Fiction: “The Rogue Not Taken” by Sarah MacLean

rogue-not-takenI had every intention of getting back into this a couple of weeks ago. But a couple of weeks ago the entire world turned upside down, and I kind of feel like the British troops did when they were run out of Yorktown – stunned, disheartened, and slightly confused as to how this all even fucking happened.

However, fear not: this is not a politics blog – even though I have had the occasional tangent down that dark alley. But my promise to you, my dear reader(s), is to maintain this blog in the same way I always have: poorly, with non-sequiturs and tangents, and only rarely discussing the actual plot of the books I read. And that’s a promise I won’t break.

So this is the third out of currently six “silly little romance novels” I’ve read thus far in 2016. Fun Fact!: I both began and finished reading this book while in the middle of reading The Witches. Y’ALL FORGOT THE WITCHES WAS GONNA BE A THING, didn’t you?! Don’t worry – it’s still coming up. Next, in fact. It’s, uh … it’s a Thing on its own.

I’d read a lot of good press about Sarah MacLean’s romances – that the heroines she wrote about were intelligent women with their own agency and a generous dash of snark, and that the romancing itself was very hot. I have to say, the press was actually correct in that respect. Now, pardon me while I quickly skim through the book to remind myself about the plot, because I read it in July.

(Another Fun Fact!: I was going to review this a couple of days ago, while I was puppysitting Hamilton Tickets for my parents [[oh my god i don’t think i’ve talked about Hamilton Tickets on here GIVE ME A MINUTE THIS WILL BE A TREAT]], but the book fell out of my laundry basket on my way downstairs and it was left on my deck outside for 24 hours [I live on the second floor and my entrance is through an open-air deck], wherein the book got rained on. But let’s take a moment to thank Avon Publishing for their stellar choice of cover material. The cover is only slightly warped, but the pages inside are STILL DRY.)

[[After My Sister’s Wedding, Mom and Dad got a puppy. Her real name is Ginger, but Hamilton Tickets is shaping up to be an excellent nickname (Thanks, Alaina’s Dear Friend Sarah!). Also, my goal in mentioning Hamilton Tickets is to get this picture to come up when people google “Hamilton Tickets”:

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LOOK AT THAT FAAAAAAACE SHE’S SO PRECIOUS]]

Okay, Alaina – the book. Talk about the book.

The Rogue Not Taken is the first book in the series “Scandal and Scoundrel”: each book in the series deals with gossip rags published and read among the ton, and while I think each subsequent book deals with a tertiary character from the last book in the series, I don’t think it will be like other romance series where each book deals with another member of the same family. I’m not sure, to be honest; the second book in the series was only recently released, so I’m not 100% sure what the pattern will be.

So in The Rogue Not Taken, we are introduced to the Talbot sisters: a family of five girls who rose to prominence when their parents purchased a title. The ton gets all mad because they don’t like upstarts who purchase titles; they only approve homegrown blue-bloods. Sophie, the youngest Talbot, keeps to herself and stays out of the gossip rags – unlike her sisters. And the story starts when her temper gets the better of her, and she pushes her brother-in-law into a goldfish pond after discovering him boinking someone else at a party.

In a spontaneous moment, she decides to leave London and return to her childhood home in Cumbria. But because this is 1833 and not 2013, she can’t exactly take an Uber there. So with the last of her pocket money, she hires a footman away from a carriage and disguises herself as said footman and hitches a ride on said carriage and rolls right into trouble.

Because she’s an unchaperoned young woman not fooling anyone in her footman’s clothes. And the carriage happens to belong to a dude whose name is, hand to God, “Kingscote.” He goes by “King.” Alaina is Never Making It Up. He is a bit of an asshole, at first – he’s heading back to his hometown (which is just outside of Sophie’s hometown, because coincidence is prevalent in silly little romance novels) because his dying father wants King to come back home and accept his responsibilities as duke. Or marquess. Whatever title King doesn’t want to do. I know he’s not an actual king.

See, King and his dad had a falling out, because years ago, King loved a commoner, and King’s Dad disapproved of the match, and when King’s Dad ran the girl off of the estate, the coach she was in careened her to her death, and King blames King’s Dad for it and that’s why he’s returning home reluctantly. Also, he’s vowed to never marry and the line ends with me and all that jazz.

(This is the second book I can recall where this is a major plot line. Spoiler alert!: they always change their mind.)

When he finds out that Sophie’s going in the same direction he is, his first assumption is that she’s trying to trap him into marriage – much like her sisters did with their husbands. But all Sophie wants to do is return to Cumbria, open a bookshop, and meet up with her childhood sweetheart Robbie and hope he’s still unattached. (Spoiler alert!: he’s not.)

King attempts to leave Sophie to her own devices, but she sells his fancy curricle wheels behind his back to get some money for a ticket on the mail coach. When King finds out, he goes after her (for the wheels, definitely not because he thinks he likes her, we’re only 100 pages in at this point, he hasn’t recognized what that feeling is yet). But when he gets to the mail coach, the passengers are being robbed at gunpoint, and Sophie actually gets hit. It’s a non-critical hit, but a hit nonetheless.

Can I just take a minute and praise this plot? First, let me point out to you the pun in the title: The Rogue Not Taken = “the road not taken.” This is a book full of road trip hijinks! Where the heroine takes a bullet! Unfortunately, the road trip aspect involves a lot more romance and no Hamilton karaoke, so it’s not exactly like an Alaina Patterson Road Trip™, but it’s still pretty hijink-ey. (The other part of the title that makes it almost a pun is that King is a rogue who is unattached – i.e., not taken. Geddit?)

I’m sorry. I don’t know why I didn’t trust you guys (are there more than one of you? Sometimes I wonder…) to get the pun in the title. I’m a bad person.

King takes Sophie to the nearest village and the doctor saves her, and then King feels responsible so he agrees to take her back to Cumbria. To keep an eye on her. Definitely not because he thinks he’s falling in love with her, dudes don’t do that.

Also, if you like heroines who don’t believe they’re pretty and heroes determined to prove them otherwise (see The Deception of the Emerald Ring), it becomes a theme between Sophie and King.

King eventually brings Sophie to his childhood home and introduces her to his father. We learn that the grudge King bears his father isn’t fully deserved, and Sophie and King work towards declaring their love, when Sophie’s family barges in and comes up with a cockamamie plot to trap King into marrying her, against Sophie’s will. She loves him for him and not his title or fortune, but her family doesn’t see it the same way.

