Friday, October 1, 2010

Fun video: Where in the world is Chabad dancing?

Posted by Simcha 4:58 AM, under | 1 comment

This video, inspired by Matt Harding, showcases Chabbad Chasidim dancing in different locations around the world. I just think it's a really fun video (particularly the part where they show up on Friends) and wanted to share it.

And in case you are wondering what the heck is Chabad, it's is a Hasidic movement in Orthodox Judaism in which the members are often sent to different parts of the world to help teach non-religious Jews about Judaisim. They are usually a personable bunch and very fond of singing and dancing.


Contest Winners Announced

Posted by Simcha 4:46 AM, under | No comments

Congratulations to the winners of my two recent giveaways and I apologize for taking so long to post the results.

The winner of Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers is Tetewa

The two vampires suck T-shirts are going to Aik and Sharli, and they are already on their way to their new homes.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the giveaway. I will be having another one in the near future, because I need to get rid of some books to clear some space on my bookshelves, so make sure to check back here soon.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Favorite Fictional Character: Eloise

Posted by Simcha 8:30 AM, under | 4 comments

Favorite Fictional Character

Each time I visit my parents' house I make sure to peruse the bookshelves for any of my childhood favorites that I might have overlooked on past visits. If I do come across any of these books I will surreptitiously slip them under my shirt and sneak them out of my parent's house and into mine, where they will find a new home on my bookshelves (and I really hope my mother isn't reading this).

On my last visit I came across an old treasure that I haven't thought about in years, Eloise by Kay Thompson, and under my shirt it went. Once I arrived at home I sat my seven- year old daughter down to read her this book which I had so loved when I was a a little girl. My daughter was rather bemused by Eloise ('Ima [that's "mother"in Hebrew] she isn't appropriate, you can see her underwear!') but I loved reacquainting myself with this wild and fun-loving book character.

Reading about Eloise's antics brings back for me the delight of begin a child and living side by side with your imagination. In Eloise's world egg cups make great hats, turtles wear sneakers, paper cups can be used to talk to Mars and anything you need can be charged to room service.

When I was young the stories that I imagined for myself were almost as real as life to me and that's something I miss about being a child. But reading about Eloise brings it back to me for a bit.

[Side note: Although my daughter wasn't as taken by Eloise as I was, my two year old son really loved her nanny, for some reason. Now he keeps asking me to read him the book about "Nanny." go figure.]

Monday, September 27, 2010

Some Non-Genre Reviews: Dragon Tattoo and Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Posted by Simcha 8:12 PM, under | 8 comments

Murder- mystery novels don't usually interest me but because both The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie came so highly recommended by people who I trust, I decided to give these books a try. I read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie a few months ago and never got around to reviewing it but since my feeling about the book are similar to how I felt about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I just completed, I decided to review the two together.

Harriet Vanger, a young member of a very wealthy Swedish family disappears at the age of 16. Gone without a trace, 40 years later, Harriet’s Uncle is still haunted by her absence… was she murdered? If so by who?

Mikael Blomkvist part owner of the magazine Millenium has just taken a huge hit to the pocket-book. Caught in a libel conviction he decided to take a breather from the magazine until the heat wears off and instead of a break, finds himself hired by Harriet’s uncle to research and try to find evidence as to what happened all those years ago. With the help of a very damaged young tattooed computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, Mikael finds himself searching for pieces that will change the lives of all involved.

I don't have much time these days to read non-genre books but when I recently managed to get a free audio book download of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I was excited at the opportunity to finally "read" it. My excitement quickly waned when I realized the audio book was a only an abridged version but since I had started looking forward to listening to it I decided to just get myself a copy of the full audiobook.

Simon Vance does an excellent job of narrating the book and in giving each character an individual voice that is easily recognizable. The only problem I had was that at times I thought Vance's portrayal of Salander was softer than I would have imagined it, were I reading the book myself. At certain points in the story, where events take a darker turn, the book became rather difficult to listen to. One of the downsides for me of audiobooks is that I can't just skim past those parts which I find unpleasant and listening to them read out loud is also a lot more intense.

Had I been reading the book I would probably say that I couldn't turn the pages fast enough and as the story progressed I was deeply hooked. But one thing that held me back from being really affected by the story was the fact that I didn't actually connect to, or even particularly like, any of the characters. My deep disapproval of Blomkvist's lifestyle, and the fact that he so easily jumps into bed with almost every woman he encounters in the book, but still considers them all "just friends," made it impossible for me to like him. Though I could tell from the way he is described that I would probably would have liked him, had I met him in person. And while Salander is an intriguing character I didn't feel like I got to know her enough to really care about what happens to her, at least not until the very end, when she shows some real depth of emotion for the first time.

While The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a good book it didn't blow me away as I had expected it to after all the rave reviews I read of it. It wasn't until the end of the book, when Salander became more interesting to me, that I even considered following it up with the sequel. My less-than enthusiastic final impressions of the book might just be because this isn't my preferred genre. I'm sure I would have been a lot more impressed with it if Larsson could have snuck in a little bit of magic somewhere (or maybe a real dragon?). Kind of like MiƩville' The City and the City. Now that was a murder- mystery book that I enjoyed.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is another book that only came to my attention because it was so highly recommended by a trusted source, but in the end it didn't impress me as much as I had hoped.

It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

To Flavia the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections. Soon her father, a man raising his three daughters alone, is seized, accused of murder. And in a police cell, during a violent thunderstorm, Colonel de Luce tells his daughter an astounding story—of a schoolboy friendship turned ugly, of a priceless object that vanished in a bizarre and brazen act of thievery, of a Latin teacher who flung himself to his death from the school’s tower thirty years before. Now Flavia is armed with more than enough knowledge to tie two distant deaths together, to examine new suspects, and begin a search that will lead her all the way to the King of England himself. Of this much the girl is sure: her father is innocent of murder—but protecting her and her sisters from something even worse….

While The synopsis of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie sounds exciting and colorful I didn't find myself particularly interested in the mystery of a missing stamp and a dead body. What really drives this story are the quirky characters, in particular the eleven year old Flavia de Luce. Unfortunately I didn't particularly like Flavia and I actually thought she was more disturbing than intriguing. There is just something wrong with an eleven-year old girl who plays around with poisons, and even tests them on her own sisters. Perhaps it's because I had to deal with my own share of annoying little sisters while growing up, but I found myself sympathizing more with Flavia's older sisters than for the book's young heroine. I would probably have tied her up and dumped her in a closet too (which is how the book starts off), if she were my little sister.

And while I realize that Flavia is meant to be a child-prodigy, some of her thoughts and observations are just too adult to be convincingly come from a girl her age, no matter how intelligent.

    The finely curved Legs of a Queen Anne wash-stand seemed almost indecent beside the gloomy Gothic bed in the corner, as if some sour old chamberlain were looking on dyspeptically as his mistress unfurled silk stockings over her long, youthful legs

While I appreciate the imagery conveyed in the above paragraph there is no way a child is going to casually compare a piece of furniture to a mistress's legs. I think I would have liked Flavia more if the author had given her a more child-like perspective rather than making her sound so much like an adult.

There were some moments when I felt myself softening towards Flavia, such as when she shows herself vulnerable through her intense desire for affection from her father. The rest of the time, though, I just found her irritating.

Both The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are books that I was entertained by, while reading them, but which I don't feel as passionate about as so many others seem to.


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