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Reading/Watching List by Jayne for the last few weeks

Reading/Watching List by Jayne for the last few weeks

My PlanetMy Planet by Mary Roach

From acclaimed, New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach comes the complete collection of her “My Planet” articles published in Reader’s Digest. She was a hit columnist in the magazine, and this book features the articles she wrote in that time. Insightful and hilarious, Mary explores the ins and outs of the modern world: marriage, friends, family, food, technology, customer service, dental floss, and ants—she leaves no element of the American experience unchecked for its inherent paradoxes, pleasures, and foibles.

Since these articles were written for Reader’s Digest, they’re the perfect length for tucking into those small reading times you might have throughout the day. Roach often features her husband in them giving a view on modern, middle aged married life. Though the title has Planet, note that she’s usually looking more at the American view of America. B

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Meet Me At the Castle by Denise A. AgnewMeet Me at the Castle by Denise A Agnew

A ruined castle, a young woman’s obsession, an alluring and mysterious man. The past and present are about to collide in Meet Me At the Castle, Denise A. Agnew’s haunting tale of passion and romance. Nothing will ever be the same again!

Elizabeth Albright lives a simple life at Penham Manor under the watchful and disapproving eye of her father and stepmother. They think she’s odd for loving to paint Cromar Castle, a ruin on the hill. Even Elizabeth doesn’t understand why she insists on painting the structure over and over. Yet her compulsion demands it—there is something alive and beautiful about the castle that she cannot resist. When she meets the devilishly handsome Damian, more than her interest is piqued, for he engages her like no other has. But her stepmother has plans that will take her away from Cromar—and Damian—forever.

Marykate wrote a review on this earlier which is what made me want to give it a try. Unfortunately I found it rather stiff and melodramatic. Elizabeth’s obsession with the castle is, quite frankly, almost freaky. And while her father and stepmother might not understand it and handle the situation badly, I found myself almost agreeing with their motivation. I shouldn’t expect to be sympathizing with villains in a romance. I skimmed – a lot – to it. D

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always rayneAlways Rayne by Sierra Avalon

Would you spend ten days traveling the country with someone you despised if he promised to pay off your student loans?
Recent college graduate, Harper Leigh, can barely make ends meet working as the books editor for a new online entertainment magazine, Chatter. With $85,000 of student loan debt about to go into repayment, she has no idea how she’ll get by.

Just when she thinks things couldn’t get worse, Harper’s boss decides to embed her in the North American tour for the hot rock band, Always Rayne. Ten days on the road with the band for her to get an exclusive story. But Harper’s a homebody and the last thing she wants to do is go on the road with a rock band. And she definitely doesn’t want to spend ten days with the notorious bad boy and band front man, Nic Rayne.

When Nic proves to be too much for Harper to handle and she threatens to quit the assignment, Nic decides to sweeten the pot. If she stays with the tour for all ten days, he’ll pay off all of her student loan debt….but there’s one small catch.

Harper also has to sleep in his bed every night.

I wanted to like this one. I really did. The idea of a smart heroine who isn’t fazed, who in fact is turned off, by the hero’s fame x with incentive to pay off her debts sounded like an interesting conflict. The first chapter or two were this, what I was expecting and wanting.

Then it began to slip into a Mary Sue heroine who is beautiful under her Hippy Library Chick clothes x moody, angsty rock star hero who is desperately searching for his intellectual mate and thinks he’s immediately found her after a 5 minute conversation.

Everyone including the hero tells the heroine that he loves her, wants her and she’s The One for him but the supposedly intelligent heroine remains clueless to her beauty and The One-ness for ages.

Plus there’s enough one night sex hookups going on among the three band members (one of the duties of the manager/gofer is to get the girls they hook up with post-concert to sign non disclosure contracts before the sexing) – including the hero even after he’s found the heroine – to make me want to wear a hazmat suit while reading it.

But wait – the emo hero really, really loves the heroine. Maybe but this was coming off as way to close to teenage fanfiction for me to continue.

