Heading for Jeopardy: Take Three!

I remember March 6 being kind of a crappy day – but when I got home I decided to take the Jeopardy! test that night instead of waiting until the next night or the one after. And I was honestly shocked at how well it seemed to go. I’ve gotten in the habit of screencapping the test so that I can check my answers, and in the past few tests I’ve averaged I think 30-31 right out of 50. This time? 39. So I was hopeful that I’d get an invitation to an audition for the first time in several years.

I didn’t expect it to come exactly a month later. On Friday, I got the email:

I could wish that it was a little further off, money-wise and planning-wise and, yes, to give me a little more time to swot up on geography and all the usual subjects.

I actually planned to post this yesterday, Saturday, when there would have been a lot more exclamation points, but it turned out to be a rough day. It’s hardly worth mentioning, but I just find it funny (in an unamusing sort of way) that my least favorite person at work showed more interest and excitement over this than … my entire family, barring my mother. Mom has been telling everyone she sees, and said the reactions have been excited. Well, I mean, it’s not like I’m going to get a manicure or something. But it seems likely I’ll be headed to New York on my own. (Unless anyone wants to meet for dinner?)

And I’ll have fun, dammit.

Advertisements
Posted in Jeopardy! | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Murder on the Toy Town Express – Barbara Early

I think I start every review of a cozy mystery pretty much along the same lines: they’re either horrendous or wonderful, with very little in between. I’ve even started developing a list of Cozy Cardinal Sins and tropes. Such as – –

1) Heroine is a small business owner
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. This little shop sounds like it would be viable in real life; it’s run by family; it sells something that legitimately can be lucrative.

2) There’s a love triangle
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Normally this is a bad, bad idea – but it works here. The heroine has genuine affection for both men in her life, and it’s handled in a way that feels fairly realistic.

3) Heroine is surrounded by wise-cracking family, friends, and co-workers.
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Because it’s funny. “‘You have a mind like an elephant’s.’ ‘Yeah, wrinkled, gray, and way too much junk in the trunk. But that’s totally irrelephant.’ I rolled my eyes and glared at him. Otherwise, he’d be making elephant jokes all day.” That took the joke and pushed it too far – and it’s so silly I had to smile.

4) Author thinks she’s skilled at sharp, clever, witty
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Because she is. “Cathy’s fictional version was a little more embellished, containing spear guns, spies, bikinis, an occasional zombie, and a whole lot of steamy embraces. She insisted readers would need something spicier.” “But Dad had spun his words as adeptly as some cult leader, playing on my pride, my craving for his approval, my sense of justice, and that infernal inherited curiosity. I said nothing, but my next sip of coffee tasted an awful lot like Kool-Aid.” (It was Flavor Aid, but that’s just quibbling.)

5) Author thinks she’s skilled at metaphor and simile
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Because she is. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a description of someone’s “stomach tied into a macramé plant hanger” before, and I like it. Oh, and this is lovely: “Jack’s mother was a riddle wrapped in a lemon inside a porcupine.” I want to use that in conversation. One more: “If he’d looked any more sheepish, he’d be eating grass in the fields and sprouting a thick wool coat.”

6) The plot is filled with red herrings and has elements that are over the top, far-fetched
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Because Barbara Early can write. And she can plot. She can throw in a few left turns and wacky bits, and fold it into a story that hangs together and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

7) At least as important as the plot (if not more important) is the cast of characters
This book/series: check – but it’s okay. Because these characters have a depth that you don’t usually see in a light read. The family that runs the toy shop at the center of the series has a legitimate history, and it’s not all Norman Rockwell and jokes. These folks have been through stuff, and Barbara Early obviously feels a real warmth towards them. The beauty is that she writes them so well that I do too.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

Posted in books, mystery | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Perish from the Earth

I keep saying how uncomfortable I am with real people being used as characters in novels … but I keep reading novels in which real people are used as characters. I’m a masochist, I guess? But in this case I found it hard to resist a novel featuring Abraham Lincoln. Come on, I saw Ken Burns’s Civil War during my formative years – as much as any human being can be a hero, he’s always been it for me. By this point in my life I’ve become too jaded to really see anyone as a full-fledged hero (except maybe Janusz Korczak, or Noor Khan), but … still. Lincoln. Afraid as I was of mishandling, I wanted to see him run as a character (to go a bit D&D on you), depicted not as the president, not as the public figure, not as a hero, but as a man. I wanted a book by a really great writer who knows Abraham Lincoln inside and out and can channel his voice, make me learn more about him in all his roles.

