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The Lady Vanishes: Thrilling

Growing up, and having a love of mysteries, the story of The Lady Vanishes was always somewhere in the corner of my mind as something I wanted to watch. A few years ago I was thrilled to find the Alfred Hitchcock version on Netflix, but as there was no proper context to what was going on and the heroine seemed situated at the hotel for a very, very long time, I gave up on it, certain there was a thrilling tale in there somewhere but that I just didn’t have the patience to watch it through.

As I was certain the newer, 2013 version by the BBC would be faster paced, I decided to give it a try, and watched it twice because it was so enjoyable. Now I’m plowing through the book by Ethel Lina White and loving that even more! Want to read all her stuff now.

The BBC’s The Lady Vanishes stars Tuppence Middleton as Iris Carr, a young, wealthy orphan who spends her days partying and traveling with her friends. In this version, too, there is time at the hotel before the mystery on the train ride home begins, and it is so because that’s how White wrote it. The group is vacationing somewhere in Eastern Europe and happen to upset a couple of spinster sisters and a Reverend and his wife that are also from England. As someone who has lived and traveled abroad, it is somewhat disconcerting to find either yourself or your countrymen behaving badly elsewhere. We like to think we can be taken as individuals, but all too often our behavior is lumped in with all Americans, or wherever you come from, even if it’s just big city vs. little city. At any rate, Iris soon tires of her friends, sends them off ahead of her, and that is where the real story begins.

Although the movie was very exciting, there wasn’t as much background for some of the minor characters that I would have like to see and I’m happy to report that the book has a lot more on them, including explaining some actions that can’t be fully grasped by watching the movie. I say this in especial consideration of the two spinster sisters. After hearing their side in full, I am very sympathetic to their point of view not to interfere, wrong as it may have been.

Middleton did a great job playing Iris and was Iris rather than having to stretch to act as her at all. Too, Tom Hughes was very suited to play Max Hare, Iris’s helper and romantic interest, and Alex Jennings made a great professor, though the movie never really gets into his fear of hysterical females, which is quite amusing in the book. One wants to know just what he’s experienced with his students at Cambridge. The only false step in casting was perhaps making the possible villains too obvious, but then the book makes them rather obvious as well, though from Iris’s standpoint.

As to the vanishing lady, the story is simply better if you know nothing about the mystery or where it’s going, at least the first time watching. I found the film riveting a second time as I like train settings as well as movies set in the 30s and 40s, and really even if you know the truth you do wonder if Iris is really going mad. It’s fun to imagine what one would do in such a situation, how you would convince doubters to your point of view and all that. It’s funny also to think that often we don’t care about helping strangers until suddenly we do and find we will move heaven and earth if necessary. Sometimes we do act as God’s hands in saving others, even if the rest of the time we’re rather selfish.

High recommendations on both the film and the book (originally called The Wheel Spins), but I haven’t yet read the ending of the book and am curious to see if the film changed the ending. Sometimes screenwriters change the ending for no apparent reason and it irks me to no end.

On Fortune’s Wheel: book review

This was one of my favorite love stories to read in my teens and early twenties. Maybe like the heroine, Birle, I just have a thing for men with blue eyes and lordly airs, but upon reading it again, I find the draw of the story has always been how both Birle and Orien adapt to each new circumstance as it comes. They adapt for different reasons at different times, sometimes for mere survival, other times because they have their lover’s safety and good in mind, as when Orien puts on a facade, belittling Birle before men who would harm her in order to divert their interests from her.

Cynthia Voigt’s books set in the medieval world of The Kingdom are set apart from other YA fiction both by how well she writes determined young people, their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, all hidden underneath a stoicism alien to many teens today, and by her choice to narrate in the third person. I’ve no objection to first person narrative, but too often it is used in young adult fiction as an “easy” way of connecting with how teens think, and often the efforts are cringeworthy and end up rapidly dating the books. Voigt’s Kingdom books were largely written in the 80s and early 90s, a time when there was a remoteness to youth that is nonexistent today in our culture of social media. In On Fortune’s Wheel, the characters have no one to share their thoughts with except themselves, and occasionally with each other. There’s an almost magical quality to this now, though it used to be how things ordinarily were.

