Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Review - Melissa Nathan's The Learning Curve

The Learning Curve by Melissa Nathan
Published by: Arrow
Publication Date: September 4th, 2006
Format: Paperback, 464 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Nicky Hobbs loves her job teaching school, even if she often dwells on the fact that her life at thirty is far different from the life she dreamed she'd have when she was twenty three. Well, only her ex Rob knows she wanted to be married by now with three kids... too bad she's working with him, and soon closer then ever. Rob and Nicky are appointed deputy heads of the school which it turns out is a way to test their suitability to see who would be the ideal headmaster or mistress when the current Head, Miss James, retires. Rob really wants the job and is willing to manipulate Nicky into rethinking her life and into feeling the tick of her biological clock. Nicky doesn't realize the extent to which Rob is willing to go to get this job and thinks that maybe he has turned over a new leaf, much like the new employee at the school, Mark Samuels. Mark Samuels is the father of Nicky's favorite student, Oscar. Mark Samuels is the absentee parent from hell who Nicky decides to throw the gauntlet at. Mark picks it up and by the time they are working together he is a new man... could he even be Nicky's new man? But Nicky is so confused that by the end of the school year she won't even know which end is up or what her future might hold.

Melissa Nathan ranks right up there in my mind as the pinnacle of Chick Lit. She was one of, if not the first Chick Lit author that I fell hard for. I remember being in Barnes and Noble and picking up Pride, Prejudice and Jamsin Field off one of their featured tables down the middle of the store. Besides the premise of a theatrical production of Pride and Prejudice, I had more then a little cover lust because it totally looked like Caroline Bingley (aka Anna Chancellor) with one of her hats from Four Weddings and a Funeral and yes, I really am that easily sold on a book. Because she was a British author with only one book released stateside (sometimes American publishers baffle me), Amazon UK became my drug dealer, getting me all her new releases as soon as they came out until her untimely death of Breast Cancer right around the publication of The Learning Curve.

It was a sad sad day for Chick Lit when Melissa passed. Based on the quality of her work what might she have gone on to do? And now I've turned my review into a total buzzkill. Hey, at least I didn't reprint her forward to the book which had me in floods of tears. With only five books to her name I was extra hesitant to read the final unread book I had on my shelf, The Learning Curve. Once I finished this book, well, there would be no more. I kind of wish that I hadn't read it. The happy anticipation that there would always be another Melissa Nathan book out there for me to read has been replaced with the sad reality of how awful this book was. Sometimes looking forward to something is so much more satisfying then the reality, and the reality of this book is painful.

Before ripping apart The Learning Curve for it's themes, I have to tackle something that just drove me round the bend. This book was riddled with inconsistencies, not to mention an unwieldy cast of characters you have to memorize in the first two pages. Now, I don't know if this was because Melissa was pushing through to get this book done that they didn't bother with any kind of continuity editing, but it is a disservice if this is the case. Seriously, edit this book and get it back to me without the days of the week being helter skelter, with Friday occasionally being followed by Monday, and there once in awhile being a few extra days between Monday and Thursday. Seeing as we all live by the calendar, the least this book could do is follow said calendar.

But the temporal issues are nothing compared to clothes magically changing from leaving for school till arriving at school. Shoes being high heels then flats. But worst of all, in the beginning of the book Oscar's camera phone is a big plot point and then when he's spying on teachers during the school trip he has to use a crappy disposable camera? Um, us the freakin' phone! OK, I've got to stop being nitpicky about this, and other little things like how plodding the pace is, how I dislike every character, how sometimes it all just goes a little creepy with blackmail and inappropriate student teacher relationships, how is Nicky at thirty even qualified to be a headmistress, and how crap Johnny English is so stop using it as the only movie mentioned, and move onto other things. Ok, I think I got the rant out. All these problems could have been fixable but the truth is it wouldn't have fixed the book.