There’s an obstacle in – not even the third act, it’s practically the denouement – but it’s overcome quickly. Again, the obstacle arrives in the last fifty pages, so it’s a quick descent to the happily-ever-after.

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 I’m definitely adding Sarah MacLean to my list of authors where I must read every thing she’s ever done, because I really liked it. Even if “King” is a really stupid name for a dude.

Grade for The Rogue Not Taken4 stars

Fiction: “Sex Criminals” Vol. 1, by Matt Fraction / Chip Zdarsky

sex-criminals-vol-1I had seen this graphic novel advertised on the interwebs, and I found a used copy at Bull Moose one day. I was familiar with Matt Fraction – he wrote the Hawkeye series I started to read (and have yet to find a library version of the next volume, what the hell, Yarmouth Library), and this series was touted as a comedy with heart.

I should probably explain two things before digging into this. First of all, this book is DEFINITELY Not Safe For Work. Secondly, this book is named “Sex Criminals” because the lead characters are two consenting adults who have sex and then commit crimes. I want to emphasize that this book does not detail sexual crimes.

Finally, I’m writing this while watching the Cubs play the Giants in Game 3 of the NLDS. I want to extend my sympathies to Red Sox Nation, and I’m hoping I can finish this entry before the end of the game. (How mad was I when I found out the game wasn’t scheduled to start until 9:30 EST? SO MAD. I have to go back to work tomorrow, you guys! The good news I have about that is I’ve already put tomorrow’s outfit in the bathroom and my purse and shoes are already by the door – I shouldn’t have any reason why I couldn’t hit the Topsham Starbucks on tomorrow’s commute.)

Okay. So, the graphic novel stars Suzie, who learned when she was a teenager that when she orgasms, time stops. Like, the world is frozen, but she can run around and do stuff, including yell at her mother and pet tigers at the zoo and just really wonder what the hell is going on. She calls it “in the Quiet,” and she’s all alone in the quiet until she meets Jon.

Jon is also able to enter “the Quiet” when he orgasms, except he calls it “Cumworld,” after the porn shop he frequents as a teenager – and when I say “frequent,” I mean “visit the bank across the street from the adult toy store, rub one out in the public restroom, then run across the street to the porn shop undetected.”

Jon works for BankCorp, which is the bank Suzie’s father worked for until he got in the way of another banker on a day the markets crashed. Suzie’s father got caught with a bullet or pushed out a high-story window – either way, he died, and Suzie’s mother was really unable to take care of herself or her daughter. When Suzie started asking normal teenage sex questions, her mother dismisses her curiosity. So Suzie starts doing her own research, and ends up in the library.

Flash-forward to now: Suzie still works at the library, but the bank is going to foreclose on it. (Rutting bastards – how dare you foreclose on a library!) She meets Jon at her Save the Books Party, and their first date lasts almost three full days. They keep hanging out, and then Jon comes up with a brilliant idea – why don’t they use The Quiet to pay off the library’s debt? By having sex in public, and then taking small amounts of money from various banks?

And that works really well — holy Jesus, we’re only in the third inning still?! (I just looked up – I shouldn’t have looked up. This game has gone for almost an hour and a half and we’re just in the third?! Crap. I am going to be One Tired Alaina tomorrow morning.)

ANYWAY, before the Giants scored, I was going to say that Suzie and Jon’s plan works very well – until the Sex Police get wind of what they’re doing, and show up on the day of their big heist.

Because yes, there is a shadowy organization of others who can enter The Quiet, and they’re trying to stop Suzie and Jon from doing what they’re doing. What hasn’t been revealed yet is their motive or reason for being.

Being a graphic novel collection, this was a very quick read for me – although to be honest, I think I started reading it the weekend of my sister’s wedding because I left the book I was reading in my car or something, and I was so tired that week that it still took me a couple of days to read it. Normally, I can read a graphic novel compilation in a night. But dammit, Kid, your wedding wore me out.

I recommend it. The plot is definitely something I’ve never read before, the characters are great, and the art is gorgeous. Just keep in mind that it is truly rated M for Mature and Not Safe For Work – it’s not just words that are dirty, here. Entire chapters of the story take place at a porn store. And it’s a graphic novel. That means visuals.

Grade for Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick: 4 stars

Fiction: “Just Like Heaven” by Julia Quinn

Just Like HeavenJust a heads-up: this is the first “silly little romance novel” out of four I’ve read so far this year. My average for the past couple of years has been two, max. I do not have an explanation as to why I’m suddenly picking up these things left and right; something to do with escapism, maybe? I mean, in the past six months, I have helped my family with my sister’s bridal shower, bachelorette party, and wedding, and after each event I have found myself withdrawing from social interactions. After the wedding, I didn’t really talk to any of my friends or make plans to do anything for about two weeks after? Maybe three? I spent time in my apartment watching Netflix and taking naps. And this isn’t the first time I’ve done this – after the Christmas Party last year, I started looking at Caribbean vacation deals that were cheap for one person (spoiler alert!: there were none. Goddamn double occupancy!), because all I wanted to do was escape.

And for the first time in a very long time, I found myself escaping in the books I was reading. Some of the “silly little romance novels” are quite silly – wait till you hear the one about the Lucius Malfoy-look-alike who enjoys light bondage! – but ever since March, I have been reading two books at a time: one of these historical romances at home, and then a Lunch Break Book I could bring to work to read on my lunch break without getting weird looks from the woman who always asks what I’m reading now.

(Not that I think she’d judge me; I just don’t feel comfortable reading romance novels in public. Don’t therapy me.)

So sometime in late March I felt the need to pick up a romance novel, and my choice came down to two things: 1) the way the back cover described the plot (which I’ll get to in a minute), and 2) the fact that Goodreads told me it was the first in a series.

And look, I know that while 99.9% of all “silly little romance novels” belong to a series of some sort – whether a trio or a quartet, or even, in the case of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series or Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster series (hey guys, remember that shit show?! I sure don’t!), more than 10 titles to its grouping – you usually never have to read them in order. I get that; I do. Does it make me feel weird to know that I’m reading a series out of order? Hell yes! Do I do everything I can to avoid that feeling and just start with the first book in a series as much as possible? Hell yes!

