Monday, September 01, 2014

The Duke's Guide to Correct Behavior (Dukes Behaving Badly, #1)The Duke's Guide to Correct Behavior by Megan Frampton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edelweiss gave me an uncorrected proof of this book, and I'm so glad they did. I've not had the pleasure of reading Megan Framptonbefore, but I'm very grateful for the opportunity.

The Duke's Guide to Correct Behavior

is a charming story about an unconventional pair of lovers drawn together by a little girl. No, it's not the most original of tales, but it's handled well. The characters are engaging, their connection and ultimate romance seems genuine and progresses naturally. I dare not offer much in the way of spoilers, as the book is not due out yet for some time. But it was a very enjoyable, satisfying read.

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Moonlight On My MindMoonlight On My Mind by Jennifer McQuiston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my first time reading Jennifer McQuiston, but I'll be picking up her backlist as soon as is humanly possible. She writes delightful characters, with real, heartfelt human emotions. Her hero, Patrick, is utterly charming. When first we meet him, he's sneaking into his house, trying to avoid a ballroom, and  filthy with dung and sweat. We learn quickly that a)his family is hosting a house party, and b)he'd rather be in the barn. Because our hero is the younger son of an Earl, but he is not a feckless rogue or a dandy. He's a veterinarian.

We meet the heroine at the same time, teasing and flirting with him, in hopes of using him to snag his elder brother's attention. This is Julianne, and the two exchange witty conversation that makes it clear from the get-go this is the couple we're rooting for. Julianne rapidly realizes she prefers the spare to the heir. Unfortunately, she won't have much time with either of them.

Because the next chapter picks up eleven months later, and something dreadful has happened. During the house party, there was a hunting accident, and the heir has been killed. What's worse is that Julianne seems to have implicated Patrick in his brother's death.

The writer engages in mild soap opera and takes advantage of the old standby plotline- Patrick weds Julianne so she cannot testify against him. But there is much more going on in this storyline than a marriage of convenience. Julianne has come to give Patrick more bad news, and to make amends to him any way she can. There's to be an inquest, she's to be called as a witness. And, oh, by the way... his father has died.

Patrick is surprisingly sanguine about the whole thing. Our heroine "ruins a man's life" (as stated on the book jacket blurb)and his response is to NOT seek to revenge himself upon her. I must say that I found him just adorable- Patrick is described less in terms of how he looks (He's a little slight, with "nondescript" light brown hair. He tends to smell of horse and dog.) But he is, above all else, a good man. He's thoughtful, forgiving, and kind. Of course, our heroine is going to fall head over heels in love with him.

Our lovers work together to save the new Earl from the hangman's noose, and uncover not one, but two murders. There's a little bit of action, a great deal of intrigue, and some truly lovely romance. The story is well told, in gripping dialogue by fully-fleshed out and realized characters, and culminates in a satisfyingly joyous (but never unbelievable) happy ending.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin (The Debutante Files, #1)A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin by Sophie Jordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin should be just the kind of book I love to read. There's a likeable heroine and a hero with a dark, tragic secret in his past. There's delicious, snarky banter as the pair revisit an old childhood friendship and renegotiate their interaction as adults. The love scenes are hot enough of scorch the print right off the page.

Yet I can only give this book two stars. If this were a first book, from a new author, I might rate it higher... but I just expect more from the talented Sophie Jordan. The prose is lush, the side characters well crafted and humorous. The difficulty lies with the main characters, Rosalie and her stepbrother, Declan. These two characters never come fully to life. Rosalie just isn't particularly...deep. She's grown up in a rural boarding school, placed there by her mother, the notorious second wife of a recently deceased Duke. Her mother is an awful person, who has abandoned her... yet we are never really shown how this abandonment has impacted her personality. When our book begins, she's been living at the school two years beyond graduation, without any financial support from her family. She's being unceremoniously dumped on the doorstep of her step-brother, the new Duke, by a headmistress who can't keep her and has no place for her.

The stepbrother hasn't seen our heroine for ten years, since he was unceremoniously chucked out of the house by his late father, the previous Duke, at roughly the same time that Rosalie was sent to school. When our characters reunite for the first time, he doesn't even recognize her, and apparently hasn't given her a thought in a decade.

As for Rosalie, she seems to have cherished a childhood crush on her stepbrother... but has made no attempt to keep in contact with him after they were separated. (At this point, the reader will start wondering, why not? But no explanation is ever offered.)