As bewitched as fourteen-year-old Birle is by the older Orien, he is just as enchanted by her, eagerly discussing their different backgrounds and speculating on life with her as if she were his equal right from the start. Third person allows for subtlety that only works well in first person if the first person is an unreliable narrator. Voigt somehow accomplishes the feat of telling how Birle is falling in love with Orien, yet showing how he’s falling for her. It is only Birle who at the end of story is surprised to find that Orien has loved her all along. How easily even women in love doubt their men, but I suppose this is why the men always have to continually work at winning and keeping their women. Just a dynamic of the sexes.

Two other things I took from this reading of the story: People often see themselves in a far different light than they actually are. Both Orien and Birle consider their own faults heavily, but easily bear up under almost every new circumstance thrown their way. They are matched in their readiness to adapt to what must be done to survive, all the time considering themselves too idle, or too gentle towards others, and sometimes even too kind. Both characters continually sell themselves short, but by the end of the tale it is clear that those around them do not, and hold them in high esteem.

The other idea that struck me on this second reading was that people largely remain the same at their core, no matter what they go through. This is especially evident in Birle, who whether starving, a slave, or a rich lady, is not happy doing nothing, striving not to be a burden to those around her, but especially those she loves. In On Fortune’s Wheel she simply grows up into what she at fourteen already was, a independent and spirited young woman to wants to live life on her own terms. Orien, too, wished to live on his own terms, and their life together will be one of continually adapting to each other because that’s what they are choosing to do. It’s romantic in a way that is far deeper than flowers, chocolates, or even kisses ever could be.

Final decision: This book is a keeper and I will surely read it again and save it for my nieces when they are old enough to read it. Don’t even talk to me about how they changed the title. I can’t stand it, but I’m happy if teens are still reading the story.

The Young Clementina/Emma – book reviews

Emma

This book was such a joy to read again. It’s been several years since I’ve read it and I understand why some call it Jane Austen’s “masterpiece.” It’s a bit longer than her other works, and is more about growing up than romance. It also has some great lines, like, “men of sense don’t want silly wives.”

Emma Woodhouse is about 21 and lives with her father. They are a family of means and live a life of leisure. Emma has never known hardship and her father has been permanently scarred by it, afraid of anything and everything that might cause harm to a loved one or himself. Emma’s main job is caring for her father, though she doesn’t find it a burden. She also helps the poor and is generally charming. She’s isn’t as likable as some of Austen’s other heroines, however, as she’s very spoiled and meddles where she shouldn’t.

Thinking herself a great matchmaker, as she correctly saw that her sister and the younger Mr. Knightley were falling in love, much of the book’s comedy rests on her various schemes and assumptions about other people. It is only her lifelong friend, the older Mr. Knightley, who checks her behavior. I’m not sure I find Mr. Knightley particularly swoonworthy–he often seems like a school lecturer and is at least as opinionated as Emma, but has sense and logic on his side. Their banter is pretty fun, and it’s easy to forget about the 16 year age gap. By the end of the book, it is clear he is the only one who could marry Emma, having both completely understood her and loved her, and also having understood Emma’s father and her family’s somewhat eccentric ways.

The most hard-hitting scene, most people will recognize, that in which Emma on her worst behavior teases and insults a spinster names Miss Bates. Miss Bates talks too much, and this irritates Emma immensely, and she makes a joke at the older woman’s expense. Mr. Knightley tells her this was, “badly done,” which Emma knows, but still needs to be told, because her redemption in the final chapters of the book only comes with her feelings of remorse and repentance. She realizes what an awful thing it is to meddle with peoples lives–especially not knowing all of the facts–and that although old friends may sometimes be ridiculous, we should still treat them with gentleness and respect. Even being in the right, Mr. Knightley doesn’t think himself immune to criticism as well, even saying of Emma that she’s borne his corrections as no other women would.

Mr. Knightley is just as quick with his praise as his chastisement of her. He tells Emma that she chose better for the vicar Mr. Elton than he ended up choosing for himself. Mr. Knightley learned that although Emma was fanciful, her dreams, too, were based on some truth. And he himself is also susceptible to matchmaking, which I found amusing. Isn’t it true that if we’re not involved in our own love stories, we’re often imagining them for those around us, both the men and the women? This kind of drama in some sense appeals to both sexes, because everyone likes to be in the know and likes to think they are smart enough to observe a love story unfolding in front of them even if the two supposed lovers don’t even know it yet.

