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review 2018-06-22 03:09
Dear Fahrenheit 451 - librarians and their loves
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks - Annie Spence

This was SO different than I'd imagined. I keep a BoB - so I'd imagined it would be more like "Life with BOB" (but somehow better - sight unseen I decided this was better based, I'm guessing, on the title.)

 

I started to read it like a regular old plotted book and decided NO! Then I actually kept reading, but what it really should be is more of a reference book about books you might love or want to buy for your nephew or something. 

 

To that end, ideally this book would have a great index of both titles and genres at least. It doesn't, but I decided to keep it because it may be better at conveying why I love The Virgin Suicides than I've ever been (nobody has ever read that book on my ridiculous recommendation, and everyone should!) It's also the most random collection of titles in the world. This woman has no shame. She admits to doing the goofy calculator tricks we all did long before there were things called "computers." Someone who does that clearly has no worries about what we think of her favorite books. 

 

There is a certain glee to her takedown of the 50 Shades books, but best of all are her observations on the people who take home the books - the introduction. Hopefully she'll write the next book of letters to all of us who hang out at the library. People like that woman who pretends she's only getting that book for her husband (then prays they don't look up vital statistics which show her husband has been dead for longer than I've lived in this library's neighborhood...) 

 

Here's to all the librarians, their love of books and lack of judgment on readers.

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review 2018-06-10 12:46
The Recovering: Addiction & Its Aftermath
The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath - Leslie Jamison
nb. I am a recovering heroin addict with decades clean. I lived through it when some medical professionals thought I wasn't worth the effort anymore. (That still upsets me - nobody should ever give up on an addict, especially medical professionals!) My addiction is private, but it's worth a mention here since it affects how I consume recovery literature.
 

I normally stay far away from recovery memoirs, having lived one myself and heard thousands more through the years. This book, though, promised to turn "the traditional addiction narrative on its head, demonstrating that the story of recovery can be every bit as electrifying as the train wreck itself." My ears perked up and I took note. The blurb goes on to say (from the publisher):

All the while, she offers a fascinating look at the larger history of the recovery movement, and at the literary and artistic geniuses whose lives and works were shaped by alcoholism and substance dependence, including John Berryman, Jean Rhys, Raymond Carver, Billie Holiday, David Foster Wallace, and Denis Johnson, as well as brilliant figures lost to obscurity but newly illuminated here.

That interested me tremendously. I find it endlessly interesting that so many artists are sure their art is linked with their particular dysfunction -- be it mental illness, substance abuse or misogyny. And I know of some writers and other artists who have done their best work only after clearing away the wreckage of addiction (Denis Johnson, Mary Karr, David Foster Wallace, Raymond Carver to name just a few...) Jamison's theory and examples seemed (from the blurbs) to be about how the stories we tell ourselves about addiction and recovery are, in fact, part of both solution and problem. I've read enough about the hard-drinking writer. I wanted to hear about the writers who got clean and sober and continued or gone on to great success. I didn't want another quit-lit book. I wanted something deeper and more interesting. What I got was mostly (but not all) another literary drunkalog, and this ain't Tender Is The Night, Where I'm Calling From, A Moveable Feast or any of the other rather brilliant drunkalogs we have to choose from.

Jamison has been compared to such iconic writers as Joan Didion and Susan Sontag. Yet her utterly singular voice also offers something new. With enormous empathy and wisdom, Jamison has given us nothing less than the story of addiction and recovery in America writ large, a definitive and revelatory account that will resonate for years to come.

Lofty, eh? It promises not just another quit-lit recovery memoir, but something that will alter the landscape.