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monsoon mistsMonsoon Mists by Christina Courtenay

Sometimes the most precious things cannot be bought…

It’s 1759 and Jamie Kinross has travelled far to escape his troubled past – from the pine forests of Sweden to the bustling streets of India.

In India he starts a new life as a gem trader, but when his mentor’s family are kidnapped as part of a criminal plot, he vows to save them and embarks on a dangerous mission to the city of Surat, carrying the stolen talisman of an Indian Rajah.

There he encounters Zarmina Miller. She is rich and beautiful, but her infamous haughtiness has earned her a nickname: “The Ice Widow”. Jamie is instantly tempted by the challenge she presents.

But when it becomes clear that Zarmina’s step-son is involved in the plot, he begins to see another side to her – a dark past to rival his own and a heart just waiting to be thawed. But is it too late?

I was excited to try this novel as I’d been eyeing this author’s works at Choc Lit for a while. Historical India and historical Japan? Yay rah and bring it. Unfortunately this one doesn’t work for me.

Jamie starts out with my sympathy. “Something” awful has happened in his past personal life and while I don’t know what it is, I’m ready to root for him. Until he starts acting like an ass from the moment he meets Zarmina. He takes her don’t mess with me attitude as a personal affront and gets all “how dare she judge all men, how dare she act all haughty, I’m going to put her in her place.” It’s like reading modern male gamers views of “uppity women.” Okay so it’s probably actually period correct – and there are other men who have derogatory or dismissive views of Zarmina as well – but here’s the hero acting like this. And it’s only when another male has filled Jamie in on why Zarmina might have the right to act as she does that he admits maybe he was too quick to judge her.

Can he be turned around in my opinion? At the 40% point, no and skimming forward he didn’t seem to improve much.

Zarmina thinks her mixed race blood helps her deal with Indian weather. Really? The attitudes of the English about her living in England are also sadly probably period correct. She’s okay for India but don’t bring the half-caste home. I do really get a feel for her aloneness and fear of how her stepson could order her around and ruin her life. I can’t blame her for wanting to hang on to her agency – being a widow in control of her money – for as long as she can. I was disappointed that we get the “widow who’s only had bad sex” trope leading to the “hero’s sexing is the bestest” trope.

The set-up for the criminal plot that brings Jamie to Surat is convoluted and seemingly unnecessarily complicated to say the least. I have lots of questions about what the heck is going on.

The Indian ruler comes off as a buffoonish clown. But then we’ve only seen him from the POV of someone who obviously hates him. Jamie’s Indian mentor has to be saved by the white man. Grrr.

Lots of detail. There’s a wealth of detail here and I can’t tell lots of effort when into finding it and utilizing it. But in places I have to ask, why? It’s an interesting tidbit that Surat had two city walls and what their names were but is it relevant to the story? No.

I continued to past the 40% point and after skimming some, didn’t see things improving much so sadly I called it quits.

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TheDuplicitousDebutanteSideThe Duplicitous Debutante by Becky Lower

In 1859, ladies of New York society were expected to do three things well: find a husband, organize a smooth-running household, and have children.
Rosemary Fitzpatrick’s agenda is very different. As the author of the popular Harry Hawk dime novels, she must hide her true identity from her new publisher, who assumes the person behind the F. P. Elliott pen name is male. She must pose as his secretary in order to ensure the continuation of her series. And in the midst of all this subterfuge, her mother is insisting that she become a debutante this year.

Henry Cooper is not the typical Boston Brahmin. Nor is he a typical publisher. He’s entranced by Mr. Elliott’s secretary the moment they meet, and wonders how his traditional-thinking father will react when he brings a working class woman into the family. Because his intentions are to marry her, regardless.

Rosemary’s deception begins to unravel at the Cotillion ball, when Henry recognizes her. The secretarial mask must come off, now that he knows she is a member of New York society. But she can’t yet confess who she truly is until she knows if Henry will accept her as F. P. Elliott.

