Monday, December 15, 2008

Book Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Without Giving Too Much Away: Frankie Landau-Banks is a sophomore at Alabaster Prep, a fancy private school north of Boston. Tired of being called "Bunny Rabbit" by her family and fading into the woodwork at school, Frankie sets out to rattle some cages and make a few changes around campus. Along with the good ol' fashioned troubles of growing-up, Frankie manages to tackle issues of feminism, social activism, and non-conformity through the course of her sophomore year exploits.

Our Musings: Writing for young adults is a tricky business. Real life young adults are often already into adult fiction, and fiction actually written for them about kids their own age by well-intentioned adults can sometimes miss the mark. 

When I read the first few pages of The Disreputable History, I initially thought it had missed the mark. I was surprised when I read the scene where we first learn that Frankie is heading into her sophomore year because up until then I'd assumed a much younger main character. To me, the book felt written to a younger audience, a feeling reinforced by the coy (and unnamed) narrator who tells Frankie's story.

But still, I liked it. In some undefinable and quietly happy way, I just really liked it. I liked the story, I was intrigued by the cast of characters, and I wanted to find out what happened to them. I kept thinking about the book after I put it down - again in that same in that same undefinable and quiet way - and I looked forward to the next chance I'd have to pick it up again.

Really, it was Frankie herself who drew me in. How could she not? She's that particular teenage balance of precociousness and innocence. She's got spunk and the brains to back it up. I loved watching her turn over a new thought or idea again and again until it finally clicked into place. After the first few chapters of she settling into her own story, Frankie emerges (as she so desires) from the obscurity of normalcy and asserts her own unique and quirky presence in the order of things. Namely,  the staid social order at Alabaster Prep.

Above all, this is just a really solid book. My initial criticisms quickly faded as the story swept me up and Frankie became a person instead of a character. The book reads as honest and real, partly due to the fact that it never takes itself too seriously. It was funny enough in parts to make me laugh out loud on the bus. Which, as any commuter knows, is an ultimate endorsement of quality.

Recommended: Yes, definitely. This book feels right for middle-schoolers and high school freshmen and sophomores. I think it might be hit-or-miss with anyone older. It also seems most appropriate for girls - particularly precocious, slightly awkward ones. However, this isn't to say that young men wouldn't benefit from a glimpse at Frankie's blunt and feminist perspective, although they might not exactly "enjoy" it!

A note to parents: This book talks about sex and underage drinking. Neither are central topics in the book, but they are presented as issues that exist for teenagers and that Frankie must come to terms with.

Have you - or your kids - read this book yet? What were your impressions?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Snaps and Glogg, Anyone?

This really has nothing to do with anything, except that a customer came in the store this morning and told us about a Swedish Christmas party she was going to later today where they would be serving a Swedish beverage called "Glogg." It sounded so wonderful and fantastical (it's pronounced "glug," after all) that we just had to know more.

According to that Resource of Resources, the Internet, glogg is a Scandanavian version of mulled wine, but with a little The wine is spiked with "snaps," or aquavit - though apparently you can just dispense with the wine part and knock the snaps back by itself if that's the way the evening goes.

I'd say this is a good drink to have with a good book beside a good fire, but I have a feeling that the words would be swimming before your eyes before too long. No, this is a socializing drink, to be sure. Maybe we need to do an R&M holiday party just to justify some glogg consuption.

Here's one of the recipes we found, courtesy of Scandanavian Travel and (we love that "inexpensive" is one of the criteria for the liquor):


Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes


1 bottle of red wine
0.5 Liter inexpensive brandy or vodka
10 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick (broken down0
1/2 orange peel (dried or fresh)
1/2 lbs sugar (regular or lumps)
Optional additions: 5 cloves, 1/2 cup raisins, 1/2 cup almonds, 5 dried figs

Heat the wine and brandy, spices, fruit, and nuts in a pot (and any optional additions you might like.)

Be careful not to boil the mixture. Just let it simmer for approximately 45 minutes. Then, strain through a cloth to remove all additions.

Serve your Glogg hot over lumped sugar (or with regular sugar)

Optional: You can also serve the Glogg with raisons or almonds. If you'd like the drink to be stronger, use more brandy.

This Glogg recipe makes approximately 1.5 liter (close to 1/2 gallon)

Thank goodness for the internet, eh?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Playlist for a Rainy Day

It's been a drizzly, rainy day over in our corner of the world. We've been happy to stay tucked inside just listening to the rain patter against the window and occasionally passing out cups of tea to sodden customers.

Days like this require tunes to soothe frayed nerves and fortify the spirits! Here's what we've been listening to:

Gossip in the Grain by Ray LaMontagne
Knives Don't Have Your Back by Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton
Volume 1 by She and Him
Amelie (soundtrack to the movie)
Ballad of the Broken Seas by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan
Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant

What's your soundtrack for a rainy afternoon?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Top Books from 2008...That We'd Really Like to Read Before 2010

So it turns out that coming up with a list of favorite books from 2008 is a lot harder than coming up with our favorite music albums. This is not because we can't agree. Nor is it due to any lack of good books from the past year. 

