Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Lady's Book of Manners

The title: The Lady's Book of Manners or Etiquette; Showing How to Become the Perfect Lady: Also Containing Love, Courtship, and Marriage; How to Talk Correctly; Polite and Accurate Conversation and Pronunciation; Common Errors Corrected; How to Read; And a Guide to the Art of Composition and Punctuation
The author: Professor Duncan
Publication: London: William Nicholson and Sons, c.1890
Got it from: JL, Christmas past

This book purports to be a book of manners for women, but it actually contains a lot of advice for men. This leads me to be suspicious that the content of this book and The Gentleman's Book of Manners, advertised within, vary little.

The only way I could properly review this book is by taking notes of things that interested or amused me within, which I will quote here with commentary.

This book was written by someone who calls himself "Professor Duncan." Let's see how his advice stacks up 120 years later.

"To keep clean you must bathe frequently."
I do!

"All washings with soapy or warm water should be followed by a thorough rinsing with pure cold water."
I think the professor has a weird obsession with cold water, as he pimps this book called "Hydrotherapy, or the Cold Water Cure," in the books to read section. I'm fairly certain modern science would agree with me that cold water is not the cure-all.
Professor Duncan: 0; Me: 1.

"Keep the nails smoothly and evenly cut."

The Professor recommends soap for one's toothbrush: "beware of teeth powders, teeth-washes, and the like...if any tooth-powder is required, pure powdered charcoal is the best thing you can procure."
9 out of ten dentists disagree.
Professor Duncan: 0; Modern dentistry: 1

"neglecting hair makes it fall out."
Sorry, no.

"don't sit next to the fire, it is poison carbonic acid gas."
Later, he says the elderly should always be offered the seats next to the fire. Heh.

Spend "four or five hours per day in the open air."
He probably has a point.
Professor Duncan: 1; Me: 1.

"Onions emit so very disagreeable an odour that no truly polite person will eat them."
Professor Duncan: 2; Me: 1.

Advises against bad introductions: "you confer no favour on us, and only a nominal one on the person presented, by making us acquainted with one whom, perhaps, we do not desire to know."
Yeah! You said it!

"No gentleman should be presented to a lady without her permission being previously obtained."
If only. If only.

Introduce you wife as "simply Mrs. Jones."
Can I be Mrs. Smith instead?

"Do not proffer your hand to a gentleman."
Especially if he is holding a knife.

"Should you have cause to avoid the company of any one to whom you have been properly introduced, be respectful towards him, while at the same time you may shun his society."
I did it because the professor said it was okay.

"When tripping over the pavement a lady should gracefully raise her dress a little above her ankle."
When I trip, that happens anyway.

"the morning call should be made between two and four p.m. in the winter, and two and five in summer."
Wow, I was way off base about when a morning call happened.

"young married ladies may not appear in any public place unattended by their husband or elder ladies. This rule must not be infringed, in visiting exhibitions, public libraries, museums or promenades."
I am a bad woman. I attend exhibitions, visit libraries and museums and promenade alone flagrantly. What a hussy.

"Gentlemen are permitted to call on married ladies at their own houses; but never without the knowledge and permission of their husbands."
Eduardo was sad when I told him he had to leave.

"ladies should make morning calls in an elegant and simple neglige."
Wow, I was WAY off base about what went on in morning calls.

Pages 49-52 are cut out. Perhaps they illustrated ankles shown while promenading.

"read, then, as much as carefully as you can on all subjects of general interest, with a view to store up and use in conversation the information you may acquire."
Nobody could accuse me of neglecting this, at least.

"immoderate laughter is exceedingly unbecoming in a lady: she may effect the dimple or smile, but should carefully avoid any approximation to a horse-laugh."
Sorry, I snort, deal with it.

"it is a wide stretch above prudence to take a husband who is either much above or much below her rank."
Then why are stableboy romances so popular, huh?

"for a stylish weddings, the lady requires a bridegroom, two bridesmaids, two groomsmen, and a minister or registrar"
Whew! It's a good thing he mentioned the groom or many ladies would have tried to get married without one.

