Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Report: A Desirable Residence by Madeleine Wickham

If most of Sophie Kinsella's novels seem like romantic comedies, then her alter ego Madeleine Wickham's A Desirable Residence is one step away from an indie flick. As I read, I imagined the cloudy skies, unglamorous characters, and alternative rock soundtrack that would color the film adaptation. Peopled with a depressed teenager, a washed-up actor and his baby-crazy wife, a sleazy estate agent, and a nearly bankrupt middle-aged couple trying to run a tutorial college, A Desirable Residence is haunted by a sense of missed opportunities and despair. As such, it's one of those stories where it's hard to find a character to root for. I decided to cast my lot with Jonathan, the husband of the bankrupt couple, despite, or perhaps because of, his minor status. Dependable, kind, and cautious at the risk of being dull, he serves as the moral compass as well as the most sympathetic character. But then, I always gravitate toward such types. Although I found the other characters interesting, they were more difficult to relate to.

I'd read somewhere that Madeleine Wickham began writing her Shopaholic books under the name of Sophie Kinsella because her Wickham books didn't do very well commercially and were considered kind of dark. The Shopaholic books, of course, are mostly light and happy with only the faintest undercurrent of disaster escaping to the surface. Which was probably why they were such a smash! Now everyone (myself included) reads the Wickham books too, heartened by the "Bestselling Author of the Shopaholic Series Writing as Sophie Kinsella" announcement beckoning from the cover. I like reading both because each offers a new slant on the author.

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"How come the dove gets to be the peace symbol? How about the pillow? It has more feathers than the dove, and it doesn't have that dangerous beak."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Report: Vision in White by Nora Roberts

Remember when I read the last book in Nora Roberts's Bride Quartet series first and said I'd go back and start reading the books properly, from the beginning? No? That's okay. I figured as much but couldn't stop myself from starting this post with a question :)

Well, I finally got around to book one, Vision in White, an aptly-named tale about a fiery redheaded wedding photographer named Mackensie and a charmingly befuddled English professor named Carter. (The next installment is called Bed of Roses and stars a florist, and the one after that is Savor the Moment and showcases a pastry chef. Cute, huh?) The said professor is too perfect to be believed, not in a Joe Cool kind of way (obviously, and anyway, what woman wants that?), but in a so-smitten-he-stumbles-over-his-words-and-doesn't-even-notice-other-women kind of way. Plus, he reads. I think we can all take a collective sigh of envy. But Mackensie, or Mac, as she's more familiarly known, has a manipulative mom and a fear of getting hurt and keeps him at an emotional arm's length for most of the book. I know, I know. Such women exist only in the realm of fiction, whereas most real women would jump at the chance to shackle themselves to such a specimen. But as they say, only trouble is interesting.

Sprinkled by shoe shopping expeditions (electric blue boots, anyone?) and descriptions of lust-worthy wardrobes (including a pair of lime green pumps I'm trying to wish into existence), Vision in White is your typical cotton candy romance: frothy, feminine, and cloyingly sweet. But tasty. Because, honestly, who doesn't like a little cotton candy every now and then?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Movie Moment: No Strings Attached

I've long thought that it's easy to think a movie's good when you see it in the theater. By sheer default, the state of "being out" has you in its thrall. Renting a movie, on the other hand, is a much different kettle of fish. Whatever you're watching needs to be compelling enough to prevent you from getting a snack, going to the bathroom, reading a magazine, crafting, painting your nails, balancing your checkbook, or - horror of horrors --falling asleep (an offense of which I've been repeatedly guilty). All of these interruptions chip away at the movie-watching experience, breaking the theater spell we take for granted and reducing many flicks to mere plot points (ie, romantic comedy: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back; action flick: the bad guys are out to get the good guys and lots of stuff blows up).

I had a chance to put this theory into practice recently when I rented No Strings Attached. You know the premise. Natalie Portman (Emma) and Ashton Kutcher (Adam) play friends with benefits only to find out that getting physical outside the confines of a relationship is harder than it seems. It was cute, enjoyable, and a little crude in places - in short, all the things you'd expect. Even so, one major element was missing: the two were never really friends in the first place, more like acquaintances who've met a handful of times. So, their decision to sleep together just for the heck of it is more like a well-thought-out one-night stand that segues into an "arrangement" than a groundbreaking turning point in a close platonic relationship. Although the movie was entertaining, I think it would've been more interesting had the two been watching TV together on the sofa every night for years only to have an "incident" break the pattern.

