The Beginnings of a Blog...

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After years of living in close proximity,and knowing each other not-so-well, a Teacher and a Mom start talking. They begin to find out they have a myriad of things in common, including baking, gaudy earrings, and most importantly, BOOKS! Since this discovery happens after the Mom has moved thousands of miles away to Kansas, they begin an over the phone book club, consisting of two people, long talks, favorite reads, and a quirky name. Thus, "The Dorothy & Toto Book Club" had sprung into existence. Since we are constantly on the lookout for more fabulous literature, and have a passion for hearing ourselves speak, what better outlet could be found then our very own book review blog? Check us out~ if you love what we say, please tell us. If you disagree with every fiber of your being, let us know that too~ We're both East Coasters at heart, and we love a good scrap over conflicting views now and again :)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

...Soldier, Psycho (Part II)

Ok, I took my grand old time posting the second portion of my previous rant.  Please ‘scuse me.  For some fabulous reason, Blogspot has decided to muck up my formatting as well...please forgive!

1356 by Bernard Cornwall- If I haven’t mentioned this already, one of my favorite genres is that of historical fiction.   I get to immerse myself in a totally foreign time frame, and ‘experience’ what life may have been like in different eras.  Inevitably, I come out of such novels with a renewed sense of gratitude that I live in this particular generation!   Although obviously taken with a grain of salt, I’m actually quasi picky about what historical fiction I read and I prefer to stick with ‘mostly accurate’ HF when I can find it. (as an aside, I stumbled on to this link  a while back, and it gave me some neat starting points.) But I digress!! (have you noticed? I do that sometimes!)

Ok, back on topic: Bernard Cornwall is apparently an incredibly prolific writer who stays often within the realm of HF.  1356 was my first foray into his work, and I have to say, I loved it.  Based around the Battle of Poitiers that took place between the French/Scots on one side, and the English on the other, Cornwall paints an incredibly vivid picture of what battle was like in (yup, you guessed it!) 1356.  Vivid, but not unforgivably and gratuitously violent.  Cornwall complements his work by including historical notes and maps- and I was so drawn into the intertwining stories and battles that I CONSULTED THE MAPS!  (Have I mentioned that I NEVER consult maps in novels? The first time I ever grasped the layout of Middle Earth was earlier this year, when I bought a poster map for my son to consult as we began to read LOTR together.)   But, maps or no maps, this story was a winner.  Characters were engaging, human, and believable, the story was well crafted, and I learned about history in spite of myself- I felt so proud.  Coincidently, my older brother is a HUGE history buff, and loves anything and everything having to do with battles, (descriptions of battles, descriptions of weapons used in battles, descriptions of armor worn in battles…you get the picture) and so when I finished reading this, the first person I called was my brother.  ‘Course, since I’m his little sister, he won’t listen to me for another 2 years.  I hope YOU take advantage sooner J Let me know if you do!

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell- Ok, so this book has been viewed, reviewed, and lauded up and down 5th Avenue twenty times already.  I know I’m merely adding my voice as one among a clamor, but here goes.  We get introduced to the novel’s narrator, Rose, in the midst of prohibition era New York.   Rose is a bit of a mystery unto herself, for all that she is the window through which we glimpse the tale.  Rose is a typist for a police precinct; she is charged with recording and transcribing the confessions and statements of the felons brought in to the station for various and sundry crimes.  We do get a very tangible feel for what the occupational hazards of such a job may have been and a fascinating perspective on the profound trust necessary to complete such a task.  Men (and presumably some women) were tried and convicted on the basis of what another human person wrote.   Scary, no?

At any rate, Rose has carved out a life for herself, climbing her way up from an anonymous beginning in a convent school, to reaching a respected position in civil service.  Rose, is, if nothing else, very respectable.  Then we meet Odalie, who comes to join the typing pool, and promptly turns Rose’s world upside down. 

I still hold that my favorite flapper/20’s/prohibition novel that I’ve encountered is Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility.  The Other Typist is not a novel in the same vein at all, exuding a much more of manipulative, distrusting sense throughout.   In fact, the better I got to know Rose as the narrator, the less inclined I was to believe her. That being said, the setting, the backdrop of the story as it were, is incredibly exquisite.  The author created an incredibly tangible environment that may have you sneaking into dilapidated wig shops at odd hours of the day.