Here’s how the book cover is written:

Honoria Smythe-Smith is:
A) a really bad violinist
B) still miffed at being nicknamed “Bug” as a child
C) NOT in love with her older brother’s best friend
D) all of the above

Marcus Holroyd is:
A) the Earl of Chatteris
B) regrettably prone to sprained ankles
C) NOT in love with his best friend’s younger sister
D) all of the above

Together they:
A) eat quite a bit of chocolate cake
B) survive a deadly fever AND the world’s worst musical performance
C) fall desperately in love

It’s Julia Quinn at her best, so you KNOW the answer is …
D) all of the above

Being unfamiliar with Julia Quinn’s writings, I couldn’t really attest to that last D), but I was willing to give it a shot. I mean – the girl’s name is Smythe-Smith, and the dude’s last name is Holroyd, so clearly Ms. Quinn is aware of my Rule of Y (“never use an ‘I’ when you could use a ‘Y’ instead). Also, the world’s worst musical performance? I don’t think so, unless Honoria and Marcus also attended that Third Eye Blind show at Merrill Auditorium back in 2010 with the WORST opening band I have ever had to sit through – actually, I didn’t sit through it, I went out into the lobby and ordered a second tequila. Straight. They were that bad. They were so bad, I couldn’t tell you who it was; I tried so hard to block it from memory. They were even worse than Longwave, the middle band that opened for O.K. Go back in 2009 (p.s., shout out to Google for telling me when these shows were because my memory is terrible with dates).

But also, there’s cake?! Sign me UP!

Marcus was indeed best friends with Daniel Smythe-Smith when they were lads, and Honoria tended to trail after them like a mosquito – hence, the nickname “Bug.” When they were older, Daniel got into some trouble that I can’t quite recall and he had to shove off to France – but not before getting Marcus’s promise that he (Marcus) would look after Honoria in Daniel’s absence.

Flash-forward to the beginning of the story, and Honoria runs into Marcus unexpectedly. She is shopping with her friends and gets caught in a downpour, and Marcus offers her temporary shelter in his carriage. Also, he has cake. And it’s not like Marcus is a stranger offering cake; she knows him, so it’s safe to get into his vehicle!

Honoria is on the hunt for a husband – not because she feels the need to succumb to matrimony, but because she’s currently in the Smythe-Smith Quartet, and every year they put on a musicale. I don’t know why there’s an extra ‘e’ on the end of that word. But also, apparently this musicale is mentioned in Ms. Quinn’s other series, related to the Bridgertons. Anyway, once one of the female cousins gets married, she doesn’t have to perform in the musicale anymore. So, in an effort to get herself noticed by Gregory Bridgerton, Honoria steals a small shovel from the house where she’s staying and digs a mole hole in the hopes of making it look like she twisted her ankle in it and needs his assistance. This would have worked splendidly, if it wasn’t right next to Marcus’s property, and he comes upon her just as she practices her fainting. And then he steps into the mole hole, spraining his ankle.

Honoria walks him back to his manse, at which point he has to cut his boot off of his foot because his ankle has swollen so much. He accidentally slices his leg, which then gets infected – because remember, y’all, this is a historical romance; it takes place in 1824. When Honoria learns that Marcus has locked himself in his mansion by himself (he’s an orphaned Earl and doesn’t really have a lot of friends now that Daniel has absconded to France), Honoria grabs her mother and the two of them go and save Marcus, including cutting out the infected tissue of the wound.

Now, I’ve read a few historical romance novels, but I’ve never seen one where a woman is able to pretty much do surgery on the hero. So I really appreciated the novelty of this.

During his recuperation, Honoria steals him a treacle tart so the cake theme continues. Honoria’s mother tells Marcus that they wouldn’t have come if Honoria hadn’t insisted, because they’re not really related and it’s improper for an unmarried woman to be in the same house as an unmarried man. And Honoria learns that Marcus interpreted Daniel’s plea to keep an eye on his sister as “interfering with the dudes who tried to court Honoria.” Marcus’s reasons were always that he didn’t think those dudes deserved Honoria; never did it cross Marcus’s mind that he wanted Honoria for himself. Honoria also comes to realize that her feelings for Marcus are more than brotherly love. Their declaration of love comes after a veritable comedy of errors.

I can’t tell you how much I liked this book. In fact, it’s probably going to be the first “silly little romance novel” I’ve read here that I’m going to rate 4 stars. For one thing, I really appreciated that Marcus was not a rake. Not that I have anything against rakes, but it was very refreshing to have the male character not be in need of reform in any way. He’s a respectable member of society; in fact, great mention is made of his being quiet and solitary. He hasn’t had a lot of affairs, he’s not trying to marry for money, he’s not a spy, he’s not a secret twin. He’s just Marcus.

Same with Honoria – she has a loving family and while she’s looking for a husband at the beginning of the book, it’s not because she’s trying to escape from something or move up in society – she’s just trying to get out of her family’s musical quartet, and also, it’s a thing women had to do back then.

I also appreciated that the relationship between Marcus and Honoria was built out of a long history together. There were no obstacles of personality to overcome, no secrets that needed to be got over – and no, I’m not counting the whole “Marcus keeps an eye on Honoria by intimidating her potential suitors” as a “secret.” They just know each other so well, that it paves the way to a romance between them quite nicely:

“I like the rehearsals. Especially now that all of my siblings are gone, and my house is nothing but ticking clocks and means on trays. It’s lovely to gather together and have someone to talk to.” She looked over at him with a sheepish expression. “We talk at least as much as we rehearse.”

“This does not surprise me,” Marcus muttered.

She gave him a look that said she had not missed his little dig. But she did not take offense; he had known she would not.

And then he realized: he rather liked that he had known she would not take offense. There was something wonderful about knowing another person so well. [p. 242]

Their banter together was adorable; and if there’s one thing that gets me every time, it’s banter.

“You will have a terrible scar.”

He smiled wryly. “I shall wear it with pride and mendacity.”

“Mendacity?” she echoed, unable to contain her amusement.

He cocked his head to the side as he regarded the huge wound on his leg. “I was thinking I might set it about that I’d wrestled with a tiger.”

“A tiger. In Cambridgeshire.”

He shrugged. “It’s more likely than a shark.”

“Wild boar,” she decided.

“Now that’s just undignified.” [p. 206]

And finally, and probably the most important part – they all value dessert above all other foods.

But just before he turned to greet her, she turned in the opposite direction, and he could have sworn he heard her mutter, “Blast it all, I’m getting an éclair.”

She drifted off, weaving her way through the crowds. Marcus watched her with interest; she seemed to know exactly where she was going. Which meant that if he’d heard her correctly …

She knew where one could get an éclair. [p. 276]

I don’t know – I found this book so refreshing. It’s the first book I’ve read in this genre in at least a few years where the drama originated from internal forces rather than external, and there was no deception in any measure happening between the two main characters. It was just … cute? and happy? and escapist? But I enjoyed every word of it?

