Category: Books

What I Read: Mixed Bag

I was able to tear myself away from Netflix long enough to read a few books in the last fortnight. It was a struggle, people, and the results were mixed. I liked but did not love The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford. The main character was not as captivating to me as she appeared to be to the other characters in the book, so the story (which effectively chronicles her life and romantic affairs) did not strike me as particularly interesting. I kept waiting for the real plot to show up, and was surprised and disappointed when I got to the end of the book and realized that there was no more. The whole thing seemed to be roman a clef based on Mitford’s own life and that of her various sisters (conveniently white-washed of Nazi affiliations), which makes it all the more puzzling that I didn’t enjoy the book more — I love reading about the Mitfords. For my money, forget The Pursuit of Love and go read The Sisters, a non-fiction biography of the family by Mary S. Lovell. Then, if you enjoy historical gossip, dig up The Viceroy’s Daughters by Anne de Courcy; it’s the story of another set of aristocratic sisters (the Curzons), who ended up being connected to the Mitfords through the indiscriminately philandering Tom Mosley (second husband of Diana Mitford, prototype for The Pursuit of Love’s protagonist).

Moving on, I really enjoyed Devil in the White City, a non-fiction account of the 1893 World Fair in Chicago and the criminal career of serial killer H.H. Holmes, who operated a “house of horrors” close to the exposition grounds during the same time period. I’m not going to lie: I liked the chapters dealing with Holmes more, because they read like an old timey episode of Criminal Minds (minus the hunky profilers). Which is not to say that the chapters dealing with the World Fair were not interesting; the book was basically two separate books in one, and I’m not sure that the juxtaposition always worked. I would have enjoyed reading each half separately. The writing is excellent, by the way.

Last but not least, I’ve started reading All the Light We Cannot See, and it is okay so far. I haven’t gotten into it as easily as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but I’m waiting to see if it picks up soon.

Moving on to Netflix, I finished bingeing Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and then suffered severe withdrawals for a good week. I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that the last season only had 8 episodes (not 13, as I was expecting) and, to be honest, I found the Phryne-Jack payoff at the end rather weak sauce. But … at least THEY BLOODY KISSED, FINALLY. I was starting to suspect that the show writers were actual sadists who enjoyed torturing the audience with all that exquisite unrequited sexual tension. With that said … and please bear with me as I digress completely from the ostensible post topic … the experience of watching the show made me think back on a question that used to preoccupy me a lot more back when I was a regular primetime TV watcher.

How does a writer best deal with unrequited sexual tension without mucking up the story and losing the audience? Watching the will-they-won’t-they dance is wonderful … up to a point. Viewers eventually reach their limit, at which point, the writers have to move the romantic plot forward somehow. In Phryne and Jack’s case, keeping them apart makes a lot of sense; much of what makes Phryne such an original and appealing character would also make her a poor candidate for conventional romantic tropes. You can argue that Jack is a feminist ally, but ultimately we have been led to expect his romantic expectations to be of a traditional kind; Phryne is a free spirit. Can they “get together” without either sacrificing some essential part of themselves? On the flip side, supposing that they do “get together” … then what? The same unrequited sexual tension won’t be there, by definition. There are plenty of examples of happy on-screen marriages, but they’re rarely the subject of screwball romantic mystery/comedies. There’s The Thin Man movies and … that’s all I got. I can only imagine that the tone of movies like that is difficult to get right; otherwise, I’m not sure why we don’t see more of them. Which brings me back to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries: WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT???

Ahem. Moving on.

After finishing that series, I tried to get back into Agatha Christie, only to discover that Netflix does not have the Miss Marple mysteries. More weak sauce. I watched a couple of episodes of Father Brown, but couldn’t get into it, although I do enjoy the GK Chesterton stories. Somehow, I ended up finding the British show Silk and got hooked on that instead. It’s about a barristers’ chambers (law office) in London. The show gives me job anxiety (even though I don’t work in¬†criminal law)¬†— I get exhausted and panicky just watching the characters go about their impossibly chaotic days — but it’s filled with eye candy so I can’t help myself. I’m talking Rupert Penry Jones (playing a cad miles apart from Frederick Wentworth), Tom Hughes (aka Prince Albert), and Natalie Dormer (better known as Margaery Tyrrell, now-deceased queen of the Seven Kingdoms). I’ve just finished the first season, though, so we’ll see how the next one fares.

