I increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a bI increasingly feel Thomas is constrained by the artificiality of publishing a historical romance novel. The Hidden Blade, a supposed prequel, was a better book by far, rich with small details that brought the interior life of its two protagonists to the fore. In comparison, My Beautiful Enemy is telegraphic, jumping from plot point to action scene in order to bring all elements to a resolution.
I adore Thomas's choice to meaningfully set the book in Ch'ing China, and the fact that while her leads may be British at least in part they have the will and desire to move through the world entire to find a place that suits them both.
However, this story had the potential to be a sweeping epic, big, meaty, sad, and sweet. Instead, by cramming the second half of the story into the slight page count and format of a historical romance, Thomas lost the richness that defined the first chapter. Key moments were compressed, leaving me somewhat dissatisfied. I wanted much more of everything, and cannot help but wonder if Thomas would be better off self-publishing a la Courtney Milan.
I resented having to place this book down and exit the world that Sara and Gerald Murphy invented for themselves. It was all too easy to slip into theI resented having to place this book down and exit the world that Sara and Gerald Murphy invented for themselves. It was all too easy to slip into the grace and charm of Villa America, or to envision the full-tilt excitement of painting backdrops for Parade and hosting the Ballets Russes set for a drunken soiree in honor of Les Noces ending with Stravinsky jumping through a laurel wreath. (Seeing the 'Misia, Queen of Paris' exhibit at the Musee de Orsay and the Paul Guilliame collection at the Orangerie provided gorgeous visuals for these passages!) Even the china, the end tables, and Sara's filmy dresses and pearls provided the sense of a life painstakingly crafted, constantly reimagined, and ultimately fragile.
Of course, the back to back tragedies of the 1930s tarnish the golden prince-and-princess nature of their story. Despite flashes of warmth (Dorothy Parker camping out at the sanatorium with them, Leger coming to sketch with Patrick, Hemingway arranging a wild west foray for the kids) it was striking how selfish, small, and mean many of their 'great man and woman' friends were. Despite the art, the dinners, the conversation, the modernity and the daring, these were just people making (lousy) choices and trying but all too often failing to lead lives congruent with their senses of self. Try Scott Fitzgerald: "When I like men I want to be like them. I want to lose the outer qualities that give me my individuality and be like them. I don't want the man; I want to absorb into myself all the qualities that make him attractive and leave him out." But also: "...you'll let me have my little corner of you where I know you better than anybody- yes, even better than Gerald. And if it should perhaps be your left ear (you hate anyone to examine any single part of your person, no matter how appreciatively- that's why you wore bright clothes) on June evenings on Thursday from 11:00 to 11:15 here's what I'd say: That not one thing you've done has been for nothing.... The people whose lives you've touched directly or indirectly have reacted to the corporate bundle of atoms that's you in a good way. I have seen you again & again at a time of confusion take the hard course almost blindly because long after your powers of ratiocination were exhausted you clung to the idea of dauntless courage." How to reconcile the cruelty, selfishness, and love?
The open question of Gerald's sexuality was particularly compelling. There was his unnamed anguish over the falseness of his public persona and his insistence that his love for Sara was true and necessary but also lacking a certain vitality/honesty: "terribly, terribly sorry that I am as I am... only one thing would be awful and that is that you might not know that I love only you. We both know it's inadequate (that's where 'life' comes in);- but such as it is it certainly is the best this poor fish can offer,- and it's the realest thing I know." The narrative presents an unsettling and unanswered question- does sexual incompatability or infidelities of the mind and heart (if not the body) make romantic love any less 'real' or 'true'? Or is the ultimate proof commitment- the daily choice to remain with one's partner and invest in them? Is such a choice sad, pitible, noble, tragic, beautiful, all of the above? Disturbing and bittersweet......more
This reminded me strongly of Nora Roberts's Chesapeake Bay series (Sea Swept, Rising Tides, Inner Harbor, Chesapeake Blue), my very favorite of her seThis reminded me strongly of Nora Roberts's Chesapeake Bay series (Sea Swept, Rising Tides, Inner Harbor, Chesapeake Blue), my very favorite of her series. I like the quiet romances and settings spiked with the drama of domestic catastrophies- car accidents, death, accidental pregnancies, custody disputes. I know that sounds like the soaps, but I eat it up. A well done, non-zany, family-centered contemporary romance series should be the genre's bread and butter but is increasingly hard to find. Virgin River fit the bill for a while until the proliferation of Marines and city-girls who secretly just want to pop out babies drowned the premise with ridiculous cliche. Kantra hooked me with this initial book, however. I'm in....more
I was tempted into this book by a youtube clip from an interview with the author. That clip hit the highlights of this book: namely, that elite secondI was tempted into this book by a youtube clip from an interview with the author. That clip hit the highlights of this book: namely, that elite secondary schools continue to reproduce the privilege of wealthy elites but they do so while also perpetuating a narrative in which rich kids succeed because they are talented, gifted, hard workers, ect. and not because they are rich.
