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Livres de Septembre

Up at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
You wouldn't know it from my reading tastes now, but I read all sorts of grown-up literary books when I was in junior high and high school. This was one that I remembered liking a lot, though I couldn't remember anything about it. So I bought it to read again. And found it...well...odd. The story is too short to have any satisfying character development or resolution, and the way it all plays out is very unsettling. I'm not sure why I'd remembered it all these years, unless it was just that I felt very mature reading it on the school bus in 9th grade!

Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth
Rather like Miss Marple, whose books were being written at the same time, Miss Silver is a detective whose deceptively harmless old-maid appearance works in her favor while she investigates for her clients. This was a fun murder mystery which felt surprisingly modern considering it was published in 1928. The various threads of the story take a little while to start coming together, and there was one hint/red herring that was abruptly dropped and never explained, but I did like the story and the writing style and hope to read more of Patricia Wentworth's books soon.

Summerfall by Claire LeGrand
Prequel to Winterspell, which came out this week and is a YA retelling of The Nutcracker (!). It's short and heartbreaking and sets up what's obviously going to be NOT the harmless Christmas ballet we all think we know.

Bubbly On Your Budget by Marjorie Hills
Written in the late 1930s - there are lots of references to "the recent unpleasantness" - this might not be the most useful of financial guides, but it's fun to read. When it comes to actual advice she's a bit vague, and I wish my money problems could be solved by moving to a small cottage by the sea and having friends over for tea instead of lavish dinner parties, the way all the women in her examples do. But the chapter on sensible wardrobe planning still holds true today, and "Can You Afford a Husband?" was my favorite.

Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman
The first in a series that seems to fall somewhere between Farahad Zama's The Marriage Bureau for Rich People and Tarquin Hall's Vish Puri mysteries - it's set in a small Indian hill town in the 1960s, and is full of local color and intrigue. Jana Bibi is a Scottish widow who has lived all her life in India and has just inherited a rambling Victorian mansion from a relative. Her move to Hamara Nagar coincides with the governments plans to flood the town and make a dam, and she gets caught up in the local attempts to convince them otherwise, much to the dismay of her staid, sensible son. It's a bit on the fluffy side, but I liked it a lot and have already ordered both sequels.

The Scapegrace by Sylvia Thorpe
Sylvia Thorpe's Regency romances are a bit Georgette-Heyer-lite, and this one was one of the lightest. There's love at first sight and an Evil American and snooty aunts and an inappropriately young guardian falling in love with his ward - a lot of fun but not a lot of depth. I wish I'd saved this one for last, though, since the other two Thorpes I read this month were not nearly as good!

By These Ten Bones by Clare B. Dunkle
My dislike of this book is my own fault - I didn't pay attention to the summary when I ordered it and thought it was going to be more of a modern YA werewolf romance. Instead it's historical, and is more about superstitious villagers and Scottish housekeeping than forbidden love. So...not for me. :-P It did inspire me to write a chapter of my own Gothic Romance (Possibly With Werewolves, But So Far Just Highland Cows) in preparation for NaNoWriMo, so it wasn't all bad, I guess.

Dark Enchantress by Sylvia Thorpe
Hero saves heroine from witch hunt, heroine becomes his mistress in gratitude, he plans to marry his young half-cousin to inherit an estate. Not one of her best; the hero was unlikeable, the heroine barely in the book, and their love was unconvincing.

Breathe by Kristen Ashley
I HAAAAAATE Kristen Ashley's "let me tell you every detail of my everyday life" writing style, and her heroes who have an aversion to using pronouns in their speech, but I was curious to see what she'd do with a shy virgin librarian heroine in contrast to her usual brash, experienced women. It was...interesting. The sex was a bit much, and I didn't think the hero and heroine were very well matched, but then, Kristen Ashley's heroes are all cut from the same cookie cutter, so I should have known. I do wish an editor would sit her down and explain that we don't actually need to know every time someone brushes their teeth or puts on moisturizer or empties the tea kettle or buys a picture frame or rearranges their furniture, but we can't have everything, I suppose.

Captain Gallant by Sylvia Thorpe
The last of my pile of Thorpe's, and a disappointment. :-( The hero is an ex-soldier who gambled away all his money, and decides to take to highway robbery in order to save his (married) girlfriend from her dastardly husband. Just in time he finds out she's a selfish, manipulative b****, and falls for a sweet, innocent girl instead. I mean, who DOESN'T grow up hoping that her husband will be an unrepentant criminal? At the last minute he feels some remorse for his crimes, but she assures him there's no need, because True Luv. Argh.

