Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Uses of Enchantment

The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits was originally published in October 2006. The hardcover edition has 354 pages. This is my second novel by Julavits and I am officially done reading her. Julavits is a good writer - of that fact there is no question. I kept reading because her writing is so good and I expected the novel to get better. However, this novel left me dissatisfied. A reviewer mentioned the "cleverness factor" of Julavits' writing that makes it end up feeling contrived and I think that is part of the problem for me too. The cleverness of the writing couldn't make up for what the novel lacks: the ending felt incomplete, there was not a single likeable character, and the absence of quotation marks around dialogue in certain sections was distracting. I'll repeat what I said about her novel The Effects of Living Backward, "I can see where Julavits wanted to go, but I, personally, don't feel like she quite reached her destination."

It was mentioned that the people who don't like this novel or rate it highly don't understand that the premise of the book is that "Women are not the authors of their own narratives. Not then, not now." I'm not going to buy into that self absorbed premise because a case could be made that none of us, men, women, or children, are the authors of our own narratives. Lives are interconnected and, beyond that fact, we can all view events from our own point of view. It's not that it was completely bad, though. I'll recommend it with a rating of 2.9 because I know there are people who will find it deep, engaging, and existential but.... I didn't.

At Amazon, From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. On November 7, 1985, Mary Veal, 16, a not especially distinguished upper-middle-class girl, disappears from New England's Semmering Academy. A month later she reappears at Semmering, claiming amnesia, but hinting at abduction and ravishment. The events in Believer editor Julavits's third, beautifully executed novel take place on three levels: one, dedicated to "what might have happened," is the story of the supposedly blank interval; another is dedicated to the inevitable therapeutic aftermath, as Mary's therapist, Dr. Hammer, tries to discover whether Mary is lying, either about the abduction or the amnesia; and the present of the novel, which revolves around the funeral of Mary's mother, Paula, in 1999. There, Mary feels not only the hostility of her sisters... but Paula's posthumous hostility. Or is that an illusion? This structure delicately balances between gothic and comic, allowing Julavits to play variations on Mary's life and on the '80s moral panic of repressed memory syndromes and wild fears of child abuse. While Julavits (The Effect of Living Backwards) sometimes lets an overheated style distract from her central story, as its various layers coalesce, the mystery of what did happen to Mary Veal will enthrall the reader to the very last page. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Rest of Her Life

Laura Moriarty's second novel, The Rest of Her Life, is even more impressive than her first, The Center of Everything. In spite of her hard childhood, Leigh Churchill manages to have the life of stability she could only dream of as a child. She and her husband and two children are living in a small Kansas town where her husband is an English professor at the college and she teaches English at the Junior High. While Justin, her younger son, struggles to find friends and his way to fit in, Kara, her oldest daughter, is seemingly the golden child whose only strained relationship is with her mother. The book opens up when, after in a moment of inattentive driving, Kara accidentally hits and kills another student. Moriarty's novel deals with the aftermath of this tragedy. While Leigh isn't always a sympathetic character, she is a real one and the ability to truly depict a person is Moriarty's gift. I'm expecting even better novels from Moriarty in the future. She's not quite there yet, but she's darn close. Part of my appreciation of Moriarty could be because she lives in the same area of the country in which I'm currently living. I think she's captured the feeling of this location. The Rest of Her Life was published in 2007 and is 303 pages. Highly recommended; Rating:4


First sentence: "Several times that summer, Leigh further tormented herself by considering all the ways the accident might never have happened." pg. 1

"...her gaze could also seem condescending, as if she were observing her mother not just from a physical height, but a moral one, with equal parts humor and pity." pg. 16

"...they lived in a small football-crazed town that made it clear, in so many ways, that it had no use for boys like him. He did not like contact sports." pg. 20

" 'You know, I've spent a good eighteen years doing nothing but working for you girls.' She tapped out her cigarette on a saucer and stood up. 'I've never gotten to live the way I wanted. You don't know anything about that.' " pg. 75

" 'So if people are... you know... mean or something, the other kids, I just think, It's because I'm from the future. They're laughing because they don't know things I know. They don't know them yet.' " pg. 106