Through the entire book there are strained relationships between the males and females. I wouldn't even say strained covers it, it has such an antagonistic dynamic that when it even turns a little violent in the last few chapters I can't say I was surprised. There was anger and tears and recrimination behind this battle of the sexes. It all boils down to the age old question of men being the ones with the jobs and women being the ones rearing the children. With Nicky we get almost 600 pages of her griping about children/career/children/career/children/career/children/career. There is no progress with this internal and external dialogue, there is just the dialogue. Nicky is baby crazy but can't justify giving up her career to have kids and therefore bemoans this for hundreds and hundreds of pages. I think she really needs some psychological help.

Of course it doesn't help that her supposed best friend who happens to be her ex is playing on these doubts. But seriously, there was never any furthering of the dialogue or a change to it, just a broken record going over and over and over the same bloody tune till I hated this book and the read rage fully embraced my soul. Just writing this review I want to take this book and hurl it out a window. You can usually tell how much I care for a book by the treatment I give it. Those I love and cherish don't have creased spines or loose pages... this one looks like it was run over by a truck, which then backed over it again and again... besides breaking the spine I think I loosened the pages enough that if I were ever to try to read it again in some masochistic torture, well, they'd all fall out. Right now I'm wondering if book burning is a good idea... I'm a little cold and this book is quite thick... stop it brain, just stop it. Constructive criticism. Legitimate reasons for the hate, don't rant, critique.

But the heart of this book I think is the sad truth that Melissa Nathan knew she was dying. Look at the story, not Nicky's, but Mark's. Mark is a single workaholic father who lost his wife when his son Oscar was four. Melissa's husband Andrew lost her when their son Sam was three. So there's a part of me that doesn't want to criticize this book. There's a part of me that thinks perhaps this book was cathartic, that Melissa needed to write it. She was writing a story to tell her husband that he could move on as long as what he did was doing what was best for their son Sam. That it's not about being trapped in the past but knowing that life goes on. This then becomes such a personal book it's almost too sad to bear. Maybe she should have just gifted it to her husband and not put it out there in the world. It's a jumbled mess of unlikable characters and mixed messages and in the end, a dying woman's message to her husband of hope and love. This sad yet kind of creepy revelation makes me feel like a peeping tom that has just written a scathing review of someones innermost thoughts. Perhaps it's for the best that she can never see this review.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review - Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess

The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
Published by: Dial Press Trade Paperback
Publication Date: April 25th, 2006
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Samantha Sweeting is on track to be the newest and youngest partner at the law firm of Carter Spink. She's given everything since she was twelve to keep on track with this path for her life and she's about to succeed. On the day of the big partnership announcement in the clutter of her desk she finds something that could ruin everything. Instead of doing the right thing she just walks away. She ends up on a train and gets off in the middle of the country not even knowing where she is. Drunk, tired, and delusional, she stumbles into the house of Trish and Eddie Geiger where they are holding interviews for a new domestic. At first Samantha doesn't realize what is going on and just goes alone with their assumption, but when she realizes that this is a job interview, one that isn't going well, well her need to succeed rears it's ugly head and she ends up getting the job as the Geiger's housekeeper.

Samantha, a girl who doesn't clean, doesn't know how to cook, can't even find out how to turn on her own oven, has just taken a job where she knows nothing and where in a week she is not even making her hourly rate at Carter Spink. If it wasn't for the gorgeous gardener Nathaniel and his mother helping Samantaha out she doesn't know what she would do. But Samantha is smart, some might say a genius, and it doesn't take her long to conquer this new world she's run away to. When her old world comes knocking will she want to stay in this new happy and peaceful life she's stumbled into or go back to the career track that has been her lifelong goal. She knows which one her mother and colleagues want her to choose.

While being a fan of the chick lit genre there was a part of me that never really bothered to seek out new authors. I preferred to have new books and authors to come to me as if by osmosis. Some sort of magical power whereby they caught my eye and bam, instant attraction... now that I think of this, there's some disturbing parallels to my love life... so now's the perfect time to mention Hugh Dancy. I have been in love with Hugh Dancy for over a decade now ever since Daniel Deronda. Because of this love I have seen a plethora of bad movies, the top three being Ella Enchanted, Arthur, and Elizabeth I, with Elizabeth I taking the crown for horridness. My love for him meant that I was intrigued by this movie he was going to be in called Confessions of a Shopaholic. Upon seeing that it was based on a book, away to Barnes and Noble I went, picking up the tie-in edition, which sadly didn't have Hugh on the cover... seriously, know your audience publishers!