Given my opening ramblings, the added bonuses of movie theater popcorn and surround sound might have done the trick too. Then again, I also rented Cedar Rapids last week, a movie so bad no quantity of concession stand treats could sweeten its stench. So maybe I'm just full of nonsense.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Movie Moment: The Hangover Part II

The bf and I topped off our weekend by seeing The Hangover Part II. In this addition of bachelor parties gone horribly wrong, the groom is dentist Stu (Ed Helms), and the debauchery takes place in Thailand. Vegas was dark, but Bangkok is darker. It's this darkness that lends a sinister edge to the proceedings, which, as you've no doubt by now heard, once again center around searching for a missing groomsman on the strength of a few fuzzy details.

So, does the sequel live up to the original? I think so. Part II is certainly not wanting for bizarre incidents, near-death experiences, raunchy humor, and classic bad-boy behavior. The return of Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) especially ups the weird factor, driving home the point that for this crew, bachelor party mayhem isn't a one-time thing, but a way of life. Indeed, by the movie's end, the bespectacled and seemingly straitlaced Stu is screaming that he has a dark side, and that he likes it. His fiance is so happy to have him back in one piece that she doesn't even interrogate him. In her shoes, I'd have asked more than a few questions. But then, The Hangover is all about men being men and women accepting it, and as viewers we have to accept that too (at least for the two-hour duration of the movie).

Cringe-inducing images notwithstanding, I found the overall story entertaining and look forward to the third and final installment, if only to find out what sort of woman would marry creepy oddball Alan (Zach Galifianakis).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hello Old Friends: Pins from the Past

I went through an old suitcase tonight and discovered these pins (and two pairs of clip-on earrings) in one of the compartments! I remembered each and every piece but thought I'd gotten ridden of them years ago (although I couldn't imagine why, as they were all so cute). It was a nice surprise, kind of like discovering a whimsical vintage shop and walking away with a collection of baubles for free. My favorite of the lot always was and remains the hummingbird perched above the yellow flower.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Something New and Sparkly: Cardboard Couture

Electric Grape Carnival Necklace

Lemon Snack Attack Corsage Necklace

Everyday Carnival Necklace

Remember when I said that JELL-O Temptations should come out with a lemon-flavored dessert so I could make a snappy yellow Snack Attack Corsage necklace? Well, I found out that they already did and that it isn't too tasty. Still, I was willing to suffer through the sub-par snack cup to be able to add a new flavor to my collection. :)

In related news, yet another cardboard package inspired me to make a funky neckpiece. See those pink and purple striped triangular-looking charms in the Electric Grape Carnival Necklace? They were once package backings for some silk flower jewelry accents I'd bought. As soon as I saw those wild colors, I thought, there's something brewing here. They were the reason, in fact, that I ordered all those rhinestone beads from Consumer Crafts.

These cardboard creations nearly make the Everyday Carnival Necklace look plain Jane -- or perhaps I should say "everyday" -- by contrast.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Movie Moment: Midnight in Paris

Stories about writers have always interested me. That's why I liked Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen's latest is about Gil (Owen Wilson), a successful Hollywood screenwriter who longs to chuck it all to move to Paris and finish his novel, a tale about a man who runs a nostalgia shop. By contrast, Gil's fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) is a status-obsessed shrew intent on impressing her former professor, Paul (Michael Sheen), an irritating know-it-all who, along with his wife, all but crashes the young couple's vacation.

So, Gil is frustrated. By his career, by Inez, and by Inez's snooty parents. He feels like his dreams are slipping away, and that the charming and sympathetic artist's haven that is Paris is the only force that can keep them within his grasp. So he walks, alone at night under the stars, and unlocks a world so inspiring that his writing takes on a whole new dimension.

I won't say more than that, except that the setting is beautiful and the supporting roles of Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, and Adrien Brody superb. That and that it's the kind of fanciful, hopeful movie that makes you think life doesn't have to be a compromise, that you can have what you want and never grow up if you learn to appreciate the moment.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"As the light changed from red to green to yellow and back to red again, I sat there thinking about life. Was it nothing more than a bunch of honking and yelling? Sometimes it seemed that way."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Scream You Scream We All Scream for Ice Cream

Today is the first official day of summer, and as we all know, summer means . . . ice cream! When the bf and I moved to Brigantine, I vowed to keep at least one box of ice cream sandwiches, ice pops, frozen fruit bars, or what have you in the freezer year round. (Not because the bf is some kind of frozen-treat-obsessed ogre, but because I thought it would add that special something to domestic life. And, of course, because I've always hearted popsicles :) So, in honor of the beginning of the most sensational season of the year, I stopped off at the grocery store and picked up this selection of sun-slaking snacks.