I like Emma and Knightley a bit more than I do Elizabeth and especially Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Despite being rich, they seem to be more in tune with real people, and although they still do judge prematurely, it is more on the positive side of doing it, than the negative. Emma often talks about not being able to associate with people of lower class, but it’s clear from her behavior that it’s not really that big of a deal to her–she’d rather be at the party with her friends than home alone. It’s much hinted in the book that this is a time in England when class distinctions are starting to become hazy around the edges. Mr. Knightley reinforces this attitude, by paying special attentions to Jane Fairfax, who is a poor orphan, sticking up for Miss Bates, who despite her faults is a kind lady and someone who as she ages will sink ever lower into poverty as well, and by taking the time to get to know Harriett Smith, also an orphan and lower in class. Knightley is also a champion for Robert Martin, a farmer who works for him, as being a great match for Harriet to Emma’s higher class minister, Mr. Elton. By the end of the story, we see that Emma and Mr. Knightley are very well matched as they can easily speak plainly to each other and also have the ability to anticipate and care for the needs of their friends and family.

How important a quality is this? Well, many relationships fail because of communication, so I’d say it’s a true blessing to have that in common. They also both generally have sunny outlooks, perhaps due to being wealthy, but also due to a lifelong friendship in which this has constantly been enforced between them. As for their caring natures, they aren’t going to give away their money willy nilly, but generally they pay respect to those around them and care deeply for those in their direct spheres. In marriage, and working together as a team, the good they could do would be doubled, making their marriage a blessing beyond themselves.

It’s funny to me that even though Mr. Knightley knows Emma so well and doesn’t lean as much towards imaginations not based in reality, he’s still not sure of himself in winning her. She, too, is certain he must love someone else, not her. Austen often shows us that both people who have everything to lose and nothing to lose still struggle when it comes to declaring their love and being certain of it being accepted. We, no matter our station, find ourselves unworthy of love to some degree, always “half agony, half hope,” as she says in, I think, Persuasion.

I highly recommend again the Masterpiece Theatre miniseries of Emma starring Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller. It is a faithful adaptation of the book and both leads capture their characters perfectly and have genuine chemistry of deep friendship about them. They seem so much already in a relationship that the romantic declarations at the end are rather meh compared to Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam in the Emma movie, but it works well as, like I said, I find the story to be more about growing up than falling in love.

The Young Clementina

This is another novel by D.E. Stevenson of the very funny Miss Buncle’s Book. The Young Clementina is about surviving difficult circumstances, but there are comedic moments within it. It’s perhaps comical just how much liars lie, how they upset everything, throwing it into turmoil just because they can. It’s both sad and funny how much people fall for lies. One would presume any observant, common sense person, can see the truth, but that’s often not the case. We often give liars too much benefit of the doubt, while scorning others in the process. Humans are prone, too prone, to getting things wrong.

I’m not quite finished with the book yet, but it’s a story about a woman whose sister turns her life upside down, how she recovers from that, and how she helps her niece recover from it as well. I think it will have a happy ending, but not an ecstatic one. Compared to Miss Buncle, it’s fairly low-key. I have to admit I struggle with the title name, thinking of it as Clementine in my head, having never heard of the name Clementina before. Also, it took awhile for me to see where the story is going, but now I have an inkling that more lies are to be revealed.

Kdramas

Haven’t finished any new Kdramas as I’m taking a detour and rewatching Goblin or The Guardian starring Gong Yoo (Train to Busan) again. It’s one of the best dramas out there, though at times I’m not sure the fantasy plot makes sense. Goblin is a perfect combination of great acting, direction, soundtrack, and story, and one I will probably rewatch periodically as now that it’s available on viki.com!

A Drop of Night: Book Review

I have a new favorite writer. Ok, ok, disclosure: I am a bit biased as I know relatives of his, but I really love the way that Stefan Bachmann writes. His writing is so alive, and he sucks you right in.

The first book I read of his was The Peculiar, and at first I wasn’t sure I was going to like, though I enjoyed his style. I am a little tired of the standard fairy lore, especially having read much of it in Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. Somehow, though Bachmann managed to make fairies seem fresh. Maybe it was the added benefit of being set in a Victorian steampunk era. At any rate, before long, he had me hooked and I’m excited to read the sequel.

A Drop of Night is for slightly older readers–I say teens and up–for it has some gore and a lot of scary situations. This one is written in the first person and despite Anouk’s narration almost almost being purple, I l.o.v.e.d. it. Her way of describing people and situations is firecracker fresh, and one finds her immediately both likable and annoying. Bachmann balances her account with that of a French girl living at the time of the Revolution, and if there are slight similarities in their turn of phrase, by the end of the story, there’s a reason for it.