PS guess what I found in my bookcase: the second book in this series. boo. yah.

Grade for Just Like Heaven: 4 stars

Fiction: “Brooklyn” by Colm Tóibín

BrooklynIn a way, it’s a good thing that I’m currently suffering from a huge bout of Book ADD. I’m still reading the 800-page behemoth that is the biography of Alexander Hamilton (asked of me at the gym yesterday, coming off of my 30-minute bike workout: “What on earth is that light reading you’ve got going on there?”), but I have no interest in any other books. Nor do I have any idea of what I’m going to read when A dot Ham is through. [[iTunes, did you just pull up “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”? Goddammit – let’s see if I can get through this track without crying for once]]

This book ADD is awful, because look, I like reading in bed: lying prone in silence helps me fall asleep. And as interesting as the Alexander Hamilton biography is, it is hard as fuck to fall asleep while reading a book that, should it land on your face, could cause your septum to deviate from the force of the fall.

But the good side to only reading one book at lunch time for the time being is: ostensibly, I should have the ability to complete a few reviews and get almost caught up before my sister gets married at the end of the month. So – here we go.

Brooklyn was the last title I was able to get for my Oscar!Watch!Read project. It’s the story of Eilis Lacey (pronounced Eye-liss), the youngest girl in an Irish family, who emigrates to America – Brooklyn, to be specific – in the 1950s in the hopes of bettering her life. Her brothers have all moved to England to find employment; her sister, Rose, works as an accountant in a mill. Eilis wanted to follow in her sister’s footsteps, but the opportunity simply isn’t there. Also not there are decent prospects for dating and marriage; none of the men in her age group show her any interest.

Rose corresponds with Father Flood, a priest from their hometown who currently resides in Brooklyn. Through their efforts, they are able to send Eilis to Brooklyn to find work and take classes towards an accounting degree. Eilis makes the journey by herself, and comes down with an awful case of seasickness. Her berthmate gives her tips on how to survive the rest of the week’s journey, and when she reaches Ellis Island she moves through the emigration line smoothly.

She has a room with Mrs. Keough, another Irish lady who runs a boarding house of other Irish ladies. They all work during the week, have dinner together at night, go out dancing on Saturdays and to church on Sundays. At first, Eilis is terribly homesick – the letters to and from Ireland do not arrive rapidly. Her sadness begins to permeate her every moment, including her shifts on the sales floor of the department store where she works. Unlike some other department stores where I’ve worked, Eilis’s manager asks her what’s wrong, and brings in Father Flood for guidance.

At one of the Saturday night dances, Eilis meets Tony Fiorello, an Italian plumber who has a thing for Irish girls. He sweetly walks her home, and they begin dating. Over time – between Eilis’s classes at the local night college, making friends with her fellow boarders, and her dates and time spent with Tony – Eilis’s homesickness goes away. Before she (and the reader) knows it, a year has passed, and Eilis is beginning to see her future in a home with Tony on Long Island.

And then, Rose passes away suddenly. Eilis goes back home to help her mother at the behest of her brothers. But because she loves Tony, and he wants an assurance that she’ll come back to him, they secretly marry before she sails back to Ireland. She is supposed to be gone for only a month. When she gets there, her mother simply assumes she’s back for good, and the assumptions pile on so quickly and effortlessly that Eilis finds herself buried underneath them – she is unable to tell her mother that she met anyone, let alone married him. Her best friend is getting married in six weeks, and it’s assumed that Eilis will stay for the ceremony, so Eilis finds herself writing to New York to extend her stay.

Meanwhile, her friend (whose name escapes me – sorry!) and her friend’s fiance ask Eilis to come out with them, and they bring Jim along – Jim being one of the boys who wouldn’t pay attention to her when she lived in town, but now that she’s lived in America she’s interesting. Eilis finds herself drawn to Jim, and there starts to be a chance that maybe she won’t return to Tony …

Brooklyn is a very quiet, pretty book. The only drama to speak of is all internal to Eilis’s thoughts and desires, and the translation of those thoughts and desires into words are beautifully-written. I was going to call the story “elegiac,” but then I found out that I’ve been using that word incorrectly all these years, because the story isn’t “mournful” whatsoever.

It’s … elegant? No, it’s like … hm. I thought I had the perfect word. Serene? Aside from whatever inner turmoil Eilis experiences? And even then, the turmoil seems minimal. Dammit, I am not as good at this as I thought.

Okay, clearly I don’t have the right word. The feeling, as best as I can figure, would be akin to floating down a lazy river in an innertube, like you used to be able to do at one of the waterparks at Disney World. The world is serene, and quiet, and you are connected to your thoughts because that’s all you have, but your thoughts are pleasant and good. You drift where the current takes you, and maybe you make a decision – left fork, right fork? – but the decision doesn’t have a lot of tension surrounding it. Whatever happens, happens, but you’re directing your own current.

And that’s what Eilis is doing in Brooklyn. At first, the decision for her to move to Brooklyn wasn’t really hers – Rose and Father Flood worked together to present her with this option of moving to America, and she took it because she knew how much Rose wanted it for her to prosper. When she got to Brooklyn, she was out of sorts. She threw herself into her studies, worked hard at her job, and then had the strength of confidence to find herself happy with Tony. Rose suddenly passes, and now Eilis is at her fork in the stream: does she go back to Ireland to help her mother, or stay with Tony in Brooklyn? Her decision is made, but not anguished over. Her decision to return to Tony (oh sorry – spoiler alert!) is made quickly, once the time to make that decision arises, but the decision is made with all the conviction in her heart based on the journey she’s taken.

The film is an exceptionally beautiful film. The colors are spectacular, and wonderfully evoke New York City in the 1950s. Saoirse Ronan inhabits Eilis perfectly, and it’s almost too bad she was up against Brie Larson in Room, because any other year, she may have had a chance at the Oscar. It’s such a sweet film, really. Also, should you decide to rent it, make sure you have tissues handy.

Anyway. I finished the Oscar!Watch!Read project in time for the Oscars to air, and I really feel like I was able to get a good grasp of the different degrees to which a film’s script can be adapted from a source material. I have a feeling – because I’m a masochist, first and foremost – that next year, I’m going to try and repeat this performance.

Having said that – hopefully, I’ll finish Alexander Hamilton by then. Even better, I hope to have figured out what I’m going to read after it.