I enjoyed Confessions of a Shopaholic enough to pick up the next few books in the series and a few of Kinsella's other books published under her real name, Madeleine Wickham, as well as her Kinsella pen name. I was never really blown away by her writing and as the Shopaholic series continued I became more and more angry with Becky Bloomwood and her never changing consumption habits. You'd think after six books she'd mature a little, but no. Every big revelation at the end of one of the books is followed by a quick slid into old habits by the start of the next. This lead to me not picking up any of the other Kinsella books I had lying around the house. One of the reasons I decided to do a Chick Lit themed month on my blog was so that I would finally pick up books I had bought that were creating a large backlog to my "to be read" pile. So I finally pick up The Undomestic Goddess. I should have never judged Kinsella on Becky Bloomwood! She created such a wonderful, relateable, fresh, and funny heroine in Samantha Sweeting, that I forgive that other alliterative heroine of hers for her flaws. Kinsella has been wrongly judged by me and I admit that perhaps Kinsella just doesn't excel in series and that stand-alones is where she shines. This book shone and made a bleak weekend fun.

I connected to Samantha on so many levels, but what really got me was her work ethic. Samantha's work ethic is 100% 24/7. There is no give, there is no outside life, there is the job, and only the job. Samantha is lucky in that until the events that unfold in the book she has never had a crash or come down. We live in a culture where to succeed means that you work too hard, you are literally willing to kill yourself to make it to the top. There is quite literally no off switch, no balance, no break. This is so me it's kind of scary. I'm the person who believes that doing anything less then the best you can do is unacceptable. There is nothing below first place, which will preferably leave those in second and third in the dust. In downtime between classes while in school I'd compare anti anxiety meds and stress induced ticks with fellow sufferers. If I was working on a job I'd work 24/7 until it was done. What is 9-5, that is absurd, there are so many hours in the day that are being unutilised with this way of thinking. But as Samantha comes to learn, this isn't a life.

I've had a harder time teaching myself this as well. It wasn't a mistake that flipped my switch off but my own body betrayed me. First there were some rashes, hive like bug bites, then I had a "lovely" nervous tick in my eye, seriously, don't discount how annoying these are till you have one. If I pushed myself too far on a project my body took to giving me a lovely cold after I was done because my body was so wrung out, and in one memorable case pneumonia. I have forced myself to change. I refuse to work on the weekends, where previously I didn't believe they even existed, just call me the Dowager Countess of Grantham. I try to spend more time with friends and have a book club. I have changed. Yes, I do backslide a little, but I have not backslide in Becky Bloomwood style. And from now on, Samanatha Sweeting is my role model for finding that balance in my life. As much as I hate the phrase, she found her bliss.

One of the things I kept thinking about as I was reading this book was how would this look from a women's lib standpoint. A high profile career woman basically goes back to the kitchen. Even if at first she doesn't know what to do in that kitchen, the fact that she's basically going from breadwinner to homemaker is a big change and could be construed as a step backwards. I like that when Samantha's secret comes out that the newspaper reporters who are hounding her bring up this exact argument, making me glad Sophie Kinsella was obviously aware of this statement she was making or, as I like to think, subverting. Yes, you could say this is all retro thinking, but think of the genre we are in. Chick Lit is a genre that is a touchstone for today's women. This genre gives us a mirror to our lives while also incorporating an element of wish fulfillment. Who wouldn't want to leave the stress behind and find themselves a nice gardener? But there's an empowering message in Chick Lit as well, it shows women working out the problems of their lives, it shows women, flaws and all. So I look at Samantha and don't see a women stepping into the role her female ancestors would have accepted as their lot in life, I see Samantha choosing the life that's right for her. Women can be whatever they want to be, a partner in a law firm, a housekeeper, a mother, the possibilities are endless, and Samantha has made her choice and I hope I've chosen as wisely as her.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
Published by: Grove Press
Publication Date: April 15th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Internationally best-selling crime writer Val McDermid has riveted millions of readers worldwide with her acutely suspenseful, psychologically complex, seamlessly plotted thrillers. In Northanger Abbey, she delivers her own, witty, updated take on Austen’s classic novel about a young woman whose visit to the stately home of a well-to-do acquaintance stirs her most macabre imaginings, with an extra frisson of suspense that only McDermid could provide.

Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbors and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest. With a sunny personality, tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions courtesy of Susie Allen, Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels? A delectable, note-perfect modern update of the Jane Austen classic, Northanger Abbey tells a timeless story of innocence amid cynicism, the exquisite angst of young love, and the value of friendship."

At first hearing about this Austen Project where modern authors re-interpret Austen's classics, I was like, whatever, and then I heard of the Northanger Abbey Val McDermid pairing, and, wow is what I have to say. Seriously, two of my favorites in one! Huzzah!

Aunt Dimity and the Wishing Well by Nancy Atherton
Published by: Viking Adult
Publication Date: April 15th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cozy mystery lovers’ favorite paranormal sleuth is back with her nineteenth otherworldly adventure

When a strapping young Australian named Jack MacBride arrives in Finch to wrap up his late uncle’s affairs, heads turn in the sleepy English village. But when Lori volunteers to help Jack clear out his uncle’s overgrown garden, they discover something even more shocking than a stranger turning up in Finch.

After Lori laughingly tosses a coin into the garden’s old well and makes a wish, she is baffled to find that the wish seems to have come true. Word spreads, and the villagers turn out in droves to make wishes of their own. But as they soon learn, one person’s wish is another person’s worst nightmare and the village is thrown into chaos.

As more and more wishes come true, Lori resolves to find out what’s really going on. Is handsome Jack somehow tricking his neighbors? Or are they fooling themselves? With Aunt Dimity’s otherworldly help, Lori discovers that the truth is even more marvelous than a magical wishing well."

Aunt Dimity going strong, despite, you know, being dead...

Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review - Harriet Evans's Going Home

Going Home by Harriet Evans
Published by: Downtown Press
Publication Date: January 1st, 2005
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Lizzy has had a rough year of it, but little does she know that things are about to get a whole lot worse. Going back home for Christmas to her family's rambling home, Keeper House, she has to deflect questions about why she and David broke up. Lizzy doesn't want to get into the details with her family, but when he turned out to be a cheating bastard, well, you usually don't stay together. Thankfully the eventful arrival of her Uncle Mike with a new American bride draws the attention away from her and David... the David who just showed up. Luckily the Christmas traditions of the family serve to create a kind of normality when everyone is acting against type. Then everything goes into free fall when Lizzy's father tells them all that Keeper House has to be sold and there will be no discussion about why. The fact must be accepted, that is all.

Back in London, Lizzy's life has no anchor without Keeper House. She has done what her family has asked and posed no questions. Like most crises in her life she just ignores them and moves on. Her job with Monumental Films is going surprisingly well. She has a new boyfriend who happens to be a screenwriter for the company and her life has developed a new routine, one that avoids all thoughts of Keeper House. When an opportunity to transfer to the LA branch of the company arises Lizzy seriously thinks it over. Her life in England has been changed forever with Keeper House being taken away, so perhaps it's time for her to get a new one... unless a miracle happens.

Over the holidays I was looking for something Christmasy to read. I was in desperate need of some holiday cheer. For me I have a very odd sense of what I view as Christmas fare, I mean, seriously, I view LA Confidential as a Christmas movie. In fairness, it did come out around Christmas and the beginning does take place at Christmas... it's just not so much your Rosemary Clooney singing about snow and more noir and death. So I wanted some more traditional Christmas cheer. Seeing as I plan way way ahead of time I knew that April was going to be focusing on Chick Lit on my blog and when doing a goodreads search for Christmas books this came up I knew I had to read it... at least I can say that it got the Christmas vibe right... other than that, well... there was a lot that I felt was wrong.