Some of Khan's narrative passages early on have a captain of the obvious feel- yes, schools (like other institutions) socialize their members by diminishing the importance of previous identities and pressing upon members a new sense of who they are and how they relate to other actors in the new environment. So yes, we see the "newbs" at St. Paul's experimenting with dress, musical tastes, and speech until they find paths for success in this new structure. Duh.
Far more interesting was Khan's ability to unpack a seeming contradiction: American wealth has become more concentrated in the hands of elites (the infamous 1%) at the same time that civil rights movements have borne fruit in greater diversity (although nothing close to parity) in American educational institutions. I like Khan's conception of democratic inequality, in which a certain amount of diversity, combined with a narrative of meritocracy, creates the illusion of an open society while obscuring systems of oppression that continue to produce structural inequality in American society. Khan highlights that while students in elite schools may work hard (although there is no guarantee that they do) and demonstrate ease within a variety of academic and cultural situations (although that ease may mask lack of knowledge or superficial thinking), these students tend to be relatively average in their native talent. Yet the narrative of families, schools, teachers, and peers encourages the perception that the fruit of their labors (Ivy League school, high paying job) is the result of sheer native talent and hard work vice accumulated social capital (and a high school that spends $80k per student!!!). The corollary to this argument is that working class people are not a class per se (operating within political, economic, and social constraints) but rather people who have failed to work hard and who have closed themselves off to the pick-and-choose variety that defines elite cultural values.
Khan's other intriguing point is that social capital is not knowledge/goods, as commonly envisioned, but rather physical and social practices that must be embodied, performed, and accepted by the given audience: "So the analogy of cultural capital as 'money in your wallet' is somewhat misleading. Instead, I most often thought of culture in a relation way. My observations guided me to think of culture as a practice, not a possession." In Khan's analysis, elite schools reproduce privilege by taking children of elites and instructing them how to embody the attitudes and practices of the elite (to be at "ease" in a wide spectrum of situations and to be comfortable relating to authority figures and playing by the rules to ascend hierarchical structures). Students of color and women students have a more contentious relationship to the hierarchy- as they are visibly and inescapably different from the norm they must be more self-conscious and deliberate about how they relate to others. This self-consciousness interrupts their embodiment of elite status (ie "ease") and can prompt these students to swallow the elite school narrative of unalloyed meritocracy with more than a few grains of salt. Interestingly, Khan argues that class background does not have this effect- class can effectively be laundered through the gradual embodiment of elite practices whereas race and gender are less fluid categories. The presence of non-traditional students at these schools perversely reinforces elite students' self-perception as high-achievers (although when race or gender pops up to make systematic oppressive hierarchies visible, as in the case of the black teachers sitting at the very back of the room, elites feel great discomfort).
Worth the read and certainly there was more than a few moments of wry self-recognition for me, although my high school was a far cry from St. Paul's. If privilege is the ability to *not* think, to *not* worry, to *not* have to compensate for how others will perceive you, then elite schools surely foster the privilege of elites who are told they succeed because they work hard, compete in a fair system, and win based on native talent. Khan argues that these schools reproduce elite status while hiding the mechanics of structural oppression behind a curtain, never challenging students to evaluate the nature of their relative success and prosperity....more
I'm terribly afraid that the Psy-Changling series is suffering from something I will call Honor Harrington disease. When you have a series that is basI'm terribly afraid that the Psy-Changling series is suffering from something I will call Honor Harrington disease. When you have a series that is basically the same kind of adventure told over and over, to maintain tension and interest the author feels compelled to make every battle BIGGER and every character MORE EPIC THAN THE LAST GUY. This works for a while, but eventually it plays itself out, Honor Harrington has become the Eleven Star Admiral of three different planets and every battle has more set pieces and less visceral tension than the last. But it's all the same story, and the craft, the proportionality, and the investment in taking the audience somewhere new is gone. At least David Weber could play it out longer since occasionally really great characters died.
Romance conventions eliminate a lot of those will-she-or-won't-she nailbiters since we know that there must be a deus ex machina in place (hopefully a really nifty and emotionally wrenching one) to yield the happy ever after payoff. But it meant by the time I got to Heart of Obsidian I was becoming a bit fatigued- what is bigger than Judd knocking missles out of the sky or Sienna burning armies to a crisp? What more horrific torture will our heroine endure in this book? And ect.
Problem number two- Singh seems to really like the pairing of a man who can do amazing things with a woman who can survive a lot of crap. That's not to say that I'm not occasionally a sucker for this storyline- Caressed By Ice is a favorite. But the neverending taming of powerful men by martyred women yields a boring sameness to the installments- I'll call this Virgin River disease.
The first half of this book is a boring romance. Kaleb and Sahara bond despite at times disturbing captor/captive dynamics because they have a shared past inaccessible to the reader thanks to Sahara's handy amnesia. Everytime Sahara told herself that she wasn't ready to know something, I rolled my eyes. It read as an awkward plot device rather than an organic situation. This section of the book was a vehicle to carry the tension of the unrevealed secret between Kaleb and Sahara- did Kaleb participate in Sahara's torture? Unfortunately, I had the most awful feeling that Singh would wiggle out of this knot in much the same way JJ Abrams fake-killed Captain Kirk, and I was right. It's no fun if the solution, the happy ending deus ex machina, isn't fun and clever and organic to the characters and the plot. Kaleb is supposed to be a psychopath. I kind of wish he remained more true to that characterization.