What's your freezer case favorite?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Courtesy of Cosmo: 50 Things You Should Have Never Stopped Doing

I found this sweet and nostalgic list of beloved tween and teen activities in the July issue of Cosmopolitan and couldn't resist posting a few of my favorites here. (For the entire 50, you'll have to swing by the newsstand, or maybe log on to

"Making Saturday-night plans on Saturday night.

Dressing festively for the Fourth of July (and Valentine's Day, St. Patty's Day, etc.)

Shopping with Mom . . . she's like a living 50-percent-off coupon.

Playing makeup artist on a friend - a turquoise, neon yellow, and hot pink palette is encouraged.

Picking out your outfit - accessories and all - the night before work as if it were the first day of school.

Writing mushy, where-are-you-now? letters to your future self and stowing them away for another 10 or so years . . . just think how much fun the ones from sixth grade are to read.

Having a planned, well-thought-out afternoon snack, like celery with peanut butter and raisins, that you look forward to all day long.

Making the mall your night-out destination. Bonus: There are fewer rage-inducing lines and slow walkers at 7 p.m. than there are in the afternoon.

Storing makeup in your offensively large, bright purple Caboodle - ugly as heck, but man, was it convenient.

Stealing style inspiration from Stacey and Claudia of The Baby-Sitters Club . . . Mary Anne's short'n'sassy makeover do is an option too."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Here's Looking at You, Made in the Shade, and Other Cliches About Sunglasses

Here are all my sunglasses . . .

Clockwise: Fred Flare; Target; Fred Flare; Dream Catchers, Ocean City; Rampage, Boscov's; Target; JCPenney

. . . and the bags I keep them in.

Clockwise: Express; Sweet Wolf, Etsy; Harajuku Lovers; Victoria's Secret; Lancome; ROSS Dress for Less

One of my favorite things about summer is getting to wear fun sunglasses. And lots of them! Once upon a time I stuck to a single pair: black plastic 1950s-style cat's eyes accented with rhinestones. I loved them. And then I lost them. Ever since, I've been drowning my sorrows in a series of distracting and shiny replacements.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Something New and Sparkly Part 2: Rhinestones Rock

Dress: Venus; Tank: Mossimo, Target

Shoes: Journeys; Wristlet: Express

Dress: Nicole by Nicole Miller, JCPenney

Wristlet: Chinese Laundry, Bloomingsales Florist and Gift Shop; Shoes: Barefeet Shoes

Rainbow Carnival Commotion Necklace

Black and White Carnival Commotion Necklace

Neon and White Carnival Commotion Necklace

Blue and Green Carnival Commotion Necklace

Neon and Black Carnival Commotion Necklace

Black and Pink Carnival Commotion Necklace

As promised, here's the exciting conclusion of my recently crafted necklace collection. As this blog post proudly states, this group is all about rhinestones and how they rock. I've long been on the prowl for the kind of bold, colorful rhinestone beads commonly used in the costume jewelry found in most department stores. Weirdly, these aren't available in Michaels or A.C. Moore. So, it was Consumer Crafts to the rescue with a dazzling array of pink, purple, aqua, black, and clear acrylic stones. Luckily, I still had a stash of Faux Show pendant charms (a delightful product sadly discontinued by Plaid). These, mixed in with the rhinestones and acrylic pearls, allowed me to make just the sort of dress-up-box-style chokers of which I'd been dreaming. Speaking of dress up boxes, I miss those. What was in yours growing up?

Today's dress selections are more tribal than sweet, with the tropical brights highlighting the rhinestones.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Something New and Sparkly Part 1: Corsage Craze

Dress: Kohl's

Bag: Loop, Marshalls; Shoes: Chinese Laundry, Marshalls

Top: JCPenney; Skirt: SugarPop Clothing, Etsy

Bag: PINK, Victoria's Secret; Sandals: Boscov's

Take-out Corsage Necklace

To quote fellow blogger and jewelry artist Jewel Diva, I made "an absolute pile of jewelry" recently. Sometimes you just start creating, get in the zone, and don't want to stop (even to blog). So, I'm reporting about my pieces in two separate posts so as not to overwhelm.