 

So I was mighty upset when, for the entire first half of the 544-page book, we get precious little that differs from any number of other recovery memoirs, even while she explicitly states in the text that she will not be writing "just another recovery memoir." The language in this part is practically caressed, not just massaged. Every bartender's eyes or hair rates several adjectives, every drink is served with multiple metaphors. Everything is so damned beautiful. It felt -- a lot -- like the glorification of alcoholism and the behavior that comes with it. Eventually, on her own because it seems nobody else really noticed her problem, she will get sober, relapse and start over. It's here that the tone begins to change, but we're more than halfway through 544 pages at that point. In other words, she devoted a massive amount of pages to the glorious drunken Leslie and her oh-so-uniquely artistic pain.

 

At one point she says outright that she has trouble writing without putting herself in the story, and that's clear. She makes mention of the famous writers at Iowa with her, but only in passing because we're busy learning what she likes to drink, how much of it, when and how... Once she decides to get sober, she will fail and there will be a bit more longing for drinking/scheming etc, but the shine has gone, as anyone who has relapsed could tell you in far fewer words. It's after this point that the book starts to be unique. She is an excellent journalist, and I wish she'd excised her own story from this book entirely.

 

Her drinking is written in far greater detail than her recovery. She seems to take an emotional step back the minute she gets sober. I could feel fear at her vulnerability and recovery the minute it stopped being a drunkalog. Once sobriety starts, Jamison introduces journalism, statistics and experts, so we get no "other side of the coin" to the first half of the tome -- there is no honest portrayal of Jamison sober. It's obscured by her fact-finding missions and critical readings. This is where the other writers step in to give an assist.

 

Honestly it felt a bit like she used their stories of relapse and recovery to mask her own fear that she isn't qualified to write about her own recovery. Perhaps, like any smart addict, she has a fear of relapse. If you write a book called "The Recovering" you probably hope not to have to start counting days sober again after the publication date. Instead of saying that outright, though, she shows us other writers who did exactly that. The irony is that her sponsor tells her at one point that this is her problem in life -- it seems to also be a problem in her writing.

 

Jamison leads a charmed life, drunk or not. She is in prestigious writing programs and residences throughout the entire time chronicled in this book, and she's publishing too. High-functioning isn't even close to the right word. That doesn't change her pain or disqualify her sobriety, but it's worth a mention. She says nada about insurance or paying for medical care. When she does make mention of money, it's to do things most of us will only dream of - travel, foreign research, time just to write in exotic or beautiful locales. One could imagine she saw this note coming, since she shields herself from her privilege by mentioning it a few times. 

 

But between all of that extraneous and rather privileged "just another recovery memoir," there are very interesting themes and excellent journalism. She has a great hypothesis that's buried a bit deeply, but it goes something like we are all subject to being seduced by the stories we tell ourselves and it might be good, if scary and different, to tell ourselves healthy stories rather than unhealthy ones. Artists don't have to write with their own blood, and if they do, they'll eventually bleed out. She has an excellent critical eye for reading others' writing and pulling support for her story out of their words. Those parts are extremely compelling, and I really wish that the majority of the massive amount of pages had gone to that.

 

One final thing. While she makes mention of the big names who were known to drink, some of these writers also seem to have suffered from comorbid disorders, and that is never discussed. I can't say, nor can Leslie Jamison or for that matter, her relative, author and psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison, whether many of these suicides were caused by one specific illness - be it alcoholism or an affective disorder. I do wish these rather large topics weren't skipped. They're important, even if they don't fit neatly within the narrative built here.

 

What I would hope is that the personal story be completely excised next time and the researching, critical eye step in. Her best work is when she empathizes with the writing of others and explains it from the standpoint of one who has felt those feelings and lived to tell.

 

 

 

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review 2018-06-02 03:19
Insightful, smart and funny!
Reviews by Cat Ellington - Cat Ellington

Cat Ellington's new book, Reviews by Cat Ellington: The Complete Anthology, Vol. 1, is a funny and entertaining read! Haha!!!!! I thoroughly enjoyed her insightful and sage reviews of a bunch of crazy characters who oftentimes find themselves in dangerous situations, sometimes by their own making.

