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)