Sunday, September 14, 2014

"Midsummer Moon," by Laura Kinsale

The Chick: Merlin Lambourne. A famous lady inventor.
The Rub: She's dumb as a post at anything that isn't mechanics. How will she cope?
Dream Casting: Alison Brie.

The Dude: Ransom Falconer, Duke of Damerell. A high-handed duke who must protect Merlin from evil French spies who want to kidnap her for her inventions.
The Rub: Unfortunately, after "accidentally" having sex with her, protecting her becomes a whole lot more complicated.
Dream Casting: Cillian Murphy.

The Plot:
Ransom: Hey, I'm here to save and protect you!

Merlin: What are you wearing?

Ransom: ... a hat.

Merlin: Mercy me, a hat! How exciting! I've never seen a hat before, what is it for?

Ransom: Huh. I somehow find your utter ignorance of everything somewhat arousing! *accidentally eats Magical Salt* Now it's completely arousing!

Ransom and Merlin: *knock boots*

Ransom: Crap. Now we have to get married!

Merlin: Why?

Ransom: Well, you might be pregnant.

Merlin: Doesn't the stork bring babies?

Ransom: Wow I am already regretting this a LOT. And yet your baby behaviour is so inexplicably erotic!

Merlin: I don't want to get married! I don't want to make babies! I want to stay up all night and eat candy and play with my toys--I MEAN INVENT MY FLYING MACHINE.

Ransom: No! Bad Merlin! GO TO YOUR ROOM RIGHT NOW!

Literally Every Other Character: Hey there, we're totally interesting and have really intriguing backstories but go ahead and focus the story around the Teletubby and her babysitter. We'll wait.

Evil French Spies: *kidnap Merlin a lot*

Ransom: *rescues Merlin a lot*

Merlin: *falls into a coma, wakes up with amnesia*

Literally Every Other Character: ... really? You'd rather read about AMNESIA than us? When we have secret lovers and acrimonious divorces in our pasts? Oh well. There's no accounting for taste.

Ransom: *recuses Merlin again*

Merlin: Okay I'll marry you now! How do we petition to stork to bring us babies?

Ransom: ....hoo....ray....

Romance Convention Checklist:
  • 1 Romance-Aiding Pet (a hedgehog)
  • 1 Condiment-Induced Deflowering
  • 1 Infantalized Heroine
  • 2 Flying Machines
  • Several Barrels of Gun Powder
  • 1 Bout of Fountain Sex
  • 5 Infinitely More Interesting Supporting Characters
  • Several Evil French Spies
The Word: I will hand it to Laura Kinsale - her heroines are a varied bunch. Some are practical, some are romantic, some are stone-cold bad-asses, and others are emotional and compassionate. Unfortunately, with Midsummer Moon, I spun the Kinsale Heroine Wheel and wound up with Helpless Baby Duckling Woman.

Our heroine, Merlin, is a wide-eyed, chipmunk-cheeked, oblivious dithering idiot of a woman who is (allegedly) a genius at physical engineering and a sleep-deprived six-year-old at literally everything else. Perhaps the author intended her to be an Absent-Minded Professor, but she wound up closer to Nell, instead. And of course, the novel presents her as the Cutest Widdle Special Snowflake, rather than a woman with severely stunted social, interpersonal, and self-preservation skills thanks to an abusively isolated upbringing that is only barely hinted at.

Our hero Ransom Falconer, named in the ancient English tradition of picking two random words out of the dictionary, is a duke/government agent who has been sent to protect Merlin because one of her inventions has attracted the notice of Evil French Spies. His task is to figure out what Merlin's trying to invent, and protect both it and her from falling into Evil French hands.

Ransom makes his own task (among other things) much harder when he accidentally ingests Magical Sex Salt and winds up despoiling Merlin (twice!) on her dead uncle's bed not five minutes later. This contrived coitus-causing condiment is never explained nor mentioned again. But that makes sense - why write Ransom as an Irresponsible Rake when you can just give him a magical potion that makes him one for three pages? Then he can go back to being your Man of Honour Hero without taking any pesky responsibility for his actions. The magical salt made him do it. Right.

