Sunday, August 29, 2010

Gift is Right :)

Having just delighted myself with one old favorite, I wasn't ready to go back to the humdrum of ordinary books, so I picked up The Morning Gift to continue the ecstasies of great reading material.  This is a book that I read for the first time I think about two and half years ago (in Penina's house in Far Rockaway, actually) and which I have since read I think at least 5 or 6 times - it is *that* good.  I've said about it before that I think it's has the most romantic "moments" of any book I have ever read - the obvious ones like Ruth and Quin on the hill at Bowmont, Quin saving Ruth from drowning, Quin's happiness when she loses the annulment papers, his difficulty speaking of her to Pilly... but then there's Quin watching Ruth page turn for Heini, Quin reminding himself that Heini's going to be the one marrying her, Quin folding the bottle glass into Ruth's hand, Quin greeting her with the words "my dear" when she comes to his house... and trust me, there are more.  This book is just a perfectly executed romance.

The thing is, though there are a lot of people who agree with me 100% on this, there are some others who don't really like the book at all.  Huvi my darling sister is one of those - her explanation is that Ruth is a total Mary Sue.  Now it's not that I can't see what she's saying - I mean Ruth has that quality I used to find incredibly annoying in Anne Shirley, and Pollyanna and all those people who find life altogether too meaningful.  Well actually the Mary-Sue-ishness quality has to do with everyone loving them... but that wouldn't be annoying except that everyone loves them for their unique whimsicality or whatever.  So I definitely see what Huvi is saying, but the truth is, I personally don't notice that so much in this book.   The Mary Sue syndrome is, in a way, part of a larger issue, where authors kind of push their views on to the reader, forcing them to accept things that the reader does not actually believe in order to enjoy the book.  In Mary Sue, it is the lovableness or the infallibility of the central character that is in question.  Here, though, what I find much more galling than Ruth's apparent magnetism is the author's love for Viennese culture in general and music in particular, and her liberal-for-the-times attitudes about religion and other stuff (though actually this book was written in like 1993, so it was more like just plain liberalism).  To really enjoy this book, you have to buy in to its utter romanticism - the idea that there is actually this transcendent power of music, of natural beauty, and, of course, of love.  I mean, do I have a problem buying into it? Do I ever? :) But the point is, in a really well written book, I wouldn't even be aware of buying into anything.  Whereas here, I have to consciously swallow my skepticism to plunge into the story completely.

But you know what? I can do that :) And *boy* is it worth it... Like I said, the overt romance in this book is basically unprecedented (sidenote here - by overt I don't mean it's Quin declaring his love every second, that would be stupid. I just mean it's little lines or scenes that just wring my heart in their angst or pathos or devotion or whatever- so, P., don't get all snobby about how *you* enjoy subtle romance more than I do... :)) and the story is a purrty darn good one.  English gentleman rescues talented, pretty, cultured, but in need of rescue Austrian girl (let's leave the Jewish out of it, seeing as she isn't really Jewish anyway...)  and guess what? everyone *does* love her - or at least everyone who matters.  I can't say nothing bad ever happens to her, but since she's the type for whom all that matters is the people she loves, and the people she loves are never really harmed, nothing really bad ever happens. 

As for tension... I guess there's a little... but not really - the only real marring of the bucolic romance of this book is of course the World War II backdrop.  Because as I've mentioned before, I hate war books.  Now this one isn't really a war book, since only the very end takes place after the onset of WWII, and there's a nice epilogue at the end of the war, where almost everyone survives... but still the war's specter is very much in evidence and that does tend to pull things down a bit... oh well. 