(Spoilers). Although I don’t want to give away too much of the plot of the story, A Drop of Night reminded me greatly of the movie The Cube that came out a few years ago. Both stories involve a group of people trying to figure a way out of a human-made prison involving series of connected rooms, booby traps, and constantly changing circumstances. If Hollywood is looking for an idea for a teen horror flick, this would be it, but they would probably ruin it.

By the end of the book, I, too, felt trapped in 18th Century France, and smothered by the smells, the flowers, and the neverending silks and fabrics on everything! I half-expected the clockwork puppets and dolls from Doctor Who‘s “The Girl in the Fireplace” to show up along with the multiple villains and traps. It also made me want to read Daphne Du Maurier’s sumptuous Frenchman’s Creek again. The location and environment ended up being the overpowering main character, and even after finishing the story, I still can’t shake off the oppressive nature of the place. I can imagine if any of the teenagers survived (and I’m not telling that) that they would be haunted for years to come.

Action aside, A Drop of Night is really that. We are shown a brief time in these teenagers’ lives and learn some heartbreaking things that they have to deal with. Drops of darkness in otherwise pleasant looking lives. For the villains, we can see that one drop of darkness became two, and so on and so forth, until there wasn’t anything but darkness for them. Bachmann’s writes gripping, fantastical tales that also have a heart and soul. Alive is his writing voice. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. He’s definitely a writer to watch.

Understanding Women: Audiobook Review

A few months ago, from a comment on a message board, I discovered Alison Armstrong and her study of relationships, but especially of men. Since reading her book Keys to the Kingdom, I have been reading or listening to everything she has published out there, as the information is fascinating and helpful. The most helpful part about what she does is explaining to men and women that we really do not understand the opposite sex and how different we actually are. Our society today, and even men themselves, often think men are simple and maybe even shallow. Armstrong herself used to think this until she starting actually researching and asking men about themselves. What she found surprised both herself and them: Men are complicated and very deep creatures, with a staggering amount of thoughtfulness put into everything they do.

In learning more about men and why they act the way they do, Armstrong has also unearthed a lot of information about women as well. I decided to give her Understanding Women workshop a listen, especially because her In Sync with the Opposite Sex workshop was hilarious. The first thing I have to say about the workshop audiobook is please, please don’t make this your first listen or read of her stuff. Armstrong’s information about women is difficult for both men and women to hear, and I realized immediately that it would have been worse if I didn’t already know some of it from her other works. I say this, because although Understanding Women is about women, it’s actually about Armstrong’s continuing studies on men. Men are often reacting to women in ways that both sexes scarcely comprehend. Much of the time, the workshop does not put women in a flattering light, and Armstrong’s goal, which she states at the end, is to get women to realize they have a responsibility to check themselves. The information is a far cry from the feminism and women power of today, while at the same time being empowering in its own right. The good thing is, Armstrong offers solutions and explains just how beneficial men are for women. Men, you can actually help save us from ourselves, which is a pretty awesome feat if what all she says is true!

As I had so many thoughts about the workshop, this article will be pretty long. I will give each topic a heading to make things easier.

Criticism

Women and men handle criticism differently. Men may not know this, but women actually deal with constant criticism, sometimes coming from others, but mostly coming from themselves. Armstrong calls this criticizer the “Perfect or Ideal Woman.” This Perfect Woman is one of the main problems between men and women, because women not only feel they have to be this Perfect Woman, but feel and think men should be this Perfect Woman also. The Perfect Woman has little to do with realistic expectations and can be a complex that keeps women in constant guilt that they are never good enough. Well, who is good enough, anyway? Only Jesus Christ, that I know of. Men have told Armstrong one of the most attractive qualities in a woman is self-confidence. She can only have this by overcoming the Perfect Woman in her head and telling her to shut up. This is much easier if the woman is secure, safe, and loved, and men are rather good at doing those three things for women.

Criticism is not often handled well by women. I know for myself, being one. Even a comment that is not actually a criticism is easily taken as one. We will never wear that skirt or those shoes again. We change or adapt to actual or perceived criticism. According to Armstrong, men take criticism as a suggestion or interesting thing to note. It doesn’t affect their whole sense of self as if often does with women. They will consider it more if it comes from someone they respect, but their behavior doesn’t necessarily change because of it.