Adding a crank of Creepy Pepper to this Gumbo of Stupid is the fact that Merlin clearly has no idea what's going on while it's happening, giving us a scene that reads pretty darn close to statutory rape.

See, this is why you don't have sex with children. If your partner is incapable of understanding what sex and its consequences are, you're doing it wrong. And if you write a heroine who talks like a baby, thinks like a baby, and fiddles with her lower lip like a baby, it's going to look really creepy when your hero fucks that baby.

Anyway, Ransom recovers from his, uh, sodium-induced boner to realize he's been an Exploitative Dick, so he decides to kidnap Merlin so she can continue to work on her inventions under his supervision and protection.

The novel picks up a bit at this point, because Ransom's family members are also in residence, and each one of them is about a billion times more nuanced, colourful, and interesting than our main pair. How could Laura Kinsale write women as complicated and interesting as Ransom's politically-minded sister Blythe, or his dramatic opera-singer ex-sister-in-law Jacqueline, and decide to make Professor Honey Boo Boo the heroine instead?

Yeah, I absolutely despised Merlin. While she's not quite as unbearable as Olympia from Seize the Fireat least that book acknowledged Olympia was an idiot once in a while, whereas Merlin's utter incomprehension of language, social conventions, adult behaviour, and advanced reasoning is depicted as Just So Precious by everyone in the novel. Merlin acts like a child - and the other characters coddle and treat her like one, which makes her burgeoning relationship with Ransom come off like Regency Lolita.

The secondary characters are pretty much the only reason I didn't DNF the novel. The main conflict between Ransom and Merlin is that Merlin's determined to build a flying machine, which scares the utter bejesus out of Ransom because he's so terrified of heights he's never even visited the second floor of his own house. Merlin tries to work on her machine, Ransom tries to talk/force/trick her out of it, Merlin gets angry, Ransom whines and apologizes, then tries a dirtier trick - until Merlin winds up kidnapped and has to be rescued. She gets kidnapped (and subsequently rescued) a lot. Because she's about as sharp as a bowling ball.

Their relationship is founded on Ransom constantly saving or easily tricking Merlin away from the danger she constantly puts herself in, and that is the last kind of romance I care to read about. I grew out of the Babysitters' Club books when I was in elementary school.
C-

Monday, September 08, 2014

Once Upon a Blogger: "The Three Little Men in the Wood"

So there's this widower and this widow, see? Bonding over their shared experience of dead spouses, they decide to get hitched, with the widow promising to treat the widower's daughter even better than she treats her own.

You can just imagine how that turns out. The widower's daughter bathes in milk and drinks wine for about a day before her stepmother gets tired of being Not Evil and starts right in on the child abuse, while her own daughter remains free to bathe in and drink any bizarre combination of popular beverages she fancies.

Where is the widower in all of this? NOBODY CARES.

Anyway, during a blizzard, the stepmother gives her stepdaughter a paper cloak and crust of bread and orders her into the woods to fetch a basket of fresh strawberries.

Stepdaughter: "But why? They're not even in season--"

Stepmother: "Because I'm trying to kill you, obviously."

Stepdaughter: "Well, then. That makes sense."

The stepdaughter wanders off into the cold, because really, what choice does she have? She comes across a little house inhabited by three dwarves, and asks for shelter. After warming herself, she returns the favour by sharing her crust of bread with the dwarves and doing some housekeeping.

While's she's outside shovelling the walk, the three dwarves convene.

Dwarf #1: "Man, her life sucks, and she seems like a nice gal. I know! I'll make her grow more beautiful every day!"

Dwarf #2: "I'll make it so that gold drops out of her mouth every time she talks!"

Dwarf #3: "I'll arrange it so she'll marry a king!"

As a bonus, the stepdaughter uncovers strawberries while shovelling the walk, and takes those back to the house.

