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review 2017-05-26 15:28
The Glass Slipper : Women and Love Stories
The Glass Slipper: Women and Love Stories - Susan Ostrov Weisser

The Glass Slipper is about the persistence of a familiar Anglo-American love story into the digital age. Comparing influential classics to their current counterparts, Susan Ostrov Weisser relates in highly amusing prose how these stories are shaped and defined by and for women, the main consumers of romantic texts. Following a trajectory that begins with Jane Austen and concludes with Internet dating sites, Weisser shows the many ways in which nineteenth-century views of women’s nature and the Victorian idea of romance have survived the feminist critique of the 1970s and continue in new and more ambiguous forms in today’s media, with profound implications for women.

 

The Victorians have a lot to answer for! The basic formula that they set in motion for the romance is still very much in use. The woman protagonist has to be beautiful, but not vain. She can be aware that she’s moderately attractive, but mustn’t put too much stock in it. She must also be stubborn (or spunky or full of vitality) because she’s going to need all her resources to win her man. And she better be a one-man woman—not too easily tipped into bed, as she needs to be sure that the man is truly interested in her, or she will be left alone and humiliated. There is no doubt that “alone” is a punishment and a sign of being “less than,” which makes me laugh, as it’s the only way I want to live my life.

Men in this genre are usually rich or at least comfortable financially, but billionaires abound these days. Then they should be hunky—broad shoulders, small waists, ripped abs—because why waste all that work on a regular guy, right? Plus, he should be powerful, both physically and in the world (Alpha male, anyone?). No wonder men don’t like to read the romance genre—who could possibly live up to that standard?

I can see why the author doesn’t really decide if romance is pro- or anti-feminist. I’m a feminist, but after decades of ignoring the romance genre, I find that I’m enjoying it again. I’ve never married and I don’t expect to. I don’t expect romance in my own life—my own relationship is a pretty pragmatic one. And yet I really do enjoy reading a good romance. I’ve read Ilona Andrews’ Burn for Me at least 3 times since January (and it really, really fits the Victorian pattern above) and I’m waiting on tenterhooks for the sequel White Hot. Does this make me a bad feminist? I don’t think so.

The author covers a lot of ground: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Disney princesses, The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Harlequin romances, and internet dating sites, among other topics. Do we need to smash the Glass Slipper the way we need to break the Glass Ceiling? Or can we hang onto it for playing dress-up?

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review 2017-05-23 18:56
Shakespeare Saved My Life / Laura Bates
Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard - Laura Bates

Just as Larry Newton, one of the most notorious inmates at Indiana Federal Prison, was trying to break out of jail, Dr. Laura Bates was trying to break in. She had created the world’s first Shakespeare class in supermax – the solitary confinement unit.

Many people told Laura that maximum-security prisoners are “beyond rehabilitation." But Laura wanted to find out for herself. She started with the prison's most notorious inmate: Larry Newton. When he was 17 years old, Larry was indicted for murder and sentenced to life with no possibility of parole. When he met Laura, he had been in isolation for 10 years.

Larry had never heard of Shakespeare. But in the characters he read, he recognized himself.

In this profound illustration of the enduring lessons of Shakespeare through the ten-year relationship of Bates and Newton, an amazing testament to the power of literature emerges. But it's not just the prisoners who are transformed. It is a starkly engaging tale, one that will be embraced by anyone who has ever been changed by a book.

 

My inspiration to read this book was Margaret Atwood’s fiction Hag-Seed (and secondarily The Heart Goes Last), as well as a memoir by former prisoner, Stephen Reid (A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden). Additionally, I had just finished If We Were Villains, in which Shakespearean plays may have played a role in sending the main character to prison, the very opposite of this memoir.

Now, I am predisposed to enjoy a memoir of the redemptive value of literature, particularly Shakespeare, for whom I have an abiding love. Add to that the fact that I have considered doing literacy work with prisoners (although I have not yet taken the plunge) and I appreciated Laura Bates’ description of the perils and the pluses of doing such work.

This is real-life, not fiction, so I didn’t get exactly the story that I hoped for. There is no ending, really, because Larry Newton will never get out of prison. All projects must come to an end eventually, and the author is no longer teaching Shakespeare to prisoners. Still, it was very readable and inspirational. If nothing else, I am encouraged to study the works of the Bard more closely myself.

