Fiction: “The Duchess War” by Courtney Milan

duchess warTHIS IS THE LAST BOOK FROM 2016

YOU GUYS

AFTER THIS I’VE GOT MY RECAP AND I’LL FINALLY BE DONE WITH THAT YEAR

I APOLOGIZE FOR DRAGGING 2016 OUT FOR AN EXTRA NINE MONTHS

I WILL HOPEFULLY NEVER DO THAT AGAIN WITH OTHER YEARS

So I have a habit of bringing a book with me to the gym. I trick myself into multitasking: I sit my ass on the recumbent bike, set it for Ramps, Level 7, 30 minutes, and sit back and read my book. And in the middle of December, I was in-between books: I had just finished Publish & Perish, and I was reading A Rake’s Vow at home (because, terrible train rides aside, I still feel uncomfortable reading romance novels in public), and I was also re-reading Moonraker, but I was reading it to take notes for my pipe dream James Bond thesis, and I can’t ride a recumbent bike and take notes at the same time.

But I didn’t want to just … stare at the digital readout on the bike, either. So I searched through my Kindle app to find something to keep my eyes occupied for the rest of my workout that day, until I could go home and find something else to bring with me to the gym.

I don’t generally use my Kindle app to read books. I’m a Luddite; I like having the heft of a book as I read. Also, my phone is three years old (I am the Oldest Millennial Alive, as I refuse to replace technology until it truly stops working. See also: my seven-year-old iPod, my eight-year-old car), and using the Kindle app — frankly, use of any app — drains the battery something fierce. So it’s rare that I fire up the Kindle.

And this title was on there. I probably got it in a free download, and probably also from some publicity on smartbitchestrashybooks.com.  And I downloaded it, and never gave it a second thought until I was stuck on the recumbent bike, bookless.

Reader, I’m so glad I had it.

This is a great story! The characters are great! And fully realized! And there’s banter! And some modern sensibilities even though the book takes place in the 19th century! And it’s kind of hot, too!

The main character is Wilhelmina Pursling – nicknamed Minnie. She is a quiet wallflower type – keen to fade into the background of every social interaction. She lives with her two aunts, whose names escape me, but they help to shield her from society. At a gathering, Minnie meets Robert Blaisdell, Duke of Clermont, and they have an interesting conversation but then they separate, never to see each other again.

Or so they think. Because there’s this dude who thinks Minnie is inciting the workers in their town to unionize, and he thinks she’s distributing fliers and using her Good Works visits to stir up feelings. But when one of the fliers shows up with her words written on it – words she said to the Duke of Clermont – she knows who’s responsible. So she goes to him to form an alliance – and to make sure she stays a wallflower.

Why doesn’t Minnie want people to know who she is? She’s got a secret – when she was a child, her father taught her chess, and she became a bit of a phenom. However, since it was unbecoming for young ladies to play chess, and to have those chess games be bet upon, her dad dressed her up as a boy. Her dad was then accused of cheating or rigging games, and she’s exposed as a girl and the crowd turns into a mob and she ends up getting stoned. At the age of 11.

Meanwhile, Robert is trying to make amends for his father’s lack of moral compass. His father was terrible to the workers of the area, and a bit of a date-rapist as well. Robert befriends his half-brother and tries to fit into their family, but because Robert looks exactly like his father – even when he was a young lad – his half-brother’s mother can’t stand to go near him. So he makes a family of his own through his friends at Eton, and grows up determined to use his title to make things better for the working class.

To be honest, I feel like I’m doing y’all a disservice – I read this book nine months ago, and I can’t remember much of the intricacies of the plot. I saved some quotes, because I do want to talk about a couple of things, but if you’re looking for more of a “what happened” kind of thing … I really won’t be able to help you.

So, let’s talk about the things I want to talk about, and if you want a more professional review, I’d recommend checking out the review of The Duchess War by Carrie S, over on Smart Bitches Trashy Books.

Let’s talk about: how modern this is?

Let me be clear: the book takes place in the early 1800s. In terms of setting, no, it’s not “modern”. But in terms of language, and sensibility, it’s very modern.

There’s this dialogue, from Minnie and Robert’s second meeting, wherein Robert’s attempt at an alliance is in an effort to gain Minnie the attention of suitors on the marriage market:

“What would you say when it was just men about? When they were asking you what the devil you saw in that mousy Miss Pursling? I daresay you’d never tell them that you were entranced by the curl of my hair […] men don’t talk that way amongst themselves.”

He gave her a shake of his head and a grin. “Come, Miss Pursling,” he said. “Men wouldn’t ask any such thing. They’d already know what caught my eye.” He leaned forward and whispered in conspiratorial fashion. “It’s your tits.”  [Ch. 3, p. 33]

TITS. In a historical romance novel! And the word is said by a duke, not a prostitute or some other lower-class individual!

Furthermore:

If another man had said that her tits were magnificent, it might have been in a leering, lustful way – one that would have made her skin crawl. But the Duke of Clermont was smiling and cheerful, and he’d thrown it out there as if it were merely one more fact to be recounted. The weather is lovely. The streets are paved with cobblestone. Your tits are magnificent. [Ch. 3, p. 33]

Also-also? Minnie and Robert? Both virgins. Who masturbateBoth of them. Yes, even Minnie.

I’ve read many a historical romance where the hero has “taken himself in hand”, so to speak, but never the lady. Even the widowed ones abstain from any … hmm … what’s a good old-timey epithet for that? Oooh! I got it! “Riffling the reticule!”

[okay. I just spent WAAAAY too much time looking for a .gif of someone begging for a joke to land, but apparently the idea of someone telling a joke, and holding out their arms going, “huh? huh??” as if asking “did the joke land?” is not translatable into a .gif search, so … moving on.]

SPEAKING OF PUNS and just generally being awful, there was also this exchange between Minnie and Robert, while they’re putting fliers up around town, using glue:

“Well,” he said, just behind her, his voice low and amused. “You know what they say. ‘Paste not, want not.’”

She blinked. “Puns,” she said, without turning around, “are the lowest form of humor.”  [Ch. 12, p. 109]

“Shall we proceed to the next corner? Miss Peters and Miss Charingford are already outpacing us.” His eyes slid to hers. “Outpasting us,” he corrected. [Ch. 12, p. 109]

“Yes,” she said. “I read everything you wrote. And I’m furious with you.”

“Now, now,” he admonished, “don’t be pasty.”  [Ch. 12, p. 109]

Basically, Robert is the mid-19th century version of the Pun Husky.

Look y’all, seriously – if you like romance that’s got some amazing sexual tension between the lead characters, a sweet romance, and an epilogue that will make you cry in the middle of your workout, I cannot recommend this book enough. I apologize for not being a good enough reviewer, but — I’ll try and get better.

Grade for The Duchess War: 5 stars

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Fiction: “A Rake’s Vow” by Stephanie Laurens

rake's vowBack in November of last year, I reviewed The Rogue Not Taken, which I had read back in July 2016. At the time of my writing the review, I was in the middle of reading A Rake’s Vow, which I had purchased at Wonderbook during My Dear Friend Sarah’s bachelorette party weekend. And I had this to say:

The banter between King and Sophie is great throughout the book, and the romance is quite steamy, and practically modern compared to some other novels I’ve read. (Stephanie Laurens’ next book in the Cynster series, A Rake’s Vow, I’m giving you this face right now:)

angry-kuzco

So now it’s August 2017, and I’m reviewing a book I read between November and December of 2016, and I am so close to finishing the 2016 portion of Alaina’s Book Blog Backlog (which, if I wasn’t so tied to the name That’s What She Read, I’d almost change it, because at least Alaina’s Book Blog Backlog is more accurate at this moment) that I can taste it.

