Thursday, 16 June 2022

The Dating Game (The Lonely Hunter by Aimée Lutkin)

4/5

"Married with no children is suspicious enough. Being single is sinister." - Aimée Lutkin, The Lonely Hunter, page 109

This wasn't what I was expecting (you'll find this is a common theme as you scroll through the Goodreads reviews). I happened to come across an extract posted as an article one day. It was discussing the differences in lifestyle between the single, child-free writer and her friend, who was married with a child and a second one on the way. It talked about the perceived benefits of both sides from the outside looking in. After reading the extract, I immediately googled the book, found out they had it at Waterstones, and went after work to buy it.  

To give you an idea of how little I really knew, I was suprised to find it in the biography section.

What I expected was an exploration of the difficulties of being single that took a 'different strokes for different folks' approach. I'm a big believer in the idea that it's daft to get worked up over other people's life choices - unless they're hurting the people around them, obviously - and I'd enjoyed the way the extract treated both the author and her best friend, who had taken a more traditional life path, as valid people with understandable struggles.

What this book really does is explore dating culture. 

That's not a criticism. I don't know what it was, but I found this easy to pick back up again after I put it down. I also enjoyed the scientific and sociological discussion that took place in between the author recounting the highs and lows of her dating experiment. I always think it's fascinating to read not so much about specific people, but rather how people more generally live their lives and this book dips in and out of different approaches to dating. The voice is good too - it's pretentious enough to feel like the writer is trying to adopt a style more suited to writing literary fiction, but it doesn't go so far as to make you feel like they're talking down to you. 

The final chapter dragged a bit - though that may have been because I'd decided to finish it that night and I was keenly aware the clock had inched past midnight - but overall I would recommend this to anyone looking for something that will pull them in.

 When was the last time you read a biography?

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

May Wrap-up

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we are rapidly approaching the middle of the year. Who else is horribly behind on their reading challenge? I'm generally in favour of shifting your goal in the middle of the year to keep it manageable (though, usually, I'm shifting it up if at all), but I think I'll hold off for a bit. You never know what might happen.

Song of the Month: Friends to Lovers by Melina KB

News from the Reading Front

My reading choices this month were greatly informed by what I've been watching. I picked up America after I saw the new Dr Strange film and it somehow managed to be more disappointing than said film. The Spy X Family anime is excellent... now if only Crunchyroll would finally accept my card so that I could watch beyond episode three...

News from the Writing Front

Editing is finally going well again. I've found I concentrate much better when I'm not in my tiny room, staring at the same four walls, so I've taken to spending weekend afternoons in coffee shops with my laptop.

News from the Net

How was your May?

Thursday, 26 May 2022

Pride and Prejudice in Space (A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold)

5/5

"'I am not who I was. I can't go back. I don't quite like who I have become. Yet I still... stand. But I hardly know how to go on from here. No one ever gave me a map for this road.'" - Ekaterin in A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, page 427

I have a terrible habit at the moment of starting long books (my edition of A Civil Campaign is 534 pages), reading less than a couple of chapters, putting them down for months, and then devouring them in all of three days. 

For context, I technically started this book in January, but have read 500+ of its pages since Monday.

I think it is my favourite of all the books in The Vorkosigan Saga that I've read so far. (Full disclosure, I doubt I've read half, but I still consider this an accolade.)

A Civil Campaign is inarguably a love story, with the build up to Miles and Ekaterin's inevitable (I'd already read Diplomatic Immunity) engagement forming the main plotline. Meanwhile, Mark and Kareen start a business in the basement, whilst also dealing with her parents' objections to their relationship, Lord Dono fights to set a new precedent and claim the countship left behind by his late brother, and René Vorbretten has to battle to keep his countship after an unexpected discovery in his family tree. There's a lot of emphasis on the political side of Barrayar, as well as the clash between their traditional ideals and Beta Colony's more liberal relationship with sex and gender. Despite this rather serious subject matter, this is an outrageously funny book and an enjoyable read.

