Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's Over!

And so my great reading experiment for 2008, my New Year's resolution from exactly a year ago, has come to a close. With it, I bring you glad tidings and sad tidings.

Sad tidings: I didn't come anywhere near my reading goal of 100 books.
Glad tidings: I read more books than I have in recent years. In fact, I read 10 whole more books than last year, which is excellent progress.

Sad tidings: I didn't read from nearly as many genres as I hoped I would. I didn't touch Christian fiction, sci fi, or really popular authors.
Glad tidings: I'm proud of how many mystery books I did read, and the genres I tried like Western.

Sad tidings: Inevitably, the blog as I know it must come to an end. I never thought it would all turn out the way it did. It's been hard work, a whole lot of fun and a labour of love all the way. I've had readers from all over, in fact every continent except Antarctica (I'm still hoping to hear from a polar researcher one of these days). I've learned that mentioning James Purefoy makes my readership level skyrocket and that lambasting a crappy show about Pride and Prejudice gets fangirls into an ire until the author of The Jane Austen Handbook comes to your defense. I've learned that if you write a site reviewing books, authors will imundate you with requests to review your books. (Please. For the love of heaven, send me a copy. I have too much to do to hunt for it myself.) Most of all, I've learned that I love talking about the books that I've read, which is why I started this blog in the first place.
Glad tidings: Wait! It's not over yet! You can't get rid of me that easily. No, for a long time now I have made a decision that I wanted to share with you at the last possible moment. This blog will continue, with a few small changes. Obviously I'm going to tweak the title a bit and add some useful links to the sidebar. I'm still going to review books on here, but to a lesser degree. Since I have a hard time reviewing a lot of "fact" books I like to read, I'll cut those out. But you'll still be getting reviews of most of the books I've read, including scintillating stories, crappy romances and of course snark-worthy tomes. I'm just having too much fun to give it up now. We'll see if I still feel the same way a year from now.

So what's in store for 2009? I don't have big plans in mind like I did last year. Mostly I want to continue tackling my backlog. Maybe this will be the year I finally read all the books I own. Just kidding! If I did nothing but read the next three years I still couldn't do that. I have some vague notions of working my way through Jane Austen and reading some hilariously bad romances, but other than that I'm pretty free. See you in 2009!

2008 In Review

62 books later and my reading for the year has come to an end. Now comes the fun part. I get to dole out rewards for the best, the worst, and honourable and dishonourable mentions.

First up, fiction category:
Best re-read (tie): Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield and The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
Best mystery: Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann (although best shirt ripping goes to Emerson in The Last Camel Died at Noon)
Best new to me author/best romantic mystery: And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
Most disappointing: The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Book that everyone else loved, but made me go "meh": Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
Best menage-a-huit: Enchanted by Nancy Madore

Non-fiction:
Funniest book that made me depressed about my job: Free for All by Don Borchart
Most disappointing: Heavy Words Lightly Thrown by Chris Roberts
Funniest overall: Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson
Topic literally made me feel ill: The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Best book published in 2008 (fiction and non-fiction): By Hook or By Crook by David Crystal. Runner-up: Fabergé's Eggs by Tony Faber

And now, the top five best and worst overall!

BEST:
5. Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
Sheep detectives: brilliant. Flipbook sheep in the corner: genius.
4. By Hook or By Crook by David Crystal
Like the author, this book was all over the place but never uninteresting. Readers were taken for a ride in the best way possible. I'm still not sure if this is a real word, but unputdownable just about describes it.
3. The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susannah Clarke
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the actual, physical book was so beautiful I wanted to marry it. And oh yeah, the stories were fantastic, especially the title one. It may not have been sexy or romantic, but every time it surpassed my expectations, I felt like screaming, "How did she do that!?" This book messes with your head in every possible way and then hands it back to you gently.
2. And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
For a book that I just found mouldering in my library's back room, it sure was a glorious read. I'm a big fan of a book that does several genres well, and this one hit all the high notes in history, romance, intrigue, comedy and drama.

And the best book of the year goes too...
1. The Devil's Delilah by Loretta Chase
This book couldn't get any more perfect. I laughed so hard I cried, yet it was the sexiest romance I've ever read. I mean, check out the pistol in her hand on the cover. Please. That says it all.

And now for the bottom of the barrel:
5. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
A beautifully written book with unlikeable characters that you wanted to give a good smacking to.
4. Heavy Words Lightly Thrown by Chris Roberts
A book about nursery rhymes shouldn't be this bad. Heavy words, indeed.
3. The Blue Roan Child by Jamieson Findlay
Maybe you have to like horses to appreciate this book. But shouldn't it be able to stand on its own without any prerequisites? A complete yawnfest.
2. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
Yes, the book was cheesy and bad. What really made me dislike it, though, was the author's constantly pimping it over and over on every Regency blog out there. Yes, you wrote a book. You're the world's biggest Jane Austen fan. We get it. Here's hoping things improve with Rude Awakening of a Jane Austen Addict, the sequel.

And now we come to the absolute nadir of the year, the "winner" of my first ever Kiss of Death, aka the book I wish I could kill with just a kiss. I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that this book surpassed all the others by miles in its awfulness, and I didn't even have to think twice before giving it its just reward:

What can I say about this book I haven't already said in my review? Even looking at the title of this book still gives me chills ten months later. I keep half expecting that Wayne is going to come after me with a machete as I write this.

So that's it for another year! What books will top the list in 2009? Only time will tell...

Fall roundup

Time once again to see how my goals matched my actual reading this fall. Sadly I didn't quite meet all my expectations.

1. Read at least one children's book. Yes, several times over. The Blue Roan Child. The New Policeman. Sea Queens. A Season For Miracles. Ballet Shoes. Christmas with Anne.
2. Read one of my many, many Christmas Regency romances. Just eked in with this one, A Midnight Clear.
3. Read at least one book that I bought in New York City last spring. Um, okay. Still working on this one, but I have started it, really. It's been on my bedside table for the last three months and I'm slowly picking away at it.
4. Read at least one book that's been on my shelves, waiting to be read, for way too long. Does Anything Eat Wasps? can suffice for now.
5. Finish reading a couple of books that I've been working on all year but can never get around to finishing. Cough.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

62. A Midnight Clear



The title: A Midnight Clear (tagline: 'Tis the season for something a bit naughty-and very nice...)
The author: Karen L. King
Publication: Zebra, 2005
Got it from: DC, Christmas 2006

If this book were a movie, I would give it the following soundtrack listing:

1. Impoverished Woman, Sexy (Impoverished) Duke
2. Gotta Get Myself in a Compromising Position with a Rich Dude, Else My Family's Toast
3. What Woman Could Heal My Broken Heart? (The Duke's Lament)
4. Your Hint of Red Satin Underwear Makes Me Loco
5. Rich Dude is Ugly, But Duke Makes My Heart Race
6. I Can't Stop Thinking About Your Heaving Bosom
7. My Best Friend is in Love With My Sexy Stepmom, Oh Yeah
8. Getting Rid of My Nasty Former Mistress is Hard Work
9. Under the Mistletoe, We Get Down and Dirty
10. Don't Wanna Marry Cause Daddy Beats Me
11. The Ending Goes On (and on and on)
12. What's The Title Got to Do With It?

Roxanna Winston, the daughter of a poor nobleman, is sent to the home of her mother's old friend to try and land a rich husband to save her family from poverty. Roxy, being a spirited lass (aren't they all?) doesn't want to have a husband because she's independent and fears her husband will beat her like her father does her mother. Sister, I hear you. It would have sucked to be a wife back then married to a nasty husband. I would have rather been compromised and paid off, too.