ANYWAY.

This is the second book in the Cynster series. I had read the first title, Devil’s Bride, way back when in 2011, and I was not impressed. I was so not impressed, I gave it the harshest of ratings: twilight stars.  I thought this book was as bad as Twilight. And in retrospect … I am 99% sure I overreacted. Because the only other titles I’ve ever rated “twilight stars” are … well, the entire Twilight series; the two Shayla Black “novels” I’ve read; Wideacre; the two Catherine Coulter “books” I’ve read; and Devil’s Bride.

one of these things

Because it can’t have been as bad as Twilight. It certainly wasn’t as bad as either The Cove or The Maze. I must have been in a funk when I reviewed Devil’s Bride back then and had a poor perception of it. For that, I am sorry.

… Having said that, it’s not Shakespeare. But it’s not Twilight, either.

So as I said, A Rake’s Vow is the second book of the Cynster series of novels, which is approximately a frillion titles long. (According to Goodreads, the Cynster series is 26 titles long, made up of one major series and three additional trios or quartets. Her website has 15 in the Cynster series, a trilogy and a duo for Cynster Sisters, and two more trilogies of Cynster: The Next Generation. That’s … that’s a lot.)

This title stars Vane Cynster, whose real name is Spencer, who is a cousin to Devil, whose real name I completely forgot. (Sylvester. Look, I’ll give this to Stephanie Laurens: she is thoughtful enough to put a family tree diagram in the front of each of her novels. And she numbers the chronology, too! I have to say, I love a good family tree diagram.) (All the primary Cynster men have nicknames, like Devil, or Scandal, or … I don’t know, Maleficent. The nicknames always have an “evil” element to them and part of the story is how he shows how nice and non-devil-ey he really is.)

Vane is traveling somewhere on his way from a church roof dedication and decides to drop in on his favorite quasi-relative, Minnie. Minnie has opened her manse up to a smorgasbord of characters, including one Patience Debbington, and Patience’s brother, Gerrard. Vane comes across Patience in the garden, as she’s bending over looking for something, and he’s immediately taken with her ass. When Patience rebuffs his charms, he becomes even more determined that he must have her.

But Patience has hang-ups with “elegant gentlemen” – she knows them all to be rakes who won’t stay with women. (It’s what her father did to her mother.) So she resolves to avoid Vane as much as possible during his stay at Bellamy Hall.

MEANWHILE, there is a ghost AND a burglar at Bellamy Hall, and they may be one and the same. Possibly. Nearly every individual has had something precious taken from them – Patience was looking for a missing vase when Vane met her – and they all suspect Gerrard. Minnie asks Vane to look into it, as he’s a newcomer to the party and couldn’t have been involved. So Vane plays private detective, and Patience helps, in attempting to clear her brother’s name. And of course, they end up becoming involved.

Like my complaint with Devil’s Bride, I do not like it when a novel gives us a sort of mystery or overarching plot (in Devil’s Bride, a murder; here, the burglaries) and then break away from the plot for at least a hundred pages just to focus on the romance and sex pieces of the novel. And maybe I wouldn’t complain so loudly about that if the sex writing wasn’t filled with such purple prose (hence the Angry Kuzco Direct Side Eye Face up there). In terms of pacing, though, it kind of throws me off.

Also, as with some of the other novels I’ve read, the purple prose is also kind of funny.

As their lips fused, Patience felt his hands slide lower, deliberately tracing the ripe hemispheres of her bottom. [p. 142]

I am totally naming my rock band The Ripe Hemispheres.

I complained about misogyny in my review of Devil’s Bride, but I’m not sure that’s the right word … The Cynster men (that I’ve read about, at least) have very … patriarchal? views? Maybe that’s the word? They certainly don’t have a dislike of, or contempt for, or prejudice against women. But when they fall in love with a woman, they are compelled to make the woman “belong” to them.

There was, however, […] no reason whatever that they shouldn’t wed — that he shouldn’t become his wife. From his point of view, and from that of anyone with her best interests at heart, from the viewpoint of his family, and hers, and the ton‘s, she was perfect for the position in every way.

All he had to do was convince her of that fact. Find out what hurdle was preventing her from marrying him and overcome it. [p. 192]

Of course, having just defended Vane against a claim of misogyny, in the paragraph directly above that one I just quoted, he did think Patience “logical for a woman”, so … who knows.

Now, there were a couple of things that made me … react. There was this:

Eyes shining, [Patience] looked into his. “I love you.”

Vane’s lip lifted as he bent to kiss her. “I know.” [p. 365]

leia angry

And then there was this:

“Who,” Patience asked, “is Sligo?”

Vane’s lips curved slightly. “Devil’s ex-batman.” [p. 245]

jon-stewart-huh.gif

Were … were there Batmen in Regency England? And so prevalent that some could retire? How does one become an ex-Batman? I don’t — ?? I have mentioned before that I love Batmans in other fictional universes, and now I really want to see this Sligo’s Batman story.

Anyway. At the end of the day, A Rake’s Vow is … it’s okay. It’s not great. I’m not going to read it again. Don’t be surprised if I keep up with the series, though, because by now we should all be aware of how masochistic I get about serieses and stuff. But it’s not “twilight stars” bad.

Grade for A Rake’s Vow: 1 star

Fiction: “Publish and Perish” by James Hynes

Publish PerishI first read this book years ago – like, I was still living with my parents, “years ago”. I found it at the library, and I think the only reason I picked it up was because I had heard good reviews of Mr. Hynes’s next book, Kings of Infinite Space (which I still have yet to read – that’s been on my bookshelf for decades now). The subtitle of this book is “Three Tales of Tenure and Terror”, and y’all should know by now that I have a … different relationship with the horror genre.

Look, I like vampires. Buffy, The Vampire Diaries, Dracula – hell,

OKAY, SO, as I was writing that paragraph, a FUCKING HUGE SPIDER just FUCKING DROPPED from the ceiling. Like, “hey, y’all, I see you’re writing about horror, GET A LOAD OF ME” and I may have flipped out a wee little bit. BECAUSE I DON’T REALLY LIKE SCARY THINGS.

Here are the aspects of horror I enjoy: Vampire-related, to a point. Buffy and Dracula will always remain top spots in my heart, even if upon a second read I found Dracula to be boring. I … no longer know how I feel about the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. I remember enjoying them at some point, but I haven’t enjoyed one since … ever, according to my blog history. I liked the Sookie Stackhouse series – until I stopped reading it. Although I am in the middle of getting caught up with True Blood right now. (What? Seasons 1-6 are included with Amazon Prime, so why the hell not? If Lifetime’s UnReal isn’t coming back until 2018, what other options for summer cheese do I have? TNT’s Will? Oh dudes – that’s a story for another time.)

Are vampires even considered “horror” anymore? If someone said, “Hey, there’s a new horror movie playing,” my first thought is, “how many people get slashed by things hiding under beds and shit?” Because that’s the thing I hate. I don’t like the idea of people walking into rooms and having blood dripping down the walls. I don’t like slasher films. You will never, ever, get me to watch Saw or Paranormal Activity.

Now, psychological horror – like Hannibal / Silence of the Lambs, or Psycho – those I’ll watch. And if people go back to making goofy horror movies (like The Grudge, or Final Destination II), I may watch one. On Redbox.

I’m also a terrible Mainer, in that I’ve only read one Stephen King novel. It was The Dead Zone, and the only reason I even read it way back when was because Sean Patrick Flanery was playing the bad guy in the USA series way back when, and Sean Patrick Flanery played my favorite Boondock Saint. (I’m going to try The Dark Tower – soon. Maybe.)

