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

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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.

distaste

maaaaaay have lost my shit.

hanni jumpy.gif

“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:

alana 2

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

Fiction: “Killing Orders” by Sara Paretsky

killing ordersI am giving myself ninety minutes to write this review, and then I should do my homework (ugh) for my leadership training class tomorrow (double ugh), but I’m gonna give you a heads-up right now: I probably won’t.

I can’t remember if I packed this book as a backup to A Wrinkle In Time when I took my ill-fated (in terms of transportation debacles, not company) Washington, D.C. trip last September. As you will see (I’d say “shortly”, but y’all know how I roll on this here blog by now; ain’t nothing “short” about it), I ended up reading a romance novel I purchased at My Dear Friend Sarah’s (former?) place of work instead. And I can’t really remember the order of when I read this versus A Wrinkle In Time, the upcoming Pirate Bride, and the even-further-upcoming North and South, because around that time last year I got really bad with dates. My GoodReads 2016 shelf does not match my Book (Excel) Spreadsheet, things are out of order, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria!

But in the end, it doesn’t matter! Because I read it anyway, and time is a flat circle.

This is the third book in the V.I. Warshawski series. In this title, Vic is hired – then fired – by her awful Aunt Rosa, who hates Vic and Vic’s mother. Vic idolizes her mother, Gabriella, and while Vic doesn’t want to get back into Rosa’s good graces, she does want to find the truth about why Aunt Rosa was fired from her Treasurer position at her (Rosa’s) church. Turns out some securities the monks (they’re Dominican brothers, so friars? monks? it doesn’t matter) wanted to cash in so they could expand the priory (?) (I’m not looking this stuff up, you know that by now) were forgeries, and the only logical suspect is Rosa. The monks agree that if Vic can clear Rosa’s name, then Rosa would be hired again and all would be well.

So, out of familial duty, Vic looks into it – until Rosa gets all butt-hurt about something and fires her. But Vic then hires herself – or maybe her boyfriend, Roger, hires her because the securities are related to his firm? I don’t know. Point is, she investigates. And crosses paths with the Catholic Church, and the Mafia. Because this takes place in Chicago, don’t ya know.

Vic remains a tough broad – drinking Scotch, ignoring domestic duties like cleaning and washing dishes, wearing clothes she tossed on the floor the night before – aside from the Scotch part, I see a lot of myself in Vic. (For me, it’d be gin.) She finds herself, for the first time in the series, able to let her guard down around somebody – in this instance, Roger. Though when it looks like she’s definitely on a Mob hit list, she pulls away from Roger in order to keep him safe from danger.

At one point, Vic reaches out to her friend, Lotty, and asks to get in touch with Lotty’s uncle, a former forger. The uncle agrees to make additional copies of the securities, which results with the uncle landing in the hospital, and Lotty quite upset with Vic. Vic is absolutely remorseful for her role in the caper, and at the end of the book, she and Lotty have reconciled.

What else … uh, not much. In the end, this book is a fairly rote “female detective” novel – single gal who does tough things like drink Scotch and jog unwillingly takes on big corporations or evil entities to fight for the little guy. You see this (slightly) with Kinsey Millhone in Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, although Kinsey’s drink of choice is cheap white wine. While I have no evidence whatsoever to back this up, I feel the category of “female detective novel” has been dominated by cozy-type mysteries, so I appreciate Kinsey and Vic remaining strong and tough as nails. I should also point out, though, that this book was first published in 1986, so some of the attitudes within the book are directly tied to events and attitudes occurring thirty years ago.

I do like the V.I. Warshawski series – it’s just taking me a long time to get through a series lately. It’s taking me a long time to do anything, lately. But as I was able to get this published within my ninety minute timeframe, I’m going to … take a couple of Melatonin and go to bed, I guess.

When did I become an adult?

