Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ikea!

Although I do love Ikea, I am not sure that I love Ikea this much.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Good Dog Jake!

911 rescue dog Jake has gone where all good dogs go. Plenty of chicken strip treats in heaven, Jake, and you can get your muddy paws on the sofa all you want.

Hasta la vista, Jake!

The Perils of Chicklit, Averted

So what authors do the Mrs. Generals of our last dispatch consider appropriately uplifting for the modern girl?

"Among the modern writers," Mrs. Miles continued, "I enjoy Bret Harte, whose stories deal with life on the free Western frontier with which I am so familiar. Then what could be finer than Frances Hodgson Burnett's That Lass o' Lowries? I find Mary Cecil Hay's novels elevating, and so also are some of the works of 'The Duchess', although her books are light and frivolous."

I think I'll stick with pernicious books. Not for me the lilies and languors of virtue when I could be reveling in the roses and raptures of vice.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Perils of Chicklit, circa 1883

"There is a great deal of talk just now about the dangers of the immoral French novel and of this paper-backed literature of which the modern girl is so fond. I asked a number of our well-read Washington women what they thought of the present craze and what effect it may have on our daughters.

The question seemed to have considerable interest for Mrs. General Sheridan, who devotes much time to the education of her three girls.

"My own three daughters," she said, "are too young to be allowed to read novels, so the question has not yet been forced upon me. But I do not approve of indiscriminate indulgences in modern novel reading for anyone. It drains and enervates the mind, making it unfit for more solid food. In my opinion, no young girl should be permitted to read such light literature until she has attained the age of eighteen.

"In my youth the unformed mind was not allowed the wide license in reading which is now granted to girls in their teens. George Eliot and Ouida fascinate them by the beauty of their style, veiling evil with a mantle of choice language, and so deceiving the unsuspecting young reader until she cannot tell the good from the bad. The literary merit of George Eliot tempts many to place her works on a footing with the best authors, but her moral influence is corrupting, or at least confusing.

"The writings of Tolstoy, of course, should not be allowed in any decent home." Mrs. Sheridan spoke with strong feeling. "His Kreutzer Sonata was written with no higher aim than to depict vice in alluring colors."

Mrs. General Miles agrees with Mrs. Sheridan on this point. "I think the two worst novels I ever read were Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and The Quick and the Dead by Amelie Rives," she said to me. " "Anna Karenina is without a doubt the most pernicious book on the market. It should never be placed in the hands of any young man or young woman."

From
Chapter XIV--Among the Literati
Carp's Washington
Frank G. Carpenter


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Oh Dear...

I had no idea things were so bad in Japan.

Since I too have been limited to an algorithm-based emotion detection for some time, ever since an unfortunate incident with a hair-dryer and a wormhole, I feel their pain. I hope things improve there soon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Congress Remains the Same...

"How did these men get here? In various ways. Some bought their seats, it is charged, and some hold them through their friendships with great corporations. Some got them by drinking in barrooms to cultivate the slum voters. Some hypocritically slid into them by praying in the churches at the same time. Others hold their places by the favor of certain district rings, and the mainspring which runs the successful machinery of still others is the sending out of seeds and government documents to their farming constituents.

A few members of Congress are really great men, but these I can count on my fingers. A few more are noble and upright, and now and then you will find one who casts his vote for his country's good and not just because it will benefit himself. Most of the others swell about and pose as great men. I suppose they feel great, except at election time when they drink, truckle, and boot-lick to maintain their greatness. Congressional greatness--faugh!"

From Carp's Washington, a collection of the newspaper columns of reporter Frank G. Carpenter, who was reporting in---1883!

Somehow I find this comforting. The men in Washington have always been crooks--even within spitting distance of the creation of Congress. If 19th century America could survive them, and 20th century America could survive them, surely we Americans of the 21st century will survive, as well. She says hopefully.

Various...