Roxy's plans to go awry when her attempts to seduce pie-faced Mr. Breedon are thwarted by her host, the sexy and emotionally scarred Duke of Trent, Maximilian St. Clare. Max has got troubles of his own. For reasons that aren't made clear he's intent on not marrying and settling everything on his wayward nephew. He's also still healing from losing his dad and two brothers. Thus sets up the main conflict of the book: Roxy and Max's heads say no no, but their loins say yes yes.

This book was a bit of an old Oreo for me. The beginning and end felt somewhat stale, but the middle was a creamy centre. It seemed to take forever to set up the story and characters, but once the sparks started flying between the Duke and Roxy it really took off. I was actually more interested in the love story between Max's old friend Scully and Max's young stepmother. Years ago they'd had an affair while she was still married to Max's dad and he's been in love with her ever since. I almost wish the story had been reversed and that Max and Roxy's love story had taken the secondary place. I found the older woman/slightly younger man story a refreshing change of pace from the usual rakish duke seduces innocent virgin story.

A couple of things really made this book work for me. One was that there was only a smidgeon of info dumping, allowing the characters to be revealed nice and slow. The other was that there was a definite attempt to flesh out some of the secondary characters. I've already mentioned Max's friend and stepmother, but it was good that the oafish Mr. Breedon, the object of Roxy's clumsy attempted seduction, was also made somewhat sympathetic as the story unraveled. The only sour note was hit with Lady Malmsbury, the Duke's former mistress whom he recently broke things off with. The Duke's treatment of "Malmsy" seemed heavy-handed at times and her over-the-top hysterics and attempts to win him back seemed forced. After all, if the Duke is such a great guy, I can't see him going for such a loonie in the first place.

Something was a bit off in the ending, too. The pace of the story changed dramatically, throwing off the original plotline as the characters were thrust a year ahead. Also, there was a huge wtf moment at the end that left things dangling inexplicably. I tried to discover if this book had a sequel or prequel that would explain such a weird last page, but I don't think it does.

Since the story mostly entertained me, although it disappointingly didn't talk much about Christmas, it earns a B.

As an aside, I've discovered a fantastic new blog about traditional Regency romances here. There's tons about Christmas Regencies, so it's really a blog after my own heart!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Drawing to a close

As 2008 draws to a close, I know you are waiting with much anticipation. Which books ranked highest this year? Which terrible tome will rate my first ever Kiss of Death Award (as if you even have to guess)? Stay tuned New Year's Eve for all the highlights of this past year's gigantic reading experiment.

Plus, an exciting announcement that is sure to make your 2009 one hundred per cent more fantasterific and certified Grade A fresh.

61. Christmas with Anne


The title: Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories
The author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication: McClelland and Stewart, 1995
Got it from: Mom and dad, Christmas 1996

Christmas Day may be officially over, but here at Reading Outside the Lines it goes on and on (and on, and on as a Journey song that shall remain nameless gets stuck in my head). That's good! In all fairness, at least two of these stories take place at New Year's. That counts, doesn't it?

Okay, okay. This one was purely sentimental. It's overly treacly in parts and downright predictable, but isn't that what Christmas is all about? It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, which is just as it should be at Christmas. B.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

60. Ballet Shoes: the Book, the Movies

This review will take a different format. I will be reviewing the book (a childhood favourite of mine) and then the 1975 and 2007 movies based on the book. I'll review them in the order I read/watched them.

First up: the book.


The title: Ballet Shoes: A Story of Three Children on the Stage
The author: Noel Streatfield
Publication: Dent, 1936
Got it from: Friends from England, Christmas 1994

It has been many, many years since I read this book. It appeared one Christmas from somebody from England. I can't remember who exactly, in those years we had several friends from our England days who were still sending my family Christmas presents. I still remember reading it in January during our "Sustained Silent Reading" period in school and loving it so, so much. Nearly fifteen years later, I still enjoyed it. It has held up surprisingly well.

For those of you not familiar with the book, it tells the story of "Gum" (Great Uncle Matthew), an eccentric old man who travels around the world and collects Fossils. He becomes the guardian of his great-niece Sylvia, who lives in his house on the Cromwell Road in London with her Nana. Gum is largely absent from the book, appearing only at the very beginning and very end. When Sylvia is grown-up, he starts sending babies home instead of fossils. First comes Pauline, who he rescues from a sinking ship, then Petrova, a Russian orphan, and finally Posy, whose mother couldn't keep her but sent along a pair of ballet shoes as her legacy. When the girls are old enough they adopt the last name "Fossil" because Gum had described them as "his fossils."

So we watch as Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil grow up, each having their own unique talents and interests. Pauline, the beautiful, blonde, spoiled one, is the little actress; Petrova the dark outsider who detests the stage but lives for cars and planes; and Posy, the bratty redhead who is a child prodigy in ballet. Across the chapters we see Sylvia (they call her Garnie as they couldn't pronounce Guardian at first) fret and worry as their money dwindles. They take in a series of interesting borders to help their finances. One of the borders, Theo, convinces Garnie to send the girls to "the Academy" where they will be able to earn money on stage. Lots of hard work, hard lessons and hard times ensue.

What's interesting is that this book provides a window into a world not so long ago, but impossible to return to. Nowadays children wouldn't think about having to earn money for their families, but in 1930's London it wasn't so unusual. And the hours that they kept! They basically had to work from early morning to early evening (with a few breaks) and then to bed at 7:30. Ye gods! They never had time for much fun except on Sundays. Yet their world still seems fascinating in a "I-can't-believe-ten-year-olds-had-to-memorize-so-many-lines-yet-they-did" sort of way. Exciting, but way too much work.

Highly recommended for everyone and especially young girls of a certain age. Make sure the edition you read has the original Ruth Gervis illustrations, they're delightful. Even after all these years, I still vividly recalled the one with Pauline and Petrova standing on the stool in "The Blue Bird" and Pauline sobbing by her bath after her Alice in Wonderland freakout. A-

And here comes the ominousness. (Cue "Jaws" theme. Dun dun. Dun dun.)

The 2007 movie version, aka NOBODY EVER SMILES:


I had a number of problems with this movie, which I will outline in point form:

- The casting. Pauline (Emma Watson) and Petrova (Yasmin Paige) were both too old for their roles, and Emma is much too tall and willowy to be short Pauline. Lucy Boynton fares a little better in the age category, but her hair is so clearly dyed red that it's almost laughable. The actresses playing Garnie and Nana were better suited to their characters. And Richard Griffiths, I'm sorry, is not Gum. Gum is an ancient, wizened little man and Richard Griffiths is definitely not.

- The ridiculous additional plots tacked on for "dramatic" effect:
*Garnie is not sick or dying in the book. Having her appear to be so in the movie seems contrived at best and cloying at worse.
*Theo, the border who is a dance teacher, is portrayed as an alchoholic, chainsmoking, middle-aged trainwreck, when she is none of these things in the book.
* The completely ludicrous "love triangle" between Garnie, Theo and Mr. Simpson which NEVER HAPPENED in the book because Mr. Simpson was married and Garnie was just fine without a man. (As a side note, yay that Mr. Simpson was played by that guy who almost gets eaten by the Abzorbaloff in Dr. Who!)
Really, I don't mind directors leaving things out but can they please not add things. as if they're telling the author what they should have put in?

- The house on Cromwell Road felt all dark and wrong. Perhaps the movie portrayal was more realtistic, but I always thought the house was smaller and sunnier than the big, overstuffed mausoleum they showed it as in this movie.

-The fact that they kept hitting you over the head with the fact that it was the 1930's. Just when you feel you might start getting into the movie for a second, boom! Here's another 1930's song to help you remember that this is THE 1930's!

