Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tongue in Chic, by Christina Dodd.

I have to say, neither the title of this one, nor the cover image really fit with the book. Not that that's Dodd's fault, but it seems like whoever wrote the title only read the last chapter of the book and the cover artist only wrote the title. That's neither here nor there, I suppose.

So the plot: Meadow breaks into this old house (that belonged to her grandmother's ex-husband) to steal a painting her grandmother had left for her. Of course, upon breaking in, she doesn't find the painting. Instead, she finds that the old owner had sold the house to the oh-so-gorgeous, yet grim and ruthless businessman Devlin Fitzwilliam. Well, in the process of him discovering her, she falls and bonks her head and goes out for a minute or so. When she comes to, she finds him demanding what she's doing in his house. She panics, thinking she's going to be sent to jail, and claims amnesia. Her memory is, in fact, perfectly fine, so imagine her surprise when he tells her that she's his wife.

To sort of hit fast forward through the rest of the book, it's about a mismatched pair, Meadow coming from hippies, Devlin being very ruthless focused, growing up on the wrong side of an affair in South Carolina, where it's apparently still the 1950's. Meanwhile there's a lot of intrigue over this painting. In the sense that people are willing to kill for it. I was a little skeptical about that too until the end; that part does actually make sense.

So there were some things I really liked about this one, and a few that didn't really work. Overall it was pretty good, but it's a "pick up in the library if you want" book rather than a "rush out and get it" book.

I loved her reaction when he told her she was his wife. It was such a turn around from some of the more traditional, cliche "amnesia" plot lines it was hilarious. The longer the farce went on, however, the more contrived it felt. He knew very well that she didn't have amnesia, she knew very well that she wasn't his wife. By about 2/3 of the book, it was such a stupid source of conflict it just didn't feel right. The fact that, by a certain point they're such a close couple, and she trusts him so much, and yet she won't trust him with such a stupid "secret" -especiall since she knows perfectly well she's not fooling him and never did - seemed to be at odds with her character.

I adored watching her take on the cast of characters, and I adored watching him watch her take on the other characters, especially the "old farts" And I really liked Devlin's relationship with "Four." I almost wish something more had been done with it though.

While I get that in the town these people are from, the tradition of the old days is still a big deal, I would like to note that this is not actually the 1950's, and I don't think Devlin's illegitimacy would have ostracized him quite as much as it did. One other bone of contention I had was that, while for the most part the characters were pretty well developed, there were a few moments that just didn't fit. I get that Meadow was a hippie, but the whole "dancing naked under the full moon" thing was way too much. Through the whole scene I was convinced that someone had slipped her some kind of drug. When I found out that that was just her way of being "free thinking," I had a major WTF moment.

It also bothered me that, despite the fact that she knows how much Devlin's illegitimacy has scarred him, (and Dodd specifically made this a major plot point) she still was so cavalier about having unprotected sex, even the second time after he has specifically mentioned condoms/unprotected sex.

Anyway, this story was so much about people, and not just the main characters, who are so different in so many ways falling in love and finding a life for each other. I'm usually very very skeptical about these sorts of things, but I feel that the characters worked very hard for their endings. Consequently, it's one of the few "we're polar opposites" stories whose Happy Ending I can find myself believing.

All in all, it was an entertaining, worthwhile book to read, but I don't think I would call it a must-have

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Not a Real Person

I haven't been updating like I was planning to, but there's a very simple reason for that - my Senior Recital is on Saturday. I'm not going to be a real person until that's over. Roomie has been known to say that she can't wait to have her roommate back. (which is valid)

But I would love to say, as corny as it is, that I'm so lucky to have some of the most awesome people in the world surrounding me and supporting me. I always laugh at people who say "thank you for your support" but now I totally get it. It's not just my baby, it's my roommate's, my voice teacher's, my a cappella group's, etc...Particularly the first two.

Accomplice is going to come down and we're going to make lunch the day of the recital. Before my family gets here so they can't make fun of me. I'll start updating after this ordeal though!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Adventures in Bread Making

A week ago or so, I turned to my roommate and said "next weekend, we're making bread." She, in turn, looked at me like I told her we were going to hop on the next flight to Alaska, but, used to my insanity, said okay. Actually she said "...oookaaaay..." (no lie, you could hear the ellipses) I'm not sure why she thought it was so weird, but it might have something to do with the fact that I've struggled with frozen pizza before, so baking bread seemed a little out of my reach. Still, she humored me like a good sport.