And then it ended, and I was confused. Have at it, then come back and tell me what it was all about.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hangman, Housewife, Soldier, Psycho (part 1)

No, no I’m not talking about “Game of Thrones”; but I might get to those later.  No, I wanted to give a glimpse into the first handful of books that I’ve worked through thus far this summer, and as you may have gathered from the title, they were a bit of a mixed bag.  These four tomes have been wildly different, and have also varied enormously on my very own personal scale of likeability. SO, since I know you are all breathless to hear my goes!


The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch: I know, I couldn’t pronounce his last name either- but seriously don’t let that stop you!! This is a murder mystery pure and simple.  Only not really. It’s actually a murder mystery set in seventeenth century Bavaria, in a little village that has survived its share of hardship.  You know, like the bubonic plague, a scourge of ‘witch burnings’ a generation or two back, etc.    The town has a very real sense of order and tradition about it, and is held on course by the councilmen who oversee the laws, the merchant/tradesmen who guard the trade (and thereby the livelihood of the villagers), and the Hangman, who carries out the just punishments meted out by those who govern. 

As you may gather from the title, our Hangman is the linchpin upon which the story rests.  Far from the hulking, axe wielding, belly-baring sycophants who tend to bear the moniker in popular legend, Jakob Kuisl is a quiet, God-fearing man who loves nothing more than tending his family, studying science, and plying his side-trade of medicine man.  But suddenly, orphans from the village begin disappearing, and turning up dead.  Fingers are pointed at the village midwife who spent time with them, and suddenly, the witch hunts from years ago begin to foment again.  In order to save lives, and seek out the truth amidst rumors, superstitions and evils real and imagined, Jakob must work together with the village doctor to find the true culprit, and thus restore peace to their village.  I have to say, I have not read a mystery that was this much fun in a long time.  Potzsch manages to deal with some very dark themes, and creates a multi-layered scenario, populated by believable, three dimensional characters who are various parts believers in faith, superstitious of evil, truth-seeking, manipulative, and desirous of justice…and that’s just on the town council!  Do yourself a favor, and pick this one up.


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: this is one of those books that I grabbed because I was seeing it everywhere.  NPR covered it more than a few times, there were excerpts posted, author interviews, and rave reviews.  So, having had my interest piqued, I ordered it from the library and sat down to see what the hype was all about.  Was it engrossing? Yes. Was it well-written? Yes.  Did I like it? Not remotely. 

Based on the sudden disappearance of Nick’s lovely wife, Amy, the pages begin to spell out what looks to have been the rise, and pitiable fall of the marriage of a young couple who have it all together.  Set in the muggy Mississippi we learn of the slow crumble from the ivory tower experienced by Nick and Amy, and then are brought face to face with Amy’s abrupt erasure.  She is simply…gone.  Suspicion, of course, immediately falls on Nick (isn’t it always the husband? At least when there is no butler?) who must do his utmost to prove to both the law and the reader that  he didn’t do it!  But as lie begets lie, we are confounded again and again by damning revelations, false facades, and human error.  I’m not gonna lie, there were a few instances where I literally breathed out “idiot” under my breath.  And then we get to hear Amy’s side of the story.  

And here’s the rotten part; I can’t gripe sufficiently about how I feel without ruining the surprise for you!! And boy oh boy, where there surprises!

So, one might assume that this would be a winner- engrossing story, empathetic characters, tightly wound twists and turns….but I have to say unabashedly that I pretty much hated it.  If you decide to try for yourself, I’m sure you’ll see why.

Yes, yes, I know that’s only two out of four! If you’re not sick of me yet, the other two will be forthcoming soon J

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Have Library Card, Will Travel

So, I’m in situation that I’m sure many individuals can relate to.    While I would LOVE to spend my summer reclining in the sun, with a cool, frosty beverage in my hand, a warm wave slipping up to rinse the sand from between my toes, it’s just not in the foreseeable future.    It appears that someone lost the necessary paperwork on my trustfund, and well... (sigh...)This makes me a bit sad, but, as I’m not destined for faraway climes anytime soon, I’ve decided to make the best of it by curling up my pasty-white self into a corner of the couch (or stretching on a deck chair- life’s really not that bad J ) and diving headfirst into a plethora of promising looking tomes that I’ve heard of, read about, or inadvertently discovered.  