Apparently, I never quite completed my review of Komarr, so let me say here that I consider Ekaterin one of the most well-written female characters I've ever read. She's so complicated, with all of the baggage from her first, profoundly unhappy marriage. She's also a fabulous match for Miles, being a relatively steady influence, but also absolutely flawless in a crisis. In turn, Miles is a sort of liberating influence on Ekaterin, who grew used to being as little herself as possible under her first husband's oppression. Generally, I don't like it when characters are possessive with love interests... but I will forgive Miles on three counts: firstly, because his approach to love very much fits his character, secondly because everyone (including his own mother and Ekaterin herself) calls him out on it repeatedly and to great comedic effect right up until it blows up in his face, and thirdly because I am incurably fond of him as a hero. It helps that we know that Ekaterin is also deeply attracted to him, even if she is wary of another marriage based on past experience, and that their engagement ends up being on her terms.

A general apprehension to marriage is a reccurring theme in this novel, as Kareen too has her reservations. She feels like she is just starting to become herself and that marriage is the end of a woman's growth. Whilst the older married women in the story try to gently dissuade her of this, Kareen is concerned with all the stories girls hear growing up that end in marriage as a happily ever after. It's that age-old question, what comes after happily ever after? She is in love with Mark, she is happily in a partnership with Mark, she just doesn't want to marry him yet. And Mark? He's happy with whatever Kareen wants. The issue is her traditionally Barryan parents and their expectations - not to mention their absolute horror at her choice of partner and the terms of their relationship.

This may be the most romantic books I've read since I read Komarr. If you have never read a book by Lois McMaster Bujold, you're missing out.

What's the most romantic book you've read this year?

Saturday, 30 April 2022

April Wrap-up

 
 
I cannot believe it is already the end of April. If time speeds up as you age, then by the time I'm 50 I will simply blink and miss full months. 

We're going to talk a little about the books I've read this month - of course - but, first, a little something I forgot last month.

Song of the Month: What Baking Can Do from Waitress

This Month, I've Been Reading...

I didn't think I'd read much this month. With everything going on at work recently, the earlier parts of the month feel like a very long time ago

DC Universe Infinite dropped in the UK on the 28th April, which gave me the perfect excuse to finally check out the first volume of the new Robin series. Verdict: it's GOOD! It has Ravager in it, trying (with limited success) to keep Damian from getting himself killed. It's a great dynamic.

News from the Stage

Usually, going to the theatre is a once every couple of years activity for me, but this month I've actually been twice. I've seen Six and Waitress in quick succession.  

Six was a lot of fun - it also made the rarely seen point that, yes, Henry VIII's wives are only of such interest because he had six of them, but the same is true for Henry himself. We don't remember him for his wars with France, creating the first national postal service, or the new powers he gave to parliament. We remember him for having six wives and the reformation... something that happened specifically because he wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn.  

Waitress, I think, resonates so much with people because a lot of adults feel stuck, empty, and lost, just like the characters. Jenna even has a whole song about how she's lost herself and she doesn't feel like anything anymore - She Used to Be Mine.

How was your April?

Wednesday, 6 April 2022

Return to Bridgerton (You're Watching Wednesday #24 Bridgerton Season 2 Part 2)

(Spoiler Alert! The below contains spoilers for Bridgerton Season Two all the way up to the final episode.)

Good morning. I'm Hannah -

(- And I'm Ivy.)

And -

The feature where we talk about shows -

(- And films.)

Having covered Eloise's arc extensively last week, I figured I might as well take the opportunity to talk about the rest of the second season of Bridgerton this week.

The major plotline of this season is not Eloise desperately trying to dodge men at balls (despite what last week's post may have suggested - my only excuse is blatant favouritism), but Anthony Bridgerton trying to find a wife. Unlike his sister Daphne, Anthony has no interest in true love. He has a specific criteria which his new wife should fit and he literally interviews young women trying to find someone who fits it. This is deeply, deeply amusing. It also reminded me of the Pride and Prejudice scene where Lizzie points out that Mr Darcy expects way too much of women before he considers them accomplished, except - of course - Anthony is no Mr Darcy. He is a rake.

This will be important later. 