Meanwhile, the Stepmother's real daughter becomes jealous, because she's ugly and hateful and smells of sour milk after a lifetime spent bathing in nonpasteurized dairy products. So she wanders into the woods herself looking for the same result, but when she finds the dwarves' house she acts like a spoiled little turd.

Dwarf #1: "Man, that girl is a hot-ass mess. I'll make it so she gets uglier every day!"

Dwarf #2: "Is it just me, or does she smell like bad cheese? I'll make it so that toads jump out of her mouth every time she talks!"

Dwarf #3: "I'll make it so that she dies a miserable death!"

Dwarf #1: "...wow. Dark. I like it!"

Dwarf 2: "Oh, Number Three, you're so bad!"

So now the Stepmother has even more reasons to hate her stepdaughter, so she sends her stepdaughter ice fishing. Because if it doesn't kill her, she'll still be cold and bored for a few hours. Fortunately for the stepdaughter, a King wanders by and, intrigued by her superb ice-fishing skills, takes her home and marries her.

A few years later, after the young Queen's delivered of a fine baby Prince, her stepmother and stepsister decide to come visit, and the Queen lets them in for some unfathomable reason but quickly regrets it when the two women throw her out a window and into the river. The stepmother then puts her daughter in the Queen's bed instead, wrapping her up in a sheet.

King: "Why can't I see my wife? And why does the room smell like mayonnaise left out in the sun?"

Fake Queen: "I'm on my period!"

King: "ENOUGH SAID! ... wait, why are there four and a half toads in the room now?"

Stepmother: "Every woman menstruates differently, my King. Some get cramps, some spontaneously belch out toads..."

King: "RIGHT-OH! I'll just go hunting until your orifices stop emitting blood and amphibians!"

Thankfully, the real Queen doesn't die - she turns into a duck (as one does). With much quacking and flapping of wings, she conveys her troubles to a servant, who fetches the King. The spell is quickly undone (I guess people turn into ducks all the time on that river), but what to do about the evil step-relatives and their incredibly short-sighted plan?

The King approaches the bedchamber and asks, "Hey, if I really wanted to punish someone, how would I do it?"

Fake Queen: "Ooh! I know! I know! Drive a bunch of nails into a barrel, then roll the criminal down a hill in it!"

King: "....wow. Dark. I like it!"

Stepmother: "Oooh, you're so bad!"

22 Toads: "Ribbit! Ribbit!"

Unfortunately for the step-schemers, that's exactly how they wind up punished. And the King and his Queen lived happily ever after.

Not Suitable for Children:
  • Child Abuse
  • Attempted Child Murder
  • Attempted Queen Murder
  • Rudeness towards Dwarves
Points For:
  • Helpful Dwarves are like celebrity deaths: they come in either 3s or 7s. 
Points Deducted For:
  • Seriously, where was the girl's father this whole time? He's never seen dying or running away or anything. 
  • An evil stepmother who clearly has no sense of followthrough or longterm planning. Seriously how long would she have been able to fool the King that her cheese-scented daughter was really his wife?
And the Moral of the Story is: Don't fuck with dwarves.

Rating: Two Helpful Dwarves out of Three. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Once Upon a Blogger: "The Twelve Brothers"

So there's this King and Queen, see? And they have twelve sons, with another bun in the oven waiting to bring it to a baker's dozen. However, the King's sick to death of boys at this point.

So he tells his Queen, "Let's just be honest - dudes suck. Sexism is real and with our society's outdated patriarchal norms, if we have a daughter, I'll have to murder our 12 sons and make her the sole heir just to even things out. It's only fair."

Queen: *gasps* "MISANDRY!"

But by this point, the King's already fitted out a special room in the castle with twelve pre-built boy-sized coffins, just to prove he's serious, singing, "Who run the world? GIRLS! Who run this mutha? GIRLS!" under his breath.

To protect her sons, the Queen orders them to hide in the forest and wait for her to raise a flag on the day her baby is born. If it's a boy, she'll raise a white flag and they'll be able to return. If she has a girl, she'll raise an overly-symbolic red flag, and the boys'll have to run for the hills.