"It seemed so right, she thought, to hurt him. After all these years, for all these years, he had misunderstood her so completely. she was sure of it. She was." pg. 115

"Christianity was like Amway - you didn't bring it up with a true believer unless you wanted in or were ready to ward off a serious sales pitch." pg. 193

"She was within thirty feet of the four people she loved most in the world, and she'd never felt more alone." pg. 207

"It was a mistake, Leigh considered, to confuse placidity with stupidity, to think that because one doesn't react, one doesn't feel, or know. And it was probably a mistake to assume that because one had put up with other people's crap her entire life, she would continue to put up with it forever." pg. 213

"We all have our trifling comparisons, she considered, our weak attempts to feel each other's burdens." pg. 243

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Center of Everything

Laura Moriarty's first novel, The Center of Everything is a nicely done debut novel. Originally published in 2003, my paperback copy has 335 pages. The Center of Everything follows Evelyn Bucknow from a 10 year old fourth grader living in an apartment in Kerrville, Kansas with her single, chronically unemployed mother to an 18 yr. old high school senior preparing to attend college. Moriarty gives voice to Evelyn's thoughts as she tries to make sense of the world around her and find her place in it. This isn't an earth shattering kind of novel with lots of plot twists and action. It's more of a simple story of down-on their-luck small town life. Moriarty has Evelyn's voice mature as she ages and I felt her characters were well developed. I did have a few reservations on how Evelyn's Evangelical grandmother was portrayed, but, all things considered, I enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading Moriarty's next novel. Rating: 3.95 (I'm not quite willing to give it a 4, but it's darn close to being highly recommended.)


"My mother is maybe the opposite of Nancy Reagan. I could never imagine her wearing the peach dress with the bow on it because she wears blue jeans and usually her gray sweatshirt." pg. 1

"Last week, she went to the library and checked out a stack of books, and now she falls asleep while she is reading. She is still on the first one, The Grapes of Wrath, and she says it isn't nearly as bad as it was when she had to read it in high school, but of course, then she was busy getting pregnant. She had all the wrath she needed, haha." pg. 13

"Eileen says you can make sick people better by praying for them. But I don't know if it works the other way." pg. 47

" 'You've been given a little gift.' She points to the place where her hair touches the edge of her glasses. 'Right here.... People who don't have this gift often don't understand how important it is to nurture it, help it grow.' " pg. 67

"She says this is really the only reason people are ever mean - they have something hurting inside of them, a claw of unhappiness scratching at their hearts, and it hurts them so much that they sometimes have to push it right out of their mouths to scratch someone else, just to give themselves a rest, a moment of relief." pg. 70

"She said she wanted us to see Kansas and Nebraska the way it is in the book, beautiful, a breadbasket that feeds so many people. She said that Kansas is beautiful if you look at it the right way, and that we shouldn't believe anything other people try to say about it." pg. 98

"I don't say anything, but in my head, things have changed. I've have drawn a line between us, the difference between her and me." pg. 116

"And Jesus, I understand, is nicer than God, a little less likely to kill you if you do something wrong." pg. 120

"The Day After is going to be on television in November. It's about nuclear war. The people who made the movie picked Kansas because we're in the middle, and that way it would scare the most people... The commercial for The Day After shows... A man keeps saying 'This is Lawrence, Kansas. Over. Is anyone there?' " pg. 139

"When she sees the church is also a roller skating rink, she starts laughing. She says the Second Ark might be more successful if they let everyone bring their skates." pg. 143

"I know that sometimes when you are really worried about something, it ends up being not nearly as bad as you think it will be, and you get to be relieved that you were just being silly, worrying so much over nothing. But sometimes it is just the opposite. It can happen that whatever you are worried about will be even worse than you could have possibly imagined, and you will find out that you were right to be worried, and even that, maybe, you weren't worried enough." pg. 230

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes is a memoir that delightfully gives an account of her experiences in buying, restoring, and living in a Tuscan villa. Originally published in 1996, my paperback copy is 280 pages. Don't read this book when hungry because Mayes enthusiastically discusses meals and even includes many recipes in two different chapters of the book. She mainly lives at her villa during the summer but also over her Christmas break from teaching college classes. This is a nice book to read in the winter. I enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Rating: 4.