Truth to tell, my journeys have been pretty exciting;  So far this summer, I’ve been to Mississippi, France, Bavaria, New York and quite a few other uncharted regions!  Now, that being said, some of those journeys that I’ve taken haven’t ended up how I would have picked, and there were a few that had me downright irate…when you travel by book, you have to travel by the book, if you catch my meaning.  You can’t alter an ending just because it displeases you; you can’t change an outcome to save a beloved character (even if you see their fate descending on their heads like the snapped string of the sword of Damocles), and no matter how hard you slam a book shut and then proceed to rant, rave, and lose sleep over a rotten ending, you must accept the simple fact that the book doesn’t care.  

 This can be a hard truth to face, especially when we invest our time (and sometimes our emotions, if the author’s gifted) in pouring ourselves into a story, grow attached to the characters (some of them, anyway), who, either in spite (or because) of their flaws and foibles still manage to speak to us and draw us in.   It can be a bit of any unrequited love, you could say; or maybe a single sided infatuation.  Even if we invest ourselves in a promising book, we can still end up being betrayed, enraged, outraged or just feeling downright gypped. 

 Luckily, this is not always the case!  In fact, more often than not, we as the readers end up awash in a sea of tranquility that stretches around us as a story takes hold.  A great author can navigate us through the ebbs and swells that batter our vessels, steering through the salty depths of an experience by the guidance of universal truths that speak out as constellations to sailors amidst a black night.  When you are lucky enough to journey into a book like that, my friend, don’t let it get away.  Keep it, buy it, shelve, save it; and when necessary, take that trip again when your life needs a respite.

What books steer you true?   What speaks to you, guides you, refreshes you?  What have you found that, unlooked for, makes you laugh while reading in the doctor’s office, or cry on the subway, or cuss at the culmination?  In addition to those that can guide us, I feel (and some may disagree) that any book that slips off the page and pulls a human emotion from the depths of your heart is a book worth having read.

Happy travels!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Brave Critique
My husband and I took our babies to go see Disney/Pixar’s new movie “Brave” this evening. Ok, truth be told, I whined and nagged until they took me to go see it, but who cares.  Visually and even musically it was stunning.  I love any movie where the characters have accents, and if it’s a Scottish burr, than all the better!   The scenes were beautiful, the music was beguiling, and the artistry was incredible.  
Here’s my complaint: the story, as it were, was not merely pockmarked and flimsy, it was also inconsistent.  
Here’s the reason for my complaint: THERE’S NO EXCUSE FOR CRAPPY STORYTELLING IN DISNEY!
There’s actually no excuse for crappy storytelling in any forum, but that’s another rant.   There is such a wealth of legend, lore, and myth in the Celtic culture that to try to cobble together a new story in a land steeped in folklore is just lazy.  Water-horses, forest sprites, Arthurian legends, the Loch Ness monster, for crying out loud!!  None were to be found in the vast, sweeping views of “Brave”.    The misty bits of magic that did make an appearance were so ambiguous, that they seemed more (to me) to be space-fillers than central to the story.  Of course, there is a purveyor of magic, and a giant battle of man vs. beast as well the internal man vs. self struggles¸ all of which are crucial elements of any Disney flick.   But there seemed to be two separate story lines (that of the Bear, and the struggle between the heroine, Merida and her mom) and rather than offer mutual support to the other, they acted as two ropes of a rickety mountain bridge with naught but scraps binding them together. 