I'm particularly excited about this new crop of corsages. You may notice that they're a good deal daintier than my usual go big or go home variety. Yet at the same time, they're more intricate. I had a ball playing with the veritable buffet of dollhouse miniatures I purchased from Consumer Crafts. Likewise, the beads and rose cabochons from Etsy's own PenGwynneBeads, were just the right accents for framing the corsages. Most of what you see here has been added to the fray of frivolous fancies in my Etsy shop. (That phrase brings to mind the old writer's tenet "murder your darlings." Meaning, of course, that writers need to be strong enough to delete seemingly inspired descriptions that they know, deep down, to be rubbish.) The two necklaces photographed with outfits are the ones I didn't list (i.e. and am keeping for myself). Speaking of which, the pink and green ensemble makes me want to go out and get a fabulously frilly sundae, whereas the cherry print dress seems made for dinner at a sidewalk cafe. That's what I love about clothes, their power to ignite the imagination. I think that's what makes catalogue shopping so appealing. You see a model wearing a great dress, posed on a sunny sidewalk, and you think, "I love that dress but I have no where to wear it" before quickly switching over to, "Wait, I can wear it on a vacation somewhere sunny or maybe even just to walk around the neighborhood. I mean, that's probably what she (the model) is doing, right?" This is all well and good until you buy the dress, realize you haven't planned a vacation, and slip it on to walk to the corner store only to see every other pedestrian wearing sweats. And looking at you a little oddly. Which sounds like a bit of a downer. But then you think about how your new dress is transforming an otherwise humdrum errand into something to ponder, into an adventure of sorts. And it makes you smile and remember why you love dresses in the first place.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Report: The Pretend Wife by Bridget Asher

What would you do if the one that got away suddenly showed up in an ice cream shop? What if he ordered "two scoops of you" as his opening line? And what if you invited him to a party and he showed up, got drunk, and asked you to be his pretend wife to please his dying mother? What if you already had a "real" husband? These questions and others are raised in Bridget Asher's The Pretend Wife. Gwen Merchant (love that name) is in her late twenties and married to a straitlaced anesthesiologist who, by her own admission, "dispenses love in small doses." She has an English degree but stages homes for a realtor who pretentiously calls herself Eila instead of Sheila (don't love either of those names). Gwen's mother died when she was five, and her father is a reclusive marine biologist most comfortable talking to fish.

Enter Elliot Hull (love that name too). He's an unmarried philosophy professor, and he and Gwen met at a college icebreaker, one of those horrible events where over-cheerful staffers order you to befriend your fellow freshmen by performing ridiculous antics. They dated briefly, and as Gwen's friend Faith puts it, "insanely," just before graduation, and then Gwen dumped him because he said something in a bar that annoyed her.

Of course, it all goes a bit deeper than that.

Despite her reservations, Gwen accepts Elliot's challenge. She becomes his pretend wife and goes to see his dying mother, Vivian, using the assumed name Elizabeth. But despite her advanced cancer, Vivian is sharp, and whispers to Gwen, "I'd know you anywhere."

This is one of those books about the pretenses of life, the hundreds of tiny ones and the few big ones. (Not that that's not obvious given its title :) It's about safety vs. authenticity and what it means to love. Sound cheeseball? It's not. It's honest, making use of an extraordinary plot device to expose the dilemmas of ordinary people.

Even as I write this, I bet the movie's in the works.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Jack Handey Quote of the Week

"I wish there was a disease where you're afraid of clouds, because I think I could cure it. First, you sit the patient down and have a long personal talk. After that, I'm not sure, but maybe you could throw some water in his face or something."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's a Purse Party!

So said Jennifer Coolidge during a guest spot on "Sex and the City" when she played a freshly dumped woman who's turned to selling handmade purses ("I tore up my bedspread to make that one!"). That having been said, I think she and the rest of the "Sex and the City" gang would appreciate this selection of purses from my page-a-day Handbags gallery-style calendar (Workman Publishing). Based on the book Handbags: The Power of the Purse, by Anna Johnson, this desktop delight is bursting with photographs of ornate, colorful, and sometimes historical satchels, clutches, hobos, cases, shoulder bags, and reticules. (I had to look up that last one; according to it's of French origin and means "small purse or bag, originally of network but later of silk, rayon, etc.")

P.S. The May 4 number is described as a "handmade vintage-inspired fabric bag with abstract paint design" and hails from a lovely-sounding place called The Pink Room. Pretty apropos in light of Ms. Coolidge, huh?