From the book synopsis:
"Frances Mayes... opens the door to a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. In sensuous and evocative language, she brings the reader along as she discovers the beauty and simplicity of life in Italy. An accomplished cook and food writer, Mayes also creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes from her traditional kitchen and simple garden, all of which she includes in the book.... Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasure of a foreign country with gusto and passion. A celebration of the extraordinary quality of life in Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun is a feast for all the senses."
"As foreigners who have landed here by grace, we'll try anything. Much of the restoration work we did ourselves; an accomplishment. as my grandfather would say, out of the fullness of our ignorance." pg. 2

"To bury the grape tendril in such a way that it shoots out new growth I recognize easily as a metaphor for the way life must change from time to time if we are to go forward in our thinking." pg. 2

"You have to churn somewhat when the roof covering your head is at stake, since to sell is to walk away from a cluster of memories and to buy is to choose where the future will take place. And the place, never neutral of course, will cast its influence." pg. 7

"The elaborate underground system makes us understand precisely how precious water is in the country. When it flows, you figure out how to save it; when it is plentiful, as now, you must respect it." pg. 50

"I think I woulkd like cutting herbs even if I weren't cooking. The pungency of just-snipped herbs adds as much to the cook's enjoyment as to taste." pg 117

Monday, February 18, 2008

Obernewtyn & The Farseekers

I found a used book club sci-fi edition of Isobelle Carmody's two science fiction fantasy books Obernewtyn & The Farseekers that was released in 2000. Obernewtyn was originally published in 1987; The Farseekers in 1990. The combined hardcover bookclub edition has 440 pages. The story takes place years after a nuclear holocaust and really is appropriate young adult reading. While I would recommend these books, I will also admit that fantasy science fiction is not my chosen sf genre - generally speaking I prefer hard science fiction and could recommend better post apocalyptic novels. These books were enjoyable enough, though, even with plot holes and gaping leaps of continuity. I'll recommend them with a rating of 3. If you enjoy fantasy science fiction, you may rate them higher. I may go on to the next two books, Ashling (3rd) and The Keeping Place (4th) although it appears that the The Keeping Place is not easy to find.

Obernewtyn, Amazon Review:
After the nuclear holocaust of the Great White, the surviving humans condemn all Misfits (mutants) to either death by fire or exile to Obernewtyn, a remote mountain institution where mysterious experiments are performed on some exiles. Elspeth Gordie is a Misfit, struggling to hide her mutant mental abilities and earn a Normalcy Certificate. But when her secret is betrayed, she is sent to Obernewtyn, from which no one has ever escaped. At Obernewtyn she finds not only dreadful experiments, but ambitious overlords who seek to use the Misfits' paranormal powers to recover the devastating secrets of nuclear war. Cynthia Ward

Farseekers, Amazon Library Journal review:

After liberating themselves from their control by the totalitarian Council, the psychically gifted Misfits of Obernewtyn attempt to develop their skills without interference from the outside world. When powerful psychic Elspeth Gordie leads an expedition into the distant Lowlands to rescue another Misfit, she also receives a call to find and destroy a cache of ancient weapons, relics of the legendary Beforetimers. Carmody!s postapocalyptic tale of heroism and courage in the face of persecution blends graceful storytelling with appealing characters. Recommended for most sf collections as well as for YA fans of speculative fiction.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Random Bag of Crap

In our home there has been one pinnacle of success that has consistently eluded us: the Woot Random Bag of Crap. It is with much pleasure and rejoicing that I am here informing you that someone has successfully managed to order three (3) random bags of crap from the recent Woot-off. I will keep you posted on this extraordinary development.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Swarm