Oddly, though, it didn’t feel like there was that much Lincoln in this book. Which I mean two ways: first, he wasn’t the central focus; his friend Speed was. I was interested in Speed – but a novel about his adventures wasn’t what I hoped for. Second … the Lincoln that did appear in the story felt like a cardboard cutout – a paper doll of Young Lincoln moved through the plot as necessary.

I just wasn’t entirely convinced by … any part of this, really. The courtroom scenes felt like something from primetime tv with a thin gloss of 19th century. The story was … fine; it kept me reading through to the end, and no part of it ever annoyed or offended me enough to make me quit. But I don’t feel any need to read more of the series.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

Posted in books, mystery | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Plum Tea Crazy – Laura Childs

In a book I read recently, someone’s “rules for writing and life” are cited – one of which was “don’t use more than two similes per page”. Laura Childs probably doesn’t actually exceed that … but her writing made me realize anew that it’s not the quantity of simile but the quality that counts. For example, Robin McKinley uses lots and lots of similes, and they almost invariably elicit a reaction – they make me smile, or put a lump in my throat, or make me laugh out loud, or make me feel that little click that comes when you see exactly what the author wanted you to see. They’re an art. The similes in this book are … not. They’re different, I’ll give them that (except when they’re clichéd), and they’re colorful (there are lots of monkeys, and even some castanets), but …

The writing just grated now and then. The ninth or tenth time the author resorted to Batman-style sound effects – all caps, exclamation points – and one character (included to be obnoxious) did something outrageously obnoxious (even for him), I closed the book and deleted it. I was at 87% – and a good part of what remained was recipes and an excerpt from the next book. A day or so later I went back to it; I hadn’t DNF’d a book yet this year, and I was close enough to finishing that I figured I might as well. But I didn’t enjoy it.

WHAP! BOOM! SMASH!

I mean – who stops in the middle of a supposedly frantic moment to describe the scenery? A man falls off a roof; intrepid amateur detective races down the stairs to check it out; the narrative pauses in the middle of her sprint to dwell on the décor in the garden.

BAM, BAM, BAM!

Cardinal sin of the cozy: when the main character tells bald-faced lies about what is obviously a hobby (or else there wouldn’t be a series of books) –

“Haley, we don’t [‘chase all over Charleston trying to solve the latest murder’],” Theodosia said. “And we certainly won’t get tangled up in this one.”

Pants on fire.

WAH-HOO!

Another cardinal sin of the cozy: Remarkably slipshod running of a small business.
“’Who’s minding the store?’ Drayton asked.
“Haley flapped a hand. ‘I was. But don’t worry, everything’s cool.'”

No, it’s not cool if you left the shop completely unattended.

BOOM! (Or, as the camera, er, says, “boom, boom, boom”.)

The characters are more caricatures than anything else. Two of them go from antipathy at first sight to practically weeping in each other’s arms, in the pace of a week. The young man is the very picture of a cliched young man. The gallery owner is the Platonic ideal of the gallery owner. The aforementioned obnoxious journalist fits the mold perfectly. There are few surprises.

BANG!

As usual, there are lots and lots of nits I could pick. Like … “‘Delicious,’ he said. Only it came out dulishush because his mouth was full.” Isn’t that pretty much how “delicious” is pronounced? Seriously. Dictionary.com: “[dih-lish-uh s]”. Say it a couple of times. Seriously. Oh, and like … why does Our Heroine’s sidekick have such a hard time saying the word “murder” when talking about the murder? And – like … Really? You expect me to swallow (no pun intended) the idea that someone not steeped (pun intended) in a world like this shop might consider a party ruined because you picked a funky tea? And … really? How do you not go directly to the police immediately on receiving a threatening note? (And how could you possibly confuse the smells of cooked onions and cooked potatoes? Have I been doing something wrong?)

EEEEEYOWWW!

In addition to the comic book sound effects – actual examples of which are scattered throughout this review (sorry) – there’s also this:
“Holy Hannah”
“Holy crap”
“Holy cats”
“Holy smokes”
“Holy butter beans”
“Holy buckets”
“Holy sweet potatoes”
“Sweet Fanny Adams”

Holy euphemisms, Batman.