The fact that Lizzy's life outside of Keeper House reminded me overtly of another book I didn't like, The Bronte Project, probably wasn't the best of starts. Not to mention that all the characters seem like stock characters, just cardboard cut outs of real people, it left me not caring about any of them. And as for Lizzy's cousin Tom... well, when you're going to just take a character straight out of someone else's book, maybe it's best to choose another genre then ripping him of from the queen of Chick Lit, Helen Fielding. Yes, Tom from Bridget Jones's Diary is oddly one of the main characters in this book.

But it's these stock character's flaws that just made me want to crawl into the pages and smack them upside the head. What I'm talking about is the fact that every single person loves to bury their head in the sand and live in ignorance. In my mind there's a clear division of knowing what is going on and avoiding it because you don't want to deal with it and not wanting to know anything at all. Lizzy is perfectly content to live in ignorance. We live in a world where ignorance, to me, is not acceptable. Her willfully refusing to even pose a question made me hate her to the very fibres of my being. She was like a two year old sticking her fingers in her ears and yelling at everyone that she wasn't listening. This is no way to live. Yes I know Chick Lit is supposed to be fun and funny and we relate and laugh at the foibles of the heroine, the misunderstandings that arise... but when that heroine is a willfully ignorant one, well, I'm going to hate her.

This ignorance on the part of Lizzy is coupled with the obviousness of the plot. I mean within ten pages I knew how everything was going to play out and that does not a fun read make. Though I'm not sure as to why the plot was so obvious, it could have been purposeful or not. The question all comes down to did the character flaws force Harriet Evans to have to write a more obvious plot so that we as readers wouldn't toss the book out the window because we were forced into the same dark ignorance as the characters, or was it just a narrative flaw on her part and had nothing to do with a willful choice... it's hard to tell. One makes me just hate the story, the other makes me hate the author. At least having read one of her later books first I know that she gets better than this first endeavour... because if I didn't have this foreknowledge, I might never pick her up again... like I am with Katie Fforde, she is dead to me because of Love Letters. Dead to me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Review - Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: October 15th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Bridget Jones's life might just be getting a little better. Things have been hard since her husband Mark Darcy died. Being left a single parent was something she never thought she'd be faced with. Her kids have no father and she has lost the love of her life. Yet after a few years of just trying to do her best she realizes that perhaps her friends are right, perhaps she needs to get back out in the dating world. Thanks to modern technology, aka Twitter, she soon as a young boy toy, Roxster, who is just about to turn thirty and loves Bridget's "experience." She's back in the game and the envy of her friends. But can someone so much younger then her be willing to be with her as she gets older? Or is the delectable Mr. Wallaker, her son's PE teacher, a better option? Whatever happens, it could only happen to Bridget.

When the initial reviews started pouring in I was more then my fair share of nervous. Bridget had been off the scene for years, and while Helen Fielding may have started this subgenre, she has some stiff competition these days. Thankfully all my doubts were cast aside and Helen Fielding threw down the gauntlet and showed me that not only has she still got it, but there's a reason all other authors want to emulate and be her. She is the queen of Chick Lit, long may she reign! She has obviously grown and matured as an author, her dialogue is wittier, if sometimes a bit crasser, but priceless when the children speak, her situations more humorous, I now rate everything in my life by the standard of, if I haven't eaten a page of grated cheese for a meal, my life is good, and she made a book that switched up Bridget's life but evolved her while still being the same girl we loved. Though I won't forgive Helen Fielding for all the head lice in this book, my scalp is still itching!

Now to tackle the elephant in the room. The spoiler that broke and had fangirls weeping and angrily taking to twitter. Mark Darcy is dead. When I heard this I was willing to hold my comments till I had actually read the book. I remember years back when the second Bridget Jones movie came out, yes, the atrocious one that makes me cringe to even think about it, and they asked Colin Firth about the possibility of a third movie. His comment was perhaps the germ that planted Darcy's death in Helen Fielding's mind. He said that "really puncturing the fairy tale completely might be a way to take it." Not having things work out, not having a happily ever after per se for Bridget and Mark is how Colin saw success for the franchise, and you know what? He was right. Bridget and Mark as a couple would have been a book that wasn't true to Bridget. He was her rock, her center, her everything. Bridget was a different person with Mark. But take Mark away... and we have the Bridget we've always known and loved. A little sadder, a little older, but still Bridget. This could not have been possible without Mark's death. Darcy had to die.