Unfortunately, 12 days later, the Queen raises the red flag, dooming the boys' futures.

12 Princes: "OMG, women suck!"

Prince #1: "We should totally murder any women we come across! Because they SUCK so much!"

Prince #5: "Even better - let's sign a Lady-Murderin' Pact!"

12 Princes: "HUZZAH! This totally won't bite us in the ass later on!"

Ten years later, their sister the Princess figures out she used to have brothers (the room with the 12 empty coffins was kind of a giveaway) and goes into the woods to find them, eventually discovering her youngest brother (Benjamin) tending their cottage.

Princess: "Hey! I'm your sister!"

Benjamin: "OMG, and you don't suck!" Benjamin is overjoyed to re-discover his baby sister, and so are his 11 brothers - once he tricks them out of their Lady-Murdering pact. Because murder is terrible and everything, but breaking a pact is even worse!

So all the siblings live happily for a while in their cottage (and the Princess's parents never seem to notice she's missing, despite the fact that her dad was willing to butcher his other children in order to enlarge her inheritance), until the Princess fucks it all up because women suck. While in the garden outside the cottage, she spots 12 lilies and plucks them, hoping to make a tasteful centrepiece. However, the moment she does so, the house and garden disappear, and her brothers turn into crows.

12 Crows: "Caw, caw!" (translation: OMG, women suck!)

Random Old Expository Woman: "WTF?! Why'd you pick those magic flowers? You've cursed your brothers forever!"

Princess: "This is literally the first I've heard of this!"

Random Old Expository Woman: *rolls eyes* "Women!"

Princess: "What can I do?"

Random Old Expository Woman: "If you remain perfectly silent and never laugh for 7 years, your brothers will be cured, but if you so much as chuckle before those seven years are up, they'll all die!" *vanishes in a puff of smoke*

So our faithful Princess zips her lips and holes up in a tree with some late-career Adam Sandler DVDs for five of those years, until a King and his hunting party pass by. The King falls in love with the Princess and marries her, and for the next two years is creepily happy with a wife who never talks or laughs. However, the Princess' mother-in-law is hella creeped out and nags her son about it so much he agrees to have his wife burned at the stake just to shut her up (women, am I right?)

Coincidentally, the seven years run out just as the Princess is being lit on fire, so her twelve brothers become human again in time to rescue her and for some reason the King is okay with not-burning her anymore and people live happily ever after for no reason.

Not Suitable for Children:
  • MISANDRY
  • Sexism
  • Child murder
  • Child-Flower Murder
  • Lady-Murdering Pacts
  • Shade-Throwing Mums-In-Law
Points Added For:
  • The Princess having to save the Princes - even if she manages it by literally doing nothing but not speaking.
Points Deducted For:
  • Like, yay King for valuing his daughter, but at the expense of murdering his other kids? What the hell?
  • The Princess is blamed for literally everything despite being responsible for nothing
  • So ... do those 12 brothers keep up their lady-murdering pact, like, indefinitely? How many unlucky women dropped by their dude cottage before their sister happened by?
And the moral of the story is: women ruin everything.

Rating: 7 unjustly exiled brothers out of 12.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

"A Lily Among Thorns" Re-Release Celebration!

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful romance novel.

It was one of the most well-written, addictive romances in the land, with an absolutely stellar ex-courtesan heroine, a dashing m/m secondary romance, and one of the sweetest, handsomest, smartest, amazingest, chemist-tailor-detective Beta heroes EVER.

Unfortunately, this astounding romance was stuck on the sinking ship Dorchester, and when Dorchester went down, so did the novel. And for a while, that was the last anyone saw of this amazing book.

Until now.
It's BAAAAAAACK! A Lily Among Thorns is back! 

Thanks to Rose Lerner's new publisher, Samhain, they're re-releasing it in eBook format! She's also holding an amazing contest to celebrate this masterpiece's much-anticipated return. 