The second half is a blur of giant disaster scenes for Kaleb to fix and flashbacks heavy on gore but shockingly light on true suspense. I was not surprised once.
Finally, Sahara is the biggest snooze ever. Her only defining personality trait is her ability to rain sweetness and rainbows despite her supposed case of raging PTSD. Nothing seems difficult for her- not forgiving Kaleb for things he thinks are so awful he cannot confess them, nor begging for the lives of her former captors/torturers.
Too sad. I immediately reread Play of Passion for some nice, classic Singh. I think the series jumped shark with Kiss of Snow (the first hardcover, natch) but this is the first time I've been bored vice disappointed. By the time the book got to the identity of the Ghost I did not even care anymore. Alas....more
I was turned on to Eastern Approaches while reading about the Soviet purges of 1937-1938. MacLean was a young British diplomat who requested transferI was turned on to Eastern Approaches while reading about the Soviet purges of 1937-1938. MacLean was a young British diplomat who requested transfer from Embassy Paris to the embassy in Moscow; while there, he attended each day of the Bukharin show trial which receives detailed description and analysis in the book. MacLean also used his leave time to strike out on unofficial, NKVD-dodging trips through the Caucuses and Central Asia, with Samarkand and Bokhara as chief destinations for his journeys.
Once WWII broke out, MacLean got out of the foreign service by running for and winning a seat as MP. He then went into the ranks and climbed quickly to Brigadier (?!?), engaging in action on the North African front, much of it clandestine. After an interesting kidnapping mission in Iran, MacLean was handed the military cum diplomatic mission to Tito and the Partisans, then scrambling through the wilds of Bosnia ahead of Nazi troops and local collaborators.
The book was entirely worth the read, if only for the slightly self-conscious but hugely entertaining voice of MacLean. There is a certain boyish enthusiasm in his prose where even long and desperate marches with guerilla forces or terrifying drives through endless desert without water take on the flavor of a Boy Scout adventure. His political analysis also shines through as measured, pragmatic, and with an eye to the unexpected opportunity.
It was disappointing to see a mind sharp as MacLean's descend into trite stereotypes and occasionally, more virulently racist depictions (as seen in an encounter with an Italian Somali soldier in Benghazi). His laziness in attributing behavior to the inherent nature of the Russian "race" muddied up otherwise clear-eyed observation of ordinary Soviet people's way of coping with extraordinary oppression. For the most part, however, for a man of his background and class, he clearly had an ability to relate to people on their own terms and plunge into new environments and relationships with enthusiasm. His extraordinary linguistic skills left me sighing in envy, as well- dropped behind enemy lines and he still takes to Serbo-Croatian like a duck to water...
There was an interesting silence in his chapters on his time in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia- he writes very little on atrocities committed against civilian populations and the little he does write is sanitized (for example, the story of the unfortunate child Ginger). Given the ferocity of the Ustashe regime's commitment to final solution-style ethnic cleansing, it was strange to find MacLean's narrative largely devoid of information on the subject (at least until the end and the capture of Belgrade). At the close of his narrative he casually mentions a conversation with a Red Army soldier on the Soviet man's plan to execute captured German and collaborationist soldiers, a conversation later confirmed by piles of soldiers shot execution style. I cannot begin to guess what such narrative silences indicate- lack of knowledge at the British mission to the Partisans on the full extent of the situation? Hesitancy or inability to write about the carnage? Certainly the grim reality of life for many in the former kingdom of Yugoslavia would have been an awkward fit with MacLean's witty, breezy, detached narration.
The cameos of places I have visited, such as the large fresh water stone cistern in Siwa, Egypt, where I spent an afternoon tossing lemons back and forth with local kids while splashing around, were arresting in how little had changed. The depiction of places still unknown to me were tempting- do I have time to learn Russian?
Despite his repeated disparagement of the slow and grinding inevitability of a diplomatic career, MacLean clearly always retained the framework and approach of a Foreign Office type. Despite his relish in knocking out tactical victories one after the other, it was in his strategic vision and his rather amusing access to people no less than Churchill that clearly left its mark on the course of the war in the Balkans. Still, MacLean's love of action for the sake of adventure was clearly a defining personality trait- apparently he and his wife were driving relief supplies into the former Yugoslavia in a pause in the Balkan wars of the 90s, despite being in their 70s at the time.
Well worth the read:
"On the evening of March 12th Bukharin rose to speak for the last time. Once more, by sheer force of personality and intellect, he compelled attention. Staring up at him, row upon row, smug, self-satisfied, and hostile, sat the new generation of Communists, revolutionaries no longer in the old sense, but worshippers of the established order, deeply suspicious of dangerous thoughts. Watching him standing there, frail and defiant, one had the feeling that here, facing destruction, was the last survivor of a vanished race, of the men who had made the Revolution, who had fought and toiled all their lives for an ideal, and who now, rather than betray it, were letting themselves be crushed by their own creation."