I think this is why it can be very easy to take all of this workshop as criticism of women, especially by women. The information is really much the same as her information on men: Many of these behaviors are hard for both sexes to control unless we know they are happening, why, and how to curtail them. Some can’t be controlled, and most aren’t “wrong,” just ways in which the sexes differ. Armstrong shares how women react to criticism to men because she says, “You may not have meant to change her by what you said, but you did.” Sounds like a heavy burden to shoulder.

Focus

The most well known difference between men and women is that men are single focused and that women multitask. Armstrong takes this a step further, saying that women actually don’t focus at all! We can, but it takes a lot of energy for us to do so. This is because women have what she calls “diffuse awareness.” Women are aware of everything in their surroundings, often paying attention to a plethora of things at once all needing to be fixed or beautified in some way. It’s the reason why women often wander from one task to the next, often working on a number of projects at one time. Too ignore a messy environment screaming at her to clean it, a women has to zone out, often by getting involved in a story or something like that. That, I can relate to. I often hole up with a book or K-drama when my house is a mess and I’m too tired to do anything about it.

Is it true that women don’t focus? For myself, yes, it is often difficult and truly focusing on a project or task tires me out quickly. Focusing at work all day is super draining and many jobs are geared towards single focus. Armstrong describes diffuse awareness as women going to the meadow to gather different things for their family/tribe. It’s sort of like shopping. We go out to look and see all the possibilities out there and bring back what’s best. I imagine a job involving diffuse awareness would be something creative–decorating or party planning, etc. Secretary or personal assistant jobs can require a similar kind of creativeness and also multitasking. Women do multitask, but often we are not focused on one single goal at a time, so a lot gets done, but it can appear chaotic to men. Armstrong says this ability in women is what makes it possible for them to have all the dishes ready for dinner on time, plus have the house picked up, all while keeping an eye on the kids and making lunch for the next day. She also says that some men and women are the reverse. Often creative men will have more diffuse awareness and career women often have single focus. Their partners, then will usually have the opposite trait.

The times I am most aware of having diffuse awareness is when I’m at an event or gathering with a lot of people, especially people that I know. Somehow I monitor everything around me, how I think others might be feeling, even. Is that a spill on the floor? Do we need more coffee? Why does Betty look so distraught? Why’s Luke standing in the corner? Why is no one taking that child off the table? It’s super hard to focus on whatever conversation I’m in. Armstrong says men are often hurt by our not focusing on them while they are talking to us. It can come across as not caring about what they are saying. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that the environment around us is screaming for our attention. This is similar to how men in their single focus mode can often seem uncaring, too. He hears us say to take out the garbage, but he doesn’t HEAR it. Just like women have to choose when we make requests of men–not while they’re in the middle of something–so men have a way of getting women to focus. Actually, to me it sounds like a super power.

Touch

Armstrong says that for most women, touch is a big deal. It brings us back into our bodies. She explains it like that because women so easily lose our sense of self, while men have strong sense of self and physicality. It’s that awareness of everything going on around us and our monitoring feelings, etc. that does it. Armstrong says if a man wants his woman to focus on him (as much as she can) he has to be the “loudest” thing in the room. In touching her hand or arm, etc, he will immediately become the loudest thing in the room and her focus will be on him.

I can imagine this works, but I don’t know for sure, and will have to note if and when it happens. But it makes sense to me in a way, because the way women reassure and comfort other women is with hugs or a touch on the arm, etc. We are a rather touch averse society these days, so I definitely notice more if someone does touch me, but it will take some time to determine if that affects how I focus. Always ready to get the laugh, Armstrong instructs men that even while love making, “don’t let go of her.” Men anchor us with their touch, and much of that may have to do with them often being bigger, stronger, and the provider.

Safety

This one was easy. I know it’s true without having to watch and see. Women are constantly monitoring their own physical safety. Although we may lose our physicality in some ways, when it comes to danger to our person, we are acutely aware all of the time. Most men, Armstrong says, don’t have a continual fear of their physical safety. They just don’t. Being smaller and weaker than men, women do. The workshop offers a lot on this topic, and much of it is hard to hear. Logically women often know we are safe, but the “cavewoman” as Armstrong calls her, takes over. We cannot think straight around an angry man, for example, even if he’s not angry at us. At that moment he is the tiger in the room that might eat us. Even a man excited about something can seem threatening–all that testosterone has to be neutralized. Fear and concern over safety is one of the main reasons women emasculate men. Sadly, this is all too often because women’s threat radar is, as Armstrong says, “set way too high.” It’s not fair to men, but it is the reality. Again, touch can help. It can say “you are safe, you are loved, etc.” It’s why, bizarrely, a women might ask a man if he’s mad at her, when clearly he isn’t. She needs the reassurance because she’s worried if he’s mad at her he might not protect her when the real tiger comes around.