Still not sure? Try my 2012 review! Lily Among Thorns is seriously one of the best romance novels I've ever read. It's complex, it's sweet, it's unconventional, and it's become a fast favourite, along with all of Rose Lerner's other novels. 

I'm just saying - if you don't want to wait all the way until January for the next book in her Lively St. Lemeston series, take a chance with this magnificent, and magnificently odd romance. 

Monday, September 01, 2014

I See London, I See France, Day 6: Versaille, Brought To You By Extra Strength Tylenol Cold

I woke up that morning feeling like death warmed over. Improperly. In a microwave so that death explodes out of its Tupperware container and gets everywhere and all the food you make in that microwave for the rest of the day smells a bit like death and DERAIL OVER. I felt like crap.

I was far from the only one, but at least the other people in my group got to have FUN first. Me, I had a scratchy throat, running nose, and a sinus headache so bad my teeth hurt. I swallowed a pair of Extra Strength Tylenol Cold pills from my stash, and they turned out to be surprisingly effective after only fifteen minutes. Yes, I feel the need to promote Extra Strength Tylenol Cold because in a half hour I felt Woozy But Oddly Excited, which is a far nicer state to be in than Death. Unfortunately, I had no more of those pills with me. Want to know why? Because I gave the rest of them to Meagan (Patient Zero of the Contiki Clap) two days before!

Thankfully, on this trip I discovered that the pharmacy is the Starbucks of Paris. They are everywhere, on every street, on every block, with a bright, flashing green cross on the front so you can't miss them. One block from the Ibis, I went into a pharmacy and had probably my one and only True French Conversation of my Paris experience - one where I didn't forget my verbs and resort to Franglais and one in which the Parisian didn't ignore me or speak to me in English. 

Interesting fact about Paris - Parisians give no fucks about your desire to learn or practice French. If you can't speak it perfectly, they'll interrupt you in English. Because they just don't have the time to put up with you. And you know what? The more I learned about Paris, the more I empathized with the Parisians. Paris is the most visited city in the world and July is its peak travel time. If you've lived in Paris all your life, you kind of have to be rude (or at least brisk) and enforce boundaries if you want to live a normal life and maintain any kind of sanity at all in a city that is constantly being invaded by loud, needy strangers. 

ANYWAY, back to the pharmacy - I asked for cold medicine and kleenex in French and she handed me a box of pills called RhiAdvil and a huge-ass pack of tissues. She also explained to me how many times I should take the pills. I felt rather proud and French when I left, and even more French when I witnessed a Parisian letting her dog poop in the street and flouncing away. Paris!

I had just enough time to grab a cup of tea at the hotel restaurant before everyone had to get on the bus for our day trip to Versailles. Thankfully, I brought along a packet of PopTarts in my purse. Yes, PopTarts in Paris. Sue me. Also thankfully, the Abominable Australian had apparently gotten so drunk the night before that he stayed in bed and missed the bus. Unfortunately, in missing the fun at the French Irish Pub, I'd also missed seeing Anthony twerk. Curses!

After about half an hour, we arrived at Versailles. Versailles!
This was what I was hoping to encounter at Kensington Palace. The rooftops and fence posts glittered with gold leaf and the rough cobblestones wavered in 33-degree heat. Before meeting with our tour guide to explore inside the palace itself, we had an hour to explore the famous gardens.
I didn't do a lot of walking - the cold meds kept me alert and buzzed but physically I felt exhausted before I finished crossing that enormous courtyard. Mostly, I hung out with Lauren from Wisconsin and wandered amiably from shady spot to shady spot, soaking in the warmth, looking at the lovely flowers and shapes and existing while remaining upright.

After an hour, we wandered back to the entrance to begin the interior tour (a few other people decided to doze off their Franco-Irish hangovers on the lawn rather than join us). And that's when Versailles really wowed me.
Seriously, France left me with such a crick in the neck thanks to their gorgeously painted ceilings. Magnificent. Each of the public apartments had a theme based on their usage and the god or goddess painted on the ceiling. The Mars Room, the Diana Room, the Jupiter Room. A lot of it had been restored, but most of the furniture pieces were replicas (the real stuff had all been sold off during the French Revolution), but one of the chandeliers was original and so was the coverlet on Marie Antoinette's bed. It was here the tour manager informed us that queen size beds were actually always larger than king size - as the king was allowed to visit his queen as often as he wished, but not vice versa.