"In the General's bedroom I found a collection of automatic weapons of German manufacture, a good deal of silk underwear, some opium, an illustrated register of the prostitutes of Isfahan, and a large number of letters and papers which I took back with me to the Consulate."
"Mr. Churchill's reply left me in no doubt as to the answer to my problem. So long, he said, as the whole of Western civilization was threatened by the Nazi menace, we could not afford to let our attention be diverted from the immediate issue by considerations of long-term policy. We were as loyal to our Soviet Allies as we hoped they were to us. My task was simply to find out who was killing the most Germans and suggest means by which we could help them to kill more. Politics must be a secondary consideration."
"Entering the cave in a small boat, we all stripped and bathed, our bodies glistening bluish and ghastly. Almost everyone there was a Cabinet Minister in one or other of the two Jugoslav Governments, and there was much shouting and laughter as one blue and phosphorescent Excellency cannoned into another, bobbing about in that caerulean twilight. Then we emerged once more into the sunlight and sea breezes and lunched off of lobsters and white wine. It was choppy going home and several of the party were sick."...more
Most readers and reviewers seemed less than impressed with Robert, and that's exactly why I adored him to bits. How delightfully subversive was the dyMost readers and reviewers seemed less than impressed with Robert, and that's exactly why I adored him to bits. How delightfully subversive was the dynamic between Robert and Minnie, especially when she fantasizes about whispering into his ear at Parliament, but then realizes she would have to attend balls!
Robert's not the brightest bulb, and he's grappling with some major privilege issues. However, I never thought he was looking for a cookie and in fact he flicked off a number of cookies with some discomfort. Instead, he's navigating the world convinced he's inherited the sins of the father, something I felt quite a bit of empathy for. As for the 'arise, oppressed people' broadsheets- while clearly that was not the savviest use of his duke-capital, I did not think that he placed any of the workers in danger. However, to those reviewers wringing their hands over what would happen to the workers left out to dry... assuming the factory workers would strike simply because some anonymous fool dumps a pile of brochures at their place of business is just a bit silly. (Think North and South- quite a bit more to striking that that- poor Boucher!) I think we can excuse Robert of quite a bit (although not stupidly bad tactics- thank goodness he has Minnie).
As for the wedding night- I loved it. Best surprise of the book. Best angst of the book goes to Robert's youthful encounter with Oliver's mom and dad....more
Fascinating to see what has changed (and what remained the same!) since this book was published in 1983. It has all of the clear, striking prose of JoFascinating to see what has changed (and what remained the same!) since this book was published in 1983. It has all of the clear, striking prose of Joanna Bourne's most recent work. The male characters, in their boldness, wit, and penchant for getting things done, also shine through. It is in the development of the female lead where the contrast between then and now is most striking. Certainly part of this is genre convention, but even old gothics like Nine Coaches Waiting permitted the female lead to be both very mistaken but also very brave, competent, even heroic. Sad to say I found Melissa to be not quite bright, not in control of her sexuality, and far too prone to talking herself into and out of accurate first impressions. She is definitely a 180 from Bourne's current crop of heroines. While The Black Hawk saddened me a bit because I hated to see Justine lose, and lose again, at the hands of the British (men), I did read her as easily the equal or even the superior of Adrian in terms of strength of character: http://jobourne.blogspot.com/2011/12/... and http://dearauthor.com/features/letter... are both fascinating reads along these lines....more
The first person narration, perversely, limited my ability to connect with the heroine and understand emotionally (as opposed to intellectually) why she remained in her abusive relationship with her first husband. Rosario's description of the narrative as "therapy speak" is spot on: this portion of the book reads as a conversation with the heroine's therapist, sanitized by the passage of time, as opposed to a gut-churning immersion in a real experience of guilt, shame, and abuse.
The hero was cardboard; I never read Sugar Daddy so I had no suspension of belief to overcome in order to buy him as the good guy. However, Cates contradictions and insecurities, which could have been used to better effect, were instead smugly related by the heroine with an additional helping of therapy speak.
Show don't tell was violated all over the place here; scenes with the potential for great dramatic effect (like the heroine's first post-marriage conversation with her father) were described as having occured rather than related in a full scene. Boring! and this further increased my emotional dissociation from the book.
Finally, the book relied on uber dramatic and eye-rolling events to move the relationship forward: elevator rescues, dramatic arguments at work, the final sequence of drama at the end. Plot devices substituted for emotional meetings of the mind, providing opportunities for post-trauma sex but a lack of real tension-building....more
I had the misfortune of picking this up as an escape from The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie. Unfortunately, I found that Once a Rake eerily suffered from the same sins as Wicked Deeds: distasteful othering of Scottish men, incoherent plots, and ever-changing character motivations. I did not like it *at all*.
If the heroine of the book thought of Ian one more time as a "berserker" this would have become a wallbanger in truth.
