Monday, June 27, 2011

Happy Fourth

So I know there's still a whole week to go until the Fourth of July, but I'll be signing out of blog land a bit early this week. Tomorrow night I'm hitting a Broadway show, and then it's one more day of work and I'm off for a luxurious six day weekend.

How will you be spending the holiday?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Leaving Rock Harbor

I'm hereby nominating Leaving Rock Harbor as a great summer/ vacation/ beach reading book. It's compelling in a "race through it while lying on a lounge chair" kind of way, but isn't trashy or trite, like so many other beach reads sometimes are.

Rebecca Chace tells the story of Frankie, a girl growing up in a fictional Cape Cod town, and the love triangle that develops between her, a politically active Portuguese factory worker, and wealthy son of a prominent politician and factory owner. It's tempered by the historical setting and social background of the boom of the 1920's and the downturn of the 1930's. The combination of a complex love story with the social commentary of the time period makes for an easy read that doesn't feel frivolous. In fact, to get literary for a minute, I actually thought it echoed some of the George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell novels I've read that deal with similar social themes.

Random side note: This is the second book I've read in a row that involves a young woman, an early nineteenth century setting, and a connection to Argentina. Have I stumbled across a new microtrend in fiction?

Random side complaint: Is it just me, or is this cover art kind of lame? Maybe I'm being too critical, but it looks like someone just thew together three images that tie in to the story.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer Beauty Bargains

I've spent my fair share of money on pricey Sephora products, but it just so happens that a few of my recent beauty favorites are of the drugstore variety, and all hover around the $10 mark.

For a bright, summery lip, I tried Maybelline ColorSensational Lipstain in Wink of Pink. Like a magic marker for your lips, it goes on light, isn't drying like some other stains, and literally looks (and tastes!) like you just ate a fruity ice pop.

For me, every summer brings a different take on self-tanning. Some years I've tried using those gradual tanning daily moisturizers. Other years, I've been content to let my legs be their natural shade of pale. This summer, I decided to go back on the wagon and have been loving Nivea's Sun Kissed Radiant Skin. It worked almost immediately, but still looked natural. Perhaps best of all, it smells fruity instead of chemical-y.

And finally, if you're going to self-tan, you might as well exfoliate. I've been doing just that with Bath & Body Works True Blue Spa Citrus Body Scrub. It's a refreshing shower-time treat that leaves my skin feeling smooth.

Have you found any beauty bargains this summer?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On the Trail

I spent the past weekend at home with my family. Sunday, being Father's Day, was a "Dad's Choice" day, complete with eating at our favorite seafood restaurant and going to see the X-Men movie. We started out the day by going for a walk along the rail trail, a former railroad line that's been abandoned since the 1970's and has since been reclaimed as a hiking trail that runs through several neighboring towns.

It was my first time on the trail and I was amazed by how peaceful and secluded it is. I'd love to try biking it someday, or maybe even cross country skiing in the winter.

Who knew that magnolias grow in New Jersey?

What could this be? A hive of pine needles?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Young Wife

Getting advance copies of books is fabulous because a) they're free and b) the books that come my way are usually ones that I probably wouldn't have picked up otherwise. The downside of this is when the book that you ordinarily wouldn't have read turns out to be one that you would have been just as happy to do without.

I'm afraid that this was the case with A Young Wife by Pam Lewis.

It's not that there was anything horribly wrong with this novel. The plot is promising enough: in the early 1900's, a Dutch teen is pushed into a marriage with a much older man. She subsequently travels with him to the new colonies of Argentina, and then finally through Ellis Island to New York City. There's even a pretty good twist at the end, and the story does pick up a lot of steam in the final few chapters.

If I had to pinpoint my main complaint with it, though, it's that the author was too good at creating unlikeable characters. It works fine for the villains in the story (and there are quite a few), but it also seems to seep over into the main character, the young wife herself. Instead of rooting for her, I felt disconnected from her for most of the book, and couldn't stop focusing on the fact that she came across as way too mature for the teenager that she is during much of story.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that this is a bad book, just one that left me feeling a bit bored and uninspired.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Deconstructed Yogurt Parfaits

Last week's ninety degree heat wave made me flip the switch into summer eating mode. All I feel like making are light meals and snacks that can be thrown together without turning on the oven or stove.