Grade for Brooklyn: 4 stars

Fiction: “The Martian” by Andy Weir

MartianTwo Oscar!Watch titles down, two to go! (and then another six books after that, and guys, I am now imposing a deadline upon myself: I need to get caught up with this shit before my sister’s wedding. I do not have time for further dilly-dallying. I mean, good news, the TV season will end soon, and also, I’m currently reading Alexander Hamilton, and that is an 800-page beast. So hopefully, I’ll get caught up with my books by the time I have to drive down to D.C. to pick up a Very Important Photographer, because once I punch out of work on that Friday, there ain’t gonna be no Alaina-Time until June.)

I saw The Martian when it came out last October, and holy shit, you guys – if you haven’t seen the movie, you need to. It was my favorite movie of 2015 until I saw The Force Awakens, and look, if you want to send me off on a rant, then go ahead and get me started on how the fuck the fucking Revenant got nominated for Best Picture when The Force Awakens made me feel ALL THE FEELINGS and the fucking Revenant only made me feel fucking ANGRY.

Someday, when I have either more time or less of a life, I will create the Alaina Awards, in which I reward movies that truly deserve it. And first up for a Reparations Oscar (am I allowed to use that word? God, I hope so) is The Force Awakens.

(I mean, Spotlight was amazing and I’m still exceptionally happy that it did win Best Picture. But The Force Awakens! BB-8, YOU GUYS – BB-8 FOR BEST ACTOR)

Okay. So. Anyway. The Martian. I saw it, and lo, it was amazing. And then I read the book.

The story is about Mark Watney, the engineer-botanist astronaut in a team of astronauts who have been sent on a mission to study Mars. I shouldn’t have to point out that this is science-fiction, but I’m going to anyway. And I should also point out that it’s really fiction that’s heavily-steeped in science, as opposed to fantastical elements. The only Martian in the story is Watney.

Not too far into the astronaut’s mission on the planet’s surface, a dust-storm brews up, and they have to evacuate back to Earth prematurely. En route to the evacuation vehicle, Watney gets knocked off course by debris, and the crew are forced to leave him behind, believing him to have died on impact. They load up into the evacuation vehicle, link up with the shuttle, and depart for Earth.

Watney, however, wakes up the next day to his space suit beeping at him, warning him of his dangerously low oxygen levels. The debris that hit him was a bar of rebar (or something), and while the impact punctured his suit, the hole in the suit was also sealed enough by his blood and stuff to allow Watney to continue breathing while unconscious. He manages to crawl his way back to the Hab (the habitation quarters for the astronauts), suture his wound by himself, and then realize that he’s alive and alone on Mars.

Watney discovers that the storm knocked out all communication with Earth – the evac vehicle had a good amount of the communications devices, but the backup satellites were damaged and are unable to be repaired. So Watney has no way to tell NASA or his co-astronauts that he survived the storm.

So now, he’s truly on Mars. Alone.

But instead of committing suicide, he knows that the next mission to Mars is in approximately 500 sols (Mars-days, slightly longer than an Earth-day). He knows where he is, and he knows where the landing site is going to be, and he knows he can get there. But how can he spare his rations to live that long?

Remember when I said that Watney was a botanist? And conveniently, NASA sent up pre-packaged Thanksgiving dinners, complete with actual potatoes. Watney comes up with a plan to cover the Hab floor with makeshift soil so he can plant potatoes in the simulated Earth atmosphere. But what about water? Well …

Watney records his journey and travails in the Sol Log – astronauts record their doings and discoveries in a log, and even though this is now practically Mission: Watney, Watney continues the tradition. The majority of the book is Watney’s log entries, but there are chapters that return to Earth or the astronauts who are on their way back home.

About a third of the way into the book, an overnight observer at NASA realizes that one of the small rovers near the Hab has been moved since the evacuation. She keeps an eye on it, and sure enough, it moves a bit every day. She brings this information to her supervisor, and that’s when they realize that Watney’s still alive – this after the head of NASA had announced his tragic death.

But because there’s limited communication, NASA doesn’t know how Watney’s doing, or even what he’s doing. Conversely, Watney doesn’t know that NASA figured out he’s alive. But Watney, like a lot of us human beings, has an intense drive to survive. So dammit, that’s what he’s going to do.

His first step after figuring out how to grow potatoes in Martian soil is to retrofit one of the rovers for a longer journey. He then takes that rover and travels about twenty sols (because rovers really don’t move that fast) and rescues the Mars Pathfinder rover. When the NASA scientists realize what he’s doing, they contact their top tech guys at Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) to get the MS-DOS stored on Pathfinder to work again, and this gives them communication back to Watney.

The entire book is filled with that type of stuff: something happens on Mars. Watney deals with it. NASA figures out what Watney’s doing, figures out ways to help Watney from Earth. Something else happens, so now both Watney and NASA are on to Plan D.

This is an awesome story, even if at more than a couple of points, I almost shouted, “What the fuck ELSE could go wrong?!” Because there are a lot of things that go wrong. But I do want to reassure everyone that Watney gets brought home.

The film steers very close to the book – what I liked about the film is we could actually see the science behind Watney’s problem-solvings, although the book does a very good job about describing those concepts. (It’s much more user-friendly than The Big Short was in that regard.)

What I really enjoyed about the book and the movie is the character of Mark Watney. He’s a scientist that’s funny, that can make pop culture references, be relatable, and also competent in the face of danger. We don’t always get his “scared” emotions in the book, because we’re hearing about most of the events through Watney’s log entries, and he’s trying to put on a brave face for the NASA recorders who will have to read them once they’re transmitted back to Earth. The movie does take those moments to show how scared Watney is in the face of almost certain doom, which I appreciated.

But the best part of the book, the movie, and the character of Mark Watney himself: are his quotes.

You may have seen this one before, but the juxtaposition is just … so priceless.  The ‘Teddy’ is the chairman (or whatever) of NASA, and Venkat(*) is the lead scientist on the Ares 3 mission.

Teddy swiveled his chair and looked out the window to the sky beyond. Night was edging in. “What must it be like?” he pondered. “He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?”

He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61

How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense. [p. 76]

When NASA and Watney are finally able to exchange emails, we get to see how Watney interacts with the rest of his crew and the scientists back on Earth. Their communications are illuminating.

In other news, I got an e-mail from Venkat Kapoor:

Mark, some answers to your earlier questions:

No, we will not tell our Botany Team to “Go fuck themselves.” I understand you’ve been on your own for a long time, but we’re in the loop now, and it’s best if you listen to what we have to say.

The Cubs finished the season at the bottom of the NL Central.