It's that we realized that we haven't actually read very many of the books that came out in the last year - turns out, we're still catching up with our reading list from 2007! Which in turn included a few books from the year before. get the idea, right?

In any case, a very many excellent-sounding books have come out in the past twelve months, which we really would love to spend some time with in the near future. These are a few that caught our eye or have been highly recommended by customers (who theoretically have actually read them!):

The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane - Historical fiction set in Boston during WWI
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski - A mute boy flees his family home after the death of his father to live in the wilderness
The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz (fiction - and which we DID actually read!) - The story of a sci fi nerd growing up within the Dominican community in New Jersey
Shadow Country, by Peter Matthiessen - An ambitious rewrite of his trilogy "Killing Mr. Watson," "Lost Man's River," and "Bone by Bone" into one novel.
Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri - A new set of short stories from one of our favorite authors.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson - A thriller in which a journalist researches an unsolved with the hopes that it will resurrect his career
The Soul Thief, by Charles Baxter - A graduate student loses, re-collects, and then loses again his idea of self and personal history.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami - Diary entries, short essays, and other thoughts from Murakami centered around his years of long-distance running.
The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins - Short nonfiction essays giving personal accounts and observations of the war in Iraq
Finding Beauty in a Broken World, by Terry Tempest Williams - Part creative memoir and part researched nonfiction, Williams makes connections between disparate events to form a picture of the whole.
Payback, by Margaret Atwood - The idea of debt and payback explored in personal memoir, historical reflection, and conversations on current events.
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McKracken - A memoir of a woman dealing with the grief and meaning of a miscarriage.
Nothing to be Frightened Of, by Julian Barnes - Barnes, an agnostic, muses on death, mortality, and memory.

What other books do you recommend checking out?!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Top Ten Albums of 2008: Rhythm & Muse Style!

So we're Rhythm & Muse, you know? We don't like to play favorites, see? We're more the "A for Effort!" kind of people around here. So coming up with a top ten list kinda goes against the grain. You know?

Plus we all have pretty Type A personalities, and putting together a top ten list quickly became a Quest. Yes, a Great Quest to create The Perfect List. Much debating could be heard behind the register: "Yes, the Calexico album was good, definitely. But was it really the best example of what was new and innovative in the music world this past year?" "Can we really count the new Dylan as a best album when most of these songs were recorded pre-2008?" "Dylan? Are you seriously considering Dylan? Ah. You're serious. Ok, then."

And then someone thought to ask: "Hey, haven't we, like, completely forgotten about jazz?"

Obviously, this was all far too overwhelming. 

Therefore, without further ado and in no particular order, here is our list of ten albums from the past year that surprised us, inspired us, offered us something new, or simply got our toes tapping. We loved them and we think you should too:
1. Radiohead, "In Rainbows"

2. The Kills "Midnight Boom"

3. David Byrne and Brian Eno, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today"

4. TV on the Radio, "Dear Science"

5. Ray LaMontagne, "Gossip in the Grain"

6. Silver Jews, "Lookout Mountain"

7. Mountain Goats, "Heretic Pride"

8. Calexico, "Carried to Dust"

9. Fleet Foxes, "Fleet Foxes"

10. Jenny Lewis, "Acid Tongue"

What were your favorite albums from the past year? (See! It's hard, right?!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Events this Week!

Just a few quick reminders:

BOOK GROUP TONIGHT! The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

You've got a few more hours to finish reading! The discussion starts at 7pm here at the store and will go until the wine runs out. 

JP FORUM featuring local authors Ron MacLean, Brendan Halpin, and Catherine Sasanov

This event is this Friday, December 5, from 7-9 at the First Congregational Church in Jamaica Plain (right by the Monument on Centre Street). Our own David Doyle will be MC-ing the evening! Discussion and book signing will follow.

We hope to see everyone soon!

New to Me: The Kills - Midnight Boom

With much debate and a fair amount of waffling, we're attempting to put together our Top Ten (or so...) CDs of 2008. David had this one on his list and when I admitted that I hadn't heard it, he immediately elbowed me aside and put it on the store player.

And I'm glad he did! This is a fun, funky album. In these days of girl bands and boy bands, it's also really refreshing to hear a rock album that combines female and male voices to such great affect. Hmm....maybe this is kinda what I was looking for from that Isobel Campbell and Mark Campbell album...

The challenge with making a Top Ten list is not just defaulting to what has come out recently. This Kills album came out last March and it would have completely passed under my radar if David hadn't pulled it out.

