Sunday, August 16, 2015

We Don't Need Roads: the Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy,204,203,200_.jpg 

The title: We Don't Need Roads: the Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy
The author: Caseen Gaines
Publication: Penguin, 2015
Got it from:  Amazon

How much do I love the Back to the Future trilogy?  You don't want to know.  They are hands-down, by a long shot, far and away my favourite movies.  I have watched them dozens of times since the early 1990s and practically know them line for line.  I've often pondered why I love them so much.  Is it the incredibly written scripts, where every scene has purpose and meaning?  Is it 80s nostalgia?  Is it that the characters are so great I want to visit and revisit them constantly?  Maybe it's all of those and more.  There is also of course my deep and abiding love of time travel.  Chicken and egg question: did my love of time travel spring from these movies or did I love them because they had time travel?  I was so young the first time I saw them.  I doubt I'll ever be able untangle that conundrum.

And honestly, who cares?  It's enough to just love them.  Every time I see them I notice something new.  It doesn't matter that I know exactly how they end, I still find them thrilling.  (My personal opinion: the train scene at the end of Part III is the most exciting action sequence in cinematic history).  They are somehow childhood comfort and adult appreciation at the same time.  Another paradox, just like the films love to mention. 

I could go on pretty much forever dissecting these films.  No, really, I could.  Don't get me started down that path.  Suffice to say, when I found out there was going to be a 30th anniversary retrospective book, I said, "shut up and take my money."  Because let's be honest, there's a pretty slim chance I wasn't going to enjoy this book.  

Now, as a disclaimer, I'm going to admit that you should probably be a fan before you read this book.  The author doesn't describe the plot in a huge amount of detail.  You're going to have to know what "the lightning scene" or the "Enchantment Under the Sea" dance are, for example (as in "this was what happened when they filmed that scene.")  But who the heck even reads a making of book without having seen the movies first anyway?  Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I can say that if you are a big BTTF fan, you'll love it.  It's not entirely gossip, but there are some pretty juicy details, like just what Crispin Glover asked for that prevented him from being in the sequels and what really happened with Eric Stoltz.  I like that they interviewed some of the smaller memorable characters too, like Marvin Barry and the Wallet Guy, to get their perspective on what it was like to be in these iconic films.  I also have a new appreciation for just how much work Robert Zemeckis (aka Bob Z) and Bob Gale had to put in to make these films so perfect.  Overall, I really like the way the author framed the narrative.  I was impressed with how he kept the story flowing and made it interesting. I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about these movies but I was wrong. 

Verdict:  Set your De Lorean time circuits and get the flux capacitor fluxing.  October 21, 2015, the day Doc and Marty travel to the future, will be here in just two months.  While you're waiting, I suggest reading We Don't Need Roads to get your BTTF fix.

Dearest Rogue

The title: Dearest Rogue
The author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Publication: Hachette, 2015
Got it from:  The library

It's book #8 in the Maiden Lane series!  (Previously reviewed: #3, #4 and #6.)  The couple in this one were featured characters in Duke of Midnight and I looked forward to reading their story.  Lady Phoebe Batten is the younger sister of the hero in Duke of Midnight, Maximus Batten.  Normally I haaaaaaate ingenue romances with a passion (she's only 21) but she is forgiven by me because - in an unusual-for-romance twist - she has slowly gone blind.  Her disability, which in the early eighteenth century was even more difficult to live with, makes her older and wiser for her age.  But she's still very young and vivacious, and she chafes at the restrictions her brother places on her because of her status and disability.  

Phoebe is a  target for kidnappers, which is why Maximus hires James Trevillion, former dragoon captain, as her bodyguard.  Trevillion is the sort of no-nonsense hero who's a perfect foil for Phoebe's lightheartedness.  He also has a disability of his own.  In Duke of Midnight his horse fell on him while he was helping the Ghost of St. Giles (Maximus) chase a criminal.  Ever since he's had a permanent limp and has to walk with a cane.

It goes without saying that for me the Maiden Lane series is just so darn good.  The couples from the other books in the series always play a role in later books so the that area of London is starting to feel like one big friend reunion to me.  (I do love books about communities).  This book is the perfect blend of character development, action, historical detail and humour.  There is never a dull moment and much to reward an intelligent reader.  For instance, there's the fact that the hero and heroine both have disabilities that are particularly irksome to them.  Trevillion, as a man of action, has the bad leg, while Phoebe who has a love of beautiful things, particularly flowers, can't see.  They could have been given any number of disabilities, but having the two most frustrating ones for each of their characters makes the story that more interesting.  It's that kind of care Hoyt puts into her stories that makes them worth reading.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines

The title: America's Women
The author: Gail Collins
Publication: HarperCollins, 2003
Got it from: Christmas 2014

Last fall when I bought Gail Collins' When Everything Changed at the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Musuem I enjoyed it so much I asked for her other women's history book for Christmas.  Where Changed focused on the 1960s to present, this one covers over 400 years of history.  And let me tell you, it did not disappoint.  One reviewer called it "as readable as any Harry Potter adventure," and they aren't kidding.  

