, never mind a week. But I keep writing down the titles, keep thinking I'll try...

1 Because I get the local paper delivered on Sundays, people, although really mostly for the grocery coupons. And I'm considering cancelling it, anyway. But shhh.
2 Don't they know the Globe is owned by the Times, anyway?

Posted by Kat at 10:32 AM | Comments (2)

November 21, 2005

Things I Have Learned in the Past Few Days

1. Six Feet Under + Birch = up until almost two am. Yeah. Bad combination. By which I mean "extremely fun and wonderful." At least I didn't have to be up early the next morning.

2. When my apartment is 49 degrees, it is pretty difficult to get out of bed.

3. Knit.1 seems to have a gift for writing simple patterns in the Most Confusing Way Possible.

4. On Friday afternoon, my roommate had to go to a meeting that might have coincided with our free snacks here at work, so I was to grab a snack for him. I realized that I'd be more confident in ordering for him at a decent restaurant than I was picking out a candy bar for him. Does this make us snobs, or just adults? I'm not sure.

5. It is, in fact, possible to talk on the phone while rolling very hot cookies in powdered sugar. Just in case you were wondering.

6. Sometimes those "Oh yeah, this IS my real life" moments actually help. Yesterday I was trying to simultaneously bake cookies and write my novel, and feeling vaguely annoyed at the situation. And then I realized that, if all goes according to plan, I will be writing novels while baking cookies for the rest of my life. (Well, eventually it would be nice if I didn't also have two jobs and school to keep up with while writing novels and baking cookies, and then maybe I could have enough time to give the writing a break and concentrate on baking for a few hours. But really, no guarantees.) And, somehow, once I realized that this was it, the writing got much easier.

7. A radio station that replaces its DJs with recorded messages about how they no longer have DJs to talk too much is, in fact, more annoying than the stations that actually do have DJs that talk too much.

8. I want to be Meg Cabot when I grow up.

Posted by Kat at 01:41 PM

November 17, 2005

Dear universe,

Just a few small requests:

1. The new coworker in the cube next to mine really does not need to talk to himself, randomly laugh vaguely maniacly, or sigh and/or moan at random times. Really.

2. It is getting toward the end of November. Will you get over this wishy-washy "Oh, maybe I'll rain or just fog up everything" thing and just snow already? Hint: This might be easier if you would also stop with the yo-yo temperatures.

3. I like working with the public. Really. I'm just not sure how many more times I can explain something as complex as, oh, alphabetical order or the fact that the bookstore has two floors or how, if you want a price changed, you do in fact have a "price issue" without attaching "you idiot" to the end of all of my sentences. Could we make everyone just a tad smarter?

4. You don't really want Christmas to be in fewer than 40 days. Really. How about an extra week or two? How do you expect me to get all this knitting done?

5. I'd also vaguely like to know how I ended up with two iPods in my desk, but hey, I'm not complaining.

6. Oh, yeah: Thanksgiving. Haven't I agonized over this enough already? Shouldn't it be over by now?


Posted by Kat at 04:59 PM | Comments (1)

November 16, 2005

No ordinary princess...

I know this isn't exactly news or anything, but, well, it was news to me. Dar Williams is amazing. I somehow managed to be basically unaware of her until just a few weeks ago. Now I'm listening to the two albums of hers I have on my iPod just a wee bit obsessively.

The Honesty Room was her first, I believe, and it's my favorite so far. The songs that stuck out to me at first were "When I Was a Boy," "The Great Unknown," and "The Babysitter's Here," but my list of "favorites" is getting longer and longer - it at least has to include "You're Aging Well" and "When Sal's Burned Down" now, and "Flinty Kind of Woman," and, well, that's probably at least half the album, so I might as well just say I love it all!!! I want to quote lyrics at you but I'll try to restrain myself, well, except for one:

"Your behavior is so male it's like you can't explain yourself to me.
I think I'll ask Renoir to tea." ("Mark Rothko Song")

Hah. I laugh every time I hear it.

The other one I have on Aurelia iPod is The Beauty of the Rain. I didn't feel as immediate a connection with this one, but it's definitely growing on me, and I think "Your Fire, Your Soul" might have to be my theme song this holiday season. And "The One Who Knows" is gorgeous and haunting, as is the whole CD, really.

She has several other albums, it seems. I know what's going on my Christmas list...

Posted by Kat at 02:37 PM | Comments (2)

November 03, 2005

Can we call it "opting otherwise" instead?