"is not the wife more, and better, and dearer than the sweetheart? We venture to hint that it is probably your own fault if she is not."
You go, girlfriend!

"[the wife's] home, whether a palace or a cottage, is the very centre of her being, the nucleus around which her affections should revolve, and beyond which she has comparatively small concern."
The note in my margin says: forget you! But I'll leave the last word to the ORLY? owl:

"dress for his eye more scrupulously than for all the rest of the world; make yourself and your home beautiful for his sake; play and sing (if you can) to please him; try to beguile him from his cares; retain his affections in the same way you won them, and - be polite even to your husband."
I love how they assume that the last person you would be polite to is your husband.

"bad cooking may have a very unhappy influence on the mind of your husband, and tempted him some times to visit the Dining Rooms."
Like the time the pizza slid into the oven and we had to get burgers instead. I hang my head in shame.

The last 119 pages concern grammar and how to talk correctly, but I didn't take any notes because it made me sleepy.


I'm not usually a reader of Harlequin, but even I was excited by the promotion being given by the company in honour of their 60th anniversary: 16 free ebooks! I don't have an ebook reader, but I can still read them on my computer thanks to the glory of pdf. They took literally 5 seconds to download each. I'm thrilled to boots. They had secret baby twins! And NASCAR!

Yes, you will be subjected to reviews here. Don't think you won't!

In the meantime, I'm still laughing over the list of top ten ebooks sold at Harlequin this week.

1. The M.D.'s Mistress (not bad, but a bit of a tonge twister)
2. The Prince's Waitress Wife (the tabloids will be all over you, honey)
3. The C.O.O. Must Marry (or die!!!) (What the freak is a C.O.O.?)
4. Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire's Pleasure (I frequently add that to my resume between Researcher: Hired for the Museum's Desires and Librarian: Hired for Checking Stuff In)
5. Mediterranean Boss, Convenient Mistress (there's that billionaire tycoon/secretary mistress plot. Again.)
6. The Boss's Bedroom Agenda (#1. Discuss sales figures. #2. Hot monkey sex.)
7. Desert Prince, Defiant Virgin (the plot of every shiek romance since Valentino. Don't worry, we know the virgin part will last until chapter five.)
Wait! I had to find out more:
"Beige-wearing, bespectacled Molly James is certainly not the kind of woman he usually beds. But Tair is outraged to be told that dowdy Molly is actually a seductress in disguise! She needs to be stopped! Taking her as a captive to the desert, he discovers this Miss Mouse is innocent—in every way. Now Tair wants her…as his bride!"
OMGWTFBBQ??? This rocks my world! I have to find a copy of this book!
8. Her Ruthless Italian Boss. (I've been to Italy. I've seen Italian men. The only thing that's ruthless is the tightness of their pants.)
9. Tempted into the Tycoon's Trap. (Oh no, Scooby! This looks like a trap!)
10. The Spanish Billionaire's Pregnant Wife. (Another waitress makes it with a rich boy and has his behbeh. Yes, I looked. That is the plot.)
The Professor's Convenient Sassy Librarian Wife. (I made that one up. That would be the title of the Harlequin starring me. I'm already writing the cover copy:
She stared at his books. Mountains and mountains of books. She ran her hand sensually up the book's spine. Took it off the shelf, caressed its cover. The smell, the feel of it overwhelmed her. She was struck by the dizzying realization that she was in lust with his pages.)

Alright, I'll desist. Taking cheap shots at Harlequin is too easy. I kid because secretly love.

Monday, January 26, 2009

It Happened One Night

The title: It Happened One Night
The author: Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D'Alessandro, Candice Hern
Publication: Avon, 2008
Got it from: Borders Buffalo

I bought this book on a whim because I liked the cover and the premise. Each of the four authors, well-known Regency writers, decided to write the same basic plot and see how it turned out differently. The plot: a man and a woman who've had some sort of relationship meet ten years later for a 24-hour period at an inn. Each author chose a different season to set it in.