Give us a hand! - what was your favorite album to come out in the first half of this year?

Monday, December 1, 2008

What Did You Read Over Thanksgiving Weekend?

I don't know about you, but beginning Friday morning, my long weekend was all about curling up on the couch with a mug of coffee and a stack of good reads! I stayed there pretty much straight through to Sunday night, surfacing occasionally for a plate of leftovers or to switch out the coffee for a glass of wine once it got dark outside.

Here's what I was reading:

• Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons - I've had this in my pile forever and I'm determined to finish it before the movie comes out. I'm liking it, yes, but am also finding it a little slow. I skip ahead a lot and scan the pictures to find out what happens. Still, there's good subtly in the plot and some really interesting thoughts on what it means to be human and a part of human society. Stay posted...

• Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund - This is a re-read for me. I stumbled upon it a few years back and fell in love with the lyrical prose and the intensity of the story. For those who aren't familiar, this is the story of Ahab's wife, who Ahab mentions in a few of his more mournful meditations in Moby Dick. It's just a gorgeous book and a perfect read for the wintry mix weather we've been getting in Boston.

• A Mercy by Toni Morrison - This just came into the bookstore last week and I'm only a little ways into it. The story is compelling: a 17th century trader accepts a slave girl as partial payment for a debt and he ends up taking the girl into his household instead of trading her away. I'm curious to see where the story goes, but so far, so good. 

Plus my backlog of cooking magazines. I can never seem to keep up with those cooking magazines...

What were you reading this weekend?

(Image: Cafemama via Flickr Creative Commons)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Music! Bob Dylan, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, and David Byrne & Brian Eno

Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8, Rare and Unreleased
Bob Dylan

Speaking as someone who doesn't typically get too excited about Bob Dylan, I have to say that this collection is definitely worth picking up. Recorded between 1989 and 2006, all the songs on the album are previously unreleased or rare versions of released songs. The album as a whole is thoughtful and polished, but you'll still get plenty of Dylan's characteristic grit!

Sunday at Devil Dirt
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan

In their second full-length album together, Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan continue playing off each other in the same dreamy, sometimes hypnotic duets that characterized Ballad of the Broken Seas. On my first few listens, Sunday at Devil Dirt seems even more subdued and low-key than the first album - more sultry lullaby than sea shanty this time around. I would have personally liked to see a little more experimentation with these songs. Their voices - Campbell's honey to Lanegan's gravel - and artistic styles work together so surprisingly well that I'm really curious to see what else they can do. But if you couldn't get enough of the first album, this one is sure to soothe your need!

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
David Byrne and Brian Eno

Yes! This long-anticipated album is finally here! And it's even good! Yes, there are shades of Talking Heads with a little "St. Elmo's Fire" thrown in for good measure. But mostly this album is a cohesive and highly creative collaboration between two top-notch artists. The sound is upbeat and trippy, even whimsical at times. Smooth vocals ride over percussive electronic mixes and twine with haunting guitar chords. Definitely worth the wait, in my opinion!

Has anyone had the chance to give any of these albums a good listen? What's your take?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Check This Out: Fictional Boston in Books!

This morning, one of our customers pointed us this article published in the Boston Globe, "Round Up the Fictitious Bostonians". It's an interview with Suffolk University professor Gerald Richman, who has been compiling a list of fictional books set in Boston.

But this is no casual pastime! Richman has been compiling this list for thirty years, ever since he took over the "Boston: City of Fiction" course at the universty. He doesn't have an exact count of all the titles in his bibliography, but he estimates the full list would be over 250 pages long! It sounds to us like what started as a mild curiousity has developed into a full-blown obsession of the best kind.

One of the things we love most about Richman's work is his method of organization. Instead of listing books by author's name or the title or even the date of publication, he organizes the list by the time period in which the book's story takes place. That just puts a smile in our faces, it does.

Take a minute and check out Richman's list. You might be surprised by what you find!

Do you have a favorite book with a Boston connection?

(Image: Boston Globe)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake
By Margaret Atwood

Without Giving Too Much Away: Oryx and Crake is a post-apocalyptic tale recounted by humanity's the sole survivor (or is he?). Snowman is on the brink of starvation and plagued by waking dreams from his past. Piece his ramblings together and the big picture of what went wrong and why becomes all too clear.

Our Musings: What I can't get over after reading this book is its eerie familiarity. This is, of course, Margaret Atwood's trademark. She has an uncanny ability to take all the components of the reality we know and then give them just a little half-turn to the left. Her fictional worlds are chilling in their nearness to our own.

But with Oryx and Crake, not only does it feel like this bleak future is entirely possible, but in many ways it feels as if it could have already happened - hence an eeriness that gets compounded with every turn of the page.