Grade for Killing Orders: 2.5 stars

Fiction: “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle

wrinkle in timeGood evening! I’m drunk. Trivia was earlier tonight, and I decided to go with gins and tonic as opposed to Pub Style brew, and … yeah. Good night. We lost, be tee dubs. We got trounced. So next week, I’m definitely going back to beer, because while the quinine in the tonic water may have settled my stomach (which has kind of been upset for an entire week), it did nothing for my intelligence. And my partner-in-trivia will be the first to admit that of the two of us, I’m the brains of the operation (he gets most of the sports stuff. Except for tonight, when we were off on the baseball strike by one year. BUT STILL), and when I’m not operating at 100% … it’s not pretty.  Great Odin’s Raven was not great tonight. We were Mediocre Odin’s Raven at best.

Anyhoodle. I decided, “hey, let me go home and bang out another review, because I’m so fucking behind, and why don’t I pour myself another gin and tonic while I’m at it because why the fuck not?”

… When did I add ABBA’s “S.O.S.” to my iTunes? the fuck?

SO I READ THIS BACK IN SEPTEMBER. I had just read the news about the movie adaptation, directed by Ava DuVernay, the director of Selma, and the amazing casting choices: Meg Murry played by Storm Reid! Gugu Mbatha-Raw (HOLY SHIT I SPELLED THAT RIGHT ON THE FIRST TRY WHILE DRUNK YESI’MAWESOME) as Mrs. Murry! Chris Pine as the missing Mr. Murry! I mean, the Casting Gods really came through on this one.

But that news was in September. And I was staring down the barrel of a flight and then an overnight train back to Maine so I could attend My Dear Friend Sarah’s bridal shower in D.C. (P.S.: Dear Friend Sarah: I want to apologize for my poor time management on that weekend – in retrospect, I should have just traded in both train tickets for JetBlue, but … hindsight. I won’t be making that mistake again. But I also want to thank you for your hospitality.) Anyway, I thought the weekend trip would be a great opportunity to revisit A Wrinkle in Time.

Because I had read this back when I was a kid, and now, all I could remember from it was “tesseract” — mainly because I’d joke that characters on TV shows would tesseract all over the place (see: Alias especially. No wonder I have problems with the space-time continuum!).

A Wrinkle In Time is the first book of a quintet starring Meg Murry, the elder daughter of scientists Mr. and Mrs. Murry. Her younger brother is Charles Wallace, quite precocious at age 5. Mr. Murry has been missing for some time, and Meg is feeling out of place in her family. Meg learns that Charles Wallace has befriended a strange old woman in their neighborhood, Mrs. Whatsit. Mrs. Whatsit informs Mrs. Murry that there is such a thing as a tesseract, which causes a reaction.

Meg becomes closer with high school student Calvin, who is sweet and feels like an outsider despite his popular status. One afternoon, Meg and Calvin follow Charles Wallace to Mrs. Whatsit’s house, where they meet Mrs. Whatsit’s housemate, Mrs. Who. Their other companion, Mrs. Which, who is pretty much incorporeal, tells Meg and Charles Wallace that the women will help the Murrys find their father.

The strange women help the children tesseract – essentially, jump through a wormhole, or, if you will, a wrinkle in time – to the planet Camazotz, which looks what I imagine North Korea to look like. The inhabitants of Camazotz are regimented in everything: all houses look the same, everyone acts the same, has the same schedule. The planet is run by a disembodied brain, called IT, which can control people through telepathy.

In his escapade, Charles Wallace becomes controlled by IT, and it takes all of Meg’s strength to overpower IT to rescue both her brother and her father. By being an outcast and, most importantly, by being capable of love – something IT does not have – she is able to rescue Charlies Wallace from IT. The reunited family – Meg, Charles Wallace, Mr. Murry, and Calvin, the newest member – return to Earth and reconnect with Mrs. Murry and the twins. (Meg is the oldest, then there are the twins, and then Charles Wallace. I did forget to mention that up higher, thank you. But — gin.)

