Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Snake, The Crocodile and the Dog

The title: The Snake, The Crocodile & The Dog
The author: Elizabeth Peters
Publication: Warner, 1992
Got it from: Vancouver, 2001

My project of reading one Amelia Peabody a year continues with the seventh in the series, which picks up where The Last Camel Died at Noon left off. Having rescued the daughter of missionaries from the Lost Oasis in Nubia, the Emersons leave young Nefret and their son Ramses (who is obviously infatuated with their new ward) in England. Once in Egypt, they find word of their adventure has spread and unscrupulous archaeologists are willing to do anything to learn the location of the Lost Oasis. While selecting this year's dig site, the usual excitement occurs and Amelia, then Emerson, get kidnapped. When Amelia eventually rescues him, she discovers her husband has forgotten her and must attempt to win his love all over again. Meanwhile, their friend Cyrus Vandergelt has arrived on the scene to help Amelia and may be developing feelings for her as well.

As usual, it's becoming impossible for me to not love an Elizabeth Peters book. I kept laughing on my lunch break at work, much to the annoyance of my co-workers, I'm sure. I enjoyed watching Amelia and Emerson stumble into love all over again and seeing Emerson fight his bad temper to grudgingly admit Amelia is not such a bad archaeologist. I also loved the appearance of one of my favourite characters (can't say who, it would spoil everything) who, as usual, is present throughout the story but not revealed until the end. There's not as much archaeology going on in this installment, but who cares? This book was just too exciting to put down. My only regret was that it had to end.

10 royal tombs out of 10

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Dark Is Rising


The title: The Dark Is RisingThe author: Susan Cooper
Publication: Atheneum, 1973Got it from: ??, 1998

I have recently been re-reading The Dark Is Rising, one of my favourite books from years ago, to put myself in a Christmas-y mood. I had forgotten how good this book is, and how crappy the movie "loosely" based on the book was. This book is actually the second in the series, but can be read as a stand-alone. It's Midwinter's Eve and 11-year-old Will Stanton's birthday. Strange things begin happening to him and he discovers he's the last of the Old Ones, ancient people who protect the world against the Dark.

It sounds like an ordinary fantasy, but it's not. It's chock full of British mythology, set in contemporary (or at least 1970's) rural England at Christmas, and it's fantastic. What I love about this book is the juxtaposition of the everyday and the supernatural. Will is an ordinary boy with an ordinary family, but he's also someone with great power and ancient knowledge. A snowstorm is no longer just a snowstorm, it's the work of dark forces.
Neighbours Will has known for years are not what they seem. It's a wonderful bridge to fantasy for people like me who don't necessarily want to read about completely different worlds and creatures. Will's world is entirely recognizable, but the forces at work within it are not. It's also classic Arthurian legend, bildungsroman and quest fable rolled into one.

I am looking forward to re-reading the other four books in the series in 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation


The title: Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation
The author(s): Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
Publication: St. Martin's Press, 2009
Got it from: The library

"In this hip, hilarious, and truly eye-opening cultural history, menstruation is talked about as never before. Flow is a fascinating, occasionally wacky, and sometimes downright scary story." Scary is right.
If just reading the title of this book makes you queasy (and you know who you are), you need to read this book, stat. The first thing you'll notice is that it's chock full of hilarious and horrifying ads from the femcare industry spanning back to the 19th century. But you'd be mistaken if you thought this book was just a repository of those wacky old ads from the dinosaur days. Instead, Stein and Kim provide a comprehensive history of where we were and why we're here today - and why, in so-called enlightened times, we still can't talk openly about our periods.

This may just be the best non-fiction book I've read all year. It's certainly the most sensible, coming as it does from a feminist perspective that's witty, intelligent and skeptical of anybody who's looking to make a quick buck off women and their "problems." I almost cheered when they talked about how ridiculous it is that menstruation is still so taboo, as if it's an abnormal disease, or how horrifying it is that millions of women still douche despite how dangerous and upsetting it is to our vaginas. (Noses, it should be pointed out, are dirtier and secrete more mucous, but you don't find anybody telling us to stick tampons up them and wash them out with dangerous chemicals that cause infections). In fact, their argument (and I've been saying this for years) is that despite what femcare companies keep telling us, periods are NO BIG DEAL. In fact, they're a sign that everything is just fine.

What struck me most about this work, and it should come as no surprise to any feminist, is that there has been so little research done on periods that scientists can barely explain the most basic of functions. I had no idea, for instance, that the ovaries actually select about twenty eggs a month but only one gets to grow to maturity and be released, while the rest get killed off. Or that when the follicle bursts to release the egg, it leaves scars on our ovaries until by the time we reach menopause, our ovaries look like they've been through battle. (I don't remember this from grade seven sex ed!) And here's the really scary part - there have been almost no studies on the long-term effects of chemicals in tampons, taking horse urine medicine to treat menopause (millions of women do) and chemically stopping your periods. What we DO know is that the effects aren't good. Women still get toxic shock syndrome from tampons, cancer from hormone replacement therapies and a whole host of problems from lowered estrogen levels that stopping your periods brings.

And can somebody please explain how menstrual products are still considered "luxuries" and taxed? I'm still mad about this one.

I urge you to read this book and make it your feminist act of the year. (Mine was tearing down "men's rights" ads in front of the library that wanted to stop funding to Amnesty International because the organization supported women who were beaten by their spouses. This apparently "made men look bad." Look, people. Amnesty International doesn't make men look bad. Men being assholes makes men look bad). At the very least, read this book so that you can feel better about your period, or help you realize what's going on with the ladies in your life if you're a man. We all need to be better informed about menstruation.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Together By Christmas

The title: Together By Christmas
The author(s): Nicola Cornick, Catherine George, Louise Allen
Publication: Harlequin, 2009
Got it from: Amazon.com

I'm shallow and I bought this book because I thought the cover was gorgeous. There, I said it.

Now for the stories inside.

No wait, let's look at the cover again. Shiny Christmas ornaments! So pretty!

Okay, now we'll look at the stories.

"The Unmasking of Lady Loveless" by Nicola Cornick (Regency era). This one had an interesting premise, where a husband suspects his estranged wife is writing erotic literature and goes to tell her off. Unfortunately, the execution was awful and I didn't like this story at all. The hero was a total brute and instead of asking her what she was about, he practically rapes her as a form of punishment. Also, the story was really rushed and the romance felt forced. A big disappointment.

"Christmas Reunion" by Catherine George. Felicia and Gideon once played Romeo and Juliet in a high school play, but their real-life romance was cut short by a misunderstanding. Now, ten years later, they have a second chance at love. I really enjoyed this story, having not read many contemporary Christmas tales before. I liked how this one was set in England, too, because it showed some different British holiday traditions. I also like how the hero was rich but in an unconventional way (he owns a big chemist chain, or pharmacy chain in North American speak). Altogether this one felt very realistic and believable.

"A Mistletoe Masquerade" by Louise Allen. Back to the Regency era again. Lady Rowan agrees to go undercover as a servant to find out the truth about her friend's betrothed. She soon finds herself sparring with the man's irritating but oh-so-handsome valet. But surprise - the valet is actually the man's titled friend who is going undercover for similar reasons. Overall, a very silly story (they should have just been honest with each other and saved themselves a heap of trouble) with lots of anachronistic behavior and dialogue. But I enjoyed it anyway because I just love those sparring protagonists.

The Hills of Tuscany

The title: The Hills of Tuscany
The author: Ferenc Mate
Publication: Delta, 1998
Got it from: RC, Xmas 2003

I got this book as a Christmas present the year I studied in Rome and, uh, here it is, uh, six years later. R, if you're reading this...I'm sorry. I took this book with me everywhere, including Halifax and Perth, and I have been meaning to read it sooner than this. What can I say? Just a warning to those of you who have given me books as gifts that you may have to wait another five years for my review, but rest assured I will get to it eventually.