I found Emma more difficult to relate to than her sister Sam, from For the Longest Time. While intellectually understandable, Emma's reactions to otheI found Emma more difficult to relate to than her sister Sam, from For the Longest Time. While intellectually understandable, Emma's reactions to other people and to traumatic events seemed way off. I was especially put off when Seth manages a violent, traumatic incident on duty and Emma's reaction was entirely self-centered. That said, Seth avoids being a cardboard 'vet with PTSD' character at every turn- although he too is a loner, he proves to be the more emotionally stable, generous, and self-aware member of their relationship....more
Fascinating take on work-life, from 1984- Seidel argues there are healthy relationships born of the nuclear family and unhealthy relationships that grFascinating take on work-life, from 1984- Seidel argues there are healthy relationships born of the nuclear family and unhealthy relationships that grow out of the work environment. Work relationships compensate for the intimacy that should be provided through marriage and are inherently exploitative because they spur women to see work as a familial/care obligation vice a remunerative activity. How delicious is that to find in an old-school Harlequin? The romance itself is snooze, as Wiley's a boring block. ...more
Like everyone else in the world, once I got over my disorientation at seeing Milan's new release was an alternating first POV new adult pastiche, I enLike everyone else in the world, once I got over my disorientation at seeing Milan's new release was an alternating first POV new adult pastiche, I enjoyed the book enormously. There's nothing in the genre quite like Milan's use of new adult sparkle to critique American inequality as it plays out on college campuses. If Tina Chen is just a tad didactic in her rants to Blake's father, I hardly cared because Tina Chen is a straight up awesome character. All romance heroines should have a lucky white sweater, pursue premed while secretly lusting after compsci, love to hate the privileged golden boy, and lose their self-composure in the midst of one of those banal and self-pretentious debates in soc class. Blake ends up as someone who really merits a relationship with the fabulous Tina, because without her, in the words of the new adult great The Year We Fell Down, "his shit would not have been shoveled." His enigmatically awful but loving father has the last word in this book for excellent reason, namely, that he is hilarious. I can't wait for the next installment....more
More a series of vignettes than a coherent narrative, Chewing Gum illuminates a number of enigmatic characters lost in the wake of personal and politiMore a series of vignettes than a coherent narrative, Chewing Gum illuminates a number of enigmatic characters lost in the wake of personal and political disappointments. Mukhtar remains frozen in time, waiting for the lost object of young love (or obsession) to return to him; Fatma cannot run away fast enough, seeking independence and control while sustaining herself through prostitution. Omar Effendi sold his humanity killing a crowd of protesters for a government that no longer exists and looses himself in carnality, while his twice-abandoned wife Rahma smokes endless rounds of sheesha and waits in vain for her lover.
The narrative is swamped with beautiful but opaque images and stories- the abandoned park, the singer, the statue inspiring obsessive love, pompous academics, and endless chewing of gum. There are no neat metaphors to read here, and while individual strands are thought provoking the book does not provide markers to read the text in terms of clear analogies to specific political or social issues in Libya. It hints, it mocks, it mourns, but I do not know that this text really explains. Nevertheless, I do not regret the read....more
Clever, grounded in workable science, and darkly funny, The Martian works because Mark Watney feels real. Left behind for dead, Watney's ability to coClever, grounded in workable science, and darkly funny, The Martian works because Mark Watney feels real. Left behind for dead, Watney's ability to cobble together the remains of his ship's base camp keeps him alive and able to reinitiate contact with humanity.
The pacing of the book is pure thriller, with multiple accidents, disasters, and mechanical disasters challenging Watney's ability to craft a solution with duck tape and his own excrement. NASA periodically intervenes, sometimes as a back office support shop of geniuses, sometimes as a remote and obstructive bureaucracy terrified of risk. No other personality shines as clear as Watney, although his former crewmates and NASA scientists have small roles.
This is ultimately a funny and hopeful book, propelled forward by the immediacy of daily survival. "Last night, I ate my final meal pack. It's the first good meal I've had in weeks. I'm leaving forty-one potatoes behind. That's how close I came to starvation." The book flirts with broader ethical questions but never addresses them seriously- Watley's closing monologue on the fundamental human impulse to help is heart warming but not a workable theory of the case. We regularly do turn our back on fellow men, which is made easier when they are safely anonymous. Watney's survival is thanks not only to his ingenuity but a series of choices to recognize and celebrate his identity and individuality, in a way we often do not a refugee fleeing Syria or a Liberian dying of Ebola. Still, this was a smart and entertaining read. And, of course, he's a UofC alum. His thought process had scav hunt written all over it. ...more
So maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of WiSo maybe I really liked the movie 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' but the proximate cause of my reading these stories is the doomed affair in Clouds of Witness between the murder victim and a mysterious Viennese mistress. The high drama, rigid social rules, and hopelessly destructive passion always struck a certain chord and I wanted more...
'Letter from an Unknown Woman' is claustrophobic and laden with risible angst. I am glad I did not stop there, however, as the opening of 'A Story Told in Twilight' is gorgeous and the quiet dignity of the matron in 'The Debt Paid Late' is an excellent rebuke of the pointless tragedy of the unknown woman. All of the stories focus on obsessive first love, embraced in three cases and absent in the fourth. What is now mocked and trivialized (weeping hysterical girls thrusting arms out to the Beatles, Bieber, whomever) is given a rich inner life, heavy with opportunity and danger that is incarnated in two cases by a sexually potent older male artist.