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review 2017-05-23 18:55
Shakespeare's Landlord / Charlaine Harris
Shakespeare's Landlord - Charlaine Harris
TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE — To Lily Bard, the sleepy town of Shakespeare, Arkansas, was the perfect place to hide from the violence that nearly destroyed her life years before. Today Lily is strong, confident in the martial arts she studies, her looks disguised by her closely cropped hair and baggy clothes. Working as a housecleaner, Lily comes and goes without anyone noticing -- until she witnesses a murder.

What Lily Bard saw on that dark night has stripped away her, anonymity and earned her the unwanted attention of a homicide detective and a suspicious community. And with her intense, married, karate instructor showing a passionate interest of his own, Lily's plan of a private, well-ordered life is coming unhinged. The killer of an unlamented landlord is lurking close by. And while Lily knows the dirt on her neighbors' dust, drawers, and private live , must admit to a secret of her own: that in the shadow of a brutal murder, she is coming alive again...
 
I really enjoyed this little mystery, set in Shakespeare, Arkansas. Lily Bard, the community cleaning lady, has chosen this small town on a whim because of her last name. It seems like the perfect sleepy little community in which to avoid her traumatic past and live a quiet life.

Harris excels at portraying small town life, using ordinary people as characters. Lily is not someone that most people pay a lot of attention to—as a cleaning lady, she tends to blend into the background. The only place where she stands out is in her karate dojo, where she excels. She reminded me of Harris’ other small town character, Sookie Stackhouse, who is often overlooked because she is “just” a bar maid, but has unknown talents (telepathy).

Lily has a skill that many women have—she pays attention to detail and she can analyze those details to come to accurate conclusions. Not the most exciting mystery that I have every read, but I am already invested in Lily’s life and hope to read the next book in the series very soon.
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review 2017-05-23 18:53
Silence Fallen / Patricia Briggs
Silence Fallen - Patricia Briggs

Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe...

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise...

 

A very satisfying installment in the Mercy Thompson series—in fact, it may be my favourite of the entire run.

I always love the books where the vampire seethe figures prominently, and this book is all vampires all the time! My only disappointment is that Stefan doesn’t get quite as much page time as I would like, while the Master of Milan (Jacob Bonarata) gets lots, but isn’t nearly scary enough. After all of the foreshadowing in previous books, I thought he was remarkably easy to get along with!

Also refreshing was the setting—Europe. Quite a change from the Pacific Northwest and very enjoyable. Grumpy European werewolves and plentiful European ghosts aid Mercy along the way. Also interesting in that we get to know a bit more about Adam’s friendly witch, Elizeveta. Not to mention some insight into submissive wolf, Zack.

Mercy, as usual, is underestimated by the people who don’t know her and she uses that lack of expectation to her advantage. Like the old Timex watch ads, she takes a licking & keeps on ticking! And thinking and planning. She’s smart, strong, and skilled. What a nice way to see a woman portrayed in fiction.

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review 2017-05-23 16:41
If We Were Villains / M.L. Rio
If We Were Villains: A Novel - M. L. Rio

Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villains explores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.

 

Wow, that was a first novel? For me, it was perfection. A good twisty mystery, lots of Shakespeare, and THAT ENDING.

Dellecher Classical Conservatory is like Hogwarts for Arts students and this novel focuses on the fourth year Drama students. They’ve been marinating in Shakespearean drama for four years and have maybe absorbed more than they think. The narrator, Oliver, is most often cast as a supporting character and the others agree that he is a giving actor and a giving person. Despite that, the reader realizes that he seems to be pretty clueless—not very observant, he makes some of his most important realizations during performances of the Shakespearean tragedies.

The little that we see of Oliver’s family indicates that there is something desperately wrong—Oliver doesn’t want to go home to them and can hardly wait to leave. One of his sisters has a serious eating disorder and Oliver resents that his family can’t pay for her treatment AND his tuition. There is a serious attitude of entitlement, not only in Oliver, but in all of these students. I didn’t like a single one of them, but I loved the story!

I would love to be able to conduct conversations in Shakespeare quotes! That level of expertise in the plays would delight me. If nothing else, this book has certainly inspired me to continue with my project to see all of Shakespeare’s plays.

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