-The childrens' out-of-the-blue freakouts. Okay, I understood Posy's tantrums, as she was a little snot in the book. But Pauline? She played the whole movie as if she was constantly on the verge of tears, and would suddenly snap and scream at people for no apparent reason. Note to director: random freakouts do not equal dramatic tension. Oh, and what was up with Winnifred's tantrum? Never, ever happened in the book. Very un-Winnifredlike.

-The general pacing of the movie. Everything seemed as crammed as the house itself. Stuff that was important in the book was addressed in just a few seconds if at all, while Theo gets several minutes of drunken moaning. Say what?

Disappointing, disappointing, disappointing. C-

The 1975 BBC version, aka EASES THE PAIN:

This movie wasn't perfect, but I enjoyed it much more than the recent version. For a start, I felt that it could stand on it its own as an enjoyable film even if one hadn't read the book, while the same can't be said about the new movie. There's a certain charm about the old BBC dramas. They bring a degree of realism to novels that new, slicker movies just don't. (The 1970's BBC version of Anne of Avonlea is a good example of this. The Megan Follows movies were good, but they practically butchered the original story beyond recognition). I think this has to do with the fact that the old dramatizations weren't afraid to be corny, even when the novels themselves were.

The casting for this movie was excellent. The three girls looked attractive but ordinary, not glossy Hollywood starlets. Garnie and Nana were good, as was Mr. Simpson, who was missing his wife in this one but also the silly love story with Garnie from the 2007 movie. Theo was neither drunk nor man-hungry: hooray. The Doctors' roles were cut down to just one, Dr. Jakes, but I didn't mind that so much as they were secondary characters and the actress playing the Dr. was very good. The real standout in this movie was Mary Morris as the great Russian ballerina Madame Fidolia. They fleshed out her role for this movie, making her as driven and bitchy (in a good way) as you would expect and she was so believeable it was scary. And Gum! He was wonderfully crazy and absentminded, just as I imagined.

The setting, too, seemed much less gloomy and more like a real 1930's household. The way they captured the dance academy was spot-on. I was a little disappointed at first that they jumped into the story partway through the book, but they did such an excellent job explaining the history of the girls near the beginning that I can't fault them.

I was going to give this movie a B+, but I'm giving it an extra point for when Manoff drops his monocle at the end. A-

59. A Season for Miracles


The title: A Season for Miracles: Twelve Tales of Christmas
The author: Jean Little et al.
Publication: Scholastic, 2006
Got it from: The library

Remember Susanna Merritt? Of course you do. She is the heroine of one of the Dear Canada series. (Americans have a similar "Dear America" series.) This book is a compilation of short stories focusing on the heroines of each novel in the series at Christmastime.

Just down the street from where I live, there is a statue of William Hamilton Merritt, Susanna's brother.


For some reason, I have had the urge to climb up on the statue and put a Santa hat on his head. Also, the library where I work is named after him and we have a big picture of him by our book drop. But alas, my request to draw a Santa hat on his head was denied by my boss. Sigh.

I have only read a handful of books in this series. People going to this book with no previous knowledge of the characters may be confused by the names of all the family and friends who we have little time to get to know before moving on to the next story. Those who have read the series will surely love revisiting familiar characters.

There is lots of Christmas spirit here. Many of the stories tell of harsh pioneer Christmases and poverty, bratty brothers and overbearing relatives. Everything always works out in the end, of course. In "An Unexpected Gift," by Gillian Chan, Mei-Ling describes the discrimination she faces as a Chinese girl in a predominantly white, rich society. She finds an ally in a neighbour's son and experiences her first true Canadian Christmas. Another interesting story was one told by Angelique Richard, an Acadian girl banished from Grand Pre (sorry, my accents aren't working) and living in Baltimore, who manages to warm a curmudgeon's heart so that he gives her father the woodworking tools he desperately needs. My favourite by far was that of Kate Cameron, a girl living in 1883 British Columbia, who accidentally stirs her grandmother's ring into the Christmas pudding.

Of course you'll enjoy these stories more if you're familiar with Canada and/or have read the series already. Even if you haven't, they're still entertaining. B+

Monday, December 15, 2008

Update soon

To all five of you who regularly read my blog, thank you for waiting patiently for updates. I'm about halfway through five books now and will post in a few short days. Also, exciting end-of-year news to come!

Friday, December 5, 2008

58. Free for All



The title: Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks and Gangstas in the Public Library
The author: Don Borchart
Publication: Holtzbrinck, 2007
Got it from: The lib, of course!

D. asked me while I was reading this if it was more horrifying or funny. I replied that it was a little of both. The funny is the horrifying and vice versa, if you catch my drift.

Free for all (get it? free-for-all?) is a "tell-all" book about the highs and lows of library life. There are some things that are universal to all libraries, and I'm sure librarians everywhere are nodding their heads in recognition. Mentally ill patrons who stay all day? Uh-huh. Flashers? Seen a few. Troubled schoolkids whose parents use the library as a baby-sitting service? Tell me something I don't know. And we've all got stories. Heck, I just figured out that I've worked on and off for over ten years in ten different library branches or departments, and if I hadn't seen some crazy stuff I'd have to be literally blind. As my career is just beginning (gulp!) I'm sure I ain't seen nothing yet.

Of course, as the author works in LA, his stories are slightly more horrifying than mine. Latchkey kids number in the tens rather than the hundreds around here, gang wars are not exactly an issue (unless you count the current rivalry between Conservatives and coalition supporters), and I've never had to deal with anyone setting up a drug ring in the bathroom. Although I once worked with someone who made a girl take off her skirt in the ladies' room to get some stolen books. That was a fun day.

Whether you're a librarian looking for confirmation that you have to be slightly crazy to work in a library, or an outsider shaking your head in disbelief at the shenanigans that go on in these public institutions, this book is sure to entertain. B+

Monday, December 1, 2008

57. Does Anything Eat Wasps?

The title: Does Anything Eat Wasps? And 101 Other Unsettling, Witty Answers to Questions You Never Thought You Wanted to Ask
The author: New Scientist
Publication: Free Press, 2005
Got it from: My sistah, Christmas 2006

Oh, crap. Now Amazon.ca has that stupid "click to look inside" feature now, just like Amazon.com. Now that dumb logo is going to appear on all the pictures I steal from their site.

Here's a question you never thought to ask: why did Kathryn buy $35 worth of fruitcake just because she liked the box it was in? It is a question for the ages and one which no scientist will ever be able to unravel.

This here book is divided into several subject categories based on the questions asked: the body, plants and animals, weather, etc. For instance: how fat does a person have to be to be bulletproof? I won't give away the answer, but let's just say that you'd be so fat your cause of death is unlikely to be lead poisoning anyway. How long will it take before my guinea pig Fluffy just becomes bones after he dies? Answer: it varies depending on conditions. Is the north of England rising and the south really sinking? I already knew that one going in.

In short, this book had some interesting and some boring questions. The section on how long a human head can remain conscious after detaching from the body was riveting but also made me want to throw up for three days afterward. However, the plethora of questions about beer and wine was tedious and got old fast. Really, was it necessary to find a way to slip in alcohol questions every chapter? Yawn. Overall, I'd rate this book a B.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

56. Three Bags Full



The title: Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story
The author: Leonie Swann
Publication: Random House, 2005
Got it from: The library

This review is late. I've been so busy watching the Dance Your PhD contest on YouTube that I can't do anything else. I'm still trying to think up a good dance for my husband's "the effects of Hegel on 19th century American writers" PhD. Nope. Nothing.

First, can I say: this book has a FLIP BOOK SHEEP in the bottom right hand corner! When you flip the pages the sheep hops! For that alone, the book deserves an extra letter. Maybe a letter and a half.

I was drawn to this book by the wacky premise: a flock of sheep solve their shepherd's murder. I really, really love this book. I have decided that I adore sheep now. I just wanted to squeeze every last one of those adorable sheep. I loved this book so much, I am adding a new category to my genre tags: crime-solving sheep.

