Monday, December 22, 2014

Lost Animals

The title: Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record
The authors: Errol Fuller
Publication: Bloomsbury, 2013
Got it from: The library

Lost Animals charts the story of a handful of recently extinct species through photos and eyewitness histories.  Most of the species went extinct at the beginning of the 20th century, so photographs are inevitably black and white (with a few exceptions).  Like a detective, the author had to go to great lengths to track down some of these rare pictures.  The stories of the efforts made to obtain photos of these vanishing creatures are almost as fascinating as the animals themselves.

Some of the animals in this book may be familiar, such as the passenger pigeon and the quagga, but others are more obscure.  Species range from New Zealand's laughing owl to the Yangtze River dolphin (whose last member was the adorably name Qi Qi). Their stories all end the same way: humans.  More specifically, hunting and habitat destruction.  It's enough to make you think that Voluntary Human Extinction group may have the right idea.

This isn't exactly cheerful Christmas fare, but this is one of those rare books that feels like essential reading for anyone who cares about animals.  Which is not to say it was a chore to read - far from it.  This book made me feel a variety of emotions: fascination, anger at the thoughtlessness and cruelty of humans, despair, and a new appreciation for the precious animals still remaining on this planet.  Thankfully it's not all doom and gloom.  For every group of destructive humans, there seems to be an euqally passionate group of  conservationist who speak up for the animals.  Still, with global overcrowding becoming inevitable, one wonders how we will be able to maintain future diversity. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Master of Heathcrest Hall

The title: The Master of Heathcrest Hall
The authors: Galen Beckett
Publication: Spectra, 2012
Got it from: Amazon 2012

I finally got around to reading the 700+ page conclusion to the Magicians and Mrs. Quent trilogy.  I like to read books by the season.  The first one I read in the dead of winter, the second in the middle of summer, and I planned to save the third for the long fall evenings.  I started it in October, a perfect time for reading about eerie primeval sentient forests.  But then work compilations, back-to-back illness and a busy holiday season threw my reading schedule way off track.  This book proved the perfect antidote to all the stresses in my life.

The story opens with an extended flashback to a Neolithic Britain and the origins of many of the series' central elements: the arrival of the planet Cerephus and the Ashen, the first magicians, the true nature of the Wyrdwood and the first women who spoke to the trees.  Naturally, the significance of the events don't become clear until the end, but it still made for gripping Stone Age action.  

Thus far in the series, I've been of the opinion that the story and characters are great but nothing actually happens.  Well, The Master of Heathcrest Hall totally did a 180 on the action front.  Tons of things went down in a dramatic fashion, and in some parts I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.  There were mornings when I had to (reluctantly) wrench the book away so I could finish getting ready for work.  

It's difficult for me to say what actually happens without potentially spoiling the plot.  Suffice to say that some of my predictions came true and some didn't.  There were a lot of plot threads going on that had to be wrapped up, and most of them satisfactorily did.  Much to my pleasure, the one I deemed most important to the overall series was saved for the very last few pages.  Yes, that's right.  I spent the book swooning over Mr. Rafferdy.  He had big-time character growth over the series but in The Master of Heathcrest Hall he pulls a Mr. Darcy and becomes wiser and more selfless, while still being awesomely snarky.  Jane Austen fans will note that the primary romance bears a striking resemblance to Pride and Prejudice, albeit with feminism and gay rights and evil ancient aliens.  Really, what more could you ask for?  This is a trilogy well worth the huge time investment - a pleasure from start to finish.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Claimed by the Laird


The title: Claimed by the Laird
The author: Nicola Cornick
Publication: Harlequin, 2014
Got it from: The library

I do seem to be in the habit of picking up books based on plot, regardless of whether it's in the middle of a series.  Look, ain't no busy thirtysomething woman got time to read a whole series unless it's amazing. 

And the plot for this book really had to hook me to have me drop everything else and read it, especially considering it's Scottish and I'm not a fan of Scottish romance.  But Nicola Cornick's name hooked me, given my earlier enjoyment of Desired

Also, consider the following plot elements:
Thirty-three year old spinster?  YES.
Who's a secret whisky smuggler who disguises herself as "The Lady"?  YES!
And a younger hero who is out to bring down her gang?  YES.
But he's really there to find out who murdered his brother?  YES.
And he has to secretly go undercover as her footman/gardener to do so?  OMG YES.

Don't go by the cover of this book or the title.  They're both stupid.  The fact that the hero, Lucas, is a laird barely plays any role at all in this book.  In fact, it all takes place at the heroine Christina's family estate. 

I loved this book.  It was fun, had hilarious one-liners, great dialogue, sparkling banter and an intriguing mystery.  It also had a wonderfully developed hero and heroine who were smart and interesting and funny and vulnerable and lovely.  It's not often I consider a romance novel to be a page-turner but the plot was so masterfully executed and the characters so appealing I zipped through this satisfying novel in a few days.  My only (minor) complaint is that there wasn't enough time spent on Christina's role of "The Lady."   Bravo to this book and to Nicola Cornick for achieving my rare must-read author list.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

An update

I have had limited opportunities to read much in the last month and what I read hasn't seemed worthwhile posting.  It's pretty hard to follow up after The Blue Castle. 

I did actually finish Northern Fascination by Jennifer LaBrecque (Harlequin, 2011), as I was interested in the Alaskan setting. But I didn't feel like writing a review, as I felt overwhelmingly meh about the whole thing.  I liked the concept of "businessman attempts to buy out town lived in by woman who once scorned him in high school."  But the whole thing felt like one big promo for the rest of the "Alaskan Heat" series and the main conflict got resolved way too quickly.  There was an intriguing side plot about the relationship between a local medicine man/doctor and a friend of the heroine's, but it got fairly short shrift.

However, things should be perking up because I just got back from a trip to the New York Finger Lakes region and got to visit one of my all-time favourite bookstores, the Paperback Place in Canandaigua.  Hunting down secret gems and favourite authors in used bookstores is one of my all-time passions.  They have a gigantic wall of 1000's of romances.  Check out my haul!

 
I also got to visit Seneca Falls and the Women's Rights National Park and the National Women's Hall of Fame.  I was really sad to see how modest both museums were, in the case of the former, a lot of the interactive exhibits were actually broken.  Still, it didn't deter from the awesomeness of the subject matter.  The Hall of Fame had so many women who I love and admire already, and many who I learned about for the first time and was intrigued by.  Both exhibits were really inspiring.  I bought a "I Would Have Been a Suffragist" t-shirt in the gift shop.