If you have Netflix suggestions for me — preferably mystery or historical dramas, preferably featuring a healthy dose of eye candy — I’m all ears. I am considering North and South, if only because I know my friend A. is a huge Richard Armitage fan and I feel like I need to investigate what that’s all about.

I’ll wrap up this ungodly long post with a few articles. This one is a good resource for thrifters who love Anthropologie: all the Anthro labels, with handy visual guide.

This one is about a woman who wears the same outfit every day; note that the title is misleading insofar as she wears the same “uniform” everyday, but not the exact same pieces. You guys know I love my ‘core looks’ a lot, but I don’t think I could commit to only one for a week, much less a year. I can’t help but feel that people who are drawn to this idea of a super specific “uniform” are people who don’t care a lot about clothes. Otherwise, it would be like a concert pianist only ever playing one tune — why?

This one is about a mysterious green jacket that was found at a thrift store in Toronto and ended up being sold for $139,000 at an auction. It’s the thrifting equivalent of a Cinderella story.

Lastly, as a (tail end) Gen X-er, I have to admit that I quietly chuckled at this article about the war between Boomers and Millennials. With that said, I am generally not a fan of stereotyping large swaths of the population, so I’m firmly staying out of the “who’s better, who’s worse” generational debate.

Happy Easter / long weekend, everyone!

What I Read: Netflix Edition

My reading has fallen off a steep cliff thanks to Netflix. Yup, I have finally crawled out from under my rock and joined the 21st century. I have been resisting Netflix for years because “I don’t have time to commit to TV shows anymore” but, hello, it’s Netflix. I get it now, people, I get it. I have been binge-watching a bunch of murder mystery series, including Poirot, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (love the series even more than the books and am obsessed with it but MY GOD KISS HER ALREADY, JACK ROBINSON!!!) and Broadchurch. Highly recommend the latter, by the way. David Tennant is my second-favourite Doctor, and Olivia Colman is fantastic. The season 1 finale delivered a real gut punch.

Anyway, reading. Haven’t done much of it, though I have continued to add to my reading list thanks to thrifting. Hopefully I will have more to report next time. I did manage to breeze through The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I loved. If you couldn’t tell from these recaps, I don’t read a lot of non-genre/literary fiction so this was a nice change of pace. I struggle with literary fiction because I have weird, picky tastes. I don’t like reading things that are too depressing, or too sappy, or too fluffy. I prefer action or humour or mystery, though nothing too violent or graphic. I tend not to take risks with fiction novels because I’m afraid I could end up with something like, say, Atonement on my hands. I hated that book with a passion. It is a beautifully written book, but the story made me so angry. It damn broke my heart. Like, ugly-cry broke my heart. Feelings, ugh. No thanks.

Anywaaaaay, GLaPPS (I’m not typing that out again, sorry) is none of things I hate, and many of the things I love. Epistolary novels have been my jam ever since I read Les Liaisons Dangereuses. This one was well executed and heart-warming in a bittersweet, non-sappy way. The various characters’ voices came through very clearly in their letters, and they were all believably lovable. There was a bit of mystery, a bit of will-they-won’t-they romantic suspense, and was somehow joyfully lighthearted despite the fact that the pivotal part of the story deals with the Nazi occupation of Guernsey. The authors have a deft touch that stopped it from becoming an entirely different, much darker book.

If you guys have (literary) fiction recc’s for me — keeping in mind my weird tastes — please share them in the comments. Also, thoughts: I’m debating tracking down a copy of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels … should I?

Moving on, a few cool articles. First up, for the personal finance voyeur in us all (what, just me?) this Refinery29 money diary from a 27-year old single woman making $230K is worth a (longish) read. The reactions from the commentariat (some critical, some supportive) are interesting as well because they reveal a lot about how different people view money (and others’ financial choices). Bottom line: on the internet, people will judge the hell out of whatever you do, no holds barred — probably because money is still such a taboo subject in real life. For what it’s worth, my main reaction in reading the diary was surprise that the author wasn’t working much longer hours, based on her location and industry (NYC, finance). I may have read too many biglaw horror stories from my American counterparts.

