A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting
Back in the days when I ran a food and drink website, I regularly had people applying to write for me who intentionally emulated the style of Anthony Bourdain. When I would reply to them and tell them to find their own voice, they would get angry at me. “I want to be the next Bourdain!” they’d write back emphatically. But here’s the thing, we only ever needed one Bourdain. Everything else, every person who wrote anything in a style of flowery, meandering prose punctuated with sharpish observations of the world, would always be second rate. Solely because they weren’t Anthony Bourdain. And it wasn’t that their stories, or observations, were bad, or even badly written; it was just hard to get past how desperately they were trying to be like someone else.
Such is the case with writers who emulate Jane Austen.
I get that the Regency era is hot right now. I get that the fashions are fun and that the etiquette and social rules of the time make for lots of opportunities for the drama, intrigue and misunderstandings that are the backbone of a good story, romance or otherwise. But there’s got to be some plotline other than of a plucky young woman fighting for her family, or against the unfairness of social hierarchy, who overcomes the odds and falls in love with her (rich!) nemesis. As much as I want to adore Kitty Talbot, out on the hunt for a rich man to save her household of young, orphaned women from certain ruin, I just can’t help reading A Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting and thinking how this is just trying to be so, so hard to emulate Austen.
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This New York Times best-seller is getting a lot of press and the folks who like it really like it. As in, book club picks, and a Netflix movie deal with the main character already cast. However, readers who dislike it, really dislike it. Both sides have valid points.
Molly the maid (really) works in a grand hotel and digs her job. The order and cleanliness and restoring rooms to a state of perfection make her very happy. Molly misses a lot of social cues and people around her mostly think she’s weird. It’s never explicit that Molly is neurodivergent but Prose gives so many signs that she might as well hit the reader smack in the face with a big cartoon-style diagram that says “Autism Spectrum”.
One day while cleaning rooms, Molly finds a dead body. Comes with the job when you’re hotel housekeeping staff, honestly. And then Molly gets framed for killing the dead guy. Also a standard occupational hazard. Being the polite, naive soul that she is, with no one to guide her since her Gran passed away some months previous, Molly has put her trust in the wrong people.
Continue reading “Book Review – The Maid”
When We Lost Our Heads
by Heather O’Neill
Heather O’Neill’s unique voice makes for engaging storytelling. Her interest in telling the stories of talented or precocious children, with recurring themes of circuses, repressive living situations such as schools or orphanages, special powers, and life-long relationships, make for books that read very much like fairy tales. In the process of visualizing O’Neill’s words, I see her stories as if they were animations of drawings by Edward Gorey.
How We Lost Our Heads is a tale of two girls in late 19th century Montreal, a grave accident, and the separation and then coming together (twice) of these same characters. In the interim, they lead very different lives, and come to represent two different ways of looking at the world.
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The Biscuit: The History of a Very British Indulgence
Tea and a biccie? The biscuit is ubiquitous in British culture (see what I did there?), but here in North America, there’s been a distortion of usage over the years. What we know in North America as a biscuit — a light, flaky, risen cake — is known as a scone in England. Crackers — a plain or savoury, dry, flat unleavened bread, cut into equal sized shapes — are biscuits, but biscuits can also be sweet, although they’re usually still plain. And what we call a cookie isn’t really a biscuit either, cookies being thicker, softer in the centre and containing other ingredients such as chocolate or fruit. The exception to this might be the shortbread and its ilk which can be both. Confused yet? Author Lizzie Collingham will enlighten you. Continue reading “Book Review – The Biscuit: The History of a Very British Indulgence”
by Miriam Toews
I usually give a book to the 10% mark, maybe 15% before deciding to keep going or pitch it; life is too short to read books you don’t enjoy. I started to really hate Fight Night at around the 60% mark, but stayed with it because I had invested the time. I’m glad I held out because the ending was worth the wait, but maaann… it was a tough slog to get there.