Having reconnected with the book, I felt … underwhelmed. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a cozy memory associated with A Wrinkle in Time. Not that I had bad memories – I just had no memories. Growing up, I read Madeleine L’Engle’s other series, about the Austen family. The series included the titles A Ring of Endless Light and The Arm of the Starfish. While I don’t remember anything about the first time I ever read A Wrinkle of Time, I distinctly remember having a nosebleed all over the Curtis Memorial Library’s copy of The Arm of the Starfish, and I’ll bet you ten American dollars that I can go into that library, find that same copy of the book, and find my faded blood still in it. (I wiped it up as best I could.)

My Dear Friend Sarah, however, stated that A Wrinkle in Time was one of her favorite books growing up. So while I still enjoyed my re-read of this book (Amtrak disasters bedamned) and while I’m quite looking forward to the upcoming film adaptation, I’m not sure I’m going to go forward with the series. I might.

I also feel bad that I’m not doing this book as great a service as I could. First of all, I read it seven months ago; and secondofly, while I’m no longer shithoused, or even really buzzed — no, I’m still slightly buzzed. And while I was drunk enough at the beginning of this review to think that drunk!reviewing would be a great idea!, and maybe that’s what’s been keeping my backlog from getting better, in … what’s the opposite of retrospect? In reflection, maybe I should have waited to write this when I was more sober.

But that may have been so far in the future that I may have had to read the book again, and I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for that.

Grade for A Wrinkle in Time: 3.5 stars

Fiction: “Mistress of My Fate” by Hallie Rubenhold

Mistress of my FateOkay. It’s 10:02. I am giving myself until midnight to get this written. If I’m not done by then, I’m posting it incomplete, and you can fill in the blanks yourownself.

To be honest, this book was pretty … forgettable. I picked this up in the middle of my historical romance kick (I’ve still got a few of those left to review, be tee dubs), and was … very disappointed.

This is the first novel in a trilogy (how?!), narrated by Henrietta Lightfoot, the adopted niece of an Earl who becomes a fancy prostitute. Growing up, all she wanted was for her cousin, Catherine, to be her BFF. And for a time it looked like her wish came true, but then Henrietta becomes close with Catherine’s fiance, George Allenham. Catherine finds Henrietta’s platonic letters to George, becomes ill with the plague or something, and then dies under possibly suspicious circumstances. So Henrietta runs away (she also finds out that she’s not a foundling, she’s actually the illegitimate daughter of the Earl, who she was raised to believe was her uncle or whatever) to George Allenham, who takes her in and pretty much promises to marry her … but then bolts in the night.

(There’s a whole subplot about how George is a bit of an anarchist, fighting against the royals in France before the Revolution, and that he may be a spy or something, but it’s not very clear and honestly, not pertinent to my discussion of this book.)

So Henrietta, alone, follows George to London, but is a few days late and quite a number of pounds short. She is taken in by a kindly woman, and poor Henrietta learns too late that the kindly woman is actually a fancy prostitute. Henrietta is appalled — appalled, I say! — but then she’s introduced to St. John Something-Or-Other, who used to go with Henrietta’s mother (who was also a prostitute, and apparently the Best Madam Who Hast Ever Madamed), and he offers to take her in but then makes her his mistress. Then she learns that she’s pregnant, by Allenham, and when her pregnancy is discovered St. John again agrees to take care of her, but she’s a kept woman, and she then learns that nothing of hers actually belongs to her. It’s a whole big thing.

The rest of the book is Henrietta scheming with other Kept Ladies on how to maintain her autonomy in a man’s world, while also trying to make sure she has enough money to find Allenham in Paris.