So what else? Writing-wise, I've already mentioned the inexpertly handled melodramatic romantic idealism.  But I think Eva Ibbotson does a fantastic job with the book in another way.  Even though I've read this book numerous times, the climatic moments are handled so well I feel the same excitement I felt reading them the first time.  I read every word of my favorite scenes slowly so as not to rush them - and they are set up so perfectly that I do feel like I can enjoy them completely, despite my knowing *exactly* what's coming next (and by that I mean the next sentence, not the next plot twist).  That's because Ibbotson has this way of writing exactly what is needed and not a bit more.  Like when Ruth is reunited with her parents at the beginning of the book, she describes the scene from the point of view of the spinster sister cafe owners, who just see Leonie upsetting their carefully put together arrangements, but realize what is happening.  So we get to realize what is happening along with them.  And when Ruth tells Quin how connected she feels to Bowmont, it describes Quin's face, vulnerable and young, and tells his halting words... but we have to figure out on our own the emotion behind them... not that we have any trouble with that ;) So all in all, I'd say the writing is more of a help than a hindrance in my enjoyment of the book... not that I really needed any help :)

Verdict: 5/5
Food:  So it's a tiny drop saccharine, but who cares... let's go with my pound cake with the glaze that I never knew how to make so I poured it one hot and then it got melted into the cake and kept it moist... uhmmm.

Monday, August 23, 2010

P.S. Sequel Not Worth Reading

I loved Daddy-Long-Legs so much, I just couldn't let it go - so when I looked up Dear Enemy on wikipedia and found that it was on Project Gutenberg, I sat down and read it through (here's the link, if you're interested).  I didn't remember it at being terribly good, and it wasn't terrible good.  It  was mildly romantic, definitely, but that wasn't really the central point of the book, which was much more about Sallie caring for the orphanage and growing up (this is the sequel to DLL, btw about Judy's friend Sallie caring for Judy's orphanage).  But anyway, it was mostly pretty boring, though the writing reminded of DLL (of course), which made it pretty readable.  And I milked the romance for what it was worth, which wasn't much, like I said.  But the most disappointing thing was that there wasn't really much Judy and Jervis news.  I mean of course they are completely happy, and have a baby (a girl :)) but since Sallie is mostly writing to Judy the whole time, there's not any interaction between J&J.  And not really any little tidbits either... nothing that makes the book worth reading as a sequel.  Oh and one of the best things about DLL is of course that Judy is writing the letters 1) almost as a diary and 2) to Jervis, neither of which is true here and which takes away most of the potential for romance... oh well :)

Verdict: 2.5/5 (only out of my fondness for the characters :))
Food: attractive by association, but not in actuality... can we say turkey? it looks like chicken, but it's just not chicken (I refer here to roast turkey, I happen to quite like turkey pastrami :))

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Pleasure From Start to Finish (Lucky Me! :))

Not that I didn't know this before, but I LOVE DADDY-LONG-LEGS! I just finished reading it for the I-don't-know-what time (but well enough that I occasionally quote from it, so we're talking the teens here for sure) and it is *INCREDIBLY* romantic.  First of all, the story is obviously fantastic - totally classic, handsome prince fairy tale - I was thinking as  I finished it what a total fairy tale this book is - more on that later.  Then of course, I love the characters - well chiefly, Judy is very cute and likeable.  Great things always happen to her (like Anne in that way) but besides that she's always happy and I love that in a person.  It makes the book totally stress free.  Well not that it would have any stress at all, but when Judy stays upbeat, so does the book's tone.  So that's another thing to like - absolutely no tension.

Now normally I hate the epistolary style (I have more than once not read a book because it's written in letters) but this one is done so well it doesn't matter.   First of all, I love the writing - the whole time I was reading I was thinking that I really model my blog style after it to some extent - and then I realized why.  Because it's entirely conversational - the whole book is just Judy talking on and on about her life, thoughts, experiences, whatever - kind of rambling where her mind takes her - just like my blog :)  And even though that kind of thing is not guaranteed to be good reading, like I said, it's done really well.   And then there's the other objection to letter writing novels and that is *nothing from the guy's POV*! Which I must admit would be a huge objection in almost any other book, but here I guess there are two saving graces. 1) I know the book so well I can pretty much make up the other side 2) (this is actually the third saving grace I just thought of) Judy writes the letters to another man, not to the guy so that we get a lot more of her feelings and especially an entirely ingenuous account of Master Jervie - which connects back to point #1, which is that is it *tons* of fun to imagine Master Jervie's perspective when reading the letters and 3) she (Jean Webster) manages to put in romantic moments even within this format.  Chiefly, the ever increasing Christmas gifts the more he falls in love with her (silly grin here :)) But also how he visits Julia just to see her, how he invites her to NY to see Hamlet after she reads it (just picked up on that this time actually).  And then there's the *fantastic angst* (how horrible am I that I describe it that way) every time she mentions Jimmy McBride (actually that's more #2 - we get that extra perpective b/c she's writing to someone else) Okay, whatever this book is AMAZING!!!

