Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness IndustryThe Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book for a book club. It's not one I would've picked for myself, but I'm glad I read it. It's the most entertaining nonfiction non-memoir I've read in some time.

The Psychopath Test follows Jon Ronson through several interviews and meetings with people confirmed to be psychopaths, or who may well be. Along the way, he learns the twenty criterion from Bob Hare, interviews a notorious businessman known for firing people without remorse, sees a young man freed by Scientologists, and solves a mystery.

There is information within this book, but most of it serves as a darkly funny narrative about the dangers of misdiagnosis and the quirks of the psychological industry. Ronson never really gets into how a diagnosis requires that the disease interferes with everyday life or poses a threat to others, nor does he interview anyone for whom a diagnosis has helped. He also shows a lot of sympathy for Scientology and its claims about the total uselessness of psychology.

Still, the book gets points for its entertaining narrative, as opposed to the dry rendering in the last few nonfiction books I've read. The story is an amusing one, and it's easy to get through. I learned just as much about the narrator as I did about the subject at hand.

I listened to this book on audio, narrated by the author. Jon Ronson is British, which is always pleasant for this American to listen to. He speaks clearly and understandably, and his tone certainly adds to the humor of the story. If you decide to pick this up, I recommend the audio version.

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Review: Guns by Stephen King

GunsGuns by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short nonfiction piece by Stephen King about his views on gun control. He, himself owns guns, and grew up in a conservative part of the state of Maine, but he argues a point that comes straight down the center.

Stephen King's nonfiction is very different in tone from his fiction. He uses the same bad words, and can be just as graphic in his descriptions, but the tone is more conversational. He has no wasted words in his nonfiction, whereas his fiction can be rather more descriptive. This feels like sitting down to a conversation with Stephen King. You get the idea you really did voice some of the protests he addresses within this essay, and that he's answering you.

The solution he comes up with is nothing novel; it's the solution the vast majority of the US supports. It's the way he presents it, as a reasonable solution that one would be crazy not to agree with, that makes this a compelling essay. He calls for common sense and human decency, and who could make a stand against those principles?

I started out this essay agreeing with the principles Mr. King argues in favor of, but I think even those fighting for even stricter controls and even more freedom could see the wisdom in his words.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I consider myself a morbid person. My sense of humor tends to be dark, and the virtues of cremation versus burial doesn't seem an odd topic to discuss with a newfound acquaintance (provided said acquaintance is game). I thought, therefore, that this book would be right up my alley, filling in my gaps about what happens to our containers after we die.

I was unprepared for this particular book. While I did learn several new things about decomposition and environmentalist body disposal, I spent most of the experience of this book clutching my stomach and hoping she'll crack a joke soon.

Many of the jokes struck me as morbidly funny, but they were few and far between. Most of the book consists of graphic descriptions about terrible things happening to dead bodies (or to living ones with dead flesh transposed). The least terrible thing that might happen to your body, if you donate it to science, is you'll be dissected by a medical student, who'll treat your old container with respect bordering on reverence. If not, your flesh will rot in the ground, be burned and released into the atmosphere, or be used in crash tests. Or, maybe you'll have access to new ways of bodily disposal, like being dissolved in lye and flushed down a drain (but for powdery remains that can be scattered), or freeze-dried and ground up to feed a memorial tree.

My two older sisters, who have both dissected cadavers, once mentioned how it made them hungry. I didn't believe them until I read this book. My appetite has never been healthier. Considering the stomach-churning descriptions, it's bizarre, but true.

I didn't think the graphic descriptions were entirely necessary. Roach creates a euphemism for maggots which manages to soften the disgusting reality. Why, then, didn't she also spare us the knowledge of which foodstuff liquefied brains most resemble?

The book definitely got me thinking about what I'm going to do with my remains, and it had a lot of potentially useful information, if I needed to know about the whole industry behind dead bodies. But in the end, I could've done without the rather ghastly descriptions.