I should have a review up soon of Nicola Cornick's latest book, which is excellent.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Blue Castle (Again)






The title: The Blue Castle
The author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication: McClelland & Stewart, 1926 (Voyageur Classic Edition,
Got it from: Amazon, 2010


I've blogged about The Blue Castle before, and it isn't the first time I've reread it, either.  I actually had to replace my old worn-out copy a few years ago.  I think, without exaggeration, that this is my absolute favourite all-time book.  Every time I read it, I notice something new, and it just gets better every time.

I read this over the Labour Day weekend and even though I knew exactly what would happen, I couldn't put it down.  I hardly even know what to say in this review because reading this book is almost a sacred experience for me.  It speaks to me on so many different levels.  Based on some of the online reviews I've read, a lot of women feel the same way.  I have a theory it's because there's a lot of women who are hungry, starving even, for stories about women just like themselves: quiet, romantic, passionate and above all misunderstood by everyone around them.  The world is a cruel place for women who possess these traits, who have reality forced on them in so many unwanted ways, their dreams mocked and belittled.  The history of Western literature is about men, but The Blue Castle is our story, separate from the demands of modern life and the painful noise of male voices.

Take, for instance, one of the central themes of the books: Valancy's escape from the stifling confines of family obligation.  How many women are forced to be the ones to try to keep everything running smoothly in families?  How many women secretly resent this?  Oh yes, this is a feminist book, through and through.  One early reviewer hated the book because he felt Valancy behaved in an unrealistic (unladylike) way, but what he didn't understand was that she was just ahead of her time.  And yes, one could argue against the feminist theory because there is a love interest.  But Barney demands absolutely nothing of Valancy except that she be herself (a trait that many women nowadays would do well to look for in a partner).  There is something so wonderfully appealing about Valancy and Barney's Edenesque escape into the woods, a life of solitude that beckons even more strongly in our hectic, stressful, overworked modern lives. 

It was amazing to be able to sit up half the night and look at the moon if you wanted to.  To be late for meals if you wanted to - she who had always been rebuked so sharply by her mother and so reproachfully by Cousin Stickles if she were one minute late.  Dawdle over meals as long as you wanted to. Leave your crusts if you wanted to.  Not come home at all for meals if you wanted to.  Sit on a sun-warm rock and paddle your bare feet in the hot sand if you wanted to.  Just sit and do nothing in the beautiful silence if you wanted to.  In short, do any fool thing you wanted to whenever the notion took you.  If that wasn't freedom, what was?

The ability to choose your own happiness, and to live it.  Bliss.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Unruly Places

The title: Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies
The author: Alastair Bonnett
Publication: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Got it from: The library

In this unusual book, author Alastair Bonnett dives into the psychology of those places considered to be "unruly."  What makes a place unruly?  It is the spaces we overlook, the borders that aren't quite there, those islands we can't quite get a hold of.  The author uncovers both the micro (a local fox hole, gutterspaces) and the macro (the vanishing Aral Sea, Leningrad.)  In a world increasingly overtaken by Blandscapes, unruly places draw us to the unknown.

There's a lot of entries in this book, so I'll touch on a few that spoke to me.  There's a small garden in New York City that began as an art project in the 1970's which grows plants that would have been native to the city before it was a city.  There's a town just outside of Chernobyl that has been left exactly as it was abandoned in 1986, complete with a half-finished amusement park.  And if you're super-rich, you can buy an apartment aboard a luxury liner that travels the world.

Beyond the descriptions of these varied places, what I enjoyed most was the author's psychology of space.  Places have meaning for us, one that we should embrace because it makes us human.  The yearning for a space of our own, familiar and reassuring, is in our nature.  But place is also unique: it changes based on time, from person to person, from mood to mood.  All spaces are shifting and ephemeral.  Appropriately, he saves what is perhaps the most ephemeral space of all for last: the places of childhood play.  Reading about his childhood experiences playing make-believe in an alley, I suddenly felt click of connection.  No one transforms a space like a child: a clump of trees becomes a fortress, a palace, a home.  This is where we learn to shape our world.  Unfortunately, like everything else in this book, it is being lost to a digital touch-screen childhood.  If we lose it completely, we will lose an important part of ourselves.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

So I changed the template

I don't really have the time or energy for a full-scale renovation, but I gave the old blog a fresh coat of paint.  Hope the larger font makes it a little easier to read, at least.

Meanwhile, please check out my latest post below!  I'm super excited about this book.

Lady Liberty

The title: Lady Liberty
The author: Vicki Hinze
Publication: Bantam, 2002
Got it from: Kobo

I am all about the political thriller romance this year.  In February it was Executive Bodyguard, now it's Lady Liberty.  There's something so addictive about the adrenaline rush these books provide.  I like that they tend to feature older, smarter women in positions of power and I like that the tension of political suspense tends to act as a foil to the romantic tension experienced by the protagonists.

There's a lot to love about Lady Liberty, which I think I enjoyed more than Executive Bodyguard, although I liked the latter.  Liberty is longer so it had more time to explore the main relationship, as well as the heroine's role and the ins and outs of Washington politics.  

Sybil Stone is the Vice-President of the United States.  She's a straight arrow in a world of crooked politicians and a lot of people hate her for that (as well as just generally for being a woman).  Among Sybil's enemies are a powerful senator who wants her job, a top Washington journalist who is looking to ruin her reputation and her dick of an ex-husband, the head of a top security company and possibly the most corrupt person in the country.

As the book opens, Sybil is abroad trying to negotiate a peace treaty with representatives from two warring nations.  Among her staff members is Agent Jonathan Westford.  Westford used to be on her security detail, but he left because he developed feelings for her.  (At one point he threatened to kill her emotionally abusive ex-husband, which was what led him to ask for reassignment.)  The only reason Westford is on the trip at all is as a special favor to the President.  Sybil also has feelings for Westford, but she doesn't realize them yet.  At this point she thinks he's just super-devoted to his job, not to her in particular, and she's also hurt that he left her detail, thinking she did something wrong.

Right away we learn that Sybil is being targeted by an international terrorist organization, but we don't know why.  She is called back to the U.S. because of an emergency.  Sybil tells her staff to stay behind but Westford insists on going with her.  He rightly senses that something's wrong.  As the plane is flying over Florida, his magic Secret Service instincts start tingling and he pulls Sybil out of the plane, even though she's the only one with a parachute.  Ten seconds later the plane blows up.  It's such a jaw-dropping holy crap opening, I knew then and there I wasn't going to be able to put this book down.