So it’s really against my nature to pick up a book in the horror genre. It’s also against my nature – at least, I think – to enjoy it. And it’s really against my nature to enjoy it so much to want to read it again. I think it helps that the three stories in this book aren’t gory or slasher-ey, but more along the lines of WTF.

First up is “Queen of the Jungle”, which stars Paul and Elizabeth, two professors attempting to get tenure, and their cat, Charlotte. Paul and Elizabeth live in Bluff City, Iowa, and Elizabeth lives during the week in Chicago where she’s on a tenure track. When Elizabeth’s away, Paul definitely plays with his mistress, Kym, one of his students. Paul’s a stereotypical adulterous douche: he’s careful enough to make sure Elizabeth doesn’t find out, but he doesn’t care about her feelings enough to stop. He’s also fairly jealous of Elizabeth’s tenure track, as he’s been struggling to get his first thesis published. When Elizabeth tells him that her boss is interested in reading Paul’s research, which could lead to his own tenure-track position at the University of Chicago, Paul is ecstatic, and spends the week frantically fucking Kym and writing down whatever he could.

Meanwhile, Charlotte may or may not be attempting to sabotage Paul. She starts by peeing in Kym’s shoes every time she visits. Or taking Kym’s panties and hiding them, then dragging them out just before Elizabeth gets home. Paul even accuses Charlotte – a cat, remember – of unplugging his computer while he and Kym were out of the room, causing all of his day’s work to be erased.

I should warn cat lovers: Paul is progressively meaner and abusive to Charlotte. And there’s a moment before the climax of the story where it looks as if he kills the cat. (Note, I said looks – the horrific element comes in and allows you, the reader, to determine that for yourself.) And if reading my blurb about it causes you to not pick up the book, well, I can’t say as I blame you. But I’d also like to point out that the next two stories (which I’ll also briefly recap) do not have any harm come to any other animals, so you may want to consider giving the other two stories a chance.

“99” is the middle story, which has as its focus Gregory, a disgraced American anthropology professor vacationing-slash-forced-sabbatical-ing in southern England. The title of the story is taken from the following joke Gregory’s friend Martin tells him:

“A man is jumping up and down on a manhole cover. As he jumps, he’s shouting, ‘Ninety-eight, ninety-eight, ninety-eight…’ Now, another chap comes along and says, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ The first man keeps jumping up and down on the manhole cover, and he says, ‘Ninety-eight … it’s wonderful fun … ninety-eight … you really should try it … ninety-eight…’

“So the second man says, ‘Really? What’s fun about it?’

“And the first man says, ‘Ninety-eight … try it and see … ninety-eight …’

“’All right then,’ says the second man, ‘step aside.’

“So the first man jumps aside, and the second chap steps onto the manhole cover and starts jumping up and down, shouting out, ‘Ninety-eight, ninety-eight, ninety-eight …’”

“I get the picture,” Gregory said. Martin had little sense of pacing, an unfortunate lack in a documentary producer.

“Of course you do.” Martin smiled. “So the first man says, ‘Jump higher.’

“’Like this?’ says the second man, crying, ‘Ninety-eight, ninety-eight, ninety-eight,’ and jumping as high as he can. And as he jumps higher, the first man reaches under him, pulls away the manhole cover, and down falls the second chap into the hole. Then the first fellow puts the manhole cover back over the hole, and starts jumping up and down saying, ‘Ninety-nine, ninety-nine …’” [p. 101-102]

Gregory extends his sabbatical to a small town near Stonehenge named Silbury, which is known for crop circles and other strange phenomena. When he visits the local pub, there’s a wall of photographs of painted people surrounded by local villagers, dating back to the late 1800s. It’s attributed to a local festival, the Seven Sisters – a tradition. Without divulging spoilers, the joke and the festival are connected.

The last story, “Casting the Runes,” stars Virginia, an adjunct professor at a Texas university one paper away from being granted tenure. Unfortunately, her advisor, Victor Karswell, has other ideas – he wants to take her paper and publish it under his own name. And it’s not the first time he’s done this with other students. Virginia refuses and grabs her paper from his hands. When she gets home, she finds small runes written on the side of the last page. And then weird stuff happens.

What I like about this genre of horror is that the horrific aspects could be explained by coincidence or human nature; or, there actually could be a supernatural element behind them. We the reader are allowed to make that decision for ourselves, based on what we believe. If you don’t believe in any supernatural stuff at all, then these tales would fall squarely in the center of psychological terror. If you think maybe there’s something to pagan beliefs, you’ll probably come to a different conclusion.

I like these stories. They’re well-written, and allow the reader to come to their own conclusions. I’ve read a few books lately (to-be-reviewed) where the author tells you exactly what happens and there’s no doubt allowed, and I don’t enjoy those as much. If this type of genre intrigues you, I’d say go ahead and pick up the book. And feel free to skip the first story.

Grade for Publish and Perish: 4 stars

Non-Fiction: “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis

moneyballHi. My name is Alaina Patterson; and I love baseball.

**Note From the Future: Okay, so – this entry was going to be a review of Moneyball, but the first near-2,500 words are actually two stories: The Story Of How Alaina Came To Love Baseball, followed by The Story Of How The 2016 World Series Almost Killed Alaina. If you don’t enjoy learning about somewhat obscure baseball movies from the 1990s (no, the movie is not Field of Dreams, please check out my list at moviesalainasneverseen.com to verify that I’ve never seen it) or why I love the Cubs or a play-by-tweet of that fateful Game 7, I suggest you scroll down until you see a picture of the Fenway scoreboard – I begin talking about the book at that point. You can also save yourself the trouble and read the first (and better) review of Moneyball from when I watched the movie during Oscar!Watch.

Regardless of what you choose, thank you for choosing That’s What She Read for all of your least-effective book review needs.**

I love baseball. I love it! It’s a great game to watch! Some people complain that it’s too slow, to which I counter: It can take Tom fucking Brady eighteen minutes to advance ten yards. (I watch football, but I don’t enjoy it.) (Please, Patriots fans, don’t post statistics to counter that statement I obviously made up. I do not care.) (Yes, I know football quarters are 15 minutes long, what I’m saying is that between all the stopped clocks and interceptions and tackles and shit that 15-minute quarter drags for a fucking hour, don’t @ me.)

The rules of baseball are simple! Hit the ball, advance to base, four bases makes a run. Each run is a point. Three strikes and you’re out. Three outs end an inning. Nine innings to a game. Math!! Learning football was the worst – and a former coworker, Ken, can attest to this, as he thought it would be a good idea to try and teach me football. He learned you shouldn’t teach Alaina lessons the hard way:

Alaina: Wait, okay, so they’re on the fourth down on the goal line, and instead of trying to run it, they’re going to go for a three-point conversion?
Ken: No, Alaina, it’s a two-point conversion.
Alaina: Isn’t that a slam dunk?
Ken: That’s basketball.
Alaina: Why do we hate the San Francisco Giants again?
Ken: No, Alaina, we hate the New York Giants. The San Francisco Giants is a baseball team.
Alaina: Did you know you have a vein in your forehead that gets extra-throbby when I ask stupid questions?

So when did I first fall in love with baseball? Believe it or not, 1994 – when my dad taped Rookie of the Year off of HBO. I must have watched that movie a hundred times. And the team that young Thomas Ian Nicholas (who went on to star in the American Pie movies) and the relatively-sane-back-then Gary Busey (I know, you guys; I’m so ashamed of myself) played for?

The Chicago Cubs.

