Fiction: “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

orient expressI get my love of mystery novels from both of my parents. Dad still has in his bookcase the full anthology of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and quite a few Hercule Poirot mysteries. I had borrowed one book that had Murder on the NileAnd Then There Were None, and at least two other classic Poirot mysteries back in eighth grade, and I distinctly remember finishing And Then There Were None during that year’s educational assessment test (I finished early), and then when that was done I started reading The Pelican Brief.

Dad would also watch PBS’s Mystery! – the old version, with the introduction animated by Edward Gorey, and he loved the Poirot films where David Suchet played the Belgian detective. If you think I have OPINIONS on stuff (like Hannibal, or all of my many ~FEELINGS about James Bond), lemme tell ya – they stem directly from the many OPINIONS my dad has about Hercule Poirot. The ability to have OPINIONS is genetic, is what I’m saying.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of my father’s favorite movies in the history of everything. And not the one that came out last year with Kenneth Branagh – the one from 1974 with Albert Finney and practically every other big star at the time. We rented it years ago, and —

I was going to say, if Mom and Dad could ever figure out their DVD player, I’d buy it on DVD for a Father’s Day present, but then I remembered that they do have a TV-DVD combo in their camper trailer, and he may get some use out of it that way – but then I learned that it’s currently available streaming on Prime, so I need to remember to tell Dad that the next time I see him.

Anyway. For all of Dad’s love of Poirot, he didn’t have a copy of Murder on the Orient Express for me to borrow to read. And, in a complete non-surprise, neither did the Yarmouth Public Library?

30-rock-gif

So Mom was awesome and got it for me from the Brunswick Public Library, and then my sister bought a copy for Dad for Christmas, so everyone’s happy.

The story of the Murder of the Orient Express, briefly: Poirot is leaving Istanbul after finishing an investigation, and he’s called back to London to investigate something else. He runs into an old friend who’s a director of the railway and manages to upgrade himself to a first-class compartment. At dinner, Mr. Ratchett, an American traveler, approaches Poirot and asks Poirot to protect him, as he believes his life is in danger. Poirot doesn’t like Mr. Ratchett at all, and refuses to take the case.

That night, the train stops because an avalanche ahead has blocked the tracks. Also, Mr. Ratchett is found murdered in his locked room, with 13 stab wounds.

I’m not going to give y’all the solution – that’s what the book (or movies) are for. What I liked about Poirot is that he did all of his investigating by talking to people and making intuitive leaps. Sure, he investigated the crime scene and Mr. Ratchett’s body, so he has plenty of forensic knowledge, but the majority of the book read like a play – dialogue going back and forth, with Poirot asking questions and being able to squeeze answers from reluctant participants with nary an arm-twist.

If you’re unfamiliar with the locked-room mystery, you should definitely start with this one. It’s excellent.

Having said all that, the Kenneth Branagh version of the movie – if you decide to watch the movie before reading the book, and that’s totally fine, guys – but it doesn’t quite follow the plot. Yes, the solution is the same as in the novel, but Branagh (god love him) wants to add a bit more theatrics and effects to the plot. I mean, the bulk of the novel is Poirot sitting down, talking to suspects, and then discussing what was just talked about with his railway director friend. If it were a play, it could be staged very minimally, because there’s not a lot of action. So Branagh makes a suspect run away into the snow-covered mountains of Croatia and almost fall off a bridge, and there is at least one gunfight.

I had asked my dad last fall if he wanted to see Murder on the Orient Express. And Dad’s response was basically a big ol’ HELL NO.

Here’s a paraphrase of my Dad, after watching the trailer for the Branagh version (and yes, it’s spoken in the same tone of voice Alaina uses when telling people that The Revenant was a terrible, terrible film):

“There’s only ONE Hercule Poirot, and he was played by ALBERT FINNEY. Suchet was fine – but FINNEY WAS THE BEST. And look at those mustaches on Branagh – THOSE AREN’T WHAT THEY LOOKED LIKE. And Poirot doesn’t run, WHAT IS HE DOING?” *sigh* “No, Alaina, I DON’T want to see that movie.”

Cut to: Me, in the movie theater, muttering under my breath, “He was right, Dad would hate this. I can hear Dad now, saying ‘That’s not how it happened,’ just like when he and I saw Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. He’d be so disappointed.”

But when you take away the extraneous, Hollywood shit that Branagh threw in, the movie was still very good. I mean, film-wise, Branagh can do very little wrong in my eyes. (I’m resolved to no longer be mad at the fact that he cheated on EMMA FUCKING THOMPSON, QUEEN OF EVERYTHING.) The cinematography of the film was gorgeous, and I thought Branagh did a good job with the character of Poirot, mustaches be-damned.