There's a whole lot going on in this story and it takes a lot of concentration to work out all the characters, their connections and secret motives.  It turns out there's a nuclear bomb set to detonate in Washington and Sybil is the only one with the key to stop it - but she and Westford are now stranded in the Florida swamps with no way to get back and no idea who to trust.  As the hours count down on the clock, they have a lot to figure out, including their own feelings for each other.  Sybil is great at being a VP but doesn't trust her judgement when it comes to men.  

One of the reasons I loved this book was that it has the same sort of dual-identity crisis that I love about superhero tropes, with the genders flipped.*  Sybil is constantly questioning whether Westford loves her or the VP.  This frustrates her, along with the fact that her personal life didn't turn out the way she once wanted it.  Part of Sybil's journey involves not just coming to terms with her feelings for Westford, but also learning to change her definition of personal happiness.  There's a wonderful line toward the end of the book that really spoke to me:

She wasn't the woman she had been when she'd created those dreams for herself.  She was the woman she had become.

How many people constantly strive for what they thought they wanted when they were younger?  And how many of us have ended up changing those dreams because we're different people now?  

Hooray for books that celebrate women in power.  If only there were more of them.

Rating:  4.5 Presidential Seals out of 5. 
 

*Side note - I also find it super amusing that hardly anyone discusses Sybil's looks, only her politics.  But Sybil and her best friend Gabby constantly talk about how hunky they think Westford is.  One reviewer on Amazon sums it up pretty well:
"She is tactful, and diplomatic. He is hard and sexy!!!!"


Monday, July 21, 2014

Louisa May Alcott: An Intimate Anthology

The title: Louisa May Alcott: An Intimate Anthology
The author:
Publication: New York Public Library Collection, 1997
Got it from: Annapolis Valley, 2013

I bought this book in anticipation of a trip I would be making last year and began it while I was visiting Concord, which you can read about here.  Louisa May Alcott is an author I admire almost as much as Lucy Maud Montgomery, and that's really saying something.  This collection is an excellent find for someone who, like me, knows Little Women back to front but wants to find out more about the author behind it.  There's a little bit of everything here: biographical sketches by those who knew her and selections of her diaries, poetry, letters and short stories.  The more I read, the more I was impressed by how ahead of her time Alcott was (as is the case in all the historical women I admire).  She understood the need for women to exercise, to learn and to be independent.  She had a sensitive and humorous understanding of society (G.K. Chesterton compares her to Austen) and advocated for women's rights and abolition long before it was fashionable to do so.  It is very difficult for me to separate the March family from the Alcott, and in fact when I visited Orchard House I had the disorienting experience of seeing both at the same time.

There are three very personal autobiographical sketches in this anthology.  In "Transcendental Wild Oats," Alcott paints a very vivid picture of her family's somewhat horrifying experiment with living in a commune at Fruitlands.  A hundred years before hippies made it popular, Bronson Alcott was advocating for peace, vegetarianism and brotherly love.  Unfortunately his lofty ideals couldn't support his family for long.  Particularly interesting to the history buff in me are the letters that comprise "Hospital Sketches," detailing Louisa's ill-fated experience as a nurse during the Civil War when she was thirty.  How exciting to read about the war firsthand from a woman my own age!  Unfortunately the experience doesn't last long, as Louisa developed typhoid fever and never fully recovered.  Perhaps the most amusing story is "How I Went Out to Service," chronicling a time during Louisa's youth that she went to work as a companion and ended up being taken advantage of by the family.  She ends up leaving in disgust but the family's vulgarity provides much fodder for amusement.

In addition to the lively glimpses of her life are some of Alcott's delightful stories.  "Debby's Debut" is a classic love-triangle story, with the "right man" obvious from the beginning.  "Pauline's Passion and Punishment," an early story of Alcott's, is a drawn-out melodrama that could easily have been one of the thrillers Jo March pens to amuse her sisters.  "Perilous Play" is actually about the dangerous effects of (shocker!) drugs.  Didn't I tell you she was ahead of her time?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness



The title: Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness
The author: Sheila Kohler
Publication: Bantam, 1994
Got it from: Book sale, 2011

Happy Bastille Day!

By coincidence, I have just finished reading Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness.  It's set during the time of the French Revolution, a time I always enjoy visiting, despite the rather gruesome realities.  The story is of one Lucy Dillon, a fictional biography of the real-life Henriette-Lucy, Marquise de La Tour du Pin Gouvernet.   Her mother is a favourite of Marie Antoinette and young Lucy herself visits court, hobnobbing with French nobility at Versailles and in Paris.  In her early twenties, the Revolution breaks out and she is forced to flee to America with her husband and young children.

The narrative is divided between Lucy's travels on board the ship crossing the Atlantic and flashbacks to her life of (caged) privilege back in France.  The story really picks up when the Revolution does.  The strength of the book lies with seeing how dramatic the day-to-day change was for an aristocrat before and after the Revolution.  The ordered world suddenly collapsed, leaving chaos and uncertainty on an unprecedented scale.  For many watching their friends and family members die at the guillotine, it must have felt like the world was ending.

Interestingly, the author chooses to paint Lucy as an unhappy victim of her circumstances.  It is only when she arrives in America that she gets to take control of her own destiny, becoming an ambitious dairy farmer in the Hudson River Valley.  This part of the story is very different than the 4/5ths of the book before it, now that Lucy is no longer a pawn in someone else's scheme.  Without spoiling the ending, it did leave something to be desired and I felt the narrative should have wrapped up differently.  However, it was a fascinating look at an absolutely fascinating time in history.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Last Bachelor

The title: The Last Bachelor
The author: Betina Krahn
Publication: Bantam, 1994
Got it from: Massachusetts, 2013

I don't know what's more of a crime - the fact that Betina Krahn isn't more celebrated and well-known, or the fact that she hasn't written a book since 2009.  How is it that she remains in near obscurity despite her wonderful, warm, intelligent, feminist and romantic novels, while other writers who shall remain nameless continue to churn out dreck and are beloved by millions?  Case in point: The Last Bachelor was published exactly twenty years ago and even though it was written in an "old school" environment it's practically perfect in every way.  It explores, in-depth, the nature of men's and women's roles in Victorian society in a way that's still relevant today, while crafting a deeply romantic and well-rounded relationship between two smart, believable and interesting people.  And yet millions of people are reading and buying antifeminist drivel involving airheaded 21-year-olds being spanked by billionaires.