One more Cozy Cardinal Sin: When any character puts on their Captain Obvious hat to remind the audience why a bad cozy mystery is a bad cozy mystery:
“The best thing Theo can do is let her boyfriend, Detective Riley, figure it out. That’s what the City of Charleston pays him for. That’s the smartest thing, the safest thing, to do at this point.”

YOWWWWWW!

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

Posted in books, mystery | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis, Chrissi Hart

I loved Narnia as a kid, of course (though never as much as Middle–earth). I never really revisited it after my teens, though – until now, when one of my Goodreads friends pointed me to the free Chrissi Hart podcast–format reading of the whole series, which I couldn’t resist.

The narration is not the best ever, with occasional (sometimes frequent) misplaced emphasis and eyebrow–raising pronunciation, but it is definitely fond and earnest, by a woman who clearly loves this world – and who has a great voice, an engaging accent, and a facility for character voices that don’t come off as cartoonish. I’m not sure I’d pay for it, but free? I’m not about to quibble.

OK. There’s an elephant in the room (are there elephants in Narnia? If there are lions it stands to reason there might be elephants and giraffes and things…), and I’m going to go blindly poke at it to try to figure out what it is. (Hello, my friend Mixed Metaphor.) A lot of people are turned off the books – or turned on by them – because of the heavy allegory of Aslan as a Christ figure. And I have to say that maybe I’m very obtuse – always possible – but I don’t quite get it. I mean, obviously I see the immortal and beneficent but sometimes terrifying guardian and sometimes leader with healing and other powers. (I’m not that obtuse.) My problem with the parallel is that – well, I don’t see Christ romping and frolicking with his followers, even in the joy of his resurrection.

More importantly, though, is the tenet that Christ suffered and died for all of his followers, present and future – he went to hell so we don’t have to. He did nothing criminal (well, beyond rabble–rousing), but allowed himself to suffer and die to break a pattern and preserve those who believe in him and follow him, accepting punishment on their behalf. Aslan, though – Aslan died for one person: Edmund. Edmund screwed up, and out of ignorance, greed, and pettiness betrayed Aslan (whom he’d never met, so he’s not much of a Judas figure) and his siblings and the cause of the good guys, and because of this by ancient tradition his life is forfeit. And instead of allowing his execution, Aslan takes his place. His death accomplished nothing but Edmund’s salvation; if anything, it was harmful to the anti–Witch cause, because his death and revival and romp meant a significant delay before getting to her home to de–statueify all the scores of creatures trapped in stone at the castle, who were significant in winning the war.

It’s all a bit muddled by the idea that Christmas exists in Narnia (though pretty much only embodied in a gift–giving Father Christmas; Christ has nothing to do with it here).

And really it’s not fair to Edmund. I mean, they’d all heard a bit of talk about Aslan, and the other three were impressed and interested, and even Edmund in his cranky self-absorption must have gotten an idea of what it was all about. But none of them really understood what was really up was until they met Aslan. And Ed never had the chance to do that until later – the Winter Queen got to him first, and punched every button he had. I don’t think any betrayal of Aslan can be held too much against him – he had no idea what he was betraying. There, at least… he certainly betrayed his family. But he honestly didn’t believe in the stakes – it could be argued that he still didn’t quite believe in this fantasy world, entirely.

I’m just glad that (spoiler!) Edmund gets more chances. When all’s said and done, C.S. Lewis’s voice is still very appealing after all these years, and I love these (astonishingly lucky) English children. I’d still rather go to Middle-earth – but Narnia is a lovely place to visit too.

Posted in Bean, Children's/YA, fantasy | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Austen Escape – Katherine Reay

My request for this book was followed by immediate regret, but it was predictable: another story about a woman taking an Austen-themed vacation, with the lagniappe of amnesia in her friend? It’s like catnip. I was a bit sorry to be approved for it, but felt like something light and quick at the beginning of the year, so I cracked it open (so to speak).

And lo and behold, it was kind of wonderful. Actually, a couple of kinds of wonderful. I couldn’t be more surprised, I don’t think. It turned out to be the story of a woman rediscovering her path, finding a way to hit a reset button and go back to things that make her happy.