Actually, that's the main problem with Rosalie. For whatever she does, throughout the course of the book... no explanation is ever forthcoming. Her mind is completely opaque to the reader. She moves from situation to situation without really reacting to them, unmarked by the tragedies around her. She is never perplexed by the attitudes and behaviour of her relations, but accepts them unquestioningly. So Mom stuck her into a school and never came back... Rosalie doesn't mind. Declan left the house, never wrote her a letter, and didn't answer the headmistress when she wrote him about Rosalie. Again, Rosalie doesn't ever question why this is the case.

Small spoiler, here... Declan, our hero, is a victim of child molestation at the hands of his stepmother. But we are never really shown any effects this situation has left upon his life, either. He's your cliche regency rogue. He's even introduced to the audience with a tart on his arm, bringing his friends home for a bit of drink and debauchery. When reunited with his stepsister, we are given glimpses of his thought processes which are frankly, disturbing. He goes from "who is this chick?" to sexual yearning in about a paragraph. Remember... This is a sexual abuse victim, looking at the daughter of his rapist. If that doesn't tell you what's wrong with this book, nothing else I have to say will really matter.

Selling these stepsiblings as a love story was always going to be a challenge. But the author never really delves into the necessary angst to make us believe in this relationship. Instead, she relies on some sort of instantaneous sexual magnetism between her lovers- a situation which, under the circumstances, beggars belief.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

This is why we can't have nice things: The Politics of Historic Preservation, and Colonial Gardens

I happened to catch Mandy Connell's program on WHAS radio this morning. And usually, we're on the same side of an issue, Mandy and I. I'm quite the fan. But we part company on the issue of historic preservation. Today, she was talking about Metro Council's override of Mayor Fischer's veto of the new landmarks ordinance. She thinks it's a good thing. I think it's a bad bet that will allow short-term interests to affect the longterm trajectory of the city's development. I foresee the return of the bad old days of the 1950s, when large swathes of the city's historical properties were rendered into parking lots.

 It seems that the preservation commission will now answer to Metro Council; the Council will have the power to deny a Landmarks designation to historic properties approved by the Preservation people. Furthermore, of the 200 signatures required to bring a property under historic consideration, half of them will now be required to come from within one mile of the site under question.

At first glance, this seems sensible- after all, the Preservationists are a group of unelected officials who can make life difficult for developers and businesspeople. Mandy hammered home the fact that they literally have no one over them, no one to gainsay their decisions, and that this new change would provide the public a bit more power in determining what gets designated a historic landmark. And who could be upset that the neighbors' decisions carry a little more weight than people living farther afield, when discussing the fate of a historic building? Surely, living close to a site, they are more qualified to determine its relevance to their neighborhood.

And I'd agree with all of that, if I didn't know much about the controversy over Colonial Gardens. The site has been unoccupied for most of my life. But it began its story as an early 20th century Beer Garden, a major tourist destination and entertainment venue. It housed the area's first zoo, and has played host to myriad musicians and celebrities in its heyday. It's a large, ramshackle building in a serious state of decline, which will be expensive to rehabilitate and return to public use. But its unique status in local history, its unusual architecture, and its prime location (across from Iroquois Park) suggest it could be a successful location again, with the right owners.

The problem is, the good people of the South End hate this building. Its nearby neighbors regard it as an eyesore. I remember when it was still occupied, when I was a girl. It housed a bar for rough clientele, like many other bars in the area. Even then, it wasn't uncommon to hear people wishing the place would burn to the ground. It's always been dirty and poorly maintained. It's synonymous with peeling paint, drooping rooflines, and detached guttering. It seems to attract trash from all sides, collecting along the base of the building. It looks bad, it looks dangerous and scary.

Colonial Gardens is close to some nicer early 20th century homes in Kenwood Hills, and some tidy mid-century moderns along New Cut Road. It's a stone's throw from beautiful Victorians over on Southern Parkway. But the majority of homes in the area are inexpensive, single story ranch houses, cheap apartment dwellings, and low income rental houses. The entirety of New Cut Road and Taylor Boulevard has a sort of depressed, down-on-its-luck atmosphere of the lower working class and the hopelessly poor. These people are unfamiliar with the history of the area they live in. They lack the imagination to envisage a new use for this old building. The historic sites of the South End have withered away over three decades, being pulled down and replaced with a plethora of gas stations, pawn shops, and discount stores. They're also pretty well desperate for good shops and services here, much like everywhere else in southwest Louisville. Over the last few decades, the area has seen its business base eroded- the department stores have all folded up and moved away. The local restaurant scene has been replaced with chains of fast-food retailers. The only places to buy new books are the grocery stores. The neighbors would like to see Colonial Gardens' teetering facade replaced with something useful. Perhaps a nice drugstore; something clean and well lit, with plenty of parking.