In an effort to avoid spoiling the movie, I realize that I’m lacking quite a bit of articulation, here.   But, truly, I hate to have the ending given away to me, so I’m trying to keep myself in line.  I have another long standing critique of movie makers that I must needs voice as well, but I’m almost through.
That being said, I’ll summarize and be gone.
 As I mentioned earlier, the movie is visually stunning.  It also bears the marks of true Pixar genius- one must watch the whole screen in order to avoid missing cleverly placed or implied quips and comedy.  The actors who lent their voices were also incredible.   With all those elements in place, I feel that so much attention was focused on those facets that the story was let slip on by.   In researching a bit of the background, there seemed to be some changes in the mix that may have contributed.  The initial director (a woman), was found to have artistic differences with the studio, and was replaced (by a man) with about 18 months left before release.  I know, I know, it’s politically incorrect and sexist to be calling out gender qualifications.  But in a film where the central story revolves around the relationship of a mother and a daughter, is having male direction really the best way to go?  (C.S. Lewis has a phenomenal statement on the uphill climb male authors have when trying to write from a female perspective, but I can’t find the blasted quote that I want for here!).
As for my longstanding gripe about all movies in recent decades- studios seem to think that there cannot be both a strong female lead alongside a strong male presence.  The nearest exceptions to this rule that I have seen in recent years are Mr. Incredible, and Rapunzel’s father in Tangled.   Mr. Incredible does a great job, although his tragic flaw definitely trips him up.  Rapunzel’s dad is an admirable figure, but has nary even one vocal line with his daughter.  We assume the best of him, but maybe that’s because he shows up as a constant, despite only being on screen for a mere handful of frames.
Brave’s father figure, Fergus, suffers a more traditional fate.  While obviously gifted with great strength, and just as obviously loves his wife and daughter, he fails to truly champion either when their need is the greatest.   Rather, he is ruled by his passions, and hands over all of the actual ruling (all that we see, at any rate) to be handled by his wife.   Don’t get me wrong here- I love strong women characters!!  I’ll take an arrow slinging, horseback riding, betrothal-bucking Celt over a simpering namby-pamby waiting-on-Mr. Right-to-save-me any day of the week.  But I do not feel that emasculating our men makes us stronger women.
  Pixar at its peak is the family dynamic in The Incredibles.  It’s the self-sacrifice evidenced in Cars, and the tenacity and hope in Finding Nemo.    Brave, for all of its visual glory, falls short of that mark. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

So, apparently, I'm that lone child in the field playing "Blind Man's Bluff" whilst all the rest of the better informed and non-blindfolded children laugh from the shade at my blundering about the field, sipping lemonade and tea cakes. (What do you mean?  That's not what you're childhood consisted of?)

Apparently, one can now pass things on through blogging...who knew?! I'm still trying to figure out my formatting :-) 

At any rate, one of the women on the blogosphere whom I admire greatly (while shamelessly rifling through her blogs for tips that I can employ in my own) sent me a note that I had been nominated for the Kreative Blogger Award!! What joy! What rapture! What does that mean?  To paraphrase, in order to accept this prestigious nomination (pronounced 'press-tij-uss' to properly convey the height of this honor) one must bare one's soul by denoting seven little known facts about myself, and then nominate another Magnificent Seven.  The best part, as Joanne noted : "there’s no monetary investment and you don’t have to send a book or a dish towel to thirty of your closest friends".  Talk about myself with no added postage fee?? Sign me up!  So here it is, kiddos; put up with hearing seven fast facts about me, then you can go off and visit the realms of seven much cooler bloggers than I!! Shall we begin? 

  1.  I have a sad obsession with YA fiction.  It's my version of train wreck TV.  I'm proud to say that I've never watched an episode of The Bachelor, but I have read scores of novels...many with one word titles.  I'm not proud of it, but there it is. 
  2. One of the greatest things I learned in college is that a large spoon, a (wide-mouthed) jar of peanut butter, and a 1 lb bag of M&M's is a better dinner (or lunch, or breakfast) than you will ever find in a cafeteria. 
  3. I consider myself a pretty good haggler, but I'm terribly inefficient with coupons. 
  4. I know the words to every song in about 7 Disney musicals, and can hold my own with many of Broadway's. 
  5. I often drive at least 5 miles over the speed limit home from work.  The speed often increases in direct proportion to the Bon Jovi song to which I'm belting out at the time. 
  6. I was hopeless as a cook through my collegiate years- much of what I learned was gleaned from my husband and the food network.  I <3 Barefoot Contessa.
  7. I get uber pissed off when people downplay the work and talent necessary to be a stay at home mom.  I am back to being full time in the workforce, but secretly wish every day I could stay home to bake with my daughter and read stories to my son at all hours. 