And of course it’s also a love story, and a good one. It’s the story of Mary Davies’s love for her father (and vice versa), and of a love that seems to have died out, and a love that just doesn’t seem to click. That’s a major part of it – but just about as important to the story and to Mary is the exploration of her love for her vocation, the profession she has carved out for herself with a lot of hard work, which has drifted from where it used to be and needs to be shunted back to that right path. A love of numbers.

And, naturally, it’s all about a love of Austen. Jane is vital to the book – but the book isn’t about her. She is like sunlight and water to a neglected garden, causing things to happen.

The Austen Escape has a number of points in common with a book I read a few years ago, Austenland. Both feature a semi-immersive Jane Austen experience, in which guests dress the part from head to toe, put away their cell phones, and participate in Regency-style activities. But the ethics and advisability of Austenland struck me as deeply questionable, and it all left me with a bad taste in my mouth. This book was entirely different. I loved just about every character’s arc, and found the whole thing very satisfying.

Life advice from The Austen Escape:
“He said that how people treat you is only 10 percent about you and 90 percent about them, so you need to be careful how you react and how you judge. You never know someone’s story.”

“My grandfather used to say that everything in the world could be solved at the cadence of a cast. Think about things, don’t rush them, get a feel for them, live organically. Live life like you cast.” He bent his arm again, and with fluid slow motion he shot the line straight across the pond into the slow-moving water near the far bank.

“Music is math, and once you understand that . . . How can anyone not be in awe? It’s the audible expression behind the laws of the universe. It feels like the only thing, apart from God, that lives outside time. Once released, it lives on and it can make you laugh and cry, rip you apart and heal you, all within a few discrete notes strung together. And while it follows rules, expression is limitless.”

And this made me laugh out loud:

“How did they do all this?”
“When you went up for your bath, I watched from a window.” I yanked at his hand. “Not you. This. I watched this.”

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

Posted in books, Chick lit | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Trolled – D.K. Bussell

Maybe the last thing I expected when I started this book was that one aspect of my review would include the word “humbling”. But here it is. I was pretty confident that I was pretty familiar with British slang. I’m not. I’m really not. And it was humbling to see how much not. I was fine with stuff like “bin bags” and suchlike – but I have to admit in the context I stupidly thought “well jells” meant pudgy: like Santa, with a belly like jelly and all that. Nope: jealous. Jelly. Jells. Well = Very. ‘K. “Chirpsing” was entirely new to me.

This is one of those Netgalley selections which is obviously self-published, and has the sort of slipshod editing that unfortunately so often goes along with that – but which has a level of writing that deserves better. It’s funny and fun and gritty and occasionally surprising; it made leaps between making me smile at a really lovely turn of phrase (‘ Eathon laughed. “If you loosed an arrow at me I’d whip out my blade and whittle it into an unflattering portrait of you before it hit the ground.”‘ or “The pregnant pause ran to its third trimester”) to making me snarl over some stupid mistake (like mention of a rider’s “reigns”).

This is, of course, separate from the intentional wordplay, like “Sting with his tantrum sex” – it’s pretty clear when someone is being a Dogberry and when there’s an error.

Obviously, I loved the geek cred the author shows throughout. There’s Middle-earth and Dragonlance and Monty Python and stops in between. This book does not take itself too seriously. There’s a very serious story going on – first the shocking reality that this handful of kids has been transported to another world, with no knowledge of how to get back and a deadly mission they’re supposed to pull off; then that mission, a legitimate war against horrifying monsters which seems all but impossible to survive, much less win. But the way the story is told is light, irreverent, funny. These aren’t Lawful Good characters eagerly taking up arms to fight for the good – oh, no, these are ordinary geeky teenagers who are as likely to see what they can steal from any given setting as to fight the bad guys. They’re pretty much unpredictable – which is kind of great.

Now (say it with me) if only someone would clean these books up.

One thing, though – you cant beat that cover. I adore that cover.

And remember:
“The Chosen One might be a special snowflake, but when the heat’s turned up, every snowflake melts.”