  • Adios, Harry. Don't let the door hit you on the hinder as you leave.
  • The Angry Island: Hunting the English, by A.A. Gill. After reading reviews, I expected something a bit angrier. Anecdotal books are always better if they are loaded with anecdotes, even if these anecdotes are totally anecdotal. So it's weird when an anecdotal book doesn't actually contain a lot of anecdotes. The author's photo is pretty angry, tho. (He looks just like Lymond's daddy.)
  • Pig and I are sick that we missed The Chap & Hendrick's 2007 Olympiad. Pig is sure that he would have won the Martini KnockOut Relay handily. (We hates vermouth.) Next year for sure. Pig has already ordered his plus-fours.
  • Meadowlands. As reviews have pointed out, the show, which chronicles the lives of a people in witness protection who have been confined to a cheerful British sub-division, is rather Twin Peaks Lite. However, it gets points for some of the best decorator porn I've seen in a while (all the interiors are straight out of Living, Etc.) and I am now seriously considering painting our living room emerald green and replacing our chandelier with a hot pink plastic dome light. Anyway, since there's nothing much else good on TV right now, so we'll probably keep watching the show, and maybe I'll get a few more decorator tips.
  • Ratatoullie. The rat was cute, and the animation incredible, but the star of the show was Peter O'Toole, whose voice alone should be considered a National Treasure. I suddenly have the urge to go watch Lawrence of Arabia again. O'Toole and Sharif. Deep sigh. "Of course it hurts...the trick is not to mind."
  • (I don't like rataoullie.)
  • But I do like Goat's Milk Yoghurt--yummm!

Jon Armstrong's Grey now Podcasting!

I was lucky enough to read Jon Armstrong's Grey back when it was still a twinkle in his computer, as of yet unpublished and a wee bit unpolished. Then, I got to read the book again in its polished and published form and it was even better than I had remembered it...

Jane Austen meets William Gibson channeling Romeo & Juliet as chronicled by W Magazine, Gray is a futuristic techno-thriller comedy of manners with a fashionable edge. It's less science fiction than science fashion, a sartorial satire of the pret-a-porter future. That's the fun for the fashion geeks. For the tech geeks there is plenty of that too, along with a huge dose of wacky Japanese-style pop culture, and, of course, plenty of dystopia.

Many times you've been told about how original a book is or how its author is a compelling new voice. Usually these proclamations are just PR cant. But this time such sweeping statements are actually true. I can not, off the top of my head, think of one other book I've ever read that was even remotely like Gray. It's original and terrific. If you don't believe me, go to Jon's myspace page where experts agree. Then quit wasting your time and go read the book.

You can purchase Gray directly from the Night Shade Books Boys (their super-huge sale is still going on, too, what a deal) or you can listen to it via podcast, downloadable at Jon's website.


"A couture confection delineating the perils of slack-jawed sportswear and tyrannical parenting styles." The Warlord's Wear Weekly

"Star-crossed love amidst the ashes of corporate globalization and mergers of convenience." The Alta Califa

"Can a man of tasteful sartorial splendor survive and flourish in a world of crass decadence and trashy cultural trends? With style, subtlety and an expert tailor, anything is possible." The Sad Iron: Journal of The International Union of Haberdashers

Sorry...

I been sick.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I blush...

An Amazon review, via Bluejack:

Is the world ready for Wilce?, July 13, 2007
By Bluejack (Seattle, WA)

Here's a fact: Ysabeau S. Wilce is profoundly original. If you read all the customer reviews here, you'll get the sense that this is not your formula fantasy. But let's make that point more clearly--you will never read another story like this one (unless, possibly, it's her next one, which we all eagerly anticipate).

This is the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of what could, and certainly should, be the next story franchise that graduates from cult status to mainstream blockbuster. Wilce doesn't sugar coat the risks of adolescence: she dips them in ice cream, lights them on fire, and serves the reader a flaming torch of strange wonder.

Laughter and thrilling excitement are delightful companions all through this romp. The subtitle gives a sense of the former, but don't underestimate Wilce's storytelling: great characters in real trouble make for great reading, and Flora is a heroine who speaks equally to the reality as well as the ambitions of young people.