Anyways. I liked Murder on the Orient Express, both the novel and the Branagh film. (It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen the Finney portrayal that I’m not going to pass judgment on it, but based on Dad’s opinion, that’s also very very good.) If you like mysteries and haven’t read this one yet, you totally should.

Better double-check that your library has it first.

Grade for Murder on the Orient Express: 4 stars

Advertisements

Fiction: “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

outlanderAbout a year ago, Starz premiered American Gods, which was showrun by Bryan Fuller — the same Bryan Fuller who was responsible for a little show called Hannibal. And because I would follow Bryan Fuller to the ends of the earth, I added Starz to my Amazon Prime so I could watch the show.

I don’t know what happened, because I could not get into the show. But it had everything – Bryan Fuller! Ian McShane, formerly Al Swearengen on DeadwoodGillian fucking Anderson! Whatever the reason, it must be the same reason why I can’t get through the book. And I’ve tried to read that THREE TIMES.

When I can finally get through that book I’m sure I’ll rant more about American Gods. Meanwhile, Starz is also the home of Outlander, and I didn’t let my Starz subscription go to waste – over the summer, I rewatched the first season and half of the second season, and also read the first book, Outlander.

I’m not going to get into too much of the plot (she says, hopeful), because I can tell you that the first season does an excellent job of following the book. There are a couple of deviations made for artistic license, but overall I thought the series did a great job telling the story. So if you don’t want to read an 850-page book, you can just watch about 16 hours of television instead.

Outlander is a novel of many genres: it’s got time-travel (sci-fi); it’s got romance; it’s got history; it’s got actual science. It begins in post-WWII Scotland, with Claire and her husband, Frank Randall, enjoying a second honeymoon. Frank is researching his ancestry, and is very interested to learn more about Black Jack Randall, a captain with the English Dragoons. Claire is broadening her nursing education through botany, learning about flowers and plants that have healing capabilities.

One day, Claire goes to visit Craigh na dun – a stone circle similar to Stonehenge, but smaller in scale – and has a weird experience: she hears one of the stones screaming. Her vision begins to blur, she feels faint, and when she wakes up, she is no longer in 1945, but 1742.

Of course, it takes Claire a while to figure that out. Or, rather, it takes her a while to believe it. She is nearly captured by Frank’s ancestor, Black Jack Randall himself, but is rescued of a sort by Jamie Fraser and his clan. And so begins what can only be described as a very well-written soap opera.

(Trust me – I loved it.)

Claire tries to avoid arousing suspicion – which is hard to do, considering her English accent. Using her knowledge of modern medicine combined with her botany learnings, she becomes the new “nurse” (I can’t remember what they actually called her and no, I’m not going to look it up) for the castle. Then Jamie’s cousin, Dougal (Dougal might be Jamie’s uncle, I DON’T CARE) wants to bring Claire along when they collect the rents, which suits Claire fine – she just wants to escape back to Craigh na Dun and try to get back to Frank.

IT’S SO SOAPY, you guys! Because Claire gets captured by Black Jack Randall again! And the only way to save her is to become part of the clan, so she has to marry Jamie Fraser! And that’s hard for Claire, because she still loves her husband Frank! But obviously no one knows about Frank, so bigamy it is! And then she falls in love with Jamie anyway! And there’s —

Okay, but for real, no exclamation points, CONTENT WARNING, there is also rape. Claire is violated by an English Dragoon – who gets killed immediately by Jamie -, but there are further rape threats to her and also to Jamie (by Black Jack Randall). It’s … it’s not pretty, at times.

And sure, it’s supposed to be “a description of the times”, and sure, the 1700s were not great for women and women’s rights, and the book does show … or attempt to show the struggle that Claire has as a “modern” woman, trying to fit in during this backwards time period. For instance, after Claire is rescued from Black Jack Randall the first time, though Jamie is relieved to learn she’s okay, he does feel the need to punish her, corporally:

“I’ve said I’m sorry!” I  burst out. “And I am. I’ll never do such a thing again!”

“Well, that’s the point,” he said slowly. “Ye might. And it’s because ye dinna take things as serious as they are. Ye come from a place where things are easier, I think. […] I know ye would never endanger me or anyone else on purpose. But ye might easily do so without meanin’ it, like ye did today, because ye do not really believe me yet when I tel ye that some things are dangerous. You’re accustomed to thin for yourself, and I know,” he glanced sideways at me, “that you’re not accustomed to lettin’ a man tell ye what to do. But you must learn to do so, for all our sakes.” [p. 391]

And beat her ass he does. Yay feminism! :/

As much as I liked it – and the TV series – there are some problematic themes. Caveat lector.

