Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The River of No Return: Time travel. Upturned petticoats. ENOUGH SAID.

Well here’s an example of a book I probably never would have stumbled into on my own. But as soon as Alice said “time travel” and “sexytimes” in her review, there was no future scenario that didn’t include me reading this pretty much immediately.

As Nicholas Falcott, Marquess* of Blackdown, faces his imminent death on the battlefield, he spontaneously jumps forward in time from the 18th century to the 21st. He is met there by a member of the Guild, an organization of time travelers who guard the rivers of time, protect the future, and help accidental time travelers such as Nick discreetly assimilate into their new time and place, wherever that may be. But the Guild has rules for its members, the first and most important being “You can never return” and also “You can never return.” Nick has to leave his home country of England forever, and he can never go back to his own time. The reason for this last one is that the river of time runs ever forward to the sea—and other equally scientific explanations most often delivered by Nick's Guild-approved time-traveling companion, an older gentleman with wild white hair.

I see what you did there, Ridgway.

But about that assimilation thing.
All his skills were obsolete. Slaughtering Frenchmen; ignoring the stench of open sewers; dressing in absurdly tight clothing; seducing the buxom, sleepy-eyed daughters of innkeepers. Useless talents in this slick and modern present. These days Frenchmen were nice and unavailable for slaughter. Pretty women were skinny and looked at a single man like Nick with starving intensity, as if he were a piece of low-fat cheese. (p. 37)
He does find his footing eventually, even managing to enjoy the hungry-eyed, forward ladies of the future, which may or may not have something to do with his also getting into the cheese-making business. But by the time he’s good and modernized, the Guild summons him and says, “SURPRISE. Those first two rules are bullshit, and we kind of need you to go back to England and also to the 18th century. Can you still fit into your fancy pants?”

And WHAT fancy pants they are.

You see, a rebel faction of time travelers called the Ofan are fiddling with the river of time and it’s having terrible repercussions on the far future. The Guild needs Nick to use his reputation as the lady-killing Marquess to find out what they’re up to.

So then it becomes a bit Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as Nick tries to unlearn all his modern knowledge and convince his family and old acquaintances that he had amnesia in Spain for 3 years even though he now looks 10 years older and believes in women's rights. The pop culture references are so subtle that I’m pretty sure I missed most of them, which is just how I like my pop culture references. And of course there’s Romance with the dark-eyed girl from his childhood whom he dreamed about every day of his modern life. It’s the best kind of romance, too, because it mostly entails removing one’s glove to touch the other’s bare hand and meeting in the woods without a chaperone and admiring the other’s shapely rump as she rides away atop her horse.

And Julia, in addition to a pleasant backside, has a whole story line all her own that crashes into Nick's in the most intriguing/semi-tragic way. And she is SMART and uniquely TALENTED and just naughty enough to provide us with some entertainment.

So LA-dee-DA, polite society.

Word around town is that Ms. Ridgway is continuing this story as a series. I am glad of this.

*I've been pronouncing this title wrong my whole life and maybe you have been, too. Apparently, it's "markwes." That is so awkward in my mouth.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Looks like we made it. Look how far we've come my, blog

In what was pretty much an exact repeat of last year, I had this vague idea that I wrote my first blog post sometime around Thanksgiving, and LO! November 25, 2011, was that fateful day.

Happy blogiversary to meeeeeeeee.

I rewatched Julie & Julia last night, and it got me thinking about blogging and how it can sometimes save our lives. And that's not hyperbole. I was at my personal worst around this time last year, and I've been fighting my way toward the surface ever since. I don't really talk about my personal life here on the ol' blog, but it still provides a release valve for my occasional insanity. And it inspires me to read more, which reminds me that life is gorgeous and sometimes terrible but then usually pretty nice again.

Plus, the beautiful people I've met through this medium are wonders of modern humanity. You know that well-worn rule of the Internet: "NEVER READ THE COMMENTS"? That doesn't remotely apply to book blogs. The comment section is where we say smart things and lovely things and become lifelong friends who will definitely sleep on each other's couches someday. This is truly the best corner of the Internet. (It's like the Hufflepuff common room: full of throw pillows and close to the snacks.)

So book blogger friends far and wide, I love you.

This one's for you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Good Omens: "Aziraphale was an angel, but he also worshiped books"

Good Omens is just the tiniest bit blasphemous.

OK, yeah...a lot blasphemous.


The story opens with a clandestine meeting between two dukes of Hell and a fallen angel named Crowley. More accurately, Crowley is "an Angel who did not so much fall as saunter vaguely downwards." Crowley is tasked with setting the Apocalypse in motion by planting the infant spawn of Satan with an unsuspecting American family who will unknowingly raise him to embrace his more nefarious qualities (because AMERICAN) and, in so doing, bring about the end of the world.

The thing is . . . Crowley doesn't much want the world to end. But he can't directly disobey orders; so he and his enemy-who's-really-more-of-a-friend-after-all-these-centuries-of-being-enemies, the angel Aziraphale, get together to see if they can maybe derail this Apocalypse Train in a roundabout waywith Aziraphale doing what angels do and Crowley doing what demons do, and may the best man win and the Powers That Be remain none the wiser.

I will never stop wanting this to happen.

The cast of characters (listed most amusingly at the beginning of the book) is diverse, encompassing beings from Heaven, Hell, Earth, and a few cracks in between. Even though he wrote this fairly early in his career, Neil Gaiman's trademark style is pretty prominent. And Terry Pratchett's effortless sense of humor is right there in every sentence. The two styles combine so seamlessly that, when asked, even the authors can't quite recall who wrote what.

But about that blasphemy.
God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time. (p. 14)
This is not, in fact, how I feel about the Great Plan. But . . . well, sometimes that's EXACTLY how I feel about it. And that's what makes it funny. Like when Crowley explains that he can do little acts of evil here and there to satisfy his job description but humans end up doing most of the work for him. The Spanish Inquisition, for instance. Nothing to do with Crowley, even if he DID get an award for it.

Wherever you land on the continuum of religious belief, there's really no good reason to lose your sense of humor. And this book is a good reminder of that.

Can't argue with that.