Oh yes, and while this is not specifically a unique observation, I'd also like to note that it is always refreshing to find a fantasy that does not take place in something that could pass for Northern Europe."

Thank you, Sieur Bluejack!

Even Austen Can't Get out of the Slush Pile!

The Guardian reports that David Lassen, the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, decided to see if Madama Austen could get out of the slush pile. Under a fake name, Sieur Lassen submitted the first paragraphs of her most famous novels to a whole slew of British publishers. Though he did change the titles and the character names, the text remained the same.

He was rejected by all 19 UK publishers and only one of them noticed the startling similarities between the submission and Pride and Prejudice. This may only say something about the speed-reading qualities of the average slush pile reader, or that tastes change, but it certainly can be disheartening. If Madama Austen can't get interest today, what hope do the rest of us today have?

This reminds of me of a few years ago, when someone (it might have been the ACLU, I don't remember) retyped the Bill of Rights into a petition and stood on a street-corner, trying to get people to sign it. Most would not, saying that it was far too radical and revolutionary. No one actually recognized it.

Yep.

(via Galleycat)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Night Shade Books & Eclipse

So, Night Shade Books is running a super smoking sale right now: if you use the coupon code NSB0750 and order at least four books you'll get 50 percent off. Considering we are talking beautifully designed books by such luminaries as Kage Baker, Lucius Shepard, Glen Cook, and Clark Ashton Smith, this is a deal indeed. I've already placed my big fat order--maybe you should go do the same. Let's do our part and keep the gentlemen in zoot suits.

Which brings me to the fact that Eclipse, the anthology in which Quartermaster Returns will be appearing, is now available for pre-order. So don't you think you should be doing that, too?


1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference!

Gwenda has turned me on to the 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference, which is being organized by Robin Brande, and which will take place here in Chicago the weekend of October 6-7, 2007.

The conference contents are still being discussed; the whole thing started out as an informal get-together but so many people were interested in something more that the dinner turned into a conference. Kidlit bloggers and authors are welcome, and the attendance list so far sounds pretty stellar. I'm excited because not much happens in Chicago, lit-wise, and this sounds as though its going to be a lot fun.

Robin has set up a yahoo group for convos and discussion. If you are interested in attending, shoot her an email and she'll add you to the list.

And spread the word--the more the merrier!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Happy Birthday!

Today is Barbara Stanwyck's 100th birthday!

Of all the leading ladies of the Hollywood's Golden Age, Barbara Stanwyck is definitely my favorite. She could play tough and tender, slapstick and woe--heck, in The Lady Eve she even fooled Henry Fonda into thinking she was two entirely different dames. She could sing and dance; she had legs so long they went all the way up to her waist, and even when playing the matriarch of a Western ranch family she sizzled--she made Linda Evans, years younger, look jejune and boring in comparison.

My favorite Stanwyck film remains Ball of Fire, where as Sugarpuss O'Shea she turns linguist Gary Cooper into her tongue-tied slavering love-slave. Stanwyck's rendition of Drum-Boogie (with Gene Krupa on match-box) puts all other versions, including Judy Garland's, to shame.

Second favorite: Lady of Burlesque, based upon a novel by Gypsy Rose Lee. Singing, dancing, murder--what's not to love?

But it's impossible to pick the definitive Standwyck performance. Glamorous murderous in Double Indemnity? Proto-Martha Stewart in Christmas in Connecticut? Neurotic bedridden murder victim in Sorry Wrong Number? Scheming slum girl in Baby Face? Perky idealistic newspaperwoman in Meet John Doe? She was in 106 films and she never gave a bad performance.

Happy Birthday, Madama Stanwyck!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Working...

I am actually working very hard on my rewrite, hence my less than entertaining bloggy posts recently. I beg your humble pardon, but hope that once you get a chance to read FLORA REDUX, you'll think my efforts well placed...And will forgive my lapses...

Thank you...

A Match Made in Heaven...

Quick--name the two best foods ever--

Yep, that's right: chocolate and bacon.