Why?  Why?  Whyyyyyyyyyy?  There is no justice in this world.

So far I've reviewed three other Betina Krahn books on this blog which I've rated highly because of their original feminist content.  Between The Last Bachelor and Sweet Talking Man, I enjoyed Sweet Talking Man more because it was funnier, livelier and I loved the New York setting.  But I have to concede that I think The Last Bachelor is the better novel.  At over 500 pages it's the longer by far and I read it slowly, over several months, so that I could really absorb the story and the characters.  

The heroine, Antonia Paxton, is a young widow who's made a career out of trapping eligible bachelors into marriages with spinsters and widows.  While this may seem reprehensible (and based on some of the reviews I've read of this book a lot of readers feel this way) Antonia has a very good reason for doing so.  In Victorian society there was really no other option for unmarried women other than being disgraced and destitute.

Naturally, these trapped bachelors are angry about this situation, and set out to get revenge on Antonia, who they call "the Dragon."  Their plan is to enlist London's most notorious bachelor, the Earl of Landon, to seduce and disgrace her.  Landon is (in)famous for his unconventional views on women's rights.  He thinks men are better off never being married and that women should get jobs and work outside the home as men do.  He ends up making a bet with Antonia that traditional women's work is easier than men's work.  Before he knows it he's wearing a corset, peeling potatoes, scrubbing floors and eating his words.

There's a scene at the beginning - when Landon is playing cards with the disgraced bachelors - that I almost gave up on the book.  The way the author painted the scene made Landon seem so repugnant in his views on women, only my faith in the author's previous feminist works pushed me to continue.  Boy, was I glad I took that leap of faith.  Clever Betina Krahn, writing that scene in such a way to make him seem despicable, but then later revealing him to be entirely reasonable and sympathetic.  Giving away the key to the Earl's behaviour would spoil the revelation, but I have to say I've never seen it done better.  (No, it's not the usual, "my mother/last wife/last mistress was a horrible harpy and therefore I hate all women!"  It actually makes sooo much more sense than that, and anyway Landon becomes a total feminist and also, by the way, I love him so much.)

This book just gave me so much to think about and so many happy feelings.  I could go on but I won't bore you, except to end with this.  There's been so much said about marriage over the years: who should get married, why we should get married, is it in women's best interest?, etc.  This book shows the best of what marriage can be, and by doing so, shows what it should be.  It is about sharing your life with a person who loves and respects you, who watches out for you and helps make life easier.  Seeing both Antonia and Landon change their mind about marriage and each other is a revelation.  This book will be the benchmark by which I measure all other romances.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

On Vacation


Yep, posting has been light.  I'm on holiday right now in the Maritimes.  We'll return to our regularly scheduled reviews soon.  In the meantime, please enjoy this photo of my snuggly bunnies.  I love how belligerent Darwin looks here.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself



The title: Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself
The author: Maud Hart Lovelace
Publication: Harperperennial, 2009 (originally 1940s)
Got it from: Amazon, 2013

I am returning to Betsy's world for the first time since last winter.  In the two books of this compilation, we return to the world of Deep Valley, Minnesota during Betsy's freshman and sophomore years (1906-1908).   As much as I enjoyed reading about Betsy's childhood adventures, I have to say I loved Betsy's high school adventures more.  Many of them were taken directly out of Maud Hart Lovelace's own teenage years.

Reading these stories almost breaks my head as I try to grapple with the contradiction of having everything feel so old but so familiar. On the one hand, Maud was born ninety years before me.  Think of "old timey" and these books are it.  We're talking pompadours, "socials," ice cream parlours and Nickelodeons.  It's a world that seems remote, but yet close enough that I could almost reach out and touch it.  My grandmother's descriptions of her growing up years remind me very much of Betsy's.  Betsy herself even feels that strange sense of touching history when she hears a friend's grandmother talk about pioneer days and Indian raids fifty years earlier.  In Betsy's world, there is no television or radio and no electricity.  In Heaven to Betsy, the Ray family gets indoor plumbing for the first time.  Only a few cars exist on the scene and their presence is noted as being remarkable.  Kids roam the streets freely and pop in and out of each others' houses daily.  When they get together, they make taffy and sing around the piano.  Make no mistake: this is the past.

And yet - and here's the contradiction - reading this book I thought, this is the story of my high school life.  I honestly felt like I was watching my high school years in the 1990's play out all over again.  What is it about the teenage years that feels so universal, no matter what century you're in?  Suddenly friends burst out onto the scene like never before, shaping your outlook and experiences.  Betsy suddenly finds herself hanging out with a "crowd" that encompasses new and old friends, much as I did.  Like every (straight) fifteen-year-old girl in the history of ever, including me, Betsy becomes obsessed with boys.  (A footnote at the back of the book states that Lovelace destroyed he high school diaries in later life because they were too full of boys.  A shame!)  Basically everything Betsy experiences reads like a checklist from my high school years: Suddenly becoming obsessed with how pretty you are?  Check!  Trying and failing to reinvent yourself?  Check!  Dating the "wrong" boy just because he's exciting?  Check!  Being extremely silly and passing notes in class?  Check!  Having your first dance be the most exciting thing ever?  Check!  Letting your schoolwork slide because you're having too much fun?  Check!  Experiencing that bittersweet agony of a first breakup?  Check!

And this may in fact be the key to why the Betsy-Tacy books have endured all these years, and why so many other coming-of-age stories from those years have faded into obscurity.  Betsy is so much more relateable than, say, Elsie Dinsmore*.  Yes, she sometimes does silly things like trying to change her personality for a boy, but you can't help rooting for her because we were all there at one time, we all know it's going to work out in the end and mistakes are an important part of growing up.  Another "draw" for me is that despite the many, many problems of living in the early 20th century, I can't help feeling a pang of nostalgia for the days of school dances, picnic socials, musical evenings and recitals.

Or maybe it's the rose-coloured view of high school that I'm really remembering.  


*Because I spent most of my childhood living in the late Victorian era, I knew who Elsie Dinsmore was before I read this book.  She's a goody-goody that all Victorian parents want their daughters to be.  Every self-respecting Victorian heroine hates her.  Betsy even makes fun of her when she's trying to decide if it's wrong to go to a play on a Sunday.  "Elsie Dinsmore, she remembered, had refused to play the piano on Sunday; she had fallen off the piano stool instead.  But Betsy had never thought much of Elsie Dinsmore."