And speaking of the unforgettable people depicted in many of the top rated books reviewed in her first volume, Cat Ellington's sharp humor also reveals itself as she nudges her reader towards the plot in which the characters are chasing after desires that prove to be elusive, if not worthless. Excellent read! So sit back and enjoy the ride with the one and only Cat Ellington.

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text 2018-05-14 20:34
Reviews by Cat Ellington: The Complete Anthology, Vol. 1
Reviews by Cat Ellington - Cat Ellington
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-04-30 18:20
Earl of Scandal - shallow fluff
Earl of Scandal - Mary Gillgannon

Disclosure - I acquired the Kindle edition of this book on 17 January 2013, when it was offered free on Amazon.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of historical romances and other genre novels.

 

This book was originally published by Zebra/Kensington in 2000 as A Rogue's Kiss under the pseudonym of Molly Marcourt.

 

I'm reading this for research.

 

SPOILERS ARE NOT HIDDEN.

 

The book is billed as your basic Regency romance, but it really doesn't hit the Regency tropes.  A few are thrown in -- the language, the fashions, the emphasis on nobility, etc. -- without actually making them an integral part of the story or even the atmosphere.

 

Most readers won't pay any attention to the holes I found in this story.  Most readers will swim blithely through it, enjoying the romance and the dangers and the misunderstandings and the happily ever after ending.  I'm not so generous.

 

At the halfway point, I seriously considered giving up on this.  I didn't like either of the main characters -- Christian Faraday, Earl of Bedlington, and Merissa Casswell, country parson's daughter.  Neither of them was believable.

 

Christian is a wealthy rogue who spends his days gambling and what-not, and his nights apparently wenching.  He makes no apology for this lifestyle; he entertains himself and that's all he needs to do.

 

How he acquires the funds to live like this isn't touched on.  One presumes he has a substantial estate to go with his title, but he doesn't seem to have much interest in it.  Toward the end of the book Christian makes an offer to solve a financial problem for Merissa to the tune of 20,000 pounds.  Based on this estimate of that value in current terms, that would be the equivalent of $1.6 million.  And he doesn't bat an eyelash.  So he is not just wealthy; he is very wealthy, and the source of that wealth is never explained.

 

Merissa is the younger daughter of the rector of a country church.  But the family lives on a farm.  But they do no farming.  And they aren't acquainted with the gentry of the neighborhood, said gentry including the Earl and Countess of Northrup. 

 

The ecclesiastical structure of the Church of England, at least as I understand it, would indeed allow for the rector of a financially independent parish, i.e. not supported by the noble who owns the "living" of that church, to live on a farm, but would it necessarily be his own/his family's farm, or one belonging to that specific church? This sort of historical research would be important to me . . . . and it seems it would have been important to the plot of this story.

 

Anyway, Christian discovers himself in bed with a friend's wife and escapes to the country to avoid scandal.  There's something going on behind the scenes with this, but the whole issue is pretty much dropped for the rest of the book until the tail end.  On his way to Darton Park, where his friend Devon, the Earl of Northrup, resides, Christian almost literally runs into Merissa.  She's a shrew, he's a rogue, what more could you want?

 

Well, I'd want believable characters.  Merissa seems to have reason to be a bit of a shrew, but wouldn't she have been brought up to at least have decent manners?

 

And Christian, true to his station, falls in insta-lust.  He forces kisses on Merissa even though he knows they aren't welcome.  Of course, he arouses her insta-lust, so I guess it's okay?  Um, no.

 

So then there's a ball, to which Merissa and her sister Elizabeth are invited.  Um, no.  They make over a couple of their (deceased?) mother's old gowns, but all I could think of was good ol' Carol Burnett and the green velvet curtains.  Of course their gowns are out of fashion, which is crucial to anything Regency.  And of course they're ridiculed.

 

But Merissa gets trapped in a bedroom with Christian, whose baser desires have been inflamed by a veritable caricature of an Other Woman, Lady Diana Fortescue.  The image of this Other Woman "jiggling her breasts" to entice him was so ludicrous I nearly laughed aloud but it would have scared the dogs.  Though he escapes Diana's clutches, Christian can't control himself when he encounters Merissa a few moments later -- and neither can Merissa, the parson's daughter -- so he performs oral sex on her.  Then whisks her home without achieving any kind of sexual satisfaction for himself.