So everyone has been up in arms about Maureen Dowd this week, and who am I to let a perfectly good bandwagon roll on by? A lot has already been said, better than I could say it, so I'll give you some links on Dowd's elitism and the truth behind Dowd's examples of "backlash" and how Dowd's "data" is questionable at best. And, before I get into my main point here, I'd like to say that my first reaction upon reading the article was that dear Maureen needs to get over herself. Maybe she'd have more romantic success if she, you know, tried being nice to people, or didn't make it quite so abundantly clear that she feels she is superior to everyone around her. I was also a bit unclear as to how Dowd would actually like women (or, for that matter, anyone) to behave, as she seems to disapprove of, well, everything.

But anyway. The part that most bothered me was her take on the whole concept of "opting out." To her credit, Dowd does admit that "to the extent that young women are rejecting the old idea of copying men and reshaping the world around their desires, it's exhilarating progress. But..." And, of course, there's a "but." It's exhilarating progess, but she doesn't like it. She sees it as spoiled, pampered women turning their backs on long-sought education and opportunities in favor of dependence on rich husbands. This strikes me as a narrow view, to say the least.

A little background, although you probably all know all this: I am currently single and self-supporting1. I work for a reasonably large corporation as well as a very large retail chain. I'm in grad school, ostensibly to become qualified to be a professional in a particular field. And, given the chance, I would (I think) "opt out" in a second. But I don't think but reasons are horrible and unfeminist.

1. First of all, corporate life really isn't that great. Theoretically, some people like it, but I haven't met many of those people, either male or female. Other than for reasons of job security, I really couldn't care less whether the company I work for makes money. This isn't the greatest motivation for trying to climb the corporate ladder. I'd rather be doing something I thought actually mattered, somehow.
2. If I ever have children, I feel pretty strongly about staying home with them (and quite possibly homeschooling, but we'll leave that for another discussion) if circumstances allow. I don't think this is because I want to be a Stepford wife, though. It's more that I want to be with my children through their early development. I think that's reasonable (and really rather responsible) of me2.
3. I will admit that I have literary aspirations, and "opting out" of a nine to five schedule would give me more time to write. (Although not if/when there were small children around. I do realize that, don't worry.)
4. I also realize that there is certainly some amount of "the grass is always greener..." in this. Someone3 once posted about a sort of alternate universe fantasy they had: that somewhere there was another version of themselves, a single, childless version with a job and apartment and free time and freedom/money to travel. And I had to laugh, because it sounded like a romanticized version of my life, and I have a parallel alternate universe fantasy that was basically a romanticized version of that person's life.

So there are some of my reasons. Please note that "I want to be pampered and spoiled" was not among them.4 More importantly, though, I refuse to believe that corporate/business/career "success" is any more intrinsically valuable than raising children or knitting a sweater or baking fabulous cupcakes or, for that matter, fixing a car or playing a musical instrument. It's all a question of what you want to do and what makes you, not some ideal, happy and fulfilled. Dowd pays lip service to the idea that feminism is about having choices, but she clearly doesn't actually believe that any choice other than "the old idea of copying men" is a choice worth making.

1 Well, mostly self-supporting: my parents pay most of my tuition, and I don't want to leave that out or seem ungrateful.
2 Not to imply that working mothers are doing something wrong; I just think, for me, I'd rather be home.
3 I thought it was Cate or maybe Jody, but I can't find it in either of their archives. If anyone remembers, please speak up!
EDIT: It was Rachel! Sorry about that.
4 Not that I'd object to a little pampering occasionally. Everyone deserves that.

Posted by Kat at 12:16 PM | Comments (1)

November 01, 2005

October Reads

Well, last month I hoped for a longer list of completed books this month. It is longer: I've gone from three to five. I'm still not really satisfied, though1. I want to be finishing a book every few days. I like myself better when I'm reading a lot. But that just isn't working out recently, for whatever reason. (Busyness, lack of focus, general sadness and ennui... take your pick.) And, again, I have lots of books I've read some of this month but not finished. I suppose I will, once again, pin my hopes on next month. Because, you know, with two jobs and school and NaNoWriMo and holiday knitting, I clearly have tons of time on my hands.

Well. Without further ado, here are the books I finished in October:

(Explanation of the ratings)

Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches by Tony Kushner
Genre: Drama
Rating: 4.5
Comments: I read this shortly after watching the mini-series2. Both were extremely well done and affecting, but I wish I'd read the plays first so as to avoid the "can only picture characters as those actors" syndrome. Anyway, the subtitle is "A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," which I suppose is as good a six-word description as any, although I'd like to emphasize that this title is not of interest to only gay audiences. It's set in the eighties and deals with interesting issues involving religion, sexuality, AIDS, marriage, family, modern American life, and more, and is both intellectually interesting and emotionally wrenching. Not to be missed.