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Demon-Haunted World

The title: The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
The author: Carl Sagan
Publication: Random House, 1995
Got it from: The library

So far in this blog, I haven't reviewed very many science books although they are a passion of mine (even more so since I started down my journey of critical thinking in my twenties).  When I take a science book out of the library, I tend to just tip my toes in it, reading over the parts that interest me.  So many books I've read in the past referenced this book as one of the canon in skepticism.  I think watching Neil deGrasse Tyson's wonderful Cosmos finally convinced me to read The Demon-Haunted World cover to cover.

This book is more than just a debunking of pseudoscience, it is a critical plea for scientific thinking in all aspects of our lives.  Sagan wrote this book just before he died in 1996 but he accurately foresaw the "dumbing down" of American culture and the move away from thoughtful analysis.  A large chunk of the beginning of the book deals with Sagan's interest in extraterrestrials and why there is so far no credible reports of alien abductions.  He got me thinking about it in a way I never have before, showing the similarities of "alien abductions" in the 20th century and witchcraft in the 17th century.  Back then our culture was steeped in stories of witches, much the same way that ours is now saturated with movies and TV shows about aliens.  How interesting, then, that there are few cases of witchcraft reported now (at least in the developed world) and how there were no alien reports before the birth of science fiction.     

The middle and latter part of the book are devoted to outlining the tools we need for our "baloney detection kits," and the need for a proper understanding of science in our culture.  There are some extremely powerful passages here, including one on the importance of basic literacy, as seen through the story of Frederick Douglass, a black slave who taught himself to read and thus freed himself and many of his fellow slaves from ignorance and captivity.  Even when some parts of this book depressed me (TV has only gotten worse since the 1990's in terms of ignorance and sensationalism),   there is also hope, such as one community raising the money to build a children's science centre.  Overall this book provides another important argument in favor of critical thinking being a necessary skill as members not just of democracy, but of the human race.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Serial Garden

The title: The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories
The author: Joan Aiken
Publication: Big Mouth House*, 2008
Got it from: MC

Before there was Harry Potter, there was his smarter predecessor, Joan Aiken's delightful Armitage family.  Back when Mr. and Mrs. Armitage were first married, Mrs. Armitage made a wish on a wishing-stone that their lives would never be boring.  Years later, young Harriet and Mark Armitage experience a life full of strange occurrences (usually on a Monday), which they take in stride with good humour.  A unicorn that shows up in the garden?  A governess ghost who is still trying to teach?  A doll sized family in the attic?  No big deal.  

Each of these short stories can be read as a self-contained treasure, but they are loosely linked and best read in chronological order.  (Joan Aiken wrote them starting in 1944 and continuing until, incredibly, her death in 2004.)  Each story is really a mystery to solve.  The formula runs like this: bizarre events happen, children uncover the reason why, unexpected resolution, things return to normal, Mr. Armitage makes a hilariously sarcastic comment, The End.  Toward the end of the book, the stories start taking on darker, deeper layers that I won't spoil.  Suffice to say that intelligent adults and children will be satisfied.

*Looking at the back of the book, I see the publisher has the following statement: "A new imprint devoted to fiction for readers of all ages.  We will publish one or two weird and great titles (short story collections and novels) per year. We expect to publish books for readers ages 10 and up."  How awesome is that???

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Ivy Tree



The title: The Ivy Tree 
The author: Mary Stewart
Publication: HarperCollins, 1961 
Got it from: Amazon

A few years ago I reviewed Mary Stewart's marvelous Touch Not the Cat, and hearing that The Ivy Tree was a similar story, I was eager to read this one.  Mary Grey is a young woman on vacation to the north of England, where she is mistaken for Annabel Winslow, another young woman who ran away from home eight years ago and was presumed dead.  Annabel's distant cousin Connor hatches a plan with Mary: she will impersonate Annabel in exchange for a share of the inheritance given by the dying Winslow grandfather.

Like Touch Not the Cat, this is a classic Gothic mystery, steeped in atmosphere and description.  But compared to that story, this one was a big meh for me.  There's a Big Secret at the heart of the plot which is fairly easy to guess if you know anything about this kind of novel.  Unlike in Cat, the revelation of the true hero at the end of the novel wasn't a happy surprise.  One of the reasons Cat worked for me was that the romantic revelation was a huge payoff for all the slow pacing beforehand.  In Ivy Tree, there's the slow pacing but no payoff.  I didn't dislike the book but I also wasn't rushing to read it.  I think it would much better suit someone looking for an old-fashioned Gothic story.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Desired

The title: Desired
The author: Nicola Cornick
Publication: Harlequin, 2011
Got it from: The library

In what may be Romancelandia's greatest opening scene ever, the heroine, thrice-widowed Tess Darent, is being chased by guards who have broken up the political reform meeting she was part of.  Making her escape from a nearby brothel, Tess shimmies down a bedsheet and (unknowingly) into the arms of one of the guards, soon-to-be hero Owen Purchase, Viscount Rothbury.

The following exquisite exchange takes place:

"Good evening, Lady Darent," he said.  "What an original way to exit a brothel."

"Lord Rothbury," Tess said coolly.  "Thank you - I never follow the crowd."

Did I mention the dress she stole had just fallen off her?  Because it did.

Well, gosh darn it to heck.  I loved this book so much, I don't even know how to properly convey it.  It was funny, emotionally complex, sweet, smart, wonderful.  I loved that the heroine was seemingly wanton but wasn't (kind of like the female equivalent of the fake rake). I loved that she was involved in political reform.  I loved that the hero was so sweet and thoughtful and helped Tess move past the terrible abuse she'd suffered in one of her previous marriages.  It was just all-around satisfying and near-perfect and...sigh of happiness.

I honestly don't know how I'm supposed to get any other reading done when there are so many wonderful, complex, sexy new romances out there to read, and they all have an accompanying series.  The only sensible solution is for the authors to just stop writing and give me a chance to catch up.  I'm serious - between Elizabeth Hoyt and Sherry Thomas and Nicola Cornick and Courtney Milan and a whole bunch of others, you really just need to stop right now.  It's too much.  Sensory overload.    

