Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Fancies

It's been kind of a slow week around these parts. Is it because I'm still in the middle of two books and haven't finished either? Because I've been too busy enjoying some gorgeous summer weather before another heat wave arrives? Or am I already mentally in Fourth of July vacation mode? Choose the excuse you like best.

Here are some things to keep you busy until I'm back with more regularly scheduled posts:

(image via here)

The start of what seems like it will be a helpful and accessible Photoshop tutorial series.

Wouldn't you love to pay a visit to a book barge?

The Library of Congress released a diverse and fascinating list of 88 Books that Shaped America.

And the NY Times had an article about literary classics being redesigned to appeal to the teen market. What do you think? I'm actually a big fan of new twists on classics, but I think these designs are a little ho-hum.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


If you're looking for a treat to pamper yourself with, I'd highly recommend checking out Sabon. An Israeli-based company with a growing string of shops in Manhattan, they make some of the best bath and body products I've ever tried. Sabon first caught my attention when my friend Leslie highly recommended their Patchouli Lavender Vanilla Salt Scrub. After trying it for myself, I immediately jumped on the bandwagon, amazed at the smooth skin it gave me. And I was so smitten with the Patchouli Lavender Vanilla scent that I went back and bought the matching body lotion.

The products come packaged in real glass jars, which feel a lot more special and luxurious than your average item from the drugstore or Bath & Body Works. Of course, they're a little pricier too, but easily justifiable using the "little goes a long way" philosophy-- the body scrub is (sadly) only meant to be used once or twice per week, and the lotion is pretty rich, so you only need a dab of it. Of course, I didn't have any problem justifying the purchase of a couple of more "practical" items, like sunscreen wipes and hand sanitizer, which I've been using for perfumed pick-me-ups throughout the day.

What beauty brands do you like to treat yourself to?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Adopt a Dog

The only galley I picked up at BEA this year was Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin. Purported to tell the story of a rescue dog from being abandoned at a high kill shelter to finding his ultimate home with the author, it tugged on my heartstrings for obvious reasons

Kavin, a journalist and lifelong dog lover, adopts Blue from one of the many rescue groups who advertise on Petfinder. Curious about his origins, she follows the trail back from there, tracking down every source that played a part in Blue's rescue, including animal shelters, foster homes, and vets. Kavin sheds light on every aspect of the animal rescue system, giving it the same kind of treatment that Fast Food Nation gave to the food industry. Some of what she exposes if disturbing, although not necessarily surprising. Most interesting is the perspective she gives on rescue groups, both the legitimate  and disreputable, and their practice of saving dogs in the South and transporting them to Northeast states for adoption.

I'd strongly recommend this book for anyone who has found their dog through the Petfinder network and wondered about their backstory. All I know of Millie's background is that she came from a high kill shelter in West Virginia. Reading this painted a vivid picture of exactly what that might have meant. It also reaffirmed my belief that adopting rescue animals is absolutely the best option when getting a pet. If you won't take my word for it, just take a look at these pictures:

You couldn't find a cuter face at the fanciest pet store or breeder.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Fancies

I feel the need to 'fess up. Earlier this week, I did something I rarely do--I abandoned a book.

The book in question was Lauren Groff's Arcadia, and the fact that I abandoned it came as a bit of a surprise to me as I really enjoyed her first novel, The Monsters of Templeton. I can't say that I even have any logical or well formed reasons for abandoning it other than personal preference. Arcadia follows a hippie commune from the 1970's onward, and from the first pages I just knew it wasn't my cup of tea. Although the writing itself seemed good, the setting and the characters were so off putting to me that I knew it would be a struggle to get through the entire book. I cut my losses around page 60.

What was the last book you abandoned? Do you get annoyed with yourself for doing that?

(image via here)

On the bright side, abandoning a book leaves you with more time to check out other interesting things, like these:

A nice article about the Little Free Libraries movement, including a link to a Google Map where you can find one near you. (None in New Jersey? Seriously?)

A short video about New York's most devoted opera and ballet fan.

Kate Spade's phone cases are almost cute enough to make me want to upgrade to the iphone 4.

This salad caught my eye as I searched for simple, no cook recipes for hot summer days.

I've posted about this before, but I never get tired of seeing photos from the Jazz Age Lawn Party. I really need to go one of these years.

And in case you're thinking that it's been too long since I've posted anything Downton Abbey related, here you go.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Perfect Reader

The word graceful kept coming to mind as I was reading Perfect Reader by Maggie Pouncey. As much as this might sound like I'm trying to write a jacket blurb, there was just something very self-assured and elegant about the writing that gave it a real gracefulness and made it a pleasure to read.