I listened to the book on audio, narrated by Shelly Frasier. I have no complaints about the audio, except that I couldn't skim past the parts that made me squirm the most.

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Review: Zorro Rides Again by D.J. Arneson

Zorro Rides Again: A Radio DramatizationZorro Rides Again: A Radio Dramatization by Jerry Robbins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a fan of Zorro, having watched some of the movies when I was younger. I recently read Isabel Allende's take on the legend, and felt I should go back to the pulpy source material. This is only based on McCully's original stories, and it's all the cheesy adventure one might expect.

The story comes in years after Zorro has gone into retirement, for no reason explained in the text. Someone is posing as the hero and doing cruel things, so he has to return to the masked vigilante life to clear his name.

A number of characters return: Don Diego de la Vega, of course, and his alter ego, Zorro. There's Friar Felipe, love interest Lolita Pulido, and Sargeant Gonzalez, and of course the faithful but mute Bernardo, whose hand signals are depicted in the radio edition by woodwind instruments.

The story introduces Captain Rocha, the Governor's nephew and leader of a movement to discredit Zorro in the eyes of the adoring townsfolk.

Despite his long absence and the nasty rumors about his recent behavior, Zorro is still a much-loved figure in his hometown, and lots of allies are willing to stick their necks out to protect him. Most take him at his word that he's innocent, though a trial by combat is needed to prove his word, in one case.

I listened to a radio play dramatization, so the dialogue was spoken by actors. In an action format, that means that sometimes people have to narrate what they're doing, or bystanders have to keep the listener updated. Sometimes, it sounded a little silly, but it worked, in the long run.

Overall, this was a fluffy, entertaining couple of hours. I wanted a silly, pulpy tale before diving into my next book, and that's exactly what I got. I have another radio adaptation of a Zorro story, and I plan on listening to it soon.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies by Ellen Cooney

A Private Hotel for Gentle LadiesA Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies by Ellen Cooney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the fourth book I've read on my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, which is comprised of books I've been meaning to read but hadn't gotten around to. Once again, I'm shaking my head at myself, wondering why I'd waited so long.

In this case, the answer is that, on its surface, this is another "cheating book." The action is sparked when Charlotte Heath, a headstrong young wife recovers from a long illness to discover her husband kissing another woman. She runs away to Boston, where she holes up in the Beechmont, which is not a fine hotel for upright citizens at all, but a place where the ladies' physical needs are serviced by male staff members.

Ellen Cooney taught Creative Writing one semester at the University of Maine at Farmington, and I was lucky enough to be in her class. She'd asked me to come read to her students at MIT, but I'd needed an operation during the week I would've taken her up on her invitation. My acquaintance with Ms. Cooney certainly makes me more tolerant of certain literary conventions I wouldn't put up with by other writers. But I also think I'd be missing out on some lovely writing.

Charlotte is far from the perfect narrator. She isn't an unreliable narrator, but she is unworldly, uninterested in current events, and indecisive. She keeps her secrets, even from the reader, and makes decisions based on fleeting emotions. She has an appreciation for Shakespeare beyond that of her stuffy in-laws, but she's no scholar, and she gets as caught up in the romanticism as any high school student.

A reader might get to the ending with no idea as to why she makes the decision she does. I know, but not in any way I can vocalize. It's in the spaces between, in the things she doesn't articulate. It's in what she values, and where she can get what she needs. I didn't need her explanation of why she decides what she does, but some readers might. Some readers might vehemently disagree with her decision, too. I doubt I'd've done the same, in her place, but then, I'm living over a century later, aren't I?

This is the sort of historical fiction that couldn't have taken place, but that might have. Not the details; I've never heard of a counterpart to the Beechmont, nor of the baby races detailed in one chapter late in the book. But Charlotte Heath may have existed, she may have fled her husband for the very reason she does in the book, and she may have stepped on a very similar path, once. The people inhabiting this book feel flawed and human and like they really could've existed in that time period.