The book is structured almost like a conversation between the events of the past and the present those events created. In the past, we get the story of Jimmy and a world where gene-splicing and businesses with creatively spelled names (OrganInc Farms and NooSkins) are the norm. The rift between the pleebland underclass and the intellectual elites is a given and therefore arouses only cursory and passing interest on Jimmy's part. His life is spent in the guarded, sanitized corridors of the elite Compounds where all his needs are met as if by magic.

The present is the complete opposite. Snowman (who we quickly learn is, in fact, Jimmy) lives in a tree, wears a bed sheet for clothing, and is constantly battling storms, rogue animals, and a scarcity of food. As far as we can tell, he and a band of genetically engineered humans called the Children of Crake are the only survivors of an unknown and catastrophic world-wide disaster. Snowman is something of a prophet to the Children of Crake, who know nothing about the world in which they were programmed to thrive.

In his interactions with the Children of Crake, Snowman inadvertently begins building a mythology for their existence. He tells them stories to explain their origins, why the storms come, how the animals behave. The Children of Crake accept each story as truth without argument or question. And why shouldn't they? Snowman's explanations make sense! They are logical, if greatly simplified, explanations for things that the Children are not yet ready to understand. 

It's here, in Snowman's part of the story, that the feeling of eeriness is most present for me. It's such a small step to go from Snowman's stories to the Children to our own creation myths. And knowing Snowman's back story, you can't help but start wondering about our back story. What were we not told? What were the symbols and what did they really mean? What were we too young and new to understand, back at the beginning of the human race? 

While Atwood does such a masterful job of crafting these two realities that you can practically taste the ChickieNobs, the novel ultimately falls down on plot. Most of the book is just lead-up to the final revelation of exactly what went wrong. The teasers and foreshadowing are exciting at first, but eventually become tiresome and annoying. 

When the big reveal is finally made, I was left with a big cartoon question mark hanging over my head. I just didn't get it. And even after going back and reading it a few more times, the end just doesn't hang together for me. I understand the technicalities of Atwood's End of the World, but it just doesn't make sense to me within the context of the story. After so much build up, I expected a nuanced, complicated, and elegant solution. Instead it was more like a hatchet to a glass door - obvious and over far too quickly.

I think at least part of the culprit is a lack of depth in the other characters, namely Oryx and Crake themselves. From their initial introduction to their final swan song, our narrator Jimmy/Snowman portrays these characters are evasive and impenetrable, which results in a one-dimensional feeling for us as readers. Ipso facto, their motivations and emotions in the final events of the book are a mystery and any real impact those events might have had on the reader are lost.

Perhaps even more frustrating is the lack of resolution in the Snowman thread of the story. The chronological reveal of the past events happens roughly in time with a journey Snowman takes from his tree home back to the Paradice Dome, a.k.a ground zero. When he leaves the Dome, I got the sense that some sort of catharsis was supposed to have taken place. Snowman finally makes peace with his past and his role in the events? He decides to move on and make the best of it as one of the last surviving humans? Who knows. Whatever I was supposed to understand as a reader missed me completely and I was left feeling merely puzzled.

Ultimately, this book is neither completely brilliant nor a complete dud. It is quintessential Margaret Atwood - full of black humor and inescapable truths. 

Recommended: Yes, despite its shortcomings, this book is definitely worth the read. Recommended for Margaret Atwood groupies, sci fi fans, and end-of-the-world junkies.

Note: This book contains some graphic sexual and drug-related material that may not be appropriate for younger audiences.

Did you read this book? What's your take?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Book Events: Local Authors Ron MacLean and Brendan Halpin at JP Forum

What: JP Forum - Celebrating JP's Local Authors
When: Friday, December 5, 7-9pm
Where: First Congregational Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist / 3 Eliot Street / Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

We've really been looking forward to this event! Ron MacLean and Brendan Halpin are both local JP authors as well as being pretty awesome gents. 

Ron will be reading from his recently published collection of short stories Why the Long Face? and Brendan will share excerpts from his recent young adult novel Forever Changes. After the readings, there will be an open discussion about the difficulties facing authors and small publishers in recent years and the current economic situation.

Update 11/23: Poet Catherine Sasanov will be joining Ron and Brendan at this JP Forum event! She is the author of two books of poetry: Tethers and Tara.

Please join us!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Welcome to the Official Blog of the Rhythm & Muse Bookstore!

Hello! Thanks for stopping by!

We have a lot of things planned for this little blog. Things that will hopefully make it easier for us to tell you what's new, what's hot, and what's happening here at the bookstore. Things that will make you smile and think and react. Things that will give us another way to come together as a community.

Please bear with us while we situate ourselves and get things going!

In the meantime, feel free to leave a note and let us know what you'd like to see from us. Book reviews? Music reviews? Top seller lists? Discussion topics? Stories of all the crazy happenings that we witness from our perch overlooking Centre Street? Let us know!

Take care and we'll see you soon...