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Rhoda Janzen

What Jayne’s been reading and watching in September/October 2013

What Jayne’s been reading and watching in September/October 2013

Since I write separate reviews for most of the books I finish, these reading lists are for ones that for various reasons ended up being either DNF or I didn’t think needed a full review.

tempted into dangerTempted into Danger by Melissa Cutler

The shame is that with the exception of the standard inappropriate lusting – which I expected – the book was actually not bad until then. And if featured a cool premise of how the heroine had developed some brilliant algorithm that could track illegal money laundering.

Then came a scene that when I read it, I was thinking, “I dunno here.”

The hero and heroine are on the run in the Panamanian jungle and he gets bit by a “pit viper.” He whips out 4 vials of Crofab antivenom (which I’m pretty damn sure is only good for North American species which don’t live in Panama) and instructs the heroine to add water which she gets from a water bottle!, then after the stuff dissolves he tells her to stick some needle to each vial and then inject them into him. A quick check with a pharmacist and nurse I know who work in emergency rooms confirmed how wrong this all is.

Oh and he got bit because they finally gave into “love on the run” and were kissing like the plane was going down. Nothing like situational awareness while in the jungle surrounded by lots of things that can kill you.

Then the idiot heroine calls the equivalent of the Panamanian 911 system because the hero has an allergic reaction to the antivenom which brings down the evil villains on their heads – because she gives their gps location and also strings a brightly colored hammock out so they can be easily seen by the “rescue” helicopter. She’s a math genius – which is why I wanted to read it – but also a Typhoid Mary when it comes to jungle survival. DNF

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while still we liveWhile Still We Live by Helen MacInnes

This one starts great with lovely opening scenes of life in rural Poland in the months before WWII begins. Then comes taut travel to Warsaw before Sheila decides to stay and do what she can for her friends. The noose tightens around the city and things get desperate and then grim. There are horrifying details of survival as the Poles are determined to hang on before their surrender. I’m totally engrossed at this stage. No romance in sight but the story has got me.

Then it seemed like I’d get some nerve wracking stuff as Sheila gets recruited into the Polish resistance and begins to work with those pretending to be Germans. There’s even a Gestapo headquarters scene with Sheila desperately trying to keep her head above water, avoid a spy’s suspicion and turn the tables back on him. Great, I thought. this is wonderful.

Sheila learns about plans to destroy the lovely village where she had spent her summer and begins a game of cat and mouse to save it. She’s almost there and then another fantastic scene of tense danger unfolds when she finally meets up with members of the guerilla band of fighters in the area.

And this is where things slowly sink. The first half of the book kept me on the edge of my seat. The second half was skim city. Lots of different PsOV, endless descriptions of boring day to day life in a deep forest camp and I’m wondering what happened to my taut thriller. It was like the wheels came off and the cart was slowly sinking into mud. I managed to slog through to the end but it was hard work. C-

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mennoniteMennonite Meets Mr. Right by Rhoda Janzen

This is another deeply personal journey through Rhoda Janzen’s life and is a follow up to “Mennonite in a Black Dress” which I read a few years ago. This time it’s about her fight against breast cancer and her deepening relationship with a man who should have been all wrong but who just might win my award for Hero of the Year and her return to faith.

The twin issues might sound like downers but the humor here keeps me laughing just as it did in “Black Dress.” She doesn’t get weepy or preachy about either thing though her deep exploration of her time with her boyfriend’s Pentecostal Church might be more than readers want to read about. Religion is a YMMV topic but I think Janzen avoids preaching AT anyone and instead tells her own story and personal journey.

Still there are some anecdotes related that I finished reading and immediately thought, what does that have to do with anything? Some of the things mentioned felt a bit disjointed or maybe I missed the forest for the trees. C

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.Bride Gone Bad
Bride Gone Bad by Sabine Starr

I’m afraid I didn’t get very far with this one. The opening scene has the heroine marching into a saloon, hatchet in hand to order it closed and then attack the bar. Only her hatchet gets stuck and she can’t get out. Ornery men who are pissed that she’d attack the hand carved bar rush up and then – seemingly stand there doing and saying nothing while the hero eyes her and catalogs how pretty she is. It’s like they’re suddenly in a bubble of some kind – no mention of angry shouting or people jostling her or threats from the barkeep – nothing. Then the hero pries loose the hatchet and marches her outside where she proceeds to eye him and catalog all his handsomeness.

Meanwhile, her compatriots in the effort to rid the town of evil booze walk down the street at a funereal pace. Not marching militantly, not surging down the street in righteous anger, no they just seem to be slowly sauntering along while the hero and heroine continue assessing each other. Then when the barkeep finally does make a move and demand she pay for the damages she caused, she turns to look at him with horror. Not defiance, not “in your face 1880 style* – no her look is horror. Surely she had to expect some demand of recompense for what she’d done even if she wasn’t going to pay it? At this point my eyes had rolled as far as I was going to let them. DNF

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I have a few movies to recommend this time. Two are French and one is Korean but they all have English subtitles.