Oh and back to the fairy tale thing - so I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned it before, but part of what makes a fairy tale in my book is that there's no internal growth for the main character - she's kind of perfect and just waiting for her prince.  Judy doesn't really have any big faults or anything huge missing in her life.  She just wants some family - preferably in the form of a wise and handsome rich man to whisk her away from all cares and go gallivanting about with her ;)  And that's just great, because I'd rather read about all Judy's fun college life and not worry about anything marring that beautiful romance.

Verdict: Do you even have to ask? :)  5/5
Food: well pick a food, any food... pizza, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers with mayo, peanut butter, ice cream... I'll just go with pizza (only because haagen dasz is being reserved for another very special book in my reading pile :))

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

By the Time You Read This... You'll Wish You Hadn't

Every person who picked up Lola Jaye's By the Time You Read This had the same reaction - Why in the world did you get this out, Rochel? Well that was kind of my reaction the first second I read the back - It's about a girl who loses her father at a very young age (5) and he writes her a "Manual" of advice for age 12-30.   I mean, sounds totally bleak, right? But actually, that's not really that bleak - it's not like the book is about her missing her father, it's about her life growing up, told with a cute gimmick.  So it could be totally decent! And it's an Avon book, which definitely classifies it as junk of the first order, but also usually qualifies it as a decent romance.  So it was not with complete trepidation that I opened this book...

But I was wrong.  Oh well.  Well actually, I wasn't wrong completely.   The book wasn't depressing or sad or a/t, it was just stupid.  First of all, badly written, but that's pretty much par for course for this type of thing.  The far greater issue - well actually there were two far greater issues.  I'll start with the more obvious one.  "The Manual"'s advice is totally trite... actually I assume it's totally trite as I basically skimmed every entry.  I don't know if it's meant to be cute or wise or whatever but it's just blah blah and blah - and it's seriously at least a fourth - maybe even a third - of the book! Totally unreadable pages of boring recollections, prosy and inappropriately inappropriate (that sounds redundant, but I mean s/t by that).  Whatever, completely annoying, glad I didn't waste my life reading it. 

So the second, and I think even greater, issue - I didn't like *anyone* in the book, *including* the main character.  Her life is horrible, her mother is horrible, her friends are horrible... I mean seriously, she has a horrible relationship with her mother, she kind of just goes through life being not very successful, often depressed and lonely... and ridiculously sentimental about her father.  As if he'd be any better than anyone else in her life.  And I'm totally unsympathetic, b/c she's basically a huge complainer.  As she gets older, she's surprisingly successful career-wise, which was a nice change from the general tone, but still nothing really good happens and e/1 around her is just ugh.  And then right at the end, she has a whole heart to heart with her mother and she's all like but of course I love you and I'm like really? until 30 you showed no sign of this? so basically badly written, implausible and totally unfun.

And as for the romance? Okay, so there was a romance, which was the only reason I kept on reading this (well I suppose I would have kept on reading it anyway because it takes *a lot* for me to stop reading a book in the middle).  Side note - the first time the guy's name is mentioned, she's 12 years old, and he's mentioned as her friend's brother- and I was like - that's the guy! So am I a genius or what? (we all know the answer to that ;)) But anyway, romance was certainly not great - basically on par with the rest of the book which was just not fun. So there's nothing to like about this book... guess you all were right after all :)

