Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What I've been reading: Books I liked, books I didn't

Maybe it's me, but it seems like there a lot of bad and/or overhyped books out there right now -- more so than usual. And while I dislike dissing authors, knowing how hard it is to write a book and then get it published, I feel compelled, as a public service, to mention a handful of books to avoid (IMHO).

So I have two lists this go round. The first is a list of fiction and nonfiction books I liked, including one starred selection (for a favorite book). And the second is a list of books I did not like. At all. Whereupon finishing them I stomped around the house muttering to myself, and the spouse and the teenager, and the cats, about the amateurish prose, vapid plots and/or characters, and/or totally unsatisfying ending.

In both cases, I have listed books alphabetically by author, with just a brief description. No links to Amazon this time. If you want more info, Google the title. (To see previous Book Recommendations, click the link or on the label at the bottom of the post.)

Books I Liked (Fiction and Nonfiction)

*Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. Fascinating (somewhat fictional though based on fact) biography of Fanny Vandergrift Osborne Stevenson, the wife of author Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Impersonator by Mary Miley. Well crafted mystery about a missing heiress and her actress doppelganger set in the 1920s against the backdrop of vaudeville and Prohibition.

The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley. Beautifully written story of an introverted young French woman's search for answers about her glamorous yet mysterious family, set in the South of France during the late 1990s and World War II.

The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley. The poignant story of an impoverished but noble Indian woman's quest -- even after death, via her beloved blue-eyed great grandson (the grandson of her daughter) -- to find the lovechild/son she was told had died as an infant. The story alternates between the British Raj, modern-day India, England just before, during, and after the First World War, and modern-day England. A love story that spans continents and generations.

From Scratch: Inside the Food Network by Allen Salkin. Biography of The Food Network. Lots of gaps but a must read for Food Network watchers.

Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind by Alex Stone. Fun, fast-paced read/memoir about a young man's love of (or really obsession with) magic. Very entertaining and informative (though I may never play poker or black jack again).

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen. Memoir by James Beard award-winning food/travel writer Anya von Bremzen about her childhood in the former Soviet Union (in Russia, mostly), her parents and grandparents, and the things they ate and drank (good and bad) and still remember and cook fondly.

(I also read several mysteries and historical romance novels -- hey, it was a long, cold winter -- which I'd be happy to tell you about if you are interested.)

Books I Really Didn't Like (and Wanted to Throw Against the Wall but Didn't)

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay. Marketed as an adult novel, but really should have been shelved in the YA section. Totally unrealistic romance about an orphaned girl who grew up in foster homes who is "forced" to attend Northwestern's School of Journalism on a scholarship and the wildly successful (and do I need to add handsome?) mystery writer she has a secret crush on (and who falls madly in love with her). Puh-lease. (Still can't believe I read the whole thing.)

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert. A tale of love and loss set against the backdrop of the 1898 Omaha World's Fair. But I was so distracted by all the red herrings in this novel (what's up with all the allusions to the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, dude?), I could never figure out what the book was really about -- and found the characters unsympathetic.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield. Proof that second novels often fall short of the first, especially when the first (The Thirteenth Tale) was great. Started out like a good ghost story but went nowhere.

The Color of Light by Helen Maryles Shankman. Does the world really need another love story about a rich, good looking vampire and a pretty, naive virgin (in this case an artist who resembles the vampire's long lost love)? No.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. OMFG, did any of those people on Amazon who gave the book four stars actually read the book? Or maybe they were friends of the author, or drug addicts. Reminded me of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, if it took place just after 9/11 and the following 10 years, and instead of being amusing was depressing as hell, and 300 pages longer. Can't believe I read the whole effing thing. Total disappointment.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ewe gotta be kidding

I wish I had come up with that title -- "Ewe gotta be kidding" -- for this video of a baby goat-sheep hybrid, known as a geep, recently born in Ireland.

A lot of people think the farmer, Paddy Murphy, is full of blarney. But I gotta admit, having seen a fair amount of goats and sheep -- and zedonks -- that lamb, or kid (lid? kamb?), does look like a geep.

According to Wikipedia (and other sources), sheep-goat hybrids are possible, though unlikely. And interestingly, those offspring that do survive are known to be, uh (I feel a little sheepish even typing it), horny as goats.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The artist formerly known as Pres

Some might say that the artistic stylings of the former president known as "W.," whose first art exhibit, titled "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy," opened today in Dallas, are strictly bush league. And they would be correct.

But I have to admit, I kind of like George W. Bush's artwork*, particularly this painting of a rescue cat...

and this portrait of Bush's deceased Scottish terrier, Barney.

I even like some of his portraits, including this one of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi...

And this self portrait.

(I refuse to show the shower scene. That would be psycho.)