Rag and Bone by Michael Nava
Rating: 4.5
Genre: Mystery
Comments: This is the seventh and last book in Nava's Henry Rios mystery series, but I read it first because it was the only one at the library. After a heart attack, lawyer/detective Henry makes some changes in his life, including mending his estranged relationship with his sister and beginning a new romantic relationship (which he had not expected to happen again after his partner died of AIDS). He discovers a niece and grandnephew he never knew and soon becomes involved in unraveling the secrets of their life, including defending his niece when she is accused of killing her husband. Henry is extremely appealing in a complicated, tortured sort of way, there are several compelling secondary characters, and the mystery plot itself, while slightly predictable at times, keeps the pages turning. The writing is beautiful and I love Henry's love of poetry. I couldn't put it down; Nava is now the newest addition to my "favorite authors" list.

Until the Real Thing Comes Along by Elizabeth Berg
Genre: Women's fiction
Rating: 2
Read my review here.

The Little Death by Michael Nava
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4
Comments: The first in the Henry Rios series3. Not quite as amazing as Rag and Bone, but very very good. The mystery includes family secrets, legal drama, doomed romance, and all that fun stuff. Henry evolves over the course of the series in a way that many characters do not, so it was interesting to go from the last to the first. Now I'm working my way back in chronological order.

Goldenboy by Michael Nava
Genre: Mystery
Rating: 4
Comments: You guessed it! The second in the Henry Rios series. The murder in this one involves troubled teenagers and messed-up Hollywood types. Perhaps more importantly, though, the subplot is one of the best bittersweet romances I've read in quite a while. Again, I highly recommend the whole series.

1 I know! Aren't you shocked?
2 The mini-series includes both parts one and two of the play(s). I'm planning to read part two but just haven't gotten there yet.
3 Yes, I said the library only had the last one, but I was hooked, and my roommate, who recommended these in the first place, wanted to own them anyway, so he's been buying used copies that I've been reading.

Posted by Kat at 02:49 PM

October 21, 2005

And where was the graffiti, anyway?

Just to keep us updated:
Days until Thanksgiving: 34
Number of phone calls with parents about Thanksgiving in past two days: 4
Number of neurotic e-mails to roommate about Thanksgiving in said time period: about a dozen
Number of hysterical conversations with said roommate about said topic in said time period: It's kind of hard to say. Since we live together and work together, he has a kind of hard time getting away from me.

Conversational highlights:
Dad: "No, really. It's not like you're going to be missing anything fun."
Mom: "It's a holiday. Someone might as well have fun... Maybe I can tell them I'm on call?"
Roommate: "I had no idea Thanksgiving could be this complicated."
Me (e-mail): "One more thing and then I promise I will shut up about Thanksgiving until at least, you know, November."
(In my defense, I kept that promise for several hours until my mother called me at work to discuss - say it with me now here - Thanksgiving.)
After witnessing said phone call:
Roommate: "You know, I'm starting to be surprised you turned out as normally as you did."
Me: Hysterics. Sort of unquotable.
A bit later:
Me: "So now do you see how I'm not really being unreasonably obsessive about this? Just being prepared for the inevitable?"
Roommate: "It certainly does seem to be a learned behavior."
A bit later still:
Me: "I'm driving myself crazy. I must be driving you crazy."
Roommate: Did not exactly reply. Did watch a movie with me so I could, as I put it, just stop thinking for a while.
Yes, he's a very patient man. Yes, he will be getting a darned good knitted Christmas present. (No, let's not discuss my family's Christmas plans yet. Thanks.)

So, to help me Just Stop Thinking, we watched American Graffiti. Great soundtrack. Interesting seeing the actors (especially Dreyfuss and Ford) so young. Loved Harrison Ford singing "Some Enchanted Evening." But. WTF?

Problem A: The plot. Let's just say that I was not surprised when George Lucas said in the "making of" documentary that the original version was almost twice as long. I definitely felt as though a few of those deleted scenes would have been helpful for figuring out, you know, what the heck was going on.