I am in absolute awe of the way Collins writes.  The depth of her research and knowledge is astonishing, but it's the way she can pinpoint the remarkable women of history and make their lives exciting that's really impressive.  Each chapter covers a different era in American history from the Pilgrims to the Women's Lib movement and honestly, each one could have been a whole book.  I'd find myself caught up in a mini-biography of some fascinating, forgotten woman of history and be disappointed when her section ended, only to find myself riveted in the next part by details of how ordinary women lived their day-to-day lives.  Of course she touches on the greats (Anthony, Tubman, Roosevelt, etc.) in a way that makes them accessible, but it's the way that she manages to make you feel as if you were a woman living that era that's truly remarkable.  

It's hard to say which era I enjoyed reading about the most.  The section on the Salem Witch trials was interesting, given the mythic proportions to which the event has been inflated - though the truth, as usual, is far more interesting.  Reading about the Underground Railroad and first person testimony from former women slaves was probably the most enlightening of the whole book.  And after reading about the hardships endured by the women pioneers in the West, I have to say thanks but no thanks.  If I had to pick an era to live in as a woman (other than today), I'd have to go with 1920s New York, which was a pretty exciting time for us gals, what with the dispensing of corsets and getting to drink and party and wear your hair short for the first time.  

Overall, this book does an outstanding job of filling the women-shaped hole in American history.  I thought I knew these stories already, but I was wrong.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

John Doe on Her Doorstep

The title: John Doe on Her Doorstep
The author: Debra Webb
Publication: Harlequin Intrigue, 2005
Got it from: Library e-book

A year ago I read the second book in this series, Executive Bodyguard, now I have gone back and am reading the first.  For those who don't remember my previous review, the Enforcers are part of a secret organization known as the Collective, who funnel money from the government to create high-tech military weapons, including the Enforcers themselves.  Enforcers are genetically bred to be superior both physically and intellectually.  One of their prime creators is Dr. Archer, who is something of a father to the Enforcers.  When he is murdered by mysterious enemies, one of the Enforcers, Adam, is sent to eliminate the suspected traitors, which includes his daughter Dr. Dani Archer.

En route to his mission, Adam is ambushed by thugs who mug him, beat him and leave him for dead.  If he was an ordinary human he would be dead, but because he is an Enforcer he survives, albeit without his memory.  He literally stumbles into Dani's house, who's there wrapping up loose ends after her father's death.  Since he doesn't remember who he is, much less that he's supposed to kill her, he lets Dani, a medical doctor, take care of him.  Dani doesn't go to the police as she has a good reason not to trust them.  She's intrigued by Adam, who heals impossibly quickly, and also because he's hella sexxay on account of being a genetic superhunk.  There's some funny scenes as Adam has to be taught how to do everything from eating to showering.  Also look for the trademark patented Debra Webb spooning scene, which appears in every one of her novels I've read so far - not that I mind.

What I liked about this book: The whole idea of the Enforcers is intriguing.  Dani is a strong female character and I thought her relationship with Adam was believable and hot.  The action was fairly fast-paced and exciting.

What I didn't like about this book: It felt too short, but I guess it had to fit into the required category length.  If I hadn't read the second book in the series, I probably would have rushed out to do so, as it helps flesh out the story.  Also, the ending was something of a letdown.  It had the same ending as the other book I reviewed today, and it was too predictable and unoriginal.  I would have preferred a "happy for now" rather than a "happily ever after forever and ever" ending.

Hmm...Debra Webb seems to be becoming my go-to author for romantic suspense. 

Royal Wedding

The title: Royal Wedding
The author: Meg Cabot
Publication: HarperCollins, 2015
Got it from: The library

Remember all the way back in 2009 when I was binge-reading the Princess Diaries series and I thought it was all over?  Well, it turns out that Mia's back! 

I was as excited as the next fan to spend time with all the characters again.  Neurotic Mia is now 26 and dividing her time between being Princess of Genovia and running a youth centre in NYC.  I don't want to spoil any other revelations, but we get an update on all her high school friends too.  Michael, who still suffers from being styrofoam bland, whisks Mia away for an island vacation where he proposes.  Mia's dad, the Crown Prince of Genovia, is suffering from a midlife crisis and still hasn't gotten over Mia's mom, who was recently widowed.  (Gee, I wonder where this is going?)  Meanwhile, a shocking family secret threatens to shake the family to its core.  Or maybe introduce the main character for Cabot's new kid series.