Though the death of Darcy has led to one issue I do have with the book. Everyone in Bridget's life feels so bad for her because of Mark's death that they've kind of let her slide as a parent. Bridget really is an atrocious mother. Me judging her is, I know, a bit hypocritical, because a) I don't have kids and b) all parents are just making it up as they go along, like everyone with their own life, only parents have more lives to manage. Oddly enough the humor factor and the joy I got out of this took the sting out of her bad parenting, I'm just glad that she isn't my mother or like any of my friends who are mothers.

I think that is why the ultimate love interest works, because Mr. Wallaker constructively helps and knows, because of his own suffering, that Bridget can get through this. As for the happily ever after, while I still find it a little odd that the HEA was pulled off at the last minute, much like the first book, and they haven't spent much time together, much like the first book, and they are in love out of nowhere and it's Christmas and it's the end, much like the first book... it all works out. I really hope that this is Bridget Jones's final happily ever after. It ended well, it ended right, and I don't really want to see Bridget Jones the geriatric years... though if this book has taught me anything it's not to doubt Helen Fielding. Though if they do make this into a movie, don't cast Daniel Craig as Mr. Wallaker... that just seemed like too much wishful thinking that was placed in the book specifically for when it hits the big screen... because obviously Bond can replace Darcy... not in my book. Get someone like Philip Glenister, that would make my day. Sigh.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 8th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 624 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this thrilling conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, Karou is still not ready to forgive Akiva for killing the only family she's ever known.

When a brutal angel army trespasses into the human world, Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat--and against larger dangers that loom on the horizon. They begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves--maybe even toward love.

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera, and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy."

FINALLY! It's been too long waiting for the epic conclusion to this awesome series.

Miss Julia's Marvelous Makeover by Ann B. Ross
Published by: Viking Adult
Publication Date: April 8th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Miss Julia masterminds a makeover in New York Times bestselling author Ann B. Ross’s latest installment in her popular series.

It’s summer in Abbotsville, and Miss Julia has visions of enjoying a life of leisure. But before she can even sip some iced tea on her front porch, a letter from her long-lost cousin Elsie informs her that Elsie’s granddaughter is on a bus headed to Abbotsville that very day. Reminding Miss Julia of an old family debt, Elsie proclaims that she is sending Trixie to Miss Julia’s to learn to become a lady. The nerve of some people! When the rude and unkempt Trixie arrives, even Sam and Lloyd agree that Miss Julia faces quite a challenge.

Meanwhile, Sam has decided to run for state senate. But when he has a fainting spell and has to go into the hospital for tests, who will run his campaign? Is his no-good rival going to cakewalk into office? No sir, not if Miss Julia has anything to say about it—and indeed she does, including up on the stump.

In this marvelous addition to the popular series, Miss Julia is sure to have a summer that she—and Abbotsville—will never forget!"

Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion... so far by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Briggs
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: April 8th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For every Pratchett fan, the must-have fully updated guidebook to Discworld!

The Discworld, as everyone knows, is a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the shell of the giant star turtle, the Great A'Tuin, as it slowly swims through space.

It is also a global publishing phenomenon with sales of nearly 85 million books worldwide (and counting). With 39 books in the canon, not including the various guides, maps, diaries, and other tie-in volumes, there's a lot of Discworld to keep track of—more than most fans can manage without magic.

Turtle Recall is the ultimate authority on probably the most heavily populated—certainly the most hilarious—setting in fantasy literature and includes a guide to Discworld locales from Ankh-Morpork to Zemphis, as well as information to help you distinguish Achmed the Mad from Jack Zweiblumen and the Agatean Empire from the Zoons. Plus much, much more.

Covering everything from The Colour of Magic, the first Discworld novel, through Snuff!, Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion . . . So Far is the most up-to-the-minute encyclopedia of Terry Pratchett's extraordinary universe available."