George Glenn's sheep aren't ordinary sheep. George has read them detective novels, you see, and that makes them smarter than the average sheep, maybe the smartest sheep in the world. George has also given them names like Miss Maple (the smartest in the flock), Othello (the bad-boy black sheep), Mopple the Whale (he eats a lot), Cloud (very fluffy), etc. George turns up dead at the beginning of the book and the sheep, their heads full of detective novels, take it upon themselves to solve this most heinous crime.

The mystery itself isn't the least bit compelling. What makes this book so great is the sheep themselves. Everything is seen through their eyes and by their standards humans are very silly and incomprehensible. The sheep take to finding clues and spying on humans next to open windows. I find it hard to believe that everyone in the village talks next to an open window, but I suppose when one reads about sheep detectives one can't quibble with the plausible. What we see through the sheep is distorted and the mystery is as opaque as black paint. I wish things had been a little more clear at the end, but as the sheep didn't seem to mind I suppose the reader isn't supposed to either. I have to appreciate that the author didn't hit me over the head with the obvious, but let it unravel slowly like...wool. Funny, clever and adorable. Why hasn't there been a sequel? I want a sequel! A-

George Glenn's Sheep's List of Things That Make a Good Shepherd:
1. Clothes himself entirely in the products of his own flock.
2. The quantity and quality of the fodder he provides. Bread and sugar and green stuff, but also concentrated feed and mangel-wurzels.
3. Never docks his lambs' tails.
4. Doesn't keep a sheepdog.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

55. Regency Quartet

The title: Regency Quartet
The author(s): Janet Grace, Elizabeth Lowther, Gwyneth Moore and Gail Mallin
Publication: Harlequin, 1993
Got it from: JL for this year's birthday. She undoubtedly got it in Fredericton, but at one point, according to the stamp in the front, it spent time at Annie's Book Stop in the Shop 'N Save Plaza in Portland, Maine. Who knows the journey this has been on??

J got me two books for this birthday, "one classy, one decrepit, just the way you like it." I'll let you guess which one this was. (Hint: the decrepit one has a purple lace parasol on the cover).

As this book features four stories by different authors, very loosely tied together by the fact that the heroines all apparently attended the same boarding school, I'll review each one individually:

Frozen Hearts: It's a classic case of she marries for money, he finds out and is hurt, but they secretly really love each other. I don't remember too much about this one, as I read most of it in the food court of the Galleria in Buffalo, but I do remember a contrived plot with a rival brother-and-sister duo, sneaking around an abandoned monastery at night in the snow and an attempted seduction in a cellar. You know, typical Regency romance stuff. B+

A Singular Elopement: This one kind of creeped me out because the heroine was so, so much younger than the hero and in fact, she kept thinking of him as a decrepit old man. I'm not a big fan of the wide-eyed, heedless innocent but I did like the hero in this one so I'm letting it go with a B.

Pride House: I liked this one the best because it was very Heyeresque. It's about a girl who arranges a marriage with a wounded soldier only to find that restoring her dream home is more like a nightmare. Excellent duel at the end between hubby and a jealous former suitor which ends with the heroine shooting her husband's cousin in the foot. A-

The Eccentric Miss Delaney: This one has one of my all-time top romance pet peeves, mainly a Duke of Slut. I hate, hate, hate it when the hero thinks about all the women he's had or worse, prostitutes. Any man who has so little regard for women is not a hero in my book, and it's a real deal-breaker in my eyes. I don't expect any romance hero to be squeaky-clean, but I don't want to hear about any woman in his past any more than I would with a lover in real life. Plus, the hero in this one starts out practically attempting to rape the heroine (!) because he thinks she's "just" a common maid. He only backs off when he realizes she's "quality." Oh sure, some women go on pedestals, the rest are yours for the taking. I'm sure he'll continue to treat all women with such respect once you're married. Right. C.

I just bought a new Christmas Regency Romance at Borders. I know, I know, I need another one like I need a hole in the head, right? I can't wait to read it. Watch this space for a review!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

54. Sea Queens


The title:
Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World
The author: Jane Yolen
Publication:Charlesbridge, 2008
Got it from: The library

I have to admire Jane Yolen. Not only is she an awesome writer, she has a backlist of something like 300 titles. Seriously, this woman is the Nora Roberts of the children's/fantasy world. No, wait. Nora Roberts is the Jane Yolen of the romance world.

I didn't actually realize this was a Jane Yolen book until I took it home (Jane Yolen: Codename SHE'S EVERYWHERE). I was mainly interested in reading about women pirates, a subject which I know almost nothing about but was only too eager to learn. But Be Ye Warned: this is a children's book, so it's not like there are detailed histories. In fact, much of what we know about pirates is heresay and old salt talk, so there's not a lot of material to work with as it is. In general, this is a very excellent overview of the history of women's pirates. I had never heard of most of them, except of course for good old Grace O'Malley (Granuaile Mhaol!) and I think somewhere in the back of my mind I vaguely recalled Anne Bonney and Mary Read. A lot of these women had very rough lives, and disguised themselves as men to get ahead. Sometimes they were found out, sometimes (and I'm still not sure how this could happen) they didn't. As one woman noted, she knew Anne and Mary were women "by the largeness of their Breasts." A dead giveaway, I would have thought. Guess everyone else was thinking: man boobs!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

53. Inventing Niagara

The title: Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power and Lies
The author: Ginger Strand
Publication:Simon & Shuster, 2008
Got it from: The library

Whew! I've just finished reading this dense book about Niagara Falls, and it's taking me just about a month. I've been interested in the falls ever since moving practically down the road from them a year ago. It's always exciting when someone comes to visit and I get to show them the sights of Niagara. Although at this point I'm usually more excited by the aviary and Hershey store than the falls themselves. Go figure. By reading this book, I was hoping to find out more information on how Niagara Falls became such a carnival for tacky amusements.

Each chapter chronicles a different epoch in the history of the falls, some of which I found more interesting than others. I learned, for instance, that a suspension bridge at the falls provided a major escape route for black slaves as part of the Underground Railroad, and that Niagara was a major player in the construction of the atomic bomb. My favourite chapter was probably on the long-gone Niagara Falls Museum, a sort of precursor to Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not! Imagine my surprise when I discovered much of the museum's artifacts are stored right here in a warehouse in St. Catharines, including a two-headed calf. Here's the real kicker: scientists scoffed at the authenticity of the "mummies" in the collection, but one was recently discovered to be that of Ramses I. Anyone interested in shrunken heads and deformed animals should probably read this book for that chapter alone.

Other chapters, like the one on Olmstead's vision for a back-to-nature park and parts about the Niagara environment were more slow going. But I have to admire Ginger Strand's relentless research and ability to get interviews out of just about anyone. And there are definitely some great turns of phrase in this book. She described a 19th century publicity stunt where animals were sent over the falls in a boat as "zooicidal" and calls the Canadian Niagara Falls "a shame stick used to smack Americans into better planning" (funny and true!). If you've never been to the falls, the descriptions may leave you feeling baffled. Heck, I've been there half a dozen times and I found it baffling. And there were some things I would have loved for her to talk about in more detail, like Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to survive the falls in a barrel, and she was 63! Also, I'm fascinated by the story of the falls running dry in 1848 and would have happily devoured a chapter on that, but it's not even mentioned. But I think overall there are more hits than misses. If you've ever wondered why the falls are "turned up" for tourists in the summer (yes they are!) or if engineers could actually turn off the falls if they wanted (heck, yes), this is your cup of tea. B.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

52. The Blue Castle

The title: The Blue Castle
The author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication: McClelland & Stewart, 1926
Got it from: Um...er...I'm guessing probably PEI, c.1994

Dear Blue Castle,

How wonderful to read you again, old friend! It's been many, many years, hasn't it? Yes I've skim-read you a number of times over the past decade or so, but have I ever thoroughly read you since I was a child? I'm sorry about the awful condition you are in because that mean boy ripped the cover off you in seventh grade and threw you at the chalkboard. You were just never the same after the shoddy glue job I gave you. I live in hope that I'll be able to find a decent used copy of you someday.