This book chronicles the experience of the author and his wife spontaneously moving to to Tuscany in the 1980's. The first half of the book concerns them looking for a house to live (no easy feat when everything is word-of-mouth) and the second half trying to accustom themselves to a completely foreign world. I read this book almost entirely on my breaks at work and the descriptions of the food made me terribly hungry. Also, if you didn't know this already, this book pretty much proves that Italians are lovable but certifiably insane. Now I'm off to find some crostini and pasta. With some gelato for dessert.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dangerous Secrets

The title: Dangerous Secrets
The author: Lisa Marie Rice
Publication: Avon, 2008
Got it from: Amazon

You know how I kept saying that one of these days, I would keep notes while I was reading a book so I would finally remember everything I wanted to say? Well, this time I did!

Behold, a detailed review with 175% more observational goodness!

In a nutshell, this book is about a small-time librarian, her Delta Force operator lover disguised as a Wall Street millionaire and the Russian Nobel Literature-nominated writer who's the librarian's good friend. Who also happens to be the psychotic leader of the Russian mafia. Who also happens to have the hots the librarian because she looks just like his dead girlfriend.

I feel like I am highly qualified to write this review, because if there's one thing I know, it's about being a small-town librarian. And scary Russian mafia leaders mistake me for their dead girlfriends all the time.

The story opens at the end of the saga with the Nicholas Ireland, the Delta Force operator who calls himself Iceman, attending his own funeral. Nice!

We then jump back to the beginning of the story to visit a Russian airfield, where somebody bad is preparing to bring something bad to the States, which I'm sure we'll learn all about in a later chapter. (Psst –it might be a nuclear wessel, er, vessel!) This scene is notable because it mentions having to bring the bad thing through Canada. Go Canada!

Then there's a brief scene with Mr. Russian Mafia in Vermont, who is remembering his sweet Katya who died in the Russian gulag, and how he wrote a poem about it, "in ink made from burnt shoe leather on a piece of intact shoe." Aw, that's so romantic! I love it when my scary villains are such sensitive soft hearts. He does some moustache-and cape-twirling as he announces his intentions to have the librarian for himself, for she is the reincarnation of dear Katya!

Then to the library! Where Iceman-disguised-as-rich-millionaire-to-learn-more-about-bad-Russian goes to visit the librarian. We now learn that the librarian's name is Charity Prewitt.

Also acceptable would have been Prudie McSpinster, Virginia O'Prig, or Chastity Shushington.

But oho! What's this? Little Charity is not the old prune Iceman thought she would be. For one thing, she's only twenty-eight. She's also "small, curvy, classy with large eyes the color of the sea at dawn," she has "the most delicious skin he'd ever seen on a woman," a "quiet knockout," "the classiest-looking dame he'd seen in a long while." Did I mention that he thinks she's classy? Because he does.

When Nick goes to visit her at the library, he sees her through the window: "through the huge library windows she looked like a lovely little lamb staked out for the predators...Charity Prewitt had been showcased against the darkness of the evening. One very pretty young woman all alone in an enclosed space. It screamed out to any passing scumbag - come and get me!"

Thanks, Iceman. Thanks a lot. Now I'm going to feel really good working alone in the library at night.

Nick asks Charity on a date and of course she says yes because, as we learn, she's desperate. The only bachelor in the whole town worth having is Vassily, but he's out of the question because he's "fifty-four years old and horribly scarred."

Oh yes, and that whole mafia thing she doesn't know about. That might also kill the romance.

Charity, like all good romance novel heroines, is selfless and taking care of her sick, elderly aunt and uncle and hasn't had time to date. Nick is rich and handsome, so what the hey? Let's go out with a total stranger!

They go to a restaurant and we learn a little more about Charity. I have to be a spoilsport and step in here with my librarian tsk-tsking, because the author commits two grievous sins in talking about Charity's librarian degree. Sorry to be nit-picky, but I hate it when authors get this wrong and they do it all the time. One: it's very rarely referred to these days as "library science." The proper term now is "library studies," or "information studies" if you want to be really progressive. Two: it is almost never obtained as a bachelor's degree, as it is in Charity's case. I'm speaking from Canadian experience, but we haven't had a professional librarian degree at the bachelor's level since the 1970's. It's a Master's, damnit! Nora Roberts made the same mistake in Key of Knowledge and I wanted to bite something then too. Look, I didn't do a two-year Master's and become an ALA-certified professional librarian to have every Tomasina, Dilly and Harriet think she can be a librarian with a bachelor's degree.

Charity sits in the restaurant, looks at the fine specimen of male sitting across from her, and thinks "[I'm] up for sex with this man. Right now." It's always a good idea to sleep with your patrons the first day you meet them, because it eases the tension later when they come looking for information on how to build bombs.

Nick, meanwhile, sips his wine and fondly remembers his last mission, where he was forced to infiltrate a South American drug lord's posse and sleep with the drug lord's scary sister, who was into hardcore S&M. Good times. He's also trying to think unsexy thoughts, because Charity is Turning. Him. On. He describes to himself what may be the best analogy ever: "undercover work is like proctology. You poke and prod around assholes, looking for something bad, and then you zap the bad things you find."

We also learn that Vassily has come to Vermont specifically because Charity is there. Can anyone tell me how a Russian mafia vor would know what a small-town librarian in Vermont looks like enough to move five scrillion miles to be with her? Anyone?

But it's snowing hard so the date is over. Nick comes to Charity's rescue and offers to drive her straight home, since her own car has bald tires and he can't bear the thought of her getting in an accident. Just like how in Lisa Marie Rice's other book Dangerous Lover, the hero comes to the heroine's rescue by offering her a drive home in a snowstorm because her tires are bald and he can't bear the thought of her getting into an accident. Also like in Dangerous Lover, the hero and heroine are both orphans and the heroine's parents died in a horrible, horrible accident, forcing her to care for an ailing family member and suffer alone.

I'm just saying.

Nick and Charity make it home and start getting busy when they are rudely interrupted by the phone, which they don't pick up. The scene flashes to Vassily, who we discover is the person calling. When Charity doesn't pick up the phone, Vassily freaks in the way only a stalker can because he knows she doesn't usually stay out late. Here we also learn that Vassily has set up a sweet apartment in NYC for Charity: “[it had] been decorated in the pastel colors Charity loved, filled with her favorite music CDs, stocked with her favorite teas. He'd bought an entire designer wardrobe in her size, just waiting for her to step into them." I don't know, this whole mafia girlfriend thing sounds pretty good to me.

The next fifty or so pages can be summed up nicely by one of those "The Least You Need to Know" Idiot's Guide boxes.

THE LEAST YOU NEED TO KNOW -->
-Nick and Charity get it on 'til the break of dawn, then get it on some more.
-Nick focuses on Charity "like a laser beam" three times and calls her "classy" three more times.
-Vassily reminisces about his beloved Katya, who was raped and murdered in the gulag and you almost feel sorry for him
-Nick receives a call from his crippled-orphan--turned-investment-billionaire best friend, who informs Nick that he's made him a million dollars in the stock market.

In fact, the similarities between this book and Dangerous Lover call for a Lisa Marie Rice drinking game. Take a drink when:
-Heroine drives in snowstorm with bald tires
-Hero goes "hard as a club" looking at her
-Hero comes into unexpected wealth
-Hero acts like a Neanderthal around heroine (try this and get drunk in minutes)
-Villain thinks about how rough he's had it and how much power he has now
-Hero reminisces about his crappy life
-The story ends abruptly with no explanation of HEA
-Take one drink for each family member/friend the heroine/hero have taken care of because they're physically and/or mentally incapacitated
-Take one drink each time heroine displays a feminine charm that blows the hero away
-Take one drink for each mention of the hero/heroine's lousy ex-boyfriends/girlfriends/one night stands

In the middle of their 1400th boinky boinky session, Charity’s uncle calls. It seems that her senile, elderly aunt has disappeared at night in the middle of a snowstorm. Now call me crazy, but something seems a little off about a 28-year-old having an 87-year-old uncle. My grandmother is that old. Even if Charity’s parents were 40 when they had her, that still means that there’s at least a 20-year age difference between her parents and their siblings. Naturally, Nick saves the day, finds the grandmother and keeps her from getting hypothermia. As a “reward” he demands, uh, stuff from Charity. I told you this guy is a Neanderthal. At this point I was thinking if it was me, I’d tell him to *bleep* off but I’m getting the sense that Charity is a doormat. Also, Nick is an asshole.