I enjoyed this book, and, while I usually like to be in a perspective character's head a bit more, I thought it was used to good effect. I didn't expect the ending I got, and I can see where it turned off other readers. But, after I slept on it, it seemed like the ending this story required.

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Review: Earth Below, Sky Above (Human Division #13) by John Scalzi

Earth Below, Sky Above (The Human Division, #13)Earth Below, Sky Above by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the final episode in The Human Division, the serial novel by John Scalzi. Scalzi has announced on his blog that there will be a season two, so anyone dissatisfied with where this ended can hang on for more.

This isn't a matter of holding it over our heads to see if we wanted it; it's that this is where this story ends, and, because it worked out as well as it did, hooray, there's more.

And thank goodness. While Earth Below, Sky Above does explain where the missing ships went and what the apparent endgame was, and does so in quite the exciting story, we still don't know who's behind the nefarious plot. Colonels Liz Egan and Abel Rigney have their speculations, but those are just speculations, and little is revealed that the reader doesn't already know.

Which leads me to my biggest complaint about this installment: for a story wrapping up an epic tale, there sure were a lot of "as you know, Harry" recaps in dialogue that were completely unnecessary. Characters rehash information they already know, and that the reader is well aware of. It seemed sloppy writing in an installment that was otherwise fun and exciting.

In the end, The Human Division is the sum of its parts: a self-contained tale that leaves questions for another time. Had I not been aware, while listening to this last installment, that there would be more, I might be annoyed. But, I know I'm going to sign on for season two, and probably the rest of the Old Man's War universe, while I'm at it.

I listened to this installment on audio, narrated by William Dufris, and remained pleased with his ability to narrate the tale. He had good flexibility and pronunciation, and modulated his voice well so I knew when characters whispered or shouted, but didn't have to adjust my volume. He was an excellent choice for narrator for these episodes, and I hope he reads season two, as well.

If you didn't want to read the installments as they came out, The Human Division will be coming out in one collection, with extra bonus material, also discussed on Scalzi's blog. I don't know how different an experience it'll be to read all at once, but the option is there.

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Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an enlightening book. I've known for years that I'm an introvert, but I've never seen it so thoroughly explained. I've often wondered what's wrong with other people, that they can't be alone with their own thoughts for a few minutes. I've wondered what's wrong with me, that I can't adjust to certain social expectations. But now, I know introversion and extroversion go all the way down to how our brains process information, and just how much it affects.

I didn't realize my vivid dreams were a matter of introversion, nor did it occur to me that my being bad at confrontation is another symptom. I'd learned recently about "performing extroversion," but I hadn't realized it varies based on whether one is a high social monitor or a low social monitor. Those with high social monitoring can fit in with extroverts better, but they strike many people, especially low social monitors, as fake, or sellouts. The book doesn't mention this, but it seems a high social monitor might burn out of social situations faster.

Another factor that goes into introversion is whether one is reward-seeking, or threat-avoidant. I scored rather high on the threat-avoidant scale, meaning new situations have me pausing to look for the catch, rather than jumping in to find out how much fun it might be.

Mostly, the book gave me words for things I experience, and some tips on raising an introverted child. It told me very little I don't already practice in my everyday life. I already do retreat on weekends so that I might recharge. I already carve quiet niches into my work life. My job is even so flexible that it's my co-workers who are expected to network and meet new people, while I deepen working relationships that are already there and use my strengths in the office.

The book discusses the link between anxiety or depression and introversion, as bad situations stick in an introvert's mind and continue to affect that person a lot longer. I've often been chided by extroverts about my clinging to negative experiences; now I know it's how I'm wired.

I'd be interested to know if the rise in depression and anxiety diagnoses correlates at all with the devaluation of introversion in our society. The book does get into the history of the current admiration for extroverted traits, but it falls short of discussing the impact this has had on the 1/3 to 1/2 of the world made up of introverts the author cites throughout the text.