Verdict: 1.5/5
Food: So I need s/t here that I don't like at all, but that vaguely resembles s/t I do like at least a little- and I have the perfect thing! Last night I bought Hunt's caramel sf pudding - Hunt's as opposed to my usual brand Jello, (Hunt's isn't refrigerated, Jello is) because I hadn't tasted this flavor yet... now Jello pudding is like my guilty pleasure- it makes me sick if I eat too much and it also makes me fat, but I tend to eat it anyway, especially in cl :) - but Hunt's pudding is pretty disgusting - so disgusting that I tasted it last night and threw it out... so I guess it's even worse than the book, which at least I finished (well the book had no calories :))

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Romance on the Surface

This latest is an old favorite of mine - Rosamond Pilcher's Snow in April.  I originally got it out of the Bais Yaakov library of all places, where I read it while waiting for a ride home on a snow day.  I thoroughly enjoyed it at the time and had read it at least twice since then before taking it with me on my trip.  I actually didn't read it down under, but Peryl and Shifra did (actually, Shifra read it on the plane back) and reported back to me.  Both of them said that the ending was rather abrupt, which I recalled was the case, both of them enjoyed the book/writing, as I did, but both of them said the entire story felt rather unfilled, which I hadn't particularly noticed in my previous readings.

When Peryl described the characters as somewhat under realized, I defended the book as a typical English/Scottish one of certain type, where the author's restrained/refined sensibilities come in to play to make the characters seem a little bit dull at times - it's not that they are actually so... unhuman... but that the proper English stiff upper lip of both the writing and the characters themselves makes them seem so.  Shifra said something similar in that she didn't think the romance was at all plausible - they seemed to fall in love out of nowhere, with no build up and no warning - this indeed would be a scathing indictment of any chic lit or other book with pretensions to romance (this one certainly isn't a chic lit in the traditional sense, since it comes about 30 years too early for that, but I think that's the spirit of it). 

Anyway, so after all those criticisms, I went in with a jaundiced eye and a bloodhound scent toward catching that supposedly missing buildup.  So here's what I found.  The angst is definitely there - well maybe it's not quite angst though... Actually angst is altogether the wrong word here.  (I mean there's a teeny bit - a *really* teeny bit of angst when Oliver (main guy) finds out that Caroline (main girl) is engaged but it's kind of not there at all and also when he finds out she's sick but it's all so understated it doesn't really rate).  What I should have said is that Caroline exhibits a touching vulnerability in her lack of appetite, fragile appearance, and general inability to take care of herself.  I think I found this more attractive when I was younger - I mean, I don't mind it now, but I don't think it particularly adds to the romance (signs I am growing up, oh my goodness :))

As for the romance developing itself, there's actually plenty there from Caroline's point of view.  She had a bad experience and so decided to forgo romance for security and got engaged to her stepmother's brother.  When she met Oliver, she realized she could have security AND romance - so nothing implausible or rushed about that, I'd fall for him too ;)  But what about Oliver's side? I mean there's definitely the contrast with Liz to make him realize how much he values Caroline's gentleness and sweet character, but the truth is from everything I can see, he really falls for her because he takes such care of her.  And I must say, what kind of romance is that? Simply *not* one - or very little of one in any case.  So that's kind of disappointing... but the truth is, all that is only realized upon a pretty analytical reading - I mean if you just read it the way I usually do, which is with the expectation that this is a pretty little romance, then sure, it comes out as a little rushed and kind of missing a few crucial plot developments, but it's definitely a romance.  And, as the characters are still likeable, there's *no* tension whatsoever, and the writing is much above the general run of chic lits (again, not a chic lit here) it's a good one.  One I will be reading yet again in the future, I'm sure :)

Verdict: 4/5
Food: oldie but goodie that's maybe not quite as good as it used to be... cinnamon toast crunch - I LOVE it, but I don't think it's one of my absolute favorite cereals anymore (that would be golden grahams, toasted oatmeal flakes, honey bunches of oats if you're wondering :))

Monday, August 9, 2010

Oh, So *That's* Who Reads Those Things :)

Well it never stops, does it? Yet another chic lit.  And what a chic lit! Libby Street's The Accidental It Girl features and paparazzo girl and actor guy, except that instead of calling her a paparazzo (or is it paparazza?) she says (oh it's written in first person) "I'm a paparazzi".  So I think, putting that altogether, you can pretty much tell we've got a lowest common denominator chic lit here.  Well maybe not *lowest*… I guess that's reserved for the likes of Donna Kaufman, Erin McCarthy etc. (not going to go into it more than that) but the kind of chic lit that makes people say Rochel has no standards.