Honor

This is where things start to get really dicey. Armstrong says that the reason women fear an angry man, thinking that if he’s mad at her he won’t save her when the tiger or danger comes, is because a woman would be angry and let the tiger eat that person. She wouldn’t save that person. She says that women have no honor. She says this because honor is about doing the right thing even if you don’t feel like it and that women don’t act against their feelings.

I can say that when I usually think of honor it’s in regard to soldiers or battle, usually involving men. I don’t personally think much of honor connected to women, but I’m not sure we have zero of it. Armstrong states that if a women is angry at another women she’d let the tiger have her. Never could I imagine the women I know doing such a thing, but I’ve never really contemplated honor, so maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m mixing it up with integrity and courage, traits that Armstrong says women have a lot of. She says that things like honor, loyalty, team spirit, etc. all belong to the province of men, that they are essentially manly things and qualities and why it’s so important for male children to have dads or male figures around to teach them these things, because women can’t.

Do women have no honor? I have seen many women leave their men for the next best thing, but men leave their women for that, too. I have seen cruelty come from women that is not at all honorable and very different from a man’s cruelty. It can be true, as Armstrong says, that women at work can be even more vicious than men. They take on single focus and other male traits without being tempered by honor, loyalty, etc. I can say that this is sometimes true, that women are this way, but am reluctant to say that’s built into our sex. Armstrong doesn’t mean it as a criticism so much as to explain to men why we are compelled to please them. We must make sure they always are please with us so they protect us from the tiger. We are compelled. We need men’s protection and providing for us even if we have a gun and a million dollar job. Armstrong says in our modern life, a woman “needs to have a man to prove she doesn’t need a man.” It doesn’t make sense, but yet it makes perfect sense in our upside down world where both sexes are told they must act like the opposite sex much of the time.

Feelings

The honor thing, however, was not the most shocking thing said at the workshop. One of the last things Armstrong goes through is how much women are controlled and compelled by feelings. She compares our feelings to a chakra thing different from our emotions, and I kind of understood what she was saying, but it sounded rather hokey. I don’t think of “women’s intuition” as we often call it, as a direct connecting line to God and universe. Maybe it is, but I’ve never thought of it that way.

Because women so often misinterpret what men are doing, really putting the worst construction on a given situation, women often get their feelings hurt for no reason. For more on how this works, I suggest reading Keys to the Kingdom and The Queen’s Code because those books are written in story format and illustrate the concepts very well and show how relationships can be so much better without the misinterpretation. Getting our feelings hurt is a big deal for women, or so Armstrong says. She then goes on to describe something she calls the “rage monster.”

I know I’ve been there, so angry and hurt that every bad thought you’ve had about someone rises to the surface and you just want to spit it all out in an argument, but know you would instantly regret it. I never considered it a uniquely female thing, though. Armstrong says that when our feelings get hurt it is devastating to a woman. She describes what it’s like and, well, the portrayal of it is rather repulsive. She makes it sound like in that moment women are worse off than children in a meltdown. The solution to this, the only solution, she says, that works, is for the man to say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” This is also a time when touch is not wanted. The woman is hurt, needs the “I’m sorry,” and the time to recover, and then you can wrap your arms around her and dry her tears.

Maybe the rage monster is something that’s more unique to a romantic partnership or relationship. I’ve been in arguments, I’ve been angry, but not to the degree that she’s describing; or at least, it’s something I may have experienced a very long time ago, so long ago as to have forgotten it entirely. Never do I recall having to hear a man or anyone say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” and then things being all better. The worst part is, that in the situation she’s describing, the woman’s feelings are hurt not because the man actually did anything wrong, but because she is interpreting his actions and behavior wrongly. Yet the only thing that works to snap the woman out of this “rage monster” is him saying, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”

