Wendy Superlibrarian’s TBR Challenge: January Is “Quickie” Month!

Nanny_PlanAm going to do my darndest to stick with Wendy’s TBR Challenge this third year of our pandemic. Grateful to Wendy for hosting and, eons ago, launching me on a love of category romance. I am going to use the challenge to get through some of my VAST category romance TBR. If you like, you can check out the other great participating blogs and Wendy’s treasure-trove of reviews at her blog, linked here.

As Wendy quipped, this month’s theme is “quickie,” which I took to mean category-length romance (yay to my category romance reading plans!) rather than, um, a fast-paced amorous encounter. What I pulled from the TBR was one Wendy herself lauded…which is how it ended up in my TBR, Sarah M. Anderson’s The Nanny Plan. I’d read Anderson’s Lawyers in Love series and enjoyed it and this one had a cute baby on the cover, so I was pretty much a goner from its first appearance on Wendy’s blog. (more…)

Clare Hunter’s THREADS OF LIFE: A HISTORY OF THE WORLD THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE

Threads_Of_LifeHunter’s Threads of Life is a great addendum to Graeber and Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything. I certainly couldn’t read Hunter’s Threats without recalling Dawn.

Graeber and Wengrow argue that one story we can look to (like Hunter’s “a history”, not “the”) about our early human history is of experimentation and playfulness as mothers of innovation. I use the term “mothers” deliberately, both for Hunter’s and Graeber and Wengrow’s accounts. The latter argue that we have examples of “gynarchy” serving as models for a world, ours, today, mired in what they somewhat vaguely define as “being stuck”. (Vague as it is, we do, feel stuck, that is.) In gynarchical societies, for example, argue Graeber and Wengrow, like the Minoan, art illustrates a society where, summarising Jack Dempsey’s analysis of Minoan fresco, “Flowers and reeds, birds, bees, dolphins, even hills and mountains are in the throes of a perpetual dance, weaving in and out of each other. Minoan objects too bleed into one another in an extraordinary play on materials–a true ‘science of the concrete’–that turns pottery into crusted shell and melds the worlds of stone, metal, and clay together into a common realm of forms” (438). The Davids go on to speculate, “More than any other form of human activity, painting on walls is something people in virtually any cultural setting seem inclined to do. This has been true almost since the beginnings of humanity itself. We can hardly doubt that similar images were produced, on skins and fabrics [emphasis mine] as well as directly on walls” (439). (more…)

Reading Maggie O’Farrell’s HAMNET

HamnetIt has been a long time since I read literary fiction and the opening pages of O’Farrell’s Hamnet reminded me why: because of style over substance, meandering non-plots and vague characterization. Always, at the forefront, the author’s writing and never being able to be absorbed in, or by, the narrative. O’Farrell’s Hamnet proved me wrong; it was absorbing, moving, and contained sharp, delineated, compelling characterization.

I have loved William Shakespeare since the day my grade 7 teacher handed me a tiny, hard-bound copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I have taught him every year of my more than 30-year teaching career and I have, with a few exceptions (sorry, Troilus and Cressida), read his plays and sonnets many times over. I have trekked with students and friends to the Shakespeare festival at our Canadian Stratford and watched, enthralled, characters who rave, rant, quip, orate, harangue, roar, bellow, pun, banter, declaim, sob, and sing. His language has always washed over me to say everything I fail to articulate.

I was scared O’Farrell would flatten Shakespeare to idealized genius, but I got something alive and interesting and much more than I wasn’t expecting. I knew going in that the novel would focus on Shakespeare’s son and play and I knew, from years of teaching, that his son had died, young, and that he wrote Hamlet some time after both his son’s and father’s deaths. But at the centre of Hamnet is the woman we know next to nothing about, except she was Shakespeare’s wife, bore him three children, lived apart from him until the last years of his life, and became his widow. (more…)

Reading David Graeber and David Wengrow’s THE DAWN OF EVERYTHING: A NEW HISTORY OF HUMANITY

The_Dawn_Of_EverythingI was immersed in Graeber and Wengrow’s brick of a book for the final week of my Christmas holiday. With a province once again locked down and curfewed and a low-grade pandemic-engendered melancholy, it nevertheless buoyed my spirits. Dawn of Everything is optimistic, ambitious, and convincing. It’s written with a populist bent I found headily accessible and likeable. I liked that the authors weren’t shy, or coy about their political leanings: left-wing, anarchist, and equal parts communal and humanist. (And I liked that they started out by pointing critiques at Steven Pinker and Yuval Harari; though I have respect for the latter, I have eye-rolling contempt for the former. If Pinker is quixotically positive about what he doesn’t recognize as our present predicaments, then Harari is beautifully, more temperamentally-in-tune-with-yours-truly pessimistic.) The “Davids”, as I’ve heard them called on various podcasts, are here to answer the question “why we’re stuck?” with the answer, “we’re not,” maybe qualified to “we don’t have to be,” and, though it takes them 700 pages to say so, the ride is fun, which doesn’t make it any less serious or scholarly.   (more…)

2021: Some Reading, Much Listening, Very Little by Way of Watching …

Well, folks, it’s been a year, hasn’t it? Another year, another covid variant, or two, or three… And here we are again, Zoom-bound and footie-pyjamas-donned, growing more feral and introverted. At least I am.

