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.