I also grew up loving Back to the Future. And in BTTF:II, Marty goes to 2015, to learn that the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series. And I vaguely remember learning of the Curse of the Goat – either my Dad told me, or I read about it somewhere. And I think, partly because I grew up a superstitious child — coupled with my love of David and Goliath stories — I kept the Cubbies close to my heart in valiant hope, and, above all, put a pin in 2015 in the hopes that Robert Zemeckis was psychic.

In the meantime, I watched and followed the Red Sox – because living in Maine, you’re not typically going to be able to watch Cubs games, unless they’re part of ESPN’s rotation. And believe me, if you even mentioned the Cubs not winning a World Series within hearing distance of a Red Sox fan, it would be a Pavlovian trigger to for them to start bitching about the Curse of the Bambino and Bill Buckner and even Bucky Fucking Dent and guys, we get it, your life sucks too, jeez.

But I still remember the elation I felt when the Sox beat the Yankees in the seventh game of the ALCS back in 2004, among other highs – Johnny Damon’s grand slam! Man, I loved Johnny Damon back then. I was so pissed when he went to the Yankees. I would yell “Noommaaaarr!” along with the televised crowd when Garciaparra would come up to the plate. Crying on my bedroom floor when the Idiots crushed the Cardinals. Oh, it was amazing.

I was at a Red Sox game where the Sox were playing the A’s – another team I used to follow, which I’ll get into in a minute, when I finally start talking about Moneyball – and Garciaparra was batting for the A’s, but Fenway, God bless ’em – all of Fenway Park stood up and gave him an ovation. Say what you will about Red Sox fans – and they are some of the worst, and I say that as someone who counts herself among them – they will cheer any one of the old-timers, so long as they don’t go play for the Yankees, Damon.

So the Red Sox win the Series three times, and in the meantime, Theo Epstein – the manager who brought the Sox to their curse-breaking win – has moved to Chicago to work with the Cubbies.

2015 comes along, and the Cubs move to the Wild Card slot. And every day, I’m posting on Facebook my glee (and also asking #WhereIsMyHoverboard). Because it’s 2015! It’s the year Marty goes to the future! It’s the year where the Cubs win the World Series! It was their density. 

Hashtag #ItsYourDensity.

In a horrible twist of fate, the Cubs lose the NLCS to the Mets — the same team they battled in Rookie of the Year! — on October 21, 2015.

The day Marty McFly arrives in the future.

Well – I guess we never realized, on all of this, that the timeline must have adjusted when Biff stole Gray’s Almanac and then Marty and Doc had to set things right again.

We’ve been in 1985-C’s future all along, guys. It just stings a bit.

(If it was any other year, I’d be rooting for the Mets equally. But this is 2015; it was supposed to be the future.)

Good game, Cubbies. And hey – maybe Marty was off a year. #ItsYourDensity
[My Facebook post on October 21, 2015.]

[Why would I be rooting for the Mets? Well, when my team goes out, I go and root for the team where I have the next-best feelings for. For instance, I will root for the San Francisco Giants, because they’re a good team, and also, Emily is from San Francisco. When it comes to the Mets, someone I follow on Tumblr is a huge Mets fan, as well as Alaina’s Eternal Forever Pretend Husband, Jon Stewart.

2015 was also the year that many Things happened: Jon Stewart left The Daily ShowHannibal was canceled; and I learned that Eddie Vedder, scourge of my soul, is apparently the third-biggest Cubs fan, after Bill Murray and Bob Newhart. I was quite torn during that NLCS: Obviously I was going to root for the Cubs, Team o’ my Heart, but it was weird rooting for a team loved by the same dude who had caused a lot of heartache for me over the years, over the favorite team of my Forever Pretend Husband.

2015 was weird.]

Fast-forward to 2016. Amongst all the terrible, heartbreaking celebrity deaths, TV show cancellations, and the horrifying shitshow that was the national election, one of the only things giving me solace was following the Cubbies. Watching Anthony Rizzo’s face when he scored runs! (He also started off playing for the Portland Seadogs – I may have watched him play in Portland and not know it!) Rizzo’s friendship with David Ross, and the stellar pitching/catching team-up that was Jon Lester and Ross! Kris Bryant’s unfairly pretty smile! JAVY BAEZ, being a FUCKING BEAST!

baez 1.gif

And then – they made it to the Division series! Beating the Giants handily, they quickly moved onto the Dodgers in the NLCS. That was an interesting week – My Dear Friend Sarah’s wedding was on the same night of the sixth game, so I again apologize for checking my MLB At Bat app every five minutes. IT WAS IMPORTANT! And hey, your wedding was good luck, because they won!

The World Series started the week Emily and I were in Florida. #EmilysDisneyDay, I ran out the battery on my phone twice refreshing my At Bat app, to learn that the Cubs had won Game 2.

This was me watching Game 3, on the road in Virginia:

(Why yes, I did splurge and get a hotel room with a soaking tub. Because I’m an adult who deserves nice things!)

I spent Game 4 on the road, driving home. My mother, bless her heart, texted me updates, which Blanche the Rental Car would read aloud to me.

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And then, Game 5. The Cubs were in the hole 3 games to 1. They needed to sweep or we’d be lost. I was home for that, and the Cubs managed to eke out a win.

Game 6, third inning. I was on my way to the fridge for a beer when I heard the dulcet tones of one of the most well-known sounds of the 1980s, and I remembered –

I have a t-shirt with “Save Ferris” on it. (Which scene, of course, took place at Wrigley Field, home of — the Cubs.) I go put it on, and IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING ME PUTTING THE SHIRT ON, Addison Russell hits a motherfucking grand slam! and the Cubs win!

And now, we’re at the big game. My Dear Friend Sarah is in on the action (at least, on Twitter), and she and I are live-tweeting the shit out of it. And holy shit – I still – anyway.

(Trust me – I would have worn it to work, but -)

So through five innings, the Save Ferris tee – and beers – are doing their job. The Cubs are CRUSHING IT! 3 to 1! 4 to 1! 5 to 1! I mean, it’s golden, guys. It’s so pretty. It’s so great.

And then, bottom of the fifth – and the Indians, god bless ’em, score. And they score HARD.

Fox had catcher David “Grandpa” Ross mic’d in the bullpen, and his buddy Anthony Rizzo goes over, and the following exchange happens:

Rizzo: I can’t control myself right now. I’m an emotional wreck.
Ross: It’s only gonna get worse.
Rizzo: I’m in a glass case of emotion right now.

Then, this happened:

(“Mizumono” is the second season finale of Hannibal, where everything goes to shit and everything is terrible and everything hurts. But in that moment, I swear to God, it would have been the balm of Gilead for me, the game was stressing me out so bad.)

Joe Maddon takes Hendricks out in the fifth inning, and brings in Jon Lester and catcher David “Grandpa Rossy” Ross in as relief. And in the top of the sixth, Ross hits a home run – his last home run, because he was retiring at the end of the season. And I cried.

Score is 6-3 Cubs for the next couple of innings. Then, at the 8th inning stretch, I post this:

And in the bottom of the 8th inning, the Indians fucking rally. RBI! Rajai Davis hits a two-run homer! Joe Madden doesn’t pull Aroldis Chapman from the inning!

I have gone completely Twitter-silent. I’m sitting on the edge of my love seat, trembling and muttering because seriously, I was almost insane.

The game is tied at the end of the 9th inning, 6 to 6. And then – the fucking rains came.

The teams go into their respective dugouts, and the tarp comes out.