This year, I gave up any attempt to bake bread and Twitter. While I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to, I regained some reading focus, got through more grading, and started to take a daily walk, all formerly abandoned by mindless Twitter scrolling. I gave up trying to raise my Netgalley stats by reviewing ARCs and stopped requesting them. (I have an ARC “backlist” stretching to “the crack of doom,” so you’ll still see me review one occasionally. At this end of another pandemic year, I have a diminishing desire to read romance; sad, but there it is.)

I ordered more books and maintained a TBR I might get through if I have a future as Methuselah. I saw a friend and went to a café (at the same time; I don’t do things by halves, when I go, I go BIG), something I haven’t done in two years. I haven’t been to a museum, restaurant, or movie, and don’t think I ever will. I did read some books, not as many as I wanted to (see Twitter addiction, now broken), but 2022 looks good reading-wise.

I did a lot of cooking and baking and listened to podcasts while I did. Emerging from lockdowns meant commuting again, so I listened in the car too. Here’s my listening and reading year, or at least what I remember of it. (I used to watch films; this year, I managed two: News of the World, which I loved, and Nomadland, which I hated. I did watch my southern neighbours cut through the Gordian knot of their democracy on January 6th and, to mix my allusions, remain convinced no one can put Humpty-Dumpty back together. I also watched, with deep shame and horror, the revelations of my own country’s reprehensible treatment of indigenous peoples. Again, like most, I watched covid news with equal parts dread and hope.)    (more…)

Mini-Review: Allison Montclair’s A ROGUE’S COMPANY (Sparks and Bainbridge #3)

A_Rogue's_CompanyI read Montclair’s A Rogue’s Company with a relish I did not experience with #2, A Royal Affair, though I obviously loved the series from its début, The Right Sort Of Man. I enjoyed A Rogue’s Company because Montclair (pseudonym for Alan Gordon) returned to giving us more of the characters’ lives and histories. Montclair is not one to write much of his characters’ inner lives, but providing us with more of their motivations and histories made for a better book than his sophomore effort. (Not exactly “sophomore”: let it be said that Gordon wrote tons of mysteries under his real name and A Royal Affair is “sophomore” only for his Montclair persona.)

In A Rogue’s Company, our two match-making amateur detectives, Mrs. Gwen Bainbridge and Miss Iris Sparks, are approached for a match by a Black man. They’re nonplussed because their connections stop at White and English-born, but they’re keen to expand the business and offer services to a diverse clientele. It was a good move on Montclair’s part to create a mystery with some sense of London’s post-WWII diversity, but prejudice and racism are only surface-skimmed. This is crime fiction of the, if not cozy, light variety, well-written, witty, with likeable characters. The back-cover blurb will provide some of the plot details:

In London, 1946, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau is getting on its feet and expanding. Miss Iris Sparks and Mrs. Gwendolyn Bainbridge are making a go of it. That is until Lord Bainbridge—the widowed Gwen’s father-in-law and legal guardian—returns from a business trip to Africa and threatens to undo everything important to her, even sending her six-year-old son away to a boarding school.

But there’s more going on than that. A new client shows up at the agency, one whom Sparks and Bainbridge begin to suspect really has a secret agenda, somehow involving the Bainbridge family. A murder and a subsequent kidnapping sends Sparks to seek help from a dangerous quarter—and now their very survival is at stake. (more…)

Reading Laurie Colwin’s HOME COOKING

Home_CookingI want 2022 to be a reading year where I read more and from a variety of genres. Given that I’m now on holiday from work/school (my work is school, I teach hyper-anxious, overachieving teens) and have abandoned all hope of catching up on grading, I thought I’d get an early start. I want to read more non-fiction, but since falling off the serious-reading bandwagon, I’m daunted by some of the titles in my non-fiction TBR, witness Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, or Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History, to name a few. I thought I’d start easy, short, and discrete. I read Laurie Colwin’s collection of essays, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, and thank the Twitter-friend who suggested it.  (more…)

I Read Lisa Kleypas’s DEVIL IN SPRING

Meh. I can’t say I loved this, but Kleypas always manages to keep me reading and I was entertained. The heroine, Pandora, was amusing and Gabriel, her hero, matched her wit for wit, banter for banter. Moreover, Gabriel is eldest son to Sebastian and Evie, my favourite Kleypas couple in my favourite Kleypas romance, Devil In Winter. Catching glimpses of their latter married years was one of the novel’s delights, but it didn’t make up for a narrative that splits right down the middle with an entertaining first half and an eye-rolling, here-we-go-again second. Here’s the back-cover blurb:

Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger. After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught-by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain. After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy—and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven . . .  

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Reading Tana French’s IN THE WOODS

Morning_Sky_Dec_16_2021Three sleepless nights and I finally turned the last page of Tana French’s In the Woods. It was my first, and will not be my last French, because it surprised me. When you’ve been reading as long as I have, well, not much does. Which can be comforting (romance serves this purpose well), or boring as heck. I was in thrall to French’s writing (rare in mystery, rarer in romance), which was horrific, funny, and penetrating all at once, at her broken, flawed, knowable and unknowable detectives, and her daring in solving one crime and leaving another hanging. (Note: I took the accompanying picture of the morning sky on Dec. 16, 2021.) (more…)