The Swarm by Frank Schatzing was originally published in Germany in 2004. The English language edition, translated by Sally-Ann Spencer, was released in 2006. My hardcover copy is 881 pages. Make no mistake about it, The Swarm is an epic eco-disaster novel intertwined with a bit of sci-fi, and is a mini-series waiting to happen. I can see it being a very successful mini-series too. Schatzing includes a lot of pertinent information, much of it scientific, along with the storyline. It's a hefty book for those of you who like a good, long read. Be forewarned, however, that there is some eco-propaganda, and even more bashing of America and Christianity. Toward the end of The Swarm, I was a wee bit tired of the author's anti-American and anti-Christian comments. I thought of a friends recent observation about another issue could have served Schatzing well in his sentiments concerning America and Christianity: "it never all sucks." I'm giving The Swarm a 4. It could have been higher had some of the preaching been edited out of the novel.

Synopsis on cover:
For more than two years, one book has taken over Germany's hardcover and paperback bestseller lists, reaching number one in Der Spiegel and setting off a frenzy in bookstores: The Swarm.

Whales begin sinking ships. Toxic, eyeless crabs poison Long Island's water supply. The North Sea shelf collapses, killing thousands in Europe. Around the world, countries are beginning to feel the effects of the ocean's revenge as the seas and their inhabitants begin a violent revolution against mankind. In this riveting novel, full of twists, turns, and cliffhangers, a team of scientists discovers a strange, intelligent life force called the Yrr that takes form in marine animals, using them to wreak havoc on humanity for our ecological abuses. Soon a struggle between good and evil is in full swing, with both human and suboceanic forces battling for control of the waters. At stake is the survival of the Earth's fragile ecology -- and ultimately, the survival of the human race itself.

The apocalyptic catastrophes of The Day After Tomorrow meet the watery menace of The Abyss in this gripping, scientifically realistic, and utterly imaginative thriller. With 1.5 million copies sold in Germany -- where it has been on the bestseller list without fail since its debut -- and the author's skillfully executed blend of compelling story, vivid characters, and eerie locales, Frank Schatzing's The Swarm will keep you in tense anticipation until the last suspenseful page is turned.

"All he could think of was breaking through the dense mass of fish and reaching the surface, seeing the light, going back to where he belonged, finding safety.
The shoal parted.
From its midst something writhed towards Ucanan." pg 13

"You analyze whale song and try to figure out what they're telling each other. We listen to noises from space because we're convinced that the universe is packed with civilizations." pg. 33

" 'Everytime we tamper with our environment without knowing what we're doing, we're dicing with death. But it's started already. The gas hydrate programmes in India, Japan and China are already quite advanced.' He gave a bleak smile. 'But they don't know what's down there either.'...
Worms. Monsters. Methane. Natural disasters." pg. 116

"Anyone who tried to help had become the target of a fresh attack [by whales]. All hell had broken loose - and no one knew for sure what was going on." pg. 132

"People liked the idea of lemmings committing suicide so they took it for granted that they did. But when someone looked into it properly, they found out that lemmings are just stupid." pg. 152

" 'What's going on?'
'It's obvious, isn't it? Biological invasions happen all the time.' " pg. 165

"I hope you're not about to give me some kind of conspiracy theory. This is Norway, not America. There are plenty of possible explanations for the rise in jellyfish plagues." pg. 168

"It's like a horror movie. Go forth and kill humanity." pg. 188

"The world was large again, full of unbridgeable space." pg. 370

"I'm going to be frank with you here: the first casualty of war is always the truth. and don't be mistaken, this is war - a war that we need to understand before we can win it. We have an obligation to ourselves and the rest of humanity." pg. 385

"Air travel brought an end to the age of passenger shipping, but world trade still relies on the seas. Our maritime passages are essential." pg. 399

"And that's the problem with all these attacks. No one imagined that such things could happen." pg. 403

"America has to take charge, We can't afford to cede power to anyone else - and especially not to that joke of a UN assembly, where every last scumbag gets a vote." pg. 831

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Effect of Living Backwards

The Effect of Living Backwards by Heidi Julavits was originally published in 2003. My hardcover copy has 325 pages. I'm not sure how I feel about this book. There were parts where, briefly, I thought it was brilliant. On the other hand there were parts that seemed torturous and convoluted. Now this could be because I have a raging head cold, but I think not. I can see where Julavits wanted to go, but I, personally, don't feel like she quite reached her destination. I'm giving Effects a 2.5. I wouldn't go so far to not recommend it but the brilliant bits boost it above a so-so 2 rating. I am going to go ahead and read Julavits' novel The Uses of Enchantment sometime.