Lady Vernon and Her Daughter by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway
I had a string of disappointing reads in the middle of the month - no wonder I was so grumpy! I've always liked Jane Austen's story Lady Susan, about a relentlessly ambitious, heartless widow and her adventures in attempted homewrecking. Instead of expanding on the story as written, though, the Rubinos turn it all upside down and make Lady Susan the long-suffering heroine of the story. (A little too long-suffering, unfortunately, which makes her almost as boring as Fanny Price.) The writing style did a good job of mimicking Austen's, but midway through the book I just had no interest in the story.

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin
A re-telling of the Biblical story of Esther in a WWII concentration camp. It's an ambitious project but the execution was less than smooth, and I had a hard time buying the romance between a Jewish woman and a Nazi Commandant, especially since he didn't show any concern or remorse about his treatment of the Jews until very, very late in the story. The heroine went a bit Mary Sue toward the end, too, single-handedly taking down a group of soldiers standing between her and freedom. It also had that annoying "Christian fiction" tone that I can never quite put my finger on but dislike strongly.

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey
I LOVED The 5th Wave and devoured it in a single afternoon (all 480 pages!), and have been looking forward to book 2 ever since. And it started strongly, but I soon found myself wanting to skim through to the end and find out what was going on, not because the suspense was too much but because it was just a little bit boring. I was frustrated that one storyline took place over a few days while the other was given several months to develop. I was annoyed that Yancey is still dancing around letting us see any actual aliens. (If this turns out to be yet another "we are the aliens" cop-out, like - oh, what was that one, where she thought aliens had invaded but they turned out to be zombies? - I'm going to be really mad.) And while I thought he did a good job of writing a convincing female character (Cassie) in book 1, here she started to seem more like a guy's idea of a girl. It wasn't BAD, but it did suffer from Second Book Syndrome, and my expectations for book 3 have been a little lowered.

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence by Holly Webb
Here's where I started enjoying books again. ;-) I found this one while processing books at work one day, and the cover was so cute, and the little blurb about how "most detectives wouldn't have to hide from their own grandmother", that I checked it out right away. It was such a fun, adorable middle-grade Victorian mystery! It's definitely for the younger side of middle-grade, but even so I enjoyed it. Maisie is a funny, clever detective and I hope in future books she gets to work with her hero Gilbert Carrington.

The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye
This book. Oh, wow. It's another middle-grade story, which is not something I normally go for, but it's so rare to find a book about the Middle East which isn't about war or oppression or terrorism, that I had to read it. Aref, the main character, is being forced to leave his beloved home in Oman and move to Michigan with his parents while they attend grad school. In the week before they leave, he reluctantly says goodbye to everything he loves, including his Grandfather, who was my favorite character. Such a loving, gentle, wise man. The book is also a love letter to Oman, making it sound like an awesome place to visit or live. I would love to read more books like this, which show Middle Eastern people not as Scary or Other, but as people just like you and me, who live and work and play and love.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
A re-read to get ready for Isla and the Happily Ever After (I'm still number 7 on the library's hold list, come on people, read faster!). Since I first read Anna I've swung wildly from loving it to hating it, but I think now I can finally settle on "really like it". Yes, Anna can be a bit irritating, and yes, Etienne is kind of a jerk for leading her on while not breaking up with his girlfriend, but it's Paris, and it's young love, and despite myself I can't help feeling all gooey and warm and marshmallowy inside while I read it.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Lola, on the other hand, I'd never managed to get all the way through, because I find Lola herself so obnoxious that I can't get interested in her melodrama. "Poor me, no one at school likes me!" (Maybe because you dress like it's Halloween every day?) "Poor me, once I liked a boy and his sister kept us apart!" (You were 14. Get over it.) "Poor me, no one approves of my 22 year old pot-smoking punk-rocker boyfriend!" (Do you really not see how they might have a point?) I know everyone loves Cricket Bell, too, but he doesn't do much for me. I did think the story picked up in the last couple of chapters, but it was too little, too late for me. :-(

I still have high hopes for Isla!

August Books

Pomegranate Soup - Marsha Mehran
Three sisters from Iran open a cafe in a tiny Irish town, provoking some of the townspeople into an uproar.

At first glance this is a Persian/Irish version of Chocolat, with the exotic newcomers bringing a breath of fresh air to a staid little village. And while the story was mostly very good, the author used too heavy a hand with her magical realism, and it ended up feeling absurd instead of charming.