I have only the fondest of memories of you, and how delightful it is that you're even better with time. I'm practically Valancy's age now, when once she seemed impossibly old, and I can sympathize with here even more. How much more dreadful and petty and controlling her family seems than they did before! And how much sweeter it feels when you find out she's going to die and she flips her family the bird and does whatever she pleases. I particularly enjoyed her telling her family to eff off at a dinner party after being under their thumb all her life! And how much more appealing is Barney Snaith now, the man Valancy asks to marry? Most notable is the scene when he rescues her from a hillbilly dance by punching her assailant out and practically throwing her through a window. Now that's devotion! But what's with the awful prep boy on your cover? He is certainly no Barney Snaith!

Anyone who has a soul should read you, Blue Castle. You still have the most beautiful ending I've ever read - in fact, the last five or so chapters are sheer brilliance. Thank you for being there when I needed you, and I hope I may enjoy reading you many times to come. You are a true "A" novel.

Your humble admirer and longtime companion,
Kathryn

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

51. The Fifteen Streets


The title: The Fifteen Streets
The author: Catherine Cookson
Publication: Simon & Schuster
Got it from: Library donation

If you've never read Catherine Cookson, I'll sum up her novels in five words:

We're poor, and it sucks.

Now I'll sum it up longly:

We're poor, and it sucks, and we'll have heaps of horrible things happen to us, and there will be struggles between rich and poor people, and a bunch of people will die horribly and everything will barely work out at the end with a tentatively forged romance. The End.

Last year, at the request of two cackling old sisters who came into the library, I read The Dwelling Place. Now that was a depressing book. It also made me want to throw the book at the wall because in the end the heroine actually marries the guy who rapes her and gets her pregnant, instead of the nice guy who cares for her! Never mind that he's a complete rake who impregnates every woman in the Caribbean, he's rich! (Highlight if you don't mind spoilers.)

This book was slightly better in terms of the horrible things happening-o-metre, although something awful does happen that I did not see coming (but I should have because it's a Catherine Cookson novel). The story centres around a Catholic family, the O'Brien's, living in turn-of-the-century Northern England (Liverpool?). They're dirt, and I mean dirt, poor. The only thing keeping them going is that the three older men in the family work part-time down at the docks: Shane, the father, John, the hero of the story and his younger brother Dominic, who is a complete bastard. There's a movie of this book at the library where Sean Bean plays Dominic, and I really should see it.

The story is really all about John and his relationship to his hard-working mother, Mary Ellen, and his bright and lively little sister Katie. There's a sub-plot involving the Brackens, a family who move in next door who are rich and some sort of spiritualists, which causes them to be shunned by the neighbourhood. Their daughter, Christine, falls in love with John but is pursued by the lecherous Dominic. John is kind to Christine, but is himself falling in love with Katie's teacher, a rich girl from the other side of town.

This book was really hard to get into at first. The first few pages are from the perspective of some neighbours, which really makes things confusing, and it's difficult to tell which family member is who. There is also a lot of old-timey poor class slang thrown at you right away and I couldn't tell which way was was up for about a chapter. However, once the story eased into the O'Brien household it became much more readable. I must say, even though she does write the most awfully frustrating stories, Catherine Cookson is a wonderful storyteller. She has a way of making her readers sympathize with her characters that's remarkable. I found myself truly rooting for John and Mary, the schoolteacher, to be together. Overall, even though the ending wasn't as satisfying as I had hoped, I liked the story much more than I expected. B-

Monday, October 27, 2008

50. The New Policeman


Yay! We've hit fifty books!
The title: The New Policeman
The author: Kate Thompson
Publication: Greenwillow Books, 2005
Got it from: The library

This is a deceptively big book that reads very easily and is a lot of fun. J.J. Liddy, the hero of the book, is a 15-year-old who lives in an Ireland where there never seems to be enough time. When his mother wishes for more of it for her birthday, J.J. sets out to find her some. There's a lot of Irish mythology woven in here. Yes, it involves the "F" word. (Hint: it's almost impossible to write about Irish mythology without them). Each chapter ends with a piece of music related to the plot. I wish I could read music so I would know what it sounded like. At least now I know where all my missing socks are. B+

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oh, what the heck


Just to give something to amuse you until the next review, and because I get so depressed with the state of the world and people's general hatred of women, I give you: a warm fuzzy story!

Yes, the rumours you heard were true. Archaeologists were stunned to discover Britain's oldest toy buried at my favourite henge (that'd be Stonehenge) last month. It was found with a couple of babies' remains, and it seems the babies died of natural causes. In what may go down as the greatest archaeological debate this century, scientists are heatedly arguing over whether the toy is a pig or a hedgehog. No, I'm not kidding. Joshua Pollard of the University of Bristol claims he fancies it a hedgehog, while Stonehenge expert Mike Pitts says, "it's without a doubt a pig."

Hedgehog? Pig? Pighog? Hedgepig? I can't wait until the knives come out over this one. Personally, I'm seeing a pig here but hedgehogs are just so darn cute. I will follow this debate with interest.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Must update

I will post soon, I swearz. I know, I know. I haven't exactly been reading a lot this month. Can I say in my defense that I'm in the middle of a four-book series that I want to review all at once? Also that I read National Geographic cover to cover and that this month's issue took me a long time to get through? Also that the other book I'm reading is about a scillion pages long and the print is really tiny and it's nonfiction? Then can you forgive me?

Monday, October 13, 2008

49. By Hook or by Crook


The title: By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English
The author: David Crystal
Publication: Overlook Press, 2007
Got it from: The library

I wasn't sure what to expect when I put my name down for this book at the library. It was a new book about linguistics, so I thought I'd take a look and see if it interested me. One of the nice things about having no expectations about a book is that it is a pleasant surprise when you find yourself enjoying it.

This book isn't about any one thing in particular, other than being observations the author makes about funny things in the English language. Don't read this expecting a linear narrative, you'll go bonkers. It's more like a chocolate box full of interesting tidbits. And like a chocolate box, you never know where you're headed next. For instance, I learned that certain kinds of bees do elaborate dances to alert their hivemates about food sources, there's a language dying somewhere in the world every two weeks and that Birmingham accents are considered the ugliest in all of Britain. There's also a lot of references to pop culture. Extra points for the frequent mention of Doctor Who, which I have recently renewed my obsession with. B+

Saturday, October 4, 2008

RIP Canadian OED staff

Having just reviewed Six Words You Never Knew Had Something To Do With Pigs less than two months ago, I am sad to report that every one of the staff of the OED has been laid off, including Katherine Barber, the editor and author of Six Words. (MSN, in their usual lame attempt to grab readers' attention, trumpets the headline, "Entire Staff of the Canadian OED fired!" No, being fired and being laid off are not the same thing). They cite flagging sales as the culprit, but I am inclined to believe that Harper and the Tories are somehow behind it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

48. Heavy Words Lightly Thrown

The title: Heavy Words Lightly Thrown
The author: Chris Roberts
Publication: Penguin, 2004
Got it from: The library