Here’s the thing: I don’t trust Henrietta as a narrator. I talked about reliable narrators briefly with regards to Nick Carroway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby. We trust Nick, because it seems that he relates the events as they happen, without outside commentary. Henrietta, however, addresses the reader directly, and she tells us in the first two paragraphs that this “book” is being “written” to tell her side of the story:

I have no doubt that many of you have come to this work out of curiosity. You have heard so much about me, most of which is pure fabrication. Now that you have torn off the packaging and cut the pages, you can begin to read my story and to know who I am. [p. 1]

The fourth sentence of the entire novel is this:

Now you may now the truth, and nothing gives me greater relief than this. [p. 1]

And maybe it’s me, being a cynic; but, in the words of my forever Pretend Husband (not boyfriend – he deserves more than that), Jon Stewartnobody says “believe me” unless they are lying. And, similar to saying “believe me,” I’m not inclined to accept what someone says is the truth if they’re constantly telling me it’s the truth.

Oh, this may sound unrelated, and I know the person I’m kind of subtweeting here won’t see this, but: DUDE: JUST TELL ME IF YOU’RE ABANDONING YOUR CAR. I DO NOT CARE IF YOU’RE ABANDONING YOUR CAR. I DO NOT JUDGE YOU ON THIS. IT MAY SOUND LIKE I’M JUDGING, BUT I ASSURE YOU, I’M NOT. BUT DON’T FUCKING TELL ME THE CAR HAS BEEN TOWED TO THE DEALER. NO DEALER WILL TOW A CAR TO THE DEALERSHIP FOR DIAGNOSIS OF THE ISSUE AND THEN TOW THE VEHICLE BACK TO THE PARKING GARAGE FROM WHENCE IT CAME. AND NOT ONLY THE GARAGE, BUT THE EXACT FUCKING SPOT THE CAR WAS IN FOUR MONTHS AGO. IT. HAS. NOT. MOVED. FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, MAN UP, AND GET A NEW DAMN CAR.

Ahem. Thank you for allowing me to get that off my chest. I would bring it up, but my horoscope tells me I should keep my mouth shut tomorrow.

ANYHOODLE. So, I don’t trust Henrietta. And that means that as I was reading her escapades, a voice in the back of my head was wondering, how much of a victim is she, really?

Other, stray thoughts:

I was far too inexperienced to recognize flirtation when I encountered it, and began to panic. [p. 48]

^^ IT ME.

And speaking of it being me,

“Do you have a strong appetite, Miss Lightfoot?”

“Why, I do not believe my appetite stronger than that of most ladies,” came my innocent reply. The company began to titter.

“And do you find most ladies to have large appetites, madam?”

I thought seriously upon Lord Barrymore’s question. The entire table seemed to hang upon my answer.

“No, my lord, I do not believe we do. As we are smaller creatures than gentlemen, we are more readily filled.” [p. 249]

THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID.

Don’t be surprised if I don’t continue with the series.

(11 minutes past midnight; I’ll take it.)

Grade for Mistress of My Fate: 1 star

Essays: “Don’t Get Too Comfortable” by David Rakoff

don't get too comfortableI’ve previously reviewed David Rakoff’s first collection of essays, Fraud. I’ve read Don’t Get Too Comfortable before as well, prior to the inception of That’s What She Read. I can’t remember what prompted me to pick this collection off of my bookshelf (mainly because I read this book back in August and I’m really ashamed, y’all, but then I remember that I don’t have deadlines for this because it’s my own thing, available on the interwebs for free, so suck it, Shame), but I’m happy my impulse paid off.

Like FraudDon’t Get Too Comfortable is a collection of humorous essays that have been published previously elsewhere, namely GQ and Harper’s Bazaar. The subtitle gives the reader a hint of the subject matter: “The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, the Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems.” I was wondering if this book was the origin of the phrase “first world problems,” but according to Wikipedia, it’s … not. So. Oh well.

The topics of Mr. Rakoff’s essays range from the day he took his citizenship test – Mr. Rakoff was a Canadian who earned dual citizenship after 9/11 – to his love of crafting, and a treatise on Log Cabin Republicans, a class of politico that I think may have become extinct? Do we even have those anymore?