Don't get me wrong, I still like Cabot's writing.  The pop culture references are fun - who doesn't love a book that mentions Sex Sent Me to the ER?  But I have been reading all the glowing reviews and thinking, what am I missing?  This book would have been a less-than-average addition to the original series.  And the cliched ending was a huge letdown.  I would have liked to see Mia grown more mature, intelligent and forging her own path, rather than the same tired old ending.  I guess when you're writing about princesses, you're not going to be breaking any feminist ground. 

Rating: 2.5 tiaras out of 5.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

The title: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage
The author: Sydney Padua
Publication: Pantheon, 2015
Got it from: The library

Ah, Ada Lovelace.  Daughter of Lord Byron, the original Queen of Steampunk, arguably the world's first computer programmer.  Is there anything she can't do?  Sydney Padua doesn't think so, as she sets out to prove in this graphic novel/alternate history/adventure/science and math lesson.  Yes, it's all over the place, as hard to pin down as Charles Babbage's never-finished Analytical Engine.  This graphic novel is really a series of vignettes of "what might have been" if the computer had actually been built and was used to solve crime and various economical woes.  Interspersed are a whole lot of background notes (seriously, at one point I was in the footnote of a footnote of a footnote).  Various Victorian personages drop in and out, including Queen Victoria (apparently the world's first fan of LOLCats), George Eliot and of course the Romantics. 

It's all a lot of silliness, of course, but oh my goodness is there a lot of math and science.  I encountered terms I haven't heard since school and didn't know I even remembered.  After reading detail after detail of how the Analytical Engine was designed, I think I may actually have a slight grasp of how computers work.  Don't worry, it's not all dry mathematics, there's actually some pretty great historical humour in here that Victorianists will appreciate.  I particularly love a scene where actual computers (people who did computations) try to wreck the machine Luddite-style and Babbage sits them down to tea to reason with them.  Both Babbage and Lovelace were fascinating characters who make excellent heroes this quirky and fun book.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


The title: Indigo
The author: Beverly Jenkins
Publication: Avon, 1996
Got it from: Hoopla Audiobooks

I wish - I really, really wish - that there were more romances featuring minorities.  And I wish there were more historicals.  And I wish they were as good as Indigo.

But there aren't, so I will have to rejoice in how much I enjoyed Indigo.  It felt like a breath of fresh air.  There was a lot going on in this book that I loved.  First of all, it is set in Michigan in the 1850s, a time and place I know almost nothing about.  The Civil War is looming in the distance, and slavery is still very much a thing.  Hester Wyatt is a former slave who has made a life for herself in the free north.  Since the death of her beloved aunt, she has had to survive on her own.  What I liked about her is how fiercely independent she is, but still shows cracks of vulnerability.  Hester knows her life as a free woman is precarious: slave catchers have been kidnapping freed slaves and sending them back south.  Hester could give in to despair, but she doesn't.  She has worked hard, scrimped and saved, and denied herself every luxury to remain independent in her own house.  Nor has she turned her back on those less fortunate.  Her home is part of the Underground Railroad, and this is how she encounters the hero, Galen Vachon.

Galen is from a wealthy New Orleans family, members of a group known as the free people of color.  Here again I learned about something I was entirely ignorant of.  Galen's family occupies a unique position in their society: they are wealthy and privileged, but because of the color of their skin, they are looked down on by whites.  But because of their distinction, they are not really accepted as being true members of "the race" that Hester and other African-Americans identify with.

Galen reminds me a lot of the Scarlet Pimpernel, because he has used his wealth and privilege to help others escape capture.  He works for the Underground Railroad and has earned the nickname "The Black Daniel" because of his heroic rescues and legendary derring-do.  When the story opens, he has been betrayed and is caught and badly beaten.  Luckily he is found and taken to Hester's safe house for recovery.

Of course in true romantic fashion, he's a surly patient and she's a stubborn nurse.  But they gradually come to respect one another for the lives both have built.  Naturally, there's romantic tension, but Hester immediately senses that she won't be welcome in Galen's aristocratic family.  She knows her hands, dyed indigo from her years spent  picking dye plants, will forever mark her as a former slave. 

I love novels that involve politics, and this one has it in abundance.   It was wonderful to see it from the perspective of the African-American community of her time.  Some of Hester's friends, including Hester herself, prefer to take a course of direct action by helping runaway slaves make a new life for themselves in the north.  Other people in Hester's circle are more involved in the intellectual side of the movement, taking part in debates and reading and writing for abolitionist papers.  And some of course do both.  But this novel doesn't always dwell on this serious subject, even though there's some pretty heavy stuff going on (including a slave catcher who's stalking Hester).  There's also some more lighthearted moments, such as carriages breaking down, making mud pies, shopping trips and fairs.  As Hester and Galen's relationship grows, they become more playful and fun together, bringing comfort to each other amidst dark and troubling events.  And the ending?  I was in tears.

It may be a touch old-school (it was written almost 20 years ago), but there's nothing in here for anyone to object to.  It's a fascinating history lesson, a tender love story and an exciting adventure rolled into one.  What's not to love?