Imagine her surprise when I didn't completely forget about it in a couple of days. A week later, resigned, and I like to think a little excited, she took me to WalMart to get all of our ingredients:

Flour (3C)
Water (1 cup, but we didn't actually buy that)
Salt (3/4 tsp - borrowed from someone in the dorm when we turned to each other and said "we're not buying salt")
Yeast (1 pkg) For the love of God, get rapid rise!
Olive Oil (2 tbsp)
(in case you're interested)

The first three ingredients taken care of, we wander the baking isle like lost puppies trying to find the last)

Me: "Where's the yeast?
Roomie: "You really think I'd know?"
Me: "Um... What does yeast even look like?"
Roomie: *you-are-so-full-of-fail-glare*
It was at this point that a lady who was also cruising the baking isle took pity on us. She showed us the yeast and then spent a good long time explaining to us the finer points of bread making.

It was at this point that she shared with her her trump card: "after the first rise, add butter, basil, garlic and Parmesan" Roomie and I look at each other with identical "Oh HELL yes" grins and rushed to the produce section with her to grab the additional supplies.

Apparently uninspired by our perpetual blank looks, the Expert eventually gave us her phone number before leaving, saying "You guys look like you'll need some more help. Call me when you have questions."

Bolstered by her confidence in us, we rush back with our booty to meet our Accomplice, who hadn't actually been informed that she would be making bread with us. Luckily, I'm surrounded by good sports and she perked right up and said "Okay!"

Accomplice and I run downstairs to get started (Roomie's a little slower, so we get no pictures of the first bit) So our directions: Combine water, Olive Oil, Salt and Yeast into lage mixing bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes

*I go to mix it*
Accomplice: Don't mix it!
Me: What? Why not?
Accomplice: It says combine, not mix, we're not supposed to mix it
Me: I think combine means mix.
Accomplice: No... I...


About 2 minutes into the 5 minute time frame, we split the difference by shaking it a little. In all honesty, I doubt it matters one way or the other.

Then we're supposed to slowly stir in "About" 3 cups of flour - use our discretion. Of course, we don't actually have any discretion because we have no idea what we're doing. We start with measuring cups, and somewhere along the way just decide to keep pouring in flour until it seems like a dough. Of course, we thought that it was "dough like" long before it actually was, and tried to start kneading it. At this point we learn the first and most important lesson in bread making. It's messy.

This is where, for the first time, Roomie contributes to the process.

That would be her pouring in the flour.

Look at her go!

Go, Roomie, go!

I'm so proud of her.

So after several rounds of pouring in flour, completely giving up on any form of measurement, just hoping for the best and waiting until it looks like it does in the movies, we finally get it right.

Well we also got tired of pouring, but it really seemed right, honest!

At this point we start actually kneading in earnest. We're beating up the dough, twisting it, in some cases we may or may not hav actually decided to play tug of war with our dough.

And I may or may not have looked demonic.


Eventually Accomplice develops a probably more legit way of kneading the dough by folding and squashing, but I like to think that it needed (ha, kneaded, get it?) to be roughed up a little first.

Of course then there's the "When do we stop?" question. The directions said to keep going until it looks smooth or something like that.
We have no idea what that means, but basically decided to stop when it looked like it does in the movies and felt like we thought movie bread would feel.

That was actually not how it looked; it looked a lot smoother than that, but that's the closes picture. Doesn't it look all small and harlmess? It's not, don't let it fool you.

So then the directions told us to cover it and let it rise until doubled in size. Well hell, we didn't have any saran wrap and nothing down there fit over the bowl.Oh wait. Our WalMart bag fit over the bowl. Well, better than nothing! So we wait. A few minutes later, magically, our dough was twice as big. Seirously. I knew it would happen, yet I was still surprised when it did. So it's time to spread it in the pan and add our mixture of deliciousness.

Looking around, I don't see a stirrer, but I do see a large butcher knife. Figuring that would work just as well as a spoon, I start mixing while Roomie snickers. "But it can double as a spatula to spread it around!" I say.

For some reason they're not impressed.

So, after the team is dissatisfied with my spreading capabilities, they spread the mixture and we roll it up and try to fold the ends down to seal it in. It's show time!

We stick it on our disposable pan, also known as glorified tin foil, and throw it into our unpreheated oven (that's actually part of the directions, its second rise happens while the oven is pre heating) we wait (375 for 30-40 min, or until it makes a hollow sound with you hit the drust with the blunt part of a knife)

Meanwhile we eat.
Hey, we hadn't had dinner! Anyway, some time later it comes out smelling delicious

And it was.
Unfortunately, the cleaning up part was a little daunting. Remember when I said that making bread was messy?