Finally a definitive edition of the Discworld companion AND available stateside!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Review - Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Bridget Jones Book 2) by Helen Fielding
Published by: Penguin
Publication Date: 1999
Format: Paperback, 338 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition then one reviewed)

Bridget Jones might finally have the man of her dreams, but Bridget is still Bridget and a happily ever after ending is hard to achieve when you are very good at self sabotage. Quickly loosing Mark Darcy and one again becoming a love pariah is exactly what you'd expect Bridget to do, and she does it with style. But luckily while her love life might be taking a hit... was that the evil Rebecca with Mark? Bridget's job prospects might be on the rise with a potential interview with none other then the "real" Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth! In Italy of all places! Well... he does live in Italy, but still, it seems so romantic and surely once he's met Bridget he will see that he has found his soul mate... now if Bridget could just get his shirt moistened. Though a vacation that turns into an international scandal might be just what's needed to get Bridget and Mark back together again.

Back to that fateful weekend when I started to devour the Bridget Jones oeuvre (read previous review for the background). I remember driving to Borders to pick up the book and having a run in with the manager. I had had the shit kicked out of me by Samuel Beckett and the manager there, well, he was a pompus jackass if ever their was one and I wasn't going to take his shit. The only joy I get out of Borders going out of business is seeing him sometimes around town in menial positions far below his "highness" at Borders and smiling... yes, sometimes right at him. The fight was a fight I had been having with him for awhile. It's corporate policy and city policy that non-service dogs can't be in stores that sell food, like Borders does with it's cafe. I should note that I have nothing against dogs, aside from severe allergies, but when you're in a bookstore and want to get that copy of Edge of Reason and there's a guy with his dog with a bag of dog poop in one hand and a book in the other... well, you complain. And then you storm out without getting the book... and yeah, things escalate quickly. So besides having the shit repeatedly kicked out of me, getting a copy of this book was an adventure in itself. There were tears.

Bridget herself had an ill advised adventure in Edge of Reason too. That first time I read this book the whole Bridget being arrested for drug possession in Thailand and then becoming queen of the prison overshadowed everything. Well, that and the fact that in the book it says that MI-5 helped Mark... well, MI-5 is for domestic not international disputes, so, this error really really annoyed me. In fact, this scene, which upon re-reading is so short and brief, I can't come to terms as to why it bothered me so much. Maybe it's just the quintessential Britishness of Bridget and her being in Thailand seemed out of place. Or over the years the mildly related second movie has so eclipsed the book in it's badness that upon picking up the book again I realized how fresh and funny it was, unlike the movie which just might be the worst film ever made. It also helps if you are trying to avoid reading the worst Doctor Who book ever written, just saying...

Taking it's plot from Jane Austen's Persuasion, the misunderstandings and the reconciliations hang off this basic spine, but it's the little things I love. The battle with the construction worker, and who hasn't had a worker show up and destroy your house and then disappear into the aether? That Colin Firth interview, seriously, that would be me interviewing Colin Firth! Also, the movie he's promoting isn't actually that bad, a little weird and it was renamed My Life So Far if you want to check it out, you'll learn a lot about curling and sphagnum moss. But it's Bridget's just, well, not obtuseness, but, she's a romantic, so she lives in hope but it is in fact her hopelessness that makes this book such a fun read. Also the whole taking self help books as spiritualism... it really is quite clever and it is a new religion. Long live Bridget Jones, the girl able to turn her problems into a system of belief.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review - Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary

Bridget Jones's Diary (Bridget Jones Book 1) by Helen Fielding
Published by: Penguin
Publication Date: 1996
Format: Paperback, 288 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Bridget Jones lives the typical life of a singleton. She drinks too much, eats too much, smokes too much, worries about dying alone, worries about not having a boyfriend, has smug married friends who are no help at all in the self esteem department, and parents that are forever causing issues. If she could just get her act together and find a nice sensible boyfriend. Though that hardly looks to be the case for this year as she has just started seeing her boss, Daniel Cleaver, who is the exact person she meant to stop fantasizing about this year... then there's Mark Darcy, the man her parents wish she would start dating. A man she finds quite odd and off putting, at least at first. With emotional ups and downs like her yo-yoing weight, Bridget has her year cut out for her.