Flora, a twenty-something New Yorker, returns to the upstate college town where she grew up after her father, an eminent literary critic and retired professor, passes away suddenly. Named his heir and literary executor, Flora temporarily moves into his house. As she deals with her grief, she slowly begins to learn about some unknown aspects of his life, like the fact that he had a girlfriend. It's not a groundbreaking story, but its one that manages to pull off the difficult feat of creating characters who are complex and who sometimes do unlikeable things, but who are ultimately interesting and sympathetic.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Hour

Have any of you watched or heard about the BBC miniseries The Hour? If you're at all a fan of Mad Men, or British dramas, or better yet, both, I'd highly recommend adding it to your Netflix queue right now.

Set in a BBC newsroom in the 1950's, the series stars Romola Garai as an up-and-coming news producer, Ben Wishaw as a fearless journalist, and Dominic West as an on-air news anchor. The plot charts the relationships between the characters as they deal with the current events of the time and are drawn into a Cold War era spy mystery.

There's so much to love about this show. It has a very stylized, almost noir-ish, look that's tempered nicely by a witty and sharp script. The historical backdrop--the Suez crisis of 1956, something I knew nothing about-- is fascinating and the costumes are, I think, even more enviable than those on Mad Men. Garai's character is really interesting, as well. Although she's clearly a woman in a man's world, her career struggles don't define her character as much as they do for, say, Peggy on Mad Men. The show, and subsequently the viewer, just accepts that she's achieved her level of success, which is quite refreshing to see.
Best of all, it's coming back for a second season sometime this year.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ballet Season

Around this time every year, a couple of my friends and I get tickets to a few performances of the American Ballet Theatre during their Lincoln Center spring season. The way our schedules worked out this year, we've had three consecutive weeks in which we've seen a ballet. Later this week, a performance of Romeo and Juliet will cap off a string of ballets that have had a decidedly literary bent. We've already seen Onegin, a ballet based on the novel of the same name by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. It had all the drama and all the folk dancing that you'd expect from a classic Russian tale, yet was somewhat unexpectedly modern in that it's a full length story ballet that features a shallow, womanizing man as the title character, rather than, say, a beautiful princess or fairy. For our second show, we saw a group of shorter repertory pieces, including Apollo, featuring the mythical god of music and the three Greek muses of dance, mime, and poetry. Choreographed by Balanchine, it's one of the most iconic ballets with many moments that would be instantly recognizable to anyone who even casually follows dance.

My favorite ballet so far this year was actually the one with the least tie to literature: The Firebird. Based on a Russian folk tale, it's a fanciful story in which a prince searching for his true love encounters a magical firebird. He captures one of her feathers, which he later uses to call the firebird to his aid when he battles against an evil sorcerer who has enchanted the prince's true love. Although it was first performed as a ballet in 1910, this year ABT debuted a new version, re-imagined by the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky. The staging of it was absolutely spectacular, with moody, over the top scenery and costumes. Throughout the performance I kept thinking that if Tim Burton were to stage a ballet, it would look like The Firebird.

(images via here)

These pictures don't even begin to do justice to the live performance. I'd highly recommend seeing this if you ever get the chance. I think it would captivate even a ballet skeptic.

And in related news, you could say that I've really been bitten by the ballet bug this season. I've just started reading Apollo's Angels and started doing some of the Ballet Beautiful workouts. I'll keep you posted on my progress with both of them!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cookalong With: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is a book that's too long for its own good. I really liked it for the first couple hundred of pages and found myself swept up in the story of a world where witches, vampires, and daemons live alongside humans and become drawn into conflict with each other when a non-practicing witch uncovers a rare and magical manuscript from Oxford's Bodleian Library. It had all of the light, entertaining qualities you'd expect to find in this kind of book, plus some interesting historical details and an Oxford setting that was bound to appeal to me. I was pretty sure I had a real page-turned on my hands. Then I hit a point where my interest just waned. I realized that all of the new, magical revelations that kept coming one after another weren't really leading to anything. It felt like the author was trying to set the stage for the sequel rather than build a strong plot that could stand on its own in this book. And while I started out easily overlooking a few instances of cheesy writing and characterization, they began to grate on me after 500+ pages.

On a positive note, there was one scene that really stuck with me: While eating at a local diner, the main character (who is basically this book's version of Brad Pitt's character in Ocean's Eleven and is munching on something throughout most of the novel) orders a big breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast. When the waitress brings it, she includes a side of roasted vegetables. For some reason, this combination, though nothing groundbreaking, just sounded so good to me. I couldn't get it out of my head and decided to recreate a version of it for myself.

I tossed some chopped mixed vegetables (I used one potato, one onion, and some cherry tomatoes) in olive oil and salt and roasted them on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. When they were done, I topped them with a couple of poached eggs. It was as satisfying a meal as I had imagined it to be.