The more time they spend together, the closer they become. But when Rosemary reveals her true identity to him, will Henry be able to forgive her or has her deceit cost her the man she loves?

This is another submission made to DA and again, I wanted to like it due to the fact that it’s got an author heroine. Alas, it was not to be as I felt there is some awkward exposition in the first two chapters about debuts and female writers. Reading Amazon reviews of other books in this series, it seems like this is an ongoing issue for Lower. The next chapter features a family dinner scene that has more than a whiff of modernity to it but I gritted my teeth and kept going.

Sadly, once the hero and heroine meet, the book sunk into a haze of lustful daydreams wherein Henry and Rosemary’s thoughts always drifted into passionate kisses, caresses, skin, lips, hair being let loose over breasts, etc, etc. Every third page these two float off into blissful contemplation of the others attributes only to shake themselves back into the present. I made it to the 1/3 mark and realized I was skimming to get that far.

Please note that each chapter starts with a header from Rosemary’s latest novel and while the plot and the way the characters are handled are probably period correct, they would be deemed offensive to NA/American Indians today.

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black widow witchBlack Widow Witch by A.J Locke

A deadly curse, a dangerous assassin, and one shot to save everyone she loves…
Malachi Erami can’t fall in love. After she’s caught with Knave, the witch Queen’s favorite lover, she’s cursed to savagely butcher any man she falls for. Exiled to live among humans, Malachi runs a bar that serves magic-laced drinks, but since her curse labels her high risk, she’s also closely monitored. Julian Vira is her latest babysitter, but he’s also the first man since Knave that she’s been attracted to. Good-looking and nonjudgmental of her horrible curse? Yeah, he’s hard to resist.

But when Malachi finds a body behind her bar, she knows she’s in trouble. If the Witches Control Council gets wind of it, she’ll be accused of murder and sent to her death. And when her friends start getting framed for murder, she realizes she’s not the only target. Malachi and Julian dig into the evidence to clear her name, but the closer they get to answers, the closer the curse comes to taking over. So when Malachi uncovers a plot to kill the witch Queen, she finds herself suddenly recruited into service, with the promise of having her curse lifted and a reunion with Knave as well. But if she fails, Knave will die. And she and Julian might not live long enough to see that happen.

I saw in our submissions section and thought, hey that looks interesting. Heroine who is cursed to rip apart any man she’s interested in? Yeah, that’s a definite issue that she’d have to work out to be a couple. Then I start it and it drags and drags and drags with tons of backstory. Her story, the backstory of all the witches she hangs with, a usual night at her bar, etc. Did I mention there’s a lot of initial backstory?

Then she is worried about being set-up due to the hatred humans have for witches and she needs to keep the ripped apart body found behind her bar a secret. So does she keep it to herself? No, she tells about 5 people within 12 hours. Most witches but then she also mentions there’s a witch snitch among the witch population in NYC so how secret will this remain? Less so now that she’s blabbed, I bet.

She also gets a new WCC minder – I took this to be like a probation officer. One of her dear friends is hauled in on possible murder charges and she charges down to the station because she just knows the woman is innocent. What is she going to do at the WCC? Well, just tell her minder that she just knows the woman is innocent and then … dunno.

So she heads out to investigate and who shows up at the same place but her minder. Why is he there if this isn’t his case? He saw the woman and thought she looked sweet and innocent. Ted Bundy looked innocent, too. Yeah, it’s great he believes in the woman’s innocence but really?

At this point, over 1/4 of the way into the book I looked at my ereader, sighed at the thought of reading anymore and said, I’m done here.

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Delhi BellyDelhi Belly

Three young and somewhat clueless flatmates get involved in the shady and dangerous business belonging to one roomie’s fiancee. Each buddy manages to make things worse until they discover that a global crime syndicate is gunning for them.