So there you have your life now enriched? 

On to bigger and better things!  In no particular order, here are my archetypes in the blogging world. Stop by to be transported, informed, and amused :-)

  •  My Broken Fiat is written by a fantastic young woman who is daily working to live out her chosen faith, while maintaining an honest, upfront dialogue with the world in which she lives.  Gina pulls no punches, and I love seeing what she has on the table for discussion.  
  • Joanne's Nuts and Bolts- Mama Jo is the phenomenal mother of one of my greatest friends.  She was a source of great encouragement to me for starting this have her to blame :-) 
  • Nicholle Goodnight Photography- I am not a photographer.  If I was, I would want to be Nicholle.  Her talent oozes out of her blog, sometimes straight through my keyboard, and makes me want to go take pictures.  Alas, mine look nothing like hers.  My own children appear even MORE beautiful when captured with her magical lens.   Oh, and she's total unpretentious.  I like that about her. 
  • Phew. this is harder than I thought. I'm going to have to go a bit more commercial here.  Ok. The Pioneer Woman is a source of great culinary inspiration to me.  I love her rustic, down homey recipes, and I think she'd be a lot of fun to invite over for dinner. Plus, her cookbook makes me laugh. 
  • The Art of Manliness...this is one that my husband came across. He is actually a much better blog-follower than I am, but I must say, this one is really cool.  It's a treasure trove of, well, manly stuff. There are tutorials on how to build things, prizes like a straight razor shaving kit, and of course, how to use said straight razor without inflicting bodily harm. 
  • Into the Wildwood- I'm switching gears here a bit, but that's ok...I'm tricky like that.   Into the Wildwood is an Art/Book/Writing/Drawing blog by a fascinating gent named Ed.   Ed and I have exchanged thoughts on books and such back and forth for a good while now. We tend to argue over methods, or book selection, and I must say that such conversation always makes me feel much smarter than I actually am.  A very peaceful blog.  I like it. So you should go see it. 
  • Lastly, but certainly not leastly, Sarah Unfiltered . I'm new to this one, but I have to say, I'm a fan. SarahUnfiltered is a happy amalgamation of life, recipes, DIY, and cute babies.  Seriously, stop by, and if the cover photo doesn't make you giggle, or at least smirk, then feel free to go about your life.  Just know you'll be missing out. 

THERE! I've done it! Go forth, and blog mightily. I, on the other hand, will be going to bed.  Oh, and tag. You're it. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rules of Civility- Amor Towles