Bottom line: If you're a huge fan of the magical creatures genre, you may want to give the book a try. If not, skip it and make some veggies and eggs for breakfast instead.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Fancies

It's always interesting when bloggers that I read regularly go through big life events, like getting married. It's fun to look at the photos they choose to share from those occasions. This week, I've been following the wedding posts over on Cupcakes and Cashmere. I think the wedding photography is absolutely amazing (check out some examples here, here, and here). I'm a big fan of a shallow depth of field in any kind of photography, but I've never seen it used in wedding pictures quite like it is in some of these. The effect is very cool, especially in the photos where blurred edges leave the bride and groom looking like miniature versions of themselves.

(another image with cool depth of field, via here)

Some other things worth checking out:

A nice article by Jay McInerney about The Great Gatsby. (So interesting to think about the British reception of the novel!)

I like the look of layering delicate bracelets.

For the treat of the week, it's a tie between these pretty, summery macarons and these cookie bowls.

And what do you think about this list of 30 books to read before you're 30? I've only made it through 15 of them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Since I watch more movies through Netflix than I see in theaters these days, it's rare for me to have a movie recommendation that's not a year or two past due. That's why, when I have an actual current movie to recommend, like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I have to jump at the chance.

The ensemble cast of heavyweight actors portrays a group of British retirees who, for various reasons, decide to spend their retirement in India at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a luxurious retreat for older adults. Of course, when they arrive they find that things aren't quite as luxurious as advertised. Although some funny moments ensue as each character adapts to the new culture in his or her own way, the story as a whole is weightier than the commercials portray, and ultimately very uplifting. The crowd in the theater where I saw it was definitely skewed toward older generations, but I'd say this is a must see for any age. Or a must-Netflix, if your habits run more towards mine.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On the Line

Over the weekend I made my first visit to The High Line, a park built on a long-abandoned elevated railroad track that runs along the west side of Manhattan. It only took three years and a visit from my friend Lara to prompt me to finally go. Although I'd seen enough picture of it to know what to expect, I was surprised at how peaceful it was. The natural, undone feel of the landscaping provides a respite from the city below while the great views provide a new perspective on the typical urban landscape--as well as a voyeuristic peek into some of the fancy apartments that run along it! Definitely worth a return trip.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Greenery Street

Greenery Street by Denis Mackail, is an interesting novel in that it doesn't concern itself with sticking to a traditional narrative trajectory. In fact, it tells the reader right up front exactly what will happen in the course of the book: Ian and Felicity Foster, a newlywed couple in 1920's London, will move into their first home on Greenery Street, a block filled with other young married couples, settle in for a year or so, and ultimately leave Greenery Street once they start a family and outgrow their small house (small, that is, in the way that three floors serviced by a maid and a cook is considered small). There are a few recurring threads during the course of the novel, like whiffs of marriage trouble for Felicity's older sister and foreboding bills that keep arriving to challenge the Foster's limited income, but most everything else that occurs between the opening and closing pages is limited to the minute dramas of daily life.

Knowing all of that from the beginning, I started the book tentatively, unsure of how engaging a simple slice of life tale would be. Although by no means the most compelling or entertaining book I've read, I was pleasantly surprised by how much it held my interest. It was fun watch the Fosters try to navigate the mundane challenges of married life, completely unaware of their own naiveté. There were a handful of times when Felicity's character verged on being irritating, particularly in the constant emphasis of her lack of common sense with money, or her frivolous reading habits. For the most part, though, Felicity's faults were balanced by an equal amount of ridiculousness on Ian's part, which kept her from being too much of a caricature of a "silly little woman". Together, Felicity and Ian take small steps to overcome a shared inexperience in a way that's mostly charming and easy to relate to, even from a modern reader's perspective.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Friday Fancies

This week was a strange one in that it was incredibly busy, but also felt incredibly long. I was constantly running around, both for fun things, like ballets and book expos, and more tedious things, like errands that took me in a million different directions. The beginning of the week felt like it should have been the end of the week, and by the time the end actually arrived I had no idea what day it was. That's my long winded way of saying I'm really looking forward to the weekend. After I catch up on some rest, I'll be getting together with some out of town friends who are making a surprise trip to the city. Hope you have some fun or relaxing plans of your own (or, preferably, a little bit of both).

(image via here)

Here are some highlights from this week:

Book Snob has been writing a great series of posts as she rereads Emma. You can check out the first two installments here and here.

Who knew that Orla Kiely designed a line for Uniqlo? Some of her graphic prints would be very cute for summer.

Doesn't this Gatsby themed party look lovely?

I'm currently loving the photography on this blog.