I didn't lie.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Queen of Babble gets Hitched, by Meg Cabot.

This started off as a review of that particular book but ended up as a tribute to Meg Cabot as a writer.

I like Meg Cabot. I don't think she gets nearly enough credit (or maybe she does and I just haven't been paying attention, which is probable) She doesn't necessarily write complex prose, but that's not why I read a book. I read a book to get sucked into the lives of characters I can feel a connection to.

Some of the problems I can see with her is that she does have a prototype for her characters - you could argue that, but for a few notable differences, many of her male characters are more or less the same. Fortunately, I really like that prototype, so I certainly don't mind. She also has a way of making me really relate to her characters no matter how different I may be from them.

Now, she does, even in her non-young adult books, still have a bit of a young adult voice. I can't say I would ever point to one of her books as some of the best the genre has to offer, or to win someone over to the genre. But her books have a sort of comfort to them, like sliding into a hot bath. I can see Cabot's name and be assured that I'm going to enjoy the book. I think anyone who reads one of Cabot's books could reasonably say the same thing. You don't know how comforting that is to someone who, like me, uses books as an escape mechanism (and that's not to go emo on anyone. It could just be from regular school related stress)

Now I say all of that, and it seems at odds with my next point, which is that I really admire how much she experiments with her books. While most of them are told in the same voice, Cabot really likes to mess around with how she tells a story or different constructs within a story. Of course you have your regularly-told stories. Then in the Princess Diaries series she worked with a diary format. Okay, not too out of the box there. But in "The Boy Next Door" and another one that escapes me, the entire story is told through e-mails. One of them is told through e-mails, receipts, and other things jotted down on spare scraps of paper. And she managed to make it into a really fun book that still sucked me in; it didn't read like an experiment.

Then in "Airhead" we have her completely departing from the usual with her heroine, yet at the same time remaining true to her typical heroine's voice. Sound strange? You'll have to read it to find out more, I'm only spoiling one book here.

Which brings me, finally, to my point here. Which is "Queen of Babel gets Hitched." It's the sequel to the "Queen of Babel," by the end of which she falls in love with Luke and it looks like they're well on their way to a happily ever after.


So what's brave about this one? It turns our Luke isn't quite the hero we thought he was. I've seen books take the the "it's been a few years, we've grown apart bur the falling apart takes place offstage" sequel approach. But making the hero from a previous book into... well certainly not the hero anymore, with that process unfolding in front of our eyes... that's not something I've ever seen. I admire Cabot for doing it, but I don't know how I feel about it. Because I read the first book a really long time ago, (it's been at least 2 years I think) I could find myself rooting for the real hero of this story. Had I read the first book more recently, I don't know that I would have taken kindly to this one.

On one hand, it's a great effect to mimic real life. In books, you can usually tell who the "right" guy is or who the "good" people are, even if the heroine doesn't know. The writers generally want to make sure we know. So being fooled right along with the heroine was a great parallel to real life relationships and a great concept. So the analytical side of me was enthralled. The casual romance reader in me is still a little confused.

Hell the romance reader was more angry at Luke than the heroine was! She's going "you know, it's okay, I don't care about him anymore" and I'm going "NO, IT'S NOT OKAY, YOU JERK!" but maybe that's just me.

That being said, I love Chaz, and I love the "my best friend is the one for me" plot line. I could believe their story. One of the coolest things about Chaz is how willing he is to take the backseat and let her shine.

In any event, I would recommend this book to any Cabot reader, and I would reccomend that anyone become a Cabot reader (though maybe you should start with the Boy Next Door or something) She was incredibly brave to show her readers the destruction of a relationship that she created, and, minor qualms aside, she did an excellent job with it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

New! How Thrilling!

Well hello! I'm Steph, your oh-so-fabulous host to the wonder that is/will be Real Women Eat Chocolate.

So what's this about? Well a little bit of everything, I suppose. To give you a little tour of what I plan for this, I hope to once a week post my (mis)adventures in cooking/baking (complete with pictures of the messes I make)

Then once a week (most likely on a weekend but I don't know - the cooking bit will definitely be weekend material though) I'll be posting romance novel reviews.

Once or twice a week, I'll be posting miscellaneous stuff. Sound interesting? I hope so! Check it out later when I have some actual content up :)