While crowded, there was plenty to look at and the tour guide set a nice pace (which was lovely, since Tour Manager Sophie confided that particular guide had been a bitch on wheels the last time). I just wanted to stare at all of it all day. The decadence, the grandeur, the artwork. Imagine living there all day - and in public. People would even be able to stare at the King and Queen as they ate breakfast. At the end of the trip, I picked up some postcards, magnets, and a large volume on Versailles' history. Gotta love those history books.

Once the tour finished, it was back on the bus. Next on the optionals was a trip to a French perfumery to see how their world-famous fragrances were created. I rejected this option as a) I was still caught up in a massive cold and b) perfume gives me headaches. A good half of our tour group did the same thing - probably because strong smells are not really conductive to overcoming massive Franco-Irish hangovers.

This left me without any serious plans for the rest of the day. I didn't want to spend all of it in my hotel room, and I wanted to socialize, so I followed Melissa and Lisa from Scarborough since they wanted to look at the grand Opera House.

A building, which was, admittedly, magnificent. The setting of The Phantom of the Opera is based on this building. It does have an underground spring. It does have a chandelier that fell and killed a person. Unfortunately, Melissa and Lisa only wanted to take pictures of it, not explore inside it. Well, okay. I could dig it.


Then they walked down the street to Starbucks. Starbucks ... in Paris. An almost ludicrously elegant Starbucks, to be sure (see photo above) - but still a Starbucks. And after that, they were planning on dashing down to the Champs D'Elysees to go shopping. Okay, so I did want to socialize and go with the flow, but I guess I'm an old soul at heart. An old soul who was not up to running, even though my foot was feeling strangely better. So I bid them farewell and went my own way.

But I still didn't have any other solid plans. I tried not to feel lonely and decided to just absorb the atmosphere. I bought a bottle of bubbly water and walked down the avenues back to the Louvre. I briefly contemplated slipping back in to catch a glimpse of Cupid and Psyche but I did not want to face the lines and crowds again. I just didn't want to deal with stress of any kind.

So you know what? I didn't stress out. I didn't tell myself that I had to see ALL the things in the hours I had left until we had to go back to the hotel for our Parisian supper. The heat was more than comfortable once I was in the shade, so I sat under the trees in the Jardin des Tuileries and wrote in my notebook and read my Versailles book for a few pleasant hours until I caught the bus back to the hotel.

On the way back, I asked Sophie what it was like to be a Tour Manager. The training involves a 66-city tour where you take all the options so you know what you're talking about, you never know where you'll be stationed next until four days before your current tour ends, you never see most of your coworkers until the big Contiki Christmas Party (which is always in a different country every year), and the recruitment process is brutal. Sounds like the opposite of a job I'd want, but Sophie loved it. My sister told me later that Contiki Tour Managers also get pushed out once they age past the Contiki limit (35!).

After a rest at the hotel and repacking my souvenirs, I got back on the bus with the others to go to our Parisian supper. The bus dropped us off in Montmartre, in front of an enormous set of stairs carved into a hill. Half our group braved the climb, while the other half (myself included) paid a couple of Euros to take a gondola. When we reached the top of the hill, we all took off for the restaurant.
The restaurant's vibe was ... enthusiastic. It was crowded, hot, and a woman sang "La Vie en Rose" and "Je Ne Regrette Rien" on a karaoke machine at an ear-splitting volume. The first ten minutes felt a bit like being at the France pavilion at Epcot, to be quite honest. It was clear this was a Contiki tourist hotspot - mainly because there was another Contiki tour group nearby taking up another table with an outrageously hot Tour Manager. This dude captivated everyone on our own tour as to his name and identity (Anthony: "I'd bend it like Beckham!").