I like Claire. She’s smart, yet not a Strong Female Character™ – she has flaws, and moments of panic. She does her best to adapt to her new world, and eventually comes to accept the fact that she’s probably not going to be able to return to her normal time. At the end of the book, she and Jamie are sailing off to France, escaping the Dragoons, and trying to figure out how to change history so the Scottish clans aren’t eradicated in the Battle of Culloden.

Eventually – maybe after I get caught up with Better Call Saul – I’ll power through the next couple of seasons of Outlander on my Starz subscription. And I have the next book in the series, Dragonfly in Amber, waiting for me to pick up as well. We’ll see how it goes.

Grade for Outlander: 4 stars

Fiction: “Silent in the Grave” by Deanna Raybourn

silent in the graveI had heard many great things about the Lady Julia Grey mystery series – from the Fug Girls’ Afternoon Book chats, from other readers, all sorts of places. But damned if I could ever find a copy of them. I think I had the first one out from the Portland library when I still lived there, or maybe it was during that weird six months where I worked at that horrible office, but if I had checked this out at that time, I returned it unread. And god forbid that the Yarmouth library had this title in stock.

But good news, everyone! I was shopping at Bull Moose – record store of my heart, that has also expanded to DVDs, games, and bless them, books – and a hardcover copy of Silent in the Grave, the first Lady Julia Grey mystery, was on sale. And not only was it on sale, but it was on sale for $2.97.

happy cry colbert.gif

Now, the hardcover is heavy. It’s like, 500 pages. And I wanted to start reading it before going to My Dear Friend Sarah’s baby shower, but I also didn’t want to be carting around a 500-page hardcover book through airport security or on the Metro. I started reading this for real when I returned to Maine, and I read it super quick.

Lady Julia Grey is a widow in Victorian England. We know she’s a widow, because the first paragraph in the book reads:

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor. [p. 13]

Edward dies shortly thereafter, for all appearances, of stroke or seizure. Edward had not been well, either, so while it is a sad turn of events, it wasn’t completely a surprise. Brisbane was invited not as a guest to the dinner party that was going on, but because Edward had hired Brisbane to investigate a threat Edward had received. While the doctor declares Edward’s death due to his longstanding heart condition, Brisbane tries to convince Julia that Edward was murdered. She dismisses Brisbane out of hand and tries to get on with her mourning.

About a year later, Julia finds one of those threatening notes left for Edward, and she starts to think that maybe Brisbane was right. Julia seeks Brisbane out and attempts to hire him to find her husband’s killer, but he rightly tells her that too much time has passed since the death for any evidence or trails to exist.

But that doesn’t stop Lady Julia! She does her own investigating, and asking the doctor some questions, and also there are gypsies and –

Look, again, sadly, this review is going to suffer for my lateness and lack of note-taking. I know I did not bother to take notes on this book because I own it and thought by skimming through the book when it finally came time to review it, I’d be able to be fine with it? But I’m writing this at almost 11 p.m. on the Tuesday night before I have to go back to work after a six-day Christmas break and I really don’t feel like re-reading a 500-page novel again just so I can do a decent job reviewing it.

Note From the Future: I maaaay have started writing these reviews like, three at a time, and then posting one a day. I’m posting this today because I’m back to having four reviews in the can, so to speak, and that’s a good amount to have able to post, so – new year new me maybe this book blog backlog can be eradicated before the Oscars!

So I’m not going to talk about the plot – mainly, because I can’t remember much of it, and what I can remember, I’ll spoil the ending for you, and I don’t wanna play you like that. Instead, I’m going to tell you the emotions I remember and some other things.

First, Brisbane is a curmudgeon. A handsome curmudgeon, but a curmudgeon nonetheless. He is short with Lady Julia, and he tends to exasperate her, but later he introduces her to Hortense de Bellefleur, a patron-slash-mentor of sorts to Brisbane. A former courtesan, she delights in her newfound friendship with Lady Julia, and Julia responds in kind, not caring about what other people in society may think. Hortense also tells Julia that one of the factors for Brisbane’s prickliness is that he suffers from – well, we’d call them migraines, in common parlance. Can’t remember what they call them in this time period, and while I will look up the name of Brisbane’s courtesan friend, I’m not searching through the pages to find the euphemism for migraines.

