Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Castle Rock

I just spent several hours on trains to and from a work trip, so get ready for quite a few new book posts over the next few days. First up is The View From Castle Rock by Alice Munro. I guess the best way to describe these stories would be as fictionalized biographies since the collection is based around the author and her ancestors.

I picked this book up on the bargain table at B&N because I had heard good things about the title story, which follows the author's Scottish ancestors as they sail for America for the first time. I enjoyed that story, as well as most of the first half of the book, which stays in this time period, chronicling the settling of her family in North America. The stories in the second half of the book left me feeling a bit disconcerted, though. These feature Munro herself as the narrator and main character during different stages of her life. I couldn't quite fully enjoy these, possibly because I was too wrapped up in wondering just how much of the character in those stories was truly the author and how much was pure fiction.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


A week ago, I got a new look at an old childhood wonder, Lucy the Elephant.

Lucy is a huge, elephant-shaped building that sits right on the beach in Margate, a lovely beach town just south of Atlantic City. She was built in the late 1800s and has been used for various purposes over the years. Today you can go up into her belly, where there's a little museum, and then further up onto her carrier-shaped observation deck (official terminology= a "howdah") that overlooks the ocean.

It's all very fun and kitschy and nostalgic. The Lucy theme has invaded the rest of the town, too, as seen on this water tower and street sign.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Unnamed

Warning: I am about to gush. And possibly use cliches. But The Unnamed is just that good. It's easily the best book I've read in a while, and it puts Joshua Ferris on my list of favorite writers. He was just named one of the New Yorker's 20 under 40 writers. I had read his first novel, Then We Came to the End and liked it, but I don't remember being conscious of loving that one every second I was reading it, which is how I felt about this book.

In The Unnamed, Tim is a highly paid Manhattan lawyer who lives an upper class life in Westchester with his real-estate selling wife and angsty teenage daughter. The story follows the family as they deal with Tim's affliction- his need to take long, nonstop, medically unexplainable walks that leave him falling asleep in crazy places from which his wife needs to come retrieve him. It sounds kind of quirky, and it is, but it's also a lovely and complex portrait of a family. The writing is amazing, and the tone is perfectly balanced- darkly funny at times and very touching at others. Every word in this book is perfect. I'm in awe of Joshua Ferris's writing. This book is one of my new favorites. (See, I warned you that I would gush.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Very Cute, Starbucks

I indulge in Starbucks so often that they don't even need to try to win my business anymore. But if they did, then the packaging on this gift card that I got recently might do the trick.

It's shaped like a little window that looks out onto a spring scene of birds and flowers...

...which are printed on the card when you pull it out. Too cute.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Peanut Butter Fudge Brownies

The wedding I went to recently was held at a casino/ resort, where they had a little bakery area that sold Starbucks coffee and a huge array of every kind of pastry, candy, fudge, dessert, etc. that you can imagine. They had an especially delicious peanut butter truffle brownie. It was basically a really rich brownie that tasted like peanut butter fudge. Or, looking at it another way, fudge with a little bit of brownie mixed in. I showed restraint by only having one three out of the four days that I was there. Now back at home, I tried to recreate it myself. The result wasn't too bad.

I baked a plain old brownie mix from the box. When that was done and cooling, I melted together half a bag of chocolate chips, half a bag of peanut butter chips, and a can of sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan. (That part's adapted from the fudge recipe I make at Christmas.) Then I spread the fudge in a layer on top of the brownies and chilled to harden. I think it's best to let it chill overnight. And next time I may increase the ration of peanut butter chips to chocolate chips. Or possibly make the fudge layer a bit thinner and spread a layer of real peanut butter between that and the brownie.

It sounds like I may have to try this many more times to come up with the perfect formula. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fictional Frank Lloyd Wright

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan is the story of Frank Lloyd Wright's affair with Mameh Borthwick Cheney, a Chicago housewife, intellectual, and suffragist. They meet while he is designing a home for the Cheney family, and eventually leave their respective spouses to live together.

This novel reads like a really good biography, although I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing. If it was a true biography, I would love it for not having that draggy, bogged down feeling that almost all biographies tend to slip into, at least a little bit. But, knowing that this is meant to be fiction, I thought at times it turned into too much of a play by play account of Mameh's life with Frank. There were quite a few scenes, probably included for historical relevance, that felt like they didn't add much to the plot or the character development.