In my desperation, I even offered this:

It was bleak, you guys. I had watched my team – my team! – make it to a goddamned tenth fucking inning in Game 7 of their first World Series appearance since 19-goddamned-45. I sucked down a third beer – on a Wednesday (at that time, technically, Thursday morning), which I shouldn’t have done, but oh well, who knows when this was going to happen again – and I was pretty much dying.

Unbeknownst to us at-home viewers, outfielder Jason Heyward took the opportunity during the rain delay to rally the troops. And when they came back to the plate, it was an entirely different team.

Schwarber hits a single! Rizzo got walked, sending Schwarber to second! And then Zobrist singled, driving Schwarber home! 7-6 Cubs!

Then Miggy Montero singled, driving Rizzo home! 8-6 Cubs! HOLY SHIT!

Then the Indians came back. They just needed to hold the line for three more outs. I am on the floor in between my love seat and TV, rocking myself and fervently praying to an angry god. The Indians score another run, and I am dying.

And then:

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SO. MUCH. CRYING.

I cried for half an hour straight. I was inconsolable in my joy. I am crying again right now.

You guys – you don’t even know. It was fucking amazing. I couldn’t – I can’t put it into words. How wonderful it was. How wonderful it is.

Do you want to experience joy? Watch this:

SO MANY HAPPY PEOPLE.

SPOILER ALERT!: I did not call in sick the next day. I should have, but I did not.

So. Hopefully that clears up why and how much I love the Cubs and how much the World Series meant to me.

If you would like to see an accurate representation in video form of How Alaina Watched Game Seven of the 2016 World Series, go ahead and watch this gem:

And please enjoy – and sing along – with the happiest song on earth.

And by now, those of you who have put up with my rambling, you can probably appreciate how how proud I am that I didn’t outright punch the Lids dudebro in the face when he tried to mansplain my own goddamned love of the Cubs back to me when I bought my hat back in April this year:

Dudebro: What’s your favorite team?
Alaina: The Chicago Cubs.
Dudebro: Oh really? Why, because you like Back to the Future?
Alaina: Uh, no … I like the team. I like rooting for underdogs.
Dudebro: Oh, so you rooted for the Red Sox until 2004?
Alaina:
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hanni jumpy
Missy: HEY ALAINA LET’S GO GET SOME CUPCAKES

I was so angry, I bought four cupcakes instead of one. NO REGRETS, MOTHERFUCKER!

But at least I was able to represent my team when I went to see the Cubs play the Red Sox at Fenway this year.

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Also, I was wearing the Save Ferris shirt that day, and when the Cubs won (GO CUBS GO!), it was determined that the Save Ferris shirt is actually Magic.

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(Also, Eddie Vedder was at the same game and NO ONE DIED. And in case anyone’s wondering, I can almost confirm: the Cubs winning the World Series may have ended the Curse of Eddie Vedder. Because I haven’t heard “betterman” hardly AT ALL since the Cubs won, and nothing monumentally bad has happened.)

OKAY. SO. WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MONEYBALL

Moneyball is written by the same person who wrote The Big Short. Michael Lewis has a financial background, and in this book, he applies that not just to baseball, but to one of the most unlikely seasons seen in recent baseball history: the 2002 Oakland Athletics.

The Oakland A’s – one of the first teams I rooted for, because a) they weren’t the Red Sox, but b) were in the same league as the Red Sox, and c) were geographically close enough to the San Francisco Giants that I could almost still use my friend Emily as an excuse. The A’s were managed by Billy Beane, who was driving internal baseball experts crazy with his draft picks and managing style. At this time in the early 2000s, the era of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, every team was looking for their Big Hitter. The Red Sox had just signed (or were about to sign) Manny Ramirez and David “Big Papi” Ortiz. Jeter was starting to make a name for himself. And the A’s had just lost Johnny Damon to the Red Sox; Jason Giambi went to the Yankees.

Instead of going after other big arms, Beane focused on players who played positions well and got to first base. This thought was anathema to traditional baseball thoughts:

For Billy and Paul and, to a slightly lesser extent, Erik and Chris, a young player is not what he looks like, or what he might become, but what he has done. As elementary as that might sound to someone who knew nothing about professional baseball, it counts as heresy here. [p. 38]

Most scouts would look at a high school or college player and say, “he plays okay now, but as he grows and trains, imagine what he’ll do”. Beane was saying, “look at his stats, and pick people on what they have proven to do well”. This was practically heresy for baseball.

Beane practiced sabermetrics, which took a statistical look at baseball and tried to apply it to being able to win more games. And Beane’s devotion to his craft led to the Oakland A’s winning 20 games in a row in 2002 – the fourth-longest winning streak in major league history, and the best since 1935 (who had the longest streak in that year, with 21? The Chicago Cubs).

One of my favorite things about baseball is how overjoyed everyone gets when they seriously win. The World Series, or the 20th game in a winning streak, breaking an American League record – the happiness that comes from that type of event is so heartwarming.

This is the story of Beane’s draft pick, Scott Hatteburg (“Hatty”), driving in the winning home run in the 20th game:

The second pitch is another fastball, but it’s high in the strike zone. Hatty takes his short swing; the ball finds the barrel of his bat, and rockets into deep right center field.

He leaves the batter’s box in a crouching run. He’s moving just as fast as he does when he hits a slow roller to the third baseman. He doesn’t see Grimsley [the pitcher] raging. He doesn’t hear fifty-five thousand fans erupting. He doesn’t notice the first baseman turning to leave the field. He doesn’t know that there’s a fellow from Cooperstown following him around the bases, picking them up, and will soon come looking for his bat. The only one in the entire Coliseum who does not know where the ball is going is the man who hit it. Scott Hatteberg alone watches the ball soar through the late night air with something like detachment.

The ball doesn’t just leave the park; it lands high up in the stands, fifty feet or so beyond the 362 sign in deep right center field. When he’s finally certain that the ball is gone for good, Scott Hatteberg raises both hands over his head, less in triumph than disbelief. Rounding first, he looks into the Oakland dugout. But there’s no one left inside – the players are all rushing onto the field. Elation transforms him. He shouts at his teammates. He’s not saying: Look what I just did. He’s saying: Look what we just did! We won! As he runs, he sheds years at the rate of about one every twenty feet. By the time he reaches home plate, he’s less man than boy.

And, not five minutes later, Billy Beane was able to look me in the eye and say that it was just another win. [p. 261-262]

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Now, I’ve talked a lot about what I love about baseball. But before I close, I have to mention one thing I hate: the broadcasters who call baseball games, and of those, Joe Fucking Buck.

(I do not know why I hate Joe Buck so …. much… I …

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I JUST DO. GOD, he bugs the everloving fuck out of me. ALSO, HE SAID ‘IRREGARDLESS’ ON A NATIONAL BROADCAST, AND WE ALL KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT ‘IRREGARDLESS’)

Ahem.

Joe Buck aside, my LEAST FAVORITE THING is when people say “the tying run is on deck.”

Art Howe virtually leaps out of the dugout to yank Chad from the game. On his way to his seat on the bench Chad stares at the ground, and works to remain expressionless. He came in with a six-run lead. He leaves with the tying run in the on-deck circle.  [p. 256]

And it’s not just the “tying run” bullshit – broadcasters love to assign meaning to shit. Here’s an example from Moneyball, where Joe Morgan assigned cause to the absolute wrong action on the field. Twice.

Down 5-4 in the eighth inning, Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano had gotten himself on base and stolen second. Derek Jeter then walked, and Jason Giambi singled in Soriano. Bernie Williams then hit a three-run homer. A reasonable person, examining that sequence of events, says, “Whew, thank God Soriano didn’t get caught stealing; it was, in retrospect, a stupid risk that could have killed the whole rally.” Joe Morgan looked at it and announced that Soriano stealing second, the only bit of “manufacturing” in the production line, was the cause. Amazingly, Morgan concluded that day’s lesson about baseball strategy by saying, “You sit and wait for a three-run homer, you’re still going to be sitting there.”

