Love is all around…

This week we lost one of my heroes.  Mary Tyler Moore passed away Wednesday January 25 and the world is now emptier.  Years ago, I read a biography of MTM entitled “After All”.  Her life story is riveting and we could talk about that for days.  But, as you might suspect, what I really want to mention are the two television shows that made her famous.

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As Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke show, she was everything this little girl wanted to be when I grew up.  She was a beautiful wife with a handsome husband.  They would dance and sing in the den for goodness sake!  But, as an adult, I realize how groundbreaking she really was in this role.  She fought for her character to be able to wear pants (and boy did she look good in them.)  Laura might have been a housewife but she was a feminist groundbreaker.  Rob was expected to help with housework when he got home from his job in the city and he was a partner in raising their son.  I especially love the episode in which Laura gets the opportunity to be one of the dancers on The Alan Brady Show.  She goes in every day and faces the physical demands of that full time job.  And, when Rob gets home, he still finds a clean house and dinner on the table.  He’s concerned when she is offered a permanent position (this is the 1960’s after all).  Because she’s made it look so “easy” he thinks she will jump at the chance.  However, Laura makes it clear that she had to work her butt off to make it look easy.  It wasn’t easy.  It was hard.  But women have a way of just getting it done.  There were many episodes where it was clear that Laura was the ‘strong’ one in this partnership.  (And as an aside, my husband and I have had many conversations about the differences between television back then and now.  Consider the talent that was on this show.  Almost everyone could not only act but also sing, dance and was funny as heck.  They truly don’t make them like this anymore.)

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Now, the one that will make me cry.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  There has never been another show on television that could compare.  As Mary Richards, MTM was the blueprint for all future working women.  She moved to Minneapolis to start a new life when she and her fiance broke up.  But, this show wasn’t about breakups and romance.  She wasn’t desperate to find a man.  This was a show about a woman who worked her butt off in a male dominated field and was successful.  Yes, she had to fight to make as much as her male predecessor but she did it.  When there was a promotion on the table, Mary always went for it.  She showed her value with her brains and hard work.  She had SPUNK!  Yes, of course, she had to put up with some crap in the office but she never let it bring her down.  Her boss and coworkers admired her not because she was beautiful but because she was smart.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the MTM show and female friendships.  Was there ever a BFF like Rhoda Morganstern?  The relationship between these two was refreshing.  They weren’t competing over men or worried about who was prettier, made more money or had the nicer purse.  They were simply friends, soulmates and each other’s ride or die.  I intentionally included a picture with Phyllis as well (my husband hates her!)  While she could be annoying (to my husband and Rhoda), she was another example of a strong woman.  She just went about it in a different way than Mary or Rhoda.  Probably my favorite Mary and Rhoda episode is the one where Mary meets a new friend, Joanne, and they start spending time playing tennis and being quite perfect together.  Through a series of events, it appears that Mary is ditching Rhoda for Joanne.  This isn’t the case but you know how it is.  When your BFF has a new friend, you get a little jealous.  Mary wants to include Rhoda in some of their girl time but Joanne balks when she realizes that Rhoda is Jewish.  Mary, who never dreamed of this being an issue, makes it clear where her loyalty lies – with Rhoda.  The episode was named “Some of My Best Friends are Rhoda” and it was a wonderful example of how television can entertain while still making a point about the world we live in.

 

Thank you, Mary Tyler Moore, for being my hero.  You had struggles and sadness like the rest of us.  But, we are left with your legacy that will live on.  From one woman to another, thank you.  Rest In Peace.

 

Review: Dorothy Must Die (Dorothy Must Die #1) by Danielle Paige

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I bought Dorothy Must Die for my 13-year old niece for Christmas.  Then, I decided to add a second copy to my basket so I could read it as well.  She’s been busy with school so I’m sure she hasn’t gotten to it yet but I finished it a few days ago.  And, well…I have a few thoughts.

If you read my reviews you know that I sometimes have questions about the Young Adult classification of several series.  Overall, DMD has a definite YA feel.  However, I was somewhat shocked at the language in the first third of the novel.  I’m not talking about a few but many of the granddaddy curse words that I’d still get in trouble for saying in front of my Mama and I’m 45-years-old.  When I took a second to analyze, it did make sense for the character but it was shocking.

The idea for this story is stellar.  Dorothy couldn’t handle being normal when she got back to Kansas at the end of The Wizard of Oz so she finds her way back to Oz.  Then, as it does, her power started going to her head.  The residents of Oz need someone to save them from her tyranny.  Paige also did a pretty decent job of the good vs. evil/wicked trope.  Who gets to  decide what is evil?  And, is it wicked to do a bad thing for a good reason?

But, I have to say that I was fairly disappointed.  The writing wasn’t that great and felt stunted and forced in some sections.  It’s also full of all the things that adult readers tend to hate in YA.  Insta-love (or in this case insta-attraction for no good reason).  Female MC who is pretty dang stupid when it comes down to it.  And, the cliched ‘good girl’ who lives in a trailer park with her alcoholic mother and just can’t catch a break.  How many times do we have to read about this?