On the plus side, though, is the ending. It's by no means a happy one, but it's so explosively unexpected that the book may be worth reading for the shock of it alone. Also on the plus side, the parts that go into some of Franks Lloyd's Wright's philosophies were quite interesting in that you can really see how he served as the basis for Howard Roark in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.

And on a related note, I've added The Women by T.C. Boyle to my reading list. It's a novel about Frank Lloyd's Wright's relationship with each of his mistresses. Yes, apparently there were many.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Purple Violets

I'd be willing to be that almost nobody has heard of the movie Purple Violets, starring Selma Blair, Patrick Wilson, Debra Messing, and Edward Burns, who also directed it. I hadn't until it popped up on Netflix as a recommended movie for me. After looking it up, I found out that it was originally a movie released solely on itunes by Apple, and then was later released on DVD.

Unlike what I imagine most straight to DVD releases to be like, this was actually really good. It's about the relationships of a foursome of college friends, including two writers, now in their early thirties. Although it's a pretty quiet film- no crazy, dramatic plot twists or anything- it's really well done and makes good use of it's New York setting. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Little Black Dress

You always hear about how one good little black dress can be worn in a million different ways for a million different occasions. Well, for the wedding rehearsal and rehearsal dinner, I actually did just that. I'm pretty proud of my accessorizing skills (as well as of the celebrity-on-a-red-carpet-like pose of my feet in this picture!).

Using a simple, strapless, JCrew sundress I got several years ago as the base, I carried the clutch you're all probably sick of hearing about by now, wore some strappy heels from Target (also several years old) and added a little shrug for warmth at the end of the night. For the key piece, I spiced up the plain dress with a floral sash.

And here I am double-fisting the most important accessory of all- late night, post rehearsal Starbucks.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Wedding Withdrawal

I've heard about the phenomenon of brides feeling let down once the excitement of the wedding is over. In my case, I think that's being extended to bridesmaids as well. I was in my friend Lara's wedding over Memorial Weekend and everything was so lovely, and I had such a wonderful time, that I keep wishing we could do it all over again. I hope she doesn't mind me sharing some of these pictures. But, even if she does, she's on her honeymoon right now. She'll never know!

Here are the bridesmaids. None of us are paying attention in this picture, but it shows all the different styles of dresses we chose.

We all got these dainty pearl earrings to accessorize them with.

I added this pearl and crystal beaded necklace that I got at a little costume jewelry store in Hoboken.

But the award for accessory of the day goes to the bride's green shoes.

Some of us with the bride.

Some of us again. In the background you can see the fireplace that was in the reception room. It was very elegant and Martha Stewart-esque...

...as were the beautiful bouquets...

...and the cake. At dessert time, the rest of this table was filled with hundreds of delicious cookies made by Lara's mom. We were too busy gobbling them up to take a picture.

Emergency veil repair, out on the patio where the cocktail hour was held.

The college gang.

And finally, the main event- the bride and groom saying I Do.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Postmistress

I first heard of The Postmistress by Sarah Blake when it showed up as a "You Might Also Like..." on the Amazon page for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I absolutely loved. Turns out that lots of others must have heard about it before I did, because the waiting list at the library was over 150 people long. I finally got it and, despite being suspicious by the dried rose on the cover (that's usually a red flag for me) I gave it a try.

This book had the potential to be either really cheesy or really good. It definitely leans more toward the good side of things, but I wouldn't go as far as saying it was great. Set just before the U.S. enters WWII, it intertwines the stories of three characters- the postmistress of the town of Franklin, MA, at the tip of Cape Cod, a young wife in that town who is waiting for her doctor husband to return from England, and a young, female radio war correspondent in Europe who works with real historical figures like Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle. The general story was good and the characters were well done, but something ultimately felt unsatisfying about this book and I can't put my finger on exactly what it was. The writing was mostly good, but there were a lot of point of view shifts that seemed like they could have been handled better. The ending didn't feel quite right to me either. It seemed too rushed and contrived in the way it tied things up, yet at the same time left some other loose threads hanging.

Bottom line- not a bad book and probably worth reading, but not something I completely loved.


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