A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside - Susan Branch
A beautifully illustrated travelogue of the author's trip to England with her husband, Joe.

I've seen Susan Branch's books before, of course, but never thought they'd be my "thing" - they struck me as being the sort of twee, "sisters of the heart" sort of stuff my mom and her friends give each other for birthdays. But as a committed Anglophile I couldn't pass this one up, and I'm so glad I didn't - it was marvelous.

Crossing the Ice - Jennifer Comeaux
A pairs skater preparing for the Olympic season finds herself falling for one of her biggest rivals.

I love Jennifer Comeaux's figure skating romances, and this one was no exception. In fact, it might be her best one yet! There were a few loose ends left at the end, but apparently there's another book planned to tie those up, so I don't mind quite so much.

The Silver Nightingale - Sylvia Thorpe
Fleeing from an arranged marriage, Sarah winds up stuck at a remote inn in a snowstorm...with her unwanted fiance.

Sylvia Thorpe writes regency romantic comedy so well, and the twists and turns of this one made it particularly fun.

Beloved Rebel - Sylvia Thorpe
Elinor and Gervase haven't seen each other since their wedding, when she was 13 (this is set in the 1600s) and he was in love with another woman. Five years later he returns as a hunted fugitive, seeking her help to get safely out of the country.

Definitely one of Thorpe's best. Elinor is an admirable heroine and has to do most of the work of rescuing Gervase several times, while his story is more about coming to terms with the consequences of poor choices he's made. It's an interesting take on certain romance novel tropes!

Postmarked Moscow - Lydia Kirk
Letters home from the wife of the American ambassador to Russia in the early 50s.

I thought this was fascinating, from the descriptions of Moscow post-WW2 to the meetings with Russian politicians and their wives. There's one letter where she recounts an anecdote about an American diplomat's wife's experience giving birth in a Russian hospital that is both hilarious and terrifying. I probably would have liked this more in high school when I was in the throes of my Russian obsession, but even now I enjoyed it immensely.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin
His wife has died, his prized copy of a rare book - his retirement plan - has been stolen, and someone has just left a toddler in his book shop. A.J. Fikry is not having a great year.

Blah. I didn't like this one at all. It seemed like it was written specifically to appeal to people who loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but it had none of that book's charm to make it work. Too much profanity and casual sex keep it from being the heartwarming story it wants to be, and the pointlessly tragic ending could have been lifted straight out of Nicholas Sparks. About halfway through I just started skimming because I couldn't take much more.

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla - Lauren Willig
London is buzzing with vampire rumors after the publication of a wildly popular vampire novel. Most of them center around the mysterious Duke of Belliston, whose tragic past and reclusive ways make him an easy target. Miss Sally Fitzhugh knows he's no vampire, and agrees - nay, bullies - him into a fake engagement so that they can find out the truth about his parents' deaths and clear his name.

I've always been ambivalent about the Pink Carnation series. Some books are very good, others are just a bit too silly for me. This was one of the good ones. Sally is a great heroine, levelheaded enough to see through society's falseness but young enough to still enjoy the whirl of parties and dinners and balls. Unfortunately there's no actual espionage in this one, so we have to wait for one last book to find out what ultimately happened to the Pink Carnation, but it's very fun and zany nonetheless.

Delancey - Molly Wizenberg
Shortly after their marriage, Molly Wizenberg's husband announced he wanted to open a pizza restaurant. Since he'd also taken up violin-making and boat-making, not to mention ice-cream-making and composing, in the time she'd known him, she didn't take it very seriously. Until he came home with an industrial mixer, and signed a lease on a restaurant space.

I love Molly's blog, Orangette, but I didn't completely love this book. It's a bit of a behind the scenes look at things she didn't put online while they were happening - mainly her lack of enthusiasm about Delancey, and her struggle to support Brandon when things got tough. It's not that it was bad, by any means, it's just that it kind of meandered all over the place and then just fizzled out at the end - "and now we have two restaurants and a baby and I've learned some stuff about my personality." It started out well, but overall I thought it was just okay.

A Small Rant

People know I like Bollywood movies, and some of those people like to send me links to Bollywood-related things they come across.

Some of them are fun.  Some are just annoying.

Basically, any time So You Think You Can Dance has a "Bollywood" routine, it's annoying.



This one is a perfect example.  I'm not saying they aren't good dancers - I could never do half those moves - but it's such a stupid, cliched idea of what Bollywood dance is.