It just goes to show you that just because I like a subject matter, it doesn't mean I'll like the book. Who'd have thought I'd be so downcast over a book about the origins of nursery rhymes, and one that spends most of its time talking about British history to boot? Alas, I was gravely disappointed. Roberts' wink-wink nudge nudge anecdote style may appeal to some, but I really don't care all that much about football. Or who Charlie Dimmock is and that she goes braless. This book just went too much all over the place without ever really focusing on the nursery rhymes themselves. If I wanted a book of funny British anecdotes I would have bought one, thank you. I felt less like I was hearing an expert talk about the facts and more like some dude was just showing off his knowledge about dirty British secrets. I wish I could have been more of a merrie olde soul after reading this, but them's the breaks. C

Thursday, September 25, 2008

47. Our Enduring Values


The title: Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century
The author: Michael Gorman
Publication: ALA, 2000
Got it from: SC, Christmas 2005

I doubt that anyone except professional librarians would be interested in this book (and if you're even reading this, congratulations) so I'll just say a few quick words. This book was written before 9/11 when our notion of privacy in libraries via the Patriot Act changed American librarianship dramatically. It would be interesting to see how his views on this have changed, particularly regarding the "privacy" chapter, which he targets as one of the key values of librarianship (the others being stewardship, service, intellectual freedom, etc). I agreed with him on a good many points, particularly when he describes the vague buzzwords of MLIS programs and the ALA accreditation process. And trust me, I know all about the accreditation process, having served as a student council VP during an accreditation year and having to (almost literally) court the visiting panel. Other concepts I had to disagree on, particularly concerning the right to privacy, which I think he takes too far, although I'm probably in the minority on this one. I wish this book hadn't been quite so dry, although again, I'm probably in the minority in thinking that librarians take themselves way too seriously. It was interesting to retread some of the points I haven't thought of since I took my MLIS, but overall it wasn't anything I hadn't heard before. B-

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I promise I won't mention this again...

...but I just have to include the recent comments by Mags over at AustenBlog regarding crappy Jane Austen adaptations, because I agree with her 100%. And I don't just love her because she calls Lost in Austen "dopey" and refers to the last episode as "goodbye, cruel fanfic."

(This is in response to Seducing Mr. Darcy, but also, I think, by Lost in Austen):

...we are of the opinion that these extraneous items should not be accepted just as they are, like Bridget Jones running through London in her knickers. Each should be judged and criticized on its individual merits. Every Janeite is not going to agree on the quality of a particular book or film or action figure, and some may wish to have nothing to do with them at all, but there is no reason to condemn them on general principles; but at the same time, we are impatient with the idea that “it’s not really Jane Austen so if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Just because one doesn’t like a particular book, that does not mean one must dislike them all, and just because we are critical of certain projects doesn’t mean we are toffee-nosed snobs who can’t abide any of it. We just like quality. Perhaps our notions of quality are different from other Janeites’.

I guess I shouldn't say I hate all Jane Austen spin-offs and homages on principle. Just awful ones.

The Austen diaspora is in a weird place when it comes to these ancillary items, and it is reflected in the either-or attitude. The Brontëans don’t hold their noses when they read Wide Sargasso Sea and the Shakespeare folks don’t freak out over A Thousand Acres or The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (at least we don’t think they do; feel free to disabuse us of our mistaken notions). But the Austen fandom hasn’t really had a Wide Sargasso Sea or A Thousand Acres or The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

There we are! See, I'd enjoy a good Austen spin-off. Keyword: good.

...there is a tendency in some quarters to fall into another easy place of “I liked this movie with pretty people in nice costumes so I am going to like this other movie with pretty people in nice costumes, even if the plot has been manipulated so much that it no longer makes sense and it’s so cheaply done that one can see the metaphorical zipper on the back of the monster’s costume.”

*cough*lostinaustenfans*cough*

...we don’t think we’re doing ourselves or our fellow Janeites a favor by supporting projects uncritically. If we keep watching and reading and buying, The Powers That Be know we’ll take anything, and they don’t have to try very hard or spend much money or offer us the very top quality items. If, perhaps, we are critical of the lesser-quality items, if we maybe vote with our feet and our voices, we’ll get something better. Perhaps. Would it hurt to try?

That, my dear readers, is how I feel about literature as a whole.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

46. The Blue Roan Child

The title: The Blue Roan Child
The author: Jamieson Findlay
Publication: Doubleday, 2002
Got it from: Book Club

"The unforgettable story about the magical bond between a young girl and a wild mare." That's what the back cover says. If you like horses and similes, you'll probably love this book. As for myself, I'm hesitant to say anything harsh about it because I don't think it was all that badly written. But oh my sweet nectarines, was it ever boring. I had to force, force, force myself to read it until the end. If the interest-o-meter was like those hospital vital signs, I don't think mine would register far over "dead." I can't even even write this review without getting a little heavy-lidded, so...C.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Summer roundup, autumn lineup


Autumn 'tis upon us - in two days, anyway - so it seems time to see how I did on my summer goals and make a new list for fall.

My goals for the summer were:
1. Read at least one Western. Check. See Taggart.
2. Read the next book in the Amelia Peabody mystery series. Check. See The Last Camel Died at Noon.
3. Read at least one book in my collection that's been on the shelf for years which I should have read a long time ago. Check - sort of. It's only been in my collection for two years, but I'll let Jane Austen's Guide to Dating suffice for now.
4. Read at least one other Civil War romance. Check. See River Magic.

My goals for this fall are going to be slightly more modest. I have a slew of books on order from the library that are due to come in shortly, so I won't be able to tackle as many of my books at home as I'd like. I also have a couple of other genres that I mentioned at the beginning of the year that I plan to tackle (I've even got some titles picked out) but I don't think I'll be able to get to them until my winter reading list. I can't forget that my resolution was to go outside my comfort zone and I don't plan on stopping, even when the year ends.

So, without further ado, here is my fall list. Can you tell I love making lists? It's so cathartic.

1. Read at least one children's book. This should be easy, as I have one already lined up.
2. Read one of my many, many Christmas regency romances. Again, this should be a cakewalk since I happily do this every year anyway.
3. Read at least one book that I bought in New York City last spring.
4. Read at least one book that's been on my shelves, waiting to be read, for way too long. Hey, I have to get them read somehow!
5. Finish reading a couple of books that I've been working on all year but can never get around to finishing.

Now I'm getting excited! I'm really looking forward to the books I have lined up. There's a hilarious-sounding mystery 'round November, a couple of interesting non-fiction books that will appear here in the next couple of weeks and a fantasy children's book that sounds very interesting. Hooray for autumn!

45. River Magic (Kathryn reads Civil War romances, Part II)

The title: River Magic
The author: Martha Hix
Publication: Zebra, 1995
Got it from: Freemont's Used Books, downtown St. Catharines

You might recall that last winter I was on a Civil War romance bender and bought a huge stack of them for something like $2 at our local used book emporium. My first foray into the genre, as you well know, turned out badly. And by badly, I mean like Krakatoa's eruption turned out badly for the Indonesians. The pain of this particular novel having slightly worn off, like the pain of childbirth, I decided to persevere in my quest for the Ultimate Civ. War romance. So, the burning question is, was it as bad or was it the holy grail?

It was neither, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it. My review won't be as hilarious. I was neither disappointed nor satisfied by this novel.

Assuming that none of you have or ever will read this novel, I'll give you the lowdown. There's this pair of batty aunts, you see, who get hooked up with this magic lamp. Shh, don't ask questions. The round, silly aunt wishes that her three nephews will meet their wives on their thirtieth birthdays. I smell...trilogy! Cut to Rock Island, Illinois, where Major Connor "Easy on the Eyes" O'Brien (and I kid you not, that is what he's called at least once) is serving the Union and looking after a jail full of Rebel soldiers. On his birthday, India Marshall shows up, dressed as a grandmother and tries to worm her way into the prison so she can free her brother. Sexy hijinks ahoy!