If you're an extrovert, there is useful information for you within these pages. It will tell you how to better relate to your introverted friends, and how you might support your introverted co-workers. If you're an extrovert raising an introverted child, the chapter on raising introverted children is essential, so you know not only that your child isn't punishing you for bad parenting, but also how to best bring out your child's favorable traits.

Overall, I found this an excellent, friendly resource for anyone who wants to know about the role of introverts in modern society. I can see more introverts being drawn to it, because of the subject matter. Despite a few blind spots, it's a fairly comprehensive book that depicts that introverts are not better people than extroverts, but that it behooves us, as a society, to include them.

I listened to this book on audio. Kathe Mazur does a fine job with the narration. She reads clearly, and doesn't stumble over names or concepts. Her voice is pleasant to listen to.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Progress: Easing Back In

I'm still taking baby steps, as far as getting back into writing is going. There are moments when I feel highly
motivated to do it. There are others when I have a sudden fascination with polishing my silverware, and must get that done before I can do anything else. It's symptomatic of what I'm dealing with.

It doesn't help that my writing group dissolved in all the chaos last fall. They had helped keep me on track and inspired. I haven't had it in me to try to scrape together enough interested members to try again.

I signed up to be matched up with a crit partner through the Authoress's blog (current submissions are closed, but she writes there will be another such event), and found not one, but two interested parties. Both of them had very similar feedback, and I bounced some ideas off them, and they were very helpful. I've been working on returning the favor, but it's going slowly. Not because of poor writing; I've been blessed with two gifted writers having found me. My motivation is just all over the place.

I had thought the feedback would lead me to work on book one, which is what I submitted to my crit partners. Instead, it got me thinking about book two, and I've been tapping away at that. Right now, I have 9960 words, and another five handwritten pages, waiting to be transcribed.

It's a bizarre way of approaching it, but, whatever can get me back to writing on a regular basis, I'll take.

Hopefully this time next month, I'll have tens of thousands of words more.

I've caught up on book reviews, for the time being, but I keep falling behind, in addition to my weekly blog posts. If you have an idea for a guest post, or if you have a request for a concept you'd like me to dig deeper into, please feel free to drop me an email or a comment.

Always feel free to drop me a comment. Yes, I do screen comments, in addition to putting it behind word verification. If you had any idea the flood of spam I was stemming before I added those steps, you'd know it's worth never getting another legitimate comment again.

But, I would like to hear from you. How are your projects? What are you working on now?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Review: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

Confessions of a Jane Austen AddictConfessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

People had warned me against reading this book. But, when I saw it was up for grabs on audio from my local library, I couldn't resist. I found myself glad I'd approached it with an open mind. It was far from perfect, but not terrible, either.

The book opens with Courtney Stone thinking she's having a lucid dream, sparked by one too many bedtime readings of Pride and Prejudice. She's in Regency England, and everyone is calling her "Jane" or "Miss Mansfield." It takes her a while to catch on that she's actually woken up in Jane's body, and Jane has probably taken over her life.

She's mostly delighted to be in a time she's read so much about (she claims to have read both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility 20 times apiece), though the realities of the time period are less than ideal. People smell bad, the social situation is stifling, and her (Jane's) mother is a harridan who threatens to send her to a mental ward when she tries to tell her the truth.

But then there's Mr. Charles Edgeworth, and his charming sister, Mary. And there's a visit to Bath, which doesn't stack up to her expectations, and a trip to London. Ditto. Courtney's observations show us a lot of the side details that Jane Austen leaves out of her books, either because the reader would be familiar with them, or for etiquette's sake. Courtney even engages servants, and learns what their lives are like, when they're practically invisible in Austen's works.