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

Posted in books, fantasy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Art of Vanishing – Cynthia Kuhn

I’m a little surprised I requested this book from Netgalley. That cover looks an awful lot like the style used on so many not-to-my-taste cozy mysteries – I really don’t like that style. It might have been the “Academic Mystery” that got me – and I’m glad it did, because I really enjoyed this. The main character, Professor Lila Maclean shares several of the characteristics cozy mystery authors often give to their characters – she’s klutzy, smart, and beleaguered by her boss for no reason that is sensible to a sensible person. She has a colorful (to put it mildly) mother, with a past that serves as a great basis for this and future stories. What differentiates this book from others I’ve seen is that it’s believable. It’s – what’s that really annoying adjective? Organic. Lila isn’t klutzy to further the plot, or to make her an Extra Quirky Cozy Heroine – she just is. In fact, it makes sense that there’s a psychological basis for it. Her boss’s antagonism is somewhat out of the blue, but there is a seed of “because” in there. He hasn’t taken against her randomly – and that antagonism feels really familiar. We’ve probably all known, and God help us worked for, people just like him. and beleaguered by her boss for no reason that is sensible to a sensible person.

The story is twisty and – yay! – unpredictable. At one point I was just waiting for one character to get knocked off – I was sure of who the next victim was going to be – and I was completely wrong. And the author did that on purpose. It was a great fakeout.

It was just a lot of fun. And I will absolutely read more by this author. This is Netgalley doing what Netgalley’s supposed to do.

“You should pat the gryphon too.”
“I’m not going to—”
“Pat the gryphon, Lil,” she commanded sternly.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

Posted in books, mystery | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women – Emily Brightwell

I know that I came across a description of this series a while back, and I found it – the idea of a detective’s housekeeper doing the lion’s share of the work to help him achieve arrests – off-putting. Perhaps because of the covers I’ve seen for the series I thought it was all played for laughs; the artwork on most of the books makes Inspector Witherspoon look completely oblivious, with Mrs. Jeffries peering in from the side. I was never interested. So it’s odd that I requested this book from Netgalley.

But I did, and in the end it was much better than I expected it to be. It wasn’t great – I can’t imagine reading 35 more along the same lines, and I was startled to read a description of a couple of earlier books in the series that sounded a whole lot like this one; there was one in which it was important that a case be solved by Christmas, and at least one other in which a case was given to inferior Inspector Nivens and, of course, botched.

I did like the characters – Inspector Witherspoon is not a nincompoop, thank goodness, and that makes all the difference. And the author did a nice job at keeping a fairly large cast of characters distinct from each other and pretty consistently interesting … though I really wish the one American character wasn’t written in the dreadful manner of Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie writing an American. Goldarnit. There are a few things the Golden Agers did not do perfectly, and in which they should not be emulated.

There was a bit too much repetition of the basic ideas of “we’ll never solve this old mystery” and “I goofed off today and I’m ashamed but I’ll probably do it again tomorrow because we’ll never solve this old mystery”, and much too much whining about having their holiday plans disrupted. In that they reminded me of my coworkers, who spend half the day talking about the news and the weather and their love lives and tv and a hundred other inane things, and then complain that they don’t have time to do their work. Shut up and buckle down, and maybe you’ll manage.

All in all, I’m not sorry I read it – but I’m in no rush to go read the rest of the (astonishingly long) series.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

Posted in books, mystery | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Modern Woman’s Guide to Finding a Knight – Anna Klein

I was a devoted Rennie for many years – and would be still if I could manage it. I loved my home faire (being the one I’d been to most often) more than anything else or anywhere else on earth. Coming home from one of the first visits, I surprised my companions by saying how much I’d love to live there – and I was surprised that they didn’t feel the same way. There was nothing I didn’t adore. My first kiss came from Suleiman the Magnificent (and no, I didn’t care he was from the wrong time period. You wouldn’t have either.) I went to my Faire – in New York – just a few days after 9/11, and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. You know those security questions some websites ask you, the ones that ask you to name your favorite place? Mine is Faire. There is one specific memory that would probably be what I’d use to cast a proper full patronus. That’s what Faire is to me.

And so there are days when I want to emulate Charlie Brown in his Christmas special and stand on the edge of a stage and yell, “Isn’t there anyone out there who can write a book about what RenFaire is all about?!” Because every one of the novels I’ve sampled has failed miserably to capture any part of that wonder and joy – and at their worst they turn to mockery.