The data transfer rate just isn’t good enough for the size of music files, even in compressed formats. So your request for “Anything, oh God, ANYTHING but Disco” is denied. Enjoy your boogie fever.  [p. 176]

Mark Watney’s sense of humor has been described as “black humor.” I can attest to that, based on his dining options for his trek to the Ares 4 launch site:

I saved five meal packs for special occasions. I wrote their names on each one. I get to eat “Departure” the day I leave for Schiaparelli. I’ll eat “Halfway” when I reach the 1600-kilometer mark, and “Arrival” when I get there.

The fourth one is “Survived Something That Should Have Killed Me” because some fucking thing will happen, I just know it. I don’t know what it’ll be, but it’ll happen. The rover will break down, or I’ll come down with fatal hemorrhoids, or I’ll run into hostile Martians, or some shit. When I do (if I live), I get to eat that meal pack. [p. 309]

And as if anyone needed any additional proof that Mark Watney is my fictional, botanist engineer counterpart:

[11:49] JPL: What we can see of your planned cut looks good. We’re assuming the other side is identical. You’re cleared to start drilling.
[12:07] WATNEY: That’s what she said.
[12:25] JPL: Seriously, Mark? Seriously?  [p. 260]

(*) The only choice the filmmakers did that I wasn’t appreciative of was the name change of Dr. Venkat Kapoor to Vincent Kapoor. There was no need to Anglicize the character’s name: making that change did not affect the plot, or the characterization. Dear Hollywood: quit doing that. Love, Alaina.

Everything else was good, though.

Grade for The Martian (book): 4 stars
Grade for The Martian (film): 5 stars

Fiction: “Room” by Emma Donoghue

RoomThis year for Oscar!Watch, I decided to level up for some unknown reason – oh, wait, do you guys who follow my reading blog but not my movie blog even know about Oscar!Watch?

Every year, when the Oscar nominees get announced, I attempt to see every movie nominated for what I call the Big 8 categories: Best Picture, Best Director, the four Acting categories, and the two Writing categories. I even make a chart and everything to aid in my quest. And every year, I always miss about three or four movies that don’t make their way to Maine in the appropriate time period.

So this year, because Oscar!Watch isn’t hard enough, I guess, I decided to also read the books that were the source material for the Best Adapted Screenplay nominees. I’m not sure why I made that decision; I think it was a combination of realizing that the nominees were all based on books that were readily available (as opposed to an obscure play), and those books were all available at My Local Library (well, almost all – the Yarmouth Library has a disheartening amount of Patricia Highsmith titles, so Carol or The Price of Salt remains elusive – I mean, they don’t even have Strangers on a Train, what’s with that?), and maybe there was also a part of me that, when looking at the titles, said to herself, “I might enjoy reading that anyway.”

I think there may have also been some thought about wanting to discover the One True Winner of this category, because I can guarantee that the Oscar voters don’t take the time to read the books the movies are based on, watch the movies, and then vote based on how well the original source material was adapted into the resulting film. I’m guessing that, when it comes to that category, the Academy members vote for the film they feel was the best written, and it just happens that the source material isn’t original. But I almost want them to vote the first way: see the source material, watch the resulting adaptation, and vote for the movie that accomplishes the best version of their source material.

But regardless of what my intentions were, it was a decision I made, and I was able to read four out of the five nominees. I kicked off the reading session with Room.

I didn’t really have any idea what Room was about when it first came out a few years ago. I know I saw it everywhere – especially Target; I seem to remember seeing a lot of it at Target – but I wasn’t interested enough to pick it up to read the back of the book. (It may have also been a situation like with Water for Elephants, where the back of the book is all blurbs and no plot description. Stop doing that, Publishers! I am not buying your book without knowing what it’s about [unless it’s an author I’m already familiar with]!) I also wasn’t entirely sure if it was fiction or non-fiction. Spoiler alert! It’s fiction.

The story of Room is told by Jack, and we meet Jack and his Ma on his fifth birthday. Jack is our narrator, and Jack and Ma live together in Room. Jack spends his day doing chores, running “track” back and forth across Room, playing “Scream,” a game where he and Ma scream up at the skylight of Room, and watching TV. Jack believes that what he sees in TV isn’t Real, but everything that happens in Room is real.

After Jack goes to bed at night, Ma is visited by Old Nick, who brings them groceries, clothes, and Sunday-Treat: a special object every Sunday, be it candy or a new toy. But Old Nick only visits after Jack is hidden in his wardrobe bed; Jack has never seen Old Nick’s face.

Because the story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy, there are a lot of jumps the reader has to make to understand what’s really happening. For instance, when Old Nick is visiting Ma, Jack can hear them making the bed’s mattress creak. Jack thinks they’re just pushing the mattress up and down (which seems like an odd game to Jack), but the reader can read between the lines to recognize what’s actually happening.

The reality that Ma has shielded Jack from for the previous five years is this: Ma was a college student and was tricked by Old Nick one day.  Old Nick kidnapped her and locked her in this Room, which turns out to be a soundproofed shed he keeps in his backyard – hence, playing “Scream” in the hopes of being heard: Ma has turned a hope of rescue into a game. Old Nick repeatedly rapes Ma, and Jack is the product of one of those rapes. Ma has done all in her power to enforce healthy habits with what she’s given: because they can’t leave Room, Jack and Ma move the bed around and do aerobics and “run track,” which is just back and forth the length of the room to keep their strength up. They bathe as much as possible, and she makes sure Jack brushes his teeth after every meal. She makes up a grocery list for Old Nick, and she always requests food with good nutritional value.

Ma couldn’t tell Jack the entire scope of their situation, because he was too young to understand. I mean, if you’re a five-year-old who’s been raised to not realize that there’s an Outside, you never want to go Outside. If you think cars that you see on TV aren’t real, then you won’t ask why we don’t have a car, why can’t we go anywhere. It was a coping mechanism for Ma, but also for Jack – he can’t feel bad about their situation if he doesn’t really know what their situation is.

Shortly after Jack’s birthday, Old Nick tells Ma that he’s been unemployed for six months, and the house may get foreclosed upon if he can’t get work. Jack, our narrator, doesn’t understand what that means, but Ma certainly does. If the house is foreclosed upon, Old Nick won’t just let them go – he’s going to kill them. So Ma spends a couple of days to come up with a plan; when she does, she realizes the most important thing is also the hardest: she has to tell Jack about the outside world.

In a harrowing sequence, Jack is able to be smuggled out of Room and is able to jump out of Old Nick’s pickup truck and give a message to some neighbors. The police get involved, and they are able to find Ma’s location and rescue her. Ma is relieved, but Jack doesn’t understand that he’s never going to go back to Room – it’s the only home he’s ever known, what do you mean they’re never going back? What about all the toys and mementos from his childhood?