From Publishers Weekly on Amazon:
"When contentious half-sisters Alice and Edith board a jetliner en route to Morocco, where Edith is to be married, they step unknowingly into a vortex of international intrigue when the jet is hijacked-or is it? As events unfold, the motives for this act of "terrorism," apparently a high-stakes stunt being pulled by one of two factions from the International Institute for Terrorist Studies, become ever more murky. In the futuristic and fantastical world of Julavits's second novel (after The Mineral Palace), which takes its title and epigram from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, the political and familial machinations we recognize from our own contemporary lives scramble into a kaleidoscopic puzzle. Julavits's rambling surrealism is overlaid and intensified by a strong dose of paranoia … la Pynchon, and the political and the familial merge in the form of a game from Alice and Edith's childhood called "shame stories," in which others are convinced to tell their darkest secrets. These tales, told by the sisters' fellow travelers, are fascinating excursions, a blend of the bizarre and the everyday. But as Alice's wastrel father tells her, "People don't want to be surprised. They want to hear the same story. Tell them the same story and they'll listen," and Julavits follows this advice herself. Beneath its absurdist trappings, her larger tale is surprisingly conventional, its real focus the sibling rivalry between Edith and Alice, shadowed by the terrorism subplots and the veiled references to September 11, or the "Big Terrible." Neither the novel's imaginative framework nor Julavits's cool, unerring eye for detail can quite compensate for its curiously mechanical emotional trajectory. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc."


"Contributing to another person's failure is no small thing. In fact, such contributions can become distressingly addictive, particularly when you're forced into them at gunpoint." pg. 11

" 'They didn't tell me shame stories, per se,' I corrected her. 'We were scared witless and bored. People tell you personal stuff when they're scared witless and bored. I'm a good listener, or possibly I'm just bland and forgettable.' " pg. 34

"I didn't need three-and-change semesters of grad school to learn that people rarely tell the truth about themselves. I have been lied to enough times to realize that a lie, when delivered in a confessional context, is really a fussied-up truth; that people do not tell accurate stories about themselves when they are given the chance." pg. 60

"'I advise that you keep to the essentials, unless you want me to disfigure your sister.'
I wanted to say to him, But how can you be so certain that is not my fondest wish?" pg. 89

"Of course we love each other, in a complicated manner, Edith and I, our love expressed more often than not through our attempts to confound each other, attempts that were nonetheless infused with the knowledge that we depended on each other's hostile presence to feel defined and alive." pg. 110

"Despite your fear that the world is a lonely place, it is precisely the opposite that should unnerve you." pg. 322

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Oreck XL Ultra !!!

5 Minutes for Mom has another great contest to win an
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This powerful vacuum weighs only 9 pounds! It has a hypo-allergenic filtration system that eliminates 99.9% of all allergens! On top of that, it even lays flat to fit under the bed or furniture!

See the Oreck XL Ultra on the Oreck YouTube site.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

What happens when the narrator of what should be a very emotionally charged story is an autistic teen who can not understand emotions? You have Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. In The Curious Incident, Christopher Boone (age15 years, 3 months, and 2 days) finds his neighbors dog killed. He decides to follow the example of Sherlock Holmes and investigate in an attempt to find out who killed the dog. This is an incredible story of discovery and adventure, as told by Christopher in his uniquely logical, factual point of view. Haddon expertly defines the limitations of his autistic character in a heart wrenching story. While Christopher is not always likeable, readers can truly empathize with him and what his search uncovers. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won the 2003 Whitbread Award. My hardcover copy was published in July 2003, and has 226 pages. This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. Rating: 4.5

"Prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all you time thinking about them." pg. 12