This one comes closer than most to getting it. It’s not quite there – this isn’t the type of Faire I know, in its details – is this how they do it in Australia? But for moments at a time it’s a lot closer. I wish that had been carried through to the rest of the book.

I could be wrong, but I think the only blatant sign of where this book was set was a note on the Netgalley page of how much it is set to list in Australian dollars. Otherwise, as far as I remember, there was never a named city, no one ever talks about where anyone comes from, currency is never mentioned … I kind of understand an effort to make it a sort of a universal story, and to highlight the reality of the alternative world of the Faire – but I found it a huge distraction to keep coming across obviously not-from-around-here (in the US) phrases without any kind of grounding in the real world. The first, and worst, example of this is the thing that almost plows main character Connie down, from which she is saved by the gallant Sir Justin: a runaway horse float. My first, slightly startled, interpretation was that this was part of some kind of parade that would be taking place in the course of the Faire. Something like this:

Or this (probably without Joan Rivers – it would have been terrible to be run over by Joan Rivers):

My second, sillier thought had to do with ice cream and soda – obviously that couldn’t be.

I didn’t even think of a third possibility, which would have made even less sense as a deadly projectile:

What I did not think of for quite some time was this:

– Because I’ve never heard of that thing called by that name. And I’ve read a lot of horsey novels in my day. But I’ve never read a horse book written by an Australian or New Zealander – and therein lay a problem. There were a number of moments that resulted in cartoon question marks floating over my head. And … well, it was just odd that throughout the book I never caught one reference to anything at all that would have pointed up for me that this was indeed set in the Antipodes, and this led to frequent disorientation, which was very distracting. If there was anything there – from mention of a town or city nearby to any indication of accent to even a note as to what month the Faire was taking place in (summer in what I consider winter months?) I missed it. And after a certain point, I was looking for something. The author doesn’t have much of a an author page on Goodreads; all I’m getting is an .au suffix in the publisher’s website.

Anyway. I loved the love of the Faire. But there were some things that just either didn’t ring quite true or which bothered me. The details of the jousting were among the latter; I don’t know, the jousts I’ve seen were largely choreographed, and I was startled that this Faire featured a genuine competition. But both my eyebrows went up when “Justin” declared he wasn’t going to let a little rain stop him from jousting. Um. That’s the only thing that ever did stop a joust, in my experience – because rain + grass = slippery, and rain + dirt = mud and mud = slippery, and horses’ legs = fragile. If there was even the least chance of injury to horses or riders, the show most definitely did not go on. (Hell, one rainy day the living chess match, which usually featured characters battling it out for the squares, turned into a living chess insult match. It was magnificent. And no one landed on their armored butt in the mud.) Connie’s familiarity with things like proper curtsies and what I usually see called BFA (“Basic Faire Accent”) is iffy. She seems to trip on her gowns an awful lot – as if she was unused to wearing them. She has short hair – which is just weird to me in someone who spends untold hours constructing detailed garb. (Good lord, I almost wrote “costumes”. Help – I’m becoming a muggle.) My hair was three feet long, and that was the one place it was utterly normal.

The main reason I never much warmed to her, though, was one of the main props of the plot: she was ashamed of her passion for the Faire. She kept her Faire friends at the Faire, never allowing them into her mundane life, and she never let any part of her mundane life know about what she did on weekends. “Connie would sooner drop dead than tell her sophisticated clients what she really did on her weekends.” “‘It’d be great if you maybe didn’t mention to too many people at the Faire where I work? At all? I hate to ask, it’s just, my customers wouldn’t understand things like the faire,’ Connie asked, wincing at the thought of a stream of weird and wonderful people from the faire looking her up at her store.” I talked about the Renaissance Faire to everyone and anyone, because I was so passionate about it. Maybe it’s because I never encountered the derision some idio – I mean some people express toward Renaissance Faires until after I’d stopped going; maybe it’s because I’m older now and, at least in this, wiser … but I find this disgusting. And pathetic. And stupid, really. I mean, the friends she loves spending time with on the weekend aren’t good enough for workaday people to know about? She has so little self-esteem and/or confidence that she never considers that negative reactions to Faire might be sparked by her attitude? (Has she had negative reactions? I don’t think so, actually – she is just stated as considering the Faire a guilty pleasure, with no reason for it given.) I think it’s quite stupid because she could probably make a small fortune sewing for Rennies – or at least a few bucks on the side. But no. It was especially sad when at one point she defensively said she wasn’t embarrassed by her hobby, and then, explaining what she did feel, gives the very definition of embarrassment. I mean, I understand being afraid to, as friends used to say, “let your geek flag fly” … but I found it repellent to watch this character work so very hard at repressing a huge part of her personality and life, when embracing it is bound to make everything better, not worse. This is the part of the book that lingers with me, and still bothers me. She refers to the Faire as her “other home” – but not to most of the people she knows.