While I understand Courtney, as a modern woman, chafing against the rigidity of the social rules, her outspokenness seems thoughtless. For someone who's read each of Jane Austen's books over a dozen times apiece and watched the movies and BBC specials, she clearly hasn't figured out that the manners work differently, and that there's only so much room for rebellion. How someone can consume so much Austen in such a short space of time and absorb nothing about the social structure, I'll never know. But then, most of the plot revolves around her acceptance of these rules, so there would be a much less satisfying conclusion without that stupidity on her part.

The magic in the story that brings her to the past is thinly done. There's no world-building to it; it's all hand-wavy deus ex machina. The fortune teller who gives Courtney the information about how to return home (while still remaining cryptic and unhelpful—argh) is able to teleport a necklace into Courtney's purse, but apparently needs it handed to her from there.

I did find myself caring about what happens to Courtney, even if I thought her belly button gazing could've been trimmed without any harm to the narrative. I liked her snark, and I liked that she did learn, eventually. I also liked the parallel of her story with that of other Jane Austen heroines.

I really could've done without her accidentally bumping into Jane Austen in London, though. That scene added nothing, except to highlight Courtney's stupidity.

I listened to the book on audio, narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. She was able to switch between Courtney's modern American and her spoken genteel English accent easily. Though, her pronunciation of "empire" bothered me. And that word shows up a lot, as Courtney complains constantly about how unflattering a style it is.

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Review: The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads (Human Division #12) by John Scalzi

The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads (The Human Division, #12)The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the twelfth of thirteen episodes in The Human Division, a serial novel and something of an experiment. I'm looking forward to the last installment, but saddened to think that will be all. I suppose I still have several other books to hunt down from this world and this author.

The Gentle Art of Cracking Heads, as is the pattern with even-numbered episodes, deviates from the main cast. This time, we see what Danielle Lowen, the doctor from the Earth ambassadors in episode 9 is up to on Earth. She was supposed to find the CU guilty of an ambassador's murder, but instead unearthed a deeper conspiracy. She isn't safe once she gets back to Earth, even with the top authorities reluctant to see the happenings on the Clarke as part of a deeper plot. The embassy she was supposed to have a meeting in blows up while she's getting a bagel across the street, and then meets a mysterious individual claiming to be a pharmaceuticals rep. "John Berger" warns her not to go home after telling her exactly how Luiza Carvalho might have been manipulated into killing someone, and she, smart woman that she is, listens.

I couldn't help but wonder, as this installment came to a close, if John Berger was the same mysterious informant who spoke to Birnbaum in A Voice in the Wilderness. I suppose there's no way of knowing, though his attitude would have had to alter significantly. One would have to know just how much time has passed between these episodes, and I don't.

For a "B story" episode, this seemed to hint a lot more at the larger picture than some of the stories involving the diplomatic crew on the Clarke. It was also full of action and intrigue, and I'm quite interested to see how the story wraps up, in the end.

Once more, I listened to this on audio, narrated by William Dufris. I have no complaints about his narration, though this installment's taking place entirely on Earth might've made his job a little easier, this time around. He did pronounce Brazilian names and places well, though there were times when the Brazilian politician sent to stall Lowen sounded Transylvanian.

I can't wait for Tuesday.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: Dumping Billy by Olivia Goldsmith

Dumping Billy Dumping Billy by Olivia Goldsmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a fan of Olivia Goldsmith's, which is why I put this book on my 2013 TBR Challenge pile. I don't know if this wasn't the best-written of her work, or if my tastes have changed, but I didn't enjoy this quite as much as her other books. I still enjoyed it, but I was also consciously aware of its flaws.

