REVIEW: Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 LESSONS FOR THE 21st CENTURY

21_Lessons_for_the_21st_CenturyIt has been a long while since I’ve written about my reading. “The world is too much with us,” us poor working folks, or as Harari says in his latest, everyone is too busy to look around and analyze how our world is shifting, changing, transforming, and dangerously so. Hence, why Harari sees his role, the historian’s role, as one providing clarity. Reading 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, certainly “clarifies” what ills beset our world. Moreover, his book is fearless, brilliant, and terrifying.

“All is vanity, saith the preacher” … Harari takes our Western “vanities”, our most closely-held ideals, as illusions, as the fictions of childish adults, and bashes our shibboleths to smithereens. It is a powerful, relentless argument that strips away at every illusion of Western cultural, political, religious, and economic bulwarks. Not that the East escapes: he has less to say about it, but what he does say, stays pretty much in the same vein. No one is exempt and no one escapes from Harari’s frightening intellect. In the end, not even Harari himself. Continue reading

REVIEW: Amber Belldene’s NOT ANOTHER ROCK STAR

Not_Another_Rock_StarRomance narratives are alien to my personal experience and circumstances and I’m perfectly okay with this. It’s not what I look for in my reading and, as far as I’m concerned, “relatable” has always been a dirty-word. The important thing is that my primary fictive reading is “literarily” familiar to me: in other words, I always read Austen, the Brontës, Mrs. Gaskell, and male authors, for the romance. When I started reading romance, I finally realized what they were missing. They left me hungry for more ‘o’ that; I took my romance where I could find it. Amber Belldene’s Not Another Rock Star added a dimension to romance I’ve never experienced. It felt as close and familiar to my theological viewpoint as a romance novel can get. I say this because what I have to say about Not Another Rock Star will be coloured by that sympathetic prejudice. It isn’t part and parcel of the religious tradition in which I worship, but its theological ethos and romance raison d’être are deeply sympathetic and right. I may have lost perspective, in other words, but take the review as you will, with that in mind.

Let me start off by saying that Belldene, an Episcopal priest herself, does not write what the romance genre defines as inspirational romance. She includes religious and theological content, her heroine is a priest, but Not Another Rock Star doesn’t use a conversion narrative, or posit the idea that evangelical Christianity is the matrix of everyone’s “Come to Jesus” moment. Belldene also includes elements, pun intended, anathema to inspie romance: explicit love scenes of the premarital variety, an atheist hero and remains so, and quite a bit of spirit-imbibing, of the bottled variety. Continue reading

REVIEW/READING/RESPONSE: Kate Hewitt’s THE FORCED BRIDE OF ALAZAR

Forced_Bride_of_AlazarWhen Miss Bates started reading Hewitt’s Forced Bride Of Alazar, she was not pleased. Alazar‘s title, premise, and set-up left much to be desired, but HPs are Miss Bates reading-snack of choice, she loves Hewitt, and she persisted. There isn’t much to recommend Alazar‘s opening. Johara Behar’s arranged marriage to Malik al Bahjat was dissolved when Malik’s long-lost love, secret baby, and kidnapped older brother showed up. For a few days, Johara enjoys the possibility of steering her life her way. To date, she’s lived quietly in Provence with her mother. She reads, tends her garden, and creates plant-based cures for a variety of ailments. Hewitt’s Johara is a classic introvert. Her hopes and dreams of a free life are shattered, however, when her father informs her that the broken engagement has been reinstated with the new Sultan, the long-lost brother Azim. You’re probably thinking, this is standard HP fare, what got Miss Bates’s goat? Patience, dear reader.
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TENTATIVE NON-FIC REVIEW/RESPONSE: Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A TIME TO KEEP SILENCE, Or “When the hurly-burly’s done … “

A_Time_To_Keep_SilenceMiss Bates puts out a tentative tentacle in writing about her “other” reading: non-fiction. She doesn’t know if this is something she’ll continue, or if it’ll prove of any interest to her readers. But it’s her way of opening up her blog to all her reading and testing the waters of writing about things other than romance. As she abandoned the solipsistic, self-conscious writing of litfit a long while ago, she will endeavour to write about, in this case, a hybrid form she’s long loved that’ll have to be satisfied with the vague name of “travel literature.” Travel literature, enjoying greater popularity in the twentieth century, is on the wane. Miss Bates has a silly theory that its decline coincides with the physical bookstore’s loss and reliance on all things Internet. Though not too long ago from this age of barely-recordable change, travel literature, for want of a better name, looks back at a time when the armchair traveller and bookstore browser, as opposed to Internet surfer and social media lurker, were present in Western culture as intellectual participants and cultural consumers. 

One of travel literature’s greatest practitioners was a larger-than-life, dilettante-ish figure, WWII hero and one of the the twentieth century’s greatest prose writers, Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), whose literary output can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Travel literature is a strange, hybrid form. It is part travel log, part history, part autobiography, part reportage, part memoir; above all however, it is distinguished by its first-person narrator’s unique tone and perspective, a narrator both himself and a chronicler of time and place, participant and observer, observed and observing, in time and out, whose presence (as anthropology posits) changes the alien culture he enters even as he is changed by it. He is a stranger in a strange land and culture-clash places him uniquely in a space where he can reflect on his own time and place “back home” in contrast to the place, time, and people in which he finds himself by will, or chance, or both. Continue reading

REVIEW/READING of Caitlin Crews’s BRIDE BY ROYAL DECREE

Bride_By_Royal_DecreeMiss Bates hasn’t read a Crews HP in a while. There can be something overwrought about Crews’s work, but all was toned down, as toned down as an HP can be, in Bride By Royal Decree. Crews’s romance roots are deeply embedded, maybe deliberately so, in fairy tale. Miss Bates enjoyed it all the more for that reason. Let’s face it: realism, nay plausibility, is not the HP’s companion. We read it as fairy-tale-wish-fulfillment-fantasy and Bride By Royal Decree has this in spades.

Decree‘s premise lies in one of Miss Bates’s favourite fairy-tale elements: the revelation of the heroine’s identity and mysterious past. In Deanville, Connecticut, Maggie Strafford scrubs the floor of her barista-job café when Reza Argos, His Royal Majesty, King and Supreme Ruler of Constantines, walks in with the revelation that Maggy is his long-thought-to-be-dead-and-lost fiancée, Princess Magdalena of Santa Domini. At eight, Maggy had “been found by the side of the road as a feral child with no memory of where she’d come from.” Since then, her “unfortunate childhood in foster care” and subsequent adult poverty made her the snarly, mouthy woman she is. Reza is controlled, proper, and duty-bound, “not a sentimental man” writes Crews. He reveals Maggie’s identity and, despite her lippy disbelief, whisks her away to a private island for princess-grooming where the novel’s main action takes place, soon thereafter to be put in her queenly place in his kingdom. Like many an HP-hero, Reza is a “beast,” not in appearance, but emotionally. He’s coiled inward, with a backstory that makes him balk at emotional entanglement.  Continue reading

TBR Challenge Review: Judith Arnold’s BAREFOOT IN THE GRASS

Barefoot_In-Grass_2This summer, Miss Bates listened to a Brene Brown series of lectures called “The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage.” (It’s a wonderful series, especially if you’re given to self-protection and perfectionism, as Miss Bates is. Austen’s Miss Bates is beautifully vulnerable, which leads Emma to take that nasty shot at her at the picnic.) One interesting point Brown made was that vulnerability does not mean oversharing, or as Miss Bates less elegantly puts it, TMI. In reference to the same, Brown said you have to really think about who deserves your story. Reading Judith Arnold’s seminal romance about breast-cancer survivor Beth Pendleton and Ryan Walker, the builder-rogue who falls in love with her, Miss Bates thought about Brown’s words a lot. Too often, in romance, the heroine keeps secrets, secrets that result in an annoying Big Mis (I’m looking at you, secret babies) and a sure-fire way to  being dumped onto the DNF pile. Barefoot In the Grass, on the other hand, is about a private woman, not a secretive one, whose story earned its privacy. Beth is a charming, intelligent, sympathetic heroine who confronted physical and psychic pain and fought a hard battle to embrace life, as echoed by the novel’s title and Beth’s oft-declared promise-to-self to find joy in “walking barefoot in the grass.”  Continue reading

Review/Response/Appreciation: Jo Beverley’s EMILY AND THE DARK ANGEL, Seeing Lucifer, Finding Michael

Emily_2Jo Beverley’s 1991 Emily and the Dark Angel restores your faith in the genre. That was Miss Bates’s thought as she turned the last page with a satisfied reader’s affection-sigh. Miss Bates is glad she read Emily Grantwich and Piers Verderan’s wooing on paper: a traditional format for a traditional Regency, which never loses its freshness, elegance, or emotional power. What brings about that lift, the reader’s spirit-rise, the recognition of “I’m in the presence of one of the genre’s greats”? It’s difficult to pinpoint, as elusive as catching a sunbeam. It’s trope-manipulation, or gentle tinkering; it’s psychological acumen. It’s the bringing-to-life of time and place; it’s secondary characters who breathe. It’s turn of phrase the reader recalls long after the last page is turned. It’s banter and confession and the fulfilled promises of desire and being understood.