The men in the workshop were not having this. They struggled with the instruction to say they are sorry for something they didn’t do. Feelings were hurt, but it wasn’t their fault. They objected also to treating their women like children. I objected also and have trouble believing that this is the only thing that works. It also creates a situation in which some women will then use that as a way to treat the men as if they did do something wrong. Armstrong warns women not to do this, but it seems to me that if we indeed have no honor, the temptation here is just too strong. In the situation she describes, the man didn’t hurt the women’s feelings, the woman hurt her own feelings. If, as she says, a woman’s feelings are so, so hurt that she covers it up with rage all the while desperately wanting her man to save her from herself, and touch won’t work in this instance, wow. I mean the “sorry for the feelings” thing must make it stop, at least for some women, but there’s gotta to be a better way to resolve that. Certainly women being aware of when this is happening may help, but it sounds like a state of being so totally out of control that only God can lift you up. I guess it’s a warning to women to really watch how we interpret things.

In Sync

All in all, I always find Armstrong’s research and information really fascinating and helpful, however, one has to remember that her focus is understanding men, and because that’s her focus, I think her works on men are far more positive and life affirming than this particular audiobook, workshop. Understanding Women many times makes women seem really crazy. The information was alarming at times, and more disturbing than any of her stuff on men. However, I like her goal, which is to get women to pay attention to what they are doing, how and why they are reacting, and so on. If as a women you can’t stop talking, consider, “what am I afraid of right now?” If you are with a women who can’t stop talking, touch her arm or hand. Anchor her. Focus her. Let her know she’s safe even though there’s no reason to fear. It doesn’t make sense, but as a woman, I can say that we often don’t make sense. What I mean is, perhaps understanding men is all about making sense–they have a good reason for everything they do–and understanding women is about connecting them to reality instead of whatever thing they may be imagining in their heads. From what Armstrong says, that’s the real dragon to slay. Throughout the workshop, she affirms again and again that women need saving from themselves, and that men are the best equipped to do just that.

It’s all about men and women being in sync with each other. We have certain needs that can only be met or best met by the opposite sex. Fortunately, the desire to meet those needs is built right into us. Men naturally want to protect and provide for women and women naturally want to please men and give them attention. The biggest problem, Armstrong often says, is that in our modern society we simply do not know this about each other. And that is why her work is so revolutionary, especially for women, who every day are taught by society that men are hairy misbehaving women instead of the honorable, loyal men they actually are, and are even more bizarrely, taught to be like those misbehaving men rather than their own feminine selves. Upside down world does not even begin to describe it.

The Terror: Book Review

I can remember vividly the coldest I’ve ever been. No, it wasn’t a trip to either the north or south pole, nor a selfie at Mt. Everest. It was the end of winter in a drafty old house in Shorewood, WI, where I lived for a few months with a bunch of friends from college. To save money, the heat was kept on low, and each night I bundled up in many layers of clothes and blankets to try and stay warm. Never will I forget being so cold.

Dan Simmons is a gifted writer and researcher, especially when it comes to description. From the first chapter, The Terror grabs the reader with its snowballing descriptions of just…how…cold…these sailors are. Stuck in the arctic ice in a futile attempt to find the “Northwest Passage” north of Canada and through to China, the crews of two British navy ships, one call the Terror, battle the cold and the elements for survival. Oh. And an abominable snow monster.

Despite liking this novel, I have to say the true stories of these arctic explorations, doomed or not, are far more interesting. In the Kingdom of Ice, detailing the true story of the USS Jeannette stuck in the pack ice, I found riveting. Simmons’s rendition isn’t bad, though, but it is really long, probably a bit too long. And there wasn’t enough of the snow monster for my liking, and I’m not sure what I think of all the Eskimo stuff. It was just kind of strange, and I wasn’t sure how much if it was true to that culture.

The best thing about the novel is that it is a story about men. Women and women’s issues are not much to be seen here, which is a bit refreshing for a reader like me, who sometimes almost drowns in romance. The women in the story are viewed mostly from Frances Crozier, an officer who can’t seem to find a balance with them. He either sees them as whores or exotic beings on pedestals, and that he gets the girl at the end and keeps her seems a little unrealistic if you think of her as a real person. Nevertheless, there’s a sweet innocence about his perspective. Aside from all that, the story largely deals with men giving command and under command and how being stuck so far from civilization affects that dynamic. It is amazing that order does not come apart at the seams a lot earlier, considering what these sailors are up against. In fact, the mutiny seemed to come out of nowhere and Hickey, the villain, was too cartoonish for my taste.