Back in 2001 things for me were rough. They were going to get far worse that summer, but at the time I didn't know that. I really needed an escape and Colin Firth was about to show me the way. The movie Bridget Jones's Diary might not have ever registered on my radar if not for Mr. Darcy. Knowing that it was based on a book, and you all being familiar with my tendencies, I just had to read it and picked up the tie-in. The book sat languishing for a little while. I was in the middle of a theatre production of Endgame that was about to end very dramatically with the Beckett estate shutting it down and confiscating the playbills, photographs, scripts... you see, Beckett has some very sticky rules that you have to abide by his vision, so no cross gender casting, no "interpretations," it's as he wrote it or you'll find yourself never getting to see your name in a playbill as "properties master" for the first time. The weekend that was to be our big opening instead became a bit of a wake and I needed something, anything, to distract me. I picked up Bridget Jones's Diary.

I powered through the first book, ran to Borders, powered through the second book and then took to the internet to learn more about this new genre I had just stumbled on, Chick Lit. It was kind of an avalanche after that, with me ordering Helen Fielding's other books, looking at the Amazon recommendations, finding other authors, you get the picture. Helen Fielding, besides being deemed the progenitor of this literary subgenre by others, was quite literally the starting point for me as well. If you don't view Helen Fielding as the doyenne of Chick Lit, we might just as well stop talking right now. With the newest installment of Bridget's adventures about to hit shelves this past fall I knew that it was time to reacquaint myself with Miss Jones. What's interesting is that, well, I didn't love it as much as I did. Perhaps it's just that others have taken off from where she started and done bigger and better since, so therefore this was a bit flat. Also, is it just me or is Daniel Cleaver a real dick? I wonder if somehow over time Hugh Grant and his ability to be a letch with also still being cute has worked it's way so far into my mind that I forgot the truth of the book. Daniel Cleaver is a dick.

I think in fact that the movie is the more successful of the two incarnations of this story, which is the exact opposite for the second. The movie hammered out issues and some of the unrealistic situations. That is what strikes me most as annoying in the book, things that are unrealistic, but not funnily so. Bridget's mum and her men. Bridget and her unrealistic weight issues. Now here I want to be clear, it's not the struggle with her weight I object to, nor her horrific eating habits, but the fact that using a BMI index, Bridget would have to be shorter then 5'4" (which is oddly how tall Renee Zellweger is) to be fat for the weight listed... do I think she's that short? No. I think that Helen Fielding needed to do her research here a little better. That or she totally has some sort of eating disorder herself and has bizarre expectations, which I think is best summed up when Tom asks Bridget that doesn't she need 2,000 calories a day to live?

Also, the deus ex machina of Bridget and Mark. They barely have contact or talk in the book and at the end he swoops in, fixes everything and they whisk off to a hotel and declare their love for each other. Excuse me? I know this whisking of to a hotel and happily ever after is kind of a trope of the genre, it even happens in the first Shopaholic book by Sophie Kinsella... but there needs to be some development to get to that point. Sure we KNOW they are destined to be together, that doesn't mean that you just put them together at the end because it's the end... sigh. I think I'm going to go watch the movie again instead of thinking about this anymore.

Actually, one more thing... the graphic designer in me CAN NOT be silenced. I bought this lovely Penguin edition, because, I mean, seriously, this is a lovely cover, even if Bridget is a little too svelte in my mind. But there's a big problem with how the front flap's illustration looks when you're reading. A picture is worth a thousand words... so here's a picture...

Here's the cute illustration, love the banner of "No Emotional Fuckwittage."

Now here's what you see when you're reading... yes, it does look like a boob is starring at you. It's very off putting. Now I have nothing wrong with boobs, I have two of them. But do I want one starring at me while I'm trying to read? No thank you. Also, now my mom won't stop laughing after I showed her this as the definition of bad illustration placement...

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