Emily and the Dark Angel contains one of Miss Bates’s favourite romance pairings, opposites-attract: Emily is sensible to Ver’s imprudence, countryside respectability to Ver’s citified worldliness, propriety to his flouting of social conventions, innocent to his debauchery, staid to his temperament, plain to his gorgeousness, and Miss Bates’s absolute favourite, her diminutive stature to his gargantuan. When this yin-yang romance combination is handled as cleverly and sensitively as Beverley’s, the HEA is about the couple’s integrating the best of each other in themselves. Core identity is preserved for tension and interest, but tempered to show us how they will live in harmony.
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Raising The Almighty Chin!

Miss Bates is fascinated by romance writers’ use of gesture and body language in establishing character. She wrote about her preoccupation in an analysis of Heyer’s Devil’s Cub and cemented her heroine-chin obsession in her quasi-review of Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife. Since then, ne’er a romance novel goes by without Miss Bates noting the romance writer’s iterations of the heroine’s lifted chin in fury, defiance, revolt, or mulishness. She indulges in a post about some of the chins she’s read in the past few months. Hope you enjoy it! Continue reading

Opening-Line Mini-Review: Charlotte Lamb’s LOVE IS A FRENZY

Love_Is_FrenzyIf you scroll down this page, you’ll see that Miss Bates took part in a “Quote Challenge,” thanks to Willaful’s Three-Day Quote Challenge. Miss Bates opted to write mini-reviews based on her impressions of a romance novel’s opening line. If you follow Miss Bates on Twitter, you’ll also know she indulges in spinsterish bubble-bath romance reading every night (you can follow her musings under the hashtag #bathtubromreading). She loved the quote format and opportunity to be succinct (not too often, mind you) 😉 . Hashtag and quote review married and are ready to have babies. Thus, she’ll occasionally abandon herself to an opening-line mini-review of her bathtubromread. Her latest was Charlotte Lamb’s 1979 Love Is A Frenzy. Like most great romance novels, its opening line is simple and sublime:

She recognized him at once.

Beautiful. And mysterious. Who is she? What previous knowledge does she have of him allowing her to recognize him “at once”? And how clever of Lamb to use personal pronouns instead of the heroine and hero’s first name? Adding to the mystique. Working the reader’s curiosity, drawing her in without being coy, silly, or manipulative. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Regina Scott’s FRONTIER ENGAGEMENT

Frontier_EngagementRegina Scott is a new-to-Miss-B author. Miss B’s relentless pursuit of good inspie fiction is running down like an wound-up toy. Scott’s Frontier Engagement is inspie-light (some heartfelt praying and one lovely forest-set singing of “Amazing Grace”), but not inspired to offer anything new or original in the subgenre. If you’re looking no further than the pleasantness that the subgenre has on offer with none of the offense that it occasionally exhibits, Scott’s 1866-Washington-frontier romance will be for you. Logger James Wallin travels to Seattle to bring a school teacher to Wallin Landing, his family’s fledgling town, and finds Alexandrina Eugenia Fosgrave, newly arrived with the Mercer expedition. Like all good inspie heroines, she’s suspicious and mistrustful, but James’ charm and persistence pay off: “So, like it or not, that schoolmarm had an engagement with the frontier.” James convinces Alexandrina, re-christening her with the diminutive “Rina,” as they set off for Wallin Landing, where Rina hopes to “make something good out of the tatters of her life, where she could make a difference.” Readers soon realize that James’ charm and humour, as well as Rina’s regal bearing, conceal psychic wounds. But Rina is barely established in Wallin Landing when the challenges of teaching leave her tear-eyed and on her way to an easier teaching post. To ensure her safety and, frankly, because he’s sweet on her, James accompanies her in the guise of her fiancé and the narrative makes an about-face, becoming an inspie road romance. The “road” provides much fodder for both humorous and dangerous incidents, as well as James and Rina opportunity to know each other better and grow closer in love and friendship. Continue reading