Many people don't like anthologies because it doesn't give the characters time to develop a proper relationship. In this case, the problem is partially solved by giving the protagonists a shared history. (Plus, I actually like the short story format for romance because I don't like drawn-out angst and ridiculous subplots that seem like just filler). It's easy to see that these stories were written by professionals as the pacing and dialogue were superb.

Here's a breakdown of the stories:

The Fall of Rogue Gerrard by Stephanie Laurens

Lydia and Ro shared a passionate kiss when they were teenagers and he still hasn't gotten her out of his mind ten years later, even though he's a Duke of Slut, albeit a reformed one. They meet at an inn where Lydia is trying to retrieve a scandalous letter from a nearby "house party" (read: humpathon). Ro, who knows the host, is horrified that his precious virginal Lydia would see such scandalous goings-on and hatches a plan to pretend she's his mistress so they can snoop around the house.

This is definitely the most lighthearted of the bunch and there were some very funny moments. Overall, though, there was something squicky about the way Lydia was pretending to be Ro's mistress. She decides to throw caution into the wind and really play the part. Ro's uncomfortability with this underscores his past; he's okay with treating low women this way but not so much when the woman is "quality." Most Regencies have rakes as the hero, but as I've mentioned before I don't like having a whoring past rubbed in my face as a reader. Here, it definitely did.

Spellbound by Mary Balogh

Richard is involved in a carriage accident with a stagecoach and is stranded at a small town inn. By coincidence one of the passengers is his wife, Nora. They had eloped while very young and were separated the morning after their wedding by a big misunderstanding. Naturally a spring day in a small village will soften the hardest of hearts.

This story was very sweet, if not very memorable. (I should know. I read it in November and had to go back and skim-read it for this review). I really love the concept of a married couple being reunited after many years and finding they still love each other. The heroine had plenty of spunk and the hero was a sweetie. Fluffy bunnies for everyone!

Only You by Jacquie D'Alessandro (curse you and your impossible-to-spell name!)

Ethan was the stableboy at her father's estate. Cassie was his best friend. He loved her, she was too high above him and was devastated when she was married off to a rich old jerk. So he went off into the army, made some money and started an inn. Then along comes widow Cassie ten years later and lo and behold, they still want each other bad.

This was my favourite of the four. I made the mistake of reading reviews online and everyone seemed to despise this one the most. I say desist, all you haters! Anyone who doesn't love the stableboy who makes good to win the heart of his love and remains true to her after ten years is a hard-hearted wench. What's wrong, was Ethan not rogue enough for you? Did visions of The Great Gatsby cloud your judgement? Some people said that Cassie's abusive husband seemed contrived. In its defense, I would say that it probably happened in the Regency period, particularly with arranged marriages, more than people are comfortable with. I love how when Ethan finds out about it, he's all horrified and protective. Swoon. Excuse me while I adjust my corset.

From the Moment on by Candice Hern (nuts to you for getting that hideous Shania Twain song stuck in my head)

Sam, who is a captain of a ship, meets Willie, this former love of his life and a widowed duchess at an inn during a rainstorm. See, they were supposed to be married a long time ago when he got captured by a press gang and was forced to join the navy. The only thing that keeps him going in the memory of the night they had rolling around in her hayloft. Willie gets kicked out of her house (gee, whoever can guess the secret why?) and is forced to become a courtesan. They meet several times over the next few years. He's angry and bewildered that she chose such a life and she hates that he looks down on her.

Wow, people really didn't like this story. They say it's because they don't like how the heroine slept with so many men, but I'm guessing it's more to do with the fact she has no regrets whatsoever about her lifestyle. She was the high-priced courtesan of many wealthy and powerful men, her life was far better than it would be if she had been a common prostitute. Heck, she even marries one of the men and becomes a duchess. That, I didn't have a problem with. Also, people were horrified at the fact that the protagonists were over forty. Oh noes! How dare they not be young and ripe and virginal? I liked this story because it was different. No, it didn't "do it for me" (as one angry reader complained) but it was an unusual love story and I have to give props to the author for going out on a limb.