Back to the snow monster. So I did try to read Simmons’ other cold tale, Abominable, but gave up as it took him what felt like hundreds of pages just to get them on the mountain. The description of climbing gear from the 1920s, although interesting in its own right, fast became a textbook on it, instead of details pushing the story along. Thankfully, in The Terror, Simmons gets to the action we want pretty quickly and is great at showing the men’s mounting fear of the creature attacking them. Then, towards the end, when they finally abandon their ships as they are all dying of scurvy, the snow monster is scarcely, inexplicably, to be seen until popping up to devour the villain (did I mention there are spoilers?) and spiritually circumcise Crozier (so weird).

A roaring good tale, despite its flaws, The Terror is good historical fiction. The perspectives of the men seemed to be from the characters’ time and modern views weren’t shoehorned in too much. The details of the ships and the environment really made me feel at times like I was there with them, and the descriptions of their various ailments as they succumbed to malnutrition and cold were heartbreaking. My next book to read from Simmons will probably be Drood. I saw the PBS movie of the Mystery of Edwin Drood and want to read the story that Charles Dickens never finished, and then see how Simmons ended it. Of course I also plan to give The Terror miniseries a try, but I have a much easier time reading about blood and gore than I do watching it. Some people are the reverse. Wonder why that is? Hmm. Must be a study on it somewhere…

Book Candy: Flavia de Luce

Perhaps it’s a lack of imagination or I need to learn more dictionary adjectives, but I find myself describing anything pleasant as “candy.” Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts are “meat candy,” Kerrygold butter is “butter candy,” kimchi fried rice is “spicy mac ‘n’ cheese candy,” which really doesn’t make any sense, but you get the idea. This can apply to reading, especially as we often talk about “devouring” books. I think that the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley is “book candy!”

The Flavia de Luce series is my current mystery favorite, and since I bought the most recent, and possibly final, book, I just had to take a break from the lengthy horror show of The Terror by Dan Simmons and enjoy some, well, candy. The Golden Tresses of the Dead doesn’t disappoint. It’s classic Flavia, with her dear friend Dogger, and we get cameos from her sisters, Feely and Daphne, as well as their cook, Mrs. Mullet, the vicar’s wife, and even Flavia’s woman crush: Antigone, the wife of the long-suffering Inspector Hewitt. Reading this last installment, I realize what good, old friends all of these character have become, even Undine, Flavia’s younger, even more precocious and annoying cousin.

Oh. Did I mention that Flavia de Luce is a rather annoying, know-it-all twelve-year-old? She’s also awesome, but if I met her in real life, she would likely drive me crazy. In this book, however, Flavia is clearly growing up: She’s more affected emotionally, especially with her growing association with Dogger, who is the father figure in her life now that her real father has passed away. She also has begun to see that Undine is much like a younger Flavia, and that the child may one day be able to really help her solve mysteries. Flavia also meets a boy that she admires, and Bradley shows this in their friendly feelings towards each other and also that she seems calmer somehow in his presence. No big romance or anything, but it’s clear that Flavia, as smart as she is, is in as much danger as the rest of us of falling in love…someday.

Bradley’s books include so many interesting facts, tidbits, and chemistry knowledge, that it’s not quite right to call them candy, but despite them being murder mysteries, the books always leave me with this sugary, fizzy feeling that all is right in the world. Flavia has solved the mystery once again and each bit of evidence is sorted in its place, chemically or otherwise. And talk about author goals! I found out that Bradley is in his 80s! Wow, that’s so awesome to be writing a hit series at that age. A writer can only hope. It is my fervent hope that we will get more Flavia books, that we’ll see more of Feely, her hubby Dieter, and Daphne, Dogger, and all the rest, and that the series will continue on and on. Rumor has it that a TV show of the book series is in the works, and we the fans will wait and see if it remains true to the source.

In other news: I am watching the Korean drama Her Private Life. The leads, Park Min Young (City Hunter), and Kim Jae Wook (Coffee Prince) have great chemistry, and the whole idea of her having this secret life of K-pop fandom is pretty cool. Review to be out in a few weeks once the show is over. Aside from that, May is the start of wedding season, which is why Golden Tresses that begins with Feely and Dieter’s wedding was too irresistible to put down. I’m feeling all girly buying bedazzled shoes and swingy dresses, and imagining what my bridesmaid bouquet is going to look like. And though it did threaten to snow today, spring, and romance are definitely in the air. Hmm. Air candy? Yes, I definitely need to learn more adjectives.