Not pictured: obscenely hot Tour Manager.

We were then served by a waiter with a goitre the size of a cantaloupe on the back of his neck, who had to shout his orders so loudly to be heard over the singing that the veins bulged on his neck. I had escargot (I watched Christina eat it as my unwitting taster - if she didn't die, I wouldn't), boeuf bourguignon, chocolate cake, cheese, and delicious espresso afterwards.

However, about twenty minutes into the meal - all of us suddenly realized Lauren was missing! When last I'd seen her, she'd decided to fiddle with the gondola's ticket machine (despite it being in French) instead of paying for the tickets in person. She must have gotten on the second gondola, and by the time hers had reached the top, we'd forgotten and left without her! And none of us had known the address or even the name of the restaurant beforehand.

I felt ridiculously guilty - I'd hung out with Lauren a bunch of times over the course of the trip, but I'd totally failed to notice she was on the second gondola. All I could think of at the time was that if it had happened to me, and I'd been left alone, I would have cried all the way back to the hotel. I felt awful. Tour Manager Sophie bought a bottle of wine for Lauren, though, and told us the cost of the Parisian dinner would be refunded for her.

The dinner turned out to be quite pleasant - until the other girls started talking about the Goitre Waiter. As it turned out, he'd grabbed and touched a bunch of my tour mates in weird ways but none of them had spoken up about it at first because they figured, "It's just me, and it's probably just because he's French." Until they shared the stories at the end of the meal, discovered how many of us he'd creeped on, and realized he was actually just a disgusting handsy pervert who likely got away with this shit all the time with tourists under the guise of "when in France!"

Ugh. But after this, I FINALLY got to socialize with alcohol with the rest of the tour - albeit at the hotel bar. Yeah, with almost everyone due to catch a plane or a train the next day, none of us wanted to venture too far, so we stayed at the hotel. We met up with Lauren, apologized, and gave her the wine, and we just sat, talked, and drank. All very fun, although I still regret missing the Franco-Irish bacchanal after the Moulin Rouge.

At the very end of the night, I made two completely boneheaded realizations: a) the reason my foot felt miraculously better that day was because my French cold meds had IBUPROFEN in them (why hadn't I just taken that before?!), and b) my hotel room had a view of the Eiffel Tower the WHOLE TIME and I never realized it until I saw it lit up at night - by day it just looked like another ugly-ass crane. Ha!
Pictured: Ugly-Ass Crane

After that, it was au-revoir Paris, hello home! I am so glad I went on Contiki. I had no panic attacks or major depressive incidents at all, and I actually ate food! There was no stress because everything, including major meals, was arranged ahead of time. There were equal opportunities to see things in groups and to sightsee alone, and really just a fantastic group of people (Abominable Australian excluded).

If I had to be brutally honest - I adored London a million times more than Paris. I loved what I saw in Paris and I'm glad I saw it, but I'm in no great hurry to go back and see more. Meanwhile, I am in love with England (London and Bath, particularly), and I will definitely come back to explore that country more fully.

But that's the joy of Contiki - it's like a tasting menu for hesitant travellers. It gives you the highlights of amazing places within a safe group environment. I've been severely travel-phobic for the last couple of years, but this trip completely renewed my desire to travel to Europe and helped me deal with my anxiety. If you're between the ages of 18-35 and you're nervous about travelling (or at least travelling alone), I cannot recommend Contiki enough. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY TO ME!

Today's the Day!
My debut novel, The Duke of Snow and Apples, has just been released from Entangled Publishing TODAY.

Today was a good day. My mum sniffled over my dedication and showed a screenshot of her buying my book, my coworkers at My Paying Job threw me a pizza party, and my old stompin' ground Heroes and Heartbreakers posted a First Look of my novel!  

It means a whole lot to see the romance community that took me to its heaving bosom seven years ago now reading and talking about my book. I wish I could write more, but I don't think I have any words left, today. Too excited and happy and exhausted. Anticipation is exhausting!