Oh the dark smoky deliciousness of chocolate and the fatty salty pork-y goodness of bacon. Two taste sensations that no one could ever grow tired of...but which until now had to be savored individually, alone.

Well, no more.

Devilman and I happened to be strolling by the Vosges Chocolate boutique in Lincoln Square when we saw a tantalizing sign advertising Bacon and Chocolate. Of course, we had to investigate, and once lured inside we discovered the Vosges has hit pure genius with its newest offering: Mo's Bacon Bar, a lip-smacking combo of applewood smoked bacon, alder wood smoked salt and deep milk chocolate.

Even Willy Wonka was never this inspired.

Needless to say, Devilman and I immediately snatched up a Bacon Bar and crammed it into our yawning maws like starved animals--and I have pleased to report that it is pretty darn good. The chocolate is only 41 percent, which is usually much too light-weight for me (I prefer 65 and above)--but the darkness of the salt and the bacon really need the sweet smoothness of milk chocolate. Tho' I'd probably have been happy to gobble down an entire slice of bacon dipped in chocolate (and I'm wondering why I never thought of this before), the bacon in the Bacon Bar has been pulverized, so it adds just a touch of porky crunch to each bite--an accent that is not over-powering at all. If you didn't know the nuggets were bacon, you might not recognize the flavour at first--it's subtle. But delicious.

I have to say that Vosges truffles are not my favorite, and, of their other exotic bars, only the Barcelona Bar really tempts me, but the Bacon Bar is so genius that it has already jumped to the top of my chocolate bar list. Of course, such genius is not cheap: the Bacon Bar is 7 bucks for 3 ounces. But such deliciousness really should be savoured, not gobbled (our first taste test not withstanding). I can make those 3 ounces last three or four days, so I don't really find the price that objectionable. Besides which, chocolate (like coffee) truly is one of those you get what you pay for delicacies. There's a reason why a Hersheys chocolate bar is only 75 cents: wax is cheap.

For those worried about their sugar intake, Vosges has also introduced a sugar-free version of their Red Fire Bar. I'm not sure what the sweetener in this bar is, nor did I get a chance to taste it, as Devilman ate the whole bar last night--but clearly it must have been pretty good.

But I think I'll stick with bacon.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Yum!

Because not only do you not know where street food has been--but you don't know what it is in it, either.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Loliga!

Giant Loliga washes up on beach in Australia.

Poor thing.

ps. Yes, I realize that technically, this squid is a member of the Family Architeuthidae, not the Family Loliginidae....

Flora Invades Leeds!

William the Bastard and Haraldr Hardhands have got nada on Flora--they never made it anywhere near Leeds, but Flora's campaign to conquer England is already well in-hand, viz. this picture, kindly supplied to me by the Fellow Clarionite & Border Collie Mamma Stephanie Burgis. As you can see, Flora is front and center, on a table, with many other books, tho' none, if I may say so myself, have quite such a striking cover. Madama Burgis assures me that more copies of Flora Segunda were to be found in the stacks, as well..So Borders was well-stocked. Here's hoping that Flora's 2007 makes William's 1066 look just like all that!

And muchas gracias to Madama Burgis for the pics!

PS. Nini Mo says never leave your armour in the boats, no matter how hot the day.

Aristos...and Ludwig Bemelmans...

Last week's obituary of the last of the rakehells, Prince Otto von Bismarck, brought to mind my favorite opening paragraphs of any novel ever.

I refer, of course, to the beginning of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep by Ludwig Bemelmans. Today, Sieur Bemelmans is remembered chiefly as the creator of that most Parisian of all children, Madeline, but in his time, he was also the author of many adult novels, travelogues, and other non-fiction, all of which showed him to be a man of culture, wit, and melancholy disposition--in other words, exactly my literary type!