Despite the book's title and its jacket description, the Billy in question doesn't take up much of the story. Instead, the book is about Katherine (Kate) Jameson, who's escaped her bourgeoisie life in Brooklyn to become the sort of refined Manhattan woman who has a gay best friend, a job at a private school, and a serial problem with boyfriends. At the book's start, she's dating Michael, who's stable and dependable and who her best friend, Elliot, deems boring and not worthy of her. Then her Brooklyn friends, who's she's tried desperately to keep out of her Manhattan life, suddenly intrude in the form of Bina Horowitz, the best of her old friends. Bina's boyfriend was supposed to propose before he left for Hong Kong, but, instead, he dumps her for the prospect of sleeping around while abroad. Bina is heartbroken, until Kate's friends make the connection that a Brooklyn lothario seems to cause all of his ex-girlfriends to get married to the next man they date. They give her a makeover while Kate frets over the advisability of this plan.

Kate holds the strong belief that she's better than her friends, and the text never disavows her of her snobbishness. Her friends are, indeed, wrong to have used Billy to make Jack propose to Bina (though the makeover and distraction and confidence wasn't a bad idea). Her friends are wrong to warn Kate away from dating Billy, herself. Her friends are wrong that there's no substance to him, and of course Billy's problem all along is that no one took him seriously, like Kate does.

It's one thing to have insufferably snobbish heroines who learn humility, but to have Kate proved right repeatedly made her less sympathetic.

Oddly, I did still find myself sympathizing with her, and I felt myself tearing up at the scene where she learns the truth. I felt for her heartache, and I ached to tell her the truth I could so clearly see in those pages. I suppose her insufferable nature was watered down by the clues the reader parsed, but that she didn't.

There are a few introspective scenes that are rather more drawn out than they need to be, and a few recaps of scenes we already read (often recently) that were unnecessary. The book needed some tighter editing, and a little more depth to the non-Kate-and-Billy characters. The snappy Goldsmith dialogue was missing, too; it often felt forced and wooden.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, though it wasn't my favorite Olivia Goldsmith novel. After this, I find myself craving a reread of The Bestseller, as much to revisit what I liked as to check if I still like it as much as when I read it a decade ago.

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: They Fought Like Demons by DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook

They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil WarThey Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War by DeAnne Blanton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before I heard of this book, I hadn't realized there was any official record of women soldiers throughout history. This went a long way toward filling in my knowledge about the phenomenon during the American Civil War. The book even explains why it fell out of general knowledge. Altogether, though, it's more of a starting-off point than a comprehensive look.

They Fought Like Demons covers several aspects of women soldiers: the why, the how, the discovery, and what their male counterparts, the press, and the general public thought of them. The book takes great pains to debunk several notions about female soldiers. They weren't sexual deviants or lesbians; only one woman was found to be prostituting herself, and a lot of them went to join a husband, lover, or brother. Confederate women were able to serve more openly, because the Confederacy was in greater need of soldiers and spies, and most who joined a loved one left after the loved one died or was discharged. Treatment of an injury was the greatest cause of discovery, but many women who were discovered re-enlisted in another regiment. Most of the men who served with disguised women spoke highly of their service, and were surprised to learn their secret.

If the above seems scattershot, that's because the book is told in a scattershot way. Rather than telling any one woman's story (that of Albert D.J. Cashiers is most comprehensive, but still scattered throughout), it's a series of premises, backed up by the evidence presented by one of perhaps a dozen women soldiers. Because each woman went by at least two aliases (her own and her male pseudonym, and sometimes what the press called her or another name she switched to, or simply "unknown"), it was hard to keep track of everyone.

According to They Fought Like Demons, there were, provably, 240 women who disguised themselves as men in order to serve in America's bloodiest conflict. That's hardly a large number, but it's not a small representation, either. These women were known to the press and the Civil War veterans, and yet they vanished out of the historical record once there was no one alive to tell their tale. The book suggests this is due to a backlash to women's suffrage and the rise of feminism.

Mostly, reading this book made me want to write a fictionalized account. It's been done before in a fantasy setting (Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment), but I suddenly want to bring it alive in a way that makes it impossible to deny. If another writer beats me to it, I'll happily read that, instead.