And to them I say, but I do, I do! The writing was driving me cray! And I felt no sympathy for the main character's complaining about her mommy issues and the way she sold out from her "real" career of portrait photography.  And I found the story completely implausible and *totally* exaggerated.  So you see… I can differentiate between a really bad book and one that just isn't good… I just read them anyway :)

And we're back to the no standards.   Because I must admit, I totally enjoyed this book at the end.  I mean, the whiny attitude and exaggerated storyline never stopped annoying me, but I never felt any desire to stop reading (maybe just to read a little faster though).  And I actually got up from my seat and took my incredibly heavy carry on down from the overhead bin just so I could finish it! (on the plane to new zealand now, btw).   Because there's nothing wrong with a gorgeous and really nice movie star who has a crush on the pretty and talented (if very unself-confident) main girl :) I mean, it's not like the book ever got any better- I could have easily done without the dramatic mother-daughter bonding and the ending was too abrupt/quick/unsatisfying.  Oh and I totally expected her two friends to get together and they didn't… is that for the next book? But like I said, none of that stopped me from reading on - and with a smile on my face most of the time :) So I am forced to admit, yes, I have no standards.  But to be fair, I know a few people besides who would read this quite happily - so I guess I've got company :)

Verdict: 2.5/5 (those ridiculous standards popping up again :))
Food: total, utter junk… but I eat it up anyway… can we go with sugar free jello here? I hate to waste such an evocative food on such an ordinary book… but since I take about equal heat over the jello and the book choices… I think it fits :)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ghostly Inteference Creates Static In a Clear Romance

Remember that list of books from I don't even know when (I'm not online right now so I can't check the entry) where I went through I think 17 books that were on my list? So I got through all the library ones (or most of them) but the ones I bought… well ifI own it, it seems like  i just don't read it :) To refresh your memory, I had bought Melissa Nathan's The Learning Curve and Leanna Renee Hieber's The Strange Tale of Miss Percy Parker, both books impossible to find in the library.  So anyway, I brought both of them to Australia and I read the Strange one this past Shabbos.

This one was another I heard of on Lauren Willig's website, though I think I originally may have heard of it somewhere else as well.  And similarly to the Gail Carriger book, it's a fantasy/alternate universe romance.  Unlike Soulless, it's closer to a fantasy than a romance.  Actually it's kind of funny, the spine specifies the genre as "historical fantasy", which seems like a bit of a contradiction in terms to me but what it comes down to is a mix of Victorian society, which I like almost as Regency, and ghosts mixed in, which I can pretty much take or leave. 
This book had *a lot* of the ghost stuff.  And it's not even particularly well done ghost stuff.  For the most part, the book jumps between the people and the "spirit world", basically a group of angry beings identified with pronouns - meant to be spooky, usually just more confusing.  Towards the end, the plot coalesces into a retelling of Greek myths, with which I am not familiar enough to be able to identify how closely the story follows (I know that sentence is hopelessly garbled :)) But in any case, my overwhelming felling about the fantasy plot was that everything seemed completely fated.  In other words,  there was a little or nothing the characters could do to help the good prevail and all that.  And what's the point of that? I mean it's not like this stuff is real, so give us *something* we can identify with, like the eternal struggle to make decisions in a confused and dark universe. 