I recently discovered that Starbucks makes a pretty good Greek yogurt parfait. I decided to try create my own version when I got a package in the mail with a jar of homemade granola from my friend Sadie.

Spoon some plain Greek yogurt into a dish, drizzle with honey, sprinkle with granola, and voila- a perfect yogurt parfait. Just, you know, minus the parfait form.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Persephone Books

As soon as one of my fellow book club members recommended Persephone Books to me, I knew I wanted to start a collection of their books.

A small publishing company based in the UK, Persephone rediscovers forgotten classics from early twentieth century, mostly British, mostly female writers. They describe their titles as "appealing to the discerning reader who prefers books that are neither too literary nor too commercial, and are guaranteed to be readable". Sounds just right to me. Their London shop also looks to be just right- possibly the quaintest bookstore I've ever seen.

Their standard grey, cloth bound editions have vibrant, ornate endpapers hidden beneath the front cover. They also publish a series of paperback editions for some of their bestselling titles, which is where I decided to start for my first Persephone book.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Stracey is a novella originally published in 1932 by the Woolfs (as in Virginia and her husband, Leonard). It's a tongue-in-cheek romp through an upper class family household during the hours leading up to the eldest daughter's wedding. And yes, I know I just used the word "romp" to describe a book, but it actually did come to mind while I was reading it. Truth be told, though, I think I'm more smitten with the cover than with the story itself. I'd love to find a real life version of that drapey green top.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Upper West Side Wanderings

In an effort to make my camera a bigger part of my daily routine, I toted it along with me recently when I had some time to kill before I met up with friends near Lincoln Center.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Latte Art

Let's pretend that today's temperatures aren't hovering around the 100 degree mark here in the Northeast, and that last night it wasn't still a sweaty 89 degrees at 9pm. Instead, let's say it's a cool breezy day, maybe even a little bit overcast, and I'm in the mood for a hot drink.

I have lots of go-to places for a good coffee or latte, but I've never been to a coffee shop where the baristas double as artists and make fancy foam creations like these.

I've decided this needs to be a new mini-goal for myself- to hunt down a place that makes a latte that's both delicious AND beautiful.

Have you ever had a fancy latte creation like one of these?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I'm having a streak of good reading luck. A Visit From the Good Squad- the recent Pulitzer Prize winner by Jennifer Egan and my book club's latest pick- is the third book great book I've read in just about as many weeks.

I won't even try to summarize what the book is about. I think any attempt to would be as misleading as the official jacket copy is. I will say that the chapters tell the stories of different characters, or of different time periods in the lives of characters. As I came to the end of each one, I was so wrapped up in their stories that I wanted to read more, and felt a bit cheated when a new chapter began and a new character or time was introduced. Each one seemed to hold the potential to be spun out into a novel of its own.

I flew through this over the weekend and have been thinking about it ever since. And even though I'm extremely glad I read it, I'm not without criticisms of it. I have a feeling that this is going to make for an interesting book club discussion.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Coffee for You, Tea for Me

I know it's not exactly breaking news that Kate Spade has designed something lovely, but I'm completely charmed by her set of illustrated mugs and teacups that I came across the other day.

How fun would it be to host a tea party using this set? I may have to start a bridal registry just so that I can add all of these to it. Then I'll just have to find a husband who likes his hot beverages served with a big dose of feminine whimsy.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Illumination

Have you ever been surprised by stumbling across a writer that you unexpectedly love? That's how I feel about Kevin Brockmeier. After reading two of his books, he's officially become one of my current favorites.

I first came across his work when I read The Brief History of the Dead. I picked it up ambivalently enough, but ended up being completely enthralled by the story and the writing. It tells the tale of a purgatory city where the dead remain for only as long as someone who knew and remembers them is left on Earth.

His latest book, The Illumination, covers a similar territory of mystical realism. One day, all of the pain in the world is suddenly illuminated, from the small pulsing light of a blistered heel to the bright burst of a gunshot wound to the steady, dull glow of a broken heart. In the midst of all this, a journal of one-line love letters from a husband to his wife passes through the hands of various characters in a series of linked vignettes. I'm probably making this sound a bit obscure, and maybe a bit too supernatural, but it's grounded in well drawn characters and moving, insightful writing.

I'd recommend giving either one of these a try, even if you're skeptically thinking that they don't sound like your thing. You may be just as pleasantly surprised as I was.


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