You know, I was cool with a lot of this book. Crazy aunts who have no other desire than to see their nephews get married, and get a real-life genie to do it? Sure, why not! Young woman disguised as an elderly woman? All the better for hilarious double-entendres and scenes of old coots courting the fake granny! A heroine whose name is India and has sisters called Persia, America and Europa? Why not Australasia and Siberia, too!

There were, however, several things I didn't like about this novel. The first was that the romance blossomed too quickly between the hero and heroine. I don't like it when books do this. I like the tension to build for a long time before anything happens. Secondly, I thought that the bad guy was too caricatured as the bad guy. He kept being described as the ugliest thing on two legs over and over, and was just too mean and nasty (and I mean like incestuous nasty, among other things) to be believable. I also felt like I wasn't being told something in this book. Often the characters would say or do things that contradicted their personalities or just plain didn't make sense. I mean, I like a book with plot twists, but this one kept setting things up only to have everything veer in a direction I didn't expect. I felt like I was being jerked around and I ended up being confused half the time.

I really think this book could have worked better with more editing and I suspect the author was under time pressure to complete the trilogy. The ending seemed particularly poorly done, with the bad guy and his abused niece meeting bizarre ends. I don't want to give it all away, but the niece gets involved with the hero's brother so this sets him up for major pain and torture for the next novel. Frankly, it doesn't make me want to read about the other two brothers, because one seems to be a tortured jerk and the other one is just a jerk. Because this book was somewhat fun, but had some serious flaws, I'm going to brand it in the B-/C+ category.

Until the next one! We're not through yet, Civil War romance...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

44. Imagining Anne


The title: Imagining Anne: the Island Scrapbooks of L.M. Montgomery
The author: Elizabeth Epperly (editor)
Publication: Viking Canada, 2008
Got it from: The Library

Oh, what I wouldn't give to spend a week in Montgomery's world. I've spent so much time in PEI and read so many of her journals, it's creepy. I'd wear fancy hats and dresses, go to tea parties and concerts, sleigh rides and dances and concerts. Then I'd come home and admire my flush toilet.

In a way, reading these scrapbooks is a bit like time travel. They're a direct glimpse into the life of a woman in turn-of-the-century Canada, and what a different world it was! No cars, no TV, no Internet, no cell phones (no phones at all, not until later). One had to amuse oneself by doing chores and paying calls and playing with kittens and, at least in Montgomery's case, writing. It's an almost enviable life, because despite lacking modern conveniences, people then were rarely bored.

This book has also reminded me I'm woefully behind in my own scrapbooking. I need to get snipping and pasting fast.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

43. Notes From a Big Country


The title: Notes From a Big Country
The author: Bill Bryson
Publication: Doubleday, 1998
Got it from: My book club

Now that the "lazy" days of summer are over (ha ha - what a joke) my reviews are going to start to come in fast and furious. Watch this space.

I really enjoy Bill Bryson's writing. It's usually fun and light-hearted and I can really relate to it, in as much as I can relate to a privileged middle-aged white guy. His A Short History of Nearly Everything still ranks as one of my top five favourite non-fiction books. It may even be my top one, I haven't decided yet. In this book he tackled American life with his usual folksy style. Some of it is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. As a librarian, I cracked up at this: "...I took the book to that reading area libraries put aside for people who are strange and have nowhere to go in the afternoon but nonetheless are not quite ready to be institutionalized..." Oh. Yeah. He loves pointing out the absurdity of beauocracy (which I think we can all relate to), how awful American TV is (really, really bad) and the mindlessness of the American justice system. He also loves America in many ways: how trusting the people are, the junk food selection, the fall colours, the convenience of everything. And he's just spot on when he talks about the decline of small-town America and how awful everything is when it's homogenized. It's clichéd, but it really was hard to put down. Kind of like M&Ms. B+

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Quiz time!

I know I've done this before, but it's soooo good. Be sure to read all the results for full hilarity. I particularly like "the hoyden": "Your hero will at first mistake you for a boy, but his inexplicable attraction to you will lead him to deduce that you are in fact female." A perfect overview of the genre.

The Regency Romance Quiz: What kind of Romance Heroine are you?

Your Result

1069491249_Bookish.jpg
Oh dear, you are Bookish, aren't you? You are a highly intelligent and witty bluestocking, whose beauty is hidden behind spectacles. Your dress sense is eccentric and a little unfashionable, and you consider yourself plain. You have very little use for men, who find your knowledge of Shakespeare, interest in politics and forthright speech formidable. You are undoubtedly well-off. The only reason for your presence in a novel of this kind (which, I might add, you would not dream of reading, although you have occasionally enjoyed the works of Miss Austen), is your mother, who is absolutely determined that you will make a good marriage. Rather than defying her directly, you are quietly subversive, dancing with anyone who asks you, but making no attempt to hide your intellectual interests. The only person who can get past your facade is the man who is witty enough to spar with you, and be amused at your blatant attempts to scare your suitors away. While you will, no doubt, subject him to a gruelling cross-examination to find out whether his respect for your intelligence is real or mere flattery, you may be sure that he is your match, and that you, he AND your mother will all live happily ever after

Monday, September 8, 2008

42. The Last Camel Died at Noon



Amelia Peabody...eases the pain

The title: The Last Camel Died at Noon
The author: Elizabeth Peters
Publication: Warner Books, 1991
Got it from: Vancouver, 2001

Oops, I've painted myself into a corner. Ever since 2001, I vowed I'd read an Amelia Peabody mystery every year until I was finished all eighteen in the series. I'm a bit behind, because I keep missing years. Here's the problem: I'm hungry for more but I know I must wait another year. As Amelia's husband Emerson would say, "Curse it!"

For those of you who don't know, Amelia Peabody Emerson is the star of a series of Egyptology mysteries set around the turn of the 20th century. Those readers who don't share my enthusiasm for Egyptology are still urged to read them for the wonderful characters. The narrator of the story is Amelia herself, heiress to her late professor father's fortune and intrepid adventuress. Amelia is one of the most well-conceived female characters in literary history. Her witty observations, particularly about her husband, are a riot. She takes a no-nonsense attitude with everything, but she's secretly an incurable romantic. She's unstopable, particularly with her most trusty accomplice, her parasol, which she uses to frequently beat the snot out of anyone or anything who gets in her way. Then there's her temperamental husband, Emerson, who hates the world and everyone in it, except for his own family. He has a reputation as one of the most feared men in Egypt, and he's constantly tearing open his shirts, either in rage or in passion. (This prompts Amelia's most frequently-used phrase, "Another shirt ruined?" Her other phrase is "Another year, another dead body.") Then there's the Emersons' lovable, precocious brat of a son, Ramses, who will eventually grow up into a swoonbeast but for now is still a monkey who speaks several dead languages and disguises himself among natives to glean information. Naturally, the Emersons attract attention wherever they go and frequently stumble upon mysteries that they have to solve every digging season like clockwork.

This year's episode has the tireless threesome out in the desert, searching for a lost oasis that may or may not contain some friends who disappeared over a decade earlier. After nearly dying in the desert of thirst after their camels have all died (a reference to the book's title) they are whisked away to said mysterious oasis, restored to health and kept prisoners for some (as yet unknown) purpose. It's all very silly, of course, but the Emersons always make it enjoyable. The story is lifted straight out of H. Rider Haggard (whom Amelia is addicted to reading) and probably merits a B-grade romp, especially considering how the last third dragged a bit. What bumps it to the A-level is the hilarious one-liners. If I'd mark each spot that made me laugh out loud, the whole book would be marked up. Now if only I didn't have to wait until next year to continue the saga. It's like crack, I tells ya... A-

Friday, September 5, 2008

TV review: Lost in Austen

Lest my friends and family bother to ask me what I thought about that TV show on this week, I will clarify my feelings once and for all. I am talking, of course, about Lost in Austen. I could only get about 3/4 of the way through.