He’s not lying when he subtitled his book to refer to First World Problems. Everything in this book is a First World Problem. As poignant as he is about gaining his dual residency, Mr. Rakoff came to New York on a work visa and lived as such for twenty-two years. He was of Canadian origin. There was no “extreme vetting” for his class, because he was white.

His job writing essays for highbrow magazines sent him on numerous … adventures, I guess, is the word? He wrote a piece as an observer on a Latin America Playboy television program. He wrote an essay about his experience on one of the last flights of the Concorde, and the class of people who were able to ride on the Concorde. There’s an excursion he goes on with a Wildman of Central Park, who teaches his students how to scavenge the foliage for edible plant life. These are not exposés on the horrors imposed on humanity by other humans.

(This all sounds very cynical. I think the tone I’m using to review this book is much different from the tone I would have used in August, right after I finished reading it. Back in August, I probably would have said that his saga on becoming an American citizen was quaint and inspired – now, all I can see is that he was the “right” kind of immigrant, and even though he outright admits that his story is not one of struggle, it feels disingenuous to me to even talk about a white Canadian’s immigration experience, however humorously the subject is presented.)

(I had just written this long parenthetical about how, for my birthday, I would like a time machine to go back four months so I can fucking fix something, but then I remembered that time machines only move an individual back in time, not the entire world, and I can’t exactly bring the entire population of the United States back with me so they can tell their friends about ~the future~ to help ensure a different outcome, plus what happens when we run into our past selves? Anyway, my brain hurt from the paradox so I’m going to shut up now.)

One of the essays I’d like to mention is his take on the quest for perfection in everything, entitled “What Is The Sound Of One Hand Shopping?”

[[IF Y’ALL DIDN’T IMMEDIATELY START DOING THIS —

one hand clapping

— EVEN THOUGH THE TITLE SAYS “SHOPPING” AND NOT “CLAPPING”, GET THE HELL OUT OF MY LIBRARY]]

(Oh god, I have two digressions now. Okay. #1: “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, first aired twenty years ago on March 10. Fuck offffff. That’s — I am not that old. [[if you’re curious as to how that tidbit came out of apparently nowhere, I must remind you that in “The Dark Age,” Willow gets mad at Xander and Cordelia for fighting and she has this great rant that ends with “if you two aren’t with me a hundred and ten percent, then get the hell out of my library!” So — good quote.]]

Secondly: the “one hand clapping” .gif up there is one of my favorite visual jokes of all time, and that led my brain to want to mention my first favorite hand-related joke, which is, of course, this old chestnut from The Great Muppet Caper:

Kermit: Now, if we want to get Miss Piggy out of jail, we’re going to have to catch those thieves red-handed. Yes, Beauregard?
Beauregard: What color are their hands now?

AND THEN I remembered that, two Trivia Nights ago, Friend Brad was telling me a story about a shoplifter or … y’know, I can’t honestly remember what the premise was, but anyway, he said something about “catching them red-handed.” And like Pavlov’s Dog, I proudly and immediately shouted, “WHAT COLOR WERE THEIR HANDS THEN?!” I mean, I have never been lucky enough to use this punchline in everyday conversation, so the entire experience was awesome.

But Friend Brad either decided to ignore my outburst — which, in his defense, would be a valid defense strategy; I am a pretty weird person, and ignoring my weird outbursts is probably a good mechanism to have — or, he didn’t think the joke was funny enough to warrant a response, which would be wrong. This is a great joke.

And then I started to wonder if he’d ever even seen The Great Muppet Caper, and I’m sorry, if he’s going to razz me about fucking Shawshank every time he sees me but hasn’t seen The Great Muppet Caper? Fuck offffff.)

Where was I? Oh right – “What’s The Sound Of One Hand Shopping?”