Now, in the novel (which I am currently reading), Anthony's reason for not wanting true love is that his father died young and he believes he will die at the same age. Having seen his mother grieve, he does not wish to leave his own wife in that state. The show doesn't adapt this the same and instead focuses more on Anthony's sense of duty towards his family... which was sparked by his mother's complete emotional collapse following his father's death. At this time, he needed her support as the duties of the Viscount title were suddenly thrust upon him, but she was too grief-stricken to help. Not only that, but when his sister's birth went wrong and he was asked to choose if his mother or the baby should be saved if it came down to it, his mother started screaming about how it would have been an easy choice for his father because he loved her. Anthony is not hesitating because he does not love his mother, but because he simply cannot comprehend what he is being asked. And, yes, this is Hyacinth's birth acting as a traumatising event again, so that's at least two siblings who are haunted by that (and an argument can be made for three). There is a nice scene later in the season where Violet admits that - at the time - she could not be there for him when she should have been. Of course, we can understand why Violet could not simply keep going, but it's still awful for Anthony. It also makes Violet and Daphne's attitudes this season absolutely infuriating. Yes, last season was all about marrying for love and - more importantly - the emphasis the Bridgertons place on marrying for love (it is acknowledged that this is not the norm), but Daphne actually wanted that. She wanted the perfect love story that she believed her parents had. Anthony does not want that. He just wants a wife who will make a good viscount. Despite this, both Violet and Daphne really double down this season on linking love and happiness. They are unwilling to even consider that Anthony could be happy with a wife he likes, regardless of whether true love is involved, even though this is what the rest of the ton do and they seem to manage just fine.

That aside, there's a lot of fun to be found this season in how much everyone seems to delight in Anthony's plight. From Benedict and Colin gleefully tag-teaming to take the mick out of him, to Daphne pointedly offering to help with his season like he helped with hers (and we all remember how well that went), everyone wants to get in on it. Anthony might be the viscount, but he inspires exactly zero respect from his family and it is glorious to watch. Even better, this season introduces Kate Sharma and her sister Edwina. Siblings naturally have no respect for each other - it's a side-effect of being raised together - but Kate sees this known rake making a beeline for her sister and goes in for the verbal kill. Repeatedly. 

I absolutely loved Kate. She's witty, independent, more than a little rebellious (as she grew up outside of the ton and their rules, this makes sense), and competitive to a fault. She's also an overprotective older sibling to Edwina. All of this adds up to her being more than a match for Anthony. They're similar, but birds of a feather can flock together just as much as opposites can attract. Edwina wants Kate to approve of the suitor she marries and so she spends as much time pushing them together as they spend awkwardly running into one another and pretending they can't feel the sparks flying between them. Whilst season one spent almost as much time on Daphne and Simon as newlyweds as it did on their pre-marriage relationship, season two is much more of a slow burn. The fact that they start out in competition, him trying to get closer to Edwina and her trying to keep him away, just makes their romance all the more entertaining. 

I have to mention Lady Featherington. She's an absolute social menace, but - my God - is she entertaining. She schemes her way through this season, dropping herself into hot water one second and pulling herself out the next. Really, the Bridgertons are fortunate that Lady Featherington does not think her daughters stand a chance of marrying their sons, because she's proven that - if she really wanted to - she could have them all trapped into marriage within a week.

Let's finish up by talking about everyone's favourite Bridgerton couple-to-be - Penelope and Colin. I get that we're all supposed to feel bad for Penelope in the final episode when she overhears Colin saying that he would never dream of courting her, but he was a really good friend to her this season. It might not be what Penelope so desperately wants, but Colin is genuinely very fond of her. He's always happy to see her and when he thinks her family is being used in a scam he immediately takes action, assuming as he does so the innocence of not just Penelope, but her sisters and her scheming mother too. I think the real conflict between these two will not come down to Colin seeing Penelope as a friend, but the fact that everything Colin does see when he looks at Penelope is a lie. Nothing about the way he perceives her - as someone sweet, someone vulnerable and in need of protection - meshes with her taking on the persona of Lady Whistledown. Penelope, for all that we sympathise with her plight both at home and out in society, writes a gossip column in an era where gossip can be lethal. She regularly destroys people's reputations and - by extension - their lives for money and her own amusement. Not to mention, she is the reason he called off his engagement to Marina, a decision that is still haunting him. When we finally get there, it'll be interesting to see how they resolve this conflict.

Have you read any of the Bridgerton novels?

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