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Book of Lost Books

The title: The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read
The author: Stuart Kelly
Publication: Random House, 2005
Got it from: JP Morgan Library, NYC, 2008

It has always fascinated me that what remains of history's greatest writing is just a fraction of what was.  I once wrote a (not very good) paper in university about the many ways in which books of history are forever lost.  This book attempts to tackle the same subject.  Where my paper dealt with the generalities, Stuart's highlights specific authors from ancient to modern times.  What, exactly was lost in the great fire of Alexandria?  (Actually several fires and a looting.)  Was Love's Labour's Won a great lost Shakespeare play or an alternate title for The Taming of the Shrew? (Answer: probably original and totally fascinating.)  Like a literary archaeologist, Stuart digs up the most obscure references to remind us of what could have been.

Except - Literary Indiana Jones he is not.   Gosh darn it, I wanted to love this book.  For one thing, I have extremely happy memories of the beautiful spring evening I bought it at the JP Morgan Library in New York City, with the sounds of a classical quartet drifting in from the atrium.  And of course I love the subject matter, the thrill of thinking about discovering some long-lost text that will offer us new insights into history.  But I just can't ignore that, besides those little fascinating nuggets that Stuart occasionally drops, most of this work is as dry as the brittle rolled-up parchment of Alexandria's lost library.  I mean, he actually comes out and states he's only going to talk about dead white male authors, with a few token exceptions.  Sigh.  In addition, rather than focusing on the lost works themselves, we are treated(?) to full-blown biographies of every famous dead writer dude in Western Civilization, in the most rambling, incoherent manner possible.  I couldn't help but feel like Mr. Burns when he yells at Reverend Lovejoy, "We've heard enough about Bliz-Blaz and Him-Ham already. Get to the bloody point!" 

In conclusion, I wanted to enjoy reading this book, but it was a chore that took me eight months and so all I can think, having finally finished it, is that were it to be lost forever to the annals of history, good freaking riddance.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Disaster Artist

The title: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made
The author: Greg Sestero
Publication: Simon & Schuster, 2013
Got it from: Amazon


My husband and I just finished reading this book (he read it in two days, I read it in three) and we had to stop every few pages to either 1) take a breather from laughing or, 2) discuss the baffling and horrifying psyche of Tommy Wiseau.

If you've never seen The Room, "the Citizen Kane of bad movies" (Entertainment Weekly), then here's a hint of what's in store for you: one reviewer who saw it during its initial 2003 release said that watching it was "like getting stabbed in the head."  I recommend viewing it at least three times before reading this book.  Watch it once to be horrified by how appalling bad it is, watch it the second time to laugh at the ridiculousness, and watch it a third time to stand in awe of how such a movie could ever have been made in the first place.

How exactly it is made forms the focal point of The Disaster Artist.  Young Greg Sestero, an aspiring actor, befriends the infamous Tommy Wiseau, who later writes, produces, directs and stars in The Room.  As the horror of the filming ensues (at least two crews walked off of the set because they couldn't deal with Tommy), we see flashbacks of how Greg and Tommy became unlikely friends.  They are the ultimate odd couple - Greg is just 19, blonde, good-looking, All-American, with a modeling career and a rising star in L.A.  Tommy Wiseau is a mysterious, fortysomething dark-haired vampire-like creature with a mysterious past, a strange, unidentified personality disorder and a confusing temper.  Trying to figure Tommy out will take up most of the reader's time in this book.  The answers are sketchy at best.  Even Greg, who has known him for fifteen years, has only the vaguest idea of Tommy's closely guarded past, which may involve growing up in Communist Europe and amassing a San Francisco business empire.

I have seen The Room about ten times now, and the one thing I wasn't prepared for is how much more bizarre the behind-the-scenes story is.  Greg himself had a front-row seat to the action, being first the line producer and then one of its stars, as he was convinced by Tommy to play Mark, Johnny's (aka Tommy's) best friend.  The narrative is at its best (and funniest) when describing the baffling filming decisions Tommy makes that waste huge amounts of time and money.  (For instance, he spends half a million dollars on film equipment that goes largely unused, but refuses to rent a $200 air conditioner even though one of the actresses faints from heat on set.) 

Whether or not you read this book, and you really should if you've seen The Room, you need to see the movie.  Be prepared to watch and wonder in disbelief how a man could spend $6 million on a vanity project that is just so mind-numbingly bad. 

"You are tearing me apart, Lisa!"

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Paleofantasy


The title: Paleofantasy
The author: Marlene Zuk
Publication: W.W. Norton & Co., 2013
Got it from: Sony Store

It's not too often that I will say that everyone should read a book, but everyone should read this book.  Here's why: you can stop worrying.  I mean it.  Stop worrying that you're a cave person trapped in the modern world, doomed to be out of sync with your surroundings.  You're not.

I've rarely been so reassured by a science book, but reading this just gave me so many common sense lightbulb moments.  I've been skeptical about many "paleo [X]" movements and now I know why.  In simple, straightforward language, Marlene Zuk explains that we're so very much more complex than what pop science would have us believe.  For starters, there was never a time when we were in complete harmony with our surroundings. Humans are like every other living thing: constantly evolving, our genes always being tinkered with, our bodies adapting in many different ways and many different environments.  In one chapter she addresses the notion that men are "hardwired" to be promiscuous (spoiler: they're not) or that women have always been monogamous and faithful (spoiler: no).  In fact, she lays to rest the fantasy that men were the hunters and women the gatherers and we're just programmed that way.  (Actually, we're not "programmed" any way, because we're not computers.)  She also gently and non-condescendingly blows apart any argument for a paleo diet or lifestyle.  The truth is, people can eat a whole lot of things and always have been able to.  10,000 years in plenty of time to adapt.  And why should the paleolithic era be the evolutionary benchmark, anyway?  Why is nobody advocating we live like our fish or small mammal ancestors?  

Go ahead and have a slice of bread.  We're all going to be fine.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Executive Bodyguard


The title: Executive Bodyguard
The author: Debra Webb
Publication: Harlequin Intrigue, 2005
Got it from: Library e-book

At 37, Caroline Winters is not just one of the youngest U.S. presidents, she's also the first woman president.  Three months earlier, her husband Justin died in a plane crash and she's been struggling to hold it together.  Her vice-president is working against her and there are unknown threats to her life.  What she doesn't realize is that the threat may be coming from her own inner circle.  Enter the Enforcers.  They're a top-secret (even from the president) organization dedicated to protecting national security.  Their agents, called Enforcers, are genetically enhanced humans trained to carry out any mission.  One of them must pose as Caroline's miraculously saved husband in order to figure out who the traitor is.