The translation is well done, with simple, clear, and intimate prose:
My husband was greatly surprised to see me back from my holiday so soon, and even more surprised to find how happy and reinvigorated those two days away had left me. He described it as a miracle cure. But I see nothing miraculous about it. Nothing makes one as healthy as happiness, and there is no greater happiness than making someone else happy.
Has rain been sweeping over the city again in the wind? Is that what suddenly makes it so dim in our room? No. The air is silvery clear and still, as it seldom is on these summer days, but it is getting late, and we didn't notice. Only the dormer windows opposite still smile with a faint glow, and the sky above the roof ridge is veiled by golden mist. In an hour's time it will be night. That will be a wonderful hour, for there is no lovelier sight than the slow fading of sunset colour into shadow, to be followed by darkness rising from the ground below, until finally its black tide engulfs the walls, carrying us away into its obscurity. If we sit opposite one another, looking at each other without a word, it will seem, at that hour, as if our familiar faces in the shadows were older and stranger and farther away, as if we had never known them like that, and each of use was now seeing the other across a wide space and over many years. But you say you don't want silence now, because in silence one hears, apprehensively, the clock breaking time into a hundred tiny splinters, and our breathing will sound as loud as the breathing of a sick man. You want me to tell you a story. Willingly. But not about me, for our life in these big cities is short of experience, or so it seems to us, because we do not yet know what is really our own in them. However, I will tell you a story fit for this hour that really loves only silence, and I would wish it to have something about it of the warm, soft, flowing twilight now hovering mistily outside our window.
My gut response is that Cashore is a strong writer who crafts compelling prose. She also captures quite well a really creepy, almost macabre sense ofMy gut response is that Cashore is a strong writer who crafts compelling prose. She also captures quite well a really creepy, almost macabre sense of evil and menance. I liked Bitterblue far more than Fire; most of my issues in Fire stemmed from the heroine's (agonizingly slow) growth. Fire is a relatively passive protagonist; she is so other to the society around her that she naturally hangs back and protects herself. Much of her isolation and passivity is also fueled by a healthy dose of shame and self-loathing. OK, fine so far. However, in the last third I was disappointed when I compared Fire to the male protagonist. I could handle a book in which a traumatized female lead acted out; I found it more difficult when she displayed significantly less maturity than her (also traumatized) romantic partner. In a nutshell, I wanted her to man up and she never really did.
All that aside, to pick up one of Cashore's books is to lose yourself, something that is increasingly harder for me to do these days....more
Kathleen Gilles Seidel is a fantastic author and I have been plumbing her backlist. Although some of her books are trapped in their dated-ness, I findKathleen Gilles Seidel is a fantastic author and I have been plumbing her backlist. Although some of her books are trapped in their dated-ness, I find that others (like When Love Isn't Enough, The Same Last Name) are unexpectedly insightful on the interplay between gender, power, and romantic heterosexual commitment. After All These Years explores at length formative romantic relationships begun as teenagers, and how these relationships shape and define not only younger years, but in some cases the later shape of adult life.
It is also interesting how frank and honest this 1984 book is, with our male protagonist, Tom, reconnecting with his childhood sweetheart before and in the midst of an amicable divorce. Tom is deeply shaped by his experiences as a Vietnam vet and afraid of commitments to people, places, and identities that bring with them social expectations and the possibility of failure. He is self-sabotaging, self-flagellating, and lonely even as he is also strong, caring, and decent. Curry is a treat- brave, committed, and no-nonsense; she is rewarded with a relationship that promises to widen her horizons and bring joy back into her life. Really rather an astonishing book....more
I believe the issue of Hart's sexuality and Eleanor's choice are intertwined. Young Hart buys into that classic Victorian division of labor wherein the lamb in the kitchen and the lioness in the bedroom are two different women. In my reading, Eleanor rejects this instrumental approach to relationships- she is no more a stepping ladder to a political career any more than Mrs. Palmer is a trampoline for kinky shits and giggles. And yet that is exactly how Hart defines and interacts with them. He is a good gentleman in that he does not play with both toys at once; however the initial insult of relating to women as exemplars of narrow categories rather than as full individuals lingers. This is why Hart thinks he can keep playing games with Mrs. Palmer long after she has indicated a wild emotional connection; this is how Hart misses that Eleanor has agency and integrity completely separate from anything he could do to or for her.
Could the book have used a kinkier scene between Hart and Eleanor? Probably. But I was satisfied through conversational clues that their sexual life was heading in that direction regardless. Unlike the hapless MP, Hart does not seem to like kink for kink's sake; rather, he enjoys taking women past their comfort zones because engaging in all of these practices requires women to voluntarily entrust their pleasure (and safety) to Hart, hitting his buttons for submission, control, and paternalism.
My issues focused on a different issue, namely Hart's political trajectory. I loved the mid-book scene of violence; the interview with Darragh spun me up because something in the dialogue and interaction between Hart and Eleanor reminded me strongly of Aral and Cordelia from Lois McMaster Bujold's Cordelia's Honor. Thus my thoughts were trending along Bujold-ian lines when the resolution to Hart's ambitions was introduced and I was left with a boatload of wtf? I would have strongly preferred for events to play out along Ian's vision for the future; this would have allowed for greater angst, true character reconciliation and growth, as well as a more realistic arc. C'est la vie.