Ah well. Back to Googling myself!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Farthing," by Jo Walton

The Corpse: Sir James Thirkie, the politician renowned for arranging the Peace with Honour with Hitler. Found in his bed, with a Star of David affixed to his chest with a dagger.

The Gumshoes: 

Inspector Carmichael: An up-and-coming investigator for Scotland Yard.

Lucy Kahn: A wayward daughter of the aristocracy whose Jewish husband falls under suspicion. She knows anti-Semitic sentiment will doom her husband if he's arrested, so she must find the real perpetrator first.

The Suspects/Secondary Characters:

Lady Thirkie: The deceased's flighty, shifty, newly pregnant wife.

Normanby: The deceased's brother-in-law, married to Lady Thirkie's sister Daphne. Has a shot at being the next Prime Minister.

Daphne Normanby: The deceased's sister in law - was married off to Normanby after a scandal in her past. A scandal that might have involved Sir James Thirkie himself.

Lady Eversley: Lucy's chilling, devious, class-obsessed mother, and one of the leaders of the Farthing Set.

David Kahn: Lucy's idealistic Jewish husband, who believes (or at least wants to believe) that England remains a just and decent country, immune to fascism.

The Word: How good was this novel? So good, I went out and got the next two books in this trilogy (Ha'Penny and Half a Crown). Consider me a new Jo Walton fangirl. This sinister, layered novel takes the luxurious discontent of an English country house murder mystery and wraps it within the increasing dread of an all-too-likely alternate history.

In this version of history, England ducked out of World War II by arranging the Peace With Honour with Hitler - a treaty which guaranteed England freedom from the war so long as they left Hitler to his own devices on the Continent. This peace was arranged by a loosely-connected group of politicians and aristocrats known as the Farthing Set - more specifically, by Sir James Thirkie, whose appeasement of Hitler made him a national hero.

However, not long after Sir James arrives at Farthing, the country seat of Lord and Lady Eversley (and headquarters of the Farthing Set), he is found murdered in his bed, a star of David pinned to his chest by his own knife.

The novel divides itself between the POVs of two characters determined to find out what really happened. The first is Inspector Carmichael, an up-and-coming investigator for Scotland Yard who is summoned to the crime scene. Thirkie died during a house party attended by all the closest and most influential members of the Farthing Set, so Carmichael knows he'll have to tread carefully in this politically-delicate situation.

The second is Lucy Kahn, Lord and Lady Eversley's black sheep daughter who scandalized high society by marrying a Jew. Neither she nor her husband David were expecting an invitation to one of her mother's parties - but now Lucy suspects her parents' olive branch may have been an intentional plot to set up her Jewish husband as a scapegoat. With anti-Semitic sentiment in England on the rise, she knows her husband will be condemned if he's ever formally arrested.

But who could have done it? And if it was a member of the Farthing Set - why kill the man responsible for their power and influence?

This division of the point of view is the novel's greatest strength. Carmichael and Lucy come from very different backgrounds and their separate observations contribute equally to the final picture of what really happened. Lucy, in particular, is a marvellous character. While she bucked convention to marry a Jewish banker (with whom she is madly in love), she's also very much a product of her privileged environment and upbringing. While more aware than most of the hypocrisy and bigotry beneath aristocratic privilege, she's not above its influence. She's been raised to think of herself as a rather flighty, not-too-clever daddy's girl, even though her tenacity and her loyalty ultimately reveal her to be a much stronger, smarter woman than she thinks she is.

Carmichael's investigations, meanwhile, reveal more about this alternate England. While Great Britain outwardly appears bucolic, prosperous and peaceful because it bowed out of WWII early, its decision to ignore Hitler rather than fight him has allowed the disturbing infection of Nazi ideology to take root in its populace. Lucy's idealistic husband David may believe that England is "safe" from the fascism of the Continent, but Lucy and Carmichael come to know better.

Jo Walton's brilliant novel is gripping, right down to the last page. The intricate mystery, the dynamic characters, and the disturbingly vivid alternate history combine to make Farthing a powerful, and powerfully addictive read.
A+