Friday, January 23, 2009

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Twilight and New Moon

The titles: Twilight and New Moon
The author: Stephanie Meyer
Publication: Little, Brown and Company, 2005 and 2006
Got it from: LC

It was inevitable that as soon as I swore I would never read this series, somebody would loan it to me with the exclamation that I would just love it. So over the past ten days I have been busy working my way through the 1,061 pages that compromise Twilight and New Moon. I plead uncle.

By now you've probably heard the basic plot of these novels, so I won't go into too much detail. Basically it's your typical sexy vampire dude falls for beautiful mortal woman, albeit they're both teenagers (technically Edward is over 100 years old, but we won't argue the finer points). As I was reading these books, a number of things kept popping up in my mind, and this being my here blog, you can bet I'll share them with you.

First of all, my general opinion. No, these books weren't awful. I'll give them that. They weren't terrible, wretched or badly written. Nor were they the stuff dreams are made of, either. I'll be the first to admit that vampires don't really do it for me. Given the right material, I'd be happy to be proven wrong. I'm sure somewhere out there is a vampire romance that has my name on it. Twilight, however, did not exactly make me want to run out into the woods, desperately searching for my own vampire studmuffin of love.

Yet I can see the appeal. My friend swore that they made her feel like a teenager again, bringing back all the emotions of first love. I get that. One of the reasons I love a good YA book is because it does bring me back to that stage. You know the one - where you can't eat or sleep or do anything but think about him 24/7. When everything is new and you swear eternal devotion after a week of dating. I read Meg Cabot books like they're my own personal crack stash because they evoke that feeling of first love so well. My inner 16-year-old sighed with happiness when Edward declared his feelings ever so poignantly to Bella.

Problem is, my inner 16-year-old has been subsumed by my inner 26-year-old. The person I am now, who is happily married, who understands that love is about a lot more than looking passionately into someone's eyes and spending every waking moment with them. And that person couldn't help rolling her eyes at the ridiculous love story of Bella and Edward. If I ever had a stage where I was drawn to the rebellious loner, it's long gone and replaced with my love for sensible men who are emotionally stable and mature enough to give me my space.

It's been mentioned on other reviews, and I have to agree that despite the all-consuming nature of typical teenage love, there's something particularly squicky about Bella's relationship with Edward. Neither one of them seems mature enough to handle anything. Take Edward. The guy is 100+ years old with superhuman strength and abilities, and how does he choose to spend his life? In high school. I feel it's only fair to mention his life outside of high school is exceptionally boring as well. Besides vampire stuff, his world consists of a bitchin' music collection (unlike, say, every teenage boy who's ever lived) and the occasional playing of piano. I'm sorry - what? If I had all that time and strength and ability, I wouldn't be within 1000 miles of a high school, except maybe accidentally burning one down while I was fighting my evil vampire nemesis. If I were a good vampire, I'd be some sort of bounty hunter or Nobel Peace prize winner or saving baby seals from global warming. If I were a bad vampire I'd be cooking up elaborate schemes in my ridiculously huge lair and plotting to take over the world.

Our Edward isn't interested in that. All he's interested in is charting cell mitosis and watching Bella while she sleeps and zzzz....

Excuse me, I just fell asleep thinking about how boring his life is. No wonder Bella consumes his every thought. I'd be stalkerish and possessive too if I had nothing else going on in my life.