The neighbors can't really imagine a Colonial Gardens that houses a fine restaurant, nightclub, movie theatre, or specialty shop. They know those sorts of places just don't open up around here. They know that the spot is too large and will require too much renovation to make it viable as a liquor store, pawn shop, flea market, tobacco retailer, or one of those Dollar Generals that seem to spring up with alarming regularity in these parts. And it must seem that bulldozing it and putting up something new is a better option than watching it continue to disintegrate.

But this is exactly why historic preservation is so important to a community. It is the job of preservationists to look not just at what a community is like at this moment in time, but at where it has been before, and from that, to try to envisage where it could go in the future. We are in an economic depression, and Southwest Louisville has been hit hard. But that does not mean we will continue in this downward spiral. Why shouldn't the area become more profitable and wealthy in years to come? Perhaps, even, enough to sustain more successful ventures, and to afford the restoration of buildings like Colonial Gardens.

The site was granted protection in 2008. With the proposed change to preservation law here in Louisville, this protection is in danger of being overturned. But if that happens, if Colonial Gardens is razed, we will have lost something precious, and we will never get it back. One of the few remaining early structures in the area will go, to be replaced with something as common and unremarkable as another dollar store or flea market. Perhaps if we're really lucky, it'll become the site for yet another cheap Mexican restaurant. We will have surrendered the site's uniqueness, history and potential, to the forces of the mundane, to a lack of imagination and a pervasive sense of hopelessness and failure. Because that's what another concrete and steel box surrounded by asphalt really is: an acceptance that we can't do any better. We'll always be too poor to have things like historic preservation and rejuvenated business districts. Things will never improve, and all we can hope for is a bit more parking while we pick up our shampoo and detergents, or refill a prescription.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Corpses at the Titanic Wreck Site

Just got up and thought I'd have a cup of tea and look at the news, and I saw this. In the immortal words of twelve year olds everywhere, "duh." There are corpses on the site where the Titanic sank- or at least bits of corpses. You can't tell me this is news to the public?

That bit about the shoes- I've seen the "cropped" picture before, back in 85, I guess; on one of the documentaries. I distinctly recall the voiceover stating that, owing to the way the shoes are arranged, they used to have feet in them.

If they cropped out the coat, that was just placating delicate sensibilities: 1500 people died, of course there are bodies. It's a massive graveyard. And we're supposed to be surprised there are forensic people bits in the dirt?

After a hundred years in dry ground, there sometimes isn't much left to show where a body was interred, but there are almost always some clues to go on, some hints. Coffin nails. Changes in color and texture to the soil, if nothing else.This is the same thing; the leather and fabrics are marking the presence of bodies; it's even possible that there would be forensic traces in the soil, evidence of microbial activity in decomposition. When did this become news?

Update: So, there's actual news, it's just not showing up over on this side of the globe. I found this article, which brings up interesting ideas- there are lots of shoes in the debris field, but it's theoretically possible that there could be anoxic areas of the ship, with greater organic preservation. So possibly, not just shoes and coats, but bone. There's even a claim of a finger bone (in a wedding ring) in the debris field itself. So that's news. Grim news, but actual news, that might be useful in the legal wrangling about salvage vs site preservation.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thinky Thoughts...

Amid all the class warfare and "tax the rich!" nonsense, no one seems to have stated the obvious. I figured this was because it WAS obvious. Now I am not so sure...

So, a little thought for those of you convinced the millionaires can make up the overruns on the public treasury: The "Rich" don't pay income tax. Because, technically speaking, they don't earn income. See, money comes from two sources. A man works and earns it from his employer. Or money itself works; it moves around in the economy, accruing interest and paying dividends. "The Rich" do not typically work for a living, they move money around. All the income tax reform in the world won't squeeze a dime out of them.

Which leads me to the obvious point... "The Rich" know how to move money around. They have a degree of economic mobility the rest of us lack. That economic mobility translates to physical mobility and moreover, to personal autonomy and socioeconomic power. I'll put it simply- you can't squeeze "The Rich" because "The Rich" have a power the middle and lower classes do not; if things get bad enough, they can leave.