It's utter pigswill.

I spent a good half hour last night ranting to D. about why I thought this, and other chick lit-y Jane Austen books (like this and this) give me the squicks. I won't repeat all my points, but Lost in Austen embodies everything I hate about the chick lit empire. First, as an aside, can I just say - leave Jane Austen the freak alone? Seriously. Her works are fabulous, amazing and wonderful. Her heroines, particularly Elizabeth Bennett, are everything literary heroines should be: intelligent, witty, opinionated and loveable with a wonderful sense of humor. I couldn't agree more with Jane herself when she says of Elizabeth, "I must confess that I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know". So why do other authors think it's okay to piggyback on Jane's greatness? If it's the Regency period you're after, why not create new characters instead of bastardizing beloved ones? Heyer made a fantastic career out of it and you don't have to look further than Loretta Chase to see how wonderful Regency romances can be without Mr. Darcy.

I won't reiterate my points about why I loathe chick lit heroines*, but Amanda Price, the heroine of Lost in Austen, reads like my own personal checklist of chick lit hate. High-maintenance, semi-alcoholic glamour girl? Ding! Living an empty life in some London apartment? Ding! Lameass boyfriend who's over-the-top boorish to make the real hero seem so much better? Ding! Constantly saying stupid things and making mistakes to show how "cute" she is? Ding! Half-heartedly made to seem smart, even though we all know she's stupid and selfish? Ding! Being all Mary Sue and having every freaking guy fall in love with her, even though they never would have gone for someone as lame as her in the real 19th century? Ding! Yes, I believe it was at the point Mr. Bingley pulled Amanda outside at the Netherfield Ball to confess his undying love for her that I couldn't physically cringe any more and had to turn my computer off.

How the heck am I supposed to relate to a woman like that? I wouldn't be friends with her if you paid me, so how am I supposed to react to her coming in and interfering with favourite characters? How many times is my intelligence supposed to be insulted with this drivel that they throw at me, expecting me to like it because it's vaguely related to Austen? Don't give me a chocolate bar and tell me it's swiss truffle when it's cheap, crappy advent calendar chocolate and expect me to like it just because it's chocolate. Give me something edifying or don't make it at all. Pathetic. F-

Good god, what's next? Are we to have James Purefoy as Mr. Rochester, coming in through some hausfrau's kitchen and making sweet love to women in the 21st century? Oh, wait. That sounds pretty good. I'd watch that.

*Okay, maybe just a little bit. It boils down to this: I believe women are more than martini-drinking, shopaholic ditzes who spend their days chasing men. Maybe it's my own narcissism, but I wish the women in books were more like me. I want to see strong, intelligent, funny women actually doing important things in the real world. Women, we are capable of writing better stories about these kinds of heroines. We should not just demand them. We deserve them. I won't settle for less, but I fear that women have started to do just that. This being the case, I won't stop my crusade against chick lit until I start seeing a more realistic picture of women mirrored back to me.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

I Has Heyer

Remember when I was all upset about my lack of Georgette Heyer novels? Well, thanks to the awesomeness of friends and my own used bookstore-hunting skills, I have now amassed a modest Georgette Heyer collection. They're not all the new covers, but I like the old paperbacks too.

See for yourself:
I am so excited, I think I shall institute a Georgette Heyer month, where I read nothing but Georgette Heyer. This is very exciting!

41. Six Words You Never Knew Had Something To Do With Pigs


The title: Six Words You Never Knew Had Something To Do With Pigs: And Other Fascinating Facts About The Language From Canada's Word Lady
The author: Katherine Barber
Publication: Oxford UP, 2006
Got it from: The library

For the record, the six words are porcelain, screw, soil, porpoise, root and swain.

Etymology lovers everywhere will probably love this book, so they can nag everyone they know with interesting tidbits concerning word origins. I am an etymology lover. Therefore, I continually interrupted my husband to discuss a fascinating word origin. For instance, I took great glee in telling him (a younger son) that the French word puisné, meaning 'born next' (i.e., younger son) is where we get the word "puny". The French had another word for younger son, capdet (little head), which fascinatingly enough gives us the word captain (younger sons often joined the military), cadet, caddy and cad. Ha!

Me famous

I'm on NBPLS's Virtual Library Books & Reading page. Woot! Welcome, NB readers.

Monday, August 25, 2008

40. The Ghost Map


The title: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World
The author: Steven Johnson
Publication: Riverhead Books, 2006
Got it from: The library

August 25, 2008

To Whom it May Concern:

Has it really been seventeen days since my last book review? For shame! It is inexcusable. I suppose I may feebly protest that my father was visiting for a week, or that I had three Summer Reading Club parties to plan at the library and I was just exhausted. But who am I kidding? No, I suspect the real reason I haven't been able to finish a book is that I have spent too much time watching
How Clean is Your House? and reruns of North of 60. That's right. I have let television rot my mind. Also, technically speaking, I did read two books since my last entry that I have chosen for various reasons not to blog about.

I suppose you are wondering what this book, which I have just finished, is about. It is about cholera in Victorian London. Not what most people would consider a fun summer read, but then again most people don't mummify their Barbies for science projects when they're nine, either. I found this book to be a perfect summer non-fiction book: light and breezy. The author is very engaging and kind of cute too. Not that I look for that in an author, but most of the non-fiction books that I read are written by crusty old men with names like Lord Fotherington-Fusspot and Henry Tweedsworth III.

Where was I? Oh yes, cholera. It sounds very nasty, and I'm glad I wasn't suffering from it in Victorian London. You basically wither up from lack of water and waste away until you're one-third your usual size and your organs shut down because there's not enough fluid to get you blood. Worst case scenario is you go from healthy to dead in a matter of hours. Ugh.

But this book is more than just about an epidemic, it's about two men who were the first to discover that cholera was transmitted by water, not borne in the air as everyone thought. This leads to a lengthy discussion about the filth of London and the dreadful sewage management of the time. (Sewage management = leave your waste in the basement until it eventually gets in the river). I wouldn't have thought I'd ever find s--t so fascinating, but there you have it. I'm almost tempted to read that book about the Great Stink of London in 1858. It's a morbid fascination.

It's amazing to think that one simple act, the removal of a pump handle on Broad Street, saved so many lives and changed the world of public health forever. A reviewer has said, "If you read only one book about cholera this year, make it this one!" and I agree. This is a good introduction to non-fiction if you're primarily a fiction reader and I found it only bogged down slightly at the end. B+

Thank you for your patient wait for a review, and I hope I do not disappoint you next time,

Sincerely yours,

etc.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

It's my birthday and I'll blog if I want to

I haven't got a proper post today, as I've been verra busy and am deep into at least five different books without having finished any of them yet. Today I thought I would blog about an event that is near and dear to my heart.

Madonna's birthday.

Ten years ago today it was all over the news: Madonna's turning 40! Rip out the front page, this is news, baby! Since this was still a hazy time when the internet wasn't a primary news source, TV and radio trumpeted it all over the place, as if the act of turning forty was a supreme achievement. But was there any word of my turning 16, I ask you? What news source heralded this landmark occasion in my life? What has she done that's so great? So she's made some music videos and sold some albums. But I survived Quispamsis Junior High, and let me tell you, that's more worth celebrating.

Now here we are again and nothing's changed. I defy you to find a news source today that's not celebrating Madonna's 50th birthday. But what of my 26th? In the past ten years, I've graduated from high school, earned two degrees, bought my first car and gotten married. What's she done? Made some crappy albums, had a handful of kids and gotten divorced and stuff. Hardly worth all the attention she's getting today. Whose birthday is really worth celebrating, I ask you?