But the wonderful thing about this little lecture was what happened right under Joe Morgan’s nose, as he was giving it. Ray Durham led off the game for Oakland with a walk. He didn’t attempt to steal, as Morgan would have him do. Scott Hatteberg followed Durham and he didn’t bunt, as Morgan would have him do. He smashed a double. A few moments later, Eric Chavez hit a three-run homer. And Joe Morgan’s lecture on the need to avoid playing for the three-run homer just rolled right along, as if the play on the field had not dramatically contradicted every word that had just come out of his mouth.  That day the A’s walked and swatted their way to nine runs, and a win … Two days later in Minnesota, before the third game, Joe Morgan made the same speech all over again.  [p. 271-272]

Like playwrights, all national baseball broadcasters should be dead for three hundred years.

Anyway. Let me tie this all back to the Cubs, because I’ve written entirely too much about baseball and not enough about the book. At the end of the A’s season that year, Billy Beane is offered the general manager job of the Boston Red Sox.

All that remained was for Billy to sign the Red Sox contract. And he couldn’t do it.

**The job went to Theo Epstein, the twenty-eight-year-old Yale graduate with no experience playing professional baseball. [p. 279 & footnote]

Theo Epstein. The sabermetrics wunderkind who went on to lead the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series win after 84 years in 2004. Twelve years later, he’d do the same for the Cubs.

Grade for Moneyball: 4 stars
Grade for the 2016 Chicago Cubs: eleventy million hearts

Fiction: “Alanna” by Tamora Pierce

alannaGood morning to everyone, except members of the State of Maine’s Executive and Legislative branches!

So … the good State o’ Maine is shut down. If you’re on your way up to the state for the Fourth of July weekend, your good news is that the governor deemed state park workers as “emergency”, so you’ll still be able to have your cookout on the beach.

(PLEASE, keep in mind as you travel that any state workers you see out there – state park rangers, state troopers, toll booth collectors – they’re all working unpaid right now, so please, be extra extra nice to them, okay?)

As for me: the people in my entire division were deemed “non-emergency”, so you’re looking at a girl who has an unpaid vacation of indeterminate length on her hands. But instead of bitching about how we wouldn’t even be IN THIS SITUATION if the goddamned APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE had DONE their FUCKING JOB THREE MONTHS AGO, I’m going to look on the bright side: I’ve got some money in my savings account, bills are paid for the month, and I’m probably going to be out for enough time to have some free adventures, so be sure to follow #ShutdownAdventure on Twitter and Facebook to see this week’s shenanigans.

Also: I have no reason to not get caught up with this backlog! So let’s dig in!

Not sure why I requested this book from the library – I may have seen it on a list somewhere about someone’s favorite young adult novels, or who knows why. Whatever reason it was, I requested it from the library and then it came in, so I read it.

Alanna: The First Adventure is, well – the first adventure for Alanna. There are four books in the Song of the Lioness series, and when I was a kid, I read three out of the four. I believe I was in fifth grade when I started reading them, and I’m not sure why I never finished. I may have decided to graduate to “adult” novels that year?

Well, actually – I know it was fifth grade when I started to sneak-read some of Mom’s romance novels she kept around the house, so my tastes probably matured quickly. I know it was seventh or eighth grade when I began reading Sue Grafton, Dick Francis, and John Grisham, so – it was probably a confluence of many events.

Regardless, I know I first picked up the book more than twenty years ago because her name was so close to mine. In classrooms surrounded by Tiffanys and Jessicas, seeing another name so close to mine was novel.

Alanna is the twin sister of Thom – which was another reason I thought the whole series was a shout-out to me at the time; I’ve been friends with Thomas since we were six, so to have a book where two of the main characters could almost be analogues for me and my dear-friend-almost brother? And my analogue was a pretty badass teen, learning how to fight like a dude? I latched on pretty hard.

Anyway. Alanna and Thom are growing up in a medieval-esque society, where the boys go off to be knights and the girls go off to be nuns or something. Not nuns – but they study stuff and don’t learn how to fight or do anything particularly rowdy. Alanna’s kind of a brute as an eleven-year-old, and on their way to their respective new schools, Alanna convinces Thom to go to the convent-thingee in her stead, while she’ll go to knight school as “Alan”.

Alanna/”Alan” makes friends and shows promise as a knight over the years – she works hard, and doesn’t let any tiny bit of failure deter her from her goal. Some of her friends include a thief named George, who manages to get her a horse. She also makes an enemy in one of her fellow trainees, Ralon. A bully, he pummels “Alan” every chance he gets. So Alanna sneaks out of the castle to train with George, and eventually she beats Ralon on her own. Ralon leaves the castle, but not before swearing revenge.

Alanna has magical healing powers (not like Wolverine, though), and when the city is beset by a Sweating Plague, she uses her powers to heal Prince Jonathan when he’s on the verge of death. In doing so, she reveals her gender to her mentor, Sir Myles. The rumor is that the Plague was sent by a powerful sorcerer – not only does it nearly kill (or kill) the sufferers of the Plague, but Healers get their power drained when they attempt to heal the victims. Alanna doesn’t lose any power when she heals Jonathan. But she does suspect Jonathan’s cousin, Duke Roger, who had just returned to court.

Once Jonathan regains his strength, he starts seeing visions of a Black City, which is a city overcome by demons or something. Jonathan enlists “Alan” to go with him – or “Alan” refuses to stay behind, I can’t remember – but both of them go to find out what’s up with the city. At first it appears abandoned, but there’s some big evil living there (Wikipedia tells me its name was Ysandir), and Jonathan and “Alan” combine their powers – but not until after Ysandir reveals to Jonathan that “Alan” is really Alanna. Wisely, Jonathan decides to ignore the fact that his best friend is actually a girl and they both get the job done and defeat Ysandir.

Alanna thinks that Duke Roger sent Jonathan to the Black City on purpose; Jonathan agrees, but believes that Roger hoped that Jonathan would defeat the evil in the city. Alanna thinks Roger doesn’t want Jonathan alive. In the end, Jonathan chooses “Alan” as his squire, even though he knows she’s a girl, and they’re off to the next adventure.

I still recall loving this book when I was a kid. Returning to it twenty-ish years later, it is absolutely written for older elementary kids. It’s almost … pre-YA? It was the first wave of Young Adult novels. (It’s also an Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for the generation of girls who like swords and fighting – in one chapter, Alanna gets her first period and freaks out. That’s how George learns that Alanna’s a girl!)

I might continue with the series just to see how it ends up. I’ve read on GoodReads that the writing matures with the character, so by Book 4, it should be very similar to today’s YA genre. But even though I’m slightly disappointed with it as an adult, I still agree that it’s an excellent book and series for the right age group.

Grade for Alanna: The First Adventure: 2 stars

Fiction: “North and South” by Elizabeth Gaskell

north & southOkay – six books (including this one) till the end of 2016. I can do this. Hopefully before the end of 2017. But hey, good news – looks like the Maine government’s going to shut down for a few days over budget talks, so I may be able to wrap this backlog up wicked quick!

My glee is sarcastic, be tee dubs. You do NOT want to get me started about the stupid antics over the budget up in here. Ridiculous.