My rating for DMD is 2/5 stars but I have to admit that I am tempted to read book two.  I’d really like to know what happens next.  Is that normal?

Mini-Review: A Murder is Announced (Miss Marple #5) by Agatha Christie

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If you’ve read any of my prior Christie reviews, you will know that I absolutely love Poirot but feel ambivalent towards Miss Marple.  Her stories do not resonate with me and I find them significantly less enjoyable.

A Murder is Announced isn’t a bad book but there really is nothing special about it.  Miss Marple titters around talking about human nature and how so and so in the village did X so it must mean that the killer did Y.  They really are all that same formula.  And, don’t think I’m being dismissive of a female led series.  It simply is what it is.  Christie calls Miss Marple an old woman and generalizes that all old women in these villages are the same.

Having said that, some of the mysteries are better than others.  Unfortunately, in this case, I figured out a good portion of the big reveal pretty early on.  That’s always a disappointment because I expect Christie to trick me.  Here it was pretty clear what would be a “big shock” for the denouement.

Lastly, just as a note…I cannot determine if Christie herself hated anyone who wasn’t English or if she just wrote many characters who were xenophobic.  I have a tendency to give her the benefit of the doubt since Poirot was Belgian and experienced discrimination for being a foreigner.  I always felt that Christie intended for us to be sympathetic towards him.  But, sometimes, I’m not quite sure.  There are so many negative references to foreigners (well, honestly, anyone different whether it be nationality, race or social status).  Books should reflect the times in which they are set and I’m not a fan of revisionist history.  So, if this is accurate for ‘society in England’ at this time so be it.  It is, however, rather jarring to read with today’s sensibilities.

2.5/5 stars.

Review: One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #3) by Ilona Andrews

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While I’ve enjoyed the Innkeeper Chronicles from the beginning, I always felt that the Kate Daniels series would remain as my favorite Andrews.  With One Fell Sweep, the IC has begun to give Kate a run for her money.  (In fact, if I look at all of the Andrews’ books, OFS is second only to Magic Bites on my favorites list.)

If you aren’t familiar with the Innkeeper books, here’s what you need to know.  Dina is an Innkeeper who is magically connected to the Inn that she runs.  Her B&B is basically a safe haven on Earth for alien travelers.  She takes her role as their protector very seriously.  Her love interest, Sean, is a werewolf (though the specifics of wolf-ism are different in this world).  In OFS, she receives an urgent message from her sister (who we’ve never met) and Dina enlists the help of friends to rescue Maud and her daughter, Helen.  Then they are all pulled into a holy war against a dying race, the Hiru, who offer Dina a bargain – help us and we will give you a tool to assist you in finding your lost parents.

The main reason this works is the blend of humor, action and heart.  OFS made me laugh out loud and cry multiple times.  It is that good.  Plus, Helen is one of my new favorite characters.  If I had a child who was half-vampire, I’d want them to be just like her.  And, the fight scenes are on-point.

One other thing that I just need to note is the Andrews’ creativity.  In building the Innkeeper world, they’ve allowed for other series characters to make appearances.  Thus far we’ve only seen George and Jack from the Edge series.  BUT…If you think about it, there is room for the Kate Daniels world, etc. to coexist and still make sense.

I cannot recommend the Innkeeper series enough.  You do want to start with book one, Clean Sweep.  Don’t delay.  It’s worth every penny.  5/5 stars.

Mini-Review: Death in the Clouds (Hercule Poirot #12) by Agatha Christie

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Death in the Clouds in a fairly standard Poirot mystery – which still rates a 3.5-4 star result. Working my way through the series, I have become enamored of the character. He has many idiosyncrasies and personality quirks which make him one of the most iconic characters in not only classic mysteries but literature in general. One of my favorite traits is his affection for women of a certain type. He seems to favor strong, sassy and formidable women. I like that. A lot! In Death in the Clouds, his femme choisie is Jane Grey – a hairdresser who is drawn into helping him solve the murder.

Ce que c’est drôle.

Review: Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas

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Hi, my name is Mary and I am a middle-aged woman who occasionally reads YA fantasy series and *gasps* enjoys them.

There really are three age groups in fantasy literature.  There are books/series that are clearly Young Adult.  The characters are teenage or younger, the subject matter isn’t quite as advanced (violence, sexual content, etc.) and it’s typically a little easier to read (see: Harry Potter, The Mortal Instruments, etc.).  Adult fantasy has primarily adult characters in adult situations and can be a more difficult read for those that aren’t longtime fantasy readers (see: Game of Thrones).

Then there is the third category of ‘somewhere in the middle’.  And, I guess, my question is who decides which category a book fits into?  Hear me out.  In Throne of Glass, the female protagonist is 18 years old.  She is an assassin and has been in prison for over a year.  She was beaten and barely survived. Book one, Throne of Glass, is fairly violent with Celaena beating the crap out of someone or someone beating the crap out of Celaena in many scenes.  I know that in future books she has sex with several different characters.  This is categorized by everyone as YA.  (I’m not questioning this; just making a point.)

In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, the female protagonist is a teenager (I can’t recall her exact age but I believe she was younger in book one than Celaena is here.)  She is a street urchin with special powers but isn’t a killer.  Spoiler alert: she does have sex in the books but only after she is married and it all happens off the page.  While I have in rare cases seen someone classify Mistborn as YA, it is almost always considered an adult fantasy and the bookstores shelve it as such.

Then, what makes Throne of Glass fit YA and Mistborn fit Adult?  I honestly don’t know.  But I have a guess.  Let’s talk world building first.  Brandon Sanderson is a genius world builder and the world he created in the Mistborn series is unbelievable.  Exceptional.  Unsurpassed.  Maas’ world in TOG isn’t as well built.  But, you know what?  There are a lot of ‘adult’ fantasy series that cannot touch Sanderson’s world building and Maas does at least as well as many of them.  So, I don’t think it’s the world building.

Also in Mistborn, there also isn’t a love triangle in sight.  Pretty much from the start it’s clear that Vin and Elend will be together eventually and there are no other real viable love interests for her.  TOG has a pretty clear love triangle beginning to form.  Does this make it YA – the dreaded love triangle trope?  Maybe.  I do think it has something to do with this but let’s be fair and honest.  Many adult books also have love triangles.  It is a tried and true method of drawing in a certain readership.

So, why is TOG classified as YA?  I’m still left in the dark.  My guess is that it’s a combination of the love triangle, the young female lead character and the female author.  But maybe I’m wrong. Tell me what you think in the comments below.  I’d love to understand.

(P.S. I gave Throne of Glass 4/5 stars.  While I can see the problems some people had with a few things, I thoroughly enjoyed it and found Celaena to be an interesting character.  I’ve already ordered book two.)

Review: In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash) by Jean Shepherd

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Each Christmas I re-read A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd.  It is a collection of short stories on which the movie is based.  I recently decided to purchase the author’s three full collections of short stories.

In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash) is the first of those three.  (Eleven of the fifteen stories were new to me.)  Shepherd had an interesting way of pulling everything together.  He starts in Chapter 1 by going back to his hometown as a middle-aged adult.  In a local bar, he finds Flick, his childhood friend, as the bartender.  They start reminiscing and Shepherd tells stories.  Between each they reminisce some more.

If you enjoy Americana or are just a major fan of the movie, you will love this collection.  It would be easy to say that the best stories are those used in the movie but the others are just as interesting.  And, you will find scenes throughout and minor occurrences that you will think “aha, that’s where it came from”.

Shepherd’s voice sang through each story.  I read them with his rhythm and cadence.  Even though he is describing a childhood a few generations before my time, it still rang true.  From the childhood guilt you would feel if you got away with something or the joy of getting a “free” gift with purchase (my favorites were the Smurf glasses we got at Hardees.)  There is a lot of laughter to be found in the stories but also the heartfelt reality of hard times.

This was originally published in 1966 and read through today’s eyes, it would be easy to bristle at some of his language and his references to women.  But, the truth is, I was able to give him a pass here.  Getting a sense of who he was, I feel he deserves it as there really was no negative intent.  Others might disagree and that’s fine.  For me, though, I think you do have to look at the period in which a book was written and make some allowances.

Anyway, I wanted to include a snippet so that you can understand what a genius Shepherd was at articulating something that you’ve always felt but have never been able to put into words.  In this scene Ralph has repeated a very inappropriate joke with very inappropriate language to his neighbor.  When his Mom finds out, she confronts him and he admits telling the joke but she knows that he didn’t ‘get it’ when he says that one of the words he used was related to hockey (this continued to make me laugh even as I typed this).  Ralph is afraid that the hammer is about to drop when she goes to talk to the neighbor.  Enjoy:

“About half an hour later I hear her out in the back, talking over the fence to Mrs. Wocznowski.  And I am frantically trying to hear what she is saying.  I’m out in the kitchen, next to the icebox.  This is terrible, because I know I have done something awful, and yet I don’t really know.  You know what I mean? You don’t really know, you just know that what you have done is unspeakable.  Unspeakable! You not only feel that it was unspeakable, you feel untouchable.  I mean, you’re just really rotten!  To the core.  You are never going to make it up the ladder of human virtues. You are never again going to be accepted into the race.  Ever.  You know that sickening feeling? It takes a hundred years to grow out of that one, if ever!”

Ralph’s Mom proceeds to explain to Mrs. Wocznowski that they boys didn’t understand the joke.  Mrs. W is crying and upset.  Ralph’s Mom is trying to hold back laughter.

4/5 stars.