Fight Night is narrated by 9-year-old Swiv, a precocious girl who keeps getting kicked out of school. Swiv lives with her Mom and kooky Russian grandmother Elvira. Mom is quite pregnant, Dad is… somewhere, it’s never clear if he has bailed or something else. Grandma is not in the greatest of health and Swiv acts as her personal carer in a way, to the point that they embark on a trip to California together where much hilarity ensues.
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Miss Eliza’s English Kitchen: A Novel of Victorian Cookery and Friendship
by Annabel Abbs
Women with writerly aspirations in the early 1800s had few options for publication. Most female writers were advised to stick to gothic novels, bits of poetry, or cookery. Even if they had never cooked. Such was the case for Elizabeth Acton, whose desire to become a poet was derailed by a publisher who rejected her manuscript but offered her the opportunity to write a book of household cookery.
Annabel Abbs creates a fictional world that gives life to Acton’s plan to create her book by taking everything wrong with previous cookery books (such as the lack of an ingredients list, concise temperatures, measurements or cooking times) and making them better. In real life Acton’s family was destitute and she and her mother ran a boarding house where she tested all of her recipes with the help of one kitchen assistant, Ann Kirby.
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The Hiding Game
That first year at university, college or art school, when young people leave home for the first time and form new relationships with the world around them can become the framework for the rest of their lives. Thus begins Paul Beckermann’s journey through the Bauhaus school. It is 1922 and he and the other Bauhaus babies treat the town of Weimar and the surrounding forests like their playground. A quickly formed group of six offers up love triangles and jealousies. Paul loves Charlotte, Charlotte loves Jeno, Walter loves Jeno…
Told from Paul’s point of view decades later, he’s moved to England and is now Paul Brickman, famous abstract artist, The Hiding Game traces the life of the six friends and the Bauhaus school as it moves from Weimar to Dessau and finally Berlin, each time being pushed out by conservative (fascist) forces that dislike what the place stands for. Continue reading “Book Review — The Hiding Game”
The Kitchen Front
Kent, 1942 — the war rages on and the rural villages under the path of Hitler’s blitz on London are starting to feel the grip of food insecurity. The Dig for Britain campaign is in full swing and rationing is the only way to get meat, butter, and eggs unless you have a farm. This period was resplendent with contests and competitions to keep up people’s spirits and share advice on how to make the best out of limited resources.
In The Kitchen Front, The women of Fenley Village are encouraged to show off their best recipes and win a spot as an on-air radio host demonstrating their skills in the kitchen.
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This collection of stories about a well-to-do kid from Halifax’s South End is apparently meant to be the first in a 5-part fictionalized autobiographical series. This book covers Aubrey’s childhood and teenage years in the 70s and 80s, and includes a cast of characters that range from his parents’ friends to drug-dealing ruffians from the poorer parts of town, to a collection of eccentrics and misfits who are the early adopters of Halifax’s vibrant punk music scene in the early 80s. But Aubrey’s life is pretty insular and posh. Private school, tennis lessons, and yacht clubs all play a role in his development and it’s only when another character tells him off and points out that his life is nothing at all like that of other Halifax youth (a refreshing twist, because I wasn’t sure the author actually had that self-awareness up to that point and was beginning to think he might be an awful jerk), that it became clear that somebody had the great good sense to consider Aubrey a poncy twat, and to call him on it.
Continue reading “Book Review: Aubrey McKee by Alex Pugsley”
Nobody reads my book reviews anyway, so I figure it’s totally okay if I cheat and pile a bunch into one post. I just want a place to record everything I’ve read because otherwise I’ll pick up the same title five years from now and read it again, and seriously, there are too many books to read, I’m not reading something twice unless it changes my life in some way.
So here’s what I’ve been reading lately…
This novel about a young Anishinaabe woman returning to her family home after the death of her father reads more like a young adult novel with traditional characters from the spirit world coming to life to help her come to terms with her loss and save her community. Beautiful artwork throughout by the author. A good entry point for readers of colonial descent to learn more about First Nations culture.
Continue reading “Bookish – In Which I Offer Mini Reviews for Many Books”