Review: The Taste of Apple Seeds, by Katharina Hagena

About the book, The Taste of Apple Seeds

The Taste of Apple Seeds

• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (February 4, 2014)

The internationally bestselling tale of love, loss, and memories that run deep

When Iris unexpectedly inherits her grandmother’s house in the country, she also inherits the painful memories that live there. Iris gives herself a one-week stay at the old house, after which she’ll make a decision: keep it or sell it. The choice is not so simple, though, for her grandmother’s cottage is an enchanting place, where currant jam tastes of tears, sparks fly from fingertips, love’s embrace makes apple trees blossom, and the darkest family secrets never stay buried. . .

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About the Author, Katharina Hagena

Katharina Hagena

Katharina Hagena is the author of On Sleep and Disappearing. She lives in Hamburg, Germany.

My Thoughts

If I were asked to describe this book, I’d say it’s a blend of Like Water for Chocolate and Tales of Hoffmann, which latter is a collection of classic fairy tales with a decidedly Teutonic sensibility. I use this description with affection, because from the first page, I was completely entranced.

I’m not certain whether Hagena writes in English, or if this is a translation, but either way, the language puts the reader into a sort of dreamlike state, where everything is soft-focus and just a little bit off-kilter. Not disconnected, just not quite plumb.

I liked, especially, the character of Iris, from whose perspective we experience this book, but I also liked her Buddhist monk aunt, and the rest of her extended family.

As someone who has always loved rambling old houses, and who absolutely believes that houses (and all buildings) retain a bit of the essence of their inhabitants, I also fell in love with Iris’s inherited house. Sure, there was bitterness and sadness there, but there was also love, hope, and not a little magic, and without the darkness, what is light?

The Taste of Apple Seeds is not a fairy tale. It’s a contemporary novel laced with just enough magical realism to make you smell the fruit, and feel the breeze, and taste the buttercake.

In short, it’s wonderful, and I loved it.

Goes well with Earl Grey tea and a slice of lemon pound cake.

TLC Book Tours

This review is part of a virtual book tour. For more information, visit the tour page by clicking here.

Peacocks! (Sink me!)


Peacock | Source: | Click to embiggen

My first book of January is Benjamin Mee’s memoir, We Bought a Zoo, which, admittedly, I was inspired to read because of the movie (which is not an Oscar winner by any means, but was charming nevertheless.)

Last night, I came across Mee’s description of peacocks:

Peacocks seem to have been designed by a flamboyant madman, probably of Indian extraction given the fine detailing, though with more than a nod toward the tastes of Liberace. Even in repose they are stunning, their impossibly blue heads and necks suddenly giving way to equally unlikely green and gold feathers laid like scales from halfway down their backs. These in turn abruptly change into their famous long tail feathers, many of them around a meter, easily three times as long as the males’ bodies. As if this is not enough, as an afterthought their heads are embellished with more blue-tipped feathers on narrow stalks, which blossom out in an animal parody of a Roman centurion’s helmet. And why the hell not? you think. They’ve gone this far. It seems the only limit to their opulence is the almost boundless confines of the imagination of their Indian Liberace designer.

Is it any wonder that the passage above had me humming “The Creation of Man” from the Broadway musical The Scarlet Pimpernel? Witness:

Books on Film: Eat, Pray, Love

A few years ago, when I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love I remember thinking that EAT and PRAY were pretty interesting, once I got past the author’s self entitlement, but LOVE didn’t do much for me.

Last night, my husband and I went to see the movie, despite the fact that critical reception has been mixed. I like much of Julia Roberts’ work, and since my mother was visiting, it was important to pick a film she would enjoy also.

I ended up loving this movie. It’s not perfect, of course, but it gives you the feel of Gilbert’s globe trotting from the glass and steel buildings of New York to the restaurants of Italy, the steamy ashram in India, and the lush coast of Bali, while managing to be gently humorous as well. Roberts is well cast as the lead, and her voiceovers tie everything together, while the supporting cast is all completely credible.

While movies based on books are never true to the book, in this case, the departures made a tighter, more enjoyable story. Some have said the movie lacks depth – I didn’t think the book was all that deep in the first place, so this isn’t an issue for me.

If you’ve somehow managed to miss the trailer, here it is. If you haven’t read the book – I’d recommend it, but I think the movie was better.

DVD Review: Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
DVD, 105 minutes
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Several years ago, my husband and I watched the original Night at the Museum on DVD, because we’d missed it in theaters and thought it seemed entertaining. We were not wrong. Several weeks ago, we rented the sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian from our cable provider’s OnDemand system, and again had an enjoyable evening.

Ben Stiller was engaging as the night watchman, and Hank Azaria was great as the Egyptian prince come back to exact revenge (I’d love to see this character do infomercials or diet pill reviews, because the accent chosen was hilarious), but for me, the best part of the movie was Amy Adams as a brash, fun-loving Amelia Earhart. In fact, I so loved her performance that when we rented Amelia a few days later, Hillary Swank’s portrayal of the same person, while most likely more technically and historically accurate, seemed cold and uninteresting.