When I finished this I thought it’s “Cohn brothers go to India.” But note this is not a Bollywood film as it has no song and dance set pieces. It’s a strict action/comedy with a romance thread running through it. Also note that if you liked Monsoon Wedding, Vijay Raaz (who played the wedding planner) has the role of the gangster villain here.


The No 1 LadiesThe No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

I just started this series and am enjoying it so far. Precious Ramotswe is a marvelous character as a woman with big dreams and the guts to go after them. Her typist Mma Makutsi and potential romance Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni back her efforts to become a successful private investigator in Botswana but most importantly, helper of those in need. One of the sweetest parts of the initial story is how Precious’s father helps her to “see” the world around her and gifts her with the “capital” she needs to get started. I need to get back to this one soon.



the shadow of the towerThe Shadow of the Tower

I reported on this before when I was halfway through the early 1970s British series on Henry VII and the start of the Tudor dynasty. The second half was a bit slower and spent a lot – and I mean a LOT – of time showing Henry dealing with all the pretenders to the crown. It’s really only in the last show that we get back to more about the family itself and see Arthur marry and die thus setting the stage for Henry VIII and his marital issues. In sets, the series is obviously a product of its time but I enjoyed it nonetheless.


The ArtistThe Artist

Winner of five Oscars, this artful black-and-white silent film follows the romance between a silent-era superstar on a downward spiral and a rising young starlet who embraces the future of cinema at the dawn of the “talkies.”

This was on my radar ever since Roger Ebert gave it such a great review but for some reason I kept moving other DVDs ahead of it in my Netflix queue. Big mistake on my part. It stars two wonderful French actors – the hot and sexy Jean Dujardin and the impish Bérénice Bejo plus a darling Jack Russell terrier. I happen to like silent films but if you don’t think you do, please don’t let that put you off. The acting style is modern and it’s easy to follow the plot.

DUAL REVIEW:  Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich

DUAL REVIEW: Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich

dreaming-in-hindi-rich

Dear Readers,

When Sunita was on daily deals duty during Jane’s vacation, she came up with this interesting looking book.

After miraculously surviving a serious illness, Katherine Rich found herself at an impasse in her career as a magazine editor. She spontaneously accepted a freelance writing assignment to go to India, where she found herself thunderstruck by the place and the language, and before she knew it she was on her way to Udaipur, a city in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, in order to learn Hindi. Rich documents her experiences—ranging from the bizarre to the frightening to the unexpectedly exhilarating—using Hindi as the lens through which she is given a new perspective not only on India, but on the radical way the country and the language itself were changing her. Fascinated by the process, she went on to interview linguistics experts around the world, reporting back from the frontlines of the science wars on what happens in the brain when we learn a new language. She brings both of these experiences together seamlessly in Dreaming in Hindi, a remarkably unique and thoughtful account of self-discovery.

I was intrigued at the thought of reading about an adult learning a second language and once I’d got a copy, I read it fairly quickly. Never having had the pleasure of visiting India, I emailed Sunita to ask her opinion on it and we agreed to do a dual review. Though we both found certain things about it to be interesting, ultimately the book didn’t live up to what we hoped for.

Jayne: Her actual experiences are interesting – usually, even more so when she can tie them into known language learning situations, academic approaches to language learning, plateaus and real life examples. There are times when she tries to bring in discussions and arguments in the 2L community when the narrative veers off course and flounders around. I found myself skimming these. Short and sweet worked but lengthy discourses that deviated too much from her life in India didn’t.

Sunita: I agree that the constant switches between her life and the academic research on second language acquisition didn’t work. Sometimes (often?) she would switch in the middle of a paragraph, and I felt as if she was trying to find an academic reason for each of her language-learning difficulties. At first it was interesting but it got wearying after a while.

Jayne: She was initially in India during a pivotal period of world events namely 9/11 which affected her start in India, her name at the deaf school she volunteered at – which the children invented as a plane flying into a tower – and the fall out of anti-Muslim/pro Hindu violence that erupted in chilling events there.