 

Um, no.

 

The next day, Merissa and her sister Elizabeth learn that their beloved brother Charles, who has disappeared into the evil world of London, is desperate to stay out of debtor's prison.  He has somehow managed to get himself 20,000 pounds in debt, and needs twenty pounds to cover the interest "for a few months." 

 

Um, no.

 

Merissa decides to sell her virginity to Christian for the 20,000, but he turns her down.  So she takes the fifty or so pounds Elizabeth has found and hies off to London alone to see if she can't get dear brother Charles out of the mess he's gotten himself into.  She fails at that, but nothing happens to her in London even though she's in the worst part of town and blithely goes hunting for the evil wizards who are threatening dear Charles. 

 

Never mind, though, because Christian comes to her rescue and gets the evil wizard to cancel Charles's debt, but gets himself challenged to a duel, until Merissa overhears that it's all a plot to murder him so his wicked uncle can inherit.  Duel is cancelled, apparently, and wicked uncle's plans are thwarted by Merissa seducing Christian so they can start producing an heir.  And then they get married and live happily ever after.

 

Nothing about this book is believable.  From Christian racing his priceless horses in the dark then leaving them unattended in the woods after an accident, I kept rolling my eyes at what an idiot he was.  Merissa's shifts from prim and proper hater of all things noble to writhing wanton were just silly.  But Christian's ignoring her rejection of him and -- and -- his dismissal of his own actions made me just dislike him.  ("I ate her out against her will but it's okay because she's still technically a virgin.")

 

I very nearly gave up on this at the halfway point and only kept going because it was for research.  Whether this Kindle edition is a transcription of the original Zebra version, I don't know.  The digital copy has a lot of minor typos that may have come from an OCR scan, though even that wouldn't account for the frequent missing words, especially "I" and "to."

 

There's no excuse for that kind of sloppiness, but I was more concerned with the actual quality of the text, which I found lacking. 

 

One of the big issues is this business of Merissa's believing she's been ruined as a result of her sexual encounter with Christian.  While it's quite possible she doesn't know a lot about other forms of sexual activity, she lives on a farm, for crying out loud.  She would know the basics of copulation, and should know she's not therefore been deflowered.  And if she then decides to sell herself for a single night to Christian in return for twenty thousand pounds, she knows full well she's still a virgin.  Can't have it both ways, kiddo.

 

She would also know that the price she's putting on herself is extraordinarily, outrageously, obscenely high. 

 

She also ruminates on her options.  She expects her older sister Elizabeth to eventually marry, leaving Merissa to care for their father.  Merissa has no plans to marry, in part because she doesn't like "the idea of being at a man's beck and call."  Um, no.  That is exactly what she'd have if she stayed behind to care for her father, and she'd also have the prospect of being too old for virtually any kind of marriage after his death. 

 

That's why the whole issue of the farm is important.  Is that an estate that will be left to her, or to Elizabeth, or to dear brother Charles?  What kind of income does it generate?  How is it tied to the church?

 

But when Merissa turns down Christian's offer to simply pay off Charles's enormous debt -- an offer he makes to save her reputation even though he really wants to take her to bed -- she flounces off because she thinks he's not attracted to her.  So we get a Big Misunderstanding . . . over nothing.

 

There are other absurdities, such as Caroline, Countess of Northrup, feeding her own toddler son and getting baby food all over everything.  Um, no.  She'd have a nurse to take care of feeding small children.  Such as driving back and forth between the farm and Darton Park, a distance of ten or twelve miles, as though it were a quick jaunt to the corner convenience store in 2018.  Um, no.

 

There's no meat to this story, so if you're looking for just something with which to while away your time, this may work, but there are better Regencies out there.

 

 

 

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