Anyways … I had originally read this book as part of my 19th Century British Novel class in college. It was kind of a topics course, but not really? It was offered every semester, but depending on the professor it covered different aspects. It certainly wasn’t offered as a topics course – you could only take it once, for example. I don’t know, it was eons ago. But in my class, we read Jane Eyre (the second time in college for me), North and SouthDracula, and Bleak House. I think we were also supposed to read The Mill on the Floss and there were some essays in there as well, but I remember we skipped The Mill on the Floss because we were getting behind.

That was also the semester I was taking like, four English courses? I want to say that was the semester I decided to cram in 19th Century Brit Lit, Shakespeare (the Histories, that semester), Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales, and was that the semester I also took the topics course in Women in Detective Fiction? It may have been. So, with all the reading I decided to do, guess how many of those novels above I actually finished?

Jane Eyre and North and South. I didn’t bother to tackle Dracula again, because I felt I had parts of it memorized; Bleak House I got through half (and then ended up watching most of the BBC miniseries starring Gillian Anderson as Lady Deadlock, but stopped watching before Jarndyce proposed to Esther and I was so sad knowing that she’d eventually leave him that I didn’t want to see that).

Oh – we also had Jude the Obscure that semester, and I read like, three pages. I WAS BUSY.

We focused on the difference between “beauty” and “the sublime”. I am dialing it down to what I remember – which is probably incorrect, but guess what, I think I’ve finally paid that semester off, I ain’t going back – but “the sublime” is what people should strive for, because being “sublime” is being better than beautiful. Like, “beauty” is just “pretty”, there’s no substance beneath it. “Sublime” has power and a different energy.

Look, read this Wikipedia article if you’re interested. There’s definitely more to it than what I just said; you can also read the article that I just remember reading (thanks, Wikipedia!), A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful if you’re still intrigued. We spent a lot of time discussing descriptions of rooms and landscapes and trying to figure out if they were “beautiful” or “sublime”, and whether that informed our interpretation of the scene.

Before picking North and South again, I could tell you that it was about a girl whose family moved from the South of England to a manufacturing town in North England, and the culture shock of both the town and the people there that she deals with. Luckily, I was not misremembering the plot. I know we made a big deal about the descriptions of the town (whose name I will look up shortly – the book is in another room and I’m comfortable and on a roll) versus those of the South. But I also remember that I enjoyed the main romance in the novel.

So in keeping with a) the fact that I was still neck-deep in silly little romance novels I was reading through the year and b) it was October, and therefore, time for The Fall Classic (AND BOY OH BOY DO I HAVE STORIES ABOUT THE OTHER, REAL, FALL CLASSIC I LIVED WITH – STAY TUNED FOR A REREAD OF Moneyball WHICH WILL BE ALL IN CAPSLOCK ABOUT THE CHICAGO CUBS), I dragged North and South out of my Classics bookcase and dug in.

The main character is Margaret Hale, who grew up in Helstone with her family; her father was a pastor (or, English version of pastor). At the beginning of the novel, Margaret returns to Helstone after spending some time in London. Her father has had a crisis of conscience, and is leaving the Church of England as a dissenter. Additionally, as there is no place for him in society now, he is moving his family (save Margaret’s brother, Frederick, who has his own shit, being wanted for mutiny) to the industrial town of Milton-Northern, where he will be a tutor and intellectual cornerstone of that town. Margaret accompanies her parents on their trip to the north, as she is unwed and that is literally her only option.

She is struck by the dirtiness of the town – which it would be, because this novel is set in the thick of the Industrial Revolution, and worker’s rights isn’t a thing; neither is being environmentally-conscious. (It’s apparently not a thing now either UNLESS YOU LIVE ANY-THE-FUCK-WHERE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE GODDAMNED WORLD take a breath alaina you’ll be okay YEAH BUT MY HYPOTHETICAL CHILDREN WON’T BUT WHY SHOULD WE CARE WE ELECTED A FUCKING SENTIENT CHEETO DIPPED IN NAPALM WHY WOULD WE take a FUCKING BREATH, ALAINA)

bella slap

thanks – I needed that.

Anyhoodle. One of Margaret’s father’s first students is John Thornton, manager of one of the textile mills in Milton-Northern. He lives with his mother and sister, and takes Greek lessons from Margaret’s father after hours.

(I feel like I should mention: I’m currently watching the BBC version of North and South on Netflix, because it’s been so long since I read yada yada you all know the words by now. I can’t imagine there’s not a lot of difference between this and the book; plus, Thornton is played by Richard Armitage, who played the Great Red Dragon in Hannibal – so, yay!)

The biggest part of the novel is a subtle-at-times social commentary on the different societal norms Margaret has to maneuver through. Not just the different, northern accent and words, but how to act. In Helstone, Margaret would bring baskets of food to new neighbors to get to know them; here, in Milton, her new friend Bess wonders, “why would you bring a basket? We’ve got nothing to put in it!”

(That may not have been in the book. Also, I seriously can’t get over how the actress playing Mrs. Thornton looks a lot like Ian McShane in a dress. So. Weird.)

Thornton feels himself drawn to Margaret, but can’t understand her ways. Margaret, meanwhile, can’t seem to fathom the customs of Thornton’s land.

When Mr Thornton rose up to go away, after shaking hands with Mr and Mrs Hale, he made an advance to Margaret to wish her good-bye in a similar manner. It was the frank familiar custom of the place; but Margaret was not prepared for it. She simply bowed her farewell; although the instant she saw the hand, half put out, quickly drawn back, she was sorry she had not been aware of the intention. Mr Thornton, however, knew nothing of her sorrow, and, drawing himself up to his full height, walked off, muttering as he left the house —

“A more proud, disagreeable girl I never saw. Even her great beauty is blotted out of one’s memory by her scornful ways.” [p. 86]

Look at that – classic miscommunication in action! Two people, having a conversation (this time, using body language) where each means something through their actions but their meaning is misheard by the other party, because the other party doesn’t have the appropriate context in which to place and interpret the message! And the omniscient narrator, right there in the middle of everything, can’t reach out to Thornton and Margaret and bop them on the head to get their shit together, because they’re not real, and also, it’s not the narrator’s job! Oh man – sometimes art imitates life imitates art, amiright?

North and South is a commentary on many different topics, masquerading as a romance between cultures. There’s the disparity between the north and the south, in appearance, in culture, in society, in knowledge; there’s the attempt at reconciling the two, and Margaret learning where she fits — at the end of the novel, Margaret returns to London and finds herself completely bored with her previous life. There are also discussion on labor laws, and labor strikes, and the ability for a worker to attempt to make a better life for himself, in spite of what he’s been given.

And how does this all tie into the discussion I had about “beauty” and “the sublime” up at the top? Well, in her travels and new knowledge, Margaret learns to find the beauty in Milton, where, ostensibly, there wouldn’t be any. The town is filthy, people die of fluff in their lungs left over from the textile mills, smokestacks are constantly belching smoke so much that she is continuously washing the walls of their apartment. But given the opportunity to return to her relatively hoity life in the South, Margaret finds her life lacking. Surrounded by traditional beauty – measured beauty, marked out in perfectly-tended gardens, greens and blues and other colors – she finds herself yearning for the sublime Milton – grey upon grey upon grey, and all shades with a dash of violence, whether it be actual fights between the strikers and the bosses, or just consider the violence found in a smokestack expelling smoke. That’s where she belongs – she prefers the sublime and the rough edges and the different beauty to a more traditional perception.

It’s so nice to see a college course I took didn’t go to waste.

Grade for North and South: 4 stars

Fiction: “The Pirate Bride” by Shannon Drake

Pirate BrideOn my trip to My Dear Friend Sarah’s bachelorette party, I had brought A Wrinkle in Time and Killing Orders to read, between the bus, plane, train, Metro, and train rides to get from Portland, Maine to Montgomery County, Maryland and back. But on the Sunday morning of the party weekend, we all trucked out to WonderBook, where Sarah used to work, and I stocked up on I think, six books? to bring back home. The Pirate Bride was one of those titles.

I had read Beguiled by Shannon Drake ages ago, and found it meh. I had forgotten I had found it meh until I just went back and read the review of it I had written seven years ago. I did remember, quite clearly, that Beguiled was just an interpretation of the Sleeping Beauty story. In the interim between Beguiled and The Pirate Bride, I also learned that Beguiled was part of a trilogy which looked at other fairy tales (I think – I know the first, Wicked, is supposed to be analogous to “Beauty and the Beast”). (Also, Shannon Drake is apparently one of the pseudonyms of Heather Graham. I have not read anything by Heather Graham, but if you like her and also like historical romances, you may want to give Shannon Drake a chance.)

So, here’s the bad news about The Pirate Bride: I can’t remember a lot about the plot. Not only because I read it so long ago, but also, I actually started reading this on the train ride back home to Boston, and … well …

Okay. I’m an idiot. It looks like I alluded to my transportation debacles in the reviews of the past two books, but let me be quite clear about what happened, for posterity.

When I learned of Sarah’s bachelorette party, I looked up transportation options, because while my car, Bruce, is an amazing piece of machinery, he was nearing 150,000 miles at that point and one trip to D.C. and back was more than enough for him. Of all the alternatives I could find – plane from Portland, bus to Boston and planes from Boston, overnight trains between Boston and DC – the cheapest option was actually the last: overnight trains from South Station to Union Station and back. So I booked those, and then got the official invitation which extended the party to Friday, so I canceled my incoming train and got a voucher (because of course they were non-refundable) and bought a one-way flight from Boston to Baltimore. I kept my return train trip, however.

The party ends, and Sarah drops me off at Union Station with all my things – including a bottle of Neuro Sleep, which I like to call my “Sleepy Time Drink”, because I’m an asshole. My train is scheduled to pull out a little after 10 p.m., and I should be hitting Boston around 8, bringing me back home to Portland in time for 11 a.m. I settle in for a long ride, and crack open The Pirate Bride to see if I can hasten sleep.

Well, the good thing about the book is that it kept me awake. And for some reason, something kept me from imbibing my Sleepy Time Drink – I’m not sure what it was, but I decided not to drink it. Good thing, too – because when the train pulled into Trenton a little past midnight, our train was stopped “due to police activity on the track”, and given an indefinite delay.

I don’t think Amtrak ever announced why we were stopped, but I found out on Twitter. The night before, at the party, all our phones had gone off because of the bomb found in SoHo (most of the other attendees of Sarah’s bachelorette party were visiting from New York). Well, the night I was going home – on a train – was the night of the bombs discovered in Elizabethtwo stations away.

We remained in Trenton for almost two hours.

We were finally told that we were going to pull forward to the next station (Metropark), at which point we were all to disembark, and there would be buses to take us to either Newark or Penn Station, whichever one we needed to get to.

Buses never showed. We disembarked around 3 a.m., and for over an hour, I had to listen to old white dudes wearing Giants jerseys shout into the void, “WHERE’S THE BUS?!” and then get angry when buses didn’t automatically appear at the sound of their voices, because they’re old white guys and have never been denied anything in their entire life.

There were also the people who tried to make a case that the lack of buses was the result of Democratic leadership in the White House, and that if a certain Cheeto’d Fiasco (this was pre-Access Hollywood tape, be tee dubs) got elected this wouldn’t happen. Sure. How’s that workin’ out for ya, chump? Do you have buses now?

At about 4:30 a.m., I had two women approach me, one of which had scoped out cabs to Newark. We eventually Uber’d over to Newark Station (which is an even longer story) where we caught the PATH to Penn Station. They went on their way, because they were from the city, and I busted through the LIRR and New Jersey Transit to finally find Amtrak, where I learn that the train I was supposed to be on (had I actually waited for the buses to take me to Penn) had pulled out.

It was now 6:30 a.m.  I had been awake since 10 a.m. the previous day. I was dehydrated, and hungry, but also didn’t dare eat something for fear of it upsetting my stomach. I had not napped on the train; nor had I slept standing up, because there were IDIOTS in front of the bus area at Metropark who were CONVINCED that HILLARY CLINTON was the reason WE DIDN’T HAVE BUSES TO PICK US UP, and also one of the women I Uber’d with was someone who had an OPINION ON EVERYTHING, and as I was on the PATH train with her and listening to her have VERY IMPORTANT OPINIONS on the fucking REDSKINS, of all things, I was suddenly completely overwhelmed with the feeling, I just want to go home.

I HAD WATCHED THE SUN COME UP IN FUCKING JERSEY, I AM DONE WITH HAVING ANYONE’S SHIT

And then, the Amtrak guy tried to tell me I had the wrong ticket.

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maaaaaay have lost my shit.

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“It can’t be the wrong ticket! THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A WRONG TICKET. THIS TICKET is the ticket I had when I boarded the train in Washington at 9:30 last night, and this is the same ticket I had when Amtrak forced us off in Metropark to wait for buses that never came, I just Uber’d from NEWARK, of all places, and I need to get to Boston, and you, motherfucker, are getting me on the next fucking train north, or so help me GOD, I will end you!”

He shut up and got me a ticket.

When I finally got back into Bruce the Car in Portland to drive home, it was raining, and the traffic wasn’t going as fast as I wanted to, and this was an honest-to-god actual shot of me in the car on I-295:

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I finally made it home, took a shower, called my mother, and was asleep by 3 p.m. I passed out – not slept, passed out – for five hours, and still managed to sleep that night to go into work the next day.

And that’s the bare bones story! There is more detail I could put in, but I won’t! Namely because you probably don’t care, also I want to save it for my memoirs, but mainly because I’ve procrastinated on reviewing this book long enough.

The Pirate Bride is a stand-alone romance novel by Shannon Drake – there is nothing before it, and nothing after it.

The pirate in question is Red Robert – who happens to be Roberta. Or Bobbie, to her friends. When Bobbie was a kid, her parents were murdered by the evil pirate Blair Colm, so Bobbie grew up determined to take her revenge. One day, she and her crew captures Logan Hagerty’s merchant ship, and Red Robert decides to hold Logan for ransom. As they engage, Logan learns that Robert is a lady pirate and they come to an accord. But then they get shipwrecked on a deserted island and that’s where their romance truly blooms. Until the pirate Bobbie had been searching for all her life shows up with his crew, and Logan decides he’s going to kill him for Bobbie but Bobbie still wants to kill him herself —

I’m sorry. I feel like I’m doing a disservice to you, my readers, because I do not recall the details of the book. I just read through my dog-eared pages and I cannot remember why I dog-eared any of them. (Well, except one – someone reels off at the beginning of a chapter, “Outgunned, outsailed, outmanned, out … blasted!” and in my head I heard George Washington talk about the British taking Brooklyn and needing a right hand man.)

All in all, it’s a very formulaic historical romance – boy meets girl, girl is a pirate, boy admires girl’s chutzpah, boy and girl get shipwrecked, boy and girl fall in love, boy vows to kill girl’s enemy for her, girl gets mad, bad guy dies in the end anyway, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Eventually, I’ll read it again. I do remember that I read nearly half the book before the train stopped in Trenton, and I found the characters charming enough to keep me awake.

And I am never taking an Amtrak past Boston ever again.

Grade for The Pirate Bride: 2 stars