Julia also has some ties to gypsies – a band of gypsies used to park on her father’s land when she was a teenager, and one of her maids or housekeepers is a gypsy. Somehow Julia is concerned that the gypsies may have been involved with Edward’s death, which leads her and her brother to disguise themselves to sneak into a nearby gypsy camp, where she discovers Brisbane boxing and also he’s fluent in Romany and when he discovers her there he gets super mad and also super protective and oooohhh, I see what you did there, Ms. Raybourn, it’s Next Love Interest Time!

I realize I’m sounding super facetious, but at this point I think I’m mad at myself more than at the book. I know I loved the book – much like when I skimmed the reviews for a couple of previous books, I’m shocked at how many people on Goodreads hate this book, but I enjoyed it. I thought the romantic elements between Lady Julia and Brisbane were great – a nice, slow burn, which I enjoy wholeheartedly. There’s also a subplot with Julia’s brother, whose name escapes me, and how he managed to steal a raven from the Tower of London and now the raven lives with Julia. There’s also Julia’s entire family, the Marches; her father is a Shakespearean nut, and all of the family members are named from Shakespeare characters. There’s a lot, and again, not looking it up, but I enjoyed that part of it.

I really did like this book. Unlike what some commentors on Goodreads thought, I didn’t think the multiple plotlines distracted from the story. I think this does something similar to the Lady Emily mysteries I’ve read: you have a strong, independent, almost-headstrong widow who’s determined to get to the bottom of something, but because she’s a Lady of Quality, she can’t devote every last second to mystery-solving. There are going to be subplots. Let’s face it; we all have subplots going on in our lives, we can’t devote every single second to the main action. In some cases, we may not even know whether the main action really is the main action.

The only page I dogeared in the entire novel was page 55, where Julia reminisces about her courtship with Edward. I felt that, through this paragraph, I felt akin with Julia:

I was not like the other girls; I had no frivolous conversation or pretty tricks to win suitors. I had forthrightness and plainspoken manners. I had a good mind and a sharp tongue, and I was cruel enough to use them as weapons to keep the cads and rogues at bay. As for the young men I might have liked to partner me, I was far better at repelling than attracting. I did not swoon or carry a vinaigrette or turn squeamish at the mention of spiders. Father had raised us to scorn such feminine deceptions. Like my brothers, I wanted to talk about good books and urgent politics, new ideas and foreign places. But the young men I met did not like that. They wanted pretty dolls with silvery giggles and empty heads. [p. 55]

Heeelloooo, Alaina! Like, FOR REAL. I do not know how to flirt. I am bad at it. I can’t tell when dudes flirt with me, which leads me to think that dudes aren’t flirting with me, which is also fine. But seriously: aside from literally screaming my head off at the sight of a garter snake (ask my sister, it happened, I’m ashamed but also, not apologetic for my actions), that paragraph could be describing one Alaina L. Patterson.

Again, that’s not the only reason I liked the story, and encourage y’all to read it given the chance. But it’s nice when a reader can truly relate to a character.

Grade for Silent in the Grave: 4 stars

Fiction: “Publish and Perish” by James Hynes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade for Publish and Perish: 4 stars

Non-Fiction: “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chicago Cubs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hashtag #ItsYourDensity.

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

The day Marty McFly arrives in the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 was weird.]

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

baez 1.gif

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

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

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

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

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

18403221_10103996842891659_4297576944809815682_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, this happened:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my desperation, I even offered this:

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

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

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

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

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

And then:

110216_bill_murray_reaction_med_sjhcb0y7dugout

SO. MUCH. CRYING.

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

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

Do you want to experience joy? Watch this:

SO MANY HAPPY PEOPLE.

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

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

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

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

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

Dudebro: What’s your favorite team?
Alaina: The Chicago Cubs.
Dudebro: Oh really? Why, because you like Back to the Future?
Alaina: Uh, no … I like the team. I like rooting for underdogs.
Dudebro: Oh, so you rooted for the Red Sox until 2004?
Alaina:
almost-angry-mads-mikkelsen-34561344-384-216

hanni jumpy
Missy: HEY ALAINA LET’S GO GET SOME CUPCAKES

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

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

20170429_160012.jpg

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

20170429_190919

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

oprah_happy_tears

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

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

flames

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

Ahem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction: “North and South” by Elizabeth Gaskell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bella slap

thanks – I needed that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade for North and South: 4 stars

Fiction: “The 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”:

20160807_153327

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