The rest of the book shows how traumatizing it can be for someone to get integrated into the world when they’ve been isolated for their entire life. Jack struggles a lot to reconcile what he’s only known to the reality: that there are a lot of experiences he’s missed out on, like grandparents, and dogs, and making friends, and cousins, and paying for things at a store.

Ma – or Joy, as we find out her name once she’s released from Room – also has a hard time reintegrating into her world. In the seven years that she’s been missing, her parents have divorced. Her father thought she was dead, and he can’t quite come to terms with the fact that not only is Joy not dead, but she was repeatedly raped, and also, her son is a reminder of his failings as a father: he was unable to protect his little girl. Her mother has remarried, and now Joy has to be nice to a person who has usurped her father’s role as head of the family. Joy also has to alleviate her guilt that she now feels about being too gullible or stupid to have fallen for Old Nick’s trick in the first place.

There’s a lot of emotions going on in the book, and it’s very interesting because again, the entire book is written from Jack’s perspective. Once I knew what the book was about (because yes, I totally read the synopsis on Wikipedia before getting too far into it – I am Harry Burns, after all), I was worried that I’d put it down or the writing style would make it difficult for me to get through.

I read the dang book in three days. I can’t remember the last time I read a book so quickly. I started reading it on a Thursday night – I think it was a Thursday night; maybe it was Friday. Anyway, I started reading it around 11 so I could fall asleep; fast-forward to two hours later, and I’ve read ninety pages and I’m still wide awake. (I think it was a Friday night, because if it was a Thursday I would have been pissed about losing sleep before a workday.) And I was finished with it by that Monday.

How did it compare to the film? I thought the film adaptation was very close to the book. Obviously, it cut some things out, but what they cut out didn’t impact the plot at all. As this was the first book I read in the Level Up project, I didn’t have anything to compare it to, but I thought the adapting of the book to the film was very well-done.

(Then I remembered that the author herself wrote the screenplay; so, duh. That makes total sense.)

Also, Brie Larson was totally deserving of her Best Actress Oscar. And I’ve said it before and I know I’ll say it again: it’s a fucking shame that Jacob Tremblay wasn’t nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for playing Jack, because a) he was phenomenal and b) he acted fucking circles around Leonardo Di-fucking-Caprio. Goddammit.

Grade for Room: 4 stars

Fiction: “The Deception of the Emerald Ring” by Lauren Willig

emerald ringI told myself I couldn’t have dinner until I posted this, so – let’s see how late I eat tonight!

A very odd thing happened when I finished The Masque of the Black Tulip — I immediately picked up the next book in the series. I mean, you guys should know me by now; it takes me, on average, two years to get to the next book in the series. (Spoiler alert, coming soon!: the second book in a series where I read the first book five fucking years ago.) (And let’s not get into the time that goes between my finishing a book and then posting the review. Two months is not a good thing; especially when, within that two months, I have developed a backlog of ten books.)

(On the plus side, I am killing my book goal for 2016.)

As much as I’ve — not ranted, or even complained — I guess as much as I’ve made a Whole Big Thing about how this series doesn’t return to previously-coupled characters, I went to the next book immediately because of the romance between Colin and Eloise, the modern couple. Eloise and Colin had A Moment during The Masque of the Black Tulip, and then the next day, Colin shunts her back to London with nary an explanation. As he’s pulling away from the train station, he asks her if she wants to get a drink sometime. Eloise quickly acquiesces, but it’s not until she’s back in London in the beginning of this book that she remembers —

— he doesn’t have her phone number.

So I went to the next book so quickly, not to get to know the new couple, but to see how the Colin/Eloise romance fares. Good news! It fares well, thanks to some intervening and cute manipulations of Eloise’s friend Pammy. The next book in the series will cover their first date.

But who are the players in the new historical couple? This time, we meet again — but with greater detail — Richard’s second best friend (in quantity, not rank), Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe. Geoff has been in love with Mary Alsworthy for a couple of books, but only in passing — we’ll hear about him writing a terrible poem for Mary, and his other friends make fun of him, and then the plot continues on. But at the beginning of the historical portion of this book, Mary’s sister Letty hears Mary bustling about in her room around midnight, and there’s a carriage in the alley behind their house, and —

— Mary’s going to elope with Geoff to Gretna Green! As eloping in that day and age was a mark of ill-breeding and overall tragedy, Letty tries to tell the carriage driver to leave, but instead she gets put into the carriage and driven to the hotel where Geoff is waiting for Mary. When Geoff gets into the carriage he automatically starts kissing the woman inside, assuming it’s Mary – and that’s when two loud drunks show up, and Letty is unable to escape.

And that’s how Geoff ends up married to Letty – if he doesn’t marry her, she’ll be ruined, because remember – virginity is the most precious commodity a woman had back then! Neither Geoff nor Letty are happy about the arrangement, but marry they must.

Oh goddammit – I just got stuck in an endless loop of #Ham4Ham videos for about thirty minutes. Dinner, Alaina! Focus on the goal!

Anyway, after the wedding — but before the wedding night — Geoff is sent out on a mission to Ireland to try and stop a revolution spear-headed by the Black Tulip, who escaped at the end of the last book. After finding out Geoff’s deserted her, and with the help of a lot of champagne and some advice from my second-favorite duo, Miles and Henrietta, Letty hightails herself over to Ireland.

In Ireland, we catch up with Jane, the Pink Carnation, and her governess-slash-right-hand-woman Miss Gwen. This is welcome, because Jane is an excellent character that we don’t see enough of. Jane welcomes Letty into the spy-fold, and together they gather more information to be able to stop the Irish Rebellion, which would have brought Napoleon closer to England. (It’s a whole historical thing. It’s interesting, but not enough to get into depth with. My hungry stomach apologizes.)

Meanwhile, Geoff isn’t too thrilled with Letty putting herself in danger – while he’s not happy about being forced into a marriage he never wanted, he also doesn’t hate Letty; nor does he want to see her hurt. As typically happens in a Marriage Before Romance plot, Geoff begins to fall in love with Letty, and his obsession with her sister Mary falls away.

He realizes that Mary was acting all time in order to gain herself a husband, but behind the beautiful mask, there wasn’t anyone real. Whereas Letty, who is plainer and quieter than Mary, shows her emotions and headstrong-ness and can cut a bitch with her wit at twenty paces, and also hides her self-esteem issues behind her sarcastic, self-deprecating style of humor, and —

— huh. That’s — … huh.