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep tells the story of the aristocratic lay-about General Leonidas Erosas, who finds his luxuriously sleepy lifestyle in the South of France suddenly interrupted by a bunch of tiresome bureaucrats--the Nazis. General Estes decides to return to his estates in South America. Accompanied by his suicidal English governess, his illiterate Indian manservant, his valet, his doctor, his cook, his beautiful Spanish mistress, a scrapbook of menus, sixteen carpets, his portrait, several boxes of cigars, six jars of pate, and three Great Danes, the General sets off...but 1942 is not a good year for travel...


Chapter 1: Biarritz

In the days when the King of Spain's only concern was that no one should clip a second off his record run from San Sebastian to Biarritz...

Amidst the boom-tara of unending fiestas, of gala dinners in blossom-lined ballrooms in which a thousand songbirds were released, half of them to be swept out the next day...

In the good old days when the amateur mechanic, the Marques Ricardo Soreano, amused himself himself by pushing a button under his table that ingeniously released a menagerie of tigers, lions, and crocodiles, which suddenly stared into the dining room through the large plate glass windows and frightened his guests to death...

When the young and radiant Natasha Brailovski shot herself through the heart over her father's grave with a ridiculously small jeweled revolver that was practically made by Cartier...

...and the handsome, immaculately groomed Antonio de Portago, dream man of the American debutantes, married, had all his debts paid, and later died for Franco...

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
Ludwig Bemelmans
New York: Viking Press, 1942.


If you only know Sieur Bemelmans via Madeline, I urge you to check out his other fiction; he's a master at characterization, and his books very much capture the frantic sadness of the years between the Great War and the World War, and the rich aristos that were about to find themselves as out-dated as the dodo, refugees of a flood they contributed to but could not control. There's a bit of a faery-tale quality to Sieur Bemelman's novels, despite that they are set in our own world. His characters live in a sort of faeryland dreamland, and when they are forced to confront the decidedly unfaeryland-like real world--they are bewildered and lost--but their very obliviousness allows them to survive. Poor Prince von Bismarck reminds me very much of a character in a Bemelman novel...

If you live in New York City (or just visit) and haven't been to the Bemelmans Bar at the Hotel Carlyle, you must do so ASAP. An Art-Deco treasure, the bar features a mural by Sieur Bemelmans, and fantastic cocktails . Its one of the few places in New York you can get a proper Pisco Sour, which makes sense as the bar has been presided over by the same gentleman since the Truman Administration.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Look out Harry Potter--there's a New Hero in Town!

At long last I'm pleased to announce that Flora Segunda of Crackpot Hall is now available across in the U.K.

Though the novel's text remains the same, Flora Segunda of CH does have some supplemental material, including Nini Mo's Tips for Rangers, a Cast of Characters, a short bio of yours truly and a few other little treats. Plus, the cover is terrific--the image on Amazon really does not do it justice at all. The book's a paperback, so there's no dust-jacket, but it does have a double cover that opens up to a series of portraits by Finnish artist Heli Heita--we've got Flynn, and Mamma, Poppy (looking slightly Uncle Fester-y, alas), Udo and Valefor, and a lovely full portrait of our hero, Flora, looking mighty heroic in her redingote, The Eschatanomicon tucked under her arm. Really really cool.

Woo!

Ikea...

I love Ikea.

Visiting Ikea is like journeying to a strange foreign land where everyone lives happy organized lives with furniture named after streams and places in Denmark. Oh, how happy and organized I would be if I lived in an Ikea-display home...

The smell of their cinnamon rolls reminds me of when I visited Sweden and got motion sick on the bus trip to Stockholm, and thought my Dramamine was in my checked luggage, when it was actually in my carry-on, as we found out when we stopped for gas, and my Furious Friend made the driver open the hold to get my luggage so we could get my Dramamine, and then discovered I had had it all the time. There was a lady on the bus selling cinnamon rolls, and now every time I smell them, I get sort of nausous in a nostalgic way.

Ikea is great for site-seeing, and great for shopping for some stuff, but the quality isn't always there. You get what you pay for, eh? Anyway, here comes Ikea Hack, which argues that you can take mass-produced Swedish furniture and re-purpose it as needed. What a fab idea! Hack away...