TL;DR: If you’re spending time with people who will mock you for something you love, you’re spending time with the wrong people.

Actually, it’s not just Connie; none of the characters seem to have a grasp on the whole authenticish Faire language thing. Thee and thou are tossed about willy nilly, and incorrectly as often as not, and – well, speaking of embarrassment, there were moments that should have been deeply humiliating for both characters and writer. I won’t even mention some of what was said in a chat session – let this suffice: “Let me know how thou liketh the tea”. My comment on this Kindle highlight was unprintable in polite company. “‘As dost wilt remember, my lords and ladies”. “How fares thee?” Even writing that now makes me want to slap someone.

Also less than authentic: Connie’s complaints about the difficulty of running through the grounds in a heavy velvet dress and a wig. Nuh uh. I ran down a hill at my Faire in garb. Once. Never did it again. I wasn’t wearing velvet, but I did have on layers (and of course I wasn’t wearing a wig) (honestly, I don’t believe I ever saw anyone in a wig) – but I was wearing a bodice. One does not run in a bodice. (At least not mine.)

And come on. Someone says “Was he hot?” in referring to a knight. I mean … duh. It’s a little like asking if a jet pilot was hot. Even if he’s not a specimen of beauty, the simple aura of being what he is adds magnitudes of hot. I would have been cheerfully … er, rescued by any of the knights my Faire ever featured. (Especially the Justins. *sigh*)

And … well, on the whole I just didn’t much like the main character. She frequently complains – often when people compliment her – about her name being long and unwieldy . “It … takes up far too much room on my business cards” … but “Constance” is nine letters. There are lots of women’s names that are nine letters – take “Elizabeth”. I kind of have a feeling that if her name was “Mia” or “Zoe” she’d be sad about it being so short.

There were a few missteps in language. Redolent: I don’t think it means what you think it means. “How’s life faring?” isn’t a thing. Unbidden: see “redolent”.

And there were some rather bigger missteps elsewhere. The string of events that lets Dominic pretend to be Justin is idiotic; it doesn’t say much for Dominic’s skill as an armorer that a shall we say “wardrobe malfunction” in armor he made for himself is the reason Connie never saw “Sir Justin’s” face. And the fact that not one of the other competitors knew Dominic or Sir Justin or any other name he might want to call himself was absurd. I mean, seriously – I sincerely doubt that in the US there are so many jousters that someone at a top level could appear out of nowhere; it might have escaped notice, but Australia’s smaller than the US. The fact that Dominic continues to pretend to be Justin begins to be as pathetic as Connie’s fevered attempts to keep Faire and Mundane separate. Connie has to control her jealousy at one point when, instant messaging with “Justin”, she oh-so-casually asks who that lady is in a photo of his – and he doesn’t immediately say “My sister”, and thus ensues a feeble but happily brief misunderstanding. (Of course he would say “My sister”. One does. But he doesn’t.) Over and over she talks about how her biggest customer’s rocky marriage pays her rent singlehandedly (which is used incorrectly, but by now that’s just a quibble) – and over and over she ponders how she feels kind of guilty about it, and usually someone has to reassure her that it’s not her fault and so on.

Worst of all was the fact that it wasn’t very long before I knew without a doubt that that “personal flair” Connie needed for her collection, that “something that really screams you”, would be Faire. The only reason I didn’t see the rest of it coming was that it tried very hard to be madcap and frothy, and just wound up a bit mad and silly. I did, however, twig to the fact that the other half of the rocky marriage was that one guy – which means that the author did a terrible job of covering up the breadcrumbs, because I am generally terrible at figuring these things out.

Well, no. Worst of all was the moment when Connie has cause to put on Justin’s armour – and it just fits. I … don’t think so.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.

Posted in books, Chick lit | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments