Saturday, February 23, 2013

Blindspot, by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore

Blindspot: By a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in DisguiseBlindspot: By a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise by Jane Kamensky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An enjoyable read, if a bit perplexing at times solely due to my feeling that I was being shifted back and forth from one genre to another all the way through. I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, or by the synopsis on the back of it, but I think that a synopsis should at least give a flavor of the contents. Reading the back cover of this (audio) book, one would think this was going to be a nice historical murder mystery. It is that, if you're willing to wait until about halfway through the book for the murder. That's kind of a stretch for a first plot point, at least it would be if that were the first plot point.

This book really seems to me to be more of a historical romance. The first plot point concerns the heroine and her choice to break from an almost literal pit of despair and make a grab for a better life. Since the story is told in letters by the two protagonists, we are also set up with a male protagonist who has his own desperate situation to overcome. It's an intriguing setup which pays off nicely by the end of the tale, but...


I was not prepared for the bodice-ripping soft-core sections. At all. Frankly, I found it all a bit out of place in the story. I'm not saying there shouldn't be sexual tension, but when the sex finally happens it felt like I was reading excerpts from a trashy romance novel pasted in to a solid historical murder mystery. This would be bad enough, but for two-thirds (more?) of the story, our heroine is disguised as a boy, which is always entertaining, but of course our hero is "strangely attracted" to him/her. That's a nice, if overly done, bit of tension. My problem with this particular story is that our heroine exploits that attraction and deliberately tempts the hero with no apparent thought for the turmoil this is causing him. I found that more than a little disturbing and not an admirable quality in her.

Much is made of both characters having distanced themselves from "the church" and apparently any kind of Christianity, but homosexual temptations would still have been very disturbing to an upright, moral man of the times and this is ignored utterly.

All that said, the good guys win, so it ends well. Nice evocation of the period with very few faux pax concerning clothing, usually a big problem in this genre. Nice treatment of the political situation in Boston in 1764. Worth a read.

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Monday, February 04, 2013

Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are many Americans alive today who are convinced that nothing like the internment of the Jews and other minorities in Nazi Germany could ever happen here. Those people need to crack a history book. What the US government did to Japanese Americans during World War 2 is a blot on our record. While the camps in the United States were nowhere nearly as horrific as the ones in Germany, and later Russia, they were an infringement on the civil liberties of thousands of American citizens. Some were fortunate enough to have neighbors who took care of their property and belongings while they were away, but many of them lost everything and had to begin their lives anew after their release. It would be an easy thing to write a bitter, condemnetory, angst-ridden portrait of a shameful time in our nation's history, but Mr. Ford instead gives us a frank and un-judgemental view that is, as per the title, both bitter and sweet.

There are a few anachronisms in the 1986 chapters of this story, but they are minor and I found did not detract from the solid story-telling. The expected themes are present: old world values clashing with new world, racism between whites and Asians as well as between Chinese and Japanese, and patriotism both for good and as a vehicle for greed.

No spy thriller stuff, no car chases, just a vivid picture of Seattle's "International District", as it is known today, during a very tumultuous time. It's also a nice look into the Seattle Jazz scene in the forties, too, which was an unexpected bonus.

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Friday, February 01, 2013

Bro Camp

Friend and filmmaker Brady Hall posted a link on Facebook today to an oh-so-precious little trailer for a slick Manly Man Camping Getaway dude experience. After an initial few seconds of "this looks kind of cool..." it abruptly degrades into a bad episode of "High Five'n White Guys go camping!" (For those of you who didn't live in Seattle in the 80s and 90s, here's a clip of said High-Five'n White Guys from an episode of "Almost Live")  Were it not for the fact that this is a real "dude ranch" type adventure company, the casual viewer could easily take this for a spoof. Even knowing that this was a real thing, I laughed all the way through after the first few seconds.

"Artisinal food"?! Cocktails, propane grills, and a baggage truck...seriously. It's the Dood Ranch! No, it's Bro Camp! Please, I went on Sea Scout adventures in high school where we did more manly things, and I'm a girl. I'd forward this to some rancher friends in Texas and Colorado for the humor value, but they'd have to be hospitalized afterward from either laughing or barfing. The hipster "guy-next-door" voice over extolling the virtues of finding oneself in rugged outdoor male-bonding combined with images of guys unloading gear from a chase truck, eating catered food served by a chef, chugging bottled brewskis, and throwing hatchets at a log make for a jaw-droppingly awesome experience, but probably not in the way intended. I do not exaggerate, my husband's mouth was actually agape whilst watching this for the first time.

The makers of this video seem woefully removed from any kind of reality to which I can relate. I host events at my house that are more rustic than Dude Bro Camp, or whatever Wilderness Collective, the company that puts on these outings, is called. As mentioned above, when I showed this to my spouse he was utterly gobsmacked. He was particularly in awe of the French press coffee, commenting "I took my girls on camping trips when they were babies that were more arduous than that." It's true. In fact, he and I have been on "romantic getaway" type camping trips that were more rugged than this, including one where we snowshoed several miles in, hauling our gear on a sled and pitching a lean-to under a pine tree, cooking our food over a fire with iron and tinware. Oh, and we set up a rustic shooting range and plinked at some rocks and pinecones with our rifles. The rules for that trip were "no gear or supplies that could be had after 1898". Nuts to your pansy theme parties, we do theme camping.

Needless to say, the Facebook comments on this short film were as expected. Even folks whom I know are city dwellers are in awe of the "dood" factor on display here.

M: "This thing is a joke right? It's like a bad SNL skit."
L: "For $2,500 I could go on one hell of a camping trip with plenty of fancy cheese and cocktails..."
E:  "they should just put on their hunting tweed and discuss the colonies while the beaters flush the pheasants."

I don't know if these guys are necessarily "rich and fancy" as one commenter put it. I'm guessing they're just typical urban guys who are trying to fill that manly man vacuum in their lives, although guys who obviously have a lot more cash to blow than I do. Men are meant to "go out and DO things", not just sit around. Are these guys really so unimaginative or inertia-bound that they can't just go hiking or car camping on their own?  I'm not saying women aren't supposed to do things, too, but men are hardwired to go out in to the bush and bag that mammoth and dance around with a bunch of other guys high-fiving, shouting, "Yeah! Food for a month for EVERYBODY!" This is another reason why Bro Camp, while I'm sure it's a lovely time, doesn't really fit the bill. These guys need to be handed fishing poles and told to go catch dinner. They need to learn to build decent cookfires and cook their own grub.

To be fair, Wilderness Collective offers several types of "adventures", of which this is perhaps the most redolent of reality TV. I kid you not, they even include a film crew in the package. One of their other offerings is a mule-packing trip in to the Sierras which looks a heck of a lot more macho than this motorcycle and chase truck deal.

My poor spouse, on the other hand, would probably be happier with a little less manliness around our place. He's out chopping wood every day, feeding and mucking horses, and when I call him to take care of a varmint it's a coyote not a spider (I'm a lousy shot).