As with any series, I probably shouldn't have read this out of order but it was easy to figure out what was going on anyway.  This book was a mixed bag for me. On the whole I quite enjoyed it.  We need more books about women in power using their intelligence to reach positions of authority.  I was wondering how the whole fake husband thing would play out, but it was actually okay.  As the story progresses, we find out more about Caroline and Justin's back story, such as the fact that she was in love with him but he didn't want to have anything to do with her sexually.  This of course changes when Justin "returns" from the dead.  My biggest disappointment with this book was that of course Caroline had to fall into the, "I need a family, I'm not complete without a baby," trope.  The woman is the president of the most powerful nation in the world - I would have thought that would be fulfilling enough for anyone.  Thankfully this didn't completely ruin what was otherwise an enjoyable story.  I was really in the mood for a suspenseful thriller with lots of action, and this book delivered.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Chronicles of Avonlea


The title: Chronicles of Avonlea
The author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication: Bantam, 1987 (originally 1912)
Got it from: Library book sale, 1990's

Reading these stories I had to stop and remind myself they were written over 100 years ago.  It's easy to forget just how unique a voice Montgomery had and how fresh her stories still feel.  I understand them, and Montgomery herself, far more now than when I first read her works twenty years ago as a little girl.  Compared to her moralizing contemporaries, Montgomery's characters are just so much more complex.  No one is ever really a villain in Avonlea, just misunderstood or misinformed.  And her "goodies" are never purely saints.  They do give in to temptation now and again.

But what really made these stories a delightful surprise is the sheer number of older characters finding romance.  People in their thirties, forties and even beyond find true love, whether for the first time or with old lovers.  I can only imagine how subversive this must have seemed in rural early 20th century Canada.  If women in their forties are described as being "past their bloom," it is always because of their unhappy personalities.  The happy and lighthearted are described as beautiful, no matter what their age.  And, most importantly, their romances are never mocked and always feel well-deserved.  Even when the stories occasionally become hokey or old-fashioned, the overarching power of romance makes you root for the people in them.  If I had to live in the past, Montgomery's fictional Avonlea wouldn't be a bad place to be.

A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String


The title: A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String
The author: Joanne Harris
Publication: Doubleday, 2012
Got it from: The library

Joanne Harris is best known for her novel Chocolat, and I was interested in reading this volume of her short stories with a touch of magic realism.  As in Chocolat, the symbolism of food plays a large role in many of her tales.  In "Cookie," a woman addicted to the comfort of pastries may be giving birth to something made of sugar, spice and everything yeasty.  In "Muse," the narrator lovingly describes a greasy spoon train station cafe, complete with buttery bacon sandwiches.  (This short story also has one of the funniest lines: in several of the stories, including this one, the Gods appear in human disguise.  Quoth the narrator: "The Muse is just an archetype; a metaphor that represents Mankind's eternal striving.  To imagine that they might be real, able to take on human affairs - well, that's just silly.  Isn't it?  It's the sort of thing Jennifer [his wife] might read in a book of short stories written by the kind of frivolous woman writer who happens to like that sort of thing.")

If there's one overarching theme amongst these stories (some of which are interconnected), it's love in strange places.  Let's count them: 1. A woman obsessed with her son thinks his ghost may be appearing on a Twitter feed.  2. A woman carries on a heavy romance with a tree.  3. A man is smitten with Christmas to the point of driving his wife away.  4. A man and woman fall in love with each other through the radio.   5. A former actor falls in love with the house he's renovating and its former inhabitants.  Etc.

Even though the stories could be unsettling, they left me with a sense of hopefulness.  A pair of the stories dealt with the plight of two intelligent older ladies trapped in a retirement home at the mercy of some very unintelligent and mean-spirited administrators.  These could have left me despairing the way the elderly are cared for at the end of their lives, but instead it showed the subtle ways people can fight back against oppression.  Well done.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Goddess of Legend

The title: Goddess of Legend
The author: P.C. Cast
Publication: Berkley, 2010
Got it from: SC, 2010

Middle Age(s) Romance

There was a time, when I was in my late teens/early 20's when I was all about the Arthurian legends.  I read The Mists of Avalon when I was 17 and it blew my mind.  In university I took a whole class about the women of Arthurian legend.  As a result I have read virtually every version of this story.  So back in 2010 when I saw P.C. Cast was going to set her latest Goddess story in Camelot, I was curious what she was going to do.

Here is my quick review:  I enjoyed it.  But leave your brain at home.

Here is my long review: Isabel is a 42-year-old photojournalist who's seen it all.  Back home in Oklahoma after a traumatic experience in Afghanistan, she comes close to death when her car plunges into a lake.  Back in Camelot, Vivienne, the Water Goddess, is in need of help.  Her beloved Merlin remains in eternal sleep unless things are righted in Camelot.  And Camelot is in a mess because Guinevere and Lancelot are having an affair.  So Vivienne needs a lady to seduce Lancelot so Gwen can return to Arthur.  Isabel is given a second chance at life to complete Vivienne's mission.  Only it's Arthur she falls hard for, not Lancelot.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  I was happy to read about an older heroine and I liked that Isabel and Arthur were able to handle things like grown-ups.  It's nice to read about middle aged romance that's actually sweet and sexy, unlike so many other "literary" books that portray it as warped and dysfunctional.  Arthur was such a sweetie, so kind and good-hearted, it would be impossible to dislike him.  

But oh my word, this book is so silly.  I mean really, really, unbelievably silly.  All of the residents of Camelot pick up on Isabel's 21st century slang and begin talking like her, quoting lines from Jeopardy and wanting pedicures.  Let me put it in this analogy:

If Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur = Camelot

then

Goddess of Legend = Medieval Times dinner banquet

or how about:

If Mists of Avalon = Game of Thrones

then

Goddess of Legend =  Monty Python and the Holy Grail

In other words, don't expect much actual serious Camelot stuff.  Almost nothing happens in this book that isn't  relationship-based.  Even the "big battle" that you expect at the end doesn't really go anywhere.  At times the book felt repetitive and there was a feeling that it had been rushed to press.  With a little tweaking, it could have been a better story.  

Rating: Three Spamalots out of Five


Monday, January 13, 2014

Scandalous Desires

The title: Scandalous Desires
The author: Elizabeth Hoyt
Publication: Hachette, 2011
Got it from:  La library

I think I might be in love with Elizabeth Hoyt.  Remember last year when I read Thief of Shadows and loved it so much?  Well, reading Scandalous Desires reminded me of how much I loved that one.  I mean, I loved this one too. But Thief of Shadows is just the best.