(Sidenote: There's really no such thing as "Bollywood dance".  Bollywood movies have songs that the actors dance to, but there's not one style of dance where you can say, "Oh, it's Bollywood!"  There are several forms of Indian classical dance that Bollywood sometimes pulls from, but they do just as much western-style dancing.  What makes it "Bollywood" is the fact that it's in a Bollywood movie.  That's it.)

Look at the moves they're doing in that video - nothing matches the song.  They're hopping around doing vaguely "Indian" moves that have nothing to do with the lyrics or the style of the song.

Compare this with the way the song was picturized in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani:



They're relaxed.  They're having fun.  They're not stiff and wound up, bouncing around with manic grins.  Granted, the choreography was probably too simple for a competition show, but from watching SYTYCD "Bollywood" routines over the years, Nakhul Dev Mahajan seems to have about three patented "Bollywood moves" that he makes everyone do, no matter the song.  And everyone claps and says, "Oh, we just love that colorful fun Bollywood style!"

This is almost as annoying to me as the people who say, "Oh I love Bollywood!  Slumdog Millionaire was so much fun!" 

Dream House

I've just finished reading The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah, about his family's adventure buying a house in Casablanca and renovating it, and then found this video he did of a quick tour of the house - if you ever can't find me it's because I've run away to live there, okay? (THERE'S A SECRET LIBRARY BEHIND A HIDDEN DOOR, I CAN'T EVEN.)

The Power of Poppy Pendle

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One of the best things about working in a library is coming across books that I would otherwise never have known about. The Power of Poppy Pendle showed up on my cart a few weeks ago, and when I read the front cover flap I knew it would be a good one.

Poppy Pendle was born in a bakery, and baking has been her passion ever since. Unfortunately her parents are so thrilled that she's inherited Great-Granny Mabel's magical ability that they think baking is a waste of time, and want her to spend her days practicing magic so she can be a great witch someday. Poppy is sent to a school for magic and not allowed to spend time with non-magical children, and as a result she's miserable. She doesn't fit in with the other witch students, and even though magic comes easily to her, she hates it. So one day Poppy does something drastic.

When I was telling my sister she had to read this I said it was "like Harry Potter, with more cookies and less murder," and I still think that's the best way to explain its appeal. It has that same light, whimsical touch that the first two Harry Potters had, the quirkiness and cozy Englishness. But the only enemy here is a pair of well-meaning but clueless parents. Poppy's struggles to make them listen to her are something everyone can relate to, regardless of age, and the way she deals with them is funny and sad all at once.

Also, this book is going to make you crave the treats Poppy bakes, so it's a good thing the author included recipes for most of them! Next time I have a whole afternoon free, that Chocolate Butter Bread and I are going to get better acquainted... ;-)
I used to read a blog where, every Tuesday, the blogger would show off some cute new thing she'd bought at Target.

I can't go to Target that often. I'd be destitute in a month.

But I did find some really adorable lunch trays yesterday, in the most perfect shades of pale pink and pistachio green, and now the top of my dresser actually looks organized.

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They're $2 for a set of 2, and they were with the Hello Kitty lunch boxes in the "everyday dishes" section.

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(That Fiori di Roma perfume oil is lovely, by the way. I bought it here.)

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Aiyyaa (Hindi, 2012)

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I loved the premise for this movie since I first saw the trailer - a North Indian girl with a crazy family falls in love with a brooding South Indian artist, at the same time that her marriage is being arranged to a nice but not very exciting guy.

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Rani Mukherjee has always been one of my favorite actresses, and Aiyyaa is, I think, one of her all-time best performances. She captures Meenaxi's despair at her ordinary life, and her longing for filmi glamour and excitement, perfectly. And she looks lovely - maybe the best she's ever looked. (I want her hair. And her eyes. And her perfect, poreless skin. And every outfit she wears in this movie!)

And Prithviraj...well, he doesn't actually have a huge role even though he's a main character. He's silent for a huge part of the movie, just the big brooding presence constantly distracting Meenaxi at work (she's a librarian in the art college where he studies, and most of their interaction happens when he comes to check out books). But who wouldn't fall in love at first sight if a man this gorgeous showed up at your desk?

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Meenaxi's romantic fantasies are the basis for the songs, which means lots of shirtless Surya.

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She even bribes a Tamil-speaking errand-boy to teach her such important Tamil phrases as "please keep the top button of your shirt unbuttoned" and "I like dark-skinned men, not fair".