If there was once character I think was inconsistent, it was Mrs. Palmer. Her warning of Eleanor was incredibly strange given that her imperative (especially as sketched in The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie) was always to protect Hart at all costs.
In all, however, I truly loved the book, especially many of the scenes that hit midway through the book. It's good to end this quartet on a high note....more
I adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. UnliI adored Free, and quite agree with Dear Author that it was nice to see a social justice activist finally get her full due in the romance format. Unlike Dear Author, I had and have no problem with Milan's very deliberate use of modern social justice problems in her historicals- identity, autonomy, sexuality, social status, class, and voice were all issues struggled with at the time, as they are today. Our inclination to think that constant forward progress has brought us to this enlightened day blinds us to the reality that we are not the first (nor will we be the last) to try and construct authentic lives in the face of these social barriers.
That said, the romance pancaked on an unbelievable hero. Angst, angst, blah, blah. Now, Leighton of My Beautiful Enemy, there was an angsty hero. Edward? Not so much, although interesting to see that shout out to the admittedly bloody Franco-Prussian war....more
I wanted to love this *so badly* but the incoherent narrative and fan-fic feel of the book left me underwhelmed. On the surface, it's crack- our intreI wanted to love this *so badly* but the incoherent narrative and fan-fic feel of the book left me underwhelmed. On the surface, it's crack- our intrepid agricultural scientist/administrator heroine helps a relocated group of refugee aliens explore the planet for communities where they can intermarry and preserve both their biology as well as their culture. The book does interesting things with these strands- what is innate, and what can be taught? How do you preserve identity?
Yet the book bounced from episodic chapter to chapter, with the feel of a season of Star Trek episodes rather than a coherent narrative that build a holistic picture of one world, Cygnus Beta. The Sadiri were never played straight enough- Grace is supposedly the only one who can see and interpret their emotional cues, and yet the text has them smiling and exclaiming and otherwise emoting in ways that undercut their supposed alien-ness. I've nothing against Vulcan pastiche, and Dllenahkh is dreamy, but again the fan-fiction vibe killed all. Lord neither kept close enough to the Vulcan mystique nor did she take that idea and make it her own. Alas....more
Dipping in and out of the arts, literature, science, politics, and social history, swinging back and forth through Britain, France, Germany, Austria-HDipping in and out of the arts, literature, science, politics, and social history, swinging back and forth through Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, Blom enacts a dizzying waltz through the dawn of the 20th century.
His central purpose is to portray these fourteen years as a dynamic part of the 20th century as opposed to the last gasp of the long nineteenth. He does an excellent job of sampling a sufficient variety of modernist thought and bewildering social change to make his point. Chapters are loosely modeled around themes- speed, feminism, eugenics, mental illness, pacifism, ect. Blom has an eye for an excellent quotation and manages to keep the sprawling scope of his narrative surprisingly engaging. I followed this up with Tuchman's classic The Guns of August, which in a sense makes Blom's point for him. Compare Tuchman:
So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and green and blue and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.
or the dismaying dislocation captured by Blom's observation:
This nostalgia was not innocent; it was poisoned by the knowledge that an era had passed by, while a new one had not yet shown its face.
In the end, I was most moved by the beautiful moment, heartbreaking only in retrospect, captured in Marie Curie's 'autobiographical notes':
One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles or capsules containing our products. It was really a lovely sight and one always new to us. The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights.
We invest these words with slowly creeping, invisible death, but only from our perch here a century later. Blom's challenge to the reader is to enter the moment on its own terms, stand with Curie, and feel the wonder of something gorgeously new. ...more
Fil is great- she's also awkward as fuck, intense, self-protectively callous, and utterly oblivious when she wants to be. The book plunges forward intFil is great- she's also awkward as fuck, intense, self-protectively callous, and utterly oblivious when she wants to be. The book plunges forward into the nerdlove more commonly dissected on my most favorite of blogs, http://captainawkward.com/, than seen in your typical contemp romance. I really liked who surfaced as Fil's ultimate love interest and it made an intriguing contrast to another Cohen romance, One Night Stand. That said, what really made this book was the constant framing through all of the canons and fandoms that defined me growing up- plenty of Star Trek, a smattering of D&D, marathons of X-Files, and ect. Hilarious, and spot on. I could also easily see the relationships, smoldering with banked over disfunction but sputtering along in determined see-no-evil, hear-no-evil style. I've been in a few social circles like this, and I have seen far more at that motherload of nerd-disfunction, UofC. It was nice to see one of us plopped down in the role of romantic lead, and to see her (eventually) pull her shit together and learn how to be an adult. Awkward, but self-actualized. It's what I go for every day....more
This was entirely too funny for words. 'Budget ninjas' will stick with me for quite some time, as will the plot point of instant breakfast groats. TheThis was entirely too funny for words. 'Budget ninjas' will stick with me for quite some time, as will the plot point of instant breakfast groats. The structure of this book actually follows the Sharing Knife (Beguilement) series in miniature- romance, followed by reconciling with the two families, followed by mad adventure. Ivan's POV is well done- honest to previous characterization of his feckless youth but quite convincing of his very real adult smarts and talents. His role as aide de camp, sorting out snakes, was particularly funny to me as I myself was filling in as an aide de camp at the time I read the book. Tej is a good partner for Ivan, and if her characterization as the happily normal child in a family of absurd overachievers parallels Ivan's just a smidge too closely, I chose to go with it.