Friday, July 6, 2007

Alas, Poor Gottfried...

I had no idea they made 'em like Prince Gottfried von Bismarck anymore...He was a true thr0wback to another, more decadent, time. And now he is gone, alas...

If only my obituary shall contain the words "flamboyant waster" and "gilded aimlessness"...I would die happy. Also, I long some day to misbehave and be summoned home to my family's castle for a stern talking to...And the dinner party with pig's heads--brilliant! Next party...

Goodnight sweet prince, Oscar, Piers, Monsieur, and Ziggy are waiting to sing you to your rest.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Final Edit!

At long last I have begun the final edit of FLORA REDUX, aiming to have it finished by the middle of August, if not earlier...

Consequently, my blogging may be a bit light for the foreseeable future, or perhaps not as informative and entertaining as usual. Just so you know...

I'm very excited about FLORA REDUX--I had a much easier time writing it than I did FLORA SEGUNDA, and I think its a much more thrilling and exciting yarn. New perils, old troubles, and, of course, waffles...

Hmmmm...waffles...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Ex Libris...

This week I read:
  • The Proud Villeins & The Ruthless Yeoman, both by Valerie Anand. Excellent historical fiction tracing the fortunes of one family from 1066 onward. Sadly out of print, but readily available on Amazon. I've got the next book in the series (there are six total) on order, and hope it comes soon...I've read the entire series before, and it is excellent.
  • Through A Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen. Historical romance set in 1720's. I read this when it first came out (in the '80s) and thought it was pretty good. Now I'm not sure why I thought that. It's adequate as love-story, mostly adequate as history, but nothing special.
  • The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown. What a ripping yarn! The mating patterns of the British aristocracy are as fascinating and arcane as those of any primitive tribe. (You think the Hadraada Family is bad!) Plus, Tina's got a flair for devastatingly hilarious description. Accuracy aside (who knows?), a thoroughly delicious book.
  • Through Europe on Two Dollars a Day by Frank Schoonmaker. Alas, the day which Sieur Schoonmaker was alluding was in 1927, but it's always interesting to read old travel books. European travel books from this period are particularly poignant as many of the sites our intrepid author describes were fifteen years away from being bombed into oblivion.
  • Night of the Jaguar & Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber. Excellent mystery thrillers set in Miami. Those who liked Silence of the Lambs and other ilk of its kind will enjoy all of Michael Gruber's novels. Who says beach reads have to be completely trashy and horribly written?
  • Crazy like a Fox by S.J. Perelman. Oh how Sieur Perelman can crack me up. If he was funny enough for the Marx Brothers, he's funny enough for the rest of us too. No one has better caught the idiocies of youth than Perelman's Cloudland Revisited pieces. They are the proverbial riot. Why is he so forgotten today?
  • The first six pages of Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. Think Gone with the Wind (only racer--for the time that is) set in Restoration England. It's a pretty good book, and I've read it several times before; I finally picked up an old hardback, and I had to test it out, but I wasn't in the mood to go all the way through.
  • Halfway through My Brother Michael and The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart. Pretty good late '50s early 60s gothic romances. Stewart's heroines are usually pretty capable, and almost always career women of some kind. Her settings (in this case Greece) are quite vivid; I've always envied her ease with physical description. But neither book is my favorite Mary Stewart (that would be The Gabriel Hounds) so I've been rather slow about finishing.
  • Also, this week's New Yorker, The Economist, The New Scientist, the Sunday Times, The New Republic, July's Cookie, Blueprint, W, and a bunch of old Atlantics my brother had lying around.
It was a rather slow week.

Yummy, Part III..

Details (and the truth) can be so tedious, no?

But in the interests of fairness, I feel I must report that there was more to the Weinermobile traffic stop than originally met The Arizona Republic's eye. The AP elaborates with details that make the DPS officer look a wee bit less of a Barney Fife, exonerates Wisconsin completely, and puts Missouri firmly in the dog-house. The Weiner remains, as before, blameless.

Yummy, Part II...

Well.

Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.