Speaking of taboos, check out this article about why women are “not allowed” to age. As I inch ever closer to my 40s, while moving up in my career, I struggle with this more and more. As a professional woman, you want to look wise and experienced — but can you look old? There is SO MUCH tied up in this question, I don’t even know where to begin. It probably deserves its own post, but I have had no epiphanies, and have no real answers, and so the most I can do is ask you all to commiserate with me that It. Is. Freaking. Hard. To. Figure. All. This. Out.

Lastly, this article about feelings which are untranslatable in the English language was fascinating. As a non-native English speaker, I have often pondered how our experience is shaped by the words available to us in whatever language we speak. Needless to say, I loved learning about the feelings which other cultures have decided are important enough to be named. Sehnsucht, saudade, and natsukashii describe, like, 75% of my Sunday mood. (Sunday is the worst day for feeling blue for no reason, amirite?) I was surprised to see that no one has come up with a name for the “mean reds” … although I guess Capote probably nailed it with those two words.

What I Read: Thrift Edition

books! booooks! bookies!
books! booooks! bookies!

Since I’ve been on a reading tear lately, I’ve been spending more of my thrifting time looking for books. It’s a goldmine, you guys. This was a recent “haul” from Goodwill, and it all came to under $25. I will confess that I have only started to leaf through the Chateaux of the Loire book, and swoon over its beautiful photos. I plan on giving it a thorough read however, as it appears to address the history and architecture of the area in some detail. I have briefly traveled through the Loire Valley some 13 or 14 years ago, but I only saw a couple of chateaux (Versailles and Amboise). One of my travel bucket list items is a longer trip, with many more stops — Chenonceaux, Chambord, Azay-le-Riday. I’ve been obsessed with French history since I was a child, so seeing some of the real life places I’ve read about countless times is a bit like, well, visiting Disneyland.

Moving on, the Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell book was a stroll through the memory lane of my early/mid 20s. The clothes! The endless ‘which character do you most resemble’ discussions! The Mr. Big obsession! The latter was probably the worst of it. Sometime in my early 20s, I got hung up on a guy who was textbook “he’s just not that into you”, but who kept popping up often enough to leave me wondering “what if”. Needless to say, he totally became my Mr. Big (minus the swanky lifestyle and ex-wives) in my very active imagination. I don’t blame the show for my emotional immaturity … but the whole thing was kind of an ode to emotional immaturity (ahem, I’m looking at you, Carrie). Anyway, the book was a lot of fun, although I wish it contained more in-depth analysis of the characters. And the clothes too. Speaking of which, if you don’t follow the Instagram account @everyoutfitonsatc, you should.

I also read the (not Christie penned) Poirot novel which was … kinda looney. In the best way (I lost track of the number of plot!twists! but there were a good dozen probably) and in the worst way (if you stopped to think about it, most of those plot twists were totally improbable). It didn’t feel like a typical Christie novel, although I can’t put my finger on why — perhaps the looney plot. (Christie wrote some doozies, but this was like Murder on the Orient Express + And Then There Were None x 1,000.) I also found the narrator/second banana character to be really odd. Dim policemen are a staple of Poirot novels, but such characters are easier to swallow or overlook when they’re not the ones narrating the plot. As it was, I swung back and forth between thinking Catchpool was extraordinarily thick, and thinking he was somehow complicit in the murders and pretending to be thick. Since I love Christie’s novels, I am totally on-board with the idea of her characters (Poirot, Miss Marple, Harley Quinn) being revived by new authors, but this particular iteration was more of a miss than a win for me.

Lastly, I am currently reading Faithful Place. It’s slower going than the other Tana French novels I’ve read. I’m less than a third of the way through, though, so it’s too early to tell if I’m going to love it or hate it. Based on my past experience, I’m probably going to end up being hooked by the story, and then eventually let down by the ending. Side note: do any French protagonists *not* have a complicated and/or mysterious personal life?

No interesting articles this week (sad face) so if you’ve read something good online, share your recc’s in the comments.