What Janine was Reading and Watching in Late 2014
The end of 2014 is behind us and while most of 2015 still stretches ahead I want to take the opportunity to briefly review some books and shows I read and watched last year but didn’t get around to writing full length reviews for.
In for a Penny by Rose Lerner
On the one hand, the characters appealed to me a great deal, and I love marriage of convenience stories. It was especially nice to see the hero, not the heroine, marry for money and I was really rooting for this couple to make it work. The prose was quite good, too.
On the other hand, their marriage was plagued by too many headaches from too many quarters. I counted ten or eleven instances of troubles and disasters that befell poor Nev and Penny. Every time their marriage began to recover from one, something else would happen. By the end of the book, the plot put me in mind of kitchen sinks, and though I knew Penny and Nev were sincere in their love for one another and wanted to believe they had made it, I wasn’t quite sure some catastrophe wasn’t lying in wait for them, just around the corner.
It’s a tough to grade book though, because I liked the characters so much. The more time goes by, the more I remember that, so maybe a C+?
The Time Tutor by Bee Ridgway
This prequel novella to Ridgway’s The River of No Return works best as a time travel fantasy. If you’re interested in it as a romance, I recommend you read it after The River of No Return, since one of the two lovers in this novella dies in that novel. I was able to enjoy reading it out of chronological order (fitting since the series is about people who time travel and live out of chronology), even knowing that Ignatz would outlive Alva, perhaps because I knew that going in to their novella.
Ignatz is one of the Ofan, a group of rebels who defy Hannelore, leader of the time traveling organization known as the Guild. Hannelore won’t teach her disciples, who once traveled to their new time on instinct, how to repeat this feat. Bertrand, one of those disciples, is Ignatz’s spy in the Guild, but he is newly in love with Alva, another disciple of Hannelore’s, and therefore Ignatz is in jeopardy of losing Bertrand as an operative. Ignatz sets out to win back Bertrand’s loyalty, but underestimates Alva and her appeal to him. If Ignatz teaches Alva to time jump, and they give in to their attraction, what will Bertrand and Hannelore do?
This is the second of Ridgway’s books that I’ve read and I think her books work better for me as fantasy than as romances. As with The River of No Return, the development of Ignatz and Alva’s romantic feelings feel rushed. I also didn’t love that Ignatz was unprepared for Alva’s brilliance because Alva was a woman. But I did love Alva. She’s a great character, smart and vivacious, daring and strong — worthy of a full length novel. I also really like the way time travel works in these books, the metaphor (made literal to the time travelers) of time as a river of human emotion. The setting details are great, too. C+.
The Hook Up by Kristen Callihan
There was a lot to like about this book, from the hot sex, to the courtship, to the way the characters, though mature for their age, had moments that showed their youth and their inexperience with relationships.This wasn’t a perfect read for me – it’s been a while since I read it but I remember thinking that in some places the writing wasn’t entirely smooth, and that the sex was a little too amazing considering these characters were in their early twenties. But I liked it a whole lot, and it made my Best of 2014 list, where there’s a longer write up about it. B.
Possession by A. S. Byatt
I reread this epistolary literary novel — in which two graduate students, Roland Michell and Maud Bailey, investigate a previously unknown affair between two Victorian poets, the married Randolph Ash and the feminist Christabel LaMotte, who was thought by scholars to have been lesbian — a bunch of times in my twenties and early thirties, but hadn’t read it at all since participating in a book club discussion of it in the summer of 2002. Sometimes I get talked out about books, even favorite books, and need a break. I felt that way after that discussion, but recently I’ve been in need of a comfort read, and I decided to pick it up again.
What a delight to find Byatt’s writing just as wonderful and the book just as rich as I’d remembered. I’m enjoying the beautiful descriptions, the literary allusions, the poetry, the fairy tales and fairy tale imagery, the romantic correspondence between Randolph and Christabel, bright and passionately curious, and the way it contrasts with the tentative dialogue between Roland and Maud as they feel their way around each other’s vulnerabilities.
It’s also neat to revisit the characters from my current perspective. When I first read this book I was younger than the twenty-eight year old Roland, and viewed him as older and therefore someone who should be more grown up than he was. From my current middle-aged perspective, his youthful stumbling makes me so much more sympathetic than I was twenty years ago.
About the only thing that’s giving me trouble is the fictional literary critic Mortimer Cropper’s ramblings—he remains my least favorite character in the novel and I find his thoughts on Randolph Ash a good place to put the book down for a break and read something else. Still, a wonderful book. As of this writing, I’m about halfway through and hope to write a full length review when I finish reading it.
Masters of Sex — Season 2, Episodes 1-3
After loving this show’s first season, I quit watching three episodes into the second season. My reason for quitting boils down to this—the storylines felt like they had nowhere new to go and the characters stopped growing.
The first season was wonderful in its exploration of the moral dilemmas facing its flawed but still sympathetic protagonists. The performances by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan were nuanced and magnetic, and I loved the way the show invited us to understand and care about its female characters and the challenges they faced in the male dominated 1950s.
But the first three episodes of the second season trod much the same ground that had been explored in season one, and this time, the characters were a lot less appealing. Bill Masters (Sheen) is a difficult man to empathize with even in the best of times, but here, as the father of a newborn cheating on his wife and stringing his former assistant along for the sake of that affair, he caused me to lose all patience with his angst.
Meanwhile Ginny Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) the heart and soul of the show in its first season, made choices that were harder for me to understand, and worse, respect. The thing that made Ginny such a memorable and heroic figure in season 2—her sense of her own worth no matter what crap her male colleagues and beaus thought of her or threw at her—seemed to me to have frayed when she lost her job but kept sleeping with Bill partly in the hopes of getting it back.
Ginny’s clear-eyed understanding that they were having an affair, something Bill would not even admit to himself or to her, only served to make this diminishing of her character harder to watch.
Meanwhile, Bill’s wife Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) struggled to raise the new baby her husband patently didn’t want. Barton Scully’s (Beau Bridges) attempt to kill himself in the wake of his wife Margaret’s (Alison Janney) discovery that he was gay was also excruciating to watch. The acting and production values stayed top-notch, but with little sign of hope for the characters, I haven’t been able to bring myself to continue watching.
Game of Thrones — Season 1
I recently finished watching season 1 of Game of Thrones and although I keep watching, I keep feeling ambivalent. The show has great political intrigue and interesting characters, as well as good acting, but it’s also filled with gratuitous violence and other sensationalistic elements.
On the upside, there are characters I can actually root for, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Daenerys Taragaryen (Emilia Clarke), and my personal favorite, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) among them. On the downside, as a friend of mine put it “As soon as someone does something noble, you know they’re screwed.”
I had to take a three-week break from watching after Eddard Stark’s head was whacked off in full view of his young daughters. So I’m still on the fence about this one.