Her actual time spent in India is usually told straight forwardly but there are times when she builds up to some major reveal and then backs off and doesn’t deliver the promised goods until much later. She meets lots of people outside of her host family and the other scholars and teachers at the school but many of them bounce in and out of the frame and I wasted time trying to remember who they were when they reappeared chapters later with no reintroduction.

Sunita: That’s a really good point, and I think it’s something quite a few readers would have problems with. I was mostly able to keep them straight but I think familiarity with the names as well as familiarity withe the different roles the Indians played helped too. I can get lost when I’m reading a book set in a different culture, and I think that’s a potential problem here.

Jayne: Well, for me it wasn’t all about keeping the Indians straight as I had trouble remembering who some of the expats were too. Another thing that didn’t interest me as much as it did Rich is the time she spends when she veers off-road – so to speak – and delves into sign language. But her observations on how the Indians view her are fascinating. As an older, middle aged divorced woman she faces obstacles her younger and male colleagues simply don’t.

Sunita: Yes, I agree. She fits in well with the Western, expat residents, but to many of the Indians her decision to study Hindi, while flattering, doesn’t make sense given the roles assigned to women of her age. I also thought it was interesting that they couldn’t have cared less about her career. She isn’t in a role they recognize, i.e., doctor, professor, engineer, so they just ignore what she does.

Jayne: As for her second language learning as an adult, she seems to hit and reach all the issues, snags, roadblocks, highs and lows which are common for people attempting the same thing. For anyone thinking of tackling a second language as an adult, this is valuable insight into what they might face and need to be wary of and overcome.

Sunita: I mostly agree, although I think she commits the common fallacy of acting as if her difficulties are generalizable and understandable. Sometimes I just wanted to tell her, “you’re bad at it because you’re bad at it.” I thought it was interesting that Helaena, the much younger, apparently less committed student, was so much faster at picking up the script. I never really understood why Rich had so much trouble.

Jayne: Well, she certainly tries to come up with lots of academic reasons for it. I worried that this would turn into an “Eat, Pray, Love” experience of intense navel gazing or a “me v. them discussion” of the US and India. For the most part, I’d say it avoids these pitfalls but there are sections devoted to the sectarian violence going on – such as in Gujarat – that are told from her POV and during which she takes strong exception to anyone who sees things differently. But readers do NOTE – the violence is horrific as relayed by Rich, some events are described though not in minute detail and lots of it could be triggering.

Sunita: Yes, I agree. I can’t comment usefully on her accounts of the reactions to the Parliament attack and the 2002 Godhra riots because I can’t see them as an outsider (I’ve studied riots in Gujarat and India more generally for a long time and I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking to people who were present and/or involved). Her view is necessarily an incomplete one, but that’s not a bad perspective, especially since the book is for a Western audience. The one thing that did strike me was that when horrific events occurred, she never talked about finding a Western paper, e.g., the Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, or a UK paper like the Times. When I’ve been in India during crises I’ve always made it a point to find out how things are being portrayed by the non-Indian press, and most visitors I know have done that too. It was a strange lacuna for me.

Jayne: That’s a good point about which news sources she sought out or didn’t seek out.

The book teaches about learning a second language and immersing oneself in a different culture. but I think some of the impact of these things is diluted by too much time spent on academic theories and some boring travelogues which felt more like being told about someone’s vacation pictures instead of merely having to sit through seeing them without yawning too widely. The writing style was also unwieldy at times, often forcing me to reread a sentence when I’d lost track of it midway. It’s interesting yet it’s dull and it presents some ideas about language that are worthy of thinking more about but the negatives of the narrative ultimately weigh the whole down to a C+ for me.

Sunita: That’s a great way to put it, that it’s like being told about someone else’s photos. There was always this distance in her writing, and the people only came alive once in a while. The book was really about her, not the people around her, which I suppose is understandable in a memoir, but I would have like to have read about both. It was a C for me.

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