Sure, sure, if his last name wasn't "Bush" or he hadn't been President of the United States, George W.'s artwork would probably not be shown in a gallery. But hey, I have seen much worse art shows (at actual art galleries and museums) -- and having a hobby, especially one that doesn't harm people, is always a fine idea.

Make art, not war, I say.

So what do you all think of former President Bush's artwork?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A brief guide to cat and dog petting

Have you ever wondered if there was a right way or, perhaps more importantly, a wrong way -- or place -- to pet a cat or dog? A way that would not result in the cat or dog hissing or growling, or swatting or biting the hand that pets it? Well, wonder no more, people!

Thanks to the handy "Petting Chart for Your Cat" and "Petting Chart for Your Dog," you will never have to worry about how -- or where -- to pet your (or another's) cat or dog ever again.

(Okay, maybe you should worry a little bit about cats. After all, felines are notoriously fickle.)

Thanks to the spouse, who learned the hard way how to pet a cat, for sending me these charts.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sweaters for turtles. (Who knew?)

I have never been a big fan of turtles. They're not very attractive. They're not very cuddly. And they don't do much. Unlike cats. (And, okay, dogs.)

But this website may have changed my mind about turtles (and tortoises). Presenting Mossy Tortoise... the maker of sweaters (or cozies) for turtles!

Talk about tapping a market you didn't even know existed!

Here are some of my favorite tortoise cozies.

The birthday candle...

You don't look a day over 100!

The Stegasaurus cozy...


The Easter bunny tortoise cozy....

(Hmm... he doesn't look very hoppy, does he?)

And last, but not least, the roasted turtle, I mean turkey, cozy.

Though you may not want your turtle (or tortoise) to be sporting this end of November, if you catch my drift.

And lest you are thinking, "Okay, J., I'll give you that those turtle sweaters are kind of cute, but who would actually buy one of them?"

Apparently 1,365 turtle (or tortoise) lovers. That's who. (Not bad for only being open 14 months.)

I am so in the wrong business.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Castrating a few Congressman might be more effective

I saw this video titled "Squeal" on YouTube this morning. It was in the "Animals" category of YouTube's "most popular" page. So I immediately thought "Piggies!" (I love a good cute pig video.)

Well, I was sort of right....

Turns out, it's a political ad for Joni Ernst, a Conservative (Republican) from Iowa running for U.S. Senate. And I have to say, I was a bit disappointed.

When Joni said, "I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I..." I was SURE she was going to say, "I'm going to castrate some Congressmen!"

Instead, she promises to cut pork.

While there is nothing wrong, in theory, with cutting pork (though pork-barrel spending can be a boon for districts, as it often creates jobs or things helpful to a particular community, which is why Congress men and women favor it), I can't help but think that castrating a few of the pigs in Congress might be more effective.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What's the matter with being brunette?

As a proud brunette, I have never understood why so many of my sister brunettes dye their hair brown -- especially when the blonde hue looks so obviously fake.

Do any of these celebrities really look better as blondes than as brunettes? (That would be a rhetorical question.)

Not that I am a fan of Kim Kardashian, but wtf?

Do you really think you look better as a blonde, Kim? (Personally, I blame this on Kanye.)

Seriously, what's the matter with being a brunette?

Am I missing something here? (Clearly, I was not in line when Clairol was handing out the blonde Kool-Aid, even though apparently my mother was.)

According to various studies, there is no conclusive proof that gentlemen prefer blondes (despite the successful 1953 movie with Jane Russell, a curvaceous brunette, and Marilyn Monroe, a former brunette). Indeed, in several studies when men were given photos of the same woman with various hair colors (brunette, blonde, and redhead), the brunette was equally or more attractive than the blonde.

Is it because blondes have more fun?

[FYI, I am pretty sure the "blonde" in the photo is my mother, a former model -- and brunette.]

More fun than whom, brunettes and redheads? And what do you mean by "fun"? If by "fun" you mean spending several hours and hundreds of dollars every few weeks at some beauty salon or spa dying your hair, than yes, blondes do have more fun than us brunettes.

By the way, that slogan, "Is it true... blondes have more fun?" which launched a million (more) blondes, was the work of Shirley Polykoff, a talented copywriter who was tasked with helping Clairol make dying one's hair acceptable. Polykoff's campaigns were so successful that between 1956, when she came up with her first campaign, "Does she or doesn't she?" and 1962, sales of Clairol hair dye jumped from $25 million to $200 million. And today, hair coloring is an over billion dollar a year industry. Clearly, someone's having fun.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against natural blondes. (Okay, maybe a little something. But that's for a different blog post.) I just don't understand why so many perfectly attractive brunettes feel the need to dye their hair blonde. Almost all the dye jobs I've seen aren't even very good. And you can tell by their roots that they are brunettes.


Thank goodness for Katy Perry -- a blonde who became successful after she dyed her mane brown.