Kings of PastryKings of Pastry” – Acclaimed documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus venture inside the deliciously cutthroat Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the legendary French pastry competition, to capture this fascinating account of what it takes to be the best “patissier.”

With the huge number of chefs, pastry chefs and chocolatiers in romance books these days, I thought it would be fun to watch this fierce and all consuming competition to be named among the best patissiers in France. The MOFs, as they are known, recognize the best of the best among many various professions and trades in France and to be earn this honor is to truly excel at what you do. They will often work for months leading up to the final competition under the direction of an already awarded MOF to perfect the tiniest details of their creations and end with 3 day trial runs to work out the final kinks. The towering sugar sculptures are things to behold.

Untold ScandalUntold Scandal” – Set in 18th century Korea, this retelling of Dangerous Liaisons follows morality-deficient cousins Lady Cho (Lee Mi-Suk) and Cho-won (Bae Yong-Jun) as they scheme to ruin the lives of innocents. When Lady Cho asks Cho-won to bed her husband’s lover-to-be (Lee So-yeong), Cho-won ups the ante and goes after an even more virtuous female. If he succeeds, Lady Cho must sleep with her cousin. But Cho-won begins to fall in love with his intended target.

This is another retelling of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” but adapted to Korean culture among the nobility of the 18th century. If you enjoy the lush visuals of “Dangerous Liaisons” or “Valmont,” give this a try. It’s bit more explicit than either of those but the costumes and scenery are divine.

I DoI Do: How to Get Married and Stay Single” – Successful perfume executive Luis (Alain Chabat) is happily single, but his mother and sisters want him to settle down. After they arrange a string of disastrous blind dates, Luis concocts a crazy scheme that will make his family happy without his getting married. All he needs to do is hire a girl to act as his fiancĂ©e and then dump him at the altar. But when Luis meets Emmanuelle, the plan takes a turn he never anticipated in this French comedy.

The plot will be familiar to almost anyone who’s read a romance novel lately. Family pressure drives someone to get a fake fiancĂ©/e and somehow over the course of the story faux turns to feelings. You’ll be able to plot the course of the action but it’s a fun, frothy time to the finish.


REVIEW: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

REVIEW: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Dear Ms. Janzen,

Last year a friend of mine gave me “Eat, Pray, Love,” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read it and liked parts of it, though Gilbert’s intense emotional navel gazing eventually got to me. However, I did enjoy her “feels like a friend sitting down to talk to you” style of writing. When your book was offered to DA for review, the concept grabbed me. When I saw what Gilbert had written as a front cover blurb on it, I had higher hopes for enjoying it. I’m glad to say those hopes were realized.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda JanzenThe book is a fast and funny recollection of your current life, past marriage, your family and Mennonites. Wow, no one can say this is totally derivative.

Let me start off by saying I am gobsmacked by your willingness to lay it all out, to reveal parts of yourself and events in your life that aren’t always flattering and which are deeply personal. I doubt I could ever obtain this degree of bravery needed to allow total strangers into my life. I doubt most people could. Yes, it’s funny but not always laugh out loud funny. A lot of the humor is more a gentle, wry assessment of life and the people in yours.

I can honestly say that nothing that was ever in my school lunch box was as bad as the top 5 Shame-based Foods for Mennonite youth lunches you endured. And I got Twinkies and Hostess cakes each day. I guess my life is complete. [G] The story about how your mother would lengthen your pants after your growth spurts made me wince in sympathy for you.

Your husband sounds like a pain to deal with. Sorry but I know I’d have brained him early on. I don’t think I can tip my hat to you for living with him for 15 years as he sounds like poison to the soul in the long run. I do admire you for not miring yourself in the deep mud about what happened or settling yourself in for years long resentment of him. That’s poison one would bring on oneself.

Your family and family roots seem to be positive parts of your life – despite the above mentioned lunches and thrifty extensions of clothing life. I guess you take the Mennonite tendency to rebel a step farther than usual. It sounds like an idealistic life for some but I’d be with you in needing to kick over the traces and explore what life has to offer outside of this community, if only just to see what’s there.

I did learn quite a bit about the Mennonite faith. I knew it wasn’t as insular as the Amish but I didn’t realize just how un-plain it could be. And though I’d balk at using up moldy leftovers in the fridge, some of the food sounds delicious – true comfort food. After an Internet search, I’ve located some recipes for cabbage rolls that I intend to try. Though I’ll skip the butchering, thank you very much.

When I finished the book, I was left with a warm glow. You have the marvelous ability to look back, even at the painful and – at the time – embarrassing events in your life and find the positive about them. To locate the silver lining of each cloud and relate it in a funny, friendly fashion that engenders happy laughter and sympathetic head nodding. It’s a gift and I’m glad you shared it.