As I said, this essay is about the cult of seeking perfection. Y’know, the people who spend ungodly amounts of money on items that are supposed to be pure, or authentic, or … or whatever. I don’t know. I don’t understand that concept. I am widely known as The Oldest Millennial Alive, because I have a Samsung Galaxy 4 (it still works! I am not the President of the United States, so I don’t require more security!) and a 4th generation iPod Nano, purchased in 2009, which still works, and why would I replace something that isn’t broken? So the idea of spending more in order to demonstrate greatness is just lost on me.

Surely when we’ve reached the point where we’re fetishizing sodium chloride and water, and subjecting both to the kind of scrutiny we used to reserve for selecting an oncologist, it’s time to admit that the relentless questing for that next undetectable gradation of perfection has stopped being about the thing itself and crossed over into a realm of narcissism so overwhelming as to make the act of masturbation look selfless. [p. 24]

One essay that spoke to me was “Martha, My Dear,” wherein Mr. Rakoff discusses his deep love for crafting, amidst the tale of his visit to the craft supply closet at Martha Stewart Living. I also enjoy crafting: from crocheting scarves and stuffed animals (and lately, a whole mess of baby blankets and other stuff for expecting friends and acquaintances), to cross-stitching profanity-laden quotes from Deadwood and then turning those quotes into a pillow —

Cocksucker pillow

— and now my latest project: making maternity shirts for a friend of mine because, dear everyone: GEEKS GET PREGNANT TOO, and geeks who enjoy wearing geeky t-shirts want to continue to wear geeky t-shirts while pregnant, but does every goddamned shirt have to point out that the wearer is pregnant?!

Here’s a smattering. I am so incensed on her behalf, I’m actually considering teaching myself to use a sewing machine and not just adjusting previously-made geek shirts. (Another thing I should do: figure out how long and involved the process is to register a trade name before someone else steals my/our idea…)

I make stuff because I can’t not make stuff. [p. 120]

IT’S ME

The last essay I want to mention, I’m going to get to in a kind of roundabout way. I was first introduced to Mr. Rakoff with his appearance on The Daily Show back in … holy shit, 2006. Oh my god. Jon Stewart interviewed him at the release of Don’t Get Too Comfortable, and after watching it, I knew I had to read this book as soon as possible.

(I encourage everyone to take six minutes out of their day to watch the video at the above link, if only to see how young Jon Stewart was back then. Oh, Jon. My Forever-Pretend-Boyfriend. Have I told you lately how much I miss you, Jon? Please come back I miss you.)

Anyways. I bought the book, read it, devoured it, and loved it. And then — okay, I can’t remember if I was lending it to Uncle Jean (who I used to work with), or if I had just — no, I couldn’t have been leaving it in Brad’s mailbox, because this was while Brad was still manager, so I would have just left it on his desk … I must have lent the book to someone else prior to then lending it and Fraud to Brad, but the point of this part of the story is, I distinctly remember talking to Uncle Jean about the book, and about this one essay, entitled “Beat Me, Daddy”, which is the essay Mr. Rakoff refers to in his interview with Jon Stewart.

“Beat Me, Daddy”, for those who have elected to not watch the video, is an essay about the Log Cabin Republicans of yore – gay Republicans who just wanted lower taxes, but the Grand Ol’ Party wasn’t really welcoming or accepting back then? Wow, those were the days!

Mr. Rakoff speaks with Patrick Guerriero, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, who tells Mr. Rakoff,

“I have a lot of strikes against me […] I’m a Catholic from the archdiocese of Boston, from a Democratic family, and I’m a Red Sox fan. I’ve chosen to stay in institutions I care about.” [p. 157-158]

But as Mr. Rakoff points out,

It’s all well and good to stay in the institutions you care about, but wouldn’t it be nice to feel that the institution, in turn, cared about you, or at least wasn’t hell-bent on your eradication or, failing that, the legislating away of your rights? [p. 158]

OH GOD IT’S TOO REAL RIGHT NOW THIS WAS SUCH A CHARMING SENTENCE BACK IN AUGUST

Now, here’s the selling point on this essay: this is the part of the story Mr. Rakoff spoke of during his Daily Show interview, and it’s also the section I distinctly remember reading aloud, in its entirety (which I will quote below) to Uncle Jean, in Footwear backstock, within hearing distance of customers.

Man, that was a different time. Now you can’t even talk to your fellow sales reps on the sales floor.

ANYWAY. Mr. Rakoff also spoke with Robert Knight, “director of the conservative advocacy group the Culture and Family Institute” [p. 162]. Mr. Knight is firmly against the Log Cabin Republicans:

“The Log Cabin agenda to promote homosexuality is utterly at odds with the GOP’s self-styled image as a pro-family, pro-marriage party.” [p. 163]

Now, it is not my job to disagree with the GOP’s self-styled image as a pro-family, pro-marriage, homophobic, Puritan party that disapproves of sexual misconduct and poor technological security, while also promoting itself as a protector of children and the innocent, and above all, highlights honesty and respect for women as two of the most important poles within its “big tent.” Additionally, I am well aware that Democrats have proven themselves to be dangerous hypocrites along some of these same lines.

[[Excuse me while I go take the longest, cleansing-est shower of my life. Yick.]]

It is my job, however, to recount exactly what Mr. Knight said about anal sex, AIDS, and vaginas. Please remember: I read the following paragraphs ALOUD within hearing distance of ACTUAL CUSTOMERS at a very large retail store, and I was NOT FIRED.  \o/

“Sodomy is their rallying cry,” [Knight] says.

Well, it sure is someone’s rallying cry. A lot of our hour-long conversation is taken up with talking about anal sex. I have never spoken so much about anal sex in my life.

[…] But if Knight displays an obsession with the mechanics of sodomy — simultaneously mesmerized and sickened by the tumescent, pistoning images of it that must loop through his head on a near-constant basis — he is notably impervious to an image he conjures when I submit as how HIV is transmissible through normative, upstanding, God-sanctioned heterosexual congress as well.

“Not as easily,” he says. “The vagina is designed to accommodate a penis. It can take a lot of punishment.” [p. 164]

An old white dude explained that straight dudes don’t get AIDS because the vagina can take a lot of punishment. That happened. IN PRINT.

To Mr. Knight, I say:

anigif_enhanced-buzz-1796-1378873954-4_preview

ALAINA OUT.

colbert mic drop

But seriously, read the book if you get a chance – it’s a great collection of essays.

Grade for Don’t Get Too Comfortable: 5 stars

Fiction: “Wicked Intentions” by Elizabeth Hoyt

wicked-intentionsI would rather get a three-hour Pap smear with an Ebola-infected cotton swab and a rusty speculum than listen to the address to the Joint Session of Congress, so in keeping with the theme, let’s talk about a book with mild sado-masochistic tendencies!

Wicked Intentions is the first book in the Maiden Lane series of romance novels, centered around a section of London known as Maiden Lane. I originally got turned to this series because I read a synopsis of one of the books a few years ago where it sounded like the main character became the Batman of Maiden Lane, and if there’s one thing I like, it’s Batmans in different fictional interpretations. Unfortunately, Georgian!Batman is about six books away, and y’all know how I am with series: I have to start at the beginning, regardless of continuity. It’s a Thing.

So the main character of this book is Temperance Dews, a meek widower who helps her brother, Winter, run a foundling home. Her other siblings are named Verity, Silence, Concord, and Asa. Yeah … the Dews family is kind of puritan-y. And in case you don’t get that from the family names, all the orphans in the foundling home are named Mary or Joseph, with different last names to tell them apart (see, Joseph Tinbox; Mary Whitsun; Joseph Candlestick; Mary Hope).

The foundling home is appropriately, almost Dickensian-ly poor, and in danger of shutting down without a rich sponsor. With Winter spending his time teaching school, that leaves Temperance at the home raising the children and running the home – which she does, admirably. But it makes it difficult for funds to come in.

Enter, stage left: the most ridiculously-named hero in the history of silly little romance novels I’ve ever read. Yes, even worse than the ones that add extra “Y”s instead of “I”s. I give you: Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire. Yes, his name is actually “Lazarus.” Yes, people do call him “Caire.” No, I do not understand how the whole naming thing works. Also, I do not give a shit. You might say I don’t … Caire.

I’ll see myself out.

Now, I don’t normally concern myself with how the dudes and ladies look in romance novels: they’re all Barbie and Ken dolls, after all. But this guy – y’all have to see about this guy.

There, sprawled in her chair like a conjured demon, sat Lord Caire. His silver hair spilled over the shoulders of his black cape, a cocked hat lay on one knee, and his right hand caressed the end of his long ebony walking stick. [p. 15]

OH GEE, WHO COULD THAT BE

lucius-cs

YEAH, THIS MOTHERFUCKER

So, good news, Harry Potter Aficionados That Grew Up Having a Thing for Lucius Malfoy! This is the book for you!

Why is Lazarus Huntington, Lord Malfoy waiting for Temperance to sit down? Well, he saw her helping a baby in the Maiden Lane one night and decided he needs her help in tracking down the murderer of his mistress. Yeah, I’m really not making that up. See, his mistress was brutally murdered, and that made Caire mad, so now he needs to find the murderer to exact revenge. But because he’s a member of the hoit, he doesn’t know where to go to find lowlife scum, so … needs the help of a meek widower?

But Temperance is a lot smarter than she appears. In exchange for her help, she gets Caire to agree to help her find a sponsor for the foundling home. This involves Caire dressing her up and taking her to fancy dress parties, where she (naturally) awes the crowd with her beauty while being completely self-deprecating and awkward.

When Temperance’s acquaintances and family learn of her working relationship with Caire, they all warn her away, because he apparently has what’s known as “unhealthy appetites.” Essentially, rumors of his deviant behavior have run rampant throughout Maiden Lane, and back in the early 1700s, “deviance” is equivalent to “enjoying a bit o’ rough sex.” And it’s not even rough – he just likes being tied up.

Meanwhile, Temperance has her own shit to deal with – namely, she likes having sex, which is just as stigmatized then as it is now. Her husband would make her feel terrible for enjoying sex, because sex should only be enjoyed by the male, and only because he knows he’s making babies for women to carry. (I swear, I only followed the damn speech on Twitter, I have no idea if New Gilead is even happening yet.) As penance, she’s shoved her desires down, deep down, into herself so she can focus on caring for the orphans and showing her purity or whatever.

But as they work together, Caire and Temperance come to realize they have feelings for each other. These feelings are complicated by the fact that Caire also hates to be touched – he claims he feels actual pain when people touch him, but it’s been so long since I read the book that I am not going to bother looking for a quote to prove it.

There are also a lot – a. lot. – of subplots in this book that are apparently jumping-off points for future books in the series. There’s Temperance’s sister, Silence, and the misunderstanding between Silence and her husband. There’s Caire’s best friend, who’s dealing with his wife’s decline due to a mysterious illness. Sometimes the subplots are very distracting.

Overall, it took me entirely too long to finish this book – which has felt like a theme of 2016, to be honest. If my paltry review has made you curious about it, I highly recommend you check out the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books review of Wicked Intentions – and I would like to point out that if you do, I came to the Lucius Malfoy conclusion on my own, but was very gratified when I realized I wasn’t the only one who got there. Having said that, I never had a thing for Lucius Malfoy, so imagining him for the hero did absolutely nothing for me while reading the book.

And even though I did not like the book overall, and will most likely never read it again, I really want to find out if Georgian!Batman is a thing, so – you’ll see this series again. Not soon, but … later.

Grade for Wicked Intentions: No stars