Charity *finally* goes back to work the next day, but not for long. Nick comes marching back in after about an hour and the two go at it in the library’s supply closet. Where they’re discovered by the cranky ex-head librarian. Busted! Clearly this is a demonstration of Charity’s bachelor-level library degree. At the master’s level, they teach you to lock the library door when you want to bump and grind in a supply closet with a patron.

Next thing you know, Nick and Charity are attending Vassily’s Thursday-night soiree. Wait, it’s Thursday now? It was just Monday. What have they been- oh, wait. Forget I asked.

Vassily is all over Charity and Nick gets all angry and protective, but he has to keep his cool because he is supposed to be doing recon on the guy. The two men’s eyes lock across the room, and hatred and jealousy flare between them as their eyes narrow. Dun dun dun. After the party, Vassily calls one of his flunkies to get a hitman out on Nick. Is it wrong of me to be a little bit cheerful at the thought of Nick getting whacked?

So the plot is thickening, but not as much as Nick’s turgid manhood.

Nick then formulates a great plan. He’ll marry Charity, and that way, if he’s killed, the Unit will be able to protect her. So they rush off to the courthouse and they’re married.

Fun Fact -->
Did you know that at this point, Nick still hasn’t told Charity who he really is and why he’s there? It’s true!

Nick then leaves Charity for the afternoon. At this point, the plot gets very exciting as the hitman chases Nick up a mountainside in a blinding snowstorm.

Fun Fact -->
Did you know that in late November, Vermont gets snowstorms every day?

But the Iceman is far too tough to get himself killed. He finds a way to kill the hitman, puts the body in his own car and sets it afire before sending it over the cliff. Now everyone thinks he’s dead! Aaaand we’ve come full circle to the funeral.

Poor Charity doesn’t even get to wear her $300 nightgown. She spends her days crying and throwing up. Admittedly, it does pretty much suck. Nick, meanwhile, lies naked in a seedy motel room, getting drunk and missing Charity. Finally he pulls himself together enough to stalk her house.

Just as soon as Vassily arrives to comfort the widow. Uh oh…

Oh yes, and here’s another great moment. We discover that the man with the mysterious package has almost arrived in North America and that he’s “sixty miles south of St. John, New Brunswick, Canada.”

I can just see the author looking at a map and going, “what godforsaken place can I put this crazy Russian where no one will ever find him? Oh here, that looks good.”

Well, I’ve got news for you. I happened to grow up in Saint John, and we ate people for breakfast who abbreviated the “Saint” in Saint John. I’ll grant you that the area is slightly godforsaken, but I will not tolerate you abbreviating the Saint. Shame.

Vassily comes with food and drink for Charity and proceeds to pour them some Russian tea (2/3 tea, 1/3 vodka), while urging, nay commanding, Charity come visit him tonight. So he’s this big jerk who wants to take care of her but bosses her around, sees her as a sexual object, has no clue how to respect women and has no idea what Charity’s really like? And the difference between him and Nick is…?

Of course, after Vassily leaves Nick bursts in and is all, “no way am I letting my wife go hang out with the mafia!” Which causes delicate little Charity to faint into his arms because of course she still thinks Nick’s dead.

Nick then has what may be the first normal, sane thought to ever cross his brain:

Damn, he should have played this differently, but how? How do you tell a grieving widow – Whoops! Husband not dead, after all! Big mistake, sorry about that. Hey, s—t happens.

Nope. There was no way he could have revealed himself without shocking her in a big way. And no way he could keep her from going to Worontzoff’s tonight without revealing himself. What was he supposed to do – send her e-mails from beyond the grave? Leave her messages written in lipstick on her bathroom mirror?

You know what else would have been a good idea? Telling her the truth before you got married. Yeah.

Nick has a lot of ‘splaining to do, but deep down Charity is all, “aw, you’re so handsome, how can I stay mad at you?” Nick announces that all that throwing up she’s doing is because she’s pregnant. For verily, like the ancient gods of yore, if thou hast unprotected sexual relations with a romance novel hero, thou whilst get child without fail.

At this point Nick’s partner busts through the door and they have a long chat with Charity about Vassily’s true identity. Charity finally shows some initiative and agrees to go in wired.

As a reviewer, I’m not supposed to give away the ending of a book. So I’m going to give you three endings. Only one of them is real, two are just ones I wish had happened. You get to guess.

Ending #1
Charity shows up at the event but Vassily and his goons forget to frisk her. Charity busts a move and uses her vast arsenal supply to take down all the goons. She holds the nuclear canister for ransom until Nick’s people agree to pay. She runs away to an Eastern martial arts training school and she and her daughter train as ninjas. They later devote their lives to taking down rapists, perverts, and other assorted scum.

Ending #2
Charity goes in wired and Nick and his pals get all the information they need and head inside to rescue her. The FBI swat team busts in, but unable to figure out who is the a-hole they want, they arrest both Vassily and Nick. Both men are sent to prison, where out of boredom they take a correspondence course in feminism. When they finally get out, they decide to invest their riches in helping female African AIDS victims. Meanwhile, Charity decides she doesn’t want to have some idiot’s child, gets an abortion, and finally obtains her librarian degree at a Master’s level. She ends up as a rural bookmobile driver, where she meets a kindly rancher whom she teaches to read and they end up getting married.

Ending #3
Charity goes to Vassily’s and discovers he’s gone insane and really thinks she is Katya. The contact he’s meeting has an anti-counter surveillance device, which goes off as soon as Charity enters the room and Vassily throws himself in front of her, protecting her from the contact’s bullet. The swat team busts in and Nick goes hysterical thinking Charity’s dead. When he discovers she’s not, he sweeps her into his arms and announces they’re not leaving bed all week. Charity meekly replies, “yes, dear” like the spineless jellyfish she is. Nine months later they deliver a stropping baby boy who looks just like Nick and he weeps over having a wife he can control and a son he can use to further his patriarchal lunacy. The End.

If you can’t figure out what I thought of this book by now, please go back and reread this whole summary. You clearly weren’t paying attention!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An announcement

I know things have been quiet around here for awhile, but now that Austen season is over, stay tuned. There will be lots more reviews before the year is out, including one that I'm working on now that may even rival Yankee Mistress. I can't tell you exactly what I've got cooking, but you can be sure of some Christmas-themed romances in the near future. Now I just have to get spine-cracking and do some serious reading.

Persuasion

The title: Persuasion
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1818)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

Reading Persuasion is like having a comforting Thanksgiving dinner at home, which is good because I didn't get to experience that this year. You know exactly what to expect, so you can just sit back and enjoy the good wholesomeness.

Persuasion is the story of twenty-seven-year-old Anne Elliot, who in the Regency period is considered an old maid spinster. Eight years ago she had a brief but dazzling romance with a young navy man, but was persuaded by an older friend that the match would be imprudent. Now her family are in financial ruins and he's come back as Captain Wentworth, a well-respected and rising star in the navy and rich to boot. Oh, the thousands of Regency romances this plot has generated. Poor Anne, who has lost the bloom of her youth and must watch him court two silly relations instead!

If Captain Wentworth wasn't such a nice guy with a lot of sense (unlike some heroes I can think of, Edmund) this story could have been painfully awful. But Anne isn't entirely a shrinking violet and it's wonderful to watch as his presence makes her regain her sparkle. He doesn't realize it because he's still angry with her, but his attraction to her is still powerful: carefully read the scene where he's taking her nephew from her and watch the electricity almost fly off the page. One of the great things that Jane Austen does is contrast their seemingly indifferent feelings for each other with the way they listen intently, almost breathlessly, to each other's conversations in the hopes they might understand each other's feelings. When it finally begins to dawn on them that they are still in love, it's a profound moment. I defy any woman to read Captain Wentworth's letter to Anne in which he pours out his feelings at last - you pierce my soul - without feeling her heart break in a good way. Anybody who isn't touched by this second-chance love story must have concrete in their veins.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Northanger Abbey

The title: Northanger Abbey
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1817)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

This month's Austen is Northanger Abbey, a witty satire of Gothic romances. Excluding Persuasion, which I haven't read yet, this is my second favourite of Austen's. It's not as depressing as Mansfield Park, as preachy as Sense and Sensibility or as overlong as Emma. It's the perfect blend of brevity, humor and romance.

Northanger Abbey delivers the youngest heroine yet, seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland, a heroine as likable as any of any of Austen's, who as a child "loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house." Catherine grows up and develops an addiction to Gothic romances. She's incredibly naive about the ways of the world and goes off to Bath with her friends the Allens full of romantic ideas and no clue how to spot untrustworthy people. She becomes entangled with two families: the scheming Thorpes and the kind Tilneys. Isabella Thorpe pretends to be Catherine's good friend and tries to snare Catherine's brother because she assumes they're rich; Isabella's brother John is arguably the biggest blowhard in literature and courts Catherine for similar reasons as his sister.

In contrast, Eleanor Tilney shows herself to be true friend and brother Henry Tilney tries to guide Catherine to good sense while flirting shamelessly with her. I won't assert that he's more appealing than Darcy, as some people do, but I think he could have been if the book was longer and he'd shown up more in the narrative. I particularly love the scene where Henry gets carried away teasing Catherine about all the horrors she'll encounter at the abbey. He actually ends up amusing himself so much he can't stop laughing. Those of you who know my husband will understand why I like Henry so much.

It's hard to believe Northanger Abbey was written over two hundred years ago. Considering the current teenage girl mania for vampires, I'd say this book is more relevant than ever.

The Lost Symbol

The title: The Lost Symbol
The author: Dan Brown
Publication: Random House, 2009
Got it from: Library

Oddly enough, today I will be reviewing two very different books with a heroine named C/Katherine, which is of course my own name. Actually, now that I think about it, these two books may have something in common. If Catherine Morland were living today, she would no doubt read Dan Brown and let her imagination run wild with conspiracy theories.

I must preface this by saying that I'm not in the Dan Brown hateration camp. No, he's not Shakespeare, but his books are fun so I don't complain. His style of writing doesn't annoy me and that's all I care about. I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code for those interesting historical tidbits that made me think differently about certain pieces of art. Are some/any of the ideas put forth in the book true? Possibly. Do I care? No.

I read The Lost Symbol with a mixture of feelings. The book was a definite page-turner. The formula was very similar to Da Vinci Code: short chapters, lots of cliffhangers, back-and-forth action that built up suspense. The hero, Robert Langdon, is summoned to Washington, supposedly to deliver a speech but really to play puppet to the whims of a psychotic, tattooed baddie natmed Mal'akh. Langdon arrives at the Capitol building only to discover he severed hand of his friend Peter Solomon (a powerful Mason) bearing cryptic tattoos. The CIA show up insisting that Langdon is the only person who can solve this. A Masonic friend of Peter's shows up, as well as Peter's sister Katherine and the three Scooby gang members must outrun the CIA while solving mysteries from their van running around Washington deciphering clues.

Mal'akh, the resident baddie, is very similar to Silas the albino monk from The Da Vinci Code. The problem is you can figure out his identity a hundred pages in and it's supposed to be a big reveal at the end. He kills indiscriminately, natch, but of course it ends up mostly being women. I'm still pissed at the death of Katherine's lab assistant, Trish, because Brown keeps referring to her as "overweight" and gives her a particularly gruesome death which nobody seems to care about. There's a genuinely scary scene where Mal'akh chases Katherine around a blacked-out room the size of a football field, but the thrills pretty much end here.

The rest of the book is overly long and stuffed with needless exposition. The ending falls completely flat and no real secrets are revealed. There's a lot of talk about science and mysticism that seems like it's lifted straight out of The Secret (are Dan Brown and Rhonda Byrne related?) I was really looking forward to learning interesting secrets about the founding fathers and Washington's history, but I was sorely disappointed here. Besides a passing mention, Washington, Franklin and the boys are barely here at all. Not knowing Washington very well, I could have used a map of the key locations too.

My other major beef with this book are the characters. Mal'akh is so purely evil, he seems more like a graduate of the Jack the Ripper Academy of Insanity than a real person. Katherine Solomon's personality is never revealed except for her love of her work and her brother. Robert Langdon remains as boring as yesterday's dried toast. Does this guy do anything besides swim, make coffee and study symbology? The only character that inspired a glimmer of interest in me was Peter Solomon, who remained something of an enigma throughout the book. Smart, funny, powerful, handsome and rich as all get out? Make him about thirty years younger and I'd go for that.

Bottom line: if you're going to read one Dan Brown book, skip this one and stick with The Da Vinci Code.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Midsummer's Magic

The title: A Midsummer's Magic
The author: Mary Chase Comstock
Publication: Zebra, 1994
Got it from: DC, Xmas 2006

You know, for 217 pages, there's an awful lot going on in this book. The best way I can think to describe this is a mash-up of Jane Austen, Harry Potter and (naturally) A Midsummer Night's Dream. There are at least three couples in this book, as well as various interfering interlopers, but surprisingly it never seems to get overwhelming.

Are you ready to follow? Good. The story opens with two bratty kids being sent off to their mysterious aunt's in Cornwall. Brat #1 is a mischievous little boy, Brat #2 is a petulant sixteen-year-old girl who's recently been crossed in love. There's also some side story involving their nurse, who is a bit wackaloo crazy and "a-feered" of the ghosties of Cornwall.

Meanwhile, in Cornwall, Aunt Hippolyta (aka Polly) feels a shudder of foreboding. Polly, I might add, is a wrinkled old woman of twenty-seven, a magician, and the widow* of a very powerful wizard. What is this foreboding she senses? Oh, it's just that wacky niece and nephew of hers. Add them to the strange crew that's already assembled at her house for reasons I can't recall. There's her stepson, Edward. There's Lady Bristlethwaite and her two stepdaughters, who keep making goo-goo eyes at Edward. There's old Sir Geoffrey Mimms, who has a thing for Lady Bristlethwaite. And then there's Julian St. Ives (that's him holding the raven on the cover) who is studying magic while waiting for his great-uncle to die. Naturally, Julian is completely besotted with Aunt Polly and finds her absent-minded ways utterly charming.

What happens next are the usual shenanigans: the nephew becomes invisible, the niece and Edward flirt with each other and she dances with the fairies at midsummer, Sir Geoffrey attempts to break a family curse, some scowling and cape-twirling villain shows up and is easily dispatched with, everybody drinks punch and falls in love with the wrong person, etc. etc.

This is exactly the sort of silly book I shouldn't love but do anyway. I enjoyed it through and through. The plot was so thin you could break it with a fork, the characters were absolute caricatures and so much was left out I thought I'd only read the middle of a much larger book. But it was such good fun!

Q: Does Aunt Polly actually wear the dress on the cover in the book, or did some artist just put it there because it looks like what a lady magician would wear?
A: She actually does wear the dress in the book.

*Yep. She's a virgin widow, alright. The most dreaded character trope in Romancelandia. But it works here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Poisoned Season

The title: A Poisoned Season
The author: Tasha Alexander
Publication: HarperCollins, 2007
Got it from: TWBB, Toronto, April

This is the second book in the Lady Emily Ashton series, the first being And Only To Deceive, which I read and loved last summer. A Poisoned Season takes place the summer following the last novel's close. Emily has since returned from a holiday from her estate in Greece, undecided whether to accept the proposal of Colin Hargreaves, her late husband's best friend and spy for the royal crown. Meanwhile, a pompous gentleman has been making the rounds in London claiming to be a descendant of Marie Antoinette, and Emily has picked up a secret admirer who may be the thief stealing Marie Antoinette's property. Like every good British mystery, a murder occurs early on in the book and the victim's widow entrusts Emily with the task of solving it.

As usual, the charm of this series lies with the details of Victorian life. If you, like me, daydream about elegant balls, fancy dresses, tea parties, leisurely promenades and traveling the continent one art gallery at a time, you will not be disappointed. If you crave excitement, there's plenty of that too. The heroine is forever getting involved in dangerous situations that involve drugged wine, thieves in the night and attempted carriage overturnings.

Be warned, though: even if you've read the first book, the cast of characters in huge and difficult to keep track of. Thankfully there is a listing of them in the front of the book to help sort them out. Emily continues to be an enjoyable heroine. She only slightly borders on Mary Sue territory (another man in love with me? ho hum), but her intelligence and curiosity help redeem her.

Sadly, I will probably not be continuing on with this series. The except from book three at the back of this one did not seem like my cup of tea, and from the descriptions and reviews of the rest of the series I've read online, I don't think I would enjoy them all that much to put in the huge amount of concentration it takes to appreciate them. Still, I enjoyed these first two books and have already recommended them to others with very positive feedback.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The White Mare


The title:
The White Mare
The author: Jules Watson
Publication: Orion, 2004
Got it from: RH, August 2005

I finally got around to reading this book, four years after a friend gave it to me for my birthday. Four months and 600 pages later, I'm finally done.

Why did it take me so long to read this book? I kept picking it up, putting it down, picking it up, tossing it aside, and finally at the end saying, "to heck with this, let's just get this done."

I'm reluctant to say anything bad about this book. It's obvious that Jules Watson is a talented writer who did a lot of research and worked really hard to make this work. But to be honest, it was a bit like pulling teeth for me. The beginning was especially difficult for me to get through, since the two main characters are so unsympathetic. The heroine, Rhiann, is a Scottish priestess who has suffered a Big Bad Thing that she hasn't gotten over. I tried to feel for her, but she was so cold and angry for the first 3/4 of the book that I just got frustrated and wanted to yell at her to share her secret already. The hero is Eremon, an Irish prince who is wed to Rhiann to forge an alliance between their two peoples. Oh yes, and he spends most of the book sexxoring every woman except Rhiann. Their romance at the end seemed forced and I still can't understand what Rhiann sees in Eremon. He acts selfishly through most of the novel and comes across as a total ass.

The historical details were fine, but without a good romance the novel just fell apart for me. I wouldn't discourage anybody from reading this book, though. It just wasn't for me. I can't see myself reading the other two books in the trilogy, and I probably wouldn't have finished this one if it hadn't been given to me as a gift.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

The title: Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict
The author: Laurie Viera Rigler
Publication: Dutton, 2009
Got it from: The library

Back when I started this blog, I reviewed the book that came before this one, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. I gave that book a poor grade because I didn't care for the heroine. Luckily, I enjoyed this second outing much more.

In the first book, 21st century L.A. woman Courtney Stone time-travels back to Regency England in the body of one Jane Mansfield. In this book, Jane awakens in our time in Courtney's body. She gets to deal with all sorts of new and interesting things: hot showers, Facebook, TV, cars and Courtney's messed-up love life. I rather enjoy time-travel stories where people from the past get to see our world, rather than the other way around. Jane is a much more likable character than Courtney, and her Regency dialogue in modern-day L.A. is highly amusing. I zipped through this book in two days, anxiously hoping that Jane would get Courtney's love life sorted out.

*NEXT PARAGRAPH SOMEWHAT SPOILER-ISH*

My original complaint of neither Jane nor Courtney having interesting lives still holds, though I give points to Jane for having some backbone. My real complaint, however, is the ending. I really, really, REALLY* didn't like it. In my head, they returned to their own lives with the lessons they'd learned and applied it to their own times. Instead, we're left with ambiguity. What was the point of them switching and learning if they couldn't make it work in their own times? The ending just didn't work for me and left me with a sour feeling I'd have been better off without.

* I can't stress this enough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Emma

The title: Emma
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1815)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

And so August belongs to Emma. Austen once said that she had created a character that nobody would like, being such an insufferable snob. I must protest, and vindicate her. I cannot help but feel, given the same circumstances, that I would be just as snobbish. She lives in a narrow society, in a boring village, with nobody around who can equal her wit and vivacity and only Mr. Knightly her equal in intellect. After reading page after page of Miss Bates prattling on, who wouldn't get frustrated and be tempted to make a joke at her expense? After enduring Mrs. Elton's pretensions and selfishness, who wouldn't loathe her as much as Emma does? After putting up with years of praise of Jane Fairfax, and then receiving only coldness from the same lady, who wouldn't roll her eyes at the mere mention of her name? In short, Emma is a snob, but does it necessarily follow that snobbery is a bad thing?

As to the novel itself, I must give credit where credit is due. Nobody creates more memorable characters than Jane Austen, and nowhere does she do this better than in Emma. The trick, I think, lies in her ability to draw her caricatures from recognizable people. Mr. Woodhouse is a hoot in his self-inflicted infirmity and feebleness, but who hasn't known somebody who invents obstacles when there are none? Likewise, we all know people like Miss Bates, good-hearted and selfless to a fault but agony to be around because of their pointless chatter. It makes one shutter to think of all the nonesense Austen herself and other Regency ladies endured in the name of politeness.

I found the first part of Emma to be the best, with everything up until Mr. Elton's botched Christmas proposal just ducky. Unfortunately, it drags after Frank Churchill's arrival and I confess I found the book overly long and meandering in parts. However, the last few chapters picked up the pace and the book was finished with satisfaction.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Borrower of the Night (Vicky Bliss #1)


The title: Borrower of the Night
The author: Elizabeth Peters
Publication: HarperCollins, 1973
Got it from: Chapters

There have been few authors as consistently enjoyable for me as Elizabeth Peters. I am still working my way through the brilliant Amelia Peabody series, but a crazy notion (must be the August heat) had me reaching for Vicky Bliss instead. I'm sorry I haven't tried reading the Vicky Bliss series earlier. Vicky's no Amelia Peabody, but she's a pretty bad-ass modern counterpart.

Peters is the master of the romantic comedy mystery, no matter which era. As usual, the mystery is enjoyable but takes second place to the (sarcastic, wonderful, lovable) main characters. This book was written in 1973, but remains fresh 36 years later. Vicky is an American professor - tall, blonde, buxom and determined not to marry. Like Jacqueline Kirby, Peters' other droll heroine, Vicky flirts and spars with her male counterparts but rejects them all in favour of her independence at the end (though not without a bit of self pity. As she runs for help at the end of the novel, she muses in what may be one of the best paragraphs I've ever read: "I was sick. I was thirsty. I was all covered with dirt, and nobody loved me.") Supposedly she takes on a lover later in the series, someone more worthy of her. I can't wait.

The mystery feels a bit Agatha Christie-ish, with some Indiana Jones thrown in. Vicky and some of her university colleagues go to Germany in pursuit of long-lost shrine. A crumbling medieval castle plays a large role, as does the ubiquitous knife-wielding suit of armor. Of course it's all very silly, with moonlit chases in graveyards and fainting damsels, but I ain't complainin'. There's something comforting about a good mystery on a thunderstorming summer night (and we've had one every night for about a week). I am very much looking forward to reading more Vicky Bliss.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Stars

The title: Stars
The author: Kathryn Harvey
Publication: Avon, 1992
Got it from: Freemont Books

Stars follows the trials and tribulations of Phillipa Roberts, the long-lost twin sister of Beverly Highland, the heroine of the fantastic Butterfly. While Stars is by no means as good Butterfly, it has quickly become one of my favourite summertime reads. It was so delicious I could hardly put it down and could easily have read it in one sitting.

Warning: do not attempt to read the sequel until you've read the original first. So much of the plot hinges on the events of the first book, you'd be totally lost. The villain of the first book, the psychopathic Danny McKay, comes back from the dead and begins stalking the main character, whom he mistakes for her twin. Phillipa Roberts has become the head of a highly successful weight loss empire, and is almost as rich and powerful as her twin, who is now the owner of a posh resort called Star's. The plot follows a similar route as Butterfly, with the story of the main character's troubled childhood and rise to fame interspersed throughout present-day events.

There are two things I love very much about this book. One is the jumpy timeline, where the reader gets to guess who in the past is who in the present with a new identity. It's fun to guess right and watch the puzzle pieces fall into place. The other is that this story focuses almost solely on women's lives. The men never become more than passing romantic interests and are never called to rescue the women, who can fend for themselves, thankyouverymuch. In fact a lot of the story focuses on the love between older women/younger men, which is a complete turnaround from most romances of the day. In this and in Butterfly, the women hold all the power and control their own companies, and that's awesome.

In short, it's the perfect cracktastic summer read. The only jarring scenes belong to the villain, who's so creepy I could almost feel the slime coming off him. I almost wish he hadn't been in the book at all, there was plenty of conflict without him.

Four and a half Stars (heh) out of five.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Mansfield Park


The title: Mansfield Park
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1814)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

I finished this novel many moons ago, but have put off posting my review because, honestly...meh. I didn't really enjoy this book at all. I know it's popular to jump on the let's-hate-Mansfield Park bandwagon, but I'm going to do it anyway.

This book is so unlike Austen's others, it's almost as if it's written by a different person. In fact, if I had to read it without knowing the author, I'd have said it was written by one of the Brontes. I hate the Brontes. Here is the summation of the plot: mousy heroine goes to live with rich relatives, and everyone treats her like s--t. Her cousin Edmund is kind of nice to her, but acts like an idiot the entire plot because he is lust with an Evil Harlot. Everyone treats heroine like s--t for awhile, and then one nice thing happens to her, and then people treat her like s--t again. Every character acts immorally except for her, they all get their comeuppance, and the heroine finally gets her man fifty scrillion pages later. The End.

The book started out slowly and didn't get much better. Each character (all fifty) is introduced within the first few chapters, leading my head to spin and my mind to go, "wait, who now?" Also, there's pages of nothing but dialogue where the reader has no clue which of the ten people in the room is speaking.

Perhaps this wouldn't have bothered me to much if I had cared more about the main characters, but I thought they needed a good smacking like everyone else in this book. I felt equal parts exasperation and pity for Fanny, who certainly endures her share of abuse. I also think she has low self-esteem issues and needs to see a psychologist immediately. Edmund was the worse hero of a quasi-romance I've ever read. Even Heathcliff, my most loathed hero(?) ever, showed his passion for Catherine. All Edmund did was jerk Fanny around, spout about piety and waste his time dithering about Mary Crawford. In the end, all I could feel was revulsion over the thought of marrying such a weak man. (It didn't help that I was simultaneously watching the '99 version of Mansfield Park, where Edmund is played by Jonny Lee Miller, who I can't stand either. The movie is dreadful, by the way.)

I get the social commentary Jane Austen was trying to make here, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. Mean people + dull conversation does not a good book make. I wanted to spork my eyes out when one character spent an entire chapter blathering on about the renovations he wanted to do to his estate. I think I fell asleep about ten times reading this book in the sun room and once used it to cure late-night insomnia. I would have chucked it early on if I hadn't been determined to do this Austen project.

Thank heavens Emma is next. I need an eye bath to wash the acid out. It burns! It burns!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Update

Posting is rather spotty. Not because I'm on vacation (that'll be the day). No, I've actually been super busy at work and haven't had much time to read. This week I was actually working my way through five books, not one of them I could muster up more than a "meh" reaction for. So I ditched three of them, and I'd have ditched a fourth if it hadn't been given to me as a gift. Hopefully this means I'll be on to better things.

Ah, the life of a librarian. Instead of reading by the beach, you're stuck inside all day making crafts with eight-year-olds.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Bride Thief




The title: The Bride Thief
The author: Jaquie D'Alessandro
Publication: Bantam, 2002
Got it from: TWBB Toronto

Miss Samantha Briggeham is an on-the-shelf, spinster bluestocking who raises bees and loves science. She's 26 and determined not to get married, despite her mother arranging a marriage to a boring old man. What's a girl to do? Enter the Bride Thief, a man who steals brides who are forced into marriage and helps them set up a new life far, far away. One evening when Samantha is out collecting plants for her medicines, she's abducted by the Bride Thief. The only problem is that Sammie's already managed to get out of her marriage, and the Bride Thief has to do the unthinkable and return a stolen lassie.

If you know anything about the whole superhero/alter ego genre (and I know you do), you know that behind every masked man is someone who has been affected by tragedy. In this case, the Bride Thief (aka Eric, Earl of Wesley) had a sister who was forced into marriage with One Evil Dude, causing Eric much anguish and guilt and therefore driving him to save other women from the same fate. You'll also no doubt guess that Eric will start to fall in love with Samantha. She falls in love with him, too, not realizing his identity while continuing to profess her admiration for the Bride Thief.

This book bordered on the silly territory that Regencies tend to do, but that didn't mean I enjoyed it one iota less. Both the hero and heroine were wonderful characters and I found myself wishing I could read about their adventures after marriage, a sure sign of a good book. It kept my attention throughout, and there were some very exciting moments, such as Samantha's initial kidnapping and her attempt to help another reluctant bride, that made this book stand out for me. There were also some genuinely funny moments, too. Samantha's trying to get her sisters to tell her about birth control was a hoot, especially as she gets them drunk first. Actually, reading about birth control at all in a Regency book was interesting and I liked how Eric and Samantha were able to discuss it frankly. It showed that Samantha wasn't one of those annoying heroines who's supposed to be smart but continually does stupid things.

There were only a few things that bothered me about this book. Eric says, or thinks, "bloody hell!" approx. 1,435 times and it gets to be overkill - couldn't he use any other expression? Also, I didn't like how the ending got too emotionally intense when all the misunderstandings could have been resolved by them just confessing their feelings a little more. I also wish that Eric hadn't fallen in love with Samantha quite so quickly. I prefer a slower build-up.

Still...

29 Batman archetypes out of 30

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pride and Prejudice


The title: Pride and Prejudice
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1813)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

So if this were a normal review, right now I'd be telling you about the plot and what I liked/didn't like about the book. But this is me, and I ask you, when have I ever given you a boring review? So let's get the good stuff over with right away, shall we? Let's talk about MR. DARCY. I was thinking about this when I was reading P&P, and wondering if there was a woman in the world who didn't go insane for him upon reading this novel. I did try to steel myself against his charms. I tried to be all cynical and mature and weary of all the hype, but dang it! Austen just puts these clever romantic line in and I got all melty inside, like if I'd eaten cheese maybe you could have a fondue party over me.

[Just as an aside, I keep meaning to take notes when I read. Really, it would help me. I can never find what I'm looking for when I go to write my reviews.]

"no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, then he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes."

Yep, you're a goner, Darcy.*

"Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her."

Swoon.

"More than once did Elizabeth, in her ramble within the park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy. She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought, and, to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first that it was a favoourite haunt of hers. How it could occur a second time, therefore, was very odd!"

Love it.

And it goes on. Suffice to say, there has been much discussion as to why women love Mr. Darcy so much. He's rich and handsome, but so are other Austen heroes. Each reader gets to imagine Mr. Darcy in her own way (I know I did), but the same can be said for almost any romance novel hero. My theory is that if you combine all the factors (rich, hot, disdainful but secretly nice) and add them to the fact he falls in love with Lizzy despite his and everyone else's objections, that's powerful. Who isn't insanely jealous of Lizzy, who can make a man fall all over himself with lust just by being herself? It is the Ultimate Romantic Fantasy.

Yeah, there's other great stuff here too. Witty social commentary. Great characters - Mr. Bennett in particular always makes me laugh. Evocative descriptions of the English countryside. Emotional depth. But saying I read this book for these reasons would be like saying I watch Dr. Who for the science. If you catch my drift. And I think you do.

Fifty giddy stomach butterflies out of fifty.

*Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, calls this the "I don't wanna like you. I don't wanna love you. Damnit, I can't stop thinking about your hair!" phenomenon.

Jane Austen videos, Part 2

In honour of Pride and Prejudice, this video pretty much explains itself.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fantasy Lover

The title: Fantasy Lover
The author: Sherrilyn Kenyon
Publication: St. Martin's Press, 2002
Got it from: ?? an online store

I must be seriously out of it. I didn't know the first durn thing about Sherrilyn Kenyon until the patrons at my library started asking for her books like crazy. When I realized she'd written approximately 1,765 books and had a rabid fanbase, that caught my attention. When Fantasy Lover popped up on a "top five romances every librarian should recommend" list, I did a double-take. Hold the phone! A book about a half-mortal Macedonian warrior who is trapped in a book to be summoned as a love slave? How did I miss this?

Then I started reading it. (Research. For my job, you know). And all I could think of was, dang. This book is so good, I'll never be able to snark it now. I can't think of one bad thing to say about it. Yes, the premise involves one Julian of Macedon ("blessed by the gods, feared by mortals, and desired by all women who saw him") who does some bad things and is cursed to forever be a love slave. If the book had taken that part too seriously, it would have been so bad. Luckily, there was just enough humour to make the silliness downright believable.

Things I liked about the book:
The heroine, Grace, who summons Julian on a dare when she's drunk on her 29th birthday. Grace isn't drop-dead gorgeous, she's suffered in love and life, she's not that confident when it comes to men. But she's smart, funny and loveable, which is difficult to find in a heroine. Initially she thinks the whole thing is a joke, ("Come and ease my aching loins, O great Julian of Macedon") until she gets to know Julian and actually feels sorry for him.

Julian, himself. It's not easy to feel sorry for a guy who have women literally falling all over him, but Kenyon makes him just sympathetic enough to work. You want to talk about tortured heroes? This guy makes their pasts look like marshmallow fluff. Beaten, tortured, starved, unloved - that's our hero. Without this understanding, we as readers wouldn't understand why Grace's caring would make him fall in love with her.

The plot. Think there's lots of sex in it? Not even. Not to divulge too much here, but a central plot point revolves around how the two protagonists have to abstain for the duration of Julian's summoning. Of course they want each other bad, and the unresolved sexual tension creates many hilarious moments of frustration.

Finally, there's the normality mixed with the craziness. Julian and Grace go out for burgers, visit an aquarium, and learn to drive. They also converse with Greek gods who happen to hang out in restaurants and on the beach. Dude, that would be so awesome! "This party sucks, let's summon Bacchus for some good times." I'm such a fan of magic realism, and I loooooove the Greek gods, so this book was perfect for me.

Rating: eight Macedonian love slaves out of ten, and an Eros to go

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jane Austen videos,Part 1

As a bonus, I'll be posting some of my favourite Jane Austen-related videos with each of my Jane Austen book reviews. This one comes courtesy of the BBC comedy show Dead Ringers and is particularly apt, given Alan Rickman had such a memorable role as Col. Brandon in the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility.


Sense and Sensibility





The title: Sense and Sensibility
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1811)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

Whenever anyone asked, "Do you love Jane Austen?" I would reply, "Of course!" I have, after all, seen all the movies. Often more than once, some more than four, five, six times. As for the books...

Crickets chirping.

Oh, dear. Herein lies my shameful secret. I do recall (vaguely) starting to read Sense and Sensibility around the age of 14, at least halfway completing Emma around 15, and reading the entirety of Pride and Prejudice when I was 18. That's it. For as much as I love the movies, as much as I love Regency romances, I haven't actually...you know...read the books themselves.

So this summer, I'm out to change that. Picking up the hefty, thin-papered, fine-printed Complete Jane Austen my mom gave me eons ago, I'm going to read my way through the books. One a month, just like the Jane Austen Book Club.

May's selection (going in the order in which they are printed in my set) is Sense and Sensibility. This is an interesting place to start with me, because of all the JA movies Emma Thompson's 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility is the one I've seen the most. I estimate at least ten times, maybe more. It is also the first Austen ever wrote, with an early draft completed at the age of 19 in 1795. I've heard from various people that it's not her best work; it suffers in comparison to her later, great novels.

As I was reading, I was struck by two things. The first was that I was going to be picturing the actors from the 1995 movie in my head, even hearing them say their lines. Which is a shame, because I didn't get to see the characters the way I wanted to, from my imagination. The other is that I really enjoy Austen's writing. I definitely appreciate it more than I did during my brief readings as a teenager. In particular, her sarcasm is a hoot. She can really make some characters so memorable, so annoying and so obsequious with just one well-placed line. And with Austen, it's all about the characters.

I won't bother summarizing the plot, because it's so well-known, and can be found just about anywhere. Rather, I will say how much I enjoyed visiting these characters a little bit each night before I went to sleep. At first, I wanted to give some of them a hearty smacking. Particularly Marianne, when she talks about how a woman of seven-and-twenty could never hope of securing any man's affections, but also, later, Elinor for not standing up for herself. As the characters grow and learn, it's that much more rewarding. When they suffer terrible blows, it's that much more satisfying when it all works out in the end.

I'm looking very much forward to seeing Austen's writing develop even more and her stories become even more entertaining.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Penderwicks

The title: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy
The author: Jeanne Birdsall
Publication: Alfred A. Knopf
Got it from: La Library

I've just finished reading this book and it reminds me a lot of those old-fashioned kids' books I used to read over the summer holidays. There's a few references to modern things like computers, but other than that it could easily take place in the 1950's. It concerns four sisters: Rosalind, the oldest and mothering one; Skye, the brainy, math-loving and temperamental sister; Jane, who's forever composing stories in her head and loves soccer; and Batty, whose name pretty much describes her personality (she's always wearing butterfly wings).

In this adventure, their father takes them to the Berkshire Mountains for a three-week holiday (their mother is dead, natch) and they end up befriending the rich, lonely boy whose family owns the estate their cottage is on. Cue various wholesome adventures, including catching runaway rabbits and shooting arrows at cardboard cutouts of their enemies. There's more than a hint of homage to the first few chapters of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Rosalind's unrequited crush on a local teenage boy reads almost exactly like that of Nora's in Kit Pearson's brilliant Looking at the Moon (complete with the dramatic heartbreak scene). If you like your summer days filled with nostalgic fun and your villains literally mustache-twirling, you could do a lot worse than this.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ransom My Heart

The title: Ransom My Heart
The author: Princess of Genovia Mia Thermopolis (aka Meg Cabot)
Publication: HarperCollins, 2009
Got it from: Amazon

He's a tall, handsome knight with a secret.

She's an adventurous beauty with more than a few secrets of her own.

Finnula needs money for her sister's dowry, and fast. Hugo Fitzstephen, Earl of Stephensgate, returning home from England from the Crusades, has money, saddlebags of gold and jewels, and lots of it. What could be simpler than to kidnap him and hold him for ransom? Especially when he's more than willing to allow himself to be caught by such a winsome captor.

This is the romance novel that Princess Mia wrote for her senior year project. I don't think I'm giving away any secrets by telling you that at the end of the last novel, she gets it accepted for publication. Meg Cabot has quite the task set out for her: to write a romance novel in the voice of her own 17-year-old character. Fortunately she's up to the challenge. Ransom My Heart reads exactly like it came from a 17-year-old who's done her homework and has a good editor.

Here's the deal: if you're the sort of person who gets upset at historical inaccuracies and blanches at medieval characters telling each other to shut up, you should probably skip this. But if you're willing to overlook the pure silliness of the whole thing, the story is quite entertaining and should amuse. Forsooth!

Rating: seven bliauts out of ten (would someone please explain what the heck a bliaut is??)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Good Girls Don't

The title: Good Girls Don't
The author: Kelley St. John
Publication: Warner Forever, 2005
Got it from: WBBS, Toronto

If you're into romances that have strong side characters with romances of their own, you've come to the right book. Colette Campbell, a former cheerleader, is now working for My Alibi, a company that provides cheating spouses with alibis. When her sister Amy begs Colette to cover for a friend, Colette agrees. Amy's friend is only eighteen and doesn't want her overprotective uncle to find out she's run off with a biker dude. Only problem is, the uncle turns out to be Colette's best friend from high school...and the guy who's been in love with her forever. He sets out to woo Colette, and she has major angst as she finds herself having to lie while falling in love with him. Meanwhile, sister Amy has problems of her own. She's having trouble coming up with new ideas for the sex toy company she works for. Sexy co-worker Landon Brooks may be just what she needs to "inspire" her. Meanwhile, Bill's neice Erika is discovering that her biker guy isn't so nice after all, and there's this new guy who seems more than a little interested...

If you've read Kelley St. John before, you know you can always expect at least two things from her books: lots of sex in strange locations and a catchphrase that gets repeated over and over again. The characters in this book say "have mercy!" enough times to put Uncle Jesse to shame (well, Uncle Jesse never did it at an amusement park before...I hope). Her books tend to be thin on plot but strong on character, which buoys them up from being standard beach reads. Although the characters may do strange things like lie for a living and make sex toys, they're good people at heart so it's hard for me to banish them to the realm of awful chick lit. While it may not be memorable, Good Girls Don't is cute, fun and lighthearted.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

112th post spectacular: or; Forever Princess

The title: Forever Princess
The author: Meg Cabot
Publication: HarperCollins, 2009
Got it from: Amazon

This is the tenth and final book in the Princess Diaries series (except for "Mia's" romance novel, which I will get around to reading...eventually. I swear.) Mia is graduating from high school, and there's a lot going on. She's been dating J.P. for almost two years, she has to decide which college she wants to go to, it's her eighteenth birthday, Michael is returning from Japan, Lilly still won't speak to her, she's in therapy...oh, the drama. Not to mention she's been writing a romance novel for her senior project, which she wants to get published.

While I'm sad the series is ending, in some ways I'm kind of ready for it. It's hard to believe, but when this series started getting published, I actually was the age Mia is in the final book (eighteen). Weird, I know. It seemed like in the earlier books, I understood her more. But now, what with the text messaging and Blackberries and cell phones...geesh, I guess I just don't get teenagers these days (shakes head mournfully). When I was in high school, nobody had a cell phone. Passing notes was way more fun, because you could draw cartoons on them. Not that I ever wrote notes when I should have been paying attention. Moving on...

Of course, this being Meg Cabot, I plowed through in three days because you just can't put down a Meg Cabot book. Were some things resolved? Yes, of course. I'd still like to know if there was something going on between Grandmere and Dr. Knutz, the psychologist - I totally think there was. I'm not a big J.P. fan anymore, but I'm still not on the Michael bandwagon either. Sure, he comes back from Japan rich and buff and smelling so good. I just don't think he had much of a personality.

Was it good? Yes. Does it matter what I say, because if you're reading this book you probably love the series anyway? Probably not.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Princess Mia

The title: Princess Mia
The author: Meg Cabot
Publication: HarperCollins, 2008
Got it from: Amazon?

Alright, I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Toronto (where I got FIVE new romances, yipee!) and my brain still hurts from seeing so many emaciated teenagers in skinny jeans hanging around the Eaton Centre. So I'ma gonna make this short and sweet.

Michael has broken up with Mia. This is not a spoiler, it happens at the beginning of the book. Mia has a mental breakdown and refuses to leave her room or shower for about a week. So her dad takes her to this cowboy psychologist named Dr. Knutz. There, Mia discloses that her Meyers-Brigg type is INFJ. I mention this only because I am an INFJ, and we're the rarest of the sixteen types. Go us! J.P. also reveals his love right before he saves her life in a dramatic and highly romantic way. Also, Lana stops being evil and actually befriends Mia (!) It's like the world has turned upside down or something.

On to book ten, the final installment! Oooohhh....

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sex with the Queen

The title: Sex with the Queen: Nine Hundred Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics
The author: Eleanor Herman
Publication:HarperCollins, 2006
Got it from: Talking Leaves Buffalo

Things I have learned from reading Sex with the Queen:

1. It's better to be a queen in your own right than just a queen consort.

Examples: Look at poor Anne Boleyn. She got her head cut off for adultery and she wasn't even doing it. Catherine the Great, on the other hand, may have had more lovers than any woman in history and everyone thought that was just great.

2. If you're having an arranged marriage to a prince or a king, check him out first. If everyone refuses to let you see him before the wedding, nine times out of ten it's because he's insane, feeble, impotent, obese, gay or some combination of the above.

Examples: just about all of them.

3. If your husband-king is hated by his people for being ineffectual, it's totally cool to have an affair with a guy who's more effectual. Your people will love you for it.

Example: Maria Francesca of Savoy, Queen of Portugal, was married to the incompetent, impotent and obese King Alfonso. So she did what any normal woman would do: she had an affair with his sexy younger brother Pedro. They all lived happily ever after, with Maria and Pedro ruling the country and Alfonso growing so fat they had to roll him down the hallway.

4. If you're a Russian peasant family living in the eighteenth century, send your handsome young sons to the court of Catherine the Great. If they can perform, your family will never be poor again.

Examples: Sergei Saltikov, Stanislaus Poniatowski, Gregory Orlov, Alexander Vasilchikov, Gregory Potemkin, Peter Zavadovsky, Ivan Korsakov...and so on and so on.

It's just like Degrassi!; or Princess on the Brink

The title: Princess on the Brink
The author: Meg Cabot
Publication:HarperCollins, 2007
Got it from: The Book Depot

I don't want to upset anyone, but things in this book get serrrrious.

Why else would there be (gasp!) no lists?

Michael tells Mia he is moving to Japan, to work on a robotic arm that will help doctors perform closed-heart surgery. Mia is, of course, devastated. So she decides that in order to convince him to stay, she will give up her Precious Gift, aka her virginity, to him.

Sound the alarms! A teenager is thinking about having sex with her boyfriend! Yes, that's why people tried to ban this book.

I don't wanna tell you how it ends, but it's NOT GOOD. Michael, as I have said all along, is still a jerk. I'm beginning to think J.P. is too, but I still like him better than Michael.

Here's hoping things get better in the next one. But I know they won't, because I've already started reading it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

As You Desire


The title:
As You Desire
The author: Connie Brockway
Publication: Dell, 1997
Got it from: Powells

As you may recall, I recently reviewed Bridal Favors by Connie Brockway, which so far is leading contender for my favourite book this year. I was excited to get a copy of As You Desire, because it tops many people's best-of-romance list and is supposed to be extremely funny. Plus, it's set in Victorian Egypt. What's not to love?

Unfortunately, I think I may be the only person on the entire planet who didn't love this book. I can see why other people would like it, but it just didn't do it for me. For one thing, the heroine was wayyyy too Mary Sue-ish. Even her name - Desdemona, or "Dizzy," smacks of Disney Princess. She's young, naturally, and can read twelve different languages. She's a genius, don't you know? And so beautiful, men fall all over themselves to get near her. I actually put the book down and started making gagging noises during the scene where Desdemona walks into a restaurant and -

Well, let the passage speak for itself:

"I say," Lord Ravenscroft suddenlybreathed, "Now, there is a treasure worth coveting. Have you ever seen such a piece of tiny, golden perfection?"

...Marta followed the direction of everyone's gaze to where Miss Carlisle's progress through the room was marked by a wave of men scurrying to their feet as she passed.

OH COME ON. I can tolerate that sort of nonsense in the heroine's rival, but the heroine herself? Please. Whatever happened to the heroine who is only beautiful to the man who loves her? Yes, men fall all over me when I can walk into a room, too, so I can really relate. Not.

Many women read romances for the hero, but in this case I found Harry to be - meh. Okay, so he's a spy. He has a learning disability that makes him tormented and brooding. He is also completely in love with the heroine before the story even starts, so where's the tension? Actually, they're both crazy about each other, they just can't admit it. I much prefer the slow realization of love rather than the will-they-or-won't-they stories. It would have been so much better if Harry hadn't been completely smitten from the beginning.

Honestly, I just couldn't get into this book. It took me forever to read because I just wasn't feeling it. (I can't wait for all the comments of 'but this is my favourite book ever and you ruined it you stupid harpy!') The ending was a little less annoying than the rest of the book, but by then it was far too late for me to love it.

I give As You Desire two stolen Egyptian papyruses out of five.