And Humans of New York is a compelling collection of street portraits. On a completely random note, remember when I wrote about the crazy wig-wearing topless lady who crashed Mindy Kaling's book signing? She's actually shown in one of these, so click through the portraits at your own risk!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

BEA 2012

Yesterday I got to spend the afternoon at this year's BEA convention. Although I go for work, it's pretty hard to ignore all of the new and upcoming books that appeal to my personal reading habits. With memories of the sore shoulder I got when I filled my bag to the brim with galleys last year--some of which I have yet to read--I tried to be more judicious with my freebie grabbing and only took one book. I did, however, come away with a long list of upcoming titles to add to my To Read list. Here are the ones that I'm most looking forward to:

New novels by three of my favorites:

And a novel by an unknown (to me) author that sounds intriguing:

A re-release of one of Nancy Mitford's books:

A compilation of letters that people, both famous and ordinary, wrote to their dogs. The one on the page I flipped open to was addressed to a Millie. Enough said.

A knitting book in which the projects are modeled by Christina Hendricks. (She's apparently friends with the author and also models for her Etsy shop.)

A cookbook all about eating locally and seasonally in the winter:

And one that brings a modern, accessible eye to Polish cooking:

Oh, and did I forget to mention that I got to meet Ina Garten!? She was signing recipe cards to promote the next Barefoot Contessa book. I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from asking her about Jeffrey!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Last Straw

Despite the fact that I'm still sorely in need of a few more summer basics--like shoes and skirts--all I really want to shop for are glasses and hats. I've convinced myself that I can't let this summer go by without owning a straw hat, in either a floppy sun hat or fedora style (or, most likely, both).

Some of the contenders (clockwise from right: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Are you a hat person?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Nothing Nice to Say

You know that old adage, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all"? For blogging purposes, I’ve decided to reinterpret that as, “If you have nothing nice to say about a few books, say it all in a single post to get the negativity over and done with at one time”. I’m just coming off of an unlucky streak of having read a few books in a row that, at best, fell short of my expectations and, at worst, really annoyed me. Here are the culprits:

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine was the worst offender of the bunch. It actually prompted me to go into uncharted territory and give it a meager one star rating on Goodreads. This book was a complete impulse purchase for me. I hadn’t heard anything about it until I saw it on the bookstore shelf one day and was amused by its premise: A recent college grad, struggling with her job, her boyfriend, and life in general, has an “Aha!” moment while reading the classic Treasure Island and decides that she needs to start living her life according to the adventurous ideals that Robert Louis Stevenson sets out for his characters. It sounded like a fun spoof and the narrator promised to be one of those unlikeable heroines who’s actually a little bit lovable in the way that she bungles everything she touches. I can now safely say that this was not the case. It’s definitely a satire, but one without much actual humor, and the protagonist was purely unlikeable and extremely annoying. I found it to be an extremely depressing read, not because of any tragic subject matter, but because of its bleak and boring point of view.

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma was another book that I had high hopes for based on the premise alone. A memoir, it’s about a reading streak that the author and her father start when she’s a young girl, when they set the goal of reading aloud together for 100 nights. They meet that goal and continue on, then continue on some more, and finally end their streak by reading together one last time the day the author leaves for college. The idea of the reading streak is very sweet and I wanted to like it solely based on that, but I felt like the author didn't connect the reading theme to the rest of her life as strongly as she could have. Anecdotes about the quirky ways she and her father found time to squeeze in reading (in a parking lot after a late night play rehearsal, or just before leaving for the prom) didn’t provide enough of a narrative arc to tie the book together, making the various chapters feel only loosely connected and only vaguely interesting.

And finally, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever is a short story collection by Justin Taylor that garnered a fair amount of critical praise. A lot of the writing was quite good. Some of the stories, when taken individually, had the feeling of something that you might read in a writing workshop, written by the best student in the class. That probably sounds like the most backhanded of compliments, but I actually did think it added a nice quality to some of the pieces. Where the real problem lay was in the fact that I didn’t find much meaning in the characters or in the themes the stories explore, and was left feeling pretty disinterested by the time I got through the collection.

Since I don't want to be the only Negative Nellie today, tell me, have you been disappointed by any books lately?

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Royal Time

Have you gotten to see any of the festivities going on in England for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebration? I've been enjoying all the glimpses I've been able to get, especially some of those posted by British-based bloggers (like this one and this one).

Since, unfortunately, the U.S. didn't decide to take a two day holiday to help honor our neighbors across the pond, I'm left to get into the spirit of things by trolling for images online. Here are some of my favorites:

A portrait of the young Queen.

A glimpse of the river pagent of boats on the Thames.

The Queen on her boat. I heard she stood for four hours straight during the cruise, in the rain! Pretty impressive for a lady of her age.

Kate, riding on the Queen's boat, wearing yet another enviable hat.

A less enviable outfit on Princess Anne. I know next to nothing about her, but I can't help feeling like she's missing out on the fun of dressing up that the female Royals usually get to enjoy.

All of London looks to be decked out, from hotels.... shop windows...

...and even a Banksy!

Are you following the events in England? Have you seen any great images of the Jubilee? Do share!

(images via: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)


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