Her fiance, Madhav, is kind of adorable in a dull sort of way. In contrast to her obsession with Bollywood, he prefers classic movies about "ordinary people who express their feelings with their eyes, not with flashy songs". He grows roses on his balcony and falls in love with Meenaxi at their first meeting, not even minding her completely mental family. But he's not the one she wants.

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^I loved this scene, where Madhav comes to pick her up and she's stalling because Surya is about to check out more books.

It's a lovely, Amelie-meets-Bollywood story...

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...except when it's not. The comedy track, most of which comes from Meenaxi's kooky family or her extremely strange co-worker Mynah, is jarring and out of place with the rest of the movie. The movie can't decide whether it wants to be a romance or a comedy, and at times makes no sense (the part where Meenaxi's brother goes to Mynah's house looking for her). There's a theory going around that it was meant to be at least partly based on Alice in Wonderland, but the references seem to be there more to say, "Hey! Hey! I'm an Alice in Wonderland reference!" than because they add anything to the story.

Which is a pity, because when it's not trying to be funny it's so good.

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Bollywood Watching

Being sick does have a few compensations - you can sleep as late as you want, for one thing, and if you spend a whole day on the couch watching movies, no one can tell you to get up and do something useful, because you're sick.

So I caught up on some of the Bollywood movies I wanted to watch the other day, in between coughing fits and microwaving SpaghettiOs (something I normally wouldn't eat, but for some reason I crave them when I'm not feeling well).



English Vinglish was one I wanted to see mostly because everyone kept saying how good it was, even though it didn't seem to have anything I would normally like - like romance, or cute boys, or good songs. But despite all of that it ended up being my favorite of the three.

I loved it because it really is a "feel-good movie". It was about finding confidence to change things you don't like about yourself, not through throwing off conventions or morality or having an affair, but by something as simple as learning a language.

Sridevi (who was a huge star in the 80s and then got married and disappeared, so this was her comeback movie) was excellent as Shashi, an Indian housewife who feels disrespected by her husband and daughter because she doesn't speak English. Even though she's a successful businesswoman, making and selling sweets for weddings and parties, at home she's constantly teased for her lack of English skills. So when she goes to New York to help with preparations for her niece's wedding, Shashi enrolls in an English intensive study course without telling anyone.

This is really a very low-key movie - nothing major happens, it's not flashy or "big" at all. But it's lovely.



I love Shahid Kapoor, but he couldn't save this for me.

The back of the dvd case went on and on about reincarnation and how it's about a couple who vow to love each other in every life, but then the movie itself never mentions that. Instead it's about three couples, one in 1910, one in 1960, and one in 2012, who meet, are torn apart by something or other, and who then get back together. The problem is, only the 1910 story has any real depth. The other two seem to have been thrown together more as an excuse to put Priyanka Chopra in tight skirts and short shorts. They tried to do some Facebook/Twitter stuff with one of the songs that felt cheesy to me, and...I don't know, I just didn't feel like those two stories were handled very well. I would much rather have seen a whole movie about Javed and Aradhana in 1910 Lahore.

Wouldn't you?



You guys, it KILLS me that I didn't love this movie. It's Shah Rukh Khan! In a Yash Chopra-directed movie! About a man who becomes a bomb-defusing specialist and dares God to kill him after his fiance promises God she'll never see him again if his life is spared after a car accident!

I mean, there is stubble. There is power walking. There is romance galore. But there was something missing.

Maybe it's that, lovely as Katrina Kaif is, she's about as passionate as a Barbie doll. I do not understand Bollywood's love affair with her lately. Yes, she's gorgeous, but she's so bland as an actress. And since she started doing her own dubbing the flatness of her voice is very distracting. And to not be able to generate any chemistry with Shah Rukh Khan? That's just ridiculous.

(Oh, and spoiler alert: for her to be the one he finally kisses onscreen, after a whole career making a point of never kissing, is RIDICULOUS. He didn't even kiss Rani Mukherjee in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna, in a scene that was screaming for a kiss and not just the passionate hugging they were doing.)

And the ending was too low-key after all the build-up. It needed something more dramatic than just walking calmly into each others arms.

Oh well. I didn't LOVE it, but I did like it quite a lot despite all of that, and it has a wonderful soundtrack.

I will never understand fashion.

Wouldn't you rather see models like this

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than this?

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I'm not even talking about their sizes, I just can't figure out WHY do fashion designers want their clothes modeled by such miserable-looking girls? Surely doing their hair and makeup prettily and letting them smile and look happy would sell a dress better than Mopey McToothpick stalking down the runway with limp hair and pale lips?