"But I said that you could still want something that is very unlikely to happen." pg. 25

"When she tells me not to do something she tells me exactly what it is that I am not allowed to do. And I like this." pg. 29

"My memory is like a film. That is why I am really good at remembering things, like conversations I have written down in this book, and what people were wearing, and what they smelled like, because my memory has a smelltrack which is like a soundtrack." pg. 76

"Except I can't remember anything before I was about 4 because I wasn't looking at things in the right way before then, so they didn't get recorded properly." pg. 77

"And it means that sometimes things are so complicated that it is impossible to predict what they are going to do next, but they are only obeying really simple rules." pg. 102

"And when I am in a new place, because I see everything, it is like when a computer is doing too many things at the same time and the central processor unit is blocked up and there isn't any space left to think about other things." pg. 143

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


Einstein by Walter Isaacson was originally published in April, 2007. My hardcover copy is 675 pages, including indexes. As Isaacson wrote: "Now that his archives have been completely opened, it is possible to explore the private side of Einstein - his nonconformist personality, his instincts as a rebel, his curiosity, his passions and detachments - intertwined with his political and his scientific side. Knowing about the man helps us understand the wellsprings of his science, and vice versa. Character and imagination and creative genius were all related, as if part of some unified field. " (pg. 2)
I recommend this well rounded, exhaustive biography. Einstein is an enjoyable book, but there were moments when the scientific details bogged me down and lessened my enjoyment of the biography. Even though this was my problem, I'm still keep my rating a bit lower because the sheer length of the book and breadth of the details requires any reader to have a major interest in Einstein's life. Rating: 3.5


"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving." opening page

"A society's competitive advantage will come not from how well its schools teach the multiplication and periodic tables, but from how well they stimulate imagination and creativity." pg. 6-7

"As a young student he never did well with rote learning. And later, as a theorist, his success came not from the brute strength of his mental processing power but from his imagination and creativity." pg. 7

"He had such difficulty with language that those around him feared he would never learn." pg. 8

"...Einstein had a mild form of echolalia, causing him to repeat phrases to himself, two or three times, especially if they amused him" pg. 9

"...[A] Rabbi in Princeton showed him a clipping of the Ripley's column with the headline, 'Greatest Living Mathematician Failed in Mathematics.' Einstein laughed. 'I never failed in mathematics,' he replied, correctly. 'Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.' " pg. 16

"He was one of those split personalities who know how to protect, with a prickly exterior, the delicate realm of their intense personal life." pg. 29

"For all its momentous import, it may be one of the most spunky and enjoyable papers in all of science. Most of its insights are conveyed in words and vivid thought experiments, rather than in complex equations. There is some math involved, but it is mainly what a good high school senior could comprehend." pg. 127

" 'People need a scapegoat and make the Jews responsible, ' Einstein noted, 'They are a target of instinctive resentment because they are of a different tribe.' " pg. 284

"He knew his theory was correct. And so he calmly responded, 'Subtle is the Lord, but malicious [H]e is not.' " pg. 297

"Then he made a larger point designed to disparage Edison's view of education. 'The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think,' he said." pg. 299

"...asked him why he remained so cheerful given the depravity of the world. 'We must remember that this is a very small star,' he responded, 'and probably some of the larger and more important stars may be very virtuous and happy.' " pg. 306

"I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not play dice." pg. 335

"For some people, miracles serve as evidence of God's existence. For Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence. The fact that the cosmos is comprehensible, that it follows laws, is worthy of awe. This is the defining quality of a 'God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists.' ...It was what guided him. 'When I am judging a theory,' he said, 'I ask myself whether, if I were God, I would have arranged the world in such a way.' " pg. 551

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Recent searches that brought visitors here included someone looking for "30th high school reunion for losers." Of course, "Cheez Waffies" remains one of the top searches.
Glad I could help.

I'm reading Einstein by Walter Isaacson. It's been a little slow going.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sense and Sensibility

Just Me and I watched Sense and Sensibility last night.
We both enjoyed it.
This does not mean I'm planning to read Jane Austen... yet.