I particularly loved Ivan's foreshadowed career path- Barrayar needs people who can keep a lid on trouble just as much as it needs its famous manic fireman-in-chief.
My only regret is this book renders one of my favorite fanfics ever no longer canon-feasible: http://archiveofourown.org/works/4916 While By did have an excellent starring role in CVA (no complaints!), I always did see him as made for Ivan......more
Lots of promise here, but the writing was clunky enough that this never really hit the detail-saturated, atmospheric historical/romantic mystery zoneLots of promise here, but the writing was clunky enough that this never really hit the detail-saturated, atmospheric historical/romantic mystery zone I was hoping for. Certainly this was nowhere close, to, say, Anne Perry's Hester and Monk. It almost felt like a spot of YA (is it YA?). I loved the choice to set the book in Downton Abbey London (definitely jonesing for 1900-1918 set fiction right now) and the promise of a female forensic patholigist lead. Pike was endearing enough, and his daughter humanized him nicely. However, the characters were sketchier than they needed to be (Dody seems almost detached from her career!) and the historical detail was provided through awkward 3rd person narration rather than through flashes of dialogue and detail.
I would read the next book, out of mild curiousity if nothing else. If the writing improves, there might be a series worth reading here....more
Ever since I read Jacob Have I Loved in middle school, I have loved books of sisterly competition and betrayal (probably because I only have brothers)Ever since I read Jacob Have I Loved in middle school, I have loved books of sisterly competition and betrayal (probably because I only have brothers). That was the hook that excited me about Rainshadow Road; however, Kleypas's ever-growing tendancy to narrate in therapy-speak sucked all the drama and angst out of that plotline. The hero was bland to the point of invisibility. A final note- the supernatural elements were awkward and nonsensical. It rather reminds me of Nora Roberts's 'Born In' trilogy where the first two books were delightful (Born in Fire is a great and non-hokey description of artistic inspiration that Kleypas should have taken note of) and the third completely bombed thanks to the bizarre faux-mystical elements. Alas....more
Sad, because the book was just so boring. Singh has always had an indulgent, rather florid prose, but her quirk of constantly narrating how sweet theSad, because the book was just so boring. Singh has always had an indulgent, rather florid prose, but her quirk of constantly narrating how sweet the heroine is, how wounded the hero, how great the conflict, how precious the love... it takes over the story. Missing are all the small quirks of character and action that substantiate these claims for the reader. I keep reading and reading in the hope that something will strike a chord with her earlier works, but the shark was jumped long ago, alas. ...more
Ridiculous title but decent book. I liked Annie's steady determination to turn her life around and Maddox was a good fit for her and her kid. If theirRidiculous title but decent book. I liked Annie's steady determination to turn her life around and Maddox was a good fit for her and her kid. If their abortive high school romance was rekindled a little too quickly, so it goes in series romance. The weakest part of the story was the lingering resentment from Annie regarding events of high school past- while everyone should have certainly used their words I cannot blame Maddox for pulling out so quickly given the very real legal and ethical issues at stake.
Incidentally, this reads like a PSA on the role that guns play in domestic violence. This book is 13 years old and we are no closer to protecting domestic violence victims from violent partners with guns...more
If Olivia is 26 then I don't think I've ever been that young. Yes! I will sleep with you but no emotions ever I promise and best friends for ever! AsIf Olivia is 26 then I don't think I've ever been that young. Yes! I will sleep with you but no emotions ever I promise and best friends for ever! As if. Still, better her than Nate's disturbing inability to take no for an answer. I might think Olivia was behaving like a diva, but the fact that no one would take her very clear no as an answer was disturbing. I can see why the concept is so appealing- Olivia's quirky, eclectic circle of friends would have been great to spend time with if they weren't so interchangable with their traumatic histories and loving partners. Only Cole stood out as a character with real agency and identity. But still, in the end, I do adore an occasional over-hyped fan fic wank, and this certainly fits the bill....more
A sharp, clever, gossipy review/revue of the UK of the 20s and 30s by war-poet Robert Graves and Alan Hodge (whose wife Graves shortly swept up and raA sharp, clever, gossipy review/revue of the UK of the 20s and 30s by war-poet Robert Graves and Alan Hodge (whose wife Graves shortly swept up and ran off with). If you are a bit obsessed with this corner of history (as I have been ever since picking up a Dorothy Sayers mystery, and she too is chronologued here), then the book is well worth the time. From dance crazes to political scandal, from recreational drugs to midbrow literature to anti-Semitism and the abdication crisis, the book covers wide ground with incisive wit and a light touch. Obviously, Graves was a bit player himself and it shows, most notably his extended paeon to Laura Riding's poetical vision. Nevertheless, rather delightful, all in all....more