They've been leaving for decades, and we as a nation are poorer for it, because they go, and they take their money with them. It stops funding innovation, research, and employment in this country, and starts "working" elsewhere. Meanwhile, the government starts looking around at who is left to take money from. The answer is always the middle class. See, the poor don't pay taxes; they don't make enough money to do so in our "progressive" income tax system. The middle class, however, are in a bind... they make "extra" money (by lower class and governmental standards) and they are tied to jobs, mortgages, and debts that mean they can't go anywhere. Often their "wealth" is tied up in retirement plans they dare not touch, and homes they cannot easily sell.

The truth of the matter is that "taxing the rich" is a myth, a dream. What they're really talking about is "taxing the trapped."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ranty post: Quit assuming I'm stupid because I'm female.

So my laptop needs a new lcd screen. There is currently a spreading crack from top to bottom that makes viewing a website something akin to a Jackson Pollock painting. So I decided to go get some estimates on screen replacement. I figured I'd get a few, then do some looking at customer reviews of the businesses, then make my decision. I'm not even sure yet that I will fix this thing; I may sell off its component parts and buy a new one; the parts go for quite a bit on ebay, and in the three months since I bought it, the price for my laptop has gone down 200.00. Dell's warranty apparently covers everything BUT my screen; they won't tell me how much to fix it til I pay to ship it to them. I'm not going to ship it off so they can hold it hostage to whatever price they choose to quote me.

The three "small business" computer repair places around here surprised me; only one of them will give a written estimate for free. That place quoted me 205 for the job. The other two quoted "ranges" of prices- one said 184-240, but wanted 10.00 to put it in writing. The other said 250, but refused to write it down at all and said "it might change once we get it open." Neither of these folks inspired confidence in me.

But the worst of the worst was Best Buy. Their very sincere-sounding employee told me it'd be "at least 500" and then said, "but honestly, if it was me, I'd just toss it and buy a new one." The laptop is three months old and cost 729.00. Toss it? He's either the stupidest man who ever lived, or he's just plain evil. My guess is, he looked at a middle-aged housewife-type and the dollar signs just clouded his vision; he thought he could sell me a new computer instead of quoting me a price on fixing this one. Asshole. I swear, I loathe people like that; I will likely never set foot in Best Buy again, after the experience. He wanted to take advantage of me, only he didn't know I'm NOT stupid and I already priced the job elsewhere. (Actually? I priced the screen online myself- 150.00; I just was gathering job costs in order to decide if it's worth me fixing it at all, or fixing it myself. The hassle of finding a schematic online, and borrowing appropriate tools, might make it worth paying someone else to do it.)

Anyway, I just wanted to put this out there: Best Buy's "Geek Squad" service is a scam, designed to prey on the ignorant. Don't shop there, don't use their services. Put them out of business.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Post - Partisan Academia?

This is truly the article I thought I would never see. The NY Times examines anti-conservative bias among psychologists. I can think of a number of professors I've had over the years who could stand to read this piece; portions of the anthropological community bank hard to the left. Many is the time I've sat in a classroom biting my tongue so hard it might bleed, trying not to answer back to commentary that makes me, and my values, the butt of a joke. The soft sciences all seem to lean left, with a strong emphasis on "social justice" and cultural relativity.

I'll buy cultural relativity writ small; if we're to study societies then we should study them without prejudice. But to be honest, I'm not sure what part "social justice" should play in anthropology;if an ethnographer is documenting a people, is it right to also advocate for them? Is there a conflict of interest? If you're an archaeologist, to whom do you owe your loyalties, the bones in the ground, the people living in the area, or the people (sometimes states away) laying claim to them as ancestors? (In reality, I think the loyalties may too often go to whomever paid the grant money. But the right answer ought to be "to the truth," regardless of what sacred cows get gored.)What about the folks doing research into human genetics- is it okay to investigate the differences between genders and ethnicities? What if we bump into things nobody wants to hear? What about investigations into human origins and the first migrations out of Africa- is there any danger of political bias there as well? (Non-africans derive some small percentage of their genome from Neanderthals; imagine how something like that could be twisted for racist use.)

Whenever we examine paradigms, we look at the historical context of the argument. Unless we're talking about "Now." The now never gets contextualized by current trends, everyone assumes that we're all past the colonialist, racist, misogynist, anti-whatever crap of the past. And we definitely are not; the present era has its own shibboleths and bugaboos and sacred cows beyond which we dare not tread. Humanity still has prejudices and preconceptions, just different ones. Myself, I'm looking forward to a Post- political correctness period in American culture. That is, whenever we get one.