Then there's Bella. You know, "beautiful" in Italian? That's right, she's the ultimate Mary Sue. She's me, she's you, she's every one of us, girls! She doesn't think she's beautiful, but every single boy in school wants to ask her out! I nearly choked with laughter when she got asked by three different boys to the dance on the same day. Careful now, you don't want to overdo the she's-so-desirable th...oh wait, too late. She's way too cool to call her parents "mom" and "dad" and refers to them by their first names. She barely has any parental supervision at all, in fact. She's such a saint, she babies her mom and practically spoon-feeds her dad, too. She's so special, she has all these abilities that no human has ever had before and confounds all the vampires. Even her "faults" are carefully constructed to make her appear like a beautiful damsel in distress. She's klutzy, and it's so cute. Now all the boys can save her. She was swooped into so many manly arms in these two books, I lost count. Oh look! Now Edward's saving her again, and he's constantly trying to protect her from danger. Ditto Jacob.

To be frank (next time I'll be Joe), neither character is very appealing. Edward is possessive and controlling to the point where it borders on physical and emotional abuse. He appeals to the sort of girl who will go bananas over Heathcliff once they reach college. They're the girls who, I'm sorry, don't have the ovaries to stand up for themselves and develop the self-esteem to appreciate someone who's actually stable. Bella, besides being a laughably bad Mary Sue, is incredibly boring. She has absolutely no life, no interests, no passions outside of Edward. She's rude to everyone who wants to be nice to her. I wouldn't know what to say to someone like that, because I would never be friends with her.

As for the stories themselves, they would have been far better served by being cut in half. New Moon, in particular, dragged like a carcass being hauled across the desert. Once Edward leaves, Bella spends approximately 50,000 pages living like a zombie, gasping for air because she can't live without him, crying, moping and having nightmares. I know love can be all-consuming at that age, but give me a break! You see what happens when you don't develop a personality before you plunge headlong into a bad relationship? By the end of page 1,061 I couldn't decide which was worse: Bella's moaning when Edward wasn't around or their gag-inducing vows of eternal love when he was.

By far the worst thing about these books was their complete and utter lack of humour. There was nothing fun, nothing tongue-in-cheek, nothing to even remotely lighten the deathly atmosphere once in these pages. I never even cracked so much as a hint of a smile. I can think of approximately 1,061 things that are potentially hilarious about teenage vampire romance and Stephanie Meyer didn't put any of those in. Want to know what a fate worse than death would be to me? No, I'm not talking about being turned into a vampire. I'm talking about being in a relationship where I can't just laugh and have some fun.

So go ahead, read these books on your Wuthering Heights, angsty, emo days. You'll relate. But I don't know why you wouldn't choose something more edifying with, er, more bite. Call me a cynical wench who's read too many novels in her life, but I just don't get the appeal. Twilight reads like a run-of-the mill romance for someone like me who's been around the romance novel block so many times they named a beverage after me in their cafe. At the risk of being trite, I have to say it: Twilight sucks.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Disco Handbook

The title: The Disco Handbook
The author: Bruce Pollack
Publication: Scholastic, 1979
Got it from: JL, Christmas past

A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless except to say that it starts with a "J" and ends with an "essica" takes great delight in showering me with horrifying books she finds in the used book stores. Let's examine this one a little more closely, shall we?

First of all, can someone explain to me why James McAvoy is on the cover in a hideous tie, silk shirt and tight polyester pants, dancing with a woman who almost has no eyes?

"You make me feel like dancing, the night away! (Yeah!)"

Never mind that this book was written pretty much during the last days of disco. The author is terribly convinced this will be the wave of the 80's!

From the back cover: "Let THE DISCO HANDBOOK be your guide to to stayin' alive in the eighties!"

From page 69 *heh*: "disco is the wave of the future, the main entertainment medium of the eighties..."

Wow, Bruce! It's like you looked into a crystal ball!

Here's a quiz from page 55 to find out if you're disco-ready. Answer yes, no, or maybe:
How's your spine? Does it bend?
Is there a history of heart disease in your family?
Are you prepared to disco regularly, four nights a week, six hours a night?
Is at least four hours of sleep a night basic to your sanity?
Does roller skating make you nauseous?
Would spending the next six months in a plaster cast put any sort of crimp in your lifestyle?
Are you insured?

What a shame I missed the seventies by a few short years. What a wonderful and enlightening time it must have been.