Uh, ANYWAY. They fall in love and their marriage becomes happy, because romance novel.

One of the best scenes for Letty is at her wedding reception. Her new husband won’t look her in the eye, and everyone invited assumes Letty was so desperate for marraige that she would throw her sister over for her own beau, and everyone is judgy and awful – and halfway through, Letty realizes that she no longer has to distribute fucks. It’s like, “the gift for coming to my wedding? Were fucks. And oh, look, the gift table is empty, for I have no fucks to give.

Mrs. Ponsonby’s bosom filled with pleased pity. “But for Mary to lose her beau — to you! Who would have ever thought it!”

“Who, indeed?” tittered Lucy [Ponsonby].

Lowering her hand to her side, [Letty] leveled a long, hard look at Lucy […] For over a year, Letty had been forced to endure Lucy’s jabs about her dress, her hair, her clothes, a million little snubs under the guise of being “helpful” to Mary’s younger sister. And since there was nothing she could say without looking a shrew or causing a fuss, Letty had curbed her naturally blunt tongue and let Lucy jab.

Not anymore.

In a voice that sounded strange to her own ears, Letty said, “You’re just upset that you didn’t think of it yourself.”

Lucy’s mouth fell open in an entirely unflattering and gratifying way, and two round pink spots formed on her cheekbones. “Well, I never!”

“No, you didn’t,” agreed Letty, deciding that there were advantages to being ruined. “But it wasn’t for lack of trying. I saw the way you tried to get Lord Pinchingdale out on the balcony at the Middlethorpes’ ball. If you could have stolen him from Mary, you would have in a minute.”

“I don’t know how you can say such things,” […]

“Because it’s true,” said Letty calmly. “You don’t think Mary didn’t realize? She found it amusing. Because she knew you couldn’t possibly be a threat.”

[…] “Young lady …,” [Mrs. Ponsonby] blustered.

Letty lifted her head high and looked Mrs. Ponsonby levelly in the eye, buoyed by champagne and a year’s worth of pent-up indignation. In a voice as quiet as it was deadly, Letty asked, “Don’t you mean, ‘my lady’?” [p. 90-91]

applause

Unfortunately, Geoff wasn’t around to see that. If he had, it would probably been a shorter book, because who can resist someone who can throw that much shade that elegantly?

Speaking of Geoff, it took a while, but the more he interacts with Letty he realizes how wonderful she is; especially compared to Mary. Geoff was one of the people operating under the assumption that Letty was merely trying to trap him into marriage with her. When Letty gets swept up in the spy game and Geoff realizes she has “no talent for dissembling,” he finally realizes that she couldn’t possibly have had an ulterior motive in ending up in that fateful carriage, and his opinion of her softens. Over another couple of weeks (in book-time), he realizes he loves her.

Not only is Letty unable to act or lie, but she also doesn’t believe any compliments that come her way – most likely as a result of always being the quieter shadow to her more classically beautiful sister. So when Geoff tries to tell her she’s beautiful, she really doesn’t believe it:

But Geoff correctly read the slight tightening of her lips, and the way her eyes slid away from his.

“You really have no idea, have you?”

Letty bristled. “I have a mirror. And eyes.”

“And no idea how to use either,” muttered Geoff, before realizing that probably wasn’t quite fair of him.

He looked down into her flushed face, framed with its tangle of hair that alternated between copper and gold in the candlelight, and knew that no number of compliments would convince her. With her sturdy common sense, she would write them off as pure flummery. To a certain extent, she would be right. She would never be a beauty by the accepted standards. Pretty, yes. Even lovely. But she lacked the stateliness and symmetry society demanded of its chosen goddesses.

[…]

“Right.” He raised one brow in an unspoken challenge. His voice dropped seductively. “Then I’ll just have to show you.” [p. 346]

He is finally able to convince her of his love for her about fifty pages later, using the early 19th century edition of the Harry Burns “I Love You” speech:

“That’s where you’re wrong. Perfection may be admirable, but it’s not very lovable.”

Letty’s disbelief must have shown on her face, because Geoff repeated, “Yes, lovable. I love the way all your thoughts show on your face — yes, just like that one. I love the way your hair won’t stay where it’s put. I love the way you wrinkle your nose when you’re trying to think of something to say. I love your habit of plain speaking.” He touched a finger to her nose. “And, yes, I even love your freckles. I wouldn’t eliminate a single one of them, not for all the lemons in the world. There. Does that convince you?” [p. 410]

Please compare that with Harry Burns’s New Year’s Eve speech to Sally:

harry met sally quote

#ProTipsForDudes: This scene. Every time. Speaking as someone who has no idea if men ever flirt with her (“I’m telling you, I have never been flirted at. Men aren’t attracted to me.” “That’s not true, Alaina – you just don’t know when you’re being flirted at.” “Isn’t that the same thing?! If I don’t know it’s happening, is it even happening?” “Next you’re going to ask me what the sound of one hand clapping is, aren’t you?” “Don’t be silly, everyone knows Bart Simpson answered that question twenty-five years ago.”), how about using pop culture references instead? Seriously – tell me I’m your density. Buy me a diary and tell me you like me just as I am. Send me any one of those Hannibal-related Valentine’s I post every fucking year.

But don’t you dare tell me “as you wish” unless you fucking mean it.

[Special thanks to Best Friend Kerri for the above conversation re: flirting, Alaina’s inability to recognize it as it is happening to her.]

The last thing I wanted to mention about this book is just a drive-by name-drop of a Ms. Siddons. This is a reference to Sarah Siddons, the famous Welsh actress of the late eighteenth century. She is also the thespian for whom the Sarah Siddons Award is named, and — hold up, it’s a real thing?! That’s fantastic!

See, the Sarah Siddons Award is named by my number-one Patronus, Addison De Witt, in the opening sequence of one of the greatest movies ever made, All About Eve. Sarah Siddons was a real person; the award was created by Joseph L. Mankiewicz in the script. But apparently, the city of Chicago took that idea and ran with it, and now gives out a Sarah Siddons Award every year. Go Chicago! (PS I’m ecstatic to see Bette Davis’s name on that list of recipients.)

So that’s my review of The Deception of the Emerald Ring. And for my concerned readers who are seeing that the post-time on this is nearly eleven o’clock, please be advised: I took an hour break when I remembered I had potstickers in the freezer, so I didn’t have to go out and get food. I ate dinner around 8:30.

I can’t tell when flirting happens, but I know how to find food, so — don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.

Grade for The Deception of the Emerald Ring4 stars