Problem B: The message. Let's review what we learned:
1. How to get your boyfriend back: Don't sleep with him. Do get into a potentially deadly car crash with another man.
2. How to control a man: Threaten to accuse him of rape. Alternately, threaten to rape him.
3. How to control a woman: Threaten to rape her.
4. Women ruin everything. The boy with the girlfriend did not go away to college. The one without a girlfriend did.
5. Get in cars with strange men. Really, what could possibly go wrong?
6. How to be a good teacher: Chaperone a school dance. Smoke with one student and sleep with another.
7. How to find your soulmate: Hook up with your ex-girlfriend. Join a gang (okay, it was somewhat under duress). Get a message on the radio to "the blonde in the white T-bird," because there could only be one of those.
8. Or: when you respond to his radio message, make sure you don't tell him your name.

It also really bugged me that, at the end, there were little notes of what happened to the four primary male characters, but nothing about the women. Presumably they all got married and lived happily ever after. Or, you know, went insane from dealing with these men.

I also did not notice any graffiti in the movie. Huh?

Posted by Kat at 11:17 PM

October 19, 2005

Review: Until the Real Thing Comes Along

Elizabeth Berg's Until the Real Thing Comes Along was a quick read, decently written, that dealt with interesting topics. I hated it. The problem? The main character. I couldn't stand her. Patty has two main aspects of her worldview: she wants a husband and children. And she is in love with her best friend Ethan, who is gay, and refuses to see this (her love, not his sexuality*) as anything she has any control over or could possibly change. And - here's the kicker - she refuses to acknowledge that these two basic tenets of her life do not exactly work together well. Therefore, her solution is to have a child with Ethan (who also does want a child, but not, obviously, a wife). She browbeats him into sleeping with her and gets pregnant on the first try (and, of course, is disappointed; she wanted an excuse to sleep with him regularly). Patty then is amazed that the rest of her domestic fantasies don't exactly spring into life. (I don't want to give too much of the story away, so I'll stop the plot summary there.)

Ethan's motivations are a bit suspect too, of course: he knows Patty is in love with him and yet agrees to a "partnership of convenience" anyway. I got over my annoyance with him, though, because he actually provides a decent explanation for his thoughts and actions. Patty, on the other hand, constantly explains everything, but just does not get it. She claims to be Ethan's closest friend, to know everything about him, and yet she remains basically in denial of his homosexuality. She seems to see it as basically random and totally unconnected to the rest of him (or, as she might think, the real him). She thinks there's a sexuality switch that could be toggled on or off without affecting the person as a whole at all.

This probably bugs me more than it might other readers because it's another example of an issue that has been bothering me anyway. Let's back up a bit. My roommate is also a coworker and good friend. We have a lot in common, are rather frighteningly similar in some ways, and get along very well. I mean, really: we live together and work together and therefore spend probably about 75% of our lives within twelve feet of each other, and haven't tried to kill each other yet. So it's pretty much accepted fact that we get along oddly well, and this periodically comes up in conversation with other friends or family. The great majority of the time, the seemingly automatic response is "Oh, too bad he's gay. You'd be perfect for each other."

Umm, no. There is something very flawed about that reasoning. Actually, I have several issues with it. For example, I don't think it's a given that we'd be perfect for each other in the first place - sexual orientation aside, what I'm looking for in a roommate or friend is not the same as what I'd be looking for in a boyfriend**, although there would certainly be some overlap in criteria. I also don't like the implication that romantic relationships are somehow intrinsically preferable to friendships, but that's another issue. Anyway. The issue I have with it in relation to the book is the idea that sexuality is totally distinct from basic identity. I have trouble with the premise that if my friend or Ethan in the book (see, I told you I'd get back to the book) had happened to have been born heterosexual, they would in all other aspects be the same person.

Actually, "I have trouble with it" is too mild; I think it's preposterous. It seems the difference in experience, if nothing else, would be far too great. For just one example, think of a long-running crush you had in middle or high school. Think of the ways that person affected your tastes, activities, etc. Think of how all those little decisions built up to make you into the person you are. Then extrapolate to all your other crushes, relationships, actors you found attractive, etc. I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. But apparently Patty can't. And that's just talking about particular experiences, and not even really getting into the larger issue of identity, which is one I don't feel prepared to tackle.

So. What I am trying to say is that, while Patty claims to know Ethan completely, her belief that he would - could - be the exact same person she loves and be "not really gay" or suddenly magically become heterosexual shows that she doesn't really know him that well at all. Patty wants a fantasy, not "the real thing" after all.

* Perhaps this is actually a good summary of her problem. She believes that his sexuality is something she can change, while her feelings are not, instead of vice versa. (Not that I'm saying it's easy to change one's feelings or anything, of course. But anyone who has ever gone through a breakup and later fallen in love with someone else has done it. Or so I hear.)

**Not that I'm looking.

Posted by Kat at 08:51 AM | Comments (1)

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