But of course, the main thrust of the movie was not to be a pop version of “The Amelia Earhart Story.” Instead, it was about protecting the same golden tablet that keeps the museum pieces coming to live after dark, without letting the Egyptian prince take over the world.

It was funny, engaging, and had enough adult humor to feel like it wasn’t completely mindless.

But I can’t get Amy Adams’ performance out of my head.

DVD Review: Up in the Air

Up in the Air
Up in the Air
DVD, 109 minutes
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My friend Deb doesn’t generally give me advice on diet aids, but she does recommend movies. When she, a road warrior herself, recommended the recent George Clooney movie Up in the AIr I had to see it. My husband and I rented it a week or two ago, and watched it together.

The story itself, that of a man who lives his live in the space between plane flights, who begins to question his existence only after corporate changes force him to settle in one place, and after a relationship with a woman who lives an (apparently) similar life. It’s also about his ersatz mentorship of a younger employee at his firm, the woman who instigates the change in his life. The casting, as the director plainly stated in the featurette, was a bid to make the lead character, a corporate hatchet man, still be likeable.

Clooney was a subdued version of himself in this film, but the downplaying worked, and he was, indeed, likeable. Female fans should not miss the special features, which include a deleted scene in which we see him scrubbing a toilet (Deb and I agree: it was worth the rental fee just for that.), and Anna Kendrick (of CAMP among other things) was fragile and tough at the same time as the protege. The female road warrior/lover, played by Vera Farmiga was beautiful and compelling, and Jason Bateman’s few scenes as Clooney’s boss were all immensely watchable.

Up in the Air works because of it’s subtlety and poignance, and I’d recommended it to most women, and some men.

DVD Review: The 10th Kingdom

The 10th Kingdom
The 10th Kingdom
Not Rated
DVD, 417 minutes
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When The 10th Kingdom originally aired on NBC several years ago, American audiences didn’t watch in high enough numbers for a sequel to be given the go-ahead, and that’s too bad, because it’s really a charming miniseries with an excellent cast.

It’s the story of a young woman named Virginia (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), a waitress who lives with her janitor father (John Laroquette) Tony in an apartment near New York’s Central Park. Her mother abandoned the family when she was seven. One day, an apparently-stray golden retriever barrels into Virginia’s bike as she’s riding to her job at Tavern on the Green, but he isn’t really a stray, he’s a fairy tale prince who’s been transformed into a dog, and he’s being chased by a half-wolf, Wolf, (played by Scott Cohen) and three trolls.

While Virginia hides the dog, and tries to avoid Wolf, her father tangles with the trolls. Eventually, after some wishes go awry, all of them journey by magic mirror to The Nine Kingdoms – a group of countries originally ruled by the likes of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and Queen Riding Hood (the age of the Naked Emperor is mentioned as well) and now threatened by the evil queen, and the troll king.

Adventures, some loosely tied to the fairy tales we all grew up with, and some not, ensue, and of course, Wolf and Virginia, who spend much of the time bickering, end up falling in love, before they, with her father and the dog-prince, save the kindgoms and live happily ever after…at least for a while.

It sounds formulaic, but the twists away from the classic tales are fabulous, and some of the performances are amazing. Kimberly Williams-Paisley has been a favorite of mine since I first saw her in the remake of Father of the Bride and Scott Cohen’s Wolf is charming, funny, and a little bit dangerous – just as every leading Wolf should be. A scene that’s barely more than a cameo, with Camryn Manheim as Snow White, is touching and lovely (and she comes off as a totally credible Snow, by the way), and Rutger Hauer is both creepy and a little sexy as the Queen’s huntsman, while Diane Wiest, playing against type, is delicious as the Evil Queen.

With enough subtext and double entendre to please adults, and a family friendly presentation, The 10th Kingdom is a great movie for a snow day, either watched all at once, or in three parts. It ships on 3 DVDs.

Retro-Viewing: A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Written & Directed by Wes Craven
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While I would never claim that I learned everything I know about life from horror movies, I will admit that sometimes they do teach a valuable lesson. Nothing is a better fat burner, for example, than running for your life from a serial killer. Especially if you do it barefoot. On rain-slick pavement.

Of course, in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street most of the running takes place while the main characters are asleep, for this movie was the first in a long series about Fred Krueger, the pizza-faced slasher who stalks teenagers in their dreams.

As horror movie premises go, this first installment, which was released when I was a freshman in high school, was fairly original, and very scary. After all, everybody sleeps, and everybody dreams (if you don’t dream, you literally go crazy), and almost everyone has wondered what really happens if you die in your dream.