Considering how spotty my Civil War history is, that story will have to wait a long while before it's written.

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Review: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Romeo and JulietRomeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first read this play in college, and then Audible offered it as a free sample for Valentine's Day. My sample wound up expiring, so I downloaded it to finish listening.

I can't imagine anyone reading this who doesn't know the story, but here it is: Romeo and Juliet are the son and daughter, respectively, of the feuding Montagues and Capulets. They fall in love, get married secretly, and then Romeo is banished for killing Tybalt, Juliet's cousin. Arguably, he had good reason; Tybalt had just killed the Prince, Romeo's friend. Juliet's parents assume her tears are for her dead cousin, and attempt to cheer her up by marrying her off. She plots to fake her death to get out of it, but messages are crossed, Romeo thinks she's really dead, and kills himself. Then she kills herself to join him.

The more familiar I become with this work, the more I shake my head at its classification as a love story. When we start out, Romeo is mooning over Rosaline, who won't be seduced. The first we hear of Juliet, her father is setting her up to marry a local Count, but says it should wait a couple of years, because she's only 13. The romance between Romeo and Juliet takes about half a scene to solidify. At the famous balcony scene, they're both already throwing around the L word. This play isn't about a perfect love. It's about how stupid young people are about it.

I reiterate: Juliet is 13 years old in this play. Some scholars have theorized that, because Shakespeare's daughter was that age at the writing of this play, it was a cautionary tale for her to wait until she was old enough to make the right choice (and not die in childbirth). The fact that Juliet's father talks about young women dying in childbirth because they married too soon lends some credence to this theory.

In the end, yes, the young lovers' deaths do unite the families, but the deaths leading up to that are plentiful. For a play supposedly about love, there's an awful lot of blood in it. In my view, Romeo and Juliet is as much about how grand love is as Othello.

The Audible version I listened to was a performance by LA Theatre Works. All of the actors cast sounded distinct enough that I had no trouble following who was speaking, and Romeo's voice was very well suited. Juliet (played by Calista Flockhart) and her maid (Julie White) tended to gasp to elicit strong emotions, of which the two characters have several, and it got old fast. Otherwise, though, I enjoyed the performance, and I'm glad I purchased it. I'll want to listen to it again in the near future, I'm sure.

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Review: If You Ask Me by Betty White

If You Ask Me: And of Course You Won'tIf You Ask Me: And of Course You Won't by Betty White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Betty White was 89 years old when she wrote If You Ask Me, and, some might argue, at the height of her popularity. Thanks to a Superbowl commercial and SNL appearance, she was appealing to a whole new generation who was only cursorily familiar with her as "the nice one" in Golden Girls.

And so, this book's purpose seems to be to familiarize a whole new generation to this funny lady, who's in on the joke a lot more than people may realize. She doesn't understand the appeal of the internet, and she answers what she does of her fan mail by hand, herself, but she's also a Hollywood and small-screen veteran, with a ton of fascinating stories.

Betty White is a class act, first and foremost. She has nothing but praise and love for everyone she's worked with, and she squeezes in stories about her love for animals whenever possible. When I was listening to the section where she talks about how cats are affectionate, and not standoffish at all, I had two cats curled up on or right next to my lap, and I had to smile.

There isn't much of a narrative structure to this book. Mostly, it's vignettes and short informational blurbs. Sometimes, she repeats herself within the narrative, but the context is often different. She speaks wistfully of growing old, losing friends, what she hopes Heaven will look like, as well as her family growing up, her life in show biz, her difficulty with public speaking, and, of course, about her animals.

I listened to this on audio, narrated by Ms. White. She chokes up a few times when she talks about animals who have passed on, but otherwise, her narration is warm and inviting. She has a vocal "catch" whenever she pronounces the letters "cl" together, but it's not terribly distracting.

This was an enjoyable, quick read, and I recommend it to anyone looking for heartwarming and lovable memoirs.

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