So all that was pretty annoying.  What about the historical romance half of the genre? Some preliminary points: these people, whether by virtue of their special status or by whimsy of the author, do not give much credence to Victorian social standards, which bothers me because, as you know, I am a snob.  But I can forgive that, because the main character, Alexi, is purrrity awesome - actually gifted with power and full of all the brooding stoicism just waiting to fall in love ;).  The bigger issue is the way the romance ties in with fantasy stuff.  The permise is that Alexi and the others were given a prophecy that a goddess would come to them one day, and Alexi believes she is his soul mate whom he is fated to love.  And even though he does seem to feel a connection with Percy immediately, he doesn't fall in love with her till her decides that she is his goddess.  So along with the plot seeming totally predestined, the romance is pretty forced too.  But then at the end, (spoiler alert) Alexi thinks Percy *isn't* the prophesied one and guess what? He's devastated! And *that* makes for *great* romance ;) So the ending is just chock full of satisfying angst :)

Verdict: given that the book redeems itself towards the end… 3/5
Food… well I must say, not quite sure about the premise of the book, but the execution was *definitely* lacking.  And as for the premise, well like I said, 1/2 historical romance is a huge plus, fantasy aspect is a I guess nootch.  So I need a food with two parts, one of which I like, one which I could do without… I'm going to with the corn thins and peanut butter.  Not that I've ever tried this combo, but I *love* peanut butter, corn thins are okay, but I'm pretty sure that all I'd get out of eating them together is the peanut butter… and the corn thins would definitely detract from the peanut butter somewhat.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thank Goodness for Good Old-Fashioned Entertainment

Got another chic lit for you! I get out all this variety (books written by men :)) but my first priority will always be frothy junk where the girl gets the guy and nothing else much happens - I don't even know why I apologize, except it does make for more boring reviews, I guess… Anyway, this latest one is Busy Woman Seeks Wife, by Annie Sanders.   Never heard of the author, but her other book is Goodbye, Jimmie Choos, which I think i may have heard of… not sure though.

So this looked like a piece of promising chic lit based on the cover, but you never know with these things.. especially because this one was a working woman one and those can always get way too involved or they can mess up their jobs or whatever else.  This one definitely had that potential, with a ton of mess ups at work, but (spoiler alert :)) it all works out (getting a bit ahead of myself there…)  

I've been reading this for a while so I'm forgetting what my initial reaction was, but give me some artistic license and I'll say I had a few qualms (no, I really did :)) First of all, I found a few (really just one or two) of the characters annoying, and specifically the main guy Frankie's sister Ella seemed really entitled and in need of some stern let down (well I can be harsh with fictional characters :)) And there were a LOT of other stories involved, with Alex (main girl)'s mother and her best friend Saff and her husband… and of course the overhanging work issue.  And *that* of course makes me hugely nervous, because side plots are usually at best completely uninteresting and at worst downright depressing. 

Having presented the unpromising beginning, I can now segue into the big "but" :) First of all, the truth is that the writing was light, cute, and fast moving from the beginning, so I was hopeful even in my hesitation.  And I was right to be hopeful, as the light and feel good tone continued throughout.  I think every single character was likable and came with their own set of talents, and I totally rooted for everyone.  I feel like the book pretty much struck a good balance with all the stories, with a lot about Frankie and Alex but not letting their part get stuck with too much back and forth.  And of course, everything was resolved satisfactorily in the end.  Actually, almost too pat, not that I ever complain about that :) But there was point when I was like…okay, a little too much… but that was only for a second :) Then I got back to enjoying this nice happy story, with - wait for it :) - not too much tension! Numero uno for a good book. 

And I almost forgot numbero uno for a good chic lit - *plenty* from the guy's pov! Man, I love a good chic lit… just when I thought the genre was dead :) (though this one isn't new or anything, so maybe the genre is dead… too bad, because it's fun :))

Verdict: 4/5
Food: hmm… so it's my favorite wider genre, but when all is said and done 1) it's pretty silly stuff and 2) it's not regency romance ;) So I'd have to give it ice cream, but not haagen dasz (is that too high rating? I feel like my food creativity is nowhere these days… might be the utter lack of food I am experiencing on this trip… :)) but anyway, yes let's call it Green's vanilla or something - good, great, treat, but not that hg pralines and cream