Because I am contrary I ended up reading these two books out of order, so it was like watching one of those movies where you get the ending and you have to figure out how they got there.  And to make it more confusing for you, I haven't even read books #1 and #2 in the Maiden Lane series yet - but #6 is here in my TBR pile.  Please note - I do not recommend this.  There are a lot of intertwined stories and they are meant to be read in order.  I hadn't even intended to read this one (#3) but it was in the book sale in my library and I read the back cover and...

You see, I am obsessed with Once Upon a Time and Colin O'Donoghue/Captain Hook.  So when I saw that Scandalous Desires was about a charming roguish pirate my brain went:



                                               +


                                       
                                                                           =



"Charming" Mickey O'Connor is a pirate, but not the kind of pirate you're thinking of.  He's a river pirate, he lives in London and raids ships that come into the Thames.  He's pretty much the King of Pirates and he's a pretty bad guy.  Exactly one year earlier Silence Makepeace (Winter's sister from Thief of Shadows) had to go to Mickey to plead with him to save her husband.  What went down is a bit complicated, but what you think happened didn't happen except that Silence's husband thought it happened, and wouldn't speak to her.  And then his ship sinks and he dies and Silence goes to help her brother at the orphanage and ends up raising a baby girl, Mary Darling, who's left on the doorstep.

Only it turns out Mary is Mickey's daughter - surprise! - and she wasn't left there by chance, she was left there because he needed to hide Mary from his enemy and Silence is the only decent woman Mick knows (every other woman he knows is a whore).  Until Mick decides that Mary is in too much danger and has to keep her under his own roof.  This is when the story begins, with Silence refusing to be parted from Mary and going to live with Mick and his merry band of pirates.

What basically follows is a classic Beauty and the Beast story with a twist.  Silence, who's as much a do-gooder as her brother, ends up charming all the pirates, right down to their mangy dog.  It's a testament to Hoyt's great writing that I didn't absolutely love the two main characters but I loved the story.  Silence is almost too sweet, and Mickey is a jerk, but they grow and learn and feel like fully rounded characters.  The pace never flagged, it was perfect balance of heart and humour.  And sexy.  Hoyt's writing is so very, very addictive.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Rosie Project


The title: The Rosie Project
The author: Graeme Simsion
Publication: HarperCollins, 2013
Got it from:  DC, Xmas 2013

I got The Rosie Project for Christmas this year and read it in three days.  Three days!  As Don himself would say: Incredible!  I think it was a combination of having time off and being starved for an actually fun book.  I loved it all the way through.

(Here's another 2014 resolution for me: stop reading books I'm not enjoying.  I do it all the time, like I'm going to win some sort of medal for it.  For instance, before Christmas I was reading What Happens at Christmas by Victoria Alexander.  And it was just...fine.  It was okay.  The old me would have just kept dragging on with it.  But here's the thing: if I have to keep checking how many pages are left, that's not a good sign.  So eff it.  You know what?  According to Goodreads, I personally own 191 books that I have yet to read.  There are plenty of books in the sea.  I am thirty-one years old and I'm tired of reading books that don't do anything for me.  It's going to be hard to break this habit.  I will have to keep reminding myself - put down the book and walk away.  Even if I spent $20 on it.  Even if it was a present.)

I'm probably the only person on the planet who hasn't read The Rosie Project yet, but I say meh. I read a book when I'm good and ready for it.  I'm never going to be one of those cutting-edge people who stays ahead of the book curve.  I read what I like, when I like, at my own sweet slow pace.  Having said that, this book was a breeze.  It's about a genetics professor, Don Tillman, who is extremely rigid and organized and guided by logic and science.  He has difficulty making connections with others, but nevertheless feels that he would like to have a wife.  So he develops The Wife Project, a detailed questionnaire to help him find the perfect mate.  Naturally, the woman that he does end up falling for, Rosie, fails the questionnaire and is all "wrong" for him.

The Rosie Project reminded me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon,  with the story told from the perspective of a somewhat autistic hero.  But where I wanted to strangle the brat from The Curious Incident, I really liked Don.  For one thing, he does have emotions, albeit ones he's not particularly in touch with.  One of Don's few friends, an elderly woman in his apartment complex, has lost her husband to Alzheimer's and misses getting flowers from him on her birthday.  Don is perceptive enough to bring joy to her life by buying them for her himself.  In contrast is Don's other friend, fellow professor Gene.  Gene is a complete sleazeball who regularly cheats on his wife and is Don's foil is every way.  Gene is ruled by emotions and instincts alone, with disastrous consequences for everyone around him.  It's no coincidence that I hated Gene as much as I did, as it helped me sympathize with Don more.

Naturally this book has a lot of humour as Don uses logic to try to figure out illogical human emotions.  I wouldn't classify this book as a romance per se, rather a romantic comedy. (If it had been written by and about a woman, it would have been classified as chick lit, a term I abhor).  It's really all about Don and I never really got a feel for Rosie as a character, other than that she's supposed to be a free spirit.  But this is really about Don and his discovery of himself and his capacity to love.  It sounds serious, but it only feels like fun.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Here are the answers to last week's/last year's quiz:

1. One First Lady
A Marked Man by Barbara Hamilton

2. Two sets of magicians
The Grand Tour by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede
The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett

3. Three ladies of Christmas
The Heart of Christmas by Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick and Courtney Milan

4. An intrepid woman reporter
Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman (technically featuring two intrepid women reporters!)

5. The real lives of Downton Abbey  (moved to 2014)(?)

6. Pirates!
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe

7. The secret history of a major city
Two possible answers to this one:
Lost London by Richard Guard
Full Frontal T.O. by Patrick Cummins and Shawn Micallef

8. A classic children's book I've never read
The Besty-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace

9. A very "viral" book
Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918 by Gina Kolata

10. Lost books  (this one is a work in progress.  I am about halfway done).

11. A dear enemy
My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway

12. A prairie tale
Two possible answers for this one:
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell

What's ahead in 2014?  This year it's going to be primarily about romance, and rereading some favourite stories.  I'm not going to give specific clues, but this year I'm hoping to read romances about:

Spies
Early feminist activists
More pirates!
Scientists
Soldiers
...and an Arctic explorer!

Here's hoping I have more chances to read, read, read and review!