While I initially watched the film because I thought the concept was cool, and because as a twelve- and thirteen-year-old, I’d had a crush on Robert Englund (the actor who brought Freddie to life) after seeing him in the miniseries V and V: the Final Battle, the teenagers in the cast were actually pretty impressive. Amanda Wyss (who would later appear in several episodes of another favorite show, Highlander: the Series) brought the perfect blend of edginess and vulnerability to the role of Tina Grey. Heather Langencamp (who would return to the franchise in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, was smart and snarky as Nancy Thompson (more recent television viewers would see her play another Nancy – Nancy Kerrigan – in a movie of the week about Kerrigan and Tonya Harding), and a very young, dare I say – babyfaced – Johnny Depp ate up the screen as Nancy’s boyfriend Glenn.

The adult castmembers, aside from Englund, included John Saxon and Ronee Blakley as Nancy’s parents, both of whom turned in quirky and interesting performances.

But it’s the villain in a horror film that makes or breaks it, and old Freddy has become an iconic horror villain, as much because of the razor-glove he uses to slaughter his teenaged victims as because of the one-liners he slings with equal sharpness.

As an eight-year-old, I once had to sleep with the closet light on because the original black-and-white movie of Frankenstein creeped me out so much.

As an teen, lingering fear from my first experience with Fred Krueger had me compelled to make sure all closet/laundry room/basement (when we had a basement) lights were OFF before I went to sleep, so that I wouldn’t wake up and panic over a fictional murder’s boiler room being linked to my house.

Today? Today, I can watch this film for the performances, laugh at the effects, and listen to the commentary thinking, “Man, Robert Englund and my friend Clay are totally voice doubles.”

I still love sharing the film with new viewers – and I still know exactly when to start it so that Nancy’s midnight countdown is in synch with real time.

August Rush

August RushAugust Rush
Available on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-Ray
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Fuzzy and I haven’t yet invested in a plasma tv and a plasma mount with which to suspend it from the wall or ceiling, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying movies. Recently, we rented August Rush because we never managed to see it in a theater, and we both loved it.

August Rush is an urban fantasy about a cellist and a rock star who meet, have a one-night stand, and are forced apart. She (the cellist) gets pregnant and her over protective father puts the baby up for adoption while she is in the hospital after an accident. Eleven years later, the child, a musical prodigy who has refused to leave an orphanage because he believes he can hear his parents, decides he has to find them.

We then follow the cellist as she searches for the child she never agreed to give up, and never knew was alive, the rock star, who is searching for the cellist, unaware there is a child, and the boy, Evan, who is given the name August Rush by a street musician who takes him in, and becomes the catalyst for the blooming of a musical prodigy.

Of course the movie ends with August conducting an urban rhapsody (symphony for orchestra and wind chimes) in Central Park, and there’s every sign his parents will find him, especially since he’s run into his father already, they just weren’t aware.

It’s a charming tale, with great music and wonderful performances from all three principals – Freddy Highmore (August) Keri Russell (Lyla, the cellist), and John Rhys Myers (as the rock star).

Goes well with a dreamsicle, and a hot summer night.

Becoming Jane with Anne Hathaway

Austen is pervading my life in roundabout ways, and while it’s nice to watch a movie without the work part of my brain peering at the cars to see what sort of dash kits might be installed, I feel like I’d be much better served by reading her actual work. To that end, I’m declaring April “Jane Austen Month” here at Bibliotica, and will be working my way through her…works.

Meanwhile, however, I’ve seen the movie Becoming Jane, which I found to be warm, funny, a little bit provocative, and really rather interesting, and not just for continuing the trend of American actresses playing British literary figures (c.f. Renee Zellwiger in Mrs. Potter, which I also found enchanting.)

I quite liked all the casting, especially James Cromwell and Julie Walters as Austen’s parents. Cromwell, especially, charmed me with his crusty affection.

My aunt suggests I should begin my own revisit with Miss Austen with Pride and Prejudice. What does everyone else think?

The Nanny Diaries

I just finished watching The Nanny Diaries, the movie based on the book by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Klaus, and starring Scarlett Johansson .

While I thought the book was delightful, and enjoyed the movie as much for the story as for the luxury homes in Manhattan where it all took place, I’m never entirely satisfied with book-to-movie translations, because when I read I’m immersed in a story, but when I’m watching something, I’m merely observing it.

That being said, Laura Linney as Mrs. X was fabulous, seemingly cold, but with vulnerability beneath the icy veneer, and Paul Giamatti as the mostly-absent Mr. X was simply perfect, and Donna Murphy was believable as Annie’s mother, even if her New Jersey accent was horribly inconsistent. Young Nicholas Art, as Greyer, the child in the film, was also very good – very much a natural kid.

Where the film excelled (other than at marketing CitiGroup, whose iconic red umbrella was used throughout the film) was in capturing the spirit of life in New York, where small kids really DO know whether something is on the East or West side, and how much there are distinct sub-cultures within it, changing from block to block.

If you haven’t read the book, see the movie first or you might be disappointed in the condensation of the story, but you will not be disappointed in the way they presented the spirit of the novel, or the city in which it all takes place.