Ok, being once again overcome with remorse with my flippant treatment of my tiny corner of cyberspace, when so many others are being diligent, I’ll try (once again) to fill the gaping void left by my absence.  Stop snickering.
Rules of Civility
By Amor Towles
If I came back in another life as a writer, I think I want to write like Mr. Towles.  I could never aspire to anything so grandiose as Tolkien, or Tolstoy, nor could I ever have the sheer intellect necessary for greats like Clive Staples, or the gentle whimsy Mr. Dahl.  But Mr. Towles, now, he’s a fellow after my own heart; clear, incisive, witty and warm, with a bit of snark and sass to boot.  To wit: “As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion- whether they’re triggered by anger or envy, humiliation or resentment-if the next thing you’re going to say makes you feel better, than it’s probably the wrong thing to say.”
I may need to have that particular quote ensconced on my desk…facing me, of course.
Rules of Civility was all the rage a few months back, and I heard about through one of my favorite ‘I’m-bored-find-me-a-good-sounding-book’ sites...NPR Books.   The story of a young girl trying to make good in the big city is a often a fun read, and when that story features a fun-loving roommate, a tender-hearted heartthrob and underground bars of the 1930’s, so much the better. 
Mr. Towles’ tale is told from the point of view of 25 year old Katy Kontent, and we are quickly immersed in her life…such as it is.  Katy is very bright young woman, taking advantage of every opportunity available to her in her young life.  That is to say, she is a typist in a multi-bodied secretarial pool, noted for her attention to detail, and desire to succeed.  She shares a mediocre flat with Eve, a mid-west debutante, bent on throwing off the yoke of wealth, beauty and privilege, forced upon her by birth.   Would that I were so smitten. 
Looking at Eve asleep, I wondered what the hell was going on.  How did she end up drunk in an alley?  What happened to her shoes?  And where was Tinker?  Whatever their story, Eve was breathing easy now- for the moment forgetful, vulnerable, at peace.   It’s a purposeful irony of life, I suppose, that we never get to see ourselves in that state.  We can only pay witness to our waking reflection, which to one degree or another is always fretting or afraid.  Maybe that’s why young parents find it so beguiling to spy on their children when they’re fast asleep. “
Katy and Eve hit the town on New Year’s Eve 1938, with a strictly budgeted plan for libations which goes quickly awry.   Happily, they encounter Tinker, a debonair, suavely dressed young bachelor who is happy to help them out of their poorly budgeted evening.  The three go on to form an intricate connection, wildly different, but strongly experienced on all sides.  Their story spans only one calendar year, but it’s filled to the brim with contrasts; ten cent gin and glistening champagne, drunks on the street and dinner parties in the penthouses, true friendships and shams.   Each character bears a bit closer scrutiny, from the humble but strong Katy to the beautiful Eve, to the smartly groomed Tinker. 
Will this book change your life? Probably not.  Will it upend your view of society and redefine your entire belief system? No.  Will it fit snugly in the crook of your thumb, draw you in so you can smell the cigars and gin, and leave you with the too-oft-rare feeling of ‘wow.  That was a good book.’ ?  Yes.  Yes it will.
Could there have been a more contrary statue to place across from one of the largest cathedrals in America? Atlas, who attempted to overthrow the gods on Olympus and was thus condemned to shoulder the celestial spheres for all eternity- the very personification of hubris and brute endurance.  While back in the shadows of St. Patrick’s was the statue’s physical and spiritual antithesis, the Pieta- in which our Savior, having already sacrificed himself to God’s will, is represented broken, emaciated, laid out on Mary’s lap.  Here they resided, two worldviews separated only by Fifth Avenue, facing off until the end of time, or the end of Manhattan, whichever came first.” 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Guest Review By the Incomparable Gina

As you know, here on T&T, we love to hear reviews from other bibliophiles!  This time around we have a review from Gina, hailing from North Jersey.  Gina and I have known each other since the days of yore when we played a pair of doddering old biddies, bent on improving the lives of lonely men by pushing them off this mortal coil in the classic "Arsenic and Old Lace".   Happily, neither of us have taken this role to heart, and now work toward the happiness of our respective families, and discovering new tomes of greatness! So, without further ado, here is Gina's take on Kate Danley's The Woodcutter.
I purchased The Woodcutter by Kate Danley based on the reviews of others. I can only hope my review solicits the same response. This is one of those rare gems you breeze hungrily through then suggest to 20 other friends so you can talk about the many plot devices, characters and surprises that enraptured you to begin with!

To begin with,
The Woodcutter
is a fairy-tale fantasy. Our hero, the Woodcutter, is charged with keeping the peace between the various Kingdoms of what we know as "Happily Ever After." He is protector, ambassador, sleuth, and when he must, assassin.

However, something frightful is afoot in his Woods - the Woods that connect the Kingdoms. Princes and princesses are being kidnapped and an ominous beast is devouring True Love. With this onslaught of despair and confusion, the once peaceful balance is being torn asunder and the omnipotent Fairy Realm, for centuries content to bequeath their loving and powerful magic to gentle, deserving souls, now finds itself being manipulated by this dark and dangerous force.

A familiar cast of characters lulls the reader quickly into rapt attention even though the adventure is foreign and wild. Since most readers already feel a childhood connection to these characters, an immediate bond is formed and the audience will cheer the "good guys" on from the very first chapter.

The ending is satisfying and ties up all loose ends. However, a door is also left open for a sequel which I hope is one day procured. I cannot possibly speak more highly of this fun, adventurous fantasy!